Monthly Archives: July 2014

Ephesians – We Are Blessed

Peninsula Community Church

Ephesians Finding Our Identity

We Are Blessed

July 20, 2013

Ephesians 1:3-10Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

This verse would cause the modern English teacher to gasp for breath. The reason is that while we read only verses 3-10, verses 3-14 are in fact in its original language it is one long sentence with no periods. The total verse contains 202 words. It was such a long sentence that many scholars considered this to be the most “monstrous sentence conglomeration” ever found in the Greek language. To resolve the readability of the passage, translators have placed periods at obvious breaks in the passage to achieve better readability. Why was this verse so long? It was that Paul was overwhelmed with the majesty of God and all that God has done for us as believers. It was as if Paul was so excited that he could not control his tongue in that moment.

With that said, we open this verse with a view to the blessings given to us by Almighty God. It is noteworthy to see that this particular passage opens with the idea of God the Father and God the Son are to be blessed. This idea of being blessed is a declaration of praise. Paul’s intent is to establish the fact that God is worthy of our praise and that He is the focus of not only this particular text but the entirety of the Book of Ephesians. Paul proclaims that God is to be blessed. The word used here in the Greek for blessed is the word “eulogeo.” Our english word “eulogy” is a derivative from this word. The word literally means “good word.” In other words, do you have a good word to say about God. This idea or concept of calling God blessed was nothing new to the New Testament era as the Jewish people of Paul’s day would offer blessing to God three times a day in their prayers. Through these prayers, they were honoring God for who He is and what He had accomplished on their behalf. This is in essence a call to speak well of God. We speak well of God in adversity, frustration, opposition, pain, struggle, and trial. And, we speak well of Him when we are feeling blessed and things are going well. And as we witness the works of God in our lives, we can certainly speak well of Him.

It is here that we are reminded of Psalm 103. The Psalmist proclaims: Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Why should He be blessed? Paul suggests that it is because “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” has done amazing things for us. He has blessed us with amazing spiritual blessings. Notice that the blessing are in heavenly places. This means that many of God’s blessings for us are intangible because they are spiritual blessings. While we might be able to feel them we cannot touch them. It should also be noted that these blessings were given to us. You see before creation and before we were known here on earth these blessings were already provided for us. God considered us and our well being before even the worlds were created. It is at this point that we must note that the blessing that was given was not determined by the one receiving the blessing but by the one giving the blessing. God has predetermined that He will bless those who receive Him. 

The next part of these verses lay out the spiritual blessings we have received.  The first of these blessings is that we have been chosen by God to live holy and blameless before Him. Note that we have been chosen. The one great God of all creation and the sustainer of life has chosen us. How amazing is that? In spite of God knowing every wrong that we have done and our insatiable desire and capacity to commit sin, He still chose us. The second blessing is that we have been predestined by God to be His children.

These two terms bring us to one of the great doctrinal debates in history. In this study, we could go into the depths of this debate but for our purposes this morning I will simply highlight a couple of thoughts about being chosen and the term predestination. For some the terms chosen and predestined means that before the foundation of the world, God predetermined who would be saved and who would not be saved. This has been termed as election or pre-determinism. On the other side of the equation there are who would say that this is not the case at all. It was solely man’s decision to choose God and through this rational process man is saved. The variance within these two theological ideas lies with one’s understanding of the sovereignty of God and man’s free choice. 

The extreme Calvinist would say that God is totally in control and man does not have a choice in the decisions they make. They would propose that we have free will but God is still directing the choices that we make to the degree that in reality we do not make our own decisions and therefore our decisions are really God’s will and God’s choices. God directs every step we make and there is not much we can do about this. This concept breaks down when we begin to deal with the issue of sin and wrong choices. Because to say that God ultimately chooses for us and that God determines our decisions can then be extrapolated to mean that God would in fact cause us to commit sin. But God does not sin nor does He cause others to sin. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire (James 1:13-14).

On the other hand, the extreme Arminian view would tell you that every choice we make is our own and that God has no bearing on own decision other than to speak to us and direct us toward Him. This problem here is that often God is taken out of the equation and He is relegated to a being that is not engaged in the life of man which in fact is a form of Deism. Deism is the belief that God created everything and then flung it into existence and stepped back with a hands off position in response to His creation. The difficulty here is that when man is responsible for every decision he makes, this can lead to confusion, pride, and a debate over whose way is correct. When this happens in the church we have competing visions and competing directions with each person doing what is right in their own eyes. What is amazing is that those holding to these ideas would say that they are following the leading of God. 

