Monday, May 28, 2012

Touching Base! Part 166

Rigorous Faith in Turbulent Times, Part 5
This Is It! – Ephesians 2:11-22

(This article can also we found on our website
at under the tab called "Blog")

This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.

Even if you typically don’t join many organizations, if you pause to count , you’re probably at least affiliated with many groups. You’re likely a citizen of a country, a member of a sports team, an alumnus of a university, a participant in AA, or part of a union, professional college, or group of like-minded friends.

The highly-educated, incredibly powerful, and ostensibly well-informed in our world are sometimes members of elite organizations that brainstorm for change and betterment for the global economy or international relations. On a smaller scale, many of us also invest a great deal of time, energy, and money into various groups whose goals we agree with - to better ourselves, help others, change a part of our world.

Question: How effective - and how Godly - are your major affiliations?

Most reading this Touching Base are also members of the greatest society the world has ever seen: The Church. It is the society that matters most on the earth. The Apostle Paul says a lot about this society in our text for this week, Ephesians 2: 11-22. Here’s an example:

“He has made the two [Jews and Gentiles] one....His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace....You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit”.

Is this true?

You have citizenship as God’s people. You are members of God’s household. You’re stones in a holy temple building where God lives and Christ himself is the cornerstone. If a society with this description would let me join, I’d sign up in a minute. And this stuff is true.

This is it! This is the society that matters. This is the group that is commissioned by God himself and has great power. And Christ died to create it.

Question: Do you believe that the Church (capital ‘C’) is worth your time and effort?

In our text, Paul is saying that Christ died to remove the hostility between Jews and Gentiles and that now they are one - “brought near through the blood of Christ”. There is one Father, one Spirit. There is peace. If Christ’s death could bring together 1st-century Jews and Gentiles, it can bring together people of all walks of life, all races, all cultures to be “fellow citizens”. This is what Christ’s death has done. This is a breathtaking society to have membership in. This is it.

Then, why does it so often seem like the title of this sermon should instead be “This is it?”

This is it?

Question: Do you ever look around at other Christians and think, “This is it?” This is what Christ came to create? This is the society that matters most on earth? Maybe you’ve left off attending church because of the people in the Church, or because of what they were, ironically, attempting to do or change or accomplish.

If yes, you have a point. The exclamation mark becomes a question very easily.

How does the emphasis change back? How does the question mark become an exclamation again? It does so by seeing how we are to relate to one another.

Paul gives us this answer, too, in our text. He tells us how we must relate to each other in this new society. There are 3 points.

(1) First, we must remember what we were. We were “separate from Christ,” “without hope and without God in the world”. Members of elite and exclusive societies don’t think like this. “Remember before you joined this elite club you were just a...” No, they were invited into the elite club because before membership they were already the most influential and wealthiest and smartest people around. Paul says, “Ephesian Christians, remember what you were. You had nothing in this world. Not even hope. You can’t get poorer than that. Nothing in the present and no future whatsoever. Remember that?”

Pastor Mark told us in last week’s sermon (May 20) why that’s important: Because remembering your spiritual death, your spiritual poverty, your complete hopelessness, magnifies the Lord.

And why does the Church, this greatest society the world has ever known, not turn the world upside down every day, why do we sometimes seem so powerless? Because of Fear. But if you remember what you were - without hope and without God - you’ve got nothing to lose. By definition you don’t have a reputation to protect. Or anything else for that matter. You went from nothing to membership in this great society. And you’re afraid you might look bad?

(2) Here’s the second way we must relate to one another in this society. We must realize daily that hostility is likely if sin isn’t judged. “The dividing wall of hostility” is gone. Christ “put to death” the hostility between Jews and Gentiles. In 1 Corinthians 1: 26, Paul writes that most of us aren’t wise by human standards or noble or influential or necessarily very good at keeping the peace or even at interpersonal relations. So judge sin daily or our earthly differences and our sin will be magnified instead of Christ.

