The word that Jesus prays in John 17:20-23 is a very joy-filled, optimistic message about what the church could be like as we come together in unity. Let's take a look at part of the message in John 17:
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. John 17:20-23
The topic of this month's post is not going to be much fun. I'll warn you in advance; if you prefer not to take a deep, hard look at some realities in our North American Christian culture, either delete this or save it for another day. I also want to emphasize that this post is not intended to bash anyone or any institution. My hope is to simply look deep into the heart of the church, of which I am a part.
The scripture quoted above is from Jesus' prayer immediately preceding his arrest, trial and crucifixion. He knew what was to happen next, so I have to believe that in this prayer we get to hear the passion and depth of Jesus' heart. It was time to sum up his ministry and desires for his followers after spending 33 years here on earth.
The prayer starts with a simple request that Jesus now be restored to what was since the beginning of time — that he once again be glorified with his Father. "And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began." He then prays for those who have followed him while he was on this earth, those we now call "the disciples." Then Jesus prays "not for them alone" but "also for those who will believe in me through their message."
It still blows me away to this day that Jesus, while he was in the flesh over 2000 years ago, prayed for me. And for you! We ARE "those who will believe in me through their message." What does he pray for you, for me, and for everyone who has believed through the writings of those disciples? He prays that "all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you."
It's at this point that I have to stop and take a deep breath. Then, with as much self honesty as I can muster, I have to ask myself this question: how am I individually, and, how are we, corporately, doing at "being one?" I'm ashamed to say that the answer is so obvious that we need not even say it aloud. In fact, I'm pretty sure that not only are we not "one," we may not even be three or five or twenty or a thousand. I'm not sure I know what that means, but I say it to make this point: we are deeply missing the mark on this one.
Jesus goes on to say, "so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."Complete unity? Have we been "brought to complete unity?" I'm not sure where we're at, why we're there, or how we got here but I'm fairly sure that no one would describe us, the "church," as being in complete unity.
And the price for not being there? Look at the next line. As a result of our missing the mark, the world — and more specifically, our next door neighbor — does not know that Jesus was sent by the Father and that the Father loves them. That seems to be a very high price for others to pay for our desire to live out our individualistic, self-driven, locked in our own home, "personal" form of Christianity. It doesn't seem very biblical and it certainly is not seeing us reach the world.
I'm afraid that in this case the culture has far outstripped the church in its influence on our lives. We "go" to work, we"go" to our meetings, we "go" home, and then we "go" to church. When we're not happy, we change our place of work and we change our "church" until the next time we're unhappy and we change again. Then we read the most recent hot Christian book on sale at the Christian bookstore or listen to some new podcast of the new hot preacher and we try to change again. So it goes — we continue, in our Christianity, to try and keep changing things so that we might eventually be "happy." I believe it was K. P. Yohannen, in his book "Revolution in World Missions" that said "The church in America has caught a cold. It's "Ahchoo! Bless me! Ahchoo! Bless me!" And on and on we go, chasing happiness instead of pursuing God.
I believe with all my heart that everything man truly desires is wrapped up in our relationship with God. It is there and only there that we will find true love, true joy, and true peace. But we MUST come to some basic agreement, complete unity, on what that looks like and how that happens. That's never going to happen without true discipleship.
We have to stop birthing baby Christians and then setting them on their feet and telling them to "go and prosper." Babies must be raised up to become adults. Baby Christians must be raised up to become adult Christians. This responsibility is yours and mine and ours. If I'm not a part of the solution, I'm just a part of the problem.
As always, would love to hear your thoughts. I continue to be humbled by your love and your support.
I was listening to the news today and came to the conclusion that there isn’t much good happening in the world today. Wars, skirmishes, inflation, poverty, lack of gas, lack of food, murder, scandals, high prices and the list goes on and on. There is nothing positive or happy in the world. The left hates the right, and the right hates the left. No one can get along. The weather is disastrous, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and drought. Have I got you feeling bad yet? If your only source of news is what the world offers then I can understand.
Let me give you an alternative. It’s often referred to as the “Good News”. It’s history, future, and daily living rolled into one exciting dialogue. Let me recite some of the things that it says:
How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who brings good news,
the good news of peace and salvation,
the news that the God of Israel reigns!
Isaiah 52:7 (NLT)
And my God will liberally supply (fill to the full) your every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19 (AMP)
Of course, you know I am talking about God’s Word, The Bible. The Bible can be and is very practical. In fact it has stated succinctly the reason for our bad feelings: our thought life!
