“I’m so tired of teaching into a camera; that’s all I feel I’ve done in the last year,” American author and pastor Francis Chan remarked candidly during the afternoon session on the third day of the Impossible Conference (December 9-11).
Gesturing between the screen and himself, he lamented that teaching through screens isn’t natural.
“There’s something that’s missing here, and it’s not a small thing,” he said in exasperation.
Delivering yet another unexpected message like the one he did on Day 1, Pastor Francis shared the burden God has been placing on his heart for years now.
A burden for the disunited Church to become one in God, and to seek the same oneness present in the Early Church in the book of Acts.
Turning to 1 John 4:12 (ESV), he read: “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”
After a pause, he revealed: “It’s so hard to love you or feel anything towards you when I can’t even see your face.”
“I confess there are many times I’ve walked on a stage when I could see people… how loving was I when I got on the stage in front of people I could see?
“Did I feel any concern for them? There were times that happened… but I’m ashamed of how many times it didn’t,” admitted Pastor Francis.
“You can be a successful pastor without loving anyone. You can be a great speaker without feeling anything for the people you speak to.”
Throwing this thought to the crowd, he asked: “How often do you look at your pastor up there giving a message and think to yourself, ‘I love my pastor.’
“And pray for him, ‘God, would you bless my pastor and open his spiritual eyes as he preaches Your word?’”
I was caught off guard.
As believers, we know we have to love each other. But had I truly internalised this truth?
The kind of love wherein every interaction with a member of the family of God, I would be filled with a sincere affection and concern for my brothers and sisters, regardless of age and church.
That night, what Pastor Francis said hit me. He introduced a new understanding of what it meant to truly love the family of God.
“Is there any affection in that room? Is there any true love?” he pressed desperately.
WHERE’S THE LOVE?
Too often, we listen with such critical minds. Picking apart everything our pastor says, finding fault to disagree with, comparing our leaders and speakers… where’s the love?
“If the goal is just me getting information to you, I can do that. If the goal is to just preach, I can do that,” said Pastor Francis.
“But the goal of us as believers gathering together is the presence of God abiding in us. And he says that happens when we love one another.”
But what does loving one another have to do with us doing the impossible and changing the world for Jesus?
Turns out? Everything.
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Approaching this issue from a different perspective, he questioned: “Why do people go to church? Why would an unbeliever go to a Christian gathering?
“What is his hope? Don’t people go because they want to experience God?”
Connecting the dots for us, Pastor Francis explained that in this present world, God remains invisible to our human eye.
Like it is said in 1 John 4:12, no one has ever seen God. So how can a non-Christian see or experience God in a real way?
Returning to 1 John 4:12, he read: “IF! Keyword! IF! Big word! If we love one another, God abides in us!”
His impassioned emphasis anchored this truth in our hearts: The only hope for an unbeliever coming into a Christian gathering and seeing God is if we love one another.
“But so often our gatherings are void of love,” said Pastor Francis. “And we wonder why people aren’t attracted to Christianity… to God.”
“Our ability to do the impossible and to reach the world has a lot to do not with me — but we!”
Opening up about his own faith journey, Pastor Francis shared how as a young man, his focus was on how he wanted to change the world for God.
Yes, such boldness and abandonment in every one of us is needed.
But now, at age 54, he has come to realise that that in itself would be incomplete. Rather, God’s love is truly felt when we love one another.
Reading from John 17:20-23, he highlighted that our loving one another and becoming “perfectly one” is for a greater purpose than ourselves, so that the world may know that the world may know God’s love and believe in Jesus.
“Our ability to do the impossible and to reach the world has a lot to do not with me — but we! Us. It’s a ‘we’ thing!” exclaimed Pastor Francis. “There’s something we’re supposed to do together.”
And yet, this is the most divided time in the Church, he observed.
LOVING DESPITE DIFFERENCES
Calling out the pride and ego in many of our hearts, Pastor Francis drew attention to the fact that more often than not, we walk into church with strong opinions. Overconfident and presumptuous, we assume whatever we believe is the truth.
Drawing a parallel between a basketball team and the Church, he said: “Every one of us comes with our own individualistic agenda. We refuse to listen to our leaders and elders unless what they say is something that agrees with our beliefs.”
“We’re not a team anymore,” remarked Pastor Francis.
Introducing a new thought, he appealed: “Don’t believe everything you think!”
Instead, Pastor Francis encouraged us to take a step back and ask ourselves: How do I know that what I think is true is actually true?
In humility, Pastor Francis confessed that there were times in the past he failed to be open to the wisdom of others and chose to believe himself instead.
But after this revelation, he proposed that we are not meant to study and understand Scripture solely by ourselves.
Drawing truth from Psalm 133, Pastor Francis said: “Let’s work together and seek that oneness.”
It is in unity that God commands His blessings, he stressed. Where there is unity, there comes a special anointing from God.
LIVING LIKE THE FIRST CHURCH
In fact, as believers we are often not aware that our lack of love and oneness pushes people away.
Pastor Francis lamented about meeting so many young people who said they have “tried” Jesus and church, but end up walking away from the faith.
“But did they really try the Church?” he wondered.
Illustrating his point, Pastor Francis joked about occasions he had visited different parts of the US and asked the locals where to get Chinese food.
In their sincerity, they offered him the only Chinese food they knew: Panda Express.
Pulling out a pastry from a Panda Express paper bag, he said: “This is called a Cream Cheese Rangoon. Find one person in China who is eating a Cream Cheese Rangoon.”
“We don’t use cream cheese! Rangoon? That’s the name of a city in Myanmar!”
The idea being: This is hardly authentic Chinese food. And so, based on that experience, one cannot really conclude that he or she hates Chinese food.
Perhaps the young people who left didn’t really experience the Church, suggested Pastor Francis. It was possible that they walked into a building, listened to someone speak, sang songs and left.
But that isn’t what Church is meant to be, he pointed out. And if we don’t change that, people won’t start seeing the real Church.
SO WHAT’S THE REAL CHURCH LIKE?
Going back to Scripture, Pastor Francis read from Acts 2:42-47:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.
And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people.
And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
“That’s Church. Have you tried that? Have you been with a group of people like that and walked away from that?”
“We have an opportunity right now,” he asserted.
In an age where people are dissatisfied with division and shallow church life, more and more young people are yearning for something more.
Pastor Francis described his desire to see Christians taking Communion together.
“I dream of the day that I’m with other people who love the Lord Jesus Christ with all their heart. We sit at a table together even though we’re from different denominations and we take one piece of bread and we break it. And we share a common cup and we live in unity.”
He concluded with this: “So we work through some theological differences, and we’re okay with some theological differences. But we’re not okay with a lack of love for one another because we want His presence.”
Praying over the next generation, Pastor Francis left us this question: Will we pursue God’s dream of Oneness in the church?
Missed the Impossible Conference? You can still catch up on the sessions by heading over to Impossible 413’s YouTube page or read the rest of our coverage:
Finally, if you want to watch Francis’ message, here’s the recording below!
- What strikes you when you read the prayer Jesus made in John 17:20-23? Read those words again and let it sink in.
- How open are you to opinions from within the Church that are different from yours? What does the Bible say about how we should relate to leaders?
- Is there something you can do today to love your brother or sister in Christ you might have had a disagreement with?
- Does your church reflect the community described in Acts 2:42-47?