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“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” Psalm 133:1 (NIV)

The Bible teaches that God loves us and wants us to be happy. This truth is found throughout scripture. The verse above, from Psalm 133 is just one example. David proclaims a pleasant life can be had when God’s people live in unity. The definition of “pleasant” is giving a sense of happy satisfaction or enjoyment.” Happy satisfaction. Something we all dearly want. God’s people need to live together in unity to enjoy that happy satisfaction. Unfortunately that is easier said than done.

My wife and I minister at a home for needy children in Oaxaca, Mexico. It is a community with staff members from different countries and cultures, age groups and denominations. Possibilities for misunderstanding, offense and dissension abound. Sometimes we are frustrated with our brothers and sisters and wonder why they “don’t get it”! “Why don’t they do it like I do it?” How can God’s people possibly live in unity in this kind of community, or any community where humans come together with different backgrounds, levels of education, agendas, priorities and worldviews?

I think the Lord’s Prayer goes a long way toward instructing believers about how to live in unity. I see eight principles that can help a Christian community maintain unity and enjoy pleasant lives.

Our Father

The first two words of the Lord’s Prayer are key to God’s people living in harmony. “Our Father” signifies two import things. Number one, it’s not just “my” Father, but “our” Father. It’s not all about me and my relationship with God, but about the entire community of faith relating to God and each other in an edifying manner. Second, we do not address our prayer to “God Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth” or to “Our Higher Power”, but to the Father. “Father” points to a close, loving relationship. The Father is the head of the Christian family. Father knows best! And while he is “a Higher Power” and “God Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth”, he is also “Daddy”. Our Daddy, who loves his children and wants them to be happy, just like most daddies.

Holy Be Your Name, On Earth As It Is In Heaven

The next three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are connected to the phrase “on earth as it is in heaven”. I always found it odd to pray that God’s name would be “hallowed” or “holy” because it is already “holy”. It was only until I realized that the prayer is asking that God’s name be holy on earth “as it is in heaven” that I came to the true significance of those words. I imagine the holiness of God in heaven, which is a mix of his righteousness, love, goodness, beauty, truth and power, and I pray, the community of God prays, that these attributes would be manifest in the world. In our community. When the people of God see these attributes in their Holy Father, and attempt to live them out, they enjoy pleasant unity.

Your Kingdom Come, On Earth As It Is In Heaven

We imagine what God’s kingdom in heaven must be like, full of peace, happiness and love, and ask God to manifest this Happy Kingdom of love and joy among us, as we focus on the Good King, who also happens to be our Daddy.

Your Will Be Done, On Earth As It Is In Heaven

We only experience pleasant unity when God’s will is done in our lives, our churches and our Christian communities. God’s will is summed up in two commandments: love God with your entire being and love your neighbor as yourself. Living a life of love, agape love, is the rich soil that grows happy unity.

Give Us Today Our Daily Bread

This phrase is important for two reasons. The first reason is the two words “today” and “daily”. Evidently Jesus wanted his followers to pray this prayer everyday. To meditate, consider, ponder deeply and focus intently on the words in this prayer everyday. The second reason is that we too often take our “daily bread” for granted. We pray for world peace or economic security or a loved ones salvation, the Big stuff, but neglect to pray for our daily bread because we feel we provide that for ourselves. We believe we are capable on our own of getting our daily bread. In reality it is a gift from our Father of lights, because he graciously gives us the capacity to either make our daily bread, or more often, earn the money we need to buy our daily bread. We also need daily spiritual bread, God’s Word, to not only survive in this world, but to thrive as a Christian People, living in unity. We should take neither our physical bread or spiritual bread for granted if we want to live pleasantly together.

As We Forgive Those Who Sin Against Us

Christians sin. Christians make grave errors. Christians offend one another. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a book about living in Christian community called Life Together. Early on in this delightfully helpful little book, he writes about how many times Christian communities brake down because people come into the community with a “wish dream”. When a Christian comes into a faith community, he often thinks he is entering a utopia where everyone is perfect and each person loves one another perfectly. Bonhoeffer says that “God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams.”

