Thursday, July 18, 2013

More than many sparrows

Sunday morning this week, I came out of the service to see a small bird that had probably died by flying into the window. I knew that all the young boys in our church would likely be out there messing with it, so I scooped it up in a plastic cup and threw it in the dumpster. I honestly didn't give it a second thought. But on the way in to work this morning, as I was listening to a teaching on James 1:9-11, the speaker made reference to this old gospel song "His Eye is on the Sparrow".

The lyrics are difficult to understand at times, so here they are:

It is so easy to lose sight of the Father's love and glorious riches we have Jesus Christ when we are in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Matthew 10:29-31 Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s consent. 30 But even the hairs of your head have all been counted. 31 So don’t be afraid therefore; you are worth more than many sparrows.

That little bird that I just tossed in with the garbage, even its life was in the hands of the Father. How much more are His children purchased by the blood of His Son! Whatever you face today, remember this song, and remember this great truth: "You are worth more than many sparrows."

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Unfailing Love

35 Who can separate us from the love of Christ?
Can affliction or anguish or persecution
or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
36 As it is written:
Because of You
we are being put to death all day long;
we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.
37 No, in all these things we are more than victorious
through Him who loved us.
38 For I am persuaded that not even death or life,
angels or rulers,
things present or things to come, hostile powers,
39 height or depth, or any other created thing
will have the power to separate us
from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!
Romans 8:35-39

We were created to love and to be loved. There's a lot the Bible has to say about love, not the least of which is "God is love" (1 John 4:8). As ones created in God's image, we need to be able to give love and receive love in order to be emotionally, and sometimes even physically, healthy. This can take many forms, such as a marriage, a parent-child relationship, siblings, friends. But there are many opportunities for love beyond those types of reciprocal relationships. Loving those who cannot or will not love you in return is a big part of what it means to be disciple of Jesus.

Matthew 5:44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you

We see this modeled in Christ (Romans 5:8), and one of the beautiful outcomes of such a love is what Paul stresses here in these few verses of chapter 8. Because the love Jesus has for us is completely not dependent upon us, there is absolutely nothing we can do to separate ourselves from that love. What an amazing promise!

What would it look like if we loved each other like that? Paul gives us a picture of what this kind of love looks like in 1 Corinthians 13. I wrote a series on this recently

Do you love even when you don't feel loved? For those you say you love, does it look like 1 Corinthians 13? I know that is a high standard. In fact, it is impossible to do in your own strength. But with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26)

Thursday, July 11, 2013


One careless word, intention skewed
One hapless touch of unknown pain
One action viewed through darkened glass
And rainbows shatter beneath the strain

Dark thoughts unfurl in chaotic fury
Distorted dogma demands debate
Unfettered torments from shadows surge
Released reproach recriminates

Contrition birthed through labored breath
Flooded windows washed unstained
Embattled scars embrace forgiven
While consequential wounds remain

One soldier's cause and martyr's mission
One battered brow and crimson face
One prize secured and now dispensed
This path's prevention, a dose of grace

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Wisdom and Folly

3 [Wisdom] has sent out her female servants;
she calls out from the highest points of the city:
4 “Whoever is inexperienced, enter here!”

14 [Folly] sits by the doorway of her house,
on a seat at the highest point of the city,
15 calling to those who pass by,
who go straight ahead on their paths:
16 “Whoever is inexperienced, enter here!”
Proverbs 9:3-4, 14-16 (emphasis mine)

How hard it is sometimes to discern between the path of wisdom and the path of folly! They both call for our attention and seek to guide us a certain way. They are not the same path, but they can look very similar. So which one is right? If we are foolish, the path we choose still seems right to us (Proverbs 12:15). How do we discern between the two?

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
Proverbs 9:10

We must know God and His Word if we are to find the path of wisdom. Recognizing this need for Him and His instruction is itself the beginning of wisdom, and to know God is to have understanding. We must also not forget the direct approach:

James 1:5 Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him.

God is the only source of wisdom, so if you need it, ask for it. It's hard to remember to do this, but I try to ask God for wisdom every day, along with at least one fruit of the Spirit based on my circumstances of the time (right now it is joy that I am asking for). Even so, this exhortation from James is in the middle of his thoughts about proper responses to the trials we face. It is a rare and beautiful gift to be able to understand why you are going through the hardships you face as well as how they will be used by God to conform you to Christ-likeness.

I think, or at least I would hope, that given the same choice as Solomon (2 Chronicles 1:7,10) I would also choose wisdom. I hope you would, too.

7 Wisdom is supreme—so get wisdom.
And whatever else you get, get understanding.
Proverbs 4:7

Monday, July 8, 2013

Wait for the Lord

Isaiah 40:29-31

29 He gives strength to the weary
and strengthens the powerless.
30 Youths may faint and grow weary,
and young men stumble and fall,
31 but those who trust in the Lord
will renew their strength;
they will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary;
they will walk and not faint.

Reclaim me from the depths, O Lord
From the pit of despair, rescue my soul

Weak and pitiful is my body
My own strength cannot save me
My force of will is a child's fist against a mighty wall
My resolve, a tiny stone in a hurricane

Anchor me, O Lord, in the harbor of Your faithfulness
When the storm rages, cover me with Your right hand
And let me not be afraid

- October 29th, 2008

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Study in Ephesians: Part 14, Ephesians 3:1-13

Ephesians 3:1 For this reason, I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—

More transitions words from Paul here, indicating some significant dependence on his preceding statements. He is about to share something in light of what he previously shared. What he specifically has in mind here as the reason for what he is about to share can be seen in the latter half of the verse,  "the prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles". At the end of chapter 2, Paul is focusing in on how the mystery of God's plan to bring glory to Himself includes bring Gentiles to salvation as well as Jews, creating for Himself a single body of believers from two disparate groups. So, as a culmination of that idea, "For this reason", he continues...

Ephesians 3:2-4 you have heard, haven’t you, about the administration of God’s grace that He gave to me for you? 3 The mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have briefly written above. 4 By reading this you are able to understand my insight about the mystery of the Messiah.

... except that he doesn't. Seeing the chapter as a whole, we see that the "for this reason" continuation is not picked up until verse 14. Here, Paul takes a moment for a parenthetical digression. You can almost hear the wonder in his voice. It's like he was writing "on behalf of you Gentiles" and just stopped for a moment. It's hard for us to fathom how incredible it was to the Jews that their Jewish Messiah was a Messiah for the Gentiles as well. If he was having a conversation about this with someone, he might have said, "Do you realize what I just said there? This is incredible! Jesus is the Messiah not just for the Jews, but for the Gentiles as well!"

In fact, that's essentially the tone that I see here in verse 2. "You have heard, haven't you, ..." This is a big deal, and despite the lack of the instant press of our Internet days, Paul expects this news to have gotten around and seems like he would have been surprised if they hadn't heard. This is similar to Isaiah 40:28 that I wrote about yesterday. "Do you not know? Have you not heard?" There's an incredulity in both writers' words, even more so in Isaiah, as if to say that the writer finds it hard to believe that anyone could not know what he is sharing. I don't think that Paul meant to belittle those who may in fact not have heard. The mystery has been revealed! Jesus is the Messiah for both the Jews and the Gentiles! Like a child on his birthday who receives an amazing gift, Paul is excited about sharing this revelation with all who will listen.

I want to finish out here focused on "the administration of God's grace that He gave to me for you". I was really struck by this phrase, especially the parallel we find in spiritual gifts. Paul had a special mission and a special message for a specific group of people. He was not content to simply glory in his own experience of the gift or mystery. It was one that demanded to be shared, and Paul eagerly complied.

