On Sunday, I had the opportunity to speak at my church. Below are my notes for that message. (Some people have asked for a recording, but it didn't actually get recorded due to sound difficulties. And, since I didn't really deviate from my notes, I decided to post them here). The notes are kind of long because I wrote out the passages of scripture I used. I encourage all of you to spend some time in Ephesians and the rest of Paul's epistles. They are chock full of pearls of wisdom.
I showed these three videos before the service. Feel free to check them out.
God of this city (Paris) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0Ocr8udIuQ
Disneyland Paris - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tUJTIR0ECU
Friends in France - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iaH-Y4WQdD8
For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Christy Solly, and I am honored to have the opportunity to share with you today. On August 10th, I had the privilege of traveling to France with Alan and Heidi Winter of Frontline Missions. Some of you may remember that I went to Honduras in April with these same missionaries and I’m hoping to do more work with them in the future. For me, however, this trip was 12 years in the making.
When I was 17 years old, I fell in love with France. I actually had a little crush on that country and her language before that time. I was a senior in high school and had taken 2 years of French to fulfill my language requirement. I loved every second of it. My friends, who also took French, and I would pass notes to each other in French so they couldn’t be deciphered by the Spanish speakers. And, I think I drove my parents crazy with speaking it all the time. So, because of this unexplainable fascination with France, my grandparents offered to take me there as a graduation gift. I could hardly believe it. I was going to Paris!
So, in the spring of 1997, I made my first trip to France. I must have walked around like a star struck teenager. I soaked in everything I could. My grandparents were quite the troopers as we crammed as much as possible into those 5 days. We saw the Eiffel Tower (of course), climbed to the top of Sacre-Coeur and the Arc de Triomphe. We ate fresh croissants for breakfast and had lunch on the patios of French cafés and even travelled out to Versailles. It felt like a once in a life time experience. Little did I know what God had in mind.
Of all the beautiful, historic, and interesting places we visited, the place that means the most to me in Paris is the Cathedral of Notre Dame. The thing about this cathedral is that the story of Jesus is on display in every corner. The face of the building itself holds the likenesses of saints and apostles and disciples of Jesus. The intricate stained glass tells the stories of the Bible in pictures. They still hold services there. And the life of Jesus is depicted in beautiful carved wood panels that line the walls. You can’t miss it! I wonder how you could walk through there and not at least have some questions about it all. The story of Jesus is everywhere. Yet, thousands of people walk through there every year (maybe millions), and they don’t know the Savior who’s story the building tells. It was there, standing before one of the wood panels, that God crushed my heart for France. I can remember it as if it were yesterday. I felt His pain for His children in France who were walking in darkness. One of my favorite lines lately in a worship song is when Christy Nockles sings “break my heart for what breaks Yours, everything I am for Your kingdom’s call, as I walk from earth into eternity”. The Lord did that for me that day. He broke my heart for the people of France.
But, I was 17. What was I going to do about it? Not only was I 17, but I didn’t see myself going far from home. In fact, when I went to college, I pretty much only considered schools within a 2 hour radius of home. Surely, I wouldn’t be going to France. So, I put the thought away for a long while. I still loved France, but I didn’t see that it was part of God’s plan for me. In the years that have followed, God has worked on my heart and worked on my gifts and helped me grow as a person and as a minister of the Gospel. He’s had to break some things in me. For one thing, I tend to like to know where I’m going and the plan for getting there. However, mission work doesn’t usually follow any kind of plan. It’s really important to be flexible and be able to handle changes with grace. I’ve had to learn that (and, I’m still not completely there). But, I continued to develop the gifts and talents He gave me and waited for some direction.
