Dear Hope Family,
In the book of Acts, the apostle Paul delivers informed, inspiring sermons and public addresses, and in all cases, except for one, he aims his message at a mix of believers and unbelievers, of ethnicities, and wide-ranging sympathies to the Gospel and the Church. The one exception is his heartfelt message for the elders from the Ephesian church assembled in the port city of Miletus on the coast of what is modern-day Turkey. Paul calls for them as he waits upon a ship that will carry him all the way to Jerusalem and all the way to the imminent arrest and certain mistreatment that awaits him there.
What is Paul’s message for this focused and select gathering of Christians? What does he earnestly commend to them with his last words, with his last personal visit?
In addition to remembering his intentional manner with these friends and the depth of relationship they have enjoyed, Paul charges them to attend to and to protect the church—the blood-bought church of Jesus Christ. He invites them to stick with the church in order to get the glory of the church.
Let’s be honest: The Church is a strange amalgam of people, experiences, motives, and obligations. Many have a strained, love/hate relationship with the Church—even our church, Hope Church. And the charge to give ourselves to the Church and to our individual expression of it at Hope strikes each of our ears in unique ways and sparks unique responses, ranging from guilt to opportunity, from joy to frustrated sighs and much else in between. Life together as the church for the long haul is never smooth sailing. It is never reflexively easy. It is regularly taxing, consistently demanding, and routinely requiring an intentional choice to show up and be fully present.
Let’s also be equally clear: Jesus loved the Church and gave himself for the Church. He is not cynical about his people in the way we are so often suspicious and exasperated with ourselves and others. He is passionate and committed—decidedly not ambivalent or casual—about his people, his Church. He invites us into intimacy with himself and with his people so that we can savor the dignity and purpose of what we were created and redeemed for—the rich experience of being his bride.
In a world of over-choice laced with the incessant promise of life and community outside of the Church, Paul’s charge issues a distinct challenge for us: will we give ourselves to the Church because we belong to the Lord Jesus, or will we keep scanning the horizon for other options, better options, less-costly options—always entertaining other options?
I am eager to gather with you all this Sunday, as the blood-bought church of Jesus—to remember his commitment, his gift of life, and his faithfulness, so that we can once again settle that issue in our hearts and be equipped to give our lives away as his Church!
Grace and peace,