I see spiritual gifts in the same light. God gives each of us a measure of Himself, whether mercy, wisdom, teaching, or shepherding, for the express purpose of building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12, 1 Corinthians 12:7-11). As a disciple of Jesus, the Holy Spirit has given you specific gifts to be used to build up your local church body. That is part of your mission in life, and this mission cannot be accomplished on your own. You must be actively involved in a local church body to use your gifts. You yourself have a special "insight about the mystery of the Messiah" through how He has revealed Himself in your gift mix. 

Part of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus is to be actively involved in a local church body. Just like a physical body with a non-functioning organ, if you don't play your part and do the work God has given you, then that local body is not as healthy as it could be. 

For we are His creation,
created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared ahead of time
so that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:10

Monday, July 1, 2013

You are not alone

27 Jacob, why do you say,
and Israel, why do you assert:
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my claim is ignored by my God”?
28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Yahweh is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the whole earth.
He never grows faint or weary;
there is no limit to His understanding.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and strengthens the powerless.
30 Youths may faint and grow weary,
and young men stumble and fall,
31 but those who trust in the Lord
will renew their strength;
they will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary;
they will walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:27-31

Do you feel alone? Do you feel like not even God understands what you are going through? Haven't you heard? Yahweh is the everlasting God, the Creator of the whole earth! He never grows faint or weary; there is no limit to His understanding! God never grows tired of being God, of being the One in control of everything. And He always understands everything and everyone to the utmost. There is nothing that you face that is beyond His power or His understanding. He is the Creator of all things, and as a disciple of Jesus Christ, He is also your Father in heaven.

Are you tired of bearing the burden you carry? He gives strength to the weary. Do you feel helpless to change the circumstances you face? He strengthens the powerless. Even the strongest among us faint and grow weary at times, and even the most committed stumble and fall. But you, trust in the Lord, and He will renew you strength. Trust in the Lord, and you will soar on wings like eagles. Trust in the Lord, and you will run this race of being a disciple with endurance, not growing weary or faint.

Cast your burden on the Lord,
and He will sustain you;
He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.
Psalm 55:22

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Study in Ephesians: Part 13, Ephesians 2:11-21

11 So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh—called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands. 12 At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah.

The connecting word translated "So then" tells us that Paul is continuing his line of reasoning here, and as we will see, expanding it further. In understanding how glorious God is and how awful we once were, and in recognition of the reconciliation we have in Jesus, Paul turns his attention to what was likely a source of contention in many of the early churches: the relationship between new Gentile converts and the Jewish believers. Were they really one family in Jesus Christ now? What about the Law?

Paul first addresses what was likely a common attitude among Gentile believers: that the Jewish faith up to that point was of no value and pointless. The Gentiles had the grace of God, and they likely looked at the Law with disdain. Paul counters this attitude with a three-fold demonstration that prior to Jesus Christ, the Gentiles were completely "without hope and without God in the world." They were once:
  • Without the Messiah
  • Excluded from the citizenship of Israel
  • Foreigners to the covenants of the promise
The Gentiles had no notion of who God was before Jesus Christ, and they had no benefit from being under covenant with God. Even more, they were "without the Messiah." This is not saying that they did not have Jesus before they had Jesus. This is saying they had no hope of Jesus before they had Jesus. The Jewish converts understood that Jesus was the fulfillment of thousands of years of God's promises. They too were without the Messiah in the sense that He had not come yet, but they had the hope of Messiah in the promises of God. The Gentiles did not even have this, and as such were once "far away" from God.

14 For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, 15 He made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace.

Paul is stressing unity here, stating that Jesus is "our" peace, and that by His blood He made "both groups one." What is interesting here is that Paul identifies the very thing that brought the Jews near to God as the source of the hostility between Jews and Gentiles: the Law. The Jews saw the Law as Israel's avenue of attaining peace between themselves and God, and Paul tells us here and elsewhere (v. 17, Romans 7:1-12) that Law cannot produce peace with God, but only knowledge of sin. By the blood of Messiah, God united in peace a singular people for Himself from the two groups, Jews and Gentiles.

16 He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it. 17 When the Messiah came, He proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.

God's plan was always to save both Jews and Gentiles into "one body". Messiah, then, was a message of peace both to the Gentiles who were "far away" and to the Jews who were "near" in the sense that they had previous knowledge of God through His commands and covenants. But Christ did what the Law could not do, granting us "both", Jew and Gentile, access to the Father by the Holy Spirit.

19 So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. 21 The whole building, being put together by Him, grows into a holy sanctuary in the Lord. 22 You also are being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.

Rather than being pointless, but certainly not still in effect, the Law, along with the teachings of the Apostles, is the part of the foundation of the household of God. Jesus is what aligns the two as the cornerstone of the building. Both Jew and Gentile are "being put together by" Jesus as a "holy sanctuary in the Lord." Unity is the goal, to the glory of God.

Coming into this section, Paul was stressing how believers were destined to be trophies of God's grace. In this section, Paul tells the churches in and around Ephesus that this grace is not meant to divide us but unite us as believers. It's a constant battle as followers of Jesus Christ, what Alistair Begg refers to as legalism vs. license. We must not impose restrictions where God grants freedom, and we cannot claim liberty where God sets limitations. We, along with our brothers and sisters in Christ, are "being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit." Every day you have an opportunity to live in unity with one another. 

Colossians 3:12-14 Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, 13 accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. 14 Above all, put on love—the perfect bond of unity.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Love: The More Excellent Way, Part 7

7 [Love] bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends.  1 Corinthians 13:7-8

There is a lot in these five statements, but I want to focus in on just a couple, so I'll address them a bit out of order.

Love believes all things. The word for "believes" is the same word that is used for faith in the New Testament over 200 times. True love for someone has faith in that person regardless of how many times they mess up. The world may tell you that someone is not worth it, that if you continue to believe in someone who always lets you down, you are a fool. But the love of Christ to that person through you says to always have faith in them. How many times have you sinned against God? How many times has He forgiven you?

Love hopes all things. Not only does Christ-like love always have faith in someone, it has a confident expectation that what that person says he or she will do will actually come to pass. This is easy to do with God, but what about fallible human beings, especially the ones who continue to let you down? Don't give up expecting great things from them and for them. Few things can encourage  downtrodden souls to greatness like the high expectations of those who love them.

Love bears all things and endures all things. These two were very interesting to me. The Greek words used here for 'bears' and 'endures' basically mean the same thing - to persevere in the face of hardships. But while the second one seems to be just a general word for enduring trials, the first conveys an interesting word picture of enduring trials on behalf of another. The HELPS word study says that this word literally means to cover over like a roof, or figuratively means to endure because of a shield. What I think Paul is getting at here is that love endures all things both for someone and from someone.

I heard a story recently of a married guy who was caught in some sexual sin outside of his marriage. The details are not important, but it was bad enough that even the unbelieving world still finds his actions unacceptable, though just barely. His wife chose to stand by him because of her love for him. God eventually healed him, and now he is able to share his story with other guys and encourage them that there is hope and redemption in Jesus. During the immediate fallout from his sin being discovered, his wife not only had to deal with the pain of what he did to her, she also had to endure many hateful words and attitudes from those around her because she chose to stay. Just like a shield protects the one who bears it from harm, she protected her husband from the additional pain of her leaving by enduring the attacks of those around her. That's the kind of love Paul is talking about here. That's the love of Christ.

Sometimes those you love hurt you directly, and you endure hardship from them. Sometimes those you love are under attack, maybe because of something they did or maybe for no reason at all, and you endure hardship for them in order to stand with them. Either way, this kind of love will cost you something. Will you persevere?

Love never ends. How many times do we hear the phrase "Well, I just don't love him/her any more" ? Our culture's idea of what love means is so messed up. Like many have said before, love is a choice of will, not a helpless response. Love is not something you fall in to or out of, and it is certainly not a feeling. The one thing you should know about what Paul has to say about love in these few verses is that this kind of love is only achievable by the power of the Holy Spirit. When you love someone like Paul describes here, you are loving that person with the love of Christ. The reason that real, true love never ends is that it does not find its source in finite, fallible human beings. Real love never ends because real love comes only from God.

