Ephesians 1:7-14 – God Is Good

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Ephesians 1:8, Contemporary English Version of the Bible

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.  In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.” (Common English Bible)

Believe it or not, verses 3-14 of Ephesians chapter one, 12 verses in all, are one single sentence in the Greek language the Apostle Paul originally wrote this in.  Thankfully, and understandably, English translators have created multiple sentences for us so that we can better make sense of the text.  It’s almost as if Paul was so excited to talk with the Ephesian church about who they are in Jesus Christ and what they possess in him that he blurted out with enthusiasm and wrote with fervor without stopping to take a breath.

Paul heaps word after significant word on top of each other in a flurry of provided spiritual blessings the believer in Christ enjoys.  Redemption, forgiveness, insight, protection, inheritance, and salvation are just some of the blessings given.  If that wasn’t enough, God has graciously given us his Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the one who comes alongside and helps us to live into the blessings we possess because of the person and work of Christ.

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It’s as if we came to Christmas day expecting a package of underwear and found instead a bunch of big boxes with some of the most lavish and expensive gifts we’ve ever seen!  This says much more about the giver than it says about us.  It was according to God’s good pleasure in Christ that believers in Jesus have such privileges.  Like the parent who sits back and watches the unpackaging of presents happen with great joy, so God delights and is pleased with what he has given to us.

First and foremost, in the entirety of Holy Scripture, all the stories and narratives, teachings and writings, are about God.  He is both the subject and object of each book of the Bible.  Every good thing we have in this life is because of God’s grace.  Each positive experience is a direct result of God’s steadfast love toward his people.  All good gifts come from a good God who is pleased to give them.

Not a one of us purchased our own gifts and stuck them under the tree.  God bought them all with the precious blood of Jesus and sent the Spirit to deliver them to us.

Take some time today in a quiet place and reflect on just one of these words in the text.  Think about redemption or forgiveness, salvation or grace, or any of the words which grab you.  Say it over and over, quietly and loudly, thoughtfully and with flavor.  Consider what God did to bring you that gift.  Contemplate the way(s) in which you have received the gift.  Plan one way in which you might share your gift with another person.  Then, give glory and praise to God for his grace to you.

May your meditation lead to a deeper appreciation of what God has done for you; and may that revelation result in praise, honor, and glory to the One who accomplished so much on your behalf.

Gracious God, you have revealed and made known the way of deliverance from the power of darkness and brought me into your marvelous light.  Help me to better understand all the ways you have acted on my behalf so that my life might reflect your grace and steadfast love to the world; through Jesus Christ, my Savior, in the enablement of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Ephesians 1:3-6 – Blessed to Belong

blessed to belong

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (NIV)

We tend to live up to how we view ourselves.  If we see ourselves as never getting ahead and needing to lie, cheat, and steal to obtain anything in this life, then we will view ourselves as common thieves.  If we think that the only way to have love and security in this life is to make ourselves as presentable as we possible can, then we will view ourselves as basically unlovely and search for love in all the wrong places by always trying to keep up appearances.  If we look at ourselves as stupid, then we will tend to make poor decisions even when it’s in our ability to make good choices because we see ourselves as unable to compete with those smarter than us.

The common theme in all these scenarios is that it is life lived apart from God.  Without him, we are like lost street children trying to just survive from day to day.  What we need, what we search for is to have a good blessed life in a loving home, a place to belong in a world of disconnection.

To be “blessed,” to have “blessing” in the Holy Scriptures is to have God’s stamp of approval on your life.  Let that reality sink-in for a moment….

The picture being painted at the very beginning of Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus was that they were like wayward children roaming the streets as orphans.  The Ephesians were ensconced in their idol worship of Artemis, the fertility cult goddess.  They were going about life without a whim about the true and living God of all.  In sheer grace God plucked them from their worthless condition and adopted them.  He placed his blessing upon them because of his love.

What’s more, the Ephesians were chosen and predestined for holiness and purity.  God set them apart for his blessing.  It’s as if he brought them into his kingly palace, provided lavishly for them, and let them have the run of the place.  They got to enjoy every blessing that came with being children of the king.

