Sunday, November 22, 2015

Endless Energey, Boundless Strength

This is an ebook by Rob Hayes (I've never read this book)
This passage that I'm focusing on today, Ephesians 1:15-23,  has long been a favorite of mine.  I'm especially
partial to the way it reads in The Message paraphrase:

15-19 That’s why, when I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus and your outpouring of love to all the followers of Jesus, I couldn’t stop thanking God for you—every time I prayed, I’d think of you and give thanks. But I do more than thank. I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!
20-23 All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but        forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.  

I've prayed this over my oldest son since 2006 when he entered into the US Army academy at West Point.  I'd heard how rigorous and difficult it was there so I started praying this over him and have continued to pray this over him periodically.  

What's captivated my attention so much about this passage is the phrase "endless energy, boundless strength".  I struggle in my life with being tired.  I don't know if it's because I have such high pressure jobs, a thyroid condition, or I'm just a less energy kind of person.  Whatever the reason, it's a huge struggle for me.  I want more energy and I want it bad. Yet somehow in my life there has been a disconnect; I know the Scriptures about God giving us energy and I want to live for Him, but I still find my self oh so tired on a daily basis - why? More importantly, how can I change this?

As I've been praying about this, reading, and researching I came across an interesting article by Barry Hall.  I found these statements of his insightful:

"For God to be your God, He knows He has to presence Himself with you intensely enough for you to be refreshed by it and be able to trust Him. He designed you with the needs you have because He wants you to depend on Him--He wants to prove He can be a better God to you than the little "gods" of this world. Repent by coming to the place where you can trust God as your adequacy. The apostle Paul wrote, "Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God" (2 Cor. 3:5). It is entirely realistic for you to experience the presence of God to such an extent that this verse becomes true for you—every moment of every day. "

"The Psalmist wrote, "...O Lord God, You are my confidence..." (Psa. 71:5). It also says, "The Lord is their strength, And He is a saving defense to His anointed." (Psa. 28:8). Repenting by trusting God to draw near and be your strength allows you to experience the anointing of God. 

" Your need can be what drives you to draw near to God and receive His presence. "

"Repentance is a process of humbling yourself from thinking you have to achieve His presence and simply receive it. Repentance will help you find it easier to believe you can draw near and receive."

So, what does all this mean to me?

I keep thinking about that passage from John 15, the 4th through the 8th verses:

“Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.
5-8 “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples. (MSG)

Last week I looked at how I need to come closer to God, to spend more time in the Word.  I haven't done that. I haven't made myself get up earlier and I'm so exhausted by the time that I get home from work that it's a struggle to make myself walk a couple of miles on the Nordic track just so I can get some exercise into my day.  Then I crash; I eat dinner in front of the TV and go to bed early.

So it's got to be in the morning that spend more time with God.  To start my day with more than 3-5 minutes reading and thinking about a devotional.  I recognize that I need more.  Maybe other people don't need more, but I do.

Oh God, please help me.  You know how I have such a hard time getting up in the morning.  Please help me think about getting up to be with You instead of about getting up to go to work.  I'm going to take You at Your Word and, by Your strength and ability, try this.  I'm going to get up early daily for the next couple of weeks and dig into Your Word.  I need more energy - please teach me how to abide in You and receive Your presence and strength.  Thank You that You put up with me. Thank You that You want to be near me. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Getting my soul into a happy state

Photo from Lindsy D Briggs
Today I want to spend some time on Ephesians 1:15-16 :

ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God's people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. (NIV)

This stood out to me because repeatedly over the past few months God has been prompting me to spend more time in prayer for others.  Repeatedly I've failed.

What is it about spending time in intercessory prayer that makes it so hard?

I've been thinking about this and I've come to the conclusion that the answer to this question is: My Flesh.

I want what is easy.  I want what I that pretty clothes and shoes, TV, food, lightweight reading, day dreams, 30 minutes more sleep in the morning...the specifics aren't what's important - it's that I want whatever it is I want, when I want it.  I frequently have lacked discipline.  I say I'm going to spend time in prayer, but then I don't, because I'm pursuing these other things.

So I've come to this study time this morning ready for self flagellation.

