This month: 189 - Freedom in Christ
Exploring the Heart of Restoration

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Jim Woodell

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In Romans 8:28-29 Paul revealed this truth: 

“A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.”

Once when Jesus sparred with the Jews (John 8) – likely a mix of Pharisees, publicans and others – he offended them by saying,

“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Vss. 31-32).

They blustered,

“We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” (Vs. 33).

Had these Jews forgotten the 400 years they spent enslaved in Egypt? Even at the time of this encounter with the Lord they were living under Roman domination. How could they think they were free?

Jesus went on to say,

“I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (34-36).

The Son of God is the answer to slavery!

But because these Jews were imprisoned by an ideology, which produced a pseudo-religion (Matthew 15:3-9), they rejected Jesus as the answer to anything. Their bondage was so complete that when the Truth personified stood before them, they wanted to kill him (Vs. 37). 

Their big claim was, “Abraham is our father!” (Vs. 39) We have the right heritage! We are the elite, approved group! Jesus shot down this mistaken belief – he told them:

“If you were Abraham’s children, then you would do the things Abraham did” (Vs. 39).

Solomon reminds us, “Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right” (Proverbs 20:11). How much more is that true of adults! These “free” and supremely righteous Jews (who had never been anyone’s slaves), were on the verge of killing God in the flesh. No, they were not children of Abraham; they were instead slaves of their own dogmas, ideas, and laws. They were not free.

In Romans 2:28-29 Paul addressed this issue of being “religious,” yet living totally outside God’s will:

“A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.”

He wrote the Galatians in chapter 5, verse 1,                    

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Paul repeated his admonition later in the same chapter:

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather serve one another humbly in love” (vs.13).

We are not free to do whatever we please. Real freedom is having the power to do what is right. God provides that power through the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:1-17), and it is by his power we put to death the works of the flesh.

So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (34-36). The pressure is off!  Enjoy your salvation!!

Jim Woodell

www.john317ministry.org

I will be 79 in January. My brother John would be 81 in February. I write “would be” because it is expected that his life will end soon. He was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer several months ago.

 Hold on! My brother is not in despair. He talks openly about his death, and what will happen to him at that moment. John is so looking forward to being with Jesus! How, with death so eminent, can he be happy and optimistic?

For the first 16 years of my life I lived in his shadow. We were numbers four and five out of seven children in our nuclear family. We entertained each other, or maybe better stated, he was my entertainment. My sister says I picked on him. Events that were funny then to me (and still are today- to me, anyway) were so not funny to John at the time they occurred. Both John and I, along with our oldest sister, were sprinkled at the Campground Methodist Church when he was 12 and I was 10. Eventually, we two took different directions in life. He became a Union carpenter and I joined the U.S. Navy. I think my spiritual interest resurfaced before John’s; however, discussions in deer camp moved him to evaluate his relationship with God. Not long after, he asked a minister, Don Sautter, to baptize him in a swimming pool in Valley Forge, PA, where he lived at the time.

As to why John can look forward with anticipation to his departure from this earth: He believes that the man, Jesus Christ, is the Son of God; not only that, but God himself lived in the body of Jesus Christ. He believes Jesus lived as a human being for a time, that he died on the cross, was buried, but walked out of the tomb three days later (John 19 & 20), proving that death has no power over him! Consider this statement of Jesus to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). My brother shares the rock-solid faith of Paul who declared, “To die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Life on earth can be very good at times, but eternal life in heaven will eclipse anything we have ever known! That is, it will be IF you and I accept the gift of everlasting life in Jesus. And it is a gift! (Romans 5:15-17; Romans 6:23). Heaven is undeserved; it cannot be earned. Jesus Christ paid the debt for our sins – John’s, mine and yours. I know John is not perfect, and neither am I, or anyone else. God very clearly confirms that we all sin (Romans 3:10, 23). Because all sin, Christ died for all.

And so, John has no need to fret about his shortcomings; every sin has been cleansed by the precious blood of Christ! He can spend his last days being grateful that God has blessed him with a good life. He is not resisting his fate. In fact, he chose to pass on chemo which might have prolonged his life; instead, he is taking meds to keep him comfortable. John is surrounded by family and friends. Pam, his wife, is constantly by his side and a wonderful source of comfort. God has provided a born-again hospice-care nurse they have come to love dearly.

