By Matt Dabbs
by Keith Brenton
Planning continues for the monthly editions of New Wineskins, and these are the themes that are tentatively scheduled:
- Leadership – April, 2013 – in progress. Our churches have a long tradition of leadership by evangelists, elders and deacons. But what does scripture have to say about the people who hold these titles; what are their responsibilities and roles within the local family of God? Are these truly offices of the church to be filled, or recognitions of those who are already serving?
- Lament – May, 2013. It’s the 100th edition of Wineskins / New Wineskins … but there will be no particular celebration of it. Instead — in this aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, explosion of fertilizer stored at the West, Texas facility — let’s approach this edition as people who are mourning tragedy that-only-God-could-have-prevented anticipate a Sunday worship full of celebratory happiness, joy, thanksgiving and praise. What place does lament have in our lives, and in our worship together? Is it only permissible at the Lord’s Table? Is it appropriate there and only there? How should/does our worship planning accommodate those who are suffering?
If you would like to contribute an article to New Wineskins (or original artwork, photography, or other creative work), send a proposal paragraph or sample to [firstname.lastname@example.org]. Deadline for final articles is the last day of the previous month; articles go live from day to day within the month of publication.
Please see the Writer’s Guidelines, then … write!
By Matt Dabbs
by Angi and Keith Brenton
This excerpt from the Study Guide for Darryl Tippens’ Pilgrim Heart appears on the ZOE | New Wineskins Web site by special permission of the publisher, Leafwood Publishers. It was written to be a companion piece to Chapter 12 of the book.
Singing: The Way to Heaven’s Door
Key idea: Music is a primary means of conversion and spiritual formation. It inspires awe and transports us to the mystery of God’s nature, binds us in community, awakens our emotions, and serves as a potent source of theology. Music is also a means of instruction and memory which aids spiritual formation.
1. Share a time when spiritual music touched you deeply as it did Anne LaMott in this chapter. Why does music stir our emotions in such a profound way?
2. What are your favorite songs and hymns? Why are they special to you? What memories are attached to them?
3. Is part of the power of singing its communal nature? What other worship activities do we perform in such a clearly communal way? Should our practice of communion and prayer be more community-oriented than individualistic?
4. Darryl writes, “In a theologically shallow environment, singing may redeem an otherwise impoverished service. As a youth I heard sermons that occasionally tended toward legalism or moralism, yet the service was full of songs like ‘Amazing Grace,’ ‘A Wonderful Savior,’ and ‘Love Lifted Me.’ The sermon may have been ensnared in law, but the music was rich in grace.” How has music shaped your theology, your view of God?
5. Do you agree with Darryl’s statement, “If we must err in one direction, a missional attitude is prudent. In the spirit of Luther, we should advocate music that wins the hearts of the young and the untaught.” Why or why not?
1. Sing together in your class or small group. Look at each other as you do so. Talk about the experience.
2. Tune out the relentless parade of discouraging news and the strident voices on talk radio on your way to work this week. Instead, listen to music that inspires and nurtures your spirit.
3. If you do not usually listen to spiritual music preferred by young people, borrow a CD or tune into a Christian radio station and listen to contemporary Christian music. Read the words from the CD enclosure. Listen to the passion and energy. What do you appreciate about it?
More radical practice: If you do not sing loudly during triumphant songs of praise in your worship at church, try it. Remind yourself that God doesn’t expect your voice to be better than the one he gave you. Speak to others so that they can hear your words of encouragement. Join in enthusiastically when there are songs that do not particularly speak to you, but do speak to some of your brothers and sisters in Christ. If you do sing loudly and with great spirit, try listening quietly during songs of encouragement on occasion, to hear the message within them that God might have for you through the voices of your church family.
Describe a soundtrack for your spiritual journey. When might the exultant instrumentals of “Chariots of Fire” be playing? When would the more plaintive notes of a lament or spiritual be more appropriate? What would be the theme song to your journey? “No One Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” “Walking in Sunlight,” “Jesus Hold my Hand,” “Step by Step You’ll Lead Me”? Be creative.
Try singing a prayer this week, such as this refrain:
Have mercy on me, O God
According to your steadfast love
According to your great compassion
Blot out all my many transgressions
Save me from sin.
Or the lyrics from “A Living Prayer” by Alison Krause:
In this world I walk alone
With no place to call my home
But there’s one who holds my hand,
The rugged road through barren lands
The way is dark, the road is steep
But He’s become my eyes to see
The strength to climb, my griefs to bear
The Savior lives inside me there.
