Living The Mission – What Is The Mission?
(I apologize in advance for the length of this entry – I will have very little online time to share with you between now and Monday, so I am publishing in one piece what probably ought to be three entries. Please forgive, and the rest of the series will be of much more moderate length)
“Do you see this woman?” (Luke 7:44)
This is not the most shocking thing Jesus ever said (“I and the Father are one” or “Your sins are forgiven” probably rank up there).
It isn’t even the most shocking thing Luke wrote down (“Young man, I say to you, ‘Arise!” perhaps?).
It isn’t even the most shocking thing Luke shares with us in this one scene (“And Jesus answered him [Simon’s THOUGHTS], saying…).
Its shock value, now as then, lies in its innocuousness. It doesn’t sound deep or meaningful in any way. It slips past those dragons in our minds, posted to protect us from new ideas that might shake up how we see the world.
The whole story in Luke is horrifying spiritual irony. Jesus says, “Do you see this woman?” to a man who has done nothing but stare at this woman ever since she walked in the room. Can he see her??? He can’t see anything else!
But he never SAW her. “Recovery of sight for the blind” is part of Jesus’ own mission statement (flip back about 3 chapters in Luke’s story and read it for yourself). Simon could stare all day long, but he will never see this woman. His eyes are blinded by his heart.
How are you doing at seeing the woman?
Paul writes something amazing to one of the little Jesus-communities in Asia. He says, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints…” You see, Simon really couldn’t see the woman because the eyes of his heart were blinded by HIMSELF. He needed a new identity.
To live the mission, people need new training. For the eyes of our hearts to be opened, we need new equipment. In order to see the woman, we need a new identity.
“He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will…”
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…”
God is in the name-changing business – check it out for yourself – Ge 17:5; 17:15; 32:28, 35:10; Jud 6:32; Mk 3:17; Jn 1:42; Acts 4:36; 13:9. Also, try out Is 56:5; 62:2; 65:15; Rev 2:17, 3:12.
God gives new names! You don’t have to be who you are forever! When you wake up in the morning, who are you? Oh, how the labels come rushing in faster than we can handle! Age, job, genetics, bad choices; before your feet hit the floor, you’ve been dissected and tattooed six ways from Sunday. Any chance you might have of hearing the voice of God is drowned out by the cacophany of a legion of demands and labels, titles and responsibilities, compulsions and addictions and sins. The real tragedy: this has become NATURAL!
“We all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind.” Eph 2:3
Joining the mission doesn’t wipe those things away. Some misguided or heartless recruiters might stumble at this point, and their recruits are often plagued with confusion. “If I am a new person, why do I still want to sin?” Fact is, we’re not separated from these things; we’re SET FREE from SLAVERY to them. We are children of the One True God, sent into the world as bleeding ambassadors. Our identity is altogether new! But without new training and new equipment, our new identity will soon be just another label. Look around Christendom and grieve for all those children who have been “exposed” in the ancient sense. Born into a new identity, but abandoned with neither equipment nor training.
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven, and you will receive the gift of [which is] the Holy Spirit.”
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”
What do you use to interact with the world? How do you protect your identity from scheming co-workers? Hateful siblings? Fear? Despair? Poverty? Depression?
How do you protect your family from poverty? Your children from the myriad threats of modern Western “civilization”?
What do you TRUST?
Soldiers trust their equipment because they know it intimately, so well that it becomes an extension of their very person. Wise soldiers in the field are always cleaning a weapon or relacing a boot or rearranging a rucksack or recalibrating gunsights. Wise athletes have their own equipment, and they know each piece perfectly.
What gets YOU through the day? What set of tools have been issued to you by your world?
Do you defend your identity with money? alcohol? a big house? a big gun?
Do you wear clothes to let others know how rich you are? How pretty you are? How perfect you are? How REAL you are?
Do you use headphones to drown out life? Work to drown out guilt? Sex to hide loneliness? Power to disguise hunger?
When you join the mission of God, God gives you new equipment for living! Along with your new identity, God gives you HIS OWN SPIRIT. “He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” “You are God’s Temple and God’s Spirit dwells in you!” “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” You see, the old equipment only works for fighting against flesh and blood! Your new equipment is specially designed for your new identity and new mission: God’s people at war against spiritual powers of darkness. Soak yourself in the last 14 verses of Paul’s letter to Ephesus. “TAKE UP THE WHOLE ARMOR OF GOD.”
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.”
“Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in ever way.”
“Solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.”
“Discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
“Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.”
“Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that… I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.”
Did I grind the point into the ground too deeply? You have no idea! My trainers in the Army, to a man, had a motto: The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war. Ben Overby will be happy to tell you that the most dangerous weapon in the Army is a 2nd Lieutenant with a map and a radio. Identity, Equipment, Mission – all become wild cards in the hands of one without discipline and training.
Ever meet a Christian who you’re scared to take to a funeral home? “God must have needed another angel” or “Why are you so sad? They’re in a better place!” You know what causes that? Identity and equipment with poor or non-existent training.