I love my brother and I expect to see him later. 

By Jim Woodell

How a congregation is governed will have a direct impact on growth. Conversion, biological, and transfer growth are all affected by how a congregation is governed. From the beginning of the church there was governance. “God gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” (Eph. 4:11-12).

In the simplest terms, the more people that get involved in the life of a congregation the more that Church will grow.  Years ago, I saw on the door facing of a church building in Skagit Valley, Washington, “It takes more genius to get 10 people to work than to do the work of 10 people.” When you look at the landscape of our society, you will notice that those companies that have expanded through enlisting people of talent and turning them loose have prospered.

In years past many, maybe even most, Churches of Christ have followed the philosophy of Elder Rule.  In this system, the Elders are bosses that give orders and are the final decision maker.  As one person described it: “It’s like a Sargent in the Army, when they give an order you are expected to obey it.” Alternatively, others have described Elders as a Board of Directors. Nothing is to be done under this model that the Elders do not have their finger on.  Delegation is rare unless it is delegation to another elder.  Many times those who serve in this model see it as a burden. This model inhibits conversion growth because it is hard to break into this tight circle.  Often congregations governed in this way are mostly family and small in number.  Also, with this model it is common for the elders to appoint others to serve in the eldership thus perpetuating the model to future generations.

In the last couple of decades, there has been a move away from the elders/bosses model to more of a shepherding model.  The 1 Peter 5:1-4 text speaks to this:

[1] To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: [2] Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; [3] not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. [4] And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

In this model the emphasis is on overseeing/shepherding rather than ruling.  Those who serve with this group will see it as a privilege rather than a duty, “not because they must, but because they are willing.”  Those who oversee are willing to delegate ministries to members of their congregational body, not just fellow elders. Dr. Flavil Yeakley found in his research and wrote, “The more involved a person becomes in the work of the congregation, the more important the congregation becomes in his life.” (Why Churches Grow, P 40)  “The higher the involvement level the higher the conversion rate, the lower the drop-out rate, and thus the higher the net growth rate.” (P 41)  With this model future elders are chosen in a way that the congregation participates, choosing from among themselves men that are already shepherding. Several congregations have used the following process to select elders.  You can find it attached or below.

When I left the U.S. Navy in 1967 I joined a congregation as their Preacher that did not have elders.  After little more than a year two elders were appointed. I suggested in a meeting with these two elders that we needed to send out a letter to the congregation.  I wrote the letter and had them read it for their approval which they granted, so I produced the letter and signed it with my name and noted “for the elders.”  Soon I had a visit from the elders chastising me for signing for the elders. Such is the guardianship of some elders. Control.  These elders were bosses rather than Shepherds.

There have been many experiences over the years with elderships that were mixed with both types of elders (controllers and permission grantors) which creates a balance.  I highly recommend the book “The Tale of Three Kings” by Gene Edwards (1980 Tyndale Publishers) as an example of three different leadership styles.

Thank you for letting me share!

Here is an example from the Downtown Church of Christ in Searcy, AR you may find helpful.

INTRODUCTION

Every three years the Downtown church family conducts a shepherd affirmation/reaffirmation process to select new shepherds  and reaffirm current shepherds that desire to continue serving.   The shepherds selection process will begin Sunday, August 22,  with the nomination of men to serve as Downtown shepherds. The selection process allows for all of our church family to be involved in the selection of their shepherds.  It also prompts deep introspection by shepherd nominees and presently serving shepherds that seek to be reaffirmed.  The congregation is encouraged to spend time in prayer during this process asking God to be with those men being called out to serve our church family.   An overview of the selection process follows. 

