Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Living Into the Calling



Scripture:

Eph. 4:1    I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Observation:

Paul jumps right back into the conversation which he began previously. The cosmic unity with Christ is to result in real changes among God’s people. He first reminds the people of his own commitment and life which is given in full service to God. The calling is for all of God’s people to live in unity with Christ and others. We are all called to be God’s holy people with visible changes in our lives marked by the fruit of the spirit. 

Christian grace is to flow from the life of the one who is living into their calling. Others are to be intentionally esteemed and encouraged. This is the true understanding of living a life of humility and gentleness. The unity of God’s people becomes evident when we bear “with one another in love.” This is the intentional work of relationship development with all of those within Christ’s community of faith. The work of the church is to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” 

Application

This bond to which we are called is to beautiful, and not oppressive. It takes work to be intentional about including sisters and brothers from all walks of life to the table. We all bring our own baggage with us and we will not be alike, but we cannot allow uniformity to be the gauge in the life of the church because if we do, we will be weak. Instead we need to imagine the colors of a beautiful patchwork quilt that shines because of the rich colors and diversity which are knit together in one purpose. When we live into the purposes of our calling we no longer become concerned with uniformity. There is no longer one standard of “success” but the strengths of each are appreciated in terms of the balancing out the whole. 

Criticism and division in the church are not reflective of our calling. We must work at relationships and building one another up in holy love. This isn’t just a cute saying, but it’s a genuine reality. Unfortunately I find that in the church we find it easy to be critical and somehow we couch it in being “transparent” or “brutally honest.” We claim that this is some kind of virtue, while we leave people bruised and bleeding along the way. 

As God’s representatives here on earth we are to embrace the calling to unity. If we begin to realize the high value which Christ places on this unity, we will make it a priority. The bond of God’s peace is holy love, and this will flow from God’s people when they have united with Christ. The theme here is unity, with Christ and with others. In these relationships God’s holy love is revealed to the world. We are to be bound to our sisters and brothers in Christ, and the ways in which we support one another will speak volumes about our love for Christ.

Prayer:


Lord, may I be an instrument of your peace, not critical of others, but bringing unity in our beautiful diversity. Amen. 

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Beyond Your Wildest Dreams



Scripture:

Ephesians 3:20-21

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Observation:

Paul comes to the doxology portion of this prayer. This is a word of blessing for the readers of his epistle. It comes from his desires for those who are following Jesus Christ. Paul has experienced the abundance of resurrection power in his life. He wants others to live a life beyond their wildest imaginations as well. This is a prayer for ministry for the church. 

Following in the wave or movement of the Holy Spirit we participate in Christ’s work in the world and suddenly discover that much more is accomplished than what we could have ever asked or imagined. The result is that Christ is glorified both now and in future generations to come, throughout all of eternity. So be it — Amen!

Application

Everywhere I go in the world I hear people lament the loss of our young people who do not want to follow the same path in the church, or follow the Christ that their parents have embraced. It’s a difficult time and situation, but I’m wondering if there is something that those of us in the older generations need to consider. 

Our new Regional Director for Africa, Rev. Daniel Gomis speaks of four values which we must embrace. I believe that they relate to the Apostle Paul’s prayer: 

Four Values

Authenticity 
Presence 
Relevance
Interdependence 

Somehow I think that Rev. Gomis is onto something that will have a great influence on the future of the church. There is a cry for authenticity among those who are a part of the church community. Authenticity includes a spirit of humility and recognizing that we must be a part of something much larger than ourselves. God doesn’t need us to develop a plan for how the Spirit should work in this world. Any time we try to do that, we discover that we our dreams are so much smaller that what God has in store. Our human plans will be limited by our imaginations. What if God wants us to become authentically engaged in mission, letting down our guard and allowing the Spirit to move us into places where we’ve never been before? 

Presence is also vitally important to this prayer. As God’s people we must be present in the Spirit, and physically present in our world. We cannot act one way while we are in church and then just hang up our “spiritual life” like a piece of clothing and go out into the world and be someone different. Authenticity and presence go together. Parents who take their children to church but never pray with them at home, or model what it means to be in the word, or helping their neighbors are not practicing presence. Our children will see that there is some sort of strange dichotomy between what we say and what we do and they will determine that this type of Christianity is not for them. Being present and in the moment is vitally important to connecting with and following God’s leading in your life. The fun part is when things begin to happen that you didn’t pray for, but you’re just in the stream of the Holy Spirit and you discover you’re along for an incredible ride, and you smile at the opportunity which as arisen. This doesn’t just happen — but it will happen when we are intentional about being present in God’s presence. That’s when we can be open to following the nudges of the Holy Spirit. 

