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Monthly Archives: April 2013

John 21 – Fishers of….fish?

This is an odd chapter to me for several reasons.  First, let’s review what we know about what all is going on around this story.  We know that Jesus was with the Apostles for several years during his ministry.  Jesus, as he predicted, went to Jerusalem and was arrested by the chief priests and religious leaders and handed over to the Romans, who crucified him.  Three days later he was resurrected and shortly after appeared to the women in the Garden and the disciples in the upper room where they were gathered.  Jesus spent some part of 40 days with the disciples and Apostles explaining things to them.  He then ascended to prepare a place for his followers to go.  About 40 days later the Spirit is going to come upon the Apostles with power and they will preach the Gospel in every language and 3,000 will be baptized and begin the church.

So John 21 falls somewhere in the 40 days between the resurrection and the ascension.  He has already appeared to the disciples twice before (v. 13).  And here is what I find interesting…the Apostles seem to lack any sense of purpose or direction.  It appears that they are sitting around one day and Peter says to a couple of the others, “Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I am going fishing tonight.”  And not just casual vacation fishing; this is occupational catching fish in nets for money fishing.  They aren’t out preaching or teaching.  They aren’t in prayer or even meeting in an upper room any more.  There are only a few of them there.  It seems like they don’t really know what’s next.

There is an interesting thing here that we see in almost every text where Jesus appears to people after his resurrection: they sort of recognize him.  There is always this suggestion that they recognize him and can tell that he is who they know he is, but also an implication that he looks a little different.  Jesus, as the firstborn of among the dead is in his resurrection body and we, as Christians can look forward to our own resurrection body someday.  And what seems to be the case is that we will be different yet recognizable.

It’s also weird to me that Peter puts his outer garment on and then jumps in the water.  Apparently a strong swimmer to swim fully clothed.  I also like that we are told exactly how many fish they caught, which is apparently far beyond what nets can usually hold without breaking.  Perhaps this should be known more as the miracle of the super strong nets.

The story then moves to the three part questioning of Peter’s love for Jesus.  Of course, by the third questioning Peter is hurt.  His best friend and the one who he proclaimed to be the Messiah is questioning his loyalty and love for him.  It’s hard to know if Jesus is showing some undoing of the three denials in way that is getting back at Peter or has some redemptive force.  It’s also possible that Jesus is just really trying to drive home the importance of taking care of the “sheep” or followers of Jesus.

And then, just as we come to the end of that somehow redemptive, somehow commissioning conversation Jesus tells Peter in some cryptic way how he is going to die.  Church tradition holds that Peter was crucified upside down on a cross.  What’s really somewhat humorous is that Peter looks over at the disciple whom Jesus loved (presumably the Apostle John and author of this Gospel), and he asks Jesus, “What about him?”  This is a grown up version of a conversation I have with my toddler children on a fairly consistent basis…”How come I have to _______ while she gets to __________?  That’s not fair.”  Jesus simply responds, “What business is that of yours?”  Good answer Jesus.

Finally, the entire Gospel ends with John stating that this is simply a snapshot of the endless volumes that could be written about all of the things Jesus did and said during his lifetime, which is a pretty powerful conclusion to the book.  On the other hand, it’s almost that John just said, “Well, I guess that’s enough.  I couldn’t ever tell you everything, but that’s enough.”

And on that note…the end.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2013 in John, Uncategorized

 

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John 20 – The New Gardener for the New Garden

Jesus is mistaken as the gardener. This is one of the most beautiful cases of mistaken identity. The images that John is drawing upon are that of the New Creation. John 20:1 emphasizes that Jesus resurrected on the first day of the week. This is the day that Creation began. His resurrection marks the beginning of the New Creation. The Old is done and the New is here. The bringing about of the Kingdom in the New Creation is that as people who have been baptized, we have been brought into the Kingdom and this New Creation.

Jesus is mistaken as the gardener because in fact he is the gardener. Just as Adam was the gardener of the old creation so Jesus is the gardener of the New Creation. It is important to point out that the New Creation has fist been revealed to a woman and she is then given the commission to go and tell the disciples that she has seen the Lord.

