Sunday, June 11, 2017

The gospel is for everyone

https://i0.wp.com/thegospelforbelievers.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/photodune-8353885-people-finding-christianity-xs.jpg
Photo from The Gospel for Believers
What strikes me today as I read Ephesians 3:1-13 is that the gospel is for everybody.  In this passage Paul spends a lot of time alluding to the fact that God created the Jewish nation to be His people, but Jesus came to save everybody.  Those who are the knowledgeable, "churched", people and those who aren't.

This has become real for me in a new way since I started volunteering with Prison Fellowship Ministry (PFM).  In one sense, prisoners are bad people.  They are people who have done bad things, they have victimized other people.  It is much easier on one level to be sympathetic toward the victims than the victimizer.  I've long said that I'd rather be a prosecuting attorney than a defense attorney because the district attorney's office stands up for the people, the victims of crime.

Along with 2 other ladies I currently teach a class on job seeking and keeping as part of PFM's academy. We teach in a medium level prison called CRC.  Our class is comprised of young men who are part of CRC's youth offender program.  CRC has pulled inmates ages 18-25 away from the rest of the population for part of their prison time.  They are housed together and have optional classes together.  Just a couple of weeks ago during class we were discussing that the largest percentage of jobs are obtained through knowing someone.  One of the young men in the class related a story about how he was once working a temp job with 2 others.  He said that he outworked the 2 others by far, but that the 2 other people ended up being offered permanent work for that company while his job ended.  He explained that the other 2 had family members or friends who worked there.  He said that he got really angry about it and thought to himself that he should go rob all of those people.  I remember being shocked when he said that.  I thought to myself - who thinks something like that when they're upset?

Yet, somehow, when I'm there with those young men, I am filled with a sense of how precious they are.  I think it's the Holy Spirit within me; because these young men are precious to God.  The gospel truly is for everyone because God loves everyone.  He doesn't look at people the way that we do.

During these weeks that we've had class together I've come to know some of the young men and their stories.  My heart breaks as they casually mention things about their childhoods that were terrible. Moms who were drug addicts, chaotic households, dads in and out of prison, generations of gang affiliation...these are standard fare among the incarcerated.  God sees their pain and wants something better for these young men; my prayer is that I am a part of bringing that about.

I want to get in line with God's ways of looking at and loving people.  So what does that mean for me in my everyday life?  Are there people with whom I come in contact that I've written off?  Who I find offensive and/or annoying?  The gospel is for them too!  How can really believing this change the way I interact with and talk about these people?

Oh Father, thank You for Your love.  Thank You for extending your salvation to me and everyone else.  Show me ways each day to love the people around me.  Please help me be open to hearing Your voice when I'm around people who I don't like and who annoy me.  Empower me to change my attitude.  May I love people like You do.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Being part of His church

Graphic from Literature and Liturgy
Today I'm focusing on Ephesians 2:19-22.


God's building something.

It started with the prophets who were the foundation. Jesus is the chief cornerstone. God is joining His followers, the Church, together with Jesus to build a temple to His glory.

The church is comprised of all who believe in Christ; it is a visible entity that symbolizes the invisible grace that makes it possible.  I believe that the church has a special place in God's work on this earth.

God has always planned to reconcile men to Himself; this can be seen throughout the Scriptures:

Genesis 3:15 - Genesis 3:1-20 recounts the fall of man and the fact that God provided a way back to Himself.

There are pictures of God's redemption throughout the Old Testament; here's just a few of them:

Genesis 22 - God required Abraham to sacrifice his son Issac and at the last minute provided a substitute for that sacrifice.
Exodus 2-14 - Moses leads Israel out of captivity in Egypt.  Psalm 106:6-12 summarizes how God redeemed Israel through Moses leading their exit from Egypt. 
Ruth 1-4 - Boaz is the kinsman redeemer who purchased the ability to care for Ruth and her mother in law and bring Ruth into the family of Israel who were God's chosen people.
Isaiah 49:8-10 & Isaiah 61:1-3-the promise of restoration and deliverance

John 12:20-35 - Jesus died for everyone and if he is lifted up He will draw all to Himself

Romans 5:12-19 - Death came through Adam and salvation for all came through Christ

