God With Us: A Path to Unity in the Church

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God With Us: A Path to Unity in the Church

Editorial Note: This article was originally delivered as a sermon at the Chandler Seventh-day Adventist Church in Chandler, AZ by Elder Robert Cuff.

“God With Us”

I recently came across a verse in the Bible that gave me encouragement with regards to church unity in a way I wasn’t expecting. Typically, this verse is used around the Christmas holiday as a prophetic look at the expected first coming of Christ and what He would do for humanity. That verse is ‘“Behold the Virgin shall be with Child, and bear a Son, and they shall call his name IMMANUEL” which is translated, “God with us.”’ (Matthew 1:23, NKJV).

This verse kindles hope for God’s plan to commune and spend time with His people. This verse is like a cool drink of water, as it gives a glimpse of God’s perspective in how he values us. His being with [all of] us communicates an equal playing field. God doesn’t cater to social norms, social classes, alternative agendas, etc. Being a layperson, in what would be considered a multi-cultural church, I found this text inspiring as this verse seems to chip away at the notion that that certain exterior and interior differences between people groups are insurmountable.

 

 

Missing “Unity” in the “Community?”

Let me provide a bit of background to my experiences with the issue of multi-cultural worship settings and how we may fall short of God’s ideal. One of the experiences involved a visit to a local Adventist Book Center (ABC) to purchase Sabbath School materials. I had made trips before to this ABC, but on this particular trip I had been informed that instead of purchasing things with my own money and then getting reimbursed from my local church in Chandler, Arizona, I should just skip a step and place the order on the church’s account.

I am not sure if this is a common reaction, but I certainly went there with a sense of empowerment knowing that when I approached the check-out counter I could hold my head high and stick out my chest just a little to proclaim with confidence, “charge it to the churches account please.” After gathering my goods and placing them on the counter, I inquired with the clerk about charging these items to “the Chandler church” account. I didn’t expect the response that followed, but the clerk said, “which Chandler church?” This floored my enthusiasm, as I had to clarify which church I was from. I knew that there were other churches in the surrounding area, but to my surprise, I found 5 other Adventist churches within a 2.5 mile radius.

But why is there a need for so many churches in one small geographic area? From asking around, it seems like many people have different reasons for why they choose a particular church. Most of the other churches in the surrounding area revolve around different combinations of language, culture, and worship style. I couldn’t help but reflect on God’s plan for the Christian community, which seemed so simple, and man’s plan, which seems to confuse and segment.

 

God’s plan for the Christian community inspired me to reinvestigate His goals and develop my understanding of God’s ideal for community and not just accept what might be a common occurrence. If God’s plan was indeed different than what we have implemented as a Christian community, what are the obstacles to realigning ourselves with God’s plan? Lastly, I wanted to verify the simplicity, which I perceived for the Christian community, within the notion of “God with us.” Once I could grasp these concepts, and if they proved to be biblical, I knew I would need to do all I could to preserve, protect, and nurture these ideals within my sphere of influence.

 

Could this experience of “God with us” be so inviting and less complicated than what might be considered normal? Two relationships were being depicted here to me, rather that the multiple demographics that people have been segmented into (traditional, contemporary, age, gender, race, culture, sermon style, etc.). Those two relationships seem to be a good relationship with “God” and a good relationship between our individual selves within the “us” of humanity. The “us” didn’t seem to give an option to opt out of community to only worry about our own individual needs and wants. “God with us” didn’t seem to leave any room for selfishness. If the unity displayed in this verse was to work towards good relationships, no one should be left out. This couldn’t be just a concept either, but needed to be a reflection of the person that embodied “God with us,” Jesus Christ.

 

 

Spending Time with God

Spending time with God would be the most obvious and least contested goal of the relationships represented within “God with us.” I was impressed to take a simple look at relationships and why we prioritize them to better understand our motives and possible barriers. “Why might we avoid spending time with someone?” was the first question that came to mind. In the spirit of honesty, I was bombarded with answers such as “just don’t like them,” “too busy,” “don’t want to be associated together,” or “not important.”

