Monday, June 27, 2011

How To Empty Your Cup So It Can Be Filled

Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”  And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good?  There is only one who is good.  If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”  He said to him, “Which ones?”  And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?”  Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”  When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.  Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?”  But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”  Then Peter said in reply, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.  What then will we have?”  Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.                                                Matthew 19:16 - 30 (NRSV)
On the pages of Scripture we find a commonality of human experience; except for Jesus there isn't a single hero in the Bible…or our day.  I'm so glad we see all the imperfections, the “warts” of Biblical heroes such as Moses, Abraham and Peter.  Because their sins were real, each of them experienced that "what's the use" feeling from time to time. 
The “rich young ruler” was not excepted from having the blahs.  He recognized how empty he was inside and came to Jesus, looking for an answer – something - ANYTHING he could do that would fix his “empty cup”.
Aimlessness, or purposelessness, is tied very closely to man's innate need to know, and experience the presence of God.  That’s what the man was looking-for.  He didn’t understand that, because, in reality, it is the lack of that close relationship with God that causes the void in your inner-life.  It’s when you feel empty that you most understand your need to be filled.  But that empty feeling doesn’t come with a looping MP3 sound file that tells you, “Hey girl, it’s God you’re looking for.”
Now, when an unbeliever (or pagan) experiences the void, it is understandable; his need can be filled by being born again. 
But what about when a professing Christian is aimless and empty?  Does that mean he really isn't saved?  That may be so in some cases.  More likely it is simply a signal that the believer has dropped the ball in his relationship with God.  After all, God is never the one who drops the ball! 
God is our purpose and reason for living.  Without Him as our focus, we tire of life's toys and distractions and begin to feel empty.  The rich man knew that – all the toys in the world can’t satisfy a soul’s need!  The hole in the human heart is God-shaped; He is all that fits in there!
What do you do when you experience that void in your daily life? 
What if you’ve filled your life with all sorts of things, activities, accomplishments, awards…and you still feel empty?  You’ve tried, like it says in Ecclesiastes, getting bigger kicks in your life, better this, or that, or any new version of the other…and it’s all vanity – all so very empty!  You’ve filled your cup with everything the world has to offer and you’re so empty inside you wonder why you were born in the first place. 
I’ve got some Good News this morning; the One who designed humanity, and gave us this life as a gift has the answers for our empty cups. 
First, remember…
The human experience that is common to all of us is that nobody is immune to the void – that empty feeling in life.  In the account of the young ruler, it was that restless feeling – that there was something he'd left undone with his life.  It was that horrible emptiness which prompted him to go to Jesus with his question. 
It's very much like attending your wife's high school reunion . . . somehow you feel like you just don't fit.  You’ve done so much, maybe climbed to the top of the heap…grabbed the brass ring of success…but, like the rich young ruler, it wasn’t enough.  You’re still empty just like he was still empty.
Jesus talked to the man about all that God had said about behaving yourself.  But the man wasn't content with superficial "rules-keeping."  He'd done that all his life.  He was rich, obedient; he had everything you could want, but inside…there was no peace.  Keeping all the rules was just empty!
Nearly fifty years ago Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones sang about this rich young ruler in the all-time #1 favorite rock song, I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.  Why was it the most popular song?  Simply because it resonated with what is singularly THE most common human experience – emptiness!
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Emptiness is what the human soul feels when disconnected from that for which we are created.  We were MADE for fellowship with God, and for His good pleasure!  We can't be fulfilled outside of a close, loving fellowship with God. 
The tragedy of the drug culture, booze, materialism, "showbiz," New Age fruitcakes, and career criminals is that the frantic race for a higher high, a longer lasting popularity, and different experience is just what Mick Jagger sang about:
"I try, and I try, and I try, and I try; 
                           …and I can't get no satisfaction!"
Grammar aside, Mick Jagger expressed what the whole world should know – apart from Jesus, you can't get no satisfaction!
Those who've never been born again have never known genuine satisfaction.  Those who have been born-again should know better than to slip away from that close fellowship.  But we do; it’s a popular condition.
Secondly, it’s not only a popular condition…
