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We Are Redeemed

Date: Jan. 8, 2017

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Ephesians 1:3-14

Key Verse: Ephesians 1:7

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace”

We are here to celebrate our 10th anniversary in worship. Ten years ago, yesterday, we held our first worship service on the Illinois Tech campus, but did you know that this ministry’s beginnings go back to well before 2007? Who wants to hazard a guess of when this ministry first started to coalesce? It was in 1984 that a missionary Paul Chung started to visit the campus and began to teach the Bible to a few students. How many people here were alive in 1984? I was just four years old at that time and its coming up on 33 years. That’s 33 years of ministry on this campus. The following year a missionary Deborah Kim came to Illinois Tech as a freshman. Later that year, she got married to Paul Y Kim in Korea, and he came to the US in 1987, just in time to start Bible study with a young Robert Henkins in 1988, as we heard last week in Bob’s message. In 1996 M. Paul passed away and Bob took over the leadership of the ministry. In 2001, the Bible Club started. So, you see, even though this is our tenth anniversary, we’ve have been around much longer serving God at Illinois Tech. Still, however, January 7, 2007 is a momentous date in the history of our ministry. Today, we want to reflect and see what’s been going on these past ten years and to actively look forward to the next ten years.

Let’s get into it. It is picture time. Let’s go back to 2007 and view a little bit of what was going on. In 2007, we began having worship service in the chapel on campus, and quite honestly, we looked a little different. We were very formal with a lot of people wearing suits. I don’t even think I have a white shirt anymore. How it all came about was that, in preparation for an Easter retreat with the Wright College ministry a year or two earlier, we had a prayer meeting with them on campus and that led to a prayer to hold a worship service on the campus began. We prayed about it for a while. You know the Wright College ministry had several Illinois Tech students that were a part of the Bible club and the prayer was to merge the pieces of the ministries to create one entity to serve the campus with the word of God. So, Mike Staats, Sarah Leingang, and Mary and Ruth Shim came and began to have worship here with the rest of us. At the beginning, the messages were given by a rotation of Bob, Sam Jang and Mike Staats, although Bob did about three messages a month. I’ve got to tell you that I have no idea how he was able to do that. With the worship service, we originally wanted to start at 11am, but when we tried to reserve the chapel, it was already taken at noon, so we moved the time up to 10am to compensate. The group that had it was Vedic Vision and after that first worship, some of us stayed a little longer to meet them, and we met them and they never came back to the chapel.

Over the course of the years, our worship service has shifted and changed. Messengers have come and gone. Mike Staats left for Germany in the summer of 2007. I joined the messengers in the summer of 2008 and Mike joined the December after that. In 2010, Sam and his family moved to Minnesota, and we have our current messenger team. The music team has also been very fluid. On top of our worship, in 2010, we started participating in the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. After worship, on a Sunday in November, we would get together and hear of stories of people who are persecuted for their faith in Jesus and we would pray for them. We wouldn’t pray that the people would be removed from their situations but that those being persecuted may remain faithful to Jesus in their persecution. In addition, we’ve had special worship services for Thanksgiving and we’ve even had one of our Easter conferences on campus. We’ve prayed together and had fun together.

In 2007, we had the first of three concerts that we organized with other UBF ministries in Chicago. The first concert was held in the MTCC ballroom and it was a lot of fun. It was called the Triple Band Blowout and had bands from IIT UBF, West Loop and the Chicago Vocal Team. In this concert, Ison Hong gave a little testimonial message. The second concert was in 2008 and was called Rock of our Salvation. This concert was held at UIC in their student center. There was a good crowd singing praises to Jesus. In 2009, we participated in the third concert held at Triton College. This one was held in an actual auditorium with a real stage. This was the last concert that we participated in. We started the concerts to reach out to students and use it as a gateway to bring people to Jesus, but the more we moved, the fewer people came to the concerts from Illinois Tech. With Sam and his family leaving in 2010 and the realization that it was difficult to bring people, the concerts ended and we started having other types of outreach events to get people to first come with the prayer that they might come meet Jesus through worship and Bible study. We had a time management lecture and have the Coffee House event where we would go in to the library during finals week and serve students with free coffee and the word of God. It was a great time to talk to students, encourage them and even pray with them. This past fall, we expanded our outreach with multiple days of events.

