Tag Archives: Ephesians

Why is church a place to belong?

given on Sunday, September 17, 2017

SCRIPTURE CONNECTIONS

Opening: Ephesians 1:3-8, NLT

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.[a] He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.

 

Sermon scripture:

  1. Ephesians 2:14-16, NLT

14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups.16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

 

B: Ephesians 2:19-22

19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family.20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

 

  1. Ephesians 4:11-12, 31-32, NLT

11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

 

  1. Ephesians 5:18b-20, NLT

Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, 19 singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. 20 And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Closing: Ephesians 3:20-21, NLT

20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

 

Reflection: Why is church a place to belong?

Our neighbors keep changing. When we bought the house almost 20 years ago, we did not know the neighbors; and we did not buy it based on who was living next door. The house was what we chose.

Fortunately for us the decision was positive because we feel like we live where we belong. The neighborhood has been filled with people we ended up knowing and enjoying as neighbors. Yet over these past 18 years, the neighbors keep changing.

Today is designated as “Back to Church Sunday” as a national outreach campaign. The churches in our communities, especially the smaller ones, are struggling to fit into their neighborhoods because the mobile society keeps the areas around the churches ever changing. The churches no longer seem to belong where they are.

In reading Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, I do not think he was concerned about whether or not the church fit into the community around it. This letter’s purpose was to encourage the church. The opening scripture greets the church with an appealing reason to be part of God’s church:

God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.

The decision on where to live is based on the reasons why a location is chosen. Reasons for the location range from family proximity, jobs, schools, city services, and even personal preferences as to historical districts, shopping preferences, and the list just keeps growing. The choice of location also is related to the basic needs of the family: food, clothing and shelter must be accessible.

Then the decision is tied to the next tier of needs—a sense of belonging. Once an individual’s needs for food, shelter and clothing are met, the next need is to feel a sense of belonging. Today’s mobile society makes finding a place to belong difficult.

The “Back to Church” campaign created a flier that helps explain this need:

As primal as our need for food and shelter, our need to belong is part of what makes us human. Yet belonging easily escapes us. We are often disappointed by the very people we thought we were most strongly connected to.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was shared with the other churches, much like an email we might forward to others we know. The letter identified many reasons that the church was a place people were unified and equal, and that was why church was a place to belong.

Paul opens his letter with words of encouragement, writing how God

. . . is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.

This is the foundation for the church. We are loved and God so loved us that he gave his only son Jesus Christ for our salvation. All who are baptized, who profess Jesus Christ as their savior, belong in the Christian family.

Paul’s letter explains the church unifies all who believe:

15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups.16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

The church is a place for everybody to belong. Paul goes on throughout his letter to explain how the church is unified, how it is Holy Spirit driven, and how it uses each person’s individual talents to serve God.

His letter encourages the church on the very behaviors that are necessary to create an environment where everybody belongs and works in unity. The church is a place for everybody to belong.

Today’s national campaign, Back to Church Sunday, challenges each of us to consider whether or not our church(es) are a place where people have a sense of belonging. If it is not, then work is needed.

The flier, A Place to Belong, identifies the different attitudes people have towards churches:

The word “Church” means different things to different people. For some, it awakens warm feelings of childhood potlucks and singing. For others, it might trigger a more sour feeling, a subtle tensing of the shoulders. People’s reactions to the Church are as varied as their individual histories.

Paul’s letter encourages churches by including a list of qualities the church should develop to create a place all are welcome and can have a sense of belonging. The list also includes behaviors to avoid:

  • 4:2-3 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.
  • 4:7 However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ.
  • 4:11-12 11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.
  • 4:30-32 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Today we may not have joined in the nationwide campaign to get Back to Church, but it is never too late to invite those who have been or have never been to church to come to church. The key, though, is the church must be a place where people do belong and want to belong. Paul said,  “10 God’s purpose . . . was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety . . . “

Our responsibility is to be the church family that works together to do all that we can for all we can in any way we can. We must do what we can to open the doors to those who seek a place to belong. The church “is not a building. It’s a community of people brought together to experience God’s love and purpose. . . . God wants each of us to find a place of belonging in His family.” Is our church a place others want to belong or do we need to work on the behaviors that Paul outlined to the Ephesians? Let’s work to be a place where anybody can experience God’s love and purpose. This is where we want to belong and we want to make sure others transformed by God’s love also want to belong here.

Closing prayer:

Dear God Almighty,

 

Guide us in this time of resting and renewal

So we can hear what you ask us to do.

As we join together in worship and study,

Speak to us how to shape our church into a place to belong.

 

Guide us in hearing Paul’s message to ancient churches

So we can learn what we can do in our church.

Let us find the wisdom of unity and of inclusiveness

That creates a space of equality filled with your love.

 

Guide us to use your words to teach others

So they too may know your grace and salvation.

As we read and study your scriptures,

May we commit to doing life together

so others find a place to belong in your church.

 

In the name of you the Father, the son Jesus Christ,

And through the Holy Spirit, amen.

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In Paul’s words: We are one. We are the light.

given on Sunday, February 26, 2017–final sermon in series based on Ephesians

Scripture connection: Ephesians 4:17-31 (NLT)

Living as Children of Light

17 With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18 Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19 They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.

20 But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.”[a] Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

28 If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

30 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own,[b] guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.

Ephesians 5:6-15 (NLT)

Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. Don’t participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.

10 Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. 11 Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. 12 It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. 13 But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, 14 for the light makes everything visible. This is why it is said,

“Awake, O sleeper,
rise up from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.”

Living by the Spirit’s Power

15 So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise.

Reflection: In Paul’s words: We are one. We are the light.

