John 17:20-26 – The Need for and Importance of Unity

“My prayer is not for them alone. 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—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (New International Version)

What is the Church’s identity?

What is the Church all about?

Why is the Church important?

The Church’s Identity

The Church is made up of people who have been reconciled to God through Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross and brought to new life in the Spirit. This special relationship that believers and Jesus enjoy with their God is a covenant relationship, and, so, the Church is a covenant community – receiving the blessings first promised to Abraham in the Old Testament that all nations would be blessed by grace through faith. 

God mercifully acts on the Church’s behalf through choosing, adopting, and redeeming people. This new covenant community receives the promises of God and exists to follow Jesus Christ in all things. 

So then, the Church is not a voluntary society, like other human institutions. Rather, it is divinely called by God. The Church is the community of the redeemed whom God has joined through the Spirit to Christ. Therefore, an individual, theologically speaking, does not join a church; instead, God joins the Church to Jesus.

The Nicene Creed

This ancient ecumenical creed describes the Church with four identifying marks:

  1. The Church is one. The unity of the Church comes from being in fellowship with God through Jesus in the Spirit – expressed through the bond of love and a common worship which includes the spiritually forming practices of preaching, liturgy, and sacraments. Since believers serve a triune God of Father, Son, and Spirit who exists in unity, so Christians are to work toward maintaining their unity through the bond of peace.
  2. The Church is holy. The Church is holy by virtue of Christ’s finished work. Therefore, the members of the Church are saints, called by God to live in holiness and participate with him in carrying out his purposes on earth. As God is holy, so believers are to be holy in all they do. Since Christians are holy through God’s justification in Christ, so the Church as saints must uphold justice in the world.
  3. The Church is catholic. This means that God’s people are found in all parts of the world throughout all times in history, including every race, class, gender, and ethnicity. Since the Church includes all kinds of people from different cultures, these believers must work together. The Church, across all kinds of denominations, ought to minister together to the total life of all people through gospel proclamation and good works done in the Spirit.
  4. The Church is apostolic. Apostolic means “to be sent.” The Church is not only a people who are gathered for worship and teaching; they are also sent into the world as salt and light to those who remain in darkness. Where the Church goes, the rule and reign of Jesus goes with them so that good news is spread to all nations.

The Church’s Mission

  1. The Church is called to love God.  The Church is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and the house where God dwells. The Church exists to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Christians are to develop intimacy with Jesus through the Spirit.
  2. The Church is called to love one another. The Church is the Body of Christ and is to be a haven for saints. The Church exists for community and is the place where believers are strengthened in faith through the proclamation of the Word in preaching and sacrament.
  3. The Church is called to love its neighbors. The Church is the people of God, being a hospital for sinners. The Church exists to serve the kingdom of God so that God’s benevolent and gracious rule might extend to all creation.

These three dimensions define the Church as being a “missional” community of redeemed persons who are concerned and focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ. The forward direction of the Church is to come ever closer to Christ through faith, be strengthened in that faith together through the Word of God, confidently stepping into the world to engage it with the love and grace of God so that others may come to faith in Jesus Christ.

The Church’s Importance

  1. The Church is a Trinitarian community, birthed as a free expression of God’s love through Word and Spirit. As people created in the image and likeness of God and redeemed for his purposes, believers reflect the image of the triune God.  The Church was important enough for Christ to die for.
  2. What the Church “does” flows from its identity as a redeemed community, being the people of God. So, then, the Church’s mission is not so much about establishing evangelistic programs so much as it is to listen to the Spirit of God and live in the power of the Spirit as it rubs shoulders with unbelievers.
  3. Just as the Father sent the Son, and the Son sent the Spirit, so the Church is sent into the world armed with the grace and love of God as if believers were ambassadors for Christ in a ministry of reconciliation.
  4. God has moved in a “downwardly mobile” way to bring reconciliation to all of creation. God has gathered the Church on earth to be sent as witnesses of Christ’s person and work through humility, meekness, and gentleness so that God’s mercy and peace might become realities in this world.

Therefore, the Church is to glorify the triune God by embracing its missional identity and mandate by making disciples of Jesus Christ through worship, community, and outreach. The Church is to aim its love toward God, one another, and neighbor through Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit.

