I attended a leadership meeting for our local church this past Saturday. The high point of the meeting was a 40 minute cut of the 98 minute video entitled “Father of Lights.” The movie was filmed by Darren Wilson and produced under his “Wanderlust Productions” label. The credits describe it as “incredible (and often historic) spiritual encounters around the world, which cut through religious misconceptions in an effort to find the true nature and character of God.” I actually was privileged to view the full length film a few weeks ago at our men’s prayer meeting; but the portion played this past weekend focused on three segments which demonstrated God’s unconditional love to people around the world who did not yet know their Creator. The “stars” of each segment were ordinary Christians, who chose to see Jesus in each person they met and His higher purpose for their lives.
The first segment involved a married Christian couple with three young boys living a comfortable life in America, the fruit of the husband’s successful career as a bank VP. An encounter with the living God led them to sell their home, give all their other possessions away and move to China, into a run-down, rat-infested apartment.. Not being able to speak a word of the language, they started by forming relationships with some of the local care agencies. Living day-to-day and relying totally on God to meet their needs, they were able to found a home to take unwanted needy kids off the streets, and introduce the love and compassion of God to each one personally.
The second segment focused on three different Christians in the Middle East, Asia and Africa who suffered severe physical and emotional persecution for their faith. Each spoke of experiencing Jesus’ loving presence, joy and peace, even as they suffered in body – an experience similar to the one described in the 7th chapter of the Book of Acts, as Stephen was being martyred: … they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him.… And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
The third segment was of a former drug addict, now set free to minister God’s saving and healing power throughout the world. This white man in blond dreadlocks boldly wandered the streets of the Middle East, praying for Muslims, seeing God perform miracle after miracle, while introducing many to Jesus.
I was attending a leadership meeting; yet here we were, all watching a video on servitude: serving God and serving the most needy, lost and hurting people in His creation. What a contrast: that Christian leadership (authority) is juxtaposed with a servant’s heart. I couldn’t help but think about this and many of the other incredible contrasts that define a true Christian: like power and persecution or strength and weakness or love and justice. The list goes on and on, but in this week’s blog I just wanted to expand a little on the first one.
The Incredible Contrast of Authority and Servitude
I am a firm advocate of the authority of the believer. I also understand a lot of other Christians aren’t as keen on this as I am. Since God is sovereign (a fact no Christian would dispute), many don’t accept that He would delegate any of His authority to one of His creation. But with a simplistic mind, I accept all of Jesus’ statements as true, like the ones below that indicate that not only did Jesus have all authority, but he delegated some elements of that authority to His apostles and disciples and they in turn, over the centuries “passed the baton” to us.
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. Luke 9:1-2
Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” And He said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:17-20
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Mark 16:15-20
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it. John 14:12-14
Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. 2 Corinthians 5:20
And the apostles and disciples passed it on to us. For example, notice that Paul passed the baton of the Gospel to a faithful individual, a young man named Timothy, and then told him to do the same: “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” 2 Timothy 2:2
But even a firm advocate of the authority of the believer like myself, must recognize that, for our authority to be effective, our character must mirror that of Jesus Christ. And He came to serve, not to be served.
But Jesus called them [His Apostles] to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28
I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Acts 20:35
Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 1 Peter 4:9-10
So, why do some Scriptures in the Bible tell us we have authority over the enemy; that we are to take up arms against the enemy, to withstand the adversary against all his attacks, to defeat him in the battlefield and destroy his evil works. Why do other Scriptures tell us to love those who spitefully use us, to give our shirt to the man who forcibly removes and takes our coat.
The answer evolves around an understanding of who is the real enemy? It’s not your spouse or your parents or your kids – even though they may give you a hard time occasionally. It’s not any government, neither your own or a foreign one – though they may persecute you or treat you unfairly and may be under the enemy’s influence. It’s not even that religious fanatic who may want to blow up your airplane because their sacred text says that’s how they reach paradise. No human being is our enemy. No! Our real enemies are spirit beings – the leader by the name of Satan and all his demonic cohorts. That’s who we, as Christians have authority over in the Name of Jesus – the enemy who we are to take up the sword of the Spirit against – who we are to stand up to.
