LentBlog 2015, Day 18: It’s That Neighbor Thing Again….

Ephesians 4:25-32, NRSV

25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up,[b] as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.


This one’s tough, because here in this typical Pauline virtue list I hear the words of Jesus in Matthew 22: Love the Lord with everything, and love your neighbor.  I hear the sermon on the mount: Bless those who curse you, bless and do not curse… And that’s tough for me sometimes, especially visa-vis those who have gone out of their way to hurt, damage, or slander you. See, the catch with this whole love your neighbor thing is you don’t get to pick and choose who is your neighbor. Your neighbor is just as much the person who might have hurt you the most in this world as it is the nice grandma-type neighbor who bakes cookies for your kids.

So yeah. This one’s tough for me, because this is not some pie-in-the-sky, unattainable vision for Christian utopia or something. These are Paul’s words to the church at Ephesus, trying to get through to them what the “grown up” Christian life looks like.  That means it’s God’s will for my words to be gracious, even to the “neighbor” who talked junk about me recently to a friend. No room for bitterness. Be angry, but do not sin. Be a people who speak the truth in love. Don’t grieve the Spirit. Forgive as we’ve been forgiven.

Just like everything else in Christian life, methinks to live that out consistently will take miracles of God’s grace. Lots of them. So I find myself asking the Lord to keep having at me. Change me into the type of person who actually embodies this stuff. Make our church into a people who embody this stuff. Come, Lord Jesus.

Blessings,

Mark

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LentBlog 2015, Day 15: Everyone has a part.

Ephesians 2:2-13; NRSV:

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said,

“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
    he gave gifts to his people.”

(When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended[a] into the lower parts of the earth?10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.


Thinking some more about the church as I read this portion and beyond… and I think what I’ll say won’t take too many words tonight. Simply put: everyone has a role to play in the church. The point of these roles is to make disciples to train and equip folks for Kingdom life. It’s all for the edification of the church, because the whole is what’s important, not individual promotion or something. Not everyone’s role is the same. That’s OK: God designed it that way. But that doesn’t mean someone’s role is less important because it’s different. What comes to mind is how the gears and other parts fit together in a quality timepiece. gears1Some gears are bigger than others. Some are visible at the surface. Others are hidden underneath the layers of other parts. Yet all of them… ALL. OF. THEM…. are vitally important to the functioning of the whole. Remove one of those hidden, small gears and the whole thing stops working. And there are also no parts who aren’t vital to the whole… no freeloaders or tag-alongs… each part has it’s job to do within the whole.

Something to think about….

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015 Day 14: On the Church

Ephesians 4:1-6

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

NRSV


I teach a theology class on Tuesday nights. It’s for pastors who are in training headed for ordination in our tradition, the Church of the Nazarene. Tonight’s session focused on ecclesiology, or the theology of the church.  We talked about the church being One (in unity), Holy, catholic, and apostolic. One of the conclusions we came to together is that in many places, we are in the church living below the poverty level in regards to our calling as the church. We are settling for less. We aren’t living out unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity. We tend to fall short of living lives worthy of our calling. And I don’t mean “fall short” in a sort of Calvinistic, “we all fall short, so that excuses our sin” kind of way. I mean we tend not to take words like Paul here in Ephesians 4 very seriously.

See, as I read this passage (and it comes as no surprise to me that this is next up after spending three hours tonight talking about the church), I don’t think Paul is simply setting out some unreachable ideal here. He’s not setting the bar impossibly high in hopes that the church will at least improve a little. I believe the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” is actually possible for the church to live-out. It takes grace. It takes work. It takes a whole bunch of God’s people getting over their individualism and personal agendas. It takes leaders and pastors who lead out of love, grace, passion, and wisdom and not fear, guilt, and self-centeredness. I think such a church will be an amazing witness to the world around her, and I’m looking forward to being her pastor.

Blessings,
Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 12: Through the Church…

Ephesians 3:7-12

Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see[c]what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in[d] God who created all things; 10 so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.[e] 13 I pray therefore that you[f] may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.

NRSV


Gotta say it, even though there’s more happening here in this passage, it’s what is speaking to me tonight on this snowy first day of (meteorological) Spring.

Verse 10 jumped off the page and smacked me in the face tonight. It’s by far not the only place the scriptures mention this idea, but here it is again:

 so that through **the church** the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known …”

Did you catch that?  I don’t want to miss it, and I don’t want you to, either: the wisdom of God is made known  διὰ τῆς ἐκκλησίας, through the church.

::impending snarkiness alert:: But I could have sworn it said God is made known primarily by folks reading the Bible, or through apologetics, or through “Christian” bestselling books, or through overly repetitive not-so-creative Christian music, or though hip, trendy pastors preaching hip, trendy sermons, or special crusades, or name-it-claim-it, neo-charismatic emotionalism? Morpheus1

Nope. In this passage, and other places splattered throughout the New Testament, the world (and beyond) knows about Jesus being Lord through the church.  They will know Jesus is the Messiah, and this the wisdom of God in Christ, by watching how we live in the world. I’m reminded again of what one of my Seminary professors said: “Don’t forget: God has one plan for the redemption of the world… The Body Plan. And there is no Plan B.”

Man, we’ve got a lot of work to do. Through the grace of God in Christ by the presence of the Spirit, let’s get to it.

Blessings,

Mark

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 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