Why Leadings?

Not to lead, but to be led            -- by the Holy Spirit.

See Leader, Servant, or Slave? in the section below, "Walking the Walk".

Jack in Denali National Park, 2012.

God's Wrath

Why was Sodom destroyed? Ezekiel tells us in chapter 16, verse 49: "This was the sin of your sister, Sodom: Pride, full-ness of bread, and abundance of idleness. Neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy."

That's also why Jerusalem was destroyed.

And now, with greed as our national virtue, what hope is there for the United States of America? We are afflicted by imperialistic pride, obesity, and entertainment addiction, and we are all called to do our part to "strengthen the hand of the poor and needy".

"Strengthen the hand" is the King James wording. Modern translations say "help the poor and needy." And there's a world of difference between the two. Helping the poor = as little as throwing some cash in the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas time. That's charity. It's doing for, not doing with.

My Grandmother was right about charity. On a below-zero day, she went out on the back porch with a skillet to throw hot grease on the back-yard snow. She shivered as she re-entered the kitchen and said, "Wooooh, colder than charity."

Strengthening the hand is much different. We get personally involved with another person who needs help, and we work with her or him to get the needed help. That's risky. You're vulnerable. It takes prayer, time and patience. You need knowledge and wisdom from the LORD. There are great rewards, however. You get a brother or sister.

Strengthening the hand is great work for our churches -- which we ignore far more often than we perform. Why? Because we're afflicted with the Ameri-can curse of individualism. Christians are to be a tribe -- a tribe that takes care of each other. In Galatians 6:16, Paul calls us "the Israel of God" -- the new 13th tribe.

Jesus said, "The poor you shall always have with you." He didn't mean that as a curse -- the notion that the poor are an inevi-table nuisance and expense, to be hidden in the slums. Rather, He was saying, "You shall always be among the poor."

When you strengthen hands, you fulfill Deuteronomy 15:4-5: "However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God . . ." It's a glorious responsibility and promise.

And how do prosperous Americans fulfill that promise? Generally, by making sure they have no contact with people who are poor -- and we have been that way from our beginnings in the 17th century. Early villages in Massachusetts solved the problem by out-lawing poor people. Today, we deal with the same problem by confining the poor in urban reservations, our slums.

As the Supreme Court Bailiff says at the beginning of each session, "God save the United States of America..." 

Tuesday
Sep182018

The First Church in Jerusalem

            Christian community is the natural way for me to live, and I like to tell others about it. The living fellowship of Jesus is given to us as an example in the final paragraphs of Acts, chapters 2 and 4.

            By now, I’ve had some experience living with Jesus and others in Christian community. During the past eighteen years, the LORD has given me a total of five years’ experience with:

                        Victory Outreach, six months

                        The Vineyard, eighteen months

                        My home at 213 Orchard in Cincinnati, two years

                        The Bruderhof, two months

                        Jesus People USA, two months

                        Reba Place, visits

                        Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, four months

                        Damascus Home, five months

              Note that I didn't plan this educational program. I just moved from one place to the next. However, as I review the past two decades, it's clear that the LORD had a plan.

            So for our consideration, I’ve written a dramatic monologue for Nicolas, one of the seven deacons in the first church ever, the First Church in Jerusalem.

            The monologue is based on the final paragraphs of Acts 2 and 4, supplemented by my experiences since 2001. My purpose is to show possibilities when Jesus’ followers take His promises seriously. Some of the examples may seem extreme, but nearly all are based on experiences with the eight communities above.

In His joy and love,

Jack

 

No Poor Among You


Let’s go back to Jerusalem in 37 A.D.

“There need be no poor among you.” (Deuteronomy 15:4)

Of course, poverty has never been abolished in Jerusalem. Until now.

We’ve always had beggars here—lame, deaf, blind, sick, or aged. Until now.

What’s changed? Jesus. His resurrection. And His life among us.

