Unity Creates Belief

I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” – John 17:20–21.

On the last night of His life, Jesus prayed a prayer in John 17 that stands as a model for all Christians.  Jesus, knowing the end is near, prays one final time for His followers. But something interesting stands out in that prayer. He didn’t pray for their success, their safety, or their happiness. He prayed for their unity. He prayed that they would love each other. As He prayed for them, He also prayed for “who will ever believe in me through their message.” That means each of us who are Christians. In His last prayer, Jesus prayed that you and I be one.

Unity matters to God. Why? Because “…when you demonstrate the same love I have for you by loving one another, everyone will know that you’re my true followers.” (John 13:35 TPT). Jesus’ message was I am leaving and you all need to serve, rely on and support each other.   

Unity isn’t just a nice bonus or a Christian buzzword. Unity is something to fight for. Why? Because there are some important benefits of unity in the church. Unity enriches our lives: Each of us stands to benefit from being part of a unified church. We’re weak on our own, but we’re much stronger together. When we’re unified with other believers, we can learn more, grow more and enjoy the type of community God designed us to be a part of.

In addition, unity fosters belief while disunity fosters disbelief. Who would want to go into battle with a group of soldiers who can’t agree on anything? Or race to put out a fire with a group of bickering firefighters. You wouldn’t. Nor would you be interested in hearing the gospel from a group of people that don’t seem to be united on the subject themselves. When Christians are fighting with each other, it can hurt our witness with unbelievers. When we commit to church unity, we create a beautiful picture for the world of what it looks like to love others as Christ does. Shouldn’t unity be the key to reaching the world for Christ? As Paul said, “Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” (Ephesians 4:3)

A unified church is one of the strongest evidences of the truth of the gospel. This is especially true in a world as fragmented and divisive as ours. When the world can’t seem to agree on anything or bear to be around people who are different, a church where natural enemies become siblings in Christ is a powerful alternative. When we’re unified, we bring glory to our Father who desires to see His people living in close fellowship with each other.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you describe the power and impact of unity? When or where have you experienced that?
  2. What can you do to become more of a force for unity?

We Need Each Other

“Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:13.

Think back on some of your favorite memories. In most cases, they were probably the best life moments because of the people involved. Let’s face it, life is better with people who care. Life is not meant to be lived on our own. We need other people to share this life with us. God created us as social beings. We were not meant to live isolated, disconnected lives.   

Christians and Christian families need each other to grow in their Christian faith. “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27) If it is just Jesus and you, you will never grow into the person God wants you to be. We need each other to grow in our Christian faith.

1 Corinthians 12:24-26 says, “while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.”  Paul argues that every member of the body is necessary. There are no exceptions. Those body parts that are deemed weaker, less honorable, or less visible, are all critically important.

Paul tells us how these relationships should look. “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” (Colossians 3:12). Colossians 3:15 adds, “And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.”

Years ago, the Lone Ranger was a fixture on TV.  The Lone Ranger was a resourceful, smart, and courageous person, but in every episode he needed the help of townspeople, a posse, and certainly Tonto to take on the bad guys. God has provided for every possible need we could have on this earth through His Word and His people, and the church. If we are going to take on the bad guys, we will need other believer’s help and they will need our help.  That is because God built us, not only to need Him, but to need each other.

God wants us to be one with Him and with each other because He created us to be with others—we need each other.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you ever wonder if you really need to go to church or spend time with other believers? What are the consequences for you trying to live for God on your own? What are the consequences for the body when you make that choice?
  2. You are part of the body of Christ.  What is your role in the body?

Unity Starts With Me

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” – Ephesians 4:2-3

In our current day and age, politics have become especially polarizing and divisive. Social media and constant access to the news cycle have only heightened the existing tension. Differences of opinion quickly turn into heated arguments. The question is how can Christians stay unified in our current cultural climate? 

