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Series: Faith in God

Last week we looked at the importance of faith. It’s crucial to our Christian lives because as James (1:7) tells us, without it, we should not “expect to receive anything from the Lord.” But with faith, as Jesus tells us (Mark 9:23) “all things are possible.” All that God has for us is made available to us by faith. This is how we receive from God.

Today we look at the kind of faith that receives from God, getting a bit more specific. There are actually three parts to faith. And if you want to receive from God, you need all three of these working in your life.

Let’s jump right in. First of all, you need –

1. A word from God

You need something from God concerning his will and his purpose to believe in. You need something to stand on; something to claim that comes from God, not from your own mind or what someone else thought up.

Jeremiah 23:16 speaks of “vain hopes” that are not based on God’s word, but the words of people who have not heard from God. And this is what our faith is if it’s not based on what God says – “vain hope.” Rather, as the Psalmist says to God, we are to “hope in your word” – Psalm 119:114.

What we need is a knowledge of God’s promises; an understanding of God’s word; and the ability to hear God’s voice by the Spirit speaking to us. This is what makes faith possible.

As we saw last week, Abraham had a promise from God for a son. He had something from God to stand on.

  • In Genesis 12:2 the Lord said, “I will make you a great nation,” which means he has to have a child.
  • God said in Genesis 12:7, “To your offspring I will give this land.”
  • And in Genesis 17:16 God said more specifically, “I will give you a son by Sarah.”

As we see in this example, from “the man of faith” as Paul calls him (Galatians 3:9) our faith must be grounded in a word from God. Without this it’s fake faith; it’s simply presumption on our part, not faith. Without a word from God we will find ourselves vainly waiting on God to do something he never said he would do! We’ll talk more about this in a later message.

Second, you need –

2. Firm trust

I also call this “faith proper,” because this is what Scripture usually means when it talks about faith.

Hebrews 11:1 speaks of this. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” First of all, we have “things hoped for” and “things not seen.” These refer to what we are looking for God to do, based on his word to us. What we are hoping for but can’t see yet.

The firm trust is referred to by the word “assurance”, or it can also be translated “confidence.” And also by the word “conviction” which can be translated “certainty.” So, firm trust means being sure of God’s word to us. Being certain in our hearts that what God has said to us, God can and will do.

Abraham trusted in God’s promise to him. After hearing that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, it says, “he believed the Lord” – Genesis 15:6. That is, he trusted in God and God’s promise to him.

As Paul says, “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” – Romans 4:20-21. He had nothing to go on in the natural; they were both too old to have children. But he had “an assurance of things hoped for” – a promise from God; and a “conviction of things not seen” – that God would give him a son.

He trusted that what God told him would come to pass; that his circumstances wouldn’t remain the same. He was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” – which is an excellent definition of firm trust. We too need to be fully convinced that God is able to do what he promises us.

Finally, we need –

3. Appropriate action

– which flows from our certainty in God’s promise. Paul calls this the “obedience of faith” – Romans 1:5. This has to do with our actions of obedience to God in light of the promises that God gives us.

Abraham is an example. He acted on his faith in a way appropriate to the promise given to him. He left his family and home behind. He moved to Canaan. He waited for a son.

You can see his certainty in the way he acted. He would’ve never done these things if it weren’t for the promise and his firm trust in God and God’s promise. In the same way, when we are truly convinced of God’s word to us, it will show up in our actions. 

As Jesus said, a “tree is known by its own fruit” (Luke 6:44). What is within us, in our heart, whether faith or unbelief – is made known in our words and actions, what comes out of us. There is a correspondence between what is inside us and what comes out of us; the fruit of our lives.

A sure sign that we don’t really trust God is that we will hesitate to act on God’s promises. And conversely, when we have true faith, we are willing to act on that.

Putting these three parts together faith is trusting in and acting on God’s word to us.  We hear God’s word, we fully trust God in our hearts, and this flows out into how we live our lives.

So this is –

The kind of faith that receives from God

We need, not just one part or two parts, but all three.

  1. You need a word from God as a foundation.
  2. You need firm trust in this word from God.
  3. You need appropriate actions that flow out of this certainty and make your faith complete.

You need all three to receive from God.

And, in fact, all three of these are a part of the Greek word for faith:

1. This word can be translated as “the faith,” referring to what we believe , or God’s word to us. Jude 3 says, “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to you.” (Other examples: Galatians 1:23; 3:23, 25; 1 Timothy 4:1, 6; 6:21)

2. Or it can be translated as “faith” meaning firm trust, which is the most common meaning. Just to give one example, in Mark 11:22 Jesus says, “Have faith in God” that is, trust in God and God’s promises.

3. Or this word can be translated as “faithfulness.” For instance, in Galatians 5:22, “faithfulness” is one of the fruits of the Spirit. It refers to our actions of faith. (Other examples: Matthew 23:23; Romans 3:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:4)

(The context determines whether it means on specific part of faith or all of them).

These are all a part of faith, and we need them all if we want to receive from God.

This, then, brings us to –

God’s faithfulness

When we have all three parts of faith working in our lives, the result is that we receive what God has for us. God comes through on his word to us; God acts on our behalf!

God is always faithful on his end. As Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:24 – “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” He will do what he says he will do.

Abraham had faith and so he received the promise of a son. Isaac was born to him 25 years after the promise was originally given (Genesis 21). God came through for him. And God will come through for us as well.

Let me emphasize again, as I said last week –

Our faith is key

We have looked at four things today:

  1. God gives us a word
  2.  We trust in God’s word to us
  3.  We act in faith
  4.  God acts to fulfill his promise

Notice that God begins the process, and God ends it. But we have a crucial role in the middle connecting the beginning and the end. Our faith is the bridge between what God promises and what God does. (God has chosen for it to be this way)

Faith is what gets us from the promise to the reality. Before God acts to fulfill his promise we must trust and we must act on our faith (#2 and #3). God wants to see us trust and act first.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Our faith isn’t anything in itself. It’s just like the completion of a circuit so that the electricity can flow through it. It’s the electricity, or power of God that’s the big deal. God flows through our faith and then works his will in this world, bringing promise into reality.

