November 12, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (Ephesians 2)

Submitted by Azusa L. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Ephesians 2:11-13

  • Reflect back on your life separated from Christ highlighted by the words “alienated,” “strangers,” “having no hope,” and “without God.”  What was required for you to experience “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near”? 

Before Christ, I could deeply relate to these words—“alienated,” “strangers,” “having no hope,” and “without God.”  This was exactly how I felt.  If I could sum up my heart’s deepest desire, it was to have belongingness and acceptance.  However, there were a lot of dark things in my life that I wanted to hide, so I became really closed and had a hard time letting people in.  I felt embarrassed about troubles at home, and sins I was involved in that I could never bear to tell.  I couldn’t shake the feeling that if someone really knew everything about me, that they would disdain me or run away from me.  I felt I had to be a certain way in order to truly be accepted, so I tried to change myself, and where that failed, I just tried to hide as many aspects of my life as possible.  God was out of the picture as I looked to myself and my own means to secure happiness, but I faced the limitations of my ability to do this and felt entirely hopeless. I turned my hopes inward into a really wretched heart and looked to other fallen sinners to affirm my worth when instead, my hopes were to lie in Jesus.  I finally experienced this when I came face to face with my sinfulness and my limitations to do anything about it.  When I came to college and to this church, I initially saw church to be a place where I can clean myself up and take on this new image of a good Christian and seek my approval from people here.  However, when I really tried to live this out, I found that even in my best efforts I just couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t really love, I was selfish, and I certainly couldn’t control my dark and sinful thoughts.  What it took for me to finally experience being brought near to Christ Jesus was to at last admit that I was far away in the first place, and that I was a sinner who just couldn’t change myself and was in need of Jesus.  It took many messages, prayer meetings, and talks with my spiritual leaders to help me slowly realize this. Though before Christ, I had thought that honestly opening myself up would turn people away from me, I found that in Christ, that was what brought me nearer to Jesus.  To my shock, even when I confessed and sought help for the very sins that I thought would turn people away from me, I in turn found compassion and grace from my leaders and I realized my Father’s heart is to forgive me and for me to come back and be restored.  I experienced that what I had been longing for, the belonging and acceptance I desired so much, has become an unshakable hope in Jesus, and I have this place of belonging on this earth in God’s community, as well as a place prepared for me in heaven (John 14:2).

Ephesians 2:14-16

  • How have I experienced Jesus overcoming the “dividing wall of hostility” that separates me from others?  What walls of hostility need to be demolished in my life?

I often held up a dividing wall of hostility of just sizing people up and making judgments about who I could get along with and befriend, but I’ve experienced Jesus overcoming this as I have learned that the bond I have with others in Christ Jesus transcends anything else.  One example is with my peers.  I don’t think I would ever have become friends with most of them had it not been for the gospel and for this church. I think about my peers who I lived with during my senior year to reach out to the freshmen, and it still astounds me that we did this because we were so different from one another and I never thought I’d ever live with them or get along with them.  And it wasn’t easy—we definitely did clash in many ways.  But amazingly, as we reached out to the students together and prayed for them, as well as sharing each other’s burdens and praying for each other, I found this dividing wall of hostility come down and I experienced a close bond that was only possible in Christ.

The wall of hostility that still remains and needs to be demolished in my life is my insecurity that causes me to be defensive towards others and second guess their love and acceptance, or to hold back in fear or passivity.  It is the same haunting insecurity that has plagued me before Christ that I have to continue to fight as this is what keeps me from taking steps to relate to people and take risks to love others.  It needs to be thoroughly demolished by claiming God’s love and approval to give me the strength to love others freely.

Ephesians 2:19-22

  • In what ways does my old identity as a “stranger” and “alien” still persist, despite the fact that I am now a part of “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God”?

My old identity as a “stranger” and “alien” still persists despite the fact that I am now “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” when I bring in old values and dividing walls of hostilities.  Though I know that we are all simply fellow sinners forgiven by God and given the good work of ministry to do as an undeserved privilege, I still fall back to judging others and myself based on abilities, competence, personality, and other means of gaining respect.  I feel most like an alien in the household of God when I end up comparing myself to others and nitpicking at areas that feed my insecurity and make me feel inferior so that I convince myself that I don’t belong.

  • What do I need to do to foster the process of “being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” with others who are “members of the household of God”?

In order to foster the process of “being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” with others who are “members of the household of God,” I need to fight against my insecurities and comparisons and focus on this work of building up the church together.  When I recognize that the mission we are up against is much bigger than what any one person can ever hope to do, and that actually much of the success of our mission depends on our unity, then I would be much more able to view the other members of the household of God as those I need to build this “dwelling place of God” together with.

