Message: In Deuteronomy 32 God had told Moses to teach the Israelites a song that he wanted them to learn and pass through their generations. God knew that they would continue in their rebellion when they reached the promised land and this song would be a prophetic story used as a testimony against themselves in their rebellion. Something that caught my attention as I read the words of this prophetic song was that when the Lord gave the inheritance to all of the tribes of Israel he carefully divided them according to number and size and he divided the human race. Israel was God’s own inheritance and even after all of his care and protection he knew they would reject him as soon as they received all of the blessings from the promised land. Not only would they reject him but they would credit all of the prosperity and blessings to the foreign gods. It’s actually worse than that though because verse 17 says that they would sacrifice to demons. This means they didn’t just credit a fake and imaginary god. They were actually tricked by satan to worship him for all of the care and blessings that God gave them. This would be the ultimate insult to God and provoke jealousy by getting his chosen, promised prize to turn from him and even worse to worship satan. The song prophetically shows not only their rebellion, but it also shows how God would hide his face from them and become known to an “inferior people” to invoke jealousy on his chosen people. The inferior people are the gentiles and most of us are in Christ because of this turn. The prophetic song also shows that he chose not to blot them out and destroy them because of his own reputation. He was not willing to allow satan any credit for their failure. The footnotes in my bible also cross reference Romans 10 where Paul referred back to this scripture to confirm that when the Jews see the favor and the hand of God on the gentiles they will be awakened to their disobedience and finally see their Messiah in the Jesus. Although this is definitely a picture of us as nations, I believe it also represents us individually. God is jealous over our worship and our affections. He has cared for and provided for us and all credit belongs to him.
Message: In 1 Thessalonians 2 Paul was defending his character in the way he and Timothy had brought in the gospel without motives and without burdening the church financially. They were all under persecution and we have seen in other letters that accusations had come against Paul about his authenticity as an apostle after some false apostles came in and established themselves while manipulating the gospel message and the people. Paul was once again commending the church of Thessalonica for the way they received the gospel. Some thing that grabbed my attention immediately was in verse 13 when he said they had welcomed the message of the gospel not as a human message, but “as it truly is- As God’s message.” As I thought about what that meant I realized that we take “human” messages and we pick out what we identify with and we eliminate the things we disagree with. That’s a healthy way to take a human message because we are imperfect beings. Paul was commending the church because they didn’t treat the gospel that way. They took it for what it was and Paul said they became “imitators of the church” even to the point of suffering like Christ. This challenged me to pay attention to how I am treating the gospel. Am I accepting it all for what it is, or am I eliminating parts of it for the sake of my own comfort. Am I willing to be persecuted for it or am I being a people pleaser? I definitely see areas where my silence of certain hot topics is a way of avoiding the persecution. Lord, please help me identify the areas where I am avoiding parts of the gospel message in order to avoid the disapproval of people, but help me to also seek your wisdom as to how and when to approach difficult topics. Help me to stop trying to “safeguard” people from being exposed to parts of the gospel they may find offensive. Help me to be wise as a serpent ad harmless as a dove in the way that I share and relate with people.
Message: 1 Thessalonians was a letter written to the church of Thessalonica after Paul started this church but was forced to leave abruptly because of persecution. This letter has a much different tone than the previous letters. It begins with the typical greeting and thanksgiving we have previously seen from Paul, but in this letter he commended this particular church for their faithfulness to the gospel in spite of severe persecution. This was a city that was known for idolatry and the believers here had not only heard the gospel and received it with joy, but Paul mentioned they heard more than the words. They received those words with power from the Holy Spirit. Paul doesn’t go into any further explanation about this but he marvels at the fact that these believers turned from their idolatry and became so devoted to imitating Christ that their reputation was known all over. This had me thinking about the difference between people who hear the gospel and make a logical choice to follow Jesus, and those who have a legitimate touch from the Holy Spirit and the transformation is drastically evident. In my opinion, those who make a logical choice seem to struggle more with surrender because even though they have chosen to follow Jesus, they feel a sense of morality, but still also feel very much in charge of their own lives. Those I have observed who have a touch from the Holy Spirit are often people who had a troubled past and when they receive Jesus they are so grateful to be accepted and they eagerly turn their whole lives over to him in surrender. Obviously this is all just speculation and opinion, but the important thing I took away from this was the power of the Holy Spirit. We can speak to people and even reason our own way through human logic to make right choices, but when the Holy Spirit gets involved he does things in a heart that no man can reason with words. This has changed the way I pray for myself and for others. Holy Spirit, come in and do what only you can do!