This is what I think: God has tons of blessings, and he wants to pour them out. God want to use us in amazing ways. But we only receive a small amount. We are limited by our lack of vision and so that’s all we get. We need faith so that we can receive all that God wants to give us.

As we end, let me share with you a –

A call to faith

We are studying and praying about how God wants to use each one of us to lead people closer to Christ; that they might know him and walk in his ways. Whether that is planting seeds or harvesting, or whatever.

God’s will for us is to “make disciples of all peoples.” And this comes with the promise that Jesus is “with us always to the end of the age” to help us do this – Matthew 28:19-20. This is our foundation; a word from God for us.

And so we need to choose to have firm trust in God that he can and will use us. We don’t look at the outward circumstances – “I’m too shy,” or “I don’t know what to say,” or “I’m not good at this,” or “I don’t know many people.” We trust that God can use us.  We know that God spoke to Balaam through a donkey, so I’m pretty sure he can use me and you!

And we need to act when God opens doors for us to share with others. When the door opens, we should be courageous to speak, or serve or listen or bless – or whatever is called for in the situation, to help the person toward Christ.

Do you have this kind of faith? This is the faith that brings God’s promises into reality. This is the faith that makes all things possible. And this is the faith that I am calling you to, so that God might use you to touch people’s lives.

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Our title this morning is “Be faithful in the little things.” We are looking at a principle that Jesus teaches and how he applies it to two different areas of our lives. The principle is stated most clearly in Luke 16:10. We can call it –

The principle of little and much

Luke 16:10 – “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is unreliable in a very little is also unreliable in much.”

(Unreliable is usually translated as “dishonest,” but the former seems more appropriate as a counterpoint to “faithful.” The principle is also in Matthew 25:21/23, see below. See also Luke 19:17. Luke 7:47 goes in a different direction.)

So we have what is little and what is much. And there is a relationship between them. How one does with what is little is a clear indicator of how one will do with much. This is stated in both a positive and a negative way – whether you are faithful or unreliable.

This principle can be applied in many ways, for instance with parents working with children or bosses with employees, or even in relationships. If someone you are dating treats you poorly or lies to you, you can be sure that they will do so once you are married. But our focus is on how Jesus applies this principle and first we look at the topic of –

How we use our wealth – Luke 16:11-13

The statement of our principle and these verses come right after the parable of the dishonest manager, which we looked at a few weeks ago. Let’s remember together briefly what it taught us:

There was a manager who had squandered his master’s funds and was about to be fired. But then he figured out how to take care of himself. He cut the debts of those who owed his master, so that they would like him and take care of him after he was fired and had no money. He said, “I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.” Luke 16:4. Through a shrewd use of his master’s wealth he took care of his future.

Jesus’ point is that Through a shrewd use of the world’s wealth (giving it to the needy) we take care of our future. He said at the end of the parable, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Luke 16:9  That is, the poor ones we help, will welcome us into the eternal kingdom.

And then comes v. 10 which states the principle of little and much, and then in Luke 16:11-12, Jesus applies this principle to the topic of wealth.

11If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?” Here we learn that the wealth of this world is not real wealth. True riches, that don’t fail (v. 9) and that one has because of righteousness, as opposed to how things often work in this world, true riches will only be given out in the world to come.

12And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” Here we learn that the wealth of this world is another’s. But what we are given in the world to come is going to be our own.

And in both of these statements it is clear that the “little” has to do with what we do or don’t do in this world with the wealth God gives us. The “much” has to do with what we will be our situation in the world to come – whether we will have the true riches that are our own. And the first, what we do or don’t do with the little, determines the second – the much. Because God knows based on what we have done with what is little, how we will do with the much of what is to come in the kingdom.

The key in all of this is, ‘Will we give of our wealth to help the poor and needy?’ This is being faithful in the little, this is being reliable in the little.

Then in v. 13 Jesus gets to the heart of the matter. “13No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” If we love God, we will do what God wants us to do with the little of this world’s wealth. We will give to help those in need. But if we love our wealth, we will keep it for ourselves and we will not have friends to welcome us into the kingdom.

Second, Jesus applies the principle of little and much to –

How we serve God – Matthew 25:21, 23

The context here is the parable of the talents. Let’s remember together the meaning of this parable. Jesus is about to go away to the Father after his death and resurrection. And so Jesus leaves his kingdom work to his disciples – the church, to you and me. And to some he gives a lot of responsibility, 5 bars of silver, to some 3 bars of silver and to some only 1 – each according to our ability. And we are to fulfill our tasks.

And then Jesus returns for the final judgment. And here we have the little and much principle stated clearly, as the master says to the one who had five bars of silver and increased them, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.” Matthew 25:21. And again to the one who had three talents and increased them, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.” Matthew 25:23.

Like before with wealth, the “little” has to do with what we do or don’t in regard to serving God with the tasks he has given us to do. The “much” has to do with what we will be our situation in the world to come – what our levels of responsibility will be in the fullness of the kingdom. And once again, the first, what we do or don’t do with the little, determines the second – the much. Because God knows based on what we have done with what is little, how we will do with the much of what is to come in the kingdom.

The key here is, ‘Will we serve God and do what he has tasked us to do?’ If we are faithful with the small responsibilities in this life that God gives us, God will give us greater responsibilities and honor in the world to come.

But heed the note of warning with the third servant. If we are not faithful here, we will not have a place in the world to come but will go to place of weeping and gnashing of teeth – Matthew 25:30.

The principle of little and much

This principle teaches us that what we do in this life will determine what we have in the life to come. God tests us in the little things of this life, before we get the real blessings of the world to come. Because he can tell from what we do in this life, what we should have in the life to come.

