The Surrender of Thanksgiving

Grabbed by Gratitude

It stopped me in my tracks. Twice. In the same morning even. What was it? Thankfulness. The first time, a song provoked it, and the second time, a story in an upcoming film about a changed life connected to my heart. I felt genuinely thankful, particularly for my wife and children. Lyrics and stories have a way of moving and stirring our emotions.

Hooray for Word Studies: Εὐχαριστέω

Bible readers find the theme of thankfulness throughout the pages of Scripture. In the New Testament, the verb εὐχαριστέω primarily conveys the act of expressing

. . . appreciation for benefits or blessings, give thanks, express thanks, render/return thanks (BDAG).

It is used 37 times in the New Testament. The occasions for these usages vary: (1) regarding provisions from God (Matt. 15:36), (2) in the Lord’s Supper (Mark 14:23; Luke 22:19), (3) in reference to answered prayer (Luke 17:16; John 11:41), (4) obligatory thanksgiving (Luke 18:11; Rom. 16:4), (5) thanksgiving for NOT participating in something (1 Cor. 1:14), but most often, (6) it communicates thankfulness about the fellowship of believers (Eph. 1:16; Phil. 1:3; 1 Thess. 1:2).

Spontaneous or Deliberate Thankfulness?

However, the Apostle Paul fashioned the word in a unique way in 1 Thessalonians 5:18. He issued it as a command:

. . . give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

This is the one and only use in the New Testament of the imperative form—εὐχαριστεῖτε. “Give thanks; appreciate; surrender thanksgiving.” But isn’t thankfulness better when it’s spontaneous? Is thankfulness genuinely thankfulness when it is commanded? I mean how many “You-should-be-thankful-s” are chronicled in the history of parenthood, right?!?! Our experience of the feeling of thankfulness is often unplanned, which may cause one to ask, “How does one get better at such a command? Do I simply try harder to feel thankful?”

This command is interesting to me, especially in light of the holiday anticipation building as we enter Thanksgiving season. As I experienced a surge of thankfulness this morning about my family, provoked by song and story and genuinely enjoying how I felt, I wondered if there is yet a deeper experience of thankfulness available . . . something more consistent, longer-lasting, sustainable, solid. Is thankfulness something that must come from outside of me; is it out of my control; a dormant emotion only stirred by some kind of external stimulus? Or is it something to which I have constant access, an affection internal and awake, and able to be wielded, controlled, surrendered, and given? If the latter, then where may I find such an endless reservoir of gratitude?

The Surrender of Thanksgiving: Exposition of 1 Thessalonians 5:18

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, God reveals some things to us about giving thanks that cause pause. First, he qualifies the command “Give thanks” with a prepositional phrase that describes the circumstances during which we should obey it—in all circumstances. Wait, what? Literally, the translation is “give thanks in any and every, or in every respect or way.” Most Bible translations have adapted the English to read, “in all circumstances.” We are commanded to give thanks for any one circumstance that may come at us from the sum total of all circumstances. In other words, E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. Yikes.

Thanksgiving Commanded by God

Remember, a command implies that God has or is able to supply you with the necessary resources to obey the command. Notice also that the circumstances are not commanded to make people thankful, which would be worded like, “Circumstances, go and cause thankfulness among the people.” Rather, the readers (like you and me) are commanded to give thanks while living under varied circumstances. The command implies that the believer is in possession of thankfulness and then must choose to give it. Now, I think all of us can easily imagine turning over thanks for the joyous moments—straight A’s, making the team, winning the game (Go Lady Norsemen, btw), graduating, getting married, having the baby, going on vacation, church growth, career advancement, and the list could go on and on.

However, are we really to turn over thanks when we fail the class, when we don’t make the team, when we lose the big game, when circumstances delay graduation, when the boyfriend/girlfriend bails, when finances crumble, when the consequences of one bad decision keep piling up, when a child or a parent gets sick or dies, when the marriage fails, when the church splits, when the career tanks, and on and on? Does God really expect me to give him thanks in all circumstances?

Yes. Maybe the surrender of our thanks looks a little broken sometimes, but this is the command. He wants our thanks in any and every circumstance. Biblical thanksgiving seems to be the turning over of something that is both provoked and supplied by God again and again, rather than some uncontrollable emotion that suddenly sweeps over you by positive, external, spontaneous provocation. The giving of thanks is a matter of relationship between you and God. You can choose to give it or not to give it to God.

Thanksgiving in the Fullness of God

Back to the Bible in 1 Thessalonians 5:18. The next sentence offers an explanation for the command to give thanks in all circumstances, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” A similar statement follows Paul’s command to be filled or controlled by the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18–20,

. . . giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In that passage, the giving of thanks is evidenced in the life of the believer who is yielding to the Spirit’s control. There again, as in 1 Thessalonians, the circumstances in which we give thanks are broad—always and for everything. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul explains that this always-giving-thanks-in-all-circumstances is God’s will. Comparing this to Ephesians 5:18, we may say that it is the Spirit’s aim.

