GCI Equipper

Hope, Faith and Love in a Fellowship Group

Our focus on healthy church and the three avenues of Hope, Faith and Love are applicable to any size group or congregation.

“We only have eight people in our group; how are we expected to have a champion or coordinator for the Hope, Faith and Love avenues?” The simple answer is you aren’t. While we encourage larger congregations to have Hope, Faith and Love avenue teams, which work with the pastor in a team-based, pastor-led model, your small group is the team. We do not have a “one-size-fits-all” approach to helping you be the healthiest expression of church/group you can be. With that said, we do believe every small group can and should keep the principles of our Hope, Faith and Love avenues in mind in everything they do. Allow me to explain by going through one avenue at a time and sharing how it might work in a Fellowship Group or Connect Group.

The Hope Avenue — Worship

Worship is our response inside of Christ’s perfect response. It is joining Jesus in worship of the Father. Worship can be done individually and with a group. When we gather to worship, we are sharing the hope we have in Christ—his birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and return. When we worship in participation with Jesus, we are communing with him and sharing in the communion he shares with our Father and the Holy Spirit. We have three areas we focus on in the Hope Avenue:

• Intentional Preparation: Are we using the revised common lectionary (RCL) resources in Equipper? We provide a weekly theme, the RCL scripture passages, a sermon and discussion questions. We also provide a Speaking of Life video that can be used with or in place of a sermon; again, with discussion questions. A good practice for a Fellowship group is for all to read the sermon ahead of time and come prepared to discuss it. Read the other RCL passages as well, which can lead to further discussion.

• Inclusive Gathering: Fellowship groups provide a wonderful opportunity for all to participate. It would be good for the facilitator to include any children in the discussion, and even prepare some questions for the children. Perhaps prepare some handouts. Check out this site for ideas: www.sermons4kids.com

• Inspirational Sunday Services: It’s often easier for a Fellowship or Connect Group to make the message applicable as group members share with each other. An inspirational service might include group prayer, responsive reading, scripture reading, praise and prayer requests. A home environment also makes people feel more welcome and included than a larger gathering.

The Faith Avenue — Discipleship

All of us are called to be disciples, which is the disciplined habit of thinking and acting in Christ. It is growing in grace and knowledge, growing closer to Jesus and to each other. This is one of the natural strengths of a Fellowship or Connect Group. This avenue includes the following three focus areas:

• Intentional Discipleship: Because of the size of the group, you are more likely to know each other well. You may share more meals together and have more personal discussions than you might have in a larger church environment. If you have a cross-generational group, it’s easier to include people of all ages in the discussions and the fellowship. Further, you may find it easier to invite friends and family to join you in a smaller more intimate group.

• Small Groups: Not much to say here—you are a small group. However, members of the group may find opportunities to start other small groups in their neighborhood or work community.

• Missionary Activities: Size has nothing to do with opportunity to reach out to others. You can plan a picnic and invite family and friends. You can support a local mission. What talents does your group have that can serve a local mission? Can you sew, knit or crochet? There are needs in women’s shelters, for unwed mothers, for aging parents. Can you build, or provide teaching for those who want to build? Be creative and you might just be surprised how you can help others.

The Love Avenue — Witness

Paul talks about the love of Christ compelling us. It compels us to share his life and love with others. It compels us to no longer view others from a worldly point of view (see 2 Corinthians 5). It compels us to find ways to be a light and example to others—no matter the size of our group.

• Identify Target Community: One of our Fellowship groups provides diaper bags for unwed mothers. Another group knits hats for premature babies. Others provide meals for people in need. Others spend time in prayer for people in the community. Get to know a local authority or service provider and ask how you can help — even if it is simply to get names for you to pray for. Identify a group you can help. Don’t try to save the neighborhood or reach out in several ways—find one (or maybe two) target groups where you can serve.

• Ongoing Relationship Building: Try meeting at a coffee shop, or a fast-food place once a month. Get to know people who come in, interact with them, pray for them. Join a book club and pray for the members of the club. There are many ways to build relationships.

• Missional Activities and Events: If you are an older group, become the foster grandparents at a local school by showing up at the kids’ games. Again, be creative. You may be surprised at the doors God opens for you to share his love with others.

Our goal is not to wear you out, make you feel you aren’t doing enough, or coerce you into starting something you are not gifted to start. It is simply to help you realize there are opportunities should you choose to pursue them. It is to keep all of GCI focused on being the healthiest expression of church, fellowship group, or connect group we can be.

And let’s be honest with ourselves. Your greatest gift to the body of Christ may be spending time praying for others. If that’s your gift, do it with joy, and please include us in the Home Office. We covet your prayers, knowing we move forward in prayer. And please know we are always here to resource you in any way we can. Many of our Fellowship groups will close as members age, and travel becomes difficult. We are here to help you make those transitions as well, and to provide resources for you when that time comes.

May our great God continue to bless you as you share his love and life with

others in the three healthy church avenues of Hope, Faith and Love.

 

Many blessings,
Rick Shallenberger

Building Faith Avenue Teams

A Faith Avenue team cannot be built in a day and requires intentionally engaging and equipping ministry workers.

By Michelle Fleming, Media Director

How do you measure the health of a church? Some folks would advise to look at measurables like attendance, buildings, and cash. These metrics can be helpful, but they do not measure how we are responding to Jesus’ call for us in the great commandment and great commission. We can have impressive numbers of people showing up for church gatherings, but how are they growing in relationship with Christ? Are they being transformed by the Word? Instead of looking only at quantitative data, we must look at the qualities of the congregation in light of who God is. By the power of the Spirit, is the church continuing the incarnation of Jesus in its neighborhood?

Healthy Church is a community where both new and seasoned disciples are growing in grace, truth, and depth of character. The church is living out Christ’s mission when we are making disciples. This is why the Faith Avenue is a crucial part of Healthy Church. The Faith Avenue creates spaces where spiritual growth can be nurtured, and where community is built through relational and formational activities. This is the life of the church between Sundays, where discipleship occurs, growing in faith as we live out and allow Christ to express his faith in our lives and relationships.

Like all team-based leadership, the Faith Avenue cannot be built in a day and requires intentionally engaging and equipping ministry workers. I hope this article provides you with some practical next steps to building your Faith Avenue Team.

Who should you look for when recruiting ministry workers for the Faith Avenue?

  • Someone with a passion for Christ – be a disciple before discipling others.
  • Someone with a passion for people – a desire to care for and draw out participation from others.
  • Someone with a commitment to invest the time – reliably be available for church engagement and relational opportunities.

Your Faith Avenue leaders will be responsible for building a culture of belonging, specifically belonging in Christ. Our shared identity, as God’s beloved, and our common humanity with one another and Jesus, bind us together as one family. We create spaces of belonging when we have an established purpose and set out clear expectations, providing a sense of safety. Moreover, when we can be vulnerable with one another, it sets the foundation for trust.

Creating these kinds of spaces is often best caught through experience rather than taught through principles. Consequently, having the Faith Avenue Champion or pastor model facilitation and creating a culture of belonging is a best practice for building your Faith Avenue. We have outlined a template for the process below.

How do I begin to develop my Faith Avenue Team?

  • Identify 3-5 households/families whose adult members would be gifted and willing to host and facilitate a connect group.
  • Ask these families to join you for a 6-8 week connect group.
  • During the group, model relationship building and good discussion facilitation techniques.
  • After the group runs the course, identify best fits for facilitators and hosts to multiply into new connect groups.
  • The apprenticeship square on our toolkit becomes a very useful tool to develop facilitators and hosts. (This will be ongoing and is a key function of the Faith Avenue Champion.)
  • Be sure to start Connect Groups with a multiplying DNA. The Faith Avenue Champions need to lead and model, and the pastor continues to promote Connect Groups.

As we go through our year of Faith Forward, we are laying the foundation for the teams we will see in the years ahead. Some congregations will end the year wrapping up their first ever Connect Group. Others may start by focusing on church life and creating more relational spaces for life-on-life ministry with members, or perhaps developing their discipleship pathway. The process outlined in this article is just one session in our Growing a Healthy Faith Avenue Tool. We hope this article and the tool will help you discern the next right step for your Faith Avenue. Know that we are praying for you and your group your Faith Avenues.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5-6)

The Necessity of Challenge

Many of us don’t like challenges — to be challenged or to challenge others. Yet they are an essential part of leaders working toward being liberators.

By David Howe, Pastor, Elkhart and Fort Wayne, Indiana

When I was young, I developed a fear of putting my face in water. I couldn’t put it under the shower and definitely not submerge it without a mask on. I hated this fear and decided it was time to put the fear to rest. I signed up to get SCUBA certified. I knew that one of the tests at the end of the training would be to be under the water, have your air turned off and have your mask taken off. I spent every day trying to reprogram my brain to not panic. It was hard, but in the end I was able to pass the test without panicking. I was overjoyed, and it opened a new world to me of diving with a friend of mine. We saw parts of God’s creation that most people only see in pictures. It was tough to challenge myself to make that change. My normal tendency is to shy away from challenges, look for an easier path, choose the route of least resistance. I know I am not alone. Many don’t like challenges — to be challenged, or to challenge others.

