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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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It’s February: How is your heart?

given on February 3, 2013:

 

It’s February:  How’s your heart?

 

We have opened up a new month, the shortest in the year, yet it is so packed with special days and honorees and themes that it is easily overwhelms the daily routines we establish in our lives.

Consider this February list:

  • American Heart Healthy Month
  • Black History Month
  • Ground Hog’s Day was the 2nd
  • Abraham Lincoln’s birthday is the 12th
  • George Washington’s is the 22nd
  • Now President’s Day combines those so we have a holiday weekend—the 16th-18th this year.

Oh my!  I decided to do a little deeper exploration and turned to the web.  The list is much, much larger than I expected.  Why I think the list is longer than the days of the month:

  • February 1—National Freedom Day
  • February 2—Ground Hog’s Day. Pancake Day, National Woodchuck Day, and Candlemas—which I did not know and learned it is a Christian holiday recognizing the purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of Christ in the Temple
  • February 3—Halfway Point of Winter (interesting how it is the day after Groundhog Day where we learn whether it is 6 weeks of winter or a month and a half until spring)
  • February 5—Apache Wars Began (1917 in Arizona)
  • February 5—Dwight L. Moody’s birthday
  • February 6—Ronald Reagan’s Birthday
  • February 7—Charles Dickens’  and Laura Ingalls Wilders birthdays
  • February 8—Boy Scouts of America founded in 1910
  • February 9—Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley’s birthday and the day National Weather Service was established in 1870
  • Jell-O Week begins (second full week of the moth)
  • February 10—Feast of St. Paul’s Shipwreck in Malta, AD 60—not often recognized, but remember this is Paul, first known as Saul
  • February 11—Thomas Edison’s birthday and now National Inventors Day, plus it is also “Make a New Friend Day”
  • February 12—not only Lincoln’s birthday but Kindness Awareness Day
  • February 13—the first magazine, The American Magazine, was published in 1741
  • February 14—St. Valentine’s Day
  • February 15—now Susan B. Anthony Day but is also Galileo’s birthday clear back in 1564
  • February 15—National Engineers Week which included the side note that this is typically assigned as the week that includes George Washington traditional birthday, but sometimes has to be adjusted
  • February 17—analog TV switched to digital format in 2009 by Federal law.
  • February 18—Planet Pluto discovered in 1930
  • February 19–Japanese Internment Anniversary (1942)
  • February 20—Ansel Adam’s birthday (1902)
  • February 21—International Mother Language Day plus was the day that a stream train traveled 10 miles in 1804
  • February 23—Banana Bread Day as well as the beginning of the Alamo siege
  • February 24—Wilhelm Grimm’s birthday (1786), Steve Jobs’ birthday (1955) and my friend Cathy’s
  • February 25—Renoir’s birthday in 1841
  • February 26—Grand Canyon National Park Anniversary
  • February 27—No Brainer Day
  • February 28—John Tenniel’s Birthday (1820), First US Chartered Passenger Railroad Service in 1827, and the DNA Double Helix was discovered in 1953
  • February 29—Leap Year that is not part of the 2013 calendar.

[Accessed on February 2 at http://www.knowledgehouse.info/month_02.html%5D

 

This list came from an educator’s site in Arizona, so it adds in a few which not other state might add such as the Apache War, still the fullness of the calendar and its events can keep classrooms busy and focused on the worst of winter days.

February may be the shortest month, but it is a transitional month for many of us.  The themes attached to the month typically are connected to human relationships, to the heart of mankind.  Therefore the question is “How is your heart?”

As Christian’s the commandment to love one another is a year round, life long rule of thumb.  Unfortunately, the world has not completely embarrassed that premise and the lack of honest love for one another keeps leading people into painful, hurtful, damaging situations.  Certainly all the violence on the streets and political violence is not driven with the emphasis on random acts of kindness.  Instead, the random acts of violence occur and hearts are damaged.

Where in any of the Ten Commandments is there any mention of acts of revenge, violence, jealousy, or cruelty of any kind.

Exodus 20 1-2 God spoke all these words:

I am God, your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
out of a life of slavery.

No other gods, only me.

