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.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Live with eternity in mind

1 Corinthians 7:29-31 And I say this, brothers: The time is limited, so from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none, 30 those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, 31 and those who use the world as though they did not make full use of it. For this world in its current form is passing away.

Paul writes this in the middle of a teaching about remaining in the circumstance of your life that you were in when you came to faith in Jesus. He is primarily addressing marital status, saying that those who aren't married shouldn't seek to be married, and those who are should not seek to be unmarried. He prefers that the Corinthians be unmarried as he is for the sake of devoting as much attention and time as possible to the service of the Lord. But in the middle of all this, he significantly broadens the scope of this principle's application in these three verses.

This world is passing away, and God will create a new heaven and a new earth that will exist for all eternity (Revelation 21:1). Tears will be wiped away, sin will be no more, and God will make everything new (Revelation 21:4-5). That is the joy that we have to look forward to.

To those who are married, the driving purpose of your life together should be bringing glory to God and advancing the kingdom of God. Don't be concerned about the relative triviality of the daily grind of your life together. That's not to say that you should neglect one another. There are numerous passages outlining how we as disciples of Christ should treat our spouses. For example, Paul provides some significant guidance regarding the nature of sex within marriage at the beginning of chapter seven. And in fact, the Word is clear that marriage here on earth is meant to serve as a symbol of the eternal marriage between Jesus Christ and His Church. But the overarching principle is this: your marriage is temporary (Matthew 22:30); God's kingdom is eternal.

Paul continues in verse 30 to say, are you weeping? Your tears will one day be no more. Your emotional pain is temporary, but God's kingdom is eternal. Do you find happiness in someone or something here on this earth? That temporary happiness is not even worth comparing to the eternal joy we will have in the presence of God and His eternal kingdom.

What do you buy with the money God has given you stewardship over? The things of this world are passing away, but God's kingdom is eternal. Do you find security in the apparent stability of the culture in which you live, in the retirement nest egg you are building, or the government programs that promise to take care of you? "This world in its current form is passing away," but God's kingdom is eternal.

Paul drives the point home in verse 32: "I want you to be without concerns." This world and everything in it is passing away, but God's kingdom is eternal. Don't be concerned with the temporal and relatively trivial things in this world that demand your time and attention. On the contrary, live your life with eternity in mind.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Fruit of Self-Control

1 Corinthians 6:12 “Everything is permissible for me,” but not everything is helpful. “Everything is permissible for me,” but I will not be brought under the control of anything.

I started in on a lower carb lifestyle about 8 months ago (not low carb, because that's just crazy, but about 100g a day instead of 300g+). For about the first 6 months, I was going strong, and lost almost 30 pounds. I have since been hovering about 3-5 pounds above my low point, and it is because I have started to slip back into some of my old habits. As I was driving to work the other day, I was listening to a teaching on this passage. It took a couple of days to settle in, and I began to see a glimpse of how Paul's words to the Corinthians can change me today.

Every time I think about the long list of fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, I usually consider them as a whole, and quite honestly by the time I get to the end of the list, it's almost as if I have lost interest or something. My thoughts kind of trail off, or maybe I am just too focused on the ones that are a little easier for me, I don't know. But it was like a mini revelation for me on the way to work Friday morning:

Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, and thus can only come from the Spirit.

Some of you may be thinking, "Well, duh!" But even now, I sit and marvel at the idea of self-control not being found within one's self. How often do we hear that from our culture? Just believe in yourself, exercise some will power and self discipline, and you can accomplish anything. What a misguided, and easily believed, notion.

There is a lady at my work who has taken it upon herself to provide a myriad of "snacks" (read: junk) for people to eat free of charge. I myself have been partaking of all things chocolate everyday for the last several weeks, which I would imagine is the reason why I have reached a plateau in my weight loss. I can specifically remember thinking to myself on more than one occasion, "Come on, Jason, have a little self-control, a little will power. What's the matter with you?". 

Well, what was wrong was that I was trying to achieve under my own power what can only come from the Spirit of God. Self-control isn't about controlling yourself by the power of your own will. It is about crucifying yourself by the power of the Spirit of God. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit because only the Spirit can cause it to grow in a person's life.

