– Rob Martini, March 29, 2020
No human could have anticipated the wide and varied impact of COV-19 on individuals, families, businesses, or churches. Without distractions, meetings, places to go, I have rested more than I have in a long time; at the same time, I have thought more about how we must do “church.” Many congregations have attempted to maintain what they have always done—music and preaching is the same, only now it’s only available online. Nothing wrong with that. But in my mind, I keep asking myself, ‘Is that it? If a number of people watch a video I have posted online, have we “done church”?’
In a number of Paul’s letters he begins with a call to sound doctrine, then a call to practically live the truth he just explained. For example, Eph. 1-3 is heavy with doctrine that is made practical in chapters 4-6. I have been reminded of this well- discussed observation in these past two weeks. Sound doctrine must be practical and tangible. “Church” is more than watching others worship and preachers preach.
I would like to highlight just one step toward keeping ministry— “church”—practical and tangible. Join me for a little Bible study, would you?
In Matthew’s gospel record, at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the former tax collector reports,
…Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him. (Mt. 4:17-22)
Observe this first of all: Jesus was the initiator. He is always the initiator. The dictionary defines the word initiate as “an introductory act or step,” “a leading action.” We see God’s initiative in creation. We see it in His varied promises to redeem. The very presence of the Christ on earth evidences His initiative. Life in this world…life in the world to come…would/could never come into being apart from God’s initiative.
In the above text, Jesus took the initiative in preaching the good news of the kingdom. Then He went “ fishing”—a human past time that has “initiative” emblazoned all over it. He called Peter and Andrew: “Follow Me.” Then He called another pair of fishing brothers in the same way (4:21). But He called them all to a different kind of “ fishing”—“ fishing” for people.
What did that look like? What did that mean? Before we get there, note that doing so required they use the same discipline of initiative they were required to use daily in their profession, although applied in a different way.
With regard to “ fishers of men,” please mark three things from this text. We have already noted that Jesus is the initiator. His initiative in calling men (and women) to follow Him requires a response on their part, a response demanding in turn that we individually take the initiative.
First, Jesus is the initiator.
Second, our initiative is focused on others.
I may be emphasizing what is obvious, but we need to remind ourselves of the importance of helping, serving, caring for others. Because we can quickly become self-absorbed. In our current crisis, we can stumble into thinking, ‘Oh, good: this virus has provided me some time off…I’ll do this and that.’ Taking the initiative to do ‘this and that’ may prove very profitable. It may also prove to be selfish and counter-productive to kingdom work. Our fallen nature lures us to cherish things and use people. But the opposite must be true: we cherish people and use things.
In calling around to check on “my people” this week, I reached out to one woman. She is stuck at home, like the rest of us. I asked how she was doing. In the course of our conversation, I learned she had just two partial rolls of toilet paper in the house, and had been unable to find any in any store. So in a mission of mercy (or would that be a mission of necessity?) I delivered a couple of rolls. The toilet paper is secondary; demonstrating care for the person is primary.
Some of those people we help, serve, care for are among God’s flock. Loving, caring, serving them must be a top priority for us. The Apostle John wrote, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 Jn. 3:16). That describes a rather intense involvement with other believers, does it not?
Prayerfully consider, who would the Lord have you reach out to among “the brethren”? How might you love, care for, assist those individuals? Be creative. Simply asking ‘can I help you in any way?’ may be a great first question to ask.
But if they respond, ‘I can’t think of anything,’ there may still be numbers of ways you might practically and tangibly reach out to them. Don’t take their first response to be the only or final response.
Third, our initiative is becoming more like Jesus.
Following Jesus is a “doing,” as well as a “being.” Jesus called the four fishermen to become the people He would remake them to be: “…and I will make you…” As we have recently discussed with regard to Phil. 2:12-13, this is a cooperative work with the Holy Spirit. My initiative in this process has to do with my personal discipline to make choices, to adopt attitudes, that mirror the character of Christ. Think… do…act just like the Master. This will include loving others, being patient with others, choosing to endure with others…even those who are ‘difficult.’
As Jesus took the initiative toward others from a heart of compassion and concern, so must we. So in this up-coming week, what 3 people from our fellowship might you reach out to? And what 3 people outside of God’s family might you reach out to?
There are many different ways we manifest “church” in this world. Looking for practical, tangible ways reveals a heart that is concerned like Jesus. I urge us all: take the initiative.
Send me a note by the end of this up-coming week and tell me what you did, and the doors that opened. Without names, I’ll compile our initiatives. Someone else’s action may inspire you.
For further reflection, read and meditate your way through these verses: Jn. 15:1-11, 16; Lk. 19:10.