Ephesians, Part 4

coffee cup in hand (2013_06_21 16_53_37 UTC)

“Put on your new nature and be renewed” Colossians 3:10

Ephesians Chapter 1

4 “Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes.”

Talk about a mind bender! How do we wrap our human minds around this simple verse? “Before He made the world, God loved us?” How can that be, we ask? First we struggle with the idea of whether or not God made everything in six literal days and now— we read that God loved us before we existed; prior to making any of the heavens or the earth. This is a stunning concept truly beyond human comprehension.

Of course it is beyond human comprehension, we are His creation and He is the Creator. Can you remember back to a time in school when you began a new class and your mind was in utter confusion, struggling to understand the necessary concepts? I can recall a class in which I was completely in the dark, ready to give up. As I shared my confusion with the professor one day he said, “Oh I know how hard it is to grasp this concept but don’t give up. I can tell that you are just about to break through. Don’t give up!” Fortunately I listened to his advice. Within that very week, the understanding exploded into  my mind. I was so joyful. I had faith in the professor’s observation.

In a way, attempting to understand all of God’s mysterious Scriptures while we are still living on earth is similar. But the complete revelation of God’s truths is yet to come. “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” 1 Cor. 13:12

The first verse of the first book in the Bible says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1 Do we understand what this means? Can we imagine this act of creation? Absolutely not. We understand the words and the idea but not literally. We are totally dumbfounded. It is beyond human comprehension. And so is the idea that verse 4, above,  expresses. Before God made our world He loved us. God loved me personally before he created the world! Then surely I owe my allegiance to Him.

Not only has God loved us before He made everything, He “chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes.” Holy and without fault? Will everyone who feels holy and without fault please raise your hand! We shrink back from the very idea. If you only knew me, we think. Holy and without fault? Far from it. And yet, through the filter of Christ’s blood, God does see us as holy and without fault. Not only that, before He created the world He saw us in this way.

God says to you, “I love you and have loved you before I created anything!”

No Fear!

Little Roper (2013_06_21 16_53_37 UTC)

 

“I am the Lord your God. . . so don’t be afraid!” ~Isaiah 41:13

 

Are you a Christian? Do you read the Bible? Do you believe it is the Word of God? If you answered yes to these questions then I have wonderful news for you— you don’t have to be afraid! Regardless of the mounting debt you face, your unemployment, broken down car, illness, failure in business, or falsely accused; You don’t have to allow fear to control you. Life is filled with all manner of troubles and obstacles but fear only makes the problem worse. Calling out to God and reading the bible provides supernatural peace. Here are some Bible verses which will help:

Isaiah 41:13  I am the Lord your God. I am holding your hand, so don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.

Psalm 27:1 You, Lord, are the light that keeps me safe. I am not afraid of anyone. You protect me, and I have no fears.

Psalm 62:2 God alone is the mighty rock that keeps me safe, and the fortress where I am secure.

Psalm 91:1-2 Live under the protection of God Most High and stay in the shadow of God All-Powerful. Then you will say to the Lord, “You are my fortress, my place of safety; you are my God, and I trust you.”

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 The Father is a merciful God, who always gives us comfort. He comforts us when we are in trouble, so that we can share that same comfort with others in trouble.

Romans 8:38-39 I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love— not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not the powers above or the powers below.

Isaiah 25:8-9 The Lord All-Powerful will destroy the power of death and wipe away all tears— At that time, people will say, “The Lord has saved us! Let’s celebrate. We waited and hoped— now our God is here.”

Psalm 145:13-14 Our Lord, you keep your word and do everything you say. When someone stumbles or falls, you give a helping hand.

Philippians 4:6-7 Don’t worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need, always asking Him with a thankful heart. And God’s peace, which is beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus.

1 Peter 5:7 Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.

Hebrews 13:5-6 God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?”

Now, you may be thinking, more bible verses? What I need is tangible, real help. I need answers not more verses. But that’s it! The Bible is God’s infallible, never ending Word designed to answer life’s questions and provide comfort, hope, inspiration and LOVE. Love greater than all your fears and insecurities. God’s love takes away all fears.