(3) But how do we do this? How can we relate to one another in this new society without hostility? The third, but most important, ingredient is Christ because “he is our peace”. He is our peace. He’s synonymous with peace, and, without him, there will not be peace among us. He must be acknowledged as the head of this “new man,” this body called the Church. He is the chief cornerstone and it’s only “in him” that the “whole building is joined together and rises”.

This passage tells us that we are reconciled to each other in Christ, and it tells us how to relate to each other in the new society Christ’s death has created.

We’re the body of Christ. The person in the pew next to you is your fellow stone in the building God is forming, where he dwells. “Not many noble are called, not many wise, not many influential.” God chose the weak and the foolish to confound the strong and the wise.

But remember: if we, in our lives as Christians, leave out Christ and we fan hostility again, we may be just the weak and the foolish sitting in pews. We will be separating and dividing what Christ died to gather together.

If interested in joining or starting a small group contact 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Touching Base! Part 165

Rigorous Faith in Turbulent Times, Part 4
God’s Trophy Wife– Ephesians 2:1-10

(This article can also we found on our website
at under the tab called "Blog")

This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.

Bonnie Ware, an Australian nurse, has spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. As Ware walked with her patients through the final stages of their lives, she witnessed how many of her patients gained "phenomenal clarity of vision" as they approached death. Ware claims, "When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again." According to Ware, these are the top five regrets of the dying:

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. Bonnie Ware added, "Health brings a freedom few realize, until they no longer have it."
2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard. Ware observed, "This [regret] came from every male patient that I nursed."
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings. "Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others …. Many [patients] developed illnesses related to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result."
4. I wish I'd stayed in touch with my friends. "There are many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying."
5. I wish I'd let myself be happier. "Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits."

It is interesting what approaching death does to us.

I love the line "phenomenal clarity of vision". In our text today, Paul wants us to get that phenomenal clarity of vision, not as we look at our approaching physical death, but as we look back as a Christ follower and reflect upon our spiritual death.

Big Idea: My spiritual death gives me “phenomenal clarity of vision” on who God is.

There are three things we learn about God when we reflect upon our spiritual death, three aspects of God that are crucial as we journey with Him in this life.

How would you describe God? Would your adjectives lean toward negative impressions or positive, biblical and theologically-sound ones? What experiences in life have tainted your view of God and what did you do to correct that view? Note in v.4a, Paul’s description of the character of God - great in love, rich in mercy. Note how he ended up here.

Paul describes the state of all humanity as spiritually alive, yes, but not to Christ. What are the words that would indicate that in v.1-3? Note that dead (“nekros”, meaning useless) does not mean we are not in some way spiritually alive. In what way are we spiritually alive? Who are we following, what are we craving, who are we disobeying? To be dead in our transgressions and sins means to be very much alive, but just not to Christ!

Are you comfortable with this description of your neighbors, friends, or workmates? They may be good people. This seems to describe humanity as pretty savage. What do we know about Paul’s context that would cause him to say what he says in v.1-3? In Ephesus, Paul was dealing with what, at times, could be described as a pretty hostile audience. Note Acts 19:23 about the riot in Ephesus. Paul even says in 1 Corinthians 15:32 that he “fought with wild beasts” in Ephesus. He used a phrase of Plato from his student days in Tarsus. Plato likened the mob to wild animals.

Not all people who are spiritually dead to Christ engage in the same degree of hostility or violence, but the scripture is clear, all are born into spiritual death. How that expresses itself in each person, culture, city, or generation is different in degree and expression, but at the core of all humanity we are dead in trespasses and sins yet very much alive spiritually to other realities.

What does Paul want us to see? He uses the darkness of our situation, and the hopeless state of humanity to show the brilliant character of God (v.4). Our vulnerability, our weakness, our depravity, our state of destitution highlights not the cruel nature of God or the remoteness of God or that He is a tyrant in heaven, but the great love and mercy of God. It becomes the platform for God to display his great love and rich mercy - Phenomenal clarity of vision! This is what Paul wants us to see. Without the problem, I would not appreciate the solution.

