Monday, July 30, 2018

Ephesians 4: 1-16: UNITY

 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift.cTherefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherdsand teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.  
-Ephesians 4: 1-16
Paul starts the book by reminding is that we have been made alive in Christ. He teaches us a new identity, one that says that we are adopted as sons and daughters. We are members and citizens of Heaven. Then, in chapter 3, he teaches a radical truth that salvation and adoption is for all, Gentiles and Jews. He starts to talk about the Body of Christ and how all are welcome into it. 

And then chapter 4 comes and he brings this thought process to a whole new level. We all have differences. The Jews and the Gentiles did not worship the same. But Paul reminds us that, despite our differences, we are one body. We each bring our own skills, gifts and callings to the table. And when we learn to come together in community we model the very community that we were created for.  And when we start to live in community with one another and love one another with patience and kindness, we grow. We learn more about the Father. We see more of His kingdom on Earth.

So here is my challenge to you and to myself. As you go through your day will you learn to embrace differences of those around you? Will you engage in dialogue rather than hurling insults with those that have a different opinion? Will you live in unity and community with others?

Monday, July 23, 2018

Ray's study of Ephesians: 3:1-21

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles--assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.  
-Ephesians 3: 1-21

Why a mystery?
It is easy to read this passage about the mystery of God and wonder why? Why did God make himself a mystery that needs to be revealed? Couldn't he just hardwire it into our DNA to understand Him? Sure, He could have. But would that be as fun? 
Since the beginning of time mankind has sought to understand why things are the way they are. Science, in some form, has always been around. Man fashioned tools and sought to understand the world. It's the reason that ancient explorers went into the unknown. It's why we have studied the stars and outer space. There is something deeply wired into our very nature that seeks to understand mystery. And in order to understand, we must engage that which we want to understand. In the same way, God made Himself a mystery so that we must engage Him. When we do, He readily reveals Himself. 
That explains the "why". But this passage is much more. Paul actually explains that this gospel is for more than just the Jewish people. It is for the gentiles as well. You see, in these times if you were not Jewish, you were not considered one of God's chosen ones. For centuries people lived and believed that their heritage determined if they were one of the chosen or not. Here, Paul says that every one of us is in that same family. We are all a member of God's chosen family - Jews and Gentiles alike. 
Pauls also makes a very profound statement: This mystery "...was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to His hold apostles and prophets by the Spirit...". That means you and me. Earlier in this letter Paul shows us that we are "members and saints of God's household". Paul may have been amongst the first to write about these things, but it is for us as well. And we have a responsibility to carry on that message. 
Our world seems so divided, even in the church. Have you ever thought about what it might look like if the church started acting like we really are members together? Did you ever think that if we put aside our minor differences and focus on the simple truth that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life we may see a real revival in our time? 
As you go through your day, do you treat others as a member of God's holy family?

Ray's study of Ephesians: 2:11-22

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called "the uncircumcision" by what is called the circumcision, which is made in flesh by hands - remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new mad in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility And He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citzens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
-Ephesians 2:11-22

This very well may be my favorite passage in all of scripture. In this short passage Paul so clearly and simply tells the Gospel - that while you were far off, Jesus sought after you. Jesus did not wait for you to come to Him, He left His place in Heaven and came to earth to reconcile us with the Father. I think that to fully grasp that reconciliation, we have to remember the way that God created us to exist. In Genesis 1-2 we see a beautiful picture of a perfect creation where God and man walk and talk. There is no sin. There is no sadness. There is peace - perfect peace. When mankind gave that up, Jesus entered that darkness to preach peace to us. To reconcile us back to a place of perfect relationship to The Father.
Continuing with the theme of adoption, Paul begins to speak to our new identity, the way that God the loving Father sees us. Paul tells us that we are no longer strangers and foreigners but instead we are fellow citizens and the household of God.

