Unity in the Church

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I have the humbling experience of teaching Sunday school whenever there is a fifth Sunday. It is for our Women’s Sunday School Class. I love to teach, I love to desperately seek God and what He will have me share. This particular lesson was extremely hard to write. I sought my expositor of the lesson, The book, Jesus the King, by Tim Keller, several articles & most importantly God & His word.

As I look on our own broken family, I  experience first hand how deeply it breaks a parent’s heart for her family to be so broken. We wonder will things ever get resolved. In all that pain, a deeper reality sets in.. This is a reality in our churches and the world suffers because of it. God forgive us!

1 Corinthians 1:10: Now I beseech you brethren, by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

The church of Corinth was seriously troubled, just like our churches today. The churches were infested with sexual immorality, split by factions, crippled by abuse of spiritual gifts. The true believers had a lot of growing up to do. They had to stop following the immoral, selfish & contentious ways of their neighbors. Today we are also greatly affected by the culture around us.

We see in this letter that Paul is begging the church to be united. He is charging them not by his authority but in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is our Lord, our King .. The One’s whose blood unities us.

James 4:1-4 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.You adulterous people,[a] don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God

1 Peter 3:8-12 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For,“Whoever would love life  and see good days must keep their tongue from evil     and their lips from deceitful speech.11 They must turn from evil and do good;     they must seek peace and pursue it.12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous     and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil

Paul begs them to ALL speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you. The church’s message is the Gospel. The word “Gospel” means “news that brings joy”. What is this new that brings joy? That you do not need to earn your way to God; Jesus has already done it for you. And it’s a gift of unmerited favor.  In the gospel message, Jesus says Come, follow me. Jesus is saying follow me because I am THE KING you are looking for. Follow me because I am  authority over everything. Because I died on the cross for you.. Because I am your true love, your true life.. The plea for no divisions is because Jesus is not divided. He alone is our head. There is only unity to Him in the gospel message.

He is calling them to speak the same thing, come together in the same mind and in the same judgment. We, the church, are the living breathing representation of Christ. Christian means little Christ. Christ was 100% united to His Father & His Father’s Will. We, who are in Christ, are united to Him by His blood. We are to represent Him & share His “news that brings joy” His gospel!

Please do not misunderstand Unity is NOT uniformity For 1700 years the Western Church has been plagued with a problem.   We tend to confuse the command of unity and replace it with a desire for uniformity.  The concept moves something like this:  “God commands us to unity, so we all have to look alike.  If someone doesn’t look like me, then they are not unified with me.”  Unfortunately, this falls well short of what Scripture says unity is.

We are called to a diverse unity.  In other words, we are not going to look alike, do the same things, have the same culture, like the same things, but we are called to function together as one body around the person of Jesus Christ who is Truth.

All over the world you can find people getting excited about diversity. But the gospel gives us a distinctly Christian affection for diversity.

It is in the gospel that we see people as made in the image of God, uniquely designed by God, and brothers and sisters in Christ. We know that every person who ever lived is made in God’s image, but for the Christian, there is a new family. My desire is that we would see each other as who we really are—brothers and sisters bought with a price.

I think that as we grab hold of what the gospel does to the discussion of race, it is then that we’ll be motivated and stirred to see church communities reflect the family of God. The family of God is diverse. My prayer is that our local bodies and our personal relationships would be too.

If you and I are going to be passionate about something, let’s be passionate about the gospel which transforms not only this conversation but each other.

Just think of the brilliant glory of God that is refracted through the jewel of Unity.  In Diversity as we read about it in verses like Romans 12:5, “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” There is no “they” in the body of Christ because they are “we.” Our unity in diversity is a reality to embrace—a free gift that belongs to us. But because we are still sinners, unity in diversity is also something that we must work hard to always be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). 

Biblical unity is not about agreeing with each other all the time.  In fact, the more I read about the New Testament church in Paul’s letters, the more I see that disagreement played a fairly significant role in the early church and I believe it still does today.  There has always been disagreement in the church.  As long as we “see as in a mirror, dimly”, there will be disagreement in the church.  That disagreement grows us, stretches us, humbles us, and keeps us accountable.  It is a positive thing.  It is not something to be feared. It can be an iron sharpens iron.

In that sense, the diversity in the church may well be one of our true strengths.  Our ability (or inability) to embrace and manage that diversity will either grow us and move us forward or it will end us).  Biblical unity assumes there will be disagreement and insists that we find healthy ways of processing it.  It assumes you and I are living in relationships where your understanding of God actually informs, shapes, and  changes my understanding of God.  We live so as to be intentionally influenced by one another, especially by our differences.

Yes, scripture calls us to be “like-minded” and yes, there is a place for doctrinal purity and truth and a clear sense of right and wrong.  Unity doesn’t compromise the truth.  It just calls us to a level of humility in our grasp of truth, a healthy understanding of what it.

