The Mystery that Makes Us One

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Ephesians Devotions – part 9

Ephesians 3:1-12

O come, desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease
And be Thyself our King of peace

These are the words of a verse of the Christmas Carol, O Come, O Come Emmanuel. This could be the cry of Paul’s heart as he writes the words of Ephesians chapter 3.

Paul lays out the mystery from before creation that was not known by people of earlier generations than his. It wasn’t even known by the heavenly beings. It was God’s secret intention.

The first part of the mystery was that by Jesus’ sinless life and death the door would open for human beings to be God’s children forgiven and redeemed.

The bigger revelation of the mystery was given to the apostles and prophets after Pentecost.

“This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” Eph. 3:6

The whole point of God’s mystery was that He had provided a way for all mankind, no matter what they had previously believed, to now be one together in faith. As John 1:12 says, “To those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

Now, anyone, anywhere, any tribe, any language, any background has a way to be included as God’s child, His possession, His!  All they need to do is believe in Jesus Christ!

God’s greatest desire that was worth all this planning and provision was to bring all people together as His family. This is the greatest ‘peace on earth’.

We have been able to see what happens to people when they find Jesus and believe in Him. He changes them and they grow more and more to be like Jesus. They meet together with other believers and form congregations to encourage and help each other grow in faith and to reach out to those not yet saved. This is all good and it shows the fruit of God’s great mystery.

I’ve been thinking and praying and living with this truth for the last few weeks. It has been stretching me. It has created a greater longing in me to see the church of Jesus Christ swell in numbers as people turn from whatever they were believing to believing in Jesus! I have a greater longing to see people get to know their God and Savior in a deeper and more personal way than ever before. The Church, God’s Body, His Temple, His Family in reality.

My question is: Is there any way I can help them draw closer to God? And how can I see more people find Jesus and grow in their knowledge and love of God?

On the other hand, this is why my heart is broken as I read about the fulfillment of this mystery.

I have heard of believers tearing apart their church! Telling lies, spreading rumors, dividing youth and adults, finding fault with the preaching or worship style. How my heart is grieved! I cannot put it in words. And I’m just one small child of God grieving! How God’s heart must grieve!

We thwart God’s plan when we create any divisions in His family. When we make up new rules or create more ways to judge whether someone is truly a child of God or not. More than ever before I want to see unity, fellowship, and love among believers everywhere.

We must heed Paul’s warning about hurting God’s dwelling place among us, the Body of Christ.

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives among you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.  (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)

God provided for the greatest divide to be bridged, the divide between Jews and all others. How dare we make divisions within His church, His body!

If you are a believer in Jesus, please understand this truth, God sent Jesus to die for our sins and to provide a way to bring us ALL together. We must do our part to bring unity and peace to everyone we know.

Forgive the pettiness and errors of others, have patience with those still growing in their understanding, and root out any critical thought that tries to divide you from others. Find the way of peace and joy!

May we see more peace and grace for all believers everywhere in this new year!


The Bigger Mystery Revealed

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Ephesians Devotions – part 8

Ephesians 3:1-12

Paul has been building truth upon truth through chapters 1 and 2. He wanted his readers to know that each piece builds on the last, He wanted us to have a firm foundation for our lives and our hope.

In Ephesians 1:8-9, Paul introduced the idea of “The Mystery.” He talked about God making known the mystery of His will in Christ Jesus. In the rest of chapter 1, Paul talks about Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven. That’s part of the mystery, but not the whole of it. In chapter 2, he seems to get sidetracked talking to the Gentiles about being lost and everyone, Jew or Gentile, being sinners. It wasn’t a sidetrack!  it is very important to understanding the mystery. He concludes that chapter by talking about the unity Christ brought to Jews and Gentiles.

From before creation God knew there would be sin that would divide His creation from Him. He made a master plan that He didn’t reveal even to the angels. We know that plan was for Jesus, who was God in human flesh, to live a sinless life on earth. Then because He was sinless, those who wanted dominion over creation would kill Him. What those forces didn’t know was that because he was sinless, his death could be the means to redeem people back to God.

From creation, God wanted to have people who would love and honor Him. Soon after creation, people were tempted to try to know as much as God and rule themselves. Sin took hold of mankind’s heart. Out of all of humanity, God chose the Jewish nation. He gave them the Law so they would know what they needed to do to please Him. That included animal sacrifices to cover their sin. However, being human, they could not keep the Law.

During this time, all the other nations on earth tried to find God. They made gods for themselves and worshipped idols. They tried many ways to please ‘god,’ but nothing worked. The Jews called them, uncircumcised by which they meant unacceptable to God.