In Your love I ?nd release
A haven from my unbelief
Take my life and let me be
A living prayer, my God, to Thee.
In these trials of life, I find
Another voice inside my mind.
He comforts me and bids me live
Inside the love the Father gives.
In Your love I find release
A haven from my unbelief
Take my life and let me be
A living prayer, my God, to Thee.
Take my life and let me be
A living prayer, my God, to Thee.
Angela Brenton is Dean of the College of Professional Studies at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, occasionally teaches courses for Abilene Christian University and Pepperdine University, and serves on the Adult Education committee at church. Keith Brenton serves as the WebServant for New Wineskins. He describes himself at his blog [Blog In My Own Eye] as a “stumbling follower of Christ, husband, dad, writer, occasional Bible class teacher, currently serving as communications specialist at a large metro church. Someone who questions reality and won’t settle for an evasive answer.” That church is the Pleasant Valley Church of Christ in Little Rock [www.pvcc.org]. He occasionally posts at [the New Wineskins blog]. You can reach him by e-mail at [email@example.com].
By Matt Dabbs
By Keith Brenton
The last of Israel’s judges was a boy named Samuel, a child in a family living among the descendants of Ephraim. Though his mother dressed him like a priest, he was not really a priest. He would grow up to crown a king or two, but not become one. He would be known as a seer, but serve God too early to be remembered as a prophet. For God’s people rejected his leadership as judge and begged for a king. God would tell Samuel that they had really rejected their Lord as their King, so they could be like all the other nations – just like everyone else. They were to be a called-out people, but they wanted Samuel to call in this favor for them: for God to give them a king, though God was their King.
In the waning days of Israel’s true kings, a prophet named Isaiah would describe One later known as Prophet, Priest and King – One who would know rejection, yet nobly serve as a sacrificial Lamb; One who would suffer and die yet see the light of life and be satisfied; One who would bear the sins of many and intercede for them as a priest would intercede. And, having accomplished all, would finally serve as the last of the judges.
A Prayer for the Bread
Father God, we so often want to be just like everyone else – even though we know you have called us out to be a people in the image of Your Son. We too often reject Your leadership and want to be in control of our own lives – though we have seen the disaster it can lead to. We think we know what the future holds, but we can’t even see the next moment. We want to judge others, but rarely ourselves. We need this bread of Your Word – Your Son – to give us Your leadership and vision and discernment and judgment. Feed us always with this Bread of Life. Amen.
A Prayer for the Cup
Wondrous and Mighty Lord, we remember the sacrificed blood of the Lamb of God as we share this cup. We recognize the Sovereign King, the Prophet of Eternity, the High Priest of Heaven interceding for us through His own sacrifice. As our lives approach the day when You both will judge us all, we thirst for the perfection that it offers; the light of life that satisfies You and compels our adoration. We gladly yield that praise through Jesus: Amen.
By Matt Dabbs
By Keith Brenton
The mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut have brought Americans face-to-face again with the darker side of human nature, the prevalence of weapons and mental impairment, and the vulnerability of our children. What measures should we be willing to support that could help prevent such tragedies? What measures can be supported by believers in Christ?
Much of the debate in social and mainstream media so far has centered on gun control, especially legislation intended to prevent certain weapons from being used for evil purposes.
While the proliferation of working guns — especially the automatic and semiautomatic kind — has made the question virtually moot, those who debate both sides have not been mute. The fact is, we don’t even know how many working projectile weapons there are in the United States; estimates vary from about seven to eleven weapons for ten every U.S. citizens, including those under adult age.
I can think of three main legitimate reasons for owning guns, and they make up the title of this article: fun, food and fear.
People own guns for the fun of it. Some like to collect guns, and have amassed museum-size-and-quality collections –including antique weapons in various degrees of restoration and usability, but with real historic value. Others thrill to shoot guns: targets, skeet, in-season animals. Hunters actually help keep wildlife numbers manageable and protect settled areas.
People own guns for obtaining food. Having recently moved from urban west Little Rock to the rural Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina, I’ve noticed that my reaction to hearing gunfire has changed from “Someone’s getting robbed!” to “Someone’s getting dinner!”
People own guns for assuaging fear. We can dignify this truth by calling it “protection,” but at its root is the fear that freedom, property, health or life will be lost and that owning a gun at least improves the odds of keeping what might be lost.
And, interestingly, this fear is the very reason that the U.S. Constitution’s second amendment protects the right of most citizens to own a gun:
“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
Fun and food didn’t really factor into the reason; it was for the provision of a “well regulated militia.”
