Ephesians

Tuesday Devotional: Ephesians 4

bibleRead Ephesians 4:1-16

The body of Christ is ONE body.  There is no other.  Standing side-by-side and shoulder-to-shoulder with your sister and brother in Christ, you are united as ONE body.  This is no easy task, but with God all things are possible.  Our sin desires to be independent.  Our sin desires to be one notch above the rest, one step further than the whole.  Sin deceives us into thinking that certain parts of the one body hold special significance and priority over other parts.  Sin will deceive us into thinking that our gift or position is of more importance to the body than the rest.  This spirit of division is the antithesis to the Gospel.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is humility, unity and love.  The Spirit of Christ in us seeks unity in spite of our own comfort, desires and pride.

The Christian is called to a life of unending and comprehensive sacrifice.  Nothing about sacrifice is easy.  Why should we think that our union and fellowship with other believers would be any different?  It’s not.  Our relationships with each other in the body of Christ are often the things used by God to refine us the most.  Without the tension and challenge of seeking unity in the Church there would be no growth, no transformation and thus no life.  We need each other.  We need this tension.  We need the sacrifice.  The sin in us will turn from the challenge and seek to find any available opportunity to blame-shift, judge, criticize and reject those around us in the Church.  Seek unity.  Seek Jesus.  By the blood of the Lamb we were saved from eternal condemnation and that same blood is the only chance we have to finding unity in the body of Christ.  Allow our Lord to sharpen you.  Allow him to reveal what is in you.  Allow him to teach you.  Find your place at the foot of the Cross and welcome your brother and sister to join you there and only there.  This is not friendship.  This is fellowship, and fellowship of the deepest kind, bought at the highest price.  We have all been saved.  We have all been forgiven.  We are all beloved by our heavenly Father.  These are the ligaments that bind us together and nothing else.  Unity is not an option, it is the result of living in Christ, for Christ and with Christ.

Tuesday Devotional: 1 Kings 6

 

bibleRead 1 Kings 6

7In building the temple, only blocks dressed at the quarry were used, and no hammer, chisel or any other iron tool was heard at the temple site while it was being built.”

16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? (1 Corinthians 3:16)

A Christian’s purpose is not for independent growth and prosperity.  We are by nature designed for fellowship and to be incorporated into a design of life that replaces our attention on ourselves with attention on our relationship to others.  It is in the design of God’s body that we see our purpose in the the greater complexity of the design and structure that we are a part of.  A temple is built to evoke awe and admiration from those that look upon it.  Likewise, the strength of the body of Christ correlates with our understanding of the whole as opposed to the self.  If we claim Christ as our savior we will naturally be drawn to fellowship not merely for our personal satisfaction but because we can see the Father’s glory represented by our lives as the Church, just as the temple’s strength reflected Him.

7In building the temple, only blocks dressed at the quarry were used, and no hammer, chisel or any other iron tool was heard at the temple site while it was being built.” 

[F]or all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Galatians 3:27 )

The blocks of the temple arrived at the site of the temple dressed, carved, measured and ready to fit into the temple’s design.  Once at the temple, nothing was left to be done to the stones in order to make them fit in the structure.  The stones were prepared and so fit perfectly.   While Christians differ in appearance, background, nationality, age, and countless other characteristics, one uniting factor miraculously allows all of the blocks to fit together perfectly.  The unity of the body of Christ comes by the saving works of Jesus Christ.  If the unity of the body of Christ is anything other than Christ, only sections of the temple will fit, leaving the rest with no place or purpose in the overall structure.  In other words, a Christian is clothed in Christ and then is able to fit perfectly into the temple, revealing the strength of the stones in their unity, and the brilliance of the structure in its size and splendor.

7In building the temple, only blocks dressed at the quarry were used, and no hammer, chisel or any other iron tool was heard at the temple site while it was being built.” 

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:2-3)

Living in Christian community is not easy and it never will be.  The process of individuals breaking their addiction to themselves alongside others taking on the same challenge will always reveal pain and obstacles.  However, the hope in Christ is that although the challenge is real, with the power of the Holy Spirit, the process can be smooth and does not have to be violent.  Hammers, chisels and iron tools are powerful and can inflict enormous damage on a stone.  However, being made in the image of Christ, while painful to our sinful nature, is a process of peace, joy and love.  Being made in the image of Jesus Christ is a threat to Satan and the work of sin but in the name of Jesus Christ we can find peace, joy and love amidst and throughout the rebuilding process.

