Ephesians 6; Ezekiel 17; Isaiah 46
In Frank Peretti’s novel “This Present Darkness” we see two worlds. On the one hand we see the normal occurrences of everyday life. People go about their business and deal with issues. Then Peretti changes the view and we see things through spiritual eyes. All the issues that people are dealing with are pictured as a spiritual battle: angels and demons engaging in immortal combat seeking the souls of his characters. It is an interesting picture of the idea that we are engaged in a great battle that is far more than we realize.
Paul reminds us that our daily life is more than dealing with the people and the problems that come up. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” How often do we seek to put the blame for a problem on someone around us: a spouse, a child or a co-worker? We are late because we have a flat tire or the car wouldn’t start. If we truly believe that there is a spiritual side to this life – which we should as Christians – perhaps our troubles might be more than what they appear to be. When we see that person in front of us who is giving us problems, do we see the spirit that is controlling them? Are they controlled by the Spirit of God or by an evil spirit? We live in a spiritual world and we can’t always see that side of the world. That maybe why we are told to discern the spirits – to see what compels people.
How does this affect our everyday life? First of all, we need to understand what it is that guides the people we deal with. Are they being guided by God or are other forces compelling them. Second it should cause us to pray more deeply for ourselves and for others. If we truly live in a spiritual world then we need to seek the guidance, power and protection of God’s Spirit at all times. We should also seek to pray for God’s Spirit to work in the lives of others around us. Remember the battle – it’s not those around us; it’s against the powers of darkness. Shine the light and defeat those powers.
Ephesians 5:21-33; Ezekiel 16; Isaiah 45
Every sport has an off season. During that time teams look for just the right guy and sign him in the off season. Every so often a superstar becomes available and the team that signs him creates a major media stir. This is the guy who will finally lead the team to the championship. This is the guy who will change everything. He is the team’s savior. And during the next season, the superstar seems to have his worst year. Disappointment reigns.
In today’s passage from Ezekiel we see that Israel is seeking hope from anyone that comes by – other than God. In that long graphic passage God compares His relationship to Israel as a spurned protector and lover while Israel throws herself at other gods looking for just the right one to protect and save her, not knowing she already had the Lord of all, the Creator as her husband. Isaiah reminds us of what we should do: “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.” Today we live in a land that seems to have forgotten the blessings we have received from God and continues to seek after other ways and other gods. Even in the church we have replaced the gospel of Jesus Christ with messages of wealth and prosperity or healing or just about anything we want that comes in ways other than through God’s ways. The message of God for our church and our nation is that same that was given to Israel: “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.”
The only way the church turns away from God like that, though, is if we, God’s people turn away. If we were focused on God, we wouldn’t fall for these false gospels. Instead we seek for more than what God has for us; we seek to make ourselves comfortable when God calls us to service. While God doesn’t condemn wealth, He calls us to task on how we seek it and how we use it. What is the purpose of the blessings God has given us? He calls us to seek Him. Throughout His word He calls us to be faithful to His call and to minister to others. We seek a life of ease when God gives us tasks to achieve with Him. Today the call goes out not just to the nation and the church; the call goes out to me: “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.”
Ephesians 5:1-20; Ezekiel 14-15; Isaiah 44
In the movie “Trading Places” two rich brothers who trade commodities make a bet on whether nature or nurture is the key to life. They throw out one of their most valued employees and make him homeless. They take a homeless man and put him in charge of their trading after some training. Eventually the two subjects of this experiment meet and discover what’s going on. Together they turn the tables on the two brothers and leave them broke.
Can behavior change? Paul says that it must change if you come to Christ. In Ephesians 5 Paul notes the differences between a pure lifestyle and a lifestyle that honors God. At first, it might even seem like a legalistic list of how to behave. Paul throughout the list though makes the point that as followers of Jesus Christ we are changed by His Spirit to live according to His way. He points out our obligation to “Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” We are to live as those who are wise, as those who are guided by the Lord. This isn’t works based salvation that believes that how you live is going to win or lose favor from God. It is a salvation based life that believes that your favor with God is going to help you live right. The life of a Christian – one that should be pure in evil days – should set an example that will draw others giving us the opportunity to share Christ as we go.
It would be nice if I could tell you that my life is perfect; that I follow what Paul says here completely. I don’t. I succumb to sin. I do prove one part of the passage because I show that the days and the world in which we live are evil. The key to the whole Christian life, since the beginning of the church, is to let the Holy Spirit work in us. There’s an old saying: “Please be patient, God is not finished with my yet.” As followers of Jesus Christ we need to be patient with others who are not yet following the leading of the Spirit fully. Paul’s teaching isn’t designed for us to judge others; it’s designed to make us look at ourselves and draw closer to Him as shown in our lives. This whole living for Christ thing…it starts new every day, every hour, and every minute. Lord, let your Spirit guide me and lead me in the way I should live.