The reality about emptiness is that we often choose it.  Jesus wanted the ruler to choose a relationship – to be friends with Jesus.  The only requirement was to remove whatever stood between them.  The man had already dealt with the one thing that trips-up most of us – pride!  Just coming to Jesus with his questions shows the ruler wasn't prideful.  The problem was his materialism.
Choices are a part of everyday life.  We choose to get up in the morning.  We choose the clothes to wear.  When given the choice - Jesus or wealth - the ruler was sad.  He was sad, having glimpsed the one thing that would give him peace, and choosing the opposite. 
It’s not that money is bad; the young man had allowed his wealth to get in-between God and himself.  That’s the description of an idol:   Whenever anything, material, physical, relationship or habit…anything, gets in-between you and God.  It is the one thing God will not tolerate…he’ll have no other gods blocking his relationship with you.  You can choose to have Him in your life, or that other thing….but NOT both!
We are strange people indeed, when we choose death over life.  Pagans choose to remain separated from God eternally.  Believers choose to wallow in the emptiness of unbelief, of little gods blocking out the big one, just like you’d hold up your hand to block the sun.  Substitute anything there for your hand – career, affair, family – anything that comes between God and you is an idol, and will make you as sad as that rich young ruler!  Reality is that you cannot have new life when you refuse to let go of the old.  Poor choice!  What's a good choice?  
Peter (ever the inquisitive) marvels at Jesus' statements, and asks, "What's in it for those who follow?" Jesus stated it bluntly, and with no strings attached.  For those who are willing to let go, God is willing to bless.  Your positive claim to all Jesus is willing to offer, is to cut ties with the old life and follow Him.  The reward is the promise of fulfillment. 
·        You trade in your emptiness; you reap contentment. 
·        You give up control; you gain power. 
·        You stop living for self; you begin living in the presence of God. 
·        You turn in useless chasing after the unknown; you begin knowing! 
Good choice!
For 36 years Chuck Colson has been in prisons – to minister to the prisoners.  He says every year, every month, every week, almost every day, I see or hear about God utterly transforming the lives of men and women who have been abandoned by society and placed in the world’s darkest holes.  You would think you’d get used to hearing the stories.  Not so!
Take the story of John Jennings. He grew up in North Carolina, and he’d be the first to tell you he was a little wild growing up.  He went to college, was a real math whiz, but he dropped out in favor of selling drugs.  He supplemented his earnings by preparing people’s taxes in ways that beat the law.
Then he started robbing banks.  At age 37, John landed in prison, facing 165 years for armed robbery and other crimes.  Imagine the emptiness and despair a man feels when he’s sentenced to 165 years behind bars.
In the midst of that despair, Prison Fellowship volunteers entered John’s life.  John heard about PF Bible studies they were leading at the prison.  He decided to join in.  And there he was introduced to Jesus Christ.
Then, not long before one Christmas, Bruce Williams sang a song that stopped John in his tracks.  The song went like this:  “When others see a shepherd boy, God may see a king.  Even though your life seems filled with ordinary things, in just a moment He can touch you, and everything will change.”
John asked for a copy of the song, and Bruce mailed him a cassette recording.  Soon, Bruce began meeting with John, and when John came up for parole, Bruce was there to vouch for him.  And when John was set free, Bruce took him into his home, dressed him in new clothes, and gave him a job in the family’s business.  Out of gratitude to God, John, convicted felon, bank-robber, bad guy… founded a ministry for ex-prisoners, helping meet their spiritual, physical, and financial needs.
Jesus gave John a new life. And He stood by John even as John went through an ordeal greater than prison.  After John was released from prison, his son was murdered by a man who had been a friend.  In the courtroom, John faced his son’s killer, tears streaming down his face.  John said, “God told me to tell you He loves you, man...And the only way we win today is if you give your life to the Lord.”
John struggled to get the words out:  “God loves you -- and I love you.” Leaving the courthouse, John heard God speak to him:  Now, son, I can use you.[1]
Appearances are deceiving.  There will be some surprises on judgment day!  Only God sees what is in the heart.  Jesus looked into the heart of a young man and saw materialism had enslaved his heart.  He couldn't bear to let go.  It was not the ruler who owned his money; it was the other way around.
So, how do you get your cup filled?  Empty it!  The encouragement of this text is "...with God all things are possible”. 
Whatever causes your emptiness is the very thing that is gripping your heart.  Jesus has promised He will set you free if you will let Him do it. 
Empty the cup; let Jesus fill it up with passion and a purpose for you that will overflow your life into everyone who meets you.
Beloved, let Him do it!
Father, the cups our hearts are sometimes so empty.  And yet they’re really quite full…full of stuff and activities and cravings for all the world’s applause and play toys…that stuff crowds you out! 
Help us to empty our cups of all that stuff we chase, so you can fill us up – with joy unspeakable and full of glory!  We pray in the Name of the Father, Because of the Son, Cooperating with the Spirit…Amen!