I’m Nic’olas, one of the seven deacons. I’m responsible for housing Jesus’ followers here in Jerusalem.

It’s been four years since Jesus returned from death. Since then, a lot has happened. First, there was the Pentecost flood, when we went from 120 followers to 3,000 new believers in one morning. We had to organize them and teach them about the way of Jesus. We began to provide for them. The Holy Spirit, the Apostles, and Elder James directed our growth. We’ve been guided to a new way of living.

Those 3,000 converts were in three groups. About half were from other parts of the Roman Empire. A quarter were from elsewhere in Judea and Galilee. The other quarter were Jerusalemites. At the end of Peter’s Pentecost sermon, Elder James said we would assemble again at sunrise the following morning, when three-quarters of the converts would leave. Before they left, we urged them to pray to Jesus daily, attend synagogue, give alms, and discover Jesus in the Tanakh, which you call the Old Testament.

For the Jerusalemites after Pentecost, some of the organizing was simple. For example, I live on Baker Street among seventeen families. Fourteen families now follow Jesus. We live in our own homes, and the bakers continue their trade. Many of us are sunrise worshippers daily in the Temple in Solomon’s Colonnade. Daily we also gather in the largest house for the evening meal and worship.

 After sundown on the fifth day of the week—Thursday to you, Friday to us—we celebrate the LORD’s Supper with joy and gratitude. For example, this past Thursday, Peter and John were released by the Sanhedrin. They arrived during worship, and the Spirit moved mightily among us. It shook the house. With the singing of Psalms, healings, conversions, testimonies, prophesies, singing in the Spirit, and more miracles, we were in worship until two hours after midnight. 

As for organizing, most of the 700 new converts were a stiff challenge. With self-supporting believers in Jerusalem, we set up similar gatherings of fifty to two-hundred people, which we call “community families.” Within each community family, we set up a center so new believers can eat and worship together. At their center, they are thoroughly grounded in worship, in prayer, in Jesus’ life story, and in the Tanakh. We tell them, you are not saved by good works; you are saved for good works.

However, of those 709 people, 138 were destitute and/or homeless. Many were ill or infirm. In two months, we placed all of them with believing families. We prayed for their healing. Most were healed. Over 100 of the 138 now are employed. This sounds fine, but the process was often unsavory. Several of the destitute converts smelled so bad that it took a dozen pots of water and hard scrubbing so we could stand to be in the same room with them.

Among our responsibilities, we are passionate about bringing the Good News to our neighbors. Two evenings a week, nearly 500 of us go through the city in pairs to visit homes and the street to tell others about Jesus. We call the pairs “Rescuers.” As a result, the Jerusalem fellowship has grown swiftly to our present size of 14,000.

We have a special ministry to the poor in the streets, and Ram is one of our most powerful evangelists. A former beggar trapped by wine, Ram doesn’t mess around. Ram knows most of the street people by name. Here’s his standard pitch: “Amon, you can quit wallowing in dirt and pity. You know that a year ago, I was in worse shape than you. Jesus can heal you and deliver you—like He did me. Take Him as your Friend and Liberator. Come live with us now.” Many hear him and join us.

Have we eliminated poverty in this city? No. There is no poverty for the third who have received Jesus and live with us, but the other two-thirds are still in the streets. Rescuers know their names and give them special attention. We don’t give them money, but we do give them food. Among ourselves, we pray for their conversions. 

Some former street people are especially grateful to be here in the community of Jesus. They used live desperate lives because they were yoked with wine or opium—or both. Jesus has delivered them from their slavery, and they testify how important their community family is in keeping them sober. As one man said, “Isolation is relapse.” They need us; we realize we need them—most have special talents that were drowned in their street life. For example, my housemate, Matthew, is a thriving song writer.

Each group of three to five community families has a school for its children. Both girls and boys attend—and that’s unheard of anywhere. No one educates girls, but Elder James taught us differently. He said, “On the day of Resurrection, Jesus appeared only to women. Only after dark—which for us is Monday—did he appear to the disciples. Our Father values women, and so should we.” That’s why we educate both boys and girls.

