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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.

The Essentials: Worship

July 31, 2022

And when you go beyond Acts 2:42 into verses 46 and 47 you find the other 3 things that the early church found essential to their faith and to ours as well. We talked about being devoted to small groups and Serving together.

The last of those in verse 46 is that they gathered together in the temple to worship. Different translations say different things about what they did in the temple to be called worship in some. So that really caused me to ask myself what did their worship look like and what should our worship look like? 

I mean do we even know what it means to worship and is there true worship? Are there right ways to do it and wrong ways to do it? I would say that every single one of us has a different picture in our mind’s eye of what that worship would look like right? What does it include and what does it not include? We can have everything we want or it would be a very long service. The Black and Hispanic community worship for several hours. 

So, I guess what I am asking is…what are the worship essentials according to the Bible not our preference if that makes sense.

Psalm 100:4 says “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.” Lots of church including ours use that wording of praise and worship. But what is praise and how is it different than worship? One writer says that Praise is acknowledging and thanking God for the things God has done in your life. We offer praise to God as thanksgiving, remembering the wonderful works God has done. The word praise in the dictionary means to express warm approval or admiration. When we praise God, we are expressing our admiration to God. Anyone can do this. You don’t have to be a Christian to offer praise. You can see something God has done and praise him for it. 

So then what is worship? To some people, worship is about modern bands with keyboards or guitars and drums. To others, it’s about hymns, organs or solemn reverence and ritual. People have expressed worship in many ways in various denominations, traditions, cultures, and throughout the history of the church. 

What if biblical worship is not mainly about music or an event? What if it’s not even mainly about the sense of the presence of God, freedom to express emotions, or following a certain form? These can be related to worship, but what is really at the heart of worship? And it seems to me if we are going to find the heart of worship then where do we have to go? The Bible right.

What is worship according to the Bible? Well in the NT the most common words translated worship in the Bible mean to kneel or lay face down before someone as an act of reverence. Biblical worship is acknowledging that God is the King and results in living lives in light of that truth. to lay one’s self before God. 

What is the word worship in Hebrew, in the Old Testament? worship means to bow down, prostrate oneself, before a monarch or superior, in homage, etc. Both of the primary words in Hebrew and Greek for worship in the Bible mean the same thing: to bow down or lay one’s face to the ground. It’s an acknowledgment of God’s glory. There is someone who is transcendent and glorious and God is worthy of our full allegiance and devotion!

Webster's defines worship in a way that encapsulates the priority we should give to worship as a spiritual discipline: Worship is to honor with extravagant love and extreme submission. The Biblical words describe the actual act of worship, that of kneeling, bowing, or lying prostrate on the ground. The English translation describes the reason we would do what the Bible says. Psalm 95:6 describes the act of Biblical worship with two synonyms.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;  let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! So worship is to bow down or lay our face before God. This physical act is worship when it reflects the heart’s posture to follow the King according to the Psalmist. And worship becomes a beautiful and powerful reality if we understand it from God’s perspective more than ours which we find throughout the Psalms which many are songs of worship. And I have included a list of 72 scriptures 

So even though they are often grouped together, worship goes beyond praise. Worship is reserved for those who are in fellowship with God. Biblically only those who belong to the body of Christ can truly worship God. We as followers worship God not just praise God for the things God has done but because of who God is. Worship is a spiritual act that happens when your spirit connects with God’s Spirit. 

This is what Jesus means in John 4:24 when talking to the woman at the well about the place to worship says: God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth."

To worship in spirit is to be led by the living God and to know the joy that comes from fellowship with the Holy Spirit. Our experience of worship can be alive when we worship in spirit. True worship must first be in spirit – led by the Spirit and involves our spirit, the in-most part of our being. Then what is it to worship in truth? Truth what is truth?  To worship in truth is to ground our life in God’s truth, in God’s eternal Word, the Bible. We cannot worship however we want and do whatever we feel like. To worship is to bow before God and to delightfully follow His orders. G.O.D Grateful Obedience Dependence. 

You have to both for the heart of worship. Spirit and truth. Because if we worship in Spirit without the Word (the truth) then we might love Jesus, but if we don’t do what He commands, we don’t really love Him. It’s merely lip-service. And if we worship in truth without the Spirit, it becomes legalism. We might be doing the right things, but if our hearts are not encountering the living God, then we miss the most important thing. 