However, through all the years, one of our greatest outreaches have been our Easter retreats. Every year, right around Easter, we’ve gotten away from it all and focused our hearts and minds on Jesus’ death and resurrection. In 2007, we had an Easter and a summer retreat where we camped in tents. There was a 2008 Easter retreat and a 2009 one. The 2009 one was a big event. Ison had moved to Springfield, where he, John Lee and his family from Lincoln Park, and Alex Foster from Urbana came together plant a church in Springfield. In just a year and a half after our own church plant, we helped plant a church in Springfield and the 2009 Easter was a prayer for the fledgling Springfield church, with Urbana, Lincoln Park and us coming together to support Springfield. Springfield has since gone on to become quite a large ministry. 2010 was a bittersweet Easter. We had already seen Sam and Grace Jang leave from Minnesota and this was the first big event without them, but we received a new blessing at that time in Orlando and Monica Ocasio coming to the retreat. In 2011, we had a retreat called Redeemed and in 2012, we partnered with Springfield again, but this time, for the first time, we were the lead ministry in preparing the retreat. That was a beautiful retreat where we just had this wonderful time of prayer. We were just sitting on the floor or kneeling and crying out to God, repenting of our sins and seeking his love. There were a few years where we had event locally, like in 2014 in the MTCC. 2015 and 2016 saw us partner with the Loyola ministry. Throughout these conferences and retreats, we have seen people grow and change. We have seen God working tremendously. Through all those photos you can see many people who are not here anymore. They were students who came and moved on. You can see Jayoung, Ison, Peter, Sarah, Christian, Minah, Jenny, Alex, Moses, Soo, Vincent, Simon, Johan, David and Abigail and so many more. They’ve all grown here becoming greater than they were.

We’ve all changed over these ten years. We’ve had people graduate from college and start a new chapter. Gideon came as a Masters student in 2007 and his family came in 2008. New families have been established. Viola and I got married in 2009, and Mike and Mary did so in 2010. In 2015, Ginger came to our ministry, and she was engaged to Boyang. They were going go to Las Vegas to get married, but we couldn’t have that. We planned a wedding for them and Bob officiated. Michael Henkins, Paul Kwon, and Daniela and Lucas Bockenfeld have all been born in to our church, into our larger family. And it is a family. We have mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, and there is probably even that crazy uncle. You can figure out who that is. It has been a great time, these past ten years and I am not saying all these things to pat ourselves on the back and make us feel good. God has used us here and he will continue to do so as long as we remain faithful to him, because he is faithful to us.

After years of searching, in October 2011, we finally found a place to call home, this beautiful place we are in right now. From right when we bought it, the building has always been like this, right? There is an emphatic no to that question. When we purchased the building in 2011, it was a complete mess. The building had been abandoned about five years prior. It was undergoing renovation, when the owner ran out of money. Construction stopped and the contractor and the bank put liens on the place. At some point in time, the owner died and the property went into limbo, lost in paperwork. Unfortunately, the contractor forgot to turn off the water and the pipes froze one winter. They exploded and water filled the first floor, eventually causing black mold to form. While abandoned, some homeless people came to inhabit it and much of the wiring in the basement was ripped out. Meanwhile, M. Daniel saw the place and started pushing to find more information about it. Eventually, he pushed hard enough and we could find the owners and buy it cheap. We had to gut the place and restore it to make it usable. The building needed to be redeemed. Now, more five years later, we are here having our fifth worship service within our own walls.