I hope you have a little better understanding of what it really means to love someone with the same love that God gives to you. There is nothing in you worthy of the love of God. He chose to love you in spite of you. If you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, that is the standard of love He has called you to.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Love: The More Excellent Way, Part 6

Love finds no joy in unrighteousness
but rejoices in the truth. 1 Corinthians 13:6

I found this particular phrase set interesting. Paul is shifting back from the negative statements to the positive ones. These two characteristics are the only two that are directly compared via opposition to one another. If you were asked to finish the sentence "Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in ...", what word would you choose? Righteousness, or perhaps obedience? Maybe faithfulness? On the surface, "truth" doesn't seem to fit here, and that should make us take notice.

When I think of the word "truth" in relation to the Bible, pretty much the first verse that comes to mind is John 8:32: "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." But this verse is even more compelling in the context, and it helps to explain Paul's interesting choice of truth as an opposition to unrighteousness. 

John 8 (ESV)
31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Jesus says in verse 32 that you will know the truth by abiding in His word (i.e. studying and obeying His commands) in verse 31. He then explains what that freedom is from in verse 34: freedom from being slaves to sin. The key to escaping slavery to unrighteousness is to know the Truth that is Jesus.

It never ceases to amaze me that there are people who consider telling someone the truth about what they are doing or how they are living as being unloving or not compassionate towards that person. There are certainly many factors to consider to deliver such a message with gentleness, but without truth, such "loving" words are just useless fluff with no substance. Don't just treat the chaffing of the shackles against their skin. Set them free from bondage with truth!

Love rejoices in the truth because it is truth that sets us free from unrighteousness. One of my other favorite verses about truth is Jesus's statement to Pilate in John 18:37: "I was born for this, and I have come into the world for this: to testify to the truth." Do you want to show love to your brothers and sisters? Do you want to be more Christ-like? You must rejoice in and testify to truth.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Love: The More Excellent Way, Part 5

[Love] is not selfish, is not provoked,
and does not keep a record of wrongs. 1 Corinthians 13:5

These three elements that love does not display are very closely related. First, love is not selfish, or as the ESV puts it, love does not insist on its own way. This is so hard for so many people. I have experienced it from time to time myself, though it is not something that I struggle with. I have been married for nearly 12 years now, and not insisting on my own way has been one of the many ways I have shown love to my wife. She likes things done a certain way in the house. For instance, cabinet doors must be closed when not in use. I had a habit of leaving them open, not because I wanted to per se, but that was just how I did it. When I found out she had a preference on that, I sought to change my behavior for her. Now,  the cabinet doors stay closed. Incidentally, my 17 month old has picked up on this habit, and whenever he sees a door or drawer open that is normally closed, he will close it. It's especially funny when I am in the pantry and he comes up and shuts the door behind me!

It is important to understand here that not insisting on your own way doesn't mean you never have an opinion. It also doesn't mean that you don't insist on the best way, if a "best" can be quantified in any given scenario. Think about this: God is love (1 John 4:8), and to love God is to obey Him (1 John 5:3), or do things the way He insists. So how do we reconcile those two ideas? Well, for one, things that apply to us do not always apply to God, and vice versa. God is quite literally in a class by Himself. Two, God's way is always the best way. This absolutely cannot be said of us. When it is just your own preference, it can be an act of love to surrender that desire to someone else's preference. But when it is the way that God has established, acting in love may very well mean insisting that it be done the best way, God's way.

If something doesn't go your way, how do you respond? Are you provoked to anger? This is a dangerous place to be. Anger and bitterness are so detrimental to every area of your life. They are a spiritual cancer that will eat away at you the longer you hold on to them. Consider the words of James:

James 1:19-21 My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, 20 for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and evil, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save you.

Anger often leads to bitterness, and the most dangerous thing about bitterness is how easily it hides itself. Its effects are subtle and yet pervasive, and it can ignite the fires of anger and rage at a moment's notice. Many years ago I had asked a friend and mentor to come to my wedding. He had moved about 9 hours away after some really difficult times in his life. He didn't give me much explanation, but he responded to my email to simply say that he wasn't going to come. I was angry and hurt, but because he was so far away, I put it out of my mind without dealing with it. Nearly a year later, he sent out an email to several people to let them know that he was on the road to recovery from his past difficulties. Rather than being able to rejoice with him, I responded in anger. I honestly don't remember what I said, but it was so terrible that it scared me straight. Within a couple of days, I confessed my sin to God, gave my hurt to Him, forgave my friend, and sought his forgiveness for how I responded.

When you are bitter, when you keep a record of the wrongs people have committed against you, that's all you can see when you look at them. No matter what they say or do, you see their actions through the darkened lens of your bitterness. Even words of encouragement from them can be twisted to be painful barbs. It is important to remember that while the initial offense is the responsibility of the offender, your response is all on you. Every time you respond in anger and bitterness, you multiply your sin against that person.

Are you selfish, always insisting on your own way? The answer is humility.
Philippians 2:3-4 Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. 4 Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

Are you easily provoked to anger? The answer is grace.
Hebrews 12:14-15 ESV Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled

Do you keep a record book of all the wrongs someone commits against you? The answer is forgiveness.
Colossians 3:12-13 ESV Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

Selfishness, anger, and bitterness, or humility, grace, and forgiveness. One is the path of spiritual poison, the other the path of spiritual peace. Which one do you want?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Love: The More Excellent Way, Part 4

 [Love] is not conceited, 5 does not act improperly (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)

In the context of 1 Corinthians 12, love not being "conceited" reveals an interesting danger in being a disciple of Jesus. In 2 Peter 1:5-8, Peter shows us a logical progression of Christ-like maturity. It starts with faith, which begins to change your behavior and results in goodness. The end goal seen in verse 8 is love, but to get there, you need knowledge:

faith > goodness > knowledge > self-control > endurance > godliness > brotherly affection > love

It makes sense. Psalm 119:11 says you have to know God's Word to not sin against Him. To become like Christ, you must know what character qualities He exhibited and desires to see in us. But what do you do with that knowledge?

1 Corinthians 8:1b Knowledge inflates with pride, but love builds up.

There was a time in my life when I had a very conceited attitude towards those who did not want to know the deeper things of God, to study what the Word says about Him just for the sake of having the knowledge. In my own intellectual superiority, I made people feel stupid for not knowing what I felt like they ought to know. In my knowledge, I was inflated with pride, because in my knowledge I had become stagnant in the journey to Christ-likeness. I needed to seek to add to my knowledge self-control by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The word translated "act improperly" is the same word used in 1 Corinthians 7:36. Here it describes the hypothetical situation of a man who cannot control his desire for his bride to be. Paul tells them to get married so that they may fulfill that desire properly, as God intended. To say that love "does not act improperly" means that it does not take for itself physical pleasures to which it is not entitled. How many times do we see and hear, and sometimes even participate in, the attitude of "well, we love each other, so we're going to do what we want" ? To love God is to obey God (1 John 5:3), and God says to "run from sexual immorality" (1 Corinthians 6:18). It is the fruit of self-control, the next step after knowledge according to Peter.

At the end of chapter 13, Paul says that all the spiritual gifts he listed earlier will one day pass away. Even in the "remaining" or "abiding" of faith, hope, and love, love is the greatest because only love is eternal. God has no faith in Himself. Faith is assurance of things hoped for but not yet attained, evidence of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1). God does not hope for that which has been promised but not yet delivered. We ourselves will not need hope once we see "face to face", and we will not need faith once we "know fully" (1 Cor 13:12). But God is and will always be love, and we will know that love fully for all eternity.

