What’s The Church Supposed To Do?

If you ask the church that I’ve spent most of my life in what their mission is they have a ready answer: preaching the gospel and preparing a people. I can’t speak for your churches, but I imagine many (perhaps even most) of them would also point to some version of what we call The Great Commission as their mission statement.

Jesus came to them and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, 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 things that I commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matt. 28:18-20, WEB)

Is this a commission? yes, it’s “an instruction, command, or duty given to … group of people.” Is it great? since it came from Jesus and involves a responsibility given His disciples, yes. But is it really meant as the defining mission statement for the entire church from Jesus’ resurrection to His return? I’m not so sure.

What's The Church Supposed To Do? Looking At Scriptural Mission Statements For People Following Jesus | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Photo credit: Pearl via Lightstock

A Sobering Warning

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were the group He spent the most time criticizing and correcting. They professed to follow God’s highest standards but were in reality hypocrites. They did righteous looking things just to get attention (Matt. 23:5). They went to great lengths to convert people only to pervert their faith (Matt. 23:15). They placed too high an emphasis on money received as tithes and offerings (Matt. 23:16-19). They neglected the “weighty matters” of God’s law and instead followed their own traditions. They even turned the temple itself into a marketplace where they exploited people coming to worship God (John 2:14-16).

The scary thing is, these people honestly thought they were the most righteous God-followers out there. That serves as a warning today that church leaders and organizations have to be very careful where they place their focus. And so do we as individual members of Christ’s body.

A Greater “Commission”

We certainly shouldn’t ignore Christ’s instruction to go, disciple, baptize, and teach. But we need to make sure we’re thinking of that command from Matthew 28 in its proper context. Because there are two other commissions that Jesus plainly told us are His greatest commands. Continue reading

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Lessons From Sukkot

My family and I just got back on Thursday evening from a wonderful Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) gathering in eastern Pennsylvania. While it was packed full of spiritual lessons, there wasn’t much time for the sort of personal Bible studies that typically end up becoming blog posts on Saturdays. So today I’m just going to share a few lessons I learned this past week:

  • I can organize people. If I’d known agreeing to plan a singles/young adult activity would have ended up involving 30+ people doing 5 different activities I would have probably wanted to hide under a desk. But it all went really well and I had lots of help from people who volunteered (or had someone volunteer them) to lead some of the activities.
  • The only ancient text with anywhere near as many copies still around as there are for the Bible is Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Stacked together, the existing copies for both those works would only be a few feet tall. In contrast, a stack of all the surviving Biblical manuscripts would be so tall it’s nearly outside earth’s atmosphere. Wow! (One of the speakers shared this fact in a Bible study about the reliability of the Bible.)
  • Spending a week with my boyfriend (who joined my family and our church group for the Feast) does not make living an 8-hour drive apart any easier. I suppose it’s a good thing that I miss him so much, though, since otherwise I’d have to re-think whether or not we should be dating. In related news, my new favorite love song is “Over And Over Again.” They played it at the dance our church group hosted and not only is my boyfriend a really good dancer but he also sings ❤
  • The “fear not” reminders just keep coming at me. On the second day of Sukkot someone gave a message about why those who are “fearful” are lumped in with murderers, sorcerers, etc. as people who won’t be in God’s kingdom (Rev. 21:8). The Greek word means “timid” or “cowardly” and carries the implication of faithlessness, as in a Christian who is too scared to act in faith doesn’t trust God enough. Thankfully, we serve a God who embodies the kind of love that casts out fear and who has the strength to help us overcome fears. That’s a reminder I need as I prep for giving my second seminar (I’m actually speaking in front of people again!) in a few months.
  • It’s always interesting to look back on sermons, Bible studies, and conversations at the Feast and find common themes. This year, I noticed an emphasis on shifting our focus as we move toward God’s kingdom. Instead of just focusing on, “How can I get into God’s kingdom?” we should be thinking about, “How can I be the kind of person God wants to bring into His family?” Those thoughts are related of course, but one’s focused on what we get out of our Christian walk and the other is focused on becoming like God in how we live our lives and interact with other people.