Ephesians 4:17-32; Ezekiel 12-13; Isaiah 43
As Christianity has become “mainstream” in America it’s fashionable to be a Christian to some people. It’s such an ingrained part of the middle class, and even the wealthier class that we may forget that the message of the gospel has always been a message of hope to the hopeless and not a measure of social status. When the gospel was first spread, it caught fire especially among the downtrodden, the slaves and the “ne’er-do-wells.” James even warned the early church about not treating those that showed up to worship who might be wealthy with a special deference. The message of the gospel was practical and life-changing back then and it’s still practical and life-changing today.
Amongst the “ne’er-do-wells” that were attracted to the gospel were people who undoubtedly were thieves. (And yes, some thieves today still are attracted to a message of hope.) They stole for a living. Whether it be to get enough food to survive the day or whether it was a calculated plan to amass the wealth of others for themselves, they stole. The truth is that people of all social classes still steal today because they seem to think that the accumulation of personal wealth is more important than helping support others. God has a word for them: “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.” The message to thieves is “stop stealing.” Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? The last part of that sentence applies to all of us though – “that [we] may have something to share with those in need.” In other words, we need to remember that we are to lift our brothers and sisters up who are in need. We should make meeting their needs a priority in our lives – because God commands it.
The key to the idea is meeting needs. It isn’t falling prey to the guy on the street corner who’s panhandling and giving him money because we feel sorry for him. The key for all of ministry is to find ways to help people develop to their full potential in God’s Kingdom. I help out in a ministry that cares for people in poverty. I am grateful for the opportunity to do so. At the same time, I am frustrated that all we do is provide food and we keep seeing the same people time after time. We’re helping to feed them, which is important, but the question keeps coming back to me – are we helping them maintain their state of need or are we helping them overcome their state of need. The gospel of Jesus Christ meets people at their point of need and then helps lift them out of their need. It doesn’t breed dependency on anyone except God. It should bring every follower of Christ to the point of being able to help others. Lord, I pray that we may always discern your will and help others at their point of need as you see it. Help us to be generous and charitable. Help us to be so wisely and in a spiritual way.
Ephesians 4:1-16; Ezekiel 10-11; Isaiah 42
Barney Clark is a name that many people don’t know – anymore. On December 2, 1982, though, he made history. He didn’t make it for something he did; he was the recipient of the first successful artificial human heart. The doctor and developer of the heart was Robert Jarvik. This was a major news story for many days. It worked for slightly over 100 days before Barney Clark died. For a short while, though, he had a new heart.
When God describes His new covenant with the people of Israel, He describes it something like what Barney Clark experienced: “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.” Spiritually, our hearts have become like stones. We stand in opposition to God. We have a spirit that makes sure that we take care of ourselves and forget about anyone else. In Ezekiel God speaks to us and sets out the plan: He will replace the heart of stone, and give us a heart of flesh. He will put a new spirit in us. Then, because of what God has done, we will be able to follow Him.
I know so many people who have told me that as soon as they got their lives cleaned up, they would turn to God. I have had people tell me that they just have to start living right before they can seek God. My heart breaks when I try to tell them that they have things backward. They need that new heart from God; they need that new spirit before they can start living God’s way. The goodness is not inside of us just waiting to come out. The fact that no child of Abraham was able to follow the Law is proof of that. The only way we can be the people God wants us to be is to get our hearts and spirits replaced by God. Has He put a new spirit in you? Do you have a new heart? All you need to do to get those is to ask Him. All who come to Him in the name of Jesus gain these gifts.
Ephesians 3; Ezekiel 8-9; Isaiah 41
When you look at a sporting event around the world you see a lot of fanatics. Oh, we make it sound better by calling them fans, but some of them really do fit the term “fanatic.” Their body paint causes them to look perfectly like the team’s mascot and everyone can see it even it freezing weather. Their giant hair weird wig is made just right. They have the foam finger proclaiming that the team is number one. We haven’t even begun to look inside the fanatic’s car or house. Those people love their teams!
I doubt that God ever dresses that way for us. He really loves us but He showed His love without body paint, strange hair and a foam finger. Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. During this time of year we work so hard to keep Christ in Christmas that sometimes it’s hard to unleash Jesus on the world in any way but the form of a baby. Babies are cute and just about everyone loves a baby. Crucified saviors are a scandal. They remind us that we have sin that needs forgiving. But if you ever need to know that God really loves you; if you need to be reminded that God is your fan – look to the cross. Paul worked hard to let God’s people know of His love. He prayed for that as well, putting it in God’s hands: “… I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ….” How can you describe the vast measure of God’s love for us? How can you fill an infinite box that is so wide, long, high and deep? Yet Paul reminds us that because of God’s love and power working in us, we ought always to try and understand.
One thing I need to remember, as I often reflect on my sinfulness, is that God doesn’t come to reward the good with salvation. God comes to people at the worst, messiest time in their lives to love them and give them the opportunity to have a relationship with Him. As a friend recently noted, we contribute nothing to our salvation than the sin which makes it necessary. Following God is a dirty, messy business because we are sinners – saved by grace, but sinners. If we really believe that the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin, we need to realize that before Christ we wer really bad. Yet, the love of Christ is so great that we can’t comprehend how great it is without His help. The love of Christ is so vast that it cleanses us from all of our sin. Praise God for that!