Missions

Missions

I just finished writing an obituary for my father-in-law. My post today is helping me work through the experience of watching him decline and die. It is also a reflection on a mission trip that God sent my wife and me on during 2006.

Sometimes God sends people into distant lands to help bring strangers into a relationship with our Lord Christ Jesus. And sometimes God sends us back into our family to try and bring some of the well-known captives into the freedom offered by Jesus. This later scenario was the path that God laid before my wife Kathleen and me in June of 2006. We helped my wife’s mother remember a long forgotten relationship with Jesus when she moved in with us. After that, as I mentioned in a recent post, we have been laboring hard to bring Kathleen’s father into a relationship with God. We prayed, wrote a letter, talked with him, circulated intercessory prayer requests, sent an Episcopal Priest to visit him, and watched God temporarily pull his wife out of dementia so that she could speak to him about repentance. Through it all he stubbornly clung to control and doubt. Sadly, He slipped into a coma early in the morning on December 31st.

My wife, her mother, and I went to visit him that afternoon. We talked with him on the assumption that he could still hear even though he could no longer respond. My wife was very aware of God’s peace in his room as soon as we stepped across the threshold, which was a very different mood from what she had experienced previously. We proceeded to pray with him, and to remind him of what he could do to establish a relationship with God even though he couldn’t talk. My wife thanked him for the things that he did for her as she was growing up, and forgave him for the things he didn’t do, as well as forgiving him for the physical and emotional abuse. Through it all there was no visible response from her father.

At this point, the Episcopal priest, Rev Barbara, came into the hospice room. She said that she was driving by and God told her to stop in and check on Bob. She talked with us for awhile then offered to speak final prayers for Bob and to anoint him. It was a very beautiful service. The prayers provided yet one more framework through which Bob could repent and turn his life over to God. We stayed with him for about an hour and a half before saying our final good-bys.

Bob died this morning about 4:00 a.m. without regaining consciousness. We don’t know if Bob Ever made peace with God. We will not know where Bob will spend eternity until we are able to search for him in God’s Kingdom.

The saddest part of this story is that we cannot celebrate the salvation of a sinner. All we can do is rest on the fact that God is the ultimate judge, not us! We are hopeful that the peace in Bob’s room was a sign of a positive turning, but only God knows this for certain.

There is not a lot of sadness in our home today about Bob’s passing. I suspect this is also true in the homes of his extended family. His controlling, contentious, and angry patterns of sin filled living did not bring him into close relationship with people during his life. As his wife said, “He hurt a lot of people.” Bob died alone, because the lives of his wife and two daughters were broken by his sin. The wages of a sinful life is ultimately isolation. I think about the joy we could have shared with him if he had turned his heart. I think about the healing that could have happened between he and his wife and his daughters. I think about the love that could have been released into his life through us, if he had told us that he had acknowledged Jesus as his Lord and Savior. But none of this happened. I am hopeful that he did turn to God and that he was forgiven, and that he will not be faced with eternity in hell.

Lord Jesus, you have the power to turn any situation to the good. I pray that Bob’s life will ultimately be of benefit to your Kingdom purposes. Even though he never went out on the mission trail, never said “yes” to you in public, or told us that he was sorry for anything he did during his life; I still fervently pray that good be brought forth from his life. I pray for your mercy over him if he did not turn to you, because I don’t want anyone other than Satan and his band of fallen angels to be thrown into the lake of fire. Could we have done more? Was their something different we could have said? These are the hardest questions that we are asking. Lord Jesus, teach us more of your ways. Reveal the sin that still trips us up. Prepare our hearts and minds for the next mission trip that you wish to send us on. Help us let go of self-judgment and rest in your love. Judge us and correct us now with your rod, so that we can benefit from living under the guidance of your shepherd’s staff. I pray for completeness and wholeness so we can serve you as fully committed bondservants. Amen.

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The arc of justice and the Lamb’s city

And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day–and there will be no night there. (Revelation 21:23-25)

There are certain times and seasons when one tends to ask questions such as “What’s it all about?” and “Where are we heading?” and “How do we get there?” Being at the edge of a new year is one of those times.

