Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Commissioned Series: Week 4 - Commissioned by God

The movie Blues Brothers was a 1980’s cult hit that was based on a sketch from Saturday Night Live. Now, I know none of you have seen the movie, because it carries an “R” rating and no good Christian would ever see an “R” rated movie. But I saw the movie back before I was a Christian, and the basic premise of it, was that the two main characters were trying to raise $5,000 to save the orphanage they grew up in. One of the iconic lines from that movie was, “We’re on a mission from God”.

And for the last several weeks we’ve been talking about the actual mission from God that Jesus himself sent his disciples on, in what’s called the Great Commission. So today we’re going to return one final time to Matthew 28, verse 16 as we wrap up this series on the Great Commission.

For the last three weeks we have been really focusing on our side of the commission. We’ve talked about the the fact that God can use us in our doubts, just as he used the eleven disciples in their doubts. We’ve talked about how under Jesus’ authority, we have been delegated authority. And in that authority, we must always remember that any authority we have comes from Jesus, and we must not misuse that authority for our own temporary gain. And then last week, we talked about how we are called to disciple as Jesus discipled; as disciples who disciple others to make more disciples.

But one thing we haven’t talked about is God within the commission. Though we’ve mentioned God in the commission in so far as he is the Commissioner, and from him we are delegated authority, we haven’t explored how, who he is, is the very basis for the commission.
  So today, as we read through the passage one more time, I want us to focus on three words: worship, authority, and name. Now two of those words we’ve gone into detail about their meanings. But after we read through the passage of Matthew 28 verse 16-20, I want us to quickly review them, because we’ve had such an influx of people since we’ve talked about those words.
So let’s read and talk about the Great Commission in Matthew 28, starting in very 16.

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

There are those three words: worship, authority, and name. Let’s get a quick recap of the first two of the words: worship and authority.
Worship is the Greek word, proskuneó (pros-koo-neh’-o) meaning to give reverence to someone by getting down on your knees and kissing their feet. Jesus says early in the Gospel of Matthew that only God is worthy of proskuneó (pros-koo-neh’-o), of worship. If we were to read through the whole Gospel and at the end come to where Jesus is receiving proskuneó (pros-koo-neh’-o), it should strike a note in our mind, that by him accepting the worship of the disciples, he is communicating that he is in fact God.
The second word is authority, which is the Greek word, exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah), which means the power to act, the right to have, the freedom to do, or as most common, the authority over. We talked about how this word is mostly used in the New Testament in connection with God in general or Jesus’ specific authority. In fact the majority of the time we’re mentioned to have authority, is in telling us that our authority is bestowed or delighted from Jesus.

I want us to understand these two ideas of worship directed towards Jesus, and Jesus having authority over everything, because the rest of the time, we’re going to be spending focused on the third word, name, and these two words interact with the concept of God’s name in the Old Testament.
Jesus says in verse 19, “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…”

Names in the ancient world were very important. Today we tend try to name kids with names that sound good, or that someone important to us had, or in more recent years, we try to come up with names that might be common, but have unique spellings.
For me, a lot of people comment on my name because it’s in the Bible and I’m a pastor, but actually my Dad named me Jeremiah after Jeremiah Johnson the mountain man. And my middle Daniel was after Daniel Boone. My sister, named her daughter Abigail Nicole Wood, because they wanted a name that couldn’t be easily made fun of. It wasn’t until after she was born that someone noticed that her initials were ANW, like the root beer. 
But the purpose for names today is very different than the purpose of giving names in the past. As probably most of you know, names carried with them, not just a way to identify a person, but also the essence or future of that person.
And so when Jesus tells his disciples to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, he is revealing something deeper than a simple procedural step in the baptism ceremony. He’s revealing an aspect of who God is that had only been alluded to in the Old Testament.

And I think that by understanding the names in which God gives himself, do we get a greater sense of why we are being commissioned to make disciples of all nations. 

Today, I want us to look at five names God gives himself in the Old Testament that reveal the heart of God in commissioning us.

Now, there are about sixteen names of God in the Old Testament, but we’re only looking at the ones that God specifically gives himself. The other eleven are names given to God by people as they experience who he is. But the five we’re going to look at are the ones that God specifically calls himself. And as we’ll see, the names in which God calls himself, reveal the God who commissions us.

Let’s start with the book of Genesis chapter 17 verse 1. The context is that God is speaking to the man Abram right after Abram tried to fulfill God’s promise his own way, and right before God fulfills his own promise. Genesis 17:1 reads, “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless.’”
This first name is El Shaddai, which means God Almighty. This name focuses on the authority of God over all things. In other words, nothing is greater than God. Jesus echoes this exact idea when he says in Matthew 28:18, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
Just as we discussed two weeks, Jesus returning to his authority after his death and resurrection, the first name God gives to himself in the Old Testament, is the name of the one who has all authority.

Now the last four names all come form the book of Exodus. 
First, let’s go to Exodus chapter 3 verse 14. In the last couple of decades there has been a revival of this particular name in common use. The context is Moses speaking to God in the burning bush. Moses asks God to give him a name to tell the people as to who it was that sent him. So God responds with this, “God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I am has sent me to you.”’”
This second name is Yahweh, or Yahovah. This is seen as the true name of God, by the Jewish people. It is used over 6,500 times in the Old Testament. But it was seen as so holy, that the Jews stopped using it altogether and replaced it with Adonai. In fact the correct pronunciation of Yahweh has been lost to time, because of this. Even the name Adonai has started to be seen as too holy, and so the name HaShem has gained more traction over the years, which simply means “The Name.” But the name Yahweh or Yahocah has the connotation that God is far removed from us in the sense that he is distinct from his creation and unique among it. Each of us is need of something, God is not. Each of us came from someone, God did not.  Each of us is limited, God is not. All of this is wrapped up in the name Yahweh, I am that I am, or as we could also say, the Unique One. 

