An interesting story of Christopher Knight who spent 27 years alone in Maine. Do you sometimes feel the need to get away and be alone? Sometimes, I think I just may flip and leave this world behind to live in the woods.
Then the ones who pleased the Lord will ask, “When did we give you something to eat or drink? When did we welcome you as a stranger or give you clothes to wear or visit you while you were sick or in jail?” The king will answer, “Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.”
One thing I love about Jesus is he identifies with the poor: the hungry and thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned.
What can make one uneasy is Jesus equates how you treat the poor with how you treat him personally. In other words, when you are good to the poor you are being good to Jesus. When you are being bad to the poor, you are being bad to Jesus, the king of the universe, the Lord of all.
My forthcoming book will discuss Jesus’ scathing woes he pronounces over the religious leaders of his day. He calls them show-offs and blind fools. He says the religious leaders are greedy and selfish withholding food and drink from those who need it most. I believe much of the Church today has turned into these religious leaders.
We’ve lost sight of exactly who we are to be seeking after. Jesus identified himself with the poor time and again in the gospels. He was born poor, lived poor, and died a poor man. The apostle said, “He became poor so that we could become rich…”
Jesus now asks the Church to live like he lived – helping the ministering to the poor. He calls upon us to feed the hungry and thirsty, give shelter to the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned. He promises here that when we do these things we are doing it for him.
Really, if you want to see Jesus, experience Jesus in a way you’ve never have before, seek out the poor. You’ll find him already there ministering in ways you do not know. Imagine what the Church could do to this world if only we’d be his hands and feet.
New aggregate whose manifesto states, “The Christian Daily Reporter is a source for the most important news and content from a Christian perspective — and it lives outside the tech-giant information choke hold.”
“The Son of Man came to look for and to save people who are lost.”
Jesus; Luke 19:10
Jesus had a mission when he came to us 2000 years ago. Most emphasize his death. Others emphasize his resurrection. But, how many emphasize Jesus seeking out the lost?
This will be the focus of my book coming out towards the end of this year. It will be a short book talking about how the Church today has forgotten that we are to seek out the lost in this world and help them towards having a healthy relationship with our heavenly Father.
I will begin in Luke 15 and zoom into the story of the Lost Son. It is my conviction many who find themselves lost are powerless to get themselves found. It takes the searching of the shepherd, the urgency of a woman, and the love of a Father to bring people into a renewed relationship with our Father.
Jesus’ mission on earth was “look for and to save people who are lost.” Jesus then extends that same mission to us, the Church.
We have the concept of preaching and proclaiming the gospel down-pat. The problem is we proclaim this gospel in the safe environment of our church buildings. Jesus says, “go to the people” (Matt. 28:19 CEV). We want to “save people” but we are falling short on the “look for” part of Jesus’ mission.
British missionary Charles Studd said, “Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop, within a yard of hell.” We cannot storm the gates of hell by staying home.
I don’t normally dream. At least I don’t usually remember my dreams. But this dream was so weird I couldn’t help but remember.
I was standing in an elaborate church building similar to ones I’ve seen in movies – large and very ornamental. In the front laid a large creature with a head like a cobra (I blame my recent viewing of Stargate SG-1 for the creature’s looks) and a large body. Some priest was putting the creature together in some fashion and brought it to life. When the creature stood it was twice the size of a man in height. The cobra’s hood spanned 6 feet wide, golden, and was encrusted with jewels.
Once the creature stood the priest led him through the crowds of people announcing his arrival, his awesome power, and the need for everyone to bow before the creature. In my dream I was thinking, “There’s no way any Christian here will bow before this creature.”
My dream ended before my thought could be proved.
