Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Transfiguration and Revelation



Scripture

Mark 9:2   Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them,  3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.  4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.  5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.  7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”  8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

Observation

This incident, known as the Transfiguration. is a moment where God bears witness to his son. The curtain is held back just a little for us to see what is happening behind the scenes. Jesus’ Divinity is exposed for those present where they catch a glimpse of the glory of God that is dwelling among them. The same voice that was heard at Jesus’ baptism again confirms his divine paternity and implores humanity to listen to him. It is the view behind the curtain; God dwelling among humankind.

The view doesn’t end on this mountain but points to the final resurrection. In this way the transfiguration is a place where, according to Ephrem the Syrian, “the divine glory is adapting itself unpretentiously to the disciples’ capacity to receive it.”

    The Lord who is beyond measure
        measures out nourishment to all,
    adapting to our eyes the sight of himself,
        to our hearing his voice,
    His blessing to our appetite,
        His wisdom to our tongue.

                                  Ephrem the Syrian, HYMNS ON PARADISE 9.27.

This is humanity being allowed to peek behind the curtain, catching a small glimpse of what is to come.

Application


It’s possible to peek behind the curtain and find places where we catch a glimpse of God’s glory intersecting with human life.

It may quite possibly be in the life of the redeemed and transformed drug addict.

The resurrected marriage brought to new life through the power of the Holy Spirit becomes a reflection of the divine glory present behind the curtain.

A quiet moment in devotion before the Lord when suddenly the Holy Spirit breaks in on our private worship and we experience God in a way we would never have imagined becomes a peek behind the curtain.

Corporate worship where God’s people gather together can be that place where suddenly we experience God in a way we never imagined.

Maybe the spoken word becomes transformational, or the time gathered around the table becomes a moment of transfiguration.

God is still in the business of revealing himself to us through Christ. We may be invited into more transfiguration experiences than we realize. The disciples on the mountain weren’t sure what they were experiencing and Peter’s response was a bit foolish. We may find ourselves in the very same place and yet, ultimately they realized that they had experienced something beyond themselves. We are invited to step into a relationship with Christ that leads us to something beyond ourselves, and something beyond human explanation. It’s just a little peek behind the curtain of the Divine and the mystery of God in us.

Prayer

Lord, we want to live faithfully in you and with childlike understanding embrace all of who you are.  Amen.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Mutual Submission



Scripture:

Eph. 5:21   Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Eph. 5:22   Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. 24 Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.
Eph. 5:25   Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, 27 so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. 33 Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.

Observation:

Verse 21 connects the concepts about which Paul has been writing. In the life of the church there is an expectation of a Spirit-filled life. This life comes to expression in corporate worship, in the singing of songs of praise, through thanksgiving to God, and finally in mutual submission. This mutual submission is to be visible within the body of Christ. Every rank in the church, whether an overseer or a member of the laity should understand that their role is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, the great servant leader. The cosmic mystery of the church is that she does not follow the patterns of the world, but rather, finds leaders who believe their role is in service to others. 

Members of the church are to call one another to piety, and in this we are to find mutual accountability. Submission is assuming a posture of humility for the sake of the Lord. It is in our mutual submission that the glory of God is revealed, as we fulfill our duties to one another. 

When love reigns, the result is mutual service, and God is glorified. This is the what is to be revealed in the church, and in the family. Submission is always to be seen in relation to the edification of the church and to Christlikeness in the lives of God’s followers. So, whether in the church, or in the family, mutual submission is the sign of a spirit-filled life that leads to the growth in Christlikeness of all the members. 

Application

The Lenten journey will always take us to a place of humility and submission. Far too often this text is used beginning from verse 22, without connecting the entirety of Paul’s message. This is about the life of the church and the signs of a Spirit-filled community of God. This instruction is given to a community of believers who are seeking to know Christ at a more intimate level. Therefore, we should be careful to never use this scripture out of context. It is about a community of faith in which all are submitting to one another for the sake of spiritual growth and development. 

