This is just a brief ‘diary entry’ after day 2 of my current pastoral visit to two missionary families in Nantes, West France.
After waking up late and bleary-eyed on Friday morning (having tried unsuccessfully to stay awake for the UK General Election results the night before), I grabbed a bite of breakfast, a mug of coffee, and headed off to our Team Meeting.
I began our time by reading Romans 1.1-17. I briefly stressed Paul’s note of thanksgiving and desire for mutual encouragement expressed in v7-12, in their saving Gospel faith v16-17, which is located in the promised, incarnate, risen, glorified Christ v1-6:
“To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you – that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.”
While I have known great help over the last two months, I came to France this weekend relatively sleepless and rather exhausted. My expectation, I guess, was fairly low – to try and make it through, and bring a little help. After all, is not France renowned for being ‘the Graveyard of Missionaries’? It is not reported that ninety-five per-cent of all Christian workers, historically-speaking, retreat to their homeland in deflation and defeat, after a brief stay of five years? Such was my mindset as we began a long three-hour meeting, sustained by the prospect of a delicious three-course meal at a local French restaurant!
Well, you may be wondering, how did the meeting go? I have to say it confounded my pessimism, revitalized by soul, enlarged my heart and blew-away my expectations. By the time we finished lunch, and had some more Christian conference, my soul was singing, the mutual encouragement was so great.
For one thing, in this difficult mission station the missionaries were in good heart, pressing on with the work, walking closely with the Lord, and show no sign of giving up. Another thing to remark on was their evident spiritual growth – their growth in grace and maturity in the faith, in the midst of much to discourage, was a treasure to behold. Godly desires and spiritual fruit were hanging from the laden bows of their crucified, risen lives. Christ was in their heads, Christ was in their hearts, Christ was on their lips, Christ was present as we met.
As we conferred on the elements of public worship in the ‘Salle’ in Nantes, their evident desire was the preaching of Christ, to the glory of God, in the power of the Spirit. We reflected on the fact that it is a miracle of grace that we, as believers, are able to recite with full hearts the words of the Lord’s Prayer “Thy Will be done”. There is only one explanation behind the vertical and horizontal dimensions of divine love that we experienced as we met: the reality of the power of the Gospel of God. So it was with much thanksgiving, surprise and joy, after a long, reflective walk, that we lay our heads on our pillows – needless to say we woke, still refreshed, this morning, and now pass on to you ‘Good News’ of the benedictions of Christ’s Cross, from the missionaries in Nantes!
“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness:” Lamentations 3.22-23.
Of course, it would be remiss of me, if I failed to add, that such overflowing grace from God, is not confined to Nantes in France. Paul proceeds to show, in Romans, how the Gospel of a whole and Crucified Christ, is all believers need through faith, to be comprehensively saved and sanctified, wherever and whenever they live and serve in the world – there is a new Gospel status [chapters 1-4], sanctity [5-7], sonship , scheme [9-12], which produces a sense of wonder at God’s sovereign wisdom; it is this Glorious Gospel which both allows and enables believers, by the inward, spiritual, energetic grace of Christ, to lovingly, humbly, gently, patiently and fruitfully to resolve any minor tensions in practice or belief [13-16], for the advancement of God’s work.
It is this grace in Christ, which is manifest in us, which must energize all our meetings, relations, service and conduct in seminaries, colleges, churches, bible classes, marriages, families, neighborhoods, education, employment and leisure activities.