unity and oneness

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During the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr. would speak of moving “from the who to the what.”  Both after the murders of Freedom Riders: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in Mississippi and then after the beating death of Princeton Seminary student James Reeb in Alabama, King declared “it’s not so much who killed them but what killed them.”  And “when we move from the who to the what, in a very real way we begin to see that we are all in this together.”

Of course the “what” was the underlying motive of hate and bigotry and disunity that permeated so much of the world-view of the day.  A world-view which in many ways has yet to be overcome.  In regard to unity among races and cultures as a whole we still have a very long way to go.

In the church we are called to unity in Christ.  To be one in Jesus.  We who are many and yet comprise one body through the Gospel are called to oneness.  The Apostle Paul implores, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:3-6).  Only God can bring this about.  We are different in many, many ways.  The call however is to unity, not uniformity.  To “move from the who to the what.”  That we would be united in spite of ourselves.  In spite of our differences.  Indeed we only truly know if we are united when we have differences.  In many ways we have a long way to go.  However we serve a God whose mercies are new every morning.  A God who has revealed Himself as faithful throughout the history of mankind.  And a God and who is at work in a wonderful way in the life of His people today.

We begin with the Gospel and we begin with grace.  For when we begin to see ourselves in our need for God and in our need for His mercy, the playing field begins to be made level, and all pride is taken away.  Only then will God begin to bring about unity.

Jesus on the night before the cross prays for Himself, His disciples, and then for us: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.  May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20b-23).

How is it that the world will believe and know the truth of God made manifest in Christ?

Only when they see unity and oneness in His people….

Glory to God!

Jason

straining at the oars

Sail Boat Bulletin Cover

At times we are tempted to think that we do this all on our own.

I was once talking with a friend who was struggling. He was going through a difficult time in his life and there was no easy solution. It was going to take time and it was going to take God.

In a moment of frustration he said to me, “I feel like I’m a just a speck in the ocean that’s being tossed all around and nobody knows but me.”

Maybe you’ve been there.

Maybe you’re there now.

I had a professor who would say, “Speak to those who are weary and hurting. Speak to them often. We are so very fragile.”

And so if that’s you today, I want to share with you an encouraging thought from God’s Word.

In Mark’s Gospel the account of Jesus walking on the water generally the miracle itself is our focus. The event comes right after the feeding of the thousands on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus and His disciples had actually travelled across the sea to spend some needed time away from the masses, but are immediately inundated as they arrive. After the crowds are filled and leave, Jesus sends the disciples on their way, now across to the other side, as He goes on a mountainside to pray and spend intentional time with God (we should learn from Jesus).

“When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and He was alone on the land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night (3-6am) He went out to them, walking on the lake” (Mark 6:47-48a).

If you go on reading you see where Jesus steps into their boat and immediately, powerfully, divinely calms the wind and the waves and the storm. Looking to Matthew’s account we see where Peter has the faith to step out of the boat and actually walks on the water toward Jesus! But when he takes his eyes off of Christ and becomes fearful of the chaos around him, he quickly sinks (something we should take to heart).

Here’s what I’ve been getting at…. Mark says that the disciples were rowing in the boat in the “middle of the lake.” John affirms they were “three and a half miles out to sea” (John 6:19). Jesus, as He is on a mountainside praying, sees the disciples “straining at the oars.” They’re three and a half miles out to sea! At 3am! Half way across the Sea of Galilee at 3am and yet Jesus divinely sees those He is closest to struggling. He sees those that He loves “straining at the oars.” He sees them pounded by the wind and the waves, tossed back and forth in a sea of uncertainly, and it’s immediately upon seeing His disciples struggle that He is filled with compassion and begins to walk toward them across the water.

The love of Christ is revealed in our Savior’s actions as He comes to us in our time of need.

This is what I want you to hear: You are not alone.

You have a Savior who is filled with compassion as He sees you “straining at the oars.”

Glory to God!

Jason

i once was lost

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“Where would I be without Christ?”

If I were to pose the question, and have you ask it of yourself, what thoughts immediately come to mind?

(I’ll wait a few moments for you to think and carry this through a bit).

“Where would I be without Christ?”

