Friday, September 30, 2016

What Paul Prayed For

 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit[f] of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
                                                                        Ephesians 1:17-23
Yesterday we introduced you to this prayer from the Apostle Paul, directed to the throne of God, and filled with descriptive language about the power of such a prayer and its work in the lives of those who believe. I wish to direct you to read and study the prayer, paying close attention to who we really are when we are in Christ Jesus.  Paul prayed:

1. For the opening of the eyes of their hearts, to know the hope to which God calls us.
2. For the riches of the glorious inheritance in his holy people.
3. For God's incomparably great power for the believer.

Just these three things mentioned in the middle of Paul's prayer give us an abundance of hope, inheritance and power.  (We'll unpack the things associated with that power, tomorrow.)   For now, I suggest you read this prayer several times, especially in the light of Paul's interest in the body of Christ receiving the things for which he prays.  Then read through the prayer once more, this time as you search your life to see that you are experiencing this hope, this inheritance, and this power.  I join with Paul in praying that you come to be a recipient of each.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Prayer from Paul

15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 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. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
                                                                                                             Ephesians 1:15-23

When Paul prays, he prays powerfully!  I like coming back again and again to read the prayers of Paul.  This prayer from the Apostle keeps reminding Christians who they really are in Jesus Christ.  In addition, between Paul and the Ephesian Christians, there exists such a loving and God-honoring relationship, it is no wonder these words are read over and over to continually encourage.

Paul says he doesn't stop giving thanks for these Christians.  I cannot speak for all but for me, I like being remembered, non-stop, in the prayers of God's family.  I know we are a praying people, but I must confess I am weak when it comes to specifically remembering all members of my spiritual family.  Another confession I will make is to let all Christians know how much I love and solicit your prayers for me. 

While you are in prayer today, please pray for me as I am praying for you.  The prayer that Paul prayed for the Ephesians is going to bring us to specific and powerful prayers as we approach the weekend.  If you are willing, start now praying for those in the body of Christ.  Prepare yourself for the next few days as our study begins a focus on the power that is unleashed when Christians pray.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Blessed are those who are persecuted....

The writings of Luke in Acts of the Apostles bring excitement to the Christian reader as story after story describes the successful beginning and spread of early Christianity.  The verses of Acts 2 take us from the work of the Holy Spirit in Peter's life as he preached the church's first sermon, to the role of the family of Christians loving and sharing their new lives in Jesus.

There are some other things which need to be considered, which fit into the story.  There were obviously many struggles these people faced. The rapid growth of the church naturally brought in people with different backgrounds.  One such example of a problem was between some Christians which were Jews from Palestine, and some Jews from the Greek communities, known as Hellenists. 

These Hellenists were protesting because they felt like there was some discrimination against them when it came to funds and help being distributed to the needy. The problem was taken to the apostles, who suggested they come up with seven men to be in charge of dispensing these relief funds. The Bible said these men were to be "men of good report, filled with the Spirit and of wisdom." 

One man they selected was Stephen.  Those who are familiar with Stephen and know his story, understand how well he fit the requirements of this position.  As the church grew even more, there were more problems arising as well.  In Acts 6:7 we learn, " Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people."  The next verse indicates there were some who opposed Stephen.  If we keep reading, we are made aware the growing problems are not making him a popular person.  Verse 9, "But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke."
The opposition Stephen faced, including a man named Saul, grew to the point where some were hired to Stephen spoke a lengthy message in his defense.  The council was not moved by his message and Stephen could see the handwriting on the wall.  Acts 7:55-56, "But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”  Stephen was then taken outside the city, where they began to stone him.  The Bible says the coats of these men were laid at the feet of a young man named Saul.  Stephen's final words were, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

That's persecution like we will probably never see.  That is also an example of dedication which is rare.  Do we think Stephen died in vain?  Persecution continued and even grew stronger after his death, but the stories of that persecution allow us to see how God used it for good.  The scattering Christians were instrumental in the expansion of Christianity and the spread of the gospel.

