Holding the Ropes

The greatest missionary was almost stopped before he got started! Acts 9:23-24 tells the story of Saul who had just come to Christ and was sharing his new faith in 1st century Damascus. Knowing his enemies wanted to shut him up, his friends took him to the city wall one night, put him into a basket, and lowered him by rope to safety outside the city walls. From there he was able to make his way back to Jerusalem, then eventually on to Antioch, Asia, and Europe. We also know him as Paul the apostle.

 Paul’s friends are unknown to us. They most likely didn’t seek honor or publicity for their brave deed. As the years went by, though, they saw the value of holding the ropes for Paul. I’m sure God noticed!

 It’s a truth that missionaries cannot work alone. Yes, they might go out in teams, they might interact with national workers and churches, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.

 They need people to figuratively hold the ropes for them so they can concentrate on going where God sends them and doing the work for which they have been called.

 As surely as God calls some to go, he calls others to support them prayerfully, financially, and in encouragement.

 I’m looking today for some people to hold the ropes.

 Beginning next Monday, Mandate’s four-person leadership team is leaving the U.S. for a two-week visit with our national ministry partners in Vietnam and Laos. We want to encourage our front-line workers. We want to personally see the results of their ministries. We want to come back with photos and stories to share so that we can encourage more people to join them in their works.

 We are going into spiritual battle. We have prepared ourselves as best we can. We have our tickets, our visas, accommodations booked, packed suitcases. Now we’re looking for people like you who will join together in praying with and for us as we go.

 PRAY for our travel. We’ll leave our individual homes in the U.S. on September 17 and arrive in Da Nang, Vietnam the next day. So PRAY for safety and comfort through our travels.

 We’ll spend days visiting ministry sites in Vietnam. So PRAY that we’ll have good communication with our hosts and Vietnamese people in general.

 I’m hoping to share my testimony with one specific communist official I’ve met before. So PRAY he will be receptive to me and, especially, the gospel.

 Lord willing, I’ll come back to this page next Friday (or when I have a safe and secure internet connection) with updated prayer requests for the second part of our trip – Laos, and the following week with news for our journey home.

 We can’t do this without the help of God’s people. That’s you.

 Will you join together to hold the ropes for Mandate?

Praying the Goal

It’s kind of insulting. The book of James records Elijah was a person just like us. Poor Elijah. I like to think of God’s prophets as heroes. The truth is, he was just a man, like me. On the other side, if we’re that similar, and God used him so powerfully and specifically, how would He like to use me?

Over the past several months, I’ve been asking God to heal some people, while also asking Him to bring others to salvation. For the most part, all of these people are personal friends, so I have a deep interest in the outcome of my prayers.

I’m goal-oriented. In prayer, this means I understand and pray towards a specific end. If healing, I pray the person will be healed. That’s it. When I’m praying for my specific unsaved friends to come to depend on Christ for salvation, I pray only for that end.

I am also a planner and strategist. I love starting with a goal, then planning how to get from where I am to where I want to be. I do this goal-setting and strategizing with something as simple as entering and training for a marathon race. I follow the same pattern when planning the Sunday School class I teach, and in developing multi-year strategic plans for Mandate.

Praying for my friends, I began to see that I was drifting from goals to strategizing. Instead of just praying for salvation, I began praying a plan which would lead to salvation. Maybe my friends would meet someone, or hear a radio broadcast, or randomly pick up a Bible which would fall open to John 3:16. You get the picture.

I began doing the same thing in praying for healing. God, work through the doctors, or lead them to alternative healers, or just do a total mind-blowing miracle.

Then I realized Who I was talking to in prayer. I had gone from praying for specific goals to dictating methods. Who am I to be telling God how to work?! His mind is much better than mine.  He knows the end from the beginning. And, in the end, I don’t really care how my friends find Christ or how others are healed. I just want those results.

Back to Elijah, whose story you can find in 1 Kings. As James records, Elijah simply prayed for a drought on Israel, and it happened. He simply prayed for rain to end that drought, and it happened. He did not pray the means, he prayed for a specific end. His requests are similar to many others throughout the Bible, including the well-known Lord’s Prayer.

