Great Commission


Ezra 1-5 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  Styles come and go, but He never changes

My laptop PC had served me well for several years.  I understand most of the nuances and foibles of my Windows PC, and I’m comfortable with it, like a pair of well broken-in shoes.  It was with reluctance that I accepted the necessity to buy a new laptop, but it was time. Voices were encouraging me to make a change, a change for the better they said, change to a…Mac.  Help! They promise no viruses, user-friendly computing, amazing video editing and on and on.  I like things the way they are, and who needs change?  Maybe…no…well, I just don’t know…but it may be the way to go…but it’s just not me…I could learn to like it…to Mac or not to Mac. Hmmm… 

@ Ezra 3
“When the builders completed the foundation of the Lord’s Temple, the priests put on their robes and took their places to blow their trumpets…With praise and thanks, they sang this song to the Lord:  ‘He is so good! His faithful love for Israel endures forever!’  Then all the people gave a great shout, praising the Lord because the foundation of the Lord’s Temple had been laid. But many of the older priests, Levites, and other leaders who had seen the first Temple wept aloud when they saw the new Temple’s foundation. The others, however, were shouting for joy.  The joyful shouting and weeping mingled together in a loud noise that could be heard far in the distance.” (3:10,11-13)  Change can be difficult.

I am almost positive I have heard the “joyful shouting and the weeping mingled together” in some of our church services throughout the land.  Church just isn’t the same as it was years ago.  Newer music, relaxed style of dress and quicker paced services are just a few of the changes that many churches have grown into over the past few years.  Many seasoned believers feel disconnected from the church where they had experienced so many wonderful moments with the Lord – the new Temple is just not the same, not as magnificent as Solomon’s Temple.

History reveals quite a shake-up in the church world when the now somewhat disconnected believers were younger.  Coming out of more liturgical services, they started to accept gospel songs, clapping, raising hands to God and even shouting at times.  I’ve read that the elders from their former churches thought they had lost all respect and reverence for God; but of course, they had not.  Their new-found freedom in the Lord was in keeping with the day in which they lived, and it was like a breath of fresh air to the church.  But to some, the new Temple was just not the same, not as magnificent as Solomon’s Temple.

After 40 years in youth and young adult ministry, I can say that the current generation, with very few exceptions, does not really understand the style of the past.  As a rule, it doesn’t touch them, it doesn’t reach them and without some new wineskins for the new wine God is pouring out today, they may be lost for eternity.

When I worship in church today, beyond the music and the style, I am most blessed by seeing people’s lives changed by the power of God, and that is really the bottom line for me.  If I didn’t see this taking place in my church, I would find a place where it was happening.  Methods and music style, whether new or old, without the touch of God are simply entertainment.  The temple may not look anything like the temple of my youth, but I’m not going to weep because too many young lives are finding the Savior.  Hear my joyful shouting!

Moving Forward:  I’m rejoicing today over lives being changed by the power of God.  It may be a different approach, but it’s the same God and the same power. 

Tomorrow @ Psalm 131-133

Acts 13-14 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  He gives His Holy Spirit to guide our mission in life

When we set out on a mission to buy a new product of any kind, we’re the most successful when we do our homework first.  We check the advertising flyers and then visit the store to touch and hold the product.  Or we scour the internet for consumer reports, special sales and anything that will inform us about the product.  Really, a savvy consumer would not depend on impulse or guesswork to complete a mission like this.  However, as believers, we are on a mission every day and so often we don’t take the time to do our homework.

Whether we choose to accept it or not, the Gospels presents to us our mission, the Great Commission, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.” (Mark 16:15)  When we step out into our world each day, how prepared are we to accomplish our mission? 

@ Acts 13
It’s only right that Paul, the Great Evangelist, the great consumer of souls, would serve as our template for our mission. “One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them’…So Barnabas and Saul were sent out by the Holy Spirit… Saul, also known as Paul, was filled with the Holy Spirit.”(2,4,9)  Paul did his homework!  He spent time in prayer, worship and fasting to where his will was surrendered to God’s will.  He was filled with the Holy Spirit to where his steps were surrendered to God’s steps.

Throughout Acts, we read how God guided Paul to the right place at the right time. “On the Sabbath [Paul and Barnabas] went to the synagogue for the services.  After the usual readings from the books of Moses and the prophets, those in charge of the service sent them this message: “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, come and give it.” (15)  I just love when God opens the doors for our mission.  When we are led by the Holy Spirit, we see the open doors, His set-ups, and walk right through them to present the Gospel.

