Archive for July, 2013

Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2013Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2013

We’re down to the final days of summer. Take a bit of time to sit in the sun (or shade) and enjoy God’s Word over the next few weeks. Use our Resting at the River’s Edge schedules to stay on track with us, reading four or five chapters each weekday. If you fall behind – don’t worry about it! Use the weekend to catch up or don’t worry about keeping up. Just keep reading. God will reveal Himself to you – He promises to! Ask Him to and He will.

Click on one of the following buttons to open a PDF file of the July/August bookmark or all bookmarks. After the file has opened, you can print it or save it to your hard drive from your browser’s file menu.

Click here for the July/August 2013 recommended reading bookmark. Click here to download all bookmarks for 2013.

The August Reading Schedule also appears at the end of this blog.

I love the way God’s Word seems to speak to my specific situations as I read through His Word. I know He’ll do that for you, too. I’d love to hear about it. Email me, leave a message on our Apprehending Grace Facebook page, or post a comment at the end of any blog.

Blessings, Friends!
Sandy

The recommended reading schedule for August is below.

Resting at the River's Edge Reading Schedule for August 2013

Here’s how the Resting at the River’s Edge reading schedules are organized:

  • The first two columns of the schedule allow you to read through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice over a two-year period. You will typically read about three chapters a day if you follow this reading plan.
  • The “Additional Readings” column put you on a plan to read through the entire Bible in one year. You will read between four and five chapters a day if you follow this plan.

Comments Comments Off on Resting at the River’s Edge – Our August 2013 Reading Schedule

Ephesians 5 began a discussion about how we are to live together, not living according to the world’s standards, but living in a Godly way. Yesterday’s blog focused on the first half of the discussion. “Be imitators of God” Paul wrote (verse 1), and “Be very careful then, how you live” (verse 15). In verse 21 he begins to expand on the subject of how we are to live, dealing with very specific relationships. In Ephesians 5:21 through 6:9 Paul provides the following instructions:

  • Submit to one another – not because they deserve it or even because they’re doing the right thing, but “out of reverence for Christ” (5:21). The word translated “submit” is translated more properly in the King James Version as “submit yourself”. In other words, it is a voluntary submission – we choose to submit ourselves, to consider others as greater than ourselves. (If you’ve been following the Resting at the River’s Edge readings, you will have seen this in David’s relationship with Saul. When offered Saul’s daughter in marriage, his response was “Who am I, and what is my family in Israel that I should be the king’s son-in-law?” David exclaimed. “My father’s family is nothing!” (1 Samuel 18:18, NLT) Well, I thought as I read the passage, you’re David, the one who has killed Goliath and has done everything King Saul has asked from playing the harp to killing 10,000. But that was not David’s attitude. David continually submitted to Saul.
  • Wives, submit to your husbands. The same Greek word is used here. It is the wife’s choice to submit to her loving husband.
  • Wives respect your husbands. Showing our husbands respect is one of the ways we submit and it is one of the ways we love our husbands. That means no disparaging him when having lunch with your girlfriends! Build him up in his presence and when he is absent.
  • Husbands love your wives. Paul explains what that means – “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25, NIV). While the wife is to treat her husband as lord, the husband is not to treat his wife as if he is her lord. (Remember, the first instruction is to submit to one another.)
  • Children, obey your parents. The word translated obey means to listen attentively and obey.
  • Children, honor your father and mother. This isn’t limited to people of a certain age. Everyone with a father and mother (and of course that’s all of us) is to honor them. In their presence and when they are absent.
  • Fathers, do not exasperate your children. God knows that men and women are different (after all, He made us that way). He knows that generally women are more nurturing and patient with children. So God, through Paul, reminds Fathers to have patience with their children and to train and instruct them with love.
  • Slaves obey your earthly masters. In our culture, that can be applied in the employee/employer relationship. Employees, obey your bosses. When you agree with their decisions and when you don’t. In their presence and when they are absent. Paul tells us to go the extra mile and “serve [our bosses/masters] wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord” (Ephesians 6:7, NIV).
  • Masters (bosses), treat your slaves (employees) well. Do not threaten them and do not show favoritism.

Well, that covers just about all relationships, and any that don’t fit into these categories fall under the first instruction to “submit to one another.”

The book of Ephesians began with the glorious prayers of Paul, reminding us of our relationship with the Father. It then gives very practical instructions about how to live together in unity. Finally, it ends with Paul’s urging us to “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10, NIV). We are to put on the full armor of God – to suit up for the battle to come.

