They are Great High Priest, Good Shepherd, Heavenly Bridegroom, Author and Finisher of Our Faith, Builder of Ekklesia, Head of the Church, and Lord of the World. I went through the entire New Testament from Matthew to Revelation to find every verse that gives insight into what Jesus has been doing since His ascension. Each chapter of Jesus Now describes one of these facets, so each chapter is like a different side of a diamond when you begin turning it. To my mind, all of them shine brilliantly in their own way.
You can visit the official Jesus Now site for information and samples.
Pathology is the study of disease. Medical experts tell us that in order to remain in good health, one must have a proper diet and exercise regularly. They also recommend periodic physical examinations. The reason? A person can get infected with an acute disease and not know it.
Since it’s possible to unknowingly acquire a terminal illness, many researchers say that the best prevention against certain diseases is early detection. And early detection necessitates periodic physical exams.
The New Testament repeatedly envisions the church as the Body of Christ. Paul spins the body metaphor again and again to describe the ekklesia. For Paul, the church is like a physical body. As such, it’s a living, breathing, vital organism. It’s born. It experiences growth spurts and growth pains. And it passes through specific developmental stages.
To put a finer point on it, a church’s physical condition can range from healthy and vibrant to the spiritual IC unit (barely alive). Since the church is a living organism, it can even contract spiritual disease.
According to my experience, many organic churches seem to expire within two years. Some, however, keep on meeting even though they are living in the precincts of death. See Revelation 3:1. In both cases, the church dies from a fatal illness. Consequently, if a church doesn’t know how to build a healthy immune system, it sits wide open for serious sickness.
In this chapter, I would like to introduce you to four common diseases that afflict organic churches. As such, this chapter can rightly be titled, Church Pathology 101.
Please note that I’m not speaking as a theoretician. I’ve watched these diseases afflict non-traditional churches for almost two decades. The good news is that none of these diseases is hopelessly terminal. All have a cure. The bad news is that without preventative maintenance and early detection, the chances for a church’s survival is slim to none. And slim left town.
As we explore each disease, I’ll be spinning a lot of medical terminology, building upon Paul’s body metaphor. I’ll also be employing a few nonbiblical terms to make specific points. The four diseases are: Koinonitis, Spiritual Myopia, Spiritual Dwarfism, and Hyperpneumia.
The traditional church doesn’t pass through seasons because it’s tied to a ritual that continues unmoved every week of every month of every year, world without end. Consequently, the spiritual temperature of a traditional congregation is hidden underneath the ritual. The performers perform, and the congregation watches, regardless of the congregation’s spiritual condition. To spin that point around, religious institutions and programs are life-support systems when a church is spiritually dying.
One of the wisest men who ever lived taught us well about the different season of life. He wrote,
To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; A time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; A time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones; A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to gain, and a time to lose; A time to keep, and a time to throw away; A time to tear, and a time to sew; A time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; A time of war, and a time of peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
What is true in the natural is also true in the spiritual.
At bottom, a season means a change. As fallen creatures, we don’t like change very much. We fall into ruts and routines quite easily. We’re bent that way. But science teaches us that all living things grow or else they die. Change, therefore, is a basic law of life.
For this reason, it’s important that a church always maintain a spirit of exploration, experimentation, and discovery. I’ve learned that if you don’t have variety in your church life, you will grow stale. There’s an infinite number of ways to express the Lord, there’s an infinite number of ways to explore Him, and there’s an infinite number of ways to have meetings.
I’m convinced that one of the reasons why God wrote the seasons into the script of the universe is to illustrate the changes that a church will pass through. To frame it in Paul’s language, “Does not nature teach you?” 1 Corinthians 11:14.
One of the greatest lessons that Stephen Kaung taught me by his life was the critical importance of remaining humble in the face of the greatest unveiling of Christ. He once brought a message in 1995 that deeply impacted me. He told the story of God’s work in China under Watchman Nee. The stories he told about the work were no less than remarkable.
Organic churches were planted all over China in this work. Droves of young people came to the Lord. They touched the glory of God and experienced the Body of Christ in a marvelous way.
Most of the traditional churches in China didn’t like these new churches. They felt threatened by them. Watchman Nee was tagged a “sheep-stealer” because people who were dying on the vine in the traditional church were joining his work in mass numbers.
As Stephen told the story, he stopped and began to weep. He said, “But something happened. Pride came over us. Because we had received a deep revelation of the Lord, we felt that we were special. We felt that we were better than other Christians. No longer did we talk about being part of the church, we started saying that we were the church in the city.”
