Today we’re gonna closeout Ephesians, Paul’s taught us about the glory that is the unity of Christ. The glory that we can expect if we are in union with Christ, if we are in unity as Christians as the body of Christ. Paul continues the lesson and teachers us exactly what it means to be a Christian and to live a Christian life, he teaches us what it means to have a heart, a heart for God, for ourselves and for all of God’s children. He then goes on to the mind of a Christian and we are taught that one of the most important things about Christianity and that is as Christians we need to have wisdom, we must turn from foolish things. And the most foolish thing we do is to allow Satan into our hearts, into our heads, into our lives. Now I know you’re saying pastor, I don’t let Satan anywhere near me what are you crazy, why would I let Satan near me? I mean I’m not stupid and I know none of you are stupid. No one lets Satan near them. Like I said and as it’s pointed out many times in scripture Satan is a crafty guy, the evil one can sneak right in there with you, no problem, and there’s very little that we can do, no that’s not right, alone there is nothing that we can do to stop it. That’s right I said there’s nothing we can do to stop it in and of ourselves. Only through the grace of God and the love of Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit can we as human beings hope to fight this battle. Paul say: 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. Paul says in the revised version be strong in the Lord however a more literal translation of the words that Paul use is not be strong but rather be strengthened, to be strengthened in the Lord, to be in the strength of his power. We cannot strengthen ourselves we must be empowered by God. And that power is not something that is infused in us once and done.
By that I mean we’re not little Energizer bunnies with the power of God always in us, rather than it being just one time, the power of God must strengthen us constantly just as we are constantly growing into Christ into God’s sanctifying grace. It’s a process it’s not a one-shot cure-all thing. It’s a constant struggle. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. It truly is a fight it is a battle, it’s not a game, people die every day waging this war ancient war. The enemy is real, in the United States we don’t seem to really believe this like I’ve said before it’s almost impossible to get the average American to believe in spiritual warfare. They are more likely to believe in Casper the ghost and the haunted stories on Saturday Night Live or whatever TV reality show happens to be playing this week, rather than the word of God. The enemy is powerful, he is cunning, and he is ruthless, and he is after all of us. What we’re told as Christians is that we have already won the war and that’s not true. God has already won the war but we as Christians still have to fight the battles. The day of glory is not today and it’s not for us to decide, the day of glory is for God to decide, and none shall know the day not even the Son. James Montgomery Boice in his expositional commentary on Ephesians has this to say “Many Christians today would judge the teaching of these verses unimportant. They would encourage us to think positively and peacefully, as if there were no spiritual battles at all. They see Christianity not as an entrance into warfare but as an exit from it. They see it as the solution to our problems. If you are sick, Jesus will make you well. If you are discouraged, Jesus will make you happy. You get the impression from those who talk like this that to believe in Jesus is to enter upon a smooth path and to enjoy smooth sailing” It’s not, as any Christian can tell you trials and tribulation is what you can expect, Jesus told us [Mathew 10:34] “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. And whether you believe in the enemy or not, he believes in you. So, 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. Why do we stand firm? For the same reason that we dress in our armor it is to be ever mindful that we stand ready and able to do god’s will through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. That it is, God and no other that strengthens us.
We fasten the belt of truth around our waist because we battle the deceiver, “when he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” [John 8:44b] So speak only the truth and the breastplate of righteousness will protect you from the unrighteous: 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all impiety and unrighteousness of people, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what can be known about God is evident among them, for God made it clear to them. [Romans 1:18-19 LEB] The unrighteous fear the truth, they fear to tread its path, just as they fear the light, but not so the righteous we do not fear this path because we are wearing the right shoes. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. Don’t be afraid to get out there and preach the Gospel. If you don’t go forward if you don’t proclaim the good news how will people here and if they don’t hear, how will they come to believe, and if they don’t believe, how will they come to know Christ. 15 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” [Roman 10:15] Do not fear the road, for you are clothed for the journey, but this road leads to conflict, this road takes us into great danger so even though we are clothed for battle still 16 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. The Devils not gonna stand back and let you walk that path free and easy. He’s constantly gonna be sniping at you taking potshots every time you turn your head here is gonna come another arrow not just any arrow but flaming arrows. The devils not just out to put holes in you, he’s out to burn your life to the ground. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [Ephesians 2:8] It is our faith that opens us to God it is through his grace and his grace alone that “you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your soul.” [1 Peter 1:9] So, 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account. The word of God, the Bible is your sword so do not neglect it. The way to keep it sharp is to read it daily. Just like a sword you need to practice with it. It’s no good if it just sits on your coffee table, when you really need it you won’t know how to use it.
