Commissioned

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.”

Matthew 28:16-20 (NIV)

Today is called Ascension Day in the church calendar. This day has been set aside in the Church to recall Jesus ascending into heaven. The day is always the fortieth day of Easter, or forty days after Easter Sunday. On this day, we reflect upon the account from Gospels (except John’s) and the recording of the ascension in the Book of Acts.

Matthew’s account is what we focus upon here. This passage at the very end of this Gospel is often referred to as the Great Commission. The eleven remaining apostles have gathered at the mountain where Jesus has told them to meet him. Most scholars believe the location is the Mount of Olives but Matthew does not name it specifically. Once gathered, Jesus commissions the apostles to go into all nations. He instructs them to make disciples of all people, baptizing in the name of the Trinity and teaching them his commands to follow. Matthew does not say if Jesus then ascends or not. The first chapter in the Book of Acts indicates his ascension was during a meal he was sharing with the apostles. The writer of Matthew emphasizes the commissioning and the promise of Jesus’s eternal presence.

For the Church, and all followers of Christ, these words in Matthew are the marching orders. Jesus commissions all of us and tells us what we are to be about. He calls us into action with the action word “go.” We are not to be idle but in motion. Then he tells us where to go, “all nations.” Our activity is not to be within the walls of the church but in the world. We are to teach, welcome people into God’s family and show what the life of a follower should reflect. Each of us are given the promise that while we are engaged in living out our commission, Jesus is present in our lives and forevermore.

On the day we acknowledge our belief that Jesus ascended into heaven, we are mindful that we have been commissioned. Each of us has been commissioned to continue Jesus’s ministry in the world. We are to actively go into this world and share Christ wherever we have been sent. We are to teach, welcome, forgive, demonstrate, listen, respond, and love as Jesus continues to do in our lives.

Such A Time

Then Esther summoned Hathak, one of the king’s eunuchs assigned to attend her, and ordered him to find out what was troubling Mordecai and why.

So Hathak went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate. Mordecai told him everything that had happened to him, including the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay into the royal treasury for the destruction of the Jews. He also gave him a copy of the text of the edict for their annihilation, which had been published in Susa, to show to Esther and explain it to her, and he told him to instruct her to go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people.

Hathak went back and reported to Esther what Mordecai had said. 10 Then she instructed him to say to Mordecai, 11 “All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold scepter to them and spares their lives. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.”

12 When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, 13 he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

17 So Mordecai went away and carried out all of Esther’s instructions.

Esther 4:5-17 (NIV)

Timing can be key in some situations. Submitting an application for a position at just the right time can make the difference in receiving the position or not. Walking into a coffeehouse at a specific moment can lead to an encounter which may open doors to a new opportunity or relationship. An idea may be well received at one time even if it had been rejected at another time. Timing can be the key to success.

The passage from the story of Esther focuses on timing. Esther had caught the eye of the king and the king chose to make her his queen. This placed Esther in a position which would later serve her and the Jews well. When Mordecai shared the plight of Esther’s people with her, she was hesitant to approach the King because of her fear for her own safety. It is only when Mordecai pointed out the true threat to her and her family’s safety did Esther begin to see the call to action in a different light. Then when Mordecai asks Esther if this is the time for which she has been placed where she is, she springs into action.

Each day we are given new opportunities and new challenges. Some of these are small in perspective while others are significant. God is moving us forward and providing us with choices which may lead us to a position where we can make a meaningful impact. Fear can cause us to hesitate from acting on opportunities that our positions may afford us. Just as Mordecai asked Esther, we must ask ourselves if we may have been placed where we are for such a time as this.

Time to Rebuild

The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah:

In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.

They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”

When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Then I said:

“Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.

“Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’

10 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”

I was cupbearer to the king.