The fact is I believe that Biblical truth falls somewhere in between. Let me say this as clearly as I can. The Bible teaches that God is sovereign. God creates, sustains, and controls all things. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Colossians 1:16-17). The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all (Psalm 103:19). He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3). God is not a passive observer, He sustains, and He upholds what His creation. 

And yet, while God is sovereign, at the same time we have been created with free will or free choice. The plan is that God would give us His word and His example to guide our decisions. It is for that reason we have such scriptures as “trust in the Lord with all your heart and he shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). And Joshua admonished those who listened to him to choose who they would serve (Joshua 24). Notice he stated that if they were to choose God that would be great but if it would Baal then they were to worship Baal wholeheartedly. His point was that they needed to just make a decision and stick with the decision.

In the New Testament, we find the sovereignty of God and man’s choice converge together in a partnership. God is Sovereign and yet at the same time God has deposited in us and has created us with free choice and free moral agency. While God chooses us and ordains many things in our lives, we can counter God’s will through disobedience, a rejection of God’s word, and a willful neglect of God’s purpose or call on our lives. God intervenes in a way that He directs our steps as noted by Proverbs 16:9. The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. This is the junction of sovereignty and choice. Man plans, God directs. And yet we can rebel against God and do our own thing. We find this throughout the Old Testament when God proclaims that Israel had rejected God. Over and over we see the cry of the prophets for Israel to return to their rightful place as the Bride of Christ. He in fact suggests that their rebellion could be compared to a wife that leaves her husband for another man. 

So what does this mean for us today. We must recognize God’s sovereignty as the sustainer and guide of our life. We do not see him as a passive God, He is active in our lives and in creation. While He is sovereign, God will never force His way into our lives. We must invite and allow Him in. We must be obedient to His word and His ways. In this way we develop a partnership which lasts forever.

Copyright © All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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Book of Ephesians – Finding Our Indentity

Peninsula Community Church

Book of Ephesians: Finding Our Identity

July 13, 2014

Ephesians 1:1-2 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, to the saints that are at Ephesus, and the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

This morning we begin a new and exciting study. Over the next several weeks, and perhaps for a couple of months, we will take a journey through the book of Ephesians. This is a great study for the church and it is a great study for individuals as well. The theme for this study is “Finding our identity” as individuals and as a church. The Book is divided into two primary parts. The first part, Ephesians 1-3, focuses it readers on the doctrinal aspect of our relationship with God and Christ. The second part, Ephesians 4-6, focuses on the duties and ethics of living this Christian life out in way that honors God, encourages the church, and expands the kingdom. To put this another way. The first section tells us what we are do, while the second section tells us how we are to live it out. Paul intimately understands that we do not just need to hear about the benefits which are ours in Christ but we also need to understand how we live this out in both practical and spiritual ways. Through the letter to the Ephesians, he accomplishes this. 

For today, let’s focus our attention on the first two verses of this letter. The letter to the church of Ephesus begins with an introduction of the author, an acknowledgment of who was to receive the letter, and a salutation. In this verse we find that Paul is the author. To most this may not seem to be very important but when we remember the story of Paul life, we are reminded of the miraculous conversion experience Paul had (Acts 9). To refresh our memory, Paul who was once known as Saul, was a tormentor of the church (Acts 8:1-3). He hated the church and he hated what the church stood for. It was Paul, if you remember, that stood at the feet of Stephen when he was stoned to death (Acts 7:53). But through his conversion experience, Paul was changed and empowered with the Gospel. This gives us hope today because it speaks to us that no matter what we have done in the past we can be covered by the blood and the power of forgiveness exerted upon the cross. If Paul can become a pillar of the church and an effective force for Godly good, then we all have that opportunity. No one is beyond the touch of God’s amazing grace. 