You’re no different from any other warrior and the best warriors practice constantly. You have to practice with your weapon to be an effective warrior of God. Amen. All these things are needed but the most important thing in any battle is communication.
You need to 18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak. Always be in communication with God, pray that like Paul you may be bold and declare the Good News as we are commanded by God to do. Even if you are surrounded and in chains the enemy can never take the armor of God from you. You are never without that protection no matter where you are, and you will always have your sword to defend against the evil days no matter when they come. Amen.
Be careful how you live. 32For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them; [Proverbs 1:32] Be careful how you live, Seek after wisdom. [Proverbs 1:33] 33but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.” Be careful how you live. We went over this last week don’t lie don’t steal don’t get angry with one another don’t do malicious things to one another don’t have hate for one another always we need to be forgiving we need to build people up not tear them down we need to imitate God walking in love not hatred all these things we know we are supposed to do we know we’re supposed to live carefully. Still it’s quite easy to walk carefully and be foolish. Listen to what Paul tells us 15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. Not only must we be careful in how we live we must do so with wisdom. We must be careful with the time that we are given for it is short, on this earth we are given only a short time to do what we have been created to do, a very short time to do the will of God. Because the days are evil what did Paul mean the days are evil, consider this we all watch the news we all see the crime on TV we hear about the evil in the world. Think about it 50 years ago, just 50 years ago you would never, never hear curse words on TV or in public for that matter you would never have seen nudity on TV, pornography was this horrible thing known only in back rooms and under teenage boys’ mattresses. Now thanks to the Internet it’s everywhere it’s available to anyone 6 to 66. The Internet has ushered in an age of great knowledge but not all of that knowledge is good, our society now uses the Internet for great evil and that evil has become the dominant force in our society if you are wondering let me confirm for you the evil days are not just then they are here now, our children grow up with pornography with drugs with alcohol they grow up self-serving self-righteous. Little children grow up thinking that it’s OK to curse their parents it’s OK to have sex out of wedlock it’s OK not to get married it’s OK not to go to church it’s, it’s OK not to believe in God, it’s OK to be greedy to be gluttonous to be foolish because when you get right down to it that’s all evil is it’s being foolish. 17 So do not be foolish but understand what the will of the Lord is. The Will of the Lord is to seek after wisdom 20 Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice. 21At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: 22“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? [Proverbs 1:20-22] Nothing makes the Lord happier then when we seek after wisdom.
All we have to do is look at Solomon the wisest man on earth granted his wisdom by God, listen to this 7 “Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties I think this is one of the greatest verses in scripture, I believe that if we all could come to God humbly and speaking the truth Father I am only a small child I do not know you’re will for me and I seek your will father, how much that would change the world, how much that would change us our hearts as Christians just that simple act to trust and love as a small child trusts their parents to make things right to show them in love how it’s done, Amen. Solomon had it right, and he continues to seek God in humility, he says, 8 Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” Solomon asked for wisdom, not for long life or health or wealth but for a small thing, discernment, the ability to know right from wrong and to apply that discernment equally, justly, wisely. 10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. 14 And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” God tells us to seek her out she’s in the streets in the square, she’s in your home everywhere you look there is wisdom to be found but you must look for it, you must seek it out. Contrary to popular belief one does not gain wisdom with age. Neither is wisdom a product of intelligence. 4if you seek it like silver, and search for it as for hidden treasures— 5then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. 6For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; 7he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk blamelessly, 8guarding the paths of justice and preserving the way of his faithful ones. What is wisdom and why is it so hard to find?
