I was reading this evening about the rock band, Lifehouse, who sings a number of songs that help my heart connect to God, but don’t label themselves “Christian.” (You can check out the article here.)
The lead singer and the bass player of this band met at church, played in the youth band together, but fail to identify themselves as Christian because one of their families suffered as the result of moral failure and rather than restore them gently this young man heard many say to his fallen father, “You are going to hell.”
The article prompted me think of a young man Scott and I ran into last week. He had been in the youth group we served, and as a result friends with our children in our first few years of church life. He asked if we were still going out there and we told him we had made a change in our church home in 2007. He responded, “Yeah, I pretty much left that whole scene behind when they kicked me out of the worship band.” Ouch.
This young man’s background left him a target ripe for the enemy. His mother went to prison for a number of charges, and he was called to testify against her. This young man just needed a family, a safe place to be himself and encouraged in his faith. Whether or not the asking him to step down from the worship band was appropriate is not for me to determine. Whether or not it was done in love with gentleness and truth at it’s heart – I don’t know. But, the words he said cut right through me. How many times have I judged a situation as necessitating action that lacked love and only conveyed judgment?
How did Jesus do it?
Jesus loved. He loved the adulteress woman. He loved the lepers and the blind men. He loved the children and the demon possessed. He loved. I think of His gentle response to both the woman at the well and the adulteress woman cast at His feet.
Romans 2:4 (AMP)
4 Or are you [so blind as to] trifle with and presume upon and despise and underestimate the wealth of His kindness and forbearance and long-suffering patience? Are you unmindful or actually ignorant [of the fact] that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repent (to change your mind and inner man to accept God’s will)?
It was indeed His kind and gentle – His distinct nature – that turned these women’s hearts from their sin. His merciful demeanor and His gentle rebuke.
John 8:1-12 (NLT)
1 Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, 2 but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. 3 As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
4 “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
6 They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger.
7 They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” 8 Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.
9 When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
12 Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”
Jesus did not accuse anyone of wrongdoing. Not even the Pharisees. He left them with their hearts to judge them. Their hearts, prompted-no doubt-by the Holy Spirit, brought conviction to them and one by one an angry mob of elders dropped their stones and went home. The woman, flinching at the feet of Jesus, waiting for the first raucous blow to knock the wind from her-even the life-as the punishment rendered as it had been written in the Law – Stone. Her. To. Death.
Leviticus 20:10 (NLT)
10 “If a man commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, both the man and the woman who have committed adultery must be put to death.”
Do you think the Pharisees forgot that the woman and the man she was caught in adultery with were both guilty? It wasn’t really the act of adultery that concerned these pious men – it was a justification for the wickedness in their own hearts that they sought. They were seeking evidence to use against Jesus to prove he was not the Messiah. The woman caught in adultery became a convenient excuse to prove how right they felt they were. They wanted power at any cost.
Why is it so easy to throw stones at others when we have so much in our own lives that have earned us death?
John 13:35 (NLT)
35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
They will know us by our love. THEY. WILL. KNOW. US. BY. OUR. LOVE. Have we, as a church, missed this key ingredient of discipleship?
Churches are meant to be hospitals: people-focused environments that accomplish the will of the Father through their relationship with Jesus Christ. His Body-His Hands and Feet. His Heart. His Mouth. His Eyes. His Ears. Bringing Forth His Kingdom Here On Earth.
Casting Crowns sings, “If we are the body, why aren’t our hands healing, why aren’t our arms reaching? If we are the body, why aren’t our feet moving, why is our love not showing them there is a way? Jesus is the way.”
Have we become so behavior focused that we missed the call of Christ on our life found in three distinct places in Scripture that I would like to highlight:
Isaiah 61:1-4 (MSG)
1 The Spirit of God, the Master, is on me because God anointed me. He sent me to preach good news to the poor, heal the heartbroken, Announce freedom to all captives, pardon all prisoners. 2 God sent me to announce the year of his grace— a celebration of God’s destruction of our enemies— and to comfort all who mourn, 3 To care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion, give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes, Messages of joy instead of news of doom, a praising heart instead of a languid spirit. Rename them “Oaks of Righteousness” planted by God to display his glory.
4 They’ll rebuild the old ruins, raise a new city out of the wreckage. They’ll start over on the ruined cities, take the rubble left behind and make it new.
Luke 4:14-21 (NLT)
14 Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. 15 He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures.
17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free,
19 and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”
20 He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. 21 Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”
Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)
18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Bind up broken hearts, heal the sick, recover sight for the blind, make the deaf hear, the lame to leap again. Grief ends while life and worship ends in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit – Old Ruins are made new and useful again when the Spirit of the Lord brings us the power of Christ’s resurrection in our hearts.
