Good morning. [Life Groups Announcement - 8:15]
We’ve been talking about the vision of the Church that we find in the book of Ephesians, which was written by a guy named Paul. He was so compelled by this vision that he was no longer an angry person, that he gave up everything he had, as a Pharisee, as a person of status and position, and he traveled the world to try and let other people know about this vision that God had for his people. Both Jew and Gentile.
Obviously Jesus was the founder of the Church, but he imparted to Paul to take the vision to the Gentile world, which is the non-Jew world. So, basically every church that is non-Jew that follows Christ is somehow a product of the Apostle Paul. And there are a few of them out there—and they’ve lasted for some time. They really have become the single most dominant force for good the world has ever seen. Any age, any place, any time. Because the vision is real and the vision is empowered by the Spirit of God. It’s the greatest vision there. We talked about that last week.
Ephesians basically says the Church—when it gets it right—will bring unity to all things. The Church is what carries God’s full presence into all places and all ages. The Church is what shows off God’s manifold wisdom. The Church is what builds people up so they are strong and courageous, instead of tossed to and fro by the deceitful, cunning schemes that we face in this world. That’s God’s vision for the Church. That’s God’s vision for you and me. Not Living Streams. Living Streams is just an organization. It’s not the real Church. It’s just a box that the Church lives in. And if it’s getting in the way of the real Church, let it die a thousand deaths. What we’re wanting to build is the Church of Jesus Christ. That’s the only thing that matters. And she is beautiful and she is everywhere in this world.
In Ephesians 1, Paul gave us more specifics of what the Church is supposed to be. This is a little review for you:
The Church was God’s purpose from the beginning of time. When God made Adam and Eve, he had the Church in mind. It’s what we learn in Ephesians 1.
God’s Church is supposed to be a family. God has adopted everyone into his family. We have sonship, daughter-ship, because of what Jesus Christ has done for us. We’re supposed to operate like we’re a family. That means you’re supposed to drive your cousin crazy sometimes. You’re supposed to get so mad at your brothers and sisters, but you’re not supposed to leave. You’re supposed to stick it out, because we’re family.
He also says that the Church is what is glorious in God’s eyes. It’s what gives him the most joy in all the world—the Church.
And last, Church is what brings praise to his glorious grace. That flawed, imperfect people like us can make up this Church are a testimony to God’s grace. The fact that we get anything right at any time shows the world that God can do a lot with not-so-good people. Amen to that. It’s a beautiful thing, this Church.
Ephesians 2, which Mark preached on last week, tells us a little bit about how the Church is God’s artistic masterpiece. He says that we were dead in our trespasses ad sins, but God brought us into his family and he’s forming us. He’s shaping us, almost like a tool that he can use to create good in this world. Or forming and shaping us like a work of art being cultivated out of a lump of clay. We are his workmanship. We’re his project. We’re his masterpiece that he’s forming and creating.
He goes on a little later in Chapter 2, talking about how the Church is being formed as God’s dwelling place. Each of us is like a brick and God sticks us in the building where we fit. When we all come together, we actually become this dwelling place where the glory, beauty and power of God fills it. Again, if you look over the history of the world, ever since this Church took form and shape, it really has been powerful and beautiful. You can’t go anywhere in this world and not find some little, old lady who love Jesus feeding hungry people. It’s unbelievable what this thing is—this Church.
When Paul was writing the book of Ephesians, it was maybe thirty or forty years after Jesus died. The Church was small, puny, insignificant. Persecuted. It didn’t have a chance to survive another ten years. And Paul was saying, “But, wait a second. I can see it.” You can almost think of Martin Luther King Jr on that night before he was shot, when he said, “I have no worries. I have no fear, because I’ve seen the other side. I’ve been to the mountaintop and I’ve seen the Promised Land.”
Paul is saying, “I know when I look around, and I go into this town and say, ‘Jesus,’ and they put me in prison. And I see the floundering, frail leaders that are trying to stand up and become this Church.” That’s all he saw was weakness and impotence. And yet this vision was so real and captivating, that he wrote it to the Ephesians and said, “Hold on, my friends. Stick with the program. It’s going to be beautiful.”
If only he could see it now. Maybe he can, I don’t know. It’s hard to know what’s going on up there.
Now we come to Ephesians 4. He gives us a new description of the Church that we are, that we have, that we’re trying to grow into becoming all the time. It’s in the form of a body. Chapter 4:
1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
Catch the vision. Live into the vision. Stay focused on the vision.
2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit,
The way he describes the church is as one body—many people all forming one body filled with one Spirit. One body. One Spirit. That’s what we’re to be.
just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says:
“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”
9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)
Now catch this. This is a vision that is worth living for or dying for.
