Living up to our potential is a challenge in today's world. Jesus's grace, though, is sufficient enough and if we lean on Him a worthy life is only His name away.
Right now I want to talk about this particular chapter issue that we’re exploring together. The concept of what it means to live a life worthy of our calling. I would like us to turn to Ephesians 4. This is part of a letter that the apostle Paul wrote to a church in Ephesus hence Ephesians. I think it’s helpful to understand that Paul is writing to people who have made a faith commitment. Every now and then, I want to remind us of that because he’s writing to people who’ve opened up their hearts to Jesus as their savior and their Lord.
I realized that not all of us have made that decision. Maybe we’re in the process of doing that. Maybe we’re very close to doing that. Maybe we have, and we’re just starting out. Maybe some of us are investigating with some degree of caution and hesitation because you know, the Jesus thing can be scary. Yet we’re drawn when we really see Him, He’s irresistible. This letter is written to those who have developed o their faith relationship with Jesus. It’s not being shared. What I’m about to read is not being shared as an appeal to the as of yet convinced or the unbelieving. It’s an appeal to those who say they want to follow Jesus and have committed themselves to do so. So it’s important. Let’s start in that direction.
Paul is in prison at the time he’s writing this letter. He’s been confined because his testimony for Jesus got him locked in confinement. He says, “I, therefore, am a prisoner for the Lord.” That’s why he says it’s for the Lord. He’s writing from prison. Paul almost wears it as a badge of honor. He certainly sees it as something that could increase the credibility and the potency of his words. He says, “I want to urge you.” Here’s our line and focus. “I want to urge you in a manner that is worthy of the calling to which you’ve been called.” Which is his way of saying, “I want you to live a life that aligns with what you’ve called to be in Christ. I want you to seek congruency between who you are positionally in Jesus.” I know this doesn’t make sense to everybody, but in chapters one through three of the book, he’s talking about our position in Christ, how we couldn’t do it on our own. We needed a savior and how this amazing gift’s been given to us.
Chapters one through three of Ephesians is about our position in Jesus. We didn’t earn it. It’s a gift. We receive it. Chapter four starts a departure. Paul starts building off of what he says only Jesus could do. The amazing, stunning, and astonishing promises we have secured because of what He has done. He then shifts it to, “In light of what Jesus has done, you and I then are called to live a life of response to that.” What does that look like? That’s how Paul pushes this. He says, basically, your dominant quest as followers of Jesus is to live aligned. Live fully aligned as much as possible, even as Jesus, who was the fully aligned one. Paul says it’ll show up in your life in this way. In verse two, Paul says, “It’ll show up in our lives with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” Wow, those are soft and tender words.
Paul is talking about these relational qualities as one of the main ways it starts to show up in our life. It’s the opposite of things like pride or being harsh or pushy in our relationships. We can play this out in our home life, friendships, or workplace. I hope we’re not disconnecting between how we are when we’re part of a community confessing Jesus or how we are when we’re outside of the walls so to speak. In the real world marketplace of life, it’s even more important that we live with as much congruency as possible because at the end of the day, the reputation of Jesus is staked on the conduct. People ultimately will make their assessment of Jesus on the basis of what they see lived out by the people who claim to love Him. Therefore, it makes how we think about living and how we implement those perceptions exceptionally important. This is why as we see it, Jesus will always push us inward. Because what is in, comes out with all humility, gentleness patience bearing with one another in love.
I was reminded of a book I read by one of my favorite authors, Gordon McDonald. He wrote a book called The Resilient Life. When I was away on my medical sabbatical, I read a lot. I read around a particular stream. Sometimes when we’re reading, it might be good to have a variety of reading that we’re doing. Good reading can really help us. It helps us in our thinking. It helps us in our vocabulary. It helps open up creativity. Sometimes it’s good to read in a variety of different directions. Some of us at the beginning of the year should be thinking about a reading plan for our lives. For this year we should be thinking about it. It might be modest, but we should be thinking about not just reading the scripture. That’s the baseline for those of us who followed Jesus. But other types of reading are important as well.
I said all that because during this time away I read a lot on a particular genre. I needed strength in a certain area. I was feeling beat up from suffering and I shared with someone. I said, “I don’t know if I ever understood suffering at the level I was suffering, and there are a lot of reasons for it for me.” I read a lot about suffering, resiliency, faith, and how to position ourselves to be resilient. What does it mean to wrestle? What does it mean to have a thorn? How do we get better? How do we endure? How do we have patience? How do we think about what God’s trying to do in us when things are hard? How do we welcome Him in when part of us is angry? These are all real things.