Some of the most successful groups in helping people grow spiritually and leave behind a life of sin are found in the recovery programs. The reason is because they require accountability. If we are to grow spiritually, we need to be accountable to one another for that growth. This was the secret of John Wesley’s classes and bands. They were not Bible Study groups where one person listened to someone present a lesson, but they were times when people gathered together for mutual submission and accountability. The questions they asked one another were serious and helped to search the deep recesses of hearts and lives. 

What would happen in the life of the church if we returned to this level of accountability? The spiritual growth and development would result in God being glorified. The plan is then that this glory and spirit-filled living and mutuality would spread to the home. The home is to be a microcosm of the church, a place where God is glorified in the relationships of love and mutuality found when a husband and wife are both followers of Christ. This is to be a glorious mystery and a reflection of the mutual love and submission found in the holy Trinity. In other words, the world should be in awe of the mystery seen in the church and in the Christian home. It should be like nothing on this earth and the mutual submission will lead to increasing Christlikeness among all members. 

Prayer:


Lord, please help me to live a life of mutual submission in all relationships. May you be reflected in and through me and those around me. Amen. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Changing Times



Scripture:

Eph. 5:15   Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Observation:

The times were changing, and it was necessary to live in the wisdom of the Spirit. This means intentional turning from folly, refusing to live as the unwise. Instead, this wisdom is reflected in the wise use of time, in true worship and a heart of thanksgiving. 

This is a season where the faithless hold dominion, and in this time, it is prudent for God’s people to live in a careful manner, to avoid scandal. Live, faithful in conduct, especially among those who are not believers. The wisdom of God helps us know how to interact with those who are holding dominion in this time, and may be turbulent, filled with rage and anger. 

This time does not belong to God’s people. We are simply migrants, or expatriates, traveling through a foreign country, or time. Therefore, do not stop to seek honors, or glory, or authority or even retribution in a time that is not yours. Bear what you must bear, because only in patience will time be redeemed, or changed. Or, maybe our perspective on time will be changed. You see, the times themselves are not evil, but it is humans themselves who are evil, and this evil occurs in time. The day itself, the sun rising and setting, this is enabled by God, and it is good. 

But now, Christ, the son of righteousness has risen. This is the changing time. It’s a part of the Lenten journey, for the times are changing. It’s time to cast off folly, and embrace God’s wisdom. In doing so we become protected from the evil influences on time. The church, the bride of Christ, will find within herself a unity even in the diversity of the times. 

Application

We are on our Lenten journey and along this pathway, we discover a new time. There is a new rhythm to this season that leads us into Christ’s time. Paul encourages us to think very practically if we are to move into changing times. We are to be cautious about the ways in which we live. Christ is our example, and he didn’t waste time. In his short life here on this earth he poured himself out for the sake of others. We begin to understand the will of the Lord, when we get to know the Lord on a deeply profound level. Why would we cloud our minds with alcohol? When we do, we are unable to discern the times. We can be drawn away to a different space and suddenly discover we are not on the Lenten journey, but one that will lead us to a time of trouble. 

God’s people are called upon to be filled with the Spirit. Have you ever been to church and had a worship experience where you felt that you had been transported to another time or space? Some have described it as a think place, or experiencing heaven on earth. When we refuse to be filled with the things of this world and are, instead, filled with the Spirit as we praise and worship the Lord, we are transported to a new time. An attitude of praise and thanksgiving is a pathway to changing times. 

Why would we want to live engulfed by the evil of this world? There is a way out, and that is to be engaged with God, in God’s time and space. It takes intentional practice and the presence of the Spirit, but if we do, we will experience changing times. 

Prayer:


Lord, may this be a Spirit-filled, grace-driven day. Amen. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

What Makes God Angry



Scripture:

Ephesians 5:6

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient.

Observation:

Paul continues to encourage the church in Ephesus to avoid the pagan practices of the world. This city was full of pagan worship, especially in regard to the goddess Artemis or Diana. The great temple was in the middle of the city, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. 

Notice here that God is not upset at the sinner, but at the one who might, through deception, try to hurt those who are growing in their faith. These are the people who may have been mocking the new believers or trying to distract them into other types of worship. They had empty words, a faith that would leave people with nothing. The souvenir salesmen in Ephesus were furious because the Christian revival was cutting into their business. One can imagine that they began to come up with elaborate schemes to get the people back to Diana’s temple and to investing in worthless trinkets. These were empty words which drew people away to destruction and selfish gain for those hawking their goods. These were the ones who face the wrath of God; those who are willing to allow their own selfishness to bring about the fall of others. 

