Category: Ephesians (Page 1 of 17)

Marital Sex Promotes Christ-likeness

I took a break from the posts on sex inside our marriages to write about our “4 Midland” plans. Now, just a couple more posts here related to our GCR sermon from November 5. If you’ve missed something in this thread, scroll down and follow the alliteration. 

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” ~Ephesians 5:21

Frequent and regular sex shapes both the husband and the wife more into the image of Jesus. You might say it’s a spiritual discipline. God shows us in our marriages that we do not belong to ourselves, but we pour ourselves out in service to others. The Christian life is concerned with genuine living sacrifice, not selfish transactions. Jesus says if you want to gain your life, you have to really lay it down. And you do that in a marriage. Like Christ and his Church, the one-flesh union is not forged through demands for one to meet the other’s needs, but through a sense of common purpose, common mission, together.

Scripture tells us to delight in sexual union with our spouses, not because sex is an appetite that must be filled, but because it reminds us to love and serve the other. It makes us the kind of people who stand by our promises and stand by each other. It teaches us that love is not a way to get what I need, but a way to pour myself our for somebody else.

We don’t love each other because we find each other sexually attractive; it’s the other way around. We grow in our sexual attraction because we share a growing love. When Scripture demands that the sexual rights of both spouses be maintained, it’s not talking about a legal thing, like a contract. It’s talking about the love and attention two people should give each other who’ve been brought together in Christ.

This is the way Christ loves the Church. So we mutually submit to one another out of reverence to him. Imitating him. Honoring him. Each partner in the marriage has to be most concerned not with getting sexual pleasure, but with giving it.

In the Woody Allen movie, “Annie Hall,” the title character’s therapist asks her how often she and her husband Alvie are having sex. She says, “Constantly! All the time! Like three times a week!” Later in the movie, the same therapist asks Alvie the same question. He says, “Almost never! Like three times a week!”

Okay. It takes two to tango. You have to figure that stuff out. And it takes all the mutual loving and submitting and sacrificing and serving the Bible describes to make it happen. It’s about constant kindness and consistent learning and communicating. It’s about daily attention and respect. It’s not about you. It’s paying attention to something bigger than both of you.

Peace,

Allan

Leading Lavishly

“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

Our God does not measure his love out to us. He doesn’t weigh it on scales or scoop it out with a spoon. He doesn’t give just enough of his love to get us by or just as much of his love as we might deserve. He floods us with his love. We have more of his love than we could ever ask for or imagine. That’s the one thing you can ask God to do that’s impossible: God, will you love me more? Nope. Can’t. Impossible. He lavishes us with his love. We are his children. That is what we are.

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” ~Ephesians 1:7-8

Our Father lavishes us with his grace. We sing about it. God’s amazing grace. Matchless grace. God’s grace that reaches even me! God’s forgiveness is over the top. It’s not that you’re forgiven of some of your sins or most of your sins or all the little sins or every sin except that one sin. It’s not that you’re forgiven is you do this one thing or keep this set of rules or follow this particular creed. In Jesus Christ, every single one of your sins — all of ’em; name em! — are all gone forever! God’s forgiveness is total and complete! Your sins are removed from you as far as the east is from the west! They are all hurled to the bottom of the sea, never to be dredged up again! God doesn’t put your sins up on the top shelf in the corner of a dark closet just so he can pull them out again and hold them against you at the worst possible time. God’s grace is lavish and complete.

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” ~John 10:10

This is not an incidental or isolated remark from our Lord. This comes right between “I am the gate” and “I am the good shepherd.” Jesus is our doorway to salvation and the shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. And in the middle is the key contrast between his purpose and mission and that of the thieves and robbers: They come to take, Jesus comes to give. They seek destruction, Jesus seeks abundance.