The Belhar Confession

This Reformed Confession of faith directly addresses the need for and importance of Christian unity, which was of great significance to Jesus in his high priestly prayer.

We believe in one holy, universal Christian church, the communion of saints called from the entire human family.

We believe that Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another.

We believe that this unity of the people of God must be manifested and be active in a variety of ways:

That we love one another;

That we experience, practice, and pursue community with one another; that we are obligated to give ourselves willingly and joyfully to be of benefit and blessing to one another;

That we share one faith, have one calling, are of one mind; have one God and Father, are filled with one Spirit, are baptized with one baptism, eat of one bread and drink of one cup, confess one name, are obedient to one Lord, work for one cause, and share one hope.

That together we come to know the height and the breadth and the depth of the love of Christ;

Together are built up to the stature of Christ, to the new humanity;

Together know and bear one another’s burdens, thereby fulfilling the law of Christ that we need one another and upbuild one another, admonishing and comforting one another;

That we suffer with one another for the sake of righteousness; pray together; together serve God in this world; and together fight against all which may threaten or hinder this unity.

Amen.

Luke 2:41-52 – We Lost God

The Boy Jesus in the Temple by He Qi

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. (New International Version)

It’s a terrible sinking feeling to lose a kid. Unfortunately, I’ve done it with all three of mine – and multiple times with the youngest. I’ve even lost other people’s kids. Oy. Yet, I can say that I’ve never had the dubious distinction of losing God.

We have come through the season of Advent and anticipated the birth of Christ. We have celebrated Jesus on Christmas Day. Now, we’re looking to perhaps settle back into a more normal routine of life. Joseph and Mary were trying to do the same, too.

One year, when Jesus was young, they were traveling back to Nazareth – only to discover Jesus was not with them! They lost God.

They aren’t the only ones to search for Jesus. A lot of other people are searching for him, too. They’ve traveled throughout their lives thinking Jesus was with them – only to find he isn’t with them. They lost God. 

Too many people go about their daily lives without realizing Jesus is even missing. They simply assume he’s here. But he isn’t. So, let’s search for him. And in finding him, may we see Jesus as we have never saw him before, so that our faith in God might be strengthened and we do not end up losing him yet again.

Joseph and his family traveled in a large caravan, which was common for that day. They were on their camels an entire day before they discovered Jesus was missing. Mary likely assumed Jesus was riding on the other camel with Uncle Zechariah. 

But he was neither with him nor with cousin John or Aunt Elizabeth. So, the second day Joseph and Mary traveled back, hoping and praying they wouldn’t find Jesus in the ditch, like in the story of the Good Samaritan. Having not found him along the road, they spent the third day scouring Jerusalem in search of Jesus. 

Young Jesus in the Temple by Haitian artist Jean-Baptiste Bottex

Turns out, this whole time, Jesus was at the temple. A parent myself, I’m not a bit surprised that a twelve-year-old stayed behind and thought nothing of it. 

Jesus was curious and inquisitive with the rabbis at the temple. Those ancient teachers taught in a different way than we do today. They gave instruction more like a modern day counselor or therapist. The rabbis didn’t just impart information; they asked questions to help people discover truth for themselves. And the rabbis were amazed at Jesus’ ability to discover truth.

Keep in mind that Jesus was not a thirty-year-old adult in a twelve-year-old body. Christ was sinless but still immature. The human experience involves growth and maturation. Jesus shared fully in our humanity, not partially. When Christ was born, he was not a fully aware adult looking through baby eyes.

Because Jesus is fully human, he had to grow up just like us and learn in every way, just like us. Staying in Jerusalem was not a rebellious act by Jesus. It was typical. Twelve-year-old’s do all kinds of things without saying anything to their parents. There’s a world of difference between being rebellious and plain old garden variety immaturity. It’s unwise for adults to expect adult behavior from adolescent kids.

Jesus felt a deep need to stay and talk with the rabbis. As a human boy, he had to go through the process of self-discovery… of discovering he was the Son of God… of reading the scriptures for himself and learning… and finding he was reading about himself! 

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,
and became truly human.

Nicene Creed, 325 C.E.

To say that Jesus simply knew everything because he was God is to fall into a heresy the early church condemned at the Council of Nicaea called Docetism. It is the belief that Jesus is fully God and only appeared to be human. No, the Council said, Jesus was really a human being and didn’t just appear to be one. He is like us, in every way, except sin.

