Category Archives: Ephesians

Political Fervor & Christian Apathy

This is a timely repost from about 5 years ago when MainStreet was just getting launched. It was during another local election season where people were passionately campaigning for and against a school referendum. You can sense my urgency and deep burden for this community.  Regardless how we vote on November 8, may we vote Jesus leader of our lives each day and make his Kingdom our primary obsession. Enjoy! -JB

We’re moving closer and closer to another general election season. As I write this, our community is in heated debate over the school referendum vote only a couple days away. I’m amazed to see the passion people have toward both national and local political parties and their agendas.

The local paper is glad to fill their pages with impassioned letters to the editor, urging citizens to make their vote count, and stand up for what’s best for our community and schools. There are signs in every yard as I drive through town. People are glad to go door to door, leaving a pamphlets and doorknob hangers. Thousands of dollars are spent on mass mailings.  Websites are created to champion their agenda, and chain emails are spread widely. Rhetorically savvy YouTube videos are circulated to rally support.

The bottom line is this: people care and are committed to championing their cause — especially when their kids’ education and/or property taxes are at stake!

I’m grateful to live in a democracy. I encourage people to exercise their civic right and go vote. But as a Christian trying to “seek first the Kingdom” and a church planting pastor trying to rally a community around a far greater cause than a school levy, I keep asking myself the question:  Continue reading Political Fervor & Christian Apathy

EPHESIANS 11: A Truth Too Rich to Swallow

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ephesians“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved….” (Eph. 2:4-5). 

I have trouble finishing an entire piece of french silk or pecan pie. Not because I don’t like it enough. Strangely, its because its too rich in flavor to handle, too good to take in fully. If I ever finish an entire piece, its after a long time and with many sips of milk in between bites. Can you relate?

The verses above are a lot like that — almost too good to stomach, too rich to fathom! We must take it in small bites and wash it down slowly with much contemplation. In the previous passage Dr. Paul has given us the terminal diagnosis of the human condition and we were left feeling hopeless in the waiting room. Then we are hit with the biggest BUT in all of Scripture.

“You were dead in the trespasses and sins…BUT GOD!”

The 2-words “But God” change everything. I was mentoring a college student a few years ago, and he came back from a Christian conference where a well-known preacher gave a message on those two words that rocked this student’s world. Years later he’s still telling everyone about the significance of living a “But God” life. :)  Think about how every faith testimony you’ve ever heard and they all have a “But God” moment in it.

Continue reading EPHESIANS 11: A Truth Too Rich to Swallow

EPHESIANS 16: Biker Gangs at the Cross (2:14-18)

This morning’s news headline reads:

9 DEAD, 270 CHARGED IN TEXAS BIKER BRAWL

WACO, Tex. — In the denim-and-leather world of Texas motorcycle gangs, the Bandidos and the Cossacks are warring tribes in an unforgiving landscape. Both originated in Texas in the 1960s. But the Bandidos were first, in 1966, with the Cossacks forming in 1969….The feud formed the backdrop of the shootout here on Sunday afternoon, when a gathering intended to discuss bikers’ rights and how to work on issues of mutual concern erupted into gunfire that left nine bikers dead and 18 others wounded.

On Monday, about 170 bikers were charged with engaging in organized crime linked to capital murder….The shootout provided a glimpse of the sometimes competing agendas — power and influence, a desire to avoid public confrontations and a code of never backing down in a fight — that turned the meeting of hundreds of bikers into a blood bath.

You would think the human race would eventually grow up and get beyond the toddler-like “I had it first” macho-macho turf war mentality. Sadly, many bearded men still act like little tikes fighting over toys in the sandbox — the sandboxes have just gotten bigger and they’ve traded plastic shovels for firearms and switchblades.

