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

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Archives for 125 – Our Common Faith in Jesus Christ

policiaHow many Bibles do you have? A quick survey through the bookcase in my office turned up more than 20. I can find almost any version I want on the Internet. And if I every need a new one, I can pick one up at dozens of stores here in town.

That’s not true for everyone. It’s not true for people who live in many other countries. My friend Tony Fernández, Herald of Truth representative in Cuba, tells this story:

Other drivers had signaled to me that there was a police checkpoint on one of the bridges. Sure enough, while I was still far away, one policeman began to wave me over. I quickly gathered up the documents that I would need to show him, but the officer said, “Please, put away your papers. I just want you to get me a Bible. That’s my life’s dream, but I’ve never been able to get one.”

Sadly, I didn’t have one with me, but I told him how to hear the radio program (Lea La Biblia / Read The Bible) and gave him our mailing address so that he could write in.

Every day I’m more impressed by the spiritual hunger of our people. I never imagined that stories like this would happen to me: an on-duty policeman asking me for a Bible. Incredible.

Yes, incredible indeed. In a Bible-rich country like ours, it’s especially hard to imagine a scene like that.

Just a few thoughts:

  • The fact that we have Bibles doesn’t mean that we read them. Don’t neglect what you have!
  • How do our life’s dreams compare with those of this man, who only dreamed of being able to have a Bible?
  • God is at work in many places around the world. Even as some societies seem to be moving away from Him, others move toward Him.
  • Pray for workers like Tony that choose to live in difficult situations because they see the good they can do.
  • Give when you can to organizations like Herald of Truth that provide Bibles to people in places where God’s Word isn’t easy to obtain.

10000ReasonsRomans 8 tells us that nothing can separate us from the love that God has for us. Unfortunately we have come up with 10,000 reasons to withhold love from one another in spite of what God has done for us in Christ.

It is easier to talk more about what divides us than what unites us. It is more effortless to spew hate than to exhibit love and grace. The list of topics that divide us grows every year. This does not come out of life by the Spirit by life led by the desires of the flesh. Divisiveness is not of the Holy Spirit. Division and divisiveness comes from the worst part of ourselves. It spews out of our desire to be right. It speeds down the highways of life, careening around corners, and smashing into crowds of innocent bystanders. The carnage is difficult to even look at.

There are calls in scripture for division. These are calls to separate the body of Christ from harmful elements. If you spend some time looking into those the early Christians were called to separate from it had more to do with immorality than bad doctrine. In Philippians 1, Paul even calls out those who preach Christ out of the wrong motives and says even then at least Christ is being preached and doesn’t call on them to stop,

15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice…”

I believe many of us have become undisciplined in the way we deal with each other. I believe there is a certain laziness that has discovered it is faster and easier to tear something down than to build something or someone up. The builder of the house needs more patience than the demolition crew that tears it down 100 years later. The thing is, we are called to the first not the second and God supplies the qualities that lead to mutual edification not mutually assured destruction.

Paul spoke into all of this in Galatians 5. He dealt with our propensity to use our freedom for sin as well as to attack each other. He also gives the solution – life by the Spirit rather than life by the flesh. We often quote, memorize or sing the last part of this passage without considering why Paul even had to give us the “Fruit of the Spirit” in the first place,

13 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. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

There is a better conversation to be had among Christians and it is a conversation about what unites us. This is the way of love. This is the way of the Spirit. This requires discipline and the fruit the Spirit produces. It requires a putting away of the natural inclinations of our human fleshliness. It will involve doing and saying things that don’t come naturally to us but only come through the Spirit of God. The more we have the unity conversation the less division conversation will really matter. I am not saying that we must let “anything go” for the sake of unity. Some people hold that view. I do not and neither did Paul…he just said that above. I am saying that the closer we all draw to Christ and grow our faith in Christ, the tighter we will be in fellowship with one another and those things that divide us will fade away as we fix our eyes on Jesus. There will be no separating the children of God who are united, not by their lack of doctrinal disagreements, but by their laser beam focus on the Son of God and pleasing Him only.

Let us be looking for reasons to be united, starting with Christ and then continuing to seek out another 9,999. They are there if you are looking for them. Truth is, we find what we are looking for whether it be division or unity.

