Thursday, November 15, 2012

A study of Ephesians 1:1-10

This is not a sermon (though it may will turn into one someday), this is just my thoughts and connections as I study the letter to the church at Ephesus.  The words in black print are Bible verses   from the American Standard Version.  Words in green are my thoughts on the scripture.

Ephesians 1  ASV

1.   Paul, (not Saul but Paul.  Not the former person but the new man.  The man remade in an instant of transformation at the moment of contact with the Son of God) an apostle (Messenger … but different from the term used for angels who are also messengers of God.  The term used here is of and emissary or ambassador.  An angel is sent to deliver the message.  Where an apostle is sent to speak for the sender.  It is a broader concept almost as if this type of messenger has also been given the ‘power of attorney’ by the sender.) of Christ (The anointed one.  In Hebrew, the Messiah.  Christ is a title not part of his name.  It literally recognizes Jesus as King in the same way that David was anointed King by Samuel.)  Jesus through the will of God, (The will of God … this is all part of the plan that God as set in motion through his divine will.  This not a random or accidental fact that Paul is an ambassador, nor is it of his own choosing.  He is an apostle because God re-created him as his emissary.)  to the saints (not Saint with a capital S.  Paul is recognizing that he is not speaking to non-believers but to those who are believers in the Lordship of Jesus.) that are at Ephesus, and the faithful (Faith full: filled with faith.  And not just any faith but faith in the lordship/kingship of Jesus) in Christ Jesus;
2.   Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, (Paul as a good Jew and steeped in the Jewish tradition did not begin his letter with Shalom.  Shalom means peace, an all encompassing type of peace.  Peace in your family, your self, your finances, your society etc.  Instead Paul wishes his readers the blessing of grace. Grace is the love of God, freely and limitlessly given without restrictions and totally undeserved.  Obviously to Paul this grace was a much greater blessing than peace.)
3.   blessed be the God and Father (This is not the common Jewish designation of God as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.  Paul in this salutation acknowledges the singular distinction of Jesus, he is the Father’s Son.  Paul acknowledges that Jesus is more than a prophet, more than a teacher, more than a healer, more than a spiritual leader more even than a king; he is recognizing the divinity of Jesus and he wants audience to understand that special distinction.)  of our Lord Jesus Christ, (Again, Paul is recognizing that both he and his readers belong to Jesus.  They are servants and He is Lord.) who hath blessed (divinely favored or favored by God) us with every spiritual blessing (Paul is not discounting earthly blessing but he is about to enumerate the more important spiritual blessings and doesn’t want his readers to start mentally cataloging earthly blessings such as health, wealth, etc.) in the heavenly places in Christ:
4.   even as he chose us (Remember Christ himself reminded his followers that they did not choose him but that he had chosen them.  As I am writing this, it is the day before a national election where we will choose our next president.  We will choose the person who will be the recognized leader of our government for the next four years.  Not everyone who goes into the voting booth will choose the person who will win the election.  Some will cast the ballot for a different candidate.  In this election we can reject as well as choose.  Not so with Christ.  He chose.  We did not.) in him before the foundation of the world, (As John said at the beginning of his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made.”) that we should be holy (Dedicated or devoted to the service of God.) and without blemish (By Jewish law nothing that is blemished, spotted, defective in anyway may be dedicated to God.  Since “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God”, it is only through the redeeming transformational power of Jesus that we can be seen as ‘without blemish’ before God.  Jesus is better than Clearasil, Oil of Olay, or Neutrogena.  Amen?) before him in love: (dedicated in love … not dedicated out of fear, or duty … not dedicated as an exchange for favors.  We are dedicated in love as a sacrifice pleasing to God.)
5.   having foreordained (We are non-denominational so I’m going to sidestep all arguments fore or against Calvin’s understanding of these terms of ‘foreordained’ and ;predestined’ and just say that they mean appointed beforehand) us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself, (Paul as a Jew was not claiming his birthright as a ‘son of Abraham and inheritor of the promise of God’.  He was acknowledging that, through Jesus, Jew and Non-Jew had both been adopted into the family of God.  This was a vastly more important relationship than being a son of Abraham) according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved: (Again Paul is saying that is all the will of God, a gift, unearned and purchased by Jesus.)
6.   in whom we have our redemption (redemption requires a price.  We have said and believe that our salvation is a gift, however it free to us only because Jesus paid the price of our sin, of our rebellion against the will of God.) through his blood, (this is the price, His blood in exchange for ours.  One day during communion we received the bread and dipped it into the chalice of juice and as I removed the bread, I automatically held my other hand under it to catch the drip.  And drip it did, right into the center of my palm.  As I looked at the round dot of red, my heart was broken, once again by the realization of the depth of Jesus’ and the Father’s love for me.) the forgiveness of our trespasses, (Trespass is such a gentle word.  We have just wandered into a place where we did not belong. At times in my life maybe what I did was trespass.  However there were also times that I SINNED!  I was willfully disobedient to the will and law of God.  In those times when I just stepped off the path, a gentle nudge was all I needed to get me back into the will of God.  But there were times that took off running, jumping fences, scaling walls and kicking down doors as I ran from God.  I deserved a whack upside the head, to be shackled and thrown into the pit.  However, God gave to me ((and you)) … according to the riches of his grace.
7.   which he made to abound toward us (Grace that comes not in a trickle but a flood.  An overwhelming, all engulfing outpouring of grace.  A grace that doesn’t just hide our sins it completely removes them.) in all wisdom and prudence,
8.   making known unto us the mystery of his will, (The mystery of His will?  Did you realize that God gave more than ten laws to Moses?  Orthodox Jews follow all 613 in the law of Moses.  God certainly never intended his will to be a mystery.  He tried repeatedly to make his will known to us.  It was only man’s hard heartiness that made his will a mystery to us.
9.   according to his good pleasure which he purposed in him
unto a dispensation of the fullness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth; in him, (Bless you Paul for that image, “sum up all things in Christ”.  Did you just hear Paul say, “Jesus is the answer?”  Imagine a balance sheet; on one side is everything … everything ever … past, present and future … everything, add them altogether and on the other side of the = sign is Jesus.  “All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made.” John 1:3.) 