AFFIRMATION/REAFFIRMATION COMMITTEE

Please call upon any of these men regarding any phase of the selection process:

NOMINATION PHASE (August 22 – August 29)

The purpose of the Nomination Phase is to encourage the congregation to personallyseek out spiritual leaders at Downtown. Therefore, onAugust 22 through August 29, shepherd nomination forms will be distributed to our members.   We should seek men who have the goal to fill the following examples, characteristics and responsibilities of a shepherd:

He is relational – Acts 20:28

He is willing and eager to be an example – 1 Peter 5:1-4

He is a servant – Matthew 20:25-28

He will guard the Flock – Acts 20:28

He will watch over the Flock – Acts 20:28

He will feed the Flock – Acts 20:28

He will equip the Flock for ministry – Ephesians 4:10-12

He will care for the Flock – 1 Timothy 3:5

He will direct the affairs of the Flock – 1 Timothy 3:5

He will preach the Word to the Flock – 1 Timothy 3:5

He will teach the Word to the Flock – 1Timothy 3:5

He will encourage the Flock – Titus 1:9-10

He will refute falsehood – Titus 1:9-10

He will pray for the Flock – James 5:14

He will anoint the sick – James 5:14

He will serve the Flock – 1 Peter 5:1-5

He will lead the Flock – 1 Peter 5:1-5

He will be an example to the Flock – 1 Peter 5:1-5

He will keep watch over the Flock – Hebrews 13:17

You may nominate as many individuals as you wish for shepherds. The deadline for returning these forms will be 6:00 p.m., August 29. You may give your shepherd nomination forms to any member of the Committee at any time during this phase, or leave them in a designated box in the hallway near the church office. Nominations can also be made by e-mail:  shepherdselection@downtownchurch.org.Unsigned nomination forms will not be processed by the committee.  It will not be necessary to re-nominate men currently serving as shepherds.

A minimum of 40 nominations must be received for someone to be considered further as a shepherd candidate. Thus, it is very important that you nominate every person you wish to be considered – even if you know that others will be nominating a particular individual. Also, please do not assume that even if someone has previously declined a nomination, he would do so again. As a help to those who may not know the names of our current shepherds, a list follows:

INTROSPECTION PHASE (August 30 – September 8)

During this time, all qualified individuals are notified of their nomination, furnished with an introspective information sheet and asked whether they will accept the nomination.  The current shepherds will also provide an introspection information sheet.  The deadline for the committee to receive all acceptances of nomination, acceptance of current shepherds that wish to be reaffirmed as shepherds, all introspective information sheets and a family photograph will be Thursday, September 8.Sheets and photos may be returned to any committee member.   Names of all nominees will be announced on Sunday, September 19.Introspective information sheets will be available for review.

OBJECTION/RESOLUTION PHASE(September 19 – September 26)

On Sunday, September 19, the committee will provide the congregation with a list of men who have accepted the nomination. Anyone who has a significant scriptural or personal objection to a nominee serving as a shepherd must talk directly with that man. This is a time of tremendous vulnerability on the part of everyone, but also a time of great potential benefit.  Those who have any non-resolved scriptural objections will be asked to prayerfully submit a completed and signed objection form by6:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 26.   Unsigned objections will not be processed by the committee. Objections should be scriptural (rather than personal) and as objective and absolute in nature as possible. Valid scriptural objections could be found, for example, with those not in harmony with the principles found in 1Timothy 3:1-7:  “Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.”

All objections will be held in strict confidence. The names of those objecting will be known only by members of the committee, and, at the discretion of the committee, one or two shepherds who can assist in resolving the objection. The remaining shepherds will not be consulted about an objection unless further assistance is needed.

If the committee believes that an objection is not scripturally absolute (i.e., a matter of relative compliance with a quality or personal opinion), they will notify the objector of their judgment regarding his/her objection, and encourage them to vote “No” for that candidate in the final evaluation.

However, if either the objector or the shepherd-candidate about whom the objection is made is dissatisfied with the outcome, the committee will then ask two current shepherds to become involved, examine the issue and try to resolve the problem. If these two shepherds cannot resolve the problem, then the candidate will be requested to withdraw his name from consideration, or else agree that the issue involved be made public to the congregation (prior to the Confirmation Phase) in order to allow the church to decide.

All objections should be delivered to one of the Committee members. The deadline for receiving objections will be 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 26.

