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Monday, February 28, 2011

"How Long Must I Call For Help, But You Do Not Listen? Habakkuk 1:2

“How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but You do not listen?” Habakkuk 1:2

The book of Habakkuk was written between 640-609B.C. shortly before the Babylonians invaded Judah and carried the Jewish people away into captivity. Habakkuk is one of the seventeen books of prophecy in the Old Testament. It’s a short book, as Habakkuk was a minor prophet. In the first two chapters, Habakkuk is arguing with God. He doesn’t understand how God can sit back and do nothing while his fellow countrymen are worshiping idols, killing one another and oppressing the poor.

He fusses at God: “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do You tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds, therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.” (Habakkuk 1:2-4)

Habakkuk’s basic questions and concerns have been questions that have concerned believers down through the ages. Why does evil sometimes seem to go unpunished by a holy God? And why doesn’t God respond to our prayers when we think He should? In other words, why doesn’t God just show up the minute we expect and zap all of our enemies the way we tell Him to?

Then God answers Habakkuk: “Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians,…” (Habakkuk 1:5-6a) God continues describing the strength and the wickedness of the Babylonians and showing Habakkuk that He will use them to carry the offending Jews off into captivity. The apostate nation of Judah is to be punished by an invasion of the godless Babylonians!

God’s answer completely throws Habakkuk off guard! It’s all too confusing and makes no sense! Habakkuk cannot see the justice in wicked Judah being punished by Babylon – a nation that is even more wicked! That doesn’t fit into his theology at all! He argues: “Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (Habakkuk 1:13b) Now instead of asking why God isn’t punishing Judah, Habakkuk is asking why God isn’t punishing Babylon? He chides God: “O, Rock, You have marked them (Babylon) for correction? You are of purer eyes than to behold evil,…Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, and hold Your tongue when the wicked devours a person more righteous than he?” (Habakkuk 1:12b-13)

After Habakkuk has fussed and fumed at God, he stands like a sentinel to wait his answer from his God. “I will stand my watch and set myself on the rampart, and watch to see what He (God) will say to me,…” (Habakkuk 2:1a) And God indeed comes and gives Habakkuk His answer. God tells Habakkuk to write down His answer. He says, “For the revelation awaits an appointed time, it speaks of the end and will not prove false. though it lingers, wait for it: it will surely come and will not delay,” (Habakkuk 2:3)

Then God contrasts the arrogant Babylonians with the trusting people of God. The person who attempts to trust in his own strength (the Babylonian) is compared with the person who trusts in God. The one who trusts in himself will die whereas the one who trusts in God will have eternal life. God speaks: “See he (Babylon) is puffed up: his desires are not upright--(We all know what eventually happened to Babylon!) But the just will live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4) This truth is written throughout all of Scripture –the truth that our faith in God is everything—but here it is again in Habakkuk! “The just shall live by faith.”

God goes on to explain that crime doesn’t pay. Even if it appears for a time that evil people are getting away with murder, their lifestyle will catch up with them in the end. God spells out that there are punishments waiting for the greedy and the violent, the shameless and the idolaters. God has that programmed into the DNA of the universe, so Habakkuk shouldn’t worry. “Woe to him who builds his realm by unjust gain …you have plotted the ruin of many peoples, shaming your own house and forfeiting your life. The stones of your walls will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it. Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by crime! Has not the Lord Almighty determined that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire, that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing?” (Habakkuk 2: 9a, 10 -13)

God reminds Habakkuk that He does care and He is involved. In the appointed time, evil doers will be punished and justice will be restored. Finally in the end good will overcome evil and love will win out over hate. God gives Habakkuk a glimpse of the coming great victory at the close of the ages, the final glorious outcome! “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14)

Habakkuk is a changed man! Hearing from God has made all the difference! Habakkuk has finally learned to trust God regardless of the circumstances. No more fussing and complaining for Habakkuk! Now he will rejoice in God even when everything is going wrong. He realizes that God’s ways are beyond his simple understanding. Habakkuk proclaims one of the strongest affirmations of faith in all of Scripture and sets it to music. “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food. Though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls. Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” Habakkuk 3:17-18)