Philippians 2:5-11 - Eventually all will come to God through the Lordship of Jesus

2 Peter 3:8-9-God waits for all to come to Himself.

1 Timothy 4:6-10 - God is the savior of all people

So everyone will eventually come to God through Jesus, but the church are those who form the mystical body of Christ who have come to Him while on this earth. It would seem that God has a special place, a special work for those of His Church. The Church is supposed to bring glory to God on this earth, preach His kingdom and make disciples, and help one another grow in relationship with God through Christ. Scriptures such as Romans 15:1-6 & 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 show me that the Church exists to bring glory to God.  In Matthew 28:18-20 & Acts 1:8 we're shown that the Church is to bring preach the Jesus story and make disciples. 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11, Ephesians 4:11-16, and Ephesians 3:10-25 show the Church is to help Believers in Christ to encourage one another and grow in their relationship with Him.

I believe that if I don't accept God's gift of salvation now, at the end of this life I'll be separated from Him in hell. That Hell is still redemptive in nature; a time of refining fire that I might repent and come to Him. Choosing Him now not only saves me from hell later, it allows me to experience relationship with the Creator of my soul. As part of His Church I am called to bring Him glory, help bring His kingdom to others, and help build up others of faith.

So what does this mean to me now? What are the questions that come to my mind?
  • Does the way I live bring glory to God?
  • What am I doing to help others come into His kingdom?
  • Am I encouraging and helping others in the faith grow in Him?
Oh Father, thank You that You let me into Your kingdom. Thank You for letting me be part of Your work.   Would you please empower me to live so that my life brings You glory.  Help me stay positive at my job and keep a servant's heart so  that You would be honored.  Help me be smart and fix problems at work and make things better so that You can get the glory.  Be with me at Prison ministry so that You would speak through me and be a source of encouragement, truth, help and an example for those young men.  Oh Father, show me daily if there's something specific that You want me to do and help me be sensitive to Your leading.  Sometimes I feel exhausted and like I don't have the energy that I need for it all.  Please give me wisdom and self discipline to eat, exercise, and live in ways that keep me healthy for my life and all I need to do.  Please empower and energize me by Your Holy Spirit within me to be up for the life/ministry before me.  May I be a source of wisdom, encouragement, and love to Daniel as we talk each week.  May I be a good helper to John and a source of love, encouragement and affirmation.  Even though we don't talk much, show me ways to be a positive source for Your kingdom in Devon, Rachel, Dylan, Liz and my grandchildren's lives.  Thank You that I can always come to You Lord.









Friday, August 19, 2016

The Law established in the Spirit

Graphis from New Hope Ohau
Today I'm looking at Ephesians 2:14-22, and there's a ton of stuff there!

But what jumped out at me today was this phrase in the first part of the 15th verse, I looked at it in several versions and found that I especially appreciated these:

"by setting aside in his flesh the law and its commands and regulations" (NIV)

"He repealed the law code that had become so clogged with fine print and footnotes that it hindered more than it helped":(MSG)

"abolishing in His [own crucified] flesh the enmity [caused by] the Law with its decrees and ordinances [which He annulled] (AMP)

I appreciate these thoughts of Joseph Evel found in his book The Biblical Illustrator about this verse:

"The word rendered “to abolish” is the word often used by St. Paul for “to supersede by something better than itself”--translated “to make void,” in Romans 3:31; to “bring to nought,” in 1 Corinthians 1:28, and (in the passive) “to fail, to vanish away,” to be done away,” in 1 Corinthians 13:8-10. Now, of the relation of Christ to the Law, St. Paul says, in Romans 3:31, “Do we make void the Law? God forbid! Yea, we establish the Law.” The Law, therefore, is abolished as a law “in ordinances”--that is, “in the letter”--and is established in the spirit."

What does it mean to establish the law in the spirit? Or perhaps a more accurate question might be what does it mean to say that Jesus established the law in the spirit?

