SHAPED BY UNITY IN 2018

(January 25, 2018) Tim Edwards shares some challenging post Christmas/pre-Easter/pre-Pentecost reflections…

To many Christmas 2017 is long gone! It’s almost the 30th of January 2018 already! We’re rushing towards another 30thEaster’s Good Friday… the 30th of March! In fact I’ve seen some Easter eggs and hot-cross buns in supermarkets already!

As we move ahead in 2018 our church is continuing to work our way through the Cover to Cover Bible with daily scripture readings. But – although we’re definitely moving forward – I feel led of God to share some thoughts that came to me last December that are so relevant for moving forward in 2018.

For example, I recall we found ourselves in what appeared to be the somewhat strange predicament of pre-Christmas preparations while studying scriptures traditionally associated with Easter!

Strong link between Easter and Christmas
The more I read, thought and prayed, the more I realised that the link between Christmas and Easter is so strong, so real, tangible and necessary.

Easter, the suffering and death and resurrection of Christ, couldn’t have happened without Christmas (the birth of Christ) and by the same token Christmas is simply not complete without Easter – they are two components of the same story; both vitally important and eternally joined.

Jesus himself drew the link between the two events in the middle of his trial at the hands of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate: he referred back to the first Christmas and said, ‘The reason I was born and came into this world is to testify to the truth’ (John 18:37).

As he stood there approaching the designated time of his death, Jesus reminded the listening crowd of his birth, thereby joining the dots and bridging the gap for them by explaining what it was all about – that he came to testify to the truth, truth that would bring humanity into relationship with a loving God.

 Establishing the truth that sets us free
‘Testify’ means ‘to declare under oath; to establish a fact; to make a statement serving as evidence, to bear witness, to verify, vow or promise.’ So… Christmas plus Easter equals a declaration and establishment of the truth!

Jesus declared in John 8: 32, ‘If you hold to my teaching, then you really are my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.’

The truth described here relates to the reality that we are designed for a relationship with God – he made us, loves us and calls us to live a life with him; a full, abundant, effective and productive life here temporarily here on earth and then eternally at home with him.

What a privilege it was therefore, pre-Christmas, to be also reading the Easter story… giving a fresh opportunity to understand the truth by viewing the complete picture of God’s love for us. Knowing and learning that God loves us all so much and offers us all his love and, despite the fact that life is often not quite what we expect it to be, he is always there with us and for us.

Believing in faith and obediently following
Some other issues I couldn’t help but reflect on as I considered Christmas, Easter and the future were…

  • We all have a choice how seasons in life work out because we decide what attitudes to live with through these seasons.
  • As we journey further into 2018 we will have an awareness that we are not quite finished with kingdom establishing, friendships with other Christians, and community connecting.
  • We will all experience seasons of feeling and knowing that there is much more to come ahead.
  • As we follow the example of those first disciples, Jesus’ assuring words in John 10:29, ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’ will come to mind!
  • Walking with God involves times of not seeing everything clearly as we would like and prefer!
  • The question to answer is: ‘Will we still believe in faith and follow in obedience?’

As I considered the future and its possibilities in God for Christians (the church of Jesus who became our Saviour at that first Easter) two things came to mind that Christ wants his church to realise in 2018:

  • That unity is part of God’s desire for us.
  • That he wants us to live and walk in unity.

Unity
As I reflected on the Easter story during the Christmas season, the one thing that really impacted me was … Unity.

There are several major elements here relative to our need for a genuine relationship with God. They start of course with love and include the obvious understandings of faith, hope, obedience, joy, peace, patience, kindness and such.

In this connection, we should note how Jesus prayed in the lead-up to his crucifixion. He could have prayed for anything… but he prayed for his followers, his disciples!

 And what did he pray for them? Unity! At least four times in his John 17 prayers right before his arrest, trial and crucifixion he prays for unity.

Firstly, he prays for himself, confirming his unity with the Father and asking for God’s will to be done and the task he was called to do to be completed.

Then, he starts praying for his disciples: ‘Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one’ (John 17: 11).