I'm feeling downcast and terrible.  I know I'm bad.  I'm ready for God to "really give it to me". But you know what He does instead?  As I've been researching, reading and seeking some answers, God has shown me love, grace, and hope.  He's supplied me with a different recipe for victory over my flesh:

Keep my heart happy by resting in His promises


God used an insightful and profound message by John Piper to help me see this truth. Piper's message was taken from the text of Galatians 5:16-18 :

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.(ESV)

I think these verses resound for all of us.  I think we all know, all too well, the struggle between the flesh and spirit.  I appreciate this insight of Piper's:

"Conflict in your soul is not all bad. Even though we long for the day when our flesh will be utterly defunct and only pure and loving desires will fill our hearts, yet there is something worse than the war within between flesh and Spirit; namely, no war within because the flesh controls the citadel and all the outposts. Praise God for the war within! Serenity in sin is death. The Spirit has landed to do battle with the flesh. So take heart if your soul feels like a battlefield at times. The sign of whether you are indwelt by the Spirit is not that you have no bad desires, but that you are at war with them!"

Earlier in Galatians 5:5-6 I find these words:

For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. (ESV)

It's faith, trusting in God.  It's not me mastering my flesh and denying myself and using "spiritual muscle" that's going to get it done.  It's me having faith in GodGalatians 3:1-10 really drives this truth home.   The 2nd and 3rd verses especially point out this truth:

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (ESV)

I grow my faith by thinking on God's Word. Romans 10:17 puts it this way:

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (NIV)

George Muller had this insight:

"I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord, or how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. . . . Now what is the food for the inner-man? Not prayer but, the Word of God."

John Piper has this to say about Muller:

"George Müller learned the secret of walking by the Spirit: Meditate on the precious truths of the Word of God until your heart is happy in God, resting in his promises."

That's the key!

It's not about feeling guilty or beating myself.  It's about seeking God first thing, getting my soul into a "happy state" resting on God's promises.  I'm reminded of the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 11:28-30:

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.” (MSG)

Currently I take about 3 minutes and read a daily devotion.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  But right now I feel God prompting me to get up 30 minutes earlier and spend more time in His Word.  Given all the extreme challenges in my job, and the Spirit's urging me to engage more in prayer for my sons, I need more spiritual nourishment than I'm getting.  

Father I thank You so much that You want me to walk with You. Thank You that You don't lay anything too heavy on me.  Teach me how to refrain from being religious and trying to put stuff on myself that's not from You. Teach me how to walk with You.  I want to learn Your unforced rhythms of grace. I want to learn how get my soul into a happy state from time with You.  I want Your love and power in my life to make a difference at my job.  I want to live in freedom from my flesh; to be able to say to no to me and yes to You.  I want to grow in praying for my sons and others.  I can do none of this on my own.  I need You.  Thank You so much dear Lord.




Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sealed by the Holy Spirit

Photo from The Sanctuary Church
I've finally moved on in Ephesians, a little bit. Today I'm pondering Ephesians 1:12-14 (NASb):

12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in ]Christ would be to the praise of His glory. 13 In ]Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also ]believed, you were sealed in Him with )the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the )redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.

I notice that I see this same wording in Ephesians 4:30, 2 Corinthians 1:22, and 2 Corinthians 5:5.  All 4 of these references include wording about the Holy Spirit sealing us as God's followers.  Three of these references (Ephesians 1:13-14, 2 Corinthians 1:22, & 2 Corinthians 5:5) include the idea of the Holy Spirit being our guarantee of what God has for us to experience in the future.

As I read these verses I find myself asking what does it mean to be sealed with the Holy Spirit?

Bible Hermeneutics website notes:

The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia suggests the intended meaning is a mark of ownership by God:
God by His Spirit indicates who are His, as the owner sets his seal on his property; and just as documents are sealed up until the proper time for opening them, so Christians are sealed up by the Holy Spirit “unto the day of redemption” (Eph. 1:13; Eph. 4:30; 2Co. 1:22).

John Piper explains being sealed with the Holy Spirit this way:

"contained in this word "sealed," it is a message of safety and security in God's love and power. God sends the Holy Spirit as a preserving seal to lock in our faith, as an authenticating seal to validate our sonship, and as a protecting seal to keep out destructive forces. The point is that God wants us to feel secure and safe in his love and power."

In this same article, John Piper makes this point:

"God's great desire for his people is that we feel secure in his love and in his power. Everything else in life may be unstable—our health, our family, our job, our education, our society, our world."

I know that there's so much in my life that is not stable right now.  I've got a DON at work who should be my partner in this business we're running for the owner. She's competent and can be very hands on and effective, but she lies and manipulates. Her lies and manipulation make life very difficult for me and sets a poor tone in our building.  I'm in the midst of a class action lawsuit at work. My youngest son is trying to get an internship for this summer and has faced many rejections.  My middle son has only been on the clean and sober road since April 2015. My oldest son is on a year long deployment in Korea until July 2016 - away from his wife and new baby. I have a course in which I'm currently enrolled that I have no idea how I'm going to complete all the required work prior to the deadlines. Life is just not stable.  Not my life.  Not anyone's life.