“Why do we make time for certain relationships?” was the next logical question which yielded answers such as “to get to know them,” “enjoy them,” “have common interests,” or “perceive gaining something positive.”  I also had to recognize that sometimes the other person’s motives can be the main motivator to starting a relationship. This rang true in the case of God in seeing that all throughout human history God continues trying to spend time with humanity. In spending time with God we can see Him more clearly which in turn motivates us to want to know Him better.

 

One of the main verses that kept jumping around in my mind was “Come near to God, and he will come near to you” (James 4:8, CEV). This seemed to be a promise and a call to action. I can know God more in my relationship with Him by coming near to Him. But how does one come near to God? I came up with some of the typical responses to this challenge that includes Bible study, personal experiences, prayer, witnessing/fellowship, and nature. Most of these can be done individually without others but only one seemed to depend on others being involved. The more I thought about all these devotion exercises, I realized that they gain a richness when experienced with others.

When I prioritize my spiritual walk, I sometimes leave certain things at the bottom of the list, which can often get neglected. The inspiring actions and conversations with others within healthy witness and fellowship seemed to sit in the shadows of other spiritual devotions. “God with us” seemed to shine on this undervalued vein of precious metal ready to be unearthed by “com[ing] near to God” pushing me closer to this neglected theme. A person’s individual walk with the Lord is vital and shouldn’t be neglected, but God’s idea for community within “us” seems to play a bigger part in spiritual development, than many realize. Community and our interactions with others have a way of revealing what we learn (or don’t learn) about God in our devotional lives.

 

At this point I couldn’t shake the question, “In which location might a person get to know someone the best?” Work, school, play, church, or home? All of these seemed to be good options that would all reveal something about a person, but one stood out the most. Home seemed to be the place where a person can relax the most, a place to let your guard down and reveal your true self. It was then that God impressed me to think about a previous experience I had back in 6th grade.

 

I was around 9 or 10 years old and that day in class, my schoolmates and I were talking about various discipline tactics our parents used with us. As one can imagine, the comparisons started to escalate into a competition. Using a hand for spanking turned into spoons and then graduated to belts as the list grew more intense. Somewhere toward the end of the conversation, I blurted out “my dad hit me in the face with a baseball.” I seemed to have obtained the desired result; my peers seemed shocked and taken aback. The conversation fizzled out and I gave it little thought afterwards.

Later on, I had the privilege of having two participants in that conversation sleep over at my house. Their names were Mark and Scott. Mark was the first to sleep over and always wore his emotions on his sleeve, so you always knew where he stood. Throughout the short time he slept over he looked a little more nervous than normal and kept repeating a similar phrase that didn’t make sense at the time: “Your dad is not so bad.”

We had a good visit and, as time went on, another classmate, Scott, slept over as well. Scott didn’t even want to spend any time indoors which became very suspicious and impractical for a sleepover. Eventually I had to ask why there was a hesitation to go inside. Of course, Scott cited my own depiction of my father hitting me with a baseball in the mouth, which left him wanting to avoid any similar interactions by staying outdoors. I then, to my embarrassment, had to clear the air by adding the context of the story.

It had been an accident during play and not an actual lashing out in uncontrolled rage. If home was a good place to get to know someone as my experience relates above, then could this same tactic be used to get to know God more? This concept challenged my faith as you just can’t buy a ticket, watch videos, or look at photographs of heaven. Fortunately God led me to His word to use past historical tools and visions in the Bible that dealt with this very same subject. What is God like in his “house?”

 

Understanding God At Home

Are we to plan our lives after heavenly things? Or do they seem out of reach?

In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:9-10, NKJV, emphasis added)

Jesus’ prayer encouraged me to set my sights higher by placing faith in God that he will provide help for His will to be done here on earth daily, as a witness to all of Jesus’ redeeming power. I was encouraged to think of a past interaction with someone at church who said the simple phrase, “God is a gentleman.” This led me to understand that God will teach us and help us to do His will, but He will not force us. If we are to cooperate with Jesus’ prayer for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, then we must understand God’s standards (His revealed will) in heaven. God provides victories and solutions to the problems we have here on earth, in accordance with His will, here and now.