Our building is a great analogue to our own lives and a beautiful segue for the vision for the next ten years. Notice that we haven’t talked about the passage at all, yet. All that comes in this vision part. However, let’s go back to the building. It was nasty and had to be redeemed in order that we could use it. It was a death trap, a waste and an eye sore. Now, it is redeemed, just as we have been redeemed through the blood of Jesus. And that gets us to our passage today from Ephesians. The book of Ephesians was written by a man named Paul, who experienced firsthand his redemption through Jesus. He was once a very religious person with great passion for his beliefs. He had such great passion, he sought out anyone he thought was wrong and had them thrown into prison and even taken to death. He didn’t like people saying that Jesus was God and he wanted anyone who thought so to be killed. He was the greatest enemy to Christians at the time. He did more damage to Christians than any terrorist organization today. On one of his sanctioned hunts to the city of Damascus, the risen Jesus came to him and blinded him. He was wrong about Jesus, but Jesus didn’t choose to kill him, but to redeem him. He had such a change of heart that he went from Christianity’s greatest enemy to its greatest champion.

Our passage today starts out, “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.” (3) We start out with praise to God. When we do these reflections on the past, it can be easy to put the focus on ourselves. We can be puffed up with pride because of accomplishments or we can be deflated because to don’t see monumental growth. At any rate, the real problem is that we were focusing on ourselves. In a life of faith, the focus should not be on ourselves, but on the one who is worthy of praise, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is he who gives us every spiritual blessing that we have through Jesus and that is a wonderful thing. We can look around and feel like we are lacking something. We can feel distant from one another or we can feel that we are not bringing enough people to Jesus. We can feel like our energy is low and we are all exhausted, but God, the Father has given us every spiritual blessing in Christ. We must take our focus off ourselves and put it back to where it belongs and praise the name of Jesus.

We can see why in the next few verses. “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” (4) God chose us. I should be clear; we did not choose him. It is God who chooses us. It is all on him because no matter how much we might try we can never be holy and blameless on our own. We’re not perfect people. We all have flaws; some are private while others are very public. Sometimes, these flaws cause us to do bad things. We get caught up in anger, selfishness or lust and bad things happen. Other times, our flaws cause us to neglect good things, where we forget to do something good. It’s like this building. Someone forgot to turn the water off and the pipes froze. Their neglect led to this place being filled with mold. But, God can call us to be holy and blameless despite our flaws. We continue, “In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (4-6) Because of God’s choosing us, he adopted us in love to sonship. What this means is that, when we are adopted into God’s family, we are not made lesser than natural children like Jesus, but we receive full privileges. In Paul’s time, it was the sons who were heirs to the father and Paul says that all believers are adopted into an inheritance in God’s kingdom, regardless of gender or stature. Remember when you were younger and it was time for teams to be chosen for a game like basketball. The heads of the team would stand up and choose people one by one in turn, and it always the worst thing to be last. When you were chosen early, it felt good. Now, imagine that one of the team leads was a basketball great like Michael Jordan or Lebron James, but since this is Chicago, we don’t care about Lebron. So, Michael Jordan is picking his basketball team from everyone and he picks you to be on his team, and not reluctantly, but with a smile. How awesome would that be? When God chooses us, it is an incredible honor because he chooses us with joy and love in his heart. The passage says that he chooses us in accordance with his pleasure and will. God wants us to be his child and it is his pleasure to give us full rights as children.

On our own, we are nothing, but God chooses us to be something. He redeems us. Our passage continues, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (7) To redeem something means to buy it back or to give value to something that is worthless. Sin makes us worthless. Like I said, our flaws, or sins, either make us do bad things or cause us to forget to do good things. It is a pattern that continues in our lives unabated. We develop habits and ticks based on these sins and it becomes increasingly difficult to change those habits. Living with sin is like living with a chronic disease. It slowly eats away at you. You might learn to live with it but you are dying, nonetheless. It is like our building before we finished remodeling it. It was so full of mold that it was toxic. If you stayed in here for an extended period it would affect your health. Homeless people tried to live in the disease, but the camped in the more favorable parts of the building. The place was littered with trash. There were chicken bones on the floor, cans and bottles of liquor all over the place, and we even found needles and condoms. It was very disgusting in here. On top of that, people tried to remove anything of wealth as any copper wiring that could be accessed was stolen. The building was raped and pillaged. And how much does that represent our lives without Jesus. We were broken and used, filled with trash and disease. We were empty and alone, dead and hurting until love broke through.