Relevance is something we really have to discuss in the life of the church. Unless we recognize what is happening in the world around us, we cannot respond. We will be irrelevant if we sit back in some kind of cocoon that we crafted in another era. Christians must engage with the world in such a way as to be relevant. For some of us that takes some work because we may be sheltered by our work, families and friendships. What would it take for us to become more engaged in the world so that we can respond with relevance? Not that I have all the answers but here are a few things that may help:
1) Read! Society has significantly slowed in reading in the last couple of decades. However, reading helps us to become life-long learners, and a great way to remain connected with the world. I read a variety of books. These include theology, history, contemporary topics, and novels. I like to be stretched and while I spend a lot of time traveling, I’ve learned to download audio books so that I can continue listening even when I’m too tired to read! It helps me read much more than I would normally. 
2) Subscribe to podcasts. I listen to a variety of podcasts and preachers, some within my tribe, and others on the outside. I like to try and keep in touch with what is happening in the “church” world around me. 
3) Make friends outside of the church. Find ways in which to engage with people who are not like you, and then spend time listening to them! 
4) Be willing to accept criticism and feedback that will help you improve. When people tell you that you’re out of touch, or not listening to particular voices, find ways in which to be more open. 
5) Apply what you are learning to your life, and if you’re in ministry, to your ministry. 

Interdependence reminds us that this Christian life is not just about me. Our interdependence begins with complete and total dependence upon the Triune God. That’s where we find the interdependence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit — united in holy love. If God exists in community and interdependence, then who are we to think that we are supposed to go this alone. The African concept of Ubuntu is a beautiful reflection of what God intends for humanity, as the community works together in partnership. In Africa I see the interdependence of churches within a district that is not common in the United States. There are partnerships and the sharing of resources for the good of the kingdom. 

Interdependence also reminds us that our tribe is not an island unto herself. We are to remember that we are a part of something much larger than ourselves when we unite with all of Christianity in the work of the kingdom. Each member of the body of Christ, bringing her gifts and abilities to the table, we begin to see the synergy and God magnifying our work as we reveal to the world that we love one another. 

Paul’s prayer, for the glory of Christ to be revealed in the church throughout all generations, begins with me and my attitude. I am convinced that we are not living in the fullness of God’s intended work in and through us, because we are the ones who are trying to box in the Spirit. When that happens people begin to wonder about our faith. Is it for real? Why do we go to church? Why do we talk about Christian principles? 

By uniting with Christ, the mystery of God is revealed and the church (God’s people) begins to accomplish much more than she could ever imagine. The authenticity of this kind of faith becomes contagious and transformative. God wants us to participate in Christ’s mission to accomplish more than we could ever imagine. We just need to let go of ourselves and live into authentic faith in humility and submission to the Holy Spirit. 

Prayer:


Lord, for all the times that I’ve tried to do this on my own, I am sorry. Please, help me to daily connect with you and relax in your leading. May my life genuinely reflect you, and when it doesn’t, please correct me. Amen. 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Joining the Saints



Scripture:

Ephesians 3:18-19
I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Observation:

As Paul’s prayer continues he reiterates that which is important to him. His desire is to nurture disciples who will be God’s holy people. These are the saints; not those who have been declared as such by the church, but ordinary people who become extraordinary by the infilling of the Holy Spirit. All are called to be saints, because of Jesus’ incarnation; so that we might be adopted into God’s holy family. The transformation occurs when we become partakers of the divine nature; when we step into a relationship with our holy God. 

Yes, this is a mystery and it’s hard for God’s people to comprehend. This mystery of discipleship goes beyond our human understanding and so Paul tries to given an example. The temple to Diana or Artemis was in the city of Ephesus. This was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and people came from all corners of the earth to see this masterpiece of human construction. This massive temple was the cornerstone of the city. 

Now, Paul is asking the people of God to envision the all-encompassing love of Christ which is taller, longer, and deeper than the temple to Artemis. This love of Christ is far greater than one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It surpasses even the pinnacle of human understanding or knowledge, leaving sophia dwarfed in the shadow of Christ. 

It is this overwhelming love which is promised to God’s followers; a love which is poured out from God and fills us to overflowing. Paul’s passion for his dear disciples is that they would desire to be a holy people, filled to the brim with the love of God. It is this mystery for which he prays, that the eyes of God’s people would be opened to the possibilities in store for those who will fellowship with the Triune God. 

Application:

Far too often we are turned off by this language of “saints” or “sainthood.” We can only envision people who are engaged in the extraordinary and in false humility we respond, “I could never be a saint.” This response does not come from a humble heart, but from one that refuses to submit to the authority of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Uniting with the saints does not have anything to do with our own abilities, or will-power, or good works. Uniting with the saints has everything to do with our entire consecration and submission to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This is adoption into the family of God by which we begin to take on the family characteristics. We become holy because God’s family is holy. The DNA of the family becomes our DNA and not by our works, but simply because it is a gift of God. 

