Dr. Cheryl Bridges Johns shares a message from Ephesians 5 as she takes us deeper into our "equipping the saints" journey. Paul's letter to the Church in Ephesus is a follow-up to his two years of ministry with this group of people. Paul is responding to a new church family that heard his message of the gospel of Christ but that is allowing the culture around them to creep back into their fellowship. Paul reminds them of the seal of the Spirit that marks them, and Paul is calling them to live distinctively as the people of the light and as members of the culture of Christ. Those calls remain for us as we navigate life in the various cultures into which we were born and find ourselves. Ephesians 5:1-10.
Continuing our series of messages around the idea of "equipping the saints" as we move into the Easter season, Josh looks at the end of Ephesians 4 where Paul is talking about new life in Christ. At our Easter service, we celebrated a number of baptisms which is what Paul is pointing to as he shares with the Church in Ephesus about this new life into which they've been brought. When resurrection and Christ become the center of community, nothing is impossible. When we read about the early church in Acts 4, we see that play out in their unity, hospitality, generosity, truth-telling, etc. Psalm 133; Ephesians 4:17-5:2; Acts 4:32-35.
As we celebrate Resurrection Sunday, we pause in "holy awe" as we hear the story at the empty tomb and a group of followers who can't comprehend what's happened. Jesus doesn't appear to explain everything like we might prefer. They have to bear the weight of this transformational moment and do the work to understand the significance of what's occurred. We also celebrate a number of baptisms on this Resurrection Sunday. Mark 16:1-8.
Josh steps out of Ephesians to continue the discussion of "equipping the saints" by looking at the Palm Sunday narrative from Mark 11. The context of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem illustrates some of the misperceptions we hold about Jesus and what He wants to do in and through us. When Jesus is entering Jerusalem on a donkey from one end, the Roman governor is entering another side of the city with his legions -- displaying Rome's military might and engendering fear in the people. Often, we cry out to Jesus to save us, expecting a display of might and force to make things right or to deal with our enemy. Maybe Jesus isn't interested in saving us from our enemy, but rather, saving us from ourselves. Mark 11:1-11; Philippians 2:5-11.
Josh shared a quote from Debie Thomas today: "These paradoxes are what give Jesus’s story its shape, weight, and texture, calling us at every moment to hold together truths that seem bizarre, counter-intuitive, and irreconcilable. On good days, I understand that these paradoxes are precisely what grant my religion its credibility. If I live in a world that's full of pain, mystery, and contradiction, then I need a religion robust enough to bear the weight of that messy world. But the question is: will I choose the humble and the real? Or will I insist on the delusions of empire? Will I accompany Jesus on his ridiculous donkey, honoring the precarious path he has chosen? Or will my impatience and pessimism undermine my journey?"
Josh continues our discussion in Ephesians, moving to Chapter 4, in which Paul challenges the young church in Ephesus to grow into maturity in Christ. That call involves Christ as the centerpiece, the unity in the church, and each person realizing they have a grace to grow into to contribute to the body of Christ. The worship journey this week: "We all grow together." Ephesians 4:1-16.
As Josh continues our series, he looks at the end of Chapter 3 of Ephesians to the prayer that Paul is praying for the church in Ephesus. We see Paul understanding the limits of his ability to convey the fullness of grace and the depth of the love Christ has for us. So much so that Paul is on his knees praying they would learn what it means to be dependent on Christ. Do we really understand the grace of God? Do we really understand the depth of love that God has for us? What would it look like to be rooted and grounded in that grace and love? Ephesians 3:14-21.
We continue our series on "equipping the saints" which is a challenging concept to pin down in 3 or 5 or 10 easy steps. Josh looks at Ephesians 3 today, where Paul, who is writing from prison, is sharing his understanding of the mystery of Christ. Foundationally, that mystery is that the Gentiles are also heirs of Christ. But the mysteries of Christ are many and the questions they invite are what bring blessing to our lives as prisoners of this gospel that Paul describes. Ephesians 3:1-13; Exodus 33:14-15; Psalm 19:14.