Let me give you a small example, this story is from an unknown author and appropriately titled The Wise Woman’s Stone A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without hesitation. The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime. But a few days later he came back to return the stone to the wise woman. “I’ve been thinking,” he said, “I know how valuable the stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious. Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me something more precious. Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone. What is wisdom? Is it giving up what is most precious to you, simply to make another happy, or is it realizing that what you thought was the most precious thing in the world was only a colored stone. Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? 2On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; 3beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: 4“To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live. [Proverbs 8:1-4] Wisdom is not readily attainable, but she is there for all who seek her. 17 So do not be foolish but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord despises drunkenness and debauchery not because wine is evil or wicked but when it is taken too far and it descends to drunkenness, debauchery is not far away and that opens the door for evil to come in, again we’re dealing with Satan and the dude wants us drunk, he wants us insecure, boastful, full of ourselves, because if we are full of ourselves we are not full of the Holy Spirit and God would have us filled with the Holy Spirit rather than wine. He wants our songs and our hearts, He wants us to come to Him Joyfully singing, with wisdom, and in love, giving thanks in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen. The other guy he wants us hungover watching porn and cursing the Lord. So, what’s it going to be wisdom or foolishness? Solomon said it best in the opening verses of proverbs, 7The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Be careful how you live.
Today’s scripture is a continuation of last weeks, last week Paul was encouraging us to be in unity, because we can only follow Christ path if we are one body only if we are unified in heart, mind and soul, as one creation under God. Paul continued in chapter 4 to explain exactly what he means by this he gives us a list of do’s and don’ts six as a matter of fact. Six rules to follow. Things we should and should not do specifically we don’t lie, we don’t stay angry with one another, we don’t steal, we don’t debase one another, and we don’t act maliciously towards one another, we do not have hate for one another. And for every don’t there is a do, six things that we should always do we should always speak the truth with one another we should never let our anger become uncontrolled, we should always quickly forgive one another, we should always work so that we may have enough not only for ourselves but to give to others, we should never tear people down with our words really we should encourage them edify them and lift them up to the Lord. Always be forgiving never judgmental. And above all be imitators of God and walk in love not hatred, this is fundamental to being children of God to followers of Christ for we are born again we are new creations and have no need to hold on to the old sins. Let’s look at them one on one and their relevance to us. 25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.
This is very important we must always remember that we are one body, lying to our neighbors our friends or family is the same as lying to ourselves and God. Lying is an original sin it’s right up there with killing and stealing, one of the big ten, thou shall not lie. John tells us in Revelation 21:8 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” It is death to lie, put aside the fact that you can’t lie successfully to God anyway you look at it, it’s futile. Still putting all that aside, Paul tells us this for a much simpler and more practical reason. Jesus is explicit when he speaks about lying and where and who it belongs to. In John 8:44 Jesus is speaking to the Pharisee and he is arguing with them about whose children they are, whether they are children of God or children of Satan and this is what he has to say about it “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Very truly I tell you to be a liar is to put yourself on the same plane as Satan. Why would we do that? Who in their right minds would want to do that? So, speak the truth it’s not hard, though occasionally painful, the momentary pain of an uncomfortable truth is less than the agony of eternity spent with the father of lies. Regardless liars usually get caught and what happens when someone lies to you… don’t you get mad; of course, you do. Righteous anger is well and good, and we have a right to be angry, being angry is not a sin. If anger were a sin, then God could not become angry with us for our sins. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. Simply put do not let righteous anger turn to resentment. I know you’re going pastor make up your mind. either it’s a sin to be angry or it’s not a sin to be angry which is it? Well righteous anger is not a sin obviously, but anger that is harbored in the heart and not resolved turns to resentment. Resentment turns to bitterness and that bitterness will eventually turn to hatred and that is a sin. once your anger turns to hatred you open the door to the devil and he’s more than happy to come on in make himself comfortable. That’s why Paul says not to let the sun go down on your anger, it’s also where you get the very bad marital advice of not going to bed angry, or as Phyllis Diller says, “never go to bed mad – stay up and fight.” I say bad advice because sometimes you just need to end it and start over in the morning, quite often you won’t even remember why you were angry and you can apologize and get on with life.
