Wineskins Archive

December 21, 2013

A Dream Worth Keeping Alive (Jan-Feb 1993)

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Liking the Fruit But Not the Orchard

by Max Lucado
January – February, 1993

9Go with me to Berlin, Germany and the 1936 Olympics. Adolph Hitler has been upstaged by a young black American. Each of Jesse Owens’ four gold medals is a denunciation of the Nazi claim of superiority. But the real story of the 1936 Olympics is not the medals of Jesse Owens. It is the message of camaraderie between Owens and a German Athlete named Lutz Long.

The two athletes competed in the long jump. Jesse Owens almost disqualified himself because he kept stepping past the board as he jumped. Before his final attempt, Lutz Long, the German, took him aside and made a suggestion: Why not place a towel six inches before the take-off board to avoid fouling? Owens followed the advice and qualified easily.

The two men dueled in the finals that afternoon. On his final jump, Owens defeated Long and set an Olympic record of 26 feet, five and one-half inches. The German crowd was stunned. Hitler was silent. But Lutz Long was thrilled. He rushed over, held Owens’ hand high, and shouted “Jesse Owens! Jesse Owens!” The two competitors left the arena arm-in-arm, modeling the principle of tolerance:

When the achievement of the goal is more important than the name of the victor, rivals become friends. (From Sports Illustrated Classic, Fall 1991, p. 22.)

Unity results from the relentless pursuit of a common dream. Cooperation flourishes when the aspiration is elevated above competition.

Mountain climbers can tell you. They know a clear view of the peak stimulates teamwork. Soldiers know this. To fight together they must agree upon the name of the enemy and the importance of victory. Hospital staffs will testify. When physicians compete, strife results. But when personal agendas are surrendered before the greater good of helping people, the result is a community of recovery.

For the best example of this principle, however, don’t go to Berlin. Don’t talk to mountain climbers, soldiers, or doctors. Go instead to a small village called Capernaum and enter a small house occupied by Jesus and his disciples. Listen as the Master asks them a question:

“What were you arguing about on the road?”

The disciples’ faces flush. Not red with anger, but pink with embarrassment. They had argued. About doctrine? No. Over strategy? Not that, either. Ethics and values? Sorry. No, they had argued about which of them was the greatest.

Peter thought he was, (he’d walked on water). John laid claim to the top slot, (he was Jesus’ favorite). Andrew boasted he was the greatest, (after all, he introduced Jesus and Peter).

They were jockeying for position. Remarkable. But not as remarkable as Jesus’ response to them.

His solution to competition? Accept one another. The answer to arguments? Acceptance. Not agreement – acceptance. Not unanimity – acceptance. Not negotiation, arbitration, or elaboration. Those might come later, but only after the first step – acceptance. In fact, Jesus felt so strongly about acceptance that he used the word four times in one sentence:

“Whoever accepts a child like this in my name accepts me. And whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me” (Mark 9:37).

Such an answer troubles John. Too simplistic. The Son of Thunder was unacquainted with tolerance. Why, you just don’t go around “accepting” people. Fences have to be built. Boundaries are a necessary part of religion. Case in point? John has one:

“Teacher, we saw someone using your name to force demons out of a person. We told him to stop because he does not belong to our group” (Mark 9:38).

John is faced with a dilemma. He and the other disciples had run into someone who was doing some incredible stuff. This man was casting out demons, and this was the very act the disciples had trouble doing (Mark 9:20). He was changing lives. And, what’s more, the man was giving the credit to God. He was doing his work in the name of Christ!

Everything about him was so right. Right results. Right heart. But there was one problem. He was from the wrong group.

John wants to know if he did the right thing. John’s not cocky, he’s confused. So are many good people today. What do you do about good things being done by people in some other group? How do you respond when you like the fruit, but not the orchard? When you are impressed with the crop, but you don’t trust the farm? When the results are unquestionable, but the seminary is? What do you do when somebody in another church, denomination, or movement is doing great works?

I’ve asked those questions. I am deeply appreciative of my heritage. It was through a small, west Texas Church of Christ that I came to know the Nazarene, the cross, and the Word. But thorugh the years, my faith has been supplemented by people of other groups.