Galatians 5:16-18 I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

You may think you want self-control, but your flesh doesn't. Self-control is one of the goals of the Spirit for a person's life, and the flesh desires what is against the Spirit.

I prayed several times on Friday "God, grow self-control within me." And I kept repeating to myself the truth of 1 Corinthians 6:12, in the NIV that I heard it preached: "I will not be mastered by anything." I didn't have any chocolate on Friday. I then forgot to keep praying once I got home and had a big honkin piece of cake. Doh!

Just like Apollos planting and Paul watering, you can create an environment in your life that is conducive to growing self-control in your life. Do you have a problem with certain foods? Then don't buy them at the store. Are sexual images on the net your temptation? Get rid of the computer if you have to. But in the end understand this: it is God who causes the growth. If you desire the fruit of self-control, you must ask God to grow self-control within you by the power of His Spirit.

Friday, May 10, 2013

A Study in Ephesians: Pt. 4, Ephesians 1:3-14

Chosen, Redeemed, and Sealed

Ephesians 1:11-14 We have also received an inheritance in Him, predestined according to the purpose of the One who works out everything in agreement with the decision of His will, 12 so that we who had already put our hope in the Messiah might bring praise to His glory. 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. 14 He is the down payment of our inheritance, for the redemption of the possession, to the praise of His glory.

From the HELPS word study for the word translated "sealed":

4972 /sphragízō ("to seal") signifies ownership and the full security carried by the backing (full authority) of the owner. "Sealing" in the ancient world served as a "legal signature" which guaranteed the promise (contents) of what was sealed.

Being sealed by the Spirit* means not only that we are owned by God, but we carry within us the authority and power of God. How often do we forget this fundamental truth?

Having the power of God via the Holy Spirit has at least three very significant implications. One, you have the power within you to resist the temptation to sin. 

1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it.

Two, by the Spirit of God, when you speak the truth of God's Word, you are speaking with the authority of God. This is especially important to lay hold of when refuting the "wisdom" of this world. 

99 I have more insight than all my teachers
because Your decrees are my meditation.
100 I understand more than the elders
because I obey Your precepts.
Psalm 119:99-100

1 Corinthians 1:27 Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong.

Three, the Spirit of God is the One who leads us on the path to Christ-likeness. Galatians 5:22-23 gives several fruits of the Spirit, character qualities that mark the life of a mature believer. It is the Spirit of God, with which all believers have been sealed, that makes the fruits manifest in the believer's life.

The Spirit of God in your life is the guarantee of the inheritance that the Father has promised you in the Son. No matter how bad things get in this temporary world, you have this guarantee from God: You are His, chosen by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and sealed by the Spirit*. He will never leave you nor forsake you, because ultimately, He's not saving you for your sake. Your salvation is for the ultimate purpose of "bring[ing] praise to His glory." And God will not give His glory to anyone else. (Isaiah 42:8)

*See slight correction here.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

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

Chosen, Redeemed, and Sealed

Ephesians 1:7-9 We have redemption in Him through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure that He planned in Him

How often do you sit and contemplate the nature of your salvation? I'm not talking about predestined vs. freely chosen or anything like that, but simply where you would be and where you would end up if not for the blood of Jesus having redeemed you. Are you really a sinner saved by grace? Or do you see yourself as somehow, on some level, being worthy of the gift you have received? Do you look down on those who struggle with those "big" sins that you have never experienced? Do you forget the immeasurable value of your redemption when someone does something to you that is trivial in comparison to who you were in relation to Christ before you were saved?

"Redeemed" is a great word picture. The HELPS Word Study on this word gives us an idea of what Paul really meant when he said that "we have redemption in Him through His blood."

629 apolýtrōsis (from 575 /apó, "from" and 3084 /lytróō, "redeem") – properly, redemption – literally, "buying back from, re-purchasing (winning back) what was previously forfeited (lost)."

629 /apolýtrōsis ("redemption, re-purchase") emphasizes the distance ("safety-margin") that results between the rescued person, and what previously enslaved them. For the believer, the prefix (575 /apó) looks back to God's effective work of grace, purchasing them from the debt of sin and bringing them to their new status (being in Christ).

