Fear Not

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My kids started school today. Jonah is beginning his last year of middle school, Jacob his first year of high school, and Hannah her last year in school while under my roof, a senior! All of these are important transition years, years where decisions are made and identities shaped, but for Hannah it’s the daunting precipice of change, a preparation to launch, to leave, to become. The thought of it can easily overwhelm her, but I find myself fighting some old sparring buddies as well, fear and worry.   I think Matthew knew how Hannah and I feel. He records Jesus’ words to him and his fellow apostles as Jesus launched them into something new, terrifying and wrought with difficulty.  Jesus’ words, as hard as they were to swallow, are filled with triumph and hope, two things I could use a heavy dose of today.

Read Matthew 10:16-33.

Fear not? Doesn’t he mean, fear a lot? He just laid out a path of persecution, pain and suffering for these guys. He said they’d be among wolves who try to look like sheep, people who will accuse them and throw stuff at them, and make them stand up and talk in front of people. Sounds a lot like high school to me! But then he says that their own families might turn against them and that essentially everyone will hate them.  That’s a little much don’t you think? Even high school’s not that bad! How can Jesus tell his apostles not to be afraid?

It’s pretty awesome, really! Jesus reassures his apostles and us as well that the Spirit of the Father will be speaking through them, giving them the very words to say when they need to say them. (19-20) Not only will truth prevail and light overcome darkness, but God is not going to let them fall. (26-29) Sure trouble, hardship, persecution and even death are not off the table, but you’re never going to fall beyond the presence of the one who knows you and loves you perfectly and completely. If that doesn’t inspire confidence, what can? Jesus makes it pretty simple: “Make my name known in your world, and I’ll make yours known in mine.” He thought his apostles could do it, and they did. He died, rose, and gave his Spirit to us so that we can too, despite any difficulty that comes our way!

This momma needs to know that today. A Father who knows every hair on Hannah’s head inspires awe. If you’ve seen Hannah’s hair you’ll know what I’m talking about! This good daddy knows and loves her so well. He has a secure future in store for her with Him forever.   Bring it on, senior year. We’re not afraid.

Marching Orders

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Read Matthew 10:5-15

Following the Sermon on the Mount, the next collection of Jesus’ words that Matthew turns our attention to is the marching orders he gave to twelve, uniquely charged disciples. We know them as the Apostles. Apostle simply means “sent one,” and these unlikely misfits were sent on a very specific mission.

In Ephesians, Paul commissions the church with similar language. He said that God calls some to be apostles, among other things, to equip the body of Christ for ministry. (Ephesian 4:11-14)   Could Jesus’ words to the twelve apply to the church today?

Are you a sent one? Is God uniquely calling you to a particular mission for His kingdom purposes? Not everyone is an apostle, but if you are, you know it. No, I don’t mean part of the original twelve, the image bearers of the twelve tribes of Israel, the “Peter, James and John” types. I do mean, however, that God still sends people to unique places and to specific people as messengers of peace. Along with prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers, apostles equip the church for the work of ministry, making it mature, a measure of the fullness of Christ. Jesus gives grace and gifts to each believer.  These words still apply to the “sent ones” of the church today, maybe even to you!

Jesus says to go to the unique group He is calling you to; in this case it was the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The message would definitely go to the Gentiles and Samaritans, just through some other folks.   Here, Jesus sent his guys to the Jews. There’s a lot of good and right things to do, and countless people who need to know the good news of the Kingdom. If you’re a sent one, get up and go to where YOU are being sent. Pray about it. Listen. Don’t worry about everyone else. God’s got them covered.

Jesus says to proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Excuse me? Isn’t heaven far away and unseen? No, Jesus said it was at hand, then and now. It’s a kingdom made up of people in whom God is incarnate, via his Spirit, made possible by the Son, and sustained by the Father.   God, the Father and Son, is sitting on the throne of this Kingdom in heaven and in the heart of his people. He reigns supreme.  Earth, however, is a divided kingdom. The Prince of this world, Satan, has also been allowed to take up powerful residence here. Sin, chaos, disease and death are in play. So it’s up to us as ambassadors of the King of Kings, to make the distinction clear. The kingdom of heaven is at hand!

Jesus says to be about healing, cleansing, staking a claim over death, and casting out the demons that rob the world of peace and joy. No, we may not do it exactly the same way that the Twelve did, but the same power is present in each of us today- the Holy Spirit’s power of life over death, the power of light over darkness.   Through the Spirit, be about rescuing, redeeming, and fighting against the effects of sin and death in this world. It matters.

