Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Words matter - encounter with a kind police officer

Last August my wife and I bought our first home. We bought a nice rancher in a quiet section of Coatesville. The house was empty for a few years before we moved in, and from what we've been told, was not in the best condition. Someone bought the house and did some really nice renovations before we bought it. From the moment we walked in the front door we loved the house! The yard, well, that's a different story.

My wife and I have no clue how to garden, landscape or do just about anything other than cut the grass and rake leaves. Still, we've been trying. We tried to grow some new grass, dug out some ugly bushes and planted a few flowers. But whenever we look at the yard we seem to see what is wrong with the yard. We see the dead patches of grass that we cannot seem to get to grow. We see the weeds and the areas that we never got around to mulching last Spring. We see the flowers that we planted that should have been planted elsewhere. And now, we see the leaves. Everywhere.

The other weekend I was spending some time gathering leaves to mulch with the tractor (because if you have to do yard work, it might as well be fun!). To be honest, I was a bit discouraged. It was early Fall and the ground was already covered by the large trees in the yard. The leaves were already caught in flower beds and I knew already, it's going to be a long battle with them this year.

So, as I was raking and listening to some music in my headphones a black SUV pulls around the bend in the road. It was a local police officer. He waved me over to the his SUV as he stopped at the edge of the driveway. I put down the rake and walked over to him. I was not expecting what he said next. He put the SUV in park, looked at me, looked at the yard and said "you guys have done a great job with this place". I gave him a questioning look and he told me that he often drives by this road and that he remembered this house from when it sat vacant and that it is a 100% better now than before. We chatted for a while as he told me what it used to look like and that he was glad to see a family making it better.

As he left that day I was reminded again of the power of our words; they have so much power! We can make someone's day or we can break them. We can offer a person life or we can kill them with the power of our words. This officer, who had never met me before, chose to offer life. it didn't cost him anything at all other than a few minutes of his time. But those few minutes and those few words changed my outlook on the rest of my day.

I'm sure that most of us have examples of similar experiences; times where someone offered a kind word just when you needed it - life. Sadly, I'm sure that most of us also have experiences where someone's words tore you to pieces - death. Our words are free and are freely given. But the rewards f those words are worth more than gold. I'm reminded more often lately to watch what I say and how I say it. I'm reminded to offer life with my words at all times. To bring joy to others, not destruction.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Ephesians 6:10-20 - Armor

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. - Ephesians 6:10-20

As Paul finishes his letter, he reminds us of a final important truth. We need to be on guard and we ned to be prepared to fight. He tells us that our battle is not against one another but against the evil one - satan. Paul is referring to a very real spiritual battle that is happening all around us. Just like a soldier going into battle will check his armor and weapons, we need to do the same. 

Belt of truth. What is the truth? The truth is that Jesus Christ entered into the brokenness of mankind and offered Himself as a sacrifice for us. The truth is that we are sons and daughters of God the Father. The truth is that we are loved unconditionally by the creator of the universe. Fasten that truth and hold it tight. 

Breastplate of righteousness. Remember the verses early on in this letter. You are have been made pure and holy by the work of Jesus. You are a member of the household of Heaven. And you are counted as righteous simply by believing and accepting the gift of Jesus.

Gospel of peace. When Jesus was tempted in the desert He responded with scripture. This is an important lesson for us. When you are tempted or are doubting who you are in the Kingdom of God, fire back with scriptures such as Ephesians. Remind yourself and the enemy that though you once walked in darkness, you are now light. 

Shield of faith. It is our faith in Jesus that purifies us. Hide behind that faith and allow it to protect you. When  you feel beaten down by the world around you, put up that shield of faith. Allow the attacks to bounce off as the flaming darts are extinguished. 

Helmet of salvation. Fill your head and your heart with the knowledge that you have been saved and redeemed. You are, and always have been, worthy of being saved.Your salvation was not earned by your own doing; it was a gift.

Sword of the spirit. It's time to go on the offensive. Jesus promised that He would send the Holy Spirit as our helper. When you don't feel like you can go on any more, press into the Spirit. Allow the Spirit to fight for you because you're worth fighting for to God!

