That you may be strengthened in your inner being with power…

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Ephesians 3: 16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 

The apostle Paul has a way of saying a lot in a relatively few words. This passage is a great example. I could easily write on this one passage for a week or more. But today I am drawn to v.16, “he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit…”.

As was true for many of the church communities of Paul’s day, the Christians in Ephesus were often under duress for their faith. Some people simply tired of the struggle and left the church, but others did not. It seems it’s these persons who refused to leave that Paul addressed here, particularly in v.16.

Hardship wears people down physically, emotionally, spiritually – as many people have experienced during the worst of the pandemic (which I pray is mostly behind us). Most people can put up with strain for a while, but when it goes on and on and on with no end in sight… it can be overwhelming.

“I pray that… (God) may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit…”

There’s the saying, “Suck it up buttercup!” Lots of people, then and now, can suck it up for a time before we are overwhelmed. I wonder this morning how you are doing, dear reader. Are you overwhelmed in some area of life? Out of gas mentally, emotionally, spiritually? LOTS of people are, including me. V.16 holds a word of promise for us.

First, it is God who grants power. It’s not something that is earned, or that is reserved for the “good” people. God’s power is given as a gift of love from God the Father.

Second, the Greek word translated as “power” is “dynamis” from which we get the word “dynamite”. It refers to supernatural power given by God to people. The source of this power is not of this world, but of the heavenly realm.

Third, it isn’t the kind of power that makes you physically stronger. It’s an inner power, what we might call “resilience”. It’s the ability to endure long after our human resources are spent.

Finally, this inner power in given “through his Spirit”. This is the Spirit that dwells in all believers, the third person of the Trinity (as in Father, Son, Spirit). It is the presence of God’s Spirit within us that gives us power on the inside to endure whatever life throws at us. I need some of that “dynamis” today friends, as I’ll bet do you.

Lord let it be so. Amen.

From death to life…

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Ephesians 2:1 You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air (Satan), the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. 

V.5 is what grabs me this morning, “even when we were dead through our trespasses (God) made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have bee saved”. There are at least two dimensions to this idea of “alive together with Christ”of which Paul writes.

First, there is the promise that all followers of Jesus will one day be raised from death to life, as Jesus was raised from death to life many years ago. That’s an important promise. It means, among other things, we will be reunited with those we love who have preceded us in death. Their departure from this world is not the end, but a transition. One day our lives on this earth will end as well. Yet, on the day of the Lord we will see them once again. If you’ve lost people you love, let this be a word of hope for you.

Second, being raised from death to life isn’t limited to something that happens after we die, but it begins in this life – right now. As someone who lived outside of faith for the first 25 years or so of my life, I can tell you that becoming a truly committed Christian changed me in many ways. I’ll name two for you.

  1. Though I was floundering for a sense of direction and purpose in my life (something greater than “go make money”), Jesus gave me a path to follow that has been fulfilling and rewarding in every way. I could never have imagined I would one day be a pastor. But here I am and I love it.
  2. Coming from a family that has been rife with divorce and separation as long as I can remember, God has given to me and my wife Jana sufficient grace to celebrate our 32nd anniversary (yesterday). Honestly, I never thought such a thing would be possible for me when I was a younger man. But God can do amazing things in relationships.

“…even when we were dead through our trespasses (God) made us alive together with Christ…”

If you’re a Christian, how has the Lord brought new life into your experience? If you’re not a Christian, you must know that Jesus sacrificed himself so that you might experience new life that begins NOW and extends into eternity. I’d love to talk with you about it if you’d like. Post in the comments here and let’s talk.

Lord Jesus, you are the source of life in the midst of a world filled with death. Give us grace to embrace you, submit to you, be transformed by you. Forgive us our sins and do a new work in us – from the inside out. We pray this in your holy name. Amen.

Speaking to God and listening to God…

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Ephesians 1:13 In (Jesus) you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. 

V.13 stands out for me today, “you also… were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit…”. For many centuries it was the dream of God’s people to be able to speak to God directly and/or to hear a word from God directly. Instead, before Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to the church at Pentecost, the faithful had to go to a priest to intercede for them. Or to a prophet to hear a word from God. With a few exceptions, people did not have direct access to the living God. They needed an intermediary, a person through whom to communicate with God.

By sending the Holy Spirit, Jesus changed all that.

