Category: Ephesians (page 1 of 16)

Ultimate Forgiveness

Sin is the ultimate issue, and God deals with it ultimately and immediately. He takes care of your sin decisively and effectively. It’s not like getting rid of a virus by receiving a shot and taking some pills and hoping you get well in a few days. It’s not like getting rid of mice in the attic by setting up some traps and putting out some poison and hoping you eliminate most of the rodents by the end of the month. And it’s not like dealing with gangrene in your leg: We’re going to amputate, it’s really going to hurt, you’re going to have a severe limp the rest of your life, but, hey, the sin’s all gone!

No, God deals with your sin by forgiving it. And it’s gone.

“In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” ~Ephesians 1:7

When God through Christ forgives your sins, they are gone. They’re not a factor anymore. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions. In Isaiah 43, God says, “I’m the one. It’s me. I blot out your transgressions for my sake and remember your sins no more.”

“Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression? You will have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” ~Micah 7:18-19

Your sins are forgiven by God through Christ and you are completely released from the burdens of guilt, shame, and fear. You are also released from any requirement to make some kind of restitution. We are notorious in the Church for forcing people to pay for their sins. And it’s done a lot of damage. We’ve made up rules about who can remarry and who can’t, who can be ordained as an elder or preacher and who can’t, who can serve as deacons or on committees and who can’t. We’ve told people what they can do or can’t do based on past sins that we proclaim have all been forgiven. And we’ve punished people who wouldn’t or couldn’t pay those prices. No! Jesus Christ is the only one who pays the price! Jesus Christ makes restitution for all the sins of humanity at the cross! Jesus has paid it all! There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!

Your sins are forgiven. Completely. Ultimately. By God’s love and grace and by the blood of our Lord Jesus, you are saved. Completely. Ultimately.

Peace,

Allan

Lost

I’m publishing a series of posts here this week on Ruth chapter four: Lost, Redeemed, and Confident. I pray this short series will be a blessing to you.

In the opening verses of Ruth 4 we learn that Naomi has lost her land. We didn’t know this before, but now we do. Naomi has lost her land. It’s been mortgaged. The bank or somebody else owns her property. It appears that Naomi’s late husband sold the rights to the land before they moved to Moab. Naomi is a poor widow and has no way to repurchase the property herself but, under Israel’s law, she can transfer the obligation to her nearest relative and he can buy it back. He can redeem the property and place it back into the family’s possession.

The way this works is spelled out in Leviticus 25. The closest living relative can buy back any property that used to belong in the family but had been sold out of financial necessity. If it was the only way out of a bad economic situation, a person could sell the rights to his land, knowing that a near relative could always buy it back. That’s what is happening here. Naomi and her husband had gotten into some trouble during the famine and had made a terrible decision. They gave up their land.

They had probably been forced into it by the awful situation they were in. They probably felt like they didn’t have a choice. Whether they sold it on their own terms to get out of a jam or to help pay for their relocation to Moab, or whether it was taken from them against their will, the bottom line is that Naomi has lost her land. She gave it up.

Even though she is back in Bethlehem, she doesn’t really have a home. There’s no way for her family name to continue. In this context, it’s not just the property at stake, it’s Naomi’s name, it’s her honor, it’s her worth in the community. This is a terrible thing that’s happened. Her property has been mortgaged, her land has been lost, and she is powerless to buy it back.

I don’t know what you have lost. I don’t know in your life what has been taken away from you. I don’t know what terrible foolish choices you’ve made in the past or what maybe you’ve been forced into doing when you didn’t really have an option. But somewhere along the way, maybe you gave up your innocence. You gave up your righteousness. You gave up a relationship. You lost it. And you can’t get it back. Your good name. Your honor. Your worth in the community. Your place with your family or in God’s Church. You lost it. Maybe you feel like you’ve mortgaged your future. Maybe it was stolen from you. But you’ve lost any opportunity to be truly happy and whole and at peace. And maybe you feel powerless to get it back.

You need to be redeemed. That’s what Naomi and Ruth need. They need to be redeemed by a redeemer.

