An Anniversary Reflection

It was the summer of 1996. I had just graduated high school in May and soon after I went off to a work crew assignment at a Young Life camp in British Colombia called Malibu, I know, rough stuff, but somebody had to fill the role.

That summer most of the friends I made were from Dallas, and at the end of the assignment in June I thought Dallas was the new place for me. I moved out there to make a new home for myself and lived in a house with a few  friends who were in Young Life. Everything I owned I packed into a 1985 Toyota Corolla and made trip to the Lone Star state. I had one cassette tape at the time and my car stereo had no antenna, so I wore out an old Plank Eye album. Packing everything you own and driving somewhere is an exhilarating experience. If you’re ever bale to do, I highly suggest it!

Fast forward to the first week of September now, that same year. I found myself unsettled, uneasy, and empty. Dallas was fun, but it wasn’t home, and I was fighting to make it feel that way. The fight ended that week and I realized there were things in Phoenix that I hated, but I was running from them instead of facing them. There were mountains I didn’t want to climb and thought if I ran far enough the other way, I would lost sight of it all. I found out that’s not true. I chose to face the mountain, even though I didn’t realize the cost or what that would mean until much later in life.

So I packed up my Corolla again with everything I owned and made the trip back home with Plank Eye. It just so happened that the weekend I arrived in Phoenix was the same weekend of Young Life’s leader weekend retreat in Prescott. So I passed right through Phoenix and headed up to Prescott… Young Life is a large part of what home is for me.

That weekend I was in the for the surprise of my life. You see, there was this really good looking girl in Young Life I used to hang out with before I graduated, but she was a tier or two above me on the marketability scale. I liked her, but never gave it much thought about making a move to put my ego on the line to ask her out or anything. But this weekend, the weekend I chose not to run away anymore, was going to change my life.

I found myself in the same small room with and a handful of others learning about something I don’t remember. My mind was fixated on her, but I wasn’t going to let my body or my eyes show it. Every now and then I would wander my eyes over to where she was sitting, being careful not to let her see me look at her. But about 5 minutes into our time there, I looked her way, and realized… she was looking my way!

Our eyes met and locked into one another, love music began playing in the background, and wind started blowing through her hair… No, not really, that was just what my mind was thinking of though. She had a calm happy smile and waved at me and I waved back with sweaty pits, a nervous smile, and sweat drops building up on the side of my nostrils as if I had just had some really hot salsa. I thought to myself, “She waved! What does that mean? Is she just being nice?” I was so excited and nervous at the same time.

Then a sort of game ensued. We kept making eye contact and full on flirting was in play. I couldn’t believe it. I came home to face my fears, but this was a different fear to face. “The best looking lady in Young Life, the most eligible bachelorette, was flirting with me!” I thought to myself. “How do I not mess this up?”

There’s not enough time to explain all that happened after that, but one thing’s for sure, I was hooked and couldn’t stop facing that fear of rejection. A few months later I was sitting at a Wendy’s just before Christmas, 1996, looking into the eyes of Amy Roth as we both told each other that that we both wanted to be a ‘thing’!

May 29th, 1999 we made our love official and covenantal. It would take a while before I would see the value of making a promise, but now that I see it, it means much more to me than I ever thought it would. She has loved me at times only because she promised to love me, not because I’ve been lovable or even worth loving. This has been life giving to me and I know my covenantal love for her has been life giving to her as well.

We labor to make our love fun and passionate, not just covenantal. But sometimes when it is not what it should be, the covenant keeps you in the game. In this season of life, I am the source of the lack of fun and passion most of the time, and am grateful for my wife of 16 years who has loved me in beautiful and hard ways and has lovingly spoken life and truth into me and our marriage.

Happy Anniversary Amy Skeens. I’m thankful you chose to commit to me and chose to do life together. May God give us grace for another fun, passionate, and covenantal 16 years.

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A Journey Towards Unity – Ephesians 4:16

Here it is! Can you feel it in the air? Can you sense something’s changed. Christ kept his word. He never left us. He broke into human history again. This time, as an infection of the soul. A divine breathe from heaven came down and breathed onto humanity. An outside force, different than anything from this world, brought it’s power and made itself known. Fire. Wind. Hearts a-flamed. Souls torn through by a mysterious blowing wind.

Mankind is promised to never be the same. Many will try to grab this power and wield it for themselves. Many will doubt this power and say it’s not real. Many will over exaggerate what this fire is doing. But mark my words, this presence of God, his Spirit, is here, and he has brought radical change, a new way to be human. This is something that you receive, not take. The Spirit is only received through hearts that are soft and surrendered to God’s ways, particularly, God’s way of love and truth. As Pentecost sets in today, we’ll turn our final gaze to Ephesians.