When Jesus appears to them he breathes the Holy Spirit on them and gives them the commission to take up his task in the world. This too is New Creation imagery. Jesus breathes life on them in the same way that God breathed life into Adam. Receiving the Holy Spirit is the marker of this New Life. He sends them as his Father send him. They have the ability and the power to forgive people of their sins. They were overjoyed to see the Lord. He first showed them his scars to they would believe. Thomas catches a lot of flack today for needing to see the marks in his hands and in his side before he would believe that they saw Jesus. I’m not sure I would be much different. Thomas, after seeing the risen Lord, exclaims, “My Lord and my God!”

When we express that Jesus is our Lord and our God, we have joined with a multitude of people who have not seen Jesus but still believe. Those who have made this claim have done so out of faith and are blessed! Jesus did many miracles so that we might believe. Jesus did more than what was recorded. By this believing, we have life in his name. The chapter ends with this assurance and some believe this might be the original ending of the book. Either way, we are counted among the blessed who have followed Christ based on the Word being passed to us by others.

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2013 in Bible Blog, John

 

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Carter on Old Testament Violence in a Modern World

So I am taking a graduate class at Oklahoma Christian University on Old Testament Theology.  After months of spending hours reading, studying, and discussing topics ranging from the mercy of God, the justice of God, the violence in the Old Testament and even whether or not God changes his mind I am certainly qualified to answer theological questions about Old Testament texts.  At least, that’s what I thought.  Until Carter applied an Old Testament text (David and Goliath) to a very modern reality (the awesomeness that is Manchester United soccer).

An actual conversation in my car the other day:

Carter: So Dad, what did you do today?

Me: Uh…I watched the Manchester United soccer game.  Remember…you watched part of it with me?  Oh right…I made you go take a nap before it was over.

Carter: …yeah.

Me:  Well United won.

Carter: Awesome!  They are gonna practice and keep trying and kicking those guys in the white shirts and knocking them over and beating them and cutting off their heads!

(If Manchester United had been playing City this week, I might have just agreed with him, but since it was somebody else, I felt compelled to discourage beheading.)

Me: Carter, we don’t cut off people’s heads and we don’t talk about cutting off people’s heads.

Carter: But David cut off Goliath’s head.

Me: ……………

Carter: Dad, David cut off Goliath’s head.

Me:  Yeah…..but….Goliath was a really bad guy.

Carter:  Oh.  Is he still a really bad guy?

Me:  Well…I guess not.

Carter:  Where is Goliath now?

Me:  Well I’m not sure.

Carter:  So do you think he’s in outer space or earth?

Me:  Uh….earth.

Carter:  Our earth, like the one we live in?

Me:  So…uh….did you have fun today?

I sure hope the questions don’t get harder.  Carter is three and I was pretty much stumped.  I am doomed.  I guess it just goes to show that the Bible truly is a wonderful and mysterious text that will forever invite new generations to enter conversations about what it meant, what it means, and what kind of a difference it makes in our world today.  Or it just means I am doomed to a lifetime of knowing less while trying to seem to know more than my kids.

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

John 19 – Accused of Being What the Jews Wanted

One of the reasons Jesus is constantly struggling with the Jewish leaders is that he didn’t fit what they were expecting.  Their “messianic expectation” was that when Messiah came he would overthrow the Romans.  He would being economic prosperity and/or equality to all.  The Messiah would usher in a golden age of Israelite rule in the world like was experienced under David and Solomon.  He would be a conquering ruler.  He would subject the Gentiles to Israelite rule and restore all of the Promised Land to the people.  He would be King.  He would be High Priest.  He would explain the law.  He would be a leader in the image of Moses.

On the other hand, the Messiah would not spend time with sinners, prostitutes, or tax-collectors for the oppressive Roman Empire.  He wouldn’t waste his time with women or children.  He wouldn’t teach love for enemies or paying taxes to Caesar.  He wouldn’t say things about the destruction of the Temple.  And above all, the Messiah would never, ever die on a Roman cross.

