“Even As We Are One…”

christian-unity-2In response to Philip’s request for Jesus to show them the Father, Jesus said, “…I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” (John 14:10) If you really think about it, that’s an amazing statement. Jesus and the Father are so linked together — so unified — that they are “in” each other. There is an intrinsic one-ness that causes them to be part of each other.

And here’s why I think this is so important. Just a bit later in the same setting, Jesus prayed that His followers “may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:11)

So let me ask you a question or two to make this practical.

  • Do you think Jesus and His Father ever make demeaning comments toward one another?
  • Do you think they ever make insulting or mean, sarcastic remarks to each other?
  • Do you think they ever belittle one another?
  • Argue harshly or cut one another off in midsentence?

Okay those are obvious. But do you think they ever say negative things about each other when the other isn’t around? Alright, they ARE always around. But suppose they weren’t. Suppose that somehow the Father and the Son could be temporarily separated so they weren’t together. They couldn’t hear one another. They didn’t know what the other was saying. Would they, then, make disparaging remarks about the other?

Of course not! The very idea is absurd, isn’t it?

Yet Jesus clearly prayed that we would be one just like He and the Father are one. My goodness! What a request!

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Am I in Love?

love-2It’s a common question in our culture: How do I know when I’m in love?

No one has ever asked me that question. I wish they would. But, honestly, it’s probably best that they don’t. I’m pretty sure they won’t like my answer. That’s because I don’t think like much of our culture.

You see, a person doesn’t “fall” in or out of love. It’s a choice. It’s a decision. It’s something we make up our minds to do.

Let me offer an example. Boy meets girl. Boy finds girl to be beautiful, witty, fun and desirable. He thinks she has great potential. Then boy finds out that girl is engaged to be married in a month. At that point, all of her charming qualities don’t disappear. They are not suddenly less attractive. But, if he is honorable, he has changed the orientation of his heart. She is betrothed to someone else, so he chooses to not love her.

It’s not a falling. It’s a choice.

You may be aware that there are two primary Greek words in the New Testament that we translate as love. One, agape, is generally seen as God’s love. The other, philia or phileo, depending on the context, is usually understood to be brotherly love. Hence, Philadelphia means the city of brotherly love, and philanthropy is about caring for others.

But that brotherly love understanding is not completely accurate. The word philia can also mean a type of love where you set your heart on someone or something. It’s used in 1 Timothy 6:10 about the love of money being the cause of all kinds of evil. If you set your heart on money, it will cause problems.

Setting our heart on someone is love. It’s a decision. We choose to do it or not do it.

You don’t fall in love. You choose to love someone. You don’t fall out of love. You choose to stop loving. (I’ll admit that there certainly can be actions from the other person that provoke that decision, but it is still a decision.)

That’s why Titus 2:4 says that the older women should “train the young women to love their husbands and children.” You can’t train someone to do something that is an innate part of them. The young women can only be trained if there is a choice involved.

There is a common cultural notion that there is one perfect life-mate out there somewhere waiting to be found. And when you find that person, you should marry them. But what happens is that somewhere along the journey that “perfect” person does or says something one too many times and you decide to stop loving them. So, that “perfect” mate gets jettisoned – because it was obviously the wrong one – to find the really perfect one.

I don’t see any scriptural basis for any of that. There is no perfect person out there. Every one of us is sinful and in desperate need of redemption. So, rather than looking for the perfect mate, we have the opportunity to decide to love someone.

That’s why Paul says that a widow can marry “whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:39) As long as the guy is Christ-follower, it’s okay. No special bells and whistles need to sound in your mind or heart. Two people who are honestly committed to Christ should be able to work through their differences.

If you’re currently looking for a life-mate, when you finally settle on someone, you’ll end up with a person who is imperfect and sinful. Decide to love them anyway.

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daddy and little girlShe had wandered away. It wasn’t intentional. There were just so very many things to look at. She was only four years old, after all. For a little girl who lived in the country on a farm, the three story shopping mall – and all of its glitz and glitter, colors and movement, and people … so many people – it was all so overwhelming. She had never encountered anything like it.

There were live “mannequins” in a store window, moving only every few minutes. Food vendors with every imaginable type of delicacy – even the smells enticed her. There was a woman dressed as a clown making and handing out balloon animals. The larger-than-life carousel in the middle of the mall. And so much more.

