December 10, 2017

December 10, 2017

EPHESIANS 4-6

Focus Verse: and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.
Ephesians 5:21

 

Ephesians 5:21 doesn’t get a whole lot of attention in the grand scheme of things. Too many people get so laser focused on the charged up verse that comes immediately after this one that little attention is given to this powerful verse. I think if we paid attention to this verse though, and kept Ephesians 5:22 and the subsequent verses in Ephesians in context (sorry, former English teacher coming out…must…suppress…the urge), it would make things a whole lot easier to understand and diffuse a lot of confusion surrounding these parts of scripture.

 

For those of you who have no idea what Ephesians 5:22 is all about, and if I’m being honest, that would be me…the only reason I know is because I just got done with the reading for today…Ephesians 5:22 is where we find Paul’s charge that wives must submit to their husbands. So of us immediately go back to the middle ages when we hear this verse and it causes us to bristle up a bit. We have images of big burly men (think Gaston from Beauty and the Beast) screaming across the room at the poor submissive wife, “SUBMIT TO ME!!!” I don’t think this is what Paul had in mind at all though. I don’t think any of the author’s of any of the books of the Bible ever intended their words to be used as bludgeoning tools to beat others into OUR will…in fact, I know that this wasn’t their intention. I think one of the greatest ways we grieve the Holy Spirit is when we turn the Word of God into a weapon to prove OUR point instead of pointing people to Him.

 

This passage from Ephesians 5:22 is a great example of this. It has been used and abused by so many in the past, but if we look at the verse immediately preceding it, we see something very interesting. I’m not sure what translation you have, but in all of the translations I’ve read this passage out of, the translators break up verses 21 and 22 with a heading that reads something like “Marriage Like Christ and the Church” or “Wives and Husbands”. Here’s the deal though, Paul would have never used these headings in his letter to the church in Ephesus. So let’s pretend for just a second that all of these verses are connected together (because they are!) and read this next section in this light.

 

Ephesians 5:22-6:9 is all about Godly, Gospel-centered relationships. Are we really going to ignore the fact that immediately before Paul writes about ALL of these relationships, he tells us that we should submit to one another in the fear of Christ? He’s not just talking to wives, children, and slaves here. I’m curious if something got lost in the punctuation and paragraphing when all of this got converted to English, because (putting the English teacher hat back on again…watch out) this sounds an awful lot like a thesis statement to me.

 

Before Paul dives in to tell each person how to specifically walk out the truth of the Gospel in their relationships, he tells everyone that we are all to submit to one another out of our deep respect for Christ (our English definition and connotation of the word fear falls so short of what the Bible portrays when it talks about having a healthy fear of God or Christ). This is the common thread that hits all of us, no matter what our position is in the relationship, society, culture, anything else. We are called to submit to one another. Why? Because that is the relationship of the Trinity and we are called to be like God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit in every way.

 

The theme of Gospel-centered relationships is that it’s not about you. It is always about the other person. What is their best interest? How can you serve them? How can you submit to them? “Now hold on a minute.” You say. “This is a recipe for people to walk all over me.” You mean like they did with Jesus? Did you really expect to be treated differently? If people trampled, and continue to trample, the grace that Jesus extended and extends to them, don’t you think there’s an outside chance that they will do the same to you?

 

Let’s get real deep here – have you ever trampled the grace of Jesus Christ? I know that I have. And I sure am glad that He didn’t hold out on me because He knew I’d fail Him. Jesus submitted to the Father, even though He knew we didn’t deserve what God wanted to give us. But He knew He could get us there. H knew that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, He could make us beautiful once again, just like we were made to be. And now, through that same power, we can submit to one another.

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December 9, 2017

December 9, 2017

EPHESIANS 1-3

Focus Verse: Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
Ephesians 2:3

 

Ephesians 2 is a really good, balanced overview of the Gospel. I want to focus in a little bit on one aspect of this balanced view of the Gospel; the sin side of the Gospel. I know that I’ve talked about this before, but I want to spend some time exclusively on this issue and clarify a few things that I think are vital for us to understand to walk in the truth of full Gospel.

 

I’ve made reference to Pastor Timothy Keller’s definition of the Gospel before because I think it’s the best “non-biblical” definition I have ever heard. Keller says that, “The gospel says you are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe, but more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope.” Today we are going to look at the relevance of the first half of this.

