Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Walking in Love (Ephesians 5:1-2)

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” (Ephesians 5:1–2, NASB95)

I know that I’ve heard it, and I’m sure most of you have as well: “I can’t help it. That’s just the way I am.” For the believer this is biblical hogwash, so to speak. We are called to live as we are now and not as we once were. Before coming to Christ we were lost in our trespasses and sins. Having trusted Christ for our salvation we have been made spiritually alive and have become new creations in Christ. I know that does not bring with it immediate outward change in most cases, but it does very much bring deep inward change at the core of who we are—our spirit. Once this change was made we entered into a new life of walking with God in the power of His Spirit as we seek to conform our lives to the image of the Son, Jesus Christ. This inward change is intended to affect both the way we begin to think and the way we act learn to act in response.

We surely will continue to struggle in various ways at various times, but these struggles are not to identify us. Rather, they are to point to those areas where we are called to focus on putting off the old self and putting on the new as we understand from God and His Word the difference. Sometimes the battle might be longer and the habits more deeply engrained, but they are not unsurmountable barriers to the power of God to enable us to walk as imitators of Him.

Paul reminds us that we are beloved children. This makes such a huge difference. When we have the infinitely powerful God of all creation taking us in as His beloved children, we have His heart and His energies bent towards us. One of the pictures that came to my mind as I thought of this is teaching a child to ride a bicycle. There is this time between the training wheels and them being on their own where fear might keep them from going forward. But having the hand of a father on them during the transition makes a huge difference. What was perceived as undoable becomes doable because the child trusts the father to know what he is doing and to keep him or her from great harm. The same picture can be played out over and over again in various situations where children are trusting their parents to help them into new areas of life. Our Heavenly Father loves us as His children and His strong hands will never let go. He may allow us to stumble. He may allow us to suck in a bit of water. He may even allow us to get a cut or a scrape, but He will never let us go. So, when He tells us to follow His lead or His example, He will be there to help us to see it through. What He expects of us is that we trust Him in the process and do as He instructs without shortcuts or diversions.

He loves us, and He demonstrated His love for us in the most dramatic of ways by sending His Son to pay the price for our sins. Jesus offering Himself for us pleased and glorified the Father. John MacArthur, in his study Bible wrote, Christ’s offering of Himself for fallen man pleased and glorified the Father, because it demonstrated in the most complete and perfect way God’s sovereign, perfect, unconditional, and divine kind of love. Leviticus describes 5 offerings commanded by God for Israel. The first 3 were: 1) the burnt offering (Lev. 1:1–17), depicting Christ’s perfection; 2) the grain offering (Lev. 2:1–16), depicting Christ’s total devotion to God in giving His life to please the Father; and 3) the peace offering (Lev. 3:1–17; 4:27–31), depicting His peacemaking between God and man. All 3 of these were a “soothing aroma to the Lord” (Lev. 1:9, 13, 17; 2:2, 9, 12; 3:5, 16). The other two offerings, the sin offering (Lev. 4:1–26, 32–35) and the trespass offering (Lev. 5:1–19), were repulsive to God because, though they depicted Christ, they depicted Him as bearing sin (cf. Matt. 27:46). In the end, when redemption was accomplished, the whole work pleased God completely.

This is the example He set for us, and we are called to be imitators demonstrating our love for Him by living lives pleasing to Him as we walk in love with others. From Jesus we have learned the love of God, and now we are called to live according to that love. Living this way means a lot more than having emotional feelings toward God. It means giving ourselves fully to living the way He calls us to live, just as Jesus, being fully God, obeyed the Father to give Himself on the cross for us. He gave Himself as an offering and a sacrifice as a fragrant aroma to the Father, and we are called to live and love in that same way.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Living a Spirit-Pleasing Life (Ephesians 4:30-32)

“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:30–32, NASB95)

These instructions were written to believers dealing with other believers. Knowing that these were written to believers, we are to be continually reminded that we have both individually and corporately been sealed by the Holy Spirit of God. This is not something that we did, and it is not in our power to destroy it. But we sure can make it muddy. God brought us together and this togetherness is to endure until we enter His presence. We are to do nothing in our lives to cause Him grief as we relate to one another. Verse 29 may be viewed as an individual directive, but it is certainly to be worked out in a collective framework. These words speak to how we are individually to respond to who we are in Christ as members of His body, the church, and then collectively as we practice them and encourage one another to do likewise.

