Tag Archives: Ephesians

Ready or Not

If temptation were like a lion roaring in the jungle, one might turn and run the other way. But temptation is more like a tiny snake, hiding among the path were one might walk, able to slip through the narrowest crack, then inject its poison before one might react.

Donation of the British Museum.
Sumerian phalanx formation. c. 2450 BC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A thousand years or more ago a well-disciplined armed unit could readily withstand arrows by marching tightly together, with soldiers on the outside holding their shields side-by-side forming walls around the group while soldiers in the middle holding their shields over everyone’s head providing a protective roof. But flaming arrows were more dangerous because they could provoke panic. If only one soldier broke ranks, gaping holes occur in the unit’s armor.

Even today panic can disrupt armor one might neatly arrange against temptations and evil. I have known managers who snap at candidates for a job to see if they will panic under stress.

In our culture of rugged individualism panic can cause one to perceive, if only for a moment, weaknesses that another person might exploit. And in that moment of panic, other weakness appear.

Faith in God, trusting that we are not alone but aligned with Christ guards us from panic. If in a moment when all seems lost, when all of one’s friends have departed, we can remember that the Holy Spirit is as close as our next breath, and avert panic averted and we might face a critical moment as a thinking rational human being instead of a reactive animal.

With all of these, take the shield of faith,
with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

— Ephesians 6:16 (NRSV)

How has practicing your faith helped you prepare to quench panic?

I will have more to say about this passage on Sunday, August 23rd at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church.

Reflections

1985-1989 Dodge Aries
1985-1989 Dodge Aries
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the early 1980’s Chrysler Corporation nearly went bankrupt their stock price had dropped from about $8 per share to under $2. Lee Iacocca, became their CEO and personally appeared in advertisements promising to rebuild Chrysler. I had considered buying a few hundred shares during those dark weeks for Chrysler, when bankruptcy seemed more certain than growth. The upside appeared nearly unlimited. But risking nearly a month’s pay seemed quite foolish. From this side of history, betting on Chrysler would have been a superb investment for in the next two years the stock price soared to over $15 per share. A year after that it was still growing, soaring past $26 per share. And by 1987, it had split and those $2 shares would have been worth over $52 each. My investment of a month’s pay might have blossomed into over two years of salary.

Alas, Chrysler was a missed opportunity for me.

The letter to the Ephesians has similar warning:

Walk carefully,
not as unwise, but as wise,
redeeming the opportunity,
because the days are evil.
— Ephesians 5:15-16 (author’s translation).

Many translations interpret verse 16 as “make the most of the time,” but I wonder if the author had intended a play on words, urging followers to redeem each opportunity as God has also redeemed us, as the original Greek words have meanings of ‘redeem’ as well as ‘make the most’ and ‘opportunity’ as well as ‘time’. But the author did not write about our financial opportunities, but about our spiritual opportunities to praise God. Waste none, but redeem each moment for singing praises.

What opportunities have you redeemed? When have you redeemed a problematic situation to make a spiritual connection with God?

I will have more to say about this passage on Sunday, August 16th at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church.

Anger: The Dangerous Emotion

Angry Sphynx
Angry Sphynx (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Preparing for this Sunday’s sermon I have seen pictures of angry people, angry dogs, angry cats, even angry birds. I suppose every animal with a spine can express anger. Anger makes us seem bigger and more powerful, ready to take on whoever or whatever has invaded our space. Anger helps us assert authority when we need defend ourselves, our home, or our loved ones, and for humans, our ideals.

But if used too freely anger can deter collaborating resulting in statements like: “I tried to tell you but …”

And once anger has inflamed our passion it distorts our memories of events and closes our ears and our eyes to our opponent’s virtues.

On the other hand, overly suppressing anger, acting nice in the face of rudeness, interference, or aggression helps no one. The person acting nice gets abused and disrespected and the one who violates cultural norms does not learn about boundaries our community respects.

Be angry but do not sin;
do not let the sun go down on your anger,
and do not make room for the devil.
— Ephesians 4:26-27 (NRSV)

But how are we to find a balance?

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath
and anger and wrangling and slander,

together with all malice,
and be kind to one another, tenderhearted,
forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
— Ephesians 4:31-32 (NRSV)

 One gift we have is to listen deeply and carefully when anger stirs our gut: To listen to ourselves discerning why our anger has arisen. And to listen to our opponents and discern what good and valuable and useful contribution might they be trying to offer or how might we have over stepped their boundaries.