ChristianDefinedWhen Jesus began his ministry I have often focused on the very first “red letters” of Jesus’ public ministry that we get in Matthew and the very first words of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. Here they are,

Matthew 4:17 – “From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Mark 1:15 – “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Both mention the kingdom. Both call people to repent. Only Mark mentions the “good news.” Matthew does give us that exact same word but not until after the next section which is the call of the disciples (4:18-22). After Jesus calls them we get this from Matthew,

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. 25 Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.” – 4:23-25

There it is, the Gospel…the “good news”. Just as we have this one Greek word (euangelion) translated into two English words, the Greek word is a compound word of the word “good” (Eu) and the word “message” (angelion – you see angel in there or “messenger”). The Gospel of Jesus is a message. It is good news of some sort. What sort of good news is it? I believe the answer to that question comes in two forms.

First, as we see in Matthew 4:23 the Gospel is both proclaimed in words. Second, it is performed in Jesus’ actions including his miracles.

Let’s look at each of these.

The Gospel is proclaimed. That means there is a message that is spoken that reveal truths about something and that something is what Matthew and Mark both included, “the kingdom” of God or of heaven. Throughout the Gospels we have Jesus giving us more and more information on the kingdom. People talk about Jesus talking so much about money or about a number of other things. Jesus’ primary message was the kingdom. You hear it everywhere from the Sermon on the Mount to his parables.

Jesus & The Gospel writers use of “loaded terms”
Jesus was teaching about God’s kingdom at a time when kingdom was a big deal. Jesus and the Jews of the first century lived under kingdom authority of Caesar. He ruled the land and ruled the day from an earthly point of view. They were his subjects, basically his slaves…paying him homage and taxes, etc.They didn’t get much say in how things when in the Roman Empire. When Matthew and Mark use the word “kingdom” that is a loaded term more so in their world than in ours. When Matthew and Mark use the word gospel and proclamation those are words people in that day knew very well just like the word kingdom. All three of those words were words that were very readily used of Caesar as the supreme authority where proclamation was made of “good news”/gospel/euangelion of what Caesar had done for his subjects.

There are other terms used of Caesar that I won’t spend the time going into right now but they are important to be familiar with. Caesar, I believe starting in Rome with Julius but certainly having precedent in Greece, Egypt and other places, claimed he was divine and the son of divine parents making him a son of the gods. Caesar was seen as “savior” of Rome and as “christos”…the anointed ruler and “king” as well as “lord.” If you read Romans 1:1-4 you get Paul pointing all of those terms and ideas squarely on Jesus and you can bet in writing this to Christians in the city of Rome his underlying message without directly saying it is that Caesar is not.

The truth of the matter was that Caesar was not your friend and what he did for you was not truly “gospel”/good news. To a pagan world who were already polytheists what was one more “god” to worship who they knew wasn’t really divine? But to monotheist Christians worshiping Caesar was out of the question and led to a lot of misconceptions of Christians that ultimately led to a lot of persecution. That is another matter we can dive into another time if need be.

The Gospel is performed:
So the Gospel is proclaimed about Jesus by the Gospel writers and also by Jesus in his ministry through the spoken word. It was also shown to us in the actions of Jesus, particularly his miracles. Go back to Matthew 4:23-25 and see what I mean. Matthew lists off a bunch of miracles that Jesus did. The question is this, what were these miracles intended to communicate and accomplish?

For the vast majority of my life I thought Jesus did his miracles for two reasons. First, he did them because he was a nice guy, full of compassion for the people and who saw someone hurting and wanted to help. Second, in addition to his compassion I was taught that the purpose of the miracles was to demonstrate the truth of his teaching. I still believe that is true and is most fully demonstrated in healing the paralyzed man who he also forgave his sins. The reality of the miracle backed up his statement that he could and did forgive sins.

But there is a third reason that I think is foundational to the purpose of Jesus’ ministry that both communicates something about God and accomplishes something about God at the same time. Here it is. The miracles were just as much a proclamation and a partial glimpse into the kingdom that is “near” as were the words/proclamation of Jesus. His miracles and deeds communicated the gospel just as solidly and in some cases even as specifically as his words did. So Jesus can teach us about a God who is full of mercy but how much more do we get that communication than through Jesus’ healing someone? Jesus can teach us about his authority but how much more does he teach us that by casting out a demon or calming the sea by his command?

