Everyone Makes Mistakes

hypocrisy

I remember vividly the first time I realized that Scripture documents historical narrative in the New Testament.  The Old Testament, we all know, tells the history of Israel.  But often we tend towards the New Testament for instruction, for theology, for teaching about how the Church should function.  The Gospels and Acts tell the story of Jesus and the disciples planting the first few churches, and then the rest of the New Testament are letters telling those churches how to act, right?

Yes!  This is true!  But we pick up tidbits of the story line through those letters; just like when we write letters (or emails) today, we mix in stories with our thoughts!  And one particular story is causing me much reflection today.  When Jesus had his disciples, there were three who were his inner circle:  Peter, James and John.  If you have spent any time in the Scriptures, you know that Peter was the dynamic leader of the group.  He was the outspoken one, the one who spoke quickly and often put his foot in his mouth.  He was also the first one to preach and stand up to the Jews and religious counsel after Jesus returned to Heaven and the Holy Spirit came.

But when [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.  For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.  The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.  But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to [Peter] in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

– Gal 2.11-14

Peter, the leader of the Church, the “rock” as Jesus called him, the one to whom God gave the vision and the first mission to take the Gospel to the Gentiles by declaring them clean, fell into the temptation to refuse to eat with the Gentiles because the Gentile Christians were not observing the Old Testament dietary laws.  In the book of Acts we are told the story of Peter receiving a vision that God declared all food and all people clean, and called him to go and preach the Gospel to Cornelius and his family, a man to whom God had given dreams about salvation.  And Peter went!  He was the first one to be led and to branch out preaching and taking the Gospel to non-Jews.  And yet, the Jews were so influential that when Peter went to Antioch – a Gentile city – and met with the church which was primarily not Jews, he was tempted and fell into hypocrisy.  He fell into a heresy that God Himself had refuted to him in a vision.  And his failure was so dynamic that the rest of the Jews followed him.  Even Barnabas, “the son of encouragement” was fell into this hypocrisy and sin.

Paul confronted him.  In front of everyone, Paul noted that Peter had been eating with the Gentiles until “certain men from James” showed up Peter was eating with the Gentile Christians and had no problem with them.  But their false Gospel drew him back into his old way of thinking; that he still must adhere to the Jewish dietary laws.

Peter.  The dynamic leader of the Early Church.  Messed up the Gospel.

If that does not give you hope, nothing will!  How often do we believe the claims of the Gospel that nothing can earn us merit with God, that we should obey Him out of love and reverence, but yet when we fall into our own temptations and sin blatantly or establish legalistic tendencies for ourselves trying to maintain our standing with God?  Do you beat yourself up if you forgot to read your Bible one day?  Do you judge other Christians for non-Biblical guidelines that you have layed out for your own life?

Peter did it too.

But thankfully Peter had Paul to call him out.  Peter and Paul rarely interacted with one another.  Peter was appointed as the apostle to the Jews while Paul was appointed as apostle to the Gentiles (non-Jews) (Gal 2.8).  But thankfully we see this interaction and we know that Peter repented because after this exchange he wrote his letters (1 and 2 Peter), which preach the same Gospel.

Everyone makes mistakes.  Everyone at times warps the Gospel in his mind.  Sometimes we are too lenient towards sin and sometimes we are too legalistic.  It’s normal.  But be humble when your friend points it out in your life and return graciously to the beauty of the Gospel that we cannot earn our salvation and keeping rules will not merit us worthy before God.  And repent when we are tempted to continue in sin because “God is gracious” and will forgive us. Yes, He will forgive, if we truly repent and turn away from our sin, we may not continue in it.  But we are all – just like Peter – a work in progress whom God is sanctifying and changing.

What does it mean to abide?

The beauty of Christianity is that in order to become a Christian, one must admit and realize that he is desperate and damned to an eternity of Hell (suffering, punishment, fire and brimstone) because of our sin, but Jesus offers us salvation through His perfect life, death and resurrection.  Jesus lived a life without sin and died and suffered our punishment in Hell so that we can be forgiven.  Jesus paid our debt so that we no loner owe anything.  He does not simply wipe away our sins or just let them slide by, He paid the penalty for us.  This exchange is what happens at the moment when we are “justified” – this term literally means, “Paid off”.  There is nothing we can do to pay off our debt, Jesus already did it, so we simply have to receive it.  But when we receive it God makes us into new creatures who are being transformed progressively more into the image of Christ.  We obey Him, in short.  But what impact does obedience have in the long run?