This dream reminds me of the golden calves Jeroboam created and placed in Bethel and Dan (1 Kings 12:25-33) The kingdom of Israel was split into two kingdoms after the death of Solomon. Rehoboam ruled Judah to the south and Jeroboam ruled to the north called Israel. The center of Jewish worship was Jerusalem. So the problem for Jeroboam is Jerusalem resided in Judah to the south. He thought the people going there to worship would be persuaded by Rahoboam and turn away from his rule. So he brought worship into Israel. He himself set up idols, golden calves, set up feasts and places of worship. Of the calves he said to Israel, “Behold your gods who brought you out of Egypt.” And Israel fell into idolatry and worshiped the golden calves.
How can a people be so deceived? If Israel can turn away from God so quickly would Christians today be so easily persuaded?
In my dream I was sure no one would bow before this new god created by the priest. However, after thinking about it I am not so sure anymore.
Many go to churches seeking out a god of their own making. If we are convicted in one church we are sure to find a church that will be less convicting. If we are too challenged I am sure we can find one that does not challenge us. If we aren’t “fed” enough or challenged enough in the areas we feel we should be challenged we can find a church to accommodate our itch.
I, along with many others in the Church today, have lost what it means to deny one’s self and bare our crosses.
What about you? Would you bow before a creature that is seemingly all powerful? Able to destroy you?
Last month I seen a cartoon circling social media making fun of California’s ban on plastic straws. The cartoon depicted a scene from an urban area all too common these days. It showed people who were homeless living in tents and dumpsters. Coming from the left is a well dressed politician proclaiming his gospel. He said, “Good news! Plastic straws are banned!” The goal of the cartoon was to point out that of all the possible issues society could fix banning plastic straws should come after we help people who live on the streets. Banning plastic straws is a good idea. But, it doesn’t help the person living in the dumpster.
But, I wasn’t thinking plastic straws when I saw this cartoon. I was thinking about the gospel that church folk preach. The politician in the cartoon could just as well had been a well dressed preacher saying, “Good news! Jesus has saved you for heaven, if you only believe.” The point being while we preach, “heaven” people are living in hell on earth. Now, I am not saying heaven is not part of the gospel. It very much is. And we can give comfort to dying believers, and their loved ones, that heaven waits for them. Heaven is a hope we can give to those in need. But, it is not the only thing we need give them.
James says, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (Jame 2:15-16). If we only preach and say, “Believe and heaven awaits!” while we see people in need what good is that? Preaching God’s love and mercy without showing God’s love and mercy is dead preaching.
I’ve written about this before. Some preachers today believe the mission of the Church is strictly preaching for salvation of souls. But this leaves a huge hole in their faith, and in their preaching.
The true Gospel of Jesus Christ is powerful enough to save the whole person, not just get them into heaven. Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16). The Greek word for salvation here can be rendered, “rescue, salvation, health, wholeness and restoration to the original state and condition.” It is for the whole person, healed of the sickness of sin, rescued from the slavery of evil, made whole into a new creation!
If we have hope in the next life only we are a people most to be pitied.
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
Jesus, John 17:20-21
One of the keys towards unity in the Church, indeed, one of the most oft missed even glaring possibilities, is found here in Jesus’ priestly prayer for unity. I know, I keep coming back to this verse. Maybe because it is so powerful, so compelling, I hope this prayer comes true.
Jesus prays that we would be one just as he and his Father are one. The oneness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is the model of oneness Jesus prays we have. This oneness goes deeper than our facades, our creeds, and our steeples. It goes to the heart of what it means to be in fellowship and community.
It means there is intentional diversity in unity.
The Athanasian Creed gives us an idea of the diversity yet unity within the Trinity. The Father is not the Son is not the Holy Spirit. Yet, the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. In the same vein, it could be said, The Lutheran is not the Presbyterian is not the Pentecostal is not the Baptist…ect. Yet, the Lutheran is the Church, the Presbyterian is the Church, the Pentecostal is the Church, the Baptist is the Church…ect.
The Church is not God, yet, the Church is made in the image of Christ, the image of God. The Trinity becomes the model in which our lives in the Church should model.
Henri Blocher says, “If the pattern is trinitarian, the unity is not obtained to the detriment of the diversity… [it is ] a unity “harmoniously differentiated… The divine trinity is not only a pattern, but a foundation of that marriage of unity and diversity which holds under suspicion all enterprise of bureaucratic uniformity.”
