“. . . that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us; that the world may believe you did send me.” John 17:21
In John 17:21, Jesus is making a huge request of his Father, “that they may all be one.” Jesus is asking for his followers to be unified behind a bold endeavor to reach the world with the good news. At the end of this verse, Jesus gives his reasoning for such a bold prayer: “that the world may believe that you did send me.”
Aha. If we look at this prayer simply, Jesus is asking for a basic, “If God grants X, the result will be Y.” The X is unity, the Y is that belief in God, and in his son, will flourish. Again, quite simple.
Jesus no doubt knew division would be a temptation, and he was right. In the early days of the apostles, we see Paul calling out Peter (Gal. 2:11) for distancing himself from Gentile Christians. Division, right? And in Acts 15, we see Jewish Christians telling the Gentiles to obey the Mosaic Law (Acts 15). More division.
One more example, one which pertains directly to us comes again from Paul, in Phil. 4:2-3. Here, Paul encourages both Euodia and Syntyche—two women who Paul says, “shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel”—to live in harmony. Apparently, two good people had become divided.
And this is the point. Good people—even in our work—can at times lose a bit of focus, leading to division. Often, this is because these people are driven to change things, to make the world better. They might have strong opinions, which is hardly a negative characteristic. Attempting to do good, they charge forward—sometimes not realizing they’ve failed to bring others along by taking the time to explain their thinking or listen to other thoughts and opinions.
I wonder if this is what happened to Euodia and Syntyche. And they weren’t the only two. Remember our friend Paul? He split from Barnabas over a disagreement about Mark’s ability to serve (Acts 15:36-39). Thankfully, we never see the two share sharp words publicly, and later (II Tim. 4:11), we see Paul asking for Mark, the very man he once thought would slow his work.
Jesus saw unity as vital, because he understood that it would be our unity—our “stick togetherness”—which would capture the world’s attention.
Yes, there are times when we must separate ourselves from toxic situations and people. Our friend Paul dealt with this, telling Timothy (I Tim. 1:18-19) that two men, Hymenaeus and Alexander, shipwrecked their own faith to the point that Paul disconnected from both.
But before we divide, let’s ask ourselves, “Is this situation as important as the gospel itself?” If it isn’t, let’s talk through the issue and find unity. While we have differing denominations and beliefs on many issues, this does not mean we can’t remain united.
Because when we are united, belief in Jesus will flourish. Jesus prayed for us, that this will happen. Let’s stay united, and answer his prayer.
by Kirk Walden, Advancement Specialist
“. . . but rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do.” Acts 9:6
When we think of the word, “repentance,” we often think of confessing sins, feelings of guilt (perhaps shame?), and determining never to do that—whatever the “that” might be—again. This isn’t wrong of course. It’s important that we “confess our sins to one another,” and that we understand doing wrong is not good for us or anyone else.
But . . . can we also consider the possibility that when it comes to repentance, we can sometimes dwell too much on the guilt, the feelings of remorse, the frustrations with how we fell short of expectations?
I put before us Exhibit A, a man named Saul. He would soon become Paul, the greatest writer of the New Testament. He will also declare to us (in a letter he penned to Timothy) that he is the “foremost” or “chief” of all sinners.
On a road to Damascus (on his way to persecute more Christians, by the way), our friend Saul was felled to the ground and blinded by a bright light, courtesy of one Jesus, the Christ. Smart guy that he was, Saul referred to the person who blinded him as “Lord.” Good call, Saul.
Saul asked this Lord, “Who are you?”
The answer? “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” Oh. If you’re Saul, this is not good news to hear.
So, what kind of “repentance” did Jesus ask for? Was it sackcloth and ashes? A prayer of repentance? An acknowledgement of sins? How about a simple apology, as in, “Gosh, I’m persecuting the wrong people here! I’ve been on the wrong team all along!”
Remember friends, this is the chief of all sinners. As in, Number One. If anyone needs to do some serious, “I am a worm and not a man” repentance, it’s Saul.
But Jesus asks for none of this. Instead Jesus says, “but rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told what you must do.”