Like on a hot, hot summer day: without the thirst I would not appreciate the thirst-quenching glass of cold water. V.1-3 represents the thirst, v. 4 is the quenching glass of cold water.

Ever had an experience in life where you got through it because of your belief in the great love and rich mercy of God?
Ever been tripped up because you began to question the great love and rich mercy of God?
I think we would all agree that a proper view of the character of God is key for the journey.

GIFT (V5, 8)
The reason I have titled this as a “gift” is because of what Paul says in v.8, “it is the gift of God”. What is the gift?

V.5 Made alive in Christ
Contrast this with v.1 - it is not that we have not been open to the spiritual but that we have been dead to Christ. The gift is that God made us alive to himself. This has to do with a whole new way of living. Note the contrast:

  • v.2 walking in the ways of the world vs. walking in the ways of Christ now that I am alive in Christ.
  • v.2 spirit of this world vs. Spirit of God is our deposit 1:14
  • v.2 disobedient vs. obedient
  • v.3 gratifying the things of the flesh vs. living according to the new self 4:24
  • v.3 object of wrath vs. object of great love and rich mercy

How challenging is it to walk in these new ways? How does the old boss “the ruler of the kingdom of the air” try to get us back to the old ways? What is one part of the old life that is always something you must be aware of, that may represent the greatest area of temptation? When we get clarity on the gift we can more clearly see why discipleship is so important. Old ways need to be put to death.

Note how we receive this gift. Paul mentions this in v.5b but then elaborates in v.8. I will let you break this down on your own. I am running out of space! 

Reflection on our spiritual death gives us phenomenal clarity of vision regarding this great gift.

And while Paul says no one can boast, there is One who can, and does.

GLORY (V.6-7,10)
What I really want you to note is v.7. Who is boasting? Who is he boasting about? CLUE: not you or me!
We are like His trophy wife. A trophy wife is a young, attractive woman married to an older, more powerful man; a woman who marries for money and then sits at home all day looking pretty.
Guess what, as the bride of Christ, we are married to the “older man”, not to sit around and look pretty but to get busy. Notice v.10 - we are literally the byproduct of his work, making, created to do good works that glorify God not man.
Our spiritual death brings glory to God because when he moves towards us in his great love and rich mercy and gives us the gift of life, He gets the glory, the praise and the honor. And guess what? He gets it for eternity. As one writer said “This was God's publicity program for the whole of history—and beyond.”

Note how much Paul talks about God’s glory thus far in chapter 1 and 2.

1: 3, 6, 12, 14 - 2:7 Is that not egotistical?

God is the greatest of all goods, thus to be self promoting is to be putting forth the greatest good that human kind could ever encounter. It is not an egotistical thing but the most loving thing to do. To do otherwise would be to mislead and be an immoral act by God eternal. His great love and rich mercy toward us demands that God be self promoting. (I gave this statement in a previous TB)

God’s glory is an important truth to have on our journey in addition to His character and gift. God’s glory and making life about the glory of God, directs people toward the true source, the true well spring of life. Making it about us, leads people to another human solution that will end up at another dead end. It is about the glory of God.

Do you have phenomenal clarity of vision? He wants you to see his character, great gift of salvation and glory.

If interested in joining or starting a small group contact 

Touching Base! Part 164

Rigorous Faith in Turbulent Times, Part 3
The Pink Letters – Ephesians 1:15-23

(This article can also we found on our website
at under the tab called "Blog")

This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.

This week’s TB is geared for you to personally reflect on how the pink letters of Paul encourage us to move on in our faith. Pink letters? Let me explain. This past week, I was running on a paved path and came across several pink letters written with chalk - amazing, stupendous, incredible,… I couldn’t help think that in life those kinds of pink letters are so important for us to keep pressing on. Often people are motivated by fear, guilt, obligation, but the pink letters represent words of encouragement to grow on in our faith.

