Great Commission


Matthew 3-4 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He calls us to go public with our testimony of faith

Several years ago I had the privilege to witness a water baptism service take place in the Jordan River.  As scripture was read, I imagined the scene centuries before when John the Baptist was baptizing in this river and the Lord Jesus came to be baptized.  It was a moving experience for me and caused me to reflect on my own water baptism.

I was part of a group of four children baptized in our church baptismal tank one Sunday morning.  I was five years old.  We entered the tank together where our pastor was waiting for us; and to this day, a hundred years later, I remember an indescribable presence of the Lord to where the water was stirring even though we stood still and my lips were stammering even though I wasn’t cold.  Little did I understand at the time that the Holy Spirit baptizer was there with us.  My water baptism experience was a glorious encounter with the living God that I will never forget.  I doubt at the age of five that I understood all the ramifications of my submission to water baptism, but really, does anyone? 

@ Matthew 3
“In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, ‘Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near’… People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John.  And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.” (1-2,5-6)  The Pharisees and Sadducees who came to watch were not welcomed by John who called them a brood of snakes (help) because they claimed to be repentant of their sins but didn’t live like it. (7-8)  Obviously, water baptism for John was not just something to do on a sunny afternoon.

Paul described it this way to the Romans, “For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.” (Romans 6:4)  Water baptism is our public declaration to the world that we have died and buried our old way of life through our repentance of sin and have risen to live a walk that is committed to our new life.

“We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives.” (Romans 6:6)  Water baptism doesn’t save us.  Water baptism is our testimony to the world of the salvation we have received.  And as John was saying to the Pharisees, if we’re not committed to living like a believer, we certainly should not give testimony that we are one.

Water baptism usually comes early in our walk with the Lord, and we rarely know at that time how our public confession of faith will be tested, how we may be ridiculed, ignored or even persecuted or how strongly we may be tempted to fail.  In all of that, we would do well to remember our water baptism, our public declaration that the old man is dead and buried and the new man is alive and well on planet earth.  It just might give us the boost we need to, “Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have confessed so well before many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:12) 

Moving Forward: Today I’m remembering, once again, the day I publicly confessed that I died to sin and rose to walk in newness of life. I just may need to find someone and go public once again with my testimony.

Tomorrow @ Romans 5-6

Isaiah 1-6 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He cleanses our hearts so that we may sit in His presence

“I saw the Lord! I saw the Lord! He was high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple, He was high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple. The angels cried, ‘Holy!’ The angels cried, ‘Holy!’ The angels cried, ‘Holy is the Lord!’” When I was just a little girl of five or six years old, I remember my pastor walking to the microphone singing this song. I’ve always thought this song with its several verses was a spontaneous outflow by my pastor from Isaiah 6 following personal time he had spent with the Lord.  Today, I’m not really sure who originated the song, but I know it was someone who had an encounter with God.

Even though he had been a missionary, an evangelist and was then the pastor of our church, my Pastor was like Abraham or Moses to me.  Like all the youth and children in our church, I sat spellbound as I listened to his messages.  I didn’t understand a lot of what was being said, but he spoke with an authority, an anointing, that could only come from someone who had experienced an encounter with the Lord similar to that of Isaiah. 

@ Isaiah 6
The life of a prophet was not easy during Israel’s disobedient years, and this was true for Isaiah.  His prophecies to Israel, Judah and the surrounding countries were dismal and spoke of devastation, but nestled in between his declarations of judgment was a little bit of heaven.  “I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. Attending him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. They were calling out to each other, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!’” (1-3)  Often when our hearts are heavy from the sin and disregard for God that we see all around us, the Lord offers us an oasis in His Holy presence.

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord…” Perhaps a tribute by the Seraphim to the Trinity, the Hebrew meaning of Holy implied to Isaiah that God was unapproachable and separate, exposing his sin and he cried, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.’ Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal he had taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. He touched my lips with it and said, ‘See, this coal has touched your lips. Now your guilt is removed, and your sins are forgiven.’” (5-8)

To be sure, an encounter of this magnitude with the living God could only humble us, but our loving God would not leave us wallowing in our sin and separation as Isaiah feared.

No, He offers the coal, the fire of the Spirit, the blood of the sacrificial Lamb from the altar to remove our guilt and sin.  And just as He asked Isaiah, the Lord asks us, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?” (8)

So the question for us from Isaiah’s encounter with God is whether or not we will separate from our busy lives and step away to His presence where He will purify us and where we will receive the words, the songs and prose He wants to give us to touch our world.  Even more sobering, if He asks us, will we go? 

Moving Forward:  Stepping away to sit in His Holy presence, I’m so very thankful for His cleansing.  I’ll wait to receive all that He has for me today. 