[1] Charles Colson, Holy Impact, Our Work Behind Prison Walls, on Breakpoint, June 22, 2011

This Day in History

 Today (June 27, 2011) marks the 64th anniversary of my birthday.  Time seems to slip right on by.
I learned two interesting things today -

First -
NBC  (Channel 4) in Washington DC began broadcasting on this day in 1947.

Second -
UFO's were spotted over Tintown, Arizona on the same day.

I'm wondering if my parents told me the truth, or if I was delivered in some other way to this earth?
 JUNE 27, 1947: John A. Petsche, an electrician at Phelps-Dodge Corporation, and other witnesses reported a disc-shaped object overhead and apparently coming to earth about 10:30am near Tintown in the vicinity of Bisbee in southeastern Arizona near the New Mexico border.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Father With a Majestic Name

O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  You have set your glory above the heavens.  Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?  Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.  You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.  O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!      Psalms 8:1 - 9 (NRSV)
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.  And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”Matthew 28:16-20 (NRSV)
Father’s Day holiday stories are legion.  A little girl once said to her mother, “Mommy, if Santa Claus brings our presents, and God gives us our daily bread, and Uncle Sam gives us Social Security, why do we keep daddy around?”[1] 
A father came home from work just before supper and was met by his five-year-old son on the sidewalk outside his house. The little guy was not smiling. "Is something wrong?" he asked. "Yes," he said, "all day long I’ve been having trouble with your wife."[2]
Someone had noticed that the word "father" appears in the dictionary just before the word "fatigued" and just after the word "fathead." So to all us fatigued, fathead fathers, Happy Father's Day![3] 
The Gospel text worries me
From the first time I heard a preacher say I was responsible to go and make disciples this text has bothered me.  It’s a big job!  I know the disciples that Jesus was talking to – the remaining 11 (Judas was already gone), had the same kind of misgivings.  At least some of them did; the text said some doubted! 
You know that’s right.  They’re no different than we are.  We worship – and we have doubts, misgivings, challenged priorities, self-loathing, weak faith (but faith nonetheless!).  Deep inside we believe, in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  But we have lingering doubts:
·        Can God really do anything with us that will effect lasting change?
·        Can we really reach neighbors?
·        Or even just our own kids?
·        Won’t we mess it up somehow?
And, knowing ourselves, we certainly wonder about Jesus’ disciples.  Was it really a good idea to have your leadership team so lacking in a settled faith?  They had all sorts of unanswered questions…well, perhaps with one exception…they knew Jesus had been dead – and now he was alive!
Against it all Jesus said to them, “Go…make disciples”.  And he says it to us too.  That worries me.  But that’s what the Psalmist was there for – to answer my questions so it makes a little more sense why God chose to work through us.
God who is sovereign over all answers for me the basic existential questions of life in this Psalm – who I am, what I’m worth, and how I find my purpose.
He Created me (the question of My Origin)
The Psalmist (most assume it’s King David) says (verse 5) that the Sovereign made them (us).  This is creation’s story. 
You may have heard of the little girl who asked her Mom how all the people in the world got here.  Mom told her God created Adam and Eve, who had children…and that’s how it all happened.  Later she asked Dad, and Dad gave her evolution….primordial slime, one-celled slugs dividing…down to the apes begetting mankind.  The little girl was confused, so she asked Mom again…. “Daddy said our grandmas and grandpas were monkeys.”  Mom replied, “that’s right, honey, he was telling you about HIS side of the family.”
The Psalmist insists, “YOU (God) made us”.  What’s comforting about that is if I know where I came from, I know a lot more about who I am.  Today we celebrate Father’s Day.  Not everyone knows their earthly father, or even much about their earthly family.  But the one question that is answerable is what my eternal father is like.  My origin is from heaven’s choice! 
And then the Father with the majestic name tells me
He Cares for me (the question of My Worth)
David says that the Sovereign LORD created me a little lower than God.  This ultimately means I am a person of great worth to God and therefore to everyone.
One theologian put it this way about origin and worth:  The most startling leap of faith is not that God exists, but that He cares.  If God cares for me – if He loves me, then even the hate of every other creature in the universe cannot lower my worth – I am loved with an everlasting love!  And that chases the darkness from my soul!
My origin is God, who loves me, and the crowning glory is that:
He Commissions me (the question of My Purpose)
Again David says that we are given dominion over the work of God’s hands.  We have a purpose in life – to love and serve God.  Matthew records that Jesus told the disciples to Go and make disciples. 
This is the highest and most perplexing of all questions about our existence.  What is it that I am supposed to DO with this existence?  God said….LIVE!  The word “go” really means “as you go”.  In your everyday life, wherever you live, remember Who gave you the life you live and live it with purpose.  Give glory to God.  What an incredible gift.  Carl Shultz called it an incomprehensible grace that the king of glory would ask us to work along with Him to make this universe a place of His grace and glory.
What to DO
Father’s Day is more than just a Hallmark occasion.  It’s all about carrying on the family name.  My grandfather was Frederick, which in German means “peaceful ruler”.  My other grandfather was Emil, again a German name meaning “industrious”.  My Dad is Elwood, an English name which has its origin meaning “from the old forest”.  Three strong names – I should carry on with peace, industry and the strength of well-seasoned materials.  They gave me an English name, Russell; red-haired…a name like Adam…from the red earth.
Our Father also has a majestic name – it is Jesus; Jehovah Saves.  Accept the authority of this name – let it help you to join your Father in the family business; go, make other disciples.  This is too good news to let doubt hold you back!
Father, you know our doubts; send us anyway!   We pray in the Name of the Father, Because of the Son, Cooperating with the Spirit…Amen!

