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Geared Up for Life: Armored

September 18, 2022, at Beersheba Springs Assembly

For some of you this might be a very familiar text and the depiction of the armor of God from the sixth chapter of Ephesians. For others maybe you have never heard it. And of those who have heard it, it never hurts to have a good refresher on being armored for God. Paul is calling for us as Christians to be active in our faith  10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

Paul has already prayed that the readers may be strengthened with God’s power (3:16) but also recognizes the power at work within us (3:20). But now Ephesians 6:10-11 extends this idea to suggest that the community itself acts to take up God’s power, at least partially through its own initiative. This letter, then, was written for the Ephesians for whom their allegiance to Christ set them at conspicuous odds with the allegiances of others in their families and cities who worshipped the emperor as the Son of God.

12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. For the Ephesians, no matter what hostility is displayed by their fellow friends and families, they were to understand that hostility towards them as coming from larger, darker, spiritual forces. Such forces cannot be fought by the believers themselves, but are rather to be resisted. Spiritual hosts of wickedness guide and manipulate world rulers of this present age, but the battle is not with other people. Something we all need to remember.  Faithfulness to God places one in the midst of a battle one is unable to fight aggressively on earth but instead be Armored.

But maybe we need to re-think the metaphor of armor  here since we don’t walk around wearing armor in our day and age. And there aren’t many professions in our twenty-first-century world that require armor except to protect our law enforcement and military from harm. And of course, our front-line medical folks who have to armor up for 12 hrs or more every day. And we all have though learned what it is like to wear protective gear of all sorts that the pandemic brought into play in a powerful way. Instead of the helmet of salvation, maybe it is the facemask more aptly that brings us a sense of peace and protection. 

And maybe being armored sounds as though we are doing battle instead of trying to live our lives in a way that reflects our faith and the love that God has placed within us. But if we look closer at what we are being asked to put on -- do you notice something? Everything that all that is offered here is defensive, designed to protect the wearer and the faith we live. The only offensive “weapon” is not our own, but God’s Word. 

So, we can see this as the security we need to continue to live our faith in a complicated and sometimes threatening world. We are not alone, not left to our own strength and wisdom, but we can call upon the wisdom and the strength of God as it is expressed and lived out in the community of faith. This is a call to be united and to look after one another as we journey together. 

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, The armor of God that the church takes up relates to the message that Paul has already laid out in the message of Ephesians 1-3 and is now preparing for a spiritual battle in which believers engage in through their actions. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist,

First, says Paul, you need a belt. Now a belt is not just for keeping your pants up, as important as that is. And believe me it is. But in that day and time, the belt was also used, by those going into battle, to tie up all those loose bits of clothing that would flap about and could be taken hold of by an opponent when least expected. With a belt you can avoid being caught. So, fasten around your waist the belt of truth. 

Paul says that truth can keep us from being caught out by the loose ends of our lies. As Abraham Lincoln supposedly said, No one has a good enough memory to be a really effective liar.We’re going to get caught if we try. But belted in truth, having made the decision to live honestly and openly to the truth of Christ, we won’t get caught with our pants down. Literally. By girding ourselves with the “belt of truth” we prepare ourselves for the work to which we have already been called: we are to speak the truth in love to one another 

and put on the breastplate of righteousness. Next, says Paul, you’re going to need a breastplate. That is hardly something we see on every chest these days except those in harm’s way. Yet we all need something to protect those vital organs, so that we don’t get hit in the gut, so that we don’t suffer from a wounded heart. So, we need a chest protector to strap on to keep our heart in one piece – 

Righteousness, it has been said, is being faithful in our relationships. God is righteous because God always keeps faith with us, because God keeps God’s part of the covenant. The “breastplate of righteousness” relates to the “new self” with which we are to clothe ourselves, as beings “created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (4:24).So, we try to be like God; we try to be righteous and keep faithful in all our relationships. First, our relationship with God, of course, as we try to live our lives in response to the grace we have received. But also, in our relationships with one another: we work to keep faith between husbands and wives, parents and children, teachers and students, neighbors, brothers and sisters, and all. We wear our righteousness like a chest protector so that we avoid the sinking feeling in our gut when we have broken faith with a loved one, so that we avoid receiving a broken heart.

15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. Paul has earlier explained the “gospel of peace”, for which we should ready ourselves by putting on shoes. In reconciling Jews and Gentiles into one body, Christ is our peace (2:14). The removal of hostility through Jesus’ death on the cross is central to what is at the heart of Paul’s understanding of the gospel message. It is this message of reconciliation that should lead the church to behave and act like what the rest of Ephesians 4-6 has told us over the last couple of weeks.

So we gotta have shoes. Shoes that let us move. On our feet, we need the readiness to proclaim the gospel of peace. These shoes are made for walkin’. They are not for sitting back, for putting our feet up, in our homes and saying, “Oh, well, if anyone wants to know, if they come to me and ask, and really look interested and if I’m not too busy then I just might tell them what I know about faith and church and Christ.” These shoes are for going where the action is. They are shoes in best Nike fashion to Just do it. On your feet, the readiness to proclaim the gospel of peace.

16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, Well, proclaims Paul, as he admires his creation, we’re not done yet. In addition to these, we are exhorted to take up “the shield of faith”. According to Ephesians, faith activates the power of God. Salvation is God’s gift, yet it also comes through the believer’s faith (3:12). It is “through faith” that Christ dwells in the believer’s heart (3:17). Taking up the shield of faith connects to the protection that faith brings. The salvation that comes as God’s gift through faith is represented as the ability with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

We need a shield. Well, we really don’t use shields these days unless there is a riot. So how about an umbrella? You ever been in that sudden rainstorm? And you wished you had something to hold over you, to go before you, to protect you from the elements, to keep you dry? Something to hold out and to hold on to, something that will remind you that it isn’t always a bright sunny day when all is right with the world. Sometimes the skies do grow dark; sometimes the winds will blow; sometimes rain will fall. So you need something to keep you from drowning in your own despair.

Take instead the umbrella of faith and hold on tight. One author says it this way: When the weather gets rough, when the questions fall like rain, when the tears form puddles at your feet, when the clouds of doubt rumble overhead, then hold tight to your faith. Hold on to that knowledge that you are a child of God, to the experience of being pulled up from off your knees by the hand of one much stronger than you, to that feeling of being made clean again and given a fresh start. Hold on to that; and though the rain may fall, and you may get wet along the way, the center is dry and strong and still remembers that the sun still shines behind the clouds. Carry faith as your shield.

17 Take the helmet of salvation, And now, the crowning glory, accept salvation as a helmet. Wear your salvation on top of everything else. Wear it right up there where everyone can see it. Salvation, like faith, is not a golden ticket that stands ready to be scanned when you get on your heavenly bound flight. Or a memento wistfully thinking I’ll need that one day. No, it is something you wear every day, something that shapes your vision, guides your feet, broadens your understanding. When we were kids our parents when we were riding our bikes told us to wear what? Our helmet. Get on a motorcycle hopefully you are wearing a helmet. It is assurance that can protect you from all sorts of blows that might otherwise knock you senseless. Accept salvation as a helmet.

and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And a sword. A sword? Well, yes. But not just any old sword with which you can go hacking away at the undergrowth of our society. This sword has a specific function, and it is a function that you don’t ultimately control. It is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Perhaps we should be carrying a pen (you know mightier than the sword) or a phone with unlimited texting. This sword is about words. 