Last October, it all started to come together. I had been praying about going into ministry and really feeling the Lord’s call on my life and that it was time to move that direction. I’ve been slow and careful and have prayed about what that would actually look like. Last October, I met with Heidi Winter and shared that desire with her. She immediately asked me to pray about joining Frontline Missions. It caught me off guard, because I never really saw myself as a missionary. A music minister….maybe. A Sunday school or youth teacher…sure. But, a missionary? Definitely something to pray about. A week or so later, I met with her in a more official setting and talked about what it would look like if I did choose to join Frontline. Now, they concentrate mostly in Central and South America – Latin countries. They wanted me to learn Spanish and Portuguese and join them on trips to Honduras and Brazil. But, at the end of the meeting, almost as a side note, Heidi mentioned that she believed God was going to expand them into Europe – starting with France.
I was nearly speechless. You see, Heidi had no idea that I love France. So, I quickly shared my story with her and told her I would definitely pray about it. In April, I travelled with them and the Landmark students to Honduras for a mission trip. It was there that God truly began to confirm this new direction in my life. More and more, I felt like I was supposed to minister to the people of France.
Then comes August. The trip is finally planned and Heidi, Alan and I left for France. We were going to visit with several families whose children had been exchange students in the Winter’s home. There were 5 French families altogether with whom we spent time while in France. Now, my understanding was a little foggy before we left. I thought we were going to see what it would look like to take teams to France on missions. That didn’t really happen. Perhaps it will happen in later trips. This trip was just about spending time with these families. It wasn’t so much a mission trip in the sense of going with the intent to convert souls. But, we lived life with these wonderful people for 10 days and loved on them and shared our faith in very personal ways. In reality, it was not much different than how we should be living here as the church. That’s what I want to talk to you about today. Lifestyle evangelism. Living the life God called you to live. Whether in France or in Fayetteville, the way that we live and how we represent Christ makes a difference to those with whom we are in relationship. Just as we heard last week that real change and growth happens in community, so does real change come within the context of loving relationships. When people look at how you live, how you love, how you treat each other, do they see Jesus? Sadly, the church has developed a bad reputation in the world. When you ask people to tell you what they think of when they hear the word “Christian”, often, the response is “Hypocrite”, “Judgmental”, “Self-Righteous”. How sad. That’s not at all what the Lord has asked His church to be. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. People should know we are followers of Christ because they see Him in us.
In the last several weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time in Paul’s letters, especially his letter to the Church at Ephesus. I’d like to share some of his instruction to that church with you today.
1. What was God’s plan for us? Ephesians 1:3-10 (The Message)
"How blessed is God! And what a blessing He is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in Him. Long before He laid down earth’s foundations, HE had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of His love, to be made whole and holy by His love. Long, long ago He decided to adopt us into His family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure He took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of His lavish gift-giving by the hand of His beloved Son. Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, His blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people – free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans He took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in Him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth."
Long before He laid down earth’s foundations, He had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of His love, to be made whole and holy by His love. Can you imagine that? You are the focus of God’s love and He wants that love to make You whole and holy.
And, we’re a free people – free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. ABUNDANTLY free! Do we live like this? Do we live like we believe it? We’re children of God who have been set free from the penalties of our sins through the poured out love of God. We are FREE! But, how often do we live like we’re still in chains? Verse 11 goes on to tell us that it’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. God’s working things out for His people. He has a plan for us, a good, perfect, wonderful plan. Are we listening? Are we following?
2. What were we before Christ? Ephesians 2:1-4
"It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose His temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, He embraced us."
I love the way this version phrases this: “You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience”. How often do we think the world’s way is better? How often do we think we’ll have more fun or life will be more fulfilling if we do it the world’s way? But, how many of you remember your mother telling you “garbage in – garbage out”? Well, here is an example of that in scripture. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. Unbelief breeds disobedience. If you trust the person who is instructing you – if you truly believe they have your best interest at heart, aren’t you more likely to be obedient? If you respect someone, aren’t you more likely to listen? Polluted unbelief leads to disobedience. But, yet, somehow…God still loved us and adopted us as Sons and Daughters. We certainly haven’t earned that. Thank God for His gift.
3. What are we now? Ephesians 2:19-22
"That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all – irrespective of how we got here – in what He is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now He’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day – a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home."
