I met today with two Godly men. Both of them were classmates with me in Seminary. Both of these men humble me.
Steve and Nopaluk Cable lead the Sansiuk English school. They depend on short-term volunteers from the United States to come and teach English. At the same time, they share the gospel in a very natural way through the English training. Since 2003, they have had over 5,000 different students! A good number of them are now Jesus-followers and make up the majority of their house church network. They are giving their lives faithfully and diligently to make a Kingdom impact on Bangkok.
Kevin and Cynthia Walton are serving the slums of Bangkok. They are leading an effort at actually sending people to live among the poorest of the city to be the presence of Jesus among them. They
want to bring hope, change, and Jesus to the lost among the poorest of the poor. Even Kevin still goes and lives among the poor in a tin shanty for a time to keep his heart soft and passion strong. They are giving their lives to express the love of God for the most needy and “least” among us.
I am humbled. I am also inspired. I know God hasn’t called me to do either of the things that these couples are doing, but I do know that Jesus has called me to give my all as a pastor. My passion is increased, my resolve infused with new energy to stop playing games and start doing what it takes to make an impact in the Twin Cities suburbs. Jesus loves the people there, too.
Jesus-style love reaches its clearest expression while Jesus was being crucified. With arms stretched wide, arms and hands held firmly in place, the large imposing nails are directed at the most durable section of the hand. With painful cruelty, the hammer explodes on the nail driving it through layers of flesh and tendons into the course wood of the Roman cross. In that moment, fighting their way through seizures of pain, the words of Jesus escape for the sake of his own demented executioners: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” He continues to express this prayer as he hangs on the cross, the recipient of insidious rage, mockery and injustice.
This is impossible love! Notice the prayer…”forgive them”. Blame is absent.
On one particular winter evening near Christmas, my wife, Susan and I were enjoying a nice meal together at a well-known restaurant in town. In the course of the evening, I noticed that a young professional man was dining with a handicapped person at a the table right next to us. It was an unlikely pair – an educated, well-dressed, businessman indulging a contorted man struggling to sit upright in the wheelchair, laboring diligently to form words for conversation. I was gripped by the scene. This was too good to miss. Carefully alerting Susan to the situation nearby, I continued to occasionally listen and watch. And then it happened—the statement that I will never forget. With intense difficulty, struggling to form his words, the disabled man formed a single sentence: “Thaaank yeuu fffor car-ing ennnough — to tttake me oowwt to ddinn-er.”
I had just witnessed Jesus-style love.
God-followers have been commissioned to be the presence of Jesus in their world — and there, just a table away, I saw the Spirit of Jesus at work to touch a life deeply.
I am convinced that, since you and I are called to be the presence of Christ in our world, we are designed to be conduits of Jesus love. When we learn to love people Jesus-style, we will have similar effects in the lives of people that Jesus had on those in His day. It’s that simple.
Jesus-style love is what we see when the forgotten lepers are not only noticed by Jesus, but valued, touched, and healed. He made outcasts feel like winners!
Jesus-style love was clearly demonstrated when the Galilean hillside was filled with over 5,000 people. (Scripture tells us there were 5000 men alone!) What we often overlook in this story is that Jesus was deeply grieved over the stunning news, only hours earlier, that His friend and for-runner, John the Baptist, was cruelly beheaded. In His pain, Jesus wanted to find a quiet place to reflect, mourn, and pray. However, the crowds found and followed Him. The gospel of Mark tells us that, upon seeing the multitude, Jesus was moved with compassion because He saw so many who were sick and needy. In the midst of His own pain, being driven by this uncommon love for people, Jesus invested Himself in the lives of these thousands of strangers. Against the bidding of his disciples, Jesus then chose to feed them! And so we see the amazing miracle of turning five loaves and two fish into a miraculous hillside banquet that netted a total of 12 baskets of food left over! What selfless love—what amazing compassion! In his deepest pain He still cared for hurting and hungry people.
Jesus-style love is seen when the woman was caught in the very act of adultery (John 8). Of course, there is more happening here than meets the eye. Holding this woman hostage is a covey of holy hell-raisers–religious leaders elegantly robed in their fancy garb with noses held high. Oh—they had a point. The Old Testament states that a woman could be stoned to death for committing the sin of adultery (Deuteronomy 22:20-21). What is overlooked, however, is that there is another person involved. Where is the man who should be subjected to the similar biblical mandate requiring the man to be stoned as well?
