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Sunday, January 27, 2019

“One New Humanity…”

A sermon based upon Ephesians 2: 11-22
By Rev. Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, DMin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
Third Sunday After Epiphany-C,  January 27h,  2019 
(4-14) Sermon Series: Growing Up In Christ (Eph. 4:15)

Who doesn’t remember those famous words President Ronald Reagan uttered in front of the Berlin Wall: “Mr. Gorbachov, tear down this wall! 
The Berlin wall was built to keep people in; from fleeing their homeland.  It was constructed in 1961 and became a symbol of communist aggression and oppression.  The Berlin wall was eleven feet high and was topped by barbed wire.  While the wall was only 25 miles long across the city, the border, known as the “Iron Curtain” went across the entire eastern part of German, 810 miles. 
The area right behind the wall was an area known as the “death area.” Refugees who had reached that area were shot without warning. Beyond that was a trench to prevent vehicles from breaking through. Then there was a corridor with watchdogs, watchtowers and bunkers, and then a second wall.  At least 100 people were killed trying to escape over the Berlin Wall.  It was a day of incredible rejoicing on November 9, 1989 when that wall came tumbling down.
It is interesting that the largest construction project ever undertaken by humanity was the building of a wall.  This is, of course, the Great Wall of China. It is said that enough stone was used in that 1,700 year project to build an 8 foot wall girdling the globe at the equator. The Great Wall snakes its way over more than one twentieth of the earth’s circumference; 13,000 miles. It is the perfect metaphor for humanity’s obsession of building walls to separate one people from another.  The Great Wall of China was built to keep out foreigners.
We live in the time when there is much concern about border control, and building walls.  Back last summer, when it was approaching 95 degrees, Teresa and I took our ‘date day’ and drove to Blowing Rock, where we found a cool spot with a rocking chair and talked to tourists passing through.  One of the people we meet, was from San Antonio, Texas.   The ‘Border Wall’ was in the news that day, and he had an opinion to share, saying that you could not stay in Mexico, without permission, so why should we allow people to stay here without permission.  We in America can’t simply keep allowing people to come into our country without some kind of control.  Like it or not,” he said, “America needs some kind of border wall.”
In both the ancient world, as well as in our modern world, we still need borders, and walls for both security and sanctuary.  But walls can also be restrictive, oppressive, and separating. The great American poet Robert Frost once wrote:
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know  What I was walling in or walling out,  And to whom I was like to give offence.   Something there is that doesn't love a wall,  That wants it down."

THEREFORE REMEMBER…  (11)   YOU…HAVE BEEN BROUGHT NEAR (13)  Do you know who else doesn’t like ‘walls’.   It’s Jesus. Listen to what the Apostle Paul says in today’s text, beginning in verse 13:, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and HAS DESTROYED THE BARRIER, THE DIVIDING WALL OF HOSTILITY, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. HIS PURPOSE WAS to create in himself ONE NEW HUMANITY out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to RECONCILE BOTH OF THEM to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY and peace to those who were near. For through him WE BOTH HAVE ACCESS to the Father by one Spirit.
Consequently, you are NO LONGER FOREIGNERS AND STRANGERS, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. IN HIM THE WHOLE BUILDING IS JOINED TOGETHER and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are BEING BUILT TOGETHER to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” 
The wall St. Paul is referring to in specific is the WALL BETWEEN JEWS AND GENTILES. God did not like that wall.  Through Jesus God destroyed that wall.  The FIRST CHRISTIAN CONGREGATION WAS ALL JEWISH and most of the members would have preferred to keep it that way. But God gave Simon Peter a vision and gave St. Paul a passion, so that together THEY BROKE DOWN THE WALL THAT KEPT GENTILES OUT. They began to understand that Jesus didn’t like walls that made some people feel inferior or rejected, or keep people from knowing God or from getting to know each other to. 
We sing the old spiritual, “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho, Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, And the walls came tumbling down!” 
Joshua was an Old Testament Hebrew name. In the New Testament Greek, the name “Joshua” becomes “Jesus.” Jesus fought the battle of Golgotha, and the walls came tumbling down the wall between Jews and Gentiles, the wall between men and women, the wall between people of different colors, the wall between saints and sinners. It could have been Jesus, not Robert Frost, who first said, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”
So, why did God knock down the ‘dividing’ wall between Jew and Gentile?  God knocked down that wall because God wanted to destroy this wall of ‘hostility’ and hate.  For you see, hate is not from God.  You cannot love God and hate your brother or your sister. 

This is what John writes, just like Peter and Paul: Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8.  ).  This text tells us once and for all, that there is no hatred in God. God is pure unadulterated love. Anyone who says they hate anyone for any reason cannot be filled with the Spirit of God. It is a logical impossibility.

Sometime back we are told the American Red Cross was gathering supplies medicine, clothing, food, and the like for the suffering people of an African drought and civil war. Inside one of the boxes that showed up at the collection depot one day was a letter. It said, “We have recently been converted and because of our conversion we want to try to help. We won’t ever need these again. Can you use them for something?” Inside the box were several Ku Klux Klan sheets. 
For any of our younger members who may not be familiar with the Klan, in parts of our nation historically the Klan has been the very epitome of racial and religious hatred. The most interesting manifestation of their hatred was that they used a cross a burning cross as a means of intimidation. The truly sad thing is that, in their twisted minds some of them actually believed they were serving Christ with their hateful acts. They were serving Satan.
Anyway this particular group had come to know the love of Christ and had disbanded, and they sent their robes, their white sheets, to the Red Cross. Quite significantly, the Red Cross cut the white sheets into strips and eventually used them to bandage wounds the wounds of suffering black people in Africa. Now that is a conversion that would thrill the heart of God. ( Rev. Adrian Dieleman,
All forms of hatred are from Satan, not from God. Nothing could be more evident from the New Testament. It is difficult to see how Christians can hate anyone in Jesus’ name. In our lesson for today, St. Paul says that Christ came to break down the “wall of hostility.”  This is my prayer too,  that, if anyone is this room has any hostility in your heart toward any other person for any reason, or toward any other group of people, that you will ask God to deliver you from that hostility.
Years ago, beloved actor Dick Van Dyke wrote a little book titled Faith, Hope, and Hilarity. In it he told about a Sunday School teacher who asked her class, “What do you think about when you see the church doors open to everyone who wants to worship God here?” An African-American student answered, “It’s like walking into the heart of God.”  
That young man was right. God’s nature is love. Wherever love reigns, God reigns. Hatred is from Satan. Love is from God.
And this brings us to the final thing to be said: God’s kingdom comes when we have God’s love in our hearts.

