Saturday, March 24, 2018
Phil. 2:9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Something amazing happens in this hymn. First there is the focus on the humility of Christ and the beauty of his incarnation. Then comes the connecting word “therefore” that leads us to new heights in understanding the love of God. This is the exaltation of humanity because Christ's humility was the assumption of human flesh. It was not Jesus that needed the exaltation — it was us!
By assuming human flesh, Jesus was able to exalt humanity, saving us from death. When Jesus was lifted up by the Father, so were we. Jesus creates a human bridge between created and Creator that allows us to become partakers of the Divine nature; we can now fellowship with the Triune God.
We are the ones who were in desperate need of this work of God. We all die in Christ, but are then exalted and raised up with him. The result is a Christian life which is empowered by the resurrection. Paul’s purpose in reminding the church of this hymn is unity. Jesus’ followers journey with him in humility to the cross, and are exalted with him into a holy life. In this scenario there is no room for fighting, or personal ambition, only a church community that is focused on Christ.
The beauty of Christ’s humility and exaltation is that it has a profound effect on our lives. It is in walking the pathway of humility that we are able to experience the exaltation. This is a message of hope and transformation for the here and now. We don’t have to wait until death to experience the exaltation, but it’s God’s desire for us to participate in Christ today.
Many people in all of Christendom will be baptized on Easter. This has been a part of Christian tradition for nearly 2000 years. It makes sense when we see baptism as dying out to our former selves and raising up out of the water, united with Christ in new life. Baptism itself is humility and exaltation.
Far too many of us get lost in humility, and often a false humility at that. A bruised self-image is not humility. Allowing our emotions to be beaten up by others and destroying any healthy sense of self is not what this passage is about. It is about the sacrifice of personal ambition, for the sake of Christ. It is about laying down ourselves, our self-interest, our desire to be “right,” so that we may know Christ.
The beauty of being united with Christ is that we may participate in a transformed community. This isn’t easy because our own thoughts, ideas, opinions and egos can easily get in the way. But that’s why following Jesus is different. If we truly unite with him in humility, we experience the exaltation or participation with him. This is where the renewing of our minds takes place, and no longer do we need to prove that we are right, or that our way is the best way. Instead, there is a genuine desire to know Christ, and this radically transforms our thinking.
Exaltation is our sanctification as we are united with our holy God. The awesomeness of this encounter can only lead us to praise and adoration, where we confess that Jesus is Lord! The significance of this phrase would not have been lost on those first-century believers. Only Caesar was called Lord, because the people believed in the deification of the Emperor. This was the deification of Christ, who created a pathway for humanity to be united with the Divine. “Jesus is Lord” was a declaration that the humility and exaltation had accomplished much more than any earthly ruler could even imagine.
This weekend we celebrate Palm Sunday. The people were excited and engaged in praising Jesus, but they had no comprehension of who he really was and what he would accomplish. If we don’t humble ourselves, we won’t have any substantive understanding either. Let’s not get stuck at Palm Sunday, but begin, even now, to dive into resurrection life and Christ’s exaltation. It will be transformational.
Lord, may I follow you in humility, and live in the power of resurrection. Amen.
Thursday, March 22, 2018
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
This beautiful first-century hymn gives us a glimpse of the early church’s understanding of Jesus. They were close to the reality of Christ, some having witnessed his very life and ministry here on earth. How would those who had seen him try to describe him?
This hymn affirms the divine nature of Christ, and that he is God. It also affirms that Jesus viewed power in a way which would always be used for the good of others, and that this is an attribute of God. God, the eternal and creative, who is all-powerful, uses power for the sake of others. Or, is even willing to relinquish power for the sake of others, which is what Christ did voluntarily. It was in his nature to try and reach out to all of humanity.
Jesus models servant leadership, being willing to take the lowest position so that he can create a pathway for humanity to be united with the Triune God. Jesus was willing to take upon himself the sins of all humanity and die because of his great love for all of us.
This hymn is one of praise for who Jesus is!
We are traveling through the season of Lent, following Jesus to the cross. To follow Jesus, we should really wrestle with who this Jesus is! Sometimes we have a rather sanitized version of Christ and fail to see the reality of what he has done for us, and what that means for us, if we are to become like him.