In other words, Jesus is saying, “You’re on my team now. No time for looking back. Let’s get you started.”
What does Saul do? He is taken to Ananias, who lays hands on Saul and restores his sight. From there, Saul is filled with the spirit of God and is baptized. Just after these events, we see Saul spending time with the disciples and proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God.
The lesson? Saul didn’t let his past hold him back from advancing the good news. His version of repentance was about shifting his thinking from persecuting to going.
The question we must ask ourselves? “Is there something in my past which I believe still needs my attention, something which is holding me back from sharing the hope I’ve found?”
If we think we still must dwell on our past, perhaps it’s time to be more like Saul. Let’s let it go. Let’s listen to Jesus, who tells us “rise and go.”
Acknowledging our past has its place. Saul—when he became Paul—did so more than once. Yet, Paul only pointed out his past with brief glances. Paul’s focus was forward, on the “rise and go” aspect of repentance. It’s a lesson we can always keep in mind, because all of us have places to rise and go. Let’s not waste time gazing on the rear-view mirror. Instead, let’s go.
“Whatever city you enter and they receive you, eat what is set before you; and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” Luke 10: 8-9
The story of Jesus sending out the 70 recently captured my attention, making me say, “Why not us?”
I can identify with the 70 more easily than with the twelve, for whatever reason. Maybe it is because we gave the twelve special titles. They are “apostles,” after all. I don’t think I qualify.
But the 70? They were hanging around Jesus from just a bit more distance. The 70 probably knew the 12 but when the big stuff happened, they were on the outskirts. But in Luke 10, the 70 take center stage.
Jesus called the 70 together to create His “advance team,” for lack of a better word. Their mission? Go to cities where Jesus was going, proclaiming peace as they entered. Then, with no Jesus around to help, they were to heal the sick and say those words Jesus said so often, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”
Wow. What a calling.
Jesus asked these 70 to go into homes and say, “Peace be to this house,” (in other words, simply be kind), to eat anything put in front of them (meet people where they are, regardless of traditions), and as we just mentioned, heal the sick (find the wounded and cure them).
Jesus didn’t ask them to go barreling into someone’s home and declare them sinners, nor did He ask the 70 to begin any interaction with an agenda to “fix” anyone. Their mission was all about the good news--God’s kingdom was so close they could almost touch it.
The only rebuke Jesus called for was if a city rejected the kindness and goodness the 70 offered.
In our work, we often feel an urgency to “help” our clients see the error of their ways. Perhaps, on the rarest of occasions, this may be appropriate. But perhaps we are more like the 70.
When a client or patient comes in our door, what if she found peace in our speech and actions? What if, like the 70, we sought healing for the many emotional wounds she carries?
And what if—like the 70—we found a modern-day version of the phrase, “The kingdom of God has come near to you?”
Sometimes, a hurting client with the odds stacked against her needs to know, “No matter what you see, I promise you, God is on your side. He is for you. Even now, give Him a chance to help. He won’t let you down.”
The 70 came back with stories which amazed even Jesus. Apparently, they did something right—these 70 who weren’t even in the “inner circle.” You know what? Maybe we can do the same. We start with peace, meeting our clients where they are. Then, we add healing and a simple message: The kingdom of God has come near to you.
It might just work, even today.
by Kirk Walden, Advancement SpecialistHeartbeat International
“Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” Luke 19:5B
Jesus would have been lousy at Instagram. While Jesus would have millions of followers, likes and shares on any social media site, something tells me He wouldn’t have spent much time trying to get the perfect photo to share or musing on creating a viral meme.
And when we look carefully at Jesus’ ministry, He never appeared interested in the big numbers. Instead, he almost always focused on the “one,” or only a few.
Yes, Jesus spoke to hundreds and even thousands, but we never see Jesus trying to pull together a crowd. There were no banners proclaiming, “Jesus to Speak on the Mount Today! Don’t Miss it!” If crowds showed up, Jesus didn’t turn them away. But most of Jesus’ most memorable moments took place with one person here, a small group there.