There is a little chorus that many of us learned to sing in grade school: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me . . .” And that is the way peace always comes. It is when we as God’s people open our hearts to God’s love and then pass that love on to others. We may not be able solve all the world’s problems, we may not be able to speak to all the world’s people, we may not be able to personally intervene to prevent the death of innocent people in places where hatred is strong and life is cheap. But what we can do is take responsibility for our lives, to pray for God’s love to reside within us, and then live out that love on a day-to-day basis so that everyone we come into contact with is touched by that love. 
Do you see any other hope for the world? I don’t know of one. We need leaders and we need citizens who are committed to love, committed to peace and committed to justice in this world . . . or hatred will destroy us all. Surely, if we are totally committed to it, we can find new solutions to old problems.
Wallace Hamilton once told the story of a Christian farmer who raised sheep. But he had a serious problem. His neighbor’s dogs would, from time to time, get into his sheep pen and injure or even kill one of the sheep. The farmer went to talk with his neighbor but his neighbor didn’t do anything about it. So the farmer thought, the next dog that attacks my sheep will be a dead dog. But he knew that was wrong. His next thought was to sue the man. But Paul makes it clear in the 6th chapter of 1st Corinthians that Christians don’t sue Christians. “I’ll build a wall,” he thought, but that would have been expensive. He didn’t have that kind of money. And besides, walls are such ugly things. 
Finally he prayed, “Lord, what should I do about my neighbor’s dogs?” Then that night the answer came to him. The next morning he went out to his sheep. He selected two baby lambs and he took those lambs to his neighbor’s house and gave them to his neighbor’s daughters as pets. The girls were thrilled (there is nothing cuter than a little lamb). His neighbor was thrilled because his daughters were happy, and since he now had sheep of his own to protect, he started controlling his dogs. (Rev. John Fitzgerald,
Wallace Hamilton told that story as an illustration of Christmas. When God wanted to make peace with the world he sent us the Lamb of God. But it speaks also to the heart of the Gospel message. Christ came to tear down the wall of hostility. Never has the world needed the peace that Christ brings more than it does today. There is hostility and hatred all about us. These come from the powers of wickedness, not from God. God’s intent is that we all be one family. And we shall be when you and I surrender ourselves completely to the love of God through Jesus Christ.  Amen.

“By Grace You Are Saved…”

A sermon based upon Ephesians 2:1-10
By Rev. Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, DMin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
Third Sunday After Epiphany-C,  January 20th ,  2019 
(3-14) Sermon Series: Growing Up In Christ (Eph. 4:15)

At Chatsworth High School in Los Angeles, he's known as Mr. Memorial. His real name is Brian Rooney; he's the science teacher at the school. Since 1970, he's spent over $200,000 of his retirement money and savings contacting every city and town in this country by mail or by fax, seeking to learn information on any men and women who have given their lives for this country during wartime.
"My mission," said Rooney, "is to bring humanity to every one of them." That mission actually began in the jungles of Vietnam 38 years ago with a promise he made to a dying solider. Two simple words were whispered to the young Army medic Brian Rooney as he leaned over the mortally wounded soldier, trying to read the name on his dog tags. "Remember me." Rooney promised he would.
Brian Rooney now spends much of his time cataloguing memorials for the war dead, making sure these memorials are cared for, and that these soldiers are remembered.  His work led to a bipartisan bill of law providing federal support for a national registry of veterans' memorials. Rooney himself has personally cataloged and visited the memorials for over 8,600 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines from 50 states. (Los Angeles Daily News, May 23, 2003, p. 3, quoted from

On that battlefield, the young medic, Brian Rooney, realized that the freedoms he enjoyed were bought by the blood, tears and deaths those who paid the ultimate price.  We too cannot escape the fact, that by living in this country we have been given a ‘gift’; a gift of freedom that has been purchased at a tremendously high price.  We have been given a gift that we did not earn, have not paid for, and that we have not deserved.  Our freedom is a ‘gift’ we dare not forget. 

In the same way, as Christians we have received a gift for which we have contributed nothing. In fact, as we shall see, we not only are undeserving of this gift, our text reminds us that there is no way we could have ever earned it.  Paul reminds us that we could not earn this gift because we were dead; ‘dead in transgressions and sins’ (Eph. 2:1). 

Don't underestimate the significance of this statement. The picture is a hopeless one.  It is a picture of the worst thing imaginable.  It is a picture of death.  Paul is saying, that left to our own devices, we remain dead toward God, are dominated by evil powers, and we, by our own human nature, are deserving of death, wrath and destruction.  Alone there is absolutely nothing we can do to change our outcome.
Back in 1995, Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon starred in a provocative movie called Dead Man Walking. The movie was based on the true story of a young man named Matthew Pouncelot who was convicted of murdering a teenage couple in Louisiana. While Matthew Pouncelot was wasting away on death row, a Roman Catholic nun, Sister Helen Prejean visited him regularly. Sisten Prejean listened to this criminal, gave him a Bible and tried to get him to admit his crime. But, in spite of her best efforts, the convicted killer adamantly refused to admit he had done anything wrong until the day his execution drew near.  “I’m not sure he was even capable of showing any remorse for what he did,” Sister Prejean said.  Matthew was led to the execution room, where he faced a horrible death by electrocution.

Here, Paul says, that naturally, we are all like ‘dead-people walking’.  It’s a somber and sobering sight to see a dead body of anyone, and how much more so when it is a family member. There’s nothing pretty or sweet about death.  It’s a ghastly and a horrible thing.  As a prominent preacher once said: “You can fill a church full of flowers, and you can sing all manner of pretty songs, and you can say all kinds of beautiful things, but that corpse in that casket is a ghastly sight, which we want to quickly hide away” (WA Criswell).

