Day 252: Matthew 28:19-20 – Part 4

I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.  Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.

[This is the fourth of four reflections on this scripture where Jesus gives his disciples their final instructions before he ascends into heaven.]

After my husband John retired from urban ministry in Chicago we moved out to the far suburbs to start a new life.  It was a great experience bouncing around in search of a new church home.  All of it was highly instructive.

One of the churches we attended for a while was Assembly of God.  Like most Assembly churches they had a really great band.  Although Assembly churches are supposed to emphasize the ministries of the Holy Spirit, this one was really an evangelical church with an  emphasis  on entry-level Christian teaching.

While we were there the pastor came up with what he believed was a divinely-inspired mission statement for the church:

At (this church) we exist to glorify God by helping people become Saved, Solid, Serving and Sent.

  • Saved – Entering into a relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ.
  • Solid – Growing and maturing in that relationship.
  • Serving – Finding one’s specific purpose and calling.
  • Sent – Going out to help others do the same.

Saved, Solid, Serving, Sent.  The pastor believed that this was God’s plan for discipleship.  He even had giant banners with these four words made for the sanctuary so we could all stare at them every week.

Another bit of décor in this church was its big “Saved/Unsaved” board.  People were invited to put the names of all their unsaved friends and relatives on the bottom (in the hellish part of the board).  The congregation was encouraged to pray for the people posted on the hell part of the board talk and somehow talk them into making a confession of faith so that their name could be moved, with great fanfare, to the upper half of the board where heaven was.

The leadership group never put my husband and me on the unsaved part, but I think they had their doubts about us.  Actually they were a pretty suspicious bunch.  I think they all had doubts about each other.  Like the old saying says, “All the world’s strange save thee and me, and even thou art a little strange.”

Anyhow that’s the way it was around there.  And they had no social justice ministries because they believe that the only thing that was important was getting people saved, so that’s where they put all their time and energy.  Every now and then they would try to do something for people, but they always ended up harassing them about whether or not they had been born again because that was their prime directive.  They didn’t know any better, or if they did it had been brainwashed out of them.

The music was really, really good and there was a nice seniors group, but eventually it couldn’t compensate for the ”strangeness” of it all so we left and went to another church.  Such a good praise band.  What a pity.

Anyway, as I contemplated their plan for discipleship, that “Saved, Solid, Serving, and Sent” business, I had a revelation.  Perhaps God did give these words to the pastor, but I think he got it mixed up.  I think he got it backwards.

 

Here’s the way I see it relative to the teachings of Jesus:

  • You are “Sent” out into the world every day, whether or not you are saved.  That’s a given.  You are part of the world and you interact with people every day.
  • As we go out about our business, Jesus commands us to “Serve” others.  He commands his followers to take care of those in need, encourage others, share our resources, love our enemies, and do all of the stuff in the Sermon on the Mount.
  • Then, when we start doing that for long enough, we start to get “Solid.” We start to get a glimpse of what the Kingdom of God is all about and get born again of the Spirit.  We start to live it instead of just talking about it.  Or waiting around for it.
  • And then, having done all we can do, we assume that “Saved” will take care of itself when the time comes.

Jesus didn’t want his disciples to go out and sign up people to be on the Jesus team.  He wanted them to do what he did.  He wanted them to go out empowered and energized, carrying on his ministry and mission to teach (about the proper application of the Law of Moses), preach (about the Kingdom of God) and heal (everyone who needs it).  That’s what he did:

Jesus went all over Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, preaching the Good News about the Kingdom, and healing people who had all kinds of disease and sickness. (Matthew 4:23).

He never asked anyone to make a confession or faith.  He never signed anyone up to go to church.  He just commanded them to love.  We need to keep that in mind as we go out – Sent, Serving, Solid, and Saved.

What does this scripture say to you?

Day 62: Matthew 7:21-23

Not everyone who calls me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only those who do what my Father in heaven wants them to do. When the Judgment Day comes, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord! In your name we spoke God’s message, by your name we drove out many demons and performed many miracles!’ Then I will say to them, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you wicked people!’

[With these words Jesus continues to teach about the Law of Moses as the Sermon on the Mount continues.  He takes some of the most important topics and explains to his disciples, in specific terms, what it means to be “more faithful than the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees in doing what God requires” (See Day 23)].

On every Sunday throughout America there will be worship services that end with “altar calls” for the “lost” to come forward, repent by repeating a “sinner’s prayer” and the making a vow to be “faithful.”  By doing this they are, according to the person making the altar call, “saved,” which means that they will go to heaven.  They are told that because Christ died for their sins, their salvation can never be taken from them no matter what they do.  From this point on, their main focus in life should be to get other people saved.  This is evangelical Christianity.

I worry about these people.  To them, following Jesus is nothing more than stepping forward to get your ticket to heaven and then spending the rest of your life harassing people who are not in their organization.  There’s no discipleship. There’s no spiritual growth.  There’s no love.  All that’s important is recruitment.