 

The sin problem on earth is not a new issue. Heaven had gone through a sifting process similar to the human experience. The way God handled heaven’s rebellion shows us who God is and what His will is. Dysfunction started in heaven with a single angel (Lucifer) devaluing others (God and his fellow angels) while overvaluing himself. Simply explained, Lucifer was selfish. Without God at the center of Lucifer’s relationships, selfishness took hold, and Lucifer destroyed many relationships while encouraging others to do the same. The origin of the attack on the heavenly community (sin/selfishness) is having the same results on our human community. Individuals, unfortunately, too often view other people as obstacles or objects to help achieve one’s personal goals. The disregarding of God’s law caused dysfunction in the heavenly community.

 

“Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:35-40, NKJV)

This simple theme tied together all the commonalities between both the community in heaven and our earthly [human] community now. The Ten Commandments and other laws given by God only magnified details for success in the human experience. The “God with us” design is pointed to by highlighting the acts of loving God supremely and our neighbor as our self. This was to be a safeguard against sin for all of the creation of God. God teaches the un-fallen angels to uphold this standard for “God with us.” The results can be seen in Revelation when an angel encourages John not to worship angels in saying, “See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God” (Revelation 22:9, NKJV).

Community of Freedom

God’s heavenly community cherished freedom of individual thought and voice. This is revealed because Lucifer wasn’t dealt with as soon as he started to cherish sinful thoughts. He was allowed the freedom to think the way he chose and to also express these thoughts to others, or else he wouldn’t have had a platform to negatively persuade other angels to rebel. Love is not possible without these freedoms.

However, Lucifer wasn’t allowed to spread his hurtful views and teachings forever unchecked. Revelation 12 talks of Michael the archangel (Jesus) warring with Satan (Lucifer) and the angels he persuaded within this heavenly conflict. The war was not fought through traditional means (guns, swords, hand to hand, etc.), but “casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God” with the goal of “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” or placing God at the center again (2 Corinthians 10:5, NKJV).

Just as God models, we are to allow people the freedom to think and express what their thoughts are and give them some space to grow. This doesn’t mean that we can’t disagree in a loving way and share with others what we might think is a more wholesome thought process. As long as God is at the center of our freedom of thought we can avoid being imprisoned by selfishness.

Community of Patience

Patience for learning and discovery seems so important in heaven during this time and now as well. It’s strange to think that heavenly beings needed to learn, but within this context of acting in error God gave them time and provided resources for choosing life and helping place and keep God at the center of their lives as individuals. This became a learning tool for all of God’s creation to see the full effects of sin and its consequences. It also revealed God’s justice in dealing with sin.

With any learning experience, time is needed for contemplation and discovery to make a new notion, one’s own thought and idea. This answers the popular question most have asked themselves at some point, “If there is a powerful loving God, why does he let so many bad things happen?” A healthy dependence on community and its interactions to mold and shape correct thinking seems to play a role in answering the previous question as well, which we will explore later.

 

Community that Values People

A common problem within Western culture is the adoption of the throw-away mindset. A throw-away society is a human society strongly influenced by consumerism. The term describes a critical view of overconsumption and excessive production of short-lived or disposable items. People can often view relationships with others through a throw-away mindset because of sin’s effects on our lives. We view relationships as potentially short-lived experiences rather than eternal bonds. This mindset can cause us to undervalue unique things such as the relationships we have with others.

There are many common traits we can share with others, but everyone has unique qualities. If something breaks that which is priceless and irreplaceable, then it’s been my experience that we need something to put it back together. During my childhood, glue seemed to fix a great number of items that broke. Without God at the center of our relationships we take part in the chaos of throwing away others if they don’t fit into the mold we think they should. We have an adhesive agent like glue available to us in God’s word: “But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:14, NKJV).

