"We Are Family" part 1:
All Together Now...
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
March 4, 2007

 

Main Passage: Ephesians 4:1-16 (NLT)

 

It was the end of an era. Six years ago this month, I watched as the Space station Mir was brought to its demise. It has since been replaced by the International Space Station, but in its day, the Mir was one of a kind. In fact, I can remember when it was first launched way back in 1986. And I heard about the successes and the struggles that the station endured over its fifteen year career. During that time, the station had been host to 104 people, 46 expeditions, and 23 000 scientific experiments.

The record for the longest continuous mission in space was set on the station – 438 days by Valeri Polyakov between 1994 and 1995. That was by a single person on a single mission. But the Mir also holds the record for the longest continuous presence of humans in space at just 8 days short of ten years (between September 5, 1989, and August 28, 1999).

Of course, during that span of time there were two occasions when they were very nearly forced to evacuate the station. First, in February 1997, a large fire broke out, threatening the station and filling it with smoke. And then four months later, a cargo ship crashed into the station, causing an air leak that again threatened the lives of the cosmonauts on board. But they survived those mishaps, and the station lived on… until finally the Russian authorities retired the station after 15 years and over 86 000 orbits around the earth.

Let me show you a simulation of how things ended for the Mir…

[PLAY VIDEO]

So what happened? Well, they decided its time had come, and so they fired rockets to slow down it’s orbit, gravitational forces took hold, and those forces brought the Mir into earth’s atmosphere where it began to break up. Much of it was burnt up in the outer atmosphere and whatever survived re-entry crashed into the Pacific Ocean.

You see, when the station entered the atmosphere, it encountered friction. Before that time, the station was still in one piece. But when it encountered friction, the friction started tearing at the station and caused it to heat up, and it just couldn’t hold together. It fell apart and was destroyed.

You know, right now things are going pretty well for us as a church. We care about each other, we’re unified, and we’re excited about what God is doing in our lives and in our church. And that’s terrific. I hope we can stay like that for a long time.

But what happens when friction comes? When we have conflict, how do we survive? How do we keep from being torn apart when things heat up?

Last weekend, most of us who are here this morning enjoyed an incredible bonding weekend as a church. Just as I’ve talked with some of you individually, you’ve expressed how much you enjoyed getting to know each other better. You had an opportunity to connect with people in a way that just doesn’t happen in the little time we have together here on Sunday mornings.

But there were a few things that I observed over the weekend… and some things I’ve been thinking about since that time… that I think it’d be important for us to talk about. And so we going to package all these things together and talk about the church as a family. And today, we’re talking about unity in the family. What are the signs of unity? Not because this is a particular problem for us right now, but because it’s such an important issue. Plus, it will set us up for the next few weeks. Okay?

So let’s start with a look at a passage in John 17. We actually looked at a couple verses from this chapter last weekend… we’re going to look at a couple other verses this weekend.

Jesus had already had his last supper with his disciples. And he knew that it was only a matter of time before Judas betrayed him and turned him over to the Pharisees to be tortured and executed. In fact, all of that would happen later that night. So what did Jesus do? He prayed. And in His prayer, he included these words:

John 17:20-21 (NLT)
“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.”

He prayed that they would be one… that His Church would be one… that WE would be one! He prayed that we wouldn’t fall apart because of friction in the church. He prayed that we would be a unified family that wouldn’t break up over conflict. It was His desire that there would be no petty divisions within the church but that instead we would be one… we’d be unified.

What is unity, anyway? Well, I looked that up. Unity as defined by Webster’s is…

Unity – oneness; state of being one or at one; the arrangement of all the parts to one purpose or effect; harmony; continuity of purpose, action, etc.

So this morning we’re talking about unity. In particular, I want to discuss what some of the signs of unity are. What are some of the signs that should be seen in the church that indicate unity? So let’s jump right in. What are the signs of unity in the church? I’m going to give you three. The first is…

 

Signs of Unity in the Church

1. We are working as a team

I like that word “team”. It reminds us that we’re all working together and that we’re all counting on each other. It lets us know that we belong.

Phil Esposito is a hockey legend and one of the heroes of the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviets, and he put it this way…

“Unless you become a team, you can’t win. You cannot win as individuals in the sport of hockey or any other team sport, period.”
~ Phil Esposito

And, my friends, Church is a team sport.