This sword is not about taking away life but about giving life meaning. It’s about communicating God’s word. It is God who wields the power here, not us. It is God whose word cuts to the quick, where soul and Spirit meet. Our job is to be faithful to that word, to proclaim it with our whole life, with all our collective lives as the body of Christ, the word made flesh. This means, of course, that we know what God’s word is. To take up this sword, to wield this pen, takes a lifetime of study.

Put on the whole gear. Why? Simple. To stand. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.  

To stand, that’s what this is about. The armor is designed to help folks stand fast: it is not armor for aggressive action. It’s a shaky world out there, and it needs people with balance, people who are armored enough to stand. Standing fast does not require a person to hurt a neighbor in any way. The armor is to empower believers to withstand the evils that surround and threaten them.

And what is the final thing we need to stand firm? Prayer. Prayer is an activity that is connected to the taking up of God’s armor.  18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. 

Paul also prays on behalf of the church for their strength and understanding. The church is instructed to pray for all of the saints and for the author as well. The imagery of God taking up God’s armor to seek justice was related in first century culture to the notion of the day of the Lord. 

So Paul is telling us that the battle with cosmic forces is not simply a battle delayed for a future day of God’s judgment, but is a present battle believers must engage on a regular basis. The church’s struggle and our struggle as Christians is a heavenly one against spiritual powers, but it is acted out every day on a more mundane ordinary routine level as we are called to be Armored. 

 But The armor of God does not mean that the church will not encounter difficulties, then, but enables Christians to encounter such difficulties. Through perseverance and prayer, the church may boldly proclaim the gospel even in the midst of persecution and hardship. And that is what it means to be Geared Up for Life.

Geared Up for Life: Giving Thanks

September 11, 2022

Paul says We who were dead in our sins and unbelief have been made alive with Christ. By grace we have been saved! A good question then is:  “How does the God who saved me from my sins want me to live?” In other words, how do we give thanks? Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, answers that question for us. In Ephesians 5 in these six verses, we find five essentials to guide us in our life of grateful response to our Lord’s love and how to live that out as Christians in the world. He calls Christians to be careful, be wise, use their time, be filled with the Holy Spirit, and give thanks. God certainly doesn’t leave us in the dark as to how God wants us to live as God’s children.

He begins in verse 15—15 Be careful then how you live, Paul urges us to live as children of light, to find out what pleases the Lord. and to realize that by a miracle of God’s grace we are spiritually alive. So, he begins with one statement that says it all  in another translation, "Look carefully then how you walk." That is the supreme thing, not where you walk, but how you walk. Where you walk is a relatively easy problem, but how you are applying this principle in every moment of your life. That is what is important.

Driving out west from Salt Lake City to Idaho to Wyoming to Montana I drove through canyon and prairie and mountains along the highways. I had no problem as to where to drive. The highway was well marked, I knew where I was going thanks to the navigator & GPS, and there was very little danger that I would get lost although I wondered sometimes when we were in the middle of nowhere. But how to drive, that was the constantly recurring problem -- how to relate the principles of good driving to every changing situation along the road.  What to do when that large deer maybe an Elk jumped out in the road so quickly. 

How, that is the problem. "Look carefully how you walk." Be careful then,” emphasizes Paul, “how you live, not as unwise people but as wise.” Paul intends us to be aware that our faith is not separate from our life. Be careful and let your life bear witness to your faith. Being wise means that we can discern between what is good and right and what is not. It means, too, that we can recognize the constant danger we face as Christians living in a hostile environment. And if there has ever been a hostile environment it is now. Therefore, we step carefully, we guard and protect the precious gift of salvation that we have been given. Through God’s Word, and empowered and guided by God’s Holy Spirit we embrace the wisdom of God.

Paul continues in verse 16— making the most of the time, The Greek word means to redeem something by payment of a price. Or something many of us are familiar with like on Amazon buying something quickly while it is available — I’m the king of ”striking while the iron is hot.” When used for redeeming time, it means making the most of one’s time — seizing the moment — take advantage of one’s opportunities. 

Paul is telling these Christians to make the most of their time, “because the days are evil.” We could respond by saying, of course! It doesn’t take a top-notch detective to find evidence that the days we live in are indeed evil. Just read the newspaper or FB or watch the nightly news. It’s a fact: the days are evil, more evil perhaps, than they have ever been! Or perhaps less civil than they have ever been. There’s no time to waste, he argues, the days are evil because we are on the brink of the new age. He isn’t interested in fixing what is wrong in this world but preparing us for living in the next one. He doesn’t challenge the social order, but asks how we can make it as much like the kingdom of heaven as possible. 

Wait! Back up for a moment. Think about that idea – not fixing what is wrong in this world but preparing for living in the next one. Is that really what is going on here? Is that how we’ve come to understand the faith? It’s all about getting us into heaven, not about making a difference in the world in which we live? If that were true, then The United Methodist Church is in big trouble. After all, we are in the business of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. 

We are looking to make a difference in the world, right? Well, maybe not. Notice it doesn’t say to make the world better, or to make a difference in the world. Yes, that is how we sometimes hear that mission. Leave the world a little better than it was when you found it. Nice idea, but not really the gospel. We are in the business of transforming the world. Ephesians 5 isn’t interested in fixing the world, but bringing in the next one. We are transforming this world into a kin-dom reality. Knowing, of course, that we can’t do it alone, we can’t do it by our efforts, but we can partner with the Spirit, as God brings in this new reality.

But there is something more at work here too. It’s about time. No really. If Paul were advising us to manage our time more effectively, he would use the word chronos — chronological time — the kind of time we see on the face of a clock — the kind of time that we use to keep track of appointments or to measure progress. But Paul uses a different word, kairos, which is significant time the decisive moment — the fork in the road that makes all the difference.  A kairos moment divides past from future — ushers us into a new kind of life. Paul’s use of kairos in this verse is a clue that he is thinking about the divide in Godly time that separates the present age (where evil rules) with the age to come (when God’s rule will be fully established). So, Paul is encouraging these Christians and us, who bear the name of Jesus Christ, to make the most of our time given and use our time well so that we might make the most of our opportunities, the right times to usher in the kingdom of Heaven on earth, and witness for Christ until he comes again.

What are these opportunities? First of all, since the days are evil and we are in danger of being sucked in by that evil vacuum, Paul wants us to seize every opportunity to be strengthened and built up by the means of grace – to be strengthened by God’s Word and Sacraments. How many times do we looks to scripture, prayer and devotion before we make decisions or have conversations? Or…Then he is leading us to “overcome evil with good” . Good what does that even look like today? 

One of my fellow pastors posted this on his FB page after we began coming out of COVID separation… that we as a society are experiencing one big group trauma together. Just list out all of the major things that have happened over the last 18 months, put them all in the context of the kind of global pandemic that no one alive has ever faced before, mix in any personal tragedy you've been experiencing, and you get one big, ongoing group trauma. It's going to take a long time for us to deal with what we've been going through. 

Not only are we experiencing group trauma together, but in the ways that we're responding to it, we're inflicting it on each other.  And in the midst of this, we've created a dangerous and destructive cycle: It is a hard time to be a human. We are not at our best. And out of a place of not being our best, we're both unintentionally and, at times, intentionally inflicting our worst on other people through our words and our actions and our attitudes, and the cycle continues.  We need to create a different kind of cycle.