Humility, self-sacrifice, service to others, and relinquishing of power are all the hallmarks of Jesus’ life, and should be reflected in his disciples. If we are to become like Christ, then we are to have the mind of Christ, becoming like him. This doesn’t preach to those who are looking for an easy Christianity, or some kind of a prosperity gospel.
A recent Barna study revealed that young people in the United States are walking away from the faith because the faith they received as children was too much of a fantasy. Youth groups that were “fun,” and fancy playgrounds for children’s entertainment subtly taught that this is what Christianity is all about. When faced with the reality that Christianity was really something different, they have left, thinking that we’ve tried to pull some come of bait and switch.
Instead of trying to attract people by competing with the world, why not try and present the true Christ? No, it’s not always a pretty picture, but it is real, and the Christ who humbles himself, is also the Christ who walks with us day in and day out in the realities of the mess which we find in this world.
What would happen in our churches if we began to teach children from a small age that we are servants of others? When the church begins to model Christ’s activity, the world just may begin to take notice. Maybe they’ll cry out, “see how they love another,” and not, “look what a cool coffee bar they have.”
We don’t need to try and be like anything, but Christ. That takes true humility, because being a servant or slave, isn’t cool. But this is the true Jesus, the one who invites to come and follow him through Lent, and to the cross.
Lord, forgive me for when I’ve gotten it all wrong. Please, help me live into you and your life. Amen.
Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
When this section comes to a conclusion we discover that Paul is talking about the mind of Christ. It is the character of God which is selfless, doing nothing out of selfish ambition, but everything for others. It is God’s character that is humble, which is why the incarnate Christ came for humanity. We are invited to participate with Christ, so that his mind becomes our mind, and his characteristics become our characteristics.
When we are in Christ we discover the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit unites us in fellowship with the Triune God. It is there that we discover the mind of Christ. His thoughts become our thoughts. His passions become our passions. His humility becomes our humility. His characteristics become our characteristics.
The life of a Christian becomes a witness to the presence of Christ. There should be an obvious transformation in the lives of God’s children, and the result visible for all. God didn’t take on the characteristic of humility, but his humility always existed. It was because of God’s humility that Christ became incarnate for all of humanity. The visible expression of the incarnation reveals the character of God’s holy love. Selfless self-giving for the sake of others becomes the overwhelming picture into which we are invited to be drawn.
If there is no humility; no putting others above yourself, then maybe we need to question whether we truly are in Christ. This is the witness of the Spirit in our lives, the mind of Christ, actively engaged in our daily lives. This brings glory to God.
Lord, I want to know you more. I want the mind of Christ to be revealed in who I am on a daily basis. Amen.
Sunday, March 18, 2018
Philippians 2:1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
Christ becomes the encouragement for God’s people, his life an example of sacrifice for the sake of others. If God’s people are “in” Christ, then self-centeredness is being destroyed on an on-going basis. Love fills our being and there is no room left self, but the Holy Spirit brings about transformation.
Paul’s joy is made complete when he witnesses the destruction of self-centeredness and now sees the unity of the body of Christ. The mind of the believer is to be joined to the mind of Christ and to the mind of neighbor. Together the love poured out in participation with Christ binds the community of believers together in holy love. Selfish ambition and conceit (self-centeredness) should not be evident in the lives of the believers. Christ’s spirit of humility should so overwhelm a believer that they give themselves in constant service to others. Our own interests become sacrificed in service to others.
This entire passage is actually a positive reflection on the life centered in Christ. Why would I pick such a negative title? Because, if we take this passage and look at the opposite of what it is telling us, we discover the incredibly destructive nature of self-centeredness.
- When we focus on ourselves we will not receive any encouragement from being “in” Christ. We won’t have time to spend with Christ because we allow the activities that are of greater priority to use up our time. More than likely, we will become angry and blame God when things aren’t going our way.
- Compassion and sympathy become distant when we are self-centered. It becomes difficult to see the needs in others, or to empathize with what may have brought them to this place in life. Instead, we are critical and blame those who are in a difficult state, sure that they are responsible for their own problems.