But such stories are good reminders of just how stubborn, prideful and destructive our grudges and divisions can be. We need this level of hostility in view when we read Paul’s bold declaration today in Ephesians 2:14-18:

Jesus has made things up between us so that we’re now together on this, both non-Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders. He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance. He repealed the law code that had become so clogged with fine print and footnotes that it hindered more than it helped. Then he started over. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody. Christ brought us together through his death on the cross. The Cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility. Christ came and preached peace to you outsiders and peace to us insiders. He treated us as equals, and so made us equals. Through him we both share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father” (2:14-18 The Message).

The cross has a way of disarming our misdirected animosity and unmasking the evil in our own mirrors. Jesus came to show Jew and non-Jew alike that the other gang was not their true enemy. Rather the sin in every human heart was the real enemy to be defeated. As its been rightly said, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross” and “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” Imagine Jesus coming to Waco on a Harley on the day of this brawl, and just before the first punch was thrown he stepped in between the gangs, pulled out a notepad and said: Continue reading EPHESIANS 16: Biker Gangs at the Cross (2:14-18)

EPHESIANS 15: In On Everything (2:11-13)

computer-geek“But don’t take any of this for granted. It was only yesterday that you outsiders to God’s ways had no idea of any of this, didn’t know the first thing about the way God works, hadn’t the faintest idea of Christ. You knew nothing of that rich history of God’s covenants and promises in Israel, hadn’t a clue about what God was doing in the world at large. Now because of Christ—dying that death, shedding that blood—you who were once out of it altogether are in on everything.” (The Message)

In college, my freshman dorm floor was filled with Computer Science majors. This was great because whenever I had a computer problem, I had about 6 geeks at my disposal for instant help. I’m sure they got tired of helping all of us clueless non-techy outsiders without the faintest idea of how computers work.

These computer geeks were like their own society, with their own special languages, and access to special portals to different realms of which I knew nothing. They even had different sects with their own rich history tracing their lineage back to revered founding gurus. The one sect worshiped at the altar of Steve Jobs and the other Bill Gates. These tribes are called the Macs and the PCs.

But I was an outsider. I didn’t know their languages. I didn’t appreciate their history. I didn’t understand their excitement about the power and potential that computers held.  Continue reading EPHESIANS 15: In On Everything (2:11-13)

EPHESIANS 14: God’s Masterpiece (2:10)

Michaelangelo's David
Michaelangelo’s David

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Eph. 2:10).

If I were called to the hospital bedside of a person who just attempted but failed to take their own life, I think I would bring this verse.

If I were asked to give a graduation convocation at a Christian college and send forth a group of young leaders into the big scary world, I might send them out armed with this verse.

If I were addressing a guild of artists, or writers, or innovative entrepreneurs I might inspire them with this verse.

If I were speaking at the nursing home chapel to elderly folks who believe their life is now behind them, I might remind them of this verse.

Packed into this one explosive verse are some of the most vital things we need to get on in this world. I can list at least 4 that all conveniently start with P. Continue reading EPHESIANS 14: God’s Masterpiece (2:10)

EPHESIANS 13: No Such Thing as a Free Lunch?

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Eph. 2:8-9).

Church planting has taught me many faith lessons. One unexpected (yet delicious) lesson I have learned is how to accept a free lunch. Church planting meant two things. First, it was all about networking and that meant I was constantly having coffee or lunch with people sharing the vision, asking support and seeking partnerships. Second, when we started I had left my other job and was unemployed, and so I couldn’t really afford all these lunch and coffee meetings. Fortunately, most of the people I was meeting with understood my predicament and everyone was always picking up the bill.

In the past I had refused, insisted I pay or at least for my own. Or I’d say, “I’ll get it next time.” Yet, after a few years of planting and many more meals I have finally learned to just say, “Thank you for the meal.” This seemingly trivial story actually gets to the core of the gospel and one of the most important lessons every Christian must learn. Continue reading EPHESIANS 13: No Such Thing as a Free Lunch?