Those who intentionally deceive God’s innocent children make God angry. 

Application:


When we think about the salesmen of Ephesus we may nod our heads in agreement. Of course, that kind of behavior is extremely bad and they were bad people. The problem is that some of this behavior may be happening, even today, but maybe not quite as blatant. Whenever we sell someone on cheap Christianity, we are in danger of leading them down the wrong path, and of angering God. 

It’s far too easy to tell people on  a Christianity that doesn’t cost you very much. It seems that regular church attendance for discipleship isn’t that important anymore. Nor is tithing. Nor is helping other people come to Christ. Five minutes or less in prayer and devotions will cover you — no problem. Engaging in the practices of the world won’t be a stumbling block to you or to other vulnerable individuals!

Why are we believing these lies? Because we live in an instant and disposable world that doesn’t have high expectations for followers of Christ. And, unfortunately we are believing the lies and going astray, and this makes God angry. But it’s those who are perpetuating the lies that are frustrating God. Those in spiritual leadership in the church, both lay and clergy, need to be held accountable for the ways in which they are discipling others. There is a price to pay for serious discipleship; we are to take up our cross and follow Jesus. Empty words that sound easy will lead us nowhere. 

Prayer:


Lord, the challenge to follow you faithfully remains before us day after day. Help us to follow you on this Lenten journey, living a life of sacrifice for your sake. Amen. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Vehicles of Lust



Scripture:

Eph. 5:3   But fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk; but instead, let there be thanksgiving. 5 Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

Observation:

We continue to hear Paul’s heart of compassion for the life of the church. Those who are “the saints,” or who are God’s holy people are to consistently find ways to reflect Christ’s holiness. Paul begins to list behaviors that may become vehicles of lust, which are not consistent with life in the church. 

Fornication was generally used to refer to sexual activity with a prostitute, and this was to be avoided at all costs. Any kind of sexual impurity was seen as a distraction from the life of a believer. Interestingly, greed is right up there with these great concerns. The root of greed is covetousness, and it becomes a vehicle of lust. Greed means that we look for ways in which to feed our appetite, no matter where that may lead. We tend to focus on the sexual sins and forget these which come from the motivations found in our heart. The desire for money, success, and the approval of others ranks right up there with the sexual sins.  Paul’s warning is because these behaviors belong to old humanity and now, because of Christ, we can live in the new creation. 

Not only is Paul rather specific here about these sins, but even draws attention to the fact that we are not to make light of these matters. Silly talk can get us into trouble because it also becomes a vehicle of lust. We cover up what we are doing by simply joking about it, but this can lead us to a very dangerous place; the loss of our inheritance in the kingdom of God. 

Application

Recently I was at an event where they sang a song which was new to me. “Mercy triumphs judgment.” Now, I think I understand what they were trying to say, and I even looked up the passage of scripture to which this would be refererring. It’s from James 2:13 and the closest I can find to this song is the NIV translation, “because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Now, this scripture is referring to the fact that we are not to be judgmental and that we are to show mercy to those around us. This is not about the nature of God, nor about whether there will be some kind of final judgment. The problem with the way that I heard the song was that it could lead you into believing some kind of universalism — that is, God’s mercy will triumph over final judgment. I don’t think this is the intent of the song but as I watched young people get into it, I thought, they could really buy into this idea that there is no need for judgment because God’s mercy will simply triumph. The point is, we are to be filled with God’s mercy towards others, because we, ourselves, are sinners who have been redeemed because of the mercy of God. We are the ones with a judgmental attitude. 

So, how does this play into this text from Paul? The problem is that we live in a world that would like to say — don’t be judgmental about my sexual behaviors, my greedy attitudes, the way that I text, the porn that I watch, or the jokes that I make because, you are to show mercy! Now, there is mercy and love, and it’s directed toward the individual, and it does not encourage us to continue in destructive behaviors. That’s the point — these behaviors will lead to the loss of inheritance, and that is incredibly destructive. However, it’s not just destructive in the long-run, but it’s destroying lives and families in the short run. New creation is supposed to result in changed lives within the body of Christ — the church. 

