In Defense of Teachers

Teachers are under attack. The war has engulfed all nations, bringing schools, universities, families, and all forms of training to their knees. As the old rock song shouted: “Teachers, leave those kids alone!”

To be a teacher in this world, is not only a vow of poverty, it is to volunteer for sterilization. The so-called father of modern education, James Dewey, redefined the idea of education from teaching to exposure. If a class leader will only expose students to new experiences, then real education can develop uniquely as each student figures out whatever truth works for them. The call is for teachers to become non-directing facilitators.

Years ago, I got confronted by a church leader in a large church, that teaching should only happen by the pastor in church and small group leaders should only facilitate. Control of the masses, by the elite at the top of any organization, is easier if mid-management stays out of the way.

But what does God say? Not that most care, but there are a few, who perhaps don’t realize they have swallowed worldly philosophy, and if highlighted may come to their senses and turn back to godly teaching.

The Holy Spirit gifts Christians to serve in various roles, none of which are stated as facilitators. God wants teachers to teach. He has specifically identified them in the top three positions within his Church (1 Cor 12:28). The Bible says this kind of teacher must be capable to presenting what is right as well as refuting error.

Yes, that means that grading still benefits from being red-lined and identified as needing correction, without fear that the poor little guppy will shrink into dysfunction. Soft-brained psychology has de-boned the holiday ham, and left education spineless. Boundaries are not harmful, they actually protect and distinguish, so travelers can appropriately navigate in a dynamic world with others.

The Bible teaches that no one can ever come to God unless they hear the truth through a teacher:

“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’…Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ…’Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.’” (Rom 10:14-18)

Teachers are called by God to present the good news of Jesus according to the revelation in Scripture. Genuine education has to be taught in line with God’s words. It cannot be self-discovered or claimed contrary to what is presented in Scripture. The words are in the Bible, but the ability to hear and receive it is restricted to getting it through a teacher.

In this regard, God requires truth and real education to be sought through the teaching of the Holy Spirit, as well as through Spirit-filled, human teachers. This is true, both of faith-teaching as well as fact-teaching. People are born with the need to be informed, and they do best if taught by those who know better, rather than by those who abdicate such authority.

Some have incorrectly interpreted John’s statement that “you do not need anyone to teach you”, as a dismissal of all teaching. The context (1 Jn 2) is very clearly applied to those who at one time were part of the church, but then left and rejected what was right, and were then “trying to lead you astray.” His statement is not a rejection of teachers, but of dependence on staying under teachers who were Christian, but then started teaching falsely and deceiving believers. The Holy Spirit in each believer is that faithful teacher in whom we are told to “remain in him”. We still need teachers, because God still uses human ministers; we just don’t need to stay connected to false-teachers in the Church.

One of those teachings, that is false, is to reject presenting right/wrong and true/false answers, and instead facilitate self-preference. The attempt to reject such identification is why many incorrectly suggest that truth is subjective to each person’s viewpoint. Truth may well be beyond the grasp of many, but factual accuracy remains very much accessible for those willing to teach and to be taught.

The problem with facilitation is it assumes that the answer is within a student and just needs to be skillfully extracted. Facilitation means to enable, without dictating to the student. It also implies that there is no such thing as a reliable standard for truth, reality, right, bad, or continuous law.

That philosophy, of inherent goodness, is opposite of God’s revealed truth. Mankind’s orientation has become completely evil since that first sin, and when absent of God can never do anything of lasting good. Useful education and truth cannot be found within.

That lie of finding internal wisdom is how Eve was deceived in the Garden, when the snake told her that she could be like God if she exposed herself to her own experience by eating contrary to what God taught. God’s teaching was dumped for Satan’s facilitation. That is the core of sin.

Truth must be taught. Education requires presentation of what a teacher has received, to those who have yet to receive it. As one Bible writer noted:

“A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.” (Jn 3:27)

Jesus was rightly called the Great Teacher (Rabbi). In contrast to the facilitator approach that was popular with Bible teachers in his day, he taught with authority (Mt 7:29). In fact, his students were only allowed to remain in class, if they accepted his teachings, even when they did not understand the answers. “Where else would we go,” Peter responded at one point, because Jesus taught truth.

“I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river.” (Psa 48:17-18)

The Lord was a teacher, not a facilitator, because the truth of God must come to us, not be discovered from within or by our own efforts. He was not afraid to say, “You have answered correctly”, or “you do not understand” the text or reality. His students came to learn from their teacher, what they did not already know. They needed to be taught what was right, not just what was observable.

The world hates this dependence. To become their own god, humans need to reject teachers. The irony, is that Satan has no intention of giving up teaching. The attempted shift toward facilitation simply pushes teaching underground, through hidden agendas. Universities, art, media, TV, and social media stars, push private ideologies while claiming to just be guiding their audiences. As a result, those who disagree with them are ridiculed, and subjected to violent abuse, for not accepting their “hidden” teaching.

The reality is that students do learn better and retain more through self-involvement. Personal investment does make a huge difference in learning; and, facilitating a person to reach toward what they are fully capable of attaining, is often more effective than directive-style instruction. Coaching a skilled team is best when on the play field, but teaching is necessary to develop such skill, to inform on rules of the game, and to prepare on how to best confront the competition.

In this sense, directing the learning toward what can be confirmed and observed as right, as well as identifying what is wrong or contrary to scientific evidence, remains a central need by students from skilled teachers. Then, within those guidelines, students can be facilitated to pursue their own discovery of what works and doesn’t work, without concern of harm or distortion of reality. Students need a safe and healthy environment in which to learn; a place where abuse is called wrong, and harmful exposures are prevented.

In other words, there is a place for facilitation, but leading education or the discovery of what is right or wrong, is not appropriate. Leaders need to teach when the information is external and unknown. Facilitation should only be a subset approach that teachers can use, not a replacement of teachers. A young child needs a parent-like teacher to show them how to cross the road safely, rather than a facilitator who exposes them to highway traffic and lets them self-learn.

As a student progresses in a subject, that is when directive presentations can become less frequent, and more facilitated discovery ought to increase. There will still be a need however, even among advanced doctoral students, for identifying fallacies of logic, and misdiagnosis of evidence. So whether in a home, school, or training facility, early education should be taught, and successes in learning should benefit from greater freedoms of exploration, all while retaining the teachers oversight, until mastery is demonstrated.

Because this worldly error, of replacing teaching with facilitation, has infected large portions of the Christian church, seeking truth has widely been replaced with a preference for sharing opinions. Getting group members to share their observations and thoughts has taken a damaging priority over speaking God’s words. Many people have become addicted to their own voices and “refuse to love the truth and so be saved”. Teachers have largely been exorcised out of the Church.

But God will preserve those who refuse to bow to the Baal of human philosophy or high education. Honor those who teach carefully from God’s word. Don’t be misled by those who reference God’s words, but don’t actually speak truth. Support those who show godly evidence of speaking with authority, while restraining self-promotion.

In terms of recognizing the God-given gift to teach:

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.” (1 Pet 4:11)

“If it is teaching, let him teach” (Rom 12:7).

“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Cor 11:1)

Teachers are very important to God. He is careful in selecting those he wants to direct others and will hold them to a higher accounting because they have such a significant potential impact on the development of others. The biblical warning is that not many should presume to become a teacher before God. Certainly, there are many wolves behind teacher’s desks, both in the world and in churches, so students beware. Yet, teachers who teach rightly have beautiful feet!

All Christians are being trained to become Priests in God’s Kingdom; leaders who will represent and teach others before God. So regardless as to your role today, hold up the arms of faithful teachers you know, and study to show yourself approved as one worthy to become a teacher of God for eternity.