The Connected Body – Ephesians 4:16

16 Under his control all the different parts of the body fit together, and the whole body is held together by every joint with which it is provided. So when each separate part works as it should, the whole body grows and builds itself up through love.

As we come to the end of the this week’s journey, we close with a word picture that Paul uses to focus our minds and hearts on what he’s been sharing. He’s not ending the chapter here, but he is tying up loose ends that he began back in chapter 1:

“God put all things under Christ’s feet and gave him to the church as supreme Lord over all things. The church is Christ’s body, the completion of him who himself completes all things everywhere” (vv. 22-23).

We are the body, under the control of Christ, the captain, our older brother. The word body in Greek is sṓma, which means “an organized whole made up of parts and members.” We are all different and diverse, working together as different parts of a body would work together, being interconnected by other members submitted to the oneness of Christ. As each part plays its role, every joint and member adds its strength and weakness to the whole body, which allows it to grow and mature in the love and truth of Christ Jesus.

So if we are the body of Christ, one body, then we all belong to one another. This means we are not merely called Christians, but “family members” joined by and with Christ, with a mission to make his beauty and worth known above every earthly treasure or passion.

Jesus Christ has a body here on earth called the Church. She has legs to go to the places that Jesus would go. She has arms to do the work that Jesus would do. She has mouths to say the things that Jesus would say. She has backs to carry the burdens that Jesus would carry. She has new hearts to love the people Jesus would love. She has one aim in the world, to make Christ’s body real through displaying her oneness in love. Go into the world, in beautiful ways, showing how much Christ loves.

A Prayer For Us Today

Lord God, you are on a mission and it will not fail. You have displayed your glory through gathered men and women throughout the ages. Bless our gathering today and in days to come. You have called us to join you on this mission to reconcile men and women back to yourself, to call them to a family reunion, a family that was broken and dispersed after the fall of man. We thank you that you never stop pursuing us and that you promise to return to complete the reunion once and for all. Make us one today in Christ Jesus as we imperfectly worship together with only parts of the body, but not the whole. We long for the day we are fully one. Amen.

For Those Who Want To Go Deeper

When Jesus came to the earth, he did not establish a church or a program; he did not write a book or publish any of his sermons. Instead, he gathered people and said, “Follow Me.” God’s reconciliation plan is for us to follow him in relationship, and in the process of following him, we are to build other relationships. The kingdom of God grows and unites one heart at a time.

Are you ready to play your part? Will you commit to building relationships with those across the aisle from you, or with those from another theological camp? Can you commit to getting to know the neighbors who live behind the handful of doors on your actual street? God’s plan is and has always been about relationships. Go ahead, be the body and build relationships with other members waiting to be reunited to the new family. A good start would be to join us today, at some point in the day, at this worship gathering downtown at the convention center. Happy Pentecost!

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A Journey Towards Unity – Ephesians 4:15

Easter is almost over, Pentecost is one evening away. As this Easter season closes, may we be brought under the authority of Christ’s love, love that changes us in ways that are mysterious to us. Today, my desire is to bump up against Jesus in such a way that we experience him as loving savior who has made a way for us to be re-united with our Father in heaven, so that we can not just be children of God, but step into our true identity of being sons and daughters.

The Head of the Body – Ephesians 4:15

Instead, by speaking the truth in a spirit of love, we must grow up in every way to Christ, who is the head.

Many people know that the “love chapter” of the Bible is 1 Corinthians 13, but did you know that, besides that chapter, the letter of Ephesians has more references to love per page than anywhere else in all of Paul’s letters? Here he addresses the really big issue of unity, which is birthed from love and rooted in truth, namely the love and truth of Jesus.

God’s redeeming purposes are clearly spelled out in the first three chapters of Ephesians, and now we have been seeing how his plan of redemption is ‘supposed to’ play out in the lives of his children. Those who have been blessed with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly world” (Eph. 1:3) are being called to live out the vocation (calling) of that blessing under the headship of the only King, Jesus. And Paul is now saying that the life that is found under the headship of Christ is the life that will learn to speak the truth in love.

If you have been following along with the scripture journey this week, one thing you may have noticed is that Paul does not give us a list of do’s and don’ts, nor does he offer any easy suggestions as to how we are to mature and walk in the oneness that is already ours in Christ. What he has done, however, is offer us an invitation. Indeed, he has exhorted us to be radically changed by Jesus’ grace through knowing and experiencing the oneness of God through the body life of Christ (the Church).