Each of us has a job assignment, including children from seven on up. They have chores after school, and on Saturday mornings. Other than skilled crafts people, adults usually have assignments for a year. For example, my wife, Sharon, was part of the worship team last year. This year, she’s in charge of the laundry, which takes care of all 129 community families. Unfortunately for me, I’ve been stuck with housing development for four years. It may be a life sentence.

We’ve sponsored four co-operative farms, which supply some of our needs for meat and fresh produce. We expect to sponsor a dozen more.

It’s been clear for three years that we don’t have space to house additional converts. We realized we had to build housing for new community families.

A year after the resurrection, Barnabas changed our ways. He sold his family farm near Bethany, and he brought the proceeds to the Apostles. In turn, they entrusted the funds to me. I bought an abandoned warehouse. We refitted the interior, so there are comfortable rooms for sixty people, plus a large room for dining and worship.

We’ve built two more large community family clusters outside the walls. Each cluster houses at least a hundred residents. Teen apprentices are building another cluster.

Our Jerusalem fellowship of 14,000 is now two and a half percent of the city’s population of 600,000. We’re effective, and we impact the city way out of proportion to our small size. We’ve become both a threat and a blessing to Jerusalem.

I’ll tell you first about the blessings. We all worship daily in the Temple, at Solomon’s Colonnade. The Temple has never been so crowded. Because we give generously, the Temple revenues have never been greater. Right now, we have an uneasy truce with the priesthood. As a result of the truce—

  • ·        We pray for fewer healings at the Temple. On Solomon's porch, we only deal with eager seekers. In a home near the Temple, we have prayer teams in shifts, twenty-four hours a day, We take the conflicted, unsure seekers to s prayer team.
  • ·      We thank and praise Jesus in the Temple, but do only brief teachings there. A block away, at Hezekiah’s Hall, Elders teach in shifts ten hours a day. We take new believers there, where they can ask questions and learn.

Also, with new believers—

  • ·        An Elder guides each new convert to be sure that he or she personally receives Jesus as Savior and LORD. An Elder gets to know each convert well. The Elder needs to make wise decisions about how to help the person grow. He also discovers the person’s talents and skills to help the fellowship go.
  • ·        The same Elder instructs the new convert in receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We want each follower to be equipped with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. With the gifts, they can join us in building up the fellowship, which is Christ’s body.
  • ·        Each follower, including each Elder, has an accountability partner to help us keep our lives under our Father’s control.

As followers of Jesus, we’re self-supporting. We have five co-operatives that pay our way: Baking, butchering, furniture making, home building, and plumbing. Workers did these jobs separately before the Pentecost outpouring. Afterwards, however, they joined for co-operative work. Since then, many new converts have received jobs and training. Thus, we work together for Jesus and the fellowship. Together, we have greatly increased production.

We do those jobs first for our brothers and sisters, and then we sell the surplus. For example, each day bakers prepare twice the bread and pastries we need. They sell the excess. The net proceeds go into our common purse. Among our fellowship of 14,000, we do not use money. We maintain warehouses of food, clothing, and personal needs. Each of our 129 community families has a team that daily gets the needed supplies.

This sounds highly organized, but we have regular interruptions, and we have to scramble to deal with the situation. Fourteen months after the Pentecost flood, we had a second, much larger flood. Peter called on Jesus to heal Eleazar, the lame beggar at the Beautiful Gate. As a result, we had to deal with over 5,000 converts in three days. The 147 Elders were overwhelmed. We pulled 619 workers off their jobs to become teaching elders. We expected to continue for at least two weeks. After nine days, however, we had to return 238 to their jobs at the request of the Prefect. He feared food riots because of the shortages of meat and bread.