Paul’s ancient world may seem awfully small compared to today’s world in which communication happens in an instant and one can travel from one side of the globe to the other side in a matter of hours.  Personal relationships could be kept private as the only means of ‘seeing’ the relationship was face-to-face since there were no myriads of cameras or a social media platform to share scuttlebutt instantly. Yet, when Paul began his missionary work, he traveled to share the good news.

Travel was a tedious process and in Paul’s case, he stopped in communities to work as he carried the Word to new communities. No mass media was available, so his very person had to be the witness to a new way of life, the Christian way. Paul’s very life had to be a visible testimony to living a Christian lifestyle.

The scripture from Ephesians talks about the earliest Christians were to live in the ‘light of the Lord’ (Eph 5:8). Literature offers a multitude of analogies that use ‘light’ as goodness, purity, cleanliness among other positive images. The significant meaning even of theatrical costumes pits good versus evil, light versus darkness, the white hat versus the black hat. The cinematographers carefully manipulate light in the scenes to identify the good versus evil themes in the stories. And music aficionados can identify tones that are light versus dark, good versus evil. Paul’s use of light means to live the Christian lifestyle with God at the center.

How does one know what that lifestyle is? Paul outlines the very behaviors God expects from his faithful. They are itemized in the scripture:

  • Eph 4:24—stop telling lies,
  • Eph 4:26—don’t let anger control you.
  • Eph 4:28—quit stealing, do good hard work, give generously,
  • Eph 4:29—don’t use foul or abusive language; be good and helpful; and offer words of encouragement, and
  • Eph 4:31—get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil.

The list applies today as much as it applied during Paul’s lifetime. The same problems and/or evil behaviors continue to thrive in our world now.

Paul’s letter was meant to encourage the young congregation to maintain the very behaviors Jesus had modeled and taught during his lifetime. The list of behaviors changes a bit in the next chapter, but again it is a clear that following God’s commandment binds all believers into one unified church. The letter continues:

  • Eph 5:6—don’t be fooled by those who try to make excuses for sin,
  • Eph 5:7—don’t participate in things sinful people do,
  • Eph 5:8—live as people of light.
  • Eph 5:11—expose evil deed, nor
  • Eph 5:12—do not even talk about the evil deeds.

Living a God-centered, Christ-centered life places one in the light. Following God’s one commandment in all relationships in our lives placed a spotlight on the evil in the world around us, too. Just take a few moments and think about the TV shows, the movies, and even the books that we read for pleasure. The fiction stories are filled with good versus evil; then place yourself into those stories and ask whether you are living in the light or living in the darkness.

Step away from the fiction, now, and look at the news reports and all the social media feeds that we see crossing our screens. Can you spot the darkness? The evil in the world fills our lives in so many different ways, but follow God’s ways to keep the light in your life and in the life of others who surround you—whether in person or in cyberspace. Let God’s light shine in all that you do and say.

In the scriptures from last week, we discussed how to keep God’s lifestyle central in our private relationships—those with our spouses and children, those of children to their parents. Living in the light keeps our relationships healthy. The same rule applies to relationships in all facets of our lives.

One relationship that can challenge a Christian is that found in the work place. Yet, living one’s faith on the job is another means of testifying for God. Treating the fellow worker, the customer and the boss as you want to be treated develops more positive work experiences even work environments. When others are bad mouthing the boss, another worker, or the customer, the setting becomes cancerous. When the work forces one into a position that challenges beliefs, then the resulting conflict sickens the soul and can lead to health problems. What does one do in such cases?

No easy answer, but God wants us to be the light in the world. Stop joining in on idol conversations that promote negative attitudes. Do your best to ask others to stop, too. If the job places you into an ethical dilemma, which does happen, the choice is more complicated.

The job is income and meets the need of the family. The job uses your training and natural gifts. Yet even if you like the work and do it well, if the boss asks you to do something unethical you are then asked to go against your standards, your Christian beliefs. The conflict that develops makes it difficult to live in God’s light much less to shine as his light.

I confronted this issue within a year after leaving college with a journalism degree. My goal in life to save the world as a journalist ran into the issue of right and wrong. In journalism, the circulation sets the value of advertising. Circulation is reported to a national database that determines that cost. Self-reporting is done with an affidavit that the figures are accurate. The publisher told me to sign the figures. I knew the figures were inflated and it forced me to make a decision—I quit. I signed it, yes; but I quit and went back to college to get a teaching certificate. I had to make a life changing decision, but I knew it was the right thing to do.

These decisions reflect who we are as Christians. No one wants to be forced into a decision that risks one’s livelihood or forces a change that could be financially devastating. Being trained in one job and then looking for a new job does not always mean the transition is smooth or that you may have to be retrained. Yet, God has give us the instructions on how to live our lives. He sent Jesus to show us, and then Paul tells us in his letters, too.

Our relationships in this world develop the community in which we live. We are not challenged in our country to live a secret life nor are we persecuted for living a Christian life. Our lives are defined by our decisions even in our civic responsibility to vote. As a voter, we create a relationship with elected officials. The election’s outcome, any election, reflects the belief system of the populace. If we vote using God’s viewpoint, we continue to maintain our personal principles. If the outcome does not match what our vote, then we must align ourselves with that decision. That does not mean that we give up our Christian principles, instead the election may place us in a position to be more vocal or active in demonstrating the Christian principles we live.

Living a Christian lifestyle does not simplify our lives in the secular world, but God knows our positions. He does not task us in a way that we cannot manage. He is beside us as we confront the conflicts in our life. He gives us the strength needed to stand firm in our relationships. He provides us the gifts to use and the words to share to make our relationships into beacons of light for others, too.

This February we may face the darkness even in the bright sunshine. The darkness makes us unsettled and causes us to feel heavy as we watch the latest news reports and hear the latest talk in town. Where is the light? The light is our responsibility. Paul tells the Ephesians and us that we are to live as ‘Children of the Light.’