It’s important to know that Jesus of Nazareth is not the only man to claim to be a Messiah around this time.  We know from history that Simon of Paraea rebelled and was killed by Romans.  Judas of Galilee led a rebellion against the Roman mandated census in 6 CE and was brutally crushed by the Romans.  And these are just a few examples of many Jewish rebels and revolutionaries who claimed or were labelled Messiahs.  It’s important to know that these men led violent attempts to overthrow Rome and behaved “like a Messiah was supposed to” according to common messianic expectations.  It became clear that none of them were the Messiah when they were killed by Romans.

I say all of that to highlight several dynamics at play at this point in John’s Gospel.  The Jewish leaders are reacting against Jesus for several reasons, but one of the important ones is that he doesn’t do anything a Messiah is supposed to do, like overthrow Rome.  On the other hand, he does lots of things that they think a Messiah shouldn’t do, like loving unlovable people.  Now, the only way Rome has any interest in killing Jesus is if he behaves like a revolutionary.  So the Jewish leaders have to portray Jesus as the revolutionary leader that they wish he was, even though they are mad because he isn’t.  Are you starting to understand some of Pilate’s confusion?  You can also see now why Pilate refused to change the sign when the Jews protested that it actually labelled Jesus as King of the Jews.  If they were going to get him killed for it, he would at least die with the honor of it.  

By the time Jesus is nailed on the cross it’s clear who has authority in this story.  The Jewish leaders look like hypocritical idiots who are begging Rome to do what they aren’t capable of doing themselves.  On top of that, the chief priests boldly state that “We have no king but Caesar.”  Pilate just looks like a confused puppet who is doing what he doesn’t want to do just to avoid an angry mob.  Jesus, on the other hand, has poise, control, and is acting with purpose and intent.  Jesus has power.  He is not a victim on the cross.  He is the victor.  And while that won’t become clear to all of the witnesses until he gets out of the grave three days later, there is no denying the power and authority of Jesus of Nazareth.

It’s no wonder that Paul often describes the Gospel as a mystery.  It has one of the most surprising endings in all of history and literature.  But John doesn’t wait until the Resurrection to show Jesus as the victor with authority; it’s obvious even during his trial and crucifixion.  Jesus is Lord.  Jesus is the Messiah.  All expectations must now be adjusted to fit who he is and his followers must follow suit.

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2013 in John

 

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John 18 – What is Truth?

“What is truth?” Pilate asks Jesus before trying to release him back to the Jews?

Jesus just admitted to Pilate that he is a king which should send up a red flag for Pilate that he is a threat to Caesar. What Jesus says to Pilate probably made him think that Jesus was crazy. When asked if he is a king, Jesus replies that his kingdom is from another world and he was born to testify to truth. If you are on the side of this truth then he would listen to Jesus. I almost picture Pilate chuckling at this point when he says “What is truth?” The truth is, Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord.

His disciples didn’t understand him fully. Peter seems to continue in his thinking that Jesus is going to rise up in power and reveal who he is. He’s ready to fight when they come to take Jesus and then follows Jesus to see what happens. The disciple whom Peter is with has connections to get them in to where they can see the action. When Peter is asked by the girl if he too is a disciple of Jesus I had never considered that the girl might have known that the person Peter was with was a disciple of Jesus. I am not sure if that is what is going on but it makes the situation interesting if the person Peter was with was a known disciple of Jesus and Peter is denying his own discipleship.

Do we find ourselves in situations where we have to make a decision of whether or not we will accept Jesus when everyone else around us seem to reject him? We might not have people asking us directly if we are his disciples but we find ourselves in tension with what it means to live as though we are disciples of Christ and how the rest of the world expects us to live. How do you respond with how you live?

When Judas comes to hand Jesus over he brings with him Jewish officials and Roman soldiers. John makes sure to demonstrate that it is both Jews and Gentiles that take Jesus to the cross. When Jesus asks who it is that they want and he reveals, “I am he,” the soldiers fall to the ground. The gentiles are more taken by who Jesus is in this moment than the Jews are.