In a recent meeting with other pastors, my regional director raised a few challenges to me and others. One of those challenges was to be willing to bring challenge to others. He said if we want to liberate leaders, we must be willing to bring challenge to others. If we aren’t willing to bring challenge to others, we can be limiting their potential growth as leaders. This led to an animated discussion with many of us sharing our reluctance to bring challenge and facing the truth of how important it is. Many of us in that meeting had to admit we preferred the easier path, the route of least resistance.

Further, our church tradition seemed to support that mindset. The pastor would work hard and was expected to do the bulk of the work necessary to run a congregation. “Isn’t that what we are paying them for?” The members were expected to provide support, but the bulk of responsibility for a healthy church was on the pastor. Paul told us differently, of course, telling us that pastors were to equip the saints for works of service, but that would require us to challenge others to step up. Due to our involvement with GiANT Worldwide, we’ve learned that God’s calling for us to equip others is called being liberators. We are called to help people step into the freedom that Jesus gave us. We are called to help others become healthy leaders and liberators. Being a liberator is a large step away from the role many of us live in—the role of a protector. Protectors give high support to the people around them, but they often fail to bring challenge. Liberators on the other hand offer high support and high challenge for the people in their lives.

In God’s plan, we are called to participate with him. He doesn’t do the easy way—he does the right way, which usually takes much longer than we anticipate and doesn’t look like how we would have done it. Interestingly, God also believes in high support and high challenge. Dying to yourself every day is a pretty high challenge.

Think of a time in your life where you worked hard and achieved something important to you. Maybe it was winning in athletics or preparing for months or even years for a musical performance. Maybe it was getting promoted at work and rebuilding a relationship. Do you remember that feeling when you achieved your goal? You felt excited and exhilarated at the accomplishment. You faced your challenges and grew. And the best part is that God was there with you. He is the one who gave you whatever gifts you needed to achieve your goal.

I think it’s easy to think of God as our protector and our provider, our healer and our rock. Can we also think of him as our greatest challenger? He is guiding and leading us on a journey with himself to become the people he created us to be. He wants us to live life abundantly. That means putting off the easy ways; it means opening our eyes to see things we’ve missed in the past. Our greatest challenge is to see ourselves the way God sees us. That means allowing the Holy Spirit to work in our lives, to change our heart and mind and to help us to come into a closer relationship with our loving Father.

Recently I was taught that the way we grow in our love of God is to understand him better. The more we learn about God and his heart for us, the more we can love him. His desires become our desires and we become serving leaders. But this is a great challenge. It means surrendering our will to his, putting his desires before our own. We need to be challenged in order to grow.

Challenge can be small or large—both are important. I’ve challenged my parishioners to sit in a different location from time to time. That seems like a small challenge, but it’s amazing how many came back and share how they experienced the service differently from a new location. Small challenges can prepare us for bigger challenges.

We are fortunate that our loving Father never allows us to go through more than we can handle. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have big challenges for us in store. While the challenges get bigger and more intense, if my mind is in harmony with God’s, the challenges don’t seem any harder than the previous ones.

What does this mean to you as an individual or you as a pastor? Look for the challenges God is offering you and accept them when they come along. Step out in faith that God has you in his hands and you are safe. As a pastor I now realize how important it is for me to give my brothers and sisters in Jesus a challenge to help them grow and develop. My job is to equip them, which usually comes with high challenge attached. To equip them, there are times I need to ask, “May I bring you a challenge?” When I ask and they agree, they have buy-in for the challenge I need to raise.

Challenges are an essential part of our growing to be liberating leaders. All of our jobs are to accept the high challenges God brings our way and find a life that is sweeter than we could have imagined.

Member Care Ministry

By Anthony Mullins, US Regional Director, Southeast

I was running late, of my own doing, which increased the anxiety I was feeling about the sermon I was about to preach. My sermon preparation wasn’t up to usual standards and the message was going to be broadcast live to the Facebook world (at least those brave and daring souls who were interested in listening). No time to be interrupted, for sure, and yet that is exactly what happened. Two minutes prior to pushing the “live” button, there was a knock at the church door. No! Honestly, every instinct within me wanted to ignore the request for entry. Didn’t they know our church wasn’t currently meeting for in-person worship services due to COVID-19?

In spite of my selfish impulse, I went to the door and saw two of our church members. Without going into the detail of the encounter, it was clear one of them was in distress. We chatted for a brief moment and I invited them to be my “live audience” for the virtual sermon. Though I was initially frustrated by the interruption, they were most grateful to be included, and I ended up thankful to the Lord for this member-care opportunity. Upon the conclusion of the sermon, I heard the reason and story of distress and the three of us prayed together, cried together and celebrated that we had the amazing privilege of sharing life together.

Caring well for church members is a vital ministry in the life of a healthy church. As illustrated in the aforementioned recent experience, sometimes as a pastor my first reaction isn’t the best, …at least not at first. I need help from others.

A Team-Based and Pastor-Led approach to ministry invites me as a pastor to consider how to include my church members in all facets of church life, including Member Care. As a pastor, I cannot do it all and should not do it all. Paul, the apostle, wrote the following, “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). With intentional recruitment and development, my local church has been blessed to have a retired pastor and spouse as our Member Care Team for the past few years.

I commissioned them as ministry leaders in the presence of the congregation and invited them to provide Christ-like care to our members. What an outstanding work of love they have done! They have visited our people in hospitals, brought meals to members who have lost loved ones, prayed with those who are hurting and celebrated birthdays and anniversaries for those experiencing personal milestones. I participate when I am able, as the introductory story shared, but the bigger blessing is having a team of volunteers who serve on the Member Care Team and who love one another so well.

Grandparenting and Cross-generational Ministry

Sharing faith, hope and love with grandchildren and other young members.

By Bob Regazolli, Grandad and Pastor, Australia

 

One of the joys we experience in our local congregation is seeing the evidence of cross-generational care in children’s and youth ministry. Parents and grandparents are actively involved in the various classes. Some grandparents bring their grandchildren to services. The children’s parents don’t attend, but when asked, they are glad for their children to attend church with their grandparents.

It is a blessing to see the children learning with their grandparents (by birth or by church adoption) about the life of Jesus as we celebrate the great events in his life as highlighted in the Christian calendar. Children delight in looking forward to Jesus’ birth during the Advent season as adults make the story applicable to life. The Christmas season provides a foundational point from which to learn about Jesus’ life and ministry, leading to a focus on why he died and how he rose from the dead. During the Easter season the children (and their teachers/mentors/grandparents) look forward to celebrating his ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit in the Pentecost season. Then through Ordinary Time we focus on why there is a church, that Jesus will return and that we will live forever in the new heaven and the new earth. All of this learning in a cross-generational platform leads to the building of relationship.

Looking at some research conducted by the Barna organisation about where teens receive spiritual guidance and encouragement, it impressed upon me how influential the love and care of grandparents can be across the generations. (Click to see survey.)

In the survey, teens were asked to identify which family members or extended household members shared their faith. The mother came out first in all categories, with a grandparent second in the following areas: encourages me to go to church, encourages me in other ways, talks with me about God’s forgiveness, teaches me about the Bible. In responding to the question about who teaches them about traditions, the grandparent was first.

Not all grandparents are able to include their grandchildren in children’s church. But they can teach in other environments. We know what is most significant is having a loving and open relationship with grandchildren. We also understand what is to be passed on. We have been blessed by God so that we can share his blessings with others. Let’s look at some of the ways in which grandparents bless their grandchildren.

Pray for them: The most important role we all share in cross-generational care is praying for one another. One of our pastors was relating how he asked each child in his congregation to write their goals for the new school year on a piece of paper. With the parent’s consent to include the child’s name, these were distributed amongst adults, so each child was prayed for. But prayer for a particular child was only the beginning. Relationships were formed as the adults showed a genuine interest in “their child” throughout the year. This might include phone calls and messages throughout the week. Whether the little ones are able to attend church or not, God hears our prayers for them.

Mentor them: Mentoring relationships are beneficial for all concerned. The children, in developing relationships with the older generation, can benefit from their wisdom and experience. Likewise, older generations benefit from the life and enthusiasm of younger ones, as they learn from them. Younger people are generally much faster in picking up new technologies, and the world they are growing up in is vastly different from that of our childhood and youth. The listening adult is important for them.

Believe in them: In another survey by the Barna group, it was found that only one in three of the young adults surveyed said that they felt “deeply cared for by those around me, or that “someone believes in me.” Having a relationship with grandparents (real or adopted) whose lives reflect faith, hope and love can mean much to a young person who may be struggling with the challenges of life in the 21st century.

As parents and grandparents, let’s take every opportunity to tell our family members and the church youth we have adopted how much we love them. Let’s make sure our conversations are positive and uplifting. Let the younger generation see that we are people of hope. Bless the children with expressions of love and encouragement, with gifts, and the loving kindness which is typical of many grandparents.

Be there for them: Pay attention to birthdays, holidays, and school events. Show up if possible. When opportunity arises, make the most of family traditions and take time to enjoy meals together. As we celebrate the Christmas and Easter seasons, especially with family meals and activities associated with those days, we are helping families instil these seasons as part of the cycle of life.

