The Church: Teaching and Admonishing

Friday – March 23, 2018

Scripture: Colossians 3:15 – 17

32Remember what Christ taught, and let his words enrich your lives and make you wise; teach them to each other and sing them out in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing to the Lord with thankful hearts. (TLB)

Colossians 3:15

I have long loved the book of Colossians – all of it – but especially this third chapter! Paul is reminding us of our brand-new life in Christ and how we now do things differently than before. We have put away sinful things and if we will let Heaven fill our thoughts and not spend time worrying (He is speaking to me, for sure!) we will be so ready to shine with Christ and share in all His glories when He comes back, or, we go to Him! I could spend hours in this particular chapter because it is so encouraging and also instructive. In my Bible # 5, there is not a blank space left to write in because I have been so excited by what it says! Verse 16 reminds us to let His words enrich our lives, and also to teach these words to each other, singing hymns and spiritual songs to Him with thankful hearts. This practice brings such peace and joy to us, to each other, and to God! This is also the chapter where we find the oft-quoted verse that whatever we do or say should be done in the light of our being a representative of Jesus Christ. It is good to keep in mind that our heart has a direct connection to our mouth, and also to our hands and feet. What I say, what I do, where I go – these all point back to what is in my heart. Others will take note and my witness will be hindered OR it will be affirmed. The more time I spend with Christ, singing, praying, sharing Him with others, the easier it is to face God and give Him thanks, and the more effective my evangelizing will be.  Jesus surely modeled this for us by spending so much time with his Father, while He traveled about teaching and healing down here. If He needed this connection, how much more do we need it!

One of the reasons Jesus came to this earth was to establish the Church as his voice and witness in this world. That is also a reason why the church is in existence to represent Jesus to the world in ways which the world can recognize and respond to. We really ARE His voice, His hands and His feet to desperate and hurting people who have been too long enslaved by Satan and his minions. A purpose is a reason for being and doing and this is what the Church of Jesus Christ is all about. The Church shares the Word of God with the world and at the same time chides or admonishes the Church and the world about how poorly it is doing with regard to righteousness. This comes about naturally as the Church teaches truth not only to those who are insiders in the Church but also to those looking on from the outside. We, the Church, model Christ to the world. Are we doing a good job of it? Sometimes the answer is yes; sometimes it is no. It would be better for this world and for the cause of Christ Jesus if the answer was more often, yes, wouldn’t it?


The Mystery of Love

Thursday – March 22, 2018

Scripture: Colossians 1:24 – 29

31“Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”

Colossians 1:24

Paul seems to be enchanted with the word “mystery” as he uses it many times in his writings. A quick check of the concordance in my Bible shows he used it twice in Romans, only once in 1 Corinthians, seven times in Ephesians, four times in Colossians, and only once in 1 Timothy. I think that is a total of fourteen times he used that word! I have come across its use several times as I have studied various scriptures for our Lenten devotionals this time around. There seems to be a strange combination in today’s scripture which concerns itself with the matter of suffering, a commission from God, something hidden for generations, the disclosure and a choice. With all of it bound up in the labor of Paul for God’s Church.

Our passage is one of the four times Paul uses the word “mystery” in his letter to the church at Colossae with two of them being used in this particular passage. It is also used in chapter 2, verse 2, and in chapter 4, verse three. Each time it is used in connection with Christ and the reason for His coming. In many ways, the person and work of Christ is still mysterious to us. We know a lot about His coming, His teachings, His love, His astuteness in dealings with antagonists, etc., but it is obvious there is much more to Him than we can fathom with our worldly understanding. I believe Paul had really grasped that fact and He was very upfront about sharing it with us. He doesn’t know it all, but He is also aware of that fact. I agree with that assessment as I find myself constantly flabbergasted over the things I do know and the new things I find out as life carries me along. I don’t think any of us can say with certainty that we have studied Christ and now know everything there is to know about Him. That would be the height of foolishness. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, but because he is present in all of that, His perceptions, strength, wisdom and love (not an exhaustive list), are far beyond our ability to comprehend.