Message: Colossians 4 is the final chapter and last thoughts in Paul’s short letter to the church of Colossae. Paul encouraged them (and us) to devote ourselves to prayer and to stay alert in it with thanksgiving. This is big already and it’s just verse 2. I had to read that a few times to let that soak in. Sometimes even in our prayer time we are speaking out of our fear and frustration because that is what we fed ourselves and meditated on in our hearts. I can’t even count the number of times I have gone to prayer and just vented out the contents of my heart and caught myself somewhere in the middle because I realized I was complaining about all that I felt and feared and was somehow advising God on how I needed him to handle it. I’m so thankful that God has been so patient with me and I’m not suggesting we stop venting our problems to God and being honest with him about the condition we are in. He is SAFE! We just have to remember who it is we are speaking to and ask him to help us get on board with his plan. The footnotes in my bible clarify the meaning of “staying alert or staying awake” as the mental attitude of expectancy and watchfulness. This is so important but it’s also very important to note that he said to stay awake with thanksgiving. We can be alert, aware and watchful, but without thankfulness we will not filter things properly and we will anticipate the negative instead of anticipating the hand and move of God. In verse 4 Paul asked them to pray for God to open opportunities for the message. Then in verse 5 he tells them (and us) to act wisely to outsiders, make the most of the time. Our speech should always be gracious and seasoned with salt so that we know how to answer each person. In order to do this we have to be in the right state of mind ourselves. We can’t be gracious and we won’t season our conversations with salt or faith filled expectation if we aren’t there ourselves. If we are starting and consuming our day with social media we will not be spiritually prepared to process through all that we encounter and we will certainly not be in a healthy place to lead anyone else through the muck. We need to put down the memes and stop passing around opinions and offenses. We need to be in the word and in prayer with a heart of humility and gratitude as we look to God for direction. We need to ask God to reveal what he wants us to see and not just gravitate towards ideas that are familiar and comfortable. Saltiness means something very different in the bible than it does in our current culture so our conversations should be salted with messages of hope and faith filled expectation. When we are thankful, alert, watchful and full of the word, we will be able to ask God for opportunities to share a word of encouragement. Our attitude and our encouragement will sprinkle a message of hope, not condemnation to people who are lost.
Message: Right off the top of Colossians 3 was the first verse to grab my attention this morning. “Set you mind on things above, not on things of earth.” I have heard that scripture literally all of my life but as I reread that I had to back up a bit to catch the context. Verse 1 starts with “So if you have been raised with the Messiah, seek what is above where the Messiah is seated at the right hand of God.” The “if” of that scripture caught my attention because it presented like a challenge and I’m a challenge kind of girl. Paul was challenging them (and us) that if we are really believers and followers of Jesus, and if we believe he is the Messiah then this cannot be ignored. This is not a suggestion it is a directive and we’re about to understand why this is so important. The next few verses are hinged on that big “if”. “If” we believe, “if” we follow then verse 3 says “for you died, and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God. When the Messiah which is your life is revealed, then you will also be revealed with him in glory.” This is all of the good news but now the “Therefore” in verse 5 explains our death. When we believe and follow, we die in Christ which means we “put to death what belongs to our worldly nature.” These things include sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire and greed. These things are all considered idolatry because they compete for our obsession and our worship. They are the things that go from capturing our interest, to non-negotiable things in our lives. Things that will cause us to push God to the side so we can pursue them. Even if we try to keep God in our lives, those things will compete for our affections. This is why God often compares us to a cheating spouse. We wouldn’t tolerate our spouse having a side fling and God expects the same faithfulness out of us. He will not compete for our affections and like an unfaithful partner he will force us to choose him or our sin. The next list of things also need to be put away: Anger, wrath, malice, slander, filthy language and lying. Paul tells them (and us) that since we put off the old man and put on the new man this is the way our minds have to be renewed. How do we do all of this?? This takes us back to verses 1 and 2. We have to set our minds on things above, not on things of earth. When our mindset is right, our body will follow. This is why this verse is a directive and not merely a nice suggestion. It’s impossible to accomplish this if our mindset is focused on junk, frustrations with those around us and if we’re on social media getting angry with everyone else. We need our minds renewed and the only way to do this is to focus our mindset so that Christ can do the work in us. This was a great reminder for me today because like many of us, I get caught up in the happenings all around us. The outrage of our world demands our commitment and attention. We can’t give these things the proper attention or even apply the proper response without getting our mindset focused on the most important thing. God can’t give us direction on how to move if we aren’t looking to him. Without his direction we are like someone driving a car aggressively without looking out the window. We will be moving but we will inevitably cause damage and hurt some people. Lord, please help us to look to you to renew our minds. We want to see you and hear from you. We humble ourselves and ask for your wisdom and truth to shine through our lives as we look to you.