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.

– John 15.4-6

Abide.  What in the world does that mean?  Every once in a while we hear someone call his house “my humble abode”.  The noun form of abide.  That is helpful:  a house.  A place where you live, where you reside, where you stay.  The Greek word here can reference time: in the sense of endurance.  It can also refer to place:  to stay put, to not wander off.  And it can lastly refer to a state of being:  to remain of constant character, to not change.   It is translated as “abide (61x), remain (16x), dwell (15x), continue (11x), tarry (9x), and endure (3x)”.  But I think the most helpful insight to the meaning of the word is the picture that Jesus paints explaining it:  He is the vine and we are the branches stemming from the vine.  We derive our nutrients from the vine to survive, we receive our support that holds us up from the vine.  We would wither and die without the vine.  So to abide in the vine would be to remain connected to it.  This would deal with time, place and state of being.

Remain in Jesus with your time.  Have your quiet times every morning, but pray continually.  Wash your mind with Scripture so that it is your first response to situations.  Have the testimony of Jesus and the testimony of what He has done in your life so fresh that situations remind you of Bible stories or your own encounters with Him.  Then the bridges are natural!  Soak in Him, in His word, in praise, worship and prayer with Him.

Remain in Jesus temporally.  No, I do not mean go to church and never leave.  I mean establish yourself in such a way that your home, your office and those physical places you go you are able to focus on Him and rest in Him.  Do not go places that by their very nature disrespect God, or that lead you to wander from Him in your heart or mind.

But the foundation of it all is to remain in Jesus in your state of being:  your character.  We will be sanctified (made more like Jesus) throughout our lifetimes, if we keep studying His word, praying and getting to know Him.  Our character should be transformed into the character of Jesus.  What does that look like?  This is where obedience comes in:

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.  Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.  If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.  These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.  This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.  You are My friends if you do what I command you.”

– John 15.7-14

Notice that Jesus says that bearing fruit is the proof of our discipleship.  We do not earn our role as disciples by obeying, but we prove our discipleship through obedience.  And it is our fruit bearing that glorifies God!  Jesus did not earn God’s love by keeping His commandments, He proved that He loved (and ultimately that He is God) by keeping His commandments.  And the branches that are not connected to the vine are kindling for the fire and thrown into the fire.

What, then, is the fruit?  Growing up in a evangelism oriented Church, “just get them in the door” was our motto, I misunderstood “fruit” to be new believers.  But Scripture is clear on the definition of the fruit that God demands and offers:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Gal 5.22-23

If we remain in Jesus, if we soak Him up in our minds, in our hearts and with our time and energy, the result will be love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.  It is by exemplifying these characteristics and keeping the commands of Jesus that we prove to be His disciples.  And if we abide in Jesus we will exemplify these traits.  Do you want to test yourself and examine your faith?  Just ask yourself if your friends would describe you with those words.  Do you keep Jesus commands?

You will not earn your salvation by obeying the biggies.  You will also not earn your salvation by exemplifying love, joy, peace, etc.  But you can be assured of your salvation when Jesus enables you and transforms you into that person.  It is not believers who are cast into the fire to be burned up, it is those who do not abide in Him.  Those branches that are not connected to the vine, receiving nutrients, support and strength.  Remain in Him today.

vine-and-branches

Trust

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the Lord and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your body
And refreshment to your bones.

– Prov 3.5-8

How is your trust level today?  

“Trust is not a passive state of mind. It is a vigorous act of the soul by which we choose to lay hold of the promises of God and cling to them despite the adversity that at times seeks to overwhelm us.”

– Jerry Bridges

You don’t understand…

discipleship

I have been mulling the last few weeks over the age-old question and dilemma of the Church, “How do we best disciple someone”?  Jesus Himself came and spent three years with twelve guys who knew the Jewish faith and traditions.  He spent three intensive years teaching them, empowering them, sending them out and helping them understand their successes and failures.  He taught them Scripture, He explained to them prophecies and revealed to them that the missing factor in the religiosity of the day was love.  If someone had purposefully set out to know the Old Testament Law (the religion and practices of the day, and the foundation on which Jesus came), he would see that the first commandment of the ten is:

“You shall have no other gods before Me.”

