by César De León Ph.D LMFT, Ministerial Director for the North Pacific Union Conference
I was transferred last week, in light of our world church reports and thoughtful responses, to the story John recounts about the man Jesus came to heal after walking 67 miles on a Sabbath afternoon. This account has moved me since childhood, perhaps because one of my childhood buddies, Rafael, was crippled. As the rest of us kids played soccer, kickball and baseball, Rafael would characteristically stand on the sidelines. Leaning on his crutches, he’d stand content to watch his neighborhood buddies work up a sweat. I also like this story because of the depiction of the extreme situations it recounts, like the 38 years this man had been laying in the same spot, or the sudden, extreme restoration he goes through in the blinking of an eye.
Paradoxically, these “holy leaders” mutated. One proud moment they are fanatical observants of the law, particularly of the fourth commandment, and the next moment they have morphed into ruthless, conniving sixth commandment offenders.
I can only imagine what this formally crippled man may have been thinking: “Don’t you guys recognize me? You must know that I am the same man you’ve seen parked next to the pool of Bethesda for 38 years? You must have noticed me at some point. Look at me! I’m walking for heaven’s sake! I’ve been healed. . .” However, the only response he gets from his spiritual leaders is: “But it is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.” (Verse 10). Never mind that this crippled man had just been healed! De-nile is not just a river in Egypt; in fact, it’s a vital ingredient in self-deception which runs deep and wide in our Christian communities.
Under the beguiling mindset of self-deception, the only thing that is vital, is what’s most important to me; never mind the moving of the Spirit in others’ lives. My focus is so exclusively attuned to what is important to me, that I have no interest or curiosity in even acknowledging the possibility that there may be something else of eternal significance occurring right before my eyes. Like the spiritual leaders of old, I may become totally blinded to the profoundly obvious supernatural miracles that the Spirit of God may be empowering. Everything that does not align with my personal agenda or priorities eclipses the phenomenological needs and experiences of others. Let’s just ignore (deny) Christ’s mission and agenda. My AGENDA becomes the only important matter at hand! Sound familiar?
Later that day, when Jesus finds the healed man in the temple, he tells him that He is his healer. The man runs to tell the religious leaders that it was Jesus who had healed him. (verse 14-15). The obsessed keepers of the fourth commandment then began to plot out the murder of Jesus; because after all, the fourth commandment is far more important than the other commandments, right? “For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath.” (Ver. 16).
Finally, ALL THE CONDITIONS ARE SET FOR THE NEXT CUT: JESUS HAS SET THE STAGE, LIGHTS ARE ON, CAMERAS ARE ROLLING, THE PEOPLE ARE LISTENING . . . AND NOW JESUS GETS READY TO SAY SOME OF THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS HE WILL SAY DURING HIS EARTHLY MINISTRY. Are you ready to hear it?
John 5:17-20 (NKJV)
“17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.”
18 Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God. 19 Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel.”
Notice the following key statements:
- “My Father works, I work” (Ver. 17).
- “What I see my Father do, I do . . .” (Ver. 19 fp)
- This is so important that Jesus repeats it twice. “Whatever He does the son also does in like manner” (Ver. 19)
- “The Father loves the son and SHOWS HIM all the things that He himself does…” (Ver. 20).
- “For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, EVEN SO the Son gives life to who He will. (Ver. 21).
THE FOUNDATIONS OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH were thus set in place. Christianity is based on communities made up of dyads. . .two individuals. . . ONE is called LORD-MASTER, the other is called a disciple-student, if you please. JESUS was the first disciple, it wasn’t John, or Andrew or Peter; it was Jesus who was discipled by His Heavenly Father. This was the beginning of a global chain reaction: Abba discipled Jesus, Jesus discipled His disciples, the disciples continued to disciple other people. . . and so the church grew. STOP this cycle, this domino effect, and the church DIES.
Christianity was born and framed within the context of community. A community of living dyads whose sole purpose was to imitate Jesus’ example of disciple-making. Stop doing community and Christianity will surely die. The dyad is SO critical that a paramount Biblical promise is rooted in this concept:
“Again, I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” (Matt. 18:19-20)
What water is to fish, community is to Christianity. We cannot live a healthy Christian experience alone! Our faith does not grow in a vacuum! The danger we are experiencing today is that churches are trying to live the Christian experience without the community experience. Community takes time, it is inconvenient; and the experience can get dirty. “If I get too close, then you start telling me your problems. . . and soon you’ll tell me you need a ride to the doctor. . . It’s just too cumbersome!”
But when you are connected to the “AGENDA-GIVER”—The Father, and His agenda calls for you to travel from Cana of Galilee to Jerusalem, 67 miles, approximately 17 hours (15 minutes per mile at a moderate pace) in order to heal a sick man on a Sabbath; you just do it.
A true disciple is then, a person, that as a result of his/her communion with the FATHER, receives His agenda and chooses to live his/her life obeying that agenda. The good news in the Adventist church is that we have now 24 million members. The bad news is that few are disciples. We have work to do as leaders, we need to be intentional in making disciples out of our members. Blackaby, in his book Spiritual Leadership writes: “Spiritual leadership is moving people from their personal agendas into God’s agenda and helping them follow it.” (p.41). In another place, Blackaby infers that if you have never moved anyone from their own agenda into God’s agenda and empowered them follow it, you are not a spiritual leader. (p.37).
I still recall the day my wife and I were driving towards the airport. Carolann was heading to Fresno to speak for the annual Central California Conference women’s retreat while I was heading to Anchorage, to speak at the Alaska Conference for their annual elder’s training weekend. Our flight in Portland was delayed and I knew that unless we took off soon, we were going to miss our connections in Seattle, WA. When we finally landed late in Seattle, I realized that if I sprinted to my gate, I might still catch my connecting flight to Anchorage. As we were deplaning, I told my wife, “I hope you can still catch your connecting flight, I don’t want you to be stuck in Seattle alone. To my surprise she responded rather casually, “I’m not worried at all, because if it’s in God’s agenda for me to spend a night in Seattle instead of speaking at the retreat tonight, He will provide lodging for me and I will trust that He has a good reason for leaving me here.”
Adventist church members attend church every Sabbath; they worship, sing, listen to a sermon, return their tithe, go home and repeat the experience on a weekly basis. Disciples, on the other hand, connect with their heavenly Father on a daily and moment by moment basis. He gives them His agenda for the day and they are guided and empowered by the Spirit to fulfill that agenda. This is true living! This is extreme living! This is radical mission-focused living. Just as Jesus didn’t allow the religious zealots to derail Him from His radical, mission-focused life, let’s not allow anyone or anything to derail us from following God’s agenda for our mission-focused lives of spiritual leadership! It’s time to get back to the mission!