A Pentecostal taught me about prayer. An Anglican by the name of C.S. Lewis put muscle in my faith. A Baptist helped me understand grace.

One Presbyterian, Steve Brown, taught me about God’s sovereignty while another, Frederich Buechner, taught me about God’s passion. An ex-Catholic priest, Brennan Manning, convinced me that Jesus is relentlessly tender. Jim Dobson has helped my fathering, and Chuck Swindoll has helped my preaching. And on and on the list continues.

Only when I get Home will I learn the name of a radio preacher whose message steered me back to Christ. On a cold December day in 1978, I heard him describe the cross. He could have been a Quaker, or an angel, or both for all I know. But something about what he said caused me to drive the pick-up truck off the side of the road and rededicate my life to Christ.

What do you do when you see great things done by folks of other groups? Not divisive things, not heretical things, but good things which give glory to God?

A similar question is found in, of all places, Numbers chapter 11. Moses needs help. There are too many people to lead. God calms his fears and assures Moses the people will be cared for:

“So Moses went out to the people and told them what the Lord had said. He gathered 70 of the older leaders together and had them stand around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to Moses. The Lord took some of the spirit of Moses and he gave it to the 70 leaders. With the spirit in them they prophesied but just that one time” (Numbers 11:24).

Now note carefully verse 26: “Two men named Eldad and Nedad were also listed as leaders. But they did not go to the tent. They stayed in the camp but the Spirit was also given to them. They prophesied in the camp. A young man ran to Moses and said, “Eldad and Nedad are prophesying in the camp.”

Get the picture? Two men are prophesying without the proper pedigree. They didn’t go through the right procedure. They received the Spirit without attending the meeting. That troubled Joshua. “Joshua, the son of Nun, said, ‘Moses, my master, stop them’ ” (verse 29).

A carbon copy of that situation in Mark 9. Loose cannons that need to be secured. Good preaching but improper preparation. How can they be legitimate? They missed the orientation session. They can’t have the Spirit of God! They weren’t in the tent when the instructions were given.

“Joshua, Joshua,” we want to say, “don’t you know God can do what he wants? He can give his Spirit to anybody at any time. It’s up to him.”

Easy to say when looking at Joshua. Harder to say when looking in the mirror. There’s a bit of Joshua in most of us.

Moses’ response is for all us Joshuas. “Are you jealous for me? I wish all the Lord’s people could prophesy. I wish the Lord would give his Spirit to all of them” (verse 29).

Moses isn’t resentful or jealous – he’s grateful. He knows the size of the task. Moses needs all the help he can get. Moses refuses to be God’s screen door. He knows the authority of God. God can work where he wants with whom he wants. Even if it is with those of some group other than ours.

This topic of tolerance surfaced in our home Bible study one night not long ago. Somebody said, “You know, I grew up in the Church of Christ and we were taught that we were the only ones going to heaven.” That comment didn’t surprise me, but the oens which followed did. “I grew up in the Baptist Church, and we were taught the same thing,” said one. “I grew up in the Catholic Church and I was taught that,” chimed another. Then a Pentecostal said he’d been trained the same way.

We religious folk like fences. Fences define. Fences clarify. And, what’s more, fences empower. Where there is a fence there is a gate. And where there is a gate, there is a gatekeeper. Someone gets to sit at the gate and monitor those who would enter. Pretty heady stuff. A powerful job. Too powerful, Jesus says, for any of us to handle.

Let’s return to Jesus’ response to John. Remember, John has just asked him about a man who was doing good things. He was doing those things in the right name, but he was not from the right group.

Before talking about what Jesus said to John, note what he didn’t say.

First, Jesus did not say, “John, if the people are nice, they are in.” Generous gestures and benevolent acts are not necessarily a sign of a disciple. Just because the Lion’s Club is giving out toys at Christmas, that doesn’t mean the club or its members are Christians. Just because the Hare Kirshnas are feeding some people does not mean they are the honored ones of God.

Nor did Jesus say, “John, if the people agree with your opinions, they are in.” If unanimity of opinion was necessary for fellowship, this would have been a perfect time for jesus to say so. But he didn’t. Jesus didn’t hand John a book of regulations by which to measure every candidate; he gave no checklist to be followed.

