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A conversation on rebuilding relationship with God

Today we are continuing our walk through the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.These books can feel disappointing when read, but in the disappointment there is potential for change. In seeing and feeling the disappointing moment there is hope in Jesus. These narratives point towards the need for Jesus, the Messiah.

 

Last week we talked through the first six chapters of Ezra. The narrative of Zerubbabel being sent back to Jerusalem out of exile to rebuild the temple as was promised and predicted by the prophets.

Then the Samaritans come to Zerubbabel and say “we have been worshiping your God and would like to help.”

 

And this moment, that could be construed as a moment of holiness, was a moment that led to deepening division and prejudice that, until Jesus, was immovable.

Jesus saw value in the Samaritan woman. Jesus used a Samaritan as the illustrator of what it is to be a good neighbor.

 

The second half of Ezra, chapters 7-10, are complicated and ugly and hard to resolve and abrupt and clunky and, frankly, kind of a downer.

 

But. When we fully sit in the mess of what happens in the second half of Ezra it can give us real perspective to who Jesus is and perspective to what He did. Again, remember Jesus’ interaction with people. Many people of his time were very familiar with these old testament writings.

Is Ezra pointing at Jesus? Probably not. Is Ezra pointing at the need for Jesus? Absolutely.

Think about atrocities that humanity has committed.

 

Not just things in the past or things you can find in a book. Recent history. Things you know of. Things you have seen. Not something somewhere else. Something you know has been atrocious.

In what ways has humanity validated atrocity?

 

How has humanity responded historically to atrocity?

Let that conversation continue forever. Don’t let it resolve. Let yourself be continually drawn back into it. Let it open the door for perpetual self evaluation and internal change. May we never be individuals and in turn, a church community, that is willing to validate atrocity for any reason. Let us be people who speak out against atrocity wherever we see it. Because that’s the heart of God. His heart is firmly planted in justice and He is constantly advocating for those who have had atrocities committed against them.

 

Today as we walk into the second half of Ezra, which is the story of Ezra coming back to Jerusalem, out of exile, to restore the connection of the people to the Torah, which is the teachings of God

And in this mess there is a moment of addressing failure with a failure.

So much of scripture points at the reality that God calls his people to pursue internal change that leads to external action, and in that order.

 

Jesus’ interaction with the pharisees in Matthew 23 shows just how much God cares about this concept.

 

Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. - Matthew 23:26

 

If someone would ask Jesus, “Which matters most, the internal or the external?”, Jesus would probably say, “What’s inside matters the most, and from that what you do externally holds just as much weight.”

 

In the same vein as the moment when He’s asked what the greatest commandment is, and he responds with a double answer. It’s not supposed to be either/or, it’s meant to be both/and.

The foundation is a clean inside. It’s important that the clean inside leads to a transformed outside. That’s the indicator of a clean inside.

 

So much atrocity has been committed in human history in the name of God or by people who claim to follow Jesus. Even the “lesser atrocities”, though I’m not sure that’s a proper label for them.

If I care only about the outside appearance but don’t have an internal reality of Christ, I could easily justify using injustice or committing atrocities to further my goal.

 

I might even have the best intentions but still miss it completely. That happened over and over in scripture and Ezra is one of those narratives. I have time and time again had the best intentions but still messed things up.

 

We need greater perspective than just what we can see in front of us. The people of Ezra needed greater perspective than just what they could see in front of them.

How can a person whole heartedly be trying to do the will of God and completely miss the will of God?

Between chapters 6 and 7, 50 years have passed.

 

Zerrubbabel came and rebuilt the temple. Ezra is coming to restore the Torah - restore the teachings of God to Jerusalem. And in doing so, the writings, unsubtly to the ancient Jewish readers of this text, set up Ezra as a new Moses.

 

We get into the new testament and see that the writer of Hebrews points to Jesus as being greater than Moses.

 

“Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory. - Hebrews 3:5-6

 

The recurring theme in the Gospels is that Jesus is not just a new Moses, but rather is the “Greater than Moses” figure. The messiah.

 

The people reading this text would have seen the similarities between Moses and Ezra. Compare the writings of Exodus and Ezra and see the many similarities. Timing. Prayers for safety.

 

Appointing judges to administer justice. A similar three-day rest for both men and people groups.

The readers of Ezra would have had a different perspective than me. They would have thought, “Wow, Ezra is just like Moses. Maybe he’s the one we’ve been waiting for.”

 

Ezra’s story plays out. The temple had been rebuilt. Fifty years had passed. Ezra is sent to bring the Law of God back to Jerusalem and was the perfect person to go as a teacher and expert in the law of Moses.

 

Ezra see’s the mingling of the Israelites and other people groups and is grieved. He acknowledges God’s past graciousness, but doesn’t expect God to be gracious again moving forward. One of the people comes up with a plan for any people who had married foreign women and had foreign children to send them away, and Ezra agrees that it’s a good plan, one that will make them right with God again. A mass divorce takes place, and women and children are sent away. Holiness was finally achieved. Or so they thought.

 

That’s the end of Ezra. There is nothing else. Why does it end this way? There are some differing thoughts, but remember back to the beginning of the text and the unrest that is present, and the continually presented need for a messiah all throughout the old testament. Remember how the Israelites treated the Samaritans in this text, and then think about how Jesus treated Samaritans when he interacted with them.

What happens when connection to God is only seen as an external practice and not an internal change?

The last three books in the old testament in chronological order are Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi. Malachi, 100 years after the return from exile, is a letter of challenges of how the Isralelites are living. Didn’t you learn? You’ve gone right back to the failings of your ancestors.

 

The very thing that Ezra commended in divorcing foreign wives, Malachi calls out as a negative thing.

 

“The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful. - Malachi 2:16

 

All of this effort to be right with God without any mention of internal change. All of this gross external seeing others as inferior and hopeless. All of these radical external actions to try to make one's self pleasing to God.

What are the results of seeing connection to God as only being an external practice and not an internal change?

All of this mess and then an abrupt ending. The frustration. This pushes me to what I think is the emotion that Jesus had in Matthew 23.

 

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. - Matthew 23:13-39

 

We walk on dangerous ground when we thoughtlessly think the characters of scripture are for us to mindlessly emulate.

 

We walk on dangerous ground when we thoughtlessly think that religious authorities are for us to mindlessly emulate.

 

We walk on dangerous ground when we think radical external reactions make us pleasing to God.

We walk on dangerous ground when we think doing something ungodly is ok as long as it makes us somehow perceived to be more Godly.
 

Jesus calls it out.

 

Ezra came with the hopes and plans of rebuilding the wisdom and understanding of God in Jerusalem. Bringing the Torah back to Jerusalem.

 

I long to know God. I long for this thing that Ezra was coming back to do. But I need to long for it through the lens of Jesus. The renewing of the Torah from the inside out.

Do an internal SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis of your internal being in relationship with Christ.

 

Take It Deeper Questions

  • Read Matthew 23:25-26

  • Share your worst restaurant experience.

