This month: 181 - Online Church
Exploring the Heart of Restoration

Remember Me    Register ›

Archives for August, 2014

If you have followed Mike Cope’s blog for any length of time you may have noticed the subheading of his site “Sniffing Out God’s Work in the World…” I love that line and I love the fact that Mike ends that with ellipses. Those three little periods indicate that there is something more. When it comes to God there is always something more going on…something new that if you have your ear to the ground or your nose attuned to the air you will find evidence that God is still very much active in this world and in the lives of people.

In the Chronicles of Narnia there is a phrase that is said that just about gives me chills when I think about it…they say that “Aslan is on the move” and that means trouble for the witch and her minions. That means wrongs will be made right and heartache will be replaced with joy. Someone needs to be reminding us that Aslan is on the move. We want in on that conversation here at Wineskins. We are going give more attention to those who hear and see and smell the work of God so they can share it here at Wineskins.

One of our goals looking ahead for Wineskins is to highlight missions, non-profits, churches, lectures, ministries, church planters, universities, organizations and conferences where God is making an impact. We want to let them tell their stories so we can both rejoice with them, pray for them and learn from them. In the coming months we are going to be highlighting more and more of these, along with our typical theme articles and we hope you will be uplifted and encouraged by their stories and by what God is doing in their midst.

We just started a new forum on site called the Wineskins Marketplace. The goal is to create a space for the buying, selling and trading of books and materials related to faith, NT & OT studies, ministry, and related fields. I have posted a few things just to get the ball rolling but the goal is not to make this a place for me to sell my extra books but for you to have an outlet to to buy or sell books you are interested in (or no longer interested in 🙂 ). When you have a minute give it a look. It will become a greater and greater tool the more you are able to utilize it.

At the bottom of the page, if you are logged in, you will see an area where you can post to the marketplace. You can read all the posting guidelines here.

I hope this is a blessing to our readers and a place where we can engage with each other in a way that is mutually beneficial.

Blessings,

Matt

In the beginning God.

We associate those first four verses in the Bible with the act of creation. And for good reason, that’s the story that most naturally and linguistically flows from or follows after.

In the beginning God.

To see this phrase as only the precursor to the creation account is to be just a bit shortsighted.

In the beginning God.

A broader view and one that takes in the full scope of God’s story understands those words to not be limited to the first couple of chapters from the book of Genesis.

In the beginning God.

Everything else in the whole Bible stems from those short but powerful four words.

In the beginning God.

All of history originates from those four powerful words.

In the beginning God.

I don’t know how many languages the world started out with. I surmise one. I could look up how many languages there are today, but two reasons stop me.

First, I am lazy and have no desire to be an expert on the world’s languages. And second, I’ll end up chasing squirrels. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

In the meantime, I took two years of German in high school.
Brilliant man that I am, I easily remember how to call you a pig, ask for chewing gum, and inquire if you speak German.

In Spanish, I can ask how you are and answer good in return. I am equally adept at asking with an arched eyebrow and intense look of discomfort, the one word question, Bano? However, one must never ask me to pronounce the word tortilla in public. I will butcher it every time.

Yes, I am a master of languages as you can see.

In my undergrad days, I took Koine Greek. One day in a vocabulary test, there was a bonus question. I was the only one who failed to get the correct answer, which was my name in transliterated Koine Greek.

Yes, that really happened. And yes, I am real master at languages. (Sarcasm fully intended)

In the beginning God.

Those four words begin the creation and predicate the beginning of a language we must all learn to speak.

Creation was an act of love. That which was created was intended to be a likeness of the loving community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We were created to speak the language of God, the language of love.

Bible students know the language of love went awry in the Garden of Eden. Shortly after that, we see just how badly off the rails it went when Cain murdered Able. By the time of Noah, that locomotive was completely off track and barreling through places it was never intended to go.

All these years later, Jesus has come and gone, his sacrifice the price paid to help us learn again the language of God, the language of love.

And while we eagerly await His return, the church has been left to propagate the language of God.

That should be our passion.

Learning to speak, act, and live the love of God should be our highest priority.

