Benjamin C. Maxson, Director, General Conference Stewardship Ministries

Summary: It is hard to love the unlovely or the unfamiliar. God is calling us to break free from our" comfort zones" and expand our territory in order to light up the world with fellowship and love.

The vision He creates. God has a dream. It is a dream full of power and vision! It is a vision of what He wants to create in His ChurchHis people. And it all focuses on relation-ships. We find God's dream in three key passages: Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Corinthians 12.

God's dream is a picture of a church that works together as one united body. Each member has a ministry. And members work together in love, rejoicing and weeping together. It is a picture of a church that reaches out to the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and, because of its ministry, it becomes mature, "attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Eph 4:13). Paul states: "Now you are the body of Christ and individual members of it" (1 Cor 12:27, ESV). "So in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others" (Rm 12:5). This dynamic vision is not something we can create. Christ is the only one who can produce the relational transformation described in these chapters. Let's explore how we can be part of this exciting reality.

An accomplished fact. This vision of God's church is not a wish. It is a reality! It is what God has already brought about in Jesus Christ. When Paul presents this picture, he does not describe a process of becoming. Instead, he presents it as an accomplished fact. The Church is what it is because we are in Christ. Our connection to Him transforms our relationships with everyone else. Most of what He expresses in each of these epistles, following these key chapters, is practical council on how to live as God's Church. God establishes the relationships, and then He teaches us how to live within them. Christ changes our identity, and this change in identity changes our relationships. Our challenge is to integrate our new identity into our relationshipsto see ourselves and others in the context of Christ. Our vertical relationship with God spills over into our horizontal relationships with those around us.

Three arenas to consider. There are three relational arenas that are affected by our relationship with Christ: the home, the church, and the world around us. Each is transformed by the reality of who we are in Christ. We need to learn to live out this reality. We do not have room to explore all the counsel Scripture provides about how we should relate in these three arenas. So we will focus on the core substance of how relationships are transformed.

1 The first step in our stewardship of relationships is recognizing who we are, because we are in Christ. We do not choose to become His Church. We choose Christ and He makes us part of what Scripture calls the "body of Christ." It is a package deal. We cannot accept Him without being part of His Church. And being part of His Church connects us with others. We cannot live in isolation. So the question is, now that we are part of this Church, how does this impact on the way we live?

2 The second step in transforming the way we relate to others is to value those around us as Christ doesHe died for them! For value is determined not by what we think, but rather by what Jesus has already done. This view denies our natural tendency to compare ourselves with others and pretend we are better. It also denies the desire to value human position or status. Terms of importance and standing become irrelevant in the context of God's kingdom. In fact, we need each other. Alone, we are incomplete.

3 The rest of the "relationship journey" is the process of applying and integrating these two steps. But this is not something we can do naturally or by human effort. Our sinful human nature is foreign to Kingdom relationships. This relational journey starts at one place alone—a hill called Calvary. We have to die to self, and that is the divine miracle of being crucified with Christ. Until this happens, we cannot see ourselves or others as God does. We cannot love others as ourselves except in the context of a passionate love for God. This brings us to a core relational truth—a love sequence. God loves us. We experience His love, and love for Him awakens in our hearts. Out of this experience of love, we can love those around us. As others experience our love, they begin to experience God’s love. And the cycle continues. God has trusted us to be the expression of His love on Earth; His primary way for restoring our relationship with Him.

Moving toward others. We must change the way we look at others in the world. Far too often we retreat into our ?Christian ghettos,? afraid to interact with those who do not think or act the way we do. Threatened by these differences, we build relational walls for protection. But instead of finding protection, the walls we build destroy us and our service for Him. God designed His Church to be a light on a hill, not a collection of candles in a candle shop.

Instead of calling others to come to us, we need to move toward them. We need to build friendships with those God has placed around us. The church of His day condemned Jesus for His relation-ships with the common people of the world. Isolated in their ?hallowed halls,? God’s people had lost touch with the world and with their mission. Could it be that the same has happened to us today?

Conclusion. God has a dream! We are that dream. And we will only discover the fullness of our life in Christ in restored relationships—relationships that are transformed by the reality of His presence. We can choose to live in isolation, or we can choose to build relationships. God’s way for changing the universe is through relationships. We may choose to be part of that transformation. We can revel in His dream for us!