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Archive for March, 2016

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 304

  1. “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message” (John 17:20).

Somehow, the limitations of time are suspended to include you and I in the Jesus narrative. He actually speaks of us in this remarkable prayer. We are among those who believe in Him because we have heard their message. And we are in focus as He adds his experiential knowledge of human life to the Father’s omniscient understanding. Elsewhere, we are reminded that Jesus continues this intercession from His vantage point at the Father’s right hand, and it seems reasonable to conclude that this is the content of that intercession. After all, the circumstances have yet to change. We remain in the world and in need of the Spirit’s help to demonstrate our unity with Christ and with one another. We need the Father to “keep” us as the lures toward other paths continue to tempt. We need to see the heart of Jesus for us as we face the challenges of each day. And, finally, we need to see that Jesus’ love for us is an active love. He’s not One to simply watch us from a distance.

 

Categories: Leadership Journeys

Defining Moments in Church History…(3)

The second of our eight key moments in Church history took place in A.D. 313 amidst the governmental hierarchy of the Roman Empire. At this time, the divided empire was ruled by Constantine in the West and Licinius in the East.

During these warless years, according to historical accounts, it was Constantine that called for a meeting with his eastern counterpart to take advantage of such peace time for “domestic investment.” The Western ruler had some agenda he wished to address for the good of the Empire. So the two met in Milan.

First on their docket was to discuss the “reverence paid to Deity.” How fascinating that these political powerbrokers chose to discuss religious matters as agenda item number one. But history suggests that Constantine had a specific agenda in mind–to give some measure of legal status to Christianity. To this time, Christianity had often been viewed as an enemy of the state, principally for their insistence on worshipping only one God and their refusal to bow to the Emperor. This monotheism had made Christians a target in the Empire’s difficult times as some believed the gods were punishing the Romans for the Christian (and Jewish) refusal to worship them.

But that was to be no more as Constantine put forth his agenda. Many believe the Western ruler himself had become a Christian, and his actions would seem to affirm such thinking. Whatever his true motives, the Edict of Milan (issued from this meeting) granted Christians full religious freedom and the restoration of the property that had been taken from them. Constantine had legitimized Christianity for the Empire. That it was his lead agenda item adds weight to the belief that he had come to faith in Christ himself.

In fact, over the next century, Christianity rose beyond its equal status with our religions to become the primary faith of the Empire. Sadly, some of the same persecutions and confiscated property stories that Christians once lived became reality for other religions in the Empire as the Church flexed some newfound political muscle. The new alignment of Christianity with government authority brought an end to its persecution, and the beginning of new day for the Church.

It’s this new day that historians and churchmen today wonder at. Was the legitimacy granted by the Edict of Milan a good thing for the Church? Surely in its moment, Christians found relief in their new legitimacy, but many today describe Constantine’s alignment of the Church with his Empire as the “fall of Christianity.” Indeed, the subsequent years saw the Church grow in political power, often at the expense of its own righteousness. Other religious ideas within the Empire began to influence Christian thinking and theology until these pagan ideals wedged themselves into Christian doctrine and practice. The Church, once poor and in desperate need of its Savior’s provision became rich, powerful, and in need of nothing.

Today, Christianity is most easily identified as a western religion. Indeed, much of its practices reflect western ideology, separating the modern Church from its eastern roots. The impact on its priorities and pursuits may be too vast to measure. But our modern difficulty of reconnecting with our brothers and sisters of the first century began in Constantine’s moment and the long-term impact his actions have had on the Church, no matter how well-intended those actions might have been.

Stay tuned to this series as next time we’ll see a our third key moment in Church history–a second moment influenced by this leader, the first of the Christian emperors.

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 303

  1. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18).

Wow! Now that’s a statement many of us are unprepared for. He sent them (and us) just as He was sent? He was sent to reveal the Father. He was sent to bring hope and light. He was sent…to die. Today, Christians are grateful for Jesus’ sacrifice because they see it opening the door to blessing for them. But what if He meant that our role wasn’t to simply revel in His blessings. Suppose his intent is that through our sacrifice others would find hope and rest. Could that be what’s truly in store for the real disciple? Before you reject the idea too quickly, take a closer look at the experience of this initial group. In this amazing prayer, Jesus doesn’t ask that the Father bless them and give them the abundant fruit of His sacrifice. Instead, He pleads with the Father to keep them and to hold them together because they are not leaving this world yet. Indeed, their lives–especially their end–would look a lot like His. They, too, would die a death of rejection. So…what should our expectation be?