There was no greater division between men than the division between Jews and Gentiles. The Jews had been given God’s Law that they were supposed to follow to please God. The Gentiles, on the other hand, made gods to worship or worshipped the creation, but they had no way to know God.

Now this was the mystery that could only be revealed fully after Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The mystery was that God had a way to bring the Jews and Gentiles together as God’s holy people, His family, and His true temple (place of worship). His purpose and plan made a way for all people everywhere to be His people, and to be able to love and honor Him.

“God’s 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

This is the summary of the teaching in Ephesians 3. The next post will show what this should mean to us.


The Walls are Destroyed

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Ephesians Devotions – part 7

An overview of Ephesians Chapter 2

In my continuing effort to absorb Paul’s teaching for the Ephesians, I see this second chapter as about walls.

Paul begins the second chapter of his letter to the Ephesian church by speaking to the Gentile believers. He describes the life of sin. He says they were following the ways of the world, listening to the spirit that works in the those who are disobedient to God, satisfying the cravings of their flesh and carrying out the desires of their body and mind. He sums this up by saying everyone is by nature deserving of God’s wrath. There is only one sentence for a life lived in sin. It is death. (Eph. 2: 1-3)

That sounds completely hopeless! And it is, if we are depending on our own ability to please God. Paul begins the next sentence with, “But. . .” There is an answer to this fatal attraction to and life of sin. The answer is God’s great love and the mercy that He shows us. God makes us alive with Christ. (Eph. 2;5-7)

I will come back to the next few verses, but first it would be helpful to look at the other members of the church. The others were Jewish converts to Christianity. The Jews had received covenant promises from God. They looked down on everyone who was not circumcised, which was the sign of their covenant with God. There was a great wall between Jews and everyone they considered ‘the uncircumcised.’ Circumcision was done by human hands to the body. It was a reminder of the covenant, but did nothing in itself to save the Jews. Nevertheless, Gentiles were alienated from Israel, they were strangers to the promises, without hope and without God. There was a very secure, strong wall of division between Jews and Gentiles. (Ephesians 2: 11-12)

Jesus destroyed the wall

The Berlin Wall before and after its destruction

Like the Berlin Wall was totally destroyed, Jesus totally destroyed the wall between the Jews and Gentiles. He destroyed the wall by his death on the cross. His blood made the way for the Gentiles to come near to God. And He overcame the Law with all its rules and regulations by the very same blood so the Jews could come near to God. (Even the best of the Jews could never fulfil all the laws.)

Instead of two groups of people trying to find a way to please God, Christ joined the two groups into one. No more were the Jews required to fulfil all the law and no more were the Gentiles excluded from worship of God. Now all people everywhere, have one way to be reconciled to God. Jesus came to preach peace to Jews and Gentiles alike. (Ephesians 2: 13-17)

Peace

Paul uses different ways to express the resulting peace since the hostility has been destroyed. He says we are one body, one new humanity. Now in this new body, we all have access to God, the Father, through the Holy Spirit. We are fellow citizens. There are no more, citizens and foreigners or strangers. We are all part of God’s household, his huge extended family! We are like a building based on the teachings of the apostles and prophets. Jesus himself is like the cornerstone that holds the whole structure together. We are growing up to be a holy temple to the Lord, a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Paul is overwhelmed with the enormity of this concept of peace and unity. (Ephesians 2:17-22)

I want to finish this part of the study by returning to verses 8 – 10. In the last devotional we looked at these verses from the personal point of view. This time, it is good to think about these verses in relation to the whole body of Christ.

It is by God’s grace given to all of us that we have been saved. This grace is only accessible to us through faith. It has nothing to do with anything we did or can do. It is a gift! Gifts are not earned; they are freely given. Our salvation is freely given to us when we believe. We can’t boast about how righteous and pleasing we are to God. There is nothing we do or don’t do that could ever earn God’s pleasure.

We are made by God. He made us to do good works. They are not work we do to earn His love, but rather because we have received His love. He prepared these works for us to do. We do what He shows us to do.

Because He loves us and rescued us from our own striving to please Him, we want to do whatever He has made us to do. That is a really refreshing thought. We don’t have to do rituals or make sacrifices or try to figure out what pleases God. We just have to believe Him, love Him, and do what blesses and makes life better for our family, our friends, and anyone God brings across our path. We can do that and that pleases God. Let’s rejoice in this peace and show God’s love and grace to everyone around us!