It seems apparent that the hypocritical scene taking place is not unfolding because the Spirit is leading, but because these loved to cast judgment on others.
Jesus intervenes. He sees the injustice of the scene and takes a stand to stop it. Even though the woman has sinned, this is not the way that God’s directives were ever meant to be played out. Besides, what the religious elite never understood is that grace is always more powerful than law. Jesus literally draws a line in the sand (as he writes things on the ground). The pompous leaders standing in judgment, stones in hand, are quickly convicted. One by one, they drop their case and quietly walk away. Every one of them knew that they too were sinners unworthy of condemning this woman to death for sin that they too have tasted. Jesus words written in the soil of the city gate convicted each one of the sin they too were guilty of committing. Jesus not only saved a life…he saved a soul through incredible grace-filled love lived out in the most tentative of circumstances. This is true Jesus-style love.
Are you getting this? Are you living it?
“If you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” Matthew 5:46-48.
Jesus was a great teacher, as the above statement affirms. But of even greater impact was the life He lived. He demonstrated such a winsome way of relating to people. He had a unique way of drawing people in, affirming them, and giving them a purpose in life. Jesus made the most out of ordinary people. He made them extraordinary. Who Jesus was and the way that He loved people planted the seeds of profound transformation in their lives.
There is nothing unique or divine about the affection that we generally live out on an everyday basis. God wired the human race to enjoy one another’s company—to relate socially with others that we are drawn to. The most common form of relations we have with others is described in scripture as “phileo” – brotherly affection. It’s the kind of friendship, commitment, and attraction that brothers have for one another. Don’t get me wrong—that’s a wonderful sort of love. But compare that with a completely, selfless, ready-to-die-for-you kind of love, and it pales in comparison. The extreme love that Jesus calls His followers to live out is “agape” – the kind of love the denies self, overlooks the cost, embraces another’s need, and goes to all lengths to express itself. This is what I call Jesus-style love. Yes–beyond an easy affection, Jesus-style love embraces those that are difficult to embrace, reaches out to those that are inconvenient to befriend, and loves those that are humanly impossible to love. Jesus-style love is only possible when God fills you with a passion and purpose to live at another level of loving people.
It would be natural for us to assume that only others are living by a half gospel, but not us. (See yesterday’s blog.) The danger of spiritual waywardness, however, is that an evangelical, religious or respected person doesn’t usually see how far from truth they might be. In fact, we usually don’t want to look at our distance from God, nor our departure from truth, when we’re not being fruitful for God. Instead, one tends to become more adamant about the things they have correct while reasoning away the things they are missing.
We all have blind sides.
Here’s my gut feeling: A majority of Christians in our churches every week have a form of Christianity but are missing the real thing.
What would some of the warning signs be for such people?
- A lack of passion about living daily for Christ
- An unwillingness to give God a first portion of their income
- An absence of committed service to others in the name of Jesus
- An infatuation with one’s own needs, wants and agendas
- Failing to be salt and light for others who need to know Jesus
There are certain things the Word tells us about what a true Christ-follower looks like. It’s much more than being good, having said the prayer, attending church, or doing what nice 21st century church-goers do. It’s being a radical, passionate, sold-out disciple of Jesus.
It’s being a truth seeker, world-changer and kingdom builder.
So many Christians are living by a half-gospel. Here’s what I mean by that. We teach that all of humanity is fallen through sin and that we can be redeemed through Christ. Without a doubt, that is true. But this is where many Christians and a majority of evangelical churches leave it. This is only a half gospel.
Here’s what we cannot miss: That every person is made in the image of God and God wants to restore every person to a right and loving relationship with Himself again.
You see, if we miss the fact that every human being has been created perfectly in the image of God, we only see the unredeemed as sinners. We naturally look down upon them and raise a wall to separate them from us who know Christ. However, if we truly see every individual as precious and loved by God, we suddenly see people differently — with tremendous value, unlimited potential, and as God’s treasure to reclaim.
This perspective, by the way, is what will move us to help the hurting in Haiti, the overwhelmed and orphans in Africa, and the lost and unreached of India. When we see people the way God sees people, we will demonstrate the passion and compassion that God declares for the least of these over and over throughout holy scripture.
In a similar way, if we primarily see redemption as God’s ultimate goal, rather than full restoration, we tend to think the sinner’s prayer is the ultimate destination for a sinner while still here on earth. If we can only get them “saved”. But God’s longing is to have every person restored into perfect harmony with Himself. God longs for every Christ-follower to live far beyond the essential status of being redeemed. He wants us restored into a vital, life-giving, meaningful, and unhindered relationship with Him. It’s called love. It goes way beyond faith alone.