Have fun: Enjoy music together, especially with the pre-school-age children. Good music adds much to their development and growth. Sing along with the videos and join in with the actions.  Where children can be exposed to Christian songs, those words will remain with them throughout life. How many of us remember “Jesus loves me this I know”? The children in our Congolese congregation all know the words to the songs sung in their mother tongue.

Grandparents — with the parent’s blessing — often have a wonderful opportunity to invite their grandchildren to participate in the life of the church. Children’s church provides such a valuable opportunity for them to build lasting friendships and learn from the Word of God in fun and creative ways. In a society where most are biblically illiterate, there is a great need to help our children learn about God and his unconditional love. Grandparents are often the ones who can fill these needs, doing so with great love and wisdom and bathed in much prayer. As a grandparent, I really appreciate the Psalm which expresses such care for the next generations:

“We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done” (Psalm 78:4).

Many of our readers are wonderful grandparents, and we would love you to share your insights. Please leave your responses in the comments section below.

Denominational Celebration Watch Parties


Here is information on how to register and set up your Denominational Celebration watch party.

Before you do anything else, register for the GCI Denominational Celebration. Individual and watch party registrations are available.

If you would like to make the Celebration a local church retreat, we have developed a guide on how to host a watch party. Check it out at this link.

Church Hack: Stages of Faith Discipleship

Discipleship is a life-long journey and not a one-time event. As the Holy Spirit guides us into a deeper understanding of who God is, the development of our faith often follows through similar stages. This Church Hack outlines the stages of faith and can be a helpful tool in identifying the challenges and beliefs about God that members of your connect group are working through. #gcichurchhacks

Click to access 2021-CH5-Stages-of-Faith.pdf

Taking on the Tough Questions

If handled well, tough questions can provide you and your young people a tremendous opportunity for discipleship and growth.

“If God loves me, why did he let my father die?” William was a quiet, shy young man and rarely spoke. I was a youth pastor at the time, and he regularly came to our weekly meeting with his sister, Ellie. Despite my best efforts to make them feel like they belonged, every Friday evening, they sat in the back and barely spoke. Every Friday, I would sit down next to them and ask them “getting-to-know-you” questions and crack corny jokes. This time was like the other times except that William and Ellie’s dad had unexpectedly and suddenly died of cancer two weeks before. When William’s father got the diagnosis, my pastor and I prayed with the family, confessing our belief in the God who heals. Within days, he was gone, and this was the first time I saw William and Ellie since the funeral. With eyes holding back tears, William simmered with pain-rage as he asked his question.

 

There is lot I still need to learn about ministry, but in that moment, I knew enough to understand that there are no easy answers to William’s question. Sure, I could have given a pithy, theological soundbite about how Jesus has defeated death, but that would have been a mistake. William’s world had been torn apart with grief and uncertainty, and words would not satisfy. He had to be introduced to the God who inhabits our pain — the God of those who mourn because Christ was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). For my part, I had to place-share. I had to empathetically step into William’s pain and show him that Jesus was already there with him. I had to call William’s attention to Christ’s tears and his promise to one day wipe away each one of ours. After a long pause, as tears flowed down my cheeks, I began, “There is no answer I can give you that will be enough. Nothing I can say can take the pain away. I don’t know why your father died, but I do know that God is here with you mourning his death…”

If you have young people in your life and are blessed to gain their trust, you will be asked some really hard questions. Perhaps you will not have to deal with questions like William’s, but you can expect to be asked about things we often do not like to talk about. Our young people have questions about race, the LBGTQ+ community, the environment, the role of religion in the public square, and many other topics, and how we answer their questions says something about God. If we dodge the question, give a pat answer, get angry at them for asking, or give them our biased opinion, we bear witness to a god who cannot help them with the problems they face — a god who was great in ancient times, but has little to say today. If we want to testify of the One True God, we will need to take on the tough questions. Here are some tips:

Pray. If we regularly encounter groups of young people, we should proactively pray for God to speak through us — that he be the one who answers the hard questions. Even during the conversation, I will be praying for God’s wisdom, compassion, and knowledge about how to be a blessing to the young person.

Be open to the hard questions. If handled well, hard questions can be the beginning of a valuable discipleship experience. Jesus was never afraid to take on the tough questions and we should emulate his willingness to engage.  Also, tough questions are likely the result of God moving in the young person’s life, so we should be honored that God gives us an opportunity to participate in his work.

Create a safe environment for tough questions. When a young person asks you a tough question, it should be considered an act of vulnerability and trust. It takes a lot of courage to ask tough questions, and we should, if we can, stop everything to make time for the conversation. If you can’t stop everything, let them know they will have your full attention as soon as is possible. In future articles, we will discuss more about place-sharing and creating a welcoming environment for children and youth.

Ask what they think first. When a young person asks you a tough question, they usually have their own ideas. When appropriate (i.e., when it would not cause emotional pain, embarrassment, etc.), it is wise to find out what they are thinking before you begin talking. Sometimes asking your own questions is the best way to answer young people’s tough questions.

Don’t be so sure. As adults, there is a temptation to have all the answers, and young people can recognize when we speak without understanding. It is far more authentic and humble to admit that we do not know. Plus, it gives us the opportunity to search for answers with the young person.

Listen to prophets. Searching Scripture on our own is wise, but sometimes we need help. God has given some people the ability to speak by the Spirit about our times and help us see God in our circumstances. These prophets can help us answer some of the tough questions. We should proactively seek discipleship opportunities (e.g., conversations, classes, books, etc.) for ourselves so we can be a blessing to our young people. Here is a link to a sermon that can help us be discerning about modern prophets https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ooK-Q2g1lmQ.

Jesus is the answer. The answers we provide to tough questions should lead us to Christ. Jesus is the answer to all that ails humanity. Who Jesus is should have an impact on how we live. In other words, our theology should dictate our ethics. In answering tough questions, we should not neglect to speak in practical specifics about how the reality of Jesus should affect our thoughts and actions.

Tough questions can provide you and your young people with a tremendous opportunity for growth. Jesus is in both the asking and the answering, and we can trust him to speak life through us.

Dishon Mills
Generations Ministry Coordinator

Gospel Reverb – One in Christ w/ Jeff Broadnax

One in Christ w/ Jeff Broadnax

Listen in as host, Anthony Mullins and guest, Jeff Broadnax, unpack these lectionary passages: 

July 4 – Proper 9
2 Corinthians 12:2-10 (NRSV)  “My Grace is Sufficient”
(04:23)

July 11 – Proper 10
Ephesians 1:3-14 (NRSV)  “Chosen”
(17:16)

July 18 – Proper 11
Ephesians 2:11-22 (NRSV)  “One in Christ”
(28:49)

July 25 – Proper 12
Ephesians 3:14-21 (NRSV)  “Grounded in Love”
(37:06)

If you get a chance to rate and review the show, that helps a lot. And invite your fellow preachers and Bible lovers to join us!

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The Relational Gift of Connect Groups w/ Mike & Juli Rasmussen

The Relational Gift of Connect Groups w/ Mike & Juli Rasmussen

In this episode, host Anthony Mullins interviews Mike and Julie Rasmussen. The Rasmussen’s have been married for 36 years and have shared ministry together throughout their marriage, and they both love small groups! Together, Anthony, Mike, and Julie and how these smaller relational gatherings practically fit into the overall GCI vision of Healthy Church.

“I love the idea that you can sit down and get to know 6-12 people, or so, in an intimate setting. In an intimate way, that you would never get to do at church. At church you’re going to spend time afterward talking to a couple of other people and it stays relatively shallow, even if it goes deep, it is not going to go nearly as deep as a connect group. And so, you bond in way that not only makes a difference now but it builds relationships for the future, and connects relationships in a deeper and more profound way…Right now, especially during COVID, connect groups are really important because people aren’t able to come together at church, in some places, because of the virus. So, connect groups are vital now, but I think they are also very important once we open back up again.”
-Mike Rasmussen, GCI Superintendent of North American and the Caribbean

Main Points:

  • Why are connect groups vital to the Faith Avenue and to the overall Healthy Church vision in GCI? (4:30)
  • What does a typical connect group meeting look like in your context? (9:46)
  • How can connect groups be an important space for someone who is new to your congregation? (17:51)
  • What advice would you give to a pastor or church leader who are considering launching a new connect group? (20:00)
  • How have you been personally blessed by participating in connect group ministry? (25:22)

Resources:

 

Follow us on Spotify, Google Podcast, and Apple Podcasts.

In this episode, host Anthony Mullins interviews Mike and Juli Rasmussen. The Rasmussen’s have been married for 36 years and have shared ministry together throughout their marriage, and they both love small groups! Together, Anthony, Mike, and Juli and how these smaller relational gatherings practically fit into the overall GCI vision of Healthy Church.

