A Strong Family – Part 4

 

strong-familyChildren matter to Jesus.  So much so that when his own disciples tried to keep children away from him, Jesus chided these adults by reminding them “let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).

But right here in Erie, in our city, we’ve got a problem because more and more children are not finding their way to Jesus.  Recently we have been participating in the Take Me to Worship Campaign across Erie county.  You’ve seen the signs and billboards and commercials. I remind you what has been discovered in deep, sociological research.

  • Of those surveyed, 63% of students currently participate less than once a week or not at all. 20% say they have never attended at any time.

Your leadership team right here at Christ Church has done their own homework and discovered that in only 3 miles around this building there are 5000 children between birth and 12th grade who do not go to church anywhere.  We are taking intentional and positive steps to correct that problem right in our own neighborhood.

Those who research faith development remind us that nearly half of all Americans who accept Jesus Christ as their savior do so before reaching the age of 13 (43%), and that two out of three born again Christians (64%) made that commitment to Christ before their 18th birthday. One out of eight born again people (13%) made their profession of faith while 18 to 21 years old. Less than one out of every four born again Christians (23%) embraced Christ after their twenty-first birthday.  (Barna Research Group 2004)

The investment we make in our own children and the children in our community when it comes to introducing them to Jesus in positive ways has eternal ramifications.  Children matter to Jesus.

The reality that children matter to Jesus has often been a radial thought.  Especially in the context of the Scripture we’ve been studying for a few weeks.

In Ephesians 5&6, Paul has been writing to Jesus followers in the city of Ephesus in Asia (Turkey).  He’s teaching these disciples what it means to live in unity as God’s people and significance of a home/household/family who follows Jesus.  Christians, directed by the Holy Spirit, are called to practice mutual submission.  This finds an outlet in how disciples relate together in the community, church and even the family.  Wives and husbands practice mutual submission in the context of the family as they model the relationship between Jesus and the church.

How families operated in the first century had everything to do with household codes.  These Christians in Ephesus who read these words from Paul would recognize these household codes.  They were part of the cultural fabric.  But now, in Ephesians, Paul is offering a remix of the codes they were accustomed to.  The prevailing philosophy of the first century was the idea that the man ruled over the household as a sovereign.  Wives, children, slaves, were all subordinate.  Preserving this household structure was critical to preserving society as a whole.

Four hundred years before Paul, Aristotle had begun this conversation about household codes and wrote that household management had three parts: the rule of master over slave, father over children and husband over wife.  In the first century the man was justified in ruling over his household because his wives, slaves, and children were by nature, his inferiors – his property!

This is the context into which Paul was writing a radical revision of the home and family.  Ephesians 5&6 are profoundly subversive.  Paul turns the table and because of Jesus begins to place a high value on wives, slaves and children and they way they hold the husband/father accountable to Jesus.

Earlier in this teaching we were reminded that with Jesus at the core/center every dimension of life changes: marriage, family, job, finances, even the city.  Jesus changes the social order.  Paul is subversively calling for a new family system with Jesus at the center.  One in which mutual submission is practiced and led by the Holy Spirit a family honors Jesus.  Paul places Jesus at the center.  So we’ve already been learning what happens to household codes when Jesus starts to readjust the family – those who were called inferior are now compared to the church and to Jesus, himself.

There are three movements in household codes:  how the man relates to the wife; how the man relates to children; and how the man relates to slaves.  Because Jesus values children we’re going to study this second movement and begin to see this new radical idea that Paul introduces when it comes to children in a family and how strong families can create the opportunity for strong children to become faithful adults who follow Jesus.  READ EPHESIANS 6:1-4. 

Children were property!  They had little to no intrinsic value.  Children were seen as naïve and uncontrolled, like an untrained animal.  The philosopher, Plato, wrote, “Of all the wild beasts, the child is the most intractable…and the child must be strapped up as it were with many bridles.”  The children were owned as property by the father, and if the father did not approve of the infant’s development they would be left by the side of the road to die of exposure.  Since the child was seen as property of the father, paying respect was a one way transaction.  Children respected and obeyed fathers and nothing more.  Obedience was paramount because the family represented the state.

But what does the cultural context of the first century have to do with our 21st century thinking and living.  It certainly does not take much effort to believe that in some cases and in some circles, children are still treated as nothing more than property; whether it is the unwanted aborted fetus; the newborn abandoned in a gas station garbage can or the child sold into sex slavery, even in the 21st century the case could be made in some places that children are at best property or at worst, a nuisance.

And the other side of the spectrum to families that have no control over their child and live as hostages to the whim of tantrums, backtalk and outbursts.  The child runs the home with no respect given to the parent; and the parent isn’t sure they can enforce discipline upon the child.

Just as God spoke through Paul into the 1st century world of children and family, so God through Paul, can speak into our own context.  As we read Paul in Ephesians we have to keep several things in mind which rise above time and place and apply to every season of our experience with God.  The Biblical text wants us to keep in mind the value of children – at one time we were all children; we all have residing within us the imago dei, the image of God.  Children are the image bearers of God.  The text invites us to know that God expects certain behavior from children.  And finally God places a high calling on parents when it comes to raising their children as disciples of Jesus.

At the beginning of chapter 6, Paul speaks first of the relationship of a child to the parent.  This is subversive because Paul is empowering a portion of society that had no power.  And in doing so, he is giving children an choice and a reason to relate to their parents in a godly way.  Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  Obedience to parents is connected to obedience and submission to Jesus.  Verse 21 – submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Now this wouldn’t have been a shocking statement in and of itself.  Children were required to obey.  But Paul is putting obedience in a different context.  You relate to your parents the way you relate to Jesus and visa a versa.

I think this is one of the most profound ways a child can witness to their faith in Jesus and to the reality of the gospel in our current culture.  By merely showing respect  to parents sends a loud message of submission to Jesus.  Respect for authority is at a premium in our culture.

Obedience toward parents/adults teaches children about a lifestyle of worship.  I don’t mean that parents are worshiped but acts of obedience can teach a child about the proper placement of any person to God.  Obedience is worship.  Children were made by God to glorify God.  One of the ways kids can glorify God is through obedience to parents/adults.

Paul helps us understand this theologically as he ties it to the OT.  Paul reflects back on the 10 Commandments (Ex 20)  – “honor your father and mother – so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”  There is blessing when children (of any age) honor their parents.  When we read about “honor” in the Bible we understand it as “esteeming, valuing, or respecting” someone.  The idea of honoring someone, like parents, comes from the fact that they represent God’s authority.

If a child is taught and expected to be obedient to and honor parental authority, it will naturally put them in a position to honor and be obedient to God’s authority.

From children, Paul moves to the role of parents in the new family God is creating.  Fathers (parents) do not exasperate your children, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. 