‘There’s nothing so final as death’, that pastor went on to say, ‘there are no degrees’ or differences in death.  Dead is dead.  When I hold a funeral service in one of our churches, the children of God are often embalmed, neatly dressed, and laid out peacefully in their casket, but they are still dead.   On the news, when we see horrible pictures of victims of war from the Middle East.  Those mangled bodies are no more and no less dead than that beautiful corpse that we lay to rest here, in our cemeteries.  For you see, we may dress it up, but there are still no degrees in death --- death is still death.  We are still dead.  And this is what God says about the person who lives outside of Jesus Christ, we are ‘dead in transgressions and in sins.” 

Another way Paul describes our condition outside of Jesus Christ, is that he we  "like the rest, by nature we were deserving of wrath" (Eph. 2:3).  Paul is not saying that we become this way by doing evil, but Paul says we are by nature or by birth deserving of wrath; that is we are born deserving  this just like everyone else.   In the Old Testament, David said we are ‘born in sin and conceived in iniquity’ (Psalm 51:5).  Do you teach your children to lie?  Do you?  Do you?  I couldn’t conceive of a father or a mother that loved his child that taught the child to lie.  Did your children ever lie?  Who taught them to lie?  They are born that way.  You never put it in them.  They lie.  Your sweet little baby, no matter how well you raise them, will lie.  It’s natural for them to lie, so if you don’t teach them differently, or they will become habitual liars. 
Do you teach your children to be selfish, to seize and grab things?  From babyhood, from infancy, they seize and grasp and are selfish.  Did you teach them?  They are born with a wart in their nature.  Chuck Swindoll used to say there is a ‘bent in the baby’.  By nature, God says, we are the deserving of wrath.  We are born that way.  We weren’t educated that way.  We weren’t trained that way.  We were born in iniquity and in sin.

One time there was a flood in India, and the whole country was covered with the boiling, turbulent, rushing waters.  On a little island in the path of the flood, there were gathered there a few inhabitants, and among them a hunter.  And there came onto the island out of the flood animals as they were able to make their way to the little bit of dry ground.  And as the little group was there huddled together on the island with the swirling waters around, a tiger swam out of the stream and climbed up, wet and shivering and afraid, cowed and timid.  The tiger swam to the island and at one end crouched down there afraid.  The hunter took his gun and walked down to the end of the island and shot it.  What a cruel, bestial thing to do!  That tiger, so cowed, and so cold, and so wet, and so afraid; that hunter went down there and mercilessly and ruthlessly slayed it.  But this was a tiger, and how could you go to sleep on the island and have any peace and any security with a Tiger running loose?  Now, he’s timid and afraid and cowering, but tomorrow, he’s a vicious man-eater and hunter, and the hunter knew it, and slew it. 

Now, a human being by nature, Paul says, is dead in transgressions and sins.  By nature, the human person is deserving of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3).  This is why we humans need salvation.  If we are left to our own devices and to our own destiny, we are left without a way of redemption or salvation, and we will eventually destroy ourselves.  In the novel “Lord of the Flies”, a shipwrecked group of children land on an island and believe they can start civilization over.  They make themselves a leader and start to organize themselves with rules, laws, and customs.  It isn’t long, however, until jealously, pride, contempt and deception began to develop.  Some of the children end up murdering another.  By the time you get to the end of the story, the children, even in their ‘new’, ‘pristine’ world of paradise become just as corrupt, cruel, and crooked as their parents and the problems they wanted to correct.  And do you know that this was not a religious novel, but it was a book we read in 9th grade English.  It was a creative story that expressed most verifiable biblical truth of how impossible it is for humans to overcome our sinful nature, because, as Paul says, without Christ we are ‘dead in trespasses and sin’ and we are ‘by nature children of wrath’. 

Last year, near the end of June, the whole world watched as 12 young boys in Thailand, where trapped with their soccer coach 2 and one-half miles deep in a cave that was filling up with flood waters.  After a soccer practice, they went with their coach into the cave and had walked almost a mile when the waters began to rise and they had no way out.  They were trapped deep within the cave with no way of escape on their own.  If it had not been that the world came together to rescue them, they would have all been lost; without hope, without help, and without life.

This is the picture of the human race the apostle Paul paints when he says we are ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ and we are ‘by nature children of wrath’.  It is a chilling picture.  It’s similar to the feeling created by the famous quote from Arthur Clark, the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey: “Only two possibilities exists in this universe.  Either we are alone in the universe, or we are not.  Both possibilities are equally terrifying.” 

How can we dare sleep at night, if this is how the world is, how life is, and how, if we are left to ourselves, how we will be, and how we are?  And if we are this way, how can we be saved?  How can we hope for anything beyond this life, or beyond the realities of sin, death, and wrath which we face in this world?  How can we find any hope?  This is what Paul has been leading up to the whole time.  He never wanted to leave us hanging, nor only tell us how hopeless or helpless we are.  No, Paul has given us these two very ‘depressing’ pictures of ourselves, and of our world, to help qualify, clarify, and contrast the greatest truth he really wants to share; which he shares in the next two verses: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-- it is by grace you have been saved (Eph. 2:4-5 NIV)

Look carefully at what we are reading. Listen closely to what you are hearing.  On His own initiative, God has acted on our behalf. We were ‘dead in trespasses and sins’, but God’s mercy makes us alive.   We were ‘by nature children of wrath’ but God, because of the great love with which He loved us, God saves us by grace. All by Himself, because he is the God who is love, God has taken action to transform our condition and change our situation.

Why? What impulse moved God to have anything at all to do with us? Why did God come to save you and to save me.  Maybe a story will help.  Shortly after the Korean War, a Korean woman had an affair with an American soldier, and she got pregnant. He went back to the United States, and she never saw him again. She gave birth to a little girl, and this little girl looked different than the other Korean children. In that culture, children of mixed race were ostracized by the community. In fact, many women would kill their children because they didn't want them to face such rejection.  "But this woman didn't do that. She tried to raise her little girl as best she could. [This went on] for seven years, [but then] the rejection [started taking its toll]. [Finally, this unwed mother] did something that probably nobody in this room could imagine ever doing. She abandoned her little girl to the streets."

