August 31 - Ephesians 6:19-24

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. 

Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you.

Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.

I am constantly amazed at God’s grace … and in this case, Paul’s confidence in God.

Paul was imprisoned several times.

Most of us might consider that imprisonment to be an obstacle to spreading God’s word. Just think of how much more Paul might have done if he had been able to travel freely throughout the world.

Think of what he could have done if there had been churches who raised unlimited funds for him so he could travel to the far reaches of the earth and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.

What if he could have opened a seminary and trained others to teach and lead, rather than just the few who traveled with him?  Or, what if he had been given the liberty to start a mega-church … filling vast expanses of space with the faithful, ready to hear the words he spoke each week … inspiring them to be better people.

Paul was brilliant, he was motivated, he was passionate.

God used Paul while he was in prison, while he traveled to little known regions of a small area of the world, while he stayed with friends and spoke in homes to people who desperately wanted to know God.

There was never an obstacle because the spread of the message wasn't about Paul. He never allowed it to be about him. He was nothing.

Paul’s focus was always on God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. If he asked for anything, it was to be fearless, to be strong enough to deliver the message God had given to him.

It wasn't Paul’s message, it was God’s word and no matter where Paul was, he would deliver it to the people.

August 30 - Ephesians 6:10-18

Friday, August 30, 2013

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

This passage is so familiar to Christians, it is difficult to find anything new to say about it.  However, as I read it, one phrase stuck out and it occurred to me that the ‘full armor of God’ is something I miss out on because I get all caught up in dealing with just part of the Christian life.

The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes of readiness – gospel of peace, shield of faith, helmet of salvation, sword of the Spirit – word of God.

Let’s say we believe that we are always truthful and righteous (I know … it’s a tough sell for me, too … but let’s just begin with that as our foundation).  I think that the helmet of salvation might possibly be a given for most of us who call ourselves Christians, but it never hurts to re-examine that commitment.

That leaves us with the shoes of readiness which come from the gospel of peace, the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit which is God’s word. And while we’re at it, Paul tells us to pray in the Spirit on all occasions.

These four (along with the three foundational attributes) are to be in place all at the same time.  One of the things I run into is that I run out of time. I pray and don’t have time to read Scripture. Or I read scripture and pray, but my faith is so weak. I don’t trust God with everything. I try to do things myself.

And to top it off, I’m supposed to be ready for whatever God sends my way because Jesus Christ has brought peace into the world.

This just plain exhausts me when I think about it – and yet when these are combined, they offer us protection from so much the natural and supernatural throws at us.  When one of these is missing, we have an empty place … a chink in our armor.

If that were true on the battlefield, the enemy would find your weakness and exploit it, bringing you to ruin.  When it is true in our personal lives, the enemy will dig into that weakness and exploit us … bringing us to ruin.

Put on the full armor of God.

August 29 - Ephesians 6:5-9

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. 

And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

After Paul spoke to husbands, wives and children, there was one last member of many households that he spoke to – slaves.  The fact was that this was a real occurrence and Paul wasn't using this platform to change standard practices, but to speak to households … where people lived.

What is interesting about this passage is that most writers appealed to masters to treat their slaves well. Paul, though, reminded the slaves that they were part of the kingdom of heaven and as members of that community, they had responsibilities to act with respect and love while on earth.

This pattern for living has been transferred to us today … as Christians, we call ourselves bondservants or slaves to Jesus Christ. Anyone that we serve while on earth is to get the same reverence and respect that we give to him.

Paul knows something that many of us have forgotten. What happens to our bodies on the outside does not affect the relationship we have with Jesus Christ. That is something that no master or ruler can take from us, no matter how hard they try.

If we were to ask Chinese Christians what it would take for them to give up their relationship with Jesus, they would tell us there was nothing on earth. These people have faced more than many. They have lost family members … spouses, parents and even children because they refuse to renounce Jesus. They have been imprisoned, tortured and beaten and still refuse.

Slavery is a horrific crime against humanity, but for those who are part of the kingdom of heaven, it is only temporary.

Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus,
Steal away, steal away home.
I ain’t got long to stay here.

August 28 - Ephesians 6:1-4

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—“so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”  

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

I had two separate pieces of information cross my desk today. The first was a plea to children as they started back to school to not be bullies.  The second was the content from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech given fifty years ago on this date.

I don’t have any children on my Facebook friends list, so for me to send out a plea to them to refrain from bullying would be ridiculous. But, as I thought about that this morning, it occurred to me that bullying doesn't begin with our children, but with us.

How many of us (me included) have posted the “People of Wal-Mart” photos on our Facebook pages and made hideous remarks about them. How many of us scorn those who are on welfare and consider it our right as tax-paying citizens to talk about how awful they are. How many of us drive down the street and call people names or flip them off if they make an error while driving? Or make snide remarks at the mall regarding someone’s tattoos or piercings, or even the way they dress.  How many of us laugh at someone else’s confusion over simple things and do all of this in front of children … who don’t yet understand the intricacies of humor or politics.  All they understand is that we are laughing at people who are different or … less … and then, they see that this behavior is appropriate and continue it in ways that we would never consider to be correct.  They've learned their behavior from watching us.

Kids are exposed to so much more than ever before. Teaching them to view even the most ridiculous of our population with grace and understanding is the first step in transforming bullying behavior.

When Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of seeing his children intermixing with children of other colors, he had a dream of a world where there differences were no longer seen, where parents didn't teach their children about those differences, but taught them about love, acceptance and grace … no matter what.

