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About Unity

I’m writing the morning after the President’s State of the Union speech.  Last Sunday I preached from John 17, focusing on Jesus’ prayer for Himself, for His disciples, and for us – His Church.  At Orenco Church we’re in a preaching series, “Together,” focusing on the Body of Christ.  The sermon asked us to make a choice, not for our political party which of late is divisive – no matter which side you’re on, but instead to choose for unity, to be one, as Jesus prayed for us in John 17:

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

There’s that word – unity.  One – together, not apart or separate.  Why? So that the world will know that God sent Jesus, that God loves us, that God loves us through His Son.

Webster’s dictionary defines unity as: the quality or state of not being multiple, a condition of harmony, a continuity without deviation or change, the quality or state of being made one.

Unity.  Together, without discord.  One of my great loves is music.  Sadly, I didn’t practice my piano as much as I should have – and though I enjoy playing it now, I know I would have more pleasure playing had I practiced.  At the time my heart was elsewhere – especially baseball.  So I played and played – rather than practice for my piano lessons.  I still love baseball, but I’d rather be better at playing the piano.

I didn’t practice as I should have.  For there to be unity in the church, the Body of Christ must focus on being one.  Jesus prayed for us to be one, just hours before He endured the cross on our behalf, His death and resurrection God’s gift of forgiveness and redemption for us.  Jesus prayed “… so that they may be brought to complete unity.”  Complete unity – not partial, not mostly – complete.  One.  Of one accord.

The result?  That the world will know God.  That the world will realize how much God loves us.  How does that happen?  When the Church acts as one.  When the church loves as one.  When the church worships as one.  When the church goes out and serves as one.

Remember that Jesus prayed for us – he prayed for we who are alive today!  He prayed that we would be one, the Body of Christ, moving in concert with Him and with each other.

“Lord, may your Holy Spirit be one with us.  Empower us to be one with each other.  Remind us how much you love us, remind us how much you love the world.  Remind us to love you with everything we have and are, and to others in the same way you love us.  Remind us to be one.  Today.  Always.  We pray this for Jesus’ sake and in His name.  Amen.”

More about unity

I preach again this week about unity.  The text we’ll be looking at is from 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.  So far this month Pastor Rachel and I have focused on what it means to have unity, especially concerning the Body of Christ.  We can’t help but notice the divisions that exist in our country, in our families, and in our church.  I appreciate your prayers for me as I prepare for Sunday.  These words from Paul help me remember the basics for our unity:

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  (Colossians 3:12-17)

For me, a key phrase is found in verse 15: the peace of Christ.  In the ESV Paul emphasizes to let that peace rule in our hearts.  I like what the Message says: Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other.

“Lord, help me to live this out – that others may see your peace in my life, and that I may experience in theirs also.  Amen.”

Essential Challenges

This month Lisa and I will be vacationing in New Orleans  –  a place I’ve never been, and one that Lisa was last in as a baby (they lived in Biloxi, Mississippi during her dad’s earlier years in the US Air Force.)  We’re looking forward to seeing part of our country that we’ve never seen – it’s people, it’s scenery, the great food, and I’m sure lots more.  There’s a lot we’ll get to see and do – I’m looking forward to exploring a part of our country I know only  a little about.

The next couple of months we will be preaching on the Essential Challenges of the church – the things that can make us uncomfortable, and the challenge to embrace those challenges, rather than run away from them.  Just as I’ll find New Orleans different than what I’m expecting, I’ve found that Orenco and     Hillsboro are different than they were just a few years ago.

For starters, our population in Hillsboro has grown more than 20% in less than a decade.  Much of that growth has taken place in the Orenco area of Hillsboro – as we have seen more than 10 apartment       complexes built within the last two years in the Orenco Station area alone.

What are some of the other interesting facts of Orenco?  Two of Hillsboro’s largest elementary schools are in the Orenco area, Orenco and Quatama, and they are ranked 1st and 4th in population, according to the latest statistics available (2017).  Our latest demographic studies show that more than 4,900 of the 17,350 people living in Orenco are under the age of 19, with more than 2,550 of them under the age of 10.

Adding to that, there are another 8,500 people in the 20-49 age range in Orenco, with the largest group found in the 30-39 age range (3,521) – again, according to the 2017 demographics report.  Those in the age group of 50+ total more than 2,800 people.  These people all live within a mile radius of the church – these are the people our Lord has entrusted to us for ministry and mission.  What a task we have ahead of us – and what a joy that we can do this for our Lord.

Where do we begin?  What can each of us do?  In looking for answers to these questions, I found an     excellent article by Beth Debayle, written for the Surge Project.  Let each of us consider her suggested ways:

1) Be led by God’s Holy Spirit.  It is God’s Holy Spirit that leads us, that equips us, just as that same Spirit did with Jesus’ disciples and even Jesus Himself.

