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Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. Don’t participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.

Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible. This is why it is said, “Awake, O sleeper, rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 5:1-20


Begging Bowls

Randy K’Meyer

Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.

Ephesians 5:16

As we consider that verse, I want to focus on “making the most of every opportunity,” and ignore “in these evil days.”

In the context of the entire passage, it’s clear that Paul has in mind making the most of every opportunity to be like Christ in loving others. I say that because the topic sentence is, “Imitate God; therefore, in everything you do because you are His dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ” (5:1-2).

And I think it is worth noting that the key to making the most of every opportunity has to do with being led by God’s Spirit:

Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Ephesians 5:18

Therefore; make the most of every opportunity to be led, guided by, and nudged by the Spirit; to share God’s love with others and in this way imitate Jesus.

As a frame of reference for making the most of every opportunity, I offer you the imagery of a begging bowl? Begging bowls were used by Catholic Franciscan monks in the 16th century. Each day, those who practiced this discipline carried a begging bowl with them and whatever others place in the bowl, food or alms, was their sustenance for that day. 1

A begging bowl can be a metaphor for ‘making the most of every opportunity.’ for a begging bowl invites us to be open; to be open like never before to what each day happens to offer; open to the God of infinite surprise. A begging bowl invites us to ask ourselves, ‘What are we not seeing that we should see, what are we taking for granted that we shouldn’t be taking for granted, what are others placing in our bowl, how can each item placed therein be a teacher for us in our walk with the Lord?

I want to suggest that there are four different ways our begging bowl could possibly be positioned.

The first possible position of a begging bowl is upside down.

People who carry their bowls upside down are simply not open to new possibilities and surprises of the Spirit. For these folks, the begging bowl is more like an umbrella that insulates them from experiencing God’s grace dripping down all around them.

In Jesus’ day, they were known as Pharisees; the Jewish religious teachers who had God tightly wrapped up in their theological boxes. They were completely closed to the idea God could be working among them. One Sabbath day, Jesus healed a man born blind. Because they could not conceive of God healing anyone on the Sabbath, they were blinded to the idea that God was at work in Jesus. “This man Jesus is not from God, for he is working on the Sabbath,” they said (John 9:16). Jesus responded with some of His harshest words: “I came into this world to give sight to the blind, and take it away from those who say they see” (John 9:39).

Seminary professor Lewis Smedes tells about spending a day at the LA County Jail waiting for the wheels of justice to open for someone he was bailing out. As he waited, he watched drug dealers bailing out drug peddlers, girls bailing out their boyfriends, and pimps bailing out prostitutes. As he watched this sleazy parade, he began to see everyone as obsessive-compulsive, addicted, hopeless losers and by noon had lost any desire to know any more about them than that.

As he walked out for the lunch break, he met a man wearing a priest’s collar whom he figured was a chaplain. Smedes introduced himself and they ended up going to a Denny’s. Turned out he wasn’t a priest, he was an insurance salesman who spent a day a week bringing a little grace to those in jail.

Smedes asked him the sort of question any Pharisee would ask: “Don’t you keep meeting the same people forever coming in and going out, down and outers, repeat offenders, hard-core losers?”
And the would-be priest answered, “That’s not the way I divide up people; the only two people I care about is the forgiven and the unforgiven.”
Smedes said, “He had me there.”
When he got home that day, Smedes told his wife, “I met Jesus today.”
“Oh yeah, what did you learn from him?”
“That I am a Pharisee, have eyes, don’t see.” 2

As we read the gospels, Jesus always has His eyes open to all the possibilities
to share His Father’s love with lost and hurting people.

Open our eyes, Lord.

The second possible position of our begging bowl is right side up, but already full.

Many of us are so full of our own agendas, our schedules, so fixated on our own stuff, that we are distracted from making the most of every opportunity.

Does that sort of thing ever happen to you? We get so focused on our day going in a certain way, and then something or someone comes along, and rather than seeing it as an opportunity, we view it as an interruption to what we had planned.

In Openness Unhindered, Rosaria Butterfield tells about how her home was robbed; how thieves took her mother’s precious jewelry, beat the family dog, and ransacked the house. She admits she was distracted; making out police reports, taking the dog to the vet, and calming the children. Who can blame her? It was a traumatic experience.

However; her husband, Kent, had his eyes open to making the most of every opportunity. The day after they were robbed, he posted three things on the neighborhood email list: ‘they were robbed,’ ‘robbers took stuff,’ ‘but not things of eternal value.’ And he extended an invitation for everyone to join his family for burgers and hot dogs on Sunday at three o’clock.

Rosario writes, “Twenty-one neighbors showed up, and when they asked how we were holding up, Kent was able to share the gospel with new legitimacy, because where God is in your loss matters more to a skeptical, unbelieving, and watching world than where God is in your plenty.” 3

Wow! Talk about maximizing the opportunity! Talk about having eyes to see the possibilities of sharing Christ’s love when it would have been so easy to remain stuck in your own stuff.

Thursday afternoon, as we arrived for the Seniors’ lunch, I saw that a kid left his sweatshirt lying on our sidewalk. I thought, I don’t have time to comb the neighborhood to find the owner, and I left it there hoping the kid would come for it. Later that evening at the James study Lyle picked it up and brought it in and handed it to me. So Friday, as Gail and I left the church, I thought of making the most of every opportunity. So I knocked on two doors; nope no kids here. Went to the third, nope, kids here, but it’s not ours; try next door. And a young lady opened the door and while talking on the phone, said it belonged to her son. So walking back to the car, Rob walked out and I got to invite him to church. Thanks, Lyle for inspiring me to make the most of every opportunity.