The focus and orientation of these verses is about how tremendously special the believer in Jesus really is.  And it has nothing to do with how presentable we are to a holy God.  Instead, out of the storehouse of his blessed grace, God chose and adopted.

On top of all that, God did it simply because he was pleased to do it.  God does not choose, predestine, and adopt with a begrudging attitude, but because it brings him great pleasure to do so.  My friend, do you see how God views you?  Do you know how special you really are?  Have you an understanding of the incredible position you have in Jesus Christ, as his follower?

As a child of the king, you live up to the position you know you possess.  Freedom from worry and anxiety don’t come from willpower, but from the understanding that our Father owns all things and we will never be in need.  Deliverance from the power of darkness doesn’t come by trying to do better, but through the knowledge that God has redeemed us and chosen us to live in his gracious realm forever.

The believer has every spiritual blessing in Christ.  God has your back.  You belong to him.  And to belong to Jesus Christ is to be blessed.  It makes all the difference in the world.

Gracious God, your loving activity has snatched me from the barren streets of sin and brought me into a realm of incredible blessing.  Thank you for blessing me and giving me a place to belong forever; through Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit reign forever and ever in a celebration of redeeming love.  Amen.

Psalm 84

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Psalm 84:10, Contemporary English Version

Every now and then I like taking a psalm and doing my own loose contemporary translation of the text (fyi – I’ve had training in the Hebrew language, so this isn’t weird for me, or for you!).  I find this exercise to be exhilarating and helpful for my own soul.  I hope you find this to be useful for you, as well.  The psalmist is talking about the temple.  But I’ve updated it for the Christian who enjoys fellowship with God in the many places where He can be found.  I encourage you to read it over once, then carefully read it again, prayerfully.  Do it both times out loud.  The psalms are meant to be prayed, and they are meant to be said aloud with flavor!

How lovely are all the places where you dwell,
powerful and mighty God of the numerous heavenly forces!

The depths of my soul long, even yearn,
for the intimate backyard gatherings where Yahweh dwells.
My heart and my body, my whole self
shout out loud for joy to the living God!

Yes, the lowly insignificant mother sparrow has also found a home with God;
the swallow has, too, found herself a homey nest
where she can lay her young beside your divine activity,
Large Lord of the numerous heavenly forces, my king, my God,

    You are so big that the lowliest of creatures find shelter in You!
Those who live within Your sacred space are truly happy;
they can’t stop praising you constantly and incessantly!

Those who put their energy in you are truly content;
a one-way road to You is in their hearts.
As they walk through all kinds of dry hard circumstances
they end up making them like a spring of living water.
Yes, even problems become like a gentle rain of blessing.
The biggest of dilemmas become manageable,
as they see the supremacy of God in it all.
Mighty Lord God of the numerous heavenly forces,
hear my prayer to you;
listen closely, O ancient God of my spiritual ancestors!

You are our great protective shield, God;
pay close attention to your chosen one!

Better is one single solitary day in your backyard gathering
than a ba-jillion of days anywhere else!
I would prefer to park cars out in the front yard of my God’s house
than live comfortably in the palatial hangouts of the ungodly!
The Lord is like the brightness of a warm summer day,

and even the suntan lotion protecting me; He’s all that!
God is full of crazy grace and unspeakable glory.
The Lord gives— and doesn’t withhold — good things
to those who walk with integrity of heart before Him.
Powerful Lord of the numerous heavenly forces,
those who trust in you are truly giddy with joy!

Hebrews 9:23-28 – Once and for All

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“Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” (New Revised Standard Version)

Once and for all.  Those are some of the most gruesome and beautiful words in the entirety of Holy Scripture.  The sacrifices of bulls and goats in the Old Testament had its place.  But those were mere shadows pointing to the reality of Messiah – the one whose sacrifice is so potent as to do away with sacrifice forever.

Christ’s cross was the once for all sacrifice that has settled the sin issue forever.