Jesus is building a church and talking about a church that worships in both spirit and in truth. Jesus is building a church that is neither motivated by legalism nor lawlessness. To truly worship in spirit and in truth is to love God and to keep His commandments (John 14:15). And this Companion is ? The Spirit of Truth. 

This can only happen when people truly know Jesus, who He is and what He has done. This draws love from the very core of our being. Jesus is worthy of our worship. He is the Heart of Worship. It is all about you Jesus. In contemporary worship, sometimes we can talk a lot of times as if worship is almost synonymous with music. Worship is much more than music or an event like a worship service. 

Music is a gift from God and has been associated with Christian worship since the beginning. Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs are part of being filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:17-21). But we can’t just get content singing the songs. Music is powerful and valuable as long as it fosters true worship, a heart that follows and obeys Jesus. Reverence.

The danger is this: it is possible to have music and everyone singing and even sensing God’s presence and never really worship according to the Bible. There is that fear of becoming a show. So, we have to examine ourselves to see if our thoughts, feelings, and traditions (whether traditional or contemporary) line up with Scripture.

“‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;” Matt. 15:8 (ESV) This is a hard word, but we have to remember that it’s possible to honor God with our lips, our words, our singing, but our hearts still be far from God. The call to worship is not a rally to come and watch a performance no matter the style. Or to come and see what we are going to get out of it. It’s the full surrender of a heart to God.

Worship can only be measured by the fruit of a transformed life. When we ask someone, “How was worship today?” the answer shouldn’t be about the quality of the music, rating the sermon, the emotion of the moment, or even our sense of God’s presence. 

A biblical response would be: “Worship was great! My heart was convicted, I humbled myself, and I committed to obeying Jesus. I will forgive people who wronged me. I asked Holy Spirit to empower my heart to follow through with it.” If we follow through and worship brings us into a right relationship with God, then true worship has taken place.

Music is a beautiful gift from God and can be a powerful expression of true worship. But it’s not the musical skill or ensemble but the posture to follow Jesus in everything. Whether it’s one person strumming chords in a living room or a stadium full of worshippers, whenever people seek to observe all that Jesus commands, true worship can take place.

Because real worship is not about the songs that you are singing, it is about your spirit connecting. When you understand who God is, when you see God’s wonder and greatness, when you recognize the awesomeness of God’s splendor and the beauty of God’s holiness, then worship will happen regardless of whether it is between 8:30 and 12 on a Sunday morning. And we are not waiting to go to worship but to be in worship every hour every day.

Worship is the heartbeat of a disciple, or follower, of Jesus Christ. To come under Jesus’ authority, to follow Him with all our hearts, to do His orders joyfully because we know that’s where true joy and life are at. And so biblical worship involves our whole being: spirit, soul, and body. One writer defined Biblical Worship as not just a cerebral pursuit, an emotional exaggeration, or a mystical consciousness. Worship is a presentation of our entire being, ignited by the Holy Spirit, as a living sacrifice to God.

And we get sense from Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Worship involves our bodies. 1 Cor. 6:19-20 (ESV) reminds us: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?  You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

With our bodies, which are created in God’s image, we can express our worship to God. There are many words in the Bible that show physical expressions of worship. 

Biblical expressions of worship can include kneeling (Phil. 2:9-10), bowing heads (Micah 6:6-8), raising heads (Psa. 3:3-4; Heb. 4:16), lifting up hands (Lam. 3:40-41; Psa. 63:3-4), and dancing before the Lord (Psa. 30:11; 149:3; 150:4)

Worship involves our minds. Worship engages our intellect as we allow our minds to be renewed by God’s Word (Rom. 12:2). Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. 

Intellect cannot accurately lead us to God. We can only know what is knowable to us and what we choose to accept. But if we are truly led to God, our intellects will be satisfied and can more properly and fully appreciate the truth that God reveals.

True worship is spiritual. It goes beyond just intellect and emotions. God is Spirit, so our worship must involve our spirit, the in-most part of our being, as we’re led by the Spirit of God. The call to worship is before us. Let’s offer our bodies as a living sacrifice before the Lord. Let His presence fill your heart, let His glory transform your soul, and let His power be manifest in your life!

Let us truly worship God in Spirit and Truth.