This is a very significant sentence here because of the word “exasperate.”  That’s an odd word.  It’s not one that I use often.  We translate the Greek word to “exasperate.”  But what did Paul mean to his readers in Ephesus?  Do you know anyone who is very blunt in their language?  They say what they mean without regard to a person’s feelings.  Exasperate (Greek) suggests someone who is blunt, opinionated, practices freedom of speech, is frank – without concern for the other.  In the first century Ephesian experience this was the way it was.  Parent, the master of the house, would do or say whatever they wanted and obedience was expected.  Feelings, consequences were irrelevant.

There is also another idea being conveyed.  It is one of sharing opinion.  Opinion – here’s what I think; here’s my truth.

So Paul is again subverting common place ideas with kingdom of God values.  This new family with Jesus at the center interacts with children differently than their culture does.  So parents don’t frustrate your children.  Practice gentleness and kindness and grace.

And this is even more powerful – don’t just give them your opinion of things – but train them to follow Jesus!  In a culture that does not have Jesus at the center, let your home be a place that practices the centrality of Jesus and trains your children how to follow Jesus.

Paul’s purpose here is to show Christians that their home can be ordered to show culture what the gospel is all about.  A Christian parent cannot say – I’m not interested in raising my kids to worship and follow Jesus.  I’ll let them choose their religion when they’re older.

Parents have the primary responsibility of discipling their children – teaching them to follow Jesus.  Parental involvement in the spiritual formation of their children is characteristic of the people of God.  Read Deuteronomy 6.

Now kids don’t inherit your faith (nor are they saved by your faith) but your faith can be impressed upon them and taught to them so that they can decide to follow Jesus for themselves.

It was important for Paul to remind these Ephesian Christians about training their kids to follow Jesus.  In that culture that was not centered on Jesus – nor even really cared about Jesus – a Christian parent was the only one who could train their child to follow Jesus.  And it had to more than personal opinion.  It had to be grounded in and centered on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and God’s revealed truth though him.

I’d suggest to you that we find ourselves in a similar situation.  For the most part when we release our kids into the world they are not going to be taught about God, about a lifestyle of worship or obedience to God.  Kingdom of God people must allow their home to be a place where children are discipled to follow Jesus.

This is also so relevant for us as a church in an increasingly pagan culture.  As a church we can be committed to providing an atmosphere to support parents in raising godly kids and we can be proactive in creating an atmosphere and strategy for introducing the 5000 unchurched kids in our neighborhood to Jesus in a positive way.  We are taking that mission very seriously – spending money there and thinking and acting intentionally as leadership to create the space for kids to know and follow Jesus.

These last few weeks and these two sections of Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus have highlighted the essential priorities of families with Jesus at the center.  But this is more than just how to become better families, parents and children.  This is about the gospel.  And the gospel changes our identity, our lifestyles, and our homes.  God turns us into new people – new husbands, new wives, new fathers and mothers and new children.

My Next Right Step

  1. What does obedience teach children about a lifestyle of worship? What does Paul mean when he writes that obedience will ensure the goodness of life? (Ephesians 6:1)
  2. Scripture reminds us that Jesus made space for children. In fact, by virtue of their baptism, children are considered disciples of Jesus.  What is your plan for discipling your children so that they not only experience the salvation of Jesus but also sanctification?
  3. Your children will reflect your own spiritual maturity. How are you growing with Jesus?  What is your next right step when it comes to spiritual maturity?  Are your reading your Bible, praying, worshiping, serving, giving and experiencing the fruit of the Spirit?

 

 

 

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Strong Family – Part 3

strong-familyI think we all want a strong family and household.  Regardless of our marital status, the strength of our home and family makes a significant difference.  If we’re older we want our kids and grandkids to have a strong healthy family. If we’re married, we know the reality of stress and tension which can easily harm our closest relationships with our spouse and kids.  And we know that if our homes and families are strong; the city, culture and country are strong.

 

So we have been spending time in the book of Ephesians and we have discovered that Paul is writing to a group of Jesus followers who care just as much about family as we do.  Today, we find Paul speaking even more deeply into the context of marriage.  For Paul, and as a significant piece of Christian theology – marriage between a man and a woman represents the union – the relationship Jesus has with the Church – with us.

 

Currently, there are many conversations about marriage – its relevance, its meaning, its necessity.  So out of our commitment to the authority of Scripture, let’s spend time rebuilding our theology of marriage with the understanding that those who have chosen to marry see that value of that relationship to the strength of our culture.  If Jesus is at the core of a marriage – that marriage becomes a ministry and witness.

 

One of the realities that we must come to grips with is the reality that marriage is in trouble.  Over the last 40 years marriage has been in decline.  The divorce rate is nearly twice that of 1960.  In 1970, 89% of all births were to married parents, but today only 60% are.  In 1960, 72% of adults were married; in 2008 only 50% of adults were married.  Today, nearly half of all people live together before marriage.

 A recent study by the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project concluded that less than 1/3 of high school senior girls and only a little more of 1/3 of high school boys seem to believe that marriage is beneficial to people.

New York Times columnist Tara Parker-Pope wrote an article called The Happy Marriage is the ‘Me” Marriage:  The notion that the best marriages are those that bring satisfaction to the individual may seem counterintuitive.  After all, isn’t marriage supposed to be about putting the relationship first?  Not anymore.  For centuries, marriage was viewed as an economic and social institution, and the emotional and intellectual needs of the spouses were secondary to the survival of the marriage itself.  But in modern relationships, people are looking for a partnership, and they want partners who make their lives more interesting…who help each of them attain valued goals.

Marriage used to be a public institution for the common good, and now it is a private arrangement for the satisfaction of the individuals.  Marriage used to be about us, but now it is about me. (italics from Tim Keller -The Meaning of Marriage)

 

In Paul’s first century context, marriage had its challenges just as we do in our own 21st century culture.  So Paul offers a new reality of marriage based upon the centrality of Jesus.  And he begins with the radical idea that the context of marriage is covenant.  On one level a covenant is a binding agreement or promise between two or more people.  But the concept of covenant appears multiple times in the Bible – and in the Biblical covenant the promise is not just between people but also between God and people.  A Biblical covenant is initiated by God and lived out in relationship between people and God.  So the covenant of marriage is more than an agreement between a man and woman; and one in which it is binding only so long as both agree.  But the covenant of marriage included a relationship to the holy God who calls us into relationship with each other and himself.  The covenant of marriage bound in a relationship with God reveals the relationship between Jesus and his church. This is, by far, is the most important reason.  God ULTIMATELY made human marriage for the purpose of demonstrating Jesus’ love for His Church.

 

In the infinite wisdom of God, He saw that exclusive male-female monogamy would be the best “dramatization” of the ultimate reality that is, Christ and His Church.  Christians have a heavy mantle of responsibility to bear.  Through  marriage, we demonstrate to an unbelieving world the power of the relational dynamic that exists between Jesus and His people.

