Thursday, January 31, 2008

Unity through the only ONE - Jesus

Welcome to the very first lesson post from ONE. I am excited to share with you today from God's word. Our main scripture comes from the gospel of John 17:20-21

"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that 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."

Opening Prayer
Father God I come to you as always thankful for you, thankful for your word, thankful for your Son Jesus Christ who prayed for all believers right before His arrest and crucifixion. Holy Spirit I ask that you illuminate your word for our benefit and for your glory. Show us sins to repent of, promises to receive, and principals to apply and use all to continue conforming us to the likeness of Jesus Christ our savior and our Lord so that we might be unified under His authority and that the world would know that you sent Him. Amen.

I once had a new Christian ask me....."I hear that Jesus was a man. I also hear that He was God, yet Jesus prayed to God, why would God pray to Himself?"

Jesus was fully man and is fully God. God is one and yet made up of three very distinct, individuals, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Before stepping down from heaven into human history, Jesus had always lived and reigned forever in eternity past and enjoyed an unbroken fellowship with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. God is very much relational and Jesus prayed and prayed early and often because He wanted to talk to God, maintain that relationship and to be in continual fellowship with God because He loved Him, wanted to be near Him, wanted to share all things with God the Father.

Throughout the gospels we see Jesus praying a number of times. He prays before miracles, He prays before He raised Lazarus from the dead, we learn in Mark 1:35 that Jesus had a routine of rising early to pray and in Luke 5:16 we see that Jesus often went off by Himself to pray. In Luke 11:2 He teaches us how to pray, in the Luke 22:44 we see that Jesus prayed so intensely in the garden that He sweat drops of blood, and in John 17 we see that just hours before His arrest, Jesus prays for us as believers.

"I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one,"

Jesus doesn't pray for our health, our wealth, that we would get a good education, He doesn't pray that we would find the right job, get the right girl, or have a great marriage, He never asked that we would be successful, or that our physical ailments would be healed, he doesn't even pray that we would get a pony (and I know some of you are still bitter about never getting a pony). Instead Jesus prays for our unity. That as believers we would be united under Him. 2000 years before you or I were born Jesus looked into the hallways of the history of the church seeing all the divisions, theological differences, perspectives, opinions, denominations, splits, infighting, hurt feelings, jealousies, and instead of praying for our success or deliverance from trials and tribulations He asks that we be united as one as He and the Father are one.

How are we to be united?

1. Not through organization. We can have order, and schedule, and planning, and process, and we can meet regularly for years at the same time, the same place and in the end we will be nothing more than an organized group of people who meet religiously at the same time and the same place.

2. Not through conformity. Contrary to popular belief, unity does not come from our similarities. Looking the same, having the same background, sharing the same talents, dressing the same doesn't unite us it makes us boring. The church of Jesus should be the most diverse. We should welcome in all who are in need of receiving the good news of Jesus and all who have received the good news and want to share and to grow in Jesus regardless of hometown, race, personal interests, evangelism styles because diversity is exciting and we are not called to conformity which tends to be legalistic, guys in ties, ladies in dresses. This is not the unity Jesus is asking for us to have.

Unity just doesn't happen. This is something that we must strive for.

Here is a great example: Marriage - In a marriage you have 2 beautiful people who come together, who love each other very, very much. This is the perfect marriage with only 2 problems....the man and the woman. You see they are both sinners, the will both do what they should not do, the will both say what they should not say and neither of them will do what they should do or say what they should say and apart from the unity of Christ, apart from a continued submission to the authority of Jesus and to each other there will be no unity. The marriage will not last and if it does one of the persons will be destroyed, cold, and bitter.

How then are we to be united?

1. We have unity in community - "I pray that all of them may be one"
At Sevier Heights we get together in 3 primary settings

1. Celebration - corporate worship together Sunday mornings/Sunday evenings
2. Community - Bible Fellowship classes - making the big church a smaller church (25% or over 100000 protestant churches in the US are comprised of 45 or fewer members)
3. Cell - the smallest component of any living organism, our small groups

Paul calls this the partnership of the gospel in Philippians 1:3-6

" 3I thank my God every time I remember you. 4In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

Sometimes community is referred to as fellowship but this is more than casserole dishes, karaoke, and breakfast on Sunday mornings. Our community comes from not only sharing in but also what we share out with each other. When we get real with each other, when we let the guard drop, take off our masks and become human, sharing our troubles, our needs, our weaknesses, and our sins with each other then Jesus shows up in a powerful way and our witness becomes a practical, visible testimony of Jesus working in our lives.