  • How do I need to change my thoughts, speech, and actions so that we (the body of Christ) can grow into “a holy temple in the Lord”? 

There are many ways in which I need to change my thoughts, speech, and actions so that we (the body of Christ) can grow into a “holy temple in the Lord.”  One area in which I can change is to make the shift from being task-focused to relationship-focused.  So often I am so focused on the next thing that I have to do and frazzled by life’s demands that I miss out on fully relating to the person right in front of me.  If I keep doing this then there will be many missed opportunities to love and build up the body of Christ to become the holy temple in the Lord together.  I can start to make the shift by treating each person in my thoughts, speech, and actions with full attention and being more intentional about relationships in my interactions.

Submitted by Jeff L. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Ephesians 2:11-13

  • Reflect back on your life separated from Christ highlighted by the words “alienated,” “strangers,” “having no hope,” and “without God.”  What was required for you to experience “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near”?

I can still remember when I was in that place as a freshman in college–an agnostic, highly skeptical about organized religion, proud and arrogant, blinded by the lies of this world, an alien and stranger to all the rich truths of the Bible, without hope & without God.  It took so much for me, who was so far from God to come near.  It took meeting my CS3 TA at Cal as a high school junior who reached out to me and invited me to Bible Study to get my foot into the door.  Even though I wasn’t ready to seek God, this encounter softened my heart to coming back out my freshman year when I came to Cal.  Then, it took a whole host of people, pouring out and investing in me, from my freshman leader John L., to many older brothers who sacrificed their time to energy to hang out with me and pour out their love into me.  It took countless messages from Pastor Ed, reading books from C.S. Lewis, and Letters from a Skeptic.  It took a lot of prayers, many hours of conversations, message preparation, food, time, and sacrifice to move me from a skeptic to a believer.

Ephesians 2:14-16

  • How have I experienced Jesus overcoming the “dividing wall of hostility” that separates me from others? 

The biggest dividing wall of hostility in my life was my pride.  Growing up, I had a very inflated and grandiose view of myself and this caused me to look down on other people as well as not feel the need for relationships.  Jesus overcame this wall by showing me what a wretched sinner I am.  Through the circumstances of my life, I have been thoroughly humbled and now, with my pride broken, I am able to see other people as precious people who I need and who have so many strengths that I can admire and learn from.

  • What walls of hostility need to be demolished in my life? 

I think self-preservation is a wall of hostility that needs to be demolished in my life.  I see that there is still a reservation to give myself fully to the people in my life without holding back some part of me because I do not want to be hurt or rejected or have my love spurned.  I was very challenged through the Thanksgiving Retreat by the stories where the leaders struggled and anguished to bring the other to salvation or experience some breakthrough.  The nature of love is to hold nothing back, but to pour oneself completely out onto another person, and as I think about my ministry this is something that really needs to be demolished.

Ephesians 2:19-22

  • In what ways does my old identity as a “stranger” and “alien” still persist, despite the fact that I am now a part of “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God”? 

There is still a part of me that is driven by success and a need to accomplish and prove myself in some way.  There is a restless energy that comes from not being fully settled in my identity as a fellow citizen in God’s household and it causes me to seek significance in what I can do and accomplish.  In my life, this takes the form of wanting results and success in ministry and when I am possessed by it, ministry is not about the precious people whom God has entrusted to me to love and draw into the household of God, but rather, it’s about me, as an alien, trying to establish my identity apart from people, but built upon my success and accomplishment.

  • What do I need to do to foster the process of “being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” with others who are “members of the household of God”?  

I need to come to see my life, my identity and my significance being defined relationally.  I desire so much for significance, yet this is bestowed upon me as a member of God’s household.  As a youth minister engaged in loving high school students, and as results do not come very often, I want to commit to simply loving each precious soul that God brings into my life.  As I do so, I know my restless desire to find significance in my success will arise and when it does, I need to embrace in a deeper way the truth that my significance does not come in what I can do or accomplish, but rather, that I am loved by God and loved by many people in this body of Christ.  Coming from brother Mark & sister Naomi’s farewell (as they are being sent out as church plant members for our Minnesota church), I was reminded of what an amazing community we share because of the gospel.  This is where I must learn to find my significance–not in what I can do, but from the people that I belong to–as a member of God’s household.

  • How do I need to change my thoughts, speech, and actions so that we (the body of Christ) can grow into “a holy temple in the Lord”? 

One area that I need to work on is attentiveness to details and being thorough.  Through different situations in ministry, I’ve been seeing how my lack of thoughtfulness leads others to frustration and confusion.  This really weakens the ability of the body of Christ to love people and is something I really need to work on to be a blessing to people instead of a liability.  As I consider how connected I am with the larger body of Christ, I see that I need to work on these issues for the sake of others.