“I love the idea that you can sit down and get to know 6-12 people, or so, in an intimate setting. In an intimate way, that you would never get to do at church. At church you’re going to spend time afterward talking to a couple of other people and it stays relatively shallow, even if it goes deep, it is not going to go nearly as deep as a connect group. And so, you bond in way that not only makes a difference now but it builds relationships for the future, and connects relationships in a deeper and more profound way…Right now, especially during COVID, connect groups are really important because people aren’t able to come together at church, in some places, because of the virus. So, connect groups are vital now, but I think they are also very important once we open back up again.”
-Mike Rasmussen, GCI Superintendent of North American and the Caribbean

Main Points:

  • Why are connect groups vital to the Faith Avenue and to the overall Healthy Church vision in GCI? (4:30)
  • What does a typical connect group meeting look like in your context? (9:46)
  • How can connect groups be an important space for someone who is new to your congregation? (17:51)
  • What advice would you give to a pastor or church leader who are considering launching a new connect group? (20:00)
  • How have you been personally blessed by participating in connect group ministry? (25:22)

Resources:

Sermon for July 4, 2021

Speaking Of Life 3032 | Watching and Waiting

Have you ever noticed how waiters in fine restaurants observe their customers with detail to make sure they have the best experience? A lot of us don’t observe other people like it unless it’s a part of our job. David reminds us in Psalms that our loving Father cares about the details of our everyday lives. If we take the time to pay attention we see that he is working in and around us for our good!

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 3032 | Watching and Waiting
Michelle Fleming

If you’ve ever had the chance to eat at a fine restaurant, you may have noticed the wait staff is very particular about how your food is brought to you and how the empty dishes are taken away. Most formal restaurants train their wait staff how to serve, which includes never reaching across in front of a guest. Servers are taught to serve the food from the guest’s left side, making sure the part of the plate with the protein is facing the guest. Plates are removed from the right side of a guest. Your server may have even taken a moment to remove breadcrumbs from the table in between courses. The wait staff stands and watches, alert to when a guest might need another beverage or something to make their experience more enjoyable.

Most of us don’t observe other people that closely. Unless we’re a server at a fine restaurant, we don’t often pick up on subtle cues that other people give us. It’s easy to miss out on the feedback and wisdom others might give to help us navigate life better. Sometimes we miss out on opportunities to do good to others. This pattern of not paying attention can also carry over into our relationship with God. But Psalm 123 gives us a solution:

To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
until he has mercy upon us.
Psalm 123:1-2 (NRSV)

Paying attention to what God is doing and where God is working is much like developing the attention of a fine restaurant’s wait staff. Our antennae are up, and we’re noticing the opportunities and difficulties that come across our paths. We’re in constant conversation with God about what’s happening around us, ready to participate with what he is doing.

When the Psalmist says “our eyes look to the Lord,” he is not talking about always looking heavenward, but looking around so we can see what God is doing in the lives of people around us. When we see those around us, we can join God in loving them as he does. That’s what Jesus did. He didn’t have to go looking for people to heal or sinners to encourage; he lived his life with full awareness, paying attention to the needs around him and responding with love when the opportunity arose.

Jesus invites us to join him by learning to pay attention to others. Like a fine restaurant’s wait staff, when we are in tune with the needs of others, we find ways to share God’s love with them. By figuring out how we can best love those God brings across our paths, we develop the attention and awareness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at work in our lives.

May you be ever watchful, looking for those opportunities to do good to someone else and showing the love of the Triune God.

I’m Michelle Fleming, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 48:1-14 · 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 · Mark 6:1-13 · 2 Corinthians 12:2-10

The theme for this week is God is with us despite our flaws. Psalm 48, our call to worship, reminds us that while people can let us down, God is our Guide who will never fail us. David’s rise to power, as discussed in 2 Samuel 5, occurred because “God was with him” despite his flaws. In Mark 6, Jesus shares his disappointment with the people’s hardheartedness. Our sermon text comes from 2 Corinthians 12 where Paul tells the story about how weakness can actually be connected with power.

Beauty in Imperfection

2 Corinthians 12:2-10 (NRSV)

Kintsugi (pronounced kin-SOO-kee) is a Japanese art form that repairs broken pottery by mixing gold dust with lacquer. Instead of hiding the cracks, the art form highlights them. Kintsugi reportedly started around the 15th century in response to a pottery repair for the Japanese leader (called a shogun) that was mishandled by using ugly metal staples. By the 17th century, kintsugi was not only used for repair but also to decorate and make ceramics used for tea more beautiful.

Kintsugi is more than just aesthetics. It also is linked to Japanese philosophical ideas, such as wabi-sabi (pronounced WAH-bee-SAH-bee) which accepts imperfection as part of life and advocates seeing beauty in the imperfect.

When we think about our personal imperfections, we don’t want to highlight them with gold dust. We would prefer to keep them in the dark. However, social scientist and researcher Brené Brown believes that imperfection can be a gift. She’s written a book called The Gifts of Imperfection, and in that book, she links our imperfections with our ability to be vulnerable, and our vulnerability with our ability to connect to others.

Vulnerability is an English word that has a negative connotation. Most dictionaries define it as having a quality that makes you weak, easily hurt, or attacked. That’s the way most of us view vulnerability: a trait that seems to work against our survival.

As Christians, we struggle with the idea that we are enough. We know our “dark side,” and we somehow feel we’ve failed God by not having our flaws under control. It’s hard to be vulnerable about our struggles, especially in church, because we want people to think well of us. We want to be better.

But it’s there, in that place of being both very good and very flawed, that the apostle Paul speaks to us in 2 Corinthians 12. In this passage, Paul talks about a mystical experience he had and a weakness that was a point of vulnerability that God used.

What can we notice about this passage?

 I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows—was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. (2 Corinthians 12:2-7 NRSV)

Although Paul talks about this in the third person, as if it happened to someone else, he is evidently talking about himself. (Simply knowing a person who had a vision isn’t much of a basis for boasting, nor of being too elated.) Paul is, in an indirect way, saying that he had this vision, but that it is not a experience in which he can boast – it does not make him better than other people.

Paul had a mystical experience where he heard someone speak to him. This reveals that there is a time and space that is a mystery to us. Notice that Paul does not dwell on the experience itself. He doesn’t use the experience to set himself apart as “special.” By not sharing the details of this mystical experience, Paul emphasizes that our belonging isn’t affirmed by having a mystical experience but by our inclusion in Jesus Christ. He further emphasizes that God will do what it takes to keep us from becoming too self-focused so that we can keep our focus on Jesus.

Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  (2 Corinthians 12:8-9 NRSV)

Paul asked God to remove this undefined weakness from him three times, but God said that his grace was enough. Typically, we assume that “weakness” means something that we can’t do. While weakness usually refers to a physical ailment, it can also refer to a lack of courage or determination when faced with hardship. This might look like our human vulnerabilities and flaws, the eccentricities that can bother others and discourage us. Paul says that he will boast in this vulnerability because it is an area where others can see how Paul falls short even while he asserts that God is working through him.

In v. 9 where the NRSV translates “for power is made perfect in weakness,” power is being redefined. Power is found by admitting fallibility and working in spite of it. This is the essence of vulnerability: acknowledging one’s shortcomings while understanding that we can still be used by God to help others. As proof, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit love us just as we are, as shown in Romans 5:8. The Son of God didn’t wait for us to be worthy before he became a human through the Incarnation. In fact, the incarnation offers further proof that being embodied, being human, with all its weaknesses and vulnerabilities, is not an obstacle to God’s work.

The Expositor’s Greek Testament reports that the Greek word used in the latter part of v. 9 and translated “dwell” hearkens to the imagery of the Shekinah, the glory of God as it rested in the Holy of Holies of the Temple. Paul said that similarly, Christ’s power was staying in him.

But his point is that God’s power was perfected in Paul’s weakness. God’s power was able to be used in a right way because of Paul’s weakness. This reminds me of the lyrics from Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Perhaps our “cracks” or weaknesses work both ways: they allow God to enter and work in us, and they are the way that his work is extended out of us (Christ in us, the hope of glory – Colossians 1:27). As Christians, we are witnesses to the world that God works in everyone despite their weaknesses.

Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10 NRSV)

Paul says that he is “content” with being vulnerable (which sometimes includes sufferings). Not hiding his weaknesses and vulnerabilities helps him preach the gospel of love for all humanity. He is a more effective Christian leader because he doesn’t have to hide his vulnerabilities, and he is more relatable because of those shortcomings.

Application:

  • Vulnerability is not weakness as we typically define it. It can be our best witness for the gospel. When we humbly acknowledge our mistakes and struggles, we are living proof of God’s grace and love.
  • Vulnerability can make us more effective as leaders. Whether we are parents, managers at work, or church leaders, being vulnerable helps our relationships. It isn’t easy, and it takes courage to admit that we don’t always have all the answers or to ask forgiveness when we misjudge. Letting others extend grace to us when we slip up reminds us of God’s grace to all humanity.
  • Vulnerability embraces truth and rejects secrets. When we think we have to hide parts of ourselves because they aren’t acceptable to God, we are weighed down with secrets. Vulnerability is based on the truth that humanity is imperfect but still very good in Christ and that the beautiful world we live in is imperfect, too. We reject the idea that we must hide our “shadow sides” from God, who knows us from our very conception and formed us in the womb (Psalm 139:13-16). We are held firmly by Jesus Christ, and we are made new in him (2 Corinthians 5:17-19). Believing we are loved—flaws and all—opens the door for the Holy Spirit to gently transform us.