I will have more to say about this passage at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church on Sunday, August 9th.  For an audio recording of that sermon go to Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church’s website.

One Calling

I find the process of boarding a plane perplexing. As soon as seating rows are called passengers dash for the head of the line, as if being a few steps closer might get them to their destination a few seconds sooner, or perhaps their carry-on items might find a better position in the overhead storage rack. But the plane will not leave until everyone is seated and their carry-ons safely stowed and we will all arrive at the same instant, no matter how quickly one boards the plane.

Airplane Seating (Photo Credit US State Department)What if instead of striving to get one’s self quickly boarded passengers would oriented themselves to getting everyone seated and everyone’s baggage stowed? Perhaps taller able-bodied passengers with a strong gift for spatial arrangement could board first and take charge of carefully loading each carry-on where its owner could readily find it, filling all the available space. Perhaps patient individuals could guide first time fliers to their seats showing them where to find their seat belt and light switches. Experienced grandparents might sit next to parents of young children, gently coaching them.

This is my vision for the Church. A place where the passengers on a spiritual journey use their gifts to assist those around them and to allow assistance by other travelers. A place where we recognize that striving for one’s personal advancement deters everyone, but gently and patiently striving for everyone’s progress with humility, advances the person.

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord,
beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another in love,
making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
— Ephesians 4:1-3 (NRSV)

I will have more to say about this passage on Sunday, August 2nd at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church.

Spiritual Gardening

purple crocuses with closed bloom Français : D...
Purple Crocuses (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everywhere I have lived I we have had a garden. They have varied by where we live. In upstate New York we had planted crocuses beside our front walk as soon as the snow melted they would pop up and bloom announcing the coming of spring. In central Indiana two white pines we had planted behind our home had grown tremendously since we left, now providing shade to that house. We brought our container gardens with us to Florida and merely days after planting the seeds had sprouted.

Redwoods among the fog (Photo credit Scott Catron)
Redwoods among the fog (Photo credit Scott Catron)

In traveling to various parks we have seen the variety of God’s gardens: sand dunes that continually shift with the wind, mountain fields that eek out an existence between the last snow melt and the first hard frost, brackish swamps that support trees brush just above high tide, and redwood trees that have withstood storms and droughts for centuries. While one can readily see the height and girth of a redwood tree, its roots are hidden. How deep must they grow to support such spires and weather the sun and the rain, wind and snow?

Growing in faith yields resilience to weather life’s tragedies and comedies, promotions and steady work. While the fruits of one’s faith may be readily seen by others —charity, prayer, calmness— resilience comes from having deep roots.

I pray that, according to the riches of the Father’s glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.
—Ephesians 3:16-17.

I will have more to say about this passage on Sunday, July 26th at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church.

Click below to hear this sermon.

Us and Them

I suppose people have always separated into factions: those like us versus those other people.

The news media seems to relish showing differences between Republicans and Democrats, even highlighting rifts within each party. Is a particular candidate conservative enough or liberal enough to be true to their party? Or has a particular candidate’s remark gone too far, serving more to excite an extreme segment of their party?

Listening to this harsh rhetoric every four years leaves me almost surprised that parties can come together to support one candidate for the general election. That the divisive rhetoric between parties continues between elections leaves me amazed that our various legislatures can accomplish anything.

The Apostle Paul had encountered similar divisiveness in the church at Ephesus between Jews and Christians.

For [Christ Jesus] is our peace;
in his flesh he has made both groups into one
and has broken down the dividing wall,
that is, the hostility between us.

— Ephesians 2:14

But what does he mean by “citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God”? Are we to unite in a middle ground, ignoring our differences or are we to value our differences and find a new harmony?

Elsewhere Paul described the Church as like a human body with different parts serving different functions. If we were all the same, we could accomplish little. If we were all eyes, we would lack teeth to eat with, or feet to walk, or hands to grow crops.

The problem with divisions is not our differences, but hostilities used to maintain those divisions.

Instead when we work together, enjoying our differences, we become a dwelling place for God.

When have you experienced harmonious collaboration?

I will have more to say about this passage on Sunday, July 19th, 2015.

Click below to hear this sermon.

Blessing All

Thank you for reading my blog this week. Your participation in my ministry by reading and occasionally telling me how my writings have affected your life and spiritual journey have been a real blessing to me.