Personal Prayer

Father, thank You for bringing me who was so far away, near to You through Christ.  Thank You for breaking down my pride and enabling me to experience the preciousness or relationships.  And thank You for blessing me with the household of God–I pray that as I continue to strive to obey You and have my mind renewed by Your word, that I would stop living as an alien, striving to find significance in what I can accomplish, and rest in Your love and as a member of Your household.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Submitted by Kevin J. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Ephesians 2:11-13

  • Reflect back on your life separated from Christ highlighted by the words “alienated,” “strangers,” “having no hope,” and “without God.”  What was required for you to experience “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near”? 

As I look back on my life, it’s an amazing thing that I am counted as a member of God’s household. It’s really nothing short of a miracle considering how deluded I was about my relationship with God, about life, and about myself. By virtue of faithfully attending church from a young age, I did not see myself as “alienated” or “without God.”  My church attendance and participation led me to believe I had a good standing relationship with God, and so at the time I didn’t see how “separated from Christ” I actually was. Before realizing that I wasn’t a Christian, I remember thinking that I was on top of the world and saw less and less of a need for God in my life. I was living as a practical atheist, distancing myself further from God, consequently leaving my soul restless. I was becoming a “stranger” to God in every sense of the word. It wasn’t until I started feeling that sense of emptiness that I began to turn back to God, and I know it was the work of the Holy Spirit through the prayers of so many people that brought me to that point. I distinctly remember that conversation with my dad during my sophomore year of college when he asked me how I was doing. Though every observation of my life would have indicated I was doing very well, I was struck by a sense of paralysis, unable to answer a seemingly harmless question, one that is typically answered without batting an eyelash. The sense of concern and urgency that accompanied this exchange was the first step in my journey back to faith and in realizing just how “far” from Jesus I was. The more I am able to see my depraved heart and all the sins and character issues that reside within, the more I am able to see my need for Jesus and am “brought near” to God. It’s that moment of coming to my senses about my state of alienation and hopelessness “without God” that has led me to this point in my life where I am striving to fulfill my true destiny and calling as a redeemed sinner and minister of the gospel.                                                                                     

Ephesians 2:14-16

  • How have I experienced Jesus overcoming the “dividing wall of hostility” that separates me from others?  What walls of hostility need to be demolished in my life? 

When I think about “the dividing wall of hostility” that separates me from others and how Jesus has completely obliterated that wall since I became a Christian, two ideas come to mind. For one, Jesus Christ has given me relationships that transcend the superficial boundaries constructed by this world. As I transport myself back to my undergrad years, I remember not even being able to relate to many of the people I now consider to be my lifelong brothers in Christ. We were such a rag-tag bunch of guys, and I thought I was so beyond the personalities of the very people I was supposed to love and befriend. The funny thing is, many of us were thinking the same exact thing about each other. “But now in Christ Jesus” we have been made “one,” and here we are, tied by the bonds of our faith in Jesus Christ as we serve a common purpose, doing our best to serve faithfully in our respective ministries, spurring each other on, and depending on each other as lifelines in this race. Secondly, over the years I have come to embrace the differences I see in other brothers and sisters, both younger and older – namely the ways they are so much better than I am in some area of competence, or wiser than me, or just simply more spiritually mature than I am. The gospel has a way of cutting through all the fluff and nonsense that does not allow people to relate to one another by projecting the universal truth that we are all broken sinners in desperate need of a savior. When I was able to humble myself to accept this, I was not only able to see beyond the “dividing walls” that separated me from others, but I was able to see how much I was in need of others. Relationships took on an entirely new dimension as I began to see the necessity of people in my life to help define the character and person I was becoming instead of as sources of competition, interruption and envy. I recognize the pangs of jealousy I still feel when I notice some skill or talent or level of wisdom in others that I don’t have, but in light of what we are trying to do as a church in moving the gospel forward, it is so important for me to quickly repent of these thoughts and instead be filled with gratitude that others have what I lack. In the body of Christ there is no room for any “dividing walls of hostility,” particularly ones constructed by my pride, because I am part of a larger household that is striving to build up the kingdom of God.

Personal Prayer

Heavenly Father, thank you for having mercy on me and reconciling me to yourself through the cross. Though I was once separated from Christ, alienated and without hope, you have redeemed my life and are transforming me into a member of your household. Thank you for the cross and for grasping for me when I was so far off, doing everything I could to distance myself further and further away from you. I praise and thank you that I have been brought near, and I ask that you would help me to be a source of love and blessing to others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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