Message: In Colossians 2 I can feel the anguish in Paul’s heart that he wanted to be there to say these things in person but from a prison cell he conveyed to them that even in his physical absence he was there with them in spirit. I often hear this phrase used sarcastically to decline going to an undesirable meeting or event so when I read this coming from Paul I had to erase that sarcastic filter. Paul really did want to be there because face to face conversations are best for communicating difficult things. Paul wanted to look at their faces and allow them to see his face and hear the sincerity in his voice because they were being pulled in a different direction by those with a different agenda. Paul affirmed them and urged them to stay rooted and built up by Christ so that they wouldn’t be deceived by persuasive arguments. He warned them not to let anyone take them “captive” by “philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, the elemental forces of this world and not on Christ.” As I read this I thought about how many philosophies and ideas are going around right now. We don’t think of them as such, because they have been crafted so well to intertwine pieces of God’s truth with humanistic philosophy. The truth is, God’s ways are not our ways and they don’t come to us naturally. They feel backwards and upside down to our human nature so even when we cling to one strong piece of truth, we often apply it in a humanistic way, so it is not helpful or effective. If we distort the application of truth, the truth becomes invalidated in the application. What should set us free has us now entangled into a web of humanistic philosophy. This is how so many people can know in their hearts that every human life has intrinsic value because we are all marked by God, but when we apply a humanistic approach to that truth we become more lost and more divided than we were before. The truth is unable to set us free because we have distorted the application with human philosophy and undermined the validity of that truth.
Paul continued by saying “don’t let anyone judge you” in the regard to food or drink or in the matter of festivals. These believers were being told they couldn’t be real Christians unless they followed the dietary restrictions of the law and the holidays of the Jewish calendar. This was never intended for the Gentiles but they found themselves under pressure because they wanted to do the right thing, but they were being pressured by men and not by God. As I read those words “don’t let anyone judge you” all I could think of was the million times I had heard someone say “don’t judge me” or “only God can judge me”. Paul was not implying that they could control the judgment of others, but that they should not allow the judgment of others control them. This is where humility and boldness meet face to face. We have to have the humility to ask God to show us the truth, and the boldness to live it out in spite of the pressure around us. We will never be rid of judgment and we will not be able to convince those who are following humanistic philosophies. They have another humanistic argument for everything. The most powerful way to convey the truth of the gospel is to actively live it out ourselves.
- Message: Colossians is another short letter to the church of Colossae which started with a typical greeting from Paul and an acknowledgment of thankfulness for them. He told them he was praying for their growth and maturity and then got right into the point of his letter. He reminded them that God is the center of everything because he is the creator of all. This may seem like an unnecessary reminder but as I read further and saw that he was reinforcing the purity of the gospel message I realized why he was going back to basics. Most of us don’t struggle with knowing that God created all things. We accept it whole-heartedly, but when it comes to the issues of the heart we treat God like an old senile man that just doesn’t get it. Pride rises up and we start to question things. As society demands that we join ranks with the issues of the world we start to speculate all kinds of things without referring back to the one who knows all and is all. We lose sight of the purity of the gospel as we try to insert scripture to fit the narrative of our world. This is not new behavior for humanity. We have done this literally for ages. Paul’s reminder to the church of Colossae is also written to us so that we stay grounded in truth and stop being side-tracked on other things. This is not to say that God is not interested in social problems or even scientific problems. This is a firm reminder that we will never understand anything until we view it through the lens of the gospel.
Message: Philippians 4 is the ending to Paul’s letter to the church of Philippi. He began by urging them to help some named women who contended for the gospel and worked alongside Paul’s team. From there Paul expressed gratitude to the church for their support not only financially, but also in encouragement and in partnership to sharing the gospel. I think it’s important to note that he was taking time to acknowledge those who had been with him and supported him from the very beginning and when none of the other churches did. He was adding value to their faithfulness and loyalty. In my opinion, Paul’s example of gratitude also made his request of the church for support of the women more valid. His letter to this church was not very long in comparison to the other churches and the bulk of it was gratitude and encouragement. As I read Paul’s letter I thought about the importance of honor. When we honor those who have helped us we honor the sacrifices they have made and reward their loyalty. This is such an important part of relationship and yet we often neglect to do this with the most relationships in our lives. Those who have been with us through it all. For some reason we are often better at thanking strangers and acquaintances. This challenged me to think about some very specific ways I can honor and acknowledge the most important relationships in my life. For me, I often think about the ones I love most and honor them in my thoughts, but I need to be more intentional about speaking these things to them. Particularly to my husband. I find that I struggle with finding the words to honor without sounding condescending like a parent or teacher. These kinds of words of encouragement are life-giving if they are done well.
Message: In Philippians 3 Paul was warning the church of Philippi to watch out for “dogs”, evil workers and those who mutilated flesh. This was all descriptive of the Jews who were still trying to persuade the church that their salvation through Jesus Christ was not enough. That they needed to follow the law also. In case they were impressed with the status of these men Paul showed them that his status was even higher but it did nothing for him in regards to salvation. He was born into the right family with education, associations and training. He had followed the law and was set up for a bright, successful future but none of that mattered. He had an encounter with Jesus and it had changed everything. He was no longer relying on the law and his flesh to make him worthy because it had already been done through Jesus. In our culture we don’t get hung up with things like circumcision, but we have plenty of our own religious things. Things that we believe make us better than others, and that we believe deep down makes us religious and therefore accepted. Christians get stuck in that rat race often but we also do it to ourselves. Paul warned them again that many were enemies of the cross and that their righteousness acquired by following the law was based upon their obedience to dietary restrictions so it was actually idolatry. Paul reminded them that he gave up his status and right standing for something even better. This challenges me to examine the religious things I do or don’t do in an attempt to appear more spiritual.
