Monday, July 27, 2015

This week's lesson (July 25-31): exiles as missionaries

"Remember my chains." -- Colossians 4:18, NIV
Not every missionary is a volunteer.

Certainly Daniel was not; neither were his three friends: Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego.
You see, they were captives -- Prisoners of War who had been moved to Babylon, stripped of their old identities, and forced to serve its rulers . . . 
Rulers they would not have chosen to serve -- not if it was up to them.
But sometimes, we don't get that choice.
No, sometimes life puts us someplace we don't want to go -- someplace we never thought of serving God.
For Daniel, it was Babylon.
For Esther, it was the court of Ahasuerus.
For Paul, it was a prison cell.
And if God could use them in places like that, then just think where God could use you . . . 
Yes, even if you wish it was someplace else.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

This week's lesson (July 18-24): the Jonah saga

Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors 
-- Matthew 6:12, KJV

There are some people you don't want to be saved.

Not if you're like Jonah, at any rate.

Called to preach in Nineveh, Jonah refuses -- and it is only after two miracles that you learn the reason why:
  • The first miracle: Jonah is saved from the drowning he deserves.
  • The second miracle: Nineveh is saved from the destruction it deserves.
  • And yes, it's that second miracle that's the problem!
When God saves Nineveh, you see, Jonah reveals the reason why he never wanted to go there:
[For] I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. -- Jonah 4:2, NIV
Jonah wanted Nineveh to burn, in other words; he wanted its people to be lost. In fact, Jonah would literally rather die -- literally! -- than give Nineveh a chance to be saved.

The biggest barrier to evangelism, in other words, isn't always distance, language, or the beliefs of the people we're trying to reach.

No, sometimes the biggest barrier to evangelism is the way we feel about the people we're trying to reach.

Just like Jonah, after all, there may be some people we don't want to be saved.

And just like Jonah, we may need some saving ourselves.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

This week's lesson (July 11-17): the unlikely missionary

You probably know someone like Naaman.

He's one of those people "who mean well" -- "whose heart's in the right place" . . .

But he's picked up some crazy ideas along the way.

This is a man, remember, who thinks you can't worship God without the right kind of dirt.

And yes, that made sense back home -- back in Aram.

So did his belief that kings spoke for the gods . . . that healings required elaborate exorcisms . . . that payment was due for blessings given . . . and that a certain "latitude" might be allowed for something that looked like idolatry to everyone else.

In short, Naaman's beliefs have been shaped by his background; his ideas have been influenced by the way he was brought up.

Yes, he's like those people in your family whom you love . . .
  • Even though they've picked up some funny ideas about politics.
  • Even though they've picked up some funny ideas about music.
  • Even though they've picked up some funny ideas about the role of raw vegetables in the sanctified life.
Mind you, some of our own ideas may seem just as odd. We all come to God with "baggage," after all; we've all been influenced by the world around us -- just like Naaman.

That's why we all know someone like Naaman.

We see him every time we look in the mirror.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

This week's lesson (July 4-10): Abraham, the first missionary

Abraham is a mystery.

When you read God's promise to "make [Abraham] into a great nation," after all, then you naturally assume that he must be a good man, a godly man, a man who deserves such a blessing.

Then Abraham's fear of Pharaoh leads him to hide behind his wife -- something no self-respecting nomad would ever do . . . and you're left wondering:
  • Is he greedy? Then how do you account for Abraham's generosity to Lot?
  • Is he a coward? Then how do you account for Abraham's rescue of Lot?
  • Maybe God didn't know just how bad Abraham could be? Then why does He repeat His blessing -- and not just once, but several times?
No, it's a puzzle . . . 
And not until Genesis 20:12 do things snap into focus: not until Abraham off-handedly reveals that his wife "is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother." You can't pretend this doesn't matter -- not after the story of Lot and his daughters. And with that revelation, you're left wondering:
  • Why would God bless this marriage with offspring?
  • How can God bless the offspring of this marriage?
  • And what kind of God would bless someone like Abraham -- someone who clearly doesn't doesn't deserve it?
In short, the story of Abraham is a mystery.
Grace always is.