- For those who have tried to mentor us, there is no joy. Parents, pastors, Sunday School teachers, and friends, who try to lead us in the direction of Christ are often hurt by the self-centeredness of the individual who refuses to live wholeheartedly for Christ. The pain comes from watching the individual make destructive choices that will have long-lasting impact.
- Selfish ambition and conceit define choices and activity. Success becomes the key, at any cost. Even if other people are hurt or damaged along the way, it becomes acceptable because ambition drives this individual. Putting other people down, letting them know that they are not worthy of the same status becomes a characteristic. This is usually done in an effort to make the individual feel better about themselves, but the cost is others’ egos.
- The interests of the self are always more important than those of others. There is no concern about the effects of one’s liberties on the lives of others. What feels good and right becomes the priority.
This is a picture of what should not happen in the church, nor in the life of a believer. Our self-centeredness needs to be given over to God, so that the Spirit can fill to overflowing. This creates the potential for unity within the body of Christ, and joy.
The picture of a church focused entirely on Christ and in service to others is beautiful. These people, willing to give up their own desires for the needs of others, will reflect Christ in all things. While self-centeredness may be destructive, Christ-centeredness will result in the flourishing of all involved.
Lord, may your Spirit daily fill to overflowing until there remains nothing but you! Amen.
Saturday, March 17, 2018
Phil. 1:27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, 28 and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. 29 For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— 30 since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
Paul’s concern for the church in Philippi is one of spiritual consistency. He knows the dangers of hypocrisy, for if Christians do not live as they preach and speak, their witness will be invalidated. Just as Paul endeavors to live every day of his life worthy of being a servant of Christ, so every follower of Christ is to do the same. Whether someone is watching you live your life, or not, that should not matter. What matters is to remain faithful.
Unity within the community of faith was absolutely vital for this consistent witness. Believers are to spur one another on, linking arms and uniting in the mission of God. When this happens, when believers are bound together in their faith and holy love, then they are able to withstand the pressures from without. When the outside pressures do not prevail against the believers, they would see the reality of what God has done.
The privilege of serving, is that believers will be invited to participate in the life of Christ, including his suffering. But we will only struggle against the outside forces when we refuse to live in hypocrisy. Genuine servants of God become a real threat, but those who embrace hypocrisy are eventually abandoned, for they have no power.
One of the greatest criticisms against Christianity is what people view as hypocrisy. Not only is the world watching, and I believe, hoping that Christians will be genuine, but so are other Christians and young people, wanting to know whether this faith is real. The temptation to be Christian on Sunday and do your own thing throughout the week is not anything new. Paul was encouraging this new church in Philippi, that these believers, needed to be careful. Their faith in Christ could not be something that they simply wore on the exterior, but they had to be genuine, through and through. They needed to allow Christ to so fill their lives that they lived as his representatives here on earth.
One can often avoid hypocrisy by living a life of accountability. This is why the community of faith is so important to our own spiritual growth and development. Are we vulnerable enough to ask others to comment on what may appear to be hypocrisy in our own lives?
Being a part of the community of faith means that we are serious about becoming like Christ. I guarantee that this will put us at odds with society, because culture is not comfortable when the light of Christ is shone into dark corners. But when God’s people respond in holy love, Jesus is revealed.
This last year there were many hurricanes and floods in the Americas. Numerous people suffered as a result of the the damaging storms. I had the privilege of traveling to South Texas to survey some of the damage, but also to participate with a Disaster Response Team. Everywhere we drove, there were church vans, busses, and teams of Christians helping strangers to clean up in their time of need. This was Christianity in action, and those actions spoke loudly about love of God and neighbor. This is the church in action and it becomes powerful, opposing the negative voices. God’s people linking arms and reflecting the love of Christ, not at a worship service on Sunday, but in service to their neighbors.
Hypocrisy makes us weak and destroys our testimony. We need each other to keep us accountable, genuine, and strong. The world needs genuine followers of Christ.
Lord, thank you for the reminder to continually seek you. Thank you for friends and family members who ask the hard questions and help us to remain real. Amen
Friday, March 16, 2018
Phil. 1:15 Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. 16 These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; 17 the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. 18 What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.