Message: Philippians 2 spoke right to my heart this morning. Paul was talking about the need for humility in the church and this is exactly what I have been praying for lately as I pray for my own humility and ask God to show me what he needs me to see. In verses 3 and 4 Paul tells the church “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” I see American Christians right now walking around with so much confidence that it has become arrogant. Christians are boldly declaring their constitutional rights above all else because we have merged our faith with our politics. This is dangerous and I think we so easily forget that the Bible has called us to lay aside our rights like Jesus did. Verse 6 reminds us that when Jesus came to earth as a man he existed in the form of God , but didn’t consider his equality with God something to be used to his own advantage. He had certain privileges as God, but he didn’t use them for his own gain or comfort. He used it for the sake of others when he healed and delivered, but he submitted himself to all kinds of abuse without rising up to defend himself. His boldness and confidence was in the truth of the gospel. Philippians 2 reminds us that when the world sees us loving each other and laying our lives down for each other they will be drawn to the church. I find it ironic that as a church we have watered down the gospel to appeal to man, but we have risen up in arrogance about our rights and personal freedoms. I see Christians fighting for the government for our moral beliefs while also living immoral lives. This is backwards and it happens because of pride. When we want all that God has promised us, but we leave out the parts that cost us we are walking in pride and arrogance. James tells us that God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. I don’t know about anyone else but I need God’s help and favor so I can’t afford to ignore the fact that my humility is what matters, and this is what will bring unity to the church. Lord, we repent of our pride and we submit our will, desires and plans to you. Show us what you want us to see and help us to cooperate with your plan and stop trying to promote our own. Show us where we are putting our own selfish desires ahead of others and where our focus is selfish and off course with your plan. Quiet the noise of our own ambitions so we can hear your voice and follow you. Let the church humble herself and bring her into unity so we can be a light to the world and attract the world because of our authentic love and unity.
Message: I have been praying through so much lately as we have all watched social media go crazy with division. As the divide widens and people become more and more angry there is so much foolishness being spewed out. Like so many others, I find myself completely frustrated with the arguments I see every day. I originally expressed my heart and support toward a grieving community of friends, but beyond that I have limited my engagement to face-to face discussion with those that I have personal relationships with. I have challenged and I have been challenged and have found that as we seek God together and talk these things out we have become more unified than ever even if we don’t fully agree on everything. As for social media, I have mostly remained silent in all of the other noise. I see too many layers involved and I can’t get behind most of what is being argued. My prayer has consistently been that God would show me what HE wants me to see and he has not let me down! Each day as I read the word he shows me something else. Today as I read Proverbs 26, I didn’t want it to be the topic I would write about but as I read through it became evident that this was where God was talking to me. The theme in Proverbs is a compare and contrast between wisdom and foolishness. Verses 4 and 5 had always troubled me but today it clicked. “Don’t answer a fool according to his foolishness, or you’ll be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his foolishness or he’ll become wise in his own eyes” My response has always been ‘So wait! Do we answer him or not answer him?’ As I read through the footnotes of my bible I came across this: “A person should not answer a fool by resorting to foolish methods, Yet someone needs to expose his foolishness, even if he won’t listen.” This is where wisdom is so important and we have to be in prayer and in the word to handle this appropriately. I promise that everyone posting things on social media believe they are wise and everyone around them is duped! Many have even used scripture to prove their point and Proverbs has one for that too. Verse 7 says “a proverb in the mouth of a fool is like lame legs that hang limp.” If that is not plain enough it means they have legs but are unable to use them as intended. In other words, they don’t have a leg to stand on. This is likely where this expression came from and is not intended to be an insult to paralyzed people. Verse 9 says “a proverb in the mouth of a fool is like a stick with thorns brandished by the hand of a drunkard.” Let that one sink in. My point here is that we have to be SO careful when we believe we have the answers. What we should be sharing with others is our own personal growth journey as we ask God to show us what he wants us to see, and then encourage each other to do the same. We have to approach this with humility, patience and kindness. If our motives are to prove someone else wrong, we are not in a place of humility. We should be asking more questions than giving answers because there is so much to all of this that we don’t understand and have not experienced. We as Christians should be leading the way as we humbly seek God for answers and work this out through relationships. Put down the memes and challenge every thought by asking God to wash it with his word. This can only be done if we are actually reading his word and asking God to use it to change our hearts. Challenge the “fool” within our own thinking. Don’t look for scriptures to prove your point but put down pride and bring every thought and idea to God and ask him to reveal the truth or expose the lie in it. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 says “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” We often use this scripture as a defense against thoughts of fear and low self-esteem but it is critically important to apply this scripture as we sort through our own pride and challenge the thoughts and ideas we are holding onto. If there was ever something to put our faith in, this is it! Then, and only then are we equipped to expose foolishness. The thing about exposing a fool, is that we really don’t have to do much. Verse 11 tells us that the fool will not accept correction and will not advance in his learning. He will repeat his foolishness like a dog who returns to his vomit. Before pinning someone else in our minds as a fool, we have to expose the fool within ourselves. We have to ask ourselves how willing to learn am I? Have I challenged my own thinking and asked God to refine it? Am I arguing the same arguments with people and refusing to hear another idea because it opposes my own? This is my challenge to myself and to other believers. Be careful. Deception is dangerous and denial is REAL! We have to ask these questions from a place of humility and trust God to show us what we probably don’t want to see in ourselves. Our pride will want to keep it hidden but if we humble ourselves, God is so kind and compassionate when he reveals the truth. Church, if we want progress, this is how to get there. It begins with ourselves. We will not change the minds of anyone else until first allow God to change ours. This is an ongoing work in progress that never ends and as we continue to change we will influence and inspire others.