For as he thinks within himself, so he is … Proverbs 23:7 (NASB)
God also gives us a practical approach to not being defeated in our thinking. This is found in Philippians chapter 4 and verse 8:
For the rest, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of reverence and is honorable and seemly, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely and lovable, whatever is kind and winsome and gracious, if there is any virtue and excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on and weigh and take account of these things [fix your minds on them]. Philippians 4:8 (AMP)
Our way out is by thinking about that which is good! It must begin with what we put in our minds. So if we continue to put what the world dishes out on a daily basis in our mind and hear this only, this will become our point of reference! This becomes our reality and it truly is very bleak. If however; we fill our minds with the Good News, constantly and consistently we will see the glass as half full, the lining as silver and our future as exciting!
I recently attended a board meeting where a dear friend was let go. I was one of two dissenting votes. I made my points and the others heard but they still voted to let him go. Now how do I respond? Was I going to quit because I did not get my way? Was I going harbor ill-will toward my fellow board members? How was I going to handle this very sad situation? It occurred to me that God has spoken to just such situations. In fact there are hundreds of verses that deal with our response to these hurtful episodes in our lives; and I have chosen just a couple to make my point.
In James Chapter 5 verse 10 and 11 we read:
My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.
The prophets of old did indeed suffer. They spoke the word God gave them for Israel the Israelites did not like what they heard and many of these prophets were persecuted for doing what God told them! James puts a wonderful spin on this by telling us that these prophets were counted as blessed because of their endurance.
In Job 42:10-17, we get to see how God handles those who persevere. We hear about the “perseverance of Job”, in the midst of extreme difficulties, Job was faithful and endured and at the end of his tribulation God returned to him much:
And the LORD restored Job’s losses[a] when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. 11 Then all his brothers, all his sisters, and all those who had been his acquaintances before, came to him and ate food with him in his house; and they consoled him and comforted him for all the adversity that the LORD had brought upon him. Each one gave him a piece of silver and each a ring of gold.
Now the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; for he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and one thousand female donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. And he called the name of the first Jemimah, the name of the second Keziah, and the name of the third Keren-Happuch. In all the land were found no women so beautiful as the daughters of Job; and their father gave them an inheritance among their brothers.
After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children and grandchildren for four generations. So Job died, old and full of days.
Another of my heroes of faith William Wilberforce showed great perseverance as a parliamentarian in England. For twenty years Wilberforce brought to the floor of parliament laws to abolish the slave trade. Ridiculed, mocked and scorned he did not give up and because he persevered the slave trade was indeed abolished after twenty long years.
Now to my recent problem, I truly believe in my friend and I truly believe in the cause, helping to get jobs for ex-offenders. For me to quit is to give up on the overall program. If I proceeded stubbornly and quit because I did not get my way even though I felt justified I would miss the blessing of being one who perseveres and in this case see hundreds of ex-offenders become gainfully employed.
Winston Churchill in a speech at an American college put it best: “Never, Never, NEVER GIVE UP!”
James the brother of Jesus is acknowledged to be the author of the book of James. In it we read in chapter 2 verse 17:
Thus also faith, by itself, If it does not have works, is dead.
In the book of Hebrews chapter 11 verse 6 we read:
But without faith it is impossible to please God.
These two verses are not at odds. One tells me that if I am to be pleasing to God I do so by exhibiting faith in Him, and the other says that He will know my faith by what I do for the Kingdom. I am convinced that faith lived out is not just observable by God but man sees it
and it is generally appreciated.
As we observe history we see believers throughout the years exhibiting great faith through their works. Let me site some of my favorites.
William Wilberforce climbed the political mountain in England and with great perseverance over 20 years ended the slave trade in England. He also exhibited great compassion for animals and has been credited with starting the SPCA.
Paul the Apostle showed his faith as a believer in prison. In the book of Acts chapter 16 verses 16 through 34 a story unfolds of magnificent faith. Paul and Silas find themselves in the dirtiest and worst part of the prison. They were exhibiting great faith as they sang songs and prayed to God at the midnight hour. The story tells us that the fellow prisoners were listening. All of a sudden there was a great earthquake, and all the prison gates were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed.
The prisoners could have escaped without any problem. The jailer ran into the prison expecting to see that they all had left and he was prepared to fall on his sword but Paul cried out don’t do it we are all still here! What was it that Paul and Silas did to make prisoners who could have escaped stay? I am convinced it was their expressed faith as they prayed and sang, rather than complain and cry, that this mesmerized the other prisoners to the point that they did not leave. The outcome is that the jailer and his family came to faith in Christ through the magnificent faith of Paul and Silas.
