Monday, August 24, 2015

The Jesus Church - Part 2: Defined Mission & Ministry

I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead when he comes to set up his Kingdom:  Preach the word of God.  Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not.  Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.  For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching.  They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.  They will reject the truth and chase after myths.  But you should keep a clear mind in every situation.  Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord.  Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.                       2 Timothy 4:1-5(NLT)

Course corrections are necessary in any venture.  Without careful attention to where the ship is headed, it makes little difference how the ship gets there!  And it doesn’t take much to be off course. 

On day six of the ill-fated mission of Apollo 13, the astronauts needed to make a critical course correction. If they failed, they might never return to Earth.  To conserve power, they shut down the onboard computer that steered the craft. Yet the astronauts needed to conduct a thirty-nine-second burn of the main engines. How to steer? Astronaut Jim Lovell determined that if they could keep a fixed point in space in view through their tiny window, they could steer the craft manually. That focal point turned out to be their destination--Earth.[1]

In New Testament thinking, we are ALL ministers; we are ALL workers in God's field.  We ALL have a ministry to attend to.  God has placed each one of us in His field for the purpose of working out His will in His world. 

Our focal point is sharing the faith – witnessing, preaching the word, just as Paul encouraged Timothy.  Paul called the church body ambassadors for Christ.  He meant that our mission and ministry are carrying a message to the world, the good news of God’s reconciliation.  

Now, if the church is to bring that message to the world – if we are to preach the Word to all people, the next question that comes to mind is; "HOW?" 

Our text this morning leads us to a thorough understanding that Jesus not only saves, but calls each of us to preach the word.   So, this morning we are taking a look at HOW we as a church body are to preach the word.


Preach the Word implies teaching as much as sermonizing.  In New Testament times there were people who were known as "sophists".  The name comes from a word used to describe the study of anything.  They were willing to teach anything for a price. 

The world is like that today; information is at our fingertips.  Snap on the TV and you've got everything from Sesame Street to Peter Jennings to Pornography.  You cannot walk very far in any direction without being subject to something, or someone trying to shape your thinking. 

If we have any kind of competition in the work of the kingdom, it is not other churches that want our members, it is the world, and Satan, and sin competing with the church for the souls of people. 

Our task in preaching the Word is what Paul exhorted Timothy to do in our text:  Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.

He was telling Timothy (and us) that false doctrine leads people in the wrong direction, and the best way to combat the effects of false teaching is to teach sound doctrine! 

Banks don’t worry a whole lot about fake money – they teach each new teller trainee what real money.  If a counterfeit shows up, the teller will know!

Our aim is to be organized in teaching the genuine Word of God to all people in everything we do at this church, and to instruct our families at home, and reach our community with the truth contained in God's Word. 

Jesus said to let our light so shine that others will see and give glory to the Father in heaven. 

This is why we EDUCATE.  But we also....


To consolidate means "to combine, to bring things together in one union".  Preaching the Word implies an economy of our time and talents.  It is, as the business world would describe it, maximizing our productivity.  In verse 2 Paul says:  Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not.  The word "prepared" means be ready.  The Amplified New Testament has it:  "Keep your sense of urgency." 

Maximizing our productivity in "preaching the Word" is like that; we must keep a sense of the urgency of Gospel truth in our conversation, our activities, our employment, and our leisure time. 

Our witness for Christ must be a part of everything we are and do.  And it starts right where we live. 



I am convinced that the single most devastating effect on churches that fail, and families that break up, and societies that crumble, is lack of cooperation.  And I believe that the enemy that is at fault is a misconception of what our forefathers designed as freedom.  What we see today as FREE TO DO WHAT I PLEASE is a perversion of freedom as described in the scriptures, as well as the original thought of the Constitution of this country, which is:  I AM "FREE TO DO AS I OUGHT

When people start seeing their own personal agendas, their own selfish interests, as more important than serving, the fiber of anything (home, church family, country) is in serious jeopardy! 

The Apostle James even warned us that the cause of disputes, and fighting amongst the church was lack of cooperative spirit.  Paul warned (v.3,4) that there would come a time when folks would flock to false teachers because glib-tongued, slick operators would say the kinds of things people wanted to hear - RATHER than be obedient to sound doctrine. 

