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QUESTION: Obedience Without Legalism?

I recently received the following by private email:

I can’t tell you how little understanding I have of how people can be dedicated, be “not hearers only” w/o becoming legalistic.  It is the way I know.  Only in the last 8 or so years have I realized how little I live the pattern Jesus set for us.  Do you hear me?  It is like trying to learn a foreign language, to learn how Jesus translates into my life.  I have little grasp of what you are telling about the Ukraine Christians.  Maybe that sounds exaggerated, but I’m afraid it’s closer to the truth than I want it to be. Continue reading

The Power of the Word of God

We often talk about the power of the simple Word of God to touch the hearts and souls of people who come to it with open minds.

Here is the story of how God’s Word touched the life of Alexander Propochuk, also known as Sasha. Through him, God’s Word has touched and transformed the lives of many more of his Ukrainian countrymen.

The story begins when he was attending the Communist schools in the days when Ukraine was a part of the atheistic, communist Soviet Union. He says that in those schools, they constantly Continue reading

A Famine for the Word of God – In School

“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “when I will send a famine through the land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.” – Amos 8:11

I received two emails recently from different parts of the world – with very different attitudes toward the word of God.

One of these concerned a mother whose daughters had Continue reading


God Calls Us into His Fellowship

God Calls Us into His Fellowship

We are not disciples of Jesus in isolation. When we become one of his, he adds us to his body or family (see 1 Corin­thians 12:13; Acts 2:47). As members of his family we have an important role to play, a function to perform. But none of us is called to LORD it over others. Only Jesus is LORD; he is head of the body. We are members of him and of one another. We belong to him; we also belong to each other.

A Simple Truth – So Profound We Miss It

James and John lost sight of this simple, but profound truth when they asked Jesus for a special favor (see Mark 10:35-45). Mark it down. When any disciple begins to seek “special favors” not offered to everyone, he has lost sight of his God-given place in the body. It is one thing to be called to a seat of great honor; it is another to barge in to the head of the line!

It is of more than passing interest that James and John came to Jesus apart from the other ten chosen apostles. The Ten heard about it; they did not hear James and John make their request. And when they heard about it, they were indignant. Do you wonder why? All Twelve were “in this thing together.” For two to seek special favor did not sit well with them. It didn’t sit well with the LORD either.

The LORD rebuked them all (the Ten as well as the Two) for their carnal attitudes in trying to get “a leg up” on each other. He then gave them an important lesson in discipleship: The least is the greatest; the first is the last; the last is the first; become great through service. In this, too, Jesus showed us the way. He did not come to be served, but to be a servant. His glory came through giving himself as a ransom for all.

Compare what he said here with what Paul said about him in Philippians 2:6ff. He was in the nature of God. He made himself nothing. He became a servant. He became obedient, even to death on the cross. But the story did not end there. Out of his humiliation, God gave him his glory. Verses 9-11 shout his praises to the highest heaven and call on every knee to bow before him. Why? Because God exalted him! Why did God exalt him? Because he humbled himself; he gave himself; he became a servant.

And this is what we are to do as well.

Present Ourselves as Your Servants for Christ’s Sake

How are we to relate to our fellow disciples? We are to be servants. I serve you. You serve me. I accept your service; you accept mine. Together we serve others. In this, we follow him and become like him. This is how Paul said he and Apollos always presented themselves – as your servants for Christ’s sake (2 Corinthians 4:5) while they preached Jesus Christ as LORD.

Forget about position. Let God concern himself with that. It is for the one for whom it is prepared (Mark 10:40), and God puts each member in the body just as he (God) chooses (1 Corinthians 12:18). All of our clamoring to be NUMBER ONE and THE GREATEST loses sight of the fact Jesus is the only one worthy of our praise and adoration. In our rush to curry favor and gain position, we elevate ourselves by judging others as inferior to ourselves in so many ways.

The fellowship we enjoy in Christ is not maintained by church rules and regulations. There is no human control to insure uniformity of action or opinion. We may look different, act different, come from many different cultures, and different in many other ways. What makes us one body in Christ is that He makes us one through the love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit He gives to us.

