From the Well - 2/21/2019

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Ephesians 3:1-7 (MSG) 
1 This is why I, Paul, am in jail for Christ, having taken up the cause of you outsiders, so-called. 2 I take it that you're familiar with the part I was given in God's plan for including everybody. 3 I got the inside story on this from God himself, as I just wrote you in brief. 4 As you read over what I have written to you, you'll be able to see for yourselves into the mystery of Christ. 5 None of our ancestors understood this. Only in our time has it been made clear by God's Spirit through his holy apostles and prophets of this new order. 6 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. They get the same offer, same help, same promises in Christ Jesus. The Message is accessible and welcoming to everyone, across the board. 7 This is my life work: helping people understand and respond to this Message. It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details.

There was a study conducted in Germany several years ago which found that people who frequently used first-person singular words like “I,” and “me,” were more likely to be depressed and have more interpersonal problems than people who often said “we” and “us.” Researchers, led by Johannes Zimmerman of Germany’s University of Kassel, pointed out that using more “I” and “me” words didn’t actually cause depression. Instead, the speaking habit probably reflected how people saw themselves and related to others.[1]

An important part of spiritual growth is the understanding that we need others in order to be the kind of servant leader God has called us to be. We need the “we” and “us” in our lives. In the Zulu language, the word “Ubuntu  is a shortened phrase that means, a person is a person because of other people. Servant leaders cannot truly be successful or helpful to the Kingdom of God without others. Craig Groeshchel in his book, Confessions of a Pastor, says, “If you are lonely at the top, it’s because you didn’t take anyone with you.” I often hear people in leadership positions complain that no one will help them. Servant leaders learn to mentor and bring others along. Paul was a servant leader who knew about bringing others along.

Paul’s ministry was based on the foundation that was already established by Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection. Jesus made the sacrifices that He did and mentored others (The disciples) because He wanted God’s Kingdom work to continue into the future through people like Paul, you, and me. Servant leaders see future needs and make the sacrifices necessary in order to bring them to fruition. They also invest themselves in others. Paul saw the need for God’s church in the Gentile world and so he made the personal investments and sacrifices necessary in order to carry God’s message to Corinth, Philippi, Galatia, Rome, and Ephesus. This was His life work, “helping people understand and respond to the message,” as Eugene Peterson translates the text. What investments and sacrifices will you make? Think about it.

Matthew

[1]As suggested in an article by Rose Pastore, May 3, 2013.

From the Well - 2/7/2019

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Ephesians 2:11-16 (The Message) 
11 But don't take any of this for granted. It was only yesterday that you outsiders to God's ways 12 had no idea of any of this, didn't know the first thing about the way God works, hadn't the faintest idea of Christ. You knew nothing of that rich history of God's covenants and promises in Israel, hadn't a clue about what God was doing in the world at large. 13 Now because of Christ-dying that death, shedding that blood-you who were once out of it altogether are in on everything. 14 The Messiah has made things up between us so that we're now together on this, both non-Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders. He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance. 15 He repealed the law code that had become so clogged with fine print and footnotes that it hindered more than it helped. Then he started over. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody. 16Christ brought us together through his death on the Cross. The Cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility.

An article written by Ronald Paterson in 1993 sounds as if it is written for 2019:

The way of God is from closed to open. Recently I heard a woman talking about her fears for our nation. One of the things she said was that the loudest and most painful noise she hears in our beloved country is the sound of minds snapping shut all over America. Her point was that too many of us are becoming people whose minds are closed and whose opinions are set in a sort of fatal concrete which threatens to sink the fragile nature of our democracy. She pointed out that this beloved ship floats on the willingness of diverse people to work with one another despite their differences of opinion, to find ways to get along with one another. Do you remember Jesus seeking out strangers and the outcast? Do you remember the unconditional love which he showed and which he commanded of those who followed him? The way of God is the path which leads people to work together for the common good.[1]

Eugene Peterson's translation of the Ephesians text suggests that Christ brought us together. Christ comes near to those who are far off. He preaches to them, heals them and offers an opportunity for transformation and wholeness. Paul says that those who are "strangers" and "aliens" are all members of the household of God because of Christ. The whole purpose of Christ's life and the life that we proclaim as followers of Christ is to "build up charity toward God and neighbor."

