…still the best description of how the church should be – outside of the bible itself – by Aristides, a 2nd Athenian philosopher, as he shared his observations on what the 2nd century church was actually like…
“BUT THE CHRISTIANS, O King, while they went about and made search, have found the truth; and as we learned from their writings, they have come nearer to truth and genuine knowledge than the rest of the nations. For they know and trust in God, the Creator of heaven and of earth, in whom and from whom are all things, to whom there is no other god as companion, from whom they received commandments which they engraved upon their minds and observe in hope and expectation of the world which is to come. Wherefore they do not commit adultery nor fornication, nor bear false witness, nor embezzle what is held in pledge, nor covet what is not theirs.
They honour father and mother, and show kindness to those near to them; and whenever they are judges, they judge uprightly. They do not worship idols (made) in the image of man; and whatsoever they would not that others should do unto them, they do not to others; and of the food which is consecrated to idols they do not eat, for they are pure. And their oppressors they appease (lit: comfort) and make them their friends; they do good to their enemies; and their women, O King, are pure as virgins, and their daughters are modest; and their men keep themselves from every unlawful union and from all uncleanness, in the hope of a recompense to come in the other world. Further, if one or other of them have bondmen and bondwomen or children, through love towards them they persuade them to become Christians, and when they have done so, they call them brethren without distinction.
They do not worship strange gods, and they go their way in all modesty and cheerfulness. Falsehood is not found among them; and they love one another, and from widows they do not turn away their esteem; and they deliver the orphan from him who treats him harshly. And he, who has, gives to him who has not, without boasting. And when they see a stranger, they take him in to their homes and rejoice over him as a very brother; for they do not call them brethren after the flesh, but brethren after the spirit and in God. And whenever one of their poor passes from the world, each one of them according to his ability gives heed to him and carefully sees to his burial. And if they hear that one of their number is imprisoned or afflicted on account of the name of their Messiah, all of them anxiously minister to his necessity, and if it is possible to redeem him they set him free. And if there is among them any that is poor and needy, and if they have no spare food, they fast two or three days in order to supply to the needy their lack of food.
They observe the precepts of their Messiah with much care, living justly and soberly as the Lord their God commanded them. Every morning and every hour they give thanks and praise to God for His loving-kindnesses toward them; and for their food and their drink they offer thanksgiving to Him. And if any righteous man among them passes from the world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God; and they escort his body as if he were setting out from one place to another near. And when a child has been born to one of them, they give thanks to God; and if moreover it happen to die in childhood, they give thanks to God the more, as for one who has passed through the world without sins. And further if they see that any one of them dies in his ungodliness or in his sins, for him they grieve bitterly, and sorrow as for one who goes to meet his doom.“
ONE DAY, THE SHEEP WERE ENJOYING THE SUNSHINE and the green grass on a breezy afternoon. The “baa’s” were a sign to the shepherd that everyone in the flock was having a wonderful day together. “This is what I have always wanted,” said one sheep to another, “a place where I can be with my own, free to roam in the afternoon with friends, but also safe enough at night in the sheep pen from the unknown of the woods.”
As sundown approached, the shepherd started gathering the sheep into the sheep pen. “45…60…70…80,” he counted. “95, 96, 97, 98, 99…???” The shepherd was shocked. One of the sheep was missing from the pen. “Everyone! I must have your attention,” said the shepherd summoning the 99 with urgency. “We have an emergency! One sheep is missing. She’s out there in the woods. Come daylight, we must go to find her!”
AT DAYBREAK, the shepherd gave a short training seminar on how to rescue a sheep in the woods. He recounted stories of how God had used him in the past to bring back lost sheep. He then re-organized the flock into rescue teams and gave them a programmatic process to seek out the lost sheep, which he called by the acronym, S.H.E.E.P. (Saving Helpless Ewe’s by Evangelism and Protection). They were excited about how God would use them!
