In good company on a mission

Clouds picture found via Google

Jesus’ resurrection and ascension are Good News. This is a season in the church calendar for joy: I’m filled with joy that Jesus lives and reigns; I’m filled with joy that sin and death no longer have the last word.

But this is also a season emphasizing mission: As Dale Bruner points Matthew - A Commentary (Vol 2) The Churchbook by Frederick Dale Brunerout in his commentary on Matthew, every appearance Jesus makes to His followers after His resurrection includes a call to mission. The Holy Spirit of the living Lord sends me on a mission to where I work, go out for ice cream, and even travel on vacation.

When this sounds overwhelming to me, I remember I’m in good company with the first followers of Jesus.

Maybe I don’t feel bold enough to be part of Jesus’ mission. Well, I’m in good company then. Jesus first gives His commission to go and tell that He’s alive to a group of women who have been (understandably) frightened by a dazzling angel. He later commissions scared disciples hiding in the dark and sad disciples who will watch Him ascend to heaven. The truth is that Jesus equips and sends fear-filled people to free people from fear of alienation, sin, death, and hell.

Maybe I don’t feel qualified enough to be part of Jesus’ mission. Well, I’m still in good company. Jesus appears to and commissions 11 disciples – an incomplete number following Judas’ tragic death. In the Bible, 12 is a perfect number, not 11. But the truth is that Jesus equips and sends imperfect people to do His perfect work.

Maybe I don’t feel official enough to be part of Jesus’ mission. Guess what? I’m in good company. The Gospels refer to the disciples being commissioned by Jesus – no mention (yet) of specific leaders, church officers, or even the more official title of apostles. It’s simple people known as disciples who Jesus sends on mission. And that is all a Christian should ever want to be – a disciple. So the truth is that Jesus equips and sends ordinary people to do His extraordinary work.

Maybe I don’t feel spiritual enough to be part of Jesus’ mission. By now you’re not surprised to hear I’m in good company. Jesus first commissions a group of doubters. It’s not just Thomas, but a bunch of them who have doubts mixed in with their worship. But Jesus remains patient and forgiving: He does not divide up His disciples into two groups – commissioning those who believe and worship while telling those who fear or doubt to come back later when they have their acts together. No, in the Gospels, all are commissioned, leading me to see how Jesus’ sending power is far greater than His disciples’ faults and failings. The truth remains that Jesus equips and sends unsure and uncertain people to do His sure and certain work.

Maybe I don’t feel authorized enough to be part of Jesus’ mission. Again, I’m in good company with those feelings. I think about how the very first people to be sent on mission by Jesus are women. Today that’s no big deal, but in Jesus’ day, a woman’s testimony did not count in the law courts of the land. Women were not allowed to stand as witnesses. Everyone would’ve said that as women, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are poor choices as the very first witnesses and testifiers of Jesus’ resurrection. Yet the women are the first ones commissioned by the angel at the tomb to go and tell. Then they meet Jesus Himself who again confirms they are indeed the ones to go and tell the Good News. Throughout the Gospel, Acts, and the letters, we see women serving and proclaiming the Good News in wonderful ways. Still today the truth is that Jesus equips and sends all His sisters and brothers of all ages and cultures to do His work that enfolds everyone regardless of gender, age, and culture.

Jesus is raised from the dead and now reigns over all. This fills me with joy. It also sends me and all Jesus’ followers on a mission. The command “Go and tell” is for each of us. That’s joy and the mission of this resurrection and ascension season.

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Participating, not initiating

Graphic of two people in conversation found via GoogleWhen it comes to sharing the Good News, I’m tempted to think that I’m the one who’s supposed to make people interested in Jesus and matters of faith. Believing that, however, betrays how I think I’m more important than I really am! Yes, God uses me and you to do important work in his Kingdom, but he’s always a step ahead of us – getting us ready and preparing situations for our arrival on the scene. That is, we’re not supposed to initiate getting someone interested in Jesus; we’re called to participate in how God is already at work in that person’s life.

The apostle Paul opens his letter to the Philippians with thanksgiving to God for the church of Philippi and then says this: “[I am] confident of this, that he [that is, God] who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” It wasn’t Paul who began the process of the Philippians becoming partners with him in sharing the Gospel; it was God who got the ball rolling. The same remains true for us in our encounters with people who are not yet Christians: The Holy Spirit who guides our words and actions is also nudging and warming the heart of the individual who doesn’t know Jesus yet and is waiting for us to introduce him.