Any vehicle of behavior that moves us from a deeper relationship with God will be destructive. How many people have been “taken down” lately by doing stupid things, like texting inappropriate messages, sexting, or lying and cheating? Rather than being judgmental, Paul is encouraging us to be aware of what is happening in the lives of those within the church and hold them to a standard that will lead them in the direction of Christ’s holiness. In other words — we aren’t supposed to tolerate these kinds of vehicles of lust within the life of the church. The church is to be a place where disciples are formed and shaped into the likeness of Christ. Vehicles of lust are incompatible with Christlike discipleship. 

Maybe it’s time to be honest and real about the problems we may have in our pews. Paul was confronting the issues head on, and so must we. It is in confronting the issues that we show mercy, because mercy may lead to transformation. If we show no mercy, the individual may have to face judgment. Let’s not confuse these matters and brush over what is happening, even within the life of the church. Yes, show mercy, but help lead people into the direction of Christ. 

Prayer:


Lord, these are tough subjects, and so I ask for grace and mercy-filled conversations that can keep us on the path that leads to you. Amen. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Rend Your Heart



Scripture:

Joel 2:12-13

Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.

Matthew 6:16-18

Concerning Fasting
“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Observation:

The people of God knew that there were rules and rituals to be followed but they were only engaged outwardly. In their hearts, they were still worshiping the idols of the secular world. God never has been interested in outward appearances of religiosity, but desires a heart that is turned toward him. 

At that same time that doesn’t mean that we don’t participate in spiritual practices and disciplines like fasting. The call is to rend our hearts, and return to the Father. A part of that response may be fasting, but it is a fast that must come from the heart. So, when you fast, don’t do it for human approval. If that’s all we hope to gain, then we will get the full reward, but it will not be an eternal reward. 

Application

Today is Ash Wednesday and around the world many Christians will be actively entering into the Lenten season. Sometimes, a part of this practice, is a commitment to a spiritual practice, or a fast. This is a great time of year to join in with other believers in participating with Christ’s sacrificial life as he made his journey to the cross. It’s a time when we can practice spiritual discipline, as well as abstain from foods or other items that may be a distraction to our spiritual life. I have heard from friends who will be on a “Daniel Fast” for this season — eating only fruits and vegetables. Others are going to fast from social media. I’ve known of some who have given up television, the internet, or chocolate. All of these are good things, if they are done with the right heart.

The question of the heart must lay at the center of all our activity. God doesn’t necessarily care about whether we are on the internet, or eating chocolate, if our heart isn’t right. In the Old Testament period of the prophet Joel, people would rend or tear their clothing when they were repentant and grieving. God was saying that this external sign was not important to him, but what mattered was whether they we would have a repentant heart that grieves the ways in which we have behaved in the past. 

The most important thing we can do on this Ash Wednesday, is not to choose our fast, but to examine our hearts. Have we come before the Father in humility, rending our hearts? If so, then we engage in these practices so that they help us to grow spiritually and in Christlikeness, but never for the praise of other people. This is a day when we should examine our motives and in humility ask God to remove any barrier to becoming more like Christ. Whatever “that” is — it would be something great to fast, for the result will be a heart turned toward God, free of human obstacles. This is the rended heart. 

Prayer:


Lord, as we enter this Lenten season, help me to be disciplined to remove the barriers to giving you my whole heart. Amen. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Acting Like Beloved Children



Scripture:

Eph. 5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Observation:

Paul is affirming that the church is not to live like the world. That’s why he brings us to this point and says, “therefore.” For the people in the church to move away from their pagan lifestyle, they are to live into their adoption. for they are children of God. It's very important to recognize that this adoption is entire and complete, and now we are beloved children; children who are lavished in the love of the Father. 

Basically, Paul is saying that it’s time to live into this adoption and imitate your heavenly Father. Because we are beloved and God’s love is lavished on us, we are to live in that love. It’s like swimming in the deep end of the pool that has been filled with God’s holy love. This love permeates every pore of our being and we are transformed, right down to the core, into the likeness of the family. This love is demonstrated by what Christ did for us, giving up everything for the love of his future brothers and sisters. This love, becomes the driving force and leads us to imitate God, following the sacrificial life of Christ. 

