The day started off with a great sign of hope. We had a pilgrimage burning in our inner man for sometime, but it wasn’t ordained as this day began to unfold. May and I received a follow-up phone call from 3ABN- Jason Bradley this morning before we went out on this pilgrimage. Jason spoke very candidly about should his superiors agree to give us air time we would need to raise air fair, but they would provide transportation and lodging. Watching all of this unfold is somewhat intriguing but also strenuous on the mind and body. We feel sometime like we are making a fool of ourselves. This dream is in it’s 24th month of pregnancy and we still have faith that this vision will come to past.
Life is a pilgrimage. The wise man does not rest by the roadside inns. He marches direct to the illimitable domain of eternal bliss, his ultimate destination.
It is the heart of God to restore. That’s the good news. The other news is that Israel had made a mess of things and, as a result, they had lost all the marvelous privileges God had lavished upon them. Constant, unremitting disobedience to God had brought about Israel’s loss of nation, city, and heritage.Characteristically God had met His people with the promise of deliverance even before their captivity. The Prophet Jeremiah had informed them that they would be enslaved for 70 years in order to make up for the neglected Sabbaths; but then God would begin the process of restoring His people.
God is ﬁrmly in control of history, of kings, and He works all things together to accomplish “the counsel of His will.” (Ephesians 1:11) In fact, this verse declares that God’s will is predestined. He will have His children with Him! Isaiah had predicted that a heathen king by the name of Cyrus would order the rebuilding of the temple and the city of Jerusalem! (Isaiah 44:28) Imagine the shock waves that must have gone through the demons when King Cyrus actually said, “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem…” (Ezra 1:2)
The book of Ezra tells the incredible story of God rescuing people from their captivity and restoring them to the place of knowing and worshipping God! It illustrates the way God sent His Spirit to restore the doctrine of salvation by faith during the Reformation. But the walls of Jerusalem had not been rebuilt and the city lay in ruins, bringing dishonor upon both God and His people. This is Nehemiah’s story, and it illustrates the rebuilding process by which God restores His Bride (His people) to their intended beauty.
May & I began our day with devotion and prayer seeking God’s direction for our life. We asked Him to lead us to paths that would link us with like minded ministries and He spoke loud and clear. We made several alliances within this pilgrimage today.
Contacts are needed to perform this type of grass root movement. Networking is essential to production and success. We are setting the stage for bigger outreach. In Hemet Ca. where God has planted us and given us this commission we are now desiring to partner with three churches God willing to Hand out backpacks containing basic necessities to ex-offenders and disenfranchised individuals. We feel it is a great way to help them physically as they adjust to life outside of jail and to put our brand in their spirit . We are hoping that Hemet Seven Day Adventist church on Girard St. Pastor David and Cornerstone church on Girard St. Associate Pastor Bob Meisel and The Dwelling Place Family Church also located in Hemet Ca. on Girard St. will join us in linking up as one team and organize to use this opportunity to help those targeted individuals spiritually.
It is our hope that as we raise funds and collaborate with those that have a mind to work as Nehemiah did in pursuit of his vision coming to past will see our vision as theirs also and lay denominational titles down and put a rock in one hand and sword in the other and help build this new wall called “Ministry”.
In the Basic Backpack and New Life Supportive Care Network and Second Chance Alliance, ex-offenders and disenfranchised from County Correctional Facilities Southwest and Indio and State Prisons that release 28,000 inmates a year, could pick up backpacks filled with items such as food vouchers, bus tickets, and phone cards from these distribution sites, most of which are these churches. We saw great things within the scope of food banks and clothing being already dispersed. We also shared great testimony of how these ministries are taking off. We are also setting up radio time with radio station KPRO to discuss the times of all this taking place. If you are still reading and have been touched please pray our strength to see this to the end although it looks so far off.
Prison ministries are created to provide spiritual guidance to inmates who may already have a relationship with God, and to reach inmates who do not have a religious foundation. Many churches establish prison ministries as part of their outreach services to the local community, but there are also individual pastors, preachers and religious instructors who start ministries without the association or support of a church.
Just to inform you of others who have been successful in this endeavor I am going to share this:
Mission: Launch, a social enterprise startup founded last summer to help ex-offenders with reentry, was one of six projects chosen for the first crowdfunding class on girltank, a crowdfunding website for female social entrepreneurs worldwide.
Mission: Launch founder Laurin Hodge is now raising $25,000 through girltank to build the Returning Citizens Project, a web platform ex-offenders can use to track each step in their reentry process.
Case managers and ex-offenders themselves can use the dashboard to input metrics that are data-proven to be relevant to avoiding recidivism — job skills, work-life preparedness, clothing and housing basics — and track individual risk factors within certain counties and heavily populated areas of arrest.
Mission: Launch offers job training and placement for former prisoners by pairing them with business mentors in a variety of occupations. To help returning ex-offenders find relevant information, Hodge also set up i-Launch, an online Wiki cataloging reentry and job assistance programs in Maryland and Washington, D.C.
“In the beginning we thought Wiki style technology would be best, but we discovered people really needed more of a knowledge-management tool that gave the right information at the right time,” said Hodge in a follow-up e-mail.
After speaking with operators of halfway houses and ex-offenders in Washington, D.C., and the Baltimore region, Hodge discovered that former prisoners going through reentry needed something more than a Wiki in order to organize the reentry process — to keep job applications separate from rental applications, for instance — and measure personal progress against where other ex-offenders are in their reentry.
“Things like housing, transportation, clothing, community/relationship building, health/wellness all must be managed holistically,” Hodge said. “Yet without the resources to build an actionable plan and receive push notifications to help track progress or setbacks, individuals are left rebuilding in isolation.”