Paul was in chains because of his love for Christ. When he encountered Christ on the road to Damascus, everything changed for him. He didn’t just embrace a faith, he embraced the author of that faith and fell deeply in love with Jesus. His passion was to know Christ and to proclaim Christ to everyone he could.
In Rome, it appears, he encountered those who were not happy with him, or his preaching. It may have been that there were those who were already working in Rome, preaching, and Paul’s appearance in town may not have been welcomed. They had been the well-known authorities or preachers of the word and now, this stranger appears and seems to have more authority. Out of envy, or jealousy, they may have been preaching, but with the intent that it would get Paul in more trouble. That maybe, if they preached even more zealously, it would arouse the anger of the Emperor so that he would take out his frustration on Paul.
Under house arrest, Paul has to contemplate what’s happening around him. He can’t get out. He can’t defend himself and he can’t believe that others who claimed to know Christ would behave in this way. One can only imagine that it took a time of deep personal reflection and intimate conversation with the Lord that he was able to come to his conclusion. The motives of these individuals were incredibly wrong. They preached for the wrong reason and they most certainly intended harm.
Maybe it was after the initial anger subsided that Paul had to examine his own heart. He wanted people to know Christ. Therefore, whether the motives of the other individuals were wrong or not, he would not try to stop them from preaching. If they thought they would do greater harm to Paul by preaching, then he wanted them to go on preaching. Paul was not motivated by personal preservation, but by love of Christ. If, in any way, shape or form, Christ could be preached, then he was willing to accept his own fate. He chose to rejoice and refused to react to then as enemies of the gospel. His motivation was to know Christ, and that was more important than anything.
It’s fascinating that those who intended to do harm, actually became agents whom God used to help Paul spread the good news. He was trapped and couldn’t get out into the city to preach. He did teach and preach every day from his chains, but I’m sure he also prayed about a way to bring the gospel to the city of Rome. He was able to rejoice that no matter what their motivation, the gospel was preached.
This speaks to the power of the message and not the messenger. The good news about Jesus may be inadvertently spoken by those who think they are in opposition. God doesn’t waste these kinds of opportunities and therefore we should not allow them to become a frustration. That’s the point here, that we cannot allow what others do to derail us from our relationship with God. We must also live every day in the realization that the power of God is greater than our current circumstances. With Paul, we slow down, we take a deep breath, we spend time in prayer, and then we see the good in what is happening. We rejoice anytime Christ is lifted up.
The heart will direct our actions. The contrast here is that Paul’s motivation allows him to see the good that can come out of this frustrating situation. Those who are preaching out of a wrong heart fail to see the good that their preaching is doing. The only “good” their preaching can do would be to harm Paul. They are blinded to the fact that the Holy Spirit is at work through their words and touching, transforming lives. It’s an odd contrast of motivations and actions and results. Yet, I would hope that we would want to find ourselves with a heart like Paul’s, whose motivation was to know Christ. If that becomes our motivation, we will begin to see, both the good and the bad around us, through a new lens.
Paul had to take time to check his own motivations. When he finally discovered he was not seeking self-preservation, he was able to see that God could use bad, for good. We all need regular moments of introspection and soul-searching. It is there that God helps set things in the right direction, and gives us a sense of peace.
Lord, may you be preached, and may my heart be always turned toward you. Amen
Wednesday, March 14, 2018
I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.
Paul was writing to his dear friends in Philippi while in prison in Rome. His concern was not for himself, but for those whose lives he had touched. He didn’t want others to be discouraged by his circumstances. He also probably understood that he would not be the only one who might experience imprisonment and so he wanted to show the ways in which God could be at work.
As a result of his imprisonment, Paul made every opportunity to preach to those guarding him. The whole imperial guard had now heard about Christ. He had reached an entire group of people who were insiders to the work of the Roman system.
As word trickled out about Paul’s witness, even while under guard, the rest of the Christian community was emboldened. Now, they were speaking the word to those around them, and without fear.
I can’t imagine what life must have been like for Paul. It could not have been pleasant and I’m quite certain that under the same circumstances, I would not have been looking at the bright side. It’s far too easy to get caught up in difficulties and allow yourself to get down and frustrated. This means that people would not hear the good news of Jesus, but they would hear my own personal whining and complaining.