On the other hand, we have an obligation to be servants to others and to demonstrate to the world the love of Christ, by loving one another and them. By showing kindness and compassion to even those who misunderstand us, who hate us and who treat us unkindly, we emulate the character of our Lord and Savior. Not every adversary is an enemy. Our human adversaries we are called to be ambassadors toward, showing them the way to a better life in Christ. For a servant’s love conquers the heart that is not hardened. And the heart that rejects even a servant’s love has no excuse for the eternal consequences.
A couple weeks ago, James Robison, founder of Life International Ministries interviewed Christian author and journalist Philip Yancey on his TV show. He also included an excerpt from Yancey’s latest book in his weekly newsletter, which I felt was apropos to round out this discussion.
Surprised By Happiness, (An excerpt from Where Is God When It Hurts?)
Jesus captured succinctly the paradoxical nature of life in his one statement most repeated in the Gospels: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Such a statement goes against the search for “self-fulfillment” in advanced psychology — which turns out not to be advanced enough. Christianity offers the further insight that true fulfillment comes, not through ego satisfaction, but through service to others. And that brings me to the last illustration of the pain/pleasure principle: the Christian concept of service.
In my career as a journalist, I have interviewed diverse people. Looking back, I can roughly divide them into two types: stars and servants. The stars included NFL football greats, movie actors, music performers, famous authors, TV personalities, and the like. These are the people who dominate our magazines and our television programs. We fawn over them, pouring over the minutiae of their lives: the clothes they wear, the food they eat, the aerobic routines they follow, the people they love, the toothpaste they use.
Yet I must tell you that, in my limited experience, these “idols” are as miserable a group of people as I have ever met. Most have troubled or broken marriages. Nearly all are hopelessly dependent on psychotherapy. In a heavy irony, these larger-than-life heroes seemed tormented by an incurable self-doubt.
I also spent time with servants. People like Dr. Paul Brand, who worked for twenty years among the poorest of the poor, leprosy patients in rural India. Or health workers who left high-paying jobs to serve with Mendenhall Ministries in a backwater town of Mississippi. Or relief workers in Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, or other such repositories of world-class human suffering. Or the Ph.D.’s scattered throughout the jungles of South America translating the Bible into obscure languages.
I was prepared to honor and admire these servants, to hold them up as inspiring examples. I was not, however, prepared to envy them. But as I now reflect on the two groups side-by-side, stars and servants, the servants clearly emerge as the favored ones, the graced ones. They work for low pay, long hours, and no applause, “wasting” their talents and skills among the poor and uneducated. But somehow in the process of living their lives they have found them. They have received the “peace that is not of this world.”
When I think of the great churches I have visited, what comes to mind is not an image of a cathedral in Europe. These are mere museums now. Instead, I think of the chapel at Carville, of an inner-city church in Newark with crumbling plaster and a leaky roof, of a mission church in Santiago, Chile, made of concrete block and corrugated iron. In these places, set amidst human misery, I have seen Christian love abound.
The leprosarium in Carville, Louisiana, offers a wonderful example of this principle in action. A government agency bought the property and promised to develop it, but could find no one to clear the roads, repair the plantation’s slave cabins, or drain the swamps. The stigma of leprosy kept everyone away.
Finally an order of nuns, the Sisters of Charity, moved to Carville to nurse the leprosy patients. Getting up two hours before daybreak, wearing starched white uniforms in bayou heat, these nuns lived under a more disciplined rule that any Marine boot camp. But they alone proved willing to do the work. They dug ditches, laid foundations for buildings, and made Carville livable, all the while glorifying God and bringing joy to the patients. They learned perhaps the deepest level of pain/pleasure association in life, that of sacrificial service.
If I spend my life searching for happiness through drugs, comfort, and luxury, it will elude me. “Happiness recedes from those who pursue her.” Happiness will come upon me unexpectedly as a by-product, a surprising bonus for something I have invested myself in. And, most likely, that investment will include pain. It is hard to imagine pleasure without it.