Message: In Ephesians 6Paul started offby directing children to obey their parents. The end of chapter 5 had been all about marriage and then suddenly Paul started talking about slaves and their masters. It’s difficult reading scripture commanding slaves to obey their masters because it sounds like this proves that God is or was for slavery. There were and are a lot of things that God is not for. For example, Israel wanted a king and God wanted to be their king. They rejected him so God allowed them to have a king. Slavery has existed since the beginning of time and when I read the footnotes in my bible it explained that Paul was teaching them that slaves had the same value and status as free men in the kingdom of God. This was the most important foundation to lay because they learned to see them as brothers instead of subjects. Their understanding of the value of slaves as humans and as brothers in Christ is what led to anti-slavery movements. I don’t believe it was any coincidence that immediately following this topic Paul went into the armor of God and the importance of clothing ourselves in it every day. We have all heard about the armor of God, but a few things that stood out to me today were in the descriptions of each piece.
- Truth is compared to a belt on our waist. As I thought about what a belt does I thought of two things. A belt holds up our pants and keeps us from the humiliation of exposing ourselves. Promoting anything other than truth is like getting caught with your pants down. I also thought of this belt like a tool belt that holds our necessary tools for life.
- When I read that righteousness is like armor for our chest I thought of the importance of protecting our chest. Our chest contains our heart and lungs. If our heart and lungs were to be punctured, we would not be able to breathe and would face certain death. In the same way if our spiritual heart and lungs are damaged, we suffocate in our unrighteousness and face spiritual death.
- The “preparation of the gospel of peace” is symbolized by sandals in this analogy. I hadn’t really thought of this before and maybe you have, but we aren’t ready to do anything until we put our shoes on. In the past my husband has even joked about not wanting to wear his slides just in case he needed to fight someone. We laughed at the idea of needing to fight, but in his mind if we were out to dinner and someone dangerous came along he wanted to be able to protect me and didn’t feel like he could fight properly without the right shoes on. Spiritually speaking, if we are in the wrong shoes, we will try to fight battles that we are not equipped for. We need the gospel as our foundation for every battle we face. Right now people are fighting internet battles with some very difficult topics. Christians who are trying to persuade other people without a proper foundation of reading the word regularly are going to stray off topic and/or misuse the opportunity.
- I visualized the shield of faith literally sizzling as it extinguished each fiery arrow aimed at it. I thought about how insignificant those arrows would seem as they literally lost their fire on contact. Faith sees the trouble coming but is unmoved by it.
- The helmet of salvation protects our head/mind from all logic that opposes the gospel message. We know the gospel and therefore we know who we are and where we belong.
- The last one was the most profound to me. We all know that the sword of the spirit is the word of God. I have always pictured a giant flashy sword when I read this. In my footnotes I read this morning that the sword in this time period for offensive armor was actually a very small sword used for close contact fighting. This really hit me first of all, because I saw that as intimate. Our time in the word of God is intimate and when I thought about this as a small sword I also thought about it’s accuracy. One who spends regular time reading the word has developed intimacy and accuracy in applying it. Another thing I thought of with the close contact was that you wouldn’t wave a small sword around at people from a distance. It is used for close contact situations. I visually saw the obnoxious image of a Christian who tries to use scripture to broadly wave at and threaten people at a distance. You can’t win people over by assaulting them with scripture. It takes intimate relationships to work this stuff out.
