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 4:12-14a

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 4:4-6

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

Missional Ecumenism and the First-Century Church

Missional Ecumenism has been a big discussion over the last century of church life. If this phrase is new to you, in it’s simplest form, it means unity of the body of Christ around the mission of God. The word “ecumenism” comes from the Greek word oikoumene, which means “the whole inhabited earth.”

This ecumenical vision is both the mission to reconcile “the visible Church of every era” which is referred to as being ‘one body’ (Ephesians 4:1-4) and God’s mission to reconcile the “whole inhabited earth” (Matthew 24:14) as the concern of all who are God’s children (Genesis 12:1-3).

Unity of the body of Christ is always about mission. The mission of God is always about unity. One could also take the words “ecumenism” and “unity” and replace it in some way with the word “reconciliation,” which is the heart behind the whole gospel; Christ reconciling all things to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19).

This reconciliation is wrought by men and women, who through faith in Christ Jesus, live a beatitudes kind-of-life, embracing the poverty of their own spirit, mourning over their sin and sin done against others and themselves, restraining their power to be used for good, and ultimately, working up a hunger and thirst for justice and goodness. This will lead to a life of mercy, purity, peacemaking, and in most cases, a life of persecution.

For a good example of what the beatitudes kind-of-life look like in story form, we could turn to the letter to Philemon, where the reality of reconciliation is employed in all it’s beauty, and missional ecumenism is seen from the very beginning of this Jesus movement.

In this letter we learn of a problem. Philemon had a run away slave named Onesimus, who fled his home, left Colossae and somehow ended up in Ephesus. We don’t know if Onesimus knew of Paul from Philemon, or if he was on the run, and heard Paul preaching while Paul was under house arrest in Ephesus. But somehow, he heard the gospel, received Christ, and became a disciple of Paul there in Ephesus, and falls head over heels in love with Jesus. Paul clearly sees the renewal that took place in this run away slaves life and wants to disciple him by having he and Philemon eventually live out a picture of the gospel; reconciliation.

It’s clear that Paul has in mind reconciliation with his letter to Philemon, because he urges Philemon to not just allow Onesimus back into his community, but to receive him as a brother, a partner in the gospel!

Go ahead, check it out for yourself. Grab a Bible and read Philemon real quick, it’s a brief one-page letter.

Did you see it? The gospel of reconciliation? Paul is crystal clear, he wants nothing less than the unity of two enemies who are now both unified under the Messiah, and one brother is to give the other brother emancipation papers. “Free him Philemon!”

In this letter, we read overtones of the Exodus narrative which was behind all of Paul’s letters and interpreted through Christ’s death and resurrection. Paul now wants Philemon to embrace the new exodus that Christ gave him (Philemon), and extend a new exodus to Onesimus. “Live out the gospel Philemon! Let Onesimus go free!”

We need to know that the punishment for a run away slave was likely crucifixion in this case. After all, if slaves run away without punishment, then who’s to say other slaves won’t follow suit unless somehow puts the hammer down. And what of Philemon if he goes along with it? What will other slave owners say? Will they try to harm Philemon? Paul is asking a lot, but if we continue to look at this passage, we see that Paul may be offering a lot as well.

This is why Paul also mentions, “If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.” (Philemon 18)

Notice Paul says to charge the cost of Onesimus’ offense to his account, which would mean whatever Onesimus would be given, or maybe whatever would be blamed on Philemon for releasing a run away slave, blame it on Paul. So Paul may be saying, “If he deserves the cross, then I’ll take it for him!” Or, “If you might receive punishment for releasing him, let the town know it’s on me, I’ll receive your punishment.” Paul is displaying the ministry of reconciliation here, he’s displaying Christ’s sacrifice in a tangible way.

Clearly after reading Philemon in this context, Paul has a much bigger view of reconciliation than we have after a casual reading of this text. Paul has an entirely different perspective. Indeed Philemon and Onesimus are a part of the new creation in Christ.

For Philemon to be able to receive Onesimus back, he had to think more of him than himself (poverty of spirit). He had to mourn over what he lost, what he’s going to lose in the community if he doesn’t punish Onesimus, and how he may  have wanted revenge or punishment against Onesimus. He would’ve had to restrain his cultural power and offer freedom, and this would surely fuel his hunger and thirst for more justice in areas of oppression elsewhere.

