For years suicide rates among military members lagged behind the general population
This is thought to be because of certain protective factors offered by being in the military…for instance a sense of purpose, being a part of a team, and others.
Disturbingly, several years back, those rates caught up to the general population…indicating an increase in suicides in spite of concerted efforts(tons of money) to decrease those numbers.
Now, even more disturbing, the newest numbers show that for active military and veterans of the “post 9-11” wars, the suicide rates are outpacing those of average Americans…this was even before the recent events in Afghan.
There are several “educated guesses” as to why this is happening…some related to the number of TBIs, which has been called the signature injury of the War on Terror…but there are other factors as well.
I’ve spoken fairly frequently about resiliency, the four pillars: physical, mental, social, and spiritual.
Prior to 2008 you could not find a resiliency training program in the military.
Now these programs are everywhere…and this is good, they are super helpful, but there is a sort of hidden danger in the programs when coupled with general military culture.
I recently read a paper from the Army Chief of Chaplains office that briefly describes this “danger”…I use that word loosely.
*Resiliency programs are not the problem and are not tied to increasing suicide rates…that is not the danger.
These programs have been useful in reducing stress and improving individual coping strategies.
But resiliency programs focus on individual fitness, while military culture at large focuses on individual moral responsibility…those things are good…but…
The focus can be too heavily on the “individual” versus the wider “team”
The Army even had a very short-lived recruiting slogan in 2006, “Army of One”…it was replaced by “Army Strong”
Why was it replaced? It was said to be contrary to the idea of teamwork…you think?
When I first saw it back in 2006 on a billboard I said “Are you kidding me…somebody needs to get fired over that.” (probably were)
So, think about it…you are suffering for any number of reasons…you are told that you can be resilient and here is how…
Then you are given some resiliency skills that focus on you as an individual…so far, so good.
Then military culture is very high, rightly so, on individual responsibility.
This is all part of the solution…but it’s is missing a super important other part…community.
You can say…But what about that “relational” pillar? That isn’t individualistic.
It actually is, in the sense that the focus in the training is on things you can do to enhance social resilience.
And then the military culture, in spite of years of fighting this stigma, is still very slow to admit weakness or the need for help from others…whether it is mental, emotional, spiritual or physical weakness…no one wants to be on the needy side of things.
So, leaders try to model needing help…they say there is no shame in it…but then we read of General officers, who take their own lives…and it turns out they needed help…but didn’t ask.
I’ve been a chaplain for 24 years, a pastor for over 31…it’s hard for people to say “help!”
It’s hard for me to say “help!”
*In fact, we try to put chaplain’s offices in location on bases and posts so that soldiers and airmen can sort of “sneak” in without being seen by very many of their peers and certainly not their commanders.
But all the personal resiliency skills and training in the world will not help anyone who really tries to live like an “Army of one”
It is just outside the way we are designed.
Not just the military…it mirrors larger society…we are becoming a more fragmented, less relationally connected as a culture at large.
So we are becoming more needy and less prone to ask for real help…but we are designed for community…specifically…faith community.
There has been tremendous growth in the number of people who identify as “nones”…people without religious affiliation.
They identify as “nothing in particular” when asked about their religion.
Most of those “nones”, statistically, consider themselves “spiritual” (not atheist) but unaffiliated.
They have their own private brand of spirituality.
Besides the obvious unbiblical nature of this approach to life…it has also been shown through evidence-based research to just not work in terms of providing help in human thriving.
It doesn’t work because it is against our design parameters as humans…it is just not how God made us.
To try and thrive as a human “none”…is like trying to thrive as a human fish…you can’t just decide you will be able breath water because you don’t want to live in the world of air breathers.
You are an air breather…and you are an image bearer.
We are made to live in active, practical community: With God and with each other.
Today we begin Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
The letter is divided in half…the first half tells the story of the gospel and how all of history reached its climax in Jesus and in his creation of the church…the new people of God.
The second half, begins in chapter 4… with “therefore” and describes how the gospel story therefore…should impact how we live every part of our story.
It describes what this new life in Christ looks like in how we live together as God’s people.
It is individually focused in terms of taking personal responsibility…but it is all about living this spiritually responsible life in deeply connected community.
