Lesson 1 – In Christ

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Lesson 1 – Ephesians 1: 1-14
Richly blessed in Christ Jesus

In Christ

Ephesians presents a single logical argument for who we are and should be as Christians; but it dispenses with the long preliminary case for God’s plan of redemption that takes up about half of Romans. Instead, it begins with the blessings that the believers at Ephesus had already received and experienced, blessings that we can relate to.

When counting our blessings, Christians often think of things that meet their physical and emotional needs and desires. They’ll list good health or a loving family.  At Thanksgiving we think of an abundance of food, comfortable homes and other forms of wealth.  Often we count peace, at least peace within our borders, and the success of our nation.  These things are certainly blessings and gifts from God, but they are not things that we’re promised in Christ.  They’re also not the types of things that appear on Biblical lists of blessings.

Several times during his ministry, Jesus encouraged his disciples to seek the greater gifts.  In I Corinthians 12, Paul lists the gifts of the spirit as wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues and interpretation of tongues.  He follows this up, of course, with the popular chapter 13, the love chapter.  In II Peter chapter 1, Peter lists the gifts given to those who have attained faith through grace and peace as virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, kindness, charity and fruitfulness.

In Ephesians we see some overlap with these other lists; but the unique feature of Ephesians is Paul emphasizes that each of these gifts is ours in Christ. In Corinthians, they’re presented as gifts.  Peter presents them as things to strive for.  In Ephesians it’s clear that we already have these things in Christ.  Outside of him, we don’t have them.

This phrase in Christ (or comparable phrases) is used throughout Ephesians.  In the first 14 verses, it’s used 11 times and continues to be used frequently throughout the book.  It is clearly one of the themes of this book and we see it repeated throughout the New Testament.  In Revelation, we are judged in Christ.  In the parable of the wedding feast, the man who didn’t put on the robe given to him by the king was thrown out of the feast.  Our adoption as sons is in Christ; and so forth, everywhere that we look.

Yet we know in our own experience that we go back and forth between being in Christ and being in the world.  Outside of Christ, we may be in ourselves, in our families, in our jobs, in the world.  We’re told to be in the world but not of the world. Clearly, we are to live for the Lord in the world, but we are not to put on the world.  We are to put off the old man and put on Christ; yet sometimes for a few hours, sometimes for long stretches, we put the old man back on.

Read verses 1 – 14. How many times is the word “in” used to refer directly or indirectly to being in Christ?

Now go back and reread the passage carefully, completing the table below as you do.  Notice that there is a blessing associated with each use of the word “in”.  Fill in the “in” phrase along with the blessing connected to it as you complete the table. (hint: you should find 10 blessings)

Verse         “in” phrase                                                               Blessing
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

etc.

 

 

 

 

Questions about Putin’s move in the Ukraine

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The game’s afoot, as they say; and Putin has proven himself to be an excellent strategist in the international chess match.  His recent stand in Syria, for example, prevented the Obama administration from carrying out their plans to aid the rebels. We don’t know what those plans actually were, but based on the rebels’ response, it seems that Obama had made significant promises before the gas attack, but was unable to keep them because of Putin’s move.

So now I’m left pondering what Putin’s real game is in the Ukraine.  Technically, this began with protests by pro western Ukrainians against Putin’s puppet government, but similar protests occur routinely in many places without even being noticed. Putin could have told Yanukovich to tough it out.  He could have told him to offer the demonstrators a token olive branch.  Instead he told him to wait until the Olympics were over and then flee to Moscow, triggering the current situation.  Why did he choose this option?

At this point, he has taken a substantial risk for a small reward.  Permanently reoccupying the Crimea would be a nice prize but hardly worth the costs of prolonged western economic sanctions, a war, even with out manned Ukraine, or a continuing guerrilla action in the Crimea.  Even worse, if he’s forced to withdraw without any tangible achievements, he’ll suffer a major political setback at home.

Therefore, this looks like only his opening move.  It’s unclear what his ultimate objective is.  Perhaps, he saw the tide turning against him in the Ukraine.  The west’s decision to highlight the protests in their reporting would indicate that the western powers thought the same, so maybe this is a preemptive move aimed at reestablishing the 1994 accord as the basis for power sharing in the Ukraine, rather than seeing the Russian position continue to erode.  The end game for that scenario would be establishing a new puppet government led by Putin’s hand picked successor to Yanukovich.  Along the way, he intends to demonstrate Russia’s renewed military capability, helping him solidify his popularity at home; and if he could keep the Crimea as part of the final deal, he would have a major success.

So far the west is responding as though they think this is the game.  They are scrambling to create a win – win scenario that would allow both sides to claim success.  A win for the west here would be approval of the proposed trade agreement, keeping Yatseniuk in power and, of course, return of the Crimea.  Right now they’re trying to come up with a counter move that would allow them to have at least 2 of those 3, while offering Putin enough to enable him to agree.