Paul reminds us that all the things he’s addressed in his letter (and we’ve talked about in this blog series) – all these relationship challenges – that’s not where are battle truly is. Those are petty squabbles that we are to work through by submitting by one another. No, “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. (Ephesians 6:12, NIV) Battling those forces requires spiritual armor. It is our spiritual armor that protects us from attacks of the enemy.

Guest blogger Pastor Dan Caudill wrote about our armor in this blog.

We are children of the Most High God, bought with the precious blood of Jesus, called to live a life of love in all relationships. I love how Paul combines spiritual truths and practical advice in this letter to people who were suffering for their faith.

Let’s go live that life. Let’s pray for one another the kind of prayers Paul prayed. Let’s love one another as Jesus loves us. Let’s stay strong as we purposefully put on our full armor every day. Let’s not get so caught up in life that we don’t live it as God would have us live. Enjoy God! Enjoy life!

Comments Comments Off on Practical Advice for Living Together – in a Godly Way

A few months ago our pastor preached about how we need to be “pickled” in the Lord –not just dipping a toe in the presence of the Lord, but being fully in it – spending long enough in it to be “pickled.”

Later in the day we went grocery shopping…and my husband had an unusual desire to buy…dill pickles! We bought them, only to find an unopened jar of them in the back of our fridge. Well, we opened this new jar and the pickles were gone in a week.

A few days later Phil and I were leading a Bible study and Phil started talking about pies. As he talked about pies to illustrate some point he was making, I began to think “pies. Yeah, that’d taste really good right now. We’ll have to buy a pie soon.” Well, we resisted the temptation to buy that pie, but God used it to make me aware of how strongly influenced I am by the suggestions and behaviors of others. Within a span of 4 days, hearing about pickles made us go out and buy a jar of pickles, and eat all of them and then hearing about pies made me crave pies.

And if it happens with pickles and pies, you know it can and does happen with other things. Being around people who complain a lot makes me more likely to complain. Being around people who are excited about and motivated to grow their business makes me likely to return to my office more enthusiastic than when I left it. Being around people who are eating a lot encourages me to eat more, while being around people who are being more careful about what they eat encourages me to be healthier in my eating habits. God is showing me how very suggestible I am. And I’m guessing you’re the same way.

Ephesians 5 has something to say about that:

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children
Ephesians 5:1 (NIV)

I’m to be an imitator of God, not those around me. It’s a good thing to be easily influenced if the One we’re looking to for influence is God.

Paul does end his sentence there. Let’s continue with verse 2:

1Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  
Ephesians 5:1-2(NIV)

“Live a life of love” Paul writes. OK. Sounds like a great ideal. My question is obvious – How? What does living a life of love look like?

Paul answers the question in the rest of the verse – the way we live a life of live is by imitating Christ – by pouring ourselves out as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. When we live a life of love, it will be a life that is both sweet smelling and sacrificial.

  • It will be attractive to others, it will enhance their lives in some way, it will add a sweetness to it – that’s the fragrant offering. It’s beautiful.
  • It will also be a sacrifice. It means dying to self. It means pouring ourselves out for others – often, others who won’t return that love or who don’t seem to deserve that love. But we don’t get to decide that. We don’t get to decide who deserves our love. Christ didn’t say “go and make disciples of those who deserve it…” If He had, none of us would have become disciples because we didn’t deserve it. And I’m guessing it took someone along the line showing us God’s love when we weren’t very lovable for us to truly comprehend and embrace the Gospel. That love is beautiful to the receiver – the fragrant offering. That love is sacrificial, hard work, for the one pouring himself out.

“Behold the kindness and severity of God” Scripture says (Romans 11:22) and I see that in living a life of love – in the sweet fragrance to the receiver and the sacrifice to the giver. Now if you know Scripture, you know that I just misused that Scripture, because in context it’s talking about how very kind God is to those who believe and how very severe His judgment is on those who don’t believe.

But see it applying here as well. God tells us to pour ourselves out – to sacrifice our lives – so that others smell the fragrant offering it is. Behold, the severity and kindness of God.

1Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2  and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.    
Ephesians 5:1-2

We’re not only to be imitators of God, but we’re to become people that influence others to become imitators of God. We’ve already talked about how highly suggestible people are – you talk about pickles and pies and they (I) begin to crave them – we’ll let’s be such visible and strong imitators of God that we influence others, not to buy pickles and pies, but to become pursuers of God.

Ephesians 5 goes on with a long list of behaviors that should not characterize our lives…sexual immorality, any kind of impurity, greed, obscenity, foolish talk, coarse joking…behaviors that are an imitation of the world, not an imitation of God. Things that are not sweet smelling or sacrificial. But you know what? These behaviors come naturally to those who live in the world. Because we are highly suggestible people. So Paul continues in his letter…drop down to verse 15:

15Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, 16making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
Ephesians 5:15-16

Live purposefully – be careful how you live – watch your influences and make decisions, don’t just follow the suggestions people put in your mind.

Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.
Ephesians 5:17

What is His will? That we live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.
Ephesians 5:18

Again, don’t let the world be your influencer, let God be your influencer. Be imitators of God, not the world.

19Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 5:19 -20

Need encouragement in living that sacrificial life of love? Follow the advice in verses 19 and 20. Let what God is doing be so much in the forefront of your mind that you easily talk about His blessings with other believers. Keep your focus on Him by singing songs of praise and thanksgiving throughout the day.

Living a life of love – being an imitator of God’s extravagant love and grace – will make you stand out in a world that is filled with hurting people. Allow your love to be the influence that others imitate.

Comments Comments Off on Easily Influenced? Be Influenced by God

There is so much in Ephesians 4 that could draw our attention today, and I’ve been reading it and listening to teachings about it and was beginning to despair a bit. So much good stuff, and so little space (and time, I’m afraid) for blogging. That’s when it occurred to me that what I needed to do was sit back and ask God what was most important for today. Yes, all of it is important, but what is on God’s heart for today’s blog? My attention was immediately drawn to verse 3:

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
Ephesians 4:3 (NIV)

Paul urges the Ephesians to “make every effort.” He doesn’t write “consider the benefit of.” He continues in the vein of verse 1 in which he wrote “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Part of living worthy of our calling is to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

It means that we make peace a priority. It’s more important than the person who is right winning. It’s more important than you winning or me winning.

The word translated “make every effort” could also be translated “be diligent”. The word translated “to keep” could also be translated “to preserve”. Be diligent in preserving the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. We are to be aggressively watchful to protect, preserve and maintain the peace. I like the word “preserve” because it has more of a sense of caring for something – nurturing it and protecting it.

Peace needs that kind of care. It doesn’t come naturally. Division and strife come naturally. Peace must be sought after and preserved. Paul explains why in later verses, but first let’s look at the unity we have. Paul continues in his letter:

4There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Ephesians 4:4-6 (NIV)

We may look different and we may act different, but we are part of one body (the church) and there is one Spirit who is alive in us. We have all been called to one hope – our glorious redemption in Christ with an eternal home in heavenly realms. We worship one Lord, share one faith and one baptism. Yes, we may practice that baptism ritual in different ways, but each baptism represents a dying to our old self and a raising up with Christ having been cleansed of our sin and made alive with Christ. We all serve one God and Father and He is sovereign over all, through all and in all. That’s omnipresence – He is everywhere at all times. That’s unity and when our focus remains on that unity and our spirit is sensitive to the Spirit which lives in us, we are held together with a bond of peace.

Still there’s a need to make every effort. Because while we have unity, we do not have uniformity. God has gifted each of us differently.

7But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it…11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until 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.
Ephesians 4:7-13 (NIV)

Christ has given each of us a measure of grace and a variety of gifts. The problem with this is that in our sinfulness, we tend to see things through our giftings instead of through God’s eyes. If we are gifted in teaching, we think that the church’s resources (for example) ought to be focused on teaching God’s Word to young disciples. If we are gifted in evangelism, however, we think the church’s resources ought to be focused on the lost. Throw apostles and prophets and pastors into the mix and you have a church board meeting that easily turns from keeping the bond of peace to keeping their portion of the budget intact (and growing).

But God has apportioned the gifts for a purpose – “so that the body of Christ may be built up”. All gifts are required for that to happen. If we become so focused on our own gift that we diminish others, we disrupt the unity of the body and we damage the body’s ability (and our own ability) to be built up, become mature and attain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. We are no longer living a life worthy of our calling. Even if we are called as an evangelist, if we diminish the other gifts, we are no longer living a life worthy of our calling because that calling is first and foremost to mirror Christ, to become like him.

We have skipped over verse two so far. Let’s look at it now in two translations:

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Ephesians 4:2 (NIV)

With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;
Ephesians 4:2 (KJV)

Although we are called to use our gifts, we are also to be humble (lowly) and gentle (meek), patient (longsuffering) and bearing with one another in love. The Bible describes two people as being meek – Jesus and Moses. Our definition of meekness and the historical definition must be radically different. We tend to think of meekness as timidity. Scripture uses the word differently. It has more to do with gentleness than timidity. It is a humility, not a fearfulness or shyness. When Paul encourages us to be meek, he is encouraging us to be more like Christ.