Message: In Ephesians 5Paul went from the topic of unity and ministry right into our conduct as Christians. He starts by telling the church to “be imitators of God”. I’ve heard that scripture so many times that sometimes it loses impact until I intentionally think about it again. Paul was literally telling us to copy what God does. His heart, his love, his attitude, his response to sin, his treatment of people, his purity. Then he brings up sexual immorality, impurity and greed as things contrary to the nature of God. It almost sounds out of place to the contextual topic, but it seems that is the point he is making. Sexual immorality, impurity or greed is so opposite of God’s nature that Paul says “it shouldn’t even be heard among you as proper for saints.” Paul describes our sexuality as a gift from God worthy of giving thanks and he goes on to say that even joking about it in a crude way is unacceptable. This is so serious that he told the church ”Here this: any sexually immoral, or impure or greedy person who is an idolater does not have an inheritance in the kingdom of God.” I thought it was interesting that this last verse lists these sinful things, and then labels the people doing them as idolaters. After reading it this way I saw these particular sins differently than before. They are not simply shortcomings that we occasionally commit and repent from. These are premeditated mindsets and lifestyles that are chosen and because they are chosen above obedience to God they become objects of worship. This is dangerous ground and we can’t gloss lightly over it because salvation depends upon our complete surrender to God. There literally can’t be anything in our life that we are unwilling to surrender. This causes a lot of guilt and shame and many people get stuck here or bypass the guilt and ignore it. Today my challenge to myself is to examine the things in my life that may have a stronger hold than they should. I may not see myself in the category of sexual immorality as a married woman, and I may not see myself in the category of greed if I’m looking at it from the view of finances. What if greed is deeper than that? What if greed is actually a bigger form of selfishness than acquiring finances. Maybe it’s power, or attention seeking, or independence? What is driving my life? What is sitting in a non-negotiable spot in my life that even God himself would have to pry it from my grip? Is there anything in my life that I would fight against God to keep if he told me to lay it down? Position? Relationships? Reputation? Status? Ministry? There should be nothing in my life that God can’t touch.
Message: In Ephesians 4 Paul was talking about the unity of the body of Christ and reminds the church (and us) to “walk worthy of the call” and diligently keep the unity. He reminded them that there is one body and one spirit just like there is one hope, one faith and one baptism. I’ve read this plenty of times and it seems so simply spelled out, but this time I speculated to myself why he would throw in that reminder. It only took a minute or so to think about all the people who have self-appointed and tried to start their own ministry. My personal struggle is to get so caught up in my vertical relationship with God that I leave out people. It’s so easy to convince ourselves that our relationship is just ourselves and God. While that’s true of our accountability, it doesn’t work this way because God designed us to need each other and to serve together. This chapter introduces the fivefold ministry of apostle, prophet, pastor teacher and evangelist. These aren’t alternatives to all of the “helps” ministries. They are in addition to them. Ephesians 4 tells us these gifts were intended to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry.” I think this word “ministry” is often misinterpreted because we tend to believe it’s attached to a church title. The reality is we are all called to ministry and that ministry is not official at all. It is our influence on the people around us on a regular basis. We are all teaching something. We are either influencing people in a positive, empowering direction, or we are leading people with our negative attitude. We can’t turn this on and off as we please. Every moment is a teaching moment. The question is what are we teaching, and are people drawing closer to God because of us or are we repelling them with a toxic lead attitude? As much as I try to be conscious of leading well, I find it so easy to slip into a negative mindset. My challenge to myself is to identify the attitude within myself and make intentional “u-turns” in my attitude when I see it going south.
- Message: In Ephesians 3 Paul was talking about the grace given to him to receive revelation knowledge and understand. Things that were not revealed to previous generations were being revealed to him. It seemed he was talking specifically about Gentiles becoming coheirs and members of the body of Christ through Jesus. He continued explaining how this revelation was given to him by the grace of God to shed light on things that had been hidden for ages. Verse 10 says “This is so God’s multifaceted wisdom may be known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavens”. I found it fascinating that the footnotes in my bible described “multi-faceted” as “manifold or multicolored like a beautiful jewel”. What a beautiful description of the church! After this he prayed for the church in a passage that we typical hear used when we are praying for empowerment and for things we want God to do on our behalf. In this context it seems he was praying for spiritual empowerment to walk out the design God had revealed to Paul about being a multifaceted church. This aligns with what Jesus prayed before he was crucified. “Lord make them one as we are one”. Today I agree with Paul in this prayer for the body of Christ. When the church is unified in love we will influence and catch the attention of the world.
