Who Are My Gentiles?

In Ephesians 3, Paul addresses Gentiles in a manner they are not accustomed to being addressed. A man who persecuted Christians before his conversion and had great disdain for Gentiles is now calling them fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise of Christ Jesus. His passion for Christ and his desire to bring the message of salvation to all is proof of God’s transforming love. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the same could be said of all who claim to know Christ. Unfortunately, His simple message of love isn’t always absorbed deeply enough to allow us to love as He desires.

Christ’s precious love breaks down the barriers which divide my  heart. But before that can happen, I must admit there is division and ask myself, “Who are my Gentiles?” God knows the answer but knows I must come to that truth on my own. Neighbors, enemies, and those who aren’t “like me” are included in God’s kingdom. Knowing my neighbors and recognizing my enemies is easy, but identifying my Gentiles is more difficult because it reveals my judgment of others and exposes my prejudice.

Searching for truth is a tricky business that seldom leads to answers I want to hear, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, I can handle the truth. Division comes from many sources, but only love can make unity possible. Paul’s plea in Ephesians 3 is for such unity.

“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory.”

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. (NASB)

Paul’s love for God enabled him to admit and forget about divisions so he could reach out to those he once hated. God will enable the same in me when I stop seeing others as other than and start seeing them as part of God’s kingdom. At a time when hearts have never been more polarized, it is vital to God’s kingdom to let Paul’s plea change our hearts.

Love is a beautiful mystery not meant to be understood. It must simply be embraced, but I cannot embrace it until I identify and love the Gentiles in my life. Then, like Paul, I can reach beyond my judgments and let God have His way with my heart. Ghandi encouraged us to be the change we wish to see in the world. I can think of no better way to do that than identifying my Gentiles and letting the Holy Spirit tear down the walls of division in my own heart.

Holy Hierarchies!

Jesus put a child among His disciples to help answer their concerns about leadership. He hears them arguing about who will be in charge and wants them to hear His heart on the subject. It is the way of the world to want to climb up the hierarchy, but Jesus didn’t operate that way. He said the least would be the greatest and the first would be last. That didn’t make any sense to the men who followed Him, and it still doesn’t makes sense to some.

Hierarchies exist in churches and denominations, just as they do in the world of business. Even little family churches have a chain of command. The disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was saying, but they were afraid to ask any more questions. I imagine they were a bit embarrassed by being caught in a conversation about power.

Leaving that region, they traveled through Galilee. Jesus didn’t want anyone to know he was there, for he wanted to spend more time with his disciples and teach them. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies. He will be killed, but three days later he will rise from the dead.” They didn’t understand what he was saying, however, and they were afraid to ask him what he meant.

After they arrived at Capernaum and settled in a house, Jesus asked his disciples, “What were you discussing out on the road?” But they didn’t answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.”

Then he put a little child among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.”

John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.”

“Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me.  Anyone who is not against us is for us. 41 If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded. (Mark 9:30-41 NLT)

John changes the topic in hopes of getting approval from Jesus. He tells Him they stopped someone who was casting out demons in His name. Jesus made it clear to the disciples that whoever is not against us is for us. I so wish the Christian community could get that through their thick heads. His disciples are still arguing over who’s right, who’s wrong, who knows best, and who’s in charge. Some things do not change, and I know that breaks God’s heart.

We are all part of the same body, and I pray that one day we will behave in a manner that doesn’t go against the intentions of Christ to unify and bring peace to His body. Christ came so we could be one as He and His Father are One. That happens when we quit worrying about getting up the ladder, being the leader, and taking charge.

climbing the ladder

 

Our Righteousness

Matthew 5:20 is a sobering verse. It’s easy to poke fun and point fingers at the Pharisees, but it’s more important to remember that the law was everything to them. They knew righteousness was important, so Jesus uses them as an example in this powerful reminder that we can never be good enough. He became our righteousness, so righteousness would not become our idol.

“For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” NASB

Jesus is the only righteous man, living out and fulfilling God’s law in a way only He could. He was the Word made flesh and the Son of God. His life did not remotely resemble the lives of the Pharisees. He went with sacrifice and service instead of piety and power. What a different Messiah than the Pharisees expected. They wanted someone like them, but Jesus did not fit their bill. I could point a finger here, but I don’t dare because I expect my God and my Messiah to be like me, as well. It is the root of idolatry, and it tears the body of Christ to pieces.

Christ came to make us one by becoming our righteousness. 1 Corinthians 10:17 says it beautifully and reminds me of the unity Christ desires each time I hear it.

“Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.” NASB

Righteousness got in God’s way when the Pharisees tried to own it. Righteousness took on new meaning when Christ fulfilled God’s Word. He became our righteousness, and that changes everything. We no longer have to spend a lifetime trying to be who only Christ can be. God knows we are not perfect, so He sent His Son to be perfect for us. God sees Jesus each time He looks at us because we are one. God doesn’t expect me to be perfect, but He does expect me to love because He knows I will find Him when I do.

Lillyann asked me last night after her prayers if God was a person like us. I told her about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Her little prayers always touch me in a special way and remind me to keep my own simple. There’s nothing I love more than hearing her say, “Thank you God.” Thank you God, indeed! It’s the most powerful prayer of all, especially when it comes from the heart of a child.

Reflect or Refract?

Reflection is defined as ” something that shows the effect, existence, or character of something else.” That definition made me wonder how my life shows the effect, existence or character of God. I fear I refract God’s image more than I reflect it, and that’s something I hope to change in the coming year. It’s very humbling to think that God manifests Himself in the lives of His children.

There’s an old saying which asks, “If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” I would add another. Do you resemble Christ enough to be recognized as one of His brothers or sisters? No one reflected God’s love and light as Christ. I’m thankful God doesn’t expect me to be perfect. Christ did that in my place and allowed God to see His image each time He looks at me. He does, however, expect me not to bend, twist, or break His image as I live out my life.

Refraction is similar to reflection, but there is an important difference. The image is changed as the wave passes through a medium such as water. The straw in this glass is an image that helps me remember that I can break and distort God’s precious love if I’m not careful.

Refraction

The straw doesn’t appear to be connected, and that is what happens when the individual members of Christ’s body refract rather than reflect His love. Instead of letting God be God, His children insist on using Him for their own good. If I use God’s name or image, I better do so with a great deal of caution. I am not God, and I certainly do not need to defend Him. He doesn’t want His children to fight over who is right and who knows or loves Him best. That creates dysfunction in all families and breaks a parent’s heart to pieces.

I know the right thing to do. Two-year-olds know it. When right is refracted, it becomes what I think is right or what I want to be right. That causes a distortion much like the straw above. Doing the right thing is rarely easy, but I cannot twist the right thing to suit my needs or desires. James 4:16-17 describes what happens when I refract instead of reflect.

“But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” NASB

Arrogance is about being right. Obedience is about doing right. There is a big difference that changes the way I see myself, God, and others. More importantly, it changes the way others see God. It is my fervent prayer that I will reflect and not refract God’s love in the coming year. Brokenness and distortion lead to arguments that tear Christ’s body into jagged pieces. Wholeness and clarity cause the oneness Christ came to make possible. The Holy Spirit smoothes jagged edges and makes unity a beautiful reality in my heart and in a world with far too many rough edges.

I have a dear friend who teaches science, and she would add, “and when it diffracts,there is an apparent bending of waves around small obstacles and the spreading out, which allows God’s light to shine from oneself~to other.” I agree wholeheartedly Anne Watkins 🙂

Folds & Flocks

God placed the beautiful image of a flock of grazing sheep in green pastures in my path this morning. He also showed me the difference between a flock and a fold. He knows I’m a visual leaner, and the images He provided were just what I needed to help me understand the important differences between the two. A sheepfold is a pen or an enclosure for sheep, but the folds come together to form a flock that grazes together in the pasture. Christ makes it clear in John 10:16 that He has many folds that all belong to the same flock. He is the good Shepherd who laid down His life to bring His folds together.

God is about oneness, and Jesus is one with God. Pens are necessary for sheep just as churches are necessary for Christians. It’s important to gather together and enjoy sweet Christian fellowship, but the point must always be to glorify God. Being one glorifies God; Jesus came so we could be one with Him as He is one with God. I don’t understand how His message of unity causes division; but it did then, and it does now. We are one flock with one Shepherd, and we must move from thinking from of living in a fold to loving in a flock.