I recently took a trip to India where I met the most amazing husband and wife. It was the last day we would be in Manguru, India and they had just spent three days in our SALT Marriage Conference. They requested a time to meet and pray for us. Their leader, Bishop Jacob, made the introduction but prior to the meeting Bishop Jacob told us a story. This couple pastor a village church. When the husband became a Christian he began exhibiting great faith. He began evangelizing his village. The radical Hindu leaders came to him and told him to stop this immediately or face the consequences. He did not stop and they both faced the consequences.
Threats turned into action and the radical Hindus came to their home in the village and beat them and left them for dead. They found the pastor’s father hiding under a bed and them jumped on the bed crushing him and they left him for dead as well. The villagers were frightened but God saw a different ending. He not only brought the husband and wife out of their life threatening injuries He healed the father. The villagers saw the miracle and because these people exhibited great faith by their actions a church has grown and flourished in that village. Today they are making plans to build a new church that will house the 350 new believers.
History is replete with men and women of faith who have exhibited courage and integrity in the face of great danger. Some have been martyred, given their very lives for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As I reflect about these saints I always look into the mirror of my life and ask this question, “Ray would you be willing to give your life for the Gospel”? Let me ask you – how about you?
As a young man growing up I remember going to graduations, school assemblies, and civic events. They began with a local clergyman or Rabbi praying for the function or school or those involved in the event. It was customary and it truly honored America’s faith and her clergy and churches or synagogues. We would say the pledge of Allegiance and the words, “One nation under God” would sing out throughout the auditorium or football field. It is also worthy to note that many of these event were held in schools or high school football stadiums. There was never any concern of offending anyone and separation of church and state wasn’t a problem.
Fast forward just 40 years and I am attending, a high school graduation, an eighth grade graduation and even a kindergarten graduation and two college graduations from very large prestigious schools in Arizona. My sensibilities were rocked. There was no mention of God or even a higher intelligence, no opening prayer and no benediction. No man had eliminated God completely. I am reminded of the poem Invictus, by William Ernest Henley, where in the last two lines we read:
I am the master of my fate
I am the master of my soul.
Finally man has come to a place of being in charge. We worship now at the altar of man, or education, or government anything other than a creator God.
The Word of God speaks to man and tells us what we are when we say there is no God. It is found in Psalms 14:1:
The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, They have done abominable works, There is none who does good.
Yes we have become fools according to God’s word. I also think that we get another glimpse of where man has come and it is found in 2 Timothy chapter 3 verse 7:
… always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
When God considers man’s wisdom and intelligence he declares this in 1 Corinthians 3:18-20:
Don’t fool yourself. Don’t think that you can be wise merely by being up-to-date with the times. Be God’s fool—that’s the path to true wisdom. What the world calls smart, God calls stupid. It’s written in Scripture-He exposes the chicanery of the chic. The Master sees through the smoke screens of the know-it-alls. (The Message)
I know that those who think man is the answer to all of life’s ills would disagree with my findings. They might think me quite infantile and probably call me a religious fanatic.
I want all to know I PLEAD GUILTY to being a follower of the Source of all intelligence and His fool, the One who truly is the master of my soul.
Have you ever heard someone who claims to be a Christian say things like, There are many ways to heaven and Jesus is just one, There are many paths to heaven and Jesus is just one, I believe in Jesus but I don’t think people will go to hell if they never know about him, after all what about a jungle tribe that has never heard, would God send them to hell?, I would not have an abortion but it needs to be the woman’s choice. There is nothing wrong with living together before marriage. I don’t believe that the Bible is really God’s word after all doesn’t it contain contradictions and error?
I have heard all of these and many more. It truly boils down to believing what God says about a topic and then living your life accordingly. This is why I am passionate about biblical worldview and biblical discipleship. He called us to be disciples not just believers. A disciple goes much deeper than a belief system, they in fact know why they believe. They have studied the text and made it a part of their life.
Let me share some scriptures that will answer some of the statements I have made.
There are many roads to heaven not just Jesus. Jesus’ answer:
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6
People who never hear about Jesus surely won’t go to hell. The Bible answer:
20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. Romans 1:20
I would not have an abortion but it is the woman’s choice. The Bible answers:
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be. Psalms 139:14-16
There is nothing wrong with living together before you marry. The Bible’s answer:
Honor marriage, and guard the sacredness of sexual intimacy between wife and husband. God draws a firm line against casual and illicit sex. The Message
I don’t believe that the Bible is God’s Word, after all doesn’t it have contradictions and errors? The Bible answer about itself.
