"Meanwhile, the disciples were urging him, "Rabbi, have something to eat." But he said to them, "I have food to eat that you know nothing about." So the disciples began to say to one another, "No one has brought him anything to eat, has he?" Jesus told them, "My food is doing the will of the one who sent me and completing his work." (John 4:31-34 ISV)
I could not figure out, as I retraced the teaching of Pastor Shannon Nielsen of Mosaic A2's teaching of the encounter that Christ had with the Samaritan woman at the well, why this verse stuck in my brain for the last few days. After all, this takes place after the woman has departed to gather her neighbors and friends to "Come and see a man who told me everything I've ever done! Could he possibly be the Christ?" (v29) The disciples, who had departed to get some food, are concerned with Jesus eating….the same Jesus whom we are told came to the well weary and thirsty.
Yet, it seems suddenly that all the weariness and thirst of the journey were forgotten……
Why? And why did this verse stick with me?
Pastor Nielsen has been talking about how we, as followers of Christ, must know what Christ was like so that we can be more than just 'obnoxious' Christians. To do this, we have to look to the way Christ related to people. Hence the reasoning behind his five-week series, called "Encounters".
That isn't it, and it is.
S. Michael Craven's commentary on "Where's the church in the midst of our marital crisis?" only added to the dilemma of being enticed by God to go deeper into the message He gave Nielsen to share last Sunday.
As I was sitting here, trying to do my work and thinking about this blog…..a common condition for me anymore….it hit me.
A few Saturdays ago, I went to NorthRidge Church in Plymouth with the intention of meeting up with a brother that I have been fellowshipping with on Facebook for almost a year now. We never did manage to 'hook up'; he was running behind that day. But, it was the experience I had with the congregation, part of the 12,500 that fellowship under the leadership of Brett Powell, aggravated my church wound and made my spirit sick with the display of 'church' under this 'mega' model.
I was greeted once at the door with the brochure for the service. That advertisement of all the things that the church is involved in, with space for the service notes……I don't know what else to call the glossy, flashy four page paper they gave me anything but a brochure. After that, I was pretty much left on my own to figure out where and how to get my children to their ministry classes and find a place to sit through the service. I had finally decided to sit outside the massive 'worship center' and use my laptop to follow the service. But, the power on my laptop was real low and with no plug in, I decided to head back out to my car to get a pen.
I decided I didn't need to carry my backpack back into the church, so I put it on my seat and locked the car……and had the sudden realization as the door clicked shut hit me. I had put my keys in the pouch on the backpack….well, you get the picture.
Well, I turned back and went inside the massive structure where NorthRidge congregates and approached the 'customer service' kiosk….I'm sure it was called something less 'businessy' like 'guest relations' or some new encompassing phrase….but it looked like a customer service booth in any major corporation. Asking the two people slumped behind the wrap around desk if there was any help for people who locked themselves out of their cars, I received an answer to the negative and was informed that the Plymouth Police themselves wouldn't be much help. The recommendation, delivered rather bluntly, was to call a locksmith.
As that wasn't an option, I asked if there was some way to get a wire hanger or something…..Facilities was called and eventually I received a wire hanger and the hope that it would 'get me out of this jam.' During the time I was waiting for the facilities director to rustle up a hanger, the two 'guest services' representatives generally ignored me and talked about their plans after church.
I missed the service, spending the hour out in the parking lot trying to get into my car. A van passed by as I was becoming increasingly frustrated and grabbed the groceries left behind vehicles for the food bank the church was having a drive for. Nothing was said, though two of the donated bags where one car away from me. I called my sister at home and asked her to bring me a hammer and a screwdriver. Then I went in to get my children, who had spent their time in the appropriate kids programs. As we walked back to the car, I told them that we were locked out and my sister was on the way…..they told me about the game platforms and various gaming programs the Children's ministries had. When I asked about the service, my daughter told me it was something about wisdom and my son couldn't recall what it was.
Three people, one person and two families, engaged me while I struggled to get into the car. One passed by, joking saying "I'll pray God will help you"…the other family that I didn't know offered to drive us somewhere or call someone….one family I knew. But, there had to be at least 3,000 cars there….both in the church parking lot and the additional parking over at Johnson's Controls that were bused in by coach buses, and only three people engaged me in conversation.
My problem was not the church's problem and by default, not the problem of 2,997 people.
Such is the experience in a mega church, whether it is in a single location of massive size or a multi-location like the collection of churches under the leadership of Pastor Jim Combs, the River campus of which I attended lately.
Church isn't in the relationship business but the business of church.
And the food they live on isn't the food of being about the Father's business. This isn't the example Christ set and the one that the early church followed.
"It is revealed throughout the Bible that our Lord took on Himself the sin of the world through identification with us, not through sympathy for us." Oswald Chambers writes in My Utmost for His Highest. "He deliberately took on His own shoulders, and endured in His own body, the complete, cumulative sin of the human race."
The ministries of the Church seem to operate out of sympathy for those it serves, not identification with them and that is why the missional focus of the Church has become a culturally defined and shaped thing instead of the opposite. Sympathy only last for so long and then legal liabilities, time consumption, costs, involvement and agenda eat it away to the point of burnout.
Christ was weary from His deliberate journey into the land of the Samaritans….a journey any good and faithful Jew would've avoided….and He was thirsty. He had no bucket, no cup or other instrument in which to draw some water or surely the disciples would've drawn some for Him as He waited for their return with food. It only took the opportunity to save one soul to distract Him from His physical discomforts and the cultural bans…..one soul.
He was indifferent to His physical needs for the sake of spiritual ones. Like Abraham's servant who didn't stop to eat until his errand was done (Genesis 24:33) or Samuel, who did not sit down until David was anointed (1 Samuel 16:11). The matters of the kingdom trumped the physical fragility of their human forms.
He gained the greatest pleasure and satisfaction not from the enjoyment of His human form but from the meat of the Father's work….the salvation of sinners and the instruction to those saved on how to know God, experience God and live under God's graces. He lived for the work His Father set before Him, earnestly and passionately to pursue its finishing touches, no matter the occasion, need or direction He had to take. There is not once in the Bible where it is mentioned that Christ left work unfinished.
Sympathy may empower you to begin the work, but to carry on through it with diligence and accountability with perseverance and constancy to the aim of finishing, it takes identification in the work being done. Are you doing the work out of sympathy or do you do the work because it is the food and drink of your life….God's will:
All Your works shall praise You O Lord, and Your saints shall bless You. They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom, and talk of Your power, to make known to the sons of men His mighty acts, and the glorious majesty of His kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and Your dominion endures throughout all generations. (Psalm 145:10-13)
Men and women have been equipped, from the original design, to bless God through the work they do for the Kingdom and have been equipped for it through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. We have no fear for provisions, legalism or restrictions born from physical ailments…..God is good and faithful to deliver us from the limitations of our flesh.
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior." Isaiah 43:1b-3a (NIV)
Just like Christ was content to the point where His disciples were convinced that He had gotten substance from another source, so we in the body of Christ should look like well-fed laborers in the work for our King.
Are you well fed in the graces of the Lord?
Or are you one of those starved enough to look for food from any source?