There are some testimonies of the grace of God working in the lives of the RCC family at the end of service.
Josh shared a quote today from Johnny Hill: "The mystery of Jesus as spoken of in this passage embodies the kind of transformative power to help heal, restore, and renew broken lives, communities, institutions and even nations. This particular passage is a long prayer of the author's insight into the mystery of Christ. The church is presented as the cosmic organism for revealing and understanding God's divine will for humanity and all creation. The epiphany of the Lord is made possible because of God's self-disclosure. God discloses or reveals God's self to human beings as an expression of God's inexhaustible love and mercy. The epiphany speaks to an awakening and enlightenment and the revelation of the god revealed in the life of Jesus Christ. It is a kind of epiphany that transforms lives and calls for new allegiances, goals, and directions."
Josh continues our discussion in the book of Ephesians, highlighting the community that Jesus invites us into when he says to us, like he did to the disciples, "Come, follow me." Jesus is our peace and brings groups together that have no business together. Through Christ, the dividing walls come down, and the disparate groups become one new humanity. And together, these saints become members of the household of God with Jesus as the cornerstone.
Josh shared some quotes and thoughts to consider:
1) "Talmudine" -- "Jesus was a Rabbi. Rabbis teach. Each Rabbi had his own unique interpretation of Torah. The Torah is the law that the people lived by, and had been given to them by God through Moses. Each Rabbi’s unique interpretation of the law was his ‘yolk’. So when a young man chose a specific Rabbi to follow and learn from, he ‘took the yolk of Torah’ from that Rabbi. The Rabbi became his ‘Master’, and that disciple (Talmudine) accepted that Rabbi’s interpretation, and embraced it."
- A revolutionary awakening.
- A radical experience of inclusion and love from God and community.
- The ability to seek without being forced.
- A sense of belonging to a family.
- A deeper experience and understanding of Christ that becomes personal in nature.
- A desire to commit deeply from a heart-choice place.
- Understanding who you are & whose you are, so God begins to bring clarity on what He's made you for.
3) "A new group of aliens and strangers now citizens with all the saints fill this household. Not a place that saints go, but where God chooses to dwell."
Josh shares from Mark 1, where Jesus is baptized and then immediately led to the desert for 40 days. He here's God call him his Beloved -- receiving his identity -- and then is led into the wilderness to be tempted. We can get caught thinking once we come to Christ that life is going to be full of blessings, but Jesus' own story shows us how wrong a perspective that is. When we read in Ephesians 2 about being saved by grace and being dead to sin, we can think that our suffering is behind us. Sometimes, God leads us into deserts to draw us closer and take us deeper. Mark 1:9-15; Ephesians 2:1-10.
Josh shared a quote from Henri Nouwen: "Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply. It is like discovering a well in the desert. Once you have touched wet ground, you want to dig deeper."
Josh provided questions to ponder this week: Questions for a Desert Season
1) Do I see struggle as an indictment or an invitation?
2) Do I feel okay knowing that I'll have more time to think? What will I do with silence ... Can I handle it?
3) This will be a place where the feelings I have outrun will catch up with me. How do I feel about that?
4) What will I do if I encounter my own wild beast?
5) Will I take the temptation of a promise of a half-dead life and head back to where I came from?
6) Do I trust that all of this is from God and that he is with me?
We are excited to enter into another groups season at RCC. Kara shares the heart behind lifegroups at River City. They are spiritual and relational. They are each unique but share the same DNA of communion, prayer, connection and word. Joining a group can be risky, but God is present with us when we risk stepping into community. Each of this season's lifegroup leaders share a little about their groups during this service. Josh also offers an RCC finance update for us. Ephesians 2:18-22.
Check out the spring season of RCC lifegroups, and jump into one: https://rivercitysmyrna.com/groups/