Paul calls on children to respect their parents, but he also calls on parents to deserve that respect and to teach their children in the way of the Lord. It’s the life we live, not just the instruction we give.

August 27 - Ephesians 5:32-33

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

One of the beauties of the doctrine of the Trinity is the love and respect that each member has for the other – offering us an example of perfect unity.

Paul continually reinforces the need for unity among the people of God, and uses the example of Christ and his church as well as the relationship between a husband and a wife. There must be sacrifice in order for there to be unity.

Christ gave everything so that he might establish a relationship with his Church. The thing is that until we fully understand the mystery that comes from that all-encompassing, unwavering, unconditional love, we will never understand complete joy in any of our relationships.

When God’s children were at their very worst, Christ continued to the cross.  At this point, most all of us would have given up on them. We don’t easily take abuse of any sort, especially when we’ve done nothing to deserve it.

Friends, family members … everyone is set aside when they act in ways that hurt us. Sometimes all they have to do is simply annoy us.

Christ’s love went far beyond his own emotions. That is the type of love Paul reminds us that we must have for each other. Sacrifice is never about us … it is about the depth of our love for another.  It is sacrifice that creates the best kind of love. It is sacrifice that gets us closest to what Jesus Christ did for the Church.

August 26 - Ephesians 5:25-31

Monday, August 26, 2013

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 

It seems funny to me that Paul felt the need to write these words to people who had fallen in love with Jesus Christ. If we are commanded by Jesus to love God and love others, how is that this is a problem?

Jesus’ teaching on love was all about sacrifice. In any relationship we have, our love for each other should be sacrificial. Good relationships take work, whether it is with a parent, a sibling, a friend, a child, or a spouse.

When I was growing up, we were the epitome of a happy family … in public. No one saw the flaws, the arguments, the callous words, the disrespect or the pain that came from living in the same household with five very strong-willed, independent people.  Dad’s job as a pastor was extremely stressful and no matter how hard he tried to contain it, negative emotions splattered all over his family when he got home. We knew he loved us, but there were plenty of times that it didn't seem he liked us very much – and there was nothing any of us had done to push him over the edge. It was simply a product of dealing with hurting and angry people all day long.

He treated mom quite poorly sometimes and I will tell you there was a point in their marriage where they had to step back because divorce was the next move. He had quit acting as if he loved her. In fact, some of our close friends clearly remember things falling apart at about seventeen years of marriage.  Friends and family alike still laugh about Dad exploding on Mom one day telling her on their anniversary that living with her had been “seventeen years of pure hell.”  It was funny not long after it happened because it was so ridiculous, but at that very moment, in the household with five completely stricken, frightened people – those words signified how far they had gotten from understanding what love was all about.

Today those words “seventeen years of pure hell” are a trigger for a moment in time, a moment of change. We teased Dad after that because it was the only thing to do. He immediately regretted saying those words, apologized to everyone and the relief and release were palpable. For years afterwards, merely saying “seventeen years” would cause him to chuckle a little with embarrassment and admit his own craziness again.

So, though it seems as if Christians should have it all together and love each other unconditionally, whether it is a spouse, a child, friend, sibling or parent, the truth is that we all need to be constantly reminded that love is never about ourselves. It is sacrificial, it must be continuous, it must occur without judgment and be filled with forgiveness.

August 25 - Ephesians 5:21-24

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 

Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 

Y’all knew I was going to get here, didn't you!  This is one of those passages in scripture that many have seemed to adopt as Law and whether they are male or female, insist that everyone, no matter what, adhere to a very strict interpretation.

It would be pretty wonderful if every husband was trustworthy and strong enough to be the head of the wife and his family and for those marriages where this is true, God has blessed them. But there are plenty of situations where for whatever reason, it simply can not be right. Too many women are doing all they can to live through a life with a man who doesn't respect her or take care of her, who demands rather than encourages, who is abusive (verbally, emotionally, physically), who is only partially involved with the family … and to insist that these women ‘submit’ to their husbands is tantamount to criminal.

I've told the story before, but it’s worth telling again. My mother decided at some point that it was important she adhere to this bit of teaching from Paul. She didn't really talk to Dad about it – and before I go any further, they had a very equal and good marriage. They both treated each other with respect (most of the time) and loved each other and their children a great deal.

Anyway, back to submission. She chose to change everything about her life. She would make no decision without Dad’s input, she would ensure that the three of us children were well-behaved in his presence. His meals were on time, she didn't argue with him (even when he was flat-out wrong), whatever he said or asked for was immediately dealt with.

She submitted to his every whim and desire … for about two weeks. Dad was in heaven. He had the run of the household and no one ever challenged him on anything. I’m not sure what he thought had happened, but rather than ask about it, he planned to just enjoy it.

However, his enjoyment didn't last all that long, because little by little, my mother lost herself. She was no longer the brilliant spitfire he had married, but had turned herself into a grey, flat personality in order to be what she thought was his submissive wife. When he finally decided to get to the bottom of things, he discovered what had happened and realized that it was not heavenly, but tragic.

Mom had come to the end of her rope, Dad was in a panic. Their lives were no longer a partnership and neither of them knew who the other person was.  All within a short, two-week span.

Dad had never asked mom to be submissive … well, at least not when he was thinking straight. I’m sure that in some of their very heated (and loud) arguments, he prayed for a little more submission on her part.

This passage doesn't ask women to give themselves up and lose their personalities in a relationship. It asks us to treat our husbands with the same type of love that we offer to Jesus Christ. Our personalities are all individual and Paul does not ask for a homogenized set of Stepford Wives. We each love Jesus Christ differently and we are called to love our husbands in that manner.

