Category: Ephesians (page 1 of 15)

You Are Blessed By God

You are blessed by God. This is first and it’s foundational and it’s forever. You are blessed by God. This goes all the way back to the very first chapter of the Bible, the very beginning. The very day God created the first man and woman.

“God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them…” ~Genesis 1:27-28

God blessed them. The very first words God ever spoke to people at creation is blessing. Before God gives any command or any law, before he gives out jobs or guidelines for behavior, God gives his blessing. God’s blessing is not based on performance or on meeting some expectations. God’s blessings are based solely on the fact that you are created in his holy image, you bear his likeness, he made you and put himself into you. You belong to God and your are loved by God and God is very pleased with you because you are his child.

That is your identity. First and foremost and forever. That’s not just what you are, it’s who you are: blessed by God. And God speaks that blessing over and over and over to you, from that first day of creation glory to this very moment right now while you’re reading these words.

“This is what the Lord says — he who created you, he who formed you, ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine… Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.'” ~Isaiah 43

“I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands!” ~Isaiah 49

Jesus says there’s not one little bird in the sky that goes down without the Father being aware of it. What about you? You’re worth more to God than all the little birds in the world! God knows the exact number of hairs on your head!

Jesus says you know how to give good gifts to your children, and you’re not even that good yourself. How much more does your Father in heaven give to his children! How much more grace does he have for those who belong to him!

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” ~ 1 John 3:1

Over and over and over again, every page of Holy Scripture reminds you of the blessing.

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns?… [Nothing} in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!” ~Romans 8

You are blessed by God. And it’s not based on your performance. It’s not founded on what you do or how well you do it. God loves you because you are his child. God commits to you and publicly accepts you and approves of you because you are his child. You are blessed by God.

And that’s exactly where the devil attacks you.

Man, this is so important.

Ephesians 6 tells us to take our stand against the devil’s schemes. 1 Timothy 3 warns us not to fall into the devil’s trap. And we know what it is. The devil attacks the blessing. The devil wants to undermine your confidence in Christ, he wants you to doubt your identity as a beloved child of God, he wants you to lose your assurance — your certainty — as saved by Jesus Christ and sealed forever by God’s Holy Spirit.

I believe the devil wants to keep you from believing that Jesus really is the Son of God and the Savior of the World. Maybe Jesus was just a really wise and moral teacher. Maybe Jesus wasn’t really physically raised from the dead — those are just stories. Maybe there are other ways to get to heaven. I think the devil starts there. But his most subtle, most dangerous, and most effective attacks are on your blessing from God, your status as a beloved child who belongs to God.

If the devil can get your brain to believe that God loves you, but your heart to feel like God only loves you if you’re good enough — that’s his goal. If the devil can get your brain to believe that Christ’s death takes care of all your sins, but your heart to feel like that won’t cover the super big sins or the sins you can’t shake — that’s what he wants. If the devil can get your brain to accept that you are saved by God’s grace, but your heart to feel like you haven’t done enough…

The Bible calls the devil the tempter, and he certainly is that. But much more than that, the Bible calls the devil the accuser, the liar, the father of lies. Jesus says lying is the devil’s native tongue.

I’m convinced that most of the trouble in my world and in your world — whatever trouble you find in your heart and your soul, whatever’s not good inside you — is a result of knowing and believing in God’s love for you in your brain, and confessing his mercy and grace for you with your lips, but feeling something different in your heart.

All the research shows that when you ask Christians how they believe God thinks about them — “When God thinks about you, how does he feel? — more than two-thirds of Christians say “disappointed.” God is disappointed with me. Not “I belong to God.” Not “God loves me.” Not “God is well pleased with me.” We don’t feel what the Bible says about God and me, we feel what the devil says about God and me!

Brilliant, huh? And evil.

