God Running is a place for anyone who wants to (or even anyone who wants to want to) love Jesus more deeply, follow Jesus more closely, and love people the way Jesus wants us to.
In our last post from the book of Acts we discussed how Paul suffered well, and how Jesus suffered well, and how we who follow Jesus can suffer well, as a part of God’s process of making us more into the likeness of Christ. If you’re interested you can learn more here: Suffering Like Jesus — Acts 14:19-23.
As I write this, it’s a little more than a week since Thanksgiving, and I still have gratitude and giving thanks on my mind. And where we’re at in the book of Acts corresponds with the idea of gratitude and giving thanks. So today we’ll look at how Paul gave thanks, and we’ll explore the implications for you and for me.
Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they remained no little time with the disciples.Acts 14:24-28
So sometime after Paul was stoned and left for dead, he and Barnabas make their way back to Antioch, the church where they had been sent out from in the first place. And when they arrived, they gathered the church together, and they shared all that God had done with them, and how God was actively reaching the hearts and minds of the Gentiles. And they stayed there, investing a good long time with the disciples there in Antioch.
Criticizing the Work?
As I read this passage, I was struck by the tone of Paul’s report. It seems that he and Barnabas shared about the good things God did during their long trip. But Paul’s focus could have looked like this:
- “You know John said he was going to help us, but we were just barely getting started and he abandoned us.” (Acts 13:13)
- “And then there’s the thing in Antioch, where people stirred up a bunch of rumors and kicked us out of the area.” (Acts 13:50)
- “And then in Iconium they made a plot to stone us! Unbelievable.” (Acts 14:2)
- “And then in Lystra they did stone one of us, me, Paul. It was horrible. I barely made it out of there alive.” (Acts 14:19-23)
“Let me tell you something, that was the worst trip ever.”
Taking Inventory on the Good
I had a conversation recently with one of my best friends. He had just done a bunch of research on a certain Christian denomination. This particular denomination is relatively small, less than 10 million people, and relatively new, just less than 100 years old. My friend commented that during his online investigation he only found one real scandal involving this particular church organization.
I was impressed, not as much with the denomination as I was impressed with my friend. That type of assessment is what I see from my all my friends who most resemble Jesus, the ones who follow him most closely.
Some people might have taken that one scandal and painted the entire denomination with one big scandalous broad brush. I see atheists do that frequently on social media. They firmly fix their focus on Judas and dismiss the other eleven disciples, as it were. But my friend didn’t do that. He looked at the whole entire history, both good and bad. This mature approach offers a more realistic perspective and provides context.
After reading today’s text and after listening to my friend’s evaluation I started thinking about other denominations and I had a bit of an epiphany.
The New Denomination Founded by You and Me
So let’s say you and I decide to start a new denomination. I would say, at this point we’re pretty spectacular! Assuming neither of us has any skeletons in our closets we’re scandal free. Of course, there’s only two of us, so, things are pretty manageable. But then tomorrow comes and we encounter a friend. With great excitement we tell him about our new denomination and he enthusiastically joins up. The day after that our friend shows up with one of his friends who also wants to join. You and I know nothing about this new friend, but the nature of our business is reconciling sinners to God through Christ so, of course we welcome him with open arms. The day after that the friend of our friend shows up with three of his friends. These three are also strangers to us but of course we welcome them too.
Within a few weeks we’re up to fifty people. Within a few years we’ve attracted over 1,000.
We’re overwhelmed because it’s just you and I running this organization and we need help. So we do our best to find good leaders and we appoint them into appropriate positions.
Another few decades into the future and we’ve grown to over 20,000 people. We have twenty churches spread out around the United States and we have five church plants in process.
Over the course of those few decades we’ve experienced an erosion of our organizational awareness. The bigger our organization becomes and the older our organization becomes the more difficult it is to keep our finger on the pulse of what’s happening. We love Jesus but we’re only human you and I. And eventually we make a mistake. We hire the wrong leader. He appeared to be a genuine Jesus follower. We were so sure he was a big beautiful fruit bearing plant, but he turned out to be a tare, a weed instead of genuine wheat.
After a few more decades pass, you and I pass too. We die. We go the way of all the earth. Of course we now have zero influence or control over our denomination. It’s up to those we left behind. Over the next half century the growth continues into the millions. More tares are planted into leadership positions. One tare rises very high in the organization and he hires more tares. Eventually this is corrected but not until significant damage is done.
The Problems Presented by Size and Age
So I see now just how profound it was, the way Paul presented the work of God to the believers in Antioch. Paul didn’t take inventory on the problems, or the difficulties, or the pain they suffered. He shared about the fruit that was born. He talked about how God was reaching the hearts and minds of the Gentiles.
My close friend took inventory on the good when he was evaluating the information he gathered about a particular denomination.
When I’m considering a Christian denomination, I now see how important it is to take into consideration how much opportunity the organization has had for experiencing problems. All else being equal, newer smaller organizations have a smaller probability of experiencing problems and scandal and bad leaders and tares in different positions in their denomination. Older larger denominations have a proportionally larger probability of experiencing problems and scandal and bad leaders and tares.
When you and I founded our hypothetical denomination the day came when we both realized — we’re only human you and I.
Like Paul, and like my friend who shared his research with me, I need to take inventory on the good God is doing. And to be fair, I need to keep in mind the age and size of the denominations and ministries I might be evaluating.
They’ll all have problems. The older and larger, the more problems they’ll have.
Because the people who make up all the different Christian denominations and Christian organizations, like you and like me, they’re just human after all.
Available on Amazon!
Love Like Jesus: How Jesus Loved People (and how you can love like Jesus)
Love Like Jesus begins with the story of how after a life of regular church attendance and Bible study, Bennett was challenged by a pastor to study Jesus. That led to an obsessive seven year deep dive. After pouring over Jesus’ every interaction with another human being, he realized he was doing a much better job of studying Jesus’ words than he was following Jesus’ words and example. The honest and fearless revelations of Bennett’s own moral failures affirm he wrote this book for himself as much as for others.
Love Like Jesus examines a variety of stories, examples, and research, including:
- Specific examples of how Jesus communicated God’s love to others.
- How Jesus demonstrated all five of Gary Chapman’s love languages (and how you can too).
- The story of how Billy Graham extended Christ’s extraordinary love and grace toward a man who misrepresented Jesus to millions.
- How to respond to critics the way Jesus did.
- How to love unlovable people the way Jesus did.
- How to survive a life of loving like Jesus (or how not to become a Christian doormat).
- How Jesus didn’t love everyone the same (and why you shouldn’t either).
- How Jesus guarded his heart by taking care of himself–he even napped–and why you should do the same.
- How Jesus loved his betrayer Judas, even to the very end.
With genuine unfiltered honesty, Love Like Jesus, shows you how to live a life according to God’s definition of success: A life of loving God well, and loving the people around you well too.
A life of loving like Jesus.
Hi Kurt, look into one of Francis Chan’s recent books about leaving a big congregation and going back to small group/life group style worship in homes. If we don’t have that we can lose it all. Week after week we can go into a big, beautiful church, worship and go home and not say anything but “Hi” to another. How to live, how to be a friend, how to do life is so much more.