You were formerly lost, forfeited, and destined for hell. You were in a state of rebellion against God. Your sin was earning you the eternal wrath of God, to be justly poured out on you as everlasting torment and punishment. But by the blood of Jesus, "according to the riches of His grace that He lavished" upon you, you have been redeemed! You have been bought back from this path to eternal destruction! No matter how bad someone else may look, that person is no more a sinner than you. And no matter what tangible darkness that person was saved from, the grace God gave to you is no less amazing.

You have been forgiven much, given much, and loved much. Go, forgive, give, and love.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Study in Ephesians: Pt. 2, Ephesians 1:3-14

Chosen, Redeemed, and Sealed

There is so much in these few verses. I will probably spend several posts here. One thing that is really interesting to me is that much of what God is showing me I have seen by considering these verses as a whole rather than individually. Paul is weaving several thoughts throughout this section, and it can be easy to miss such insights if we only go to familiar verses without considering the surrounding context.

There is a beautiful picture of the Trinity in these 12 verses. The Father chooses, the Son redeems, and the Spirit seals. Each person of the Godhead has a role to play in the salvation of each of God's children.

Before the foundation of the world, the Father chose us in Christ (Ephesians 1:4). That was His plan from before time began,  and He did this magnify the beauty of His grace (Ephesians 1:6). A church I was attending a while back did a study on Ephesians, and they described it this way: We are trophies of God's grace. One of the purposes of your life as a believer is to serve as a testimony to the grace of God. And one of the best ways you can do that is to give that grace to others.

Every time someone wrongs you, you have an opportunity to show grace. Can God take delight in your actions when such an opportunity arises? Are you shining in God's trophy case of grace as a example God can point to? Or are you a trophy covered in the dust, dirt, and grime of sinful responses to hardships in your life?

Hebrews 12:15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God... (ESV)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Live as you are, not as you were

Colossians 3:1-2 So if you have been raised with the Messiah, seek what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth.

This is a common theme in Paul's letters. And that tells me, among other things, that it is something  that is a common struggle amongst all believers. Being made Christ-like is a life-long process, and we must daily "put to death what belongs to our sinful nature" (v. 5).
  • sexual immorality
  • impurity
  • lust
  • evil desire
  • greed
  • anger
  • wrath
  • malice
  • slander
  • filthy language
  • lying
If you have been saved by the blood of Jesus, you have been (past tense) "crucified with Christ" (Galatians 2:19-20). Don't live your life as if you are still the old you. You are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). As Paul continues in Colossians:

Colossians 3:12-15 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. 15 And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were also called in one body, control your hearts. Be thankful.

You are a child of God, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, filled with the fullness of His power and blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms. You are not a slave to sin, but a slave to righteousness. Live as you are, not as you were.

A Study in Ephesians: Pt. 1, Overview

One of my favorite things about studying the Word is when God reveals something new to me from a familiar passage. Even after 27 years of faith, I'm sure there are still many parts that I have never read before. But finding new insight from a familiar passage is like opening up your wallet and finding $20 when you thought it was empty. It is awesome!

I have been drawn to Ephesians off and on many times over the years, probably more than any other book in the Bible when it comes to just general study. At one point, I had the ambition to memorize the entire thing. I didn't get very far, but maybe some day. Well, God led me to Ephesians again here recently, and I did something that I normally don't do: I went looking for commentaries on it. And after a few links from Google, I came across this:

I had never heard of the Berean Expositor before, nor of their pictorial charts. And while I think the layout they outlined is a little forced and ignores some good stuff in Ephesians, the symmetry the chart highlights is unmistakable.

In writing to the church at Ephesus (and maybe other churches in the area as well), Paul structures his letter with two distinct parts: theology (Ephesians 1:3-3:13) and practice (Ephesians 4:1-6:20). These two sections are linked together by a prayer for power and understanding (Ephesians 3:14-21). Even in the structure of the letter itself there is something to learn about how we live this life as disciples of Christ:

Knowledge of God brings glory to God when we live for God by the power from God.