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (7) In Jesus’ blood we are redeemed. Our sins are forgiven and our redemption is at hand. Jesus is God who came down to this earth as a man to bring us back to God. He does so because he took the punishment that was due to us. A life of sin is a life of death, but Jesus took that death for us in the most horrible way. He was wrongly arrested, unfairly condemned, and although he was innocent he was given the worst death known to mankind, crucifixion. Jesus hung on the cross, bloodied and naked, taking our punishment, our shame, our guilt, our death, and gave us life in return. Jesus valued us so much that he gave his own life for us. In today’s world, a lot of people wonder if they have any value, if they are worth anything, but according to Jesus, we are worth everything. We have value, which means that we have purpose. We weren’t saved to die again. We were redeemed to do something. Again, like this building, once it was redeemed, it could be used and we have been using it. We’ve had worship here, meetings here, Bible studies here, music practice here, pumpkin carving and sushi making. It feels great to be useful, to have a point and a purpose and in Jesus, our redemption has a reason.

Paul continues, “With all wisdom and understanding, 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 reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” (8-10) God’s end goal is to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ and part of our purpose is to help that along. We were redeemed so that we can help other people know that they are redeemed too. Sometimes, when we are chosen for something, we become proud and condescending to those who were not chosen. That happens in Christianity, too. There are Christians that think that they are better than others. They take their chosen status as a right to look down on others, to ridicule them of their sins, but we are not called to be like that. The purpose of our redemption is to bring others to know their redemption. That means that we are not better than the broken, but we remember that we were once like them and we want them to know the joy and love and grace that was lavished on us.

Paul extends that purpose as he writes, “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, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” (11-12) Again, we were chosen in order that we might be for the praise of his glory. We were redeemed to praise God and to be a cause for praise for God. God should be praised because of us. We become the proof of his power, love and grace. God could take something that was truly worthless and make it into something that is more powerful and beautiful that this world could ever make. Jesus took twelve nobodies, country bumpkins and misfits and turned them into the foundation of his church. They weren’t particularly educated; they were ordinary. However, because of Christ and their redemption through his blood they did extraordinary things and we sing God’s praise because of it. Now it is our turn. We are redeemed to bring others to know their redemption and our actions and purpose should bring praise to God, both from our lips and the lips of others.

So, our redemption comes through Christ and his blood, which was payment for our sins, but how do we know that we are redeemed. Paul wrote about that, too. He wrote, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 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) We are included in that redemption when we hear the message of salvation and believed it. That is very important. We must believe the message to be true. We must hear the message and accept it. When we do so, we are marked with a seal. We are marked that we are chosen by God through the gift of the Holy Spirit. God gives us his spirit to show us that we are his, and that Holy Spirit is a counselor to guide us through a new life or being redeemed. The Holy Spirit shapes us and the sin that was once so prevalent in our lives diminishes. Instead of being ok with the sin we commit, we start to hate it and want it gone. Some flaws melt away and others are used to strengthen our faith. The Holy Spirit is the one who does these things in our life and that makes it proof of our redemption, a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.

Now it is coming to a time of decision. For the past ten years, we have been serving Illinois Tech with the word of God through worship and Bible study, and there have been so many who have found their redemption through Christ because of this ministry. We heard at one of our outreach events The Rising Life from many of our alumni, graduates of Illinois Tech and active in the ministry. Each one of them found their redemption through this ministry here, myself included. I was lost in my internal darkness, ripped apart by my emotions. I tried to pull myself together and escape the darkness, but by my own power, I could only go so far, but it is only through Christ where my soul has found any peace despite whatever my situation is. Now, I am human and I get lost in myself and lose the peace often, but when my focus comes back to Jesus and I praise his name, I remember that I am redeemed through his blood and I find my purpose and peace, once again. It is my hope and prayer that in the next ten years, we may remember and hold on to the fact that we are redeemed and it is our purpose to show others that they are redeemed too. We must help people understand that they have a home here, a family here, a crazy uncle here. Let our ministry be known as a place for the redeemed. We don’t do great things because we are great and polished, but despite our failings and our sins, God is faithful and he does great things here to the praise of his glory.

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