God bless teachers who are not afraid to still teach!

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Mapping the Church Commission: Culmination (6 of 6)

In a culture driven by video games, the surreal has often become the preferred reality. Living in an artificial world of fantasy—that can be restarted, resurrected, and replayed without end, and with minimal discomfort—appeals to many over dealing with human-interacted life. Digital maps that engage the user, without needing to step out into the outdoors, have become an end of themselves, disconnecting many from what they used to point towards.

Games can be fun, but they can also consume and distort. Real life has an end game. It cannot be restarted so easily, nor can losses be reset. Life ages, aches increase, players are replaced. Those who stay engaged in the real world have to face that everything contributes to a final destiny.

In our series on mapping the commission given to the Church, the same reality holds. There is a culminating purpose to the command to go into all the world in Jesus’ name. The commission has an end point.

This series will focus on 6 features of the map:

Defining the Commission

Commissioning the Commission

Sustaining the Commission

Maintaining the Commission

Measuring the Commission

Culmination of Mission

The stated reason for the Church commission is to fill the heavenly house of God with his children.

“‘The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’” (Act 2:39-40)

“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.’” (Lu 14:23)

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mk 10:14-15)

We share the glorious message of hope in Christ, to those who are broken and repentant of their sins, for eternal life. The Great Commission points toward salvation in Jesus, promised to those who become disciples, who confess their faith openly through baptism, and who submit obediently to the leading of the Spirit dwelling in them through everything taught by Scripture, as defined at the start by the mission given first to the original apostles. Going into all the world is about inviting those called by God to step through the narrow gate into everlasting life with the Lord.

So it will be said about the Church commission:

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.” (Tit 2:11-14)

It all comes together at the return of Jesus. The focus is not upon the death of believers, but upon the trumpet call of God that announces the arrival of the Great King to resurrect his own who have responded rightly to his commission.

“he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” (Heb 9:28)

The commission points to Jesus’ promised return. That is the focus. That is the hope. That is why we do what we do and endure everything for the sake of the gospel.

To be clear, the culmination of the Church commission results in both salvation for faithful Christians, as well as in damning judgment for those who refuse the message. Life only has two gears, a forward and a reverse, with no neutral in between.

A lifeless, cheap gospel will avoid this part of the mission message. But, it is still something taught by the Lord as a real and pending judgment. Hell is coming for those who refuse to respond to the Church commission.

“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” (Heb 10:26-27)

“the dead were judged according to what they had done…If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Rev 20:12, 15)

“This will happen when Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.” (2 The 1:7-10)

As part of the gospel, taught through the efforts of the commission, judgment has already begun for believers. The good news, for those who accept it, is that the punishment for sin falls upon Jesus as demonstrated through the Cross. There is discipline for all God’s children to endure, but no wrath. The wrath of God is meant for those under sin, which either is upon Jesus for believers, or upon those who reject Jesus as their Lord.

As defined earlier, the commission given to the Church is a continuing extension of the Lord’s earthly commission, but it is not simply a human mission. Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit with a commission. He not only indwells believers and empowers us to go as the Lord commanded, but he will “come to you” and “convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jn 16:7-8). The commission to go make disciples and teach God’s words requires a joint Spirit/Believer going and a combined message of both hope and Hell–an offered choice of salvation or damnation. Judgment has begun with believers and will culminate before the Throne of God with every knee bowed before Jesus–some in submission, some in defiance.

The offer, presented through the continuous and faithful efforts of Christians who carry the commissioned message to a hurting world, is to choose Savior-suffering over self-suffering. It is a call to accept life over death. It is encouragement that there is a much better way to live, enjoy, and overcome all struggles. It is to take that hope and push ourselves forward, ever onward, to give sips of living water to those who thirst.

The map records a secret treasure; a trail of invitations and hints that lead through unmarked jungles toward the fountain of youth; toward gifts and rewards beyond our wildest dreams. Those who learn how to read the signs and follow the thin, godly trail, will reach glory, fame, and riches forever, to celebrate with all those who accepted our message, responded to the gospel, and participated in the commission to the ends of the earth.

Grab your map. God bless you. And, GO.

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Mapping the Church Commission: Measuring (5 of 6)

Maps are only useful if one knows how to use them. Understanding the scale, and how to measure distances, becomes essential to accurate navigation. Getting lost is no picnic. To get where one wants to go, a traveler needs to learn how to compare the miniature, two-dimensional map to the dynamic, three-dimensional reality facing them.

When GPS units where just coming into popular use, I spent a day exploring off-trail in unfamiliar woods with a friend who had just purchased his own high-tech mapping gadget. Unfortunately, when we got out of the truck, he forgot to set his current position before venturing alone into the unknown. Hours later, through faint static, I began to hear panic over my hand-held radio. The digital map he had been following, did not match his frightening reality, and as darkness set in, he didn’t know how to find his way back to the truck.

In like manner, a Christian needs to learn how to best use the available measuring tools to figure out what Jesus requires of the Church commission and how that helps guide their faithful walk through this life. To do the Great Commission according to God’s will, we need to carefully measure what is expected and how well we are progressing.

This series will focus on 6 features of the map:

Defining the Commission

Commissioning the Commission

Sustaining the Commission

Maintaining the Commission

Measuring the Commission

Culmination of Mission

Measuring the Church commission begins in the word of God. The initial post in this series highlighted 7 important details in understanding what the commission is about, that come directly from Jesus’ committed mission. The rest of Scripture provides guidelines, adjustments, reviews, and additional commands that help lead or re-direct a believer who is trying to go along the path set by God.

The more time spent studying God’s words, the more likely a person will pick up tricks-of-the-trade on how to skillfully navigate their choices, as they go into all the world doing the work of the Lord. The more practice, the more habit; which translates into better and quicker fine-tuning. The need for constant course corrections are a fact of life for believers who know they still struggle with the natural distortions of human nature.

Whether piloting boats on open water, or balancing a bike down a path, or driving a car between the lines, the best drivers know that constant slight course corrections are far better than waiting too long and trying to make large re-directions to stay on track. In the same way, a Christian will fare much better, if they train themselves to look for constant belief and behavior adjustments per biblical instructions.

Another factor in grasping how to measure progress in sharing the gospel is in understanding our mission field. The general command is to go into all the world, but the specific call to each part of the Body will focus somewhere on a subset of that larger mission. In other words, you will have a focused territory that belongs to you and to those with whom you are yoked together in Christian service.

Trying to do someone else’s mission will be fruitless. We must concentrate on what the Lord sets before each of us. In response to Peter’s question on what the Lord intended for John, Jesus replied, “what is that to you? You must follow me.” The call is to focus doing what we are called to, while doing what we can to support others, without taking over their ministry.

Your mission field may be praying and supporting foreign missionaries in other lands. It might be going into your local neighborhood. It might be reaching out through modern technologies to a diverse audience. It might be reaching into the lives of work associates, or fellow members of special-interest clubs.

One mission field that most everyone has, is their own family. Those who neglect their own are called “worse than unbelievers”, because God puts a high priority on going with the commission into our most intimate relationships.

In contrast to worldly pressures to drag mothers into economic contribution, God says that women will especially contribute to salvation by how they train up their children as Christians (1 Tim 2:15). Godly women have a very high commission. Kids are so important to Jesus, that the entire Kingdom requires that everyone resemble that most significant mission field.

The Church commission applies to young and old, us and them, obscure and famous, familiar and unfamiliar, sinner and saint, non-believer and long-time believer. However, not all are called to concentrate on reaching the same group of people. It is important to stay focused on what the Lord sets before us, and measure our progress to that audience, until the Spirit sends us onward.