"For the next two years, this little girl had to figure out life in a hard world, which was made even harder because of she was obviously different. People were terribly harsh with her. She was tagged with one of the ugliest words in the Korean language to describe her mixed lineage. It didn't take long for this little girl to draw conclusions about herself based on the way people treated her.  "But in her ninth year of life, something unexpected happened that changed everything. First, this girl found an orphanage and was taken in. This meant some measure of security would return for her, and she wouldn't have to make food, clothing, and shelter her daily pursuit. The second thing that happened was within a few days of her arrival. Word came that a couple from America was going to adopt a little boy.

"'All the children in the orphanage got excited, because at least one little boy was going to have hope. He was going to have a family.'" So this little girl spent the day polishing up the youngest boys - giving them baths and combing their hair . . . " Everyone was wondering which boy would have their dreams come true.   "The time came when the couple arrived. I'll let you hear what happened in this girl's own words: 'It was like Goliath had come back to life. I saw the man with his huge hands lift up each and every baby. I knew he loved every one of them as if they were his own. I saw tears running down his face, and I knew if they could, they would have taken the whole lot home with them.

"(And then) 'he saw me out of the corner of his eye. Now let me tell you, I was nine years old but I didn't even weigh 30 pounds. I was a scrawny thing. I had worms in my body. I had lice in my hair. I had boils all over me. I was full of scars. I was not a pretty sight.  "'But the man came over to me, and he began rattling away something in English. I looked up at him. Then he took this huge hand and laid it on my face. What was he saying? He was saying, 'I want this child. This is the child for me." (Lee Strobel, "Meet the Jesus I Know," Preaching Today Audio #211.)

Paul uses several words to speak of God's saving movement toward us. We read of His rich mercy, His great love, and His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. But the single most powerful word to describe why God did for us what He did, is a word that explains why a dead sinner on his way to destruction can suddenly respond to the good news of the Gospel is the word grace.  Three times in four verses, we find this word. But it's in v. 8-9 that Paul breaks the word wide open. “For by GRACE you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God's gift-- not from works, so that no one can boast.

Nicky Gumbel, a pastor from England, who created the famous introduction to the Christian Faith known as the Alpha Course, tells of two university friends. One eventually became a judge but his friend chose a different path in life. He made bad choices & turned to a life of crime. He was caught & brought before a judge. The judge was shocked to see the man in the dock was his old university friend. The judge however could not waive the penalty for his old friend. His friend was guilty & the appropriate punishment had to be given. The man was fined $10,000. This was justice. What happened next, however, showed the kindness & mercy of the judge. After announcing the verdict & dismissing the court he went down, took off his judge’s wig & wrote out a cheque for $10,000. He paid the fine for his old friend. 

No illustration is perfect but there is a sense in which this is what God has done for us. Both God’s righteousness & His love were fully expressed in the love & mercy God showed us in Christ “…even when we were dead in transgressions”…Even when we were still sinners, Paul wrote elsewhere, ‘Christ died for us’ (Rom. 5:8). What a powerful intervention. We were spiritually dead but He “made us alive with Christ.” Do you see the contrast here? By nature we were dead, but in Christ we have been made alive.  Like that judge paying the fine for his friend, all that God has done for us shows His incredible love & grace.

What should be our response to such ‘amazing’, ‘astounding’, saving grace?
I find it most interesting how Paul ends this part of his discussion about God’s salvation.   He says we are ‘saved by grace.’  Then he says it is a ‘gift of God’ given to us to prepare us to ‘do good works’.  He does not say that we are ‘saved by grace’ just to have faith, just to receive the gift, just so we can go to heaven when we die, or just so that we can ‘be good’ people.  Isn’t it interesting that none of these are the proper way of acknowledging God’s gift of grace?

Paul says we respond to grace by realizing that:  “We are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10 NIV).   The Christian life is a life we live filled with the adventure of doing ‘good works’ without fear of what might happen or not happen to us.   We are to live to do good. This is what this Christian life is really about. 

Dr. Alfred Heasty was a medical missionary in the wilderness of Africa for many years. After his death, his wife remembered her husband, saying, "When I married Alfred I thought I was marrying a doctor. I thought I would have to put up with long hours and late calls and the like, but I had no idea I was marrying a missionary too."

She described living in primitive conditions, but then she said, "One of the few luxuries I had were my Cool Whip containers." Can you imagine Cool Whip containers being a luxury?   She said, "We used them in Africa to store our food, because they kept the bugs and rodents out of our home. The bugs were about the size of mice and the mice were about the size of cats."

She said, "I remember one day Alfred came home for lunch and apparently on his walk home he saw some prisoners eating their meal off the ground. The men guarding the prisoners just poured the food on the sandy soil and the prisoners ate their meal mixed with sand and the dirt and the bugs."
She said, "My Alfred saw that and came home and told me about it; and then he announced that he had arranged to give the guards medical care, if they promised to give the prisoners their food on a dish. And they agreed." She said, "My husband asked me to gather all my Cool Whip containers."
"My Cool Whip containers! 'What are you thinking, Alfred? What are we going to do? Have bugs in our food?'"

She said, "Alfred just looked at me and said, 'What are you afraid of?'"
"I'm afraid of the Gospel, Alfred."
And he said, "So am I, but isn't it wonderful?"

This wonderful grace of God is about learning how to live life full of adventure and service, and to live without fear.  But it’s not only a ‘living’ grace, and a ‘doing good works’ grace, it’s also a ‘dying’ grace.  A young woman named Katherine. Ten years earlier she was in a church youth group. Ten years later, too young in her life, she had cancer. She fought against that cancer with everything she had; and when there was no more that they could do for her, she told her pastor: I know how to live, but how do you die? I'm scared."