Women do not need to set their personality aside for Jesus. He loves us as we are, no matter who we are.

August 24 - Ephesians 5:15-20

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I've been a member of a number of churches throughout my life and I don’t think I've ever been in a church where there wasn't someone who absolutely loved to sing on Sunday mornings … and who absolutely could NOT hold a tune.

In one of our churches, that guy wanted nothing more than to sing in the choir. He sang bass, but it was a monotone and I’ll be doggoned, but he never missed a Sunday morning. He loved to sing.

Both of my parents had beautiful singing voices … my father’s college degree was in music with a minor in mathematics … then off to seminary to become a pastor.  All three of us kids were musical. I have perfect pitch, but I learned early on that just because it was part of who I was, that didn't mean I needed to beat people over the head with it.

People always asked me if pianos that were out of tune made me crazy, or if people who couldn't sing drove me nuts. I had to always answer ‘no.’ Dad made sure that we learned that music was more than just a pitch.

I wasn't yet five when he got me started with piano lessons. He asked a high school girl in our church to give me lessons.  She was terrified, but he insisted, knowing that I already adored her.  He repeatedly told her that what he wanted was for me to have fun … the learning would come.  What I remember most about those days with her was that I got to spend time with chickens and cats and farm animals.  And … I learned how to play the piano.

So, every time someone from church who sat behind me and sang with gusto, even though they couldn't hit a note, would apologize to me when they heard that I could sing, I would brush them off.  Those moments were between them and God … it was never about me. I always encouraged them to sing no matter what, because we are to ‘sing and make music from our heart to the Lord!’

August 23 - Ephesians 5:8-14

Friday, August 23, 2013


For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.  This is why it is said: 
         “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

My sister calls me a cave dweller. I don’t like it. I argue all the time with her, but she’s right. I stay up late into the night and sleep through the morning light. That causes other problems in my life since my cat wakes with the dawn. I can usually get him out onto the front porch so that he leaves me alone, but not until he has chased across my body several times and done everything he can to get my attention.

I tell Carol that I grew up in the seventies and clearly remember our father telling us to turn off lights if we weren't using them.  She reminds me that she is only three years younger than me and is as energy conscious as I will ever be.  I try to explain that I really do like natural light better than fluorescents and she laughs at me.

Alright, fine. She might have a point.

Fortunately, when Paul tells us to live as children of the light, he uses the term figuratively and even cave-dwellers such as myself can participate in the good news of Jesus Christ.

To be a child of the light, Paul tells us to find out what pleases the Lord. That really isn't as difficult as you might think. I return to Matthew 22 when Jesus is asked what he believes is the greatest commandment. In essence, Jesus tells us to love God and love others. If that is what we are doing, in every action we take, we please the Lord. All of the Law, all of the teachings of Christ and those found in the rest of Scripture boil down to those two phrases: Love God, Love Others.

I can do that, even if  I am awake as the stars and moon are shining

August 22 - Ephesians 5:3-7

Thursday, August 22, 2013

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

It really has never occurred to me that the opposite of obscenities or coarse jokes is thanksgiving, but Paul’s words to the Ephesians clearly tell us that one should be replaced with the other.

I told you the other day about the list of sins I kept as I reflected on my days. My only purpose was to make myself better each day.  On the other side of the coin, though, I made sure that each day I wrote down a list of things I was thankful for.  I found an old sermon of my mother’s and she spoke of the thanksgiving list I wrote – in comparison to her own mother’s list of faults that she kept on everyone she met. My grandmother’s diaries and calendars were filled with anger and bad feelings.

My father received a call one night from a parishioner who rarely attended church, but he was at the end of his rope. Everything seemed to be falling apart for him.  He was far from home on a business trip and called to tell Dad that he was planning to commit suicide and he wanted someone to know and would Dad break the news to his family.

Dad’s response was to ask the man to wait and to do one thing.  He asked the man to sit down with a pen and paper and write out ten things he was thankful for and to call him back the next day.  That process went on for about a week and one day this man showed up in Dad’s office, hugged him and told him that he had saved his life.

He returned to his family and began a new life, one filled with thanksgiving and gratitude instead of selfishness and misery.

Let thanksgiving replace the ugliness in your life.

August 21 - Ephesians 5:1-2

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Do you reflect on your day and judge yourself as to whether or not you behaved as a Christian and acted in love in everything you did, said, or even posted to your Facebook wall or Twitter?

When I was in high school, I became quite concerned that I was such an awful sinner that I was forgetting things I had done or said and hadn't asked forgiveness for doing (or saying).  So I began a notebook, listing my sins.  Each night when I spent time in prayer, I thought back over the day, tracking each of my interactions. If I remembered something I might have said that could have been misconstrued, or negative and nasty comments I made about someone, I wrote each item down on the page. Things I did which hurt someone or things I avoided that someone needed me to do to support them – I wrote those down.

I eventually had to stop doing this because it was overwhelming. If you believe that you are sinless, just spend a week or two doing this exercise and you will immediately discover that isn't the truth. Or … maybe you are a much nicer person than I ever was.

But, I was horrified at my own behavior. How could I call myself a Christian and still be such a nasty girl? I spent a lot of time in prayer about my actions, asking forgiveness and even more so, asking for help to be better when it came to interacting with others.

Thirty five (plus) years later, I continue to reflect on my interactions throughout the day and find that I am often ashamed of things that I've said or done. I want nothing more than to ‘walk in the way of love,’ every day and I believe that I must be constantly aware of my interaction with people around me so that in me they see love ... God’s love.

