Earlier this year, when I was at a youth retreat over President’s Day weekend, something was said in a seminar that has been floating around the back of my mind ever since. He was talking about goals, and said that we should write out goals so big that if we attain them we’ll know we couldn’t have done it on our own. In other words, we should make our dreams so big that when they come true, we’ll know God must have been involved.
I was reminded of this when listening to Casting Crown’s new album “Thrive” yesterday. One of my new favorite songs, “Dream For You,” includes these lines.
So come on, let Me dream, let Me dream for you
I am strong when you’re weak and I’ll carry you
So let go of your plan, be caught by My hand
I’ll show you what I can do
When I dream for you
I have a dream for you
Isn’t this a beautiful idea? to think that God has dreams, and hopes, and plans for you that are bigger and better than anything you can imagine, and that He wants to dream with you?
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jer. 29:11)
This is especially encouraging for me right now, two years out of college and still struggling to decide what my next move should be. For as long as I can remember, my dreams have involved doing something creative to earn money while staying at home to raise a family. It might not seem like a very big dream, but it’s important to me and, while I can get excited about an idea that would move in a different direction (such as returning to grad school and focusing on my research about Christianity and gender roles in 18th century literature), I can’t seem to feel at peace with that decision for more than, oh, 36 hours. That’s why I’ll be launching an Etsy store shortly to supplement income from my copywriting and, hopefully, fiction writing. Stay tuned for more news about that in the next couple weeks! As far as I can tell, the marriage and family part of my dream is still quite some way from being realized, but I can work on this working-from-home part of my dream now and trust God for the rest — or trust that He’ll come up with an even more amazing dream for me.
I wrote last week about questions the church can ask herself regarding our role as the body of Christ. Like the Casting Crowns song “If We Are The Body,” it was meant as a challenge for the church as a whole to reach out with compassion, heal others, teach Jesus Christ’s words, walk in His steps, and love everyone. The reason for this is mentioned in the line which provides me with a title: “Jesus payed much too high a price / For us to pick and choose who should come / And we are the body of Christ.”
Christ said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11). That, in a nutshell, is the price paid. He willingly gave up first His eternal existence with the Father and then His human life to be a sacrifice for sins (John 1:1-2, 14). A more complete picture of what this entailed can be found in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Here’s a few verses:
He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. (Is. 53:3-5)
I have a hard time thinking of what to write after this. It’s so deeply moving to think of how much He suffered for my sake, and for your sake, and for the entire world (John 1:29; 4:42; 6:33; 12:47).
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:16-17)
I find it interesting that John 3:16-17 doesn’t say that Christ died to save the church — it says He died for the entire world. The goal is to save as many people as possible (2 Pet. 3:9).
Paid For Whom?
No one can come to Christ unless the Father draws them (John 6:44), and once that happens “he who believes in the Son has everlasting life” (John 3:36). If someone shows up at church with that one requirement — belief in Jesus Christ — then we have no right to turn them away. Their belief is a sign that God is working with them. Look how strongly Christ rebuked His disciples when they thought certain people were not worth His time:
Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” (Mark 10:13-15)
In Matthew, Jesus further said, “Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:5-6) Since we are all God’s children, whatever age we are, I think it safe to extend what Christ says concerning His little ones to every new believer. James 2 talks about not showing partiality, or respecting people based on how much money they have. This principle can be extended to other factors as well. Take the example of “strangers” who joined Israel in the Old Testament.
“Also the sons of the foreigner who join themselves to the Lord, to serve Him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants — everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and holds fast My covenant — even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, says, “Yet I will gather to him others besides those who are gathered to him.” (Is. 56:6-8)
In our modern churches of God, a similar situation might be new people coming into the church without a Worldwide background and no clue who Mr. Armstrong was. Or maybe people in other groups that we not-so-secretly wonder if they are really part of the body. It is not our place to make judgements about who is and who is not part of Christ’s body and living in His sheepfold (John 10:16). If someone believes in Him, we should welcome them with open arms. If they keep His Sabbaths and enter into covenant with Him, like the strangers in Israel, we must not dismiss them.
Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” (Acts 10:34-35)
This statement should disabuse us of any notion that people of a certain social class or church background or ethnic group are in some way better or worse than others. The Pharisees had that idea — “We have Abraham as our father” — and John the Baptist told them they were a “brood of vipers” and “that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” on the ground near the river. Their background did not matter, only that they repent and “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matt. 3:7-9).
What Should We Do?
The Father and Jesus want to save every single person who will let them. Are we helping them in that goal as members of the body of Christ? Or are people “tripping over me” when they try to reach God (Rom. 14:13)? We are so quick to take and cause offense, to indigently puff up and bluster at people over even trivial things like music selection, whether or not to worship with hands raised, and are jeans appropriate for church services. But look at Paul’s attitude:
Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. (1 Cor. 10:32-33)
How much less strife would there be within the church and in our interactions with those who do not yet believe if this were our attitude!
Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” (Rom. 15:2-3)
When we set aside our selfishness and look after other people before ourselves, we are following in Christ’s footsteps. When we are becoming like the “head over all things to the church,” we truly begin acting like the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23). We are supposed to imitate God and “walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Eph. 5:2). In the night He was betrayed, Jesus said, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Lest we think this statement is ambiguous, John spells it out clearly in his first epistle: “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). Still, we might try to find some wiggle-room in this command. It only says to love the brethren — I don’t have to love all those other people, right? Wrong.
But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matt. 5:44-48)
Well there it is — not a smidgin of wiggle-room left. We have to love everyone the way God loves them and the way He loves us. Jesus paid the highest price ever paid so that the world could be saved. He is not going to look kindly on our actions if we try to pick and choose who is worth our love and who we should “let in” to His body. That’s not our call.
Today’s post is inspired by a Casting Crowns song called “If We Are The Body.” I’ll add a video of it at the end of this post, so you can listen to it if you’re not familiar with the song. It is basically a challenge to the Christian church — if we really are Christ’s body (and we know from verses like Colossians 1:18 that we are), why isn’t the church as a whole acting more like Jesus Christ?
♪ ♫ But if we are the body, Why aren’t His arms reaching?
Do we have the same kind of compassion that Christ showed? He wept over Jerusalem because His people rejected His attempts “to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Matt. 23:37; Luke 19:41-42). He was constantly reaching out to help, encourage, and teach people.
But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. (Matt. 9:36)
Each of us can bear witness to the compassion and mercy of God in our lives. Take just a moment to think about all the forgiveness He has shown you, all the times He picked you up out of hopelessness — and then look at the next chapter in Matthew.
When Jesus sent out His twelve disciples, He instructed them to do the same thing He was doing: “preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:7-8). It’s this last sentence that I want to focus on. Are we giving compassion, forgiveness, and help to others as freely as Christ gives those things to us? Or are we holding ourselves back from reaching out to certain people?
♪ ♫ Why aren’t His hands healing?
We often seem to gloss over the phrase “gifts of healing” when reading about spiritual gifts in the church. We say that since we don’t see people today performing the same kinds of miracles that were happening in Acts 3:1-10 and 5:12-16, that these gifts are not present in today’s church. Paul did not, however, indicated that there will be a time when certain gifts simply are not around.
But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, (1 Cor 12:7-9)
The word translated “healing” here is iama (G2386). It is much like our English word, and means a “cure, the result of the process of healing.”It is used in the gospels of Christ healing with a touch or by a “word of power.” Of the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, Zodhiates points out that iama is always plural, and that the Lord gave “gifts or abilities to provide the means of various healings in His divine providence whether they be with or without medicine.”
I suspect that the gifts of healing can include a wide range of emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual healing. Some people have a gift for counseling others through emotional distress. Others with a gift for physical healing might practice a form of medicine. Those with a gift of faith can pray, trusting this promise:”the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up” (James 5:15).
There is no reason to assume the lack of showy miracles means there are no gifts of healing in the church. Not every person in the body of Christ will have a gift of healing (1 Cor. 12:28-30), but if those who have been given this gift are using it, then the overall body will have healing hands.
♪ ♫ Why aren’t His words teaching?
The verse I most often see/hear people turn to in the context of the church’s responsibility to teach is at the end of Matthew. Jesus told His followers, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations … teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). Often, I think churches approach this verse one of two opposite and extreme directions. One is to adopt disciplining the nations as the chief and greatest occupation of the church. The other is to ignore it completely and say it’s not our place to “shove our religion down someone’s throat.”
As in many things, the balanced view is both rarer and a better goal. We cannot afford to ignore a clear instruction from Jesus Christ to teach, but if we adopt this as the one great commission of the church, we risk overlooking Christ’s instruction to “feed My sheep” — to care for and teach people who are already in the church. In Paul’s continuing discussion about spiritual gifts, he says,
Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel. (1 Cor. 14:12)
The reason to want spiritual gifts is so that we might build-up, teach, and help each other within the church. Then, when conditions inside the church are as they should be, God will bring in new believers.
But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you. (1 Cor. 14:24-25)
How many of our church congregations would inspire this kind of reaction in someone who just walked through the door? TV shows, radio spots, websites, magazines, and booklets might help someone find a church group, but it’s the people who will inspire them to stay. If a new believer doesn’t see evidence that God is truly among us and hear His words being taught, they will keep looking for a church that actually acts like part of the body of Christ.
♪ ♫ And if we are the body, Why aren’t His feet going?
When studying for this section, I was surprised to find how prominently feet figure in the Bible. The Lord “will not allow your foot to be moved” (Ps. 121.3), He delivers “my feet from falling” (Ps. 116:8), and His “word is a lamp unto my feet” (Ps. 119:105). The Israelites “feet did not swell” during all their years of wandering in the wilderness (Neh. 9:21). People sat at and anointed Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:38; 8:35; 10:39; John 12:3). Jesus washed the feet of His disciples (John 13:5-6). John the Baptist’s father prophesied that he would “guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79).