– Ex 20.3

God is concerned with our heart being first and foremost His.  The Shema, the foundation of the Jewish faith which is the opening of ritualistic prayers, is what Jesus quoted as the greatest commandment:

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

– Deut 6.4-9

It is a strange thing to command someone to love.  We know what love looks like, we equate it with an emotional experience, but how often do we expect ourselves and discipline ourselves to love someone?  We want it to be easy.  We want it to be natural.  If it is not easy, then we assume it was not meant to be.

And it is based on this commandment to love God that my thoughts have been affected today.  When someone newly comes to the faith, we must teach them how to read and study the Bible.  We cannot simply tell them what it says, for then they will be dependent on us.  Teach a man to fish, right?  There are historical facts and themes that are helpful to illuminate, and explaining how the pieces of the Bible fit together gives this new believer a foundation on which to build, but the primary factor is teaching and exhorting this new believer to love God.

Most people, when they first come to faith, have no problem loving God.  They realize the weight of their burden of guilt and their expectation of death and damnation, and the relief, joy and love that replaces that burden at the moment of salvation is almost tangible.  If a person truly understands his salvation, he is ecstatic about it.  Then we plunge into the discipleship process and we who have lost that passion force the new believer into a routine of loveless obedience and legalism.  Get up, read your Bible, pray for fifteen minutes, go about your day, pray when things go bad, go to church, and tithe 10%.  Or worse, we set an agenda to teach specific doctrines and cram weighty issues down their throats trying to make disciples of ourselves instead of disciples of Jesus.

“If you’re doctrinally correct, but don’t reflect the love of Jesus, you don’t understand the doctrine you’re correct about.”

– Matt Chandler

Doctrine is extremely important.  Paul wrote most of the New Testament for the sake of correct doctrine, and Jesus Himself praises the Churches in the end who maintained pure and right doctrine and kicked out false teachers.  New believers must be taught how to understand Scripture and interpret doctrine.  All of us are standing on 2,000 years of Church History, we have forefathers who translated the Bible, wrote study Bibles and concordances, who have written books and developed extra-biblical terms like “trinity” to help us understand deep and difficult truths.  We should not rob a new believer of these tools for the sake of letting the Spirit alone teach.  God has given us the gifts of language, printing tools, study tools, and forefathers to teach us, so let’s utilize them to their fullest and help people learn how to do the same.

However.

It all must be founded in love.  You cannot force someone to love God.  You can teach him how to study all day long.  You can teach him how to pray.  He might even develop the same disciplines as you and become a morally upstanding citizen and Church member.  But the main factor, the basis of discipleship is falling in love with Jesus.  And only God can affect that in someone’s heart.  It is the Spirit who calls.  It is the Spirit who breathes life into a dead body.  It is the Spirit who takes away our hearts of stone and gives us hearts of flesh.  It is the Spirit who convicts of sin, and it is the Spirit who enables us to die to sin and live to righteousness.

We must trust the Spirit.  If a person falls head over heels in love with Jesus, he will desire to be in the Bible.  He will eat it up!  He will be in it every chance he gets.  He will read the Old Testament and have a lot of questions.  He will study the epistles and desire to obey and apply the commandments expressed therein.  We must not focus primarily on the doctrine.  We must teach the doctrine – we cannot ignore it or consider it secondary.  But it can only be built on the foundation of love.

Do you love God?  Do you love His Word?  Do you obey as an outpouring of love?  Honor the doctrine that you hold so deeply by loving Him and your neighbor.  And if you do not yet know the doctrine, find someone to teach you, because in it you learn the heart of God!