Sometimes we are hindered by the response we receive on our mission.  Once again, Paul was not threatened by the response of his listeners.  Many people, especially Gentiles, accepted his message and received the Lord as their Savior, but many others rejected his message to the point of physical attack, “They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead.” (14:19)  Paul was not responsible for the response of his listeners.

It’s our responsibility to present the Gospel, and it’s the Holy Spirit’s responsibility to touch the hearts of men.  Of course, when we surrender our day to the leading of the Holy Spirit, we have Him right there with us, partnering in our mission.  We need not be discouraged when our message is rejected because we have no idea where the Holy Spirit will take it in those hostile lives.  Remember, Paul was present at Stephen’s stoning.  Every day we are challenged to accept our mission, do our homework and follow through with unhindered tenacity. 

Moving Forward: Yes, I’ll accept my mission today. Yes, I will do my homework.  And yes, I will tenaciously complete my mission just like any savvy shopper would do.

Tomorrow @ I Peter 4-5

Deuteronomy 10-12 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  He doesn’t force us to follow Him, but desires that we choose to follow

I love telling my children about growing up in the dark ages – no Starbucks, no cell phones, no cable television.  Yes, I did walk a mile to school every day, uphill both ways, carrying my saxophone and schoolbooks, slipping and sliding on the icy Minneapolis sidewalks.  The only way a television channel got changed was if I got off the couch and changed it.  The first computer I saw was the size of a small room and just wouldn’t fit on a lap. I tell them these things hoping to receive praise for surviving such deprivation, but the response is usually one of disbelief.  I guess you just had to have been there.

And I love telling them about the day I asked Jesus into my heart.  The concept of Jesus in my heart was a little difficult for our daughter to understand at the age of three.  I was in the ninth month of pregnancy with our son when she stared at me one day with a quizzical look to the point where I finally asked, “Mandy, what is it?”  With all the innocence of three-year-old, she said, “Mommy, with Jesus in your heart and that baby in your tummy, it sure must be crowded in there!”  Well, at least she knew about Jesus. 

@ Deuteronomy 11
“You must love the Lord your God and obey all his requirements, decrees, regulations, and commands.  Keep in mind that I am not talking now to your children, who have never experienced the discipline of the Lord your God or seen his greatness and his strong hand and powerful arm…your children didn’t see how the Lord cared for you in the wilderness until you arrived here… But you have seen the Lord perform all these mighty deeds with your own eyes!  (1-2,5,7)  How will our children ever know what God has done in our lives unless we tell them.

I love telling my children about the price that was paid by my mom to pave the way for our salvation, and I love telling the beautiful testimony of commitment to the ministry of their dad’s parents.  How will they ever know if we fail to tell them?

“Look, today I am giving you the choice between a blessing and a curse! You will be blessed if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today.  But you will be cursed if you reject the commands of the Lord your God and turn away from him and worship gods you have not known before.” (26-28)  The day came when my children, too, stood at the threshold of blessing and cursing.

Through our testimony, our children had a history to draw from, a precedent to help them examine and understand the faithfulness of God to their parents and ancestors.  I think it was helpful to them. Now they are grown and have chosen the blessing of God for their lives by obeying His commands.  The power of our testimony is far greater than we can imagine, but no one will know it unless we share it.

Moving Forward:  “I will sing of the mercies of the LORD for ever: with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 89:1) 

Tomorrow @ 2 Chronicles 33-36

Acts 7-8 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He gives us the grace we need to reach the most hateful of men

Rising high in the center of beautiful Vienna is the extraordinary St. Stephen’s Cathedral, built in 1160.  It honors the deacon from the early church in Jerusalem, Stephen, who was the first Christian martyr and stoned by the Temple leaders because he believed that Jesus was the Messiah.  The Church is magnificent in its architecture and Gothic style, but its beauty could never be compared to the radiant face of Stephen as he saw the Lord and prayed as they stoned him, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ He fell to his knees, shouting, ‘Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!’ And with that, he died.” (7:59-60) 

@ Acts 8
Stephen preached a great sermon on the day he was killed and gave a historical account of the rejection of God and His Son by Israel’s religious leaders.  Little did he know that the message of Jesus would one day greatly impact one of the bystanders, “Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen.” (1)  Saul was one of the haters.

