Monday, September 12, 2011

Sheep for Slaughter: Refocus

Just a month ago, I was asked by a dear friend to answer a survey of today's Fil-Chi church. This survey consists of the strengths and weaknesses of the church, the vision for the church, and the next steps the church must do. It was indeed a very difficult task. Who am I to think about the direction of plenty of hundred people, I thought.

So I closed my eyes and prayed about it. An image suddenly popped in my head. I believed it was God-given. Because when that image had come, I knew what to pray for and I was instantly filled with God's peace, the peace that transcends all understanding, the peace that I couldn't generate for myself.

If you are curious as to how the image looked like, here it is:

The image shows a wooden fence, topped with a much nicer fence, topped with a strong sturdy cement wall with fine glass doors, and then covered with an equally strong roof and a cross. This signifies the church. The tree on the other hand is the life the structure seeks to preserve. It is the body of Christ.

I realized from this image that we, the church, have been building on a previously set structure, improving it, making it more efficient and grander. But it does not mean that we are effectively participating in the building of the universal body of Christ.

Our focus, our visions, our strategies, our tactics have been set on the internal, very limited people... and not on what the Bible is claiming that we should: the poor, the sick, the oppressed, the orphans, the widowed, basically, the marginalized.

Based on Isaiah 1, the Lord is not impressed with our offerings and sacrifices (works, ministries):

11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the LORD.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening.

Your hands are full of blood!

16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.[a]
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.

What I'm trying to say here is that we need to seek the right focus; we need to build the structure on where God wants His tree to grow. I know many will disagree with me here when I ask you to seek the right focus, and change the wrong focus to the right focus; because many are allergic to the word change, because it is like "rocking the boat" or ceasing unity. But what I'm saying here are all based on what God wants, not on what I want.. They're based on what the Bible says and not merely on a random book I've read somewhere.

The copy-pasted verse above is just one of the many commands of God to help the poor, feed the sick, etc. And if we are aiming to be like Jesus, I think we need to study who His target markets were. Were they the greatest businessmen then? The high officials? The pharisees and the sadducees? No. They were the poor, the hungry, the sick, and the worst of all sinners -- prostitutes & tax collectors.

I pray that we, the church, would not be contented with all that we're doing now. Being contented would lead us to: (1) become ineffective for God's work. We miss God's plans. We miss God's purpose. We miss what's important; (2) depend on ourselves. Since we are contented, we are in the comfort zone that disables us to see God at work. And in Jeremiah, a church that depends on self is like a dry and parched land, with no love that builds the church up, which leads us back to point number one; (3) fail at worship. We focus only on ourselves, and what we want and can do, and not on God, and what He wants and can do. And this is very dangerous, because we could wrongly identify worldly successes for God's blessings. We might even get to the point of mixing worldly values for biblical ones.

Church, I'm not saying that we should give up everything of our budget for the poor. I would just like you to read your Bible and identify what the Bible wants us to focus 0n. Who are the target markets of Jesus Christ? What are the things that God wants us to do? Is God glorified when what we spend for the camps in hotels and high budgeted events is higher than the amount spent in helping the poor? Is God glorified when we create one big-time medical mission, rather than having many small minimal-budgeted activities targeted to the poor?

Many have told me that we have a different target market.. we target the ones in our network (which is mostly the rich). But is this enough of a reason to disregard the "target market" God says we should have in the Bible? Are we going to be like Sodom and her daughters who were described as "arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy." (Ezekiel 16:49)?

I'm not encouraging you to do good works by helping the poor just to be saved. By all means, no. We have been saved through Jesus out of the great mercy He dispensed to a dust like you and me. And we need to share about Jesus to our humbled brethren who have experienced heavier
effects of sin. The gospel of Jesus Christ can free them not only from spiritual bondage but also from the effects of sin in this world (i.e. poverty, slavery, injustice). God achieves this through the church.

May we become a blessing to the least of our brothers, for they too deserve to know Jesus Christ. Before we think of who to reach, let us remember why - the compassion of God for the lost.
Our families, relatives, friends, and colleagues all need Jesus. But so do the poor, the hungry, the sick, and everyone outside or network of friends. We need to reach everyone, with no favoritism.

Read Church.

Reflect Church.

Refocus Church.

~ o ~ 0 ~ o ~

The content above, particularly the need of the church to help the poor, has become a burden when I started reading Isaiah from the Old Testament; and it just kept on growing as I journeyed through the Old Testament during my quiet time. But I think what frustrated me more than our lack of compassion for the poor, is the missed focus of the church. The church has not been seeking God in humility and trust anymore... and this is such a sad sad thing.

I'm not sure if you agree with me when I say we should add to or shift our focus to the poor. Whether you do or you don't, I respect you. Whether your burden is to disciple the young ones, to help the old people, I am happy for you and I would like to encourage you to go do it! I just hope that more of us will read and be changed by His living Word. The Bible has it all..It can provide us the burden that also burdens Jesus. It can also set out the mission vision of the church.. and of your life!

Let me share how God moved to erase the frustrations I had. It was very humbling actually. Last Sunday, I woke up with an indescribable joy. It was like God, through the Holy Spirit, had placed a lingering truth in my heart.

"The church may have its wrongs, but you also have your wrongs, Mitzi. You have not completely obeyed me too. One disobedience means you've already missed the mark.. you are not considered right anymore. It is not what you did or will ever do that has caused me to make you my daughter. It is only because of My mercy and grace.

"Just like the church, there's nothing you, your pastors, or the leaders can do to make it right. It is only through My mercy and grace that the church will be cleansed."

I realized I myself have to do a big refocus. I am not someone "right" to correct the wrongs of the church. I must shift my eyes from looking at the imperfections around me (that can trigger my Messianic Complex) to the Lord above who is the ultimate source of life and love on this dry and parched land. It is not by my might nor power to right the wrongs in the community, but by His spirit!

If you are also seeing some imperfections in your church, do not allow these thoughts to frustrate you. Perhaps, you can pray this prayer with me?

Dear Lord,

Please teach me to focus on you and not on the problems that I see around me. I lift up the church into Your hands. It is now in Your control. I hope Lord that You will have mercy and teach us, the church, to really depend on You and make Your Word our compass. Even if it will be painful, refine the church, so that each and everyone of us will shine brightly like diamonds.. and nations will see that we are indeed Your people.

May you also enable me to remain faithful, to trust and obey you at all costs, even if it may seem like I am rebelling against the status quo of this world and maybe even of the church. May Your Word enlighten my path each and everyday as I read Your Word. And may You use me in Your grand masterplan.

In Jesus' name I pray,

1 comment:

  1. Gordon MacDonald said, “The world can do almost anything as well as or better than the church. You don’t need to become a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick. There is only one thing the world cannot do. It cannot offer grace.” As Philip Yancey put it in his book - What's so Amazing about Grace… the world is thirsting for grace, but where can it find it? I think this should be the role of the church. Dispense grace as we are plugged in to the ultimate source of never ending grace... the son of God, Jesus Christ.

    I think this is easier said than done, for me and for majority of other people. This should be our goal.