Accept… as Christ Accepted You Too

December 4

“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you…” (Romans 15:7)

accept-one-another.jpg

We are commanded to accept one another, just as Christ accepted us.

Not just the act of acceptance, but it must be an attitude of acceptance.

The context of Romans 15:7 is this…

Romans 15 5 6

The essence of this “attitude of mind” is that there is a real sacrifice involved so that unity might be attained.

In another portion of Scripture, we read of Jesus’ Own attitude when He came to lay down His life for us: “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Though He was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine privileges… He appeared in human form, He humbled Himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” (from Phil. 2:5-8) Think about it! Jesus willingly sacrificed “His divine privileges” to purchase our acceptance at the cross. In other words, you could not be more right than God… yet He thought it more important to provide our acceptance… than to be right. And the only way to do that was to sacrifice Himself (lay down His divine privileges and become one of us) and receive His Own judgment against our sins.

On the cross

All for the purpose of unity between us… and Him. That was Jesus mindset.

And, to follow Jesus, it must be ours as well.

“But doesn’t doctrine matter? Isn’t the truth essential?!” Sure it does… and is. Being right is good. Finding and living the truth is truly desirable.

But the whole point of Jesus was that we were NOT right… we were NOT living in the truth – and He found one thing to be more important… union with Him. The “right” thing to do would have been to reject us… condemn us… judge us. And He would have been justified in doing so. But there was one thing more essential to God, than being right… and that was an unbroken relationship with us. Everything Jesus did was to restore that! That restoration was His attitude… His motivation.

And it must be ours as well.

The context of Romans 15 is Romans 14 (makes sense!) In Romans 14, the apostle is addressing real issues of doctrine in The Church. He flat out tells us: “this is right… and this other thing is from ‘weak faith.’” What is fascinating, is that the apostle (who was sent to “put things in order for God’s people”) did NOT tell us: “Quit being weak in the faith, here’s the truth – live by this!” Instead, we get: “Welcome one another… do not pass judgment on one another… or despise one another… or grieve one another… and pursue peace with one another and mutual upbuilding.” Because…

romans 14 4

Certainly, there is truth. There is right. But all these things must dwell under the grace-laden banner of acceptance and unity. According to the apostle, (and to God!), it is the value of acceptance and unity which we must value most.

Prayer Focus: God, search my heart… let me see the value of accepting people in accord with Your Own Heart towards us.

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Accept… as Christ Accepted You

December 3

“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring glory to God.” (Romans 15:7)

accepting one another

Unity begins with acceptance. The model is Christ. He accepted us (even when we were His enemies [Rom. 5:10; and deserving of wrath!]) – so, in reflecting Christ, we must accept one another. According to the apostle, it is not optional.

Sometimes we forget that the opposite of acceptance is rejection. Rejection is easier. Rejection requires nothing from us except criticism and judgment. It is easy to compare me vs. you – and to find that you don’t measure up. Rejection is built upon the standard that “I am better than you.” It is really WHY we don’t practice acceptance with each other – and why we feel justified in doing so.

superiority

Again, the model is Christ. He accepted us when He had every right to judge us. He should have condemned us in our sin. He should have poured out His wrath on humanity for all our selfishness. He should have come to dole out punishment – but, instead, He came to take our punishment. He came to receive the wrath we deserved. He came to be condemned on our behalf.

Why?!

One reason only… He wanted us to know Him, to love Him, and to be received as His Own children. He wanted to accept us into His Family. And the only way He could do that was to make us acceptable. But His motivation was not pity, or remorse, or obligation – He was motivated purely by love. It was love that caused Him to do everything that needed to be done.

For God so Loved

All that God wanted was to restore fellowship between Him and us. He wanted to restore what was broken between us (by OUR doing). He wanted to bring us back together — to unite us back to Himself. That’s all. The connection was lost – so He came to restore it… to make a way for us all to come back to union with Him.

It is this commitment to fellowship and union that drove Him to action.

It is this same commitment that must abide in His people.

At the heart of all this Church stuff is unity. God united with us, and us united with each other… Did you notice (in our verse above) why? It is all for God’s glory. The implication is clear… we cannot properly glorify God if we do not accept each other!

God is not glorified by our separation. Anyone can be separated from everyone. That takes nothing special (except an abundance of pride). But it takes something miraculous to overlook our concerns… and love anyway. It takes courage and fortitude to accept one another – especially when there are real issues involved.