When we step out in obedience to share the love of God in the marketplace, we may be surprised at who is listening to our message and at how it is impacting them.  I think of the story of Nicky Cruz and David Wilkerson.  In the late 1950’s, bold street evangelist David Wilkerson witnessed to the hardened gang members of New York City, and there in the gang was the hardest of them all, Nicky Cruz. Even though Nicky beat him and threatened his life, David expressed God’s great love for Nicky with the heart of one like Stephen, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!”

Nicky had a radical conversion, not unlike the Apostle Paul who had approved of Stephen’s stoning.  Nicky went on to preach the Good News around the world drawing many gang members and lost souls to the Lord, and he still is preaching today about the transformation in his life.  As we know, Paul shook the world with his conversion and the Church of the Lord Jesus has never been the same.

We just can’t imagine the impact our witness will have in the lives of complete strangers when we are simply obedient to the Great Commission to present the Good News. No one is too bad, too lost or too hateful to be touched by God’s love through the work of the Holy Spirit.  Never shortchange Him!  It was Paul who said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.” (l Timothy 1:15-16) 

Moving Forward: I won’t let the hateful words or deeds of sinful men stop me from presenting the Good News to them. I may be reaching the next great evangelist!

Tomorrow @ James 1-3

Nahum 1-3 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He delivers the good news through His messengers 

@ Nahum 1
I last fall had the opportunity to trek up a mountain path to the top of a hill overlooking a multicolored tree-studded valley in the Austrian Alps and the panoramic view of the surrounding mountains.  And yes, it’s good for all to remember that only God is credentialed to be jealous (verse 2).  During that time away, I was privileged to fellowship with missionaries and pastors who minister in the International Churches of Europe.  No one deserved this amazing retreat setting more than they did.  These messengers, with their beautiful feet, know something about delivering a message of good news, just as the messengers prophesied about in Nahum.

The prophet Nahum delivered a message of judgment to the powerful Assyrians in his prophecy.  Assyria’s torment of Israel was coming to an end and their terrible fate would soon be heralded throughout Israel.  “Look!  A messenger is coming over the mountains with good news!  He is bringing a message of peace.  Celebrate your festivals, O people of Judah, and fulfill all your vows, for your wicked enemies will never invade your land again.” (15)  God was jealous for His people, just as a husband is jealous over his wife and wants no rivals, and the Assyrians would meet their end because they sought to steal God’s people from Him.  The destruction was so complete that the ruins of Assyria’s great cities were not discovered until the 1800’s.  God doesn’t mess around.

As I stood at the top of the hill and looked out across the mountains, I imagined messengers reaching the mountain crest from the other side, shouting their message of good news and peace as they came into view.  God is jealous for His creation and has sent his messengers to the nations, over the mountains, through the valleys and across the oceans to declare the good news, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation.” (Isaiah 52:7)  They come with a message of deliverance from the enemy’s snare, the enemy who will one day be utterly destroyed.  They come with a message of peace and hope.

The path I walked that day was filled with tree roots and rocks, making climbing difficult at times, and I thought of the challenges along the path that our missionaries face as they bring the good news to the nations. I am reminded to pray for a clear path for their beautiful feet, safety along the way and for their resounding message to touch more lives than they have ever imagined. 

Moving Forward:  So thankful today for His messengers who take His message of peace and hope around the world and thankful for those who brought it to me. 

Tomorrow @ Acts 7-8

Acts 5-6 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He will protect His own in ways we can’t imagine

Most of us remember individuals who have impacted our walk with the Lord, either introducing us to Him or guiding us along in our growth.  I am still able to visualize the precious woman who led the Children’s Church when I was five and six years old and also the dear sisters, Margie and Harriet, who directed Junior Children’s Church Sunday after Sunday.  Their Bible stories and commitment to the Lord spoke loudly to my young heart about what was really important in life.  No one has impacted my spiritual life more than my own mom who lived out the gospel that she testified about so boldly every day of her life.  I’m so thankful for this rich heritage of my faith, but I’m also thankful for a man I’ve never met whose words have indirectly impacted all of our lives today. 