I think it’s an outgrowth of the Cold War.  Remember when the US and the USSR were locked in a nuclear stalemate as they sought world domination?  You were either communist or capitalist.  In or out.  Right or wrong.  Friend or foe. Black or white.

On the basis of this scripture I worry about whether these Christians know who they are following.  In this scripture Jesus says that people need to have an intimate relationship with God.  The Greek word for “know” is ginóskó, which means to “know through personal experience.” Do they really want to know God, or do they just want to be on the winning side?

There are also those who worship Jesus but they don’t seem to know anything about what he said and what he stood for.  I’m afraid that many who claim to love him wouldn’t like him if they actually listened to what he has to say.  For example, he believed in one true God.  Every day he said the Shema, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One.” He never wanted to be a substitute for God, or a secondary god. His motivation was always to obey and glorify the one true God!!  I worry about these people, too.  Do they really want to know Father God, who is spirit and supernatural and too big and great to be fully known, or do they just want a god that is more accessible looks more like themselves? Or even worse, like Fabio?

Do I know God?  I want to.  That’s why I’m doing this spiritual exercise of looking carefully at all of Jesus’ words in Matthew.  I think that if you know Jesus, you know quite a bit about the heart of God.  I want to know God to the extent that it’s possible.  Exodus 33:11 says that the Lord used to talk to Moses face to face like a friend.  I hope he talks to me that way some day.  I would like to talk to Jesus, too. I hope to do that some day.

On a lighter note, this scripture brings to mind the TV game show Let’s Make a Deal.  At the end of the show a contestant trades everything he was won so far for a shot at the BIG DEAL OF THE DAY behind Door #1, Door #2, or Door #3.  What if, on judgment day we had to choose a door, to test us about whether we really know who Jesus was.  Which door would you pick if they looked, for example, like this?

Image

Or maybe the doors would all look alike, but different voices would call out to us. Hopefully studying the words of Jesus will help me know God’s voice and help me pick the right door.

Or maybe it would just be a presence, a feeling.  Hopefully I’ve spent enough time in prayer seeking God; hopefully I’ve lingered in his glory enough to know it.

One thing we know for sure, based on this scripture, is that the test won’t be about what we did; it won’t be about our accomplishments.  This scripture says that there will be people who “say to God, ‘Lord, Lord.’” Maybe that was their problem – they called out too much and didn’t do enough listening.  It says God will call them wicked and send them away.

There will also be people who spoke God’s message – like me for example in this blog, or pastors, or Christian evangelists – who just repeat what they have read in the Bible or heard others say.  But God will send them away because they didn’t bother to run it by him before they talked in his name.

Finally there will be the ones who did his work – godly things like driving out demons and performing miracles, or perhaps even feeding the poor or bringing “thousands to Christ.”  But they didn’t really care about the people they were serving.  Maybe they did these things out of a sense of noblesse oblige.  Maybe they did it to improve their reputation or make a living.  Wicked.  Away they go.

All these people will be sent away.  Maybe not to hell, as I’ve heard this preached.  Just “away”.  Maybe to the corner for “time out” until they examine their motivations and get themselves straightened out.

This scripture says God demands true authentic relationship; God requires that you know and love him so that you can love others.  So many times when I’ve prayed for someone God has asked me, “Do you love them?” and sometimes I’ve had to go back and work on my heart.  In this scripture all of these people miss the point because they did things in God’s name, but they didn’t love God.  They did things for people but they didn’t love them.  They missed the whole point of it all.  So God will call them wicked and send them away.  I think that’s what this scripture says.  Don’t figure you can work your way into heaven.  You only get there by letting go and allowing yourself to flow in the love that comes from the heart of God.

The test will be about love.  The true test of the relationship is always love.  So back to that “Let’s Make a Deal” analogy, I think that God loves us so much he would probably give us a really easy “door test” like this one:

 Image 

http://robertnash30.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/light-in-the-dark.jpg

Even though I think the heavenly door test may indeed be easy, this scripture still makes me worry about all those people who have received cheap tickets to heaven from those evangelical Churches.  I hope someone will start teaching them about love.  I worry about them because a lot of them are pretty mean and angry and negative.  I think it’s because deep down they feel they’ve been cheated and used.  I really hope that things change and someone they trust will teach them about the words of Jesus that reveal the love of the Father.

I also hope that those people who worship Jesus will get up off their knees, throw away their statues and crosses, and start studying what he actually said.  I think they need to stop worshipping Jesus and start worshipping the One who Jesus worshiped. They need to stop worshipping the sun and worship the One who created the sun.  They need to take Jesus off his pedestal and start studying his teachings, because putting images of him on the wall and wearing crosses around our necks hasn’t transformed the world in the way that he envisioned.

I really hope that someone gets through to all these people so they don’t have to do time out – victims of Christian deceptions, alone and ashamed.

What does this scripture say to you?

Day 6: Matthew 4:19

Mankind was my business. ~ Jacob Marley

Day 6: Matthew 4:19

Come with me and I will teach you to catch men.

