The Apostles’ Mission

Man seeking kindness

When Jesus sent out the Twelve, he “gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal” (Luke 9:1, 2 ESV). This was no small feat for a group of fishermen, tax collectors, and otherwise ordinary people. Jesus could have sent them out to do just about anything, but he specifically sent them to heal diseases, cast out demons, and proclaim the kingdom of God.

Their mission to do this was Jesus’ mission: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18, 19). Jesus’ charge to his disciples did not arrive out of a vacuum. Rather, it was rooted in his own mission.

Like Jesus himself, he called his disciples to leave everything and rely completely upon God. They were commanded to not take anything extra with them. They were to rely on the goodwill of people. In doing so, they completely put their faith in God. God provides. God is the great healer. God calls his people to help other people, to feed, heal, and free others. This is why the crowds were always pressing in against Jesus. They were desperate for someone to heal them.

Jesus is no different today. There will always be oppression, hunger, and disease. And it’s up to us to care for one another. This is exactly in step with who Jesus is. His mission is our mission.

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What Is Your Name?

Jacob wrestling with God

The name Jacob means “follow” and is also the root word for “heel.” Jacob was a heel grabber in the Genesis account. Even from birth, he grabbed his twin brother Esau’s heel. Later on, Jacob tricked his brother into selling his birthright. When their father Isaac was dying, Jacob tricked his father into blessing him instead of Esau. Jacob rightfully earned his name of follower. Jacob also over took his father-in-law, who deceived Jacob, by taking off with all of his kids, his wives, and scores of flocks.

When he fled, Jacob found out that Esau wanted to meet him. Esau sent 400 men to meet Jacob, and Jacob was terrified. He began splitting his family up in case there was an attack so that at least some would be spared. At one point Jacob was alone. It was then that a man began to wrestle with him throughout the night. Jacob was holding his own then the man dislocated Jacob’s hip.

When morning came, they were still wrestling and the man asked Jacob to let him go. Jacob answered, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26 ESV). Then the man asked what Jacob’s name is. “Follower.” Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be follower (Jacob) but Israel, for you have striven with God and with man, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28). Israel means “he strives with God.” To strive means to go to great efforts to achieve something. It was at this point Jacob realized he was wrestling with God himself.

God allowed Jacob to overtake him in that fight. From the time Jacob was born, he was determined to receive blessings. Throughout his life he would deceive, labor, even beg in order to receive a blessing. It’s fitting that God changed his name to Israel. When Esau met Jacob, he blessed him. He was not coming to kill him; he was coming to bless him! This story is clear evidence that God is a God of revival!

Enter His Gates With Thanksgiving

thankfulness

We are coming up on the American Thanksgiving season. It’s a reminder of our nation’s history and how the pilgrims broke bread with the natives after enduring the long, dangerous trek across the open ocean. As we enter this season, we’re reminded of all that God does for us. He sustains, protects, loves, saves, and executes justice.

The current general mental and spiritual outlook in the US is grim. Suicide among our youth is the highest it has ever been and is the second leading cause of death among young people. Drugs and negativity have overtaken our cities and have permeated even the deepest of our rural communities.

An article from two years ago called The shocking impact negative people have on your brain, according to science, is making its rounds again. The article explains how neurons in the brain that “fire” are neurons that “wire.” In other words, if we hear negativity all the time, our brain chemically becomes hardwired to perceive the world through negativity, regardless of reality. The opposite is also equally true–the more thanksgiving we hear, the quicker our brains become hardwired to perceive things with optimism and hope.

It’s no surprise that the Bible instructs us to be thankful. Over and over again. Psalm 100 says, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!” (Psalm 100:1-4 ESV).

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Our Heavenly Dwelling

Heaven

Last week we talked about our heavenly inheritance and how we need to be working. We get back what we put in. We cannot expect a free ride through life. But what will that heavenly inheritance look like? People who are not believers may poke fun and tell us that we believe in a mythical place that doesn’t exist. Or we believe in a mythical God who we can’t see. So how do we respond to that?

The reality is that none of us know what Heaven looks like. We don’t have a clue. And we should be OK with that answer. Paul says that we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). Does this mean that we blindly believe that something better is waiting for us when we die? Not at all! Faith is not blind. We know that Heaven is real. God tells us that. We know that there are breathtaking places here on the earth–exotic landscapes that exude pristine beauty. Others who have been there can describe it, show pictures, etc., but it will not fully engage all of our senses until we have physically gone there. Those places here on earth are no less real just because we have not physically been there. They indeed exist. And they are incredible parts of God’s creation.