The second name found in Exodus comes in chapter 15, verse 26. Here God is calling the people of Israel to follow him so that he can keep them from the judgments he had to place on the Egyptians. This is what he tells them in Exodus 15:26, “He said, ‘If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.’”
This name is Yahweh Rawfaw, the God who heals. The prophet Isaiah said this about Jesus’ death in the 5th verse of the 53rd chapter of his book, it reads, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
God’s desire is that the grief, pain, sorrow, and afflictions of humanity would be healed. But that healing is only found in the God who heals. And that God is the Jesus who lived to die, who by his death and resurrection brings healing to our lives.

The third name found in the book of Exodus, is found in chapter 31, verse 13. In this passage God is calling the people to a day of rest and worship. A day of communion between them and him. A day where they would trust God for their safety and their sustaining. And God reveals his intent for this day of rest when he tells Moses this in the 13th verse of chapter 31, “‘Say to the Israelites, “You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy.’”
The Sabbath, or day of rest, was meant to sanctify the people. Which means God was working in their lives to bring them closer to himself. God is holy, or set a part, perfect, we saw this in his name Yahweh. But God does not want us to be separated from him, and so any that would follow him, he makes holy. So he gives himself the name, Yahweh M-qadash. The Lord who heals.
This is fully revealed and accomplished in Jesus, who Paul the writer of the letter to Ephesians tells the husbands to be like. In Ephesians 5:25 and 26 Paul writes, “25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word…”
God’s desire is to make us holy, but why do we need to be made holy? Because the Bible tells us that when we break even one of God’s commands, it taints us. Again the prophet Isaiah says this in his 63rd chapter, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away (v.6).”
God recognizes, and if we’re honest with ourselves we recognize too, that even on our best day, we’re not perfect. Even in my best deeds, there’s a hint of selfish reasoning behind it. Because if I compare myself, not to the people around me, but to God’s standard of good, then I fall far short. But through Jesus’ work on the cross, taking the punishment for sin on our behalf, God cleanses us from any imperfection we have.

This brings us to our final name of God. In Exodus chapter 34 verse 14, God is calling Moses and the people into a legal contract called a covenant, where he will be their God, and they will be his people. Both sides have a responsibility to that contract. And to the people God gives them this warning.  “Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” God gives himself the name Qanna [kan-naw’]. There are a couple of different Hebrew words that mean jealous, but qanna is the only word meaning jealous that is used of God. And it means that he is the only one who is the rightful recipient of the people’s worship, because he is the one who created them. 
Most of the time jealousy has the connotation of wanting what isn’t yours and being upset that you didn’t get it. And in fact that is what God himself implies in Exodus 20:17. But that type of jealousy is desiring what is not yours, but when God calls himself jealous, he is after those things that are his. A husband can be jealous of his wife, because his wife committed herself to him in her vows, and the same of the wife towards the husband. 
Those who enter into a relationship with God through Jesus, God is jealous for. Because we are his. He created us, he is worthy of our all.

These five names of God paint this picture:

  God is all-powerful, therefore he is Creator of all things.

God is unique, and therefore beyond his creation.

God seeks to heal the brokenness in our lives from the sin we have caused.

God desires to cleanses us of all sin that would lead us to death.

God wants us, because he is deserving of us.

We are commissioned by this God, who paints his work with us through the names he gives himself. 

He is El Shaddai, the all-powerful. He is Yahweh, the unique one. He is Yahweh Rawfaw, the God who heals our brokenness. He is Yahweh M-qadash, the one who cleanses us. And he is Quanna, the God who is deserving of us.

This paints the picture of God’s relentless pursuit of us. We each have gone our own direction, desiring ourselves over the One that created us. But in so doing, we have brought pain and hurt and destruction to not only ourselves, but the world around us. Injustice prevails. War destroys. Families are broken. Famines and diseases run rampant. And it starts with the sin, the rebellion the we as individuals have against God. Yet God still seeks us. The all-powerful one, who is nothing like us, stills seeks to heal and cleanses us. And in response we must accept what he has done through Jesus. 
We must accept his gift of the forgiveness of our sins, and follow him the rest of our lives. Becoming his disciple, and discipling others along the way.

Jesus gives us a new name for God, a name that Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson argues is the proper name for God. “…in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Today, we must seek to know this God who is revealed to us. We must grapple with the ideas of who God is. Because the identify of God, is the most important question that will ever be presented to us. Jesus’ words, “Who do you say I am? (Mark 8:29)” Echo from his first disciples, to us today.  
In grappling with this question, C.S. Lewis once wrote, “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to (Mere Christianity).”

My challenge for you today is this. If you have not accepted Jesus as your Savior, nor do you know what that even means, then you must seek the answer to the question “Who is Jesus?” Is he the God who reveals himself to be apart from us, yet willing to die for us even in our rebellion against him, or is he nothing. There is no in-between. If he is the God who died for us, then that means that you, like me, are a sinner. And we need Jesus’ forgiveness for those things that we have done against him. We must confess that we are a sinner and that Jesus in his mercy saved us from the fate of sin which is struggle on earth and eternal death.
But if he is nothing, then all purpose we suppose we have, is in fact false. There is no God, no moral or ethics, there is no afterlife, there is only the hear and now and dust. As the atheist William Provine wrote in his book Scientists, Face it! Science and Religion are Incompatible, “No inherent moral or ethical laws exist, nor are there any absolute guiding principles for human society. The universe cares nothing for us and we have no ultimate meaning in life…”
There are two choices in the matter, and each one of us needs to make that choice. And that choice’s ramification, is either we die and no one is the wiser, or we will continue into eternity. And so I plead with you today to seek Jesus, wrestle with who he says he is, and accept him as Savior from sin, and Lord of your life.

And to you who have accepted Jesus as your Savior, my challenge to you is simple, take the names of God that we have studied today, and seek him in how his names effect how you carry out the commission you have been sent on. Do you live as if God is all-powerful? Do you understand the uniqueness of God from his creation? Do you understand his healing and cleansing work? And do you understand how worthy of your worship he truly is?