Habakkuk was concerned about the problems of his day and we have problems today too. Everywhere we look we can see division and prejudice in the political arena today. The greedy take advantage of the poor often while using God’s Name. We go to church and sometimes find political lessons of fear and hate being taught along with the Sacred lessons of Grace! I know a woman who has lost her health insurance and is sick with cancer and doesn’t know what to do. Another friend has lost his job and his house and doesn’t know how he will pay his bills. And a third acquaintance is devastated because her son has committed suicide.

Families are breaking apart and loyalty is in short supply. I do my very best and still rejection and failure have been my companions. Like Habakkuk, I get discouraged with my life and with the world around me and you may be discouraged too. But like Habakkuk I believe that if we ask God for help and listen for His voice, He will give us the strength and vision to keep going. God told Habakkuk to wait for His answer and He may be telling us the same thing.

We can build ourselves up by remembering that we will be part of the victory at the end of the age when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,…” (Habakkuk 2:14) Today we are to do what we can about the problems around us, and then trust the rest to God. He knows the way through the wilderness. All we have to do is follow.

The book of Habakkuk closes with these words: “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer. He enables me to go on to the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:19) Habakkuk trusts God and that trust causes his feet to be sturdy like the feet of a deer. He is now able to leave the dark valleys of doubt and fear and climb up the sheer precipices. He can go on to the heights!

Let’s follow Habakkuk’s example and learn to completely trust the Lord. Our faith will be strengthened as we read the Scripture and listen to God’s Word. “Faith comes by hearing, hearing the Word” (Romans 10:17) Like Habakkuk we will be changed by listening to God’s Word. Let’s make the habit of obeying and trusting God an all important pursuit. Then we can leave those valleys of discouragement and like Habakkuk go on to the heights!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Job - A Man Who Trusts God No Matter What

Job – A Man Who Trusts God No Matter What Happens

The first few verses in the book of Job tell us something about the man, Job. “In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright, he feared God and shunned evil. He had seven sons and three daughters, and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.” (Job 1:1-3)

Scholars believe that Job lived sometime between 1,000-2,000 B.C. And Job was a Gentile, a non-Israelite sage, believed to be a descendant of Nahor, Abraham’s brother. The land of Uz where he lived was a territory east of the Jordan River, or where Syria is today. Job was a wealthy man living a semi-nomadic life.

The book of Job deals with the subject of the justice of God in light of human suffering- especially the suffering of the innocent. In other words, why do bad things happen to good people? Or, where is God when it hurts?

Since the ancient Israelites studied the Scriptures, they believed that God is Almighty and has the power to do anything He wants. They also professed that God is just, fair, good and righteous. Along with these basics they had learned from Scripture that no human is totally innocent. Job also knew these Biblical truths. Since these three beliefs were and are fundamental doctrine, it was and is an easy step to jump to the conclusion that a just and loving God who is all powerful would not allow an innocent person to suffer. Obviously if terrible suffering does come upon a person, it must mean that that person has done something sinful to deserve the punishment. It does seem a bit logical and don’t we humans sometimes try to use our simple logic to try to second guess God?

Job is on stage of life and in his life’s drama, tragedies and sorrows are reigning down on him. Things are out of control and he doesn’t know why. But in the first two chapters of Job, the reader is given a peek behind the stage curtain. We are allowed to look beyond the earthly scene into another dimension to see some of the pieces to the puzzle that poor Job was not allowed to see. Job 1:6 and 8 read: “One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them.”

Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job?’ There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

Satan, the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10) replied, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” (Job 1: 9-11)

Satan laughs at God for delighting in Job’s faith and upright lifestyle. Job doesn’t love God because of who God is! Job obeys God because it pays! His godliness is self-serving! If God will take away the goodies, Job will curse Him to His face!

