Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ephesians 6

In the home, there is a high degree of accountability before God. In the last chapter, husbands and wives parallel Christ and the hcurch in love and submission. Children obey their parents "in the Lord." Servants submit. . . "as to Christ." Masters be careful how you treat slaves know you and they have a "master in heaven." More is at stake in our closest relationships than simply what we think about each other. Jesus is an audience in our homes.

The reality of our spiritual warfare is easy to underestimate. We war against rulers & authorities, against world powers of this darkness(lit.) and spiritual wickedness in heavenly places. Not a pretty picture. I need all the protection I can find. Thankfully God provides all I need. The list of armor begins with truth and ends with God's word -- no coincidence, since the devil is the father of lies (John 8:44).

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ephesians 5

If there is ever a "fake it until you make it" motive in the Christian life it is in Eph. 5:1. Be imitators of God.

The emphasis here and at the end of chapter four on wholesome speech is very important. Nothings shows your heart, good or bad, like your words.

I want to live my life from Ephesians 5:15-18.
  • Walk as wise people.
  • Redeem the time.
  • Understand God's will.
  • Don't be drunk.
  • Be filled with the Spirit.
I don't need many other reasons to be reminded of the sacredness of marriage more than this. Paul set out talking about marriage and ended up (Eph. 5:32) talking about Jesus. I hope that happens when people talk about my marriage.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Ephesians 4:17-32

A golden key for a successfully Christian life lays underfoot, unnoticed in this passage. The expectation that a Christian will live, or walk, differently is clearly stated. But how? Seven times in eight verses (Eph. 4:17-24) he uses words that have to do with our minds, thoughts or ways of thinking:
  • Futility of your mind (17).
  • Having darkened understanding (18).
  • What you learned in Christ (21).
  • You were taught (22).
  • Truth in Jesus (22).
  • In the spirit of your mind (23).
  • Holiness of truth (24)
Christianity is not merely an intellectual pursuit, but it is. at least, a way of thinking.

Everything in Eph. 4:25-32 shouts that I've been changed by Christ coming into my life. For instance, the one who steals should work , so he'll have something to give. Not just so that he can have his own stuff, but so he can give. From thief to donor! That doesn't happen without a new birth. The transformation in speech and temper are also similarly obvious. The quality of Christians' lives and the quality of their speech are distinct selling points for the gospel.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Ephesians 4:1-16

Christian unity is something Christians need to work to keep, not work to create. The list of unifying factors mean nothing except our unity with each other is a by-product of our union with Christ.

This chapter is mandatory reading if you are to understand how God wants his people to work together. Notice first that the church works because of the victory of Jesus Christ from the dead. Part of his work is to win and distribute gifts to His church. The structure for the church is this: The church grows and is built by people who are served and equipped by pastor/teachers. Every part or ligament is important. The ministers are the people, not the pastors.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Ephesians 3

Paul is self-conscious about his calling as an apostle. He's also clear about the content of that calling. It is about bring undeserving gentiles into full participation in the riches of Jesus (Eph. 3:8). The gospel equals the unfathomable riches of Christ. How do you adequately communicate something that is unfathomable?

God's plan was to create a group, a church, purchased by the blood of Jesus, who would reveal the wisdom of God to all spiritual realms (Eph. 3:10). I think I might have tried something else. The church seems a very imperfect and inadequate representation of the wisdom of God. . . or, perhaps I'm missing the main point.

The prayer is stunning. The request is based, not on the performance or even the prayers of the Christian, but on the riches of his glory! The bank account from which this prayer is drawn is limitless. So, I'll prayer this. "In proportion to the riches of your glory, God would you grant my friends. . .
  • to be strengthened in their inner being.
  • to have Christ dwell in their hearts by faith.
  • to be rooted and grounded in love.
  • to have power to comprehend the enormity of Your love."
God will do far beyond all I can ask or imagine. . . perhaps I normally aim too low!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Ephesians 2

The stark spiritual condition of deadness and rebellion that all of us begin with gives way before the majestic grace of God. The work of Christ, physically taking the hostility on his body on the cross, transforms rebels into friends. The realm of the world is no longer the prime reality for the Christian. . . the cross is. Here is a summary of this chapter:

You cannot be bad enough that God in his grace can't save you. Everyone of us starts off in a terrible condition, a helpless captive of an evil rebel, unable to free ourselves. But God in his mercy sent his son as rescuer, apart from any goodness or deserving in the captives. So successful was the rescue that those who were captives have not joined their rescuer in a position of authority over the former captor. These victor/captives live lives devoted to good works without any remaining reason for prejudice, enjoying peace with God and each other.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ephesians 1