The Essentials: Serving

July 17, 2022

"Everybody can be great because everyone can serve.” Those are the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  They remind us of the words of Jesus who declared that he did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many (Mk 10:45). On the night before he was crucified, when the weight of the world was on his shoulders, he took a towel and basin and washed the dirty feet of his disciples. By that one simple gesture he showed forever what sort of man he was and what sort of people we should be. 

Acts 2:42-47 is what the ideal Christian community looks like in perfect world but we don’t live in a perfect world do we? The early church was no different… Everything is humming along in the early church then the church encounters its first crisis in the real world of people and community. 

Acts 6 tells the story of a sudden and unexpected controversy that threatened to rip apart the early church. In seven brief verses Luke describes the problem, the solution, and the very positive result. When we get to the end, we discover that more people are serving the Lord, more people are coming to Christ, and the unity of the church has been restored.

But first the problem: “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food” (Acts 6:1). The problem stemmed from the fact that although the early church was entirely Jewish, it was made up of two different groups of Jews. The Hebraic Jews were Jewish-Christian converts who spoke Aramaic as their main language. They had been born and raised in Israel, knew the customs of the synagogue intimately, and brought their extensive culture with them.

By contrast the Grecian Jews were Jewish-Christian converts who spoke Greek because they had been born and raised outside Israel. When they came to Christ, they brought their Greek-speaking culture with them. This means they probably looked a bit different and certainly acted and sounded different from the Hebrew-speaking Jewish Christians.

This is the first case of racial prejudice in the Christian church. It comes about primarily because the church has grown so fast that it has outstripped its leadership team. In the early days the apostles and their helpers could easily care for everyone in the congregation. As thousands joined the growing movement, it was inevitable that some people (or groups of people) would fall through the cracks.

This was a recipe for trouble. As long as things were going well, the differences could be ignored. However, the Jerusalem church was never rich, and eventually there were problems in the daily distribution of food for the widows from the two groups. The Hebrew-speaking Jewish Christian widows were being favored over the Greek-speaking Jewish Christian widows. 

After all, the Hebrew-speaking widows were from Israel, and perhaps had grown up in or near Jerusalem. They were well-known and had many connections. It’s a natural human impulse to “take care of your own” in times of trouble or shortage. Between Haiti and Home many would choose home. And I think it’s easy for us to dismiss this as a fairly minor problem. It wasn’t. Churches routinely split over issues much less important than this.

So how should the church tackle a problem like this?  If it were us, maybe we would appoint a Food Distribution Task Force to study the matter and report to the Church Council. Or we might call a prayer meeting. Maybe we would end up starting a new church – The Jewish-Christian Greek-speaking church of Jerusalem #1. Maybe we’d start a two-lunch program – the “traditional” Hebrew-speaking lunch at 11:30am and the “contemporary” Greek-speaking lunch at 1pm. If you put the matter in those terms, it certainly seems very relevant for us today.

So then what was their solution? Verses 2-6 tell us how the early church confronted this difficult issue. The solution involves a four-step process.

Step 1: Setting Priorities: First, there was an immediate response. “So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together.” Second, there was a clear statement of priorities.  It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.” Whenever I read those words, they stop me for a moment because at first glance they seem a bit harsh. I can easily imagine that certain people in the church would have said something like this: “Wouldn’t it be great if the apostles who are all Hebrew speaking Jews got together and took over the feeding of the Greek-speaking widows? That would send a powerful and healing message to the congregation bringing them together. 

Deep in my soul I feel sure that someone in Jerusalem said or at least thought something like that. After all, what could be better than for the leaders to set the pace in personally solving this problem? It’s so easy, and so tempting, to adopt that strategy.

But it would have been dead wrong because that would actually have caused the apostles to disobey God’s will that had called them to the ministry of the Word and to prayer. Anything that moved them away from that priority — no matter how good or noble or necessary it might be — was actually a diversion from their divine calling.

In any church there are many tasks that need to be done. It is tempting to say to the leadership, “Do a little of everything.” But when leaders do a little of everything, they end up doing a whole lot of nothing. Some leaders must devote themselves to the study and teaching of the Word to the congregation. 

Obviously, we’ve moved into another era of church life, with pastors like myself now being responsible for ministry budgets, multiple programs, and a mountain of administrative details, not to mention the many personal needs of individuals and families not forgetting our own. 