Application

I know that not everyone has had the opportunity to be raised in a family where they felt loved and secure. That’s why it may be difficult to imagine a Father who dotes on his beloved children. But maybe we can imagine what it’s like to be a doting parent or grandparent. I have the privilege of living in the same house with my two little granddaughters. Mackenzie is now two-and-a-half, and Alice is one. I can’t explain the joy that they bring to my life. Just seeing them in the morning and watching their faces light up when “Bagogo” comes into the room can brighten any day. I love those two little girls so much, and I would do just about anything for them. Just as I wanted the best for our two daughters, so I want the best for the two of them. 

Our heavenly Father wants the very best for us as well. He lavishes love on us and as he does, we become soaked in the very DNA of the holy family. The result is that our lives are changed. We draw nearer to God and we begin to reflect him in the ways that we look and act. God’s desires become our desires and we naturally begin to imitate God. Christians who do not look and act like God, may be Christian in name only. Those who truly bear the family name, will also have a family resemblance. People should know that we are followers of Christ, not by the name, but by our behavior. 

Prayer:


Lord, please help me to walk in your love and grace today. Amen. 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Let’s Talk About Anger



Scripture:

Eph. 4:25   So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Observation:

Paul continues to educate the church as to her role as a community of faith. Most certainly this is in the development of Christ-like disciples and a recognition that we are responsible for one another. It is in this context that he takes on the topic of anger. Most have interpreted his words in verse 26 as referring to righteous indignation. In other words, there are some things about which Christians should become angry. That’s not quite the case because Paul really is just talking about good-old anger that we experience when someone has done something wrong, usually, to us. It’s actually a warning that in the midst of this situation you may respond with anger, but don’t let it go too far. Don’t let your anger get the best of you and lead you into sin. 

What follows is a prescription for dealing with the anger. A Christ-follower is to try to make peace, even with those who may have aroused him/her to anger. Go to that individual and try to be reconciled, and do it immediately, even before the sun goes down. This is because Paul understands what happens when we begin to fume all night long. A dark cloud begins to envelope us and — we give the devil a little space. That space begins to steal our joy and so we don’t give in to anger. Anger leads to evil talk, and often to tearing down other people. Again, the dark cloud enters when we succumb to negativity but there is a way to fight it — by speaking with grace. The Holy Spirit is grieved when we begin to push him out by giving ground to negativity. Deal with your anger and bitterness and instead, respond with love, forgiving the one who has hurt you, because we know that Christ has forgiven us. 


Application

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Something just sets us off and we know that we have been wronged. In the US there’s a new commercial out for cold sore medication. The person with the cold sore is obsessed with this sore and believes that the only thing everyone sees is the cold sore. They can’t hear conversations because all they know is that they have a cold sore. They become unaware of others around the because they have a coldsore. Life becomes consumed with dealing with the cold sore. And in the same way, we can be offended and become angry. Instead of being present in the moment, we think “angry!” We try to read and the words pass before our eyes, but we don’t know what we have read. Our mind is busy rethinking the conversation and we are “angry.” We lay down at night to go to bed and the only thing that goes through our mind is that we are “angry” as we rehearse our potential responses over and over again. If we don’t deal with the anger we can become obsessed and our joy is stolen from us. 

Anger can easily destroy every good thing that God wants to do in and through our lives. I don’t think that Paul was saying that it’s easy to deal with anger. He determines to specifically address the issue. Followers of Jesus Christ should speak to one another in holy love and admonish one another to work through their anger. Paul knew the pitfall of anger was sin. 

I like the way that Paul moves into the positive and gives us resourceful ways in which to deal with anger. 

Angry — share something with someone who is needy. It’s hard to stay angry when you discover that there are people dealing with issues larger than yours. 

Angry — spend a whole day not saying anything negative. Always say good things to the people around and you and build them up. Be intentional! 

Angry — share grace with someone who needs it. Don’t be judgmental because Jesus has extended abundant grace to all of us. 