This is the offering I can give back to God.

August 20 - Ephesians 4:28-32

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. 

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Sometimes I want to ask “exactly what do you mean by unwholesome talk”? Then it occurs to me that if I have to ask, what I wanted to say was probably not … wholesome.

My elementary school years were spent in a very small town. There were only 23 children in my class and by far a greater number of boys than there were girls. Now I showed up in second grade and believe it or not, cliques had long since been established. Well, I should say … clique. There really was only one and I was certainly not part of it. There were four or five girls who clustered together and using standard bullying tactics, eliminated everyone else from their group. Birthday parties were difficult because their parents insisted on inviting everyone from the class. I tried one of them and that was it. Every day they said terrible things to me; my saving grace was music class. In there, life made sense. The teacher accepted me and saw my musical potential. She gave me haven when everything else was a horrible place to be. Every bit of my love for music and desire to be a musician came about because Mrs. Hill taught me theory in roundabout ways after class.

Every day after school I would go home and fall apart. The girls had generally done or said something to remind me that I was not as important as they were or as special as they were or as good at sports as they were or … on and on.  And every evening my mother would spend time reminding me that I was unique and special and that I had gifts no one else could ever have.

As important as mom’s words were to me in giving me back my self-esteem each evening, even more important was the lesson she taught with regards to my own behavior. Never once did she allow me to say terrible things about the girls who had spent an entire day ignoring or bullying me. I could tell her what had happened, but when I began to call them names or get personal about their behavior, she stopped me. I wasn’t allowed to be like them. I wasn’t going to learn to be a bully, I was going to learn how to manage their behavior and walk away with my head held high.

I spent a lot of my early years learning how to forgive. It still breaks my heart that my childhood self had to ever put up with their vitriol, but it doesn't hurt me. I forgave them long ago, and in fact probably felt more sorry for them than anything.

I don’t know how to get rid of bitterness and anger, rage and malice. Sometimes when those things get built up in us it is nearly impossible to let them go, but those are things that will separate us from God.

Paul calls us to be kind and compassionate to each other – forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave us. It seems that God might have a bigger grudge against us than we would against anyone else, but it simply doesn't exist because of Jesus Christ. We could probably find a way to release our anger and bitterness and learn to forgive. Kindness and compassion will never come from negative emotions.

August 19 - Ephesians 4:20-27

Monday, August 19, 2013

That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. 

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

Anger is one of those things that I contend with regularly. I am angry at people who are critical of me or those whom I love. I get angry at things that seem unfair. I get angry at blatant stupidity of people who should know better. I get angry when I am slighted or ignored. I get angry when my stupid cat bites my hand. I get angry when people are so self-important they forget there are others in the world. I get angry when …

I know exactly where my volatile anger comes from. The only problem is that the one person who could match me word for word and gave me a reason for enjoying my anger died over 25 years ago.  Mom and I had some awesome fights. Not just arguments, but full-blown fights.  We’d get all heated about something and words would fly around the house. In one of our last melt-downs, my poor sister sat at the top of the stairs in tears as the Mom and I followed each other around saying awful things to each other. She was so afraid I would move out and leave the family and never return.

Mom and I knew that we needed to release all of the passion of the moment and within twenty minutes we were both asking forgiveness and clearing the air.  After she died, my anger had no healthy place to be released. There is no one else in the world who can function when I get that wound up and I've had to learn to temper it. Nothing good ever comes from me being angry. I've learned over and over again throughout my life that my anger causes a backlash that often creates more havoc than existed prior to my fit of temper.

That is my old self and though it shows up often, I have to recognize that it corrupts the core of who I am. I am a child of God – created to be like him in true righteousness and holiness.  When I let anger – even if it is just a momentary response to stupidity – control me, I become less of who I should be.

August 18 - Ephesians 4:17-19

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

Paul insists that the Ephesians no longer live in the futility of their thinking.

Consider those words for a moment.  What he wants them to understand is that when a person is caught up in the belief that they can save themselves, they end up going nowhere.

We live in a culture where the prevailing belief is that we must do things on our own. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. The American Dream is all about doing the very best you can all the time and success and prosperity will follow.  You can’t trust anyone else, so you must do everything on your own if you want it to be done correctly.  Not only do we desperately want all of the attention to be focused on us, we want the satisfaction of knowing that we are in charge, that we can do everything … and anything and that we don’t have to rely on another soul.

The only problem is that this belief causes us to become very narrow-minded thinkers.  The only things that penetrate our hearts and minds are those things which we create.

Paul says that those who live this way … are separated from God and live in darkness.  Their hearts are hardened and fill themselves with all that the world has to offer.

There is another way … there is a better way and why we fight it is beyond me. Trusting in God for our understanding doesn't make us less, it makes us complete.

August 17 - Ephesians 4:14-16

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Paul is speaking of the community of God as it grows into maturity.  When we read his words regarding “speaking the truth in love,” many times we take this to mean that we should confront people with what we perceive to be their failings. This really isn't what Paul is saying at all.

As a community, we are responsible for each other, but it is a unified body which is growing in maturity, not select individuals who take it upon themselves to be the voice of truth.  In other letters, Paul clearly spells out how a community is to deal with someone who has been found to be in sin and never does he appoint individuals out of the crowd to take care of it so that the community doesn't have to be bothered.