In this passage, Paul is somehow connecting the sufferings He is going through for the sake of the Gospel and His Lord, with the mystery that is Christ, who is known, yet unknown. We have seen Him and connected with Him but we can never really know Him in His fullness in this life. Paul is very aware of that but he contends that the mystery has now been disclosed as being “to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (1:27). He was doing this through Paul and also through other gentile believers who were sharing with gentiles outside the faith. This is the reason Paul is engaging so strenuously with these gentile believers. He wants them to reach a state of full maturity in Christ. To that end, he proclaims, admonishes and teaches with the wisdom only Christ can give. He is going through the wringer spiritually and thus suffering on Christ’s behalf, for these believers and others just like them. In fact, he is rejoicing in his suffering for these believers. Paul is totally immersed in being their “servant by God’s commission.” It is his work to share the word of God to them in all its fullness for the purpose of his readers knowing “Christ in (them), the hope of glory” (1:27).

I really wonder how many of us would respond if God made it clear to us what was going to happen and why it was to happen? Would we suffer that others might know God and know him better? Just what is the depth of our commitment to God in Christ Jesus?  Words are easy to say but the life that must be lived is far from easy. A lay back and relax existence is not an option but rather a keep on keeping on necessity until we are ready to drop from exhaustion and pain and then still keep going. Now, that can only be done in the strength, wisdom and love we get from the Father through His Spirit. It is the real expression of love, God’s love, through us.

Just as Jesus was an expression of God’s love to the world, so too, was Paul, and, so too, are we. An ambassador not only speaks for his leader, sometimes he suffers for him. Just ask some of those ambassadors of the United States, and other countries, who sometimes suffered, even died, because they were the representative for someone or something else.

The Mystery

Wednesday – March 21, 2018

Scripture: Ephesians 3:2 – 6

30“This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.”

Ephesians 3:6

There is good reason for Paul to be referred to as the “Apostle to the Gentiles” as he was very involved in reaching out to both Jews and Gentiles throughout his ministry. The story is given in Acts 6 after Saul (later, Paul) had his conversion experience on the road to Damascus. Ananias, a Jewish believer, went to see Paul after seeing a vision from the Lord, who told him “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the gentiles…” (Acts 6:15). Since Paul was doing missionary work throughout the Roman Empire, it was natural that he would come in contact with many believers who were originally from a Gentile background. He did not forsake the Jews in his attempts to present Christ but he did have a great impact on those Gentiles who became believers in Christ and assisted in the conversion of many. In the process, he discovered a mystery of God. Well, it was a mystery at least to him and many other Jews who had long discounted the Gentiles as not worthy to be considered in terms of a relationship with God. Some sort of stumbled onto it and became proselytes of Judaism and believers in the “One True God.” However it was not all that common even though not unknown. Down through the history of Israel there were those from surrounding nations that became converts to Judaism.

Paul is writing to a basically gentile church about a “new” revelation from God, especially at this particular point in time, which was given to the “holy apostles and prophets” (verse 5). It was not generally known in other generations but conversions to Judaism, as I have already mentioned, did take place from time to time. From Paul’s perspective it was apparent that God intended the gentiles to become believers and thus part of the Church of Jesus Christ. So now, Paul is writing to a gentile church and sharing the basis for his actions in evangelizing and teaching them. This came in a revelation from God to him, personally, as well as to the other apostles way back in Jerusalem. The apostle Peter even was aware of this mystery because of his vision regarding the gentile named Cornelius mentioned in Acts 10. It was, therefore, very clear that the Gospel of the Kingdom was not just for the Jews but for all who would believe.

Later in this same chapter, Paul shares more about what this all really meant and the possibilities that could and would arise because of it. Verses 7 through 13 of Ephesians 3, will tell you how Paul became involved in this mystery, which is no longer a mystery. Paul is sharing it openly with these Ephesian believers. These gentile believers were now heirs together with Israel, and have become one body and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus. The development of Paul’s theology of equality for all in Christ Jesus has become complete. He speaks in other places about there being, in what we now call Christianity, equality in access to God and the promises of God made originally to the people of Israel. While this was always God’s plan, it was never recognized as such by Judaism which basically claimed the one true God as only their God and He was for their benefit alone. Paul is now refuting this claim and doing so in a very bold manner.

