By Woody Woodrick
New Family in Christ
Purpose: To celebrate what God has done to make us God’s own adopted children.
Bible Lesson: Ephesians 1:3-14
Key Verse: “(God) destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will.” — Ephesians 1:5
In the old television series Cheers was a character called “Coach.” He was a former professional baseball coach who was often slightly confused. In one particular episode Coach was not at his customary place behind the bar in which the program was set. The explanation was that Coach had gone to a family reunion. Toward the end of the episode, the bar received a postcard from Coach that featured a picture of the entire family.
One of the bar patrons pointed out to Sam, the owner, that Coach was the only white person in the picture.
“Yeah, his name got on their mailing list by mistake a few years ago. He went and had such a good time, he keeps going back,” Sam said.
That imagery has always been both humorous and cool to me. Imagine adopting someone quite different into your family because, well, you just like him or her. Soon you come to see that person as a member of the family.
During my lifetime, it seems family reunions have become more and more popular. Maybe they’ve always been, and I just never noticed. Families get together for fun and fellowship. Some members choose not to come, but the invitation is always open. Some eventually show up; others never do and are missed.
Our lesson in Ephesians is about God’s plan that we be in reunion with him through Jesus Christ. Our scripture points out that God’s plan for us, put in place even before creation, was for us to stand “holy and blameless” before him through Christ.
It’s not a matter of predestination. We do have a role to play. We can choose to come to the family reunion or do something else. We can choose to believe in Christ and strive to live more like him, or we can focus on ourselves and miss out on the abundance one would expect as an adopted child of God.
While his plan for us was started before creation, God leaves it to us to choose to believe in him and his son Jesus. Looking back to the time before you were a believer, what do you see that reveals that God has long been working in you?
The image of adoption by God has always intrigued me. I heard a discussion one time that pointed out that we’re stuck with the family into which we’re born. Can’t do anything about our brothers, sisters, mother, father, aunts and uncles. However, an adopted child is brought into a family by choice. That requires a conscious effort, a thought-out decision to love another.
Not everyone has a loving family. Over the past several years, we’ve become more and more familiar with a variety of dysfunctional family situations. Sometimes family can cause great pain.
So what does it mean to be part of God’s family?
New Life in Christ
Purpose: To acknowledge how necessary God’s grace is to move us from blindness and helplessness of sin to a life of good works.
Bible Lesson: Ephesians 2:1-10
Key Verse: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” — Ephesians 2:8
For the past couple of television seasons, Melanie and I have been watching a program called Saving Grace. The story is about a female police detective and a faith journey she doesn’t even realize she’s taking. She has an angel named Earl watching over her and guiding her along. Grace is not really a believer – yet. In fact, most of the time she’s pretty skeptical of faith. Certainly her lifestyle is not that of someone determined to follow God’s path. But over the course of the two seasons, Grace has encountered things she can’t explain.
It started in the first episode when a drunken Grace hits and kills a man with her car. As the realization of what she has done, what she might face, hits her, she mutters, “Dear God, please help me.”
Why did Grace turn to God at that point? Because at that point she had nowhere else to turn.
As we go through our lives, we can do many things for ourselves. We work, play, have friends, have children, earn money and even help others. What we can’t do is reach heaven without God, and in that way we are like Grace kneeling over the body of a man she’s just killed, although by accident. We’re helpless and hopeless.
Yet God, in Christ, has offered us this unbelievable, incredible gift – salvation – simply because he loves us and wants us to have it. Because we are sinners, we can’t ever do enough good things to earn place in heaven. In that helplessness and hopelessness, God has given us an out – his love through Christ.
God has loved us individually since before creation. He has put inside each of us and desire to live morally and in harmony with others. We call this desire, which I believe is really a desire for him, prevenient grace. We don’t have to acknowledge that grace, but it exists.
When we do acknowledge and accept God’s grace, we become justified. We try to justify many things in our lives. What we are doing is basically showing others that we are worthy of their love, respect, friendship, our job, etc. Yet, nothing we can do makes us worthy to be adopted as children of God. Which raises the question: Why should I get into heaven?
Despite our unworthiness and sin, we stand before God blameless and holy because Jesus Christ died in our place. By that grace, we have faith in God and can take our place at his magnificent table.
As justified children of God, our goal then becomes to live out that love in what we do for others. When we seek to bring others to Christ through our actions, not for own glory but for God’s, we become sanctified. We can’t deny the difference in doing things when we want to do them and when we feel obligated to do them.
When I came to understand the beginnings of the depth of God’s love for me, I didn’t desire to serve others because it seemed the right thing to do. It was because my heart was so full of the love of God that I longed to serve. It was the only way I could show others that I had a new relationship with God, that I had new life in Christ.
Admittedly, I don’t always do the right thing or even do it for the right reasons. However, often things done out of obligation turn into great blessings that remind me of the reality of God’s love.
How does God continue to work in your life to enable you to be the person God wants you to be?
New Revelation in Christ
Purpose: To proclaim against all opposition that the church be a diverse community of persons demonstrating God’s impartiality and love for all people.