The apostle Paul in the New Testament had another word that he used that communicated the same idea. He described the church as a Body. And that’s what we are supposed to be… the Body of Christ. All of us working together to do His work in complete unity. Paul used that term in a variety of places… let me show you one of them…

Romans 12:4-5 (NLT)
Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are all parts of his one body, and each of us has different work to do. And since we are all one body in Christ, we belong to each other, and each of us needs all the others.

What a great image. Doesn’t that just give you a great picture of what the Church is meant to be? The Body of Jesus. We stick together, we work together to serve Him, and we’re stronger for it. Ben Franklin put it in a slightly different light…

“We must all hang together or we shall all hang separately.”
~ Benjamin Franklin

Let me remind you of the giant redwoods of California. These are impressive trees, aren’t they? Just looking at them they appear tall and sturdy and strong. But the truth is that their root systems are relatively shallow. Standing alone, they can easily be toppled by a strong wind. But in redwood forests, they stand side by side. Their roots become intertwined and their branches support each other. Not one of them can stand alone, but together they can withstand hurricane force winds.

That’s the way it is with the church. None of us can stand alone. “None of us are an island.” We need each other. We’re all on the same team. And what’s more, we all have a contribution we can make to the team. Read this verse with me…

Ephesians 4:7 (NLT)
…He has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ.

Now, one of the things I discovered last weekend was that many of you are unfamiliar with what your special gift is. We typically call them “spiritual gifts”, and when I used that term last weekend, several of you had a confused look on your face. And so we’re going to touch on it this week, and we’ll get into it more over the next couple weeks.

But the fact is, those of us who are followers of Jesus all have unique ways that we can contribute to the team based on the unique gifts that God gives to each of His children. We’re gifted in different ways to contribute to the same team.

This past Tuesday was the trade deadline day for this season of the NHL. And I’m into that kind of thing, so I had the TV on and I was checking in once in a while to see who had been traded to what team. And for the most part, what you saw were General Managers looking at their team, seeing where they’re weak, and then trying to trade for a player who could step in and strengthen them in those areas.

Now, not every player is a great goal scorer. Not every goal scorer can play on the penalty kill. Not every defenseman can lead a rush down the ice. Not every goalie is a competent puck handler. Not every finesse player can throw a thunderous body check. And so the General Managers had to figure out what they needed most.

You know what? You… are gifted in some ways and not in other ways. And that’s okay. That’s how God put this team together. We all have something to contribute, but none of us can do it all ourselves. We need each other. As Michael Jordan said…

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”
~ Michael Jordan

Okay, so one sign of unity is that we’re working together as a team. And we’ll be talking more about that over the next couple weeks. A second sign of unity is…

 

2. We are focusing on the essentials

So what are the essentials? We agree that God exists as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We agree that even though Jesus was God, he became a man, born of a virgin, suffered, died and rose again. We believe that a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the only way to get to know God. We believe that the Bible is the inspired and infallibly written Word of God, completely without error in its original manuscripts and transmitted to the present without the corruption of any essential doctrine. We believe we should order our lives according to the teachings of the Bible. And we believe that someday Jesus will be returning to take His Church to spend eternity with Him in Heaven.

Beyond that, we’ve got all kinds of things we might disagree on, but those are the essentials. And as long as we keep our focus there, we can be unified.

Chuck Colson has said;

“True unity is not sought by pretending that there are no differences… but by recognizing and respecting those differences, while focusing on the great orthodox truths all Christians share.”
~ Charles Colson, The Body p. 97

He went on to say;

“Harmony and oneness in the Spirit can be achieved only when Christians put aside their personal agendas and submit themselves to the authority of the Holy Spirit. For the Holy Spirit, which empowers the church, can never lead believers into disunity.”
~ Charles Colson, The Body. P. 107

You know what? Right here in this room there are a variety of church backgrounds each with a slightly different shade of beliefs. There are people here with a Wesleyan background, United Church background, Presbyterian background, Catholic background, Christian Reform background, Nazarene background, Baptist background, no real religious background… did I miss any?