We must not let the good crowd out the best or allow the urgent to push the important off the agenda. But we live in a whirlwind of day to day…so

Step 2: They Made a Plan: But it is well and good for the apostles to be high-minded about their calling, but we’ve got a group of hungry widows on our hands. What are we going to do about them? After all, if they aren’t fed, they won’t be in any mood to listen to the apostles as they minister the Word. We still need a plan to handle this problem.

It begins with congregational involvement: Brothers, choose seven men from among you.” It continues with a clear statement of qualifications: “known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.” There is a commitment to definite delegation: “We will turn this responsibility over to them.” And finally a restatement of their own priorities: “and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word.” Wisely, rather than issuing an edict from on high, they ask the congregation to choose the men who will serve the widows. They wanted seven spiritually-mature men who would immediately have the respect of the church. Once those men were chosen, they could attack the problem as they wished while the apostles focused on their primary calling. All in all, an excellent way to handle a touchy situation.

So Step 3: Finding the Right People: Luke tells us that “This proposal pleased the whole group.” Here is a list of the seven men they chose: Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.” I listed them because their names are important. Do you know why? All the names are Greek names. Meaning that the congregation chose men from within the Greek-speaking section of the church. These men no doubt knew the widows personally, would have the trust of all the Greek-speaking believers, and would know how to handle any problems that might arise. And then here is the final step in the process.

Step 4: Commissioning the Workers: After the congregation selected the seven men, they were presented to the apostles, who laid their hands on them and prayed for them. This final step is important because it puts the full weight of the 12 apostles behind the seven men. It ensures that the Greek-speaking widows will know that their concerns have been taken seriously at the very highest level. It also sends a message to the congregation that this problem has been dealt with and that the apostles truly want to see the Greek-speaking widows fed every day.

And what was the result? Verse 7 says “So the word of God spread.” Second, there were many new converts: “The number of disciples in Jerusalem spread rapidly.” Third, there were conversions in high places: “And a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” By God’s grace an interruption that threatened danger became an opportunity for further growth. What are we to learn from this? Let’s wrap up this message by considering four truths for today.

First: The importance of proper priorities in serving God. The apostles understood their calling from the Lord, which is why they refused to personally get involved in feeding the widows. What seems harsh and uncaring was actually best for all concerned. Sometimes leaders must say “no” to the good in order to say “yes” to the best. Keeping the main thing the main thing. In every organization a thousand pressures constantly pull us away from our core concerns. In God’s work we must constantly build everything upon the Word of God and prayer. When we forget that, the entire church suffers.

Second: It is impossible for a few people to do all the work in the local church. The apostles couldn’t do their work and feed the widows too. The same is true in every church today. No pastor and staff can do it all. There are many things that need to be done, and so many willing hands are needed. I can preach and teach and work with the leaders and lead the staff and meet with people and pray for the hurting and visit the hospitals and attend some meetings and answer questions and take phone calls and dream dreams for the future and cast a vision. I can stay plenty busy but no matter how hard I work, I can’t preach and work in the nursery or Sunday School at the same time. 

Remembering 1 Corinthians 12 and using our spiritual gifts show us God never intended that any one of us — or one group — do all the work in the local church. We can’t do it all because God never intended the church to work that way.

Third: And there is the blessing of many people using their gifts in many ways. This is the flip side of what I’ve just said. In the beginning the widows are going hungry and their friends are upset. Anger threatens the unity of the body. By the end the anger is gone and the widows are fed because the seven men are now serving the Lord and are recognized by the whole congregation. This is precisely how the body of Christ is supposed to function.

Let this sentence sink into your mind: No one does everything but everyone does something. That’s God’s plan for the local church. Some do more, others less, but everyone does something. 

Fourth: The value of serving others through practical deeds of kindness. The apostles would have been out of God’s will to wait on tables; the seven men chosen by the congregation were in God’s will when they did what the apostles wouldn’t do. It’s not an either-or proposition. We need leaders who will devote themselves to the Word of God and to prayer, and we need others who will serve the widows and hungry. Both are absolutely necessary for the church to function properly. 

In John 12:26 Jesus says Whoever serves me must follow me. And where I am my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.  And that is what we need now.