I’ve got a few other thoughts on things I learned and heard this Feast/Sukkot, but they’d be better served by each having a blog post all to themselves so we’ll wait on that. I hope you’ve all been having a wonderful week and have a fantastic weekend! I should be back to more of my usual posting routine by Monday, so I’ll “see” you then 🙂

Approaching The King: Keys To Entering God’s Presence

Suppose you’ve been invited to meet the Queen of England. You don’t just walk in, wave, and say, “Hey there Elizabeth.” There are rules, protocol, and etiquette. You should bring a gift, remember to use the right form of address (“Your Majesty” first, then “ma’am”), and not turn reach out and touch her. These days, you won’t get in too much trouble for a slip in convention. But there have been many countries and many times throughout history that approaching royalty in the wrong way could get you killed.

Traditionally, people have recognized something special about royalty. Part of this was religious — rulers were seen as gods, or representatives of the gods, or appointed by God. It’s also a matter of recognizing and respecting an authority role.  Even in countries without a monarchy, we’ll still tend to recognize that some social positions command a certain amount of respect (i.e. you won’t talk with your boss the same way as a close friend and you’d probably show the President even more respect).

Approaching The King: Keys To Entering God's Presence | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Photo Credit: “Romania-1603,” by Dennis Jarvis, CC BY-SA via Flickr

A Question From God

The Bible applies several titles to God that demand respect, including Father, Master, Lord, and King. But do we take them seriously? Historically, God’s people have fallen short in this regard.

A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, then where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is the respect due me? Says Yahweh of Armies to you, priests, who despise my name. (Mal. 1:6, WEB)

Yes, God loves you and He wants to be your friend. But we’re not to forget who He is and the respect due Him. “‘For I am a great King,’ says Yahweh of Armies, ‘and my name is awesome among the nations’.” (Mal. 1″14, WEB). God deserves more respect than worldly authority figures, but do we even give Him that much? Continue reading

Clean Temples For Yom Kippur

Back in the Old Testament when there was a tabernacle or temple standing, it included a room called “the most holy place” or “the holy of holies.” This was where the ark of the covenant was and a heavy veil separated it from the rest of the inner temple. It wasn’t a place that people, even the priests, could just walk into.

and Yahweh said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother, not to come at all times into the Most Holy Place within the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark; lest he die: for I will appear in the cloud on the mercy seat. (Lev. 16:2, WEB)

The only time someone could enter this most holy place was on the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur. Even then only the high priest could go in and only if he followed the proper rules for entering a place God had sanctified.

Clean Temples For Yom Kippur | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Photo credit: “Clean” by Sara Laval, CC BY via Flickr

But why bring this up now? We don’t have a temple or a priesthood or sacrifices anymore. And many Christians will say all that Old Testament stuff belong in the past. Or does it? There actually is a temple today, for “you are a temple of God” (1 Cor. 3:16, WEB). There’s a priesthood, too, because Jesus Christ is the High Priest and He has “an unchangeable priesthood” (Heb. 7:24, KJV). We’re even included in that because we’re meant “to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices” (1 Pet. 2:5, WEB). So given these facts, what can we learn from Yom Kippur today?

Temples Defiled By Association

When I was re-reading Leviticus 16, I was surprised to notice that the high priest was told to “make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, even all their sins” (Lev. 16:16, 33 WEB). I knew he was to make atonement for himself and “all the assembly of Israel,” but hadn’t noticed the holy place needed atoned for as well (Lev. 16:17, 30). There was something about being in the midst of an unclean, sinful people that defiled even the part of the temple where God’s presence appeared.

Today, the church body is described as a temple of God (there’s also a temple talked about in heaven, which we’ll get to later). The Greek word used in those passages is always naos (G3485), which refers to the inner sanctuary rather than the entire temple complex (which would be hieron, G2411). We are now God’s most holy place. And like the other holy of holies, we can become defiled by choice (see 1 Cor. 3:16-17) or by the sinful world around us. Continue reading

I Am Chosen

I don’t have a regular blog post for you today. I just want to get real with you all for a moment. God spoke to me earlier this week. Not in the “I have a divine revelation to share with you all” way, but in the sense that He used someone to tell me something I really needed to hear.

This other person and I were talking one night and they told me they felt God’s presence as a near-constant thing. And I felt sad, as well as a bit envious, that I didn’t have that. It’s not that I’ve never felt God is there. I feel that He hugged me once when I was singing in church. I often feel Him when I dance. He drew me into deeper relationship with Him and led me to baptism when, at age 18, He showed me that He wants me as well as loves me. But I also feel myself slipping into a pattern of having more head-faith than heart-faith even though I write all the time about connecting with God at a heart level.