The bonding agent we have is love. Before trying to buy a book, attend a seminar, or work harder at exercising love, we have inspired guidance pointing us to a relationship in “God is love” (1 John 4:8, NKJV). Within “God with us” we see that God at the center brings everyone together and holds everyone together. Satan embraced destruction by rejecting God as the center of his relationships. Without love, practiced the way God designed it, the same will be our fate.

 

 

Understanding God At Home: The Ark of the Covenant

 

Another window where humanity can learn about God’s will in heaven is God’s throne. We have symbolic reference to this in the most holy place within the sanctuary. There we find only one important piece of furniture called the Ark of the Covenant. God was urging me to take a look at this learning tool from another angle, which can sometimes be difficult when you feel like you already know the extent of the material. I was drawn to one special aspect of the Ark that didn’t seem to have as much meaning to me as all the rest of the parts.

 

You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I will give you. And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel. (Exodus 25:21-22, NKJV)

The symbolism in the ark has real life applications for God’s plan of salvation. Starting from the ground up, we see the law which convicts us of right and wrong. The law shows us what true love represents by God’s design, and that we all in this sinful world fall short of it. “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20, NKJV). The law provides awareness of current condition and the opportunity for healthier future goals. Through Jesus we see the law can be kept by faith in God to help us overcome, but first we need to deal with sin.

 

The next step to climb up to in the ark is the mercy seat. The mercy seat represents the throne of God in heaven, which is founded on God’s law. “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16, NKJV). The throne of God is referenced as the seat of both mercy and grace, two things we need to hold on to that make it possible to deal with sin with confidence. We haven’t earned the right to salvation, but through Christ’s sacrifice we have been given the privilege to ask in the confidence of God’s loving character. The law convicts of sin and the mercy/grace seat provides a safe and secure place to confess and forsake sin. The throne represents justice in that God isn’t just forgiving past transgressions that we bring to Him, but He is also helping, through Jesus, to rehabilitate us to act healthy and avoid sin in the future.

I would usually stop there because the rest of the ark seemed of little significance, but the next section held importance to this “God with us” concept. Traveling up from the law and past the mercy seat, we find that God promised to communicate to us from between the two cherubim that faced each other. Many places in the Bible cite this as part of the reputation of a God that communicates to His people directly in the instrument of the Ark. “God of Israel, the One who dwells between the cherubim” (Isaiah 37:16, NKJV) is so common that it’s listed multiple times (1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 6:2; 2 Kings 19:15; Psalms 80:1, 90:1, & 99:1).

God showing up between the two angels in the bright glowing Shekinah Glory caused people to wonder at the exterior glory of holy light, but perhaps not focus on the practical positioning of God in the center of the angels facing each other. The experience of sanctification seemed to be represented in the symbolism of God at the center of relationships. This concept needed to be looked into more, specifically what appears to be God’s presence and giving instruction through our interactions with others, when He is placed at the center of our relationships.

 

 

Understanding God At Home: Record of an Eyewitness Account

We have an eyewitness account recorded in Isaiah 6 of God’s will being carried out in heaven right in front of God’s throne in similar fashion as the Ark symbolism:

 

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!” And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, And your sin purged.” Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: “Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:1-8, NKJV)

 

Seraphim is another term used for angelic beings that are described in some detail outwardly in these verses. The conduct of these angels in heaven is what we want to focus on to explore God’s will in heaven. I was taken aback by how inviting and hospitable the angels are to the newcomer. The angels aren’t standoffish or skeptical of why this person who might seem out of place is before the throne.

Another part of the angel’s worship and devotion is noticing Isaiah struggling with his sinful nature and confessing it. Recognizing the vulnerability of Isaiah in this moment, they stopped what they were engaged in to serve him so that he could answer God’s call to help others. What an inviting and wholesome environment this would make for us if we modeled our individual lives and our churches after the heavenly environment! I had to ask myself the question “Can God help us serve others this way?”

