Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Program of Jesus

Recently, there has been a mantra floating among our church leadership. It goes something like this: "People over programs." The gist of it being that we are seeking to make our decisions, especially financial ones of late, not based solely upon the needs of our church programs and facilities, but upon the true needs of the people who call Felton Bible Church home.

When you think about it, this was often Jesus' way of looking at ministry as well, much to the chagrin of the local religious leaders and even His own disciples. A case in point can be found in this coming week's sermon text found in John 5:1-15. In this passage Jesus heals a man at the pool of Bethesda by the Sheep Gate leading into the city of Jerusalem.

Now there is nothing wrong with healing a man who has been paralyzed for 38 years, the problem came from doing it on the Sabbath. We see that the healing gave the man cause to carry his mat away from his 38 year sitting spot, and this little action is not allowed on the Sabbath. Doesn't matter that a great miracle took place. Doesn't matter that a man was set free from years of physical bondage. The only thing that matter is that this act of compassion broke the rules of the program. And we just can't have that can we?

Programs, for both leaders and followers, offer control and safety. We know what is going to happen next. Things are relegated, or dare we say "religious?" But, I believe the LORD always put people over programs, even though that meant things might seem out of control at times and might get a little messy.

Yes, order is important, and God has set forth guidelines, but too often we have taken these prescriptions and buried them in a foundation of concrete rather than resting them in the movement of the Spirit. We have become so tied to the way we think God should work that we miss Him when He does. In stead of rejoicing with the healing of this man, the religious leaders called him to give account for his Sabbath infraction. They were more concerned about the program than the person.

As a "religious leader" myself, this passage troubles me for I have to ask myself how I would have responded? I surely know what it is to plan and run a program, and the importance of keeping things running smoothly for the Kingdom, but how often do I miss the very presence of God because I am more concerned about the status quo than I am about the present touch of God in a person's life.

Today, as I was reading 2 Chronicles 5:13-14 I was humbled when I read about the presence of the LORD filling the temple to such an extent that the priests could not do their job. The program was suspended for the Presence! I was humbled by the thought of how many times I might have pushed on through with the program in spite of the Lord desiring to fill the place with His holy Presence.

People over program, yes, a good mantra.

Presence over program, even better!

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ok, once again I will look like the unspiritual one, but here goes.
I came to know Christ in my early twenties. I came as a messed up person. Big time messed up. Bad girl, doing all the bad stuff. All I knew was I wanted to follow Jesus and give my life to him. To me that meant "getting it all right." All the "thou shalts" and the commandments. I mean, it does say that if you love him you will keep his commandments. So, there was my goal. I worked really hard at being a "good Christian." If I made mistakes I was afraid I wouldn't fit into this Christian world. That I wouldn't be loved by Jesus or by my fellow believers. I also wanted and expected other Christians to be on this same path--always becoming more obedient, more perfect. I was shocked they didn't want to immediately change their actions and clean up their act like I was trying to do. I know now that it was legalistic, but I want to offer up a defense for my thoughts.
I think when you first become a Christian you suddenly see who you are and how far off the track you are. You meet Christ and see his life and you know you don't measure up. You're used to thinking in a worldly way not in a biblical way. Scripture can be confusing. It's a challenge to even identify who Christ is. Is he the man who used a whip to drive the sellers from his temple? He says feed the poor but let's Mary use the expensive perfume on his feet. And the really scary thing was reading that people paid a big price for wrong actions in biblical times. Ananias and Sephira paid with their lives as did the poor guy who tried to keep the ark of the covenant from falling. Yikes, I need to get this Christian life right! See what I mean?
I think it is a little like the necessity of your physical body needing to respond when you have cut yourself. You instantly know something isn't right and your body and mind go into overdrive. You have to assess the damage and decide what steps you need to take. That response is healthy and necessary for life. In the same way I think when you first become a Christian some of us had to get over the legalistic "startle reflex" of seeing the wrong and immediately going into judgment/fix it mode. As you get to know Jesus more, you can take the time to see the wrong and then decide how Jesus sees the wrong--how Jesus sees the person first.
I do think we have to call sin sin. That's love too. But the how and why and when -- that's got to be done in God's truth and love and wisdom. Not in my tiny world thinking.
I'm a really sloooooow learner. But,thankfully I am learning and growing, and most importantly, I'm getting to know Jesus and not trying so hard to be perfect in the rules, but perfect in him.

Robin

Anonymous said...

I thought Robin’s story was inspiring. When the Spirit comes upon you to trust in the Lord with all your mind and heart, well, this is the time to jump in the river of life with both feet, with no looking back. God says, “My ways are not your ways,” so – in my opinion - using caution regarding doing what God commands doesn’t have to be a standard course of action as we’re learning the blessings of following some of God’s “ways,” especially the ones Jesus gave to his followers in the Gospels. Jesus is the Journeyman and his disciples are like apprentices learning to behold all things new.

Although words like “guidelines” and “rules of the program” – as Pastor Randy mentioned - would today be met with cooperation by Christians who have God’s own Spirit within them, I think in Old Testament times nothing short of God’s “Law” could get the Hebrew’s attention that what God said to do or not do was absolute, unconditional and fixed, i.e. no exceptions. However I suppose a clause in the Sabbath Day law (number four) regarding the words “work” and “labor” – if it made an allowance for benevolent activity on the Sabbath - would have been helpful. Although any activity done on the Sabbath might have ended up being labeled as benevolent if such were the case.

One of the church’s programs, the Youth program, already has to do with people, doesn’t it? However I suppose even the youth program could be cut back in financial terms as an example for the rest of the church to be willing to function more frugally. Gary

Pastor Randy said...

Robin,

Thanks for sharing your journey with us, and I agree with Gary that your journey does not seem "unspiritual" to me. A journey is a time of learning and of growth, a time of wonderful vistas and tough trails.

Let's just keep following and trusting and remembering that we are not traveling alone.

Anonymous said...

Hi again Pastor, I looked up this passage you mentioned from 2 Chronicles 52:14 to read it. I like this thought about the presence of the Lord being so strong the priests couldn’t do their job. I, too, at times, can find it hard to get my work done! Maybe this is why. Just kidding.

Apparently chapter 52 is a typo. No chapter 52 in my Bible. 2 Ch 7:2 is one place where it talks about the Lord’s presence filling the temple. Where were you reading? Gary

Pastor Randy said...

Thanks for catching the typo: It should read 2 Chronicles 5:13-14.

I made the change. Thanks again!