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I added a frame to my Facebook profile recently proudly stating Jesus for 2020. And then it got me thinking, am I serious about that? 

It sounds really good but what if it means:

doing away with the death penalty and dissolving our military and defense programs because I’ll be too busy loving my enemies and won’t have time to bomb them?

sharing all of my resources and finances so that no one around me is in need?

declaring the Kingdom of God first, not America, or any other foreign empire?

refusing to pledge allegiance to anyone or thing other than the Christ?

shaking up the status quo to seek justice for the oppressed and marginalized?

flipping the tables of the local church and the theology of tradition and fear she sometimes pedals?

joyfully serving the least of these and refusing to judge their life choices?

losing my reputation with the religious to work for peace with my fellow outcasts.

I have a bad feeling it wouldn’t take long for us to go from “Jesus is Lord!” to “Jesus is asking too much!”

Maybe it’s time to prayerfully consider what Jesus for President would actually mean for our lives, for our country, and for our future. And then ask ourselves if we would we even vote?

Imagine telling a first century Jew that they don’t really know what God is like. Or, even to go a step further, imagine telling them that no one has ever seen God. They would be quick to object! Christians who know their Old Testament may even be sympathetic to these objections. What about Adam? He encountered God in the garden (Gen. 3:8). And Enoch? He walked with God for years (Gen. 5:22). What about Abraham? He sat with God and shared a meal underneath the oaks of Mamre (Gen. 18:1-15). Jacob? He saw God at the top of that ladder (Gen. 28:10-22). Moses? He spent time with God on Mount Sinai and even received the ten commandments from God (Ex. 19-20). Then, the 70 elders of Israel went to Sinai and saw God as well (Ex. 24:9-11). God spoke through the prophets to the people of Israel. Ezekiel even had visions of God by the Kebar River (Ezek. 18:1). Plenty of others talked with God, such as Hagar, Sarah, Rebekah, Aaron, Joshua, David, etc.

Yet, in spite of all this, the apostle John said “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” (Jn. 1:18, NRSV) In light of the entirety of the Old Testament, this is quite the claim. At first glance, we may be tempted to side with the objecting Jews and Christians, as God clearly has a long history with the people of Israel. Who is John to say, despite Israel’s long history with God, that no one has ever seen God? What’s more, what could possibly compel John to say that it is Christ who has made God known? Has not God been making himself known in various ways to Israel, including through the Hebrew Scriptures?

There’s no need to be overly-spiritual about it: this is an audacious claim made by the apostle John. But the issue is not the audacity of the claim; what matters is whether or not it is true. And sometimes, the truth is audacious to many.

Of course, John isn’t a Marcionite. He values the Old Testament. John quotes from it some 40 times in his gospel, and another six times in 1 John[1]. The book of Revelation quotes from the Old Testament another 249 times[2], though many in modern scholarship do not think John of Patmos and the apostle John are the same person. Nonetheless, it is clear: John believes God revealed himself to Israel through the Old Testament, and that followers of Jesus should take it seriously. The question still remains though, what did John mean when he said that no one had ever seen God before Jesus revealed God to us?

I think John gives us some clues in the verses preceding verse 18. The apostle John describes John the Baptist in verses 6-8, saying he was sent from God but was himself not the light. Rather, John the Baptist bore witness to the light. And, it was the true light that was coming into the world. John called this light the Word of God which became flesh! In that, God was not content to simply reveal himself through other people, or through words written by men. Instead, God himself became a man. He lived and walked among us. And during this time, he perfectly revealed himself to us. In the same way, Scripture is itself not the light. Rather, Scripture’s purpose is to bear witness to the light, the Word of God, Jesus Christ.

John’s paradigm of thought should inform our own opinions about the nature of Scripture and the Christian faith. The writer of Hebrews does something very similar in Hebrews 1:1-3. We are told that God did speak to our fathers in many and various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. It is the Son who reflects the glory of God and is the exact representation of his very being (v.3). This is interesting, to say the least. Though the writer gives us multiple ways in which God has revealed himself to us, it is his revelation through Christ which he says is an exact representation of his character.

What does John mean by saying that no one has ever seen God? I believe he would say that compared to any revelation of God we’ve had before, no matter what visions, encounters, dreams, theophanies or Christophanies which may have taken place before, they pale in comparison and are submissive to the perfect revelation of God we have in Christ!

Jesus did not come to change God’s mind about us; rather, he came to change our minds about God. Jesus is exactly what God has to say![3] So, we need to make sure that the God we are worshiping and proclaiming to people is a Christ-like God.

If you cannot find it in Jesus, you should not say it about God.[4] This is the truth John dared to proclaim concerning the Messiah.

[1] “Quotations from the O.T. In the N.T.,” Blue Letter Bible, accessed July 25, 2018, https://www.blueletterbible.org/study/pnt/pnt08.cfm.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Brian Zahnd, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: the Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News (Colorado Springs, Colorado: WaterBrook, 2017), 59.