 

Selective Application

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Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” Job 38:4

 

Even though we are Believers and followers of Christ, we seem to have the gift of selective application as we read the Bible (forgetting it is the Word of God). This is a version of Christianity that allows us to pick and choose what we apply to our lives rather than attempting to immerse ourselves fully into His Word by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Selective interpretation allows the reader to decide which verses are applicable to their life and which are allegorical or historical or, perhaps, applicable to specific people of a different time and place. This heretical approach gives the reader the power to challenge God’s word, picking and choosing which verses are “for today.”

The most obvious danger in this approach to reading the Bible is the reader becomes equal to God, deciding that they have the authority to eliminate or water down the precious word of God. Left unchallenged, they freely re-translate the Bible into ideas that are more convenient or less challenging. Imagine thinking that we can decide which Bible verses are pertinent to our lives rather than asking God to give us wisdom and understanding as we read His Holy Word.

A classic example of this dangerous approach to the Bible is taught by a popular, well-known pastor who has decided that the Spiritual Gifts, as described in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 are no longer applicable to Christians today. According to him, these miraculous gifts ended some time after the original apostles died. He says we no longer need such gifts because we have the Bible. If that is true, the Bible itself says all believers have gifts. In order to make such a decision, he has decided that 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 is no longer applicable. How can mere man make such a declaration?

2 Timothy 3:14-16  Yet you must go on steadily in all those things that you have learned and which you know are true. Remember from what sort of people your knowledge has come, and how from early childhood your mind has been familiar with the holy scriptures, which can open the mind to the salvation which comes through believing in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the faith and correcting error, for re-setting the direction of a man’s life and training him in good living. The scriptures are the comprehensive equipment of the man of God and fit him fully for all branches of his work. (J.B. Phillips)

The Bible is not a collection of stories, fables, myths, or merely human ideas about God. It is not just a human book. Through the Holy Spirit God revealed his person and plan to godly men who wrote down God’s message for his people. This process is known as inspiration. The writers wrote from their own personal, historical, and cultural contexts. But even though they used their own minds, talents, language, and style, they wrote what God wanted them to write. Scripture is completely trustworthy because God was in control of its writing, and its words are entirely authoritative for our faith and lives. (Life Application Bible Notes © Tyndale House)

2 Peter 1:19-21  So we have seen and proved that what the prophets said came true. You will do well to pay close attention to everything they have written, for, like lights shining into dark corners, their words help us to understand many things that otherwise would be dark and difficult. But when you consider the wonderful truth of the prophets’ words, then the light will dawn in your souls and Christ the Morning Star will shine in your hearts. For no prophecy recorded in Scripture was ever thought up by the prophet himself. It was the Holy Spirit within these godly men who gave them true messages from God.

Romans 15:2-4  Even if we believe that it makes no difference to the Lord whether we do these things, still we cannot just go ahead and do them to please ourselves; for we must bear the “burden” of being considerate of the doubts and fears of others—of those who feel these things are wrong. Let’s please the other fellow, not ourselves, and do what is for his good and thus build him up in the Lord. Christ didn’t please himself. As the Psalmist said, “He came for the very purpose of suffering under the insults of those who were against the Lord.” These things that were written in the Scriptures so long ago are to teach us patience and to encourage us so that we will look forward expectantly to the time when God will conquer sin and death.

Job 38:4-11  “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much. Do you know how its dimensions were determined, and who did the surveying? What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

“Who decreed the boundaries of the seas when they gushed from the depths? Who clothed them with clouds and thick darkness and barred them by limiting their shores, and said, ‘Thus far and no farther shall you come, and here shall your proud waves stop’?”  

If enough people agree on an idea it eventually becomes established as truth. Many of these so-called truths are actually myths, superstitions and outright lies. But, as we have all experienced in life, sayings learned from childhood establish themselves as fact in our minds.

Consider the Bible. Do you think of it as fact or fable? Is it absolute truth or partial truth with scatterings of myth for variety. Either you believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God or you do not. There is no middle ground; no neutral territory. By faith in God, the Bible becomes absolute truth leading us to forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God.  

A Stumbling Block

black and white fence crime forbidden

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I grew up in a neighborhood with lots of diversity. My folks did not discriminate, so neither did my sister and I. People were people. Some were nice and some not-so-nice. One of the most interesting was Mr. Johnson. He was blind and he was older—like a Grandpa.