If we aren’t faithful in the little things, we will not be entrusted with the greater things – the much of the world to come. So whether it is how we use our wealth in this life, or how we fulfill the tasks that God has given to us in this life, we are being tested.

And so my word of encouragement to you this morning is this be faithful in the little things of this world! Be radical in your giving – don’t let fear of being without hinder you. Serve God with abandon – don’t let the things of this world distract you from what is truly important. Do this and you will be blessed with the much of the world to come – with what is true, with what is lasting and with what will be your own – untold blessings in the kingdom of God.

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Advent series: Parables of faithful waiting

I am asking the question once again this morning, “Will you be ready for Jesus’ second advent?” This comes to mind because we are celebrating the first advent of Jesus in this Christmas season, and we know that many among the people of God were not ready. And as Jesus warns us some will not be ready for his second advent.

We have been looking at several parables of faithful waiting to help us see what we need to do to be ready. And today we have come to the familiar parable of the slaves with responsibilities, or as it is often called the parable of the talents.

Our passage is found in –

Matthew 25:14-30

14For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his slaves and entrusted to them his property. 15To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.” (I have changed ESV’s “servants” to “slaves” throughout. For a very similar parable see Luke 19:11-27)

The phrase, “for it will be like . . .” connects to 25:1, which has the full formula, “the kingdom of heaven will be like.” Just as with the previous parable – the ten maidens with lamps, this one is about Jesus, his second coming and the coming of the kingdom of heaven to earth.

The word “talent” here does not mean a gift or ability that we have. (It came to mean this later in English, because of a particular interpretation of this parable, but it actually confuses things. Abilities are mentioned in v. 15 as a separate factor). It was a measurement of the weight of metal, usually silver. In this case we are talking about a bar of silver between 50-75 pounds. It was considered to be equal to 6,000 days of wages for a common worker.

Now, this can be done in different ways, but if we calculate it based on our minimum wage (7.25) and an eight hour work day:

1 talent = $348,000

2 talents = $696,000

5 talents = $1,740,000.

Needless to say these are astronomical amounts of money, especially for that day.

Although it is not stated here, as we will see, the point of giving them this money was for them to take it and increase it. The master is giving over his business to his slaves and they are to be proactive and make a profit while he is gone.

And notice that he gives out this money according to their abilities. He knew some would be able to handle more than the others. So the master gives out responsibilities to increase his business, based on what each one can handle.

16He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.”

Notice the eagerness of the one with five bars of silver – “he went at once.” He engaged in business and garnered a 100% profit, as did the one with two bars of silver. But the slave with one bar of silver decided that he had better not lose his master’s money and so he buried it in the ground. This was a common practice in the ancient world and was considered a good way to keep a treasure safe.

19Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’”

22And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’”

So both the one with five bars of silver and the one with two bars of silver are highly commended. They were faithful in his absence to do what he said. And because they were they are promoted and given more responsibilities. They are blessed.

And then we come to the crux of the story. 24He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’”

The master is presented as a ruthless businessman. To reap where you do not sow and gather where you do not scatter most likely refers to seizing crops from tenant farmers who couldn’t pay their rent to him (Craig A. Evans). He wants a profit wherever he can get it. And because of this, this slave didn’t want to take any risks to lose what he had been given. And he feels like he has been successful, because he gave back just what had been given him.

26But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful slave! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.”

The master condemns him with his own words. “If you knew I was a ruthless businessman, always wanting a profit – then you would know that I would want a return on my money.” The slave could have at least invested the money with a bank to earn some interest.

Then the master reveals the real problem. He is “slothful” or lazy. He had been given the responsibility to increase the master’s business while he was gone. But he chose not to do so, and so is called “wicked.”

28So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” This is the first part of the master’s judgment of the third slave. Because he failed in his responsibility to increase his master’s business, his silver is taken away from him.

The proverbial saying here means this: The one who has is the one who fulfilled his responsibility to increase his master’s business. So more is given to him. In fact, even though we are not told this above, here we see that he keeps not only the five bars of silver that he started with, but also the five that he made, and now the one bar from the third slave. So he does have an abundance. The one who has not is the one who did not fulfill his responsibility to increase his master’s business. So even what he was given, the one bar of silver, is taken away. Simply put – faithfulness with what is given you is rewarded with much more, but unfaithfulness will lose you even what you started with. (For the same use of this proverb see Luke 19:26. For its use in the context of seeking to understand Jesus and his teaching see Mark 4:25; Matthew 13:12; Luke 8:18).

And then comes the second part of his judgment: 30And cast the worthless slave into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” He is thrown into hell or Gehenna, the place where the unrighteous will go on the final day of judgment. The phrase, “cast into the outer darkness” refers to hell (Matthew 8:12; 22:13); as does the phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; Luke 13:28) which speaks to the suffering that will happen there.

The meaning of the parable

Like the previous parables, this is an allegory:

  • The master who goes away = Jesus while he is away. And we learn here once again that Jesus could be gone for a long time, for v. 19 says the master came back “after a long time.”
  • The three slaves = disciples of Jesus
  • The talents = responsibilities that Jesus gives us to increase his kingdom while he is gone, each according to our ability, to serve and expand the kingdom here on earth.
  • The master’s return = Jesus’ second coming
  • Settling accounts = the day of judgment. Those who fulfill their responsibilities are rewarded with much; they are faithful and will be given more responsibilities; they will “enter into the joy of their master” – that is,  they will share in the eternal kingdom. Those who don’t  fulfill their responsibilities will be judged. They will lose everything. Jesus will cast them into hell.

The master’s harshness is meant to warn us that Jesus has very high standards for us to do the work of the kingdom while he is gone. And will we have to give a very exacting account for what we do, or don’t do.

This brings us to the challenge of the parable –

Will you be ready?

