“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” Luke 10:33-37
In the Coffee household, we have been on our usual Christmas steady fare of Christmas movies. Christmas, it seems, is such an enormous cultural event, Hollywood just cannot make enough “Christmas miracle” movies. It’s a standard template: there is a hero (or a heroine) who is flawed and relatable in some fashion and who does not believe in the magic of Christmas. Enter conflict (or an antagonist or dire circumstances or a hilarious parade of unforeseeable events) and there is an ensuing struggle. Finally, there is a Christmas miracle and our hero is saved and now believes in the magic of Christmas.
This year, my attention has been grabbed by how the church is portrayed in these Hollywood versions of Christmas (if it is portrayed at all). It seems to me that, more often than not, the church is portrayed as a bit silly and irrelevant and disconnected from anything, well… normal. I don’t know, but I strongly suspect these portrayals betray the writers’ own stories about their church experiences growing up. …
Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. Acts 16:26
I’m intrigued by this story in Acts 16, not only because Paul and Silas did not leave through the open door of their jail cell, but also because they were apparently able to convince all of the other prisoners to stay as well. Just a few chapters earlier, Peter left jail under similar circumstances (I know, I know, he had an angel directing him to leave and that is definitely a distinguishing feature!), and I cannot help but wonder if I might not have interpreted an earthquake and chains miraculously falling off me as a sign from God that I should leave!
I think there is a lesson here for the church. Discerning God’s direction for a church is never quite as simple as walking through every door that seems to miraculously open…never merely a matter of seeing God in isolated circumstances. That is true because, as it turns out, there is usually more than one possible interpretation of circumstances! The danger in discerning God’s will in that case is that we all tend to see what we want to see.
What about the scenario where a wealthy church member walks in and agrees to write a check to cover some dream the pastor has always had? Is that necessarily God speaking? What if your church has prayed and asked God to pave the way for a relocation and someone leaves the church a large tract of land in their estate? Is that God saying “move”? If the pastor has always dreamed of starting a half-way house ministry in the house the church owns, and the city planning …
And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. Matthew 14:19-21
Jesus did not take an institutional approach to ministry. He did not survey the neighborhood to determine what the physical needs were then implement a task force to study those needs and to plan the infrastructure of an organization that might be able to meet those needs and then go looking for funding for that organization and then go looking for the right people to fill the various positions in that organization. Jesus did not do strategic planning to set specific goals and objectives for his ministry over a one-year, five-year and ten-year plan.
However, I do think Jesus operated according to God-inspired vision. In the case referenced in Matthew 14 above, I believe Jesus recognized the hunger of the crowd and immediately developed a God-sized vision of what could be…of what should be…and of what would be. And I believe he had one goal in mind…changing lives. I do not think that merely feeding the people was his goal. I also do not believe he had any goals regarding the number of people he wished to reach with this miracle. Rather, I believe he wanted to change their lives AND change the lives of the disciples who helped Him. His “vision” for that ministry was far greater than just getting a little food …