Water to Wine

Water to Wine Gathering

Brian Zahnd and the Word of Life Church are putting together a conference that sounds quite interesting.

Water To Wine is a gathering for those who sense the falseness prevailing in Americanized Christianity and yearn for something better. It’s a gathering for those who want to see the church rescued from fundamentalism, consumerism, and nationalism. It’s a gathering for those asking Jesus to transform their spiritual life from water to wine!

Over three days we’ll talk about theology. We’ll talk about church life and ministry. We’ll talk about the menace of American civil religion. We’ll share stories about leading a church beyond “cotton-candy Christianity.” But most of all we’ll talk about Jesus and the church he is building as an authentic expression of the kingdom of God.

This gathering will be in forum where you can ask any question. Everything is up for discussion. We will learn from one another and perhaps you can make some new friends. Some of the content will have pastors and Christian leaders in mind, but everyone is invited!

Advertisements

Opening Our Homes

Desiring God: Would You Let a Stranger Live with You?

Just the other night, my husband and I were talking to our kids about a difficult hospitality decision that would affect all of us. We reminded them that we have to start with the question, “Is this something that God is calling us as a family to do?” Because if the answer is yes, it doesn’t really matter if we initially feel like doing it or not.

Some would say we are asking our kids to give up more than they should — that we are supposed to put their needs above everyone else’s. I know how deep the desire can be to cater to our children and to cringe at the thought of their discomfort. I have had to fight against the temptation to protect them from suffering. True hospitality often requires sacrifice, inconvenience, and surrender. And God does not require less from them. I am witness that you can prayerfully make decisions with wisdom, while still moving forward in faith.

Jesus’s words in Luke 6:33–36 have always struck me:

“If you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

As with everything in our lives, we have the opportunity to use our homes in a way that doesn’t make sense to the world. If all the good you do in your home is for your friends and family, how is that different from every other person on your street? There’s no benefit — to you or to your children, but also to a world that desperately needs to see us doing things differently.

This whole piece is immensely humbling.

etching of Paul in prison studying with the slave Onesimus

Onesimus and Perfection

The letter to Philemon is one of the most fascinating books in the New Testament. It’s among the shortest books in the Bible, but it’s incredibly dense in terms of practical applications. It’s also a book that stirs my curiosity; there’s so much unspoken backstory that I really want to understand.  But there’s only one thing I want to focus on right now: Onesimus’s legal status when he was baptized.

Onesimus, Paul, and Roman Law

Onesimus didn’t just break household rules when he fled Philemon’s household. He broke the law. The Roman government was paranoid about the possibility of a slave rebellion, so laws regarding slaves were harsh. Not only was it illegal for a slave to travel any distance without permission from their master, but it was also illegal for slaves to gather in groups, and it was illegal to harbor an escaped slave. A Roman’s civic duty was to immediately turn in any slaves suspected of escape.

It was illegal for Onesimus to be with Paul. That’s important to understand when thinking about the implications of his conversion since it’s obvious that Onesimus was baptized by Paul before he reconciled with Philemon. Verse 10 says, “I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.” So what does this mean for us when we come to Christ for salvation?

Baptism, Repentance, and Perfection

We often break salvation down into tidy steps: hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized. I don’t think it’s wrong to put repentance before baptism, but I think we need to consider what repentance really means. We often associate repentance with being sinless; nothing could be farther from the truth. Repentance is a process; it doesn’t mean that we have fixed everything. If it did, we could never repent enough before baptism.

Onesimus had not yet fixed his legal status or his relationship with Philemon when Paul baptized him. He was still a fugitive. He was yet to completely correct these sins in his life when baptized, but Paul did not let that stand in the way of salvation. Onesimus was not perfect when baptized, but he did have this: he had repented. He had a plan to set things right.

When you or I come to Christ, we don’t have to have our lives in perfect order. All we need is a heart ready to make things right. We need to repent — meaning we recognize the error in our lives and are willing to change. Onesimus would return to Philemon; with Paul’s support, he would fix his standing with his owner and with the law. But that repentance was a process for him, and it’s a process for us.

If some standard of perfection is holding you back from baptism in Christ, I would invite you to go forward with it despite any shortcomings. Christ wants you to come to Him broken, in need of His grace, and willing to start anew. Baptism is the beginning of your journey, not the end. Wherever you are, take that first step, knowing that Christ will forgive you in your imperfections and that your new family in Christ is there to help you on your journey.

 

image of a boat in a storm

Tossed To and Fro By Every Controversy

Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head — Christ.

– Ephesians 4:14 – 15

In Ephesians, Paul warns his readers against following trends in spiritual matters. This was as important in the early church as it is today. It’s easy to get swept up in the pull of public opinion. It’s easy to want to do things that feel right even if they don’t line up with what God wants. It’s as much a challenge to young congregations as to those that have endured for generations.

There’s another way we let ourselves get tossed about, however, and that’s in the venue of current events. Something may suddenly flare up in the media, in the White House, in the courts, or on social networks, and we feel the need to jump on it immediately. We start sharing our thoughts on it reflexively; we share link after link or meme after meme; and it becomes the topic du jour in Bible classes and sermons — until the next distraction comes along.

