Charity begins at home …but it mustn’t stay there.

How to Win the Lost There is a conviction among many Christians that our first obligation is to the lost.  There’s a Christian couple I know who are in ministry, whose husband’s parents are believers; the wife’s parents are not. The couple caters to the wife’s parents over the husbands since, “It’s our Christian duty to lead them to Christ.” They put them first, leaving the husband’s parents feeling neglected at times.

WWJD?  I understand the couple’s attitude, but is it biblical? The couple answers, “Of course! There’s the great commission. Our obligation is to witness to the lost.” But is this what Jesus meant by witnessing? Once, while ministering to a crowd, he was told that his family was outside, wanting to speak to him. They had not yet accepted Him as Messiah. So, you would expect he would run out to them, lest he put a stumbling block before them. He did the opposite.  Pointing to his (believing) disciples, he said“Here is my family. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:49). How rude, you say? Yet it was fully consistent with all he taught and did.

Sheep and Goats Often we hear justification for feeding the hungry out in the world by reference to Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats. He welcomed the sheep because, “Even as you did it to the least of the lost, you did it to me?” No? Right! He was clear…as you did it to the least of my brethren.” It’s a great thing to feed hungry people, but not if we jump over and exclude the needy among us. That is NOT what Jesus would do.

While overseas I participated in bringing food to Buddhists. A few did get baptized. In time these came to be known as “rice Christians,” because they were attracted to the rice, not to Christ.  We can’t bribe people to follow Christ, but we can incarnate his love among ourselves. Let’s face it, it’s easier loving people we only brush shoulders with than those we must deal with in everyday life.  It takes the power of God’s Holy Spirit to do that.

Attraction not Promotion. Jesus had a crucial point to make to his disciples. They would soon have the  job of leading His church. Love and loyalty towards fellow members, just like in any family, was priority. Jesus knew the key to bringing others into a family, is not to cater to them, but draw them by being a loving example of what true family life is all about.  

Growing up, I had a neighbor friend, Judy, who was an only child. I rarely saw her parents smile. While we were far from perfect, she saw how my Dad spent quality time with us and had fun with us. Later she wrote, “How often I wished I was in your family instead of mine. ”This is consistent with Jesus’ New Covenant command, “Love one another as I have loved you.” It is by our mutual love, not our worship, doctrines or outreach programs that draws people to Jesus. Loving one another means embracing brethren from other traditions and co-operating with them in ministry.

Lift Jesus Higher. “If I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” (John 12: 32 ). Jesus refers to his death on the cross, the supreme act of God’s love. The Greek word (elkow) means I attract fish into a net. To be fishers of men requires the right bait. Jesus knew the best bait of the kingdom, is the love we show each other and then to others. The meaning of the Greek word “lift up” (hupsow) is “I exalt.” We do exalt Christ through worship. But we also exalt him when we model His love among ourselves. I used to think our worship could somehow draw others to Christ. But that’s plain silly. The world neither sees nor cares about our prayers and sermons. But they would sit up and take notice if they witnessed extreme examples of Christ’s sacrificial love being lived out among us.

What the World Needs to See is love sweet love.  John hits the nail on the head when he says, “How can I say I love God who I can’t see, if I don’t love my brother who I can see.” (I John 4: 18)

Pray with us for this message of Jesus neglected command to be published abroad.

The Agape Imperative

Is the Holy Spirit’s signature hidden in John’s writings?

Curious, I counted the number of times the word agape appears in John’s epistles.  Here are my surprising findings:   

  • 3rd John = 7 (1 x 7) times.
  • 1 John, the 4th chapter: = 28 (4×7) times
  • John’s gospel = verb 35 (5×7) (5×7) times; noun = 7 times. Total = 42 (6×7) times
  • John’s first epistle = 49 (7×7) times.

Seven (7) stands for completeness or perfection in the Bible.  Are these numbers a coincidence or  are they  the hidden  signatures of the Spirit  who inspired   John’s writings?  What  is  the  Spirit saying to  the  churches  in  this  very  hour.

“This is my command: love each other as I have loved you!”

1 John 4: 7-9; 12-13; 16; 19-21. Beloved, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Every man who truly loves is God’s son and has some knowledge of him. But the man who does not love [others]cannot know him at all, for God is love, and the one who continues to love others does, in fact, live in God, and God does, in fact, live in him. So our love for him grows more and more.