The $25,000 crowdfunding campaign with girltank officially begins today and goes through the end of July. Hodge estimates Mission: Launch has commitments for about 10 percent of the funding needed to complete the Returning Citizens Project, one of the two U.S.-based projects in girltank’s inaugural crowdfunding class.
Here is our cause, please click the link to view:
I’ve lost some joy, I’ve lost some time
Now it feels like I will lose my mind
Journey long and lost my way
And now it feels like I’m lost, is all I say
Searching here and over there
For what I’ve lost where is it, I don’t know
But I will find a way to lift up my hands
And I will find a way to worship You, Lord
Though my heart is low I’ll find a way to give You praise
I will find a way to love You more
I’ve lost so much down through the years
It seems that all I find of late is a face so full of tears
I search each dark and empty place
The peace I used to know somehow I have misplaced
Searching here and over there
For the things I’ve lost I don’t have them anymore
But I will find a way to lift up my hands
And I will find a way to worship You, Lord
Though my heart is low I’ll find a way to give You praise
I will find a way to love You more
One thing I’ve not lost is the will to move ahead
And I kept a faith and trust in You Lord
And I find way down within myself
A love for You, Lord, that overflows
But I know that I can love You more
With every loss and through it all
But I will find a way to lift up my hands
And I will find a way to worship You, Lord
And though my life is broken I’ll find a way to give You praise
My pain is still a reality today. I have put my hands to the plow and honestly moved forward, but like everything in life there is a time to smile and a time to cry. Dates, anniversaries, birthdays, graduations and all memorable occasions render times of reflection. I left home at the ripe age of seventeen. I was accepted in the Navy and College at the same time. I had my first child(a son) Demir Deshon Pratt at seventeen part of the reason I was in hot pursuit of success. After completion of boot-camp and a semester of school I went home to get married and set-up my family. Another child was born shortly after my son turned one years old(a daughter named Paris Deshon Pratt). I graduated college and turned down my commission to officer candidate school and went into the fleet. After two campaigns abroad I came home to a sick son who was diagnosed with Sickle Cell Anemia, who died shortly after that. My daughter was left with my then wife who was young and couldn’t deal with the death of our son and being a parent with an absent husband serving his country. Shortly after that my mom past and I was in Beirut and was introduced to what it fells like to take a human life all the while grieving the lost of the Mother that gave me life.
Paris really didn’t get a good chance at life with her mom because she wasn’t exposed to structure anymore. We divorced and my life got more intricate with time due to the demand placed on me by the Navy to serve with honor all around the globe. I would go visit and offer my brief time to attempt to structure my daughters life, but I always was greeted with resistance. Well as time would have it my life went left after exiting the military, not knowing about the hidden scars from nine campaigns I plunged into a dualism existence, serving God and mammon. That behavior landed me into years of not really being stable, drug addiction and riotous behavior led to (Prison). My daughter was left to many types of abuse while living in my home town of Washington D.C. with her mom. She was exposed to the many different effects of a lifestyle her mom could only afford her. Exposure to many men, drug deals and murder and all sorts of dysfunctions that led to her negative behavior. I made one more attempt to right the misfortune of us both and went to get my daughter and afford her a better chance at living, still un- rehabilitated and in sheer delusion that I was in control of my life I brought my daughter to live in my dysfunction of dealing drugs and living a dual life style with my new family and kids. She was jealous and felt neglected although she had structure and siblings to live with that had somewhat of a good model to exude before her. She no longer lived in the ghetto and depraved circumstances, she was in an up scale community, but with a different set of demons still before her eyes.
I had to go serve a Federal obligation for 5 years and she was left with her step mother and siblings, but she couldn’t deal with the boredom and structure living without the iron hand of a man around. She performed so well and achieved academic success beyond any of the other kids, but she wanted to go home to her mom in Washington D.C. where she was neglected and abused. Well today marks the 10 year anniversary of our last talk before she made a fatal choice that would alter her life forever:
Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2007
Crack dealer sentenced to life in fatal shooting
Silver Spring woman charged with murder in slaying of District teen
A 23-year-old Silver Spring woman charged in the November 2005 premeditated fatal shooting of a Washington, D.C., teenager in Silver Spring was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Parris Deshon Pratt of the 100 block of Croyden Court was found guilty March 16 of first-degree murder in connection with the shooting death of Phillip Cunningham, 16, who lived in a Washington, D.C., group home.
Pratt shot Cunningham to death because she believed the boy had been ‘‘snitching” to police about her crack cocaine dealing business, Assistant State’s Attorney Peter Feeney wrote in his sentencing recommendation.
The Hon. Nelson W. Rupp Jr., the judge presiding over Pratt’s trial and sentencing, said he was ‘‘struck by the total lack of remorse” Pratt showed when she spoke to the court before her sentencing.
‘‘It’s not going to happen again if I have anything to do with it,” Rupp said before delivering his sentence.
Before the sentencing, Pratt apologized for getting herself into the situation that led to Cunningham’s death and asked for forgiveness from the boy’s family. But she said she felt her life was in danger at the time of the shooting and that she was the ‘‘sacrificial lamb.” She said it was the witness who testified against her that fired the bullet that killed Cunningham. She admitted to shooting Cunningham twice in self-defense.
According to the sentencing recommendation, it was Pratt’s DNA, not that of the witness, which was found on the gun.
‘‘If my back is against the wall, I do the best that I can,” she said before her sentencing. She said she was ‘‘totally out of my character” and abusing drugs when the shooting occurred.
According to defense testimony before her sentencing, Pratt was physically and sexually abused as a child, and abusing the drug PCP by age 14. Several of Pratt’s family and friends testified before her sentencing that she was misunderstood and a product of her upbringing.