You can read of Paul’s time in Ephesus in Acts chapter 19.
Ephesus was a large city on the West Coast, the Mediterranean side, of what is now Turkey.
By water, it was 150 miles due east of Athens, Greece
It was the key Roman city in Asia, with over 300,000 people…huge city for the time.
And it was the epicenter for the worship of Greek and Roman Gods…the temple of the goddess Artemis (Greek name) or Diana (her Roman name) was there.
It was an international wonder…and it was super important to the local economy…a vacation destination.
Paul threatened to upend this economy with the preaching of the gospel.
Let’s go to chapter 1, It begins, following the letter writing style of the day, with the author, the readers and then the formal greeting.
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Then verses 3-14 are a long, single sentence in the Greek.
It is a poem or hymn of worship…with the purpose of both instruction and worship…or to touch our heads and hearts.
Open your Bible and read along or just listen…
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9 And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. 11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
One long sentence…one long verse of praise.
I’ve read many books over the years on the topic of God’s sovereignty and Human responsibility
The book that I find most helpful of late is: “Determined to Believe” by John Lennox
I will avoid using loaded terms that don’t accurately describe anything without a great deal of unpacking…and even then, they can be confusing.
Lennox describes and unpacks many of those terms if you are interested…
But if you are not interested…if this topic gives you headache…
It’s okay…it will not in any way impact your ability to live out and enjoy your faith.
You can trust, love, follow, enjoy and obey God…even if you haven’t figured him out completely.
If you would just rather trust God, and make good choices…then you are good to go.
I’ll use just two phrases: Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility to give my perspective on parts of this chapter and others like it in Scripture…we will encounter this topic several times in this letter.
There are good and godly men and women who take the Scriptures and the gospel seriously who land on various sides of this discussion.
My conclusion is that in Scripture (and therefore in reality at large) the truth is that God is completely sovereign and we are completely responsible and these things are to be held in tension…because they are both real, true.
They are not contradictory…but the ability to figure out “how it works” in detail is beyond human capacity.
We can understand that it is true and some of the how it works…but not all.
We can, in practical ways…trust and obey for their is no other way, to be happy in Jesus.
I find that there are some theologians, both past and present…who are wired to want to try and tease out small details, every nuance of this tension…God bless them, they are often very helpful in understanding Scripture….I’m thankful for them.
But no human knows exactly how this works.
We don’t even know how the human mind works…neuroscientists don’t really know.
We, of course, don’t understand the mind of God.
Sure, he has revealed some of his mind to us and we are grateful.
But I am comfortable with God is fully sovereign and I am fully responsible…this works in practice because it is real…Scripture doesn’t try to relieve the tension.
Tension is not bad…a guitar string, a muscle…they need tension to work.
Same is true with some important theological realities…we need to hold them in tension in our minds and lives.
Here’s what I believe Paul is saying in this great poem in regards to God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.
- 4 God chose us in Christ, before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
-This speaks, I think, to what we were chosen for not who was chosen.
- 5 Again, not who but what…in love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ.
V.11 “In him” (Christ) we were chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will…(Chosen for what?)…that we might be for the praise of his glory.
So far…we have…God is fully sovereign, he has chosen us to be become holy, blameless, sons and daughters, for the praise of his glory.
What of human responsibility?
- 13,14 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance
You heard, you believed…you were sealed (saved)
Human responsibility in Scripture in regards to the gospel is to “believe”…to transfer trust from self to Christ.
Having believed…God put his Spirit in you, a down payment on your ultimate inheritance…you were born again.
**You are, of course, free to take a different stance on this passage…to believe it is saying that God has chosen “who” not just to “what”
But wherever you land…land in the land of Biblical tension.
Do not let go of either side of this…God is sovereign and We are responsible.
And by all means…don’t miss the main point of all this…it is not a debate on the tension of divine sovereignty and human responsibility…it is a hymn of worship.
Which points to the purpose of our lives…not to debate details…but life lived for the praise of his glory.
*I’ve seen people become angry and even mean over the details of how we are to live for the praise of his glory…do you seen how upside down this is?
Paul had spent two years in Ephesus, but when he wrote them this letter he was in prison in Rome.