From the fullness of his grace we have all  received one blessing after another. God gives the Spirit without limit. The water he gives will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life. Rivers of living water for all to drink. You will bear much fruit and your joy will be made complete. You will  do greater works than me. The Gospels are full of Jesus’ lavish life-giving abundance. If we wrote them all down, all the books in the world wouldn’t hold them!

The apostle Peter says we shepherd like our Chief Shepherd. We treat those in our flocks the same way Jesus does. With lavish love. With limitless grace. With inexhaustible forgiveness. With unmerited favor. We give everybody in our church life to the full.

Peace,

Allan

Prophesy: Discern the Word They Heard

“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophesy. For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people, but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. But everyone who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement, and comfort.” ~1 Corinthians 14:1-3

What do you do when that person shows up and says, “I have a word for you from the Lord?” You didn’t expect it, you weren’t asking for it, but a brother or sister in Christ says, “God told me to tell you…” or “God put it on my heart to say…”  How do you discern the word they heard? Let me suggest four questions to ask about the message this well-meaning Christian gives you. How do you know if it’s really from God?

Well, does it lift up Jesus as Lord? The Holy Spirit of Christ will always point to the lordship of Christ.

“No one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed,’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” ~1 Corinthians 12:3

Remember, there’s more than one voice out there seeking your attention. Any word from anyone that diminishes Jesus or questions his deity or his humanity, any word that reduces the sufficiency of his atonement, any word that questions his uniqueness as the one and only way to the Father – that message is not from God. The voice of God will always exalt his Son as Lord.

Does it hold up Jesus’ Gospel of grace? This is a very important question. Some people want to share words of encouragement or teaching with you, but these words speak to a form of legalistic slavery. The church in Galatia was being upset and divided by a word that was confirming Jesus as Lord, but was also wanting to add circumcision to the Gospel. Any news that undermines the Good News of grace and freedom in Christ, any news that puts an emphasis on human works and rules over freedom and grace in Jesus – that is not from God.

Does it flow from a Christ-like life? No matter how gifted the person might be, the Bible never exalts giftedness over character. A person who hears and speaks words from Jesus should bear the fruit of Christ in his or her own life.

“Watch out for false prophets… By their fruit you will recognize them… A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” ~Matthew 7:15-17

If someone tells you they’ve got a word from the Lord for you, and your first thought is, “I don’t know about that,” because of the kind of person he or she is, you’re on to something. If that person is a known liar or a gossip, if that person is a busybody or lacks self control, if that person is divisive or ungrateful, that person is not speaking for our God.

Finally, does it build up the Body of Christ? Remember, prophesy is given to us by God to strengthen, encourage, and comfort his people, the Church. Prophesy is not about discovering the mysteries of the end times or predicting the future. It’s not for judging or condemning anyone. It’s intended by God to build up disciples of Jesus. So any words that discourage, insult, criticize, or divide should not be excused with the “God told me” trump card. And they shouldn’t be considered as potentially from the Lord.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit.” ~Ephesians 4:29-30

Interesting, huh? 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 says you’re quenching the Spirit when you tell people they can’t speak words from God. Ephesians 4 says you grieve the Spirit when you speak words that are ugly or hurtful and claim that God gave them to you.

We need to take care of God’s gifts. And the Bible says one of his greatest gifts is prophesy.

Peace,

Allan

Proclaiming in Community

The New Testament shows us the Holy Spirit of God creating a brand new community of people – all people, all languages, all nations – brought to perfect unity under the lordship of the risen Jesus. On the Day of Pentecost, those filled with the Holy Spirit quote from the prophet Joel to explain what’s happening: “I will pour  out my Spirit on all people and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.” ~Acts 2:38-39

The Holy Spirit breaks down barriers between people, he destroys the walls between all people, and brings us together in Christ. In Ephesians 2, it’s mainly about the hard feelings and the differences that keep Jews and Gentiles separate and divided. But those hard feelings and differences have all been demolished by God in Christ.