My morning prayer times have changed. When I ask God to do something, I realize I can pray for the result, but have to leave the process to Him. I have to trust that He knows what He’s doing. I do believe I should pray for one specific end to each request, and I have to continue praying in that direction until God answers in some way or tells me to stop.

This new insight is interesting. I now spend more time praying for specific needs and am able to include more people in my prayers because I’m not following the rabbit trails of how I think God might answer, but leaving that totally in His capable hands, and I’ve now seen Him answer in specific ways that I would not have imagined.

God is doing the work. I am just praying the goal.

What goals are you praying towards?

The Generation to Come

If you were to dream without limits, what would your ministry look like? Which specific things would you want to accomplish for the kingdom of God? Which countries would you bring the gospel to? What kinds of things would you do for God's people? Many times our wildest dreams seem far too big to accomplish. I encourage you this week to think bigger. Specifically, I encourage you to think multi-generationally.

The wonders God did in partnership with Moses were some of the most famous of the Bible. In fact, Deuteronomy 34:10-12 reads,

Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.”

Yet even Moses only saw the Promised Land. He never crossed over. His whole life's work was devoted to the transitioning and preparing of God's people to be able to inherit territory of enormous significance. Yet this land was not going to be a place in which he walked. This isn't discouraging news for us. In fact, it's exciting news. Imagine God using you for something so immense that your lifetime could literally not contain the fullness of it. In fact, that's more often how God operates. We are part of a continuous story that many have taken part in before us, that we have a major role in, and that will continue on after us to the next generation.

Rather than framing your goals for fulfilling your calling based on your lifetime, I encourage you to take a step back and pray for spiritual eyes to see what God is doing multi-generationally. Treasure your role in not only what you will see, but your role in what is yet to come. Pray for God's plans to come to pass that are larger than your scope of view, longer-term than your lifetime, and much bigger than your understanding.

Throughout scripture a pattern emerges of a two-fold focus. Moses, Elijah, even Jesus, and many more both were simultaneously focused on the tasks God put right before them to be done as well as the training up of the next generation who would continue those works. This week take a look at how you are doing each of these. Which things has God set before you to be done for Him now? Also, what part are you taking in preparing things for the generation that will take up the work behind you?

Valley of Dry Bones

If you've ever seen the cross-section of a bone, you know that a living bone is full of spongey marrow. There is a lot to be gleaned from scripture on how to turn our dry bones (like those in Ezekiel) into living bones with marrow. Dry bones lack MARROW. Marrow is defined by Google as "a soft fatty substance in the cavities of bones, in which blood cells are produced (often taken as typifying strength and vitality)". God wants to breathe some spiritual lifeblood into these “dry bones” situations. How do we get back our strength and feelings of enthusiasm when we're standing in a proverbial valley of dry bones?

"A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." Proverbs 17:22 (NIV)

Marrow is JOY. It's so natural to look for joy from our circumstances, but when we find joy, laughter, smiles, excitement even in the most serious of times, that changes our circumstances! Joy doesn't depend on your experience. Your experience depends on joy.

"For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." Hebrews 4:12

Digging deep enough into anatomy tells us that diving bones and marrow isn't as simple as the inside and outside of bones. They are cellularly fused together. Yet the word of God is PRECISE enough to divide them. Seeking God for that kind of precision and discernment in His word- the kind that isn't dicernable through human wisdom- brings a particular vitality to what has seemed lifeless or unresponsive.

"This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life." Ezekiel 37:5

Marrow requires not only hearing God for your life, but it is a call to action or a call to response based on His word. You have heard His words. Now what is your response? SPEAKING the words you have received and ACTING in line with God's direction in His word brings our spirits to life. It's not something that will "just happen" to you, but something God will do WITH you as declare and act in obedience. The things God chooses to do with your life may make no sense or seem like too much of a long shot. Believe for it anyway. If God's word says it, you do it.

"Light in a messenger's eyes brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones." Proverbs 15:30

Marrow is GOOD NEWS. Are you longing for good news? The whole work of Jesus is called the gospel. The good news. THAT'S WHAT GOD DOES. He has good news for you NOW. He has good news for someone you are connected to! Ask God for new ways to be part of sharing His good news!