 

When Jesus talked about his relationship with the Church he often used wedding language.  In Matthew 9:14-15 Jesus is asked about fasting and he replies:  Then the disciples of John came to Him, asking, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.

 

The union between Jesus and his church is deeply intimate; a supernatural mingling of two into one.

 

This is so real for Paul that he remembers the creation story and connects the marriage of Adam and Eve not just to human marriages but to Jesus and the Church.  READ Genesis 2:24.  Jesus leaves his Father to unite with his bride (church) and become one.

 

Another aspect of union with Christ is that of “Christ in us”. Paul uses such language in Galatians, where he writes “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20) To the Colossians, Paul writes that “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col. 1:27)

 

So let’s see what Paul says – context of mutual submission led by the Holy Spirit.  Read Ephesians 5:31-33.  How does the theological truth become practical and expressive in marriage?

 

Leave.  For this reason… what’s the reason – because Jesus relationship to the churcha man shall leave his father and mother.  In the first century family was important.  And in that family context, the male role was primary.  A man couldn’t be fully male until he removed himself from his alpha father and went to create his own household.  He would build his own household and rise to community influence.  When he left, his loyalty changed.  No longer was he required to be loyal to his parents.  He was creating a new loyalty.

 

Leaving one leads to loyalty to another.  And loyalty is significant for the health of a marriage.  If your focus is still back home; or if your focus is on something else: job, friendships, hobbies –  you will never be able to give full loyalty and commitment to your spouse.  You’ll be divided.  Your spouse will want your loyalty and attention while you are still connected to your family of origin.  Break the emotional connection.  Leaving is a strong term of intention.  It is the intention to break all other bonds of authority for the sake of your spouse.

 

In Matthew 19 Jesus is responding to questions about marriage and divorce.  And in response to that which breaks marriages Jesus says, “What God has joined together, let no one separate.”  No one, no other relationship – even that with our family of origin, is meant to separate the covenant between husband and wife.  Leaving does not mean ignoring other relationships or not spending any time with them. Leaving means recognizing that your marriage created a new family and that this new family must be a higher priority than any other relationship you have.

The next portion of this phrase that Paul quotes from Genesis is in leaving there is now a uniting between a husband and wife.  The word means “to cling to, to stick (or glue) to, to hold fast to someone in a permanent bond.”  – Certainly the idea of uniting is a whole-hearted commitment to another in an inseparable union … A man who unites to his wife … will “glue” himself to her in a permanent bond. When two people are married, God provides the glue and seals them in a union.

 

Another aspect of this unity means “yoked together;” like a  yoke of oxen. The picture is of marriage as the creation of a team of persons who are closely related to each other. Like oxen yoked together to do a task, each partner in the marriage has been yoked with the other so that they may most precisely function as a team, can do the work that God has set before them.  They are no longer two independent individuals but are a unit. What therefore God has made a team, let no man separate.

 

If you have ever experienced divorce, you can understand the pain of something coming apart that was “glued” together and what that potentially does to all involved.

The reason is that the two have become one flesh.  Becoming one flesh symbolizes the identification of two people with one community of interests and pursuits..no longer isolated.  Although they remain two persons, the married couple becomes one in a mystical, spiritual unity … The concept of “one flesh” is beautifully illustrated in the children God may give a married couple. In their offspring, husband and wife are united into one person.

 

Remember that in this passage Paul is using the analogy of marriage to describe the relationship between Jesus and the church. The Ephesians passage speaks to the believer’s relation to God. Paul is identifying the nature of the Christ-Church union. It is a living union – a union that is permanent—nothing will ever separate the believer from the Lord.

 

What, does it mean to become “one flesh?” The words themselves speak of organic union. It is the relationship of one’s hand to one’s head. But although the head and hand may “team up,” their relation is far greater than that of two oxen simply bound together by a wooden yoke – the way an arm is to a shoulder – the two are a team, the members of which cannot function as independent individuals.

Emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, financially, and in every other way, the couple is to become one. Even as one part of the body cares for the other body parts (the stomach digests food for the body, the brain directs the body for the good of the whole, the hands work for the sake of the body, etc.), so each partner in the marriage is to care for the other.

Every single one of us, for every marriage that is represented in this room, our marriages are intended to be a parable of the gospel. Every single marriage in this room is meant to point to the truth of a crucified and risen Savior who has died for His church and is redeeming her. Every marriage is meant to be, by the grace of God, the best echo—the most faithful reflection—of that relationship that can possibly be.

 

John Piper says it this way: “Marriage is not mainly about being or staying in love.  Marriage is mainly about telling the truth”—namely, the truth of Jesus and the church—“it’s mainly about telling the truth with our lives. Marriage is a pointer toward the glory of Christ and the church. It’s about portraying something true about Jesus Christ and the way that He relates to His people. It’s about showing in real life the gospel.”

 

What would change with our kids or grandkids; with our city; with our country if this were true in our lives?

My Next Right Step

  1. In Ephesians 5:21-33, Paul writes about the covenant of marriage as symbolic of the relationship between Jesus and the church. Talk about or journal your thoughts on this theological reality.
  2. How am I and my spouse working to ensure that our marriage takes precedence over every other relationship we have?
  3. Pastor Ron used the image of tearing glued items to demonstrate Paul’s message of being joined with or united to your spouse. Talk about or journal the pain caused when two people who are joined together experience being torn apart.
  4. Becoming “one flesh” suggests the mingling of our soul with our spouse’s soul. In what ways are you and your spouse daily becoming and staying “one flesh”?

Building a Strong Family

Our focus for this month is centered on families and homes.

strong-family

How the home and families become strong is the whole purpose of this teaching series.

Do you remember this illustration? People are created to have a relationship with God.  In that relationship life works and makes sense.  And Paul wants us to know that every person who has ever lived has made choices (sin) that separates each person from God.  But the great news of the Bible is that is that God in the person and work of Jesus has made a way for us and everyone to be reconnected to God.

Paul takes this reality of what God has done in Jesus: that God wants to reconnect people to himself.  As people are reconnected to God: when Jesus becomes the center of our lives there is purpose and meaning.

Let’s read the Scripture today Ephesians 5:21-30

There was once a couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, and a big party was thrown for the couple. The husband was so moved by the occasion and he wanted to tell his wife just how much he loved her. She was very hard of hearing and often misunderstood what he said. And so as loudly and as clearly as he could, he stood up among all his friends and relatives at the party and toasted his wife, “My dear wife, after fifty years, I’ve found you tried and true.” Everyone smiled with approval, but his wife frowned at him and said, “What?” Again, he repeated more loudly, “After 50 years, I’ve found you tried and true” and his wife frowned at him even more and said, “Well, after 50 years, I’m tired of you too!”