If you want some verses to drive this home read the “rest of the story” of Matthew 4:23-25 that Luke gives us in Luke 4:14-21. Here it is…

14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Notice how the verbs “proclaim” and “set…free” are basically used the same way…Jesus proclamation, his words, are a setting free as are the actual deliverance (from sickness and demons) miracles. Jesus’ proclamation of freedom comes with the authority to actually free people and then people are actually freed by the words and deeds of Jesus!

The proclamation and the performance all communicate the “good news” that Jesus has come to the world to right the wrongs by his sovereign authority but first and foremost through his submission to the Father even to the point of death on a cross (Phil 2:5-11). Then just as Jesus is delivered and raised, so are we. That is good news. It is good news that the evil of this world doesn’t get the final say. It is good news that sickness and death and sin and corruption don’t get the final say. God does. You catch this reality in Revelation 21:1-5. Give that a read when you have a moment. God offers us forgiveness of our sins, eternal life, new creation, and resurrection life through His Son Jesus!

Caesar never offered that.

That should tell us something. We have no Caesar today but we all have things we are tempted to use to fill the Caesar role – things that make big promises that never pan out and that claim to be things that they are not. So let me close with this question, what sort of “Caesar gospel” are you following at times in your life? What kind of “faux Gospel” gets your attention more than the real one Last, in my best Dr. Phil voice, “How is that working for you?”

One of our goals at Wineskins is to promote solid biblical study. One of the ways we like to do that is by providing as many resources as we can to help you in your study. We have done that in the past through things like our free small group and Bible class lessons and through our Wineskins Commentary, which is a scripture index of all of the posts done at Wineskins.org and on the blogs of the writers we host (Old Testament & New Testament).

I want to tell you about something we are offering this month as we partner with Faithlife (Logos Bible Software) to offer you two ways of trying out their software called Logos Cloud. This is Logos Bible software in your web browser. I have been using it for the last month and it is really, really good. If you want to know more about it, I wrote a full review Logos Cloud here.

The first opportunity is something anyone can do at this very moment. It is a free month trial of their new cloud-based Bible software.

The second opportunity is a giveaway of a 12 month subscription to Logos’ Premium cloud-based software. This is roughly a $600 value!

If you don’t want to enter the giveaway you can click this link to get your free month trial.

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If you want to enter to win the 12 month Premium subscription you can do that below. If you want to do both, by getting the month trial from the link below (as opposed to the one above) it also counts as an entry to win the Premium subscription. The more ways you spread the word via the links below the more times you are entered into the contest to win the software.

Win a Logos Cloud Premium Annual Subscription from Matt Dabbs

AResRDI love the Restoration Movement. The idea of re-embodying the early church in the present day world appeals to me. I appreciate the idea of reconnecting today with yesterday and putting down roots that go back thousands of years.

Restoration in general is something that has come into its own both culturally and biblically in the last few years. Antique shows and the History Channel have highlighted an entire subculture of digging up the past and restoring it to be used in the present. It is fascinating to watch someone like Rick Dale of American Restoration who is a master craftsman restore things back to their original condition. You literally watch old, dead things come back to life to function as they were originally made to function in a new day.

The same is happening in theological circles, led for the most part by N.T. Wright. Wright has zeroed in on something that many theologians have missed over the years and it is Restoration. His work has given a lot of airtime to the restoration of all things and God’s desire to put things back in the state He created them, the state of being in the right again. This is the restoration of creation to God’s original intent for his creation.

In the Restoration Movement that includes Churches of Christ we were Restoration when Restoration wasn’t cool. We keyed in on this fundamental component of the work of God with just one catch. We focused in on ecclesiology rather than cosmology. In other words, we got focused in on Restoring the church (more specifically the worship of the church and doctrine) rather than the broader restoration that the Bible describes and that God is primarily interested in. In doing so, we got it part of the way right but not all the way.

I am happy to say that more and more I am seeing people embrace a fuller picture of biblical restoration that includes a new emphasis on more than going to heaven when you die but the impact of the Gospel on the here and now as well. It is not one without the other.

