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!

 

Pure Religion!

-An Orphan’s Story!

I married the granddaughter of an orphan! When my wife’s grandfather was a young boy, his father died; and, his mother remarried.  Unfortunately, her new husband out NOT to be the kind of man she thought he was.  He held no regard for her children; and, when she died, he considered them disposable; and, had them removed from his home. My wife’s grandfather was a 14-year old boy when the authorities placed him in an orphanage where he was physically abused; until it was discovered and he was removed and placed in a foster-care home where he was loved & cared for. Eventually, he came to faith in Jesus Christ, married my wife’s grandmother & they established a Christian home together. A home that produced a legacy of faith with children, grandchildren & great-grandchildren who’ve grown up loving Jesus. What a great story, right! An “orphan’s story” with a happy ending!

-An Orphan Crisis!

Unfortunately, that’s the exception. There is an orphan crisis in our world! I was shocked to discover that there are more than 153 million orphans worldwide! That’s staggering! If orphans were a country, of their own, their population would rank 9th in the world, ahead of Russia! 100 million of them live or work on the streets. They survive by selling flowers or cigarettes, by watching cars; and, many sell their bodies, for sex, or engage in criminal activity. Many, of these street children, are subjected to abuse, neglect, exploitation; or, in extreme cases, are murdered by “death squads” paid by their governments to “clean up” the image of their cities.

-It’s Easy To Become Hard-Hearted!

So, why am I sharing all this with you? Why should you care? It’s so easy to become hardened to all the images, isn’t it? We’re bombarded with the infomercials! The sad faces. The sad music. The compelling stories. All meant to move us to reach into our wallets ad pay up! And, we can try and rationalize that so many of the agencies out there, who claim to be helping the orphan population, are just siphoning off huge amounts, from the giving, to support elaborate lifestyles for their big-name CEO’s. So, let me tell you why this is important to you! Because we can’t just ignore what God’s Word says about it! God has an opinion & we need to listen!

-Look After Orphans!

It’s a statement inspired by God’s Holy Spirit— “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 1:27.  What was that? “PURE RELIGION” is looking after orphans & widows? Is James supporting a salvation of good deeds? No, he’s not! The book James authored dovetails quite nicely with Paul’s book to the Romans. James is NOT saying that your good deeds, like caring for orphans & widows, will result in salvation! Rather, that the result of genuine, saving faith, in Jesus—or, “pure religion” he calls it—is to love others! Like orphans, widows & the marginalized of society! God gives us a heart to love & serve them!

 

The Humility Of Jesus!

-Our Lack Of Humility!

Our general failure to serve others, as Jesus did, stems from our failure to humble ourselves as Jesus did! As Jesus washes the feet, of His disciples, He finally comes to Peter— “Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, are You washing my feet?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.’ Peter said to Him, ‘You shall never wash my feet!’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’ Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you’” John 13:6-10.  Peter’s words express his shame; that, he had been unwilling to humble himself & wash the feet of the disciples, “Lord, You’re not going to wash my feet, are you?” His words express a brokenness among the disciples now.

-Overcome By Selfishness!

They were overcome by their individual selfishness & humiliated by their pride that kept them from washing each other’s feet! And, the occasion provided Jesus the opportunity to exhibit true humility! That seems to be Jesus’ intent when He tells him,  “…you don’t understand now, but you will know after this.”  “Peter, you’re protesting because you’re ignorant,” Jesus was saying, “I’ve been telling you, for 3 1/2 years, that I came to minister to people, not to be ministered unto. I came to be humiliated & humbled! Someday you’ll understand.” After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter did understand. He had observed the total humiliation & humbling of Jesus on the cross.  But, not now! As Jesus washed his feet, the complete picture, of what Jesus came to do, was not evident yet to Peter. He still thinks Jesus is about to launch His Kingdom! This is the King— “What are you doing down there washing my feet, King Jesus?” “Peter, you’re just not tracking with me,” Jesus was saying, “I must humble myself! That’s why I came! And, if you won’t let me humble myself, in your place, you can have no part of Me! If I don’t experience the ultimate humiliation of death, on the cross! If I don’t take your sin & the sin of the world! If I don’t make atonement for your sin, you can have no part of Me! You’ll never spend eternity with Me!”

-I’ve Given You An Example!

He finishes washing their feet & says, “You call Me Teacher & Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord & Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” John 13:13-15. The “example” He gave was NOT the practice of foot washing! The example He gave us was HUMILITY!  His ministry, as a SERVANT, didn’t appeal to the religious leaders! Serving others made Him weak, in their estimation. He couldn’t possibly be the Messiah! Judas Iscariot came to the same conclusion! So, he determined to cut his losses & make a little profit from his wasted 3 1/2 years with Jesus! How sad they missed the Servant King!

 

Love Is An Action!

-Love Is A Verb!