7In building the temple, only blocks dressed at the quarry were used, and no hammer, chisel or any other iron tool was heard at the temple site while it was being built.”

 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5)

The awareness that we are made to be built into a structure with others, the foundational presence of Christ in us, and the Spirit of Christ guiding us through the building is an ongoing procedure the same way that the building of Solomon’s Temple was ongoing.  The Temple of Solomon was eventually finished, just as we will come to completion.  But our completion is not yet.  The building process is ongoing, and while we know that the end will come, we do not know when.  Until then, we build and we are being built, and the glory of an earthly building such as Solomon’s Temple will pale in comparison to the glory in the Temple of Christ in His Church, revealed in a world that has forgotten its Creator, its Designer, its Architect, its God.

 

Serving the King: Change

Many characteristics may define a Christian life.  Many things may be signs that someone truly lives their faith in correspondence with the Gospel.  In this reflection series, we’ll explore how different Scriptures emphasize service as a defining character trait of the Christian.

Service can be defined as what you do for something or someone.  But in the Gospel context, service is much larger than that.  Service, according to the teaching of Jesus, is a way of life.  More than an aspect Christian character, it IS Christian character.  In these reflections, we’ll discover five elements of service that please God.

Serving with Change (Ephesians 4)

The apostle Paul left behind a lasting legacy in the many letters he wrote to churches and individuals important to the early Church.  While at first glance all of the letters seem to discuss the same topics and ideas, as one devotes more time to them, the diversity within each letter separates them into distinct messages, rather than one massive “Paul Letter” section of the Bible.

The letter to the Ephesian Church expresses sound Christian theology; however, its purpose-driven nature sets the letter apart from the others.  Throughout the letter, Paul not only reminds us of the things that have been and will come as we continue to walk in the light of Jesus Christ, but also devotes significant attention to the idea that falling back into a previous way of life is no acceptable option if the experience of meeting Christ was true and Spirit-led.

The idea of “genuine change” is best expressed in a different letter: Galatians 5.  Paul compares this change in a person’s life and character to a fruit tree. Paul used the idea of “Christian Fruit,” first taught by Jesus throughout his lifetime.  As a person begins to change their life in Christ they witness the emergence and growth of “fruit,” namely love, joy, patience, kindness, faithfulness, self-control, peace, gentleness, and goodness.  It is in the discovery of this fruit that, Paul explains, a follower of Christ will become aware of the change promised by Christ emerging in their character as a Christian.

A theme of Paul’s letters, including the letter to the Ephesian Church, is the notion of a “new life” and an “old life.”  This idea is far from original with Paul as it was first and best explained by Christ himself in the Gospel of John where Jesus talks with the Pharisee, Nicodemus.  According to Jesus there was a clear difference between a person’s old way of living and their new life as his disciple.  Just as a baby, once born, does not return back to the mother’s womb, likewise a new Christian does not return to their “old life.”

However, this desire to stay away from the “old life” does not come through force or insistence by anyone but the person directly involved in the change.  There must be some experience that plants the seed of this desire in the heart of the individual, a seed that continues to grow over time. Awareness of the distinction between the two lives emerges within a person, along with the desire to maintain the newly found direction of this “new life.”

When we are children there are many instances where we are headed straight for a mistake or a bad situation.  Parents may try with all of their might to prevent children from experiencing the predictable outcome that might bring harm.  However, there are also times where the parent knows that to allow the child to experience disaster may be the most effective decision. It may be that allowing the child to fall, so to speak, and allowing the child to experience falling will prompt an experience, not rules, that will encourage a change.

For example, when I was young I loved to play in the sink in our kitchen as my mother cooked or did housework.  My mother would fill up the sink for me and then allow me to play in the water with my favorite toys, clad in a raincoat to protect me from the violent splashing that would ultimately ensue.  However, one day my mother was not around to ask to fill the sink, and I saw an alternative in a large pot of water atop the stove.  Unaware that the pot had been left to boil in preparation for pasta, the only thing I saw was an opportunity for me, along with my toys, to explore new and exciting waters.  Needless to say, what followed was a massive burn that left a sizable scar on my left hand that is still with me.  As a result of this experience, I did not stop my fun water game of splashing, raincoats and toys. What I came away with was a cautious awareness of pots and boiling substances on the stovetop.  That burn gave me enough to know that I never wanted to make the same mistake again.  The scar was a visible reminder of my decision and its consequences.