Unfortunately all Christians offend, disappoint, and hurt other Believers, usually unintentionally, sometimes intentionally. Two things can result from the sinful behavior of Jesus’ Followers. One is that “hurt people hurt people”. Hurt people retaliate and get revenge on those who have offended them. Of course that destroys any hope of God’s people living in pleasant unity. A better response to being hurt, is to forgive those that hurt us. Just as Jesus forgave those who hurt him, like the Roman soldiers, the religious leaders, and you and me. So we are to forgive those who sin against us, as God, for Christ’s sake, forgave us. This leads to a flourishing Christian community living in unity.

Save Us From The Time Of Trial

Some denominations say “lead us not into temptation.” Other denominations don’t use that phrase because it sometimes causes confusion as people get the idea that God will lead us into temptation if we don’t pray otherwise. Lead us not into temptation” simply means don’t allow hardships or bad things to happen to us that might tempt us to doubt your goodness. In other words, “save us from the time of trial” means that God will put his hedge of protection around his people that they may be confident that he loves them and and wants them to be happy.

In the Christian community, when somebody does something awful to upset another person, or at times the whole community, some people might leave the group thinking, “I thought they were a Christian. If that is how Christians act, then I don’t want any part of them.” When we pray, “save us from the time of trial”, one of the things we are praying for is that that situation would not occur.

Deliver Us From The Evil One

Number one on Satan’s To Do list is to destroy unity that the people of God cherish. He has a well equipped tool box that he brings out regularly to disrupt and ruin any harmony that exists. His favorite tool is gossip, but he also likes to use pride, envy, and slander, among others. First Peter tells us that the devil is a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8) Fortunately, he is no match for Jesus, the Lion of Judah, who is ever diligent to deliver us from the attacks of the Evil One, allowing the people of God to live in pleasant unity.

At times, Christian unity, living in harmony with one another, can be difficult, but we can rejoice in the faithfulness of our heavenly Father, who, as we see in the Lord’s prayer, strives to help us build heaven on earth with his daily good gifts, forgiveness, saving grace and power that overcomes threats from the Devil. Let us be faithful to regularly pray this prayer, meditate on the words that Jesus taught us to pray, and put them into practice as the Lord gives us opportunity. Then we can be sure to enjoy happy satisfaction living in Christian community.

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In my last post I began to write about Christian Unity, especially as it relates to Paul’s letter to the unity1Ephesians in chapter four.  In that chapter I found ten items that are important to unity in the Community of Faith.  I wrote about five critical elements last time, and will conclude with five more this time.  The five points of Christian Unity in my last post were:

1.  Walk worthy of the calling you have received
2.  Be completely humble
3.  Put up with each other
4.  Make every effort to keep the bond of unity
5.  Love one another

One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism

6.  Paul goes on to mention One Lord, One Faith, and One Baptism.  To believe in and to have only one Lord was an extremely important idea in the time that Paul lived and wrote.  There was a major player who lived at this time who also demanded allegiance as the one Lord, and that was the Emperor.  It would have made life easier for the early Christians if they could have two Lords in their lives; Jesus and Caesar.  But Paul assured the believers in the early church that they must acknowledge and worship only Christ.  Many early followers of Christ were forced to choose one or the other, and for many they confessed Jesus as Lord in their dying breath.

