Lenten Reflection 4: One New People

February 19

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Read: Ephesians 2:11-22 (click here to listen to yesterday’s sermon)

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 

19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

 

Why does Paul continue to remind believers of what they were?

The cross of Jesus breaks down the “dividing wall of hostility” and yet the church, generally, is one of the most segregated communities around the world. Why do you think that is? What can individual churches do to change that? What can we at Salem do to change that?

How does (should?) our reconciliation with God help us to live reconciled lives with each other?

Pastor Rick suggested four ways we can, personally, move toward being people and a church who value the diversity of the body of Christ. They were:

  • Pray for and with one another
  • Spend time with one another (one-on-one, small groups)
    • Listen to one another
    • Learn about and from one another
    • Love one another
  • Invite others to join us
  • Seek God with all your heart (because we need the Holy Spirit’s guidance to do all this well!)

What are ways you can put those things into practice? What invitation do you sense from God or to which of them are you especially drawn?

Lenten Reflections 3

Read: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

In 2003, I (Pastor Rick), was in Kirkuk, Iraq as part of a delegation looking at ways to help Iraqis rebuild after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. I was sitting at a table with a number of local leaders – Kurds, Turkmen, Armenians, and Arabs – some Christian, but most Muslim. I was there with two Jordanian Christians representing our group.

My role was to support the proposals we were making. After a week of interviews and research, we had several proposals to make. My colleague, Nabil, began the meeting and I expected him to explain our ideas. Instead he turned to me and said (in Arabic), “This is Brother Rick. He is going to explain our proposal to you.” They all looked at me skeptically. Who was this American? What does he know? They must have seen the look of panic in my eyes – this was not the plan! I wasn’t supposed to talk!

I took a deep breath, prayed a silent prayer, and began to speak (in Arabic), explaining how we wanted to help rebuild Kirkuk and help bring reconciliation between the different groups present. We wanted to be a catalyst for change and for peace. We wanted to help bring unity.

The expression of skepticism gave way to shock (he speaks Arabic?!?) and then interest and gratitude (they want to help?!?). The meeting went on and there was good and frank discussion. In the end our group was able to assist in rebuilding schools and supplying teachers. We were able to proclaim the love of Jesus – first in our actions and later in our words. Thankfully, the Iraqis were able to look beyond my skin color and ethnic background and hear my heart and message. Thankfully our team was able to love them in concrete and meaningful ways. In the end, it was a long path, but it led to peace and blessing.

What does Paul mean that he no longer regards people “according to the flesh”? What would be the alternative? If you don’t regard people according to the flesh, how should you regard them? Have you ever had an experience or witnessed one where people were able to look beyond the surface or the flesh to see Christ in you?

How are we new creations? What is the reconciliation we have in Christ? How did Jesus accomplish our reconciliation?

Is the reconciliation we have only between us and God? What else could it be?

How are we supposed to be ambassadors of Christ? What does that mean?

In verses 20, Paul sees an urgency in the mission God has given us. Why do you think he feels that way? Why don’t we feel that same sense of urgency?

To whom might God be sending you as an ambassador?

Verse 21 summarizes the truth of the gospel. How would you explain it in your own words?

Lenten Reflections 2

Read: John 17:20-23; Galatians 3:28; and Colossians 3:11

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me (John 17:20-23).

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all (Colossians 3:11).

Scot McKnight writes in his book, A Fellowship of Differents, about the cultural hierarchy in the Roman world that provides the backdrop for the New Testament. “In the workshops, in the Roman agora, in the belly of ships, and in the villas of citizens there were clear societal distinctions. Romans were obsessed with status, and their clothing reflected their status – marked for some with thin or think purple stripes. Citizens were not slaves, and slaves were not citizens (whose rights were protected)…Hierarchy, status, reputation, and connections were the empire. The church, though, was not the empire!” In the church, there was to be “a wild revolution of equality”!

Jesus agreed with Paul. On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed for his disciples and he prayed for us who would believe in the generations after them. In John 17:20-23, we see part of his prayer. It is a prayer for unity. It is a prayer that followers of Jesus would be one in the same way the Father and Son are one. Christ in us and the Father in Christ so we may be “perfectly one”. Jesus said the result of this unity would be that the world would “know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

Do you think the church today lives out this unity? Why do you think that? What could we do better/differently? What could you do?

What do you believe is the impact of the church’s unity (or lack of unity) on its witness? Could the lack of power we have in our witness to the world be a result of being divisive, un-unified, and out-of-step with Jesus’ prayer?

Both Galatians 3:28 and Colossians 3:11 invite us to think differently about some of the things that divide us. Many of the differences we have as people cannot be changed – gender and ethnicity for example. Believers in Jesus are a diverse bunch. McKnight asks, “Are we willing to embrace the diversity of the church as the very thing God most wants (emphasis his)?” What do you think would need to change for us to live this out? Is there anything that would need to change in you?

Lenten Reflections 1

Read: Ephesians 2:1-10

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

The purpose of Lent is to reflect, repent and pray as a way to prepare our hearts for celebrating the Resurrection. Our passage from last week’s message captures the heart of God’s work for us in Christ. It identifies what we were; what God did; and what we do now.

In verses 1-3, what was our condition before we came to faith in Jesus? Whose power were we under?

Verse 3 tells us we “were by nature children of wrath.” What did God do (see verses 4-5) that changed that? Why did he do that?

Paul mentions “grace” three times in verses 5-8. What is grace? How has God been gracious to us?

Verses 8-9 explain the process through which we were saved. How would you explain that in your own words?

If our actions (works) cannot save us, what role do good works play in our lives (verse 10)?

What might God be prompting you to do in light of this passage? Who can you share the message with? Who can you serve? Pray for these people and for opportunities to follow through!

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Lenten Reflections

Beginning February 12th and running until April 6th, we will post devotions intended to help us as a community reflect on the lessons of Ephesians and the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. They will combine Scripture and study questions; stories and reflection questions. Our prayer is that they will encourage us to consider the incredible love God showed us in sending his Son to die and his incomparable power that raised him from the dead.

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Merry Christmas!

Join us Dec. 24 at 5:00 PM for Christmas Eve worship!

There will be two worship services on Christmas Eve, this coming Sunday, December 24th. In addition to our regular Sunday morning worship at 10:30 a.m., there will be a traditional Christmas Eve service at 5:30 p.m.

Nursery care for children up to two years of age will be provided.

Welcoming Pastor Rick Schupp

We are excited to welcome Rick Schupp as our new senior pastor this November. With 25 years of pastoral experience in both the United States and internationally, he is ready to start this new season of life with Salem. His wife, Angela, and he are moving up from Knoxville, Tennessee to join our church family. Rick has a passionate and genuine love for Christ, along with a deep desire to see others changed by Jesus’ love. We are so glad to have him join our team!

We will have an official installation service on Sunday, December 10th! We invite all our friends and neighbors to this celebration at 10:30 am with lunch following.