Communication in a marriage is very important. For a husband and wife to be able to understand each other, to speak and to listen to each other – very important. But to speak what? To understand what? Ephesians 5 gives us direction. It describes the companionship between a husband and wife as 2 givers, trying to out-give each other.

Let’s see how marriage is described in these verses…And it begins with verse 21.  In verse 22 God say something that goes against the culture of taking: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” Now what does that mean, to submit?

Our English word for submit has some negative connotations. There is the picture of the barefoot, subservient, inferior slave-woman, being bossed around by the tyrannical husband.  This was the context into what Paul was writing to the church in Ephesus.  Women were often nothing more than property.  Women submitted and men gave orders. Is that really what “submit” means in the Bible?  .

The original Greek word for “submit” means to yield your rights to someone else. To humbly follow the loving leadership of someone else. Wives, submit to, in other words, yield, or follow, the loving leadership of, your husbands.

Some people say, “Well, that would make the woman appear to be inferior or unintelligent or less respectable.” Not true. Our context in the 21st century is so different than Paul’s.  In the first century women/wives were not much more than property living at the mercy of the husband.  But our 21st century context is often about individualism; out-doing each other and finding ways to live in self-empowerment over the other sex.

But Paul speaks God’s heart into both contexts: 1st and 21st century.  And into our world – maybe for the sake of the home and family we need to hear about submitting to each other.  Because Jesus himself did this. He submitted to his Heavenly Father. Remember, Jesus and the Father were equal – one was not better than the other. But in that Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said to his equal, to his Father, “Not my will, but yours be done.” During Jesus’ whole life on earth, he followed the loving leadership of his Heavenly Father. He submitted.

In marriage, wives can be like Jesus. Husband and wife are equally loved in the eyes of God. From creation we know that male and female are equally created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). One is not better than the other. But, in life, wives, be like the church – “as the church submits to Christ – as the church follows the loving leadership of Jesus Christ, so wives, do the same for your husbands. This is one way a wife can give, rather than take, from the husband, in a marriage. This is one way a married woman can worship Jesus Christ, by giving that respect to her husband.

Now what about husbands? The weight of this Scripture is to the responsibility of the husband.  This is what makes this so radical.  In a culture where everything submits to the male, Paul writes that the husband now models submission to his wife just like Jesus submitted.  This is revolutionary!  This turned the first century ideas upside down just like mutual submission out of reverence for Christ can turn our culture upside down.

Marriage is when two givers try to out-give each other. How does the husband give? By sacrificing. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy.” Remember how much Jesus loved the Church? He gave the church what it needed. The church needed sins to be taken away, and so Jesus sacrificed to make that happen. He sacrificed his dignity, even his own body and blood – he had nothing left by the time he was done – he sacrificed it all – because that’s what the Church needed to be made holy in the eyes of God.

Husbands be like Jesus in the home/family. Ask yourself, what does my wife need – and whatever it is, do not hesitate to sacrifice to make it happen. That’s the loving leadership that Jesus carried out for the church, and that’s what God tells husbands to do for their wives. Loving Christian leadership by the husband means that you sacrifice your comfort, your money, your time, your effort, your everything, as you seek what is best for your wife. This is one way a married man can worship Jesus Christ, by giving that kind of sacrificial love, to his wife.

The real issue is in the leadership of men/husbands.  The role of the man/husband as a person of God significantly influences the health of the family, home, city, or culture!

Paul is stating reality (what is) but he is radically transforming the conversation to what should be; what is most needed.  And that is the influence of the male follower of Jesus.  That influence/leadership must be the exact same way that Jesus leads the church.  This is an amazing thing!

Here’s an illustration – husbands, imagine if your wife never heard the Gospel, never read the Bible, nothing. All she knew was you. Every day, she saw your loving leadership in the home, your humility, your sacrifices, your giving, your generosity. And one day, she learns about Jesus Christ and says, “Oh that sounds just like my husband.” That’s the goal.

What would the home, family, culture look like today, if this is what husbands and wives did? If husbands loved their wives and sacrificed, like Christ did for the church? If wives submitted to their husbands? What would your marriage look like, if there were 2 givers, trying to out-give each other?

A mighty tree stood high up on a mountain. It survived the hail, the snow, the wind, the heat, the cold, for many years. Finally, the giant tree became sick and died when a little beetle started to eat away at it. The little beetle that can ruin a marriage/home/family/culture is selfishness. Instead of two givers trying to out-give each other, one of them becomes a taker, and then the other. The husband focuses on himself. The wife focuses on herself. And it all starts to fall apart.

What would be different if we learned how to submit one another because we love Jesus?

My Next Right Step

  1. How am I loving my spouse like I love Jesus?
  2. What does it mean for you to submit/sacrifice in light of Ephesians 5:21?
  3. Read Genesis 1:26-27. How does this passage relate to what Paul is saying in Ephesians?

ONE Culture (Part 3)

I think many of us have had one of those moments in life when we asked the question, “now what?” You lost a business or a job and the question on your mind is “now what?” How do I provide? Or you lost a spouse and you’re wondering now what? How do I move forward? You get a diagnosis that will change your life and your future – now what? But the other side of the question is just a challenging. I just met the man or woman of my dreams – now what? I just got the best promotion I could ever hope for – now what?

oneFor a lot of us we asked now what when your kids were born. Right? I remember this like yesterday even though it was almost seventeen years ago. Our son was about to be born. Melissa says “it’s time.” We rush to the hospital. The hospital takes such good care of you; they make you so comfortable; it’s so easy – especially for the guys! Caleb was born and they take great care of him. He’s bathed, fed, kept in the room with mom. There’s great instruction about caring for him. The staff is there to teach us. Finally the day comes to go home. I pull the car around to the hospital entrance. The nurse brings Melissa and Caleb down to the entrance. Melissa gets in the car and the nurse hands me Caleb. And I look at her; like what do you expect me to do with him? You’ve taken care of him. Can you help me put him in the car? Why are you handing him to me I don’t know what I’m doing? And she says this is as far as I go; it’s up to you now. And I’m left with this sense of now what?

Have you been there? What do we do next? Now what? I think this is also a very fair question to ask when it comes to following Jesus. Now what? What do I do now? I’ve said yes to following Jesus; I’m going to church – but now what? What comes next? Is it just about showing up and sitting in a row or putting some money in the offering plate? Is it just about religion and ritual? What’s next? What should I do? Important questions.

When we start to read the NT we very quickly see that God has an answer the question, what now? The NT’s answer is a word called “maturity.” Read Ephesians 4:11-13.