I see here both the external motivation and the internal capability—both provided by God. The command to give thanks is the external word that comes from God to us, and that word is met in the believer with the aim of the Spirit, who dwells within and who aims to transform the believer into one who turns over thanks to God in all circumstances—making him or her thankful. In this way, the Christian is prompted both externally and internally to give thanks. The uniqueness of the Christian understanding of thanksgiving is that seemingly random circumstances are not in the driver’s seat, but rather our experience and relationship with God while living under a variety of circumstances.

Thanksgiving Under the Influence of Christ

Finally, the phrase “the will of God” is modified by two prepositional phrases: (1) in Christ Jesus and (2) for you all. What do these mean? Paul commonly employs the phrase “in Christ” or “in Christ Jesus,” and what he seems to mean by it is the idea of “under the control of, under the influence of, or in close association with” (BDAG, 327–28).

Let me expand that a bit. We are commanded to give thanks in all circumstances because this is the will of God for people under the influence of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Something so influential, at the soul-level, has happened in Jesus Christ for believers rendering them capable of fulfilling God’s will and command to give thanks in all circumstances. What happened? His death and resurrection happened. In other words, Christ’s gospel is the key to your ability to obey the will of God by giving thanks in all circumstances—good or bad, hopeful or despairing. You function in every circumstance with death-defeating, eternally-securing, resurrection-powered love.

Thanksgiving Surrendered to God

Now, let’s get real for a minute. The influence of the resurrection of Christ moves the believer to give thanks to God in painful circumstances. It is truly a surrender of thanks. These surrenders surface on the battlefield of the soul against the sinful nature that longs to withhold thanks from God. This is why Romans 8:26 says,

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

Later on during the same day that I felt thankful for my family, I received a call from a friend that makes a pastor’s heart shudder and ask, “Why God?” And I, of course, don’t have that answer. Yet, I know that the greatest power and love on heaven and earth is available to those who call on the name of Jesus. When you or I see the hurting person give thanks in all circumstances, we witness that power and love on display. We witness firsthand the external command of God and the internal working of the gospel by the Spirit uniting to produce a thankful believer.

 

2017 Destination: Spain

We made it to our gate; everyone’s enjoying dinner now :-). Thanks for your prayers! Weather is a little rough outside; please keep this matter in your prayers! See you on the other side of the pond.

Mitch on Mission with YWAM in Vancouver

To the Church of West Lisbon,
Thank you so much to everyone who has been praying for me, my team, the ministries we are working with, and the city of Vancouver over the past month or so. I have been seeing incredible things in my first week and a half here, and I cannot wait to see what else God has in store. Yesterday, the other intern, Beth, and I finished our training for the Mission Adventures program and we will hit the ground running starting Monday when our first youth group comes in.

I’m super excited to be working with the team that we have and to be given the opportunity to show Jesus to the high school youth that come into Vancouver. As a lot of you may already know, I came to have a life changing encounter with Jesus through various youth group involvement during my sophomore year in high school that saw me dedicate my life to God and his will for my life, so I am very excited about having the opportunity to share Jesus with nearly 100 high school students I’ll be meeting over the next four weeks.

​Before I left for this trip, I read a book called Gospel Fluency by a pastor named Jeff Vanderstelt. This book taught me that the key to seeing God work in incredible ways in your life is to believe in the gospel and believing in the gospel more deeply will allow God to work deeper and in more powerful ways in your life. I thought that I had a good understanding of the gospel before I left, and I couldn’t wait to see how God could work in that. During my training, I realized that the gospel is way deeper than anything I can know fully. In other words, as long as life isn’t perfect, God can teach us something new about his love for us, and that can change our lives in a deep way.

​I’m not entirely sure why, but I’ve definitely experienced discomfort on this trip. Nothing poor has happened. I love my team. I love the city I’m serving in. I love Tim Horton’s (basically Dunkin Donuts, but way better). There’s just something that has me out of my comfort zone, but that’s okay, because I’ve learned that this is where God grows us the most. I was doing some devotional time this morning, and I was reading Matthew 6 and John 15. Matthew 6 is part of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, where he encourages us saying that we do not need to worry, because God loves us. John 15 talks about how we cannot do anything beneficial apart from God and that in order to live a life worth living, we need to abide in Him.