 What does the seal of the Holy Spirit mean to me in the midst of the instability of life?

1. The Holy Spirit teaches us God's truth - see John 15:26-27, John 14:15-17, 1 John 5:6.
In the midst of the instability of life I can know what is real and true.

2. The Holy Spirit gives us supernatural power - see Romans 5:13 & 19, 1 Corinthians 2:4, 1 Corinthians 4:20, 1 Thessalonians 1:5.
In the midst of the instability of life I am not left to deal with it all on my own power.   

3. The Holy Spirit changes us - see Galatians 5:16-26
In the midst of the instability of life I get frustrated with myself, but if I cooperate with God, His Spirit within me will produce changes.

Oh Father, I need You to change me.  Change my heart so that it will be completely Yours.  Convict me each day when I'm making myself and/or others things ahead of You.  Help me open up to You and Your Word and live my life according to Your ways.  Please bring to my mind Your truth. Please help me receive Your Power so I can deal with all that is before me.  Empower me so that I can see supernatural results and favor in my life.  May I always bring glory to You.


Sunday, October 11, 2015

What does it mean to be for the praise of Christ's Glory?

Photo from Crabapple 1st Baptist Church
I'm still working my way through Ephesians 1:3-14.

Today what really hit me was this repeated idea found in these verses:

v.6a-"to the praise of his glorious grace"

v.12-"in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory."

v.14b-"until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.".

What does it mean to be to the praise of His Glory?

 I found some insights from other writers on this topic:
* Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers :

That is, for the acknowledgment by all God’s creatures of the gloriousness of His grace; or, in other words, for the acknowledgment that God’s essential glory is best manifested in His grace—that He “declares His almighty power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity.” So in Exodus 33:18-19, to the request, “Show me Thy glory,” the answer is, “I will make my goodness to pass before thee . . . and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious.” (Comp. Exodus 34:5-7.) He is pleased to consider His glory best realised in the spectacle of souls redeemed and regenerate by His grace, and to decree that it should be thus realised for our sakes.

* Chrysostom, an early church father, said this in his 1st homily on Ephesians:
The Divine nature knows no want. And wherefore then would He have us praise and glorify Him? It is that our love towards Him may be kindled more fervently within us. He desires nothing we can render; not our service, not our praise, nor any thing else, nothing but our salvation; this is His object in every thing He does. And he who praises and marvels at the grace displayed towards himself will thus be more devoted and more earnest. 

* John Piper had these thoughts:

"the glory of God is what we were made to see and enjoy for all eternity. Nothing else will satisfy our souls. Therefore if God does not exalt himself for us to admire and enjoy, then he is unloving. That is, he does not give us what we need."

* The Westminister Shorter Catechism:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God,[1] and to enjoy him forever.[2]
Q. 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
A. The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments,[3] is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.[4]

What does being to the praise of His Glory look like in daily life?

These are some thoughts that come to my mind:

* Spend some time away from others and alone with God each day.  During this time make sure to think on the goodness of God.  Singing praises to Him and speaking aloud of His goodness.

Throughout my day praise God for all the gracious things he does and has done for me.
    - God has done enough for me in Jesus that I have reason to praise Him every day.
    - He also gives me blessing every day if I will but take time to recognize and appreciate His blessings. The fact that I wake up in the morning, the beauty of nature around me, the small goodness in each day.
    - My daily thoughts should center on all the blessings of God.  I should refrain from getting caught up in the negativity around me each day.  I need to face reality and deal with negative things and events but I don't need to ruminate and stay in the negative things.
   -  Every day my speech should be filled with words of gratitude for God's blessings.  I should constantly be appreciative.

*  Live my life in a way that brings honor to God.
    - Be a person of excellence at my work.
    - Be a person who everyone knows that my word is as good a gold, that they can trust me because I'm honest and act with integrity.
    - Be a person who allows God to show me what He wants me to see in situations and and who relies on His wisdom.
    - Notice others.  Care about the people around me in practical ways appropriate to the life situations.  That might mean overlooking minor annoyances from my husband.  It could mean helping out one of my department directors. It might look like me seeing that someone seems tired or discouraged and giving them encouraging words. It could mean me sending an appreciative note to someone. Taking time to listen to my son's hopes and dreams and encouraging him. Etc.