The language of God is the language of God’s people, the new Israel, the church for which Jesus died.

Some of us have forgotten what that language sounds like and looks like.
Some of us have embraced the doctrine and rhetoric of religion and have simply ignored the development of God’s language in our lives.

Some of us have developed a competing language of selfish interests and stubborn hearts.

And our world is the poorer for it.

What if we choose the language of God, the language of love?

languages

Les Ferguson, Jr.
Lake Harbour Drive Church of Christ
Ridgeland, MS.

I’m wondering. When was the last time you asked yourself “What am I passionate about and how do I lean into what I’m naturally passionate about”?

If you’re like me, you ask yourself that every single day.  Now, I’m not saying you are all like me, but I’m sure that doing what you’re passionate about has crossed your mind more than once.  So here’s the other big question: What ARE you passionate about?

God created each of us with a unique set of talents, gifts, passions, and qualities.  No one, and i mean NO ONE was born with no talent, no gifts, no passion and no unique qualities. No one. Psalm 139:14 NIV tells us,

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

If we all agree that this is true and you have been wonderfully made, what is the unique passion that God has placed in your heart?

For me it’s 2 things: Family and music.  My passion for family stems from my childhood.  I was adopted at the age of 4 from Christian Family Services of St. Louis.  I knew even at 4 it was going to take a lot of hard work to make sure that the family that I was going to create was one of heart level love, deeply genuine authenticity and transparency and unconditional acceptance with no judgement.

Then there is music, it has always been playing in my soul.  I hear music in every corner of my life.  When my son runs up and hugs me, I hear music.  When I lost my job, I heard music.  When I kiss my wife, I hear music.  God placed music in my being and I am naturally passionate about it.

All of this is well and good but I’m still interested in what you are passionate about. Can you identify the thing that God has placed in you that makes you passionate about something?  I wonder, can we take the things we are naturally passionate about and turn those into gifts we give to the people in our lives including our church families?  I am willing to stake that our churches would see a drastic increase in the amount of passion flowing within and outside the walls of our home congregations/churches/families.

Passion cannot be fabricated.  It cannot be faked. Passion requires authenticity. It requires selfless movement.  It requires the kind of passion that was displayed by Jesus. Maybe, just maybe, what you heard when I said it requires the passion displayed by Jesus, you heard it had to be perfect but that is not what was meant, I meant that it has to be pure, not perfect.  It has to flow from you in a way that this pure, authentic, and real.  It calls for us to burn our judgements.  It calls out to us and won’t leave us alone. Whatever that thing is for you, grab onto it.  Embrace it.  Share it. And return all the praise to God, from whom all blessings and passion flow.

Grace and Peace-

Sean Algaier

With the recent suicide of Robin Williams the issue of suicide once again entered the public consciousness. Along with it came all the usual conversations, many of them helpful, a few of them unhelpful. Sadly, some Christians fired off blogs or tweets that were not only inaccurate (showing a complete lack of knowledge of mental illness, brain chemistry, etc.) but also made believers look bad as if we were all judgmental and heartless.

They may have meant well. I have no interest in naming and shaming them and won’t join in their stoning of suicides or the public’s stoning of them for questioning Robin’s motivations or eternal status.

I want to talk about suicide from the perspective of a former mental health professional (two doctorates, ran a clinic for years, still teach at university at the post-grad and post-doctoral level) and a minister (lead minister at Fourth Avenue Church of Christ in Franklin, TN).

In legal parlance, suicide is self-murder and, therefore, a homicide. Some states actually have laws on the books making suicide a crime punishable by imprisonment and fines. No, of course they don’t put the bodies in a cell for 8-20 years; the point of the laws is to discourage suicidal behavior and to give the state legal reasons to institutionalize those who attempt suicide or threaten to commit suicide. Many Christians reason that 1) murder is sinful and 2) suicide is murder and 3) we have to repent of sins but 4) suicides die because of their sin and therefore 5) they are lost, banned from heaven. Robin Williams even starred in a remarkable movie (“What Dreams May Come”) that dealt with the afterlife for suicides in a stunning, unforgettable, horrific way. And, yes, a few sickos in and out of the Christian family posted pics and clips of that to mock his death. So sad.

