"Never Gonna Give You Up" - The Mission Week 2


Courage. 

I always liked how the Cowardly Lion said that word.

"Currrage!"  

There aren't too many moments in my life when I get to exhibit courage.  My courageous moments are more ordinary--everyday courage, if you will. 

Like that time this woman tried to cut in front of of my family and I at Walt Disney World when we were waiting in line for Peter Pan.  "Hey!" I barked at her. "The end of the line is back there!"  "Oh really?" she said trying to act dumb and not moving.  "Really." I said and sort of shuffled around to block her way.  She mumbled curse words or something at me and went to the back of the line.  I was a hero to like eight people.

It felt awesome. 

Or the time I was called by a telemarketer at dinner.  "Seriously?" I exclaimed over the phone.  "You are seriously trying to call and sell me something over the phone a DINNERTIME?" Then I hung the phone up with a bang.

Booyakisha.  

Then there was the time I shushed some teenagers in the movie theater who were talking and laughing.  They looked around and saw me kind of glaring at them.  Maybe they were middle schoolers.  I dunno.  Anyway, they shut up and some old lady behind me tapped my shoulder and whispered, "Thanks!"

Dang it, that was a good moment.  

Oh, and there was this one time when I was at the airport and one of the TSA agents was screaming at everyone and acting like a jerk, and I thought real hard about telling him off.  

Listen.  I might be every day courageous, but I am not every day stupid.  

But what happens in life when things get pretty real?

When the things that are happening to us or to those we love aren't so easily solved?  What happens when we are faced with stress, hardship, worry---doubt?

We all know what this is like.  

It's that moment when it's not a telemarketer calling during dinner to sell you something--it's a bill collector trying to collect a long overdue bill for the fourth or fifth time that month.

It's when we get passed over for promotion again--in favor of someone with less experience, again.

It's when we are in conflict with family members sometimes to the point where we lay awake at night wishing that we could leave, or they would.

It's when doctors tell us that they need to do more tests because they are not exactly sure what is causing our fatigue.

It's when you stay awake way too late arguing far into the night with your spouse for the third time in a week, and you feel like it's never going to get better...

We all know what it's like to be afraid... to worry... to have serious doubts about life, the universe, faith and everything and we might even ask: if there is a God then why doesn't God... make it stop?

There's this moment at the end of the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus disciples had to come face to face with their doubts and simply believe.  And the incredible thing about their doubts is that they were having them... in the presence of the Risen Jesus.

Intrigued?  I hope so.  Let's go read that story.

We're going to be doing a brief study of Matthew 28:16-20, but I don't want us to lose sight of this one thing.  It's so important that I'm actually going to stop for a moment and let the words sort of marinate...  This is the idea that enabled the disciples to swallow their doubts and their fears and then... go back to Jerusalem--the very place where Jesus, their leader, had been executed---and preach to the very same people who executed him.

Here's the one thing I want us to remember...

Genuine Christian courage comes from the knowledge that Jesus is with us.

Here we go...
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
First things first... Do you ever notice that all of the really cool things in the Bible happen on a mountain?  Seriously.  Abraham almost sacrifices his son Isaac on Mt. Moriah. Moses receives the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. Elijah has a showdown with false prophets on Mt. Carmel...  Jesus is tempted by Satan on a mountain... There's a moment when Jesus takes his disciples to Mt. Hermon and is suddenly transformed in front of them...

And now he's giving them their marching orders after he's gone... on a mountain.  It's hard to miss a mountain, isn't it?  You can see them even when you are far away from them---down in the valley.  If they are somewhere near where you live--you see them every single day.  And you never forget what happened on top of it.  Hmmmm?  Kind of awesome, right?

So here's Jesus, raised from the dead, standing in front of the eleven remaining disciples on top of a mountain... giving them instructions.  And they are worshipping him.  Let that idea just settle on you for a moment...

Jesus who had been beaten, crucified, died was buried is standing there alive, and the disciples, dumbfounded at this turn of events can only fall down and worship.

But some doubted.

Some doubted. 