Peace,

Allan

Preaching: Gift of Grace

Most preachers are neurotic. And deeply flawed. And most of the Church knows it. Of course, we preachers know it, too. And we’re capable of making fun of ourselves. I was at a preacher’s convention in Dallas last year and they were giving out door prizes and the most popular one was this T-shirt: Help! I’m preaching and I can’t shut up!” I wanted it so badly.

This series of posts is not about preachers. It’s about preaching.

I want to post this week about preaching as one of the many things that’s right with Church. Not the preachers — the preachers are one of the things that’s wrong with church. I’ll do that series someday: “What’s Wrong with Church.” Budget sermons, cold casseroles, Friends Day, and preachers.

“I became a servant of this Gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the Church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~Ephesians 3:7-11

Grace here is not about Paul’s salvation or anybody’s forgiveness. This is about Paul’s preaching. It’s a gift of God and this gift obligates Paul to use it.

You know when you give someone a gift you expect him or her to use it. If you give somebody a new shirt for Christmas, you can’t wait to see him again and you’re hoping he’s wearing that shirt. If you give someone a book, you hope she reads it and enjoys it and the next time you see each other you want to talk to her about the book. If somebody gives you something to put up in your house and it’s really awful — some ugly vase or some hideous painting — you can’t throw it away! You have to keep it! You keep it in the back of a closet somewhere and when those people come over you hold your nose and pull that thing out of the closet and hang it on the wall until they leave!

Preaching is a gift of God’s grace to Paul and Paul is obligated to exercise it. He knew he had this great gift from the Lord, but he also had a good handle on it. He calls himself less than the least of all God’s people. And he really believed it. He put no stock in his own abilities, he didn’t feel like he outranked anybody or was important in any way. It’s all a gift from God. Deep down, Paul felt like he should have been rejected by God, but he was chosen instead.

“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service… I was shown mercy… The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus… I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” ~1 Timothy 1:12-17

Preaching is a gift of God’s grace and it obligates the preacher. God puts that inside of a preacher and he can’t shake it. In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul says, “I can’t boast when I preach the Gospel because I’m compelled to preach. I’m forced by God. Woe to me if I don’t preach the Gospel!”

Somebody asked Mick Jagger one time what it takes to make good rock and roll. He said, “Three chords and a fire.” I think what makes good preaching is like that. Maybe three points and a fire. Something God himself puts inside the preacher.

I don’t always preach what our people want to hear. I preach what’s burning inside my bones, the stuff I can’t shake, what I feel like God is almost forcing me to say. And I’m always terrified. I’m always scared when I’m preaching. I don’t feel worthy. I don’t feel qualified. I know myself too well. I know myself and my sins. Who am I to stand up here in front of all these faithful men and women, these giants, and speak for God? That song right before the sermon? I’m praying the whole time. My heart’s racing, my hands get super cold, and I’m praying.

God help me. Thank you for this blessing, for this great privilege and honor, but you’ve got to help me. Holy Spirit, help me. Help me to remember everything you and I have worked on together this week. Help me say it exactly the way you want me to.

And then when Kevin starts that last verse?

It’s you and me, Jesus. Let’s get up there and see what happens. And I hope my sermon is better received than yours was.

Preaching is a gift of grace, to proclaim Christ, to explain and make plain the good news of the Gospel. And as a result of that preaching, the church participates in God’s plan. Sometimes I might say despite the preaching. And that’s the grace, right? Somehow the preaching causes what God is doing to be revealed through the church to all the powers and authorities throughout the whole universe. Preaching leads to unity and love and sacrifice and service and worship in the church and, by God’s grace, that reveals God’s power and wisdom and proves what he’s already accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

It’s grace. Only by the grace of God does preaching accomplish anything.