Angry — recognize that you can let it go so far that you will grieve the Holy Spirit. Now that’s getting into dangerous territory so allow the Holy Spirit to minister to you in your pain. 

Angry — be kind to the next person you encounter. Speak with tenderness to that customer service agent on the phone who is not responsible for your flight delay! 

Angry — think about how much God has forgiven you, and then forgive the one who has hurt you. 

No one ever said that this would be easy, but it’s part of the Christian journey of discipleship. As followers of Jesus Christ we must learn to deal with our sin, individually, and corporately. We have a responsibility as a community of faith to shape one another through our anger and pain. The church is the body of Christ where all emotions are experienced, and when the body is healthy, there is natural healing. This is God’s plan for Christ’s body — the church. 

Prayer:


Lord, may anger never steal my joy. Amen. 

Friday, February 9, 2018

Yes, a Life of Holiness is Possible



Scripture:

Ephesians 4:17-24

The Old Life and the New
Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. That is not the way you learned Christ! For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Observation:

While it may sound that the Apostle is picking on the Gentiles here, he really is not. He is referring to the pagans within the world who have had no exposure to God. The Jews had been raised to worship God and had a moral framework from which they lived their lives. The pagans were just that, pagan, and worshipped numerous gods, and engaged in sexual practices as a part of that worship. They were encouraged to satisfy every longing and desire without boundaries. 

Knowing Christ was completely counter-cultural to the pagan practices of the day, and about this, Paul was emphatic. Knowing Christ was not to be some sort of intellectual practice, but Jesus was to be the object of “knowing.” Putting on Christ changed everything and that included a complete renunciation of the previous way of life. This meant self-discipline and no longer engaging in the sexual practices and gratifications of the world. Yes, being a follower of Jesus Christ meant a radically different lifestyle, one in which a believer was clothed in Christ. Now, the life lived was one of righteousness and holiness, for this was a reflection of the character of God. 

Application

There have been times when society has mirrored the culture of the church because morals of society and government have, at times in history, been influenced by the church. At the same time there have been cultures that have chosen to distance themselves from any type of Judeo-Christian ethic. Instead, we find an embracing of the pagan culture, and the encouragement to normalize first-century culture. How often does the world tell us that the barometer for our lives is to do what feels good? It sounds like the world into which Paul was speaking. And together with Paul, the church needs to say, “this is not how you came to know Christ!” 

There is an expectation for there to be a change of lifestyle when one puts on Christ. The old is gone, and behold everything becomes new. I don’t think that Paul was saying that this was easy, but it was an expectation. But we shouldn’t miss the good news here. No one says that we are to do this all on our own. There are two factors to consider. The first is that we are empowered by putting on Christ. We become partakers of the divine nature, and in doing so, we put on Christ’s holiness. This is not our own holiness, but Christ living in us, who empowers us to live a new life. Also, we must remember that Paul is addressing all of this to the church. The church is to be a community of faith that is counter-cultural, and becomes an incubator for those who are growing in righteousness and holiness. In other words, we are to encourage one another in this new life. 

I’m afraid that sometimes we set the bar pretty low for being a follower of Christ. There are times when you can’t tell the difference between a Christian and the secular world. It’s as if Christians have moved in a direction that takes them as close to the world as possible. Paul was calling out Christ-followers to live a life that was radically different. Yes, a life of holiness is possible when we are completely sold-out to Jesus Christ and when we allow ourselves to be shaped by a community of faith that continually leads us into the direction of Christ. 

Prayer:


Lord, this challenge isn’t easy, and yet, I know you provide the strength needed. Please, help me to be a faithful member of the church who lives for you, and encourages others along the way. Amen. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Spirit-filled Synapses


Scripture:

Ephesians 4:14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Observation:

These verses are a continuation of Paul’s thought found in the previous verses. Verses 11-16 are actually one long sentence in the Greek. The whole concept provided here is that the church will be knit together in unity by being united with Christ. When we are “in Christ” we are rooted into a firm foundation. Paul, himself, remembers what it was like to be young and to be vulnerable to the teachings of various individuals. There will always be those who use religion for their own personal benefit and therefore will manipulate doctrine for selfish gain. That’s why sometimes we have to be willing to be confronted with the hard facts of the truth of the gospel. The good news of Jesus will not always tickle our ears, but it will be truth spoken in love, and this to allow us to grow up into Christ.