Paul reminds us that, as Christian believers, we now have full access to God. We can go directly to God in prayer, pouring out the concerns and praises of our hearts. We can intercede for others, no animal sacrifice required as was true during the Old Testament days. We can confess our sins to God directly and receive forgiveness directly. We can hear the Lord call us “Beloved” in our hearts, or hear a word of comfort when we are in distress, or hear the call to love others as Jesus first loved us.

I realize this kind of speaking and listening to God isn’t always as clear as we’d like. Sometimes it seems we can pray to the Lord for days or weeks or years and hear very little in return. Praying is not like speaking with someone face to face. But that day, too, will come – when Jesus returns to us and ushers in the new age. Lord Jesus let it be so, as you have promised. Amen.

God wants good things for you…

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Ephesians 1:Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.

The apostle Paul begins his letter to the Christians in Ephesus with a word of praise to God for what God has done among the Ephesians through the grace of Jesus Christ. Paul makes very clear it is God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who is the actor, initiator, director of the blessings given to the Ephesian church. A few examples:

  • v.3 God “who has blessed us”
  • v.4 God “chose us in Christ”
  • v.5 God “destined us for adoption”
  • v.6 God “freely bestowed on us” (his glorious grace)
  • v.7-8 In Christ we have redemption that God “lavished on us

It’s important that all of these things and more were given to the Ephesians an act of love from God the Father through Jesus the Son – not as a reward for their good behavior or faithfulness or whatever. It is simply God’s “good pleasure” (v.5) to do so. God wants good things for the children of God – then and now.

God wants good things for you dear brother/sister. It’s true. Thank you Lord for your grace, for reaching out for us when we rebel against you. Hold us in your care and show us the ways that lead to life. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Attending to both flesh and spirit…

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Galatians 6:Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith. 

Paul is addressing the Christians of Galatia who are being encouraged by some leaders to be circumcised. For Paul this is a slippery slope. If one feels the need to be circumcised to be part of the church then surely dietary laws and other rules will follow – producing a people who return to the bondage of the law Jesus came liberate us from. V.8 encourages a focus on one’s Spirit rather than the flesh. I don’t agree with Paul’s suggestion in this letter that the flesh is bad and the spirit good because God the Father created both in us.

But this passage speaks to me in another way this morning.

Since early this year I’ve been paying particular attention to my physical health. Last year during the pandemic shut-down my weight ballooned to the highest it’s every been. Not good for many reasons. Since February I’ve not really focused on losing weight, but on slowly reconstituting my body to reduce fat and gain some muscle mass. Being almost 55 years old does not make this easy, but I am slowly seeing progress.

I bring this up because I’ve had to focus more on my “flesh” than I have for many years. And I don’t believe Paul (the writer of our passage) or God would say that’s a bad thing, but our passage reminds me of what is more important. I don’t want to sacrifice my spirit to attend to my flesh. It’s not an either/or proposition, but a both/and. For the truth is, one day (fit or not) my body will fail me completely. It’s not designed to last forever, but my spirit (and yours) is eternal.

Lord help us go attend to both flesh and spirit, for both are a precious gift from you. Amen.

Who is responsible for my pain?

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Isaiah 10: 12 When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the arrogant boasting of the king of Assyria and his haughty pride. 13 For he says: “By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I have understanding; I have removed the boundaries of peoples, and have plundered their treasures; like a bull I have brought down those who sat on thrones.”

V.12 refers to God’s work in using the king of Assyria as an instrument to humble an unfaithful nation of Israel. Once that work is complete God then indicates he will humble the Assyrian king who believes he is winning these military battles as a result of his own brilliance rather than as an instrument of God.

The language of the text is future tense, meaning the events described have not yet happened. However, by the time Isaiah’s words were in circulation among the Jews the events had long passed. In essence, Isaiah is a means of understanding what happened to Israel long after its defeat at the hands of Assyria.

It’s human nature to want to understand the causes of our struggles. Who is responsible? Who is to blame? In this case the answer is clear. Israel suffered at the hands of God working through the armies of Assyria. The objective, of course, was not to wipe out Israel but to bring them to repentance and restored relationship with God.

In this theology, God is the one who brings both joy and pain among his people.

But there are other theological frames found in both the Old and New testaments. For instance Satan, the enemy of God, features prominently in the book of Genesis when tempting Adam and Eve to original sin. Or in the book of Job in which Satan brings calamity upon Job and his family, with God’s consent. In the New Testament gospel accounts Satan again shows up tempting Jesus, the new Adam, immediately after his baptism. Satan then works through Judas to betray Jesus. Later the apostle Paul describes encountering Satan working through people who oppose the gospel of Jesus.

