At the start of this year, this new decade, it’s a great time to stop and seek God for the future. 2020 is the year of vision, and as we approach this year we want to have a clear vision of where God is leading us. I don’t want to just maintain, and I don’t want to stumble through this next year. I want to take ground from the enemy, to stand for Jesus in our area and our nation. I believe we are better together!
IF YOU WERE DYING
Let me ask you… If you were dying and had just 14 days to live, what would you do? Would you travel? Would you make peace with people? Ask forgiveness? Would you record a parting video or a song? I would!
OK, what if you had only 14 hours to live? What would your last actions on this earth be, and what would your last words be? Surely you’d want your last words on earth to be the most important… You’d want your last words to be significant, right?
In the last few hours of His life, Jesus chose to pray. He was in the garden of Gethsemane. He faced the suffering of the cross and death, and He prayed,
Luke 22:42 (ESV Strong’s)
“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
But the Apostle John gives us an even greater insight into Jesus’ thoughts at this most critical time. He didn’t just pray for strength, or for His Father’s will, He spent a lot of time praying for you and I… The church.
In His final hours on earth Jesus prayed this… for believers…
John 17:17-23 (ESV Strong’s)
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
Jesus last recorded act in earth before His arrest, trial and execution was to pray, and specifically to pray for unity among believers.
So as we face 2020, why is unity still so important? Why are we better together?
2020… VISION OR DIVISION?
When the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan, Jesus asked, “How can Satan cast out Satan?” Then he said,
Mark 3:24-26 (ESV Strong’s)
If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.
Here’s the thing… Unity is unbelievably powerful, and division always destroys.
This holds true for any group, for good or for bad. Ants work together to carry far more than their body weight. Losing football teams can unite under a new coach and start to win. In the 1930s the Nazis united people in their hatred of the Versailles treaty and Jews and plunged the world into genocide and war.
God has long recognised the power of unity… remember the Tower of Babel
Genesis 11:6 (ESV Strong’s)
And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.
God disrupted the unity of people then because He knew the power of unity. And Jesus prayed for unity among His people because He knows the power of unity, especially in the church today. Unity is so important Jesus prayed for it for us in His last hours on earth!
SATAN’S SECRET WEAPON
Remember, Satan’s aim is to kill, steal and destroy, both in your life and in the church. He wants to disrupt church, and his best secret superpower is disunity. When I look across the church in our country, it seems like to a degree he is winning!
I heard about a family from Sydney who moved west to raise cattle. When their friends visited and inquired about the ranch’s name, the would be farmer replied: “I wanted to name it the Bar-J. My wife favoured Thunder-Downunder one of our sons wanted the Flying-W, and the other liked the Suzy-Q. So we’re calling it the BAr-J-Thunder Downunder,Flying-W-Suzy Q.”
“But where are all your cattle?” the friends asked. The man replied…
“None survived the branding.”
Disunity destroys, and unity builds, especially in the Spirit. Unity is not agree on everything. It is agreeing to disagree agreeably. Any organisation, including a church, is full of people who will not agree on loads of things.
Our witness before the world is compromised by disunity, because what will convince the world, what will reveal the truth about God, is not our pet doctrine, not how aggressively we fight, not our judgemental attitude, not our religious practice… but our love, one for another.
John 13:34-35 (ESV Strong’s)
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
When Jesus prayed in His last few hours on earth He prayed,
John 17:23 (ESV Strong’s)
I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
He didn’t pray that we would always agree, but that we might be one, and not just one but perfectly one. In the Greek perfectly is the word teleoo, the same word Jesus used on the cross as He died, tetelestai… It is finished, or it is complete. A church in unity is a shining beacon to a world in disarray!
THE POWER OF UNITY… BETTER TOGETHER!
Satan does not want us to discover the power of unity, and will do everything in his power to prevent it. That’s why Paul wrote,
1 Corinthians 1:10 (ESV Strong’s)
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.
Like Fiona and I… I think we’re better together too.
Some of the most incredible trees on earth are the magnificent Californian redwoods. They commonly grow to over 80 metres tall, the tallest one is actually 117.8 m tall. These trees stand like sentinels of time and have done so for hundreds of years. Some were living at the time Christ walked on earth.
They’ve survived winds, earthquakes, fires and storms—still they stand.
You would imagine that each tree has enormous, strong and incredible deep roots to survive all they have. But I’m fact they have a comparably shallow root system, yet they rarely ever fall. How do they keep standing even in the wildest of storms or earthquakes? It’s because the redwood’s root systems reach out for great distances sideways, not down, and their roots are intertwined with one another. They literally hold each up other up.
If you and I are going to reach our full potential in 2020, if this church is to be all it should be in the next decade, we too need the support of each other, to be not overdependent but inter-dependent. We need unity!