- Message: In Ephesians 2 Paul was talking about reconciliation. He explained how at one time Jews and Gentiles were separated and categorized as “circumcised” and “uncircumcised”. Jews were chosen people and when they called the Gentiles “uncircumcised” they were acknowledging them as “unclean”. They were not allowed to associate with unclean, uncircumcised people. When Jesus died and resurrected, he did it to bring reconciliation between God and man. When he reconciled man to himself, he also reconciled man with each other. They were no longer considered separate and the very walls in the temple that separated Gentiles from entering the holy place were destroyed. What really jumped off the page to me here was footnote commentary in my Bible that said that the Jews and the Gentiles became one. The Gentiles didn’t become Jews, but the two groups became one at a deeper level than ethnicity. This reminded me of the illustration Paul gave about slaves and free men who were equals in Christ even though they lived a life of inequality in their physical life. As I think about our divided world right now, I see how the church was called to be different. We were called to be unified as one body. Black doesn’t become white, democrat does not become Republican. We all become unified as the body of Christ to be something completely different. One unified church reconciled to God. Nobody is adapting to the culture of another. We are all unified in our reconciliation to God. What really struck me here is that before we are reconciled to each other we are first reconciled to God. This is what causes us to reconcile as one body together. What a beautiful treasure to find in scripture in such a timely season!
The Well of Wisdom
- Message: The whole book of Proverbs is about following wisdom and building character. Chapter 20 in today’s read particularly stood out to me as I sift through so many questions about the current state of our world. I can’t help but feel concerned as I watch so many people assume they have it all figured out and speak like it’s their duty to educate everyone else. Verse 2 says “it is honorable for a man to resolve a dispute, but only a fool can get himself into a quarrel.” As I read this I thought about all of the endless social media posts where people are engaging in verbal battles and making assumptions about other people based on their social media posts. They are convincing nobody to change their minds and they further plant their feet into their own thinking. Verse 5 says “Counsel in a man’s heart is deep water but a man of understanding draws it out.” Our well of wisdom is full when we read the word and take council from wise sources, but we have to have the discernment to draw out that wisdom and use it in the appropriate context. Many of us are educated in Christian doctrine and self-help books but it does nothing for us if we don’t draw it out and apply it. We can talk all day long but until we actually apply it to our lives we are just adding to the noise and have no real experience to speak from.
- Message: Galatians 6 concludes Paul’s letter to the church of Galatia. He continued the theme of his message to them about the danger of listening to these men that wanted them to be circumcised. He also spoke to them about the importance of being led by the Holy Spirit. In the very first verse he directs believers who are Spirit-led to restore those who have fallen into sin. My translation (like many others) says “you that are spiritual restore him”. This is so easily misinterpreted by religious or church people and this can be dangerous because the people who tend to believe they are spiritual are probably the least Spirit-led ones. Spirit-led people are humble, but confidently living in a day-to day obedience to God. Not to a list of “Christian” rules, but to the voice of God leading and directing them in attitude and direction. They don’t allow their own desires to drive their lives and they live by the understanding that they don’t own themselves because God does. In Galatians 6 even these people are cautioned to be careful in helping a brother in sin because any one of us can be pulled into their mess. Maybe not into the same sin, but maybe even into a pride that they are not in that same mess. The most important part of these instructions is that this is to be done in love and in gentleness. Only a Spirit-led person is able to administer truth in a way that is gentle and productive. That takes the Holy Spirit working through us and even on our nicest day, we don’t have the capacity to say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done without the power of the Holy Spirit. We need his leading and direction to navigate through the pain and get to the root of the problem. This is something we are not able to see on our own and something only the Holy Spirit can touch in a heart that will heal. Even as I read this I am in awe of what the Holy Spirit does in the hearts of people and I read this with a strong conviction that no matter how Spirit-led we are, we are all still battling against the desires of our flesh trying to take the lead so we all have days and moments where we are not accurately hearing from the Holy Spirit. Knowing this we have to pray and humble our own hearts first and ask the Holy Spirit to do what only he can do and to lead us into the conversations he wants us to have. I feel like I have definitely approached this both ways and I could tell the difference because conversations like this are not always well-received at first. If I am not grounded in the Holy Spirit at that moment my pride will rise up when the response comes back negatively and I feel I am misunderstood. I will get offended and personalize the response. If I am grounded in the Holy Spirit I am able to disassociate my own feelings with the response and understand that the person I am speaking with is reacting out of pain that has nothing to do with me. This reminds me of the eunuch that took out Jezebel in the old testament. Because he was physically castrated, her sexual manipulation had no effect on his ability to do what was necessary. This is a blunt example, but it’s what we have to do with our own feelings when we are trying to help someone out of their mess. We need the Holy Spirit to lead us as we lead others. We can’t detach our emotions completely because we need them to communicate empathy and compassion, but through the Holy Spirit we have to choose not to be offended or prideful in the process.