Redefining weakness and reorienting our minds to see vulnerability as part of being human rather than a character flaw enables us to share the goodness of God’s grace with others. It makes us witnesses to the great love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for all humanity when God’s light shines through our cracks to illumine and encourage us and those around us.

For Reference:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/carleysime/2019/03/27/could-a-little-vulnerability-be-the-key-to-better-leadership/?sh=6617222f783e

https://biblehub.com/commentaries/2_corinthians/12-9.htm


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • Have you ever worked as a server in a restaurant or in customer service? If so, how did you train yourself to pay close attention to the guests?
  • Are there other relationships where you have had to pay close attention to another person? For example, a mother with a newborn must keep a close eye to understand why the baby might be crying. How can those skills of observing another closely be applied in our relationship to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
From the Sermon
  • Have you ever considered that your weaknesses or vulnerabilities could be used by God to draw other people to him? If so, reflect on how comfortable you feel around someone who is not perfect vs. someone who seems to have it all together.
  • Can you think of a specific instance where being vulnerable has made you a more effective leader, parent, or employee? Share about how your “lack” of perfection helped you to relate to others more effectively.

Sermon for July 11, 2021

Speaking Of Life 3033 | The Trapped and the Free

Control, authority, influence desire to possess this kind of power, has set many in the course of human history on a road to destruction. Jesus makes a way for each of us and frees us from the struggle of striving to make our own way. Through him we are free indeed!

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 3033 | The Trapped and the Free
Greg Williams

Her name was Salome. The stepdaughter of Herod makes a brief appearance in Mark 6, her story ending with the gruesome image of John the Baptist’s head on a silver platter. We know almost nothing for sure about Salome, and the Bible only mentions her here in this strange story where she dances for Herod and his guests and he promises her “up to half his kingdom” in gratitude. She asks for the prophet’s head.

Looking closer at the details of this story we can see how trapped the characters were. First, there’s Herod. He’s a puppet king of the empire trying to show off to his guests. His new stepdaughter dances for them and he’s enchanted by lust. He then indulges his pride and makes a spectacle of this promise to give her up to half his kingdom.

He’s trapped—by his own inappropriate desires, by his prideful actions before his guests, by the powerful people who actually control him. He couldn’t give away half his kingdom even if he wanted to!

Salome is trapped by her and her mother’s political aspirations and bloodthirst for power. Trapped by her sexuality, she uses it as a weapon, rather than a source of joy. Trapped by her drunken stepfather making her entertain his guests.

This brief, tragic story shows the breakdown of the kingdom of humanity next to the kingdom of God. Pride, power, lust, and scheming internally combust in short order. The grisly final spectacle of John the Baptist’s death shows the brutal fruits of the kingdom of this world that is falling away.

Encapsulating this grim narrative on both sides is the story of Jesus sending out the twelve. He sends them out in freedom and generosity to share the message of the gospel with the world. Herod and Salome, in contrast, grasp tiny morsels of power to their own destruction.

Like the twelve, Jesus sends us out in freedom and generosity to share the Gospel, and we participate with him in a spirit of generosity, spontaneity, and love. But let’s be honest, there are also times we find ourselves feeling trapped—grasping and scheming for the empty illusions of this world.

Notice what Paul said in his letter to believers in Corinth:

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
2 Corinthians 3:17

Where God is, there’s room for everyone at the table, there’s space for everyone to be themselves. When we feel trapped, we need to return to the center—to Jesus. We can ask the Holy Spirit to remind us of our freedom in Christ.

Because it is in submission to the rule of our true king, Lord Jesus—not to modern-day Herods, nor to the deception of self-rule —that we find authentic freedom. May the Holy Spirit continually remind you of the freedom you have in our Lord, Jesus Christ.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 24:1-10 · 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 · Mark 6:14-29 · Ephesians 1:3-14

The theme for this week is our redemption story, strange and beautiful. We are reminded that God’s romance with humanity is both familiar and uncanny. Our call to worship Psalm gives us insight into God working through the dynasty of Israel through the centuries. 2 Samuel 6 describes the sacred and dangerous work of moving the Ark of the Covenant. Mark 6 tells the tragic end of the story of power and pride. Our sermon is on Ephesians 1:3-14, in which Paul tells the compressed story of our faith from before creation and into eternity.

The Choice, the Plan, the Inheritance

Ephesians 1:3-14 ESV

Begin with a reading of Ephesians 1:3-14 ESV.

Ever since human beings could talk, we’ve been telling stories. These narratives—everything from heartbreaking romances to bad jokes—are the air we breathe. In Hawaiian pidgin dialect, the slang term for having a casual conversation is to “talk story.”

We tell these stories to restate our identity—to establish our image against the ever-changing background of life. This can be especially at work during family gatherings. You’ll hear (yet again) the story how your grandparents fell in love or when your uncle headed off to war or when your great aunt nursed the family through the scarlet fever.

Some of the most poignant of these tales end with some connection to the larger world. “I learned to ride a bike the day they announced the end of World War 2 on the radio” or “I started my job/retired/fell in love the afternoon the space shuttle went down.”

We often connect our personal narrative to something the whole world was watching. We root ourselves in history.

You could offer a family story at this point as an illustration.

In a way, this is what Paul does at the beginning of Ephesians. He recites the story of God’s history of salvation from before the earth all the way through the end of time. This psalm starts the letter with a note of praise that sums up the larger gospel, and the rest of the book shows the Ephesians their place in the picture. These verses are one long, complex sentence in the original Greek!

Story experts will sometimes talk about the essentials we find in every story. They might break down the billions of narratives in history into a few basic elements. Many stories deal with the past, present and future, which is what Paul does in reciting our story of faith in Ephesians 1. He starts with a blessing and a statement:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 1:3 ESV)

Paul is saying we are blessed in Christ, and because of that we bless God our Father. Further, he says we are blessed with spiritual blessings in heavenly places. Then to explain this, he looks at the past, the present and the future.

  • Past—the great choice God made before time.
  • Present—the great plan to bring the kingdom into the world.
  • Future—the inheritance of the redeemed universe that we will enjoy as redeemed people.

Paul’s story restates our faith and connects us to the great epic in a way that speaks to our day as well as to his.

The Past

Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 1:4-5 ESV)

The past in a narrative is often told through the back story—the background that drives the action. In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker’s Jedi lineage connects him to the past. Romeo and Juliet’s rival families create the background and the tension of their tragic romance.

In Paul’s story, it’s the choice. This choice was made before the foundation of the world—before creation. This is the metaphysics of this story, the deep narrative behind it.

This is the kind of verse that has made for a lot of difficult discussions in Christian history. Did God choose us or did we choose him? Is it his grace reaching down to us or our will reaching back toward him?

Which is it? The short answer is both. We don’t know how it all works and we never will, but somehow these two forces work together. While this idea leads to a larger discussion in theology and philosophy that’s very important, we will only look for a moment to the theme Paul is talking about in this letter. The story of our salvation starts with God’s choice because of God’s love.

From humanity he chose Israel. From Israel he chose one lineage. From that lineage he chose one family. From that family, he chose the womb of one teenage girl and through her came to us himself.

The story of salvation is not a mess of false starts and Plan Bs. It’s not God giving us law, us screwing it up and then God having to send Jesus as the contingency plan. God’s choice ran through it all, telling the story with intention and love before the world began.

Why did he do this? Why did he make this choice to save us, knowing the loss and pain that would come in the process?

In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace (Ephesians 1:4-6 ESV)

In love…his will…to the praise of his glorious grace. Nowhere in here does it say that God chose us because we were the best and brightest, or the most lovable or the most righteous. Nor does it ever say that he needs us somehow for his plan to come together.

No, God did not choose us because of who we are but because of who he is. Because of his love, his will, his glory—these things will never change. He loves us because he loves to love. He makes us worthy of his love, we don’t achieve that worth somehow. And we can never lose it.

The Present

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:7-10 ESV)

The present—where we find the rising action. The quest, the conflict—is a central element of every story. There’s no Star Wars if Luke never starts his quest to become a Jedi. There’s no It’s a Wonderful Life if Jimmy Stewart doesn’t meet his guardian angel.

Paul brings us from the past—God ‘s loving choice of us, to the present—God’s plan to transform the world in the here and now with us working in participation with him.

Throughout these words of hope, Paul describes us caught up in the work and will of God. He picks this theme up several times in the book:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10 ESV)

“Created in Christ Jesus for good works”—there is nothing here about pleasing God or earning his favor through these works. These works are an invitation for us to join in his work in the world.

In the modern church, we can over-focus on the initial experience of salvation—“getting saved.” Crusades, Christian rock concerts, youth events all focus on this transactional moment where people get a “ticket to heaven.”

This can leave a new Christian saying: “Okay, what happens now?” Maybe there’s some besetting sin they need to take care of—don’t sleep around, don’t drink too much, don’t say swear words. But surely there’s something more to life in Christ than not doing stuff?!

The answer is yes, of course, and part of that is the “good work” we were created in Christ Jesus to do before the world was made. God’s kingdom is breaking into the world, and we are called to be part of that work—not because he needs us, because he wants us, and he wants us to experience the joy in participating in what he is doing.