What is your disposition?

the narrow parth

Each of us are created with strengths and weakness, and each of us are given different personality types.  Imagine this situation:  You are at a party, and there is a big, beautiful crystal bowl full of jelly bellies on the end of one of the tables.  You are standing there talking to someone and as you use your arm to paint a picture describing your story and your elbow knocks the crystal bowl to the floor and it shatters into a million pieces.  One person runs over and immediately starts scooping up the broken glass and spilled jelly bellies, another reaches over and pats your arm and says, “Don’t worry, it could have happened to anyone!” and the third (probably echoes of your father ringing in your ears) says to you, “You know, you should probably watch what you are doing and be more aware of your surroundings”.

Three perfectly normal responses to the same exact situation.  No one is right, no one is wrong.  The first person is a servant; he sees a need or a problem and wants to help make it better.  The second person is a person of mercy; he sees the shame and embarrassment of the offender and wants to comfort.  The last person is a teacher (or prophet, in Biblical language); he sees the cause of the problem and wants to help the person learn and grow how to not make the same mistake again.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.  And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord.  There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.  But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues.  But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.

– 1 Cor 12.4-11

We see that God creates us all with unique personalities and He gives us outpourings of gifts in the Spirit.  Most importantly, we see that He gifts and prepares us differently for the common good (1 Cor 12.7).  When someone breaks a beautiful piece of china, he will be embarrassed and needs to be comforted, the mess needs to be cleaned up, and he needs to learn how to be more aware.  Now, this is a weak example because most of us are aware of our need to not knock over expensive bowls, but in a situation of moral dilemma or sin, the teacher/prophet has a substantial role.  All three dynamics are helpful and necessary for the growth, development and health of the Church.

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

– Eph 4.11-13

All three dispositions have strengths and weaknesses.  The servant is typically not outspoken and can grumble while down on his hands and knees thinking, “Why am I the only one cleaning up this mess?!”  The merciful one can be so concerned about others’ feelings that they excuse sin and hinder moral and Spiritual growth, and the prophet can be oblivious to feelings and deeply shame or hurt someone by only seeing the black and white.

But the three traits can help comfort, teach and serve the body.  We are not created to live in a vacuum.  We are created to help one another along the way, as iron sharpens iron (Prov 27.17).  We are to help one another find the narrow path that few find (Matt 7.13).  And God may give us different gifts and different times.  The gifting and enabling of the Spirit is not static.  Just because you are given mercy to handle one situation does not mean that you are forever only gifted in mercy!  There will and should be times that the Spirit empowers you to be the prophet or humbles you to be the servant.  He enables us and empowers us for the moment.

So let us seek to understand how we are wired.  Let us realize the weaknesses encompassed therein, let us pray for strength against those weaknesses, and let us pray for openness and awareness when the other traits need to be exemplified.  Let us strive to use our gifts, abilities and dispositions to build up the body – the Church – to unity, peace and love.  And let us rejoice in the strengths of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Desertion

desertion
There are so many things that distract us today and vie for our attention.  And in our “entertain me” mentality, we flit from one event, meeting and agenda to the next.  Everyone has a plethora of passions and initiatives:  save the whales, stop child slavery, raise money to fight cancer, equal pay for men and women, and the list goes on and on.  We jump on board and are passionate for the fundraiser gala, we run the 5K, we give up our lunch breaks and occasionally even host an event to raise awareness.
But in reality we are passionate-less.
We are not truly convicted.
Unless, of course, that cancer or slavery or animal abuse has hit us close to home.
Out of sight, out of mind might be a temptation of forgetfulness for our Earthly agendas, but have you noticed the same weakness when it comes to your spirituality?  Do you have a once-a-week Christianity?  Do you have a ten minutes-a-day faith?  Paul opens up his letter to the multiple churches in Galatia differently than any other letter he wrote.  He said, “Hi” and then jumped squarely into this confrontation:

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!

