Disability, Dying, & Death: Relational Theology and the Gift of Hope

Below for your encouragement is a slide presentation called, “Disability, Dying, and Death: Relational Theology and the Gift of Hope for Life’s Descending Triad.” It comes from a seminar I did a while back with two other colleagues and may be turned into a small book someday. Even without the presentation script—which awaits another round of editing—you might be able to find some encouragement here for whatever challenges you may be facing these days.

What is relational theology? The God of Scripture (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is thoroughly relational; hence the field of relational theology, as distinct from systematic theology, contextual theology, etc. As I’ve written before, the Holy Trinity is not a math puzzle (1 + 1 + 1 = 1), it’s a clue to the relational heart of the universe. That clue is precious to believers because the prime reality of existence is not matter. It’s not energy. It’s not quarks. It’s a divine relationship. Specifically, it’s an eternal reciprocating relationship of personal diversity and unbreakable unity. As the well-known hymn puts it, “God in three Persons, blessed Trinity.”

Human persons made imago Dei—in the image of God—are therefore relational beings, much like their Creator. Even introverts are aware of their interrelatedness with others! This connectional dynamic has much to say to us in a broken world marked by disability, dying, and death. It also has much to say to us in a world marked by the risen Christ, who knows firsthand what it’s like to feel disabled, go through the dying process, and then eventually taste death itself.

May the Lord enable you to revel in the gift of hope, even if through tears.

Where Is the ‘Good’ in Good Friday?

A high school senior in our area died this morning from a horrible motorcycle accident last night. His family and friends are in deep grief right now, and they will mourn to some extent for the rest of their lives. 

A man in our town with no health insurance just broke his hand and needs a complicated surgery to get three pins in his bones. His wife and children depend on his income to survive. 

An old friend recently got a shocking diagnosis for a kind of cancer that often defies successful treatment. His family watches and prays, not knowing what the coming weeks will bring.

Life is not only devastating sometimes, it can be deadly, too. That’s why we need to worship, as worship meets death with life. Especially today—Good Friday 2022 A.D.

We learn in Psalm 22:3 that God inhabits the praise of his people—a comforting truth from a Davidic composition often associated with the cross since Jesus cited its opening line during his crucifixion. Jesus knows firsthand that life can be as tough as nails. He’s no stranger to the ravages of this world. He knows what it means to be in pain.

In his book The Cross of ChristJohn Stott (1921-2011) writes, “I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross.’ In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?” In similar fashion, Edward Shillito (1872-1948) wrote in his poem “Jesus of the Scars”:

The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,

Good Friday worship offers a unique spiritual experience for Christian believers around the world. In many communities of faith, it weaves together three vital strands of reflection that aim to deepen our gratitude and devotion to Christ for all he has done for us.

First, Good Friday worship is part historical reconstruction. We remember the words, actions, faith, and promises of Jesus as he suffered in Jerusalem under Pontius Pilate and the religious leaders of the first century.

Second, Good Friday worship is part biblical-theological exposition. We consider what it means that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and why the cross was God’s chosen instrument of redemption for the world.

Third, Good Friday worship is part spiritual lamentation. We gather to confess and renounce the sins we commit—all of which necessitated the cross—finding hope in the great truth Jesus himself declared: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Good Friday is the second movement of the historic Triduum—the three great days—in which the church gathers to remember the passion (i.e., the sufferings) of Christ. The tradition at our church is to gather in a bare sanctuary, stripped of all its symbols but the cross. We read the Scriptures, pray silently, worship a cappella, hear a “message of the cross,” and depart in silence, responding in faith and obedience to the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts and minds. 

Why do we call it “Good” Friday? Because Jesus said, “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The Apostle Paul wrote, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). The Apostle Peter wrote, “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Pet 3:18).

The cross, then, is good news for humanity. A great transaction took place there that God the Father accepted. He planned it, authorized it, carried it out, and honored it. That transaction is simply this: God treated Jesus as we deserved so that he could treat us as Jesus deserved. As the old hymn by Phillip Bliss (1838-1876) puts it:

Bearing shame and mocking rude,
In my place condemned he stood.