Paul also identifies himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God. There are a couple of things that stand out here. First, we find that Paul is an apostle. In our modern culture, the idea of an apostle has been distorted or diverted from its original intent. In the days of Paul, the idea of an apostle was that of an envoy or emissary sent on a mission. In classical Greek, the term most often referred to a ship that was sent out for cargo or on a military expedition. In classical Greek, the word rarely referred to an individual person. But as Christians adapted this term, they began to use it for those called of God for a specific purpose or calling. Therefore, it carries the idea of one being sent on a special mission. We find here that it is not only the idea of the sending of a messenger but also the authorization of the messenger’s task. Paul wants to let the church that he is an official delegate possessed by Christ for the purpose of propagating His message. Paul purports that he is not only owned by Christ but he is a fully authorized ambassador sent out by Christ. In essence, Paul is giving the church his credentials. It is his resume of sorts. 

It is amazing when people understand that you have been given the credentials to accomplish a task. As you may know, I was asked to be the chaplain for Sussex County Emergency Medical Services. Once I accepted that role I noticed something different occurring. Prior to accepting that volunteer position, I would wear my street clothes when I would do a ride-a-long. I had little or no interaction with the people I encountered. But, immediately after becoming the chaplain, I was given a uniform that I wear when I am riding. I have watched an immediate difference in how people accept me and interact with me. I am received much better when I am identified as having authority and that I am a representative of SCEMS. This was the point and reasoning that Paul was giving. By his credentials, he was asking to be received and accepted.

How did Paul receive this commission? It was by way of the will of God. God called and placed Paul in this position. Notice that there is no self-elevation or self-promotion in this. There is no presumptuous human ambition displayed here. It is simply an acknowledgment that his calling comes from God. It was God’s will that he be in the place that he was in. He did not necessarily choose this but it had been thrust on him. Though thrusted upon him, he willingly accepted the call to be an ambassador for Christ.

Secondly, Paul identifies those to whom he is addressing this letter. He states that he is writing to the church at Ephesus. The city of Ephesus was a major city of commerce, religion, and political power. In terms of commerce it provided access to the harbors of the Mediterranean Sea as well as roadways that allowed the easy transport of goods and people. In terms of political power, Ephesus was established as one of the provincial capitals of Asia Minor. Religiously, Ephesus was effected by emperor worship and the worship of Artemis. Paul by direction of the Holy Spirit chose this city as a point of ministry as it was both influential and had the capacity to spread the Gospel by way of the multiple visitors and guests that entered the city.

After announcing his credentials, Paul now describes the church for us. He uses two adjectives to describe the church. First, they are described as saints and secondly they are described as faithful. These defining words are important. The first is the word “saints.” This is a common word in the writings of Paul. It is noteworthy that Paul uses the term saints to identify the recipient of the letter even when the church he is writing to has issues and problems. For example, we see this introduction used with the church of Corinth in both of Paul’s letters to them. The actions seen in the Corinthian church were not worthy of the title saint. They were not inherently holy in themselves, but they had been given the position of saint as a result of the work of Christ in them. As a believer in Christ, we are empowered to approach God only because we have obtained a righteous standing or position on the basis of Christ’s work by faith. In other words, we stand as saints not because we are perfect but because we are called of God as saints. As a believer, you are a saint today. Your position as a saint is not based on who you are as much as who He is and how He sees you.

The second word Paul uses here is the word “faithful.” Paul in fact was stating that even in the difficulties faced, they were still faithful. The idea communicated here is not so much that they had been completely faithful but they were trusting in God and in Christ’s work to guide them. Paul once again was looking at them as God saw them and not how they were living things out in their present setting.

Thirdly, Paul greets the church of Ephesus. Here he defines what God has done on behalf of the church at Ephesus. He uses two words that are often used in the Pauline epistles. The first word used is the word “grace.” Throughout the Bible the word grace is interpreted as the unmerited or undeserved favor of God given to mankind by way of providing salvation to sinners through Christ’s sacrificial death and empowerment of the believer. Not only do we receive salvation by grace but all of our gifts and abilities are a work of grace as well. In this one simple word, grace, the whole message of salvation is contained. By grace we are saved. We did not deserve it and we were powerless to achieve it without an influence greater than us. The focus of this grace is you. Imagine that you are the benefactor of grace. We have grace today. We live in grace. The wording here implies that Paul desires that the Ephesians would appreciate, accept, and appropriate God’s undeserved favor in their life. That is the call for us today. We must be in the position to appreciate God’s grace and all that means to us. We must accept His grace. And, we must appropriate all that grace has to offer us. We must make God’s grace our own.