And what does my pastor peep offer to lead us in that different cycle? The Book of Ephesians of course…Chapter 4             As Paul encourages us in v. 17 — So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. To “understand what the Lord’s will is.” This is where true wisdom is to be found. This is where a person can learn to be wise. But what is the will of the Lord for us and our world? So, the days are evil, writes Paul, so be careful. Careful? Meaning we watch out for ourselves? We keep ourselves separate and unstained from the world? Well, yes and no. There is certainly a call to higher living — “live a life worthy of the call” — remember? That is how the first part of this passage goes in one direction. 

But these verses say more than just watch out for yourself. It could also be read to say live full of care in a difficult time. There are many who are struggling; there are many who succumb to the demons of this age, to addiction, to hatred, to oppression, to fear, to lies. So, live full of care. Pay attention to the world around you, to the need around you, to the despair around you. Live fully invested in the kin-dom we proclaim, not in fear of the world that is less than that.

We aren’t called us to withdraw from a world in need of the gospel of grace and good news. Instead, we make the most of the time, not simply for ourselves. Not primarily for ourselves, but for the world that needs the community of faith to live out loud in transforming ways. In kin-dom ways. But how? How do we maintain engaging in the world when it seems hopeless, endless, worthless? These brief verses give us two directions for resourcing our inner strength.

 18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, Remember in Acts 2? The Lord continues to fill us with His Spirit.  As we are filled with the Holy Spirit, he gives joy in the midst of sorrow and suffering. He heals wounds and gives peace. He brings us comfort. The tool the Holy Spirit uses to do all this wonderful work inside of us is the Word and promises of the Lord. And Jesus has called us together to be His Church. We gather together and live our lives, filled by His Spirit. A Christian then should be a person of joy. Not that there aren’t moments of sorrow, times of struggle and of pain. But that the default mode for the follower of Christ is an attitude of joy that grows out of the second source of strength, gratitude.

And out of that gratitude we join together, praising the Lord,  sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, Through His Spirit we are able to, always  giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. This isn’t just good advice for getting along with people and serving God. Gratitude is a condition of the heart and a driver for all sorts of action, ministry, and service. Gratitude is the foundation of discipleship. It requires an awareness of our need for grace and an appreciation of the source of that blessing.

Every fourth week of November, we tell ourselves that Thanksgiving should not just be a once-a-year thing, but a way of living every day. Ephesians 5 is a call to remember that belief. it sums up with “at all times.” Paul is calling us to a life of thanksgiving, not just on Thanksgiving Day or even a week! He is calling for non-stop thanksgiving, not only at times of success and at happy events, but for everything! That is the “at all times” part of the text. This isn’t just about being thankful for food and plentiful harvests. It is about finding blessings in everyday living. And even when that living doesn’t feel so blessed. And while this text points to our attitude of gratitude toward God, it is also how we are supposed to be in relationship with each other within the human community. Because of our overwhelming gratitude toward God, we can also begin to appreciate one another and indeed all of creation as a part of that gift and a reminder of that presence. Giving thanks is underneath, the foundation of our journey of faith. It drives stewardship and mission. It brings us faithfully to worship week after week. It drives us to our knees in devotion and prayer. It opens the living Word of God as we explore the scriptures. 

Gratitude is the best motivator for evangelism. We tell the story because we are grateful for God’s action in our lives. We are reminded to be thankful for blessings overlooked or gifts forgotten. “Giving thanks at all times and for everything . . .” It’s a powerful way to live. What better way to exercise giving thanks than with an attitude of gratitude?

Geared Up for Life: Speaking Truth

September 4, 2022

Paul set the tone for today when he said, Walk a life worthy of the calling with which you were called (4:1). That is the key verse for this section too. In verses 1-16, he talked about the unity of Christ’s body, the church:  “One body and one Spirit…, one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in us all (4:4-6). While believers have various gifts and callings (apostles, prophets, etc.—4:11), we are called to build up the body of Christ (the church) “until we all attain to the unity of the faith” (4:12-13)—”knit together” (4:16). In verses 17-24, Paul contrasts the way that non-believers live with the way that believers live. Believers have learned to put away their old corrupt being and to put on a new identity in the likeness of God (4:24).

Children learn almost everything by imitation. Babies mirror their parents’ facial expressions and eventually repeat the sounds that adults make, getting better and better at it until the sounds become words. Young children copy their parents’ speech patterns, even when their parents wish they wouldn’t. As they grow, they imitate the adults around them in more complex ways, often picking up some combination of their parents’ habits, values, communication styles, and behaviors. 

The imitation sometimes grows even stronger during adulthood. Most of us have said to ourselves at one point or another that, “I sound just like my mother!” When Hannah was growing up, so many people would comment that we looked alike and acted alike -- two peas in a pod. This letter to the Ephesians reminds us that we are children, not only of our parents, but of God. And just as children imitate their parents, sometimes intentionally and sometimes completely without noticing it, when we are in relationship with God, we begin to mirror God. As we grow and mature in our faith, we increasingly embody and imitate the values and practices of God, so the person we see in the mirror shows God to those we meet. Then what does it mean be an imitator of God? 

First, imitators of God tell each other the truth. 25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, Paul is quoting Zechariah 8:16, where the prophet is encouraging the people of Judah to do those things that will build community. for we are members of one another. Members is often used to speak of the various parts of the body. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about feet and hands and ears and eyes and noses, each of which is vital to the human body and the body of Christ. We’re actually all part of each other, so dishonesty with your neighbor is not just a sin against them, it’s damaging to you. There’s a saying, “You’re only as sick as your secrets,” and I think that’s kind of the idea here. 

If you can’t tell someone else the truth about yourself, that shame festers and eats you up from the inside out. If you can’t tell someone the truth about what’s wrong in your relationship, the gap between you just gets bigger and bigger. This isn’t an excuse to be blunt to the point of meanness; we frame our honesty in the other traits in this passage but we tell each other the truth.

Second, imitators of God deal well with anger. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, This is a quotation from Psalm 4:4. Paul’s intent in quoting this verse is uncertain. He probably means, “If you are angry, don’t sin.” There is, of course, a place for righteous anger — anger at oppression and other unacceptable circumstances. However, we must be careful in case we too quickly determine our anger righteous and the anger of our opponents unrighteous.

This also acknowledges that you will be angry. By all means be angry, especially at injustice, but don’t let your anger define your behavior or even hang around too long. I have given this as a rule when doing marriage counseling but “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger” is a pretty useful principle for all of us. You’re going to be angry, but you don’t have to let it fester and grow inside you, and you don’t have to talk about it to everyone but the person you’re mad at and spread the anger around. We deal with anger directly and with a healthy measure of grace.

27 and do not make room for the devil. If we allow anger to lodge in our hearts, evil can easily tempt an angry person to act foolishly or to hurt other people. Keep your anger under control 

Third Imitators of God do not take what is not theirs, but rather work so that they can give extra to those in need. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 

29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, The Greek word means rotten or corrupt. People used it to talk about rotten fruit or meat — disgusting in their smell and appearance. People used the word metaphorically to speak of corrupt behavior. Now Paul is saying that Christians must be careful not to use (foul, disgusting) language.

What would create corrupt speech today? 

  • The use of curse words and four-letter words, not because they have great substance, but because they are not in keeping with our Christian witness.
  • But there are four letter forms of corrupt speech that are far more serious. Any words that are intended to belittle or humiliate others, because those words can be profoundly damaging to others. The old saying, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” is not true.  Humiliating words can cause greater damage.
  • Another form of corrupt speech has to do with the kinds of things that parents sometimes say to their children: “You’re no good!” or “You don’t know anything!” — the possibilities are nearly endless. 