We are also heirs of the promise in Christ Jesus in our day. That is why Jesus came and through the apostles and other followers, we have come to know who Jesus is and what He has done for us and desires from us. His gospel has come to us as well. The question then becomes: What does that mean for us today? Answer: As an heir of the promise in Christ we have the same responsibility to not only live out the faith we have in Jesus, but also to share our knowledge and faith with others without regard to nationality or race. We have been declared equal with all other believers and have a responsibility to not only act that out but show that to others with the thought of bringing them into the fold. How am I doing, you might ask? That can only be answered by each one of us individually; but, it will have an impact on our local body of believers as well as the Church of Jesus Christ as a whole. Am I really BE-ing my portion of the church and sharing Jesus with anyone the Lord brings across my path?

The Mature Body

Tuesday – March 20, 2018

Scripture: Ephesians 4:11 – 16 (TLB)

29Instead, we will lovingly follow the truth at all times—speaking truly, dealing truly, living truly—and so become more and more in every way like Christ who is the Head of his body, the Church. (TLB)

Ephesians 4:15

We will lovingly follow the truth at all times—speaking truly, dealing truly, living truly—and so become more and more in every way like Christ who is the Head of his body, the Church. “

There you have it – the ideal church! Under His direction, we all fit together, doing our own special job to make it healthy, growing, and full of love. Some have been gifted to teach or preach. Others will best evangelize or shepherd and care for the people – all of us together will work for Christ, building up the church to a position of strength and maturity. Finally, we will be full-grown in the Lord and filled with Him, discerning well between Satan’s lies and deceit and the real truth given to us when Christ came to earth.

Christ is the Head of His body – the Church –and He has given skills and gifts sufficient to accomplish the goal of maturing and evangelizing others. We must study and live out these gifts in order for us to be unified and fulfill our mission. With the Holy Spirit in us, we have all we need to accomplish this. Isn’t this a glorious plan Jesus has set in motion?! He came to earth as a baby, grew up as all children do, traveled around teaching and healing, and then gave up His perfect, sinless life on a cruel cross to pay the price required for OUR freedom from sin!  So now we can follow in His footsteps, avoiding the horrible physical death caused by our own sins, and lead our world to the Source of love and forgiveness that they all desperately need! And we have His help, the help of teachers and mentors who have gone before us, and the help of others of like-minded faith that He adds regularly to our church body! This is the plan, and we are privileged to be part of it.

I, personally, did not grow up in a large city church by today’s standards. Our usual attendance was somewhere between 60 and 125. Our services were orderly, yet exciting. We young people often sat as a small group in the back, prompting a quiet “shush” from time to time, or (my favorite) the sad look back on the face of one of my mentors, as she slowly shook her head. That look of disappointment on her face was always enough to straighten me up for a while. Each service had personal testimony time, and always what they called “special” music, separate from the rousing, enthusiastic hymn singing that was a constant. As I think back, I believe I had found the ideal church – evident love by all, to all; personal mentoring; heavy emphasis on Bible teaching in Sunday school; sound preaching; wonderful music; frequent special fellowship times; accountability throughout the group; and always a reaching out to bring in friends and others who had no church home.

I don’t remember if we won many growth awards, but I DO know that lives were changed and new believers discipled – intentionally and prayerfully. I know I heard some “fire and brimstone” messages, lots of visiting missionary  speakers and attended the usual Vacation Bible Schools – but most of all, I remember the quiet love and care, the total giving of themselves, the strong theological grounding, and their complete joy when I responded to an invitation to give Jesus my whole life! They absolutely showed me Jesus – exactly what we desire our church to BE and DO!

Filled With God

Monday – March 19, 2018

Scripture: Ephesians 3:14 – 21

28“…17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,…”

Ephesians 3:17 – 18

This scripture portion is Paul’s prayer for the church at Ephesus. His earnestness is shown in verse 14: “For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name” (emphasis mine). Paul says he is kneeling (this is a universal attitude or posture of prayer) so why specifically mention that he is kneeling? I think it is because, (1) this is important to him; and, (2) he wants them to know it is important.