[4] Austin Fischer, Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed: Black Holes, Love, and a Journey in and Out of Calvinism (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2014), 41.

Another Father’s Day is upon us and I can’t help but think of my dad and his rebellious lifestyle:

  • As a popular high-school football player he decided to spend his life telling others about Jesus.
  • As a young preacher he switched pulpits with one of his close friends, a young, African American preacher. In the early 1970s not many churches were doing that. I’ll never forget dad taking me to this congregation and finding a sweet, older lady for me to sit beside while he preached. I loved the joy and excitement that came from those faithful Christians. Dad taught me that it didn’t matter what color someone’s skin was. We were all family.
  • When faced with the news of having a terminal illness as a young twenty something, dad continued to preach the hope of Jesus even when he could no longer speak. He turned his diagnosis into a way to bless others.

I hope you had a rebellious father. One who looked at his world and refused to let the darkness win. One who knew Jesus and wasn’t afraid to practice what he preached.

I hope you are a rebellious father. I hope you will continue to love God and love others even in a world that doesn’t. I hope you ask God to stand guard over your mouth, your eyes, and your actions. I hope you tell your children in words and deeds that nothing matters more than following the Christ and encouraging his church. I hope you fiercefully love your wife and children and fight for them. And if you need to, I hope you will forgive your own dad for his faults.

Here’s to all the rebellious dads! Happy Father’s Day!

 

A young woman preaches grace and truth and receives death threats from other Christians.

College students are hurt by their school and then wounded even more on social media by other Christians.

A preacher spends weeks agonizing over a sermon, praying it will bring glory to God and encourage the Kingdom only to be criticized, isolated, idealized, or treated as an office manager or building keeper by other Christians.

We wonder why we’re losing our children, why no one wants to talk to us about religion, and what we can do to make things better in this world. Maybe we need to take a long look in the mirror.

We are the holy people of God which means he should be influencing our actions, reactions, and words regardless of whether they are spoken or typed.

What does holy look like when you’re faced with someone who doesn’t interpret Scripture the way you do? It looks like laying down your stones and choosing grace instead. That may mean withdrawal but it never means cruelty.

What does holy look like when someone has been offended? Regardless of your opinion on the subject, holy looks like listening and trying to understand someone else’s viewpoint and story.

What does holy look like for a church and her minister? It looks like an adequate salary for the vital role served. It means making sure they can afford quality health insurance for them and their family. It looks like good communication from and with the leadership. It means walking alongside them in their work for the Lord and not expecting them to carry the entire congregation. It means friendship, encouragement, and love.

In every relationship holiness looks like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It’s thinking Jesus and inviting him into every situation.

Church, it’s time we step up. We are God’s people. We know holy. Let’s start living it. The world is watching.

 

 

“It’s not our ability that will make a difference in the lives of others. It’s our availability.” -Phil Sanders

 

I was blessed to spend a week in Mexico recently.  My group of seven from Western Kentucky joined with a group from the Sunset International Bible Institute’s Adventure in Missions program (my all-time favorite ministry within the church). We worked with local Christians in Central Mexico by serving orphans, cleaning homes and properties, and loving on people we may never get the privilege of seeing again. We, along with the young missionaries in the AIM program, passed out over 5000 fliers inviting folks to learn English at the Metropolitan Church of Christ located in downtown Mexico City.  We experienced beautiful hospitality from local missionaries as we converged on their home every morning and evening for breakfast and devotionals.

And as we traveled in and around Mexico City, I continually saw signs with the word disponible. For two days, I tried to sound it out. It was quickly becoming the word that I would remember the most about this trip and I didn’t even know what it meant.  I saw it on billboards, pay phones, benches, and bridges. It was on overpasses and freeways. It was everywhere and I was terribly curious but by the time we would arrive at our destination I would become too busy to ask.  Finally, after a couple days I started snapping pictures whenever I saw it, probably missing ancient Aztec ruins behind me while I focused on a word that had me captivated.

I was at the Tuloca Church of Christ building (a couple of hours from Mexico City) a few days into my trip when I remembered to ask a friend what it meant and he replied casually, “Disponible? It means available.” And that’s when I teared up a bit and remembered the quote from one of my favorite preachers. “It’s not your ability… It’s your availability.”

Many people would say it’s just a coincidence that the word that has influenced me the most in my walk with Christ is plastered around a country I didn’t want to visit in the first place and they might be right. It probably means nothing that I had to make myself leave America again. After losing my friend, Roberta Edwards, while she served in Haiti, I wasn’t sure if I would ever be willing to travel outside of America. In fact, the thought of going was too painful. But I made myself pack anyway even while refusing to research the country and where we would be staying before I left.

