We began down that path by reminding ourselves what God’s love for us is like, focusing on Ephesians 3. That led to a whole series of biblical conversations about love focusing on different portions of Scripture: John 1-3, John 13, Philippians, I Corinthians and James, as we wrestled together with what it means to live a life of love.
Our sense of God’s leading led us to reframe our calling around that theme
From: Know Jesus, grow with his people, go to the world
To: Love Jesus, love his people, pour out his love on this world
It also led us to restructure our discipleship process around that calling, and to create Thrive! as a way of planting a vision for life in Christ at Covenant that centers on our call to love.
I believe we are beginning to see the fruit of God’s work in our midst, not only in our worship life and in our dealings with each other, but also as more and more we are developing a reputation in this community as people who live a life of love.
What’s next? I don’t know. It’s not clear to me. I shared with someone recently that I feel like we’re standing in the water at the beach, facing in to shore, and this wave has hit us from behind, and knocked us off our feet.
This is not our project. It’s not something we are doing for God, but something we believe He is doing in and among us. This is a path God has us on, taking us by the hand, leading us into this. We have already made great progress, and there’s still more ahead of us.
This fall we’ll be spending time in I Thessalonians, exploring its major themes, so many of which are so relevant to us as learn how to live a life of love in a world that offers a very different outlook and version of truth. We’ll look at themes of: identity, authority, purity, community, ministry, and love.
In I Thessalonians 4:9-10 Paul writes something that I think could have been written to Covenant as well.
Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more,
Session had a rich and prayerful discussion about where God may be leading us next, and what this might entail. We wondered if it might include diving more into things like:
• Embracing at a deeper level the sacrifice at the heart of all agape love
• Learning to extend hospitality to those God has placed right around us
• Opening doors and removing barriers for those different from us
I believe that God really wants this to be the thing that defines us more and more going forward, in our love for him, each other, and the world.
In my regular reading through the Bible I recently came to a fascinating passage from Nehemiah that I believe the Lord wants me to share with you. The people of God have returned from exile and are seeking to rebuild Jerusalem, starting with rebuilding the wall around the city. Ezra and Nehemiah were key leaders involved in the process, and they organized their fellow leaders in a major rebuilding effort. But in chapter 3, God gives a picture of every person in the community doing their part to shore up the wall – they all owned it.
… Ezer son of Jeshua, ruler of Mizpah, repaired a section from a point facing the ascent to the armory as far as the angle of the wall. Next to him, Baruch son of Zabbai zealously repaired another section, from the angle to the entrance of the house of Eliashib the high priest. Next to him, Meremoth son of Uriah, the son of Hakkoz, repaired another section, from the entrance of Eliashib’s house to the end of it.
Beyond them, Benjamin and Hasshub made repairs in front of their house; and next to them, Azariah son of Maaseiah, the son of Ananiah, made repairs beside his house. Next to him, Binnui son of Henadad repaired another section, from Azariah’s house to the angle and the corner, and Palal son of Uzai worked opposite the angle and the tower projecting from the upper palace ….
And so on. On and on it goes, all the way around the perimeter of the city, every portion of the wall claimed. I wonder if this might not be God’s invitation and challenge to us as a church family.
According to Paul, this is God’s project with us as the New Testament church. In Ephesians 4.11-16 Paul says God’s desire is that the church would:
[grow] in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church, [who] 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. (NLT)
I wonder if God’s call on us in the coming year is to take this high call for the whole church, and let it filter all the way down into the particulars of each of our own lives, into the very specific places where each of us live out our lives – in my school, in my workplace, in my neighborhood, in my places of service in the life of the church, in my small group, and to consider what might be our own individual part of this project of building the church into something that is healthy and growing and full of love.
If there are places we’ve been less than loving, to invite God to change the way we relate.
If there are broken relationships, to restore those.
If there are places we are being prompted by God to take a next step in using our time and ability and resources to serve and strengthen the body, to say yes to those.
If there are places we as leaders are being asked by God to grow our love for those we lead, to let God equip us to lead in the Christ-like way of gentleness and humility.
If there are people we are missing as we go through our day, neighbors or store clerks or fellow workers or students, to ask God to make us intentional to see them and to connect with them.
I think Colossians 3:12-15 gives us a really clear and specific picture of what that strengthening and building work might look like. It says,
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity, let[ting] the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.
That passage is a blueprint for the building project God is doing among us. That’s a passage that I think would be great for every one of us to commit to memory and give ourselves to living out.
What’s the part of the wall nearest you? What’s the next step in building up the portion of the church nearest you into the maturity of love that God is calling us to together? How might we say yes to God’s invitation in the year to come?
Let me end with Paul’s words from I Thessalonians 3:12:
May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.
Love you all.