[1] Bruce Howell on
[2] Don Hawks on
[3] CHILD-SPEAK ( staff)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Power of ONE

After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
6”I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.
11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.       John 17: 1-11
Jesus prayed, …that they may be one, as we are one.  He wasn’t just talking to the Father about his disciples, Peter, John, James and the rest; Jesus was talking to the Father about us!  He wanted us to be just as much “one” or unified, as Jesus is with the Father.  Frankly, that would make most of us want to be atheists (or Buddhists at best).  Why do I have to be in unity with him; and why with you?  And frankly, some of you don’t like me and aren’t too fond of others here too.  Why unity, LORD….oh, WHY unity? 
What is Unity?
The answer comes a little later.  First….before the “why” – what is unity?  Unity is not so much everybody thinking, talking and looking alike.  It has much more to do with pulling in the same direction.  I heard a Southern Baptist missionary to Africa who had served thirty-years quote an old African saying as:  You can’t kill a flea with one finger.[1]  It’s true; the thumb and forefingers will push in opposite directions, but it’s the cooperation that gets the job done.
The Apostle Paul said that was our “vocation” – our job – to walk worthy of God’s calling, so we would keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.[2]  After a lot of years, and (admittedly) a lot of mistakes and eye-openers as a pastor, I’ve come to the conclusion that unity is no easy task in any church.  In the everyday course of life, people do not get along very well.
It is like the man who was stranded all alone on a deserted island for 12 years.  When he was rescued they noticed he had built three structures in the long years he was marooned there.  That seemed odd, so the people who rescued him asked about it.  He said that one building was his house, and one was his church.  He said the third building was where he used to go to church before he got his feelings hurt![3]  Some of us even have trouble being in unity with ourselves.
You could make a case that human nature almost despises unity; at the very least you could say our nature can’t seem to stand unity for very long.  Human nature aside, Jesus prayed for us to have it.  The question remains…why?
So…Why Unity?
The answer comes a few verses after this morning’s text ends:
As you, Father, 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 17:21 (NRSV) (emphasis added)
Jesus prayed for us to be unified so people who don’t know God will know there is truly a God who loves – and loves them – and they will believe in Jesus.  Some would say, “So what” – it isn’t my business whether or not someone believes in Jesus – it’s a personal decision.  That may be true, but if you’re a disciple of Jesus you have chosen to draw close to him, love him and do his will.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.   John 14:15 (NRSV)
Jesus even said Heaven was in the balance over this.
 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Matthew 7:21 (NRSV)
Unity is that important; it isn’t ALL that we’re responsible for as the body of Christ, but we cannot do anything for which we ARE responsible without unity!
Now…if unity between believers in the body of Christ is that important – so much so that Jesus made it a command – what gross sin it is for a church body to be divided!  For a church to be divided is like:
·        going to Yankee Stadium and finding out they don’t play ball games there, but they’ve got nice seats and tasty hot dogs. 
·        or walking into Ben & Jerry’s and having them tell you they’re all out of ice cream. 
Unity of the Spirit between Christians is just that important.  Without the unity of Christ there is no need for a church to exist.  And that is the very reason so many churches are out of business.  There may be 15 or 20 people hanging in there, keeping the doors open…but where there is no unity of Christ, the Spirit departs; the church is no more. 
That is why Jesus gave us reconciliation (Matthew 18), so when the unity of a church is broken by strife and discord, that unity can be restored.  It is a fact that one person cannot do the work of the church; but one person can be the reason why the work of the church isn’t done.  A person who refuses to reconcile – or even try – can break the spirit of a congregation!  One person can disrupt the present and future ministry of a church…for years!  I have seen it firsthand. 