One of my friends…actually not a friend as I was to learn…who lived nearby, was a prankster. He never tired of pulling pranks on everyone and we were getting frustrated with him. Finally, he did something to Mr. Johnson that excluded him from my circle of friends.

Mr. Johnson lived alone with his dog, Pete. He used a cane to get around his yard and all over town. He had a garden out back and tended it often. He raised lots of vegetables that he shared with everyone. If you wanted to pick some veggies on your own, you just rang a bell Mr. Johnson had attached to his gate. That way he knew someone was in the yard and he would come out to visit and chat.

As you may imagine, Mr. Johnson had established walking paths around his yard to get around to everything. Often he would putter around without using his cane to detect any stumbling blocks. This is where Freddy the prankster came in.  

Freddy decided it would be funny to ring the bell after he had set up obstacles in Mr. Johnson’s pathway. So he did. After he placed a few blocks in the paths, he rang the bell and hid off to the side. Mr. Johnson came out smiling, bidding a welcome to whoever may need some vegetables. He hadn’t gone very far before his foot hit a wooden block in the middle of the path. Down he went, cracking his wrist bone and bumping his head on a border stone.

Fortunately, Mr. Johnson’s next-door-neighbor came to get some cucumbers right after this happened. She was a nurse and was able to tend to his bruises and swollen forehead. It turned out that his cracked wrist just needed a tight wrap for a week, along with some pain medicine. This prank did not change Mr. Johnson’s attitude or generosity. Friends removed Freddy’s obstacles and everything went back to normal in Mr. Johnson’s backyard.

Freddy was never seen in the neighborhood again. By Fall, he and his family had moved to another school district.

I wonder if I am ever a stumbling block to others by my actions, attitudes or conversation? Without considering the impact of what I am doing or saying, do I cause others to stumble or fall? What about those times when I just have to have my way; who stumbled on my selfishness? Someone surely. Thank you Lord for your forgiveness.

In 2 Corinthians chapter six, the Apostle Paul declares in great detail what he and Timothy have endured so as not to cause others to stumble: “We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love— Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.” (2 Corinthians 6:5-6, 10)

Once we taste the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives, we are transformed. We have the power, wisdom and discernment impossible before our salvation. The Holy Spirit is always at work within us, communicating God’s plans each day. Are we diligently on the broad path to materialistic success and selfishness or on the narrow path, willing to suffer whatever pleases God to refine us into the Christlike person He is creating? If I love the Lord how can I be a stumbling block to others?

1 Corinthians 8:9  But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble.

2 Corinthians 6.3 We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us.

Romans 14:13  Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.

 

Your Will, Not Mine

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“I want your will, not mine” ~Matthew 26:39

 

Tony waited patiently until the final person left the bible study. He had a question for Alex, one that he’d been pondering for some months.

“Well, Tony, what’s on your mind tonight. You seem unhappy or perhaps disappointed.”

“You hit the nail on the head, Alex. I am disappointed and, I guess, unhappy,” he said, feeling a little foolish now, like a child approaching the teacher. “Why won’t God bless me? I tithe regularly. I even give extra when I see a need. I never miss church service or your bible study. Any time pastor mentions helpers are needed somewhere, if it meets with my work schedule, I volunteer. I pray, repent, forgive others. I am lined right up with all the things that should make me happy but God will not bless me!”

Pouring them both another cup of coffee, Alex said, “I think you need to define bless before I can help.”

“Alright, I mean better living conditions, more money, a better car, more friends, recognition from people for my efforts; heck, I’ve missed being promoted two times in the past year and my car is always breaking down.”

“I see. You believe God sent Jesus to the earth to experience humiliation, scorning, a horrific beating, and death so we could have more stuff?”

Tony was stunned to hear his obviously petty, selfish feelings exposed in this way. He wanted the earth to open and swallow him. Am I really this petty, he wondered.