Now we are being reminded that this change only happens as we are conformed to the head of the Church, Jesus Christ. This is impossible on our own, and we are sure to not be changed on our own as we stumble through obedience, but the pursuit and desire to love and be truthful is the very means by which we begin to be changed. Jesus sees hearts; hearts desiring to love and live in truth. He doesn’t major on behavior, because if hearts are changed, love and truth follow.

We are being urged by Paul to align every aspect of our lives under the authority of Christ Jesus; he is the final say. It is Christ who has established one new humanity, and it is only Christ who can lead and direct enemies to come together as one body, so that the world will know him. Although diverse and at varying levels of maturity, we must always demonstrate before the world our unity in Christ, as much as it depends on us.

A Prayer For Us Today

Father, you graciously sent your only Son to earth. He submitted to and obeyed your will and gave his life as a ransom for many. You sent the Holy Spirit for the empowerment of the whole body, working together in harmony under the head of the Church, Christ Jesus our Lord. Make your name known throughout all the earth, as we labor to be people of truth and love. Amen.

For Those Who Want To Go Deeper

Jesus is the Chief Shepherd, the head of the Church. As leaders come and go, even among many hierarchical traditions, we are to honor Jesus above all others. Have you honored traditions and leaders more than Jesus? Is submission to Jesus difficult for you? Do you struggle with Jesus having the final say in your life?

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A Journey Towards Unity – Ephesians 4:14

Many people are afraid of the slippery slope of unity because there have been many pursuits towards unity, by well (and surely some unwell) intended believers who have let the idea of unity become greater than the God of unity. Today, we turn our gaze once again to the orchestrator, the conductor if you will, and to keep the symphony theme going, the very source of all the diverse instruments that are used to play together in harmony, Christ Jesus. If He is lost in all of our pursuits of unity, we will never have unity.

The Armored Body – Ephesians 4:14

Then we shall no longer be children, carried by the waves and blown about by every shifting wind of the teaching of deceitful people, who lead others into error by the tricks they invent.

There is a danger is desiring unity at the expense of losing Jesus as the center. There is also danger in thinking that our ways are the best ways, and everyone else has missed out on God’s purpose for the Church. Many of the church divisions of the past and present end up forming churches and parishes that often look nothing like what we learn from the apostle Paul.

Jesus clearly called out the religious leaders of his day. In fact, it was always the leaders with whom Jesus was angry— those who were out to make money on the weak, the emotionally fragile, the naive, the ones who were full of guilt. Jesus called them a brood of vipers, hypocrites. They had an outward appearance of holiness, but their insides, their hearts, were far from God (Matthew 23).

God has equipped the body of Christ to withstand the schemes of the devil and the trickery of those who do not want Jesus, but prefer profit and selfish gain (those who suffer from the “me” and now” syndrome we discussed in the previous post). God wants the Church to grow up, rejecting hypocrisy. We must not be known in the world as those who say holy things with their lips, but live deceitful lives. God desires that we recognize the counterfeits and resist them, so that Jesus is the One who is followed, not denominations, movements, or church leaders.

Paul knows this will be a struggle within the Church, and this is why, at the end of this letter, he speaks of the Church arming herself, not with a material armor, but a spiritual armor to combat the real enemy, the rulers and authorities, the cosmic powers over this present darkness, and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph. 6:10-20).

Putting Christ at the center of our pursuit, and allowing Him to stay the center of our pursuit are two different things, and we must be intentional to labor towards both. Christ is Lord, we are not. May the journey towards unity lead us closer to (and more intimately united with) Jesus and not our ideas of unity.

A Prayer For Us Today

Lord Jesus Christ, we are all susceptible to lies and schemes that twist the truth. Grant us grace that we would have the wisdom and discernment to see counterfeits and run from them. Help us as we labor toward maturity and the building up of the whole body, so that we are not children tossed and broken as if by the waves of the sea. We don’t want to bring shame upon your name through our actions. Purify your Church, remove corrupt leaders, and bring us to unity in your Son, for your glory. Amen.

For Those Who Want To Go Deeper

The ways of the devil are tricky and he desires to disrupt the life of Christ’s body, the Church. Is there trickery in your life that you need to confess and move on from? Bringing things to light in love is always the best way to combat the schemes of the enemy (1 John 1:5-10).