 

The continued focus of “God with us” was represented here. The angel’s worship and devotion to God was clearly demonstrated in their proximity to the throne of God, but it was also represented in the conversation happening between the angels: “One cried to another and said ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!'”

To my shame, in times past the initial thought of angels sitting by the throne of God and saying these things over and over seemed boring to me. What would be the point? What I have learned since then is that rather than a mindless chant, I saw a conversation happening between the angels in the phrase “and one cried to another and said.” What we see in the text is only a short glimpse of the conversation that was taking place just before it was interrupted by Isaiah’s presence.

Conversation gives us the ability to exchange thoughts or feelings and possibly broaden our understanding of subjects. I can see something more relatable in these statements that I had experienced within my own conversations with others. Physically God sat “high and lifted up” in the midst of the interactions between the two angels. He is on His throne similar to the Shekinah Glory on the ark. God also sat in that same position between them in intelligent and uplifting conversation. Most importantly though, in the midst of their worship and conversation, they prioritized showing the practical witness of God in the center of their lives by putting things on hold and helping someone (Isaiah) currently in need. Could this be a similar situation that we all have experienced or can experience in the Christian community and worship?

 God’s Will on Earth as It Is in Heaven?

Can this heavenly pattern take place here on earth? Staying focused on these themes, I had a popular verse come to mind that had relatable links to the subject at hand. “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20, NKJV). Jesus in the midst of those who gather in His name seemed to fit this same pattern as God between the angels. This reminded me of many conversations between professed believers or unbelievers alike where the topic centered on God. Wherever the conversation went in these interactions, new discoveries and points of view came to light that might not have ever been considered individually.

 

Other verses in the Bible support the nourishing aspects of making the most social interactions like “As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17, NKJV). God designed us to help sharpen each other for the purposes at hand–not just for benefits that might be directed toward us, but the utility of encouragement and healing through the fruit of the Spirit that we must direct toward others. “A merry heart does good, like medicine, But a broken spirit dries the bones” (Proverbs 17:22, NKJV).

Is “God with Us” Optional?

 

If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:6-7, NKJV)

 

A clear picture is drawn by John as those who have a true relationship with God must have fellowship with others. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42, NIV). The early church was united with the Holy Spirit, which motivated people to a deeper devotion to God, which in turn directly made them more devoted to each other in fellowship and sharing meals together. It seems a given to be devoted to teaching Jesus or prayer, but fellowship with the breaking of bread appears a less urgent a matter by today’s standards. “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20, NKJV). The apostle John continues with this verse to expound further on how closely linked “God with us” is.

 

This makes it more understandable to see why Jesus taught us to work out our differences and get rid of any hate for others as soon as possible to protect this union. Even modern-day offerings to the Lord should take a back seat to dealing with damaged love-relationships toward others, which in turn damages our love-relationship to God. “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24 NKJV). When scripture and social norms clash, the heavy weight of responsibility can be lifted by faith in God’s intervention because we have sided with His plan.

 

Many safeguards are advised toward protecting this community bond in Scripture. “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:8-9, NKJV). In guarding against destructive tendencies, we are advised to treat our neighbors as equals. This caution watches out for any attitude that causes you to look down on others, elevate them because of advantages, or exclude them. We even need to make sure to define who our neighbor is correctly to avoid prejudiced thoughts, much like Jesus taught with the story of the Good Samaritan.

 

One powerful counsel to protect the community of Christ is found in Paul’s writings to the Colossians:

Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. (Colossians 3:9-11, NKJV)

Paul simply gets to the heart of the matter and states that those who give in to old sinful tendencies are not focusing on their new birth in Christ, but rather what is naturally experienced in this sinful world. Race, culture, religious views, foreignness, education, civility, free, or indebted/slave seem to be common stumbling blocks even within the modern Christian community. Without Christ at the center, selfishness seems to try and strategically play the odds.

