Before the Foundation of the World and in the Ages to Come

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 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. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Ephesians 2:1-10

When I want to right the ship doctrinally, I come to Ephesians. It has always been able to sort out for me the great mysteries of the faith. If you been around long enough, you’ll note that there’s a constant pull to line up in one theological corner or the other, but Paul’s teachings keep us from going too far, one way or another.

In one particular area, regarding his truths on election and predestination, I am perplexed that some shun the idea of being chosen by God. I can understand the reticence to contemplate the flip side, that those not chosen were not chosen by a loving God, but what I hear many times is a refusal to believe that he could do this, not an argument based on scriptures. I hear this, “I just can’t believe he would do such a thing.”  This mindset warps one’s spiritual life like a limp affects the rest of the body in time.

Ephesians explains the process. Simply, we were dead, and he made us alive by grace, as a gift. It was received through our faith, yes, after we heard a message about him, but even this faith was empowered by God, because he wanted to eliminate any opportunity for us to boast. And do we really think we could refuse him?

Ephesians tells us he made us alive (v.5), he raised us up (v.6), and he seated us in Him in the heavenly places. In Chapter 1, Paul tells us he blessed us with every spiritual blessing, he chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, he predestined us to adoption as sons, and he made known to us the mystery of his will. And while on this globe, we work out the salvation he grants by implementing the good works he prepared for us beforehand (2:10).

If you can’t swallow all this, and think it’s unfair, or if you’re polishing your nails that you had the good sense to believe, you might want to read all this again and again. You’ll end up with this conclusion. Why me?

It would be good to adopt the attitude of the blind man Jesus healed, who exclaimed to the skeptics and goaders, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” John 9:25

Finally, ponder this:

28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. Romans 8:28-30

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Uncontainable Joy

Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. Matthew 6:16

I worked with a Christian girl who was gloomy most of the time. It was as if she had her own dark cloud hovering over her. If you didn’t know she had the weight of the world on her shoulders, she’d tell you. Yet she had her worship music in her car, and something tells me that, on the first beat, she was in full hand-raising mode. I’ve seen this played out many times in church too, from my perch on stage playing the bass.

My thought here is, If you truly are a worshipper, the figurative hand-raising happens all the time, through thick and thin.

I know this thought doesn’t equate to giving, or praying, or fasting to be seen by men, but it’s perhaps the flip side. If men see you rejoicing and praising in the worst of times, they’ll know you’ve got something incredible within.

Although you can worship in your prayer closet, the joy that comes from God’s control of our lives is uncontainable.

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Marching Orders

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41 Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:38-48

I admit I’d probably recoil from a request for borrowed money, but there’s a slight chance I might have a shred of empathy for someone who hates me, and want to pray for him, until he hits me. Then my natural inclination would not be to turn the other cheek, but to run away, then to write him off from the face of the earth. It’s possible I’d give the shirt off my back, if I had another one. But I don’t think Jesus is thinking of those with full closets. I can see myself going an extra mile for someone who forces me to go one though, but any more than that, I’d have to invoice him. Face it. We’re not inclined to do any of this, yet that’s how we set ourselves apart as Jesus set himself apart. But to pull it of you’ve got to be perfect. Small chance of that. Jesus set the bar even higher than the Pharisees of the day, to make it even harder to be righteous. What he’s counting on is us giving up–or giving in. You know how it is when you’ve been argued into a corner and you throw in the towel. Jesus knows that there’s a deep-down desire in all of us to be perfect–he put that there by the way–but there’s nothing we can do get there. He wants us begging for help, and when we do, we find ourselves amazingly willing to turn the other cheek, and digging deep for a 20 for a homeless guy at the corner. And like Stephen, appealing to the Father that he forgive those who rain down stones upon us.

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Exacting Standards

21 “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. 23 Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. 25 Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent. 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; 28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. Matthew 5:21-30

When you hear about Jesus’ exacting standards, that you can’t just play a good game, it may cause you to throw up your hands. Who doesn’t call someone an idiot for cutting them off in traffic, or for asking a stupid question.

Some of us spend more of our adult lives ticked off by the actions of others than not. Yet, we call ourselves Christians?

Or maybe we haven’t been unfaithful to our wives, but our eyes and minds are always in the red-light district. Maybe you appear to be a nice guy, but you’ve used–stepped on–people to get where you are, and there are bodies strewn everywhere in your wake.

To live with a clear conscience before God and man requires superhuman effort. It begins with the want to, and it’s manifested by living by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

Be grateful and relieved that this exacting inward and outward behavior is possible with Jesus at the helm. Pray always to be more like him. And don’t worry. He’ll give you many opportunities to put his power into action, most likely on your drive in to work.

Only he’ll have to take the wheel!

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Need Self Esteem?

13 For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will give thanks to You,
For I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
16 Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.

Psalm 139:13-16

If you’ve allowed a woe-is-me attitude to creep in, if you’ve taken inventory of your of your very particular set of skills and come up wanting, if practically everybody else does it better, if you’re spending life on the bench, these verses are for you.

And if you’re supremely grateful for all that God has graced you with, and want to pile it on, these verses are for you too.

This is a if-you-stop-and-think-about-it passage that can only be summed up with a “wow!”

First, the Lord of the Universe, before the beginning of time, along with his designs for New Zealand, his calculations for the tilt of the earth, and his notes on making air, had me on his drawing board. It was at that time, for some reason, he chose 5’6″ as my ideal height, and purposefully left math out of my skill set. Whatever I might think about myself, from reading this, I think the Lord would be slightly irked that I was disappointed in his handiwork in any way. After all, he made me, he wove me, he formed me, he skillfully wrought me, with his own hands.

This was an intimate process, in secret, in the depths of the earth. This was an intricate process, like a weaver using thousands of colors. And this was an inspired process, because I turned out “wonderful.”

Then in the end, he stamped an expiration date on me. But this limitation is not to be thought of as sobering, for if out of nothing he cared enough to make me, surely I’ll return to his side after my run is over. That is, if I believe all this.

And who am I to argue with perfection? Or, “does not the potter have a right over the clay?” Romans 9:21

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No Free Lunch…But

17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:17-20

Imagine a guy like Joel Osteen saying these words. What kind of “feel good”‘message would that be? Many I’m sure were under the false impression that the law was going away with Jesus on the scene. And gone would be all those pesky jots and tittles. Nope, the law was going nowhere. In fact, they finally had a model for its perfect fulfillment. So if they thought they could never measure up to performance of the scribes and Pharisees, now they had the “author and perfector,” the embodiment of law, in their midst, who could do no wrong. That was Jesus’ point, you can’t meet the entrance requirements into the Kingdom of Heaven without a hall pass from him. So just ask!

 

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Salt and Light

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:13-16

On the heels of the reality check in verses 11 and 12–that we can expect to be persecuted–the Lord shows us how we are to live in a world bent on choking out any semblance of his influence. We know they will not prevail, because greater is he who is in us than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). Given this, we need to use this power in such a way that his influence is undeniable. How? By what we say and how say it. By what we do and how we do it. By our words and deeds.

There was a popular song many years ago that went, “What the world needs now, is love sweet love.” True. Does this mean organizing one big group hug? No. It’s down to me being gracious, empathetic, thoughtful, yielding, encouraging, sacrificial and cheerful. But it may mean me sincerely issuing a biblically-supported defense of what’s right. It may even mean a full-blown declaration of allegiance when I know this will change everything from here on out.

What we say needs to be seasoned with grace. What we do needs to be motivated by love. Our model is Jesus. He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Who else is going to point others to this reality with him off the scene?

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