Peace,

Allan

Church People: Part 3

“A truth, a doctrine, or a religion needs no space for itself. They are disembodied entities. They are heard and learned and apprehended and that is all. But the incarnate Son of God needs not only ears and hearts but living people who will follow him. That is why he called his disciples into a literal, bodily following and thus made his fellowship with them a visible reality.” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Ours is an incarnational faith, not a disembodied abstraction. That’s how our God works in us and through us for the sake of the world. People don’t get agitated over what they can’t see. People don’t risk their lives for invisible concepts. Only a visible flesh-and-blood people church works, because salvation is not a one-time, single event. Salvation is not just having your name moved from the “unsaved” column to the Book of Life when you’re baptized. Salvation is restoration, reconciliation, transformation, and healing. Yes, it starts by being united to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. But it continues — in fits and starts, off and on, usually slowly, but surely — in the Church. By looking at each other across the table during the communion meal and discerning the body. By learning how to worship and serve together. By practicing love and mercy together. By forgiving others and receiving that forgiveness. By experiencing acceptance and belonging.

You can’t get that from an ideal concept or an abstract theology. You can only feel that and experience that together in a broken and messy church-people church.

So when we stand together and recite the two-thousand-year-old words of the Apostles’ Creed, we can say we believe in the holy, universal Church. We believe that in this place, in this assembly, God is at work. We don’t believe in the Church; the Church is not the object of our faith. But we do believe that in this congregation, whenever we come together, the Holy Spirit’s saving, sanctifying, transforming work is taking place.

“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up one part, but of many… In fact, God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be… Now you are the Body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” ~1 Corinthians 12

Our Father brought the Church into the world the same way he brought our Savior into the world: by a miracle. The miracle of the Church is every bit as miraculous as the birth of Jesus. The Holy Spirit descended on Mary in the Galilean village of Nazareth. Thirty-something years later, that same Holy Spirit of God descended upon 120 men and women praying in an upper room in Jerusalem. Mary was with them. The first Holy Spirit conception gave us Jesus as a person. The second Holy Spirit conception gave us the Church, Jesus as a people.

It was a miracle that didn’t look that grand or important. God was working in and through the powerless, the vulnerable, the weak. Not very different from any random congregation you might look up today. Just like your church. And mine. A group of people who are not wise by human standards, not influential, not of noble birth; just weak and lowly flesh-and-blood people.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen!” ~Ephesians 3:20-21

Peace,

Allan

Appropriate Authority

(This is part four of last Sunday’s sermon at Central, “Parenting: So, You’ve Ruined Your Kids…” I started posting these in order on Monday and I’ll finish it up in this space tomorrow. This is one sermon out of our current six-weeks “Family Matters” series.)

I’ve heard some parenting experts say if your child is throwing a tantrum, don’t punish her. Don’t discipline him. The child is misbehaving because he doesn’t feel heard or understood. If the child knows she’s heard and understood, she’ll stop screaming and throwing things. So if your child is pitching a fit in the grocery store because you won’t buy him a cupcake, you’re supposed to get down on his level, look him in the eye, hold his hand, and repeat over and over to him, “You want a cupcake. You want a cupcake. You want a cupcake.”

Now, I’m not a parenting expert. But it seems to me the kind of behavior you tolerate when they’re young continues to grow, maybe into something enormous, so twelve years later you’re holding your child’s hand, looking him in the eyes, and gently repeating, “You just robbed  a liquor store. You just robbed a liquor store. You just robbed a liquor store.”

As the parents, you have God-given authority over your children. God is very clear in the parenting passage in Deuteronomy 6: “These commands I give you? Yeah, impress them on your children. Train up your child in the way he should go.”

“Bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” ~Ephesians 6:4

Appropriate authority is understanding that the child’s moral and spiritual formation is the parents’ responsibility. It’s on you. But authority is not power. Don’t confuse the two. Ephesians 6:4 also says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children.” Authority is not power.