If the Bible were a photo album, this would be a spectacular sunrise. Every bit of beauty that is evident in an English translation is amplified in the Greek text. Every good idea in Christianity is present in this chapter. A few things seem noteworthy to me:
  • The strength of the statements of God's foreknowledge, election, plan and purpose overwhelm a reader who wants to be in control or in the center of the universe. God's eternal purpose is out front.
  • The goal of our salvation is repeated multiple times -- to the praise of His glory (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14).
  • Christianity is a person. Four times "in whom" is repeated as the source of our blessings (Eph. 1:7, 11, 13).
  • In Paul's prayer, God's power is stated as gloriously as possible, synonym upon synonym, and you still get the impression he's under-expressing it (Eph. 1:19-20).
  • Jesus is exalted far above all competition!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Galatians 6

How can the Lord give me just what I need each day? What a great passage. Several things captured my attention:
  • Galatians 6:1-10 describe life together in a church or small group. Bear one another's burdens. Confront sin. Do good to everyone, especially those in the household of God.
  • The spiritual law of sowing and reaping is breathtaking in its simplicity and power. If it is not powerful enough on the face of it, he adds, " God is not mocked." (Galatians 6:7).
  • The sowing/reaping principle is also a key reason not to give up (Galatians 6:9).
  • The cross is a reason to boast. It crucifies me to the world. That is, dying is rejoicing. Crucifixion frees me from the tyranny of an anti-God way of living. It also crucifies the world to me. The world dies in its attraction and power over me!
  • Another "nothing matters" comment: Nothing matters except the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17, Gal. 5:6).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Galatians 5

Paul is trying to persuade the church to live by faith and walk by the Spirit, not surrendering again to the bondage of the law. His chief argument in this chapter is the impotence of the law to bring about any lasting change. The Spirit, on the other hand, brings victory.

Four ideas I love:
  • All that matters is faith working through love (Galatians 5:6). Nothing else matters. Nothing else represents freedom or virtue. What a simple summary of Christian ethics.
  • Walk by the Spirit and you will not (literally) bring to completion the desires of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16). You may be tempted. You may think about starting down that road, but the Spirit keeps you from finishing!
  • The flesh is opposed to the Spirit. This would make it hard to live life with a foot in both worlds. (Galatians 5:17).
  • Of course, I need a big harvest of the fruit of the Spirit in my life (Galatians 5:22-23). These are things God's Spirit produces in my life not things I work at, hoping to improve a little in one of these areas.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Galatians 4

Freedom is the inheritance of every believer. Why would you go back? His allegory of Hagar and Sarah is a wild example of this. He is attempting to contrast law with faith, performance with freedom and to persuade them to life free in Christ's righteousness instead of trying to produce their own. Why would anyone, if given freedom, shoos bondage?

I find Galatians 4:8-9 especially compelling. Not knowing God you served by nature things that were not God. Why return not that you know the true God, but better yet, are known by God? We are naturally wired to be anti-God, or at least to ignore him. How great is it to know God? How much greater is it to know that the God of the universe knows me?

The line, "I have labor pains dear children, until Christ is formed (lit., metamorphosis) in you," is a great summary of pastoral ministry. My job is to labor so that Jesus is formed in believers who are then transformed.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Galatians 3

It is hard to overestimate the tendency to work the law and achievement back into our faith. It is utterly bewitching to turn away from free justification by faith to works of the law. But people do it. We are wired to establish our own goodness and we drift back easily. The point here seems to be: law and faith are mutually exclusive as means to establishing righteousness.

The purpose of the law was not to establish righteousness but to identify and restrain sin, to show the futility of works righteousness, and to bring us to Christ.

They linchpin for the whole argument is the quote from Deuteronomy 27:26 in verse 10. If you don't do the law you are cursed. Jesus solves for the curse. . . and you can't. Just because someone doesn't want there to be a curse doesn't mean there won't be one!

The other interesting argument is grammatical. Paul is so confident of the words of the Bible he argues the importance of the plural versus the singular (Gal. 3:16). Jesus is THE seed.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Galatians 2

Paul gives a little more of his chronology. He got approval from the apostles (after 14 years). That's a long time between the calling from God and his full-time ministry. It is easy to get in a hurry.

Even Peter and Barnabas get caught in the ethnic divide. They were willing to compormise justification by grace to keep the peace. Paul's confrontation of them was direct (literally, in his face) and public. To think you can earn even some of your righteousness from working at the law is to miss the gospel.

