Monday, April 15, 2013

I Have a Dream

   I Corinthians 12:4-7 "There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord.  And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.  But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all."
   Isaiah 2:2 "Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills: and all nations shall flow to it."
   Revelation 7:9,10 "After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues, standing before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"
     I dream of a day that we no longer gather around a particular doctrine or a favorite minister or even under a denominational flag.  I dream of a day that we no longer gravitate toward people of the same skin color or personality type.  I dream of a day when Christ Himself will be the center of attention, a day when diversity is celebrated in the presence of the King, a day when unity is redefined by the Spirit of God who unites His people by manifesting the multi-faceted glory of Christ in our midst.  And not just when we get to heaven; when we allow the love that defines the culture of heaven to invade our hearts and re-shape our gatherings here on earth. 
     I'm not talking about doing away with organizations or abolishing doctrinal statements or removing ministers from the pulpit.  I'm talking about a monumental shift in what motivates us to be connected to the body of Christ.  For instance, do you attend "the church of your choice" because you happen to believe the same things that are taught from the pulpit?  Or maybe your children like the kids' ministry and/or there is ministry available for your teenagers.  Or is it because there are adequate restrooms and parking, enjoyable music, comfortable chairs or a pastor whose personality clicks with yours?
     Perhaps you enjoy the prevailing teaching style or the predominant order of worship and traditions that are practiced.  Or maybe you go to a particular church because that's where your family attends or because it is down the street from your house or because you happen to be the same race as those attending.  You might even attend your church because your paycheck depends on it. 
     The motivations are endless but allow me to provoke your thinking with these questions:  since when did consumer Christianity trump the leading of the Spirit in our lives?  When did it become our right and responsibility to "church shop" based on our preferences and desires?  Does the lordship of Christ pertain to our spiritual relationships or not?  I believe that it most emphatically does!
     If Christ is "the head of the church," and he is, and if God "sets the members in the body just as he pleases," and He does, then shouldn't we seek His guidance when it comes to connecting with the body of Christ?  Do we really think we know what is best for our lives without conferring with the Father?  Left to our own judgment, our tendency is to allow our comfort level to dictate our involvement with other believers.  That's why it is easier to attend a church consisting of people who look, talk, sing and act just like you.  Unfortunately, this might not be God's best, especially in light of the diversity of gifts that he wants to manifest to all of us.  If our church life focuses on just a few of God's bountiful gifts, we limit the revelation of Jesus in our lives and often grow in unbalanced ways.
     May I submit to you that the American church at-large has been influenced far too much by the free enterprise, competitive market-driven business culture and far too little by the all-inclusive love-motivated atmosphere of heaven.  It seems that local churches attract potential clients/members by the brand of Christianity and the caliber of programs they have to offer versus the love that invites others into covenant relationships.  Don't get me wrong.  There's nothing wrong with talent, excellence, creativity and organization when it comes to ministering to the needs of people, provided that love is the motivation behind all of our "spiritual commerce."  The temptation is for us to get the cart ahead of the horse, and when this is the case we fall into the rut of a false sense of unity that ultimately separates us from the diversity God has sanctioned for us to grow into His fullness.
     There are tremendous benefits to connecting with people who are not like you, primarily because it is God's way of breaking you out of your comfort zone, which greatly limits your spiritual growth and usefulness.  And this starts with the humble recognition that you don't have all truth or giftedness that entire body of Christ has to offer and that you need others to help you along your journey.  This same humility also helps you recognize what you have been given by God and your responsibility to minister that to others.  This applies to individuals, pastors, churches and denominations.
     My challenge to you is to surrender your spiritual relationships to the Lord, allowing His lordship to establish your connection to the church as He intends.  The Lord might lay it on your heart to make personal connections within the organization you are already involved with.  Personal relationships are a great way to exchange spiritual life and giftedness through healthy fellowship.  Or perhaps you should submit your usefulness to serve in a ministry department within your church.  Some of you may even have a desire to start a brand new ministry that involves you reaching out to others in a specific way.
     For those of you are really up for a challenge, consider how you can expand your current comfort level by engaging in a relationship with a believer who attends a different denomination than you.  Don't focus on your differences; share the life of Christ that you have in common.  As the relationship develops you can learn from each other without forcing personal beliefs on one another. 
     For pastors who may be reading this, maybe you should take another pastor out for lunch who believes differently than you.  Rather than arguing about doctrine, look for ways you can encourage eath other.  Or maybe you should invite a guest speaker to your church who has a ministry that is foreign to your church culture, and yet biblical.  This will equip people in your church with a greater appreciation for the diversity God has placed within his body, which is the exact thing we need to mature in Christ. 
     Venturing into new territory can be a little nerve-racking, but if we follow the Spirit in this regard we won't be disappointed.  The fullness of Christ will be revealed to us, formed within us and released through our lives to those in our sphere of influence.  Jesus said that "the world would know we are his disciples by our love for one another."  It's one thing for the Baptists to get along, but when Baptists and Methodists and Church of God folk start getting along and cross-pollinating the way God desires, we will experience the greatest harvest of souls we have ever seen!
     All of creation reveals the diversity of God.  Just look around and you will notice the limitless splendor of our God in animal life, plant life and in everything else He has created.  Don't believe for a minute that the church of Jesus Christ is any different!  One day we will all worship God in heaven together in a spirit of unity that is fueled by our passion for the Lord.  Don't live the lie that we can't experience that on this side of heaven.  We absolutely can!  With man this is impossible, but with the Spirit of God leading us into our destiny, we will achieve a level of diversified unity that will be a magnet for the world to be attracted to our great God!

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