CONFIRMATION PHASE (October 3 – October 17)

October 3 – October 17, the final evaluation of all nominees will be given by the congregation. In order to ensure participation by all members, final evaluation forms will be accepted by the Committee until 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, October 17. You will be directed to place the final evaluation forms in a sealed envelope.  You will be asked to place your name on the outside of the envelope and it can be given to any member of the committee or left in the designated boxes. Only forms submitted by Downtown members will be processed. 

Any member who will be out of town during this time may secure final evaluation forms ahead of time by contacting one of the committee members, or Lowell Myers in the church office. Your confirmation response must be in writing. It is important that every member of the congregation participate in this portion of the process.

On Sunday, October 24, the committee will present the shepherds that the church has selected with at least 70% confirmation.   

On Sunday, October 31, a special conformation service will take place to confirm all selected men as shepherds of the Downtown congregation.  This will complete the Confirmation Phase, and will end the process from the congregation’s standpoint.

CONCLUSION

Feel free to address all questions or concerns about the process to any of the committee members. The next scheduled affirmation/reaffirmation process will be 2011. We earnestly solicit you to a season of prayer to ask God’s blessings on us all, especially that we will lead this congregation in His way for His glory.

Downtown’s Shepherd Affirmation Schedule

Downtown’s Introspection form

John 12:44-45 “Then Jesus cried out, ‘When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me.’”


“I can only imagine” is the title of a popular and inspirational song. What will it be like to see the Savior in all of his splendor? We can only imagine! On the other hand, there is a way to move into the presence of Jesus and understand how he responds to us.


We can move beyond our imagination by looking at the many examples of Jesus interacting with people in the gospels. How he responded to them is how he responds to us. 

Look at Jesus!


First, it is important that we hear Jesus when he says, “For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17) He is for us, and we see this in the historical examples recorded in the gospels

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For example, look at the Luke 7:36-50. Jesus allowed himself to be touched by this “sinful woman.” This is not a parable! This is a life event in Jesus’ time on earth. What a contrast between the Pharisee who had invited Jesus to dinner and the sinner woman who, no doubt, came without an invitation. This did not take Jesus by surprise; he knew the mind of the Pharisee as well as the mind of the sinner woman. He also knows our mind and is still willing to touch (Luke 5:13) and be touched by each of us.


When Jesus spoke forgiveness to this woman the guests asked, “Who is this who even forgives sins.” They knew only God could forgive sins (Mark 2:7; Isaiah 43:25; Luke 5:20-23).


The response of Jesus was, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Our faith will also save us, and we can go in peace.


There was a time that I read the Bible like a legal document from which I was to sort out all of the arguments pointed toward those I thought were in religious error. A book of do’s and don’ts! No more. I now read the Old Testament as the story of God mingling with his creation, getting his people ready to meet the Christ. I read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to see Jesus in all of his fullness of God.


How Jesus responded to the folks in the historical setting of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is how he responds to us today and how he will continue to respond to people in the future.
Read the many interactions of people with Jesus and place yourself in the character of those who had that first-hand experience. This is an adventure that will take the dull out of reading!

Vision: “The goals that an organization would like to achieve or accomplish in the future.” Vision is intended to serve as a clear guide for both current and future courses of action. 

A vision’s effectiveness, whether good or bad, depends on how it is brought together and executed. It is almost, if not completely, impossible for one person to cast a vision for a group. Above all, it must be under the rule of God!  

A vision generalized on the front end can become very specific as it develops. Several years ago I attended a workshop on evangelism in Florence, AL. During one of the sessions Marvin Phillips, a minister from Tulsa, OK,  together with his elders publicly asked God for a vision. They prayed, “God, please do a work through us that is bigger than we are!” Garnett Road Church of Christ, where Marvin preached, numbered 125 in attendance at the time. They subsequently grew to over 1500 souls over the next couple of decades. A serendipity of their vision was the beginning of the annual Tulsa Soul-Winning Workshop which numbered 10,000 at peak attendance.  Their vision lined up with God’s vision to “seek and save the lost.”

Some years earlier, I served with a church in the Midwest with many opportunities to share Jesus but only limited resources. After praying for God’s direction, the congregation  considered possible ways to share their resources. By congregational vote, each possibility was prioritized; those receiving the most votes were funded to the best of the church’s ability. This resulted in unified support in the church family, and a budget that was exceeded for the first time in years. The congregation grew from 180 in attendance to over 300 in two years with 100 baptisms per year. 

