A pagan observed an early 2nd century AD church. Here is what he saw.
“They abstain from all impurity in the hope of the recompense that is to come in another world. As for their servants or handmaids or children, they persuade them to become Christians by the love they have for them; and when they become so, they call them without distinction, brothers. They do not worship strange gods; and they walk in all humility and kindness, and falsehood is not found among them; and they love one another. When they see the stranger they bring him to their homes and rejoice over him as over a true brother…
“And if there is among them a man that is poor and needy and if they have not an abundance of necessities, they fast two or three days that they may supply the needy with the necessary food.
“They observe scrupulously the commandment of their Messiah; they live honestly and soberly as the Lord their God commanded them. Every morning and all hours on account of the goodness of God toward them, they render praise and laud Him over their food and their drink; they render Him thanks.
“And if any righteous person of their number passes away from this world, they rejoice and give thanks to God and they follow his body as though he were moving from one place to another. And when a child is born to them, they praise God, and if again it chances to die in its infancy, they praise God mightily, as for one who has passed through the world without sins.
“Such is the law of the Christians and such is their conduct.”
—Athenian Philosopher Aristides, c. 101-200
How things have changed. The church might want to take a step back—way back, and ponder what it is and what it use to be—and how we got from there to here.
“How can you cope with the end of the world and the beginning of another one? How can you put an earthquake into a test-tube or the sea into a bottle? How can you live with the terrifying thought that the hurricane has become human, that fire has become flesh; that Life itself came to life and walked in our midst? How can you cope with the concept that mankind tried to kill God, but He lived and now is our judge? How can a person come to Easter services and not be profoundly transformed by the fact that once in the history of humanity a truly innocent man died in our place and rose to life never to die again and he offers us eternal life? Christianity either means all of that, or it means nothing. It is either the most profound and devastating disclosure of the deepest reality in the world, or it’s a sham, a nonsense, and just deceitful acting. Most of us, unable to cope with saying either of those things, condemn ourselves to live in the shallow world in between. We may not be content there, but we don’t know how to escape until we are personally transformed by the resurrected Jesus Christ, from mere observers to worshippers of the living God!” —Author Unknown
The Resurrection changed everything. How has it changed you?
“Jacob was a manipulator, Peter was impulsive, John had a temper, David had an affair, Noah got drunk, Jonah ran from God, Paul was a murderer, Gideon was insecure, Miriam was a gossip, Martha was a worrier, Thomas was a doubter, Sarah was impatient, Elijah was afraid, Jeremiah was depressed, Moses stuttered, Zacchaeus was short, Abraham was old, Lazarus was dead… God does not call the qualified—He qualifies the called.” —Unknown
What can’t God do through you today? It’s not about your qualifications, it’s about His—and He chose you. On Purpose.
“Only God has the love we need—yet we’ve turned away from him, except to demand convenient instructions and cooperative help. So we manage every relational encounter with self-need as our ultimate value. We talk about topics we can handle. We try to build our mate’s self-esteem so we can feel good about ourselves. We pout so friends will ask what’s wrong. We tell jokes to keep from revealing loneliness. Self-need plus self-management—a spirit of entitlement and an attitude of independence—become the foundation of our lives, the bottom layer of ice. We become hopelessly religious.” —Larry Crabb
Go to church—but not for the music, the coffee, self-help sermons or bragging rights to how great the place makes you feel—pageantry that covers up wicked hearts never impressed Him. Go for Him. He’s there and He’s waiting, because He loves you more than you can know. We have no Christian entitlements—everything is blood-bought by Him before whom every knee shall bow. Go to church—revel in His love and majesty and bow your knee. But go. It’s not religion—it’s just Him.
“A generation of Christians reared among pushbuttons and automatic-machines is impatient of slower and less direct methods of reaching their goals. We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relations with God. We read our chapter, have our short devotions, and rush away, hoping to make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending another gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story told by a religious adventurer lately returned from afar. The tragic results of this spirit are all about us. Shallow lives, hollow religious philosophies, the preponderance of the element of fun in gospel meetings, the glorification of men, trust in religious externalities, quasi-religious fellowships, salesmanship methods, the mistaking of dynamic personality for the power of the Spirit; these and such as these are the symptoms of an evil disease, a deep and serious malady of the soul.” —A. W. Tozer
Tozer looked at the church and told it like it was. He died in 1963. I wonder what he’d tell the church today?