But only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. This contrasts with corrupt speech, which wounds and tears down. So fourth Imitators of God watch what comes out of their mouths, making sure that what they say to others builds up, encourages and gives grace.

30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Fifth Imitators of God do not grieve the Holy Spirit, which is an obscure sort of statement, but which I think means simply this: act like who you are, which is a beloved child of God. Think of wonderful, loving parents and how much they are grieved when their children make destructive choices and endanger themselves. God is equally grieved when we make decisions that diminish us or others. Paul says, “Don’t bring sorrow to the Holy Spirit of God.” How would we bring sorrow to God? The same way we would bring sorrow to a parent or loved one: misbehavior, disobedience, laziness, undependability. We would grieve the Holy Spirit if we were to ignore Paul’s counsel in verses 26-29.

31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, Bitterness- This word was used for bitter or poisonous food or drink. That makes it a fitting word to describe bitter and poisoned relationships. There are various ways to think of bitterness. It is anger that has been nurtured and kept alive. A smoldering fire that consumes from the inside. It most often occurs when a person feels victimized, whether by a spouse, a boss, a co-worker, or whomever. But Paul tells us how to deal with it.  “Let (it) be put away from you.” The first step in that process should be prayer, because bitterness is sticky stuff that resists cleanup. We need God to heal our wounds so that we find it easier to forgive.

Anger- is the kind of smoldering anger that lies hidden beneath the surface, just waiting for an excuse to erupt. 

But Wrath- is more active. wrath is smoldering anger turned explosive let out of its cage. The New Testament repeatedly encourages Christians to put away anger and wrath. But how can we control our anger?  How can we get rid of it?

  • One step is to understand anger’s corrosive nature so that we will be motivated to bring it under control.
  • Another step is to engage in spiritual disciplines such as prayer, devotional reading of the Bible, and Christian fellowship. These disciplines can help us to develop self-discipline with regard to anger — and many other things.

Wrangling or “outcry” is public demand. While there are times when public outcry is appropriate, believers need to consider carefully whether our outcry stems from righteous outrage or wrath and anger “slander”.  I have always thought of blasphemy as disrespectful speech directed at God, but was surprised to find that it also applies to evil speech directed at people. 

Slander is a good translation, because it conveys the elements of evil intent and any untruth intended to undermine a person’s credibility — backbiting — malicious talk about another person who isn’t present to defend him/herself — spiteful speech — gossip. Slander isn’t limited to spoken words. It would include verbal communication of any sort — written text, emails, postings on the Internet, texting, and whatever comes next. It isn’t the method but the intent that qualifies something as blasphemia. “malice” is evil that is allowed to permeate the heart — and to inspire the person to plot against others.

Sixth Imitators of God put away bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, slander, and malice – all those internal and external ways that we think the worst of people and treat them accordingly. But reflecting God means that we choose not to assume the worst of intentions, or hold people’s wrongs against them, or dwell on the ways we’ve been insulted or hurt.

32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, “be kind” means kindness or gentleness. A kind person would tend to reach out to others, offering support of some sort — a kind word or a gift of food or money. “tenderhearted” is a gut-feeling word that refers to one’s inner organs — what the Greeks saw as the center of one’s emotions. It is usually translated “compassion”

forgiving one another,  There is a similarity between charizomai (forgiving) and charis (grace). In the New Testament, grace most often refers to the undeserved favor — the undeserved forgiveness given by God. However, it can also be used to refer to the loveliness of harmonious relationships

as God in Christ has forgiven you. When Peter asked Jesus in Matthew 18, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  Until seven times?” — Jesus responded, “I don’t tell you until seven times, but until seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22). Jesus then went on to give the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:23-35), the point of which is that God expects us to forgive as we have been forgiven —

Seventh Imitators of God hold kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness as the guiding principle their dealings with others. They assume generally good intentions and give people room to make mistakes. They remember that they have received grace and forgiveness from God and from other people, and they share that grace and forgiveness with others.

5 1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children,  In this verse, Paul tells us to imitate God — to look at the love the Father has given us and to respond in kind — loving God and neighbor.  2 and live in love, From very early times, Jews used the word “walk” to speak of the manner in which you conducted your life (Genesis 5:22, 24; 6:9; Psalm 1:1).  Paul means, “Live your lives steeped in love — love for God and love for neighbor.” as Christ loved you and gave himself up for us, Love is a powerful motivator. We love those who love us — and especially those who devote themselves to helping us. Paul says that Christ loved “you” (singular) — making the message personal — ”and gave himself up for us” (plural) making the message inclusive.

a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. The Torah required Israelites to make various kinds of sacrifices some burnt that had sweet smelling incense they thought that was pleasing to God.

So, how many of these values and practices do you see in your own life?  How have you grown further into these qualities over time, and where do you still have room for growth? None of us are ever going to be perfect or fully embody God, but as beloved children of God, we are to a greater or lesser degree imitators of God. How much of God do you see in your mirror? Let’s live into these 7 ways of being Imitators of God. 

Geared Up for Life: A Life Worthy

August 28, 2022

So far in Ephesians, Paul has spent the first three chapters  speaking about the incalculable riches of Christ. And this great gift of grace we have been given. Today, Paul makes a shift in his teaching to speak about practical truths for the Church. He gives us instruction and knowledge that will better help us operate as a church in which Jesus Christ is the head. And they are things I feel we all need to remember especially these days.  

Ephesians 4 is the beginning of what appears to be a powerful sermon on living as a Christian in a difficult, even hostile world. And all of this begins the chapter with an encouragement that leads to a life worthy that brings unity in different ways. 

And the first unity is Unity in our walk (vv. 1-6)

I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called. - Ephesians 4:1 Paul begins with a plea (“I beg you”) from a prisoner. He has surrendered his will to another. He has given over his desire to see his goals accomplished. As a prisoner, he invites us into a new way of living. As a captive, he wants to show us how to be free. Plus, he reminds us that this life is not an achievement on our parts. This is not a goal we reach or a level we surpass. This is a gift. Salvation, new life, new freedom, forgiveness is a gift. Our job is to realize the gift and live it. 

And what is the calling that they have received? Paul has just spent three chapters explaining that! We are elected, predestined, adopted, redeemed, we are part of the family of God, we have the inheritance of God, we have access to the incalculable riches of Christ! So Paul says that therefore we are to live or walk as another translation says in a manner that is worthy of this calling.

 In other words, we should have unity in the way that we live. These first verses place such a powerful emphasis on unity and we cannot help but see this through the repeated use of the word “one” throughout these verses. Paul goes on to characterize, or describe, what it looks like to walk worthy of the calling. He says in verses 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, How are you with those? 

Remember Ephesians Part one tells us everything we do is a response. This call to live in certain ways works only if we understand that we aren’t doing it to receive the grace that comes from God. It becomes possible only if we understand that we aren’t doing it to earn God’s love, Christ’s sacrifice, the gift called salvation. It has to be this way. All that we do as Christians, as followers, comes only after we are set free to love. What does that life look like? Humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love

So we are to be humble, meaning we think of others’ needs ahead of our own. We are to be patient, meaning we don’t prioritize our time and desires ahead of others. We are to bear with one another meaning that we put up with other people.

Notice that our bearing with one another is based in love! If we love each other (and we should) we should bear with one another. It is essential to our unity! Pause here for just a moment and ask yourself if these are qualities that describe you? Are these attributes that describe our church? Humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another in love. 