14-17But don’t let it faze you. Stick with what you learned and believed, sure of the integrity of your teachers—why, you took in the sacred Scriptures with your mother’s milk! There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us. The Message
The Bible says we must study to show ourselves approved
15Study and be eager and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved (tested by trial), a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth. The Amplified
The Bible further states that we die for lack of knowledge. The answer to being a healthy productive Christian is to learn God’s word and then live it out.
Let me challenge you to a life of being discipled and then as Timothy find others and disciple them.
May God richly bless you on the road to maturity.
I enjoy listening to those who are gifted debaters debate about why there is a creator. I enjoy the way in which they develop a philosophy that can be used to explain creationism. I appreciated their brilliance. They serve a great purpose in the Body of Christ. I am speaking of people like Chuck Colson, Glen Sunshine, Ravi Zacharias and many more.
Regardless of my ability to traverse the intellectual assaults on our faith, when the debate is concluded I think we can make a case that those who participated will walk away still believing as they did before the debate. They both may believe that they won.
There is a saying that talk is cheap. I do not mean to degrade the value of those who are apologists for the Gospel but I believe that the best expression of our believe system is a life lived. Let me explain.
I recently had the opportunity to travel to India where I was with pastors and fellow Christians who impressed me equally, not for their rhetoric but for the life they live each and every day.
I had the privilege of teaching our SALT material to 197 pastors and their wives. It was a very impacting time for both participant and teacher. As we were preparing to leave, our Host Bishop Jacob Marineni, founder of GTSSS, (Gospel for Tribals Social Service Society) came to where we were packing and he brought with him a pastor and his wife who had just completed our conference and they wanted to pray for me and our team. Bishop Jacob wanted to first tell me about this couple.
This couple lived in one of the over 1 million villages in India, one that had not heard the Gospel message. They accepted Christ and returned to their village to start a church. They knew it would be difficult but that did not deter them. Living with them was the father of the pastor. As they went about sharing Christ in their village radical Hindu’s came to their home and began to harass them. They threatened and told them that unless they stopped telling the village about Jesus they would kill them. The threats did not stop them and one day the radicals came to there home and beat both the husband and wife. They beat them so severely that they believed they would die soon, so like Paul before them they were left to die. These radicals also found the father of the pastor. He was hiding under a bed and they proceeded to jump on the bed and crush this man. Again they left believing they had finished them all off. There would be no more talk of Jesus in their village.
BUT our God is able! In Genesis chapter 50 verse 20 we read: ” … what you meant for evil God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”
What has happened in this village is truly miraculous. Today this couple is pastoring a church of 300 believers!A life lived changed the entire village. I said please pray for me and my wife. Pray that we would be willing to go through whatever it takes to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Let me conclude with a question, “How about you?”
Today I was reading the Bible. I was in the letter that Paul wrote to the church at Colossae. I was struck by the verses 15 through 17 in the first chapter.
Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
for through him God created everything
in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
Everything was created through him and for him.
He existed before anything else,
and he holds all creation together. (NLT)
In Chuck Colson’s book “How Now Shall We Live”, co-authored by Nancy Pearcey they determines that there are three things any worldview must answer:
- Creation-Where did we come from, and who are we?
- Fall- What has gone wrong with this world?
- Redemption- What can we do to fix it?
Christianity is not only a religion but the basis for our worldview. Again in Chuck Colson’s book we read:
The term worldview may sound abstract or philosophical, a topic discussed by pipe smoking, tweed-jacketed professors in academic settings, But actually a person’s worldview is intensely practical. It is simply the sum total of our beliefs about the world, the ‘big picture’ that directs our daily decisions and action.
I agree with this assessment. Your life will look very different if you believe that we arrived on this planet simply by time and chance. On the other hand, if you believe you are the product of a loving Creator who has given purpose to your life, you will live an all together different life.
I believe that we are not wandering generalities with no direction but that we have been sent to planet earth with a plan and a God-given destiny that He wants us to fulfill. This plan begins with understanding that indeed you were created by God! That He wants to live productively through you! He also wants you to understand that, according to the scripture, you were fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalms139 :14) and again, according to scripture, He has a plan and purpose for your life – a plan with a future and hope (Jer. 29:11).
Let me conclude by asking again, “Do you believe what God says?” Or have you bought into the worldview so prevalent around you?