His Truth Will Set You Free

Listen to what Jesus says; “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)


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An Appeal and a Prayer

surrender

One of my strongest desires is for unity within the churches of Jesus Christ. And in the name of unity, today I offer up an appeal to all Christians, and a prayer.

An Appeal

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1)

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (2)

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love. (3)

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. (4)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (5)

A Prayer

Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name – so that they may be one as we are one. (6)

May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (7)

I pray … that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (8)

(9)

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (10)

1: (1 Corinthians 1:10)
2: (Ephesians 4:2-3)
3: (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)
4: (Romans 15:5-7)
5: (Colossians 3:12-17)
6: (John 17:11b)
7: (John 17:23)
8: (John 17:20-21)
9: (John 17:17)
10: (Ephesians 3:14-21)
 
[This was first posted July 17, 2008]


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Non-Catholic denominations are not “true” churches. Really?

The Catholic Church is the one and only “true” church, or so some believe. According to a July 10, 2007 article I stumbled across (see it here), “Pope Benedict XVI has reasserted the universal primacy of the Roman Catholic Church, approving a document released Tuesday that says Orthodox churches were defective and that other Christian denominations were not true churches.”

The Vatican document said. “The other communities cannot be called ‘churches’ in the proper sense because they do not have apostolic succession — the ability to trace their bishops back to Christ’s original apostles.” Specifically, if a church cannot trace the succession of its leadership back to the apostle Peter, then it cannot be called a true church of Jesus Christ. Since the Catholics claim Peter as their first Pope, then that makes the Catholic Church the one and only “true” church.

You see, when Jesus stated that Peter was the rock on which He would build His church (Matthew 16:18), the Catholic Church took that to mean that Peter was the starting point, the true cornerstone of the foundation of Jesus’ church. Was Jesus’ intention to have Peter as the one foundation from which He would build His united church? What else does the bible say?

At one time, Jesus sent out His 12 apostles to, “preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” (Luke 9:1-9) Another time, He sent out 72 others to, “heal the sick and tell them the kingdom of God is near you.” (Luke 10:1-20) Does this sound like the act of someone who would place the responsibility for His church on the shoulders of just one man? It appears to me like Jesus intended to spread the responsibility around.

There was another time when the 12 apostles got rather ticked off when they discovered there was someone outside their inner circle who was doing their job. So they went to Jesus and blew the whistle on this guy… “‘Teacher,’ said John, ‘we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.’ ‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said. ‘No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.’ (Mark 9:38-40) Does this sound as if Jesus is trying to establish some kind of exclusive club? It sounds to me like Jesus doesn’t care who is doing the work, as long as they are doing it “in His name.”

And what about Paul, who was not one of the original apostles? The Catholic Church appears to ignore him. So the churches he started were “defective”, I suppose. I’m sure that would come as a surprise to Paul, especially since Jesus himself gave Paul the assignment. As evidenced by the calling of Paul, Jesus was not exclusive. Why would He be? Such an approach would limit the growth of “His” church. Why send the church off in one direction, with Peter as the lead runner, when you can start off in multiple directions?

***************************************

Yet, the Catholic Church originally had worthy intentions. For a time, the Catholic Church was indeed the one true church, assuring and enabling the unity that Jesus prayed for (John 17:20-23). Their motives were noble. Jesus wanted unity, and the Catholic Church provided a way. Then, in the early 1500’s, the reformation happened and the church split into pieces; no more unity.

However, maybe having all believers belonging to the same organization is not what Jesus had in mind when He prayed for unity. Maybe he meant united in beliefs, rather than united in affiliation. Maybe it wasn’t that He wanted us all to belong to the same religious establishment, with the same human leader, but that we all look to Him and Him alone as our leader.

Jesus wasn’t praying for all believers to be united by man-made things, such as religious bureaucracies, ceremonies, traditions, and “holy” relics. Jesus was talking about being united by spiritual things, such as love for God and faith in the saving power and love of His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus asked His Father God, “…that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:22). The unity that Jesus prayed for is modeled by His relationship with God.

Were God & Jesus unified by a common membership in some kind of organization? No, their unity was much higher than some human standard. The Catholic Church has set a human standard for unity; membership in their organization. But Jesus’ standard is a heavenly standard – a shared communion with the Holy Spirit of God. We are to be united as Jesus and God are united. How can a man-made religious establishment bring such a thing about?