Well, what happens when we are humble, patient, and we bear with one another?  Go to verse 3: 3 making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”   it maintains the unity of the Holy Spirit and it binds us together in peace! Church don’t miss this: we don’t have to create unity. The work of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit has already given us unity. We are bound together by the calling of God, the sacrifice of Jesus, and the power of the Holy Spirit. When we are humble, patient, and we bear with one another, we maintain the unity that God has given us through His Holy Spirit. 

Likewise, when we are not humble, when we are not patient, and when we don’t bear with one another, we tear down the unity that God has given us. Think about it: I’ve never heard of a church split because the people were too humble and patient with each other. No! Disunity happens in the church because we do the opposite of what Paul tells us to do.

Sometimes we are a bear to other people, but I’m not sure how good we are at bearing with other people. One of the great philosophers of our congregation posted this: God Grant Me the Strength.  Klyne Snodgrass commentary on the book of Ephesians says, “The Christian life is a life of putting up with other people.” Amen to that! You might say, “Well PJ you don’t understand; it’s really hard to bear with so and so.” You don’t think that I understand? I have to bear with all of you and I love you anyway! Y’all have to bear with me and you love me anyway! So, also, you love one another and you bear with one another. Friends we will never be a fully unified church unless we are humble towards one another, patient towards one another, and we bear with one another. 

We are free to be all that Christ calls us to be. We are free to be humble and gentle and patient and loving; we are free to live in peace because the captivity of our nature has been made captive in Christ. Therefore, we can begin to approach leading a life worthy of this capturing, this calling. There is unity found in the way that we live and the way we act towards one another.

Paul then goes into a beautiful description of the unity that is found in the work of God. Look at verses 4-6. He says, “4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope at your calling— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

We already share all of these things listed in verses 4-6; we should also share unity together. The way of God is oneness and unity, and we can model that unity in the way that we, the church, live our lives. Let us develop unity in our walk.

Second Unity in our ministry(vv. 7-13) 

These next verses speak to the gifts that God has given to churches for ministry, which leads to unity and maturity in the faith. Paul first says 7 But to each one of us grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  The work of Christ has made it possible for us to experience the grace of God and the riches of God, which includes God gifting us with abilities to serve in ministry. Some of the gifts that God gives to the church are found in verse 11. It says, And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.” These positions were positions of leadership in the church that pointed people to the truth of the Gospel in different ways. Paul is saying that God has given leaders to the Church who teach and tell about the work of Jesus. 

As one writer relates:

What a gift it is to be sent out into the world to be a sign that God is still at work – apostles.
What a gift to be sent out as ones who tell the truth to a world that loves comfortable lies – prophets. 
What a gift to be the one who can find and proclaim good news even when everyone else sees negativity – evangelists. 
What a gift to be those who provide care for others, for the hurting and the broken – pastors.
What a gift to be those who bring knowledge, who lift up those who don’t understand this world and their place in it – teachers.
What a gift to build up the body! 

We then see the reason that these leaders are in the church. We see the result of their teaching and telling the church about the Gospel of Jesus. Look at verses 12 and 13:   “12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.”

Look at these various results of God giving these leaders to the church:
 (1) to equip the saints,
 (2) to build up the body of Christ,
 (3) to reach maturity in the faith,
 (4) to reach maturity in the knowledge of Jesus,
 and (5) to grow in maturity like Jesus wants us to look.
 Wow! That’s a lot of benefits!

Catch this, church: God wants to use leaders in ministry to help others grow in ministry and maturity for the benefit of the church! In case you didn’t realize what’s going on here, everyone in the church is ministering! Some are ministering as leaders and some are ministering in other ways, but they are all working in unity for the benefit of the church, for the growth in knowledge of the church, and for growing like Jesus in the church. 

Members of Nolensville First are you ministering for the good of the church? Are you doing your part to develop unity, maturity, and knowledge in the church? We will be talking about that very thing soon…Nominations… We should remember we are a Lay-led Church. Once we find a direction we need to get to work!  It's us not staff! … find your story to serve…

Why? Because pastors are not supposed to do all the ministering. Our role is to equip the saints. The main ministries for pastors in the Bible is on teaching, praying, leading, and equipping. We are to teach you, pray with and for you, lead you, and equip you for ministry. Well, who does all the other ministry?  You do! That’s God’s design! So, when you are tempted to say something like, “Well that’s just the job of the pastor,”  Paul says no. The job of the leaders of the church is to equip the church to be the church, for the good of the church, to be like Jesus wants the church to be, all for the glory of God! Let us continue to develop unity in our church and let us do so by unity in our ministry. 

And last Unity in our growth (vv. 14-16)

Paul says what the result will be if the church  follows these instructions towards unity. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Paul says that if we walk in unity, if we serve in unity, and if we grow into maturity, then we will no longer be like little children, who are easily drawn away by false teaching. 

Paul goes on to say in verse 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. Let us speak what is true to each other, but let us do so in love. Let us encourage each other, unify each other, build up each other. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

As we speak the truth in love, we will grow into Jesus who is the head of the Church. As we grow in Jesus we are fit together and knit together, we are bound together, and we are supporting each other. Every individual member of the body of Christ is important to its unity, stability, and growth. Paul says at the end of verse 16 that the church is  unified and built, “ . . . by the proper working of each individual part.”

Church, let us find unity by maturing together, teaching one another, encouraging one another, and stabilizing one another. Let us find unity in our growth. We find unity in our walk, we find unity in our ministry, and we find unity in our growth. Let us live a life worthy of our calling.


Geared Up for Life: Rooted & Grounded in Love

August 21, 2022

This is the end of the first part of the letter to the Ephesians. The first three chapters 1-3, don’t include many requirements, or commands. They don’t tell us how to live as much as they tell us what God has done for us. The next three chapters, chapters 4-6, tell us how to respond to grace and are full of essentials and commands. Basically, we have Grace coming in. And Grace going out. 

Paul understands how difficult this is to “get” because he includes a prayer for the believers to understand the Grace coming to us in chapter 1 and again today as he wraps up chapter 3. He is praying for us to experience God’s grace — Have you ever put a lot of work into a gift and given it to someone with the hope that they would like it? Maybe you’ve written a letter or created a card and you hope that when they read it they will realize how much you’ve thought about them and care for them. Maybe you’ve spent a bunch of time knitting a sweater or hat and you hope they will be happy with what you made. Maybe it’s how children feel when they draw a picture or make a craft and bring it to their parents. If their parents look at it and say, “You could have done better” and throw it away, do you think the child will want to make them another picture or craft? We want people to receive the things we’ve prepared for them. 

Paul has brought the Ephesians and us a gift. He’s brought them the gift that God worked so hard to prepare — grace. And now he is praying they will receive God’s grace. In the first three chapters of Ephesians God has given us his grace — his love given to us without us having to do anything but believe in Jesus and even before that in prevenient grace. Will we receive what God has given or will we put it away because God could have made something better, he almost asks us? So, Paul concludes LIFE with what has come to be called the prayer for the church.  It isn’t a prayer necessarily, as it is not addressed to God, but to the hearers in the church. It is a prayer he hopes we will hear:

3:14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, Notice Paul says he bowed his knees before the Father? For us today, that does not really get our attention. But for the Jews in the 1st Century, it would have.  Why? Because it was not customary for Jews to kneel when praying. They would stand and rock back and forth as you see them at the Western Wall in Jerusalem today for instance. For a Jew to kneel, it was an extraordinary event. We see Jesus kneeling in Gethsemane on the eve of His death. But I think Paul is kneeling here because of the impact of the revelation he had been given to share. He is kneeling and showing “before the Father” again with deep emotion.