 

Paul reminds the church in Ephesus here in the focus verse today that they were once lost in a world of sin. They too carried out all of the same desires of the flesh that they are trying to deliver the current unbelievers from. He carries this into verses 4 and 5 where he tells the believers in the church, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)”.

 

It is pivotal that we keep this in mind while we are ministering to others. There is a line that has to be drawn though. We are to keep the fact that we were once sinners just like everyone else in mind, but that in no way means that we are to keep a running record of our sins. There is a huge difference in the two and you will kill your walk with Christ if you can’t let go of your past. God no longer remembers your sins because Christ nailed them to the cross. Therefore we shouldn’t remember them either.

 

If we spend all of our days recounting all of our sins, or if, in an effort to appear more relatable to unbelievers, we go through the graphic details of our most lurid former trespasses, we aren’t helping anyone…ourselves included! It’s not that we shouldn’t be transparent with our church family…the body of Christ…it’s that there are some things that I’ve done in my past that need to stay there. I’m better off keeping those thoughts exactly where they are – in the past, captive and obedient to Christ.

 

That being said, we have to always keep in mind where we were before Christ met us. This is a vital element because it is a constant reminder to keep us humble before the Lord. There is no one we won’t serve with this part of the Gospel at the forefront of our lives. There is no one whom we are “above” Christ came for us while we were still in the midst of being scum of the earth. He loved us at our worst and gave Himself unconditionally – we, the worst of the worst, received the love of Him of ultimate worth. With that in mind, we can love others the way Christ loved us – seeing them for who they will one day be in Christ, not as they are currently in their sin.

 

When we remember how patient God has been with us, we can be patient with others. When we remember how much God has forgiven us, we can forgive others. When we remember the unending, unconditional love that God poured out for us, even though we weren’t worthy of such a sacrifice, even though we have continually trampled that costly gift – then we can offer that same love to a world who will trample us.

 

The Holy Spirit’s primary job is to remind us of the Gospel. Let Him remind you of these things and watch as your past prejudices, biases, and concepts fade away and you start seeing others through the same eyes through which Christ saw you.

December 8, 2017

December 8, 2017

GALATIANS 4-6

Focus Verse: If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
Galatians 5:25

 

This command seems a little backwards, doesn’t it? If we are living by the Spirit, wouldn’t you think we would be walking by the Spirit? At least that’s how I’ve always read it. But thinking about it today, I realized, just because we’re alive doesn’t mean that we are walking the way we’re supposed to. And God showed this to me in the strangest way today.

 

I am not real sure exactly how this happened, maybe stomping my foot a little too aggressively at worship rehearsal last night, but my right foot has been killing me today. It’s been hurting so bad that it’s changed the way that I walk. You catching what I’m throwing down here? I’m still fully alive, but my walk is off.

 

The same could be said of our relationship with Jesus. As soon as we believe Him (notice I didn’t say believe IN Him…there is a world of difference in believing God and believing IN God. Abram believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness…he didn’t simply believe IN God. He believed Him.) we come alive in Christ. We die to our old sinful nature and come alive in Christ.

 

But just because we’re alive doesn’t mean that we’re walking the way that we should be…but we should! That’s what Paul is saying here. This is where we balance the whole grace versus works issue. There is no work that can earn us salvation, but once we are alive, we should exhibit some sort of vital signs of being alive in Christ. Paul’s suggesting that one of those vital signs is walking in the Spirit.

 

It makes sense, doesn’t it? If you believe God and are credited as being righteous (even though you aren’t there yet), then you should also believe God enough to walk out the things that He tells you to do. You trust Him for your salvation, so why aren’t you trusting Him that He’s also right about His will being what is best for you? Why won’t you trust Him when He tells you that you should be standing up for injustice, taking care of the poor, the orphans, the widows, putting Him first in all things? Why aren’t you trusting that He has given you the Holy Spirit as your eternal down payment? That He will lead you in all things and use the same power He used to raise Christ from the dead to do His will perfectly in your life?

 

If you have put your trust in the Holy Spirit to make you alive in Christ through salvation, then you should trust Him to help you walk by His leading. If you’re living by the Spirit, then you should also walk by the Spirit. Are you?