“In Christ Jesus, you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. He himself is our peace… [He] has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility… His purpose was to create peace… to reconcile all of us to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we all have access to the Father by one Spirit.” ~Ephesians 2:13-18

The Berlin Wall was erected by the Soviets to separate East and West Berlin. In Bethlehem, there’s a 27-foot high wall that divides the Palestinians from the Israelis. There’s a wall on the Texas border intended to keep Mexicans and Central Americans out of the United States. We know all about walls. Not all of them are physical. There are social walls and racial walls. There are gender barriers and economic barriers. We’re divided by politics and language, we’re segregated by ethnicity and education. But the blood of Jesus brings all of us together and the Spirit of God holds us together so that our unity in all the diversity becomes an undeniable proclamation of the power of the Prince of Peace.

“You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” ~Galatians 3:26-28

We have to practice this tearing down of walls, we must be dedicated to demolishing the things that separate us. We must do the very, very hard work of reconciliation because it’s such a vital component of the Church’s proclamation. 2 Corinthians 5 says God has given us the ministry of reconciliation. Peter slipped up one time in Antioch, remember? He was under some social pressures there and he stopped eating with the Gentile Christians. He wouldn’t associate with Gentiles in public. And Paul called him on it. He told him he wasn’t acting “in line with the truth of the Gospel.” He wasn’t living the Story.

If the biggest and most imposing barriers in history have all been eliminated by Jesus – national / ethnic, social / class, gender – then what other barriers can be justified? If all the walls have been abolished at the cross, who are we to erect new ones? Or to maintain the ones others have erected? If all people are created in the image of God, if God’s purpose is reconciliation and unity, if we are to love even our enemies, if Jesus took all  the world’s hostility into himself to destroy it, on what grounds can we justify any walls at all?

Peace,

Allan

Transformed on Mission

When we decide to get involved with what God is doing and the ways God is doing it, he changes us. Our Lord transforms us when we personally engage the mission.

“…to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the Body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” ~Ephesians 4:12-14

Being changed by God into the image of Jesus with ever-increasing glory is a result of increasingly doing for others. Sacrificing and serving others. Philippians 2 says we should pursue the mind of Christ or the attitude of Christ, and ties it directly to considering the needs of others more important than our own. This is Jesus! He said it: “I did not come to be served, but to serve and to give my life.” That’s the mission. And when you engage, you’ll be changed.

Actually doing ministry, having a mission – not just talking about it, studying it, or agreeing it’s good – changes you. The fastest way to get out of your spiritual rut is to dive head-first into our Lord’s mission.

New experiences challenge our beliefs and assumptions. Ministry, when you’re in over your head, forces you to face your fears and it surprises you with resources and strength from God you didn’t know you had. Hearing the stories first-hand, seeing the places, and meeting the people makes the needs and the opportunities more real. The Scriptures become more alive when you connect them to real ministry. Being on mission pushes us out of our comfort zones and into the places where God is really changing the world. And it’ll change you.

To empty yourself for the mission of Christ like that feels good. You know it feels good to serve others because you’ve done it. And the reason it feels so good is because it’s our God-created and God-ordained purpose. He made us to serve others. And when we do that, we are becoming like Christ. That’s why it’s so powerful. When we serve others, we live better, we worship better, we pray better, we love better – everything’s better. It changes you.

“As each part does its work, we will in all things grow up into Christ.” ~Ephesians 4:16

Peace,

Allan

More Than Prayers for Uvalde

Thoughts and prayers are good. But they are not enough. If all we offer are thoughts and prayers in the wake of yesterday’s horrific slaughter of 19 seven-to-eleven-year-old children and two elementary school teachers in Uvalde, we are right to be criticized for our hypocrisy and have no one to blame but ourselves for turning people off to Christianity.

We have to offer something more than prayers. If all we do is pray, we’re not really Christians.

When we pray to God, we pray in the name of our Lord Jesus. And we are ordained by God’s Holy Spirit to act as our Lord’s body – his representatives, his ambassadors – on this earth. We are the Body of Christ and it’s on us, Christians, to do something. That’s how prayer works. We ask God for the boldness, courage, and power to do what needs to be done. And then, by his grace, we do it.