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A Journey Towards Unity – Ephesians 4:12-14a

This is the final week of Easter. Pentecost awaits us. Something utterly different awaits God’s people. Something fresh is coming. Something new. This is what the first Christians after Christ ascended to be sit next to the Father, knew nothing of, except that they were to wait for the Holy Spirit to come to them. Pentecost is the day of new newness; the day the ancient Hebrews received the Law, and the now it’s celebrated as the day the new Law become clear. Christ in us. We become the new temple, the place that God actually dwells; a place that He longs to be. This is why unity is so precious. When God’s people, the new temple, work together and display Christ together, He can more easily and radically be seen. The temple was built by many parts, using their gifts to display the beauty and worth of Jesus in His temple. Here’s the Ephesians 4 passage for today:

The Grown-Up Body – Ephesians 4:12-14a

12 He did this to prepare all God’s people for the work of Christian service, in order to build up the body of Christ. 13 And so we shall all come together to that oneness in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God; we shall become mature people, reaching to the very height of Christ’s full stature. 14 Then we shall no longer be children…

As we learned in the previous post, the gifts of God were given to the people of God so that the body of Christ would make God’s oneness and presence known to all. This passage in Ephesians 4 is about the whole body, every member, growing up into maturity, which in Paul’s mind is unity, not uniformity. The various apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, pastoral and teaching gifts noted in verse 11 were given to certain people, not so that those people could do all the work of ministry, but so that every member of the body, the whole temple, diverse in each individual part, would be trained and equipped to share in the work of making God’s oneness known.

God is so utterly concerned with the building up of his body (the temple) into the fullness of Christ that he has ensured, in every region and in every era, there would be those who are gifted to equip the members of Christ’s body to be witnesses of Christ Himself. There would be those who speak with power the Word of God; others who would announce the good news to those who are far off; those who would look after local churches; and those who would teach the whole counsel of God, and so on.

It takes the whole body and all the gifts of God working together to build up the body of Christ into maturity. As a mature body, we will avoid hurting each other with selfish motives and petty arguments, much like children who frustrate parents with their “me” and “now” syndromes – i.e. “It’s all about me” and “I want what I want now.” We belong to one another and we are called to grow up, to mature, to put away our childish ways, and be ready to be used for the sake of the whole.

A Prayer For Us Today

Father, we are your children, set free from sin because of the life, death, and resurrection of your Son, Jesus. Help us also to break free from our childish ways, growing into maturity. Give us grace to use our gifts, to stop caring only about “me” and for wanting what we want “now.” Give us vision for the future, for what will be when you return, so we can live out your will for us today, and your oneness will be seen by those who are far from you. Amen.

For Those Who Want To Go Deeper

If our life in Christ means that we will always be growing up, then in what ways do you need to grow up? Be honest with yourself; the Father loves you unconditionally. How does your church or denomination need to mature? Do you suffer from the “me” and “now” syndromes?

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A Journey Towards Unity – Ephesians 4:7-11

As we continue our journey towards Pentecost and the “Celebration of Unity” in Phoenix on May 23rd, we turn our gaze now to Ephesian 4:7-11, where we learn that Christ came down, took care of business for our benefit and joy, and then “went up to the very heights”, so we could be given the gift of the Spirit, one Spirit I might add, that fills and unites all believers.

The Gifted Body – Ephesians 4:7-11

7 Each one of us has received a special gift in proportion to what Christ has given. 8 As the scripture says, “When he went up to the very heights, he took many captives with him; he gave gifts to people.” 9 Now, what does “he went up” mean? It means that first he came down to the lowest depths of the earth. 10 So the one who came down is the same one who went up, above and beyond the heavens, to fill the whole universe with his presence. It was he who “gave gifts to people”; he appointed some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, others to be pastors and teachers.

In many ways, this passage is filled with mystery, at least enough for us to sit back and acknowledge that God’s ways are not our ways. To what is Paul referring when he says Christ “went up to the very heights” and so on? For starters, he’s quoting what would be to the hearers a well-known psalm (Psalm 68:18). Before he informs the Church of the “gifts“ Christ Jesus has given to his body of believers, he takes our hearts and minds back to the biblical narrative of redemption.

If you were a first century Jew or Christian, you might have understood this passage to be referring to the days of Moses after the exodus from Egypt. The Israelites had been freed from slavery after four centuries, and sometime after, Moses ”went up to the very heights” of Mount Sinai to meet with God. When he “came down,” he brought two stone tablets on which were written God’s laws (Exodus 24:12-15; 32:15-16). The law was a gift to Israel to expose their sin and need for God, and also to give them a way to live in harmony and to display the beauty of God among the pagan nations.