Oh Father, THANK YOU!  I can never thank You enough for all You've done for me.  Help me to notice all Your blessings in every day and to appreciate all You've done, and are doing, for me.  May Your Holy Spirit in me empower me to keep my mind on those positive things and my words ones of gratitude. Oh Father may my life bring glory to Your name.  Empower me please that I would be a person of excellence, honesty and integrity.  Heighten my awareness to the people around me and show me ways to practically care about others.  Thank You so much....

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Glorifying of the adopting grace

Photo from Living Grace Fellowship
I'm still thinking about Ephesians 1:4-6.  

God loves all humanity so much that He made us the focus of His love.  God loves me so much that I am the focus of His love.

What affect does, or should, that have on me?

I read a compelling post on this very topic by John Piper over at Desiring God. I want to look at 3 quotes from that post here:

"I think, if you said to the average American student that “being loved” is not an experience that terminates on you, they would look at you with perplexity and wonder: Where else would it terminate? I’m the one being loved. How could it not finally be about me? That’s why it feels so good — someone finally took notice of me. Cared for me. Valued me. And that sense is so strong and so natural and so obvious to most people that the thought that there might be a better way to be loved, a more satisfying way to be loved, a stronger way, is simply inconceivable."

"God loved us in eternity before we were created, and he planned to make us his children by adoption. And the aim of this love was “the praise of the glory of his grace.” He loved us this way that we might praise his grace. The ultimate aim of our adoption is the glorifying of adopting grace. A regenerate person loves to praise God’s grace in our adoption. A nominal Christian simply loves the natural benefits of adoption."

"The final decisive question is: Why does God, who loves us so much, and who makes much of us so extremely, remind us again and again that he does all this for his own glory? Why does God remind us over and over that he makes much of us in a way that is designed ultimately to make much of him?
The answer is this: Loving us this way is a greater love. God’s love for us, that makes much of us for his glory, is a greater love than if he ended by making us our greatest treasure, rather than himself. Making himself our end is a greater love than making us his end. The reason this is greater love is that self, no matter how glorified by God (Romans 8:30), will never satisfy a heart that is made for God. God loves you infinitely. He sent his Son to die that he might have you, and that you might have him (1 Peter 3:18). He will not let you settle for wonderful and happy thoughts of self. Not even a saved, glorified self. He will not let your glory, which he himself creates and delights in, replace his glory as your supreme treasure. That would not be love."

2 Corinthians 5:14 notes that: For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. (NIV)

Roy Allen notes that this word compel "means to powerfully urge along a line of conduct. Force is not involved, but some impulse is so great that it evokes a strong intellectual and emotional inclination to respond appropriately. In this case, the impulse is the love of Christ, which is so immense that it demands a response as complete and radical as His love for us."

So, what does a complete and radical response to this great love look like?

 Matthew 22:34-40 records when a lawyer asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment and was told that the first is for us to love God with all our heart, soul and mind. Jesus said that the second greatest commandment is for us to love our neighbor like ourselves.

Jason Rouchie makes the point that "From the heart “flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23), and without one’s will, desires, passions, affections, perceptions, and thoughts rightly aligned, the life of love is impossible"

How do I align my will, desires, passions, affections, perceptions, and thoughts?

The only way I know if through prayer, reading the Word, and gratitude. By taking time each day to bare my heart before the Lord, to be quiet, and lean in to Him.  By reading His Word and thinking about it.  When I watch a movie, scenes from it will play over in my mind.  When I become entrenched in the Word, it changes the way I think.  Living a life a gratitude causes me to look at things differently.  Gratitude causes me to be on the look out for ways God is blessing me each day and to express my appreciation.

Loving people rides on the heels of loving God because God loves people.

2 Corinthians 5:17-19 tell me that I am to have a ministry of reconciliation.  To reconcile means to win over to friendliness, to bring into agreement or harmony, to restore.  

I adore the way Peterson paraphrases some of the word in Philippians 4:4-5 by saying that we're to Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them.