Tomorrow @ Matthew 2

Acts 23-25 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He enables us to fulfill our calling

Even though lawyers are often the target of jokes and ridicule, we evidently enjoy observing them work.  At any time of the day, we can watch them wax eloquent in the courts of justice on the ever popular Law and Order, Matlock or the original defender of the accused, Perry Mason.  With so many injustices in the world, apparently seeing justice reign supreme for an hour does our hearts good.

The Apostle Paul was accused of several crimes by the Jewish leaders and spent some time in court himself, but he didn’t hire a high profile overpaid attorney to defend him.  It seems he offered his own defense, and the case moved along in just the direction he wanted it to move.  From scripture we know that Paul was a great defender, not only of himself, but of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

@ Acts 23
“Gazing intently at the high council, Paul began: ‘Brothers, I have always lived before God with a clear conscience!’ Instantly Ananias the high priest commanded those close to Paul to slap him on the mouth. But Paul said to him, ‘God will slap you, you corrupt hypocrite!  What kind of judge are you to break the law yourself by ordering me struck like that?’” (1-3)  I’m not very savvy about courtroom etiquette, but I’m fairly certain that calling the judge a corrupt hypocrite was not proper protocol. Even though the judge was out of line in his command, Paul did not defend his words to him but quickly apologized, “I’m sorry, brothers. I didn’t realize he was the high priest,’ Paul replied, ‘for the Scriptures say, “You must not speak evil of any of your rulers.’” (5)  For Paul, it was prudent to move to the matter at hand.

“Brothers, I am a Pharisee, as were my ancestors! And I am on trial because my hope is in the resurrection of the dead!” (6)  With this the courtroom became volatile – Pharisees who believed in the resurrection against Sadducees who did not and everyone calling for the death of Paul.  Paul had a knack for stirring the pot.  I can imagine the judge’s gravel demanded a call to order but with little effect.  Fearing for Paul’s life, the Commander in charge whisked him away to safety to stand before the court in Caesarea and Governor Felix. 

@ Acts 24
Regardless of the plans of the Jewish leaders and the Roman government, Paul was on a mission to present the gospel.  His defense was not for his own life, but for the sake of the mission that Jesus confirmed to him in the lonely jail as he awaited trial, “Be encouraged, Paul. Just as you have been a witness to me here in Jerusalem, you must preach the Good News in Rome as well.” (11)  The high priest, Felix, Festus and the angry mob were all witnesses, pawns of God, in the case against Paul.  The Roman jail was his destiny and preaching the gospel to the Romans was his heartbeat.  When Paul appealed to Caesar, the courtroom moved to none other than Rome.

In the meantime, his case held him in Palestine for over two years, and Paul used every opportunity to share about the very One who was the cause for the charges against him.  The ruling governors, the Jewish leaders and finally King Agrippa heard the message of Jesus Christ.  At the end of the day, Paul was not guilty of any of the trumped up charges by the Jewish leaders except one and he boldly admitted to it, “These men cannot prove the things they accuse me of doing. But I admit that I follow the Way, which they call a cult. I worship the God of our ancestors.” (13-14)

I, too, boldly admit that I follow the Way, the gospel of Jesus, and I pray that the evidence is strong enough to convict me.  As in Paul’s day, some may not like it and may bring distractions and accusations my way. However, as a believer in Jesus, I am commissioned with a message of hope to our world just as Paul was.  And let the chips fall where they may. 

Moving Forward:  Today if someone accuses me of being a Christian, I’ll declare, “I follow the Way!”  And just like Paul, I’ll take the opportunity to tell that someone all about it. 

Tomorrow @ 3 John

Acts 21-22 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He places a resolve in yielded hearts to do His will

I know several missionary families that have left the comforts of home to travel and live in dangerous parts of the world.  Some met with opposition from family and friends at their decision to do so; but with resolve, they moved forward in obedience to God.  Paul, the greatest missionary that has ever lived, faced some opposition in his decision to return to Jerusalem.  When prophets shared a word from the Lord to discourage him from going to Jerusalem, Paul stuck to his resolve.  Was he right?

@ Acts 21
“We went ashore, found the local believers, and stayed with them a week. These believers prophesied through the Holy Spirit that Paul should not go on to Jerusalem.” (4)  “Several days later a man named Agabus, who also had the gift of prophecy, arrived from Judea. He came over, took Paul’s belt, and bound his own feet and hands with it. Then he said, ‘The Holy Spirit declares, “So shall the owner of this belt be bound by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and turned over to the Gentiles.”’ When we heard this, we and the local believers all begged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.” (10-12)

This was Paul’s resolve in response to their warnings, “And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lies ahead. But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.” (20:22-24) And so it is with the missionaries that preach the gospel around the world.  They are bound by the Spirit who calls them, and their lives are worth nothing unless they do the work God has assigned them.  Those who love them must understand this.