"You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bones shall flourish like the grass; and the hand of the LORD shall be known to his servants, and he shall show his indignation against his enemies." Isaiah 66:14 (ESV)

You shall see. Despite feeling beaten down. Despite looking at dry bones. God says "you shall see" over your situation that it will flourish as you respond.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones." Proverbs 3:5-8

When God brings the marrow of His life-giving words into your life, and it partners will your belief in His power to do all His word says, it will NOT look like human wisdom. No human wisdom says mountains can be moved or seas can be parted or sick can be healed or dead can be raised. You cannot lean on your understanding of this situation. You HAVE to lean on the God that says dry bones can live. That leaning is what brings the marrow back into the bones!

"he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken" Psalm 34:20

Rest in the comfort that you are PROTECTED. But not only does God protect His own- it says not one bone will be broken. In Ezekiel these bones represented an impossible, miraculous demonstration of life and power. One thing we can expect as Christians is for God to do impossible, miraculous, demonstrations of His power for His glory. He will not let one of His commands or promises be broken. What He commands, He fulfills.

Now is the time to speak boldly!

"When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long." Psalm 32:3

The kingdom of God is longing for you to speak! Speaking your testimony, sharing the gospel, praying into people and situations in your life are all ways we speak. Silent resignation wastes away bones, but God-aligned declaration brings the marrow of life back into them. Listen now to what the Lord is saying over your dry bones...then speak out accordingly. Watch how His resurrecting power brings new life to what is spiritually dead all around you.

Camping

The world has become more and more about immediacy, instant access, and saving time. Modern conveniences reflect the value many societies place on arriving. While the conveniences developed may be modern day, impatience is not a new problem. Reading Numbers 33, we see the stages of the Israelites journey after the Exodus.

The Israelites set out from Rameses on the fifteenth day of the first month, the day after the Passover. They marched out defiantly in full view of all the Egyptians,

who were burying all their firstborn, whom the Lord had struck down among them; for the Lord had brought judgment on their gods.

The Israelites left Rameses and camped at Sukkoth.

They left Sukkoth and camped at Etham, on the edge of the desert.

They left Etham, turned back to Pi Hahiroth, to the east of Baal Zephon, and camped near Migdol.

They left Pi Hahiroth and passed through the sea into the desert, and when they had traveled for three days in the Desert of Etham, they camped at Marah.

They left Marah and went to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there.

They left Elim and camped by the Red Sea.

They left the Red Sea and camped in the Desert of Sin.

They left the Desert of Sin and camped at Dophkah.

They left Dophkah and camped at Alush.

They left Alush and camped at Rephidim, where there was no water for the people to drink.

They left Rephidim and camped in the Desert of Sinai.

They left the Desert of Sinai and camped at Kibroth Hattaavah.

They left Kibroth Hattaavah and camped at Hazeroth.

They left Hazeroth and camped at Rithmah.

They left Rithmah and camped at Rimmon Perez.

They left Rimmon Perez and camped at Libnah.

They left Libnah and camped at Rissah.

They left Rissah and camped at Kehelathah.

They left Kehelathah and camped at Mount Shepher.

They left Mount Shepher and camped at Haradah.

They left Haradah and camped at Makheloth.

They left Makheloth and camped at Tahath.

They left Tahath and camped at Terah.

They left Terah and camped at Mithkah.

They left Mithkah and camped at Hashmonah.

They left Hashmonah and camped at Moseroth.

They left Moseroth and camped at Bene Jaakan.

They left Bene Jaakan and camped at Hor Haggidgad.

They left Hor Haggidgad and camped at Jotbathah.

They left Jotbathah and camped at Abronah.

They left Abronah and camped at Ezion Geber.

They left Ezion Geber and camped at Kadesh, in the Desert of Zin.

They left Kadesh and camped at Mount Hor, on the border of Edom. At the Lord’s command Aaron the priest went up Mount Hor, where he died on the first day of the fifth month of the fortieth year after the Israelites came out of Egypt. Aaron was a hundred and twenty-three years old when he died on Mount Hor.

The Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the Negev of Canaan, heard that the Israelites were coming.

They left Mount Hor and camped at Zalmonah.

They left Zalmonah and camped at Punon.

They left Punon and camped at Oboth.

They left Oboth and camped at Iye Abarim, on the border of Moab.

They left Iye Abarim and camped at Dibon Gad.