Text: In Ephesians 1:15-23 Paul kneels down (allow me some imagination) and with his pink chalk in hand writes words to the Ephesians on the “trail”, that encourage them to press on. God has done some wonderful things for them (see 1-14) but simply just resting in that, and not growing on, is not the point. God has done wonderful things for us so that we can grow, move, develop, and mature.

Big Idea: “Plateau: A place to grow from.”

This I think is what partly motivates Paul to write. He wants his audience not to get comfortable where they are. Not growing is choosing to die. So what are the pink letters?

Before we jump into the text, share with your group the good and bad pink letters along your trail. Did they give you life or further feed into a broken spirit? Have you been able to erase those letters and replace them with God’s truth? What might the color of those toxic words be?



What is stated in v15-16 that reveals whose help we need to know Him better?
The kind of knowledge Paul is talking about here is not just head knowledge, but referencing a personal and intimate knowledge of God. Notice v.18a “ eyes of your heart” - in the Greek this is all part of the same sentence - it seems to be parenthetical, all describing knowing him better. For the Semitic person, the heart was the seat of thought and will as well as emotion. Thus this inner enlightenment may have both cognitive and affective dimensions.
What is the difference between these two kinds of knowledge of God?
What do you find most helpful in growing in this second kind of knowledge?
What are the roadblocks?

Here is a problem to think about:
The temptation in following Christ is to settle in on a plateau. We get comfortable - and our boxed-in knowledge of God somewhat tames God, makes him neat and tidy. The challenge is that we are often growing in other areas - careers, family, perhaps physical fitness, education etc. - and they begin to capture our hearts and they get more captivating until our plateau with God looks boring, because it is and God gets shoved aside. Plateaued faith is no competition for the things of this world that can present such sizzle.

Some of us could assign a date to our plateau. “Been here since…” And we might even be able to give the reason why - business, pain, idols etc. Rigorous faith finds the edge and jumps. The invitation of Christ is not come and sit, but to come and grow. The invitation of Jesus is not to conversion but to discipleship - “Follow me!”


Hope refers to expectation. Note that it is God calling us to hope. What a great picture and very informative. As God calls us to hope, he is simultaneously calling us away from something. In the context of the original audience no doubt it included fear. Fear was a big part of the spirituality of Ephesus. This picture is of God calling them out of that which limits and hinders them and instead, to step into freedom.
Here is the thing about plateaus- they don’t need fences, or big walls, or guards. If the enemy can use your life brokenness to fence you in, he will. If he can use the tapes that play over and over again in your head to form the big walls around you, he will. Fear can be one of those invisible fences that keep people on a plateau. Being called to hope is being called to move, grow, and step forward.
What are some invisible fences that keep people plateaued in their walk with God? How much does fear play into this?


This is the third grouping of pink letters along the trail. You might wonder what this means, but as you stop and think about it, it will become clear.
Whose glorious inheritance is this?
Who is the glorious inheritance?
Note v.14 - our inheritance is God, yet we are His possession, referenced in v.18 as a glorious inheritance. YOU ARE PART OF THAT GLORIOUS INHERITANCE if you know Christ.
Note that we don’t become his glorious inheritance once we get our act together, we are in fact his glorious inheritance now, warts, wounds and all. Think about the following and let it sink in:

“Everything minus Jesus equals nothing, but Jesus plus nothing equals everything.”
Tullian Tchividjian (grandson of Billy Graham)

How does this quote help you understand more deeply what Paul is saying about us with these pink letters- Glorious inheritance?

How are these motivating words to not rest on a plateau but go deeper in God?
Note that the “you” is plural and glorious riches refers to believers not just one believer. How does being part of community, this glorious inheritance, help you grow? Note Paul is nudging, encouraging, cheering on these Ephesians. Who does that for you? What group helps you?


