Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Loving as Christ Does (Eph. 5:25-30)

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.
(Ephesians 5:25-30, NASB)

Yesterday, I resurrected my comments about wives being subject to husband. I wrote, “… in a healthy marriage, husbands and wives want the best for each other.”

Paul takes this a step further … for husbands, at least. Husbands are commanded to love their wives “as Christ also loved the church.”

Christ experienced overwhelming pain and suffering for His church. He faced betrayal, ridicule, and denial. He was rejected. He was brutally killed. For His church.

And that’s how husbands are to love their wives.

Further, they are to love their wives as they love themselves. They are to “nourish and cherish” their wives.

That means husbands are to “promote the growth of,” and I think that means providing for their wives physically, but also to encourage them emotionally and spiritually. Husbands are also to “feel or show affection for” their wives and to “keep or cultivate with care and affection.”

Husbands are not to belittle their wives or verbally abuse them. And they certainly are not to physically abuse them.

Rather, they are to be, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13, kind and patient, not jealous or arrogant (vv. 4-7).

Or as he wrote to the church in Ephesus: to love as Jesus does.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Wives Be Subject ... (Eph. 5:18-21)

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
(Ephesians 5:18-21, NASB)

Over a year ago, I meditated on 1 Peter for this devotional. And when I got to 1 Peter 3:1-6, I wrote the following (and since today’s verses deal with the same, I’m going to use these words again):

I almost want to skip today’s verses because someone’s going to take issue with what I’m going to say. I can guarantee it. But if I’m going to go through [Ephesians] verse by verse, I need to meditate on every verse, even those that are uncomfortable for me or for others.
So here we go.

Submission—biblical submission—has quite a negative rap these days. I believe it’s not as bad as people make it out to be. I’m writing a Bible study for women in unequally yoked marriages, and I address this:
Submissive: Being willing to be subject to something. Did you catch that? To submit is an issue of willingness. I read recently that a wife-to-husband relationship is similar to a vice president-to-president relationship. Certainly a vice president is able to do as much (or perhaps more) than the president. They work together, often make decisions together. However, he willingly submits to the authority of the president because there needs to be one leader. In the same way, we as wives contribute and have a voice, but there does have to be a final authority. Submission does not mean we’re to accept bullying or abuse.”
Excerpted from You’re Not Alone © 2010 Sauni Rinehart
I believe there does need to be one leader in a marriage, one final decision maker. But I also believe in a healthy marriage, husbands and wives want the best for each other. So they’ll cooperate. They’ll discuss. They’ll compromise. So submission isn’t so difficult.

You may disagree, but I challenge you. If you’re in a Christian marriage, pray for God to work in your heart. Pray for that “imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 1:4).

Not a doormat. Not a whipping post. Rather, a woman of God who desires to be precious in the sight of her God.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sing Songs of Praise (Eph. 5:18-21)

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.
(Ephesians 5:18-21, NASB)

I have no problem with a glass of wine here and there—I don’t think there’s anything in the Bible that says it’s wrong—but God’s word is very clear about one thing: We’re not to get drunk. Instead, we should be filled with the Holy Spirit and His fruit: love, joy, patience, self-control and so on (Gal.5:22-23).

And who needs to drink when we can praise God with songs and psalms? I love music. I love everything about it. I love harmonies and melodies. I love well-written, meaningful lyrics. I often feel closest to the Lord when I’m singing words of praise, and I feel joy when I’m “making melody with [my] heart to the Lord …” More joy than I feel at pretty much any other time.

When I sing words like, “Holy is the Lord God Almighty” or “Lord, I Believe in You” or “Awesome is the Lord More High”, I am filled with … well, feelings I just can’t fully explain. Gratitude. Humility. Awe.

And I’m so thankful for what God has done in my life. His faithfulness. His grace and mercy. His love.

Yep. Who needs wine when we can life our voices with song?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Be Careful How You Walk (Eph. 5:15-16)

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
(Ephesians 5:15-16, NASB)

When Paul wrote, “… the days are evil …” he could well have been written about our world today. No question.

So just as the Christians in Ephesus were cautioned, we should also take Paul’s words to heart. We too should be “careful how [we] walk.” We must be wise, not foolish.

We are to make “most of [our] time.” What might that mean? For me, that means I should be focused on things of the Lord. Always. I should be concerned with serving Him and others. I should love as Jesus loves. I should strive to use our time in kingdom-building efforts. Sharing the gospel. Encouraging others in faith. Strengthening our own faith through study of God’s word.