The Essentials

July 3, 2022

The church is a people, lots and lots of messy people who come together to know and worship Jesus—not iChurch but WeChurch. That’s what we see in Acts. Messy people come together to know and worship Christ Jesus. And over the last several weeks we have been asking the question What does it mean to do church together? If an iChurch is about me and my preferences then WeChurch is about Christ and His preferences. He’s given us an example of what He’d like to see in Acts 2:42. So far we have talked about 3 of the essentials that we can’t grow without. Just this past week Mary Beth talked about the Apostles Teaching.

So to recap first. WE GATHER AROUND GOD’S WORD. We opened Acts chapter two with Pentecost; then we hear Peter preach and 3,000 people repent and believe in Jesus in the middle of Acts 2. Now here, those who stay behind in Jerusalem and don’t return to their homes in the countryside, they form the first church. It’s like they almost naturally come together to do what they’re supposed to do to be a church, and it starts with gathering around God’s Word.

Acts 2:42a, 43 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching… 

The Apostles (the 12 disciples) would have spent time talking about Jesus, reminding them of His teachings, and showing how the Tanakh points to Jesus as the Christ (the Messiah), just like Peter did in his sermon. Then they perform miracles just like Jesus to authenticate that what they’re saying is true. 

When we gather around God’s Word, you could say we’re gathering around Christ and the gospel. We’re coming to learn about Him, to see how the Scriptures point to Him, to confess our sins to Him, to receive His grace in our lives, to remember His sacrifice on the cross, to celebrate His resurrection and ascension, to be in relationship with Him, to know Him. There is someone who unites us despite our different backgrounds and movie and food and exercise preferences. We gather around Jesus and His Word.

But Christianity is not just a Bible study, it’s a lifestyle. So second WE DO LIFE TOGETHER.

Acts 2:42b, 44-46a  They devoted themselves… to fellowship… 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. The church is not a building or a place but a fellowship — people doing life together. We learned that this word for “fellowship” in verse 42 is the Greek word “koinonia.” It most commonly means “fellowship, communion, participation, sharing.”

In the 12th century an English monk named Aelred called doing life together “spiritual friendship.” We are to spend time with each other, care for each other, be willing to sacrifice for each other, give generously to each other, and share a common life, all in response to Jesus doing those things for us. 

In Acts 2:45-46 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.

The Bible says little of independence and does everything for community. Service instead of Serve us. 

And There’s a deeper component to this. The root of the Greek word for fellowship, koinonia, is koinos, which means “common or “profane, impure.” Although there is something rich and meaningful and loving about church fellowship, life together has wonderful times of encouragement and joy but also bruises and frustrations, but we stick it out because we love Jesus and each other. Life is just messy. If you are looking for put together people you probably aren’t going to find many at church. The church is a hospital for sinners. Not a museum for the saints. 

So, we 1. We gather around God’s Word. 2. We do life together. And going out of order in the text, Third. WE PRAY TOGETHER.

Acts 2:42d They devoted themselves… to prayer… 47 praising God…In Acts we find the early church praying together and worshipping God. “A church that prays together stays together.” A quote from Gene Getz in the book Old Paths, New Power was really powerful to me:

The hallmark of Western civilization has been rugged individualism. Because of our philosophy of life, we are used to the personal pronouns “I” and “my” and “me.” We have not been taught to think in terms of “we” and “our” and “us.” Consequently, we individualize many references to corporate experience in the New Testament, thus often emphasizing personal prayer. The facts are that more is said in the Book of Acts and the Epistles about corporate prayer, corporate learning of biblical truth, corporate evangelism, and corporate Christian maturity and growth than about the personal aspects of these Christian disciplines…. Don’t misunderstand. Both are intricately related. But the personal dimensions of Christianity are difficult to maintain and practice consistently unless they grow out of a proper corporate experience on a regular basis. – 

An iChurch prays alone or not at all. A WeChurch prays together.

First it is essential that 1. We gather around God’s Word. 2. We do life together. 3. We pray together and now we complete the 4th with  WE BREAK BREAD TOGETHER IN TWO WAYS.