– Gal 1. 6-9
Can you imagine if the person who led you to faith wrote you a letter and this was the opening paragraph?  “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ”.  How shallow was your salvation experience and discipleship process that you have been distracted and led astray to love another?
What is particularly convicting in this assessment is that the people have not been led astray, primarily, by a foreign Gospel.  Paul’s problem with the Galatians is not that they became Christians and then turned to a foreign religion.  They were Gentiles (non-Jews) who received the Gospel with joy, and then Jews came in and started teaching them that in order to follow Jesus they had to keep the Mosaic Law.  They were accepting the forgiveness of Jesus in word, but then trying to earn it through works and sacrifice.  And Paul states that the attempt to earn God’s favor through obedience, sacrifice and ritual is to abandon Jesus.
Wait, what?
Aren’t we supposed to obey?  Didn’t Jesus Himself say,
“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”
 – John 14.15
Yes, Jesus did say that.  But notice the logic here.  Love is the foundation and obedience is the response.  When we distort the order by placing obedience as the foundation, then it turns into self-righteousness and merit.  We cannot earn forgiveness, and we cannot pay off our debt.  God is a just God who will punish every sin ever committed.  He cannot turn His face away and just let it slip by.  And no matter how much we do to try to balance the scale, we can never appease the punishment required for sin.
Notice that Paul says that the Law is “really not another” (V 7).  The Law is the foundation for the work of Christ.  The sacrificial animals whose blood was shed was a picture of the perfect sacrifice that could atone for all the sins of those who would believe.  The scapegoat that was released into the wilderness was looking forward to the inexplicably glorious exchange that happens at the moment of justification where Jesus takes our guilt and we receive His holiness.  The Law teaches us that God desires first that we love Him and obey Him, and the standard is  perfection and righteousness.  When we fail to miss that mark we need a Savior.  The Law looks forward to Jesus as the only one who can keep the Law and he offers us forgiveness by paying our penalty and debt.  The problem is that the Gentiles in Galatia wanted to distort salvation and attempt to make themselves worthy of God.  They put obedience before love.  It is not really another Gospel, but it is distorted enough that Paul calls the one who taught it accursed.
Damned.
Paul condemns anyone who perverts the Gospel of Jesus Christ as damned to Hell.
Have you abandoned Jesus?  Or do you wake up and start your day with Him?  Have you added to the Gospel or distorted it?  Or do you love Jesus, thank Him for salvation and obey Him in response?  Do you mess up the order, trying to earn His favor?  Or have you abandoned Jesus for a totally foreign Gospel?  A foreign religion?
Return today to the one you love.  Obey Him because you love Him.  Spend time with Him.  Enjoy Him.

Two are better than one.

I like to run.  I used to hate running.  After four years of track and cross country in High School, I actually remember thinking during my last race, “I never have to do this again”!  But after a year sabbatical, I started enjoying it for mental discipline’s sake (and for the wonderful sleep that accompanies a good workout) and now I pay to run 5Ks, and half marathons.  Running is not always easy, however.  Some days I can go out and knock out seven miles with plenty of energy to spare and some days I am ready to quit after two.  I have found a friend who likes to run, though, and we run together 2-3 times a week, so probably 60% of my runs are with her.

We run almost the exact same pace.  You can always tell who is feeling better because the other drafts about a half step back.  Some days we are both rocking it and are right in stride together.  Some days one of us just has to quit for a walk.  But most days one of us feels a little better than the other and the weaker one wills to keep going because the stronger one is rolling along and chatting away.  When I got out to run without her, the miles are longer.  I just know the miles are longer.

1375192_10103380142144909_399020595_n

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.  For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.  Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone?  And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.

– Ecc 4.9-12

This passage is often quoted in marriage ceremonies: the most profound teaming up of people.  But the fundamental reality is that God did not create us to be lone rangers.  He created us to be in community, specifically in the community of the Church.  We are part of the body of Christ and we have roles and functions to preform in order to push one another on to maturity, to faith, to perseverance, to holiness.  There will be days that we are weak, that we are tired, that we just need to take a break and walk…and having someone running along side of us will encourage us to keep going and support us when we a weak.

Solomon emphasizes the personal benefit of having a partner or teammate:  if one falls the other can help him up, they can keep each other warm with their body heat if needed, and if they are attacked they have a partner to help resist.  If you have a teammate, you can be strong for one another and you will receive benefit from the other person.  However, Solomon opens this passage with an outward focus:  “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor” (V 9).  We all know this to be true:  Four hands will get a job done twice as fast.  Have you ever had to move?  The help of even just one friend cuts your time in half.

But consider the Spiritual ramifications.  Yesterday I wrote on the call of all Christians to make disciples of all the nations.  If every single Christian in the world took that calling seriously and made two disciples, the work would be done overnight.  Jesus said,

“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.”