The stark contrast of a church that causes those outside the church to recognize us as Christ’s disciples and the church that does not is really found in our love for one another. Jesus set the example for His disciples and He gave them the directive of love, telling them what an example it would have on the watching world. This is what we read in John 13:34-35. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35, NASB95) This is Christ’s way for the body to function as one united by the Spirit. It is a difficult thing to be in or around a group of believers who for one reason or another do not evidence this oneness of love toward one another, and who maybe even have given a bad taste to those watching from the outside. One of the common excuses given for not accepting Christ is a past hurt someone experienced from a supposed Christian or their cold or harsh treatment received at a church. We all stumble, but our stumbling is never to become an excuse for walking on a lower road than the one established by God. As we think about the hurt we may have seen or experienced in the church, imagine how much more intently God is grieved when His believers contend with one another or when one of His beloved children strays. Paul tells us to consider God and what He has done in us through His Spirit as we work to preserve the oneness we have in Christ.

Going back to the first 4 verses of this chapter, we are instructed, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling;” (Ephesians 4:1–4, NASB95) In light of this and consistent with the instruction given in verses 22-24, Paul writes, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

The “put off” is bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and slander. These things represent both attitudes of the heart and mind and actions of the mouth and hands. Our bitter hearts, our vengeful thoughts and our anger lead to unrest and talk. This talk leads to putting others down through speaking badly of them or slandering them which then leads to malice which is synonymous with wickedness or malicious and wicked acts. It is a horrible spiral that hurts the body. It is one that is important enough that in his letter to the Philippians, Paul singled out two women and called upon the church to help them to put their differences to rest (See Philippians 4:2-9).

Instead of these things we are to put on kindness, tender-hearts, and forgiveness. “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” It is very easy to respond in unkind ways when you are treated unkindly. It is easy to become hard-hearted towards others when they treat you callously or without thoughts toward your own feelings. And it is easy to nurse the hurt when it has been dished out so unkindly or harsh. As Christians we are to preserve the unity that we have in Christ and respond in ways that don’t make sense to the world.

We are to be kind to others even when they are not kind with us. This does not mean that we also don’t at some time seek to correct them or let them know how their words or actions came across, but that may be a discussion for another day. We are to respond with kindness. In a largely parallel “put on” passage in Colossians we read, “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” (Colossians 3:12–14, NASB95)

We are to be tender-hearted even when we have been treated with not so tender a heart. What this means is that we continue to keep our hearts soft toward God and that we continue to rely on Him to go before us in all situations. This does not mean that we don’t deal with the situations at hand, but even in dealing with them that we reign in and put off those ways that might have marked us before and put on the ways that God has called us to respond now. Having a tender heart reflects faith. The Greek word from which it comes has to do with having bowels that are well or in good shape. It reflects an inner compassionate strength that comes from God and His Spirit working in us. We may have to walk through tough situations with other people, but this does not mean that we have to allow our hearts to become hardened in the process.

And the last “put on” in this passage is forgiving each other. Paul put the cap stone on this by adding that we are to do this, “just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” This one is pretty hard to get around. There is nothing greater than God’s forgiveness of us. Our perfect God sent His Son to lay down His life for us so that we might have the forgiveness of sins and to take it back up again so that we might have the assurance or proof of eternal life. He forgave every single sin we have and ever will commit knowing fully what they were before we were ever born. We tend to worry about the “what if’s” of forgiveness, thinking about how many times something may have happened previously or how it might happen again. Every single one of us has sinned repeatedly against God, and He calls us to forgive in the same way that He forgave us through His Son.