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
That’s a beautiful vision. I have five kids that I’m raising right now. Year after year, I watch them grow. They get a little stronger, a little bigger, a little fine-tuned. Their skills get a little better. They still trip and fall all the time. Last night while we were on the golf course, watching the sunset, they say, “You want to race?” And every time they say that, I start to get a little nervous because I’ve never lost. But then, their feet are bigger and their strides are a little longer. And they look a little stronger. And they run a lot more than me. They’re running all the time. So I look at them, and I go, “Yes. I will race you.”
There’s a part of me that thinks it’s going to be neat one day when they beat me. But most of me says, “Never let that day come.” And so they still want a head start and all of that.
I was sitting on the ground when she said, “All right, on your mark, get set, go!” She took off running and I got up off the ground and I took off running. I smoked her. Smoked her bad. I made it somewhat close, because I didn’t want her to never try again. But it was awesome. And she didn’t know that in my mind I was thinking, “This might be the day.” But it wasn’t the day and so I smiled at her like, “I never thought anything else.”
And then, another one said, “What about me?” I thought, “Two in one day?” I smoked him too, so I’m feeling pretty good today. No hamstring pulls or anything. It was a good day for me.
But they’re growing, they’re developing, they’re maturing. And they’re still not there. They’re still not full strength. They’re still not full coordination. And then, this morning I woke up and there was all out war going on in my backyard, because they are all immature, and angry and upset, throwing things at each other. I just think, “Man, when are you going to grow up? Because I never fight anybody anymore.” When am I going to grow up?
But we’re still growing. And Paul is speaking to the Church in an amazing, fatherly way. He sees it as clumsy. It’s not put together. It’s not even whole. There are no arms, no legs. When he looks at the Church in his day, he couldn’t have seen anything that impressive. But the Lord was moving enough to keep him going.
Now when we look at the Church worldwide we see a body. We see it healthy and strong. Our Belizean friends, when they came up here for ten days and interact with the Living Streams family, they were so amazed and inspired about how much strength, love, kindness and generosity you guys portrayed. And you’re just one small part of the family here in Phoenix. And they went back so inspired, longing for God to build a family like that in Belize.
But when I look at the Church as a whole, I don’t know how coordinated we are. We have some parts going this way, some parts going this way. Some parts are still undeveloped and immature. Some parts are really strong. We’ve got work to do. As a Church family, we’ve got to figure out and grow into what God has called us to be. That’s why we’re doing things like Life Groups every year. We want to grow. We want to mature. We want to attain the full measure of what Christ has for us.
The reason it’s so important for us to catch this vision is not just because it’s beautiful and life-giving, but there are also other visions in our world that are clamoring for our attention, our cultural moment, our zeitgeist. The spirit of our time.
We live in a time where the external guides of science, government and religion are not trusted at all anymore. They’ve failed us. But, really, we put them in a place where only God can be. And so we’ve created this world where we want to deconstruct everything. We want to move all the boundary stones. Any time there’s a fence we think the fence is bad and evil and mean.
Today, the ones that rule are the deconstructionists. What they’ve left us is reverting back to our internal guides of individualistic thoughts, emotions and desires. It’s a new form of renaissance and it feels really cool. And maybe we get better coffee because of it, but we’re still left with the plague of loneliness, all the deep questions are not getting any answers.
We have more information at our fingertips than any generation ever before. And we don’t have any better answers. Families breaking up like crazy, leaving people with all kinds of emotional debt and baggage, to sort out in all kinds of unhealthy ways. The way Coldplay puts it, Christ Martin of Coldplay—I just think this is so interesting. He said:
I was just guessing at numbers and figures,
Pulling your puzzles apart
Questions of science, science and progress
Do not speak as loud as may heart
It’s an honest frustration. It’s honest saying, “Ugh. I’m sick of all of that.” And that’s not a bad thing. But to look to your own, individualistic heart, you’re not going to find any healthy answers, either. The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, selfish and prideful. The only real answers come from One wholes outside our external things—or our internal things—and that’s Jesus Christ. He knows the way. He’s the Shepherd. He’s the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And he’s not just up there saying, “Ha, ha. You don’t know the way.” But he came and laid down his life to show us the way ad lead us out of this. And it cost him a very big price. He’s the only teacher, the only leader, the only one to ever claim to be the way to life and then conquer death. He is worthy to be followed. He is worthy to be praised.
I want to read this to you. This is another guy describing the spirit of our time.
Post-Christianity is ultimately the project of the West to move beyond Christianity, whilst feasting upon its fruit. Thus it constantly offers us options and off ramps, in which we seemingly have what we enjoy about faith, but without the sacrifices and commitments. It does not demand that we become apostates rather that we reshape our faith to suit the contours of the day, and in the process offers us the promise of tangible freedoms and pleasures for doing so.