One of the books I was reading was Gordon McDonald’s book, The Resilient Life. He was talking about ‘the small pieces’ in this book. It caught my attention. He says something about a 19th century Anglican, Bishop, Henry Mul, who I had no knowledge of. Henry Mul had a big effect that had a huge following at the time. Many people came to Jesus because of this Bishop. The Bishop himself had been deeply influenced by his father who had attained far less notoriety but nonetheless held this very important place in his life. Mul always taught about how he was impacted by his father. I know many of us have been influenced or affected by our fathers or grandfathers. Some of us for good, some of us not as good. His focus had to do with his father. That’s why I’m narrowing the scope, but some of us have been affected by fathers, grandfathers, or father figures in our lives who have invested in us. Father figures who have been islands of stability for us in turbulent times in our life. That is huge. We need that. We need that with both men and women, but I’m talking about fathers right now.
If you’re like me, I was deeply impacted by my grandfather. I did not have a good relationship with my father. My father and mother broke apart. My family ended when I was 12 or 13. There was a huge void and I blamed my father for that. Even though things healed up as the years went by and my father has long since passed, I never had a sense of being deeply loved. I didn’t feel like I needed it either, but I did get it from my grandfather. I’m just being honest. He taught me a lot about loving Jesus. He was consistent. He was a strong man, but he was a tender man in a certain kind of way. The consistency of his life ultimately affected me. I’ve said this before. I won’t spend too much time there, but his greatest impact on my life occurred when he was in his late sixties and seventies. That’s when our paths really crossed. I was coming into my late teens and early twenties. He was leaving his sixties heading into his seventies.
No one should underestimate what can happen in our advancing years. We do not know the impact we will have. Bishop Mul went on to say this about his father after his father had died. He wrote these words. I found them so beautifully honest and simple, and yet eloquent in their own way. He says, “I can only look back upon him thankful that such a personality embodies to me the great word father.” Look how he describes him. “A man so full of energy and capacity. So absolutely simple. So entirely fearless, so free from seeking his own glory. So ready to bear.” Watch how his description intersects with the description of what Paul calls us to in verse two. “So ready both to bear and do, a gentleman so true. A Christian, a gentle man. So true. A Christian so strong, so spiritual, so deep, such a pastor, such a parent, such a grandfather, such a friend.”I don’t think it has the same impact, but I remember when I read this where I was and how I was so unhappy with my frustrating situation and so hungry as maybe some of us might find ourselves at certain times in our lives. So hungry to want to move forward. To find ourselves in a spot where we are tired of what we are in. We want to move forward, but we feel stuck. The process is so slow.
I began to think about the influence that we as men and women can have on those who are connected to us most closely and how the humble authenticity and consistent Christ-like life affected this man who ultimately affected so many people for Jesus. I found myself wandering down the corner of my own mind. To have someone who knew us best truly say that, I thought, “Lord, I wonder how it will be someday when I leave this life. If even I had a portion of that. Even if a portion could be said of me, I would be astonishingly grateful.” It goes back to verse two where we talk about these qualities. It says, “With all humility, gentleness, with patience bearing with one another in love.” Verse three says, “Eager to maintain the unity of the spirit and the bond of peace.” Do you know what that is? That’s the opposite of forcing our way. It’s the opposite of forcing our own way. Or having to have our way if it means to win or lose. It speaks of a desire to deescalate, do work or rounds in our relationships, and guard the peace.
I look back on my earlier days and I was thinking about when I’m was a young leader, just starting here at the church, in my early twenties. I was very zealous. In fact, I was zealous when I was in college too. I won some arguments for Jesus, but I lost the person who I was trying to represent Him too. You can win in an argument and lose a friend. You have to be careful about that. It doesn’t go anywhere. I grew up very competitive. I felt winning was very important. I still do, I guess at some level, but I think I understand a little better that there are different ways of winning, and not all of them involved getting our own way. I remember and I’m going to go back a little bit. I remember I was still dating my now wife of 31 years. Cheryl and I were playing this board game or some game together. We weren’t even engaged. We were just getting to know each other. After you hear what happened, you’ll be surprised that she agreed to marry me.
