A Vision of Unity – Rev 21

This Sunday we’ll be finishing up our short, multi-church series “Lord Make Us One”. It all culminates with a special multi-church gathering in Sharon Sheffield Park in Lynn Haven at 4 PM. Be sure to bring a chair and maybe sunscreen…or worst case scenario, an umbrella.

Our final teaching in this series will be from Revelation 21. We’ll be reading v1-4, 9-10 and 22-26.

Obviously, Revelation is a pretty dense book with a LOT of differing views on how it should be interpreted. However, I would say no matter what way a person reads this book, most will agree that it pictures what the world will look like when God is in control. I hope we can all agree that this book reveals the activity and end result of God’s in-breaking Kingdom.

That being the case, ch 21 is sort of the wrap-up. As the chapter begins, in v1-4, note how many times the word “new” is used. V 3 tells us what this whole image is revealing – God’s end goal: “[God] will live with them, and they will be his people.”. God’s end goal is reunification with humanity as his family (v7).

That brings us to the pictures God uses to describe this family – in v9-10, John is told he’ll now see the Bride of the lamb. What he hears about is a Bride…what he sees is a city. Why a city? What are cities made up of? What would the best city of all time look like? How would the people in it interact? This is meant to TELL us something.

John goes on to describe what the city looks like, its measurements and all, describing a cube. There’s a lot of meaning in all of that description, but in our study we’ll focus on the final verses – v22-26. Ask the text some questions as you read – why is it significant that there is no temple? What does eternal illumination speak of? What things happen in the dark? When do our problems and fears feel exaggerated, in the day or the night? What might this be telling us?

The gates will never be closed. Why did ancient cities have gates? What does an ever-open gateway convey?

V26 is something we really need to linger on. All the nations are coming in – meaning God’s family, those whose names are in the Lamb’s Book of Life, is made up of all different kinds of people. This brings us full circle from the promise made to Abraham on the desert plains – “through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”

What does it say the nations bring into the city with them?

To speak of the glory and honor of the nations is announcing the uniqueness and beauty inherent to a particular culture. In v24 John says the kings will enter in all their glory. In the ancient world, the king was the representative of the culture he presided over. This is all describing the vast and glorious kaleidoscope of human ethnicity and culture – and God doesn’t seem interested in eliminating those distinctions.

If this is the future we are marching towards in Christ – how should it shape our priorities in the present?

I’m so excited about exploring this passage on Sunday – but I’ll endeavor to stay calm. Hope to see you then – and again at the Unity Service! Oh Lord….make us ONE!

Called to Unity

This Sunday we’ll be continuing in our multi-church series, Lord Make Us One. We’ll be discussing what our calling to unity means and how we can live and maintain this calling. The verses that we are going over are from Ephesians chapter 4

To get a better context for these verses and the overall theme, I highly recommend checking out the Bible project video on Ephesians.

The verses we’re reading on Sunday start with Paul begging us to “lead a life worthy of our calling.” The desperate emphasis on this request is reason enough to pause and make sure we know what our calling actually is. Are we meant to do something beyond receiving God’s love? Has God called each one of us to something different? Or do we all have the same calling?

After Paul begs us to lead a life worthy of our calling, he gives some specific commands that point in the direction grace. He says to be humble towards one another, patient, and to make every effort to move towards peace.

It is in our human nature to read these verses and immediately begin thinking of other people who would really benefit from listening to and living out these commands. However, doing that would not be allowing the Holy Spirit to convict places within ourselves that may need it. 

Let’s take a moment to ask ourselves, are there certain people or groups that I find myself glad when they stumble? Are there certain political leaders, activists, or even acquaintances that I use their mistakes as proof for why they are awful? Could I instead be using these possible missteps as an opportunity to provide grace and move toward peace? Where are the places in my life, whether in person or on social media, where I can choose gentleness over judgment?

I believe that taking the time to pause and identify these places within ourselves is the first step towards living out the calling given to us by Christ.

I hope you can join us on Sunday at 10 AM!

Praying For Unity

This Sunday we’ll be continuing in our multi-church series, Lord Make Us One. We’ll be reading from what has traditionally been called Jesus’ High Priestly prayer in John 17.

It’s not a bad idea to read the entire chapter – but we’ll be focusing in on v20-23. Jesus specifically refers to us in that section. Jesus has a clear intent in his prayer – unity among all who are his followers. It’s just another reminder that unity is a biblical mandate.

What are some of the things that divide up believers in our world – or lets narrow that down – in our little part of the world here in Bay County? How might we be able to bridge the gaps between us? How often do we even pray for unity, given it’s prioritization in Scripture?

What does Jesus say our unity is based on, according to v20-21? What affect does our unity have according to v22? In v 23, Jesus ties our unity to our witness to the world. Why would unity in Christ be witness – what would it tell the world? If we don’t strive for unity, what might it tell the world?