In 2011 I left my job and my home in America and began a life in Kenya, East Africa. In my 2-3 years living there I truly grasped what it meant to be an outsider. I was truly a stranger and a foreigner in Kenya. I looked different. I talked with a different native language. I had different customs. I learned to live life in Kenya. I ate the foods (I still miss a warm chapatti or a good samosa!) and I learned the customs. I even picked up some of the language and learned to drive on the opposite side of the road. Still, I was a stranger, an American living in Kenya. I had a visa stamped in my passport, but I was not a citizen. I was the very opposite of what Paul describes in this passage.
Notice the tenses that Paul uses throughout this book, especially this passage. He does not say that Christ will one day make us citizens of Heaven. Paul tells us that Jesus already has. Do you see the deep meaning of us being members of the very household of God. Heaven is a place where there is no sin or trespasses. It is a home of eternal peace. Heaven is the reconciliation between God and man where we co-esist with Him in love and peace. And Paul so kindly tells us that this is our new identity.
He pointed out in the previous passages that we are no longer sons and daughters of darkness, but we are adopted to God's family. And with that adoption means that He no longer sees us as outsiders looking in. When the perfect Father looks upon you, He sees someone that fits in with His family. He sees an important part of His Kingdom of peace. He sees the heart of Jesus in you. And He calls you His own. He has offered you more than a visitor's visa into His kingdom, He gave you a brand new visa that calls you a citizen.
You are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens...

Ray's study of Ephesians: 2:1-10

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience - among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved - and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
-Ephesians 2: 1-10

 By Grace and through Faith. 
Paul doesn't sugar coat things here. In fact, he is very clear that we all once walked in darkness. We were dead in our sins and trespasses. We have been ever since Genesis chapter 3 when sin entered the world. I think that in order to understand this fully, we need to know what sin truly is. If you are like me, you may have grown up thinking that sin is "lying to mom and dad", "stealing", "murder" or some other actionthat is "bad". However, In 1 John 3:4 the bible gives a deeper definition of sin: "Sin is lawlessness". In Matthew 5, Jesus speaks to a truth about the law and sin when He points out that sin starts in the heart.
"You have heard that it was said 'you shall not murder'...but I saw to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to have heard that it was said 'you shall not commit adultery' but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery..."
James 2:10 goes on to say that "whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it". So we have this problem that we are all born into this world of sin and lawlessness - separation from God; separation from Love defined.
But Paul is not writing any of this to beat us up and tell us how bad we are. Rather, he is writing to show us that we have been saved and what we have been saved from. Also in Matthew chapter 5, Jesus tells us that he "did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law". Paul picks this up by telling us that we, by grace and though faith in Jesus Christ, have been saved from the world in which we once walked.
You see, Jesus did not come to condemn us all to hell because we're terrible, rotten sinners. He came to give us life because we are immeasurably loved by the Father of the universe. Jesus offered this while we were still dead in our sins. This is the very gift of God. First He breathed life into the universe. Then, when man chose death in Genesis, He offered Jesus as a gift to us to give us second life.
The beautiful thing is that this has nothing to do with our works or how good we are. It doesn't matter how many little old ladies you help cross the street or how much money you give. Your salvation - your LIFE - is not dependent upon if you go to church 3 times a week and volunteer at a homeless shelter. Your good works do not save you. it is faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, that gives you salvation. Think about that for a minute. It's all about grace, not works. Why? So that no one may boast. We're all on the same level here. We all need just as much of the blood of Jesus to atone for our trespasses.
Have you placed your faith in Christ? His death, burial and resurrection? His death and burial paid a death that you owed. His resurrection is what allows you to be seated with Him in heavenly places. The gift is free. The gift is life. And the choice is yours.

Ray's study of Ephesians: 1:15-23

For this reason, Because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saint, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His great might, that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all role and authority and power and dominion and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. -Ephesians 1:15-23