The Greek phrase is hoi de edistasan which could be interpreted not just as "some" but as "all."

So Jesus is standing there in front of the eleven disciples alive after being dead, and it could be that even though they were worshipping him...
they all had doubts?

This word for doubt is also used to describe what happened the moment when Peter asked Jesus---who happened to be walking on water at the time---if he could get out of the boat and walk on water with him.  "Come on then," Jesus told him.  How awesome is that?  So Peter gets out of the boat and starts doing it. But all of a sudden he begins to doubt, and starts sinking...

The word for doubt here actually means "to stand in two places."

Okay, let's just think about this for a moment...  Peter is walking on water. He's actually doing it.  But he begins to doubt.  Jesus is standing in front of his disciples alive--after being brutally executed. And they have doubts.

And at this point you are thinking.... How?  How could they possibly have doubted?  The proof, the evidence, the miracle itself was right in front of them!!

It gets more interesting, trust me.

Jesus then goes on to tell them that "all authority" has been given to him.  The world has been reordered.  The political, religious and cultural powers that had dropped like a ton of bricks on Jesus just a few days earlier---they lost.  A new day is dawning.

And notice that the Bible is very clear to say that "all authority" is given to Jesus---not to us.  Some of us Christian-y types would do well to remember this.

Then Jesus tells his disciples something incredible.  He tells them to go out into all the world--the word in Greek is panta ta ethne, which specifically means the non-Jewish world.  Jesus is telling his disciples I want you to not only preach to the your own people, I want you to go preach to all of those people you have been taught to fear, hate, despise, mistrust and avoid.  Gentiles... Samaritans... Romans...

This was unexpected to say the least.  Not exactly the kind of directions that the disciples wanted to hear, I am thinking.

Then Jesus says something fantastic.  "I am with you always--even to the end of the age." Another way of saying this would be "even to the last days."  Lots of people get hung up on the last part of that verse and completely miss what's happening in the first.  They want to focus on the "last things" and in so doing gloss over what Jesus is saying and doing before that.

He says "I am with you always."

"You are not alone," he is essentially telling his disciples.  "I am with you."   And beneath the surface of this is something profound:  You can't control this, you can't dictate it, you can't harness it, you can't bend it to your own will, you can't have it only how you want it... you can only receive it.

It's interesting that throughout the Gospel stories, the disciples always seem to be caught between adoration and doubt.  And no more so than this moment.

What was it?  Could it be that he did not meet their expectations?

When they gathered on that mountain did they think that finally Jesus was going to do what they had hoped he would do all along---kick butt and take names, and give them really, really important titles and really, really important tasks?

Or maybe it was just as simple as... "If you are leaving... take us with you."

Instead, Jesus tells them that they are going to have to continue his ministry--without him.  They are going to have to return to the religious and political leaders they fear and preach to them.  They are going to have to take this message of a new kingdom and a new hope to the entire world--a world that they have been taught to fear.

I think Jesus absolutely did not meet their expectations in this moment. Even though he promised them that he would be "with them."

So despite what they were experiencing---they had doubts.

You understand this more than you realize... You know what it's like to hope and to be disappointed.  You know what it's like to wonder that if you actually did take Carrie Underwood's advice---would Jesus really take the wheel?

So you hear people talk about Jesus, and how Jesus is risen and how Jesus is with us---always.  And you want to believe, but you have doubts that are grounded in very real fears..

Maybe you were abused by a family member... or betrayed... or wounded so deeply that you don't think you will ever be right.  There's nothing more devastating than to have the faith and hope you had in a loved one---shattered.

Maybe your spouse was unfaithful, or has abandoned you emotionally if not physically and you wake up every day with a stone for a heart, and it's so heavy you don't think you can walk around with it in your chest for one...more.. day.

Or maybe you have been wounded by a pastor, or a church leader in your past.  They said or did something to make you feel less than, not good enough---and maybe it was hurtful enough that you walked away from that moment wondering if God actually did love you, or if you even cared anymore whether he did or not.