Then, Paul shares the content of his prayer for those Ephesian believers. There are several points, or requests, Paul is making of God which show the depth of Paul’s love and concern for this church. He mentions: (1) that God may “strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being;” (2)  “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith;”(3) an inferred request, “being rooted and established in love;”(4) in order that they “may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ;” (5) for them “to know this love that surpasses knowledge” (6) “that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Does any of this sound like a prayer you would like to have given for your church? Imagine what would happen if our church were prayed for in that way and God answered that prayer, as it would certainly be in His will. “Man!” I would like to be the pastor of the church prayed for in that way! Is there any negativity there? There is absolutely none. This is Paul pouring out his heart before God on behalf of that church. Can’t you just feel the strength of his passion for these people and for His Lord?!

Twice in that prayer Paul mentions “power.” Note that this was not a power to do – so much as it was a power to BE. It has more to do with “faith” and agape “love” and “knowledge” and the “fullness of God,” than with any external expression of power in a physical sense. We are so physically oriented we have difficulty, sometimes, relating to what God really wants to do in and through us to further His Kingdom. Paul is really getting to the heart of Christianity with this prayer. He says nothing about them becoming healthy, wealthy, and powerful in the things of this world. The focus here is on being totally impacted spiritually by God in all His fullness. Paul wants these people to be so impacted in their spirit by the spirit of God that they begin to get at least an inkling of what it would mean to be totally sold out to the Lord!

Soak yourself in these words of Paul; soak yourself in the word of God; soak yourself in the Holy Spirit and let God come in His fullness into your life and bring this wonderful fullness of God into our church family. What an impact for God this church could be in our community, and yes, way beyond this community. Don’t let thoughts of “small” or “poor” or any other negativity rob you and the church of the joy that will come with a positive approach like Paul’s in this prayer. He focused on what God desired for this church and not on anything that was holding them back. Just as the prophet prayed for his servant’s eyes to be opened to see the glory and power of God, let’s pray for all of us to have our spiritual eyes opened to see what God will BE in our community and beyond. This physical life has such a hold on us that it is difficult to “let go and let God” be the real cornerstone of our lives. It takes being deliberate, consistent and totally dependent on God to BE what Paul was praying for that church. Could he be praying that for us even now in the presence of Jesus? I don’t know – but I suspect the Holy Spirit is – even if we do not know it right now. Maybe we just need to be more “in tune” with Him?

The perfect benediction is given by Paul in the closing of this prayer:  “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:20 & 21, NIV).

Fruit of the Vine

Sunday – March 18, 2018

Scripture: John 15:1-8

Fruit of the Vine - Logo1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Kudzu was introduced to the United States in 1876 at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Countries were invited to build exhibits to celebrate the 100th birthday of the U.S. The Japanese government constructed a beautiful garden filled with plants from their country. The large leaves and sweet-smelling blooms of kudzu captured the imagination of American gardeners who used the plant for ornamental purposes.

Florida nursery operators, Charles and Lillie Pleas, discovered that animals would eat the plant and promoted its use for forage in the 1920s. Their Glen Arden Nursery in Chipley sold kudzu plants through the mail. A historical marker there proudly proclaims “Kudzu Developed Here.”

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Soil Conservation Service promoted kudzu for erosion control. Hundreds of young men were given work planting kudzu through the Civilian Conservation Corps. Farmers were paid as much as eight dollars an acre as incentive to plant fields of the vines in the 1940s.

The problem is that it just grows too well! The climate of the Southeastern U.S. is perfect for kudzu. The vines grow as much as a foot per day during summer months, climbing trees, power poles, and anything else they contact. Under ideal conditions kudzu vines can grow sixty feet each year. There are all kinds of creeping vine weeds out there, most of which also inhabit my garden. The USDA didn’t declare kudzu to be a weed in 1972! If I was alive before then, I’m sure I could have made that determination without their help. For Jesus the truth of the vine was that yield (fruit) was everything.

