Sunday, June 11, 2017

The gospel is for everyone
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.