We all approach a question like this from differing perspectives. From varying backgrounds. Some were raised with a Christian worldview. Others come to Christ much later in life. But regardless of the journey, surely we’ve come to a maturity of faith that recognizes our reality in Jesus. And in our understanding of who we are in Christ, do we ever consider who we would be were it not for the Lord in our lives?

Without Christ we are lost. Lost. Lost to ourselves. Lost in ourselves. In our sin. In our own depravity. Perhaps a sober consideration of past failings brings us to an inkling of who we would be were it not for the Spirit of Christ. And I believe it can be extremely healthy to recognize who you and I would be without Him. The reality that without Him we would be morally ruined. Spiritually bankrupt. When we come to this conclusion, we in turn are better enabled to minister to those who are indeed outside of Christ.

The Apostle Paul opens our eyes to who we are outside of covenant with God when he writes, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were…” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). However, praise God his pen continues, “But, you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (v11).

The wonderful question that comes out of Paul’s message to these Christians is: “Who can be saved?” And the answer that wonderfully springs to life in verse 11 is: “Anybody!”

Do we see those who are outside of Christ for their lostness? Are we aware that they are who they are and do the things that they do and live the way that they live because they’re lost? How else do we expect them to live? They’re lost! Do we see them in and for and through their lostness?

If so, does it elicit compassion or disdain on our part? In our heart of hearts, are we filled with the loving kindness of God for them? Or is there a slight (or not so slight) hint of contempt?

Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see.

Glory to God!

Jason

what good is knowing about Jesus?

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15th century monastic, Thomas A Kempis, writes in his masterpiece The Imitation of Christ, “Indeed it is not learning that makes a person holy and just, but a virtuous life that makes one pleasing to God. I would rather feel contrition than to know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and then live without the grace and love of God? Vanities of vanities and all is vanity, except to love God and serve Him alone.”

We are linear thinkers. A+B=C. We like reason. We like logic. Much of New Testament theology develops out of a hermeneutic, an interpretation, derived from reason. But the goal of Scripture is not mere knowledge or reason (is it?), rather, the goal is assimilation.

Jesus asks, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:25). Derived out of the call to take up our cross and follow Him, the Messiah asks, “What good is anything that we can possibly gain if in the process we lose our very selves? What good is anything we could accomplish, if we fail as disciples?

We are called to have a high view of God and His Word and a humble view of ourselves. However, if our understanding remains intellectual exercise and mental ascent (that which is cognitive), rather than that which is relational and covenantal, we’ve missed the calling of Jesus.

Too often we approach the Kingdom like a math equation. Like a test we’re trying to get an A on (or at least a passing grade), rather than the only way of life that is truly worth living.

Somehow I’m afraid we’re tempted to believe that “right thinking” equals “right relationship.” That somehow if my theology is “right” (as if any of us have the market cornered on God or have mastery of His Word) my relationship with Him is as it should be.

In 1 Corinthians 13 the Apostle Paul gives us such insight when sharing, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (vv11-12). Paul, in one sense, compels us to recognize that we are nearsighted this side of eternity. However he sternly refuses to allow us to shy away from the call to conviction the Gospel demands. Both are crucial.

Reflecting, imitating Christ, is our call.

What good is knowing about Jesus, but never knowing Jesus?

What good is reading about His love and grace, but never truly experiencing His love and grace?

What good is having an understanding of the Kingdom, but never fully living into the Kingdom?

Glory to God!

Jason

weeds and wheat

cow, farming

Jesus tells the story of a man who plants a field of wheat. But while everyone is sleeping an enemy comes along and plants weeds all throughout the wheat and then slips away in the night. As the first green shoots begin to appear the two look the same. But as the grain begins to form the workers soon realize the field is also inundated with weeds.

The farmer immediately recognizes what has occurred and that an enemy has planted the weeds right along side of his wheat. The farmhands are quick to ask if they should pull the weeds out from among the wheat but the owner knows what damage it would cause. “Let them both grow until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: ‘First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn’” (Matthew 13:30).

And Jesus says, “This is the Kingdom.” “The Kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field….”

He explains the One who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man, and those who belong to Him belong to the Kingdom. And the one who sowed the bad seed is the evil one. “The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels” (Matthew 13:39).

But here’s my question: Where do we fit in to all of this? If this is a portrait of the Kingdom – What’s our role?

To be wheat!

Right?