            Let’s contrast kudzu with the kind of vine Jesus was likely referring to in John 15. The Food and Agriculture Organization tells us that 75,866 square kilometers (that’s just about 47, 141 square miles) of this green earth is dedicated to growing grapes. I suppose that’s insignificant when you realize the earth contains 57.5 million square miles of land but it’s still a lot of space for grapes. 71% of this space is used for making wine with the top five wine-grape producing countries being Spain, France, Italy, Turkey and the United States. When cared for properly, the vines can live over 100 years and continue to produce grapes during that time. When everything is right, the grapevines will produce a healthy crop of grapes every year. The making of wine was very important throughout biblical times and is referenced repeatedly.

            Our passage in John 15 comes right after Jesus, and the disciples, leave the Last Supper and head towards the Mount of Olives where he will be arrested and handed over to be crucified. On the way to the Garden of Gethsemane, he gets in a few last teachings before he leaves his disciples. Jesus is preparing the disciples to go on without him. His teachings could be summarized like this: I’m the vine and you are the branches. Stay attached to me, the Vine, and you will bear fruit. Leave the Vine and you will wither and die. If you remain in my teachings, I will remain in you, and you will connect with God in a way you can only imagine. And, as you do so, you will bear the fruit that comes from being branch attached to the vine. And when you bear fruit, you will bring glory and honor to the Father who tends the Vine and prunes the branches in order that it might bear fruit.

Hosea 10:1 says, Israel was a spreading vine; he brought forth fruit for himself.” The remainder of the tenth chapter of Hosea talks about how the Israel, God’s vineyard, went astray – eventually leading to her destruction. Jesus brings this out, in Matthew 21:33-46, through the Parable of the Tenants. In this parable, the landowner plants a vineyard and rents it out to some farmers. At harvest, he sends his servants to collect his fruit but they are beaten, killed and stoned. He sends more servants and they get the same treatment. Finally, he sends his own son, assuming they would have more respect for him. They didn’t; they killed him instead. Naturally, the end for those tenants wasn’t going to be kind when the owner came back to deal with them. In verse 43, Jesus says, Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” Verse 45 says, When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them.” This story in Matthew is in the same time frame as the one that appears in John and it’s not a stretch to consider Jesus is referring back to this parable when making his point to his disciples. He is the “true vine” and his Father is the “gardener.”

            What Jesus gives us, in John 15, is an excellent metaphor for the Christian life. God, the farmer, comes along and plants a vineyard. The purpose of the vineyard is to produce grapes. Grapes grow on a branch and that branch grows on the vine. This vine is sunk into the richest and finest soil there every will be and it receives all the life-giving moisture and nutrients it will ever need, in perfect proportion. Branches, however, are not so predictable. Some grow off the vine and produce fruit like crazy; others produce only a little fruit and, some, do not produce fruit at all. So the farmer must tend the vine by pruning and cutting the branches. When he finds a branch not producing at all, He is patient but, eventually, the branch is cut off and left to be used as kindling for the fire. When he comes across branches that are producing a little fruit, he looks to see what can be done to help the branch do better. He prunes the branch so it is clear of hindrances to growing its fruit. His desire is that every branch on the vine bears full and perfect fruit.

We often find those things in our lives which hinder our relationship with God. My garden is excellent for cultivating strong weeds that return year after year. I have a real talent for it. It’s a good thing God isn’t particularly concerned about the weeds in my garden. He is concerned, however, about the weeds in my life – those things which strangle the good things and mess up my relationship with Him.  In your regular prayer time, do you take time to ask God to show you those things in your life that have come between you and Him? Pruning can be a painful thing in our lives and we are most often reluctant to let go of things that have come to be important to us. Yet, we must live with tenderness toward the Spirit of God as, sometimes, even good things in our lives often come between us. Ask God to help you cultivate this tenderness to His heart and offer up everything in your life to Him. Some things will need to be removed and other things will need to be re-prioritized in order for you to bear the spiritual fruit He desires in your life.

