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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most of the Christians I talk to don’t have too much trouble believing God loves them. They believe Jesus loves them. They may not be quite so certain about the Spirit!

God’s love for people is no secret. It isn’t a hidden or complicated doctrine. It is one of the most simple and beautiful things in all of Scripture.

God loves you.

Okay.

But do you love yourself?

This is where more people struggle. There are a lot of people who struggle to look at themselves in the mirror and be happy with who they see.

In some circles of Christianity there is a negative anthropology – the sin of man (some saying even from birth – which I don’t agree with) can be a major obstacle for us seeing ourselves as valuable and lovable. Original sin overtook being made in God’s image and that is a shame.

Yes we know God loves us and so it would make sense that we would love ourselves but sometimes we don’t. Some don’t like who they are much less love who they are. Maybe it is how your life turned out or difficult circumstances, or even poor decisions on your part. Maybe you feel like a failure.

Do you love yourself?

If not, why not?

The One who made you knows you infinitely. He knows more about you than you know about yourself and He loves you all the way. If our hang up in loving ourselves is that we know too much about ourselves to see ourselves as lovable then let it sink in that God knows more about you than you do and He is still crazy about you!

He wants you to be crazy about yourself as well. Not in a boastful way but in being able to recognize the value and beauty God put in you to make you, you.

God wants you to love yourself. Jesus nearly commanded it in the second greatest commandment – love your neighbor as yourself. Put another way, love your neighbor the same way you love yourself. That means you must love yourself! God wants you to love you. God wants you to see yourself as He sees you – lovable.

So look yourself in the mirror today and see someone looking back who is infinitely valuable in God’s eyes and, maybe in time, in your own eyes as well.

You are loved

Tony didn’t have any friends.

At eight years old, he didn’t know what it was like to play soccer or climb trees. In fact, he didn’t know how to relate to other kids at all. Except with his fists.

Tony was born with a hernia on his genitals that caused severe deformation. His parents couldn’t afford to dress him, so he ran around naked in the Ugandan village where he lives. Kids teased and bullied him for his deformity. He learned how to fight, because his peers didn’t want to play.

Tony was convinced he was unlovable, that something was fundamentally wrong with him and that he would never experience the love from his parents or peers that he so deeply desired.

Tony didn’t know it, but God saw and loved him right there, as he was. No one had ever told him that. But even if they had, what good is the love of an invisible, intangible being when all an eight-year-old kid wants is a hug?

When staff members of Kibo Group (a development nonprofit that works in southeastern Uganda) saw Tony, they didn’t say, “Don’t worry about the bullies, because God loves you.” Instead, they saw that God had placed them there to be the hands of Jesus and to show the love of God.

Tony couldn’t feel the hug of God without feeling the hug of God’s people.

So the Kibo staff gathered together their personal funds to get him to the nearest town, Jinja, so he could get the medical treatment that his parents couldn’t afford.

In Jinja, Tony received the kind of love he had never before experienced. The Kibo staff gave Tony three meals a day. He watched TV for the first time. Everyone greeted him when he walked into a room. He dressed in new, clean clothes to prevent infection after the surgery. He played with his peers in Sunday school. He went back to his home village a hero, with a quickly healing wound and lots of stories to share with the kids that would soon become his friends.

At one time or another, we are all Tony-with-a-hernia. Something that has happened or something we have done leads us to believe we are unlovable.

In those moments, you are loved. Even if no one tells you that, even if you can’t see it for yourself, even if you don’t feel that it’s true, the truth is that you are loved with the unimaginable, inexpressible love of the eternal God. My prayer in those moments is that someone tells you that God loves you and shows it.

This, after all, is what Jesus meant when he said:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:34-40, NIV)

The second greatest commandment isn’t to tell people about your love for God or even God’s love for others. The second greatest commandment is to be the love of God to others. In other words, the natural manifestation of love for God is showing the love of God to one’s neighbor.

So this is my second prayer: In the moments when you are Tony-after-surgery, I pray you will be the person who sees when someone needs the love of God and doesn’t just tell them about God’s love, but shows them what God’s love looks like.

Be moved. Jesus took hate and hostility, the kind like our vengeance, by absorbing it into his own body. He then recycled it into love, mercy, and forgiveness. By his wounds—not his advice and not his theory—Jesus heals all of us.

Go ahead. Lead with your fuming and spewing claims of unfairness. Blast away at why you don’t need the constant abuse you receive from others.

Or…take your place in the life-giving effort that bears the fruit of ideal difference. Some will choose to belittle and complain. Others will prefer to live…abundantly…now…today.

The cross…your cross…is the only winning way to victory. Stay. On. It.

Determine to be recycled through rejection. It isn’t fun and games. It is the gift that keeps on giving.

Many of us grew up with the doctrine of God’s unconditional love for humanity AND the implied belief (never directly stated but could be inferred from other things that were said) that God is waiting for you to mess up so he can wack you.

Is it “Sinners in the hands of an angry God”? Or is it God’s unconditional love for humanity? Is God waiting and watching for failure or for success.

Does God see us through the lens of our own qualities or does God see us through the lens of something else? Do our mess ups diminish his love and our successes increase it?

Our answers to these questions often come from two things that aren’t the right place to find the answer. First, what we are conditioned to believe about love is often based on how we experience it in the world (the world’s system and values). Second, we base our view on what we hear people say in church about God. These are often well meaning people.

If you want to know whether or not God loves you…if you want to know how your mess ups affect God’s love…if you want to know what it is that truly defines you in God’s eyes you don’t gather evidence from people who don’t know God. You don’t gather evidence from what people say in Bible class (although that is not always inaccurate either). You seek God in the scriptures and allow him to speak for himself.

Imagine if your view of how your spouse loves you could only be based on what other people said about him or her?

When it comes to love we let people speak for themselves. We need to afford God the same opportunity.

Go to the scriptures. Read about the lengths God goes to for his people. Read Hosea. Read the Prodigal son in Luke 15 and the running father. Read John 3. Read the passion of Jesus in the gospels. Read Romans 5 or 8. God has been trying to convince us of the truth of his love for us above all the noise that gets us confused.

God is not just saying this. God is demonstrating his love for you (Romans 5:8). You are loved. You belong. This was true before you were born and it is just as true after you mess us as it is before you mess up. God thinks you are special.

God’s love for you is not tentative or tenuous. God’s love for you is tenacious. “O love that will not let me go!”

Let today be a day where you bask in the unconditional, unequivocal, unextinguishable, unfailable, unfathomable, universal love of God…for you…no matter what anyone else has to say about it.


No matter what you are going through or what you have done in your life – you are loved.

No matter who you have disappointed or who approves you – you are loved.

If you’ve goofed up big time…more than 100 times…1000 times – you are loved.

In spite of what anyone else in your life has told you differently – you are loved.

You are loved.

Unfortunately for many they never hear these words from another person. For others, they hear it but they don’t believe it. They struggle to see themselves as someone who is indeed lovable.

The very same people we rely on to help us feel loved are just as flawed as we are. But the truth of how loved you are doesn’t depend upon flawed people to express it – it is an incontrovertible, irrevocable, undeniable truth of God’s created universe – that you are loved.

Let us be people who let others in on the secret – that the love we have for them isn’t conditioned on what the world conditions it on – we love because they just are…and we do that because God showed us how to love like that because He loves like that too! Now that is good news!

Welcome to February, the month where we get to encourage each other in the love of Jesus!

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