So, with some infringements being reasonably made on the rights of those who have misused weapons to commit crimes, the Constitution defends the right of the people generally to keep and bear arms.<br><br>That runs us right into the question:
Should a believer in Christ exercise that right and insist on it without any further restrictions?
Which opens up a Pandora’s box of related questions, and hopefully the writers of this edition will address at least a few of them.
Let me focus on that first one, however, and answer with another question: “Would Jesus Christ exercise and insist on the unrestricted right to own and use a weapon?”
And the answer I perceive from scripture is a firmly ambivalent “Yes and no.”
Conversing with a friend on the matter raised years ago by a tragedy similar to Sandy Hook (sadly it’s been so long ago that I cannot remember which of many), the question was phrased, “Can you picture Jesus spraying an Uzi to destroy evil? ” and we each had our own, different answer. Mine was “no,” and his was “yes.”
Jesus as enfleshed and living in first-century Israel, teaching and dandling children on His lap and submitting to the injustice and torture and execution of His last days — I cannot picture that Jesus bearing arms. That wasn’t His purpose in coming. Judgment was not His purpose in coming.
It is, however, His purpose in returning. And having prepared a place for the devil and his angels to be destroyed on the day of judgment –that Jesus I can easily picture destroying evil, forever and permanently, with heaven’s equivalent of an Uzi. I actually can. Because heaven’s equivalent of Uzi bullets are His words (Revelation 2:6), the sword from His mouth. Peter used those words at Pentecost, and thousands were “cut to the heart.” Ultimately, there is nothing that can stand up to their power.
But is that divinely all-knowing, all-powerful Christ the one we are asked to imitate in our less-than-divine knowledge, wisdom and ability?
I would say — generally — no.
Fear is not to be the primary motivator of the believer, except for the fear of the Lord highly recommended in scripture. And even so, perfect love should cast out fear. No, the two commandments that remain supremely recommended by the life of Jesus Christ are to love the Lord with all of one’s heart, mind, soul and strength — and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self.
Citizens of the United States (and many other nations) are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, to be sure, and more are endowed by constitutions and compacts and laws. But our rights are not to be the primary concern of believers, are they?
We are to look after the rights and needs of others.
And Jesus’ teaching in the sermon given on the mount is plain, and it is a hard, hard teaching:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:38-48
That’s how believers are called to live in this life. In the life to come, we will reign with Jesus and judge angels. But not here.
Our concern here is to be the concerns of God and others. Our weapon is to be the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). It is the only offensive weaponry we as believers are given to bear. The rest of our armament is truly defensive.
A sword is an interesting weapon. It can have a lot of other uses — like obtaining food (cleaning fish; Jesus was no vegetarian), having fun (fencing) — but to be used as a weapon, it has to be engaged in a very personal way. If you intend to pierce someone with a sword, you will have to be close enough to smell their last breath and see their dying eyes — and for them to smell and see yours. Unlike a gun, a sword can hardly be used in sniping.
Jesus did not and could not have addressed the matter of personal projectile weapons; their development was centuries away and what might have been revealed to Him by God while He was incarnate the first time would have made no sense to the people of His time. While it’s true that He spoke of swords, I think we have to recognize that He spoke of a very different kind of weapon and tool — and, as many others have pointed out:
His express purpose in authorizing two swords at His arrest seems to have been in order to fulfill scripture (Luke 22:35-38), and the plural “two” was enough to establish “transgressors.”
And His response to Peter was not that “the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” but “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” – Matthew+26:52. Yes, the same sword He said was enough — enough to qualify the charge “transgressors,” but not to be drawn. (Plus, good guys with guns are shot to death all the time. In the back. While they’re asleep. From a great distance, aided by a long barrel and a sniperscope. A gun can only, at best, improve the odds of survival.)
As you can see, I think I can make a very good case from scripture for following a non-violent, first-incarnation Jesus Christ. But the very fact that Jesus does not speak of such a weapon (even prophetically) nor does scripture elsewhere, forces me to concede that the matter is one subject to human interpretation and logic — and therefore a matter of conscience under the purview of Romans 14. And we are not to judge each other, but especially on such matters of conscience.
Because I think I can make an equally good case that neither Jesus nor other scripture ever specifically condemn the use of a weapon in self-defense or protection of family, neighbors and countrymen. Never. Once.