“The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.’ Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.” (Job 1:12)

One day shortly after this occurrence in the heavens a messenger comes to Job and tells him that all of his oxen and donkeys have been carried away by the Sabeans and all of his servants who were tending them have been put to the sword. While this man is still speaking another messenger comes and tells Job that fire fell from the sky and has burned up all of his sheep and his servants with them. Before he has finished speaking another messenger comes and tells Job that the Chaldeans have swept down on all his camels and carried them off and put all of his servants to the sword. And while this man is still speaking, another messenger comes and tells Job that while his seven sons and three daughters were having dinner together at the oldest brothers’ house; a fierce wind swept in across the desert. The wind strikes the house, causing it to collapse on top of his children, leaving them all dead .

Job gets up and tears his robe and shaves his head. He falls to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. May the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:20b) Job has lost all of his children and all of his wealth but he has not lost his faith in God.

The second chapter of Job records another scene in the heavens where we are given information that Job never got. “On another day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them…” (Job 2:1) “Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.’” (Job 2:3) “Satan replied: ‘Skin for skin! A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.’” (Job 2:4-5)

Satan continues his crafty efforts of accusing Job of serving God because God has given him good health. Take that away and his faith will crumble, Satan insists. If God will allow Satan to inflict Job with terrible pain and thus break the link between his faith and God’s blessings of health, then Job’s faith in God will finally come apart.

“The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, then he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.’ So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head.” (Job 2: 6-7) Job has now lost his children, his wealth, his comfort and his health. He stumbles around desperate and sick and in terrible pain and finally sits down in a heap of ashes. He finds a piece of broken pottery and while he is scraping his oozing sores with it, his wife comes to him and tells him to “Curse God and die.” (Job 2:9b)

Job is at his lowest point now. Three of his friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar hear about his tragedies and troubles and decided to go together to comfort him. “When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him. They began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him because they saw how great his suffering was.” (Job 2:12-13) Can you imagine sitting for a whole week and not saying a word? Sometimes when we visit a sick or grieving friend, our presence there with them can mean more than our words.

Unfortunately after a week Jobs’ friends began to speak to him. They all sit around the suffering Job and try to answer the question of why he is suffering. Eliphaz starts out by stating that Job suffers because he has sinned. Bildad agrees with Eliphaz that Job’s troubles have come because he isn’t pure and upright. He says: “If you were pure and upright, surely He would awake for you.” (Job 8:6) Zophar agrees and accuses Job of talking and presuming too much. “Know therefore that God exacts from you less than your iniquity deserves” he concludes. (Job 11:6)

All three men agree that Job must have done something really bad to deserve all of his suffering! They argue that God favors good people by giving them health and wealth. And they assure Job that God shows His disfavor on sinful people by allowing trouble and suffering. They don’t take into account that God’s blessings or punishments might extend past this present life. Job’s proud friends have God and His ways all neatly figured out.

Job lashes back at his friends, fussing at them for making him more miserable in his time of need instead of comforting him. He insists that he is a good man and he hasn’t done anything wrong. Even though he doesn’t know why he is suffering so, he still trusts God. “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” Job professes. (Job 13:15) He will always trust God, no matter what happens! That’s just the way it is.

Job resents his friend’s judgments and he insists that both the godly and ungodly enjoy prosperity and both endure suffering. While he is still complaining bitterly about his sufferings, he curses the day that he was born! And by golly, he thinks that God owes him an explanation. Yes, that’s it, Job wants to question God! God needs to answer for His ways!

About this time a younger man named Elihu stops by and joins in on the conversation. Who does Job think he is to want to ask God for an explanation? A person has no right or authority to judge God or expect Him to explain His actions, Elihu believes. He wisely states that some things that God does can never be understood by us humans.

About this time God shows up! He shows up and speaks to Job out of a whirlwind! “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself as a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? Tell Me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!” (Job 38:2-5b) God goes on listing some of the things He has created: birds, animals, stars, etc. Does Job understand the many details that go into these creations or how God provides for the needs of His created ones? If Job can never begin to understand how God works in the physical world, how can he judge God’s actions in the moral and spiritual world?