Or as Horatio Spafford (1828-1888) wrote in his famous hymn “It Is Well with My Soul”:

My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

Jesus tasted death for all. Therefore, all can live again.

That is why Good Friday is truly good.

Kneels in Humility and Washes Our Feet

May we never get over the shock that our God does feet.

“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 13:3-5).

“Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos.”

“A new command I give you: Love one another just as I have loved you” (John 13:34).

Meekness and majesty,
Manhood and Deity,
In perfect harmony,
The Man who is God.
Lord of eternity
Dwells in humanity,
Kneels in humility
And washes our feet.

O what a mystery,
Meekness and majesty.
Bow down and worship
For this is your God,
This is your God.

Father’s pure radiance,
Perfect in innocence,
Yet learns obedience
To death on a cross.
Suffering to give us life,
Conquering through sacrifice,
And as they crucify
Prays, “Father forgive.”

O what a mystery,
Meekness and majesty.
Bow down and worship
For this is your God,
This is your God.

Wisdom unsearchable,
God the invisible,
Love indestructible
In frailty appears.
Lord of infinity,
Stooping so tenderly,
Lifts our humanity
To the heights of His throne. 

O what a mystery,
Meekness and majesty.
Bow down and worship
For this is your God,
This is your God.

The Weeping King (Luke 19:28-44)

Leaders try hard not to cry in public. Instead, they seek to project a measure of strength and courage in difficult situations. They usually want to send a message that everything is under control. Crying just unnerves the people who have to watch it. Therefore, politicians and public figures try to stuff their tears and stifle their emotions. If, for some reason, they do ever cry in public, they strive to “leak a little,” not gush. 

As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, he cried openly in front of the masses. Luke 19:41 says he wept over the city, and the word for “wept” in the original means to sob or to wail. It was a great lament, not a little sniffle. But why was Jesus so upset? His answer was both bold and blunt: “because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you” (Luke 19:44). God came to his people in the person of Christ, but they did not recognize him and submit to his authority. Rather, they tried to leverage that authority for their own ends.

Luke’s account of Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem is a spiritually challenging passage—one that ultimately reminds us that to receive Jesus is to receive God, and to reject Jesus is to reject God. Knowing that some people would reject him at great cost to their own eternal well-being, Jesus wept for their souls. Indeed, his tears were an ominous sign that the week ahead would be a long and difficult one for him.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

The Holy City: Lift Up Your Gates and Sing!

Palm Sunday worship is a glorious experience. As is often the case, I had trouble this morning getting through the opening hymn, “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” without tears. It was doubly difficult this year because my pre-service playlist included “The Holy City,” which captures a glimpse of our glorious King and all that awaits the people of God. I can’t stop thinking about the message of this song, which started the waterworks, so here it is (in several different versions) for your encouragement.

(And, while I’m not a Mormon, I sympathize wholeheartedly with the soloist in the second version below trying to make it through this powerful piece without completely losing it.)

The Holy City

Stephen Adams, Frederick E. Weatherly

Last night I lay asleeping
There came a dream so fair
I stood in old Jerusalem
Beside the temple there
I heard the children singing
And ever as they sang
I thought the voice of angels
From heaven in answer rang
I thought the voice of angels
From heaven in answer rang
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem!
Lift up you gates and sing
Hosanna in the highest
Hosanna to your King!”

And then I thought my dream was changed
The streets no longer rang
Hushed were the glad hosannas
The little children sang
The sun grew dark with mystery
The morn was cold and chill
As the shadow of a cross arose
Upon a lonely hill
As the shadow of a cross arose
Upon a lonely hill
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem!
Hark! How the angels sing
Hosanna in the highest
Hosanna to your King!”

And once again the scene was changed
New earth there seemed to be
I saw the Holy City
Beside the tideless sea
The light of God was on its streets
The gates were open wide
And all who would might enter
And no one was denied
No need of moon or stars by night
Or sun to shine by day
It was the new Jerusalem
That would not pass away
It was the new Jerusalem
That would not pass away
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem!
Sing for the night is o’er
Hosanna in the highest
Hosanna for evermore”

The Gospel Unchained, Part 12: Hope in the Midst of Hardship (2 Timothy 4:9-22)

What would you like your final words to be? When it comes time for you to leave this life and enter the next, what would you wish to say to those who remain behind? The Apostle Paul’s last words to the church can be found in 2 Timothy 4:9-22. 