But Rupp said it shocked the ‘‘conscience of the court” to see Pratt’s family claiming ties after defense testimony stated that she had been living on the streets, and ordered family and friends, who were weeping when Pratt was sentenced to life without parole, out of the courtroom.
‘‘If there was a way to charge the family … they’d be charged,” Rupp said.
Pratt was charged with first-degree murder and the use of a handgun in the commission of a felony three days after the shooting. According to the sentencing recommendation, a witness to the Nov. 17, 2005, slaying came forward and told police that Pratt lured Cunningham into her car and drove Cunningham and the witness to the 9200 block of Manchester Road, where she shot him in the head three times.
Pratt fired two shots at Cunningham after asking him to take a walk down a driveway on Manchester Road, according to the sentencing recommendation. As Pratt and the witness began driving away, Pratt noticed Cunningham was still moving. She backed up the car, and shot Cunningham in the head a third time.
Pratt then drove to Wheaton after the shooting to sell crack cocaine, according to the sentencing recommendation.
At the time of his death, Cunningham was enrolled as a sophomore at Calvin Coolidge High School in the District. Erica Cunningham, the 24-year-old sister of Phillip Cunningham, said Thursday her brother was a typical teen who was just ‘‘starting to get it together.” Cunningham also had three other brothers, all wards of the Washington, D.C., foster care system.
Pratt also received a sentence of 20 years for the use of a handgun in the commission of a crime, and five years for the possession of a regulated firearm by a prohibited person, to be served consecutively.
After the sentencing, public defender Alan Drew said he would appeal the sentencing and pursue a three-judge review panel.
I have a story of pain and triumphs just like we all do. I am not ashamed at being transparent about my struggles, failure, and challenges for without them I wouldn’t be who I am today. Praise God for His grace. I am fighting so many different fronts for myself and my kids. I have another son doing life for the same thing here in California, so you see this is a another part of the “WHY” to Second Chance Alliance. I have real life experience to offer to our communities and families abroad,. My wife has her own story to tell as well. Please pray my strength today. Thanks for your time in reading this blog and for your pondering to assist us in our cause, if you never viewed it click the insignia below.
Tonight I am suffering with sheer grief about my church, my mind, my body and my spirit the trichotomy I am. The “Why” is because of the condition of the building and gathering at churches I sometime am able to frequent. People say I miss you but never call, people say I love you but abandon you, silent gang banging and clicks look upon you with disdain because of caste status or educational prominence. The church today is a place I am struggling to go and fellowship with. I am told that my sister and brother are those that love the Father, but I just can’t see that always in myself nor in my sister or brother. I am perplexed within myself because I feel some type of way about the behavior of others that make me contemplate the realism of emotions displayed within the corporate setting.
The Church renewed. Renewal means restoring the Church to the full intentions and specifications and blueprints of the One who founded it: Jesus Himself. Jesus founded the Church according to the blueprint that was in His Father’s mind. You and I are involved in renewing it, getting it back to that perfect plan that Jesus had, based on what His Father gave Him. Renewing the Church is not something that you and I do, really, but it’s something that God does through us if we will let Him do it. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that is the key factor in the renewal of the Church. It’s not our efforts. It’s rather our surrender and our willingness to be ready to be used by the Lord. But He is the one who does it. It’s His power.
I really love the calling on my life and I really love doing the work and the abiding in Christ Jesus, because He gave so much for me to be able to bring glory to His Holy name. I want above anything to serve God and love with all my heart as to allow my life to be pleasing to God. I have every reason to be in fellowship with others and with Christ. No one heard my cry when I was in a comma for seven months from being shot in the chest but Jesus, no one heard me cry when I was in a pit in Libya and getting tortured beyond what I could bare, no one heard me when I was on a level four penitentiary facing death at every turn, no one heard me when I was hungry and strung out on cocaine living in the very vomit I created because I wanted bling-bling and women and candy paint on my toys. I really feel I need a Renewal and so does the Church. I want to understand these feelings because I want to be the hands of Jesus today!!! I am so fervent in my quest to be connected I try diligently to go to Saturday church and Sunday, I try to balance all this through the precious spirit of God because I am so disconnected without my God…. I am broken, the ministry is over whelming to me tonight, I don’t know who is real or what to do with these desires to let my difference make a difference. I feel ship wrecked and I am crying out to the God of the universe to help me find my place.
What Does The Real Church Look Like?
I believe with all my heart that God is going to re-establish His true Church – the real Church. I’m talking about the Church that He intended, the one that makes it possible for those who really believe in Him to see His purpose fulfilled in their lives. And what is God’s purpose? To see all those who believe in Him conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit working in the Church (His true Church), the Father wants to strip away everything in us that doesn’t look like Jesus.
The traditional church today doesn’t know much about that. Most “pastors” (if you read the article “Leadership in the Early Church” you’ll understand why I put the word pastor in quotation marks) preach an American gospel that’s designed to make people comfortable with themselves and with God. It’s an upbeat message of “I’m O.K. you’re O.K. Just live your life however you think is best (as long as you come to church on Sunday and give me your money). Don’t worry; God will meet you where you are. No changes are required, forget repentance, let’s just rejoice and be happy. I’ll see you in heaven. Remember, God loves you, besides, you don’t believe anyone is really going to hell, do you?” Church ministry today is designed to give people what they want, what God requires is irrelevant. And, that is what you would expect it to be when men are in charge, instead of God.