God doesn’t attempt to tell Job why he is suffering. It was not for Job to know the reason why. Some things have to be taken on faith. But now Job didn’t want an answer any longer. It no longer mattered. Job answered God: “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand. Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. …I have heard of you , but now my eyes see You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:3 and 5)

God speaks to Job’s friends and tells them that they had been wrong in their judgments of how God works. God turns and asks Job to pray for forgiveness for his friends. Job obeys and sacrifices a burnt offering and prays for his friends and God forgives them. Then God gives Job back twice the wealth that he had had before. He is given fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand oxen and a thousand donkeys. And in the latter part of his life, Job has ten more children – seven sons and three daughters. The book of Job ends with Job living to a ripe old age and dying after a full life.

What can we learn from the book of Job? First we learn that Job’s faith was of supreme value to God. God greatly treasured him and spoke proudly about Jobs’ faith in the heavens. Jobs’ reactions during his suffering would settle the outcome of a struggle in the heavens between God and Satan! A divine purpose was in the balance! Can it be that perhaps there is a divine purpose in the balance when we suffer and go through trials? Could God also speak proudly about our faith in the heavens?

We learn from reading the book of Job that God doesn’t give Job an answer for why he suffered, and God may not give us an answer for why we suffer either. Can we trust God when we are put to the test and don’t know why? Can we keep trusting God when our prayers never seem to be answered the way we think they should? Job’s faith meant so much to God. His life gave God such joy?

Let’s follow Job’s example and trust God the way Job trusted Him. Let’s love God –just because God is who He is – and not for any other reason. Let’s give God a reason to treasure our faithfulness. Let’s be like Job and trust God no matter what.

Monday, February 14, 2011

How I Became a Christian

How I Became a Christian

My Grandmother was born in 1884 in a log cabin in Decatur, Illinois. Shortly after her birth her mother died of tuberculosis and her bereaved father took the children and moved to Texas to start over again. The year was 1887 and they settled in on a farm near Fort Worth, Texas with a Step-Mother soon joining the family. My Grandmother thrived in Texas and by the time she grew to be a young lady she found herself in love with the young man who lived on the farm next door.

When the young couple began planning their marriage, my Grandfather’s parents were disapproving. My Grandmother was a Yankee, a Northerner, wasn’t she? Hadn’t she come from Illinois? My Grandfathers’ parents were proud church going Southerners who were still angry that they had lost the Civil War along with losing all of their slaves. Couldn’t their son find a good Southern girl to marry?

But my Grandfather went ahead and married my Grandmother in 1904 without his parents’ blessings and the young couple bought a farm of their own. Their farm prospered and two children were born to the couple. But then quite suddenly my Grandfather contracted Meningitis and within a week he was dead. The year was 1911, a time when welfare didn’t exist and few opportunities were available for women to work outside the home. My Grandmother, now a young widow, worried that she might not be able to keep the farm going by herself and provide for her two little children. Fortunately my Grandfather had left her a life insurance policy and hopefully that would save the day.

After the funeral my Grandmother received a visit from a lawyer informing her that her in-laws were going to take the money from her husbands’ life insurance policy. My Grandfather had purchased the life insurance policy just before he married my Grandmother. At that time the lawyer had instructed him to temporarily write his parents’ names in as the beneficiary until his wife’s name could be added after his marriage. My Grandfather later added my Grandmothers’ name in place of his parents but he accidentally signed his name in the wrong space. The in laws were told they could take the funds because my Grandfather had signed in the wrong space.

The lawyer was a leader in his church and had a sterling Christian reputation in the farming community. He quoted Scripture as he explained to my Grandmother how her in laws could legally take what belonged to her. He assured my Grandmother that she would waste time going to court since the local judge was a member of her in law’s church. The judge would agree with the in laws that since my Grandmother was a Yankee (hadn’t been born in the South) she wouldn’t be entitled to her husbands’ insurance.