Then comes the therefore;  we also need to know “for what reason” Paul or the writer is talking about. “For this reason,” Paul writes. What’s the reason? Well, he spends the first part of the letter explaining the reason and we have looked at it over the last couple of Sundays. What is the reason? It is because of the immeasurable grace of God. Because in that grace, all are welcome; all are included. All. And for Paul, all means all. Some of the rest of them had to struggle with all. Surely not gentiles, they said; surely not pagans, surely not enemies, surely not those whose lives are just way too different from ours, who don’t speak our language, who don’t dress like we do, think like we do, work like we do. Not all, surely. No, says Paul, all means all. And for this reason, I fall to my knees in awe of God.

In order for us to be able to receive God’s grace the way he intends, and for it to change us in a positive way, we need a change of heart. We need something deep inside of us to move. And that is exactly what Paul is praying for today. He is praying for our hearts that we can receive God’s grace. I don’t know about you but I can talk and talk about God’s grace and it doesn’t change me one bit. But if God gets ahold of my heart, and your heart, our hearts, then not only will we appreciate the gift of God’s grace, we’ll be able to live differently because of God’s grace. Paul prays for four prayer requests in his prayer. The first is this…

1. WE PRAY FOR INNER STRENGTH THROUGH THE SPIRIT.  3:16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit,  “I pray that you may be strengthened,” writes the author of the letter.  “You” being the church, or us. Paul is praying that we might come to understand something of what is going on here. Have you ever lost your inner strength? Something happens and you just lose it. You lose your strength to believe. You lose your strength to be a good husband or wife or child. You lose your strength to be a good Christian. Sometimes we have to lose our strength so we can find God’s strength. 

“Everyone in our church is going through something.” Everyone here has something that is stressing them out or they wish was different. And maybe you’ve been trying to handle it, but it just keeps getting worse and worse. What if God wants us to get weaker before we can get stronger? What if we actually need to be weak in order to understand God’s grace?

2) WE PRAY FOR CHRIST TO DWELL IN OUR HEARTS THROUGH FAITH. 3:17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, Although the two verses are connected,  the first half of verse 17 is its own prayer request. When Moses built the tabernacle God’s glory  came down in the form of a cloud and filled it. When king Solomon built the temple God’s glory came down in the form of a cloud and fill it. And now, Paul is praying that God’s glory through the Holy Spirit would dwell and fill our hearts with Christ. What do you fill your heart with? Have you ever filled your gasoline tank with the wrong fuel? Instead of filling up with unleaded you fill it up with diesel? (blue pump) Instead of giving you extra power what does it do? It doesn’t work. It can cause a lot of damage. The engine is designed to run on unleaded. God built us to run on him. We run on his Holy Spirit who is centering our hearts on Christ Jesus.

3) WE PRAY THAT WE WOULD BE ROOTED AND GROUNDED IN LOVE. as you are being rooted and grounded in love. What does it mean to be rooted and grounded in love? Paul uses two word pictures to express what he is praying for (Col 2:6-7). The first is that of a plant or a tree. To be “rooted” in something is to dive deep into the soil and to draw your life from it. In Matthew 13 Jesus tells the parable of different soils. The seed the sower scatters is the gospel message—the good news. He scatters some seed on rocky ground, someone who hears the word and first received it with joy, but doesn’t have any roots. And what happens to it? Since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes, they quickly fall away.

A life rooted in the gospel won’t fall away when times get tough, and they will. They are. They are going to be days and weeks and maybe months ahead when grace feels far away, but that’s when we need to have our roots deep in love — love for each other and love for God, deep in our understanding of God’s love for us. We want deep roots in God’s grace and God’s word. A believer who is rooted in God’s grace and love won’t walk away when the storms come. 

 If you’re rooted in love, you won’t walk away when your church family hurts you or the leadership does something you don’t like or when ministry doesn’t seem to be going anywhere or when something goes terribly wrong in your life. If you’re grounded in love, you’ll be able to receive God’s grace and extend it to those around you who really need it.

The last part says Grounded. NIV says “established,” which is another word for a “foundation.” A house with a good foundation won’t fall when the tornado comes. The easiest thing to do when the going gets tough is to turn away from loving each other, but if we do that we actually uproot ourselves and become ungrounded. This naturally leads into the fourth prayer request.

4) WE PRAY FOR OUR HEARTS TO GRASP THE GREATNESS OF CHRIST’S LOVE.  3:18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, In his book Ephesians for You by Pastor Richard Coekin, he describes what each of these descriptions of Christ’s love for us means. 

“Wide” illustrates his accepting love. Christ’s love is for Jew and Gentile, white, black, Hispanic, Asian,  rich, poor, middle-class, grade-A students or dropouts, gay, lesbian, straight those struggling with obvious sins and those struggling with hidden sins. Christ’s is available for anyone no matter what you’ve done or haven’t done. Christ opens wide his arms and embraces anyone, no matter how broken

“Long” illustrates his lasting love. There is nothing you have done, can do, or will do that can separate you from the love of Christ if your one of his. Paul already talked about how God “chose us in him before the creation of the world…” (Eph 1:4) Does that sound like there’s any time you will ever be separated from his love?

“High” illustrates his exalting love. In Ephesians 2:6-7 God’s promise to raise us up and seat us with Christ and then pour out “the incomparable riches of his grace” on us “in the coming ages.” One day we’re going to get just how much goodness Christ has in store for us.

“Deep” illustrates his sacrificial love. The cross is a well. The longer we look into this cross-shaped well the deeper Christ’s love appears. It’s at the cross that Jesus himself took on the full burden of God’s wrath so that you and I, people who aren’t loving enough, who aren’t gracious enough, who choose self over others so that we could be forgiven and saved.

3:19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. He prays that we might know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge! So how do you know the unknowable? It has to get past our heads and into our hearts. So what are our four requests?

We pray for inner strength through the Spirit. 

We pray for Christ to dwell in our hearts through faith. 

We pray that we would be rooted and grounded in love. 

We pray for our hearts to grasp the greatness of Christ’s love.

We pray for hearts that can experience God’s grace. My heart in its own capacity can’t experience God’s grace. That’s why Paul’s prayer is so important. But although I can’t change my heart, Christ can. Christ can help us “get grace.” We’re reminded of his power in the closing two verses, 20-21 that tell us there is nothing our God cannot do: 3:20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, And our vision is limited, so we’ll trust in the one who sees more and can work what seem like miracles every day – far more than all we ask or imagine, because we don’t know how to ask or imagine. We’ll just love. Together. That’s the other important secret of this passage. All the yous are plural. We do this better together, this learning to love thing, this living in hope thing, this being filled with all the fullness thing. We do it, we know it, we experience it better together. All y’all. Us all. Now that’s worthy of a doxology, right, so Paul gives us a great one: 3:21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Geared Up for Life: He Is Our Peace

August 14

You don’t have to go too far to discover walls of hostility that divide people. Unfortunately, conflict is one of the most ordinary spaces and places in which we live as human beings. It is true at the global level. Nations are constantly clashing against nations: Russia and Ukraine, Israelites and Palestinians, China and Taiwan.

It’s true at the national level. The mudslinging between Republicans and Democrats is just going to get worse the closer and closer to elections beyond the primaries. It’s true in the back seat of our car. These sweet little, innocent children draw an imaginary line between them and spit out words like, “Don’t cross that line! Mom, she’s touching me!”