In Ephesians 5 we have the contrast to living in such a way that grieves His Spirit. We read, “…walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:8–10, NASB95)

Monday, June 27, 2016

Examples of Put Off and Put On – II (Ephesians 4:25-29)

“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:25–29, NASB95)

Continuing from the last post we are continuing to look at Paul’s practical examples of putting off activities reflecting our old self as we come to understand how we are to live, and then putting on those new and right practices which reflect who we are in Christ. Last time we focused on telling the truth and dealing with our anger. This time we move on to look at the issue of stealing and our speech in general.

The third very practical example is found in verse 28, “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.” Stealing is to have no place in the life of the believer. It is a basic principle that was clearly laid out in the Ten Commandments. “You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:15, NASB95) Therefore, as Christians we are not to steal, and if we have a pattern of stealing then we are to stop it. God’s answer for what to do in response is for us to put our nose to our work and focus on how we can use what He has given us to bless others in return.

For many this is easier said than done. Living on the edge is a difficult thing to do, but God is faithful even to those edges. When we are tempted we have His truth to direct our steps and to encourage our hearts. We see this in verses such as 1 Corinthians 10:13 where we read, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NASB95) God never minimizes our struggles, but compared to His infinite power all of our struggles pale in comparison to His power to help. He calls us to trust Him to get us through. How this works itself out may vary and even vary in intensity, but God will get us through, remembering that the outcome of the situation is often an aside to the outcome of what God does on the inside.

It may be that the situation does not get resolved to our expectations, but God proves His ability to bring us through. It may mean that He shows us a way to an answer. And, in may even turn out that in getting us through that He might even come to our aid through another who has followed this principle of “performing works with His own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.” The same Spirit works in all of us, and our God knows how to move His people for His glory and our best. The principle here is that rather than taking “short cuts” and stealing that which is not ours, we are to keep our eyes on God and do what He has set before us such that we might even be a blessing to others.

The fourth “Put off-Put on” is found in verse 29 where we read, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” I think we’ve all been in situations where cutting words have been said, and I know that I have been guilty of them myself. James called the tongue a “restless evil.” We read in chapter 3 of his letter, “But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of this way.” (James 3:8–10, NASB95)

Apart from Christ it might seem like a pretty hopeless statement to say that “no one can tame the tongue,” but this statement is restricted to the power of man. Christ in us does amazing things. The core of who we are is changed at the moment of our salvation. We have a new identity, and as we grow in Christ our actions are to be conformed more and more to Him. This means that there is hope for this restless evil, and that help is found in practicing the very instructions that we have in passages such as here in Ephesians 4:29 where we put off unwholesome words. The King James, New King James, and English Standard translations use a stronger word than “unwholesome.” They use “corrupt” or “corrupting.” The Greek word is ‘sapros,’ which is best represented by these other translations. When something is corrupted it no longer reflects the original. It becomes defective, unusable, and worthless. For those who have owned and used a computer you are probably familiar with what a corrupted hard drive does to the computer. It makes the whole computer worthless. Angry words are very destructive, and according to James these words should not come out of the mouth of anyone who professes to bless the Lord.

Rather, we are to put off those words and put on words that build up rather than tear down, words that encourage and bless rather discourage and condemn. Paul said we are to speak “only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” Returning once again to James 1:19 we are to be quick to look to God for our response, respond with words that are building up for the moment, and look to the grace that will be shown to those who hear rather than the anger that comes from an otherwise quick and rash response.

In every single one of these we see a change in focus. As we take our eyes off of ourselves and protecting our own desires to focus on the good of others we change the way we act. Being a Christian means being continually changed for God’s glory and the building up of others.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Examples of Put Off and Put On – I (Ephesians 4:25-29)

“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:25–29, NASB95)

After writing about putting off the old self, having the mind renewed, and putting on the new self, Paul then goes on to give some specific examples. The first one is “laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor….” It’s pretty basic. If you have a problem with lying, then stop lying. We read in Scripture that it is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:16; Titus 1:2), and as people who are called to live according to His ways we are not to lie either. Before becoming Christians, we had a different master, the devil, who we read in John 8:44 is the father of lies. Rather, being united in Christ we are to speak the truth to one another as Christ would speak to us. He has brought us together in one body, and we are to treat the entirety of that body honestly as we submit to Christ who is the head.

