LentBlog 2015, Day 11: The Secret is Out

Ephesians 3:1-6

 This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for[a] Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery[b] was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

NRSV


This passage is making a pretty simple yet profound point with me tonight… Paul takes 5 verses to lead up to it, and perhaps he’s doing it on purpose. It turns out there’s been a secret of sorts. And Paul, among others, has been sent to proclaim it from the rooftops to Jews and Gentiles alike:

In Jesus, the Gospel is for “those people,” too. 

In Jesus, outsiders become more than just insiders-who-were-outsiders… more than just people who are welcome in our little club, but aren’t really like us… they become co-heirs. Brothers and Sisters. Full-blown, flat-out equals. Indistinguishable from those who were insiders in the first place. Members of the same body with the same DNA.

That’s a bomb going off to folks who say they welcome new and different people, but keep them at arms length because they’re new and different. Some Jewish Christians treated their Gentile brothers and sisters this way, and Paul goes to great lengths all over the place, not just in Ephesians, to remind them that attitude is not a kingdom attitude.

My prayer is to welcome a bunch of new folks into the Kingdom in the coming days.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 10: Our Need to Win is Killing Us.

11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth,[b] called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body[c] through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.[d] 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.[e] 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually[f] into a dwelling place for God.

NRSV


I think sometimes our need to win gets us in trouble. In fact, were it not 11:00pm after a long week, and I were to spend some more time really considering that statement, I don’t doubt that I would say something like, “Our need to win has disastrous consequences for us on all kinds of levels.”

It’s the leader who can’t see the obvious failure they’re promoting… because they have to win. Two friends in a disagreement putting their friendship in legitimate jeopardy because the both have to win. A businessman or CEO putting the company at risk with bad decisions… because he/she has to win. A nation that drops bombs on civilians in retaliation for something… because of a need to win.

I’m reading this passage in Ephesians tonight, and the thought crosses my mind again: Jesus brings about reconciliation, in this case between Jewish and Gentile Christians. And he does it all wrong.

See, the way our world tends to resolve conflicts is one party in the conflict eventually proves themselves stronger, more powerful, more numerous, or more cunning, and forces the capitulation of the weaker party.  The weaker party surrenders to the stronger, and a sort of peace can be reached. So if a terrorist bombs you, the way to end terrorism is to bomb them into submission or something. Hence the desire to win.

But God brings about reconciliation in Christ… through his death and resurrection. Reconciliation comes about not through show of force and forcing the weaker party to surrender– God could do that any time God chooses, right?– but through the infinitely stronger and more powerful party humbling himself, taking on the form of a servant, and dying. He wins… by losing. He brings unity… through surrender and humility.

I wonder what would happen if pastors, churches, and people modeled this kind of reconciliation?

Worth thinking about.

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 9: On the Creativity of God

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ[a]—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

NRSV


Lots to say here about this passage… vv 8-9, for example, are one of the prominent passages succinctly defining salvation by grace in the New Testament.

What’s catching my attention tonight, though, is verse 10… we are what God has made us. And we are created (anew) in Christ Jesus for good works.  To me, on this night, the creativity of God comes tot the forefront. We serve a God who creates, and it turns out God is always creating something new. God is a creative God. He makes stuff. He creates something out of nothing.. all the time. And God is creating (and re-creating) us, in Christ, for good works. Elsewhere Paul says to be “in Christ” means there is a new creation.

Now, the thing about “new” is that “new” can be threatening. New means change. New means something was there that wasn’t there before, and it wiggles, moves, acts, makes weird noises and does different stuff than we’re used to. New can scare the begebers out of us. New pushes our boundaries, challenges our perceptions, calls out our laziness and apathy, and makes us uncomfortable. It forces our hand, really. New forces us to face the fact that we aren’t really our own, and neither is the work of our hands.  It’s not really mine… it’s God’s. We’ve simply been given stewardship of it for a while, to put it to use, partnering with God to create something…. well, new. God’s desire to create something new will bring to light very quickly how emotionally (and otherwise) tied we are to the “old” or the status quo.  The question then becomes, “has the status quo become so important to me that I actually find myself fearful of or even actively resisting the new thing God wants to create in and through me/us?

It seems to me Yoda was right at least on one thing: Fear is a path to the Dark Side.  And instead of living out of (and getting our butts kicked by) fear… in my personal life, our family, our church, and in the world… we could celebrate the new things God is doing and rejoice He’s not finished creating.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 8: On the Means of Grace

Ephesians 2:1-10

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ[a]—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

NRSV


Second post for tonight because  had to catch up on missing last night’s post. I may blog about this passage again tomorrow, we’ll see. What’s speaking to me tonight, though, is Paul’s emphasis that salvation comes by grace. Now, this is an obvious theme of Paul and one of the 2 foundational doctrines of the Christian faith (the other is Trinity). Salvation by grace through faith is obvious to everyone within 10 feet of othodox Christian faith…

… and yet….