12-13 It is true that no one has ever seen God directly.  Yet if we love one another, God does actually [abide, continues to live] within us, and his love grows in us towards perfection…

16 We  have come to know  and to believe  in the  love God  has for us.  God is love, and whoever  [abides, continues to live]  by  loving others remains  in  God and  God in him   

19-21 We love him because he first loved us. If someone says, “I love God” and hates his brother, he is a liar. For if one does not love the brother right before his eyes, how can he love the One he cannot see? And in any case it is his explicit command that the one who loves God must love his brother? 

2 John 5- 6  I am not writing a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning: let us love one another…for this is the commandment you heard from the beginning in which you must walk.

 John 15: 9-10; 12-14; 17;  I  have  loved  you just as  the Father has  loved me. You must [abide, go on living] in my love. If you keep my commandments  you will live in my love just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and live in his love. This is my command: that you love each other as I have loved you. There is no greater love than this—that a man lay down his life [psyche: soul, ego] for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I tell you to do. …. 17This is what I command you, love one another!

After reading the passages, please offer comments on any or all of these questions

  • Why  was  John  chosen  to pass  on  this the  revelation  that  “God  is  love?”
  • How  does  this revelation  of God’s  nature  impact  our  grasp  of the  trinity?
  • How does the old covenant command tell us how we are to love our neighbor?
  • How does  Jesus  tell us how  we are to love  one another in the family  of God?
  • Does loving a  brother  require a deeper  commitment than  loving a neighbor?

How do you respond to the following statements?

  • The more I love God, the more I will grow in my love for others.
  • An important way I show my love for God is by loving others,
  • The more I love others, the more I will grow in my love God.

Vertical and Horizontal Dimensions of Faith

 As the cross has two dimensions, there are two dimensions to our Christian life.’

 Our Vertical Relationship is our direct love for God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, described in over 200 passages in the New Testament. They include: worship, general prayers, praise and adoration, thanksgivings, intercessions, petitions and supplications.

Our Horizontal relationship is our indirect love for God, expressed by our actions and attitudes of agape love for others.

  • These two dimensions equally express our love for God and are mutually inclusive.
  • We may agree that in the church, our vertical love for God has trumped and even obscured our horizontal love for God.
  • John writes, “…whoever does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (I John 4:20).
  • Paul declares, “May you live in harmony with each other as is fitting for followers of Jesus Christ. Then you all can join together with one voice to give praise and glory to God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (Romans 15: 5, 6 NLT)
  • We may call this agape love for one another in the family of god, “brotherly love.”

Our Horizontal relationship of brotherly love comes from Jesus’ new command for a new covenant, “Love one another, as I have loved you, by this everyone will acknowledge you as my followers.” (John 13:34).

  • For emphasis, he repeats it five times (See also John 15: 12, 15).
  • Jesus new command is repeated in Paul’s letters 12 times; in Peter’s 6 times; in John’s 14 times and twice in Hebrews—a total of 31 passages.
  • Jesus new command for his church family to practice agape is beautifully defined by Paul in his ode to our horizontal brotherly love “Agape suffers long and is kind; agape envies not; agape flaunts not itself and is not puffed up, does not behave itself improperly, seeks not its own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil; rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;  bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.”

His new command is not to be confused with the old command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus firmly endorsed that old covenant command given through Moses in Matthew and Luke.

The necessity of giving our Horizontal Relationships priority is seen in Paul’s passage. “Owe no man anything. Your only obligation is to love one another. Whoever does this fulfills the Law. (Romans 13: 8 GNB).

  • The apostles taught those first believers Jesus new order for a new order, and they lived it: “They spent their time learning from the apostles how to be like family to each other. …they shared their belongings…they continued together in one accord. (Acts 2: 42, 43, 46)
  • Jesus told them the result of this camaraderie would be that outsiders will come to believe when they see God’s agape love demonstrated among Christians. (See John 13:35; John 17: 21-23).
  • This strategy, untried for centuries, worked perfectly. They modeled Christ’s agape and the result? The whole city was favorable towards them, and each day God added to their number. (Acts 2: 46)

This obedience of the church fulfilled Christ’s new command but also fulfilled his intercession for His church found in John 17: 21-23, “Father may they be one as we are one, that the world may believe.”