Now cooperation in "preaching the Word" means much more than just being here for the worship service.  It means we must ADHERE to the doctrine the Word of God teaches, and not be drawn aside into weird fads like the NEW AGE movements or feel good messages preached by those who are more interested in popularity than the hard claims of a Gospel that requires followers to leave the comfort zone to pick up a cross daily. 

Cooperation means uniting in the faithful proclamation of the cross of Jesus Christ, and an empty tomb, and a coming King!  It doesn’t mean we need to get bogged down in debates over meaningless questions about religious viewpoints.  Beloved, you don't have to DEBATE the Word with anyone...YOU simply PREACH the Word to everyone! 



To preach the Word is to penetrate and transform/change the world. 

Once again, in our text, to correct is to show error in a convincing manner.  To rebuke is to spotlight error so as to bring about a desired change. To encourage means to be alongside another to give them comfort and strength to succeed.  It’s the picture of standing with your arm around another. 

Our whole purpose in sharing our faith is to bring the light of God's love in focus for our friends, neighbors, and the whole world. 

We cannot do that if we are silent about our faith.  You've heard about the man who bought a parrot for $5,000.  The bird spoke five languages.  The pet shop promised to deliver it that afternoon.  After work the man hurried home and asked his wife if the bird had arrived.  And it had!  Where is it?  In the oven, she replied.  NO....Not the oven; woman, that bird speaks five languagesWell, she said, why didn't he speak up? 

Sometimes you must penetrate the barriers by speaking-up!

In a church I once served I met with men to drink coffee and solve all the major problems of the world.  We always had a good time, discussing, debating, and deciding on the fate of Iraq, the Federal deficit, and other items. 

Once when the waitress came by to check if all was in order, one of the men informed her that this was a group of church officers and a preacher...and there was very little order in it!  She laughed and said, oh, my family are all Christians.  I wanted to pick up on the opportunity, but one of the men beat me to it.... What about you, dear? he said.  She had to confess that she wasn't saved.  Don't you want to have a full life? She smiled as she went back to work.  The battle isn't over with that young lady; she will hear of Christ again. 

Preaching the Word means caring enough to go out on a limb with your self-esteem, your image.  It means placing faith-sharing, preaching the Word, as a priority ahead of personal comfort.  The devil's gospel is being preached in our culture today at an increasing pace.  Despite that, the gospel of Jesus Christ is going to prevail. 

Bottom Line for Us, Here, Today:

This church will live in covenant to deliver the faith, the gospel, bringing the lost to the Savior....or this church will die, languishing on the treadmill of wishful thinking.  There is no neutral place for a church charged with the responsibility of preaching the word!

In ancient times a soldier named Alexander, who had been a coward in battle, was brought before his leader, Alexander the Great.  

Alexander the Great said to Alexander the coward:  Either change your conduct, or change your name

If we are true followers of Jesus Christ, bearing His name, does that not apply to us too?

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

[1] Stephen Nordbye in Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker), Leadership.
Title Image: Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, August 22, 2015

P.A.K.O. - a Remembrance

©Rev. Dr. Russell J. Brownworth

 The First Congregational Church of New Village in the 1950’s was in many ways the springboard of faith for me.  It was at the little white church with the tiny balcony gallery I learned about Moses, Peter, Paul and Jesus in a Sunday School class with “Uncle” Sid Williams.  My Mom, Cecilia Brownworth, was the Sunday School superintendent, so I’m certain she had something to do with making sure I was in Uncle Sid’s class. 

It was also when Rev. Ken Olson became pastor at New Village that I first started listening to sermons.  I knew others had filled the pulpit before Pastor Olson, but there was something different about the urgent messages of this new wavy-haired, sonorous-voiced smiling preacher.  Somehow it always seemed he had picked me out of the whole crowd to speak a word of comfort or joy or correction; he got this 10 year-old’s attention!

When you reduce Pastor A. Kenneth Olson to an acronym you have P.A.K.O.!  Of course we never called him that out loud – only in hushed, but admiring tones.  But it seemed to fit; he was a PAKO-pastor who could hit a softball a country mile, run and wrestle with the youth group like a teenager, eat pizza and lead singing around a campfire.  And, with all that energy and love for youth, the man could preach the Word like an Apostle!

