The Journey

Life’s journey can be an odd thing.  No matter how much we plan and prepare it will take us by surprise more than once.  We might not always know exactly where we are headed or what will come next, and maybe that’s part of the fun of it all; it sure can be interesting.

We will inevitably meet a lot of people along the way; people of all different sorts.  Some will be friendly, others might not be, but all have a story no doubt. We will see many sights too, some good and uplifting, others not so much…

When we arrive in a place along the way where we can sort our adventures out, one thing is clear: it’s worth the trip. We are the sum of all that we have experienced in this life, and yet we are more than that, for along the way we come face-to-face with God Himself sooner or later.  He will take the lead and show us the way, and we must decide if we will follow.  For those who follow Him, the journey may not always be easier, but the destination is becomes certain.

Advertisements

Where were you…?

Job isn’t one of the books of the Bible that people study a lot these days, but it’s quite a story.   Now old Job was being tested, and for the most part he did really well through his trials but eventually he began to lose his strength and after doing so well for so long, he fell into a bit of a problem when he started questioning God about they way things were going for him.  If you read the whole thing, you might think that old Job had a point when he began to question God, after all he had been through an awful lot, but in due course, God had heard enough from old Job.  So, beginning in chapter 38, God answers Job’s complaints:

Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm. He said:

 “Who is this that darkens my counsel
    with words without knowledge?
 Brace yourself like a man;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone—
 while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy?

– Job 38:1-7

God’s reply continues until chapter 40 when God finally says:

“Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?
    Let him who accuses God answer him!”

– Job 40:2

If you haven’t read this passage in a while, you really should take a look; God is speaking to Job, but it could be addressed to any one of us.  How smart we humans think we are, and yet what do we really know?

Well, old Job came to realize that he wasn’t really quite qualified to challenge God, and I daresay we aren’t either.  Job responds in humility and is restored to his former position as a very blessed man.  The same is true with us when we respond to God in humility, we can be restored to a very blessed relationship with Him.

There sure is one thing that we can take away from old Job’s story: It’s a really good idea for all men to just let God be God; it doesn’t really seem like He needs our help being God.  Our job is to serve Him, not to challenge His authority!

God Has a Plan

Ephesians 3:1-13

Isn’t this an interesting little chunk? Paul mentions “mysteries” several times here, and likens these “mysteries” to the “administration of God’s grace”; what could he be referring to?

He mentions a mystery that was made known to him by revelation, and calls it the mystery of Christ. He ends the first paragraph telling us that this mystery has been made known, that through the gospel, the Gentiles are being made into one holy nation with Israel; the administration of God’s grace! Consider this for a second; we usually think of the gospel as being all about salvation, our salvation. The gospel is the good news about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ which made it possible for MY sins to be forgiven, so I can have eternal life… oh and by the way, you can have it too.

Yet Paul is telling us a much bigger story than MY story! He is telling us that God’s plan was to unite all of us into one Body, the church… for a purpose, and that purpose was not merely how God would save ME.

 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

Ephesians 3:10-12

The gospel is not just MY good news, nor is it just YOUR good news, it is God’s eternal purpose to bring us into unity, through faith in Jesus Christ, to crush the accuser of all of us, the Devil, and this is no small thing! Did you notice the role of the church? No, it wasn’t just to go through the motions on Sunday, it was to play a central role in this victory and be the means by which God’s message was brought to the world to accomplish God’s purpose.

Well dear reader, it seems like we are in the middle of something that is very big.

Why did Paul refer to this as a mystery? Simple, because God had not revealed it to anyone before it happened. There were prophecies for sure, but it is really only in hindsight that they become clear. Remember when we went through Mark? Who was it that by all rights should have known right off who Jesus was when He first appeared on the scene? Well of course, it was the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, for they knew the prophets, and they were very intelligent and well-educated in these matters. OK, one more question: Who had Him killed?

Yep, you’ve got it, the very ones who should have welcomed Him.

Yes, it was quite a mystery!

But it is a mystery no more, and you and I are right in the middle of it, on the front lines you might say. Each of us has received gifts, as Paul received gifts from the Holy Spirit of God, and also just like Paul, we have His power and authority behind us. So troops, what shall we do next?

Here’s a hint: Did you notice Paul’s reference to his circumstances in verses 1 and 13?

Reconciliation in Christ

Ephesians 2:11-22

Paul, in these verses, completes the picture he began in the first 10 verses of this chapter that we covered in yesterday’s post, by tying together the picture of God’s redemption and reconciliation of all people.