We were playing this game together. We were starting to get to know each other and I don’t remember when it was, but I remember there were four or five of us playing. It was a very competitive game. We were all in like people get when they play games. I remember at the end I won and I said, “Yes. I won.” I was pretty happy about it. I was moving around happy that I had won. I was enjoying the satisfaction of it. In the middle of my display which I felt really pretty good about, she said with utmost sincerity, “Oh I finished second.” she looked happy like that was an accomplishment. An accomplishment because she had finished second. I said, “What are you doing? You finished second. There’s no second in this game, you either win or you’re just the best of the non-winners.” But I didn’t say non-winners.
I said, “How can you be happy about finishing second and be alone celebrating it?” “Well, I thought I was happy to finish second.” I remember in my utter naivete deflating her, but suffice to say the rest of the night did not go well. We both look back on that moment and laugh. At least I do. 30 years later, we’ve both changed a little bit. She’s a little more competitive and I’m a little less, but the essential goodness, happiness, and a lightness of bearing that characterized her then hasn’t changed much. It still speaks of something Christlike. I guess the connection for me has to do with guarding the peace and finding ways to celebrate our differences as complementary opportunities. What’s more, I think there’s a sacrificial component to unity because that’s what verse three is all about. The idea of not having to win or have our way. Having the capacity or the willingness to yield. This is huge. It’s true in any relationship, any church, or any good friendship. The willingness to yield when we’re butting heads. Can we find a workaround?
Can we find a third way? Is it win-lose, lose-win, or lose-lose? Is there a win-win out there for us? What’s that look like? Can we find it? Can God help us to find it? We need to bring somebody else in to help us to find it. Are we going to keep clashing at this over and over again? Good friendships learn how to find that pathway. Honestly, when we have the Lord working in our lives, we start practicing yielding. Some of us have to practice the opposite at times for Christian growth. A growth in our life with Jesus is going to sometimes look like standing up to things in courageous ways. For others of us, it might have to do with yielding when our pride is up, our feathers are ruffled, and we feel like that kicking in again.
The Lord is going to say, “No, that’s not my way.” I’m going to talk about sacrifice quickly. There’s a passage of scripture where Jesus is having a conversation with some of His disciples. It’s in Luke’s 9. It says, “Then now it happened. It happened that as He was praying alone, the disciples were with Him.” Right here teaches us something. There are times when we need to pull away and realign. Jesus modeled that. Particularly when we’re under a lot of pressure or immersed in success. Both of these two things have the capacity to create distorted perspectives. When we are under intense pressure, we start to see things in altered ways. When we are experiencing unusual success, we can become proud. We miss things too. Both of those places invite us to pull back, check our motives, and align ourselves better. Jesus modeled that.
Sometimes it has to do with what we see something coming around the bend. We know it’s coming and can see it coming because that’s what was happening with the Lord. He could see it. He was experiencing amazing success. He was under enormous pressure and saw that there was a challenge coming that was going to be as intense as anything any human being has ever faced in this world. He understood that even those that were closest to Him could not understand. The disciples were there when He was praying alone. It says they were with Him. When they came to him, He said, “I just have a question for you. Who do the crowds say that I am?” They answered, “Well, some people say you’re John, the Baptist. Other people say you’re Elijah. Others say that you’re one of the prophets of old that has risen. There’s a lot of opinion about you. Most people agree that you’re from God, but they’re really not sure about who you are.”
Jesus posed a question to them that they probably didn’t see coming. He says, “I know that. I know what’s being said about me, but who do you say that I am?” Everyone has to answer that question. All kinds of opinions about Jesus are out there today. “But who do you say that I am Peter? I’m still amazed at how the Lord does this. He invites us into a relationship with Him and then He’ll push us inward. This is a growing life. This is not a surface life. They can call what they weigh is not surface. The closer we get, the more He pushes into places, deep places. “Who do you say I am?” Pushes inward. Peter pops right out with the answer. “Well, you are the Christ of God.” That’s the kind of principle where there’s something important here and worth remembering as we make our way into the new year, especially positionally. What we confess, we possess. What we confess, we possess at least to a greater measure then we would’ve if we didn’t confess it. That is why our words matter. That is why our praise matters. It matters how we speak to people when we are angry. It matters that we do not use intimacy as an excuse to speak out things that we would never speak out to a stranger because words matter both negatively and positively.