Taking this a bit further we can look back to Zechariah chapter 6 from where this instruction is previously given. “‘These are the things which you should do: speak the truth to one another; judge with truth and judgment for peace in your gates. ‘Also let none of you devise evil in your heart against another, and do not love perjury; for all these are what I hate,’ declares the Lord.”” (Zechariah 8:16–17, NASB95) This is how God had directed His people Israel to live, and this is how He instructs us to live as well—as people who speak the truth not to bring others down, but to create peace and to promote godly living.

I don’t think it any accident that this next instruction follows the previous. Paul continued, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” Clearly we see from this that all anger is not sin, but the line between not sinning in our anger and letting it turn to sin can become very thin. There are times when we see Jesus angry at the self-righteousness of the Pharisees and religious leaders of the Jews, and He spoke strongly against them. We also know from Scripture that He overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple. But I don’t think it much of a stretch to say that a significant percentage of the times when we become angry it is not over issues such as this, but because our desires were thwarted in some way. In all anger we are told to reign it in. The appropriate anger we are to process before God and not nurse it so that it grows into sinful resentment or something else. And the sinful anger, we are to cut it short and deal with it before God.

The quote here is from Psalm 4:4 where we read, “Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah” (Psalm 4:4, ESV) In the next verse the psalmist continued, “Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 4:5, ESV) Putting them together we read that we are to take our thoughts of anger captive and even ponder them on our beds before we go to sleep with the result being us becoming silent in the face of it. The reason we can do this is because we put our trust in the Lord. God is just. He is our defender and our help, and He will act. “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.” (Psalm 37:5, ESV)

The other side of not dealing with out anger is keeping the door open for the devil to poke and prod. Paul said that it is very important that we set anger aside, even “justified” anger so that the devil does not have an inroad into our hearts. When we do this the anger is given room to fester and make our hearts sick. It affects our attitudes and our actions. It hinders our walk with Christ. We hold onto the role of defender and corrector in our minds, and we don’t relent until it is satisfied which most commonly results in great hurt. Nursed anger and peacemaking to not go hand in hand. The solution is to hand the anger to God and trust Him to work it out. As we do this we can even ask if there is a more appropriate response that might preserve the oneness we have in Christ as we read in Matthew 18:15. “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” (Matthew 18:15, NASB95) 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Put Off, Renew Mind, Put On (Ephesians 4:20-24)

“But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (Ephesians 4:20–24, NASB95)

Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesian believers recognizing that not everyone who heard it read would actually be a believer and would know Jesus Christ. But for those who had personally heard Jesus speak and those who had been taught in Him, Paul reminded them that living as the Gentiles lived was in stark contrast to the teaching of Jesus. He called them to live differently, and He spoke at length regarding these differences. For those who were hearing this and who had not known Jesus, this comment might have served to awaken them to their great need, and if not these verses certainly other verses in the letter might have done so as they were much more pointed concerning salvation and life.

As saints, or holy ones in Christ, they (and us) were to live as holy ones in Christ. We have been called out from the world and have been set apart to live differently from the world or how we lived before coming to know Christ.

Starting with verse 22 Paul gives a three step process for change. This is not exhaustive, but it certainly is inclusive to cover all situations where we are called to live differently than the world. The first part is, “you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit.” The first step of living according to Christ, as obvious as it might seem, is simply to stop living like the world. We are no longer who we were, and we are not to live as if we were. We are to lay those old things aside and not pick them back up again. I like to think of this in the realm of laundry in my home. There are generally two types of places that laundry goes. There are the places that dirty laundry goes and the places that clean laundry goes. For most of us when we get dressed in the morning we wouldn’t think right off the bat of going to the dirty laundry to get our clothes for the day. Then after having worn them and recognizing their dirty nature, we also choose at the appropriate time to take them off and lay them aside. Here Paul is saying that the appropriate time to take off the old stuff is when you realize that you are wearing the stuff of the old self. Don’t try to get an extra day out of it like you might a pair of jeans. Stop it. Lay it aside. Don’t pick it back up again. It may not be easy, but it needs to be done. You may fight the desire to go back there again, but don’t do it. This is what we find in this first part of Paul’s directions.