To see what the real church looks like requires a somewhat novel approach,we’ll have to look at the scriptures. I know it sounds crazy, but trust me on this. You won’t find what you’re looking for in church history books. After all, the first church wasn’t a Baptist church in Oklahoma or Texas (even though the Baptists claim they can trace their roots all the way back to John the Baptist, a claim John is probably not too happy about).
No, the first real church was Jesus and His 12 disciples. The first church was actually a training school for those who would establish the second-generation churches after Jesus ascended back to the Father. It was Jesus showing His disciples, first hand, how to have church. They met in houses and gardens, by the sea and on boats in the sea, in the middle of the road, on hillsides and on mountaintops. They met wherever Jesus happened to be. These meetings formed their understanding of what church was supposed to be and established a pattern for the next generation of churches.
Now, just for fun, let me describe to you what one of these meetings in this first church must have looked like. When it was time for the meeting, everyone got dressed up in their best suit of clothes, grabbed a hymnbook and a big, fat Bible to carry under their arm. Then they all made their way down to the building with the sign out front that said “First Church”. The marquee out front had the sermon topic for the day: “How To Overcome Anxiety In A Frenzied World”, and the name of the class that would meet that evening, “Divorce Recovery at 6 PM”. Everyone filed in, sat down in neat rows, eyes forward, and waited for the minister of music to start the service. They sang three songs, recited the Apostles Creed, sang another song, passed the offering plate and listened to a choir “special”. Then Jesus, looking resplendent in a shiny, blue, three-piece suit, with a really great silk tie, took the pulpit and delivered a comforting, somewhat humorous, thirty-minute sermon. Everyone felt good about what they had heard and complimented Jesus on what a splendid job He had done, and then they all went to lunch. And Jesus was relieved that no one was uncomfortable with what He had said and felt sure that most of them would return next week. And in the satisfaction of a job well done, He soon forgot about the whole thing and began to think about something really important, His golf game (His putting had been terrible the past several weeks). That sounds just about right doesn’t it? No?
Then how about this? Get out your Bible (I mean it, don’t read any further, unless you have your Bible), now read Matthew 5:1 to 8:1. What you just read was an account of one of the very first church meetings. The actual church was small, but there was a “multitude” of visitors that day and the sermon was really long. Then read Matthew 8:2-4. That was the next church meeting, but this time there was only one visitor. Now read Matthew 8:5-13. Here’s something unusual. The sermon was only about 20 seconds long (imagine that), and it was both confronting and judgmental. I’m sure some of the visitors were offended this time, and I don’t think they’ll be coming back. Then Jesus had another meeting at Peter’s house (Matthew 8:14-17); another the next day by the Sea of Galilee (8:18-22); then, later, in a boat (8:23-27); and still another the following day on the other side of Galilee with the disciples, two other guys, a bunch of demons, a herd of pigs and some more visitors from town (8:28-34).
Are you getting the picture? From Matthew 5:1 to 8:34, Jesus had at least 7 church meetings. Actually, He probably had many more than that. How do I know? Because, in reading these 4 chapters in Matthew, the Lord taught me the one, overwhelming principle illustrated in this first church. It’s really simple, but at the same time, really profound. What does the first church show us? What should every church learn from its example? What were the 12 disciples doing? Pay attention. Here it is: THEY WERE LIVING WITH JESUS!!! The function of the church, any church, is to enable believers in their walk with Jesus. It must promote the reality of living moment-by-moment, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, week after week, year after year with Jesus.
The simple fact of the matter is that church is supposed to be the support system for believers in their continuous, uninterrupted relationship with Jesus. It should support them in their constant, openly transparent, submissive, obedient, life changing, transforming, renewing, Holy Spirit-led, love relationship with the Savior; and if you’re ever going to be conformed to the image of Christ, that is the lifestyle that is required. How can you be changed into something you haven’t experienced and submitted yourself to? And I don’t want to cover old ground again, but that doesn’t simply define a relationship. If you read your Bible (void of the prevailing religious bias and deceptions) you will realize that what I’m describing is salvation. The Bible doesn’t describe salvation as something that is accomplished in the past. It can’t be based on something you’ve already done (church membership, baptism, a profession of faith, confirmation classes, etc.). Salvation is a hope (actually, a confidence) that is based on what you are doing today. It is based on the firm commitment to a continual relationship with God that requires your submission to His will and purpose. It requires change (yours, not His). And I hate to mention this just now, but it involves suffering (really, you can look it up, try I Peter 4:12-19 for starters). If you just read the red letters in the Gospel accounts, you’ll see that Jesus never describes salvation as something that is quick and easy (only religion scribes using isolated verses do that). Instead, He presents it as something that is difficult, something that demands persistence and something that only a few will achieve (Jesus said there would only be a few that would be willing to travel the narrow road that leads to life).
Salvation is not based on what you know about God, Jesus made that perfectly clear. It’s not an intellectual exercise; it’s a lifestyle. It’s living with Jesus. The church is a group of people living with Jesus, sharing their experiences with one another, as they live with Him; nothing more; but certainly, nothing less! A community of believers undergoing change together, submitting to His will and purpose, being conformed to the image of Christ, as they are being saved (yes, salvation is a continuing process that has a starting point, but no ending point, read Luke 9:23-24; I Corinthians 1:18; Philippians. 2:12-13; Hebrews 3:14 and I Peter 2:2-3 in the NIV, a translation that actually gets it right).
I’m amazed at the number of churches today who claim to be “New Testament”, but have nothing at all in common with the churches described in the New Testament. On the other hand, it is equally amazing that I recently read of another church who described their search for identity and purpose this way, “In the absence of a clear model, we set out to create our own.” I couldn’t believe it, “In the absence of a clear model?” Give me a break! Why not just be honest and admit that you’re just another traditional church looking for new and innovative ways to attract more people, while trying to figure out how you can effectively entertain them while they’re there, so they’ll feel good about the whole deal and come back the next week. And at the same time, slip something religious into the mix, so they’ll think they had some gushy, sentimental encounter with God (you know, something they can deal with on their own terms, nothing heavy).
