10 Things I Learned Preaching through Ephesians…Again

We’ve just finished our series preaching through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. To add a little more challenge to this series, we preached the letter in reverse. We started with chapter 6 and went to chapter 1. Here are 10 things I learned preaching through Ephesians…again. 

1. People are people.

Although we’re separated from the people and culture of Ephesus by several thousand years, we have a lot in common with them. The issues addressed in Paul’s letter are the same we address every week in our own church—marriage and family, faith and culture, leadership, relationships, and how the gospel impacts every area of our lives. For all of our differences and as much things have changed in our world, people are still pretty much the same.

2. The war may be over, but the battle goes on.

True, Christ has completed His redemptive work. Our future is secure in Him. Yet, our enemy, though defeated, is still fighting. That’s why we have to be dressed in the full armor of God. Every day is a fight.

3. The good news of the gospel impacts every area of our lives.

Our marriages, our roles as spouses and parents, our roles as employers and employees, our place as believers in an unbelieving culture—everything is under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

4. All of us have spiritual gifts, but no one has all of the gifts.

God, in His wisdom, has created a process where we need each other. We are, in the unity of Spirit, more reflective of Christ together than we are individually.

5. God was working before we got here, and He’ll be working after we’re gone.

The divine purposes of God were established before the foundation of time, and His work will continue until He’s completed all that He has promised.

6. Salvation is a gift.

We can’t do anything to earn it, and we haven’t done anything to deserve it. Because it’s gift, we can only receive our salvation in gratitude and live it out faithfully.

7. Each of us was called ON purpose FOR purpose.

Paul was an apostle—by the will of God—called to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul saw his ministry as part of his salvation experience. Yes, we’re grateful for our salvation, but it always involves a call, a mission to which we are sent. They go hand in hand.

8. We didn’t choose Jesus. He chose us.

I always find it amusing when someone tells me they “found Jesus.” I quickly remind them, “Jesus wasn’t lost.”

9. The redemptive work of Christ won’t be defeated.

His victory is “predestined.” The end is already determined, and the victory belongs to Jesus. Because we’re “in Christ,” His victory is our victory.

10.   There’s always reason to praise.

Remember, Paul was in prison as he wrote this letter. His first words to the Ephesians? “Praise!” How could Paul say that? Because Paul knew regardless of the situation, God is always working things out for His glory. That’s a lesson I need to learn again and again… 

So, there you go. What did you learn going through Ephesians in Reverse? Let me know!

Stuck in Your Head

Have you ever had a song get stuck in your head? You don’t even have to like the song, but if you hear it the right way at the right time, you’ll be singing that song for the rest of the day. Reading your Bible can be the same way. You’ll find yourself reading a passage of Scripture that hits you in a particular way, and the next thing you know, you’re thinking about that passage for the rest of the day.

For the past few weeks, we’ve been teaching through the Book of Ephesians. There are so many passages worth memorizing in this letter. I’ve picked out a few. Spend a few minutes getting these passages into your head and heart.

Jesus quoted Scripture from memory. I guess Scripture memorization should be a priority for us as well.

Here are a few verses from Ephesians to get you started:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the perception of your mind may be enlightened so you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the glorious riches of His inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power to us who believe, according to the working of His vast strength. (Ephesians 1:17-19)

For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us—to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us. (Ephesians 4:1-3)

Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise—making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So don’t be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. (Ephesians 5:15-17)

Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the Devil. For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. This is why you must take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand. Stand, therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest, and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace. In every situation take the shield of faith, and with it you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word. (Ephesians 6:11-17)

The Gift of Hospitality

I grew up in a little Baptist church that was right across the street from a cotton mill. A lot of the members of our church worked in the cotton mill. I heard my pastor say “I’ll preach in overalls if it will make your friends more comfortable. I had no idea what he meant—none—until I went to work at the cotton mill one summer. (To make sure I studied in college, my dad made me work in the cotton mill.)