Yet, I’m fascinated by Paul’s ability to see opportunity in everything. Why not begin to preach to the guards? Suddenly Paul had access to a group of people who never would have heard the good news. How often do we find ourselves in situations that we see as negative, but God just may see as opportunity?
Paul served as a channel of God’s prevenient grace in reaching out to a community of people who needed to hear the good news. God wants to use us as well, to be channels of grace. When we offer our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord, then we begin to see that our circumstances may be opportunities to be poured out in service to God.
I don’t think that Paul “loved” his circumstances, but he learned to make the best of them. He embraced every opportunity that God provided to share with others what Christ had done for him. He prayed, lived and moved in the power and the presence of Christ. He learned in every situation, to make the best of things.
Lord, there are times when it’s easy to get discouraged. Please, give me a heart and passion like Paul’s. Give me the vision to see the opportunities, and not the obstacles. Amen
Monday, March 12, 2018
And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
Paul, as a spiritual leader and mentor to many, is constantly modeling prayer. In this opening greeting to the church in Philippi, he begins with a prayer. His concern is for the spiritual well-being of the people of God. As followers of Christ, their lives were to be defined by love. This love was not only to be seen in and among the church community, but was also to overflow and touch those around them. Christianity was to become marked by this love of neighbor.
The ministry of the church in Philippi was to live into the wisdom of God. This would help them to have knowledge far beyond their own skills and abilities, and would give them insight into the best pathways in which to more forward. The Christian life is to be one of on-going and continual growth in the direction of Christ. The result is one who is pure and blameless, a church and a community of believers who will be able to work in God’s harvest field, reaping in such a way that God will get all the glory and the praise.
Have you ever heard of a BHAG? That’s a “Big Hairy Audacious Goal.” Often BHAGs are far beyond our personal capacity to comprehend. They seem beyond our reach and, quite possibly, beyond our skills to achieve. At the same time, I think we serve a God with a lot of BHAGs. My sense is that God had given Paul a vision for the ministry in Philippi that was much larger than the original circle of believers who met at Lydia’s home. But these people had no roadmaps for church planting. They had no “how-to” books, nor did they have mentors who knew how to describe to them where things were going. Could this group of people have ever imagined that Christianity would eventually become the religion of the Roman Empire? Not hardly, and yet, within 300 years, it did.
Paul knew that prayer was key to participating in God’s extraordinary vision. In no way would a small band of people be able to realistically take on the task before them. To even know how big the task was would have been overwhelming. Instead, Paul realized the need to pray for their spiritual lives and development. These people needed to know Christ if they were to participate in world-changing activities. To know Christ was to live a life infused with holy love, and this, overflowing. We are to draw closer to Christ, every day of our lives. Just as Paul, we are to bathe all that we do in prayer and, while in Christ’s presence, allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through us. In prayer we are blessed to participate in the fellowship of the Triune God. Here, we receive insights that are far beyond our own personal comprehension. It is in this space of prayer that a group of believers in a town called Philippi can catch a glimpse of God’s BHAG.
Not only can we catch a glimpse of God’s BHAG, but we can discover access to the necessary resources to go after the dream, or the vision. Suddenly we may have a strategic plan, working in a way that we would have never imagined. But this only happens when it truly comes from God. God doesn’t need us to figure out the strategic plan. God already knows how to do what God is doing! We are to get to know Christ, and through knowing him, we will begin to see the plan, and produce a harvest.
Jesus came preaching peace, and the kingdom of God. These are incredible dreams, and Paul believed that through prayer, God’s people could begin to participate in God’s audacious goal.
Lord, the vision and dream is larger than anything that we can begin to imagine. May it begin by participation in you. Amen
Saturday, March 10, 2018
Eph. 6:23 Peace be to the whole community, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace be with all who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ.
Much of what we learn from Paul is about prayer. In this letter to the Ephesians he breaks out in prayer several times, and just when you think he’s finished praying and wrapping up his letter, he seems to pray again.