I do not believe that Jesus intended for a man-made institution to bring about such spiritual unity, for I think that would be impossible. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, His presence in each of our lives, to manifest the spiritual unity of love and faith. By our mutual connection to the Holy Spirit, we are all connected to each other. We may all be one by our common bond to the Holy Spirit. We are all branches, and we are unified by our common bond to the vine, which is Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit (John 15:1-17).

By the way, Jesus never even mentioned a human-made and run organization as the foundation for our unity. In fact, setting the Catholic Church as the standard for unity is a distraction from our true foundation, our true cornerstone – Jesus Christ.

And another thing: Jesus was the origin of His church, not Peter. Jesus is the vine, not Peter. Jesus is the cornerstone, not Peter. Jesus is the one true church, not the Catholics.


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Imagine a new kind of church

I have often wondered about what kind of church Jesus had in mind, when He first set things in motion. I try to imagine how the church would look like today, if Jesus had physically stayed around to direct the growth of His church. I find myself looking back to the earliest churches, described in Acts. The church that I imagine looks something like this:

Small groups of people meet in houses. There is no paid staff and there are no church building mortgages or other expenses. Yet there is an offering. The offering from each small house-church goes into some kind of central pool. Whenever an attendee of the church has a financial need, their needs are provided for out of the church pool. And likewise, non-financial needs are also meet by the church, primarily the small group which is really an extension of the family.

I also envision no formal membership process; if you attend even once, you are considered part of the family. When the “house churches” meet, their purpose might simply be to worship God, study His word, and learn about and pray for the needs of each other. This would leave no room for “traditions” (I have a strong aversion to traditions, which tend to get in the way of having a true relationship with Jesus).

Imagine a church whose only purpose is to worship God and help each other. Imagine the magnetic power of a church that is publicly known for lovingly taking care of the needs of those who come to it, looking for help. All “members” of the church are cared for by the church. No condemnation, no guilt, just love. And the “church” would no longer be thought of as a gothic-looking building somewhere, but as a family of loving people. Jesus said that people would know we are His disciples by our love for each other, not by the opulence of the building we meet in.

It seems to me that a model like that would work. Sure there are all kinds of opportunities for unscrupulous people to take advantage of such a model. But that’s where faith comes in; with the faith that Jesus would honor and care for such a church.

In this time of economic turmoil when such a loving, self-supporting church is truly needed; I still imagine, and hope.


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An Appeal and a Prayer to Christian Churches

Church-bashing is not my desire, though it may appear to be when you look at some of the posts I’ve written. One of my strongest desires is for unity within the churches of Jesus Christ. And in the name of unity, today I offer up an appeal to all Christians, and a prayer.

An Appeal

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1)

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (2)

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love. (3)

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. (4)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (5)

A Prayer

Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name – so that they may be one as we are one. (6)

May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (7)

I pray … that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (8)

Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. (9)

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (10)

1: (1 Corinthians 1:10)
2: (Ephesians 4:2-3)
3: (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)
4: (Romans 15:5-7)
5: (Colossians 3:12-17)
6: (John 17:11b)
7: (John 17:23)
8: (John 17:20-21)
9: (John 17:17)
10: (Ephesians 3:14-21)


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Christian Churches – A Broken Tool

“Today’s churches provide the foundation and mechanisms for achieving Jesus’ purpose for our lives; for advancing the commission He assigned to His disciples. Or do they? What does Jesus think about this tool that has been constructed to achieve His ends?” That’s how I ended yesterday’s post. It might be helpful to read that post since it serves as a kind of introduction to what I’m writing today.

As I tried to point out yesterday, Jesus did not give instruction for who is allowed to have specific responsibilities within a church. Today I would like to talk about church structure in general. Churches have structure, assigned responsibilities, codes of conduct, mission statements, committees, leader groups, and programs; lots of programs. How does all of this play into Jesus’ mission statement for us?

Jesus told us: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Did Jesus tell us how to accomplish our mission and if so, does His method include the creation of organized churches? Did He tell us to build big church buildings, with committees and assigned responsibilities and a large collection of programs? Read His word and you will find, as I did, that Jesus did not give instruction for such things.