Doing these things does not mean that life will be easy. It does not mean that we will never experience hardships. It does mean that we can find peace in our storms. So guard yourself and be prepared to fight for your new identity. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Ephesians 6: 1-9 - Honor

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him. - Ephesians 6: 1-9
Before we get too far into this passage let's understand what it means to honor another. I grew up being told that to honor simply meant obey. If I was to honor my parents I had to obey them - always. I agree that children should obey their parents; however, that is not what the word honor means in this context. To honor your parents means to respect them, to love them, to communicate openly with them, and sometimes to set appropriate boundaries. Especially where there is wounding and brokenness in the relationship, it becomes important to say no to our parents and to respectfully challenge them.
In the same manner Paul gives fathers (husbands) another charge - to not provoke their children to anger but instead point them to Jesus (paraphrasing). That means that a father must also honor his children. A father is to love his child unconditionally and to always post back to the love that God has for us. In doing so the father trains his child to love and honor others. 
Paul goes on to talk about salves and masters, or as we may see it today, employers and employees, and the dynamics of those relationships. As an employee I have a responsibility to sincerely honor my boss. Not only to his face but also when he is not looking. I also have a responsibility to do my very best at my job. But I do not do this for my boss or even for my paycheck. I show up and do my best because that's what is honoring to God. This is true of a CEO or someone who cleans a toilet. Jesus even said that He did not come to be served but TO serve. When we work our hardest we demonstrate that same servant leadership. 
Paul then goes on to say that masters (employers/bosses) should treat employees the same. In my job I have a team that reports to me. While I am to honor my boss, I am also to honor those that report to me. That means not asking them to do anything that I wouldn't be willing to do myself. That means not taking advantage of them. It means encouraging and teaching them. It means doing some of the tough jobs myself to give them a break. To honor my employees means to treat them with respect at all times. 
What I find really interesting in this passage is that Paul offers no conditions. He doesn't say honor your parents if they are good. He doesn't say to obey and honor your boss if he deserves it. Instead, in each case, he simply says to honor. To honor even when the other is undeserving because in doing so we imitate God (Ephesians 5:1). 
To honor does not mean go and be a doormat and allow yourself to be physically or emotionally abused. By all means, when there is an unhealthy dynamic between parent and child or employer/employee we can and should protect ourselves. Again, boundaries do not equal dishonor. In fact I believe that boundaries demonstrate honor. Boundaries say I love you enough as a human being that I am not willing to allow you to remain in the same destructive patterns.
As you go about your week what ways are you showing honor to those in your circles? Are you offering your employees the same respect that you ask from them? Are you showing honor to your boss or just doing the minimum to get through the day and collect a paycheck? Do you show honor to the waiter when you go out to eat or the cashier in the grocery store? When you learn to honor others you will find that your life improves drastically. You will find that you are more full of joy. And you will be radiating the love of Christ. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Ephesians 5: 1-21 - Husands & Wives

Photo credit: Kayfield Media
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. - Ephesians 5: 22-30 
Photo credit: Kayfield Media

There tends to be somewhat of a "the Bible is sexist" attitude towards this passage. There's almost a fear in even studying this chapter of Ephesians. Yet, when we really understand what Paul is saying we can see such beauty in a marriage, one that I didn't fully understand until my own wedding. Paul is not writing this to belittle women or the role of a wife in any way. In fact, I would suggest it's the opposite. Paul writes this to honor women and call respect to the role of a wife. In fact, other scriptures say that the wife is a helper and that word "helper" is the same word that Jesus calls the Holy Spirit.

Paul starts the section by relating a marriage to Christ and the church with Christ as the head. He says that wives should submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ (and Christ to the Father). But Paul doesn't end there. He also gives the husband a mission: husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church.  

To really understand this we need to look at how Christ loves us, His church. He loves us so much that He left His place in Heaven, entered the brokenness of mankind (became present with us) and died for us so that we can experience an abundant life as sons and daughters of God. So the answer to how husbands should love their wives is deeper than a physical death. Husbands are to die everyday to their wives. That means entering into our wives needs even when we would rather be elsewhere. That means giving up our selfish desires and being present for our wives - emotionally present as well as physically present. 

