Why we celebrate God and all He does through us

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Dr Joshua Bogunjoko,

SIM International Director

 

2018 marks the 125th Anniverary of the founding of SIM, as the Sudan Interior Mission. Three missionaries Thomas Kent, Walter Gowans and Rowland Bingham left North America for what is now modern-day Nigeria. SIM International Director Dr Joshua Bogunjoko calls for celebration to mark this milestone in our history

Celebration is part of what it means to follow Christ, so let us look forward as a global mission family to this, our 125th Anniversary year. In the very moments when we lose ourselves in joy at what God has done, we are experiencing worship as image-bearers of God, and we are a gospel witness to those who observe us.

 Dr Joshua Bogunjoko, SIM International Director

In Exodus 5:1, we find the first indication that God wants his people to celebrate and hold festivals.

God spoke through Moses to Pharaoh saying, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness.’” The word celebrate is variously translated as “hold a festival” and “hold a feast”—all associated with celebration. Thus God intervened on behalf of his children to their pagan ruler, urging their release so that they might observe a celebration. Later, the very first command from the Lord the night that He delivered them from Egypt was to stop and hold a festival, before they took another step in their journey; and this was to be done in perpetuity.

In Exodus 12:14, God commanded the Israelites, “Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance.” Not only were the Israelites to feast, even foreigners residing among them were invited to join. "But if a stranger sojourns with you, and celebrates the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near to celebrate it; and he shall be like a native of the land. (Ex. 2:48)

Jesus described the response in heaven to one sinner’s repentance on earth, using words that conjure up in our minds a great celebration: “In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10) Surely untold numbers of people walking in darkness have repented of their sins and turned to Jesus directly and indirectly because of the work of SIM. What would it feel like to stop and allow ourselves corporately to experience the elation that the angels feel? Have you ever considered celebrating the joy of your own salvation and that of your family members, colleagues and neighbours?

The Pioneers: SIM’s founders Thomas Kent, Walter Gowans and Rowland Bingham in an image produced to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Sudan Interior Mission in 1918

Celebration is a natural rhythm in the life to which God has invited us, both in the Old and in the New Testaments. Indeed, Jesus’ very first miracle was performed at, and on behalf of, a wedding celebration. While we no longer observe the Passover, we still rejoice and celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. We celebrate Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We are, in fact, a people who should be known for our capacity and readiness to celebrate because we serve a God who makes a habit of visiting us with great joy. “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you goodnews of great joy which will be for all the people.’” (Luke 2:10) As the angel finished, a great host of angels filled the sky praising God and speaking peace on earth!

In the Church today, it may be easy to forget that celebration is both a joyful and a solemn invitation, established by God Himself. While the Church in the New Testament did not set apart festivals of the Old Testament nature, the Church did celebrate together God’s gifts to them and their identity in Christ. In Acts, we see people breaking bread from house to house. It isn’t hard to imagine the atmosphere of joy and wonder as these sinners saved by grace from diverse contexts became one in Christ around the table. Indeed, they were such an example of the power of God among them, that the beloved physician recorded how believers were added daily to their numbers. What a celebration of life and light!

So, why do we celebrate? Like the Israelites and the early church, we celebrate to acknowledge as a community that God is engaged and performing amazing acts in and for us, bringing life and love where death and disease once reigned. We celebrate because God answers prayers, removing barriers to places where many still live and die without his Good News, bringing lush fruits out of the dry ground.

We celebrate because, over the past 125 years, at times when all was dark and uncertain, when bombs fell or earthquakes shook, when floods rose or famine spread, when mobs approached or friends fled, when persecution deepened or imprisonment lengthened, when falsehood dazzled or the truth dimmed, when seasons of chronic discomfort tempted us to doubt, in all of these, God did not fail us. Today, the church of Jesus Christ thrives in countless places once considered hopeless.

Amidst the rampage of Ebola, we offered a sacrifice of praise, the amazing song by the father of the reformation, A mighty fortress is our God, to the hearing of millions around the world; and our God

came through. With trust in God, our workers stand shoulder to shoulder today with believers in places where religious extremists still rampage in the cities and the countryside. Why do we celebrate? We celebrate because celebration restores, revives, and prepares us for our future. We celebrate because the work itself is not the highest goal, and we remind ourselves of this when we set it aside. We celebrate not because our past is sacred, but because the God who was present and active with us in the past is sacred, and is the same today and forever. What is the history of missions—which is to say, the history of the Church—in your context? What has God done for hearts thirsty for the gospel in your ministry setting? What reasons can you name to celebrate?

Like the Psalmist we can say:

“It is good to give thanks to the LORD And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High;

To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning

And Your faithfulness by night,

With the ten-stringed lute and with the harp,

With resounding music upon the lyre.

For You, O LORD, have made me glad by what

You have done,

I will sing for joy at the works of Your hands.”

Psalm 92: 1-4

 

SIM, let’s celebrate our God in our 125th year!

 #Celebrate125

 


Volume 4: Issue 4
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Webpage icon  Reaching out: celebration and change
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