When Church Culture Meets Needs!

-Haunted By A Scripture!

I grew up in a church culture that did relatively nothing to meet “physical” needs! It was argued that if you gave people money that they’d just spend it on booze & cigarettes & drugs. So, don’t give them anything, we were told! We had no food pantry to provide for the hungry in our city! We had no benevolent funds to assist with other needs! And, yet we thought we were being faithful to God’s Word.  But, there’s a scripture, in James, that always haunted me as I read it:  “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows” James 1:27.  What do you do with that?

-Playing The Legalist!

How can we just dismiss that? Or, play the “legalist” and limit the spirit of the text to caring for orphans or widows exclusively. At the same time, we cannot just be preoccupied with physical needs and omit the sharing of the Gospel! That’s the problem with many socially-minded churches! If we limit our care, for them, to physical needs & never share the Gospel, with them, all we’ve accomplished is to keep them alive longer, only to prolong their ultimate meeting with God @ the judgment, whereupon their unbelief will be exposed! It’s not “good deeds” or the “Gospel.” It’s not an EITHER-OR! It’s a BOTH-AND decision we must make!

-What Is Pure Religion?

To James, pure religion is not the RESULT of good deeds; but, RESULTS in good deed! We don’t take care of the orphan, the widow & the poor in order to ATTAIN pure religion! Rather, when our religion is the pure Gospel, of Jesus Christ, we become Jesus “in the flesh” when we meet the needs of the orphan, the widow & the poor! “Not by works of righteousness that we have done; but, by His mercy He saves us” Titus 3:5.  Salvation is “…not of works, so no one can boast…” Ephesians 2:9.  But, when we humble ourselves & trust Christ’s atonement work, on the cross, He changes us inside & the Holy Spirit gives us the heart of Jesus! As we are sanctified & grow, in our faith, we’ll want to meet the physical & spiritual needs of the down-trodden, of our world, just like Jesus did! This ought to be a core ministry value for the church!

-A Change That Includes Service!

Look again at that verse in James; but, this time let’s back it up one verse & see how it flows, in context, from one verse to the next:  “If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, then his religion is useless and he deceives himself. Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world” James 1:26,27. Notice how James lumps together 3 very practical evidence of pure religion; or, 3 areas of obedience that evidence genuine saving faith— 1) Self-control in your speech; 2) A Ministry of Compassion to the needy; and, 3) Practical holiness. See that? Inspired by the Holy Spirit, James places ministry to the needy & cleaning up a potty mouth on an equal plane as living a holy life! More on that next week!

 

Called To Serve!

-A Day Away From Crucifixion!

Jesus began His ministry quite impressively! The gospel accounts reveal that He kind of burst on the scene! He attracted huge crowds because He spoke differently than anyone had ever spoken before! Especially Israel’s priests and other religious leaders! When we get to chapter 13, in John’s gospel account, Jesus is a day away from His crucifixion. By now, the crowds have abandoned Him, in part, because He began preaching a message of sacrifice & service!

-Take Up Your Cross!

He told them they needed to crucify “self” and take up their cross daily if they wanted to be His follower! He preached an upside down kingdom where those who led must serve! That the way to be FIRST was to be LAST! He turned the world’s leadership style on it’s head! This was what His church would look like! And, many of His original followers, wanted nothing more to do with Him! They had followed for selfish reasons! But, Christ’s kingdom would be a selfless one! So, Jesus is left with 12 followers— and, one of them, Judas Iscariot, would betray Him! So, they’ve met back in Jerusalem, in an upper room, to celebrate the Passover together.

-Jesus Washes His Disciples Feet!

And, John writes this:  “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist” John 13:1-4.  Their feet were dirty from their trip. It was common, for most travelers, to walk. A horse or burro was an expensive luxury for most! “Roads” were little more than dirt paths! They had no sidewalks, or bike paths, as we’re accustomed to! Depending on the weather, you either moved through inch thick dust; or, liquid mud caused by rain. It was impossible for sandals to keep the dirt out! Most Jewish homes kept large vessels of water, near the front door, for every visitor to wash their feet. It was typical, in this time period, for a slave to wash the visitor’s feet.

-Jesus Serves Like A Slave!