This is the heart of the New Testament’s good news.  Forgiveness of sins comes through the sheer grace of God in Christ.  Through faith, we have the privilege of entering the realm of new life.  In other words, Jesus has paved the way for eternal life, everlasting salvation, and complete remission of sins.

If it has not yet become self-apparent as to why Christ’s once for all sacrifice is such a game changer, then let’s take the cross from this angle: guilt is done away with, forever.  Do you think your life would change forever if you never had guilt hanging over your head?  What if all your past indiscretions; stupid life decisions; failures to speak or act; overt things done which you cannot take back; or, even the little things said or done in anger or hate; were all washed away, forever?

The precious blood of Jesus has nailed guilt to the cross once and for all.  There are three options of dealing with a guilty conscience when it happens.

1. Rationalize

First, you can rationalize it away, as if you have no responsibility or no culpability.  This is a one-way path to hardness of heart.  Whenever we sin in speech or in action, and don’t acknowledge it as our fault, then there is a little piece of us which hardens.  The next time it happens, it’s a bit easier to respond with callousness.  If you’ve ever encountered someone who seems utterly unfeeling to your situation, then there has likely been a pattern in that person’s life of keeping distance from pain.  It only leads to hardness of heart.

2. Punish

A second way of facing guilt is just the opposite of rationalization.  It is to punish and beat yourself for your faults and sins.  Heaping abuse on ourselves for our sins takes two different tracks with either: discouragement, defeat, and depression resulting in inaction; or, working like crazy to try and earn God’s favor with hyper-activity.  Both ways are a kind of self-imposed penance to try and atone for one’s sins or failures.

3. Confess

The third way is a biblical path to facing guilt.  When there is true guilt for things done or undone, said or unsaid, we must confess it, repent of it, and believe God has taken care of it.  Unlike dealing with guilt in unhealthy ways resulting in callousness, discouragement, and super-activity, the path of confession and repentance allows the person to have a clear conscience, resulting in freedom.  Christ’s once for all sacrifice is completely able to clear the conscience of the worshiper so that he/she may live into the grace and freedom of an enjoyable daily life.

Nothing needs to hang over the believer’s head because Jesus Christ, the pioneer of our salvation, has accomplished deliverance from and forgiveness of sin, once and for all.  He didn’t just put a nice-looking veneer over sin; he took care of it, thoroughly.  Jesus didn’t whitewash things so that we looked okay; the salvation he offers is permanent.

The cross which held Christ’s naked and tortured body exposed the true violence and injustice of sin.  The cross revealed what kind of world we have and what kind of God we have: a world of gross unfairness and sin; and, a God of extreme sacrificial love and grace.

What this world, and you and me, need more than anything else is forgiveness – not a cheap sentimental forgiving, but a real forgiveness that is so costly that it lasts forever and ever.

Either to justify or to judge is God’s business.  Our business is to believe in the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus that brings permanent and lasting forgiveness; and, to share that life-giving message with others so that they, too, might experience deliverance from sin and its horrible effects.

“For he delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14, NIV)

May you know the freedom and joy today which comes from knowing Christ as Savior.

1 Corinthians 3:10-23 – We Are God’s Temple

you are god's temple

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (NRSV)

You have an incredibly special position and status which no one can ever take away.

We were made by and for God.  In the beginning, the creative activity of God achieved its pinnacle in the formation of a man and a woman.  Only humanity carries within them the image and likeness of God.  People are unique, special, and set apart as the creatures who can enjoy a close relational fellowship with their creator.

But humanity fell into disobedience, which introduced sin and death into God’s world.  Ever since that time, God has been on a rescue mission.  The Holy Scriptures are an unfolding drama of redemption in which a heart-stricken God goes out of his way to make and keep promises to a sinful people.  The Israelites, a people set apart from all other people, were meant to be devoted to God in such a way that the world would be drawn to their relationship with him and with the created order.

