The future of the mission

On this triumphant day, here’s a line of prophecy to ponder. In Isaiah 53, the well-known passages about Christ’s suffering in order to make us righteous and whole, I recently found a line about Christ that I’d never noticed before:

…and the LORD’s good plan will prosper in his hands. (v.10)

For all of us called to be in partnership with Christ, these are reassuring words. We know it because we trust God’s plans and promises, but there it is in prophecy, to tell us exactly where this road is taking us: The mission is in good hands!

Not our hands, but Christ’s, living in us to continue His work.

Everybody has their own role in God’s plan. For some, it will be active, obvious, working in the public eye, perhaps preaching the gospel or taking the love of God to meet the practical needs of the world. For others, it will be quiet, away from public view, praying faithfully for God to act in fulfillment of his promises. For many, it will be a mixture of the two, sometimes one, sometimes the other.
— N.T. Wright, Luke for Everyone.

 

 

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Psalm Prayer:

Teach me how to live, O LORD.
Lead me along the right path.
(Psalm 28:11) 

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© Elaine Starner 2015

Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, and Lana Turner for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)

Entrusted with the Mission

The events we commemorate this weekend mark a turning point in the history of the world, the beginning of a new era in the relationship between God and humanity.

The overall story is huge: God created the world for Himself, but it decided to go another way. Still loving it, throughout all the history of humanity God has called us back to Him.

With the crucifixion of Jesus, God was doing a completely new thing. He Himself was giving and being the sacrifice that paid the price to buy back His beloved creation.

This creation is enslaved to the enemy. We were born into this slavery to sin. God did not buy us to make us his slaves—He bought us to free us, adopt us, bring us into His family, and make us heirs to everything—the Kingdom!

So Christ’s resurrection signaled a new direction and hope for everyone: Death to the old life, resurrection to new life.

Yet this new life does not remove us from this world. Here we are now. Children of God, living in this world ruled by the powers of sin. And while we are still here, Christ says to all His disciples, “Just as the Father sent me into this world, so I’m sending you.”

Christ came with a message: there is one God who rules, and there is peace with Him, if you will only believe it and accept it. And when you make peace with God, there is also a new life for you.

When Christ’s work on earth was finished and He left, He handed the message to all those who follow Him in all times of history, and said, “Deliver this. I’m sending you, just as God sent me.”

Does that grab you? Jesus Christ is entrusting us with the message, sending us on His mission.

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We know well that verse we call the “Great Commission,” but we sometimes miss Jesus’ words just before: “I have been given all authority in heaven and earth.” (Matthew 28:18)

The one we follow — the one whose Spirit makes us holy, the one who is the high priest of God’s nation of priests, the Vine who gives us power and life, the foundation stone on which God’s Temple is built — this one we follow now has the ultimate authority over everything in heaven and earth.

We are not merely His followers. We are now working in partnership with Christ, sharing His mission, sent as God’s ambassadors and trusted messengers.

And so we have become a part of the huge story of the God who created this world, still loves it, and still calls it back to Himself.

That’s who you are, Child of God.

 

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Psalm Prayer:

Teach me how to live, O LORD.
Lead me along the right path.
(Psalm 28:11) 

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More words to those entrusted with the message:

Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47; John 17:18; 1 Corinthians 10:31; 2 Corinthians 3:6; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; Colossians 3:17; 2 Timothy 1:1; Hebrews 3:1; 1 Peter 2:11-12; 1 Peter 4:11; Jude 3

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Here’s a previous related blog: Entrusted

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(This is a revised version of an earlier post.)

© Elaine Starner 2015

Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, and Lana Turner for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)

Temple of Hope

Soon after God rescued His people from exile and slavery in Egypt, they were given a physical, tangible reminder of His presence with them. For a period of time, the tabernacle, a portable, tent-like structure, was seen as God’s “dwelling place.” Eventually, under King Solomon’s supervision, a grand and lavish Temple was built,

a place filled with God’s presence,
the place where one came to acknowledge God,
find mercy and forgiveness,
and put your life to rights.

Invaders from Babylon later destroyed Solomon’s Temple and another was built. That, too, was destroyed (this time, by the Romans) about 70 years after the birth of Christ.

But while that second Temple still stood, the apostle Peter wrote to God’s chosen people scattered all over the world, and described a new Temple, a new place God was building where He had chosen to reside:

And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. (from 1 Peter 2:5)

Up until this time, God’s people had looked to the Temple as the sign of and the place of His presence in their world. Now, Peter says, God is doing a new thing. God is building a spiritual Temple for Himself, and you are the stones He is using to build.

Even though Solomon’s Temple was incredibly lavish, the wise king acknowledged that no one could possibly build a home fit for the Lord. Now God Himself is building the home He desires here on earth—and He is building with you and me.