These are the kinds of activities my life should be about. As I'm thinking of this some very specific life situations come to my mind:
  • My medical director at work who's always trying to pull me into his alliances against other doctors or my DON.  I need to stop speaking poorly about him.  I need to speak words to him of ways we can work together.
  • I need to not get upset at my husband when he does little things that I find irritating.  I need to pray for God's strength in me to over look offenses and work to be strongly united.
  • I need to seek to work together with my DON at work and leave the many problems with her integrity, manipulations and lying to God.
  • I need to ask the Holy Spirit to make me aware of when I'm getting an attitude toward people or looking down on them. To quicken a desire in me to want everyone's good.
Oh Father, help me be completely Yours.  May my will, desire, passions, affections, perceptions and thoughts be rightly aligned.  Oh Father produce in me the fruit of self discipline.  Help me be able to get up earlier each day so I can spend more than 5 minutes with You.  Help my heart to be stayed on You all day long.  Give me Your love for others.  Give me Your grace that I will get into work together with people instead of alliances against them.  Help me never to enter into the sin of other people but always to love them and show them that I am on their side as a human being.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

What does it mean to be the focus of His love?

Photo from Raynie Peavy
I'm still looking at Ephesians 1:3-14.

Today what stands out to me is best represented verses 4-6. I read these verses in 5 different versions, but the way Peterson paraphrases it in The Message delights me most:

Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.

God really loves humanity, and me too.

My head knows this but it doesn't really reach my heart every day in every way.  I'm fascinated by the fact that later in this letter Paul prays that the Ephesians would be able to comprehend and experience God's love:

Ephesians 3:17B-18 (NIV)
I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,

Paul obviously thinks it is important that we grasp the immensity of God's love for us.

Why is that? 

Joyce Meyers in an article over at the Christian Post voiced my thoughts on this issue with these words:

"many people don't really know how much He loves them, because if they did, they would act a lot differently than they do"

Somehow I know, deep down in my spirit, that it is understanding God's love in an experiential way that will change the way I live.  I don't think that guilt, fear, or shame will do it.  Only love.
Just last week our pastor spoke about "cheap grace".  He emphasized how God loves us so much and we can not cheapen his love by living in sin.  The pastor was talking about people who accept Christ just to avoid hell and then live as they want. I think part of the problem is the whole hell thing.  I believe that our church has it all wrong.  I don't believe this God Who loves us so much just cuts us off the moment we die and shuts the gates of heaven.  I believe that His love is so great that the gates of heaven are always open.  If we reject him here in this life, then when we're separated from Him after death. But we're still able to come to Him.  That love is so great that the need to focus on being good is gone.
Proverbs 23:7 says that as we think in our hearts so we are.  I believe that when I truly know I am loved, then I will experience the freedom from the bondage of sin.  My response to this great love of God's for me will be to more than gladly live my life as He wants.  My response will be to reach out and seek His Holy Spirit's power within me to change me and give me power over temptation and sin.

Brennan Manning, in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel, shares this account:

"Over a hundred years ago in the Deep South, a phrase so common in our Christian culture today, born again, was seldom or never used. Rather, the phrase used to describe the break though into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ was "I was seized by the power of a great affection". These words described both the initiative of God and explosion within the heart when Jesus, instead of being a face on a holy card with long hair and a robe with many folds, became real, alive and Lord of one's personal and professional life."
I adore that phrase Seized by the power of a great affection. 
May I be seized by the power of His great affection, His love, for me. 
Oh heavenly father, thank You. May Your Holy Spirit in me increase my understanding and experience of Your love for me.  May I be seized by Your great love for me.  May this love change the way I live.  May I be ever constantly shedding selfishness and self centered-ness.  May I see other people as You do.  May my actions toward everyone in my day be those of love.


Monday, September 7, 2015

The mystery of the church

Photo from A God-Man in Christ
Ephesians 1:3-14 has many themes.

Today I'm looking at this mystery referred to verse 9 (NIV):

 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ,

There are two main aspects to this mystery that I see.

The first aspect of the mystery is that God allows everyone to be part of His churchJohn Mac Arthur explains this part of the mystery this way:  

"In Ephesians 3:3 Paul expresses a key thought relative to the church, "By revelation he [God] made known to me the mystery" The mystery 'in other ages was not make known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit" (v.5). Verse 6 identifies the mystery: "That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, the partakers of his promie in Christ by the gospel." A mystery in the biblical sense is something that had been hidden in the past but is now revealed in the New Testament. the book of Ephesians presents the mystery of the church. The hidden secret of the past (v.5), revealed to Paul in the present (v.3), was that jew and Gentile alike would be one in Christ's body - the church."