Categories: Leadership Journeys

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 302

  1.  Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).

How are we made holy? By obedience to God’s truth. What role does the Word have in our lives? It is the very purpose of God for us. For some reason, we find ourselves seeking shortcuts or self-styled paths to spirituality. We want to do what we think we should do, or perhaps what we hear others are doing, rather than fix our minds on the path He has placed before us. Now some will argue that they are inadequate to understand God’s Word, that they need the insights and wisdom of others–and surely there is much to gain from the insights and experiences of others. However, ours is a direct relationship with God. We have been given access to Him and He has promised to place His Spirit in us. He desires to walk with us and commune with us directly. And it is His Word that will guide us, teach us, and prepare us for the “separate” life we are called to.

Categories: Leadership Journeys

Defining Moments in Church History… (2)

For the student of the New Testament Church, few moments are more poignant and pivotal than Peter’s journey to Cornelius’ house and ultimately to the Jerusalem Council. The story begins in Acts 10 and spans the next five chapters, and is the first of our eight most defining moments in the history of the Church.

Over the next few weeks, we will be exploring eight events that have significantly shaped the world of today’s Church. I’ve no intent to say that these are the most important such events, but they represent seeds sown for which we find a significant modern harvest. And certainly the beginnings of the Gentile infusion into the Church must be one of those.

Poor Simon Peter, caught up in a moment his history hadn’t prepared him for. Like his compatriots, Peter viewed the God of Israel as, well…the God of Israel. Gentiles weren’t on the religious radar but were kept from the closest places with God. But Peter’s vision at Simon the Tanner’s house and the subsequent preaching expedition to the house of a Roman officer sure changed all that. In fact, when Peter proclaimed the full message of Christ, the Holy Spirit came upon the Gentiles in the room with such a display that Peter immediately connected their moment to the one he and his friends experienced in the upper room.

Some time later, the leaders in Jerusalem were struggling with the issue of Gentile response to the Gospel. Surely there had to be some adherence to Jewish ideals if the young Church were to open their doors to such people. Paul, a persecutor-turned-preacher was seeing amazing results among both Jews and Gentiles, but the two didn’t mix well and some issues needed to be settled.

In that Acts 15 moment, it was Simon Peter who stepped forward. His story of the Cornelius’ experience changed the course of history as there could be no arguing with the way the Holy Spirit and come upon them like “He did on us.” (more less what Peter said).

And that was the testimony needed to open wide the Church door to the Gentiles. Today, of course, one would be hard-pressed to see the Church as anything other than a Gentile reality. Thankfully, there are still Jews coming to Christ, but today’s Church is a worldwide force penetrating every culture as it searches for the ends of the earth that Jesus spoke of.

So, this is the first of our key moments in Church history and the only one of the eight that’s described in the biblical record. Our next stop will propel us nearly three centuries forward. Stay tuned…

 

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 301

  1. “They are not of the world any more than I am of the world” (John 17:14).

Aside from “Well done, good and faithful servant, I can’t think of anything I’d rather Jesus say concerning me. It’s far too easy to be of the world–to be driven by its visions, to judge according to its values, to prioritize its agenda, and to immerse myself in its pursuits. Living a life separate from the world seems nearly impossible at times. How does one watch others run gleefully down one road while determinedly walking another? While avoiding sinful lures is challenging, refusing to pursue common desires is an even greater call. Can we feel insecure and not seek refuge in the common places? Can we take our deepest emotional thirsts to a different well than those most populated? When one considers the true nature of being “not of this world” one is left to wonder how such a person can live in it.

Categories: Leadership Journeys

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 300

  1. “None has been lost except the one..” (John 17:12).

The tragedy of Judas remains a difficult puzzle. Though Satan couldn’t convince Jesus of an alternate path to His objectives, the evil one did manage to lure Judas. And Judas’ actions reveal the destiny ahead of all who succumb to Satan’s ideas. He has no plan for good, no real offer of hope. He only destroys, often by gaining the foothold a single decision can construct. For Judas, we know little of his real motive for his “chat” with the tempter remains a mystery. What we do know is that the rebellion that started in a garden centuries before would now reach its peak in yet another garden–same God, same snake, and the same poor choice by a man.

Categories: Leadership Journeys