– Matt 24.14

God is sovereign and He has a perfect plan for the timing of the end, so I do not believe that we can “speed it up” by getting out and sharing.  However, if we all caught the vision and had the end goal of eternity, if we all made two disciples immediately, that could be the avenue by which He brings about the end!  One thing is certain and that is the fact that the end will not come until all the nations have heard.  Every people group.  6,500 people groups still do not have the Gospel.  2.9 billion people.  At our current rate, the end is still going to be quite a ways away.  2 billion people around the world do not have access to the Gospel.  If we team up, we can sow the seeds more quickly.  Our return on our labor is greater.  And we can pick one another up when we fall.  We can push each other on when we are tired.  We can encourage one another when we are refused and rejected.

Finally, after looking at the return for our work when we function as a team, after pointing out the personal benefits of having a partner, Solomon concludes that a chord of three strands is not easily broken.  The strongest ropes are composed of three individual strands.  You, me and God.  If two of us are running together, if we are planting a garden together, or trying to stay warm when we are camping in the fall, then two of us will get the job done more quickly and will help one another out.  But if we want to be unbreakable, if we want to see eternal goals met, if we want to be changed from the inside and see the world come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior, then we need the third strand.  We need the Holy Spirit to lead, guide, unite, humble, teach and sanctify us.

Who do you run with?  Is God your third strand; leading, directing and sanctifying you?  Are you partnering with a local church and sowing seeds like crazy to see the best return for your labor?  Let’s get to it.

How do I know if I am called?

world

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

– Matt 28.18-20

Jesus spent three years teaching His disciples.  He taught them how to live, how to pray, how to be strong, dynamic, obedient and faithful disciples.  At the end of His Earthly ministry, after He completed the plan of salvation by dying on the cross and raising from the dead, His final words, His last command was, “Go and make disciples”.  Basically, “Go, do what I did”.  Jesus left Heaven – He left comfort, He left His role as God and king, He left everything and humbled Himself becoming a man, made disciples for three years and then sent them off to multiply the work.  The apostles obeyed.

When you die and arrive in Heaven, do you long to hear the words,

“Well done, good and faithful slave.”

– Matt 25.21

I do.  I certainly do not want to stand before my Savior, my God and the judge to defend why I disobeyed or neglected His commands.  And it is on that foundation that I wonder why we as the body, as a church and as individuals willfully ignore and disobey this commission and command of Jesus:

We cannot all go.  I do not feel a calling to the mission field.  I am not smart enough.  Somebody has to stay behind to send and support.  There is no open door.  I don’t know how to do it.  Someone else will do it.  I pray for the missionaries.

God said, “Do not lie” (Ex 20.16).  When you are walking through your day, do you only tell the truth when you feel like it?  Do you get to lie because someone else will tell the truth?  Do you need an extra, spiritual, warm fuzzy feeling to enlighten you that God intended for YOU to not lie and tell the truth?  Or is it clear that since He said it, since He wrote it in His word that it applies to you too?

Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22.39).  Does that mean I have to love my neighbors?  Does that apply to you?  Or do you spend hours wrestling with God and “digging into His word” to see if the commandment applies to you?  Do you pray, “God if it is your will that I love my neighbor, give me a sign”?  Or do you think that perhaps, since He said it and wrote it down, that it is understood as instruction for all believers?

Christians over-spiritualize the call to ministry.  Some people have been given the gifting and abilities to preach.  Some people have been given the gifting and abilities as evangelists.  But everyone who knows Jesus, who loves Him, and who has learned to be a disciple is commanded to make disciples of all the nations.  Period.  There is no way around it.  Yes, that does mean that someone has to make disciples in America, in South Korea and other Christian and post-Christian cultures around the world.  That is a very real part of the ministry of the local Church.  We are always only one generation away from a non-believing world.

However.  God did not save hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Americans for us to all sit around, erect monuments to our wealth, wow the worldly culture with flashy lights and entertainment and to pat one another on the back for donating our old used clothes to the poor.  God also did not save us to recluse ourselves into respectful, quiet, reverent communities.  God radically called us from death into life, taught us how to be discipled, how to disciple one another, and to get out into the world of darkness preaching His name.  We are called to get our hands dirty.