Knowing this is very liberating. Instead of worrying about how to convincingly show and tell someone about Jesus, we can first listen to what’s going on in his or her life. Something they figure is a coincidence or has no meaning might actually be God at work – it’s just that they need us to gently help them recognize it! Or maybe the answer to something that is perplexing them can be found in the Bible – it’s just that they need us to winsomely point it out! What’s more, something as simple as our interest in them might be what the Holy Spirit uses to help them see that God is interested in them, too.

Talking about faith with people who do not walk with Jesus is daunting. But I find courage in knowing that in those special moments where God is leading me to give witness to him, God is going before me, preparing both me and the other person.

I wrote this a few weeks ago for “Grace Encounters,”
the newsletter of
Trinity CRC’s Outreach Team.

Sentness

The Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter & Matt SmayMonica and I are part of a small group that just finished working our way through The Tangible Kingdom Primer by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay – a very thought-provoking and challenging book written to help communities take mission seriously. These three quotes capture a lot of what we discussed…


Throughout the scriptures, we see God calling his followers to live a life of “sentness.” Stability, social comfort, relational control, safety, success, respect, or clarity were not expected. People had to go purely out of obedience, a personal sense of calling, in faith, and simply because they loved God. Outcome didn’t matter; faithfulness did.
(p. 7)

Where is God already at work
in your neighborhood?
In your city?
— — Where in your life do you
— — interact with [these] people?
(p. 63)

You are always in “discipleship mode.” As people watch your life and actions, you are either discipling them toward a life of trusting God or toward a life of trusting in self. (p. 127)

Many different people, one unified Kingdom

Although it’s short, Psalm 87 nevertheless has a way of taking my breath away. Listen:

Glorious things are said of you, city of God:
—–“I will record Rahab and Babylon
—–among those who acknowledge me –
———-Philistia, too, and Tyre, along with Cush –
—–and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’”
—–—–(Ps 87:3-4)

The name Rahab here is a poetic name for Egypt, which, when you add that to the other countries listed, means that the psalmist is referring to Israel’s enemies as ones who will be called “born in Zion!” The Egyptians enslaved Israel and God warned them never to return. In the time of Daniel, The Babylonians scooped up Judah and carried God’s people away in exile. The Philistines repeatedly proved themselves to be a pain in the neck for Israel (think, for one example, of David vs. Goliath).

Yet one day, promises the psalmist, these enemies will be counted as fellow citizens in Zion, God’s holy city! How surprising! How scandalous! And how humbling to realize that God is calling a lot of people to Himself that are not at all like me! Furthermore, in ways I cannot (yet) comprehend, God is at work in people who I’m tempted to think are the least likely candidates for His Kingdom.

Many hands, one globe
God’s Kingdom is already and will continue to be filled with all sorts of people of different ethnicities, different languages, different customs, different views on things, different traditions. I’m challenged afresh never to write anyone off, even if their differences make me uncomfortable. In fact, their “difference” may be exactly what my corner of God’s Kingdom needs.

I wrote this for Trinity CRC’s “Grace Encounters” newsletter,
a publication of our Outreach Team. Graphic found via Google.

On the move: Being sent

A number of people and situations recently affirmed for Monica and I how we are in the process of being sent to Trinity CRC in Rock Valley IA.  When we received and accepted the call to serve at Trinity, we sensed God inviting us to pursue this adventure.  In a number of conversations and especially prayers over the past couple of months, we’ve heard people emphasize how we’re not just leaving Telkwa and our church here, but we’re being sent – being sent with God’s blessing and the blessing of His people.

We use this language of sending more often, particularly for pastors, missionaries, and similar professions it seems.  I wish we’d speak this way for anyone moving from one place to another.  For example, Monica and I have a number of friends who have moved over the years from Telkwa to Houston (BC, not TX!).  We were sad to see them leave our community, but it’s clear that they’ve become blessings in their new setting.  They have made new friends and are adding to the life of local churches there.  At the time, I just sadly saw them as leaving, but now it’s pretty clear that God was sending them to be a blessing in a new context.

If we follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit, any move from one place to another can become a divine sending.

arrow sign

Then again, we don’t have to uproot to experience God’s sending to the community, school, jobsite, or retirement home in which we already find ourselves.  As Wayne Watson sings in “Field of Souls,”

One is off to foreign soil
to work a distant land;
another anchors close to home
to hold a neighbour’s hand.
Who has served the Father most?
And who has laboured best?
That life devoted to our God,
that devotion will be blessed.