Judging Others or Loving Others

Some, we judge because of their limited understanding of the niceties of the gospel and of true discipleship. In Romans 14:1ff Paul speaks of those who reject others because of what they eat (or don’t eat) or because of the days they observe (or don’t observe). In fact, this text leaves open the question of who has the greater understanding and who has the misunderstanding. He reminds us sharply that to look down on another is to judge another man’s servant. How would you like for someone who is not your employer to be the one to give you your annual job evaluation – especially if that person has already rejected some of your cherished ideas?

Some discount the force of what Paul says here by dismissing those things simply as opinions that did not matter. They did matter to the people who held those opinions. In fact, they had Scriptural arguments that, to them, were forceful. In other conditions, Paul sided with one of these over the other. He marveled that the Galatians were still observing days (Galatians 4:10-11). He recognized that eating meat, even meat offered to an idol, is not evil (1 Corinthians 8:1-13). Yet, he would not allow these things to create divisions in the body of Christ – unless someone made it a condition of salvation. Then he called it preaching another gospel.

Others we judge because of economic standing. James 2:1ff speaks of this travesty against the gospel. My brothers, as believers in our glorious LORD Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. To toady up to the rich man while pushing the poor man aside springs from evil thoughts, not from a disciple’s heart shaped by the Master’s hand.

Peter confessed that he once judged men and their relationship to God by their national origins. See Acts 10 for the story. When he arrived at the house of Cornelius he started by stating his Jewish prejudice: You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But he stated this law (which he had followed carefully all of his life up to this point) only to say that God had overthrown it through the gospel of peace sent through Jesus. Now, he said, in every nation those who fear God and work righteousness are accepted by him. A sad footnote to this beautiful story is that Peter fell back into his old prejudice and was rebuked for it by Paul (see Galatians 2:11ff.). This is a grim reminder that we must always be careful about judging others based on their national or racial origins.

When we judge anyone based on opinions they may hold (even when they hold them strongly), on their economic standing or national origin – we have moved away from the truth of the gospel into another gospel. By doing this, we can even forfit our own relationship with the LORD. In following Him, we must come to love one another.

God Seeks Relationship

What is the point of all this? Simply that under God all disciples are equals. All disciples are sinners saved by God’s grace in Christ Jesus. Because he has loved us and saved us, we are to love one another (1 John 4:7-12). Love originates in God for God is love.

If God is love, he is the greatest lover. He wants relationship. He created us to love him and to be loved by him. But what do we do? Before Jesus came into our lives, we were being hated and hating one another (Titus 3:3). It is he who teaches us to love: to love God and to love one another – even when the “other” hates us and is an enemy (see Matthew 5:44).

In the most fundamental sense, this is the very reason he came. The first commandment is to love God; the second, to love one another (Matthew 22:36-40). This restores God’s purpose in creation. This renews our fellowship with God and with one another. This is what salvation is all about as God blesses us by turning each of us from our wicked ways (Acts 3:26). When he does, we learn to love one another.

When we obey these commands (that is, to love God and to love each other), the world will see that we are disciples of Jesus (John 13:34-35). As our hearts are changed into his image and purified by God’s love because we are seeking him above all others, people will see him living in us. They will see the difference Christ’s love makes.

To love each other is the mark of disciples of Jesus. This brings us closer to the heart of God than anything else we are taught to do. The world sees Jesus living in us when we love one another. That is what discipleship means – and it makes a difference in the way we live and treat each other.

Right relationship with God demands right relationship with our fellows on earth. Discipleship is demonstrated by loving one another as he has loved us.

Where Do We Get This Love?

How do you love people when they are unlovable? You learn to love the same way God loves you. He did not wait until you deserved His love. It was while you were still a sinner and His enemy (Romans 5:6-10). His love reached to you and saved you when you actually did not care for Him at all! But He did it because He loves you. But in verse five of this chapter, Paul says, “…God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.”

People can see the difference that this love make. Eastern European Mission is a Church of Christ ministry providing Bibles and Christian literature to the old Soviet Union and its satelites. For the past two years I have been working as an area Representative for EEM as a fund-raiser in Florida.