It’s important to remember that unity starts with you and me—each one of us. By our character and actions, we either strengthen or undermine the unity of Christ’s church. Division within our own hearts can contribute to a lack of unity in the church, even when we don’t realize it. Such division leads to nit-picking, where we elevate the unimportant into the important.  

Unity in the church can only happen if individuals are seeking God above all else. If you are a follower of Jesus, then you’re called to live your life with a Christ-like spirit and character. You are to walk in a manner worthy of the calling you’ve received from God: “Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.” (Ephesians 4:1). 

Each person in the church has a role to play; each one plays a part in determining the extent of unity in the church. We can be a conduit of unity or the cause of a chasm in unity. That does not mean we won’t have disagreements. There’s no such thing as a perfect church, organization, or family for that matter. Problems will arise. Tension will mount. Friction is inevitable. But conflict need not command center stage. Despite our differences, we can move forward with sincerity, humility, and love. We can choose to work and worship in unity for the bond that holds us together in love: “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:14)

If we follow Christ, we have a relationship with God that is bound to be expressed in our relationships with other people. But we often forget that. We can easily create barriers in the name of race, religion, gender, churches, communities, families, friend groups, and more. While these differences can help us think about who we are, our sinful nature distorts them in such a way that we put up walls that divide us. Through Christ’s work on the cross, we are united as His peo­ple once and for all. The spirit of unity can spread from one person to another. Unity will, in time, make its way from a few to more and finally everyone. But it starts with each of us.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does unity mean? Why is it important to have unity in the home/family? In the church?

Patience Is A Virtue

In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.” – 2 Peter 1:5-7. 

Years ago, it was pretty common to see a bumper sticker that read, “Be Patient! God isn’t done with me yet.” This bumper sticker tells us a great deal about our perceptions and expectations: it demands nothing of the driver and subtly shifts the burden of patience to the person following the driver. Patience is something we all want from others but likely don’t desire for ourselves because, after all, who has time to be patient.  

James 5:7-10 tells us to be patient. It says: “Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near. Don’t grumble about each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. For look—the Judge is standing at the door! For examples of patience in suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”

One person defined patience as the second and third hour of monopoly. The fact is patience doesn’t come easy for many of us. The Bible says it is important to be patient. Jesus serves as a shining example of patience.  Jesus was very patient with His disciples. They were sometimes thickheaded, lazy, selfish, and slow to believe. We would find that frustrating but think of God Incarnate interacting daily with them. In spite of Jesus’ miracles and words of wisdom, they were often focused upon themselves and wavered in their belief about who He really was. That had to be frustrating for Jesus, yet He never rails at their foolishness or makes fun of their mistakes. That can best be described as self-control and humility.  

We too must be patient with others. And that’s not always easy. Many of the people we must deal with—and sometimes even live with—can be obstinate, frustrating, selfish, inconsiderate, and absolutely impossible to please. They say and do the wrong things at the wrong time. Sometimes, they are standing on our last nerve. At that point, we need to realize that patience flows from understanding. We are too quick to judge, and we are too prone to treat our others harshly. They too have troubles—bills to pay, sick children, spouses to please, bosses to impress, and heartaches to bear. Because God is patient and long-suffering, we need to give the other person a break.   

 We cannot let impatience run our lives. Impatience is a way to blind us. Yes, sometimes it is hard to be patient, but in those times we need to remember who God is and what He has done for us. An important step we can take to develop patience is to give God control of our life. “I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry.” (Psalm 40:1)

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you define patience? In what ways does God show patience toward you?
  2. What can we do this week to show patience to others? 

Feeling A Little Sheepish

“…I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them. Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.” – John 10:7-10. 

We know Jesus is the Good Shepherd, but how are we like the sheep? Sheep have no real natural defenses, are easy targets for predators, and rely on shepherds for protection and care. Sheep also are not very smart and are given to herd mentality. They tend to follow each other blindly, not thinking about where they are going or the dangers that might be waiting for them. Being called a sheep is usually not a flattering statement. But what if Jesus called you a sheep? Better yet, what if Jesus called you His sheep? Suddenly being a sheep takes on a whole different meaning. 

