Monday, April 23, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of April 22

Reconciliation is the reason God sent Jesus, and therefore I believe "the ministry of reconciliation" ought to be the church's #1 priority!  Why?

(Read Ephesians 2:1-22)

In these verses we see God reconciling us to Himself in Jesus ("it is by grace you have been saved" - see verses 1-10) and we see that when God reconciled us to Himself He also reconciled us to one another.

(Read verses 11-13)

"Remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called 'uncircumcised' ... remember at that time you were separate from Christ ... without hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you have been brought near through the blood of Christ."  

This means that in Christ you and I (as true believers) have been brought near to God and included in the people of God as heirs of His covenant promises made to Abraham and Israel.  Therefore, if we are included in the people of God, then in Christ there is no more divisions (racial, ethnic, tribal, etc.).  Instead there is now one new people with peace coming from the "one new man"!  (see verses 14-16)

When God reconciled us to Himself He did so in Jesus, so that Jesus brought together all of humanity as our representative to God, and in bringing together all of humanity in "one new man" He reconciled us to God together.  Thus making peace and putting "to death their hostility".

This is truly amazing!  However, Paul is not done.

(Read verses 17-22)

Notice how Paul builds his case.  He starts by showing us that in Christ we have peace (even having "access to the Father by one Spirit").  He then shows us that we are now fellow citizens with God's people - because in Christ we are recipients of all God's promises given through apostles and prophets which all build on Jesus Christ Himself!  Finally, Paul shows us that we (the people of God) are now the building (the temple) in which God lives by His Spirit!

Absolutely amazing!  We are God's house, so wherever we go God goes with us!  This offers both comfort (we are never alone) as well as responsibility (we are His agents in this world).

This is why I believe "reconciliation" and "the ministry of reconciliation" ought to be the church's #1 priority.  We have been reconciled with God in Christ and now we are called to extend that same reconciliation to others.  

At least that is my take.  What do you think ought to be the church's #1 priority?  Why?  Let's discuss!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of April 15

In Luke 24:49 Jesus promises, "I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."  The power Jesus is talking about is of course the Holy Spirit.  But what is the Spirit's power like?

(Read Ephesians 1:1-23; esp. verses 15-23)

The apostle Paul begins the first 14 verses telling us all we have ("every spiritual blessing") in Christ.  We are chosen, predestined, loved, in Him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, God's grace, and wisdom to know and understand the mystery of His will.  We also have been marked with the Holy Spirit given as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come.  All good stuff!

Then in verses 15-23 he offers a prayer.  He begins by giving thanks as well as praying.  He offers 4 distinct prayers.

           1) I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the    
               Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know Him better.
   I pray that ... the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know
           2) the hope to which he has called you.
           3) the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints,
           4) and His incomparably great power for us who believe.  

It is the fourth request where I would like to draw our attention in particular.  "His incomparably great power for us who believe."  Earlier in verse 13, Paul had said, "When you believed you were marked in Him (Jesus) with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit."  So it is logical to deduce that the incomparably great power to which Paul refers in his fourth request is the Holy Spirit.  But what is the Spirit's power like?

(Read verses 19b-21)

That power; the incomparably great power for us who believe; is the same power by which God raised Jesus from the dead!  It is also the same power by which God seated Christ in power "far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that can be invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come."

Now there is no other name which has as much power as Jesus, and through the Holy Spirit Jesus has given us this same power!

So the next time we find ourselves in a situation where we see God opening a door for us to share the good news about Jesus, we can find strength not in ourselves but in God's incomparably great power for us who believe!  I pray with Paul that you may know "His incomparably great power for us who believe" and that God will give you confidence to obey Him in faith when He calls.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of April 8

In Ephesians 1:18-20, the apostle Paul prays, "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He (God) has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.  That power is like the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead ..."  

So in the aftermath of Resurrection Sunday, I ask what is that power and what does it mean to us today?

(Read Romans 6:1-4)

In Christ we may live a new life.  But what does that new life look like?

(Read Romans 6:5-14)

Jesus died, and then He rose again so that now in His new life He cannot die again.  Through faith in Jesus we too have "died with Him", but that is not all.  We too through faith have also been raised with Him to a new life.  Therefore, it is time we begin to live this new life by living for God!

But let me be clear.  Living our new life in Christ does not mean learning to follow rules, or just being "good".  This is not moralism, and it is not done in our own human strength.  Our new life is the work of God in us through the Holy Spirit because of our faith in Jesus.  This is God's power at work in us.  It is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead!  And it is at work in us even now so that we too can live a new life for God.

