As we begin the new year, I thought I would start us off with a call to return to simple. Simple and uncomplicated ministry. Ministry as Jesus did it. Ministry stripped off all the ways we try and make it more complex than it really is. Spirituality that's focused on the important. Being the Church Jesus wants us to be.
This was driven home to me in a book recommended by a close friend: Simple Church, by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger. It is a straightforward and down to earth appraisal of how ministry should look. How Jesus intended it to look. If you happen to be struggling with the church as it often is, and want to consider it from a refreshing perspective, I would encourage you to pick up this easy to read book. As you go through it I am sure you will likely find yourself saying on many occasions, "Yes, that IS how it should be." I offer this excerpt as a mere taste of what is in the book. Enjoy.
"Simple churches have chosen to align themselves with the way God works. They have chosen to partner with the discipleship process revealed in Scripture. They have chosen to structure their churches around a simple process... We are not claiming a simple church design is easy. There is a big difference between simple and easy. Simple is basic, uncomplicated, and fundamental. Easy is effortless... Leading a local church is neither simple nor easy, but the church strategy does not need to be complicated. The ministry design can and should be simple.
If anyone knows simple it is Jesus. If anyone is a revolutionary, it is Jesus. He is the simple revolutionary. He stepped into a complicated and polluted religious scene. It was cluttered with Sadducees, Pharisees, Herodians, Zealots, and Essenes. He did not play by their rules. He could not stand their hypocrisy. He preferred spending time with tax collectors and sinners. The religious leaders had developed a religious system with 613 laws. They chose that number because that was how many separate letters were in the text containing the 10 Commandments. Then they found 613 commandments in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament). They divided the list into affirmative commands (do this) and negative commands (don't do this). There were 248 affirmative commands, one for every part of the human body as they understood it. There were 365 negative commands, one for each day of the year. They further divided the list into binding commands and nonbinding commands. Then they spent their days debating whether the divisions were accurate and ranking the commands within each division.
Enter Jesus. Jesus has the ability to take the complex and make it simple. The prime example is Matthew 22:37-40, where Jesus gives what has become known as the Great Commandment. Here is the scene. Jesus has just stumped the Sadducees. Literally. He silenced them by His wisdom (Matt. 22:34). Next up are the Pharisees. Maybe they can do a better job knocking this revolutionary down. The Pharisees gather for a meeting. They devise a debate strategy. The goal is to humiliate Jesus in front of the crowd. They choose their smartest guy, a lawyer, to take on Jesus. He asks Jesus which is the greatest commandment in the law. Of all the 613 commandments, he is asking Jesus for the greatest. Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend (are summed up in) these two commandments." Think about the significance of that moment. He said all the Law (and He added the Prophets) is summed up in this simple and perfect phrase. He was not lowering the standard of the Law. He was not abolishing it. He was capturing all its spirit, all of its essence, in one statement. He said all of it hangs on this. He summed up 613 commands in two. Jesus took the complexity and the advancement of the Law and made it very simple.
Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher. In the Jewish culture, each rabbi had a "yoke" of teaching. His yoke was his instructions, his content and his message. Many rabbis put yokes of teaching on the people that were impossible and legalistic. These yokes pushed people away from the grace of God and not toward it. These yokes burned people out and turned people off. Jesus stepped onto the scene and said to the crowd one day: "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:28-30). Jesus said HIS yoke was easy. His teaching was in stark contrast to the religious rabbis of the day. He was not offering a complicated and long set of rules, rituals, and regulations. He was offering grace. He was offering a simple relationship with God. As a simple revolutionary, Jesus was bothered by meaningless and distracting clutter.
On at least one occasion, Jesus cleansed the temple. Many biblical scholars believe he did this twice during His earthly ministry. Mark 11 gives the account of one of His cleaning projects. Jesus was enraged by what he observed at the temple. The temple had the appearance of being a place where people would seek God, but this was not the reality. People had lost their focus. Mark describes three areas of clutter that infuriated Jesus. FIRST, people are buying and selling in the temple... The leaders allowed vendors to set up shop in the temple. Historians reveal vendors were typically set up outside the temple, but (in Jesus day) the makeshift marketplace is inside the temple. Jesus responded by driving out those who were selling doves. SECOND, money changers were exchanging foreign currency for the Gentiles. The Gentiles needed Jewish money to buy sacrifices and they were being exploited with a fee for the exchange. Instead of the temple being a house of prayer for all nations (including Gentiles) it was cluttered with people robbing them financially. Jesus reacts by throwing over the tables of the money changers. THIRD, the temple had become a shortcut for people to pass through the city... Jesus stopped them.
His behavior in the temple gives us amazing insight into the heart of God. Jesus is adamantly opposed to anything that gets in the way of people encountering Him. He quoted from Isaiah that day saying, "Is it not written. 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?' But you have made it a den of thieves!" (Mark 11:17). Many of our churches have become cluttered. So cluttered that people have a difficult time encountering the simple and powerful message of Christ. So cluttered that many people are busy doing church instead of being the church. What about your church?"
Just some food for thought as we enter the New Year and hopefully "clean out" and "simplify" our approach to God. For Jesus wants us to know, "[His] yoke is easy and [His] burden is light." He designed it that way. He fought to keep it that way. May He win the fight to do so in your life and in your church.
With Prayers for a Year Where We Can Learn to Enjoy the Simplicity and Light Load of Being In Christ, Pastor Jeff