Do not arrogantly elevate yourself in your partial knowledge of God, and do not seek to take for yourself pleasures that have not been given to you. Add to your knowledge self-control, and to your self-control endurance, godliness, brotherly affection, and ultimately love. This is the path to which you have been called. It is the journey of a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Love: The More Excellent Way, Part 3

... love does not envy or boast, ...  (1 Corinthians 13:4 ESV)

This is an interesting pair of words here. Paul starts down a path of eight qualities that love does not possess, emphasizing the positive by highlighting the absence of the negative. Envy and boasting are referring to the same thing from two different perspectives. Envy desires what others have that it does not. Boasting exalts what it has that others do not. This can easily be applied to many broad-sweeping areas of our lives, but I would like to focus on the specific context that Paul was addressing when he wrote this.

1 Corinthians 12:14-15,21 So the body is not one part but many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I’m not a hand, I don’t belong to the body,” in spite of this it still belongs to the body. ... 21 So the eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” Or again, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”

Rather than using their gifts to build each other up (Eph 4:12, 1 Cor 14:4), the Corinthians were dividing and being divided over them. You can see that throughout most of chapter 12. Some with "lesser" gifts were debasing themselves to the point of saying they weren't worth being part of the body. Others with more "desirable" gifts were elevating themselves to the extreme, saying that they could be just as effective in ministry, if not more so, without the rest of the body weighing them down. 

God is the giver of spiritual gifts, and He gives them perfectly. One way that I look at spiritual gifts is God manifesting Himself in different ways through finite beings. No one finite person can fully express the character of an infinite God. All of the gifts He gives need to be present in a church body and being used for that church to reach its fullest potential. From the person putting rolls of toilet paper in the stalls to the one preaching the message on Sunday morning, no one should think that they are not needed, and no can claim that they don't need anyone. A body only functions at its fullest when all of its members are functioning at their fullest.

If you are a member of a church and are not serving in or through that church, that's a problem. Your church is not as healthy as it could be. Don't envy those who are in the spotlight or who have what you think are "better" gifts. Ask your church leadership to help you identify your spiritual gifts and then use them to their fullest potential. God wants to display His glory through you in a unique way. Go, use your gifts for His kingdom, and do so with love.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Love: The More Excellent Way, Part 2

Love is patient and kind ... (1 Corinthians 13:4 ESV)

Thursday night was the end of a couple of really trying days in my household. My wife was very ill, and I stayed home from work to take care of my son while she rested. He is extremely particular about many things, especially his daily routine. One of the things he insists on is that milk goes in a bottle, not a sippy. Sippy's are for water. He'll even drink the milk from a regular plastic straw as long as it is in a bottle. Crazy kid. :)

We've been trying to get him to drink his milk from a sippy off and on for a little while now. We even got a different color one so that he could understand that red is for water and yellow is for milk. I decided to try again Thursday with his normal bottle after nap. He didn't want it, so no big deal, I put it in the fridge for later. Come bed time, which is usually about quarter-past-cranky, I just grabbed the milk sippy from the fridge and tried to get him to take that again, not even really thinking about it. He refused again and got really upset. I knew that he was just being stubborn, so I thought I could patiently work through it with him. I was wrong.

At one point, my wife brought me a bottle and insisted that I use that instead. She told me, "He has a routine at bedtime, and you need to follow it. Right now you are just being mean." Even then, it was more than he could handle. He was in full volume, full tilt meltdown mode. I had to put him in his bed and let him calm down for a few minutes before he would even take his bottle. My wife and I talked it over a bit afterwards, and she was very gracious towards me.

The next morning, I was listening to Alistair Begg like I always do, and he was at his point in the series where he addressed 1 Corinthians 13:4. I felt awful. I knew in that moment that not only were my actions wrong, they were unloving towards my son because they were unkind.

There's a fine line between patience and stubbornness, and I believe the key to identifying where that line is in any given situation is kindness. Somewhere along the way, I stopped being patient with my son's bad behavior and started insisting on my own way. At that point, I was the one being stubborn who needed to relent, though I couldn't see it.

The next day, when I got home from work, my beautiful boy came sprinting down the hallway with the biggest grin on his face. Daddy was home! And though I knew at 17 months he had no way of really understanding what I was saying, I took him into his room, sat him on my knee, and apologized for being so unkind towards him. It is something my wife and I intend to model for him throughout his childhood. We want him to understand that there is only one perfectly loving Father, that his Mama and Daddy are just as imperfect and sinful as he is. By God's grace, he will see those mistakes and learn as much from them as we do, just from a different perspective.

Identifying a lack of patience is generally pretty easy for me, this example notwithstanding. But a lack of kindness? I didn't even see that until God showed it to me the next day through that teaching. Are you the source of grief and pain for another individual? Is that grief and pain necessary? Sometimes it may be, but I would bet that those times are fewer and further between than most of us realize. Do you see someone in troubled times who could use a helping hand? In both of these cases, kindness is the answer.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Love: The More Excellent Way, Part 1

I have been listening through Alistair Begg's Firm Foundations series for the last several weeks, and I am on Volume 6 right now, the beginning of which is on 1 Corinthians 13. The insights he has had throughout this series are spectacular examples of Spirit-given wisdom, and his thoughts on this chapter are no exception. At the beginning of it all, he makes a point to say that even though most of us "cozy up" to this chapter as a feel-good chapter of warm fuzziness, it is actually a minefield of vaulted standards to which most of us rarely measure up. Try inserting your own name starting in verse 4 (e.g. "Jason is patient, Jason is kind," etc.) and you will understand what he means. As I have had the subject of love come up from various sides many times here of late, I am going to spend some time sharing my own thoughts on the first eight verses of this chapter, focusing in on verses 4-8.

Before I do though, it is easy to forget that this is not an isolated chapter. Paul penned or dictated this in the middle of chapters 12 and 14, both of which focus on spiritual gifts, unity in the body, and orderly worship. Something else that is easy to forget is that the exhortations, admonitions, and rebukes Paul wrote to the various churches were to address actual issues in those churches. In the case of the Corinthian church, it seems that they were using their spiritual gifts as an opportunity to exalt themselves and divide the body. Paul addresses this directly in 12 and 14, but in chapter 13, he focuses on love, which he calls "a more excellent way" in 1 Corinthians 12:31 (ESV).

What I believe Paul was saying here is that, though what he gave the Corinthians in chapter 12 was practical direction to address real problems in the church, it really was not the root of the problem in this area. The root of the problem is that the Corinthians did not have love for one another. We see that in the first three verses of chapter 13.

Paul highlights several specific gifts in these first three verses, but I don't think the specific list itself is meant to be all inclusive of the gifts through which it is easy to not be loving. The point I believe he is making here is that regardless of your spiritual gift, if you use it in such a way that builds up yourself instead of building up the body (Eph 4:12-13, 1 Cor 14:4), you are not acting in love towards your brothers and sisters in Christ. And this can be said of all of our actions towards and interactions with one another. If we act out of a selfish motivation to seek our own good rather than  the good of our brothers and sisters, we are not acting out of love (1 Thess 5:11, 1 Cor 10:24).

Love may be the more excellent way, but it is also the more difficult way. The picture that we see in verses 4-8 is an incredibly high standard, one that is only achievable through the power of the Spirit. I will be looking at the individual characteristics Paul highlights later this week, but for now, if you are in the midst of conflict with anyone, I encourage you to look at these 5 verses and see if you can insert your own name into the list and end up with true statements. If you can, give glory to God. If you can't, earnestly pray that God will make you able by His Spirit.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Do not despair

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Has your God forsaken you?
Are you not a child of the living God,
A sheep of His pasture?

Too numerous to count are His blessings toward you.
Open your eyes and see the work of His mighty hand!
Say to God, "How awesome are Your deeds!"
Shout to God, "How great is Your faithfulness!"