Well, of course, Joseph and Mary finally found Jesus. It seems Jesus got the third degree from his mother: “What do you mean putting your father and I through this? I gave you birth, and you treat us like this?  What were you thinking?  What part of meeting at the two-humped camel at 9:00 don’t you understand?”

Since Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and others, how much more do we need to put ourselves in a position to grow and learn and develop and mature? 

There is no spiritual zap machine in which God miraculously imparts into our brains all the wisdom and knowledge we need. Rather, emulating our Lord, we must learn, grow, read, pray, ask questions, struggle, and dialogue about the good news of Jesus Christ with each other. In short, we must discover the truth of God.

Perhaps Jesus is asking us, as he did to Mary and Joseph, “Why were you searching for me?  Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” 

One person tells the following story: 

“Back when my wife and I were dating, she worked as a temp at a bank. In the first two weeks of that job, she noticed some very unprofessional behavior among the team and their supervisor. The supervisor took long coffee breaks with the employees, sitting and gossiping with them.”

“A new employee, a woman in her thirties who came on staff a week before my wife, was shunned. If she walked up and tried to join the conversation during a coffee break, the conversation ended. The group, including the supervisor, made jokes about her behind her back and laughed at the way she dressed. They rolled their eyes and winked at each other when she was present. It was obvious this newbie worker was perceived as an unnecessary intrusion.”

“Two weeks into the temp job, my wife walked into the office on a Monday morning and was surprised to find a much different scenario. No gossiping, no kidding around, no long coffee breaks. All the employees were diligently working. The previous supervisor had been replaced. The cliquish team addressed the new supervisor with formal, businesslike respect. The new supervisor was not a stranger. It was the 30-something woman who had been shunned and mocked.”

“It turned out the bank had hired her to be the new supervisor from the first day she came on the job three weeks before, but the bank had concealed her true identity so she could observe the work style of the team.”

In some ways, this resembles the coming of Christ to earth. In his first coming, Jesus Christ revealed his true identity and glory to his true followers, but to those who did not believe, his glory was largely hidden by his humanity. Following his resurrection, Christ ascended to the right hand of God, where he rules all things. One day he is coming again to the earth to establish his glorious kingdom over everything. At that time there will be no mistaking who is in charge. 

Let us not lose our way and lose God in our every-day life.  Let us be with Jesus and with him grow in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and others. 

Romans 9:6-13 – Who’s in Charge?

God is in control

Don’t suppose for a moment, though, that God’s Word has malfunctioned in some way or other. The problem goes back a long way. From the outset, not all Israelites of the flesh were Israelites of the spirit. It wasn’t Abraham’s sperm that gave identity here, but God’s promise. Remember how it was put: “Your family will be defined by Isaac”? That means that Israelite identity was never racially determined by sexual transmission, but it was God-determined by promise. Remember that promise, “When I come back next year at this time, Sarah will have a son”?

And that’s not the only time. To Rebecca, also, a promise was made that took priority over genetics. When she became pregnant by our one-of-a-kind ancestor, Isaac, and her babies were still innocent in the womb—incapable of good or bad—she received a special assurance from God. What God did in this case made it perfectly plain that his purpose is not a hit-or-miss thing dependent on what we do or don’t do, but a sure thing determined by his decision, flowing steadily from his initiative. God told Rebecca, “The firstborn of your twins will take second place.” Later that was turned into a stark epigram: “I loved Jacob; I hated Esau.” (MSG)

I want to break this to you as gently as possible yet as straightforward as I can: My friend, neither you nor I are in control!  Any semblance of control we think we have is merely a delusion.  Now, before you push back its important to make the distinction between control and responsibility. We are to own our decisions and take responsibility for their outcome.  The Bible describes this as “self-control.”

God’s saving kindness has appeared for the benefit of all people. It trains us to avoid ungodly lives filled with worldly desires so that we can live self-controlled, moral, and godly lives in this present world. (Titus 2:11-12, GW)

Attempting to control others is not our job – never was, isn’t now, and never will be – that’s God’s business.  God makes his choices.  This was the Apostle Paul’s point to the church at Rome.  The congregation was a volatile mix of both Jew and Gentile.  There was some bad history between them that stretched back centuries. Yet, here they were together in one church worshiping Jesus.