In this case, it was positive. What we confess, we possess. I was having a conversation with someone. They were listening to me talk and I kept qualifying things. I wasn’t happy. It was a while back but they said to me, “You know? You be careful because you know when you speak that you reinforce it.” What we confess, we possess. I said, “You’re right, this is hard for me because I like to be honest. I don’t like saying, “Oh, I’m okay.” When I’m not okay.” There’s a fine line isn’t there? Between being fake and exercising faith. Those are an often held intentions. What is faith? Am I being fake? What does it mean to say I’m doing better when a part of us says, “Well kind of.” It’s how we speak that matters. What we confess, we possess.
For some of us, God might be saying, “You know what? There is an alteration in a speech pattern in our lives that needs to take place.” We are referring to something that is different than the way God wants us to refer to it. We need to spend some time alone with God, write some things down, and share closely in some conversation, if possible. Pray for one another. Most preferably, to see if we can gain a better perspective on something God might want us to shift around and adjust. Peter says, “You’re the Christ of God.” The words of Jesus are tough words. I’ll say it on the front end, tough words. Jesus says something after Peter says, “You’re the Christ, son of God.” He says, “Okay, that’s very good. I don’t want you to talk about that to anybody right now.” But “Oh, Messiah, why can’t we talk?” “Because I’m going to tell you something. It’s going to go in a different way than you’re thinking. There are some things that need to play themselves out and I don’t need you to go out there proclaiming me as Messiah right now.”
“The son of Man suffer.” He’s talking about Himself. “Many things be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes.” That’s the leadership of Jerusalem. “Is going to be killed and on the third day, He’s going to be raised.” What are you talking about? These words were shocking. They were confusing. But you’re the Christ. Yes, we’re talking about Messiah here, not as asserting power but laying it down. I’m going to yield. He said to them, “And speaking of yielding, which is what I’m about to show you, what’s going to happen and the life that’s going to come out of that. You say you’re my disciple. I want to suggest this.” But he said more than that. He said, I want to say this to you, “If any one, who would come after me, let them deny themselves, take up his cross daily and follow me.” You know I wrote about this. I want to get the words precise because I don’t want to be confused. I want to read what I wrote. There’s a sacrificial aspect of following Jesus. The struggle is assumed.
Is there anything that we can point to if we claim to follow Him, that we are restraining from for the sake of the kingdom? Is there anything? Is there anything hard that we are struggling with that involves Him, requires His help across a thorn or disappointment? A wound, a call to step forward courageously and face something bravely. I’m talking about something that requires grace as we seek to do things God’s way. Because if there isn’t something we are struggling to yield to Christ, then there’s one thing we can know for sure. We are either perfectly obedient or we are not His disciple. Because to have a call to decide will challenge us to die to something so that something else may live. Dying isn’t easy. It’s hard, really hard.
Yet, that’s where God’s grace comes in. He takes it one step further, “For whoever would save his life will lose it. But whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” For me, this is hardball. I call this the struggle for sovereignty over our lives. Who’s the king? Who’s the boss? I at least need to be able to say it, “You’re my Lord. Now with your help, I will seek to live a life aligned to that. I’ll need your help always because I can’t do it. I need your help.” Yes, you get me. This is what we talk about. Relationship. We will do this together. Breakthrough together. Die to live. Live to die. It’s all this together. “What does it profit a person if he gains the whole world, but loses his own soul?” It’s the inverse. It’s the, You die. You live, you live. If you live for yourself, you die. If you die for yourself and live for me, you live. It’s all about learning how to work the angles of who we really were made to be in God. Finding ourselves, the real selves in the making. Okay, we combine the two passages together, what do we have quickly? Just some take-home points.
When we talk about a life worthy of our calling, then what have we learned? We combine these two pieces. Paul’s piece and Jesus’s piece. We learned that it involves a life that is willing to sacrifice. Number one, a life that is willing to sacrificially make adjustments. To live sacrificially and make adjustments. To follow Jesus will cost us something. It will require us to face things, wrestle with deep questions, accept our limitations, acknowledge with humble honesty our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and explore our blind spots. My son, Jacob, our third, when he gets fixated on something, he just goes all the way into it. Some of you may have seen the movie Creed that was out. It was the long sequel to the Rocky movie series.