​This has definitely been an area in the gospel where God has been growing me over the last week and a half. No matter what the circumstance, no matter where I am or who I’m with, whether I’m in a city like Vancouver or a village like Lisbon, whether I’m in the US or Canada, if I am with God, God is with me and He will produce fruit in me (John 15:4-5). That is a promise from God and something that I can put my hope in. I have nothing to worry about, because God is good. Thank you all so much for your continued prayers and support. I hope to give at least one more update before I am home. I love you all, and I cannot wait to return and tell you all the stories about how incredibly God is working. If you want updated prayer requests, please do not hesitate me to message me on Facebook! I may not get back to you right away, but I will certainly find time to give you prayer requests. Thank you so much for the love you’ve all shown me and your continued support for me in prayer. I love you all! God bless! ​​

-Mitch Friestad

Two Cups & the Cup-Bearer: How Can You Be Sure That God Will Come to You in Peace and Not Judgment?

Two Cups

Good Friday is approaching, and in order to taste of its significance, let us turn to God’s word and discover what he has said about two cups. Now, what is a cup? What is the purpose of a cup? The purpose of a cup is to securely hold the contents (usually a liquid for drinking) deposited into it by the one who does the pouring.

The Cup of Wrath

First, consider the cup of wrath. God speaks frequently about this cup in his word. What do you think is inside this cup? The contents of this cup are the terrible wrath and awesome anger of God. Why has he poured such a cup? For whom has he prepared such a cup?

Here are some places in the Bible where the cup of wrath is mentioned or described:

Psalms 75:8 NET

For the LORD holds in his hand a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices, and pours it out. Surely all the wicked of the earth will slurp it up and drink it to its very last drop.

Isaiah 51:17 NET

Wake up! Wake up! Get up, O Jerusalem! You drank from the cup the LORD passed to you, which was full of his anger! You drained dry the goblet full of intoxicating wine.

Jeremiah 25:15–29 NET

So the LORD, the God of Israel, spoke to me in a vision. “Take this cup from my hand. It is filled with the wine of my wrath. Take it and make the nations to whom I send you drink it. When they have drunk it, they will stagger to and fro and act insane. For I will send wars sweeping through them.”

So I took the cup from the LORD’s hand. I made all the nations to whom he sent me drink the wine of his wrath. I made Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, its kings and its officials drink it. I did it so Judah would become a ruin. I did it so Judah, its kings, and its officials would become an object of horror and of hissing scorn, an example used in curses. Such is already becoming the case! I made all of these other people drink it: Pharaoh, king of Egypt; his attendants, his officials, his people, the foreigners living in Egypt; all the kings of the land of Uz; all the kings of the land of the Philistines, the people of Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, the people who had been left alive from Ashdod; all the people of Edom, Moab, Ammon; all the kings of Tyre, all the kings of Sidon; all the kings of the coastlands along the sea; the people of Dedan, Tema, Buz, all the desert people who cut their hair short at the temples; all the kings of Arabia who live in the desert; all the kings of Zimri; all the kings of Elam; all the kings of Media; all the kings of the north, whether near or far from one another; and all the other kingdoms which are on the face of the earth. After all of them have drunk the wine of the LORD’s wrath, the king of Babylon must drink it.

Then the LORD said to me, “Tell them that the LORD God of Israel who rules over all says, ‘Drink this cup until you get drunk and vomit. Drink until you fall down and can’t get up. For I will send wars sweeping through you.’ If they refuse to take the cup from your hand and drink it, tell them that the LORD who rules over all says ‘You most certainly must drink it! For take note, I am already beginning to bring disaster on the city that I call my own. So how can you possibly avoid being punished? You will not go unpunished! For I am proclaiming war against all who live on the earth. I, the LORD who rules over all, affirm it!’”

When I was nineteen years old, I began reading through the book of Romans. As I read through chapters 1-3, I realized that this cup that securely held the wrath of God was poured by God himself and was intended, not just for nations, but also for me to drink. God the great Judge of men and women demonstrated that I have broken all of his laws and worshiped other gods. As the first half of Romans 6:23 says, “the wages of sin is death.” God poured a cup of wrath for me.

However, the Scripture reveals to us that this same God who is angry and wrathful toward those who break his law is also a God who is merciful and gracious. Yet, how is it that this God has revealed to us that he is merciful and gracious enough that we may escape drinking the cup of his wrath? It’s like Abram in the OT asked, “How can I know that this will happen?” How can I know that God will be merciful?

Our Gracious Cup-Bearer

The cup of God’s wrath appears in the Gospels, but we may be surprised to find the cup in the hand of the Son of God. We may be even more stunned that instead of dishing it out to the nations, he himself drinks it.

Matthew 26:36-42 NET

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and became anguished and distressed. Then he said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, even to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake with me.” Going a little farther, he threw himself down with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me! Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, “So, couldn’t you stay awake with me for one hour? Stay awake and pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will must be done.”

