You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘church’ tag.

The Gospel of Reconciliation.

Timely and important thoughts from my good friend, Don @ One Bondservant’s Diary.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthian 5:17-19).


“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them inthe name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). 

These passages are so familiar to most Christ-followers that we have become numb to their significance and relevance. So I’d like to visit these passages with the idea of showing how many (myself included) have become desensitized to Christ’s command to go to all the world. I think you will see along the way why so many have called our reaction to this mandate as “The Great Omission.” 

First, let’s see that this was a personal dictate. Jesus didn’t say, “they will go.” No, Jesus “came near” (HCSB) to them and said, “[You] go!” Can you envision the scene? He huddled with them to lay out them the game plan for the expansion of His church and kingdom. And it was a personal command. They, and us by extension, are summoned to go. This is not to overlook that we are called to go in community and as the church universal, but it’s so easy to just write a check to a local or foreign missions group (and I praise God for them) or consider the church where we give a portion of the money God has generously given us to be a “missions-minded” church. But this does not exempt any of us from personally going and making disciples. We must not let our giving to (or praying for) missions replace the individual “good news journey” that’s to be an integral part of our daily lifestyle (more on that later). 

Second, this command is to be done with His power. It is His authority that makes our going come alive. It is not our own power that we go with. As ambassadors of Christ we go with His Kingly approval and authority. We must not think that there is anything else but His boundless energy that brings life-changing transformation to those who hear His Word. Though often times weary and weak in our calling to go and tell and train, we must be dependant upon Him and rely on His limitless resources to empower our going and sharing. If it is from us or about us, it is ultimately destined to fail. 2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” 

Third, we see the purpose of our going. We are to make disciples not just “converts.” Our goal (as is His) is to see people radically transformed by the Gospel. This is not just about counting those that raise their hands during an invitation, pray a scripted prayer, are baptized, or become “church members.” This is about people fully embracing His calling to “count the cost” (Luke 14:28) and “take up their cross, deny themselves, and follow (absolutely surrender to) Jesus (Luke 9:23). This is where evangelism and discipleship must merge (as if they were ever designed by God to be different, segregated functions).

Which leads us to the fourth point – the practice that is part of making disciples. This practice is a lifestyle of obedience. Disciples, according to Jesus, are to observe all (not some) of His commands. They see Him not just as Savior but as Master and Lord of all aspects of their lives and being. Discipleship is not just intellectual assent to who Christ is but also capitulation to His Lordship and obedience to His commands. As John Calvin once said, “We are saved by faith alone but the faith that saves is never alone.” This, in a sense, is an extension of the 3rd point. But, given the cultural landscape (Watchman Nee described American Christianity as “three thousand miles wide but only one inch deep”) we can’t overemphasize that our call is to see people drawn to the light of Christ and live in it. And this synergistically leads to multiplication and exponential growth in going and making other disciples. 

…to be continued in the next post.

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).

Have you been to a church fellowship recently? Maybe a Super Bowl party? If so, what was it like? Typically it involves a lot of food (put me down as a “chips and dip” man) and some conversational banter. This seems to be the modern definition of “fellowship.” It’s all about “getting together” in a cloister or a holy huddle with most, if not all, energy being focused on self-oriented “feeding” or being “fed.” I’m not saying this is totally wrong but I’m of the persuasion this is not the complete biblical model.

Have you recently heard church leadership talk about the importance of fellowship, living in community, or doing life together? These are important as well, as long as these activities aren’t done in a vacuum and we become isolated from the culture we are called to engage with the Gospel. As we all know, fellowship, as we’ve come to define it, can be overtly comfortable and myopic, especially if it is an end and not a means to something larger and more outward in focus.