I think Paul is praying that we would get over ourselves! God is offering us far more than we could ever begin to imagine, if only we will submit ourselves to the leadership of Christ in our lives. This “sainthood” is the result of holy love, poured out into the lives of those who have united with God. When we are struggling through difficult days we may wonder whether God is in our midst. We may think that God isn’t giving us enough to get through what we are facing, but realistically, the question may be whether we are removing enough of ourselves so that God’s overwhelming love can flow in and through every crevice of our being. In every moment of pain and suffering, the anointing love of God becomes the balm in Gilead. Yes, there is cure for our pain, when we seek the face of God. 

To know Christ is to have an intimate relationship with him. We are to strain toward the goal, to know and become like Christ. To be a saint. If we say that we can’t be a saint, we are denying the power of the Holy Spirit to transform our lives. We are denying the holiness of Christ, and it is his holiness that is revealed in all of us. 

The church should be a house of prayer, filled with saints. Yes, we embrace the holiness of Christ and the journey which transforms. Together with Paul we pray that the eyes of all God’s holy people will be opened to see the expanse of holy love laid out before us. 

Prayer:


Lord, I want to join my heart with the Apostle Paul. May you lead in ways never imagined, and reveal your love in depths of grace. Amen. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Your Spiritual Passion



Scripture:

Eph. 3:16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 

Observation:

Paul’s deepest desire for the church is that she will be deeply spiritual and passionate about Christ. His emotions are brought to the surface as he pours out his heart in prayer. He does not pray for the charismatic gift of the church, but he prays that the church will be the dwelling place of Jesus Christ. The connection here between the Spirit and Christ is clear. You cannot have one without the other. Christ must dwell in their hearts, and only when this happens will God’s people be strengthened by the power of the Spirit. There is no Spirit without Christ and there is no Christ without the Spirit. 

Paul’s prayer is that the church be made up of individuals who have a spiritual passion because Christ is dwelling in their lives. Jesus is invited to settle down and make his permanent abode in our lives. This happens through faith. It is the intentional act of placing loving trust in Christ that our lives become shaped by Christ, himself. The more that one grows in Christ, the more that life rests upon Jesus, the Cornerstone, and greater the power through the Spirit. The result is that there is no room left for anything that may be hostile to God. 

Paul’s desire for the church is to experience “the riches of his glory” and that she may be “strengthened.” This is only possible when Christ dwells within. And this, through faith. 

Application

There are so many things that we can focus on in the life of the church, but if we don’t begin with a deeper spiritual life, we have a problem. Just like the Apostle Paul, our prayer ought to be for a depth of spirituality that profoundly changes who we are. Everything about us ought to be defined by our relationship to Jesus Christ. If we truly grasp what Paul is saying, then Christ is to permanently make his dwelling place within us. The body of Christ is then made up of those who unite together, and who have, by faith, made space for Christ to live in them. 

What’s interesting to me is the passion of Paul that is expressed here. His heart is almost breaking as he cries out to God on behalf of this church, that the people would have a deeper walk with Jesus Christ. He knows that a surface relationship will not be enough and that there must be more. 

Far too often our churches are focused on getting people in the door, and not on the deeper walk. If we were to be really honest with ourselves, we may discover that we haven’t made disciple-making the priority that it is for Paul. You see, Paul is never satisfied with his own spiritual status, nor that of those whom he has mentored in the faith. He knows that there is always more, and so he strives, and presses on toward the goal. He lives a life of faith that continually wants to know more of Christ. Living in the status quo would never be acceptable to Paul, and neither should it be for us. 

The church is to be a place where those who are seeking a deeper walk with Christ are bound together in holy love. Living in Christ results in a life empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit. This brings about radical transformation, not only in the life of the sinner, but in the one who is entirely sanctified and yet, wanting to know Christ and embrace resurrection power. The riches of God’s glory are available to be experienced in the church, not through charismatic worship, but by a deep indwelling of Christ. Christ becomes the one who brings passion to work and ministry. We are challenged to examine our own spiritual passion and whether we have truly embraced Christ through faith. It’s a giant leap, not just once, but continually as we live in the power of the Spirit. 

Prayer:


Lord, I pray that my heart would be filled with the same passion that filled the heart of the Apostle Paul. May I know you, Christ, and may I live, resting in the abundance of your power and grace. Amen. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

Praying to the Father of All People Groups



Scripture:

Eph. 3:14   For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.

Observation:

Paul picks up the prayer which he began in chapter one. In many ways this call to the church is infused throughout with prayer, for Paul breathes deeply for the life of the churches he has birthed in Christ. These churches, filled with believers needed a much deeper spiritual understanding. This involved embracing the central mystery of God which is found in the joyful hope of reconciliation. Harmony and unity are to be restored in this new creation and the church is to be a reflection of this in the love of Christ. 