But what if Putin’s real goal is to reoccupy all of the Ukraine?  That would be a major coup for him, a terrible blow for the Ukrainians and would cost the west much of what was gained after the collapse of communism.  This goal is consistent with his 2008 move in Georgia.  Whether or not he ultimately pursues it, though, will depend on the west’s response to his opening move.  Let’s hope it’s a good one.

Angelic Singing in New York City

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This past Sunday, I did something I’ve wanted to do for years.  I took the trek into Manhattan to enjoy the evensong service at Saint Thomas Episcopal Church.  It was more than worth the wait, but should have been done a long time ago.

I was fortunate enough to arrive about twenty minutes early for the 4 PM service. The chapel was relatively empty, so I found a program and selected a seat in the fourth pew from the front.  Sitting so close was wonderful.  The voices of the mens’

Interior of St. Thomas

Interior of St. Thomas

and boys’ choir can be favorably compared to some of the best choirs of this type anywhere.  The choral pieces were truly majestic and went beyond my expectations.  By sitting so close, the glory of the music could be experienced.

The choir sang “Concerto in A minor” by Bach, “Magnificat octavi toni” by Sebastian de Vivanco and “Nunc dimittis in B flat” by Charles Wood as well as Anglican chants of Psalm 145 and Psalm 150.  Fr Spurlock gave a brief meditation from Isaiah 66: 7-14 an II Corinthians 5:11-21.  The congregation sang 2 hymns during the service and the recessional was complete by 5 PM.

When I got up to leave, I was surprised to find that the entire chapel had filled up behind me.  The music was so captivating and the audience was so reverent, that I had no idea anyone other than the handful of us up front, that were there when I arrived, were even present.

Overall, I’d recommend this to anyone as an uplifting way to spend your Sunday afternoon.

To get there, I drove to Secaucus to pick up the PATH. which was a mistake.  Next time I’ll take the train to the PATH.  As you probably know, the PATH lets you off at 33rd street.  From there, I took the F (orange) line up town to Radio City (50th street and 6th Ave).  That left me with a short walk to 53rd St. and 5th Ave, which is where you’ll find St. Thomas.

Have a great time if you go, and please post your comments here.  You can check out upcoming services at there site:

http://www.saintthomaschurch.org/music/

Lesson 1 – The Greeting

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Lesson 1 – Ephesians 1: 1-14
Richly blessed in Christ Jesus

The Greeting

There is a lot to know about the historical and political setting that faced the church at Ephesus when this epistle arrived, but if you’re like me, once you decide to study a book you just want to dig into the actual text; so we’ll put the historical, political, geographic and biblical settings on hold for a while and just start reading.

1. To whom is the book of Ephesians written?

The first thing to notice about this book is that Paul uses a unique greeting.

to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus (Eph 1:1)

Compare this to his other letters.

Roman’s (Romans 1 : 7) To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.

Corinthians: (I Cor. 1: 2, II Cor. 1:1) To the church of God in Corinth

Galatians: (Gal. 1: 2) To the Churches in Galatia

Philippians: (Phil. 1:1) To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons

Thessalonians: (1Thes. 1:1) To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (note – The Holy Spirit is not mentioned)

Only in his letter to the Colossians does he approach identifying an audience as targeted as the one at Ephesus.

Colossians 1:2 To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse

In Romans Paul gives his longest and most thorough presentation of New Testament theology but it is focused largely on new believers or those who have been called but are not yet committed. Books like Galatians and Corinthians tend to focus on specific issues. Philippians moves beyond the basics and presents how relationships between the believers should be developing and growing within the church.

By comparison, in Ephesians, Paul gives his most in depth presentation of Christian Theology. This is where he discusses predestination. Here he presents the mystery made known to me by revelation (3:3) . so that you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations (3:4 & 5). He does this to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God. (3:9).

Ephesians is written to people who were already well grounded in their faith and had progressed far in the journey to Christian maturity (saint, faithful, in Christ Jesus). Who were some of the people Paul wrote to? The apostle John for one.

Rembrandt's image of The Apostle John

Rembrandt’s image of The Apostle John

At this time John, the writer of the fourth gospel, was a deacon at Ephesus. Aquila and Priscilla, the couple mentioned in Acts for their work in building the church, were leaders of the Ephesian church. Apollos was also very involved in the leadership of this church, although he was probably in Corinth at the time this letter was received. In Acts 19 we’re told of 12 men from Ephesus who received the Holy Spirit from Paul. He’s likely thinking about them as he writes this, also.

Eventually, this book would be presented to the entire church and probably to other churches in the area, but it was to these exceptional leaders of the church that Paul addressed the depths of his understanding as he sat in prison in Rome awaiting his death.

