A Study Through Ephesians (Part 1)

We began a preaching series through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians here at NorthRidge Church. As a supplement to the sermon series, I have put together material for a 12-week Small Group series, complete with introductory videos and study guides.

Here is the week one video and study guide:

Sermon Supplement – Ephesians Part 1 from NorthRidge Church on Vimeo.

You can find the link to the study questions here.

Blessings in your journey through Ephesians! -Pastor Chris

Resources for Sufferers

At our church, we just finished a preaching series on the book of Job. While thinking through the issues that surround suffering and the Christian faith, I re-read Tim Keller’s excellent book Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. In the book, Keller makes these profound observations as they relate to Christian beliefs and trusting God through hardship:

In ancient times, Christianity was widely recognized as having superior resources for facing evil, suffering, and death. In modern times – though it is not as publicly discussed – it continues to have assets for sufferers arguably far more powerful than anything secular culture can offer. Those assets, however, reside in robust, distinctive Christian beliefs.

The first relevant Christian belief is in a personal, wise, infinite, and therefore inscrutable God who controls the affairs of the world – and that is far more comforting than the belief that our lives are in the hands of fickle fate or random chance.

The second crucial tenet is that, in Jesus Christ, God came to earth and suffered with and for us sacrificially – and that is far more comforting than the idea that God is remote and uninvolved. The cross also proves that, despite all the inscrutability, God is for us.

The third doctrine is that through faith in Christ’s work on the cross, we can have assurance of our salvation – that is far more comforting than the karmic systems of thought. We are assured that the difficulties of life are not payment for our past sins, since Jesus has paid for them. As Luther taught, suffering is unbearable if you aren’t certain that God is for you and with you. Secularity cannot give you that, and religions that provide salvation through virtue and good works cannot give it, either.

The fourth great doctrine is that of the bodily resurrection from the dead for all who believe. This completes the spectrum of our joys and consolations. One of the deepest desires of the human heart is for love without parting. Needless to say, the prospect of the resurrection is far more comforting than the beliefs that death takes you into nothingness or into an impersonal spiritual substance. The resurrection goes beyond the promise of an ethereal, disembodied afterlife. We get our bodies back, in a state of beauty and power that we cannot today imagine. Jesus’ resurrection body was corporeal – it could be touched and embraced, and he ate food. And yet he passed through closed doors and could disappear. This is a material existence, but one beyond the bounds of our imagination. The idea of heaven can be a consolation for suffering, a compensation for the life we have lost. But resurrection is not just consolation – it is restoration. We get it all back – the love, the loved ones, the goods, the beauties of this life – but in new, unimaginable degrees of glory and joy and strength.”- Tim Keller, Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering (58-59)

A Father’s Influence

Father’s Day just past. During announcement time in yesterday’s service, I mentioned the fact (in God’s providence I believe) that Father’s tend to have a disproportionate influence in the shaping of their child’s view of God. One of my favorite examples of a loving and tender fatherly care and Godly example comes from the biography of John G. Paton. Best known for his missionary labors in the New Hebrides, today called Vanuatu, in the South Seas. He was born in Scotland in 1824.

The time came for the young Paton to leave home and go to Glasgow to attend divinity school and become a city missionary in his early twenties. From his hometown of Torthorwald to the train station at Kilmarnock was a 40-mile walk. Forty years after the event, Paton wrote:

My dear father walked with me the first six miles of the way. His counsels and tears and heavenly conversation on that parting journey are fresh in my heart as if it had been but yesterday; and tears are on my cheeks as freely now as then, whenever memory steals me away to the scene. For the last half mile or so we walked on together in almost unbroken silence – my father, as was often his custom, carrying hat in hand, while his long flowing yellow hair (then yellow, but in later years white as snow) streamed like a girl’s down his shoulders. His lips kept moving in silent prayers for me; and his tears fell fast when our eyes met each other in looks for which all speech was vain! We halted on reaching the appointed parting place; he grasped my hand firmly for a minute in silence, and then solemnly and affectionately said: “God bless you, my son! Your father’s God prosper you, and keep you from all evil!”