Jeremiah 6:14 (NKJV)
14 They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly, Saying, ‘Peace, peace!’ When there is no peace.
God’s heart is grieved when we overlook the wounds of His people and offer them no hope for healing, restoration, reconciliation and mercy. I believe this is true even more so when the person’s misery is brought on by their own actions. Read the words of the prophet, Jeremiah, who lamented the condition of Israel. He is speaking here of the priests in the temple who had become so caught up in the laws and the rites of temple order that they failed to see the people languishing and bleeding out in turmoil right before their very eyes.
God does not offer us mollifying platitudes when our hearts are broken. He offers us restoration, hope and healing. EVERYDAY.
Are we looking beyond the reality of people’s lives before us to who they are – who God created them to be – and helping them to reach their full, created and unique existence in this life?
Scripture tells us there is NONE righteous, no not one! That’s an absolute statement – an absolute word – NONE. (See Romans 3:10) We have all fallen short of God’s glory, born in a fallen existence of ORIGINAL SIN. Inherited death. A flawed identity born into a broken existence ruled by the father of lies. The enemy starts very early reinforcing the lies that we are meant to live for less, doomed, problem-oriented, weak and failed. He doesn’t want us to know what God knows from before the beginning. We were created for Him-relationship with Him that reveals His glory.
When we discover our God-created, before the foundation of the world Identity in Christ we discover something that empowers us to live, to be the Hands, Feet, Voice, Heart and Grace of Christ to a lost and dying world. Jesus did not die because we have a behavior problem ruled by a code of conduct called the Law – the Law does not save, it only points men to the insufficiency of their ability to “DO” anything about their fallen existence. (Romans 3:10; Romans 7)
When will we stop focusing on what people are doing, and begin focusing on who God created them to be? When will we call forth the destiny and life in people rather than point them back to their ultimate death and sin? When will the vicious cycle of the Pharisee stop?
Will it stop with me?
When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well He simply pointed out the truth to her and then encouraged her to seek something more. Like a mother holding the sides of her child steadying them to walk – He offered her boundaries within which to live rather than condemnation for the mistakes and the willful sin she had entertained. He even knew she was deceiving Him by leaving out vital information but He still only made her aware of His knowledge of her situation and did not condemn her.
John 4:5-30 (AMP)
5 And in doing so, He arrived at a Samaritan town called Sychar, near the tract of land that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6 And Jacob’s well was there. So Jesus, tired as He was from His journey, sat down [to rest] by the well. It was then about the sixth hour (about noon).
7 Presently, when a woman of Samaria came along to draw water, Jesus said to her, Give Me a drink— 8 For His disciples had gone off into the town to buy food—
9 The Samaritan woman said to Him, How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan [and a] woman, for a drink?—For the Jews have nothing to do with the Samaritans—
0 Jesus answered her, If you had only known and had recognized God’s gift and Who this is that is saying to you, Give Me a drink, you would have asked Him [instead] and He would have given you living water.
11 She said to Him, Sir, You have nothing to draw with [no drawing bucket] and the well is deep; how then can You provide living water? [Where do You get Your living water?]12 Are You greater than and superior to our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well and who used to drink from it himself, and his sons and his cattle also?
13 Jesus answered her, All who drink of this water will be thirsty again. 14 But whoever takes a drink of the water that I will give him shall never, no never, be thirsty any more. But the water that I will give him shall become a spring of water welling up (flowing, bubbling) [continually] within him unto (into, for) eternal life.
15 The woman said to Him, Sir, give me this water, so that I may never get thirsty nor have to come [continually all the way] here to draw.
16 At this, Jesus said to her, Go, call your husband and come back here.
17 The woman answered, I have no husband.
Jesus said to her, You have spoken truly in saying, I have no husband. 18 For you have had five husbands, and the man you are now living with is not your husband. In this you have spoken truly.
19 The woman said to Him, Sir, I see and understand that You are a prophet. 20 Our forefathers worshiped on this mountain, but you [Jews] say that Jerusalem is the place where it is necessary and proper to worship.
21 Jesus said to her, Woman, believe Me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither [merely] in this mountain nor [merely] in Jerusalem. 22 You [Samaritans] do not know what you are worshiping [you worship what you do not comprehend]. We do know what we are worshiping [we worship what we have knowledge of and understand], for [after all] salvation comes from [among] the Jews.
23 A time will come, however, indeed it is already here, when the true (genuine) worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth (reality); for the Father is seeking just such people as these as His worshipers. 24 God is a Spirit (a spiritual Being) and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth (reality).
25 The woman said to Him, I know that Messiah is coming, He Who is called the Christ (the Anointed One); and when He arrives, He will tell us everything we need to know and make it clear to us.