Jesus says it beautifully in John 10:14-20

I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father. A division occurred again among the Jews because of these words. Many of them were saying, “He has a demon and is insane. Why do you listen to Him?” Others were saying, “These are not the sayings of one demon-possessed. A demon cannot open the eyes of the blind, can he?”NASB

This beautiful scripture is a wonderful example of irony. Christ’s attempt to get the folds to be one flock and embrace the oneness of God causes division. I would laugh if it weren’t so very sad. Heaven is oneness in its purest form, and walking in God’s kingdom here must involve the same oneness. I’m finding that some folks cling to the fold and don’t like it when I don’t do the same. I thank God that there are many more who welcome the notion of oneness even if it is unfamiliar. As God is calling me to leave one fold and join another, I am challenged myself to maintain relationships while making new ones. The lessons of late have been tough as I navigate the unknown, but God continues to give me His peace and place passages such as John 10 in my path to encourage me to stay the course He’s set before me. I know there will be challenges along the way because the world loves division

Unity must come to my own heart first, and that is a process that will continue as long as I am in this world. Atonement is, as Oswald Chambers says, at-one-ment. Being one with God through His Son and Spirit allows me to be one with His flock. I also must see the fold for what it is and not get it confused with the flock. There is one Shepherd and many wonderful messengers who feed God’s flock. I am blessed to know and love so many faithful messengers who feed faithfully in beautifully different ways.

Folds are never to be in competition with one another. God wants us to come together as one wonderful flock. When that happens, God’s kingdom comes, and His will is done in a way that will send Satan running for shelter. The image of a beautiful flock of sheep peacefully grazing together is the image God has for all His children.

Fold of Sheep by David Wyatt

David Wyatt Sheep Fold Flock of Sheep

Gather Into One

Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they planned together to kill Him.John 11:47-53 NASB

What an amazing display of God’s glory it would be if we allowed Jesus to “gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” The irony of Christianity is the way it has scattered and separated us when Jesus came to gather us into one. Religious authorities in Jesus’s day were afraid of unity; they are still afraid of it.

Becoming one means letting go of all identity except for that of Jesus Christ. When I join Him as He desires and on His terms, oneness occurs. When I meet Him halfway or allow my denomination or doctrines to come between us, I will never get to that sweet place of connection. The same is true for all the connections in my life. It is heartbreaking when there is a wall between me and those I love, especially when that wall allows me to see but not be connected as I desire.

Those glass walls go up quickly when it comes to Christ, and they give Christianity the appearance of being one until you look more closely at the divisions coming between the children of God. The same walls go up as we love one another. There is safety in walls that creates a boundaries because boundaries bring comfort. Breaking down boundaries makes everyone nervous. Unfortunately, that is one belief that does unite Christians.

When the walls come down, I get a glimpse of the love God so desires for His children. The problem is that when those walls come down, my vulnerability is exposed. I can’t let others know me at my deepest level because they may not like me. I can’t love Christ with abandon because people will think I’m nuts. That’s exactly what would change this world if given the chance. If Christians loved one another and God as Christ, the world would certainly think we were nuts, and that’s a lot better than what they think of us now!

If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” If we let Him has His way with us, the same thing will happen, and I don’t mean a hostile takeover as some envision. He will take away our place and our nation and leave us forever changed. Change is the problem, and being one scares us to death. When I look to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit and see how they are one, I want what they have. It’s what the high priests knew would happen. We can’t let everyone get what this guy is giving out. It will ruin our way of life and destroy us. Jesus does just that, and it’s a wonderful thing. Revival comes when those glass walls are shattered, and we are willing to let Christ “gather into one the children of God.” That was His agenda then, and it’s still His agenda now.

Wholeness and Holiness

The scriptures this morning are about being one, and the lessons this week have been about wholeness. Holiness and wholeness go hand in hand. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 are beautiful verses that describe the oneness God desires.

“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” NASB

The image of drinking from one Spirit struck me this morning. Sharing a drink with someone is very intimate, and I don’t usually drink from the same cup as others. The scripture clearly says that we were made to drink of one Spirit. God made us for the intimacy of oneness, and holiness is about experiencing the unity Paul describes.

Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God are all one, and it is His desire for us to be one with Christ and so become one with Him through the Holy Spirit. The church is a poor example of oneness, and I know that breaks God’s heart. As we are apart, so is His heart. It is humbling to realize that I have the power to break the Creator’s heart, but I know I do. So do we all, and that should cause us to lay aside differences and come together.

I’ve said it before, but it bears saying again. Satan loves individuals, and God loves unity. I pray that we all will truly hear the words spoken to the church at Corinth and know that they apply more today than ever before. So much division exists in the body of Christ that He becomes an unrecognizable pile of pieces.

What a beautiful world this would be if all Christians came together as one! It would truly be His Kingdom come, and His will would be done in a way that would make us all wonder what took us so long to figure out that being whole is much better than being broken. Our brokenness is healed by the wholeness Christ affords. Thanks be to God:)