Bible Lesson: Ephesians 3:1-13
Key Verse: “Grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.” – Ephesians 3:8-9
Back in the late 1960s or early 1970s, a group called the Five Man Electrical Band became one-hit wonders with a song called Signs (later covered well by Tesla). The song is about all the signs we encounter in life, most of which are intended to exclude various groups of people – long-haired, freaky people, trespassers, those without membership cards.
One of the tragedies of the human condition is that we are often reluctant to engage those who are different. We often want to work, play and worship with those who are just like us. We only read political commentary with which we agree. The result is that while we think we’re well informed, we often end up misunderstanding the other side.
What about church? Is it any different? Many churches have signs out front that read, in effect, everybody welcome. Do we really mean it?
Ever visited a church where you knew no one? How were you received? I’ve visited churches where I was warmly welcomed and made to feel right at home. I’ve also visited churches where not one single person spoke to me.
We have divided ourselves into dominations, placing emphasis on various aspects of the Christian life. Now, most times having denominations is a good thing; it allows us a variety of theologies that should bring us close to God. But we also find ourselves at times looking down our noses at “those” people. “They” do things differently, so it obviously is wrong. It goes from good-natured kidding about our differences to real tension and sometimes open conflict. Some churches won’t join in community worship services because certain other denominations are included. How can this be godly?
So, tell me, which denomination has it right? Who’s going to heaven and who is not? How do you know? For whom did Jesus not die?
One of the strengths of the United Methodist Church, I believe, is our connectional system. Most often we seem to work well together, taking advantage of each church’s strengths to spread the gospel. Imagine, however, the kind of impact we could make in our state if we really put aside our differences and jealousies based on size, location, racial makeup and leadership. Now imagine the impact on our state if the mainstream denominations began to focus more on our shared mission rather than our differences.
We could get a glimpse of that utopia in the wake of the signing of the Covenant of Common Life with the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi. United Methodist and Episcopal churches in the state are being called to intentionally work together for the good of their communities.
What if we opened our doors and truly made all feel welcome?
New Life in the Home
Purpose: To recognize that God calls all Christians, male and female, young and old, to lives of mutual submission.
Bible Lesson: Ephesians 5:1-6:4
Key Verse: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” – Ephesians 5:21.
These verses have been among the most hotly debated by believers and nonbelievers and can certainly be a mine field for those writing Sunday school lessons.
The Adult Bible Series writers seem to take the point of view that while the verses contain some practical application to the relationship between husband and wife, these verses are mostly about the relationship between Christ and the church.
There is no denying that most societies in human history have been patriarchal. That was certainly the case at the time Ephesians was written. However, it is also clear that throughout history, God has called women to his purposes just as he has called men. One could argue that because of the strong, male-dominated world, the women he called had to have greater courage and guile than the men.
The point, however, is that God calls all of us to put others needs ahead of our own. If husbands focus on loving their wives by putting them first, they will likely have a happy home life. If women respect and support their husbands, they will also find joy. And if both parents guide and respect their children, and children obey and respect their parents, families will grow stronger.
It seems to me that when family decisions are made following discussion with mutual respect for differences of opinion, the outcome tends to be acceptable to all involved.
How should the church, as the bride of Christ, respond to him? How does submitting ourselves to our spouses differ from the values of the world?
Equipped for New Life
Purpose: To claim God’s power to stand firm against the spiritual forces of evil.
Bible Lesson: Ephesians 6:10-18
Key Verse: “Take up the armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.” – Ephesians 6:13
I enjoy mystery and suspense movies; espionage, that kind of thing. One characteristic of the heroes in some of these movies is how calm he or she is in the midst of chaos. I don’t know if this is a real technique of detectives, but our movie heroes don’t turn their attention to the bedlam of where the bomb went off or the shooting took place. They turn and look the other direction, watching for someone else unusually calm. That’s him! That’s the bad guy!
In the chaos of today’s world, we are challenged by many forces, many influences that pull us this way and that. How do we decide the right way to go? By putting on the armor of God. We are provided the necessary tools to fight off outside influences and do what God wants us to do, but it takes discipline to use them. Sometimes the best thing we can do is nothing.
Just like the movie heroes, we need to take a step back and try to get the full picture. In doing so, we allow God to dress us in his armor. If we stop and listen, he will guide us.
For me, that’s not easy. I’m an emotional person and tend to want to react that way. However, I’ve also found that when I take a step back, the situation becomes more clear and often isn’t as bad as I first thought or the direction I should go is evident.
Our scripture encourages us to stand firm in our belief in Jesus and our commitment to God. That is when we find ourselves dressed in the armor. Simple, no? No, indeed. Standing firm against the challenges and temptations of today’s society is hard. The first time, we don’t think we can succeed and may not understand how we managed. The second time, we take our stand with more confidence and the third time even more.
Beware, however. While we gain confidence in our faith, the challenges become even greater. Satan plays on that confidence, but we stay focused on the source of our confidence — the armor of God.
Do you wear the armor of God or do you rely on your own strength? How successful are you? What pieces of armor can you see having protected you in tough situations?