The second part has to do with our awareness. The time to lay the old ways aside is when we realize that they are the old ways and/or that we are doing them again. In verse 23 we read, “and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind.…” I’ve heard a pastor friend of mine say on numerous occasions that the devil does not make us sin. We sin because we want to. Here Paul says that we are to be engaged of the process of continually having our minds renewed not only according to our actions but also according to the moving or leading in our thoughts. In Psalm 119:9 we read, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.” … “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.” (Psalm 119:9, 11, NASB95) The psalmist filled His mind with the word of God such that when he was tempted to do contrary his mind would so move him not to do so. We are to be continually taking our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ as we read in 2 Corinthians 10:5. We are to study His word knowing that it is profitable for our lives as we read in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;” (2 Timothy 3:16, NASB95) It is God’s Word and His Spirit working in us to make His Word alive that makes His Word such that we see where we have gone off track, how to get back on track, and how to grow and continue in that way. We are to live as people with minds continually being renewed, and when we do this we will find that we recognize more clearly the sins in our life and the appropriate response to them.

Then in verse 24 we read, “and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” This is the other half of the laundry story. Get dressed as those who have been cleansed with clean clothes. God does not tell us to stop doing something without giving us the appropriate “to do” in response. And here the “to do” is as basic as it gets, with applications that extend to the fullness of His Word. The new self we possess is in the likeness of God. We have been created in Christ in righteousness and holiness of the truth. So to put it most simply, we are to get dressed according to the truth.

As a parent sometimes I struggle with how my kids walk out the door. There is the one side of the battle which reflects on me as their father that might give people cause to question how much parenting they are receiving. Over the years I have pretty much been able to set a part of this aside. I have been able to largely set aside the what kind of parenting issue or the “what will people think of me” issue. But the one part I continue to contend with concerning those still in the home is the “regardless of what they think of me, what does it say about you” issue. We encourage them to dress appropriate to who they are and where they are going. As Christians we are to remember that no matter where we are or where we are going we are doing so as children of God. Our attitudes and our actions are to reflect our identity such that Christ is glorified in us. This is how we are taught. This is how we are to live.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Watch Your Walk (Ephesians 4:17-19)

“So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.” (Ephesians 4:17–19, NASB95)

Living as if God does not exist opens the door for living in any way an individual might choose to live. Because to live otherwise recognizes in some way that there is a standard and if there is a standard there must be some form of standard giver. Ravi Zacharias, a well-known and highly regarded apologist (or one who makes reasoned arguments) has answered thousands of questions and engaged in hundreds of forums and debates. He is quoted responding (on more than one occasion and in various formats) to the common objection, “There cannot be a God, because there is too much evil in this world.” “Here's the problem with that objection. When you say there's too much evil in this world you assume there's good. When you assume there's good, you assume there's such a thing as a moral law on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil. But if you assume a moral law, you must posit a moral Law Giver, but that's Who you're trying to disprove and not prove. Because if there's no moral Law Giver, there's no moral law. If there's no moral law, there's no good. If there's no good, there's no evil. —Ravi Zacharias

We don’t have to look hard to see how this type of godless living has worked its ways into the very thread of our culture. In fact, its fingers are turning into fists and are forcing their ways and their views upon us. Paul continues writing to the Ephesians believers next, after having told them to grow in Christ and His truth, to exhort them or warm them not to slip back into old practices. We are no longer slaves to sin, and we are not to live as if we are. We are no longer children of the devil and we have no obligation to listen to his voice. We are no longer lost in our trespasses and sins, but we have been set free from them in Christ, and this is how we are now supposed to live.  These are not just Paul’s words, this is the word of Christ spoken through Paul and of which he is in full agreement. For anyone to take the Bible and scale things based upon who said them is to deny the inspired or God-breathed nature of His Word. The Bible is not a collection of writings by men who thought God had a good thing going and who wanted to expand on His thing by sharing their own thoughts. Paul himself wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed….” (NIV) Peter wrote, “for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (2 Peter 1:21, NASB95)