We cannot live for a God we do not know, and if we truly know Him, then, by the power He gives us in the Holy Spirit, we should be living for Him.

The first three chapters of Ephesians are theologically dense. I am looking forward to unpacking them by the power of the Spirit. But in learning about God, we cannot forget to live for God. After all the theology, and a prayer for power and understanding, Paul starts his section on practicing what he has taught with a verse that I will be constantly reminding myself of through this study:

Ephesians 4:1 Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Self-Love Culture

2 Timothy 3:1-2a But know this: Difficult times will come in the last days. 2 For people will be lovers of self, ...

I was bullied quite a bit as a kid, and there have been some stories in the news in recent years that show the problem still exists and in some ways is worse. Just do a search on the term "cyber-bullying" and you'll see what I mean. The internet has added a layer of pseudo-anonymity that empowers the darkest impulses of our fallen nature. People are saying things to other people they would never have said in person all because they have become detached from the reactions to and consequences of their actions via a keyboard and screen.

So how do we react as a society? Our culture tells us "Just love yourself, believe in yourself and you can accomplish anything. You are wonderful just as you are." Do a search for "self help books" on and you'll see almost 200,000 results. From attitudes of "let's just all get along" to "everything is beautiful in it's own way", we are encouraged to embrace everything about everyone. And if we dare to point out even the smallest bit of actions or attitudes needing correction, we are subjected to a the verbal firing squad of "Intolerance!!".

The Church is not immune to this. We just use different words. "Don't tell me I need to change because I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). God has plans to prosper me, not to harm me (Jeremiah 29:11). I am His workmanship, His masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10)." We call it our "identity in Christ". And for many people, they have used this idea to embrace self-love as much as the world around them has.

Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:2 that in the last days, one of the signs of difficult times to come will be that people will be "lovers of self". And this particular symptom of the disease of this world does not find itself in good company. It is the first in a long list of really bad stuff.

2 Timothy 3:2-5 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, 4 traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people!

Those verses I referenced above are all true. We are God's workmanship, fearfully and wonderfully made. But we were made with a purpose, to bring glory to God (Isaiah 43:7). God does have a plan for each of us, and it is to be made Christlike (Romans 8:29) through suffering (Philippians 1:29, 3:7-11). In understanding our identity in Christ, we must be careful not to forget our identity in relation to Christ.

1 Corinthians 4:1 A person should consider us in this way: as servants of Christ and managers of God’s mysteries.
Romans 6:17-18 But thank God that, although you used to be slaves of sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching you were transferred to, 18 and having been liberated from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness.

We are literally slaves to Christ. That is who you are in relation to Christ: a slave. Yes, we belong to Him. But we also belong to Him.

Despite what the world may tell you, don't love yourself. Crucify yourself (Galatians 2:19-20) and pour out your life as a living sacrifice to Him.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Instructing with Gentleness, Final Thoughts

  1. Is your message true? 
  2. Is your method appropriate for the nature of the message?
  3. Is your mindset appropriate regarding the source of this message you have to deliver?
  4. Is your motivation to share the message born out of love for your brother or sister?
  5. Is it the right moment in your relationship with that person to offer this word of teaching or correction?
It is certainly possible to do everything as I have laid it out in the last 5 posts and still go down in a flaming ball of failure and hurt feelings. I would encourage you to not let those hurt feelings persist, whether you are on the giving or receiving end of things. Especially if you are on the receiving end.

As I shared in another post, do not fail to extend grace to your brother or sister when they hurt you. Consider Jesus's parable of the unforgiving slave in Matthew 18:21-35. You have been forgiven a debt you could have never paid on your own. The very least you can do is forgive the hurt someone has caused you, a pain not even worth comparing to the sin of which God has forgiven you.

If someone has caused you pain and you have never told that person that you have forgiven them, forgive, and go tell them. Be reconciled to your brother or sister. Uproot the bitterness that has taken hold in your life and lay it at the foot of the cross of Jesus.

Ephesians 4:25-27 Since you put away lying,
Speak the truth, each one to his neighbor,
because we are members of one another.
26 Be angry and do not sin.
Don’t let the sun go down on your anger,
27 and don’t give the Devil an opportunity.