 Throughout the Old Testament we see the nation of Israel as God's people. In Genesis 13:1-3 we see that Abraham encountered God who promised Abraham that He would make a great nation from him. Then we read in Exodus 6:6-8 about how God considered the Israelites to be His people and delivered them from Pharaoh in Egypt. Throughout the rest of the Old Testament we see Israel turning from God, and God loving them and bringing them back to Himself.  In the New Testament we have the writers revealing that this great God doesn't only love Israel, but He also loves everyone else.

Ephesians 1:10 says (JKJV):

That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:

These verses tell me that God is going to gather all things together in Christ.  Andrew Womack presents the common Evangelical thought on this verse:

"The thought is that God is bringing everything together under the headship or Lordship of Jesus. That has always been God’s purpose and plan, and it will be accomplished. Those who do not make Jesus Christ preeminent and Lord over their lives are entirely out of focus with the eternal purpose of God."

But I question this because the text says ALL things.  It does not say only those who make Jesus Lord. To me it seems that these verses are saying that God always had a plan for humanity to be His. That there will be a time to come when God will get what He wants and ALL  things will be gathered to Him.

Ephesians 1:12 says (KJV):

That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.

A second aspect of this mystery is that the church will be to the praise and glory of God.  Ephesians has this theme throughout the book.  In Ephesians 2:6-7 we see it again (NIV):

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

So the church, those who first trusted in Christ, will be to His praise and glory and used to show His grace. Who will the church show God's glory and grace to? 

This is such a big question that I'm going to save that as a separate study.

What does the mystery of the church mean to me?

Right away two things come to mind:
  • Since Christ died for everyone, then everyone is important. If God sees everyone as important, than I need to as well.
  • Since the Church is to show God's glory, grace, and kindness, then I need to live in such a way that my life shows these things.

Oh Heavenly Father, help me see people the way You do.  Help me be aware of how my actions affect others. May Your Holy Spirit in me cause me to be more considerate of my husband and not think it's OK to be a little selfish or rude since we live together in daily life.  Help me to notice the people at the store, or gas station, or where ever else I go and see ways I can practice Your grace and kindness. Help me to go through my day at work completing those tasks that I need to complete, but also help me to really see people and treat them as important.  Holy Spirit please convict me when I'm getting it wrong.  Please send people in my life to help me see when I'm not making people important or showing your glory, grace, and kindness.  Please send people in my life who do this really well that I can learn from. May I show Your glory, grace, and kindness in my life. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

God is Good

Graphic from Scott Wendall
Ephesians 1:3 in the Message version says it this way:

How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him.

I appreciate what John Mac Arthur says about this verse:

"The Greek word translated "blessed" is eulogetos, from which we derive the English word eulogy. It means to "speak well of someone." Paul begins verse 3 by saying that God is good. In fact, Jesus says in Matthew 19 that "there is none good but one, that is God" (v. 17). And God is good whether we perceive Him to be or not."

I read through Ephesians 1:3-14 this morning and thought I'd go through that whole passage. Then I started re-reading and can't get past this third verse. I want to spend some time today thinking on what the Bible has to say about God being good; what that means, what it means to me, and how it can impact how I live.

I want to look at some other places in the Bible that I'm told God is good:

* From the very beginning of the Bible I see God and his creative actions described in Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, & 25 as good.

* 1 Timothy 4:4 speaks to the fact that both God and all He creates are good.

Psalm 119:68 tells me that God's very nature is good.

* Psalm 33:5  tells me that God is so good that the earth is filled with His goodness.

* Lamentations 3:19-33 is one of my favorite scripture passages. The 25th verse especially speaks to the fact that God is good to those who seek after Him.  Good  is who God is.

 * Repeatedly in the Psalms we're told as God's followers to give thanks to God because He is good.  To cite a few of these scriptures there's  Psalm 106:1, 107:1, 118:1, & 136:1

* Psalm 25:8-11 tells me that God in His goodness will instruct me in how to live well

* James 1:16-18 makes it clear that every good gift is from God

What does it mean that God is good?

I appreciate how Richard L.Strauss explains it:

 "First of all, God Himself is good; that is, He is everything that God should be—the ideal person, the sum     total of all perfection. There are no defects or contradictions in Him, and nothing can be added to His nature  to make Him any better. He is excellence to an infinite degree, possessing every desirable quality, and  therefore of inestimable value. God is good. Because God is Himself the highest and greatest good, He is  also the source and fountain of all other good."

God is the standard for Good.

What does it mean to me that God is good?

I want a good life. The fact that God is good; that He creates good things, shows me how to live in goodness, and gives good gifts - it all makes me want God.  I want to learn about Him.  I want to know Him. I want to think about Him.  I want to seek after Him. I want live my life in obedience to Him.