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Price and The Prize

Mark 12:38-44

38.  As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces,
39.  and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!

        We haven’t changed that much in the last two thousand years have we?  We know these people.  Amen?  We may even BE these people.  Opps!  I’d better back off before I start meddling.  It’s too early in the sermon to start stepping on toes.  Don’t worry; the toes that get stepped on are my own.  Remember, every message I deliver was delivered to me first.

40.  They devour widow’s houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.  They will receive the greater condemnation.”

        Okay, here is confession time for me.  And please understand, I’m not telling you this to be boastful.  I’m telling you this in all humility.  When I am preaching, I write the corporate prayers in advance because I want to be sure to cover all the concerns of the congregation.  My goal isn’t for length but for completeness. 
        That is the difference between these public prayers for others and my personal prayers which are much different.  99% of my prayers are quick, one topic prayers, more akin to post-it notes than letters.  I talk to God a lot because I talk to Him about what is on my mind.  And, well, I guess my mind does hold a lot of thoughts at a time!  But the point is I don’t have to get “caught up” with God.  I don’t have to fill Him in on what is going on, ‘cause He’s there with me all the time. 

        Those prayers are also nearly always silent.  You could follow me around all day and never realize when I’m talking to God.  If you ever hear one of my public prayers and think to yourself, “I wish I could pray like that!”  you will have missed the point completely.  Public prayers may be for public use but they are not for public entertainment.  Prayer is “talking to God” and that is ALL it is.

        My mother had a saying, “He almost threw his arm out … patting himself on the back.”  It was her way of saying that someone was a little too full of himself.  That seems to describe the scribes that Jesus was talking about.  But let’s not get too smug here.  How many of you have a trophy case?  A scrapbook or shoebox full of mementos of past achievements?  How many have your old report cards from grade school?  Medals, ribbons, awards certificates, letter jacket letters?  I think I still have my sharpshooters and badge and even my good conduct ribbon from the military.  They are in a jar in a drawer someplace. 

