Thursday, November 3, 2016

"But, God!"

Last night, after a delicious meal, around a campfire on a beautiful evening, I asked the youth, “Tell of a time when you came very close to death.” There followed many stories; childhood illnesses, accidents, allergic reactions, near misses, and other scary moments. We were thankful for being alive!

Ephesians 2:1-3 emphasizes how we “used to live” in transgressions and sins according to the cravings of our flesh (sinful nature). We named specific “transgressions and sins.”  We discussed that when we continue to live in that way, (sometimes unconsciously, sometimes willfully) it desensitizes us to that little “Jiminy Cricket” voice of conscious in our brain, and we continue living without hope under the influence of evil present in this world, v 2.

But, God…
Then we read the amazing hope in verses 4-5! 
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”
Grace! Described by one young person as “Undeserved forgiveness.” Absolutely correct! The word grace shouts out from verses 4-10! In God’s love and mercy, which contrasts the wrath that we deserved, he decided to rescue his wayward children!
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
The Holy Spirit recreates our inner being—we “used to be dead” but God “made us alive with Christ.”

Resurrection! Recreation! Restoration!

I then challenged everyone to think about who they have in their lives who holds them accountable for staying on track; choosing to continue living as followers of Jesus and not slipping back into behaviors that are based on the sinful nature, not the God-nature grace-fully given to us. Who speaks truth into your life? And to whom can you speak truth, helping another person follow Jesus faithfully?

We need each other. We need to speak grace-filled words of accountability and hope to each other. Life is too hard to go it alone. We need to pray for each other, and pray for our church and our pastors.  

And we did just that, around a campfire on a beautiful evening.
God loves you! I love you!

Grace and peace.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ephesians 2:1-3 "Used to would"

According to Jeff Foxworthy’s Redneck Dictionary, the phrase “used to could” means something you were once able to do but no longer can. For me it would be, “I can’t do a cartwheel anymore, but I used to could.”

The word could is used to indicate ability or permission in the past; “I could run faster then.”
The word would is used to express desire or intent, or to express repeated or habitual action in the past. “I would run faster now….if I could.”

In Ephesians 2:1-3 Paul told the believers how they “used to would” live.

Humanity was created to be in intimate relationship with God. Sin destroyed that shalom, and humanity was separated from God and from shalom. This is the human condition - dead, living in “transgressions and sins” v 1 (two words that together have the same emphasis). In this human condition all people are dominated by:
     -the “ways of the world” v 2
     -the “ruler of the kingdom of the air” v 2
     -and the “cravings of the flesh” v 3

All three realities work to lure us away from God and hope in Jesus Christ.

The Greek word in v 3 for flesh is “sarx.” It shows up as a prefix in medical terminology for certain conditions; sarc-oma is a flesh (sarc) tumor (oma). New Testament writers used “sarx” in reference to our physical body and all its cravings, longings, urges, and desires. Some of which are good.

But Paul’s talking about YOLO.

Well, maybe the ancient people didn’t have that acronym, but they sure understood “If it feels good, do it.” Many taught that the body and soul are separate so how one lives doesn’t matter because it has no effect on the soul. But Paul taught that we are whole beings, mind-body-soul-connected, and our fleshly cravings do indeed have spiritual implications.

“We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Ephesians 2:3 The Message

We need to understand the truth we are in a hopeless condition before we can grasp the truth of the hope that Jesus Christ offers! We'll learn about that next week!

In the meantime, ask the Holy Spirit to help YOLFJ.

Got that?

You Only Live For Jesus

Friday, October 7, 2016

In Christ

This post concludes my reflections on Ephesians chapter 1. In this first chapter Paul wrote about the marvelous benefits of belonging to the Body of Christ. It contains an important phrase—“in Christ” – which is used 14 times in one fashion or another.

in Christ v 1, 3, 10, 12, 20
in Him v 4
in the Beloved One v 6
in Whom v 7, 11, 13 (2x)
in Him v 9, 10
in the Lord Jesus v 15

In the Greek these phrases are written in the “locative case” which means that it indicates a location. We do not see that emphasis in English. This emphasizes that the blessings we receive come through Christ and that these blessings are located IN Christ—who is himself IN us through His Spirit. Understanding that gives deeper meaning to the phrase “Body of Christ.” We are members of Christ’s Body, as individuals, and as a community; we become One, IN and THROUGH Christ.