Jake ends up recording all the Rocky movies and says, we have to watch all of them. There are a lot of them as it has been many years ago. He says, “We got to do it. He’s walking around and doing everything all over the house. “So come on dad, come on dad. Let’s do this. Let’s do this.” I said, all right, all right. So I ended up watching number one. Fantastic. I forgot how good it was. It was the best picture of the year. It was good. Then he said, “Let’s watch number two. So I was watching number two. I’m saying all this. There’s a reason. In Rocky two he has a blind spot. In Rocky one, he gets so beat up that his eye is damaged. So he’s got a blind spot. Part of the reason he’s afraid to fight is that he now has a blind spot. I remember Burgess Meredith the trainer, “Rocky. You can’t fight anymore. You got a blind spot.” Rocky says, “No, I can do it. Look, I can do it.” All right. So wait a minute. He goes and says, “Look, watch this.” He moves his hand. “Do you see that?” Rocky says, “I see it. I see it.” The trainer says, “You see that?” Eventually, he does and says, “You can’t even see this spot. He’ll kill ya. He’ll murder ya. The guy’s the best in the world. He wants to obliterate. You can’t even see.” We all have blind spots. I have one. We have them. What are they? They’re the areas of our unique vulnerability. It’s one thing to know about our vulnerability. It’s another thing not being able to see it.
That’s why we need others. I think a great metaphor is when the trainer says, “You’re going to have to shift your style, to compensate for that spot.” That’s in Rocky II. It goes back to number one. It’s about adjusting. I adjust to compensate for my weaknesses because I want to live a life worthy of my calling. It means I need to bring others into my conversation and allow them to be honest with me. Which requires trust. Building out of trust comes the opportunity for real breakthrough in my life. As we begin to shore up the weak zone, some of which we can’t see, it takes humility. When we’re in enough pain, we’ll do almost anything. Pain and suffering can be a gift if it opens us up to something we would never open up to without it. Because He loves us. He’s there with us.
The second involves a willingness to leave things behind. Suffice to say, it’s going to involve making adjustments. It’s going to involve shifting some things around. It may be that some of us have felt like we failed. Some of us may have imprints from our past. Some of us might feel like we have ways of being that are connected to how we were raised. I use this phrase, “The crosswalk.” It has a dual meaning for me. The crosswalk will involve yielding certain things to God. See the cross on the walk. Together, walk worthy of the vocation for which you’ve been called. Walk worthy of your calling. Take up your cross and follow me.
The crosswalk invites us to yield. Sometimes what we’re being asked to yield is the perception of who we are because this is who we’ve been. Sometimes it has to say, this is who I think I am because this is what they told me I was, or this is what the culture tells me I am. To be proud of it, whatever it is. But who does He say that I am? Some of us will walk out of our failure to build our lives out of an identity failure. Christ is trying to say, I want you to find your identity and me. It’s a very important principle. Sometimes it’s just showing up in terms of how we love those around us better. That goes back to Ephesians 4-2. We began with the example of Bishop Mul, who received from his father, the impact we have on others when we seek to live a life that looks like Jesus is almost amazing. I say, “Lord, help us to have these qualities.”
What do we say as we leave? What is it that God wanted us to hold onto? Who are the people we’re supposed to affect by giving attention to our character and our ways of responding to things when they’re not going our way? What are our old patterns of behavior that show up when the pressure’s on? How does God want to help us grow? For some of us, we’re going to be what the Lord’s trying to say to us. What are you supposed to bring out of this? For some, it might be to watch your words because what you can confess, you possess. For others, it might have to do with, “Remember your blind spot. What are you doing to deal with that?” Now that you can kind of see where it is, what is the compensation and grace package that God has? What is my crosswalk that He’s asking me to yield on so that He can open up other things? Why is struggle sometimes a gift to me and even pain and setback if I allow it to create an opportunity for God to open up new pathways in my heart that I couldn’t have given before because I’m too stubborn or proud?
Let’s pray. Lord, before we close with our final song, which reminds and invites us into new places and horizons. We’re going to sit with that as we close this out and after our time of giving, we’re going to try to be there together. We take this word that we’ve just received and pray that it would play itself out in our hearts and minds. I pray it keeps working, keep working, help us Lord not to be afraid of struggle. Struggle can be our friend. If it can break us out, it can build things in us when it teaches us how to rely on your grace. Which is more than enough, even though it’s hard and part of us may want to run away. It’s okay. We trust you to build good relationships. Move forward, growing in the year that’s ahead of us. We ask for your blessing, your grace. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.