I love how God pursues his children. He reminds us that he made the world available for those who follow him to step into and make a difference. Not by what we can do, but by what he’s already done. If we are willing to make ourselves available and hospitable to the poor, oppressed, marginalized, the lost and searching, he will do great things. He always has.

The world is available to us to love and serve. Are we available to go and witness the hospitality of those who speak another language? Are we making ourselves, our homes, our country, and our God available to those in need here? That’s not only our mission, that’s the plan for our lives.

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I was trying to get the attention of one of the kids at school the other day but the student wasn’t responding. At first, I thought he was in his own little world. Then as I said his name a bit louder, I decided he was flat out ignoring me. As I got even closer I wondered if something was wrong. Maybe he wasn’t ignoring me. Maybe his hearing needed checking. I was growing concerned. After all, this kid was one of the sweetest in the class. As I repeated his name, another teacher asked who I was calling. She laughed when I told her and then offered his correct name. It wasn’t that he hadn’t been listening. I had been calling the wrong name the entire time.

That story came to mind while I stood in the parking lot of the Pulse nightclub in downtown Orlando recently. The scene where 49 people were killed is our country’s deadliest mass shooting. Surrounded by the memorials left by friends and family, I fought the feeling that kept rising in the pit of my stomach. A feeling of despair and heartache; a feeling that, although evil’s days are numbered, it had won a battle that night. I thought of the mothers who had buried their precious children. The kids who would never again hear the sound of their parent’s voice. The siblings who would tearfully stare at the empty chair this holiday season. The loved ones who, with broken hearts, would never forget. I read the notes pinned to the fence that had been put up around the gray building. I stared at the pictures and the smiling faces now gone and it dawned on me that as a church we haven’t always done a good job of loving our neighbor. We do alright with the neighbor who looks, votes and lives pretty much the way we do. However, some neighbors don’t always fit the mold we have created. They love, live and sin differently. We aren’t nearly as brave as the expert of the law in Luke 10 when he asked Jesus point blankly who his neighbor was. Maybe we’re too afraid of what Jesus would say.

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Empathy begins when we agree to meet others in their darkness. It flourishes when we refuse to cast stones and instead listen and care even when we don’t understand. It changes lives when we share our hope in Jesus as we call people by the name God bestowed on them. A name of love. A name of worth. A name God gave to the world long before the world had the inclination to rebel. A name spelled out in John 3:16. One given to all creation but especially to those created in his image. It was echoed again in Mark 12:30-31 when Jesus instructed those who were listening and those who would someday read. How often we forget that loving God and neighbor are also acts of salvation.

Jesus never said we would be known by where we stand on issues, how well we debate, boycott, vote, quote Scripture or lambaste those who live differently. As the bride of Christ, he instructed us to love so powerful and purposefully that it will become the very definition of who we are and why we’re here. We will be known by how well we love or by how well we don’t.

God wasn’t in our empty church building that Saturday night twiddling his thumbs waiting for our decent and orderly worship service the next day. No, he was in a Florida nightclub comforting those he had watched take their first breath. He loved them, wept for them and held them as they took their last.

If we want to change the world for Christ, then we need to be telling the world who they are. They are loved. They matter. They were made for a purpose. The one who is calling them is bigger than the lies and brokenness of this world. They were made in his image and he gave his only son so that they may have life. He will never leave nor forsake them. He will never disappoint or discourage.

People will never listen to us if we continue calling them by the wrong name. They know where we stand on issues. Church, let’s show our neighbors how well we love.

 

peekAfter nearly fifty years, I assume that the statute of limitations has run out. I can now admit it: I was a prayer peeker.

That’s right. I would open my eyes during prayers. Not just any prayers, but the prayers said during church services in the main auditorium. That despite having been taught in Sunday School that it was a rule (if not a commandment) that you had to bow your head and close your eyes during prayers.

But I had a good reason. I wasn’t opening my eyes to look at other people or even to see the person praying. I wanted to see Jesus.

I assumed that when we all closed our eyes and bowed our heads, Jesus would come in and listen to the prayer. Maybe, just maybe, I could sneak a peek of him before he realized I was looking.

My older self is a bit envious of that child. Not that I want a childish faith that expects to see Jesus sitting in the rafters. But I’d like to recapture the childlike faith that confidently expects the Lord to be present in our assemblies.

I know intellectually that “God with us” isn’t just the translation of the name of some kid in the book of Isaiah. I also know it’s more than what happened when Mary had a baby in Bethlehem.

I can quote the verse from Matthew 18. You know the one:

“For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)

Yet even then, my rational self wants to tie that to a specific context (church discipline) or a specific time frame (apostolic era) or a purely figurative way of speaking. It’s can’t be that Jesus really comes to be among us when we assemble.