P.S. We’re the lamps of His light—not the salesmen or the customers of His fire. How could we be? He fits no category, exceeds every attribution, defies all description. We confine Him to the object of our study, yet He is the unleashed subject of the universe itself. “He’s the superlative of everything good you choose to call Him”, Rev Lockwood called Him—yet we still tread the surface of the Sea of Him seeking to stay afloat, waters in which He intended us to drown.
Back from ministry in Ireland—high time for another great quote.
Jesus prayed for all His future followers—us—that we may be “one” as He and His Father were one. What did He mean? What should we do? C.H. Spurgeon had an idea…
“Are you alive by the life of Christ? Does God dwell in you, and do you dwell in him? Then, my dear brother, give me your hand. Never mind about a thousand differences if you are in Christ and I am in Christ, we cannot be two—we must be one. Let us love each other with a pure heart fervently. Let us live on earth, as those who are to live together a long eternity in heaven. Let us help each other’s spiritual growth. Let us aid each other as far as possible in every holy, spiritual enterprise, which is for the promotion of the Kingdom of the Lord; and let us chase out of our hearts everything that would break the unity that God has established. Let us cast from us every false doctrine, every false thought of pride, of enmity, of envy, of bitterness, that we, whom God has made one, may be one before men, as well as before the eye of the heart-searching God. May the Lord bless us, dear friends—as a Church, make us one, and keep us so; for it will be the dead stuff among us that will make the divisions. It is the living children of God that make the unity; it is the living ones that are bound together. There will be no fear about that—Christ’s prayer takes care of us, that we shall be one…” —CHS
It’s not an ideal—it’s just what He asked His Father to do with us. No wonder He taught us to pray “Thy will be done”.
The world is in trouble, but fret not—the church isn’t. The pressure is on, but it’s been on before. The world even tried to kill Jesus, and look what happened…
“Nothing can extinguish it. To the end of time it shall be there and shall always manifest itself, and men must never lose heart because of that. All [mankind’s ideas and struggles to create his own utopia] are absolutely worthless—the society in which utopianism is the great pursuit is the one who is about to commit suicide. The great guarantee that human life is always worth creating, always worth bringing into this world, always worth living is that there is built into it an indestructible awareness that life belongs to eternity and not to time. [This] shines with an incredible brightness in the one place in the world where you would not, under any circumstances, expect to find it surviving. The Catacombs.” —Malcolm Muggeridge, Firing Line #433, with W.F. Buckley, Jr., Sept. 6, 1980, PBS
Jesus’ followers can be driven underground, but what are catacombs if not bomb-shelters, illuminated not by oil or electricity, but by the songs of the saints.
You may not even go to church, but pastors are still a presence in your neighborhood. They’re (mostly) holy-men, people you seek out when the world goes wrong or when God comes knocking. They’re also human—and the devil hates them. Behind all the spirituality there’s a battle going on…
“Pray for your pastor: 97% of pastors have been falsely accused or hurt by their trusted friends; 70% of pastors battle with depression; 7,000 churches will close each year; 1,500 pastors quit each month; 10% will retire a pastor; 80% of pastors feel discouraged; 94% of pastor’s families feel the pressure of the ministry. 78% of pastors have no close friends; 90% of pastors report working 55-75 hours per week. Pray for your pastor.” —Victor Marx
We call them “Gifts of the Spirit”, and every follower of Jesus has at least one given to them by Him. But the gift He handed us isn’t for us. Read the tag—it has someone else’s name on it, and Jesus expects us to deliver it. The Apostle Paul said,
“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:6–8)
Gifts given to us to give to others—that’s what glorifies Jesus in this me-world. My hand can scratch an itch anywhere on my body—it can put food in my mouth and comb what’s left of my hair, but it can’t even trim its own nails. That’s us, and when given away, every gift points to the goodness of Jesus. We’re just the delivery guys. Better than UPS.