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you used to live… But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgression – it is by grace you have been saved!” ~Ephesians 2:1-5

Peace,

Allan

Your Location is Shifted

When we’re at the house and about to go somewhere together as a family, I’ll do the courteous thing and give my wife and daughters the little reminders. “Twenty minutes!” “Ten minutes!” It feels like courtesy to me, but they may not experience it that way. “Five minutes!” Then, when it’s time to go, I’ll announce loudly to everyone in the house, “I’m in the car!”

But I’m not in the car. I’m standing in the living room. I say “I’m in the car” when I’m not.

The girls will call me on it. “No, you’re not!” Occasionally, our youngest will shout, “Liar!” from her bedroom.

Is it a lie? What do I mean when I say, “I’m in the car” when I’m not?

I mean, “I am on my way to the car and nothing can possibly stop me.” It’s inevitable. It’s imminent. “I am going to the car and nothing will keep it from happening.” It is so absolutely certain, so undeniably guaranteed to happen, that I’m speaking like it already has. My being in the car is going to become a reality very soon, so I’m speaking and acting like it has already occurred. And, you’d better adapt yourself right now to that reality. Don’t wait.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” ~Colossians 3:1-4

Since you have been raised with Christ… what? Since you have been raised with Christ… everything has changed!

One of the main things that’s changed is your location. Just like with real estate, the key to your salvation is location, location, location. And your location has shifted. You’ve been moved. When you participated in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus — when God fully identified you with his Son — you weren’t just saved. You were transported to live on another plane. Christ Jesus has been raised from the dead to sit at the right hand of God in heavenly glory. And that’s where you are, too!

Your life is now hidden with Christ. It’s held or secured in Christ. It’s safe. You are in Christ and the fullness of Christ is in you. So your location is shifted. This same writer, Paul, said the same thing to the Christians in Ephesus.

“Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” ~Ephesians 4-6

The Bible doesn’t say God will raise us with Christ in the heavenly realms, it says he already has! It’s already happened! You’re already there!

Since you’ve been raised with him, and since he’s in the position of eternal authority at God’s right hand, you have total access to this glory, you have free admission into the presence of God. This is where you live now. Your location has shifted. Nothing can possibly prevent it from happening. And you should adapt to that reality right now.

Peace,

Allan

You Are Blessed By God

You are blessed by God. This is first and it’s foundational and it’s forever. You are blessed by God. This goes all the way back to the very first chapter of the Bible, the very beginning. The very day God created the first man and woman.

“God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them…” ~Genesis 1:27-28

God blessed them. The very first words God ever spoke to people at creation is blessing. Before God gives any command or any law, before he gives out jobs or guidelines for behavior, God gives his blessing. God’s blessing is not based on performance or on meeting some expectations. God’s blessings are based solely on the fact that you are created in his holy image, you bear his likeness, he made you and put himself into you. You belong to God and your are loved by God and God is very pleased with you because you are his child.

That is your identity. First and foremost and forever. That’s not just what you are, it’s who you are: blessed by God. And God speaks that blessing over and over and over to you, from that first day of creation glory to this very moment right now while you’re reading these words.

“This is what the Lord says — he who created you, he who formed you, ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine… Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.'” ~Isaiah 43

“I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands!” ~Isaiah 49

Jesus says there’s not one little bird in the sky that goes down without the Father being aware of it. What about you? You’re worth more to God than all the little birds in the world! God knows the exact number of hairs on your head!

Jesus says you know how to give good gifts to your children, and you’re not even that good yourself. How much more does your Father in heaven give to his children! How much more grace does he have for those who belong to him!

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” ~ 1 John 3:1

Over and over and over again, every page of Holy Scripture reminds you of the blessing.

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns?… [Nothing} in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!” ~Romans 8

You are blessed by God. And it’s not based on your performance. It’s not founded on what you do or how well you do it. God loves you because you are his child. God commits to you and publicly accepts you and approves of you because you are his child. You are blessed by God.

And that’s exactly where the devil attacks you.

Man, this is so important.