But even with her fear, she handled her last days with dignity and with grace.  On late evenings when she could not sleep from either pain or worry, she would call her mother. They would talk sometime by phone, sometime her mother would come to her bedside, either way, they would open a hymnal and sing together. "Our God our Help in Ages Past our Hope in Years to Come." They would sing, "God of our life, through all the circling years, we trust in Thee. In all the past, through all our hopes and fears, Thy hand we see." They would sing, "When we've been there 10,000 years bright shining as the sun, we've no lest days to sing God's praise than when we first begun."  (From a sermon, “What’s In Your Future?” by Donovan Drake, preached on March 22, 2009).

They would sing like this until they could trust God’s future together. Then she could rest. You know how to die when you know God’s love and grace.  This is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

“Keep Asking…”

A sermon based upon Ephesians 1: 15-23
By Rev. Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, DMin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
Second Sunday of Epiphany-C,  January 13th,  2019 
(1-14) Sermon Series: Growing Up In Christ (Eph. 4:15)

A college class were taking a test, and the professor required them all to sign an agreement that they had not had any help while providing their own answers.  One of the students seemed a little puzzled, so after the test was over he approached the professor with a confession, saying that he had prayed and asked God to help him with his test.  The professor then asked to see the student’s paper, studied it for a moment, then replied, “Young man, you’ve nothing to worry about, the Lord didn’t answer your prayer.”
Today’s text from Ephesians is a prayer; quite an eloquent and specific prayer too.  It’s both a prayer of thanksgiving and a prayer of supplication.  That two of the four main types of prayer found in Scripture, noted by the acrostic: A.C.T.S.: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.
Paul also identifies ‘what kind of prayer’ he prays, but how he prays: He says that his prayer is ‘unending’.  “I have not stopped giving thanks giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers” (2: 16), then the says,  “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you…”  Do you notice that it sounds like God is hard of hearing?  Why does Paul have to keep asking? 

Perhaps you’ve heard about the little boy who was in church next to his father and at his father’s request, said a small prayer, "Dear God, please bless Mommy and Daddy and all the family to be healthy and happy." 
Then, suddenly he looked up and said out loud, "And please don't forget to ask grandpa to give me a bicycle for my birthday!!" 

"There is no need to shout like that," said his father. "God isn't hard of hearing." "No," said the little boy, "but Grandpa is."
While God isn’t hard of hearing, why is it that Paul keeps asking?  What is it about prayers that they have to be repeated and repetitive.  Why do we keep saying the same ‘rote’ prayers, like ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ over and over?  As the youth say, ‘what’s up’ with Paul ‘not stopping’ giving thanks, and to ‘keep on asking’ for God to give him the answer he desires?  Why is prayer, as Paul recommends elsewhere supposed to be ‘prayer without ceasing’?
Maybe part of the answer comes as we consider what Paul is asking for?  Perhaps the reason we must pray, pray, and continue to pray; which sometimes means the same pray request over and over, have a lot more to do with ‘who’ we are, and who we become when we ask, that just getting what we want, or even need.   I came across a video recently of a Pentecostal pastor talking about being on a camping trip, when it came a down pour of rain.  It was raining so hard and so much that it was going to ruin family’s camping trip, so he got his family together and they started to pray for the rain to stop.  But instead of stopping, the rain poured down even more.  They prayed again, but the rain continued.  Finally, a third time they prayed for the rain to end, but to no avail.  Then, the Pentecostal preacher said a saying came to him:  ‘If you can’t beat’em, join’em.  What I’m praying is very smart,’ he thought.  So, he brought his family together once more and they began to pray, “Lord, Thank you for the rain!”   He told his family, “It’s one thing to pray, but it’s another to pray with wisdom!”
“Wisdom” is precisely where Paul’s prayer is headed.   Paul’s continual prayer is for growth and maturity in God’s people, so that they are given ‘the Spirit of wisdom …’ (1:17)
What Paul is praying for is not just knowledge or information, but for ‘the Spirit of wisdom’.  And he doesn’t simply pray that they have ‘wisdom’, but he prays for ‘the Spirit of wisdom and revelation’.   Here, Paul understands what we should all understand, that there is a great difference in having knowledge or knowing about something, than having wisdom to understand, use, or apply that knowledge.   Wisdom is the application and right use of knowledge, not just obtaining it.  
Paul names this ‘wisdom’ ‘the Spirit of wisdom’ because this is a knowledge that comes from ‘the Spirit’ of Jesus Christ.   Jesus was a teacher of wisdom, which was a particular kind of spiritual wisdom, which has been called ‘alternative wisdom’.   Jesus’ wisdom, the wisdom he gave to his disciples, was a wisdom that went against the grain of the conventional, and the conservative wisdom of his day.  It was a kind of ‘spiritual wisdom’ that sometimes seemed unwise to people, especially people who were trying to keep things the way they had been.   These people where not happy with this new ‘wisdom’ and this was one of the reasons Jesus spoke in parables.   Jesus was cautiously and sometimes secretly inviting his followers to a new way of seeing, knowing, understanding, and living.  
This new way of thinking and ‘wisdom’ is exactly what Jesus meant when the said,  “You’ve heard it said, but I say to you…”  Over and over, when you examine the wisdom Jesus was giving his disciples you will see that Jesus was inviting them beyond a religion of rules, regulations, and laws, and into a faith that is about ‘relationship’, spirit, and most of all, love.  When religion is based on rules and laws alone, too many hurting, helpless, struggling people are left out. 
When religion is about faith, however, which means a religion that is based on God’s ‘grace by faith’, which is about a relationship with God, which comes from this God who ‘first loves us’, then you gain a greater wisdom for life.  What Paul wishes for, in this ‘Spirit of wisdom’ from Jesus was a wisdom based only one two commands, said Jesus,  “Love God, and Love Your Neighbor As Yourself.”  ‘Upon these two commands rest all the Law and the Prophets,’ said Jesus.  In other words, you don’t get any smarter than when you live by the command of loving relationships. 
But here’s the ‘kicker’ of this wisdom of love; it is not just a wisdom based on knowing something, but it is a wisdom based upon ‘knowing Jesus’.  Do you see it?  Paul says that he ‘keeps on asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ…may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, SO THAT YOU MAY KNOW HIM BETTER’ (17).   You may recall when Wayne Taylor and Mickey Basil where with us last year, how Wayne told about going into the nursing home near his home in Maiden, and he was singing for a man name George.  Wayne sang a beautiful hymn and asked; “Did you like that George?  But George gave no answer.  Wayne sang another, but George still just stared ahead.  Then finally, Wayne sang him one last song.  I hope you liked that George, Wayne said.  But still, no response.  Wayne decided to leave the room, but he spoke to George once more, “George, I enjoyed singing and playing for you.  I hope you get better.”  George then answered, at last: “I hope you get better, too!”
What Paul wants his readers to gain is not mere knowledge about Jesus, but Paul wants his readers to ‘know him better’ (NIV, 17).  This is what Paul is praying for, not just wisdom, not just knowledge, but to ‘know Jesus’ even better through ‘the spirit of wisdom and revelation’. 
Knowing Jesus, as continual ‘revelation’ was very important for Paul because in that world, some people were teaching that all you had to do was to have a moment of ‘special knowledge’ and this would grant you all that you would ever need to know.  In the ancient world, this was called ‘Gnosticism’, which made ‘knowledge’ the way of salvation. 
There was also a kind of Christian Gnosticism which was growing in Christian circles, but this was not what Paul was praying for.  Paul was praying for the kind of ‘knowledge’ and ‘wisdom’ which flowed out of a daily, constant, and continual relationship with Jesus Christ.  Paul wanted the Ephesians to know that it was not just ‘faith’, but also a ‘life’ in and with Jesus Christ, that would bring them the kind of ‘wisdom’ they needed for their lives.  
This growing relationship with Jesus Christ that gives increasing ‘wisdom’ is important because, as Paul continues, this is how the ‘eyes of the heart are enlightened (or open)’ to ‘know the hope to which he has called you’ (18).  Do you see the connection Paul is making?  It is the ‘wisdom’ that we gain by getting to know Christ better, that bring us ‘the hope’ which we have been ‘called’ to receive, have, and answer with our lives.