Here’s an example of our life together. Granny Lydia is eighty-eight. She can no longer walk. Anywhere else she would be a pitiful, starving beggar. With us, six mornings a week, two young men carry her to the community kitchen. There, she preps fruit and vegetables. She is now a plump, joyous, funny, active member of our community family. She loves Jesus and us, and we love her.

What do Granny Lydia, a new convert, and I all have in common? We are all paid the same wages. That is, nothing. We receive no cash because we don’t need it. No one in the fellowship is paid because our needs are met. When cash is needed for purchases in the city, our bursar disburses it.

We’ve become valuable to the city of Jerusalem—way out of proportion to our size. Brother Apelles is our full-time coordinator at the Prefect’s office. We’re the major home builder. Our plumbing crew makes and installs both clay and lead pipe. We’ve added about a fifth to the city’s water and sewer systems. 

We are also the city’s fire control system. When a fire starts, neighbors are like decapitated chickens, but we’re organized. When we hear “fire,” all able adults stop what we’re doing. We grab glazed pots, rush to the fire, form a pot brigade, and douse the flames. This year, we’ve been effective for the first time. Consider the numbers. Last year, this city had twenty-nine fires. Eighteen got out of control. Each fire destroyed a number of buildings. This year, so far, we’ve had seventeen fires. Only three got out of control.

What I’m telling you may sound like we’ve already died and gone to heaven—but no, we have problems. Lots of them. For example, two years ago, followers who were Greek Jews complained of unfair treatment. To remedy the situation, the apostles appointed seven of us to oversee worldly matters. We're charged with assuring that all are treated evenly and fairly.

From time to time, people leave the fellowship. If they are frank about leaving, we try to keep the relationship as open as possible. We tell them, “Try living in the world again for a while. If you discover that you really need both Jesus and the fellowship, know that you’re welcome to return.”

Sin is a more difficult problem. Receiving Jesus as Savior and LORD doesn’t make us angels. Many of us are still trapped by our sinful cravings. When we act in ways that show we’re no different from unbelievers, the Elders deal with us. We must go through a disciplinary period to get our lives under control. We have to confess to our community family, seek forgiveness, and right any wrongs we may have done before we’re restored to full fellowship.

Our opinions are a special sinning problem. Do we have 14,000 opinions among us? More like 144,000. For example, one of our biggest points of contention is: “What music should be use in worship?” 

Divisions of opinion are a special vexing problem for my office. We have to decide who should live in each community family. We’ve learned that—at a minimum—residents in each location should be compatible on three topics: Food, fun, and music.

Fortunately, the Greek language has taught us the solution to the problem of opinions and tastes. We need to be in agreement to live together in self-sacrificing love. In Greek, there are several words for “agreement.” One of the principal words for “agree” is “symphon-e’o,” which also means “to be in harmony.” What must we agree about? That Jesus is the Son of God.

The Elders have learned to value a diversity of opinions, attitudes, experiences, and preferences. Diversity enriches our life together. For example, we discover new delights when we sample foods from different places. If we know only what we learned as children, we remain limited. So, we all need to learn to rejoice in our unity in Jesus and our diversity of customs and beliefs.

However, rivalries between community families could easily spit us into a dozen factions. The Elders are vigilant to keep us focused on Jesus as our leader, so we don’t splinter over matters that really don’t matter.

For example, people playing political power games are a threat to the fellowship. They are walking in the flesh and have the potential to destroy our community. How do we identify this? A person after power, sooner or later, will be publicly cruel to another person. How do we handle this? The same way we do any other public sin. An Elder goes to the person privately and points out the fault. If the offender repents, praise the LORD. If the offender persists, two Elders confront the person. If the offender still persists, then we share the problem with the fellowship. Even then, if the offender persists, he or she is expelled.

Another problem was Josiah House, in the northeast corner of the city. Two years ago, Josiah House had become dysfunctional. I spoke with Asa, a man there whose judgment I trust. The problems were obvious. The sixteen families there were quarreling. Gossip abounded. They were not living together as one large family in Christ. I suspected that the root of the problem was Elder Joseph Bar Jesus. 

