Pondering Ephesians 6:18-20

This Week’s Passage18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains.Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

There are 2 things that struck me this week as I pondered:

1) Paul’s Prayer Request – Keep in mind that Paul is in jail. He did not ask that people would pray for his release; nor that they would pray for his health or safety; nor that he would even be content or find joy under the circumstances. Instead, he asked that people would pray that he would “fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.”

What a man asks prayer for reveals a lot about the man. Here Paul reveals a lot about himself. He is much more concerned that the gospel be declared than he is about what he is going through. This is not something I can say about myself.  I am way too self-centered and enjoy my creature comforts way too much. It is evident that Paul greatly valued the triumph of the gospel more than anything else whereas I greatly value my stuff and my health and my family more than even the gospel. Just being real here. If I have been transformed by the gospel should this still be the case? Do I just have a mild case of Christianity but have never experienced the full blown disease?

2) Why does Paul use the word “fearlessly”? He could have just as easily left that word out and his prayer request would have still been potent. But here are thoughts on why the gospel should not just be declared but be declared fearlessly.

a) Because by definition the gospel is GOOD NEWS. Sins are forgiven. Relationship with God is restored. The hope of heaven is secured. Why not declare this news fearlessly – it is the best news anyone could ever hope to hear.

b) Because the gospel transforms lives. It makes the dead alive. It gives hope to the hopeless. It gives freedom to those enslaved. If this is indeed true then people need to hear and I (we) need to do whatever it takes to help them hear.

I have watched over the last few months many people who’s lives have apparently been changed become fearless ambassadors. They have shared with whoever will listen the good news… about a product called Visalus. I have wondered that if I believed the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ even half as much as these folks believe in the life-changing power of Visalus how I would be effected and how would my life and ministry be changed.

Paul believed in the life changing power of the gospel – therefore he asked that his friends in Ephesus pray that he be able to declare it fearlessly.

These 3 verses have given me plenty to think about – still so much to ponder as I try to practice what I ponder. I hope these verses have made you think as well.

I’m just sayin’!

Next Week’s Passage: Ephesians 6:21-24

Prayer Mentoring with the Psalmist (Psalm 32)

Many people believe that apologizing or saying “I’m sorry” is a sign of weakness. David figured out that just the opposite was true – especially when it came to his relationship with God. He found that when he carried the weight of sin upon himself that his energy and strength were sapped. But when he acknowledged his sin it was literally as if a weight had been taken off his shoulders. He was invigorated and refreshed, strengthened and energized.

3 When I kept silent, 
    my bones wasted away 
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
    your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped 
    as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
    and did not cover up my iniquity. 
I said, “I will confess 
    my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
    the guilt of my sin.

Sin is an incredibly heavy burden to bear. We were never meant to have to bear it. This is why Christ died for us – because the weight of sin would suck the life out of us and kill us. This is exactly what it did to our Savior. This is why confession is good for the soul – because it restores our vitality as we embrace what Jesus did for us on the cross. Confession is an expression of faith – it indicates to God that we recognize our sinfulness, Christ’s holiness, and God’s willingness to restore us to life and fellowship.

It may be time for a little introspection guided by the Spirit of God. If you find yourself lacking spiritual vigor and have little motivation to pursue the things of God then most probably there is a sin issue that needs to be dealt with. Resolve to get this resolved or you will pay a high price for it. As my former pastor used to remind us (though it was not original to him)…

Sin will take you further than you want to go. 
It will keep you longer than you want to stay, 
and it will cost you more than you want to pay.

But it doesn’t have to.

Pondering Ephesians 6:14-18

This Week’s Passage:  14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

This passage reminds me of two things that I have a tendency to forget about. One which can be be very hazardous to my spiritual well being and the other that can, well, be very hazardous to my spiritual well being.

1) There is an evil one – Paul has made this clear throughout his letter as more than once he has referred to the devil and the forces of darkness. To Paul, Satan is not some hypothetical enemy or cartoonish bad guy. He is a very real, very dangerous, very formidable threat to believers and to the work of God. And Paul takes this threat very seriously – hence this impassioned plea to the Ephesians to armor up.

We would do well to take this threat equally as seriously. One of the great books that C.S. Lewis wrote is called The Screwtape Letters. Very worth the time it will take to read it. Lewis was aware that Christians did not pay much attention to the evil one so he wrote this book to make us think about the dangerous position this puts us in. It is a book of letters written from one of Satan’s underlings to a demon who is on the front lines of the enemy’s work. Here are a few quotes from the book to whet your appetite. (Keep in mind they are written from the devil’s perspective to a young demon who is trying to work his devilish charm on an unsuspecting human… hence Enemy = God)

“Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that ’suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches… The search for a ’suitable’ church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil.”