  • Last week, we learned from the parable of the ten maidens that to be ready we need to be following Jesus’ teaching and example.
  • Today we learn that to be ready we need to be serving Jesus and doing the work of the kingdom.

Are you ready for this? Are you busy doing what Jesus has told you to do to increase his kingdom? We have all been warned this morning of the consequences of not being ready. So find out what your responsibilities are and get busy so that you will be blessed on that final day.

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Series on Witness

We are in a series of messages on witness that is meant to challenge us to become more outwardly focused as a congregation. Whether this is helping the church’s mission here in SW Chambersburg or whether it is in your own areas of outreach where you live or work or hang out. As a congregation we need to be less concerned with being comfortable and with what we get out of church, and more concerned with taking risks to reach out and with what we should be giving to others as we reach out.

Last week we began with the letter ‘W’ of the word “Witness” – Why we reach out. And we learned from the Scriptures that our motivation is Christ’s love for people. When we have Jesus’ heart of love we will have a different perspective on people, whatever they might be or seem to be according to the flesh. From the perspective of Jesus’ love they are helpless and harassed like sheep without a shepherd and need his salvation and grace.

Well today we focus in on a wrong reason to reach out, and this is the ‘I’ in witness – Idolatry and reaching out. And the idol is the desire to get big; to have a large church, thinking that this is what success means. This is where we idolize growth and getting big as the goal in itself.

Now yes, let me be clear, we very much do want to grow and have people come to know the Lord and become workers for his kingdom. But this can easily and subtly be distorted into an idol. And I think this takes place under the influence of American culture where big is the sign of success. And it comes from using a business model where the bottom line is profit and this is compared to getting more people in the congregation. And it can also just be from envy of other churches that are big and seem to be doing well.

So let me share with you three problems with this thinking:

1. The idolatry of big has a wrong understanding of success

According to this thinking a successful church equals growing and being big. And so if you are not growing you are a failure. But according to the kingdom of God a successful church equals being faithful to reach out, which can lead to growth and being big, but it might not. Do you see the difference in terms of what counts for success? Bigness in itself vs. faithfulness to do what God says whatever the results might be?

That this is true just think for a moment about the parable of the soils. What if a church is in a context where there is rocky soil – trials and persecution, or thorn filled soil – where everyone is focused on the good things of this life? If you are consistently reaching out, but with little or no results are you unsuccessful?

Here’s a more concrete example. What if a church is in a Muslim context and you are consistently reaching out but with little or no results. Does this mean you are unsuccessful?

Here’s an example from our congregation connected to the block party last week. I know a person who invited someone and he came. I know another person who invited 35 people and none of them came. But who would say that the second person was less faithful than the first?

And finally, think of Jesus. Was he a failure because at the end of his ministry he only had a handful of followers? Certainly not!

The point is if you are reaching out, you are successful, whether you are growing or not. Because it is the reaching out itself that is the mark of faithfulness, not the results of reaching out. So you can be amazingly, abundantly, fantastically faithful but have little outward fruit to show for it.

After all, Jesus said “you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8) not you must have many converts. And so the bottom line is that we are witnessing, not that we are growing; it is that we are loving and obeying God, not that we are big.

2. The idolatry of big will distort our outreach

Anything that we make into an idol will take us down the wrong road. The most prominent example here is that we water down the gospel to get people to come. Right? If the goal is to get people, you need to do what it takes to get people. So you lower the bar to suit your audience so that they will respond. You take away the things that are hard or that challenge people’s sin.

Well, Jesus flatly rejected this approach. We see this first in Luke 14:25-26. It says, “Now great crowds accompanied Jesus.” And we think, way to go Jesus you’re a success! You’re a winner! You have a crowd. But what does he do? “he turned and said to them, ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.’” What? Jesus you have to keep the crowd. You can’t go telling them to give everything up for you. They won’t follow you anymore!

But this shows us that Jesus doesn’t think like us. Jesus wasn’t influenced by the idolatry of big. He was consumed with faithfulness to God. So when there was a temptation to choose between having more people and watering down the gospel, he chose speaking the truth.

Another example of this comes from John 6:26. Before and after Jesus fed the 5,000 a crowd was following him. And in this case he said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me . . . because you ate your fill of the loaves.” What Jesus? Why would you challenge them like this. They wanted to make you a king!

But again, Jesus doesn’t think like us. Jesus wasn’t influenced by the idolatry of big. He was consumed with faithfulness to God.

He went on to talk about faith in him in such a way that most deserted him and he had to even ask the 12, ‘Will you leave me also?’ Jesus wasn’t interested in just getting a crowd. His goal was sharing God’s truth with everyone, even if the crowds went away.

3. The idolatry of big leaves God out of the equation

Yes, you can grow a church without God being involved. Indeed there are non-Christian religious groups that grow very rapidly and are large. But God is not in it. And there are churches that have grown because of a dynamic leader who was later found to be full of sin all along. And there are churches that grow because they tickle itching ears and tell people what they want to hear. But God is not in this.

So yes, you can grow a church without God, but this isn’t true growth. It is based on the flesh; on us and our skills or personality or techniques.And so this puts the spotlight on us. Look what we did. And this is in part why so many have become famous, celebrity pastors. They made their church grow! So they write their books and they go on tour and so forth.

But true growth only comes when God moves and people’s lives are changed. And he does this is thousands of different ways, not through some specific technique or strategy or leadership style.

In fact God loves to use the weak and the lowly; those who no one expects to do anything great. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29, “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” This brings the glory to God.

As Paul said, we may work, but “only God (is anything), who gives the growth.” – 1 Corinthians 3:7. It’s all about God, not us.

Now, none of this is meant to excuse not reaching out, and we have work to do here, as do most churches. And it is good to look at how we are doing in our outreach – if it is ineffective – to see if we are doing it poorly and to make corrections.

