In the summer of 1995 I lived in Russia as a part of a summer mission with Campus Crusade for Christ.  The “wall” had recently fallen, and I was one of many outsiders who took advantage of the newfound opportunity to visit the former Soviet Union to share the hope of Jesus Christ with people in need.

When I arrived, I realized that some parts of “my world” had gone before me behind the iron curtain.  I still remember sitting in a Russian dorm room, having a student play for me Ace of Base and Metallica songs on CDs.  I also remember going to the grocery store and seeing hot dogs that were made in Kansas City, Missouri!  Parts of American society had made it to Volgograd ahead of the Gospel.

But in addition to these legitimate items in the city, there were also several counterfeits.  T-shirts were for sale on the street for “Reeebok” (that is not my typo … there really was an extra “e” in the shirt).  There were also “Nike” shoes with wrong shaped swooshes, and CD’s with photocopied covers.  There were lots of counterfeits of actual western products.

My experience in Russia reminded me that in this fallen world, sometimes people take the good name/image/likeness of a well-respected person or product and then exploit it for their own gain.  This tendency is only amplified further in our current world of  virtual realities, artificial intelligence, and deep fakes.

In our knock-off world, how do we recognize the real thing?

Let me take that a step deeper.  As followers of Jesus Christ, are there purported pastors, missionaries, and “Christian” workers who are masquerading as ministers, but are really wolves in sheep’s clothing?  Sadly, the answer is yes.

So how do you tell the fakes from the real thing?  Well, in order to spot counterfeit bills, the treasury department knows exactly what the REAL THING looks like, smells like, and feels like.  By knowing what the real thing is, they are able to see the slight differences in the knock-offs.

As Christians, we need to know what the true heart of a Pastor looks like, so we can avoid the imposters.  Of course, our ultimate “Pastor” is Jesus Himself.  He is the prototype, and all true ministers are only undershepherds tending His flock.  But we have other examples as well … including the Apostle Paul, who famously said to the Corinthians, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”  Paul truly was the real deal, so by looking at his example as a minister and missionary, we can see what the true pastoral heart looks like – how the real deal behaves, and what the faithful fear.

This Sunday, we will look at Paul’s example of faithful ministry in 2 Corinthians 12:11-21 in part 4 of our “Mission:Own” sermon series.  Hope to see you there at Wildwood in our 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00 services … and bring friends.

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