In a sermon about Romans 3:27-31,  John Piper makes some comments that I think shed a clarifying light on this topic:

"what the moral law of God requires of us, we will do, if we pursue it by faith, as those who are already justified, and not by works, in order to be justified. If we get right with God first by faith alone, and then live in that freedom of love and acceptance and justification, we will be changed from the inside out and will begin to love the very things the moral law requires so that they become established in our lives-not as works of merit, but as the fruit of faith (1 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:11) and fruit of the Spirit"

I really think that second reference that Piper points to says it well:

"we pray for you all the time - pray that our God will make you fit for what he's called you to be, pray that he'll fill your good ideas and acts of faith with his own energy so that it all amounts to something" (MSG)

It's all about God.  Jesus' work on the cross made it so His very Spirit can live in me.  The Holy Spirit in me calls out to me to be in His Word.  As I'm in His Word I realize anew His love, grace, justification.  These things change me. He is changing me.  I don't need letter of the law thinking, I want Spirit of the law.  In and of itself, the moral law is good.  It helps me get my thoughts straight about what is wrong and what is right. But it is the Holy Spirit inside me, changing me, that produces right living by me - not me looking on the outside and conforming to standards of right living.

So, what does all this mean to me in my daily life?
  • It's not my place to be the law-judger and go around judging other people.  I can leave that to God.  Of course I need to be wise in my interactions with people, so I will watch and listen.  I will make "judgements" in that sense of the word.  But by God's Spirit, may I not fall into a judgmental attitude.
  • The feelings of not-being-good enough do not have a place in my life.  It is never about that.  God made me good enough.  There may be specific areas in my life where improvement is needed, and by His grace and power I will seek to improve.  But, I am good in His sight.  I am acceptable and beloved. There is no criteria to which I need to measure myself.
  • I can spend time thanking God for what He has already done through His Spirit in me.  This is bigger than it sounds: Instead of pining for righteousness - I can spend time speaking aloud thanksgiving for the work He has already done and is continuing in me.  I can ask for wisdom in how I can cooperate with Him specifically throughout the day.  The focus is on faith and God and not on me and activities to "get it right." 

Oh dear God, thank You.  I can never thank you enough.Your ways are just so much greater and better than mine.  Thank  You more than I know how to say for what You've done for me in Jesus! Thank You for giving me Your Holy Spirit.  Thank You for working in me.  Show me specific ways that I can cooperate with You today.  Help me hear You well today.






Saturday, June 18, 2016

Jesus changes all of that

Graphic taken from Vimeo
Today I'm looking at Ephesians 2:11-13:

But don’t take any of this for granted. It was only yesterday that you outsiders to God’s ways had no idea of any of this, didn’t know the first thing about the way God works, hadn’t the faintest idea of Christ. You knew nothing of that rich history of God’s covenants and promises in Israel, hadn’t a clue about what God was doing in the world at large. Now because of Christ—dying that death, shedding that blood—you who were once out of it altogether are in on everything.(MSG)
 
If, when I read a passage, nothing exactly pops out to me, then I look at the passage in 4 ways: what did it mean to the people it was written to, what could it generally mean to people, what are some general applications of this scripture, what does it mean to me personally.

What does this passage mean for who this was written to:
Paul wrote this to the church in Ephesus.  For around the past two thousand years God had revealed Himself to the Jewish nation.  Starting in Genesis 12:1-3 God called Abraham to follow him and promised that he would be the father of a great nation.  God also told Abraham that through him all nations would be blessed.  It was the Jewish nation about whom the Old Testament is directly relating their history.  The Bible indicates in Acts 4:16 that God had basically allowed the non-Jews to just walk in their own ways.  But God's promise to Abraham that through him all nations would be blessed was fulfilled in Jesus.  To the church in Ephesus these verses explain that God's salvation is for everyone - not just the Jews. 

What does this passage mean to people in general:
All people, before they come into a relationship with God through Christ, are outsiders to God's ways. We act according to what seems right to us.  Sometimes we show some wisdom and we do alright.  Other times we just give in to our sinful nature and end up with all kinds of problems.  We don't understand the rich history of how God worked with Israel that is recorded in the Old Testament. We don't see how God is working in the world around us. But Jesus changes all of that.