As believers we are to embrace the word of God and hide it in our hearts. It is to be, as we read in Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105, NASB95) To live in any other way is to live in conflict with our identity in Christ. The reality is, however, that we all live this way at times, and God’s Word is full of instruction leading to correct thinking and living. We don’t need to live in guilt because the blood of Christ has cleansed us from all of our sins. What we need to do is own up to it, admit it to God, and commit to living according to His ways in the future. And when we stumble again we do the same thing. Recognizing this pattern though is not an excuse to go on sinning, but a reminder of the great love of God shown to us and an encouragement for us to return that love through lives fully given to Him in worship, obedience and service.

As for the world, they are going to do what the world does. Here Paul speaks to their great delusion which is found in the hardness of their own hearts. We read that they walk in the futility of their minds. Futile means without benefit or vain. In the end, all that they chase after will be burned up and prove just how worthless it is. Their grandiose ideas and theories will crumble in the face of God’s unchanging truth.

And then as they walk this way they will enter deeper and deeper into their own darkness, a darkness which we read in 2 Corinthians that the devil is whole heartedly behind. “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:3–4, NASB95) They prove just how far they are from God by the ignorance that spews from their own mouths. And according to the hardness of their hearts they have become callous to that which God calls true, right, and honorable. They exchange the things of God for a thick-skinned striving after pleasure and impurity with their own best being the end goal.

I’m sure we met lots of what we would call “good people” in the world who seem to do good things, but the reality is that all of their goodness from our perspective won’t save them. All of us have sinned and all of us have fallen short of God’s glory. God’s only means to salvation is to receive His Son who was sent as light and life into the world.

Paul wrote in Romans chapter 1, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” (Romans 1:16–25, NASB95)

The contrast is pretty clear. Paul will lay out for us a plan for how to walk appropriately in the next verses of chapter 4. Read ahead in Ephesians 4:20-24.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Functioning as One Body (Ephesians 4:14-16)

“As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:14–16, NASB95)

So, what does unity of faith look like? Paul continued from verse 13 instructions for growing toward maturity in Christ, or growing to our full stature in Him. In these next verses He speaks to how growth in instruction and practice leads to resulting maturity and unity. First, he pointed to what we move away from, which is the way the world does things. Having grown in our knowledge of Christ and His Word we are no longer subject to the words of those who promote other things. We know the truth, and from this we are able to distinguish falsehood. Beyond the leadership guarding the teaching in the church, we as individual members grow in such a way that we both individually and together can stand on that same truth and recognize and reject other teachings.

When you don’t know what something looks like it is much easier for someone to convince you that it is something other than what it really is. We are easily deceived when we are uninformed. But having grown in our own knowledge of the truth we can recognize situations of falsehood and even step in to speak to others when they might be showing signs of being deceived themselves, and the way we are to do this is by speaking the truth in love. Because we love one another, we in love exhort and encourage one another to listen to the truth and follow it with their whole hearts. It is not because obeying the Bible will save anyone, but because our God who sent His Son to save us also gave us His Word, and He has instructed us to hide His Word in our hearts and follow after it as our response of love. We speak the truth in love to others because in truth and grace Christ came to show us that same truth and then the Spirit moved men to record that truth for us even today.

In the last post I pointed to James 1:19 where we read that everyone is to be quick, slow to speak, and slow to anger. A few verses earlier in the same chapter we read, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:5–8, NASB95) In these verses we see the same contrast. God has given us His Word and His wisdom so that we might listen to Him and move forward trusting Him by faith. But like the ones who are uninformed about the truth and who listen to various teachings, so is the man who comes to God for an answer but then also rushes off to others places as well. The Bible tells us that these people who listen to multiple voices are unstable in all of their ways, and the picture we are given is that they are like the surf of the sea being tossed about by the fierce winds. In other words, we set ourselves up for these internal storms when we neglect to align ourselves with God’s singular truth and listen to His voice.