….we tend to de-emphasize the Means of Grace in the life of the church.

I’m 100% convinced, I think, that helping facilitate the connection between out people and the means of grace is the most important thing we pastors can do.

Think about it- If we’re saved by grace, and in our churches we aren’t paying attention to the ways in and though which grace moves in and out of the lives of our people, then we are missing out on the very ways the result of which our people are saved, made new, and formed into Christlikeness. If that’s true, then we are in danger of becoming the very thing the average atheist views the church as: just another human-made system designed to help people cope, feel better about themselves, control morality and ethics, and exert power, many times inappropriately.  IF we neglect the means of grace… IF our people never really connect with grace… then we are basically practical atheists. Such a church can do a lot of stuff, even in Jesus’ name, and never really see anyone truly changed.

I think that’s one of the things I like about Lent. Among other things, it offers us the chance to examine how the means of grace are working in our lives, and what patterns of living may we delete from or add to our lives in order to be better aligned toward the flow of God’s grace.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog Day 7: Too Small A Thing…

Stefanie and I went to the NEI District (That’s Northeastern Indiana District Church of the Nazarene for those of you playing at home) Discipleship Ministries Spirit Rally last night with Dr. Dan Boone preaching. We got back late, and I wanted to blog about it briefly but honestly, I fell asleep staring at an empty blog page.

Essentially, Dan preached on being the people of God in Exile from Isaiah 40-55. One of the main reminders from our time together was a quote from Isaiah 49:6. God says to those in exile,

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
    to restore the tribes of Jacob
    and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
    that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

He challenges those in exile to look beyond just the restoration of their “good ole days” fortunes in times gone by when things were good, comfortable, and “successful.”  It turns out God has bigger fish to fry than that. God is a creative God who is about to do something new, and the people have set their sights too low. It’s a small thing to merely restore the good ole days. God has an entire world to redeem and he intends to use these exiles to do just that.

What if we, too, have set our sights too low? As we long for the good ole days where Christian values and ethics were (at least on the surface) the dominant shaping force in culture, we could very well ignore that God has WAY bigger fish to fry than Christians winning some culture war to bring back days gone by. He’s got a bigger vision for us than that…

…if we’ll embrace it.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 6: The same power…

Ephesians 1:17-23

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God[f] put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

NRSV


Paul continues his prayer of blessing and thanksgiving (which is typical Pauline letter structure) by reminding them of the “immeasurable greatness” of God’s power. What hit me about this part of the passage was that the power Paul prays will be evident to the Ephesians was the same power God put to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead. Same power. The same Spirit, the same power, the same live-giving, grave-defeating, all-loving power that raised Jesus from the dead can be Power Memeactive… in me.

I already knew that. And I regularly pray that the same Spirit that raised Jesus would raise me, too. But this caught me again tonight…. and I’m reminded during the beginning of this Lent season that resurrection can’t happen without a death. Easter happens only because Good Friday happened first.  Lest we think that the power we’re talking about here is not without sacrifice, we’re kidding ourselves. We will be raised with him… if we die with him (see Romans and the baptism imagery there). So this is power, for sure… but power redefined. And in our culture we like power. We like to wield power. We like to be powerful. The weak are weak because they do not have power.

But Jesus comes along and reminds us that power redefined is NOT a power trip designed to satisfy our need to be right, or important, or blessed, or something. It is the power of the Resurrection that happens… after Calvary. Because of that, it’s power redefined. And that’ll really bake our noodle if we think about it.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 5: A Church with a Reputation

Ephesians 1:15-17.

15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love[e] toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him…

NRSV


I read more than just these three verses tonight, but the later section spoke of something I want to consider more tomorrow and hit in another post.

What kinda got me tonight was when Paul says he has heard of the Ephesians’ faith in Jesus and love towards all the saints. It turns out the Christians in Ephesus had a reputation. In their case, having a reputation was a good thing. I was reminded of the passage in John 13 where Jesus taught his disciples the world would know they are his disciples because of their love. Sounds like the folks at Ephesus were known by their faith and love. Not a bad rep to have.

In light of this, can I say what I’m tired of and convicted by this evening? I’m tired of hearing about churches (and larger denominational structures) who have a reputation of unfaithfulness and not love. I’m tired of hearing about churches where dysfunction is rampant because folks love getting their way more than they love the Lord and their neighbors. I’m tired of the reputation churches have as places where people fight over stupid non-essential junk. I’m tired of some churches that flail around, beating the air with their fists, because sometimes their pastors are asleep at the wheel. I’m tired of seeing churches who are being led out of fear and not faith and love. I’m tired of hearing from my non-Christian friends the reason they aren’t involved in church is because of how the church lives out its so-called faith. ::end rant::

I’m convicted by these verses, because I am so. totally. ready. to pastor a church with an Ephesians kind of reputation, and our church plant isn’t off the ground yet. I’m convicted because I, too, live out of fear sometimes… fear of failure, among other things.

