You may have described an idyllic vacation spot as "a little taste of heaven" or perhaps you've uttered something to that effect after sampling a spoonful of one of those luscious calorie-rich desserts. But the little taste of heaven I am thinking of is the memory of sweet and meaningful times of fellowship I have enjoyed with God's people in different parts of the world. To spend time with fellow believers, to pray and worship the Lord together and to share a meal together can indeed be a little taste of heaven.
I know what you may be thinking. I've also heard the little ditty, "To live above with saints we love—oh that will be glory! To live below with saints we know, now that's a different story." Yes, it is a different story, a story that has had its share of conflict—but it is not a story without a little taste of the glory that is to come. It is important to remember that.
I sometimes receive letters from folks who want to complain about their experiences in a local church, or their deep disappointments with people they have encountered there. I don't want to minimize anyone's experience or compound their pain by pretending that hurtful things don't happen. But sometimes it seems like people respond to bad experiences by behaving like the church is their own personal punching bag. It is human frailty that leads us to concentrate on the negative to the point of dismissing what is positive. It is nothing to brag about when we jealously hold on to memories of less than stellar experiences we may have endured in church and become increasingly critical or even bitter. By doing so we mirror worldly attitudes and do not reflect the heart of God.
Leslie Flynn, long time pastor and friend of Jews for Jesus wrote a book called Great Church Fights. It may be hard to imagine how fighting among God's people can be called great, but the book is subtitled "What the Bible Says About Controversy and How to Resolve It." If the Bible recognizes that there is conflict between God's people it should come as no shock to us. Sadly, we hear of vehement disagreements among people in churches, scandals that bring down church leaders, conflicts that result in churches splitting.
It's easy to fight about the church when we should be fighting for the church. The church truly represents something that is worth fighting for. In fact, Jesus thought the church was worth dying for, so I don't think it should surprise any of His followers that we may sometimes need to fight for and defend the bride of Christ, the body of believers He has gathered together on this planet. The church is the heaven-bound, yet earthly-displayed reflection of God's grace, and in the eyes of our Savior she is a beautiful bride that one day He will gift to Himself without spot or wrinkle (Ephesians 5:27).
How do we fight for the church? By recognizing the value Y'shua placed on this flawed group of people, by treating the church as a whole with respect and dignity and by helping other believers to do likewise.
One of our younger leaders was accompanying me on my way to speak in a rather large church in the Midwest. As we chatted, he confided that he would rather spend two hours handing out gospel tracts on the street and speak to the unsaved than take the same amount of time to minister in a church. Handing out tracts and speaking to unbelievers is not easy, and it is a central focus of Jews for Jesus so, on one hand, I was grateful for his enthusiasm to evangelize. I've seen some missionaries start out eager to witness to Jewish people, but end up wanting to be more comfortably employed in talking to the church about witnessing to the Jewish people.
Thankfully, relating to the unsaved and the saved is not an either/or prospect for Jews for Jesus missionaries; it is crucial for us to prize opportunities to engage in both activities. So it was my duty to help my colleague develop a greater perspective on the significance of the body of Christ.
We Jews for Jesus have such amazing opportunities to gain a deep appreciation for the church as we are regularly invited into evangelical congregations from a wide range of cultural and theological perspectives. We see the church in all of her beautiful variety and are blessed to witness the diversity as well as the distinctive and striking unity of God's people from one church to another.
Some people point to denominations and other differences as evidence of disagreements and disunity in the church. I see these as emblems of grace—accommodations for the variety of characters and cultures that make up the body of Christ. It's God's way of allowing "different strokes for different folks." The apostle Peter does tell us we are a peculiar people.
I have had the thrill of singing choruses of praise to God while hearing brothers and sisters sing the same chorus simultaneously in Spanish, French, German, Russian, Portuguese, Chinese and Hebrew—same melodies, same words but in different languages. Where else but in the body of Christ does this happen? Not only that, but all over the world we gather around the same text of Holy Scripture to study and listen for the voice of the Lord, speaking to us and teaching us how to live out the gospel in our own contexts.
As I minister both near and far from home, I find people sharing the same commitments to God and the same commitments to one another. And I find them expressing the same love for the Jewish people and the same desire to see them come to Christ.
As a missionary to the Jewish people, I can only be grateful for the church, for my place in it and for our partnership with God's people to accomplish what He has called us to do.
Every year in Jews for Jesus we conduct what we call "Ingatherings," long weekends for Jewish believers in Jesus and their families. We usually go to a retreat center where we enjoy lots of food, fun and fellowship as well as time to worship God and study His Word together. Most who come are looking for people with whom they have certain things in common, in this case Jesus and Jewishness. We feel a certain kinship and community that is all the more precious because many of our fellow Jews who don't know Jesus reject us for embracing Him. Upholding one another's identity is an important and valuable component of our testimony as Jews for Jesus.
But as much as I value fellowship with other Jews who love Jesus, I also appreciate and embrace the bigger picture. I'm part of the family that all followers of Jesus belong to, the family of God. He has broken down the wall of partition and made us one in Him. Hallelujah!
We may have differences and even disagreements within the church, but we still share the same great destiny. Each day we are drawing that much closer to what is now only "a little taste of heaven." One day soon we will all be together, singing the same heavenly song to our Lord Jesus: "You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation" (Revelation 5:9).