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Archives for 137 – 25th anniversary

Does religion divide people? Is it race, socioeconomic status or politics that separates us? Is our world and are the churches that inhabit that world hopelessly divided by things that we are helpless to control?

As a Jew trained by the prominent Jewish teacher Gamaliel, Paul had learned that what divided people was religion. Jews had the Law and were therefore superior. Gentiles did not have the Law and were therefore inferior. According to Jewish thinking, God’s gift of the Law separated them from others, making them superior.

A Jewish man might therefore pray, “Blessed am I, Lord, that I was not born like these pagans but rather among your chosen people who have the Law.” Or as Jesus portrays the common prayer of a Jewish leader, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I worship properly and I give a tenth of my income. Thank you, God.”

But as he reveals in Romans, Paul finally comes to a different realization. We don’t fully know what changed Paul. Did he figure this out when the bright light blinded him on the Damascus road? Did he spend seven years in the Arabian desert coming to this conclusion? Or was his heart softened by the sorrowful realization of how much he had fought against the followers of the Way?

Here’s what Paul discovered: Sin divides us. Not our birth certificates. Not our ethnicity. Not even the Law. It’s sin that divides people from one another and from God—the sins of arrogance, laziness, anger, idolatry, etc. They all build barriers that keep us apart.

This is what Paul is getting at in Ephesians 6:12, “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Blood doesn’t divide us. Flesh doesn’t separate us. Sin wrecks relationships and tears the world to pieces.

Think back with me to the story of creation. Why do we have the stories of Genesis 1-2? These aren’t scientific records of how God orchestrated the details of the universe. Instead, they explain to us what’s in the heart of God and what the role of humanity in God’s glorious creation is supposed to be.

One of the most important lessons from creation is that humans are made in the image of God. We are made in God’s image! In other words, the image of God is deeply implanted into each and every person. Stop and consider that for a moment. You are made in God’s image! Say it to yourself, “I am made in God’s image.” But now look around and say about those near you, “They are made in God’s image.” Each and every person has the image of God within them. How can something made in God’s image be bad or evil.

One of the things you learn when you’re married to a child development expert (as I am) is that you shouldn’t call kids bad or good. It’s common to hear even from Santa Claus, “Have you been a good girl?” Or a frustrated parent will say, “Why are you being such a bad boy?” The truth is that kids aren’t bad. They do bad things and make bad choices, but they aren’t bad.

The same is true of people. Can you really say that a human being made in the image of God is bad? Does God make bad things? This is what the creation story teaches us: When done with creation, God said, “It is good. It is very good.” Would you want to argue that God makes bad things?

Now it’s true that there are some people who do some awful things. And this is what guides Paul’s conclusion. The awful things they do that divide people are the result of sin.

But even people who genuinely do good things tend to become smug and self-righteous. This is another kind of sin that creeps in and divides people. The truth is that we are all made in the image of God. But by the same token we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. Our actions don’t match the image that is inside us. And this divides us from each other and from God.

Jane Elliott was a third-grade teacher in Riceville, Iowa. In 1968 she had the crazy idea of letting her kids participate in an experiment. “Blue-eyed kids,” she announced, “are stupid and will be second-class members of this class. Brown-eyed kids are the best.” So for the next two days she watched with astonishment as previously bright leaders who had blue eyes suddenly became timid and insecure, making unusual mistakes on their assignments. Meanwhile, brown-eyed kids found an amazing degree of confidence. Some previously quiet kids came out of their shells and began to assert themselves, feeling more confident in their roles and in their skills.

Then Mrs. Elliott switched the experiment. Blue-eyed kids were now bright while brown-eyed kids had their rights taken away. It was an astounding test that met with widespread derision—especially there in Riceville—as she began to draw acclaim and curiosity around the country. She even appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Elliott asked the kids to write about what they learned. One student, Debbie Hughes, said things that typify the other responses. “The people in Mrs. Elliott’s room who had brown eyes got to discriminate against the people who had blue eyes. I felt like hitting them if I wanted to. I got to have five extra minutes of recess.” When the experiment switched, she wrote, “I felt like quitting school . . . I felt mad. That’s what it feels like when you’re discriminated against.”

This clearly illustrates Paul’s great discovery in Romans. The things that divide us are artificially produced by the power of sin. They are either of our own creation or of a power beyond our control. That’s what Paul says in Romans: “You were slaves to sin.” Sin takes people hostage and through this savagery destroys what is good in all of us.

Think about it for a second. If we all stood in the presence of God, stripped of our sin and aware of being made in God’s image, wouldn’t we get along swimmingly? This is why Jesus came—to undo the damaging divide of sin. Jesus refused to separate people the way his compatriots did. Knowing this, Paul writes in Rom 15:7, “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” The glory of God as revealed in creation is visible when we tear down the divisions and welcome one another as fellow human beings made in God’s image.

So here’s my challenge for you based upon Paul’s massive discovery. What have you allowed to divide you from your neighbors? What obstacle have you empowered to stand as a divider between you and others who—like you—are made in God’s image? And what are you going to do about it? Sin is the divider-in-chief. Let’s stop feeding it.