He’s not running from riots, clinging to the flotsam of a shipwreck, or walking a long, desolate road.
He is on house arrest.
God has given him the opportunity to reflect, pray, write…and to continue to share the gospel.
Here is how Acts ends
28:30,31 For two whole years Paul stayed there(Rome) in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.
It was during this time that he wrote this letter to Ephesus.
He is near the end of his life…thinking back on what God had done.
Reflecting on his two years in Ephesus…seeing people transformed, remembering the rage of the idolaters who wanted to kill him because he threatened their little kingdom of darkness.
He writes this long, flowing sentence of praise…in that reflective setting.
He begins like this…
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
He has been disowned, beaten, hungry, misrepresented, left for dead, hated…now in prison…he writes this.
So right away, here’s what you can’t believe about this life with Christ…it will be easy, free from trouble or trial.
When people say “I am just believing God for my blessing.”…they often mean that God will give them something that will increase physical pleasure or decrease physical pain…but that is not the blessing Paul is referring to here.
The fact is, you need not ask…it is yours…past tense with ongoing impact.
It just may not be exactly what you think it is…but…
You have been blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
This sounds kind of weird, esoteric (heavenly realms, spiritual blessings)…it seems sort of non-practical, but it’s not.
Paul wrote in another letter that “Our citizenship is in heaven and we eagerly await a Savior from there.” (Phil. 3:20)
We live here and now with the assurance that eternal life with God (a different quality and quantity of life) is ours.
So…since we are citizens of another country…so we are not addicted to this one.
You cannot change or even enjoy what you are addicted to.
We live in this world…that we can see, touch, taste, smell…knowing that this world is not all that there is.
Lest you find this hard to believe or get your mind around…keep in mind that there are many “realms” that you cannot see or hardly imagine.
There is the “inner world” that is made of unimaginably small things…you are made of, the chair you sit in is made of these things that are impossible to see and nearly impossible to believe…the microverse.
There is the “outer world” a universe of galaxies…dark matter, gravity (unseen and no one really understands what or why it is)…we know how it behaves…we don’t understand it…yet we feel its power.
Then there are spiritual realities…things that are beyond the scope of normal discovery…we feel their power as well.
The physical reality we inhabit is not all there is…God himself exists outside the confines the universe he has created.
We have been blessed in the heavenly realms…biblically, that doesn’t mean something far off in space and time.
Heaven is the presence of God…it is here and it now in part (experienced fully after we die)
These blessings are here and now…not just there and then.
Here are some of what those blessings look like in our lives…
You were chosen to be holy and blameless in his sight…you have been redeemed and forgiven.
Last week we talked about the perpetual human drive to be in an “inner ring”
It will drive us to emptiness unless it drives us to Christ…and his fullness.
In Christ, we are made holy
Blameless in his sight
Two things humans desperately want…but often fail to experience:
In Christ, you have both…you have been blessed with purpose and forgiveness…you have been accepted.
You are declared holy…being made holy.
Holy is a word that means “set apart”…it doesn’t mean you have reached sinless perfection…it means that God has set your life aside for his purposes.
Blameless is “in his sight”… he knows all of who you are…and yet, in Christ, he “sees” you as blameless.
To live a life of meaning (that cannot end because illness, loss or even death) and a life of forgiveness that covers all regret…this is the blessing of God in Christ.
It’s not detached from where we live…it is right in center of human life and desire
Peter said it like this…
“It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors. But with the precious blood of Christ.” 1 Peter 1:18
Redeemed (purchased like a slave)
From the empty way of life (slavery to earning and sinning, the quest for the inner ring)
Through the blood of Christ.
You are free from emptiness…you are free to a life of fulness.
Everywhere you look…you see a desperate drive to fill the emptiness.
When you turn on the news (or just look around you) and you see people doing terrible, or foolish things…or people just hurting and trying to fill the void…you see desperation driven by emptiness.
In Christ you are free to live out of his fullness…not out of your former emptiness.
The blessing looks like this…
He has lavished all wisdom and understanding on us.
Lavish (the English word) comes from a word that means deluge, huge rain.