This perspective will drive us to be sure that every Christ-follower — ourselves first — is experiencing a real, dynamic and transformational relationship with God on a daily basis. It means that in a church setting, for instance, we cannot be OK with a small number of people being engaged in some kind of spiritual growth plan for their lives. It is never God’s plan for the redeemed to be satisfied with a fruitless existence.
At Edinbrook, we are intent on doing whatever it takes to live out the full gospel in effective ways for everyone possible. That job is never done. Whatever rythm we’ve become comfortable with is not where we should stay. We have work to do. The full gospel beckons us to do whatever it takes.
The chaos in Haiti is unimaginable. The images keep coming and the news is getting more specific. Just because they are four hours away by air does not mean they are not “our neighbor”. These suffering people need all the help they can get…and, most of all, need to experience Jesus in this time of despair.
H.B London, a pastor of pastors for Focus on the Family has written the following:
I could not help but turn back the years to the days when I made several visits to Haiti for the purpose of church construction, pastors’ conferences and to offer encouragement to the dedicated missionaries. Those trips were life-changing. But, after a week or so, I could always board a jet and head back to the comforts of home. I can also recall a time when I almost lost my life during an incident on a very inadequate motor boat in the waters of Haiti. I can still feel the pain I experienced, but that, too, was temporary. Haitians have suffered continuously for decades.
Pat Robertson’s statement Wednesday about a curse on Haiti might be his educated opinion, but I wonder why he would say anything like he did. Now is the time for the church and the various relief agencies to join hearts and resources for the sake of the victims. I know we will.
The church has always come through in times like this. It will again. But, seldom has the devastation been so severe. I just heard on CNN that the government estimates near 250,000 people dead. Who knows?
What occurred in Haiti on Tuesday happened very quickly, but the recovery will take decades. Buildings can be rebuilt, but broken lives may never recover without the love of a gracious God. “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (Isaiah 40:29).
Be blessed and be a blessing.
We plan to be a blessing at Edinbrook. We will be taking a special offering on Sunday for the Haitian people.
Remember that we get to help provide supplies that will save lives. We get to extend the hands of Jesus to the most needy in the world right now. What a privilege.
When I see the pictures, I crumble inside. I hurt deeply for the devastated people around Port-au-Prince. I want to be there to help, to love the destitute and to encourage the hopeless. The despair on the faces of dusty and wounded children tear my heart out. What can I do?
As I was reading my Bible this morning, I was also reminded again of God’s strong compassion for the weak and helpless. In Psalm 12:5, the Lord declares, “I have seen violence done to the helpless, and I have heard the groans of the poor. Now I will rise up to rescue them as they have longed for me to do.”
God’s compassion is beyond my understanding. I would like to think that the more I become like Jesus, the more the hurting, weak, poor and disadvantaged of the world will tug on my heart. I am comforted by the fact that God hurts for these people more than I ever could. He’s in our corner on this thing! Maybe more accurately–He wants us to be in His corner on this compassion thing. Get this…one of my weakest spiritual gifts is mercy! Yet my heart is weeping for these devastated victims in Haiti.
What will I do? I’m not sure yet, but I know that I will hurt for them, intercede for them, trust in God to do His work among them. And I will continue to seek the Lord for some action I can take to at least put actions to my compassion. At the very least, I’m hoping we as a church can send funds to help with the mountain of needs in that little nation. Watch for an offering opportunity this Sunday.
After all, what is compassion without works? Maybe of equal value to a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal?
Bearing fruit is always the byproduct of an intimate union with Jesus Christ. Consider John 15:1-4:
“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. 3 You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.”
J. Oswald Sanders as written:
“When once we get intimate with Jesus we are never lonely, we never need sympathy, we can pour out all the time without being pathetic. The saint who is intimate with Jesus will never leave impressions of himself, but only the impression that Jesus is having His unhindered way, because the last abyss of his nature has been satisfied by Jesus. The only impression left by such a life is that of the strong calm sanity that Our Lord gives to those who are intimate with Him.”
The true fruit we bear, when we are God-filled and empowered, is truly devoid of the flesh. It honors Him and overlooks us. That fruit may be compassion for the hurting, help for the weary, the gospel for the lost, love for the unlovely, or giving to the needy.
Stay connected to the vine, your life-source. Intimacy is key to bearing fruit for the Lord. God bless you in that…