2017 marks the 25th anniversary of Wineskins! Wineskins started back in May 1992 under the leadership of Philip Morrison, Mike Cope and Rubel Shelly. At that time Wineskins was a print publication with some stated purposes that you can read in full from the very first issue here – Wineskins: A Purpose Statement. Wineskins was and continues to be committed to the Restoration Movement and to helping Christians and churches navigate changing times with an unchanging Gospel.

In that first issue Mike Cope addresses the question, Why Another Journal? His answer has to do with being a “forum for church renewal” and “fresh awareness of the Holy Spirit” via a variety of content by various contributors. The goal was to make it at least two years and re-evaluate things in 1994.

Well, Wineskins continues to carry on 25 years later and the future is bright. I look forward to sharing more of what is in store for 2017 at Wineskins. It is truly exciting and we look forward to collaborating with you this year in making our content even better.

So this month and throughout 2017 we celebrate 25 years of Wineskins. This issue will feature some old articles (all 25 years of which can be found in the archive) as well as some new ones and we hope that by the end of the month we can share some of the new things to look forward to in 2017!

Thank you for reading and thanks to everyone who has contributed over the years

Every year around January, I have friends ask what my word of the year is and I never have one. I’ve always thought it was a neat idea but I never really got into it. But in the fall of 2016, I started thinking about and looking for my word for 2017. Something I could meditate on and gravitate to. A word that makes me think Jesus and move closer to who he wants me to be. 2016 had some great moments but hurled some big stones, too. There were many times throughout the year I was reminded how little control I have over this crazy life and it was in those moments when my word came into view.

Life is great at making us feel powerless, isn’t it? Dealings with work, family, and even church can lead to an abundance of stress, jealousy, fear, and fatigue. When we look around, we’re almost certain that everyone else has life figured out. Our inner voice bullies our struggling heart and we are left drained.

I love Peter especially in Luke 5. He’d been fishing all night and his workday had been disappointing, at best. The nets had continued to be empty regardless of the times he tried. He was tired, frustrated, and probably ready to go home when Jesus enters the picture.

After speaking words of grace and truth to the people, the King of kings, disguised as a typical Jewish rabbi, suggested Peter lower his nets once again. He knew about the previous night’s heartache but it was leading Peter to something powerful. Jesus could have filled the struggling fisherman in on how this was all going to play out. He could have shown him the thousands responding in Acts 2 or given him an aerial view of Vatican City. He could’ve have shown him the sprawling cathedrals in Europe or the thousands of church buildings sprinkled across our country today. But instead he spoke a few words, “Drop your nets” and Peter’s future was now in the choice of what he would do next.

Have you ever tried to tell Jesus how disappointed he was going to be? Maybe you told him that you thought he was cool but his people were a mess so you’d worship on your own or hang out in nature. Maybe you feared a political candidate so much you lost sleep. Maybe you turned up your nose and started avoiding that person who is living in sin because you’re positive they would never become a disciple. Maybe you slandered the church down the road because they didn’t do church like you. Maybe you chided the poor for wrong decisions instead of helping them or refused to give money because they might use it inappropriately.  Maybe you thought someone was so messed up, Jesus couldn’t help them anyway.

We tend to want to advise the creator of the world from time to time, don’t we? Peter wasn’t any different. He had no qualms about letting Jesus know how his night had gone. “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.” Doing life on our own always works out that way. When I focus on what’s going on around me I only see the empty nets, the disappointment, the drama, and darkness. Autopilot kicks on and I start to worry. I struggle with jealousy, pride, apathy, and lust. I battle moments of insecurity, defeat, bitterness, and a whole lot of nothingness. I need Jesus to encourage me to try again because when he’s in the boat, life changes. Suddenly, life is doable. Not perfect, but possible.

Too often, we struggle through life with overwhelming feelings of powerlessness. We’re tossed from here to there in situations where we have no control. Fear reigns and dictates how we respond but God has called us to something powerful. We may not be able to control someone else’s action but we can certainly control our reaction.

We were given a spirit of power! Power to love the unlovable. Power to be joyful, peaceful, and patient in a world that isn’t. Power to be kind and good regardless of where we are or what we’re faced with. Power to have faith and to share it with others. Power to be gentle and the power to control ourselves in a world that says we don’t have to.

Power by Heaven’s standards isn’t what the world would classify as real power. The world will tell you that power is doing something great but God defines power as doing something good. Paul tells Timothy that God gave us a Spirit, not of fear, but of power, love, and self control. Power lacking love and self-control is not Godly power.

Peter pulled that net up and felt the tension immediately. There were so many fish, the nets began to break. Fish that weren’t there a few hours ago and a fisherman who began to realize that the man sitting in the boat next to him wasn’t your average teacher. I love what Peter did next. He didn’t immediately worship Jesus. He didn’t immediately follow him. First, he feared him. “Go away from me, Lord. I am a sinful man!” Peter was out of his comfort zone and we always find out who we are when we are.

We are in a brand new year. We can allow it to tell us how powerless we are or we can remember that God has made us powerful. We have the strength to make a difference in the lives of those we encounter because of Jesus. We have the power to resist temptation and live through tragedy. We have the power, through Christ, to survive.

Rise up, children of God. Claim what’s yours. Strength in moments of weakness. Love, joy, and peace in the face of adversity. Grace in a time of grief. God has made a way. You are powerful.

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