They left Dibon Gad and camped at Almon Diblathaim.

They left Almon Diblathaim and camped in the mountains of Abarim, near Nebo.

They left the mountains of Abarim and camped on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho. There on the plains of Moab they camped along the Jordan from Beth Jeshimoth to Abel Shittim. Numbers 33:3-49

Whew! That's quite a lot of camping. I'm sure more than once along the journey they were just ready to arrive. Can you relate? Have you been so looking forward to the next milestone or next achievement that you've grown tired of the pit stops along the way? I think it was no coincidence that the journey ended up being a life-long one. There is purpose in your pit stops. Where are you in life right at this moment? Likely you're somewhere between the last achieved goal and the next one. This place right now where you are spiritually “camping” as you travel from one spiritual location to another is a beautiful part of your journey. Call out to God from right where you are, and ask Him to teach you more about your “campsite”. There is meaning in the journey. It's easy to get weary of camping or impatient in the in-between times, but in these times it's important to remember that they are building up to the promised land- the culmination of all God had laid out for you to complete for His kingdom.

Sometimes impatience isn't the problem. Other times we tarry at a “campsite” because before us loom mountains. We see obstacles on the path to achieving our goals that seem insurmountable. Sometimes we stop because we spend so much time looking at the circumstances that we forget the magnitude of our promised land is far greater than the magnitude of any trouble that could come our way. Other times we stop because we create the mountains. We slow our path with “what if's” and “I can't's” that loom even higher than our actual circumstances. Whatever the case, be encouraged to keep moving. One day at a time, enjoy the place where you find yourself, and seek how to better serve in those “in between” places.

Trust

Trust. It's no coincidence that the word trust, in the English, begins and ends with the letter that most resembles the cross. It's almost a visual display of our trust journey. Our trust begins with the cross. It begins when one first understands the incredible love behind the sacrifice that Jesus made specifically for you. The free access to God's grace and love and the removal of all sin evokes a love in response to the magnitude of the love we have been shown.

Just as there are letters between the two “crosses” in trust, we then begin a journey. After we have our moment of salvation in which we accept the powerful acts performed for us on the cross, we begin to realize what this means for our lives. Just like dominos in a line, the salvation experience sets into motion changes in every area of life. Ultimately, trust comes full circle with another “cross”. We take up the task of carrying the cross to the rest of the world. From receiving to giving, we have come to fully lean on or place all of our life on the gospel. This full leaning or placing of reliance on something embodies the meaning of trust.

How do we know we are trusting? Trust isn't an emotion- and thank goodness- because emotions are changing. Trust is peaceful, open-handed living. We are fully open to give all that we are called to give, and we are fully open to receive all that we are being given by God. One of the best ways to check your trust is to check in what you're investing your three T's: tithe, time, and titles.

Trusting God with our finances lives in the knowledge that it is all His anyway. It also lives in the peace of trust that all needs will be supplied. How is your trust in this category? The next T is time. Verbs having to do with time often denote it as a currency- “spend time”, “waste time”, “save time”, etc. The time we have been given is a precious commodity, so what we spend it doing shows what we trust to have the most value. Do we trust in the value of God's kingdom enough to do whatever we spend our time doing for the glory of God? How is your trust in this category? Finally, the last T is title. Everyone has many titles. Mother, brother, boss, teacher, pastor, student, artist, etc. Each of these titles indicates relationship to a certain number of people. These relationships are opportunities for powerful connections for the kingdom. We are entrusted with titles so that we can take God's love and gospel to the people placed in our sphere of influence. Do we trust God with our titles? More importantly, could we still trust God without them? How are you using these titles you're entrusted with?

We have all been entrusted with much. The goal is to hear the precious words, “well done, good and faithful servant”. The question is, where are you in the process of trust?

Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. Psalm 9:10

Rehoboam's Rationale

Scripture is filled with holy opposites. Divine paradoxes. In 1 Kings 12 we find Solomon's son, Rehoboam, placed in power. He is given two recommended courses of action. The first came from wise and esteemed advisors of his father who counseled him to affirm his rule by having compassion on his people. By heeding their needs and, in a sense, serving them, love would win their favor. The second course of action came in stark contrast to the first and was offered by those young men who knew him best. They suggested that to distinguish himself as a powerful ruler that he should rule with ruthlessness, inspiring fear in the people and winning allegiance out of self-preservation. When he ultimately chooses the second, it costs him half the kingdom.