Paul wrote about the blessings we receive from the Father through and in Christ v3:
v 4 He chose us
v5 He decided that “in Christ” his children would be “conformed to Christ’s image” 
v6 His grace determined that we receive and live in love
v7 He gives redemption and forgiveness from sins, wisdom and lavish grace
v11-13a We are chosen and when we hear and believe we receive the Holy Spirit
v13b-14 The Spirit-filled life is a foretaste of heaven! Christ who is with the Father in heaven is also present in us through His Spirit!
v16-2 The Spirit of wisdom and revelation helps us know Christ better and teaches us to know hope; the riches of inheritance and incomparably great power that is “in Christ.”
V 22-23 All of these promises and blessings are locked up in the Person of Jesus Christ and can’t be found anywhere else.

Paul prays that the believers will KNOW, UNDERSTAND, and LIVE IN and THROUGH THAT POWER that is IN CHRIST IN THEM!
v18 HOPE is not wishful thinking. Hope is certainty, assurance, and confidence. Hope gives you confidence of your identity as adopted, blessed children of God, You are aware of, and continue to grow in your understanding that you carry Christ’s power in you because the Holy Spirit blows on, in, and through you!
And when you have the Holy Spirit, you can know that no matter what life throws at you, you can trust that God will provide for your needs; that in spite of unexpected sicknesses, disease, job loss, accidents, or disappointments God is in control and you can worship and trust him; and that God is always present to help you.

And because of your confidence “in Christ in you” and the Spirit’s work in you, your whole life is for the “praise of His glory.” v14b
“The fullness of God—everything that God is—lives in Jesus, and Jesus lives in us, and we are complete in Him. Think about that!”

 I'm praying for you, friend!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Dear Rachel, How are you?

When my father, mother, and I lived in the remote village of Akiak, Alaska we had two ways to communicate with family and friends in the “lower 48”; by using the only telephone in the village or by writing letters. The telephone was located in a Quonset hut that was sort of a community building. If it rang whoever happened to hear it would answer and then run to try and find the person who was being called. If you were the caller, you needed to calculate the time zone difference and hope that someone on the other end would answer.

Letter writing was more reliable, but slower. Sometimes my mother would write to arrange a phone call; e.g., “on Friday I will be calling you at 5 pm your time.” I still have some letters that I received during those summers. There is something very intimate about holding paper that you know the sender also held and who spent time writing their thoughts so the two of you could stay connected.

Is letter writing still taught in schools? Or has technology (word processing, email, text, social media, cell phones, etc.) taken over so that pen and paper have become a lost form of communication? I remember learning in grade school how to properly begin an informal letter;

                            September 27, 1975

                                               Dear Rachel,
                                               How are you? I am fine.
                                               Love, Debbie

(Hey, it was grade school; there wasn’t much going on in my life at that time! And please don’t call me Debbie.)

While we are taught to begin a letter by addressing the person to whom we are writing, people in the first century began a letter with their own names, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Eph 1:1-2

“Grace” was a customary greeting for the Greeks. “Peace” was a customary greeting for the Jews. Glance at the beginning of other New Testament books written by Paul and you see how important this greeting was for him. By using both “grace and peace” Paul included both the Greeks and the Jews in his writings;
“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” Eph 2:14-18
We don’t think much about Paul’s “grace and peace to you” openings. But it was really radical for his time! With just two words he emphasized that everyone who believes in Jesus as Lord and Savior is part of God’s family. Rather remarkable, really.

How do you greet people? What two words could you use that carry more far more weight than our usual “Hey! How ya doin?” Maybe you can start a new trend by greeting everyone with "Grace and peace, yo!"

Think about it, friends.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

What's your super power? Ephesians 1:18-21

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” Ephesians 1:18-21
The Greek word used in these verses for power is dynamai (which is the root of our word, dynamite!). It means force, miraculous power, ability, and mighty strength.

The Greek word used for strength is kratos. It means vigor, dominion, mighty strength or power.

Paul wants the believers at Ephesus to understand and know:
Promise of eternity! 
God’s power for everyday living!

And Paul makes an amazing announcement that the dynamai God used to resurrect Jesus from the dead gives us kratos!

Here are two of my favorite stories where that power was at work:
-When Jesus was arrested his words “I am he” knocked the soldiers flat! John 18:4-6
-When Jesus was resurrected, that same power knocked the guards at the tomb flat, “like dead men.” Matthew 28:2-4

Friends, we are not to just exist from one day to the next. We are not supposed to whine about our circumstances or be fatalistic about our future. The incomparably great power that came from the mouth of Jesus, is the same power God used to raise Jesus from the dead, is the same power he gives us who believe…every day!!

Super Friends, you have dynamite resurrection power coursing through your veins right now!! You have the mighty strength of God rushing through your lungs with every breath!!

So write these verses on your bathroom mirror; memorize them!

“For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, 
of love and of self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7 
“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” 2 Peter 1:3
And if you ever think or say, “I can’t!” You better add to it “…but God can!”