And as we listen to Christ, we also read that we are to submit every aspect of our lives to His purview.  I like this word “purview” because it speaks to the range of oversight, authority, influence and control over something or someone. Jesus Christ has full authority over our lives. We are no longer are our own. We have been bought with a price, and we belong to Him. There is no aspect of our lives that is outside of His oversight, authority, influence and control. Everything about us is to be submitted to Him, and then as we do that He is faithful such that we grow in every aspect into Him who is our head.

Jesus Christ is the head of the Church and He is the head of every member. He is the head of the body and every element of His body is subject to His headship. He is the one through whom we were given access according to the will of the Father, and He is the one who holds it all together. I was sick for a couple of days. Tuesday was a day off and yesterday I had to call in. My body was yelling at me in a variety of ways and there were parts of my body that were not functioning as they normally should. This happens to us as we struggle in these bodies given to us. These bodies are subject to illness, disease, and even eventual decay. But the body that will not pass is the one we have been made a part of in Jesus Christ. He, in concert with the Father and the Spirit, have determined how it is to function and how each and every member is to contribute. This is what we read in 1 Corinthians 12 we read,

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:4–7, NASB95) … “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:11–13, NASB95)

We read that the Spirit does the fitting. Then with that fitting we are called to properly function. We can step into a lot of areas from time to time to do things which may not best suit who it might seem that God has made us to be, but over time as we grow in Christ as one body that body is to more and more reflect the properly functioning image of Christ. The reality is that here there is no perfect church and all of us are in different stages of growth. All of us have weakness and failings and we generally are pretty good at seeing them in others. But as we work together to build up and encourage one another, even stepping into those other areas to help the rest of the body and in turn ourselves, we get a real glimpse of exactly what Paul is writing about in these verses.

This is what a group of believers gathered together as a local body of believers do with and for one another as they live their lives loving one another out of their response of love for Christ. Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him. Three times Peter responded that he did. And, three times Jesus told Him to take care of His sheep. This was Peter’s call to ministry, but it is also our call as we respond in love by lovingly building into one another such that we all function optimally in His body—the church.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Promoting Unity in the Church (Ephesians 4:12b-13)

It has been a long time and much has happened, even to the point that it has added some further color to these verses here today.

“to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12b-13, NASB95)

The responsibility of the shepherd is to care for, tend to, and feed the sheep. The objective is to see them built up as one body in Christ. When this works well it is an awesome thing, but when either the shepherd neglects his task or the sheep do not listen to His voice it reflects just how distant at least some in the picture have strayed from listening to our Lord and Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

In His prayer to the Father in John chapter 17 Jesus asked that those who were given to Him would be kept as one. This didn’t extend only to those He personally chose and walked with according to the will of the Father, but all who would subsequently follow in belief. He said in verses 10-23,

“and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them. “I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are. “While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled. “But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” (John 17:10–23, NASB95)

We see in our Lord the priority on oneness that is found in being united to the Father through the Son according to the Word of Truth. He prayed that we would be one just as He was one with the Father. This is the kind of unity that Jesus put a priority on. It was not a convenient unity, but a unity that called on all involved to grow in love, knowledge, and obedience to the source of that unity—our God. And, one of the amazing outcomes of this is that the world would look upon us and see just how differently we do things. This is the kind of relationship that we are to have with each other as we look to the source of that relationship who is our God and Father who sent His Son to give Himself for us and bring us into His body—the church.

It is for this reason that the apostle Paul continues to expand on the things that build and preserve the “unity of the faith.” In this the starting place of our growing knowledge, awareness, and trust is none other than Jesus Christ. Jesus told His disciples that in coming to know Him that they came to know the Father. Responding to Philip, He said, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.” (John 14:9–11, NASB95) Jesus has made Himself known to us and it is our responsibility to continually grow in our knowledge of Him.