Patience means putting the needs of others before our own needs. It means that my agenda isn’t more important than your agenda. Longsuffering means we don’t expect or require that our priorities or needs be met instantly. We wait patiently. We don’t get angry quickly. We place love as a higher priority and bear with one another. Again, Paul is encouraging us to be more like Christ.

As we mirror the attitudes and behaviors of Christ while using the gifts He has given us, we maintain unity of the body.

Friends, let’s make every effort to reflect Christ to one another.

There is so much more in this chapter. In preparing to write this blog, I found this three-blog series that I wrote about this chapter about a year ago. Click on the links below for more on Ephesians 4:

Worthy. Who Me?

Live Worthy

Live Worthy, Part 2

Let’s live a life worthy of our calling!

Comments Comments Off on Preserving Unity of the Body

I used to make fun of my husband. Many years ago he purchased an 8-volume set of commentaries on the book of Ephesians. That’s 8 2-inch thick books on Ephesians (by Martin Lloyd-Jones) – which takes up about 8 pages in my Bible!

Well, I am being so blessed by Paul’s letter to the Ephesians this year that now I’m seriously considering tackling those books! A few months ago Phil and I lead a Bible study on the book of Ephesians with some nursing home residents. We’ve been leading a weekly study with them for about three years. This is the first study I’ve recorded because I was being so blessed. Now as I am reading it in our Resting at the River’s Edge reading, I am equally as blessed. I’m picking just a few paragraphs from the letter each day to write on, but I suspect there’s a more comprehensive Bible Study of the letter coming soon.

Today, we have to look at Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians that we find at the end of chapter 3:

For this reason I kneel before the Father,
Ephesians 3:14 (NIV)

Even this first sentence grabs me. “For this reason” – what reason? All that he has written before, which is a discussion of how we have been reconciled with God through Christ.  “We are no longer foreigners” he wrote in Ephesians 2:19, “but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.” He then went on to write that he had been given the privilege of preaching “preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8).

It is for this reason that Paul “kneels before the Father.” Do you kneel in prayer? I rarely do. I have a spur on my knee that makes kneeling painful so I rarely kneel. But, I find that when I humble myself by physically putting myself in a position of humility like kneeling, my prayer changes. Usually I get comfortable in my “prayer place” – a chair I frequently sit in while reading, journalling, blogging and praying – before praying in earnest. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s good to be comfortable with God. Yet, when I kneel, or often in my case simply sit on the floor with my head bowed, I have a stronger sense of God’s greatness and my smallness. It’s good to be reminded that He is God and we are His servants. I need to kneel more.

Paul takes the position of kneeling which emphasizes the master/servant relationship, yet he immediately acknowledges the intimate relationship we have with God – He is our Father. He is almighty and He is our Abba, Daddy. Without the intimate relationship, He becomes only a hard task-master. Sin has a price which must be paid, but His love caused Him to pay the price for us. Remember yesterday’s blog4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (Ephesians 2:4-5). It is to this God that Paul prays. It is to this God that we pray.

16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
Ephesians 3:16-17a (NIV)

What a wonderful thing to pray! Paul first prays that God, who has immeasurable riches, would strengthen us in our inner being. That’s where I need God’s strength. That’s where I need to know that I know that I know that He loves me, that He is with me, that He is working in me and that He has purposes for my life. In my inner being. That’s where my strength comes from – deep inside, knowing God’s love for me. Paul prays that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith. Again, I need that fully confident knowing – that’s faith. In the face of opposition or failure or just everyday life, I need to know Him. I need Christ in my heart through faith. Remember, Paul is writing to Christians. He asks God to strengthen them in their inner being so that Christ would dwell in their hearts by faith. As a Christian, pray this for yourself and those believers around you. Because we all face life and the enemy uses circumstances of life to try to tear Christ from our hearts. He tries to use disappointments to attack our faith. Pray that out of his glorious riches that God would strengthen our faith.

Yes, I know what that means. It means the testing of our faith. It means that we will face challenges. But they are challenges designed by God to help us grow stronger in our faith. They are challenges designed by our coach – the One who is training us in godliness and faith – to make us victorious. They are not challenges by our enemy that are designed to defeat us. They are designed by God to help us defeat our enemy.

Paul goes on, picking up the theme of love again:

17bAnd I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  
Ephesians 3:17b-19 (NIV)

It is out of God’s great love for us that He made us alive with Christ. It is in that great love that we have been rooted and established. That is our starting place and it is from that place that Paul prays that we might have the power to grasp – to apprehend, to take hold – how wide, long, high and deep God’s love is. The word “grasp” is the same word Paul used in Philippians:

I press on to take hold of [to grasp, to apprehend] that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Philippians 3:12b (NIV)

This is not a “gaining by osmosis” or even supernatural impartation. Yes, there is supernatural impartation involved, but there is also action on our part – a pursuing and grabbing and holding on. Paul prays that we would have the power to grasp the depth of God’s love for us. God will empower us, but we must also grab and hold onto that love – so that we might be filled to the “measure of all the fullness of God.”