Lift up your eyes, O my soul, to the hills,
To the Lord your God who sits enthroned on high.
Lift up your eyes and do not despair,
for the Lord your God is with you.

-July 10, 2009

Friday, June 7, 2013

Pop Theology: Love vs. Obedience

A friend of mine was asking me what I thought about the lyrics to a particular song here recently. It was one of the many songs I have heard over the years that pushes the metaphor of the Church as the bride of Christ to the extreme. While not as overt in the song he wanted me to look at, as I got in my car just a couple of minutes later and turned on the local Christian radio station, this is what started playing:

Give me rules
I will break them
Show me lines
I will cross them

I need more than
A truth to believe
I need a truth that lives
Moves and breathes

To sweep me off my feet, it's gotta be

More like falling in love
Than something to believe in
More like losing my heart
Than giving my allegiance

Caught up, called out
Come take a look at me now
It's like I'm falling, oh
It's like I'm falling in love

This is the first verse and chorus from "More Like Falling In Love" by Jason Gray, and it is a perfect example of the effect of the post-modern worldview on the Church. Western society has long since abandoned God and the Bible as the source of truth. Modernism tried to replace that with science and reason and a belief in mankind's ever-bettering of itself, and remnants of that still exist today (e.g. evolution taught as "fact" in our schools, etc.). 

But as science and reason failed to make mankind better in the eyes of popular culture, as we experienced horrific war after horrific war, the moral relativism of post-modernism became the norm. The only absolute truth is that there is no absolute truth. "God is not the truth, and science is not the truth. I can only trust what feels good and right to me in the moment." Do you see that in the lyrics above? The essence of this song is this: "Don't give me rules to obey. What I need is something that makes me feel good, like a giddy school girl with her first 'true love'." This song is theological garbage, the product of a worldly culture infecting the Church.

What does the Bible say? 

1 John 5:2-3a This is how we know that we love God’s children when we love God and obey His commands. 3 For this is what love for God is: to keep His commands.

John 14:15 If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.

To love God is to obey God, plain and simple. It is an act of your will, something that you do. If you have been married any length of time, raised a child to adulthood, or maintained a life-long friendship, you know that love is not about a feeling. It is a commitment to the other person no matter what happens. True love is not a helpless response to overwhelming emotion. Do we ever see that from God? Did God's emotions overtake Him to the point that He just had to send His Son because He had no other choice? Of course not. God chose to love us, and He continues to stay committed to that choice. 

Do you want to respond in kind? He has told you how. "For this is what love for God is: to keep His commands." You won't always feel like it, and it won't always be easy. But as I continue to reiterate because I see it everywhere, God has not called you to a life that is easy and feels good. He has called you to a life of sacrificial obedience to Him, just as Jesus demonstrated for you.

Romans 5:8 But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!

Philippians 2:8 He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross.

Popular culture wants to tell us that knowing God is about love vs. obedience, or relationship vs. religion. God tells us that knowing Him is about love through obedience. Who are you going to listen to?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Study in Ephesians: Part 12, Ephesians 2:4-10

4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, 5 made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!

You can almost hear the passion in Paul's voice here. With the connecting word "but", he is returning to the positive highlighting of God bringing glory to Himself by His grace. He also reveals another motivating factor in God saving us: "His great love that He had for us." We must be careful not to swing too far to one side or the other. No, love for us was not the sole motivating factor or even the primary one, but it was certainly part of the reason why God saved us. We were completely and totally dead in our sins, but God made us alive by His grace through the blood of His Messiah. He did this to bring glory to Himself and because of His great love towards us.

6 Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens, 7 so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

It is interesting here how Paul uses what we would call in English the past tense to describe our being seated in the heavens with Christ. Though not yet completed, it is something that has always been a part of the Father's plan. There is absolutely zero possibility that the Father's plan will not come about, and to emphasize this, Paul says that we have already been seated in the heavens. It's a done deal. You can see the same thing in Romans 8:30. "Those whom He justified He also glorified." (past tense as well, though we are not yet glorified).

Why did God seat us in the heavens with Christ? This is where my previous church's sermon series title for Ephesians, "Trophies of Grace", came from. We are seated in the heavens in order to "display the immeasurable riches of His grace." Our mere existence in the heavens serves as a testimony to and praise of the grace of God. How much more when we actively praise Him with our mouths?

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (ESV)

There's a beautiful symmetry in these verses about our work vs. God's work. I chose the quote the ESV here instead of the HCSB because of the rendering "his workmanship" instead of "creation". 
  • We are not saved by our own works (v. 9)
  • Rather, as saved ones created in Christ Jesus, we are products of God's works (v. 10)
  • Though we are not saved by them, we were created to do good works (v. 10)
Our works do not save us, but they are also not unimportant. God has a mission for each of His saved ones to carry out. Yes, for all eternity, we will be testifying to the grace of God. But we don't have to wait until we get to eternity to start testifying. Eternal life began for you the moment Jesus saved you (John 17:3). Go be a trophy of His grace today.

Monday, June 3, 2013

A Study in Ephesians: Slight correction

Rather than going back and correcting all the related posts, I'm going to provide an asterisk to this one post here. If anyone has read those past posts already, they may miss me going back to update them.

The correction is this: the Holy Spirit is not the active agent in your being sealed as a believer. You are sealed with the Holy Spirit by Jesus Christ. We can see that plainly in John the Baptist's declaration concerning the work of Jesus in Matthew 3:11.

The first time through, I missed the tiny preposition with:

Ephesians 1:13 When you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed in Him, you were also sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. (emphasis mine)

For the most part, it doesn't change my overall teachings, but I am constantly evaluating what I teach to make sure it is in line with the true meaning of the Word.

A Study in Ephesians: Pt. 11, Ephesians 2:1-3

So far, we see Paul's thought flow in chapter 1 as follows:
  1. The Father has a plan for praising His glory and grace. This plan was the salvation of those who believe in His Son. According to this plan, the Father chose, the Son redeemed, and the Spirit sealed*. In all of this, His Son, Jesus Christ, is central to His plan. (verses 3-14)
  2. In saving the Ephesians, God once again glorified Himself, for which Paul gives thanks. He also tells them that he continually prays that the Father will give the Ephesians wisdom and understanding regarding how their salvation and continued love for others brings glory to God. (verses 15-18)
  3. Paul continues to express that this wisdom and revelation will come by the power of the Father, which the Father demonstrated by raising Christ from the dead, seating Christ at His right hand, placing Christ over all things for all time, and appointing Christ as head over the Church. (verses 19-23)
In short, God has a plan to glorify Himself, He is powerful enough to accomplish it, and He wants us to understand how we are part of that plan. Up until this point, Paul's focus on highlighting the glory of God has been from the Father's point of view. We are to glorify God because He is worthy of His glory. But in verse 1 of chapter 2, Paul switches gears: Not only is God awesome, we were once awful. Paul turns his attention to highlighting what should already be apparent, namely that there is an infinite gulf between God's glory and our sinfulness.

Paul underscores three aspects of our sinfulness in these three verses:
  • We were once dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1)
  • We once lived only to gratify our sinful desires, just as the world does (Eph 2:2-3a)
  • Because of this, we were once by nature subject to the wrath of God (Eph 2:3b)
This is leading in to Paul continuing to praise the gloriousness of God's grace and perhaps one of the most foundational statements in all of Scripture regarding the nature of our salvation (Eph 2:8-9). I will be discussing these verses next time, but for now I want to dwell here.

As I have preached and, I'm sure numerous others have said, understanding what we have been saved from is paramount to fully embracing what we have been called to. The life to which we have been called is not an easy one. It is not comfortable, and it is not safe. 

Philippians 1:29 For it has been given to you on Christ’s behalf not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him
John 15:20 Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours.