This shouldn’t isolate us, however. We are to remain tied together as a Church, concentrating where God has placed us, but also supporting those commission-goers around us as we can. The commission is a team effort, so whenever possible avoid going it alone, either as a group or as individuals.

One of the identified fields that often gets a bad rap is defining what was meant by “all nations”. It is common today to hear the claim that Jesus should be returning soon, because we have finally reached all nations of the globe with the gospel message. That is an error of interpretation. First of all, sharing the gospel does not mean we have completed the commission. It is doubtful that any group has been taught everything Jesus commanded and no longer needs to be discipled. There is far more involved in doing the commission than just gaining converts.

Secondly, the Bible tells us that God has set the exact times and boundaries for all nations throughout history, and that is not determined by how many governments exist at any one point in time. Who knows how many nations have yet to come into existence? The call is to go into all nations; it is not to count how many of those nations exist in our day and call the mission completed. The point is that we are commissioned to go to everyone, without neglecting any corner of civilization, and to not stop doing so until the Lord returns.

“It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.” (Lu 12:43-44)

Maps have what is called a key that defines how to interpret the symbols and features. That key for rightly measuring commission efforts is recorded with invisible ink. God’s map has a hidden code, a fire-wall that prevents access by unbelievers and the disobedient.

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor 4:18)

Measuring the commission requires dependence upon revelation through the Holy Spirit. Reading Scripture rightly requires submission to the interpretation of the Spirit. Assessing the fruits of our ministry needs the Spirit of God to show what pleases God and what needs correction.

“In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor 2:11-15)

Scripture gives helpful hints in what to look for, for those willing to submit their opinions to God’s evidence. Here is a description by Peter on a useful approach to self-measuring:

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet 1:5-8)

Paul wrote a similar description about the fruits of the Spirit, for which the call is to grow in them more-and-more. All these need to be considered in the context of applying the Lord’s commission to the Church, as well as interpreted according to how the Bible speaks of them. In summary, we should be measuring our efforts per how the likeness and character of Jesus is increasing in all we do as we go.

Beware of numbers. Measuring how many disciples come to faith by our efforts is dangerous math. Counting baptisms or ministry participation is a fools errand. Assessing our success according to the size of our church, program, or following, will result in skewed interpretations that do not depend on the Spirit’s evidence.

Faithfulness to the mission may not show any numbers for those tasked with plowing up ground and preparing the soil in hearts. Missions may appear empty on the surface, when planting seeds and even when watering in the early stages of sharing Jesus. Desired results may only show themselves after we pass the baton to the next runner in our race. Depend on the Spirit’s evidence and not on your sight or other’s opinions to evaluate progress.

A valuable measuring tool may be in listening to what comes out of your own mouth: in detail, in volume, and in mixture. Consider the accuracy and carefulness of what you teach per what the Bible actually presents, and don’t pride yourself on editorializing into your own creative meanings. Ask yourself what is most often on your lips: salvation or selfish interests; and push the volume toward Kingdom-building words. Look for humanism, educated reasoning, and popular philosophy, that so often creeps into the gospel message, and destroys the purity of what we are called to present.

Another is to consider your own motives in seeking, praying, and going with the effort to share Jesus name. The why we go, is often as insightful as how we actually go.

We may have a limited scope to our mission field, but we are expected to give the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help us God. Measuring personal obedience to “everything I have commanded” is not only part of the commission, it is a self-check in whether or not we are doing the commission God’s way.

Checking our travel bag to see if it contains the “whole gospel”, or just those parts we prefer, is a significant tool for measuring ourselves. This will often require a humility to consider the input of believers from different backgrounds, to consider challenges to our cherished interpretations of Scripture, and even to allow for the possibility that our denomination may not have a complete corner on truth. Truth comes from God, is contained fully in the Holy Spirit and not any organization, and is available in part to those maturing in Christ.

A distorted gospel is often more attractive than speaking truth. To this point, Paul questions believers as to why they wrongly viewed him as an enemy, because he was restraining his teachings to what God wanted taught, rather than appealing to the growing trend toward preaching a cheap-grace gospel.

People want to hear that everything will work out great for them. Preachers can grow their false-ministry faster by telling their audiences that God wants to do amazing things for them to see. It is popular to tell people to forgive everyone, even though God does not smear his grace in such a it’s-all-good manner. God offers forgiveness, as we should, only to those who repent in faith before Jesus and strive to live forward in submission to the Spirit of God.

Offering grace without considering the immense cost to Jesus, or with little cost to a believer in living obediently, is very common and very poisonous. Maintaining the gospel rightly within the commission will require constant measured adjustments to our message and approach to stay faithfully in line with scriptural requirements. Otherwise the going becomes deceitful garbage, and the commission becomes no mission. As the Lord warned, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees”, which is the mixed messages taught by religious leaders, who have some things right and some things not.

Measuring is a command of God and not something to be dismissed.

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Cor 13:5)

“Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.” (Lam 3:20)

We are all called to contribute to the Church commission, but we are also expected to check what may be stuck in our own eye, and deal with it, before assuming we can be effective in helping to save others.

Those who carefully and obediently measure their commission progress will ensure they will never get lost or side-tracked, and will be given a rich welcome at their mapped and eternal destination.

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Mapping the Church Commission: Maintaining (4 of 6)

There is a reason that books begin with outlines. Much like a body requires a skeleton upon which to hang everything, so also high-rise buildings have a hidden steel framework. Even maps have some sort of underlying structure—grid-lines and rules—that ensure that everything is placed where it belongs in relation to what surrounds it.

Violating or ignoring those guidelines will render the entire map useless. You can’t trust a map that has gone off course from its intended purpose. So it is with what is often called the Great Commission.

The commission given to the Christian Church is much more than a program or subset of church life. It is the basis for all that we are supposed to do. The commission provides the structure for Christian life and church activity. To travel off this map is to turn back to the ways of this world.

This series will focus on 6 features of the map:

Defining the Commission

Commissioning the Commission

Sustaining the Commission

Maintaining the Commission

Measuring the Commission

Culmination of Mission

The difference between sustaining (reviewed previously) and maintaining is that, the first is about endurance by believers, and the second is about ensuring that the commission remains identifiable and central. Maintaining the commission requires that we stay focused on doing what we have been called to do, and not allow the mission to be watered down, distorted, mixed with social ideology, or replaced with other attractive activity.

Satan doesn’t need to destroy the commission of the Church, if he can alter it enough that we no longer fully do what the Lord requires. That is the danger of looking religious, but not being accepted by Jesus. It only takes a little leaven to overwhelm the entire bread loaf.

The sneaky sin of Balaam was to teach the person who wanted to defeat the people of God that, instead of attacking head-on, or cursing them, he could get God to do his dirty work, by enticing the Israelites to start mixing a bit of socially-normal sinful stuff into their lives. That approach continues to derail many Christians who think that as long as they get it mostly right, all is fine with God.

Doing the Great Commission is not an option; it is a command, and a leading one that establishes the pattern for how the Church is expected to go forth into all the world. Allowing the commission to become a sideline focus, or mixed up with godless activity, will result, just as it does with mixing the Gospel and error, into: no commission at all.