@ Acts 5
As we read last week, the High Council of Jews did not know what to do with Peter and John and their bold witness for Christ.  The apostles continued to preach even though they were told not to do so and were arrested once again.  Then, they somehow escaped from jail and were once again on the streets preaching, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” (29)  There are religious zealots today with this same tenacity, unfortunately their goal is to destroy lives rather than save them.  I’ve wondered if I would have the same determination as the apostles to share Jesus with others if I faced the threat of death.  I pray that I would.

The High Council determined to kill the apostles until one of their own, the Pharisee Gamaliel, gave them cause to pause, “So my advice is, leave these men alone.  Let them go.  If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown. But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them.  You may even find yourselves fighting against God!” (38-39)

Way to go Gamaliel!  He more than likely thought this insurrection would die out, but I appreciate that he considered the possibility that it was from God.  He seemed to be the only voice of reason present that day and because of it, the apostles lived and went on to establish a strong church in Jerusalem.  When this church was persecuted, it scattered and eventually the gospel reached all the way through the ages to me.

Since that time, many false prophets have threatened the church and caused us to be skeptical of any move of God that is different than what we have experienced; but at the same time, many true revivals have blessed and enriched the church.  When we are confronted with a new move or revival, we would do well to be cautious in our criticism and skepticism of it, but instead it would be wise to measure its message and its messengers by the Word of God rather than its style. If it is true and valid, we would not want to find ourselves “fighting against God!” 

Moving Forward:  Anything from you, Lord, I want it!  I don’t care how different it may seem to me, because if it’s from you, no man can overthrow it.

Tomorrow @ Hebrews 11-13

Acts 3-4 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart:  His miracles will change the hearts of men

The presidential elections bring the political parties out in full force.  They use every method that is legal, and otherwise, to get their candidates elected and do this to the point of ad nauseam.  Television ads, phone calls, mass mailings and radio spots interrupt our lives each day and are only limited by the number of dollars available to spend.  The fervor rises to new heights when a candidate is able to stir up some dirt on his or her opponent. When this happens, the candidate’s political machine revs up to damage-control mode and the country’s brightest and best political minds devise a plan to keep lost votes to a minimum.

Watching all this take place is entertaining to say the least and would be funny if it wasn’t so very serious.  The same was true of some damage control that the Sanhedrin, the High Council of religious leaders, was engaged in after the healing of a certain lame man in our reading today. You gotta love it.

Peter and John, now full of the Holy Spirit, were on their way to worship at the Temple when God interrupted their journey with their first recorded miracle.  God chose to do this at the Temple gate called Beautiful, the most used and well-known gate of the Temple, and He chose to heal a well-known lame beggar at the gate. Obviously, God was out to stir up a little trouble for His opponents.

It wasn’t a quiet little healing to where Peter and John could discreetly proceed on their way to worship.  No, the healed beggar “jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk!  Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them.” (3:8)  The noise and commotion as well as the obvious miracle had drawn a crowd, and Peter, preacher that he was, could not resist presenting the message of Jesus Christ.  In a matter of minutes, a couple thousand men plus women and children were added to the church.

This was no political rally, but that was somewhat how the High Council saw it.  One would think that religious leaders would be interested in a bona fide miracle, but they were more interested in who was getting the credit for it – and that would be Jesus.  Now it was time for damage control.  After interviewing Peter and John, this was their concern and strategy, “What should we do with these men?” they asked each other. “We can’t deny that they have performed a miraculous sign, and everybody in Jerusalem knows about it. But to keep them from spreading their propaganda any further, we must warn them not to speak to anyone in Jesus’ name again.” (4:16-17)

“What should we do with these men?”  During a political season, I imagine that men in backrooms ponder this same question regarding Christians and their values. They will devise schemes to dilute and nullify our influence in electing men and women who will govern our nation with Godly values and laws.  But Peter and John were not damage controlled, and neither should we be!

“As soon as they were freed, Peter and John returned to the other believers and told them what the leading priests and elders had said.  When they heard the report, all the believers lifted their voices together in prayer to God…O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word.  Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (29-30)  Then the Holy Spirit came and shook up the place and the Church was on fire!  With His fire in the house, no one was worried about the enemy and its damage control. 

Moving Forward: I pray those who oppose our message will be threatened enough to ask, “What should we do with these Christians?”  I pray we will have the boldness of Peter and John to speak for our values and that all believers will lift their voices together in prayer to God because that is what will make a difference in the hearts of men. And, we’ll take some of that fire! 

Tomorrow @ Hebrews 8-10

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