But despite the value of doctrinal purity and truth, in talking about the church, nowhere does God’s Word call us to uniformity.  Nowhere.

Next we see Paul’s concern about contention. Contention means “constant quarreling & wrangling” it’s angry disputes between 2 people. So we can see not only are they not united but they are fighting with one another.

Then within this quarreling as what happens often in arguing.. people are taking sides and ascribing loyalty to different individuals..  We see this today .. but Paul is warning the church here our loyalty is to Christ.

It is again to the continuing discredit of Christianity that there are so many divisions among believers. We seem to be capable of arguing about everything from doctrine to practice. While there are perversions of the Gospel, they MUST be pointed out and avoided. We would be best to mention only what is clearly addressed in scripture and offer grace in the things that are not. 

Divisions between Christians work like brick walls and barbed wired fences to undermine the effectiveness of the message that believers proclaim.

Ephesians 4:3-6 Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling, One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all who is above all and through all and in all.

I fear we focus too much on those things that divide us rather than the “Gospel, the news that brings joy” And do not be fooled satan is in it all and this world suffers greatly for it.

As we look upon the crumbling of our church is it any wonder we see such decay of values of the world around us. I do believe Paul’s words are to us today just as much as they were all those years ago. I BESEECH you brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, that there be no divisions among you, that you been perfectly joined together in the same mind & in the same judgment.

Christ was motivated by love. He loved us & gave Himself up for us. He calls us to love one another. What is love.. God is very author of love and the very model for it. We should read into the lines 1 Corinthians 13: If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 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 the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a 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.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

 

Could it be that we are just 6 year olds with God

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I’ve spent the past year studying the book, Idol Lies, Dee Brestin. In the book, there is a section that talks about how often we are 6 year olds with God.  She says, like when our young children do not understand that sometimes what they perceive as punishment is really our protection.  They may cry & cry because they did not get what they wanted but what they wanted could have hurt them.

God revealed to me must GRACE yesterday. There was something that had happened a little while back and God said “No”. I was so sad & it took me some time to get over…But yesterday, I got to see first hand that God’s “NO” was a gift. I stopped right there and thanked Him for His “no”. If only I could be more open to the “No”s as they came. I becoming more aware of this now.. and by His grace I am learning..

He’s here & He knows

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As I sat in the tub, tears streaming down my face..it hits me ..He knows. He knows my heart, He knows my intentions.. when I fail, He knows what I was trying to do.. He cherishes me like I’ve longed to be cherished. When I am hard headed & stubborn or need to have control.. when I am afraid.. He collects me into Himself & lavishes me with His love. In the silent prayers… I am not alone. He is sitting right by my side. He knows me better than I know myself and longs to allow me to let Him give me the life He’s intended..  Intimacy , communion, relationship … and He was here all the while with arms stretched out waiting.. waiting so patiently.. knowing I would need to exhaust myself first before I finally fell into His arms.

Maybe you don’t get misunderstood. Maybe you communicate so well.. maybe your relationships ride along in harmony.. But for me, I have found He knows & He’s here ALWAYS.. Here, in Him I find rest. and My beloved speaks and says to me,  Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.. Song of Solomon 2:10 & and I respond,  “My beloved is mine & I am His! Song of Solomon 2: 16

That old familiar feeling

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It’s been awhile since I sat down to write. I find myself pulled in so many directions since the holidays & then getting back into our routine of homeschooling..

Normally I can juggle a lot. But I have found myself struggling to get my feet under me. I sort of pride myself on being an “over achiever” of sorts. I like to cater, homeschool, teach classes & be present at all sports activities but I have been sidelined.. Caught under a fog of sorts.. dealing with some old familiar feelings I thought I had long ago dealt with.

We had a very special Christmas.. What made it so special was that it was the first time in a VERY long time that my family was all together. I long anticipated this.. hoped that one day it would come… My husband was amazing, kind, loving, supportive, welcoming.. my girls each so excited to all be together.. It was wonderful.. We were a family.. but it was only for a sort time..

I thought I had surrendered a long time ago & resolved myself to let go of the dream.. I thought I’d be ok.. But when she chose to leave again.. I found myself grieving all over again. My heart as a mother always hopes.. always yearns to protect…and gets so broken every time.

I had to fight some old familiar feelings.. I had to release it all again. I had to trust in the love of a perfect Father to continue to guide & protect.. Then I had to pick myself up & lick my wounds & begin again.. and I had to give myself time….. there isn’t any short cut to healing..it just takes time.

Would it have been better to not be together? I don’t think so.. we would have missed out on the miracles that occurred..

IS Christ in your Christmas?

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Oh there is nothing quite like Christmas.We anticipate our traditions: Nanny’s cookies, elaborate family dinners, parties, the decorations, the tree, the family Christmas cards and the presents.. (can’t forget those) ..But in the busyness of it all.. Do we really experience “Christmas”..