The “go” mission of the Church was confirmed at the start of the book of Acts with Jesus’ words:

“and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Act 1:8)

Sometime later, the Church was given a mid-term review by the Lord through a vision given to John. One of the churches was confronted as having a great Christian reputation, but who had strayed from the commission:

“I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent.” (Rev 3:1-3)

For he who has an ear to hear what the Spirit is saying to all congregations and individuals who make up the Church—remember the details of the original commission, or you will be rejected by Jesus. The Lord made it very clear, as recorded in Mt 7, that many who claim Christ as their Lord, and who preach and do amazing ministry, are just like this church in Sardis. People thought they were amazing Christians, but their deeds did not match up with what they were commissioned to do.

As reviewed earlier, the commission requires that we keep at least 7 details in constant view as we attempt to live out what pleases God. Doing good things for others, helping the poor, providing well water to the thirsty, caring for widows and orphans, and preaching from the Bible, does not necessarily fit with the Church’s commission. They can become stand-alone activities and lose their purpose in Jesus.

The difficulty, is that showing what we think is love, is not the same thing as “going”. Love must remain submissive to the will of God or it becomes human-powered and lifeless. Doing good, is only good, if God is doing it his way.

Highlighting this truth should anger many church-goers, because it is a very common fallacy that has blinded large sections of the church into thinking they are right with God by doing good things. This is what is often labeled as the Social Gospel or Social Justice. Most large, established service organizations struggle with this side-trail. So tempted, for some reason, are long established denominations who seem to put tradition and social acceptance ahead of the exclusiveness of the gospel.

Many hospitals, colleges, businesses, schools, and service organizations may have started as Christian, and some still have a Christian name, but in order to be more widely accepted, or to receive government funding, or to avoid offending those they serve, or to comply with civil laws, the commission has been gutted and left to the wolves.

It is a sad observation that commonly those who quote James’ reference on pure religion, “to look after orphans and widows in their distress”, ignorantly or intentionally leave out the connection “and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”. That means that viable Christian service requires biblical purity, which the world cannot provide. Save-the-whale campaigns are popular and considerate, but they are based on human philosophy and the basic principles of humanity. They are not based in bringing people to Christ, and thus are not Christian.

In this vein, I recently heard a pastor state that those who volunteered to serve the handicapped at a special dance event, demonstrated “the litmus test of Christianity”. A popular book called this type of service, the filling of the hole in the gospel. Efforts to confront homelessness, eradicate disease, eliminate poverty, and console the hurting, all are very helpful and decent things, but they are NOT the commission. Those who replace going, as Jesus instructed, with decent community service, distort the mission of the Church into a social-improvement movement.

“Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.” (Lu 6:26)

Our specific mission is not to fix the world. It is not to get people to like us. It is not to eliminate all problems or satisfy all desires. It is not to establish universal equality. It is not to develop the perfect government. It is not to join our voices with the world. It is not to establish our heaven on earth. Nor is it to hide in our churches or save ourselves.

In spite of all the things that ache our heart, and for which we long to see healed, now is not the time. We need to pay more careful attention to what exactly our job is on this earth.

Consider that the Lord did not heal everyone who needed it. He often left towns that still had crowds of people wanting to hear his teachings and experience his presence. He judged the do-gooders who obediently tithed of such little things as seeds, but neglected the more important matters expected by God. Several times he completely undermined the church-growth model, by intentionally challenging his disciples with things they did not understand and would not accept. He even criticized those who suggested giving to the poor rather than honoring him, when he said:

“The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.” (Mk 14:7)

Serving others may be loving, but it is not always in line with the commission, and that is supposed to be what keeps us on track. Honoring and obeying the Lord’s words is far more important than participating in some public protest against some human ill. Christians are supposed to follow the Spirit, not the mob.

When we allow social norms to crowd in on our efforts to go into all the world, to disciple others into followers of Jesus, and to teach others every little thing he commanded, then we have gotten dangerously off track. When we go on mission trips to help the hurting, but we avoid sharing the Lord’s name with the intent of making disciples, then we have fallen into quicksand. When we preach from the Bible, but say only what our audience is willing to hear (and continues to pay to hear), then we have become a hired hand that does not reflect the Shepherd.

When we join social committees, but allow it to distract from seeking baptisms and confessions and maturity in Christ-likeness, then we are Christian only by label and not by Spirit. When we claim to believe, but avoid sharing Jesus at work, so as to keep our job or submit to company policy, then we are no longer doing the commission.

We are just doing what is socially-natural sin. It is sin, when off track, because Jesus has commissioned you and me to “go” under his supreme authority, which over-rides all resistance from people, companies, laws of the land, and nations. In striving to obey the Lord first, we submit wherever possible to authorities, and try to restrain defiance by looking for better ways to work around obstacles, while never compromising our mission.

“Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king…we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter”, in spite of the law and the threat of torture; to which the eventual reply came, “Praise be to the God…They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach…be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.” (Dan 3)

You have it on the highest authority. Proselytizing the gospel everywhere, and to all people, is your official right and responsibility as a commissioned ambassador of God. It is not something we fight over; it is something for which we stand and go, no matter what anyone else thinks or says against us. We don’t cram it down people’s throats; we promote and offer, until it is clearly rejected or accepted; then we keep going and discipling. We do not force others; rather, we force ourselves to keep going to others in Jesus’ name.

If your church program picks up trash, decide your participation based on how it intentionally promotes the commission. If your community needs help supporting those with challenges, decide how deeply to commit based on how you will be allowed to “go” with the commission of Jesus while you serve. If the Bible study is of interest, then participate so long as it trains and equips everyone to actively contribute to the commission.

“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise.” (Pro 11:30)

“Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” (Dan 12:3)

We do not all play the same part in promoting the Church commission, but we each will be held accountable for how we actively contributed and maintained a clear and uncompromising focus on fulfilling the Lord’s will.

Show love to others in need with the purposeful intent of leading them to Christ. If they reject him, then dust your feet off and move on. They may still have needs, but as the Lord instructed, “Let the dead, bury the dead”. You are not loving with the Lord’s love, if you think you can continue to “do good” without evangelizing. Everything we do is intended to bring people to salvation. Obey the Lord’s command:

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” (Mt 7:6)

To remain protected by God as you go out into a hostile world, you must avoid spending your time, energy, resources and attention on those who have shown they have no interest in accepting Jesus, becoming baptized, or maturing as discipled Christians. That is why we are still here on this earth; to do his Kingdom will, not simply to do nice things.

Nice things distract. Holy things transform. Maintain the Church commission as your life’s work and passion. Don’t become side-tracked with social decency, political rhetoric, or personal agendas, allowing them to replace your devotion to living for the Lord. Our citizenship is supposed to be in heaven. Remember:

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God”. (Ga 2:20-21)

If you’re a pastor, encourage your leadership team and membership to review every commitment to the commission. If you participate with others in Christian activity, raise the question on how the practical doing can better fit with the commission. Perhaps the most significant contribution to maintaining the Church commission is when an individual believer adjusts their own life’s focus to going as Jesus directed into every corner of their personal world.

To maintain requires uninterrupted progress. The Church commission cannot be a side-line affair, just one more program option in a busy congregation. It must be central to everything. Sadly this is rare, but it remains the demand of God upon the faithful.

“I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.” (Isa 62:6-7)

The Lord has commissioned all Christians as his witnesses, like watchmen on the wall, who never cease promoting the gospel, warning of threats, and calling out for the establishment of the New Jerusalem from Heaven–his Church on earth.

Love salvation into others, who will love the Lord.

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Mapping the Church Commission: Sustaining (3 of 6)

Bloodhounds are amazing to watch. They are able to put a mental map together that combines their senses with the terrain. In particular, their sense of smell is so finely tuned, that they can take one sniff of a target’s clothing and match it to the faint trail left behind.