It does not challenge our faith head on in a kind of apologetics debate. Rather it uses soft power, offering a continual background hum of options and incentives which eat away at our commitments. We are offered the mirage that we can have community without commitment, faith without discipleship, and the kingdom without the King. To steal and misquote Eliot’s line, our faith doesn’t disappear with a bang but with a whimper. —Mark Sayers
We need to watch out or that is going to describe all of us. It’s subtle. It’s deceitful. It’s cunning. And if we don’t grow into full strength with each other and individually, we’re just going to be blown to and fro by every wind of doctrine that presents itself. And so we have a call to build up, to take up our position in the Body. To be what God has called us to be.
And here he says there are some apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists that are called to equip us. And I think what Paul is recognizing in the church that he’s talking about, as he’s gone around, every person falls into one of these categories, probably. That you’re supposed to be apostolic in your church family. You’re supposed to be evangelistic in your church family. You’re supposed to be pastoral. You’re supposed to be a teacher. You’re supposed to be a prophet. You’re supposed to take up your position.
Like in a building, you have wood, you have brick, you have whatever. If you’re that, you should step up and say, “Hey, I’ll be that in my local expression of the Church.” Or if God sends you out, wherever he sends you. We’ve got to take up our position. We each need to do our part.
That’s what it says at the end here:
16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
You have a part to play. God did not save you so you could just sit there and soak up his salvation. He saved you because he has got a job for you. And when you do the job, all of a sudden stuff starts lighting up inside of you that you never thought could.
To close, I want to give us this charge. As we’re seeking to grow into this vision, I think it’s really important to remember that this is going to be hard. The more people you invite into your life, or the people you invite closer into your life, they are going to annoy you. Because they are nowhere near as cool as you. They’re nowhere near as smart as you. They like gross things. They don’t like the things that are good to you.
What Paul says here in the beginning, before he says “here’s the vision,” he says, “Remember these things. Be patient with one another. Be completely humble and gentle. Bear with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
We’ve got to learn to fight for each other. We can’t quit. We can’t step out. We can’t say, “Oh, it’s hard.” Or, “Maybe there’s a better place.” If we keep doing that, we’re never going to land and we’re never going to grow.
If a tree keeps deciding, “Oh, it’s a little windy over here. I’m going to uproot and take myself over here,” the tree would never grow, Because its roots would never get deep. It would never go through the seasons it’s supposed to go through to bear the most fruit.
I’ve had a lot of friends do that. They bounce from church to church. They get hurt by one thing and they move on to the next. They just bounce around, and they end relationships. I’m not saying you need to stick around and take abuse. There is a time to move on, but the relationships that God has called you to foster and keep are for your good, even if they’re hard.
I love the way Joseph Helman puts it in a book. He says:
Spiritual formation occurs primarily in the context of community. People who remain connected with their brothers and sisters in the local church almost invariably grow in self-understanding, and they mature in their ability to relate in healthy ways to God and their fellow human beings. This is especially the case for those courageous Christians who stick it out through the often messy process of interpersonal discord and conflict resolution. Long-term interpersonal relationships are the crucible of genuine progress in the Christian life. People who stay also grow.
The real crux of the message today is to just lean into some of those relationships that you know God has for you but are really hard for you. You might say today, “That’s my marriage.” There you go, Start there. “That’s my kids.” Start there. “That’s my church family.”
Some of you might be sitting here and you’re not supposed to be here. You quit on the church family that you are supposed to be a part of, and you came here because you didn’t want to deal with that. Though we like you here, you should go back and at least finish what the Lord has for you—if you left early. And talk to someone before you make that decision. Process it out a little bit.
Some of you are here saying, “This is hard. This is miserable. I’m not finding what I want. I’m going to leave.” And God would say to you, “Stick it out. Keep leaning in.”
Growing up is hard work. Maturing. Ugh. It’s miserable. But the fruits of it are so beautiful. It’s what this desperate world needs more than anything. If we can get this right, the world has a chance. If we can get this right, the world can live, grow, build, taste of the kingdom of heaven right here and now. We’ve got to get this right. We’ve got to fight for this—fight for each other.
Jesus, we thank you for this day. We thank you for your word that doesn’t let us be us, but continues to prod us and push us to be what you have in mind in for us. Lord, though it is hard work, it takes time, there are no quick fixes—we do say ‘yes’ to you today. We pray that you would speak to us and we would have the courage to obey.
We’re going to take a moment right now and, with our heads bowed in an attitude of prayer, let the Lord speak to you about some of those things. Maybe you offer up to the Lord some questions and see what comes to mind. The Lord loves to speak to his children. He knows the way to life, no matter what kind of death you’ve got yourself in right now.
Jesus, I pray that we would step forward with you, step into where you’re leading us. I pray that Life Groups would be a rich thing that happens in our church, whether they are already happening or not, whether people here find them in another community, whatever it might be, Lord, we just pray that would find what you have for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
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