Let us leave here, desiring a deeper encounter with the God who gives himself the names in which we are to know him. So that we may know him deeper than we have ever done before. Amen.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Commissioned Series: Week 3 - Commissioned with Purpose

Every few years the teenagers go through this video series called Gospel Journey: Maui. In that series, this guy name Zane tells a story of a little kid from a camp he worked at. Zane’s a skateboarder and when he walked in to his cabin, he saw this little kid who had his skateboard upside down spinning the wheels. As Zane tells it, the kid was having a blast just sitting there spinning the wheels around and around. That’s when he walked over and told the kid, that he could teach him what the board was supposed to be used for. The kid agreed, and Zane proceeded to flip the skateboard over, and started teaching the kid the true purpose of the board. The kid had an even greater time, when he understood the purpose behind the skateboard.
Because the reality is, when we understand the purpose behind something, then we can better utilize what we have been given to accomplish it’s purpose, and the more joy we can get from that which we’re a part of.

And it’s this idea of understanding what we’re suppose to do with the commission we’ve been given, that brings us into our third week of our commissioned series. This week we’ll be jumping back into the Great Commission passage of Matthew chapter 28 verse 16. 

Now in the last two weeks we have been diving deep into this passage to better understand what it means to do the work that God has called us to. 
In the first week, we talked about the context of the passage. In this context we focused in on the fact that the disciples met Jesus on a mountain where they worshipped him. But as they worshiped him, there was still doubts as to whether or not Jesus was truly the Messiah. It was on this point that we recognized that even though we may have doubts, God can still use us. He still used these disciples when they doubted, and he can use us as well.
Then in our second week we tackled the idea of what it means to be commissioned in Jesus’ authority. Jesus said he had all authority in heaven and on earth, and since we are the ones being commissioned we asked, how do we work within that authority. This is where we went pretty deep into what is the authority that Jesus bestows on us to complete this commissioning. We walked away with the information that we have several areas that we are given authority in, but at the core of that authority is the fact that we have to be completely reliant on Jesus to enact it and that we are not to misuse that authority. 
Now with three verses out of the way, let’s dive into Matthew chapter 28, verse 16. Where we’ll read through the short passage again.

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Today I want us to ask the question, what exactly am being told to do by Jesus? See what I’ve found, is that we tend to use ideas that are method base, rather than Scripturally derived. What do I mean by that?
Well one method base approach to being commissioned are tracks. If you don’t know, a track is a simple mini-booklet with information about the Gospel and how to receive Jesus as Savior. Now, I’m not saying tracks are bad, or any other method of sharing the Gospel is necessarily bad, but rather, we allow those simple methods to take the place of what we are called to do. Instead of utilizing methods, such as tracks in a commissioned drive understanding, I’ve seen them used with the mindset of, “I’ll just give ‘em a track and I’ve done my duty.” Which I must confess I have done myself.
But, what we see from Jesus is a more time-consuming work. It’s not method focused, but rather relationally burden. So let us dive into what exactly Jesus was calling his disciples to, and us as well, when he spoke the words of commission that we just read.

Let’s return to verse 19 and really understand what Jesus said.

“Therefore go.” I have heard these two words used in two ways. One way is, we got to get out there and spread the Word. Which is true. The other way is, as you live your life, spread the Word. Which is also true. One approach is aggressive; get out there and get ur’ done! You’re street evangelism type of approach. The other approach is more passive; as God brings people into your life, then you should share. This is the, wait and see when I can bring it up in a conversation approach. I think both have their place and both can be effective. But I think that these two approaches miss the totality of what Jesus is saying with these two words.
See the Greek word that’s used for “therefore”, is poreuomai (por-you’-om-ah-ha-ee), which instead of being translated as “Therefore go”, or “Go therefore”, it’s better translated as “having gone.” Which, when I first came across this exact translation, I didn’t understand what it meant. But there was this gnawing at the back of my head to go deeper. So, I spent more time than probably I should have, to find that the implication of the word wasn’t a future goal. As if we had a clear cut destination to arrive at. "Therefore go”, implies that Jesus sending the disciples on a new journey to a specific place, but that’s not what the word poreuomai (por-you’-om-ah-ha-ee) implies. 
The implication of the word would be better understood as, continue the journey you’ve been on. See Jesus isn’t telling the disciples or us, I’m sending you on a new job assignment, rather he is telling the disciples to not give up on the original call he gave them. To Peter, James and John, Jesus walked along the shore and called them to be fishers of men. He is now telling them, to keep going forward with that same call. 
This makes sense, because some of them are doubting Jesus, doubting why they’re there. So he’s encouraging them to not give up, that their original call to be his disciples was not in vain. So they are to continue as they were called.

But then Jesus tells the disciples what their work is to be as they continue down this road. “…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.”

Jesus gives us three aspects of the commission.

First, to make disciples. Up to this point, Jesus’ closes disciples have been in the training process. Everything they did was under Jesus’ direct tutelage. He taught them something, and then sent them out to practice it. They came back and told what happened, and the process began again. This happened twice in the the Gospels; once in Matthew chapter 10 with the sending out of the original 12, and then in Luke chapter 10 with the sending out of the 72.
But now, it was their turn to be the teacher. The word disciple here, is mathéteuó (math-ate-you’-o), which means, train another in the way you have been trained. Jesus is telling his disciples to train others as he trained them.

Second, they are to baptize. Literally they are to dip people in water as a sign of that person’s discipleship. This outward symbol would connect them to Jesus’ in his death and resurrection. This is part of discipleship. We are called to baptism. Not because it saves, but rather because it’s walking in obedience to Jesus’. And when we walk in obedience, Jesus himself says in the Gospel of John, that we show that we love him (John 14:15). But did you notice that the criteria to be able to baptize another person is simply to be a disciple yourself? If you are a disciple of Jesus, then you are commissioned to baptize other disciples. I personally am not special because my title is Reverend. A title does not give you the authority to baptize. Jesus gives his disciples the commission to baptize, so we need to do it.
On a side note, you might notice that we’re skipping over the name in which Jesus directs us to baptize in, we’ll look at that more in-depth next week.