“Our cause is never more in danger, than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

“A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all – and more amusing.”

“Indeed the safest road to hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

“It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”

“Above all, do not attempt to use science (I mean, the real sciences) as a defence against Christianity. They will positively encourage him to think about realities he can’t touch and see. ”

Never forget that we are at war with a dangerous unseen enemy who desires to destroy our witness, kill our intimacy with the Father and steal our joy. But there is a second this this passage alerts us to…

2) We must live “in the Spirit” – Just as we discount the existence of the devil we forget that the omnipotent Spirit of the living God dwells within us. Paul never forgot this. Throughout this letter he has referred to the Spirit and His work in the believers. Since I am in a quote mood today I will drop a few more on you – this time from Francis Chan’s book The Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit

“We are not all we were made to be when everything in our lives and churches can be explained apart from the work and presence of the Spirit of God.”

“I believe that the Spirit is more obviously active in places where people are desperate for Him, humbled before Him, and not distracted by their pursuit of wealth or comforts.”

“The truth is that the Spirit of the living God is guaranteed to ask you to go somewhere or do something you wouldn’t normally want or choose to do. The Spirit will lead you into the way of the cross, as He led Jesus to the cross, and that is definitely not a safe or pretty or comfortable place to be. The Holy Spirit of God will mold you into the person you were made to be…”

“I don’t believe God wants me (or any of His children) to live in a way that makes sense from the world’s perspective, a way I know I can ‘manage’. I believe he is calling me – and all of us – to depend on him for living in a way that cannot be mimicked or forged. He wants us to walk in step with his Spirit rather than depend solely on the raw talent and knowledge he’s given us.”

Be on the lookout today for signs of the war raging around you – and make sure you are walking in step with the Spirit of God.

I’m just sayin! or perhaps in today’s case “They’re just sayin’!”

Next Week’s Passage: Ephesians 6:19-20

Prayer Mentoring with the Psalmist (Psalm 27)

As I read this Psalm one of the things that I am struck by is the fact that David spent time intentionally thinking about God. Thinking about who He is. Thinking about what He has done. He greatly valued his thinking time and used it to think great thoughts about God.

Which, of course, begs the question – how do I use my thinking time? And how do you use yours? What do we spend time thinking about. I’m afraid that I let others think for me most of the time. And I let the TV and internet fill the time that I could spend thinking about God. The bottom line for me, I am embarrassed to admit, is that I spend very little time, if any at all, intentionally thinking great thoughts about God.

As David thinks about God he is drawn to His beauty and drawn to want to know Him – this is what he says:

“One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.”

ONE THING! If you could ask God for ONE THING what would it be? David’s one thing is very different from my one thing. My theory is this – the reason why David’s one thing is what it is is because he spends time thinking great thoughts about God. The reason my one thing is what it is is because I spend time thinking great thoughts about me and about my job and about worldly things.

David’s thinking time leads him to prayer and worship. You can see this as you read as you read the last half of the Psalm. My thinking time leads to … well, nothing – mostly wasted time.

I’m thinking this is worth thinking about.

Pondering Ephesians 6:10-13

This Week’s Passage: 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

As I ponder this passage there are three words that catch my attention:

1) “Finally ” v.10 – Paul has had a lot to say about a lof things in this epistle. In chapters 1-3 he talked theology. In chapters 4- 6 he talked praxis. As he brings things to a close and talks about the armor of God he helps the Ephesian believers (and us) to know what we are up against as we bring theology and praxis together. Finally, he says, don’t underestimate the fact that you are in a war. Finally, he says, don’t ever discount the fact that Satan is real. Finally, he says, don’t ever forget that the power of the living God dwells within you.

2) “when” v. 13 – Paul pleads with us to make sure we are armored so that “when the day of evil comes…” Not if, but when! We have a tendency to get lulled into a false sense of safety because the war we fight is an invisible war. We don’t see the flaming arrows of the evil one. We don’t see the forces of evil around us. So there is this question mark that we live with. “If”? Paul wants to make sure that there is no “if”. It is emphatically “when”. And more likely than not I would suggest that the “when” is NOW. The day of evil is upon us.