You see grace is not the same as license.  Grace does not give us permission to do bad things (as we will see in the next part of chapter 6).  Rather grace is God's power making us new, shaping our wills, and guiding us into truth.

(Read Romans 6:15-23)

"You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness" (verse 18)  

Righteousness means both that we are made right with God through Jesus' atoning work, but it also means a way of life that is pleasing to God.  However, there is a catch here.

Notice how Paul says we are no longer slaves to sin and now have become slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.  The catch is that no matter what we are still slaves.  (see verses 20-22)  Slaves are not free (in the sense of free to do whatever they choose), rather slaves are bound to a master.  Our master used to be sin leading to death.  But now in Jesus Christ our master is righteousness (God working in us by the power of the Holy Spirit) and the new life we have been given leads to holiness and eternal life!

Yet eternal life is not something we earn!  (Read verse 23)  Sin's wages = death, but God's gift = eternal life.  God gives us the gift of eternal life, which we receive through faith in Jesus.  And this whole process makes us slaves to righteousness.  So that we do what is right not according to the rules, but by the work of God's spirit in us by faith in Jesus.  This is the new life, and it is what we are called to live in the aftermath of Jesus' resurrection from the dead!

So what about you?  Do you have questions?  Does this make sense?  How can we offer ourselves as slaves to righteousness today?

Let's discuss.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of April 1

This week I almost hate to speak.  In light of what Jesus has gone through to bring us to Himself, words seem a little out of place.  However, life in Christ develops as we reflect on His word in communion with Him through prayer.  So again we will reflect, listen, and ask God to help us see truth.

(Read Galatians 5:1-26)

Let's think deeply about a few particular phrases Paul uses in this chapter.

1) "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free" (verse 1).  What was Jesus' intention for His people?  Why did Jesus do what He did?  He did it to set us free, and He set us free so that we would live in freedom.
One is passive and the other is active.  Being set free is what God does for us in Jesus, yet living in freedom is something we do in Christ.  What do you think about that?

2) "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love" (verse 6).  How does faith express itself through love?  What does that have to do with living in freedom?  Again faith is relatively passive.
We have faith in Jesus, but our faith is not active it is passive.  By faith we rest in Jesus and thereby begin to live in freedom.  However, love is active.  Love is what we do.  It involves good deeds, kindness, and care for others.  Love is active.  Love is the action generated by faith in Jesus.

3) "You my brothers were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love."  (verse 13)  True freedom is never found by indulging the sinful nature.  Sin separates us from God, and any separation from God is not freedom it is bondage.  Instead living in freedom is serving one another in love.  Freedom is active.  It is God-focused and others-centered.  Freedom means we are less concerned about ourselves and more concerned about God and others.

4) "So I say live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature." (verse 16)  Living by the Spirit is how we live in freedom.  Freedom is not possible for us.  We cannot live in freedom on our own.  It is only through the Holy Spirit that we are enabled to live in freedom.  The Spirit gives us the gift of faith by which we receive Jesus Christ and all His benefits.  The Spirit also moves us away from serving ourselves and more toward loving God and serving others in love.  And this leads us to our next verse for reflection.

5) "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Against such things there is no law."  Living in freedom comes as we live by the Spirit,
and the Spirit produces fruit that looks more like Jesus in us.  Notice that a lot of the "fruit" leads us away from ourselves and towards God and others.  This is true freedom, and when we live by the Spirit there is no more need for law.

6) "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires."  Life in Christ happens as we live in freedom and living in freedom occurs as we live by the Spirit.  You see this all goes beyond mere religion.  Religion offers a set of rules, laws, cultural mores, rituals, etc. for people to keep to attempt to re-bind their severed relationship with God.  However, religion cannot do it.
Yet where religion fails, Jesus Christ succeeds!  In Christ we are reunited to God (made forever right with Him).  In Christ we have the Holy Spirit living in us.  In Christ we are free and thus are called to live in freedom.  In Christ we are finally able to obey God.  Apart from Christ we can do nothing, but in Christ we will bear much fruit.  (see John 15:5)

So as we journey this week with Jesus to the cross, let us remember why He did what He did and let's ask God to help us live in freedom ... for God's glory and Christ's kingdom!

So what do you think?  Does this make sense?  Do you still have questions?   Let's be bold and share our thoughts, our questions, and our struggles as we seek to live in the freedom for which Christ has set us free.