The second word used here is the word “peace.” While grace expresses the cause of God’s work, peace shows us the effects of God’s work. “The grace of God that brings salvation to sinners effects peace between man and God, and that same grace enables believers to live peaceably with one another.” You see the work of grace effects our relationship with God and it effects our relationship with one another. How do we live out this life? We do so by grace that brings peace.

Finally, there is one last item to look at in this verse. Paul notes that this grace and peace comes from God the father. But notice that He is not just a father, He is our father. This denotes personal relationship with God and with His son. And if we are God’s children then, in the church we are brothers and sisters. We are living live together because we are born into a fresh and new kingdom of sons and daughters. We are a part of the family of God. 

So what do we learn from this today?

  1. We are called of God to be ambassadors or apostles.
  2. We all have a testimony of God’s grace in us.
  3. God looks at us as faithful saints, even with all of our faults, blemishes, and failures.
  4. Through the appreciation, acceptance, and appropriation of God’s grace we find true peace.
  5. We are children of God which means God is our father and Christ is our brother.

 

 

Copyright © 2014 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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Stewardship of Freedom

Peninsula Community Church
Stewardship of Our Freedom
July 6, 2014

Galatians 5:1-15 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery… (verse 6) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

This weekend as Americans we have been celebrating our nation’s independence. When we center our thoughts on our nation’s independence, we are reminded that a group of rag tag militia, on a mission, won this nation’s independence. They did so by battling a well organized, well funded, and well trained military. As we review the facts of history, we will find that the events that molded and shaped our nation in its inception were not accidental or mere acts of fate. It is my belief, these events were in fact evidence of the hand of God moving and directing those outcomes not so much to build a Christian nation but to build a people whose focus was God and His ways.

Regardless of what what modern society will tell you, this nation was built on a Judeo-Christian foundation. This does not mean that all were Christians, but rather that they lived their lives modeled on Biblical truth. Most worshipped God and celebrated His grace over their life and their efforts. They gave Him thanks and honored Him for what He had done. Listen to the words of just one of the signers of the constitution, Gouvernuer Morris. There must be religion. When that ligament is torn, society is disjointed and its members perish… [T]he most important of all lessons is the denunciation of ruin to every state that rejects the precepts of religion. Your good morals in the army give me sincere pleasure as it hath long been my fixed opinion that virtue and religion are the great sources of human happiness. More especially is it necessary in your profession firmly to rely upon the God of Battles for His guardianship and protection in the dreadful hour of trial. But of all these things you will and I hope in the merciful Lord.

But the freedom achieved for our nation did not come easy, it was bought by the blood of our forefathers who had a passion for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness apart from the constraints of a dictator/king or a government that imposed its will on its people at will. They fought hard to bring us freedom, and so, on July 4th, each year, we celebrate the freedom achieved by those who were passionate about the success of their new venture. It is of note that 50,000 people were either killed or severely wounded to provide our freedom as a nation. It is also of note that many suffered from a loss of their homes, their wealth, their family, and more. And yet they fought hard. They fought with vision and they fought for a purpose that was greater than themselves.

We are also reminded today that another freedom has been achieved for us. The God of Mercy sent His Son to fight for us. He came to fight an organized enemy bent on destroying mankind and the Kingdom of God. In this fight, He took on all sin. He took my sin and He took your sin upon himself. His goal was to give us spiritual freedom which came to us by mercy through grace by faith.

So how do we steward our freedom? To understand the stewardship of our freedom, we must first understand what freedom is and what it is not. Let me be clear and to the point here. True freedom is not experienced in one’s ability to do anything they want but true freedom comes as one submits to God and to His ways of living life. Let me illustrate this in a couple of ways. The first illustration is this. A train is free only so long as it stays on its tracks; a train that jumps the tracks is “free” of the rails but no longer free in the most important sense of the word. It’s a freed wreck that can’t go anywhere. “Free,” but no longer truly free.

A second illustration comes from the theologian, John Howard Yoder who wrote “True freedom is found not in insisting on one’s own rights, but in freely giving them up by being a servant to Jesus Christ first and the people of God second.”

Societal leaders will tell you that true freedom comes as we cast off all restraints, morals and absolutes. That is why there is a pervasive sexual overtone in our nation today. We find it in our commercials. We see in on our TV shows. We find it in the billboards around town. We find that drugs are now pervasive in our culture. We are witnessing a move toward the total legalization of all drugs. I am not sure if it is true, but I just read that Colorado is now investigating the idea of making Heroine legal. Society today says you are free to marry whomever you will and then divorce them at will. Leaders of society tell us do whatever you want. They purport that as freedom. True freedom in the mind of a secular society, and I should say a godless society is the casting off of all restraints.