        We all like to be recognized for what we’ve accomplished.  Especially we like to be recognized for achieving a goal that we had to really struggle to achieve.  I don’t believe that there is anything inherently wrong with accepting the praise of others for our honest achievements.  The problem arises when we fail to give God the praise for the strength, the wit, the ability to achieve those goals.
        I’m reminded of the old pioneer’s prayer that went like this, “God, I thank thee for this bread, that I baked, from the flour that I ground, from the wheat that I grew, in the field that I planted after I plowed after I cleared it of timber and grass and stones.  Yes, I thank you for this bread that I baked in the oven I built from the stones I gathered from the field and carried to the house that I built from the lumber I milled from the trees that I felled in the land I homesteaded. 
        I am sorry to say that I have at times had a few too many “I”s in my prayers and not enough “thee”s and “thou”s.  A more proper prayer would be, “Thank you, Gracious God, for this bread which you have provided.  Thank you for the seed that you created to grow in your good soil and watered by the rains in their season.  Thank you for the health and strength that you have given me to work the soil.  Thank you for the creative mind to conceive and construct my home.  Thank you most of all that you loved me enough to send your son to die in my place for my sins.  Amen.”

        You see, Jesus was trying to show his followers (that’s us) that we need to take our eyes off of ourselves and onto God.  And to be sure that his listeners heard the message he repeats it with another illustration.

        But before we get to this next part of the reading I don’t want anyone to start squirming in their seats.  We’re going to be talking about money.  And I know when a preacher starts to talk about money people start thinking, “Okay, here it comes … he’s trying to get into my wallet.”  So, let me make this clear.  I am not going to pass the plate.  I’m not going to take an offering.  If you have a home church, I encourage you to support them even while you are away from home.  This ministry has very little expenses and does not need your money.  By the same token, I was told by a couple who attended our service back in Iowa, that they felt the “need” to give and that I was being selfish for not allowing them to do so.  So, if you feel lead to support this ministry, it will be humbly accepted and put to use as God directs us.  But again, don’t hear the following part of the sermon as a plea for money.  That is not what Jesus was trying to teach his disciples.  He was teaching about giving all (not just money) to God.  He was teaching about the price and the prize of following Him.

        Okay, now as Paul Harvey would say, “The rest of the story.”
41.  He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury.  Many rich people put in large sums.

        Praise God!  Rich people SHOULD put in large sums.  Jesus never spoke against that.  As a matter of fact, he made it pretty clear that the rich should put that money to its best use here in this life because it wasn’t going to follow them to the next.  He was quite pointed as to what happens to people who are bad stewards of the assets they are in charge of.  He also praised those who used their resources to gain an increase.  I believe that God gives us more than we can use for the purpose of giving to others.  So listen to what Jesus has to say.

42.  A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.
43.  Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.”
44.  For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.

        Now wait a minute!  All she put in was a couple of coins.  Those coins were an insignificant portion of the total treasury.  What difference could those coins make in a treasury so well stocked?  Well, that’s the point; you see Jesus wasn’t looking at the good it was going to do the treasury.  He was looking at the good it was going to do this poor widow. 
        Wait!  What?  Did I just say that Jesus was looking at what the widow had just gained?  Yep!  Stay tuned, we’ll get to that in a minute.

        Yes, she had given all that she had.  Jesus never asked anyone for less than all they have.  Think back to when Jesus called Peter and Andrew and James and John.  Do you remember what happened?  Matthew 4 starting with verse 18
18.                While Jesus was walking along the shore of Lake Galilee, he saw two brothers, one was Simon, also know as Peter, and the other was Andrew.  They were fishermen, and they were casting their net into the lake.
19.                Jesus said to them, “Follow me!  I will teach you how to bring in people instead of fish.”
20.                Right then the two brothers dropped their nets and went with him.
21.                Jesus walked on until he saw James and John, the sons of Zebedee.  They were in a boat with their father, mending their nets.  Jesus asked them to come to him.
22.                At once they left the boat and their father and went with Jesus.

        Do you see?  He asked EVERYTHING of them.  Leave your business.  Leave your family.  Leave all of the things that you have planned.  Leave it all.  Because there is so much more to gain! 

        In Luke 14:26 there are large crowds following Jesus.  He was becoming extremely popular with many people.  He was healing them and feeding them.  It appeared that life would be good for his disciples.  And so, many followed him.  Then he turned and said to them, … “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison – your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even your own life.  Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.”

        There is Jesus disclaimer.  In this day and age, to keep from being sued, it seems everything has a disclaimer attached to it: “Results may vary, consult a physician before proceeding, side affects may occur … some serious … including death.”   Jesus didn’t want these ‘fair weather’ followers to be unaware of he ‘side affects’ to become His disciple. 
        To become his follower, you must be willing to loose everything, to own nothing, not even your own life.  And he never promises that it will be easy.  Indeed he says “pick up your cross and follow me.” 