Let’s say there’s a guy where you work in a different department from you and at a lower rank than you, but he barges into your office and says you must begin work on a certain project. You might say to him, “You don’t have the authority to tell me what to do.” You don’t mean that words cannot come out of his mouth, that he’s incapable of talking to you and speaking instructions. You mean he doesn’t have the right or the responsibility to direct you. Now, if he points a loaded gun in your face and says, “Do this project or I’ll shoot you,” you will do what he says, but that doesn’t mean he has the authority. He just has the raw power to force your compliance. That’s not what authority is. Authority in the Bible is not about power, it’s about responsibility and right.

Jesus says his authority is proven by the fact that he lays down his life for us. Your authority as a parent is not in that you’re bigger than your child, or older, or stronger, or in your title of Mom or Dad. It’s in your sacrificial love for your children. It’s in your heart for them and your deep desire to see them grow up to bring glory to God.

You have that authority and it should be used appropriately.

Peace,

Allan

Changed by the Gospel

Paul’s experience on the Road to Damascus changed him. Paul was dramatically converted that day. He went from arresting Christians and throwing them in jail and trying to stamp out the Jesus movement to preaching and teaching the very faith he was trying to destroy. It was radical. The scales on his eyes that made Paul blind to what God was doing in Jesus were removed. The veil that hid the salvation realities in Jesus was lifted. The truth of Christ was revealed to Paul and it changed everything.

Paul came to a brand new understanding of Jesus. It was revealed to Paul, as he writes in the opening lines of Romans, that Jesus is declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord! Paul understood that God is forgiving sinful people and fixing the broken world not by a hard core keeping of commands but in Christ Jesus by faith. To be grabbed by Jesus is to be dragged into a new eternal reality where our standards of success and our priorities and the ways we measure what’s valuable and important no longer apply. My education, my zip code, my bank account, my vacation plans, my entertainment options — all of that is garbage! Everything that mattered to Paul before he knew Christ is meaningless now that he’s living in the light of Christ.

“Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith!”  ~Philippians 3:7-9

And Paul’s new understanding of Christ means he has a new view of the people of God.

Paul sees these rag-tag Jesus-followers as marginal people. They don’t have the religious chops, they’re not dedicated to the Law, they’re unworthy in dozens of ways. But on the Road to Damascus, Jesus says, “Paul, why are you persecuting me?” Jesus the Lord ties himself directly to these outsiders Paul’s trying to crush. Paul realizes that the people of God are people of faith, not people of a certain birthright or ethnicity or race. The days of using the Law to separate Jews and Gentiles are over. The community of God is no longer defined by race or color or sex or economic status or politics. As Paul says in Galatians, “We are all one in Christ Jesus!”

And you say, “Yes! Of course! We know all this!”

We don’t know it well enough. We don’t.

We still use Christian words and Christian phrases and Christian Scripture and Christian churches to elevate men over women and to separate black disciples from white disciples. We are still fighting to keep up the walls our Lord Jesus  died to tear down.

Paul saw things differently because he was changed by the Gospel.

“Through the Gospel, the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” ~Ephesians 3:6

Our God is right now today continuing to convert and call. May we pay attention to it. May we be open to it. And we be completely committed to it so our lives and our churches can be an everlasting glory to God.

Peace,

Allan

Baptism: Identity in Christ

Ephesians 2 tells us who we used to be and, now that we’ve been baptized into Christ, who we are.

This is what you were: dead; this is what you are now: alive with Christ!

This is what you were: following the ways of the world; this is what you are now: raised up with Christ and seated with Christ at the right hand of God!

This is what you were: objects of divine wrath; this is what you are now: saved!

1 Corinthians 9 affirms that we are cleansed and made pure from our many sins, we are set apart and dedicated to the holy God as belonging to him, and we are declared righteous in God’s eyes “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

“Jesus is Lord.” Romans 10 tells us that’s the Christian confession. “Jesus is Lord.” 1 Corinthians 12 says that’s how we worship. Philippians 2 says on that last day every tongue in heaven and on earth will declare “Jesus is Lord!”