On top of that, I’ve recently realized that for all the work I did years ago on learning to love myself and accept God’s perspective on me that I’ve lost hold of that as well (if I ever really had it). I know that God loves me and values me and I’m precious in his sight. But dating my boyfriend has brought to light there was still a voice in my mind saying I’m not actually all those things. Or more accurately it’s saying that even though God sees me like that no one else ever will or should. Which simply isn’t true. But it feels true and I’m so grateful I’m in a relationship with a guy who thinks it’s important that I come to believe I’m truly precious and thinks everyone else should see that, too.

So getting back to the night God spoke to me. I really can’t put it any other way. Someone else was speaking the words but they were coming from God. And He said, “I choose you. I love you. And I’ve loved you for so very long. Why won’t you accept my love? I chose you all the time. All of you — writer, blogger, cook, girl who chose to follow Me even when she can’t feel Me, lover of people. And I accept you.” And more than I’ll share here. It was incredible. Can you blame me for breaking down in tears, crumpled at Jesus’ feet?

I’m not sure how most of you see me. I’ve had some people mention that it seems like I have a strong faith, or that I’m “spiritual,” or that it’s obvious God is working in me. I suppose we could say those are true. But I felt broken and lonely and terrified I would be rejected. Parts of me still feel like that, but not nearly so much. In fact, the person I was talking with might be right when they said they felt like I really accepted God into my heart for the first time that evening. Not that I hadn’t committed to God before, but that this was the first time I really believed deep in my heart that His love and acceptance is, and should be, for me.

At the very least, I realized I had “left my first love,” to borrow a phrase from the letter to Ephesus. I honestly don’t remember feeling anything like what I do now since I was 14 years old and realized I wanted to be baptized and spent a summer singing to God every morning. I don’t do that any more. And I suspect reading things like Captivating moved me to tears not because I really believed God loved me like that but becasue I wanted to believe it. Similarly, I loved songs like “Someone Worth Dying For” not because I believed that’s something I am but because the longing found the chorus’ questions was in my own heart as well.

I feel rather dense, to be honest. If you look back at the blog posts I’ve been writing it’s obvious that God has been trying to tell me this for years. But I just wrote the posts, thanked Him for His goodness and love, then shared them with others without really, truly internalizing it. I’m grateful that He has used my hurt to help other people — that because I’ve felt these things I know how much other people who are going through the same doubts need encouragement. But it took God having another person put their hands on my shoulders and insist I really listen this time to realize how much those studies were meant for me as well. Posts like the reminder to love yourself because God loves you so much. Or the one from two years ago about taking down barriers you’ve built between you and God. Or the series I’ve been doing on really believing God’s promises, including the one that He’ll never let you down.

I want to share with you the verses I went to the morning after this conversation. I think the most consistent way God communicates with us is through Bible study (though He’ll use other methods as well especially, as I just learned, if we’re not getting it otherwise). Many of these passages were already among my favorite verses and I even quoted most of them in my ebook God’s Love Story. Now they hold even more meaning than before.

But now Yahweh who created you, Jacob, and he who formed you, Israel says: “Don’t be afraid, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by your name. You are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned, and flame will not scorch you. For I am Yahweh your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I have given Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in your place. Since you have been precious and honored in my sight, and I have loved you; therefore I will give people in your place, and nations instead of your life. (Is. 43:1-4, WEB)

 

Now when I passed by you, and looked at you, behold, your time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over you, and covered your nakedness: yes, I swore to you, and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord Yahweh, and you became mine. (Ezk. 16:8, WEB)

 

Therefore behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. I will give her vineyards from there, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope; and she will respond there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt. It will be in that day,” says Yahweh, “that you will call me ‘my husband,’ and no longer call me ‘my master.’ For I will take away the names of the Baals out of her mouth, and they will no longer be mentioned by name.
In that day I will make a covenant for them with the animals of the field, and with the birds of the sky, and with the creeping things of the ground. I will break the bow, the sword, and the battle out of the land, and will make them lie down safely. I will betroth you to me forever. Yes, I will betroth you to me in righteousness, in justice, in loving kindness, and in compassion. I will even betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know Yahweh.
It will happen in that day, I will respond,” says Yahweh, “I will respond to the heavens, and they will respond to the earth; and the earth will respond to the grain, and the new wine, and the oil; and they will respond to Jezreel. I will sow her to me in the earth; and I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; and I will tell those who were not my people, ‘You are my people;’ and they will say, ‘My God!’” (Hos. 2:14-23, WEB)