Jesus never prayed for agreement in the hours before His death, He prayed that in our inability to agree we would still be one, be complete in each other. Why? Because we are better together. Let me share 3 areas we have to deal with to obtain unity in 2020…
We all have it, and it destroys unity and must be dealt with.
1 Peter 5:5 (ESV Strong’s)
Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
We all have our own ideas, preferences or agendas. Unity doesn’t change the way you’d prefer to do things, but it gives you the maturity and wisdom to overlook the differences.
My uncle was a old man when I was young in the church I attended. He showed up to everything that had youth or young adult on it. I asked him why. He said that although he hated the music, the loudness and pretty much everything we did, he loved the kids, and wanted to show his support. He felt we were better together.
Romans 14:19 (ESV Strong’s)
So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
As human beings, we talk about peace but rarely pursue it, because we are busy pursuing what we want instead. Jesus said in John 14:27, peace I leave you, and that peace should be manifest primarily through the church. But if you looked at churches today you wouldn’t think so!
But how can we promote peace in our churches or families?
We maintain peace and unity by guarding what we say, and building one another up mutually. We need to guard what we say and how we say it, and speak words of life, encouragement and peace.
But if you don’t have peace within you, how can you show it to those around you? You need be at peace personally. You get more peace the closer you get to God…
Psalms 119:165 (ESV Strong’s)
Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.
Isaiah 26:3 (ESV Strong’s)
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.
To have peace in church we need people whose minds are on God, and therefore who are at peace with God. This is why I’m asking you to join us and commit to the Bible reading plan, because in unity we can grow strong together and live in peace.
3. PREFERRING OTHERS
Philippians 2:3-4 (ESV Strong’s)
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Most disunity in church happens around people’s preferences. I know some dogmatic, judgemental Christians who honestly think their opinion is gospel. Regardless of your opinion on something, you should put others first and honour them, not attack them because they disagree with your opinion.
There are some fundamentals in the Christian faith that cannot be compromised, but there are many which we can disagree on but still be in fellowship with.
Beware of people who push their own opinions or preferences above their love of people around them. If we love our preferences more than we love people, we have disunity. But if we love people more than our preferences, our doctrines, our interpretations of Scripture or opinions, we will have unity.
WE NEED TO BE ONE
There is incredible blessing and power in unity. Not just the absence of conflict, but genuine, Holy Spirit power when we join our hearts in unity. And Satan loves to attack our unity, causing fights and divisions over issues that are non core, non gospel beliefs.
Honestly, we get so adamant, so judgemental, so aggressive about issues that are peripheral to the gospel, we grieve the Holy Spirit and dishonour the unity that was so clearly important to Jesus that He devoted His last moments as a free man to. In this new year, it’s time to let it go for the sake of the Kingdom!
When Paul addresses the wayward church at Corinth, he highlights a situation where the animosity was so great between believers that actually took each other to court! But his words to that extreme case have relevance for any disagreement when he writes…
1 Corinthians 6:7 (ESV Strong’s)
To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?
Let me pose the question… What not forsake your opinion on non essential beliefs and just love each other? You could win the debate, but God’s Kingdom loses in the long term.
THE BLESSED OF THE BLESSED IN 2020
What we need to move forward in 2020 is not the best of the best, but the blessed of the blessed, and we only achieve this when we are in unity.
Psalms 133:1,3 (ESV Strong’s)
Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.
And with this unity comes great blessing, even life forever more, salvation! Paul writes,
Ephesians 4:1-3 (ESV Strong’s)
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
At the start of 2020, I’ve been praying earnestly about this year and our future, and I am absolutely convinced that unity is the key for us. We are better together, whether we agree or not, we are better together!
This year we have a great and unique opportunity at Ignite to shine the light of the gospel into our nation, but we will never grow strong and shine in the darkness without unity!
That’s why I’m asking you to join me in this great endeavour. Commit to coming to church in 2020. And when you come, let your preferences and opinions go, and let’s be one as Jesus prayed for us. Can we agree to disagree agreeably, and can we pull together to achieve all God has for us this decade.
JOIN OUR SHIELDS OF FAITH
In Ephesians 6 Paul talks about the armour of God. He lists the various parts of the armour every Christian should wear every day… The Helmet of Salvation, the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel, the sword of the Spirit. Then he writes…
Ephesians 6:16 (ESV Strong’s)
In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;
The enemy attacks and causes disunity, and the shield of faith is our protection. Some people pray for this faith, but don’t connect with a church. You need to understand what Paul is referring to here, because he clearly has the Roman soldier in mind.
Roman soldiers didn’t fight alone. They performed a manoeuvre called the tortoise, where they joined their shields in front, behind, at the sides and the top. This gave them far superior protection to standing alone swinging at the enemy. The shield of faith is designed to be used not in isolation, but in unity with other believers.
So this morning , at the start of 2020, I’m asking you to join us and stand together as one body, just as Jesus prayed for us to be. Together we are better.