  • Why do people feel pressure to look good to others?

  • Why do Christians feel similar pressure?

  • What are the issues you have discovered with living life and faith as an external show?

  • How does internal transformation affect all of these external pressures?

  • How are you focused, challenged and encouraged by Jesus’ words today?

A conversation on seeing people as Jesus sees them

This is the start of a new series focusing on the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Chronologically they are at the very end of the old testament (the only writing after was the book of Malachi.) Originally written as one whole text, they can be read in a disappointing light. One of the main challenges of this series is remembering and being reminded of how we grow more in challenge and failure than in success and ease.

A lot of story happens between Genesis and Ezra.

God’s covenant with Abraham.

Joseph’s slavery and rise to power in Egypt.

Joseph’s descendants becoming enslaved to the Egyptians who killed many of them.

Moses encountering God and being sent to set the Israelites free.

Plagues. Passover. Escape.

Wilderness. 40 years of wilderness.

Finally making it to the promised land. Then encountering failure after failure.

The people demanding that a king lead them instead of God.

King after king leading...and failing.

Generation after generation oscillating in their following or not following God.

Civil wars. Unrest. Division. Wandering.

God speaking through the prophets.

The people then killing the prophets.

God’s warning over and over to listen as to not be taken into captivity.

Babylon takes Israel into captivity.

70 years later, after finally gaining freedom from captivity and being brought back from exile, Ezra begins.

Things didn't work out well for Israel at many points.

What happens inside and outside of you when things do not work out well?

 

Why do people tend to grow more in adversity as opposed to times when life is easy?

Ezra and Nehemiah are built on a premise that is hard to want to learn sometimes - being willing to learn from the mistakes of others.

The bible is full of imperfect, mistaken people. Take your pick. All of them failed except Jesus.

We have to see that if God chooses to partner with people in scripture who failed, He’s willing (and excited) to partner with us as well.

What stands in opposition and/or is an obstacle of you learning from others mistakes?

The foundation for Ezra and Nehemiah is the fulfilling of prophecies given by Jeremiah. This is mind bending.

We can be part of God’s plan of restoration, empowered by Him. And we can mess it up. Hamper it. Slow down restoration. Partnering with God, we still make mistakes and encounter issues. This is on display in these writings.

As you read through the first three chapters of Ezra, you can see the beginning of the restoration of the temple. It’s a beautiful moment, but full of fear and high emotions.

With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: “He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.” And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away. - Ezra 3:11-13

Feel the emotions.

We are back.

We are doing it.

It is going to be amazing.

God is at work.

And feel the emotions.

This reminds us of our past failings.

This will not measure up to what was.

Is God even here or is it just a foundation?

If we had only listened the first time.

Ezra 4 introduces this moment of a blended group of people coming to those building the temple, asking if they can join in and help.

These people were Samaritans. Different. Enemies, even. Read 2 Kings 17 to see the deep division and complication of Israel and their relationships with people groups.

But this could have been a moment of reconciliation.

Instead it was a moment of doubling down on division.

Prejudice rising to the surface. Think about the implications for us today in July 2020.

But Zerubbabel, Joshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, “You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us.” Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building.

- Ezra 4:3-4

Here’s what Zechariah says could have happened after the return from exile:

“Shout and be glad, Daughter Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,” declares the Lord. “Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you. The Lord will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land and will again choose Jerusalem. Be still before the Lord, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.”

- Zechariah 2:10-13

We know that in Joshua God told Israel not to associate with other nations (including Samaria.) And this could be seen as a moment that they finally followed through.

But these Samaritans came exclaiming that they served the God of Israel. “Can we help?”

How can/have the best intentions to be Godly and righteous morph and shift into prejudice?

The building of the temple was delayed from this moment. Not just a little bit. 15 years.

Not only that. After rebuilding and resettling, the people probably expected everything was set. Then Malachi prophecies and talks about how Israel has missed it, and how there will only be a remnant who remain.

Read Malachi 4. That’s the last chapter of the old testament. And then...400 years of silence from God

Not really a happy ending. But this wasn’t the ending. After everything we see happen in the old testament, it seems that the relationship between Jews and Samaritans would always be tense.

Jesus arrives on the scene and completely flips these interactions on their heads.

Jesus interacts with a Samaritan woman at a well in John 4, this woman who had been married many times but was at that point living unmarried with a partner. Jesus saw value in the Samaritan woman, knew her issues and faults, and saw her potential connection with God. He doesn’t send her away as a cast out Samaritan but reinforces the idea that even the most outside people, the enemies, have a place at the table with God.

Jesus then uses a parable with an expert in the law. Someone who would have known the broken relationship between the Isrealites and the Samaritans. Someone who would have known Ezra and Neihimiah backwards and forwards. Someone who would have known the prophetic promises. And he elevates the Samaritan, the enemy, as the hero of the story.

What do you think Jesus saw in the Samariants that the people in Ezra didn’t?

Think about someone you might have broken relationship with. Not in the context of someone who has hurt you, but someone you might just see as less than you.

In this case, Jesus would literally say that the one you hate is actually worth just as much as you. They are the heroes. This gets at the root of something we’ve talked about many times, our tendency to see others either as better than or worse than us.

The Israelites 400 years before Jesus saw the Samaritans in a specific way. Jesus came along and saw something they seemed to be missing.

What have you missed in the people you’ve interacted with?

It can be tempting to think that we haven’t really missed anything. I can tell you for certain that I’ve missed things. I can say for certain that I’ve treated people in certain ways that Jesus would not approve of, and that he would have treated them differently than me.

One thing to be aware of is that culturally this was a communal thing. Jesus wasn’t afraid to treat the pharisees with some harshness. He wasn’t afraid to call out things he saw that were wrong. He wasn’t afraid to call certain people to standards they weren’t living to.

But when he saw people, and people groups, being treated unjustly, he saw them for who they were and saw what others were missing. He treated them with the dignity God gave them.

Call out things that you see that are wrong. It’s okay (and actually God calls us) to live with a standard and to speak up when you see injustice.

We can never use our voice and authority to brush over or mistreat those who are at disadvantage or are being treated unjustly.

We can never use our voice and authority to just be willfully ignorant to the plight of others, and to just “miss” things that God clearly sees.

We can’t afford to look at people or groups of people around us and to not see them as Jesus sees them.

What does Jesus see in the people in your world that you are missing?

 

Take It Deeper Questions

  • Read Luke 10:25-37

  • In your mind, what sets someone apart as being extraordinary?

  • What sets someone apart as being extraordinary to God?

  • How does this parable address prejudices?

  • Who has been a Good Samaritan in your life?

  • Do you have any common obstacles to being a Good Samaritan?

  • How are you encouraged and challenged by this parable today?

Bible Reading Plan

  • Romans 16

  • 1 Corinthians 1

  • 1 Corinthians 2

  • 1 Corinthians 3

  • 1 Corinthians 4

  • 1 Corinthians 5

Into the Unknown - What am I going to do?