3) “stand” v. 13 – When Paul wrote this the church was very young. This is only about 30 years or so after the resurrection and the beginning of the church. Already Paul has watched friends fall by the spiritual wayside because they have become infatuated with the ways of the world and the lure of the evil one. He is crafty. He is a schemer. And his lies are shrouded in truth and his deceitfulness masked by beauty. He wants us to be aware of what the enemy is up to so that we too do not become a spiritual casualty. When all is said and done and the war is over he wants us still to be standing.

So he tells us what we need to do in order to stand. It would be wise for us to pay attention to what he says next. Ponder prayerfully.

I’m just sayin’!

Next Week’s Passage: Ephesians 6:14-20

Prayer Mentoring with the Psalmist (Psalm 19)

As I read  Psalm 19 this is the picture in my head…. David is on the roof of his palace enjoying some much needed alone time with God. He has with him 2 things – his personal journal and a copy of the Scriptures. He is looking around at God’s creation and is filled with awesome wonder at everything that he sees. He cannot help but write down his amazement at what the Creator has established as he views the sun, the sky, the clouds; as he feels the warmth on his skin and the wind on his face. He is drawn to worship and marvels through his pen at what is so obvious before him – the presence of Almighty God.

Then he picks up the Scriptures which he has brought with him. As he begins to read he again is struck with awe at what God has provided for His people:

The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes…

How wonderful is the Word of God. And as David reflects on the awesomeness of creation and the awesomeness of Scripture he begins to reflect on how awful is his sinfulness. And he pleads with God to keep him from sin. He pleads with God that everything that he says and even thinks would be acceptable to Him. He desperately wants a right relationship with the Lord – his Rock and his Redeemer.

One of the things that I learn from David through the Psalms is the power of journaling my prayers. 2 reasons: 1) So that I can go back and be reminded of how God was teaching me and what He was showing me, and 2) So that future generations can go back and see what God was doing in my life.

As I close I have a new picture in my head. It is a picture of my great grandkids – who stumble upon a journal in the attic – a journal that I had written way back in 2012. They begin to read about my reflections on God and see how I prayed that my great grandkids would live with boldness and courage and humility. That they would be filled with joy and live sacrificially surrendered lives. That they would be leaders in their church and lovers of their families. And that as they read they are drawn to worship the awesome God of creation and drawn to read the awesome Word of God. Just as I am as I read Psalm 19.


Pondering Ephesians 6:5-9

This Week’s Passage:  Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

We live in a quid pro quo society! I’ve always wanted to have an excuse to say that because it sounds smart. Quid pro quo – literally in Latin it means something for something. If you work hard you expect to get rewarded. If you study hard you hope get good grades. If you do something for someone they do something for you. If you  do enough for God you expect to be blessed. (Actually our society today is devolving into an entitlement society – something for nothing… but that  is for another discussion).

There are 2 things in this passage that I observe about work/reward:

1) Obedience brings blessing – this is a principle I see throughout Scripture. God does promise to reward His children for obedience. That reward may or may not be in this life but it will be in eternity. So we work hard on behalf of the Lord, doing what is right, because we know that we will reap the Lord’s reward. There is nothing wrong with that as a motivation. We just have to be careful that we do not equate reward from God as material blessings in this world because that may or may not happen. But when we maintain the perspective that the 70 or so years of this life is but a drop in the bucket to how long eternity is then it helps us to keep pressing on even when life on earth is difficult.

2) Being a hard worker is pleasing to God – God wants us to work hard. Not because we expect something in return but because it is the right thing to do. Often we are rewarded for hard work, but not always. Our motivation is not to be because we expect to get something  but because we are seeking to please God.

This is a lesson for me – I am as guilty as anyone about expectations for work done. I need to remember that it is the Lord God that I am serving in everything that I do. I want to be first and foremost a God-pleaser not a man pleaser because my reward will ultimately come from Him.

I’m just sayin’!

Next Week’s Passage: Ephesians 6:10-13

Prayer Mentoring with the Psalmist

Over the next few weeks I will be looking at some of the prayers from the Psalms. This week it is a look at David and Psalm 18.

He starts off his prayer by telling God that he loves Him: “I love you O Lord, my strength.” It is rare for me to tell God that I love Him. And I’m not one of those guys that has a particularly hard time saying those 3 words – and yet when it comes to saying them to God, I don’t. I wonder why that is? Is it because I don’t love Him? I think I do. Is it because it feels weird saying the words to someone that I can’t see? Maybe. Is it because I don’t yet understand what it really means to love God? Perhaps. Is it because I know that the way that I live says something different than what the 3 words express? Hmmm!