Don’t think for a moment that Jesus didn’t provide us with the best method for achieving His great commission. He did. And as with most of what Jesus told us, the method is deceptively simple. In reading through His word, what comes across time and again as the one way to preach the gospel?

“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. (John 13:34-35) People will know we are Christian not by the grandness of the building we meet in, or the types of songs we sing while in our building, or by the fancy robes worn by those we call priest, pastor or minister. Others will know we are Christian by the love we express for each other; a love that so often is not apparent.

By our love for each other, be unified… as Jesus prayed to His Father:

“Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name – the name you gave me – so that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11b)

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23)

Be unified by our love, and give the world reason to believe in Jesus. That’s how it’s done. And you don’t need a big organized church for that. In fact, all a church does is distract us from the simple reality of the power of love.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) We don’t bear fruit or achieve His mission by taking a seat in a large organized church.

What’s my point? Just this: the church with all its rules, traditions, assigned responsibilities, committees, and programs is “meaningless, a chasing after the wind”, as Solomon poetically expressed in Ecclesiastes. When it comes to doing God’s work, spreading His word, and making disciples of all nations; the only thing that has meaning is love – love for God and Jesus, a love for each other; a love that brings us together in unity.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

For a much more in-depth look at the brokenness of the organized church, check out the Jesus4King – The Spiritual Revolution web site. I highly recommend it.


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A Church Divided

“The Presbyterian Church has been sharply divided over homosexuality, including the question of gay marriages, for more than 30 years.” My series on the controversy around same-sex marriages continues with this quote from the April 26 edition of the Santa Rosa (CA) Press Democrat newspaper. As you may know by now, I am presenting a sequence of posts, focusing on three newspaper articles which told the tale of the latest battle of principles within the Presbyterian Church, with the Rev. Jane Spahr being in the center of the turmoil.

That brief extract from the short newspaper article conveys a very clear message; the Presbyterian Church is a church divided against itself. What does this tell us about Christianity and the relationship of fellow believers? To an outsider, Christians must look like a dysfunctional family. Is that the kind of image we really want to portray? Is that the kind of image that will entice others to join the family? Is that the kind of image Jesus wants us to put forth? Read His words and know the truth about how Jesus feels about relationships within His family.

“Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.’” (Matthew 12:25)

And Jesus prayed for His family, “…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:21-23)

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35) If we call ourselves Christian, yet do not truly love one another, doesn’t that provide outsiders with a false image of Christianity? However, if we indeed love each other, Christianity will stand out as truly different and attractive. Might this be partly why Jesus focused so much on the command of love?

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:12-14)

Not only Jesus, but His apostles also had a lot to say on the topic:

“Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged.” (James 5:9)

“Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” (1 Peter 3:8)

“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” (Romans 14:19)

“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3)

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

“But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'” (James 4:6)

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:12-14)

Jesus must feel strongly about unity within His church. He provides not only His opinion, but also the solution – humility. A tall order for our egocentric race, yet something to pray about.

“Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name – the name you gave me – so that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11b)


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Divided We Fall: Episcopal Meltdown

The goings-on in the Episcopal Church are more an example of dysfunction than Christian unity. A recent Associated Press article describes the legal turmoil between the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, and “a deposed bishop who led a secession last year prompted by the church’s ordination of women and gays.” It seems the diocese wants to sue the bishop.

Another bishop, loyal to the Episcopal Church, is quoted as saying, “Regardless of the necessity of proceeding with the litigation, the diocese leadership and I remain committed to reconciliation with clergy and parishes that are still trying to understand their relationship with the Episcopal Church.” Yet I wonder, do they understand their relationship with Jesus Christ?

It seems the Episcopal Church is spending so much time bickering amongst themselves, that they have totally forgotten Jesus’ call for unity. What might Jesus say about the conflict within the Episcopal Church, or any conflict within any church?

“Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.” (Matthew 12:25)

“He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.” (Luke 11:23) Would you say the Episcopal Church is gathering, or scattering?

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37)

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10)

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35) It is not obvious to me that all church leaders are truly disciples of Jesus; I just don’t see the love. People can disagree and still have love.

I would like to end this post with Jesus’ prayer to His Father, for all believers:

“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)