“What is truth?” We see different reactions to who Jesus is in different situations throughout this chapter. As the truth of Christ is fully revealed Christians find great strength to stand up. I hope that as we continue to get to know Christ through reading the Bible together that we find strength in his truth to stand confidently.

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2013 in Bible Blog, John

 

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John 17 – Prayers for Love and Unity

I have always believed that these prayers take us so near to the heart of Jesus.  We’ve all seen movies where soldiers are about to go into a battle that they don’t expect to live through.  They all begin swapping letters to be sent to loved ones in case they don’t survive.  It’s an emotionally evocative moment to even try imagining what might be written in those letters, or perhaps what we might write in our own.  For Jesus, these prayers are close to that moment.  He is prepared for his impending death on the cross and now he stops, as he so often did before momentous occasions in his ministry, to pray.

He begins by praying for himself.  In all of the prayers, there are two common threads.  First is relationship and community.  Jesus is praying that he be given the glory he had with God before the world began.  Jesus is looking forward to this heavenly reunion.  Secondly, Jesus prays that others will come to believe because of the relationship between the Father and the Son.

He then prays for his Apostles and disciples.  This, the longest of the three prayers focuses intently on Jesus’ desire that they be protected.  There is also a strong emphasis on the words Jesus has given them.  You might remember that John’s Gospel begins with the imagery of Jesus as the word that became flesh and now he prays that he has given his words to his followers.  There is this powerful implication that Jesus’ work that he has finished, remains ongoing in the lives, words, and teachings of the Apostles.  There is of course, also mention of their need for unity and a hope that they will bring others to faith in Jesus.

Finally, Jesus comes to us.  And by us, I of course mean all believers and Christians who were not actual Apostles or disciples.  His prayer is largely about unity.  Jesus has this grand vision and expectation that how his followers treat one another will be the single most important factor in determining how the world will view this entire Christian movement.  If Christians can’t love each other, then it’s all a waste.  However, if we can learn from how God and Jesus love each other, and how Jesus has loved others, then the world will recognize us as Jesus’ followers.

Jesus, in these prayers is so aware of his own personal mission to make sure the world knows God.  He shows how intentional he has been in his ministry to the Apostles and how much hope and faith his has in them to carry out what he has started.  It’s so powerful to realize that today we play a part in this introducing of God to the world and that it’s supposed to be obvious in the way we treat one another.

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2013 in John

 

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John 16 – Best Time to Live is Now

How incredible would it be to have lived in the time when God was speaking to prophets, leading Israel in a pillar of fire, and working powerful miracles against the gods of Egypt? What would it be like to love in the time of Jesus, walking with the disciples, seeing Jesus heal the sick, raise the dead, and feed the multitudes? Would we get out of the boat like Peter did? Would we bring a small boy with some fish and bread forward like Andrew to see what Jesus would do with so little? How powerful would it be to hear the words of Jesus from his own lips?! When would be the best time to live: Before Jesus, with Jesus, or after Jesus?

Jesus tells his disciples that it is better that he leaves so that the Advocate will come to them. Jesus has a very high view of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth. Because the Spirit has come they will have strength to not fall away when they are put out of the synagogue or when people try to kill them. The reality of the Holy Spirit being inside of us is that God is within us. God was with Israel by placing his presence in the Temple. God was with Jesus by placing his Spirit on him. We receive this same Spirit when we are baptized. We no longer have to go to where God is because he has come to us. This reuniting with his creation is a small sample of the reality of us being with him in the New Creation after the resurrection.

A time is coming when the disciples will be alone. Scared. Rejected by the world. Scattered. It is going to be excruciatingly painful for a while but that pain will be a distant memory when their grief is turned to joy and the Holy Spirit is placed within them. They will then be in the new reality of God being with his people again anticipating the time when that reality will be fully realized in the resurrection of the Saints. Christ has conquered death. He has overcome the world. Take comfort in this reality. Even though the world may be celebrating the death of God, as Nietzsche in the 19th century famously claimed, “God is dead,” we know that this is not the reality. Things may look grim at times but take heart! Christ has overcome the world!