My denomination is big on percentages and shock-value.  I live in Denver, CO and we tell ourselves all the time, “Denver is only 6% evangelical inside the city limits and 8% as you work your way out”.  We comfort ourselves by stating that we are living in a mission field!  It is one of the least-reached cities in the United States!  Yes, that is true.  Yes, there is a huge need here in Denver.  But you know what?  There are five churches in my neighborhood.  I pass eight churches in my 4.4 mile commute to work every day.  There are people groups of millions of people all around the world who have never heard the name of Jesus, who are thousands of miles away from the nearest church and Christian and who have absolutely no access to the Gospel.  They do not fight about prayer in school because their schools are all Muslim and they pray five times a day to Allah.  They do not wonder what God has to say about homosexuality because they do not even know that there is a God, that there is salvation available, and that He might have moral and ethical expectations of us.

2.9 billion people.

Thousands are dying every day…

Going to Hell, without ever having heard the name of Jesus.

But, it’s not my responsibility because “I don’t feel called”, and “I haven’t had an experience where God laid a people group or mission on my heart”.

You have been called.  If you are a Christian, Jesus called you in Matt 28.  He called you corporately as a body, and He called you individually.  You might have a specific calling to make disciples in your family, community or country, because America is a nation.  It is included in “all nations”.  But Jesus did not call 99% of us to disciple the same people.  It should be the norm to go, not to stay.

It is a misnomer and disservice to the missionary endeavor to expect an inexplicable “love for the people”.  On occasion you hear stories of missionaries being called to the field by God supernaturally placing the name of a people group, a vision of a city, or passion for a specific tribe in their hearts, but this is not a Biblical model of calling and example that we need to expect for God to take us somewhere for service.  Paul was given a vision one time, in all of his missionary journeys to go to Macedonia.  The rest of the time he went through open doors and where he wanted to go.  He stayed where people were receptive to the Gospel and moved on when they weren’t.  He only knew that he was called and appointed to reach the non-Jews.  Basically the entire world.

We do not go primarily for a love for the people, we go for a love for God.  This is first a foremost a matter of obedience, and one that is enacted out of love and thankfulness for the salvation we have so freely been given.  We never know what our receptivity will be in a foreign place.  But God will walk with us, guide us, comfort us, sustain us and give faith to some people from every tribe, tongue and nation.  And He wants to use us as His mouthpiece.  The people may be wonderful people.  We may love their culture, we may desire to be more like them in many ways.  Or they may be terrible people.  They may annoy us and the culture make no sense to us.  But we do not go or stay based on our feelings or reactions to the people and culture.  We go and stay based on the commandment of Jesus:  Go, make disciples of all the nations.

Do not get caught up in the frivolity and emotion that is so often surrounding the missionary effort.  It is an extremely exciting decision to make and there will be highs and lows emotionally, but we do not base our decision for obedience on our feelings.  Missionaries are not super Christians, they are obedient ones.  Going to a foreign country, however, does not mean that you are necessarily being obedient!  You must proclaim the Gospel and disciple those who believe.  Being a businessman in Albania or providing electricity to tribal peoples in the Congo does not make you a missionary; making disciples does.   Jesus did not command us to “take clean water, medicine and electricity to the world”, no, He said, “go make disciples of every nation”.  Everything else is periphery.

So, do not ask yourself today, “Am I called to go?”  Rather, ask yourself, “Am I confident that I am called to stay?”  Jesus very clearly told us to go.  You ought to be extremely confident of your disciple-making role at home if you choose to stay.  How do you decide where to go?  If God has not supernaturally placed in your heart a vision or passion, then look to see where your church is already active.  If your church is not already involved somewhere, then get a copy of “Operation World” (or check out the “Joshua Project” online) and find out where the greatest need is.  Something will prick you, and you will get excited.

Let’s work towards obedience and know with confidence that we will hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant”.

O the deep, deep love of Jesus.