Maybe you've lost faith in the institutions you used to hold dear---the Church, your community, your country.  You look around and nothing seems to be right, no one can get along, every one is afraid, the world seems to be going in the wrong direction and you find yourself getting angrier, and more fearful every single day.

And maybe... just maybe... you have come to conclusion that all of these things would be better if God would just fix them, and you wonder why God doesn't.

So yeah... you know more about how the disciples felt than you probably realized...

I see two huge lessons for us in this.

First: if you have doubts about God--if you wonder if Jesus is the real deal, and if following him is worth it then you are in good company.  Even his own disciples who followed him for three years and saw him after he was raised from the dead had doubts.

Doubt, as it turns out---doesn't disqualify you from following, and even sharing the good news about Jesus.

Second:  if you are willing to simply receive the gift of the Jesus who is with you---not try to control it, twist it or own it---not even your doubts will keep you from doing incredible things in his name.

Think about this.  In AD 25 NO ONE outside of the tiny area of Galilee had ever heard of Jesus.

By AD 50 there were riots in Rome on account of his followers preaching and teaching there.

By AD 65 Christians throughout the Roman empire were being actively persecuted by the emperor Nero.

By the end of the first century there were Christians in all parts of the known world--Africa, The Mediterranean, Turkey, Europe--what would become Germany and France, Spain, India...

Because these disciples---full of doubts and fears---actually did what Jesus said. They received his presence, and they started stumbling after him.

The kind of hope that replaces our doubts is an open-eyed hope that is always watching for and naming the presence of the One who is transforming this world... and us.

At this point, you might be saying: "That's pretty inspiring, but you have no idea what I've been through.  You have no idea how deep this wound is.  I don't even know where to begin to try to trust what you're saying about Jesus is true."

I get it.

I think we all get it.

I heard the story of a brand new teacher who was asked by her school principal to visit a young boy in the hospital--a boy who had been there for some time.  The school system was experimenting with a program where they would bring tutors to students who were chronically ill, or who had suffered injury or illness that kept them from going to school.  She agreed and went to the hospital.

No one had informed her that the little boy, who was nine years-old, had been horribly burned in an accident.  The young teacher wasn't prepared for the sight of his horrific wounds, and his agonized face.  Shaking she approached his bed and blurted out, "I've come to teach you about nouns and adverbs!"  After her awkward, painful session was over, she returned home weeping.  "I completely failed him!" she thought.

The next day the school received a call from the hospital.  "We don't know what you did, but whatever it was you need to come back."  It seems that the boy's attitude improved so much after the teacher had left that the nurses and doctors were amazed. They had all believed at one point that he would never recover, completely, never regain his hope. When he was asked why that little session with the teacher had made him feel so much better he said this....

"I always thought I was going to die from this, but I figured that if the school was sending someone to teach me about nouns and adverbs that meant they thought I was probably not going to die."

"If the school was sending someone to teach me about nouns and adverbs."

Nouns and adverbs.

What is it inside every single one of us that seems to long for there to be something or someone out there who not only knows the mysteries of the universe, but also knows the mysteries of our own hearts?

And we also long for this someone that most people call God--and who more specifically those of us who are Christians know through Jesus--to actually care about us.  To show up in the little things once in a while--to ease the doubts and the fears that we have, even though we know that we're just a small part of the universe.

To care about the nouns and adverbs.

The awesome thing about that story we just read in Matthew's Gospel is that God did care--God does care.  Because Jesus--who we believe is the very embodiment of God--became one of us, he suffered and died, was buried and raised from the dead.  And he defies our expectations, and he calls us to live difficult beautiful lives and to tell the world that there's a better way...

And he promised to never leave us or forsake us.

It's this promise that helps me get out of bed every day when I am riddled with doubt.  It's this promise that I can hold on to when it feels like everything else is slipping away.  Are you with me?

May you know the very real presence of Jesus in your life in the midst of your doubts, your fears, your wonder, your amazement, your sorrow, your joy.  May you stumble after the One who leads you into difficult places filled with beauty, danger, joy and sorrow--and never leaves you... ever.  

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