In fact, if you look at these verses again, Paul isn't really talking about an individual’s sins at all when he writes of “speaking the truth in love.”  As a community, these churches were subject to all sorts of false teaching and rather than confront the false teaching with anger and derision, he calls on the church to speak the truth … the truth of the good news of Jesus Christ … in love.

The Church … the whole body grows in maturity when it builds itself up in love. There is nothing more important for the health of this body. When Paul writes of maturity within the body of Christ, he writes of love.

Throw off false teachings, stop listening to those who are cunning and sly and who are out to deceive you. Speak the truth of the good news of Jesus Christ and speak it in love.  This will allow us to grow.

August 16 - Ephesians 4:7-13

Friday, August 16, 2013

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:  “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.”  

(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

What are those things you do well?  What are those things that you have become skilled at because of special training? What are those things that you were born to do well?

We have been given these things, these talents and gifts in order to serve the body of Christ.  Pastors, prophets, evangelists, teachers and apostles are appointed by Jesus Christ to equip the entire body of Christ for works of service.

Their job is not simply to be a pastor or a prophet, evangelist or teacher or apostle. It can’t stop there.  They are appointed to equip the people around them in order to build the body of Christ.

This is a big deal.

Our skills, talents and gifts are to be uncovered … discovered by those who have been appointed so that the body of Christ might grow.  Whatever method they might use, it is to be for the whole church and not just a single congregation.

One of my father’s greatest joys was finding those within his congregation who had gifts to do different things.  When a young (or old) person would express an interest in ministry, he found ways for them to begin that journey. He spent a great deal of time simply talking to the people in his congregation, finding out what it was that they loved to do.  We had youth leaders who could never have imagined doing the things they ended up doing, but because Dad listened to them, he discovered their passion and that their gifts lay in leadership.

He encouraged great music in the church because he knew that talent should never be squandered and was a gift God would use to bring unity to the body of Christ. He uncovered Sunday School teachers in people no one would have expected and then gave them the foundation from which they could grow.

Pastors, prophets, evangelists, teachers and apostles are all servants.  They become less so that those around them might blossom and grow and then the body of Christ grows and become mature.

There is more to this journey … but it will only be found when we build each other up and move toward unity as God’s Church.

August 15 - Ephesians 4:1-6

Thursday, August 15, 2013

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Do you know who drives me nuts?  Those people who are always willing to give someone who has been absolutely horrid the benefit of the doubt. I want to go tearing in and get up in their face and tell them exactly what their problem is … or I want to just toss them aside never to speak to them again because they don’t deserve to have me in their life.

Well, as much as those people drive me nuts, when I calm down again, I see the truth of their behavior. They are making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  I, on the other hand, want to dismiss the nasty folk to hell and be done with them.  Then I discover that there was a reason for their bad behavior and I feel even worse about my personal temper tantrum.

Paul reminds us that we have been called by Jesus Christ to a particular life. It is not the same life we lived before we knew Jesus. No matter how nice we were or how good we were, we are called to be even more.  Not partly humble and gentle – when it’s easy or when we feel like it – but completely humble and gentle.

We are to be patient, bearing with one another in love. Not when it suits us, but we are simply to do it.

I envy those who find it easy to treat difficult people with love. There is a gentleness of spirit, a kindness that emanates from them that isn't easy for me to emulate.

Then I remember that it isn't about me, it is about the life that Jesus has called me to live. It isn't a suggestion, but a commandment. In order to bring unity, I must live humbly and with gentleness, be patient and love others in order to bring unity … not division.

August 14 - Ephesians 3:20-21

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Read these verses through a couple of times.  I’ll wait for you.

Paul is praising the Lord in these verses, but what is astounding is the reason for his praise.

God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine … and it is according to his power that is at work within us.

Read that again. It is according to his power that is at work within us.

In Philippians 4:13 we read Paul’s words which say, “I can do all things through him which gives me strength.”

Strength and power come from within.  These aren't things that happen to us or around us.  These come from within us and they aren't our strength and power, they are God’s.

Today I thought about my wildest dreams. I don’t vocalize those very often because they’re mine and they’re actually very near to my heart.  But, the challenged posed to me was to imagine my wildest dreams and then realize that with God I can dream bigger than that.

My imagination is pretty big. I can come up with some fairly extravagantly wild dreams.  But Paul says the same thing to us.  God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.

This immeasurable action on God’s part is even more than what our friends and family can dream up for us.  It can’t be measured. God’s plans and dreams for us are so vaster than the deepest ocean and encompass more than the universe can offer.  His plans and dreams for us extend into eternity. There is no end to them.

It is his power that is at work within us which brings these dreams to light. It is his power within us that propels us beyond our wildest dreams.

No wonder Paul praises him. I lift my voice in praise.

August 13 - Ephesians 3:14-19

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Have you read these verses and thought, “Oh, I am so thankful to the Lord for the grace and mercy he extends to me. His love is so wide and long and high and deep that it fills me no matter who I was or who I am”?

Of course you have. That is one of the most beautiful things about the promises in Scripture – they are what bring us to a better understanding of our relationship with God.

But, these words of Paul’s are meant to be about so much more than our personal relationship with God.  Paul is writing about the Church of Christ. And by Church, I’m using the big ‘C’ word, not the small ‘c’ word which means any specific local institution. Paul is talking about the entire community of God … all encompassing, not exclusive or exclusionary.

Why would we need to be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God with love if it were only for us? Why would we be strengthened with power if we were to keep it all to ourselves?  This gift of grace is given to us as part of a community … together with all the Lord’s holy people.