“How does Elder Joseph relate to you?” I asked Asa. “He posts notes on the dining room door.” “Do all members eat together daily?” “No. They have conflicting schedules so it’s not possible” “What about weekly meetings and Tanakh studies?” “They’re erratic.” 

My suspicions became a certainty, and I spoke with the Apostles. They sent Apostle Andrew to speak with Elder Joseph. Joseph said, "This Eldership is too much for me. I'm overwhlemed. May I be relieved of these responsibilities?" Andrew agreed.

Joseph and I were in schul together. He is an excellent man—devout, sincere, honorable—but a scholar. An Elder has only one job assignment—to be an Elder and love his people. He best loves them by helping each person discover the calling which the LORD has placed deep within him or her—and then coaching the person to develop that potential.

Each of us has sin deep within us, and we have cravings which can enslave us. The Elder must work with each person, through prayer and confession, to wrestle with the slavery and the devil. In the fear of the LORD, each person can be liberated from that slavery.

The Elder also has to love the community family as a whole—assuring that they meet together regularly, talk through their problems, and live in mutual forgiveness. They must study the Tanakh together. 

Joseph couldn't handle all this. He is shy, and he spent most of his time with his scrolls. The Josiah community family deteriorated because the members did not gather in the love of Jesus. The Apostles solved the problem by reassigning Joseph Bar Jesus as head librarian. The responsibility delights Joseph, and he does it well.

Elder Matthan, a man with lots of empathy, was assigned to Josiah House. Under Matthan's Eldership, Josiah House has returned to harmony with the Messiah and with each other.

Also, the LORD has taken care of problems in shocking ways. Two years ago, a couple, Ananias and Sapphira sold a property here in Jerusalem. They gave money to the Elders, and like Barnabas, they were praised for their generosity. However, the LORD knew they were lying. They gave only half the proceeds and kept the rest. So, the LORD killed them both. It’s an understatement to say that great fear fell on all of us believers. 

Our Father has been prospering us here in many ways, but our actual situation is unsafe. Peter and the apostles have been arrested several times for religious subversion. They were beaten. The Temple priesthood treasures our offerings, but also fears and hates us. Why? Because the LORD performs miracles among us, but not among the priesthood. To them our belief in Jesus, as God’s Son, is blasphemy. They believe God cannot have a Son. Because we know differently, they see us as enemies who are stealing the people’s allegiance.

Among Jerusalem residents, many resent us. We’re prospering, and they are not. We’re joyful and sharing. They are not. Our lives are together. Many of theirs are not.

The Roman predators who run Israel have reason to despise us. Trying to control Judea was nearly an impossible task when only Jews were here. Now, with both Jews and Messianic Jews in Judea, the place is even more unstable. The Romans would like to be rid of us.

The Romans have developed legal charges they think are clever. They can charge followers of Jesus with atheism, murder, and cannibalism.

  • ·        Atheism—because we condemn the Roman gods as false idols. 
  • ·        Murder—because, in baptism, we ritually drown our people.
  • ·        Cannibalism—because, in the LORD’s Supper, we ritually eat Jesus’ flesh and drink His blood.

So, we continue to grow here in Jerusalem, but we realize we may be persecuted and exiled at any time. If so, the good news of Jesus will spread. Meanwhile, we rejoice because:

  • ·       We’re in Jesus, 
  • ·       Jesus is living His life through us,
  • ·       Jesus is building our new fellowship of brothers and sisters.
  • ·       There are no poor among us, and 
  • ·       We expect our fellowship to be an example to Jesus’ followers throughout the world.

But perhaps the worst event that could happen would to stay here in Jerusalem and continue to grow. As a community, we’re beginning to make money. If we stay, we’ll get rich. And when Jesus’ followers grow rich and comfortable, it seems that our conversation becomes more and more secular. Perhaps we’ll remain followers of Jesus in our heads, but I worry about what will happen to our hearts.