But Paul’s not talking about that kind of anger, no he’s talking about the bitter unresolved anger that eats at you and keeps you up all night, we need to let that go, no matter how difficult it seems to be. We need to recognize it, vent it and toss it in the garbage where it belongs along with these other do nots’. Like stealing, 28 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. Paul is not talking about a common thief in this context he is talking about someone who makes their living off others at the others expense. He is talking about those who do not make a living with their own hand. Who do not do an honest day’s work neither do they work hard for what they have rather they spend their time trying to find the easy way out trying to make the fast buck. Always at the expense of another. Instead Paul is telling us to not just work to be able to afford the minimum or even to afford the luxury’s in life rather work hard in order that you may help others less fortunate than you are. And listen even if you do encounter a thief or another one who is trying their best to go the easy route and con you out of your hard earned money 29 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. There is no need speak ill of another, even if that other is robbing you. It’s so easy to let those hateful words flow. Much easier than I forgive you, they come much easier than how can I help you, they come much easier than I love you. The same goes for those who cause any kind of grief or disappointment it is far easier to speak degrading and belittling words that make us feel larger, more powerful, bigger in our eyes. So much easier to say hurtful things than it is to tell someone it’s OK I am sure that you did not mean that, or you’ll do better next time don’t worry about it God loves you. But it’s essential to stop and think before we speak because we can greave not only others, we can grieve the Holy Spirit and Paul says 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. We are marked and sealed by the Holy Spirit. We so often use the Holy Spirit as a title as the third part of the Trinity that we forget the Holy Spirit, that God’s spirit indwells us. When we commit a sin no matter what sin that is, either to another or to ourselves we are committing a sin not against ourselves or against another, but against God. I want you to think about that for a minute I want that to sink in… when we express our hatred, our anger, when we say those nasty things to another person to another Christian or about another person or another Christian we are not just saying it to that person we are saying it to God.
Think about that and the next time, that bitterness, that anger comes up, the next time you feel that hatred, when those words about to come out of your mouth think about what it means and 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. God knows this isn’t going to be easy for us. Jesus knew that this wasn’t going to be easy for us. Paul knew it wasn’t going to be easy he knew that the more a person followed Christ the more they got into Christian living the more difficult it would seem to become, as G.K. Chesterton said: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” But the sad thing is that Christianity only seems difficult at first, at first it is very difficult but as Christ said [Matthew 11:28-30] 28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” The difficulty is not in Christianity, not in living a Christian life. Brothers and Sisters the difficulty isn’t about Christian Living it’s about discarding our old life and learning to live as new creations, as Christians. 5 1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Amen.
How do we maintain our unity in Christ our love in one another when all around us is the secular world and it is constantly calling us to do the opposite? How do we walk in the light how do we shine forth the light Of Christ when all is darkness? Because, even though all around us in the world is this darkness We have to remember that it is Satan that is propagating this evil and Satan always uses others to do his dirty work. The evil one’s favorite pastime is sowing doubt and descension he loves to make us question ourselves, our very reality. Because when we are confused, or doubt preys on our minds we are not focusing on the spiritual we are not focusing on God we are focusing on the flesh. We are not showing the love of Christ, we are not unified, our Hearts and minds are not one with God. When we are not one with God we leave ourselves open, we become vulnerable to all that evil in the world. That evil doesn’t just make a home in others it can and will seek you out first, remember as a Christian you are always in the line of fire. The more effective you are as a Christian the more certain it is that you will encounter trials and tribulation. No doubt about it that sucks, but that is why we are called to the church, because it is only in Christian unity that we can survive against the forces arrayed against us. Remember this is spiritual warfare but the physical is also involved so let’s unpack that as I said Satan will always use someone to do his will because it’s almost always degrading and belittling and Satan hates us because God made us only a little below the Angels, Psalm 8:4-5 4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? 5 For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. By degrading us he thinks he’s proving to God that we are not worthy of His love. And to that end he will use anyone, but remember that person is not necessarily evil, recall the Gerasene demoniac? Mark 5:15 15 They came to Jesus and observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the “legion”; and they became frightened. It should frighten us as well, that Satan can manipulate us so easily. So easily that we often do not perceive that we are being manipulated. Paul knew this well because he had been manipulated by Satan as Saul of Tarsus. But Christ Called forth Paul the Apostle from Saul of Tarsus just as he calls us forth to live our lives in Him. I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. That’s hard to do even with other Christians.
So how do we maintain our own patience and gentleness and humility bearing with love for one another when the other has no love for us. This is when we have to remember that while we are all different we are also all wonderfully and fearfully made by God and 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. One God, one father, one Holy Spirit, one Jesus who is above all and through all, in all, they are one in the same three in one the triune God. We are all a part of God’s plan and “7 each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.” 9 (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) This part is kind of hard to get your head around but Christ descending meaning that he went below to the lower parts of the earth or to Hades or hell so that he might fill all things, so Christ is in all things, Christ is everywhere there is nothing that is beyond His reach there are none that cannot be saved and there are none that are undeserving of Salvation. There are many that will not be saved, many will be judged and found wanting, and cast into the depths for eternity just as He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. Micah 7:19 Remember we are all beloved of God we are all God’s children and he gave gifts to all of us. 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. And here’s the tricky part we have to grow up we have to grow up in Christ we can no longer be children pulled this way and that way by doctrine that has no basis in Gods word, by false prophets and their lies or smooth talkers and their “just do it” feel good philosophy. We cannot as Christians succumb to popular opinion and political correctness when we defend our faith and values from an amoral society. But neither do we have to allow ourselves to be overcome by hatred and violence, we have no need to for these things as adults in Christ, we do not need to speak falsely or in hatred.