In the same phrase we hear Paul mentioning One Faith and One Baptism.  For me, true Faith can be boiled down to the belief that God loves us and wants us to be happy.  When people come to that belief that they can only be truly happy by trusting their lives to God and what was accomplished by Christ’s work on the cross, then they naturally want to proclaim that fact to the world by experiencing the One Baptism, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

One God and Father of All

7.  Then Paul writes about “One God and Father of all”.  To talk about God as Father was somewhat revolutionary for the Jews and the gentiles.  The  whole Old Testament only refers to God as Father five times.  The Jews didn’t really relate to God as Father.  Jesus turned their heads and got their attention when he began to refer frequently to God as Father; not just his father, but as Father to all followers.  Paul continues with this glorious concept in most of his letters, and marks this idea as very important to Christian Unity.  The commUnity of Faith must not only believe in God in general, and look to Christ as the head of the body, but also needs to see God as the Father of the Christian family.  The Father who adopts, who loves, and who gives good gifts to his children because he loves them and wants them to be happy.

Identify and Use Spiritual Gifts

8.  Next Paul tells the church that God gave gifts to the disciples of Christ to build up the church and bring it to a greater unity.  The gifts God gave were, and still are, the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, preachers and teachers.  Unity doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  Unity doesn’t happen without effort.  To grow unity in the body of Christ we need to have everyone to be first aware of their gift, then educated in the use of their gift, and finally to use their gift.  It’s like building a house.  First the carpenter has to be aware of the tools at his disposal.  The circular saw, nail gun and drill.  Then he has to know how to use the tools, and have a power source to run the tools.  Finally he has to actually pick up the tools and begin cutting boards, nailing then together and drilling holes in appropriate places.
Many Christians have spiritual gifts, but they are not aware of what they are.  A wise church or Christian organization will have classes to educate people on the spiritual gifts and determine who has what gifts.  For example, at the home for needy children in Oaxaca Mexico, where I am helping out, we are going to have a series of classes, led by our administrator, Jill Adams, to help the staff identify their gifts, learn how to use them and then put them to work to make our local commUnity of Faith stronger and more effective in ministering to the “least of these” in Oaxaca.

Speak the Truth in Love

9.  In verse 15 of chapter four, Paul writes about “speaking the truth in love”.  The number one thing that causes disUnity in the church and division in the body of Christ is the bad things people say.  Negative things people speak.  Gossip, slander, words of anger, tongue wagging lies, or speaking the truth in hate.  Paul echoes this sentiment later in verse 29, when he admonishes believers, “Don’t let ANY UNwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but ONLY that which builds up“.  Christians should never berate one another, complain about others or grumble about fellow followers of Christ.  When they speak incorrectly they are tearing down the body and not building unity.

10.  “The whole body of Christ builds itself up in love, when every part does its work.”  Paul wants all believers everywhere to know that this Unity thing is work!  Everyone and every part needs to Work at unity.  It doesn’t happen naturally, in fact most of these ten items go against our natural grain as sin bent human beings.  The World, the Flesh, and especially the Devil, don’t especially like Christian unity.  Paul goes on to talk about the great spiritual struggles we face everyday, and the need to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power, and to put on the spiritual armor to defeat the Enemies and to grow Unity.  This isn’t easy.  It takes dedication, commitment and intention to accomplish.  In short, it’s Work!

Let all Christians everywhere  strive for unity.  It’s what God wants because he loves us and wants us to be happy.  Us as individuals and as a commUnity of faith.

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Unity is important whenever any group of people get together and want to accomplish something.  Takee pluribus unum the United states of America for instance.  Over the head of the eagle on the one dollar bill and the quarter are the words e pluribus Unum. It is Latin for “out of many, one”.  When the founding fathers got together to decide on a seal to represent their new country, they must have looked around and noticed that there were people from many different countries, religious beliefs and political philosophies, and they realized that if this fledgling nation was going to make something of itself, they would have to somehow become one.  Unity means “one” in Latin.  They founded “one nation under God” and called it the United States of America.

Unity is not only important for making strong nations or businesses, but is also important in making a strong Church Universal, and strong communities of Faith.

I have been studying Ephesians lately, and Paul writes a lot about unity, especially in chapters three and four.  In chapter three he focuses on the unity of the Jews and gentiles that was accomplished by Christ’s work on the cross.  In chapter four he fleshes out what it means for the church at large and for individual communities of Faith to live in unity.  I found ten important keys to unity in chapter four.  In this first part of my study I will list five, and in the second part I will list five more.