 

The last 12 days have been a whirlwind in Minneapolis. The onset of covid-19 made life difficult for all people. We thought things were hard. Then the murder of George Floyd on Monday May 25th broke everything. 

 

We are in a period of mourning as a nation. Let us join in the mourning. Mourning for the life of George Floyd. Mourning the atrocities that have been committed against people of color in the United States for over 400 years. Mourning over what is lost.

 

In it all, there is hope. Neighborhoods and communities have banded together in a beautiful way. Relationships have started that were not in place two weeks ago. Changes are possible. You might be asking, “what can I even do to help?” Our current reminder and the thing that keeps going over and over in my head right now is just to do something. Do anything. 

 

It would be easy for this season of potential change to dissolve under our feet and for things to go back to “how they were.” As humans, we have the uncanny ability to forget certain things and to let history repeat itself. We are calling and encouraging you to do something, to do anything, to keep this from being another page repeated through history. 

 

As we’re in this new series, we’re going to explore unknowns. Not knowing what to do. Having to do the impossible. Feeling like everything is against you. Feeling ill equipped for life. We’ll examine biblical narrative, not to get the right answers or find the easy solution to problems (spoiler alert: it doesn’t exist.) We really want to wrestle with seeing the character of God in the middle of the unknown.

 

During his ministry, Jesus continually pointed to the importance of who you are as opposed to just what you do. Internal vs. external. This is a season where we may be asking God, “What should I do?” and he’s answering with, “You can do what you want, I just care who you are when you do things.” Who you are. Character.

 

What has this season of global pandemic and local tragedy revealed about your character?

 

It might be easy to look at people and judge them on the character we think we see. We have to realize that we ought to be looking inward and judging our own character. When I make this about someone else, I’ve lost. When I compare myself to someone else, I’ve lost. 

 

We would all probably agree that having “good character” is important. It’s so much easier to build other things instead. Talent. Charisma. Following. Character building is not sexy. It’s hard work. It’s repetitive. 

 

Read Joseph’s story at the end of the book of Genesis. 

 

What do you do when you feel like you don’t have options or don’t know what to do? 

 

Joseph managed to see God as present through everything. Orchestrating things and “in charge.” Joseph’s trust was in God, not what he saw externally.

 

Micah, an old testament prophet, writes during a time when Israel was divided, distant from God, and lost and hopeless. He speaks of failings, of brokenness, of injustice, talking in a prophetic pattern of God’s judgement (captivity that is coming) followed by God’s hope (the restoration God will bring.)

 

He speaks of a new king, born in Bethlehem. He speaks of a people who will be what God promised Abraham - “a blessing to all people.”

 

In Micah 6, the “what should you do moment” comes up, and it is a completely internal focus that leads to external action.

 

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

 

Should I come and do a bunch of stuff? Try to make up for my issues?

 

No. God has shown me what is good. Today, God has shown us what is good and what we are to do. Today, if I’m in a moment of “what do I do?”, here’s my answer.

 

Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly.

 

Acting in a just, fair way toward every single person I meet, truly treating them as I have seen Jesus treat me. Not just showing mercy, but loving to show it. Giving others the same measure of mercy you have received from God. Walking in humility with God, declaring personal shortcoming and imperfection while depending on God’s completeness and perfection.

 

How are we to embody acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God?

 

In moments like this, when things are bad, difficult, impossible, what do you do? 

 

I can only speak for myself here, but when I don’t know what to do I fall back on the only thing I know to work. Presence.

I believe there is a reason Jesus had 12 disciples, because the power of presence over time. He didn’t sell out stadiums or write books. He didn’t travel the world. I don’t think it was ever about him. He definitely didn’t pick the best and most affluent to be his followers to make himself look good.

 

He invested heavily into 12. He was present over time

 

He didn’t show up for a single protest and then go home and forget about it.

 

He picked 12, he gave himself to those 12.

 

They were imperfect, undeserving and continually failing.

 

Yet he stayed present over time with 12.

 

Change can only happen with presence over time.

 

Be present where you see injustice.

 

Be present where you see need.

 

Be present with your community.

 

What has to happen in you to be a person that can be present? 




 

Take It Deeper Questions

 

  • Read Ephesians 6:10-23

  • If you were going into a “battle” today, would you tend to put on too much armor or not enough armor? Why?

  • What sets you up for success on a normal day? Sets you up for struggle or failure?

  • What sets you up for success in being Christlike? Sets you up for struggle or failure?

  • With Paul’s equipment list in view, where are you adequately prepared and where do you have gapes to address?

 

Bible Reading Plan

 

  • Acts 18

  • Acts 19

  • Acts 20

  • Acts 21

  • Acts 22



 

God Wants You Strong - A Conversation on Ephesians 6

 

Ephesians 6 is the final “chapter” in this letter Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus. Take a couple minutes to read it. If you have 20 minutes, read through the entire letter Paul wrote to this church at Ephesus. Make note of any questions you have. Engage with the text. Wrestle with it. 

 

During this pandemic it’s pretty easy to see where I’ve felt adequately prepared and ill equipped. Certain things have helped me feel prepared to handle this season. My relationship with my wife and kids. My job. Knowing that God is with me. Having a team of people I can count on at work. The ability to take rest and reflection time. Having amazing connections within the Corner community. Then there are ways I have felt completely unprepared. The rollercoaster of emotions during this season. Feeling helpless and unable to fix anything. Enduring the length of this season.

 

What about you?

 

How were you adequately prepared for this season and how were you ill equipped?

 

The end of Ephesians feels like a moment, that, if Paul were in the room, would have been very attention demanding. Throat cleared, fingers snapped, voice raised.

 

Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get. - Ephesians 6:13 (MSG)

 

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. - Ephesians 6:13 (NIV)

 

Prepared. Meaning equipped, refined, trained, supported, resourced. Ready.

 

What are your expectations for “prepared?”

 

I have been prepared several times and have failed miserably. Returning movies to the movie store. Getting locked out of vehicles. Showing up to the correct doctor’s office.

 

I’ve been “prepared” and then failed. I have been “prepared” and then hurt people. I’ve been “prepared” but then found out that I wasn’t actually prepared. Preparation doesn’t automatically equal success.

 

Why should someone prepare if preparing doesn’t equal guaranteed success?

 

Now that we’re living in Maskeapolis, I realize how unprepared I am for the practicals of dealing with this virus.

 

I tried to order masks this week so they’d get here in time for the new rules. EVERYONE IN THE WORLD IS ORDERING MASKS RIGHT NOW so getting them here on time is out of the question.

 

Part of this conversation about preparedness for me is to realize that maybe my definitions of success are off or need some adjusting. Why do I define success as success? Even in the general sense, what is considered success? What is considered failure? 

 

When it comes to preparation, maybe success has less to do with an outcome of a situation and more to do with how we prepared for it and went into it.

 

Paul certainly would not have felt successful in some ways. As he was writing this letter from prison.

 

Hey Paul, what’s going to be your main measure of success?

 

Well, if I do a bunch of cool stuff and plant some churches and then end up in prison, that’ll be pretty good for me.