Stephen went on to say that God let this go on for a while, but eventually, He took His hand off the work. And in Stephen’s opinion, He allowed it to be scattered.
I remember having a conversation with him sometime afterwards. He very simply quoted the Scriptures to me: “God resists the proud, but He gives grace to the humble” . . . “Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God and He will lift you up.” En. 1 Peter 5:5-6.
Those words possessed thunder and lighting for me. I asked him, “Brother Stephen, how does a group of Christians find the Lord in the depths and avoid thinking to themselves that they are special?” His reply was simple: “Only God can do that . . . our part is to humble ourselves under His mighty hand and He will lift us up.”
Many Christians fear diversity. We all love unity, but we tend toward uniformity. This tendency is most clearly seen in denominationalism. But it exists vibrantly outside of denominational lines as well.
Diversity, however, is part of the nature of the Body of Christ. It’s also woven into this universe. Look at creation. Look at your physical body. Look at the unseen Trinity who brought both into existence. What do you find? Particularity with unity. Diversity with harmony.
Point: Diversity is a sign of fullness. Therefore, diversity should be embraced and not feared or rejected.
Yet few things so test the human heart as much as diversity.
One of the Lord’s most faithful disciples teaches us this principle well. Mary Magdalene was the first person to see the resurrected Christ. Do you remember what she did as soon as she recognized Him? She grabbed Him, and she wouldn’t stop clinging to Him.
Jesus responded saying, “Stop clinging to me.” En. This is what the Greek text says. See The Gospel According to John (Revised), by Leon Morris (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), pp. 741-743.
Why did Jesus tell Mary to stop clinging to Him? Because He had somewhere He had to go. He was on the move. Jesus was poised to go to Galilee to see the other disciples and then to ascend to His Father. He was moving forward, but she was clinging to Him.
Jesus was in effect saying to her: “Mary, stop holding on to me. There’s a new way to know me that’s different from what you’ve experienced thus far. Let me go for I must move on.”
Do you remember the disciples who walked on the road of Emmaus? Their hopes were shattered by the Lord’s horrible death. Suddenly, the Resurrected Christ began walking beside them, yet their eyes were blinded from recognizing Him.
When He engaged in the very simple gesture of breaking bread, something He had done frequently before them, their eyes were opened.
Then He quickly disappeared from their sight.
These stories hold a critical insight. You cannot cling to the Christ that you know today. He will vanish from your midst. Jesus Christ is an elusive Lover. Seeking Him is a progressive engagement that never ends. He does not dance to our music. He does not sing to our tune.
Here’s something worth remembering. To know Christ is to learn Christ. Jesus Christ is someone we learn. In the letter of Ephesians, Paul lists certain character traits that clash with the character of Jesus. He then adds this pregnant phrase: “And you have not so learned Christ” Ephesians 4:20.
This statement should cause us to pause and raise an important question. How could the believers in Asia Minor who received Paul’s letter “learn Christ”? Jesus had ascended into heaven thirty years before Ephesians was written. And the believers in and around Ephesus were hundreds of miles away from Palestine. Therefore, the recipients of this letter never met Christ when He was on the earth. Yet they “learned” Him. But how?
Very simply. They learned Him because He dwelt inside of them. They learned Him from one another, as they were part of a Christ-indwelt community. And they learned Him from Epaphras (the man who planted the churches in Asia Minor to whom Ephesians was written).
Learning Christ is learning His glorious Person and work as well as learning His character. And the two should never be separated.
For this reason, I’m greatly underwhelmed with those who can talk a good game about “the deep things” of Christ when their characters fail to emit His love, His graciousness, His kindness, His inclusiveness of others, and His compassion for everyone, not just those in their particular movement.
Never forget: The measure of one’s knowledge of the Lord does not rest in their ability to wax eloquent about Him. It lies in whether or not their character reflects Him.
I’m not speaking of perfection, for everyone of us has flaws, even the most seasoned Christians. I’m rather speaking of the basic traits of Christ’s life. Are they kind-hearted or mean-spirited? Are they truthful or do they deceive? Are they boastful and braggadocios or do they point attention to the Lord and to others? Do they enjoy offending people or do they seek to encourage them? Do they insult and speak ill of those they don’t like or do they speak well of them? Are they sectarian or do they receive all of God’s children? Only by one’s character can you determine if they really know the Lord well.