As God’s faithful today, we have as much responsibility of sharing the good news/God’s message as any of the ancient disciples did. There is no excuse for us to act as though we do not know God. There is no excuse for us to casually ignore the evil around us. There is no excuse for us to be passive in a world where evil is aggressive.

Take up God’s commission to share the Word and to make disciples of Christ, but also stand up to evil. If others are sharing dark messages on Facebook, then do not share them. In fact, hit that button and remove them from your own feed. Make a comment on postings that you find offensive so others may see God’s light in your life. Post some positive words so others might see God’s light in them.

As you watch and/or listen to the latest news, use prayer. Do not whine and complain. Do not let the ‘fake’ news pass on to others through words spoken as though you agree. Instead, listen with God’s ears. Is there another viewpoint to consider despite the words presented? Could there be a positive to the report that is being overlooked? Do you need to speak out? Maybe you need to contact your representative or other elected official. Maybe you need to write a letter to the editor. Maybe you need to research an answer on your own, easier to do with the internet offering so many options or a library close to our homes.

Being God’s light is not easy. There is no quick fix to the problems that evil causes. But, in our world, we have a responsibility to live as beacons for God. We must say no to evil in any way that we can at all the times that we can in any way that we can. We must do good in any way that we can in all the ways that we can at any time that we can.

Paul reminded the Ephesians that all who believe in God and who accept Jesus Christ as their savior are also baptized by the Holy Spirit to serve as God’s light in this world. You may not think you can do anything, but the Holy Spirit is alive within you and you can do something. You are a beacon and the light shines in the life you live—as long as you reflect God’s love.

Abraham Lincoln is quoted, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or we can rejoice that thorn bushes have roses.” I chose to see thorn bushes have roses, just like I see the glass as half full not half empty. I chose to see good whenever I can, too. I chose to follow God and pray that he guides me in all relationships to be the light in the darkness for others to see his love.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

 

Paul’s letter serves as a beacon of light

in a world darkened by evil.

Guide us in using our own words

to serve as rays of light around us.

Paul’s words encourage us

to strengthen our relationships.

Guide us to see our relationships

in your light and to love one another.

 

Today we hear you speak

in the words of scripture and hymn.

Fill our hearts with love for one another

so our world shines brightly.

Give us the words to build up relationships

that will enrich our lives, our world.

Armor us so we resist evil influences

and lead others to your light. –Amen.

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In Paul’s words: We are one. We are the light.

given on Sunday, February 29, 2017

Scripture connection: Ephesians 4:17-31 (NLT)

Living as Children of Light

17 With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18 Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19 They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.

20 But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.”[a] Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

28 If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

30 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own,[b] guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.

 

Ephesians 5:6-15 (NLT)

Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. Don’t participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.

10 Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. 11 Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. 12 It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. 13 But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, 14 for the light makes everything visible. This is why it is said,

“Awake, O sleeper,
rise up from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.”

Living by the Spirit’s Power

15 So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise.

Reflection: In Paul’s words: We are one. We are the light.

Paul’s ancient world may seem awfully small compared to today’s world in which communication happens in an instant and one can travel from one side of the globe to the other side in a matter of hours.         Personal relationships could be kept private as the only means of ‘seeing’ the relationship was face-to-face since there were no myriads of cameras or a social media platform to share scuttlebutt instantly. Yet, when Paul began his missionary work, he traveled to share the good news.

Travel was a tedious process and in Paul’s case, he stopped in communities to work as he carried the Word to new communities. No mass media was available, so his very person had to be the witness to a new way of life, the Christian way. Paul’s very life had to be a visible testimony to living a Christian lifestyle.

The scripture from Ephesians talks about the earliest Christians were to live in the ‘light of the Lord’ (Eph 5:8). Literature offers a multitude of analogies that use ‘light’ as goodness, purity, cleanliness among other positive images. The significant meaning even of theatrical costumes pits good versus evil, light versus darkness, the white hat versus the black hat. The cinematographers carefully manipulate light in the scenes to identify the good versus evil themes in the stories. And music aficionados can identify tones that are light versus dark, good versus evil. Paul’s use of light means to live the Christian lifestyle with God at the center.

How does one know what that lifestyle is? Paul outlines the very behaviors God expects from his faithful. They are itemized in the scripture:

  • Eph 4:24—stop telling lies,
  • Eph 4:26—don’t let anger control you.
  • Eph 4:28—quit stealing, do good hard work, give generously,
  • Eph 4:29—don’t use foul or abusive language; be good and helpful; and offer words of encouragement, and
  • Eph 4:31—get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil.

The list applies today as much as it applied during Paul’s lifetime. The same problems and/or evil behaviors continue to thrive in our world now.

Paul’s letter was meant to encourage the young congregation to maintain the very behaviors Jesus had modeled and taught during his lifetime. The list of behaviors changes a bit in the next chapter, but again it is a clear that following God’s commandment binds all believers into one unified church. The letter continues:

  • Eph 5:6—don’t be fooled by those who try to make excuses for sin,
  • Eph 5:7—don’t participate in things sinful people do,
  • Eph 5:8—live as people of light.
  • Eph 5:11—expose evil deed, nor
  • Eph 5:12—do not even talk about the evil deeds.

Living a God-centered, Christ-centered life places one in the light. Following God’s one commandment in all relationships in our lives placed a spotlight on the evil in the world around us, too. Just take a few moments and think about the TV shows, the movies, and even the books that we read for pleasure. The fiction stories are filled with good versus evil; then place yourself into those stories and ask whether you are living in the light or living in the darkness.

Step away from the fiction, now, and look at the news reports and all the social media feeds that we see crossing our screens. Can you spot the darkness? The evil in the world fills our lives in so many different ways, but follow God’s ways to keep the light in your life and in the life of others who surround you—whether in person or in cyberspace. Let God’s light shine in all that you do and say.