When Jesus referred to himself as the Good Shepherd, the religious leaders thought He was demon-possessed and out of His mind. A group of Jews approached Him in the temple to ask plainly if He was the Messiah. As usual, they were looking for a way to trick Jesus into saying something that would discredit Him or get Him in trouble with the Roman authorities. Jesus saw right through them. When pressed by His enemies to tell them whether or not He is the Christ. He says, “I have already told you, and you don’t believe me. The proof is the work I do in my Father’s name. But you don’t believe me because you are not my sheep.” (John 10:25-26) Jesus couldn’t have made it any more clear that He was the Christ, the promised Savior. The sick were healed. Demons were cast out. The dead were raised, and repentance and forgiveness of sins were being preached to all.  

Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross to pay the price for our sin.  Jesus did all of this so that we might experience how good it truly is to be one of His sheep. “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand.” (John 10:26-29) 

John 10:14 says, “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me.” Jesus knows me.  He knows when I’m hurting. He knows when I’m sad. He knows when I’m anxious and afraid. Just like a shepherd wouldn’t leave his sheep no matter what, Jesus won’t leave me either. He will be there to pull me back close to Him and to guide my way. The second part of the verse, “and they know me,” reminds us to listen for His voice. It reminds me to spend time in prayer and in His Word. A sheep knows the shepherd’s voice because of the time they have spent together. This is the same for our relationship with Jesus. The more time we spend with Him, the more clearly we will hear His voice.

We need the Good Shepherd. Whether you’ve been a Christian a long time or a short time, we need to constantly surrender the leadership of our life to God.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. When you think of a shepherd, what comes to mind?  
  2. In the Good Shepherd, you are both fully known and fully loved. How does being fully known and fully loved give you security? Hope?

Be Kind

But—When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.  He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior.” – Titus 3:4–5.

Many centuries ago, God revealed how true faith is lived out. God’s Word says, “what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8 ESV)

Think about it. Doing justice is being concerned for those who are left out, looked over, abused, and oppressed. Walking humbly with God is seeing God and self from the right perspective, thankful for His grace. Loving kindness is being considerate, thoughtful, and actively working for the good of others. If Christ isn’t the source of my actions toward others, being kind will come from a selfish, me-focused attitude. Kind toward others, expecting them to always be kind back and being bitter when they don’t repay our kindness. … and likely getting my feelings hurt when they don’t. 

Titus 3:3 (TPT) gives us a snapshot of what we are trying to avoid: “For it wasn’t that long ago that we behaved foolishly in our stubborn disobedience. We were easily led astray as slaves to worldly passions and pleasures. We wasted our lives in doing evil, and with hateful jealousy we hated others.” 

Kindness is learned. It doesn’t come naturally. Because of sin, we don’t love others naturally. The good new is found in Titus 3:4-5.  Though we didn’t deserve it, Jesus responded with goodness and kindness. He’s the ultimate example of graciousness. We can respond to others with kindness because we’ve received kindness ourselves — and not just any kindness, but the most extravagant display of kindness in human history.

The Christ-follower is called to show kindness to those who oppress them, who marginalize them, who disagree with them. Could there be any character trait more appreciated in others than kindness?  Kindness is inspiring, whether it’s taking time to help an employee at the office, or defending a person being picked on by bullies. The recipients of these acts of kindness are always grateful. The one person who comes to mind when I think of kindness is Jesus Christ. He shows us that God is kind. And because He is so kind to us, we are to be kind to one another.

So how do I live a kind life? Take some time this week and reflect on God’s kindness in our lives. “So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.”(Ephesians 2:7) Examine your interactions with people this week and ask yourself: in what ways have I been kind to others? In what ways have I been unkind? Then ask God’s Spirit to show you areas in your life where you need to improve on being kind to others, and then ask for help to overcome those areas.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can you nurture kindness in your life?   
  2. What benefits and promises are there to those who practice kindness? 