Here, I need to make a quick observation about Bible translation.  What you will notice is that in the old Authorized version, that is the King James Version, reads: that ye may know what is the hope of His calling’, whereas the New International reads, ‘that you may know the hope to which he has called you…”   While there is a difference in how the words are expressed, the same truth is being expressed.  Paul is praying for ‘hope’.  He is praying for God’s people to know ‘hope’ through knowing Christ better.  As we understand the ‘hope of His calling’ better, we will also better know ‘the hope to which (we) are called’, so that, in a world that can seem both hopeless and helpless, we are called to be hopeful and hope-filled people of faith.

Paul names this ‘hope’ as ‘the rich of his glorious inheritance in the saints’.  What is important to gain here, is that ‘hope’ is not something that you can have or keep in your life all by yourself.  Without the help, prayers, and support of all those who share hope, hope is something practically impossible to sustain.  Furthermore, Paul refers to ‘hope’ not only ‘our inheritance’, but he names is ‘the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.’  Again, the point is that hope is not something you can find or have alone, but it comes from Christ and hope is sustained with others who share our hope in Christ. 

Can there be anything more precious to us, especially in these days, than to know, have, and share hope? But what is our Christian hope?  What does hope mean in the real world in which we live, not just in our hearts, not just in our minds and not just in our faith.  Hope do we name hope?  Here, I think the answer comes is that hope is realized in how we answer God’s call, our calling, to live as Christ would live in our time and in our place.  In other words, we are the ‘answer’ to Paul’s prayer, and we are the answer to our own prayers for hope too, but this answer for hope comes ‘with’ other, and it is not a hope we can claim all on our own.

As ridiculous as it might sound, God called the Christian community at Ephesus to be a sign of hope, by eating together in friendship and fellowship, as they actively joined together to participate in the unfolding of God’s purpose for all creation. By joining together in the singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, this small band of disciples witnessed that there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. In short, God called the little flock at Ephesus to be a sign of hope of God’s reconciliation and redemption of all things as they came together to show and to share that same reconciliation and redemption.

The reason Paul is praying for the Ephesians to ‘answer’ their own calling to be hope, is because Paul fears they might trade this glorious inheritance of singing in symphony with all the saints for the safety of staying in choir rehearsals.

Rehearsals are important. I remember when I was in performance choirs during high school and college, that sometimes, when the music was really difficult, the director would put us into ‘section rehearsals’. The purpose of the section rehearsal is to help each voice learn its part well enough to be able to sing together in polyphony---on key.   

But while you can learn your part in section, your part never makes full sense until you become part of a larger whole.  Indeed, the real proof that  you have learned your part came when you left the safety of the ‘section’, (for me it was bass), and then sat next to the sopranos, the altos and the tenors.  You only sing your best, and in tune, when you sing with the whole piece of music, as you listen and hear the sounds of the other parts.

When it comes to having faith and especially, to having hope, many of us have only known section rehearsals. We are gotten part of a great faith, that has been dominate for so long, but we’ve also gotten used to living with ‘sections’ and with ‘rehearsals’.   Because we have been isolated and insulated from rest of the world, and because we’ve lived with so much focus on self, by tuning out our neighbors, we’ve not only lost the music of faith, but by doing so, we’re also losing hope.

It is so easy, in a wealthy world like ours, to give up on the Ephesian calling.  The hope of our calling, which is to sing our song of faith with others and for others, can take a second seat to becoming a song we sing only for ourselves through living for our personal choices and own self-seeking.  Is it any wonder, that in a culture that has so much, that we can still be people who lose hope?  Here, Paul reminds us, that hope is not just something we have, but hope is also a calling we answer, and we live, as we live our lives with others, for others, and through others.  Hope is a calling that ‘a glorious inheritance in the saints’ shared and sung by us all together, and it is never a hope that we can keep just for or to ourselves.

In speaking God’s prayer for wisdom, and for hope, what we’ve not yet answered is ‘what’ this hope is, and how this wisdom comes to us.  This is what Paul saves for last, as he names as ‘the incomparably great power’ NIV), or as the KJV says, ‘the exceeding greatness of his power’.  What is this power; this power that gives wisdom and hope through Jesus Christ?
Paul says it is the ‘power’ God ‘exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at the his right hand in the heavenly realms’ (20).

