The Forgotten Prayer of Jesus


One of the final prayers of Jesus before His crucifixion:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me….”
—John 17:20-23

Gordian KnotThese are the words of God Himself in the Flesh, Jesus Christ, and yet that prayer carries a bitter irony: We Christians are far from one. If our oneness is to be the very representation of the Trinity’s own oneness, how then is it possible for us to be so fragmented and hostile to those people who share and affirm our belief that Jesus Christ came in the flesh?

It makes me wonder how much better would be the state of Christendom today around the world if we spent more time in genial, wise conversation with those who disagree with our particular interpretation of doctrine or biblical interpretation. Instead, we go to great lengths to prove our “foes” wrong and believe ourselves the best people to deliver that correction.

What does it mean to work toward ensuring that Jesus’ prayer of perfect oneness matters in how we conduct ourselves with brothers and sisters who disagree with us?

Take one position that divides Christians across the country. It may not seem like a make or break doctrinal stance, but I’ve witnessed the most terrible things done in the name of this disagreement: the consumption of alcohol by Christians.

For some Christians, anyone who drinks alcohol might as well be the devil’s own spawn, Christian or not. That said, I drink alcohol. I have a glass of wine with meals now and then. Sometimes I might have a beer.

The Bible says this about wine:

You [God] cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart.
—Psalms 104:14-15

And with all due respect to those who would like to see Prohibition return, grape juice doesn’t have the same ability to gladden the heart of man as a good glass or two of a fine Pinot Noir. Let’s get real here.

That said, I perfectly understand those who shun alcohol, especially when they’ve had a bad past with it. Alcohol killed my own father. I fully support anyone’s decision not to drink wine, beer, or spirits.

Yet how these two sides can tear into each other! Especially when a glass of wine with dinner somehow gets conflated with “do not get drunk with wine.”

And should I go into the battle over the continuance/cessation of the charismata? Or of credo- vs. paedobaptism? Can we talk about eschatology? Don’t our positions on those doctrines make an enormous difference in the fundamental ways in which we believe and how we practice the Faith?

Can we disagree and still be one? Or will the group in power run roughshod over the other?

How many issues have we made divisive in the Body of Christ? And what about Jesus’ oneness prayer?

So alcoholic drink consumption, despite the fact it can be used as club in some Christian circles, isn’t a major doctrinal issue for many. Or any of those others I mentioned. OK, what else then?

My post “Better Than a Beating” discusses how to handle someone who is 90 percent accurate, but not 100. Fact is, each of us has been at 90—or even less. In fact, some of us may just now be reaching that 90 percent stage. Growth means leaving behind what we were and becoming more like Christ is. That’s a continual refinement that won’t be complete until we draw our final breath. Agreed?

So what about the worst of the worst Scripture manglers out there? Well, even they have common ground with us if they conform to the following biblical test:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
—1 John 4:1-3

Do we know anyone who believes and confesses that Jesus Christ came in the flesh and yet he or she still professes some wonky theology?

If we do, then our role is to go to that person and try to win them to a more fully developed and Scriptural theology. Isn’t that what Christ would do? The Bible seems to say that it is:

“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”
—Matthew 12:18-21

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
—Luke 15:4-7

The Bible adds this:

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
—2 Peter 3:9

If the Scriptures says that Christ is gentle with the bruised reed and the faintly glowing wick, if He is willing to leave the many to rescue the one that wandered away, if He is patient with us and with our progress toward Him, how is it that we so rarely exhibit those same traits toward others, especially perceived theological foes?

One final statement concerning the Scriptures just noted—please read this again:

“…a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory….”

That final phrase should warn us that the patience will some day turn into judgment for those who will not acknowledge the full truth of Jesus Christ. One day, there will no longer be any excuses, and those who dragged their heels will have no recourse.

But that day is not yet come. Until then, we are to work at being one. And it is work. No one said restoring people with flawed personal beliefs and practices would be easy. Too many of us, particularly those best equipped to handle truth correctly, often consign the flawed thinker to perdition ahead of Christ’s own, final pronouncement.

Do we believe that any one living, breathing person is beyond redemption? If so, then we have nullified the blood of Christ. If Christ has had mercy on you and me, how then can we fail to show mercy to others, even those who some would say are our enemies because their beliefs are not yet fully conformed to truth?

All God can ask of you and me is that we do not give up on those who are lurking at the fringes, no matter how great or small they might be. Justice is His alone and He will execute it at the right time. Until then, the prayer of Jesus for oneness should ever be before us. Because when we are one, the world can see His glory.