These are powerful words from Jesus’ prayer – I hope you can join us on Sunday to examine them. Remember to check out the other church’s take on this section!

Created For Unity

This Sunday we’ll be taking a break from our study in Luke as we begin a short series called “Lord Make Us One”. We’re participating with Pastors United of Bay County – and several churches will be teaching this same series in their church communities. I’m really stoked about this – one small step towards unifying the church, which in our country, has been segregated for far too long. Let’s join together in praying that God will, by His Spirit, join us together and restore our witness before the world.

Our first teaching will be from Genesis 1:26-28. Unity, especially along racial lines, is a biblical mandate. We see it right from the very first description of the human race. How many times in this passage is it repeated that humanity is made in the image of God? What does that emphasis say to you?

Right on the heels of speaking of our image bearing nature, God commissions us to reign over and govern the created order. What connection can you see between bearing God’s image and reigning over creation? In what way might that help us understand the concept of being made in God’s image?

What responsibilities can you imagine stem from being an image bearer of God?

How might bearing God’s image affect our sense of value and worth? How might it influence our perception of other human beings who have that same value and worth?

As I said – I’m really stoked about this series and what it may mean for the churches of our area. May God truly make us one!

I hope you can join us on Sunday – and I’d really like to suggest that you listen to the teachings done on this subject from the other churches involved. I’ll share their links below.

Brad Friday, Living Waters Ministries

Zach Sutton, Catalyst Church

Jessie Nelson, Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church

Luther Stanford, City Church at Northside

Damion Dunlap, Truth Fellowship

God’s Powerful, Humanizing Grace

This Sunday we’ll be reading Luke 8:26-39. This is the second in a series of four miracle Jesus does in Luke’s gospel which reveal his authority over every aspect of this fallen world.

In the account we’ll be reading, Jesus is confronted by a demonized man. There is a lot in this text that carries a worldview that is very different from a modern, Western worldview. The bible assumes an unseen realm of spiritual beings that empirically minded moderns do not. There is a lot of mystery in this passage – but I think we’d do well to avoid the hubris of our modern thinking and be willing to accept that there is more going on in this world than we can pin down and dissect.

In our text, demons appear to challenge Jesus and implore him to go away. Does there appear to be a struggle in this from Jesus’ perspective? What can we learn about the power of evil touching us when we are in Christ? This man’s condition reveals the nature of our fallen state through an extreme example. If you were to examine his condition, how might it describe what sin does to humanity?

After the man was delivered, Jesus gave him a mission. What does that indicate about our own lives after Jesus has saved us? What sort of theological training do you suppose this man had? What message did Jesus send him out with? How can we apply his commission to our own lives?

Hope you can join us on Sunday at 10 AM!

Where Obedience Leads Us

This Sunday we’ll continue reading through the Gospel of Luke – reading v22-25 of chapter 8.

It’s a very familiar story – one that I believe is meant to teach us not only the nature of this Christ we follow, but the nature of our following him.

Often times when storms arise in our lives, we tend to look around wondering if we’re being punished or corrected about something. However, this story reminds us that things don’t always add up like that. Who’s orders were the disciples following when this storm hit? What might that tell us about storms and chaos we sometimes encounter in life?

When the disciples wake Jesus up, he calms the storm and looks at them with a rather harsh question – “Where is your faith?”. There’s no qualifier there. Faith in what? They seemed to have faith that the storm would kill them…so they did have faith. What (or whom) do you believe Jesus is challenging them to have faith in?

The result is that the disciples have a whole new set of questions about Jesus. What do we learn about the nature of Jesus from this story? What events in life that we can’t control are out of Jesus’ control? What areas of life can we learn to trust Jesus with?

Hope you can join us this Sunday at 10 am!

The Great Family of God

This Sunday we’ll be reading a famous parable told by Jesus – the parable of the sower and the soils. We’ll be reading Luke 8:1-21. It’s really interesting to me that Luke places this parable sandwiched between two glimpses of the demographic of Jesus’ followers and Jesus’ radical definition of family. To me, they are all related – the radically inclusive family of God, which the parable explains the formation of.

In the mindset of 1st century Israel, the whole idea of being the family of God was tied to being in the family of Abraham. It was an assumed, automatic right of birth for the Jewish people.

Jesus shows up forming a strange, new kind of family of followers – made up of outcasts and women – something highly unusual for that time and place. Then he makes a statement indicating that genealogical lines were not an indicator of who was in or who was out of God’s family – but obedience is.

This brings us to the parable. Jesus uncharacteristically explains this story to his disciples. The soil represents the state of a heart. I think, given how truly nuanced human beings are, one heart could easily contain elements of each type of soil . What are areas of life are difficult for you to surrender to God’s rule? What areas come more easily for you? How might we tend to the soil of our hearts to make them more receptive to God’s purposes and plan?