Christ is the head, and as some early theologians remind us, is the one who sends out spirit-filled communication to the whole body. Just as a human body is connected, and messages are sent from the brain over synapses to neurons, so Christ speaks to and connects the entire body of Christ. When a nerve or a synapse receives too much information there is uncontrollable movement that can disrupt life. If there is no nerve stimulation there will be no movement whatsoever. So, in the body of Christ, when we are connected to Christ in the proper way, there is just the right amount of stimulation over the synapses so that everything functions properly. This is true of the physical body, but of the church as well. Only when the church is connected to the head — Christ — can the right amount of Spirit infused energy move to each part of the body and bring about healthy growth, which occurs in love. 

Application

This scripture really begs the question as to our connection with Christ. When I think of Spirit-enabled energy jumping the synapses of the church, I imagine something beautiful. But the opposite is true as well. If the church tries to function without being rooted in Christ, then she will have over-active members, and others who don’t function at all. That’s just as crazy as having a leg that continually twitches but gets you nowhere, while having an arm that simply won’t move. But, is it possible that in some ways the church has been trying to live and function in this way? What Paul is telling us is that it takes time and intentionality to get to know Christ, and far too many churches are busy “doing” church, and not taking the time to know the One on whom the church is built. 

Over and over again, we are reminded that we must get to know Christ. It is intimacy with Christ on a personal and corporate level that is needed so that there may be unity in holy love, and synchronicity in activity. When a human body is appropriately firing on all synapses the movement is glorious. Yes, it again becomes a movement of the Holy Spirit. Most every church was birthed in a moment, or a movement of the Holy Spirit. In my own tribe we’ve been asking whether we can become a movement again! I believe Paul is saying that it is possible, when we are “in Christ” and the Spirit moves across the synapses and enables a body to move and be connected in healthy ways. 

Prayer:


Lord, may I be grounded in you, and connected to others who are doing the same. Amen. 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Church, A Place of Nurture



Scripture:

Ephesians 4:11-13
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

Observation:

Gifts were given to the church so that she could fulfill her purpose of bringing all to “unity of the faith,” and this is to be seen in maturity, or perfection. The leaders in the church were to disciple the followers so that they could become more like Christ. The gifts to the church included the very first apostles, those who witnessed the resurrection of Christ.  But the gift continues and includes the prophets who are those who can point toward a future, to the place where God is leading the people. It also includes evangelists who can speak about the past and bring the good news to a needy world. Pastors who teach are those who will equip the saints, God’s holy people, to be engaged in ministry. All of this comes to fruition in the body of Christ, the church, that continually leads people to spiritual maturity. 

Application

When you think about the gifts that have been given to the church, in the form of people, it becomes a relational home of nurture and development. What’s important is that the gifts are all present. We have the foundation of the apostles on which to build, but today we still need the prophetic voice, calling us into a future that shapes us into the image of Christ. Evangelists are needed to preach the good news of Jesus Christ who transforms lives. We need to be reminded over and again of what Jesus has done for us. We also need pastors who will teach and equip those who are growing in grace.

There are some who argue that the church has become so focused on the pastor (shepherding) and teaching aspect that she has forgotten what it means to be prophetic and evangelistic. The reality is that we cannot simply nurture those who are in the faith, without helping others come to faith. As we grow and nurture, and become more like Christ, and we will want to become engaged in the evangelistic and prophetic mission of Christ. I would argue that if we don’t have those passions within the life of the church, the church is not truly growing in the ways in which God has intended. In this circumstance, there is no maturity, and the people are not being raised up to the “full stature of Christ.”

As a follower of Christ, and a member of the body of Christ, the church, we must all be engaged in the mission of becoming like Christ. The call to sainthood is for all, for it is to become clothed in the divine character of God, which is holy love. Again, Paul brings up the issue of unity. Holy love binds together the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and should also bind together God’s people. Unity in holy love is the reflection of God’s work in the world. 