Do you think you will ever be persecuted for your faith?  That could happen.  Remember it was Jesus who said, "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."  Matthew 5:10.  This weekend, give some thought to what you would do if persecution became a reality in your Christian experience. 


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Forgiven and Forgiving

When Paul the apostle wrote his second letter to the Christians in Corinth, it was as like God himself had ordained the circumstances and events leading to the letter.  He really had, and Paul was quick to tell the Corinthians about it. As his first letter had indicated, there were serious problems going on in Corinth and even in the church there. Paul's first letter addressed sensitive subjects ranging from sexual conduct to the use of spiritual gifts. His often read description of love in 1 Corinthians 13, was given to help us understand that even in diversity and troubling situations in the church, the real answer is love, and that includes all its behavioral characteristics. 

Paul's second letter takes on the form of encouraging words and reminding the Christians of their responsibilities since they now belong to Christ. No doubt the sticky problems handled in the first letter were still on their minds, possibly even to the point some of them were still hurting. So Paul immediately addresses the need of forgiveness. He isn't talking here about God's forgiveness, he is talking about Christians forgiving Christians. 

In the fellowship of the Lord's church, the greatest thing we can bring to the body of believers is a spirit of forgiveness. We become offended and it hurts. We build walls that actually separate us from each other. We fail to see that God has accepted us just the way we are, and that he changes and matures us in the growing process. Numerous people going through that change and growth will no doubt be affected with disagreement on some issues. Resolution of disagreements can only come when we meet head to head, face to face, and practice the love that Jesus taught and which Paul is now teaching.  2 Corinthians 2:8 actually tells us we need to go through the process of "reaffirming our love" toward an offending brother. 

Paul even went so far as to say he was personally putting these Christians to the test to see if they were being obedient to God's way of loving and forgiving each other.  Do we go through such testing?  Yes, we do. And so often our human nature leads us to continue to harbor grudges and maintain an unforgiving spirit, and that interferes with the ministry of the church and the individual growth of the Christian. 

A little later in verse 11 Paul gives the reason for us to be so involved in loving and forgiving others when he writes, "in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes."  The apostle is warning us here, and we need to get this......Failure to love and forgive others who have offended or wronged us, makes us an instrument of Satan's workings. 

We have better things to keep in our hearts and minds than the bitterness which divides us. Let us spend our time and energy and efforts in showing the world we are the children of God, through our love for one another. 


Monday, September 26, 2016

It's a Mystery

It's interesting to read and compare the four gospel writers at the beginning of the New Testament, as they give their account of Jesus entering the world. Matthew takes us through the genealogy of the earthy ancestors which led up to the physical birth of Jesus. Mark begins with some words of prophecy from Isaiah about John the Baptist, seeming to skip a lot of the introduction of Jesus into the word, but giving us a glimpse of the happenings of Jesus' life, all very early in the gospel narrative. Then comes Luke with the beautiful story which we read and study each Christmas season, telling all the details of the virgin birth as its meaningfulness intertwines into history.  Finally, gospel of John really get us into deep thinking when he seems to focus on who Jesus is and the mission of the Lord while he lived in an earthly body.  John's account is often neglected because it is a more difficult to understand than reading a genealogy or listening to a story.

I picture a mood of boldness and confidence from John as he begins his gospel writing, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. "

To give us a little hint in understanding John, it's good to know and appreciate that John's reference to the "Word" is speaking about Jesus. Following that, we may be faced with more difficulty in understanding because we think the message is about the beginning of Jesus, but John wants us to know the Word was with God in the beginning (that's back in the Genesis days.)  Not only that but Jesus, the Word, was with God, and the Word was God. Jesus played a vital role in the creation of all things, and it is in him we find real life, the light of all mankind.  Even in a dark and dismal world, the Word is the light which shines in darkness and darkness will never overcome it. 

So to put it plainly, Jesus was present with God and was himself God, since the very beginning.  Generations before the baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem he was the active power in creation. It is difficult for even some Bible scholars to understand. Can the Creator become the Created? That is John's way of introducing us to the mystery which God does not expect us to understand with our brain, but to believe and accept with our hearts. The real power in all of this for you and me personally is a few verses into John 1.  "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace" and truth.