Unable to say more, his lips kept moving in silent prayer; in tears we embraced, and parted. I ran off as fast as I could; and, when about to turn a corner in the road where he would lose sight of me, I looked back and saw him still standing with head uncovered where I had left him – gazing after me. Waving my hat in adieu, I rounded the corner and out of sight in instant. But my heart was too full and sore to carry me further, so I darted into the side of the road and wept for time. Then, rising up cautiously, I climbed the dike to see if he yet stood where I had left him; and just at that moment I caught a glimpse of him climbing the dike and looking out for me! He did not see me, and after he gazed eagerly in my direction for a while he got down, set his face toward home, and began to return – his head still uncovered, and his heart, I felt sure, still rising in prayers for me. I watched through blinding tears, till his form faded from my gaze; and then, hastening on my way, vowed deeply and oft, by the help of God, to live and act so as never to grieve or dishonor such a father and mother as he had given me.” (pp. 25-26)

Singled Out by God for Good

The following is an article written by Page Benton Brown on the topic of ‘singleness’. At the time of the article she was a staff member of Reformed University Fellowship at Vanderbilt University. The bottom line is that our primary identity is being secure in our relationship with Christ and knowing that we are loved by him:

Had I any vague premonition of my present plight when I was six, I would have demanded that Stephen Herbison (incontestably the catch of the second grade) put his marriage proposal into writing and have it notarized. I do want this piece to be practical, so to all you firstgraders: CARPE DIEM.

Over the past several years I have perfected the artistry of escape regarding any singles functions—cookouts, conferences, Sunday school classes, and my personal favorite, putt-putt. My avoidance mechanism is triggered not so much by a lack of patience with such activities as it is by a lack of stomach for the pervasive attitudes. Thoreau insists that most men lead lives of quiet desperation; I insist that many singles lead lives of loud aggravation. Being immersed in singles can be like finding yourself in the midst of “The Whiners” of 1980’s Saturday Night Live—it gives a whole new meaning to “pity party.”

Much has been written in Christian circles about singleness. The objective is usually either to chide the married population for their misunderstanding and segregationism or to empathize with the unmarried population as they bear the cross of “Plan B” for the Christian life, bolstered only by the consolation prizes of innumerable sermons on I Corinthians 7 and the fact that you can cut your toenails in bed. Yet singles, like all believers, need scriptural critique and instruction seasoned by sober grace, not condolences and putt-putt accompanied with pious platitudes.

John Calvin’s secret to sanctification is the interaction of the knowledge of God and knowledge of self. Singles, like all other sinners, typically dismiss the first element of the formula, and therein lies the root of all identity crises. It is not that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but that life has no tragedy like our God ignored. Every problem is a theological problem, and the habitual discontent of us singles is no exception.

Can God be any less good to me on the average Tuesday morning than he was on that monumental Friday afternoon when he hung on a cross in my place? The answer is a resounding NO. God will not be less good to me tomorrow either, because God cannot be less good to me. His goodness is not the effect of his disposition but the essence of his person—not an attitude but an attribute. 

I long to be married. My younger sister got married two months ago. She now has an adoring husband, a beautiful home, a whirlpool bathtub, and all-new Corningware. Is God being any less good to me than he is to her? The answer is a resounding NO. God will not be less good to me because God cannot be less good to me. It is a cosmic impossibility for God to shortchange any of his children. God can no more live in me apart from the perfect fullness of his goodness and grace than I can live in Nashville and not be white. If he fluctuated one quark in his goodness, he would cease to be God.

Warped theology is at the heart of attempts to “explain” singleness:

•”As soon as you’re satisfied with God alone, he’ll bring someone special into your life”—as though God’s blessings are ever earned by our contentment.

•”You’re too picky”—as though God is frustrated by our fickle whims and needs broader parameters in which to work.

•”As a single you can commit yourself wholeheartedly to the Lord’s work”— as though God requires emotional martyrs to do his work, of which marriage must be no part.

•”Before you can marry someone wonderful, the Lord has to make you someone wonderful”—as though God grants marriage as a second blessing to the satisfactorily sanctified. 

Accepting singleness, whether temporary or permanent, does not hinge on speculation about answers God has not given to our list of whys, but rather on celebration of the life he has given. I am not single because I am too spiritually unstable to possibly deserve a husband, nor because I am too spiritually mature to possibly need one. I am single because God is so abundantly good to me, because this is his best for me. It is a cosmic impossibility that anything could be better for me right now than being single, The psalmists confirm that I should not want, I shall not want, because no good thing will God withhold from me.

Such knowledge of God must transform subsequent knowledge of self-theological readjustment is always the catalyst for renewed selfawareness. This keeps identity rightside-up with nouns and modifiers in their correct place. Am I a Christian single or am I a single Christian? The discrepancy in grammatical construction may be somewhat subtle, but the difference in mindset is profound. Which word is determinative and which is descriptive? You see, we singles are chronic amnesiacs—we forget who we are, we forget whose we are. I am a single Christian. My identity is not found in my marital status but in my redemptive status. I’m one of the “haves,” not one of the “have-nots.”