Think about it. Jesus chose just twelve disciples. Many others followed and were disciples as well, but Jesus zeroed in on just twelve. We see story after story of Jesus healing one blind man, only ten lepers, one boy possessed by a spirit, one centurion’s servant, one blind man, one man suffering from dropsy. We could go on—the list is long.
And Jesus’ stories? He told us of one lost sheep, one good Samaritan, one prodigal son and his relationship with one loving father.
Jesus spoke to one woman at a well, one curious Nicodemus, and called out for one Zaccheus, almost lost in a huge crowd.
Yes, Jesus fed thousands. He healed . . . who knows how many? But at His core, the good news Jesus talked about spread because of one here, one there. Because of Jesus’ focus on the “one,” He earned the trust and love of the thousands.
As we serve those we see, we likely wonder sometimes whether we’ve made much of a difference. One came in the other day and we’re not sure we reached her. Another made a life decision, but we can’t know for certain what her future holds. We wonder, is our work truly making a “big” impact?
Jesus knew how to make a “big” impact. He reached one here. Then, he walked for miles and reached one more. Then, another. And another. By doing so, He created a blueprint for us in the pregnancy help community—one we follow each day.
We don’t know if following this model will make us social media influencers or draw crowds of people desperate to hear us speak. But we do know this model is Jesus-inspired. And, regardless of whether we see instant results, connecting with the one brings God-sized results.
So when the Samaritans came to Him, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. John 4:40
The story of the Woman at the Well is familiar to all of us. We often think about this story in terms of Jesus reaching out to someone struggling in relationships and life in general. And we consider how Jesus chose this woman to reveal Himself as the Messiah.
It is a story of love, hope and new beginnings.
And, it is a story of a common-sense approach to racial reconciliation, a great need in our culture today.
The Woman at the Well was a Samaritan, and we know mainline Jews never talked to Samaritans. Upstanding Jews never traveled through Samaritan areas, never connected with Samaritans, had no place for them in their synagogues.
But Jesus cut through all of this, building a bridge of connection with five powerful actions.
Jews went around Samaritan villages, not through them. But Jesus made it his mission to go into Samaria and connect with the woman at the well.
Starting with a simple request for water, Jesus engaged the Samaritan woman in conversation. He never judged, never pushed his opinion on her. He let her do as much talking as He—a great lesson for all of us.
When the Samaritan woman tried to bring Jesus into a debate about theological issues (“You people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship”), Jesus didn’t take the bait. Instead, He focused on bigger issues (“An hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.”).
By not debating the smaller matter of where to worship, Jesus could zero in on the major issue--Who to worship. In doing so, Jesus opened the door for anyone—including the Samaritan woman—to join Jesus’ team.
When the Samaritan woman told Jesus she knew the “Messiah is coming,” Jesus didn’t hold back, sharing with her that He was the One she was looking for. Because we’re talking about Jesus, it’s easy to overlook: Jesus was taking a risk. She could have laughed at him. She could have argued with him. She could have walked away in dismissal, even if still wondering how Jesus found out about her background of having five husbands.
Because we know the rest of the story, we know she went to her city, proclaiming that she may have met the Messiah. Through her story, many followed Jesus. But it all started because Jesus was willing to risk sharing His identity.
The story of the Samaritan woman doesn’t end with her going back to her village. A few verses later we see the Samaritans asking Jesus to stay with them. Jesus moved quickly from place to place, but for two days—a long time for Jesus—he stayed in a land forbidden to Jews.
Simply put, Jesus stuck around to invest in the community. While there, “many believed because of His word.”
In today’s chaotic world, we can become overwhelmed with the news of the day, believing society’s problems are too big, too complex to solve. They aren’t.
As we serve those who come in our door, we know that—regardless of our color—we will serve those who don’t look like us or believe like we do. Differing backgrounds often create differing world views.
Jesus is our example for how we approach these situations. First, He went out of his way to find those different from Him. From there, He started a conversation, didn’t leap in to take a side when a tough subject came up, risked transparency . . . and He invested in a community which was not His own.