Unity isn’t simple or simply achieved; it is also not easily gotten back.  The will of God can be accomplished without money, programs or denominations (including Methodists) – but it cannot be accomplished without unity; God works through people – people in unity!
The Power of 3
More than two years ago our Bishop Rev. Dr. Larry Goodpaster, unveiled his vision for the churches of our conference; he named it “The Power of 3”.  At the heart of this plan was to start new congregations, revitalize congregations that had grown stagnant, increase the mission effort in our neighborhoods and see an increase of at least 10% in worship attendance.  The power of 3!
I have come to firmly believe that the power of 3 cannot be accomplished in any other way than the power of ONE!  The “Power of ONE” is God’s people living and loving in Christ-honoring unity.   With all due respect to my Bishop, the “Power of 3” also is meaningless without the Power of ONE!
As previously stated, without unity, God’s will is not going to happen.  The “Power of 3” is a measurement of the tangible results of the Power of ONE.  In unity any church can be revitalized, help start new churches, send mission teams and increase attendance.  Some of that can even be accomplished without unity, even in the midst of extreme discord.  (God’s ability is never shortened by the actions of people).  But unity is the fertile soil for growth in God’s vineyard.  Without the sweet fertilizer of unity, we will raise a crop of weeds, briars and stones.  There will be activity and no spirit.  We will have a crowd; we just won’t have a church.
A Question
What would happen if we exceeded all four goals of “The Power of 3”?  What if we not only exceeded, but leaped over the goals….lapped the goals….destroyed the goals; what if we doubled, tripled or clobbered them by ten-fold?  Would that be satisfactory….would it be enough?  And for whom?  Are we trying to satisfy a Bishop’s vision?  Or is our heart set on God?
Now, before you write to the Bishop about my impertinence, let me assure you that our Bishop is not interested in goals to stroke his ego – he is first concerned with pleasing God, and seeing our church BE a fruitful congregation.  His goals are simply measuring tools to help us understand if we are being fruitful.  Without unity there is no pleasing God, no matter how far we surpass the goals of an earthly leader.
The “Power of 3” is not our goal; pleasing God is our goal.  And friend – God is never pleased with a church out of fellowship with each other.  The goals we have set presuppose that we are in unity.  Goal-setting in terms of new members, and any other new numbers, before you join hearts and hands in unity, isn’t so much like putting the cart before the horse….it’s like sending the horse of unity off to pasture and chopping up the church cart for firewood.  There’s nothing left to do but put up a new sign that announces the truth – God isn’t welcome here.  It would be the truth because He only is welcome when hearts are open. 
Without unity we live in the brokenness of anger, discord and confusion.  God won’t get in the middle of that!  Where will God’s Spirit be found working mightily? 
·        Do you recall what happened at Pentecost?  Do you recall how God’s Spirit broke out on the disciples and they preached boldly and people were saved, blessed and signs and wonders were done?  It was the upper room – they were all together – in ONE accord – the saints were in unity!
·        Do you recall Peter and John walking into the temple?  A beggar asked for a handout. Peter said, “I’m as broke as you are, friend, but what I’ve been given is yours….rise up and walk in Jesus’ name.”  Peter could say that because his heart was in unity with God and men.
How do we get there…from here?
How do porcupines dance?  Very carefully!  I’ve stated that unity isn’t simple; you’ve got to work at it.  But it isn’t overly complex either – God designed unity to grow in humble hearts who want it more than they want anything else.
So….two related questions for us to chew on…
1.     What works AGAINST unity?
2.     What will HELP us to be unified?
What works AGAINST unity?