Others say that 1) all actions are a choice and 2) suicide requires a series of voluntary muscle movements which are, therefore, choices so 3) suicide is a choice, not a disease. Let’s look at these two sets of assumptions and their conclusions.

For the first group, just because the state calls suicide murder doesn’t mean God does. He might, but remember that God and the state often define things differently. Suicide is certainly unlawful killing…in most instances. But we can’t call all suicides unlawful killing. What about the captain that goes down with his ship? He doesn’t stay on the ship as some poetic justice for getting the ship into trouble and he doesn’t stay on there as a romantic beau geste. He stays on to steer the boat away from the survivors so that they are not sucked down or swamped by the waves. A man who leaps on a grenade to save his comrades is not committing suicide even though he is consciously leaping to his death, on purpose. We understand what is going on in these instances and say that the person who chose death was a hero.

Need more? What about Jesus? He came to earth knowing that we would kill him. He went to Jerusalem knowing that, if he did, he would be taken and killed. He went anyway. We don’t call that suicide even though he took deliberate, planned action knowing it would result in his death.

So not all intentional death is suicide or, at least, not unlawful killing. Therefore, not all suicide is sinful. And…if the suicide WAS sinful, what then?

Let’s tell another story to make our point: imagine that you had the foulest mouth on the planet and were unable to utter a complete sentence without a series of horrible curses, f words, and racial or sexual slurs. Now, let’s pretend that you hear about Jesus and realize your sinful state and want to change. You repent, you are baptized, and you try very hard to live a changed life. That same week you are up on a roof doing some repairs when you slip and slide off. On the way down you utter curses right before you hit the ground and die. Are you lost? I asked a couple of ministers this question once and they said “yes.” That astonished me. I asked them why and they said “He died without repenting of those sins.” My response was “We ALL die with unrepented sins. We aren’t even aware of some of them and some of the things we do with the best of intentions, believing them to be God’s will, may very well be sins. What happens then?” It got very quiet.

It is just not acceptable to assume or teach that all who take their own lives are lost. What saves us is not perfection at death but whose hand we were holding at the time. If we belong to Jesus, we are saved. Period. Can a truly saved person commit suicide? Absolutely. There are certain tragic intersections of pain, weakness, fear, loneliness, and desperation that, when they come together in a terrible nexus point, can throw the strongest among us into a downward spiral that, if not arrested, ends tragically. The last things Christians should do is judge that person and their family (who are often blamed for not stopping it, causing it, etc.). We place suicides into the hands of the One who forgives others sins – our sins – as well as the sins of others.

Some have written that anorexics are committing suicide by their behavior/choices. No, that’s not true. If there is not a deliberate starving of oneself to death it is not suicide. Most anorexics aren’t trying to kill themselves; they are trying to kill a poor self image, a horrific memory that changes the way they view of value themselves, a feeling of rejection, or they are possessed of a terrible fear that they aren’t thin enough to be acceptable. The by-product of their struggles can be death but that is not its goal. Think of it this way: if we label a death “suicide by anorexia” then we should label other deaths as suicides by doughnuts, cigarettes, Old Country Buffet, couch, worry, and more.

What about those who leaped from the World Trade Center as it burned? They saw and heard fire coming. They knew they were going to burn alive. They jumped. Suicide? I would say no. I believe they embraced the inevitable and were willing to step into the void, knowing the end was coming and deciding to face it their way. In much less dramatic ways, advanced directives and Do Not Resuscitate orders do the same thing – they accept the inevitable and decide not to prolong that which will not and cannot be saved.

Those with high IQs and “beautiful minds” like Robin Williams often find themselves feeling isolated and unprepared for the depression and anxiety that comes along with their reality (hence the title of his award winning record “Reality, what a concept”). He had misused drugs and alcohol repeatedly making his mental processes even more confused. He had failed at marriage and family twice and was trying a third time to make it work when he was told that he had Parkinson’s, a debilitating disease that would rob him of all he had: his mind and movements that gave us joy and paid his bills.