But there is a New Testament model. If Jesus and His 12 disciples were the first generation church, then those established by the disciples after Jesus’ ascension were the second generation churches. Now, it’s time to really pay attention again. Remember the principle illustrated by the first church wasliving with Jesus. He was there, physically with them, every day, every night, day after day, week after week, for almost 4 years. Then He was gone! Now these men, and others, began establishing churches all over the place (in Asia Minor, Europe and Africa). And the principle of these second generation churches comes through loud and clear. Are you ready for this? If you can remember what you’ve already read, you should be able to guess. Here it is:LIVING WITH JESUS IN A COMMUNITY OF OTHER BELIEVERS WHO ARE LIVING WITH HIM TOO!!!
Now I’ve said all this as an introduction to get to this place. I’m not writing a book on the subject; you’re not supposed to learn this stuff from books anyway (or from pastor’s sermons either, for that matter). You’re supposed to submit yourselves to God and let Him teach you. But, since there’s so much deception in the so-called church today, and in the absence of truth, it’s important to at least point those who are interested in the right direction.
Now I know what the problem is. I’ve heard the argument many, many times. “God doesn’t speak to believers any more. That’s why we have the Bible. He speaks to us through the written word. The Bible is our only source of faith and practice.” But now I have a real problem with that! THAT’S NOT WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS!!!
A look at Ephesians 4:17-24 might help. In verses 17-19, Paul is talking about living like Godless heathen in the futility of worldly reason, being ignorant of and estranged from God, and insensitive to any real spirituality (that is, being bound up in men’s thoughts, religion’s traditions and rituals, and experiencing no reality in God).
Then this is what we see in verses 20-24: “But this is not what you learn from following Christ! If you have really heard Him and have been taught personally by Him, as all true reality is found in Him, you will get rid of your old way of life, your old self that was on its way to destruction because of deceitful lusts. And then you will continually be renewed in your mind, with a fresh spiritual attitude, a new self, being recreated in God’s image, in righteousness and true holiness.”
Thank you Paul for clearing that up for us! In my mind, the key to understanding what Paul is saying here is found in the word translated “truth” in verse 21 (“true reality” italicized in my translation above). The word is aletheia in the Greek text and means, “the reality of a thing, as opposed to the mere appearance of it” or maybe more to the point, “the truth as opposed to error”. What Paul is trying to express is the fact that the true reality of Jesus is found in hearing Him and being personally taught by Him. That’s the spiritual reality or spirituality that I talk about in some of the other articles. Again, true reality is never found in man’s religion. The traditions and rituals of man represent only the mere appearance of God, and that’s not what He wants us to have.
And when we receive glimpses of this true reality from Him, the result should be that we accept Who He is and at the same time reject who we are and change. The result, then, is as Paul says in the passage – we get rid of the old self that is on its way to destruction and embrace the new self that is being recreated in God’s image, reflecting His righteousness and holiness!
Now, what does this have to do with what the real church looks like? I’m glad you asked. The answer is found in the very next verse, Ephesians 4:25. This is what it says, “Therefore, rejecting outright everything that is false, let us all show forth this true reality to those who are likeminded with us, for we are all members of the same body.” This is what the real church should look like today: likeminded people (those with the courage to pursue Him on His terms, not theirs) who meet together to share with one another the true reality of Christ in their lives. What has He taught you and how have you changed? This is the real church: those who are being conformed to the image of Christ, sharing their experiences with one another, encouraging and supporting one another as they go.
I’ll end the blog with this, it tells us what God intended and what the Scriptures describe (this is a simple explanation of Colossians 2:5-7): believers standing together, drawing strength from one another (verse 5), determined to live with Him and be like Him (verse 6), and having the very foundation of their lives firmly established on the things He is teaching them and being thankful for His participation in their lives (verse 7). Now that’s what the real church looks like.
If Christians are to be the church God wants them to be, they must get over a basic misunderstanding of how the church is to function. It is the idea that the work of the church is to be done by the clergy and that role of laymen and laywomen is to do nothing or, at best, merely to follow where the ordained persons lead.
Actually, nothing could be farther from the biblical pattern in the New Testament; it is clear that the work of ministry is to be done by all Christians and that the job of the clergy is merely to equip other Christians for that task. This is the meaning of Ephesians 4:11-13. “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
False and True Models
In recent years, there has been a new readiness in many evangelical circles to see and welcome this truth, but this has not always been the case. Earlier ages of the church have often been characterized by false patterns of ministry rather than by biblical ones, though, of course, there have always been proper functioning churches and ministries.
In his excellent study of the church entitled One People, John Stott points out that three false answers to the question of the relationship of clergy to other Christians have been given. The first he calls clericalism, the idea that the work of the church is to be done by those paid to do it and that the role of the lay member is at best to support these endeavors financially. How did this false picture arise? Historically, it resulted from the development of the idea of the priesthood in the early Roman Catholic Church. In those days, the professional ministry of the church was patterned after the Old Testament priestly system with the mass taking the place of the Old Testament blood sacrifices. Only “priests” were authorized to perform the mass, and this meant that a false and debilitating distinction between clergy and laity was drawn. Those who favor this view of the church would say that it goes back to the days of the apostles. But his is demonstrably false. As reflected in the New Testament, the early church often used the word “minister” or “ministry” as referring to what all Christians are and must do. It never used the world hierus (“priest”) of the clergy.