As a group note how Paul illustrates this great power in the text.

A great example of power is in the one who holds the pink chalk. He writes as a man experiencing the greatest freedom but he in fact is constrained by the powerful arm of Rome - in prison. Rome did not need to set him free for Paul to be free. Paul was free regardless of where he was. He had intimacy with God (- know him better), he had hope not fear, he knew his value (-glorious inheritance).That is a demonstration of the power of God.

Perhaps God will demonstrate his power in your life as you follow him along the trail.
Like Paul your life can rise above the brokenness.
Like Paul your life can demonstrate passion and focus even though people around you try to deter that passion.
We can experience God’s power in our lives even though, the other person has not repented, even though the loss is still stinging, even though you cannot undo what has been done, even though in this life justice may not be realized, even though the consequences of your mistake will never be erased, even though Rome still exerts great power- you are free! That is power.

Plateau: A place to grow from. Are you growing? Are you reading the pink letters?

If interested in joining or starting a small group contact 

Touching Base! Part 163

Rigorous Faith in Turbulent Times, Part 2
The Applause of Heaven – Ephesians 1:1-14

(This article can also we found on our website
at under the tab called "Blog")

This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.

Imagine changing the order of applause. From now on, before the performance you will applaud, stand to your feet, and with every ounce of energy you have you will cheer, clap and stomp your feet. People around you might think you are crazy. Our culture dictates that no one gets the applause until the performance is done, and even then, the applause meter might not spike, unless the performance was excellent!

The good news and wonderful news of heaven is that God applauds us before we ever take the stage of life. His angelic choirs are bursting forth with songs of delight in who we are before we even take our first breath. Much like Jesus, in Matthew 3, where God the Father says, at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased!” Pretty outstanding words considering the fact that Jesus had not “performed” yet.

Today our big idea is, The wonder of our praise is rooted in when we heard the applause of heaven. Our text is Ephesians 1:1-14 and we are asking the question, “What is the wonder of our praise?” You will note that Paul says “Praise be to God…” and you will also note that our praise of God is rooted in the God of the universe doing for us and in us deep and unfathomable truths before we even take the stage of life. It is important to remember that Paul wrote this from prison. His physical circumstances were less than ideal, but his heart was full of praise.

What is the wonder of our praise?
If you are in a group discussing this take a moment and come up with a group definition of the word “wonder”.

1. The wonder of being chosen (v.4)

A seminary professor once said, “Try to explain election and you may lose your mind. But try to explain it away and you may lose your soul!” (“Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you” - John 15:16). The lost sinner, left to his own ways, does not seek God (Rom. 3:10–11); God in His love seeks the sinner (Luke 19:10). The mystery of divine sovereignty and human responsibility will never be resolved in this life. Both are taught in the Bible (John 6:37). Both are true, and both are essential.

Notice the “when” of being chosen. V.4- Try getting your head around this… some of us have a hard time just planning for the week ahead.

Notice the objective of being chosen in v.4 “Holy” and “blameless” are two words that speak of God’s desire to bless our lives. The emphasis in this context seems to be on the practical outworking of living a holy and blameless life. How is being holy and blameless good for a person?
Discuss the following.

That which invokes wonder in our heart, at the same time, can provoke questions in our minds. The key is to be able to wrestle with the questions but not lose the sense of wonder! True? Has wrestling with great theological truths ever robbed you of the joy of basking in the wonder of God’s love for us?

One writer said that of all the religions in the world, there is none with the wealth of music that the Christian faith offers. We sing, because His name is wonderful.

2. The wonder of being predestined (v.5,6)

Notice that love is a key element of our next wonder. The word predestined literally means to be determined beforehand. In other words the applause of heaven happened before the “performance”. Notice the difference between predestination and being chosen in this context. What was predetermined?

