Then the World Will See. Then the World Will Know.

The entire prayer of Jesus in John 17 is so rich that I taste a slightly new, always delicious, flavor every time I read it.  Most recently, the tasty morsel was the simple conclusion of Jesus after part of His request for those who didn’t yet know Him.  Effectively, He said to His Father, “If You will do these things I ask of You, the world will believe You have sent me, and will know that you love them just like You love me.”

John 17:20-23 NIV  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.

Jesus’ heartbeat reflects that of His Father – that everyone knows, not merely acknowledges, the life-changing truth of their heavenly Father’s love for them.  The only thing it requires, according to His request, is unity of believers, all of whom have been given His glory.

Though much is written, spoken, and prayed concerning unity in the church, division seems to abound.  For too long, believers have looked more diligently for areas of disagreement and separation than for the Holy Spirit of Jesus in each other.  It cannot remain this way forever, though, because of Jesus’ prayers.  If we chew just a little longer on the simple words found in the last sentence of the passage, we uncover the beginning point of unity in the Spirit, the kind in which we are one just like Jesus and our Father are one.

Then the world will know that you . . . have loved them even as you have loved me. 

The world will see Jesus in His body when we live in His love toward one another.  Yet, how can we so live unless we know beyond verbal acknowledgment the unalterable truth that God loves us as He loves Jesus?

Jesus’ love is the beginning of life in Christ and also its fullness – that life which the world needs to see in action.  Yet, what we understand of His love when we are born again is infinitesimal, giving us opportunity to discover – together – His infinite love in all its aspects.  This is His plan, His heartbeat, His expectation.  That we, believers in Jesus Christ, live day in and day out in true fellowship with all our brothers and sisters – in His love.

Oh, Daddy!  Help us grasp the life-changing revelation of Your love for us in Jesus Christ.  May it be what compels us, rather than doctrine, dogma, or preferred style of worship.  May we no longer resist Your love’s radical life-transforming work in us.  May we allow, instead, all religious barriers between us to be exposed, dismantled, and completely destroyed.  Receiving the continual flooding of Your love, may we freely release it to all our brothers and sisters! 

This is unity, just as Jesus and the Father are One.  Genuine love for one another in Christ.  This is when the world will believe God sent Jesus.  This is when the world will believe He has loved them as He loves Jesus. When our lives express His love in us and for us to one another.

Then the world will believe.  Then the world will know.

Don’t Add the -es

The prayer request was simple enough.  We were to pray for unity between denominations of churches.  Unity of believers is certainly the Father’s will, so I had no problem with that part of the request.  Beyond that, it got pretty murky.

As long as there are denominations (and non-denominations), there will be division.  They are set up to separate one group of believers from another, based on beliefs that are different from other groups.  Christians are quick to identify themselves by their denomination (or non), often more readily than Christian.  (See I.D. Please, for more.)  That was the first of my struggles.

The second came with a suffix.  That’s right.  The -es suffix added to the word church to make it plural caught my attention in a negative way.  While the great majority of Christians readily give lip service to the idea of there being only one church in Christ, that’s really as deep as it goes.  Despite what we say, we believe a group meeting in a specific building is one church, and another group meeting in another building is a different church.  So, even in a very small town, we have multiple churches.  And we hope all the churches will get along, despite how “wrong” some of their beliefs are.

How do we ever expect there to be unity of the Spirit when we believe divisively – no matter what we speak out of our mouths?

Ephesians 4:3-6 NIV  3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Will it ever change?  Can it change?  As long as we still have flesh on, the struggle will exist as we lean on our own understanding, or that of our parents, grandparents, those in pulpits, friends, et al.  Yet, we are promised transformation as we renew our minds, focusing on Jesus Christ.  It is then we will be in agreement with God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will – a will that isn’t fragmented, divided, confused, or pulling against itself.  This is when we will know what it is to be His church – no -es added!

By the way, despite my struggles with the way it was written, I did pray – just not quite as requested.  Instead, I prayed for my brothers and sisters to know and experience Jesus Christ and His love beyond anything they could ever ask, hope, think, or imagine.  In this we find the unity of the Spirit.  In this is the church of Jesus Christ.

An Open Heaven

This post isn’t as much an insight as a personal reflection.  Just back from another whirlwind tour of Israel, I am only now beginning to have cohesive thoughts and memories of my time there.  This trip differed in many ways from my first one, not the least of which was being there with TBN and Joseph Prince, meaning we had three powerful meetings in addition to the tour.

One of the meetings was held on the steps outside the south wall of the Old City of Jerusalem on Sunday night.  It is one of many areas that have been excavated far enough to find some of the original stones and steps from Jesus’ time.  These steps were there when Jesus was coming and going through the south gate, and they might have been the very places He stood (or sat) to teach.  That is where we sat (all 1800 of us!) to worship our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  (Just an aside – stone steps are hard, even though Jesus stood on them!)

One of the songs talked about an open heaven, and I was lost for a time to a place those words took me.  Somehow, it was more than just being outside with clear skies overhead.  It was more like the heavens were open to us who had gathered there that evening.  Here I was, so blessed and loved by my Abba, Daddy that He let me be part of a wide sampling of His living, breathing body of Christ, right there in His chosen land of Israel, and in the physical place where my freedom began – Jerusalem – worshipping Him!

As if that weren’t enough, He reminded me of the first time I experienced the open heaven.  It was in January 2006, with 350,000 Indians (and a few Americans) in Hyderabad, India, as we worshipped the Lord Jesus Christ together at a Joyce Meyer Ministries conference.  Just as in Jerusalem, so in India it was more than just being outside.  Here, it was with India.  In Israel, it was with the whole world!  But there was more He wanted me to grasp.