Everything in the physical Temples pointed to God and was carefully designed to mend the relationship between individuals and God and to bring people back into the reverence and presence of their Creator.

God’s children, rescued from the kingdom of darkness and slavery, now become the home where He chooses to live.

He takes us, living stones, and builds tangible evidence:
He is in this world and His presence makes a difference.

We are His Temple, announcing the message of hope, pointing people back to reverence and relationship with the Creator.

This makes a difference in how I tackle whatever lies ahead today. In how I treat others. In how I work with others in the church.

It puts a new perspective on wherever I find myself today. Wherever I am, I stand as one of the stones in the Temple of God, a place of His presence on this earth.

He is building a temple with His living stones, a temple to declare to the world, “I am here. Come back to me and I’ll give you hope.”

 

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Psalm Prayer:

Teach me how to live, O LORD.
Lead me along the right path.
(Psalm 28:11) 

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More words to the Temple of God:

1 Corinthians 3:9, 16; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:19-22; Hebrews 3:6; 1 Peter 2:4-5;

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(This is a revised version of an earlier post.)

© Elaine Starner 2015

Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, and Lana Turner for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)

Unqualified and inadequate

 

Maybe we started off the week on the wrong foot, the wrong page, the wrong side of bed. Whatever metaphor works for you. Maybe my timing was wrong.

Because I think you might be feeling tired and burdened. After reading two long posts about our new mission and purpose in life, are you overwhelmed, thinking, That’s ‘way beyond me. How could I ever do and be all that?

This post was originally planned for Saturday, but I think it’s time is now… because, to be truthful, after writing those first two posts, I’m feeling pretty inadequate for the mission we’ve been given.

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Have you noticed that Jesus, when He was gathering His disciples, did not seem to place a high priority on qualifications for the mission? At least, not the qualifications we might expect. He was going to leave His work to these men—the task of bringing the world back to the Creator. He would turn over this mission to His chosen circle.

But who did He choose? Small-town, average Joes. Some were uneducated. We know that at least one was a social outcast, despised by his neighbors. We don’t learn to know all of the disciples well, but in those we do know, we see personality traits that might cause us to scrap their applications to work in Christ’s ministry: hot tempers, doubting minds, greed, critical and judgmental attitudes, mouths too quick to speak, minds often too slow to grasp what Jesus was trying to teach them.

Oh yes, Jesus’ closest associates were just like us.

Yet what they did after Jesus left the earth would change the world.

The secret is in this new power for living we’ve been given. I need to remind myself, often, that this connection to the Vine is the only way I will fulfill this new mission God has given me.

Two letters make all the difference:  IN.

After Jesus’ resurrection, there was a huge shift in God’s relationship to men and women. And it’s all in the preposition (yes, the grammar teacher now emerges).

Before Christ, it was a matter of coming into God’s presence. Even then, one came with the proper sacrifice, proper prayers, and proper attitude. I imagine it as coming into a throne room, coming only at special times, with special permission and procedures, hoping the great King will give you an audience.

After Christ’s resurrection and ascension to heaven, the preposition becomes in. Now—incredibly—God dwells in His people, in a relationship more intimate than even our closest family.

Take a look at Scriptures, and notice those two little letters:

“Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” (John 15:4)
Christ will make his home in your hearts (Ephesians 3:17)
Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20)
God has made the light of His glory shine in our hearts (2 Corinthians 4:6)
Righteous character will be produced in you by Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:11)

This is the secret, really, of our new lives. Everything flows from Christ’s life and character IN us—being a holy people, being priests of the Lord Almighty, fulfilling the rest of the mission (which we’ll look at more in the next days). All of it is possible not because of who or what we are but because God now lives in His children on earth.

That sounds radical. It is. It was radical in Jesus’ day, too, when He said He and the Father were in each other.

John’s Gospel begins with Jesus coming into the world “as the true light.” Jesus says the same. Then, He also told His disciples that they/we are the light of the world!

But it is not our light that shines—it is His, shining in us. And He is the one who places the lights exactly where He wants to shine, setting them on a hill in the dark world.

It is His light shining in us that the apostle Paul compares to a great treasure contained in fragile clay jars. “This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.”

God said His power actually works best in our weakness. When it is clear that we are unqualified and inadequate for the mission, it will be obvious that is only God’s power at work in our lives—not our own skills and strength. The light in us, the strength in us, the compassion, the love, the mercy—all of that is nothing we could do on our own. Only God could do it.

To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.     (Emmanuel Suhard, a French Cardinal of the Catholic Church)

I like the idea of being a living mystery. A mystery that only makes sense if God exists and lives in me.

We know the secret of the mystery.

Jesus was a flesh-and-blood-like-us embodiment of God in this world. And we’re to be the same. We are the same. Humans, walking on this earth, with God in us and working through us.