  • For emphasis, he repeats it—again five times.
  • It is our unity and our love for one another, more than any other Christian practice or trait, that authenticates our witness to the world.

In over 200 passages, the apostles offered concrete ways as to how we should obey Jesus agape love command among our church families. These will be found in our next post.

Father, please do it againWe hope you will join the conversation by making a comment below.

 

Gutsy Prayers Get Results

My chest pains went away last Sunday when Charlene, my wife, prayed with me. But I went into my closet anyway (I have a walk-in) and spoke openly and quite frankly. “Look, Lord, you didn’t suggest it, you commanded that we should ask and you guaranteed we’d receive. It’s your sacred word. So I’m expecting you to keep that promise. We’ve asked you to heal me and that I’ll make no trips to the ER. However, if I do end up there, I’m OK with that, but I want you to know—it’s on you, not me!”

Yes, I actually said that. And while it seems presumptuous, I sensed Heaven’s smile, went about my business feeling peaceful and relaxed and haven’t had chest pains all week.Is it OK to pray like that?–almost cocky? I found some surprising answers in the Bible. First I examined the word “boldly” in Hebrews 4:16.  As it turns out, “boldly” doesn’t do the Greek justice. It’s a noun derived from a verb that means “speak freely, openly, and fearlessly; express yourself frankly.” So we might translate Hebrews 4: 16 “Be audacious and even a bit gutsy when you come to God asking for help, expecting him to meet your need.” Is there precedent for this kind of praying? I found many examples. Here are a few.

The Man Who Amazed Jesus.  We often read how Jesus amazed the crowds, but there was one man who turned the tables on him. A certain centurion called out to the Lord and asked him to heal his servant. Jesus agreed to go to him, but the Roman said stopped him, brashly telling Jesus he could heal his servant right then and there, long distance. When Jesus heard this, he was surprised, turned to his followers and said,  ‘Truly, I’ve never found anyone in all Israel with such faith!’” (Matthew 8:12, NLT).

Did She Make Jesus Smile? A Syro-Phonencian lady (another Gentile), stood her ground when Jesus rebuffed her request to deliver her child. Almost rudely, he answered, The children get fed first. If there’s any left over, the dogs get it.” She took his term “dogs—what the Jews called Gentiles—and turned it into a kind of joke. “Even the dogs get to eat the scraps the children drop, don’t they?”—implying,”Don’t you think you should help me anyway!”  Jesus, seeming to appreciate the joke as well as her insistence, congratulated her, “Good answer! Now go home, for the demon has left your daughter.” (Mark 7: 27-29 NLT)

They Wouldn’t Take No For an Answer. How about those four audacious fellows who, when they couldn’t get in the front door, hoisted their crippled friend up on the roof and ripped a hole large enough to lower their friend down at Jesus’ feet!  I might have said, “What are you idiots doing? Remove this fellow and repair that roof you tore up!” But Jesus applauded their gutsy actions. In chapter two, Mark writes that when he saw their faith, he not only forgave their friend’s sins and healed him, but gave the proud Pharisees something to think about. How different this praying is from the tentative approach we hear Christians take, almost saying, “Sorry to bother you with this, Lord, but….”

Jesus Applauds A Rude Request. I then remembered the strange parable in Luke 11 where Jesus urges us to pray like the cheeky, desperate woman who pesters a neighbor, not even a friend, for bread in the middle of the night. How rude! Yet Jesus tells us her neighbor finally “gave her all she wanted because of her importunity.” Webster writes that importunity means “persistent in requesting or demanding.” Demanding? We don’t demand from God, do we?

I looked closer and was surprised at the context of this parable. It follows the disciple’s request, “Lord, teach us to pray,” Do you think they wanted the right words or the results they saw Jesus get  from his prayers? Surely they wanted the results and Jesus seemed pleased they did.

He Commands Us to Ask. Right after this parable Jesus virtually orders his followers to ask and later we read that we don’t get answers to our prayer because we don’t ask expecting results. The Greek is in the imperative, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asks receives; and he that seeks, finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened”. He then reminds us how earthly fathers give good gifts to their children so, “how much more will your heavenly Father give to those who ask him.”  (See Luke 11)

What’s the bottom line? Isn’t Jesus teaching us it isn’t rude or wrong to insist that God keep his promises? Isn’t he delighted when we persist and insist in our prayers? Dare to pray gutsy prayers like that and you will get amazing results. Genuine faith is saying “if God said it, that settles it.”