Still in that open heaven atmosphere, I found my heart yearning for the day I could be in China with a large gathering of Chinese believers, worshipping Jesus Christ under an open heaven in a place the government has tried so hard to squelch Christianity.  My natural mind says, “No way!”  But my spirit man says, “With God all things are possible!”  Even as I type these thoughts, excitement bubbles in my spirit as I consider what Daddy will do in His church in China.  I don’t know how and I don’t know when, but that doesn’t mean it’s only a maybe.

Amazing, this journey I took in only a few moments on the steps where Jesus walked.  I can’t help but wonder what journeys others took in those same few moments, and what other nations were pointed out.  What an adventure to walk in Christ – under an open heaven!

 

Listen to the Trees

What’s that sound?  It’s a groaning and straining, even crying, coming from a nearby fruit tree.  I didn’t understand it the first time I heard it, but have discovered over time it was the sound of extreme exertion.  Those trees are working hard to produce more and sweeter fruit.

Okay, so this is all just my imagination at work, but it paints a good word picture.   As long as a tree is in good ground, getting water and nourishment through the soil, as well as sunlight and seasonal changes, it will produce fruit.  It just receives what is provided from its surroundings, and production occurs.  It’s how it was designed.

This silly illustration enhances a simple reality check for me recently, dealing with church growth.  It isn’t tied to one church group or denomination, but is at work in the great majority of the church, at large.  When most of us refer to church growth, we are normally interested in ways to increase the numbers attending services.  To help with it, much of our time, effort, and finances are spent on resources and seminars written or produced by large (in number) churches.  We’re looking to man’s ways for increase, and when one style doesn’t work for us, we charge ahead to the next one.  (This is when the sound of the struggling tree gets pretty loud.)

Maybe, just maybe, we’re never going to have success this way.  Maybe, just maybe, our idea of success isn’t God’s idea of success.  Maybe, just maybe, God doesn’t need our help.  After all, the church is the body of Christ.  The body of Christ.  Not our body, but Christ’s body.  When we are born again, we are brought into His body by the work of His Spirit.  Why do we think He needs our help to grow His body – even to grow individually?

John 15:4-5  AMP  4 Dwell in Me, and I will dwell in you. [Live in Me, and I will live in you.] Just as no branch can bear fruit of itself without abiding in (being vitally united to) the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in Me.  5 I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever lives in Me and I in him bears much (abundant) fruit. However, apart from Me [cut off from vital union with Me] you can do nothing.

The fruit tree simply abides in that which gives it life, receiving all it needs to grow from a tiny seed into a full-grown tree.  Likewise, we abide in Christ, the One Who finished completely the work needed on our behalf.  As we abide in Him, we receive from Him all we need to become full-grown followers of Christ, producing fruit that brings Him glory.  Simply through abiding and receiving.  No self-effort required.

If we really believe God is able to grow His church, it messes up a whole lot of our plans and programs.  We will find that when we look only to the One Who gives life and life more abundantly, there will be church growth – no doubt about it.  He will draw through us.  But it will never be due to all our self-efforts and best of intentions.  It will be when God alone is glorified and magnified – the One Who gives us birth and fully sustains us.

The next time you find yourself trying to figure out what else you can do to “grow the church,” stop and listen to the trees.  The sound you don’t hear will remind you to let God grow His church as you dwell in Christ.

Matthew 16:18 NIV  And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

What do you hear?

Photo by Sura Nualpradid

The Promise

There it was, a simple sentence written in the margin of my Bible.  “I want to see this in my life.”  However long ago that was written, the yearning has only intensified since then.  The catalyst for this heart cry?  It started days ago as I read about Jesus speaking to His disciples before ascending to heaven.

Acts 1:8 NIV But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

My attention was gripped by this verse more than ever before, as I put myself in the place of those disciples.  What did Jesus’ statement mean to them, and what effect did it have on them?  Those in the early church did not know what the power of the Holy Spirit coming on them would be like.  As for being His witnesses, they may have had ideas – before the night Jesus was betrayed and they all scattered.  The rest of the book of Acts lets us see the changes His Holy Spirit made in them, and the changes He made in the world through them.

Is this what we see in the church today?  Is this what I see in my own life?  Maybe our pre-conceived ideas of “being His witnesses” and “the power of the Holy Spirit” have limited us.   We emphasize “be my witnesses” without equal emphasis on “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes.”  As such, we rely on our own self-efforts to do something for Jesus, as we do witnessing.  But Jesus called us to be witnesses to others day in and day out as the life-transforming power of His Holy Spirit works in and through us.  Succeeding chapters show example after example of the early church being witnesses everywhere they were – because they received the power of Holy Spirit, Jesus’ promise to them.  They relied on Holy Spirit power to make them what they could never make themselves – representatives of Jesus Christ in word, action, and life.

Acts 5:15-16 NIV  15As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by.  16Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.

These powerful witnesses of Jesus Christ include Peter, the one who denied Jesus three times.  The same Peter who was so zealous that he cut off a non-believer’s ear “for the Lord.”  It’s the same Peter, but there’s been a change.  This Peter now reaches out to heal ears, not take them off.  Now, the sick are laid in the streets so that Peter’s shadow will fall on them.  People come from all around to see Jesus’ witness, and they are all healed!

This is what I want to see in my life – not by faith alone, but by sight!  And this is what I want to see in the whole body of Christ.  Jesus’ promise was not to the early church alone, but to us, as well.  I’m unwilling to settle for less than what the early church experienced.  In fact, I want to see more, but as a participant, not a spectator.  The world in 2011 needs to see the reality of Christ and His power at least as much as the world in the first century.  What will it take, Lord, for us to see?