Galatians 2:20 is so central. Christ lives in me. That is a resurrection promise to me after I have been crucified with him. I identify with him in his crucifixion and his resurrection. He loves me and gave himself for me. All the Christian life is the Christ life, in me.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Galatians 1

We do not get to guess or have to wonder at the theme or big idea of this letter. He states it up front. It is amazing you've left the gospel so quickly! Why do people leave? I think it is because the gospel of Jesus Christ opposes all that we naturally value.

The gospel did not originate with a few poeple thinking up a better religion. It was the revealed by God himself.

it is easy to miss, but Paul was not an instant, just add water (or a lightning bolt), apostle. He went to Arabia (some people think for as much as 8-9 years). Then he spent 3 years in Damascus. And, he knew the Old Testament by memory before he started this dozen or so years of training

Thursday, September 17, 2009

2 Corinthians 13

This chapter tells several things about their relationship.
  • Paul hides in the weakness and resurrection power of Christ when interacting with this stubborn church.
  • They need to test themselves to see if they are in the faith. And if they fail. . . he fails.
  • He prays they might be perfect. Prayer is the means for a church to be perfected or built up (2 Cor. 13:9). Why not pray?
  • At the end of this letter, right after he tells them he hopes he won't be too harsh, he commands them to rejoice. Interesting juxtaposition of two seemingly contrary states, harshness and joy!
The benediction is most beautiful (2 Cor. 13:13).

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

2 Corinthians 12

In the preceding chapter Paul pointed to his suffering as his authentication as a genuine apostle. In this chapter he appeals to his surpassing revelation and subsequent humbling and grace from God. These things would never make a resume' today.

The 'thorn' was a messenger from Satan. The messenger of Satan was an agent of God. God used it to give grace and strength. Why does Satan even try if God turns his best efforts into good?

Strength is made perfect in weakness. He boasts in weakness because of the opportunity it presents for God's strength to be obvious.

His good motives and good decision in sending Titus is a further proof of his apostleship. The church had not properly grieved or repented of their sin -- always a problem.

He views them as his children. He would gladly spend and be spent for them.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

2 Corinthians 11

Two things are amazing to me in this chapter:
  • The clarity of his description of Satan's mode of operation. Satan is not all about the evil and disgusting, the scary and magical, but about the alluring and mostly good. If he showed up with pitchfork and horns and a red jumpsuit, people would not be fooled in the least. The best lie always masquerades as truth. What looks good may be the most dangerous!
  • The degree to which Paul suffered for the church. He lists this as an authentication of his ministry. While he has several positive credentials -- Hebrew of Hebrews, Tribe of Benjamin, etc. -- no false apostle can match what he has suffered! I am genuine because of what I've endured. The last line always gets me. . . "Besides all this, I have the daily concern for all the churches." The other suffering is external, but this is internal and incessant.

Monday, September 14, 2009

2 Corinthians 10

Two key verses in this chapter are life-changing:
  • 2 Cor. 10:4-5 -- We don't do battle according to the flesh. We fight spiritual battles with spiritual weapons. A spiritual stronghold is a way of thinking that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. It is an 'idea' or 'imagination' depending on your translation. It is not something that is distant and frightening. It is close and invisible, a way of thinking about life that is against God's will.
  • 2 Cor. 10:12 -- Those who measure themselves by themselves lack understanding and wisdom. How much more clearly can it be said that it is not about me?! How someone goes about deriving their identity says a lot about how they understand the gospel.
Paul does spend a lot of time defending himself and his ministry. How do you know when to do that and when to be content to be wronged? I'm not sure.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

2 Corinthians 9

This chapter contains unblushing promises about giving. You may want to try this at home!
  1. You will reap according to how generously you sow (2 Cor. 9:6).
  2. God loves a cheerful giver. So, don't be satisfied with mere obligation (2 Cor. 9:7).
  3. God is able to make all grace abound to you (2 Cor. 9:8).
  4. You will have all you need in every way for everything with a view to every good work (2 Cor. 9:8). Did he leave anything out?
  5. When you give to the poor your righteousness will remain for eternity (2 Cor. 9:9).
  6. God can multiply and increase your gifts (2 Cor. 9:10).
  7. Generosity causes thanksgiving to overflow to God (2 Cor. 9:11-12).
  8. Giving is a direct response to the gospel (2 Cor. 9:13-15).

Saturday, September 12, 2009

2 Corinthians 8

This chapter oozes love and generosity. It is like Jesus to choose poverty when you are rich.

