Sermon Transcript - Sunday, December 22, 2019
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ Ephesians 4:17-24 ~ Sun, Dec 22, 2019
Since 1986, Father Greg Boyle or G-Dog, as he's known in his neighborhood, has been engaging the gangs of East Los Angeles with the gospel. Every day, he wades into the danger zone, connecting with young men and women who already have long arrest and prison records. He shares the good news of Jesus with them and calls them to break with the wicked life they have known and find their hope and their help in Jesus. The message is simple and real: you can have a future or a funeral. Jesus forgives your sins, washes your past clean in the eyes of God, and give you a hope and a future.
To date, this ministry has seen many people leave the pseudo-family of a gang for the real family of God by faith in Christ Jesus. And that's not because Boyle has watered down the gospel. In fact, he makes plain that Jesus is calling them to radically break all the destructive, sin-inducing ties to their former life. Over 1500 ex-gang members have come to faith in Christ and taken steps in a new direction through this ministry. They have to learn a new language, buy new clothes and learn how to make an honest day's wage.[i]
There is something about that story that sounds familiar. At the heart of this story is the message that the Apostle Paul has been sharing with us over the last several weeks in Ephesians 4. Today Paul’s encouragement culminates with his call to make an Inside Out Impact with our lives! Father Greg Boyle isn’t content to keep his faith in Christ to himself. His faith moves him to action, it moves him to do positive things even for the least likely, yes, even the least deserving. Today’s message plugs us into that same kind of impact making power, not only for making positive changes in our own lives but also for making an inside out kind of impact on the lives of others.
In order to move into a new way of living, there are old ways you must leave behind. If you don’t let go of the old you can’t step into the new. For example, I really want to shed some weight. But I also really like chips, and candy, and chocolate, especially during this season of the year. Even though I generally workout 3-5 times a week, my life coach has reminded me more than once: “Jay, you can’t out exercise a bad diet.” To step into a new, leaner me, I need to leave behind my love for the fun, fatty foods that keep me flabby.
Paul talks similarly about our souls. Verse 17: “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.” Paul is using the word "Gentiles" not to describe physical ethnicity but to characterize spiritual identity. “Gentiles” in Old Testament times were the people who were far from God. It’s Paul’s way of reminding the Ephesian believers what they once were. So Paul’s description runs deeper than bad behavior. It slices straight to the heart, revealing an inner incapacity to rightly perceive and respond to the truth about God. Listen again: Gentiles, that is, unbelievers are “darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.” That’s what it’s like for every human heart apart from Christ. That’s how it is if we are left to ourselves! We give ourselves to empty pursuits (darkened understanding, ignorance of God). You see it lived out this time of year. This season is Christmas, Christ’s very name is in the title for the season, yet how many people think the season is all about presents, family time, and good food and that’s all? That kind of thinking is an example of sensuality. It is the belief that chasing pleasure is the highest good, the most important ideal in life. Now here is the thing when pleasure is our primary pursuit: nothing ever satisfies, not completely, not for long. We become greedy for more and greater amounts to gain satisfaction because, like addicts, what used to get the job done simply isn’t enough anymore.
These are heart level problems. Problems that interfere with our faith. It’s tempting to think we can believe in Jesus yet still go on living the way we always have, so Paul gets downright blunt with us: “That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires” (vv. 21-22). The phrase “put off” describes a decisive moment. That moment occurred when Christ brought you to faith. Because you have a new spirit, Christ’s spirit living in you, Paul is urging you to act through the power of that spirit to put off old ways of living. The verb means to strip off, the way you would shed clothing that is utterly filthy.
Paul says get those old ways of meeting your needs, those old habits that marked your Christ-less days off your back and out of your life. Throw them away! Dig them out at the root! Don't go to those websites anymore. Change the company that corrupts this good character you want to live out. Go deeper with your choices than simply asking, “How does this make me feel?” or “What does my heart want?” Those old controlling factors don’t run your life anymore. They’ll only ruin it! So get rid of every trace!
Those realities show up in a very literal way with those gang members who were rescued by Jesus in Los Angeles. Father Greg Boyle told them that the gang tattoos had to go. Gang tattoos link them to a past that no longer defines them and can put them in serious danger on the streets. So Boyle created a free service using local doctors to remove them, thereby scrubbing their bodies of the last remaining marks of their rebel past.
It was not an easy procedure. Many of these street-tough people say it feels like hot grease being poured on their skin. Still Boyle reports: "Yet the list of those waiting to go in a new direction grows longer each day, each name representing another life that longs to be free and is willing to endure pain to seize it."
