Written by: By Nancy Bresette
Have you ever thought about all the people of faith who have gone before you?
From those early followers of Jesus who bore witness to the Resurrection and kept the fragile flame of faith burning, to our grandparents and parents, there have been countless people who have impacted our faith journey.
My paternal grandparents, an aunt and uncle, and my two cousins were Methodists. They provided me with my earliest examples of faith lived out daily.
When we moved north my stepfather worked on Sunday and since we only had one car, we attended whichever church was the closest since we walked. For a while, it was a Baptist church, then an Assembly of God. Over the years as an adult, I have been discipled and influenced by Catholics and Congregationalists.
I think it is good to pause, remember and honor all those who have impacted our lives, both our family; and those whom we have never met – those who, by their very lives, demonstrated how they valued oneness with Jesus.
It is appropriate to take time to remember every disciple who has gone before us; every person chosen by Jesus that others might believe in Him through their witness. It is something we do every Sunday during our worship service.
Jesus’ prayer in the Gospel of John 17:20-26 clearly shows the value He placed on his earliest disciples, men who would soon know the crushing reality of fear for self, and despair of the future; men who would deny Him and disappear into the night.
You see, Jesus knew the failure of His disciples would be only temporary. He knew after the Resurrection they would renew their faith and carry on a new ministry in the power of the promised Holy Spirit, a promise that stands for every disciple in every age.
Jesus’ prayer for those disciples and all who would follow, including us, was and is, precisely the same:
I in them and you in Me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that You have sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me. That unites all believers, past, present, and future for a specific reason.
We are linked together for eternity so that the world may know that God sent Jesus to earth because He loves us even as He loved His own Son. We need to hang onto that awareness for dear life.
Dr. E.M. Blaiklock, Professor of Classics at Auckland University in New Zealand once said: “Of all the centuries, the twentieth is most like the first.” Today, just as in the first century, Christians are a minority group, representing a minority viewpoint.
We live in the midst of a hostile, despairing world. We, like those early Christians, are hemmed in on every side by violence, ignorance, immorality, and existential despair. More and more today’s Christians find themselves thrust back into the very climate where the persecutions and triumphs of the book of Acts occurred.
That statement is even more relevant in today’s world. In these troubling times, we must remain united because lack of unity can have deadly results. Such results are detailed by Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence. Goleman tells the story of a crash that today is told as a cautionary tale in the safety training of airline pilots.
Melburn McBroom was a domineering boss. His nasty temper intimidated everyone with whom he worked. That situation is not that unusual, and might have passed unnoticed, except to those directly affected by his actions, had McBroom worked in an office or factory. But Melburn McBroom was an airline pilot.
Goleman writes that one day in 1978, the plane McBroom was piloting was approaching Portland, Oregon when he noticed a problem with the landing gear.
So, McBroom went into a holding pattern, circling the field at a high altitude while he fiddled with the mechanism.
As McBroom obsessed about the landing gear, the plane’s fuel gauges steadily approached the empty level. Because of his verbal abuse over the years his copilots were so fearful of McBroom’s wrath that they sat silently by and watched as disaster rushed toward them. That plane crashed, killing all ten people aboard!
When I read that account my mind went to Paul’s instructions to the church at Philippi:
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
If the ten people in that plane had been of one mind, with McBroom’s ego under check and willing to listen to his co-pilots, it’s possible they could have worked out the problem together and, disaster might have been prevented.
Jesus told his disciples: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
Let’s take a closer look at the oneness those early believers practiced because there was a pervasive spirit of love and unity, which led to an effective witness to the world.
After the Resurrection, we no longer read of the disciples jockeying for position. They are focused and they are united. All who came to know Christ because of their witness were encouraged to share one another’s burdens, to care for another, and when correction was necessary, to always speak the truth in love.
Paul encouraged those early Christians not to repay evil with evil, but to always seek after that which is good for one another and for all men.
He encouraged them to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ, so they could stand firm in one spirit with one mind striving together for the faith of the Gospel; in no way alarmed by their opponents, for that would lead to their destruction.
Persecution cannot succeed when it cannot divide.
We like they, can love because Jesus first loved us. We have in our midst believers who encourage one another, build up one another, admonish the unruly, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak and are patient with all men.
Our oneness with Jesus unites is in a truly special way; A way defined in Ephesians 2:19-22: So, then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone.
In Him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
As we remember all the disciples who have gone before, and look forward to the new disciples who will follow, let us keep firmly before us our prescription for effective discipleship, which is clearly laid out in the New Testament:
We need to know each other closely and intimately enough to be able to bear one another’s burdens, confess our faults to one another, encourage one another, admonish one another, and minister to one another with word, song, and prayer.
We are united in love. Any impact we have has to be out of being a community of love.
Where Jesus is faithfully taught and proclaimed, barriers will come down, walls will tumble, and bridges will be built.