Maturity is about growing in an intimate and passionate relationship with Jesus. Growth is a part of life. Things that are healthy will always grow. I don’t need to make my kids grow in size – I have no control over that – if they are healthy they will grow. And we watch kids grow through stages right? Newborn – sit up or crawl or eat solid foods – potty trained – walking – riding the bike – puberty – boyfriends and girlfriends – driving – leaving for college, marriage. We watch growth happen in front of our eyes every day. Healthy things will grow.

Just after Thanksgiving I joined the gym and hired a trainer. I was growing but in all the wrong places! I’ve joined gyms before – but always quit. I’ve never hired a trainer – and she won’t let me quit. She pushes me to grow. So I tell you what, most days of the week I hurt; I’m sore. But what’s happening? My muscles are growing; my endurance is growing – I’m becoming healthier and growing.

Growth (maturity) is a natural part of life. Even in our relationship with Jesus. But here’s something we don’t often think about –to become mature requires engaging in an intentional process of discipleship. A mature, healthy relationship will not happen by accident. Growth in relationship will happen when we’re intentional about it. My marriage will be stronger when Melissa and I are intentional about doing the things that make it stronger. The same is true is our relationship with Jesus.

Let me give you a definition of what maturity looks like. Hold onto this definition – it’s what we will use to see if growth is happening or not. A disciple is a follower of Jesus whose life is centering on loving God and loving others.

A spiritually mature person is someone who lives as if God is who he says he is and will do all he has promised to do.

What now? The answer to what now as least as far as our relationship with God is – maturity – intentional discipleship- a life that centering on loving God and loving others.

We will be intentional about creating a culture of discipleship; a environment where maturity is expected and can happen in positive ways.

So what does this mean? What will maturity look like? How will we know we’re growing in our relationship with Jesus? Paul has a vision of this. His vision was to birth, cultivate and mobilize disciples. So let’s see what Scripture says about maturity and growth.

So here’s the first fill in the blank when we talk about maturity and being a disciple of Jesus – Bring. That seems strange. What does “bring” have to do with maturity and being a disciple? Well, let’s see what Paul means – Read 4:12.

There’s a couple of things really important about this verse. “To equip his people for the work of ministry…” Maturity is about being equipped for something – this work of ministry. Well what is the “work of ministry?” In what we call the Great Commission Jesus said – here is what the people of God do and nothing else – make disciples. So the work of ministry is to invite people who don’t know Jesus to follow him and become his disciples, too, just like you are. What’s the rest of that sentence? “So that the body of Christ may be built up.”

Building up pictures a building under construction, but Paul uses it here with the body of Christ, where the analogy would be physical growth. This includes both adding new members to the body and seeing all of the members growing spiritually as they come to know God and His Word in deeper ways. We read in the early chapters of READ Acts how “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (2:47).

So when we talk about maturity and about being a disciple – a significant part of being a mature disciple means brining or inviting those who don’t know Jesus yet into an environment where they can begin to follow Jesus, too. It’s about invitation to come and see. Come and see who Jesus is and how Jesus transforms our living.

I wish all of you could have been at the church family meeting last Sunday. I’m very proud and appreciate the leadership of your church council. Your leaders have a pretty clear picture of where we’re going as a church in this community. One of the things that we talked about was our position in the portion of Millcreek Township. Did you know that there are 91,000 people within 5 miles around this building who are disconnected from God? So because we understand that a part of being a mature disciple of Jesus is bringing/inviting people into a relationship with Jesus, where asking ourselves the question, “how is God calling us to reconnect with this community in a new way that helps a portion of 91,000 get to know Jesus and follow him?” How can we bring/invite someone else to follow Jesus?

I love the heart of God. I was 16 years old when someone took the time to invite me to follow Jesus. That moment changed my life. And Jesus welcomed me into a relationship with himself. A 16 year old kid who did not have it figured out; who felt every far from God; who was looking for purpose and life. And Jesus stepped into my life and invited me to follow him. What would have happened if I was never invited to come and see and determine for myself is I should follow Jesus?

Who invited you to follow Jesus? Who invited you to come and see? That person changed your life. When we talk about being a mature disciple – we must include a very real conversation about what it means to be a church that intentionally, systematically and cheerfully creates an atmosphere to bring/invite.

Here’s the second word – Grow. This is word that’s easier for many of you to understand, because you are all about personal growth. And growth is critical for being a mature disciple. When we talk about growing we talk about it in language that connects head and heart. Paul says it this way – read 4:13. Unity of the faith is about doctrine and truth- it has to do with head. Disciples will understand basic Christian doctrine and a Biblical worldview. We’ll be unified on the basics of Christian theology. But then Paul goes deeper – knowledge of Son of God. When the Bible uses this word “knowing” or “knowledge” it’s not head knowledge – it’s heart knowledge – it’s intimacy. Not knowing about Jesus but knowing him personally and intimately.

So growing as a disciple and moving to maturity is certainly about head knowledge – we should be learning deeply and be able to communicate who God is. But growth never ends at head knowledge. Head knowledge must change a disciple’s heart. Read Colossians. The more deeply we know God, the more deeply we are transformed. Our lives line up with God. We become just like Jesus.

So when we talk about discipleship and maturity we’re beginning to see that it includes bringing/inviting people to come and see Jesus and to intellectually engage with Jesus and the Bible in a safe place and allow Jesus to get to our hearts. I believe that the local church has the potential to a seminary – a training place for disciples of Jesus. I believe this so much that we’ve created a school of discipleship for us to participate in and take those next right steps of discipleship/maturity which includes discovering our mission. Spiritual maturity, our ministry and our mission. We’ve added a thorough class called Invitation which equips us to see what God is doing through the Bible.

Here’s the final fill in: Send. Read 4:13. Maturity is not an end to itself. Discipleship/maturity occurs so that a disciple is empowered for mission and ministry in Millcreek township; Erie county; PA and the world. A disciple is empowered/trained to “go and tell.” To change the world for Jesus.

Paul talks about this using the language “the fullness of Christ.” To be growing to allow Jesus to fully live in our lives. The church in the world is Jesus in the world; because the church is the fullness of his incarnate body.

So as disciples we are sent as missionaries of Jesus into our jobs, our neighborhood, our family, our favorite restaurant or circle of influence. Maturing, growing disciples are missionaries. In any place we find ourselves we reflect Jesus and invite someone else to get to know Jesus, too.

So now what? When we talk about having ONE Culture – we have choices. We can have a culture where we come and sit in rows and engage in ritual/religion and feel good together. Or we can have a culture in which as the family of God we’re inviting our community to come and get to know Jesus, grow in a knowledge and intimacy of Jesus and be sent into our community to invite more people to follow Jesus.

So here’s our take away this week. I want you to know that you don’t need to be a Bible scholar, the best person in the world, the best parent in the world; but I can invite someone. I can say, come and see. Something special happens when people who are far from God, get together with people who are following Jesus, something special happens. Some of you get this because you’re here because someone invited you.