Sometimes, what we do is because our mind is broken – literally. The synapses aren’t firing properly (which can be due to our earlier abuse of our bodies and minds but can just as often be due to inherited issues in the brain itself) and thinking can’t get straight. With therapy and medication, many people can survive these canyons of despair and become functional again. Many can’t and many more don’t get the help they need in time or on that one day when everything hits bottom.

One man wrote on my Facebook page that he was just like Robin but he healed himself by thinking of a couple verses and praying. He criticized Robin and others for not doing the same. He failed to realize that he wasn’t anything like Robin, for none of us are copies of another and only God knows the heart. He also failed to realize that his healing – if he was healed – was a gift from God and his genetics, not the results of his great faith and a few verses. When he wouldn’t quite chiding those who wrote in saying they, too, understood depression I blocked him.

Why? The last thing broken, isolated people need is a self righteous person telling them they just don’t believe enough.

Jesus didn’t treat people like that. We shouldn’t either.

I have no idea whether Robin ever believed in Jesus as the Son of God. What I DO know is that God knew how he was formed, that he was made of dust (see Psalm 103 and 139). I trust Robin in God’s hands. And I trust God to deal with all suicides based on His knowledge of their tissues and conditions and His never ending grace, mercy, and love.

If only we were known for the same grave, mercy, and love as He.

What is it that gets people stirred up with the body of believers you worship with? The answer to that question will reveal a lot about the core values of the congregation.

Do people get more riled up over someone being in “error” than they do with their own sin and mistakes? Do people get more upset over the violate of tradition than over lost people who aren’t being reached? Do people move to action more quickly over conversation of our country moving in the wrong direction than the church moving in the wrong direction?

When you put your finger on the hot button issues in a congregation, it gives you great insight into the culture, spirit and heart of the church for good or bad. And it isn’t always all good or all bad. We all have areas that we get worked up over that aren’t the main thing and we all have a few main thing items that should motivate us that don’t.

The question to keep in the back of your mind is this, “When you see people move to action with great fervor ask yourself, why?”

Sometimes we will find that the answer is has more to do with fear than with courage.

We see this online and we see it in the pews. It may not be reality but it often feels like there are more people who are trying to tear things down than build things up and more people who are ready to poke holes in things than people who are willing and able to build new entirely new things. Do we have a longer list of things we are afraid of and behaviors to avoid than we do things to be excited about and missions to be engaged in?

It is vitally important that churches and church leadership do not define their direction based on what they are running from but on Who they are running to and the vision and mission that God is calling us to. It will take insightful, humble, godly people to lead in that direction in a way that people will throw off the shackles of fear that have hindered the church in years past and take up the cause of Christ in visible, tangible and meaningful ways.

Let us renew within our fellowship the song of freedom and redemption found in Isaiah 35…let us speak these words over the people of God so they will truly know who they are and the hope they have as God’s children,

Isaiah 35

The desert and the parched land will be glad;
    the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
    it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
    the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
    the splendor of our God.

Strengthen the feeble hands,
    steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
    he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
    he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
    and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
    the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
    grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

And a highway will be there;
    it will be called the Way of Holiness;
    it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
    wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
    nor any ravenous beast;
    they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
10     and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
    everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
    and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

So be passionate, church, over the things God is calling us to. And let us together pursue with reckless abandon the call of Christ!

This August issue of Wineskins is centered on the theme of passion: “what Christians can and should be truly passionate about” or what it looks like to “have a passion for God” (from Matt Dabbs’ editorial introduction). This passion is based on the fact that we all have been impacted by the same gospel; we are all a part of “a story worth telling.”

I suppose I should begin by saying that I don’t think all Christians need to be passionate about the same things. Or, put another way, we are all a part of the same story but we are also all going to tell (and perceive and live) that story in a variety of ways. And this is part of what it means to be created in the image of God, because diversity is who God is. So, in short, I guess I would say that Christians should be passionate about whatever God has created you to be passionate about.