2) Build relationships and share the Good News of Jesus within your sphere of influence.  Let us be salt and light, even a city built on a hill that cannot be hidden.

3) Finally, simply this: Give.  Through our plenty, let us together give, supplying seed to the sower and bread for food – so by increasing the harvest (see 2 Corinthians 9).

Let us be led by God’s Spirit, to those already among us, with the same priority that God has used to seek and find us.  Amen.

You Are Mine

We read in Isaiah 43 . . .
But now, this is what the Lord says –
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
I’m writing this piece for the January newsletter on Tuesday,
December 18th. 2018 is almost gone – a new year is about to start, whether I’m ready for it or not.
“I have called you by your name. You are mine.” For these people, names are important. A
person’s name reveals the person’s character and identity. In key moments in Israel’s history,
God named particular people. He changed Abram’s name to Abraham, “for I have made you the
father of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:5). He changed Jacob’s name to Israel, “for you
have fought with God and with men and have prevailed (Genesis 32:28) – and Israel’s name
became the name of the nation. The bestowing of a new name, then, is the same as naming a new
identity – acknowledging a new character.
To give someone or something a name is an act of authority, denoting possession, responsibility,
and protection.” God’s calling of Israel by name, therefore, constitutes a kind of adoption
ceremony that signifies “you are mine” – that God is the parent and Israel is the child.
It’s the very same for you and for me. I love that Psalm 139 tells us that our Lord knows us, that
He knows everything about us, and that He even knew us BEFORE we were born. And in His
Son, our Savior, He has now named us as His. Bought for a price (our Savior’s death and
resurrection), we are His. Indeed, we do not need to fear, for God has redeemed you and me; we
are called by our names, we are His.
Just as we have celebrated Him during the Christmas season, be sure to celebrate Him throughout
the coming year – in everything we do – to His praise, His glory and honor. May God’s character
be revealed in us, and may it be lived through us. Amen.

God with us

“Emmanuel – God with us.” We hear and read these words,
particularly during the Advent and Christmas time.
Matthew 1:22-23 tells us, All this took place to fulfill what
the Lord had said through the prophet: The virgin will be
with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel –
which means, “God with us.”

The past few months we’ve looked at familiar portions of Scripture, of
God’s Word to us. Today, we look at the Word of God, the One the
prophet Isaiah proclaims in 7:14; the One John describes in his gospel: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . and the Word became flesh and lived among us (John 1:1 and 14).

What does it mean, “God with us?”

A song that describes this is “God with Us” by Bryan and Katie Torwalt. Read the words from the 1 st verse:

You are matchless in grace and mercy, there is nowhere we can hide from Your love. You. are steadfast, never failing, You are faithful, creation is in awe of who You are.

The chorus follows: King and our Savior, for eternity we will sing of all You’ve done. We sing God with us, God for us, nothing can come against, no one can stand between us.
God with us. Billy Graham once wrote, “One of the most heartening things Jesus said to His disciples was, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). He came to restore fellowship between man and God, and to take away human loneliness. Jesus Christ will take away loneliness from your soul. He will be your companion and friend.”
We live in times that find us desperate for direction, desperate for peace. God the Father not only created us in His image, He personally came and lived with us – loving us so much He eventually died in our place – our sin now forever forgiven and eternally forgotten! In the power of His Holy Spirit, He now guides us, empowers us and keeps us – forever with Him.

How? We read in Colossians 1:15-17, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things; and in Him all things hold together.”

The One who created us, who created everything we know and so much more than that, knows each of us by name. He calls us. Each day is a day to walk with Him – and He with us. He knows everything about us, and He longs to be with us.

Walk each day with Him – the One called Emmanuel – God is indeed with us.

Grateful Praise

We continue to look at familiar passages of Scripture – this month’s
focus is on Psalm 100. My personal Bible has the subtitle for this Psalm
as “For giving grateful praise.”
It’s that phrase that got me to thinking – how often do I simply offer
praise to my God, my Creator, the God of the entire universe and far
beyond all of that? Together, let’s look at these five verses, exploring
what David wrote as he considered his own worship.
“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth” (verse 1). This begs the
question, “when was the last time I actually shouted before the Lord?” I
go to a football game – do I root for my team in whispers? Of course not. Here, the psalmist expresses his love for God – shouting from the top of his lungs, realizing that all of God’s creation has joined him.
So, should my praise be for the One who created me – in His image – for a relationship so special and unique that no other part of His creation gets to have what I get to have? David expresses his “joy” for God. I can easily picture David’s worship of God and visibly see and hear the joy in his heart as he worships. Nothing is held back as he worships, as he seeks the Lord. My own worship should be nothing less.
“Worship the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs” (verse 2). Just as David has expressed his “joy” in verse 1, he also shows how happy (with gladness) he is that he can worship the Lord in verse 2. “Gladness” is something that my heart can express to God, as I sing to Him, as I pray to Him, and also as I simply listen to Him. Worship is not going through the motions, instead it’s an opportunity to tell the Lord how much I love Him and to express to Him my praise and adoration.
When I sing joyfully, I have sung from the very foundation of my being. It speaks of relationship – a relationship that I can have with God my Father and Creator that is so far beyond any other possible relationship – the Creator of everything loves me. Insignificant though I may be, this Lord loves me, beyond all that I ask and think – and so I sing to Him, from the depths of my heart!