Paul made a responsible choice to step into the mess between them and let each group know something important: It is neither their choice about who’s in and who’s out as God’s people, nor their choice about how someone gets in to start with.  Again, this is God’s choice.

The Jews needed to know that Gentiles are in the kingdom because God does his work of choosing, calling, and including Gentiles just as much as Jews.  The Gentiles needed to know that they were not replacing Jews as chosen people.  The point? God chooses whomever he darn well pleases to choose, and the choice is not up to you or me.

This speaks on so many levels about how to conduct ourselves with one another in the church.  The foundation of all good church dynamics is the recognition that God is the one who calls and gathers people together in the church.  This always needs to be the starting point in our relations with each other. The church is not a random collection of persons who happen to be in the same place at the same time. God puts us where we are.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11, NIV)

The Church is a covenant community. Believers in Jesus are receiving the blessings first promised by God’s covenant relationship with Abraham in the Old Testament that all nations would be blessed by grace through faith.  God has graciously committed himself to acting on their behalf through election, adoption, and redemption.  The new covenant community, the Church, receives the promises of God and exists to follow Jesus Christ in all things.  The Church is not a voluntary society, like every other human institution. Rather, it is the divinely called community of the redeemed whom God has joined through his Spirit to Christ.  Therefore, an individual, theologically speaking, does not join a church; instead, God joins the Church to Jesus.

Church in God's hands

The Nicene Creed describes the Church with four identifying marks:

  1. The Church is one. The unity of the Church comes from God’s covenant people being in fellowship with him through Jesus in the Spirit.  This unity is expressed through the bond of love and a common worship that includes the spiritually forming practices of preaching, liturgy, and sacraments.  Since believers serve a triune God of Father, Son, and Spirit who exists in unity, so Christians are to work toward maintaining their unity through the bond of peace.
  2. The Church is The Church is holy by virtue of Christ’s finished work.  Therefore, the members of the Church are saints, called by God to live in holiness and participate with him in carrying out his purposes on earth.  As God is holy, so believers are to be holy in all they do.  Since Christians are holy through God’s justification in Christ, so the Church as saints must uphold justice in the world.
  3. The Church is This means that God’s people are found in all parts of the world throughout all times in history, including every race, class, gender, and ethnicity.  Since the Church includes all kinds of people from different cultures, these believers must work together.  The Church, across all kinds of denominations, ought to minister together to the total life of all people through gospel proclamation and good works done in the Spirit.
  4. The Church is Apostolic means “to be sent.”  The Church is not only a people who are gathered for worship and teaching; they are also sent into the world as salt and light to those who are in darkness.  Where the Church goes, the rule and reign of Jesus goes with them so that the gospel is spread to all nations.

Sovereign God, you choose whomever you want to include in your kingdom.  Allow me to see Jesus in each person you call and save so that I can love and encourage them in the faith which is mutually and graciously given to us all; through Christ our Lord, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The Church

the-church

What is the Church’s identity?

Who are Christians?

What is the Church all about?

Why is the Church important?

Maybe you have wondered what in the Sam Hill this church thing is all about, or what it is supposed to be about.  It could be that you have abandoned the notion of “church” altogether, opting for a more private spirituality free from the machinations of power people in a broken system.  Let’s face it: there just may likely be more unhealthy churches in America than healthy ones.  After all, in a chaotic topsy-turvy world, folks end up making church in whatever image they’d like.  It seems to me this points to a great need to recover a more historic and robust understanding of this practice of “church.”  So, let’s explore how church ought to be and seek to live into it’s distinct vision for believers in Jesus everywhere.

The Church’s identity:

            The Church is made up of people who have been reconciled to God through Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross and brought to new life in the Spirit.  This special relationship that followers of Jesus enjoy with their God is a covenantal relationship, and, so, the Church is a covenantal community.  That is, believers in Jesus are receiving the blessings first promised by God’s covenant relationship with Abraham in the Old Testament that all nations would be blessed by grace through faith.  God’s covenant with his people means that God has graciously committed himself to acting on their behalf through election, predestination, adoption, and redemption.  The new covenant community, the Church, receives the promises of God and exists to follow Jesus Christ in all things.  The Church is not a voluntary society, like every other human institution, but is the divinely called community of the redeemed whom God has joined together through his Spirit to Christ.  Therefore, an individual, theologically speaking, does not join a church; instead, God joins the Church to Jesus.

