Read Ephesians 3:20-21
What are some things in life which seem unimaginable? As time moves forward, things which humans have thought impossible have become possible. History records an endless number of situations when humans have declared something impossible which today we take for granted. Human airflight, speaking to someone over five thousand miles away instantly, living in space, are just a few examples. While some feats take many years to become possible, we are witness to the impossible becoming reality. Yet even as far as humanity has come (and will go), humanity still has limits.
At the end of a prayer which Paul is writing for the believers in Ephesus, we read a benediction in today’s verses. Paul is speaking of God’s ability to do more than we even ask or can imagine. Notice that this great power of God is in conjunction with us. Paul says that this power to do the unimaginable works in us, or through us. Because of God’s choice to work through us, Paul goes on to say glory should be given in the church and in Christ.
Paul places perspective on the achievements of humanity. The advancements which have been made through discoveries, inventions, and work of humans are possible through the power of God. What humanity imagines into reality is God working through us. Because of God providing the power in abilities, skills, imagination, challenges, and wisdom, the impossible of yesterday becomes possible today. This truth is reason enough to give God the glory.
Read Matthew 9:35-38
For centuries, the economy of the United States was agrarian. The farming of our nation’s fertile land and raising of livestock was the bedrock of the economy and life in general. It required many hands to raise the necessary food to sustain a growing population. Whether directly involved in planting, tending, or managing the agricultural components, or not, every person was reliant upon agriculture in some fashion. When the industrial age arrived, the number of individuals needed to run the farms was reduced by the efficiency of new machinery and technology. People migrated off of farms and into cities where industry and service fields flourished. While agriculture continues to be vital to our survival, the number of individuals actively engaged in it is greatly reduced.
Jesus uses an agricultural reference in today’s passage from Matthew. Speaking to his disciples, who were actively engaged in forms of agriculture, Jesus tells them to request from God a number of laborers to work in the field of humanity. It is clear that Jesus says this as he has just witnessed the magnitude of the needs of humanity. Jesus is acutely aware that it will take a large number of people to actively address the needs of the multitudes. Only by responding to the needs will the people be ready to comprehend the message of grace which Jesus has come to share.
While we maybe two thousand years removed from the time in which Jesus shared these words, the situation remains much the same. There are still thousands of people who have needs which prevent them from hearing the Good News. We are these workers who the Lord desires to send out. Whether it be in our own neighborhoods or in another country, the harvest is abundant and just waiting for us to come and do the work. All of this begins by each of us addressing the needs of those around us. If each of us makes an effort, the work can be less burdensome. When we take care of the needs of a person, we make them more receptive to hear about the Lord’s loving grace.
Read John 1:1-14
John’s gospel account does not contain the narrative of Jesus’s birth like Matthew and Luke have done. Instead, the incarnation story is contained in what biblical scholars refer to as John’s prologue. In the prologue we hear of the Son, or Word, existing from the beginning. John tells us that the Son and God are one. The other significant aspects of the passage are the concepts of light and flesh.
John refers to Jesus as light shining unhindered into the darkness. This reminds us that the incarnation was an abrupt intrusion into the world. There is power in this light shining into the world. The light spreads to others as well. One of the reasons the Church chose to celebrate the incarnation on December 25 is because this is the darkest time for those living in the northern hemisphere where the Church was centered. The idea of light shining into their darkness was a meaningful illustration as presented by John’s gospel.
In this passage, John also speaks of the Word, or Son, becoming flesh. That is what we know as the incarnation, a deity taking on human flesh. No other faith tradition records an occurrence of this. There is a distinct separation of a god and humanity in all other religious systems. The concept that God became human and lived among humanity as Jesus is beyond understanding outside of Christianity.
John may not include the narrative of Matthew or Luke which included Jesus’s parents, shepherds, a stable, angels and a chorus of praise but John tells of the incarnation. God has become human and lived with humanity. God is as a bright, unquenchable light piercing into the darkness of the world and the lives of humans. This is what we celebrate on December 25.
5 This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
6 That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.
7 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,Jeremiah 17:5-8 (NIV)
whose confidence is in him.
8 They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”
Rain is vital for the sustainability of the earth. While there are desert sections of our world, much of the habitat areas of land require rain. Precipitation is necessary for most plant and animal growth. The oceans and waterways require moisture in some form to replenish and sustain life. When we experience periods of drought, the effects can be devastating to all forms of life. The dust bowl in the United States during the early 1930s shows what life changing impact draughts can have on the land, animals, humans, and economy. Simply put, we need rain and snow in order for us to live a comfortable and productive life.
The prophet Jeremiah has a message from God which he is sharing with the people. He tells them that they should not place their trust in humanity and turn their backs on the Lord. When one places trust for their lives in human power, they will come to suffer and be disappointed. Hardships and difficulties await those who rely on humanity completely. Instead, Jeremiah says that we are to trust in the Lord. When one does so, they will receive everything which they need to sustain their lives. Their lives will be productive. They will be able to withstand the difficulties which arise.
Relying upon one’s self or completely on the abilities of humans, leads to disappointment and even disaster. While God uses humans to achieve God’s work, humanity itself is not capable of providing everything. Humans have a limited perspective. The skill set of only one human or a small group of humans has limited effectiveness. God sees the whole picture and knows how to put together combinations which will produce effective and sustaining results. In partnership with humanity, the Lord does wondrous things.
Trust not in self or humanity. Trust in the Lord. When you do, the Lord will become a partner and you will have all which you need.