Look at what Jesus did say: “Don’t stop him, because anyone who uses my name to do powerful things will not easily say evil things about me” (Mark 9:39).

Jesus considered the man’s ministry worthy. And when we examine our Lord’s comments, we see why. Jesus was impressed with the man’s pure faith and his powerful fruit. His answer offers us a crucial lesson on studied tolerance. How should you respond to a good heart which comes from a different religious heritage?

First, look at the fruit. Is it good? Is it healthy? Is the person helping or hurting people? Production is more important than pedigree. The fruit is more important than the name of the orchard. if the person is bearing fruit, be grateful! A good tree cannot produce bad fruit (Matthew 7:14), so be thankful that God is at work in groups other than yours.

But look also at the faith.

Jesus was accepting of this man’s work because it was done in the name of Christ. What does it mean to do something “in the name of Jesus”? This man was using the name of Christ to do powerful things. What does that mean? It means you are under the authority of and empowered by that name.

For example, if I go to a car dealership and say I want a free car, they are going to laugh at me. If, however, I go with a letter written and signed by the owner of the dealership granting me a free car, then I drive off in a free car. Why? Because I am there under the authority of – and empowered by – the owner.

The Master says we should examine the man’s faith. If the man has faith in God and is empowered by God, that’s reason enough for us to accept his work.

You mean he doesn’t have to be in my group? That’s right.

He doesn’t have to share my background? He doesn’t.

He doesn’t have to see everything the way I do? Does anyone?

What is important is his fruit and his faith. Later, a much more temperate Son of Thunder would reduce it to this: “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God has God living in him” (1 John 4:15).

Ironic. The one who challenged the simple answer of the Master eventually rendered the simplest answer himself.

It should be simple. Where there is faith, repentance, and the new birth, there is a Christian. When I meet a man whose faith is in the cross and whose eyes are on the Savior, I meet a brother. We will still have differences. But that does not mean we cannot have fellowship.

True unity is not achieved by leaving our differences hidden, but by dealing with them in the open meadow of Christ’s mercy. I have brothers and sisters with whom I do not agree on the role of women, the meaning of baptism, the place of millennialism. But our uncommon ground is a barren island compared to the great continent of common ground we share. If we can agree on the majestic uniqueness of Christ, don’t we share enough to accept one another?

If he is with pure heart calling God his father, can’t I call him my brother? That’s not to say concerns shouldn’t be shared and ideas be exchanged. That is to say, however, that fellowship is not found in common opinions but in a common Savior.

And if we never agree, can’t we agree to disagree? If God can tolerate my mistakes, can’t I tolerate a few myself? If God can overlook my errors, can’t I do the same? If God allows me, with my foibles and failures to call him Father, shouldn’t I extend the same grace to others?

If God doesn’t demand perfection, should I?

“They are God’s servants,” Paul reminds, “not yours. They are responsible to him, not to you. Let him tell them whether they are right or wrong. And God is able to make them do as they should” (Romans 14:4).

“If your heart beats with my heart in love and loyalty to Christ,” wrote John Wesley, “give me your hand.”

A final thught. a few months ago, I was in Chicago speaking at the Willow Creek Community Church, an immense non-denominational fellowship. Each evening before the assembly a group of elders would meet to pray with me.

I asked the elders to tell me about themselves. “I used to be a Baptist, but now I’m just a Christian,” one shared “I grew up a Methodist,” stated another, “but now I’m simply a beliver.” “I was Dutch-Reformed,” said a third, “but now I just follow Jesus.” And this went on around the table. Both nights.

And both nights I thought to myself, “That’s our line!” That’s what we in churches of Christ are supposed to say. What I heard in Chicago must have been akin to what early restorationists heard all around the country: “We aren’t the only Christians, but we are Christians, only.”

What if that became our plea again? What if once again we were known for building bridges and tearing down fences?

Jesus’ final prayer before his disciples was that we be one (John 17:21). Would he offer a prayer which couldn’t be answered?

Lutz Long and Jesse Owens went from being rivals to being friends. Why? Because the achievement of the goal was more important than the name of the victor.

May God help us do the same.Wineskins Magazine

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