 

My beloved spoke, and said to me, “Rise up, my love, my beautiful one, and come away. For, behold, the winter is past. The rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth. The time of the singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree ripens her green figs. The vines are in blossom. They give out their fragrance. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away.” (Song 2:10-13, WEB)

 

Only Yahweh had a delight in your fathers to love them, and he chose their offspring after them, even you above all peoples, as it is today. (Deut. 10:15, WEB)

 

For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her righteousness shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning lamp. The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory, and you will be called by a new name, which Yahweh‘s mouth will name. You will also be a crown of beauty in Yahweh‘s hand, and a royal diadem in your God‘s hand. You will not be called Forsaken any more; nor will your land be called Desolate any more: but you will be called Hephzibah [“I delight in her”],  and your land Beulah [“married”]; for Yahweh delights in you, and your land will be married. For as a young man marries a virgin, so your sons will marry you. As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so your God will rejoice over you. (Is. 62:1–5, WEB)

I Am Chosen | marissabaker.wordpress.com

But God wasn’t yet done with confirming His message for me. This past week I was at an evening service for Yom Teruah and we read some confessions/prayers together as a congregation that spoke directly to this subject as well. We had a printed out program for some congregational readings, but only used about 1/4 of them in our service. I’m assuming the chosen readings weren’t a coincidence and God knew I needed this confirmation. The very first one we read together included these lines:

Abba Father, we come before You today to receive Your love anew, a love that never fails, and to experience the wonderful truth that we are “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6). We come in faith to You, desiring freedom in our lives from past hurts and disappointments. … I receive your unconditional love. I declare that the enemy’s power of rejection over me is broken. Bless me, enlarge my territory, and keep me from evil. Give me fresh vision, heal my heart, and fill it with your love, joy, and peace.

Wow. Could that get any more relevant to what He’s been telling me? The language is so similar to what God was saying a few days earlier through my friend that I was getting choked-up reading it. I’m getting choked up typing it now.

And you know what’s more? God’s saying the same things to you, dear readers. I know many of you have the same doubts, fears, and feeling I had that you lack value. But God chooses you. He wants you. He loves you and has loved you for so very long. You are accepted in the beloved. And because of Jesus’ triumph on the cross the enemy’s power of rejection over you is broken. The Lord will bless you indeed and always be there with you.

God Won’t Let You Fight Alone

It’s easy to talk about trusting God when things in our lives are going well. It’s harder to recognize His presence when it feels like life is falling apart all around us. In times like that, we need reminders that God will not abandon us in our fights and that He will fight for us.

Several weeks ago, we talked about claiming God’s promises. There’s quite a few made in the pages of our Bibles, and that post only covered His promise to give the holy spirit, to be friends with those who love Him, and to hear when we call on Him. And even after adding another post about the promises in Psalm 91 we just barely scratched the surface of this topic.

One of the promises in Psalm 91 is about God’s protection in the midst of trials. Sometimes He doesn’t take us out of a dangerous or uncomfortable situation, but rather brings us through it. God doesn’t intend to coddle us. He wants us to be thriving and growing and overcoming. He knows we need a shelter and provides that, but He also wants to give us courage to keep going as well.God Won't Let You Fight Alone | marissabaker.wordpress.com

He Won’t Let You Down

When Moses addressed the Israelites before appointing Joshua as his successor, he reminded them that their human leader isn’t really the one who takes care of them. The Lord God is the one who fights for them and who they must obey. He then shares a promise from God:

Be strong and courageous. Don’t be afraid or scared of them; for Yahweh your God himself is who goes with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you. (Deut. 31:6, WEB)

Later, the Lord personally reiterates this promise to Joshua (Josh. 1:5). And we know the promise extends beyond Joshua and the Israelites because the writer of Hebrews tells us we can be emboldened by the Lord’s promise, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb. 13:5, KJV).

Though “leave” and “fail” seem quite different in English, the Greek word used in Hebrews is actually a perfect translation for the Hebrew word used in Deuteronomy. Both words mean “to let sink,” as if you’d been holding something up and then let it go (H7503, raphah and G447, aniemi). In modern terminology, we would say that God promises not to let you down. Continue reading