Of course, the question is what does this power ‘in Christ’ mean for us?  Paul goes on to explain that when God ‘raised’ Jesus, he ‘raised him’ above all other ‘authorities’ that are ‘present’ or ‘to come’ and that God ‘placed all things his feet’ and made Jesus ‘head of the church’ (22).  These sound like beautiful ‘metaphors’ from a ‘by gone world’ of royalty, kings, thrones, and absolute rule, but we don’t live in a world like that anymore.  In other words, the question for us is how can any ‘power’, even God’s power, a power that once ‘raised’ Christ from the dead then, a power which can seem so powerless today, be a ‘power’ that gives us any true wisdom and any real hope?

Here is where we return to the prayer.  God’s power is, of course, not a ‘given’ in our world, just like it wasn’t in Paul’s world.  God’s power is never a ‘given’ because the power belongs to God, and it is ‘a gift’ that only God can give, and God will give to us, when we say ‘yes’ God’s wisdom, his hope, and his power of unending love. 

In the movie, Evelyn, Pierce Brossnan portrays Desmond Doyle, a true story about a Father who's in a courtroom battle to overturn one of Ireland's longest-standing family-court laws.   Doyle is being questioned by the government's attorney about his suitability to keep his children, since he is a single father.

The government's attorney belittles Doyle because Doyle had grabbed and threatened a nun who had beaten his daughter. The lawyer questioned Doyle about his fitness to have a family as a single father. He says, "You must know that the fundamental building block of our society is the family. Whose very model is the holy family; Jesus, Mary and Joseph. How can you, as a single father and as a Catholic, possibly claim to bring up your children without a mother? There is absolutely no precedent for it even in the religion you believe."

There is a long pause.
The lawyer says: "Cat got your tongue, Mr. Doyle?"
Doyle is thinking and finally responds: "There is. There is a precedent as you like to call it."
"What are you saying?" asks the attorney.
Doyle speaks up, "The fundamental building block of our faith is not the holy family, it's God, who is the Holy Trinity: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When my mother died, my father brought us up on his own with only the Holy Spirit to guide him. He used to say the Holy Spirit is love.
Doesn't the Holy Bible say 'Faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love?' Well I've given up the drink. I've worked all the hours God sends. I've become a better person to try and fill myself with the Holy Spirit so I can bring my kids up surrounded by love. That's all I can do. No man can do more."

The courtroom audience breaks in applause, as the judge yells for silence in the court.

And Doyle was right. He won, by the way. He was right. "The fundamental building block of our faith is God; the Holy Trinity. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."  When we say ‘yes’ to God we can do anything.  It is God, who: ‘gives us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation’.
It is the God the Holy Spirit who: "enlightens the eyes of our heart."
It is the Spirit of Jesus who: "helps us know the hope to which we have been called."
It is the God who is Spirit, who "gives us the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe."

Did you catch that one phrase, ‘for us who believe?’  This is why Paul prays: Paul prays because he knows ‘you’ and I must answer what God has done, and can still do.  Somehow, the wisdom, the hope, and power that is given by God must be answered by you, or it is still no wisdom, no hope, and no power at that is realized or given at all.  Will you answer ‘the hope of your calling’?   Will you receive ‘the Spirit of wisdom’?  Will you have ‘your eyes enlightened?’  Will you, allow God’s power to be ‘for you’?   Amen.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Every Spiritual Blessing…”

A sermon based upon Ephesians 1: 1-14
By Rev. Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, DMin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
Epiphany Sunday,  January 6th,  2019
(1-14) Sermon Series: Growing Up In Christ (Eph. 4:15)

Today we begin the new year, 2019.   Happy New Year, everyone!

This new year will be anything but ordinary.  There is no such thing as ordinary when you are alive.  Because you are alive, this Year will be filled with many ‘new’ things, experiences, adventures, along with some heart breaks, and disappointments too.  We can be ‘happy’ to make it to this day, but the days will not always be ‘happy’.  Of course, this is our ‘wish’, but we don’t always get exactly what we wish for.

The good news is that, because we have faith in Jesus Christ, we may not, probably will not get what we wish for, but because we put our faith in Jesus Christ, we will always have more, not less.   If you put your faith in your life, your money, your resources, or your desires, you may get some, but eventually, you will always get less.  But with Jesus, you will always have ‘more’.

Do you remember the TV commercials that speak about ‘more’?  I can’t recall what it was, it occurs in many different ways from ‘more saving to more doing’, to more ‘cashback’, to just ‘more’.  More of this and more of that.

That’s one kind of more, but the kind of ‘more’ the gospel of Jesus Christ promises is not ‘more’ that will clutter or confuse your life, but ‘more’ that will bless, assure, or bring ‘peace’ to your life, no matter what happens or what doesn’t happen in the year ahead.  Would you like to know about this ‘more’?  This is the ‘more’ he calls ‘every spiritual blessing in Christ’ which has come to us from God.

The first great ‘more’ from God, Paul says, is the more of being ‘chosen’.   Paul says, ‘he chose us from before the creation of the world’ (1:4).  Now, that a very specific, intentional, and deliberate choice, isn’t it?   What Paul means is that God has plans, intentions, and purposes for his people.  Before the world was ever created, God thought about us.  He wasn’t thinking about us from a sentimental standpoint, but God was thinking of us from a very practical, personal, and purposeful standpoint.  He says God chose us to be ‘holy and blameless in his sight’ (4).

That kind of old, archaic language seems light years away from our world filled with so much incivility and ugliness.  How in the world could God have ever thought about having a ‘holy and blameless’ people in a world that can become as messy and dirty as this?

The answer, I think, come from one of the most dramatic stories of all the Bible, when a woman named Esther was challenged by her times to become a redemptive, saving, and holy person for her own people—the Jews.  Times where bad, and this King was thinking about annihilating a whole race of people, who were living in his midst.  But what does Esther do,  she did what she could do, had to do, chose to do, she realize that she was ‘born for such a time as this’!