But it doesn’t stop there, Jesus goes more in depth about what exactly the disciples are suppose to train people in. Jesus says, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Jesus want’s the disciples to disciple others as they were discipled. That means, he doesn’t want them to start making up new teachings. Jesus wants the disciples to help people understand his teachings. And the Greek word for obey téreó (tay-reh’-o), conveys the idea that Jesus wants the disciples to help people guard every part of his teachings in their lives. Jesus wants the commands that he gave to these first disciples, communicated to every generation of disciple thereafter in a continuous cycle of disciples making disciples who make disciples. 
Taking all of this together, we can see that this commission that we are given is not simply handing a person a track, or giving one Gospel presentation, or calling them to the alter at a worship service. All these things can be effective, but we’re called to something more. We’re called to a life’s work of training others to follow Christ, as we have been trained to follow him. Each of us is called, not to just share the Gospel with someone, but to be a teacher of the life of Christ, who we know ourselves. We see this type of discipleship model with Barnabas and Paul, and then Paul and Timothy. We see this with Peter and Mark. John and the churches in Asia Minor. 

Right now in the US, about 65% of adults say that they are Christian ( That’s about 165,000,000 people. Yet, a poll done of church attendance that looked at just attendance numbers rather than asking individuals, put the number at around 24% being in regular attendance ( That means that on an average Sunday morning, we’re looking at around 40,000,000 people attending a church. Which means, about 125,000,000 people are most likely not getting discipled on a regular basis. Could they be attending places that doesn’t count attendance, could be. Could they be attending small groups, or house churches, that could be also. But there is definitely a gap in the discipleship making process when we can look around in our society and see it breaking down all around us.

And for once I’m going to point fingers at who’s fault I think it is. It’s mine. It’s the leadership of the Church as a whole for generations. It’s the pastors and leaders who have taught you that all you need to do is give a track, or invite your friend to a church service and you’ve done your duty. That all you need to do is follow a simple method, that doesn’t require any blood, sweat or tears from you. Just maybe an awkward moment in time. But the reality is, that’s wrong. Can we utilize methods like a track? Yes. Can we use simple Gospel presentations? Yes. Should we invite friends to the church? Yes. But we are called to so much more. Each of us as individuals are called to disciple people as the original disciples were called to. Jesus lived with them for about there and half years. He taught them on a regular basis. Corrected them, encouraged them, showed them what it meant to walk the path of God.
Paul spent about that same amount of time when he was in Corinth, and when he established churches. 
But this type of discipleship takes time, it takes effort, it takes a denying of self for another’s sake. It’s being asked the same questions over and over again and watching some succeed and fail. It’s having great victories and major defeats. It’s following up in the lives of those we’ve given the track to. It’s following up with those we’ve shared the Gospel with. It’s following up with our friend about attending the church. 
Listen to Paul’s heart for the disciples of the Colossians Church in his letter to them, "21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
24 Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me (1:21-27).

The type of commission that we are called to is one where are lives are spent building up others in the faith. Will we be there fore every aspect of a person’s disciplined life? No, we’ll move in and out. Using biblical imagery, some will plant, others will harvest (1 Corinthians 3:6-9). But all of us need to be working together as disciples who disciple.

And our response might be, I’m not qualified. I’m not a pastor with a degree, or outgoing enough for something like this. And my response to that is, you’re not. But I’m not either. None of us are. Even the the eleven disciples, as they were standing on that mountain being commissioned by Jesus, were not qualified for what he was sending them out to do. But that’s why his last words were so important, "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (v.20).”
It is not you, you have to rely on, it is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in you, which you received when you accepted Jesus as you’re Savior. Or as Paul put it to the Colossians church in that passage we just read, “To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (1:27).”
Christ is in you if you have accepted Jesus as your Savior. God himself dwells with you. That was the final point of our ARK Series. You are God’s ark of his presence on earth. We are not called to give theological proofs, we are not called to answer the question of the universe, we are called to teach Christ’s teachings, building up disciples who make disciples, giving responses for the hope we hold.
I challenge you every week, because we need to grow in our faith. We cannot become dormant, waiting for either the day Jesus returns or our going to him in death. I take this discipleship process very seriously, it’s what we are commissioned to do. We cannot stop at the Gospel presentation and think we’re done. We must go deeper ourselves, we must teach the deeper life of Christ to others. Because we are commissioned for this very work. 

So my challenge for you this week is simple, ask yourself the question who am I discipling? Am I teaching them the teachings of Christ? Am I giving them that which I received? Am I pouring into them so that they would understand the riches of Jesus? Or am I doing my minimum duty that I think is required of me? Yet I’ve never trained up a disciple, never poured out my blood, my sweat, my tears on their behalf. 

If you can point to people that you can definitively say, yes I have discipled them, then ask, have you communicated to them that they too need to make disciples? Because that’s the end goal, disciples who make disciples, who make disciples.
If you can’t point to a person who you can definitely say yes to, then this is not a condemnation, but an encouragement to seek God for the opportunity to share in that disciple making role that you have been commissioned to.