Let me make it clear that fellowship is important! After all, it was one of the key activities of the early church (see our focal passage above). But the Greek word for fellowship (koinonia) used in Acts 2 has much broader implications than just self-focused social gatherings. As it is used in other New Testament passages, the word demonstrates something more sacrificial and missional than what we have become used to. It can also be translated as “partnership,” “sharing,” “communion,” and, get this, “contribution.” Many of its uses in Scripture point to a sacrifice or service to one another, not some gluttonous social festivity. Here are some examples of this word and its context (the word(s) translated from koinonia is highlighted):

  • “For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints– and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us” (2 Corinthians 8:3-5).
  • Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16.).
  • For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem” (Romans 15:26).
  • “For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you” (2 Corinthians 9:12-14).

I think it should be clear now that koinonia is much more than a party or idle, shallow chit-chat. It is about loving and doing and serving among one another (do a biblical word study on the phrase “one another” and you’ll get an even more in-depth look at what true fellowship is). It is such a dangerous, radical, sacrificial expression of community, in its deepest sense, that it produces a Gospel scream that pierces the insulated walls between us and unbelievers. For this type of dynamic fellowship inevitably grants us favor with outsiders (Acts 2:43) as we become reflections of the favor (grace and goodness) God has shown to us. This, in turn, is used by God to draw those observing to Himself (Acts 2:47).

In other words, the rich, self-denying fellowship Scripture describes can be the very tool God uses to transform those who don’t yet know His favor. And something tells me, if what we call fellowship isn’t touching the community around us, we aren’t experiencing the same type of koinonia that God expects.

Scum of the Earth Church

While driving to see my in-laws, scanning the radio channels for something edifying to listen to, I ran across a Bible study (I don’t know what station or program it was as the channel quickly became static) that mentioned this church (link above). Along with this intriguing site, there was a story told that is worth repeating. But I’m going to make you wait for that. Instead I’m going to take you to 1 Corinthians 4:10-13, 20:

“We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things…For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.”

To understand this passage one must consider the context. Paul was chiding the Corinthian church because of their arrogant attitudes. They were judgmental, condescending, and “rich” (but not in a good sense). He is showing that the humble state of the Apostles was more of a testimony to the power of God’s kingdom than their affluence and haughtiness. They were unwilling to get their hands dirty but he was happy to be considered as rubbish (The HCSB translates verse 13 as, “We are, even now, like the world’s garbage, like the filth of all things.”) for the sake of the Gospel.

Recently, driving again, I ventured through a ritzy and glamorous suburb of Nashville, one of the richest counties in per capita income in America. There was church piled upon church, new building after new building with, I would suppose, comfortable theatre seats, cushy carpet, and a temperature controlled environment. The week before I had been in dangerous and dreaded East Nashville and downtown. Not so many churches there. I guess they couldn’t fund the lavish creature comforts from the contributions of the disenfranchised and down-and-out.

Have we abandoned those who might seem to be most in need because they have no jobs, leave a trail of stench, and have dropped out of society? Maybe. Truth be told, I will be sitting in the most comfortable seat this coming Sunday morning where I attend church. And I will probably eat a sumptuous meal soon after the service; a meal whose cost could feed dozens.

And now for that story. The radio broadcast stated it something like this: In an urban church, after the sermon, the pastor headed to the church door. There he was greeted by a homeless man, who smelled of stale booze, urine, garbage, and vomit. Being used to beggars attending the church, the minister assumed what the man wanted and began to reach for his wallet. But the vagrant protested, “No, no, no! I don’t want your money! I want to know the Jesus you were talking about.” And he buried his head in the preacher’s chest and sobbed. The pastor immediately felt God speak to him in his heart with these piecing words: “This is what the world I came to save smells like.”

I think Paul would agree. And so should we. We are often inclined to go up to meet the needs of the lofty and exalted, but are we willing to get smelly and dirty and go down to those who aren’t? So let us (that would mean me) not be like the haughty hypocrites in Corinth – let’s go and give and serve “the least of these,” the scum of the earth, in the name of Jesus. For in doing so, we are embracing and loving Him (Matthew 25:40).