It is a good translation because the Greek word means more than enough, over abundance.
Not a light rain of wisdom and understanding…but a downpour.
What does this mean practically?
It means in Christ; you have the answer to life’s ultimate questions?
Everyone has a worldview(what they hang life on or make sense out of their lives) and every worldview (knowingly or not, purports to answer these questions):
- What is ultimate reality?
- What am I?
- What is my problem?
- What is the solution?
- What is my purpose?
- What happens when I die?
In the gospel…each of these questions finds it answer…the blessing of wisdom is in the gospel.
“Christ gives to men and women the ability to see the great ultimate truths of eternity and to solve the problems of each moment of time.” (Barclay)
The mystery has been solved in Christ.
Col. 1:26 “The mystery that was hidden for ages and generations has now been revealed to God’s people…it is Christ in you the hope of glory.”
Why am I here?
Why am I going through this?
Why did they die?
Is there meaning in any of this?
You don’t always know the specific details of what God is up to…
But you know, because he has made it known…in the gospel…his larger purposes in all of this.
How does this gospel wisdom impact how you do your job?
Raise your kids?
Deal with health issues?
What part of your life does this wisdom of the gospel not directly address…in terms of providing meaning and a framework from which to make detailed decisions?
There is no part of your life that isn’t impacted by this wisdom.
Then, there is the blessing is a single story life…
And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
Your life is NOT divided into the secular and the sacred…the upstairs (church world) and downstairs(real world)
Christ has brought all of your existence together.
Earth and heaven are one in him…In him, you live a single story life.
This is enormously practical…out where you live your life…in bedrooms, boardrooms, hospital rooms, battlefields, classrooms.
*I sat in a meeting yesterday with a commander, a doctor, a JAG…and we discussed some responses to currents events as they impact KS Guard soldiers and airmen…there in that conference room…the talk turned to the wisdom of God in the gospel.
I didn’t force it, I was asked…that wisdom of God provided a framework for discussing some very practical issues.
Men and women as they followed Christ through the centuries…in times of war, and famine, and plague, and revolution… have lived this “earth and heaven are one” kind of life.
They have lived as full-time followers of Christ in times of great upheaval, and widespread despair…because they embraced the wisdom of God revealed in the gospel…applied to their own situation.
Let’s look at yet another blessing that is yours in Christ…
You were chosen in order that your life might be lived for the praise of his glory.
This is your purpose…a purpose that cannot be taken by anything that happens or doesn’t happen in life.
If we pursue faithfulness…the glory of God in our lives…our lives as God gives them to us, not as we demand they should be…then there can be no final failure.
There can be only success…success in living for the praise of his glory.
If we pursue anything else…there will be only final failure.
If I pursue…success in some endeavor and this becomes the driving force of my life…the day will come, when I will fail.
If I pursue health, or pleasure, or stuff…and this becomes the driving force of my life…the day will come, when I will fail.
If I pursue the praise of his glory through a life of faithfulness…the day will never come when I will fail.
And here is God’s personal guarantee of this…
Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. 13,14
*Wow… this is a lot to get our head and heart around.
But we have time and eternity to work on it.
This is the direction we want to go with our heads and hearts…as we move this way, intentionally…we will be living now in the blessings of the gospel.
This chapter comes from the mind and pen of a man who has lived the “crucified with Christ” life.
It will take a lot for us to breath this stuff deeply in.
Lots of thinking, talking to one another and praying…and lots of living life together in community…because its not mere theory…it is practical in is application.
Paul didn’t expect they would read this once and get it…he knew this was going to take time, effort, community and the work of God.
So, he goes from his poem of praise straight to a prayer.
It’s a prayer that God would give them wisdom, that the “eyes” of their hearts would be opened so they could more and more “see”…what God has done in Christ.
And he ends his prayer where we began this morning…
A life of human thriving, a life of understanding the fulness of what God has done for us in Christ…is in his body, the church.
We thrive and grow…as we live in authentic, committed community…this is his design and his gift.
You will not thrive as an “army of one”
You will not thrive if you fail to take personal responsibility either.
Life a personally faithful life in fully connected faith community.
I’ll finish by praying Paul’s prayer for us.
For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20 which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.