 

Paul ends his letter to the Ephesians saying “pray for me that I would fearlessly declare the gospel.” 

 

He didn’t ask them to pray for him that he’d get out of prison. Why not? That seems crazy to me. I know that’d be the first thing I’d be asking for prayer for. 

 

Why didn’t Paul ask the Ephesians to pray for him to get out of prison?

 

Maybe Paul wasn’t so concerned with getting out of prison because maybe his definition of success wasn’t based on it.

 

I don’t think it’s wrong to ask for prayer. I don’t think it’s wrong to pray to get out of bad situations. I’m just very challenged by Paul, that he didn’t pray for what me would be a no-brainer, and had a perspective on his situation that wasn’t woe is me or this is the worst. Paul likely would have written his letter to the church in Phillipi around the same time as his letter to the Ephesians. In that letter he makes a bold statement:

 

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. - Philippians 4:11-13 (NIV)

 

Paul’s focus definitely didn’t seem to be keeping comfortable, or even keeping himself from trouble. 

 

Maybe you’re familiar with the “armor of God.” Maybe not. Much of this traditionally has been communicated as “if you’re not equipped you’d better get equipped. FIGURE IT OUT. Read it and do it. READ DO. And then reading it, Ephesians 6 definitely seems like steps to take in order.

 

The message version focuses a lot less on the specifics of the armor and really paints a clear picture of how the end of a letter might come across. Take a moment and read chapter 6 in the message. 

 

Paul’s main point is that God is strong, and he wants you strong. Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Use every weapon God has given you. Pray hard and long. Pray for me.

 

Notice that he doesn’t say anything about comfort, or avoiding pain, or that following God will make you happy all the time. No, God wants us strong, even if we’re uncomfortable or experiencing pain or unhappy. Paul’s prison experience was not comfortable, or enjoyable, and Paul probably didn’t have fun, but he was content and he was strong. He experienced these truths found within the concepts of this armor of God. Righteousness, peace, salvation. 

 

What about you? What about your life right now? In the middle of this pandemic? 

 

This is not a moment of obligation. 

 

It’s not a moment of “here’s the 7 steps you need to take and here’s the pieces of the puzzle you need to adopt.” 

 

This is another moment of internal reflection. Again, we’re not going to give you the answers (because SURPRISE, we don’t have them.) There is no amount of screaming “GET EQUIPPED!” that can ever actually make me “get equipped.” 

 

Do I feel equipped for my life right now? What “truths” am I experiencing and living out? In what ways do I feel completely unequipped? Remember that part of this might be our own wrong ideas of what success is or isn’t.

 

Living in truth doesn’t mean that our circumstances line up. It doesn’t mean that everything looks good or is going good. God’s truths over us often look silly or upside down or illogical. The gospel narrative can seem completely out of reason. Just as Paul wrote this letter to remind the Ephesians of some things, I constantly need to be reminded of God’s truths.

 

In what ways do you feel equipped or unequipped for life?

What truth is God reminding you of to remember?

 

This series in Ephesians has been difficult for me in this season.

 

Paul’s continual reminder of the importance of grace and the hope that comes through grace can feel so distant to me in these times. Yet, Paul’s circumstances were anything but perfect and his focus was on preparing and equipping others.

 

Paul didn’t write Ephesians so Greg, 2000 years later could learn something. I think Paul might actually be surprised that we are still reading his word today. 

 

Paul wrote to a people he knew, that he cared about, and ends this letter encouraging them to be prepared and be equipped. 

 

Paul felt heavy responsibility to communicate this message to the Ephesians. I wish we knew what their response was, how this letter changed their perspective and encouraged them in their growing relationship with Jesus. 

 

Paul’s constant focus on grace is now balanced with a responsibility of being equipped, of doing the work, of preparing. 

 

Grace and works.

 

The constant tension that is to be lived in, not something to be figured out. 

 

I really believe that we are to live in this tension, hope because of grace, and actions that prove the grace we have received. 

 

These two ideas can often feel like opposites, but rather they are dance partners, beautifully complementing and empowering the relationships in our lives. 

 

Live in this tension, explore it’s depths, be uncomfortable where things don’t match up.

 

Know that Jesus is with you in all of it. This is faith.

 

How does grace impact being “equipped?” 

 

Take It Deeper Questions

 

  • Read Ephesians 6:10-23

  • If you were going into a “battle” today, would you tend to put on too much armor or not enough armor? Why?

  • What sets you up for success on a normal day? Sets you up for struggle or failure?

  • What sets you up for success in being Christlike? Sets you up for struggle or failure?

  • With Paul’s equipment list in view, where are you adequately prepared and where do you have gapes to address?

 

Bible Reading Plan

 

  • Acts 18

  • Acts 19

  • Acts 20

  • Acts 21

  • Acts 22



 

Effective Directive - Ephesians 5

Ephesians 5 is quite a chapter. Take a couple minutes to read it. If you have 20 minutes, read through the entire letter Paul wrote to this church at Ephesus. Make note of any questions you have. Engage with the text. Wrestle with it. 

 

Paul’s writings make up much of the new testament in scripture. He can come across as rude, mean or stubborn. It can be easy to write off some of the things Paul says in scripture because of our perception of him. In a similar way, it can be easy to write people off who I don’t agree with or don’t think are nice.

 

Why is it easy to write off people that think or act differently than we do?

 

Chapter 5 contains a lot of directives, and if I perceive Paul as rude or mean I may want to write off these things he writes to the Ephesians. We can do that often with scripture we find difficult, or if it’s written by someone we find difficult. We can ignore, or blindly follow, or just pretend it doesn’t exist.

 

How do we know what to hold as unchanging? How do we know what to hold as being only historical or cultural? There’s not really an easy answer to this question.

 

Scripture has often been used to belittle and to hurt others. Paul talks here about the relationship between a husband and wife, and these verses have often been used by men to badger women into submission. Paul starts this part of the letter by encouraging the Ephesians to be “imitators of God”, to “be Christlike”, and the Jesus i know to be true is not found within belittling or manipulating or forcing submission. Sometimes scripture doesn’t seem to make much sense. What do we do with it then?

 

What do you do with scripture when it doesn’t make sense?

 

Remember that Paul builds this amazing perspective of relationship with God for the people of Ephesus in the first half of his letter. That God loves them, that even while they were dead in sin, God chose them and Jesus went to the cross to die for them. That even though they were once outsiders, by Jesus they have been brought into the family of God and been made one in unity with the Jews, the people of God.

 

It’s from this perspective that Paul gives the directives of chapter 5. It’s Paul’s call for the Ephesians to respond to the truth he presents in chapters 1-3. Paul repeatedly brings this moment out in his writings. Concepts like follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.

 

It can be easy to just “do it”, or to just “not do it.” Process and faith call for deeper engagement than just doing blindly or not doing spitefully. 