God is restoring more than His church. God is restoring the WORLD back to its original intention. If you recall the creation story in Genesis the creation wasn’t a bad thing. It was all “good” and even “very good.” When sin entered the picture, this good creation was marred…broken, disfigured…now corruptible and subject to decay. In short, it needs restored back to an incorruptible existence in God’s good, even very good creation. So we see that in many passages like the new heavens and new earth of Revelation 21. We see it in Romans 8 when the creation itself eagerly awaits what God is going to reveal as the creation groans longing for this renewal. We see it in God’s desire for humanity to become what Paul calls “new creation” so that the old is no more and all things are made new. Restoration is a big deal.

This is not just a New Testament idea but runs back through the Old Testament, not just in Genesis but also in the Psalms and the prophets. In explaining this in Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God, he quotes two of the most obvious passages in Isaiah 11:1-11 and Psalm 98:7-9 followed by a concise summation of his view on cosmic restoration,

A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of YHWH shall rest on him … He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth … The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them … They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of YHWH as the waters cover the sea.

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of YHWH, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.

A world set free both from human injustice and from ‘natural’ violence; a world in which oceans and mountains themselves will rejoice at a new fulfilment; a world in which all peoples will celebrate the fact that everything has been set right at last. That is the ancient Israelite vision, variously re-expressed in Jewish texts across the second-Temple period. This is not simply a hope beyond the world. It is a hope for the world. The difference is all-important, and is rooted, as those two extracts and many others indicate, in the ancient Israelite and Jewish belief that the true God, Israel’s God, was the creator of earth as well as heaven. Sooner or later he would put all things right, and there would be – you can feel it in those texts – a cosmic sigh of relief.1

God is in the restoration business. That is the heart and soul of the Gospel. It just so happens to be a bigger picture item than the restoration of New Testament worship and how we “do church.” Let us not be afraid or ashamed to adopt a fuller view of Restoration. That should come naturally to us. It should be in our DNA from the start as Restoration Movement people.

  1. Wright, N. T. (2013-11-01). Paul and the Faithfulness of God: Two Book Set (Christian Origins and the Question of God 4) (Kindle Locations 29237-29250). Fortress Press.
freely-10076-preview-973x649It was many years ago when an acquaintance heard where I worshiped and quipped, “Oh, aren’t you the church who thinks you’re the only ones going to Heaven?”  Flash forward a decade or so and another associate remarked, “You’re the ones who don’t believe in instrumental music, right?”
It’s a bit vexing that the world has identified us with anything other than Christ. I’d much rather someone ask, “Aren’t you the ones who feed the homeless? Care for the orphans? Run the prison ministry? Have that inner city mission? Love their neighbor? Get along so well with those you disagree with?”
We could discuss the worship practices of the church for hours but there are always going to be people who disagree with each other. So what do we do when faced with doctrinal matters that some classify as issues and issues that others deem doctrine?
          React Righteously
Responding in anger or arrogance severely damages the cause of Christ. Posting comments on videos, articles or Facebook posts or writing open letters or articles that could be perceived as threatening or abusive is unacceptable. We must refuse to give ourselves over to rage and evil because we believe others to be in error. Even if they are. Fighting among ourselves will extinguish any light that we have in this world.
          Build Bridges
Instead of attacking, gossiping or thinking poorly of another, why not offer time to sit down with a cup of coffee and find out why a person’s belief differs? Ask questions. Share stories. Search the Scripture with an open heart and be willing to win a friend even if you can’t come to the same conclusion.
          Instill Love
We have an obligation to teach everyone especially the next generation that respecting an eldership that deems an issue cultural is just as important as respecting a leadership that doesn’t. Valuing each other is vital to the growth of the church. Those who follow differently aren’t our enemies. They are servants of the Master who may be worshiping in error or may just be worshiping differently from us. We need to remember that just because it’s different doesn’t always mean it’s wrong.
          Look to Christ for our example.
When the disciples were aggravated about those working in the name of Jesus but who weren’t part of their group, they took matters straight to the Christ. You can almost see the twelve appalled and stomping their way to Jesus ready to let him know what those other folks were up to. They hadn’t been living with Jesus, walking where he walked and watching what he did. Had they even heard him preach firsthand? They were outsiders and here in a time when Jesus could have  prohibited or chastised them for their actions, instead he offers grace and encouragement, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you” (Luke 9:50).
Our mission isn’t to defend the Gospel but to proclaim it by the way we love God, Christ and others. The reaction we give to our brother and neighbor is paramount in our proclamation of that love. We have no time, authority or right to bully or threaten the safety of anyone in the name of Jesus.
There are always going to be people we disagree with on issues and doctrine.  However, how we disagree is just as important as what we disagree. N­ever allow anything to trump the grace that we have received and should be giving. Let the world see us and say, “Look how well they love!”
Our son Johah "reading" Jonah and the whale at 3 months.