While few of us have the opportunity to rule nations, we find ourselves in similar circumstances. The quest for whatever we are hoping to gain or accomplish- be it a position, favor in a certain group of people, or a number of other things- can be driven by love or fear. When we are driven by fear, we spend countless amounts of time and energy fearing how things could go wrong, trying to make ourselves irreplaceable to others, or using sheer will power to attempt to accomplish something. Just like the fear-driven response was provoked by the friends closest to King Rehoboam, our fear response is usually triggered by the closest voice to us...our own.

The opposite of fear is love. We know this because while fear cries to hold on to everything for fear it will be lost, love pleads to give everything because in giving there can be no loss. Fear's responses can seem powerful, but the quiet, humble response of love carries the ultimate power. When we are motivated by compassion and desire to serve regardless of what we could lose, we are moving with the heart of God. Rehoboam could have lost the kingdom if he showed softness and compassion. Because of his fear that this might happen, he responded in harsh defensiveness instead. While we will never know what would have happened had he heeded the wise advice of responding in love, there is a good chance he would have ended up ruling over the entire kingdom that his father Solomon did, rather than the ultimate division that ensued after his decision. What places in your life are you yielding to fear over love? I challenge you this week to respond in a different way in at least one of these areas. As you lay yourself down in humility and love, you get out of the way of the favor of God that is trying to flow through your life. As you do this remember this divine paradox; “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Matthew 23:11-12

My Church

It was a new church. It was a young church. It was a church in Asia made up of recent converts from Islam.

The multinational team of missionaries working in this area were pleased with what God was doing there. Previous ministry had not been very successful. The handful of converts over the past decades had never coalesced into a functioning national church.

Now it seemed the spirit of God was moving among these people in ways not previously seen and even beyond the expectations and hopes of the missionaries. Muslims were listening to the message. Some were putting their faith in Christ. Some of those had been openly baptized. Evangelism moved into discipleship.

One day several of the new converts came to the leaders of the missionary team.

“What is this?” They said pointing to some passages in their Bibles. “You have told us how important it is to read God’s word. We have been doing this with you and on our own.”

Pointing out 1 Corinthians 11:20, they said “this man [Paul] writes about something he calls the Lord’s supper. This seems to be what Jesus did with his disciples before his crucifixion. Paul writes as if it is something believers should be doing even now, but we are not doing this. Would you help us understand?”

“Yes, this is something which Christians do now,” one of the missionaries spoke up. “In fact, when we missionaries are together we do it. But it's a practice not understood or accepted well by your family and friends who are still Muslim. We were afraid if you began practicing the Lord’s supper, you would be persecuted. You might even be harmed or killed because of it.”

“That's not our problem!” spoke up the boldest of the new church members. “If this is something we are supposed to do, we must do it. We are Christians. You have already taught us to be faithful to the teaching of God’s word. If others don't understand, that’s their problem. If we are persecuted, that’s God’s problem. Our only problem is to be faithful to the God we now serve.”

“Now,” he continued, “please sit with us and help us understand the Lord’s supper.”

This is what we’re looking for when we who follow Christ take his message to those who don’t. We can’t force people to believe, but when they do, we can – and must – follow Jesus’ own words, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).

We must teach from God’s word. That means we must teach them everything God gave us while being careful not to mix cultural or organizational norms with actual scriptural command and example.

As these new believers grow in Christ, we have to trust them to understand and apply that Biblical teaching to their own situation. After all, the same Holy Spirit who lives in us now lives in them. Under his guidance, they will understand what to do and when to do it. They will learn what it means to count the cost of following Jesus.

This story is true. I received it from the leader of this team of missionaries. I have gone back to her several times to make sure I remembered correctly, and, more importantly, that I was telling the story accurately. I even have photos of the first communion service held in this Muslim convert church.

I share it here to encourage you. The God who said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18), is still breaking through spiritual strongholds to establish his church around the world.