We have unity in community because we share the work of the gospel together. We are partners in the gospel as Jesus works in us to conform us more and more to His image, as He works through us to encourage other believers to grow deeper with Him, and as He works out of us to spread the gospel with those who do not yet know Jesus as Savior and Lord.

2. We have unity because we are family. "just as you are in me and I am in you"
The New testament is replete with language of the family of God. Upon salvation, the moment we first believed, God adopted us into His family as His holy, righteous sons and daughters. At the moment of salvation we became brothers and sisters to Jesus and to each other. This means we can now have relationships that are deep and meaningful with one another. We have commitments to one another and we commit ourselves to one another. We help each other in very tangible ways financial, physical, and spiritual.

Financially - As a family we can work together in business because we know our money is going to Christians who love Jesus, who love His church and because we know that more money in the hands of Christians is a good thing. We can also help those who are in need by giving love offerings and donations. We can help each other in very tangible ways financially.

Physically - Some of you will need to move in the future and you will need help. Pick up the phone and call your big, hairy, brothers with strong backs to lend a hand. Some of you will have babies and we can bring meals or diapers. We can help each other physically.

Spiritually - All of us will suffer at some point in time and we will need your prayers. Some of you are on fire for Jesus and we need your witness so that we would be bold about Jesus in our own lives. We need your encouragement. We can help each other spiritually.

If our family is established by Jesus then we have no say, just as in our earthly families, who enters in. Does that mean I have to love the weird uncle who never wears any pants who always wants me to sit on his lap? Yes, you love him, just don't go near him.

Question - Have you committed yourself to the family of God? Or are you living outside the circle? Maybe you have been searching for community, you have been to 5 churches in the past year or 3 different Bible Fellowship classes in the past 2 months and nothing. Maybe the problem isn't the church. Maybe the problem is you. Are you willing to commit yourself to the family of God?

3. We have unity when we are the body - "May they also be in us"

1 Corinthians 12:12-14 "12The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14Now the body is not made up of one part but of many."

Jesus prayed for our unity because we simply cannot survive apart from Him or apart from one another. Just as our physical bodies are comprised of many parts that have different functions yet work together so it is with us as believers. Your liver can't function outside of your body. Your heart stops beating once it is removed. Your brain ceases to function the very minute it is detached from the spinal cord and so it is with us when we get disconnected from the body of Christ.

We miss a few Sundays, we stop calling each other, we quit coming to class, a month goes by. We forgo a couple of fellowship events and pretty soon another month goes by, a year goes by and something seems to be missing in you. Your head is disconnected from the body of Christ and you no longer think about godliness or good things, you begin to dwell on all the bad. Your heart no longer seeks after Jesus and soon you begin to shrivel up spiritually.

Jesus prayed that as believers we would be unified not through religion, organization, or conformity but that our unity would parallel the unity of Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit, that we would strive to come together as the community of Jesus, the family of Jesus, and the body of Jesus with Jesus being the head having all power and all authority over us.

John 15:5
"5I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

Without Jesus we can do nothing. Nothing.
Jesus is our source of life. He calls us out of our darkness, out of death, and unto Himself for an eternal life with Him. He is our source of life. Jesus grow us, He shapes us, He uses everything to continually conform us to His likeness. Jesus said that all authority has been given to me. This means that Jesus have authority over creation, all peoples from all times, lands, cultures, all civilizations and nations throughout history. Jesus has all authority over our lives, our finances, our marriages, our children, our jobs, our homes, our church and apart from Him we can do nothing! Apart from Jesus you can do nothing. You can't do a good job, have a good marriage, or raise a good family, we can't have unity. The Greek word for nothing here is NOTHING!

Our unity in our church, our class, our homes, and our marriages, must ultimately come through the unifying, life giving, live changing power of Jesus Christ. To quote the great theologian Charles Barkley...."anything less would be uncivilized." Anything less would be unusable, dying, dead, and thrown into the fire.

Jesus said that our unity would be a powerful testimony not of our religion, our conformity, or our culinary skills but that it will be a powerful testimony to Jesus, that God really sent Jesus, that Jesus really lived, died, was raised from the dead and that He is indeed alive today, the tomb is empty and that He lives in and among us as united believers.

Questions: Have you asked Jesus to be Savior and Lord of your life? Are you apart of His family? If so, have you committed to being apart of His family striving toward unity through community, fellowship, and submitting yourself to the authority of Jesus? Is there a decision you need to make right now or a sin you need to repent of. If so, please take this time to talk with Jesus in prayer.

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