In contrast to the branches that are removed from the vine, Jesus offers a promise for remaining in Him: “ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Jesus doesn’t make this statement to offer the fulfillment of our earthly desires, but rather our heavenly desires. He says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you.” God seeks a spiritually intimate relationship with us. When we accept and follow His teachings, we are changed – we bear fruit. God’s heart becomes our heart and God’s will becomes our will. When we ask our wishes of God, we will find that we are asking for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). We will move in step with God (Galatians 5:25). God will give us the desires of our hearts (Psalm 37:4).

This Lenten season we’ve been talking about the Great Co-Mission as we discover what it means to be The Church on a mission for Jesus. We explored that Great Commission in the first week, the two Greatest Commandments (love God and love your fellow Man) in the second week, how Jesus has overcome the World on our behalf in week 3, and God’s desire that we be a Praying Church in Week 4. This week we’ve discovered Jesus’ desire that we bear fruit for the glory of the Father. What does he mean by bearing fruit? Paul says in Galatians 5:22-25: 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” We find more fruitful characteristics in other passages with one of the most important being the good works we do in serving God by loving and serving those around us.

When we walk in the ways of the Jesus, believing in Him, we will bear fruit that glorifies the Father and proves that we are disciples of Jesus. This is what Jesus tells us in verse 8. In my life, others can see how the power of the blood of Jesus has overcome my selfishness and pride. They can see a life changed by Him and they can thirst for the same waters I drink from the True Vine. In Matthew 5:16 Jesus says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” In just a few verses, in John 15:16, Jesus says, You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.”

This is something the Church is meant to facilitate. The Christian life is one that is attached to the True Vine and is pruned by the Father. Our relationship with God is vital and we must be fully committed to Him in order to bear the fruit He desires us to bear. I am a Christian, rooted and Jesus and pruned by the Father. He is at work reprioritizing my life and removing all that which hinders my relationship with Him.

A friend and fellow Wesleyan pastor said it like this: Hindrances – These are those things that the Bible doesn’t necessarily call sin, but that can get in the way. Let me give you an example: It’s not illegal to run the 100-yard dash wearing snow-mobile suit and snow boots. But you’re not going to win. In fact, you’ll probably pass out half-way into the race. So you actually wear clothes that are conducive to running the race well. In the context of what we’re talking about here, these hindrances are anything that might get in the way of you living for Christ fully. It might be a relationship, it might be what you allow into your life in terms of entertainment, it might be the scramble for money, it might be any number of things. But you know that you can probably live for Christ better without these things. And the counsel from Scripture is to get rid of them for the sake of running well.

Do you have any non-negotiables in your life? Those parts that when God points to it and says it’s in the way, you will refuse to remove it? What hinders your relationship with God? Go deeper. Go further. Go and bear fruit for God. Let nothing stand in the way of you growing the way God wants you to grow.

A Dwelling for the Holy Spirit

Saturday – March 17, 2018

Scripture: Ephesians 2:19 – 22

27“And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

Ephesians 2:22

This fascinating scripture should be of great interest to all of us. By “us” I mean both Jews and Gentiles. By the way, that takes in everyone on this planet. More specifically, though, verses 11 through 22, in Ephesians 2, are speaking about believers, both Jews and Gentiles, as being reconciled together by God through Christ Jesus and His death on the cross. “His purpose was to create in himself one humanity out of the two . . .” by reconciling both to God through the cross. This, basically, is the background for the specific verses we will address in this devotional.

The “purpose”, specifically mentioned, is the reason for the cross, which was, to reconcile all of humanity to God by “by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations” (verse 15a). It is the “one humanity” that is the focus of our specific verses for today (19 – 22). This “one humanity” made up of former Jews and Gentiles who are now believers and make up what Paul refers to as ”his household”, a “building”, and a “holy temple.” All of these are references to the one-ness of Gentile believers now joined with those of what were before known as Jews but now again as believers truly being God’s people of the original promises made by Him to the Israelites. Gentile believers are now also made heirs of the promises of God. They have become God’s people and one with those former and now new members of God’s people. We call them Christians.