Our eyes

Eyes are the window for the soul.  It is also the chief suspect whenever lust has taken over.  With the eyes we covet and discover more to covet.  The eyes were designed to take in the beauty of God’s creation.  But with those eyes we also see what we lack….and want.  That can be as simple as wanting to be as strong or beautiful or gifted as our neighbor.  It could be the things our neighbor possesses that we think would look better in our driveway.  Lust leads to jealousy, which is the seedbed for disunity.

Our tongues

The tongue in your mouth weighs between two and three ounces.  The Apostle James called it the most unruly member of the body.  And what destruction it can cause!  I have never known anything that can ruin the unity of a church, family, business office or friendship quicker, deeper or more lastingly than words gossiped (“shared” in Christian circles) or just plain launched like a .38 caliber bullet.

Our willfulness

The will is where we choose to live for self or live for God’s kingdom as his child; it’s where our decisions are made.  Willfulness is when we choose what we prefer – we will against unity; it is simply the decision for “me” rather than what God wills.  A person who chooses to live his life for God is also choosing against living his life for selfish reasons.  Integrity demands that we follow-through on that decision by making Godly choices.  Godly choices promote unity, selfish choices which destroy unity.
These three…the eyes, tongue and willfulness against Godliness are destroyers of unity.  Then, to the second question…
What will help us towards unity?
These three “helps” or promoters of unity are mirror images of the three unity-killers. 

For our eyes….BLINDNESS

If there is anything we need it is to be blind to color, race and the usual prejudices that go along with that which divides us.  Blindness promotes dependence on other than our eyes.  Our physical eyesight provides all sorts of natural temptations that enter our lives.  We need spiritual eyesight to super-impose over the natural sight.  That only comes from depending on God, rather than what we can see. 
Have you ever made a choice for God that is so absurdly different than what was clearly before you?  I was presented with an opportunity once to serve a prominent church with a good salary.  The eyes said, “Wow” but the spiritual eyes saw differently.  Some years later I was glad I said “no”.  The church was a seedbed of hotheaded and carnally-minded people.  It fell apart and was a disgrace to everything holy.

For our tongues….SILENCE

I recall a quite volatile situation.  A man got very angry over something I’d said.  Although I meant no disrespect – rather the opposite; I enjoyed his company – but he took my teasing remark seriously.  And he offered to remove my head from my shoulders with his fist.  I trusted God and apologized immediately.  We were never the best of friends; but the unity of our church was not broken over my remark. 
We need to be trained – most of us – to keep our mouths from running constantly.  Elijah couldn’t hear God for all the noise; finally, as he listened in the quiet there was that still, small voice.  We would do well to remember that we are given two ears and one tongue, and should use them in like proportion!