When Christians, like Paul, discuss the idea of a new life, many people assume that this is just cheap Christian lingo, something we know is in the scripture but don’t know how to experience.  Reading Paul’s desire for the Christians at Ephesus to “put off the old self” makes us aware that there’s something to be done there, but defining the “old self” can seem complicated and discovering the “new self” can be rather ambiguous and hard to comprehend.  What is not difficult to understand is that both Jesus and Paul took this “new life” extremely seriously.

Jesus himself made it perfectly clear that to be a Christian and to represent his name in our new identity means carrying the burden of a cross that accompanies this “new life.”  For some, this cross is heavy, splinter-ridden, and a burden.  This perception of the “new life” can soon make returning to the “old life” without the cross look pretty appealing.  Assuming that the cross means judgment, rules, and impossible expectations makes burning oneself in the boiling water of the “old life” almost desirable.  The difference between the Christian who has not truly encountered the living God and the Christian who has been born of the Spirit, is that the first has not truly understood the dangers of the boiling water, and the second has found that one burn was enough.  The first saw no reason to change; the second saw that change was the only option.

Being changed by God is not something that happens to you but something that happens within you.  The change is supported by the awareness that ahead of you is a well-lit path, and behind you the dark ground already traveled.  Someone who has truly met Christ recognizes that in the darkness exists a world of mistakes already made and desires left unfulfilled.  For this person, walking ahead into the well-lit path of “new life” with Christ is an opportunity to enter into a world of hope and promise.  From this place, the decision to place the hand in the boiling water a second time would seem insane.

At the heart of the Christian’s transformation is an inner acknowledgment that to “go back” is not only counterproductive but counter-intuitive.  Going back is never an option.  Service, bearing the cross in the new life, becomes a part of who you are, and less a list of things you are required to do.  Service becomes more of an instinct and less a choice to be considered.  Serving the king, the suffering servant, the great Teacher, becomes your lifelong desire, the essence of who you are and everything you do.

To know Jesus is to be made like him.  By serving him and serving like him we truly find union with him.  This union establishes us firmly on the rock that is Jesus Christ.  It is then on this rock that we can honestly and confidently refer to ourselves as Christians.

Tuesday Devotional: Ephesians 1

Read Ephesians 1:3-23bible

Found within this passage, so laden with spiritual imagery and truth, is a rather simple concept.  In the description of the works and purposes of Jesus Christ, Paul shares his desire that we all “know [Christ] better.”  While the walk of every Christian is complicated by our natural, worldly resistance to the work of the Holy Spirit, the life and purpose of that Christian life is simple.  The Christian’s goal is not to achieve.  The Christian’s goal is simply to know.  Our life’s purpose should be to daily come into a greater understanding of Him, entirely focused and centered on the fact that we do not know him well enough, deep enough or close enough. We should approach each day with the understanding that there is always more we can learn about him.  Knowing him is not learning about what he is so much as knowing who he is.  As we better understand who he is and has always been, we ultimately come into a greater understanding of who we are, who we have been and who we become in communion with him.  The key to unlocking the greater mysteries of the Gospel in relation to our existence in this world and the promises of the next is in knowing God the Father.  When we know him intimately, the foundations of truth and love reveal a daily existence based on faith in something we will always and forever find strength in.  Knowing God is more than just knowledge.  Knowing God is experience with knowledge.  You can read every book on the face of the earth about how much God loves you and has given everything for you, but until you experience this love firsthand, these messages will hollow and easily forgotten.  Knowing God is being loved by him, and we never forget the feeling of being loved.  The feeling of being loved affects us at the deepest level of our being.  When we know God’s love we realize that he not only loves us now but has loved us from the beginning.  Knowing God becomes the rock that all else is built upon.  Knowing God becomes the power to move.  Knowing God is everything. Without it there is nothing.