God’s children are here for a reason—the same reason Christ came to the earth—to show the world who God is and bring men and women back to their Creator.

But I’m not the sort of woman who would or could do that on my own. Not me.

Only God IN me will do it.

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Psalm Prayer:

Teach me how to live, O LORD.
Lead me along the right path.
(Psalm 28:11) 

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More radical IN words for the inadequate and unqualified:

John 14:17, 20, 23; John 15:4-5; John 17:23; Romans 8:10-11; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 4:6-7; 2 Corinthians 12:9; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 3:17; Philippians 1:11; Colossians 1:27

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© Elaine Starner 2015

Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, and Lana Turner for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)

His kingdom of priests

I’d like to write the entire week on what God might be telling us by giving us this new name: my kingdom of priests, my royal priests, a holy nation of priests.

To be honest, up until a few years ago, these phrases meant nothing to me. Priests and their duties were not a part of my experience. Even though these references appear again and again in the Christian letters of the New Testament, whatever God was saying about us being priests was totally lost on me.

Paul and Peter and the other writers of the New Testament, however, knew exactly what it meant to be a priest. Priests were a part of the Jewish culture since the days of Abraham (maybe even before that?) They understood all that the name priest implied.

When I began participating in the Bible Read-Thru and read the Old Testament in a condensed time period, I began to pay more attention to the priests and make note of their responsibilities.

Because I’m still pondering what it means for me to be part of God’s royal priesthood, let me simply share some of the Old Testament references that have given me food for thought.

* The Lord said the priesthood was a “special privilege of service” (Numbers 18:7). Today, it is our special privilege of service to our Lord.

* The priests carried the Ark of the Covenant, the place of God’s presence and holding the tablets of God’s law; they stood before God as His ministers, and they pronounced blessings in His name. (Deuteronomy 10:8). We “carry” God’s presence in this world. We’re entrusted with Christ’s Gospel. Pronouncing blessings in His name? Yes, we’re to do that in this world. But what does it mean to stand before God as His ministers? I don’t know that yet … I welcome your insights.

* The priests were to lead the people in worship, to invoke God’s blessings, to give thanks and praise the Lord (1 Chronicles 16:4). Yes, most certainly, the children of God should be praying and worshipping and praising.

* As David built the Temple, his prayer was “May your priests be clothed in godliness” (Psalm 132:9). May God’s chosen people today be clothed likewise.

* And everywhere in the Old Testament, we see the priests offering sacrifices. Yes, we offer sacrifices too. And here’s the amazing thing—our sacrifices are pleasing to God. Peter writes that we are God’s holy priests and “through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God.” Do you get the power of that picture? We have come from being God’s enemies to being priests of this holy, holy God, and our offerings are acceptable and pleasing to Him—all because of Christ.

Our offerings are not of the sheep and goat type. They are:

* a broken, repentant heart (Psalm 51:16-17)

* showing love and seeking to know the Lord (Hosea 6:6)

* thankfulness (Psalm 50:14)

* doing what is good, loving mercy, walking humbly before God (Micah 6:8)

* continual praise (Hebrews 13:15)

* proclaiming our allegiance to Him (Hebrews 13:15)

* doing good (Hebrews 13:16)

* share with those in need (Hebrews 13:16)

* give your bodies—every part of who you are—to God for his service (Romans 12:1)

* gifts to those in need (Philippians 4:18)

The tribe of Levi was designated to carry on the priestly duties. If one was born a Levite, his “career path” was set from the moment he was born. Is our career path set the moment we’re born into God’s family? Yes. I think so.

In the book of Malachi, God presents His case against the priests of the time. They have left God’s path and caused many to stumble into sin. But in the middle of His warnings about judgment come words that tell us what the relationship was meant to be between God and his priests. It’s revealing. Read it carefully. I think it also speaks about God’s relationship to and plans for His nation of priests today:

“The purpose of my covenant with the Levites was to bring life and peace, and that is what I gave them. This required reverence from them, and they greatly revered me and stood in awe of my name. They passed on to the people the truth of the instructions they received from me. They did not lie or cheat; they walked with me, living good and righteous lives, and they turned many from lives of sin.

“The words of a priest’s lips should preserve knowledge of God, and people should go to him for instruction, for the priest is the messenger of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.” (Malachi 2:5-7)

Bringing life and peace. Reverence and awe of the Lord. Teaching truth. Right living. Bringing lives out of sin. Preserving knowledge of God. A messenger of God.

Whew. This royal priesthood is indeed a special privilege of service. We were slaves of sin. Now we have been set free and adopted as children of God. And He’s made us His priests, sharing His work here on earth, a people through whom He accomplishes His purposes.

 

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Psalm Prayer:

Teach me how to live, O LORD.
Lead me along the right path.
(Psalm 28:11) 

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© Elaine Starner 2015

Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, and Lana Turner for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)