For our will….SURRENDER

Jesus informed us that the cross is the way of His kingdom:
Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. John 15:20 (NRSV)
There is just no way around this…if your will is going to be the way, you will not have Christ governing your life…and you will be a cause of disunity in the church. 
Now, the preference is that every person who attends here would be an example of Christlike lifestyle.  But there is also no easy way to say this – if you have no intention of surrendering your will to Christ, you should never join the church. 
That is to say, if you have no appetite or willingness to be united with the other believers of this church…please don’t join it.  If you’re already in, reconsider your reason for being here.  If it’s just because of nostalgia or this is where your family always attended…that’s not a good enough reason to be a disturbance to the unity of God’s church, where the will and attitude of Jesus Christ is the expectation. 
Eyes, Tongue and Will vs. Blindness, Silence and Surrender
These are much like a three-rail fence I once saw in Florida.  The anchor post was a living palm tree.  The dead wooden rails were laid in those long, extended bits of “bark”.  As the palm tree grew (and the fence rails didn’t) the living tree split the fence all apart.  It is like that for anything of the Spirit of God. 
Jesus said that it is foolish to think that old wineskins can contain new wine.  As the wine expands, the brittle old skins will split and you lose both the wine and the skins.
This is the difference between the old rails or wineskins of lustful eyes, wagging tongues and selfish wills, as opposed to Blind faithfulness, thought before using the tongue and absolute surrender of the will to God’s ways. 
Unity cannot survive as a dead split rail fence coupled to a growing tree.  Either the rails or the tree will die.  With humans, the strife of conflict drives the Spirit of God from our presence….and with Him, any chance of unity or ministry.
Unity exists in hearts….human hearts that want to join hands in service to our LORD.  One of John Wesley’s more well-known sermons (Catholic Spirit) is based on the text of an Old Testament incident of two former rivals meeting.  I think it rightly fits when it comes to how Christian people ought to behave.
"And when he was departed thence, he lighted on Jehonadab the son of Rechab coming to meet him, and he saluted him, and said to him, Is thine heart right, as my heart is with thy heart?  And Jehonadab answered:  It is.  If it be, give me thine hand."    2 Kings 10:15.
Challenge:  Become ONE before 3
Unity cannot be measured by any statistic ever developed, but you know it when it’s present.  It starts infant-like, birthed in the hearts of humans as personal humility.  It grows into a force that cannot be contained by the universe – unity, a bond that will not be broken.  It is winsome and glorious…and there is no place in the cosmos better than being right in the middle of a people bathed in that kind of spirit!
I lived in Jacksonville, Florida in the early 90’s.  We lived on the North side of town.  There was a paper mill just over the bridge to our north, and the kind of processing chemicals they used back then….well….propriety forbids me to tell you exactly what the odor was like.  At times, when the humidity got above 80% (which was 98% of the time), and the wind was towards the South, the smell that came wafting through North Jacksonville like the angel of death made you long for the atmosphere of whatever chemistry experiments went wrong in high school.
I cannot tell you how many times the story of the skunks was circulated during those years.  It seems a family of skunks was migrating down from Georgia.  It was August – hot and humid, and the paper mill was in full production of an especially powerful batch of atmosphere. 
One baby skunk cried out, Mama, what IS that smell.  Mama skunk replied, I don’t know, baby child; but we got to get us som’a that!
The desire for unity has to hang in the air a bit as we breathe a holy cleansing breath each time we consider being selfish.  Followers of Jesus are as much created for unity as the skunk for stink.  It’s what Jesus prayed for; that’s the power of ONE!
You may never explain it fully, or understand it, or be able to tell how it got here…but it is like the God who created…he is the wind – you can’t see him, but you can know his presence.  And that presence will be strong in this place, with us when we are a people of unity.  You cannot put a price tag on that; it’s not for sale.  But it is what we were created for.
Oh that we were ONE!
  We pray in the Name of the Father, Because of the Son, Cooperating with the Spirit…Amen!

[1] Dr. Perry Saunders, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, chapel service 1981
[2] Ephesians 4:2-3
[3] Toby Powers on