Separated

But that is the whole point of being The Church. WE are empowered by God to do things that only God can do. And if He accepted us, in spite of our own serious issues, we can certainly accept one another. He gave us Himself (the Holy Spirit) to do just that!

That’s what the apostle is telling us. That’s what he is commanding us!

Unity begins with acceptance. And acceptance begins with the understanding that we were accepted by Christ. IF Christ accepted us… we have all the motivation we need to accept one another – even in our differences.

Prayer Focus: God, make me aware of all the ways I see myself as “better than” someone else… and quicken my heart to accept people just as you accepted me. 

unconditional-love-quote.jpg

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The Power of Unity

December 2

The LORD said, “Behold, they are one people… and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” (from Genesis 11:6)

babel

How powerful is unity? God, Himself, tells us. From His Own words in Genesis 11 we see that unity is the door to possibility, in impossibility. A unified people can accomplish any task. A people with one mind and soul can do things that can’t be done. God declares this – because God knows this.

And so does the enemy of God.

It is why he works so diligently to keep us separate and self-righteous. Let’s face it… we are separated because we want to be – we choose to be – and we feel we are completely justified in doing so.

It is not God that is stirring this within us – it is one who is sworn to destroy the work of God in us. If He can’t keep us from committing to Christ, he strives to keep us from committing to each other. He realizes that there is power in unity and he seeks to unravel anything that would bring us together.

us vs them

And he doesn’t even have to work that hard at it.

It is we ourselves who have settled into our disunity. We see it as a badge of honor. We are “more right than they are.” As if right is all that matters.

Sure, the truth is important. It is essential. But so is grace. Sometimes in all our efforts to be right, we forget that grace is also essential.

balanced grace and truth

We need to remember that it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8) The gift of a God who looked at people who were dead set against Him and loved them to the point of the gift of the death of His Son. It was not the truth that saved us – it was grace. It was God’s gracious act of love to bring all of us orphans into His Family.

This is where unity must begin… we are ALL saved by grace. Not because we deserved it, or earned it – we were just the objects of God’s infinite love. Which had the power to make enemies into friends.

That is the same power that works in us – no matter what label we wear. The Spirit of God will always call us to unity – because that is what the Author of grace does. He takes the separated and brings them together under His one banner.

We don’t like to see it this way, but our disunity is an act of disobedience. We value our way more than God’s way. We value truth more than we value grace. It seems we value “throwing out babies with the bathwater.”

baby-out-with-the-bath-water

We are more committed to the reasons why we can’t be together, than the one reason we can be. We can always find things about which we are going to disagree – but we must be driven by the one thing that binds us together… our love for Jesus.

He is the One we must please. And ultimately, He is pleased most when His people work together in unity.

He said it Himself: there is power in a unified people.

Aesop unity quote

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Where’s the Power? All Together Now 3

December 1

“…those who believed were of one heart and soul…” (from Acts 4:32)

Yesterday, we talked about one of the reasons why unity is so important to God: It is a reflection of Himself. One of the main purposes of The Church is to give the world a clear view of Who God really is. This view should begin with us – in our ability to overlook our differences and exhibit the love of God to the Family of God’s people.

love-one-another

 

Today, we focus on a second reason why unity is so important to God.

God’s glory rests upon the unified. From the very beginning of the Church, we notice that the disciples of Jesus “were all together in one place.” They gathered as one to await the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise – and as one they all received the promise together. God’s Spirit fell upon the unified… and ONLY upon the unified.

share-everything.jpgEven after the outpouring of the Spirit, unity was a hallmark of The Church. Acts 2:42-47 is highlighted with the observation that: “All the believers were together and had everything in common.” (2:44) After persecution began to affect the Church, we see that oppression bonded the believers closer together, so much so that Luke observed: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” (Acts 4:32)

Throughout the pages of the Book of Acts we see the power of unity – and what that unity brought to God’s people. There is a clear connection between the unity of the believers and the power of God in their midst.

God’s Presence was palpable. Awe-inspiring. Life-changing. And these empowered people had a powerful impact upon their city… and beyond (Acts 5:16). Like in the days of Jesus’ ministry, people flocked to the abiding Presence of God – and to His power at work in His people. And prevalent in it all… was Spirit-inspired unity.