In the scriptures from last week, we discussed how to keep God’s lifestyle central in our private relationships—those with our spouses and children, those of children to their parents. Living in the light keeps our relationships healthy. The same rule applies to relationships in all facets of our lives.

One relationship that can challenge a Christian is that found in the work place. Yet, living one’s faith on the job is another means of testifying for God. Treating the fellow worker, the customer and the boss as you want to be treated develops more positive work experiences even work environments. When others are bad mouthing the boss, another worker, or the customer, the setting becomes cancerous. When the work forces one into a position that challenges beliefs, then the resulting conflict sickens the soul and can lead to health problems. What does one do in such cases?

No easy answer, but God wants us to be the light in the world. Stop joining in on idol conversations that promote negative attitudes. Do your best to ask others to stop, too. If the job places you into an ethical dilemma, which does happen, the choice is more complicated.

The job is income and meets the need of the family. The job uses your training and natural gifts. Yet even if you like the work and do it well, if the boss asks you to do something unethical you are then asked to go against your standards, your Christian beliefs. The conflict that develops makes it difficult to live in God’s light much less to shine as his light.

I confronted this issue within a year after leaving college with a journalism degree. My goal in life to save the world as a journalist ran into the issue of right and wrong. In journalism, the circulation sets the value of advertising. Circulation is reported to a national database that determines that cost. Self-reporting is done with an affidavit that the figures are accurate. The publisher told me to sign the figures. I knew the figures were inflated and it forced me to make a decision—I quit. I signed it, yes; but I quit and went back to college to get a teaching certificate. I had to make a life changing decision, but I knew it was the right thing to do.

These decisions reflect who we are as Christians. No one wants to be forced into a decision that risks one’s livelihood or forces a change that could be financially devastating. Being trained in one job and then looking for a new job does not always mean the transition is smooth or that you may have to be retrained. Yet, God has give us the instructions on how to live our lives. He sent Jesus to show us, and then Paul tells us in his letters, too.

Our relationships in this world develop the community in which we live. We are not challenged in our country to live a secret life nor are we persecuted for living a Christian life. Our lives are defined by our decisions even in our civic responsibility to vote. As a voter, we create a relationship with elected officials. The election’s outcome, any election, reflects the belief system of the populace. If we vote using God’s viewpoint, we continue to maintain our personal principles. If the outcome does not match what our vote, then we must align ourselves with that decision. That does not mean that we give up our Christian principles, instead the election may place us in a position to be more vocal or active in demonstrating the Christian principles we live.

Living a Christian lifestyle does not simplify our lives in the secular world, but God knows our positions. He does not task us in a way that we cannot manage. He is beside us as we confront the conflicts in our life. He gives us the strength needed to stand firm in our relationships. He provides us the gifts to use and the words to share to make our relationships into beacons of light for others, too.

This February we may face the darkness even in the bright sunshine. The darkness makes us unsettled and causes us to feel heavy as we watch the latest news reports and hear the latest talk in town. Where is the light? The light is our responsibility. Paul tells the Ephesians and us that we are to live as ‘Children of the Light.’

As God’s faithful today, we have as much responsibility of sharing the good news/God’s message as any of the ancient disciples did. There is no excuse for us to act as though we do not know God. There is no excuse for us to casually ignore the evil around us. There is no excuse for us to be passive in a world where evil is aggressive.

Take up God’s commission to share the Word and to make disciples of Christ, but also stand up to evil. If others are sharing dark messages on Facebook, then do not share them. In fact, hit that button and remove them from your own feed. Make a comment on postings that you find offensive so others may see God’s light in your life. Post some positive words so others might see God’s light in them.

As you watch and/or listen to the latest news, use prayer. Do not whine and complain. Do not let the ‘fake’ news pass on to others through words spoken as though you agree. Instead, listen with God’s ears. Is there another viewpoint to consider despite the words presented? Could there be a positive to the report that is being overlooked? Do you need to speak out? Maybe you need to contact your representative or other elected official. Maybe you need to write a letter to the editor. Maybe you need to research an answer on your own, easier to do with the internet offering so many options or a library close to our homes.

Being God’s light is not easy. There is no quick fix to the problems that evil causes. But, in our world, we have a responsibility to live as beacons for God. We must say no to evil in any way that we can at all the times that we can in any way that we can. We must do good in any way that we can in all the ways that we can at any time that we can.

Paul reminded the Ephesians that all who believe in God and who accept Jesus Christ as their savior are also baptized by the Holy Spirit to serve as God’s light in this world. You may not think you can do anything, but the Holy Spirit is alive within you and you can do something. You are a beacon and the light shines in the life you live—as long as you reflect God’s love.

Abraham Lincoln is quoted, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or we can rejoice that thorn bushes have roses.” I chose to see thorn bushes have roses, just like I see the glass as half full not half empty. I chose to see good whenever I can, too. I chose to follow God and pray that he guides me in all relationships to be the light in the darkness for others to see his love.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

 

Paul’s letter serves as a beacon of light

in a world darkened by evil.

Guide us in using our own words

to serve as rays of light around us.

Paul’s words encourage us

to strengthen our relationships.

Guide us to see our relationships

in your light and to love one another.

 

Today we hear you speak

in the words of scripture and hymn.

Fill our hearts with love for one another

so our world shines brightly.

Give us the words to build up relationships

that will enrich our lives, our world.

Armor us so we resist evil influences

and lead others to your light. –Amen.

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Paul focuses on personal relationships

given on Sunday, February 12, 2017

Scripture foundation: Ephesians 5:1-5, 21-6:4 (NLT)

Living in the Light

5 Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us[a] and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.

Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.

Spirit-Guided Relationships: Wives and Husbands

21 And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22 For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. 24 As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.

25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.[a] 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. 30 And we are members of his body.

31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.”[b] 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 33 So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Children and Parents

6 Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord,[c] for this is the right thing to do. “Honor your father and mother.” This is the first commandment with a promise: If you honor your father and mother, “things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth.”[d]

Fathers,[e] do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.

Reflection: Paul focuses on personal relationships

Today would be my Uncle John’s 81st birthday, not to mention it is also President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. For me, today is a significant day and it is quickly followed by Valentine’s Day on Tuesday. By the social buzz about Valentine’s Day, one might think it is the most important special day in our lives because it focuses on those most intimate personal relationships in our lives.

A trip through the greeting cards these last few weeks reminds us of all the possible special people there are in our lives: husband, wife, daughter, son, grandchildren, grandparents, parents, step-children and step-parents, teachers, students, even neighbors. The list of special people seems endless.

Paul’s love letter to the Ephesians did not get delivered with a box of chocolates or a bouquet of roses. His letter was not filled with gushy endearments, yet his letter was filled with love. He used his words to remind the church that all who believe in Jesus Christ are one; the relationship with God places us in a loving relationship with each other, too.

Paul, though, acknowledges that even with God at the center of our life, we do have personal relationships: husband and wife, parents to children, siblings to each other, and the list grows much like the list on the Valentine cards. In Paul’s letter, he reminds the Ephesians of how God expects us to apply unconditional love in those relationships, too.

Have you ever asked yourself how you would answer Paul’s love letter if he wrote it to you personally? Could you say to Paul that in your life you do express unconditional love to others regardless of race, color or creed? Could you say that the Valentine’s you have sent over the years speak the truth that you do live out God’s love in all your relationships?

Or, if you read Paul’s letter as though he were writing it to you personally, would the letter leave you feeling uncomfortable? Would you end up in tears because you realize that some things you have said or done damaged personal relationships? Would you put the pen down, turn away from Paul’s letter and ignore what he says?

            In today’s Bible translations, a subheading Spirit-guided relationships: Wives and Husbands, Paul begins, “21 And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” He begins his instruction with Christ at the center of all relationships, not the ancient cultural norms of a husband dominating a wife.

         Reading Paul’s letter literally clashes with our culture today. The term ‘submit’ frequently is negative in a society that values equality in relationships. Submit! No, that is not appropriate in today’s culture, but what if ‘submit’ was not emotionally charged in conversation about human relationships?

In the ancient setting in which Paul was teaching, submission was a form of honoring the authority of ruling governments, bosses, and heads of household. Paul was addressing the newest Christians in terms that matched the culture in which they were living.

Today, Valentine cards would not use the word ‘submit,’ instead the emphasis is on healthy, respectful and caring terms. Many sentiments include references to friendship and Paul’s letter would agree. The new Christians were encouraged to value each other despite their cultural history. The new Christians were told to love one another, as they wanted to be loved. Study notes explain Paul’s message in today’s viewpoint:

Submitting to another person is an often misunderstood concept. It does not mean becoming a doormat. Christ—at whose name “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil. 2:10)—submitted his will to the Father, and we honor Christ by following his example. . . . In a marriage relationship, both husband and wife are called to submit . . . willingly following [the spouse’s] leadership in Christ. . . . Submission is rarely a problem in homes where both partners have a strong relationship with Christ and where each is concerned for the happiness of the other.”

 

Paul’s love letter covers the most important relationships in our lives. He tackles the relationship of husband and wives, but he also includes advice on relationships between parents and their children. He tells the children to ‘honor their mothers and fathers’ as the Old Testament commandment said.

Even when our children are grown, maintaining a positive relationship depends on keeping one’s self Christ-centered. As parents raising our children, decisions are challenging. The relationship begins with total dependence upon the parent, but as the child develops, independent thought absorbs influences from outside of the home.

Paul knew that Christ-centered parents understood how to develop positive relationships that honored their children; and sons and daughters raised in that home learned to honor their parents. In Paul’s letter, Ephesians 6:4, parents are cautioned:

Fathers,[e] do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.

Reading Paul’s letter challenges us to check our own relationships.

Any answer we have to Paul’s letter should provide clear examples of how we do love one another. The self-evaluation may be painful, but it is also necessary. If we have lived a God-centered life, then we can be confident our personal relationships are healthy. If we determine a relationship failed, the cause may be due to the lack of keeping God in the center of the relationship.

         Are we living with Christ at the center of our lives and our relationships, or are we living under our culture’s influences? The greeting cards you select may give you a clue to that answer. Therefore, if you are looking for a Valentine’s card for Paul, think about whether or not your relationship reflects God’s love?

         A Valentine’s card that keeps Christ in the center of any relationship reflects the sender/giver really does care to “send the very best.” (Sorry for the cliché based on Hallmark’s reputation in the greeting card industry.) God asks us all to demonstrate love in all relationships. Today, even if we live independently and the kids are grown up, we still maintain relationships with family and friends. Do you keep that relationship strong because you are centered on Christ? Today’s Valentine’s cards need some editing. The sentiments need to say thank you to the special people in your life for loving you as they love Christ. What a compliment that is!

Closing prayer

Dear loving Father,

Thank you for sending your servant Paul

To teach us about loving one another.

His words of encouragement reaches

Across the centuries through the words of Ephesians.

 

Open our hearts, minds and souls

To Paul’s advice,

Keeping relationships centered

Around the example of Jesus.

 

Guide us in living God-centered lives

So we can celebrate personal relationships

That enrich our lives

As we love one another. –Amen

 

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Paul tells the Ephesians all are one in Christ; same message today

given on Sunday, February 5, 2017  (This will be the first of four in a series based on Ephesians.)

