The Immense Power of Partnership

When I was nine I had my own personal bully: Willy Parsells.  When he saw me on his turf, Willy would hit me, knock me down and make life miserable. When I came home crying one day with new pants ripped, my dad, who was pretty smart, called my brother Bill over. “Son, would you walk to school with your brother every day, and if this kid tries anything, will you help Wade teach him a lesson? My brother agreed and we shook hands on it.

Another smart guy, Solomon, wrote, ”By yourself you’re vulnerable, but with a friend you can face the worst. If you can round up a third, even better, A three-stranded cord is not easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

One day, on my way home from school, my bully came at me with violence in his eyes, but  I wasn’t afraid. I had my brother at my side. In no time we had him on the ground crying. What’s crazy about this story is, a few months later, Willy tried it again. Our pal Jimmy happened to be with us and the three of us taught him crime doesn’t pay. I seem to remember a bloody nose. We never heard of Willy bullying anyone after that.

Two by Two beats One by One:  God did a smart thing giving Eve to Adam as a helpmate. Old Noah led the animals into the ark by two-sies. Joshua had Caleb, Orville depended on Wilbur and even Holmes needed Watson. Jesus did the wise thing when he sent his disciples out in pairs.  John and Peter were a dynamic duo and how about Paul? He always traveled with a partner. When he was beaten and thrown in jail, thank God faithful Silas was right there by his side. What if he had been alone? Would things have had such a great outcome if they didn’t have that partnership—praying, singing psalms and encouraging one another?

It’s Lonely at the Top, but only when you’re alone. I have found there is great power in two, especially in prayer. You go into your prayer closet alone and God will surely be there with you. But Jesus promised his special presence and power…“when two of you are in harmony (Gr: symphanos) on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you; for where two or three gather in my name, I am present among them.” (Matthew 18:19, 20). When we unite with others, his presence and our prayers are even stronger.

Unity means power; disunity means eventual failure, which is why Lincoln dedicated himself to preserving the union at all costs.  What a tragedy it would have been if what God had joined together in 1776 disintegrated in 1861!

Living Proof: I’ve have had the privilege of planting two churches. The first was with a Taiwanese pastor.  Together we prayed for God to do something for months. Finally, in a single evening, God used us to form a congregation of brand new believers in Taipei. A dozen years later a Gypsy convert asked me to help him reach his people with the gospel. We were in unity and  prayed for months. Within a year we baptized hundreds of Gypsies and there are now Gypsy congregations in most major U.S. cities from that church.

Jesus’ remarkable predictions. He lived in an obscure corner of a great empire, yet seeing into the future, he said, “this gospel shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations.” Jesus reached his thousands, but he predicted his team of trained leaders would do far greater things than he. (John 14:12). At the time it seemed impossible. But these humble, rather timid men and women, equipped with the power of God’s Spirit and united in love, did just that. At Pentecost, his little band of believers, filled with His Spirit and “in one accord” grew into a mega church of 3, 120 in a single day. In the weeks following they kept faithful to Christ’s command to love one another and God kept honoring their obedience by adding to their numbers exponentially. Today his followers are in every nation and number in the millions.

So, if you want to do great things, put aside your rugged individualism. Find at least one other person of like mind and if you can find more even better.

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How Greek Helps us Understand Scripture

Why Is Greek Important?  Consider Jesus’s word, “You are the light of the world.”  I asked a friend. “Who is this light? “I am,” he answered. Of course! In our western culture the individual trumps the group. The Greek however, is very clear. The “you” (humeis) is plural, corpo

Thanksgiving: A Nation Born in Unity.  When the pilgrims landed in a strange and hostile land, they knew their survival depended on their collective will. They penned and signed the Mayflower Compact where they agreed, ”solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine our selves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the aforementioned ends.” It was no time or place for individualism.

This Great Light of Ours.  In an interview, Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm, states that we Americans live in an “individualized, unconnected society.” So, when we read “you,” we think “me” and sing “This Little Light of Mine, not ours.” Our western bias towards the individual tends to skew our grasp of the teachings of Jesus and the apostles.  Knowing Koine Greek helps unskew them. The culture and language of the Bible honors the individual, but never at the expense of the community.