At 8:05 AM (the second hour of the day in Hebrew culture), the shepherd released the sheep to find the lost ewe. The shepherd was hopeful that the training, modeling and inspirational stories as well as their team approach would have the lost sheep back by the mid-noon hour.
When the sheep got to the edge of the woods, only a few went forward. But most hesitated. In fact, the vast majority of the flock went back to the comfort of the pen. “We need more training and prayer first,” said one sheep. “I realized that my role is to support the others who are the sent ones,” said another. Another felt that posting a picture on social media of the group walking towards the woods was enough. Still another said, “I know I should go into the woods but…I just can’t right now because of all of the other things going on. Do you have any idea how long it takes for me to clean the wool of my family?”
The shepherd loved the 99 sheep. But he also loved the one lost sheep. What was he to do? He wanted the other 99 to have a good pen life together. But when the one ewe went missing, he knew they had to find her. The shepherd believed he had been faithful. He had trained, inspired, and encouraged them, even equipped them through S.H.E.E.P. to accomplish their mission.
THAT NIGHT AS THE SHEEP LAY SLEEPING, something finally dawned on the shepherd…the pen was the very thing that was holding them back. He had equipped them and encouraged them to be sent out. But the sheep were not strong enough to leave the pen to go into the scary woods. Given their new mission, he realized he had to redefine what a “new pen” should look like or they would never leave the old one.
THE NEXT MORNING, WHEN THE SHEEP AWOKE, they sprung to their hooves. The fence around the pen had vanished! “Meeeeeeh!?” said one. “Baa…Baaaaa…d” said another. When they looked up, they saw the shepherd standing between them and the woods where the lost sheep was believed to be. “Beloved,” said the shepherd, “I am here to feed you and shepherd you and protect you. But because of this lost ewe, the old pen that held us back will now be replaced by a new pen. Our entire flock will now be a new moving pen in the woods rather than me trying to motivate you to leave the old pen to go into the woods. You are free to stay here where the old pen used to be or to wander elsewhere. But if you want me to be your shepherd, then we are now going to rescue the ewe together. Our new moving sheep pen in the woods will be closer to God’s definition of what a sheep pen should look like. There’s now no more old sheep pen for us to hide in anymore.”
And with that, the shepherd took a step towards the woods.
BEING LAZY W/WHAT GOD HAS ENTRUSTED YOU WITH = WICKEDNESS.
We think of wicked people as: extremists who execute their captives, people who use guns on children, lying public figures or oppressive foreign dictators w/bad haircuts.
But a life continually marked by laziness towards the good works God invites you into is also evil/unbelief. In the Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:25-30), God entrusts opportunities to do his good works to 3 people. The 1st & 2nd servants are faithful and hear from their master, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” [Matt. 25:21,23]. The 3rd unbelieving servant was unfaithful and indifferent to his master’s wishes. This 3rd servant did not really know the master and ultimately was cast into the “outer darkness” where there was “weeping and gnashing of teeth” [Matt. 25:24-30].
re: 1st & 2nd servants (believers) [v.15-23]
> God’s commendation – How great would it be to hear God say to you, “Well done (“I’m proud of you”) good and faithful (“You are trustworthy”) servant (“You’ve served that which matters most”). You have been faithful with a little, I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (“I will increase your joy”) [v.21,23]. Being rewarded by God in heaven [2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Cor. 3:10-15] is legit motivation for doing God’s work here on earth.
> “at once” – The 1st & 2nd servants went out “at once” with urgency [v.16]. Are we? A lack of urgency among believers may be the #1 biggest problem in the church today. We have far too many 4 and 5 talent Christians today who are living 3 and 2 talent lives. The only one that ever stopped you is you and in the end, you (and I) will be entirely responsible to God for the stewardship he entrusted us with. You are far to valuable to be living a wasted life just surviving in mundane conformity to the world’s standards of success.
re: 3rd servant (unbelievers) [v.24-30]
> your most important work – If your life is continually marked by an indifference to God’s work (the things revolving around obedience to, following of, and praising of Jesus), then the most important work to rededicate your life to isn’t through a self-improvement seminar or yoga or Earth Day. It’s trusting in the life and work of Jesus Christ on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins [John 6:28,29].
