I’ve spent some time recently, reading about the life and work of John M. Perkins. An African American minister and civil rights activist, who grew up in the middle of the civil rights movement in America, and whose life since has been devoted to unity and love. He has a powerful testimony of seeking to have Christ like love, in situations that would be hard for anyone to live through, reaching past the anger and hate that are so easy to hide behind.
He is someone really willing to give up everything, to know and be filled with Christ’s love. One thing that struck me about His writing is that, even through all the sin and wrong he has seen, he has such a hope in Gods vision for the Church. Revelations 7:9 gives us a visual description of the church we will eventually join with: ‘After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…’ And not only was I struck by his ability to appreciate the beauty of this image, but that he had full hope in the Church being the instrument God will use to bring about this barrier defying unity and love. That the reconciliation he desires to see will come from an outpouring of Gods love from within the Church, as God works to bring us closer to Him and we desire to be one with Him. I love that the diversity in God’s people is something we can celebrate; that the longing to know God and his love is something common to every person.
It has challenged me though, that when we pray ‘God, let your kingdom come on Earth,’ Do I really think of that image? Or do I have my own vision of who the ‘people of God’ are? I begun to appreciate this when reflecting on visiting Fiji in April. That I so often assume the way my culture does church or thinks about God is the ‘correct’ one, but realising that a lot of the important lessons to be learnt in experiencing Christianity in another culture is realising God’s church is bigger than culture, my own included.
Perkins writes: ‘Right before Jesus went to the cross, He prayed that all believers, past, present, and future “may be one, as You, Father are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” John 17:21. This was Jesus’s prayer for us all, yet more often than not, I fear we have not lived up to it. Instead, we fight for our own way, for our selfish desires, for our right to be superior. God created man to reflect his image in the world and his likeness and then he said, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20:3. What we’re doing is making ourselves god before God and each other.’ Often I find it hard to recognise this in myself, but I feel that can be the danger of it – that we so want to hide our selfishness, even from ourselves. It can scare me how natural it can feel to put myself above others, to joke about someone’s differences or to always assume I am right.
It is so important to be vulnerable in our sin, to be forgiving of others, to ask God for a heart after his own, for the ability to radiate his love to all people around us. A beautiful quote from Perkins: ‘Love. No matter where I start, I always end up here. Love is the final fight.’
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:13-14