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2013 in Bible Blog, John

 

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John 15 – Fruitless Branches and He Hate Me

The imagery of the vine and the branches here in John 15 is just that…imagery.  It sounds like a parable, but John doesn’t really make use of parables in his Gospel; it’s really a metaphor.  And as always with parables or metaphors, you have to be cautious to use them for their main points but not to take them too far.  At some point they unravel and fall apart.  So with that being said, here are some key points to be taken from this metaphor.

  1. Jesus wants us to be fruitful.  As a Christian, you should constantly evaluate whether or not your Christian life is producing something tangible in your life or in others’ lives.  
  2. God prunes the vine to make it more fruitful.  In agricultural societies, this would indicate that God is hands on with helping his people to be fruitful.  I imagine this imagery to be very similar to referring to God as the potter who shapes the clay.
  3. The source of our fruitfulness is in Jesus.  Being part of Jesus’ Kingdom is more than just good works.  You have to be in Christ for your fruitfulness (good works) to be of any value.
  4. “IF YOU DO NOT REMAIN IN ME…” you will be picked up and thrown away.  Some choose to fall away and if they do, they aren’t part of the vine.  They just get thrown away as they no longer have value.  This imagery is very similar to salt that has lost its saltiness.  You throw it away.
  5. If you remain in Jesus then God will do great things for you and do great things through you, namely producing great works of love in the lives of others.

Okay, now here are some things that people often do with this metaphor that I think cause it to unravel.  I think we have to be careful when taking this metaphor to these extremes.

  1. Pruning is cutting and cutting hurts.  So when bad things happen in your life that’s just God making you more fruitful so thank him for doing bad things to you.  I think there is some truth to that.  We can grow through difficult times in our lives.  However, I don’t think that every crisis in our lives can be blamed on God pruning us.  Sometimes its a consequence or our or somebody else’s sin and other times it’s just the result of living in a fallen world.  
  2. God isn’t pruning people to throw them into the fire.  In this passage, the only way you get cut off is if you remove yourself from the vine.  Then you are worthless and get thrown out.

Okay, so that’s that.  From there, the text moves to a passage about how the world hates disciples.  Jesus starts by saying that the world hated him first and so if we want to be his disciples, then don’t be surprised when the world hates us too.  Now here are a few things I hear Christians talking about today:

  • Things aren’t like they used to where people respected the church.
  • We used to be a Christian nation.
  • Our laws used to be based on the Bible.

It’s definitely true that things in our world are changing.  But when we read Jesus’ words in John 15, how are we surprised when the world starts turning against the church?  Jesus is so convinced that the world would hate and persecute his followers, that if we aren’t being hated and persecuted then maybe we need to question we are doing a good enough job of being his disciples.

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2013 in John

 

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John 14 – Be At Peace

photo (6)The Bible I read the most is the one I got at my Senior Graduation from my Church. I love seeing the things I’ve written in it over the last 11 years. Sometime during my undergrad year I wrote, “Sometimes they don’t even get it! Take heart!” Now that I’ve finished my Masters in Divinity, I’ve been asked if I’ve figured God out yet. I hope that I never reach a point to where I assume I’ve fully figured God out. I hope to have a continual drive and desire to know God better! There are times when I read scripture and I cannot quite grasp what is going on and I remember Philip in John 14, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us” and I feel better about my deficiency understanding of God.

Ever read this passage and thing Jesus is completely arrogant!? He’s the only way to the Father? Who does he think he is…God or something? If we want to know the Father, we need to know Jesus. They are one. We cannot dismiss one and cling to the other. To reject one is to reject the other. Jesus isn’t arrogant. He is right.