- Message: In Galatians 5 Paul continued addressing the fact that the church wasbeing influenced by Jews who wanted them to follow the law as part of their salvation and to be circumcised. Paul was urging them not to “pick up the yoke of slavery again”. He spoke about the importance of their freedom, but cautioned them not to use it to fulfil the desires of the flesh. Instead, our freedom is supposed to be used to serve one another in love. He reminded them (and us) that the entire law is fulfilled by one thing- “love your neighbor as yourself”. This is where the gospel is so different from the previous way. While our relationship with Jesus is still very vertical and very personal, we also carry a responsibility to love and care for those around us. Jesus called these people our neighbors and established who our neighbor is when he taught the good Samaritan story. Our neighbor is anyone we encounter and we are required by love to care for them as we would our own selves. This often gets entangled with enabling because often times we don’t love ourselves well either. Not the kind of self love where we pursue “me time” and some of the “self-care” indulgences. I’m talking about doing the right thing for ourselves for our own good. If we don’t understand that line with ourselves, we will struggle to please people rather than to help them. We read about what love is (and is not) in 1 Corinthians 13 and if we apply that kind of love to the people around us we are fulfilling the gospel. My challenge to myself in this is to think about the selfish attitudes I claim as my rights and ask myself how I can use those opportunities to lay down my rights to love people well.
- Message: Galatians 4 has some powerful illustrations and I had to be careful in understanding the interpretation of the analogies Paul used between the spiritual and the physical because they were similar but yet so interwoven. He started off by acknowledging that there were both slaves and free men in the world, but once they were saved there was no spiritual difference between them. Even though the slave was still serving a master in the physical world, as a believer in Christ he had the same status as the free man. Both were considered sons and heirs of Christ. Paul then used a very different analogy pertaining to slavery when he compared a child heir to a slave because although the child heir was the owner of everything, he was still under guardians and stewards until the time set by his father. He then uses this physical illustration to show us a picture spiritually when he says that we as children were in slavery to the “elemental forces of the world”. To me this sounds like the world’s systems. When the time came to complete his plan he sent his son to be born of a woman (this could be another important factor since women didn’t have rights) under the law (which he had previously described as a guardian) to be adopted as sons. When we were adopted we were no longer slaves to the world’s systems because we became sons and heirs of God. At this point Paul was challenging them as to why they would willingly return to slavery (the world’s systems) because at this point they had all been saved but some false teachers had come in and convinced them that they still had to adhere to the law also in order to be saved. They had fallen into the bondage of observing certain days, seasons and years where they hadn’t previously been in that bondage. Paul reminded them that they weren’t under this bondage before because they had actually heard the gospel from him originally when he had a physical sickness. By his description it sounded like he had some sort of issue with his eyes. This would have been a HUGE no-no to even be near him if they were under the law, but at that time they were so compassionate and receptive to him that Paul said they would have plucked out their own eyes and given them to him if they could have. Now they were following these false teachers and they saw Paul as an enemy to their new “enlightened” way of living. Paul was agonizing over this and he made one more comparison using slavery. He reminded them that Abraham had two sons. One was born (illegitimately) by a slave and the other was born by the free woman (his wife). One was born out of flesh when Abraham tried to produce the promise on his own, and the other was born as a result of the promise given in God’s way and in God’s timing. Paul said the two women represented two covenants. One bearing children into slavery and the other into promise. In the original story, the slave woman and child had mocked Sarah and her son so they were driven out. Paul referred back to this as a reminder that we (Christians) were not born to the slave woman, we were born to the free woman and though we would be persecuted and mocked by the slave and her son, we should “drive them out.” This is where we have to be very careful with interpretation. We know the Jews were the “chosen” and the promise of Israel, but Paul shows how this was flipped around and he ties all of the analogies in together here. The Jews rejected Jesus and the Christians were “adopted in” to the promise so Paul compares the Christians to the free woman and child, and he compares the Jews to the slave woman and child. They were under the bondage of slavery to the law and were mocking the Christians for their freedom. They wanted the Christians to be enslaved in the same way so Paul referred back to the Scripture to “drive them out” as was done by Abraham’s wife, Sarah when the slave woman and child mocked her son. To me, this chapter can be difficult to follow because the analogy is used a few different ways. If this was read out of context it could sound like God was against those who were physically enslaved, but he was actually using it as a spiritual reference regardless of our physical status. Most Christians don’t struggle with “the law” as the Galatians did. We don’t have Jews influencing our view of salvation, but instead we wrestle with a different system of ideas that Christians have adopted as godly living. Things that good Christians do or don’t do are kept on a mental list that seems to exclude heart issues that are far more offensive to God in the way we treat people. As I read this I feel challenged to identify some of the things I have accepted as basic, fundemental Christian rules that don’t have any heart attachment or personal conviction to them. Things I might do or not do so that I’m not mocked by other rule-following Christians. This sounds like scary territory for inviting in sin until I think about the overall general population that has identified their Christianity with political stances and non-biblical belief systems. These are the things I’m trying to identify in my life that I may have subscribed to as part of a “conservative package”, rather than personal convictions developed through my own personal walk with the Lord. These can be tricky to identify because some of them sound so synonymous with our biblical beliefs that they enslave us into a political and social belief system that needs to be challenged and separated from our thinking. I feel like I have been tearing away from this alignment thinking for quite some time, but I’m asking God to show me more things that I have been enslaved to in my thinking and show me what I can’t see.