Graphic from Photo Dictionary.
Here’s a drama performed to the song “Field of Souls.”

You are Jonah

There’s an incident in the New Testament when the Pharisees and Sadducees gang up on Jesus and demand a sign to authenticate Jesus’ words and actions.  They come not seeking faith, but to test Jesus and see if they can ensnare Him somehow.  Jesus sees through their deceit and says, “A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.”

I’ve always assumed the “sign of Jonah” is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death and resurrection: Just as Jonah is in the belly of the fish for three days, so Jesus would be in the depths of death until the third day when He rises from the grave.

A while ago, a devotional I read suggested an additional meaning: Consider how Jonah is sent to Nineveh with a message of repentance.  Ninevites are considered “outsiders” to God’s chosen people; they are Gentiles who stand at a distance from God’s covenant promises.  Yet it is to these very people Jonah is sent, and it is these very people who respond favourably to the invitation to be at peace with God.  (The Ninevites respond better to God’s prophet than the Israelites themselves often did!)

Similarly, Jesus’ death and resurrection open the way for all people to be saved regardless of nationality, ethnicity, or background.  No longer are Israelites alone God’s special people; in Christ, we are all God’s chosen people, no matter where we come from.

Jonah’s mission to Nineveh – his “sign” – foreshadows the Gospel of Jesus for all nations.  There are no longer any outsiders, people too far away to be touched by God’s grace.  The Great Commission Jesus gave to His first disciples is still our Great Commission today – to “go and make disciples of all nations.”  So in a sense, Jonah’s story continues to be your story and my story: You and I are Jonah, sent by God to the “Nineveh” that might be where we work, where we go out for supper, where we vacation.  If “outsiders” like the Ninevites could be saved, then there’s hope for you and me and everyone we meet.


Credit:

Again, thank you to Mark Retzloff for the Jonah graphic above.  I also used his work in my earlier reflections on Jonah.

Ready

By all appearances, they could not have been more unprepared.  In Mark 6, the disciples are sent by Jesus to local villages to preach, drive out demons and heal people.  In short, they are to begin bearing witness to Jesus – who He is and what He does.

Did I mention we’re only in Mark 6?

The disciples are sent absolutely clueless about Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection – they haven’t happened yet.  (Even when Jesus predicts that He will die and rise again, the disciples cannot comprehend what He is saying.)  You’d think that knowing about Jesus’ sacrificial death would be an important thing to know and talk about if you’re going to bear witness to Him.  The disciples are also clueless about Jesus’ ascension and the pouring out of His Holy Spirit – again, they haven’t happened yet.  And it goes without saying that the disciples are clueless about Trinitarian theology and justification by faith – perhaps not terms we’d use around people who are meeting Jesus for the very first time, but nevertheless part of a good foundation when talking about Jesus.

Adding to their lack of knowledge and experience are Jesus’ words to them after He calms a storm on the Sea of Galilee: “Why are you so afraid?  Do you still have no faith?”  All in all, it would appear that there’s not a group so unprepared and under-qualified to share the Gospel than the 12 disciples!  Yet that’s precisely what Jesus sends them out to do.

We should note, however, that the disciples do have one qualification: They have been with Jesus.  They have begun to be influenced by His presence and His work.

Perhaps when we feel inadequate for the task of telling people about our faith, we are putting unrealistic expectations upon ourselves.  Maybe we are putting educational or experiential prerequisites on ourselves that Jesus never intended.  Even though they didn’t comprehend the whole picture, it was enough for the disciples to begin imitating Jesus and talking about Him right where they were at.  As believers on this side of the crucifixion and resurrection, how much more qualified we must be to do the same!  As Brian McLaren titles one of his books, we’re more ready than we realize!

By this point, I might have convinced your mind that you’re qualified to share Jesus, but maybe your mouth, hands, feet and heart still don’t feel up to the task.  I’m really encouraged when James R. Edwards writes about how feeling ill-prepared in one way can actually be a good thing:

Uncomprehending and ill-prepared [1st century] disciples … typify believers in every age and place who are sent out by the Lord of the harvest.  No matter how much exegesis, theology, and counselling one has studied, one is never “prepared for ministry!”  A genuine call to ministry always calls us to that for which we are not adequately prepared.  It is only in awareness of such that the Christian experiences the presence and promise of Jesus Christ, and learns to depend not on human capabilities but on the One who calls…

From James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark
(PNTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), p. 183