Ephesians 6 tells us to take our stand against the devil’s schemes. 1 Timothy 3 warns us not to fall into the devil’s trap. And we know what it is. The devil attacks the blessing. The devil wants to undermine your confidence in Christ, he wants you to doubt your identity as a beloved child of God, he wants you to lose your assurance — your certainty — as saved by Jesus Christ and sealed forever by God’s Holy Spirit.

I believe the devil wants to keep you from believing that Jesus really is the Son of God and the Savior of the World. Maybe Jesus was just a really wise and moral teacher. Maybe Jesus wasn’t really physically raised from the dead — those are just stories. Maybe there are other ways to get to heaven. I think the devil starts there. But his most subtle, most dangerous, and most effective attacks are on your blessing from God, your status as a beloved child who belongs to God.

If the devil can get your brain to believe that God loves you, but your heart to feel like God only loves you if you’re good enough — that’s his goal. If the devil can get your brain to believe that Christ’s death takes care of all your sins, but your heart to feel like that won’t cover the super big sins or the sins you can’t shake — that’s what he wants. If the devil can get your brain to accept that you are saved by God’s grace, but your heart to feel like you haven’t done enough…

The Bible calls the devil the tempter, and he certainly is that. But much more than that, the Bible calls the devil the accuser, the liar, the father of lies. Jesus says lying is the devil’s native tongue.

I’m convinced that most of the trouble in my world and in your world — whatever trouble you find in your heart and your soul, whatever’s not good inside you — is a result of knowing and believing in God’s love for you in your brain, and confessing his mercy and grace for you with your lips, but feeling something different in your heart.

All the research shows that when you ask Christians how they believe God thinks about them — “When God thinks about you, how does he feel? — more than two-thirds of Christians say “disappointed.” God is disappointed with me. Not “I belong to God.” Not “God loves me.” Not “God is well pleased with me.” We don’t feel what the Bible says about God and me, we feel what the devil says about God and me!

Brilliant, huh? And evil.

Peace,

Allan

Preaching: Gift of Grace

Most preachers are neurotic. And deeply flawed. And most of the Church knows it. Of course, we preachers know it, too. And we’re capable of making fun of ourselves. I was at a preacher’s convention in Dallas last year and they were giving out door prizes and the most popular one was this T-shirt: Help! I’m preaching and I can’t shut up!” I wanted it so badly.

This series of posts is not about preachers. It’s about preaching.

I want to post this week about preaching as one of the many things that’s right with Church. Not the preachers — the preachers are one of the things that’s wrong with church. I’ll do that series someday: “What’s Wrong with Church.” Budget sermons, cold casseroles, Friends Day, and preachers.

“I became a servant of this Gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 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 which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~Ephesians 3:7-11

Grace here is not about Paul’s salvation or anybody’s forgiveness. This is about Paul’s preaching. It’s a gift of God and this gift obligates Paul to use it.

You know when you give someone a gift you expect him or her to use it. If you give somebody a new shirt for Christmas, you can’t wait to see him again and you’re hoping he’s wearing that shirt. If you give someone a book, you hope she reads it and enjoys it and the next time you see each other you want to talk to her about the book. If somebody gives you something to put up in your house and it’s really awful — some ugly vase or some hideous painting — you can’t throw it away! You have to keep it! You keep it in the back of a closet somewhere and when those people come over you hold your nose and pull that thing out of the closet and hang it on the wall until they leave!

Preaching is a gift of God’s grace to Paul and Paul is obligated to exercise it. He knew he had this great gift from the Lord, but he also had a good handle on it. He calls himself less than the least of all God’s people. And he really believed it. He put no stock in his own abilities, he didn’t feel like he outranked anybody or was important in any way. It’s all a gift from God. Deep down, Paul felt like he should have been rejected by God, but he was chosen instead.

“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service… I was shown mercy… The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus… I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” ~1 Timothy 1:12-17

Preaching is a gift of God’s grace and it obligates the preacher. God puts that inside of a preacher and he can’t shake it. In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul says, “I can’t boast when I preach the Gospel because I’m compelled to preach. I’m forced by God. Woe to me if I don’t preach the Gospel!”