This is how personal he becomes to us.  God sent his Son, giving us life, the light of all mankind, just for me to overcome the world's darkness. God gave his Son to die a death that I deserved, but instead he offers me forgiveness, grace, love, and eternal life. Sin leaves us all unlovable, but God still loves us and grants us the right to be called his children. 

The mystery of the ages, and he calls on us to believe. 


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Learning to Forgive

Focus this weekend on forgiveness.  Is there someone you need to forgive?  From your concordance, seek some verses which may lead you to really get serious about being a forgiving person.  Learn of the freedom that is released in and through you when you forgive others as God has forgiven you.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Does God Seem Far Away?

Acts 17:24-28
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

In the journeys of Paul, he found himself in Athens, a city with a population of multitudes which were following after false Gods.  Paul was interested in teaching others about Jesus, but there were some  Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debating him, some thinking he was promoting foreign gods. Others were interested in learning about the Lord. Paul's teaching about Jesus was new to them and they wanted to hear more.

Paul stood and preached in the meeting of the Aeropagus, telling the people of Athens he had detected they were very religious. He then brought up an inscription he had seen on an altar in their city, "To and unknown God."  Paul used that inscription to accuse them of being ignorant of the god they worshiped. He went on to proclaim his message in the verses printed above. Let's look at some of the things he had to say. 

1. God, the maker of the world and everything in it, doesn't live in structures built by human hands.
2. He is not served by human hands as if he were in need of anything.
3. He gives everyone life and breath.
4. He made us to inhabit the earth.
5. He marks out appointed times in history, and the boundaries of our lands. 

All of this was done so we would seek him and reach out for him and find him. 

How often do we hear people say, "God seems so far away?" It is a common saying by those who yield to the struggles of life. Yet Paul wanted his audience, and us, to know.....God is not far from any of us! Paul stresses that life is from God and without him near to us, we could not exist. If we find ourselves blind to his presence or deaf to his voice, it's not God distancing himself from us, it's us separating ourselves from Him.  The God Paul preached about is the God who "gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but inherit everlasting life."  Seek him. Reach out for him. Find him. 


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Churches...Old and New

Following the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, preached the first gospel sermon on the Day of Pentecost. People responded to Peter's message and became followers and disciples of Jesus. The majority of the remaining New Testament writings describe the spread of Christianity as messengers like Paul traveled throughout the known world spreading the good news. Paul's letters to churches he worked to establish and nurture, as well as messages to individuals, contain the descriptions and information about the Christian life. The communities of believers were known as the church. Other New Testament writers like Peter, James and John added more to the encouragement for Christians to maintain and share their faith. 

This week I picked up a booklet, written in 1938, in which the leaders of a church were giving their members some areas of importance pertaining to church life, and especially as it led to church growth. I want to share the list with you, especially for us to see if we have the same purpose and intent enriching the lives of church members today, and promoting spiritual growth within the body of Christ. Here is the list, and a brief explanation. 

1.  Personal discipleship to Christ. The most important ingredient to any church is the loyal devotion to Jesus Christ from its members. They are people who have renounced self and chosen to place themselves under the disciplines of Jesus Christ. 

2.  Renewed strength  through prayer, closeness to the Scripture, and association with the church family. The church, the body of Christ, is composed of sinners, forgiven and aware of the strength that comes from the risen Lord who resides inside them. 

3.  Obedience to the Great Commission.  As the love of God has been made real in the life of the Christian, so the love that Christians have for others, leads them to be interested and active in spreading the gospel of salvation to all mankind. 

4.  An anticipation of the coming Lord. After the resurrection of Jesus, as he ascended in the clouds, he promised his return. Christians are encouraged to constantly be ready for Jesus to come again, and even anxious for the eternal life to which he leads us.

Perhaps these as well as other suggestions would be made for the church you attend. I have given you these to show you what seemed to be of greatest importance for a church back in 1938. Those people were struggling in that day. Living lives between two world wars and trying to survive during the great depression caused hardships to everyone. Yet, God's people were encouraged to be strong, to grow individually and collectively, and to be instrumental in spreading the gospel. 