4-6 No carved gods of any size, shape, or form of anything whatever, whether of things that fly or walk or swim. Don’t bow down to them and don’t serve them because I am God, your God, and I’m a most jealous God, punishing the children for any sins their parents pass on to them to the third, and yes, even to the fourth generation of those who hate me. But I’m unswervingly loyal to the thousands who love me and keep my commandments.

No using the name of God, your God, in curses or silly banter; God won’t put up with the irreverent use of his name.

8-11 Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work—not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town. For in six days God made Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them; he rested on the seventh day. Therefore God blessed the Sabbath day; he set it apart as a holy day.

12 Honor your father and mother so that you’ll live a long time in the land that God, your God, is giving you.

13 No murder.

14 No adultery.

15 No stealing.

16 No lies about your neighbor.

17 No lusting after your neighbor’s house—or wife or servant or maid or ox or donkey. Don’t set your heart on anything that is your neighbor’s.

The Ten Commandments are such simple rules for all of God’s children to follow one would think the heart-throbbing month of February would be a full month of celebration.  But, so many people—historical and present—break these rules causing heart ache rather than heart-felt loving experiences.

As individuals who are committed to living a God-centered life loving one another, February can be a celebration of loving one another.  The Ten Commandments worked for years, but then they also did not work, as the Israelites seemed to clutter up the basic rules with more and more complex rules.  The constant demands and changes lead so many to make heartless decisions.

This brings us to God’s decision to try one more time.  He took the Ten Commandments and made it one, all-inclusive commandment that has the potential for transforming the world.  One super simple rule to live by—love one another.  And for 33 years, God worked through the form of Jesus Christ to make sure that this one law could be used successfully with all people regardless of race, gender, circumstances, nationality, or even personal experience.  Everybody is everybody’s neighbor and that one commandment should be enough.

Where does this bring us today?  Back to February.  One additional entry on the calendar is Lent.  Advent and Lent are the two most celebrated seasons in the Christian year, and Lent begins this month.  What better time to ask. “How is your heart?”

During the week, review the Ten Commandments.  Look closely at your personal history and analyze how well you have managed to keep the Ten Commandments.  How healthy is your heart?  Have you honestly kept no other gods before God?

Now be careful, that is more difficult than you might think because in today’s secular world it is easy to put some interest or object or goal ahead of God.  Isn’t greed one of the very deadliest sins—deadly in that it kills the relationship we have with God.  Greed puts money and possessions into our hearts as a god.  It runs lives into very unhealthy heart conditions.

Continue with your own heart exam.  Look over the other nine commandments and ask yourself:  Have I lived a life that God and others can tell that I follow the commandment?  Maybe there is a time in your life when you did envy a neighbor for one reason or another.  Maybe there has been a part of your life when parents were not honored.  Maybe there was a time when your words damaged another’s reputation that caused a relationship to die.

This is not a simple task.  There is not other way to determine whether your heart is healthy or not.  There is no other way to prepare for a month filled with love in all types of situations, in all types of manners, in all types of circumstances unless you begin with your own heart health.

This week you have time to carry out the analysis while preparing for the Random Acts of Kindness week, which begins February 10.  There is much work to be done if we are to make sure we have healthy hearts not only during February but also for the rest of our lives.  Just consider what a transformation a change of heart can bring to your life and to those around you.   And if a transformation is possible in your corner of the world, multiply that and consider how far healthy hearts really can reach.

God spent 33 years on earth to make sure we got the message.  Shouldn’t we spend one month focusing on our hearts so we can continue loving one another and transforming our world into one that is truly heart healthy.  It takes work, it takes prayer, and it takes a team effort to do all that we can in all the ways that we can for all that we can.

Dear Loving Father,

We face a world filled with such unhealthy hearts

     that we become unhealthy, too.

Guide us as we carefully, honestly examine our hearts

     to find the blockage that keeps our hearts working well.

Reveal to us the truths in our lives that block

     us from loving one another.

Help us to learn better methods, healthier diets

     of scripture, and better means of prayer.

Demonstrate the techniques to keep hearts healthy

      so we, too, can model those behaviors for others.

Thank you for Your infinite love and patience

      as we make changes to love one another more fully.

May we work to improve our hearts with your commandment,

     so others may be transformed by healthy hearts.  –Amen

 

 

 

 

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