An Identity in the Light

Back in my wilder youth there were a few nightclubs and rock venues I would frequent. Once, I had reason to be inside one of those clubs during the daylight hours. To my horror, what had been obfuscated in the darkness was now on full display in daytime brightness. The place was beyond grody. Not only did I not want to touch anything, I didn’t even want to breath the air in that disgusting environment. It was such a stunning image I couldn’t get myself to go back, even when it all was hidden once again in the shadows.

That’s sort of the line of reasoning Paul is going to be using in the passage we’ll be reading this Sunday as we study Ephesians – we’ll be reading Eph 5:3-14.

Paul sets up another contrast similar to what he did at the close of chapter 4 where he described our move from death to life. In chapter 5 he contrasts darkness with light.

We’re going to take some time to get a grasp of what Paul is talking about when waring about God’s wrath in v6 – but his point is, there was one way we used to live before Christ, and there is another which is the product of our transformation in God’s light. He describes various sins (not an exhaustive list, just what appears to come to mind): sexual sins and greed as well as conversational sin. Why do you think Paul might have lumped these particular behaviors together? He makes it clear: this is who you were, but you are different now. Paul wasn’t setting standards for a new moralism, he was highlighting markers of identity.

How we understand our identity in Christ was of crucial importance to Paul. His plea is for us to pay attention and not just thoughtlessly follow along with cultural moors and ethics. Are there areas you find it challenging to resist cultural expectations that diverge from God’s intent? Based on Paul’s exhortation, how can we be more thoughtful about the behavior and language we engage in?

God’s wrath and inheritance in God’s kingdom are two important topics in this text which we’re going to dig into on Sunday to try and discover what he means when he uses those phrases.

It’s going to be a challenging study, but well worth any discomfort it may bring. I hope you can join us this Sunday!

E Pluribus Unum

Happy Veteran’s day – thank you to all who have served our country. We all long for the day forecast by Isaiah, when we’ll no longer train for war.

This Sunday we’ll be continuing our study in Ephesians (ch 4:1-16), and the theme of it can be embodied in the Latin phrase “E pluribus unum” – out of many, one.

Paul’s previous theme of unity will flow easily into chapter 4, where he begins his practical applications of what he described in the first three chapters. We’ll be breaking this into three parts: v1-6 where Paul reinforces the need for us to intentionally pursue unity; v 7-10 where he explains that unity isn’t uniformity and then v 11-16 where he expounds on the purpose of the church and its leadership.

As you read v1-6, take note of how all the character qualities he challenges us to embody all have a social outworking. If you were to turn this around and consider it from the negative, based on these verses – what do you think Paul would say is the biggest threat to the church? In what practical ways can we begin the process of drawing closer to each other as the church?

V7-10 take a brief detour, where Paul qualifies his statement on unity, reminding us that it’s not uniformity, we still have individual gifts given us. He quotes Psalm 68 to support his claim, but it only makes it a bit fuzzier for us as modern readers. We’ll dig into that more on Sunday – but if God has given us each a gift for the sake of the community, what might your gift be? That’s a subject worth praying about – and I think it can be anything from an ability to give a friendly smile to hearing messages from God for the community. Let’s be open to how God wants to use all of us!

When Paul does start describing the gifts God gave the church, he talks about people. I find that fascinating. We’ll talk about how Paul subverts the Greco-Roman ideal of honor and position on Sunday. There’s a lot to consider in this – suffice it to say, these are all job descriptions, not titles of position, and certainly not assumed because of earned status. Gift is the operative word. And who is the gift for?

Paul also describes the reason for these functions in the church – to equip the community for ministry. If that’s the case, where is ministry taking place, in Paul’s thinking? All of us joined together, from the many-one, form a better picture of who Jesus is!

I’m really looking forward to examining this passage together – hope you can join us this Sunday!

The Power of Unity and Love

We took a break last week from our study of Ephesians to contemplate a Sabbath rest – but this Sunday we’ll be returning to Paul’s letter, reading Ch 3:1-21.

The chapter is broken into two parts – in v 1 Paul starts a train of thought…but in v 2 he interrupts himself to give a bit of backstory on his own calling and relationship to the gospel. What he reveals in that digression is fascinating stuff.

V 2-13 show us a picture of what Paul saw the Gospel doing in this present world. He uses the word “both” multiple times, in connection with equality and unification – that is, he saw the division between the Jewish people and all the other nations as nullified in the gospel. For him, that was a demonstration of God’s wisdom at work in this world.

How much does that square with your own understanding of how the Gospel is to be impacting this world? Followers of Jesus come from all sorts of backgrounds, economic situations, cultural perspectives, political affiliations – the list goes on and on. Those things divide us pretty intensely in our modern world – how can we prioritize unity amidst the great diversity of our fellow believers? After reading what Paul writes – how important is unity in the midst of diversity to you?

The next section of chapter 3, v 14-21 has Paul picking back up on his train of thought. There is a word that gets repeated a lot in this section as well – love. Specifically, the divine love showed to us as a community of Christ followers. How might our love for each other help expand our understanding of God’s love for us? How is love demonstrated in a community setting like the church? How can we improve on this aspect of church community?