May God bless you and your life this day, so that you may grow stronger in our Lord Jesus.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
— Ephesians 1:2

The apostle Paul began most of his letters with a blessing and prayer for his audience leading me to wonder how the world might change if we were to follow this practice, blessing our listeners at the beginning of each conversation. Such blessings might be generic, as some of the recipients would be unknown when the blessing was written. For example, I do not know who all is reading this blog, and since it may be available for years to come, you might be reading this entry after a current reader shared it with you perhaps months or even years after I wrote these words.

Which leads to questions about the sincerity of the blessing. Are blessings offered so easily valued by the recipient? Or conversely, when a blessing is offered before the giver meets the recipient, is a blessing so offered valued by the giver? At what point do freely offered blessings get lost in the blizzard of advertising we receive each day.

Some three-hundred years after Paul, Augustine of Hippo had written blessings for Caesar; blessings universally expected, but widely recognized as lies. Yet the blessings in Paul’s letters differ from such banal pro forma fluff for he uses the rest of his letter to give depth and substance to the divine blessings he lists at the beginning of this letters.

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, just as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
— Ephesians 1:3-4

On the other hand, if the blessings are sincerely offered and openly received, perhaps the communication that follows will have greater honesty and usefulness.

Below you can hear (most) of my sermon from Sunday, July 12th.

Bridling Anger

Double bridle, with both curb and snaffle bits.
Double bridle, with both curb and snaffle bits. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most days I can control my tongue, but every once and awhile I wish I had a muzzle or at least a bridle.

I said, “I will guard my ways
that I may not sin with my tongue;
I will keep a muzzle on my mouth
as long as the wicked are in my presence.”

— Psalm 39:1 (NRSV)

But even that might not be enough. The psalmist continues:

I was silent and still;
I held my peace to no avail;
my distress grew worse,
my heart became hot within me.
While I mused, the fire burned;

— Psalm 39:2-3a (NRSV)

Yes, muzzled anger only intensifies. Instead of flashing out at its perceived causes, it burns within, consuming me instead.

There is a better way to bridle anger, to put it to work.

First, I am learning to recognize that my anger helps no one else. But it can help me as an alert of an injustice I might correct.

Second, ask what have I observed. Specifically, what would a neutral unemotional observer report, what might a camera record. For example not that so-and-so disrespects other people by always arriving late, but that this week he was late 5 minutes and 15 minutes the week before and perhaps occasionally he had arrived on time.

Third, reflect on my values compromised by what I have observed. In the above example, respect for participants in a meeting. Timeliness is merely a strategy for demonstrating respect.1

Now I am prepared to cool my anger. Report what I have observed and the values compromised and to seek new strategies to demonstrate mutual respect.

So then, putting away falsehood,
let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors,
for we are members of one another.
Be angry but do not sin;
do not let the sun go down on your anger,
and do not make room for the devil.
Thieves must give up stealing;
rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands,
so as to have something to share with the needy.
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths,
but only what is useful for building up, as there is need,
so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,
with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.
Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger
and wrangling and slander, together with all malice,
and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another,
as God in Christ has forgiven you.

— Ephesians 4:25-32 (NRSV)

* For more information about this process see: Deborah Van Deusen Hunsinger and Theresa F. Latini, Transforming Church Conflict: Compassionate Leadership in Action.

June 19th: “Glorifying God with quality worship”

This week and the next three weeks, the sermon will consider one of the four facets of the congregation’s vision statement. The notes below lift up exemplifying passages from the Bible and the Book of Confessions.

Exemplifying Scripture

Matthew 4:10 – You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.

Ephesians 4:4-6 – There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 – Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.

The Second Helvetic Confession:

5.023 GOD ALONE IS TO BE ADORED AND WORSHIPPED. We teach that the true God alone is to be adored and worshipped. This honor we impart to none other, according to the commandment of the Lord, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Matt. 4:10). Indeed, all the prophets severely inveighed against the people of Israel whenever they adored and worshipped strange gods, and not the only true God. But we teach that God is to be adored and worshipped as he himself has taught us to worship, namely, “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23 f.), not with any superstition, but with sincerity, according to his Word; lest at any time he should say to us: “Who has required these things from your hands?” (Isa. 1:12; Jer. 6:20). For Paul also says: “God is not served by human hands, as though he needed anything,” etc. (Acts 17:25).

