Friday, January 12, 2018

Citizens With the Saints



Scripture:

Eph. 2:11   So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Observation:

To understand where Paul wants to go with this conversation, he begins by explaining what it means to be on the “outside.” Paul is not happy with the way the Jews have adopted this kind of language, and he wants the reader to notice that it’s the Jews who have created the labels of “the uncircumcision” and “the circumcision.” The point is that these are external acts, or markings and have nothing to do with an individuals relationship to God. The Jews may use these identifying markers to categorize people but they say nothing about the internal reality of the work done in their lives by God.

Paul then moves into his gospel of reconciliation for the church is to present a new reality. New humanity is present in the church, a third entity where there is “no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, NRSV)

The worldly reality is that there has been a strain, or enmity between the two parties. Bringing together the Jew and the Gentile has not been easy, but there is healing through Christ. Hostility toward a brother or a sister in Christ is seen as rebellion and infidelity toward God. The privilege of “sainthood” was provided to all by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The new creature is made holy through participation with Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Those who have gone before have paved the way for those who are in Christ to join them in a new citizenship. The church does not reflect the culture of the society in which it exists, the church reflects the divine nature of heaven. Even now the church is a place where all, regardless of race, culture, earthly citizenship, gender, or class are welcome as equal citizens, united as new creation; God’s holy people.

Application

This is really a message of holiness, for all God’s people are invited into new life as saints. No, not the way that we think of “sainthood” from a human perspective, but a “saint” as in “one who has been made holy.” God’s people are invited to participate in the holy life of the Triune God, and this is transformational. No longer are we citizens of this world, but we become children, adopted into God’s family, and our citizenship belongs to the kingdom. Holiness is never about my behaviors that make me separate from the world, but about the holiness of Christ that permeates through me as a result of my participation in God. The church is made up of people who are being transformed into Christlike disciples, forming a new community. This is a community without barriers and into which all people are invited. 

I am having the beautiful privilege of spending time here in Africa. I’ve gotten to visit amazing places like Zimbabwe, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Swaziland, Kenya and South Africa. The church here is teaching me what it means to be a community of faith, citizens with the saints. The historical struggles of these people could be daunting, but instead they choose to live in hope. The leaders with whom I’ve worked have embraced the hope found in Jesus Christ. Even if they were discriminated against in the past (and most were), they choose to live into their new citizenship and and proudly work as citizens of saints. The other night I was profoundly moved by the prayer gathering for Mashangu Maluleka’s church family. They came together, loving one another and praising and worshipping God. I knew that I had experienced something special, for they warmly embraced me as a part of their community. No barriers. All invited. The kingdom of God at work, in the life of the church. 

My dear brother and mentor in Christ, Rev. Mashangu Maluleka.


Prayer:


Lord, may we, the church, be a reflection of heaven on earth. Amen. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Grace and Mercy



Scripture:

Ephesians 2:4-10

4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Observation:

The depths of God’s love are revealed in grace and mercy. Paul wants the Ephesian church to grasp what it is that Jesus has truly done for them, and only in this way can they appreciate the gifts and respond appropriately. God has reached out to all of humanity through prevenient grace, touching us when we didn’t want to be touched. But this is an expression of the love of God, a love that never gives up. Mercy is shown when we respond to grace through faith. Chrysostom puts it this way, “So that you may not be elated by the magnitude of these benefits, see how Paul puts you in your place. For ‘by grace you are saved,’ he says, ‘through faith.’ Then, so as to do no injury to free will, he allots a role to us, then takes it away again, saying ‘and this not of ourselves.’ Even faith, he says, is not from us. For if the Lord had not come, if he had not called us, how should we have been able to believe? ‘For how,’ he says, ‘shall they believe if they have not heard?’ So even the act of faith is not self-initiated. It is, he says, ‘the gift of God.’ (Homily on Ephesians 4.2.8)

It is in response to God’s holy love, experienced in grace and mercy, that we become participants in Jesus’ mission. We do good works because we are overwhelmed by God’s love. 

Application

If we become participants in God’s mission in the world, then we also become participants in God’s acts of grace and mercy which is extended to others. We should never forget that we are but sinners, saved by grace. We are entirely unworthy of that which we have received as a free gift from God. 