There are historical reasons for the development of clericalism then. But these in themselves are not the whole or even the most significant thing. We see this when we ask: Why did such developments take place historically? Was it simply a matter of biblical interpretation? Or did other factors also enter in and perhaps even distort the interpretation?
The real causes of clericalism are found in the human constitution. On the one hand, there is a problem where the clergy themselves are concerned. It is their tendency to want to run the show, to dominate the normal people who attend church. Sometimes this leads to outright abuse or tyranny. If we need an example, we can find one in the New Testament in the person of Diotrephes who loved “to be first,” according to the apostle John who writes about him (3 John 9,10). A warning against such a pattern is found in 1 Peter in a passage conveying instruction to church elders: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers, not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (5:2,3).
On the other hand, there is a problem with lay members. Their tendency is to sit back and “let the pastor do it.” Stott quotes a remark of Sir John Lawrence to this effect: “What does the layman really want? He wants a building which looks like a church, a clergy dressed in the way he approves, services of the kind he’s been used to, and to be left alone.” The second false answer to the relationship of clergy to lay members is, understandably enough, anticlericalism. For if the clergy despise the laity or think them dispensable, it is no surprise that the laity sometime return the compliment by wanting to get rid of the clergy.
This is not always bad. We can imagine situations in which the church has become so dominated by a corrupt or priestly clergy that a general housecleaning is called for and is, in fact, necessary in order to right the matter. Times like this have occurred historically. Again, we can think of areas of the church’s work that are best done by lay members, for which the clergy are not at all necessary. But these are not grounds for anticlericalism as the normal stance of Christian people. On the contrary, where the church wishes to be biblical, it must recognize not only that gifts of teaching and leadership are given to some within the church for the church’s well-being but also that there is ample biblical teaching about the need for such leadership. Judging from Acts and the various Pauline epistles, the apostle Paul’s regular practice was to appoint elders in every church he founded and entrust to them the responsibility for the training of the flock for ministry (Acts 14:23; 20:17). In the pastoral epistles, the appointment of such leaders is specifically commanded (Tit. 1:5) and the qualifications for such leadership are given (1 Tim. 3:1-3; Tit. 1:5-9).
The final false model of the relationship between the professional clergy and lay members in what Stott calls dualism. Dualism says that clergy and lay members are each to be given their sphere, and neither is to trespass on the territory of the other. This describes the traditional Roman Catholic system in which a “lay status” and a “clerical status” are very carefully delineated, but it is also true of certain forms of Protestantism. In such a system, the sense of all being part of one body and serving together in one work evaporates, the church is partitioned and rivalry enters in instead.
What is the proper pattern? Ephesians 4:11-13 describes it well, for in pointing out the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are to prepare God’s people for Christian work, it is saying that the proper relationship of clergy to lay persons is service. The clergy are to direct their energy to preparing Christians to be what they should be and to do the work entrusted to them. The laity are to serve the world and others within the church.
Pastors are to serve the Christian community so that the saints might be prepared for service—first, service in and to the world and, second, service within the Christian community. Stressing the first of these is important because the church is so often in danger of forgetting it. As is often the case with families, the church sometimes becomes entirely wrapped up in itself and forgets that it is in the world (and not translated immediately to heaven) for one reason only, that it might be of service to the world. It is to minister in and to the world as Christ did.
In his excellent discussion of this point in Body Life, Ray Stedman wisely turns to Christ’s own description of his ministry in the world on the occasion of his reading of the Scripture in the synagogue of Nazareth, early in his ministry. He read from Isaiah where it is written, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoner and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18, 19; cf. Isa. 61:1,2).
Some of these prophesied actions involve natural activities, some supernatural ones—in the case of Christ healing the blind, for example—but, as Stedman points out, there is a sense in which those who are Christ’s are nevertheless to do each one. There is a work of evangelism, described as preaching good news to the poor. There is a service ministry in which captives are freed and the blind healed. This may be literal; our equivalent would be work with prisoners and various forms of medical service. It may also be spiritual in the sense that those who are captive to sin are set free by the truth of God
(John 8:32) and those who are spiritually blind are made to see (cf. John 9). Third, there is a ministry of mercy to those who are oppressed, a ministry of liberation. Finally, there is the proclamation of hope to a world that has almost lost sight of hope. It is the assurance that this is the age of God’s grace, the age in which he is accepting those who turn from sin to the Savior.
Each of these forms of ministry involves the gospel and may be viewed spiritually. But we must not lose sight of the fact that they also involve true physical service in the world. We should not forget Jesus’ story of the sheep and the goats and the basis of their judgment. Christ’s point was that his disciples, the sheep, must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and encourage those in prison. We must all someday meet the Lord for an accounting.
There are many spheres in which the Christian can perform these forms of ministry—in the home, on the job, through voluntary welfare agencies, even through church-directed public service projects. The important point is that Christians must perform them as one part of their calling.
Building Up the Body
The second end for which the saints are to be equipped is building up the body of Christ. The many verses that use the words “one another” or “each other” tell us what this responsibility implies.
1. We are to love one another. This demand is first on the list, for it is emphasized most and in a sense includes everything else that can be mentioned. We find it in John 13, where Jesus gives us his new commandment: “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (vv. 34, 35). It is repeated again twice just two chapters later. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (15:12). “This is my command: Love each other” (15:17). Paul picks it up in Romans saying, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:8). He tells of his prayer on behalf of the Thessalonians: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you” (1 Thess. 3:12). He writes, “You yourselves have been taught by God to love each other” (1 Thess. 4:09). In 1 John, the command to “love one another” occurs five times (3:11, 23; 4:7, 11, 12), and it appears again in the second letter (v.5).