Our study will be quick but in depth – I hope you can join us! Suzy Kuj will also be sharing a missions update on the work IDAT is doing in South Sudan!

It’s all About Identity

One of the things we’ve had to learn in the dawn of the digital age is how to protect against identity theft. It’s certainly something that requires diligence on our part; changing passwords, identifying stop signs to prove we aren’t robots, all sorts of measures are taken to protect our identities.

In our passage this Sunday, Paul is going to reflect on our Christian identities, and he’s going to reinforce some important truths about who we are in Christ. We’ll be reading Ephesians ch 2.

The chapter seems to flow naturally from what Paul was writing about at the end of chapter 1, where he talked about what it meant to our lives to be adapted as God’s children. In ch 2, we’ll be reading a lot of fairly dense theological propositions about the nature of our salvation and the new humanity that we have become in Christ.

There is an emphasized “then” and “now” flow to what Paul writes. What are some of the ways he describes our old lives, the way we were? What are the contrasts, how does he see us now? What do you suppose being dead in sin means? How do you understand who the ruler of unseen powers is? In what way does this inform you about your nature as a believer in Jesus? Does it expand your sense of self?

V 8-10 is considered Paul’s great manifesto on salvation by grace alone. Grace is a free gift, something we certainly didn’t earn. Since good works don’t earn us a place with God, what do you think Paul is getting at in v10 where he talks about the good works we’re ordained for?

In the rest of the chapter, v11-22, Paul describes the inclusion of the gentile people into God’s big plan to redeem the world. Twice he talks about God making a new person (or we could say human) out of the two divided people of Jews and gentiles. This happened when the dividing wall, or barrier of the commands of the Law of Moses were fulfilled in Christ and therefore nullified. If there is no longer any external marker for inclusion in God’s family – what might that mean about the makeup of God’s community, the church? In what ways can we learn to join together as a single temple of God?

This will be a deep, but I believe enlightening study. I hope you can join us!

Our Ongoing Journey

This Sunday we’ll keep reading Ephesians together, covering ch 1:15-23. Paul will be moving from singing to praying in the opening of his letter. In the section we’ll be reading, Paul will be praying for his fellow believers – and the import of what he prays for is what we’ll be focusing on in our study.

Once again, the word Apokalupsis is used – a Greek word which means “something hidden that gets revealed”. Paul wants us to have a revelation concerning three areas of our lives effected by the Gospel.

In v15-17 Paul prays that we’d grow in our knowledge of God. What does that mean to you? Do you think he wants us to have a large amount of information stored up about the Divine? What kind of knowledge might he be referring to, and how would it be apprehended in our own lives and experiences? What are some sources we could consider which would provide us a deeper knowledge of God?

V18 is Paul’s prayer that we would be enlightened concerning hope. What does he anchor that hope in at the end of the verse? What inheritance do you believe he’s talking about? Can you think of any important issues of inheritance in the Old Testament that might shed light on what Paul means?

V19-23 provide us with a bold declaration of Christ’s transcendence over every power or authority, in this world or the next. What does he cite as the source of that power? In what way does the resurrection demonstrate God’s power – and what might it be forecasting for this world?

This is a complex bit of Scripture – but I’m looking forward to digging into it together and finding ourselves in a life of ongoing discovery. Hope you can join us!

God’s Loving Plan

This Sunday we’ll be continuing in our study of Ephesians, reading ch 1:3-14. Paul’s opening after his initial greeting is actually a poem in the Greek. Translated to English, it doesn’t come off as poetically – it’s actually one really long run-on sentence.

As you read over these verses – try to take note of repeated words. In v3-5, what does Paul praise the Father for doing for us through Christ? How does Paul describe God’s attitude when it comes to his gathering us into his family? What does that tell you about your value in God’s eyes? Does that differ from your own sense of value? How can we learn to asses our own worth based on God’s determination?

V6-10 provides us with a revelation of God’s great big plan. What does Paul say it is in v 10? How would you explain God’s plan in your own words?

Paul finishes his poem in v11-14. What role does he describe the Holy Spirit fulfilling in our lives? How much are you aware of the Holy Spirit’s activity in your daily life? What are some ways we can become more alert and responsive to the Holy Spirit’s work day to day?

I’m really looking forward to this study – there some very important truths we need to meditate on when it comes to our relationship with God. I hope you can join us!

A New Humanity

This Sunday we’ll begin a new series, exploring the book of Ephesians. I’m really excited about this study mostly because I really enjoy this book. We’ll be starting slowly, only reading the prologue found in chapter 1:1-2.

Ephesus was a major port city in ancient Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). Paul had visited that city many years earlier and planted a church which became a hub of the Christian movement. Paul doesn’t give a specific reason for writing this letter – and we’ll go over that more on Sunday.

As you read the first two verses, think about Paul’s introduction of himself and who his intended readers are. He describes himself as an apostle (a leader in the church) – on what does he base his sense of ministry? How much does God’s will play a role in your own understanding of self?