Let’s practice this; “You should come to my church this Sunday.” Just invite. You’re over hearing a conversation. – You should come to my church this Sunday.

We have no idea how important an invitation could be for someone. You have no idea what hangs in the balance. You have the power to change the trajectory of someone’s life. Simply by inviting.

One Vision (Part 2)

Have you ever had someone in your life and you really, really wanted a deeper relationship with them? You wanted to take that relationship a level deeper and they just wouldn’t go there with you? Maybe back in high school or college and there was this person and you were really falling for them and they were not falling for you. You keep trying to get the relationship to go to a deeper place and they just won’t cooperate. They’re polite and kind about it but they’re distant.one

Or maybe you have adult children and you made some mistakes with them in the past and now you’re trying to reconnect with them. And you don’t just want to have Christmas and Easter with them or just send cards occasionally – you want to have this deeper connection where you’re friends and transparent and you’ve got a deep relationship. And no matter how hard you try, they’re just not going to let you in. They’re not going to let the relationship go to where you want it to go. Or perhaps it’s the other way around and you’re trying to connect with your parents. Maybe your parents were divorced and you grew up with mom or dad and now you’re trying to have a deeper relationship with your other parent and they want nothing to do with it. Everybody is kind and everybody is polite but everybody is a little distant.

You want so badly for the relationship to go somewhere else but there’s just nothing you can do to get it there. Maybe it’s your marriage. That’s the toughest one. Things used to be great. Things used to be intimate – you were like best friends hanging out. And over time something happened and you want that kind of relationship with your husband or wife but it’s kind of like they just checked out. They’re polite. They’re kind. But distant. And you get so frustrated and you try everything you know how to do to bring them into that intimacy that you want. But they just won’t go there.

Have you ever been in any kind of relationship where you wanted to go deeper than it actually ever goes? Isn’t it frustrating because there’s nothing you can do to force somebody to go with you to that level of relationship where it is so comfortable and you are so transparent and you relax and you enjoy being with them?

Now this might be hard for you to believe; it might take a long time for this to get to your heart; and as I’ve lived in some of these sorts of relationships; and as I prepared for today, the prayer I have for myself is God, help this get from here to here.

Believe it not, throughout the whole Bible we are presented with God as one who desires with all of his heart to have an intimate relationship with his creation but time and time again creation stiff arms him and is polite and generally and casually respectful but refuses to go the level of relationship that God desires and has paved the way for us to have. God is pictured in the Bible as a father who wants to have relationship with his son and his son says “I’m going to go do my own thing” and it’s the story of the Prodigal Son and the father waits and waits and waits because he loves his son so much and the son says “no I’m going to do my own thing” and the father never gives up.

He’s presented as a shepherd who loves the sheep but the sheep decide they’re just going to go do their own thing and it breaks the shepherd’s heart.

We see him in the Garden of Eden, the creator God whose creation has turned their back on him. And we see a God who wonders around the garden calling out for his creation – the relationships been broken and he longs for it to be the way it used to be.

From cover to cover the Bible shows us that your heavenly father desires a relationship with you that is not casual and is not distant and isn’t just respectful and isn’t based around a holiday or an environment where you just show up and sit in a row. Throughout Scripture your heavenly Father desires a relationship that is characterized with intimacy. And yet, for reasons we’ll talk about in a few minutes, we treat him respectfully but casually not intimately.

If you have your Bibles, or use your message notes; I want to read a few verse with you. They’re found in Revelation. The book of Revelation was written by John. John was one of Jesus’ first disciples – they hung out together. In the beginning of the book of Revelation, John communicates by writing seven short little letters to some churches. And these letters are essentially God’s word to each of these churches as God wants to say some specific things. So these words were written to a specific church/area called Laodicea. They were written to Christian people in a Christian church yet they reflect the fact that you can be very religious and you can be a believer in God yet have developed a perspective that keeps God at arm’s length. You’re going to be respectful, because after all, it’s God. But you’re not going to let him go with you to a level of relationship that he wants. Read Revelation 3:15. Things aren’t as well as you think they are. Read Revelation 3:20. You’ve got some stuff going on – but here I am. I know you’re busy and you’ve got programs and committees and Bible studies but here I am. But I stand outside the door and knock.

But you’d think like he’d huff and puff and blow the house down if you’re God – what are you doing knocking? Just go in and have your way with them. Jesus says, no I’m just going to knock.

All of sudden we’re introduced to a concept – this thing that sets Christianity apart from every other religion, that our God who invites us to call him Father says this: “with all my power and with all my ability, there is one thing that I cannot do. And it is the one thing I desire the most. I can make you obey me. I can make you fear me. But I cannot make you love me.”

I can threaten you. I can take your children. I can take your finances. I can take your health. I can take things from you. I can give things to you. But I cannot make you love me. Throughout Scripture we see God searching for the very thing he paid such a high price for. He’s searching for the relationship that he had at the beginning. It’s a relationship characterized by the word “intimacy.” But because he can’t force you to love him, he’s standing on the outside saying, “I want in.” I don’t want in like talk about me, believe in me. I want in like a relationship that only you can allow me to have with you. Because I can’t force you to love me. So sometimes as Christians, we have opted for something second. Instead of relationship characterized by intimacy we’ve opted for religion.

Religion is a response to God that allows us to treat God respectfully but not intimately. As some of us have learned, religion is a very empty thing but it’s a substitute for what God ultimately wants. And when you’re committed to religion as opposed to the real thing, God becomes a formula. And you all know the formula – go to church (check), read your Bible (check), say your prayers (check), pray at the meal (check) and if you sin you pray “dear lord please forgive me of my sins in Jesus name, amen.” And then God gets out his eraser and erases all the sin and then zaps his memory so that he can’t remember them anymore. And then I go out and sin a whole bunch more and repeat the formula and the angels whisper ssh, God’s forgotten that. Kind of like an old guy who can’t remember anything.

So in the formula we can be respectful of God but there’s no intimacy. It’s a relationship of ritual and you know what happens eventually to religious people, God becomes someone who just does stuff for me and I become very self-centered; religious people are very self-centered; it’s not about God it’s really about me. It’s about finding the right combination of how I can get God to do for me what I want God to do for me. How do I throw God a bone every once in a while so I can get God to do my bidding? And I would never say that because that would be disrespectful and I don’t want to be disrespectful but I don’t want this whole thing to get too close.

That’s religion. It’s a formula. It’s a way to get God in on my deal and eventually you become judgmental. You become judgmental because you decide that God likes certain things and doesn’t like certain things and when you see people doing things you’ve decided God doesn’t like, then you don’t like them because they’re ungodly.