15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.  We to need to work together in harmony. We are all part of one body we are all children of God, even though we don’t necessarily get along with every part, and it is often very difficult to look someone in the eye and say I’m sorry, how can I make things better, especially when they seem to want to destroy everything you worked so hard for, but it’s Gods plan and we were created to fulfill that plan. We can do it for all things are possible through Christ who strengthens us. Look at Paul and Peter they were most definitely not the best of friends however for the good of Christianity they got along. And it’s fortunate that they did if they had done as we do so often and continued to hate one another the church very likely would never have come into being but through the love of Christ they were able to resolve their differences between themselves and create God’s church on earth. We are that church, we are the inheritors of all that Paul and Peter created through Jesus, and along with that inheritance comes the responsibility to act like adults especially when we would rather not. Jesus modeled God’s plan for us on earth, we already know what needs to be done. We need to spread the gospel, the good news, repent for the kingdom of God is near and not everyone has heard the message yet and many who do are going to fight it like children fighting to stay up late, and as adults it is our Job to educate them to bring them into unity with us and with Christ. For it is only through our love of one another that we will be known as followers of Christ and that love is what defines us as Christians. I leave you with Jesus’ final prayer for us it’s not for peace or understanding but for our unity in one another. John 17:20-21 “And I ask not only for these disciples, but also for all those who will one day believe in me through their message. I pray for them all to be joined together as one even as you and I, Father, are joined together as one. I pray for them to become one with us so that the world will recognize that you sent me. Amen.
Prayer, what, who, where, when, and why should I? The five W’s of problem solving. Let’s take them one at a time. What is prayer for? We pray all the time, for strength, for money, for health and travel mercies. We pray for dogs and cats, for cows and calves. We pray for life and we occasionally pray for death. We get upset when our prayers go unanswered and we forget to say thank you when they are. Anyone who has ever prayed for the life of a loved one and still buried them has asked this question of God, “What good is it if I don’t get what I ask for?” The question first gets whispered in the back of our minds, a lonely little whisper “what good is it”, what good is it, and the more we think about it the angrier we get until we shout out to God in our pain and confusion, WHAT GOOD IS IT? It doesn’t work…and still we pray for enlightenment. The problem with our question is in direct relation to the value we place on prayer as it relates to God. Because we have been raised in a fast food society and capitalism is the system that we are taught from day one, we place prayer in a transactional relation to God instead of a communicative relation. We use prayer as a form of heavenly currency, I’m praying to you God, I believe in you God, now give me what I asked for God, and please don’t take too long God, I’m a busy person after all, things to do and places to go, so make it snappy if you please. Well as we all find out sooner or later, that just doesn’t work out very well for us. It never has for me, I keep buying lottery tickets and praying that I’ll hit the jackpot…but I never do, and I used to get mad because I would pray and pray for the Lord to “give” me a better whatever, fill in the blank. I still do, I just don’t blame God anymore for my own stupidity and impatience. I have learned that prayer is about relationship, that the purpose of prayer is to come into relation with God, to be able to know God. Prayer is not a transaction, it’s an exchange. An exchange so vital that our lives depend upon it, yet we seldom give it a second thought. We forget who we are praying to, just a reminder, we are praying to God not to Walmart. Where and when we pray is less important than the fact that we pray. Lying in bed at night or kneeling before the cross on Sunday morning the important thing is that you are in relationship with God.