The writer of Proverbs deals with this when he penned these words. Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law. (Proverbs 29:18). For years, I interpreted this that the church needed to have a prophetic vision of where it is going and what it is about, but as I was preparing this study for this morning, I realized that this passage offers us much more than this. When people do not have a vision for God’s ways or for His righteousness, they cast off restraint. They cast off “rules.” They cast off “boundaries.” Their focus is on designing a hedonistic culture without restraint, boundaries, or rules. But, when we throw off restraint, there are consequences.

Secondly, to steward our freedom, we must understand that we are free. Too often, even in freedom, we live as if we are still in bondage. In our passage today, Paul makes this declaration. “For freedom Christ has set us free.” This text gives us a clear and refreshing statement of Christ’s will for our lives. He wants us to live as free men. Where you go to school, where you work, and where you live is not as critical as understanding that we can and must stand fast in our freedom. When we walk in real freedom; while our job, our school, and our housing is critical; a positive understanding of freedom will change us and help us to achieve greater things.

As believers, we are liberated from sin and the power of sin. This happens to us in three ways. First, the work on the cross has been accomplished. We are free. But there is a “yet to come” aspect to our freedom. One day we will reach ultimate freedom when either Christ comes to redeem the world or we pass from this life to the next. But there is also this “in between” place. It is where we live life out every day. We look back and realize that we have been set free, but complete freedom will not be fully and totally witnessed until we are released from this world captivated by sin and immorality. This does not mean that we sin but that we need to walk circumspectly as those who are wise to recognize that we have a devourer that would love nothing more than to rob us of our freedom. And his task is easy at times because we live in this mortal body and in a culture that is motivated by the carnal nature.

Third, we must not confuse liberty with keeping the law. Freedom is a work of grace for us. Please do not misunderstand me, the law is important, but when we relegate our Christian experience to simply keeping the law, we misunderstand the purpose of the law. The fact is this can be a confusing part of Scripture. Jesus said that He did not come to destroy the law and yet we find that there are several times that Paul suggests that the law is inherently evil. But to understand this we must understand what the law is. The law instituted by Moses was two-fold. There was the ceremonial law and there was the moral law. The ceremonial law was in essence an illustrative view to how we worship and in essence how we reach God. The ceremonial law was in place to point to Christ while the moral law never changed. In fact, as we have mentioned before, Christ summed up the moral in two phrases. “Love God,” “Love people.”

The Galatians believed in error that they were morally and spiritually superior to everyone else because they continued to practice circumcision. The problem was that they often emphasized the act of circumcision over the act of salvation. Rather than Christ being the focus, the act of circumcision was the focus. You see the act of circumcision had no power for salvation or change, it was simply an outward sign of the promise of God.

Fourth, we must never take our freedom for granted or cheapen our freedom by falling back into destructive patterns and behaviors. We must never take our freedom for granted. In America many of our freedoms have been lost because we thought this would never happen in America. After all we are a free country. But, we must maintain our freedom as Americans and we must maintain our freedom as believers. We continue to push for continued freedom. In the last couple of weeks we have seen some glimmer of hope that all is not lost in our nation. We have seen the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court Ruling that was in favor of religious liberty. Here, locally, the Delaware Senate chose to table a bill that would have changed the face of end of life decisions here in Delaware. Because of the action taken by people like you the message is getting out there. But we must not take these decisions and think we have won the war. There are still forces at play.

We must also never take our spiritual freedom for granted, either. In our passage, Paul asks this question that brings it all into focus. You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? Paul also reminds the Galatians that they must refuse to use their freedom as a license to sin or do wrong. He refers to this action as giving an opportunity to the flesh. We do this by feeding the flesh rather than the spirit. We allow unchecked thoughts into our minds that can form strongholds and put blinders on our life. Peter added this commentary. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover- up for evil, but living as servants of God (1 Peter 2:16).

The writer of Hebrews brings this home for us when he stated Therefore let us also, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

We must guard our actions, our thoughts and those things that come against us so that we do not fall into the falls of sin and thus into slavery and bondage.

Go to http://www.pccministry.org for an audio version of this message.

Copyright © 2014 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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