The church is to actively engage in the mission of God by extending grace and mercy to those who do not know Christ. Sadly, the world thinks that the church is judgmental and unforgiving. This may have been the case in Ephesus, we don’t know, but Paul wanted to make sure that the congregation understood that they had received a precious gift and not to take it for granted. We are to reach out and love others the same way that God reached out and loved us. 

What would it mean for us to extend grace to the sinner? That includes the drug user, the alcoholic, the adulterer, etc. It’s not pretty, because sin never is, but God’s grace has always reached into the dark corners of this world and brought the light of Christ. We are the hands and feet of Christ in this world and we are challenged to move in grace and show mercy where none is deserved. Sometimes that troubles our souls, but as we participate in this mission of God, we will personally experience the depths of God’s love. The more we extend grace and mercy, the more we grow in grace and mercy. 

The church is to be a vessel where the grace and mercy of God overflows into communities and neighborhoods who need Christ. 

Prayer:


Lord, I know I cannot grasp the depth of your love, but I am grateful. Please, help me participate with you in your mission. Amen. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Church and Cosmic Union



Scripture:

Ephesians 1:22-23

22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Observation:

Paul has been praying for the believers in Ephesus and now he goes into a description of the power of Christ and the role of the church. Jesus Christ, through resurrection power is now seated on the throne at the right hand of God the Father. Jesus is the head over the church, as ruler. Christ as the head, and the church as the body come to realize a type of cosmic union. This means that the church can experience the power at work which brings about new creation. United with Christ the church can receive a foretaste of the cosmic union of heaven and earth and experience resurrection power. 

Application

In a world that degrades and shames the church we are stunned to grasp the words of the Apostle Paul. The church was not respected in his day, but looked down upon as some kind of a sect which interfered with the natural order of the Roman world. Now, Paul is praying for and suggests that the church is connected to the God who reigns over all the earth. This is an amazing declaration and yet, it is a promise of hope for the role the church is to play in the world. Chrysostom tells us, “Oh, how high he has raised the church! For, as if he were lifting it by some stage machine, he has led it up to a great height and installed it on that throne. For where the head is, there is the body also." (Homily on Ephesians 3.1.20–23) The cosmic union of Christ and the church means that the church finds herself in a unique position, one which reflects the kingdom of God in this world.

Just as each individual is called to reflect Christ, so the church is called to reflect the kingdom. The uniting of God’s people in the community called the church, is to be Spirit-filled and powerful. That is, a healthy church will experience cosmic union with the head, Christ. 

I’ve hit middle age and suddenly there are changes in my body. No longer can I eat everything I want because it seems to all have an affect on me. I can’t stay up all night traveling like I used to and not have to take a break. I have to think more about what it means to be healthy. I even broken down and bought one of those pill boxes for older folks so I can fill them with my daily vitamins and fish oil pills, etc. I think I’ve officially hit that place in my life where I know that I have to work on my health and not take it for granted. 

For far too long the church has taken her health for granted. We just thought if we went along doing the things we’d done in the past we would be okay. Instead, we’re starting to get high cholesterol and hardening of our arteries. We are getting old and there is nothing new coming in to bring fresh life. The body is getting stiff and sometimes just going about our normal routines is tiresome. 

But this is not the way it’s supposed to be! The church is to be in cosmic union with Christ, her head. By uniting with Christ there is supernatural power available to the church. Resurrection power is at hand, as well as the power of creation, but these only flow through the church that is healthy. For a church to remain healthy she must be intentional about her care, just as we are for our bodies. The church must exercise, be active, and minister in the name of Jesus. The church must take her vitamins, be engaged in discipleship and growing spiritually. As a community of faith the church must pray together and step into the power-enriched presence of Jesus Christ. Christ, the head, must be present in our churches, always invited, always worshipped. It’s far too easy to get caught up in the programs of church and forget about Jesus. The body going out her work, disconnected from the head will not survive. 

The church is glorious and instituted by Jesus, himself. We are to take the place of the church very seriously and each follower of Jesus Christ is to participate in Christ through the church. May the attitudes of the world not influence our own embrace of Christ’s body, the church. 