Might I suggest that our alienation from one another is a form of alienation from God. Paul says that as followers of Christ we have been given the gift of reconciliation and peace. As Ronald Paterson says in his article, "The way of God is the path which leads people to work together for the common good." Are you and I working for the common good? Think about it.

Matthew

[1]Ronald M. Peterson, Dayton, Ohio, August 8, 1993 as cited in Homiletics July-September 1994, 14.

From the Well - 1/31/2019

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Ephesians 2:8-10 (The Message) 
8 Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It's God's gift from start to finish! 9 We don't play the major role. If we did, we'd probably go around bragging that we'd done the whole thing! 10 No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.

Someone said that “a trace of grace works better than a pile of guilt.” Paul says that we need to trust enough to allow God’s gift of grace to work in our lives. Unfortunately, we often live out of what Christian counselors call an “anxiety based faith.” An anxiety based faith is caused by a culture and society where people claim to be Christian and say they know of God’s expansive love but spend most of their lives trying to prove their self-worth.

We have a deep seated fear of failure, measuring up, and fitting in. This fear drives us to find peace through achieving, winning, accumulating, and knowing rather than trusting in God’s love. Self-worth tied to the prevailing culture causes guilt, shame, stress, low-self-esteem, and poor health. These are just a few of the destructive results of our secular version of salvation by works.

I think it was Leonard Sweet who suggested that we stop trying to experience God’s grace through attainment and start trying attunement. It’s the difference between being a do-gooder (doing good) and a good-doer (good doing). It’s the difference between achieving a state of grace by good and becoming good by grace. It is only because of grace that we can become good and it is only out of grace that we can do good. I like how Frederick Buechner puts it in his book, Wishful Thinking. He writes:

Grace is something you can never get but only be given. The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you. I created the universes. I love you. There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.[1]

Think about it.

Matthew

[1]Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1973), 33-34.

From the Well - 1/24/2019

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Ephesians 1:15-23 (NRSV) 
15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. 

There is an old story (not sure of the source) about a man who was threatened with death by a bandit. As the bandit brandished his sword, the man pointed at a nearby tree and said, "Grant my dying wish. Cut off the branch of that tree." The thief swung his sword and the branch fell to the ground. "Now what?" the thief asked.

"Now put it back on again," the man said. "You must be crazy. No one can do that!" The bandit said. "On the contrary. You are crazy to think you are mighty because you can wound and destroy. The mighty know how to create and heal." Because of the man's wisdom the thief decided to spare the man's life.

I realize that it is only a story but there is truth in the fact that the mighty and powerful know how to create and heal. To follow Jesus is to have that kind of power in our heart, hands, and mind. Paul believes in the power of the resurrected Christ. He talks about the power of Christ against the backdrop of Roman power, inhuman cruelty, corruption, and exploitation. Paul believes in a new principle, the power of Christ. It is a power that can ultimately create and heal. What power do you choose? Think about it.

Matthew

From the Well - 1/17/2019

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Ephesians 1:11-14 (NRSV) 
11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.

A Catholic Priest, who had become very hard of hearing, requested that those who wished to confess their sins write them on a slip of paper instead of speaking them in the confession booth. Everything worked out fairly well until one day when a fellow entered the confessional, fumbled in his pocket for a few moments, and eventually passed a crumpled piece of paper through the curtain into the priest's hand.

The confession read:

  • Two cans of beans

  • Quarter pound of ham

  • Coke

  • Four fish filets

  • Bread

  • Coffee

  • Soap

  • Butter

The priest studied the note for a moment and then silently passed it back to the gentleman. In an exasperated voice, the man declared, "Mother of God, I've left my sins at the grocery store!"

Paul is telling us that God has left our sins behind--at the grocery store so to speak. All we have to do is accept that "It's in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free-signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit" (Ephesians 1:13, The Message). Paul says that the promise of salvation is not so much that we will be snatched away from a rotten botched creation as it is that we join up in God's cosmic restoration. It is a reworking of our lives in Jesus Christ.

In other words, God loves us from the beginning of time. All we have to do is step into the light of grace and say yes. So, leave your list of sins at the grocery store and know that you are forgiven and loved. Think about it.

Matthew