5.135 And those who are such in the Church have one faith and one spirit; and therefore they worship but one God, and him alone they worship in spirit and in truth, loving him alone with all their hearts and with all their strength, praying unto him alone through Jesus Christ, the only Mediator and Intercessor; and they do not seek righteousness and life outside Christ and faith in him. Because they acknowledge Christ the only head and foundation of the Church, and, resting on him, daily renew themselves by repentance, and patiently bear the cross laid upon them. Moreover, joined together with all the members of Christ by an unfeigned love, they show that they are Christ’s disciples by persevering in the bond of peace and holy unity. At the same time they participate in the sacraments instituted by Christ, and delivered unto us by his apostles, using them in no other way than as they received them from the Lord. That saying of the apostle Paul is well known to all: “I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you” (I Cor. 11:23 ff.). Accordingly, we condemn all such churches as strangers from the true Church of Christ, which are not such as we have heard they ought to be, no matter how much they brag of a succession of bishops, of unity, and of antiquity. Moreover, we have a charge from the apostles of Christ “to shun the worship of idols” (I Cor. 10:14; I John 5:21), and “to come out of Babylon,” and to have no fellowship with her, unless we want to be partakers with her of all God’s plagues (Rev. 18:4; II Cor. 6:17).

5.220 THE METHOD TO BE EMPLOYED IN PUBLIC PRAYERS. As in everything, so also in public prayers there is to be a standard lest they be excessively long and irksome. The greatest part of meetings for worship is therefore to be given to evangelical teaching, and care is to be taken lest the congregation is wearied by too lengthy prayers and when they are to hear the preaching of the Gospel they either leave the meeting or, having been exhausted, want to do away with it altogether. To such people the sermon seems to be overlong, which otherwise is brief enough. And therefore it is appropriate for preachers to keep to a standard.

The Westminster Confession of Faith:

6.012 2. God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of himself;(23) and is alone in and unto himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which he hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them:(24) he is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom, are all things;(25) and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, ori upon them, whatsoever himself pleaseth.(26) In his sight all things are open and manifest;(27) his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature;(28) so as nothing is to him contingent or uncertain.(29) He is most holy in all his counsels, in all his works, and in all his commands.(30) To him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience he is pleased to require of them.(31)

6.112 1. The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is good, and doeth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might.(1) But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.(2)

6.113 2. Religious worship is to be given to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and to him alone:(3) not to angels, saints, or any other creature:(4) and since the Fall, not without a Mediator; nor in the mediation of any other but of Christ alone.(5)

6.114 3. Prayer with thanksgiving, being one special part of religious worship,(6) is by God required of all men;(7) and that it may be accepted, it is to be made in the name of the Son,(8) by the help of his Spirit,(9) according to his will,(10) with understanding, reverence, humility, fervency, faith, love, and perseverance;(11) and, if vocal, in a known tongue.(12)

6.115 4. Prayer is to be made for things lawful,(13) and for all sorts of men living, or that shall live hereafter,(14) but not for the dead.i (15, 16)

6.116 5. The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear;(17) the sound preaching,(18) and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God with understanding, faith, and reverence;(19) singing of psalms with grace in the heart;(20) as, also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ; are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God:(21) besides religious oaths,(22) and vows,(23) solemn fastings,(24) and thanksgivings upon special occasion;(25) which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner.(26)

The Larger Catechism:

7.214 Q. 104. What are the duties required in the First Commandment?
A. The duties required in the First Commandment(1) are: the knowing and acknowledging of God to be the only true God, and our God;(2) and to worship and glorify him accordingly;(3) by thinking,(4) meditating,(5) remembering,(6) highly esteeming,(7) honoring,(8) adoring,(9) choosing,(10) loving,(11) desiring,(12) fearing of him;(13) believing him;(14) trusting,(15) hoping,(16) delighting,(17) rejoicing in him;(18) being zealous for him;(19) calling upon him, giving all praise and thanks,(20) and yielding all obedience and submission to him with the whole man;(21) being careful in all things to please him,(22) and sorrowful when in anything he is offended;(23) and walking humbly with him.(24)

The Confession of 1967:

9.36 The church gathers to praise God, to hear his word for mankind, to baptize and to join in the Lord’s Supper, to pray for and present the world to him in worship, to enjoy fellowship, to receive instruction, strength, and comfort, to order and organize its own corporate life, to be tested, renewed, and reformed, and to speak and act in the world’s affairs as may be appropriate to the needs of the time.