Sometimes you want to do the things they’re doing so you just hate them. If you weren’t religious you get to do some of that stuff too. So if I’m religious that just doesn’t work – I’m empty and if I’m not religious then I just have guilt and no place to go with my guilt. What am I to do?

Religion is not about love, religion is about harnessing the power of God for me. It’s trying to get God to do something for me. Here’s what Jesus said about some religious people. Read John 16. Jesus says this is where religion goes. This is why it is so dangerous. They will do such things because they have not known the father or me. Not believed but have not known.

There’s no relationship. There’s all kinds of general belief. All kinds of respect. But you don’t know the father. That means the father is a stranger to you. And over time you become a stranger to his ways. And then when things don’t do the way you think they ought to go if there was a God then you get all upset with God who you never knew anyway. Because if there were really a God the way I think there were a God then everything would’ve gone my way.

And when things fall apart you wonder why wasn’t God there and God’s like – you didn’t know me because if you knew me you wouldn’t have done that – you would have never asked her; if you’d have known me you never would have gone; if you had known me you never would have signed; don’t blame me, you don’t even know me. You’re respectful but you don’t know me.

If you don’t know God you’re a stranger to his ways. And if you stranger to God guess what else you’re a stranger too – you become a stranger to God’s love. And when you’re a stranger to God’s love here’s how you view God – God wants me to perform my way into his good graces. And God’s really excited when I sit in a row and put up with a 40 minute sermon. He’s so excited about that. You become a stranger to God’s love and you think the whole thing is about performing your way into his good graces and perhaps performing your way into heaven and you hope you’re a good person. You know why you think that? You are a stranger to God’s love.

Years ago the priority of Christ church was established that said we want intimacy with God – not religion but intimacy. A passionate connection with God. That’s what we stand for – that’s what we would die for – that’s what we want so desperately to have not just for ourselves but for everyone.

We don’t want to become a religious institution. We want to be men and women not on a religious pursuit but one a passionate pursuit to connect with God at the level he’s invited us to connect with him on – intimacy. You know what that means? Intimacy with God is lot like intimacy with a person.

There are several things that happen: it takes time. Unrushed, unstructured, I’m just hanging out sitting with you, time. Some of you here that was your story – when I got alone with God, when I opened God’s word, when I would pray, it was like a breath of fresh air. God was no stranger. There was intimacy. Then things got busy and now I just go to church. And instead of intimacy, I just serve. And instead of this being personal, it’s gotten kind of corporate. And there’s no intimacy. Because I quit giving God time. You can’t have an intimate relationship with anybody where there is no time.

It will also take transparency. This might be new for you. You see if you and I are going to have a real deep relationship we’ve got to be connected. We can’t talk to each other in formulas. It means we’ll have to stop being so polite with God. Honesty. God already knows. Where’s there’s transparency, there’s intimacy. You get the good, the bad and the ugly. And if you accept that from the other person you’ve got a relationship that enviable. Prayer some R-rated prayers, pour out your heart. Listen, he sent his son to die for you so that you could have intimacy with him. How dishonoring is it to keep him at arm’s length and be respectful but no intimate. That leads to third thing for intimacy to happen and this is why we run away from it and towards religion.

There’s got to be submission. This may be the take away for you. Submission is the most powerful relationship dynamic in the world. Mutual submission. I’m going to harness all of my abilities and talents for your best interest. And you’re going to harness all of your abilities and talents for my best interest. And you put two people together or a person and God and you have intimacy. When both parties are committed to mutual submission you go deep. But the idea of submitting to God scares us to death is because we do not know the Father. And we run to religion to keep him at arm’s length.

Mutual submission makes all the difference. And here’s the thing, God has already made the first step. When Jesus died on the cross for you; before you were born; before you said your first prayer; before you did anything – your savior died for you. And in doing so here’s what God said, “I’m going first and submit myself to you. I’m going to put you ahead of me. I’m going to be more concerned about your sin than my glory. I’m going to be more concerned about your sin, your life and your eternity, than I am about my comfort. I’m going to submit to you as an invitation for you to submit to me.”

When we submit ourselves to that kind of relationship something will happen that will take you far outside of ritual and religion.

What are we so afraid of? I’m with you. I’m learning. If I surrender to God, he’s going to huff and puff…no, no, no. Listen God (knocks) I want you to love me. I don’t want you to just be respectful and polite. I want you to love me. I just don’t want you to show up and sit in a row; or perform your way to me; I want intimacy. We don’t need to fear that because God has already surrendered to us. That’s way different than religion but it is what God desires and he cannot and will not force that. He’ll stand at the door and knock.

You know what I want from my children? I don’t want them to use me. I don’t want to be the bank. I can tell when my kids are playing me. I can tell when they want something. But you what really lights me up? When they say, “dad can I talk to you about something?” or “dad can I have a hug?”

If I can tell when my kids are playing me, do you not think that your heavenly father knows when you are playing him? But he wants you to love him and he cannot force that but he has done everything in the world to pave the way for that kind of relationship.

Listen to how John finishes this little letter to these folks in Laodicea. Read Revelation 3:20. (beat the living daylights out of you for making me stand out here so long!) That’s what we fear. It’s not because he can’t get in. It’s because he wants something more than to be in. He wants you to invite him in.

So Jesus says, “Here I am.” Your move! Here I am. Not religion. Your move. I want intimacy with you. It’ll change your life.

ONE Church (Part 1)

I thought we’d start off this new year on a good foundation – the foundation of what it means to be the church. To be part of a covenant community. When we talk about church, invariably what happens is that everyone has opinions about church. Those opinions are usually based on what a church does or doesn’t do. I like this/I don’t like that. Or, can you believe what that preacher did! I want to suggest to you that those are not appropriate conversations about church. Those conversations start from “me” instead of from Jesus. So what we’re going to do is build a strong ecclesiology. Ecclesiology is the study of the church. Who is the church and why does the church exist? We’re going to start deep this year. We’re not playing the shallow end. We’re jumping off the diving board into the deep end.

Contextone

In Ephesians 1-3 the Apostle Paul has described what God has done in bringing believing Jews and Gentile into one body in Jesus Christ, he says in 2:14 – that Jesus has made two groups of people one; and that in chapters 4-6 he’s now going to tell us how we ought to live in that one body – that oneness; so that the first three chapters of Ephesians are about what God has done and who we in fact are in Jesus Christ and the second three chapters, chapters 4-6, are about what we ought to do because we are God’s people in Jesus Christ.

