Unity among believers one of God’s great gifts

10/11/2008

By Charles Westbrook
Contributing Writer

Nov. 2
Fitting Into the Community
Purpose:
To celebrate the ways in which the diversity we have been given helps build up the body of Christ.
Scripture: Ephesians 4:1-16
Key Verse: “Each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” Ephesians 4:7

When God created humans, he made all of us in different and with different ways to serve him. We need each other to enrich ourselves and to help each other. While we differ in our lives, we are one in Jesus Christ. We need to learn to live together faithfully. We need to live by faith as we were made to do.

Paul lived for Jesus Christ and carried the gospel everywhere he went. He was in the crossroad city of Ephesus. He saw many times and in many different ways what God had given each of us. Some of the people in Ephesus walked away from the worship of other gods.

They were alive with differences and differences about what was going on. Paul wanted to help them in their service to God and teach them to follow Jesus Christ. While Paul was helping the church, he wanted them to live together and grow with each other in the spirit of Jesus Christ. Paul wanted to teach them to live and work together and strive for unity. Paul was doing everything he could to get the people to live by faith.

Paul didn't write a letter just to the church at Ephesians but to all churches and urged them to lean on God. If we work together with God as our help, we can get more done. We need to praise God for everything he does in this place and time with the gifts he gave us. He will help us to do his will and purpose. God wanted us to honor the gifts that were given to us.

Our unity is rooted in the reality of God's power, God's purpose, God's reign and God's love.

When God created the earth and placed us on it, we created for his enjoyment. We are his pride and joy. He gave each of us the riches and wonders of his love and called us his children. He took care of us day by day. He helps each of us find what we need.

As Christians, we can see what the Lord has given us to do. The Lord has given us so many ways to serve him.

Just as a quilt that has be put together with beauty, God fashions us together because of his love for us. We are like cloth, made to be patched together from a variety of colors as the church emerges through the power of God. Each of us needs the gifts others bring; we are incomplete apart from each other.

God gave a mysterious and wonderful gift. Unless we are attentive to God's gift of unity, we will drift toward those of our own age and others who look like us. We must learn to live in faith and follow Jesus Christ.

Some of the churches Paul visited wanted to become one. They wanted for everything as one, one body, one spirit, one hope, one Lord and one baptism and, most important, one God.

Unity is not something we create, build, or earn. It's a gift from God and we should honor what he has given us.

Nov. 9
Conflict in the Community
Purpose:
To affirm that our common experience of dying and rising with Christ calls us to practice what we preach.
Scripture: Galatians 2; 11-21
Key Verse: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are on in Christ Jesus.” — Galatians 3:28

Mahatma Gandhi admired Jesus Christ. Many times Gandhi quoted Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount. Stanley Jones asked Gandhi why he often used the words of Christ but adamantly rejected being one of His followers. Gandhi said, “Oh, I don't reject your Christ, it's just so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Gandhi said that one time he became attracted to Jesus Christ and started teaching about Jesus Christ and his faith. Because of his belief, he went to a Christian church to visit, and they wouldn't let him in. He explained they he would like to visit and the people said no. After that happened to him, Gandhi decided that since the people wouldn't let him worship with them, he wouldn't ever try to be a Christian again.

Paul discussed the same issues with the Jewish Christians at Galatia. People are looking for Christian groups to join. Paul said in Philippians 2:5, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus."

I'm afraid that the same thing happens today. People put a lot in their building program, but they don't let people take part. They let them in but will not accept them. The guests leave and will not come back.

Sometimes when people aren't worshipping in the correct way, others, like Gandhi, get the cold shoulder, and they leave not to return. Then we wonder why they left. We seem to be content with the church members we have. What would happen if Jesus Christ walked it? Would we make him feel welcome, or would we let him it come in and worship? Maybe we will, we say we will, but we need to ask ourselves whether we would turn him away.