When we think about the lack of unity in our churches today, it is a stark contrast. It may be the main reason why we do not see the pages of Acts unfolding in our times. God loves unity. He Himself abides in unity. Disunity is contrary to His Character, His Nature, His Being. Disunity is division – and division is NOT peace.

church divided

The real problem is that we do not see this as a problem. Disunity causes both sides to think things like: “They don’t believe like we do… so we have no business being in fellowship with them.” And as we think, so we will act.

When I take notice of where God is actually moving in power today, it is where Christians are either persecuted or killed for their faith. When it comes down to all that matters most, all that matters is Jesus – and that is the bond of their fellowship together. It is in these places that the power of God is residing among God’s people – and where they are seeing miracles and hundreds of thousands coming to know Jesus. All they have is Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and each other – and God is dwelling among them in power.

china-christians-revival

Coincidence. I think not.

It is why Jesus prayed what He did… His great passion for His people was unity – because Jesus knew that a unified people, empowered by God’s Own presence, is an unstoppable force in every generation.

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Where’s the Power? All Together Now 2

November 30

“…those who believed were of one heart and soul…” (from Acts 4:32)

I believe the main reason why we do not see the manifest power of God, in our churches today, is our lack of unity. It was one of the hallmarks of the early Church – and so blatantly absent from our churches today.

disunity

Yesterday, we mentioned that there are reasons why unity in the Church is so important to God. Today we want to look into those reasons…

1) Unity is a reflection of God Himself. The Bible informs us that God is One God existing in Three Persons. He is a triune Being. Though we may not fully understand this, Scripture is clear. Those who question the validity of this doctrine have never done their research. God has revealed Himself as One God in three Persons.

The-Holy-Trinity-in-Stained-Glass

As God is, so He has called His people to be. Different, but together. Diverse, but unified. Separate, but inseparable. We must always keep in mind that God’s people are redeemed to give the world a clear picture of Who He really is. We are empowered by God to bring revelation of God to a world that desperately needs to see Him. As He is Three, working as One – so we must be many, working as one.

If this is true, what does our inability to get along say about Him? At the least, we are offering a confusing message. We are sending a message that our love for God doesn’t extend to others who have professed faith in Him. We talk about the infinite love of God, but then we cannot seem to love those who claim to love the same Savior. Sure, we can point to the importance of our differences – but isn’t the love of God (within us) supposed to overcome all differences? Doesn’t love conquer all?

1Co13 7

Unfortunately, our disunity often speaks louder than our message. Our message of truth gets drowned out by the din of our discord.

That’s why Jesus prayed for our unity. It is unity that abides in the Godhead – and that unity needs to be reflected in the people who wear God’s Name.

One of the stalwart virtues of being in the Family of God is the ability to overcome our differences. God’s love, abiding in us, makes us strong enough to break down the barriers of our differences – and helps us to see them for what they really are – opportunities to reach a diverse group of unreached people.

God never intended for us to all be the same. (Unity is NOT uniformity!) He gave us all different strengths, different passions, different personalities, different styles – so that we might be able to appeal to different kinds of people.

unity-is-not-uniformity

We have tended to turn our differences into reasons to disparage, distrust, and avoid one another – all the while ignoring the enormous penalty it brings to the effectiveness of our message.

Remember… it was Jesus Who said that the world could only believe that He was sent as Savior of the world… if we were unified.

Jesus praying 2

If unity was that important to Jesus… shouldn’t it be that important to us?

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Where’s the Power? All Together Now

November 29

“…those who believed were of one heart and soul…” (from Acts 4:32)

Wheres-the-power

For the last week, or so, we have been looking into the question of “Where’s the power in today’s Church?” We believe in a God of infinite power. We believe that He dwells within His people. We believe He still desires to act (and impact) today’s world. But so much of the time, our churches bear little resemblance to this Mighty God we claim to believe.

There are many reasons behind this observation (as we have already mentioned), but today I want to focus in on what I believe is the main problem. And it’s one issue we seldom ever address – though in many ways it is the most glaring.

The one thing you notice most about the early church was the fact that they were unified. They were many people… all working together as one. They constantly spent time together, they continually invested in one another, and they possessed an overwhelming sense that they held everything in common. They shared everything. They considered every person as family. They were absolutely one in their commitment to Christ – and in their commitment to each other. Daily, they fulfilled the Two Great Laws (“Love God, Love people!”) and it built an unshakeable bond between them all.