Now, in Ephesians 4:1-3, Paul gets radical and says that we are to preserve the unity that the Spirit has given us, so that the Apostle is calling on us in the life of the church to preserve and to cultivate a unity, a communion with one another, that the Spirit has already given us.  And it’s an amazing statement. He says you have a unity that has been given you by the Spirit. If you’re a follower of Jesus, you have been given a spiritual unity with every other follower of Jesus, and that spiritual unity is especially expressed in the local body of believers, in the local church.  Do you know what God’s favorite word is? God’s favorite word is: ONE. Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “Hear O, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”  This is foundational to what we believe. There is one God and only one God. Almighty, all-powerful, all-knowing, holy and ever present. There is none like Him. God is set apart.

Before Jesus ascended back into heaven he gave his disciples a statement commonly called the Great Commission: Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. God does not live in isolation. Because God exists as three in one. He lives in perfect unity. As something that is commonly called “The Trinity.”

Now Paul has all of this going on in his head when he writes 4:1. Live worthy of my calling.

Specifically, to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit. We live unworthily when we disregard unity. God is one and the calling of God’s people is to be one – in purpose, in fellowship, in thought.

Alexander the Great, one of the greatest military generals who ever lived, conquered almost the entire known world with his vast army. One night during a campaign, he couldn’t sleep and left his tent to walk around the campgrounds.

As he was walking he came across a soldier asleep on guard duty – serious offense. The penalty for falling asleep on guard duty was, in some cases, instant death; the commanding officer sometimes poured kerosene on the sleeping soldier and lit it.

The soldier began to wake up as Alexander the Great approached him. Recognizing who was standing in front of him, the young man fear for his life. “Do you know what the penalty is for falling asleep on guard duty?” Alexander the Great asked the soldier.

“Yes, sir,” the soldier responded in a quivering voice.

“Soldier, what’s your name?” demanded the general.

“Alexander, sir.”

Alexander the Great repeated the question: “What is your name?”

“My name is Alexander, sir” the soldier repeated.

A third time and more loudly Alexander the Great asked, “What is your name?”

A third time the soldier meekly said, “My name is Alexander, sir.”

Alexander the Great then looked the young soldier straight in the eye. “Soldier,” he said with intensity, “either change your name or change your conduct.”

The phrase “live a life worthy” has the idea of living a life in such a way that it measures up to something. Think about a set of scales. If I have ten pounds on one side of the scale, I need ten pounds to put on the other side so it will balance. If I put 10.5 on the other side, it would be out of balance. If I put 11, it would be out of balance. I need ten on one side and I need ten on the other.

The word “worthy” takes us even a second step. The word for “worthy” is the word axios. It refers to the intrinsic value of something. So there is value in oneness. Being one defines the church. We are called to be one because God is one. When we are aligned with God we are aligned with each other; and when we are aligned with each other, we are aligned with God.

Tradition claims that Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher is built over the cave where Christ was buried. Several years back in 2002, the church became the scene of ugly fighting between the monks who run it. It turns out that Ethiopian and Coptic monks have been arguing over the rooftop of the church for centuries. In 1752 the Ottoman Sultan issued an edict declaring which parts of the church belong to each of six different Christian groups.

The rooftop had been controlled by the Ethiopians, but they lost control to the Coptic monks when they were hit by a disease epidemic in the 1800’s. Then in the 1970’s the Ethiopians regained control when the Coptic monks were absent for a short period. The Ethiopians have been squatting there ever since with at least one monk always remaining on the roof to assert their rights. But in response to this, a Coptic monk has also been living on the roof to maintain the Coptic claim to the church’s roof.

In July 2002, when the Coptic monk on the roof moved his chair into the shade where the Ethiopian monk was sitting, harsh words led to pushing and shoving and then to an all-out brawl. Eleven monks were injured, including one who was taken to the hospital unconscious. Amazingly, all this took place in a church that is supposedly built on the same location of Jesus’ tomb.

When the church is divided it produces some very tragic results. On the other hand, when the church is one it unleashes a power that can hardly be stopped. ONE – being in the same mind, purpose, desire.

For my church to be one, I will make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit. (Read 4:2-3).  In verse 2 he communicates the character traits that will preserve the unity: humility, gentleness, patience, and love. If you are humble you will be gentle, if you are patient you will be enduring, if you’re gentle and patient you will be a peacemaker.

There is strength in humility that says, “I am not the center, Jesus is the center and I will submit to him and go where he leads. I am not the king, God is the king. Our unity is based on the objective unity outside of ourselves. There is one body and one Spirit.

Notice Paul’s words: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” By our peace with one another, expressed in our relationships in this local congregation, we are preserving a unity that has been given to us by the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit brought us together, different as we are, into one family, into one body. But the unity that we experience doesn’t just happen. It takes work, just like a good marriage takes work. A good marriage doesn’t just happen. There are things that have to be done for a good marriage to flourish, and those have to be cultivated for that marriage to be what God intends it to be.

God has given us a unity in the body of Christ, but we must make every effort to preserve that unity which God has given us and to see it expressed in peace.

Let’s go a little further – let’s make this practical. Read 4:4-6.

Now what does all of this have to do with our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world? The reason we are one is so that together we can move in one, same direction. For my church to be one, I will be a team player.

Since there is only one God, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism and only one body – there is one purpose. Since there is only one God – this one God has created a way for the whole earth to be reconciled to him (Acts 4:12)

The issue in the church at Ephesus was whether the Gentiles could belong to the body of Christ in the same way the Jews did. The answer was that Jesus reconciled both in one body to God in the cross. Both have access to the Father. Those who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ and made one. So the issue of unity/oneness for Paul is created by the mission of the church to those who were far off – the gentiles, the nations.

In other words, Jesus is the foundation for our mission. If there were many gods and many saviors and many valid faiths and many baptismal entrances – there would be no need for our mission to make disciples of Jesus. But there is only one God and one Lord and one faith and one baptism. And so this truth must be revealed. (Romans 10)

So the truth that there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism is the foundation for our existence. This requires a diligence to maintain a oneness of purpose under the lordship of Jesus. We are one in mission, all headed in the same direction together. This is expressed in our vision – that dream of the future.

Football, around here is a pretty big deal. One of the greatest football coaches in history was Bear Bryant – Alabama. Bear Bryant used to say this about his football team: “I’m just a plow hand from Arkansas, but I have learned how to hold a team together. How to lift some men up, how to calm others down, until finally they’ve got one heartbeat, together, a team.” One heartbeat! That’s what Paul is communicating here. A team – a single unit composed of individual components for the purpose of accomplishing a common goal. One body, one Spirit, one Lord, one baptism. We are many, yet we are one. Our team is defined by our relationship to Jesus. We are perfect together! We are healthy together! When we play as a team, we fulfill the God-given vision for his church.

One is critical to being the church. That doesn’t mean that we become mindless robots (or worse, zombies) without identity, personal creativity or beautiful uniqueness. Being one means that we take all of our diversity and giftedness and personality and education and funnel it all in the same direction to glorify God and to invite people who don’t have a relationship with Jesus to begin following him.