“Breathe, Tony. It’s ok, we all have those feelings some of the time. The key to shaking them off is to dive into God’s Word and to ask God to give you understanding. For example look at Matthew 26:36-39 where Jesus is praying in the garden of Gethsemane. He knows exactly what is about to happen on the following day— he will be killed! He says, “My soul is crushed with horror and sadness to the point of death. . .” Then he prays, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

“So what do you think, Tony, was Jesus entitled to God’s blessings?”

“Of course. More than anyone who ever lived.”

“Yes. I agree. But then why was he treated so wickedly. Killed like an ordinary criminal, hanging on a cross? He is the Messiah after all.”

Tony couldn’t stop his tears. In a moment he composed himself and said, “In a way, I feel what Peter must have felt when the rooster crowed that morning. I feel petty and selfish.”

“I’ve never considered that analogy, Tony but I think you may be right. And you are feeling those things because that is how you’re behaving. Now, before you beat yourself with that self-pity club, you must understand we all struggle with this. Anytime we look at our lives and compare them to those who have more we’re using the world’s standards, not God’s. God is interested in healing our hearts, not our cars! Quite the contrary, actually. We must be like Jesus, totally surrendered and ready for suffering to continue and death to come if that is God’s will.

“Would you consider the Apostle Paul a man who followed God, Tony?”

“Of course, Alex.”

“And yet, in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, he begged God to take away his thorn in the flesh but God said, ‘My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.’ So, according to your list of things, can you say Paul was not blessed by God?”

“I’m stunned. I’ve never seen this so clearly, Alex. I am so wrong.”

“Let’s continue in 2 Corinthians, ‘So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me. Since I know it is all for Christ’s good, I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

“Before we end this eye-opening moment, Tony, I want to look at one more Scripture: Philippians 3:10, ‘All I want is to know Christ and feel the power of His resurrection; to share in His sufferings and become like Him. (TEV)

“What do you think may happen in our lives if we pray this Scripture daily? How might we be changed over and over again, refined into the men of God Jesus died for? Tony, thank you for your courage to share with me tonight. I feel as though God has looked into my eyes and said, “Alex, are you willing to give all, to suffer for my name if I deem it necessary?”

Tony and Alex knelt together and prayed “Not my will but Yours be done.”

A Renewed Mind

Little Roper (2013_06_21 16_53_37 UTC)

 

“Be transformed by the renewing of your mind”  Romans 12:2

Charles called the adult Sunday School class to order as he sipped his latte and sniffed the fresh donut in his hand: “Good morning everyone and to those who made it to the opening night play on Saturday…wasn’t that a hoot?”

        Many in the class applauded with enthusiasm, smiling and sharing brief words of encouragement. As they settled down Charles said, “Now I know there was some coarse language scattered here and there, but I think we are all adult enough to put those things out of our minds and just enjoy the brilliant performance. After all, it’s not every day that our city presents professional stage performers of this caliber. Am I right?” Again, lots of enthusiastic response.

        “And before I forget,” Charles continued, “mark Saturday the 25th on your calendars for the annual Rent-a-Slave auction. Last year was probably the best so far and we hope the women will loosen their purse strings this year because we have a few of those hunky firefighters who adorned the latest calendar pages up for bid!” At that the class broke into laughter and thigh slapping which, unfortunately knocked Stella’s soy latte to the newly installed beige carpet.

        Then one of the new class members stood and spoke, “Can I ask a question?”

        “Of course,” Charles said, wiping tears of laughter “go ahead Rick.”

        “I’d like to read a verse from James 4:4…” Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.”

        Silence swept over the class!

        “Maybe we have allowed ourselves to slowly walk away from the Lord, to make friends with the world. Here is another verse from 1st John 2:15-17…Don’t love the world or anything that belongs to the world. If you love the world, you cannot love the Father.  Our foolish pride comes from this world, and so do our selfish desires and our desire to have everything we see. None of this comes from the Father.  The world and the desires it causes are disappearing. But if we obey God, we will live forever.”

        Some in the class hung their heads, wondering what path they had taken and why they’d become so callous toward God’s righteousness. But others sat rigid, stiff-necked, fighting against those feelings, waiting for Rick to stop talking.

        “And in the Gospel of John, chapter 15, verses 18 and 19…If the world hates you, just remember that it has hated me first. If you belonged to the world, then the world would love you as its own. But I chose you from this world, and you do not belong to it; that is why the world hates you.” Rick sat down and prayed, wondering what would happen and if he would be welcomed back to this class.

        Then Simon stood and said, “I’d like to read from Romans 12:1-2…So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect.”

        By now, tears were streaming down faces, heads were bowed and repentance was in the air. Charles left his place at the podium, sat his coffee and donut aside and knelt in prayer, seeking God’s forgiveness. The class went from jovial, worldly approval to Godly redemption, calling upon the Lord, laying aside worldly cares and pleasures.

        After several minutes, Charles stood, Bible in hand and read from Romans 13:12-14, “The night is nearly over, day is almost here. Let us stop doing the things that belong to the dark, and let us take up weapons for fighting in the light. Let us conduct ourselves properly, as people who live in the light of day—no orgies or drunkenness, no immorality or indecency, no fighting or jealousy. But take up the weapons of the Lord Jesus Christ, and stop paying attention to your sinful nature and satisfying its desires.”

        “Class, I have guided you down a sinful, self-gratifying road and wish to repent,” Charles said. “We can no longer allow ourselves to walk in the flesh as we have been doing. We are grieving almighty God. Read with me in Ephesians 4:22-24…So get rid of your old self, which made you live as you used to—the old self that was being destroyed by its deceitful desires. Your hearts and minds must be made completely new,  and you must put on the new self, which is created in God’s likeness and reveals itself in the true life that is upright and holy.”

        “Thank you, Rick for exposing our sinful behavior. As for me, I am kneeling to pray, asking God to forgive me. I don’t know how long I will be here praying, just leave when you must.” At first the class was stunned by Charles’ show of repentance. And then, many of the class followed suit, kneeling in prayer. The Holy Spirit swept through that class, bringing true repentance.

 

6 Days!

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“In the beginning God created—” Genesis 1:1

 

“Did God create everything in six literal days?” This question has been asked millions of times since God spoke all creation into existence thousands of years ago. As a non-Bible reading person, the question seems logical. After all, the idea of the universe, man, animals, plants, earth, sky and water spoken into being over six days does seem incredible, even unbelievable. But is it impossible for God? According to the Bible, these are the things God created in six days:

Day 1 — light and time (Gen 1:3-5);

Day 2 — the sky and “separated” waters (Gen 1:6-8);

Day 3 — dry ground, bodies of water, and plants (Gen 1:9-13);

Day 4 — the sun, moon, stars, and planets (Gen 1:14-19);

Day 5 — fish and birds (Gen 1:20-23);

Day 6 — land animals and humans (Gen 1:24-30; 2:7,15-25).

On the seventh day God rested from his work (Genesis 2:2-3).  

God also reveals that the days of creation were six normal, 24-hour days.  As God said for each day, “And there was evening, and there was morning” (Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31), and as Moses stated, “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them” (Exodus 20:11).

As the writer to the Hebrews says, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Hebrews 11:3).  Therefore, in the beginning God created the world and everything we see in the universe out of what you couldn’t see, out of nothing.

It is our nature to understand how things are done, created, built, manufactured. We’re naturally curious, seeking a reasonable answer. But God is beyond our understanding isn’t He? Otherwise He wouldn’t be God and could be understood by all humans. However, He is God the creator. He is Jesus the Savior. He is the Holy Spirit, our guide and counselor.

When we ask God why, He may answer, “Because I love you and have a plan for you.” Jeremiah 29:11. God could have created everything in one second but He didn’t. Likewise, He doesn’t need hundreds of millions of years either.

If we decide the creation account in Genesis, chapter one does not mean literal days, we are saying the Bible is in error. If that is the case, how can any of the Bible be accurate? We have opened the door to our own interpretation for all of it. What about John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” We may decide the actual meaning does not apply to people today. This was written for those alive at that time. The Bible is God’s written word for all people of the earth, regardless of location, age or culture.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16)

 

 

 

He Who Serves God From Love

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He who serves God from love. . .walks in the path of wisdom, not because of any worldly advantage, nor to protect himself from evil, not to inherit good thereafter, he does the right because it is right, though in the end the blessing will not fail him.”

                                                                                                 Moses Maimonides 1135-1204