But, when that invisible trail loses clarity, the dog will zig-zag in a wider pattern before it eventually doubles-back to where it last recognized the scent. It has been trained to keep a consistent link to the trail and not wander aimlessly ahead.

It is a great lesson for Christians who strive to faithfully apply the Great Commission given by Jesus to his Church. The Bible reveals several important training tips on how to sustain the commission through all obstacles, over endless time, and with unmatched energy.

This series will focus on 6 features of the map:

Defining the Commission

Commissioning the Commission

Sustaining the Commission

Maintaining the Commission

Measuring the Commission

Culmination of Mission

Two of the greatest obstacles to living out the commission of going into all nations, sharing the gospel of Jesus, are distraction and burn-out. Doing the commission is humanly impossible. There is a limit to how far any of us can go, and that is far short of the objective.

If we are to stay on the faint trail, and not lose our heading, we need to understand how to sustain such a task no matter what we face along the way. Distractions can come at us from everywhere: entertainments, social pressures, persecution, fears, insurmountable odds, lack of immediate resources, desires to fit in, busyness, forgetting the original scent that started our mission, apparent ministerial successes, even other good works.

Trying harder, working longer, giving more, relying on our talents, and trying to do everything needed by others, will burn out a believer. If our strength and sticking-power are draining, then we may be operating too much on our own abilities, and need to shift our priorities, to spending more time focused on drawing near to God, and in delegating responsibilities to others who show themselves trustworthy. The commission requires superhuman strength and other-worldly ability, that are not self-generated. We need to find our constant support and sustenance from the Holy Spirit.

“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isa 40:30-31)

Demands of the needy can consume more than we have to offer. We can only give as much grace as God has allotted to each of us. To try to do more, is to go beyond the Spirit, and attempt to minister on our own. We need to learn when to acknowledge our God-given limits, like Moses who was counseled to appoint other judges to ease his own workload. Even Peter encouraged the church to appoint deacons to help carry the ministry, so the elders could devote themselves to their primary mission that need time in prayer and preaching the word of God.

God’s grace is always sufficient to do his will, but it will never be enough to do our own will and agenda. So, one who wishes to sustain their personal efforts in the commission, will need to submit to what the Lord provides and stay focused on constant re-charging “closet time”.

A common error in promoting the Church commission is that it all starts with “Go”. That is misleading, because “to go” has a critical foundation that must remain in place if the efforts are to remain godly and on track. The go command is always presented in the context of “come”.

“‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.” (Mt 4:19)

“’Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Mt 11:28-30)

“’Come,’ He said.” (Mt 14:29)

The commission of the Lord begins with “Come”. It also is sustained because we stay in that—we rest in him as we “go”. It is essential that a believer keeps coming and never stops coming to the Lord. The come idea is the same as “hold to my teachings” and “fix your eyes on Jesus” and “to obey everything I have commanded”. Even the call to come is framed in the pattern that God initiates everything by inviting believers to continuously draw near.

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him”. (Jn 6:44)

The Spirit of God guides us along as we try to sense the trail; he gives us the strength to endure beyond human limits; he gently notifies us of distractions that could knock us off course. But most importantly, it is our dwelling in the Lord—by worshiping him, immersing ourselves in his words, engaging in his church, loving others sacrificially, and striving to obey his every instruction—that allow the “come to me” to remain our divine-sense as we occasionally zig-zag about trying to stay on target.

“If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5)

Going with the commission can only produce lasting fruit, if we first, and continuously, remain in the Lord. Coming and remaining are foundational for producing. This passage continues with warnings for those believers who, like Judas who heard these words, do not remain in the Lord as they go about their daily lives. Those branches get cut off and burned, not simply pruned. Fake going is very common. This cannot be emphasized enough, how important it is to rest in Jesus, remain in his will, obeying everything he commanded, in order to belong to him as we go into all the world.

All those who take part in the Great Commission should reflect upon the same question the disciples asked Jesus, “how can we know the way”? His answer directed their focus and constant reliance upon him,

“I am the way and the truth and the life.” (Jn 14:6)

Unfortunately, many believers think they understand this, but the Lord doesn’t agree. You may recall Jesus’ disturbing reply, to those who preached in his name, and did amazing miracles, even casting out demons, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Mt 7:23) They were doing dramatic ministry that should only be possible through the Holy Spirit, but the Lord refused to accept them into his Kingdom.

The advice shared here should be carefully considered by those who are doing the Church commission and want to also belong to the Lord. Successful-looking ministry is not a guarantee of obedient “going”. Paul’s own personal reflection on this commission struggle to “save some” is insightful:

“Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Cor 9:26-27)

Sustaining the Church commission requires a deep and humble dependence upon the Lord and what he provides through his Spirit. It demands holding to his biblically recorded teachings as presented by those early apostles. Striving to remain submissive to his lead is critical so that we don’t run off trail.

“Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God.” (2 Jn 8-9)

This straying off course is the likely correction Jesus gives to the church located in Ephesus, as recorded in Revelation. They were doing a lot of what the Lord wanted, but they had lost their “first love” and needed to get back on track. Those who were willing to hear his rebuke, “Repent and do the things you did at first”, would be forgiven and allowed to eat from the Tree of Life.

Sometimes sustaining requires a walk of continued repentance.

There is probably one more essential “aha” about sustaining the Church commission: that of training up the next generation. Those original 11 apostles could not fulfill the commission over the next 2000 years, as we now recognize was necessary. They needed to disciple disciple-makers.

The Great Commission is a team relay. It not only requires each part to do its section, but it also requires that we replicate the effort over and over, through new believers, new styles, and new talents, and new ways. Every Christian should look to train up their own replacement, or two, or ten.

Help someone else learn how to “go into all the world” for the Lord. Share not only your faith, but your methods at trying to apply the word of God. Don’t constrain them to simply doing things your way, but show them your way. Show them, support them, train them in the commission.

Leave a legacy of faithfulness, not by putting your name on the side of a building or a bench, but by implanting your commission efforts in a fellow Christian who can and is willing to “go” for Jesus.

In this way, Jesus’ promise will stand: “and the gates of Hell will not overcome” the Church, as it spreads the commission from generation to generation into one nation after another, until the Lord returns.

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Mapping the Church Commission: Commissioning (2 of 6)

Giving a map of the stars to a coal mine foreman is a complete waste. Maps are made with specific features, over relevant territory, for those intending to travel in such regions. A map maker needs to know his intended audience. So it is with what is known as the Great Commission in Scripture.

The previous post in this series considered the definition of that all-important commission given by Jesus. This round will shift from the “what” to the “who”; namely, to whom was the Commission given and how should it apply to individual Christians today?

This series will focus on 6 features of the map:

Defining the Commission

Commissioning the Commission

Sustaining the Commission

Maintaining the Commission

Measuring the Commission

Culmination of Mission

The commissioning occurred after the crucified Jesus was raised from the dead three days later and appeared to many hundreds of his followers. As detailed also in Mt 28, the Lord spoke the Great Commission:

“Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” (Mk 16:15)

Those words were given specifically to “the Eleven”, known as his faithful apostles (Mt 28:16; Mk 16:14). As a detail, the word commission is not used scripturally in referencing this command, but rather it best identifies the uniqueness of Jesus’ final directive to his followers on how to continue the ministry he began and wants to promote until it is fully accomplished. At the beginning, Jesus commissioned his apostles to implement the Great Commission.

Even though there were several hundred believers to whom the Lord revealed himself during that time of his resurrection back to life, the commission was specifically given to those leaders and not broadly to the rest. They alone had the God-given authority to define and give witness to the gospel–to set the foundation upon which all future Christians would “go” with the same worded message. In order to rightly grasp this commission and what to do with it, Christians need to recognize the distinctions revealed in Scripture about this command.