 

Scripture connections: Ephesians 2:11-22, 4:1-16 (NLT)

Oneness and Peace in Christ

11 Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. 12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. 13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.

14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

17 He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18 Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.

A Temple for the Lord

19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

Ephesians 4:1-16 (NLT)

Unity in the Body

4 Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.

There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
one God and Father of all,
who is over all, in all, and living through all.

However, he has given each one of us a special gift[a] through the generosity of Christ. That is why the Scriptures say,

“When he ascended to the heights,
he led a crowd of captives
and gave gifts to his people.”[b]

Notice that it says “he ascended.” This clearly means that Christ also descended to our lowly world.[c] 10 And the same one who descended is the one who ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself.

11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

Reflection:

 

“Life isn’t fair.” Just three words, but how many times have we heard that or even used them as we listen to someone talk about how tough things are. I certainly do not like hearing them thrown at me. In fact I dislike them so much that I try very hard never to use them, especially if someone is telling me how difficult life is for them.

How, then, does a person listen to a friend or a family member when they are complaining or whining about how tough life is for them? For me, I listen, but then I hear God. From the pages of Genesis right through to Revelations, God listens to the complaints of even the most faithful; but he never tells them life isn’t fair, instead he challenges them to love one another.

Granted that is an oversimplification of God’s instructions, but here it is February and our society is flooded with images of hearts, flowers, candy, and love. Just do a search on special events for the month, weeks, and days in February. Suddenly this short month is crowded with reasons to demonstrate love or at least pay attention to life challenges, different groups or organizations, even sweet potatoes—yes, February is Sweet Potato Month, along with November.

Life may seem terribly unfair, but God puts us into a powerful role when he authorized us to love one another, as we want to be loved. Currently our society is bristling over decisions that appear to pit those who have versus those who have not. Forgotten is the fact that the system that placed us in this dilemma is designed to be fair and equitable. If today’s Christians dropped all the whining and complaining and listened to God, I am convinced that the negatives would be smothered by the positives.

God created a world wanting a relationship with us. He did not create a world that was purposefully filled with conflict; we created the conflict. In Ephesians, Paul tells the congregation in Ephesus that living a God-centered life is key to a healthy relationship with God, true; so using the same approach to all relationships can remove the life-isn’t-fair mindset. Living a God-centered life is exactly what our society wants if February’s labels are any clue.

Today our society seems to be screaming, “life isn’t fair” as one decision is made after another. Our culture may compare closely to the one in ancient Ephesus. The city was a leading center of trade. The influences that created it’s profile came from all corners of the world as ships docked in the port and trade routes went inward to land-locked regions. Paul spent three years in Ephesus working to establish the church soundly as a Christian community in the midst of the diverse culture.

Paul’s letter, written while imprisoned, served as a love letter to the congregation. Filled with good wishes, the letter also provides advice how to love on another whether in one’s own home or whether at work or just in the community. Life might not seem fair, but following God’s commandment gives Christians no excuse for complaining. Rather, Christians are challenged to act. The ancient Biblical literature works just as well today.

The complex culture in which we live today developed just like it did in Ephesus.   People all over the world chose to come to North America to establish homes and businesses. The United States evolved from those Atlantic communities, and the history books are full of the challenges. The history is really no different than the history of the ancient world shared in the Bible. Therefore, Paul’s letter is just as appropriate for us in our community this February 2017.

Paul tells us, as he did the Ephesians, that no matter whether you were Jewish or Gentile—a believer or a non-believer—once you accept Jesus as your savior, you are all equal. No matter what your physical makeup, financial status or cultural heritage, as a Christian we are all one. Life is fair when we acknowledge that we are all one in Christ:

12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. 13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.

Knowing that each one of us sitting in this sanctuary today believes in Christ’s salvation makes us equal. And when we look past our differences and work together as one, the power of the Holy Spirit takes over.

Paul tells the Ephesians how the Holy Spirit works through the church that is unified as one in Christ:

11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

Each Christian has gifts that God uses. Our task is to stay focused on God’s commandment to love one another right now in February 2017, the heart month, to build relationships that are God-centered.

Invite others, who still see life as unfair, to know God as we know God. We know God through the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. We know God because we know Jesus as his son sent to take our sins away. We know God because he baptized us with the Holy Spirit that powers our ability to love one another, as we want to be loved.

Life may not be fair, but when we accept God into our life and live by his commandment; life is good. Looking at our lives as God looks at our lives, we see the positives and find ways to manage the negatives. This February we open our hearts to God with thanksgiving, but we also open our hearts to those still hurting. Share God’s love so more and more can become one in Christ.

Paul was a prisoner and he had every reason in the world to say life was not fair, but he did not. He chose to continue using all his gifts to share God’s message of love to all he could:

  • He left a powerful position as a Jew to preach to the Gentiles. He saw no difference between the believers and the non-believers; he saw they were all one in God’s eyes.
  • He left his old life and literally stepped out on a new path that led him around the Mediterranean coast, stopping in communities, working, and sharing the good news—God loved them so much that he gave his only son so that their sins were forgiven and they could have eternal life.
  • He was forced to even leave his mission travels because legal authorities confined him, but he still shared the message that all are one in Christ.

And today, Paul’s letters continue to guide us in living as one in Christ. The letter to the Ephesians reminds us even today that life may not be fair, but living as one in Christ makes a difference in the quality of our lives.

Paul gave us a Valentine’s letter that guides us, encourages us, and fills our hearts with love. This February we will celebrate the love of God and review the lessons that Paul shared with the Ephesians. Tough times take some tough words; and God shares them with us to strengthen us and to show us that life is good when filled with God’s love.

Closing prayer:

Dear loving God,

 

Thank you for loving us so much

That you sent your son Jesus Christ

To teach us how to love one another

And to save us from a life that is not fair.