 I asked my friend, “Can you light up the world all by your lonesome?”  Seeing the absurdity, he grinned.  It’s true. His little light, even a million lone lights, can’t light up this dark world. Who is this light, then?  It’s his church, the body of Christ. His great light shines through us, but not when we’re scattered. It’s when we get together and cooperate. We read of that dynamic church in Acts, “They were of one mind and heart.” [KJV: “one accord.”] Each time Luke uses that Greek word {homothumadon], the church flexed its muscles and “God added to the church” We find it also in ”You [pl.] are the salt of the earth” and “I am the vine you [pl} are the branches.” (John 15), If you asked most people who the branches are, they would answer, “me”, even though branches are plural not singular.

Not Just  A Branch: Can we truly abide in Christ and ignore the church down the street?  Can we let our light shine when we go it alone, more competing than cooperating? We see from John 15 how important it is to our Lord to work together. In John 15, Jesus uses the plural 27 times. Extraordinary, yet no translation gives a hint of it. In verses 12 and 19 we see why he emphasized the collective. He repeats to these future leaders of his church: “This is MY new command (not Moses’ old one) “Love one another as I have loved you [pl]. He emphasized this command in John 13. When we obey he promises fruit “the world will know you as my disciples.” To cap it off, Jesus prayed urgently, four times, recorded by John in chapter 17: “Father may they be one as we are one that the world may believe.” A show of unity tells the world who we are. Sadly, disunity and quarrels over doctrines tells the world something as well.

 One Thousand Leaders: Did you find it odd and a bit sad that 1000 Evangelicals met with a politician, but there’s little evidence they get together for kingdom work such as evangelism? You’d think Franklin would remember that his daddy never worked alone. Following Paul, he never went anywhere without a team of co-workers and a plurality of local pastors working alongside him

Secrets of New Testament Greek

Lost in the Translation? Do We Need Greek?  While we have an abundance of many fine translations, problems arise due to our western linguistic and cultural blind spots. Familiarity with New Testament Greek, called Koine, the language that Jesus spoke, can clear these up. I was forced to take Koine Greek at Princeton Seminary and have benefited greatly from it. This series will not make you proficient in a language that still gives me fits. [Greek verbs have over 100 forms]. The reason for it is to expose believers to crucial, eye-popping insights, not found in English translations.

 Second Person Blues: A key issue for English speakers is we make no distinction between singular and plural “you.” Quakers used “thee”; in the south they say “you all”, but for most of us, if we want to say “hey you guys” or just “hey you guy”, we are stuck with plain “you.” Conversely, Koine is very clear whether the speaker means “you” (pl) or (sing.)

Why Is this Important?  Consider Jesus’s word, “You are the light of the world.”  I asked a friend. “Who is this light? “I am,” he answered. Of course! In our western culture the individual trumps the group. In an interview, Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm, states that we Americans live in an “individualized, unconnected society.” So, when we read “you,” we think “me” and we sing “This Little Light of Mine, not ours.” The culture of the Bible honors the individual but never at the expense of the community.  Our western bias towards the individual tends to skew our grasp of the teachings of Jesus and the apostles.

On to the Greek: In the original Greek, “You are the light of the world,” we find the verb esta [are]. Since it’s plural, we don’t need the plural pronoun [humeis] and it’s often left out. Yet Jesus does use humeis here and often elsewhere. The rule of grammar states, “when the pronoun is used, it’s to emphasize a point.” So, a literal translation would read, “You all together are the light of the world.”  That same rule applies to “You (all) are the salt of the earth,” and “Let your (pl.) light shine before men.” By stressing the corporate “you”, Jesus teaches us how vital community is in the kingdom. It’s more about “us” than “me.” That same stress is found in the prayer he taught us: “Our Father in heaven,” not my Father.

Join us for the series, “Secrets of N.T. Greek” and add your comments. Thank you.

 

Is my Brother my Neighbor?