In a long paragraph about this phrase, Matthew Henry concludes with this sentence:

Those who receive grace for grace from Christ’s fulness may be said to be filled with the fulness of God, according to their capacity, all which is in order to their arriving at the highest degree of the knowledge and enjoyment of God, and an entire conformity to him.
Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible

Are you “filled up” with Christ? Do you experience the highest degree of knowledge and enjoyment of Him? I’m not. But I press on to attain it. And I pray that God would give me the power to grasp His immeasurable love for me.

Let’s pray for ourselves and others as Paul prayed for the Ephesians.

Should a sliver of doubt creep into your heart as you pray for such understanding and filling, Paul ends this prayer with a doxology:

20Now 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, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Ephesians 3:14-21 (NIV)

He is able, friends. To do more –immeasurably more – than all we ask or imagine. More than all, not just more than some of what we ask, more than all of what we ask. And not just more than we ask, but more than we can imagine. He can do it. For His glory. Amen and amen.

Let’s pray for ourselves and others remembering that He can do immeasurably more than we are asking and more than we can imagine!

Comments Comments Off on Immeasurably More

1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ
Ephesians 2:1,4-5a (NIV)

As for you – yes, you! And me – we were dead in our sins. We were truly dead men walking. That’s the phrase used to describe men who have been sentenced to death and are in prison awaiting their execution. Like these men, we had a death sentence over our heads because of the sins we had committed. The sentence hadn’t yet been carried out, but it was irrefutable and irreversible. There were no appeals that might save us. We were still walking around. We might not have even heard the verdict, but it had been announced –

The soul who sins shall die.
Ezekiel 18:4b (NKJV)

“I [Jesus] told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am [the one I claim to be], you will indeed die in your sins.”
John 8:24 (NIV)

1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in 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. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.
Ephesians 2:1-3 (NIV)

We were objects of the judgment of God because we chose to live according to our own desires – in other words, the way we wanted to live, without care or consideration of how God wanted us to live. We lived according to our own rules and our own made-up religion. But Truth is Truth. We can choose to believe that it is raining, but unless water is falling from the sky, it is not raining. We can choose to believe that there’s nothing wrong with our sinful behavior, but if God has defined it as wrong, it is wrong. And we become objects of God’s judgment.

But God – but God! – who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ. He saw our need and Jesus said “Father, let me take the punishment that they are owed, that they earned, that they deserve.” The sentence is irreversible, but it can be transferred to me. And so…

4…because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.
Ephesians 2:4-5a (NIV)

He made us “alive with Christ”…even when we were dead men walking. Only God can make the dead live. Only He, the One who breathed life into Adam .

The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. 
Genesis 2:7 (NIV)

That describes how we were created physically. Spiritually, God has done the same thing. Out of dust, something with no life, He breathed life into us and made us alive with Christ. Truly, it is by His grace that we have been saved. We didn’t do anything to earn our salvation (as Paul wrote later in the chapter) – it was a gift offered – the gift of Christ. And when we accept the gift, when we accept Christ, we are made alive with Him.

There’s a big difference between the first life and the second life. The first life is bound by earthly things. The second life – whew! – it is eternal and it is unbounded. To truly appreciate the next verses, we need to get a running start by re-reading verses 4 and 5:

4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 2:1-10 (NIV)

Not only has our death sentence been paid by Jesus – not only have we been made alive with Christ – but God has also raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms! Now, while I’m sitting on my couch, typing on my laptop, I am also seated with Christ.

Pause to consider that a bit more. Wherever you are, can you imagine that you are seated with Christ? I’m sitting cross-legged with my feet under me because my toes are cold. Seated in Christ, I imagine then, that I am sitting on his lap. Pause to think about what that would be like (is like).

…(pausing here – are you?)

It’s not only when I’m sitting in the corner of my couch with my legs crossed on the seat cushion that I am seated with Christ. I will soon go to my office and sit in my desk chair. There, I will be seated with Christ in heavenly places. Can I embrace that and be confident in the wisdom He will give me for the day (if I ask for it from the one seated with me). Frequently throughout the day I ask advice of those around me. Today, I want to be aware that I am seated with Christ and turn to Him for advice.