My Mother and her brother grew up on their farm watching my Grandmother struggle endlessly to put food on the table and keep the farm going. Down the road on the next farm their proud Grandparents went to church and quoted Scripture. My Mother can’t remember her Grandparents ever paying any attention to her. She remembers that they loved God and hated anyone who hadn’t been a part of the Southern Confederacy. And she also remembers that they always talked about “Jesus”. But in the same breath they criticized my Grandmother. After all she was a Yankee, wasn’t she? She came from Illinois, so she hadn’t deserved the money from the insurance policy her husband had left her!

My Mother grew up hating church. She and her brother went to church with my Grandmother during their childhood, but as soon as she became an adult, Mother quit attending church. She would use the excuse that Christians were hypocrites. But had she been turned off by her own Grandparents’ bad example of what a Christian should be? When she married my Dad in 1940, she insisted that they not go to church and my Dad agreed.

My childhood had a magical quality about it. I was an only child and was very close to my Mother. She allowed me to do almost anything I wanted to do. A few things were off limits however and church was one of those things, but I didn’t mind. My Dad worked six days a week as office manager of a local newspaper and my Mother drove me wherever I wanted to go and cleaned up after me. Life was stable and good and I didn’t know that anything was missing!

But then when I was almost eight years old, a friend from school named Kay asked me to go to church with her. I told her I didn’t want to go to church but she kept asking me again and again. Finally just to get her off my back I agreed to go just once. I didn’t want to make my Mother upset by going to church so I approached her cautiously. Mother agreed that I could go to church just once with Kay but she warned me not to believe what was being taught there. She told me that she didn’t want me to become a “goodie goodie”! I didn’t know what a “goodie goodie” was but I promised my Mother that I wouldn’t become one. And I agreed not to believe anything that was being preached.

Kay was overjoyed that I could go to church with her and her parents drove by and picked me up. When we arrived at church a large smiling lady greeted me and welcomed me into her Sunday School class. Friendly faces were everywhere. We memorized Scripture, did handwork and sang in a youth choir. I had fun at church and my Mother was irritated when I asked if I could go back a second time. I promised again not to believe anything they taught and she relented and let me go back, but I knew I was disappointing her.

For almost two years Kay’s parents drove me to and from church and I continued promising my Mother that I would just have fun and not believe the message that was being taught there. I was a good daughter and I actually kept my promise and didn’t listen to the Bible stories. “We’re praying for you,” Kay told me worriedly. I laughed at her and told her it wouldn’t do any good.

Every week the pastor seemed to preach the same sermon. He would pound the pulpit and insist that each of us there needed to accept Jesus as our Savior and Lord. He made the same point over and over again. Jesus was the only Way. We needed to be “saved”. After his impassioned sermons, as the lights were lowered and the organ played softly; he would stand in front of the altar as everyone prayed; and he would plead and beg for those in the congregation who hadn’t accepted Jesus to walk down the aisle and “Make a decision for Christ”. I had been going to the church for two years before these emotional calls to accept Jesus began to bother me.

“Mother, the Pastor says that a person needs to believe in Jesus to have their sins taken away. Is that true?” I asked her one day. My Mother was quick to assure me that people didn’t need Jesus. She told me that good people went to heaven and all one needed to do to please God was to be good. They didn’t need Jesus. She added that “fanatics” believed in Jesus and that was one of the reasons she hadn’t wanted me to go to church in the first place. She didn’t want me to be one of those “fanatics”. I wasn’t sure what a “fanatic” was but I was sure it wasn’t good!

Several Sundays later I was listening to another one of the pastor’s impassioned sermons about the need to accept Jesus into our lives. As I was sitting there the thought flitted across my mind: “What if my Mother is wrong about Jesus?” She is always right about everything. I had always trusted Mother to tell me what to do. But could she be wrong about this? “If the pastor is right and Jesus is the Way, then I should accept Him, shouldn’t I?” It all seemed so confusing to my nine year old mind.