Nehemiah 1:1-11 (NIV)

Having grown up in and spending a majority of my adult life thus far in the Midwest, I have seen many tornadoes and the destruction which they leave behind. Standing in front of a home which has suffered the impact of a tornado creates a sense of awe, amazement, and grief at the same time. The apparent randomness of what remains standing and what is reduced to rubble seems to defy logic. A wall with a china cabinet against it and all its contents unmoved right next to a wall which is now laying on the ground in pieces causes one to scratch the head in disbelief. There are countless stories which emerge following a storm containing a tornado which seem too bizarre to be real. A person stands there, cries, and then moves into action to clean up and begin again.

Nehemiah stands in shock as someone might stand before a tornado-damaged home. Grief overwhelms him when he receives the report of Jerusalem’s destroyed city walls and burned out city gates. He sits and begins to weep. Then in the midst of his grief, he begins to fast and pray. His prayer was one requesting that God restore the people and the place which they had called home prior to the exile, one which their sin had brought upon them.

Reading about Nehemiah and his reaction to the news, I see a pattern to follow when we are faced with devastation in our lives. The physical destruction of a tornado, or in the case of the Israelites, an invading army, is not the only possible devastation which one may encounter. The loss of a job, a divorce, or the death of someone very close to us may have an equal impact on us. Nehemiah gives us an example of how to respond. Take some time to allow yourself to grieve. Life necessity may dictate how much time of inactivity is possible but there is no time limit on the grief. Whatever the case, make sure you allow at least some time to be inactive and cry. Then after this pause, engage in a period of spiritual discipline and prayer. Seek restoration from the Lord. Request the necessary resources to rebuild. Now, you are ready to determine next steps and take action.

Evil

Evil is one of those words which we attribute to a variety of people and situations, but I am not sure any of us have the ability to give a full definition of this word. Some definitions on dictionary.com which caused me to pause are these:

morally wrong or bad; immoral; wicked

harmful; injurious

the force in nature that governs and gives rise to wickedness and sin

There are aspects of each of these definitions which resonate with me. They easily fit within my understanding of this word. Yet there are also some questions which these definitions raise. Questions like…

Who defines “morally wrong”?

Is there one understanding of harmful or injurious?

Where does this force in nature come from?

Here is where deriving a definition for the word evil becomes a difficult task. As you can see by the questions I raised, there is some degree of subjectivity here. There is also a need to grapple with the spiritual aspect of the word. Add to these the historical impact of the interpretation and use of the word. Maybe this was not a wise subject for me to tackle in a blog post. In fact, you can find volumes of books and papers dealing with this subject.

Yet I am drawn to say something about this word. I have seen it used in a variety of ways and in a variety of contexts over the last few months. Each time I have read it or heard it on television, I have paused to consider what the writer or speaker was trying to communicate when using this word. The application of the word was definitely not consistent. I had to ask myself how I understood this word and would apply it.

Remembering the struggles in creating a definition which I raised earlier, I caution you that my definition is far from being fully encompassing. I am sure there will be noticeable gaps you can find in my definition. You may have questions that arise like those I listed above. However, I am going to make an attempt.

My definition: Evil is the absence of the recognition of God in an action taken by a human being.

Let me unpack that definition a little. First, I want to point out the last two words. These are important words for me because it states that evil is attributed to a person or persons not to some spirit. One can argue that the state of mind of a person who does evil can be somewhat spiritual in nature. A person who does evil may have some physical or psychological issue which prompts them to act such as a chemical imbalance in their body or the impact of experiences in their lives. What remains is the fact that evil is done by a human being.

Next is the phrase, “the absence of the recognition of God.” I am stating here that God is not absent at the time an evil act is committed but that the perpetrator of the act does not recognize God at that time. The reason I state it this way is because I have a strong belief that God is always present so stating that evil is the absence of God does not align with this belief. Since God is love as I understand God, anything which is harmful to any of creation is inconsistent with God. So there must be an absence of some sort here. For me the absence lies with the person committing the act. Whatever the reason, this person does not recognize God in the particular setting and so is destructive in some manner. If the person recognized God in the situation, the person would refrain from a destructive behavior.