To know him and to make him known

There it was. We couldn’t miss it. As we walked into our daily chapel service at Columbia International University, we had only to look to the front of the auditorium to be reminded why we were there. Printed on the front wall were the words “to know him and to make him known.”

Hasn’t this been an anthem of the church since its beginning? Jesus called people, not just to follow him, not just to believe, but to know him in a special way. It is often said one of the differences between religion and Christianity is rules vs relationship. Sure, we have rules, but they are built around the relationship with Christ, without which the rules are worthless.

Reading deeper into the New Testament we see the depths of this relationship as described by Paul in Philippians 3:10, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

The desire for a fulfillment of this relationship with Christ permeates the New Testament and has been a topic for writers and musicians from the beginning of the church. The deep passion for this growing relationship with Christ was expressed so beautifully in the song Oh, I Want to Know You More, ending with these lines:

Oh, I want to know You more!
Deep within my soul I want to know You,
Oh, I want to know You.
And I would give my final breath
to know You in Your Death and Resurrection,
Oh, I want to know You more.
Oh, I want to know You more.
Oh, I want to know You more.

When we, as humans, find something that enhances our lives, don’t we want to share it with our friends? If you were a doctor and discovered a cure for cancer, wouldn’t you share with the world? When you discover the key to knowing God is a relationship with Jesus Christ, shouldn’t it be a most natural thing to share this with everyone? I don’t mean these to be rhetorical questions, therefore the only proper answer is “of course!”

The Christian experience goes beyond just knowing Christ to having that knowledge overflow so that others can share the same relationship. To know him and to make him known should be the most natural combination for those who follow Jesus Christ.

When the early church was scattered from Jerusalem as described in Acts 11, they were not cowed by their experience with persecution, but shared the message wherever they ended up. One result of this was the church at Antioch, which later became the base of operations for Paul and his missionary teams.

Paul saw this as such natural progression he wrote in Romans about being in debt to everyone in terms of sharing the gospel. Later, in 1 Corinthians 9, he wrote, “. . . when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. . . . I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.”

To know him and to make him known should be a natural progression. It is also the subject of several commands/reminders/exhortations directly from Jesus, reinforced by the apostles and New Testament writers.

“He [Jesus] said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation’” (Mark 16:15).

When commanded by the Jewish authorities not to preach the gospel, Peter and John, speaking for all believers, replied, “For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

As much as we sometimes presume on grace, the Bible demands that followers of Christ actually do what he told us to do. As did Yahweh to the Jews in the Old Testament, there is no doubt Jesus did command his people to overtly share the message of salvation with others – from those nearby to the figurative ends of the earth. So John declares in 1 John 2:3, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.”

In another still-popular song, Casting Crowns makes this natural connection to knowing Christ, making him known to others, and growing in our relationship as we do both:

Into Your word we're digging deep to know our Father's heart
Into the world we're reaching out to show them who You are

So living water flowing through, God we thirst for more of You
Fill our hearts and flood our souls with one desire

Just to know You and to make You known
We lift Your name on High
Shine like the sun, make darkness run and hide
We know we were made for so much more
Than ordinary lives
It's time for us to more than just survive
We were made to thrive

Let’s obey the command, pay attention to the exhortation, follow the examples, do the natural.

Know Him and Make Him Known

Follow . . .

If we believe that Jesus Christ paid the penalty for sin, and if we are confident that what we call salvation is offered to humanity as a free gift, how do we respond to God and actually take possession of this gift? That’s where we left this topic last week in this blog.

First, summation. With the Bible as our foundation of faith and practice, we know that all humanity begins in a state of rebellion/sin against God (Romans 3:23). Because of this sin, no one is able to meet God’s standards of righteousness (Romans 3:10). God has provided a substitute to take on himself the sins and punishment of others so that they might be presented as righteous to God the father. That substitute is Jesus Christ (1 John 2:1).

At this point, it could seem that the sacrifice of Jesus, powerful enough to cover the sins of the entire human race, would automatically clean and redeem everyone who ever lived. Potentially, that is so. Practically, there is more.

The Christian church, following the words of the Bible, often uses related terms such as save, saved, and salvation. This means a person who is still in a sinful state is rescued from that state by Jesus’ sacrifice. The church also uses the term grace. We talk about grace as unmerited favor or receiving something we don’t earn ourselves. The picture of a gift is often the best illustration of grace. A gift is, well, a gift. A gift is given because the giver wants to do so. The giver doesn’t have to do so, he wants to. The person to whom the gift is given must take it. If the receivers do not actually take a physical gift into their possession, the transaction is not complete.