One of the first things Jesus does when he begins his ministry is to form a little community of people to accompany him on his journey through life. The first two disciples were fishermen. His words of invitation are an intriguing invitation for these fisherman to interrupt their lives; to stop fishing for food and to start “fishing for men”.

For many Americans work, home, and family are the most important things in their lives. Jesus asks Simon (Peter) and Andrew to give up all of these things and go on a spiritual adventure. A true mission from God. Jesus knows that Simon and Andrew all have a higher calling than earning a living for themselves and their families.

I am reminded of the conversation between the ghost of Jacob Marley and Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol:

“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself. “Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again.”Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

I think Dickens got it right. Mankind is our business. Making a difference in other people’s lives is our business. Celebrating the goodness of life is our business. Loving one another is our business. Creating healthy communities where everyone is accepted and cared for is our business. Contrary to what many people believe, the accumulation of wealth shouldn’t be our primary objective. Greed and money weigh us down. Just ask the ghost of Marley who was encumbered by those chains and moneyboxes, forged of his own making.

I like it that Scrooge didn’t close down his business and go into ministry after he had his epiphany and transformation. Scrooge used what he already had – his successful business – to build up the Kingdom by extending love and generosity to his employee Bob Cratchit, reconciling with his nephew, and giving generously to charities. In doing so he became a walking miracle, a catcher of man and Kingdom builder right where he was. We are not supposed to go about our daily affairs being greedy and cynical like the old Scrooge. We are all called to use our gifts and abilities to make the world a better place, just like the new Scrooge.

Is it possible to reconcile work and spirituality? I definitely think it’s possible if the motivation is honorable and there is a culture of integrity. There has to be a sense of mission other than to make money. When it comes to mixing work and spirituality I don’t think anyone ever did it better than the Shakers. The way they conducted themselves was a powerful witness about their faith. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about economics of Shaker communities:

The communality of the Believers was an economic success, and their cleanliness, honesty and frugality received the highest praise. All Shaker villages ran farms, using the latest scientific methods in agriculture. They raised most of Shakerstheir own food, so farming, and preserving the produce required to feed them through the winter, had to be priorities. Their livestock was fat and healthy, and their barns were commended for convenience and efficiency.

When not doing farm work, Shaker brethren pursued a variety of trades and hand crafts, many documented by Isaac N. Youngs. When not doing housework, Shaker sisters did likewise, spinning, weaving, sewing, and making sale goods.

Shakers ran a variety of businesses to support their communities. Many Shaker villages had their own tanneries, sold baskets, brushes, bonnets, brooms, fancy goods, and homespun fabric that was known for high quality, but were more famous for their medicinal herbs, garden seeds, apple-sauce, and knitted garments.

The Shaker goal in their temporal labor was perfection. Ann Lee’s followers preserved her admonitions about work:

  • Good spirits will not live where there is dirt.
  • Do your work as though you had a thousand years to live and as if you were to die tomorrow.
  • Put your hands to work, and your heart to God.

Shaker craftsmen were known for a style of Shaker furniture that was plain in style, durable, and functional. Shaker chairs were usually mass-produced because a great number of them were needed to seat all the Shakers in a community. Because of the quality of their craftsmanship, original Shaker furniture is costly.

Shakers won respect and admiration for their productive farms and orderly communities. Their industry brought about many inventions like Babbitt metal, the rotary harrow, the circular saw, the clothespin, the Shaker peg, the flat broom, the wheel-driven washing machine, a machine for setting teeth in textile cards, a threshing machine, metal pens, a new type of fire engine, a machine for matching boards, numerous innovations in waterworks, planing machinery, a hernia truss, silk reeling machinery, small looms for weaving palm leaf, machines for processing broom corn, ball-and-socket tilters for chair legs, and a number of other useful inventions.

Shakers were the first large producers of medicinal herbs in the United States, and pioneers in the sale of seeds in paper packets. Brethren grew the crops, but sisters picked, sorted, and packaged their products for sale, so those industries were built on a foundation of women’s labor in the Shaker partnership between the sexes.

The Shakers believed in the value of hard work and kept comfortably busy. Mother Ann said, “Labor to make the way of God your own; let it be your inheritance, your treasure, your occupation, your daily calling.”

I don’t think we are all called to give up our families and friends and jobs and become traveling apostles. I think there is ample opportunity for us to do a lot of great things without leaving our homes or quitting our jobs. But in our own way we are still nevertheless invited to go on the same kind of spiritual journey as the disciples – dedicating ourselves to God and inviting others to do likewise, demonstrating love and kindness to all, and using the gifts that we have been given to make a difference in people’s lives. Like it says in Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as though you were working for the Lord and not for people.” When we do all that we do for the love of humanity instead of the love of money, we have the potential to shake things up and make the world take notice. We have the ability to make people step back and think about the meaning of life, and the purpose of work. Just like the Shakers.

What does this scripture say to you?