You want to plug into the power for real, lasting life change? Leave behind the old, even if its painful, even when it hurts, because you are being “made new in the attitude of your minds” (v. 23). This is present tense. It means an ongoing, daily shift is happening in the capacity of the mind to spiritually discern the options and decisions with which you have in front of you. Being renewed in the spirit of your mind means a new, better way of thinking is taking root.
Leroy Eims told of how this worked out in his life as the Word of God took root in his heart. As a new Christian, he was reading through Colossians 3:8: "But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language." Leroy said, "I tried to slide past it, but [God] kept bringing me back to the words 'get rid of anger.' "I had a violent temper. Whenever it flared, I'd haul up and bash my fist into the nearest door. Even though I often bloodied my knuckles and once completely smashed a beautiful diamond-and-onyx ring my wife had given me, I couldn't seem to stop. Yet here was God's Word: 'Get rid of anger.'
"So I made a covenant with God. I promised him I was going to work on it. My first step was to memorize the verse and review it daily. I prayed and asked the Lord to bring this verse to mind whenever I might be tempted to lose my temper. And I asked my wife to pray for me and remind me of this verse if she saw me failing in my promise to the Lord. So Colossians 3:8 became a part of my life and gradually removed that sin from me."[ii]
What a great example of what it means to plug into the power of Christ for real, lasting life change! Marinate in God's Word. As you do you are filling your mind and your heart with eternal truth and divine love. That changes your thinking. It brings about changes in the way you live because it awakens something new within you. Paul describes it like this: “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” In v. 22, we are urged to shed the old clothes of our former way of life. Now, the Holy Spirit instructs us to put on something brand new, created by God to fit you perfectly, but with a likeness to God in true righteousness and holiness. It’s that inner change, the change of what wraps your heart, that also gives you the strength, the inner power to make powerful, positive impacts on the outer world around you.
The story of one of the gang members with whom Father Greg Boyle and his ministry have worked is a moving illustration of this. Boyle, who is asked to speak frequently, often brings members of his ministry with him to speeches,
One time for a speaking engagement at Gonzaga University, Boyle chose to bring Mario, a longtime member of his organization, to speak with him. An imposing sight, Mario is covered in tattoos from head to toe. “Mario, in our 30-year history at Homeboy, [the name of Boyle’s ministry] is the most tattooed individual who’s ever worked there. His arms are all sleeved out, neck blackened with the name of his gang, head shaved covered in tattoos, forehead, cheeks, chin, eyelids that say the end so that when he’s lying in his coffin there’s no doubt.”
The day of the big talk arrived and so the time for Mario and another former gang member to give their speeches in front of the large audience. After Boyle invited both men up to tell their stories, it was time for a Q&A where the audience would be able to ask the men questions.
A woman stands and she says, “I got a question, it’s for Mario.” Boyle recalls. “First question out of the gate Mario steps up to the microphone. He’s a tall drink of water, skinny and clutching the microphone. He’s terrified.”
‘Well, you say you’re a father and you have a son and a daughter who are about to enter their teenage years. What advice do you give them? What wisdom do you impart to them?’
Mario clutches his microphone, trembling violently, unsure of what to say. Finally, he manages to blurt out, ‘I just…” then stops and retreats. ‘I just don’t want my kids to turn out to be like me.’
“And there’s silence until the woman who asked the question stands and now it’s her turn to cry and she says, ‘Why wouldn’t you want your kids to turn out to be like you? You are loving, you are kind, you are gentle, you are wise. I hope your kids turn out to be like you.’”
With that, one-thousand total strangers jumped to their feet and began clapping for Mario without reprieve.
Father Boyle says of Mario: “He’s proof that only the soul that ventilates the world with tenderness has any chance of changing the world.”[iii]
That’s inside out impact. That’s the power of Christ at work, in Mario, the same power of Christ at work in you! Becoming like Christ is your calling, your purpose for breathing, your reason for living. In becoming like Jesus, whether you see it or not, whether you realize it or not, whether others tell you or not, you are touching hearts and lives with Christ’s love, his life, his power and that makes an impact, that kind that will echo through eternity! Amen.
[i] Jill Carattini, "A Slice of Infinity," No. 1186, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (6-23-06), online at http://www.preachingtoday.com see also Edward Iwata, USA TODAY, "Homeboy Industries Goes Gangbusters" (7-11-05), online at http://www.usatoday.com
[ii] Leroy Eims, The Lost Art of Disciple Making; found in Men of Integrity (May/June 2006), May 5; online at http://www.preachingtoday.com/