In this passage he chronicles the kinds of earthly hardships he endured throughout his ministry (i.e., the pain of seclusion, desertion, deprivation, opposition, and isolation). But he also sets forth the kind of support he received—and believers can expect—from God, even as they follow in his footsteps. To paraphrase, Paul reminds the church, “God will supply you, God will strengthen you, and God will save you.” 

In short, Paul instructs the church to overcome earthly hardship with heavenly hope. He reminds his readers that the earth cannot take them when God is keeping them, and the earth cannot keep them when God is taking them. He is sovereign over the lives of his people and the unfolding history of the world.

Paul then bids farewell with a blessing: “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you” (2 Timothy 4:22). After this, we hear nothing else he says. After this, we read nothing else he writes. After this, we learn nothing else he thinks. His martyrdom is imminent, so these are the final words of Paul to the church. What does he want believers to remember as he signs off? What does he want ringing in their ears until Jesus comes back? 

Paul wants the church to remember the presence of God (“The Lord be with your spirit”) and the powerof God (“Grace be with you”). Grace, of course, is the unmerited favor of God that can captivate a terrorist like Paul. It’s also the unlimited power of God that can convert a terrorist like Paul and use him to change the world in Jesus’s name. What could the grace of God do through you?

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

The Gospel Unchained, Part 11: Fight to the Finish (2 Timothy 4:1-8)

The Battle of Gettysburg was the bloodiest conflict of the Civil War. Nearly 7,800 people were killed, 27,000 were wounded, and 11,000 were captured or went missing. The North defeated the South in that 3-day battle. Had they not done so, it’s likely that today the United States would not be united. In fact, most historians regard Gettysburg as the turning point of the war. 

One of the heroes to come out of that battle was Joshua Chamberlain, a professor of theology and rhetoric at Bowdoin College in Maine. On July 2, 1863, the second day of battle Col. Chamberlain defended the left flank of the Union on a hill called Little Round Top. Had he failed to hold that position, the Union line would have collapsed, the battle would have been lost, and the Confederates would have marched on Washington and overtaken the White House. 

But Chamberlain and his men from the 20th Maine held firm. With great courage and tenacity, they repelled wave after wave of attack late into the afternoon. Even after his men ran out of ammunition, Chamberlain refused to retreat. Instead, he ordered that famous bayonet charge down the hill, which put the Confederates to flight and ended their plans to penetrate the Union line.

What’s not so famous, however, is a crisis that Chamberlain faced just two days before the Little Round Top incident. Chamberlain inherited 120 insurgents from the 2nd Maine. That regiment had folded because there were so many casualties in it. Naturally, the survivors assumed that when their unit ended, their term of service had ended, too. But not so, according to the military brass. They had to be re-assigned. Understandably, the men of the 2nd Maine were furious, so they dropped their muskets, and they refused to fight. 

They had seen enough war. They had seen enough death. And some of them were wounded themselves. They were emotionally drained; and they just wanted to go home. But they were rounded up like cattle and marched at gunpoint over to the 20th Maine. Now, put yourself in Col. Chamberlain’s boots for a moment. You’re preparing for your next campaign just north of where you are now, when suddenly, 120 grumpy, burned-out insurrectionists are dropped into your lap. What are you going to do with them? How are you going to get them on board? 

How do you motivate a group of wounded and weary soldiers to keep fighting the good fight? Chamberlain gets them on board with a speech—a stirring exhortation that is almost as powerful as the Gettysburg Address itself. After promising not to shoot the insurgents—which he had every right to do—Chamberlain talks to them with respect. In short, He reminded them that their purpose far outweighed their pain, and their prize far outweighed their price.