In severe affliction and deep poverty -- they gave. We don't think of that as a starting point for generosity. Generosity, for us, starts when I'm comfortable and have enough. To give out of poverty requires grace given to the church (2 Cor. 8:1-3). Would you rather have grace or money?

They took care to protect the offering, choosing trustworthy and proven companions for Titus.

They gave themselves first to the Lord, then to us, according to the will of God. That is the launching point for Christian generosity (2 Cor. 8:4-5). I must give myself to the Lord first. My finances are simply and indication of whether or not that has happened.

Friday, September 11, 2009

2 Corinthians 7

Verse one goes with chapter six. It creates a paradigm for Christian living. "Having these promises. . ." To be a Christian is to be a person of the promise. Christianity starts with a word from God that is either true or not; he is either good for the promise or he is lying. Responding to the promise by faith (that's what you do with promises -- you believe them), we purify ourselves inbody and spirit and take aim for holiness in the fear of God.

Paul's earlier letter started them grieving but the grief worked repentance, so it was not useless or without profit. Grief is not wasted if it humbles us and prompts response to God. In the end, their grief let to repentance which brought great joy! The apostle Paul had confidence in them because they traveled this road of grief, repentance, and joy. That pathway leads to spiritual confidence.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

2 Corinthians 6

In chapter five he says he appeals on behalf of Christ. Chapter six begins with an appeal. Now is the acceptable day. Today is the day of salvation. If you know you are not at peace with God, why would you delay? Especially if you know Jesus completely satisfies all God's expectations for you (2 Cor. 5:21). Don't delay.

What follows is Paul's attempt to not put a stumbling block in front of people and the lengths to which he will go so people will see Jesus. He wants his life to commend his message.

I notice a continuity between plagues, hunger, prison, trouble and the like on the one hand and the word of truth, Holy Spirit, love and power on the other. This chapter does not have two separate lists. Christian service includes both parts of the list, not just the good parts.

He argues aggressively against believers being mismatched (Gk: heterozygote) with unbelievers. He doesn't say what kinds of partnerships these would be, but assumes that a large chasm exists between Christ-followers and non-Christ-followers. He bases this on the New Covenant promises from the Old Testament (Ezekiel 36:25-26).

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

2 Corinthians 5

My heart is full of rich and sweet spiritual nourishment from this text. Continuing the thought of looking to eternal things from the last chapter, he encourages us with the knowledge we have a heavenly home that means life not death. For this cause we walk by faith, not sight. We can take courage God will reward actions, good or bad.

It follows that if there is certainly judgment and if death is certain, then someone must plead with people -- be reconciled to God! There are all kinds of motivations mentioned here to plead with people. Why share Jesus?
  • Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men (2 Cor. 5:11).
  • The love of Christ compels us (2 Cor. 5:14).
  • In Christ . . . New Creation (2 Cor. 5:17).
  • God took initiative to reconcile the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:18-19).
  • We are Christ's ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20).
  • Jesus is the perfect solution to the problem (2 Cor. 5:21).

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

2 Corinthians 4

I don't think it is possible to be discouraged after reading this chapter. That clearly is the point of it.

The god of this world blinds the eyes of the unbelieving. What don't they see? The light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4). How many professed Christians don't see that it is about the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 4:6)? The gospel is about God's glory first and our salvation somewhere down the list.

The purpose of affliction and brokenness is so that the life of Jesus might be manifest in my circumstances (2 Cor. 4:11). To say it another way, I die with Christ so his resurrection life can be mine. No dying, no resurrection. Death brings life (2 Cor. 4:12). You don't get a resurrection life without a death.

The contrast between the treasure and the treasure container is so hope-giving. It's not about me, it's about the treasure.

2 Cor. 4:16-18 are the most sublime in all the Bible. Nothing pulls me through tough times better than these verses. The eternal vision of glory dwarfs the affliction of the present!

Monday, September 07, 2009

2 Corinthians 3

What a humble and empowered way to live life! I don't consider myself adequate for any of this, but my adequacy is from God. This is so freeing. I don't have to prove myself because anything that is good about me comes from God. I simply have to trust him!

The contrast between the old covenant of condemnation and the new covenant leads to the climax in 2 Corinthians 2:18. We all, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord are being transformed from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. The freedom has to do with the veil being lifted as people turn to the Lord. The Spirit makes people free to turn to the Lord.