And it is inside of us too. I would like you to think about conflict that you are experiencing in your life right now. Hold it in your mind. Now, I want us to think about conflict like a brick wall that is built between us and that person or group of people. How do you build a wall? One brick at a time. Each of those bricks are moments in time. They are actions taken, words spoken, love withheld. A bitter word. A hateful comment. A cold shoulder. Brick after brick is laid down until, sometimes the wall is so high and so thick that it seems impossible to change. Can you see that wall in your mind? The question for us today is, “How can we break down this wall?”

That is something Ephesians 2 is trying to talk about. I encourage you to take out your Bible and turn to Ephesians 2:11-22. So many things jump out at us in these verses. There is division in this passage, separation. There is us and them; there is then and now; there is the in and the out, the strangers and the citizens, the aliens and the members of the household. It makes you wonder what a word like peace is doing in such a setting. It makes you wonder if peace is even possible when there is so much division. It would take a monumental effort to overcome those divisions and tear down those walls. It would take something that seems beyond us.

The Apostle Paul or whoever wrote Ephesians may have written this letter from prison because he was accused of breaching a wall. The Temple that sat in the heart of Jerusalem was a series of walled in courtyards. You can see in this illustration. Right here, in the center is the Temple itself. Only priests were allowed inside the Temple, because this represented the very presence of God. Even then, only one priest was allowed to go into the Most Holy Place, and that only once a year. 

Then the next courtyard was called the Court of Israel. Which meant that only circumcised male Jews were allowed to come in here. 

The next courtyard was the court of women. Again, only Jewish women were allowed here. Then, way out here, on the side, was the Court of Gentiles. If you were not a Jew, you were not welcome here. 

Enter Paul. He had been out trekking around the countryside, interacting with Gentiles. He even brought some Gentiles back with him. The horror! He was accused of bringing one of the Gentiles into this space. Gasp! That’s why they wanted to kill him.

 I take the time to map this out because when Paul speaks of a wall of hostility, he is not just speaking in the abstract. He’s talking about this physical representation of the division and exclusion of people from the community of God’s people that he and others are experiencing.

Let’s look at what he says. This passage can be broken down into two main parts, a before and an after. In the before part he says: 11 So remember that once you were Gentiles by physical descent, who were called “uncircumcised” by Jews who are physically circumcised. 12 At that time you were without Christ. You were aliens rather than citizens of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of God’s promise. In this world you had no hope and no God.

Here’s the key phrase in the whole passage: But now Say it with me. But now. Again. But now. Something has changed because of Jesus. Look at how central Jesus is this section. 13 But now, thanks to Christ Jesus, you who once were so far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. 

Peace  is a significant word, occurring nearly a hundred times in the New Testament. It has its roots in the Hebrew word shalom, which was used frequently in the Old Testament. Both words can refer to an inner kind of peace — the kind of well-being that is derived from a deep relationship with God — the kind of wholeness that comes from having the image of God, once shattered by brokenness, restored in the believer.

But both can also refer to an external kind of peace — the absence of violence among individuals or nations. Peace is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Another translation talks about he broke down the middle wall of partition literally “the dividing wall of hostility.” This brings once again to mind the wall in the Jerusalem Temple that separated the Court of the Gentiles (the outermost court) from the rest of the temple. Signs posted on that wall warned Gentiles that they were barred from entry into the rest of the temple — and that the penalty for breaching the wall would be death.

We must keep in mind that the wall had two Godly purposes then though. It was intended:

  •  To keep the Gentiles safe, in case they wandered inadvertently into the sacred parts of the temple and suffer deadly consequences.
  •  To keep that which was holy (the inner parts of the temple) separate from that which was not holy (Gentiles).

But once Jesus completed his work, there was no longer a need for a wall in the temple. That was why the temple curtain was torn in two at his death to symbolize that Jesus became the temple, and there was no room in his heart for a wall to separate Jews and Gentiles.

People construct walls in their minds and hearts — walls that do not necessarily express themselves in concrete form. We hear that, “Good fences make good neighbors.” But we must learn to ask, “Why do they make good neighbors?” We must learn instead things like from one of my favorite poets Robert Frost in Mending Wall Before I built a wall I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down”. That something is God. God wants to bring down the walls that divide us.

We all have a tendency to think in terms of “them” versus “us.” We are drawn to those who are like us and repelled by those who are not. But Christ said everything in the commandments was condensed into a call to us to love our neighbor and love God. 15 He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. 16 He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God.

You see, this is the Gospel. This is the good news. Jesus has put to death that hostility through his death on the cross in his flesh. You know we say this all the time, but have ever asked how that works? What really happened?

Think about it this way. The biggest wall of hostility in the universe is the wall built between us and God. How many times have we hurt God by our pettiness, and anger, and lying, and cheating, and on and on. If anyone had the right to be hostile toward us it would be God. But God looks at us. God looks at you and me and says, “Tear down the wall. I have died to your sin and the many times you have hurt me and others. But I forgive you, and I love you.” And as he looks at us with that eternal love, all the bricks just vanish.

Reconciliation involves a change in a relationship from bad to good — from hostility to friendship. God accomplished the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles “through Christ” through the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection.

17 When he came, he announced the good news of peace to you who were far away from God and to those who were near. 18 We both have access to the Father through Christ by the one Spirit.

And then Jesus looks at the walls of hostility that still remain between us and says, I’ve knocked this down. I have proclaimed peace. How ‘bout it? What about your wall today? Look at each of those bricks. Each of those hurtful things that you want to cling to. Once you were defined by them. Once there was the other person far off on the other side, and you on this side. But now. Because of God’s love demonstrated in Jesus, and through the power of God’s Spirit moving between us, we can let go of the past, forgive the bricks, and work toward the future of peace in the presence of God.

And because He is our Peace: 19 So now you are no longer strangers and aliens. Rather, you are fellow citizens with God’s people, and you belong to God’s household. 20 As God’s household, you are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 

At one time Gentiles were strangers, people who were just passing through without ever gaining the rights and privileges of citizenship. They were also foreigners, people from another culture, another place — people with a different value system — people who worshiped a different god. People are always uncomfortable in the presence of those who don’t belong, because they don’t feel that they can trust them. Those who don’t belong feel uncomfortable, because they sense that lack of trust. It doesn’t take much to bring that discomfort to a boil — to turn it into anger or violence.

But now these Gentiles have become “fellow citizens with the saints” They are also now “citizens…of the household of God” — enjoying all the rights and privileges of kingdom citizenship. We seldom notice the foundation of a building, but it is essential to the well-being of the building and everyone inside.  And I can remember in college after the 1989 San Francisco earthquake  (the one that shut down the World Series), Later we learned that many older homes had not been attached with secure ties to their foundations — so they simply slid off their foundations. In just one minute, what had been home and hearth was reduced to a pile of debris.

Contractors can tell you that they want to oversee a foundation that they are pouring for a new home. One said to me once I have learned over the years that, if you get the foundation right, the rest of the house will go well. If you get the foundation wrong, you’ll never recover.”

Architecturally, a cornerstone was a large stone — typically the largest and most perfect stone in the building — selected to span both sides of a corner, anchoring the two walls. Spiritually, a cornerstone is that which holds us together through the shakes and rattles of life. Christ is our cornerstone.