When it comes to Christian service, that’s a message believers need to be reminded of on a regular basis because ministry can be hard. Kingdom work is exhausting. Volunteer ministry can sometimes be discouraging, dispiriting, or disillusioning. Certainly, there are moments of great joy and celebration, but Christian service has a way of wringing us out like a wet dish rag. Paul’s burden in 2 Timothy is to light a fire under his young protégé to fight like a good soldier and keep fighting, even when the battle gets fierce. To that end, Paul tells Timothy—and he tells believers today—to press on in view of both the pain and the payoff. In short, he says fight to the finish, and receive your crown from Christ.

Paul, the old war horse, now in chains, sitting in the shadow of execution, just weeks away from martyrdom—what’s he concerned about? What’s foremost on his mind? The continued sharing of the gospel after he’s gone. It’s no time to go AWOL on the gospel, says Paul. He tells God’s people to fight well as a service to Christ (4:1-5), and finish well as a sacrifice to Christ (4:6-8). Just as he did.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

The Gospel Unchained, Part 10: Navigate the Last Days (2 Timothy 3:10-17)

Here’s a black and white photo that doesn’t look like much, but it tells an amazing story:

It’s an SAR—a Synthetic Aperture Radar— image of Hurricane Ike as it approached the coast of Texas in September 2008. Ike was the seventh costliest Atlantic storm in history, leaving about $38 billion worth of damage in its wake.

If we look at the picture carefully, we can see within the well-defined eye, near the right side toward the bottom, a tiny white dot. That dot is the 584-foot Cyprus bulk freighter Antalina, which got caught in the storm when its engines failed. 

There were 22 souls aboard the vessel when the storm hit. The wind was so severe, the Coast Guard had to call off its rescue attempt. The ship and the crew were forced to ride it out—inside the fury of the storm—hoping against hope that they wouldn’t be swamped or capsize. The satellite image shows the ship still safely afloat as the eye passes over them, giving them a brief respite until the southeastern wall pummeled them again.

Happily, the Antalina made it safely through the storm, and a tugboat pulled it safely to port after it was all over. All 22 crewmen survived, and the ship was undamaged. Quite significantly, the crew always knew where they were. Even though their engines had failed, they had a map and a compass to navigate the adventure. Better yet, the Coast Guard never lost sight of them. They were always on the radar, and officials always knew exactly where they were. It’s disorienting to be in a storm, but the tools of navigation have a way of keeping crew members tethered to reality—even when they’re getting pummeled by a hurricane. 

Can you imagine what kind of storms will visit us in the last days? Can you imagine how disorienting it will be when all hell breaks loose and unleashes its fury one last time prior to the return of Christ? We have hints and glimpses in Scripture of what those days will be like, but the intense depravity and deception will swirl around God’s people like never before. Jesus said it would be so bad, he put the question like this: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). In other words, the hurricane of depravity and deception will be severe. 

On another occasion, Jesus described these days like this: At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:10-13).

But how do we stand firm to the end? How can we be saved in the storm? Paul tells us in this passage to navigate the last days by the map of God’s word, the compass of God’s workers, and the North Star of Jesus Christ. It’s not a specific battle plan, but a general one, and believers do well to implement it now. We can do so by emulating God’s faithful workers (vv. 10-14) and examining God’s faultless word (vv. 15-17).

Indeed, the launching point for believers is always the inspired, God-breathed Scriptures because: (1) they are the sacred writings; (2) they are the source of saving truth; and (3) they are the spoken word of God. Thankfully, God has not left his people without a map and compass to navigate the storms of life. As Vance Havner once said, “A Bible that’s falling apart is usually owned by somebody who isn’t.” Best of all, God never loses sight of his people. They’re always on his radar.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

The Gospel Unchained, Part 9: Mark the Menace (2 Timothy 3:1-9)

Hedviga Golik was born in Croatia in 1924. One night she made herself a cup of tea, sat down in her favorite armchair in front of the black and white television, and then watched her favorite programs. There she stayed—for the next 40 years! True story. Her lifeless remains were found sitting in front of the same TV four decades after she was reported missing.

Croatian police said she was last seen by neighbors in 1966, when she would have been 42 years old. The neighbors all thought Hedviga had moved away, but she was found by police who finally broken into her apartment. Fortunately for their noses, the windows had been slightly open all those years.