And you can also turn all this around and make an idol out of being small or not growing. You know, we are small because we are so much more faithful than other groups! When really it is because we don’t reach out or we have created cultural barriers that keep people away.

My point in all this is to have –

The right focus

So let’s focus on being faithful to God to reach out, taking risks and giving of ourselves to others. This is the measure of our success in the kingdom of God. And even if we are not bursting at the seams we can still be encouraged and joyful in our walk with God knowing that God is pleased with us.

Let’s focus on presenting the full gospel to others, even if it means that fewer people will come. Let’s not change his word and gospel message just to get our congregation bigger. If people don’t come or leave because of this we can still be encouraged and joyful in our walk with God knowing that God is pleased with us.

And let us focus on praying for God to move as we minister in his name, to change people’s lives. If there is not much fruit, this isn’t a matter of discouragement, so much as it is a call to greater prayer and reliance on God to bring about the growth, which only he can do. And we will give him the praise when he does his work.

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This morning we are looking at another story of faithfulness, in this case, the life an ancient believer whose life and faith I believe should be an encouragement to us in our Christian lives. Justin is his name, and he illustrates for us some specific aspects of faithfulness to Jesus which I will highlight at the end.

Some basics on Justin

He was born near Shechem, Samaria around 100 AD (A1-1) so he is a very early Christian. He was born just 30 years after Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD, and around 70 years after Jesus had his conversation with the Samaritan woman not far from Shechem.

He was not a Samaritan, or a Jew however (D – 28). He was born to a pagan family (A1-1) so he had no Christian influence growing up.

As a young man he gave himself to the study of Philosophy, going through several different schools of thought seeking after a knowledge of God. (D-2)

Justin’s conversion

Around 130 AD he had a conversation that changed his life. He most likely lived in Ephesus at this time. And as was his custom, when he wanted to get away to think, he went to a field by the sea where he could be alone.

But this time he met an old man there who challenged him to rethink his search after God.After pointing out several shortcomings in his thinking he led him to the Hebrew prophets as reliable teachers about God and his Son, the Christ. These were those who didn’t just think about God, but saw and knew God. And the man admonished him to pray that God would open his heart and mind to receive the truth of God. (D-7)

As Justin testified, “a flame was kindled in my soul; and a love of the prophets, and of those people who are friends of Christ, possessed me; and while revolving his word in my mind – I found this philosophy alone to be safe and profitable.” (D-8). He had been prepared for this encounter beforehand by seeing and admiring the courage of Christians as they faced death in times of persecution (A2-12)

Justin’s ministry

Justin MartyrHe continued on in the role of a philosopher, complete with dressing in the traditional cloak (tribon) of a philosopher (D–1); but as a Christian who encouraged the study and practice of the teachings of Jesus (D-8). He was a scholar and a teacher.

And he used this role as an opportunity to share the gospel with others. An example of this comes from his Dialogue with Trypho,who was a Jewish philosopher. He he wrote an account of and it can still be read. As he said to Trypho early on in this conversation, “If then you have any concern for yourself, and if you are eagerly looking for salvation, and if you believe in God . . . you may become acquainted with the Christ of God (through the Scriptures), and, after being initiated live a happy life.” (D-8)

Later he moved to Rome and started a school. While he was in Rome he wrote two defenses of the Christian faith. One was written to Emperor Antonius Pius, the other to Emperor Marcus Aurelius. These can also still be read. In these he stood up for believers who were being persecuted and killed for their faith, often based on rumors and baseless objections to Christianity.

Here’s an example – many thought Christians had no morals. For instance, since Christians celebrated a love feast (the Lord’s supper), called each other brother and sister and met in private for this – they thought they were promiscuous or even incestuous. (A1-29). So Justin repeatedly emphasized the values and morals that Christians believed and practiced. In one passage he says, “we who formerly delighted in sexual immorality – now embrace sexual purity alone . . .”

He goes on, “we who valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possessions, now bring back what we have into a common fund and give to everyone in need; we who hated and destroyed one another, and on account  of their different culture would not live with people of a different tribe, now since the coming of Christ live in relationship with them and pray for our enemies . . .” (A1-14)

Christians were also despised as atheists because they did not worship the gods or offer sacrifices to them. Justin explains, “what sober minded person then will not acknowledge that we are not atheists, worshipping as we do the Maker of this universe and declaring . . . that he has no need” of sacrifices. (A1-13).

This brings us to –

Justin’s death

Although it was illegal to be a Christian at this time, the Roman government didn’t usually seek Christians out to persecute them. If, however, they were exposed by others and didn’t recant they would be condemned. So, if you had a neighbor who didn’t like you; or a business competitor that wanted to get rid of you; or an enemy that wanted you dead – all they had to do was accuse you of being a Christian to the government. And once the charge was made persecution and often death followed.

Well he had enemies. One was a philosopher named Crescens. He and Justin had held public debates before about Christianity. As Justin said at one point, “I . . . expect to be plotted against and crucified . . . perhaps by Crescens . . ..” (A2-3). Tatian, a student of Justin, said that Crescens had indeed sought to kill them both at one point (Address to the Greeks). Whether it was Crescens or someone else, eventually he was arrested along with several of his students, including a woman named Charito.

At the trial the Roman Prefect demanded that Justin offer up a sacrifice to the gods. He asked, “Are you not then a Christian?” Justin answered, “Yes, I am a Christian.” The Prefect, contemplating Justin’s death asked, “Do you suppose, then, that you will ascend into heaven to receive some recompense?” Justin said, “I do not suppose it, but I know and am fully persuaded of it.”

The Prefect demanded that they all offer sacrifices to the gods. Justin said, “No right minded person falls away from true belief to false.” The others said, “Do what you will, for we are Christians and do not sacrifice to idols.”

The Prefect announced the sentence, they were to be scourged and then beheaded. Justin, and the others, remained faithful and were killed for their faith. Later, a group of Christians secretly obtained their bodies and gave them a proper burial.