But, when the disciples get to the upper room, there is no slave! No servant is prepared to wash their feet & no one volunteers to wash feet! In fact, this is the same group that Luke tells us (ch.22) had been fighting over who was the greatest among them. Who would sit at Jesus’ right hand & left hand when He setup His kingdom? So, with that going on, what were the chances that any of them would humble themselves & wash the feet of the other disciples? The bowl of water was there! The towel was there! Everything needed to serve was there! But, no one was willing! The text seems clear that they were in the middle, of their meal, when Jesus rises from the table (v.5) to show them what it means to serve!

 

Freedom From Cannibalism!

-Biting One Another!

In the Apostle Paul’s letter, to the Church of Galatia, he wrote: “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another” Gal. 5:15.  In the context, of this letter, Paul’s main theme is “freedom.” The genuine follower, of Jesus Christ, is set FREE from their previous bondage to the flesh! We are FREE from the slavery to capitulate to the demands of our broken and depraved natures. No longer does sin have power over us! Jesus, upon His ascension to the Father, sent the Holy Spirit to indwell us and empower us with the ability to say “no” to sin’s demands!

-Called To Be Free!

So, Paul, the Apostle, tells this church:  “Christ has liberated us to be free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery… For you were called to be free, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love.  For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself” Gal.5:1,13-14.  The essence of Paul’s words is this— the Gospel, of Jesus Christ, sets us free from Christian Cannibalism! It is only Jesus’ Gospel that empowers us to love others like this! When our love, for others, grows, in this way, it’s a powerful endorsement to the validity of our words when we share our faith! Conversely, it is a blatant & ugly contradiction, of Jesus’ Gospel, when we “…bite and devour one another…” (v.15).

-Preying Like Cannibals!

When we prey on one another, like Cannibals, we sabotage the Glory of Jesus’ cross! We cover up the beauty of Christ, Who gave Himself up in payment for our self-centeredness! I saw the ugliness of Christian Cannibalism played out, as a Bible college student; when half the church, I was attending, walked out, on the other half, over the color choice of the ladies restroom during a building program! Their testimony, in that rural community, was ruined! I saw it happen! Oh, how we need the Spirit’s help to learn how to deal with conflict in a way that’s redemptive; rather, than destructive! A church that does not serve each other, in love like Jesus, will cannibalize itself! We can only love, like Jesus, if we’ve been set FREE by the Power of His Gospel! God can & does deliver churches from Christian Cannibalism!

-Overcoming The Past!

Only the Gospel of Christ can deliver our churches from such ungodly behavior! Some of you have experienced a church that devoured itself! You still struggle with the pain! It’s still raw! And, you are broken at the thought that some unbelievers will never come to faith, in Jesus Christ, because of the relational damage they’ve seen inflicted on others by so-called Christians! And, don’t forget to praise God if you’re part of a community of faith that truly loves, honors, and respects one other! That is truly a work of God! Be encouraged & pray regularly for a continuing peace & harmony in your church! Pray daily for spiritual renewal & revival! And, remember that it’s the Gospel of Christ that frees us to be Jesus to everyone we meet!

 

Jesus In The Flesh!

-Do We Look Like Him?

In a conversation one of our church family members had with someone, who was struggling to understand & accept the Gospel, she said to them, “I just need to see Jesus in the flesh!” She meant, by that, that she needed to see what it looked like for someone, claiming to be a follower of Jesus, to actually live it! That’s a powerful statement! And, the Gospel of Christ actually frees us to be “Jesus in the flesh” to everyone we encounter!

-It’s A Radical Transformation!

When we truly humble ourselves before God & submit to Him, Jesus moves into our lives— by the Power of His Holy Spirit— and, radically begins to transform us in every way, including our relationships! We can actually become Jesus to everyone we meet! Let me explain! When humanity, in Adam, sinned, it was a complete breakdown of our ability to IMAGE God. We were BROKEN! Because of our fallen nature, we are born into this world with an inability to love like God loves! So, we hate others! We lash out! We become self-absorbed! We use people for what they can do for us! That’s our default condition at birth!

-Everything Changes In Jesus!

But, when the Gospel of Christ is introduced to us & accepted, everything changes! Just read Matthew, Mark, Luke & John’s account of Jesus’ life & marvel at the way He loves…  even His enemies! And, we are transformed, into His image, as we dwell in His presence through the written Word! The Apostle Paul described it like this, when he wrote the Church of Corinth:  “We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit” 2 Cor. 3:18.  By the Power, of the Gospel, we see God’s Glory— in Jesus— and, we are transformed into that SAME IMAGE from one Glory to another!