Justice Is for Losers


My son’s been playing soccer at the YMCA this last year. He’s now on his third team. He played on two 5-6 year old teams, then graduated to 7-8 this year. Even then, he’s barely seven.

We had our first game of the season today, and it was clear to me that he’s outclassed. His first year he scored a goal in the last game of the season, and I could not have been prouder. His second team showed him improving his skills; he scored three times for that team. From what I saw today, he’ll be lucky if he gets a dozen good kicks in the entire season—and by that I mean making actual contact with a soccer ball. A goal seems almost ludicrous to expect.

In previous seasons, the Y fielded about six 3-4 yr. old teams, four for 5-6 yr. olds, two for 7-8 yr. olds, and two 9-10 yr. old teams. This season, they couldn’t get any 10-yr. olds at all to play and could not even fill up their 7-8 yr. old teams. That means we have only two 7-9 yr. old teams.

The Y must compete against SAY and Select soccer in our area. The Y has one practice and one game per week. SAY and Select have two practices and two games per week. (Now imagine having two or more kids in those programs! Is it any wonder we’re so ridiculously busy!)

I have to be realistic. My son, no matter how hard he works, may simply lack the inherent talents he needs to play in those two highly-competitive leagues. But what makes it sad for me is the reality that parents don’t want their kids to play in the less competitive Y league because (I believe) they think their own kids will never play for USA Soccer and win that elusive World Cup unless they shun the less competitive Y program and go for the REAL kids’ soccer leagues.

Here’s to ratcheting all of life up a notch or two. (For some reason the phrase “metal fatigue” keeps popping into my head.)

I hate Darwinism, especially Social Darwinism. The idea of the Selfish Gene theory driving all that we do, that our mantra for life is reduced to survival of the fittest, just makes me nuts. And what makes me even more despondent is that, too often, Christians are the ones driving that Excellence At All Cost mentality. So much for fun, fairness, and good sportsmanship. It lost out to Kill or Be Killed—in pre-tween soccer.

It seems to me that the Gospel of grace stands in stark opposition to this non-stop treadmill of competition that drives our lives. If nothing else, it demands we seek justice for the oppressed. Anymore, the oppressed may very well be anyone who isn’t deemed “a winner.” While I’m definitely not into the highly PC idea that we forgo having winners and losers in sports to shield our children’s fragile egos, I don’t think we have to naturally fall into the other extreme. We’ve made every aspect of life into a competition, and that’s simply evil. In our free country, we’ve traded political oppression for social and economic oppression. And let’s be honest: that may be the worse trade. At least in the politically oppressed nation, it’s only the government that’s against you. In ours, everyone is.

The Bible says this:

Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.
—Proverbs 21:13

The soul of the wicked desires evil; his neighbor finds no mercy in his eyes.
—Proverbs 21:10

God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah. Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
—Psalms 82:1-4

“In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”
—Acts 20:35

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
—Micah 6:8

Last week, I discussed issues facing men. One of the fallacies that the modern Christian men’s movement upholds with religious fervor is the power of the strong. Something about a song Beck sang...But in the Bible, on the whole, strength is only good when God wields it. When Man throws it around, people wind up crushed. Sadly, too many of us root for the crushers rather than defend the crushees.

When we speak of justice, we must remember that justice is for losers. As Christians, we’re to minister justice on behalf of the losers of this world, the ones who cannot keep up, the ones who do not have the strength to carry on. As much as we rant about righteousness, I hardly ever hear Christians begging to be more just in their hearts.

But David says this about God:

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.
—Psalms 89:14

Justice is one of the pillars of God’s throne. Heaven itself is established on justice! Why then do we ignore justice in our lives? Why do we American Christians throw in our lot with the popular and not with the ignored? Why do we love winners and hate losers? Why is our theology based on Social Darwinism and not on justice for the weak?

If the Church in this country is doing justice right anywhere, it’s in the anti-abortion movement. We’ve got that down to a science. Good for us. I hate to think what it would be like if we ignored that justice issue.

But what is the Christian’s obligation to workers crushed in the wake of unjust business practices? What is the Christian’s obligation to the children who go unadopted because they are the wrong age, or have a learning disability, or simply aren’t good looking enough to make it in a culture obsessed with appearances? Does God not hear their cries for mercy?

I cannot say that I love my neighbor if I do not seek justice for him. The two go hand in hand. Yet when was the last time you heard this preached from your church’s pulpit?