I will leave us with some of the lyrics from Todd Agnew’s My Jesus:

Blessed are the poor in spirit
Or do we pray to be blessed with the wealth of this land
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness
Or do we ache for another taste of this world of shifting sand

Who is this that you follow
This picture of the American dream
If Jesus was here would you walk right by on the other side or fall down and worship at His holy feet

Pretty blue eyes and curly brown hair and a clear complexion
Is how you see Him as He dies for Your sins
But the Word says He was battered and scarred
Or did you miss that part
Sometimes I doubt we’d recognize Him

Cause my Jesus would never be accepted in my church
The blood and dirt on His feet might stain the carpet
But He reaches for the hurting and despises the proud
I think He’d prefer Beale St. to the stained glass crowd
And I know that He can hear me if I cry out loud

Cause my Jesus bled and died for my sins
He spent His time with thieves and sluts and liars
He loved the poor and accosted the rich
So which one do you want to be?

Not a posterchild for American prosperity, but like my Jesus
You see I’m tired of living for success and popularity
I want to be like my Jesus but I’m not sure what that means to be like You Jesus
Cause You said to live like You, love like You but then You died for me
Can I be like You Jesus?
I want to be like you Jesus!
I want to be like my Jesus!

“Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:1-11).

The Bible is a narrative and must be read and studied that way. The stories of the Old Testament are not isolated but are critical components in Scripture’s redemptive drama. The account of Babel is but one example of how God, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, moved these prophets and writers to share things which, on the surface, seem somewhat trivial. Only by looking forward do we begin to understand why these details are included for our edification.

Yes, the account of Babel is about pride, self-sufficiency, and rebellion. But it is also about how God uses the scattering of languages to bring Himself glory. This isn’t some random event – Scripture unfolds how the dispersion of people groups and the introduction of different languages and dialects would point people to the Gospel and to His greatness. We have to look forward and find, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story.”

Let’s now go to Pentecost where we first see the church taking shape by the proclamation of the Gospel. You can read about it in Acts 2. Folks from numerous geographies with various languages had assembled for this celebration. With Holy Spirit power the disciples use this platform to announce the good news to the diverse masses. But there is a barrier to communicating to this disparate gathering – they spoke in various “tongues.” That’s because of the Babel incident that seemed insignificant, but now takes on new meaning. God knew what He was doing in Genesis 11 and the same is true in Acts 2. He now “gifts” these new believers with the supernatural ability to communicate God’s truth in these foreign languages, “tongues” that were unknown to them.

This miraculous event sparked the first revival in the church as thousands embraced the truth of Jesus and His Gospel. This also initiated the first missions campaign – these new converts went back home and indigenously shared their experience in their native tongue. Now the church’s trajectory and momentum took it outside of Jerusalem and to other people groups and lands. How supernaturally God had overcome and used the language barrier He Himself had created shows His sovereignty, and gives us a glimpse into His mysterious methods for pointing all of creation to Himself.

But the amazing narrative that started in Shinar continues. If we go further we see how the idea of scattered languages and people is further connected to the Gospel and God’s glory. You see, He dispersed them so that He could unite them in one voice and as one people, worshippers whose minds and hearts (unlike the rebels of Babel) are now, by the grace of the Gospel, focused solely on Him and His glory. Now let’s go to Revelation 5:9-14:

“And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.”

And now we see the rest of the story. God scattered sinful, rebellious humanity and created the confusion of different languages at Babel. But He did so that He could, through the Gospel, unify His redeemed into one glorious place and give them one majestic language of exultation to trumpet His glory and worship in His presence forever. From Babel to Pentecost and then to the glorious vision of the Heavenly throne, God was working out His plan that He might be glorified.

“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 1:11-13).

It was a nervous plane ride to Texas for some. Not for me; I’m used to traveling by air. But for the man seated in the same row, with an empty seat in between, it was uncomfortable and unfamiliar. “I haven’t flown since 9/11,” he said. In my fatigue, all I could babble was, “things have changed, haven’t they?” He asked me a couple of questions before disappearing into an uneasy stare towards the skies from his window seat. I disappeared into my Christian book and was all too happy to have no further dialogue. Though he was pleasant enough, I wanted to lose myself in the lofty thoughts of great theologians and apologists. Shame on me…God had a different plan.