If we would each make it our goal in life to disciple two people, who would then disciple two people, then the churches that are closing their doors today, would have to build new rooms for the disciples that are about to come. 
Let us be the people that God commissioned to this life-lived discipleship process. Amen.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Commissioned Series: Week 2 - Commissioned in Authority

In my last two years of high school I had a coach, who was the parent of one of the players. He started coaching the year before I arrived at the school, and won the league. I had high hopes for the team when I joined, because they only lost one player, and were gaining several others. But my hopes were quickly dashed, when I realized what kind of coach he was. Instead of teaching his players, he would berate them.
I remember my first pre-season game my senior year with the team. We were playing against a team a division above ours and I was pitching. By the third inning, I had allowed 1 run, but they had kept us to 0. Their pitcher was either really good, or as I believed, we just weren’t prepared. Up to that point in practice I had taken five swings against a live pitcher. In two innings were the pitcher had struck out six players in a row. Then in the third inning, the first batter came up, strikeout; the second came up, strikeout; then it was my turn. The coach always put me last in the batting lineup when I pitched, even though when I played the field I hit 5th. But here I was hitting ninth. The opposing pitcher had eight straight strikeouts, and was looking for the ninth. I wasn’t going to let that happen. The first pitch I was given I hit, a ground ball to the shortstop, my team were on their feet cheering me on. I ran as hard as I could to beat out the throw and a split second before my right foot hit the bag, the ball reached the first baseman. I was out, the inning was over. I hustled back to the dugout and the first words out of my coach’s mouth were shouted at me, “You hit the bag with the wrong foot!”
Instantly I was furious. I tried not to respond as I entered the dugout to grab my glove, as he berated me for not hitting the bag with the correct foot. See, the general accepted technique to stepson a bag in baseball is with the left foot. This allows for the body to make a left turn easier when going to second base. And as I grabbed my glove the constant yelling from the coach finally broke me. My 5’11 skinny frame lunged at the 5’6” portly man, and if I would have gotten a hold of him, I don’t know what I would have done. Luckily my teammates grabbed me. I left then and there in a furious mood. Eventually I apologized for my behavior, never receiving one in return. 
Years later, I met one of the shortstops from the other team who remembered me from that game. He told me that after I left, they destroyed us, a fact none of my teammates let me know. 
My dad told me once, that he asked the principle why they kept that coach around, and the answer was, he got them free equipment through his work, and when his son graduated, he would be gone.

I never like that coach, because I believe he used his authority as a coach to berate and demean his players, going so far as the during year they won their league, chasing a player with a bat. No one on the team liked him, the staff tolerated him, but everyone saw, that this man was given authority and was not worthy of it. 

And it’s this idea of authority and using it correctly that brings us back into the text of Matthew 28, verses 16 through 20; where, last week, we began to dissect, what is commonly referred to as the Great Commission. We started down this path, because as we talked about at the end of our ARK Series, when a person puts their trust into Jesus as their Savior, they are indwelled with the Holy Spirit and are now the ark of God’s presence on earth.
In our first week of the year, we tackled the context of the Great Commission. And in the context, we saw three important points: First, the disciples met Jesus on a mountain. The eye witness Matthew pointed this out, because mountains represented encounters with God throughout the Old Testament. The second point we noticed, was that the disciples worshiped Jesus. Matthew points this out, because Jesus himself makes the clear proclamation that only God is worthy to be worshiped (Matthew 4:9). So by the disciples worshiping Jesus, and by him receiving that worship, Jesus infers that he is God Almighty. The last point we saw last week, and the one that we walked away applying to our own lives, was the fact that Matthew pointed out that there was still disciples that were doubting. We talked about how even in their, and in our, doubt, God can still use us.

With the context understood, we can now jump back into the Great Commission of Matthew 28, verses 16-20. And like we said last week, we’re going to read through the whole passage and then focus on a particular verse or verses. So let’s read together starting in verse 16 of Matthew chapter 28.

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Like we said last week, when we understand the context of the disciples encountering God on a mountain, worshiping him and yet still having doubts, it puts into perspective the words of Jesus that follow their doubting. 

In verse 18, Jesus speaks and says these important words, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to.”

These words are in direct response to their doubting. Jesus is saying that there is no need to doubt because he has all authority in the universe. But today, I want us to focus on three words from this passage, “all”, “authority”, and “given”.

The reason I want us to stop and focus on these three words, is because when we glance over these words, I have found that people misapply their meanings and come up with all sorts of beliefs from them.

So today we’re going deep into Scripture so that we can fully understand the meaning behind what Jesus is saying in this verse and how we are to respond with what he is calling us to do. First, let’s tackle the first and the last words, because the one in the middle is the most troublesome it seems.

The word all, is the Greek word pas (pas), which means the parts making up the whole. Simply put, it’s a jigsaw puzzle. All the pieces of the puzzle are brought together to make the whole. In this case, it’s the pieces of heavenly authority and earthly authority.
One of the harder things to understand about Jesus, is that on earth he is both fully God and fully man. And as such, Jesus actually excludes himself from using his divine power. Paul says it like this in Philippians 2:6-7, “Who (Jesus), being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”
Those words, “he made himself nothing”, literally mean, he emptied (Greek: kenoó [ken-o’-o]) himself of his divine power.
And we see this through Jesus’ earthly ministry. In John 5:19 it reads, “Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”
Later on in verse 30 of that same chapter Jesus says, “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.”
Earlier in Matthew’s book, satan, recognizes that Jesus has put away his divine power when he became a human and so entices Jesus to break this emptying in Matthew chapter 4 verse 3 where it reads, “The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’”
And so, when Jesus says, all authority, he is making a point to let us know that on earth, he only had some authority, which was the authority given to him to accomplish certain tasks. But now, all, every piece of his divine authority had been restored.

Which brings us to the word given. The Greek word didómi (did’-o-mee), has the idea behind it that something is being bestowed. In that Philippians passage, if we were to pick it up in verse 9 it reads, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
As Jesus completes his earthly work, which started with him emptying himself of his divine power, he is restored by God the Father in all of his infinite power and status.

Taking these two words together, we can now read verse 18 like this: Every aspect of Jesus’ divine authority, which he had emptied himself of, has been restored to him, because of his work on earth and through the cross.

Now, for some of us, maybe most of us, these two ideas are commonly understood. But there are those that want to either bring Jesus down to merely an exulted human or lift him him beyond human limitations, but the Scriptures won’t allow those interpretations. Instead, the understanding of Jesus being fully God and fully man, with the limitations of a human while on earth is the Scriptural view of Jesus’ earthly work.
But I’ve noticed that when it comes to the word authority, there is a lot of misunderstanding. I have seen this lead into one major misinterpretation of what authority means in Scripture and in the life of the believer.