When it looked as if we might have an opportunity to begin teaching the Word of God in Youth Camps built to indoctrinate kids in Communism, we were ecstatic. One of the camp directors was a woman named Lyudmilla. She directs a camp that caters to orphanages. She named it Mayak, which means (lighthouse), a name she chose because of its spiritual implications. One of the things she wanted to be sure we would teach in her camp was the kind of love she could see in Christian people. Denise Baggett, director of our camp activities, explained to her that this was what we wanted to do, but told her, “You need to realize that this is God’s love and is based in His love for us we see in the Bible.”

Lyudmilla replied, “I know that, and that is what I want.” She realizes this is the only hope for these children. But she first saw love in action in the lives of Christian people.

To grow in discipleship, let us forget position and grow in service, which comes out of love for God and one another. This is the fruit of God’s Spirit in our lives, a Spirit He gives us when we become one of His.

– (7) A Church Of Disciples

– (5) The Disciple And His Master

Church Growth in Ukraine

Most of my life I’ve wanted to see a church grow and prosper without either a church building or a paid preacher. Finally, as I’m nearing the end of my seventh decade of life, I have seen this — in the church-planting activities of Alexander Prokopchuk in Ukraine.

This brother (Sasha, as he is affectionaly known) preaches on a national TV program. He offers some free literature each week, and receives an average of 300 requests for material weekly. Each request is promptly answered, including the introductory lesson of a Bible Correspondence Course. Thousands have completed his courses over the past half–dozen years — and hundreds have obeyed the gospel. These are scattered all over the country — a family here, two or three families there, a group of a dozen or so studying together in another place. These scattered groups are taught how to start a church in their own homes.

To strengthen them and inspire them, a seminar is offered each year. “Newbies” are invited — along with some other recent converts who have previously attended a seminar and who are doing what all of them are taught to do at the seminar:

1. Worship, even if it is only “two or three gathered in Jesus’ name.”
2. Tell other people what you are doing and why.
3. Make a difference in your community by showing the love of Jesus.

They are shown a very practical way of doing this through working with the many government-sponsored orphanages found throughout Ukraine. This work with the orphans parallels the work of the ancient church in rescuing children who were “exposed” to die when the father did not want them. In the ancient world, only the “pimps” and the Christians would offer these children shelter — the pimps for their own ungodly purposes and the Christians for the glory of God.

In Ukraine, the “graduates” of the government orphanages, shown the door on their 16th birthday, have a grim future. In the first year, 20% commit suicide. Of those who survive five years, 80% of the boys are in organized crime and 50% of the girls are prostitutes.

But the orphans touched by the Christians have a different future. Not only do the Christians work with them in the orphanages, many become fostor parents and even “adopt” children into their own families. The impact of this God-filled life-style is making an impact on the peoples of Ukraine. Though all of this is done quietly with no national fanfare, people are seeing it — and coming to Jesus.

I was privileged to visit one of those seminars last September. It was the most inspirational event I have ever attended. There were between four and five hundred people present — and every person hung on every word that was being said. Simple, real gospel messages were delivered — and some of the more recent converts told of their experiences in their own cities.

New Christians left with the feeling, “These people are just like me. If they can do this, so can I with God’s help.” I met a coal miner who has started three congregations in his town — and who is making a real difference in his community with his work with orphans (including taking some of them into his own home).

A lot of money is being poured into this work — but it is not going for a paid preacher in every little congregation and a building for them to meet in. Rather, it is going to the preaching of the word on TV, in printed material, and at the seminars. Where there is a cluster of students, Sasha goes to meet them, and get them started in the Way.

Eastern European Mission, a ministry I work with as a fund-raiser in my home state of Florida, helps in this work by providing the means for the work – but, as I said, what we provide goes into the teaching and preaching of the Word, not into building a clergy class or a nation-wide series of church buildings, each with a struggling group of saints who are barely hanging on – as I have seen in most mission work I have observed, both as a “missionary” and a supporter of missions. (I was a Missionary in New Zealand from 1963 through 1971, except for two years at Sunset School of preaching from 1965 to 1967.)

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