Somebody asked Mick Jagger one time what it takes to make good rock and roll. He said, “Three chords and a fire.” I think what makes good preaching is like that. Maybe three points and a fire. Something God himself puts inside the preacher.

I don’t always preach what our people want to hear. I preach what’s burning inside my bones, the stuff I can’t shake, what I feel like God is almost forcing me to say. And I’m always terrified. I’m always scared when I’m preaching. I don’t feel worthy. I don’t feel qualified. I know myself too well. I know myself and my sins. Who am I to stand up here in front of all these faithful men and women, these giants, and speak for God? That song right before the sermon? I’m praying the whole time. My heart’s racing, my hands get super cold, and I’m praying.

God help me. Thank you for this blessing, for this great privilege and honor, but you’ve got to help me. Holy Spirit, help me. Help me to remember everything you and I have worked on together this week. Help me say it exactly the way you want me to.

And then when Kevin starts that last verse?

It’s you and me, Jesus. Let’s get up there and see what happens. And I hope my sermon is better received than yours was.

Preaching is a gift of grace, to proclaim Christ, to explain and make plain the good news of the Gospel. And as a result of that preaching, the church participates in God’s plan. Sometimes I might say despite the preaching. And that’s the grace, right? Somehow the preaching causes what God is doing to be revealed through the church to all the powers and authorities throughout the whole universe. Preaching leads to unity and love and sacrifice and service and worship in the church and, by God’s grace, that reveals God’s power and wisdom and proves what he’s already accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

It’s grace. Only by the grace of God does preaching accomplish anything.

Peace,

Allan

Church People: Part 3

“A truth, a doctrine, or a religion needs no space for itself. They are disembodied entities. They are heard and learned and apprehended and that is all. But the incarnate Son of God needs not only ears and hearts but living people who will follow him. That is why he called his disciples into a literal, bodily following and thus made his fellowship with them a visible reality.” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Ours is an incarnational faith, not a disembodied abstraction. That’s how our God works in us and through us for the sake of the world. People don’t get agitated over what they can’t see. People don’t risk their lives for invisible concepts. Only a visible flesh-and-blood people church works, because salvation is not a one-time, single event. Salvation is not just having your name moved from the “unsaved” column to the Book of Life when you’re baptized. Salvation is restoration, reconciliation, transformation, and healing. Yes, it starts by being united to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. But it continues — in fits and starts, off and on, usually slowly, but surely — in the Church. By looking at each other across the table during the communion meal and discerning the body. By learning how to worship and serve together. By practicing love and mercy together. By forgiving others and receiving that forgiveness. By experiencing acceptance and belonging.

You can’t get that from an ideal concept or an abstract theology. You can only feel that and experience that together in a broken and messy church-people church.

So when we stand together and recite the two-thousand-year-old words of the Apostles’ Creed, we can say we believe in the holy, universal Church. We believe that in this place, in this assembly, God is at work. We don’t believe in the Church; the Church is not the object of our faith. But we do believe that in this congregation, whenever we come together, the Holy Spirit’s saving, sanctifying, transforming work is taking place.

“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up one part, but of many… In fact, God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be… Now you are the Body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” ~1 Corinthians 12

Our Father brought the Church into the world the same way he brought our Savior into the world: by a miracle. The miracle of the Church is every bit as miraculous as the birth of Jesus. The Holy Spirit descended on Mary in the Galilean village of Nazareth. Thirty-something years later, that same Holy Spirit of God descended upon 120 men and women praying in an upper room in Jerusalem. Mary was with them. The first Holy Spirit conception gave us Jesus as a person. The second Holy Spirit conception gave us the Church, Jesus as a people.

It was a miracle that didn’t look that grand or important. God was working in and through the powerless, the vulnerable, the weak. Not very different from any random congregation you might look up today. Just like your church. And mine. A group of people who are not wise by human standards, not influential, not of noble birth; just weak and lowly flesh-and-blood people.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen!” ~Ephesians 3:20-21

Peace,

Allan

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