I knew a lot of those people because they lived in the area. Overalls were all they had. The darker blue the overalls, the newer they were. My pastor understood that sometimes a coat and tie would be intimidating. Why? Because that’s what the mill “boss man” wore. That’s what the mill owner wore. If you walked into a church as a mill worker and you saw coats and ties, you would think you were in a church for the mill owner. Sociologists will tell you that mill workers and mill owners don’t go to the same church. “I’ll preach in overalls,” the pastor said, “if it will make you feel more comfortable—if it will make you feel at ease.”

We overlook this thing of hospitality. We think it is a gift used to entertain in your home. The gift of hospitality is how you receive someone into your own life, how you accommodate them and how you help them feel at ease and comfortable with you. Then you can begin a conversation to hear their story, and you can have the opportunity to tell them the story of Jesus and how Jesus found you. You know people like this who have this wonderful gift, and you always feel better about yourself when you’re with them. You always like yourself more when you walk away from the conversation.

But too many times in church we think you have to catch “clean” fish. We want the fish already filleted. You’re like the kid from the city who goes on his first fishing trip. The line tugs and he reels it up and the fish isn’t in a box. Now what in the world would you think about an emergency doctor who, when the patient was rolled in, would say, “This patient is sick! Look how bloody this guy is. Clean him up before I work on him”? What would you do if there was a search and rescue team and a diver gets in a helicopter, looks down and says, “Look how wet that guy is. When I rescue him he’s going to get me soaked.”

We put up these barriers to make sure people are really serious, and they become walls that are too high for people to get over. We all have friends who say they will come to church just as soon as they “fix it.” They’ll tell me, “Mike, just as soon as I work this out…”

We forget how lost and confused people are. It wasn’t unusual for me to stay after Kairos and have one of those young people walk up to me and say, “You keep telling me about reading the Bible. Where do I start?” I say, “Start with the Gospel of Mark.” They would hand me their Bible and ask, “Where is it?” “It’s right here.” They’ll flip through, look back and grin, “Good, it’s a short book.” I say, “Yeah. Read it more than once.”

We forget how lost people feel, and we create barriers. Sometimes we are well-meaning, but they are barriers just the same.

What drew you to the faith? Was it not those men and women around you who lived authentically? It’s not that they lived perfectly, but that they lived authentically in front of you.

Sometimes in order to share about Jesus, you have to be willing to wear overalls.

An Alternative Theory on the Dones

We’re told Generation Z, more than any other generation in a long time, is focused on doing good in the world. They just don’t do it in the church.

We’re told Senior Adults, more than another other generation before them, are healthier, wealthier, and eager to stay engaged in the world around them. They just don’t do it in the church.

We see friends fight community hunger, sex-trafficking, illness, and water issues through a variety of non-profits—many they’ve started themselves. They just don’t do it in the church.

Through social media, ease of travel, and the digital empowerment of the individual, people are making a difference in all kinds of ways in all kinds of places. They just aren’t making that difference in and through church.

After a long discussion about the “Nones,” researchers have discovered another category of people leaving the church—the “Dones.” While the Nones are those who claim no religious faith at all, the Dones are those who still claim faith in Christ, but are no longer engaged in the life of local church. They’re DONE. The Dones tell researchers they’re just done with church. They say there’s too much bureaucracy, too much judgment and/or hypocrisy. A lot of the time, these individuals were deeply involved in their church, but after their kids graduated high school or after one of the couple retired, they started doing other things on the weekends.

But going to church is not one of them.

I have a theory. Yes, I know. Everyone has a theory. Church is out of touch. Church is too this or too that, but I think all of these other theories are wrong. Here’s my theory.

I think a lot of people stop coming to church because we never ask them to do anything great. We never call them to a vision that will demand everything from them. We never tell them to sell everything they have and go follow Jesus. We never tell them to head to the far reaches of the world and carry their casket with them because we don’t expect them to come back. We never tell them to leave everything and everyone they love to go start a church in some third world inner city slum.

We simply ask them to come to church and sit quietly. We ask them to give their money, sing reverently, but sit quietly.

Most of us want more, not less, from our faith, and if church can’t help us get there, we’ll get that “more we need” from somewhere else.

No one wants to come to church and sit.

Why would they? It’s just more comfortable sitting at home.