In the first century, the culture was nothing like what we experience today. Every good thing was done for the enhancement of the larger community, whether it was a family, a collective of friends and family working to make a better life, a village, a tribe, a town or city and for the Israelites, an entire nation.  Salvation wasn’t set into place for just one individual, though it began with the individual. Salvation was a gracious gift and the expectation and hope was that each person would then share the good news with others.

If you read the Revelation, you will not see individuals (other than John) in heaven. You see the Church … the Saints.  You read about large groups of people who have been saved.

All that God does for us is not to stop with us.  Paul prays that we might have power … together with all the Lord’s holy people.  The good news of Jesus Christ is meant to be shared with everyone.

August 12 - Ephesians 3:7-13

Monday, August 12, 2013

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

We hold Paul in pretty high esteem. We like heroes and one of our favorite things to do with our heroes is to forget their humanity. The heroes of the Old Testament were all terribly flawed, but we don’t talk about those flaws very often; we like to think of them in their latter days, when they followed God closely.

Solomon kind of messes things up for us there. He was a hero in the early days of his reign as Israel’s king and then loses control of his needs and desires and becomes less heroic.  But, we don’t like to talk about that.

King David was a wonderful young king and a fabulous elder statesman.  We don’t like to talk about the days when he desired a woman so much that he was willing to sacrifice his humanity and his kingdom. We’re fine with talking about his redemption, but we don’t want spend too much time thinking about the fact that he was quite human.

We find ourselves falling into the same trap over and over yet today. Our spiritual heroes better not ever show their humanity or we do our very best to destroy them. We don’t want to think about that. We desperately want them to remain aboveboard all the time, because when they sink down to our worst desires and our basest needs, we are not only disgusted with them, but with ourselves.

Paul never wanted his readers to think more of him than who he was. He truly accepted that he was the least of God’s people. His prior sins and whatever present thorn in his side were always right there in front of him.  He never forgot that he had persecuted Christians and stood by while they were stoned to death. He didn't allow himself to be elevated to heroic status.

Paul recognized that everything that happened through him was because of the grace of God. He never forgot that God saved him out of a hideous life and granted him the boundless riches of Christ in order to tell the world the Good News.

His example is one that is difficult to follow.  We like our heroes and our celebrities. We honor heroic behavior and count on people living holy and pure lives without exception. Paul knew better about himself and counted on God to be his grace and his foundation.

Everything he did was for the glory of God.

August 11 - Ephesians 3:1-6

Sunday, August 11, 2013

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— 

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

Paul made an amazing transformation: from the man who stood by holding the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen and the man who encouraged persecution of Christians, to the man whom God chose to begin preaching the message of the Gospel to the world.

He talks about a mystery surrounding Jesus Christ, but we have to understand that this mystery is one that was revealed in Christ. Until the time of his birth, death and resurrection, there was great mystery in what the prophets wrote about the coming of the Messiah.

Paul then writes that the mystery is even greater than what they originally thought.  Through the gospel (gospel means good news) of Jesus Christ, the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel of the promise.  No one will be left out … everyone is invited to become members of God’s household.

For the people in Ephesus and surrounding areas, this was big news.  Up until the time of Jesus Christ, only those who were members of the twelve tribes of Israel or who had been circumcised and joined the faith were give any type of hope of eternal life.

God’s grace is available to all, no matter who they are. They mystery has been revealed. Jesus Christ’s sacrifice flung open the gates of heaven so all could enter.

August 10 - Ephesians 2:19-22

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Paul assures the Ephesians that they are part of the community of Christ, even if they find themselves persecuted by Jews living among them. What a new way to look at life for them and this new life is available to us as well.

While the Jews looked to Jerusalem for their temple, Paul spoke to the church in Ephesus, telling them that the temple is about people.  The foundation was built by the apostles and the prophets of the Old Testament.  Jesus Christ, as the cornerstone was the point from which the temple was created.  Everything comes together in him and Paul says that it rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.

We are part of that holy temple. Our connecting point to everyone else is Jesus Christ. He is the cornerstone that directs the design of the structure.

Read that final sentence. “In him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

We aren't being built individually as a dwelling for God to live, but we are being built together. Whether it is as a member of an organized church or the Church universal, we are a unit. We are never alone. The temple that continues to be built as a holy temple of the Lord is one in which we find ourselves part of a community that spans the entirety of earth.

We are being built together to become a dwelling for God.

August 9 - Ephesians 2:14-18

Friday, August 9, 2013

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.

Grace, peace and love are extraordinary gifts. Jesus Christ came and preached peace, both to those in Jerusalem and those who were far away. Sometimes I am astounded by the fact that one man came to such a small region of this immense planet and his message of peace continues to be proclaimed throughout the earth.

No matter who it is that hears the message, they are given access to the Father through the Spirit because of the work Jesus Christ did on the cross. It does not matter who hears it. Paul’s message in these verses is that everyone is the same and everyone is welcome.

Throughout my lifetime, I have listened as various denominations were listed as non-Christian. Since the denomination itself was derided, the faith of anyone affiliated with it was also suspect.  It has happened over and over again and will probably continue long after I’m gone.

Jesus’ purpose for dying on the cross, Paul says, was to create one new humanity out of the two groups (Jews and Gentiles) and make peace.  Not only has that not happened, but we have managed to splinter his church to an even greater degree, each belief structure demanding that they are the one true belief and that all others must agree with them or be condemned to hell.

Jesus’ peace was intended to “put to death their hostility.”

To call ourselves Christians, we must come to a complete understanding of Jesus’ teaching regarding peace.  He died so that the earth might come to know his love and peace. We live because of this sacrifice and we have hope for eternal life.

