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Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Maturity and Gratitude

Preaching through Ephesians has been good for me this fall, and I hope good for our church too. One theme that has jumped out to me is maturity. How mature are you as a follower of Jesus? Maturity looks like knowing what you believe so that you're able to engage with our culture wisely, recognizing both the good and the wrong, and working towards healthy communities. It looks like serving others instead of yourself, it looks like unity (as I talked about in my last post), and maturity looks like gratitude. All of these things that reflect maturity, except the first which contributes to and shapes the others, are all outwardly looking attributes.
The one that strikes me the most however is gratitude. The most mature followers of Jesus I know are those who look at their lives, no matter how difficult their lives have been, no matter how much suffering they have experienced, they're all able to thank God regularly and sincerely for who He is and how He is present in their lives.
I have a 3 year old grandson living with us, and it's an amazing blessing because I see the wonder in his eyes as he sees and learns something new. I've learned to appreciate the world around me all the more again as I look at it through his eyes. But I'm also often reminded that he is a child and has a lot of growing up to do before he becomes an adult, which is alright since he's only 3 years old. What I've learnt again is how children can be so happy one moment and then how angry and upset they can be the next minute simply because something has not gone their way, or because they don't have something they suddenly want. This is because children are inherently focused on themselves. The goal as parents and adults is to help them grow out of this self preoccupation, and yet the church seems to often to be filled with children in adult bodies concerned about themselves first and often unwilling to be sacrificial in their relationships with others. I will take some responsibility for this as a pastor in not teaching and equipping our members well enough, but at some point, it is also a personal responsibility for each follower of Jesus to grow up and become spiritually mature.
Gratitude allows us to be sacrificial because we've learned to trust that God is with us, that he loves us and is working out all things for our good even if we don't always understand why some things happen the way they do. A spirit of gratitude reflects on how much we already have instead of what we don't have, it does not focus on what others have that we don't. Grateful Christians know that they can be part of a church and not always need everything to go their way; they look at what God is doing now instead of constantly harking back to the "good old days," and look at how they can build up the church to create an atmosphere of blessing.
As we head into advent, join me in counting our blessings. Write them down, share them with others, and if you're struggling with this, ask others what they see in your life that you can be grateful for. Sometimes we need others to remind us of how blessed we really are and how much we can be grateful for.
Personally, these are just a few of  the things I am grateful for: my wife, my children and grandchildren. I am extremely grateful for a church community that is growing closer together and are becoming more deliberate in being followers of Jesus, for a church community who has allowed me to make mistakes and helped me grow as their pastor. I am grateful for God who continues to work to save His creation and sent His son Jesus to save us from our sin that we might experience God's blessings.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Unity

The last few weeks have had me thinking a lot about unity in the church and how often the church is known more for its disunity instead of its commitment to stay together through thick or thin. Our church connected with other churches in the area to celebrate a conference with speakers coming in who focused on unity in the church and among the different churches and denominations and traditions represented among the churches participating. It was good to work together and to reflect on what we can learn from each other and what we have in common in worshiping God, rather than focusing on our differences.
I'm teaching through Romans during a weekday class and one of Paul's great desires for that church is unity, and on Sundays this fall I've been working though Paul's letter to the church in Ephesus and the theme of unity is strong throughout the whole letter.
Paul talks in Ephesians about being mature and how unity is a sign of maturity in the church and I made the connection in my head with Jesus' prayer in John 17, "  "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 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. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 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." When you grow up you become more willing to give up things so that you can bless others. In the church, it looks like this, "I'm willing to let you have things your way because I want you to be blessed. I'm willing to accept that we will not always agree, even about what the Bible says, but our relationship with Jesus and each other is more important than my insisting on being right." 
How many breakups in the church or relationships are based on wanting things your own way instead of caring about unity? How often have we said that unity is important, but when it gets too uncomfortable and things don't go our way often enough, we go our own way? 
I believe that too many Christians often don't really care enough about what Jesus has taught or desired about unity. Too many are more concerned about their own level of comfort and their own desires than Jesus'. How else do we explain the number of church splits or Christians who leave their churches for another because the new one better serves them rather than work on  your relationship with the church? 
Hard words, but the call for unity in Scriptures, especially in the New Testament is challenging me to reflect on my own heart and relationships; both with God and others and how committed am I to others and how often do I walk away from people because it's too much effort to express grace and work  through our differences. I may put fancy words around my decisions, but often it comes down to what I want and what's easiest for me, a mark of childish thinking instead of maturity. 
It's in unity within the Body of Christ, the church, that the world sees that God has sent Jesus and that God loves the world even as God loves Jesus. Isn't unity worth all the effort and sacrifice it takes if that's true? What might that look like where you are?