BeChurch

The Nicene Creed* describes the Church with four identifying marks:

  1. The Church is one. The unity of the Church comes from God’s covenant people being in fellowship with him through Jesus in the Spirit.  This unity is expressed through the bond of love and a common worship that includes the spiritually forming practices of preaching, liturgy, and sacraments.  Since believers serve a triune God of Father, Son, and Spirit who exists in unity, so Christians are to work toward maintaining their unity through the bond of peace.
  2. The Church is The Church is holy by virtue of Christ’s finished work.  Therefore, the members of the Church are saints, called by God to live in holiness and participate with him in carrying out his purposes on earth.  As God is holy, so believers are to be holy in all they do.  Since Christians are holy through God’s justification in Christ, so the Church as saints must uphold justice in the world.
  3. The Church is This means that God’s people are found in all parts of the world throughout all times in history, including every race, class, gender, and ethnicity.  Since the Church includes all kinds of people from different cultures, these believers must work together.  The Church, across all kinds of denominations, ought to minister together to the total life of all people through gospel proclamation and good works done in the Spirit.
  4. The Church is Apostolic means “to be sent.”  The Church is not only a people who are gathered for worship and teaching; they are also sent into the world as salt and light to those who remain in darkness.  Where the Church goes, the rule and reign of Jesus goes with them so that the gospel is spread to all nations.

The Church’s mission:

  1. The Church is called to love God. The Church is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and the house where God dwells.  The Church exists to glorify God and enjoy him forever.  Christians are to develop intimacy with Jesus through the Spirit.
  2. The Church is called to love one another. The Church is the Body of Christ and is to be a haven for saints.  The Church exists for community and is the place where believers are strengthened in faith through the proclamation of the Word in preaching and sacrament.
  3. The Church is called to love its neighbors. The Church is the people of God, being a hospital for sinners.  The Church exists to serve the kingdom of God so that God’s benevolent and gracious rule might extend to all creation.

These three dimensions define the Church as being a “missional” community of redeemed persons who are concerned and focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ.  That is, the forward direction of the Church is to come ever closer to Christ through faith, be strengthened in that faith together through the Word of God, confidently stepping into the world to engage it with the love and grace of God so that others may come to faith in Jesus Christ.

20180603_114756

The Church’s importance:

  1. The Church is a Trinitarian community, birthed as a free expression of God’s love through Word and Spirit. As people created in the image and likeness of God and redeemed for his purposes, believers reflect the image of the triune God.  The Church was important enough for Christ to die for.
  2. What the Church “does” flows from its identity as a redeemed community, being the people of God. So, then, the Church’s mission is not so much about establishing evangelistic programs so much as it is to listen to the Spirit of God and live in the power of the Spirit as it rubs shoulders with unbelievers.
  3. Just as the Father sent the Son, and the Son sent the Spirit, so the Church is sent into the world armed with the grace and love of God as if believers were ambassadors for Christ in a ministry of reconciliation.
  4. God has moved in a “downwardly mobile” way in order to bring reconciliation to all of creation. God has gathered the Church on earth to be sent as witnesses of Christ’s person and work through humility, meekness, and gentleness so that God’s mercy and peace might become realities in this world.

Therefore, the Church is to glorify the triune God by embracing its missional identity and mandate by making disciples of Jesus Christ through worship, community, and outreach.  The Church is to aim its love toward God, one another, and neighbor through Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit.

ibelieve

*The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God,

            the Father, the Almighty,

            maker of heaven and earth,

            of all that is, seen and unseen.

 

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

            the only Son of God,

            eternally begotten of the Father,

            God from God, Light from Light,

            true God from true God,

            begotten, not made,

            of one being with the Father;

            through him all things were made.

            For us and for our salvation

                        he came down from heaven:

                        was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,

                        and became truly human.

            For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;

                        he suffered death and was buried.

                        On the third day he rose again

                                    In accordance with the Scriptures;

                        he ascended into heaven

                                    and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

                        He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,

                                    and his kingdom will have no end.

 

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

            who proceeds from the Father and the Son,

            who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,

            who has spoken through the prophets.

            We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

            We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

            We look for the resurrection of the dead,

                        and the life of the world to come.  Amen.