Were the prophets who warned Paul in error?  Let me just say that the life of the prophet can be as difficult as the life of the missionary.  The responsibility of the prophet to speak only what God has revealed to them, without their personal input and interpretation is a challenge.  Paul wrote in I Thessalonians 5:20-21, “Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said.  Hold on to what is good.”  God had revealed truth to the dear brethren who were warning Paul about his trip to Jerusalem, but how he should respond to that truth was between Paul and the Lord.

“Even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture.” (I Corinthians 13:9) Only part of God’s plans for Paul had been revealed to the prophets, and there was a higher purpose in Paul’s trip to Jerusalem.  It was the first step toward his movement to Rome, God’s final purpose and destination for Paul.  Bound by the Spirit, Paul was moving ahead in his calling.

“Why all this weeping? You are breaking my heart! I am ready not only to be jailed at Jerusalem but even to die for the sake of the Lord Jesus.’  When it was clear that we couldn’t persuade him, we gave up and said, ‘The Lord’s will be done.’  After this we packed our things and left for Jerusalem.”(21:13-15) Paul’s companions were not going to desert him now.  They would give aid, comfort and support to Paul to accomplish his mission.

How could we do any less for those we love who are fulfilling God’s calling on their lives?  To parents, support the calling God has placed on the lives of your children no matter how difficult.  To children, support the calling God has placed on the lives of your parents regardless of personal desires – He will reward you.  The very least we can do for those bound by the Spirit to do God’s will is to not hinder them, and God will bless all our efforts to support and enable them. 

Moving Forward:  Bound by the Spirit to present the gospel, may we not be hindered or discouraged by those who see only part of the picture. 

Tomorrow @ 2 John

Acts 19-20 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He blesses us when we share the message of Jesus

Several years ago we took a team of youth to a city in Paraguay to help a pastor establish the first evangelical church in the community.  Expectations were high as our team distributed invitations throughout the city to attend the nightly Tent Crusade and as they prepared their skits and testimonies.

What we didn’t know was that in response to the success of a previous team, the religious leaders of the city who had ruled for over 150 years threatened the success of our mission.  They informed the townspeople that education would be denied the children of any families that attended the Tent. The enemy doesn’t like it when the message of a personal relationship with Jesus invades his domain. 

@ Acts 19
Paul had spent three years in Ephesus establishing a strong church in this city known for its occult practices.  “God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles.  When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled.” (11-12)  God demonstrated His great Holy power to people who looked to the mystical and supernatural, and we should never limit what God will use to reach the lost of our world. However, all was not a bed of roses for the believers of Ephesus.

“About that time, serious trouble developed in Ephesus concerning the Way. It began with Demetrius, a silversmith who had a large business manufacturing silver shrines of the Greek goddess Artemis…‘Gentlemen, you know that our wealth comes from this business.  But as you have seen and heard, this man Paul has persuaded many people that handmade gods aren’t really gods at all.’” (23-26)  The bottom line – Demetrius was losing money because the Ephesians were receiving Christ and no longer needing his idols.  We learn Demetrius was not only a successful businessman, but he also had a knack for inciting riots.

“At this their anger boiled, and they began shouting, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ Soon the whole city was filled with confusion. Everyone rushed to the amphitheater…” (28-29)  The amphitheater held 25,000, so imagine the t-shirts sold that day!  A mob mentality took over to the point, “Everything was in confusion.  In fact, most of them didn’t even know why they were there.” (32)  Whenever confusion is present, we can be certain that the enemy is close at hand.  Ultimately, a politician, of all things, brought calm to the scene that day, the lives of Paul and his companions were spared and the church in Ephesus moved forward.

This story answers the question – Is the enemy threatened by our message of Jesus Christ to our world?  Yes, however, Paul did not storm the Temple of Diana or berate her followers.  He simply presented the gospel of Jesus, and its power changed the lives of many Ephesians.  The fear of our message in the town in Paraguay was a threat to the religious leaders because they had seen lives changed that no longer needed to pay for their atonement.  Only a handful braved the edict from the town leaders to attend our services; but undaunted by this news, our team fasted and prayed for a breakthrough and held nightly services as if the tent was packed with people.

As the nights progressed, we noticed people sitting on the fringes of the property listening to the music, so we brought the music out to them.  Before long they were singing and clapping and eventually joined us in the Tent.  We had a great crusade with many accepting the Lord as their Savior because the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is more powerful than any other force.

When we tell the simple message of Jesus to our neighbors, families and co-workers, we may experience some persecution because it is a threat to the enemy of man’s soul.  Sometimes it’s not easy to take, but be encouraged.  It means we are doing something right, and the enemy considers us a threat.  Jesus said, “God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right…Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven.” (Matthew 5:10,12)  He would know. 

Moving Forward: I’m so thankful for the power of the gospel to change the hearts of men and for His power to stop the enemy’s threats. 

Tomorrow @ I John 4-5

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

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