This past weekend at Eastbrook Church, I began a two-part reflection on the nature of the church. My working title for this series is “The Multi-Everything Church,” which is an outworking of our vision to become a Revelation 7:9-10 type of church with attention to some other aspects beyond multi-ethnicity. This weekend’s message looks at the image of the church as an intergenerational family, where we are all equally children of God by simple faith, yet also embracing the entire church, young and old, as having a place of belonging and value. I spent a bit of time talking about the problems with the frameworks of generational thinking, calling us to a deeper grasp of Jesus’ prayer for unity and call to love.
This past weekend I had the chance to speak at Elmbrook Church as part of their summer “Game Changer” series. Returning to Elmbrook is always a joy for me because my first full-time vocational ministry role was as Elmbrook’s College Pastor with The Ave (2003-08).
This series allows speakers to share Scriptural truths that were “game changers” in their lives. For me, growing in my understanding of God’s love changed me from the inside out and has continued to transform the way I think about God, myself, and others. Some aspects of this message were derived from a weekend in a series we did at Eastbrook entitled “Who Am I?” However, I always find that preaching is an experience of three-way communication between God, a congregation and a preacher that makes the preaching event always unique.
You can watch the message below:
Also, my dear friend Mike from Kettlebrook Church in West Bend opened Scripture with Eastbrook as part of our “Great Prayers of the Bible” series while I was away. You can watch his message here as well:
“that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you…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.” (John 17:21-23)
Jesus plunges ahead in prayer to the deep place of God’s relational unity: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” This is one of the great and mysterious truths of the Christian life. God is one in the unity of His substance, yet at the same time distinguished as three persons. There is a unified community of being within God that Jesus expresses here in prayer. Jesus points to God’s essential unity within diversity and diversity within unity. It is this unity within God that is the basis for the unity within God’s people seen in Jesus’ prayer.
Many times when we talk about unity, we begin to talk a lot about love. We know that love is critical to upholding unity within the church and is the essence of what it means to live the Christian life. Love is incredibly important, and we all must learn to love others more deeply and truly.
But Jesus takes His prayer for unity in a different direction. Jesus does not pray here that God would give His people greater capacity or ability to love one another. He prays about something else entirely. He prays that His glory would flow into His future followers and lead them into transformed relationship with God and, therefore, with one another. What is God’s glory? It is the fullness of God’s goodness and greatness being revealed. When Jesus’ prays for God’s glory to fill God’s people it is a prayer that the goodness and greatness of God would be manifested within the lives of His people.
Biblical scholar Raymond Brown points out that “unity is not simply human fellowship or the harmonious interaction of Christians.” There is “both a horizontal and a vertical dimension” to unity. What Jesus knew, and we need to recognize, is that our breakthroughs to unity with others depend upon the glory of God descending into our lives and relationships. The more we are transformed in our relationship with God by His indwelling presence, the more our relationships with others will be likewise transformed. The result is a glorious unity with one source in the Living God.
As we seek unity, let us pray for God’s glory – His goodness and greatness – to become even more present, yes, even preeminent, in us.
Lord, please pour out Your glory in us
that our lives might be overcome by who You are.
And as Your glory becomes more and more prominent in us
may Your beautiful unity also take root within us.
What we really want is to be more like You,
individually and corporately as Your people.
We know there is no other way for that to happen
than for You to have Your way in us.
Come, Holy Father,
Come, Jesus the Son,
Come, Holy Spirit,
Live in us!
This from C. S. Lewis in The Four Loves:
God is love….[and] This…love is Gift-love. In God there is no hunger that needs to be filled, only plenteousness that desires to give….God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing…the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up. If I may dare the biological image, God is a ‘host’ who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and ‘take advantage of’ Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.
“What’s love got to do with it?”
“All you need is love!”
“I wanna know what love is.”
“I will always love you.”
Any number of songs within our culture talk about the power of love in our lives. When we are loved we find a deeper meaning in our lives. Often, being loved and loving others helps us find out what is most important in life, and even to discover who we are.
In our current series at Eastbrook Church, “Who Am I?“, we are exploring biblical answers to questions about our identity as human beings. This past weekend I explored how knowing and experiencing the love of God shapes our sense of personal identity. I referenced a wide variety of Scripture passages, as well as a few nods of the head to Kevin Durant, Mother Teresa, and the movie Arrival.
I began my message this past weekend by mentioning Kevin Durant’s 2014 MVP acceptance speech. Particularly, I highlighted how the sacrificial love of his mother helped him transcend his circumstances and become more than he imagined. You can watch the entire speech or simply jump ahead to see him talk about his mom at 23:29.
Who is your example of sacrificial love?
I originally wrote the following blog post in 2011 as a series of reflections on Leviticus while reading through the Bible in a year. I’m re-posting it today because it fits the themes I’ve been writing about in terms of Leviticus and displaced people.
When I grew up, I spent a lot of time watching Mr. Rogers. I’m not sure why, but there was something about the songs, sweaters, and shoes that just kept me coming back for more. Mr. Rogers loved to ask that simple question day after day for his riveted little television audience: “Won’t you be my neighbor?”
In the Bible, we find the theme of being a neighbor all over the place, even if it is a bit more serious than Mr. Rogers. When Jesus is asked what the most important commandment in all of the Hebrew Bible is, He answers by saying that we are to love God with all of who we are and that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:28-34). Jesus’ summary statement ties together two commands: love of God and love of neighbor. Like with a coin, they are two sides to the same law of love.
The commandment to love God is fairly easy to grasp. Jesus draws from the celebrated Hebrew shema found in Deuteronomy 6. The shema is an identity marker for the Jewish people, in which they are called to worship and adhere to God alone.
The second half of Jesus’ words, however, comes from the often neglected book of Leviticus. In the midst of instructions about rituals, guidelines about annual ceremonies and festivals, and list upon list of what to eat and not to eat, we find these powerful words: “love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:18). Leading up to this statement, all sorts of relational situations are mentioned: stealing, lying, partiality in justice for the poor or the wealthy, slandering others, seeking revenge because of a grudge, making life difficult for the blind or deaf, and more. Into the midst of many real life situations, God is saying that the ideal of loving our neighbor must be worked out in every social arena. It is our response to who God is. How we love others matters to God.