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.

Lessons on the Way to China (Part 1)

This message is coming to you while I am in China.  Thanks to WordPress, I can schedule messages to be posted in advance; thus, you get a new post while I am bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to the people of China.

Actually, I had the privilege of going to China last year about this same time, only I traveled alone to be with missionary friends there.  This year I am taking a team with me, at the direction of the Lord, so there has been a whole different dynamic at work in the preparations.  I have not only been preparing myself spiritually, emotionally, and physically, but have endeavored to help the others prepare in these ways, as well.  In the process, I have found myself in God’s classroom a lot, but with the perfect Teacher.  The lessons have been in the area of leadership for me, but they are applicable across the board.  If they don’t fit you right now, perhaps they will help you pray more effectively for those in leadership over you.

Though I am not on staff at my church, I represent my church in heading up this team, so I have worked closely with the pastor who oversees our missions ministry and has much experience in this area.  It is his first time having someone not on staff leading a trip, and it is my first time leading a trip, so this has been new territory for both of us.  (Read this as, “lots of chances to learn.”)  Because we didn’t clearly delineate all of our responsibilities for this trip up front, we ended up “working it out” as we went along.

Lesson #1 – Determine from the first who will be responsible for every known part of the trip preparation, never assuming anything.  (I don’t know that this is a spiritual principle, but it’s a really good common sense principle!)

Since he had much experience at this, I didn’t question the financial deadlines the pastor set up for the team members – at first.  With a critical deadline approaching, we were behind in the total money gathered, but were preparing to apply for the visas (not an inexpensive venture), after already purchasing the airline tickets.  I admit that I was fretting over the lack of funds, though that’s not a new lesson I need – just one I obviously need to re-learn.  It was only at this point, though, that it even occurred to me to ask about any deadlines for getting the trip money to the missionaries, since it is their trip we were taking.  Because he was on staff, I assumed he had already worked it out with them.  Since we both have a good personal relationship with them, he assumed we could send the money whenever we got it.  Both of us were very wrong in our assumptions.  When I contacted the missionaries, I found that the deadlines we had set didn’t allow enough time for us to meet their deadlines.  This is when the light bulb went on for me about what was happening in the spirit realm.

Lesson #2 – Lack of submission has consequences that flow from the head down, just as submission from the head has benefits that flow the same way.

The purpose of this team trip was to work with these missionaries, yet we were actually in rebellion to their authority, from the outset, by not checking with them and submitting to their deadlines and other procedures.  This was not intentional, but that made no difference in the spiritual realm.  The consequence was that the provision the Lord had for each of the team members seemed to be bottle-necked – which probably could have been avoided if the pastor and I had done Lesson #1 and communicated better.

As soon as I saw this, I made the decision that we would submit, not using any more of the funds until we had sent the money that was due to the missionaries – and we would ascertain and fulfill any other requirements in which we were negligent.  I repented to the Lord for having been in rebellion, and for restricting my team’s finances because of it.  I wrote to the missionaries, told them we didn’t have the money but would send it as soon as possible, and apologized for our failure to follow their procedures, assuring them we would right these wrongs.  It was also important to repent to my team, as they were doing what they could, seemingly without results.  I was determined that our team, starting with me, would be completely submitted to the authorities over us.

Lesson #3 – When the leader makes the determination to submit, no matter what difficulties the decision may cause, God’s provision (of whatever is needed) is loosed.

In this instance, from the moment the Holy Spirit helped me understand what was happening, and then helped me make the decision to submit, those things that had hindered the finances in the spiritual realm were loosed, and the money began to come in the natural.  The amazing, “only God” result was the first payment being mailed only one day late, and the final one actually one day early, all glory to God!

These aren’t the only lessons I have learned, by any means.  I suspect that while you are reading this post, I’m learning many more leadership lessons on Chinese soil!  Because I’ll be learning for the rest of my life, I won’t say, “Stay tuned for the rest of the story”; however, I will say, “Stay tuned for more of the story.”