But these are earthly things I’m writing about. We are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms – speaking of the rule and authority we have in the spiritual realm. We have it here on earth and we will have it to a greater degree in heaven. More to ponder…

Why has God done all this? I love this next verse

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)

I made a nativity set once from clay. I used molds to create Joseph, Mary, Jesus, the wise men and animals. After firing, I spent hours and hours painting them. They were my workmanship. I probably spent more time on the nativity set than anything I’ve ever made. I created it. They were inanimate objects. After painting and glazing them, I gave wrong instructions for the final firing and they were ruined. I was heart-broken. But it gave me insight into this verse. “We are God’s workmanship.” He has molded us and He gifts us and He teaches us and He disciplines us – all for a purpose. We are of so much more worth to Him than that nativity set was to me. He has spent so much more creating me and saving me and molding me into the person – in Christ Jesus – who is (or will be) perfect for the good works He’s prepared in advance for me to do. That process began before the creation of the world!

4Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.
Ephesians 1:4 (NLT)

Even before he breathed life into Adam, He chose us. He began working on us, creating us to do good works. And not just any works – the works He is preparing for us to do. In other words, He’s putting things in place so that I am ready and the works are ready at just the right time. I can’t even think three moves ahead in chess (or checkers for that matter). But God…

4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.
Ephesians 2:4-5

He made us alive with Christ so that we might do the works which He has prepared for us to do. My life has purpose. Your life has purpose. Heavenly, God-created and God-sent purposes.

Lord, help me to grasp how deep and high and wide and long your love is for me (Ephesians 3:18), that you would raise me from my dead man walking condition and seat me with Christ in heavenly places. That you created me in Christ for a purpose – to accomplish the good works you’ve prepared for me.

Comments Comments Off on From Death to Life – For a Purpose

Living God's HeartLiving Gods HeartDeveloping an unoffendable heart isn’t easy! It means regularly dying to ourselves and living as Christ. Paul wrote to the Ephesian-s that they were to “live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:2, NIV) That means overlooking offenses – treating those who offend you as if they had not. It’s what God does for us, forgiving our sins to accept us into His Kingdom.

Such actions don’t come naturally, easily or cheaply. They must be intentionally developed. Here are some tips – practical actions you can take – to help develop your unoffendable heart:

Tips for Developing an Unoffendable Heart…

  • Meditate frequently on how very much God loves you. Pray Paul’s pray for the Ephesians for yourself:

16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:16-19 (NIV)

  • Make the decision that you want to have an unoffendable heart. Ask God to bring it to your attention the moment you are tempted to take offense.
  • Pray – sincerely pray – for anyone who does anything you’re tempted to take offense at. Don’t pray that they would go away, pray that they would prosper, that they would know Christ in a deeper way, that their relationships would be blessed, that their marriage would flourish and they would be in good health. Bless them. It’s what Jesus commanded in the sermon on the mount:

But to you who are listening I say: …bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
Luke 6:27, 28

  • Purposefully humble yourself when being criticized. Ask God to reveal any truth in the criticism. If there is no truth in the criticism, ask God to reveal any behaviors you may have that lead others to believe the falsehood.
  • Do something positive – show some love – for the person offending you. Again, it’s what Jesus commanded:

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you
Matthew 5:44

  • Ask God “what am I to be learning through this? What is Your purpose for it?”
  • Pray for a humble spirit. Being proud invites opposition from God as well as those around you. Scripture tells us that God opposes the proud and so do many people. Those around you may respond negatively toward you (giving you an opportunity to take offense) because of your prideful and arrogant behavior. Keep God on your side and be inviting instead of confrontational toward others by remaining humble.
  • Become a world-class encourager. Becoming an encourager means looking for the best in people and nurturing those qualities. Developing that “good finder” muscle engages muscles that are needed to overlook an offense.
  • Replace your frustration or anger with the one who is bring the offense with kindness. Be kind to others

31Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
Ephesians 4:31-32 (NLT)

Practice these things and you will develop an unoffendable heart. Not overnight, but will happen. When I was a child, I took accordion lessons. I practiced half an hour every day for years and years and years. And years. At one time, I was pretty good. I wouldn’t have been good without the practice. The same is true for developing an unoffendable heart. Practice, practice, practice.

I’m not nearly as good at playing the accordion now as I was many years ago. Why? Because I no longer practice. Again, the same is true for our unoffendable heart. Even when it becomes strong, it will require regular workouts to keep it’s strength. Practice, practice, practice.

Will it be hard work? Absolutely. Will it be worth it? Absolutely. First because it is what God wants you to do. It is a matter of obedience. The wonderful thing about God, though, is that when we are obedient – living as He wants us to live, our life will be filled with more peace, more joy and more love. I want to live in more peace, joy and love, how about you?