Once, while breakfasting with some Christian brothers at a meeting, I received my check and found, to my embarrassment, the restaurant accepted cash only. All I had was my credit card. A brother reached across, took my check and said, “I’ll take care of that.” Another brother said, “Now that’s a good neighbor.”   I answered,  “No, that’s a good brother.”

In the church there is a mistaken notion that loving our brother is the same as loving our neighbor. We lump them together under the term “others,”

The Old Covenant command to love God and our neighbor came through Moses. Jesus endorsed that command but at the Last Supper he gave a third. Looking around at his brethren, he said, “A new command I give you: Love one another as I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Note the differences:

  1. New vs. old: Jesus put his imprimatur on the old covenant mandate to love our neighbor as ourselves, but his command is not a rehash of it, but a brand new one. Maundy Thursday is celebrated by some traditions the night before Good Friday.  Maundy is an old Anglo-Saxon word for mandate, i.e. command—the one Jesus gave the disciples to inaugurate the new covenant. They celebrate on Thursday, Christ’s new order for a new order. So, the Great Commandment is not two-fold, but three-fold—a kind of trinity.
  2. How we are to love?  Moses said treat your neighbor as you wish to be treated. But Christ’s command is much more costly. He orders us to lay down our souls (Gr: psyches) for one another as He did for us.
  3. Whom are we to love? Each other refers to our church family. Does that mean our neighbor? The Good Samaritan story defines neighbor as the stranger met along the way, not family members. It’s absurd to think we’re to love our neighbor’s wife as we love our own. Paul writes “Husbands, love their wives as Christ loves the church and laid down his life for her.” (Ephesians 5:22). That’s also how we are to love each other, not just in our local body, but our brethren in the church down the street.
  4. The promise: ”By this everyone will know you are my disciples,” Jesus gives us a promise that’s a principle. If we strive for harmonious, horizontal connections with each other, we advertise to the world by our unity, that we are His. By the same token, when we debate doctrines in public forums, compete for members and ignore the church down the street we advertise otherwise.

We Love our Neighbor by Loving our Brother Obedience to Christ’s love command validates our witness to our neighbor. How can we love them any better than by winning them over as we model for them Christ’s love among ourselves?

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Gems Gleaned from My Mentors

  • It’s a tough job to get across to us preachers that God’s truths are transmitted more effectively relationally than propositionally.
  • Did Jesus do his best work preaching to crowds and healing multitudes or was it breaking bread with his his friends, the disciples, preparing them to lead a world-wide movement?
  • Serious students of the Bible get it. Christ’s core doctrine is the Great Commandment. When Christians effectively and sincerely love God, one another and their neighbors, they can change the world.
  • Why can 1000 Evangelical leaders come together to meet a political candidate but can’t get together to do the work of the Kingdom?
  • We had better learn to hang together or we will certainly hang separately.
  • The Bible knows little of clergy and lay; pastor and flock; staff and rank and file. They were all saints, equal before God and one another.
  • If by Friday I barely remember what I preached on Sunday, how can I hope to transform and train those who look to me for leadership from the pulpit alone? Maybe I should be looking for creative ways to do this vital work of ministry in a more personal style?
  • Is there anything more vital to the work of the kingdom than finding and training those who sit in our pews to develop as leaders in their area of giftedness?
  • Is the work of ministry to be the task of professionals alone while non-professionals greet, hand out bulletins and sit on committees?
  • I wonder what real benefit our titles are to the kingdom? Peter and Paul were great apostles. but nowhere do we find them being addressed as Apostle Peter or Pastor Paul. They were simply Peter and Paul.
  • Why do we struggle to follow Christ’s example by asking personal, penetrating question. They are often more effective than brilliant observations “How do you know God is good? How would you describe your relationship to Christ? “How are you doing with your spiritual disciplines this week?” These kind of questions can be life changers.

 I owe a great debt to the giants who helped me in training me to serve Christ: Among them are Juan Carlos Ortiz, C.S. Lewis, Bruce Larson, Richard Halverson Bruce Metzger and Leonard Evans

Your comments help us greatly in this ministry. 

