Arriving One: the final destination of the church

This past weekend we concluded our series, “One: The Being of God in the Life of the Church,” at Eastbrook Church. To bring this great exploration of unity to a close, I traced the movement from the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9 to the heavenly vision in Revelation 7:9-10. In one sense this is a contrast between humanity divided and humanity united.

You can view the message video and outline below. You can follow along with the entire series here and the devotional that accompanies the series here. You could always join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10)

Humanity Divided (Genesis 11:1-9)

  • Human assertion against God
  • God’s confusion upon humanity

Humanity United (Revelation 7:9-10)

  • The gathering of the saints in the new heaven and the new earth
    • The contrast with Babel’s division centered on humanity
    • Here true unity is centered on God
  • The Great Multitude Before God
    • Unified before God: standing together, adorned similarly, crying out as one
    • Identifiable difference: every nation, tribe, people, and language

Moving Toward a Unified Arrival (Colossians 3:1-17)

  • Our focus on Christ and things above (3:1-4)
  • Take off the old self (3:5-11)
  • Put on the new self (3:12-17)

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper into Revelation 7:9-10 in one or more of the following ways:

  • Memorize Revelation 7:9-10 or Colossians 3:12-14
  • Read Genesis 11:1-9 – the story of the Tower of Babel – and consider what was going on here. What do you think was at work within the hearts of humanity in this story? How does this story echo the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3?
  • If you want to dive deeper into Revelation 7:9-10, consider listening to or watching another preaching series from Eastbrook called “Becoming 7.”
  • Continue with our season of prayer and fasting. Find more info here.

Five Recommendations on Election Day

Here are five recommendations I’d like to offer for followers of Jesus Christ on Election Day here in the US.

  1. Pray – We know as believers that God works through prayer (James 5:16). We know that our calling includes praying for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-2). We know that our nation is facing many challenges that are not only difficult to overcome but may even appear insurmountable. We know there is a great need for people to turn back to God and His ways at numerous levels. Because of these things, we should pray that our nation will be awakened with a need for God, that the elections will be guided by God, that safety and peace will reign on this day and days to come, and that all the candidates up for public office will be strengthened by God regardless of their political party.
  2. Think Biblically – As followers of Christ we must always filter our actions through the truth of God as revealed in the Scriptures. We must let God’s truth both correct and encourage us, even as it renews our minds (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Romans 12:1-2). We must remember that Jesus is our King and our allegiance is first and foremost to His kingdom. The kingdom of God is bigger than any political party. The kingdom calls us to value human life as made in the image of God from before birth through the end of our days. The kingdom of God calls us toward stewardship of the environment as created by God and stewardship of finances as a gift from God. The kingdom of God calls us to care for the forgotten, the poor, prisoners, widows, orphans, and foreigners in our midst. The kingdom of God calls for truth where truth is disregarded and moral order amidst disordered lives and relationships. The kingdom of God is marked by grace, truth, righteousness, and justice. As we face into this election day, we must think biblically as we wrestle with the issues before us.
  3. Vote – It is a huge privilege in our country to have a voice in the political process. So many of my friends from around the world do not have this privilege where they live. They have little to no voice in the political process. This is similar to the first century church, which did not experience anything like this during their lifetimes under the Roman Empire. One aspect of Paul’s instructions about our relationship to governing authorities in Romans 13 is to exercise our right to vote. I encourage every follower of Jesus to take up this privilege.
  4. Maintain Perspective – In the coming days, there will be some of us whose candidate wins and some of us whose candidate loses. For those whose candidate wins, we may be tempted to believe this victory is the answer for our country. For those whose candidate loses, we may be tempted to believe this outcome is the worst reality for our country. Without downplaying the good or bad realities, we must maintain perspective on all of this. The prophet Daniel shows us how to do this. After being ripped from his homeland and launched into exile, Daniel witnessed many kings and kingdoms rising and falling over the course of his life. God gave Daniel a vision of even more changes yet to come in the future. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we must maintain clear perspective that our hopes are not tied to a candidate, policy, country, or kingdom. All of these will come and go. There is only one “kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:28).
  5. Love One Another – Scripture affirms again and again that we are called as followers of Christ to love one another and stand in unity (1 John 4:11; Philippians 4:1-2). Jesus Himself said that people would know we are His disciples if we love one another (John 13:34-35). Amidst one of the most divided times in our lives, as believers in Christ we most choose a different way. We must stand together as one in ways that those around us, divided by so many different political philosophies and party allegiances, cannot. Let us put on love, which binds all things together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:14) so that, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we might uphold the unity forged through the broken body and spilled blood of Jesus Christ.