26 Jesus said to her, I Who now speak with you am He.
27 Just then His disciples came and they wondered (were surprised, astonished) to find Him talking with a woman [a married woman]. However, not one of them asked Him, What are You inquiring about? or What do You want? or, Why do You speak with her?
28 Then the woman left her water jar and went away to the town. And she began telling the people, 29 Come, see a Man Who has told me everything that I ever did! Can this be [is not this] the Christ? [Must not this be the Messiah, the Anointed One?]
30 So the people left the town and set out to go to Him.
Maybe in Samaria the rules are different, but if I read this correctly that woman was an adulterer, too. One who had earned a death sentence, but Jesus offered her living water instead. The town where she lived, everyone would have known her as a harlot who had married and left at least five men. But, something about her story grabbed their heart – they sought Jesus because of something they saw in her.
Romans 2:4 (AMP)
4 Or are you [so blind as to] trifle with and presume upon and despise and underestimate the wealth of His kindness and forbearance and long-suffering patience? Are you unmindful or actually ignorant [of the fact] that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repent (to change your mind and inner man to accept God’s will)? (Emphasis Mine)
If we are not careful, we will begin to believe it is not the Holy Spirit but our clever or even sharp-tongued rebuke that will lead someone to repentance. But, not so – It is God’s Loving-Kindness at work in us that bears fruit in our lives reflecting an inward change of heart and ultimately an outward change in our actions, attitudes and speech.
Our role is to do three things: Encourage One Another, Testify to the Work of God and His Glory in our lives, and Spur One Another On In Love And Good Deeds.
Hebrews 10:24-25 (NKJV)
24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
1 Thessalonians 1:9 (AMP)
9 For they themselves volunteer testimony concerning us, telling what an entrance we had among you, and how you turned to God from [your] idols to serve a God Who is alive and true and genuine,
1 John 5:9-11 (AMP)
9 If we accept [as we do] the testimony of men [if we are willing to take human authority], the testimony of God is greater (of stronger authority), for this is the testimony of God, even the witness which He has borne regarding His Son. 10 He who believes in the Son of God [who adheres to, trusts in, and relies on Him] has the testimony [possesses this divine attestation] within himself. He who does not believe God [in this way] has made Him out to be and represented Him as a liar, because he has not believed (put his faith in, adhered to, and relied on) the evidence (the testimony) that God has borne regarding His Son. 11 And this is that testimony (that evidence): God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.
Revelation 12:11 (AMP)
11 And they have overcome (conquered) him by means of the blood of the Lamb and by the utterance of their testimony, for they did not love and cling to life even when faced with death [holding their lives cheap till they had to die for their witnessing].
And finally, we are to build unity among our brothers and sisters in Christ. Is the Church – no matter what denominational affiliation it subscribes to-an agent of unity and reconciliation in the community? Are we doing what the nation of Israel did just before it went into the Assyrian and Babylonian periods of captivity? Perhaps we are so busy policing ourselves from the inside, fighting amongst ourselves over points of doctrine and quibbling over jots and tiddles to the point that we have not noticed that the enemy has torn down our walls and is carrying our people off into captivity. Perhaps we need to take a look around.
Ephesians 2:14-16 (AMP)
14 For He is [Himself] our peace (our bond of unity and harmony). He has made us both [Jew and Gentile] one [body], and has broken down (destroyed, abolished) the hostile dividing wall between us, 15 By abolishing in His [own crucified] flesh the enmity [caused by] the Law with its decrees and ordinances [which He annulled]; that He from the two might create in Himself one new man [one new quality of humanity out of the two], so making peace. 16 And [He designed] to reconcile to God both [Jew and Gentile, united] in a single body by means of His cross, thereby killing the mutual enmity and bringing the feud to an end.
2 Corinthians 5:18-20 (AMP)
18 But all things are from God, Who through Jesus Christ reconciled us to Himself [received us into favor, brought us into harmony with Himself] and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation [that by word and deed we might aim to bring others into harmony with Him]. 19 It was God [personally present] in Christ, reconciling and restoring the world to favor with Himself, not counting up and holding against [men] their trespasses [but cancelling them], and committing to us the message of reconciliation (of the restoration to favor). 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors, God making His appeal as it were through us. We [as Christ’s personal representatives] beg you for His sake to lay hold of the divine favor [now offered you] and be reconciled to God.
With all of that – why are we still hurting each other with our words and actions when the Church was meant to be a hospital. I remember hearing many preachers say from the pulpit, “The church has become a place that shoots its wounded.”
Why are we shooting the wounded? Dismissing them from our congregations instead of restoring them gently as we are admonished to do in Matthew 18 and Galatians 6.They will know us by our love. Are we loving them with His heart?