So what does that mean for you? Maybe you don’t have a legendary deep jungle mission or a huge church at your disposal. You may work 40 hours a week.

There’s a story about the great theologian, Martin Luther, in which a man approached him at the end of a sermon. He told the old German, “I’ve become a Christian, what should I do now?” Luther asked him what he does for a living and the man said that he was a cobbler. Luther responded, “Then make a quality shoe and sell it at a fair price—to the glory of God.”

The kingdom comes in inches, not miles. Living and working to the glory of God, treating those we come across with grace and love, this is usually how the kingdom appears rather than dramatic crescendos.

The “good work” God has prepared for us in Christ will range from the exciting to the ordinary, but don’t discount everyday acts of obedience. This is the plan—as we see in verse 10—the present part of the story.

The Future

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:11-14 ESV)

Every story has an ending. Bad endings, cheap endings, happy-ever-after endings—there’s all kinds. There’s conflict and then there’s resolution—the cool down, the ride off into the sunset.

Again, this story Paul tells is one long sentence in Greek—verses 3 through 14. This is the gospel in microcosm, and the ending of the story points to the future. The ride off into the sunset here is actually into the sunrise.

The word he uses twice here is “inheritance,” which should get our attention. Inheritance in the ancient world is different than the way we might think of it today. In our modern world, the inheritance is usually cash or something that can be sold.

In the ancient world, you inherited a business or property or both. But you were never supposed to sell these things and move onto a different life. You inherited a legacy—the property and life you were meant to carry on.

This is the kind of inheritance Paul talks about here. One of the main issues we run into at this point is the modern misconception of “going to heaven.”

Our ultimate hope is not some far-away place where we will leave this world behind. Our hope is the new heavens and the new earth as described in Revelation 21. Our ultimate hope is this world, right here, resurrected under the rightful rule of the true Lord.

This world, because of sin, is corrupted. However, it wasn’t meant to be destroyed, but resurrected. Like Jesus’ post-Easter body, the resurrected earth will incorporate this earth somehow. God’s dimension and our dimension will be reunited at long last.

This is our inheritance. This is our true identity as the resurrected royalty of the new heavens and new earth. Our past, which began even before Abraham, connects with our present, where the kingdom breaks into the world by the power of the Spirit. Our future is the coming together of our universe and God’s dimension completely. As Paul puts it:

…making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:9-10 ESV)

“To unite all things in him.” Jesus is the lynchpin, the centerpiece that brings the whole story—and all the universe—together. The human story, shattered at the Tower of Babel and so many other places, is brought back together in Christ.

The choice. The plan. The inheritance. This is the gospel story—the past, present, and future of the human story. What looks like wandering, disparate stories is one long epic.

You feel like royalty because you are; and this grand story feels familiar because it’s yours.


Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for Sermon: “The Choice, the Plan, the Inheritance"
  • Do you have a favorite family story? One that reminds you who you are and where you came from? Maybe a tale that gets passed around at family gatherings?
  • We talked in the sermon about telling the story of faith like Paul does here. How does telling the story of faith help us hold onto it? How can we drown out our noisy modern world with the story of faith?
  • The kingdom doesn’t usually come by miles, but by inches. How can you bring the kingdom in—change the world for God’s glory—in your daily life? At work? What is God calling you to?
Questions for Speaking of Life: “The Trapped and the Free”
  • We talked about how the characters in this story, Herod and Salome, are trapped. Do you believe that sin and pride can trap us, even when they claim to offer freedom?
  • “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). What does this “freedom” mean? How does it appear in our lives?
Quote to ponder: “We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.” ~Jonathan Gottschall, literary scholar

Sermon for July 18, 2021

Speaking Of Life 3034 | Walls of Hostility

Walls can either be a symbol of peace and protection or they can be an image of division. With all the confusion that is happening in our world today, Ephesians 2 shows us that Jesus came to our chaotic world to restore us, even if it means tearing down walls.

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 3034 | Walls of Hostility
Heber Ticas

You have heard the adage, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

But hindsight says, “Bad neighbors, make good fences.”

Ever since Adam and Eve turned hostile against God, fences and walls have outlined the history of conflict between neighbors. Stories about Jericho and Jerusalem or Babylon and Berlin are not complete without the rise and fall of their walls.

Attempts at peace are often pursued but usually through this cycle of erecting and tearing down walls. Wars and walls go hand in hand. Some believe better walls will bring peace while others believe peace can only be achieved by their removal.

But the problem is not with the walls. It’s with the people on both sides of the walls. The walls of hostility are not built from earthen stone but from stony hearts. This is the true wall of hostility that needs to be torn down. And the Good News of Jesus Christ is that he has done just that. We no longer have to argue over which side of the wall to stand on. Jesus has created a new ground of peace in himself where all can stand as one. He breaks down the walls of separation that are so prevalent in our world. Everyone is invited to live in him.

The Apostle Paul was accused of crossing a cultural wall of hostility in his day and it landed him behind the walls of a prison. Yet, barricaded behind those walls he was free and at peace to write this about Jesus:

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”
Ephesians 2:14-16

Thanks to our Triune God of Grace, there are no walls of hostility between us and God. The Father has made us his children in Jesus and therefore, brothers and sisters to one another. If you have grown weary of building and tearing down walls of hostility, Jesus calls you to himself to belong to a new family that lives without walls and in peace.

Mi nombre es Heber Ticas, Hablando de Vida.

Psalm 89:20-37 • 2 Samuel 7:1-14a • Ephesians 2:11-22 • Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

This week’s theme is Jesus the true king. The call to worship Psalm 89 pairs with the story in 2 Samuel, which recounts Nathan’s prophecy of the shepherd David being chosen as king to rule over God’s people along with God’s affirmation and confirmation of it. The Gospel reading in Mark also draws on the shepherd motif where those “like sheep without a shepherd” and shows the true shepherd king providing compassion and healing to the people. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians announces Jesus as our peace who has broken down the wall of hostility that divides.

Jesus Is Our Peace

Ephesians 2:11-22 (ESV)

A sermon titled “Jesus Is Our Peace” may perk our ears in hopes of hearing some encouragement to counter all the division and polarization we see in our world today. Maybe this is the title that will relax deeply held loyalties and differences that divide us. Perhaps the mere announcement that “Jesus is our peace” will help pacify and alleviate the hostility built up between people. If that is what you hope this passage will do, you may want to choose another passage to read.

Let me explain. It may escape our attention when we read Paul’s announcement, “Jesus is our peace,” that in Paul’s context he has made one of the most politically charged statements someone could make. For the church in Ephesus, the tension in Paul’s letter would not have gone unnoticed. Instead of alleviating tension, it probably raised it. If you were living in Asia Minor during Paul’s day you would be living under the iron fist of Rome’s rule. More to the point, you would be very familiar with phrases and terminology that would be considered “fighting words.”

For example: Rome’s emperors—Augustus in particular—saw themselves as the divine saviors of the world who were bringing “peace” to their newly conquered domains. They were self-proclaimed inaugurators of a worldwide peace that would once and for all settle the disputes between rivalries. Their concept of “peace” of course was proclaimed with a sword. The blood of their rivals paved the way to unity. Using their military power, and more specifically, the terror of crucifixion, the Romans declared peace to all who would bow to their rule, or death to those who would not. The proclamation of peace by the emperor was an ingrained rhetoric all would know. Elaborate celebrations, like the emperor’s birthday, would have public speeches that praised the emperor’s “lordship” and lauded him as the “peace-bringer.”

Paul brings up other terms that would draw on very sensitive issues in their culture like “strangers,” “aliens,” and “citizens.” Citizenship for example was highly valued by foreign people who had been conquered by Rome. Citizenship would bring many benefits from the emperor and it would bring you some sense of peace now that you are not marked as an “outsider” of the state. Citizens were treated very differently than foreigners. The dividing wall between the two was significant.

So, imagine now that you are gathered in someone’s home to hear the letter that has just arrived from Paul. As you are listening to the letter being read out loud, Paul proclaims, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace…” Fighting words. You may be tempted to tell the reader to whisper or skip over that part. You may steal a glance at the door to see if it was locked. To be listening to such a proclamation could land you in treasonous waters. And that, brothers and sisters, is the text we have before us today.

The language in Paul’s letter may not rile up the political elites of our day like they would in Paul’s. But the content and message of his letter still does. Any proclamation of another Lord than the idols the rulers of our day would have us bow down to will be a threat. Like it or not, to proclaim Jesus as Lord, the one who is our peace, is to become an outsider in a world bent on control and power. We would be naïve to think it will not. But we have no control over how the world and its self-appointed leaders will respond to the gospel. We have only ourselves to respond with. After all, this letter was not sent to Augustus—it was sent to believers like you and me, in a small church gathered to hear some good news. And let’s face it, we are not far removed from the divisive and controlling ways of the world. Here too, we would be naïve to think our culture does not rub off on us. Paul has some reminders we need to hear today just as much as our brothers and sisters in Ephesus needed to hear in their time. Notice how Paul begins this section:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:11-12 ESV)

Paul begins by reminding the Gentiles where they had come from. He is trying to guard them, and us, from making the same mistake the Jews did with their differences. The Jews were called to be a blessing and a light to the nations. This is why they were made to be “different” or set apart. Their differences were never intended to become walls of division that separated them from the Gentiles. But that is what happened. The Jews made their distinctives as a dividing point between them and those they were called to bless. Instead of being a light to the nations and pointing them to God, they instead pointed to themselves as the “circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands.” They saw themselves as special. Everyone else became in their eyes, “the uncircumcision.” Anyone different from them got generalized with a label that indicated that they were not one of them.