A police spokesperson said: “So far, we have no idea how it’s possible that someone reported as missing so long ago was not found before this, in the same apartment she used to live in.”

When the officers got there, they said it was like stepping into a place frozen in time. There was tea still in cup. There was moldy popcorn still in the bowl. Nothing was disturbed. There were just lots of cobwebs everywhere.

Neighbors were shocked by the discovery. Jadranka Markic was just 9 years old when Hedviga vanished. She said: “I still remember her. She was a quiet woman who kept to herself but was polite. We all thought that she had just moved out and gone to live with relatives.”

There was much soul searching in the community over this discovery. The recurring question was, “How did we miss this? Have we been so inwardly focused, so self-absorbed, so inattentive that didn’t even know she died in our midst? How could we have been so selfish not to see this?” Keith Green—who was something of a musical prophet from the early 1980s—had a captivating line from one of his songs: “It’s so hard to see when my eyes are on me.”

A major characteristic of the last days is selfishness. In fact, Paul’s message here is this: The last days are filled with people who are filled with self. And here we are in the “selfie” generation. Our culture features a magazine called Self. And we’re all living on this side of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs—the highest of which is “self-actualization.” Indeed, it really is “hard to see when my eyes are on me.”

This message looks at the ways and the wiles of the proto-gnostics Timothy encountered in Ephesus in the first century, drawing parallels to the similar ideologies in our day. “Last days” people enthrone the sinful self, he says, and they aren’t bothered by it. It leads to a distortion of the gospel called “antinomianism.”

Archbishop Trench once said the selfish person is like a hedgehog which, “rolling itself up in a ball, presents only sharp spines to those without, keeping at the same time all the soft and warm wool for itself within.” Ultimately, the question raised in this message is not, “Who are the people I know who fit the description of a selfish person?” The question raised is, “To what extent do I fit the description of a selfish person?”

John Stott has said, “If a man is proud, arrogant and swollen with conceit, of course he will never sacrifice himself to serve others. God’s order, as plainly declared in his moral law, is that we love him first (with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength), our neighbour next and our self last. If we reverse the order of the first and third, putting self first and God last, our neighbour in the middle is bound to suffer.” Just like Hedviga Golik.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

The Gospel Unchained, Part 8: Be Useful to God (2 Timothy 2:20-26)

A man used to visit the old general store out in the country. The owner of the store had a clerk named Jake, who seemed to be the laziest man in the whole world. One day the man noticed Jake was gone, so he asked the owner, “Where’s Jake?” “Oh, he retired,” said the owner. “Retired? Then what are you going to do to fill the vacancy?” The owner replied, “Jake didn’t leave no vacancy.”

That may have been bad grammar, but it was an astute observation. Because Jake was incredibly lazy, he wasn’t very useful to the owner, and, therefore, he wouldn’t really be missed. We do well to ask ourselves the challenging question: “What kind of vacancy would there be in God’s kingdom if we left?” 

Scripture indicates wants all his people serving Christ in some way. In fact, he’s given gifts to each believer to be used in his service. And yet, for so many who claim to know Christ as their Savior, their faith is like football—an occasional Sunday spectator sport. They’re not serving Christ day by day. But those who truly know Christ can’t be happy sitting in the stands. We want to be in the game.

We may need to sit out from time to time to catch our breath. We may need to go to the trainer’s room once in a while if we’re hurt. We may even need to be on the injured-reserve list for a period of time, until we get healthy. But our desire is to get in the game and be of some use to our team and our coach.

The teaching in 2 Timothy 2:20-26 reveals the kind of person God loves to use. We might think God uses only people who have impressive gifts and abilities. Spiritual gifts certainly play a part, but they’re not the main feature in being used by God. Paul tells us in this passage God loves to use those who are cleansed, kind, and committed.