Paul finishes up this letter by bringing his readers back to the main theme of the whole letter. The church is to be a place in which Messianic peace is lavished upon the entire community. This becomes expressed in action through holy love, lived out in faith by those who are willing to embrace the work of the Father expressed in the Lordship of Christ. All of this is bathed in unmerited grace as the church grows in her undying love for the Lord.
Paul needed this prayerful reminder in his own life, as well as in the lives of those whom he’d help to disciple. The finest preachers and leaders need the prayers of the church. Those who find themselves working in dangerous places, especially need to be lifted up and surrounded by the community of faith in prayer.
I’m currently in a part of Africa where I’m hearing stories of great sacrifice. It’s humbling to learn what our pastors and leaders are willing to do to share the good news of Jesus with the world. Their passion for Christ seems to exude from every pore of their bodies as they lay themselves down for the sake of others. They rejoice in the victories won, and grieve over the losses. Many have lost children, or even spouses, along this journey, and yet they press on. I have the feeling that I have been in the presence of saints; saints who desperately need the prayers and support of the church.
The cosmic mystery of God’s plan is reprised here at the end of Paul’s letter. Jesus came to bring peace and unity. As diverse communities, knit together into one in the kingdom we watch a miracle unfold. Love, united with faith, cannot be restrained. This love overflows in and through the church community and the surrounding world. We are to be participants, through grace, in this great mystery. To the glory of God.
Let’s not forget the great mystery that is to be revealed through the church. She is the bride of Christ, destined to reflect the holy Trinity in all things, to the world, and to heaven above.
Lord, may the church take time to seriously reflect upon the mystery into which she has been invited. May you be lifted up and glorified in and through her. May she be your holy love in action, taking your mystery to the streets and to those in need. Amen.
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Eph. 6:18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
This prayer begins immediately after Paul’s admonition to put on the full armor of God. A deep theological grasp will result in passionate prayer, because it is in truly understanding the gospel that we comprehend the importance of prayer. There is a gospel of peace that is at odds with the world and there is this cosmic unity which is to be experienced in the church. We must recognize that there are forces that are directly at odds with God’s desire for believers and the church.
Paul is encouraging the church to have a spiritual understanding that creates a heightened awareness to the need of prayer. When the Spirit moves, the church is to pray, not only for themselves but for others as well. Prayer begins with praise to God and then moves to supplication, or intercession on the behalf of needs. Petition is when we are praying for God’s grace to be extended to us because of our own behaviors.
Paul knew that his preaching needed the empowering of God’s Holy Spirit. He also recognized his dependence upon his fellow believers in Ephesus. They were to become partners in his ministry through prayer. Their prayers would help him to have wisdom and clarity when the time came to speak the mystery of the gospel. He wanted to be able to declare this gospel with boldness, but he knew he couldn’t do it on his own. While dressed in spiritual armor, it is the time to call upon the King.
When we connect Paul’s prayer to the armor of God something powerful begins to happening in our understanding. The more we grow spiritually, the more we realize that we need prayer. The more we pray, the more we will grow spiritually. They go hand in hand.
I’m a person who likes to have noise going in the background. However, I’ve found that this is sometimes detrimental to me hearing, or sensing God’s leading. It’s when I find a quiet space and begin to listen and communicate with God in prayer that I find direction. This is very often true when it comes to my speaking or preaching. On an intellectual level, I can prepare material. However, something radically different happens when that material becomes infused with God’s presence and leading. Often, in prayer, I have moments of insight that surprise me. It’s in prayer that I sense God’s peace about a particular direction in which I am going in a project. It’s God’s leading that helps me to have meaningful conversations with others. It’s in prayer that I’m prompted to write someone, or pray for a need. I need prayer, because I need to be connected to God.
So, how do we pray? We take the time to be grounded in the word. We soak up every bit of learning and theological grounding that we can. We stand firm in the armor of God and then we lean into all that God has provided for us, and journey into God’s holy presence. We pray in the Spirit and not out of our intellect. We ask the Spirit to lead and guide us in new directions and new insight. We pray for our sisters and brothers who are in the midst of spiritual battle. When we are sensitive to the Spirit we will actually sense and know when this is happening. We will pray for boldness to speak the prophetic words of God to the world. Yes, for ourselves, but also for others to have holy boldness.