Elise’s head turned this way and that, trying to take it all in. But she couldn’t. There was no way someone her age could process all that activity that was happening at the same time. Her brain was on overload.

Just as she felt she was being smothered by all the sensory options, she noticed that her father wasn’t next to her. He had just been there, and now … he wasn’t.

Panicked, she turned around, but he was nowhere to be seen. She looked this way and that way … spinning … now running, and stopping again … running a different direction … frantically searching. But she still didn’t see Daddy.

Gasping for breath in the midst of the throng of people – who were all so much bigger than her – Elise’s fears engulfed her. He’s gone! I’m lost! “Daddy!” she shrieked. Then Elise crumpled to the floor and sobbed.

She was only there a moment when she felt the strong arms. Elise lifted her head and saw Daddy picking her up and holding her tightly to his chest, hugging her, loving her, telling her that everything was okay.

“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:13-14)

The word “compassion” in this verse is the Hebrew word, racham. It’s what Elise experienced at the end of the story. It’s the loving, comforting embrace of a father who cares deeply and fully for his child.

And, it’s what your heavenly Father offers to you. Over and over and over again.

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The Gospel and True Reconciliation

reconciliationAt the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry the Pharisees were very exclusive in their associations. According to sources I read, they had a “stricter view of the notion of uncleanness, not only from the uncleanness of the heathen but from that with which they believed the great portion of Israel to have been affected… As an Israelite avoided as far as possible all contact with a pagan, lest he should thereby be defiled, so did the Pharisee avoid as far as possible contact with the non‑Pharisee…” [The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary. Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1988.] The Pharisees were overly careful in keeping the Jewish law. Anyone who did not meet their strict requirements in adhering to the law was regarded as unclean.

So, think about this: If they avoided their fellow-Israelites then clearly their attitude toward the Gentiles was one of absolute disdain. To the Pharisees, Gentiles—non-Israelites of any kind—were the scum of the earth.

Saul of Tarsus (later to become the Apostle Paul) was a Pharisee and the son of a Pharisee. He said that according to legalistic righteousness he was “faultless” (Philippians 3:6). In order to have advanced to the point where he did, by necessity Saul would have understood the Pharisaical mindset. He would have stayed away from any non-Pharisee Israelite and would have totally avoided Gentiles at all costs. He probably could not even think about Gentiles without prefacing his thoughts with, “Those stinking…” To Saul—this Pharisee’s Pharisee—even the slightest contact with Gentiles would have been a source of utter disgust.

Then God grabbed ahold of Saul’s heart and transformed him into Paul, the apostle. What an absolute miracle, then, that Paul could say, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

The message of the Gospel is for all people. When we know Jesus as our Lord and Savior, it unites us beyond all barriers.

If we Christians really believed and lived as though we truly were “one in Christ Jesus,” it could transform our culture.

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Thomas Jefferson, the Bible, and Political Correctness

Jefferson BibleSeveral years ago, I preached for a congregation on Sunday morning. That day I shared a message that, in many ways, has become a driving force of this ministry. I talked about walking in biblical unity.

One of the main points I shared that morning was that we as believers must be willing to follow the leadership that God has given us. I based this section on scriptural texts like 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, “…respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work,” and Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them…”

These verses don’t seem even slightly ambiguous. They’re very clear and straightforward.

However, after the service, a man approached and said that he really appreciated the things I said and agreed with everything … except for the part about following leadership in the Church. I took him back through the above passages, being careful to be sure he understood what they say.

He responded, “I know it says that. I just don’t believe it.” I was stunned.

I told him that at that point, he wasn’t disagreeing with me, he was disagreeing with God. And that’s a very dangerous place to live.

I am a very strong proponent of the Church as a whole walking in unity. At the same time, we can’t play fast and loose with Scripture. We don’t have the luxury of getting to choose the parts we like and to discard the parts we don’t. That’s what Thomas Jefferson did when he cut out the parts of the gospels that he thought particularly important — pasting them into a new volume — and left the rest behind.

Unfortunately, that’s the current norm in our society. If there is something we don’t like — a passage that might hit too close to home for our comfort — it gets jettisoned. Don’t talk about any of those topics that aren’t politically correct. You might get into hot water.

With all due respect, that did not seem to be a high consideration for Jesus’ original disciples — or even Jesus Himself — did it?

Maybe as Christians, and especially as leaders, we should be more God-oriented and less concerned what people might think.