Finally, he says not to worry about money or material stuff. That sounds familiar! (Matt 6) “You received without paying; don’t make others pay” with money or guilt or penance. Be a person of peace. You’ll recognize the other people of peace. Their peace will either rest on you or it won’t. It’s not complicated nor intellectual. Pray for it and watch expectantly. Stay where peace is resting and fruit is obvious.

Are you a “sent one?” These are pretty powerful marching orders. Ask God if He is sending you somewhere or to someone. Listen. Think. If you can’t get a place or someone out of your mind, ask again. And again. If you’re an apostle, you’ll know it. Now, go. March on.

You Can Do This

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Whoever hears these words of mine and does them…

Really? Surely these commands have been more like suggestions, right? It’s obvious that human beings can’t do this stuff.   Think about it.

Jesus said, in summary, “Blessed one, it’s really good to live like this: Work on your anger. Take purity of mind and body seriously. Stay true to your covenant relationships. Tell the truth. Don’t fight back. Love the people who seem to hate you. Fast, pray and give, but do that in secret. Love me more than money. Trust me all the time. Judge yourself first, then other people. Ask. Seek. Knock. Repeat endlessly. Think about how you want to be treated and then do that. Walk the narrow road; I’ll lead the way.”

If you’re like me, you say, “Uh Jesus, I can’t. That seems too hard. How about I just read those verses over and over and talk about them a lot? Isn’t that enough?”

The thing is, he said, “Anyone who hears these words of mine and does these things is like a wise man.” It seems to me that he thinks we can. In fact, he knows we can, because he did. He walked among us and knows every excuse. In fact, he thought it was so hard that he paid our penalty and then left part of himself inside of us to do the impossible. What more could he possibly do for us?

Watch this silent video representation of what it’s like to live Jesus’ way.   It’s like a wise man who built his house on a rock.  Notice the emotions that characterize the two fellows in their respective houses.

 

Did you catch it? The guy on the rock was rest-full. You could actually see peace on his face. The guy on the sand was literally rest-less. He was stressed. It didn’t end well for him.

Friends, our Father longs to give us really good things. Just like a good dad, he seeks peace and rest for his children. A little bit later in Matthew, Jesus 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…and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt 11:28-29)

Because free choice, and therefore sin and chaos, reign in this world, God the Father, Son and Spirit, says, “We won’t stop the rain from coming. In fact, we need you to know that it will come. BUT, we will walk with you, and together, we will go through the storms on solid ground. We won’t leave you. You can lie down and sleep, because we’ve got this. We’ve made our home in your heart, and you’ll be with us forever.”

I can do that.

The Road

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I recently returned from Haiti. Each day there, our team travelled along a dusty mountain road between two towns. From the back of a pickup truck, we witnessed life along this road, people and pack mules walking with their water and their wares on their head or astride their saddlebags, attending to the business of survival in a weary land. I couldn’t help but think of the narrow, road of life that Jesus described at the end of his great sermon.

Read Matthew 7: 13-23.

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy[a] that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

I’ve often seen the road Jesus talked about depicted as two roads. The wide one is obvious, passing by a vast array of sinful pleasures, and the narrow one is peaceful, leading to heaven. I think the wide and narrow road, however, are the same road. The wide road passes all the good places, just like our road in Haiti. It passes by churches and schools, the poor begging at the roadside, the neighbors in need of love and care. It passes by the community park, and the domino game or the bingo house. It’s a good road. People are doing good things on it, even great things! Christians can find themselves walking along the wide road with a good crowd and doing things in the name of the Lord, oblivious to the narrow road Jesus is longing for us to see and on which to walk with him.

You see, Jesus walked the same dusty road. He knows every temptation on both sides of the coin, the temptations to seek self-gratification for evil and for good. He knows the road inside and out, so he left part of himself inside us to walk it with us. On the communal, wide road of life, the Spirit is forging for us a narrow path. It doesn’t always make sense to the people around us, believer and non-believer alike, but it’s the road marked out for us. When we KNOW Jesus, we are led by this Spirit, and walking this narrow path is as natural as breathing in and out. It becomes obvious where we could not see it before. On this road, it is the Spirit that produces in us the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. We recognize other people walking with us, not by their roadside declarations of doctrine, but by lives characterized by the same fruit.

On the Haiti road, we saw people bearing witness to the kingdom of God. We saw men carrying a woman on a mat to the hospital, perhaps to have a baby. We saw children laughing and walking hand in hand. We saw mothers providing for their children. We saw men and women hard at work. We saw life being lived and bearing the fruit that lasts. Rich or poor, we are invited by a savior and lord that loves us so, to walk the narrow road with him.  It leads to life, abundant and eternal!