And for me, that’s people. This is different than an introvert/extrovert thing. I’m not saying that being around others is “energizing” or “life-giving” to me (although that is true); I am saying that the way I “love God” or “connect with God” best is through other people. Although one can certainly have a mixture of ways to connect with God, for the sake of explaining what I mean by loving God through other people, this is “in contrast with” those who connect best with God through learning, or through activism/service, or through worship, or through nature, etc. (See “Appendix” at the end if this is of interest to you.)

For me, what it means to be passionate about people in the presence of God is that I am both challenged and encouraged by my relationships with others, and am passionate about fostering relationships between other people where they can be challenged and encouraged as well. Although many people might say that they need to take time away from being with others so that they can spend time with God, this dichotomy does not make any sense to me.

Now, I know that even Jesus did this (tried to get away to mountains to pray, etc.), so let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. I’m not saying that there is no such thing for any person as “time alone with God.” I am only saying that, for me, those things aren’t separate. I am passionate about spending time with other people because, in so doing, I am acutely aware that I am also spending time with God. (And Jesus did this too, otherwise he never would have chosen disciples in the first place, and would have said something more like, “Get the little children away from me.” So, again, baby, bathwater: both important.)

Martin Laird uses the metaphor of a wheel with spokes centered on a single hub to describe this method of connecting with or centering on God: “The more we journey towards the Center the closer we are both to God and to each other. The problem of feeling isolated from both God and others is overcome in the experience of the Center.” (Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation, [Oxford: 2006], 12)

So, for me, what it looks like have passion for God is to have passion for people – eating, playing, crying, walking, praying, talking, sweating, singing, sitting, and living with people. That’s what revives my spirit.

Appendix/Side Note
I was first exposed to the idea of spiritual temperaments (sort of like “love languages for God”) through Gary Thomas’ Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul’s Path to God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) and Myra Perrine’s What’s Your God Language? Connecting with God through Your Unique Spiritual Temperament (Tyndale, 2007), which is based on Thomas’ earlier book.

As with any work that divides people into personality or spiritual types, the danger is that when one learns one’s “type” they will feel limited or constrained to interact with God or the world in that specific way. Also, no “type” perfectly describes any individual. However, I have always found research regarding personality/spiritual types to be profoundly helpful in understanding why I perceive the world and the church the way I do. Knowing my type(s) gives me permission to be who I am – aware of my strengths and weaknesses – and to allow others to do the same.

It is entirely possible to know the truth but have no joy. It is also possible to be an expert in doctrine but have no passion. We see truth without the Spirit and truth without grace. Some have become experts in engaging the head without much effort toward engaging the heart.

The problem runs deeper than our emphasis on knowledge and doctrine at the expense of the spiritual life. People are tired. They are tired of feeling like faith and church is like a running track…lap after lap but you haven’t really gone anywhere. The faith they read about in scripture is more of a cross country run than running laps and they are desperate to be a part of a community of faith that truly embraces the life and mission we have been called to. There are sights to see, adventures to be had and victories to be won…but is that obvious and if not, why not? If not, how are we going to change that?

It seems to me that in many cases and places we have lost our passion and need restoration…we are a movement that has restoration at the core of who we are but maybe our idea of what needs to be restored needs expanded. The kind of restoration we talk about usually involves patterns for doing church…authorization for church practice but should we have a desire to restore more than that? Having good doctrine is essential and a zeal for being biblical is important but we cannot get so good at that that we lose our soul…our passion…our deepest longings for God and transformation in the process.

When it comes to the Christian faith it is incredibly easy to major in minors. We can dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s without ever having a real passion for God. It is entirely possible to debate people online to be proven right rather than for God to shine through….having great zeal but aiming it at the wrong things. Having a true passion for God, for His people and for the things that God is passionate about is vitally important in the lives of Christians.

The August issue of Wineskins is going to examine what Christians can and should be truly passionate about. We will dive into how we reclaim having a passion for God and how we can put aside the distractions both the world and even the church calls our attention to. There is more competition than ever for the hearts of people in the world today.

What does God want us to be passionate about and how do we restore it? What is it going to take for people to get fired up again over their faith and for the God who has brought them out of darkness and into His wonderful light? It is vitally important that we have a story worth telling, a passion worthy displaying and a faith worth sharing. The good news is, it is all right here in front of us…we just have to embrace it.