Comments Comments Off on Developing an Unoffendable Heart

Paul’s prayers are wonderful. They go so far beyond what we typically pray. His prayer for the Ephesians is just one example. As Matthew Henry puts it, Paul doesn’t pray “that they might be freed from persecution; nor that they might possess the riches, honours, or pleasures of the world; but the great thing he prays for is the illumination of their understandings, and that their knowledge might increase and abound.” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary of the Whole Bible, WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 689)

Like I said, not your typical prayer. Let’s look at it.

17I 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.

18I pray also 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 the saints, 19and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.
Ephesians 1:17-21 (NIV)

Paul begins by saying that he “keeps asking” – Paul doesn’t say a quick prayer and consider the topic addressed. He continually prays that the Lord would give the Ephesians the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that they may know the Lord better. What a great prayer. Oh how I want people praying that for me! (Feel free to pause in your reading and do so right now.)

I find it interesting that earlier in the chapter Paul praised God for two things related to this prayer:

He gave God praise because He has blessed us “in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding” (v7b-8).

He praised God because “He has made known to us the mystery of His will” (v9a).

Having already written that God has blessed us with these things, Paul then went on to pray for them – that God  would give the Ephesians the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that they might know Him better. I’m reminded that it’s important to pray for the things that God has already blessed us with. God has blessed us but many of those blessings are apprehended through prayer. So go ahead! Ask Him to bless you with all spiritual blessings. Ask Him for greater revelation. Even when you are experiencing those blessings – go ahead and ask for a greater measure of them. For yourself and for those around you.

Notice the purpose of the wisdom and revelation – so that we might know Him better. It’s not wisdom for the sake of wisdom or revelation so that we might impress other people. It’s wisdom and revelation so that we can know God better. In my experience, knowing God better always leads to loving Him more. God blesses us with the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that we might love Him more.

Wisdom and revelation are “head knowledge” (albeit head knowledge that leads to heart knowledge). Paul then goes on to pray for “heart knowledge.” He prays that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you.” Two great points in that prayer: (1) that we would know that we are people of hope and (2) that we are people of calling. Earlier in the chapter Paul wrote this:

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
Ephesians 1:4 (NIV)

If you know Christ, you are called by Him to be a witness for Him. You have been chosen to be holy and blameless in God’s sight. It’s not holiness of our own making, although we’re to live a life that is pleasing to God. Yet no matter how hard we try, we will do things that are not pleasing to Him. Still, through the blood of Christ, we are holy and blameless in His sight. Without the blood of Christ, He sees our sin. Through the blood of Christ we are holy and blameless.

If you know Christ, you have a hope that goes beyond anything this world can give. The word translated as hope in the Bible means “confident expectation.” You have a confident expectation of the end game – and it’s not riches and a leisurely life. It is eternity with a loving, all-powerful God. It is the confidence that you have been blessed with every spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3). It is the confident expectation that He is always with you – never leaving or forsaking you (Joshua 1:5).  It is the confident expectation that when you have breathed your last breath on earth, you will be in His presence (2 Corinthians 5:8). That’s the hope to which we’ve been called. The world doesn’t have those hopes. The world is negative because they see only the negative the world offers. Chistians – people called by God – are positive because they have hope. We are a people of hope. Hallelujah. Lord, when I forget that, please remind me.

Paul then prays that we would know the tremendous power God has for those who believe. I wrote about that as part of our “Living God’s Heart Series.” Check out the blog titled “A Beating Heart.”

Friends…

3Praise 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. 4For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – 6to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.
9And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment–to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.    
Ephesians 1:3-10 (NIV)

…As Believers, we are blessed, chosen, called, redeemed, forgiven, lavished with wisdom and understanding, and called. No wonder Paul calls us people of hope. Let’s live it!

Comments Comments Off on People of Hope, People of Calling

1Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy! I look to you for protection.
I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings until the danger passes by.
2I cry out to God Most High, to God who will fulfill his purpose for me.
Psalm 57:1-2 (NLT)

There are times when the only thing that brings relief is crying out to God – “Have mercy, oh God!” Times when the things of this world seem to rage against us with no relief. Whether it’s mounting bills or serious persecution, we all have places and times in our lives when we cry out to God for His mercy, when we look to Him for protection.

If we’re smart (and I’m not always smart), we run to Him sooner rather than later. And if we’re really smart, after running to Him, we hide in Him until the danger passes. I was so struck by this second phrase of verse 1 – “I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings until the danger passes by.” I’m afraid my tendency is to cry out to God, then go out to face my battles. How foolish of me! It’s like asking for an umbrella, being given one, then dropping it on the sidewalk as I run into the raging storm.