The stirrings of faith that came alive within me during that season led to committing my life to Christ.  But this was also accompanied by the first rumblings of a call to pastoral ministry.  During a camping trip for youth chaperoned by P.A.K.O. and several other men, I found myself paddling a canoe with one of the men, Mr. Redden.  In our conversation that day he shared with me a concern he had about how he could follow Christ better, so he could be a better man; then he asked me what I thought.  You could have knocked me over with a chicken feather; he asked ME?  I was just a kid; what did I know? 

Well, I wanted to sound like I might be spiritual and wise (after all, I was 12), so I mumbled a few things I’d once heard about prayer and being good.  When I was done Mr. Redden turned back from the front of the canoe (where he was doing most of the paddling, while I was doing so much talking), and he said:  So, you mean….and then he repeated everything I said, nearly word for word.  An adult had listened to me!  Wow!  That moment was a gift from a man trained and gifted at New Village to be Christ to a young boy.  I have often called on that moments’ recollection as I have counselled people throughout my ministry – I learned from Mr. Redden that when you listen to others you can make a difference.

Back to P.A.K.O. – on that same canoe and camping trip.  There were plenty of fun moments…like canoeing through rapids between lakes, games, stories and even a ride on a two-seater seaplane.  But the most important lesson I learned in years growing up in the church of my youth came when I broke five or six of the commandments in one afternoon.

P.A.K.O. had laid out some pretty specific safety rules to follow.  Among them was wearing life jackets all the time you were over water, and that no camper or group would go out on the lake without the adult leaders knowing where and when, and all the other details.  That was at least two commandments we broke – lying about just taking a walk when we were really planning to go out on the lake – and I’m sure we broke that “loving God” commandment when we lied to our Pastor.

Anyway, there were three of us – myself and two other criminals named Williams and Edwards (although I’d never reveal their identities – that was our sacred pact, and I wasn’t about to add bearing false witness to my commandment trespasses).  We rigged two canoe paddles and a tent for a sail and paddled off to the far reaches of the lake late in the afternoon – storm clouds gathering in the east!

The wind kicked up and we found ourselves in the middle of Lake Tsunami.  One of the canoe trespassers stood up, literally rocking the boat, and physics being what it is, dumped the entire cargo of teens in the lake.  The canoe turned over and could not be turned right side up because of the makeshift sail now acting like a rudder.  I was only a marginal swimmer and hadn’t bothered with a life jacket (breaking that honor thy safety instructor commandment);

We were in the middle of a raging tempest, clinging to a floating Titanic.  We cried-out for help, but our pleas were lost in the noise of the wind and waves.  It seemed like we were in that cold, angry lake for hours.  At one point I recall bobbing in the water under the canoe, getting hit on the head with some part of the ship, and thinking:  I’m going to die right here in this freezing lake!  Oh God, have mercy.  I’ll be good from now on!

Then a ray of sunshine broke through this menacing moment – a boat was coming our way; we were going to be rescued!  But then my hope fell into the grave of Gethsemane – sitting in the bow of that boat was P.A.K.O.; I was doomed!

In the few moments it took for the rescue boat to pull alongside the three escapees and haul us onboard, I frantically searched my juvenile memory bank for believable excuses with which to avoid having my parents told, and winding up in time-out until I was 40 and married (there:  murdering truth – another commandment down the tube)!

I don’t recall what excuses I came up with, other than to try to throw the blame off on one of those horrible boys who convinced me to go with them – but as it turned out I didn’t get the chance to weasel out of my guilt.  The only thing P.A.K.O. did was haul me into the boat and wrap a wonderfully-warm blanket around my wet, shivering-cold body.

On the way back to camp I figured the quiet treatment was part of our Pastor’s torture plan, prior to the hanging that was certainly the way frontier church justice was handled.  It was dark by the time we arrived and supper was already cooking.  The three reprobates of the lake changed out of our wet clothes and found, to our surprise, we were actually going to get dinner, and we were also allowed to sit around the campfire with everyone else as we sang songs, heard stories and roasted marshmallows.  For me, it was the most puzzling thing that P.A.K.O. never said a harsh word.  The first word he did speak that night was just before we all turned-in:  I’m glad you boys are alright.