Another important point concerning evil is that a person is not evil. Every person is created in the image of God and God is not evil. In fact God is the antithesis to evil. Because of this, the other vital word in my definition is action. The evil exists within the action and not the person. So often we wish to portray a person as evil but that is inconsistent with my understanding of who we are as a creation of God.

There you have it. My current working definition of evil. I would love to hear your viewpoints on this definition. I would also like to hear how you define the word evil. We can learn from each other.

Lack of Action

This is the last planned blog post as part of the series which I began last week. The series is intended to give reasons which I believe cause people to say the church no longer works for them. Here are the earlier posts in the series:

Why Does Church No Longer Work

Lack of Authenticity

Lack of Relationships

Lack of Language

Today’s discussion will be in regard to the church’s perceived lack of action. This perception is not due to the fact that the church does not have numerous activities within its fellowship. I would argue that the opposite is actually true. The church seems to always have something scheduled or planned. The requests for teachers and leaders, for food providers, for workers, for participants, seem to be almost never ending. The church is always busy with something. No, the lack of action refers to making a difference which impacts the world.

I want to again caution the reader that this is perception. I think it is unfair to state that the church does not have an impact on the world at times. However, I think the reason for the perception is that this is far too infrequent. The church is generally good about coming to the aid of people who are experiencing losses due to natural disasters. The response of the church toward local people who need some emergency assistance financially is alright. I would say that given the resources made available to the church, it does a fair job of responding in crisis situations. Yet is that all which calls the church into action?

When I talk to those who are walking away from the church, one of the reasons that they state is that the church often is too inward focused. As I explore what that means to them, I hear words which indicate that they wish to belong to a group who makes a difference in a visible way. These people seek a church which stands up for the groups in the world who are marginalized, ridiculed, condemned, persecuted, ostracized. They desire to be part of a church which does not act like judge and jury but instead goes outside the walls to be with those who are on the outside (of the church and society). This is the difference which they wish to see occur. When I listen to them, I hear the words of Jesus, the Christ. I hear the words of the Old and the New Testament. I hear the expectations God has always placed upon humanity.

The charge of a lack of action has nothing to do with busyness. The church is very busy, especially within its walls. This charge comes from the inactivity of the church to be a voice which challenges society’s ostracizing ways. This charge comes from the church focused on building itself up instead of building individuals up. It is a charge which unfortunately is too often true.

Why Does Church No Longer Work – A Series

I spent some time this week pondering some of the topics which I will discuss in upcoming blog posts. Some weeks determining what I will write about is more time-consuming than actually writing. As I sat with my thoughts, I stumbled upon a question that has haunted me for a great length of time. The question (which I am using as a series title) is “Why does church no longer work?”

The question assumes that the practices of churches these days are no longer working. I am sure there exist individuals who would disagree with that idea completely. For me, watching the struggles of maintaining a level of involvement in the church over twenty-two years of ordained ministry is evidence enough that something is not working. The way in which we attempt to be the church seems to have lost their effectiveness. Even the large, multi-campus churches are noticing equal numbers of people going out the door as they have coming in the door. All this makes me comfortable in saying that “church” is no longer working for a large majority of people in our communities.

I have decided that this challenge requires more than one blog post, so I will be doing a series of blog posts. I admit that I will not be able to exhaustively cover this topic. I also admit that I cannot come close to identifying all the complex issues which lead to my question. At present, I have identified four issues that I plan to discuss in this series:

  1. The church lacks authenticity.
  2. The church lacks relationships.
  3. The church lacks today’s language.
  4. The church lacks action.

Each of these issues will be explained and addressed in the coming days. I hope that you will join me in exploring these issues. I also would benefit from hearing your responses to my posts and any other issues you may name in response to my initial question.