This chapter begins with Jesus telling his disciples not to be troubled. Why? There is room for them/us in the Father’s house and they are invited to be part of their relationship. What exactly does this mean? In 14:20, Jesus says that he is in the Father, we are in him, and he is in us. Jesus came into our likeness to make us into the likeness of God. He came to where we were to take us to where he was. As the Bride of Christ, we marry into this reality. In this we take comfort.

Till this reality becomes fully realized in us, we have been given the Counselor, the Holy Spirit. When Jesus tells them that this gift will be given, he then tells them that he leaves them with his peace. Are you at peace? Are the Christians around you peaceful people? In this fast pace society chaos tends to rule our lives. We are continually bombarded with things trying to make us feel inadequate and change our image. We find our image in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In this image we have peace. The more you know Jesus, the more you will know God. The more you know them, the more you will have peace. Dear friends, be at peace. Let your peace radiate in a world that is filled with chaos. Be people of peace that stand out in this crazy world. Be an oasis of peace for people who do not know Christ. Be at peace.

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2013 in Bible Blog, John

 

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John 13 – Shamefully Clean Feet (Love Each Other)

In this chapter, John does something that we see in every Gospel: He connects Jesus telling his Apostles of his impending death with a story about the Apostles failing to understand the kind of servant life he is calling them to.  None of those stories is as emotionally evocative as this one in John’s Gospel.

Even though it doesn’t say so specifically here, we know from the other Gospels that this was the Passover meal that we know as the Last Supper.  The Passover meal would have begun with everybody walking into the room and the one who was “the least” would take off his outer garment and begin washing all of the others’ feet.  Often this would have been the youngest or one who was actually a slave.  The problem began when all of the Apostles began arguing about which one of them was the least.  While they were all bickering, Jesus simply slipped off his robe and picked up the wash basin.  When suddenly they looked up they would have all been mortified.  While they didn’t know who was the least, they knew that Jesus was the greatest.  This was wrong.  It couldn’t stand.  

And Peter said so.  But Jesus insisted.  This is the way it has to be.  Jesus is done lecturing the Apostles about how the greatest must become the least.  He is showing them.  You can’t imagine that this is some happy motivational moment for the Apostles.  It’s deeply convicting.  The most dominant emotion for most of them was likely overwhelming guilt.  While they were refusing to wash feet because they were arguing about who was the greatest, the one who was the greatest actually began washing.  It’s likely that for the rest of their lives, any time somebody mentioned “greatness” that the Apostles’ thoughts would have gone back to this moment and they would have begun washing other people’s feet.

John then stops for a moment to explain how Judas came to betray Jesus.  You might have noticed that John (the beloved disciple) is very harsh towards Judas.  Any time he is mentioned in John’s Gospel, I can almost imagine John spitting just to get the vile taste of Judas’ name out of his mouth as he tells the story.

At the same time, just because Satan prompted Judas and entered Judas does not mean that Satan is in charge.  Even at this dark moment of Jesus’ betrayal, John understands who is in charge.  Vs 3 says that Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power.  Vs 18 says that Judas betrayed him to fulfill scripture.  Vs 27 goes so far as to tell us that Jesus instructed Judas how to go about his betrayal when he tells him to go quickly.  It may look like Satan is getting his way, but there is no question in John’s mind who is in charge of everything.  Jesus is no victim.  Jesus is in control.

Finally Jesus returns to the other Apostles and gives them what might be considered “John’s Great Commission.”  At this final moment before his arrest, trial and conviction, Jesus has a moment to leave them with his final words and they are: “Love one another.  As I have loved you, you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  

We spend a lot of time in churches developing evangelism programs, marketing campaigns, visitor friendly whatever and that’s all good.  But it’s nothing without this, that we love each other.  Jesus has this unwavering belief that if his followers, both the Apostles and also just anybody who goes to church today, will just love each other then the world will know who we are and whose we are.

Want a church evangelism program?  Love everybody at your church.  Want a marketing campaign?  Treat other Christian like you love them.  Want to be visitor friendly?  Start by being member friendly.  Love each other.  Love each other.  The world will know you belong to Jesus if you just love each other.

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2013 in John

 

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