We see this same dynamic played out in our world today. Labels are used to draw lines in the sand between anyone we see as different from ourselves. Think about some of the labels floating around today that shut down conversation and reduce people to simple categories. “Democrats and Republicans.” “Liberals and Conservatives.” “Pro-Trumpers and Never-Trumpers.” And that is just some current American political labels. I’m sure you can think of many others that may be even more divisive. If hearing those labels made your blood pressure rise a little, then maybe you are seeing why Paul needs to address the issues. This type of division should never be taking place in the church. But it does, and Paul is addressing it here.

Do you see how Paul addresses the issue? He doesn’t tell them to stop being divided, but he reminds them of who they are in relationship to God. He reminds them that they were once separated, alienated without hope and without God. That sounds harsh, but it is an important reminder of God’s grace to us. No one is included or special by the works of their own hands. Paul goes on to tell them and us:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Ephesians 2:13-16 ESV)

Notice that Paul is not talking about something they should strive for or telling them about some potential or possibility if they would just work hard at getting along. No, he tells them what is true. He tells them what has already been accomplished in Christ. There is no room for pride here. It is a gift of grace to be received.

Here are some of the things Paul wants us to take seriously:

First, everything he is speaking of is “in Christ Jesus.” We will not find a solution to our divisions and conflict anywhere else. The church need not follow the ways of the world in attaining peace. Peace has been obtained by the blood of Christ. Notice the contrast here between how Christ establishes peace and how the Roman emperors sought to establish peace. The elite rulers of this present evil age, like Augustus, will require your blood for peace whereas Jesus gives his own blood to establish peace. Peace comes by grace, not by the works of our own hands.

Second, in Christ Jesus we “have been brought near.” Paul doesn’t say how we can be brought near or how we can bridge the gap between us and God. Again, he states what is already true in Jesus. This is a gift of grace to receive, not a task to achieve. This may offend our pride as we want to have peace on our terms. But that is not how Jesus brings peace. As Paul emphatically states, “For he himself is our peace.” Again, peace is not found anywhere else—it is to be received in Christ.

Also, in Christ Jesus, he “has made us both one.” Paul also includes that Jesus creates “in himself one new man in place of the two.” So, this is something new that Jesus has done. We often think the only way to peace is that one side comes over to the other side, like the foreigners under Roman rule would try to become citizens of Rome. But Jesus does not establish peace by having one side join the other, creating winners and losers. He creates a third “new” place of peace in himself for both sides to flourish and be a blessing to the other. He is not trying to do away with differences. Differences are meant for blessing.

The church will become better as we come to “remember” that each of us and our God-given differences, not differences “made in the flesh by hands,” are blessings for the other. Whatever group you are in, do you view the other groups as blessings? Do you seek to be a blessing to them? To be Black or White, for example, should not be a point of division but a distinct gift for the other. The same can be said of all nationalities. Also, male and female are differences that are intended for blessing. These differences should not be smoothed out in some androgynous pursuit to peace. This is one reason it is critical for the church to maintain the distinction between male and female. It’s not a political thing—it’s a reality thing. If any of this language makes you uneasy, just remember, Paul is not trying to smooth out feathers here. He is making a clear distinction between what it means to be the church in the culture of the Roman empire. A little discomfort is par for the course in this text.

One further thing to bring out is that Paul reminds us the “dividing wall of hostility” has been broken down. Further, Paul says the “hostility” has been killed. Notice it is not the differences that are destroyed but the hostility we have over those differences. What a wonderful reminder of reality we have from Paul’s provocative letter. We do not have to cling to any hostility we may have over our differences. Differences are no threat to who we are in Christ. Instead of fighting others to acknowledge and praise your differences or to denounce theirs, in the church we can be thankful for one another in Christ. We can accept one another as the gift we are from God to the other. Any hostility we may have has been destroyed, so don’t try to hang on to it. It’s going away. Like holding on to a sinking ship, holding on to hostility will only drag you down with it.

Let’s finish the passage:

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:17-22 ESV)

The peace we have in Jesus adds up to a beautiful picture to live out as a witness to a hurting and divided world. In Jesus we all “have access in one Spirit to the Father.” Now there’s some unity for you that runs deeper than anything we could accomplish ourselves. This means we “are no longer strangers and aliens, but fellow citizens.” This means we acknowledge that Jesus is the chief cornerstone of this spiritual temple.

This is a great picture of the permanence of belonging we have in Christ. This is a belonging that cannot be shaken. When we see each other in Christ, with all our God-graced differences, we can look each other in the eye with thankfulness and call each other brothers and sisters. What refreshing good news this is for all who are “strangers and aliens” in this world! What a refreshing call to belonging for any who are labeled as outsiders and feel “far off” from belonging. Paul may be agitating some sore points, but he does so to call us to a family where lasting peace is enjoyed. We will not find it anywhere else. Only in Christ can we be “built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • What did you think of the twist on the adage, “Good fences make good neighbors” to say instead, “Bad neighbors, make good fences?” Can you think of examples where “bad neighbors, make good fences?”
  • Discuss how understanding the problem of division has to do with the “stony heart” of neighbors rather than the walls built “from earthen stone.” How might this change our pursuits of peace between one another?
From the Sermon
  • How did the understanding of the “fighting words” in Paul’s letter strike you? Can you think of ways the gospel in our culture also creates this tension?
  • Discuss Paul’s approach to dealing with divisions. Instead of rallying them to unite, he “reminds” them of who they are in relationship to Jesus and to one another. How might we do this today in our churches?
  • Can you think of other labels that are used to generalize people where differences are ignored? Can you think of labels we may have even in the church that need to be repented of?
  • Discuss how differences are meant to be a blessing to others and how they often get turned into lines of division. What are some ways we can remind one another that we are blessings to enjoy rather than differences that annoy?
  • How does the reality of Jesus destroying our hostility change how you want to relate to others? In the church, why do you think we respond to differences with hostility?
  • Discuss what it means to be brothers and sisters in Christ. How might knowing this and being reminded of it affect our relationships with one another in the church and with those who are not yet believers.

Sermon for July 25, 2021

Speaking Of Life 3035 | King David’s Foil

The word “foil” or literary foil is usually associated with a character in a story that brings out or challenges the protagonist’s character. This is what happened in 2 Samuel when Uriah continues to challenge David’s character, exposing his weaknesses. In the midst of any challenges, God continues to transform us to be more like Christ for our good and his glory.

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 3035 | King David’s Foil
Greg Williams

Don Quixote had Sancho Panza. Sherlock had Watson. The hare had the tortoise. This literary convention called the “foil” has been around since stories were told. The foil is not necessarily the enemy of the main character but is someone who brings out and exposes parts of that person.

The Bible is full of foil characters. From Cain and Abel to Jacob and Esau to Peter and Paul—these “foil” relationships expose and develop the people in these stories. One of King David’s many foils was Uriah.

The story starts in 2 Samuel 11, with this foreshadowing verse:

In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.  
II Samuel 11:1

In the following verses, David takes Bathsheba to bed after seeing her bathing on the roof. She becomes pregnant so David brings her husband Uriah home to let nature take its course and cover things up.

Uriah refuses to sleep with his wife and sleeps in the doorway of the king’s house, ever the soldier on guard. He declares that as long as the army is sleeping rough, and as long as the Ark of the Covenant is in temporary housing, he can’t go home. David gets him drunk and again tries to get him to go home, and again his plan fails.

Ultimately, in one tragic final stroke, David tells the commander to put Uriah in the worst of the fighting, causing his death.

Indirectly, and without even much interaction, God uses Uriah in the story as David’s foil. In a short series of actions, probably constituting just a few weeks, David is exposed as a broken, hollow man in need of healing.

The story starts with David wandering the rooftops, away from the wars that Israel was fighting. He is on his own, at the height of his royal power, looking over his empire. He feels indestructible.

He sees Bathsheba on the roof, and everything changes.

And the juxtaposition with Uriah makes it worse. David uses unchallenged power to take another man’s wife and force a commander’s hand. David acts out of impulse and lust; Uriah acts out of loyalty and respect. David orchestrates a man’s death out of cowardice, Uriah is the man who died fighting bravely.

Through the course of these events, God brings vivid clarity into David’s.
And then by exposing David through the foil of Uriah, God heals him.

Has God ever sent a foil into your life? Maybe someone who challenges you to bring out your best? Maybe someone who annoys you and grates on your patience? Maybe someone who by sheer contrast gets your attention and shows you where you need a savior?

God’s goal is always to heal, to redeem, and to restore. Because of his love for us, he is faithful to bring foils into our lives. We are blessed when we pay attention.   