Mark 14:36

He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

John 18:11

But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath! Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

John 19:30

When he had received the sour wine, Jesus said, “It is completed!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

In his mercy and grace, the Father sent His own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, out of heaven to earth so that he might drink the cup of wrath as our substitute and Savior. In a sense, he took on the role of servant by becoming the cup-bearer who tasted the devastating cup laced with the wrath of the holiness of God—a cup that was poured for humanity to drink because of our lawlessness and idolatry was consumed by the obedient, faithful, loyal Son of God! And he drank it all, even the dregs that had settled at the bottom of the cup. He drank this cup as he hung on the cross faithfully enduring the wrath of God that had been intended for you and me to drink. When he finished drinking, he said, “It is finished,” and he died. As cup-bearer of the wrath of God, he died in our place.

Because Jesus drank this cup that was poured out for you and for me, we call the Friday of Holy Week Good Friday.

The Cup of Salvation

Earlier, I mentioned that there is also a second cup. This is the cup that we will drink on Maundy Thursday of Holy Week. If I may continue the analogy, Jesus is the resurrected cup-bearer who continually extends to us a cup of salvation, a cup of grace. It is not the drink itself that has become salvation for us. The liquid itself has not become the blood of Jesus. Rather, the cup and the bread testify to us down through history that the blood and body of Jesus were given over on the cross for the salvation of all those who put their faith in Jesus’ death for the forgiveness of sins and in his resurrection for eternal life.

You see, the cup and the bread of the Lord’s Table answer the question for us, “How can I be sure that God will come to me in peace and not in judgment?” I can with all assurance answer, “The Lord Jesus drank for me the cup of God’s wrath that was due me, and now I sit at the table of the Lord Jesus, where he himself extends to me the cup of the new covenant, in which is the forgiveness of sins by his own blood!”

The Heidelberg Catechism states,

First, as surely as I see with my eyes the bread of the Lord broken for me and the cup given to me, so surely his body was offered and broken for me and his blood poured out for me on the cross . . . Second, as surely as I receive from the hand of the one who serves, and taste with my mouth the bread and the cup of the Lord, given me as sure signs of Christ’s body and blood, so surely he nourishes and refreshes my soul for eternal life with his crucified body and poured-out blood.

Come to the Table

If you can say by faith that the Lord Jesus Christ’s body and blood were offered up for you, so that in his death you have the pardon of all your sins before God, and if you by faith can say that in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ you have the hope of eternal life forever with God, then you may partake of the cup and the bread. The Lord’s Table is a table of grace where sinners can come and sit down by faith and testify that they have indeed experienced the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life in the Lord Jesus Christ, because he drank the whole cup of wrath for my sake and now extends to me the cup of salvation. By partaking, we remember and proclaim the Lord Jesus’ death, and we are to do this until he returns for his people. I personally invite you to join us at West Lisbon Church for all of our Holy Week activities beginning this Sunday, April 9th through Easter Sunday, April 16th.

Recapturing the Great Commission: Part Two

Exciting Opportunities at West Lisbon

We have an exciting month ahead of us at West Lisbon Church in the area of World Missions. This Sunday, March 12th at noon, our Destination: Spain and REACH Mission Teams will host a Missions Auction & Breakfast to raise financial and prayer support. Find out more here.

Additionally, the WLC Missions Committee will host our annual Missions Conference on March 18–19th. Our guest speaker for the weekend is Dr. Greg Parsons. Greg is the current Director of Global Connections at Frontier Ventures. Frontier describes itself as

We are a community of dreamers and doers who long to see Jesus worshipped in the earth’s darkest corners.

Pretty awesome. Greg is also engaged in the leadership of the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. If this guy doesn’t fan the flame of world missions in your soul . . . you may want to check your pulse!! Find out more here.

In light of all of these exciting, learning, and serving experiences, I thought that I would focus the February and March Messenger articles on the Great Commission of Matthew 28:16–20. In this month’s edition, we’ll take a look at the words of Jesus’ commission.

Matthew 28:18–20 (ESV)

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The Words of the Great Commission

Last month, we looked at the setting of the commission in verses 16–17, and we discovered first that the people of the commission are described as the eleven, second that the place of the commission is described as the mountain in Galilee, and third that the faith of the commissioned is described as “little” or mixed with doubt. The Lord would commission this group knowing their “little faith.” Today, I think we’ll see why he could and would commission an imperfect group of eleven to begin his global mission. Now, let’s move our attention to the words of the commission spoken by the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ.
Authority

Authority

First, Jesus spoke of his authority. Verse 18 reveals two things about this authority: (1) It is total in scope, and (2) it is legitimate in nature. The totality of the scope of Jesus’ authority is expressed by the word “all” and by the phrase “in heaven and on earth.” The term “all” is used again with “authority” in 1 Corinthians 15:54 (NET), “Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he has brought to an end all rule and all authority and power.” This speaks of the future time when Jesus has nullified all other bearers of ruling authority. The little word “all” carries a lot of theological weight! Think totality—any, every, each level or part. All authority. While “in heaven and on earth” implies the universal scope of Jesus’ authority, it particularly emphasizes the authority Jesus possesses in every realm—both heavenly and earthly, over the spiritual realm and the natural realm. Jonathan Pennington writes in his book Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew,