The evidence however, in Mark’s Gospel, is that it was “the disciples [who] went out and preached everywhere” (v.20). In other words, the writer shows that the commission was given to the Eleven, and the implementation was applied by the believers. That fits with the pattern recorded in the book of Acts about the development of the Church.

Steven, Phillip, and many others, who were not apostles, contributed directly to fulfilling this commission. But, the distinction is still very important to keep in mind, because many have assumed that they can “go” on their own and that is not in line with God’s word.

The commissioning of the commission was specifically placed upon the original apostles. That does not mean that ministers are the only ones tasked with teaching or going. It means that the “go” command is dependent upon church authority to direct its efforts and not a free-for-all, independent mission. The Great Commission is a Church mission.

Notice below the authority commissioned upon the Apostle Paul and how that translates into the Church. It is in this context that church members are given select gifts of the Spirit, guided by elders, “to prepare God’s people for works of service…as each part does its work”:

“this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ…His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Eph 3:8-11)

Significant portions of the New Testament speak of Christian growth, without specific reference to the commission, but as identified previously, the commanded mission into all the world involves the significant effort at teaching believers to obey everything taught in God’s word. Living and loving in Christ still have an overall biblical context of sharing that hope and grace with others

“as you hold out the word of life”, for “it was good of you to share in my troubles” sending “aid again and again when I was in need” (Phi 2:16; 4:14, 16).

“I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now”. (Phi 1:4-5)

Moses was tasked with saving Israel during a critical battle, by holding his arms up, and no one else could replace him. However it was acceptable, and even necessary, for other believers to come along side and hold his arms up. That is how the commission is intended to work as well.

Church leaders are tasked with directing, organizing, planning, and enabling the church to spread the commission to the world, but it takes the rest of the Body of Christ to submissively support and participate under that authority. In other words, the Lord’s commission to his Church applies to each Christian somehow, some way, and should govern everything they do.

As Paul noted, the Body of Christ has many members and each one has a specific task and gift of the Spirit to contribute. No one, not even leaders, can say that they don’t need help from other parts of the Body. To do the commission, we all need to pitch in. Every person in the Church has a role in the commission.

The way this ought to play out is that each of us contribute what we can to support the larger effort of “going” into all the world. Some will physically go, others with speak. Some will pray, and (yes, trite as the phrase has become) some will pay. Others will dig up hard ground, some will plant seeds, and the late-comers will harvest believers into the Church. Some will travel to the unknown, others will spread the commission in their neighborhoods.

Perhaps one of the most important commission roles that many participate in is “contending as one man for the faith of the gospel”. Apologetics is part of going with the commission, whether abroad or at home. Another significant role is living holy and godly lives as a display of Christ’s transforming presence. This should not be confused with disobedient behavior that prefers to not openly talk about Jesus. Under conditions that the Bible requires restraint, it may not have a direct mouth part, but it can still win over those God intends to reach, “without words” by the purity of your lives. Love is its own language, and it can speak to the hard-hearted as well as the foreign-tongued.

In turn, not everyone will travel abroad. Not all are expected to speak publicly. Not everyone will baptize believers. It is intended to be a coordinated team effort. We accomplish the commission as each one does his and her part in a submissive pattern under the direction of church leaders.

This is also true of congregations, for groups of believers, no matter how large, will only ever be one small part of the greater Body of Christ, which can only be identified by the Holy Spirit. Individual churches have just as much reason to remain humble and acknowledge their need for other congregations to contribute their part, even praying for and contributing assistance through other parts of the Body.

That said, it should be stated very clearly that just because a person doesn’t feel compelled to participate in a particular way in sharing the gospel, doesn’t necessarily mean that God accepts such self-deselecting. God calls the weak of the world to confound the mighty, and to do so when it is impossible for them to do it on their own effort.

Commission-going requires the power of the Spirit to overcome personal obstacles and fears, as well as to demolish external strongholds that attempt to resist the message. We should do whatever God sets before us and calls us to do, rather than beg-out because we don’t feel like that is our thing. Avoid burying your talent.

“Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (Jn 20:21)

The call comes from God. The power comes from God. The commission message and potential success belong to God. The placement of believers in the Body with their part to play is established by God. You just need to grab your gym bag and show up ready to play.

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Mapping the Church Commission: Defining (1 of 6)

In a GPS world of instant “you are here” technology, maps have become wall art. There once was a time, long ago, that in order to know how to reach a land far far away, a person needed to carefully read maps. As spoofed in the animated movie Cars, the lost minivan loses touch with reality while repeating, “I never need a map again”.

The famous explorer and missionary, Sir Livingstone, traveled through uncharted parts of Africa sharing the hope of salvation through Jesus while developing a map for others to follow. The combination of sharing the Christian gospel and helping others to understand the map is as important today as ever.

When God sent Abraham off on mission, he said “Get up and go to a land that I will later show you”. The commission to “go” preceded the map that showed “where”. So it is for Christians. In what is often referred to as the Great Commission, the Bible announces the charge at the starting line, “Go, ye into all the world”. Like kids tied together in a three-legged race, off we go, not always in step with each other.

Jesus’ parting words, that launched the mission of his Church, need to be carefully understood, if we are to be faithful to continue along the path he has set before us. Broad is the way that most will travel, and throughout history few will care to “go” along that narrow and straight trail.

This series will focus on 6 features of the map:

Defining the Commission

Commissioning the Commission

Sustaining the Commission

Maintaining the Commission

 Measuring the Commission

 Culmination of Mission

Perhaps the most useful place to begin a brief review of defining what the commission actually is, is to read the evidence of what Jesus said:

“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt 28:18-20).

Many teachers will attempt to summarize and limit this holy directive to “Go and make disciples of all nations”. Remember, a slight degree of error at the starting point on a map can translate into getting deeply lost in a tangled jungle.

There are at least 7 main points that are critical in understanding this passage.

  1. To start with, the entire commission is founded, not in the command to Go, but rather in the absolute authority of Jesus over the entire land. We can go, because he has the right as High King to send us anywhere on his mapped universe, to any people, at any time in history. In addition to establishing his omnipotent authority, this point also establishes the commission as a continuation of the commission God gave Jesus in coming to earth. The Church is being sent, just as the Lord was sent by God. The Church commission is not new; it is the continuation of Jesus’ mission.
  2. The specific instruction is to then “Go”. We are not called to stay in comfort or safety, waiting like timid mice in a hole, afraid of the dangers that lurk in shadows. We are to travel everywhere, venturing into every corner, seeking people who will respond to the gospel of Jesus.
  3. The focus is to evangelize throughout the world. The commission is a direct command of God to convert people to Christianity as disciples of Jesus. Faith in him is the only way God accepts for eternal life (Act 4:12). The enemy hates this and will even use popular ministers and large church organizations to replace the commission of a salvation-gospel with a Social Gospel. The gospel shows no favoritism, but it is very exclusive in calling those who will deny themselves and accept Jesus instead as Lord and Savior of their life.
  4. Private professions are common among those who believe, but are too afraid of the consequences for revealing their faith. Discipling people to become believers, requires a continued effort toward open and declared faith through baptism. As the Lord stated, If you won’t publicly confess the Lord’s name, then he will not allow your name to be given to God (Mt 10:33). The commission is to bring willing believers to baptism and openly defy the enemy.
  5. Disciples, even baptized ones, must grow in Jesus. The commission doesn’t end in foreign mission fields, nor with acquiring new believers. It involves training and teaching throughout a Christian’s life in how to mature in the likeness and character of our Lord. We teach believers, young and old, new and mature, to “obey everything I have commanded you”.
  6. The great commission remains a work of the Lord and not something humanly produced. He is always with those who “go” with the commission. No matter how individually scary or difficult, it will be accomplished according to his power and presence. And, it will stay that way, generation after generation, from age to age, until he returns again.
  7. Maps often have cut-out sections that reveal closer details of the topography, and that is also true of this commission. The good news message of the Church, for those who rightly promote the holy commission, is based in continued repentance. Check out what Luke records of Jesus’ final words on what he wants taught to all nations as part of his commission:

“repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (Lu 24:47).