Prayer:


Lord, may your church be radiant  and healthy with your presence. Amen. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

How to Pray



Scripture:

Ephesians 1:17-19
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

Observation:

Reading Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians Christians is enlightening. As their spiritual father and mentor, he knows what it is that they need in their lives. It appears that one of his greatest concerns is for their spiritual growth and development. Here, he becomes an example for us in prayer. 

Paul prays in the Trinity, recognizing the role of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and our need for full participation in this holy relationship. It is by participation in the Triune God that we come to know God. That is the goal — to know him. As a result our eyes are opened and our hearts enlightened. Then, we see the hope, the true hope which we receive through Christ. The glorious inheritance is the kingdom for those who have been adopted as children of the King. There is more power in that kingdom than we recognize and Paul knew that his children in faith needed to know how to tap into what God has made available.

Application

When we really begin to look at this prayer of Paul’s we discover the depths of his knowledge of God and his desire for the people of Ephesus. If we are to learn how to pray from Paul, we must recognize that his prayers came from his personal knowledge of God. To become a prayer warrior, to intercede for others, we must get to know God ourselves. 

We live powerless Christian lives when we fail to spend time in fellowship with the Triune God. What does that look like? Sometimes it’s just sitting in silence and quieting our spirit to listen. What would happen if we turned off the TV, the internet, the music, and just listened? Some of my best moments with God are on airplanes, flying far above the earth and no distractions. Suddenly it seems I hear the voice of God. I don’t know how many sermons have come to me in those moments of quiet. Whole messages that it just seems that God is downloading into me. That doesn’t happen when I’m wrapped up in noise. 

Be willing to slow down and just be quiet. This morning I’m hearing God in the lap of the water, the morning mist across Lake Kiva and seeing the occasional gecko crawling up the wall. Every now and then a fish breaks the surface of the water and appears on the water. And in this stillness, I am awestruck by the Creator. 

Pray for the eyes of your heart to be enlightened. Don’t do all the talking, but ask God to teach you. Then, stop and listen. Read the scriptures reflectively — asking God to speak to you through the written word. Listen carefully when people preach and teach. Watch carefully when you are around servant leaders. Try to follow the example of others whom you recognize as being very close to the Lord. 

Pray that you may experience the power of the Holy Spirit at work in your life and in the lives of others. The supernatural power of God is still at work in this world. Sometimes we just fail to see and/or experience the Spirit because we become too consumed with our own lives. 

Then, be willing to take upon yourself the ministry of intercession for others. This Paul did exceedingly well as he was willing to carry the burden for those whom he had brought to Christ. He actively discipled and mentored others, but was also willing to pray for them. 

For God’s people to grow we must learn to embrace prayer as a regular discipline in life. 

Prayer:


Lord, I pray that Paul’s passion for others will be my passion as well and that I will carry the burden for others in prayer. Amen. 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

How Will You Live Today?



Scripture:

James 4:13-17

Boasting about Tomorrow

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.

Observation:

The author was addressing the wealthy who could not be bothered with the things of God. They were consumed with their own lifestyle and the plans that they were making. At the same time there seemed to be a misconception regarding what was of “true value.” 

Humanity continues to have free will, but our lives are to be graced by God. Participating in God’s work in this world is what we do today. The things of God have permanence but the things of this world will simply fade away. That’s why boasting about the temporal means nothing. Investing in the things of God today will have eternal impact. So, do the right thing. 

Application

I am a planner and a doer. I like to get things done and check them off of my list, but God is constantly calling us into not just doing, but taking time to “be.” That’s where the question about today comes in. What is it that I will do today that will be of eternal value? How will I live today?

It’s not wrong to have long-term plans and goals, but to allow them to dominate our lives to the exclusion of truly living today can lead us into sin. Becoming so driven that we fail to see what or who is around us is a problem. Every day we will encounter people who need our attention. 