Every one of those denominations have some minor differences. We’re a Wesleyan Church… you may agree with everything the Wesleyan Church teaches or you may not. I’m really not all that interested that we agree on every detail. What I care about are the essentials… a belief in God, an understanding of who Jesus was and is, a recognition of Him as a personal Saviour, an agreement on the authority of the Bible, and a look ahead to the hope every Christ-follower shares of a future home in Heaven.

In the passage we read earlier, it said… read it with me…

Ephesians 4:5-6 (NLT)
There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.

That’s what Paul wrote. And from the book of Hebrews… read this with me, too…

Hebrews 12:1-2 (NLT)
And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.

Now, why was it necessary for the writer to tell us to keep our eyes on Jesus? Because it can be so easy for us to get distracted by other things. And when we take our eyes off of Jesus and start to focus on other things, that’s when we run into problems. That’s when we start heading in different directions, that’s when we have conflict, that’s when we lose our unity.

Leonard Sweet is one of my favourite authors. He wrote a book called Aqua Church in which he compares leading a church through our fluid culture to piloting an old sailing ship on the high seas. To keep with the metaphor, he refers to Jesus as the North Star and writes…

“Fixed in the firmament like no other star, the North Star gives sailors a sense of direction and becomes their sure and constant guide.”
~ Leonard Sweet, AquaChurch p. 35

Just like sailors need to orient themselves by the North Star, we need to get oriented by our North Star… Jesus Christ. You see, there are all kinds of arguments and opinions that can tear a church family apart, if they become the focus. What style of music do we want, do we want regular or decaf coffee, how long should our hair be, how much make-up should we wear, do we have to wear suits? I think you know where I stand on that one.

Those are the type of things that can take our eyes off the North Star. But we need to make sure the focus is kept on Jesus Christ and on accomplishing the mission He has given us. Which as we discovered last weekend is to transform lives.

Focus on the essentials, and don’t let the other stuff divide us. And number three… the third sign of unity is…

 

3. We are growing in our love

Because without love there can be no unity.

Ephesians 4:16 (NLT)
He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

There’s a reason we call marriage a union. Two people become one because of their love for each other. Without love there can be no unity.

Remember earlier when we read Jesus’ prayer that we would be one? Earlier that same evening, Jesus talked to His disciples about their love for each other. He said;

John 13:35 (NLT)
“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Our love for each other is supposed to prove to the watching world that we know the living God, and it’s supposed to attract them to Him. The flip side is that any lack of love… any anger or bitterness… repels people away from Him.

Several years ago at the Seattle Special Olympics, nine contestants, all physically or mentally disabled, assembled at the starting line of the 100 yard dash. At the sound of the gun, they all started out heading toward the finish line as fast and as best as they could. But along the way, one boy stumbled, fell to the ground, and started to cry. And what happened next was remarkable. The other eight contestants heard the cry, and one by one, they slowed down, looked back, and went back to help.

One girl with Down’s Syndrome bent down and kissed him and said, “This will make it better.” Then all nine linked arms and walked together to the finish line and shared in the victory. And when that happened, everyone in the stadium stood and applauded. The cheering went on for several minutes.

What an inspiring story of love displayed by these competitors. You know, those of us in the church need to catch that same attitude… that it doesn’t really matter how successful we look or what we can do on our own. We need to comfort each other, lift each other up and link arms together.

“It is a true sign of the church when true Christians love one another. The church is to be a loving church in a dying culture.”
~ Francis Schaeffer (in Colson’s The Body, p. 104)

Back about 8-9 years ago, Christian Schwarz published the results of a study he had done of 1000 churches in 32 countries on 6 continents. He titled the book, Natural Church Development, and in it he identified eight quality characteristics that were common to the healthy churches in the study. We’ve talked about these before, so I just want to point out one of them to you this morning: Loving Relationships. This is what he said:

“Unfeigned, practical love has a divinely generated magnetic power far more effective than evangelistic programs which depend almost entirely on verbal communication. People do not want to hear us talk about love, they want to experience how Christian love really works.”
Christian Schwarz, Natural Church Development, p. 36

We need to be a loving Church… loving each other and even extending that love beyond our walls. That kind of love is the kind of love that will bind us together in unity. That kind of love is what makes us a family.

And next week, we’re going to get into some of the practical responsibilities we have as members of the Family.

 

 

 

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