 

“I might be accepted more if I stick with… [insert the response of the old man/woman of sin].” “I might benefit more if… [insert the response of the old man/woman of sin].” It’s natural to think like that, to seek for advantage, protection, security, or maybe tradition. We learn these attitudes from our positive and negative experiences with others that condition us to act based on fear. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18, NKJV). Should we be afraid of taking a stand for God with some of the hot button topics listed? Overcoming these points can be a drastic witness for God’s transforming power, even if they have to come through some potentially awkward interactions and conversations.

 

 

Offensive & Defensive Ways to Protect “God with Us”

 

Any good defense is used to protect something of value from being taken, damaged, or destroyed. We have examples from Scripture where God’s people engage and defend themselves from the enemy by faith.

 

In Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus had the famous showdown in the wilderness with the devil. We see Jesus using the shield of faith which is the word of God. He famously quotes “It is written” to every temptation while citing inspired, rightly-interpreted, Scripture. The enemy’s temptations had a focus on self-centered requests. Bread for self, validation for self through risky behavior, and short cutting a ministry goal for selfish reasons (avoiding the tough stuff). If Jesus would just focus on self rather than the Spirit which was leading Christ, then the old man mentality would be in control.

 

In Joshua 24:14-15, God’s people were adopting the standards and customs of the other nations around them that were opposed to God’s teachings. Culture by itself isn’t bad until it contradicts God’s teachings. It’s easy to slip back into old habits and traditions (Egyptian gods) or to the social pressures of what’s popular in new surroundings (Amorite gods). Joshua took a defensive stance to not only protect his relationship with God, but he also encouraged others to do the same. He maintained the “God with us” inclusion.

 

Opportunities to go on the offensive create an environment for conversations where God is at the center of the discussion.

 

Jesus crosses cultural barriers in John 4:7-10 when he initiates conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. In asking for some water from her, He breaks Jewish law and tradition in order to follow God’s law to love your neighbors as equals. Christ does this for the purpose of placing God at the center of the conversation where he starts to talk about God and the living water He could provide. This opportunity didn’t come without risk of social controversy or potential awkwardness.

 

Paul also crosses a cultural barrier when he engages Greeks in conversation about the common religious devotion they share with him as he stares at statues of their various gods (Acts 17:22-23). Paul creates opportunity to discuss similarities and share his understanding of Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus continued to breach inner cultural barriers when engaged in conversation with sinners (Luke 15:1-2). Christ pulled sinners away from their vices to have healing conversations that placed God as the main topic of discussion.

 

Natural vs. Supernatural

 

When I think of purchasing items with natural ingredients, it sounds like a selling point to a safer and healthier me. In some cases, natural can be a good thing. However, just because the earth naturally is sinful and its inhabitants mistreat each other, doesn’t mean we have to accept this as our fate. If we always accept the natural, sinful state of things in attitudes and behaviors, then we will never allow for God’s supernatural work. “Therefore if your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:20-21 KNJV).

By faith in God’s promises, we are called to let a supernatural work in us happen through God’s power. This supernatural work was meant to be a witness to others as the verse says. We are called to think about our behavior and how God wants us to believe and act. The community of God respects individuality and blesses un-circumstantially with an outward focus. Making these unnatural choices plays into God’s plan to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit using “coals of fire” (multiple opportunities for cleansing) to convict people to a redemptive path. It is hard to hate someone who is actively looking out for your own self-interest. The natural sinful world can’t fathom why you would make certain choices, but it will be a witness to all of what some thought was impossible.

 

But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts. These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit. (Jude 1:17-19, NKJV)

Our own ungodly desires war against the Spirit’s influence in our lives. We have an enemy working against us who works hard to cause people to fight and separate from each other. We have a stronger God who can unite us, if we would just allow ourselves to be vulnerable in Christ.

 

Can the same thing be said today in the same spirit of “God with us,” that Christians build a reputation for “Jesus Christ, the one who dwells between His believers?” Jesus speaks of this very thing, saying, ”A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35, KNJV).

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About the author

Robert Cuff

Robert is a growing student in Christ Jesus and currently serves in lay ministries.