The Bible pictures this appropriately in Romans 6:23, “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” and Ephesians 2:8-9, “. . . it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God . . .”  Following the logical picture of a gift, the person to whom it is offered must take possession or receive it in order to complete the transaction.

Again, the Bible follows the picture of a gift offered and accepted in John 1:12, “Yet to all who received him [the gift], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God . . . .” and Romans 10:13, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

God’s gift stands as an open offer to all of humanity, but it must be received/accepted to be effective. To describe this act of acceptance, the Bible uses such terms as believe, receive, accept, and others which are often difficult to understand in terms of modern language and thought, especially when communicated across linguistic and cultural barriers, as is common in missions.

While a missionary in Indonesia, I had the opportunity to present this concept to a small tribal group which had little contact with the Bible, the church, or even the outside world. I realized I might have only one opportunity to make this presentation to them. I could not assume they knew enough about God or his dealings with humanity to understand the concepts of sin, rebellion against God, and substitutionary atonement. It was very interesting as I tried to lay down the entire foundation of redemptive history in about 30 minutes, before even approaching the concept of God’s work and offer through Jesus Christ. When I finally did explain that, I could sense their interest.

I knew what I wanted to say next in English, but I knew little of their tribal language. I was using Indonesian as a trade language to bridge the gap. I knew my choice of words would be crucial in establishing real understanding of what was at stake. I’m not quite sure what happened next, though I know I can’t attribute it to personal brilliance. Instead of receive, accept, believe, I used the Indonesian word ikut which means follow. I asked if they were ready and willing to follow Jesus.

I could not have anticipated the response. The entire village, with one voice, responded, “Tuan, kami mau ikut Tuhan Yesus” - “Sir, we want to follow Jesus.” To them, the word follow resembled what they did with their village chief. They committed their lives to the chief. They did what the chief told them to do. They listened and learned from the chief. It was, therefore, not that difficult for them to apply this same concept of total allegiance in soul and spirit to Jesus Christ as their new chief of chiefs, as a beginning to understanding the full relationship.

As it turned out, use of this word was both appropriate and effective. There is now a thriving church in this village. Was it biblical? Looking through the Gospels, the first four books of the New Testament, we can see Jesus using this word over and over again. He called his first disciples to “follow me” (John 1:43). Follow, for Jesus, did not simply mean to walk behind him in a physical sense but implied the total commitment of one person to another. In the same way the church today often uses the word believe and takes pains to distinguish simple intellectual assent from committed belief.

The second half of the book of Acts follows the travels of Paul the apostle as he moved among the major centers of the Roman world bringing the news of God’s free gift of salvation and calling on people to respond to it. While in the city of Philippi, those opposed to Paul’s message arranged for him to be imprisoned. While in the local jail, an earthquake broke open the doors and the chains which were holding Paul and his companion Silas. Shortly afterward, the Roman official in charge of that prison came running into the cellblock, thinking all of his prisoners had escaped and that he would be punished by his superiors. Instead, Paul assured him that no one had left the prison.

The jailer asked Paul “what must I do to be saved?” To which Paul replied “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved. . . .”

The Roman religion allowed for many gods and was accepting of new gods from  peoples they conquered. Intellectually believing in a god would not have been difficult for that jailer. Paul called instead for a committed belief in one specific God, Jesus Christ. Immediately after this question and answer, Paul and Silas went with the jailer to his own family dwelling and spent the next hours explaining what it meant to truly follow Jesus. When they were finished, the jailer and those in his household were so willing to commit themselves exclusively to Jesus Christ and to follow him that they accepted the rite of Christian baptism, thereby identifying themselves for all times with those who followed Christ.

That is the mission of the church, 2000 years ago and today, whether in our own communities or the other side of the globe. By virtue of our own relationship with Jesus Christ, we are expected to share our understanding of God, his relationship to humanity, his standard of righteousness, his provision of salvation in Christ, and the response he expects from people to his free gift.

It doesn't stop there. But that's for next week.