The Christian Leader invites readers to share stories and theological reflections as we think together this year about what it means to be healthy disciples and healthy churches who are guided in their choices by the Great Commandment.
A healthy church does what the lover of the church does. Jesus loves his church as evidenced by nurturing it and building it. He gave himself for his church, giving up everything he was and had, submitting to inconceivable suffering for his church. Members of Jesus’ church live his example, denying to self, loving others and enduring suffering, all for the sake of building his church through making disciples.
Denying self: Just as Jesus denied himself, disciples of Jesus deny themselves. “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). The first step to following Jesus is to admit we can’t manage on our own—that we’re not OK. This is not a “one time only confession” to receive salvation but a daily, ongoing realization of one’s incompleteness before God and the need for his cleansing power and grace to live and walk before him. Submitting to God cleanses us, allowing us to take the second step.
Loving others: That second step is to love God and others. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew. 22:37-39). The only way I can love God is to realize he loved us first (1 John 4:10). And because he loves my neighbor, even my enemy (Rom. 5:10), I can love my neighbor and my enemy. Recognizing his love for me allows me to love him. Recognizing his love for you allows me to love you.
Suffering: Loving God and others is never easy. It requires discipline and self sacrifice. Giving up my right to myself opens the door to suffering. This third step aligns me with Jesus and his suffering. “So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don’t be ashamed of me either, even though I’m in prison for him. With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News” (2 Timothy 1:8). When we fear shame we resist suffering and seek personal comfort. Shame drives us to look and feel equal to or better than others. Shame is the fear of not being enough. Accepting trials, suffering and trouble as joy is to deny ourselves and to walk in the fullness of the Spirit.
Denying ourselves and accepting God’s love to the point of joyfully accepting suffering, prepares us to make disciples. “I have been given all authority, therefore, go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18-19). Emptied of myself and filled with Jesus’ Spirit and love, I am free to love others through him. Loving others is teaching all I know of Jesus not only in word but also in action.
Love the poor, love Jesus
Loving Jesus is loving who he loves, and he loves the poor. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free” (Luke 4:18). To love the poor is to love Jesus. “When you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me” (Matthew 25:40). Since the birth of his church, most of its growth has been among the poor. When the followers of Christ tackle poverty the church reaps a spiritual benefit.
Some of us at Ebenfeld MB Church and Parkview MB Church, along with believers from other churches in Marion County, Kansas, have found Core Communities to be one way to set the poor free and knock out poverty. Using material from aha! Process (ahaproocess.com), we provide new information—new knowledge for people seeking a way out of poverty. We meet weekly for supper and to connect. We learn together while building new relationships. Love leads us in this ‘cross cultural’ ministry in America’s heartland. And it works! Individuals and families are walking out of poverty into middle class life and finding Jesus.
Michael is one of these people. Michael dropped out of college discouraged and started using drugs. Thirteen years later he decided that in order to clean up his life he would have to relocate. He found his way to our community and a year later his girlfriend brought him to Core Communities. Michael made new friends readily, relishing the support. Further connections brought him to Men’s Encounter, and thanks to these weekend retreats his soul caught on fire for God. However, recent difficulties nearly cost him his faith. His life broke, but in the storm he realized God was still there—Michael reached out and found him again.
Loving the poor in word and deed is opening the door to making disciples and building God’s kingdom. “Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him?” (James 2:5).
Michael is among these poor. He is actively pursuing goals begun at Core Communities and growing in a discipleship group at Ebenfeld. He says the last months have been the most difficult in his life, but it is all worth it for how God is forming his likeness in Michael. God loves the poor. When we summon the courage to love the poor we will reap a spiritual blessing.