I'm praying for you!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Surprise? Ephesians 1:4-6

I am the youngest child of five and showed up a number of years after the first four. When I had my first child my mother told me how she thought four children were plenty and then suddenly she learned she was pregnant again, and she wasn’t happy about it. But she said that after I was born she was very thankful for #5. I had never heard that story before and my first response was a teasing, “So I was an accident?” And she quickly and forcefully replied, “No! You were a surprise, but not an accident!”

While I was a surprise to my parents, I am no surprise to God!
And neither are you. God knew you before you were even conceived…
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 139:13-16 NIV
And God focuses his love on you through Jesus Christ…
“How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.” Ephesians 1:4-6 The Message
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” 1 John 3:1
I just love that word; extravagant, over-the-top, unrestrained, generous, luxurious, excessive.
 “For God so extravagantly over-the-top loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:16

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” 1 John 3:16a

“So if your flesh ever tires to rant and rave that you’re not worthy enough to be used or that you’re just an accident, you need to take authority over your flesh and tell it to shut its stupid mouth!” Rick Renner

You are not an accident.
God knows you.
God loves you.
God poured out Himself for you.
God has plans for you.
You. Are. Loved.
Let that sink into your brain, friend.  

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Talking about Ephesians, Chapter 1

Those crazy Facebook quizzes annoy me. 
     “What Mexican food are you?” 
     What Twilight character do you resemble?” 
     “What’s your real age?” 
     “What would be your prison stereotype?” Okay, for the sake of this post I took that one. Results were that I would be a prison leader. Fantastic.
     “What prison sentence would you get?” Life sentence. Well, that’s just great.
Maybe I should create a quiz. 
     “If you were in jail what would you do with all your spare time?”

The apostle Paul spent quite a bit of time in jail. What a great example, huh? Well, actually, yea, he is. Because, he was thrown in jail for preaching about Jesus. But before all that, Saul (the pre-Paul) actually was a Jesus-hater who ran around throwing Jesus-followers in prison (Acts 8:1-3). Then Jesus got hold of him; shined a bright light in his eyes which blinded him, told him to knock it off, healed him, and gave him a new purpose in life (Acts 9:1-22). See, most of the Jews thought Jesus was dead and gone and was no longer a threat to their religious way of life. Then Saul/Paul jumped the fence and preached about Jesus. And the Jews didn’t like that very much (Acts 13:44-52).

Nothing scared Paul. Not shipwrecks (Acts 29), or snake bites (28:1-6), politicians or wealthy people, being beaten or stoned (14:19-20; 21:27-32), being thrown in jail (Acts 16), or even dying for his faith in Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 4:6-8; 16-18). You can read Paul’s own words about all that crazy stuff in 2 Corinthians 11:21-30; 12:9-10.

Jails in the first century weren’t very comfy; dark, dirty, and smelly are fitting descriptions. So, what did Paul do with all his spare time while chained in jail cells?
                -Had hymn sings Acts 16:25
                -Kept talking about Jesus Acts 16:31-32
                -Wrote letters to churches that he had visited on his travels. 
                  Ephesus, Acts chapters 19-20

The New Testament books of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon are called Paul’s “prison epistles (letters) because he wrote them while he was in jail, and there were probably many more letters that never survived. Most likely he had a lot of time to think and pray, and the Holy Spirit taught him a lot about Jesus, too. Paul was then able to pass on that knowledge to those first Christians through his writings. And to us!

The beginning of his letter to the church in Ephesus contains rich words of praise and blessing for who God is and what he has done in and through Jesus Christ vs 3-10; how God has blessings for everyone who believes in Jesus v 11-14; and praise and  thanksgiving for the believers in that church vs 15-23. It is an amazing way to start a letter!

You see, Paul wasn’t sitting in his cell pouting about his circumstances (Philippians 4:11-13)! No dank jail cell or thick iron bars were going to stop him from his unending commitment of spreading the good news of Jesus Christ (Acts 28:30-31)! Paul wrote that he was “in chains for Christ” (Philippians 1:13) and a “prisoner of Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 3:1). That was his purpose, his calling, and his goal until his dying day. Church tradition taught that Paul was beheaded in Rome in the mid to late 60’s AD. 

Killed because he wouldn’t stop talkin’ ‘bout Jesus.

So. What’s my/our problem?
What are my current circumstances? I’m not in jail; I live rather comfortably.
What do you do with all your spare time?
What do I consider more important than Jesus Christ? Popularity? My future? My job (wait that doesn’t count ‘cause I’m a pastor)? 
Are we willing to take risks so that the Gospel of the Good News of Jesus Christ will be shared with the people we are with every day? Or anyone we happen to meet?
Is there anything that keeps me from saying, “I, Deb, a prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you youth…”

I hope not. Jesus might have to shine a blinding bright light in MY eyes to straighten me up.