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to give thanks for materials or things that make our life easy? I have an easy 10-15 minute commute to work every morning. I get on the 30 Bypass about 2 minutes from my house and I travel west. I go the opposite direction of traffic to work and then again on my way home in the evening. I give thanks every morning that I am not sitting in traffic on the other side of the highway. It's easy to give thanks in the morning for me.
Something else that I am thankful for is my favorite coffee mug. This Chewbacca coffee mug has been with me many years, a gift from an old friend. It has survived a trip across the Atlantic Ocean and spent more than 2 years in Kenya where I left it when I had to leave the country last summer. Over the Fall a friend was able to bring it back home to the United States and I am more than thankful to have this mug back.
But these are material things and Paul goes so much deeper than the materialistic. "I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers". Can you feel Paul's passion here? Paul is not merely offering up lip service. This is more than a simple "Hey, good to see you". Paul writes this beautiful passage to encourage the church and share not only that he prays for them, but how he prays for them. In the church world how many times have you heard someone say "I'm praying for you"? It sounds so generic and often empty, does't it? I sometimes wonder how many who utter that phrase actually are praying for me and how many are saying it because it sounds good. But Paul follows through and says what he prays for the church. In fact, in all of Paul's letters he is specific when he offers his prayers. From how he prays, we can know that he took a genuine interest in others.
In verse 15 Paul writes "for this reason...". For what reason? To understand that, we must go back to the previous passage. Paul's compassion and thankfulness is not because of any earthly reason. He gives thanks for them because he recognizes that they have been adopted by God in love. Paul's love stems from the love that God first showed. The Agape love that God poured out causes Paul to stop and be thankful because this church caught onto and accepted that love. He loves because Love itself has loved first.
Do you ever wonder what life would be like if more of us made this our default attitude towards people? To give thanks for them and love them. To pray prayers of wisdom and insight over them. To pray that the eyes of their hearts are enlightened and that they may see the HOPE that the Jesus has offered. and to do this simply because God loves.
May I offer you a challenge? Can you go this whole week without complaining about a single person, instead offering thanks for them? I can hear you saying that some people are hard to be thankful for. Don't worry, I can hear myself saying that too; I'm right there with you. But here's the beautiful truth: Paul's attitude has nothing to do with the people and everything to do with the Creator of the people. Offer thanks and show love for people, expecting nothing in return, simply because in love we have all been adopted.

"For this reason...I do not cease to give thanks for you."


September 11th, 1993: The day my adoption was finalized. 
Very short background: I'm the little boy in the bright yellow, Ronald McDonald pants in the photo to the right. To answer your obvious question, no, yellow pants were not in style in 1993. They are still not in style nor should they every be. And, while I may not have the best sense of fashion, I do not still wear yellow pants. 
This photo was taken when I was 8 years, 1 month and 4 days old. September 11th, 1993. This was day that my adoption was finalized. This was the day that I was given a new family. Since that day a lot has changed. I have met part of my biological family. And I love them dearly. They mean the world to me and I cannot imagine life without them.
I also have this amazing family that made me part of their own during a time that I was alone. Up until this day, I spent a lot of time in foster homes and with other family members. To say that many of those experiences were unpleasant would be a great understatement. The truth is that many of those times were hell. Pure hell.
People used to tell me that I was special because I was adopted - I was chosen. That truth didn't take away the pain in my heart, but it eased it a little. As I've grown older, I've come to a deeper understanding of the word adoption. Particularly as it says in Ephesians 1.."He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world...In love He predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ..."

During my junior year of college I started struggling. Really struggling. I grew up with so many unanswered questions. What ever happened to my birth parents? Why did they give me up? Why were my father and uncle so abusive? What was my story?
I contacted the adoption agency and requested whatever information that they could give me. A few short weeks later I was mailed a 5 five letter describing the first 8 years of my life. I was mailed evaluations from a psychologist. And I was sent a document that I have never been able to forget. The title of the document simply reads "Raymond's Story". This was the short version of who the courts said that I was. The two people in the photo above read that story along with the psych evals. The story reads something like a bad Lifetime movie. I have probably read that story hundreds of times since then. The story was of a little boy that was troubled, hurt, untrusting, and somewhat of a problem complete with 8 different social disorders including something called intermittent explosive disorder, anxiety, depression and the list goes on. Every time that I read that story, I wonder why in the world my parents read that same story and said "that one. We'll adopt that one". Were they nuts because I don't know that I would have chosen me if I were them. But I am extremely thankful that they chose me.