Who he writes to are described in the NLT as “holy people” – but in most older translations they are called “saints”. What is a saint, in your thinking? Who do you think qualifies for that description? We’re going to talk about that on Sunday because it’s very important that we understand who we are in Christ.

There is a surprising amount of content in the two little verses we’ll be looking at – I hope you can join us as we begin this incredible book!

A Present Peace, Purpose, and Passion

This Sunday will be the 9/11 anniversary – a date we will most likely never forget given the way in which that event has shaped our nation and society since. Yet there was another event, many, many years ago which we citizens of God’s Kingdom remember weekly, and the effect of that event on our lives and in this world has been profoundly good.

We’ll be reading about the resurrection event in our final study in the Gospel of Luke this Sunday. We started this study nearly two years ago, and I hope we’ve grown closer to Christ and gained a clearer perception of what the Gospel is along the way. We’ll be reading Luke 24:36-53.

The two disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus have just finished telling their story when everyone notices that Jesus is standing there among them. That sort of thing happens in several of the resurrection accounts – what might that suggest to us about the nature of our gathering together as Jesus’ disciples today?

What are the first words from his mouth to his followers? What does that tell us about his desire for us in our gathering?

In v 45-49 Jesus, in essence, hands the keys of ministry over to his disciples. What does v45 say happened to them? What is the purpose of that enlightenment based on v 46-48? What does being a witness mean to you? How comfortable are you with that description?

After Jesus ascends back to the Father’s realm, what do the disciples do? How is their attitude described? Does their attitude seem odd to you, given the fact that they no longer see Jesus? How might we understand our own walk of faith in light of that?

I’ve so enjoyed this study – it’s always a bittersweet thing for me to conclude it. I hope you can join us for our wrap up of this amazing Gospel of Luke!

The Evidence of Things Not Seen

One of the major changes that took place in the early stages of the church, which set it apart from Judaism was the move from Saturday to Sunday as a day dedicated to God. The seventh day, Saturday, was the day ordained by God in the law of Moses as a day of rest. The post-exilic Israelites held their synagogue services on Saturday, which Jesus and all his disciples did as well.

Why did the church move from Saturday to Sunday? Because of what happened one Sunday morning which changed to course of history and set into motion the advance of God’s Kingdom on earth. The early church began observing their services on Sunday because it was a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

Think of it – every Sunday when the church gathers all over the world, we are celebrating Easter!

This Sunday as we continue our study of Luke, we’ll be reading Luke 24:1-12. We’ll be considering Jesus’ resurrection – more specifically, the empty tomb, which stands as evidence of something unseen.

It’s fascinating that in each of the gospel accounts, nobody is a witness to the resurrection itself – only the events and evidences post resurrection.

In our account this Sunday, we’ll read about the women coming to the tomb to prepare what they assumed would be a corpse for decomposition. When they get to the tomb, it’s empty. Each of the gospel accounts of this event starts this way. What does that empty tomb speak to you about Jesus and the nature of our mission with him?

Two glowy dudes show up and remind the women that this was something Jesus told everyone would happen, but nobody understood what he was saying, and therefore had no anticipation of this occurring. The disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was saying – but how did that affect God’s plans? Does God ask us to understand what he’s up to? What does God look for from us?

When we finally get to the men disciples (v11), their response to the women’s report is less than heroic or faith-filled. Can you really blame them though? Peter decides to investigate for himself – and I believe he takes the first step that countless believers have followed behind him. How difficult is it for you to allow for all the possibilities of God’s involvement in your life or in this world? Following Peter’s example, how can we become more open to God’s possibilities?

I’m looking forward to digging in to this explosively hopeful passage with you this Sunday – I hope you can join us!

The Planted Seed

Have you ever done any gardening? From the time I was a kid, I was always intrigued by gardens, planting seeds that would take shape over time, becoming something so delightfully different in form from what was planted.

This Sunday as we continue our study in Luke, we’ll be reading about a different kind of planting – the burial of Jesus. We’ll be reading Luke 23:50-56.

In John’s gospel, Jesus made the statement “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.”

Just like when I was a child, I look at the shape of the seed and wonder what shape the harvest will take. That’s something I believe is forecast in the account of Jesus’ burial. It’s way more than just a connecting passage between Jesus’ death and what’s about to happen (I hate spoiling it for you, but Jesus’ death doesn’t take).

We get introduced to a character named Joseph of Arimathea. He was a member of the Sanhedrin who didn’t go along with their plan to have Jesus executed, which makes him at very least sympathetic with Jesus’ ministry. He asks Pilate for the body to be buried. How might this have been a risky move for him, given what just happened between Pilate and the Sanhedrin during the trial? What does this social, political and even religious risk he takes tell us about the nature of this new life we receive from Christ?

In v 55, who are the followers of Jesus that the narrative focuses on? Do you find it interesting that none of the big names of the disciples are present? In fact, we don’t even find out the names of the women disciples in Luke’s telling of this. A radical upheaval in the order of this broken world’s systems comes into focus here – what do you think it might be?

I think this will be an interesting and encouraging passage to examine together – I hope you can join us this Sunday!