The church must be a place of nurture, where people come to Christ, are pointed in the direction of Christ, and become more like Christ. In this environment holy love begins to exude and the church becomes an incubator of Christlike disciples. 

Prayer:


Lord, may your gifts be revealed in the church that reflects your kingdom on earth. Amen. 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Oneness



Scripture:

Eph. 4:4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

Observation:

The nature of the church is repeated time and again by Paul. He has already prayed that the church would begin to comprehend the beauty of being united in diversity. Now, he breaks this out in a seven-fold declaration of oneness. These can be broken down into two groups of three, and then a final affirmation of the unity of God. 

The first three, or triad refers to the visible signs of the church: 

One Body...Beginning with the incarnation of Christ, in a human body, the church is called to be “the body.” This includes those who have served faithfully in the past, in the present and in the days to come. We are a part of a community which is much larger than ourselves, or that is visible to the naked eye. We are surrounded by a great crowd of witnesses and we participate in the present, as faithful members of the one body. 

One Spirit...The Holy Spirit which proceeds from the Father, through the Son unites the people of God together. Only because of the Spirit may we become partakers of the divine nature, or have koinonia (fellowship) with the Triune God. This unity comes from the Triune God and unites humanity to God, and to one another. The Spirit makes all of this unity possible. 

One Hope...The visible hope of the church is seen in her kingdom engagement. Not only does the church have hope in Christ, but this hope is reflected to the world.  When the barriers that typically exist within society are broken down within the church, then hope can be embraced. Yes, kingdom engagement, but also the hope of resurrection. The hope of heaven and eternal life gives us all hope as we struggle with all that we face in this life. 

The second triad may have been a traditional baptismal affirmation.

One Lord...For Jews this would have been a dramatic declaration, for it would be an affirmation that Christ is God. Also, as opposed to Caesar, it was a declaration that Jesus is Lord — and no one else. It repudiates the gods of this world and affirms the Lordship of Christ. 

One Faith...There is one faith into which Jews and Gentile alike are united. No matter the background, whether pagan or Jewish, this faith unites all together into one. This is the affirmation of this faith, and is the birth and belief in the church as the body of Christ. 

One Baptism...This becomes the outward sign of the mystery of unity. In baptism there is union with Christ and with all of Christianity. This becomes a declaration of oneness to the world. 

The culmination of this oneness is an affirmation that there is only...

One God...who is the Father of all. There is no picking and choosing which children belong to the Father, for all come from the Father. And then there is the affirmation of our Trinitarian God who is “above all and through all and in all.” There is no other god that can compare! This is Augustine’s affirmation of “From the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit.” “All things are ‘from God,’ who owes his existence to no one. All things are ‘through him,’ as though to say through the Mediator. All things are ‘in him,’ as though to say in the One who contains them, that is, reconciles them into one. (Augustine, On Faith and the Creed 19)

Application

Paul has put incredible effort into his affirmation of unity within the body of Christ. He is writing about it with great detail and praying for the church’s understanding. Such passion has gone into bringing together people from all corners of the earth into this new body, the church. 

The church is Christ’s chosen instrument to reflect the kingdom of God to this world. Somehow I think the church in Ephesus may not have been understanding this well, or Paul would not have felt it necessary to reiterate the point so many times. But what about us?  It’s far too easy to allow ourselves to live within our own comfort zones and not do the hard work of being unified in as the body of Christ. Time and again the church has not reflected the unity of the kingdom but has allowed divisions to arise. We have made excuses for our own behavior and tried to place God’s approval on our segregation. 

Together with Paul we need to embrace and assert oneness within the body. Transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we live in unity with our sisters and brothers within the kingdom of God. The outward reflection of that unity is seen in one body, united through the Spirit, and living in one hope. This is a positive reflection of the kingdom seen in our every day behaviors. 

At the same time we embrace the truths of our baptism, affirming Jesus as Lord, and living into our faith. Only in this way do we put aside the gods of this world and the ego-centrism that grows in our hearts and displaces oneness. Oneness is only possible when every focus of our lives is on Christ and drawing nearer to him. 

We press on toward the goal, straining to know Christ and reveal the unity of the Triune God in and through the bride of Christ. 

Prayer:


Lord, please, make us one, in you. Amen.