What are some general applications of this scripture:  
  • Don't take your relationship with God for granted, God planned it for you throughout time
  • Get to know God and His ways better through God's Spirit helping you read the Word and study
  • Don't discriminate against anyone since God loves ALL people
  • Don't see yourself as better than anyone else since God's plan through Jesus is for all people
  • You don't need to feel alone because God's got you with Him
What does it mean to me personally, what is the Holy Spirit speaking to my heart through this passage:
I don't have to live like everyone else around me.  I don't have to be discouraged by circumstances at work.  I don't need to feel hurt or sad that 2 of my 3 sons don't reach out to me very often and I miss them. I can know that God's got good plans for me.  I am in on what He is doing.

Oh Father, show me what You're doing here in the world around me.  Help me see things through You're way of seeing things so that I can join in Your work. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

What kind of God is this?

Photo from Christian Poetry
As I'm reading through Ephesians 2:1-10 my spirit zeros in on this theme of God wanting to do us so much good. In verses 7-8 I'm blown away by this theme (I'm especially partial to the way Peterson paraphrases these verses in the Message):

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. 

Then again down in the 10th verse I read:



For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (NIV)
Albert Barnes wrote about these verses and I appreciate the ways he says it:
"Such was his love toward those who were lost, that it would be an everlasting monument of his mercy, a perpetual and unchanging proof that he was good"
As I read these verses I'm hit with this this idea that there is God.  The God, the one who is the almighty, all knowing, creator of the universe, ruler of all. This same God is here planning and desiring to do so much good to all mankind. So much good to me.  I ask myself - What kind of God is this? That He would want all the time in this world and the one to come to shower grace and kindness on me. That He would prepare good works for me to be about in my life. That He would bother to have a plan for someone like me. What does it say about Him? What does this mean to me?
I want to look at each of these questions burning in my heart.  
What do these verses say about God?  As I think and pray about that, this is what comes to my mind:
  • God thinks about humanity, He makes plans for us
  • God wants to shower humanity with kindness and grace
  • God will do what He wants for humanity through Jesus
  • He wants to save us from the natural destruction that living according to our flesh will result in 
  • God wants to give us salvation, He doesn't want to make us work for it
  • He has a purpose for humanity
  • He has good works that he planned for us to do
What does this mean to me? As I think about pray about it, this is what comes to mind:
  • I'm loved
  • I've got lots of both kindness and grace in my life 
  • I'm created to be an example of how good, kind, and full of grace God is
  • I'm supposed to give what I've received - I need to every day look for ways to extend God's kindness and grace to other people.  As I think on this I'm hit right now by the need to be praying throughout the day as I work or live with people - OK Lord, how exactly do You want me to extend Your grace and kindness to this person right now?
  • My life is not some thing of chance.  God's got a plan for me.  He's prepared good stuff for me to be doing.  I have purpose.
Oh Father, may Your Word work in me.  May I know and experience in my deepest part, Your mercy and kindness.  May the joy of these gifts permeate my life.  Holy Spirit, please remind and prompt me throughout my days to let You show me how to extend mercy and kindness to the people I encounter.



Monday, May 30, 2016

Be Sober

Photo from Listening to God Forum
I've never been a devil chaser.  I've always been uncomfortable with those types of Christians.

In fact, just this week I was talking with an employee about her grievous misdeeds that I witnessed from our camera footage at work. I had her look at what I'd seen on camera, and then let her explain her actions from her viewpoint.  She talked at length.  When, at the end of her monologue, she started to get into talking about Satan getting the best of her, I finally cut her off.

Yet....

I try, by God's grace and power, to take the Word at what it says.

I can't get around this passage here in Ephesians 2:1-3, especially the second verse:

 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience,(NKJV)


John McArthur points out that the word "world" used in this verse is Kosmos and that it:

"does not represent simply the physical creation but the world order, the world's system of values and way of doing things-the world's course And as Paul makes it clear, the world follows the leadership and design of Satan"

John Piper has a truly worthwhile sermon on these very same first 3 verses in Ephesians; it's entitled Why we need a Savior: captive to an alien power, by nature children of wrath.I appreciate how in this sermon Piper explains the analogy of Satan being the prince of the air as well as the corroborating scriptures he brings in to verify that Paul is indeed speaking about Satan in this verse.

Piper explains the analogy of prince of the air this way:

"Air is everywhere.

Air is where we live. Between heaven above and earth beneath is the realm of air, and that is the habitation of man. Sometimes we say things like, "there's excitement in the air". What we mean is that excitement seems to be gripping everybody. Its influence is so widespread that it simply must be in the air.