December 7, 2017

December 7, 2017

GALATIANS 1-3

Focus Verse: Paul, an apostle (not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead),
Galatians 1:1

 

I want to encourage you today! You are called by God. “You don’t even know me!” Some of you are thinking right now, and you’re absolutely right. But I know God and I know His heart and I know that you’re reading this right now. All of that adds up to this: God is calling you right now. He has plans for you, good works with your name on them, and He is calling you to join Him in accomplishing those things. Things that only you can do.

 

Now let’s look at the flip side of this, the thing that Paul is pointing out here. You aren’t called by a person. I struggled with this a lot early on in my ministry. You aren’t even called by a church. You are called by God and only by God.

 

I missed this when I first went into full time ministry. I felt obligated to the people who gave me my first ministry “job” and to the church that hired me. This mistake almost killed me. I pushed myself way beyond what I should have, made sacrifices that hurt my family and me personally. I was in an extremely unhealthy place. I couldn’t say no to ministry opportunities and, since I had set up the people and church as the ones who called me, they were in an extremely dangerous position in my life as rivals to God. None of this was their fault, it was just my misplaced allegiance.

 

God has a way of exposing our idols though. In a completely unseen turn of events, the people who hired me left the church and I was left holding the pieces. I was thrust into a leadership position I wasn’t ready for and had to keep everything together even though my world had just been ripped out from underneath me. But it exposed where my true hope was, and that wasn’t in God.

 

But here is the absolutely amazing thing that God did through a really stinky situation: He showed me that I am called by Him. Just like Paul tells the churches in Galatia at the very opening of his letter to them. No man, no woman, no church, no ministry, no job placement service, called me to where I am currently – God did. This also means that no man, woman, church, ministry, or anything or anyone else can take that calling away from me.

 

This is incredibly encouraging and affirming! Is you faith in Jesus Christ right now? If you’re answer is yes, then you have been called by God to this exact place, moment, opportunity. God doesn’t make mistakes. This means that even if we do, He will redeem them through His will. Your misstep, your lack of obedience, your failure, didn’t take God by surprise. The only way those things can kill your calling is if you let them win and stop trying.

 

I think I’ve mentioned this before in this devotional, but I used to be so hypercritical of people who “heard from God” and then went off and started a ministry that failed. I didn’t know God very well back then and didn’t understand one of the greatest aspects of human nature: we learn from our failures more than we learn from our success. I know it sounds backwards, but I KNOW that God sometimes sends us on missions that are destined to fail in the eyes of the world. But these failures produce more heavenly fruit than a million “safe successes”.

 

All of this though, this hope, this assurance, this encouragement, can only come as you walk out HIS calling in your life. Man will fail you. Churches will fail you. Ministries will fail you. But God NEVER will. And HE is the one who has called you! There is no better news than that!

December 6, 2017

December 6, 2017

2 CORINTHIANS 10-13

Focus Verse: We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,
2 Corinthians 10:5

 

This is one of the most powerful passages in the Bible to apply to your everyday life. Part of the reason for this is because our thoughts are such powerful things. If you don’t believe that, just try to control your thoughts. Try to stop thinking about something that’s driving you crazy or something that you know you shouldn’t be thinking about. It’s next to impossible, right?

 

Not with this verse. Because if you make this your prayer, you’ve taken the work out of your hands and put it into the more than capable hands of Jesus Christ…and that’s a pretty good definition of what our entire Christian walk should be. Us turning over all of our trying and striving and letting Jesus do it for us, in us and through us.

 

I made the mistake early on when my Father-in-law first taught me this Bible verse of praying it once and then expecting everything to be sunshine and rainbows. During our next talk, I asked my Father-in-law why it wasn’t working for me. He just kind of laughed and said, “Jeremy, sometimes that prayer is the only pray I pray all day. You just have to keep after it.” That’s the funny thing about thoughts, they just keep coming back. So you have to keep surrendering them.

 

But if you pray this prayer, “God, I take this thought captive – make it obedient to Christ.” The work is off of your shoulders and on to God’s. And He will do it through His Holy Spirit in you. He has promised us that. And the best part is that when you stop the thought, you stop the action that those thoughts would birth.

 

So do you want to stop sinning? Then take those initial thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ. Do you want to be a nice person? Then take those initial thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ. I could go on, but I will save you the time. Whatever it is that you’re trying to control – if you make the thought obedient to Christ, the actions will follow suit.

 

Do you want your life to be obedient to Christ? Then start with your thoughts and everything else will follow.