This happened in 165 AD, so Justin was around 65 years old. This is also how Justin came by the name that he now bears – Justin “Martyr.” He was a true witness to Jesus, which is what the word martyr actually means, in his case, he was a witness even unto death.

Now let’s look at –

Several characteristics of faithfulness

 1. He was a faithful teacher and wise man. As Jesus said in Matthew 23:34 – “I send you (that is unbelieving Jews) prophets and wise men and scribes . . .” (although he was sent to the Gentiles primarily)

And just as the parable of the talents teaches us in Mathew 25:14-30 we have all been given tasks to do for God as we serve him in our earthly lives. What ministry has God called you to and how is it going? Justin was faithful to his calling in a time when being faithful was dangerous. Are you faithful to your task in our time?

2. He bore witness before the authorities. Jesus said in Luke 21:12-15 – “You will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to witness. . . . I will give you  a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.”

He argued effectively in writing and in person in debates and conversations and when he was on trial before the Roman Prefect. We are called to bear witness before others as well, even if they are less intense situations. But God will also be with us as we speak to give us wisdom. Do you have the courage to speak out and trust God for the right words?

3. Justin confessed Christ under persecution. Jesus said in Matthew 10:32 – “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.”

Justin confessed Christ when he life was on the line and died for it. And so we can be sure that he did and will receive a blessing from God, even as he said in faith that he would before the Prefect. Do we identify with Jesus and confess him in front of others? Or are we ashamed of him and hide our faith because it is a socially awkward situation or because it might affect our social standing or reputation? Don’t think that you can be ashamed of Jesus in these “little” ways and that when more serious persecution comes and your life is on the line that you will suddenly confess Jesus. All these lesser situations are practice for the more serious. It is those who are trained to identify with Jesus in everyday life who will confess him with boldness when their lives are on the line.

A1 = First Apology

A2 = Second Apology

D = Dialogue with Trypho

The other numbers refer to the sections of each work.

 

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I have started sharing with you the stories of faithful Christians from time to time, people who lived after the time of the Bible. I am doing this to point out that we can be radical followers of Jesus in whatever context we find ourselves in, not just in Bible times. And I am doing this to encourage us to live more radical, faithful lives as Christians. And to that end, in each case, I want to highlight how their lives embody specific aspects of faithfulness to Jesus from the Scriptures.

So far we have looked at Perpetua, who lived in Carthage, North Africa in the 200’s; Felix Mantz, who lived in Zurich, Switzerland in the 1500’s; and today we look at a man named –

Waldo

He was from Lyon France and lived  from around 1140-1206.  This is a statue of Waldo, in Worms Germany. Of course, no one knows what he actually looked like.

waldo

Much about Waldo’s story is shrouded in mystery, coming from his enemies or from later legends about him. I will try to give you some basics.

1. His name was Valdesius, which is Latin, but has come into English, whether correctly or not, as Waldo.

He is usually called Peter Waldo, but it is not at all clear that his name was Peter. All we know for sure is his Latin name Valdesius which he signed in one instance. His name in the local language was probably Vaudes. We’ll call him Waldo.

2. He was a wealthy merchant. The merchant class was emerging at this time and gaining social and economic power, and Lyon was a real commercial center. It is possible that he handled the investments for the archbishopric, which was suspected of charging interest on the poor. If true, he was involved in oppressing the poor to make himself rich.

In terms of real estate he is said to have owned “ponds, groves and fields, houses, rents, vineyards, mills, and fishing rights.” http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/waldo1.html This doesn’t include his bank account. He had some serious wealth in a time when most were dirt poor.

3. He gave up his wealth to preach the gospel. He was already concerned for his soul regarding his wealth, and then he heard the story of the rich young ruler and how Jesus called him to give up all his wealth and to come follow him. And he was disturbed that Jesus said, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 19:24). (Which, by the way, doesn’t refer to a small gate in the wall of Jerusalem).

Waldo heard in all this Jesus calling him to give up all his wealth so that he could preach the gospel, and this is what he did.

Regarding his preaching, one source gives this account of what sounds like his first public pronouncement.

He cried, “No man can serve two masters, God and mammon.” Then his fellow-citizens ran up, thinking he had lost his mind. But going on to a higher place, he said. “My fellow-citizens and friends, I am not insane, as you think, but I am avenging myself on my enemies, who made me a slave, so that I was always more careful of money than of God, and served the creature rather than the Creator.

I know that many will blame me that I act thus openly. But I do it both on my own account and on yours; on my own, so that those who see me henceforth possessing any money may say that I am mad, and on yours, that you may learn to place hope in God and not in riches.” http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/waldo1.html

He also criticized the church’s accumulated wealth and how many of its officials lived in luxury.

4. He had portions of Scripture translated so that people could hear and understand them. It’s not clear when this happened, but he hired two clergy to do this. This book was called the Sententiae and apparently focused especially on the Gospels. (There were also other portions of Scripture and some sayings of the church fathers as well.)

You have to understand that Scripture was in Latin, which the common person didn’t know. So people were completely dependent on what the church taught them.He brought the Scriptures into the common person’s language so that they could hear them for themselves. He is said to have memorized this book.

5. A movement began – the poor of Lyon, or the poor of Christ. People responded to his preaching. A number gathered around him and also gave up their wealth and began to preach. This would have been around 1170-1175.

They would go out two by two, as in the Gospels. They would share from the Scriptures and call people to repentance. Both men and women went out to preach. They lived off of the support of those who heard and received their message.

As one enemy wrote, they “went from village to village, going into people’s homes and preaching in public squares and even in churches . . .” (Bernard Gui). But this was a real problem because only trained clergy were allowed to preach, and then only under the supervision of the local Bishop.

This is the key that led to their –

Persecution

In 1179 some of his followers appeared before the Third Lateran Council. They sought the approval of their movement by the church.They showed them their Bible translation. There was some openness to them, but they were also ridiculed for their perceived ignorance of theology.