Today’s passage is a reminder that someday all the glory of the world will be brought into the city the glorious Lamb. Every good thing we know or discover will be revealed in his light.

I was reminded of that saying of Dr. King’s, that “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” So, I looked it up, and it was a bit sobering, because in its context King reminds that we now live in difficult times:

I must confess, my friends, the road ahead will not always be smooth. There will be still rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment. There will be inevitable setbacks here and there. There will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair. Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted. … Difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future. … When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. (Address to the SLC, “Where do we go from here?“)

Barak Obama comments,

He’s right, but you know what? It doesn’t bend on its own. It bends because we help it bend that way. Because people like John Lewis and Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks and thousands of ordinary Americans with extraordinary courage have helped bend it that way. And as their examples call out to us from across the generations, we continue to progress as a people because they inspire us to take our own two hands and bend that arc.

Now I wish Obama, in these remarks, would make a greater acknowledgment that what King called the “creative force” in his remarks, and the one whom John the Revelator calls the Lamb of God is the major “bender” of the arc. But his words are still true: we ordinary people, can, with extraordinary courage, help bend the arc towards a reflection of the city of God, a city whose gates are never shut during the day–and it is always day there.

A blessed and happy new year to the readers of  a simple desire and A Sip of Scripture.

Luke 10:8-9 Peace of God

“Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” (Luke 10: 8-9)

In Chapter 9 of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tries to put the twelve to work, but they do not fully comprehend the power that Jesus has given them. For example, they tell Jesus that the crowd is hungry. Jesus says that they should feed the people. They get stuck in their worldly thinking, and only think in terms of worldly solutions. Finally Jesus feeds the crowd through the power of God. The chapter concludes with Jesus doing a question and answer session, during which he describes the commitment and attitudes that are needed for a person to participate in the harvest of souls for the kingdom of God.

Chapter 10 begins with Jesus sending out the 70. His instructions to them are very similar to those given to the twelve. Jesus is saying, go ahead of me and announce my coming. Use the gifts I am giving you to prepare the way. It is interesting that Jesus did not instruct the 70 to go into a town and immediately tell the people that the kingdom of God is coming near to you. His instructions were to enter a town and accept an invitation for fellowship. I think that the 70 possessed something that was tangible. It was not their clothes, their money, or their eloquence of speech that distinguished them, but the peace of God that they were carrying. This gift was sufficient to cause some of the people to notice them, and to extend them and invitation for hospitality. The 70 were instructed to accept the invitation without conditions when the peace they freely gave was received. They were to sit down, share whatever food they were given, and get to know the needs of the people. Then they were to use the power of God that Jesus had given them to heal those who were in need. Only after they had demonstrated the power of God, were they to announce the fact that the kingdom of God has come near to the people.

Are these Jesus’ instructions for doing evangelism? Honestly, I have struggled for a number of years about doing evangelism. I used to think about proclaiming the Good News and my heart would shrink in fear. I would think about healing the sick, and I would think, I don’t have enough faith. I could sit down with people and share a meal, but people would rarely speak honestly of their needs.

The problem that I faced was expressed in Luke 10:5-6. “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you.” My problem was that I didn’t have the peace of God. Thus, I could not give to others that which I did not have or didn’t understand. Without the peace of God to freely give away, no one noticed me or revealed the intimate details of their lives. Without the peace of God, there was little hope of using the power of God to bring about healing. Without the true peace of God, there was no successful preaching of the Good News.

I believe it is God’s plan to give every committed Christian His true and complete peace. To receive this gift, we must have appropriate attitudes and an uncompromising commitment to the work of God’s Kingdom. My focus has been on asking God to reveal and correct my bad attitudes, and to show me the things that are obstacles to being a fully committed Christian. As God has done this work in me, which has involved much healing, I have begun to experience His peace and the fruit of that glorious peace. God sometimes does work through me to heal others, not because I am special, but simply because I have yielded my self-will enough for Him to give me enough of His peace so that I can pass it on to others.

Lord Jesus, the power of your peace is truly beyond my comprehension. I long for more of it. I only want it so that I can give it away to support the Kingdom purposes that our Father in Heaven has ordained. Amen.