Do we uproot? Do we tear down? No! How much damage would that cause? How much damage has it already caused? No, our calling is to be wheat, in a field that is full of both weeds and wheat. To be wheat, and to show the field what wheat looks like.

And the amazing thing about the message of Christ is that the Gospel provides the way that a weed can become wheat. A complete metamorphosis. A change of state. A change of being.

In reality (if I’m not taking this parable too far) when it comes to being a part of the Kingdom of God, the Gospel should confront us of our own weediness (it’s not a real word but I like it!). The Gospel by design compels us to reckon our own weedy nature. Without the Good News of Jesus it is impossible to become or to be wheat.

The Gospel is designed in such a way that the message itself should and must compel us, and convict us, and radically alter our worldview so much so that we seek to live like the wheat we are called to be, in a world that so desperately needs to see what wheat looks like. The message of Jesus allows for the opportunity for weeds to become wheat!

Glory to God!

Jason

the gratitude we embrace

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Corrie ten Boom in her book, The Hiding Place, relates an incident she endured as she and her sister, Betsie, were housed at the Nazi concentration camp, Ravensbruck.  Upon entering the barracks, they found them deplorable, extremely overcrowded, and flea-infested.  The Scripture reading that morning came from 1 Thessalonians.  From a smuggled Bible quietly verses 16-18 of chapter 5 were whispered to the group.  “Be joyful always.  Pray continually.  Be thankful to God in all circumstances….”  Betsie encouraged Corrie that they should stop and thank the Lord for every detail of their new living quarters.  Every detail.  Even the fleas!  Corrie at first refused, but Betsie persisted.  Finally, reluctantly, “Father, thank you for the fleas.”  During the next several months at Ravensbruck, they were surprised to find how openly they could hold Bible studies and meet together.  They prayed and quietly worshipped with minimal Nazi interference.  Finally they came to learn how they had been so blessed as to have lived with such little intrusion… the guards had refused to enter the barracks because of all of the fleas!

“Be joyful always.  Pray continually.  Be thankful to God in all circumstances….”

Matthew Henry in the late 1600’s was attacked and robbed.  Later he wrote, “Father, I thank Thee first, because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, and not I who robbed.”

“Be joyful always.  Pray continually.  Be thankful to God in all circumstances….”

Helen Keller, blind and deaf from birth, once wrote: “I thank God for my handicaps.  For through them, I have found myself, my life’s work, and my God.”

“Be joyful always.  Pray continually.  Be thankful to God in all circumstances….”

The thankfulness we exemplify in life reflects the relationship we share with our Lord, the objectivity and perspective we have of life, and the gratitude we embrace in His love for us.

Glory to God!

Jason

a radical change of mind

man praying

“You’ve heard it said….  But I say….” we hear our Lord proclaim over and over in the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus reinterprets.  He reforms.  He reprioritizes.  “I know that you’ve heard it this way….”  “I know that human nature says to respond like this….”  “I know that you bring your own presuppositions to the table….”  “I know this is the way that you once thought of things… but now, things are different.”

Jesus steps into our world and transforms our thinking, our ideologies, our worldviews, our way of life.

Here’s a tough one He tackles: “Love your enemies.”  “You’ve heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).

Love your enemies!?  I have a hard enough time getting along with my friends!  Pray (bless) those who persecute you!?  Are you serious?

And it’s an active love for our enemies.  And it’s a very tall order!  More than just a passive bearing of persecution or hatred.  Loving them.  Blessing them.  Doing good to them.  For them.  Regardless of who they are or what they’ve done.

In this and in countless other ways Jesus calls for a radical paradigm shift.  A radical change of mind.  A change of perspective.  A change of heart.

We see Jesus exemplify His own teaching as He prays for God to forgive those who are responsible for His death (Luke 23:34).  But what about we who are ultimately those who are responsible because of our sin?

The Apostle Paul connects the dots for us: But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him!  For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!  Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:8-11).

You see while we were still enemies of God, Christ died on our behalf.

“Love your enemies.”  It’s one of those areas of the Gospel and one of those areas of our life and faith that we would just as soon ignore.  It’s about a radical change of mind.  From a mindset that is worldly to one that is of the Kingdom.  It’s about seeing the potential for the magnificent impact of the Gospel of Jesus in the most unlikeliest of places.  Just like God saw it in you, and in me.

Glory to God!