 

Thank you for your missionary Paul

Who learned that all are one in Christ

And stepped out to share the Word

Even when life was not fair to him.

 

Thank you for the gifts of the Holy Spirit

That equip us with gifts we need

To love one another in our lives

Doing what we can to make life fair.

 

Guide us in our lives today and tomorrow

To demonstrate love for one another;

To share your love in as many ways we can

So others learn that love erases differences. –Amen.

 

 

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Are We the Ephesians?

given on Sunday, August 9, 2014

Are We the Ephesians?

Scriptural base: Ephesians 4:25-5:2 (NKJV)

Reflection:

The calendar reveals the truth that summer in our community is over and school begins. One might not think it would matter that school is starting, but in our culture that signals the end of vacations, kids running around the neighborhood all day long, less help in the fields, and fewer family reunions.

As the community shifts back to the school-year routines, even our church routines adjust a bit. Typically attendance resumes a more balanced appearance, new Sunday School literature begins, and mission work shifts back to studies rather than hands-on experiences.

What do we, as a Christian community, need to do to make sure that we are modeling Christian lifestyles and doing all we can do for the community—from the preschoolers, to the teenagers, to the young families, and right on through the adult groups who might be stretching toward the title of Century Leader (age 100)? That is a huge question and answering it may not be realistic; but should we try or do we just give up?

This is an ideal time to review the purpose and the goals of our church. If Paul were writing this letter to our church, would we hear the words of encouragement or would we hear the words as warnings that we need to fix some problems? Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was intended to encourage a church that was doing well, but the verses from Chapter 4 and 5 could be those of a reprimand:

25 Therefore, putting away lying, Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,”[a] for we are members of one another.

Paul continues telling the members of the Ephesus congregation to stop stealing, slandering. And he continues:

31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.

These words sound so much like the words teachers are going to use as they meet the new students in their classroom this month. The fact that schools have to teach young people the very behaviors that God asks Christians to use indicates the deterioration of a Christian society. Are we acting like God’s children or are we failing to model God’s Golden Rule of loving one another?

For generations the congregation has maintained an active presence in the community, but every congregation goes through periods of struggle and we need encouragement to continue. Paul’s words to the Ephesians are just as important to us as they were to the young church of Ephesus.

Today’s churches really are no different, but the influences from the community can challenge the congregation’s resolve to keep serving one another in love. Sometimes the problems are from within the congregation and sometimes they are the result of outside influences. The verses from Paul’s encouraging letter serve as encouragement for our church today.

First, check the health of the congregation itself. Are members working as a team or is there a rift that diminishes the sense of peace within the church? Are members being honest with each other; agreeing to disagree yet working together? Do members know the mission of the church? Are the various programs focused on the mission?

Students in the local schools all too often exhibit the very behaviors that adults know can destroy a group’s productivity. The lack of Christian behaviors leads to bullying, to physical altercations, to discrimination, and other negative outcomes. If the adults attending a church cannot work together in a positive manner, how can the young people learn?

In efforts to keep the church doors open and inviting, the Christian behaviors must reflect God’s love and grace. Rumors rather than honest and open communication can be the most damaging behaviors within a close-knit group. The smaller the congregation, the more difficult it is to overlook a negative expression or a whispered comment.

If we want our young people to earn Indian Bucks (a reward program for demonstrating good behaviors and habits at school, then we need to make sure they are seeing what a difference God’s law of loving one another makes. Good citizenship improves the quality of one’s life outside of the home, but also inside, too.

When anybody walks into the door of this church, the atmosphere welcomes and draws them in. The long-lasting relationships that have developed over the generations quickly welcome others. The ripples of discord must be managed in a loving manner or it will destroy the model of God’s community. If the new church in Ephesus had problems, Paul’s letter of encouragement emphasized the behaviors necessary for the church to strengthen and to grow.

5 Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.

Be imitators of God. Walk in love. Two very simple, direct statements can make all the difference in the world—whether in the sacred spaces of a church or the classrooms in a school or along the assembly lines and offices in the work place.

As imitators of God, we are models for others, too. The young people look at the adults to decide how to behave. The incentives for following God’s law may need to be tangible for the students at school, i.e. the Indian Bucks; but for the adults in the community the incentives are both short term and long term.

The short term incentives amounts to an environment that supports, encourages, listens and acts in ways to support each other.

The long term incentive on earth include a life filled with joy, enthusiasm, energy, beauty, love in every form, and peace. But the one long term incentive that no living person can honestly understand is that of eternal life.

As Christians, we know that every action we take has the potential to lead us away from God. The Law of Moses, the Ten Commandments, listed the most obvious sinful behaviors, but Jesus taught us a much easier law—love one another. One law to keep makes life so much simpler and by following that law, life on earth is filled with solid, positive relationships, with work environments that are pleasant and productive, and communities without conflict.

God sees everything. He knows when sticks and stones can hurt bones, but he also knows that words can leave deep and lasting scar that are far more difficult to heal. As we continue working together to create a Christian community, we must follow Paul’s advice to the Ephesians:

31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking

be put away from you . . .

By doing this, we work together in a much more productive manner and others will notice what a difference that community makes for the church, for the families, and for the community whether local, national or international.

We are to make our decisions by taking Paul’s words of encouragement:

32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.

These words written to the earliest Christians are as important today as they were then. The world may seem so very different, but people really are no different. Love one another as you want to be loved and the short term, the long term and the eternal benefits will be yours.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

You are a parent, a teacher, an advisor

Yet you sent Paul to share the good news

And today you send us too.

The words you share can be difficult to hear,

yet they have withstand the test of time.

As our young people walk into class

Guide the teachers and administrators

To follow Paul’s words of advice, too.