I don’t know about you but Christmas brings a roller coaster of emotions. An ache often starts in my heart from just before Thanksgiving until the day the decorations come down and the last of the cookies are eaten.  The ache of loneliness and loss… but  there is also the  anticipation of the majesty of the season.

But is Christmas really found in the baking, the decorations or even the gifts that must be perfect? Could Christmas be found in the ache & loneliness of the loved one who is gone or lost. Is Christmas in the family feuds and the holiday tensions and stress..

What if it were all stripped away. No presents, no baking..no rushing.. no grudges.. What if maybe only stillness and peace.. what if only worship..as we are .. for our Father.. sending His Son, GOD WITH US, to save us from ourselves. If we could experience Christmas, maybe we wouldn’t care so much for our traditions, past grudges & family hurts. Maybe instead, we could pour it out like a alabaster jar on those who need Jesus most. Maybe if we could desire true worship rather than the perfect gift or meal.

Why have we made it so chaotic? why does it need to be perfect?  Didn’t it all start in such a humble estate, a stable, in a manger, around animals.. stripped away from a pageantry & pomp  ..  So then what have we done to Christmas. God with US.. What if instead we gave Christ at Christmas, who came to save the lost, who came in the ultimate of grace & mercy, who served & loved.. What if we could stop & seek the true Christmas.

Oh sure, we say “Keep Christ in Christmas” We say our hearty “Merry Christmas” instead of the worldly “Happy Holiday” but aren’t we really living the “happy” {or sometimes the “not so happy} “holiday” Is Christ really in our Christmas? Is he in time? Is he in your heart? Are you overwhelmed with Him? Do you hunger for Him like you do Nan’s cut out cookies? Is He at your table, beside your lost loved one.

My Christmas prayer this year. Is that I may experience Christ and give the gift of Him to my loved ones as well as those who may not feel love toward me. That I may forgive the lost and hurting and be a humble ambassador of a poor infant in a stable.

The Blessing of a husband

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As he pulls out of the driveway, my heart is full, full of gratitude, full of love.. Off to work to provide for his family. In the cold of the morning, when we are warm and taking the Monday morning slow.. he leaves.. He has left to provide even when he was sick, when he was thoroughly exhausted from a weekend of softball traveling, when his back hurt, when the girls were babies with sleepless night..

I do not worry about the bills or food. he provides.. What a gift. A faithful man who honors his role to provide. But it’s not just the tangible ways of bringing home a paycheck but it’s also for the ways he provides as a husband & father that makes my heart so full. He is selfless. He is kind.  He has wisdom. discernment. He spends time. We all know that we are loved. He encourages us ..stretches us & fiercely protects. But above all else… He is serious with His God. Seeks Him.. Trusts Him. I have faith in my husband because of his faith in God. He never takes for myself.. it’s all giving..

I remember the early days . He would stand me in front of the mirror and look at me in that mirror and tell me ..you are so beautiful.. I couldn’t see it; I was so broken. But bit by bit with my Lord, together, he helped me heal.. and I found healing & strength from their love.

I am who I am because of the love of a faithful husband & my amazing God.

This week we celebrate 15 years. 15 years of laughter, tears, of valleys & mountain tops…of babies & teens..15 years of grace, love, mercy, forgiveness, of faithfulness. When we almost lost it.. praise God He held us together. 15 years of enduring love.. To God be the glory!

When it’s all over…

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We don’t like to think about it.. but we must. Whether we plan for it or choose to ignore it.. it’s inevitable …One day, we will die.. I have thought about it over the years but decided I needed to face it… A will… getting our affairs in order. Who will care for our children? Who will be “in charge” of seeing our final wishes fulfilled?

As I received the documents this morning, there was something so real, so final about seeing it all, in black & white. Is this what it’s all reduced to? Who gets our stuff when we’re gone? As a stay at home mom, I must confess, I felt insignificant. I don’t really own anything..well nothing, without my husband. I have chosen a different path. I left the management job with it’s salary and “position”  … I don’t have much “stuff”…what is it I will leave behind??… My beautiful girls, the next generation…. but is that all? I have heard it said that in this world “who has the most stuff when they die, wins”…

.. am I nothing because I chose to be a mom..

Maybe in terms of this world, I don’t have much value, but.. in lieu of where I am headed..  What I have sown in love and devotion, I shall reap elsewhere. I have invested in love not money, time, not position, in them, rather than me… maybe my treasures are in the life to come. The Bible tells us not to store up great wealth where thief and decay can steal but rather to store up treasures in heaven.

So what do I leave behind: meals made, time spent, encouragement & prayers for my family, friends & the lost and hurting around me..My investments are in people & .. I have loved deeply, shared freely,  encouraged sincerely, and tried to display compassion & integrity.  And I pray what I leave behind is that it’s not the “things” in life that are important, but rather what lies in the next.