Friday, January 15, 2016

New Year’s Resolutions (Ephesians 4:22-5:2) by Grant Kay

In Ephesians 4:22-5:2, Paul writes,
“22 You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. 5 1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Another new year is upon us, and I’m sure for many of you, like myself, you have made new years resolutions in an effort to improve yourself this year. For some the resolution is to get in shape and lose weight, for others it is to kick a bad habit or start a new hobby. I have all three of those resolutions and then some! Whatever your resolution, for most people the idea is to make themselves better people and start living the life they want to live. This is a good thing! We should always be striving to become better people, especially more Christ-like people, so that our lives can be an example to other people of the power of God in our lives.

In the same way that people make new years resolutions, today I want to suggest that we as a church should make new years resolutions together. Just like each of us individually, our community always has ways to improve. There are things we do well and things we can do better at. There are ways in which God wants us to move forward as a community, and we need to spend time in prayer both individually and together to discern what God wants from us this year. But I believe God has big plans for this church. Even though we may not know specifically what God has in store for us, scripture gives us a guide to some of the ways we can begin to live and think differently headed into this year.

Paul reminds us that we have been called by God to put off our old selves and become new people in God. Scripture talks of us being born again, re-born in the Holy Spirit. This rebirth allows us to shed the old person we used to be and become new people in Christ. In a sense this is the Christian version of a new years resolution. Paul reminds us that as Christians we are called to remove the old person and put on the new person, or in other words to become more like Christ. So Paul wants us to boldly reshape our lives, to become more like the God who saves us. And there are several different ways in which Paul suggests we can become more like Christ. Let’s look at a few resolutions for us for the new year from this passage.

Our first resolution is to remember who we are. As Paul talks about all of the things he encourages us to do, he always returns to reminders of who we are and what that means. Paul tells us that we have a new self, created to be like God in righteousness and holiness. He reminds us that we are all members of one body, that we are sealed up with the Holy Spirit, that we have been forgiven, and that we are God’s children. These constant reminders give us the reasons why we change our behavior and strive to become more like Christ. Without consistent reminders of who we were and who we are, the commands of God become mere rules to follow or commandments to avoid punishment. But as we are reminded of our new status as children of God, members of the body of Christ, forgiven partners of the Holy Spirit, we see the commandments of God as the words of a loving father who wants the best for us and from us.

So how do we live out this resolution? By reminding one another who we are together. We resolve to gather in fellowship with our sisters and brothers in Christ, to be reminded that we are new people through God’s work of salvation. If you are feeling discouraged this year, if you have a moment of weakness or temptation, remember that you are forgiven by God, that you have been made new. If you are feeling lonely, remember that you are one member in the giant body of Christ, and you can turn to any other member of that body for comfort and friendship. As we work to better ourselves and the world around us, we need to keep always before us the reminder that we work and change because we are the chosen people of God who have been saved by grace.

The second resolution for this year is to use our words wisely, to speak honestly and build one another up. Paul reminds us to put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor. A little later in the passage he also says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Our words have power and the potential to hurt or help one another. Paul knows that what we say can have a huge effect on the people around us. Because of this, Paul urges us to speak truthfully, so that our words remain valid. He also encourages us to use our language to encourage one another and build each other up. Paul wants us to use our words wisely, to remove gossip, slander, and lies from our vocabulary and replace them with encouragement, compassion, and honesty.

In our community here at PB Pres, we should always strive to put this into practice. It is vitally important that we be honest with one another in all that we do, so that no animosity builds up within the body. We should treat one another with respect and dignity, using our words to recognize the good in one another. We should also use our words to lovingly and constructively correct each other when we inevitably slip up and fail to live out our Christian calling. Whatever we do, we should always make love our first language, whether we are encouraging or correcting one another. Let’s make this church a place where our words and our actions show the love of God powerfully every Sunday.

Our third resolution is to work for the kingdom of God. Paul tells us “anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.” And later also says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Our calling as children of God, as the body of Christ, is to work to share with those who need, and to forgive one another with compassion. As we remember who we are in Christ, we are called to share that with the world around us. We have been saved, and we now want to bring that salvation to others. Sharing that salvation also means working for God’s desire for the world, which is to see the hungry fed, the outcast welcomed, and the sick cared for.

We can begin to live out this resolution by getting actively involved in our community and the ministries of this church. We are always looking for new ways to serve pacific beach, so if you have a ministry idea or opportunity now is the time to make it happen! If you are feeling called to serve others more, this church provides many opportunities to serve and will continue to provide more. You can help serve food to the homeless at the dinner on Sunday nights, or help pass out mail as a volunteer in the office. You can volunteer with the kids, the youth, or young adults. Your bulletin is packed full with ways to get involved. We are called to give not just our money but also our time and our talents to serve the Lord. Rather than remaining idle and being a spectator Christian, it’s time to get on the playing field and make a difference. And the beauty is that there is no limit to the ways we can serve God. If you have a place where your passions and talents intersect with the needs of the community, you’ve found a new avenue for ministry.

Our final resolution for this year is to walk in the way of love. Paul encourages us to “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” What does it mean to walk in the way of love but to bath everything we do in God’s love? There should be no part of our lives that is untouched by love, and no person in our lives who does not feel the love of God through us. To walk in the way of love means to turn away from anger, bitterness, violence, pride, and malice. God’s love should be the goal and direction of all our efforts, the desire of our hearts.

We can begin to walk in the way of love by immersing ourselves in God’s word and practicing love in community. Spending time with one another allows us to practice God’s love by loving real people with real flaws. We gather together to be reshaped by God’s word, and also to be shaped by the opportunity to really love people. We have to get to know God’s love letters to us so that we can become more like God, and we have to get to know the people in this community so that we can become more like one another as we grow in Christ together. As we grow in love of one another that love will have no choice but to work its way outward to the rest of the world. We will be a people marked by our love, as the scripture says, they will know you by your love.

So this year, as individuals and as a church, let’s resolve to remember who we are as the redeemed people of God. Let’s resolve to use our words to build one another up and speak truth to each other. Let’s resolve to use our hands and our passions to build up the kingdom of God. And let’s resolve to walk in the way of love, the love that makes all of our other resolutions possible. Let us love more deeply, speak truthfully, serve faithfully, fellowship gladly. In all of these things we acknowledge the power of God, who has made us new through his salvation and continues to make us new again and again.

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