WHAT ARE WE MISSING? We had better hang together, or we will surely hang separately.”

For years, Christians have been searching for the success formula that made the first church so extraordinary—how they turned their world upside down for Christ! What did they have that we don’t?  In the 60 and 70’s, the Charismatic Renewal made a spiritual impact on our nation. Along with the ministries of Billy Graham, Oral Roberts and Kathryn Kuhlman, many were reached for Christ. The Pentecostals, also stressing the power of the Spirit, advanced the Kingdom as well. But how have we done lately? Haven’t we lost generations: X, Y and losing the Millennials? There are bright spots, but Jesus said his church would knock down the gates of hell, not the other way round. What are we missing?

You Shall “Be” My Witnesses Pastor Ryan hit the nail on the head last Sunday—it isn’t what I do with the power of the Spirit; it’s who I become. But far more important to Jesus than the change he makes in you and me—wait  for it–wait for it—far more important to Him is who WE become as a body of believers, united in love. I’ll repeat it. IT’S FAR MORE IMPORTANT TO HIM WHO WE ARE AND WHO WE BECOME AS A BODY OF BELIEVERS, UNITED IN LOVE.

Pastor Ryan scored  again, focusing on the one verse in Acts that reveals what we are missing–more than Acts 1:8 or  2: 39, when 3000 came into the church. Act 2: 47 is key because it reveals  who is the evangelist who  won so many to Jesus and so quickly.  “God added to the church daily, those who were being saved.”  It also  reveals with a single Greek word, how this church met the conditions that caused God to act: homothumadon, often mistranslated “together.” The best lexicons tell us it means “of one mind and heart.” The greatest miracle of Pentecost wasn’t tongues or healings, it was the miracle of God’s Spirit filling these Jews, so often divided, with the power of Christ’s love to be “in one accord.”

And this is what God is waiting for from us—for the church of His Son, His body, to at least make a start towards falling in line with his Son’s command, repeated five times. Count them.in John 13: 34, 35; 15: 12,19: Love one another as I have loved you that the world may know and recognize who you ARE—my disciples. It’s a new command, not a rehash of the old one to love our neighbor, given thru Moses. He isn’t saying to just go out and love everyone, but specifically to love our brothers and sisters. His goal is to please His Father and to win the world. He commands us to give the Father what every good father wants from his kids—that they love one another. We are those kids, if we love His son.

In the same vein, God is waiting for us, the church of His Son, to fulfill Christ’s passionate request, also repeated an astounding five times, made at the climax of his high priestly prayer in John 17:21-23. My prayer for them is they may be of one heart and mind,  as you and I are, Father— as you are in me and I in you, so they will be one in us, that the world will believe you sent me.22 “—the glorious unity of being one, as we are— 23 I in them and you in me, all being perfected into one—so  the world will know you sent me”.

 Notice the bold outcome that links Jesus’ command and prayer? A lost world waits to know who we are. God waits for Christians, not just pastors, but for pastors to lead their flocks to cooperate, not compete, with other churches. He waits for leaders to leave doctrinal disputes, traditional divisions and just plain indifferent separation, on the altar of Christ’s love and unity. A lost generation waits. Paul writes,  “The whole creation groans in anticipation to see God’s children come into their own.” Rom 8:22.  Satan’s PLAN is DIVIDE AND CONQUER. Will we find some UNITY IN CHRIST TO CONQUER HIM?

SCRIPTURE I S CLEAR. GOD DOES HIS PART WHEN WE BEGIN TO DO OURS–CHURCHES COOPERATING, SHOULDER TO SHOULDER, FIGHTING THE DEVIL, NOT EACH OTHER. WILL WE CROSS THE GREAT DIVIDE?  OR WILL WE KEEP GOD WAITING AND LOSE ANOTHER GENERATION TO THE GATES OF HELL?

Please make comments, they encourage us to continue with this vital message.

Is America a Christian Nation?