I think about Jesus telling his disciples to pray for workers. In Matthew 9 and Luke 10 he tells his followers, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” And then the very next word is, “Go!” Jesus says in the very next verse, “Go! I am sending you!”

Pray for God to raise up workers. Oh, by the way, YOU are the workers!

I think about the inspiring prayer at the end of Ephesians 3. The apostle Paul prays to our God who, yes, “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” But how does God accomplish his will? How does God work in the world? “…according to his power that is at work within us!”

Ronald Rolheiser, in his book The Holy Longing, writes about the Christian’s prayer:

“Not only God in heaven is being petitioned and asked to act. We are also charging ourselves, as part of the Body of Christ, with some responsibility for answering the prayer. To pray as a Christian demands concrete involvement in trying to bring about what is pleaded for in the prayer.”

We must offer more than prayers.

If I pray that young people would be involved in our church, but I don’t seek out any young people for friendship or don’t give young people opportunities for service or leadership, I’m not praying like a Christian. I’m not concretely involving myself in trying to bring about what I’m asking God to do. If my daughter is sick and I pray that she gets well but I don’t drive her to the doctor, I’m not praying like a Christian.

Which brings us to yesterday’s mass shooting, the 27th shooting at a school in the United States this year and the deadliest school shooting in our state. A Uvalde High School student bought two assault rifles on his 18th birthday and murdered 19 second, third, and fourth graders and two teachers inside their classrooms. It is good to pray for the victims of the shooting and their families. It is good to ask our Father to bless that community with his merciful healing, comfort, and peace. It is good to lament the tragedy and it is good to pray for the soul of the shooter and his family. But we’re not praying like Christians if we’re not attempting to do something about the problem.

I understand it seems hopeless. We live in a sick society with a fetish for guns. We drink the water and breathe the air of violence in the U.S. – it’s “our thing.” According to Education Week, there have been 119 school shootings since they started tracking them four years ago. Think about that. A 40-year-old publication dedicated to education matters decided it needed to start keeping a tally on murdered school children. Only in America! There have been 212 mass shootings in this country this year. There are more than 400 million guns in the U.S., with 98% of them in civilian hands, the equivalent of 120 firearms per 100 citizens. One-third of all the civilian guns in the whole world are in the United States. As Lynyrd Skynyrd sang, “Handguns are made for killing; they ain’t no good for nothing else.” And we’ve got more of them here, by a long shot, than anywhere else in the world.

But Christians are a people of peace, not violence. Followers of Jesus are reconcilers, not dividers. What does that look like in your context as it relates to what happened at Robb Elementary school yesterday and what keeps happening almost every day in this country?

I don’t mean these next two paragraphs as prescription, only for discussion and reflection.

If you vote, maybe you cast a ballot for politicians who might change some gun laws. As Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr pointed out last night, more than 90% of Americans favor increased background checks, but 50 senators refuse to bring HB8 to the floor for a vote because “they’re afraid of losing their power.” Maybe you stop giving money to organizations that promote the easy access to and proliferation of assault weapons in our cities and neighborhoods. The NRA convention is in Houston the day after tomorrow. Most of our Texas state-wide office holders will be there and a lot of them are featured speakers.

If you don’t vote, maybe you stop going to violent movies. Maybe you destroy your own guns. You might speak against violence when the conversation at work turns to war or crime. Maybe you take the violent and divisive bumper sticker off your truck. Maybe you stop posting and re-posting violent and divisive messages and memes on your social media. If you’re praying for peace in the world, maybe you can start doing something real by forgiving your own enemies in your family or at church, being kind to people who are different from you, reaching out to the lonely and depressed people around you with love and grace and friendship.

Prayers are good. Of course. Always. But Christians must offer more than prayers.

Peace,

Allan

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