Is that something any of us would just voluntarily sign up for, suffering and persecution? Without understanding what Paul asserts in these three verses, we will shy away from the fullness of the calling God has placed on our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ. 

You were once completely, utterly, totally dead in your sins and wholly unable to save yourself (Romans 8:7-8).  In that state of total death, you lived only to satisfy your own sinful desires (Ephesians 4:17-19). By very nature of who you were, you were subject to the eternal wrath of God, eternal  punishment in hell (Ephesians 2:3, Matthew 25:32,46)

Can anything this world throws at us compare to what once awaited us? Embrace what you are called to, and stand in awe of what you were saved from.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Study in Ephesians: Pt. 10, Ephesians 1:20-23

Ephesians 1:20-23 He demonstrated this power in the Messiah by raising Him from the dead and seating Him at His right hand in the heavens— 21 far above every ruler and authority, power and dominion, and every title given, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And He put everything under His feet and appointed Him as head over everything for the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of the One who fills all things in every way.

I believe Paul had two primary thoughts in mind when he wrote these few verses. One, he wanted to highlight the matchless power of the Father. As he told the church at Colossae, everything created was created by Jesus, through Jesus, and for Jesus (Colossians 1:16). The centrality of Christ in the plan of the Father is unquestioned, as he demonstrated in verses 3-14. In Christ, the fullness of the nature of God dwells in bodily form (Colossians 2:9). And yet, we see Christ in a submissive role relative to the Father. As we see in these 4 verses, the Father:
  • Raised Christ from the dead
  • Seated Christ at His right hand
  • Placed Christ over all things, all rulers, and all powers for all time
  • Appointed Christ as head over everything for the church

Though Christ is completely equal in essence to the Father (Hebrews 1:3), as a function of role within the trinity, the Father has authority over the One Who has authority over all things. Paul is making that clear in these verses, as well as verse 17, when the Father is described as "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ".

Two, this power described here is the "immeasurable greatness of His power to us who believe" that Paul prays we will understand, and it is the power according to which the Father will grant to us the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation. There should be no doubt in the mind of any disciple who reads this letter that God is able to do absolutely anything He plans to do.

Are you facing a difficult circumstance that you see no way around or through? Have faith in God to do exactly what He plans to do. He is certainly able, and no one can thwart His plans. (Job 42:2) And regardless of what you face, if you are one of His children, bought by the blood of His Son, then nothing will ever separate you from His love (Romans 8:35-39, John 6:38-39).

Friday, May 31, 2013

Am I Worth It?

I have noticed a pattern of late, one that I was able to extrapolate back to many of my past interactions and observations of people's behavior. Of the ones that I have observed, people tend to over-generalize specific behavior in others that causes them hurt, saying to the offending individual that he or she has a pattern of doing that to "people". They tend to make two assumptions about a person's normative behavior based on just a couple of very specific bad interactions with that person:
  1. The person that hurt me always acts that way towards everyone.
  2. Everyone else re-acts to that person's behavior the same way that I did.
There is also a very similar set of assumptions that I believe are based in the same set of underlying issues:
  1. Everyone else would react the same way I did to this person's behavior.
  2. Since this person has friends that seem to enjoy his or her company, this person must be treating me differently than he or she treats everyone else.
Now, it is entirely possible that these particular assumptions are in fact true for any given specific individual. But even if they are true, in the behavior I have observed in others, those assumptions haven't been based on observing how the offending individual has interacted with others outside the  hurt person's field of view. These people have jumped to these conclusions without sufficient evidence. And as I considered this pattern recently, I was forced to ask the question: Why? Why doesn't the hurt individual simply approach the one who hurt them and say "You really hurt my feelings" rather than "You are hurtful towards people"?

I see two possibilities, and they aren't mutually exclusive. There are probably more, but this is what I see.

One, in the eyes of those who are hurt, it is possible that such assumptions lessen or eliminate the responsibility they feel for their own reactions to the offending behavior. "Well, if he always does this to people, or if he is going out of his way to treat me this badly, then it is his fault that I feel like this. He is the one that needs to change." Do you see yourself in this statement? It may very well be true that the offending person needs to change, but that does not negate your responsibility to have Christ-like reactions when people hurt you. For more on this, see my post entitled Do not fail to extend grace.

The second possibility brings me to the heart of this post. In considering that question of why many people don't just come out and tell someone that person hurt them, I believe something like this may be running through their minds: "I am afraid that the person who hurt me won't value me enough as a person to care that he hurt me." Simply telling someone "you hurt me" requires reliance on the other person caring that he or she hurt you. That's a scary place to be for many people. Furthermore, for those who have been hurt, the initial hurt itself can easily contribute to that uncertainty of intrinsic worth in the eyes of the offending person. From there, it's a fairly logical step to say, "If they won't change for me, maybe I can convince them to see that this is a pervasive problem that they need to change for themselves." Understandable, but certainly not preferable.

Do you see yourself in the previous paragraph? First, I would have you understand that as one created in the image God, you are valuable as a person because God says so. If you are a disciple of Christ, your intrinsic value is magnified by the fact that Jesus paid a price that cannot be measured to redeem you from eternal punishment for your sins. Your value as a person is secure in God, independent of how any one person acts towards you.

Second, I hope you can also see that broad sweeping statements directed at a person's character, ones that are quite possibly not true, can cause just as much pain for them as they caused for you, possibly more. It's one thing for someone to act insensitively towards you in a singular moment or two. It is quite another for you to come back and claim that the person has the fundamental character flaw of being insensitive by nature.

You should always strive to live at peace with everyone, and do not fail to extend them grace when they hurt you (Hebrews 12:14-15 ESV). When you are hurt, tell the person plainly "You hurt me" rather than "You have a tendency to do this to 'people'". If you do see a faulty pattern and want to help that person correct the pattern, I urge you to spend time studying what it means to instruct with gentleness, especially checking your motivation in seeking to correct. If you are in the mode of "I want that person to feel sorry that they hurt me and change so that they will stop hurting me," you should probably not say anything in the vein of trying to correct a "pattern". If you truly want to see your brother or sister grow in Christ-likeness, proceed carefully in love.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Study in Ephesians: Pt. 9, Ephesians 1:15-23

At the end of Ephesians 1:19 (HCSB), there is the phrase "according to the working of His vast strength." I was wondering what specifically was according to God's strength or power. As I mentioned in part 8 on Ephesians, verses 15-21 are one sentence in the Greek. Since the ESV translates this passage as one sentence, I thought it would be useful to consider the section as a whole to try and discover the meaning of the "according to" phrase. One note before I proceed with that, though. The ESV's rendering of verse 15 could almost be read as stating that the only reason Paul is giving unceasing thanks for the Ephesians is because of their faith and love. Based on the structure of the Greek words themselves, I don't think the translators chose the best wording for that first part of verse 15, but I include the whole passage here for context.

Similar to diagramming sentences in high school English class, I sectioned this passage off in a way that I believe identifies the various side clauses that Paul is famous for using. I think that will help in discerning what the "according to" phrase is referring to.

15 For this reason,
    • because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 
  • 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 
    • 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, 
        • that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, 
        • what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 
        • 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe,
      • according to the working of his great might 
        • 20 that he worked in Christ 
          • when he raised him from the dead 
          • and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 
            • 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, 
            • and above every name that is named, 
            • not only in this age but also in the one to come. 
  • 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
This tabbed outline is obviously just my interpretation of the structure of the passage, but I feel it is an accurate representation of Paul's thought process. What it illustrates is that I see the "according to" passage as referring to verses 17-18a. In other words, it is according to the work of His great might that the Father will give us the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.