The cross of Christ is busting out of this letter to Philemon as Paul is able to say to Philemon, whatever he owes you, put it to my account, I will pay for his offense. This is the ministry of reconciliation that we are being gifted with as followers of Jesus, and this is what God is asking of us to live out for our sake and for His name’s sake.

The purpose of life in Christ was always and will always be a mission of ecumenism, being reconciled to Christ, and laboring to be reconciled to one another. The former empowering the latter. This is at the core of being the church. May we not allow other things to become more important than this reality that Christ prayed for in John 17; that they may all be one… so that the world will believe.

An Injustice Anywhere Is A Threat To Justice Everywhere

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This artwork is on the backyard wall of a home facing Roosevelt St. near my home. I drive or walk by it most days, and lately it has spoken much louder to me, of the urgent need for all of humanity to begin looking inward at the injustices that go on everyday, right in front of us, by us, and against us.

It has made me realize that what is going on in Ferguson is a microcosm of what is at war within our hearts and minds. Whatever your analysis of Ferguson is, it would be negligent of all of us to assume that “our” understanding is the “just” view, without taking into consideration all the injustices that take place within injustice. Our story isn;t the only point of view, and we could all spin most stories in certain ways to see the rationale of why people do what they do. But we don’t want to “spin” stories, which means we must be humble enough to step out of our stories and believe that there is truth and reason from the other person’s point of view.

Injustice breeds injustice. Hurt people, hurt people. To say that Ferguson is only a race issue is to ignore all the other injustices. To deny that what’s going on in Ferguson isn’t a race issue is to be ignorant of reality. To step into someones else’s story without a preconceived idea of what to expect is almost impossible, but it’s something we must work towards as neighbors and family members who share this beautiful world.

Maybe we have been guilty of having “single” stories of people and events. Maybe our single story of someone or a people group has become so dominant that we have become part of the injustice against that certain group just by the very nature of not being able to get into their shoes. Maybe our single story has been shaped by news reels and stories of other people from our “tribe”. Maybe our story has been shaped in concrete from snapshots of the worst days of those in the other “tribe”.

I long to get rid of my snapshot judgments and to step into the story of love that allows me to journey in the shoes of those who are different from me, to be a lover of diversity, even if that diversity is offensive to me, or even causes me to rethink the way I view or live within this world.

To be an agent of change, is to be one who accepts responsibility of our thoughts and actions, and I believe if we all begin there, inflammatory moments in our world would at least have more sane people on every side looking inward before arrows are shot outward. Division is dangerous and has ravaged humanity. Looking inward first can give us a clue of the cause of certain divisions and can give us the tools we need to begin rebuilding and reconciling from injustices that go unnoticed day after day.

This is what Jesus gives us the freedom to do. He doesn’t join anyone’s tribe or circle. He doesn’t have to defend any ideology or way of living. He is the way, and his way does not ignore injustice, nor does it exclude people. His way is full of love that pierces through lies and short-sighted worldviews. His way is peace and reconciliation that happens through broken people being accepted by him and freed up to deal with their own junk. Injustice anywhere is a threat to the way of Jesus.

A Night of Prayer and Worship

Nov 2 flyer. J17M For many centuries now there have been men and women praying for, weeping for, fighting for, even dying for the hope that one day, Christians who fill Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant/Evangelical churches across the globe would takes seriously again Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that those who call on the name of Jesus would be one, as much as we are able to on this side of redemption. This local movement is, I believe, a move of God that is happening worldwide as believers are responding to this prayer in a fresh new way.

There is much timidity for many believers on both sides to consider coming together with the “other side”. I invite all of those who are timid and fearful to come November 2nd, even with reservation and caution, to worship Jesus, and to pray with others who have the same mind and heart, to exalt Christ, and experience the reality that there is no “other side” with the body of Christ. The desire is to display the beauty and unity of Christ’s body and blood, as those who in the past, killed one another, are now praying and worshiping together. If you love the gospel, then you have to love reconciliation which is at the heart of the good news of Jesus. Consider joining many of us Sunday night, November 2nd, at the South Phoenix Kroc Center, 1375 E. Broadway Rd. Phoenix, AZ 85040; and please help us by getting the word out across the valley of the sun!