It’s been more than 50 years since that day, and the lesson of P.A.K.O.’s patience has often reminded me that sometimes Jesus shows up as blonde and Norwegian, because the forgiveness and lovingkindness of God I experienced that stormy afternoon in my sinful arrogance was just the kind of love I needed to pass along in my ministry.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Jesus Church - Part 1: The Completed Church

It may seem a little strange to start off a series on The Jesus Church with a passage like this – all about what the completed church looks like in heaven, as opposed to what it’s like now.

But that’s just the point; the church that is our model isn’t Presbyterian, Church of God, Baptist or Methodist or Roman Catholic.  The church of Heaven is the church for which Jesus died!  The church Jesus said he would build wasn’t built as the result of a consultation with experts, nor a popular vote on how you should do church; He built the church on the bedrock truth that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Messiah, the Son of the Living God!

Essentially everything about this passage of Scripture is practical, helpful and totally sobering.  Jesus did not pull any punches with the straight talk that he told John to write down for us. 

It’s much like the mother who moved her family to a new neighborhood; she was registering her 6 year old for school.  He was a hyper sort, always getting into mischief. 

Mom filled out all the required information on shots, doctor, and previous school; when she came to the large open space for "COMMENTS," she simply wrote in huge block letters:  BRACE YOURSELVES

Well, brace yourselves for what the church will look like in heaven, and what we should be all about here on earth:

1.Completed Wholeness

Revelation 22:1-6(NLT)
Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.  It flowed down the center of the main street.  On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month.  The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.  No longer will there be a curse upon anything.  For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him.  And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads.  And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them.  And they will reign forever and ever.  Then the angel said to me, “Everything you have heard and seen is trustworthy and true.  The Lord God, who inspires his prophets, has sent his angel to tell his servants what will happen soon.”    

Just like God provided manna for the children of Israel to eat in their desert wanderings, the Lord will provide in heaven.  Jesus shows John the flowing waters of a clear, crystal river meandering right through the heart of New Jerusalem, The tree of life is in the center of the city, bearing twelve different kinds of fruit, with a fresh crop each month; what a wonderful picture of our future.

If you do the math, there are twelve different kinds of fruit and a new growing season for each of the twelve months; that’s 144 different kinds of food crop.  It’s my belief this is apocalyptic language, symbolic of the complete tribes of all God’s children.  It picturesquely reminds us of the 144,000 witnesses (12,000 from each of 12 tribes).  This is metaphorically representative of providence being plentiful for all who are God’s family.

And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  All disease and defect have become a distant memory of history. 

In addition to all this the curse of darkness will be removed, because in the presence of the King of Glory there is brilliant and overwhelming perfect truth.  While the tree and waters of life speak of the physical completion God will bring to his people, His light and truth speak of the wholeness of spirit and soul.  He says it plainly – it’s all trustworthy and true!

2.Completed Obedience

Revelation 22:7-9(NLT)
“Look, I am coming soon!  Blessed are those who obey the words of prophecy written in this book.”  I, John, am the one who heard and saw all these things.  And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me.  But he said, “No, don’t worship me. I am a servant of God, just like you and your brothers the prophets, as well as all who obey what is written in this book.  Worship only God!” 
Throughout the New Testament Jesus’ second coming is characterized by suddenness.  In parables (ten virgins, the unfaithful steward, et al), Jesus cautions his followers to stay awake and keep faithfully serving, as we don’t know the time or exactly how his return will happen.

In the scheme of things time hardly matters; God is above time and space, having created both, and having placed us within.  We think in a linear fashion, looking forward to events, or remembering past events. 

God isn’t hampered by that; he knows and experiences everything as present, and moves according to what is best for us.  He did that when he came the first time:

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.  Galatians 4:4(NLT)

And so, obedience to God’s Word and will (His Law) are undoubtedly connected to the conditions under which the completion of the church occurs.  I believe this is what Paul meant about Christ’s purpose in growing a spiritually-mature church:

That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot,  or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.   Ephesians 5:27(NLT)

The “suddenness” of His coming will find his true followers obedient!