But remember this: The followers of Christ in the New Testament and for centuries afterward took Jesus at His word so literally and so seriously that thousands of unarmed believers died martyrs’ deaths in dozens of programs and persecutions against them. Their possessions were confiscated. Their citizenship was revoked. Their families were slaughtered. And they themselves were executed, often with exquisite and protracted torture. They believed scripture promised them the reward that their faithfulness demanded from a just and loving God.
My choice on the path of peace and peacemaking is to remain armed solely with the sword of the Spirit. I see the servants of Christ carry no other weapon with His blessing in the New Testament, or after.
And you may disagree with me. And I will still love you and respect your conscience on the matter, though I disagree with you. If you serve armed in defense of neighbors and/or nation, I will even be grateful for your service and willingness to sacrifice — and wish that myself and other believers would display the same tenacity and courage with the sword we have been given to bear.
But I won’t own a gun. It wouldn’t be fun for me. I don’t need it to get food.
And it would be a constant temptation to use it and give in to fear, instead of giving myself over to love.
By Matt Dabbs
By Keith Brenton
… than to ask them to become a disciple.
First of all, you have to be a disciple before you can help someone else become one. You have to know what being a disciple is. You have to live it.
Anyone can go to church.
But to ask someone to become a disciple, you know they have to see Jesus in your life, plain as day; hear Him simple and clear. Otherwise, you have no credibility with them.
It’s not that easy.
Let’s be honest.
Jesus didn’t make it easy. He said all kinds of things that make it hard. “Be perfect.” “Pray for your enemies.” “Do not judge others.” “Let them strike your other cheek also.” Many other things; you can name them as easily as I can.
Oh, and of course, the clincher:
Cross. My cross. Take it up. Then follow Him. It’s in order, isn’t it? You can’t follow Him until you’ve taken up your cross.
“Cross” means surrender. “Cross” means suffering. “Cross” means humiliation. “Cross” means nakedness in front of others. “Cross” means sacrifice. “Cross” means enemy of the state. “Cross” means dying to self. “Cross” means slow death.
And Luke even adds the word “daily.” (Luke 9:23)
Not something you just do once a year as part of an Easter pageant reenactment until your belly is too big or your beard too grey to play Jesus anymore. You’re not playing Jesus. You’re living Jesus, daily. You’re dying to self, daily.
How can we ask people to live that way and give up that much?
I believe that sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only way. It’s the only way scripture describes. People have to know Whom they are being asked to imitate, and Who He is, and what He gave up in order to become like us and live among us and die like us so that we can someday live again like Him.
Seriously: How often do we tell the gospel story in our churches?
What is the point of asking people to come to them if they don’t hear it?
If they don’t hear the gospel in our songs and our singing; taste the gospel at the table that is spread; see the gospel in the testimony of those living it out; listen to the gospel proclaimed by at least one and hopefully two or three witnesses to make its credibility certain … why bother to ask them there?
I staged the question that forms the theme of this edition, and I was deliberately disingenuous in phrasing it as an either/or. I know the question is being asked and the debate has been raging and the numbers are charted and the comparisons are made.
Plain fact is, we make disciples so that they are added to the church by the Lord. And it doesn’t matter diddly-squat whether we make them in the church or make them outside the church and then bring them in.
With some folks, you will have success showing them the gospel in everyday life and connecting it with Jesus the Son of God by telling them why you are living it — and they will be happy to experience more of it in the gathering of the saints.
With others, God will bless you with new brothers and sisters in Christ because they came to your church and saw the gospel there first and then followed you out of the church and kept seeing it in the lives of you and your fellow believers.
I think it’s great for successful churches to share their success stories with the world. I really do. As long as we all understand that discipling is not about quantity, but quality. (Jesus discipled three very closely — twelve closely — and that led to 120 by Acts 1.) And we need to understand that what works for church A is not necessarily going to work for church B; what works for person X may not work for person Y.<br><br>We know what really works. It’s right there in the New Testament. Sometimes it worked on a scale of three thousand, like in Jerusalem on Pentecost. Sometimes a dozen, more or less — the households of merchants, jailers and soldiers. Sometimes just one, as in an Ethiopian on his journey home. And let’s be even more honest: it also got some people arrested and tried and sometimes stoned to death.
Could we possibly get over ourselves and our expertise and our comparative ratios of successful methodologies and our programs and ministries and outreaches and church facilities and church plants and worship styles and learning opportunities … and just share the simple gospel of Jesus Christ every Sunday and every day … in what we do and in what we say … take up the cross, live as we pray … in any way and every way?
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