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Archive for December, 2018

Missions at Christmas

December 14th, 2018

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:21-23 ESV)

Christmas is the celebration of Christ coming to this earth to save us from our sins. He came because He was sent. And He sends us out into the world in the same way. Because of this, world missions is inseparably attached to the meaning of Christmas. These words He spoke were not meant only for the original apostles, but rather they are passed down to each generation of believers in Christ, as Christ commissioned the apostles, “Teaching them to obey all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19).

Sent

The Bible explains in great detail that the Son of God was sent to this earth. The word often used in the New Testament for “send” is apostello. It carries the idea of someone sent on a mission for a superior. The noun form became “apostle” in English, and teaches that the apostles did not go out on their own authority, but that they were sent out under the authority of our Lord. And we also are sent by our Lord into the world.

Given

We cannot take this passage in John 20 without also considering John 3:16, where it speaks of God “giving” the Son for the sins of the world. This is the nature of being sent into the world for the Father, that Christ was given over to be mistreated by the world. And Christ sends us in the same way, into the world to be mistreated, misunderstood, and even abused by the world.

Came

But also in John’s gospel, especially chapter 1, it says that Christ “came” into the world, and this emphasizes the choice of the Son in His coming to this earth. He was sent, but did not begrudgingly come. He was given, but not against His own heart and desire. God the Son and God the Father coexist in perfect agreement with one another, as does the Spirit of God. There is no schism in the Godhead, but the Great Three-in-One exist eternally in perfect harmony.

So we also are sent into the world as people on mission from our superior, the Lord Christ. And we are given to the world to fill up the sufferings “still lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, which is the church” (Col. 1:24). This passage does not mean that there is anything lacking in the payment of Christ for the sins of the world. He and He alone completely satisfied all that was required in the heart of holy God for the payment of the sins of the whole world.  Rather it means that there are still people and circumstances where the followers of Christ are called to be inconvenienced and even persecuted for the benefit of certain people in certain places.

But we also come to the world in the same love and compassion of the Father and of the Christ. For example, the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2, begins the chapter by speaking of his “coming” to the Corinthians as an apostle and evangelist, and he ends the chapter with the declaration, “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). And could we find a passage that teaches this principle more clearly than Philippians 2?

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 2:1-5)

The Spirit of God puts people on our hearts today, and as we walk with Him in fellowship we find His love becomes our love. If we forget this point we will have a misshapen idea of the mission of the church. As imperfectly as we do this, let us continually open our hearts for the Spirit to place His love in our hearts.

A common observation made by some preachers is that when Christ said to Peter, “Do you love me? … Feed my sheep” (John 21:17), that Christ did not ask him, “Do you love my sheep?” There is a point to this observation in terms of our overall sending and obligation to preach to and care for those who we find disagreeable, and that it is our love relationship with Christ that will serve as the primary motivation to do so – His love in us and through us to others.

But it is incorrect and an abuse of scripture to suggest that anyone who walks with the Spirit of Christ will remain unloving in his heart. In the John 20 passage above Christ emphasized the role of the Spirit in going into the world. We need Him. As we grow we will also love in our hearts the ones whom Christ loves. Sometimes we love people out of our own sympathies, or because we simply “connect” with them and enjoy being with them. There is, of course, nothing wrong with this, but we must keep before us always, in the dominant place of our minds and hearts, not our own human sentiment for some people, but the eternal love of the eternal God who embraces all.

And the longer we are saved the more we should see all people in this light, as Paul wrote:

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Col. 1:28-29)

 

Christmas, Missions

Be Still

December 10th, 2018

Come, behold the works of the LORD,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. (Psalm 46:8-11 ESV)

The very existence of this ancient psalm – a psalm that encourages faith in God when others are filled with anxiety and on the verge of panic – teaches us something important about human nature. There will always be people who are prone to fear and anxiety, and they need to be buoyed up by faith in God.

“Be still” is the voice we need to hear and the command that we need to heed. This Hebrew word – raphah – means to rest and relax. It is related to the word – rapha – which means “healing.” It carries the idea of laying down and resting as a sick person would do in the ancient culture. There is deep soul healing that we only receive when we pull away from the busy-ness of life.

We also need to be still from the busy-ness of religion. Even Christianity can fill us with a thousand and one things to do, each of which claims its own urgency. Put those things aside and be still in your heart, meditating on His Word. Even in private devotions we are tempted to measure its effectiveness by how many chapters we read, rather than how deeply we meditated upon the simple truths of God’s word.

“And know” – but it is not rest alone that we see here. We are also to know that the Lord is God. It means that we are to put aside all of the things that normally consume our thoughts and instead put this one truth before our minds – the Lord is God and He will be exalted in due time among the nations. All of the fear, anxiety, and worry, as well as the animosity and anger and conflict, have an answer and that answer is the Lord Himself.

Someone aptly noted that we are changed the most not by how many verses we read but by how many verses we let read us! That is how often we humbly get before the Word and let a simple truth from God’s Word sink deep into our souls and spirits. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).

Christ calls us to Himself and thereby to the grace He offers. When He walked on earth He said:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. or my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, though he achieved much in his life, knew the importance of this truth about rest. He said: “Rest time is not waste time. It is economy to gather fresh strength… It is wisdom to take occasional furlough. In the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less.” There are many who profess to be Christians around whom I always feel exhausted because of their constant worry. But the Spirit of Christ is not like that. He will lift us up if we will rest before Him.

When was the last time that you can say you were truly still in your heart and meditated on this truth? The Lord to be the fortress of our hearts, just as He is the fortress of our spirits. We can rest in Him today, just as we will rest in Him for eternity.

 

 

Daily Devotions, Psalms