Learning the Dance of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is one of the most freeing and challenging practices we encounter in life. We all know we need it from others and should give it to others, yet learning the way of forgiveness can feel unnatural and confusing. This feeling may grow stronger when we read the strong words of the Apostle Paul:

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)

forgiving-as-weve-been-forgivenThis past weekend in my message, “Reconciliation,” I quoted from Célestin Musekura‘s book Forgiving as We’ve Been Forgiven which he co-authored with L. Gregory Jones. Here is the quotation I referenced, where Musekura reflects on the Cross of Christ:

Because of this divine act, the Christian model of forgiveness stresses the granting of unconditional forgiveness to those who cause injury, pain and suffering in this life.

In the book, Musekura shares his own journey through the pain of the 1994 Rwandan genocide and beyond. Reading his words thrust me back into the trauma-filled stories I had heard from other survivors in Rwanda when visiting in 1999 and 2000 as a staff member of World Relief. Musekura’s own journey into forgiveness and the work he has done with African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM) brought him to this powerful realization:

If forgiveness is the heart of the gospel, it is the center of the church’s mission as well.

Jones puts legs to this, using the metaphor of the dance of forgiveness. Comparing the work of forgiveness to learning how to dance, Jones offers six steps of forgiveness that I found incredibly helpful as we seek to grow in the grace of forgiveness. I wanted to share them here as we reflect on our own lives and the divided society around us:

Step 1: Truth Telling: We become willing to speak the truthfully and patiently  about the conflicts that have arisen. “We need not only honesty but also patience…[to] discern more clearly what is going on….We must, rather, take the time to talk to one another about the things that divide us” (46-47).

Step 2: Acknowledging Anger: We acknowledge both the existence of anger and bitterness, and a desire to overcome them. “Whether these emotions are our own or belong to others who are mad at us, it does no good to deny them….We learn to overcome bitterness as we begin to live differently through practices that transform hatred into love” (48-49).

Step 3: Concern for the Other: We summon up a concern for the well-being of the other as a child of God. “Seeing as children of God the ones on whom our bitterness focuses challenges our tendency to perceive them simply as enemies, rivals or threats. Now they are potential friends of God” (49-50).

Step 4: Recognizing, Remembering, RepentingWe recognize our own complicity in conflict, remember that we have been forgiven in the past and take the step of repentance. “People need to be held accountable for their actions…we also need to recognize and resist our temptation to blame others while exonerating ourselves….Repentance breaks the cycle of violence and creates space for God to do something new” (51).

Step 5: Commitment to ChangeWe make a commitment to struggle to change whatever caused and continues to perpetuate our conflicts. “Forgiveness out to usher in repentance and change. It ought to inspire prophetic protest wherever people’s lives are being diminished and destroyed. Forgiveness and justice are closely related” (53).

Step 6: Hope for the FutureWe confess our yearning for the possibility of reconciliation. “Continuing to maintain reconciliation as the goal – even if this is ‘hoping against hope’ for reconciliation in this life – is important because it reminds us that God promises to make all things new….Every concrete act – every prayer prayed, every apology offered, every meal shared across dividing lines – is a sign that our history and habits of sin have been definitively interrupted by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ” (55).