Know The Whole Story

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven.” – Luke 6:37.

It is easy to jump to conclusions. What we see on the surface is often just the tip of the iceberg, part of a bigger picture. We tend to jump to conclusions and make assumptions without even checking the whole story. 

As Christians, we should not judge people simply on what you see. We need to know the whole story. We can start by asking some questions. Try to put on their shoes. If you are the one who is going through some struggles, would it be fair if the people around you will just judge you without even knowing your story? Of course, you would love them to know everything so that they will understand. 

How many people do you know—really know? Five? Ten? Fifteen? What does it mean to really know someone? It means at least that we know what they like and dislike, what they value, what their priorities and goals are. We know what they would say or do in this or that situation.

What does it take to get to know someone? To begin with, they must want us to know them. That is, they must be willing to tell us what they are really thinking and feeling. And we must want to know them.To know the whole story requires some action on our part. For example, taking the time to listen. 

Listening should always take precedence over speaking. In our culture of constant contact through technology it’s easy for our attention to be divided. We may be physically present but mentally absent. We give the gift of listening every time we turn our full attention to the person who is talking with us. When we listen to people, we validate them. Listening says, “I see you. I know you are here. I am here for you.” 

Every person you know is looking for someone who cares enough to listen. You have heard the saying that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. The truth is that every relationship begins with listening. Listening is hard work and something we are not prone to do. Most of the time we listen only to have the time to prepare the brilliant things we are going to say when that person stops talking.  

It is amazing how much listening can help others. The newlywed who has lost their job needs someone who will simply listen to his or her fears. The friend who has an addiction needs someone who will listen and offer empathy and hope. The child who does not understand why he or she has medical issues has a lot of questions that need a listening heart.

Instead of jumping to conclusions that are not that reliable, try to ask God about the right thing to do. Learn to seek wisdom from Him and just allow Him to transform your mind. Start by listening. 

Discussion Questions

  1. How well do you listen? 
  2. What can we do this week to be a better listener? 

Perfect Harmony

“May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Romans 15:5-6. 

It seems that we are a little divided each day. We are divided politically, religiously, in the workplace, and in our relationships. This division makes it more difficult to find empathy, kindness, and common ground with others. The fact of the matter is that the harmony or unity we create in our relationships translates into many other areas of our lives. 

Unity is difficult when you have so many different types of people and viewpoints. But the Bible tells us to be likeminded and make an effort to have unity with believers and all people.  

Romans 12:16 says, “Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!” Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18) 

Charles Spurgeon said this on the subject: “We must not isolate our own interests, but feel that we live for others. This teaching is sustained by the analogy of nature, for in nature there is a law that no one thing can be independent of the rest of creation, but there is a mutual action and reaction of all upon all. All the constituent parts of the universe are bound to one another by invisible chains, and there is not a single creature in it which springs up, or flourishes, or decays itself alone. The very planets, though they float far from one another, exercise attraction; and the fixed stars, though they seem to be infinitely remote, are still linked to one another by mysterious bonds. God has so constituted this universe that selfishness is the greatest possible offense against His law and living for others, and ministering to others is the strictest obedience to His will.”  

Romans 15:5-6 gives us this blessing, “May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus.” It is a significant challenge to grow like-minded with Christ in our daily walk while growing like-minded with others in the process. 

When the world sees this kind of love and unity it is a powerful testimony to the truth of the gospel. Let us work even harder to both improve our unity by the love we show in the communities we serve. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does unity mean? Why is it important to have unity in the home/family? In the church?
  2. How do you go about the goal of unity in your home, marriage, family, church? What practical steps do we need to take?

Time For A Reboot

 “In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation.” – 1 Peter 5:10.

It is very hard to get lost today. With GPS in our cars, phones, and even watches, getting lost and asking for directions is a distant memory in most cases.  One exception may be looking for an address on Peachtree in Atlanta since there are approximately 71 streets in Atlanta with a variant of “Peachtree” in their name. So you can expect some u-turns and some very confusing instructions from the computerized voice talking to you.  You can also expect that sinking feeling inside that says, “you’re lost!”