Walk Worthy

1.  In order for there to be Christian unity, each individual must walk worthy of the calling that they have received.  That calling is, to quote the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  To accomplish that, we must strive to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength; and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Be Humble

2.  Paul also writes that we are to completely humble (NIV) .  What does it mean to be completely humble?  I think that there are three ways to look at that.  One is to take to heart what Paul wrote elsewhere – “esteem others better than yourself”(Philippians 2).  We naturally want to think that we are better than everyone else and find fault with others in order to make ourselves seem better than we really are.  That is not being completely humble. Two, Paul also tells Timothy that he, Paul, is the worst of sinners.  To be completely humble we must see ourselves as the worst of sinners, for whom Christ died.  The third, and perhaps best way to be completely humble is to do what C.S. Lewis says, and that is to think of ourselves less.  Put the focus on God and others.

Put  Up  With Each Other

3.  Paul next admonishes the Christians to be patient, bearing with one another.  These two items are so closely related to each other that they can be taken as one item; one coin (or tortilla as my wife likes to say) with two sides.  A translation that I prefer for the idea of “bearing with one another” is “to put up with one another.”  We all know brothers or sisters in Christ who do things that really bother us.  Things they do that we don’t agree with, yet these things that they do (or don’t do) are not specifically mentioned in  scripture.  So what should we do about it?  Put up with it!

This is especially wise advise for those of us who live in community, like those of us who live and work together at FFHM’ s Home For Needy Children in Mexico.  The staff members at the children’s homes typically come from the U.S., Canada and Mexico.  We have different cultures, upbringing and spiritual traditions.  We all do things differently from one another.  Our initial reaction upon encountering others who “do it differently” is to think that they do it wrong and that I do it right. That is exactly what Satan wants us to think in order to foster dissension and division.  To brake up unity and weaken the Body of Christ.  Paul tells us to put up with the people who do it differently.   To do that we need to be patient.  With patience, over time,one of three things will happen-1. God will change the other person, 2. God will change me, 3. God will use our differences, our diversity, to make the community of faith stronger than it would be without the differences.

Make Every Effort

4.  Paul goes on to tell the believers to “make every effort to keep the bond of unity.”  He is telling us that unity is work!  Unity must be intentional.  Unity doesn’t happen naturally.  In fact is usually goes against our sin tainted nature’s.  Almost every action we take or word we speak either strengthens that bond of unity or weakens it.  Everyday we should wake up and ask God what we can do to build up Christian unity, and ask him to reveal attitudes we have that can diminish that unity, and then act on what the Holy Spirit reveals to our hearts.  That is making every effort.


5.  Next Paul talks about One Body, One Spirit, to which you were called in One Hope.  All believers are one body, the body of Christ.  It is the one Spirit that makes the body alive, that gives the body strength and that guides the body.  We were called by the Father to live in and look forward to one hope.   We have the many in this phrase of Paul’s; the body of Christ, the Spirit, and the Father who called us.  It’s the trinity, the ultimate example of true unity, of true and perfect unity to which we were called.  As I mentioned earlier we are ultimately called to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.  How do we glorify Him and enjoy Him?  Remember the two greatest commandments, Love God with all our being and love our neighbors as ourselves.  In many places where Paul talks about unity, he includes the Word love.  There can be no unity without love.

When most people hear the word “love”, they think about emotion.  That is fine and dandy if we are talking about “Eros” or romantic love, or if the topic under consideration is “phileo ” or brotherly love.  But talking about the great commandments, we are talking about “agape” love, and the foundation for that kind of love is not emotion but devotion.  Devotion to God and doing His will.  Devotion to one another despite our differences, perspectives on life, and world views.  Agape love puts the “other person” first and results in strong chains that build up the body of Christ, glorifies the Spirit, and produces an enduring hope.

To be continued…

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