Our son Jonah “reading” Jonah and the whale at 3 months.

What must I do to be saved?

That question has typically been answered in a very linear fashion. Line up these give points a draw a line from lost to saved. Bingo…you’re in! But what if there is more to salvation than that? What if God had something very different in mind when he talked about people entering the kingdom than boiling down the Gospel to a five step plan? What if I told you Jesus said that there was something that if you didn’t do, you could never experience eternal life with God in the kingdom that wasn’t on the five step list?

That would be a big deal, wouldn’t it?

What must I do to be saved?

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” – Matt 18:1-5

Jesus didn’t tell us to be childish in the way we treat each other. There is enough of that to go around. Jesus told us to become like the children to enter the kingdom of heaven.

What does it mean to change and become like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven?

First, change implies that we aren’t there to begin with. That means this isn’t going to come naturally to us and yet it can be done. It isn’t a single, solitary, isolated step. This is going to be a process. We are going to have to purposefully make some changes in order to make this happen. Second, Jesus clarifies what he means in the next sentence when he says he is talking about taking on a lowly position.

If we think we are great, we aren’t there. If we think we have made it, we aren’t there. If we treat people with disrespect, we aren’t there. If we beat people up emotionally, spiritually or even physically…we aren’t there either.

If we love unconditionally, we are making the change. If we live life with an innocence that doesn’t know how to fight dirty or be out for blood on the theological threshing floor, we are getting closer. If we don’t expect to get picked for the team, we might be closer than we think.

Changing to be like a child doesn’t come naturally to us as adults. It only comes naturally to us as children. Then we learn to protect ouselves, our interests, our property, and our ego and our innocence is lost. Once we learn to exert our will on others, our childlike demeanor begins to fade.

All is not lost, we can go back. It won’t be easy and it will go against everything this world teaches us to think and do but we can with Jesus’ help.

In the very next chapter we get a similar scene with a similar message,

“Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.” – Matthew 19:13-15

Those who have free access to Jesus are those who are like the children. They don’t come to Jesus for his blood. They come to Jesus to be with Him.

This should characterize the lives of believers…this child-like innocence should be a part of our outlook on life. It is a trusting way of living that is always looking to someone else to take care of what we cannot take care of for ourselves. I don’t mean to live an entitled life where someone is always doing things for you. I mean recognizing our own inability to perform up to the perfect standards that we often require of ourselves and know that our daddy still loves and accepts us just the way we are. I mean knowing that we might not be the most beautiful in the eyes of the world but we are beautiful to Him. I mean the excitement a child has when they know their parent has come home from a long day at work and they run to the door to hug them and just

Be

ChristianDefinedAs Paul made his defense against the accusations that had been leveled against him he said this,

I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law, being zealous for God, just as all of you are today.” (Acts 22:3)

Not even the New American Standard, known for being quite literal, makes a literal translation of a very important word Paul uses here – feet. The NIV and NASB use the word “under” but the image here is sitting at someone’s feet (just as Mary did with Jesus – Luke 10:39) to be taught.

This is an image of discipleship. Over the years discipleship has been more tied to following than to sitting. Jesus had many followers who weren’t disciples so being a disciple is more than being a follower. A disciple is someone who has dedicated themselves to the teachings of their particular instructor or rabbi so that they can imitate them or “follow in their footsteps” to to speak. So when you hear someone’s disciple teach, you are most likely hearing the teachings of their rabbi because their words and actions are a direct reflection on what they received from their rabbi.