Living our faith will show non-Christians how our faith holds up. Sometimes we get the feeling that we are second-class citizens of God's kingdom. We trust that God will take care of us and keep us from being turn away. We need to stop rejecting others just because we say that they don't fit with our crowd. God always makes us fit for his kingdom.

When we see a person who doesn't know Jesus, we need to tell them about Jesus and what he can do for us. Everyone, even Christians, need to see that we to need to know and love Jesus. We read in Galatians 3;28: "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." We all belong to Jesus Christ because he bought us for a price and then forgave us of our sins.

Paul saw himself working as missionary to the Gentiles, and he helped them as well as taught them about Jesus Christ. He took care of them while Peter, John and other apostles worked with the Jews. He saw Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul said that his understanding of the gospel came to him from Jesus Christ.

Everyone who was in this region was probably subjected to a wide variety of influences. Perhaps we find conflict because tradition and culture. Perhaps we find conflict among groups. We all need to ground our culture, traditions and rituals in order to find a place in this world. Sometime we find small groups trying to keep their identity. Sometime we find that things take first place in our lives until we get a real relationship with Jesus Christ.

Paul was worried that the people in Galatians were turning to a false gospel. This is what happens when people go in a wrong direction. Conflict was beginning to rise from some people were listening to the wrong group. One group followed and practiced Judaism into their Christian faith. We really need to do our very best not to let anyone get confused and walk away. Many did not look at the Gentiles fully as sisters and brothers in Christ because they were not good Jews.

Acts states: “I truly understand that God, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable.”

Everywhere you look you find conflict. We need to work together to overcome our conflicts and learn to work together. Faith allows us to grow in Christ and do his will.

Nov. 16
Communion with God In the Midst of Struggle
Purpose:
To explore what it means to be “of the same mind in the Lord.”
Scripture: Philippians 3:17-4:9
Key Verse: “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:7

The church is made up of different people with different ideas, and sometimes they do not want to agree. With conflicting ideas, you get people struggling with ideas they think are right. Usually in a group of people, like in a church, you can't prevent problems. When conflict comes up, people chose sides. When opposing sides form, problems seem to get worse as time goes on.

The worst thing that happens is when the church has problems and everyone thinks they alone have the answer. However, they should work together instead of arguing, which gets you nowhere fast. When a conflict comes, up it's the church that receives the greatest damage as members are torn apart. I hate to see a church fail because of humans ways of doing things.

What if Christians could be of the same mind even when a conflict happens? I wish more people would work together and worship the Lord instead of seeing how much damage they could do. Struggles can be stopped if people seek God's help and pray for the problems. But first, we need to call on God when problems start.

Paul told us what it means to be of the same mind and listen to the Lord. Paul discovered the secret of finding God within struggle or conflict. We need to seek the Lord and ask him to take care of any and all conflicts. Each of us could do our part by trusting in him and not causing conflict.

All of us need to turn our problems to him. Then his church wouldn't be broken up for no reason. If everything was turned over to him to begin with, there would not be any words passed or people leaving the church.

Most Bible scholars believe Paul wrote the letters to the Philippians telling them that he cared for them. The timing places him in a prison cell, most likely in Rome. His followers were not far from him in his thoughts and prayers. He wrote them, continued to prayer for them and asked them to keep their faith in the Lord. Even today, if we let him, he will help us with any conflict or words being passed between people.

Paul explained what he meant when he said we should have the same mind of Jesus Christ. Paul said our minds were nowhere close to the mind of Jesus Christ. Paul wanted to teach and tell everyone about having life. There were false teachers who were teaching a message that was in conflict with the gospel. There was a group teaching that faith in Christ was not enough for salvation.

Paul disagreed with these false teachers because he knew that the sinful nature of every human. In Philippians 3: 12-16 are vitals for every Christian’s growth. Paul said that he could stay focused on Jesus Christ's calling for him to minister for the word.