We begin with praise and adoration of God on high. We intercede for others. We pray for our own spiritual well-being. Finally, we pray for a bold proclamation. This is the model that Paul has prepared for us, a church which shall be called a house of prayer.
Lord, may the sweet aroma of your holy presence lead us every moment of every day. Amen.
Tuesday, March 6, 2018
Eph. 6:15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.
Paul admonishes the people of God to put on the whole armor of God. Foundational to the armor is the footwear. The church is to carry within her the gospel of peace, and this is difficult in the best of times. The Apostle knew that the new church was facing difficulty and to remain an instrument of God’s peace in the face of opposition would not be easy. It was time to stand firm with a gospel of peace.
To stand firm, Roman soldiers had to alter their footwear. Instead of the usual sandals, they had their footwear adapted so that those on the front lines would not slip and fall in battle. They added thicker soles which were punctuated by nails. It was like putting on shoes with cleats so that they could maintain traction and stand firm in the heat of the battle.
Now, it was time for the church to be prepared with footwear, readied for spiritual battle. A deep spiritual understanding of peace would be necessary for the church on the front lines to stand firm in the midst of an enemy charge. But not only would the church be able to stand firm, but she would have the right footwear for the spiritual and missional journey. Feet prepared with the gospel of peace are ready to climb mountains to share the good news. There is an urgency to travel, so the gospel can be heard. In traveling we recognize that we have not yet reached perfection, but this becomes a perfecting journey; participating in the mission of God while being transformed into the image of God. But the movement is only possible when the feet are prepared with the right shoes.
My mother has often told me stories of her upbringing in a German community on the prairies of Canada. Her family was poor and yet, hard-working. She needed a new pair of shoes and she wanted something that would be pretty. Her family couldn’t afford pretty, and so, the shoes would have to be practical. There wasn’t money for her to have more than one pair, and they would have to be sturdy enough to get her to and from school, and to work on the family farm. Sadly, she accepted the fact that the pretty shoes were not to be.
Today, I have a closet with a number of options when it comes to shoes. Finding the right ones to wear which will keep me comfortable for long days on my feet is becoming more of a challenge. Every day I need to check my schedule and then I make a decision regarding my footwear. Sometimes I even throw an optional pair of flat shoes into my backpack, just to be safe! I do this, because I know that having the right shoes on my feet will have a direct impact on my ability to function throughout the day. Too long in high heels and I will be miserable!
Spiritually we need to check our shoes on a daily basis as well. Before I go out the door, have I made preparation for the day? Do I have a backup? We are to be carriers of the gospel of peace in this world. There will be those prepared to battle against us, pushing us and trying to make us fall. We need to be able to stand firm, but this will only happen when we are prepared. Preparation means spending time in God’s holy presence. We must read the word, pray, and be discipled by those around us. We must be a part of a community of faith that provides for accountability and spiritual growth.
Churches are to be communities where people are prepared — a type of shoe store! It’s in the church where we pick up the different styles so that we have a closet ready for different situations. Yes, we may even have a reason to wear pretty shoes (which would make my mom happy!) But it’s as a community that we grow and strengthen one another, helping to provide the tools for the gospel of peace. The church, herself, will come under fire from the world, as she is provoked to do battle. Instead, in that moment, the church puts on her cleats, standing firm, clinging to the gospel of peace. With the right footwear in place, she does not fall down in the midst of pressure, but instead, continues to grow in God’s grace.
We all need the right shoes to be able to engage in God’s mission in the world. If we have an empty closet, we won’t be prepared. We know that things won’t be easy, so we really do need those practical shoes that will get us through. The journey is a long one. It’s not easy, and we will need to change shoes from time to time. If we’re not prepared, it will be arduous and painful. Take the time to be prepared, find the right shoes, and go, stand firm.
Lord, please help me to stand in the place of preparation every day. Amen.
Saturday, March 3, 2018
Eph. 6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—this is the first commandment with a promise: 3 “so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.”
Eph. 6:4 And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Following Paul’s instructions about mutuality in the church and marital relationships , he provides an injunction regarding children. Responsibilities in a Christian family reach all the way down to the youngest members. This life in Christ and in the church is to radically alter the way in which relationships develop within the Christian community.