Then as we do this and as our lives are conformed to what we learn of Him, we ourselves grow in maturity, which according to this passage is measured not by our size, strength, knowledge, or talents, but by “the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”  In other words, our maturity is measured by how closely we resemble our Lord in every aspect of our lives. The reality is that not one of us will accomplish this perfectly this side of the heaven. It is impossible for us to do. But is not impossible for our Lord to continually shape us as we seek after Him, submit ourselves to Him, and follow Him with our whole hearts, not keeping anything from His hands to change. Jesus is not only the standard for our maturity, but He is also the means of our maturity through the inner working of the Spirit as we hide His Word in our hearts and follow after Him. The Bible is more than a good self-help book. We read in Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12, NASB95)

So, getting back to the initial statement concerning the objective of the pastor to grow the church in the unity of the faith, it is his task as He looks to our Lord and His Word to walk according to the power of the Spirit, hand-in-hand with the other leadership of the church to exemplify, teach, and promote a built up body, one in faith. When we see chinks in this it is a sure sign that a couple of things are happening. First, it is a sign that our enemy is busy. The devil is an opportunist, and he will take every opportunity to seek to destroy that which God has begun. Second, it is a sign that at least some in the body have given in their hearts and lives an opportunity for him to work. As Paul would say later in this same chapter, “do not give the devil an opportunity.” When these situations arise, maybe even over good desires, we are to step back and look to God for our direction on how to proceed.

Pushing through in our own strength is never the right answer. One of my favorite counseling verses is James 1:19. “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;” (James 1:19, NASB95) I find it interesting that the verse begins with “This you know….” Isn’t it interesting how easy it is for us to get into trouble with one another when we blow past the things we know to do the things we know we should not do. James said, “This you know, my beloved brethren.” Again, isn’t it amazing how we do this probably even more frequently with those we love as opposed to those we don’t know and who we possibly might even show more restraint around. Sometimes our familiarity becomes out greatest hindrance as we neglect the things that we should be paying the greatest attention to especially with those we love the most.

Then, James gets to the heart of the point writing, “But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;” The context of much of chapter one in James is our looking to God in everything. Here we are encouraged when situations arise that might otherwise illicit a foul response that we are instead to be “quick to hear.” Sure, from a human standpoint, we need to be people who listen fully to each other, who seek to hear not only their words, but their heart and even their hurt. But more than that, we are to take that pause, however brief, to listen to God and seek His best response even if that means not having a response in the moment. This is so contrary to many of us who really are quick to hear what others say, so quick that we really don’t hear anything at all.

We are also to be slow to speak. We are to refrain from continually shaping our response while we listen to the words of another. We are to refrain from seeking the continual argumentative rebuttal or the quick put down or send off. We are to refrain from responding in such a way that we needlessly hurt another. What we are to do instead is to think about our words and respond in accordance with that which promotes both grace and truth.  Then we read that the result will be that we are slow to anger. We don’t fly off the handle. This may not necessarily speak to the response of the other, but it does speak to our guarding our own hearts, our own words, and our own actions. Then as we promote this in the body, we promote the unity of which Jesus spoke and Paul wrote. And in the church, this needs to start with the leadership. These are the men set apart by God to shepherd and oversee His church. But when it starts there and is lived throughout the body the results will be amazing.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35, NASB95)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Battle Within When Things Break Outside (James 1:2-4)

Spiritual warfare can come in all shapes and sizes. In February after returning from Arizona it was a hot water heater and a latch on the dish washer. This time it was the heating element in the oven and the riding tractor.
Each time there was an easy physical one and a not so easy physical one, one which I dealt with better than the other and one not so much. This time the oven was the pretty easy one and the riding lawn tractor is down to one of two reasonable problems which I hope to resolve, knowing that I may still take the mower in for repairs.
Taking it one step at a time and not letting the trials get the best (or worst in actuality) of my emotions is a good thing. Reminding myself that God is good and that He is faithful in all trials of all sorts is much better.
Generally with the physical trails there are other ones as well. This is true here, and the answer is still the same.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2–4, ESV)

June 17th addendum: I also forgot that my pad sander busted in the middle of this, while trying to complete a new Roadrunner Whirligig inspired from my most recent trip. Today the parts came, and this evening with a few minutes of work I had a like new sander for a third of the price. I took this one in stride, but as I stride I am continually aware that the battle for the mind continues and it is so incredibly important for us to walk according to the Spirit and not allowing room for our actions or our attitudes to succumb to the desires or frustrations of the flesh.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” ... But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:16, 22–25, NASB95)