In John 13:34-45 Jesus talks about how the world can know they are truly his disciples,

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

This is discipleship 101. When Jesus says that there is something they are to do or say that will tell the world who He is and shows they are truly His disciples it is going to boil down to the core essence of Jesus’ teaching and the actions and values that underlie them.

Jesus pointed out one thing. I would have expected Him to say love God. Instead Jesus said, “love one another.” That doesn’t mean that anything else goes as long as you are loving about it. It does mean that this one thing is of central importance and that without it all the rest is pretty much useless.

Jesus ties in the success of their mission to the quality of love one disciple has for another.

That should either encourage us or frighten us because I see a lot of enmity in the body of Christ today. As a direct result, according to Jesus, I cannot help but connect that with the fact that so many churches are in decline and so few churches are actually reaching anyone more than 1 or 2 people each year at most. Not only are churches in decline but we also have a Christian message that lacks teeth…that can’t seem to gain any traction…that the volume of the Gospel message is at a 10 but the volume of our bickering and arguing is at a 25. That just won’t work because it doesn’t reflect our Rabbi well enough to work.

Misunderstanding Love
I am convinced that a part of our problem comes from a gross misunderstanding of love in our world today that has bled over into God’s people. Love has many definitions and I am not going to try to define it here but I will say a few things I know about love. Love will cost you something because love requires you to give. Somehow as Christians we have bought into a consumer mentality in regard to how we see the church and how we see others. Consumers can never truly love the entity that provides their desired items and services from because consumers are seeking to take and that is antithetical to love. If we view Christianity as a consumer and other Christians as a consumer would, we will truly bite and devour each other that ultimately leads to mutually assured destruction (Gal 5:15).

I see Christians take things from other Christians all the time and that isn’t love. I see them try to take the dignity of others. I see them try to take the joy from others. I see them try to knock others down to exalt themselves. I don’t know where people learn that (including myself at times) except that I do know they didn’t learn that following and sitting at the feet of Jesus.

Love must define us. Jesus said so. If it doesn’t, we are disobedient and will never have the effect in this world God expects from us.

So let us love well and let us expect up front for it to cost us something. Let us be willing to pay the price, to not always get our way, to humbly respect people we disagree with while still being able to have a loving conversation about our disagreements. Let us repent of any selfish way that is found within us and turn from self-focus to others-focus. I truly believe a renewed love for one another will ultimately lead the world to listen with fresh ears to a people who actually are truly different.

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Thanks to Jerry Starling for his comment on the previous post that pointed my thoughts in this direction.

ChristianDefinedThere are a lot of issues that are talked about these days in Churches of Christ. Most of these issues are not actually new issues. Many of them have been talked about for generations. I am talking about everything from women’s roles to how we worship to how we read and interpret the Bible. These issues are getting more and more volume lately and it is concerning that some of these issues could very well define the future of Churches of Christ for years to come.

The phrase “defining issues” is an unfortunate one because that is not how things should be. We were never called by the Gospel to be defined by various issues. We were called to be defined by Christ and our faith in Christ. We were called to be defined by the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. We were called to be a community of faith that has a common identity in Christ.

I believe these issues must be talked about. I do not believe that these issues must define us. So let’s start a conversation in 2016 on how we are to be defined as Christians and as a movement. However, let us never lose track of what truly defines us. Let us never be defined by something that does not define people in scripture. Let us always put our trust in God and in His grace because we will never get all of the issues right and He loves us anyway.

Let me mention a few key identifying factors in our Christian faith that we must come back to again and again. We should be defined by our faith in Jesus Christ and the community/unity that we receive from being integrated into his body, under his headship and joined together through a common sharing of the Holy Spirit. We are defined by our common mission and our common calling to seek and save the lost. We are defined as resurrected people…those who were dead spiritually and are alive again as new creations in Christ.

These things and a few others truly do define us. Everything else is secondary.

2016 is the year we tackle two things here at Wineskins. We are going to tackle what really should define us as Christians and as a movement and we are going to tackle the issues that we are tempted to make our defining issues and have open and honest discussions (from scripture) on these issues together.

As we kick off January let us start with what should most define us: “Our common faith in Jesus Christ”.

Blessings to you this year.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Rom 15:13