Jason

is the cross enough?

Cross of Christ

For the next three months our congregation will be investing into a study of 1st and 2nd Corinthians. Both Sunday morning classes and sermons will be pursuing these two wonderful texts. As a church we will be pouring ourselves into these letters and striving for a willingness and openness that would allow our Father to pour Himself into us as His holy people. “Ancient Church, Modern Challenges” is the general theme we’ll be working under. I cannot imagine a more timely, unifying study for us to engage in together.

The Corinthian letters center upon effective ministry. How is the church to be effective in a culture that is so very contrary to the God we serve? How might the relevance of the Gospel of Christ be communicated in a world that sees no need for faith? How can those who are followers of the Way of Jesus be united with one another, when while we’ve chosen to follow Christ, we did not choose one another? How do we as Christ’s Church today serve as a powerful, effective witness for the Kingdom? Unabashed. Unashamed. And unhindered

These are questions that the Corinthian letters will address.

Chapter 1 sets the stage: “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the Gospel – not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (vv10-18).

Are we sharing the fullness of the Gospel message or are we simply speaking with “wisdom and eloquence” emptying the cross of its God-designed, God-designated power? Is the message of the cross enough for us? Is the cross, and the cross alone, truly the power for we who believe and are being saved?

It all begins with the question: “Is Christ divided?”

It all begins with the decision: “I follow Christ.”

And it all begins this week!

Glory to God!

Jason

the cause of redemption

Bible Love

“God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Love is a quality that we develop. We learn how to love. We learn love from our parents and grandparents. We learn love from those who love us along the way. As we fall in love and marry we learn to love our spouse and learn love from our spouse. Tiersa and I have in many ways “grown up” together because we came to know one another at such a young age. As we look into our newborn children’s eyes for the first time we experience a love that gives us such insight into the love of God (although we’re certainly content to let grandma and grandpa give us a rest as often as they like!). Through life, through experience, through trial and error at times, we learn how to better love – and what it means to love.

And yet we often wonder, “How could God love us?” Or perhaps even closer to home, “How could God love me?” But I think as honest as these questions are, they don’t quite have a full grasp of God’s love. Or, the reality that the Apostle John unveils to us: “God is love” (1 John 4:8,16). Love is not a quality that God has learned. Love is who God is. God reveals love because He is love.

God does not love us because we are easy or difficult to love (although through relationship we oftentimes find ourselves either closer to God or distanced from Him – but this is our doing, not His!). God loves us because He is God. He is love. Love is who He is. Love is His character. His nature. The reality that God is love is as unchanging as He is. God’s love is not drawn out of Him by us, rather, it flows from Him constantly. Steadily. Why? Because God is love.

“God so loved…” (John 3:16) not because we were loveable, but because He is love. Christ did not die for the world so that God might then love us. Christ died because God loves us. He died as the ultimate revelation and realization of God’s love for us. Love is not the result of redemption, it is the cause of it….

Glory to God!

Jason

stealing joy

joy

“The one who has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47).

What is our Savior communicating to you in these nine words?

Jesus is in the home of Simon the Pharisee. The religious leader has gone out of his way to set the stage. Perhaps simply to gain a better understanding of what this proposed prophet from Nazareth is about. Maybe to make himself look good in front of his cronies by being the momentary big man on campus. Whether from false motives or pure, the fact is, the Christ has agreed to come.

But “when a woman who had lived a sinful life” is overwhelmed, simply by being in the presence of Jesus, crying as she is so humbled, overjoyed, as to be so blessed as to serve Him, Simon the host quickly turns into Simon the joy-stealer. “If this man were a prophet, He would know… she is a sinner” (V39).

“The one who has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47).

Have you been forgiven a lot or a little?

Are you sure that’s the perception others have of you?

If we view God as harsh and judgmental, guess what sort of lens we view others through? Exactly. If we see ourselves as somehow deserving of being in His presence, or of forgiveness, or of salvation, guess how we see others whom we do not deem as worthy or as orthodox as we are? (Do you sense a little sarcasm?)

What if you and I made a definitive decision today, that no matter what, that’s simply not how we’re going to be?

“The one who has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47).

And what about the one who has been forgiven much?

I’d say the one who has been forgiven much, refuses to steal another’s joy in the Lord.

Glory to God!

Jason