In 1180 Waldo signed a confession of faith to establish that he was orthodox. But they were still eventually forbidden to preach. In 1184 the Council of Verona made excommunication the punishment for those who persisted in preaching. Waldo and his followers were excommunicated and expelled from Lyon.

It is said that Waldo responded to all this by saying, “We must obey God rather than man”quoting Acts 5:29 and Peter’s words to the religious authorities of his day who told him to stop preaching.

Waldo died, apparently of natural causes, somewhere around 1206.

waldensiansLater persecution of the movement

 The poor of Lyon or the Waldensians, spread all throughout Europe with many thousands of adherents. They were also harshly persecuted. Many faced the inquisition. Many
were killed. They were forced to flee into the Alps to find refuge. This is a picture of the burning to death of some of them in  Toulouse in the 1200’s.

From 1487-1489 a Crusade of 18,000 troops was sent against them, to persecute and kill them.

 

 

I want to highlight – 

Several characteristics of faithfulness from Waldo’s life

But first let me say, you don’t have to die to be faithful. I don’t want to give the wrong impression with these stories of faithfulness. We all have to lose our lives in this world in various ways by giving them up to follow Jesus. But not all will be killed for their commitment. Waldo died a natural death.

Regarding his faithfulness, 1. His fearless preaching of the Gospel stands out. Jesus said in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . ..” In a time when it was assumed that everyone was a Christian, he preached and called all people to repentance. And when some tried to stop him, he accepted rejection and persecution to continue to do this. He is a model for us of zeal to reach out and share our faith in our much, much easier set of circumstances, where the biggest issues for us are shame, laziness or making time in our busy lives.

2. His rejection of wealth. Jesus doesn’t call all people to give up all their wealth like the rich young ruler or Waldo. But he does call all of us to reject wealth as the source of our security and comfort. This is God’s role in our lives. As Waldo quoted Jesus from Matthew 6:24 – “No one can serve two masters . . .You cannot serve God and money.”

Jesus also tells us all in Luke 12:33 – “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy.” We should all give of what God has blesses us with to help those who have needs. And we can also give sacrificially, even cutting into what we need (Mark 12:41-44). 

3. He obeyed Jesus simply and radically. It is Jesus’ purpose that we do everything that he teaches. As he said in Matthew 28:19, everyone who is baptized is “to observe all that I commanded you,” that is, all that he taught the apostles. As he says in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” We are called to obedience.

Waldo heard what Jesus said, he listened to the Spirit and he acted. He did not need any fancy explanations or pressure, or an inspiring message to act. And he certainly didn’t listen to any who would explain away what Jesus said. He read it and he acted on all that Jesus said.

And he obeyed Jesus even when it was very difficult, giving up everything he had and living off of the charity of others; even when  the authorities, even the church authorities, told him not to; even when it brought him persecution.

Let me end with a call to commitment. We all only have one life to live. Why not give it to Jesus fully and radically? Why not give it as a monument of your love and devotion to him? Why use it up on the mundane things of this world, especially accumulating wealth and trying to live comfortably? Don’t waste your life. It is a gift from God. Don’t let the distractions of this world and earthly pursuits take up your life so that you wake up one day and you are old and you haven’t served or loved God in dramatic ways. What will any of this life’s comforts mean in the context of the final day? Why not choose to do something great for God? Lift up your eyes to see greater things than just living life like everyone else is, or just being a nominal Christian. What is God calling you to do? Do you have the courage to follow him? It is never too late.

[A note: If Waldo did leave his wife behind and put his children in a convent, then this is problematic. Neither Luke 14:26, nor Matthew 8:18-22 condone functionally divorcing one’s wife and orphaning one’s children. Even though he provided for them financially he was bound by his marriage covenant to be with his wife (Matthew 19:4-6; 1 Corinthians 7:3-5) and as a father to raise his children. Although perhaps it is possible that he maintained some contact with his wife and children.]

*I have relied on Gabriel Audisio’s The Waldensian Dissent, and also John Driver’s Radical Faith, who in turn draws on Amedeo Molnar’s work.

William Higgins

 

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From time to time I want to share with you stories about Christians who lived after the time of the Bible who can both teach us and encourage us to live more faithfully ourselves. And in each case I want to show how their lives embody specific aspects of faithfulness from the Scriptures.

The first one I shared with you was the story of the young woman, Perpetua, who lived in Carthage Africa in the early 200’s. Today we jump all the way to the early 1500’s and we are in Switerland. So this was around 500 years ago. This is the story of Felix Mantz (or Manz). We begin with his –

His life in Zurich

Zurich with the Limmat river in the foreground and the Grossmunster in the background

Zurich with the Limmat river in the foreground and the Grossmunster in the background

He was born here in 1498. He was the illegitimate child of a priest at the main church in Zurich, the Grossmunster. It was not uncommon at this time for priests to have concubines.

He was in his early 20’s when the Protestant reformation began to gain a foothold in Zurich. And he became very involved in it, working with the Protestant leaders and attending bible studies.

He had studied at the University of Paris and knew Latin and Greek, and he learned Hebrew at this time. He was on his way to being appointed as a scholar and teacher of Hebrew in what would become the University of Zurich.

A reform of the Protestant reformation?

But he, along with several others, became disillusioned with the Protestant leaders of Zurich. Although they talked about having a church based on the New Testament, they constantly allowed the city council to determine what, if anything, would change in the church of Zurich. The State, even though made up in part of unbelievers, was in charge of the church and its reformation.

The first public break between Mantz and these leaders came in October 1523 when the city council called for a debate about the Lord’s Supper, or when to change from a Catholic service to a Protestant one.

City council building

City council building

City council building in the 1500s

City council building in the 1500s

Mantz argued that when you know what is right based on the Bible, you need to act on it, not wait. The Protestant leaders deferred to the conservative city council and decided to wait to make a change.