 

You can find all kinds of directives in scripture that would probably be terrible to follow blindly or to ignore completely. Old testament things that are unfamiliar and almost laughable for us today, like not wearing clothing made of two kinds of material. Some more familiar new testament directives like we see in Ephesians chapter 5. And then we have all of the directives that come straight from Jesus. Love your enemies. Turn the other cheek. Don’t worry about life. Take up your cross.

 

With the whole host of directives throughout scripture, how can you determine which are really important and which can be ignored?

 

Maybe you’ve seen videos of people getting complete makeovers and looking completely different after the process. When thinking about directives of scripture, we can approach them as these external “do’s and don’ts.” If someone changes everything about their external appearance (haircut, clothing change, plastic surgery, etc.), in the end, is that person really changed? Sure they look different, but is that because of something momentary?

 

We can view biblical directives as a radical makeover tool. At least it’s easiest to celebrate an external change moment. But what about internal transformation? Transformation that takes a lot of time? Something that shifts who we are? Something that maybe isn’t even visible externally at first?

 

How does the truth of scripture change, transform, refine, animate or motivate people?

 

We’re reading these directives as 21st century people. While some are straightforward, others make a little less sense. How would the Ephesian people have interpreted Paul’s directives? The question that continually comes up for me when thinking about directives is are belief and action mutually inclusive? Can one change (or stay changed) without the other changing?

 

Paul didn’t initially minister to the gentile Ephesians. There was a synagogue in Ephesus that Paul started his ministry in. For three months he preached the message of the gospel but many of the Jews became obstinate, refusing to believe Paul’s message. So he went instead and brought this message to a lecture hall, where many Greeks (Ephesians) were the ones to follow and believe. 

 

Ephesus was a prosperous city connected to much of the commerce of the time. Literally, the Ephesians as a whole had everything they ever wanted. They had it all. In need of nothing. Even in terms of faith, they were following the most powerful god known in the time. What’s amazing about this is that Artemis was not just a deity, but was esteemed above all other gods. The temple at Ephesus wasn’t just a building. It was viewed as one of the seven great wonders of the world at the time. Paul came with a message saying that God is the one true God, and that would mean Artemis was really no god at all.

 

What do you do when your belief systems get challenged?

 

So many of these Ephesians decided to give up following Artemis and follow this God Paul spoke of instead. Why would they? 

 

What caused these Ephesian believers to abandon their beliefs in artemis in favor of following Jesus?

 

God did some extraordinary miracles through Paul. It is written that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched Paul had the power of God in them and were taken to those who were sick, and their “illnesses were cured and evil spirits left them.”

 

Paul’s first line of this part of the message reflects the truth “That Jesus loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us.”

 

The Ephesians certainly would have understood the concept of sacrifices, as they had lived for ages offering sacrifices to Diana in hopes that fertility would come to them. They would have thought about all the sacrifices they had made to try and get things to go in their favor. 

 

Then they would have understood that Jesus made a sacrifice, but not like they had. 

 

He literally made the sacrifice of himself. Giving up his own life. 

Why? So he could get something? 

So he’d be blessed by the gods with fertility or wealth or power? 

 

No, so these people(and all people) could be forgiven and brought into the family of God. They were dead in transgressions, but have been brought to life in Christ.

 

Paul came with not only a message that challenged them to change their beliefs and actions, but he did it through building relationships with these people.

 

These Ephesians saw Paul, a total outsider, come to them and minister in humility. He was unaware of their lives, their customs, their culture, but spent his life on them. He came with this message that there was only one God, a message that clearly challenged the belief systems of the Ephesians. As Paul spent more time there, the power of God became very evident. Paul gives them this picture that, while they’ve been spending their lives making sacrifices to get what they want from a god who isn’t real, the real God himself sacrificed his own life so that they could actually get what He wanted for them from before they ever had a say in it. That is life altering.

 

It’s through this lens the Ephesians would have heard Paul’s directives. These “do’s and don’ts” of how life should look. I believe they would have taken these things on willingly after knowing the truth of Jesus and what He had done for them. 

 

We see this writing in Revelation that John admonishes the Ephesians to “come back to their first love.” To move away from the comfort they had put their security into. Comfort was such a standard of living for Ephesus. Much like us in the US. Paul came and lived a life mostly absent of comfort.

 

The reality is that Paul saw the potential these people had. He knew that God’s plan was to bring them into Himself. Paul did everything he could to love these people, to invest in them, but at the end of the day it was their choice, as individuals and as a church, whether or not they were going to follow Jesus. We see these Ephesians choose to change their beliefs, and chapter 5 is Paul reminding them of how belief and action go together.

 

What causes you to change your beliefs, and in turn, your actions?

 

We were privileged to have our friend Tori join us this week for preparation and for our message. She shared this story with us about this amazing missionary woman named Gladys Aylward. She served people in China, providing hospitality for travellers in a hotel she founded and sharing Jesus with people. She spent her life there, working with orphans and adopting some children as her own. 

 

At one point a riot broke out in a prison near Gladys. Inmates had started killing each other. 

 

The half-starved Chinese prisoners in Yangcheng were rioting. In the center was a man with a large bloody kitchen meat cleaver. All were shouting. Several men had already collapsed on the ground, mortally wounded. The warden called to A-Weh-Deh, “Go in and stop them!” The woman known to foreigners by her English name, Gladys Aylward, stood trembling at the entrance. “Why me?” she gasped. The warden challenged, “You tell us your God is all powerful. Is He or is He not?” 

 

“He is,” she declared, seeking to bolster her courage, as she stepped into the sandy courtyard. “But only through the help of Jesus will I prevail, for the Gospel of God in our Bible states, ‘I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.’” *

 

In this moment, Gladys experienced the point at which belief required action. I can have beliefs all day, but if they never turn into actions, do I really believe?

 

What about you?

 

Based on your actions, what traits can others identify in you?


 

Take It Deeper Questions

  • Read Ephesians 5

  • How do you best receive direction? Worst? Why?

  • How do you best receive correction? Worst? Why?

  • How do you decide if a Biblical directive or correction is for you or not? How do you decide if you will do it or not?

  • How do faith, belief, teaching and community fit into that equation?

  • If Paul was writing you with some reminders, directives and corrections, how would you receive/process/react to his letter?

 

Bible Reading Plan

  • Acts 12

  • Acts 13

  • Acts 14

  • Acts 15

  • Acts 16

  • Acts 17

 

What to be reading as we are studying Ephesians

Read the book of Galatians. How are Galatians and Ephesians similar and different?

 

*excerpt taken from Intervarsity blog post https://urbana.org/blog/gladys-aylward

Grace Led Intentionality - A conversation on Ephesians 4

We’re continuing our study of Ephesians, this week focusing on chapter 4. Paul wrote this letter while he was in prison (because of his decision to follow Jesus.) Some things to remember as you read is that these people in Ephesus were real people with real lives, family, friends, strengths, weaknesses. Paul writes this letter as a call to return to the basics of following Jesus.

 

The six chapters of Ephesians shows this amazing line of thought. Summed up, Paul tells the Ephesians, “Jesus is absolutely into you! God’s grace is for you who were once outsiders. It’s actually for everyone. God gives you his grace so that you can understand what a life set apart unto Him looks like. Here’s some practical things to remember. Don’t forget you’re His now.”