But we first say “Jesus is Lord” at our baptisms. And to say Jesus is Lord is to say Caesar is not. To say Jesus is Lord is to accept a brand new identity as his servant and to affirm that the shape and direction of my life now lays wholly within his power. I belong to him. I no longer live. The Lord Jesus lives in me and through me. Baptism is that moment of transfer. By faith, the waters of baptism move you from sin and separation from God to forgiveness and communion with God. By his love and grace, baptism transfers you from an outsider to the Kingdom of God to an insider with all the privileges and benefits. It’s a brand new way of life.

“He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” ~Colossians 1:13-14

A few verses later, Paul says all of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. In baptism, there is an exclusive devotion to Christ Jesus as Lord. Our loyalties are not to the fading kingdoms of this world but to the eternal Kingdom of our Lord. Our priorities are not in the interests of this world’s structures and institutions but to the missions and goals of our God.

Our very identity is rooted in what God has done for us in Christ. And we’re given that new identity in baptism. But our increasingly fractured and polarized culture is exposing our primary identities. It seems that we identify with our nation and national politics, race and socio-economic groups first and then our Christian beliefs and practices are filtered through those identities instead of the other way around. We struggle to identify first with our Lord and his ways and then filter our national and political and race and group beliefs and practices through that.

Whatever the issue — immigration, race relations, tax reform, gun control, war, abortion, social security, gay rights, Obamacare, the environment, the construction on the bridge at I-40 and Bell — my first instinct is to view it and talk about it through the lens of my political affiliation or my race or gender. How should a Republican feel about that? How would a Democrat talk about that? How might a patriotic American deal with this? How does a white guy, how would a black woman, how does a conservative say this? How does a liberal view this?

Our priorities are out of whack. Our identities are compromised. We think first as Republicans or Democrats, as Texas Tech of OU, and not first as baptized disciples of Jesus. Our positions are solidified and our decisions are made through the lenses or our race or zip code or voter registration card and not first and foremost by our identity as baptized followers of the crucified and risen Christ.

“You have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority… having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead… God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins… And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross… Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules?” ~Colossians 2

Now, I think all Christians in America have dealt with this for 242 years — we’re no different. Our divided and polarized society is just exposing it in more obvious and disappointing ways. I do know our Christian impulses are good and holy. It’s deep inside us, it’s in our DNA to serve others, to sacrifice for the sake of others, to view the needs of others as more important than our own, to do things the Jesus way and not the world’s way. The impulse is there. So is the desire. But the follow-through is becoming more difficult because our culture is telling us to do the opposite.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” ~Colossians 3:1-2

Remember your baptism, the Bible says. Remember where you were. Remember who was there. Remember how you felt when you came up out of the water. Remember the spiritual experience and claim all the spiritual resources you received that day.

“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” ~Colossians 3:3-4

Baptism is a touchstone moment for followers of Christ Jesus. It’s an event that embodies the faith and participates in the Gospel. But it’s also a definitive moment in time that we can reflect on for strength. Dying and rising with Christ. Putting off and putting on. Living this life under his exclusive lordship. Putting off and putting on. Every day. Dying and rising. Romans 13 says clothe yourselves with Christ and stop making room for sin.

We have a new identity. We have a different worldview. We see things differently. We see people differently. We know God’s work is not complete in me or the world, but we know it’s begun. If anyone is in Christ: new creation! The old has gone, the new has come! Baptism doesn’t just symbolize new life, it actually gives us a new identity. It doesn’t just symbolize our washing, it actually empowers a new way of living by the Holy Spirit. It not only symbolizes a break with the fallen world of sin and death, it delivers us into a brand new creation and a new world view.

If you’ve been baptized, God wants you to see yourself as one with Christ and united with all his people. God wants you to consider yourself as under the lordship of Jesus with new priorities, new goals, new methods and practices, new Holy Spirit power to live for his Kingdom.

If you’ve never been baptized, let me ask you: Why not?

Peace,

Allan

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