Right there in church I bowed my head and prayed, “God, I’m so confused. The pastor says I need to accept Jesus but my Mother says that that is wrong. Please show me whether Jesus is the Way or not.” Then in my nine year old mind I even figured out how God could show me if Jesus is the Way. “If you want me to accept Jesus, then on the way out the door after service, please have the pastor pull me aside and ask me to accept Jesus. And then if Jesus isn’t the Way please have the pastor say nothing.” I know now that a person isn’t supposed to test God in their prayers. But at nine years old I didn’t know that.

When the service was over I followed Kay and her family out of church. Maybe a hundred church people were crowded in the back foyer waiting to shake hands with the pastor, who was standing next to one of the stairways leading outside. A second stairway opposite the pastor led outside too and people who didn’t want to greet him were streaming out that exit. “Let’s go,” Kay whispered to me and I realized that my prayer had been silly. The pastor was way too busy with this huge line of adults after church to pull me aside and ask me a question. I followed Kay down the exit stairs opposite from the stairs the pastor was standing in.

I was nearly halfway down the opposite stairway and almost outside when I heard my name being called above the crowd. “Jane!” “Could someone get Jane.?” My heart stood still! “The pastor wants to talk to you child” someone said. I ran back up the stairs and stood in the long crowd of grownups waiting to greet the pastor. “Jane, I wish you would think about accepting Jesus as your Savior,” the pastor questioned me as I stood there among the after church crowd. “Have you thought about it, Dear?” “Not until now, but I know now that I need to,” I answered shakily.

And so I found myself trying to explain why I had to accept Jesus to my irritated Mother. I had no other choice I told her. I had asked God if Jesus was the Way and He had answered. Since Jesus was the Way then I obviously had to follow Him. The next Sunday I walked down the aisle at the end of the service. The organ was playing quietly and the lights were turned down low. People were praying and shouting “Amen” and “Praise the Lord”. I was baptized that evening and things in my life began to change. I had passed from death into life!

The Scriptures that I memorized began to mean something to me. And the hymns I sang had meaning too. The Bible stories began to come alive when I heard them and I wanted to learn more. When we moved to California three years later the Lord led me to another good church. And my faith kept growing.

I am glad that Kay loved Jesus so much that she wanted her friend (me) to know Him too. And I am thankful for the pastor who kept on sharing the gospel message and holding up Jesus as the only Way again and again. I’m grateful for Kay’s parents who drove me back and forth to church for years never complaining. And for the humble people at the church who put up with me and loved me into the kingdom when I had nothing to give them in return and my family didn’t attend or give an offering.

I am sorry that there were Christians like my Great Grandparents who professed Jesus proudly while criticizing and cheating others. When I hear of Christian organizations today that have cut retirement funds that their older long term employees had been promised, it reminds me of my cheating Great Grandparents. If Christians don’t act honestly with one another, or cut out the poor, how will people outside the faith be drawn to Christ?

There are so many people today who don’t know that Jesus is the Way. I hope these folks won’t be scared away from Christ by people who talk about Jesus in one breath and criticize in the next. I hope there will be Christians out there that will share the gospel with these folks and love them into the kingdom, like the people who were there for me so long ago.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Jesus Gives the Great Commission to His Disciples and to Us

Jesus Gives the Great Commission to His Disciples and to Us

Journeying Through John (chapters 20:19-21)

When Jesus was crucified most of His disciples ran away and hid together in a house behind locked doors. Scripture says that they were all afraid. (John 20:19) The frenzied crowd that murdered Jesus could turn on them too, couldn’t they?

The day Jesus rose from the grave, He found His nervous disciples on lock down. He showed up with them around their table and their fears instantly turned to ecstatic joy! He smiled and greeted them warmly. “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21) He showed them His pierced hands and side and then He breathed on them and told them to receive the Holy Spirit. Jesus breathed life into His disciples and He breathes life into us too. His death and resurrection marked the transition from the Old Covenant of Law to the New Covenant of Grace. After His resurrection He would freely baptize all believers with His Holy Spirit and His power.