Running to God is great, but remaining in Him throughout the battle is where our protection and victory lie. God will fulfill his purposes for you if you go beyond crying out to Him. Cry out, then wait and hide. Wait for your answer. Wait for His strength. Wait for His timing. That’s where His Spirit is moving. That’s where His protection is. Stay in it.

Easy enough for me to say, right? How do you stay hidden in God when you must face the world? Well, books and books have been written about that subject, but I find three basics in these verses:

  1. Cry out to God again and again and again. And again. John Maxwell, author of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership says this: “What a person does on a disciplined, consistent basis gets him ready, no matter what the goal.” Be disciplined and consistent about crying out to God. Find triggers that remind you to cry out to Him – every time you reach for your coffee cup, every time you switch tasks, or every time you answer the phone, for example. Learn to cry out to God regularly throughout the day. The more you cry out, the more you will sense His response.
  2. Decide to stay in His peace – then do it. Period. “I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings” the psalmist wrote. It is much easier to allow ourselves to slip into worry, criticism or frustration. Don’t do it. Purpose in your heart that when you find God’s peace you will stay there. That means rejecting the temptation to leave it. When tempted to worry, pull your mind back to God. Cry out to Him again. Worship Him. Breathe deeply and let His presence and His peace fill you. It all starts with the decision – the “I will” – to remain in Him instead of letting your emotions rule you.
  3. Speak spiritual truths to yourself. The Psalmist reassured himself that “God will fulfill His purpose for me.” Make that your mantra. Or take a verse that God has highlighted to you and make that your mantra.

Three steps to remaining in the presence of God? Well, yes and no. Yes, I am fully confident that following these three simple steps will keep you in God’s presence. And no, it’s not that simple. Because God is both simple and complex. His Gospel is simple enough for a child to understand yet complex enough that we can spend all our lives studying it without having plumbed the depths of His grace and mercy. So start with these steps and trust that God will reveal more as you hide in Him.

Comments Comments Off on Hidden in God

Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart

16So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
2 Corinthians 5:16-21 (NIV)

Being in Christ – saying “yes” to God’s Lordship – gives us new roles and responsibilities. One of those roles is that of reconciler. God reconciled us to Himself and has now given us the ministry reconciliation. Our message is to be the same as Paul’s – a heartfelt “Be reconciled to God.”

The word “reconcile” means “to restore to friendship or harmony; to settle or resolve” (www.merriam-webster.com). That is our job – to be one who brings reconciliation.

And it’s pretty hard to do that job wholeheartedly when I am harboring an offense against someone. No matter how hard I try to suppress or hide it, I’m not successful. I’m just not that good an actor. And hopefully you aren’t either! Because being a good actor in this case, simply means being good at deception. We don’t want to be deceivers, we want to be people of love. People who have worked through anything we might be tempted to have against a person.

One of the marks of Christian maturity is not being easily offended. Francis Frangipane refers to this as having an unoffendable heart. Of all the heart conditions we’ve studied so far this year, I think this one takes the most work. This one requires that I choose to turn my back on intentional and unintentional attempts to offend me. It means that I choose not to take offense. It means that I choose to forgive even before there is a need to forgive. It’s so much easier (in the natural) to take offense and hold onto a grudge!

I can’t choose to have an unoffendable heart without the love of Christ in me and without making a decision to let His love rule my heart. His love overlooks offenses. It is patient, kind, not prideful or rude or self-seeking. It keeps no record of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13:4-5) The person who is easily offended isn’t characterized by those things. They are not patient with others. They do not respond kindly when they are offended, and their pride makes them easily offended. In not letting go of an offense, they are keeping a record of wrongs against them. Which, of course, makes them more easily offended with each interaction.

The disciples asked Jesus “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3, NIV) His answer included the following:

10And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another… 12And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
Matthew 24:10, 12 (KJV)

As the world turns away from Christ, people take offense more easily. That leads to betrayal and hatred. Satan is on the prowl, seeking whom he may devour – one of his tools is to bring you to the point of taking offense. Yes, you!

It can happen so easily – unmet expectations, frustrated progress, or a bad night’s sleep can all lead to slipping in our practice of love.

We can’t develop an unoffendable heart on our own, but Christ has made us a new creature. God has kept His promise from Ezekiel:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
Ezekiel 36:26 (NIV)

Need help with this one? (I do.) Ask for it.

Lord, help me to develop an unoffendable heart. Remove from me my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh. Put the love of Christ within me – filling my heart so there is no room to hold an offense.

 

Comments Comments Off on A Loving Heart Pursues Reconciliation with an Unoffendable Heart

© copyright 2009-2013, Data Designs Publishing and Sandra J. Hovatter