The apostle uses two more images or metaphors to make his point—the “vessel” (v. 20) and the “servant” (v. 24) The calling of the vessel is to be cleansed to be useful to the master. The calling of the servant is to be kind and committed so that some will be saved and delivered from their bondage. When it comes to God’s calling on our lives, believers are not to leave any vacancies.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

The Gospel Unchained, Part 7: Watch Out (2 Timothy 2:14-19)

Somebody once said, “The main thing in life is to keep the main thing the main thing.” That’s true in Christian theology, too. Jesus once spoke of “weightier matters of the law” (Matthew 23:23), meaning some things in the Torah are more important than others. Likewise, the Apostle Paul spoke of “disputable matters” (Roman 14:1), meaning some things in the Christian life require no ecclesiastical positions or pronouncements. The Early Church called such things adiaphora, meaning “matters of indifference.”

The fact is, certain aspects of the Christian faith are never worth disputing (2 Timothy 2:14, 16-18a), while certain aspects of the Christian faith are always worth defending (2 Timothy 2:18b). The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (along with his followers at the end of the age) is in this latter category. That’s always doctrinal hill to die on—so much so that Paul devotes an entire chapter to it in 1 Corinthians 15. Without the resurrection, he says, there is no Christianity.

Paul tells us in this passage that when it comes to haggling over WORDS, cut it out (2 Timothy 2:14, 16-18). However, when it comes to handling THE WORD, cut it straight (2 Timothy 2:15, 19). He instructs young Timothy—and he instructs Bible teachers today—“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). 

The image is rich with practical insights for today’s teachers. Our calling is to be faithful to what God has revealed in his Word, a task that requires hard work, courage, and living primarily for the approval of the One who inspired his Word to be written down for our instruction. 

Moreover, we should want the apostles and prophets of old—were they sitting in the front row of our classrooms or sanctuaries—to hear our sermons and lessons, and nod in agreement after we teach, saying, “Yes, that’s what I meant. You were faithful to the message I wrote down about God and his ways many years ago, and you demonstrated its relevance for God’s people in your day.”

In short, Paul’s message for us is: Watch out for Bible teachers who make much of what is little and little of what is much. What we need to make much of in our day is Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, and his gospel of salvation for all who believe.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

The Gospel Unchained, Part 6: Remember the Gospel (2 Timothy 2:8-13)

Adoniram Judson was the first overseas missionary sent out from America. In the early 19th century, he and his wife went to India. A short time later, he went to Burma, where he labored in gospel work for nearly four decades. After 14 years on the field, Judson had a handful of converts and had managed to write a Burmese grammar. 

During that time, he suffered a horrible imprisonment for a year and a half, and he lost his wife and children to disease. A man who had been incarcerated with Mr. Judson described their prison conditions as he re-called them:

“The only articles of furniture the place contained were these…a gigantic row of stocks, similar in its construction to that formerly used in England…[only these were stocks for the feet, not the head and hands]. It was capable of accommodating more than a dozen occupants, and like a huge crocodile opened and shut its jaws with a loud snap upon its prey…. The prison had never been washed, nor even swept, since it was built… This gave a kind of…permanency to the odors… 

“As might have been expected from such a state of things, the place was teeming with creeping vermin to such an extent that…the greater portion of my dress was plundered. Surely it was enough for Mr. Judson to be shut up in the hot, stifling stench of a place like this without having his ankles and legs weighted with…irons, the scars from which he wore to his dying day. 

“He could say with the Apostle Paul, ‘I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.’ When Mr. Judson was subjected to these indignities and tortures, he was in the very prime of life—36 years old.”

There’s nothing like a good missionary biography to illustrate how small our sacrifice for Christ often is by comparison. Adoniram Judson suffered greatly for his Christian commitment. But, like the Apostle Paul, Judson considered his work for Christ to be infinitely more important than his own personal comfort. 

Where does that kind of inner strength come from? It comes from the grace standing behind what Paul writes to Timothy: “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained” (2 Timothy 2:8-9). In other words, you can endure anything when you remember the gospel is everything.

Looking back on his life, Judson wrote these words: “If I had not felt certain that every trial was ordered by infinite love and mercy, I could not have survived my accumulated sufferings.” Like Paul, Judson believed that no suffering is too great if it brings about the salvation of those who place their trust in Jesus Christ—a trust that leads to “eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10). Or, as Martin Luther put it:

Let goods and kindred go
This mortal life also
The body they may kill
God’s truth abideth still
His Kingdom is forever

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

The Gospel Unchained, Part 5: Endure Hardship (2 Timothy 2:1-7)

Early in the 20th century, there was an ad in a London newspaper that read as follows: “Men wanted for hazardous journey: small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, and constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.” That’s not a very compelling invitation, is it? Except for the fact that it was signed by Sir Ernest Shackleton, which caused thousands of men to respond to the ad. 