This love is not to be mere sentiment, still less a profession in words only. It is to be “with actions and in truth,” as John says in his description of it (1 John 3:18). It is to be seen in such practical matters as giving money and other material goods to those of our fellowship who lack these necessities (v.17).
2. We are to serve one another. Paul speaks of this in Galatians showing that service is an outgrowth of love: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” (Gal. 5:13). Our example is Jesus himself, who, in the very chapter in which he instructs us to love one another, demonstrated the servant character of love by removing his robes, dressing himself in the garb of a servant and stooping before each of his disciples to wash his dusty feet. He then observed, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have
done for you” (John 13:15).
Does this mean that fellowship is to be expressed in feet-washing? In some cases, it could. But the obvious meaning of the Lord’s act was that we are to be servants generally, that is, in all ways. It is the specific task of deacons to lead us in such service. As small groups we may serve together in supporting a Christian work in the area of the city in which we meet, helping in special projects needed by the church, visiting the sick, taking a turn caring for the elderly, helping members of the church to move from one dwelling to another and scores of other such things. Without some such common concern
and service, Christian fellowship is maimed.
3. We are to carry one another’s burdens. This is Paul’s instruction inGalatians 6:2. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.” It is an obvious outgrowth of the command to love one another, for this is what Paul is specifically referring to as the law of Christ. We love by helping shoulder the cares that are wearing down our fellow Christian.
Small groups are particularly important if we are to do this effectively. For how are we to carry another’s burdens unless we know what they are? And how are we to learn about them unless we have a context in which Christians can share with one another honestly? There are many problems at this point, one of which is our natural reluctance to let our hair down and confess what is really bothering us. If we have problems with our school work or at home with our children, we hesitate to say so because admitting to what may be a failure leaves us vulnerable. We worry about what others may think. Again, if we are having marital difficulties, we are afraid to admit that this is the case. We keep it in, and the problems build to the point where they sometimes prove unsolvable. How are Christians to learn to share their burdens in such areas? The easiest way is through a natural building of acceptance and confidence in the small group setting.
4. We are to forgive one another. Quite a few texts talk about the necessary element. The obvious reason is that we frequently wrong one another or are wronged and so need to forgive and be forgiven. Here are three texts on this matter from the apostle Paul. Ephesians 4:31, 32—”Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.” Colossians 3:12, 13—”Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Ephesians 4:1-3—”As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
We learn from these verses that, although the early church had a high degree of true fellowship, at times it also had troubling moments in which bitterness and wrath erupted and the peace of the church was threatened. If peace was not destroyed, it was because Christians learned to be patient with one another and forgive the slights, whether real or imagined.
5. We are to confess our sins to one another. James says, “Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (5:16).
In opposition to the Catholic doctrine of confession, in which confession is made to a priest and absolution or remission of sins is received from him, Protestants have stressed that the proper biblical pattern is mutual confession in which one Christian may confess to another and be assured by him that God has pardoned the sin and has forgiven him through Christ. This is the Reformation doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, and it is a very important concept. We who are Protestants must admit, however, that confession of this type, while biblical, is nevertheless more common among us in
theory than in practice. And it is probably the case that many, perhaps most Protestants go through life without ever confessing anything to anybody. To judge from our speech, one would think that we do not sin and never have problems.
How destructive this is of true fellowship! How wonderfully helpful it would be if Christians would honestly admit their difficulties and draw upon the much needed prayers and counsel of others for their struggle. James obviously intends this result; in encouraging us to confess our sins to each other, he links the matter of confession to prayer and promises that such will be helpful: “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (v.16).
6. We are to instruct one another. If we do not know the Word of God and do not walk closely with him, we cannot do this. We have no right to teach another. On the contrary, if we do know the Scriptures and are close to God, it should be true of us as Paul said it was of the Christians at Rome; “I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another” (Rom. 15:14).
7. Finally, we are to encourage one another. Paul speaks of this in writing to the Thessalonians, who had recently lost some of their number through death. In their case, this was accompanied by confusion about the doctrine of Christ’s second coming, and Paul wrote to them to explain what this would mean in regard both to themselves and to all those who would die while waiting for it. He explained that Christ would return and that those who had died in Christ would be the first to be raised in their new, Christ-like bodies. Moreover, there would be a reunion as the spirits of these, now clothed in their
resurrection bodies, would be united again with those other believers who would then still be living. After reviewing this theology, he concludes, “Therefore encourage each other with these words” (1 Thess. 4:18).
Mutual edification contributes to the health of the church, and this relates to the important first area of service in that an unhealthy church can hardly minister to the world properly. What is it that keeps the church from being the kind of godly influence Christ obviously intended it to be? Disunity is one thing. A church expending all its energies fighting within itself can hardly be of much use elsewhere. Ignorance is another cause of failure. If the church does not understand the issues of the day or the solutions provided by the gospel, it cannot help the world even though it is not divided internally and is
anxious to help. The church can also be hindered by immaturity. It can be weakened by sin. Each of these faults can ruin the church’s effectiveness, and that is why Paul speaks of “unity in the faith . . . knowledge of the Son of God . . .maturity [manhood] . . . the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
How are we to get to that point? The answer is that each Christian is to help others. Each! It is not the job of the minister alone. His job is to equip the saints to do the work of building up the body of the church and minister to the world.
Feed My Sheep
How are evangelists, pastors and teachers to equip the saints for this work? How long must the work of equipping be done? The answer to the second question is “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature,” that is, throughout the entire church age until Christ returns for us. The answer to the first question is clearly: by teaching, preaching and living the Word of God.