Given my small bladder and that a friend was going to pick me up immediately upon landing, I decided to go to the restroom (as if one can get any rest in the bathroom of a commercial airliner). I laid down my book on the empty middle seat and made the trek to the back of the plane. With the flight nearing its conclusion, I didn’t expect any more conversation. But I was very wrong. The blue-collar gentleman next to me was about to startle me from my missional slumber and into my Great Commission mandate.

“Are you are Christian man?” he inquired. “Well, yes, I certainly am…are you?” He paused and mumbled, “I think so.” I was unprepared for this turn of events (that’s the norm for me) and tried to gather myself. But I failed to come up with a coherent response. So I quickly asked God for wisdom and guidance. Soon my thoughts began to organize and I was empowered to speak again. But I could only think to say, “God wants you to know for sure. In the Bible, John wrote a letter for this very purpose.” Even though silence ensued, at this point I knew that I had nothing to do with my retort – the Holy Spirit had taken control.

Then came a flood of questions and answers. He had been baptized, gone to church, left the church, had faith, lost his faith, had hope and now doubted. He believed he was a good man but knew, deep in his being, that wasn’t enough. He understood that it was about a relationship with Jesus and not about religious dogma and practice. He knew the Bible held the key to understanding and knowing Who held his future. He comprehended that he was a sinner, that he must cast himself upon God’s mercy, and surrender all of who he is to all of Who God is. All I could then do was to ask if I could pray for him. He  appreciatively said yes.

Suddenly I was reminded of Jesus’ encounter with the religious of his day:

“One of the scribes approached. When he heard them debating and saw that Jesus answered them well, he asked Him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”“This is the most important,” Jesus answered: Listen, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. “The second is: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Then the scribe said to Him, “You are right, Teacher! You have correctly said that He is One, and there is no one else except Him. And to love Him with all your heart, with all your understanding, and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, is far more [important] than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:28-34).

Perry is not far from the kingdom of God. How many teeter on the edge of hope and assurance? Many don’t embrace the simple yet profound words of the Apostle John: “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” And we most fully know that we know that we have Jesus’ life, His new life, His eternal life when we “Love the Lord [our] God with all [our] heart, with all [our] soul, with all [our] mind, and with all [our] strength. [And we] love [our] neighbor as [our self].”

I am praying for Perry. I pray that Perry knows that he knows that Jesus is His and Jesus has him – now and forever. And I pray that one day I will see him in Heaven and we can talk about how wonderful Jesus is…and that bumpy flight between Nashville and Dallas. The one, I hope, where he began his pilgrimage from doubt to assurance. When he affirmed in his head and his heart that he loved Jesus above all else – with all that he is, with all that he has, based upon all of Christ’s worth.

So, what about you?

“For as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body-so also is Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free-and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. So the body is not one part but many…Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it. And God has placed these in the church* (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 27-28).  

*For the purpose of this discussion, I will use Millard Erickson’s simple definition: The church is “the whole body of those who through Christ’s death have been savingly reconciled to God and have received new life… while universal in nature, it finds expressions in local groupings of believers that display the same qualities as does the body of Christ as a whole.” You can disagree with this premise if you prefer, but at least it is a starting point. 

Our Christian culture, like any other culture, is prone to buzz words. One pertinent one, “Body Life” was popular several years ago. More recently the terms “intentional” and “missional” have permeated our rhetoric. Two others – the subject of this discussion – “unchurched” and “dechurched” are commonly heard in the context of  “the vision of our church is to reach those who are unchurched and dechurched.” Although the intention may not be skewed, these terms concern me. Why? Because one might easily surmise that the goal of reaching the unchurched and dechurched is to get them “churched.” And, to me, that can be a problem, depending on one’s definition of the church. 