The Most Daring Prayer Of All was lifted by Jesus to His Father while facing the terror of Calvary. In agony of soul he didn’t ask, “if it be thy will.” He knew it was the Father’s will that he endure the cross to save us from our sins. Yet, incredibly, he prayed so intensely that sweat fell from him like drops of blood. Seeking an escape clause somehow, he implored, “Father, all things are possible to thee; take this cup from me.” We see Jesus now in his full humanity, daring to ask his Father to find a way out.

Jesus Didn’t Stop There. He continued in prayer until, I believe, he “prayed through.” That’s a term prayer warriors of old used to express utter surrender. By God’s grace and mercy, Jesus came to a state of acceptance and peace when he said, “Yet not my will, but thine be done.”  At his arrest, during his trial, and even on the cross, we find Jesus in control, possessing amazing serenity. And the benefits and results for him and for us, were far greater than if the Father had granted his original request

So, while the outcome won’t always be what we ask for,  we can be sure to get wonderful results when we pray with expectant audacity. The Bible states that God applauds it and rewards it.

Please join the conversation. Your comments and questions are welcome.

DAY 5: MYSTERIES OF THE KOINE

Gnosis:  What You Know or Who You Know?

Does Paul Contradict Himself? It seems so at times, doesn’t it. For example, he writes “knowledge (gnosis) puffs up, [makes one arrogant] but love builds up.” (1 Corinthians 1:8).  Yet another time he prays for believers that we may increase in our knowledge (Eph 1:17; 4:13; Phil 3:8].  But then he adds, knowledge “of Him…”of the Son of Man…“of Christ.”  We need to adjust our cultural mirror once more.

To the Eastern mind, there are two very distinct kinds of knowledge: [1] to know a thing and [2] to know a person.  To the Chinese the distinction is so important they have a separate word for relational knowing [renshr] which means “be acquainted with”.  We have no such word in English.

When We Appear Before Christ. Believers I have known, and maybe you have also, place great emphasis on doctrinal knowledge and statements of faith. Sometimes it feels they are requiring us to be ready to pass a doctrinal quiz when we appear before Christ.  Yet the truth is, it isn’t “what we know” that qualifies us as Christians, it’s “who we know.” When the King divides the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25, he never asks what they know or believe. Immediately he recognizes his own sheep from others, false believers, as goats.

“The greatest of these is love” For St. Paul, all of his great attainments and knowledge meant nothing. “I consider all these things as useless, in order that I may have an abiding  knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord. [Phil. 3:8]. When I became a believer, a key phrase was, “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”  We don’t hear that phrase so much anymore. But we do have a legion of books, classes and seminars to increase our biblical knowledge. One of the finest believers I ever met was a Taiwanese woman. Mrs. Chen could not read and had limited knowledge of the Bible. But she had a shining relationship with Christ and her witness helped launch a brand new church in her neighborhood.

How Shall the World Know Us—by our knowledge or by our love? Before his death Jesus gave the answer with his new covenant mandate:  “Love one another as I have loved you.” Only then will “everyone recognize you as my disciples(John 13: 34, 35).  Yet the culture of our modern church leaves average Christians feeling they aren’t qualified to witness because, “I don’t know enough.”  I repeat, is our witness our Bible knowledge or our love? The Apostle warned,  ”Even if I have …all knowledge…and faith so as to move mountains, and have not love, I am nothing at all.”(I Cor 13:2) Love not only trumps spiritual gifts but also trumps knowledge and even faith, “Faith, hope, love, these three abide, but the greatest of these is love.”(I Cor 13:13)

Knowledge Puffs Up…Love Builds Up.  I recently tried to find study materials on love.  Most of the current books have to do with marital love.  There was little available on how to cultivate our love for Christ and its corollary, our love for fellow believers.

Our next post will cover what the Greek New Testament has to say about how to cultivate loving relationships with Jesus and one another.

Please join the conversation. Your feedback is invaluable to this blog.