The rural congregation I now worship with had dwindled to less than 50 people in early 2000. They considered shutting the doors and scattering to other congregations.  In the words of one of the members, Dr Karen Jones, “We had gotten so legalistic that it made everybody sick. We believed our friends were going to hell, but we were not doing anything about it.” (A two-page article on this church is in the August, 2007, Christian Chronicle.)  The members decided they could either shut the church doors or do something to free themselves from the cold, hard legalism binding them.

A vision was cast! They committed to focus on the hurting, the disenfranchised, the unchurched! Dr. Lou Butterfield, the lead evangelist at the time, decided to emphasize serving others in his sermons. Several women approached the church leaders about beginning a Sunday night class on relevant topics such as sex, marriage, drugs,and debt management. They wanted these sessions to be led in a non-threatening, non-judgmental manner that might lead folks to inquire about the organizers’ faith. They met in a near-by Community Center building rather than the church building.  That number soon grew to well over 100 each Sunday night.

To further fulfill their vision the church made summer camp for children a priority.  “Any child who lives in our county can go to summer camp for free!” That action became the leading evangelistic tool for a time. One summer they invested $24,000 in these children. Entire families embraced Christ as a result of the summer camp experience.

Because these Christians saw the need to try and combat the rampant drug problem, they began to pray that God would grant them wisdom and guidance in addressing it.  A recovering addict, Shane Goings, started the Jackson County Recovery ministry at the church in 2006. Four years later God used Shane to start Anchor Pointe Recovery Center, a 501-c-3 rehab. It was recorded as a non-profit in 2011 (27-1404321). In 2013 Shane left and Anchor Pointe Recovery resumed as the John 3:17 Ministry for Women. This year-long discipleship program has graduated over 100 women and has 45 ladies in residence today. 

Psalm 118:5 is stenciled on the front wall of the worship center for all to see: “In my anguish I cried to the LORD, and he answered by setting me free.”

Across the auditorium is another sign that states, “OUR MISSION: To nurture and equip the saved while reaching the lost, as we honor God, share Jesus and are led by the Holy Spirit.”

Fasting is not a command but a privilege.  Perhaps the most familiar fast to the Bible student is that of Jesus in the wilderness.  He went without food for 40 days. (Matthew 4:1-11)  It was assumed by Jesus that his disciples would fast (Matthew 6:16-18).  The disciples of John the Baptist engaged in fasting and so did the Pharisees (Matthew 9:14).  They questioned why the disciple of Jesus were not fasting.  Jesus answered them saying, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, then they will fast.”  (Matthew 9:15)  They will fast! 

And, so they did fast.  “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work for which I have called them. So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:2-3)  Paul and Barnabas went on a mission to appoint elders in each church they had planted and did so “with prayer and fasting, committing them to the Lord.” (Acts 14:23)

Again, while Jesus was with his disciples they did not fast.  Other religious groups, namely the Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist, thought it strange that Jesus’ disciples did not fast.  It is also interesting that Jesus did not push fasting for his disciples. He was okay with them not fasting.  It seems however that the death of Jesus would motivate his disciples to fast and he expected them to fast after he died.

A take away from the scriptures shared in this article is that there is a deep spiritual experience that can be found in worshiping the Lord while fasting and praying.  James 4:8 states, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.”  Worshiping, fasting and praying with intentionality will draw God near to us and us near to God.  Imagine a long rope with you on one end and God on the other.  You both are winding the rope up and as you do you are drawn closer to each other.  God is ready to start winding!  Are we? AM I?

The circles I run in seldom practice fasting.  A statement from Rick Atchley plays in my head as I read these text on the practice of Jesus and those that he said would fast after he was no longer with them: “Is the Book of Acts a collection of exceptions or a collection of examples?”  There are other things in the Acts 14 text that are equally outside of our normal practice:

  1. Fasting
  2. The Holy Spirit speaking to us
  3. Experiencing a call from God
  4. Fasting and praying as we commission missionaries
  5. Placing hands on those we fast and pray for

Fasting has a long history with the people of God.  Read Isaiah 58 to understand what a “true fast” is. What will we do with these truths? 