The where and when while not very important, the actual manner that we pray has greater meaning, while prayer is most commonly done standing up, I do much of my praying in an upright position either with my head bowed or lifted to heaven. In the morning I pray lying in bed, for me that is my most intimate time with God it is the time I am most unguarded and most likely to hear God because there is less distraction. Today though just as it was in Paul’s time, to kneel before God was to signify your complete submission to His will and I still get down on my knees to give thanks for His gifts to me and the world and for the grace I don’t deserve but have never the less been given anyways. That it was His life that paid for my sins and not my own. 14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. Prayer is how we get to know our Father, how we experience His love, His mercy, these are the riches of His glory, and 16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. To abide in Jesus is to be anchored in Christ, to be grounded in God’s love. The only way to experience that love is through prayer and that’s why we need to pray. Martin Luther said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” Prayer is the very life blood of a Christian, why should we pray? Ask yourself why you should keep breathing, the answer is the same? John Wesley had this to say about prayer, “God’s command to “pray without ceasing” is founded on the necessity we have of his grace to preserve the life of God in the soul, which can no more subsist one moment without it, than the body can without air. Whether we think of; or speak to, God, whether we act or suffer for him, all is prayer, when we have no other object than his love, and the desire of pleasing him. All that a Christian does, even in eating and sleeping, is prayer, when it is done in simplicity, according to the order of God, without either adding to or diminishing from it by his own choice. Prayer continues in the desire of the heart, though the understanding be employed on outward things. In souls filled with love, the desire to please God is a continual prayer.
As the furious hate which the devil bears us is termed the roaring of a lion, so our vehement love may be termed crying after God. God only requires of his adult children, that their hearts be truly purified, and that they offer him continually the wishes and vows that naturally spring from perfect love. For these desires, being the genuine fruits of love, are the most perfect prayers that can spring from it.” 18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Prayer is not about fixing your flat tire or getting a raise at work. Our prayers are so seldom answered because at the heart of it all, they are selfish instead of selfless. We ask ourselves why God doesn’t act the way we want Him to and that’s so wrong on so many levels and still we ask why? Abraham Lincoln said “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.” We pray because we are not sufficient for the task, it is through God’s wisdom that we are remade for the tasks that can only be accomplished through God and prayer. 20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. I think John Wesley said it best when he said, “Prayer is where the action is.” Praise God!
“O LORD God Almighty, Father of angels and men, we praise and bless your holy name for all your goodness and loving kindness to humanity. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and for your unceasing generosity to us throughout our lives; But above all, we bless you for your great love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ. We bless you for bringing us safe to the beginning of a new day. Grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger. Keep us, we pray, from all things hurtful to body or soul, and grant us your pardon and peace, so that, being cleansed from all our sins, we might serve you with quiet hearts and minds, and continue in the same until our life’s end, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer. Amen.” John Wesley
We often find ourselves in over our heads. Life has a way of crowding in on us. And it can take a huge toll on our personal health as well as our spiritual wellbeing. Both are necessary if we are to disciple others, we need to live the life of Christ before we can preach it. That’s not an easy thing to do, the disciples found that out and while it’s no easy thing the rewards can be tremendous and like anything that is worthy of God it carries a great responsibility as well. Now you may be thinking “why would I” get into this and “how do I get out”? Relax, Jesus isn’t asking you to do it alone. There’s a reason that the great commission is two by two and why the disciples rarely traveled alone, even Paul was usually accompanied by another disciple or a local who followed the Way. If you listen closely to the scripture you can see that Jesus first concern is not the people that are following Him but rather His disciples, 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Because Jesus recognizes the fact that we need time to decompress, kingdom work is hard work and often dangerous. As disciples we need to take time off to be with the Lord. We need to recharge our spiritual batteries so to speak, as well as our physical ones, sleep is just as vital to our ministry as prayer is. God took a day off, Jesus frequently went off alone to pray and to be by himself. We are no different in our need for alone time, we need to rest. We also need to share our Joys and our frustrations with Jesus. It’s important to take not just your problems to the cross but also your joys. We need to repent for redemption, but life is not an endless series of forgive me God for my sins. We need to be thankful for our blessings as well. To rejoice “Praise God” in what it means to be children of the most high. The disciples knew this and despite being weary their excitement and joy because they were once again with their master is abundantly clear as we read the scripture. 