He has achieved authority in both realms and his followers can now live in hope for his heavenly authority to one day be manifested throughout the earth . . . This has been inaugurated by Jesus’ resurrection and will be consummated at his Parousia [second coming]. Additionally, Jesus’ authority in both heavenly and earthly realms now transforms the disciples’ mission. Originally, Jesus endowed his disciples with his authority and sent them to preach the kingdom of heaven only to true people of the land of Israel (10:5–7). After the resurrection, they are re-commissioned to preach to all nations (205).

With the resurrection from the dead, the scope of Jesus’ authority expanded not only over the whole creation but across both heavenly and earthly realms.

His authority is not only total in scope, but it is also legitimate in nature. Our world is full of people claiming to have authority and power, but is it legitimate? At the 2017 Moody Founder’s Week, Dr. Tony Evans shared a funny story about legitimate and illegitimate authority. When he was chaplain with the Dallas Cowboys, he had special access and privileges because of his rights and position as chaplain. I believe it was his son that wanted to go with him to a game one day. Dr. Evans explained to his son that if he traveled with him in his car, then he could get special parking, privileged access, reserved seating, so on and so forth; however, if he decided to travel to the game on his own, he wouldn’t benefit from any of his father’s legitimate authority. You see, it was attached to his name and person, not to his son’s name and person. This reminds the reader of Daniel 7:13–14 (ESV), which reads,

I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

The Greek term is ἐξουσία (ex-zoo-sia), and in this context it means “the right to control or command, absolute power, warrant.” By virtue of his identity as the beloved Son and his finished and faithful work in his death and resurrection, he possesses legitimate authority.
Commission

Commission

Second, Jesus gave his commission. “Therefore” connects the scope and nature of Jesus’ authority to the commission that he will give to his disciples. The primary command “Go . . . make” is an urgent one. We find a similar phrase with similar urgency in Matthew 2:13–14 (NET),

After they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to look for the child to kill him.” Then he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and went to Egypt.

The angel’s command to Joseph employs the same grammatical urgency Jesus used in his commission—“Go, hurry, now, don’t delay—and make disciples!” Too often, we hear the commission like this, “As you go, make disciples,” but this misses the grammatical urgency Jesus intentionally puts into his commission. They are to urgently make “disciples.” Disciples are learners of Jesus. Don’t forget that Jesus is commissioning imperfect disciples to go and make more disciples, so that the task of disciple-making is a task every Christian shares. As Jonathan Pennington noted in the quote above, the mission expanded beyond Israel to “all nations” because Jesus has “all authority.” Acts 1:8 describes the commission as a local, national, and global witness to the person and work of Jesus Christ. We are to make disciples among the familiar and among the unfamiliar, among the near and the far, among those like us and among those unlike us.

Two participles describe the activity of disciple-making: baptizing and teaching. The term “baptize” by itself implies dipping or immersing. It was used in the dyeing of garments, so that when a white garment was “baptized” into a dye, it came out of the dye changed and transformed. A broad study in the New Testament reveals that Christian baptism has a threefold nature. First, it is confessional. Even here in Jesus’ commission, we see the implied confession of the Trinity—there is one God who eternally exists as three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. Notice that it isn’t “names,” but “name” in verse 19. A baptized disciple confesses the Trinity and the person and work of Jesus Christ, because his death and resurrection is symbolized in the immersion. Second, baptism is transformational. It is an act of public repentance from the old life of sin, and the public pledge of a new, sanctified life. Third, baptism is communal. The baptized disciple expresses his or her desire to belong to the body of believers, and the body of believers acknowledges the confession of the baptized and accepts him or her into their community.

Teaching refers to instruction in both informal and formal settings. Remember, Jesus taught in small groups, in crowds, in parables, while traveling, while eating, while debating, while caring for the sick and oppressed. His settings were varied, but he was always teaching the twelve. Specifically, the disciples were charged to make disciples, teaching them to observe all that Jesus had commanded them. The term “observe” can mean “to persist in obedience”or to keep and guard. With all the language of heaven and earth and men being entrusted to keep and guard something once again, my mind travels back to the creation of the heavens and the earth, and man placed in the garden of Eden to cultivate it and to keep it. Jesus has established a new humanity with a new commission. Disciple-makers must make disciples who obey and keep the commandments of Jesus, and we must do it in such a way that disciples know how to make disciple.
Presence

Presence

Finally, Jesus spoke of presence. The Gospel of Matthew began,

This all happened so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: “Look! The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him Emmanuel,’ which means ‘God with us” (Matthew 1:22–23 NET).