Mysteries of the Koine

DAY 1 Algebra is Greek to Me—Greek Isn’t

If you don’t know biblical Greek and wished you did, join us on the KOINE Road. You won’t become experts in the language, but you will discover some mysteries hidden in the text of the Greek New Testament. Along the way we share a Greek word or two, some grammar and a few cultural tidbits.  You will also discover the Horizontal Church and its critical role in fulfilling The Great  Commission.                                                                                                               

The KOINE Road:  Koine means “common” and was the everyday tongue spoken in Jesus’s’ day. The inspired writers of the New Testament were the first to write in KOINE, the Greek language of the market place.  We don’t have to know it to understand much of the Bible since there are many excellent translations. Nevertheless, the saying, “there’s something lost in the translation,” is true. It’s also true that some of these translations don’t harmonize well.

 Invisible truths hidden from those with little or no knowledge of Greek will be explored. We invite you to join us on this journey along the KOINE road as we uncover vital, unseen facts. The journey promises to be exhilarating, but may also be exasperating.  Surprises and eye-popping scenery, not seen in the best translations await us.  If linguistics isn’t your thing, don’t worry.  We use every day American English as a key to unlock these mysteries.

Blind Spots Another source of these KOINE mysteries is something not often considered—the huge gap between our own culture and the culture of the New Testament. The inspired writers lived in an eastern, i.e.an oriental world. We are westerners, separated from them not only by 2000 years of history, but several seas and continents. Since they lived in such a different world from us, we must be cautious about conceptions that may be foreign to them. We call these misconceptions “cultural blind spots.” Our challenge is to see around them and resolve the gaps between our two worlds.

We Do It With Mirrors That’s right mirrors, similar to the rear view mirror in our cars. We adjust them just so, in order to help you see things that would otherwise be missed. Our goal is to  help you spot hidden biases and minimize mysteries hidden in our different languages and cultures. If we do our job right, the Scriptures should open up in a new way

Along the way we’ll hit some tough stretches. At times you may think, “That can’t be true!”  Fine!  We welcome a conversation. We have only one road sign on this journey: “We don’t argue.” The history of the church is strewn with doctrinal disputes which have divided us beyond belief. Since our focus is harmony in the body of Christ, we hope to engage in honest dialogue, but not prolonged debate.

Who Are We? We Are The Lazarus Project, a team of believers dedicated to resurrecting the Horizontal Church, praying for and encouraging Christian churches to follow Christ’s commandment to love one another that our growing unity will witness to the world that Chris’s original words are authentic and true.

 Day 2Confessions of an Ugly American

I am Wade, team leader of the Lazarus Project.  On the KOINE Road, you will find frequent references to “culture.” Our definition is, “the beliefs, customs, and worldviews of certain groups, places, or times.”  What qualifies me to lead you on this journey?  Qualification is a tricky business in God’s economy.  What qualified a fisherman in Galilee to head up the greatest movement in history? How did Paul, who presided over a good man’s death and hounded Christians, become the great apostle to the Gentiles?  They did what they did, not because of impressive resumes, but because they were called. Simply put, I feel His call to do this.

In high school I nearly flunked Algebra and got mediocre grades in Latin. When I joined the Air Force, they found I had linguistic ability, which floored my Latin teacher. I was sent to Yale to learn Chinese. I enjoyed it maybe because it’s not a dead language. While there I became disenchanted with God and gave atheism a whirl. But it wasn’t a good fit and I began to attend church, searching for answers. I found them among some terrific Ivy League Christians in Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship at Yale. Their faith was infectious and I fell in love with Jesus Christ.

I was trained by NSA to be a spy of sorts in Taiwan. I wasn’t very good at it, but discovered some other gifts. Later at Cornell, I got A’s in classical Greek, partly because of aptitude, but mostly because I had a passion to read Jesus’s words in his own tongue.  Later, at Princeton Seminary, KOINE Greek was mandatory. When I learned enough to read a few verses in John, I was hooked.

I have served Presbyterian Churches in New York, New Jersey and Florida, where I kept up with the Greek and still do. But I’m not what you would call a Greek scholar.  I’m more of a journeyman, still learning as I go. When reading Paul and Luke, I keep my lexicon handy. Their Greek is a lot tougher than John’s. The fact I’m not a Greek scholar may be in your favor. You may have heard super stars don’t make the best coaches. Things come too easy for them. Good coaching, they say, is often done by journeymen who had to work hard to make it. As a journeyman in KOINE, I feel qualified to do some coaching.