3.Completed Justice

Revelation 22:10-11(NLT)
Then he instructed me, “Do not seal up the prophetic words in this book, for the time is near.  Let the one who is doing harm continue to do harm; let the one who is vile continue to be vile; let the one who is righteous continue to live righteously; let the one who is holy continue to be holy.” 

This ought to put to rest for all of us the so-called complicated and unknowable reputation of Revelation.  John is instructed to leave this prophecy UN-sealed, meaning it is open, understandable and a clear message for the churches.

So what does it mean about letting the one who does harm, and is vile [filthy] continue in it?

One author put it this way:

The word “filthy” [vile] here is, of course, used with reference to moral defilement or pollution. It refers to the sensual, the corrupt, the profane; and the meaning is, that, their condition will be fixed, and that they will remain in this state of pollution forever. There is nothing more awful than the idea that a polluted soul will be always polluted; that a heart corrupt will be always corrupt; that the defiled will be put forever beyond the possibility of being cleansed from sin.[1]

Simply put, God draws a line.  For those who continue to stay outside his will, there comes a time when those who will not obey, cross the line and cannot obey.  They have knowingly and willfully put themselves beyond any hope of salvation!

It also flows in the opposite direction – those who willfully choose to obey God become more able to obey God.

This is why we are often warned against resisting God.  All the prophets warned Israel to be soft towards JHWH; they rarely listened for long.

Since the day that your fathers came forth out of the land of Egypt unto this day I have even sent unto you all my servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them:  Yet they hearkened not unto me, nor inclined their ear, but hardened their neck:  they did worse than their fathers.    Jeremiah 7:25-26(NLT)

God is willing to forgive all sin, but we must not resist him and think his patience is unending.  

I heard my mentor, Pat Giffin preach a sermon once about this.  He said, There are at least two things God doesn’t know; he doesn’t know a sin too big to forgive, and he doesn’t know an unconfessed sin of any size he can forgive.

Justice, for the church will be completed when judgment of sin is accomplished.

And judgment will have its consequences:

4.Completed Separation

Revelation 22:12-15(NLT)
“Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”  Blessed are those who wash their robes.  They will be permitted to enter through the gates of the city and eat the fruit from the tree of life.  Outside the city are the dogs—the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idol worshipers, and all who love to live a lie.

In Scripture washing is seen as a symbol of purity and innocence.  In the early centuries of the church people who were going to join the church were given a new, white robe as a sign that their sins had been forgiven.

These are the ones who are permitted to come through the outer gates of the city of New Jerusalem – those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb of God. 

Isaiah said it plainly:

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.   Isaiah 1:18(KJV)

We sing plenty of songs that proclaim the Gospel’s message that the crimson red blood of Jesus Christ, shed at Calvary’s cross is the sacrifice which takes the dark stain of sin and guilt away.

But what of those who remain in the stain?  What of those who never kneel at the cross and ask for God’s forgiveness?  This is where the judgment line is drawn – at heaven’s gates.

John’s revelation plainly says that, in the New Jerusalem (heaven), there are insiders and outsiders.  The outsiders are a long list – those who prefer sin – wanton disobedience to God’s law.  On this “hit-list” are sorcerers (dark magic), sexually immoral people, murderers, worshipers of false gods and all those who love to live a lie.

One caution here – the difference between those who qualify for the list and those who get exempted from this separation is free will.  We all choose badly – all are guilty.  Those who refuse the forgiveness of the cross are destined to spend eternity separated from the God they chose to ignore.  Free will is like that; we are given by our Creator the privilege and responsibility to choose wisely!

5.Completed Restoration

Revelation 22:16-21(NLT)
  “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this message for the churches.  I am both the source of David and the heir to his throne.  I am the bright morning star.”  The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let anyone who hears this say, “Come.”  Let anyone who is thirsty come.  Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life.  And I solemnly declare to everyone who hears the words of prophecy written in this book:  If anyone adds anything to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book.  And if anyone removes any of the words from this book of prophecy, God will remove that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book.  He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!”
Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!  May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s holy people.