It is time for a reboot. You turn off your phone and restart it. When you restarted the program, re-entered the address and began the navigation again, typically everything will work as it was supposed to. The reset will often get you on the right Peachtree. 

Many times in our life journey we get off track. Through the busyness of life, the influence of wrong thinking, wrong people, wrong priorities, our internal sense of direction is confused. We end up wandering into territory we are not familiar with. Sometimes we are lost. What we need in times like these is a spiritual reset — a spiritual reboot that helps us restart, recreate, renew, restore, revive, revitalize, resuscitate or rejuvenate with God, His Word, His people, His priorities, and His heart.  

There are countless stories in the Bible where people must have felt stuck somewhere in the middle of their stories. Joseph: dreamed of greatness, sold into slavery eventually imprisoned. Moses: raised in the palace, condemned, wandering in the desert. Daniel: carried away by an invading enemy. Job: wealthy and content only to lose everything. David: giant-killer and hero, running from a tyrant king. In every case, they became stuck and felt like their stories were over or, at least they were forgotten. But in every case, it was not the end of the story. 

The good news is God is all about resets. He wants you to have a fresh start in life; He wants you to have a new beginning, to do something new in your life.  Isaiah 43: 18 says, “But forget all that—it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.” God is telling us to forget about what’s happened before because the book’s closed on it. God is far more interested in our future than He is in our past. 

Your life can become new and fresh in Jesus Christ. You, too, can have a new beginning. “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.” (Lamentations 3:22–23). New beginnings allow us to marvel in the joy of the Lord for what He is doing in and for those whom He has called by name. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you need a fresh start?
  2. What changes would you like to make in a fresh start?

Future Hope

“Though a mighty army surrounds me, my heart will not be afraid. Even if I am attacked, I will remain confident. – Psalm 27:3. 

How many of you would like to know the future?  Who wouldn’t want to know what the future holds for us, our families, our church, our nation, the world? If you have failing health, you want to know if and when it will improve. If we have a difficult child, we want to know when he or she will be less difficult. If we lose a job we want to know how long it will take to find a new one. Will there be another pandemic? What about another hurricane? We worry about what could happen and what we will do if and when it does. 

Psalm 27 is a prayer/poem attributed to King David.  It is a cry for help in a time of great distress, a renewed vow of faithfulness to God and ultimately a statement of belief in His power and complete trust in the protection that only God can provide. In verse 1 God is described as our light, salvation and our fortress: “The Lord is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble? – Psalm 27:1. 

Psalm 27:14 adds, “Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.” When facing difficult circumstances and an unknown future, it is hard to wait. When the future seems cloudy, fear begins to surround us and we are tempted to become bitter, impatient, or to take matters into our own hands in desperation. Verse 14 encourages us to have courage and believe God in times of uncertainty.  God is with us and His promises are unwavering.   

The future can be much like a tilt a whirl ride where everything is changing directions. We as followers of Jesus are looking for something solid, something to be our anchor.  Scripture reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:7, “For we live by believing and not by seeing.”  So many times we cannot see the big picture and we are called to trust in His plan. Our part is to believe that God is here for each of us.  God is greater than all circumstances and situations.

Fortunately, we as followers of Jesus Christ, know that our hope is in an unchanging and eternal Christ. That hope is rooted in the cross and the resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we know that God has won the battle. Sin and death have been defeated. 1 Peter 1:3 says, “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation,” Our hope is alive because Jesus is alive.

Can we know the future? No, we can’t. But we can face the future with confidence when we know God is in control and is working for our good.

No matter what circumstances come our way, we know He’s there for us. Listening to the media today does not help one feel opportunistic about the future. But when we put our trust in God, knowing He is in complete control, we have hope for tomorrow and strength for living each and every day.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Are you confident in the future? Why or why not? 
  2. How might we focus more on the future in our spiritual lives?