        We, in this day and age, are so far removed from the reality of “the cross”, that I think we fail to take in the impact of what Jesus was saying.  What those present were hearing him say was, “If you follow me, you must be willing to be tortured and executed in the most painful, brutal and humiliating way possible. 

        If you are looking for “sunshine and lollipops, where all your dreams come true”, don’t bother following Jesus.  He demands all that you own and all that you are … nothing less will do.
        “So what’s in it for me?” we ask.  If I am to give up everything, even my will, what will I gain?  That seems a fair question to ask.  Amen?   The Psalmist does a good job of answering that in the 23rd psalm.
1.  The Lord is my shepherd … He provides guidance for our life.
2.  I shall not want … He provides for all our needs.
3.  He makes me to lie down in green pastures … He provides us with rest in a turbulent world.
4.  He leads me beside the still waters … He refreshes us.
5.  He restores my soul … our sin laden soul is cleansed and made new
6.  He leads me in the paths of righteousness … He gives us clear instruction and examples of how to live our life.
7.  for His name’s sake … We are children of God.  We are Christians.  We are His namesake.
8.  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil … even in death  there is nothing to fear.
 9.  for You are with me … Jesus said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28: 20b
10. Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me … we actually have the full armor of God … belt of Truth … breastplate of righteousness … the gospel of peace … shield of faith … the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. – Ephesians 6:10-18
11.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies … Yes, even in the presence of our enemies.  Hear what Romans 8:38 & 39 say, “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present not the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
12. You anoint my head with oil … There are two ways of anointing with oil.  One is as a sign of acceptance and friendship, as when a host would anoint his guests with oil; it was a refreshment from the heat and dust.  The other use of anointing with oil is to sanctify or make holy, as in the anointing of the sacrificial altar or the priests or the king.  Both of these are true for us as Christians.  … Romans 8:17… “and if children then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.”
13.  My cup runs over … Blessings beyond blessings are ours.  More than we can consume … enough to share, just like a 3 Musketeers Bar.
14.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life … Again from the 8th chapter of Romans in the 28th verse we read … “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”  Goodness and Mercy even in those times when we don’t see them … God is at work turning everything into what is good for us.  Sometimes it’s ice cream and sometimes it is cod liver oil, but it is always good for us.
15.  I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever … Jesus said in John 14:3, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”  As a follower of Christ our eternal home is already prepared; the woodwork is polished, the knick knacks are dusted, the bedspread is turned down, and the cupboards are fully stocked and the curtains are drawn back … home is waiting for us.

        All of this on the day when we give our life to the Lord, we lost everything … and we gained everything.  Paul understood this concept and tried to pass it on to the church at Philippi.  Philippians 3:
8.  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.

        Okay, I said earlier that it was too soon in the message to start meddling.  Well now we're far enough into it that it is time to start meddling.  I want you to think for a moment what you have gained by knowing Jesus as Lord of your life.  (If you don’t know him as your savior and your lord, come see me afterwards and I will pray with you about that.)  Maybe what you have gained is a better life … not necessarily an easy life … but a better life than you had or would have had without Him.  Perhaps what you have gained is a hope beyond this life.  The reassurance that where He has gone, you will also go to live with Him for eternity.  Maybe you have gained victory over an illness, or weakness or addiction that had held you.  Maybe you were raised in a Christian home and never strayed far from the path so for you what you have gained is a continuation of that fellowship into the next life.  What ever you have gained is personal and between you and God. 

        Now think, if you can, of what you lost by become a child of God.  Anything of value?  Speaking for myself here, I can’t think of anything that I can say that I gave up.  There are things that I no longer do, places I no longer go, thoughts I no longer have, and emotions that I no longer feel.  But, in truth, what ever was left behind was, as Paul said, rubbish. 

        Actually, I’ve heard that a translation closer to the meaning of his words would not be rubbish, but sewage.  That is what we who have found the Lord have left behind … sewage.  And in exchange we have gained it all!  Praise God.  Amen.

        Let’s bow our heads in prayer.  Father, I pray that if there is anyone here who has not yet made that commitment to surrender their will to yours, that you will speak words of power and reassurance to their hearts right now. 
        And Lord, for those who already have given our lives to you, we praise you for our salvation, for out strength, for our courage, for our peace, for our relief and for our comfort, but most of all we thank you for your abiding presence in our lives.  Amen.