 

This week Ty talked about coaching gymnastics and how the more difficult skills are all built on foundations that are simple. Ephesians 4 is a moment where Paul is laying down some simple foundation for these followers of Jesus. 

 

Chapter 4 really starts to open up the practicals of following Jesus. 

 

Okay, you’re in Christ now. Here’s what that really means. Look at all these things God says you are. Don’t forget them. You got them? Are you sure? Okay. Let’s talk about some practical stuff.

 

The first part of the letter establishes that God has a plan that started long before us and continues through and beyond us. That grace is God’s gift to people and can’t be earned and that there is responsibility in community. That God is always present in the midst of our shortcomings.

 

Sometimes life in Christ feels overwhelming, and community can feel like it’s full of questions. One of the biggest encouragements Paul gives to the Ephesians is that God has called them His and has a place for them. Our call as followers of Jesus is to make place for others. 

 

I wonder if the Ephesians would have viewed this part of Paul’s letter as a to-do list of sorts. I know I have the tendency to do so. We’ve used chapters like this to describe what the ideal Christian should look like. 

 

Be humble and gentle.

Don’t sin by letting anger control you.

Stop telling lies. 

Give generously to those in need.

 

These things are all really good and true, but I’m not sure Paul wrote them as a checklist, once you’ve done it you’re done kind of things. These people had chosen to follow Jesus. They didn’t get everything right and they certainly didn’t have all the answers but they knew that they were in Christ, and Paul was reminding them that yes, they were indeed in Christ, and how that ought to change certain things in their lives.

 

Imagine though for a moment that Paul’s letter to the Ephesians consisted only of chapter 4. How would it be different? 

 

Many of these people may have thought, “Why should I/do I care about these things? What’s the purpose? Why is Paul writing us this to-do list?”

 

What about you? What if all you had to follow Jesus was Ephesians chapter 4? How would that change things for you?w

 

Alright. Stop reading. Go outside and yell “Alabama” at the top of your lungs. Ready set GO!

 

...You’re not going to do it? Why not? I gave you clear instructions. GO DO IT!

 

Silly, I know, but this helps me see that I have a hard time when I’m given instructions without any context or relationship, or maybe instructions that are super unclear.


 

How do you handle instructions that are given without context, clarity or relationship?
What about when they are given with context or clarity or through relationship?

 

Remember that Ephesians is a letter. Our chapter numbers are relatively modern. People may have mulled over some things in Paul’s letter, but generally it would have been read or recited from start to finish. 

 

Paul using the phrase “in light of all of this” is reference to everything that came before. Everything that we’ve focused on in chapters 1-3. He’s saying remember what you’ve just read or heard, because it’s the foundation for everything I’m about to say.

 

He reminds the Ephesians of his current circumstances (prison), and he encourages them to take action, to run on the road God called you to travel. He admonishes them not to sit on their hands or get distracted by paths that lead nowhere. To run this road with humility and discipline, staying steady. 

 

We can easily get off track or distracted by other paths when we think God’s plans and callings for us are all about us individually. Paul reminds these believers that the body of Christ is full of people who pour themselves out for one another and who are alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.

 

What is the difference between faith done alone and faith done in community?

 

Paul’s writings on unity might lead us to think faith is not individual. The amazing thing is that following Jesus is individual and communal. That there’s unity in the body of Christ, and there’s individuality within that. Unity not meaning uniformity.

 

As Paul goes on to direct the Ephesians on how their lives should look, remember how he told them to think back on the first part of the letter. These standards for Christian living are all empowered by the grace Paul mentions in chapters 1-3.

 

What actions have a deeper understanding of grace empowered in you?

All of this chapter is great. It’s so encouraging. And, if I never let it move from knowing to doing, it’ll just be useless information bouncing around in my head. How do we get from knowing to doing?

 

Paul gives over twenty calls to action in Ephesians 4. Read it again and make note of them. Remember the foundation of grace Paul built in the first half of the letter. This second half, if we were to put it into a question for ourselves, is what is your response to this grace?

 

Action.

 

So, what you’re saying is I need to do a bunch of things to get grace? No.

Oh. So you’re just saying I’m not good enough. No.

Hmm. So what I do and don’t do is all that matters? No

 

This action Paul calls the Ephesians to is “to be set apart.” And the key to being set apart (the action) is not perfection. It is grace!

 

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:8-10

 

I know from experience that being commanded, persuaded, inspired, shamed or excused into action doesn’t actually lead to action. I want this to be a moment where I look inside, using Paul’s instructions as a mirror. Not the external. Not the “well I do that one, but I don’t really do that one.” 

 

Get at the internal. As you read through Ephesians 4, use it as a mirror for what’s going on inside of you. Forget about commands to just do the list. Persuasions or inspirations to “just do the list and be all you can be.” Forget about the shame that might be saying “you’re never going to get there.” Forget about the excuses of “well, I haven’t got it yet, so I’ll probably never get it.

 

What do you sense internally? What do you see about yourself and God internally?

 

What do you see as you use Paul’s instructions as a mirror?

What happens in you when you hear Paul’s instructions?


 

Take It Deeper Questions

  1. What were the house rules when you were growing up?

  2. Read Ephesians 4

  3. Why does God care about how we live? (What are some potential “wrong” answers?)

  4. How has God refined you in the past?

  5. How is God refining you in this season?

  6. What do you think God wants to refine in you in the future?

 

What to be reading as we are studying Ephesians

Read the whole letter to the Ephesians in one sitting (It takes about 20 minutes)

 

Bible Reading Plan

Acts 6

Acts 7

Acts 8

Acts 9

Acts 10

Acts 11
 

Grace Is For All - A conversation on Ephesians 3

We’re continuing our study of Ephesians, this week focusing on chapter 3. This letter really is amazing. Paul wrote it while he was in prison (because of his decision to follow Jesus.) Some things to remember as you read is that these people in Ephesus were real people with real lives, family, friends, strengths, weaknesses. They were normal people. Ephesus was definitely a community that didn’t know the first thing about Jesus before Paul taught them. Paul writes this letter after having been gone from Ephesus for awhile. He writes it as a call to return to the basics of following Jesus.

 

The six chapters of Ephesians shows this amazing line of thought. Summed up, Paul tells the Ephesians, “Jesus is absolutely into you! God’s grace is for you who were once outsiders. It’s actually for everyone. God gives you his grace so that you can understand what a life set apart unto Him looks like. Here’s some practical things to remember. Don’t forget you’re His now.”

 

As we go through life we often measure our successes and failures. All of us have some metrics we go by. The Ephesians likely had their own. That’s something really good to process as you read Ephesians 3 - What are my measures of personal success or failure?