But Satan is nowhere to be found in the writings of Isaiah, which I find interesting.

The truth is, it’s hard to know who is responsible for the struggles we experience in life. I suppose all three, God and Satan and ourselves, all play a role over a lifetime. And while I may not know for sure what or who is responsible for my pain at a given moment, I do know to whom I can turn. I turn to the Lord Jesus who promises to walk with me through my pain and see me to better days ahead. Lord, let it be so. Amen.

To be frustrated is to be human…

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Galatians 5:You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth? …12 I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves! 

I love v.12 because it reveals Paul’s level of anger and frustration with instructors who would undo the apostolic teaching Paul gave at the church in Galatia. I can imagine Paul writing these words and wondering if he should delete v.12 – then choosing not to. Or if perhaps a disciple of Paul was writing as Paul offered dictation and may have suggested Paul leave that verse out. But whatever the case may have been, Paul decided that v.12 would stay – and I’m glad he did.

Too often we see paintings of biblical characters with halos on their heads so as to appear almost angelic. It’s easy to put such people on a pedestal, thinking God could never use you and me as he did persons in the bible. Wrong. These people were every bit human as you and me, with normal human foibles and shortcomings.

They could even be a bit crude once in a while.

Heavenly Father you do extraordinary things through ordinary people. Give us grace to place ourselves into in your hands, trusting not in ourselves, but in you. Help us to suspend disbelief long enough to be used by you for your purposes. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Breaking free from the past…

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Isaiah 9:1 But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. 3 You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. 4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. 6 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. 

Isaiah is writing at the time when the kingdom of Assyria was conquering the northern kingdom of Israel. You may recall at that point in history there was also a southern kingdom of Judah – both kingdoms comprised of God’s people who were divided. This division, and the weakness it created, was a major factor in both kingdoms ultimately being overrun by foreign nations. It was a dark time in Israel’s history for sure.

V.6 then describes a leader given by God to liberate his people “For a child has been born for us…”. Through Christian lenses we interpret this reference to Jesus Christ who was born hundreds of years after this writing from Isaiah. V.7 then describes a kingdom akin to that of former King David, which explains why so many Jewish people refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus was nothing like David. His kingdom was not only for the Jews, but for all people everywhere who called on Jesus as Lord. That’s still true today.

God did a new thing in Jesus who didn’t rule from a throne, but instead died on a cross then rose from the dead.

Like the Jews of Jesus’ day, I risk missing what God is up to in the present because I’m looking for what has happened in the past. This is particularly true now when the church I lead, like most churches, is trying to figure out how to be the church in a world that has substantially changed over the last 15 months or so. It’s hard not to import my mental maps from the past and try to reproduce them. It’s what I know. It’s what’s familiar. But in my heart I know that what’s needed is something different, even if I don’t yet know what that means.

All I know is I don’t want to miss what God is doing now because I’m busy looking for what used to be. Lord let it be so. Amen.

One in Jesus…

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Galatians 3:27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 

It’s human nature to divide ourselves into different groups. In Galatians 3 Paul is referring to the way early Christians were separating themselves based on those who continued to keep the Jewish law and those who did not. In our day we are tempted to import the ways of secular culture and divide ourselves along political lines. Or along racial lines, or whatever. And while it’s true we are not all the same, nor do we need to be, there is one dominant identity we take on when we call ourselves Christians.

Our primary identity is in Jesus.

I’m grateful for this truth because it allows Christians from very different ethnic backgrounds or political perspectives or economic situations to be unified. And in so doing we bear witness to a different way to live in community than the world around us. We can be very different from one another – and yet be one. Lord give us grace to remain so. Amen.

Time to abide…

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John 15:Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.

Jesus uses the image of a grapevine, and its rhythm of bearing fruit and then pruning, to describe the life of a disciple. Just like much of the plant world, human beings are not designed to be fruitful year-around. We have seasons of productivity and then, hopefully, seasons of rest – or what Jesus calls here “abiding”. Without abiding time Christians cannot be fruitful.

I’m taking some abiding time this week and will be back on Monday, June 21st. Please pray for me and my family as we take time away for vacation. It’s been a very long and often difficult 15 months, yet through it all God has been faithful. And so I place my trust in the Lord to step away for a bit of renewal. Lord, let it be so. Amen.

See you on the 21st.