What really kind of “blows my mind” though is found in verse 22, our focus: “And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” A short history lesson is needed here to put things into perspective. Remember Acts 2 and Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came to each individual believer in the upper room? That is an indication of the presence of the Holy Spirit within each believer. According to other scripture given by Jesus Himself, the Holy Spirit becomes the seal and guarantor of redemption in Christ. According to Paul, we too, “are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (verse 22). I “dwelt” on that for a while and decided what it means. But, before I get into that, I need to say we have a tendency to think of the Holy Spirit mostly in terms of indwelling individual believers, and He does. However, Paul shares something else as being what the Spirit indwells. Now here is where I pick up my earlier thought, Paul says, “We are built together to become A dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (verse 22), emphasis mine. He is talking about the “together dwelling place” and not about individual believers. The “together” people of God, believers – the Church – the body of Christ, however you want to characterize it, is where “God lives by his Spirit.” Thus, not only does the Spirit indwell individual believers but He also dwells the entire Church. I think we could say not only “One Lord, One faith, One baptism,” but could add, “One Spirit.” The point is, God (as Spirit) lives in the whole body of believers. So, literally, we, in Him – live, and move, and have our being – because He is in us to be our guiding Spirit, or Enabler, to help us do the work He desires for us to do in His name and through his power.

Our purpose or reason, then, is to be the vessel – and part of the larger vessel (church) in which the Spirit dwells. When we gather together for worship or even as a group, as believers, we are the dwelling place for the Spirit and we are constantly together, as well as individually, “becoming” more and more His dwelling. Paul also spoke of the actual physical body of the believer as being a temple. The church together is also God’s temple – not the physical building but the invisible building inhabited by the Spirit in us and among us. When the church acts in “concert” – that is, all together, it is most effective as God’s tool for reaching a lost world and for empowering individual believers to the specific work He wants them to do. This, then, is at least part of the task of the indwelt Church for then we are responding together to the challenges/tasks set before us. When scripture speaks of one putting 1,000 to flight but two putting 10,000 to flight, it is referencing this Spirit-indwelt togetherness and its greater power to accomplish what needs to be done.

To Be Filled by Jesus

Friday – March 16, 2018

Scripture: Ephesians 1:22 – 23

26“…the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”

Ephesians 1:23

Whew! This portion is right at the end of Paul writing about thanksgiving and prayer. What amazing things he has to say in verses 15 through 23! He starts out with the words “For this reason…) and continues to share that he has heard about the faith of the Ephesian believers and their love for all God’s people.  He bursts out with some remarkable phrases about thanksgiving and prayers. Phrases like: “I have not stopped giving thanks for you…” and “remembering you in my prayers.” He is really impressed by this church. So what does he pray? Things like “I keep asking. . .that (God) may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” And, “I pray that. . .the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,  and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” All of this is the basis for the last sentence of the chapter.

All that Paul has said to the church at Ephesus to this point is wrapped up in verses 22 and 23. The power that God invoked to raise Jesus from the dead is available to the Church. Here, again, are the words of our scripture for this devotional: “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (verses 22 and 23).  Notice that after God exerted the power to raise Jesus from the dead he then made Jesus the head over everything for the church. The church, of course, is the body of Christ. It is the visual expression of Him in the world. If I read this correctly the Church “is the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. The Life Application Bible puts this matter of the fullness of Christ like this: “The church should be the full expression of Christ, who himself fills everything.”

Jesus Christ came not only to establish the Church as His body/presence in this world but also as the very expression of God in the world. Thus, His reason for establishing the Church was to share His presence through the Church and through the Holy Spirit who is the fullness of Jesus in the Church and all this is for the glory of God. We, the church, are to BE the expression of God’s power and love to the world. That works as long as we recognize who is really the power for the church. Could we say, the power on behalf of the Church?