And finally, we’re to “understand what the will of the Lord is.” And we know God’s will through prayer, through His word, and—sometimes—through godly counsel from friends and family.

Yes, we live in evil days, yet we must not allow the evil of this world steal our focus from what’s really important: doing God’s will and keeping our eyes on the prize—eternity with our Lord and Savior.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Light in the Darkness (Eph. 5:11-14)

Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. For this reason it says,
"Awake, sleeper,
And arise from the dead,
And Christ will shine on you."

(Ephesians 5:11-14, NASB)

I wrote yesterday that dark and light cannot coexist. When light is extinguished, dark wins. But when the tiniest flame is lit in a pitch-black room, it illuminates even the darkest corner.

We live in a dark world—a very dark world. Sin is rampant. Greed and corruption destroy. Lust and sensuality abound. The enemy of our souls and his minions are waging warfare. As Paul wrote:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12).
Yes. A very dark world.

We can live with hope, however. If we truly believe in the grace of God, if we believe Jesus came to earth to save lost souls, if we desire to be salt and light, Jesus will shine on and through us. He’ll cast out darkness. He’ll conquer our enemies.

Because “He who is in [us] is greater than he who is in the world …” (1 John 4:4). And we already know Who wins the war: Jesus Himself said, “…in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

So let Him shine in and through you.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Take It to Heart (Eph. 5:5-10)

For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.
(Ephesians 5:5-10, NASB)

Paul gives several exhortations in these few verses … and we should take them to heart.

Let no one deceive you with empty words.
This world is full of promises—for success, for prosperity, even for salvation. Living according to the world’s standards is beyond foolish. It’s risking “inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”

“… do not be partakers …” with those who are immoral, impure, covetous … those who worship other idols. We just cannot, cannot, live like the world. We must live as God’s word commands us, dwelling on those things that are pure and true and lovely (see Phil. 4:8).

“… walk as children of Light …” Our Lord and Savior is Light (John 1:6-10) and He Himself called us to be “light of the world” (Matt. 5:14). Light and darkness cannot co-exist. Light casts out all darkness, and our light—the Light—should shine through us to cast out the darkness of this world.

“… learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” And how do we do that? By reading His word. By meditating on its truths. By surrendering ourselves to Him every day. By seeking His will in all things.

Strong exhortations … will you take them to heart?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Out of the Mouth ... (Eph. 5:3-4)

But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.
(Ephesians 5:3-4, NASB)

I’ve asked similar questions before, but if someone who didn’t know you observed you for a day, would he know you were a follower of Christ? If he listened to your interactions at work, read your FaceBook posts, watched you converse with your friends, would he see someone who’s any different than someone who didn’t claim to be a Christian?

How often do you share the latest off-color joke? Are certain vulgarities (those words that would be “bleeped” from a live television show or on an airline movie) part of your regular vocabulary? Do you gossip? Or lie? Or pad the books?

Does your mouth, as James wrote, “… bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so” (3:9-10).

Or would that observer see you spending time in God’s word. Praying. Helping others. Saying kind words. Edifying those around you.

I fear many of us wouldn’t stand up to that kind of scrutiny. I fear many of us have allowed the world to influence us rather than the other way around. I fear we love the world more than we love our Savior.

And “these things ought not to be so …”

Or as Jesus asked, “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Fragrant Aroma (Eph. 5:1-2)

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
(Ephesians 5:1-2, NASB)

Walk in love. A continual, deliberate action.

Love as Jesus loves, giving ourselves to others just as Jesus gave Himself for us.

And why?

Well, first, because we’re commanded to do so as God’s children. But there’s a better blessing for us when we love as Jesus does.

Our love for others is given as an offering to God. And sometimes it is a sacrifice. When we love as Jesus loves us, we offer a “fragrant aroma” to God. And He is well-pleased.

When we love, we “are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing …” (2 Cor. 2:15). Others look at us and see how God’s love flows through us. A love that is kind and patient and forbearing. A love that doesn’t hold grudges and isn’t jealous. (See 1 Cor. 13:4-7.)

How many people might be attracted to Jesus because they see a sacrificial, other-serving love in us? Instead of judgment, they see mercy. Instead of anger, they see peace. Instead of hate, they see love.

As I wrote Saturday, it could change the world.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Change Your World (Eph. 4:32)

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
(Ephesians 4:32, NASB)

Think of how different our world would be if we were all kind to one another. If we forgave each other as we have been forgiven.

No anger or bitterness. No grudges or desire for revenge.

No jealousy or coveting.

No putting others down.

Just a world full of people showing love. Looking out for each other. Treating each other with respect. Providing for those less fortunate.

All of us would “regard one another as more important than [ourselves]” (Phil. 2:3). We’d love our neighbors more than we love ourselves ((Mark 12:30). We’d even be willing to lay down our lives for others (John 15:13).

Oh, what a world it would be.

Maybe we can’t change the entire world, but what about our own small circles of influence? What if each of us chose to be kind to those around us? If we were tender-hearted? If we forgave those closest to us?

It would be pretty amazing. So let’s try it. Let’s determine to accept Paul’s challenge and change—if not the whole world—our own “worlds.”

Friday, May 20, 2011

Put Away Anger (Eph. 4:31)

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
(Ephesians 4:31, NASB)

Bitterness and wrath and anger … These are destructive. They can tear apart families. They can annihilate friendships. They can kill the soul.

And so often they start “justifiably.”

Someone hurts us or someone we love. We have the “right” to be angry. And perhaps we do. We should be angry at injustice or blatant sin.

However, we have to be very, very careful to not let righteous anger grow to a bitterness that flames out of control.

I speak from experience. I was “justifiably” angry at the men who abused me. Between the ages of nine and sixteen, I was abused by three men … and I was angry. But instead of dealing with the pain, instead of offering forgiveness—whether they asked for it or not—I allowed the anger to grow from a tiny flame to a forest fire in my heart and soul. It burned away peace and joy and contentment.

And that bitterness and wrath and anger pulled me away from faith. From my Father.

There’s a saying: “Anger is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

If your heart is full of anger—righteous or not—I encourage you to do two things: First, forgive whomever has hurt you. It won’t be easy, but you can do it if you do the second: Give all your bitterness and wrath and anger to the Lord. Ask Him to help you forgive. Ask Him to fill your heart with love instead of anger. Peace instead of bitterness. Joy instead of wrath.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Don't Grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30)

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
(Ephesians 4:30, NASB)

Yesterday, we looked at how we should avoid “unwholesome” words. When we don’t, we “grieve the Holy Spirit of God.”

What does it mean to “grieve the Holy Spirit”? To grieve is to “cause to suffer.” Can you imagine it? Causing the Holy Spirit—part of the triune God—to suffer? As Paul often wrote, may it never be!

And what is the result of our grieving the Spirit? I researched this concept, and the Adam Clarke Commentary says, when we “give to sin,” we grieve the Spirit so He “shall withdraw both [His] light and presence …” And the Matthew Henry Concise Commentary exhorts, “Provoke not the holy, blessed Spirit of God to withdraw his presence and his gracious influences.”

Oh my … The Holy Spirit withdraws His very presence? This puts my using “unwholesome” words—or sinning at all—in a new perspective. I need the Spirit's presence. I need His affirmation and conviction daily. And to think that my sin might cause Him to withdraw His presence and influence?

That causes me to grieve.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

No Unwholesome Words (Eph. 4:29)

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.
(Ephesians 4:29, NASB)

Oh, I remember when the English language was rich and diverse. I’ve been a lover of the written world for as long as I can remember. I love to read. I love to write. I even taught English at the college level for over ten years. Yet now, it seems like people’s vocabulary is very limited.

Words that just a generation ago were considered vulgarities are part of our lexicon. One particular “former” vulgarity seems to be used as a noun, verb, adverb, and adjective. Yes, we have a new vocabulary in our culture. But that really doesn’t make it wholesome—or “sound in body, mind, or morals.”

And with the proliferation of ways to interact (internet, social networks, texts), we’re seeing and hearing things we never have before. But that doesn’t really mean it’s edifying—or “instruct[ing] or improv[ing] especially in moral or religious knowledge.”

Are the words we use true and just and honorable? (See Phil. 4:8.) Do they honor our Lord? Do they build up others?

Think about the words you use. Are they wholesome and sound? Will they instruct others’ moral knowledge?

Think about it. And then say it well.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

God's Gift ... of Gifts (Eph. 4:11-13)

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
(Ephesians 4:11-13, NASB)

Each of us is gifted by God to serve Him in a way only we can. And when you stop to think about it, God’s gifts in us are gifts to us.

God doesn’t need us to do His work. He is more than able to reach people and care for them without us. In fact, I’m sure there are times when we hamper His work.

Yet He loves us so much, He allows us to join Him in His kingdom work. He uses us to serve others, and He gives us the privilege of seeing how that service impacts them.

What an amazingly wonderful gift!

So some of us evangelize. Some of us preach. Some of us teach. And all of us equip the saints and build the body of Christ. And though there may be thousands of preachers, God uses each uniquely. And though there may be thousands of teachers, God speaks through each differently.

I regularly speak to women’s groups, and I’m far from the best speaker around … Yet, when I speak, God uses me in a way He doesn’t use anyone else. He gives me a unique style, unique ways of using words. And He touches lives in a unique way—through me.

How has God gifted you? Do you know? If you don’t, talk to someone you trust, who knows you well, and ask them what they think. Find a gift assessment tool. And when you find out how God has uniquely gifted you, join Him in His kingdom-building plan.

And thank Him for allowing you to be a part of that plan.

Sin No Longer (Phil. 4:28)

He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.
(Ephesians 4:28, NASB)

Today’s verse deals specifically with stealing, but I think we can replace “steal” with any habitual sin.

Whatever it is you deal with, whatever sin you struggle with, you “must [fill in the blank] no longer.”

We are, after all, “new creatures” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). We should be “transformed” every day (Rom. 12:2).

We need to do “what is good,” focusing on what is true and noble and just and pure and excellent. (See Phil. 4:8.) We need love our neighbors as Christ loves them—and He said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:3).

And if we do, we’ll want to serve others, sharing with them what God has blessed us with.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Speak Truth. Avoid Anger. (Eph. 4:25-27)

Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another. BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.
(Ephesians 4:25-27, NASB)

Speak truth. With everyone. This isn’t always an easy command to obey. Especially in our world where many say there is no real truth.

But if we serve the God of the Bible, we serve Truth, so we really have no choice. If we want to honor Him, if we want to serve each other, we must speak truth.

Be angry, and yet do not sin. Elsewhere, we’re told that wrath is a work of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21), so how do we reconcile Paul’s words? I think the first is habitual. It’s living in daily, unrelenting anger. Whereas in today’s verses, there’s an understanding that we may get angry, but we need to seek resolution before the sun goes down.

If we allow anger to take residence in our hearts, we really do give the “devil an opportunity.” I know this from experience. I held on to anger and bitterness after years of abuse. And that anger took me on a very long journey away from faith.

Do you struggle with anger? Has it taken residence in your heart? Ask the Lord to help you deal with it. Ask Him for love and peace to overcome the anger and hate.

Don’t give the devil an opportunity.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Daily Surrender (Eph. 4:20-24)

But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
(Ephesians 4:20-24, NASB)

When we committed our lives to Jesus, when we accepted His gift of salvation through the shedding of His blood, His death, and His resurrection, we became new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17). Our sins were removed from us, as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12).

The Father saw us—and sees us—as clean and pure (Ps. 51:7).

But we live in a daily battle against the enemy of our souls. And even though he knows he lost the war with us, as long as he can keep us distracted from serving God and impacting others for God’s kingdom, he can win a battle or two.

So we must be on alert against his wiles and lies (1 Peter 5:8-9). We must—daily—“lay aside the old self” and take up the cross of serving God. We must—daily—“put on the new self” by renewing our minds, by surrendering everything to God.

When you wake each morning, ask God to give you strength for that day. Surrender anew yourself to Him. Seek His will. And commit to live that day to glorify Him.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Winning the Battle (Eph. 4:17-19)

So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.
(Ephesians 4:17-19, NASB)

Read any newspaper or listen to the news, watch the latest movie, or do some internet surfing, and you immediately see a world “excluded from the life of God.” Everyone living according to his or her own rules. No truth. No absolutes.

Futile minds. Dark understanding. Hard hearts. Calloused spirits. Devoted to sensuality. Practicing impurities. Greedy.

Makes you think the enemy is winning … and yes, he’s winning a battle or two. And those of us who follow Christ must be ready for each day’s attack.

We need to put on our defensive armor every single day (Eph. 6:10-17). The helmet of salvation to protect our thoughts and mind. The breastplate of righteousness to protect our hearts and emotions. The belt of truth so we can live according to God’s truth. The sandals of the gospel of peace so we can revel in the joy of knowing what Jesus did for us and so we can be showered with His peace. And the shield of faith, the very foundation of our relationships with God.

And we must take up the one offensive weapon in our arsenal: the sword of the Spirit, which is the very word of God. We must study and meditate on and memorize God’s word to us.

So when the enemy comes and tries to attack us with all those enticements of the world, we can withstand. We can stand firm.

And we can shine the light of Jesus. We can have strong minds. True understanding. Loving hearts. Willing spirits. We can be devoted to loving God and others. Practice the fruit of the spirit. Be generous.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Childish Christians (Eph. 4:14-16)

As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
(Ephesians 4:14-16, NASB)

I don’t mean to offend anyone, but it seems like the Christian community is full of “children.” So many people who call themselves Christ-followers have bought into the “pick and choose” philosophy this world offers.

I’m a Christian, they say, but I like this from Hinduism or that from Buddhism. I like the “new age” idea of being my own god. I mean, I still believe in the God of the Bible, but it feels good to think I’m in control. And of course, the Bible probably isn’t really “inerrant.” It’s just some guidelines. But I am a Christian.

So many are “tossed … and carried away by every wind of doctrine.” So many don’t even know what they’re supposed to believe because they haven’t been taught what the Bible says.


So instead of “grow[ing] up in all aspects into” Christ, so many stay unhealthily childish. They don’t work together with other believers to build the body of Christ. They don’t speak truth because they don’t know the truth.

Tragic indeed.

I pray—daily—for a revival in the hearts of those who follow Christ. A revival to really study God’s word and hold it in their hearts. A revival to embrace truth. A revival to go and make disciples, “teaching them to observe all [Jesus] commanded” (Matt. 28:19-20).

God's Gift of Gifts (Eph. 4:11-13)

NOTE: blogger.com had an issue. This was the post for May 12, 2011.

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
(Ephesians 4:11-13, NASB)

Each of us is gifted by God to serve Him in a way only we can. And when you stop to think about it, God’s gifts in us are gifts to us.

God doesn’t need us to do His work. He is more than able to reach people and care for them without us. In fact, I’m sure there are times when we hamper His work.

Yet He loves us so much, He allows us to join Him in His kingdom work. He uses us to serve others, and He gives us the privilege of seeing how that service impacts them.

What an amazingly wonderful gift!

So some of us evangelize. Some of us preach. Some of us teach. And all of us equip the saints and build the body of Christ. And though there may be thousands of preachers, God uses each uniquely. And though there may be thousands of teachers, God speaks through each differently.

I regularly speak to women’s groups, and I’m far from the best speaker around … yet, when I speak, God uses me in a way He doesn’t use anyone else. He gives me a unique style, unique ways of using words. And He touches lives in a unique way—through me.

How has God gifted you? Do you know? If you don’t, talk to someone you trust, who knows you well, and ask them what they think. Find a gift assessment tool. And when you find out how God has uniquely gifted you, join Him in His kingdom-building plan.

And thank Him for allowing you to be a part of that plan.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Our Ascended Savior (Eph. 4:8-10)

Therefore it says,
(Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)

(Ephesians 4:8-10, NASB)

Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, came to earth in human form. He grew up, experiencing the same things we do … happiness and sorrow, hunger and a full belly, fatigue and rest.

Through His teen years and twenties, He learned and plied the trade of His earthly father, constructing … well, we’re not exactly told what, but likely tables and shelves and bedsteads. He may have smashed a thumb or two with a hammer or felt the pain of sore muscles.

At thirty-three, He began His earthly ministry, and at the very first, experienced temptation by the lies of the enemy. He went on to heal lepers and blind men, cast out demons, and raise the dead to life. He grew intimate relationships with twelve chosen followers.

He taught love and warned of persecution. He claimed oneness with the Father, the Creator of all. He forgave sins.

Finally, He was betrayed by a close friend, denied by an even closer friend, and forced through a sham trial. Beaten. Ridiculed. Spat on.

Crucified. Buried. “… descended into the lower parts of the earth …”

Ah, but then He rose from the dead. Alive!

After spending time with His followers—some 500 of them—He ascended to the right hand of the Father. Where He sits today. Alive and interceding for us.

And one day, He will return. He will gather all His followers to Himself. One day, He will set up an earthly kingdom, a new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21:1), where “… God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

Praise our Lord Jesus today for what He’s done and for whom He is.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

One Way (Eph. 4:4-6)

There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift.
(Ephesians 4:4-6, NASB)

Many people would tell you that there are many ways to salvation. That it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere. That as long as your good outweighs bad, you’re set.

Even many who call themselves Christian say the same. They even say Jesus never claimed to be the only way of salvation.

Now you can certainly choose to believe what you will, but if you believe in the God of the Bible, you’re not given any other option but one: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me …’” (John 14:6).

No other way.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Worthy of God's Calling (Eph. 4:1-3)

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
(Ephesians 4:1-3, NASB)

We are unworthy of any grace or mercy, yet God sees us as worthy. We are sinful by nature, yet when we accept the gift of salvation, our sins are washed away.

So how do we—in even the smallest way—honor God and show Him gratitude for that gift?

By learning to “walk in a manner worthy of [God’s] calling.”

And how do we do that?

Paul lays it out well: We need to be humble, gentle, patient, and tolerant in love, and we need to preserve unity in peace.

Pretty tall order, isn’t it?

I’m pretty sure I can be gentle … and I’m pretty tolerant in love, accepting people as they are. And sometimes that does mean “love the sinner, hate the sin.” I seek peace in all interactions.

But patience? I’ve been working on that one for ages—or should I say the Spirit has been working in me. I still tend to want what I want when I want it. I am getting better at this, though, the older I get. I recognize how God has worked in the past, and His timing is usually not my timing.

And humility? This is another area in which I need help. I’m learning to put others ahead of myself (Phil. 2:3-4).

It’s not easy, but it’s part of the journey. And—praise God!—my walk is an ongoing, continuous action, and I’ll continue growing and learning until I meet my Lord face-to-face.

So how’s your walk? Are you struggling with any of these? Pray that the Spirit will work in you and through you, so you will be worthy of God’s calling.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Glory, Honor, and Praise (Eph. 3:20-21)

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
(Ephesians 3:20-21, NASB)

Our God—Father, Son, and Spirit—deserves all glory, honor, and praise.

He is all-mighty, all-knowing, all-loving. He is Lord of lords and King of kings. He is Savior and Redeemer.

He is wise and just, righteous and holy. He is counselor and friend, ever-present and constant.

He is the Alpha and Omega. He has always been and will always be.

He is our strength, our refuge, our stronghold. He heals, protects, and provides.

He is our Shepherd, and He carries us when we’re weak.

He is the giver of peace and joy.

He is our guide and the lifter of our heads.

He works all things for good, and His plan is perfect.

He is everything we could ever want or ever need.

And one day, we’ll be able to stand in His very presence and worship Him eternally.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

A Prayer for Today (Eph. 3:13-19)

Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory. For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
(Ephesians 3:13-19, NASB)

This is my prayer for my family and friends today.

I pray, as Paul did, that each of them might be “strengthened with power through His spirit.” We live in difficult, turbulent times. So many of those I love are struggling with health issues. They’re valiantly searching for jobs, wondering how they’ll pay next month’s bills. They’re grieving over the loss of loved ones. And so I pray for a supernatural strength that comes only from our Lord.

I pray that “Christ may dwell in [their] hearts through faith.” Faith is the foundation of our relationships with God—Father, Son, and Spirit. It is the “handle on what we can’t see” (Heb. 11:1, MSG). Faith comes from having complete trust in God, knowing He is working all things for His glory and our ultimate good (Rom. 8:28).

I pray that they will truly, deeply know God’s love, the love that “surpasses knowledge.” A love that is everlasting (Jer. 31:3). A love that will never forsake (Heb. 13:5). A love that was willing to sacrifice God’s only Son for us (John 3:16).

Those of us who know God are blessed, just by being His children. And yet He gives us so much more. No matter what is happening in this world and in our lives, God is in loving control. He will strengthen us with a love that is beyond comprehension.

Amen and amen.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Boldness and Confidence (Eph. 3:11-12)

This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.
(Ephesians 3:11-12, NASB)

How bold is your faith? How confident are you in God’s eternal purpose?

I would like to be able to say I’m as bold as Paul, as confident as Peter. Or as my maternal grandfather.

My grandpa Hess was bold in his faith. He never failed to tell others about his love for his Savior. He was, along with Paul, “not ashamed of the gospel” because he knew it is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).

He always believed God had a purpose for his life, and he lived to fulfill that purpose.

This is my legacy. Yet how often do I fail to share the good news of salvation. How often do I lack confidence in God’s eternal purpose.

Yesterday, I neglected to write a devotional. Why? Because I was feeling sorry for myself. I’ve been feeling quite unwell lately, and I just hit a wall. While I didn’t lose faith in God, I questioned His purpose in my pain.

I allowed my momentary, temporary pain to cloud my vision of God’s faithfulness to me. I failed to remember that “… the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).

I certainly didn’t remain bold and confident.

And so I confessed my doubt and questioning, and my Lord God forgave me … yet again.

Today’s a new day, and I pray for a renewed boldness in faith and a fresh confidence in God’s eternal purpose, trusting His higher-than-mine ways (Is. 55:9).

I pray the same for you.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Acquire Wisdom (Eph. 3:8-10)

To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.
(Ephesians 3:8-10, NASB)

Our God wants to grant us wisdom. Psalm 51:6 tells us
Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being,
And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.
Wisdom allows us to know more of God and His desires for us.

And how do we gain wisdom? It begins with a reverent awe of our Lord God:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
A good understanding have all those who do His commandments;
His praise endures forever (Ps. 111:10)
When you seek wisdom, God will give you understanding of Him and His will.

Wisdom is a gift, and when we read God’s word and meditate on its truths, we will know Him. As the psalmist wrote:
Acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding!
Do not forget nor turn away from the words of my mouth.
Do not forsake her, and she will guard you;
Love her, and she will watch over you.
The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom;
And with all your acquiring, get understanding (Prov. 4:5-7).

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Gift of God's Grace (3:1-7)

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God's grace which was given to me according to the working of His power.
(Ephesians 3:1-7, NASB)

Anyone can receive the “gift of God’s grace.” Anyone. God doesn’t look at gender, race, cultural background or socio-economic status. He doesn’t care if you’re nine or ninety. He doesn’t restrict you because you’ve done shameful things.

All He wants is a repentant heart, a surrendered life.

Anyone who believes in God and accepts salvation through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ—God the Son—will be saved (Acts 2:21). Jesus is the Giver of eternal life (John 3:16; 10:8-10).

You don’t have to work for it. You don’t have to hope your good outweighs your bad. You don’t have to wonder if what you did in a past life has brought you one step closer to heaven.

You just have to believe and receive.

I don’t know about you, but I’m so very grateful that God loves each and every one of us. I’m grateful that He had a plan for my salvation—a Gentile, middle-class American woman. He has the same plan for each one of us. What a good God He is!

Monday, May 02, 2011

Children of the King of kings (Eph. 2:19-22)

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.
(Ephesians 2:19-22, NASB)

It’s such an amazing thought: We are part of God’s household. We are sons and daughters of the King of kings too.

But, I especially love the thought of being God’s daughter. I love my earthly father, but we don’t have that strong of a relationship. For a while, I struggled with the idea of a loving father, one who cared for me no matter what.

When I finally recognized how much God loves me—unconditionally loves me—I understood what a Father really is.

He is gentle, compassionate, and caring. He protects His children and provides for them. He’s a refuge when things are difficult.

I can crawl on my Father’s lap when I’m sad. I can reach my hand to Him for His strength when I don’t have any of my own.

And I can’t wait until I see my Father face-to-face. What a moment that will be—in the arms of my Abba—my daddy.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Our Three-in-one God (Eph. 2:17-18)

AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.
(Ephesians 2:17-18, NASB)

“Through Him [Christ] we both [Jews and Gentiles] have our access in one [Holy] Spirit to the Father …”

Do you see the significance of the words in this verse? We who believe in the God of the Bible believe in a three-in-one God. It’s one of those mysteries that we won’t fully understand this side of heaven.

But we believe in God the Father—Creator, Sustainer. We believe in God the Son, Jesus Christ—Redeemer, Savior. We believe in God the Holy Spirit—Intercessor, Indwelling Strength. One God acting in three persons.

And so I can go to my Father, my Abba, and praise Him for this amazing world He created and for His loving plan for my life (Jer. 29:11). I can thank my Lord Jesus for His incredible sacrifice that allowed for my salvation (Rom. 5:8). I can ask the Holy Spirit to speak to the Father through my groaning (Rom. 8:26).

I’m not sure exactly why God—the three-in-one God—is how He is … but I don’t have to know. I just have to trust in His word. And know He is everything I need.