A third possible begging bowl position is open and up, but it is riddled with cracks, covered with stains, or filled with unwanted debris.

Then whatever gets placed in our bowl gets polluted and colored by our pain and bitterness and anger at what life has thrown our way. Or it seeps through the cracks that have not been healed. Either way, we are blind to the joy that Christ would have us know.

Pastor Leith Anderson tells about growing up outside New York City and was an avid fan of the old Brooklyn Dodgers. His father took him to his very first baseball game which happened to be a World Series game between the Dodgers and the Yankees. He was so excited and he just knew the Dodgers were going to trounce the Yanks. Unfortunately, on that particular day, not one Dodger reached base. Years later, he was in a conversation with a man who was a sports fanatic. Leith was telling him about that very first baseball game he ever attended and how disappointed he was because his beloved Dodgers lost to the Yankees. The man said, “Wait a minute, you were at the game where Don Larsen pitched the first perfect game in all of World Series history?”
“Yeah, but we lost.” Then it hit him; he has been so caught up in his team’s, and his, defeat that he missed out on the fact that he was witness to a far greater page of sports history.

I wonder how often the same thing happens to us. We can become so distracted and disappointed by the pain and disappointment of our defeats, our failures, and our mistakes, that we fail to appreciate the fact that we might be witness to something far greater that God is doing in our lives right now.

Remember when Paul was in prison that he wrote four letters, one of which we know as Philippians, in which he wrote, among others things, “I want you to know brothers and sisters, that the things that have happened to me here (he’s in prison) have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel” (1:12).

While many would have focused on the negative situation, Paul was able to see what God was doing in his life. He did not allow the pain he was experiencing to distract or dissuade him from making the most of every opportunity.

Lord, open our hearts to the idea that you can use us in our pain to most effectively share your love with others.

The last begging bowl position is up, clear, clean, ready to receive what Jesus has to offer; heart and eyes, and ears wide open to making the most of every opportunity.

Art was a teacher of origami (the ancient Japanese art of paper folding) and as such was asked to represent his school at an exhibit at the Mall of America in Milwaukee. So he deiced to take along a couple of hundred folded cranes to give away to people who stopped by his booth.

The day before as he was praying and meditating, he felt the nudge to make a crane out of a piece of gold foil paper. At first, he was going to dismiss it, but then decided to follow the urge and searched through his box of papers until he found one flat shiny piece of gold foil. Gold foil is not as forgiving as paper and for a second he was tempted to give it up and then he felt the nudge saying, “look out for a special person to give it to.”

And so Art carefully folded and shaped the gold leaf until it became as graceful and delicate as a real crane about to take flight. The next day dozens of people stopped by his booth and he demonstrated the art. And suddenly there she stood, silently watching. He had never seen her before, but he knew, so he reached into his box for the delicately folded crane, held it out to her, and said, “I’m not sure why, but you are to have this golden crane, an ancient symbol of peace.”
She didn’t say a word as she cupped the small bird in her hands as if it were alive. When Art looked up, he saw tears filling her eyes. She took a deep breath and said, “My husband died three weeks ago, this is the first time I’ve been out. Today,” she spoke very quietly now, “is our golden wedding anniversary.” Then in a clear voice, she added, “Thank you for this precious gift, it’s the most wonderful wedding anniversary present I could have hoped for, thank you for taking the time to listen to your heart.”

When our begging bowls are turned upward, eyes open, hearts receptive, ears listening to the little nudges of the Holy Spirit, when we least expect Christ to be present in our lives, there He is! Without fanfare, without a choir, or an elegant church building, without an open Bible, without a group of Christians gathered in a holy huddle, Christ simply appears . . . through you and through me. And then; then, we will have made the most of every opportunity.

By the way, like that widow, have you ever received the greatest gift anyone can receive?

Perhaps some of you resonated with that bowl that is turned upward but riddled with stains and cracks and debris. And that whatever you put in the bowl gets polluted by pain and anger at what life has thrown your way. Or it simply seeps out through the cracks that have not been healed because you have never found forgiveness.

Jesus died so that we could be forgiven, and once we are, the door is opened to be healed from pain and anger, and bitterness from the past.

I read a story about a man who encountered a mean, barking dog. He tried to entice the dog to let him pet him, to which the dog, of course, wanted no part, and became even more vicious. So, he snatched the dog off his feet, and wrapped his arms completely around him, thus disabling his means of attack. As he examined him, this dog had a look of distress, almost desperation in his eyes, and it was then the man noticed the huge thorn he had in his front paw. He decided he must remove the thorn at once, but the dog decided otherwise and struggled mightily.

Eventually, man won the battle over the beast. As he put the dog back down, he wasn’t near the snarling, mean dog he was because of the miracle of the removed thorn. Now he was dancing, prancing, and full of appreciation for now the thorn had been removed. 4

Thus is the sin in our lives; it becomes a thorn, which if allowed to, can consume our very being, and eventually, we can become barking dogs. Jesus says He can remove the sin, if we allow Him to. Many times we resist, we struggle, and we fight back. But when we finally allow Him to remove the thorn how sweet it is to know His grace.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in His grace, freely makes us right in His sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when He freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood.

Romans 3:23-25

That is the gospel, the good news, that every person needs to hear. Because that is true, let us make the most of every opportunity.

1 https://www.thefreedictionary.com/begging+bowls

2 https://www.sermonsuite.com/emphasis-preaching-journal/lewis-smedes-tells-story

3 Adapted from Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, Openness Unhindered
(Crown and Covenant Publications, 2015).

4 Rick Dellinger