30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. When I read this, I imagine them all talking at once and excited to be back, to tell Jesus about how many people they healed, and demons cast out, how people repented and called on God. I can just imagine them like children coming home from camp, excited about all the things they saw and did and the friends they made, eager to share it all with those that they love. The joys and the heartaches the laughter and the tears, because make no mistake as many as were healed and sought God there are as many more who were not healed and who will not seek the kingdom of Heaven. Today though we are going to focus on the Joys of ministry, 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. [Mark6:30-34] This is what discipleship is all about, compassion and what is compassion? It’s defined as sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it. To me the simplest definition is Love, because you must have love to feel compassion and it was compassion that led to our redemption, it was God’s compassion for us that led Him to sacrifice His Son, it was compassion that led Jesus to the cross and ultimately, it’s compassion that leads us to Him. The desire to love and to be loved, to be understood, to be wanted, to know who we are in Christ. We crave that sense of being anchored. We need to have stability in our lives and so too did the disciples. 53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. There is a sense of finality in this sentence. Jesus is done traveling back and forth across the sea of Galilee, he is about to begin His main ministry. The constant back and forth has served its purpose. Jesus is well known throughout the land and beyond, there is no longer any need for Him to continue to travel by boat. Indeed, I don’t think that Jesus set foot in another boat again once He docked at Gennesaret. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. Now you might wonder why Jesus picked Gennesaret to do the bulk of His ministry instead of the major cities like Jerusalem, Caesarea, Tyre, or Joppa, well this region was known as lower Galilee and According to Josephus their soil is universally rich and fruitful, and full of the plantations of trees of all sorts, insomuch that it invites the most slothful to take pains in its cultivation by its fruitfulness: accordingly, it is all cultivated by its inhabitants, and no part of it lies idle. Moreover, the cities lie here very thick; and the very many villages there are here, are everywhere so full of people, by the richness of their soil, that the very least of them contain above fifteen thousand inhabitants.  The very least of the cities in this area had as many people as Silver City or Deming. Sure, you could get a million people into Jerusalem during Passover, but the bulk of the people lived in villages and small town, most people were no different than today. In fact, minus the technology everyone probably wanted the same things that you want right now. A roof over their heads and food on the table, they wanted their kids to grow up and be doctors and lawyers or the equivalent. They wanted to make good money and provide for their families, they wanted easier ways to do things, so they could spend more time with their families. Above all though they wanted to be healthy, remember limited technology translates to limited effective health care. Healing was a big thing, something we tend to brush aside but issues we consider minor or easily correctable now were debilitating and often deadly in Jesus time. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. [Mark 6:53-56] The keywords in this passage are “all who touched it were healed.” This is where we want to be anchored, we want to be anchored in Jesus’ compassion. All who touched it were healed, none were denied, Jew or gentile, local or Foreigner, none were excluded. It is Jesus’ compassion that provides the anchor for His disciples to weather the storm and that same compassion provides us with an immovable anchor as well. No matter how great the storm, we are always anchored in Jesus’ compassion. It provides us with stability, it keeps us from being left adrift in life’s swift currents. That compassion scares me, when I think about Jesus walking on water, feeding 5000 or healing the sick with just His presence, I cannot imagine it, it exceeds my ability to comprehend it. In my head I can see it but, in my heart, I cannot encompass it. I can only thank God that He Has compassion for me and that He relieves my fears and fills me with His peace, Amen. I thank God that I can rest in His presence and be anchored in His compassion, that I don’t have to understand it to take part in it. I only have to accept that it’s God’s will and to follow where He leads. No matter the task, no matter the cost, Jesus will provide us rest in our work and a compassionate anchor to resist the storms of life.