Reflecting on Jones’ dance steps of forgiveness, I couldn’t help but reflect on numerous situations I’ve experienced in my own life or in walking with others as a pastor. Some of these steps come naturally, while others take great selflessness and humility. Still, I see them as helpful guides into the pathways of forgiveness.

If, as Célestin Musekura writes, “forgiveness is the heart of the gospel” and “the center of the church’s mission,” then it may be time for some dance lessons! What do you think?

Relationships with Jesus at the Center (discussion questions)

Jesus at the Center Series Gfx_App SquareHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “Relationships with Jesus at the Center,” from this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. This is part of our series, “Jesus at the Center,” from the book of Colossians. This week we looked at Colossians 3:18-4:1.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What changed in your life most dramatically after you became a follower of Jesus? How did that change occur in your everyday life?
  2. As we continue our series, “Jesus at the Center,” we look this week at Colossians 3:18-4:1. Whether you are on your own or with a small group, begin your study in prayer, asking God to speak to you through His word, and then read that portion aloud.
  3. Background: This portion of Colossians builds from a common concept discussed at the time known as a household code. Aristotle and other ancient thinkers upheld the idea of the father as the head of the household with authority over ‘lesser’ members, including the wife, children, and servants. This household was seen as the basic unit of the greater society. If the households were strong, then the society would be strong.
  4. Before looking at the specific guidelines for relationships seen in Colossians 3:18-4:1, read Colossians 3:1-17 again. What are a few key concepts about relationships within the church from this earlier section that should shape the way we read the coming section?
  5. Now, look at the first relational grouping of wives and husbands in 3:18-19. What is the theme of this relationship in the household and what are both called to do?
  6. Regardless of whether you are married, do you think these verses are easy or difficult to live out? Why would you say that?
  7. Turn now to the next relationship of children and parents in 3:20-21. How would you characterize the relationships? What is Paul calling each party to do?
  8. In the ancient world, the relationship of children toward parents was important throughout life. What do you think this looks like for us today?
  9. The third and final relational grouping is that of servants and masters. These relationships were vital to household relationships, though very different from what we may understand about servitude. What instructions does Paul give to each party? What is common to both of them?
  10. In some ways our work, whether inside or outside the home, parallels the instructions in 3:22-4:1. What does it mean for us to take these attitudes into our workplace?
  11. If the church is the new society of God and the household is the basic unit of the society in the ancient world, what would you say is the significance of the household for our life together in the church? Why is this important for all of us?
  12. What is one significant thing that God is speaking to you through this study? If you are on your own, you may want to write it down, pray about it, and then share it with someone later. If you are with a small group, share these things with one another and then pray for one another about these things.

Relationships with Jesus at the Center

Jesus at the Center Series Gfx_App Wide
This past weekend at Eastbrook Church we continued our series, “Jesus at the Center,” by looking at a series of relationships highlighted in Colossians 3:18-4:1. While I wanted to give appropriate attention to the actual relationships, I also wanted to speak to the background behind these relationships, which fit within a framework often referred to as household codes.  We often lose some of the impact of these sections in relation to the ancient view of society and households as part of that, as well as the redemptive movement of the New Testament teaching.

You can watch the message here, following along with the outline below. You can also follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

We Have Been Changed in Christ: Four Images of Who We Are Now
(Colossians 1:2, 18)

The People – new identity

The Family – new belonging

The Body – new joining

The Church – new beginning

 

We Have Been Changed in Society: The Church as a Community of Communities
(Colossians 3:18-4:1)

City-state (polis) and household (oikos) in the ancient world

The church as the new polis and our relationships as the new oikos in Christ

 

We Have Been Changed in Our Relationships: Households Transformed for the Lord
(Colossians 3:18-4:1)

Wives and Husbands – with the love of Christ

Children and Parents – for the honor of Christ

Servants and Masters – in the service of Christ