And so, let us dive into what Scripture has to say about authority.

Now, we can go in one of two directions with the time we have left. We can either talk about Jesus’ authority or we can talk about the believer’s role in that authority. Through my time in prayer, it has been pressed on me that we need to focus on our role in authority, because more and more I have seen it be misinterpreted. Many people understand that Jesus’ authority is infinite and all encompassing. But what about the believer? And so I want to bring us to the misinterpretation of authority in the believer’s life first, and dive into what the Scriptures have to say about it.

One of the more common misinterpretations I have heard, uses verses like Romans 4:17. The verse reads, “As it is written: ‘I have made you a father of many nations.’ He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.”
The common paraphrase that I’ve heard focuses’ solely on the last phrase of the verse and sounds like this, “We as believers can call things into being, things that were not.”
Not only is it taking the verse out of context, inserting us when the verse doesn’t mention us at all, but it gives us authority to do things that only God can do. This misinterpretation has at it’s core a misunderstanding of where we stand in authority.

So let’s get into what the Scriptures say about authority and what it means in our lives.

First, the word used of authority in Matthew 28:18, is the Greek word, exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah). Exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah) means the power to act, the right to have, the freedom to do. And so Jesus is saying in Matthew 28:18, that all powers to act, and all rights to have and all freedoms to do, are his.

But this word appears a lot in the New Testament, in fact it appears 102 times, and in almost every book.
Of these 102 times, we can break that down into 5 categories. First, the references to God or Jesus’ authority is referenced in 31 verses. Second, in reference to the believer there are 19 verses. Third, in reference to earthly governments we’re at 12 verses. Fourth, to satanic authority, there are 14 verses. And finally, the miscellaneous use of the word, with another 16 verses.
In several of these verses the term authority is used multiple times, and the Greek word gets translated into authority, power, right, and freedom. 
But right off the bat, we can see the main focus of the word authority in the New Testament, far and above all other uses, exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah) is focused on God’s authority, his power, his right, and his freedom.

And so, when Jesus says that all authority in heaven and on earth is his, we can see throughout the New Testament, just what that means. And if you would like a list of these verses that talk about God’s authority, come tonight to our sermon discussion and I can given them to you.
But like I said earlier, there is a misunderstanding of what the role of the believer has when it comes to authority. And so, I think it best to allow the Scriptures to dictate to us what role in authority or what authority God didómi (did’-o-mee), or bestows to us. So let’s focus on those. 

In the 19 verses that connect believers to authority, all 5 (Matt. 10:1; Mark 3:15, 6:7; Luke 9:1, 10:19) in the first three Gospels, reference Jesus giving authority to cast out demons, heal the sick, and proclaim the kingdom of God. The only reference in John’s Gospel (1:12) talks about a believer’s right to become a child of God. In the rest of the New Testament, there are five references to ministers of the Gospel having a right to compensation (1 Corinthians 9:4, 5, 6, 12,18; 2 Thessalonians 3:9). Two references to church discipline (2 Corinthians 10:8; 13:10). One reference is in having authority over, or being in control of our sexual appetites (1 Corinthians 7:37). One reference tells us to not misuse our authority or our freedom (1 Corinthians 8:9). Then there is one reference to being identified with Jesus in his suffering (Hebrews 13:10). And the last three references come from the book of Revelation where we’re told that when we overcome we’ll receive authority to judge nations (2:26), the second death has no authority over us (20:6), and we’ll have the authority or right to eat of the tree of life (22:14).

So now all that said, what can we glean from the authority that we have in Scripture? Well first, we’re intimately connected with Christ who has the authority.  In 10 of the 19 verses the believer has no authority apart from Christ. Any authority we have comes from him, and is done at his command. That’s really important, because where he has every piece of authority, we only have a piece. 
This is why Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” We are merely a representation of the authority that Christ wields.
Next, five of the verses show us that we should be in support of those engaged in ministry. So as believers we need to be looking for those ministry that are sharing the Gospel through speaking the word, caring for those in need, and honoring God though it. I’m not saying you should support the Alliance ministry, though I think you should, what I am saying is that you need to be led by God to find the ministries he wants you to support. 
Then, two of the verses tell us that there is a structure in the Church of correcting Church related matters, and so we need to be under that authority. Each of us then, is called to a group of believers so that we can be accountable. If you’re not in such a group, then you’re actually missing out on the blessing that it brings. Because none of us is supposed to be a loner in this family of God.
Next, one verse calls us to be in control of our sexual desires. Really that means in control of our whole body. Our physical desires should not control us, but rather we should be in control of them
And finally, one verses tells us to not misuse any aspect of this authority. Not to misuse our thinking about where the authority comes from. Not misuse what ministries we support. Not misuse the accountability and fellowship of believers. Not misuse our bodies. 

So the authority that Christ bestows to his disciples, is to spread the Gospel, support each other in spreading the Gospel, be humble in our spiritual walks by being accountable to other, be in control of our bodies, and to not misuse any of it.
It makes sense that this is the authority that we are bestowed by Christ, because the first two words following Jesus’ proclamation that he has all authority in heaven and on earth is “Therefore go…” 
Each of us is to share the Gospel, each of us is called to support the sharing of the Gospel, each of us is called to a body of believers to be accountable, each of us is called to bring our desires under Christ’s rule, and each of us is called to not misuse any of it.

We are called by the authority of Jesus to conduct ourselves as he calls us. Not into what our own desires have for us, but what his desire is for us. We do not call those things that were not into being into being, but rather, we speak the words of Jesus, “Very truly I tell you, the Son (the believer) can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son (the believer) also does (John 5:19).”