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Praying … Correctly

prayingI’ve got a tricky question for you: Was the Old Testament prophet, Elisha, a man of prayer?

Okay, maybe that’s not a tricky question. Of course he was. It seems to go without saying that true prophets must be people of prayer. And Elisha was one of the most renowned prophets in all the Bible.

Which is why I find his prayers … interesting.

Remember when Elisha and his servant were surrounded by the Syrian army? The servant was afraid and Elisha prayed for him. “O Lord , please open his eyes that he may see.” (2 Kings 6:17) This English rendering is the lengthy version. It’s actually just six Hebrew words.

Moments later, Elisha prays again, this time against the enemy army. “Please strike this people with blindness.” (2 Kings 6:18) Another six-word prayer.

While I was researching the story of the amazing revival that happened in Estonia, I met Janis Ozolikievts. Janis (pronounced YAHnis) is a Pentecostal preacher. He visited the church where he heard God was doing miracles. But he was skeptical. Why? Because they didn’t pray “correctly.” He was Pentecostal and knew how to pray. Loud and verbose prayers were his standard. The quiet and less-wordy prayers of the leaders at Oleviste Church were clearly not going to be effective.

Yet they were. Janis saw with his own eyes that God heard and answered those “incorrect” prayers.

I have encountered those in the Body of Christ today who look down on others because they don’t know the “right way” to pray. Short, concise prayers certainly can’t bring results. But they did for Elisha. Each of those six-word prayers was answered in a truly miraculous way.

Jesus said that we shouldn’t think God is listening to us just because we use lots of words. (see Matthew 6:7-8) Prayer is much more about the heart and faith than it is about the number of words or tone of voice.

Regardless of how you pray, many or few words, God’s Word tells us to pray:

  • at all times,
  • for one another,
  • when we need direction,
  • for the eyes of unbelievers to be opened to see Him,
  • without ceasing,
  • in the day of trouble,
  • and so much more.

So pray!

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God Will Prevail

Rein Uuemõis

Rein Uuemõis

Rein Uuemõis is one of the most amazing — and humble — people I’ve ever encountered. He is a retired pastor in Tallinn, Estonia. When he was just nine years old, his father was taken away to Siberia. He was gone for three and a half years. The living conditions in Siberia were unspeakable. Those who guarded the prisoners had little concern about whether those prisoners lived or died. If they were worked to death or frozen to death, so be it. Being subjected to such conditions can change one’s appearance dramatically. When Rein’s father returned, the family barely recognized him. He, in turn, scarcely knew his children because they had grown and changed so much.

However, when his father returned, he came back, as Rein phrases it, as a “wholehearted believer.” Something had changed during his incarceration in Siberia. God had used that horrendous and grueling ordeal to draw Rein’s dad closer to Himself.

The Lord does not need to have what we might think of as ideal circumstances to do His work. He can cause His plans and purposes to be realized, in spite of dark and difficult times. Sometimes that can happen specifically because of those dark and difficult times.

Today, in our country, there is a seemingly ever-increasing anti-Christian sentiment — and in some cases even open hostility toward Christians — in both the society and the government. Christian-bashing, in many ways, is in vogue. Statements — made by media personalities or government officials about Christians and the Christian faith — would never be tolerated if such statements were made about Muslims or Hindus, but Christians are open targets.

Some people would say that the Lord can’t work in such circumstances, yet history would repeatedly deny such an idea. In the book of Acts, the Church grew initially by thousands at a time, under extreme persecution. Today, the nation with the most believers is China. Realistic estimates range to more than 200,000,000 Christians in that anti-God, Communistic society.

Someone recently sent me a profound quote. In the movie, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Albus Dumbledore says, “Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” What an apt description of our society today. Living as a true believer in Christ is not necessarily easy in an anti-Christian society, but it is still the right thing to do, and God will strengthen you to make it reality, if you ask Him.

If you’re waiting to do something until everything is perfect, you will be waiting far longer than necessary. Don’t allow the anti-Christian bent of our culture to stop you from trusting His faithfulness and sovereignty. God is still ruling and reigning. Even in the midst of difficult times, He will ultimately prevail.

(Adapted from The Great Soviet Awakening, by Tom Kraeuter, ©2012 Training Resources, Inc., Hillsboro, Missouri. Get your copy at http://www.TheGreatSovietAwakening.com)
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