An Inspiring Failure


This is a sermon I preached at a church in the Philippines on its anniversary. This was a few years ago. I am calling it “An Inspiring Failure” because a key illustration in is is on the early Protestant missionary—- Justinian von Welz.

It is wonderful to finally be here to visit your church. We have known Ptr. Noel and Tita since 2004. We visited here many years ago, but not on a Sunday. So much has happened here at Mabalacat Good Harvest Community Church. I believe God has been doing great things here.

But of course, in an Anniversary, we don’t just look back to the past. We take time to think about the future.

I have two jobs generally. I act as administrator for Bukal Life Care, a Christian counseling center in Baguio. The other is that I teach missions at Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary, or PBTS. I often find inspiration in the stories of Christian missions. God has blessed us with his word… the Bible. But he has also blessed us with the stories of those who have come before us. Because of my involvement in missions, I especially like to read about missionaries throughout history. So I would like to tell you a story. It is the story of a man name Justinian von Welz. I think it is safe to say that few, if any here, have heard of him.

Welz, was born in 1621 into a Protestant, Lutheran, family in Austria… a country dominated by Catholicism..  His family was persecuted for their faith so they moved to Germany. 

As an adult into his early 40s, he led a rather carefree and sinful life (he had money and he was of noble blood, meaning he could do pretty much anything he wanted) but then he began to read the Bible and church teachings. He repented of his sins, and became a true follower of Christ. His values and goals were completely changed by the experience of his conversion. He lived a simple life and dedicated himself to that which would glorify God.  Although he was of noble birth, being a baron, he decided to set that aside to serve God. He believed that God so loved the entire world, that God gave His one and unique son, that whoever believes in Him no matter who they are or where they live, should not perish but have eternal life.

He proposed the formation of an organization called the “Jesus Loving Society.”  This was a mission organization…. Long long before anyone had thought of such a thing. He urged that everyone… every church… every minister should share the gospel to lost people groups… not just preaching to those already in the church, or just waiting for some calling from God.

Welz suggested that The Jesus Loving Society was to be composed of three groups:

Missions sponsors and promoters (they provided the money)

Missions directors and secretaries (they provided the organization and leadership)

Missionary volunteers who would serve overseas for 2 to 3 years, sharing the Gospel. (They provided the hands, feet, and voice… to bring the message of Christ to all people)

Each missionary would study geography, history of the church, early church missions, Paul’s missionary journeys, evangelism, and foreign languages. Once the missionaries would arrive in their ministry country, they would study local customs, and local religions. They would learn the local language, translate portions of the Bible, and send back regular reports to home supporters.

This is a new idea. The Protestant churches at that time, did not think of the Gospel as for the whole world. They just focused on their own neighborhoods. Some of the theologians actually taught that it was wrong or evil to share the Gospel with non-Christians… or “heathens” as they would call non-Christians.

Welz felt that universities should train students to be missionaries. They should be trained in language, world religions, and other subjects related to missions. He invested a large amount of money to accomplish this. His ideas, however, were not accepted.

Welz, asked “Is it right for Christians to keep the Gospel to themselves rather than sharing it with others?  Is it right for so many theological students to sit around awaiting suitable appointments or perhaps becoming schoolmasters rather than venturing forth to preach to the heathen?  Is it right for Christians to spend so much money on amusement, expensive habits of food and dress, give no thought or money for the dissemination of the Gospel?” 

He could not interest others in his day to serve as missionaries, so he chose to go himself. A religious leader described him as ““… a dreamer, fanatic, hypocrite and heretic, …. it was absurd, even wicked, to cast the pearls of the gospel before the heathen.” He left for Suriname… a tropical region in South America. He left in 1666. We know that he was dead by 1668, probably of malaria. As far as we know, he was unable to lead a single person in Suriname to Christ.

At the end of his life, one could call his story: “Justinian von Welz— the Failure.” There were other men of his time… noblemen… kings… who built palaces… conquered countries… did things that changed the world. But von Welz died a failure… changing nothing.

But his story did not end with his death….

Less than 30 years after his death, the University of Halle set up a program for training missionaries built on the principles and proposals of von Welz. They were able to train university students to travel all over the world as missionaries.

70 years after von Welz’ departure for Suriname, mission families from Moravia, Germany travelled to Suriname to restart the work that von Welz had begun.

125 years after von Welz death, William Carey, Andrew Fuller and others established the first real Mission Society or Mission agency, based largely on the principles that von Welz had described over a century before.

150 years after von Welz death, there are dozens of mission agencies built on similar principles to his Jesus Loving Society, sending out hundreds of missionaries throughout the world.

350 years after von Welz death, we are here in the Philippines, in Mabalacat, Pampanga, talking about how we are joining Justinian von Welz in seeing what we can do to share the Gospel of Christ to the whole world.

Justinian von Welz was a success… in God’s eyes.

He is not alone. Jesus had a similar life story. He preached and healed for three years… he trained disciples… but then he was captured. His friends and supporters deserted him. Jesus was judged and found guilty… and killed as a criminal… an enemy of the State. And if we stopped there, we could easily say that he was a failure…. Died a failure. But we know that there is more to that story.