Where our feet are going indicates the direction of our lives. Are our feet headed toward evil, such as “feet swift to shed blood” (Rom. 3:15)? Or are our feet beautiful like “the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace,” and shod with that same gospel as part of our spiritual armor (Rom. 10:15; Eph. 6:15)?
In Jeremiah, it says that “it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jer. 10:23). The only one who can direct our steps rightly is God, and He directs us to walk in the steps of Jesus.
For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps (1 Pet. 2:21)
The context here is that to endure “grief, suffering wrongfully,” is commendable before God because it gives us the opportunity to mimic Christ’s actions (1 Pet. 2:18-20). As His body, we must be willing to walk in His footsteps, wherever that might lead.
He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. (1 John 2:6)
♪ ♫ Why is His love not showing them there is a way? There is a way
Love — agape (G26) — is the key to relationships. It is called “a more excellent way” compared to gifts of leadership, prophecy, healing, and working miracles. Even “the best gifts” are of no value if separated from love (1 Cor. 12:28-13:3).
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)
Jesus said that love among the breathren is how the entire world will recognize us as His disciples. This builds right upon the idea of someone being able to walk into a gathering of the church and see “that God is truly among you” (1 Cor. 14:25). As the discussion continues, Jesus also connects love to the idea following in His footsteps.
This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. (John 15:12-13)
Like in 1 Peter 2, following Christ includes the very real possibility of suffering. Here, with the focus on love, it also includes the idea of voluntary sacrifice for the good of another person. That is the kind of attitude that the entire church is to have.
And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. (1 Cor. 12:26-27)
I am so blessed to regularly fellowship with a congregation like this. As we individually and collectively grow more and more like Jesus and learn to use our spiritual gifts “for the edifying of the body of Christ,” we will be better able to serve Him by serving other people (Eph. 4:12).
We were talking about The Woman at the Well last week, in the women’s book group at church (we’ve been reading Bad Girls of the Bible by Liz Curtis Higgs). One of the ladies in the group suggested that this meeting in John 4 between Christ and the woman at the well might be symbolically connected with Isaac, Jacob, and Moses all meeting their wives at a well. Does the woman here symbolize the Bride of Christ, and His invitation for us to drink from the well of eternal life?
The Living Water
On Jesus’ journey from Judea to Galilee in John 4, He stops to rest at Jacob’s well. A woman comes to the well and the Lord asks her for a drink. She wonders at this, since men did not normally talk to women and Jews had no dealings with Samaritans. A Jewish man certainly didn’t ask a Samaritan woman for a drink.
Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”
The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?”
Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:10-14)
Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; For Yah, the Lord, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation. Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. (Is. 12:2-3)
In Genesis 24, Abraham sends his servant to find a wife for Isaac. When the servant reaches his destination, he stops at a well and asks God to show him a sign.
Behold, here I stand by the well of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. Now let it be that the young woman to whom I say, ‘Please let down your pitcher that I may drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I will also give your camels a drink’—let her be the one You have appointed for Your servant Isaac. And by this I will know that You have shown kindness to my master.” (Gen. 24:13-14
God answered this prayer, and Rebekah not only drew water for this servant and his camels, but agreed to follow him into a different country and marry a man she had never met. Like Abraham’s servant, Jesus Christ is a messenger sent by a father who is seeking to add someone to His family. Abraham’s servant and Christ both ask the woman for a drink, and end up offering her something even more valuable than water in a desert.
For Jacob’s meeting with Rachel and Moses’s meeting with Zipporah, the woman is a shepherdess who comes to the well to draw water but is prevented by an obstacle. This obstacle is removed by the man, who then waters her flock.
Now while he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess. And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother. (Gen. 29:9-10)
Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters. And they came and drew water, and they filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. Then the shepherds came and drove them away; but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock. When they came to Reuel their father, he said, “How is it that you have come so soon today?” And they said, “An Egyptian delivered us from the hand of the shepherds, and he also drew enough water for us and watered the flock.” (Ex. 2:16-19)
Like Jacob and Moses met their wives at a well and provided water for her flock of sheep, so does the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ meet His church and offer her living water (John 10:11-16). He is a Bridegroom seeking His bride, and as a new believer this woman at the well became part of that group.
Becoming A Fountain
We have been given the same offer as the woman at the well. Come to the source of eternal life and drink freely of the living water. Become the Lamb’s bride.
For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. (2 Cor. 11:2)
This incredible offer is blessing enough, but on top of that we are offered the chance to share this living water with others. “But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14). He wants us to become fountains as well (Song 4:12-15).
I don’t often listen to contemporary Christian music, but of late I’ve become quite attached to Casting Crowns’ music. This song, from their CD “Come To The Well” seems an appropriate way to end this post.