I don't think that I ever realized how selfish I was with my time until after I got married. One example is the other week my wife needed a new dress for a wedding. I, like most men I'm sure, am not a fan of dress shopping, or any other shopping for that matter. I would much rather have stayed home and found a show on Netflix, read a book...anything else really. Yet, she wanted me with her that day. She wanted my opinion and my company. In a small but practical way, I died to myself and went with her. That's a simple example but there are countless others. But what it comes down to is putting her first just as Christ did for us. 

This passage is not easy to live out all of the time. It takes work. It takes sacrifice. It takes grace. But when my wife and I do live it out, amazing things happen. It doesn't mean that I make all the decisions and she falls in line. It mean that there is a team effort - her submitting and respecting and me loving and putting her first. There's such an honor in this to one another that it leads to life abundant. And most importantly it points to Jesus and his bride - the church. 

Photo credit: Kayfield Media

Monday, August 27, 2018

Ephesians 5: 1-21 - Imitators of God

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. - Ephesians 5: 1-21

This passage reminds me of a boy watching his dad shave. Eventually, the son wants to have a razor of his own to shave, even if it is just with a bladeless razor to scrape shaving cream off of his face. The son imitates his father because he learns from his father. In the same manner, we are to imitate God the Father just as Christ did.

All that Jesus did, without exception, pointed back to The Father. When He was tempted by Satan He quoted scripture. When he saw hurting people he healed them. When He encountered lost souls He guided them. He righted injustices and He loved all that He encountered. He felt hurt, sorrow, anger (righteous anger such as flipping the tables in the temple...), loss, and the whole range of emotions that we regularly feel. Jesus rejoiced and He mourned. He laughed and He wept. And through it all, invert circumstance, He pointed people to a loving Father.

It's easy to think that "Jesus did that because He was the Son of God". But the truth the Paul is sharing in this book is that we too are children of God. We were created in the image of God. This is not a future thing where one day we will bear the image of God and be made whole. This is a here and now truth going back to the very creation of the world.
"So God created man in His own image., in the image of God He created him: male and female He created them" - Genesis 1:27
It's interesting to note that after the fall of man God does not remove the image of Himself from creation. God never called creation - or Adam and Eve - no longer good. In fact, the entire bible is a story of God chasing after His people, them running away, and Him coming back for them. It's a story of a Father that refuses to give up on His children no matter what the cost to Himself.

Then, Paul brings this more to light in this book by continuing to remind us that "we once were darkness but now we are light".

Hear that and let it sink in for a minute. YOU ARE NOT DARKNESS. You are not worthless or hopeless. You are not wicked. YOU ARE LIGHT. You are made in the image of a loving God and He has called you His very own. So, ARISE from the dead - let the love of Christ shine upon you and walk in LIGHT. Imitate God because you are His beloved child.

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 by talking about unity.

Unity seems to be a pretty uncommon word these days. We seem to be more and more divided than ever. If you don't believe me, spend a few minutes scrolling through social media. Read the comment sections on any viral post. It's full of division. And the church has also become divided. We split over styles of worship or interpretations of scripture. Yet Paul is so passionately reminding us in this book (not just this passage) that the church is one body. With Christ at the center. We all have unites gifts and talents that come together to bring glory to The Father.

What if we took our different interpretations of scripture and different styles of worship and came together for discussion rather than accusation or judgement? What if we allowed those differences to sharpen us ("Iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another..."). What if we realized that the kingdom that Paul calls us citizens of consists of different denominations that are worshiping together? Can you imagine that? Paul sure did when he wrote this letter. Paul saw the beauty in a united church - one that is full of different cultures, different worship, different languages and different gifts all wrapped together to point back to Christ.

So, here is a challenge, one that I am holding myself to as well. Will you go through the next week looking for similarities in others rather than highlighting your differences? Will you engage in dialogue when you disagree instead of hurling insults? It's not easy. But the benefits are great. 

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?

Words matter - encounter with a kind police officer

Last August my wife and I bought our first home. We bought a nice rancher in a quiet section of Coatesville. The house was empty for a few y...