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.
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?”
I am preparing for a trip to India. This will be my 4th trip. Needless to say I have grown very fond of the people and country of India. We will be spending 30 hours training 160 lead pastors of two different ministries how to use SALT with their people. We also will be doing a marital conference for 70 pastors and their wives during this stay. As well, we have also been given the opportunity to preach in the evenings on Wednesday and Thursday.
I have been praying what topic God might want us to preach about and have been impressed to teach on John 14: 35 “ By this they will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another”.
I wanted to look at a topic that has a universal understanding, not just for India. I am certain that if the church of Jesus Christ would truly love each other that we could turn the world upside down for Christ.
The problem seems to be that Christian have divided themselves up and have in many cases based their division on non essential Christian issues like taking communion or your method of baptism, or whether or not tongues are for today and some have even separated over what version of the Bible must be used. I do believe that there are things we must agree on, His virgin birth, His sinless life, His crucifixion, and His resurrection. Once we are in agreement on these we can love our brothers and sisters who may have different opinions on non-essentials. We agree to disagree. More important we come together as the army of God and work together to usher in the return of our Lord. As we show the world how much we love each other they will then know that we are Christians.
In India there only 2 to 3% who are professing Christians. They need each other. Together they represent an army of 25 million people. I am convinced with a proper heart attitude of love and cooperation verse competition India could become a Christian nation. I look at the great commission Matthew 28:19-20
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
He did not say in all nations but of all nations and I am just crazy enough to believe that my God can make India a Christian nation.
Check out this new spin on the encouraging and well-known narrative Footprints in the Sand…
Imagine you and the Lord Jesus are walking down the road together. For much of the way, the Lord’s footprints go along steadily, consistently, rarely varying the pace.
But your footprints are a disorganized stream of zigzags, starts, stops, turnarounds, circles, departures, and returns.
For much of the way, it seems to go like this, but gradually your footprints come more in line with the Lord’s, soon paralleling His consistently.
You and Jesus are walking as true friends!
This seems perfect, but then an interesting thing happens: Your footprints that once etched the sand next to Jesus’ are now walking precisely in His steps.
Inside His larger footprints are your smaller ones – you and Jesus are becoming one.
This goes on for many miles, but gradually you notice another change. The footprints inside the large footprints seem to grow larger.
Eventually they disappear altogether. There is only one set of footprints. They have become one.
This goes on for a long time, but suddenly the second set of footprints is back. This time it seems even worse! Zigzags all over the place – stops, starts, gashes in the sand – a variable mess of prints.
You are amazed and shocked.
Your dream ends.
Now you pray:
‘Lord, I understand the first scene, with zigzags and fits. I was a new Christian; I was just learning. But You walked on through the storm and helped me learn to walk with You.’
‘That is correct.’
‘And when the smaller footprints were inside of Yours, I was actually learning to walk in Your steps, following You very closely.’
’Very good… You have understood everything so far.’
‘When the smaller footprints grew and filled in Yours, I suppose that I was becoming like You in every way.’
‘So, Lord, was there a regression or something? The footprints separated, and this time it was worse than at first.’
There is a pause as the Lord answers, with a smile in His voice -
‘You didn’t know? It was then that we danced!‘
To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: ….
a time to weep, a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4