It ends with a great commission followed with the assurance of the Commissioner’s presence, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The term “always” literally reads “all the days” or “the whole of every day.” We may understand this as his moment by moment presence accompanying us in the mission. Yet, it is also a presence that lasts until the consummation of the age. Jesus is guiding and directing his disciples in his mission by his legitimate authority in every moment all the way until we can all say: “Mission Accomplished!” And so, he forever connects his commission of the church in history to the end of the age. Ecclesiology and eschatology are connected. The mission now and his return later are in relationship.

Recapture the Great Commission

Therefore, given Jesus’ total and legitimate authority, his clear and urgent commission, and his momentary and enduring presence, are you encouraged to go and make disciples? You lack nothing that is needed to participate in the Great Commission. So what holds you back from making disciples? Seriously, try to answer that question. Is it an authority problem? Is it a problem with the instructions? Is it a need for the assurance of Jesus’ presence? He has answered all of these things for us. Are you worried that you have little faith? He still commissions you, as he did his disciples. He equips you with the Holy Spirit. Maybe you feel that you missed out on discipleship of your own. I’ve met many Christians who have felt this way. If you realize this need, then go get discipled! If you haven’t been baptized, then do it. If you need to be taught what Jesus taught, then find someone willing to teach you. Pray for God to provide this person or group.

Many times, however, the problem that causes us not to participate in disciple-making is that we simply don’t want to make disciples. Such an investment interrupts our “status quo” living. Walking alongside people in their week-to-week with the intent of helping them follow Jesus to a point that they themselves are then able to make disciples can be messy business. It can take a long time, and it can be frustrating— just think of how patient Jesus was when his disciples worried about bread that they forgot . . . loaves and fishes anyone?! I think sometimes too we feel that disciple-making requires more or additional . . . one more thing that I don’t have time for . . . like reading this blog! But perhaps, disciple-making doesn’t require additional, maybe it requires an intentional rethinking of your week. I am guessing that everyone reading this eats food, sometimes even three times a day. Why not intentionally pick out some weekly meals that you’re going to share with someone who needs to learn the way of Jesus? You’re already eating, just be intentional. Brothers and sisters, Jesus commissioned us . . . all of us . . . if we love him, then we’ve got to go. Let’s figure it out together. I am teaching a Sunday School Class right now at West Lisbon called Discipleship with Jesus and the Apostles on Sunday mornings at 9am. We are talking about this very topic. Come and join us. It’s one way to get started. Take advantage of some of the other opportunities coming up at WLC!

Recapturing the Great Commission: Part One

Great Commission

Exciting Opportunities at West Lisbon

We have an exciting two months ahead of us at West Lisbon Church in the area of World Missions. This Sunday evening, February 12th at 6pm, Mark and Stephanie Dodrill will be with us at Family Mission Fellowship to share about Youth for Christ’s work in Barcelona, Spain and about their home assignment. It is also exciting because West Lisbon is sending a team to work with Mark and Stephanie in Spain this summer! By the way, there is still one spot available on the Destination: Spain team.

Then in March, the Missions Committee will host our annual Missions Conference on March 18–19th. Our guest speaker for the weekend is Dr. Greg Parsons. Greg is the current Director of Global Connections at Frontier Ventures. Frontier describes itself in this way:

We are a community of dreamers and doers who long to see Jesus worshipped in the earth’s darkest corners.

Pretty awesome. Greg is also engaged in the leadership of the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. If this guy doesn’t fan the flame of world missions in your soul . . . you may want to check your pulse!!

In light of all of these exciting learning and serving experiences before us, I thought that I would spend the next two Messenger articles on the Great Commission of Matthew 28:16–20. In this month’s edition, we’ll examine the setting of Jesus’ commission. Next month, we’ll take a look at the words of Jesus’ commission.

Matthew 28:16–17 (ESV)

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.

The Setting of the Great Commission

“The Great Commission” as a title for Matthew 28:16–20 may have its origin in the first decade of the 1900s. It may have first appeared as a title for this text in the Scofield Reference Bible of 1909. Since then, it has enjoyed a place of prominence among the commissioning passages of the New Testament (e.g., Luke 24:44–49; Acts 1:8). Let’s take a look at the setting of the commission that precedes the words of the commission.

First, the people of the commission are described. The description of the group shocks the reader of Matthew’s commission passage. It is the “eleven.” The absence of one of the twelve recalls the evil and fall of Judas—one who had spent so much time with Jesus, betrayed him and was lost. We are soberly reminded by the word “eleven” that simply being present and in the crowd associated with Jesus does not correlate to genuine loyalty and discipleship. This does not mean—as some falsely presume—that the commission was ONLY for the eleven. Remember, Matthew wrote his Gospel with a Christian community in mind, who would receive and act upon his retelling of the life and work of Jesus Christ. The commission began with the eleven, but the text assumes that the church of all ages will take up this cause.

