I was reading Ephesians recently, and was struck by two amazing things. First -- I know it's basic; I know... but you probably need to hear it today -- Jesus loves you. In fact, he loves you so much that you can't even get it without a revelation from the Spirit of God. If the thought of His love for you -- right now, in this moment -- is humdrum or old news or not captivating, I promise you need the very revelation Paul prayed for the Ephesians. I'm praying it for you.
Father, I pray for my friends in the boiler room, "that they, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge -- that they may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (See Ephesians 2:17-19). I believe in His ability to answer this prayer. Please take a moment and pray it over yourself, and open your heart to this revelation.
The second thing that struck me is that the church is a big deal.
"God's purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places" (Eph 3:10).
In the Message version, chapter one concludes like this:
"At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ's body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence."
This may be a funny way of wording those last verses in some ways, but I think it hits on a very biblical and significant challenge nonetheless. What is peripheral in our lives? And what is central? In the life we are called to lead, I am convinced by the scriptures that the mission of Jesus is meant to be more central than the personal concerns of my life -- my food and shelter and my plans and ambitions and my leisure and comfort. What I want to become or how I want to live or even planning for the security of my elder years. And, central to Jesus' mission for us, is the church. It is through the church that Jesus fills the earth with his presence. It is through the church that Jesus declares to the world who he is. It is through the church that the world sees his wisdom.
That's impressive and lofty stuff -- but it gets really odd when we begin to realize that it is lived out in local and concrete ways. It's not just a vague and abstract concept. He's... he's talking about the boiler room.(!) The grand and cosmic vision of the church is nothing if not lived out in families and fellowships banding together across the globe.
Man, I know life is busy and crazy, and the pressures are intense. I know that people weigh us down with their expectations, that emotions immobilize us, that the to do list is relentless. But still, I need the church, and so do you. But still, the church needs my engagement, and it needs yours. Don't believe the lie that you are not essential!
"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." Eph 4:16.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” -- Matthew 13:45-46 NIV
It's a gray day as I sit at Fair Fellow, watching the passers-by outside hustling through the mist. And here I am, contemplating a pearl of matchless value, the merchant who sold all to possess it, and you. And me. Do I get it? Do you get it? This Jesus-life, this Kingdom, this family of the Spirit -- it's worth so much more than anything else. My dreams, in comparison, are pasty and weak. My greatest ambitions are blah. But this. This! Following Jesus is worth a whole lot more than I've put into it so far. Which is fine, because His grace welcomes me and receives me and makes me worthy. But He is worth even more! So. Much. More.
Today is a gray day, and all the people passing by are wrapped up in sundry issues of life -- some momentous, others minuscule. Watching the scene from where I sit, it's hard to believe that I am celebrating an event of great significance and wonder. It's a bit surreal. Twenty-four hours ago, Paul and Debbie signed a contract to lease the Merchant Building on 605 S Peoria. They will take possession of it on February 1. Thirteen days. What an answer to prayer! As I walked across downtown yesterday, I thought about the countless prayers I've uttered over the years, for just such a thing as this. An accessible prayer room in the heart of the city. A place of hospitality for the poor and the homeless. A place to invite others into. A place of worship and healing and friendship and safety and prayer and discipleship and unity. The Father is faithful. Some of you have been praying for this too -- and more. Paul and Debbie have been praying for years as well. And here it is. My heart is overflowing with gratitude. What a good Father!
And what an opportunity! The Father is inviting us -- calling us, maybe even pleading with us -- to step ever deeper into His work of bringing restoration and healing and salvation and compassion to our city. I know we can't do much. We're few. Our resources are limited. We're weak and we're busy and we're stretched and we have families and jobs and kids and RESPONSIBILITIES. For crying out loud.
I imagine the Father taking stock of all the above, along with the challenges that lie ahead for each of us of which only He is currently aware, and then He simply smiles, assures us that He's considered it all, and continues to wait for our response.
The truth is, in the big picture of things, He doesn't need a whole lot. A dash of willingness will be enough to start. He'll take it from there. A mustard seed's worth of faith. Showing up on a Sunday and having a conversation with a stranger. Remembering to pray for her during the week. Maybe after a few conversations, and a few more prayers, sending a text. Maybe offering a ride somewhere after worship. Maybe eventually... Well, who knows where the Lord will take us if we're willing?
There's some work to be done on the building, but it should be ready and open soon. I'll keep you posted. One of the things we want to do before long is gather to pray over the space. And, of course, we should be meeting there on Sundays in the near future as well.
“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” -- (1 Thessalonians 5:18). As we reflect back on 2016, let's remember the oft-repeated biblical injunction to give thanks. For many of you, I know 2016 was rough. To be honest, it was a sweet year for my family and me. But however things went down, we need to be grateful. God blessed you in profound ways over the past twelve months. Not only did He keep you alive, hold onto you as a beloved son or daughter, and forgive every offense, He also provided good things for your enjoyment and comfort. You reveled in the taste of good food. There are people who care about you. You laughed. You were safe. You experienced warmth and friendship and love. He is a good Father, and He cares for you. On the other hand, if 2016 was great, remember to thank Him. All the blessings that made it so are gifts to you from Him. Receive them as such. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17).
If giving thanks is an essential discipline for us, another habit we surely most cultivate is trusting prayer. A new year is upon us. 2017 will have its share of challenges and blessings, and our Father wants us to meet each with faith and hope. We can trust Him. I am challenged to pray bold prayers for the coming season. To "expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God," as William Carey admonished almost three centuries ago. I am praying big prayers over the Merchant, and for Micah & Sarah and Paul & Debbie as they lead us forward in our ministry to the margins. I'm praying significant fruit to come out of our trip to Uganda. I'm praying for Reynosa. I'm asking the Father for each of us to be closer to Jesus and more courageous and true witnesses for Him. I'm praying for our marriages and our parenting and our friendships and our work. For those who are struggling, I am praying for a lift -- and I believe He will provide it. I'm asking Him to help us as a church family to continue to love one another well and to be really good at inviting and welcoming others -- especially those in need, those who are alone, those who are "without hope and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2:12). I'm praying for our city, that the Holy Spirit would draw many into the Father's family, and that His Kingdom would come.
Can I challenge you with something? Can you take a few moments and ask the Lord to put a big prayer in your heart as we begin 2017? What comes to your mind when you consider that? I want to ask you to make that your prayer. If it seems impossible, that's ok. If you find it really hard to believe such a prayer is even worth uttering, all the better. If it feels foolish, you may be on the right track. Ask the Father, and believe. Believe His goodness and His power. Trust in His deep and affectionate love for you, and believe that He delights to give you the desires of your heart. One prayer. One audacious request. One Jesus-glorifying, Kingdom-manifesting, life-giving petition. Don't give up on it. Be patiently persistent in your asking.
“May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.” -- Psalm 20:4
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” -- Matthew 7:11
“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” -- Matthew 21:22
“You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” -- John 14:14
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” -- John 15:16
“Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” -- John 16:23-24