My challenge for you this week is to take inventory of your life. First, in what areas are you trying to have authority, when the authority hasn’t been given to you? Sometimes, we try to force God into doing our will, but it is his will we need to be seeking. Second, in the areas of authority he has given you, what are you not following through in? Sharing the Gospel, supporting ministries, being accountable to others, not letting your desires overcome you, or just misusing it for your benefit and not Christ’s. 
Jesus has only given us authority in a very narrow area, and even so, there’s a lot to be done with it. What are we trying to do beyond that? 

Let us be God’s people, a people under Jesus’ authority, working out the limited authority he has given us today. Amen.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

The Commissioned Series: Week 1 - Commissioned in Doubt

When Marika and I were in our first year of marriage, we led a missions team down to Honduras for two months. While we were getting trained to lead this group, we had to attend a week long leadership camp, where they pushed us both physically and mentally. For the most part, I was fine, because most of the tasks weren’t out of the realm of my abilities. That is until we got to a challenge called the high ropes course.
Now, if you’ve never experienced a high ropes course, let me tell you it’s all in the name. It’s high above the ground with all you have to support you are the ropes, and it’s an obstacle course to navigate through. Personally, ropes and courses are fine with me; I’ll run a course, and play with ropes all day long. It’s when you take those two things and put them twenty feet high above the ground that I start to doubt my abilities. Because I don’t have a fear of high places, but of long drops.
In order to get me through the course, as I held on for dear life, Marika, who didn’t seem to have any trouble with the whole situation, spent the whole of the time encouraging me every step of the way. But the most harrowing part of the course, and the part that almost all of our group failed at, was this thing called the “X”. It was the final challenge of the course, and you had to accomplish it with a partner. 
The challenge went like this: You faced your partner, put your arms out, and held each other’s hands in front of you. Then you made your way onto two ropes that gradually moved away from each other. The object of the challenge was to lean on your partner’s hands as your feet moved out from under you. You would eventually get to a position of almost being parallel to the ground.
I obviously had my doubts, but through Marika’s encouragement we were the only two from our group who finished the whole thing without falling. And that is why I will never do another ropes course for the rest of my life. I beat it, and so I will end as a champion.

But it’s this idea of doubting that brings us to a new series as we kick off this new year. We ended last year with our Ark series, finalizing it with the understanding that if we have accepted Jesus as our Savior, then the Holy Spirit has been given to us, making us the ark of God’s presence in this world. 
This is done through Jesus’ death on the cross, his resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of God the Father.
Recently, I had a conversation with someone where the idea of apostleship and commissioning were brought up. Through that conversation and my prayer time following it, I was brought to a point where I understood God’s leading for us to talk about what it means to be commissioned by God. What it means for a believer to carry the presence of God in this world.

So for the next several weeks, we’re going to unpack one of the Alliance’s core passages, Matthew 28, the Great Commission. So if you have you’re Bibles, we’re going to be camping out in Matthew chapter 28 verse 16-20 for the coming weeks, as we dive deep into what it means to be commissioned by God and carry his presence into the world.

And as we open to Matthew 28, verse 16, I want to bring us up to speed on where we’re at in the passage and why we’re beginning where we are.
First off, let’s talk about the passage in it’s context. We’re coming at the end of one of the original twelve disciple’s Gospel account of Jesus. So as we read this, this commissioning is from an eyewitness account. Through the eyewitness of Matthew, we are given insight, not just of the words of Jesus, but of the state of mind of the disciples. Matthew’s Gospel is also undeniably focused on connecting Jesus with the Old Testament. So throughout his writing, we are brought back to Old Testament ideas. When we come to this passage, were coming directly after the resurrection, where we’re not told the number many days that have passed, just that Jesus is risen, and the disciples are to meet with him. Matthew ends his account of Jesus’ ministry here, because it’s where we see Jesus passing of the torch, of his work to the disciples. That’s the passage in context of where we find it.

The Second thing I want to point out is where we’re starting the passage. Though most translations start the passage in verse 16 with the heading, “The Great Commission,” when most people talk about the Great Commission, they’re usually only talking about verses 18-20. But for me, the situation that the disciples find themselves in, and that Jesus is speaking into, is just as important as the words that Jesus uses. Because as we’ll see, the words Jesus uses reflect the state of mind that the disciples are in. Therefore, I believe that we need to make sure we encompass verses 16 and 17 into the Great Commission to fully understand it.

So let’s do just that. We’ll read through the entire passage, and then go back and start to unpack it. Let’s start reading the Great Commission in Mathew 28, starting in verse 16.

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Alright, a lot is going on this is passage, so let’s focus on verses 16 and 17 today. In these two verses, Matthew gives us the location and the state of mind of the disciples as they see Jesus resurrected. 

First, let’s talk about location. Verse 16 reads, “16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.” In Matthew’s Gospel, mountain is mentioned twelve times. Nine of those are in connection to seven physical locations. The devil tempts Jesus on a mountain in chapter 4. Jesus delivers a sermon from a mountainside in chapter 5. Jesus goes to a mountain to pray in chapter 14. Jesus is transfigured on a mountain in chapter 17. In the end times, Jesus says that people are to flee to the mountains in chapter 24. And finally the mountain where the disciples are in this passage. 
Why is this important? Because Matthew’s focus on mountains, is a direct connection to the Old Testament understanding that to meet with God, is to meet him on his holy mountain. Abraham meets God on a mountain when he is called to sacrifice Issac. Moses meets God on the mountain where he receives the commandments. Elijah meets God on the mountain where he is encouraged to return to ministry. 
It’s where we get our phrase mountain top experience. The mountain being closer to the stars, is connected with the idea that the further up you go from the earth, the closer you are to heaven. Therefore, God meets you on the top of mountains.
So the fact that Matthew is pointing out that the disciples met Jesus on the mountain is significant. How significant? Let’s move into verse 17.