Be a peacemaker. Be a peace bringer.

August 8 - Ephesians 2:11-13

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands) remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

One of humanity’s greatest sins is divisiveness. We separate in an attempt to weaken. Since the early days of Christianity, there have been those who attempt to draw a line between the ones who believe one way and others who might approach God in a different manner.

Nothing has changed. We continue to divide the Church into small pieces, reviling and ridiculing those who see things differently.

For Paul, he was dealing with those who were circumcised or not.  Many Gentiles had chosen circumcision in order to be like their Jewish/Christian brethren.  Paul reminds them that Jesus Christ gave his life in order to bring God’s love to everyone on earth.

The early Church refused to allow for differences in understanding. Its history is rife with death and imprisonment for any who might not follow the rules created by the Church for belief.  Many people were baptized simply to avoid torture.

The threat of excommunication from the church was enough to cause people to be obedient because if you were cast out from the church, you were also cast out from the community. Long before the Reformation, there were many who questioned the church’s stance on issues. They were burned at the stake, hanged, tortured and murdered to keep their beliefs quiet.

God’s Church is still on the move, reaching into regions of the earth that may not yet know him.  These people approach their faith very differently than those of us in the West. They interpret Scripture based on their background and their lives, seeing things differently than we see them, understanding the relationship with their Creator in different ways.

What will we do as the Global Church comes to us?

“In Christ Jesus, you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Jesus died so that all men could come to the throne of God. Will we come together?

August 7 - Ephesians 2:6-10

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Do you notice how everything not only points to heaven, but comes out of heaven?

God did everything for us so that he can continue to pour out the “incomparable riches of his grace” in the coming ages … in heaven.

We have been saved, not because of anything we can do or have done, but because God has chosen to show humanity grace, even in the face of our sin and rebellion.  Grace is an incredible gift from God and Paul continues to emphasize that it is a gift given so that we can be in heaven with him.

While we are here, God has a few things for us to do and he prepared them for us long before we thought to do them.  But, these aren't things that benefit us – they aren't our careers or our hobbies, our education or our families. These things which show the world God’s handiwork in our lives are the good works that he prepared for us to accomplish.

One thing which I find to be so extraordinary about these good works is that they are individualized for each of us. God didn't prepare the same good works for our spouse or our parents or our siblings or our children as he did for us. What works for one person may not be what God has prepared for another.

But, we are created by God, we are his handiwork, created to do good works.

And when we are finished, God raises us up with Christ and seats us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. The incomparable riches of God’s grace are ours. They flow from heaven in order to point us back to heaven.

August 6 - Ephesians 2:1-5

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 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.

There is one thing we all hope for in our culture and that is for life to be fair. If someone hurts us or someone we love, we want there to be punishment, if someone doesn't get what they deserve we want the scales to balance.

We believe that those who work hard should earn a fair wage, and those who work harder should earn more than a fair wage. Our children expect that everything they engage in will be completely fair and when that doesn't happen, we are certainly glad to step in and ensure that they are taken care of.  It isn't fair if someone receives more than they've earned. It isn't fair that someone loses a limb in a horrendous accident. It isn't fair that our daughter didn't get chosen for the school play, it isn't fair … it isn't fair … it isn't fair.

I am grateful that our culture has absolutely no impact on the kingdom of God. He doesn't believe in fairness.  He believes in grace. We can’t earn anything to receive his grace, we can’t assume that we deserve it.

God is so different than us, even though we are his creation. Because we have free will, we can choose to live in a manner which doesn't please him or even show the world that we are his children.

When we demand fairness, God offers grace to us.  When we demand equality, God simply says “I love you as much as I love everyone else on this earth.”

It is grace by which we have been saved.  Glorious, messy, beautiful, free grace. No matter what we do, we are able to stand under his outpouring of grace and simply receive it.

We have been saved from all that we deserve by grace.

August 5 - Ephesians 1:15-23

Monday, August 5, 2013

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 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. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Paul writes the most incredible words and sometimes it takes time for them to permeate my mind. I've read this passage many times, but today I got something new from it.

He writes, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.”

Isn't that interesting.  I think most of us would like Paul to end the sentence just before the final comma so that we can make this verse about us.  We would like God to give us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation … and be done right there.  It would be much easier if we could decide how to use that wisdom and revelation rather than have a task assigned to us, wouldn't it!

In fact, many of us pray regularly (myself included) for wisdom and understanding so that we (I) can interact with the world around us (me).  It isn't easy to live in the world today and sometimes it takes all the wisdom and understanding we have just to get through a day.

It occurs to me, however, that in truth, our perspective is really skewed.  By focusing on our interactions with the world, we tend to live according to its rules and we react much as the world around us expects us to react.  It is only through sheer willpower that we can act as Christians some days.

If our perspective was correctly placed, as Paul reminds us in that verse, there wouldn't actually be an issue.  If we continually asked for a spirit of wisdom and revelation  so that we might know God better, everything changes.  We no longer focus on ourselves, but on him. We don’t see the small problems that we face, but see the big picture through his eyes. We make decisions based on what will help us to grow closer to God, not what will help us get through the day.

Dear God, help me to keep my eyes, my heart and my self focused on you and give me a Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that I might know you better.

August 4 - Ephesians 1:11-14

Sunday, August 4, 2013

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

There are quite a few wonderful pieces of information in these verses, but I want to look at only a couple of them.