The Ugly American, a 1958 novel, was about several Americans abroad who struggled with more than their share of cultural blind spots. Unlike many people around the globe, Americans seem unable or unwilling to learn foreign languages or grasp how other people view and experience their world. I also struggled for years to make sense of some puzzling things in Scripture. That’s also to your benefit, since it helps me to help you with the struggle.

My Cultural Blind Spots I’ve enjoyed some great cross-cultural courses at Wheaton College, but most of my education has been in the school of hard knocks. I’ve fallen into the Ugly American mode a bit myself.  One of my gaffs was that I favored a bright red sweater while hobnobbing with the locals in Taiwan. How could I have known that Chinese men feel it is shameful for a man to wear that color? Thankfully, a pastor adjusted my mirror.

While teaching in a Gypsy home, I placed my Bible on the carpet by my chair. An elder solemnly walked over, picked it up and put it on a table, saying in Romany, “mari may.” (unclean)  He adjusted my mirror, helping me see my blind spot. Gypsies believe certain things should never touch the floor. God’s Book is one of them, which makes sense. In spite of all that, God used me to help plant several churches: one while in the Air Force in Taiwan. The other was a church among American Gypsies in L.A, which has spread to many dozens of U.S. cities where Gypsies live. I also had leadership roles in new church plants in Illinois and Florida and my wife was in on the ground floor of another church plant in Florida.

P.S. My oldest son is married to a Gypsy woman and has Gypsy children.  He continues the work, laboring to keep the Spirit of Christ alive among these old-world people. His current dream is to start up a school for Gypsy children. My other son coordinates the planting of churches in Muslim lands and ministers to persecuted Christians there. My daughter serves the Lord and is married to a Sikh who now attends church with her. Am I proud of my cross-cultural children?  Of course I am, but also a bit perplexed.. How did they turn out so well?

DAY 3Tu/Humeis  Is It You or is it You?

Second Person Blues: Before we uncover mysteries of KOINE we have a mystery in our own language to settle: the second prson pronoun “you.” English makes no distinction between plural and singular. Originally English utilized “thou” for singular and “ye” for plural. But today even Quakers have discarded these pronouns. Why? It’s possibly due to how individualism became a dominant value of our culture. Whether we say “hey you guys” or “hey you guy”, we’re stuck with plain “you.”  Confusion is compounded by a rule of grammar—we say “you are,” whether we mean one or many. Greek makes a clear distinction between singular “you” and plural, also called the collective.

Who is the Light?  To illustrate this, consider Jesus’s statement, “You are the light of the world.”  (Matt 5: 14 NLT). Jesus uses the Greek humeis {hoo-MAYS], the plural pronoun not tu, the singular. Further, He uses esta, the Greek verb for “you (plurall are,Like other Greek verbs, this form tells us whether the you is singular or plural, so humeis isn’t needed. Yet Jesus uses it. My Greek grammar explains that the pronoun is used with the verb for emphasis. So, a literal translation would read, You all are the light of the world, no one but you all.”

I read our Lord’s quote to my friend and asked him, who is the light? “I guess I would say me,”—and so would most of us.  When we read “you,” we assume it means “me”, not “us.”   We sing “This Little Light of Mine,” never “ours.”  Out blind spot is the individual trumps the collective.  I adjusted his mirror a bit so he could see his blind spot. “Are you going to light up the world all by your lonesome?”  He grinned.  Of course his little light, even a million scattered lights like his, can’t possibly light the world. Then who is the light?  It’s Jesus’ great light shining through His collective body, the church, which could be as few as two or three gathered together. We find the same in these texts: ”You [pl.] are  the salt of the earth” (Matt 5:16), “…let your (pl) light shine before men; that they may see your (pl) good works, and glorify your (pl) Father who is in heaven (Matt 5: 16 ASV). Jesus also taught us to pray “Our Father,” not “my father.”

When he left us, Jesus had 120 highly committed disciples to carry on the work. These people, when gathered are called the church, the body of Christ, the family of God and God’s household. Together we possess a collective dynamic which can be termed teamwork. Teams accomplish great things which individuals can’t.  It wasn’t a person who got us to the moon but a team. Think about the lighthouse lens with many facets. It can focus a single flame to explode into a life-saving beacon.  Jesus’s church can be like that, but not when we are scattered and divided.

We could begin with local churches coming together to shine Christ in their neighborhoods.  Let’s face it, most churches are not lighting up their world. Our neighbors tend to ignore us, partly because, contrary to Jesus’ strategy, our witness is fragmented into going-it-alone congregations.