If we know this to be true on the earth, it is equally true for Heaven. Paul says, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. . . . He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (2 Cor. 5:1, 5 ESV). God has been preparing our heavenly home since the beginning. We can only imagine what heaven will be like. But we have the Spirit as a guarantee. We know Heaven to be real and incredible and peaceful. “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”

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The Testing of Your Faith

wisdom

As we focus on the theme of wisdom this year, it’s appropriate to talk about struggles in the context of wisdom. Oftentimes, in the middle of our deepest struggles, wisdom is what carries us through. Wisdom allows us to see beyond the tragedy so that hope can emerge and come into deeper focus. Wisdom helps us make guided decisions so that we don’t remain in a permanent rut.

Without wisdom, we would never understand that trials can actually deepen our faith. They have the ability to refine us and make us stronger. James says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him (James 1:2-4).

Most of us don’t have the first instinct to be joyful when trials hit. It is not our fist response. Our sight gets clouded by the agony of the pain. We often are dazed, shocked, and have to focus on just breathing. But it’s wisdom that helps us see the big picture. Wisdom tells us that there is a loving God who validates our suffering. Wisdom tells us that we can put one foot in front of the other and that each step is another movement forward.

But we also need to ask in faith. James says, “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” In all of our trials, we need to ask for more wisdom. Our faith will be tested. Our faith is tested. Let’s ask for wisdom as it is tested.

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Resurrection of the Dead

empty tomb

To be honest, I feared death as a kid. I remember, at a young age, having my imagination go wild. What if I died? What if a parent or sibling died? What happens to them? Are they gone forever? Will we ever see them again? It’s natural for us to think of these kinds of questions. I no longer have a fear of death. Death is something that brings life. It’s spring right now. The grass is gorgeous! Flowers are blooming. Trees are in blossom. Life is emerging from death.

Paul says, “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies” (1 Corinthians 15:36). He was talking about Christ’s resurrection. There were people who denied the resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees were a sect of the Jews who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. Paul is clear, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:13-14). Earlier Paul told the Corinthians that he decided to know nothing while he was with them except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Without death there cannot be life. The seeds that are sown are dead and, when they take root, are raised up with life. Paul rightly says that we are resurrected with Christ. At our baptism there is a death to our old self. We crucify our old selves with Christ and are raised up a new person. We share in his resurrection! The good news didn’t stop with Christ being raised from the dead. That was just the beginning! The good news is that we are raised with Christ-that he is our salvation and we will live for eternity. Christ is our hope. The empty tomb is the heart of the gospel. There is so much to celebrate as we remember the empty tomb!

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A Servant of Justice

servant songs

I’m continually blown away at the volume of messages I get from people crying out that their church covered up abuse. It never ceases to amaze me what lengths these “leaders” go to to keep the victims silenced. I’ve had several messages this week from people who showed me the evidence–women who were hospitalized from husbands beating them and others where churches had private meetings about how reporting child rape to authorities is a “liability” to the church, so they decide to keep it a secret from their church and not report to police. How people can paint Jesus as someone who is OK with this is a leap that would confound even the devil. No amount of twisting of scriptures can account for this poor theology.

We make mock God’s justice if we blend oppressors and the oppressed together. If we silence the cries of the abused and embrace the abuser, “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:26, 27).

The servant songs in Isaiah do not depict a helpless Savior who rolls over and plays nice with oppressors. Instead, in Isaiah 42:1-4 we find a warrior savior who is destined to bring forth swift justice for the poor and oppressed:

Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice on the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice; or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.

Throughout Jesus’ life, the oppressed flocked to him and the oppressors hated him. This is consistent with the servant songs in Isaiah, with God’s foundation of righteousness and justice in Psalm 89:14, and with Jesus’ mission to proclaim good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to the captives, recovering sight to the blind, set at liberty those who are oppressed, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18, 19). Jesus’ compassion was reserved for the oppressed, not the oppressors. Matthew 9:36 says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

This was not a figure of speech. The people who cried out to Jesus really were harassed, and this drove his compassion. The religious leaders were relentless in their attacks. They wanted to silence the oppressed. They abandoned the poor. They were angry when Jesus healed people. Think about that for a moment. Imagine desperate people who, either they or their children had suffered for years, walking out of a hospital healed. Then imagine what it would take for people to become angry enough to march into the hospital and scold the doctors for healing them.

Jesus was a servant of justice. He brings forth justice because this is what love does. Love does not turn a blind eye to oppression and injustices. Love requires us to step in and protect. It requires us to call people to account who use force, coercion, and deception to get what they want. Yes, Jesus was a servant of justice. And this is good news to people who are desperate for help.

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