Distractions and Reactions

We’ve all seen it happen. I’ve done it myself. A Bible study on the topic of giving somehow ends up including a rant about how unfairly the media is treating a Christian celebrity. A sermon about baptism end up spending twenty minutes on gay marriage. A reading from Isaiah suddenly turns out to be about immigration policy. A Lord’s Supper talk unexpectedly turns into a defense of the pledge of allegiance.

Some current events are worth discussion and study, but it should be done so with considered preparation, removing self from the equation and letting God’s word guide our thoughts. It’s never productive to derail what could be an otherwise encouraging study by letting something that is grating on our nerves distract us. Then the next thing will come along. And then the next. Before we know it, instead of purposeful and meaningful study happening in our Bible classes and sermons, all we’re doing is reacting. We’re being tossed to and fro.

What To Do About It

When something in the news or current events rankle us, we need to step back and ask ourselves some questions.

  • Is it a matter of Scripture? Whether or not someone stands for an anthem or wears a flag pin has no bearing on God’s word. In those cases, it’s not worth discussing in a worship or study setting. Have your opinion, but don’t derail others’ faith and worship with it.
  • Will it bring anyone closer to Christ? Again, will discussing the topic help anyone with their relationship with Christ, or will the topic create secular barriers to discipleship?
  • Does it fit the current topic of discussion? Maybe your current frustration does have scriptural relevance. Does it fit the current sermon or Bible study topic? If not, maybe it’s better to find another time or venue to discuss it.
  • Am I able to talk about it rationally? If I can’t discuss the topic without getting flustered or angry, I’m perhaps not the best person to address the issue.
  • Am I letting God’s word guide me? This is a challenging one. Is your opinion on the topic formed by Biblical principles or by secular sources like public figures or media personalities? We should ensure that God’s word shapes our opinions rather than letting our opinions shape our interpretation.

It really comes down to being able to practice self-denial with our need to express our opinions. We also have to stop assuming that every person in the room agrees with us. Ranting about the evils of gun control in a Bible class where there may be a visitor on the other side of the issue will make them feel unwelcome. You or I may hinder another person’s journey to Christ in our need to vent, and I don’t want to have to face Christ in judgment with that on my conscience.

We have to come to the conclusion that souls are more important than personal opinions, politics, or any other secular controversy. We have to decide that we will focus on Bible topics when we’re studying or worshipping together. Just look at Paul’s prison letters as an example. Does he spend time in his letters complaining about the unfairness of the Roman justice system? Does he complain about the conditions of his prison? Does he rant about the corruption of Caesar? In no case does he let physical distractions upset his spiritual focus.

We cannot be distracted from Christ. There are indeed some current events worth addressing in our Bible studies and our pulpits — our obligations to the poor and disenfranchised, overcoming racial prejudices, addressing violence against women. However, there are many more that we should leave alone lest we alienate believers and those seeking Christ. We should be a body knit together by our common faith and hope. Let’s not let secular distractions harm our unity and purpose in Christ. Stop being tossed to and fro by every controversy, and instead anchor yourself in the upward calling of Christ.

 

Sell Your Cloak to Buy a Sword

Radically Christian: Luke 22:36 Re-Examined: Sell Your Cloak to Buy a Sword

As soon as they finished the discussion about the swords, they went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed and where a group of armed soldiers came to arrest Him. When the apostles saw that Jesus was about to be arrested, they asked, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” (vs 49). Without waiting for an answer, an apostle drew a sword and blood was spilled.

The servant of the high priest had his ear cut off and he was standing there bleeding. Jesus intervened, saying, “‘No more of this!‘ And he touched his ear and healed him” (vs. 51). Read those words of Jesus again, “No more of this.” No more fighting. No more bloodshed. In Matthew’s account, Jesus makes a more general statement, “All who take the sword will perish by the sword”(Matthew 26:52).

Then Jesus asked the leaders of the Jews an important question, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs?” (vs. 52). In other words, you’ve come out here with weapons as if I was some sort of violent criminal.

The swords had served their purpose. For those who chose to see Jesus as a criminal leader, a couple of swords amongst twelve men was enough for them to say, “See! He’s a criminal.” But those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, know Jesus was not a man of violence nor a criminal. He was the One healing the pain caused by violence, saying, “No more of this.”

This is a challenging passage, but it’s pretty clear in the context that Jesus is not condoning violence in any way. To use this passage to justify violence ignores the context entirely.

Stones

The Morning Drive: Stones

The leaders bring her to Jesus and remind Him of the Law of Moses and the command to stone those guilty of adultery. They want to know what Jesus thinks should be done. They are trying to place Him in a moral, ethical, spiritual, and legal juxtaposition.  Would Jesus agree with the Law of Moses or would He speak against the Law? Would Jesus show compassion to the sinful woman or would He condemn her based on their accusations?

You remember Jesus’ reply in John 8:7, “Let him who without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Wow! He cuts to the heart of the issue. He cuts to the heart of the leaders. His statement cuts to the heart of those who read His words even today. They get the point. They drop their stones and walk away. Jesus turns to the woman and refuses to condemn her, even though as the Son of God He has that right, but instead tells her, “Go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:11).

The challenge is for us all. How much are we willing to intercept stones rather than throw stones?