The Great Commission has the same foundation as the start of Jesus’ ministry on earth:

“From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Mt 4:17).

It is the same as John the Baptist’s ministry:

“The kingdom of God is near, Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15).

It is the same as Peter’s apostolic ministry that launched the church:

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Act 2:38).

It is the same as Paul’s missionary teaching:

“I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus” (Act 20:21).

That is “what” the Great Commission is specifically about. The rest of the details are wrapped up in what the Bible calls the fullness of the gospel.

How will you “go” to the lost, the afraid, and the mature?

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A Prophet’s Life to Live

Have you ever thought about what it must be like to live like a prophet of God?

Unlike priests of old—who had an automatic right to ministry, who had a guaranteed job and income, who had impressive clothes and positions of importance in society—prophets were very different.

God individually chose prophets from all tribes of Israel, and even from foreign peoples, for a specific job—to speak and demonstrate his words. Typically, they came with no credentials, no training, no proof of their calling, except that when their dramatic statements came true, people took notice that this was no ordinary crazy person.

Their lives were all marked by shocking activity, unwanted predictions, extensive poverty, long droughts of loneliness, and brutal murder to cap it all off. Some laid on their sides, outdoors for months in public. Others cooked food over dung in front of everyone. New dishes were purchased with personal money and then destroyed, shocking the audience. One was required to marry a prostitute, knowing she would continue to cheat on him and break his heart. Another was prevented from crying when the wife he loved would suddenly die the next day. All were told that God’s people would reject their teachings.

“The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent word to them [Israel] through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy.” (2 Chr 36:15-16)

Eating bugs, getting thrown into death-pits, running for their lives, wearing filthy rags, being rejected by everyone around them, confronting sin in others, fasting for weeks on end, requesting that friends strike them with swords, and having their heads chopped off, were all part of being a prophet.

A prophet’s life is not something anyone should want.

 

The Bible teaches that Christians are called to

eventually become priests in the Kingdom,

while living like prophets in this life.

That does not mean we carry the title of prophet or do dramatic things a prophet did. Rather, we are expected to live a prophet’s lifestyle, to give up reliance upon everything dear to us and valued by others, accepting the same treatment they endured. Christians are called to be “living sacrifices” as we “hold out the word of life” to a hostile world. Their strange behaviors were only due to demands directly communicated by God upon those with the title of prophet, however the suffering and social rejection are common to all who live as personal representatives of God, both then and now.

To be a true disciple of Jesus, a faithful Christian, is to live like a strange prophet.

“everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus, will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12).

It is a biblical requirement, that in order to be accepted as a professed follower of Jesus, that each Christian take up their personal cross—that disturbing reference to brutal crucifixion, complete rejection and abandonment by everyone around, and suffocating death.

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24).

That means that those who live in a manner that tries to preserve their life, don’t belong to Jesus. It is only those who willingly live in a way that accepts the losing of natural living, even to the potential of complete loss in death, that show they are accepted by God. Neither priest, nor parishioner, were expected to live like that, only prophets.

This is why, in the introduction of the greatest recorded sermon, our Lord compares believers who reflect the beatitude qualities with prophets:

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt 5:11-12).

The reason many early believers stopped believing is because they were confronted with the hard life of prophets and didn’t want anything to do with it. Those who followed Jesus, until he told them they would have to eat his flesh, stumbled at such a horrible idea, and refused to stay Christian (Jn 6).

Many of those who initially received the gospel with great joy, rejected God, when difficult trials pressed into their life. Others who lived as long-time Christians, also failed and lost everything, because they couldn’t face the increasing worries of life that are allowed to target believers. In some cases, those who think they are Christians, don’t make it to the Kingdom, because they prefer the attractive and comfortable living that wealth offers (Mt 13).

It is not easy or desirable to live like a prophet. It is hope in something far greater, promised yet ahead, that keeps the faithful in the game, in spite of such hardships.

“Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we considered blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (Jms 5:10-11).

Christians are compared to prophets, because that kind of lifestyle most closely resembles what it looks like to faithfully follow God, while living on this earth. As the Lord stated, if he was treated poorly, so will those who rightly follow him. To bear the cross is to be acquainted with sorrows and endure what the Lord lays upon a person (Isa 53). His life and result on this earth, has become our own.

When you lose your health, pray, but remember it’s a prophet’s life. When your job fails, your standard of living tanks, and your support network crumbles, pray, and remember it’s a prophet’s life. When your church pursues physical and financial growth, with policies that cater to society and attract attendance, and distain living like the Cross, pray, but don’t forget that it is a prophet’s life. When things don’t work out and don’t ever improve, remember “jars of clay” are hard pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down, “always carrying around in our bodies the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Cor 4:7-11). It is a prophet’s life, because unlike the natural pattern, for us death precedes life.

That straight and narrow path is not popular. It is only traveled by prophets and those who live a prophet’s life. As observed about the faithful listed in Hebrews chapter 11, they were commended for their faith, but all died without receiving a good life. Rejected, sawn in two, flogged, humiliated, imprisoned, and stoned to death: “the world was not worthy of them”. For those who faithfully live a prophet’s life:

“God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (Heb 11:40).

“Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them’” (Rev 14:13).

A prophet lives the life laid upon him by God, because he or she trusts that it is only temporary, because it is what God requires, because God offers sufficient grace to never give up, and because there is something far greater ahead and very much worth every little struggle endured through this life. Those who understand this truth, will live it and support it in others, with the belief that all who do so will share in a prophet’s reward.

“He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward” (Mt 10:40-41).

Living as a Christian may often feel desperate, lonely, and frustrating. Pray. And remember, it is a prophet’s life for you. He will never leave you, even though the cross looks and feels like failure to us and others. Many, even in the church, live like enemies of the Cross, we are told. But, he has many other witnesses who are enduring the same things, so:

“Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb 12:1-3).

It is easy to grow weary, because it is a prophet’s life.

The apostle Paul openly shared the unthinkable struggles he constantly faced in his life and taught that it is through such hardships we enter the Kingdom (Act 14:22). For those who desire the:

“fellowship of sharing in his sufferings [of Christ] and becoming like him in his death”, believers are encouraged to “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phi 3:10-20).

The Christian pattern of living resembles the life of a prophet. Deny self-advancement. Now is not the time for gathering wealth or popular power. Take up your cross. Embrace his grace. Be courageous to carefully promote the gospel just as he directs you. Love sacrificially.

Accept the storms and battering winds as you share your faith in Jesus. Be willing to toss your cargo overboard. Fix your eyes on the unseen light ahead. Realize that most people around you will take the life-boats and abandon you. At that point, take your hand off the tiller and raise your arms. Ride it out, no matter what happens to you, your cargo, your passengers, your boat, or plans. Your port-of-call cannot be reached by boat.

It is a prophet’s kind of life! The chariots of the Lord are on their way.