Today I'm thinking on 2 simple things the fact that God is good means to me:

1. God's goodness provides me with a standard of what is good

There are messages all around me as to what is good and how I can obtain "the good life". Ethics in the workplace are sometimes transitory.  But God is unchanging (Numbers 23:19-20, Psalm 102:25-27, Hebrews 3:18, 1 Timothy 1:18).  As I learn about Him and how He functions, how He works in people's lives, what He calls me to - this shows me what is truly good.  This shows me where my life focus needs to be.

2. Remembering God's goodness keeps me encouraged.

Although the earth is filled with God's goodness, planet earth is fallen (Genesis 3:17-19, Romans 15:12-20). Life is not perfect. Stuff happens and sometimes my life is difficult.  I do things that I don't want to do.  I mess up and I'm disappointed in myself. I see people I know and care about encounter painful circumstances and events.  I see tragedies on the news and in the world around me.

I could become discouraged.

One way to keep from discouragement is to think on God's goodness.

I appreciate these thoughts from John Piper:

"when Marshall came to speak to the Wheaton alumni a few years ago down at Wheaton and told this story, he said, at the end of his talk, summing it all up, “Life is hard and God is good. Life is hard and God is good.” That is the meaning of Lamentations. That is the meaning of Job. You might say that is the meaning of the Bible. Life is hard and God is good. And many of you are right in the midst of proving it to be so now. At least if you would trust him, if I could persuade you this morning that God is trustworthy in it, and if you held on to it, you would discover that life is hard and God is good."

How does the fact that God is good affect my life?

Two ways I want God's goodness affects my daily life:

1. I want to be thankful (1 Thessalonians 5:8, Ephesians 5:20, Colossians 3:15-17, Philippians 4:6-8, 2 Corinthians 9:15).

A huge part of being thankful is choosing to focus on all the good things God's given me instead of focusing on the negative things around me.

I benefit from Joel Osteen's thoughts on choosing to be thankful:

"Choose today to let the peace of Christ rule in your heart and have an attitude of gratitude toward the Lord. Even if you have things that are upsetting you, take a step of faith and begin to thank God for his goodness in your life. Thank Him for working behind the scenes on  your behalf. As you do, you will walk forward into the life of blessing He has in store for you!"

2. I want to show God my gratitude for His goodness by giving to others.

 Vince Gerhardy makes this great point:

"The thinking of the world is that everything is mine to keep and mine to use in whatever way I choose. When God is put at the center, we realize that everything is his and he gives it to us to use not just for ourselves but for the care of others, the work of the church. As God has given to us, we start giving to others - the best way to show our gratitude.".

Oh Father, I thank You that You are a good God.  Help me to live my life in gratitude.  May my heart and lips overflow with gratitude to You throughout the day.  May I continually see ways I can give to others every day.  May I extend Your goodness to others.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Failure to follow through sometimes causes a detour

Since I didn't complete my follow through from my last time in Ephesians, I want to look at some verses the Lord brought to my mind when I was praying for forgiveness just now.

I read Lamentations 3:19-33 out of 4 different versions. I'm especially delighted by the Message paraphrase of these verses:

I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness,
    the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed.
I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—
    the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there’s one other thing I remember,
    and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:

22-24 God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
    his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
    How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
    He’s all I’ve got left.
25-27 God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits,
    to the woman who diligently seeks.
It’s a good thing to quietly hope,
    quietly hope for help from God.
It’s a good thing when you’re young
    to stick it out through the hard times.
28-30 When life is heavy and hard to take,
    go off by yourself. Enter the silence.
Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions:
    Wait for hope to appear.
Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face.
    The “worst” is never the worst.
31-33 Why? Because the Master won’t ever
    walk out and fail to return.
If he works severely, he also works tenderly.
    His stockpiles of loyal love are immense.
He takes no pleasure in making life hard,
    in throwing roadblocks in the way

Wow. What a great God!  I'm ever so grateful for His mercy.

I'm also thinking about trying a time of just "waiting for hope" when I'm stressed or struggling with temptation. Taking a few moments just for silence before God. 

The other passage God brought to my mind was 1 John 1:9.  I read 1 John 1:5-10 out of 4 versions. Verses 8 & 9 out of the NIV especially speak to my heart:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

I'm so glad that He forgives me when I ask and that He makes me clean.  May I take a few moments each evening to seek His forgiveness.

What's the good if I don't follow through?

I'm disappointed in myself.