Carrying Burdens for Each Other

Thursday – March 15, 2018

Scripture: Galatians 6:1 – 2

25Share each other’s troubles and problems, and so obey our Lord’s command. (TLB)

Galatians 6:2

One of the best things about being part of a body of believers is the privilege we have to come alongside our brothers and sisters in their time of need. This includes spiritual needs, financial needs, and relational needs – anything that is a normal part of life in this beautiful, wonderful (yet so very broken) world that we inhabit. As we spend time with each other, we begin to see and feel what is going on with them, areas in which some good advice may be needed or sought.. We begin to love them as ourselves and we win the right to really care for them as God cares for us. Then, when we pray for them, the Holy Spirit hears and counsels us on the ways in which we can “be Jesus” to them. Because they know we care, they will be more likely to accept our attempt to help. Prayer is one of our best tools to help each other, and then making/working a plan to help comes next. If all is out in the open that may be all we need to do – to be God’s extension, so to speak. Our scripture for today reminds us that bearing one another’s burdens in this way fulfills the Lord’s command.

If our “brother’s” needs are kept hidden, though, it may not be as easy to bear their burdens – in these times, it helps to search our own hearts and lives and ask Jesus to point out ways in which we may be able to relate and so to discern their unspoken cries and burdens. For instance, one day I was able to see that I am likely not the only one I know who sometimes suffers from anxiety and panic, even as a seasoned child of God. It is not something we like to admit or even talk about because it infers lack of trust on our part. Truthfully, it is usually a hormonal or purely physical reaction and bears no connection to reality. It is hard for others to understand this, so we usually suffer in silence, when actually a good talk and a sharing friend could help greatly to lessen our problems. At that moment I was led to pray, “Father God, let me see behind the masks we often wear, so that I can be a friend and encourager…help me not to waste this experience I have that many do not really understand.” Since then, I have tried to remember that everyone I meet has a story, told or untold. I want to lift a prayer and give an encouraging word to all, so that their burdens may be lightened, and I want to do it in Jesus’ name. That’s what he does for me, and I am trying hard not to be too preoccupied to pass it on!

Free to Serve in Love

Wednesday – March 14, 2018

Scripture: Galatians 5:13 – 15

24.png“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”

Galatians 5:13

Paul presents an admonition in these three verses at the tail end of his discussion on what Christian freedom is all about. He is apparently concerned about some things he has been hearing about what is happening in their fellowship so he calls them out on it and gives some stiff warnings. He has some very strong feelings about the issue of circumcision in particular and certainly shares them well with the Galatians. It is apparent that someone was teaching that Paul was in favor of circumcision. I love his statement in verse 2, “Mark my words!” He then gives it straight to them just where he stands on this important issue for the church. Basically, he tells them that if they allow themselves to be circumcised as a necessary step in being saved then they will lose their standing in Christ Jesus. In essence, he is telling them that this smacks of salvation by works (keeping the law) whereas salvation is by grace. Look at Ephesians 2: 8 and 9 for a “faith bite” (sort of like a “sound bite”) of just what is true: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” These are more of those “must know” verses in the Bible. Paul is making it clear that Jesus came to show us that grace is the only way we can come into God’s presence and that only through Jesus. He made a way to God. We cannot make a way to God by ourselves.

Go back to verse 6 in this chapter of Galatians (chapter 5) and we find a preliminary statement of our focus verse (verse 13). The last part of verse 6 says: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Now, hook that up with verse 13: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” Circumcision, or even uncircumcision, has no value (in gaining our salvation), only faith which expresses itself through love, counts. Faith is not expressed in actions only but in actions stirred up by love. Actions seen only as a means of salvation mean nothing. Actions expressing God’s love backed up by a life recognizing God’s grace are real expressions of real love. Paul even shares the summation of the Law in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love allows us to act on someone’s behalf and grace allows us the freedom to serve others rather than our sinful nature.

We know we are truly free in Christ when we of our own free will choose to express love toward others in how we serve them. This is done because we truly want to do it in response for all God in Jesus Christ has done for us and our redemption. The chorus to “I Am Loved” as sung by the Gaither Vocal Band shares this truth for us. The whole gospel chorus is of value but space prevents us from sharing all of that. Here, then, are the lyrics to the chorus:

I am loved, I am loved, I can risk loving you
For the One who knows me best Loves me most.
I am loved, you are loved Won’t you please take my hand;
We are free to love each other – We are loved.