Paul is praying for God to give the Ephesians the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation specifically according to the working of His great might. This stands in stark contrast to where the world looks to find wisdom and understanding (e.g. science, internal enlightenment). And it is so easy to believe that what we as disciples know and understand about God and the Word is borne out of our own minds. But the Word is filled with admonitions to not rely on human wisdom and understanding. Here are just two:

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding;
6 think about Him in all your ways,
and He will guide you on the right paths.
Proverbs 3

1 Corinthians 1:25 because God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

Wherever you are in life right now, whatever decisions you may face, you should be daily asking God for wisdom and understanding. And you must recognize that only the wisdom that comes from God is worth having and depending on. If the understanding you have is not "according to the working of His vast strength," then it is nothing more than human foolishness.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Take Up Your Cross

Take Up Your Cross

Originally Preached June 27th, 2010

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Study in Ephesians: Pt. 8, Ephesians 1:15-19

Ephesians 1:15-19 (ESV) For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might

Something that is lost in some English translations, or at the very least hidden to a certain extent, is that verses 17-19 is what Paul is actually praying for when he says in verse 16 that he remembers the Ephesians in his prayers. The ESV here correctly translates that sense of the Greek, and in reality verses 15-21 are a single sentence in the Greek.

So why that is that important to know? As I discussed last post, Paul is specifically thanking God for the Ephesians ultimately because He is demonstrating His glory through saving them and the love they show others. In these prayers, Paul not only thanks God for them, he prays that God will give something specific to them. In the same way that Paul's thanks for the Ephesians is because God has displayed His glory through them, the things Paul asks God for on behalf of them is also for the ultimate purpose of bringing glory to God. These aren't simply good things to have, and Paul isn't just mentioning them as an aside this one time. Every time he prays for the Ephesians, he is asking God to glorify Himself by giving the Ephesians the things he prays for listed in Verses 17-19. That should make us sit up and take notice. What is it that Paul is praying for?

What is most telling to me is what Paul is not asking for here. He is not asking for greater love, faithfulness, or obedience for the Ephesians. These are undoubtedly important, but it's not what Paul is asking for. He's not asking for greater boldness in sharing their faith. In fact, he's not asking for anything that requires any action on the part of the Ephesians whatsoever. What he asks for is this: that God would grant the Ephesians greater knowledge and understanding of Him through the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation. What I believe Paul is getting at, in essence, is this: "God, help them understand You and the glory You are revealing in them and through them."

Paul wants the Ephesians to understand three things in particular:
  1. The hope to which they have been called
  2. The richness of the inheritance waiting for them
  3. The greatness of God's power towards those who believe
Knowing how much Paul has to say elsewhere about the difficulties we will face as disciples of Christ (Philippians 1:29, Philippians 3:10, Romans 8:18), it seems to me that Paul is asking for these three things in light of that understanding, as if to say:

"The life God has called you to may be hard for now, but ultimately your calling is one of hope. God has prepared a glorious inheritance for you once your time on this earth is done. In the meantime, your God is powerful enough both to secure the hope of your calling and your inheritance and to carry you through the temporary trials of this life. And remember, ultimately, this is all for His glory, and God's glory is definitely worth it."

When you face the difficult times in your life, don't just pray for strength to make it through. Pray for wisdom and understanding that God may grant you a glimpse of how your trial brings glory to Him.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Love God, and Love Others

Love God, and Love Others

Originally preached June 20th, 2010

Just for today

Give me strength, God, just for today
When life's troubles come to call
For on my own I tend to stray
And by myself, I quickly fall

Give me wisdom, God, just for today
Teach me hunger for Your Word
My foolishness is on display
When my own counsel my mind prefers

Give me grace, God, just for today
In response to insults flung
Let all my words and actions say
That I lived for You when today is done

Give me love, God, just for today
For the hurting souls I see
Let them see You, I desperately pray
Whatever it takes, Lord, shine through me

Reveal my steps, God, just for today
Teach me daily to rely on You
And should tomorrow come my way
Give me the strength to pray this anew

Monday, May 20, 2013

Search me and know my heart

23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my concerns.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me;
lead me in the everlasting way.
Psalm 139:23-24

This was the verse of the day today. The boldness of David's prayer here really struck me, especially in relation to the rest of the psalm.

In verses 1-18, David marvels at the greatness and all-encompassing nature of the knowledge of God. He starts in verse 1 with "You have searched me and known me." God knows all we think and all we do (Ps 139:2-3). He knows everything we are going to say (Ps 139:4). In considering this, David declares "This extraordinary knowledge is beyond me. It is lofty; I am unable to reach it." (v. 6)

In verses 7-12, David proclaims that no place on earth is free from God's knowledge. I find a bit interesting the perspective from which he describes this knowledge. He starts with, "Where can I go to escape Your Spirit?" David professes the limitless scope of God's knowledge as if to say "I have tried to run away from God, and everywhere I went, He was there." In between this recognition of his inability to hide from God, David states that everywhere he goes, God is there, not to judge him, but to lead him; not to crush him, but to hold on to him. (Ps 139:10)

In verses 13-16, David turns his focus inward, and again he marvels at the depth of God's knowledge. He considers how he was made, how God "knit" him together in his mother's womb. Interesting thing about verse 14:

I will praise You
because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made.
Your works are wonderful,
and I know this very well. 

Most people that I've seen comment on this verse focus on the fact that David said "I will praise you because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made." Most of these comments approach this verse as a place of comfort in knowing that we are special in the eyes of God. While I think the idea itself is supported elsewhere in scripture, I don't think that's what David had in mind here.

I see David again marveling at the all-encompass nature of the knowledge of God, in keeping with the the focus of the psalm up to this point. What I believe David was focusing on here was this:

I will praise You
because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made [by You, God].
Your works are wonderful,
and I know this very well.

God knows our inmost being, the bones He placed in our bodies, and the days He has planned for us. God's knowledge is so complete that He knows us even before we existed (i.e. formless, Ps 139:16). And after this inward focus, David again exclaims how far beyond us God's knowledge is (Ps 139:17-18).

Without carefully reading this psalm, Psalm 139:19-22 might seem out of place. But really, it is a natural progression of David's worship of God. Up until this point, David is saying, "God, You know me, You know everything about me, You everywhere I could go, and You even know how you put me together." At the end of all this, David focuses on his desires compared with God's desires. He recognizes the inherent war waged between his flesh and God's Spirit. 

And here at the end, we come to the boldness of David's prayer. After declaring the limitlessness of God's knowledge, he asks God to apply that knowledge to his own desires. And not just to know them, but to shape them to be in line with God's desires. David prays something similar in Psalm 86:

Teach me Your way, Yahweh,
and I will live by Your truth.
Give me an undivided mind to fear Your name.
Psalm 86:11

It is one thing to pray, "God, teach me Your ways and I will walk in Your truth." It is quite another to pray "God, shape my desires so that I will want to walk in Your truth."

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Friday, May 17, 2013

A Study in Ephesians: Pt. 7, Ephesians 1:15-19

Ephesians 1:15-16 This is why, since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 I never stop giving thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.

As is common throughout the letters of the New Testament, there is a continuation phrase here that connects two related thoughts of the author. Recognizing these connecting words or phrases is often critical to understanding the full message that the writer intended to convey. Here, Paul uses the phrase, "This is why".

Without this phrase, the reader would likely conclude that Paul is giving unceasing thanks because of the faith and love of the Ephesians. And while this was no doubt in the mind of Paul as he penned, or perhaps dictated, these words, in light of this connecting phrase, a fuller understanding of why he is giving thanks requires a consideration of his preceding thoughts. As I have already noted, there were several themes packed into verses 3-14, which, incidentally, is just one long sentence in the original Greek. Paul discussed the varying roles of the persons of the Trinity in accomplishing our salvation. He highlighted the centrality of Christ in all things, and he underscored the ultimate purpose of our salvation: to bring glory to God. (See parts 2-6 for a fuller explanation of these themes.)