There are two questions that we spend our lives trying to answer, and no they are not… Is there a God and will I live forever? The answer to both those questions are Yes and it depends. No, the question we first seek to answer is…Who am I? Those three words are possibly the most sought-after question of all time. From the moment of our creation, in the instant that we become self-aware, we pursue this question. It concerns us from our first hour until our last, it concerns us more than what we will eat or drink, whether we will marry or how much money we make. It’s more important to us than our family and friends. It defines us…Who am I? We constantly seek out our place in the world…we study, and we attempt different things. We sample the many different vintages that a lifetime offers our palettes…only to find that what was once sweet has turned bitter, so we continually reinvent ourselves because either we’re not happy with who we are, or we grow beyond what we were. After all familiarity breeds contempt, even Jesus was susceptible to this most human of malady’s. Throughout this lifetime process of trying to figure out who we are the other question that concerns us almost as much as the first…right behind it, so very close behind this question is the other most important question we want to know…do others know whom I am? Does the world recognize my importance? We want to know that we are important, that what we say and do has meaning and that others recognize that in us. This need for recognition is what tends to get us in so much trouble and don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to want others to understand us, as humans we have a fundamental need to be understood, by our loved ones most especially but also by society in general. It’s important to know where we stand in our community. Are we important to the community, will we be missed if we leave, what would happen if I got sick, or went to jail? Would anyone care and what does this have to do with John the Baptist and Jesus? When we read todays scripture there are several questions that we need to ask but the most important ones are Who was John the Baptist to Jesus; and how was Jesus known to the community? When we start the scripture it’s right after Jesus sends out the disciples and He is continuing His ministry around Galilee and even though He is unsuccessful in his hometown Jesus has become very well known in the surrounding areas. In fact, He has become so well known that even the Tetrarch of Galilee has come to know the name of Jesus. Tetrarch simply means ruler of a quarter and Herod Antipater or Antipas as he was known, was the ruler of a quarter of what was left of Israel and fancied himself a king and wanted that recognition, and this desire for recognition would eventually cost him all that he had. Still, Jesus had made a name for himself and 14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason, these powers are at work in him.” This sounds kind of funny coming from a devout Jew, but two things are important here and the first is, at this time there were many different beliefs about the soul among the Hebrew people and reincarnation or transmigration of the soul was fairly common which is why others said, “It is Elijah.” And still others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” The second thing to remember is that Herod was not a good Jew, he was not devout. Herod played at piety and followed the laws only in so far as they benefited him and his wife. Still like any politician, he survives by the will of the people and John the Baptist was liked and respected as a prophet among the people just as Jesus is becoming liked and respected and that is why Herod is concerned and mistakes Jesus for John. 16 But Jesus when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” Notice that Herod is convicted by his deeds. Herod is terrified that his earlier rash decision has literally come back to haunt him. Herod is having an Identity crisis only it’s not…who am I, it’s who is Jesus? Is He John or Elijah? Is He priest, prophet, mystic, or con artist. Fortunately for us it’s none of the above. Although I think that we sometimes have difficulty answering that question too. We tend to pray to Jesus as if He was an App on our phone. Well people it’s time to update your App because it’s not about us. It’s about the kingdom of God and I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Only in Jesus can we find redemption, only by repentance can we find Jesus and only through Jesus can we be reconciled to God. John new this and Herod suspected. Our problem is not with…Who Am I? Our problem is with… Who… God… Is and our own desire for recognition? You see we envy God and His power and glory and majesty in heaven, so we try to copy it here on earth. Naturally, we fail. We fail to repent of our sins because so often we fail to recognize them as sins. Often, we don’t realize it until someone or something forces us to recognize our failure for what it is. That’s what happened to Herod and why Herodias became enraged at John because he dared to point to the mud on her sandals forcing Herod to face his own sins. Herod knew the law and that it was a sin to marry your sister in law, it was considered incest, and we won’t even get into the obviously unhealthy relationship he has with his stepdaughter Salome. All these things conspire to force John’s arrest For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. I feel just a little bit for old Herod because I can sympathize with him, we go to church on Sunday and hear a good sermon and get to feeling good and holy and we repent, Hallelujah Lord, Amen Brother. We get the fire of the holy spirit going and then we get home and there’s our cross waiting for us. Our Herodias spurring us on, telling us to kill the Baptist because he dares to point out our sins. There’s our Salome, beguiling us, tempting us, appealing to our baser nature, enflaming our desires and inviting us to make a rash decision. Together their siren song, seduces us away from God and that’s when we start letting our human nature take over, the same nature that got us kicked out of paradise in the first place. The sad thing is that we seek out those opportunities, “an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. Wow! Talk about beware what you ask for, beware what you promise. Sometimes all we see is the opportunity and we fail to comprehend the final cost. We are so focused on who we are, that we fail to envision what we will become if we pursue our live apart from God. John the Baptist understood these things. He like Jesus preached repentance, repentance for our sins. John said “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” [Matthew 3:2] John primed the people to hear the message and Jesus would continue that simple message that would eventually change our world. It was John who said “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. [Matthew 3:11] And it was John that understood the most important lesson about who he was…who I am? The most important lesson from this scripture is that Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” [John 3:30] Today I want you walk away with a few questions and a challenge. The questions…What do I do when the sins of envy, hatred, and jealousy are seeking to take control? How am I known? What does it mean to be known as a follower of Jesus Christ? How does repentance look in my daily faith journey? And are there blind spots that cause me to operate as if I were King Herod? Finally, I want you to pray about your identity and your reputation. What are you known for in our community, and how are you sustaining and growing your faith?