“17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” In verse 17 we’re given an action, and a state of mind. Let’s focus on the action first.
Matthew says that the disciples “worshiped him”. The word Matthew uses here is, proskuneó (pros-koo-neh’-o), which sounds a little like prostrating. And in fact means something similar. Proskuneó (pros-koo-neh’-o) means to give reverence to someone by getting down on your knees and kissing their feet.
This is the same word that is used by both the devil and Jesus in their clash in Matthew 4:9 and 10. While on a mountain the devil says to Jesus, “‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and Proskuneó (pros-koo-neh’-o) worship me.’ 10 Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall Proskuneó (pros-koo-neh’-o) worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’””
So, when Matthew uses proskuneó (pros-koo-neh’-o) here, he’s not using it lightly. Matthew is helping us understand the response of the disciples to Jesus. But what is more telling, is Jesus’ response to them. When we read the whole passage together, there is no rebuke, no correction from Jesus to the disciples. This points us to Jesus’ true identity of being fully God and worthy of our worship.

But let’s now turn our attention to the state of mind of the disciples. After the disciples worship Jesus, Matthew adds three words, “but some doubted”. The word distazo (dis-tad’-zo) is a combination of two greek words, “dis” and “stasis”. “Dis” means double, whereas “stasis” means stance. The proper understanding of the word then is a wavering between two stances, positions, or beliefs.
This word is only used one other time in the the New Testament and it’s by Matthew in chapter 14 verse 31. Listen to how it’s used in that context. Starting in verse 25 of Matthew chapter 14 it reads, “25 And in the fourth watch of the night he (Jesus) came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you distazo (dis-tad’-zo) doubt?”

Jesus speaks of Peter’s wavering between his trust in Jesus and his fear of the wind.
In the context of the Great Commission passage, the disciples are wavering in their belief of who Jesus really is. Sure they’re worshiping him, but they’re not sure about it.

And it’s here that I have to say, I love the intentionality and the honesty of Scripture. How many of us, if we tell a story about ourselves, try to leave out the most unflattering parts and embellish the parts that make us look better?
Growing up I used to tell this story of when I fell in a ditch. I was about seven or eight and I was riding my bike back from my friend’s house. We lived out in the county and my friend’s place was about two miles from mine. On my way back, I was practicing a wheelie, when a rattlesnake crossed right in front of me. When I tried to avoid the snake and I fell into the ditch along the side of the road. I hit my head, and when I came to, the sun was setting. I felt wetness on my scalp, and I thought I was bleeding, but when I went to move my arm to touch my head, I felt a really bad pain shoot through it, and I thought it was broke. As I was feeling the pain in my arm, I heard the faint rattling sound that is unmistakable for a rattlesnake. I sat there and thought of what I should do. I slowly looked around, but couldn’t see where the rattle was coming from. The grass had turned golden and was so thick, the rattle could be coming from anywhere. I laid there for a while, not daring to move. Then, I got up the courage to move slowly. With my hurt arm and pounding head, I pulled the bike out with my good arm and rode the half mile that remained to my house.

That’s a good story right? Let me add the unflattering details and bring back the embellishing. I wasn’t practicing my wheelies, I just hit a small patch of pebbles that had been thrown onto the road by a car coming off of a gravel road by my house. And there wasn’t a snake, the rustling sound I heard, was the wind through the grass. The wetness on my head was sweat, because it was summertime, and my arm wasn’t broke just really bruised. But when I told that story when I was younger, people would pat me on the back and tell me how brave I was. But the reality is, I wasn’t. I was just a shaky kid on a bike that didn’t want people to think he was such a bad rider. So I embellished the story, and got rid of the unflattering parts.

We tend to embellish the good and down play the bad, but the Scriptures don’t do that. They let us know the struggles of real people. Matthew could have easily left out the fact that all of the disciples where in this state wavering in their worship of Jesus. I mean, they were his inner circle, his eleven apostles, the first evangelists and leaders of the Church. But we’re told, that even after his resurrection, they were still doubting.
And I am so glad that Matthew lets us know that this was the reality of the disciples, because the words that Jesus uses, makes more sense when shown in the light of the disciples wavering, and it gives me hope as well.
These eleven disciples would go on to spend the rest of their lives being persecuted. These eleven waverers, would go on to be the first building blocks in Jesus’ Church. These doubters would go onto write the New Testament and give encouragement to those that would follow after them. 
By letting us know that even these eleven wavered in their belief, and showing us that Jesus still commissioned them to carry out his work, gives me hope.

One of the things I struggled with when I was first called to ministry was, can I really do this? Am I really able to be a pastor? There are times when I waver even today with this question. But when I read about the wavering of these eleven disciples, and how God still used them, I realize that God can still use me when I waver.

Even in our wavering faith, God can use people like you and me. Peter wasn’t the brightest, Matthew wasn’t the most liked, John and James where hot heads, Thomas was a realist that needed hard evidence, Simeon and Thaddaeus were revolutionaries, Andrew was a simple man that stayed out of the spot light, Nathaniel was prejudice against those from Nazareth, Philip didn’t usually grasp the harder teachings of Jesus, and James the son of Alphaeus, well he got stuck with the nick name James Lesser, so yeah he didn’t do a lot.
These men weren’t the best in any regard, yet God used them to radically impact the world. That should give us hope, hope that even at our worst God can use us. Even in our doubts, in our wavering, God can use us. And when we understand that God uses common men and women of wavering belief, then we can understand how each of us is commissioned by God to accomplish all that he has for us.

Today, if you have put your trust into Jesus, yet you struggle in that trust, I want to encourage you that God can and will use you. You are commissioned to do his work, and let your wavering push you deeper into trust, deeper into the Scriptures, and deeper into worship. 

I want to challenge you this week to write down where you struggle in your faith. For some it’s, how can a loving God allow evil. For others it’s, how do I love the unlovable. Still others it’s, I don’t have a response for the questions that non-believers ask me. Where do you struggle? How do you wavier? Bring it before God this week, and then re-read these two verses f those that came before you, who also wavered in their faith.
And through it, let us all become more humble before our God, bringing our doubts before him who still uses us, and worship him in truth. Amen.