Have you ever wondered at what age one is officially single? Perhaps a sliding scale is in order: 38 for a Wall Street tycoon; 21 for a Mississippi sorority girl; 14 for a Zulu princess; and five years older than I am for me. It is a relevant question because at some point we see ourselves as “single,” and that point is a place of greater danger than despair. Singleness can be a mere euphemism for self-absorption—now is the “you time.” No wife to support? No husband to pamper? Well, then, by all means join three different golf courses, get a weekly pedicure, raise emus, subscribe to People.

Singleness is never carte blanche for selfishness. A spouse is not a sufficient countermeasure for self. The gospel is the only antidote for egocentricity. Christ did not come simply to save us from our sins, he came to save us from our selves. And he most often rescues us from us through relationships, all kinds of relationships.

“Are you seeing anyone special?” a young matron in my home church asked patronizingly. “Sure,” I smiled. “I see you and you’re special.” OK, my sentiment was a little less than kind, but the message is true.

To be single is not to be alone. If someone asks if you are in a relationship right now, your immediate response should be that you are in dozens. Our range of relational options is not limited to getting married or to living in the sound-proof, isolated booth of Miss America pageants. Christian growth mandates relational richness.

The only time folks talk about human covenants is in premarital counseling. How anemic. If our God is a covenantal God, then all of our relationships are covenantal. The gospel is not about how much I love God (I typically love him very little); it is about how much God loves me. My relationships are not about how much friends should love me, they are about how much I get to love them. No single should ever expect relational impoverishment by virtue of being single. We should covenant to love people— to initiate, to serve, to commit.

Many of my Vanderbilt girls have been reading ‘Lady in Waiting’, a popular book for Christian women struggling with singleness. That’s all fine and dandy, but what about a subtitle: And Meanwhile, Lady, Get Working. It is a cosmic impossibility for God to require less of me in my relationships than he does of the mother of four whose office is next door. Obedience knows no ages or stages. Let’s face it: singleness is not an inherently inferior state of affairs. If it were, heaven would be inferior to this world for the majority of Christians (Mom is reconciled to being unmarried in glory as long as she can be Daddy’s roommate). But I want to be married. I pray to that end every day. I may meet someone and walk down the aisle in the next couple of years because God is so good to me. I may never have another date and die an old maid at 93 because God is so good to me. Not my will but his be done. Until then I am claiming as my theme verse, “If any man would come after me, let him. . . “

What is the Law of God Stated in the Ten Commandments?

Q. What is the Law of God Stated in the Ten Commandments?

A. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below – you shall not bow down to them or worship them. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Honor your father and your mother. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false testimony. You shall not covet.

In their book The Day America Told the Truth, James Patterson and Peter Kim lay down the law for postmodern times. They observe that today there is “absolutely no moral consensus at all…Everyone is making up their own personal moral codes – their own Ten Commandments.” Patterson and Kim proceed to list what they call the “ten real commandments,” the rules that according to their surveys people actually live by. These rules include the following:

  • I don’t see the point in observing the Sabbath;
  • I will steal from those who won’t really miss it;
  • I will lie when it suits me, so long as it doesn’t cause any real damage;
  • I will chat on my spouse – after all, given the chance, he or she will do the same;
  • I will procrastinate at work and do absolutely nothing about one full day in every five.

These new commandments are based on moral relativism, the belief that we are free to make up our own rules, based on our own personal preferences. This law is not something that comes from God, but something we make up with our own minds.

How different then, is what Christians refer to as the Ten Commandments? In their original context, they were given by God to his people after delivering them out of Egypt. By giving heed to them, these Ten Commandments were to mark out their lives as distinct in their conduct from the nations around them. God’s deliverance of Israel was an act of grace and God’s revelation to them of the Ten Commandments was an act of grace (making his will and his ways known). It was grace from the beginning to end.

So, what then is the Christians relationship with the Ten Commandments? In one sense Christians are no longer under the law, but are under grace (Romans 6:14). Those in Christ have been released from the law (Romans 7:6). Christ is the end of the law for righteousness for everyone who believes (Romans 10:4). So we are not to keep the law in order to be made right with God. One is made right with God be faith in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The Ten Commandments, as representative of the moral law of God, endures in a general sense for Christians. The Ten Commandments were central to the ethics of the New Testament. Jesus repeated most of the second part of the law to the rich young man (Mark 10:17-22). The Apostle Paul repeated them too (Romans 13:8-10), and used them as the basis for his moral instruction to Timothy (1 Timothy 1:8-11).

Ultimately though, just as the author of Hebrews affirms, “long ago, at many times and in may ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, who he appointed the heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:1-2). God has spoken to us by his Son, he is the ultimate fulfillment of all the promises of the Old Testament. We are to know the Word made flesh…and be saved (John 1:14). Our response? To live in grateful obedience to the God who has made himself known. To that end, the Ten Commandments help Christians to live in God glorifying obedience to his revealed will (John 14:5).