DO YOU BELIEVE JESUS IS THE ONLY WAY TO GOD?
Today, 9 out of 10 people in the general population believe in some definition of “God”. And 7 out of 10 believe in some definition of the afterlife.
But while most believe in some definition of God and the afterlife, 9 out of 10 people today do not believe that Jesus Christ is the one way to the God of the bible. In other words, about 90% of the population do not believe Jesus is necessary in determining their afterlife.
Most striking though is that today 2 out of every 3 people who say they are Christian now no longer believe Jesus when he said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6]. That’s 2/3 – the majority – who say they are Christian are now professing a faith that’s biblically unrecognizable.
I’ll be honest with you. If I (Pastor Chris) did not believe Jesus was the way, the truth and the life to God, then this past Sunday would have been my last. You’d never see me again. I’d be off living my life any way that I wanted, because hey, I’ve chosen to believe there are a lot of ways to God. So why not define it my own way? Why be bound to any organized religion or an ancient text?
But the thing is…I have chosen to believe Jesus at his words. One of the reasons for that is because I’ve realized that defining my spirituality my own way is actually more frightening and more uncertain than trusting in Jesus as Lord and Savior.
I came to that realization because…I know my own heart. No matter how good I may look on the outside, no matter how hard I try to heal my soul on my own, no matter how well I can fake you out to make you think I’m good, I cannot fake out my own conscience, much less fake out God.
It is that realization – that the world’s remedies for the evil in my own heart as well as my own efforts – that they do not bring me peace. I need to know that I will be okay in eternity. I need to know that God himself is on my side here and now and he will provide the way and the truth and the life for me because I cannot do that for myself. And you cannot do that for me either. Only God can.
Jesus makes sense to me because he is the only one who conquered death and satisfied the penalty for my sins. He says that God desires a relationship where we belong to each other for eternity. He didn’t primarily teach a way, a truth and a life to be emulated. He was/is all of those things and he lives through those who believe in him. And he has made all of the difference in a world of competing voices.
ANY SPIRITUALITY YOU CHOOSE HAS TO HAVE LOVE AT THE CORE.
In that respect, Jesus is really no different than most of the world’s religions available to you today. All say love is central to your soul.
But what makes Jesus unique is how he loved and how he makes that love available to you and I.
In his encounter with the disciples in John ch. 13 & 14, he revealed that God is our servant (!). He washes our feet (i.e. our souls) clean. He does this amidst knowing the betrayal/denial/abandonment/disbelief coming his way at the hands of his own disciples. He is concerned about their loving one another when they should be the ones comforting him as he prepares to go to the cross. He promises he will send to them the Holy Spirit, who will make his truths and their love for one another and for him possible.
Think about that. In this one encounter in John 13 & 14, we see the human heart clearly apart from Jesus. We are prone to selfishness (the disciples didn’t offer to wash Jesus’ feet). We need his direct spiritual help (the indwelling Holy Spirit) to love one another the way God wants. We side with the disciple’s experience of betraying/denying/abandoning/disbelieving Jesus, sometimes at a moments notice.
And yet Jesus, knowing all of this in advance, reveals that God is merciful and patient and loving for those who believe. But sometimes people don’t want Jesus to wash their feet (i.e. souls). Maybe letting Jesus wash your soul carries with it the fear that becoming his servant means you’ll be serving others who are dirty.
For those of us to do chose Jesus, if you want to be more like Jesus the road to becoming more loving isn’t after we’ve gotten the things we want from God. What if we were to see servanthood in the midst of the self-centeredness of the human heart (ours and others) as the way to be more like him? What if we were to embrace/celebrate loving God/others when they are less than…what we expect? What if this was God’s way of making us more like the person He envisioned us to be? What if that was the true way of Jesus?
Would it be worth it?