One of the challenges which I see in the church, especially among leaders, is confusion over who is the savior. The problem is not that these leaders, and some members, struggle to come up with a description of Jesus Christ. Many of them do a great job of telling the life story of Jesus, talking about his earthly ministry, and giving a theological explanation regarding his death and resurrection. The issue is that in their zeal for fulfilling the Great Commandment, they begin to think that they are responsible for ensuring the salvation of others. This could not be farther from the truth.
Jesus came with a purpose, some may even say a call. Jesus’ purpose was to destroy all the barriers between humanity and God. God’s desire is that all may experience the fullness of God’s love in a lasting relationship with God. The difficulty in the achievement of this is humans have chosen often to take paths which lead them away from God. These paths make us vulnerable to committing unloving actions and to experience the impact of those actions taken by others. They also can give us a distorted understanding of love. Jesus’ ministry was focused on correcting this distortion and showing how these paths lead us away from God.
Jesus broke down social barriers which humanity created amongst themselves. Jesus presented a definition of love that was unconditional and with a focus toward others and not self. He reminded everyone what it meant to be in relationship with God. Actions which he took supported his words and showed us how we are to demonstrate God’s love to one another. All this culminated in his loving action taken on a cross where he gave his life to remove any remaining barriers we might have between us and God.
That final action by Jesus which led to his death and resurrection is sufficient for all people. Through this action, Jesus saved us from the paths we take which lead us away from the love of God. Jesus does not need us to recreate or to add to this action. Instead, Jesus told us to go out into the world and to tell all the people of his breaking of all barriers. More importantly, Jesus desires us to demonstrate this work in our own actions and words.
There is not one of us who is the Savior. That position has been filled by Jesus Christ. We do not have it within our abilities to break down the ultimate barrier between God and humanity. What we do have is the ability to introduce the Savior to others by our lives. Our expressing of the love of God and attributing that love for the choices we make in life will open doors for individuals to first experience and then begin to understand what God’s love is truly about.
YOU ARE NOT THE SAVIOR! Instead, spend your time introducing the Savior to others through your life and the sharing of God’s love.
This is the last planned blog post as part of the series which I began last week. The series is intended to give reasons which I believe cause people to say the church no longer works for them. Here are the earlier posts in the series:
Why Does Church No Longer Work
Lack of Authenticity
Lack of Relationships
Lack of Language
Today’s discussion will be in regard to the church’s perceived lack of action. This perception is not due to the fact that the church does not have numerous activities within its fellowship. I would argue that the opposite is actually true. The church seems to always have something scheduled or planned. The requests for teachers and leaders, for food providers, for workers, for participants, seem to be almost never ending. The church is always busy with something. No, the lack of action refers to making a difference which impacts the world.
I want to again caution the reader that this is perception. I think it is unfair to state that the church does not have an impact on the world at times. However, I think the reason for the perception is that this is far too infrequent. The church is generally good about coming to the aid of people who are experiencing losses due to natural disasters. The response of the church toward local people who need some emergency assistance financially is alright. I would say that given the resources made available to the church, it does a fair job of responding in crisis situations. Yet is that all which calls the church into action?
When I talk to those who are walking away from the church, one of the reasons that they state is that the church often is too inward focused. As I explore what that means to them, I hear words which indicate that they wish to belong to a group who makes a difference in a visible way. These people seek a church which stands up for the groups in the world who are marginalized, ridiculed, condemned, persecuted, ostracized. They desire to be part of a church which does not act like judge and jury but instead goes outside the walls to be with those who are on the outside (of the church and society). This is the difference which they wish to see occur. When I listen to them, I hear the words of Jesus, the Christ. I hear the words of the Old and the New Testament. I hear the expectations God has always placed upon humanity.
The charge of a lack of action has nothing to do with busyness. The church is very busy, especially within its walls. This charge comes from the inactivity of the church to be a voice which challenges society’s ostracizing ways. This charge comes from the church focused on building itself up instead of building individuals up. It is a charge which unfortunately is too often true.
Grace is a word that is thrown around in Christian circles all the time. The explanation of this word often seems to elude individuals. Most Christians understand that this has to do with God’s gift and usually they associate it with God’s salvific act. To complicate matters, the word is used to refer to a prayer which is said at meal times. Yet this is one of the most important concepts for Christians to understand because it is the very heart of God’s relationship with humanity.
In Western Christian theology, grace has been defined, not as a created substance of any kind, but as “the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not necessarily because of anything we have done to earn it”, “Grace is favour, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.” It is understood by Christians to be a spontaneous gift from God to people “generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved” – that takes the form of divine favor, love, clemency, and a share in the divine life of God.Wikipedia article
Grace is the gift given to all humanity because of God’s great love for everyone. As mentioned in the above quote, grace is not earned. We are only receivers of grace. Grace is given to us by God before we are even aware of our need for grace. This is an action of God, not humanity. The reason we struggle to understand grace is the very fact that it is not an act by humans. Grace runs contrary to our human behaviors. It is unexpected because of the sense that it is so foreign to our experiences in life.
God’s creation of humans came from the very nature of God. In 1 John 4:7, the writer states at the end of the verse, “because God is love.” This statement is the ultimate definition of God (I will cover this in another post). Since God is love, we were created from and in love. This love manifests itself in a variety of ways throughout creation and the human experience. Stories found throughout the Bible give evidence to this love. Grace is a manifestation of the love of God.
Since grace is God-initiated, God-given, and God-centered, humans have no control over it. Humans have no right to state who the receivers of grace might be. We have no power to prevent it from being given. There is no controlling grace. Anyone who attempts to stand in the way of God’s grace is doomed to failure.
This is what makes grace so amazing… God gives God’s grace to EVERYONE not because of who they are or what they have done but often in spite of both those realities. Talk about leveling the playing field, God’s grace clearly makes all of us equal because all of us need it and no one owns it.