I want to begin with the idea that “we, who were first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.”  This implies that there will be others who follow.  Now, the argument could be put forth that Paul isn't thinking of people like us being ‘first,’ that he is only considering those who were part of the first century church; but I don’t agree.  There had been many who followed Jesus Christ before the church in Ephesus came into existence.

No, Paul speaks to each of us and reminds us that God wants to use us according to his will. We are first among many … we can also look backward to a long legacy of those who followed Jesus, but that isn't what this is about.  We have a responsibility to those who come after us. We are the first of these to put our hope in Christ.  We were included in Christ when we heard the message of truth.  It is not to end there.  As Christians, we are called to go out and tell the world about the good news.  The world might be an immense mission field, or it might be as small as outside our own front door.  We might find it by serving in work camps or traveling to international locations; we might find it by collecting food for those in need.  We might find it by preaching or teaching, or just by loving small children who are friends with our own.  We don’t all look the same or respond to God’s call in the same manner, but we are the first of many.

There is a little bit of a verse here that has gotten lost. In verse 13, we read that we were marked in Jesus with a seal – the promised Holy Spirit.

Now, in the Revelation, we read a lot about seals, some which mark those who belong to the Beast and others which mark those who belong to God.  A great deal has been made of what those might look like and when they might occur. The Revelation is one of my favorite books in Scripture, but I refuse to apply current and contemporary imagery to very ancient symbolism, especially when we find the true meaning of this symbolism within Scripture itself.

The mark of a Christian is the Holy Spirit. It isn't something visible that we must worry about finding in the final days. Read the verse here again:

“When you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, (you) were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” This is the mark of a Christian and no medical implant or identification chip can remove that seal from us.

August 3 - Ephesians 1:7-10

Saturday, August 3, 2013

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

In Christ we have redemption.  The word signifies a purchase … or in many cases … a re-purchase.  In the Old Testament story of Ruth, we meet Boaz, who is called the kinsman-redeemer.  Because Naomi’s husband and then her sons, had died, she couldn't gain access to the family holdings and they were up for sale to the highest bidder.

Boaz was able to act as her intermediary, though and as a relative, he had priority regarding the decision to re-purchase or redeem the land and properties that had been in her family. He redeemed her land and gave her back a future. He did so to an even greater degree by taking Ruth as his wife and then giving Naomi a grandson which would be the future heir to her property.

Jesus Christ acts in much the same way for us.  Because of sin, in the eyes of heaven, we have lost everything.  We hold no title to property in heaven, having given that up every single time we sin.  Christ is our redeemer. He returns to us the right to own property, to have a home in heaven.

Paul writes that this is in accord with the riches of God’s grace that he has lavished on us.  God gives us so much more than we deserve through the blood of Christ. We deserve nothing and yet we are given eternity. We receive the opportunity to be part of that day when all things on heaven and earth come together in unity under the reign of Jesus Christ.

Our redeemer is our king. Because of God’s grace, we can enter his kingdom because the king gave his life for us.

August 2 - Ephesians 1:3-6

Friday, August 2, 2013

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

Paul opens his letter with words of praise.  He is so filled with gratitude for the things God has done for us that he sings out words which are meant to evoke the same sensation of praise and gratitude in us.

The first step in knowing who we are in Jesus Christ is seeing the entire picture.  God did not create humanity to be separate from Him. He created us to have a relationship with us. His choice was that we would be holy and blameless in his sight, adopted through his son Jesus Christ.  This was a choice he freely made. Yet, at the same time, he gave his creation freedom of choice.

And choose, we have.  Scripture is filled with the poor choices God’s creation has made, from Adam and Eve choosing to follow the temptation of a snake, to Cain murdering his brother. As we look at our own lives, we make choices every day that separate us from God.

God is the author of grace. He gives it to us freely as we come to know his Son. He has chosen us to be his; he sent his son to bridge the gap and he extends grace to all who believe in Jesus.

He is worthy of our praise.

August 1 - Ephesians 1:1-2

Thursday, August 1, 2013

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Ephesians lived in a period of time not unlike ours.  There was a great deal of pessimism and in 2:12 we find that humanity had no hope.  Crime was running rampant and there was a call to follow the laws more closely and establish rules for everything that happened.

Paul wrote this letter around the same time as he wrote the letters to the Colossians, the Philippians and to Philemon.  They were written while he was imprisoned in Rome, probably around 61 AD.  He was living in hired house (Acts 28:30) and we see in Philippians 1:19-26 and Philemon 22 that he was hoping for release to happen soon.  This letter was more than likely a circular letter, which means that it was read to a number of churches in the region, but its destination was the church in Ephesus.

Paul founded the church on his second missionary journey, staying there long enough to leave Priscilla and Aquila on his way to Jerusalem (Acts 18:18-21).  You can read about his time there during his third missionary journey in Acts 19:1-20:1 and in Acts 20:31.  He had been very close to the believers in that church (Acts 20:17-38), staying for nearly three years and his purpose for this letter was to remind the Church that it is the body and Christ is the head of that body.

Ephesus was a leading center within the Roman Empire.  It was quite strategic, being close to the main east/west highway and surrounded by more than 230 communities. With a church in Ephesus, Christianity could spread throughout the region with little effort.

The letter can be seen in two parts.  In Chapters 1-3, Paul tells us what we are in Jesus and in Chapters 4-6, he tells what we are to do because we are in Jesus Christ.

When we read the letter to the church in Ephesus, we find Paul’s grand understanding of God’s plan for the church. God sent Christ to unify his people and his purpose for the world would be found through the work of the Church.