Second, the place of the commission is described. Jesus had told them that he himself would go ahead of them and meet them in Galilee after he was resurrected (Matthew 26:30–32; 28:10). After the Passover festival had finished, the disciples appeared to have returned home to Galilee to meet Jesus (see also John 20:26–21:14). As the time for his ascension drew near, it seems that they had returned to Jerusalem (Acts 1:1–11). Perhaps more significant, Matthew mentions that their meeting took place on “the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.” Mountaintop-experiences are an important theme in the Gospel of Matthew. Consider all that happened on mountains:

  • Temptation (4:8)
  • Teaching—Sermon on the Mount (5:1ff)
  • Prayer (14:23)
  • Healing (15:29)
  • Transfiguration (17:1, 9)
  • Triumphal Entry Prep (21:1)
  • Teaching—Olivet Discourse (24:3)

And now, Jesus calls his eleven disciples to the mountain for their commissioning.

Lastly, the faith of the commissioned is described. Notice that Matthew describes the presence of both worship AND doubt. It helps to explore this concept within Matthew’s gospel to find out what he means by this. For example, James seems to teach that there is a sense in which faith and doubt cannot coexist (e.g., 1:6–8). Jude, however, teaches us to be merciful to doubters (v. 22). Paul in Romans warns about doubts with regard to conscious and ethical decisions (14:23). So, context seems to be key. Clearly, doubt is a danger to the spiritual life if it persists, pervades, and is permanent; however, don’t we all struggle with some degree of doubt? I think this is where Matthew’s “theology” of doubt is helpful to us. Imagine the relationship of faith and doubt in Matthew’s gospel like a cup, where the empty space represents “Doubt” and the filled space represents “Faith”:


clipart of an almost empty glass of water

Throughout the Gospel of Matthew is what Grant Osborne calls the motif of “little faith.” Check out 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8. I tend to agree with Osborne that what is being described here in Matthew 28:17 by the concept of doubt in the midst of worship is simply another way of describing the theme of “little faith” that has been a regular description of Jesus’ disciples throughout the book. Put simply, their faith isn’t mature yet. They have faith, but it’s small. It is largely an immature faith at this point. The Holy Spirit and their witnessing will help to grow their faith, so that in time their faith may look something like this:

clipart of an almost empty glass of water

I’m not sure that doubt is ever totally eliminated from the spiritual life. James, Paul, and Jude exhort us about doubt for exactly this reason. However, I do think that faith and trust in God grows throughout the spiritual life. But come back with me to the setting of Jesus’ commissioning in Matthew 28:17. Is it really possible that the resurrected Jesus is about to entrust the expansion of his kingdom and the establishment of his church to eleven or so worshippers who are having doubts? Well, that’s certainly what the text says, isn’t it?

What does that mean for you? Have you been thinking that all of your doubts have to be gone before you effectively serve Jesus? Do you feel that you have to possess all of the answers before you can be sent to make disciples? Jesus certainly didn’t expect this of his original eleven. Why do you think he expects it of you? Fellow Christian, don’t allow your “little faith” to cause you to do “little disciple-making.” As we see in the book of Acts, the experience of the Holy Spirit’s ministry as we witness and make disciples increases our faith. Part of the excitement and fun of making disciples is becoming learners of Jesus together. I hope you’ll put your little faith to work in the Great Commission. Go on; step out of the boat and into the Great Commission! Next time, we’ll see that Jesus tells us everything our little faith needs to thrive in Christ’s commission.

Home: The Elusive Search for Place, Belonging, Rest, & Origin

Home

Where Is Home?

For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
(Hebrews 11:10 ESV)

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines home in multiple ways:

  • one’s place of residence
  • the social unit formed by a family living together
  • a familiar or usual setting,” related to this is the idiom at home, which means “relaxed or comfortable, in harmony with the surroundings, or on familiar ground
  • a place of origin

What about you? How would you define home? The dictionary definitions may be narrowed even further to (1) a location, (2) a people, (3) rest and harmony, and (4) origin.

My personal experience, which I realize that everyone may not share, is that home can be elusive. Here is what I mean. As you get older, home changes . . . locations may change; the people who make up home may change; the familiar expectation of rest and harmony may change too. However, young people and children can also experience these changes to home. Sometimes the changes that come upon a home are a calling into a new adventure and opportunity for growth — for example, higher education, an opportunity to advance a career, serving God’s mission, building a new house, an adoption or foster care, etc. Yet, sometimes the changes that come upon a home are the result of unexpected tragedies or unplanned invasions into the dreams that you had — death of a loved one, a house that burned down, divorce, job loss, abuse of all kinds, disease that requires special care, etc. Maybe you haven’t been able to put words to the feeling before, but I bet in some way or fashion many of us have asked, “Where is home?”