It is very likely that Paul sees Jesus’ going “up to the very heights” as symbolic of a ‘new exodus’ with a ‘new law.’ The new exodus is Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection that sets the human race free, once and for all time, from the enslavement of sin and death. After his death and resurrection, Jesus went up, outside of time and space, and sat at the right hand of the Father. But this time, what will come down will not be a man with tablets, but the Spirit of Christ with power, power to give gifts to the people of God, and to establish his presence throughout the whole world. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit, Christ himself, who is given to empower men and women to be witnesses and ambassadors of God. The new law is the great commandment: love God and love your neighbor (Mark 12:28-31).

The point of this text isn’t to argue over the different types of ministries that Christ gave the Church and whether or not they’re still functioning. Rather, the point is that God has given various gifts to the body of Christ to make his oneness and presence known. We will learn tomorrow that these gifts were given so that the work of God could be shared among the body to help Christians come to maturity.

A Prayer For Us Today

Christ Jesus, mysterious Lord and gracious Savior, you came down to the lowest depths, leaving the beauty and glory of heaven, and became a man. You faced our suffering and pain, and took upon yourself what we deserved. Now you’ve given us yourself in more ways than we could ever imagine. By your grace and mercy, you empower us with your Spirit. May we walk in the gifts and power you’ve given us so that we may be true representatives of Christ in this world. Amen

For Those Who Want to Go Deeper

God has given us gifts and asks us to use them. Do you know what gifts Christ has given you? Are you using them? Do you believe that Christ’s power is in you?

Our gifts were not given for us to abuse or overuse them. Avoid the temptation to dominate others with an ability you’ve been given. And watch out for burnout, using your gifts to do everything yourself. Use your gifts wisely, and surround yourself with others who have different gifts, so all can work together in unity.

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A Journey Towards Unity – Ephesians 4:4-6

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As our journey towards the end of the Easter season, expectantly anticipating the day of Pentecost, it’s good to continue to press into the oneness that is at the heart of our God, who is a father. God, the father of all, desires for all of his children to be re-united (see Genesis 3-4 for the context of us being one family) and to not just give lip service to reconciliation, but to actually labor towards it, sacrifice for it, make space in our lives for it. The journey today takes us to the next set of verses from Ephesians 4, and it has an emphasis on the word “one”… the very thing that radiates from the heart of a good father who desires a healthy family.

The One Body – Ephesians 4:4-6

4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as there is one hope to which God has called you. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 there is one God and Father of all people, who is Lord of all, works through all, and is in all.

Once again, Paul brings to the forefront the oneness of the Church, Christ’s body, the unity that we have in Christ Jesus. To understand more deeply the unity that Paul is fighting for, it would be helpful to understand a tangible reality of the division between Jews and Gentiles of Paul’s day.

In Ephesians 2, Paul talks about a dividing wall of hostility between the Jews and Gentiles. In the first century, the Jerusalem Temple complex actually had a wall of separation that was 4.5 feet high, and the Greek inscription on it read: “No foreigner [i.e. Gentile] is to enter within the balustrade and embankment around the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his death which follows.”

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The Balustrade kept those who were not Jews out of the inner courts of the temple

Paul, who is writing from prison (verse 1), was likely imprisoned because he had brought a Gentile into the “balustrade and embankment” of the Jerusalem Temple (Acts 21:27-29). Yet there is no place in the Old Testament law that calls for a dividing wall like this to be built within the sanctuary. This wall, like many other literal or hypothetical walls in the past (and present), came about (and come about) through the racial and social hatred of different sects or groups. The Old Testament has always presented a picture of the Israelites bringing “all nations” to the Temple to worship God (Ps. 22:27; Is. 2:2; Zech. 14:16). This “wall of separation” (the balustrade) was still standing as Paul wrote this letter.

In today’s text, notice the emphasis Paul places on the words one and all. Paul lived this! The body of Christ is one, it cannot be divided, just as the Spirit of God is one and cannot be divided. In Christ Jesus, who is Lord of all, we share one hope. We are all baptized into one faith. God is the one Father of all who come to Christ Jesus by this faith. It is through God’s nature, his love, that unity is possible.

A Prayer For Us Today

Our Father, thank you for including us into the body of believers. Forgive us where we have become so accustomed to our divisions, with countless traditions and churches all claiming the “right way.” You are the only right and narrow way, who broadly receives many unto yourself. Help us, in our weakness, to display the reality that is already true in you, that you are one. Reconcile us according to your great name, and help us celebrate our diversity, honor our various traditions, and exalt the name of Jesus. Amen.

For Those Who Want To Go Deeper

The body of Christ has been divided by well-intentioned Christians for centuries, and only in Christ can we be reconciled. How have you divided Christ’s body? What part can you play in helping to destroy the “wall of separation” that stands between Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox believers? What would it look like to be one, to have unity among Christians in your city?1