Yet again, even with an impressive temple where people met God in sacred rituals and activities, the people went astray and followed their ancestors into worshiping other gods.  God, ever the gracious one who does not forget his covenant of love, sent his Son, Jesus, as the ultimate fulfillment of all his good promises.  Through the redemptive events of Christ’s cross, resurrection, and ascension the deliverance from all that is wrong and broken in this world is reversed.  We are blessed with pardon and redemption from the slavery of sin.  We are given a renewed status as God’s people.

If this were not enough, God has given us his Spirit to help us.  As Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, we are never alone.  God, in his great mercy, makes us his people and the temple where he dwells by his Spirit.  In the Old Testament, the sacred space of worship was a physical building.  Approaching the holy God meant entering a holy temple, set apart for connection between the divine and the human.  But the midpoint of history in which all events hinge, is the cross of Christ.  His redeeming work has transformed the world.

god's people

Now, we are the temple of God, the sacred place where God meets with us.  The glory of God is to be found, once again, in the apex of his creation: human beings.  It is in this rich understanding of God’s activity and humanity’s new status that the Apostle Paul appeals with a pointed rhetorical question: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”

The Corinthian church was in grave danger of doing the thing that all lost humanity had done through the ages.  They were breaking down into divisions and conflicts and were not thinking of others as God’s special people.  Paul names them collectively as God’s temple.  They were not individual temples but one holy sacred temple together.  This theology and anthropology was meant to teach, persuade, chastise, and encourage the Christians that there was no place for special-interest groups in the church; no room for following pet teachers and preachers; and, no reason to ostracize others who didn’t agree exactly as you do.

As believers in Jesus Christ, we are all together the people of God, the temple in which God dwells.  This makes us a holy people, set apart for the exclusive worship of our triune God.  We are to live up, not down, to who we are in Christ, in the Spirit, in the realm of God’s kingdom.

We are meant to return to the foundation of the temple.  If the foundational works of this great temple of God are the redemptive events of Jesus, with Christ himself as the chief cornerstone of the structure, then we are meant to return in this great season of Lent to Jesus.  With meekness and humility, we are to come to God in Christ by the Spirit and confess our many sins, repent of them all, and return to God as the special, holy, and loved people we are as the temple.

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For far too long these few verses in the letter to the Corinthians have been used as the argument for not smoking or drinking too much or generally not caring for our physical bodies.  I’m not saying none of that is in view, but this was not Paul’s understanding of it.  He was thinking much more along the lines of church unity, harmony, mutual love, grace, encouragement, and making decisions which are best for the common good of all.  To break Paul’s instruction down to individual habits which harm the body is a woefully truncated view of his teaching.

Instead, we are to have a high view of one another.  We, together, are the people of God.  We, together, are meant for holy worship of the triune God.  We, together, are the complex expression of God’s creative action – a temple set in the middle of a watching world.

Therefore, we are to be concerned for one another.  We are to act as one holy people of God.  We are to reflect the love, unity, and fellowship of the Holy Trinity in our life together.  Let us then encourage each other toward love and good deeds; upholding the common good; and, extending grace in all circumstances.  For this is what temple living looks like.

Holy God, you have set us apart together as your holy people.  Help so to live up to our status as your beloved creatures that we are continually mindful of you, one another, and the grace you give for all circumstances.  May our foundation be strong in the person and work of Jesus Christ, your Son and our Savior, as the Spirit dwells in us together.  Amen.

John 2:13-22 – Sacred Space

jesus and the moneychangers

“Not long before the Jewish festival of Passover, Jesus went to Jerusalem.  There he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves in the temple. He also saw money-changers sitting at their tables.  So he took some rope and made a whip. Then he chased everyone out of the temple, together with their sheep and cattle. He turned over the tables of the money-changers and scattered their coins.  Jesus said to the people who had been selling doves, ‘Get those doves out of here! Don’t make my Father’s house a marketplace.’  The disciples then remembered that the Scriptures say, ‘My love for your house burns in me like a fire.’” (CEV)

Jesus, the human which he is, has a complexity to him.  Our Lord is not one-dimensional.  Christ not only extends grace and mercy, healing the least and the lost of society; he also turns his burning love for the Father on those who would treat the sacred with sacrilege.  There is a time for gentleness and meekness, and there is a time for zeal and action, done with flavor!