The new covenant is the glory of the Lord. Christ on the cross, God writing his law on hearts, taking out stony hearts, giving his Spirit, this is the glory of God (Jeremiah 31:31-33). Only a glorious God would do all that for his people.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

2 Corinthians 2

Two things stand out that I needed to be reminded of:
  • First, the necessity of forgiveness. 2 Corinthians 2:11 indicates that one of Satan's schemes for taking advantage of believers is in the area of bitterness. My ability to forgive is in direct proportion to my experience of the cross -- which is the very thing that defeats Satan. If he convinces me not to forgive, I do not apply the cross and he succeeds. How easily I fall for this!
  • Second, Christ is the same fragrance, smelled two different ways by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. Who is sufficient for these things? Who can change the way someone else perceives Christ? Just present Christ.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

2 Corinthians 1

The opening to this letter is tender and encouraging. God is the God of all comfort and a compassionate Father. Yet, He does not keep us from affliction. Rather, he comforts us as we go through it.

Comfort, like any grace, does not come to us as an end in itself, but comes to be passed along. Comfort is not the end of the journey, but something that happens along the road.

The promises of God are "yes" in Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit verifies the "yes". It is sad, then, that so many people hear "no" when they hear Jesus. I imagine some of the "no" comes from the way Jesus is communicated and some comes from the way every human is naturally wired.

Paul doesn't Lord it over their faith but, I love this perspective, works together for their joy! We should all have someone working together with us for our joy. That's what I want to do for people.

Friday, September 04, 2009

1 Corinthians 16

1 Corinthians 16:1-4 is an introduction to Christian giving. Have a plan. The church plan is corporate and involves each person. Giving is proportional. It anticipates a need. It is handled in a trustworthy way.

I love 1 Corinthians 16:13-14. It reminds me of the last words of Hugh Latimer as he was burned at the stake. Surely, Paul's vision of Christianity is robust and masculine. True Christianity is not for sissies.

I struggle with each of the items in the paragraph. Sin sneaks up on me -- I need to watch. I shrink from what is right -- I need to be courageous. I don't love like I should.

The relationships of Paul are more beautiful to me on this read-through than ever before. He is not an apostle by himself. His influence was measured by his relationships. What do my relationships tell about me?

Thursday, September 03, 2009

1 Corinthians 15:29-58

The arguments in this half of the chapter are explanation not motivation. It explains what kind of body we'll have. it explains the relation of the resurrection to the law and to sin. It will not be more-of-the-same only longer, when we are resurrected. Part of the hope is that things will be different.

Found myself longing for the resurrection. . . sown in weakness, raised in power. Yes!

Friends who do not share the perspective of the resurrection, the accountability and hope, will corrupt good morals. Be sure of it. (1 Cor. 15:33). Morality ultimately depends on the resurrection.

The conclusion is not to let circumstances dictate how you spend your life. Work for the Lord. The resurrection means that your labor is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:28)

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

1 Corinthians 15:1-28

This is of first importance! Not many things are first. The resurrection is the starting point. The end is that God might be all in all. The resurrection is primary because the victory it testifies places God in the Supreme place in the universe!

Was caught off-guard by the statement preceding the historical events of the gospel. He said, "Which I preached, which you believed and on which you have taken your stand and through which you are saved (I expected this much) -- if you hold fast! Didn't expect that. The resurrection power of God preserving a believer is necessary if someone is going to be saved.

The enemy language is very descriptive. God is placing His enemies under his footstool, both Satan and death! Hurray for the resurrection!

He uses two separate words for "worthless" -- empty and futile. Clearly the gospel is void of its significance if Christ is not raised.

I cannot escape Paul's reasoning that we are most miserable without a resurrection. The question is this: do you live life in such a way that only makes sense if there is a resurrection? That's how he thinks a Christian is supposed to live.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

1 Corinthians 14:21-40

Tongues seems to invite bedlam in the church. 1 Cor. 14:22 follows a quote from Isaiah 28:11-12 and gives the purpose of tongues. If someone will recognize what he hears as a fulfillment of the prophecy -- tongues is appropriate. Someone who doesn't make that O.T. connection will think you a maniac (literal translation of the word).

Bottom line: God is a god of order, not of bedlam.

The focus of worship is not the outsider, but the outsider must understand what is going on. Religious slang and church jargon may be just like a foreign tongue to outsiders. How can worship be both more meaningful and more intelligible to the outsider?

I will not quickly get over 1 Cor. 14:25. What a result for someone visiting a church!
  • His heart will be revealed.
  • He'll fall on his face and worship.
  • He'll say, "Surely, God is among them."
Oh, that such a thing would happen frequently in our worship services!