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Isaiah 30:1 Oh, rebellious children, says the Lord, who carry out a plan, but not mine; who make an alliance, but against my will, adding sin to sin; 2 who set out to go down to Egypt without asking for my counsel, to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh, and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt… 15 For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. But you refused 16 and said, “No! We will flee upon horses”— therefore you shall flee! 

Ever heard of being a “non-anxious presence”? That’s when you keep your cool when everyone around you is losing their minds. V.15-16 tells us God invited the Israelites to be non-anxious by trusting in him, but instead they ran to Egypt for help. Not a good idea.

I understand the impulse to act in the face of anxiety. It takes a lot of inner fortitude to remain calm when things appear to be going sideways. Sometimes I find it, sometimes I don’t.

What does it mean to “grieve the Holy Spirit”?

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Ephesians 4:29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

I’m particularly struck by v.30 “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…”. It’s an interesting phrase isn’t it? But what does it mean to “grieve” the Holy Spirit? Well, the phrase is used here in a context in which Paul is encouraging people to turn away from divisive behavior (bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, slander, malice) and instead strive toward kindness and forgiveness.

Unity is a big deal to God, but was hard to come by in a place like ancient Ephesus. In fact one of the most powerful forms of witness in Ephesus, Corinth, Philippi, and other places was for the church to be at once diverse AND unified. Slaves and slaveowners, Jews and Gentiles, men and women actually worked together for the sake of the gospel. This kind of mixed community was unheard of. But the power of the Holy Spirit made it possible.

And so it troubled Paul to learn there were people in the church undermining the unity which God had cultivated by the power of the Holy Spirit, thus “grieving” the Holy Spirit. The Greek word for “grieve” is “lipeo” which has a strong sense of feeling behind it. To “lipeo” (grieve) something was to experience a deep sense of sadness, pain, and loss. Hence, losing unity in the church mattered deeply to the Holy Spirit.

As a pastor I’m aware that I’m seeking to lead in a time of rapid change, both outside the church and inside the church. While there is always a sense of “lipeo” when moving in new directions, today reminds me how important it is to God that we work hard to maintain unity whenever possible. Lord, let it be so. Amen.

 

The futility of trying harder…

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Ephesians 4:17 Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. 19 They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 That is not the way you learned Christ! 21 For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. 22 You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Paul planted the church in Ephesus and taught the people there how to live as Christians. Part of a new life in Christ meant letting go of “every kind of impurity” (v.19). Apparently, without Paul’s presence for both support and accountability, some of the Ephesians got sucked back into their old ways of life.

I’ve been at this Christianity thing for a lot of years now and I still get sucked into old habits and practices. I’ve learned that clothing oneself with the new self (v.24) isn’t a matter of trying harder. That almost never works. What has been more effective is a surrender process – admitting to God that I cannot break from of the past on my own. It takes the power of the living God to do a work in me I cannot do on my own.

Lord I know I remain a work in progress and mess up every day. Do not give up on me, but give me grace to grow more and more into the person you want me to be. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Love… then truth…

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Ephesians 4:14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

First of all, it’s good to be back from vacation and writing again. I needed a bit of a break. Anyway, I love this passage. There’s so much I could comment on, but I’ll limit my reflection to v.15

“But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…”

The key phrase for me is “speaking the truth in love”. There are two components here – truth and love. On the one hand we have “truth”, which is the voice that brings accountability and correction. Paul has been offering truth over and over in his pastoral letters. He can sometimes be quite blunt in his criticisms of fellow Christians. On the other hand we have “love”, which often sounds like affirmation and encouragement. Over and over Paul writes about his affection for the people, how he prays for them constantly, how he is delighted in their faithfulness to the call of the gospel.

The problem is that most of us tend to focus more on either love or truth rather than both. Some leaders find it easy to name the deficiencies in other people but forget to support and encourage people first. The criticism you offer may be exactly on point, but if the recipient doesn’t trust that you care for them, they’ll likely ignore it.

Love is what earns you the right to be heard.

On the other hand some people find it easy to encourage and support others, but fail to offer constructive criticism when it’s needed – which leaves people stuck. People can’t grow if they don’t know where they need to improve. Somehow we get the idea that telling people hard things isn’t loving. Wrong.

But when we put truth together with love we have a very powerful combination at our disposal. Lord, give us grace to wisely utilize both truth and love for the sake of others, to build up the body of Christ. Amen.

God is not mocked… believe it…

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Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow

Paul has been instructing people in Galatia who were being told they needed to be circumcised to be Christians. They were misinformed. In this verse Paul gives a warning both to those who instructed Christians to be circumcised and those who chose to follow that instruction. They were both in error.

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked…”

There are consequences to the choices we make in this life. We may not see the consequences right away, but in the Day of the Lord (when Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead), all that is hidden will be made known and we will be held to account for the paths that we’ve chosen.

I’ll be honest – that’s a scary proposition. There are many paths I’ve followed over the years I’m not proud of. Left to the merit of my life choices I would be in big trouble. God is not mocked. Believe it friend.

Lord Jesus have mercy on me, a sinner. Forgive my sins and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. Amen.

I wish (they) would castrate themselves!

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Galatians 5:2–12 (NRSV): Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law… 12 I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!

It appears there were leaders in Galatia telling the Gentile Christians they needed to be circumcised to be right with the Lord. Paul is vehemently pushing back on this practice. I’m particularly interested in v.12:

“I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!” 😂

I love this verse because it reveals the humanity of Paul. He’s tired of explaining the same things over and over. Paul is also worried that his apostolic work in Galatia is being undone by others. And he’s pissed off!

I planted a church in San Antonio almost 20 years ago which slowly unraveled after I left. The Lord did some wonderful things through the people of that church, but it’s hard not to feel some level of regret and disappointment. Likewise all of the churches Paul writes about in the New Testament are gone now. It happens. Most new churches eventually come to an end. That said…

While individual congregations come and go, the Church is alive and well.

Individual congregations are not the church. People in whom the gospel is planted and shared are the church. Congregations come and go. The gospel lives on through you and me. Amen.

Not what I expected…

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Isaiah 9:2 (NRSV): 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.

God sent Isaiah to warn the people what would happen if they continued in their wicked ways. To live in “darkness” is to live outside of the will and ways of God. In this verse God promises a “great light” – a leader who will restore God’s people to the Lord. And God delivered – by sending his son Jesus. But Jesus wasn’t the kind of king/leader the people expected.

I expect this sort of thing happens a lot. People ask for a blessing and the Lord sends one – though it’s not what was asked. I recently read a post on a friend’s FB feed. It said something like “Lord, why did you send me into these rough waters?” And the Lord said, “Because your enemies can’t swim.” Haha!

Lord teach me to trust you even when I think you haven’t heard me. Amen.