In biblical languages this is often described as “feeding the sheep,” for the work of pastor-teacher is similar to the work of a shepherd in caring for and especially feeding his sheep. The idea is present in the Old Testament (cf. Ps. 77:20), but it is far more important in New Testament usage, probably because it is based on Christ’s special words of instruction to Peter after the latter had denied Jesus three times just before his crucifixion. Jesus told Peter, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17).
We notice even before we look at the nature of the responsibility that the sheep are called Christ’s sheep. They are his in two ways. First, by creation; he made them. Second and even more importantly, by redemption. On an earlier occasion the Lord has said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). In speaking to the Ephesian elders just before his final departure to Jerusalem, Paul said, “Guard yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). If the flock were ours—whether as ministers, elders, or even as parents (thinking now of our children of whom we are overseers)—we could do with it as we wished or as we thought best. But if it is Christ’s, as it is, then we must do as he wishes, recognizing our responsibility to him.
The specifics of that responsibility are that those with the gift of being a pastor-teacher (clergymen, elders, Sunday school teachers, youth leaders) are to “feed” those sheep entrusted to their spiritual care. They are to do that by teaching, sharing and in any other way communicating the Word of God.
There is a sense in which this all applies quite broadly, for there are very few who do not have some degree of responsibility for someone. We are all usually undershepherds in some way. But it is a special word for preachers, because the task of teaching the Word of God is particularly their own. The normal preacher has many functions. He must administer, counsel, visit and do scores of other things. But just as the primary responsibility of a carpenter is to build and a painter to paint, so the primary responsibility of a pastor is to teach the Word of God. Indeed, if he does not, how can he expect the other
undershepherds of his flocks to fulfill their own share of this responsibility?
There is a decline in this area today, first in regard to teaching and then generally in preaching. There are several reasons for it. First, attention has been shifted from preaching to other needed aspects of the pastoral ministry, things like counseling, liturgies, small group dynamics and similar concerns. These things are important. They are part of a minister’s work. But they should not, indeed they must not, shift attention away from his primary responsibility, which is to teach the Word of God. Moreover, the two are not in opposition. For it is when the Word of God is best preached that these other concerns are best cared for. An example is the age of the Puritans. Preachers in this period were noted for their mature expository sermons. Their material was so weighty in some instances that few today are even up to reading it. Yet, this does not mean that other aspects of the ministry were neglected. On the contrary, worship services were characterized by a powerful sense of God’s presence, and those who did such preaching and led such services were intensely concerned with the problems, temptations and growth of those whom God had placed under their care.
A second possible reason for the decline in preaching is the contemporary distrust of oratory. People in our day are sensitive to being manipulated and dislike it. Since preaching is clearly directed to moving people (and not merely instructing them), this seems to be manipulation, and some turn from it. The trouble with these explanations is that, although they have an element of truth about them, they are both based on external matters or external situations and so miss the internal or fundamental cause of preaching’s decline. What is the answer in this area? The answer is that the current decline in the preaching and teaching of the Word of God is due to a prior decline in a belief in the Bible as the authoritative and inerrant Word of God on the part of the church’s theologians, seminary professors and those ministers who are trained by them. Quite simply, it is a loss of confidence in the existence of a sure word from God. Here the matters of inerrancy and authority go together. For it is not that those who abandon inerrancy as a premise on which to approach the Scriptures necessarily abandon a belief in their authority. On the contrary, they most often speak of the authority of the Bible most loudly precisely when they are abandoning the inerrancy position. It is rather that, lacking the conviction that the Bible is without error in the whole and in its parts, these scholars and preachers inevitably approach the Bible differently from inerrantists, whatever may be said verbally. In their work, the Bible is searched (to the degree that it is searched) for whatever light it may shed on the world and life as the minister sees them and not as that binding and overpowering revelation that tells us what to think about the world and life and even formulates the questions we should be asking of them.
Yet the work of equipping is to be done not only by speaking the Word of God but also by living it, as we have indicated. This is what Jesus was referring to when he used the image of shepherding of himself. For in describing his work he said, “When he [that is, himself] has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him” (John 10:4). He means that he does everything first. He sets the pattern which others are to follow. So should all those whose task it is to equip other Christians.
New International Version (NIV)
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
There is an old story of an elderly man who always carried a little can of oil with him everywhere he went, and when he would go through a door that squeaked, he would squirt a little oil on the hinges. If he encountered a gate that was hard to open, he would oil the latch. And so he went through life, lubricating all the difficult places, making it easier for all those who came after him. People called the man eccentric, strange, and crazy, but he went steadily on, often refilling his can of oil when it was nearly empty, and oiling all the difficult places he found.
In this world, there are many lives that painfully creak and grate as they go about their daily work. Often it seems that nothing goes right with them and that they need lubricating with “the oil of joy”, gentleness, or thoughtfulness. Do you carry your own can of oil with you? Are you ready with your oil of helpfulness each morning? If you offer your oil to the person nearest you, it may just lubricate the entire day for him/her. Your oil of cheerfulness will mean more than you know to someone who is downhearted. Or the oil may be a word of encouragement to a person who is full of despair. Never fail to speak it, for our lives may touch others only once on the road of life. and then our paths may diverge, never to meet again.
The oil of kindness has worn the sharp, hard edges off many a sin-hardened life and left it soft and pliable, ready to receive the redeeming grace of the Savior. A pleasant word is a bright ray of sunshine on a saddened heart. Therefore give others the sunshine and tell Jesus the rest.
We cannot know the grief
That men may borrow;
We cannot see the souls
Storm-swept by sorrow;
But love can shine upon the way
Let us be kind,
Upon the wheel of pain so many weary lives are broken,
So may our love with tender words be spoken.
Let us be kind.
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Romans 12:10