There are no second-class believers. How we came to believe in Jesus doesn’t make any of us better or worse than others. We all have equal access to the Father through the Spirit. If we see other brothers or sisters worshipping differently from us, that doesn’t make them better or worse believers. If others use a different translation of the Bible, that doesn’t make them more or less spiritual.

Jesus’ whole purpose was to bring all believers into one body and that body to be reconciled to God and have constant communion with Him and each other. He wanted nothing to keep us apart and distant from God, especially our faulty human ways of trying to please Him. He destroyed the walls. He didn’t just punch a hole in them, He totally destroyed them. We must be tireless in keeping the walls from being rebuilt. We must continue to hold hands and join our hearts with believers everywhere in praising and honoring our Lord and Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.


Finding Hope

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We are living in a time of lawlessness like I’ve never seen in my lifetime. Fear is epidemic. Depression is threatening to overwhelm everyone. Suicides are at record numbers. Where is there any hope?

The world is only expressing what’s in their hearts, for they are “without hope and without God in this world.” (Eph. 2: 11-12)

Fear, like a chilling fog, hides hope from our hearts. When we allow the advise of worldly experts to cloud our vision of God’s promises, hope fails. The Psalmist cried, “Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life– of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psa. 27:1) When we remember His Word and stand on it, the fog begins to clear and our hope returns.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 NIVUK

Our Hope is in God

Hope is like a sedative; it calms our fears. But it is also like adrenaline. Hope energizes us and gives us the encouragement and the strength we need for daily living. We need to be full of the hope that only God can give us. As we feed on His word, He will satisfy us with hope.

“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Hope is the NIV translation for the word “wait” in the KJV. The Hebrew word carries the intention of waiting with eager anticipation. It is a good translation with a good message. When we eagerly anticipate the Lord and all He can do in any situation, our strength is renewed. We will soar and run and walk.

Energized by Hope

Our hope is in God. Let’s let Him energize us with His hope. And let’s be women who never speak a discouraging word, but fill the ears and hearts of those around us with hope! Hope is contagious, a good infection. If you have it, you can give it; if you don’t, catch hope today! Catch it from your time with God. Catch it from a positive Christian who has seen their hope fulfilled. Catch it from meditating on God’s Word. Then infect everyone you can!

Be encouraged by Paul’s prayer for the Christians at Ephesus.
“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 many know him better. 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 this holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” Eph. 1: 17-19

Let’s pray this for each other. If we know God better, we will be better prepared to have His hope fill us to overflowing. He has called us to hope. Let’s let Him fill us with that hope. After all, it is His power that makes our lives here possible.

I love the hymn, My hope is Built on Nothing Less. It was written by a Baptist minister, Edward Mote, in the mid 1800’s. Even with its old English words, it stirs our hearts to remember why we hope. Let these words increase your hope as they build your faith.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood
And righteousness
I dare not trust
The sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand (x2)

When darkness veils
His lovely face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood
When all around
My soul gives way
He then is all my hope and stay.

When He shall come
With trumpet sound
O may I then in Him be found
Dressed in His righteousness alone
Faultless to stand
Before the throne.

Face to Face

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In the last couple months I faced fear. It was not just a phobia about an imagined, possible danger. It was a specific and potentially very serious situation.

So, as I had faced fears before I went back to Isaiah 41: 10 and 13.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
“For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.’”

As before, I poured out my heart with its fear to God. I imagined Him walking along side of me and reaching out with his right hand to support me. But then it says God would take hold of my right hand. Oops. Did God and I have to switch places or did He just reach across me and take my right hand? The image was getting all muddled and I was distracted and couldn’t seem to get the comfort I remembered from other times of fear.

Suddenly, the image changed. Instead of God and I walking side by side while I poured out my heart to Him, we were facing each other. As I poured out my fear, He reached out with his right hand and supported my left elbow. Giving me just the support I needed to stand. Then He looked into my eyes and said, “I am the Lord your God.” I could no longer see what I was afraid of. His face came between me and my fear. His eyes locked on mine and He assured me He is my God and the Lord of my life. He was holding my right hand encouraging me and helping me keep my eyes on Him.

I’m so thankful that God’s comfort that is so different from the world’s. Where the world tells us to toughen up and stand, God says He will support us so we can stand. When the world tells us that whatever we are afraid of is nothing. God acknowledges our fear and says He is with us and won’t let go.

Instead of my focus being on these dark days and so many concerns, I’m more and more looking in my Father’s eyes and hearing Him tell me not to fear and that He will help me or the ones I’m praying for.
This image has changed much of my time in God’s presence these days. It is not fear that drives me to His presence. It is desire to see His face between me and my concerns, my intercessions for others, and my deep desire to see revival in our land.