First: the Lord’s Supper

Acts 2:42c, 46b  They devoted themselves… to the breaking of bread…We all have a problem with remembering. We really do have short memories. I know I do. That is why I take so many pictures to remember the moments and trigger my complete memory. We have made memorials in Washington, DC and other places so that we would not forget. But think about how time and distance cause us to no longer care about significant events in world history. Pearl Harbor was a day that would live in infamy. The assassination of JFK. The explosion of the Challenger? Even 9/11/2001 no longer carries the pain, weight, and significance that it did in past years. It shows how easy it is to forget. It is really easy to forget things that are commemorated on an annual basis. We are simply a forgetful people and our Lord knew this.

So Jesus wanted us to be devoted to the Lord’s Supper so that we would remember Him. The most important event in world history is the arrival, death, and resurrection of Jesus. There is nothing more important that has ever happened. It is an event that must not be forgotten. It is an event that cannot be quickly passed by. Jesus said to take the bread and take the cup to remember Him. The Lord’s Supper can never turn into something that we just do as an act of worship simply fit in. This is the one thing Jesus said to do to remember Him. The only reason for its institution was so that we would stop and focus on Jesus and what he did for us.

And The Lord’s Supper is an act that is to unify us together as God’s family and intimately join us to Christ. In fact, there is another name that is often given to the Lord’s Supper: communion. You see the word “union” in the word “communion.” There is union that is occurring when we take the Lord’s Supper.

There is a union we are to have with each other when we take the Lord’s Supper. When you read Paul’s directions for the Lord’s Supper to the Corinthians, Paul repeatedly notes that this is not an individual act1 Corinthians 11:17 but something that we do together as God’s people (1 Corinthians11: 20). Three times Paul notes that this is something we do together. In fact, Paul tells these Christians to wait for each other to partake (11:33). If the Lord’s Supper is something we do as individuals and do alone, then why do we come together for it and why do we wait for each other? The Lord’s Supper is not something that you do by yourself even if you have to be at home. The Lord’s Supper is an act that is done together because it is a communion action. Listen to how Paul pictures this: The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16) And, we need to see the union that is happening with Christ when we take the Lord’s Supper.

Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Do you hear how we are together in the Lord’s Supper? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body. How are we one body? We all partake of the one bread. Our sharing in the Lord’s Supper shows we are one body who is joined together in Christ. As we eat and drink together, we are saying that we are one. This makes sense of the text in Acts 2:42.The 3000 did not devote themselves to the Lord’s Supper in isolation. They are gathering for this.

In 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 we see that we are participating with Jesus when we eat. We are signifying our togetherness with each other as the people of God. Also, when we eat and drink, we are signifying our connection and sharing with Jesus. Jesus said this Himself to His disciples when He instituted the Lord’s Supper. Notice what Jesus said: I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:29)

We are sharing with Jesus when we take the Lord’s Supper. Perhaps we can get no closer to Jesus than in the moments when we receive. 

Second: food itself is a big deal in the first church and in every church.

And this bread they broke was not only in act of Communion. 46 …They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, They did this and found it to be essential because their leader and Lord had done this with them. Luke 24:30 When He was at table with them, He took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And Jesus spoke about Himself as bread and the importance of that bread in John 6: John 6:33  “For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” John 6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life… John 6:51  “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” John 6:53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.”

Jesus Himself had shown him and us how to break bread together: And He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” Luke 22:19 The early church would eat together and celebrate the Lord’s Supper as part of their meals and remember the story of redemption once again (1 Cor 11:23-26) like we do each time. It was a continued time of fellowship, focused around Christ, anchored by food and eating together. I know the Jesus only gave us two sacraments, baptism and communion, but I’m pretty sure he meant to add “church potluck” as the third. 

”What are the essentials that we do as Christians and church together? … 
1. We gather around God’s Word together. 
2. We do life together. 
3. We pray together and
4. We break bread together.

So, what’s the fruit of all this? What’s the outcome? THE RESULT? WE GROW. The last verses of Acts 2:42-47 that we will be looking at over the next 3 weeks ends like this. Acts 2: 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Verse 47 says they enjoyed favor, which is the same word for grace. People were amazed and favorable towards them. But the best result of all? Faith. Every day more and more people are coming to faith in Christ and joining the church family. 

The result of this church family and our Nolensville First family studying the Scriptures together, doing life together, sharing meals and communion together, and praying together is there’s something so unique, distinct, and wonderful about them that others can’t help come to faith in Christ. It’s not that they don’t evangelize and witness. They do; but how they live positively influences their witness. One Pastor who said, “Our with-ness aids our witness.”