Paul used the phrase “press on,” which meant to carry on. He taught that we should carry on and pursue his goal of telling others about Jesus Christ.  He was reaching forth for the ultimate goal as a follower of Jesus Christ. Each day he pressed on to get the “prize of heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Paul realized that some within the Philippian church believed they attained a level of perfection in sharp contrast with others new to the faith.

Paul concluded with a carefully crafted message of hope and encouragement. He promoted unity by addressing two women, Euodia and Synyche. They were embroiled in dissension. Paul called them to “to be of the same mind in the Lord.” He requested that the church members be kind to them, for both had contributed greatly to his work.

Paul's letter has been widely quoted leading many people to refer to it as “the joy letter” because of its numerous references to joy and the need to rejoice. Paul sought to show that we can claim joy and peace everywhere we go as Christian. Those two emotions are by products of a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Christian joy is a fruit of the spirit. We cannot find, create or achieve it on our own. Christian joy and happiness occur when we practice Christ-like love, forgiveness and moderation, especially in our encounters with those who disagree with us.

Finally, Paul used a series of “whatever” statements to move his readers from thinking about his instructions to do something with them. He listed eight virtues that should govern the actions of a church.

In closing, he wrote, “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Nov. 23
Witness in the Community
Purpose:
To accept God’s calling to be faithful in enduring hardship, proclaiming the message and performing our ministry.
Scripture: 2 Timothy 2; 1-3, 4; 1-5
Key Verse: “What you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well.” — 2 Timothy 2:2

We need to learn what it really means to witness to people and let them know who Jesus Christ is. Non-believers don't understand the kind of relationship they could have just by knowing him and accepting him as Lord and Savior. One question we ask is how we can serve him as sinners that we are. Jesus died for our sins so that we could have life, and our sins will be forgiven. We need to trust Jesus Christ for all of our lives and build our faith in him.

We learn that we can trust in Jesus, and he is faithful in forgiving our sins, but we need to be faithful to him. We need build a relationship with Him so we can put all our trust in him. In 2 Timothy 2 we read: “You have heard me teach many things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses.”

 We need to ask ourselves if a new generation will know who Jesus Christ is. It is our turn to pass along the message of Jesus Christ and what he has done for us. Paul expected Timothy to in turn to pass the message of Jesus Christ. He went out and shared his faith with others. Passing on the faith is not an easy task. Passing on the faith to the next generation can be difficult, but the faith of those who hear the message can grow.

Parents have a role in evangelism by passing on the gospel of Jesus Christ to their children. It is most effective when the parents teach children how to pray and demonstrate the importance of prayer. Bible reading and worship are part of a concerted effort to help children grow in their faith. Our faith must follow our words. Our faith in practice is also important. Our deeds must show how we have faith. We need to see that our words are important.

We teach others through meaningful discussion of Jesus Christ.  We could be talking to a co-worker or children and take the opportunity to tell them what Jesus has done for us and what he will do for them. Praying for others can be a good way to witness and show how to live in Jesus Christ. People are more interested in having people pray for them. This is a good tool for witnessing.

Some people think that it's up to the clergy to pass on the faith. Too often we depend on clergy to do the praying, but God wants to hear from us daily.

So many people don't know Jesus, and I've seen people who don't even try to know him. It is hard to understand why they don't believe, because all we need to do is explain to them what we know what Jesus has done for us and what he keeps doing for us.

Timothy was told to be strong with the word of God, and he had a special favor that God has given to everyone. We could learn a lesson from Timothy. I can see where God has worked in my life. I can feel Him with me on a daily walk, but I still look to Him for help. Each time I call on him, I can feel him with me every step I take and in everything I do.

The time has come for us to be soldiers for Jesus Christ. The hymn Onward Christian Soldiers teaches us what we should do and how. This song teaches us that whatever he asks, we must follow him as he leads us. He may want us to witness to a group that does not know him, says something that keeps them from being believers or has some excuse for not giving Jesus Christ their life.