You might complain that I am straining at a gnat or arguing over semantics (and I may be) but seeing people “churched,” if that means seeing them become involved (or the ambiguous and sometimes dangerous of concept of  becoming a “church member”) in an institutional organization that bears the name “Christian” alone, then the effort is misguided. We all know that being an active or passive “member” of an institutional church really has little to do with someone being united with Christ or a part of the Body of Christ, His spiritual Bride. And in some cases the label “church member” is an impediment to people actually being united with Christ, being part of His Body in its truest sense. I’ve often said one of the greatest mission fields in America can be found sitting on pews (or other pieces of furniture) on Sunday morning. Far too many have religion (they are churched) but have not been made alive in dynamic relationship with Christ (being a part of His spiritual Body, the true church).  

Now I’m not saying that those who preach a mission of reaching the unchurched and dechurched do not have something more substantive in mind than promoting attendance or participation in an organized “Christian” gathering, but it could be interpreted that way. It all depends on what one means by the term “churched.” For we all know that term, in its most superficial sense, has nothing to do with someone moving from spiritual death to spiritual life, from being lost to being saved, to being adopted into God’s family. These things are not the manifestations of going to a physical (visible) church but an act of regeneration. As Wayne Grudem says, “Regeneration is a secret act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us. This is sometimes called “being born again (using language from John 3:3-9)” (see Grudem’s Systematic Theology, p. 699). 

Although not current, culturally relevant, seeker sensitive (another of those buzz words), or popular, what’s wrong with the terms “lost” and “saved?” Should not the goal of the true Body of Christ be to see people who are spiritually dead come alive in Christ, grow in His image, and be agents and ambassadors of His grace? Only then is one “churched” in the most biblical sense. After all, even Jesus Himself claimed that “[He] came to seek and save that which is lost” (Luke 19:10).

For this reason I will share a passage with you. The first section describes what it means to be “lost.” The 2nd describes regeneration. And no matter if one is unchurched, dechurched, or a “church member” these truths apply. For I believe, in the end, it doesn’t come down to being “churched” in its most shallow definition, but to being redeemed and all that implies.  

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom 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.” (Ephesians 2:1-3). 

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” ( Ephesians 2:4-9).

For an interesting article on this very subject, see Trevin Wax’s thoughts at Unchurched or Unsaved? What Our Vocabulary Reveals About Our Beliefs

*This is an excerpt from my book “Captivated Anew: Restored to Pursue Him.” It can be found on virtually any major on-line bookstore in both digital and hardcopy formats.

When I was a very young pastor, the Lord used an unlikely person to teach me a valuable lesson. I pray I never forget it. That Sunday morning I preached the sermon of my life, having prepared and presented a theological treatise that would make John Calvin proud—or so I thought. While I planned diligently, chose a “deep” topic, and even threw in a few Greek and Hebrew terms, I was (in retrospect) a little too pleased with my presentation and myself that morning. I just knew that my wonderful speech would inspire the congregants. 

And I thought they needed inspiration. They were a little too rural for my taste. Although the church of 800 members resided in an upper middle class community in West Knoxville, Tennessee, it remained true to its informal roots. Much to my chagrin, their worship was unordered: hymns were chosen randomly as the names of each were called aloud by the attendees. Testimony time in that church could break out at a moment’s notice and would occasionally serve as the primary focus of the service. Sometimes, in fact, I was unable to deliver my intricately prepared sermon as the service took on a life all its own. Those times left me feeling as if my seminary education was a waste. 

On this particular Sunday, however, things went smoothly; I was brilliant! As I left the dais and moved to the altar area, I just knew that I had “wowed” them. I asked, as was my custom, if anyone had anything else they would like to add to the day’s message. I secretly hoped that there would be silence so that I could move on to the closing prayer and dismissal. Much to my shock, Mrs. Jones raised her hand and began to shuffle to the front of the auditorium.  