Jim Woodell, Executive Director 

www.John 3:17 Ministry.org

Jesus said, “Go make disciples…” Are we missing something? I heard a preacher say once, “When reading the book of Acts, you will not read of one person who ate a bite, drank a drop, or slept a wink after hearing the gospel before he surrendered his life to Christ.” I suspect I have repeated that a thousand times in the past, but not in the last decade. Am I missing something?

Isn’t it also true that those first disciples went out with a message so powerful that, for the most part, converts were made after one presentation? What was their message? Do we have the same message and the same power? Are we missing something? “Is the book of Acts a book of examples or a book of exceptions?”(Rick Atchley) What did these folks have that we don’t have?

I invite you to examine the nine (9) conversion stories in the book of Acts and see if you can discover what we are missing.

I also ask, “If you had the opportunity, right now, with someone sitting right in front of you, that you could share the message of salvation with, what would you share?” Do you have a plan? What are we missing?


Jesus said, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:19)

Can Christians avoid being political? One definition is “activities within an organization that are aimed at improving someone’s status or position and are typically considered to be devious or divisive.” For instance, check out this text:
Proverbs 31:8-9 NIV [8] Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. [9] Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Doesn’t this apply to the unborn? It is right to speak out to defend the unborn against being killed, but not without being political. Dr. Devin Swindle, a Professor of Bible at Harding University, recently wrote, “If you preach this, you will be accused of being political, but remember this: if you claim citizenship in the Kingdom of God, you will be pledging allegiance to another King who makes political claims on your life, and those claims will be diametrically opposed to the kings and kingdoms of this world. Preaching the King’s politics does not make you a republican or a democrat; it makes you faithful”.

Some want to sit on the sidelines and criticize those who speak out on such issues as abortion. In doing so they are being political themselves. This should not be a surprise since Paul wrote, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Romans 2:1)

You would have to go into a monastery to avoid being political, and even in that move you could be political. A Pacifist is being political by refusing to join the military. Taking a non-combat role in the military is being political. Paying taxes to support our government is being political.

Personally, I spent over 8 years in the U.S. Navy. Over 5 of those years was on/in the same conventional diesel driven submarine, the USS Trout (SS-566). I have served 28 days submerged in that “boat” with 100 other men (not very romantic). One year I was at sea, away from my wife and children, for nine months. Others have done so much more for our freedom. I can’t imagine life in a foxhole or eating the dust of a desert storm or jumping from an airplane into enemy fire. To speak up for our great Nation is political. I can’t be otherwise.

I am a Christian and I am political. I say I am independent but most of the time I vote Republican. I am in ministry working with women in addiction (John 3:17 Ministry for Women with Addictions) I am a supporter of our President. In today’s vernacular I am a “right-leaning conservative.” You may oppose what I have shared. If you do you are being political.

Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church.”  The Lord’s church was “bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).  It is described as the “body of Christ” (Ephesians 1:22-23), and the “family of God in heaven and on earth”(Ephesians 3:15).

Early in my Christian walk I thought, was even convinced, that the Lord’s Church (i.e.  The Church of Christ) could be identified by physical characteristics. I thought the Church of Christ and Kingdom of God was one and the same. But, when speaking about the Kingdom of God, Jesus said, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20b-21).  Wow! Couldn’t see it. Couldn’t really give it a physical address.

When we use the term, “The Lord’s Church,” if we mean, “the Kingdom of God,” it consists of all the saved, both living and dead (Ephesians 3:15). Paul said it like this, “We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (1 Thessalonians 4:14), those who have died.  Paul described the second coming of Christ this way: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)  

Notice this: Ananias and Sapphira physically joined up with the Church but were not members of the Kingdom of God (Acts 5:1-11). You can see from verse Acts 5:13 that they had joined the Church but their hearts were not with God. Membership in the Kingdom of God, His Church, has to do with the condition of the heart (Romans 10:9-10). The heart will move a person to physical action (Luke 6:45). 

A great disservice has been done to Christianity by making external characteristics the model for the Church. The right name, the right organization, the right steps in worship, the right steps in the plan of salvation and the right mission have, in too many cases, created legalists rather than humble followers of Christ. Suggesting you change just one of these physical, external “essentials”and see what it generates! 