21 The whole building is joined together in him, and it grows up into a temple that is dedicated to the Lord. 22 Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit. With his resurrection and ascension, Christ became the new temple — the temple not made with hands — the one who provides atonement for our sins. Most Christians can relate to Christ as the new temple. But the truly astonishing part is that both the church as a whole and its individual members have become the temple of God. 

Paul says that Christ has fitted us together — stitched us together — to be a holy temple. Consider that next Sunday as you look around at the other members of your congregation. It is amazing that Christ could have built a temple from such ordinary-looking materials like us.

The walls are down, but we still live as though they were not.  We still live as though there are still strangers and aliens, as though there are those in and those out; as though there are those near and those far. We build the walls that Christ destroyed and find ourselves not protected but imprisoned. If we let those walls stay up, then we will never know peace. He is our peace. He is what binds us together into one body, into one family.

Maybe this week you can start with one brick. I challenge you to think about that wall, and think about the bricks. Choose one thing that someone has done to you. Write it down. Ask God to give you the strength to smash it. Jesus has smashed it already. Just let yourself see it dissolve. One brick at a time, let’s let the walls fall down. 

Because He is Our Peace. 

Geared Up for Life: Setting Our Hope

August 7, 2022

When we went out West last summer, We saw so many beautiful things like mountains, waterfalls, rivers, hot pools & springs, geysers, salt lakes. And as we spent time digging deeper into their beauty there was so many different details depending on how you looked at each one of them.

I want to invite each of you to do the same thing with the book of Ephesians. To dig down deep into this letter to find the streams of living water that will bring refreshment and revitalization to all of us in this world that is weary, travel hesitant, and a hope-starved people. Because that is indeed what Ephesians offers. That is what this “queen of the Epistles” as it has been called shares with us.  

And instead of trying to figure out how to necessarily connect each one of these chapters together I want you to stop by the stream and let each message, each view stand on its own, like every drink of refreshment in the heat from a single source. Each sip is good just by itself and we don’t want to gulp, and if we get a glimpse of the larger whole, then that is so much better; but if we don’t, we can just dwell in each moment as complete by itself. Like looking at the mountains

So, what do we need to know about a letter like Ephesians? Well maybe that this letter is different from all the others. Or that even the name of the church addressed doesn’t appear in all the manuscripts and that some wonder if maybe this was designed to be a circular letter, passed from hand to hand, congregation to congregation. Or that we aren’t sure who wrote this letter, it does sound like Paul’s thoughts, but it uses language and grammar that is unique to Ephesians alone. 

Or that this letter is the least personal of all the letters, in some ways,  which forces us even more to look at the words themselves and not attempt to get a glimpse behind the curtain at what caused this Epistle to be written. That is enough to wet the whistle of the Johannian disciples out there. I would encourage you to do a deep dive on what else is behind the scenes in Ephesians. All of that will help us to engage more fully in these words that tell us the nature of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and a desire to help others find their way into their relationship with Jesus. Once we know some of the background then we come back to the question, “Where do we start?” 

The author or Paul introduces himself in Ephesians  as "an apostle by the will of God" – someone sent to bring good news, not by his own power, or by how much money he has, or how many followers he has on Instagram, or by the divine right of Kings, or by the fact that he won an election, or by the strength of his weightlifting, or by his ability to do three flips and 2 1/2 twists in midair or break a world or Olympic record.

Paul already tried that. The book of Acts tells us about it. He was climbing the social ladder of the Pharisees, trying to be the best Jewish person he could be, and clamping down on the upstarts who thought they had seen the Messiah. Paul had the gold medal for his persecution prowess.

As we discovered the early disciples devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. They were gathering in the temple courts and in their homes. And daily, God was adding to their number. A movement was growing. The Holy Spirit was creating something entirely new and completely unexpected. It was challenging the religious authority of the Jews and it was challenging the political power of the Roman Empire.

And most of all it was changing lives and opening hearts. Are we still open to that Holy Spirit power today? Because the more I look around at the church and our world it is becoming more real to me that only the Holy Spirit is going to change people lives and hearts no matter how hard we try. So where do we start to hear this life changing message? Well, we are encouraged to start where the text starts – with good news. Just look at the opening verses from our text:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, (Eph. 1:3-5).

You are blessed! You are chosen! You are part of the family! What a declaration offered all of us thirsty people in a desert world of failure and exclusion and neglect and disappointment. Good news for those struggling with feelings of self-worth or an older person feeling neglected and abandoned by family. A parched people of the pandemic who need to hear good news.

Of course, if it is amazing to hear such a proclamation to begin with, and think of the joy it is to be able to proclaim such a word. As the text unfolds it becomes revealed that this good news is not to be contained within the walls of the community of faith. 

6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 

The hope and the will of God, the beloved, is that the whole world will be gathered up into the blessing that is covenant with God into the beloved community. And our job, it appears from these verses, is to open wide the arms of graced-filled faith and to welcome, to bless, to adopt into our family all the sons and daughters of God. 

11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance,[b] having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 

This is the “purpose of him who accomplishes all things” and therefore our purpose as well. We who have been adopted are now the adopters. We who have been blessed are now the ones who bless. We who have been included are now the includers. The circle enlarges; the ripples work out to bring transformation to a world sorely in need of the influence of the kin-dom of the kingdom.

And this part of Ephesians 1 ends with a promise of nourishment, a reminder that we aren’t on our own as we navigate this discipleship path of our faith journey…  13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 

We are “marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit,” but not promised as in, “One day you’ll get this, if you are good and eat all your vegetables.” 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. No, we are promised, as in, “You have it; that presence is there; you can count on it; you can lean into it; you can trust that you are not alone as you seek to live out and proclaim the good news of adoption and blessing.” 

As a sign of that presence, there is a community that surrounds you and me – a community that is a part of you inside too. As Ephesians unfolds, we will begin to discover that the purpose of this blessing and this inclusion is to bring unity and to offer praise to God. Today we see the praise but the unity is in the weeks to come. 

Except if we go back and look at what these verses says we see unity already all over it. You all are blessed; we are adopted; all y’all give praise to God. So often we try to individualize the faith and make it our own instead of our own as all the believers. Our presence, community, relationship together. Yes, of course, the individual matters; yes, each is called and valued and lifted up. 

But the true impact of the faith is when we participate in the life of the community, when we offer to God even our relationships as the means of witness and praise, as we engage with a hurting world with the balm of blessing and bring healing and wholeness and peace. ( Feed the Need)

The author Paul or whoever says all this is the result of what? Well, there is a verse I skipped over not by accident but I intentionally left out: so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.

The choice we made of setting our hope on Christ.  This hope is not a thin wish with fingers crossed that we make with our eyes mostly closed. Instead, it is the purpose behind our living. It is the driving force that moves us out of despair into joy, out of self into relationship, out of the church walls into the world to live that hope out loud. We set our hope on Christ; now let us live that hope each day even when the days seems dark.

And in verse 15, the author of Ephesians talks about his gratitude for the small remnant of true believers who were willing to be receptive to his message of Christ crucified and risen again. 

15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints,

He found people, in the midst of his messed up former life, who were willing to believe he wasn't crazy or dangerous. These weren't the popular kids at the lunch table. But they were his people.

And Paul tells us in verse 21 that the risen Christ is far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. " .The power of the Holy Spirit is greater than the power and dominion of earth, more valuable than money or fame, stronger than warriors and military might, and better than any goodness that comes from human striving. And that's worth giving up everything else – because nothing can ever separate us from the love of God that gives us hope and peace beyond understanding.