Thomas hadn’t been there with the others when Jesus had appeared to them. When the disciples told him that Jesus was alive and had been there, Thomas closed his heart and refused to believe them. “Unless I see in His hands, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe,” he fussed stubbornly! (John 20:25b)

Eight days later Thomas was with the others when Jesus came by to be with them again. Jesus turned to Thomas and said: “Put your fingers here into My nail prints, and look at My hands; and put your hand into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believe.” (John 20:27) Thomas knelt before Jesus and proclaimed, “My Lord and My God!” “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus told him. (John 20:28-29)

We must be the blessed ones who Jesus was speaking about - the ones who believe in Him even though we haven’t seen Him physically like Thomas! Jesus says that we are “blessed” when we believe without demanding physical proofs! Since we have the Holy Spirit we see with spiritual eyes. And that is really better.

But we are all so human and sometimes our faith wavers when we can’t touch and see with our physical senses. Let’s not be like doubting Thomas and refuse to believe without these props! Jesus asked Thomas not to be unbelieving but to believe. And He asks that of us too. He will give us the help we need to believe if we open our hearts and want it. Our faith is everything to our Lord.

Jesus spent forty days with His followers after His resurrection. (Acts 1:3) But the day finally came for Him to go back up into heaven. Jesus gathered His disciples together one last time and left them (and us) with a work to do. Just before He ascended to heaven He gave them a divine mission. (Mark 16:19) Jesus’ parting command to the disciples then and to all of His followers down through the ages has been called “The Great Commission”.

Jesus was sending the disciples out to share the good news that He forgives sin and gives eternal life. But the Great Commission is also given to all believers in every generation. Here is His command to all of us: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creatures. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany them who believe in My name. They will drive out demons; they will speak with new tongues, they will pick up serpents with their hands and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” (Mark 16:15-17)

Jesus is commanding His followers in every generation to tell every person in every nation that He died for them. He promises that His Spirit and power will go with us. (Matthew 24:14) His Word, the Bible, is like seed and has life giving power. It will grow into a harvest when it is planted in a human heart. Obeying Jesus’ commission to go and spread the good news brings the believer a great amount of joy and fulfillment.

Jesus not only promises in His commission that whoever believes the good news we are sharing will be saved, but He also warns that whoever does not believe our message will be condemned. Rejecting Jesus who is the Light does have consequences. We are sent to preach the warnings as well as the good news.

Some believers have taken Jesus’ words literally when the Great Commission states that we can pick up serpents and drink deadly poison and not be hurt. Perhaps these words may mean that we can look for Gods’ protection over our lives even through deadly dire circumstances. It was a figure of speech in Jesus’ day to refer to living through a situation as “drinking the cup”. Before He was crucified Jesus asked the Father to take the “cup” or drink from Him, if it was His will. (Luke 22:42) The “cup” in this passage represented the soon to be experience of His death. Life has its’ share of “deadly poisons” and when believers must live through (or drink) them our Lord will give us help and protection. We know that if we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we need fear no evil for God will be with us. (Psalm 23)

Jesus also says that His followers can pick up serpents and not be hurt. Possibly the serpent mentioned here represents sin. Jesus did often teach with parables. The snake that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden definitely personified evil in the form of Satan. When a believer sins or gets tied up with evil things, God will forgive him and deliver him if he asks. (1 John 1:9)

Jesus is asking us to do more than just go out and tell the good news. He also commands us to “make disciples of all nations, … teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19a-20a) We need to teach new believers the importance of obeying the ten commandments. They need to be encouraged to fellowship with other believers. New converts need small groups for support, prayer and Bible study. We mustn’t forget to teach them Christ’s command to give to the poor and needy.

There is so much to do in moving ahead with this grand commission that Christ has given us. But I think the most important thing we need to remember is to do everything and go everywhere with love and forgiveness. We must put the anger and the critical spirit away. Christ is commanding us to go out and spread the good news of His love and forgiveness and surely we need to do that in the spirit of love and forgiveness. After all, “If I have the faith that can move mountains, but I don’t have love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2b)