 

Take a moment and think about how Paul changed throughout scripture. As you read through the book of Acts, you see how he changes. Paul was a zealous follower of Jewish law, persecuting followers of Jesus. He encounters Jesus and it radically changes him. He becomes a follower of Jesus, and we see his own learning curve throughout the new testament. In some of his earlier writings like his first letter written to the Corinthian followers of Jesus, Paul is very sure of himself, even defensive and self-righteous. His next letter to the church at Corinth, after some time had passed, shows more humility. We see in these letters to the churches at Ephesus and Phillipi that paul seems to be less sure of himself, and more sure of Christ. His language changes. He goes from trying to prove himself to people to realizing the great gap Jesus crossed by his grace to save Paul.

Paul’s growing perspective throughout his life was that if Jesus’ grace can be for me, it can be for anyone. I, Paul, the worst of sinners, experienced the grace of God and have found that everything I ever worked for before was nothing compared to knowing Jesus.

 

Take a moment and think about this. 

 

What has to change in someone to go from being defensive or insecure about shortcomings, to celebrating God’s grace in personal shortcomings?

 

The more we grow to know God, the more we will see how involved He is with us, even right in the midst of our shortcomings. We learn to see that our shortcomings are not obstacles for God. They’re opportunities for Him to pour out His grace, and that grace empowers us to grow and to know Him even more.

 

One of the most incredible aspects of God’s grace is that it’s not just for us to experience for ourselves but to extend to others. We’ve talked a lot at Corner Church in the last couple years about connecting with those who are different from us. 

 

Paul couldn’t have been more different from the Ephesians. In regards to Jewish law, these gentiles from Ephesus had too many shortcomings to count. They were outsiders. And yet, God’s plan all along was that through Jesus, these “outsiders” would become heirs together with Israel. Members of one body. Sharers together in the promises of Jesus. 

 

Paul's first encounter with the Ephesians may have been pretty intense. He would have recognized all of their differences. Maybe he even compared himself to this people group. They may have compared themselves to him as they got to know him. Comparison can come pretty naturally.

 

Do you often see yourself as being better than others or not as good as others? Why?

 

Paul’s experience of grace led him to extend this amazing grace to the Ephesians. Paul realized he was the outsider to eternal life, and Jesus welcomed him in fully. His prayer for the Ephesian people was that they would understand that they were really in Jesus. They were insiders now. Part of God’s plan all along. I love how The Message version paints this picture.

 

The mystery is that people who have never heard of God and those who have heard of him all their lives (what I’ve been calling outsiders and insiders) stand on the same ground before God.

    Ephesians 3:5

 

Paul talks about being the least qualified person to do the work of sharing the gospel with these people. Not because he’s putting himself down, but because he’s so well versed and steeped in Jewish tradition that ministering to these people in Ephesus was completely foreign to him. God chose the most Jewish of Jewish people to minister to the most gentile people of gentiles, in order to bring them together as one.

 

Think about that. Paul and the average Ephesian couldn’t have been more different. God’s plan all along was that they would be unified as one. That’s amazing. Think about the people who are most different from you. God’s heart and plan is that you would be unified together in Him with those most different from you. 

 

What hinders you from connecting with people that you may view as outsiders? Why?

 

We’re excited to dive into chapter 4 next week as Paul goes from explaining grace to starting to talk about the practicals of what life in Jesus actually looks like in community. It’s clear through all his writing that Paul had something specific that he felt was very important to share with his friends in Ephesus. Reading through chapter 3, you see language like my revelation and insight that God has given me. It’s amazing that Paul connected with these people, as it was a totally abnormal relationship. Paul ignored cultural differences and invited these people at Ephesus to see the reality of Jesus.

 

The old testament is full of stories that show God as the God of the Jews. And He’s very much not the God of some other nations. Chapter 3 shows that all along, God’s plan was to invite all people to join in unity in Him, and that no one would be excluded from this amazing grace He is offering.

 

As we’re still in the midst of social isolation in our world, reflect on the fact that Paul wrote this letter as he sat in jail. He knew isolation well, yet that did not stop him from investing in his friends or from doing the things God called him to do. His imprisonment did not change his mentality and understanding that God was for him and with him.

 

You might find yourself feeling like nothing really matters anymore. Maybe you had a lot of plans for this season of life that have now been put on hold. Maybe you thought this would be the best year of your life so far, only to have an unexpected pause. Maybe all of your plans are gone, your ideas feel impossible, your trips are cancelled, and it seems like nothing really matters.

 

Be encouraged. Hear Paul’s excitement as he writes from his prison cell:

 

So don’t let my present trouble on your behalf get you down. Be proud! My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.

 

In the middle of pain, loss, isolation or fear, we pray that you’ll be able to understand the extravagance of God’s love. We encourage you to reach out to Him and experience it. Don’t just settle for hearing someone else talk about it. Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! And yes, even in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, live full lives, full in the fullness of God.

 

How are you going to “take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love”?

 

What is your response to the challenge to be a participant in God’s love? 

 

Take It Deeper Questions:

  1. When are you at your best? (Situation, season, scenario)

  2. When are you at your worst? (Situation, season, scenario)

  3. Read Ephesians 3

  4. If grace is for all, who is most difficult for you to include in that all? Yourself or others? Why?

  5. How is God’s grace being played out in your life currently?

  6. How is God’s grace impacting you internally? Externally?

  7. If Paul’s prayer is answered in you, what happens?

 

Bible Reading Plan:

  • Acts 1

  • Acts 2

  • Acts 3

  • Acts 4

  • Acts 5

 

Places to be reading as we study Ephesians: 

  • 1 Corinthians 9:1-2 

  • 1 Corinthians 9:22-23 

  • 1 Corinthians 11:1 

  • 1 Corinthians 15:9-11

  • 2 Corinthians 12:11-13

  • Romans 1:1

  • Ephesians 3:7-9

  • Philippians 1:1

  • Philippians 1:12-14 

  • 1 Timothy 1:15-17 

  • 2 Timothy 4:6-8


 

Encouragement from Joy

This year has brought feelings and experiences some of us have never had to navigate before. We’ve had to adapt and improvise. We’ve had to consider the short-term and long-term of many changing things. As a result, it has brought to light things that may have gone unnoticed or unchecked. Our habits, our fears, our insecurities and where we turn to for comfort. 

When the stay-at-home order was first placed, I remember telling a friend, “Before, having a positive mindset most days was a bonus, but now it feels like I have to proactively put positive thoughts at the front. It’s a necessity.” 

As we all face more time alone, more space to ourselves, let me gently encourage you to fill your minds up with things of God. Because our minds will get filled, whether with news or tasks or stresses or distractions. But we are made by a good God who gives us all that we need and desires us to rely on Him. There is a lot that can unsettle us in this time, but let yourselves be settled in truth today:  

Philippians 4:8, NIV: "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things."

May this season, however it may look for you, bring positive and life-giving changes to your life. May you find a well of joy in God alone. 

Joy Yerrick

Through God's Grace

 

This week we’re continuing our study on the book of Ephesians. The four of us (Ty, Scott, Zach and Greg) have really wrestled through a lot together on the concept of grace, and have come to some really impactful understandings. We want to share some of them, but encourage you to jump into this short letter found in scripture. Read it. Reread it. Write down your thoughts. Ask God about it. Talk with someone else and invite them into conversation. We really do get to learn a lot when we engage with scripture and community. 