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Breeding Success in America

There is only one measurement of recognized success in a capitalist, Western, American society: big numbers that translate to more money.

Our culture doesn’t believe in any other measurement of success. Acceptable growth in an organization is measured in revenue increases, especially income over projections. More subtle indicators of progress are noted in terms of expanding customer base, increasing production, and dominance over competition.

Popularity or power, of themselves are considered of little value, unless they can be cashed in. All numbers must relate to growth in wealth, or they are a waste of resources. Even for non-profit and religious groups, the temptation is to measure success in terms of material growth.

A recent job ad by a Christian non-profit stated that they were looking for someone who could make them grow larger so that they could help more people. Sounds reasonable, but no other references were made about other measures of success, like solving problems, impacting needs for the better, healing, being faithful, accomplishing their stated mission, honoring God, or the like. Only, get big so we can do more.

I am reminded of a response, from the late missionary known as Mother Theresa, who refused the advice of her board of directors to adjust her operation, so they could be even more successful. She believed that God looks for obedience and faithfulness in the little things. Spreading our efforts further does not equate to doing better in what we have been given.

Many churches who have found a way to resist the tendency toward eventual decline, have assumed the role of savior-of-all and lost touch with the truth that each person and group are only a part of the larger “C” Church, that needs the other parts (that they don’t control) in order to do what God expects of them. Training members to share the gospel, or even to live Christlike, is often less emphasized than “bring your neighbors to church”, fill the seats, support our programs, build bigger buildings, make a bigger and more measurable impact.

The Bible does encourage Christians to “grow more and more”. However, each time it speaks of this, it is referencing individual development and not numbers expansion. You can tell the difference by how the growth is being measured. More love, does not mean the same thing as more activity or benefit. More character development, does not mean bigger or popular. More righteous, does not mean more revenue. More obedient, does not mean fancier facilities.

Godly measurement of success emphasizes what Jesus has already won on the Cross. It promotes doing what the Lord did, including leaving the crowds, walking away from others still looking for benefits, spending time in lonely places training those who actually listen, rebuking fans who are more interested in getting free meals, bearing the cross, and even dying.

Jesus pursued a church-growth model that is very different than anything found in this world. He said, “If you hold to my teachings, then you are truly my disciples”. He wasn’t interested in bigger numbers, greater followers, larger budgets, or being able to do more good to more people.

Our Lord made his life’s mission very clear: “I came not to do my own will, but the will of the One who sent me, and to finish his work.”

How are you measuring your success in the Lord? The world’s methods breed illegitimacy, and lots of it. Seeking to do the will of Jesus, breeds what is unseen, spiritual, and immeasurable. The way we measure is how we will be measured, so consider carefully the type of measuring tool you use.

Remember, “everything will be tested with fire”. Only what survives for eternity deserves to be called success.

Be faithful in him. Resist the temptation to measure by numbers. Live successful for Life.

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Riding Fence Lines: Boundary Management

As a kid, I was often attracted to Westerns. There was something about cowboys riding the fence line that fascinated me.

Sitting solo in the saddle for days on end, slowly, carefully, inspecting the condition of the fence, and observing subtle signs of activity that crossed the line—It took a special ranch hand who could interpret and do something about what others often missed. The preservation of the entire ranch depended on their skill.

I often reflect on the problem of the polar bear in a snow storm. Can you picture that image? Probably not, because white on white shows no distinction. Boundaries play an important part in how we interact with our world, but increasingly they are treated as obstacles to throw off. What many miss is that to live without boundaries is to have no identity, to lack ownership; it is to wander and not belong.

We want to be free. Naturally, we don’t want to live bound by constraints, compressed by others’ expectations, limited from experiencing the fullness of life. The message is everywhere. Banners lining the entrance to our state university say “Live Boundless”. But is that sophomoric?

Modern art has always annoyed me. No offense to those who like the look; that is just my personal impression. Regardless of the canvas, expressions without limits seem to produce the same chaotic pattern.  In the name of freedom of expression, local teenagers thought they were having fun when they threw a rock off a bridge onto a car and now are facing the death penalty.

A wealthy businessman thought it would be exciting to cheat on his wife and sleep with an under-aged girl, and now has lost his job, lost his marriage, lost his reputation, lost his money, lost his freedom, and is permanently listed as a publicly-identified sexual predator. He lived boundless.

A struggling student takes a gun, defies boundaries, and kills 17 fellow high school kids recently in Florida. In understandable agony, people cry for more controls to protect the vulnerable, all while universities teach students to protest, to throw off all control, to do whatever feels good, to reject all authority, to resist everything and be their own person, to destroy. Musicians, movies, and media put that same message to melody, giving each other medals for such muck. The defiance is hurting, not freeing or helping.

My best friend from elementary school, threw off the warnings of drug use and sought the momentary pleasures from shrooms. Once crossed, he traveled past further boundaries into weed, then past other fence lines. It seriously aches my heart to reflect on how his boundless living turned him so quickly into fertilizer.

In a plea for returning to the wild, all sorts of fences are being torn down in society. The makeup of family is under attack, marriages are being distorted, genders are being crossed and re-crossed, synthetic living through drugs continues to haunt many, authority of all kinds are being disrespected, greed and cheating are rewarded for those who get away with it, unrestricted sex is now officially taught to some public school children, citizenship no longer matters in many parts of the USA, protecting human life from conception to high school to retirement has come under fire, risking extreme trauma in the name of living without limits is causing epidemic levels of mental health problems, even common sense and human decency have been torn out of the ground.

As the story goes, a man and a woman went to view the sunset over the ocean from high up on a cliff. One respected the cliff edge and stayed well back. The other celebrated living without boundaries and walked toward the sun and right off the cliff edge. Can you guess which one? Even a cowboy, new to riding the fence line, can tell you it was the dead one that walked beyond the boundary.

Not all boundaries, however, are the same. Some must be followed, if a person is to live well. Others may be tested for usefulness to each person or group. Bad boundaries can suffocate and destroy just as much as rejecting helpful boundaries. Figuring out the difference is important to living a good life.

Christians have been “called to be free”, to discard to Jewish law as a boundary, because in Jesus, “all things are permissible”. The old racist boundary of who can be the people of God has been destroyed. In fact, the worst boundary of all, that of sin which separated us from relationship with God, has been destroyed for believers by Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. The difference now, is not living boundless, but about a more helpful boundary.

“But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life” (Rom 6:22).

In order to avoid becoming a lost polar bear, we still need helpful distinctions. Our new protective standard involves submission to Jesus himself. Like giddy horses let through the gate into richly green pastures, we are instructed to “not use our freedom to indulge” our personal desires, but rather self-regulate for the benefit of others. In place of old rules and laws comes a higher standard of love that does no harm—a care for others as defined by the boundaries of the New Covenant in Scripture. The boundary command of God is to “be self-controlled”.

The challenge for those who want to live full and well is not to discard all restraint and self-destroy, but rather to set up helpful, personal standards and limits. History has proven for thousands of years that natural laws cannot be broken with impunity. The idea of living boundless is actually a disguise for dying bound to the reality of cause-and-effect.

The encouragement for those who want to live is to exchange your shackles of sin and pain for the freedom of being bound to the Giver of Life. Restrain yourself to live in a manner that honors your Lord and helps others in need. Trust that his promise of sharing in his coming rich inheritance is far more worthwhile than temptations and worldly pleasures from across the border.

There are reasons for fences, guard rails and castle walls on earth. Well placed fences define, protect, defend, identify, and tend to “make good neighbors”.

Remember, when inspecting along the barbed-wire perimeter, the smart cowboy rides the horse and not the fence.

 

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