‘But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me’. (1 Corinthians 4:3-4)
It seems that there is a huge amount of pressure within our culture to do one of two things: seek the approval of those around you or ignore what people around you think and be true to yourself. The problem is, of course, that neither of these things work.
We can spend years chasing after the approval of friends, our boss, our colleagues, our neighbours, even our pastor, but it never lives up to what it promises. For even when we finally get the approval we long for (that ‘well done’ from our boss, the 100 likes on Facebook, the ripples of laughter that follows our latest quip), the moment soon passes and we´re back to the chase. It doesn´t matter that we have received people´s approval in the past, what matters is the present. And so the chase continues. And it is exhausting. This chase for approval is, of course, really a chase for significance. For importance. For value. I suspect that it is a particular temptation for those of us who are constantly busy – thinking that the amount of empty space we have in our diary is inversely proportional to our importance. But it is a lie.
Others of us will simply try to live being true to ourselves. But even if we were capable of being true to ourselves (which we aren´t), even if we could live our lives with a clean conscience (which we can’t), it wouldn´t change the fact that at heart we are broken, fallen and depraved. Being true to ourselves is not something to boast in!
That is why Paul’s words to the Corinthians are such a comfort and relief. They challenge us to stop seeking the approval of others and ignore our culture’s call to be true to ourselves. It is not our, nor their, approval that matters - it is God’s. And, if we are trusting in Jesus, we discover that we already have it. Jesus, the one perfectly and completely approved by God, swapped places with us and suffered the shame and punishment we deserved whilst we received the approval from God that he deserved! What comfort that is! What a relief!
That has been a real encouragement for us over the past few weeks, as we have faced various challenges in Portugal. It has meant that we are able to rest in Him, to delight in Him, and to trust in Him, knowing that our service to Him is that of a willing, joyful, free son, rather than as a burdened, joyless, obligated slave. Please do be praying that we will remember that over the months ahead and fight against the temptation to chase after the approval of those who are but creatures.
As a family, we are all well, although struck down with the ‘flu during much of January. The kids have continued to enjoy school and are loving listening to the West Side Story soundtrack we found in a box (even if it’s slightly unnerving listening Joshua singing ‘I feel pretty’). Timothy seems to be learning that bumping into walls with his head isn’t a good idea. Church is still fun for them and we praise God for ‘The Jesus Storybook Bible’ and XTB bible reading notes. They have been a real blessing for us as a family.
As ever, the past few months have been full-on in terms of ministry but with many encouragements.
Various new students have got stuck into the weekly student meetings, eager to grow in their Christian maturity and keen to serve. Really excitingly, some of the more mature Christians have taken it upon themselves to meet up with a few of the younger Christian students for 1-2-1s. That is something we have been praying about for a while but has never really ‘taken off’, so please do be giving thanks to God and pray that it continues.
The mission week that we put on in November went well and we had a good number of unconverted students coming along. There was a talk for international students that I gave in English (although no English-speakers came!), there was a debate between the General Secretary of the GBU and the President of the Portuguese Atheists’ Association, a lecture by Os Guinness and then there was a wonderful concert with an evangelistic talk by Ben Shaw, who graciously came over just for that. Following that we set up an evangelistic bible study group which started with no-one, then one person came along, then two, then three (by the fourth week!). Please do pray for Paulito and Patrícia as they continue this vital work of follow up.
We have two Portuguese students applying to Cornhill next year (Rui and Paulito) so we would remain grateful for your prayers for that process. It would be so exciting if they were to get through as both are committed to long-term ministry in Portugal.
As always, we would love to know what you would like prayers for, so do drop us an email. And do let us know if you would like to be added to the mailing list. Thank you once again for your gospel partnership.
With love in Christ,
Joe, Rach, Beth, Hannah, Joshua and Timothy x
Beth: Pray that I would be less grumpy at times and get better at the violin and schoolwork. Thank God that we are not ill anymore.
Hannah: Pray that I will have a nice time learning new things at school, and that I would get better at the flute.
Joshua: Pray that I would be better at doing rugby and would always love Jesus and would be better at swimming.
Timothy: Thank God that I am learning to talk.
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