Hope you can join us this Sunday at 10 AM as we continue our exploration of this wonderful gospel!

Forgiven Much, Loving Much

So…I’d never heard of Barry Bremen. Apparently, he’s Michigan marketing executive who dressed as the San Diego Chicken, an umpire and a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader to sneak into big events. Bremen ended up in the third row at the 1985 Emmy Awards and jumped on stage to accept the supporting actress award for Betty Thomas. Bremen usually got caught and arrested, but he once said he didn’t mind paying bail [source: mercurynews.com].

He seems to have gotten really famous from those stunts.

We’ll be reading about a party crasher in our study of Luke this Sunday, reading Luke 7:36-50. She has been famous for much longer, and for far more noble reasons.

This story in Luke is similar to ones in Mark, Matthew and John – though scholars mostly consider this to be a unique incident, not associated with the others.

A good idea when reading this is to put yourself into the place of each the characters interacting with Jesus. Why do you suppose the Pharisee didn’t see himself as someone who had to be forgiven very much (the point of Jesus’ parable). The woman, on the other hand, seems overwhelmed by the forgiveness she received. Where do you fall on this line – as one who feels they’ve been forgiven little or much? How comfortable or uncomfortable are you in demonstrating your gratitude to Christ in worship? There’s a lot to ponder from this little vignette.

In the parable, what did the debtors have to do in order to be forgiven what they owed? What does that tell us about the nature of our forgiven status? How might a knowledge of grace impact our sense of gratitude to God?

Hopefully you can join us this Sunday at 10 AM as we dig into this wonderful gospel!

The Radical, Restorative Reign of God

This Sunday we’ll be progressing forward in our examination of the Gospel of Luke – we’ll be reading ch 7:18-35 – be sure to read it over and use your imagination to step into the sandals of the characters.

I imagine the dank, dark cell; hewn from rock under Herod’s desert palace. John the Baptizer has been cold and hungry, but he hasn’t stopped praying and trusting that Jesus will reveal who he is and come deliver him from this miserable place. When two of his disciples show up and call to him through the small hole that served as a window, John askes for news before receiving the bread they brought him.

They communicate to him all the stories they have heard about Jesus’ activity. Hesitantly, they share the latest thing they’d learned. Jesus had healed the servant a Roman centurion, one under Herod’s command.

John unconsciously takes a step back, starring at the messengers in disbelief.  His mind shuffles through the memories of the cruel treatment he received at the hands of soldiers under Herod’s orders. Without realizing it, he rubs the scabbed over wounds on his head.

“But….why?” A tear begins tracing a line through the dust on his cheek. “What is he doing?” he says, his voice trailing off.

“Send a message to him…a question.”

That’s the dramatic backstory we need to have in view as we read the passage this week.

As a human being living on earth, you certainly have experienced disappointment at some point. Have you ever experienced disappointment in God, with how God is handling things here on earth? The people of Jesus’ day had high expectations for a messiah who would come and raise a supernaturally empowered army to overthrow their evil oppressors and bring salvation to Israel. When John asks if Jesus is really the Messiah, he’s wanting to know where the army is.

What do we learn about God’s activity from Jesus’ response? What is the focus of Jesus’ activity? What should we be looking for when trying to discern Christ’s activity today?

Even though Herod held John in prison, Jesus elevated him in his commendation, indicating his superiority over the puppet king who held him prisoner. But then he indicated that those who come after John…after Messiah has accomplished his work, would all be greater than John. Read Joel 2:28-29 and Acts 2:1-5 to gain some insight on that. How might this help us understand our place and purpose in God’s kingdom?

We’ll have a lot of interesting things to chew on this Sunday – I hope you can join us as we get into God’s word together!

Crucial Questions

This Sunday we’ll be reading the conclusion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain, reading Luke 6:39-49. Jesus shoots off a series of parables (NLT translates them as illustrations) – but in reality, they are humorous riddles. Some of the imagery used is intentionally funny, and if you are uncomfortable imagining Scripture with a sense of humor, I don’t know what to do for you.

By starting with a question – can the blind lead the blind? – we are invited into an exercise in self-examination. Who am I following, who am I examining, what is my life producing and on what am I founding my life-choices? These become crucial questions we must ask ourselves to determine where we are on this journey of following Christ.

In what way might we be blind to God’s purposes? In thinking of guides, who can we think of who knows God’s intent more than any other person? How can we use Jesus as a guide and still listen to other teachers?

Is it difficult or easy for you to deal with your own issues before ever trying to correct others? How can we change our habits in this area, if focusing on others is our go-to response?

These are some of the things we’ll be considering in our study. Hope you can join us – in person or online at 10 AM on Sunday morning!