Mrs. Jones had been a member of our church for over sixty years. Though widowed, she never missed a worship service and always sat in the same place. Mrs. Jones would say “hi” or “good morning” but little else, and she certainly never testified. I was surprised to find myself gripped with fear and even a little resentment as she slowly made her way down the aisle. She was about to take the focus off of “my” sermon. Could it be that she’d noticed my pride? Was she about to call me out in front of the whole church? 

The usually restless group (who always seemed to run home after church as if they had roasts in the oven) was hushed in silent respect at the sight of Mrs. Jones tottering towards the front. I didn’t breathe as she slowly grabbed the microphone from my hand and paused. Here stood the lady whom everyone turned to for prayer. Here stood a servant who didn’t have to be the center of attention to teach that her faith was genuine and powerful. 

Faintly, her breath stirred through the PA system as she clutched the mike. When she spoke, it was in a whisper: “I love Jesus.”  

That was it. Nothing more.  

I was absolutely stunned and overwhelmed as her shaking hand returned the microphone to mine. As she shuffled back to her pew, tears flowed from every eye in the house—including my own. Thankfully, I was at a complete loss for words. There was nothing of value that I could add. Mrs. Jones’ words were so true that everyone was touched by the divine simplicity of her faith. I was reminded of the marvelous truth that we find in First John 5:10, “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart.” “I love Jesus,” was her testimony. It should be that of every believer.  

Mrs. Jones’ is still the greatest sermon I have heard. I was devastated yet consumed by its profound beauty. No Greek or Hebrew words. No theological jargon. No alliteration or three points and a poem to capture listeners’ attention. Mrs. Jones needed no seminary training. She had all she needed: Jesus and her love for Him. Paul’s words in First Corinthians 1:17-21 ring true:  

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 

I’ll always thank God for the role Mrs. Jones played in my life.  She reminds me that our testimony, no matter how simple, should confirm the indwelling presence of Christ. Her genuine words of faith powerfully reflected a life submitted to her Savior. I especially think of her when I read Paul’s words: “I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way–in all your speaking and in all your knowledge– because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you” (1 Corinthians 1:4-6).

“Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children” (Matthew 14:13-21).

Evangelicals tend to be critical of Roman Catholics for being too liturgical. Evangelicals even label Lutherans and Presbyterians as “God’s Frozen People” for their systematic and ritualistic approach to worship, among other things. Ah, but how often do we, the “orthodox” evangelicals, deviate from the all too sacred “order of worship?” Yes, I know that God is not the author of confusion (or chaos) in worship or anything else (see 1 Corinthians 14:28-38). But this passage doesn’t preclude God from moving outside of our self-imposed routines and order. He, after all, is much larger than that. Have we taken this text out of context and done so for our own emotional comfort? After all, Jesus did criticize the Pharisees for their “vain (empty) repetitions (see Matthew 6:7).

In the account above (which is presented in all four Gospels) we see something surprising. To say the least, it was unexpected. The meeting, it would seem, was over. Jesus had preached (Mark 6:34) and healed and now, according to the disciples, it was time to shut it down. “Send them home,” they wearily told the Master. “We have exhausted our ‘order of worship’ (implied), it’s late, and we are getting hungry. Off to get some chow and rest!” But much to their amazement (and maybe chagrin), Jesus had another idea. He chose to move in an extraordinary way (please do not let the term “extraordinary” pass you by – it simply means out of the ordinary or norm). He decided that this experience should continue and be drastically changed. A miracle was about to take place; food for five thousand from five loaves and two fish. Thankfully, this “service” didn’t end after the benediction or closing praise and worship chorus. Jesus, spontaneous Jesus, had something bigger in mind!

Jesus was not going to be put into a box. He was not going to let God’s work be short-circuited by the comfortable parameters of boundary-inducing men. He knew there was hunger and He was going to feed those who were in need even though those closest to Him clamored for their dismissal. This wasn’t the only time Jesus took what would be considered ordinary and spontaneously made it extraordinary. He wasn’t predictable at all. Some of His greatest revelations and works came during impromptu gatherings, dinners, stonings, casual strolls, fishing expeditions, from boats, and in the midst of storms. In none of these situations was He or God’s movement stifled by some man-made, predetermined plan or order. Jesus let God out of the corner, so to speak, and let His work be accomplished by being sensitive to the situation, aware of God’s movement, and surprisingly spontaneous. Just ponder the number of times the Gospels demonstrate that Jesus caught His listeners off guard as He quickly changed directions.