We have struggles, too. Sometimes they are used as excuses to keep us away from the Lord and absent from church. I confess to you, the more I think about the above list from 1938, it contains the same things we need in our lives and churches today. 


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Back to School - Back to Church

It's September and school has been going for a few weeks.  I hesitated writing about a "back to school" campaign, probably because I remembered how much of a downer it was for me to have to start back to school each year.  The end of summer speaks volumes of negatives when school starts for another year.

Several years ago I wrote about some of our country's churches entertaining a campaign at this time of year called The Back to Church campaign.  There were numerous locations across America where local churches joined hands and hearts in a plea for those returning for another school year, to also remember it's a great time to get back in the church habit. Perhaps we should rekindle the need for those who have neglected church going and Bible learning, by reaching out to our neighbors and communities to make a renewed resolve to be more involved in attendance and support of the local churches.

In that article I quoted from, back in 2013, I described two of those events:

A group in McKinney, Texas is hosting a multi-church, multi-denominational outreach event for Back to Church Sunday in a local park, welcoming everyone in the city looking for a church home. The informal picnic is designed to allow attendees to mingle with others, enjoy special speakers and live music and connect with churches that suit their needs. Event co-chair Rolanda Greer told the local area that she wants the people of McKinney to know that they "care not only about their physical well-being and their mental well-being, but we also care about their spiritual well-being."

"In Champaign County in Illinois, nearly 20 churches are joining forces to promote Back to Church Sunday in the city of Urbana. Mike Stewart, pastor of Urbana First Christian Church, and Jim Lillibridge, pastor of Urbana United Methodist, agreed that the event is not merely an attendance drive, but is intended to show the community that different congregations can work together to promote the common goal of the Christian church: spreading the gospel of Jesus."

Maybe those campaigns are still organized and operating every September, but I haven't heard about them this year.  I would be anxious to hear some positive results from those that are involved in such programs. I commend their work and solicit your prayers for their continued success.

As always, I do wish to make a point.  Most churches do not have a plan or intentions in place to minister to those people who are suddenly missing from our fellowship.  We assume it's the preacher's job to keep up with all that, or perhaps elders should be the only ones involved since they are shepherds of the flock.  I am saying every Christian can be observant of those whose church attendance has been sporadic.  A kind word or a note in the mail, welcoming them to the assembly of the local church, might be all it takes to bring them back to our worship and other activities. Regardless of who they are, or their church background, we all need God's grace and love.  We are all still in need of the redemptive work of Jesus through his cross.  Individually and collectively we must continue to let the world know the gospel story.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Pioneer Bible Translators

A week ago I had the chance to hear a message by Greg Pruitt, President of Pioneer Bible Translators. Through some publications I receive, I had heard of Greg and his work with the Bible translators, however, I must admit the powerful things they are doing did not seem within the reach of the world we live in.  Last week's visit and message proved me wrong. I listened closer, learned more, and will now let you know the reality of their mission to provide God's word to more people in more places, than ever before.

As if translating the Bible into other languages is not enough, this group also is attempting to cover our world literacy evangelists, church planters, and numerous support personnel. The part that impressed me the most is the vision of this organization, reaching beyond the life-span of its current workers, to establish goals in the not too distant future where Bible translations will be available to every human on the face of this earth. 

You probably have questions like, "Why translate into a language where most of the people do not know how to read?"  Or another question, "Why translate into another language, and teach them to read, if they do not understand what they are reading?"  That's the beauty and the power of Pioneer Bible Translators.  This team has people involved in teaching and training as well as translating.

Their goals are reachable.  Their passion is unstoppable. Their hearts are devoted to the task, 100%.  From their website:

Our Mission - Pioneer Bible Translators exists to disciple the Bibleless, mobilizing God’s people to provide enduring access to God’s Word.
Our Vision - Transformed lives through God’s Word in every language.
Our Primary Strategy - Prayer is our strategy.
I'm asking each of our readers to seriously consider your financial and prayerful support of this organization and its workers.  You can learn more about them by visiting the website of Pioneer Bible Translators.  We all have some work to do!