Mantz and the others had been meeting together in their own bible study for a while, often in his mother’s home. They went ahead and began to observe a simple Lord’s supper among themselves.

The controversy came to focus next on infant baptism. The radicals asked, where is this in the Bible? The city council called for a debate on this topic which took place on January 10 and 17, 1525. Mantz was a spokesperson for the radical group.

Now, a State church needs infant baptism to bind together everyone in one faith in their territory. Mantz and the radicals were coming to see that the church should only be made up of people who choose the Christian faith for themselves. So these are very different ideas of what the church should be.

Anabaptist and Protestant leaders in the council building

Anabaptist and Protestant leaders in the council building

Street on which the first baptisms took place

Street on which the first baptisms took place

The radicals argued that there is a pattern in Scripture, which is that faith and repentance come before baptism. The disputation, of course, was given to the Protestant leaders by the council since they worked hand in hand. But this wasn’t all.

On January 18th, the council ordered all parents to have their children baptized within a week. (One of their group had just had a daughter four days before). And on January 21st – Mantz and the others were silenced, and their meetings banned.

That very evening the group of radicals gathered at Mantz’s mother’s house and received from each other believer’s baptism, thus starting a new Christian group.

Life as a persecuted evangelist

First Anabaptist church site

First Anabaptist church site

The next day the group fled to the village of Zollikon, just south of Zurich. And they began preaching and baptizing people. Mantz baptized a farmer named George Shad, who himself later went on to baptize 40 more people. Things really took off and people began to respond.

Also in Zollikon, Mantz baptized Hans Bruggbach. An account of this said that after a Bible study, Hans “stood up, wept and wailed what a great sinner he was and asked those present to pray for him.” After he confessed his faith, Mantz baptized him. Right after this another man, Jacob Hottinger stood up and asked to be baptized and Mantz baptized him. This became the first Anabaptist congregation.

An Anabaptist prison break

An Anabaptist prison break

Within a week the authorities cracked down. Mantz was arrested along with many others. He was put in prison on a diet of mush, water and bread until he had a change of heart. But he escaped from prison and went to other areas outside of Zurich to minister. He was arrested again in July and was in jail for 3 months. But then he was released and began to preach and baptize again.

Once again he was arrested and brought to Zurich. As a prisoner at this time he took part in one final debate, November 6-8 in the Grossmunster. Almost a thousand people came.

Debate in the Grossmunster

Debate in the Grossmunster

After this he was sentenced to life in prison, and isolated from outsiders. In the Spring the council decreed the death penalty for anyone who baptized outside of the State church. In March (1526) he escaped through a window that was left open in the prison tower.

For the next nine months he was constantly on the run. He held secret meetings with believers in fields and forests. He taught them the Scriptures, baptized and celebrated a simple Lord’s supper.

His death

His final arrest was in December of 1526. He was sentenced to death by Zurich authorities. He was killed January 5, 1527 in the Limmat river at the age of 29.

Zurich in the 1500s

Zurich in the 1500s

He was taken from the Wellenberg tower situated in the Limmat river (above – the bottom right corner) by boat, to the east bank by the fish market near the city council building. Here his sentence was read. Then he was taken past the council building to the slaughterhouse where he was put into a boat and taken out to a fisherman’s hut (above – the bottom left corner). As he made his way he praised God that he was about to die for the truth. A great crowd watched. And his mother encouraged him to stay true.

The martyrdom of Felix Mantz

The martyrdom of Felix Mantz

They bound his hands over his knees with a rod to keep him immobile. His final words were, “Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my Spirit.” Then they  pulled him off the platform and he drowned at 3:00 in the afternoon.

Area of the Limmat river where he was drowned

Area of the Limmat river where he was drowned

Finally, here are –

Several characteristics of faithfulness

– that stand out to me in Mantz’s life:

1. He worked to fulfill the great commission. Jesus said in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

He had an exemplary ministry of disciple making, baptizing and teaching throughout the area of Zurich. And this is a challenge to us. He did this when there were great obstacles to fulfilling the great commission of Jesus:

  • at this time everyone thought that everyone in Europe was already Christian.
  • he was being told that he was a heretic for simply following the New Testament.
  • it was against the law of the land.

The challenge is this – in our situation where none of these obstacles exist, why aren’t we more active in fulfilling the great commission?

2. He was not afraid of persecutors. Jesus said in Matthew 10:28, “do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul.” And he was fearless. He was constantly breaking the law in order to spread the word. And even when he knew near the end, that if he were caught he would die, he kept going.

This is a challenge to us – he carried out his ministry under constant threat of arrest and death. But the worst we have to fear is that we will be ridiculed and dishonored. Yet we often allow this fear to stop us.

3. He gave up his earthly life. Jesus said in John 12:25, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

  • He hated his earthly life in comparison to his love for Jesus when he was killed for his faith as a young man. He could have recanted. He could have sought a way out and changed course.
  • And he hated his earthly life in comparison to his love for Jesus when he gave up comfort and status to become an evangelist on the run. He could have taken a wife and had kids and been honored as a professor and outstanding member of the Zurich community. He could have enjoyed all the comforts and privileges that Zurich has to offer in that day.But he lost his life, he gave all this up for faithfulness to God, and for a life in the world to come.

This is a challenge to us. What have we given up for Jesus? Even short of physical death, what have we hated of our life in this world; what have given up to serve Jesus? We should not think that if there were suddenly persecution in our context and our lives were on the line that we would out of the blue give up our physical lives for Jesus if we have not already been giving up our lives in service and sacrifice for Jesus more generally. If we are not taking up our cross and dying every day, we will not be prepared to literally give up our lives.

Mantz had already given everything up. He had sacrificed all for Jesus. That is why he could be joyful even as his physical death approached.

William Higgins

(I am indebted to John Allen Moore’s Anabaptist Portraits)

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