In other words, the unity the Church receives by the Spirit of God will not transform us into churches that all look the same, feel the same, and worship the same style. Rather, the unity that God gives keeps our diversity intact. This means bringing each church and tradition under one head, one managing organization, is not only foolish practically, but, is not the work of God. The work of God is many members, one body. Just as the Trinity is three persons yet one God.
My blog’s headline, “One Body, One Faith, One Baptism,” comes from the book of Ephesians 4:4-6.
“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Paul is talking about unity in these passages. He wants all Christians in Ephesus, even Christians today, to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (v. 3).
A recent article from Lausanne Movement points out how that unity is achieved. Henri Blocher says, “…the unification of all believers belongs to the real mission of the Holy Spirit. ‘One body’ first depends on ‘one Spirit.’ He goes not to say this is the main point of Jesus’ prayer in John 17:21. There Jesus prays, “…for those who believe through me… may all be one… so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
In John 13-17 we get much of our insight into the person and the work of the Holy Spirit. In this context Jesus tells his disciples to love one another (13:34). Then Jesus says he will send a Helper (14:16) in order to help us follow his commandments to love one another, and to love Jesus and the Father. He will teach us all things and bring to remembrance all that Jesus taught (14:26). He will speak all truth and glorify Jesus in his people (16:12ff). Then Jesus prays that those who believe in him will be one in the same love that flows between the Father and the Son (17:20-21).
The fulfillment of Jesus’ promise came 10 days after his Ascension. While the disciples were in the upper room the Holy Spirit came upon them like a rushing wind and fire. The Holy Spirit indwells every believer unifying them in a unique way not seen outside the Church. Blocher says, “This order of events [in John 13-17 and then Acts 2] invites us to understand that the unification which will follow the fulfillment of the word of Christ and the coming of the Spirit are one single event.”
Jesus prays for unity among his people. And then he sent the Holy Spirit in order to answer his own prayer. The empowerment of the Holy Spirit in our lives is the key to unity among the churches.
Carol was the new pastor in the area. He was young, energetic, and had big dreams. The dreams he had for his church went beyond the four wall. He wanted to reach out to his community and see the lost saved, the broken healed, and people come to know Jesus as their king. With such big ambitions he knew he could not do it alone. What was needed was all the churches uniting together in seeing their communities changed and transformed for the good.
Carol sought out the different ecumenical groups in his area. One was a ministers association. But it was strictly for the pastors and ministry leaders of the area. Other groups were devoted to mercy ministries: homeless shelters, food banks, soup kitchens, and thrift stores. These are all good organizations that the churches should be involved in. But, there was minimal interaction between the churches as a whole. During the holidays there were many ecumenical services. But even then, the various churches only partnered with others churches that had the same worship style and familiar beliefs.
These ecumenical groups, organizations, and services are not wrong. They are good and are much needed. However, when it comes to unity in reaching the lost these are only touching the surface. Carol was frustrated and almost gave up.
When the churches practice ecumenicism it tends to be exclusive to the leadership. “These [leaders] come to enjoy a professional camaraderie that is warm because of what they endured together…” . Hardly ever do you see ecumenism working on a large scale among the laity. Why is that?
Many conferences in the past has brought together people from various backgrounds and traditions for a single purpose. Consider the Promise Keepers movement, marriage retreats, and even musical concerts. These single purpose events brought together many different people from different churches and denominations in order to worship together and be encouraged together. But again, this approach has its downfalls. Rarely are these events evangelistic.
Perhaps a large scale ecumenism service is impossible. However, I believe ecumenism can work in order to reach our communities for Jesus Christ. The first step is coming together intentionally with that purpose in mind. Carol needs to pray, network, and slowly build in the minds of the people in his community what is possible when they all work together.
 Rene De Visme Williamson, “Negative Thoughts About Ecumenism.” Christianity Today XX (August 30, 1968) p. 1131