In John 21 Jesus point blank asks Peter “Do you love me?” Peter answers the way I suspect that I would answer. “Of course, Lord, you know that I love you”. Jesus isn’t easily so convinced. Essentially He says to Peter – “You say that you love me – prove it.”

So I guess that is my mission this week – to prove to God that I love Him. That way when I finally say the words they will be backed up by my actions. The proof is in the doing.

Grace and Peace!

Pondering Ephesians 6:1-4

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

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

Because I am a dad my pondering is drawn to verse 4: “Fathers do not exasperate your children.” And as a youth pastor for many years I have seen a lot of exasperated kids. The gospel is the key to overcoming this. Going back to the previous passage at the end of chapter 5, I think that when husbands learn how to sacrificially love their wives then they will carry this love over to their kids. And when kids see sacrificial love being lived out in front of them then the exasperation factor is diminished. Not that it will go away – it is a part of kid’s job description to be exasperated – but at least it will not be in response to dear old dad.

It is not often that I share what someone else has said in my ponderings but I came across an article that has some very good very practical tips that will help dads and parents alike to keep from exasperating their children. The author says it better than I can. You can find the original post HERE.

EAGERLY, HUMBLY SUBMIT TO THE WORD OF GOD. When you sin in front of your children, confess it. When you assert your authority over them, your children should clearly see the authority that you are submitting to. Your submission to God is your qualification to teach them. Let them see it, and they will know that you aren’t a petty tyrant.

DON’T PIGEONHOLE YOUR CHILDREN. Seemingly harmless things like calling your children “the artistic one,” “the athletic one,” or “the loving one” can make your children feel like their value to you is tied up in one characteristic. It can further invite sibling rivalry and resentments. Moreover, sets you up to stop trying to learn about them, as you begin to interpret everything through that expectation and sets them up to think that that’s the only part of them you appreciate.

DISCIPLINE BIBLICALLY. When you discipline, make sure it has a biblical category. A godly parent can’t discipline for “being annoying,” “making a mess,” or “squirming.” Instead, look to correct disobeying, lying, or something that you can support with Scripture, Proverbs and Ephesians in particular. If there isn’t a biblical principle and name behind it, don’t discipline for it.

SET CLEAR EXPECTATIONS. Explain to your children in advance what you expect from them and what they can expect from you. Make sure they understand. This will greatly aid you in #3, as well as giving them the security of knowing what you want.

RECOGNIZE OBEDIENCE. Talk to your children when you aren’t correcting them. Talk about the things they do right. Tell them about specific things that you love about them. Let them know that you know them, that you think of them, and that you enjoy them.

LISTEN TO THE WHOLE STORY FIRST. With little kids you actually might have to take some time to get the story out. Don’t try to hustle past your children in an effort to quickly discipline them. The discipline is for their benefit, not yours. Make sure that they understand and that they know you are interacting with them.

HONOR YOUR SPOUSE IN FRONT OF THEM. Show love to each other in front of your children. Don’t be short, snarky, or snide with each other in their presence (or out of it for that matter). Children need to see Mom and Dad as one. Parents in fellowship with each other is one of the most basic elements for a secure home.

DON’T CHANGE YOUR BEHAVIOR TOWARD YOUR CHILDREN IN PUBLIC. Don’t correct them for things just because someone is watching. Security for a child means knowing that their parent is for them, and that when one of them corrects the child, it is for his or her benefit, and not so that others will think the parents have it all together.

DON’T TAKE YOUR CHILDREN’S SINS AS A PERSONAL INSULT. Never discipline with a break in fellowship. Don’t be “mad” at your children. Be anxious to have things reconciled.

FORGIVE. FOR REAL. If breaking the window has been forgiven, act like it. Forget it. Do not hold past incidents over your children, especially if you’ve told them you’ve forgiven them. Let it go all the way, every time, “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12).

Good stuff! I’m Just Sayin’!

Next Week’s Passage: Ephesians 6:5-9

Prayer Mentoring with Mark Batterson (#4)

 Here are the last 2 prayer maxims from Mark Batterson that I will share:

100% of the prayers you DON’T pray WON’T get answered.

Reminds me of one of my favorite verses from James: “You do not have because you do not ask God” (4:2). Perhaps the biggest reason that God does not do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” is because we do not ask Him to.

God honors BOLD PRAYERS because BOLD PRAYERS honor God.

It’s time to quit with the namby pamby praying and start asking God to do something significant in your life and in our church. Question: What are the bold prayers that you are praying for yourself and your family? What are the bold prayers that you are praying for your church?

Enough said! Feel free to ask me what I am praying for our church – you might be surprised.

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