We are the body of Christ. We are the temple of God. We are His children and we belong in Him. We’re part of something that goes back to the foundations of the earth and will continue forever. A building where God is quite at home. I’m a very visual person and I love it when Scripture gives us pictures like that. He told Peter, “on this rock I will build my church” and Paul has carried that picture through here. We each play our part in the structure of the building. We each have a responsibility to those before who’ve laid the foundation and those ahead who will build on what we leave behind. What’s your role in the church? What do you look like as part of this infinite structure He’s building?
4. What’s ahead for us? Ephesians 3:14-21
"My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask Him to strengthen you by His Spirit – not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength – that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite Him in. And I ask Him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. God can do anything, you know – fare more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, His Spirit deeply and gently within us."
I don’t know about you, but that passage is really exciting to me. “Extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.”. Doesn’t that sound like a great adventure? That doesn’t sound like a religion bound up in rules and regulations, does it? It sounds like something worth chasing after and pouring your life into.
And, take heart in the last part of this passage, church: “God can do anything, you know – far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!”. Greater things are yet to come for this church and for the church as a whole. God’s not done with us yet. He can do more than we could ever imagine. He has a plan for us that is beyond our wildest dreams.
5. So, now that we know that, now what? Ephesians 4:1-3; 14-24
"In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk – better yet, run! – on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline – not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences…."
Where would we be if we were pouring ourselves out for each other in acts of love, sensitive to our difference and quick at mending fences? That’s how mature believers should behave. God doesn’t want us to stay babies in the faith forever.
"No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love – like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love. And, so I insist – and God backs me up on this – that there be no going along with the crowd, the empty-headed, mindless crowd. They’ve refused for so long to deal with God that they’ve lost touch not only with God but with reality itself. They can’t think straight anymore. Feeling no pain, they let themselves go in sexual obsession, addicted to every sort of perversion. But that’s no life for you. You learned Christ! My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to Him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything – and I do mean everything – connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life – a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces His character in you."
6. What does a God-fashions conduct look like? Ephesians 5:1-17
"Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with Him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of Himself to us. Love like that. Don’t allow love to turn into lust, setting off a downhill slide into sexual promiscuity, filthy practices, or bullying greed. Though some tongues just love the taste of gossip, Christians have better uses for language than that. Don’t talk dirty or silly. That kind of talk doesn’t fit our style. Thanksgiving is our dialect. You can be sure that using people or religion or things just for what you can get out of them – the usual variations on idolatry – will get you nowhere, and certainly nowhere near the kingdom of Christ, the kingdom of God. Don’t let yourselves get taken in by religious smooth talk. God gets furious with people who are full of religious sales talk but want nothing to do with Him. Don’t even hang around people like that. You groped your way through that murk once, but no longer. You’re out in the open now. The bright light of Christ makes your way plain. So no more stumbling around. Get on with it! The good, the right, the true – these are the actions appropriate for daylight hours. Figure out what will please Christ and then do it. Don’t waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, the barren pursuits of darkness. Expose these things for the sham they are. It’s a scandal when people waste their lives on things they must do in the darkness where no one will see. Rip the cover off those frauds and see how attractive they look in the light of Christ. Wake up from your sleep, climb out of your coffins; Christ will show you the light! So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. There are desperate times! Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants."
This may seem like a long list of do’s and don’ts, but it really is just what the fruit of a holy life looks like. Pursue Christ. Pursue holiness. Pursue love. We’re not going to get there in this lifetime, but it’s the bar that’s been set for us. We should reach for it – run after it – pour ourselves out in loving acts for each other.
7. Paul’s final word to the church at Ephesus – Ephesians 6:10-18
"And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and He wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. Be prepared. You’re up against fare more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them through your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out."
There's a lot going on in our church right now. It's important hat we pray for each other and keep each other's spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out. It's imperative, during this time of transition that we love like Jesus, pour ourselves out in acts of love, be sensitive to each other's differences and mend our fences quickly. This is what the world wants to see when they look at the church. This is what they SHOULD see when they look at the church. What do they see when they look at our lives? Do they see Jesus? I hope so.