-Re-Imaged Into Jesus!

We are being “RE-IMAGED” into Jesus! We need to hear this! Far too often, the inter-personal relationships, within the body, look no different than the relationships among unbelievers! And, I submit to you, that THAT plays a huge part in the overall ineffectiveness of the Western church when it comes to making disciples & attracting people to the church! So, how do we change this? How can this trend be reversed?

-Jesus’ New Command!

Jesus told His disciples: “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” John 13:34,35. As He transforms us to love others— in the SAME way He loves us—  the world will know we belong to Jesus! They’ll know we love Jesus because we love them! Here’s what I believe God wants us to do about this— He wants us to REPENT over our broken relationships! To repent literally means, “to change your mind.” So, God wants us to change our minds about our broken relationships! We used to think they were okay! But, they’re NOT OKAY! We need Him to fix them! So, the world can see Jesus in us!

 

Don’t Eat Each Other!

-Not All Cannibals Are Alike!

Did you know that not all cannibals are alike? An “Exo-Cannibal” eats only those outside his immediate social circle (i.e. his “enemies”). While an “Endo-Cannibal” will eat those within his immediate social circle (i.e. his “friends”). But, a “Pan-Cannibal” is indiscriminate & will eat anyone! Bet you didn’t know that! You probably thought that all cannibals were alike! Let me share a true story with you! The world’s most infamous cannibal was the legendary Fijian Chieftain, Ratu Udre Udre.

-A Guinness World Record!

Listen to this— he actually holds the Guinness World Record for eating the most people! I was surprised, personally, to discover that Guinness actually kept such a record! Ratu Udre Udre ate between 872 and 999 people.  According to his son— whom he did not eat! Guess that made him a “good father”— Ratu Udre Udre kept a stone for each body he ate! Now, unfortunately, many Christians have more in common with Udre Udre than you might think because many Christians “eat” their own! You might say they’re “church cannibals” & Paul’s letter to the Church of Galatia bears that out. His 5th chapter begins like this:  “Christ has liberated us to be free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery” Galatians 5:1. That’s the “good news” of the Gospel! We’re born into this world with a yoke of slavery around our necks! And, we can try with all our might to get out from under our sin; but, we’re incapable! But, Jesus liberates us by His atonement, for sin, on the cross! He liberates us from the penalty & power of sin over our lives!

-Don’t Devour One Another!

So, “stand firm,” Paul says, “don’t submit to that old yoke of slavery” again! And, continuing in that context, he speaks to the Gospel’s power to affect our relationships with people! We’re no longer enslaved to the world’s way of “devouring” one another; or, hating one another & holding grudges! That’s what Paul says a little later in the same chapter:  “For you were called to be free, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.  But if you bite and devour one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another.” Gal. 5:13-15

-Are You Drinking Poison?

Someone has accurately stated that “unforgiveness is the poison you drink, hoping it will kill someone else!” And, in this scripture, Paul is reminding this local church that the Gospel sets us FREE from those kind of toxic relationships. The Gospel of Christ frees us to be Jesus to everyone we meet! When we truly humble ourselves before God & submit to Him, Jesus moves us— by the power of His Holy Spirit— and, RADICALLY begins to transform us in every way including our relationships! When humanity sinned, in Adam, it was a complete breakdown of our ability to “image” God, the Father & our Creator! We’re BROKEN! We’re all born into this world with an inability to love, like God loves, because of our inherited  fallen nature! Only a conversion to Christ can change us! We’ll pick it up there @ our next post!

 

What Jesus Calls Great!

-Wouldn’t You Like To Know?

Have you ever given thought to what it would have been like to be one of Jesus’ disciples & just walk through life with Him? To literally walk through life with Jesus! Because that was the most common method of transportation in that day! And, to hear Him speak God’s wisdom into every situation they encountered! Mark, who wrote the Gospel of Mark, tells us about a time when Jesus & His disciples were on the road, going up to Jerusalem; and, Jesus gets real serious with them & begins to tell them that the Chief Priest & the religious leaders would condemn Him to death! That He would be mocked & spit on & flogged & killed! And, it was weird— like they didn’t even hear what He was saying— but, 2 of the disciples, James & John who were brothers, approach Jesus immediately after He dropped that “bomb” on them & ask if they could sit on each side of His throne in Glory!