Consider the following:

Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?
—Proverbs 24:11-12

God does not care for our excuses. No, our justice will never be as perfect as His, but He still calls us to fight on behalf of others.

One last Scripture from the lips of Jesus:

You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.
—Luke 21:17

You see, we Christians should understand that the world sees us as losers. For this reason, how can we not understand justice? How can we ignore the plight of those who cry out for justice?

I have to wonder if our lack of concern for justice has turned us into friends of the perpetrators of injustice rather than friends of God the Righteous Judge.

How will that look on the Day of Ultimate Justice?

This Thing in My Hand


We had to eat lunch out today because of a hurried schedule. Just my son and I, little doubt existed where we’d wind up eating: some fast food joint that stuffs a toy into their kids meal.

My problem comes from knowing how those toys come to be.

At one time, middle-class Americans made those toys. Now they’re made by very young adults (and in most cases, children, as some estimates say up to 250 million children between five and fourteen-years-old slave away) in factories in countries many Americans can’t find on a map. The factory owners house them in barracks where they sleep head to toe. They work twelve to sixteen hour days, seven days a week, 365 days a year, and even on their limited breaks are typically not allowed to venture off the factory property without supervision. In truth, they have nowhere else to go. Worst of all, if we found the kind of coinage lying on the street that those workers make as their hourly rate, we’d think it not worth the risk to bend over.

While some may say that a few cents on the dollar goes a long way in one of those countries, Click image to read more...most of those factory workers have to pay for their food and lodging in the factory barracks. That rent may equal their pay.

They are 21st century indentured servants.

Some of these workers drop dead from overwork. They live in constant fear they may get ill, won’t be able to keep up, and will be replaced. We in the West may talk about failure not being an option, but these poor unfortunates live it.

They have no voice.

They have nowhere to turn.

They have no future.

They have no hope.

I’ve talked to missionaries who say that this kind of factory work may be the one thing that will stymie the revival going on in many of those lands.

Think about that for a second. So my kid and yours can have a toy in their kids meal. A toy they play with for fifteen minutes before it’s buried under a sea of other forgotten toys in an overflowing chest.

And it’s not just kids’ toys. It’s grownups’ “toys,” too.

Anyone out there heard a sermon on this lately? Anyone? Bueller?

I’m not a stupid person. I can do a reasonably good job positioning Ivory Coast, Togo, Sierra Leone, Gambia and the rest of eastern sub-Saharan Africa in their proper positions along the coastline. Singapore and Sri Lanka? Easy.

But I was stumped when I noticed a pair of pants I wore to church said “Made in Macau.” Yeah, I’d heard of it, and could guess it was probably in the Pacific somewhere, but that’s as close as I got.

If I don’t know where Macau is, do I really care to know that some fifteen-year-old girl in a 95 degree sweathouse making fourteen cents an hour during her thirteen-hour day stitched the pants I wore to church to worship God?

You see, our excess costs something. We may never see where the thing in our hands was made or the semi-slave who made it, but God does.

It’s devilishly hard to say no to one more bauble, isn’t it? Large multinational corporations (who play shell games with their headquarters’ addresses to avoid having to answer for the way they treat that 15-year-old Macau girl) pride themselves on the fact that you and I don’t really care where it came from or how, just so long as we can get it cheap. And get it in neverending quantities.

I don’t sleep well at night much anymore. These things trouble me. I think they should trouble all of us. But they don’t. Not really. Out of sight, out of mind.

I won’t go into how all this damages the United States economically in the long run. That’s another post. But I do want us to think about our Christian responsibility to stand for justice. If our rampant materialism creates injustice, then we Christians should be on the forefront of speaking against it.

I look around at all I have and anymore it just sickens me to know that most of it got into my hands in a circuitous route that should have me weeping at who did what to whom and how. I’m going to have to answer for that some day.

This is why I’m trying to live with less. I won’t buy something unless I’m replacing what wore out. And even then, some items I simply won’t replace. I’m going to try to buy American if possible, to keep jobs in a country that still has some labor laws to protect people. If I need to buy two pairs of shoes, I’ll forgo one pair if it means spending a bit more to keep my neighbor from losing his job. Maybe that will send a message to those corporations paying slave wages in some country I can’t place on the map.

As Christians, we need to be more vocal about justice in work. I’ve posted quite a bit about unjust work situations in this country, but it’s even worse overseas. Our materialism makes it worse. For this reason, we can’t keep silent.

Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.
—Proverbs 21:13