It’s far too easy to look over and take for granted the people we encounter in the every-day business of life. I’ve been praying about ways in which I can touch the lives of people I meet in ordinary ways for Christ. Two taxi drivers on Tuesday were Muslims, and I felt blessed to have lovely conversation with both of them. Yesterday I was seated next to a man who had broken English. We tried to communicate as we were on an 11 hour flight together. It was not until the 10th hour that I discovered he was from Germany. (We were on a French plane and I assumed he spoke French — which I do not) Why did it take that long to discover that we both spoke the same language? For the final hour we had a lovely conversation, but did I miss an opportunity? 

Or what about the woman at passport control who has to deal with problems all day long? Did I reflect Jesus to her? Was I kind and patient? There are so many times that we can take out our frustrations on the people we meet if there are problems. But they are not the ones responsible for the problems, they are simply doing their job. We have the opportunity to “be” different with them. And that probably includes the woman I called at Delta airlines to fix a problem with a future ticket. With all the snow delays in America they were overwhelmed by cancellations. Is it the customer service agent’s fault that flights are cancelled because of snow? Absolutely not, but their lives are now overwhelmed by calls by out of sorts travelers. How will I “be” different? 

The call for followers of Christ is to live in the moment. Don’t be uptight and frustrated about what may or may not happen in the future. Yes, have goals and plans, but never forget to live life today. Stop and listen to the voice of Jesus and then, be cognizant of ways in which you can reflect him. Life really is a mist, here today and gone tomorrow. Invest in permanence today, for people and relationships are the things that will go on. No, we won’t live forever, but if I invest in someone’s life today, they may invest in someone else tomorrow and the gift may go on for generations to come. I am a follower of Jesus Christ today because someone took the time to “be.” 

How will you live today? 

Prayer:


Lord, the slowed moments bring a depth of peace as I see your hand at work. Thank you. Amen. 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Starting Afresh



Scripture:

Psalms 148:7-12

Praise the Lord from the earth,
you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle,
creeping things and flying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike,
old and young together!

Observation:

When the God of all creation is encountered, there is nothing that we can do, but praise the Lord. That praise rises up from everything that senses behold. It’s in the midst of nature that we begin to recognize the awesome creative abilities of God. We see God in the ocean depths, the weather currents, the hills, the trees and every living creature. Suddenly we notice that all together, creation is singing a song of praise to God on high. It’s starting afresh with an awareness of God’s holy presence in everything. The result is that even the powers created by humanity bow before God. 

Application

We are walking into a new year, one whose story has not yet been written. Last year is finished and in the books. For some it was a great chapter in their lives, for others it was lacking. No matter, we can’t live in 2017, but move into 2018 with trepidation, or with great awe and wonder at the work of God. It is an opportunity to start afresh. 

The last few weeks I’ve been privileged to spend some time in quiet and solitude. With all the busyness of life, it’s a challenge to find time to just be quiet, and yet, when you disconnect from all the noise, you discover beauty and creation and see the hand of God at work. 

The BBC has put out a beautiful series called “Blue Planet.”  In the second series we are taken to amazing sights far below the ocean surface. There we discover creatures that we didn’t know existed an an underworld of beauty that is simply breathtaking. The intricacy of that creation, miles and miles below the surface is stunning. Why create something so beautiful that no one sees? It could have been simply black and white, but instead it’s filled with vibrant and beautiful colors, creatures and coral that take your breath away. It all shouts, “Let’s praise the creator of this gorgeous living canvas.” It’s as if creation is calling us to pay attention and to start afresh with our understanding and embrace of a holy and lovingly creative God.

                     
  From BBC “Blue Planet 2”  (https://www.penguin.co.uk/content/dam/catalogue/pim/editions/62/9781849909679/cover.jpg)


The new year is a time when people make all kinds of resolutions and promises about the future. Maybe it’s a time to reconnect with God. It’s an opportunity to start afresh. We don’t have to allow the past to hold us down, or keep us from moving forward with God. If you’re struggling in your relationship to God and wondering what is real, stop and take a look around you. Be still, and soak in the beauty of creation, listening for the voice of God. You’ll hear the invitation loud and clear to come on, and start afresh. 

Prayer:


Lord, the profound and simple ways in which you speak move me. My heart is filled with gratitude. Amen.