So let me ask you, so you can join me in this self- and church- examination: What’s your church’s reputation?

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015 Day 4: On the salvation of all things…

Ephesians 1:8b-14

With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance,[c]having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this[d] is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

NRSV


 I’ll cut right to it tonight because it’s late and I’m bushed.

Verse 10 is hitting on something I’ve been thinking more about lately, especially since I am currently teaching a Theology course for the District Nazarene School of Ministry that deals with soteriology. God’s plan in Christ is “to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” 

Verses like this and others throughout scripture point to the idea that salvation is cosmic in nature. In Christ, the whole of creation is redeemed as he gathers everything to himself. We live in the country, far enough from a city that we can actually see stars at night. The other night arriving home from teaching, I looked up, saw the amazing view, and thought, “Lord, I sure hope you do redeem everything, because this is a pretty cool place you’ve made.”

What would it mean for all things to be included in what God is redeeming in Christ? For the “New Jerusalem” to descend from heaven to earth?

I think it might mean:

  • The universe is a good place, not a bad one (See Genesis 1).
  • The universe is headed in an overall good direction (as Christ will gather all things to himself) not a bad one.
  • Stewardship of the earth is important…
  • May the Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven… the dynamic here again is heaven coming to earth, not the residents of earth escaping to disembodied heavenly blessedness.
  • Gnosticism is for the birds…. though not really for real birds, because they tend to smell and be dirty, which is much too fleshly for a Gnostic.
  • If the Kingdom comes in its fullness to earth, I’m moving to Florida. 🙂

Blessings,

Mark

Lentblog 2015; Day 3: One very important, life-changing word.

Ephesians 1:3-10

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 

NRSV


There’s a lot of classic Paul in this passage. Again it contains a bunch of classic Pauline theological buzzwords… including one of the most used and theologically important: the word “in.” This is the word that jumps out at me tonight, and that I’m pursuing. Look how many times Paul uses “in Christ” or “in him” in these few verses:

“In Christ”…

…we are blessed by the Father with every spiritual blessing.

…we are chosen to be holy and blameless before the foundation of the world.

…we receive grace freely bestowed on us.

…we have redemption through his blood.

…the Father’s good pleasure is set forth.

…all things in heaven and on earth are gathered up.

And that’s just 7 verses.

That word… “ἐν” (in) all of a sudden becomes pretty important. What does it mean for all this to happen in Christ? What does it mean, as Paul talks about all over the place, for us to be “in” Christ or for Christ to be “in” us?

Probably we could all spend the rest of our lives pursuing being ἐν Χριστῷ. For now, I’m reminded that because all this happens in Christ, it’s not my creation. WE didn’t do any of this. Lest we think we are all that on a Popsicle stick, or that salvation is in any way us making the first or decisive move, we’re kidding ourselves.

My $.02 after a long, tiring, 18-hour day.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 2: Grace and Peace

Ephesians 1:1-2

 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

NRSV

Okey… So I think I’ve decided to begin at least with Ephesians during this season of Lent… thought I reserve the right to change mid-stream or go somewhere unexpected when I finish Ephesians.

The opening 2 verses of Ephesians are easy to overlook. They’re the signature, address, and salutation of the letter. They look pretty much the same as every other opening paragraph from Paul. He identifies himself as the author, says to whom the letter is written, and gives a blessing. They’re almost all the same in Paul, and it’s easy to blast past them.

But not tonight.

It’s the “grace and peace” that give me pause tonight.

The first thing Paul does is bless his readers. And he blesses them by wishing them grace and peace.

Grace is a biggie in Ephesians… in chapter 2 Paul reminds us salvation comes only by grace through faith. Peace is one I haven’t done much New Testament word study on, though שלם (shalom, shalem, basically meaning “peace”) is important in the O.T. Philippians talks about the Peace of Christ passing all understanding and guarding our hearts.  It’s not lost on me tonight that Paul wishes (or maybe pronounces?) grace and peace to his brothers and sisters in Ephesus.

I think the rest of v.2 is important… grace and peace come from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. I think sometimes we delude ourselves into thinking grace and/or peace really come from ourselves. Or at least what we do or earn or attain (in terms of peace, anyway).

For me, tonight, I find myself keenly sensing my need for both grace and peace. When I think about my life currently, “peace” is not the first word that comes to mind. So for Paul to pronounce grace and peace to his hearers, I hope I’m one of his hearers. And it helps to remember that both come from The Lord.

Lent is about a certain type of hunger. We fast things during this season, so that when we desire them, we are called to prayer. We hunger after righteousness etc. Tonight, I’m hungry for the peace that comes through grace. Maybe you are, too.

Blessings,

Mark