I have not followed through with all the applications from my time in the Word last week.

This is the self evaluation of my follow through:
  • I've continued to spend time daily in the Word briefly in the morning.
  • I started a prayer journal that includes a lot of prayers for my sons, my daughter in law,  some for John, some for his daughter Mary & son Troy, and for my friend Sheila.
  • I only prayed with this prayer journal X1
  • I did not pray during the work day.

What I'm going to do about that:
  • Add items into my prayer journal for my DOR and trust receptionist
  • Start a brief time of reflection and prayer when I squeeze in a lunch break at work 
 Oh Heavenly Father, I'm so grateful that Your mercies are new every day.  Please forgive me for not following through. Thank You that Your Word assures me that You are faithful to forgive my sin and cleanse me of all unrighteousness.  Thank You so much.  Help me live in obedience to You. Please help me make better use of my time.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

How can I be faithful to God?

As I think about the faithfulness of the church of Ephesus I'm asking how I can be faithful.

When I googled that question, I saw that Wikihow told me 5 steps on how to be a faithful Christian: read the Bible,  pray, ask myself in the situations of life what Jesus would do, avoid temptation and tempting situations, and go to church.  That's not such a bad list.

Promise Seed Ministries had some interesting thoughts on faithfulness as well. This site had some Bible verses referred to as the author made his points:

1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 - These verses talk about giving dignity to your body and avoiding sexual sin. They also talk about caring for the concerns of other people.

1 Thessalonians 5:23- This verse talks about how it is God who will make us blameless.

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 -  This is the verses where we are reminded that our bodies are God's temple and that He lives in us,

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 - In these verses we are being urged to purify ourselves from everything that contaminates our body and spirit. We're urged to separate ourselves from evil things and told to not be yoked with unbelievers.

2 Timothy 2:14-21- These verses talk about how we need to turn away from evil so we can be more useful to God. We are to do our best to present ourselves to God as people who are able to utilize His Word and do His work.

The writer over at Promise Seeds put it this way:
"The characteristic of faithfulness is an outgrowth of walking in the experience of this separation. Moreover, faithfulness concerns maturing in our relationship with God. The presence of the Lord produces the state of being called sainthood. Nonetheless each saint must learn to live as a reliable, dependable follower of Christ Jesus."

There's always this balance between having a relationship with God and Him working these desired qualities into our character, and doing what we need to do to grow in these character qualities.

So what do I, today, believe God is telling me to do as a response to these verses and thoughts?

  • Continue spending time each morning in His Word
  • Be faithful to continue in this study in Ephesians
  • Talk with God more, grow this relationship. Specifically: * During my work day make a time for a meal break and spend a bit of time reflecting on the day so far, talking with God about it. * Spend some times in the evenings praying for each of my sons, my DOR, and my trust account receptionist. Maybe even write out some of these prayers.

Ephesians 1:1-2

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To God’s holy people in Ephesus,[a] the faithful in Christ Jesus:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 1:1-2 (NIV)

As I looked at these first 2 verses in 5 different Bible versions a couple of things struck me:

1. Paul was an apostle, was doing what he was doing, because it was what God wanted.
   How powerful of a statement is that? What he was doing in his life was because it is what God wanted.
   Can I say that?
   Maybe. Sometimes. So often it's easy to just get caught up in living; to get into motivations that are about my comfort, my ego, and what pleases me. Or even just be going through the motions of life.
   Oh Father, help me to be doing what I'm doing each day because it's Your will. Help me live with a purpose. Help me in each day to know what You want me to be doing; keep me mindful of this.

2. The people in the church were faithful.
    I'm thinking back to Acts 19:1-20:1 about the beginning of the church in Ephesians. These were people in a culture that was dominated by worship to a false god (Artemis). The temple of Artemis that was there was considered one of the 7 wonders of the world.  Their faith went against the common culture.
    Yet they remained faithful despite the common culture.
    When John addressed the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-6, he even commented on their perseverance. 
   Could the same thing be said of me?
   Is the hallmark of who I am that I am a faithful follower of Christ?
   Yes and No.
   Too often I stray the course and get into things that are not the best use of my time and energy.  I'm reminded of the lyrics to a song that I learned many years ago in church, it's a song that is sung to the the Lord:

"So many times I've failed, and I have slipped away, but I will never leave - because You are so faithful".

Then the chorus proclaims:

"I want to be faithful to You
I want to be true Lord.
Whatever You say I will do
I will obey."

These are indeed the words of my heart today.