For instance, take the name: Church of Christ.  The term Church of God is used eleven times in Scripture; Churches of Christ is mentioned only one time.  Why does it cause such a stir to not have the name Church of Christ on your sign and letterhead? 

My friend and mentor, Jimmy Allen, often preached on, “How to make the Church of Christ a denomination.” He was dynamic in his presentations and got a number of amen’s, but little changed. When he served as an elder at the College Church in Searcy, AR he had a slot placed in the sign in front of the building that read, “College Church of Christ,” and every week another designation was slid into that slot, such as: Church of God, New Testament Church, etc.  He used a handful of scriptural designations. None of these changed the hearts of those who worshiped there. 

Paul said, concerning himself as a Pharisee, “…as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.”  He went on to write, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:7-11). Paul gave up his legalism for a relationship with Christ.

I now worship with Remmel Church, a Church I preached for in the early 70’s.  It is one of the oldest Churches of Christ in Arkansas, dating back to late 1800’s. This is also where John 3:17 Ministry for Women with Addictions is located (www.john317ministry.org). About ten years ago this congregation built a new building closer to the main highways.  When the move was made the label, Church of Christ, was dropped. It is now labeled as “The Church at Remmel.” This is very fitting since there is not another group, with any label, that meets within this community. However this has not been done without having critics line up to disparage the change. 

Anyone who reads the New Testament with an open mind surely realizes that there were several ethnic groups represented. The big three were Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles.  There was a reason Peter went to the Jews and Paul went to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:8); they were just different in their customs.  The Gentiles did not naturally line up with the Jews in their practices, nor were they expected to. Vice-versa. The one thing they had most in common was Jesus Christ. 

So, who is the Lord’s Church? All of the saved; past, present and future. The Kingdom of God also consists of all of the saved; past present and future.  When someone talks of the Lord’s Church, but does not include all of the saved, they are making the Church a denomination.   

Jim Woodell

Searcy, AR 72143

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Free in Christ

I served in the U.S. Navy for 8 and one-half years, five of those years on the same Submarine, the USS Trout (SS-566).  When I first became a Christian some of my shipmates said, “Woody has got religion!”

There are many religions in the world including Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc.  Each requires strict adherence to a set doctrine or list of rules.  Christ did not come to issue a new set of rules to live by, he came to rid humankind of the guilt of sin and have a relationship.

There is a tendency to make Christianity simply a religion among religions of the world; just a different set of rules and doctrine.  It is not so.  Christianity is about a relationship with the founder – Jesus Christ.

G.C. Brewer wrote, “People would rather Jesus give us a set of rules to save ourselves rather than accept him as Savior.”  In his 2013 book entitled, “gods at war,” Kyle Idleman wrote, “One of the most common gods of success is the worship of religious rules. We put our trust in our own mastery of rule keeping. The god of success invites you to save yourself instead of depending upon Jesus to do it.” (P. 135)

Paul had lived under the restraints of Moses’ law, but he gave all of that up for a relationship with Christ (Philippians 3:2-11).  In his letter to the Galatians he wrote, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

The big deal in your life and mine is to decide WHO Jesus is.  Is he the Son of God or not? In Matthew 16 Jesus asked, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”   It was Peter who had the insight to respond, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Peter was right on!  Then Jesus revealed that it would be upon this truth that he would build his church.  His church is us, me and you.  Acknowledging and receiving this truth is what gives us freedom.

“Jesus paid it all.” “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.”  “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!”

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) It appears that this revelation has been hacked. Jesus stated plainly that He is the way, the truth, and the life. Adding obligations takes away freedom. Often it is more about tradition and ritual than it is about Christ.

Ask yourself, “What have I put my trust in?”

When Paul was fighting within himself about his imperfections he exclaimed, “What a wretched man I am!”  And then he cried out, “WHO will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)  Notice, he did not ask “what” can rescue me.  There is no system of religion that will erase our sin. Jesus alone has paid that price.

At the end of his life Paul wrote Timothy, “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12b)

Jim Woodell, Executive Director
John 3:17 Ministry for Women