But isn’t that one of the great lessons that the gospel writers want to show us, especially Matthew in his gospel? Isn’t that the real meaning behind “God with us”? Not that God was with his people in days of old. Not just that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. But that promise from the end of Matthew: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

When we come together as a body, Jesus is among us. We need to see that. We need to feel that. We need to believe that.

When Paul was writing to the Corinthian church about the need to discipline one of their members, he begins his instructions by saying:

“When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present…” (1 Corinthians 5:4)

God with us. Us. When we come together. I know that we are temples of the Spirit, and God lives in us. There is a very real sense in which God is with us all the time. But there’s a special meaning to the assembly, a special reality that tells us that God is with us. The power of the Lord is in our midst.

It’s hard to see past what our physical senses take in. We see worn out pews and faded carpet. We hear off-key singing and crying babies. We get too hot or too cold, depending on how well the heating/AC is working. We touch and taste the Lord’s Supper, knowing that it’s really crackers and grape juice, not the body and blood of Jesus.

And yet… God is with us. These physical things merely distract from the spiritual reality that God is in our midst. Or, if we let them, they come together to remind us that there is a Creator behind these physical realities, and that Creator is with us. He is present.

I don’t want to go back to looking for Jesus somewhere up near the ceiling. But I do want to recapture that assurance that he will be there when the church meets. He will be among us.

God will be with us.

A global conference to bring Churches of Christ together to focus on more effectively reaching our world for Jesus Christ.

A global conference to bring Churches of Christ together to focus on more effectively reaching our world for Jesus Christ.

By most estimates, there are nearly 3 billion people in the world today who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ. There are 87 countries in the world where less than 2% of the population is Christian. And here in the United States, the opportunities are plentiful to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those who are currently unreached. The question many Christians ask, when faced with this great need is – how can our churches more effectively advance domestic and global outreach?

One way that Churches of Christ are addressing this need is the tri-annual Global Missions Conference, held in Memphis on October 16-18. Led by a steering committee of missions leaders from across the nation, this Conference will feature: international presenters; practical missions sessions; missions exhibits and networking; and the World Missions Workshop for college students.

John Reese, Conference Steering Committee member and President of World Bible School said, “Churches of Christ are one of the largest missionary-sending organizations in the nation. In several respects we have performed well in our evangelistic outreach, yet the world is growing faster than our efforts. How can we deepen our biblical underpinnings, improve our strategies, concentrate our efforts and communicate more effectively with one another?”

The Conference will consist of 13 Workshops, each consisting of four classes, offered for those serving in various aspects of missions. Each workshop will be spread over the two conference days.

Reese added, “This conference will enable Churches of Christ to be more intentional in work worldwide in reaching the lost; to strengthen the central role of the local church in global missions; to practice better stewardship; and to work side by side with others all over the world in reconciling people to the Lord.”

Conference Tracks include:

  • Short-term Missions – coordinated by Mark Woodward
  • Missionary Care / Family Track – coordinated by Beth Reese
  • U.S. Missions – coordinated by Stan Granberg
  • There will also be a special track with workshops for university students and teens

Other Conference features include special interest sessions, breakout sessions, interest groups and the plenary sessions with the keynote speakers.

Special Interest Session: America Is Calling – The Whites Ferry Road Church of Christ from West Monroe, LA will share their story of how the people of America are coming to them, seeking spiritual answers. Several of the leaders will have a conversation about their experience and what they are doing about it.

Breakout Sessions – There will be approximately 20 different breakout sessions to discuss positive ideas that work. Some of these discussions will be about advancing the gospel in specific geographical locations, and other discussions will be about types of work or methods to use.

Interest groups – These groups will enable people to learn from some different ministries that make their focus to reach people around the world. Participants will be given the opportunity to learn from these ministries and discover ways they can partner together.

Plenary Sessions – The keynote plenary sessions will focus on major themes around missions, whether through the local church or non-profit ministry, or on the mission field. Keynote speakers include: Machona Monyamane, John Reese, Gary Jackson, David Duncan and Monte Cox.

Register Today! – There are still openings available for more participants, but now is the time to register if you plan to attend, as registration will fill up soon. Visit www.globalmissionsconference.org for all the information on registration, lodging, directions and conference details. Online registration is open until October 1st, so register today!

“No matter whether you are a missionary or missionary candidate, an elder, missions committee member, campaigner, Bible school teacher or simply a person interested in world evangelism, there will be workshops tailored to meet your needs,” stated Beth Reese, Conference Steering Committee member.

This year’s Global Missions Conference will be held at the Goodman Oaks Church of Christ in Southhaven, MS just south of Memphis, TN. Lodging and transportation options are available. More information can be found on the Global Missions Conference web site.

“The heritage we carry as the Churches of Christ is that we have evangelized, built schools and become a global movement of God, and now God is calling us to collaborate in order to respond to His call for redeeming the world in which we each live,” Reese concluded.

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