Christians vs. That Roaring Lion The first church had a great reputation. Their united witness had crowds saying, ”These that turned the world upside down are come here also.”(Acts 17:6) An observer wrote, “Look at those Christians, how they love one another!” Filled with the Spirit, united with Jesus and each other, their individual lights coalesced and shone into their dark world. In three centuries their witness of love and light vanquished an empire, overthrowing its pagan gods and causing slavery to be on the wane. In the same arenas where Christians died for their Lord, they were abolishing cruel games in those arenas. It was Christians 10, the devil lion, zero.

DAY 4:  He is the Vine. Who are the Branches?

 ”When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. This is my command: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.” (John 15:10,12)

Surprising Statistics. Recently I analyzed John 15, the “vine and branches” passage in my Greek testament. I highlighted the plural forms and was amazed to find Jesus used the plural 51 times in the first 17 verses alone—averaging three per verse. I intended to highlight the singular as well and was shocked. It was not to be found. He used the collective plural in the entire text.

Vertical and Horizontal Connections. Jesus emphatically taught our need to have a vertical relationship with him. If I don’t stay connected to Him, I am no good to Him. That truth is biblically true and is in our comfort zone. But when we make a turn outside that zone, it requires a major mirror adjustment. Jesus point in this text is: we are of no use to Him if we don’t stay connected to one another. How can this be? A careful examination of verses 9-12 reveals the progression of His teaching. We miss the logic since it’s hidden in the Greek and is foreign to our western mindset, but not to those early believers.

  1. Verse  9: We remain in him by remaining in his love.
  2. Verse 10: We remain in his love when we obey his commands to love God, neighbor and one another. But he isn’t speaking of loving God and neighbor here.
  3. Verse 12 and 17: He tells us what his command is: “Love one another as I have loved you,”

What is the Great Commandment? We are familiar with the first two commands to love God and our neighbor. They were given through Moses and endorsed by Jesus. (Matthew 22: 36-40). However, being connected to Christ by loving one another is not at a familiar idea.  We view abiding in Christ as vertical, not horizontal. Yet Jesus mandated twice in chapter 15 what He first ordered three times at the Last Supper: “”So now I am giving you a new commandment: (1) Love each other. Just as I have loved you, (2) you should love each other. (3) Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. (John 13: 34,35 NLT)

We say three times is a charm. He really, really meant it!  In fact some believers celebrate Maundy Thursday. “Maundy” comes from the Latin for “mandate.” It celebrates Christ’s clear order to love each other as He loved us. But how is this different from loving our neighbor?

Is Our Brother our Neighbor? Another troublesome blind spot requires a major mirror adjustment. We interpret “each other.” as “others.” Theologian, Scot McKnight, states, “Our task as Christians is to love God and others.” But as we shall see, Scripture does not lump our believing family in with neighbors and neither does common sense. Is it responsible for me to make the same sacrifices for my neighbor’s family as I do for my own? That said, let’s do adjust our mirrors to see how true that is.

  1. 1. New old: This was not a rehash of the old covenant command of Moses. The Lord endorsed it, but added a new command for a new covenant, a new order for a new order. Giving the Great Commandment three parts—a kind of trinity, not a duality.
  2. How we are to love. Moses said treat your neighbor as we wish to be treated. Christ orders us to lay down our lives (Gr: psyches, souls) for one another, as He did for us.
  3. 3. Whom are we to love. Love each other. Does that include our neighbor? No, the Good Samaritan story defines neighbor as the stranger along the way, not family members The promise. ”Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” This is both a promise and a principle. If we strive for harmonious, horizontal connections with each other, we advertise to the world, by our unity, that we are His.

The troubling converse of this is that disharmony calls our discipleship into question.

 Love Your Neighbor by Loving Your Brother: If obedience to Christ’s love command validates our witness to the world, then, if we really wish to win our neighbor, we are loving him when we love one another

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Delights The Father’s Heart?

In the film, Into the Forest, two young women live with their single father in a remote wooded area during a cataclysmic failure of the world’s electric and cellular power. One awful day the sisters hear their father’s scream in the woods. They rush to his aid and helplessly watch him bleed to death from a chain saw accident. As his life ebbs away, he implores his girls, “Take care of each other.” With his last breath he whispers, “Love one another.”  Continue reading