Guests and hosts; preachers and hearers

Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ (Luke 10: 8-9)

These are further instructions from Jesus to the seventy or seventy-two disciples whom Jesus sent out on a mission (similar to the one he had given the twelve core disciples). The complete list of commands:

  • Pray for additional people to carry out the task of mission (“pray to the Lord…to send out laborers”)
  • Travel lightly (“carry no moneybag, no knapsack…”)
  • Go quickly on your mission (“greet no one on the road”)
  • Give your hosts a blessing of peace (“First say, ‘Peace be to this house!'”)
  • Don’t move about from house to house
  • Eat what they give you
  • Heal the sick
  • Announce that God’s reign is near, whether or not you are well received

It’s hard not to see this list as a complement to the commands in the Didache (probably written at roughly the same time as the gospel of Luke) about how early Christian communities were to receive itinerant teachers, apostles and prophets who came to them:

  • Receive them, but only if they teach “so as to increase righteousness and knowledge of the Lord”
  • Don’t let them stay too long (otherwise it is clear they are out for their own good) or ask for money or other goods–especially if they request things as part of their prophecy
  • Watch how they act, to see if their life is consistent with their message
  • If their message proves true, accept it and act on it
  • Let them stay if they can provide for themselves (If he … is an artisan, let him work and eat. [But if he is unwilling to work] he is a Christ-monger.”)
  • If they do stay with you, they do deserve your support

This has been quite a ramble, so let me ramble a bit more: doesn’t all this seem to apply to our current ‘television evangelists’ and even our paid ministers of the gospel?

How is the harvest coming along?

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. (Luke 10: 1-2)

This account, found only in Luke, shows Jesus being strategic in his ministry, sending off seventy (or seventy-two, the manuscript evidence varies on the exact number) as an advance team to the towns and places he intended to go.

Jesus asked these people to pray God would send others to labor in God’s “harvest,” as God’s kingdom message spreads. And God answered this prayer–the message did spread, throughout Judea, throughout the Roman world, and, over time, throughout the whole world.

With population increase, though, the need to spread the message of the good news is still vast. According to the US Census Bureau, there were between 170 million and 400 million people alive in the world when Jesus spoke these words. In other words, this wsa the size of the harvest when he called it “plentiful.”

The Bureau estimates the current world population is approximately 6.5 billion; Adherents.com estimates 2.1 billion of these are Christians. In other words, there are at least eleven times as many people who do not follow Jesus’s way alive now as when he first started preaching.

Lord, there is so much work to be done, please send laborers to the plentiful harvest. Thank you for spreading the gospel message throughout the world, that it reached even me.

Fleshly desires==Evil social communication?

Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. (1 Peter 2: 10-11)

A classic antinomy: we have this very good thing happen to us (we are now God’s people) and we have this very bad thing happen to us (we are now alienated from the world in which we live). Paul tells us to look above, to where our citizenship now resides. The author of 1st Peter urges us to ‘abstain from the desires of the flesh.’  I wonder what he meant by this (it’s not obvious that he means engaging in sexual behavior).

The letter has named these sins specifically:

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.

Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.

So I think it would be fair to say the author specifically has in mind anger and slander and other sins involving social communication.

To us who believe, Jesus is precious.

To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,” and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  (1 Peter 2: 7-9)

To us who believe, Jesus is precious; of great value; the foundation stone without which the building would crumble. For look what he has made out of our small and desperate situations: we are now “a chosen race,”–a people whom he chose to love; “a royal priesthood,”–people who serve the King of Kings, offering praise and mediating God to others through God’s good news of a kingdom;”a holy nation,”–people set apart to do God’s will; “God’s own people,”–graven on the hand of God, who never forgets or forsakes his own.

To us who believe, Jesus is precious. It is easier and truer to our age to disbelieve; following a first century religous leader whose words and teachings are obscured through time and the bad faith of many of his followers–this is truly a stumbling block, nor would I personally be as harsh as the author of 1 Peter towards those who stumble.

But to us who believe, Jesus is precious.