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!

 

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!

 

Serve One Another!

-Jesus, The Example!

For I have given you an example,” Jesus told His disciples, after washing their feet, “that you should do as I have done to you.  Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master…” John 13:15-17.  The example, He set before them, was NOT the washing of their feet! In some circles, where the washing of feet is practiced, individuals can actually take “pride” in the “humility” they display as they wash each other’s feet. No, the example Jesus sets is true humility in the serving of others! It is humble deference to others; and, serving them in every life situation!

-Jesus, The Master!

I am your Master,” Jesus says, “And I’ve given you an example to serve in the SAME WAY you’re seen me serve!” That’s the identity that Jesus gives us! That’s who we are! We are servants, just like Jesus, our Master! We’re called Christians; and, that literally means “little Christs.” Acts 11 says the believers were first called “little Christs” at Antioch. They so resembled the humble, servant Christ that the unbelievers said they acted just like Him! Like a “little Christ.” We will never serve like Jesus served until we grab hold of that! To use Jesus’ words, our purpose & calling is to “…do as I have done to you…” He calls us to be a servant to all! Just like Jesus!

-Jesus, The Lover!

But, we will never serve like Jesus served until we love like Jesus loved! In the first verse, of John 13, it says, of Jesus, “…having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” The key to understanding that verse; and, the kind of love Jesus had, is found in that phrase, “…He loved them to the end.” It means “to the uttermost” or with “total fullness.” He loved them “utterly”, with “total fullness”; even though He knew that His hour, to endure the cross, was near! Though He knew of His approaching death to pay for the sin of the world! All the way to the cross He is pre-occupied with His love for them! His kind of love drove Him to serve! To minister! And, we’ll not serve like Jesus until we learn to love like He loved! It’s quite simple really! We don’t serve because our pre-occupation is with other things! We’re pre-occupied with the building of our own little kingdoms; rather, than His kingdom! We don’t serve because it’s not on our agenda!

-Will They Know You’re His Disciple?

We’re not in love with the same things Jesus was in love with! Later, in the same chapter, John records these words of Jesus: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” John 13:35. The world will know that we are Christians (“little Christs”) by our love; and, our love will be evidenced by a life of service to others! Loveless people are too pre-occupied with their own “self importance” to do common ministry… like washing someone’s feet! Not Jesus! He is fully aware of His identity! He is the “King of kings and Lord of lords.” He is God incarnate! And, He’s washing the feet of disciples who were too proud to serve each other! That is true love’s character! And, the nearer we are, to Jesus, the closer we’ll get to other people! And, we’ll serve them like Jesus did!

 

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!

 

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!