Name it and claim it? Bad training.
Sectarian strife? Bad training.
Apathetic, ineffective, irrelevant Christianity? Bad training.
What’s so sad about this is that the heart of the training regimen is really simple: “The only things that matters is faith working in love.” “Live in love, as Christ loved us.” “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Love one another, as I have loved you.” “Love, because he first loved us.” “Perfect love casts out fear.”
But my brother and elder in the Lord Jay Guin has touched on an important aspect of the “command” to love. You can’t obey it! As soon as you do something just because you were told to do it, it immediately ceases to be other-centered and becomes self-motivated. So where does this love come from? THIS is precisely where Spiritual Formation or Spiritual Transformation or Spiritual Disciplines enter the picture.
“Think of certain young people who idolize an outstanding baseball player. They want nothing so much as to pitch or run or hit as well as their idol. So what do they do? When they are playing in a baseball game, they all try to behave exactly as their favorite baseball player does. The star is well known for sliding head first into bases, so the teenagers do too. The star holds his bat above his head, so the teenagers do too. These young people try anything and everything their idol does, hoping to be like him — they buy the type shoes the star wears, the same glove he uses, the same bat.
“Will they succeed in performing like the star, though? We all know the answer quite well. We know that they won’t succeed if all they do is try to be like him in the game — no matter how gifted they may be in their own way. And we all understand why. The star performer himself didn’t achieve his excellence by trying to behave in a certain way only during the game. Instead, he chose an overall life of preparation of mind and body, pouring all his energies into that total preparation, to provide a foundation in the body’s automatic responses and strength for his conscious efforts during the game.
“Those exquisite responses we see, the amazing timing and strength such an athlete displays, aren’t produced and maintained by the short hours of the game itself. They are available to the athlete for those short and all-important hours because of a daily regimen no one sees. For example, the proper diet and rest and the exercises for specific muscles are not a part of the game itself, but without them the athlete certainly would not perform outstandingly. Some of those daily habits may even seem silly to us, but the successful athlete knows that his disciplines must be untertaken, and undertaken rightly, or all his natural talents and best efforts will go down in defeat to others who have disciplined themselves in preparation for game time…
“Our mistake is to think that following Jesus consists in loving our enemies, going the ‘second mile,’ turning the other cheek, suffering patiently and hopefully — while living the rest of our lives just as everyone around us does. This is like the aspiring young basebal players mentioned earlier. It’s a strategy bound to fail and to make the way of Christ ‘difficult and left untried.’ In truth it is not the way of Christ anymore than striving to act in a certain manner in the heat of a game is the way of the champion athlete…
“The ‘on the spot’ episodes are not the place where we can, even by the grace of God, redirect unchristlike but ingrained tendencies of action toward sudden Christlikeness. Our efforts to take control at that moment will fail so uniformly and so ingloriously that the whole project of following Christ will appear ridiculous to the watching world….
“Jesus never expected us simply to turn the other cheek, go the second mile, bless those who persecute us, give unto them that ask, and so forth. These responses, generally and rightly understood to be characteristic of Christlikeness, were set forth by him as illustrative of what might be expected of a new kind of person [NEW IDENTITY] — one who intelligently and steadfastly seeks, above all else, to live within the rule of God and be possessed by the kind of righteousness that God himself has, as Matt. 6:33 portrays.
“Instead, Jesus did invite people to follow him into that sort of life from which behavior such as loving one’s enemies will seem like the only sensible and happy thing to do… True Christlikeness, true companionship with Christ, comes at the point where it is hard not to respond as he would.
“The secret of the easy yoke is to learn from Christ how to live our total lives, how to invest all our time and our energies of mind and body as he did. We must learn how to follow his preparations, the disciplines for life in God’s rule that enabled him to receive his Father’s constant and effective support while doing his will…. activities such as solitude, silence, fasting, prayer, service, celebration — disciplines for life in the spiritual kingdom of God and activities in which Jesus deeply immersed himself — are essential to the deliverance of human beings from the concrete power of son and they can make the experience of the easy yoke a reality in life.
“The secret of the easy yoke is simple, actually. It is the intelligent, informed, unyielding resolve to live as Jesus lived in all aspects of his life, not just in the moment of specific choice or action.” 
Living the Mission is a matter of learning to love like Jesus loves – to love no matter the cost, to love no matter the fear that rises up in your gut, to love no matter how easy it might be to ignore or acquiesce or pander.
In the coming weeks, we are going to follow the story of God’s mission through the Acts of the Apostles, seeing the interplay of New Creation, Identity, Mission, Equipment, and Training as it galvanizes a rag-tag band of terrified Jews and stands the whole world on its head. You are going to see crazy things! Here’s a preview: you’re about to see believers accused of being drunk when they’re living fully in the Spirit of God (Acts 2:13; cf Eph 5:18 – this seems to be a common misunderstanding!)
But first, this trembling and confused band of outcasts must RECEIVE THE COMMISSION – and so must we!
in HIS love,
 – Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines, pp. 3-10