Here the free offer of the cross and its pathway to the living waters is repeated; it’s for anyone who will come to God in repentance and humility, willing to confess Christ as Savior.  The Scripture is pretty clear about full-inclusion and full-exclusion.  Scripture is complete and must not be reduced or expanded; it is intended to be obeyed.

For those who will, the image of God will be completely restored!

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

[1] Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament ©1999, Parsons Technology, Inc

Monday, August 3, 2015

Walking the Walk

Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.  Always be humble and gentle.  Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.  Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.  For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.  There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all.    Ephesians 4:1 - 6 (NLT)

With God, it is always true that before the blessings come there must be a change in attitude and actions.  In short, we can never expect to see the hand of God bless our individual lives, or our corporate church fellowship, until there is warmth of spirit towards God and each other. 

Paul's words here describe outward actions, but they flow from attitudes within

Notice the actions Paul wants us to examine -- He wants us to build the body of Christ by being the unified body of Christ.

Building the Body of Christ requires Keeping Unity in the Body

Everyone who has accepted Christ has been placed in the body of Christ.  It's a true saying about that body:

Everyone who belongs to Jesus belongs to
    everyone who belongs to Jesus.

We are called by Christ into one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith.  We were called into a created unity of the body of believers. 

That unity is so important.

Christ did not die so the church could be torn apart; He died so the joy of abundant life would gather His family together around the throne of God in joyful celebration. 

What is so unique is that we had nothing to do with it – it was all the grace of God, and He puts us together.  And the way He puts us together is in unity.

It’s an old story, but it ties up what I’ve been talking about.  In a small, mountainous county-seat town there lived a man who had a really old, worn-out truck.  He used the truck to go back and forth to work at the plant on the other side of town. 

The truck was so ready for the scrap heap it could hardly climb the hills, but did just fine going down the other side.  The man had learned to race down one hill to get a running start to get up the other.

One day he got a late start and was hurrying to work.  As he approached Main Street he groaned, because the circus had come to town, and the parade of elephants, joined tail-to-trunk-to-tail was tying up the intersection he needed to cross. 

In a split-second he remembered the newspaper ad for the circus said there were 7 elephants; he had already seen 4 pass the intersection between the bank and the hardware, and that meant there were only 3 left. 

It was then he got the bright idea that, if he could time it just right, after that seventh elephant, he could zoom through before the clowns followed…and he could make work on time.

So he timed it, gunned the engine and arrived at the intersection just after the 7th elephant cleared the bank….just in time to smash into the eighth elephant the circus had just bought.  He wrecked the truck, broke both legs and his collar bone, and the elephant died.

A few weeks after he got out of the hospital he got a bill from the circus for $5 million dollars.  He called the circus manager and screamed, hey…I know I owe you for that elephant…but $5 million? 

Mister, said the manager, you don’t understand…those elephants were connected tail-to-trunk; when you killed that last elephant you jerked the tails and trunks out of the other seven; they ain’t no good for circus work no more!

Now, we, as the body of Christ are just as connected, but we are not perfect, and we are bound to break that unity.  That's why Paul talks about the way we act – so that if the unity is broken, it can be restored. 

Many churches have union – and no unity.  It’s like two cats with their tails tied together; there is union, but precious little unity.

How do you do it? 

How do you keep the unity of spirit; and how can you get it back if it's been broken?  Paul gives us a road map.  The way to keep, or regain unity of spirit in God's local church is with humility, patience and – in some instances – just plain putting up with each other's faults (the Bible word is forbearing)

And you’ve got to wrap it all up in plenty of forgiving love.

Notice one thing – Paul's exhortation here is to keep the unity.  It is always much easier to keep things, than to regain lost things. 

That’s one of the reasons Paul spends an awful lot of time talking about our words and actions in his letter.  Words spoken and actions taken are powerful.

Words, like feathers from a pillow scattered into the wind, are tough to recall. 

Words and actions that affect others, good or bad, are like the toothpaste you squeezed onto your brush this morning; they come through a one-way door. 

Once they're out, the damage, or healing is set in motion. 

Keeping unity means choosing

wise words that help,

kind words that heal,

good words that build.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

[1] By Andrew Bowden from London, United Kingdon (Another walker!, via Wikimedia Commons