That's Paul's point, the influence of the power spoken of in verse 2 is so pervasive, that it can be called the power of the air."

Scriptures which corroborate that the prince of the power of the air is Satan are:

Ephesians 6:12: For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.(NIV)

Matthew 12:24, note the second part of the verse where the Pharisees are talking about Satan and refer to him as "the prince of demons"(NIV).

2 Corinthians 4:4 where Paul is referring to Satan as the "god of this age" (NIV, NKJV).

John 12:31, John 14:30, & John 16:11 where Jesus refers to Satan as the "ruler of this world" (NIV, NKJV)

Luke 4:6 when Satan is bragging to Jesus he proclaims that he has authority over this world.   

It's apparent that Satan has some power in this world.  1 Corinthians 2:14 indicates that the natural man is greatly influenced by this power because he can't understand the things of God.  As a Christian, between the pervasive influence of Satan on my culture, and the pull of my own flesh, I can be influenced too. I'm reminded of 1 John 2:15-17 that talks about the sources of temptation, one of which is simply my own flesh. 

What does all of this mean to me, today, in my life? 

Do I need to become a "devil-sighter"?  Must I always be on the look out, trying to see where Satan is working?  I am reminded of 1 Peter 5:8-9 which could be interpreted to indicate that I'm to be on the look out for Satan.  However, I'm intrigued by the Amplified Bible translation of these 2 verses in 1 Peter:

 Be sober [well balanced and self-disciplined], be alert and cautious at all times. That enemy of yours, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion [fiercely hungry], seeking someone to devour. But resist him, be firm in your faith [against his attack—rooted, established, immovable], knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being experienced by your brothers and sisters throughout the world. [You do not suffer alone.]

This translation speaks to me about an approach to life, more than about looking for the devil under every rock.  I need to seek, by His Spirit within me:
  • to live a well balanced and self-disciplined life
  • to live in the realization that there are spiritual forces around me
  • to be firm in my faith 
Repeatedly in my life it comes back this. Staying in the word from which my hope and faith is derived.  I'm reminded of Romans 12:1-2 where I'm told to constantly stay in the Word so His Spirit can change the way I think.  God is constantly reminding me to speak His truth and not the lies in the culture around me. Oh Father, You know me. You know that I can't do this on my own. I'm so much like water; I just want to run along the easiest path of least resistance.  Change me. Empower me.  Help me stay close to You.  Because I so desperately need You.  Thank You for loving me.  Thank You for giving me Your Holy Spirit.  I can never thank You enough.
  
As I've been doing this study today a song by an old music group named Petra has been coming to my mind: Not of this World. You can click this title to find the lyrics and listen.





 
  

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Can't do it on my own

Photo taken from The Vigilant Christian
If I had any question about getting good on my own, Ephesians 2:1-10 answers those questions once and for all.  Right there, in the first verse, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit Paul writes:

"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins"

Dr. Wayne Barber explains that:

"The word dead in the Greek language is the word Nekros. It comes from the work nekus which means corpse".

The staff over at verse by verse ministries made a point that stirred my heart:

"Just as a corpse cannot revive itself to life, neither can an unbeliever revive his own spirit into new life." 

I could not bring salvation to myself.  Only God by His grace could bring life to my dead spirit that was separated from Him by my sinful condition. Then, I think about Colossians 1:6 that tells me:

"as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him"

This brings me to what is stirring in my heart today.  The idea that, just as I could not bring my dead spirit to life in Christ, in daily life I continue to be unable to bring about God's goodness on my own.  I need Him.  It is only by His power that I can change.


What does this mean to me, specifically and practically, in my daily life?

I keep struggling to speak words of God's truth and faith over my work situation instead of the words of overwhelm, exhaustion, and don't-want-to-be-there that keep coming to me. Perhaps the whole struggle is because I'm trying to do this instead of asking God to teach me how to rely on His Holy Spirit within me.  I'm reminded of Jesus' words in Matthew 11:28-30, I'm especially fond of the way Peterson has paraphrased them:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Oh Heavenly Father, teach me how to walk with You and work with You.  Empower me to make time throughout my day to come to You. Teach me Your unforced rhythms of grace.