Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. – Ephesians 2:11-22

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Berlin Wall Outline | Berlin, Germany | August 2017

The Great Wall from The Great Wall 8-1

The Great Wall from The Great Wall | Near Beijing | February 2004

Following a mission trip to Hong Kong and southern China, Diane and I took a personal side trip to Beijing, Xian, and Okinawa (where our son was stationed in the US Army at that time). Our trip to Beijing included a trip to see the Great Wall of China. It was impressive, a bucket list experience. The beautiful view from the Great Wall was stunning.

On a trip to Germany we visited Berlin. There we saw where the Berlin Wall went through the middle of the town. I vividly recall stomping on the cobblestones that were inlaid in the street where the Berlin Wall had been. There was something viscerally satisfying about doing that. That which was built to keep people apart was now a monument to the This Was an Evil Thing history of that city. We even toured a city that was divided in the middle of night – walls running through houses and dividing families from one another.

In Jesus’ day the temple was built with a literal wall of separation that segregated the Gentiles from the Jewish people. One commentator states that this “low wall separated the Gentile Court from the Temple enclosure itself. This wall was called, ”Soreq”, in Hebrew, and had thirteen openings in it to allow Jews only to enter from the Gentile Court into the four other courts. No Gentile was permitted past this dividing wall.”

Can you imagine how difficult it was for the Jewish people to think that Gentiles could have direct access to God? Even they weren’t allowed  into the Holy of Holies behind the curtain in the temple. That place – location of the Mercy Seat and place of God’s holy presence – was accessed only once a year by the high priest. Even he was chosen by lot to go in. And a rope was tied to his waist so that if he died he could be pulled out without the others going into that sacred place.

Now there is no wall?!? Impossible! Except that something happened when Jesus died. The wall was torn down. The curtain in the temple was torn in two. The wall of separation between God and all people was split. The implications of that reach not only into the heavenly realm, but across the span of humankind. Whoever believes in Jesus is a son or daughter of God. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. There is no wall that separates us.

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. – Ephesians 2:11-22

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Bridge Connector | Dogwood Canyon Nature Park | October 2019

We recently visited a church I served in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. That city is racially and socioeconomically-divided. There are many good people there, and – like any city this side of heaven – some real scoundrels. But the population is divided by location and race. For the most part white people like us live in the southwest part of town. The rest live in the other parts of the community. Housing costs reflect that division as well.

Our visit was delightful. The people welcomed us warmly. The celebration of Trinity Lutheran Church’s 125th anniversary was enriching. We were glad to have gone.

In many ways Trinity is like St. John in Cypress. We’re both Lutheran. We both have long-standing historical roots: the 1894 founding of Trinity, and the 1853 founding of St. John makes us long-time sister congregations. Another way in which we’re alike also has to do with the lack of socioeconomic and ethnic diversity in the two congregations. Our divisions may be more subtle, but their no less real.

Frankly – with a few exceptions at St. John – we’re not very racially diverse. We are not displaying the truth that Paul hints at here. We may not be enemies of those of different races or ethnicities, but it is not obvious that we are friends. We may acknowledge the legitimacy of brothers and sisters in Christ of other cultures and races, but it is difficult to see that on a Sunday morning. Birds of a feather…

I don’t say that to lay blame. But there are moments when I wish we were a more diverse gathering of people on a Sunday morning. Statisticians say that more than 90% of members of Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod congregations are white and Republican. How I wish it were not so! I’m not certain I would agree with those of a different political party than mine, but honorable people can disagree about such things and still be brothers and sisters in Christ. In fact, that’s what Paul is getting at here.

Jesus has bridged the most significant gap in his day: the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile. In the temple court that was a literal wall. We’ll talk about that tomorrow. But for now it would be enough for us to consider how we can live as though we are one in Christ with all who call upon Jesus as Lord. Race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, or cultural differences are lost on God. Perhaps there are a few we could overlook when they show up in our neighborhood or our church.

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. – Ephesians 2:11-22

Birdhouses III | Dogwood Canyon Nature Park | October 2019

Do you have a past? Is it glorious, and therefore a faded memory of wonderful days gone by? Or is it ignominious: something you wish you could live down and you hope no one knows about? Or is it just a plain vanilla past: a ho-hum that-was-then-this-is-now kind of history. No big deal?