That’s because Shackleton (1874–1922) was one of the principal figures of the period known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. He was the great expeditionary hero who got closer to the South Pole than anyone else history up to that point. 

For that achievement, Shackleton was knighted by King Edward VII on his return home. No wonder thousands of men responded to his ad. Who wouldn’t want to be part of a great adventure with a proven leader on an expedition that had a great chance of succeeding?

The Christian Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe once said that if Jesus Christ had advertised for workers, the announcement might have read something like this: 

“Men and women wanted for difficult task of helping to build My church. You will often be misunderstood, even by those working with you. You will face constant attack from an invisible enemy. You may not see the results of your labor, and your full reward will not come till after all your work is completed. It may cost you your home, your ambitions, even your life.” Not a very compelling invitation, either, is it? Except for the fact that it’s signed by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords himself—Jesus of Nazareth.

Millions of people all over the world still respond to such an invitation. That’s because Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel, who came right on time in fulfillment of scores of OT prophecies. He lived in the 1st century during the days of King Herod. He healed the sick, cast out demons, taught God’s Word, loved the outcast, revealed the Father, and died on a bloody cross. On the 3rd day, he rose again.

For that achievement, Jesus was declared both Lord and Christ of the universe on his return home to heaven. No wonder millions still respond to his call, difficult though it may be. Who wouldn’t want to be part of a great adventure with a proven leader—a resurrected leader—on a missional adventure that cannot ultimately fail? Yet, many people do resist that adventure, and it’s not hard to see why.

In this passage, the apostle Paul calls Timothy—and by extension, he calls all believers—to be willing to endure hardship for the gospel. That’s a tough sell in our comfort-driven culture, isn’t it? But that’s Paul’s message to the church: To be an effective, contagious Christian, suffer now for the sake of future gain. What a challenging message!

How many of us show the dedication of a soldier (v. 3-4)? How many of us show the discipline of an athlete (v. 5)? How many of us show the diligence of a farmer (v. 6)? These are the illustrations Paul uses to motivate Timothy—and his church—to ensure the gospel baton is passed to the next generation. Who’s ready to sign up?

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

The Gospel Unchained, Part 4: Take Care (2 Timothy 1:13-18)

When Abraham Lincoln died in 1865 at the hand of an assassin’s bullet, nine newspaper clippings were found in one of his pockets. Every article concerned some notable accomplishment of the late President. One clipping highlights a speech by the British statesman John Bright, noting that Lincoln was one of the greatest men of all time. 

That’s not news for those who live a century and half later, but in 1865, the jury was still out. The nation was divided, and Lincoln had fierce critics on both sides of the war. Life was often difficult for “honest Abe,” and he needed encouragement. Whenever something nice was printed about him in the newspaper—which wasn’t very often—he would clip it, read it, re-read it, and he keep it for a while.

Most people, especially leaders, need encouragement. Life is tough, and it’s even tougher when you have to lead. That includes the Apostle Paul, sitting in Roman a dungeon 2,000 years ago. It is dark, damp, depressing, and lonely. Thankfully, a man called Onesiphorus visited Paul as often as he could. Each time he did, Paul was refreshed in body, mind, and spirit.

Maybe that’s why Paul wrote such powerful letters from prison. It’s very possible we have people like Onesiphorus to thank for that. Yes, Paul was led by the Holy Spirit when he wrote, but he was lifted by Onesiphorus before he wrote. 

Do you have an Onesiphorus in your life—someone who blesses, refreshes, and encourages you? Better yet, are you an Onesiphorus to somebone else? If so, you could very well be assisting the spread of the gospel, as discouragement is one the enemy’s greatest weapons against believers. Paul’s message to Timothy in this passage is the same message for us today: Take care of God’s word and God’s workers. Why? So more people will know him. And people will know him more.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.