And, He changed the world.
And after that, He went out, and noticed a tax-gatherer named Levi, sitting in the tax office, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he left everything behind, and rose and began to follow him. - Luke 5:27-28
The calling of Matthew is as simple as it gets. In Luke’s account, Jesus is only passing by Matthew’s office when he says, “Follow me.” That’s it. From there, Matthew hops up and follows. Easy, right?
But wait a minute. Why did Matthew follow? No one this side of Heaven knows for sure.
We know only one piece of information on Matthew, that he was a tax collector. On the plus side, tax collecting was lucrative work, because tax gatherers like Matthew normally extracted more from the taxpayer than the owed amount. They kept the extra drachmas and denarii for themselves. This practice didn’t win friendships, but it certainly paid the bills.
. . . and were preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans. But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Arise and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road). Acts 8:25B -26
We know the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, right? Philip is called by the spirit of God to approach the eunuch, who happens to be reading from the book of Isaiah. A brief conversation ensues and the eunuch—amazingly—wants to be baptized and join Jesus’ family of followers.
It’s a great story of Philip hearing from an angel, then obeying the prompting of the spirit.
But what happens before this episode may be more important than we might think. Isn’t it interesting that just before the angel speaks to Philip, the apostles and crew were sharing the good news with Samaritans?
Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which means, ‘God is with us.’” Matthew 1:23
While some Bible translations tell us the word “Immanuel” means, “God with us,” many include the word “is” in the text, giving us a literal translation of Immanuel as “God is with us.” This is fascinating, because we can see the translational challenges even in the version I use most, the New American Standard Bible.
I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers, night and day. Longing to see you, even as I recall your tears, that I may be filled with joy. -- 2 Timothy 1:3-4
Suddenly the new phrase, “Social Distancing” is an integral part of our culture’s vocabulary, thanks to a pandemic none of us expected.
In a recent Heartbeat International staff meeting however, our staff was considering another way of thinking about this new catchphrase. Instead of saying, “social distancing,” we’re inviting ourselves to say, “Physical distancing and social connecting.”
So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” Nehemiah 6:3
As Nehemiah and his workers closed in on rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem, his mockers—Sanballat and Geshem—sent a message to Nehemiah, asking for a conference. Why? Because they were afraid of his coming success. As Nehemiah points out, they wanted to stop the work—and harm him in the process.
Preparing to write this piece, a text message popped up on my phone from the executive director of one of our fellow pregnancy help centers. The ministry is under attack from a local abortion-advocacy group, which posted on its Instagram page, “Fake Clinics Love Lying.” In the post, they point directly to her pregnancy help center as a main culprit.
Welcome to the Sanballats and Geshems of today’s world.
Friends, if we’re effective at our calling, we’ve either experienced this first-hand or we are about to.
When we love our clients so much that they find hope and the courage to carry on through an incredibly challenging pregnancy, the opposition takes notice.
The opposition first tries mockery. We see this in Nehemiah when Tobiah the Ammonite saw the work starting and said, “Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!” (Neh. 4:3)
Years ago, the pregnancy help community faced the same. Those who profit from ending pregnancies saw us as nothing but a nuisance. They had their big money from the federal trough, and hardly noticed us. They would glance our way and laugh—then go about their lucrative business.
Not today. Now, the abortion lobby is nervous, rightfully concerned we are winning the hearts of the regular people who were always uncomfortable with abortion but saw nowhere else to turn. Now that we are building our wall, a wall which those facing unexpected pregnancies can come inside for safety from those who would prey upon them for profit, we threaten the opposition’s existence.
Whether it is Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, magazines or online “investigations,” the opposition sends its message: “Come down off your wall. Engage with us and distract yourself from all you seek to accomplish.”
Yes, there are times we must engage and provide wise responses. Jesus did this when needed.
But far more often, our answer must be, “I am doing a great work and cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?”
Our calling? Keep doing the great work. And when the attacks inevitably come our way, our modern response might be to look down from our perch on the wall and say, “I ain’t got time for that.”
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