Someone said it like this:  “Love is a verb! Without action, it is merely a word.” Jesus embodied that love from the beginning, of his life, to the very end when He died a substitutionary death, on the cross, to pay the price for the sin of the world! No one ever loved like Jesus loved! “No one has greater love than this,” He said, “that someone would lay down his life for his friends” John 15:13.  Jesus was the friend of sinners! And, the nearer we are, to Jesus, the closer we’ll get to people— that we might serve them like He did!

-Too Heavenly Minded!

There’s an old saying that, “Some people are so heavenly minded that they’re of no earthly good.” We’ll serve the people, of planet earth like Jesus served, when we love like Jesus loved! Genuine love is way more than words, like, “I love you, brother!” It’s about action! It’s about deeds and service! “Little children, we must not love with word or speech, but with truth and action” 1 John 3:18.  You can tell people you love them; but, it’s more effective when you show them! In the famous passage of Scripture, where Jesus washes His disciple’s feet, the chapter begins with these words: “Now by the time of supper, the Devil had already put it into the heart of Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, to betray Him.  Jesus knew that the Father had given everything into His hands, that He had come from God, and that He was going back to God” John 13:2-3.  Jesus knew what His purpose was for coming to this earth He had created! He also knew where He was going— ”…back to God.” So, He knew His destiny. He could live His entire life “pre-occupied” with loving & serving mankind!

-Pre-Occupied With Love & Service!

If we know Jesus, as Savior, we also know our destiny! We’re destined to live forever WITH HIM! “I go to prepare a place for you,” Jesus told those who followed Him, “that where I am you will be also” (John 14:2-3).  It would seem, from Scripture, that He’s doing that right now! From the time He ascended, back to the Father, He has been preparing a place for us to live with Him. If we truly believe that is our destiny, it will change our lives! We can serve others with the secure knowledge that Jesus has taken care of our future! That’s why Paul challenged the Church of Rome to, “…present your bodies as a living sacrifice… it’s your reasonable service” Romans 12:1. We’ll serve like Jesus served when we embrace our destiny!

-It’s Reasonable To Serve!

It only makes sense to serve, Paul says. It’s reasonable to give your life away in sacrificial ministry. Jesus served with reckless, radical abandon because He knew His destiny! We can serve in the same radical way! We know that Jesus will take care of us today; and, He’ll take care of our future! “Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Make money-bags for yourselves that won’t grow old, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” Luke 12:32-34.  Don’t live your life in anxiety! Love! Serve! Minister to others! Your future is secure in Christ!

 

Measuring Greatness!

-Jesus Washing Feet!

Most of us are familiar with Jesus’ act of washing His disciples feet. The Apostle John includes the story, in chapter 13, of his gospel account. It was common for Jewish homes, during this time period, to keep large vessels of water, near the front door, for every visitor to wash their feet. It was typical for a slave to wash the feet of guests. But, when the disciples get to the upper room, there is no servant prepared to wash their feet & no one volunteers to do it! The bowl of water was there! The towel was there! Everything needed to serve was there! But, no one was willing!

-What Serving Looks Like!

The text seems clear that they were in the middle, of their meal, when Jesus rises from the table to show them what it looks like to serve! In an overwhelming act of humility, John says that Jesus “…rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.  After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded” John 13:4,5.  Make sure you get the picture! This was GOD, who had humbled Himself already just by becoming a man? Now, GOD stands up & walks to the front door! GOD takes the pitcher of water, pours it into the basin, puts a towel around His waist; and, prepares to wash the dirty feet of His disciples!

-How To Measure Greatness!

Here’s the lesson Jesus was teaching them:  Greatness is measured by the “quantity” and “quality” of your service to others! Serving others is what makes you great in God’s economy & kingdom! And, both the quantity & the quality, of your service, is how Jesus measures it! So, let’s get practical; and, ask what that kind of service, to others, looks like! There are several observations we can make by observing this text of Scripture. First, we will serve like Jesus served when we come to understand our identity! In v.1, John wrote that, “…Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father…” In other words, Jesus knew who He was! He knew why He came! He knew what was before Him… the CROSS! The hour of His humiliation was upon Him! He had the confident resolve of “God in the flesh.” That was His identity in this world! In Mark’s gospel, he wrote: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served; but, to serve & give His life a ransom for many” Mark 10:45

-Jesus Emptied Himself!

The Apostle Paul wrote, of Jesus: “He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a servant. He humbled Himself…” Philippians 2:7-8. We cannot overemphasize the fact that this was GOD who HUMBLED Himself & became a SERVANT to His creation! But, we typically want to reverse the order! While we ought to take on the role of a SERVANT, we want to RULE like God! Except, that, here it is— God became a SERVANT! We’re suffering from an identity crisis; and, that’s why we’re not serving as we ought! Jesus’ disciples suffered from an identity crisis & that’s why they weren’t serving each other! After washing their feet, Jesus said: “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you…” John 13:15,16.

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!