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 14:1-7 • 2 Samuel 11:1-15 • Ephesians 3:14-21 • John 6:1-21

The theme this week is God gives us all we need, and then some. The call to worship Psalm is a reiteration of faith in the God of Israel who will provide more than they need. 2 Samuel 11 is the painful story of David going around God’s provision to steal another man’s wife. John 6 tells of Jesus providing a feast for a crowd from a sack lunch. Our sermon comes from Ephesians 3, Paul’s prayer that this church can explore the unreachable depths of identity in Christ.

Paul’s Crescendo of Prayer

Ephesians 3:14-21 ESV

Any symphony will have a crescendo—perhaps a few, as the piece goes on. You know it, it’s the loud part—that deafening roar at the end when the kettledrum booms and the violins wail and the conductor’s hair falls out of place. It’s a musical summary where the composer revisits the theme of a piece and resolves the tension in conclusion, or before moving on to another part of the symphony.

It would be fun to play a well-known crescendo here from classical music or otherwise. Remember these are loud by nature and might be too long. Try to keep under a couple of minutes—this clip from the  William Tell Overture Is a good example.

In this section of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul enters a crescendo of prayer for this community. He brings the themes of Ephesians to a high pitch and draws together the story before moving on with the rest of the letter.

Ephesians, which was written by Paul in prison, falls into roughly two parts. He spends the first few chapters developing the theology of the message, then after this prayer at the end of chapter 3, he moves on. The last three chapters of the book are the practical implications of this theology.

Like a crescendo between movements of a symphony, this song of prayer brings us from one discussion to the next. Paul tells us what it means to be God’s people, and then he shows us.

Let’s look at this brief crescendo of prayer and the different themes Paul hits within it. These themes have echoed down through the centuries to us and continue to be our music.

Let’s look at:

  • New family
  • New identity
  • New heavens, new earth

Paul’s crescendo of prayer begins with the choreography, which tells us where to start: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father” (Ephesians 3:14). That’s where it all begins and ends—Paul is so overcome with what he’s asking and who he’s talking about that he can’t help but fall to his knees.

Theologian Tim Keller says it well: “Prayer is awe before an infinite force, and yet it is intimacy with a personal friend.” Prayer begins with awe and wonder and ends in love. Holding onto awe-filled worship and the warmth of relationship at the same time is a primary tension of prayer.

Paul knows that he’s out of his depth and all he can do is pray. Let’s look at his themes.

New Family

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named. (Ephesians 3:14-15 ESV)

One of the things about the ancient world that we don’t understand as moderns is how disparate and divided it was. The tribes, the locales and the different strata of society stayed separate from each other.

One of the major distinctions of the early Christians was gathering around the communion table as equals. Greeks, Jews, Romans, Macedonians, as well as masters and slaves met as one family in worship. This was unheard of in the time Paul wrote this letter and was highly disruptive to the social order.

Religion in that society could be very divided as well. It was often tied to your local or tribal identity. The idea of one supreme, unifying truth was foreign to them. One of the issues of the early church was that people wanted to add Jesus to the collection of gods they already had. The gospel called them to worship the one true God.

The fragmentation of the world is a common theme in Ephesians. Paul writes a few chapters before “… as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10). Jesus is the lynchpin of the universe, the key that opens the door. The Greek here says that everything “comes to a head” in Jesus.

Paul also connects them to the past. He talks about how every family in heaven and on earth takes its name from God. He’s writing to a Gentile audience, and one of the early discussions was how their story connected with the thoroughly Jewish story of Jesus.

Paul, the apostle to Gentiles, works on this connection through this writing. He proclaims here that all the families in the diverse, disconnected ancient world have one name. The Israelite story brought us Jesus and he is Lord of all.

A new family—a new unity that heals the fragmentation of the world. And if segmentation and fragmentation don’t remind you of the modern world, then you haven’t been looking around.

Most of the developed world spends 6-10 hours a day online. There are over 14 billion mobile devices (cell phones, etc.) in the world today. Television did enough to kill conversations when we all watched shows together, now everyone has their own screen in their pocket!

Instead of a harmonious, connected world, we live in the age of distracted co-existence. Instead of messages, we tweet. Instead of conversations, we text.

Paul calls us to live against this. To meet for worship and prayer together, to depend on each other, even belong to each other (Romans 12:5). He calls us to express what is the very center of the triune God—unity.

New identity

So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19 ESV)

The poor beggar is a secret prince. The chambermaid is a princess. The estranged stepdaughter is magical royalty. The ugly duckling is a swan. The theme of identity—forgotten and remembered, lost and discovered—weaves throughout the myths and narratives of all of history. The human longing for true identity drives stories all across the world. The current fascination with super-heroes speaks to this as well.

Paul’s crescendo of prayer moves on to his audience discovering their true identity in Christ. He acknowledges this driving need of our humanity and says that it finds its end in Jesus.

His prayer is not for them to start a huge successful ministry. His prayer also is not for healing of physical ailments or the end of political oppression. He doesn’t even call them in this moment to change their behavior.

His only call for them is to be. His prayer is that they will fully live into who they are in Christ.

Paul talks about God dwelling and interacting with us “together with all the saints” (Ephesians 3:18). He calls the Ephesians to explore that fully and he prays they have eyes to see it—to reach into its length, height and depth.

Too often we are human doings, not human beings, and the same is true in our walk of faith. Paul is reminding us to have our identity in Christ, rather than in what we do, to fully explore what it means to be in Christ, to stop and live in that. This passage calls us to live in Christ.

New Heavens, New Earth

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)

Throughout the New Testament, the return of Christ is a theme of hope and mystery. From his own discussions of it to John’s cosmic visions in Revelation, the message has always been that the story is still incomplete, there’s more to come.

Having talked about the past and connected us with the story of Israel, Paul turns toward the future. He connects all the story of the human family, brought together under Christ. Then he turns to Christ, glorified through all generations.

Paul gets explicit here by talking not only about Jesus’ life and teaching, but about Jesus’ mysterious cosmic identity as the Son of God. Paul makes it clear that he’s not just talking about a local deity or a philosopher hero—he’s talking about Jesus, who sums up all there is in the universe.

This is what he wants believers in and around Ephesus to understand. Paul likely sent this letter into the area around Ephesus, to several churches he had planted in the region. As an epicenter of religions of the day, Ephesus was dominated by a giant temple to Artemis, a Greek goddess of hunting and wilderness. This temple was considered one of the wonders of the ancient world, and stood 450 feet long, 250 feet wide and 60 feet high. By the standards of the ancient world, it was a palace.

With this theological and religious culture in the air, the Ephesians needed to hear these cosmic truths about Jesus. They needed to understand he wasn’t a Jewish political figure or another prophet or one of their poets or soothsayers. Jesus is the end that all the impulses and signposts point to.

Paul’s language is what we need to hear today. In our separated, individualistic society, people regard so many things as personal choices, especially faith. What “works for me” is the new measure of reality. Matters of faith—which should involve absolute truths and coherent thought—are now just matters of opinion.

Faith then becomes as meaningful as your choice of sports team or your preference for a hairstyle. Paul’s language of a new heavens and new earth and Jesus the cosmic king of it all speaks against this. The paradox of the gospel is to hold these truths in tension—Jesus is your best friend and he’s also the emperor of the universe.

In our time, we err on the side of Jesus being our own personal experience. Jesus as my buddy who is subjective and meant for my own personal edification and comfort. At other times in history, think during the Holy Roman Empire, Jesus is portrayed as so conquering and powerful that he was unapproachable. How do we hold these realities in tension?

I think we come back to where Paul started—on his knees. “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Ephesians 3:14-15 ESV).

We need to be on our knees in worship of the God who brings us together in a new family, who gives us a new identity, and who will come again to bring the new heavens and the new earth.

New family: No matter our background or social status, if you know Christ, you are part of the family. Other people are, too – they just don’t know it yet.

New identity: People resonate with stories of hidden royalty because people yearn for a significance greater than what they currently feel. The truth is that we are more significant that what it looks like on the surface. We are hidden royalty. Christ won your identity in his finished work on the cross, and nothing can change that.

New heavens, new earth: The picture we see is incomplete. We know how this will end, but we are still in the time between the times. Jesus, who lives in our hearts and rules the universe at the same time, is still writing the story.

This is Paul’s crescendo of prayer, may it sound again and again.


Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for sermon: Paul’s Crescendo of Prayer
  • Paul’s crescendo of prayer connects this community with other communities, each with their redemptive history and with their hopeful future. Do you think the church today makes these connections? How could this change?
  • What does it mean to embrace our identity in Christ? How does changing our perspective and thinking transform us?
  • How do we embrace the truth that Jesus is the Lord of universe and yet still our intimate friend? How do we hold onto both these truths at once?
Questions for Speaking of Life “King David’s Foil”
  • Uriah acts as a kind of foil for David, highlighting his brokenness and his need for God. Do you think God ever brings us a foil in our lives—someone who shines a light on our need for a Savior?
  • Has God ever sent a foil into your life, even someone who was trying or challenging? Do you feel that it brought you closer to God?
Quote to ponder: When we locate our deep, persistent, heart-oriented longings, we identify a place of God’s deep presence and movement. ~~Beth and David Booram