As I really think about that story, I come back to this verse in Ephesians, "...He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world...In love He predestined us for adoption...". I can't help but relate the two. Here is the very God that created the universe. The very God that is omnipresent; One who sees all. He reads my story too. And still, IN LOVE, He chose. Before the world was created He knew that man would rebel against HIm. And, IN LOVE, He still chose.
I look at my life and often think the same thing as I think about that letter. Why? What could He possibly see in me that He chose me long before I was even a thought? Then I read on in this beautiful letter to the Ephesians..."Even when we were dead, God made us ALIVE". " who once were far off have been brought near". "You are no longer strangers but you are fellow citizens...members of the Household of God".
On September 11th, 1993 I was officially made a member of my new family. My names was legally changed and my well being was placed in the hands of my new parents. That could only happen through adoption. Likewise, the transformation that Paul writes about to the Ephesians about can also only happen through adoption as well.
You see, God not only reads our past but He reads the future as well. God, the very artist that created life, sees the end masterpiece where we are one with Him. It is why He can call us His sons and daughters.
My earthly adoption was not free. It came at a cost to my parents. I do not mean simply a financial cost. Sure, that was there, but there was a deep emotional cost as well. I know that I did not make it easy on them. I refused to call them mom and dad for a long time. In fact, I remember telling them that I hated them very often; I wanted to hurt them because I was hurt. I rebelled. I pushed and fought. I kicked and screamed. And they loved. They held on tighter. I ran and they chased. Sound familiar?
Likewise, the process of adoption cost God a great deal. It cost the death of Jesus to cover the price. It meant bringing death into a world that God created for LIFE. It meant that God would feel the pain of rejection as His creation treats Him as I first treated my parents. Yet still...He chose. He loved. He offered life where there was once death. Hope where there was hopelessness. Redemption where there were offenses.
God chose because YOU ARE WORTH THE COST. You always were and always will be worth the cost. It is easy to get wrapped up in our past and feel worthless. But God - the very essence of life and love - sees you as the son and daughter that He created you to be. He sees you as created in the very image of Himself. And He loves.

Ray's study of Ephesians: 1:1-14

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.-Ephesians 1:1-14, ESV

There is no doubt about it: Ephesians is my favorite book in the Bible. Every time I read through Ephesians I learn something new. It's why you see so many highlights and writings in the photo above. 
Recently I wrote an article about what it means to be adopted. Much of that article came from my passion for the book of Ephesians. In light of that passion, I've decided to write a series of mini devotionals on the book. If you're interested in the Adopted article, I am including above.
This book starts out like so many of Paul's letters - with a friendly greeting. But he jumps right into the purpose of his letter. Right away in verse 4 Paul sends a powerful message: You have been chosen before the foundation of the world. When I think of being chosen, I tend to think back to high school gym class. Lined up against the wall just begging to not be the very last person chosen for whatever game was on the agenda for the day. I'm not a very athletic person and I certainly was not one in high school. Being chosen early in gym was not something I experienced. I did, however, often experience being one of the first out in a game of dodgeball.
It is easy in life to sometimes feel the same way. I look at my life and the mistakes that I have made and wonder how God will use any of them. This passage serves as a gentle reminder that before the world was even created, we have been chosen by the very Creator of the universe.
Let that soak in for a minute. You have been chosen long before the word was created.
In Genesis 1 and 2 we see the world as God intended. We see Adam and Eve in perfect relationship with God the Father. We see a perfect creation where death and destruction wasn't even a thought. We see mankind as God intended us to be - one with Him. And long before Adam and Eve bit that fruit, God knew that mankind would rebel. Yet still, before the foundation of the world...He chose.
But we have this problem of sin causing us to be separated from Him. Another problem that God the knew long before it happened. And He chose. He chose to to offer up His Son, Jesus Christ, as the redemption for our sins and trespasses. It was the price that He was willing to pay to bring us back into His family. He created us, we rebelled and He bought us back. And because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross, God looks at you and sees one who is holy and blameless.
If you're like me, you may be wondering why He chose. The answer is found at the very end of verse 4: In love. God the Father chose because He loves you. The greek word for love used here is Agape, a self-sacrificing love. This is the very essence of God. He sacrificed so much to adopt you and buy you back. He sacrificially loves you now just as He did before the world was formed.
I hope that by now you see that you are the glory of His beautiful creation. You are His masterpiece. After every piece of creation God called it good. It wasn't until man was created that He called anything very good. And here's the important message: You still are very good to Him.
As you go through your day, remind yourself that in Agape love, The Father chose you. And He is still choosing you. He wants you to come to Him. To be one with Him. You are His son and His daughter.
He chose you. The question is will you choose Him?

Ephesians 4: 1-16: UNITY

  I therefore,  a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to  walk in a manner worthy of  the calling to which you have been called,   with all ...