That was a really serious prayer. Protect them with what? The Father’s power! Why? So that –

  • They may be one as he and God are one,
  • That they can really truly live and walk in unity with him and God – and with each other.

Yes, Jesus was praying for his first disciples at that point… but he went on to pray for every follower in every century – including ours!

One can sense his heart as with vision Jesus looked ahead: ‘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’ (John 17: 20-21).

Jesus wasn’t just praying for his own unity with God, he wasn’t just praying for the unity of his first disciples with God and with each other: Jesus was praying for us – for you and for me, that we too would move in unity in our time!

The challenge to the church today!
American author and preacher Tommy Tenney, the man behind the God Chasers series of books, goes as far as to call this Christ’s unanswered prayer, in that he explains we are still waiting to see the church, us, you and me, come together in unity.  What a sad but true depiction!

However you choose to view his thinking I don’t think any of us could deny that we still have a long way to go in order to really see genuine and meaningful unity in the church globally, nationally or locally.

In Acts 1 we see Jesus saying to the 120 gathered believers, ‘Wait!” Why? Because soon two things would soon happen when the Holy Spirit fell:

  1. ‘You will receive power’
  2. ‘You will be my witnesses.’

Sound familiar? Witnesses… declaring and testifying to the truth. In Acts 2 we see God pouring out his Spirit (the power which was promised!) so that the believers can do exactly what they have been asked to do – testify on Jesus’ behalf… be witnesses, declare truth.

This was the day of Pentecost and God’s Holy Spirit falls from heaven and gives them power and authority to –  

  • Worship God in a new way
  • Prophesy
  • Experience dreams and visions
  • Anticipate in signs and wonders!
  • Immediately witness to their needy generation!

Something amazing had happened and in Acts 2:17-20 Peter addresses the bewildered, curious crowd letting them know that what they are witnessing was not public drunkenness but a display of God’s incredible power.

Quoting scripture, Peter told them clearly: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders … before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.’

The next verse declares, ‘And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ And many did… some three thousand! The church was born and would continue to grow as believers in unity took on responsibility to spread the gospel in love and power.

The Pentecostal experience is not meant to be a circus; a free-for-all; an entertainment side-show proving who can do the coolest godly trick! It is one part of God’s plan to enable us to –

  • Be witnesses for him
  • Declare truth
  • Testify to each other of the love and wonder and might of God!

And he empowers us to do so through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The journey with God all starts with love, and relates to faith, hope, obedience and all the other components the Bible presents as aspects of our relationship with God – but it is clear that our navigation through our Christian life is definitely shaped by unity.

‘Shaped by Unity’
As we journey further into 2018 I encourage all Christians to remember this phrase. Our ability to be effective witnesses to, ambassadors for, and representatives of our amazing God, is most certainly shaped by our unity.

And our delivery of the message of Christ is deeply connected and attached to our understanding of unity.

Jesus knew this when he said to his disciples in John 13:34-35, ‘A new command I give you; love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.’

The world is watching to see how we not only connect to God but also how we connect to each other – we are supposed to work together with God and with one another in our calling to represent him.

We need to take our responsibility seriously and live in unity while displaying the love of God for all to see. It is our responsibility to use the gifts of God (his power) to demonstrate his love to others – to testify, bear witness, and display evidence of his goodness and greatness.

What does this unity look like?
We can see its example for us in Acts 2: 41-47…

1. Commitment to God, to each other, and to the broader community
There was teaching, prayer, fellowship, communion. Every day they gathered together and ate together.

2. Understanding of humility, respect and encouragement
They were filled with awe, had glad and sincere hearts, and enjoyed the favour of one another.

3. Demonstration of generosity, sharing, kindness and compassion
They gave, they cared, and they looked after each other.

All this is beautifully summed up for us in Acts 4: 32-33, ‘All the believers were one in heart and mind… with great power… (they) continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.’

God still supplies the power… he simply asks us to testify about him as witnesses for him. And he asks us to do that in unity, demonstrating his love.

Unity is seriously important. May we all be shaped by unity in 2018!

Tim Edwards is senior pastor of Moolap and Barrabool Baptist Church, Geelong. Link: info@mbhbc.org.au / http://www.mbhbc.org.au/

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