Jesus had a zero-tolerance policy toward using the representation of God, the temple, as the means to make money.  As people from all over the Middle East poured into Jerusalem for the Passover, savvy marketers set up their wares.  Knowing that not everyone could bring animals for sacrifice, the money-changers were more than ready to take advantage of the situation by providing sheep and cattle at inflated prices.  The temple looked more like a marketplace than a worship space, and Jesus would have none of it.

Christ the Lord was consumed with zeal for his Father’s house.  Jesus single-handedly took on the businessmen and drove them out of the temple courts with a homemade whip.  Whereas the people seemed to settle for the status quo of secular Passover protocol, Jesus restored worship to its rightful place in the life of God’s people.

Jesus still has zeal for proper worship.  As he did in the temple all those centuries ago, Christ rearranges the furniture and upsets how things have become.  Like an extreme makeover, the Lord overturns tables designed for selfish gain and re-establishes a connection between us and God.  He upholds holiness and righteousness so that you and I will have a clean and clear path of relationship with the sovereign God of the universe.

Sacred space is important, both as a physical room or building as well as in our own spiritual hearts.  That space becomes the meeting place between us and God.  The Lord wants a meaningful dialogue with us, and he will guard that place of connection with great zeal.

Christ Jesus, the one who zealously loves, you have gone before me and cleared the way for me to enter God’s presence.  Thank you for your movement toward me, and your careful guarding of our relationship.  May my time with you on this Lord’s day be an offering of praise and thanksgiving.  Amen.

Mark 9:2-8 – Shining the Light on Our Fears

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“Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him. They went up on a high mountain, where they could be alone. There in front of the disciples, Jesus was completely changed.  And his clothes became much whiter than any bleach on earth could make them.  Then Moses and Elijah were there talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, it is good for us to be here! Let us make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’  But Peter and the others were terribly frightened, and he did not know what he was talking about.

The shadow of a cloud passed over and covered them. From the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, and I love him. Listen to what he says!’  At once the disciples looked around, but they saw only Jesus.” (Contemporary English Version)

The transfiguration of Christ was a glorious experience on the mountain.  But we are told that Peter, James, and John, the inner circle of Christ’s disciples, were terribly frightened.  Peter, always the extrovert of the group, nervously babbled-on without making any sense because he was so nervous and afraid.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus would take three of his disciples with him to experience such an incredible vision?  Why did Jesus show these men something so otherworldly that they nearly soiled themselves?  I will tell you why I think Jesus put his close disciples in such a position as this:

Because the way to see Jesus as our only hope, we must face our fears, insecurities, and anxieties squarely without hiding.

Jesus did not relieve their anxiety.  He let them feel the full impact of their fear.  His glory shone show brightly that they couldn’t hide from what was happening to them and what was in their minds and hearts.  Only through shining the light on the shadowy place of our fears and insecurities will we accept that we need a savior.  That savior is Jesus, the light of the world, the Lord over fear, anxiety, and discouragement.

The invitation which Jesus extends to us is to move further into our fears so that we can see how desperately we need him.  Nobody seeks a savior when they don’t believe they need deliverance from anything.  But the one who sees what is truly inside of them – the fear of connection; the scary prospect of confrontation; the anxiety of what will happen; or, the discouragement of failure – is the one who is then able to hear the voice of God and listen to Jesus give the answer to our most pressing life issues.

Jesus Christ wants to change us from the inside-out.  He helps us by showing us not to avoid the fears which cause us to be beside ourselves, but through confronting those anxieties with him.  You and I are never alone; we always have the glorious presence of Christ with us as we walk through dark valleys and ascend high mountains.  It is the wonderful existence and omnipresence of God in Christ through the Spirit which makes all the difference.  We were created for connection with the divine, not for separation and loneliness in our fears.

Glorious Christ, you love me with a grace and mercy which always has my best interests in mind.  Help me through my most pressing fears and failures so that I might see your glory, hear your voice, and know your constant presence.  Amen.