If the church models mutual submission, then it's not difficult to see this reflected in marriage and families. God is present in Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit in believers, and therefore there is to be mutual reverence for God who is in each member. Obedience is to be seen in children, both to their biological and their spiritual parents. This submission, or obedience is to be done in all things that are not contrary to the will of God.
The promise connected to command is found engraved on the tablets which Moses received from the hand of God. Exodus 20:12 says ““Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” This honor is due to parents who are walking with the Lord, and who share the portion of the spiritual inheritance with their children. They never oppress their children, nor do they treat them as slaves. The source of this life comes from followers of Jesus Christ who are committed to a life in the Spirit which spills over into ordinary, every-day life. When spiritual motives are nurtured, the effects are seen in the physical life.
Opportunities for secular education abound, but parents must take responsibility for the spiritual education and discipline of their children. Intentionality in the study of the word of God will have a current and eternal impact. Parents should lead their children to become diligent learners. Discipline must come from a heart that reflects the love of God. This will guide a child’s development, and also direct them into an understanding of the character of God.
The church becomes an incubator for discipleship and this is revealed in many facets of life. This includes marriage and family. Paul certainly understands that not everyone will be married, and not everyone will be a parent. At the same time, the church becomes, for many people, a family in which one can be nurtured and developed as a follower of Christ. That’s why the concept of mutual submission is so valuable. All of this begins with the individual believer who understands that their spiritual life should be developed in community. It is in that community that everyone begins to practice mutual submission. This, then, should be reflected in the lives of those who are married, and in the ways that children are raised.
It is extremely common for children to come from a myriad of hybrid family situations and connections. For the church to only focus on the nuclear family may not be the most responsible way to be engaged in ministry. At the same time, it is not an excuse to ignore the commands of the Old Testament, nor the Apostle Paul.
The church should be a place where principles in discipleship, which lead to parenting, are taught. If we make the choice to become parents, then we have a responsibility to try and raise our children well. Before we become too frustrated with our children, maybe we ought to examine whether we are modeling the Christian life before them! Does our discipline reflect the same discipline that Christ would show us? Children don’t need their parents to be their friends, they need them to parent. Giving guidance and direction to a child is the responsibility of a parent. Letting children have their own way and, in essence, become the ones in charge, will only lead to greater frustration, both for the child, and the parents. Children need parents to parent, and to be actively engaged in their lives, and providing boundaries. At the same time, as children mature, they need to be guided into good decision making.
While we have many single-parent homes, there is a great need for fathers to be engaged in their children’s lives. Far too many fathers are “checking out.” Recently, Dr. Kyle Pruett, a child psychiatrist and clinical professor of child psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, spoke up about the value of having fathers. He identified a number of factors which change in the life of a child when a father is engaged. The child with a father, step-father, or male figure who is engaged is less likely to be a criminal, will wait to become engaged sexually, will do better in school, and stay longer in a job as an adult. This is what science is telling us! It also seems to back up what the Bible tells us about parenting as a spiritual discipline. When the church, as a community of faith, fails to see parenting as a part of their responsibility the children will suffer. This journey of discipleship will touch upon every facet of life. We are stronger when we are a community that is journeying toward Christlikeness. When we reflect the Image, both individually and corporately, there will be a distinctive and positive effect upon the lives of the children within our sphere of influence.
But what if we have no children in our church? I would suggest that such a church ought to embrace the responsibility of ministering to all generations, even if they aren't naturally present. A church without children, can embrace ministry to families who are in desperate need of mentors and spiritual guides. This could be a channel of grace through which God could revive a church. What if the senior adults provided a parents night out by spending time with the children of those in the community? Or, offered parenting classes over the weekend — while also providing childcare? Even when there are no children in the church, the church can embrace her responsibility in providing discipleship and spiritual discipline for every generation. When we only focus on those who are currently present in a church, we may just miss the opportunity for the wholistic ministry Paul defines.
The church is family, and helps to shape family. She simply has to live into the calling which God has laid out before her.
Lord, thank you for the children that have been placed into our care, and those who will come in the future. Please, help us to embrace this ministry in all that we do. Amen.