EPHESIANS 12: Solidarity with Christ is Everything (2:5-7)

“But God…made us alive with Christ….and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:5-7).

Ephesians can be broken into two parts where the first 3 chapters are basically about what God has done for us in Christ, and the last three chapters (4-6) are about what we are to do in response.  We are in the middle of a rich, lyrical celebration of the benefits of salvation found in verses 4-10.

In today’s reading we find 3 amazing verbs that Paul has coined pointing to 3 things God has done for Christ: made him alive, raised him up and seated him on his heavenly throne. This refers to Christ’s resurrection (“made alive”), his ascension (“raised up”) and enthronement/exaltation (“seated in heavenly realms”).

But Paul adds the Greek prefix syn (meaning “with”) to each of these verbs, thus linking us with these significant events in Christ’s life.  Thus, we read that God has “made us alive with Christ,” “raised us up with him” and “seated us with him in the heavenly realms.”

Here’s a point often missed in Christian teaching today: Our destiny is not to use Christ to help us reach our full potential; the Christian life is about losing ourselves and slowly being conformed to the image of Jesus. As one ancient writer put it: “God became a man that man might become like God.” The goal of Christian faith is not to be rescued from our sins by Christ so we can get on with our own lives with some newfound freedom. The goal is experiencing a profound solidarity with Christ, finding our life from this day forward inextricably bound up with his life.

So, we read:

“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).

Are we starting to believe our lives are mainly about us? Have we drank so deeply from the barrel of American individualism that we actually believe that God wrote and sanctioned the preamble of our constitution? Now I certainly hold many truths to be self-evident and among them are that all men are created equal, and they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. The Apostle Paul would agree so far, too…but that’s when he would get off the Enlightenment thought train.

Continue reading EPHESIANS 12: Solidarity with Christ is Everything (2:5-7)

EPHESIANS 10: A Terminal Diagnosis

ephesians“Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else” (Eph. 2:1-3).

“Well, I’m afraid I have some bad news.” Never words we want to hear from a doctor — especially an oncologist looking over our latest test results. “I’m afraid its terminal,” is even worse.

The Apostle Paul is a trained spiritual doctor, and Ephesians is in many ways humanity’s lab results he’s now trying to explain to us. As much as we try to wish it away, or reinvent a more digestible version of Christian faith, if we are willing to trust the Bible and the Great Physician’s word, our diagnosis begins with some  devastating news. And it’s terminal. Our condition, according to this passage, was leading us to our eventual death. “What is it, doc? Cancer?” we ask. “No, even worse,” he replies. “Worse? What could possibly be worse than terminal cancer?” we protest.

“I’m afraid it’s SIN,” Dr. Paul says.

Well, in this passage he is speaking in past-tense, already celebrating the life-saving remedy he’ll spend most of the letter celebrating — and urging us to embrace and trust!

Without Christ’s regenerating Spirit at work in us, Paul would say we are dead in our sins!  We may appear to be walking, talking, raising a family and carrying on just fine in our lives, but Paul would say there’s still a core part of us that is unresponsive, comatose, dead.  We may be physically alive and well; but is that deeper part of our being — spirit, soul — alive and receptive to the things of God?  Jesus said something similar to a well-meaning but misguided religious leader in John 3: You cannot “see the kingdom of God”, that is, grasp or understand the things of God unless you are “born from above/again,” and that requires a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.

This is extremely offensive to our self-determined egos. This pulls the rug out from under all attempts at a merely moralistic religion of good deeds, and the popular notion that God just wants us to live good, honest lives and do good to others. No, people need a heart transplant. People need to experience the “new birth.” Without a supernatural awakening whereby our fallen, fleshly nature begins to be regenerated by God’s Spirit, we are all still under the influence of the Devil, enduring the toxicity of the sin-cancer eating away our souls, and fighting the relentless pressures of the unregenerate powers of the fallen world’s systems. Continue reading EPHESIANS 10: A Terminal Diagnosis