Here, I can’t help, but think about some of the chosen people during the Nazi times.  Now, I’m not speaking of the Jews who were senselessly murdered, but I’m thinking of some of those people who took risks to save them, help them, and hide them.  These people made choses in those times, not to look after themselves, but to do the right thing, the needed thing, and the necessary things.  They also realize they were ‘born for such a time as that’.

What time are we born for?   I heard a deacon say, last year, “My grandparents did things for this church, but this is our time, my time, and this is your time.”   We were born for ‘such a time as this’.

Could you understand this kind of being ‘chosen’ as exactly this kind of ‘spiritual blessing’?   It is the kind of spiritual sense that you are ‘chosen’ ‘called’ and ‘blessed’ to be someone in this world, at this time, and for what is right, needed, and necessary, in this moment.  

Paul continues by elevating this idea even more, saying that you are not only ‘chosen’, but you are ‘predestined’.     Now, of course, some of us know that this word ‘predestined’ is a loaded word, that has caused many theological arguments about whether God decides what happens to us, whether we want it to happen or not.   But that’s not what exactly what the word ‘predestined’ means in the Bible.

In the Bible, like right here, when the word ‘predestined’ is used, it refers to what God ‘wants’, ‘intends’ or ‘desires’ to happen, more than what God ‘makes’ happen.   When Paul says ‘he predestined us’ he also speaks of what this ‘predestination’ means in the most positive terms, saying that in Christ, God has ‘predestined us for adoption’, to be his own children, which is ‘according to his pleasure and will’.   Do you see?  What ‘predestined’ means is what God ‘wills’ or ‘wants’ to happen, not necessarily what God ‘makes’ happen.   It is what God wills or wants or wishes for us.  It is why we are chosen, not just to ‘be holy’, but to be his own children, adopted through ‘love’.

As an adopted child, my mother always told me that I was different, preparing me for the negative words that might be said about me at school.  She told me that while other children were born because of the love of their parents, I was chosen because of the love of my parents.  I wasn’t better than other children, but I was loved just like other children.  She wanted me to know that it was all about love.   This is the same kind of reality we wanted our own adopted daughter to understand, when we went a step further, and had an ‘adoption’ day, which we celebrated with a small gift, similar to a birthday.   We wanted her to know what she was ‘chosen’, and being chosen, she was chosen because our love for her in our hearts.  Predestined does not mean God makes life happen this way, or that way, but it means that no matter what happens, nothing that happens will change God’s love.

This ‘love’ that choses and predestines, is a love that based upon the ‘riches of God’s grace’ which, we are told, God ‘lavishes’ upon us in the ‘redemption’ we have ‘in Jesus Christ’.   It is a costly redemption, which cost his ‘blood’; his whole life.

It is also a redemption that has accomplished God’s forgiveness for all our sins and shortcomings, so that we need not fear anything being done to us by God’s wrath, now or in the life to come.   Paul goes on to clarify that we also need to fear anything that happens in all of life, because eventually, finally, and ultimately, ‘everything’ will turn out, that is conform, or be transformed into his will (11).

This means that in the end, everything will be determined is already predetermined by God’s goodness and ‘grace’ (7).   This is what God ‘lavishes’ on us, according to Paul, that no matter what happens in the short run, it will all work itself out, according to God’s will, in the long run.

But this doesn’t call for complacency.  There will be suffering, blood, pain, and hurt and hard work all the way, but in the end, it will all be healing, goodness, grace, and purpose.   This is the ‘goodness’ and the ‘grace’ that only Jesus Christ can ‘lavish’ upon us, because this is how God ‘lavished’ it on him, after Christ’s death, with resurrection, promise, and with power for life that will never end.

Pastor Ed Markquart tells of taking a cruise ship and having all kinds of ‘good things’ being ‘lavished’ upon the guests.  When he entered the dining hall, he said ‘lobsters were two feet long’ and the ‘cakes were like wedding cakes going all the way to the ceilings’.  A cruise ship wouldn’t be fun to me, but I get the picture, don’t you?  I understand that in this life, when we really understand what life is about, it is a lavishing of God’s love on us, getting us ready for the fulness of love and life that is still to come.   This life, and the blessings we receive, are just a foretaste, a preparation, of the life that is still too come.

Of course, there is a ‘mystery’ to all this.   The ‘mystery’ is that sometimes the purposes of life are hidden and hard to decipher.   But this is exactly whey Paul wants us to know that in ‘the heavenlies’ or from ‘heaven’s perspective’, everything is already predetermined, is already accomplished for us, and we are now, chosen to live in and toward God’s final accomplishment.

Even in the ‘mystery’ to how, when, or why everything happens, the ‘mystery’ of life is still a mystery, but it is a ‘mystery made known’, because we already know everything will finally work out, for this life, for the world, and in and for us, for those who love him.   Some will say the ‘mystery’ means that God has already worked it all out, but it might be that the real mystery resides in this God who is ‘still working’ his glorious purpose out in this world, and in us, when we love him.   God is not just at work in the world, but God works in the world because he is working in and through us.
“He’s still working on me”, a song says,  ‘to make me who I ought to be.’  ‘It took him just a week to make the moon and stars…but he’s still working on me.’  What this song reminds us, is that the ‘mystery’ is not just ‘out there’, but the mystery is also in us.

This is where the ‘spiritual blessings are aimed, not toward the heavens, or out toward the world, but the blessings are aimed toward you, and toward me, and toward us.  Paul says to the Ephesians: “YOU WERE INCLUDED….”   “We were also chosen’.
This is the mystery of love, that love and life only becomes all that God intends for it to be, when we answer love with our own lives, our own hearts,  our own faith in God, and our own willingness answer God’s love and blessing in ‘such a time as this.’
How will God’s blessing become real in your life in the year ahead?  That is part of the  ‘mystery’.  Who knows what will happen?  ‘We don’t know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future.’  That’s a heart-warming saying, but another way of saying it is that ‘we only two things you know already, is one thing by faith, and the other by fact.’  You know by faith that God wants to bless you.  You will know by fact, that you are blessed, because you love God, just as through Christ, God has lavished his grace and love on you.   Amen.