In this prayer Paul comes humbly before the Father, kneeling and giving honor. It was the custom in Paul’s days to stand and to pray, so this posture is foreign. It is a sign of humility before the throne of the almighty Father. This is an affirmation of God, as Father, who is the source of all things. The word that Paul uses for family is a word-play on the Greek word for father, and means all of those individuals who come from a single ancestor. God, in creation, is the Father of all people groups and all are created in the image of the Father. 

Application

Without realizing it, we tend to envision God in an image to which we can relate. I don’t think that’s too hard for people of European descent who have numerous painted images throughout history that give us our perception of God and Jesus. So much of Christianity came alive in the European continent, where scriptures were translated and churches built on a massive scale. Frescos, statues and paintings lined the walls of the churches and brought to life the scriptures, but often within an image very relatable to to the people responsible for the art work. 

Spending time in Africa I realize how infrequently we embrace the fact that God, the Father is the source of every people group. Missionaries tended to import Jesus in their own image, but the reality is that God is the Father of our black brothers and sisters. God is the Father and source of our Asian relatives. God is the source of our Hispanic family. The image of God is black and white, and every glorious color and culture that our minds can imagine and beyond. Every people group, with magnificent diversity has our heavenly Father as their source. 

This was the mystery that Paul so desperately wanted the church to grasp. When their eyes were opened, the mystery would be solved. Human divisions and barriers simply keep family members from sitting at the table together in holy fellowship. It’s time for the family to all come home and to find an equal seat at the table. 

The Father, is the Father of all, and this is the One to whom we are to pray. Humbly and in awe we kneel before our Abba, Daddy, who loves us. In humility before the Father, we admit our prejudices and ask for the Father to unite His children in holy love. This is where the world will stand back in awe and wonder when they realize how we love another. Welcome the whole family back home and provide equal access to the table. 

Prayer:


Lord, open our eyes to the beauty of every people group, each a member of your family. Amen. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Church, on Center Stage



Scripture:

Ephesians 3:10 so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him. 

Observation:

What becomes clear is that the church has unique role to play in revealing God’s mystery. This mystery of ministry among all peoples ushers in new era. Suddenly the church becomes the theater where her actions are on display. Spectators in the heavenly realm are focused and intent upon what God is doing in the theater of the church. What happens in the church is highlighted on center stage, as God’s wisdom is manifest in the variegated, multi-faceted diversity for all of earth and heaven to see. The original word for “rich variety” is the same word used to describe Joseph’s coat of many colors. It is only used here in the New Testament, a nuance that allows us to realize that the church has a unique role to play. It is in the church that all things are to be united into one through love, a holy unity the witnesses to the love found in the Holy Trinity. 

The church is a part of God’s divine plot, no afterthought, but woven into the texture of history from the very beginning. And now, all of God’s people are invited into the theater, not just as spectators, but as participants, each playing a role in reflecting the very character of God to the world. 

Application

The church carries on her shoulders a divine responsibility. This is not just some business organization, but the very instrument through which Christ has chosen to reveal the mysteries of God to this world. The church is not supposed to be like the world. Instead, it is to be a beautiful patchwork quilt, made up of the multi-faceted diversity of this world that God knits together into the kingdom of God.

I’ve had an amazing week traveling through Mozambique and northeastern South Africa. I had the privilege of spending one day in Kruger national park; a park the size of the state of New Jersey. As we drove through and spotted the different creatures I was in awe of God’s beauty. It’s beautiful because it is so diverse. The impala are everywhere, but soon you see the wildebeest, the zebra, elephants, giraffe, buffalo, and a little hare crossing the road. The birds are multicolored and radiant in the sun. The chameleon takes his time traipsing in front of automobiles, in no hurry. I was struck by the variety present, the creative ability of God to invest in such detail. It felt a bit like paradise.



Paradise was lost by humanity’s fall into sin, but in God’s creative power, the plot continues and a new scene unfolds in the life of the church. Just as I was in awe of creation within a park, so the powers of this world are to be in awe of Jesus’ work in the church. The church is Jesus’ creation, and is to reflect the holy love of God found in the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

What does this look like in the practical sense? We are to be a people, brought together from every nation, tribe, color, and gender and united together in Christ. The church should be able to accomplish that which cannot be done by government authorities. Negotiations for peace, and a mutuality that leads to worship of God should be highlights of the scenes played out in the theater of the church. 

May the church be a place of holy boldness, where we embrace one another in the love of God. The scenes played out will not be in harmony with those of the world, but may they leave the spectators in awe of the church of Jesus Christ!

Prayer:


Lord, use us as faithful vessels to live out the plot prepared before time. Amen. 

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.