Everyone needs to know that God and Jesus Christ will be returning and judge the lost sinners. Non-believers seem not to worry about it. But, they need to understand that they will be judging the living and the dead. After the judging, the Christians will go to the new kingdom that will be set up for all who followed Jesus Christ and did what he wanted them to do.

We also need to preach the word of God and go out and witness to whomever we meet.

Ephesians reminds us that we should keep our faith, and serve the Lord. We must be ready to serve him as we go through our life. We have been called by God and serve only Him. We are all one body; we have the same spirit and same God.

In order to respond to the imperatives of faith, we need spiritual strength and we can have it by serving God. He always helps us, but sometime we just look the other way. God doesn't do that; he's always with us and takes care of us. Everyone needs spiritual strength to get by each day. By having spiritual strength we can always call on Jesus Christ for our needs.

Nov. 30
Persecution Within the Community
Purpose:
To discover the reliability of God’s grace and strength through encountering adverse circumstances and personal inadequacies.
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 11:16-12:10
Key Verse: “I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” — 2 Corinthians 12:10

The key verse reminds us that we are weak, but through the Lord Jesus Christ, we are strong. At times we find ourselves weak. Philippians tells us that by going to Jesus Christ we can do all things, and he will give us all the strength we need. Furthermore, we can do everything through him who gives us all we need.

Today people try to lead us in the wrong direction. In our weakness, we follow and wonder what we are doing. We need to realize our needs and let Jesus Christ help us. Paul received an understanding of God's revelation in Jesus Christ. As a teacher, he always had the good news to spread for Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 12:9 states that Jesus told Paul, “My gracious favor is all you need; my power works best in your weakness."

When we turn everything over to him, he will take care of all of our needs. Sometimes, Paul wrote, God told him, "My power works better in your weakness." When you place your concerns in the hands of Jesus Christ, he will help you in so many ways and you can be assured that he will help you through trials. He's with you no matter how or when or where. Where would we be without Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit in our lives?

After we see the need, we start living the faith. Most people don't take criticism very well. When we get criticism, we walk away. Paul defended himself in order to establish his credibility. He acknowledged boasting and foolishness. When we are honest with ourselves, we realize that we have not reached perfection. Paul did not claim to be perfect, but he was often pretty bold about his strength.  People tolerate foolishness better when the one who is foolish.

Even as Paul told us that there were times of foolish boasting, he also told about his religious heritage and his time as a minister of Jesus Christ. He wrote often about suffering for faith and how he survived everything they did to him. In many places, he took beatings. No one can live by faith and avoid all suffering. Suffering is part of the human condition, but in some ways those who live by faith can handle more suffering than those who live pragmatically. Disciples can be called to leave familiar settings, jobs and family when Jesus asks them to follow him.

Paul was no stranger to fear, and there are those who have experienced great fear. In the Bible account of creation, the first words the human beings spoke was “I was afraid” when they spoke to God. Adam and Eve were trying to hide from or God. They knew that they had sinned, and they knew they couldn't run from God. He knew why they were hiding. He spoke to them and they came out.

Do we find ourselves running from God? I think we say we trust him, but we try to hide from him.

Running from trouble something disciples of Jesus Christ have been doing for a long time. Like Peter, we have denied Jesus Christ. At times we run away and at other times we have moved away quietly and slowly hoping that no one would notice. When have you boldly proclaimed Jesus Christ at one moment and fearfully gone away to hide in another moment?

Salvation is not dependent on human strength or human goodness. God, in Jesus Christ, redeemed a weak and sinful world. The Christian's saving faith is in God's redeeming grace as revealed most clearly in Jesus Christ.

Can you hear God speaking to you as God spoke to Paul saying, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness”?

"So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

How does Paul's case for grace affect your thinking and your living? What burden does God's grace lift from you?

Whom do you know that is carrying a particularly heavy burden? What is your greatest burden? Are you honest about it with God?

Westbrook is a member of Pearl United Methodist Church and a regular contributor to the Advocate.