Another element of elusiveness is added when you begin to follow Jesus as a Christian. Perhaps the old Southern Gospel song, “This World Is Not My Home” says it best,

This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue;
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Chorus
O Lord, You know I have no friend like You,
If heaven’s not my home, then Lord what will I do?
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

They’re all expecting me, and that’s one thing I know,
My Savior pardoned me and now I onward go;
I know He’ll take me thro’ tho’ I am and weak and poor,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

I have a loving Savior up in glory-land,
I don’t expect to stop until I with Him stand,
He’s waiting now for me in heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

Just up in glory-land, we’ll live eternally,
The saints on every hand are shouting victory,
Their songs of sweetest praise drift back from heaven’s shore,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

For the Christian, there is a search for a new location to call home; there is a search to belong to a family that isn’t bound by a loyalty made merely of earthly flesh and blood (c.f., Mark 3:31–35); there is a longing for true rest and perfect harmony. I would even say that there is an ancient longing of origin—when a person comes to know God as Creator, Father, and Savior, the idea of origin and returning to a place and people of origin takes on a new meaning. Consider these words from the writer of Hebrews:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city (Hebrews 11:13–16 ESV).

Abraham, for example, searched for this city— “For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10 ESV). Was Canaan all that Abraham searched for? Was Sinai all that Moses and Israel searched for?

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, ‘If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.’ Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear (Hebrews 12:18–21 ESV).

Even the earthly Jerusalem on Mt. Zion appears to have been only a pattern shaped after a better city of promise,

On the holy mount stands the city he founded; the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob. Glorious things of you are spoken, O city of God (Psalms 87:1–3 ESV).

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:18–24 ESV).

If you look closely, you’ll see in the previous verses that there is (1) a location—the heavenly Jerusalem, (2) a community—innumerable angels, the assembly of the firstborn, and the spirits of the righteous, (3) rest and harmony—festal gathering, made perfect, the mediator of a new covenant. We may even see a hint of origin and return here with the mention of “the city of the living God.” Perhaps, this new Jerusalem is something like Eden was meant to be.

The writer of Hebrews indicates that “passage” into the city that the Christian seeks actually requires a journey “outside the camp.” The way of Jesus is outside the gate, outside the camp. For the audience of the writer to the Hebrews, this meant choosing Christ by faith, which was a confession that he was better than Moses, better than the temple, better than the sacrifices, better than the High Priest, and offered a better home than Jerusalem. The road that leads to the city we seek is marked with suffering, reproach, and sacrifice.

So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God (Hebrews 13:12–16 ESV).

The final words of Scripture to us about this new city are found in Revelation 21:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:1–4 ESV).

Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (Revelation 21:9–14 ESV).

Where is home? Home is “the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14). It is an ancient city that God has been building for ages, and he invites us into this home. He built its gates out of his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He built its foundation out of the apostles. Jesus Christ is its cornerstone. He’s still building it out of the supply of “living stones” in the church (1 Pet. 2:4). The location of this home is now heavenly, but there will one day be a move to earth, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come,” and “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” There is a social, family unit forming, held together by our common faith and fellowship in Jesus Christ by the Spirit of God. You can feel the true rest and perfect harmony when John writes, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Doesn’t dwelling with God in the new heaven and new earth also remind us of Genesis in the Garden of Eden?

So what? Home is a residence, a community to which you belong, rest and harmony, and a place of origin. For many people, home is elusive. The heart awakened by the gospel begins to reimagine what home is, and the two views of the earthly home and the heaven. Home begins to orient itself around God—his city, his people, his rest and harmony, and a return to his purpose for humanity.

I think that this gospel reorientation of home is practical in four ways.

Enemies of Home

First, it exposes sin, Satan, and death as the enemies of home. They destroy locations, divide families, make us restless and interrupt our harmony, and blind us toward God’s purpose in creating us.

Grace at Home

Second, the gospel reorientation of home allows us to have grace with our current home situation, empathizing with and understanding its imperfections and limitations and rejoicing in the glimpses it gives us of our future home.

Hope for Home

Third, we have a future hope in a dwelling, community, rest & harmony, that will fulfill God’s purpose for us and that will be free from the threats of sin, death, and Satan.

Church as Home

Lastly, I think that the closest place we can experience anything like that future home is in the church—a location of assembly, a community and family united in Christ by God’s Spirit made up of many fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters, spiritual rest and peace in Christ, and a place of fellowship around God’s purposes for our lives. Let’s be the best home we can, with God’s help, at West Lisbon.