As the families fall into the routine

Be with them, too, as the make decisions

And model the Christian behaviors.

Even, here, in this holy place,

Open our hearts and minds to Paul’s words

Of instruction and of encouragement

As we continue to seek ways to share

God’s grace and love with one another. –Amen

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Building our Christian foundations: 5. Grace & grace with accountability

given on Sunday, February 8, 2015

5.  Grace & Grace with accountability

Building a new home takes knowledge, planning, and supplies in order to create a structure that is durable, safe, and functional. Adding the touches that turns a house into a home depends on those living within the walls of that structure. A home, built on a solid foundation, becomes a source of comfort, provides security, and reflects the personalities living there.

Building our Christian foundation can be compared to building a house, also. Yet, without Christ in our lives, we are empty inside. We can attend church and show that we know who God is—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; but living our faith honestly takes grace.

Grace is the intangible quality of unconditional love that God provides each and every individual, even every living creature living here on earth beside us. He accepts us as we are; He comforts us when we hurt; He provides us the security of eternal life; and He grants us the gifts that make us who we are.

Why, then, is grace so hard to understand? Grace from God is free, arrives with us even as we are born, cradles us as we grow up, and catches us whenever we make mistakes. God’s grace is a constant we can count on.

How come we, as his children, do not accept that grace? How come we do not model that same grace in our own lives? Why can’t we use grace automatically like God does? Among all the wonderful gifts and traits that we are born with, why do so many seem to have missed the grace gene?

Really it does not matter, what does matter is that we accept God’s grace and work on all the essential pieces that do build our Christian foundation. As we read and study the scriptures, we find example after example of God’s grace. As we study the gospels and learn how the Holy Spirit baptizes us into God’s family, we experience God’s grace. As we join in the universal church, we begin practicing that grace by unconditionally accepting our Christian brothers and sisters also.

Grace is part of Christianity. Grace is part of the DNA of Christians around this world. God’s grace is reflected in each and every one of us. All the ways that we share God’s love, without reservation, demonstrates the power of grace even in the worst circumstances imaginable.

John Wesley identified grace as a core term for Christians. In his notes, he provides insight into the application of grace in our lives:

Grace is actually a relational concept: God’s active presence and transformative power in our lives. The name Emmanuel speaks to this reality—God with us. We perceive the divine presence by the results of the divine energy working within us, enlightening, convicting, forgiving, liberating, assuring, chastising, empowering, strengthening, comforting—assisting us to become what God intended humankind to be, faithful creatures whose love for God and their neighbors is manifest through works of piety and mercy.

 

God’s grace is ours for the taking; but once we take it, we must use it. We are to be accountable to God in how we use grace in our lives.

As God’s missionaries, we are to use grace with accountability. This phrase is key to working with one another. And yes, the phrase is even used in schools. In fact, one behavior system BIST has developed in the Kansas City area and is used at the Ozanam School and Crittenton, a treatment approach to managing student behaviors. BIST’s key phrase is “grace with accountability.”

God’s grace is given and when we accept it, we agree to provide grace to one another. The human element of grace is accountability. We are accountable to God in how we use grace with others, but we are expected to use it responsibly. We are commissioned to share God’s Word so others, too, may join in relationship with God, accepting love and grace.

Our baptism into the Christian family includes a promise to be accountable. We are to love one another as God loves us. We are to offer grace to others just like God offers it to us. We are to do all that we can—as you so often hear said—to all we can.

If God can demonstrate grace to Saul, the Jewish Pharisee who was persecuting the earliest Christians, then we have no reason to doubt that he offers the same level of grace to us. Saul was struck blind in order for God to get his attention, but upon accepting Christ, Saul—now Paul—became accountable by demonstrating grace to others even from the prison cells. Paul knew what grace with accountability meant.

The letters we have from Paul share how to accept grace and how to use grace with accountability. In the letter to the Ephesians, we learn the formula in that first chapter, verses 7-8:

He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.

The connection to another essential in building Christian foundations is referred to in these two verses: The Triune God. Wesley wanted to make sure Christians understood that connection in explaining the core term grace:

Grace is a Trinitarian concept, grounded in the love and mercy of God the Father; especially manifest in the life, death, and resurrection of God the Son: and experienced through the work of God the Holy Spirit in our lives.

 

Grace is essential in our Christian foundation. Grace is the mortar used to create the brick walls, the screws and nails connecting all the pieces, and even the wires running throughout the structure carrying all the energy to all the places it is needed.

As Christians, we accept grace and we must use it with accountability. Paul never gave up on any of the young Christian churches he planted throughout the Mediterranean area over 2,000 years ago. His own methods of communicating and demonstrating grace kept those young Christians accountable just as he does today as we study the scriptures.

James, too, Jesus’ own brother, taught the early Jewish Christians how to be accountable with grace:

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.

Each one of us must work to maintain the Christian foundation God has provided us. We have all the instructions needed in the scriptures. We have the gift of the Holy Spirit. We have the skills and talents God has given us. We have grace for all the times we make mistakes because God loves us so much he gave his son so that we might have eternal life.

God’s grace is the essential element that takes us and makes us the hands and arms of God in this community in which we live. We are accountable for how we demonstrate grace to one another. We are Christians filled with grace.

Closing prayer

Dear Gracious Father,

We arrived this morning with weariness in our souls.

We have had un-Christian thoughts and made poor decisions.

We even questioned whether or not we believe.

Thank you for your grace.

Thank you for unconditional love.

Thank you for our Christian family.

Renew my faith through today’s worship.

Renew my spirit with the hope you provide.

Renew my resolve to offer grace to others.

Help me to be accountable to you and to others.

Help me to trust in the Holy Spirit to guide me.

Help me to share your Word

so others, too, may experience your grace.

–Amen.

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