Monday, May 25, 2015

Unity Within The Diversity Of Ministry (Ephesians 4:4-16)

Church life can often be difficult because of at the remarkable diversity of people involved. There can be a lot of frustration and tension: Why don’t other people experience God or read the Bible the way I do? Am I the only one that thinks music/sermons/prayer/small groups/ outreach/Israel/spiritual gifts/Bible study/discipleship/ theology is important?  This tension is nothing new. 

There’s a reason Paul basically wrote an entire book focused on the unity that Christ brings transforms relationships within the church. In Ephesians 4:4-16, Paul talks about the importance of embracing a diversity of gifts or roles in the church, and why it is important in building unity. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Does God Like Me?

Father, out of Your honorable and glorious riches, strengthen Your people. Fill their souls with the power of Your Spirit so that through faith the Anointed One will reside in their hearts. May love be the rich soil where their lives take root. May it be the bedrock where their lives are founded so that together with all of Your people they will have the power to understand that the love of Christ is infinitely long, wide, high, and deep, surpassing everything anyone previously experienced. God, may Your fullness flood through their entire beings. (Ephesians 3)

In Ephesians 3, Paul prays that we can understand God’s love. What does that mean? We need to begin by looking at what God's love is - and what it's not.

God does not have vague feelings of love. He’s not emoting general feelings. God demonstrated agape love through Christ. This is a sacrificial, preferential, and demonstrative love. It is not a feeling-based ‘like’.  As an idea of how counter-cultural this is, it’s worth noting that the Greek word agape was hardly ever used in Greek-speaking societies, but in the New Testament it occurs 320 times. In other words, Christ’s love was very different from culture’s love (both then and now).

We need to wade through how our culture has formed our definition of love. After all we use it all the time (pizza, our favorite show, new shoes, a song, our family, and God). I think we usually mean “like” when we say “love.”

“Like” is an instinctive reaction. It’s something we usually don’t control. It’s an instinctive response to how someone looks, or their humor, or how they make us feel when we are around them. We don’t usually choose to like someone. I increasingly think the most of us get married because we are in ‘like’, and it is only through life together that we learn how to love. It was easy to date my wife; we were on our best behavior, we showed our good side; we were reeling each other in. It was easy to like each other.

 That’s infatuation, right? The honeymoon stage? We liked how we felt around the other person. But it really wasn’t until we were married that we were forced to discover what love was. Love is purposeful choice. We had to make a decision to demonstrate selfless, sacrificial preference and servanthood to the other one even when it was hard.

Think of this way: I can love someone I don’t like. Sheila and I like each other about 80% of the time (or 95% if Sheila is reading this!). Now, I want to be liked, so when I find out what I am doing that brings out that dislike response I want to address it.  But I am far less concerned about whether or not my wife likes me in any given moment than if she loves. And I know she loves me even when she doesn’t like me. How do I know this? Because we go to counseling together when we need to, and that’s hard. We hash stuff out; we keep learning how to be honest, and blunt, and graceful, and forgiving, and that’s hard. And my wife walks into those things with me, so I know she loves me even on the days that I have given her good reason not to like the man she loves.
  • Like is easy; love is costly
  • Like is selfish; love is sacrificial
  • Like wants to be filled up; love wants to be poured out
  • Like looks for the next object of pleasure; love looks for the next subject of service
  • Like is restless; love is relentless
  • Like requires worthiness; love offers worth
This is why I am so glad that God did not like the world so much that He sent His son. The Bible is pretty clear that a lot of things and people have made God very unhappy. God does not always like the world - or the people in it -  but His love remains.

I don’t know about you, but I can get caught up wondering if God like me. That’s usually based on how successfully I am navigating life. When we do well, we assume God likes us, and other people should to. When we fail, we assume God dislikes us, and others should as well. If the cost of love is a measure of the depth of love, the cross shows that you are being offered salvation, forgiveness, and new life from a God who loves you profoundly. If you find yourself asking, “Does God like me?” you are asking the wrong question. “Does God love me?” is the only one that needs to be answered.

I have good news: you can be the most likable person in the world or the most unlikable person, and that has no bearing on whether or not God loves you. How do I know? Christ died for you. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

What is Christian Unity?

What does it mean for Christians to be united? Does we never confront sin because of the tension that comes with that kind of conversation? Do we just ignore false teaching?  Do we avoid any type of conflict at any cost? I would like to offer four points to clarify what biblical Christian unity looks like.

 1) Christian Unity Is Between Christians

As a prisoner of the Lord, I urge you: Live a life that is worthy of the calling He has graciously extended to you.  Be humble. Be gentle. Be patient. Tolerate one another in an atmosphere thick with love.  Make every effort to preserve the unity the Spirit has already created, with peace binding you together.” (Ephesians 4:1-3)

We should show Christian love to everyone, but we simply can’t have the kind of unity that should happen between disciples of Christ with those who are not also disciples.  I have great friends who do not share my allegiance to Christ. We unite around other things - a love of philosophy, sports, books, social issues - but we don't unite around Christ.Unity must be with regard to something. Saying "we are unified" as Christians doesn't mean anything unless we have a common cause, allegiance, motivation – in this case, the unity the Holy Spirit brings through Christ.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Our Role In The Church: Build Up (Ephesians 2: 11-22)

In the first part of Ephesians 2, we looked at what it means to be “raised up”: we are saved by grace, and we have value,worth and dignity in Christ. God is glorified when God is seen in us, shining through the cracks of our brokenness, making something new and better of us to accomplish good works He has planned for us. But as we continue reading Ephesians, Paul is going to talk about how being raised up gives our lives a very particular kid of purpose. purpose.  
 "So never forget how you used to be. Those of you born as outsiders to Israel were outcasts, branded “the uncircumcised” by those who bore the sign of the covenant in their flesh, a sign made with human hands. You had absolutely no connection to the Anointed; you were strangers, separated from God’s people. You were aliens to the covenant they had with God; you were hopelessly stranded without God in a fractured world. 

But now, because of Jesus and His sacrifice, all of that has changed. God gathered you who were so far away and brought you near to Him by the royal blood of the Anointed, our Liberating King. He is the embodiment of our peace, sent once and for all to take down the great barrier of hatred and hostility that has divided us so that we can be one. He offered His body on the sacrificial altar to bring an end to the law’s ordinances and dictations that separated Jews from the outside nations. 

 His desire was to create in His body one new humanity from the two opposing groups, thus creating peace. Effectively the cross becomes God’s means to kill off the hostility once and for all so that He is able to reconcile them both to God in this one new body. Jesus, the Great Preacher of peace and love came for you, and His voice found those of you who were near and those who were far away. By Him both have access to the Father in one Spirit. 

And so you are no longer called outcasts and wanderers but citizens with God’s people, members of God’s holy family, and residents of His household. You are being built on a solid foundation: the message of the prophets and the voices of God’s chosen emissaries with Jesus, the Anointed Himself, the precious cornerstone. The building is joined together stone by stone—all of us chosen and sealed in Him, rising up to become a holy temple in the Lord.  In Him you are being built together, creating a sacred dwelling place among you where God can live in the Spirit." (Ephesians 2:11-22, from The Voice)

In Ephesians 2, Paul uses three analogies to show how our role in the church it to live and build together in a sacred church community where the presence of God is both welcome and obvious: One body (Identity) One citizenship (Allegiance) and One building (Purpose). As Christians, we are part of a church. We aren’t just raised up so we can shine. We aren’t saved in isolation. We are raised up together so that we can bring the practical application of God’s goodness into the world. So, let’s make this practical.