December 5, 2017

December 5, 2017

2 CORINTHIANS 5-9

Focus Verse: But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also.
2 Corinthians 8:7

 

Giving is a spiritual discipline. I think that this can lost in this verse without a little context, so let me lay that out real quick. In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul is praising the church in Macedonia to the church in Corinth. And what does he praise the church in Macedonia for? For their generosity even in the midst of hard times.

 

There is a huge lesson to be learned in that alone. When hard times hit, our tithe tends to be the first thing that we start pulling back. “Well let’s stabilize the vital signs first and then we’ll get back to tithing when we can give God a ‘good’ offering.” Yet that’s the exact opposite of what we really need to do. When trials hit, even if those trials aren’t financially related, that is when we need to press in even harder; that’s when we need to draw even closer to God.

 

I’m not suggesting that giving God money is a way we con Him into drawing near to us or buy our way out of difficulties, but I am suggesting that it shows this world, that is largely driven by financial motives, who’s boss. Perhaps even more importantly, it reminds us who is actually in charge of our finances…and spoiler alert…it’s not us.

 

I think this verse holds the key to this reaction when we are going through trials. Now any ‘good Christian boy or girl’ knows that when we go through trials our faith and hope and love and patience and self-control, you get the idea…our spiritual disciplines…are actually being strengthened (at least that’s what the Hallmark greeting cards tell us…it’s never quite as easy to know that when you’re the one walking through the trial).

 

Here’s the thing though, if giving is a Spiritual discipline as well, which is what Paul is talking about here in today’s focus verse, then trials should be strengthening our giving as well, not hindering it. In fact, as we walk with Jesus, we should be growing in ALL of the characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit and all of the disciplines that help us become more like Him. So I would argue, and I think Paul would too by his suggestion here, that if we aren’t growing in generosity we are becoming lopsided Christians. Our fruit of the Spirit has a hole in it.

 

Now I’ll admit, I have my tithe taken directly out of my checking account at the first of every month. I don’t feel bad about that. I know there are some people who don’t like to do that because they don’t feel like they are being intentional about giving their first fruits to God. That’s ok too. I will also admit though, that having my tithe taken out automatically has caused me to not really think about what I’m giving and I can honestly say that I am not growing in generosity. I need to change that and am so thankful for the Word of God and the Holy Spirit who gently convicts so that I see that now.

 

So I want to challenge you: are you growing in giving? Or is your fruit getting a little lopsided? Ask the Holy Spirit how He would have you grow in giving today, this month and this year.

December 4, 2017

December 4, 2017

2 CORINTHIANS 1-4

Focus Verse: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4

 

Paul doesn’t waste any time getting right down to business in his second letter to the church in Corinth. As part of his greeting to the church, he reminds them of a vital step in church health.

 

We serve the most powerful God. We have a mighty Savior who, by His mercy and grace to us, takes the initiative to comfort us! Are you grasping how absolutely incredible this is? A Master who comforts His slaves? That’s absolutely unheard of! And that’s the relationship that we should have with God…but it’s not…because HE has called us to be His children, and as His children, we are comforted by our all-powerful Father. Amazing! Absolutely amazing!

 

But then in verse 4, the church gets slapped with a pretty sobering reminder. We aren’t comforted by God just to sit around and feel good about ourselves. This is a vital step in the overall health of the body of Christ. We talked about this a few days ago, but we are never to consider ourselves. We are never to build ourselves up. We are to turn all of that effort, energy, and consideration and use it to build others up.

 

God doesn’t comfort us just to comfort us; God comforts us so that we can comfort others. You could replace comfort with about a billion different words when it comes to God’s goodness to us and what we are to do with that, in turn. We are comforted so that we can be a comfort to others. We are freed from sin so that we can help free others from sin. We are given mercy so that we can give mercy to others. We are shown grace so that we can show grace to others.

 

In all things we are called to grow more and more like Jesus every step of every day. So it only makes sense that we would be called to do the things that He has done for us. The greatest of which will come on the last day, when, just like Jesus, we will be called to rise just as He rose!

 

But don’t wait till then! Start walking into His image today. You can start by comforting others the way that God has comforted you. As with all things, you can’t do it on your own. You will need the Holy Spirit to empower you and show you how. It might be nice to be comforted by Jeremy Alan Metzger, but that’s not what we’re called to do. We are called to comfort exactly like God comforted us. And that can only be done through the Holy Sprit.