Jesus conquered death and was recognized as a true success. And in his actions, we have inspiration for what we are to do. Read Philippians 2:3-11

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

He obediently humbled himself… and God the Father raised him up and exalted him.

The Bible said that Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to use for His own advantage… He was a King but chose to be a humble servant… and seen as a failure to the world around that thinks of emperors, and military leaders as successes. Because of this… God has exalted Him… raised him high… declared him victorious.  

You know… when you think about it. God has a very different view of success than we commonly do. Consider what Jesus said in Matthew 20:25-27

25But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,c 27and whoever would be first among you must be your slave

That is a very different attitude. Tacitus, Suetonius, Josephus were great historians from the first century. One mentioned Jesus in a couple of sentences. One mentioned him in only one sentence and even then mispelled his name. Another did not mention him at all. But today, there is no one better known in human history than Jesus Christ. A king who became a servant.

Justinian von Welz was a nobleman… a baron. He was rich and could have used his position and wealth to impress the world. Instead he gave away his money, and renounced his noble birth to serve God. Today, 350 years later, we still talk about Justinian von Welz… while nearly all of the people who lived when he lived lie silent in forgotten graves.

So what? What does that have to do with us?

I like to look at what your church has done over the years. We have known Ptr. Noel and Tita for 11 years, and Ryanne almost as long. It is exciting the various outreaches that are being done here. I see children’s outreach, music and youth ministries, feeding programs… and more. You have much to look back upon and feel pride.

Anniversaries are special this way. They are a time to look backwards… but also to look forwards. What path has God led us on. What is God doing right now. Where is God taking us into the future. After all God is always at work… whether we are working or not. But we must always ask ourselves the question… Are we working for God… or working for ourselves?

Another story… I like stories. This one is about my dad. My father was an engineer… a mechanico. He was hard working and smart. In fact, in addition to being an engineer… he was the President of the Board of Trustees of the local school… a school of several hundred students. One day, when I was 7 years old, my dad came home from the school and told me that he quit his work with the school. I was shocked. Even at 7 years old, I knew that this was a job of respect and power in our town. I asked my dad… “Why did you quit?” My dad responded, “That job required me to be gone so many evenings, so I quit. It is more important for me to be home with my family.” That seemed so stupid. I didn’t tell my dad that, of course. But it seemed so obvious that you would keep a job that adds status and honor… even if it means being away from the family. But over time, I began to understand that my dad was choosing what was most important. A few years later, his engineering boss retired… and my dad was offered that higher job. My dad said NO… he did not want the job. My dad said he did not want the job because it would require him to travel a lot, and he wanted to be home with his family, and serving in the church as head deacon. By this time… I did not think this was stupid. I understood his wisdom. Instead of choosing what was important… he was choosing what was MOST important.

He taught me what was most important.

So when I look back at my Dad, I see someone who knew what was most important. His family and his church were more important than money or status or prestige. And I would suggest that you reflect on this too… make sure that you take care of your church family. Prioritize what is most important as an example to the next generation… both inside your church and outside of your church.

When I look back at Justinian von Welz… I see someone who is a man of divine vision… ahead of his time… breaking away from what those around said was God’s will. He moved forward with such passion that even though he was seen as a failure in his time, he left a vision that has inspired generations of Christians down to the present age. You have the opportunity to transform Mabalacat, Pampanga, Tarlac… the Philippines… the World in ways that you may now think is impossible. To do so, may produce ridicule from others… but when doing the will of God, one may have to set aside comfort… ease… for something better… an inspiration for future generations.

When I look at Jesus… who set aside his glory to be a servant… and example of humility driven by love… He set His heart on the Kingdom of God… not some little kingdom here. I see one whose heart inspires me to stop trying to be a king… stop trying to build my little kingdom… but seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness. You can create a great church… with a great and mighty ministry. And that would certainly be exciting. But maybe better than a great church… is a good church… one that humbly serves God by humbly serving the community it is in… a safe harbor in stormy seas.

How does one make that happen? I don’t know. I am not part of your church… it is between you and God. But be reminded of the verses we read:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,c 27and whoever would be first among you must be your slave

This sounds backwards… but it is not. Jesus said this is how the kingdom of God works. Those who humble themselves before God… will be exalted. Those who seek to be first will be last… and those who are last… they shall be first. Those who seek greatness, must serve others. Those who who will serve God and others like a slave might… we be first before God.

And this is what I hope and pray for you all and your church. I want your church to be a mighty, a great, a prestigious, a powerful church. I want your church be honored by those around and members of the church to be people of influence in the community. I want those things. I I suspect you want those things too. However, don’t want them too much. Don’t seek might, greatness, prestige, honor, influence.

Seek to be humble servants of those in need of help. Take on the role of a servant in your community, in your country, in the world. Faithfully serving God and not yourself. In due time, you will be exalted… a success… in the eyes of God.

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