It is this last theme that I believe Paul had in mind when he said "That is why ... I never stop giving thanks". While the first two themes are descriptions of the beauty and majesty that is both God and the way He works, the third theme is about the outcome of this God working. Paul did not begin his giving thanks for the Ephesians until he heard of the faith of the Ephesians. Prior to this, the triune God was still working in others, and Christ was still central in all things. But in the salvation of the Ephesians, the glory of God was made manifest once again, and it is this demonstration of God's glory for which Paul is ultimately giving thanks. Paul had a passion for the glory of God, so much so that he was willing to endure whatever was necessary to see God reveal His glory through him (Romans 8:18).

I long to be consumed with this level of devotion to God. One of the recent salvation stories in our church was a woman who had been raised in church but had never locked in to the truth of a saving faith in Jesus Christ. She found our church by "accident", attending one Sunday morning thinking she was at the church of a friend who had invited her. After her surrender to Christ, our pastor told her about the rejoicing in heaven over her redemption (Luke 15:7), and she wanted to have a party to celebrate here on earth. We did, and I remember thanking God multiple times for saving her. But not once did I thank God for magnifying His glory through the salvation of her soul.

I can't even fathom what that would look like. What would my life, my faith, look like if the first thought I had for every situation I face, every burden I bear, every salvation I witness, every joy that I experience was "God, thank you for magnifying Your glory in, through, and around me." ? What would it even take to get to that point?

I will be conformed to the image of His Son at some point. If you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, so will you (Romans 8:29). In the meantime, "He must increase, but I must decrease."

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Study in Ephesians: Pt. 6, Ephesians 1:3-14

Your Life's Purpose

Not only is the centrality of Christ a theme in these few verses, but the purpose of why we are here  and why everything exists is as well. I hinted at this at the end of part 4, and I want to expand on it now.
  • The Father adopted us through Jesus to the praise of His glorious grace (Eph 1:6)
  • Our forgiveness comes not from anything we have done, but it is according to the riches of His grace (Eph 1:7)
  • The mystery of God's plan that He revealed to us was planned according to His good pleasure (Eph 1:9)
  • We have received an inheritance from the Father, in Christ, for the purpose of bringing praise to His glory (Eph 1:11-12)
  • We received the Holy Spirit as a down payment on that inheritance, again for the purpose of bringing praise to His glory (Eph 1:14)
Ultimately, your salvation was not an end unto itself. God did not save you simply because you needed saving. That is part of it, but the ultimate purpose of your salvation and your sanctification is to bring glory to God. He gave us His grace because it pleased Him to do so as a means to bring Himself glory.

Why is this important to know? It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that God just wants for us what will make us happy. That's not the case. If we understand that we were saved for a reason greater than simply being saved, that we are being made Christ-like for a greater purpose than simply being made Christ-like, then we can begin to lay hold of the truth that our lives are not our own. They were bought with the price of the blood of Jesus (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). 

Being made Christ-like is hard and often painful. But as the writer of Hebrews reminds us, we need to keep our eyes on Jesus, Who is perfecting our faith, and run with endurance the race that God has called us to (Hebrews 12:1-2). You are not just running for the sake of running. You are not just enduring hardship for the sake of enduring hardship or even just for the sake of being made more Christ-like as a result. You are running and enduring for the sake of bringing glory to God.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Study in Ephesians: Pt. 5, Ephesians 1:3-14

The Centrality of Christ

In just 11 verses, Paul refers to various aspects of our salvation and the Father's plan as being "in Christ" or "through Christ" 9 times.
  • We have been blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens (Eph 1:3)
  • We have been chosen in Christ, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in the Father's sight (Eph 1:4)
  • We have been predestined to be adopted into the family of the Father through Christ (Eph 1:5)
  • We have been favored in Christ with the glorious grace of the Father (Eph 1:6)
  • We have been redeemed in Christ through His blood (Eph 1:7)
  • The Father has revealed to us the mystery of His will, which He planned in Christ (Eph 1:9)
  • This plan of the Father is that, at the proper time, all things in heaven and on earth will be brought together (or brought under one authority) in Christ (Eph 1:10)
  • We have received an inheritance from the Father in Christ (Eph 1:11)
  • We have been sealed by the Holy Spirit* through faith in Christ (Eph 1:13)
Have you ever noticed how easy it is for people to either talk about or look past talk about "God," but that those same people are either uncomfortable with or offended by the name of Jesus? Jesus Christ is the central foundation of the Father's plan to bring glory to Himself through our redemption. Jesus is the One in whose name we pray, and He is the One that cults twist and misrepresent. Jesus is the One to whom every knee will one day bow, and He is the One the world seeks to denigrate as a mythological figure. Jesus is the One who will one day defeat satan and all the evil in this world, and it is only in Jesus that salvation for our sins can be found. Everything of any eternal significance in this world is centered around Jesus Christ.

Even in the centrality of Christ, we see a picture of something that is not normally found in those who are at the center of anything. Christ is central, and yet He is not the first Person of the Trinity. Jesus said He came not to do His own will but the will of the Father (John 6:38). In the ordering of roles in the Godhead, we see in Jesus a submission to the Father. I think the lesson we can learn from this is that submission of our own will to those in authority over us is part of the Christ-likeness we should be striving for. We see that in the book of Hebrews.

Hebrews 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.

To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to claim the name of Jesus Christ. No one can be saved apart from Jesus Christ, the historical man, the second Person of the Trinity, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Prince of Peace, our Savior and our Lord. I encourage you to be bold with the name of Jesus. I also encourage you to emulate Christ in His submission to the Father, submitting to the leading of your spiritual leaders as they themselves submit to God (Hebrews 13:7).

*See slight correction here.

Keep your eyes on Jesus

Hebrews 12:1-2
1 Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, 2 keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God's throne.

Verse 2 was the verse of the day today. As I wrote about earlier, running with endurance means, in part, laying aside the baggage from experiences that God used to teach you Christ-likeness. There is another part to it as well. Not only do we lay aside the past, we keep our eyes on the future, namely the glory that God will reveal in us through Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. 

I don't think it a coincidence that so much of what God has brought across my path to write about of late has been about having a biblical understanding of the role of suffering in making us more Christ-like. The journey of sanctification is a difficult one, and we need constant reminders that not only will our difficult experiences make us more like Christ, but also that they are temporary and fleeting in light of the eternity that we will spend in glory with Christ. 

Here in Hebrews 12:2, the writer of Hebrews reminds us yet again that Jesus endured more than we could ever imagine while here on this earth. He was able to do this, in part, because He kept His focus not on His temporary troubles, but on "the joy that lay before Him." Because His eyes were fixed on that joy, that glory, He "endured a cross and despised the shame" in order to, secure our salvation yes, but ultimately to bring Himself glory. 

When I originally read "despised the shame," I didn't quite understand it. The HELPS word study on that word gave me some insight here.

2706 kataphronéō (from 2596 /katá, "down, according to," intensifying 5426 /phronéō, "regulating behavior from inner mind-set") – properly, view down, i.e. with a negative (hostile) outlook; to despise, thinking down on (thinking little of); esteem lightly, seeing as insignificant or detestable; to treat with contempt or disregard (BAGD); devalue; to depreciate (scorn); pay no regard to (because something seems of no account); " 'despise, scorn,' and show it by active insult" (Souter).

I think the phrase that is key to our understanding is "esteem lightly, seeing as insignificant". In a sense Jesus "couldn't care less" about the shame that He was subjected to specifically because He was focused on God's eternal kingdom, not His own temporary troubles. Paul expresses the same sentiment in Romans 8:18.

Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.

Compared to the glory that will be revealed in us, we should consider our present sufferings as insignificant. Don't focus on your momentary troubles. Keep your eyes on Jesus, Who is not only the source of the faith that is in you, but is also the One Who will perfect that faith through the trials and troubles you face in this life.