A quick update from the Athens Church of Christ

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Sermon Follow-Up for Sunday, September 12, 2021

As we begin our study of EPHESIANS, it is important that we first make sure we are reading it through the correct lens. Paul is going to remind the disciples in Ephesus of some very profound truths regarding the church. To truly appreciate and apply the things he shares, we must examine our own hearts to make sure we, like Paul, are surrendered to God and view the church the way the Lord does. 
These verses comprise the greeting of the letter. After reading them, how would you answer the questions below?
How does Paul view himself? 
How does Paul view the church? 
How does Paul view God?
How does Paul view Jesus? 
Paul lived a surrendered life. He was determined to be whatever God willed him to be. Does this describe you? Is your life so surrendered? Is your predominant concern in life to trust, experience, and live to fulfill whatever God wills to accomplish through you? 
ACTS 22:3-21
In this passage, Paul recounts his conversion before a hostile crowd in Jerusalem. What are some things that stand out to you as you read this account?
Paul had an encounter with Jesus that humbled and changed him. No longer did his past education, accomplishments, or acts of religious devotion mean anything! All that mattered was repenting and living for Jesus Christ! (Read Philippians 1:21,  3:7-12).
Paul OBEYED and BECAME. He did what God told him to do (both directly and through Ananias), and he became what God willed him to be.   
Paul went from someone judgmental of and critical of the church to someone devoted to serving the church to make it glorifying to God. 
What about you? Have you had an encounter with Jesus which has humbled you and brought you to the realization that all that matters is living for Jesus! Do you have a heart to obey whatever the Bible reveals as God’s truth, even when it is challenging and requires repentance, humility, forgiving others, etc.? Are you surrendered to being whatever God wills, rather than clinging to your own vision of how your life should look? 
How do you view the church? Do you, like Paul before his conversion, view the church as just a religious group, open to your judgments and criticisms; leaving you free to “take it or leave it.” Or, like Paul after his encounter with Jesus, do you see the church for what the Bible says it is: God’s holy people to be loved, served, and devoted to? 
To appreciate and prosper from what Paul writes in Ephesians, we must surrender our lives as Paul did and value the church the way he came to.
MARK 8:34-9:1
Jesus addresses his remarks to anyone who would want to be his disciple. Do you want to be his disciple today? Why, or why not? What might you have going on in your life that is worth saying “no” to following Jesus? What is so important in your life that it is worth forfeiting your very soul (self)? 
Jesus says that to be his disciple one must “deny themselves” and “take up their cross and follow me.” What does it mean to deny yourself? What does it mean to take up your cross? 
Denying oneself is something a person does. Taking up the cross (living a crucified life) is a state of heart and mind and a lifestyle we embrace! Many people deny themselves, even for the church… even with the intention of doing it for Jesus. But many of these same people never take up their cross! Although they make sacrifices, they remain focused on themselves and their own lives rather than God and his kingdom. Thus, they are always very aware of how much they are “denying themselves.” They often begin to expect something in return from God or from the church. When these expectations aren’t met, they can become hurt, angry, bitter, resentful, and extremely tired–burning out spiritually. 
But the one who lives the crucified life embraces any self-denial as a labor of love and gratitude to God. They see it as their rightful duty and response to the grace and mercy of God and the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross (LUKE 17:7-10). As a result, they experience faith, security, peace, and joy regardless of how others respond and treat them, or what circumstances arise. 
Finally, Jesus concludes his remarks by assuring his listeners that, among them, there are those who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power. We know from other passages that this is most likely a reference to the establishment of the church as God’s kingdom on earth until it is realized in its fullness when Christ comes again. What is Jesus saying? 
What Jesus appears to be hinting at is that, in order to see the kingdom of God, one must first deny themselves AND take up their cross! Until you live a crucified life, you cannot see the kingdom. 
What about you? When you are with the church, do you see the kingdom of God, or do you simply see “American church?” You can have two people in the exact same place, with the exact same people, hearing the exact same messages, singing the exact same songs, and doing many of the exact same things… and one sees the kingdom of God and the other doesn’t. The difference is whether or not one has taken up their cross and lives a crucified life! 






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