Most of us don’t realize we have a past that requires an intervention of God in order to be his children. We were, at one time, pagan. As my friend and colleague once pointed out: “We’re all converts.” None of us were born Lutheran, Baptist, or Christian. We were all born dead in sin, in need of God’s redemption, and the Holy Spirit’s work of conversion.

The Ephesian Christians, prior to encountering God’s grace and the message of Jesus, were considered outsiders and usurpers of the blessings of God. Gene Peterson in the Message version of the Bible says that they were outsiders to God’s ways, had no idea of any of this, [and] didn’t know the first thing about the way God works.

While we don’t often think in terms of our status apart from Christ, we too have no innate claim on God’s grace. We are not by nature members of the household of God. In fact we can easily get the idea that we’re doing God a favor by worshiping him. we can imagine that we’re a blessing to God, rather than being in desperate need of God’s grace.

This is something we should call to mind regularly. We have no claim on God’s love, grace, favor, or blessing. It is a gift of his grace. It’s all up to him. And God’s decision is to invite us into his family. God’s decision is to save us by his grace. Our choice is to remember how far we’ve come. Better yet, how far God has come.

We all have a past. That past – whether natorious or mundane – has been redeemed. And now we have a future. It is a glorious eternal future founded on the grace of God and secured by Jesus death and resurrection.

I have a Sunday morning habit. I read through 5 psalms*. I post key verses from these five psalms on Sunday mornings on Facebook. So here are “Today’s Psalms”

Psalm 27:1, 13-14

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid?

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord!

Psalm 57:9-11

I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
    I will sing praises to you among the nations.
For your steadfast love is great to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the clouds.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!

Psalm 87:1-2

On the holy mount stands the city he founded;
   the Lord loves the gates of Zion
more than all the dwelling places of Jacob.

 

Psalm 117

Praise the Lord, all nations!
Extol him, all peoples!

For great is his steadfast love toward us,
    and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.
Praise the Lord!

Psalm 147:1

Praise the Lord!
For it is good to sing praises to our God;
    for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.

* A psalm is a sacred hymn or song, particularly those contained in the biblical book of Psalms – the Old Testament book of prayers/songs, many of which were written by David about 1000 years before Jesus’ birth.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 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— 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. 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— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 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. – Ephesians 2:1-10

BIrdhouses III | Dogwood Canyon Nature Park | October 2019

Perhaps you know someone who is prone to let you know of his good deeds. I’ve known people who make a point of telling me how much they give to the church, how long and in what offices they have served, or how they were responsible for hiring key staff. Maybe you know someone who will let you know how many years she has volunteered at her church, or how many hours she has spent in community service at the rodeo.

I’m not certain any of these are trying to impress God. Hopefully they know better than that. But I do suspect they are trying to impress us. Let me speak for myself here: Too often greatness is lost on me. And that’s mostly because I really don’t think I have much to offer in return to some big wig. My acknowledgement or praise doesn’t seem like much to me. I figure people who make a difference in this world don’t really need my kudos. Nor do I want to be a hanger-on to anyone.

Bottom line: Boasting is of no value whatsoever. We cannot impress God. And if we manage to impress someone else, what does that make them or us? It’s like saying that I married “way up.” If that’s true, what does that make my wife? Foolish for settling for so little? Someone who needed an inferior person in order to make her way through life?

No. Better we recognize that we were all dead in our trespasses, and we’ve all been saved by grace. We didn’t have anything to do with it. We are graced by God, and now He is working on us – master craftsman that He is – and preparing good works for us to walk in.

Let’s not brag, except about God’s grace and goodness, for He did all the work necessary for our salvation when Jesus lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death, rested in the tomb and rose from the dead. He reigns now and will return at the end of time, and we will be with Him forever…all by his grace. In the meantime, we have some walking to do.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 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— 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. 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— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 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. – Ephesians 2:1-10

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Birdhouses-II | Dogwood Canyon Nature Park | October 2019

I received an email today about how David Kinnaman and the Barna team have adopted a phrase to describe our accelerated, complex culture that’s marked by unlimited access, profound alienation and a crisis of authority: digital Babylon. The trilogy of access, alienation, and authority struck me as accurate and insightful; and a dangerous combination.