-Great To Jesus Is Service!

That really ticked off the other 10 disciples! Mark records it like this:  “Jesus called them over and said to them, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them.  But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many” Mark 10:42-45.  In so many words, Jesus was teaching them that if you’re GREAT in God’s Kingdom, that this world probably won’t even notice you!

-Jesus’ Leadership Model!

What Jesus calls “GREAT” and what the world says is “GREAT” are generally 2 entirely different things. Jesus calls you great when you reject the world’s leadership style (v.42). Those who lead, in this world, dominate or lord it over anyone in a “subordinate” role, Jesus says. Having a “position” of power is of great significance! But, that’s not the case in Jesus’ Kingdom! If we follow Jesus’ leadership model, we have to reject the world’s style of leadership. Instead, Jesus calls you great when your ministry is measured by the people you serve (v.43).  “…it must not be like the world’s leadership style…” among believers, He says!

-Do You Want A Title?

In the ministry of the church, Jesus says it’s not about having a “title.” Do you want a title? If you’re an “ELDER” you SERVE! If you’re a “DEACON” you SERVE! If you’re a Sunday School Teacher, a Small Group Leader, an AWANA or NURSERY WORKER you SERVE! If you’re a WORSHIP TEAM MEMBER— it’s NOT A SHOW! Jesus doesn’t care about your title! He cares about your SERVICE! You want to be GREAT? You want a TITLE? Take the title of “SERVANT”, Jesus says! And, then, Jesus calls you great when you humble yourself & become the world’s slave (v.44).  Some versions render the word “servant.” But, that’s not right! The word is “doulos” in the original Greek language; and, the only correct way to translate it is  “slave.” Jesus meant for us to take on the humility of a slave when it comes to our ministry & service to others!

 

Is Every Believer A Disciple?

-What Does Scripture Teach?

The Church, here in the west, has often made a distinction between a “believer” in Jesus Christ & a “disciple” of Jesus Christ! It’s a distinction, however, that Scripture fails to make— that you can be a saved “believer” & just live your entire life for yourself! That, if you desire, you can become a “disciple” and live out your days as a “super saint” for Jesus. No where, in Scripture, does Jesus say anything even close to that! If you abide, in Jesus, you will produce the fruit of a disciple! That’s the outcome of genuine faith!

-Grape Vines Produce Grapes!

There will always be fruit where there is genuine faith. It’s as natural as a grape vine producing grapes. That’s what grape vines do! And, there is fruit that is naturally produced, by God’s Spirit, in the life of every genuine believer who abides in Jesus! In fact, that’s exactly what Jesus says! Fruitfulness is the proof that you’re a “believer” & “disciple.” “If anyone does not abide in Me,” Jesus said, “he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” John 15:6-8.  We bring glory to God when our lives produce fruit because it PROVES that He’s saved us! The PROOF is in the FRUIT!

-Love, Joy & Obedience!

Then, Jesus expands, on that, in the next several verses (v. 9-17). Fruitfulness, He says, is measured by our love, by our obedience, and, by our joy! “This is My commandment,” Jesus said, “that you love one another as I have loved you.” Loving others isn’t an option for anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus! If there’s no love, it’s because there is no spiritual life. Where there’s no love, there’s no “abiding in Jesus.” “You are my friends,” He said, “if you do what I command you.” We cannot pick and choose what we’re going to obey in God’s Word. Disobedience isn’t an option! If we truly abide, in Christ, we’ll repent when we disobey & realign our life accordingly with the Scriptures. And, there’ll be joy in your life— “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may full.” Our joy is linked to a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ! It’s not circumstantial!

-Even When Life Is Hard!

Abiding in Christ produces joy! Even when the rest of life derails, our joy is centered In Jesus. All those grumpy, mean-spirited, haters out there who claim to be followers of Jesus must have missed that Scripture! Or… they don’t really abide in Christ! This text presents a clear case that God, the Father, won’t stand idle while His children act up! He will prune— “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” John 17:2. He will discipline His own! He will spank! But, He doesn’t spank the Devil’s kids! Our response, to His discipline, will either confirm or deny that our “faith” is legitimate! We will confess sin & let His Spirit clean house!