Some of our greatest anthems of the faith have deep and riveting back stories.  Samuel Trevor Francis (1834–1925), for example, worked as a lay preacher and worked full time as a merchant to support himself.  However, as a teenager looking for work, he despaired of life to the point that he was considering suicide by jumping off a bridge over the River Thames.  In his contemplation he met the Lord and had a deep and true Spiritual renewal.  This led him to write many hymns and poems, such as this:

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches o’er His loved ones, died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth, watcheth o’er them from the throne!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best!
‘Tis an ocean vast of blessing, ’tis a haven sweet of rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, ’tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee!

 – Samuel Trevor Francis

samuel trevor francis

People in the Bible were not perfect.

paul-barnabas-mark

Have you ever stopped to consider that the Bible is a narrative, and not every action depicted therein is exemplary?  Perhaps this is common sense to you; Adam and Eve disobeyed God and brought the curse of death and suffering on the entirety of humanity.  No, we should not follow that example.  King David, the “man after God’s own heart” had an affair with Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife, and then he had Uriah killed when he was incapable of covering up his sin, only to take her as his own wife.  Yep, not a good example to follow either.

Sometimes, however, when we get into the New Testament, moral observations are not offered in the stories, and we forget that books like Acts are historical narrative and not instruction or exemplary of how we should act, function as a Church, or build our doctrine.  But it is also a historical narrative that, while it does offer specific moral and ethical instruction, it also tells us a history and there are often little nuggets of truth and encouragement that we can see through the characters.  One of my favorite examples of this is the relationship between Paul and John Mark.

Paul and Barnabas were serving at the Church at Antioch, and the leaders of the Church were compelled by the Holy Spirit to send the two men out “for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13.2).  They took off on their first missionary journey and hit many cities, planting many churches and getting kicked out of most every city where they worked.  After a season of ministry, planting many churches, being stoned and persecuted, they made their way home for a time of encouragement and refreshment.  While they were there a debate arose over whether or not the non-Jews needed to be circumcised so Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem to discuss the debate with the apostles and Pharisees who had believed in Jesus.  After concluding that they did not need to be circumcised, the apostles sent Silas and Judas along to help out with the work.

After everything settled down, Paul and Barnabas decided to retrace their first missionary journey to go visit on all of the churches they had planted.

Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also.  But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.  And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.  But Paul chose Silas and left, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord.  And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

– Acts 15.37-41

While they were out on their first missionary journey, John Mark deserted Paul and Barnabas.  We do not know what happened in Pamphylia, chapter 14 simply says that they went there and preached the word.  But for whatever reason John Mark deserted them, and Paul was so angry about it that he was unwilling to work with him again – at the expense of his partner Barnabas.

Dealing with deserters has been a struggle for the persecuted church since the beginning, and we see exemplified here in Acts 15 that Paul wanted nothing to do with John Mark.  Barnabas, however, saw his repentance as genuine and wanted to work with him to the point that he was willing to take him out and part ways with Paul.  I guess his name, “Son of Encouragement” was fitting (Acts 4.36)!

Perhaps Barnabas was quick to restore the fallen as he himself had fallen into the hypocrisy of refusing to eat with the Gentiles (non Jews) along with Peter, James and John even though they had been given the calling of taking the Gospel to the Gentiles (Gal 2.9-14)!

But we finally see, in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, that Paul not only had made peace with John Mark who deserted them in Pamphylia, but asked Timothy to bring him:

“Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.”

– 2 Tim 4.11

In the book of Colossians, Paul commends Mark to them but calls him Barnabas’s cousin (Col 4.10), in the book of Philemon Paul refers to him as a fellow worker (Philemon 1.24), and by the time Paul wrote 1 Peter, he called Mark “my son” (1 Peter 5.13).

I guess Paul got over it.  Just like Jesus forgave Peter.

But if we quit reading at the Acts account, we would not know the full story!  We would think that Paul set an example to despise and not associate with those who fall in a moment or season of weakness – deeming them un-restorable.  But when we look deeper we see that not only was the deserter restorable, but that he became to Paul a partner and ultimately like a son.

Aside from Jesus, no one in scripture is perfect.  And unless the passage clearly denotes instruction, we should not assume that the actions of the characters are examples that we should follow.  We know that all of Scripture is breathed by God, and if it is instruction then it is instruction from God that we should obey.  If it is narrative, then we need to contrast it against the instructions and see if it lines up.  Because even Paul made mistakes.