Acts4

Contrast the Church then, with the Church now. Almost universally, you go into any city or town and you will find dozens of different types of churches. That is not so much a problem (and may even be beneficial [which I may address at a later time!]). But it is the reason behind why there are so many churches that is so telling. We have so many churches because we cannot get along. Whether it be differences in doctrine. Or worship style. Or in how the sacraments are done (or even which ones to do [or what they mean]!) We are divided because we cannot get beyond our differences. Sadly, our differences define us more than our common commitment to our Savior.

divided

Jesus mentioned something momentous in His “High-priestly prayer” recorded in John 17. For His Church, He prayed: (Father) I pray that they will all be one, just as You and I are one – as You are in me, Father, and I am in You. And may they be in Us so that the world will believe You sent me… May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that You sent Me and that You love them as much as You love Me.” (from John 17:21-23)

Jesus praying

What Jesus was clearly saying (and WHY it was so central in His prayer for us) is that one of the primary things needed, for the world to believe in Him, was our unity as God’s people.

Not our morals. Not our passion. Not our sacrifices. Not our worship. Not our programs. Not our doctrine. Not our rituals. Not even our commitment to truth.

Most importantly, God wanted His people to live in unity. Without it, according to Jesus, the gospel is hindered. Without it, people will almost always question the validity of our faith – and of the God Who is the Object of our faith. And without unity, we will not be able to experience the fullness of God’s power.

Christian unity is THAT important… and tomorrow we will look into reasons why…

Prayer Focus: God, help me to take stock of how I feel about other believers in other churches, and to commit my heart to pray for these other brothers and sisters in the faith.

Eph 4 3

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Gifts… Purpose, Design, and Power

November 28

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (1Cor. 12:7)

We have been talking about God’s power within our churches…

Yesterday, we mentioned that when we are “operating” in the Gifts of the Spirit – God is doing His work through us. Power is not just miracles… power is found in the revelation of God’s Own Character and Nature (by God) – through our lives.

This is why Gifts of service and mercy can be just as essential (and powerful) as Gifts of healings or miracles. Some of Jesus’ most powerful revelations of the Father were when He showed compassion for the downtrodden… or served those in need.

God designed His Church to be empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Baptism

But sometimes we have made this empowering a scary or uncomfortable thing. We have tended to make the Spiritual… too spiritual – failing to see the fullness of God’s purpose in giving us His Holy Spirit. We need to understand that the Gifts of the Spirit (God’s power at work in and through us) are eminently practical and purpose-driven.

Sometimes we can even get the idea that when we receive a Gift of the Spirit, from God, that He is just reaching into a big “grab-bag” at His side and randomly pulling out Gifts for indiscriminate distribution. We might get “lucky” and get one of the more exciting Gifts – or we might get stuck with one of those lesser, “behind the scenes” kinds of Gifts. It’s all just the “luck” of the draw…

man reaching into grab bag

But this is not the case. God has had something in Mind for us from “the foundations of the earth.” (Ephesians 1:4) Our Gift will fit us perfectly – not make us into something we were never designed to be. God designed us to be ourselves – only empowered by divine ability… to be the best us we can be. Only when we are divinely empowered can we be that best person – only by God’s Spirit can we BE all that we were made to be.

An illustration might be helpful…

If you and I were to go out into the dark of night I would probably grab a flashlight. The purpose of a flashlight is to bring light out into the darkness. It was designed to do just that – bring light to darkness. So flashlights were designed and made to dispel darkness with light.

flashlight-beam

But the one thing you always do before you head out into the darkness (with your flashlight) is to turn it on… while you are still inside. You power it on to make sure that it does what it was designed and purposed to do. If the batteries are dead (or not even installed in the flashlight) it cannot do what it was made to do. A powerless flashlight cannot fulfill its purpose.

This is a picture we need. We were designed by our Creator to fulfill a purpose. It may be to perform miracles or healings. Or it may be to simply help those who are the neglected or the needy all around us. The Bible tells us that there are many different purposes – all ordained and empowered by God…

1 cor 12 4_6

Each task that is necessary for this life has garnered the attention of the Great Designer – who made certain individuals to fulfill tasks that meet specific needs. God designed each of us to meet a particular need. But He also made it so that those tasks can only be fulfilled when those individuals are empowered – and only the Holy Spirit is able to empower us to fulfill our purpose.

God’s promise is that He has made His power available to us so that we can be what He has designed us to be – we just have to make sure to allow Him to BE our power Source.

Prayer Focus: God help me to understand and appreciate Your Gift to me… and show me how to utilize Your Gift in my everyday life.

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