 

Ephesians is full of reminders and encouragement, and is a letter from Paul written to the people of Ephesus on what Christian life and community can really look like. It’s a great bridge between Jesus’ teachings on the kingdom of Heaven, and Paul’s own focus on salvation. Paul rarely talks about the kingdom in his other epistles but makes reference to it here. It’s an amazing reminder that the gospel has a much bigger purpose than sin management.

 

After reading through this letter, a great question to ask might be:

 

What is necessary for Christian community to thrive?

 

Paul talks about some of these things, and God’s empowering grace is the central theme of this whole book.

 

A lot of it is written almost like a chatchism. Maybe you grew up in a mainline denomination, went through confirmation, and are very familiar with catechism. Maybe you’re thinking, “cat-a-what?”

 

Catechism really is just Christianity 101. It’s used in some denominations as a way of teaching people, children and adults, what Christianity is really all about and what Christian doctrine consists of. 

 

Ephesians is a letter Paul wrote to a church that he had previously planted on a missionary journey. He spent two years with them and then moved on to other things. Time passed, Paul ended up in prison in Rome because of his faith, and as he’s in prison he writes this letter to the people of Ephesus, almost a “back to the basics” of sorts.

 

Ephesians breaks down into a pretty clear progression.

 

Jesus is into us and He chose us. Last week we had the conversation, “What are you going to do with what you have been given?”

 

Grace is for you. And grace is actually for all people.

 

This grace equips us to be set apart, and to live as God’s people, able to accomplish far more than we could without His grace.

 

You may be wondering or have already thought what is grace actually?

 

Grace is simple elegance or refinement of movement.

 

Wait. That’s the wrong one.

 

Grace is the free and unmerited favor of God. It’s us getting from God what we don’t deserve. Paul talks about the grace of God appearing to offer salvation to all people in Titus. He says in Romans that grace plays out in God demonstrating his love by having Jesus die on our behalf even while we were sinners. 

 

Okay, I get it. Grace is undeserved stuff from God. I can google verses about grace all day long. But how do I move from 

 

“Grace? Yeah, I get it.”

 

To 

 

“Grace? Oh yeah, I GET it. I am in it. I am it. I swim around in it. It goes through me. I’ve experienced it firsthand. I’ve seen it change me and others.”

 

A couple of questions to help break apart the tendency to just “get the right answer”, and to realize that true understanding requires that we learn to see the world through the lens of grace.

 

Can someone give and/or receive grace while being oblivious to it? Why or why not?

Can someone be forced to give and/or receive grace? Why or why not?

 

Paul communicates so much truth about grace and identity is Ephesians 2. He says we were dead in sins without Jesus, deserving of God’s wrath, but because of His love for us God chose to make us alive in Christ and save us by grace.

 

THEREFORE,

 

Remember who you were apart from Christ and that you have been brought close. Don’t forget it! As you continually remember this grace, let it be something that joins you and other followers of Jesus together as a holy temple to the lord.

 

You see, grace isn’t given to us just so we can feel good about what God has done (though we can), or so that we can go to heaven when we die (though we will.) Eternal life has already begun in Jesus, and grace was given so that we may join together with other believers “as members of God’s household” and “as a temple to the lord.”

 

That is an amazing picture that we are so much better together.

 

So what is your responsibility in joining together as members of God’s household and as a temple to the Lord?

 

These responsibilities have to be pursued through grace or they will just be us struggling as humans. We could take the other side and just focus on the grace given to us and never step into actually joining together as members of God’s household. 

 

Paul’s writing here and other places shows the beautiful marriage of impossible grace realized that leads to empowered living and building up the body of christ.

 

Take a minute and pull out your bible or open your bible app and read Ephesians 2. It won’t take long.

 

Think through everything that Paul says we, followers of Jesus, the body of Christ, can claim as true now that we’re in him.

 

You are alive in Jesus.

You have been saved by grace.

You are God’s handiwork.

You have access to God. 

You are not under the law but under grace.

 

Take a moment to reflect. Do you really understand these as true and believe that this is how God actually sees you? 

 

We can come up with all kinds of reasons why we’re disqualified from God’s grace, but scripture is the story of God coming to all kinds of people, disqualified in every way imaginable, and saying 

 

I say that you’re qualified, and I’m not basing it on your track record. I’m basing it on mine. Remember this and let it empower everything you do.

 

These truths were in place long before we were born, or even before we said yes to Jesus. They are true because God says they are, but understanding and applying these truths to our own lives absolutely changes how we live.

 

Grace is for me. It’s for you. It’s for us, the body of Christ. And it’s for those who are not yet part of the body. And this grace leads us to see ourselves, our friends and family, our neighbors, and other followers of Jesus the way He sees. Through God’s grace, we live out the exact things God has spoken as true over us since before time began.

 

Where are you in the process of understanding, applying and being empowered by grace?

 


Take It Deeper Questions:
 

  • Read Ephesians 2

  • What is your ancestral heritage? How does that heritage impact where you are today?

  • Define grace by illustrating it in a parable or a story.

  • How is it possible to know about God’s grace while it has no personal impact?

  • How has your understanding of God’s grace changed over time?

  • How does Paul’s understanding of God’s grace impact his life?

  • How does a lifelong process of greater understanding of God’s grace impact your life?

 

Bible Reading Plan:
 

  • John 15

  • John 16

  • John 17

  • John 18

  • John 19

  • John 20

  • John 21

 

Some great places to be reading as we talk through Ephesians:
 

  • Ephesians 3

  • 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

  • Romans 3

  • Hebrews 4:14-16


 

Virtual Group Options

As we head into this new season our groups are having to pivot to meet the changing reality and needs around us. We have 4 groups already registered and running, but are looking for more groups to start. Please visit cornerchurch.tv/groups to register for an existing group or complete the form to create a brand new group.  Here is a look at our existing groups: 

 

TAKE IT DEEPER

Lead by: Jenny Wedan & Sue Drehmel

Schedule: 1st and 3rd Wednesday of every month
 
Location: Zoom Call

 

SATURDAY MORNING BIBLE STUDY

Lead by:
Scott Woller
 
Schedule:
Every Saturday
9:30am - 10:30am
 
Location:
ZOOM CALL

 

MOM'S GROUP

Lead By:
Romina Hiti
 
Schedule:
Every month on the first Monday
 
Description:
Like moms brunch without the food
 
Location:
TBD

 

Moving Together: 6 feet apart

Lead By:
Jenny Wedan & Desiree Ochs
 
Schedule:
Every Monday at 7p
 
Description:
Come clear your head in these crazy times. We'll encourage each other with weekly video check-ins. We're all on our own journey, but let's do this together--six feet apart! :)
 
Location:
When you sign up, we'll email you the Zoom link.

 

Don't see a group for you? Start a new one! cornerchurch.tv/groups