“Know that the Lord is God. It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture” (verse 3). I get to belong to God – I am His creation, nothing can snatch me out of His hand. I can know this with all certainty. Why? Because His Word tells me. I am His possession. He purchased me through the death and resurrection of His Son, my Savior. Now through the presence and power of His Holy Spirit, I not only belong to Him, but as Shepherd, I rely on Him to lead me, to provide for me, to
protect me. I can trust in Him, because of who He is.
“Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name” (verse 4). What a privilege it is to worship our Lord! This verse teaches us about my attitude during worship – is my focus on Him, or am I merely going through the motions? What are the ways I bring Him my thanksgiving? Am I honoring Him with the first fruits of my possessions, or am I giving Him the scraps – the leftovers? Or am I bringing nothing at all?
Finally, these tremendous words: “For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations” (verse 5). I can’t help but focus on the word “forever.” God will always love me – nothing can change that hold He has on me. Nothing can separate me from Him – His love endures forever.
All of this has been from my perspective, a relationship of Him with me and me with Him – but this Psalm applies to all of us collectively – to the church, and specifically to His church at Orenco. As you have read these words, come prepared this coming Sunday to Shout for joy to the Lord! Amen.

Familiarity

Familiarity. We like familiarity. We like things that are familiar to us. As we read Psalm 139 we can’t help but realize that we are familiar to God our Creator. After all, He made us – He created us. He created us to have a relationship with Him. In that relationship, He knows everything about us.

That’s familiarity. In last month’s newsletter we began looking at familiar passages of Scripture – God’s Word to us. We looked at Psalm 23 – the Shepherd Psalm. And while the words of the first paragraph come from Psalm 139, we will look at that Psalm in the months ahead. Instead, I wanted to take a closer look at another passage familiar to us: John 14:1-6. Here is that passage:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Jesus has but a short time left before His crucifixion. He knows it, but His disciples do not, so He tries to comfort them. He assures them that His death and resurrection will happen – they will take place – they must take place, as God the Father completes His love for us through His Son. Jesus will pay the ultimate price for us – losing His life so that God may gain us – His chief creation, really the reason He created
anything and everything. For us. Wow – He loves us that much!

There are so many key parts to this passage – too many for us to completely cover in one page of a newsletter. So, we’ll hit some key points:
1) “Do not be troubled.” We have a lot of troubling things we face in our lifetime. One of them is our own mortality. What happens after our dying? While the disciples are probably not thinking of this as Jesus speaks to them, it is something we all face. In this, Jesus tells us to not be troubled by it – there is life beyond our earthly life. Jesus died in order that we can have what we were ultimately created for – His death conquered our sin and our dying, to restore our relationship with God, broken by our sin.
Eternal life – in the very presence of our Creator!
2) “I go and prepare a place for you.” Where is Jesus going? First, He is going to die – to be crucified. He’s going to pay the ultimate price for our sin – His own death. He willingly went to the cross for us. He died that our sin would be forgiven and no longer held against us. Our separation from God, created by the sins we commit, is no longer there. Our relationship with Him – ours because He created us – is restored. What we could never accomplish is accomplished for us on the cross. Jesus died and rose again
– our place with Him was prepared almost 2,000 years ago. Amazing!

3) “I am the Way.” While I preached a couple of Sundays ago, I listed our church’s Core Beliefs – what we believe. What we believe about Jesus is that He is indeed the Way, the Truth and the Life. That statement embodies the truth we find in John 14:6. In this lone verse is the truth that is much more than a claim. It is reality. It is what truly is – Jesus Christ is the Savior, of us and all humankind – yesterday, today and tomorrow. We gain our restored relationship with God the Father only because God rescued
and restored us through the death and resurrection of His Son. There is no other way this is accomplished – no other name by which we are saved (see Acts 4:12). Again, how amazing!

How amazing is God’s love for us! Behold, what manner of love the Father has given to us – the words of a song of praise. Words that are reality. Words that are ours. Lord Jesus, thank you for loving us so much that You gave your life, that we might be saved. Amazing!