There are many terrific things we can say about America. We we were the first to create a government ruled by law rather than evil whims of kings. We the people were the first given the right to choose our leaders. Moreover, we are perhaps the most generous people in all history. But does this qualify us as a Christian nation?

Those who argue pro and con on this question cite the values and spiritual pedigree of the founding fathers. No question that our constitution is founded on Christian values of freedom and equality. But to find a genuine litmus test to identify how to spot what is and isn’t true Christianity, we must turn to Jesus who said, “By their fruits you shall know them.” [Matthew 7: 16, 20]. He explains what “fruits” are in verse 21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” In other words, fruits are not what we say, or what’s written in our documents, but what we do.

This means true faith and true Christianity is not judged by religious declarations, creeds and doctrines, but by right and just behavior. Even words of worship, “Lord, Lord,” don’t cut it. In the secular realm, Congress passed laws in the 50’s, inserting “under God” in our pledge to the flag and mandated “In God we trust” be stamped on our coins. Yet a few decades later, our Supreme Court reversed these declarations by ruling  God’s name will no longer be called upon in our public schools. [Engel v.s Vitale).  Today the name of God is not allowed to be said in any group that receives public funds.  Neither can there be any objection to homosexual marriage or behaviors. Clearly, words alone are not the evidence of  what is  Christian. What then does authenticate true belief?

To spot true faith, Jesus says look for actions that fulfill God’s will. But what exactly is His will? Consider the great commandment, to love God and others. The Apostle John declared we cannot say we love God without loving actions toward others. He’s wants fruit, products of faith—loving acts of justice, mercy and reconciliation.

We Americans can be proud of our record for aiding people abroad who have been devastated by wars and disasters . But consider how we have treated many  within our borders? Here are just a few examples.

  1. Except for the pilgrims, our white ancestors’ treatment of the native populations was brutal. One example, among hundreds, is found in a  a prominent colonist letter to the governor at Fort Pitt.  “… [Let’s] try to inoculate the Indians [with smallpox] with infected blankets and any other means to extirpate this execrable race.” Settlers thought this a good idea and distributed blankets to them from contagious patients.
  2. Later, federal troops drove nearly 100,000 Cherokee people off their lands and forced them to march 1000 miles to Oklahoma. causing 4,000 deaths. When gold was discovered in the  Dakotas, our government waged a ruthless war against the Sioux, forcing them off their land.  And let’s not forget sad incidents like Wounded Knee or all the many treaties we made with Native Americans and then broke.
  3. A multitude of Africans were kidnapped, shipped here in chains, sold to white settlers and forced to work under brutal conditions with no pay. If they didn’t submit, they were beaten or worse. Families were torn apart. Many African Americans have European DNA, often because  white masters used female slaves to satisfy their lusts.
  4. The primary motive for this injustice wasn’t meanness or lust. It was greed. The use of slaves brought great wealth to America. In 1850 the U.S.’s largest capital investment was its 3.2 million slaves. But just as John Brown predicted, America paid for these sins in blood. More than 800,000 of our young men spilled their blood in a vicious civil war. It emancipated black Americans, but have they recovered from centuries of slavery? Today many still populate our inner-cities in ghetto-like poverty, dependent on public aid as saves depended on white masters.
  5. In 1973 a Supreme Court ruling [Roe v Wade] made it legal to kill unborn babies. Here is yet another example of how we have mistreated millions  within our land. Can we innocently point our finger at the government and say “they did it?” We cannot for as Lincoln pointed out, our government is “of the people for the people and by the people.”

These and many other things in our history disqualify America to be labeled Christian. We render to America what Jesus said we should to Caesar, the state. But God’s nation is not America nor is it any  political entity. How then is God present in the world today? Where do we find a witness to his loving acts of mercy and forgiveness? St. Paul writes of a different kind of “land”, a “new Israel.” Peter describes a “holy nation.”  Our next post identifies God’s new Israel and holy nation.

O Lord, ewe intercede for our great land. Bless us with good leadership in the days ahead. Put us back on a just course and bring right living and right relationships to your people.

Please join the conversation. Your comments encourage us in this ministry.