Once you have answered that, ask yourself what other motives are seen in this text for God to adopt us? Was it our performance, how well we played our part, or accomplished our task? No, the reason given, in addition to love, is pleasure, will and in praise of his glorious grace. Pleasure is that which brings him satisfaction. It brings God utmost pleasure to adopt you! And this act of God brings him praise.

Imagine telling someone that the reason you are a follower of Christ is because it brings God great pleasure and praise. How is that different than what you often hear?

How much pain and struggle could have been avoided in life or more quickly remedied if just these first two truths on the canvass of God’s word had been woven into our hearts? Think of a child that never experiences the love of a father, but can grasp the love of God in these verses. Think of an adult who is told by culture, “you are of no value”, but whose heart is full of the wonder of God’s love for him or her.

3. The wonder of being redeemed (v7,8)

Now this is what we are more used to talking about. Often being chosen and predestined are theologies we leave to the heavyweights to figure out. But notice that being chosen and predestined are very much connected to our next wonder - redemption.

To redeem means “to purchase and set free by paying a price.” There were 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire, and often they were bought and sold like pieces of furniture. But a man could purchase a slave and set him free, and this is what Jesus did for us. The price was His own blood (1 Peter 1:18ff). Forgiveness means to be carried away. It is reference to the OT image of the scapegoat (look it up if you want) where Jesus carries our sin away from us. But what I want you to notice is that this great wonder is all rooted in the wisdom and understanding of God. These are two Greek words that get at the idea that what may boggle our minds does not boggle the mind of God. What may raise our intellectual eyebrows, does not raise the eyebrows of God. His justice and love are in perfect balance as He administers His actions.

Paul’s admonition is “Praise be to God”. Yes it’s true we may not have the knowledge and wisdom we need to fully comprehend all of God’s actions but nonetheless, we are to praise Him! What are some of your big questions at this point about these three wonders?

4. The wonder of His revelation (v9,10)

What is the mystery? Check out Ephesians 3:2-16 and Romans 16:25

Notice the reference to time. In v.4 we read that he chose us before the creation of the world. In v.10 it says what? Note the panoramic view of time and history referred to here. What does this text say happened between the creation of the world and the fulfillment of all time? See v.9, “he made known to us the mystery”. Our lives are just a speck on a speck on a speck but the biggest guy on the block chose us to be holy and blameless, and predestined us to be adopted which set up our redemption that would be attained at the cross. This is part of his pleasure, good pleasure, which is a reflection of his wisdom and understanding, which is an extension of his love, which is an example of his glorious grace - freely given. No wonder Paul says, “Praise be to God”!

5. The wonder of being marked (v13,14)

Three key words to highlight:

Believed - You may have a question about whether or not you have been chosen, and elected. I think the real question is, having believed, have you responded to his love? We are never told not to believe because we have not been chosen. We are told in Scripture that God chooses and predestines and we are invited to believe. The emphasis is not on trying to figure it out (am I, or am I not, chosen?) but choosing to believe. Welcome to the deep end of the pool.

Marked - In the original context a wax seal would have a mark of ownership or identification stamped in it, identifying who was attesting what was inside the container that had been sealed.

Deposit – This is referencing of the first installment, that there is more to come, a bit like an engagement ring that says the big day is approaching. Notice the progressive idea of redemption. We were redeemed the moment we believed, we are being redeemed and we will be fully redeemed.

Someone said that we should live like each day as if it is your last. One day you will be right!- For the Christ follower our last day is in many ways the first day…… what wonder, hope and praise!
One last observation: Notice how many times in these fourteen verses the praise of God is referenced? V.3, 6, 12, 14. Is God egotistical? Discuss the following:

God is the greatest of all goods, thus to be self promoting is to be putting forth the greatest good that human kind could ever encounter. It is not an egotistical thing but the most loving thing to do. To do otherwise would be to mislead and be an immoral act by God Eternal. His love for us demands that God be self promoting.

The wonder of our praise is rooted in when we heard the applause of heaven! Praise be to God!

If interested in joining or starting a small group contact