It is important to bear in mind that he is addressing Gentiles here, those who were not included in God’s covenants in the past. They were excluded from relationship with God and to a great extent even from social relationships with the people of God. In fact, the people of God, the Jews, looked down upon the Gentiles, calling them dogs and treating them as second-class people. The Jews bore a sign of their covenant relationship with God that the Gentiles did not, a sign that would forever keep them separate; the sign of circumcision that denoted the offspring of Father Abraham. No, a Gentile man couldn’t “fake it.”

Then came Jesus Christ.

Jesus brought the two groups together through His death on the cross in which He bore the sins of all in His own body, putting their sins, along with the very Law itself to death. After that, there is no more hostility between Jew and Gentile, for all who follow Christ are members of one Body; this is the theological truth. It was not, however, the practical truth. Paul knew only too well of the hostility that so many Jews still had for Gentile Christians… even within the church, and I have little doubt that there were some hard feelings among the Gentile believers as well. In the centuries that have followed, this has, sadly, remained the case in many places, not only between Jew and Gentile, but between rich and poor, black and white, aristocrat and common, social divisions that carry into the Body of Christ. Yet we must be reminded that secular cultural social divisions have no place whatsoever within the Body of Christ, for there is no Jew and no Gentile, there is no rich or poor, aristocrat or common, black or white… or any other social distinction in the Body of Christ, for in Him we are one people, bound together by the bonds of His love.

Of course, all too often, sin remains in our midst, as we are dwelling in a fallen world.

 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Ephesians 2:19-22

Thus Paul states the eternal reality that is the church, the reality as God Himself sees reality. Now, with that eternal reality set before us, let’s consider whether or not we might carry forward our own earthly notions of “proper” social distinctions, and ask ourselves if this is pleasing in God’s sight. Take your time, consider carefully…

As you consider, consider an example from history. After the Civil War in the U. S., slaves in the American South were emancipated. Slave owners, by and large, had encouraged their slaves to be Christians, and now those slaves were free, churches were established outside of the plantations with both black and white congregations, but of course they were normally segregated, as were most other things in that society. The writings that that and succeeding generations left behind have some very creative justifications for this, and for a hundred years it continued, and even today the trend remains in many places. So that begs another question, don’t you think?

What sort of testimony for the Gospel would we create (or have created) if we would live the gospel of Jesus Christ, rather than just talk about it, and actually, really and truthfully treat one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, even if it means incurring the wrath of the rest of the community?

Yes, it is surely something to think about… and possibly something to act upon.

Weekly Podcast August 27. 2014

How We Respond to “Bad Stuff”

This week’s podcast came a couple of days later than planned, but it’s here now.

This is another little chat coming from one of those group discussions I attend, and it deals with our response to negative things happening in the world around us… and in our own lives. The question that was raised in the discussion was about how these things make us question our faith, but being my difficult self, I question the premise: Do we really question our faith when bad things happen, or do we realize that Jesus promised us troubles?

 

Listen Now

Alive!

Ephesians 2:1-10

 

After several days of dealing with “technical issues,” let’s try this again! 

Beginning here in chapter two, Paul reminds us of how we have been made alive in Christ. It’s a funny thing, but I nearly added the word “again” to that sentence, but Paul’s point is not that we are now “alive again,”  rather he is making the case that we have never been “alive” before. How could we have been alive when we were merely following the lead of the one who is in opposition to the One who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life”?

All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. (v. 3)

Have you ever watched what dogs do? OK, maybe this isn’t the most tactful comparison, but when we were not following Jesus Christ, we were a bit like a dog, following our noses to whatever feels good and then doing it with no thought of consequences; a dog just doesn’t know any better, but a man does. Ah yes, that’s where the “wrath” comes in!

Notice the contrast in verses 4 ff. In Christ, we have been lifted up from that old life with its ways to the heavenly realms, by grace through faith. Paul makes it very clear in vv. 8-9 that this “lifting up” in life has nothing do with any works on our parts, nor does it have anything to do with our great abilities, so no one can boast of their accomplishment of salvation.  Just as a little aside, it is odd that many of us are tempted to look down our noses at others.

After making these glorious points, Paul throws us a bit of a curve in verse 10: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” You might wonder, as many have before, how “works” found its way back into the picture here…

We cannot work to earn our salvation; it just isn’t possible. Yet now that we have received our salvation by grace through faith, God has work for us to do in His Kingdom, namely sharing its awesome blessings with others, just as Jesus did. I can testify, no doubt along with many of you, that entering relationship with our Lord is a wonderful thing, an experience that is life-changing as a matter of fact, but serving Him in His Kingdom work is even better!