We have such extreme access to all kinds of information, experiences, opportunities, knowledge, and influence. Not only can we access information and learn of opportunities through the Internet, we can have great influence through social media of all kinds. We can have many vicarious experiences through these same media. It’s enough to seduce people to self-worship. We think we’re kings and queens of our own universe.

But we’re not. We are in digital Babylon. Kinnaman and his co-author Mark Matlock express it this way:

[We] are convinced that the biblical concept of exile is the right way to think about Christians’ relationship to the current culture, which we call “digital Babylon.” Furthermore, when we talk with young adults they resonate deeply with the concept of exile—they feel like exiles, being torn between the expectations of the Church and challenges of the world.

We sense that there is something wrong in the world around us. We may even be angry or afraid of all the evil and meanness in the world around us. We realize there are people who are living such evil and rebellious lives. We fear for our children and our grandchildren. We hate the influence of the world. It erodes the faith we hold dear. It eats at our culture, churches, and families.

We are in Babylon. Much of it is digital to be sure. But a trip to the high school cafeteria or into the darker corners of our cities reveals a very real Babylon. It’s not just digital. But it is Babylon: a place of exile, godlessness, faithlessness, and hopelessness.

Babylon is not our home. It is a place of idolatry. It is a place unkind toward faithfulness. It is a place of persecution and even of God’s judgment. It was a place to which God sent Israel because of their rebellion and faithlessness.

But Babylon is not a place removed from God’s redemptive reach. Even when we “were dead in trespasses” God saved us. This is what God does. He reaches into Babylon and rescues his people. He brings them back.

God saves us who are exiled. By his grace. In his kindness, mercy, unmerited love, and goodness he has saved us. He has called us back from Babylon. He has provided a way for us to live. He is working on us, fashioning us into people who are more and more like Jesus. We do good works that he has prepared in advance.

How will we follow Jesus in our personal Babylon – digital or cultural? How can we help others follow Jesus in their own digital Babylon? Questions worth asking and answering.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 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— 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. 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— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 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. – Ephesians 2:1-10

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Birdhouses on the Side of a Treehouse | Dogwood Canyon Nature Park | October 2019

Perhaps you know what it’s like to be dead even though your heart is beating, you’re walking around, speaking to people, and with every outward appearance seem to be alive. Some people seem very much alive – even in their dead estate. Going through the motions. No motivation for doing the things they know are good for them. Never truly happy. Never truly at rest. Perhaps substituting activity with life. The two are related, to be sure. But activity does not equate with life: just consider the recently dispatched chicken! If you’ve ever experienced someone at the end of life on a respirator, it doesn’t take too long to realize, also, that breathing is not, by itself, a sign of life.

Biologists identify seven necessary characteristics of living organisms. They use the acronym MRS GREN which stands for Movement, Respiration, Sensitivity, Growth, Reproduction, Excretion and Nutrition. Activity (movement) is only one of the seven.

If you were to apply these seven characteristics to being alive in Christ – giving them each their proper spiritual priority – you begin to appreciate what it means to be alive in Christ.

  • We move, following Jesus where he leads, and walking in the good works he has prepared beforehand (Ephesians 2:10).
  • We breathe (respiration) in the Holy Spirit, who enlivens us and Scripture itself (cf. Genesis 2:7; 2 Timothy 3:16).
  • In Christ we are able to sense the move of the Spirit or the needs of others around us. We do not remain unaware of what God is doing in our life and the lives of others.
  • Certainly we also grow in our faith in God and our love for him and one another. We even pray for it in the prayer after communion.
  • Jesus’ command to make disciples means we seek to reproduce others who follow Jesus by our witness and sharing the Good News of Jesus.
  • Excretion is another matter, but important nonetheless. We must daily throw out the old nature and abandon evil lusts and desires of the flesh. Jesus’ first sermon was a call to repent (get rid of false notions about God and life).
  • How rich is the fare we enjoy when we feast on God’s word and receive Jesus’ body and blood in the Lord’s Supper: true nutrition for the soul!

How is your life in Christ? Is there an area you need to evaluate further? Is there some excess that has you off balance? Is there something to rid yourself of in order to keep Christ and his loving kindness and mercy from being crowded out?

We’ve been made alive in Christ. This is God’s gift and work. It is a lifelong process this side of heaven. Let’s make Mrs Gren proud!