Introduction to Ephesians

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Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

-Isaiah 40: 30 & 31

 How we remember when we first came to the Lord. There was such joy and excitement in our souls that truly we soared like eagles on the wind. Far above earth’s cares and toils, we felt God’s power lift us into heavenly realms. Being new in our relationship with Him, we ran to do everything, to learn more about him, to worship him, to share with fellow believers. As we matured in him, we learned to trust him for guidance and leadership and we slowed our sprint to a jog until , having seen his hand in action, we came to walk in faith.

Paul had seen far more of the Lord’s hand than we ever will. From being struck down on the road to Damascus to his discipleship in Tarsus and under the direction of Barnabas, to leading his own missionary team and finally being carried to Rome in chains, Paul had finished his course. Now all that remained was to stand fast in prison in Rome while he awaited his final judgment; so he adds the words of Ephesians 6: 13

And after you have done everything, to stand.

He was standing firm to the end; and his message to the church is run your race so that when your time comes, you too will stand firm.

Ephesians will be the first book that we look at.  As we’ll see, it may be Paul’s ultimate statement of the Christian life.  It was written to and for mature believers to whom much had been given and of whom much was expected.  Surely, it’s a wonderful yet challenging book for us today.

Son of God – the movie

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This coming Friday, 20th Century Pictures will release a movie about the life of Jesus Christ, entitled  Son of God.  That title says a lot more than most people will realize when they hear it.

The Bible teaches that God is a single entity, existing in three parts: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Throughout scripture we see God the Father as the creator, the builder, the provider, the decision maker, the one who establishes the laws.  He is all powerful and everyone in Heaven and on Earth is subject to his authority.  When we’re in danger, He protects us.  When we’re uncertain, He directs us.  When we call to him, He runs to us and picks us up in His arms.  Most people are well aware of the parallel between our Heavenly Father and our earthly father.

God the Holy Spirit is called the comforter.  The Holy Spirit comes along side us to encourage us.  When we’re sorrowing, we turn to the Holy Spirit with our grief.  When we’re broken, the Holy Spirit fixes us.  When we face challenges, the Holy Spirit gives us encouragement and the inner strength to face them.  Who do we know who’s like the Holy Spirit?  Our mothers, of course.  Your mother was the one who was always there from the time you got up in the morning until you said your prayers at bed time; and if you cried out in the night, it was your mother who was at your side before you finished crying.

Within this context, Jesus is called God the Son.  What can we say about children?  First and foremost, we love them.  A child can win over even the most hard hearted of people.  Children also bring hope with them.  No matter how bleak things may be, people everywhere have genuine hope that their children will do better.  People sacrifice great things because of the hope that they have for their children.

Children are also unifiers.  Just this week, I was reminded  of a family vacation that we took to Arkansas when my son was two.  While we were there, I saw a poster for a country music festival; so, thinking that it was open to the public, we decided to go.  Well, it was open to the public in the same sense that church picnics are open to the public.  When we arrived, the music was already playing and there were 200 to 300 people involved in a variety of activities and every one of them lived within 20 miles of the park where the event was being held.  Needless to say, we felt very awkward; and in the people around us, we could sense a range of reactions from “What are those yanks doing here?” to “I have no idea what to say to these people.”  We probably would have turned around and left except my son immediately began to thoroughly enjoy himself.  He clearly loved the blue grass music that was being played; and brought smiles and laughs from the people around us with his huge grin, fiery eyes and 2 year old efforts at clapping and dancing.  Eventually, a woman offered, “I think you’ve got a picker there” and that was all it took.  We had a delightful afternoon, that I still remember 20 some years later, and we had to tear ourselves away when it was time to go.

We all know that when a conversation is going no where, talk about the kids and you won’t be able to shut people up.  Children elicit truth.  You don’t lie to a child.  Children are a universal symbol of purity.  In so many ways, children exemplify the characteristics of Christ.

So what do we learn about Jesus from this that we didn’t already know?  We learn that we know Jesus because we know children.  We understand who Jesus is because we work so hard to understand our children.  We know our Heavenly Father because growing up our lives were consumed with knowing our earthly father.  We know the Holy Spirit because of a thousand moments that we shared with our earthly mothers.

God established the “traditional” family as part of His creation.  He had a purpose in doing so.  He gave us a vehicle for teaching us about himself.  When we have that feeling that we know God, we do because we grew up inside of him, as part of Him.

If you’re like most people, though, you’re thinking, “That wasn’t my family experience.”; and it’s true that most of us don’t fully enjoy all that God intended for us.  Jesus himself lost his father somewhere between his visit to Jerusalem at age 12 and the beginning of his ministry at age 30.  Living in a messed up world doesn’t change the magnificence of what God intended for us, though.  Nether does it change his desire to return us to it.

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