Now I’m not advocating disordered worship or chaotic church services. Nor am I against tradition itself. Not at all! What I’m suggesting is that we allow God’s Spirit to move in such a way that our practices, methods, orders, plans, formulas, routines, traditions, and, sometimes even, prescriptions don’t hinder true worship and ministry. In other words, let’s not be so programmed and predictable that we don’t allow for God’s Spirit to take us where He wants us to go. Yes, we certainly need structure but not at the expense of missing God’s presence and power. As someone has pointedly said, “Many churches have become so routine and regulated that if the Holy Spirit did show up they would have no room for Him to visit. And they wouldn’t even recognize that He had been there.”

If you are a pastor or small group leader, try something “radically” different. Change the order of things (do something really crazy like preaching or teaching at the beginning of the gathering), expect and allow for Spirit-led spontaneity, and pray God moves outside the boundaries of our self-determined boxes and routines. Who knows, He just may just surprise you…just like Jesus often did.

“But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)  And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:7-17).

I write a blog. God be praised, will probably be hit nearly 14,000 times this year. I pray it is a platform for the sweetness of grace and the strength of truth. Both are necessary. I also read a lot of Christian blogs and realize it is so easy for this medium (or any other) to slant in either direction. There are times we should be “prophets” (as in exhorting) but do so with grace. At other times we need to be encouragers while never compromising the truth. It’s a  difficult balance and one can only discern the difference based upon what is in the communicator’s heart. I pray my motives are compelled by the objective truth of God’s Word (Hebrews 4:12) and my convictions are shared with both sweetness and strength. And when I fail to do this, I ask God and my readers to forgive me.

I find, however, some (it is the minority) of what I read (and maybe write) to be angry and incendiary in tone. In the name of, “This is my prophetic gift” or “This is motivated by the Spirit,” too much of what I read seems to be an attack and intentionally (or subconsciously) malicious. Frequently I find “grating words that come from gaping wounds.” And they seem to be derived from professing Christ-followers and directed at the institutional church. Yes, I have major issues with the abuse and misdirection that can be found in the organized church and I have been quite vocal about what I see and hear that doesn’t line up with Scripture. And what I say may be spot-on and even painfully truthful. But if written with a spirit of vengeance or self-absorbed anger it can be both unhealthy and unholy.

Both grace and truth are part of the proclamation of the Gospel and a true exposition of the Scriptures. But when it is building up? And when is it tearing  down? God’s Word consistently affirms that our motive should be to build up, even if, on the surface, it appears harsh or overtly critical. Tearing down, in and of itself, more reflects the style of the world and the flesh than God-inspired, love-compelled edification. Here are but a few examples of the Bible’s clear message that our ultimate goal for Christ’s church, in all communication, is to be building it up and not tearing it down:

  • “So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit,  strive to excel in building up the church” (1 Corinthians 4:12). 
  • “For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord
    has given me for building up and not for tearing down” (2 Corinthians 13:10).
  • “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who      hear” (Ephesians 4:29).  
  • “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for
    building up” (1 Corinthians 14:26).

In Ephesians 4:7-17 Paul indicates there are certain benchmarks that allow us to know if we are building up instead of tearing down. Let’s restate some of them and ask ourselves; Are these things the impetus behind what I say or write?

“…to equip the saints for the work of ministry…

…[to] attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God…

…to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…

…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine…

…speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…

…[so that] each parts working properly, [which] makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” 

I know, for me, this is worth pondering and praying over. Because I believe God would have us to communicate with the sweetness of grace and the strength of truth but do so with graciously building up His church as our ultimate motive.


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 57 other followers

Faithful Blogger

%d bloggers like this: