Archive for the month “March, 2012”

Pondering Ephesians 2:19-22

This Week’s Passage:  19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

You’ve heard the phrase, I have no doubt, that it is not about us, it is all about Him. The passage this week illustrates this to a tee. Beginning with the word consequently. This word looks back to the previous few verses which talk about how it is because of Jesus that we have gained access to the Father. Then goes on to say that because of Jesus we are no longer alienated from God. Because of Jesus we are considered first class citizens of the kingdom of God. Because of Jesus we are a part of the family.

Verse 21 then says that because of Jesus Jews and Greeks together – who have been redeemed, adopted, chosen, forgiven, predestined, (all words that Paul has used earlier to describe what God has done )- can come together to display the gospel in the form of the Church. Together they can reflect the magnificence of God’s holiness to a world that languishes in sin and desperate hopelessness.

Then verse 22 concludes the chapter by saying that because of Jesus God’s Spirit dwells within us – in fact He lives in us so that we can be a walking talking example of what a God filled, God fueled new creation looks like.

We should never forget that it is all because of Jesus we’re alive. The band Casting Crowns put it like this:

Giver of every breath I breathe
Author of all eternity
Giver of every perfect thing
To You be the glory
Maker of Heaven and of Earth
No one can comprehend Your worth
King over all the universe
To You be the glory

And I am alive because I’m alive in You

It’s all because of Jesus I’m alive
It’s all because the blood of Jesus Christ
That covers me and raised this dead man’s life
It’s all because of Jesus I’m alive
I’m alive, I’m alive

Giver of every breath I breathe
Author of all eternity
Giver of every perfect thing
To You be the glory
Maker of Heaven and of Earth
No one can comprehend Your worth
King over all the universe
To You be the glory

And I am alive because I’m alive in You

It’s all because of Jesus I’m alive
It’s all because the blood of Jesus Christ
That covers me and raised this dead man’s life
It’s all because of Jesus

Every sunrise sings Your praise
The universe cries out Your praise
I’m singing freedom all my days
Now that I’m alive

I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive

You can hear (and watch) them sing the song here if you would like.

As you go through your day today remember this: It’s not about us, it’s all about Him.

I’m just sayin’!

Next Week’s Passage: Ephesians 3:1-6

Prayer Mentoring with Philip Yancey (Part 3)

In Genesis 18,  Abraham has a bit of an argument with God. It is the first recorded record of someone “Jewing down” someone. In this case the someone is God. (And I can say Jew down because I am Jewish). He does so a bit tentatively but he is concerned about justice and trying to understand God’s ways. This is what Yancey has to say…

Like Abraham, I approach God at first in fear and trembling, only to learn that God wants me to stop groveling and start arguing. I dare not meekly accept the state of the world, with all its injustice and unfairness. I must call God to account for God’s own promises, God’s own character.
Robert Duvall’s movie The Apostle includes a scene in which Sonny, a preacher with a hot temper and a criminal record, stomps around in an upstairs room kicking furniture and yelling. A neighbor calls to complain about the noise: “Sounds like you have a madman over there.” Sonny’s mom smiles and explains that’s just Sonny. “Ever since he’s been little-bitty boy my son’s been talking to the Lord. Sometimes he talks to the Lord and sometimes he yells at the Lord, and tonight he just happens to be yelling at the Lord.” p.97

I don’t know that I have ever argued with God. By nature I am not an arguer. But I’m thinking it would be good for me to express to God some things I am confused by and just don’t understand. I mean there are definitely things that I just don’t get. I understand the consequences of the Fall and the ramifications of sin but still I’m bothered by why God allows some things to happen and “seems” unconcerned by what can only be called tragedy. In short I need to be more emotionally engaged with God. Here’s Yancey again…

I used to worry about my deficiency of faith. In my prayers I expect little and seem satisfied with less. Faith feels like a gift that a person either has or lacks, not something that can be developed by exercise, like a muscle. My attitude is changing, though, as I begin to understand faith as a form of engagement with God. I may not be able to summon up much belief in miracles, or dream big dreams, but I can indeed exercise my faith by engaging with God in prayer. p.98

Getting in shape is tough when you are out of shape. It hurts to work muscles that haven’t been worked much. That’s why this Prayer Mentoring has been helpful to me. I need the week in and week out encouragement to keep going at it. I know I’m in better shape now then I was in January. And hopefully come December I will be a prayer stud.

I’m just sayin’!

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Pondering Ephesians 2:11-18

 11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Since the beginning of recorded history, the entire world has been at peace less than 8% of the time! Of 3530 years of recorded history, only 286 years saw peace. Moreover, in excess of 8000 peace treaties were made & broken. During this period there were 14,351 wars, large & small, in which 3.64 billion people were killed. The world needs peace among the nations.

Millions and millions of people suffer with depression, anxiety, and worry. Millions and millions of dollars are spent each year trying to find a medical fix to the problem. People need peace in their inner being.

Every person who has ever been born since the Fall has been at war with God and has tried to solve this problem through either a personal or institutional religion. People need peace with God.

Enter Jesus. The Prince of Peace. Jehovah-Shalom. The Scripture says here in 2:14 that “He himself is our peace.” True peace will not be found anywhere else but in Christ. He is The Peacemaker.

There is a word that is used in this passage that is one of my favorite words in the New Testament. Reconcile. It has to do with conflict resolution; with settling differences; with restoring relationships. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that we might be reconciled to God. We were reconciled to God at the cross. No cross, no reconciliation. This is what makes our faith unique. This is why Christianity is not just another religion. It is based on the relationship between God and man and God’s unceasing willingness to bridge the great divide that was caused by sin. The relationship was broken but the relationship can be restored. Reconciliation! The Cross! The Prince of Peace! Jesus!

I’m just sayin’!

Next Week’s Passage: Ephesians 2:19-22

Prayer Mentoring with Philip Yancey (Part 2)

Here are some more quotes from Yancey’s book. He has a way of voicing some of the things that we think but won’t say out loud because it would make us sound less Christian. His contention,as well as mine, is that questions lead to answers which leads to Truth which always grows our faith.

The main purpose of prayer is not to make life easier, nor to gain magical powers, but to know God. I need God more than anything I might get from God. Yet when I seek to know God through prayer, certain problems rear up. p.56

Why praise God who, unlike friends, does not need a lift? Why inform God of needs that God already knows about? Why thank God, who hardly needs a pat on the back?… Why pray? What makes this strange practice, so problematic for many, important to God? p.57

I find prayer hard work, not the rejuvenating refuge it meant to Jesus. I struggle to see prayer as a dialogue, not a monologue. How can I commune with a God who tends not to use audible words in response? p.63

Does God really care about the details of our lives, such as getting a house sold or finding a lost cat? And if the answer is yes, then what about a hurricane that flattens a city or a tsunami that washes away a quarter million people? Why does God seem so capricious in deciding if and when to intervene on this chaotic planet? p.73

After surveying Jesus’ practice of prayer, I realize that his example does answer one important question about prayer: Does it matter?… He prayed as if it made a difference, as if the time devoted to prayer mattered every bit as much as the time he devoted to caring for people. p.79

For me, prayer is the key to making life an adventure. In the Lord of the Rings series by Tolkein, poor Frodo only gets enough direction for the next lap of the journey. As he looks back, it all works out, but most of the time he wanders around confused and helpless. Only occasionally, and in subtle ways, does Gandalf actively give assistance and guidance. p.83 – by Harold.

I learn as much from the prayers Jesus did not pray as from those he did. These, too, underscore God’s mysterious style of working on this planet. When his cousin John faced imprisonment and certain execution, Jesus did not pray for his release and miraculous delivery – just as he did not pray that Satan keep his hands off Peter, nor that Judas change his mind. p. 85

I particularly like that last quote. Had never really thought about the prayers Jesus didn’t pray. Not only does Jesus pray in a different way than me, He doesn’t pray in a different way than me. Still so much to learn.

I’m just sayin’!

Pondering Ephesians 2:6-10

This Week’s Passage:  6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

The focus of my pondering is verse 10.

Poiema – Workmanship. Work of art. Masterpiece. The Greek word sounds like our word for poem. Our God is a creative God and we are His crowning achievement. “Good” was the word in Genesis used to describe everything else God created. “Very good” were the words used to describe His creation of man. God was a VERY good artist and as an artist He takes great delight in His works of art – namely us. This explains why He loves us so much; why He is jealous regarding us; why He is angered when His creation is marred; why He went as far as the cross to restore His masterpiece and make us “new creations.”

We were created to do good works – The question that begs to be asked is this: What good works has God prepared in advance for me to do? This is a part of the great adventure of walking with God – figuring out the answer to this question. I think we make it a lot harder question than it should be. We fret over what God’s will is for us. We wonder what it is that God wants us to do with our life. There is an easy way to know the answer. Walk with God. Abide in Him. Pay attention to His Word. Give a listening ear to Him in prayer. God will make it clear to us what we should be doing if we are walking close to Him. So if you perhaps are wondering what good works God has in store for you – then my suggestion is to draw closer to God. Do what you need to do to make this happen and I suspect that you will be presented with lots of opportunities to “do good works.”

Then do them!

I’m just sayin’!

Next Week’s Passage: Ephesians 2:11-18

Prayer Mentoring with Philip Yancey

Most of my prayer posts to date have been from pastors or theologians. Philip Yancey is a journalist. He approaches the subject of prayer more like a layman than a clergyman. I have found his writings over the years to be thought provoking as he tends to question everything and not accept your typical religious answers. Since I am not a fan of religion I find this approach refreshing. Hope you enjoy his thoughts. There will most likely be more next week.

“Prayer is to the skeptic a delusion, a waste of time. To the believer it represents perhaps the most important use of time. As a Christian I believe the latter. Why, then, is prayer so problematic? The British pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones summed up the confusion: “Of all the activities in which the Christian engages, and which are part of the Christian life, there is surely none which causes so much perplexity, and raises so many problems, as the activity which we call prayer.” p.16

“I realize that my image of God, more than anything else, determines my degree of honesty in prayer. Do I trust God with my naked self? Foolishly, I hide myself in fear that God will be displeased, though in fact the hiding may be what displeases God the most. From my side, the wall seems like self-protection; from God’s side it looks like lack of trust. In either case, the wall will keep us apart until I acknowledge my need and God’s surpassing desire to meet it. When I finally approach God, in fear and trembling, I find not a tyrant but a lover.” p.44

“Jesus valued prayer enough to spend many hours at the task. If I had to answer the question “Why pray?” in one sentence, it would be, “Because Jesus did.” He bridged the chasm between God and human beings. While on earth he became vulnerable, as we are vulnerable; rejected, as we are rejected; and tested, as we are tested. In every case his response was prayer.” p.50

“Prayer is a subversive act performed in a world that constantly calls faith into question. I may have a sense of estrangement in the very act of prayer, yet by faith I continue to pray and to look for other signs of God’s presence.” p.51

“I have learned to see prayer not as my way of establishing God’s presence, rather as my way of responding to God’s presence that is a fact whether or not I can detect it.” p.51

“Though my needs may drive me to prayer, there I come face-to-face with my greatest need: an encounter with God’s own self.” p.55

“Prayer that is based on relationship and not transaction may be the most freedom-enhancing way of connecting to a God whose vantage point we can never achieve and can hardly imagine. Quoting a Psalm, Peter assures us that “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer.” We need not bang a drum or bring animal sacrifices to get God’s full attention; we already have it.” p.55

I have bolded a few of the phrases that particularly grabbed my attention. And I hope that as I continue to learn how to be a pray-er that some of the things I am learning help you as well.

I’m just sayin’!

Pondering Ephesians 2:1-5

This Week’s Passage1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All 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. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

I’m a grace guy. I love to think on God’s amazing grace. I don’t often think on God’s amazing wrath. We don’t sing “Amazing wrath how sour the sound that condemned a wretch like me.” And yet this passage reminds us that we are by our very nature, down to the core of our being, objects of God’s wrath. Before God speaks of God’s amazing grace He speaks of God’s amazing wrath. This week as I pondered, I found a few noteworthy quotes that I thought I would share and let them speak  mostly for themselves.

A.W. Pink said:

“The wrath of God is a perfection of the Divine character upon which we need to frequently meditate.

First, that our hearts may be duly impressed by God’s detestation of sin. We are ever prone to regard sin lightly, to gloss over its hideousness, to make excuses for it. But the more we study and ponder God’s abhorrence of sin and His frightful vengeance upon it, the more likely are we to realize its heinousness.

Second, to beget a true fear in our souls for God: “Let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28,29). We cannot serve Him “acceptably” unless there is due “reverence” for His awful Majesty and “godly fear” of His righteous anger, and these are best promoted by frequently calling to mind that “our God is a consuming fire.”

Third, to draw out our souls in fervent praise for having delivered us from “the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10).”

***

Propitiation is a really cool theological word that speaks of the satisfaction of God’s holy wrath.

Here is what J.I. Packer said in his book Knowing God:

“The wrath of God against us, both present and to come, has been quenched. How was this effected? Through the death of Christ. ‘While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son’ ([Romans] 5:10). The ‘blood’—that is, the sacrificial death—of Jesus Christ abolished God’s anger against us, and ensured that His treatment of us forever after would be propitious and favorable. Henceforth, instead of showing Himself to be against us, He would show Himself in our life and experience to be for us. What, then, does the phrase ‘a propitiation . . . by His blood’ express? It expresses, in the context of Paul’s argument, precisely this thought: that by His sacrificial death for our sins Christ pacified the wrath of God.”

In order to totally appreciate the magnificent grace of God (which we’ll ponder this coming week) we need to grasp how awful is His wrath. So think with me on these things.

I’m just sayin’!

Next Week’s Passage: Ephesians 2:6-10

Prayer Mentoring with E.M. Bounds

E.M. Bounds was a pastor back during the Civil War era. He is best know for his prolific writings on prayer. Here are a few quotes that I came across this week as I was reading some of his books:

He who is too busy to pray will be too busy to live a holy life.

 The prayer habit is a good habit but prayer done only by force of habit is a very bad habit. This kind of praying is not conditioned after God’s order, nor is it generated by God’s power. It is not only a waste, a perversion, and a delusion, but it is also a prolific source of unbelief. Prayerless praying gets no results. God is not reached, self is not helped. It is better not to pray at all than to secure no results from praying – better for the one who prays, better for others.

 The men who have done the most for God in this world have been early on their knees. He who fritters away the early morning – its opportunity and freshness – in other pursuits than seeking God will make poor headway seeking Him the rest of the day. If God is not first in our thoughts and efforts in the morning, He will be last during the remainder of the day.

 A desire for God that cannot break the chains of sleep is a weak thing and will do little good for God. The desire for God that stays far behind the devil and the world at the beginning of the day will never catch up.

 No man can do a great and enduring work for God who is not a man of prayer, and no man can be a man of prayer who does not give much time to praying.

 No amount of money, genius, or culture can move things for God. Holiness energizing the soul – the whole man aflame with love, with desire for more faith, more prayer, more zeal, more consecration – this is the secret of power.

Two things: 1) Again and again I keep hearing that much time must be given to prayer. At this point I would say that, for me, more time is being given to prayer – not sure that I would go so far as to say that much time is being given to prayer. 2) The idea of prayerless praying – how much of my time and God’s time have I wasted because of prayerless praying. I sense that my prayerless praying is diminishing but still have far to go.

I’m just sayin’!

Pondering Ephesians 1: 19b-23

This Week’s Passage: That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

“That power…”

This is what I’ve been thinking about this week… “That power”. Paul says that the same power that raised Christ from the dead and then exalted Him to the heavenly realms is available to believers and to the Church. So where is “that power?” To be quite honest I don’t see it manifested in the lives of many believers or in the work of many churches. I don’t see it manifest in my own life. So here are the questions I’ve been thinking through:

1) What would this power look like in the life of a believer – in other words, how would it present itself?

As I peruse the book of Acts and think back on the 4 gospels here are the things that are readily apparent:

Boldness in speaking, preaching, and praying – All of these are evident in Acts 4. I especially love Acts 4:13. This verse kind of sums up for me what power in the life of a believer looks like to unbelievers: “When they say the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” Where is the astonishment that seemed to follow these guys around after Pentecost?

Transformed Lives – You don’t have to look far in both the gospels and the Book of Acts to find people who’s lives were radically changed. As people came in contact with Spirit empowered believers their lives were never the same. Can that be said about me? Can that be said about us?

Miracles – Do miracles still happen? I believe they do! But we see so few things that can only be explained by a miraculous work of God that we have gotten to the point that we don’t expect God to do the miraculous. Shame on us as the people of God. You certainly see the miraculous happening in the gospels and Acts.

2) Why are so few believers filled and fueled by the power of God?

  • There is little dependence upon God – Here in American we have been trained from the time that we were pups to depend upon our ourselves – our money, our talents, our personality, our family, our intellect. We have never really had to depend solely upon God and therefore have never learned how to depend upon God. God’s power is thwarted by our independence.
  • Unconfessed sin and unrepentant hearts short circuit the power supply and bewilder the Power Supplier – Unfortunately we tend to have a high tolerance for sin. I include myself in this statement. We have view of God that says God is a forgiving God therefore I can do whatever I want and He will still love me and forgive. We take lightly the parts of the Bible that talk about God’s hatred for sin because of His absolute holiness and we gloss over the idea that “we were by nature objects of wrath.” Because of this we deal with sin like we deal with clutter. We let it build up until we can’t stand it anymore then try to clean it all all up – then let it start building up again. Did you catch that phrase, “until we can’t stand it?” We need to understand that sin is something that God cannot stand – therefore we need to deal with it immediately and turn in horror away from it.
  • A hunger for soul empowering food has been replaced by a ravenous hunger for worldly things – There seems to be little hunger for the Word of God among believers. Our appetites have been satisfied by other things – much like junk food has filled our bellies but added little to no nutritional value. We need to develop a craving for the pure spiritual milk of the Word. (1Peter 2:2)

3) How can I be a Spirit empowered believer?

The answer to this flows pretty naturally out of the last question if we buy into the reasons we are so powerless. To sum it up in for me my action steps would go something like this: 1) Become a man who knows how to pray – then to pray as often as I breathe, 2) Worship God in the splendor of his holiness so that I see sin the way that He sees sin, 3) Wean myself away from the things that give me more satisfaction than God and His Word.

It’s not rocket science. It just will take willful intent. Do I want to live a power fueled life or am I content to be content with the way that I am?  Do I want “that power” flowing through my spiritual veins… or not? Hmmmm.

I’m just sayin’!

Next Week’s Passage: Ephesians 2:1-5

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