Well, we are now in the midst of one of the busiest seasons of the year. How are you doing? Stressed? Overwhelmed? Ahead of Schedule? Under the gun? Sick, Fatigued, Over it? Is your schedule crammed with so many events that you find it hard to find time to breathe. Perhaps there are other emotions that you are dealing with that make the season a difficult one, like loss or feeling discouraged.
Even though it is already the 11th of December, it doesn’t mean you have to succumb to the frenzy of the season. Getting major priorities as major priorities in place is vital to do if we are wanting to ourselves at a certain place come January 1st.
At our last Lampstand meeting in November, we discussed the necessity of this for the upcoming season. I used an illustration that was repeated to me in my college years and now I see even more and more importance of it. It is a simple example but really makes a great point. Imagine there is a jar of small stones and you are challenged to get in some bigger rocks. Of course you cannot because the jar is already full. Then you have an empty jar and instructed to put in large stone first. Then small stones fill the empty space, then you can even add pebbles and sand. Even then you can add water to totally have the jar full. The example shows us in order to have the major priorities in our lives, we have to get the big rocks in first. For Julie and me we are constantly reminding ourselves to get the big rocks in first.
Now, as believers we know that the 1st and greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:38). The Gospel of Luke adds to that to love Him with all our strength, too. This is to be our highest priority and of most importance. The FIRST and GREATEST commandment. So if I want this first in my life in December and want to be more in love with Jesus and have greater devotion to Him come January 1, it needs to be the big rock in my jar. Then I put in the other “priorities in my jar” as He leads. I could go through December strung out and overwhelmed but if I am consistent in making Him first then He will help me with the rest and I CAN HAVE SPIRITUAL AND EMOTIONAL FUEL, EVEN PHYSICAL FUEL in my life as priorities are set in place after the big rocks. Connection with Him is the best fuel we can have for our hearts to stay encouraged, strengthened, motivated, peaceful, and content.
So I have not done the best at this priority thing so far in December but I can say it would be worse if we didn’t try. This week, I am experiencing more joy and peace because I feel these priorities are a little more concrete. How did they get more solid? We’ve taken time to talk and pray about our schedule. We are saying no to some things, and we are saying yes to others. We are asking the Lord to direct us in what things we need to do and when and how we need to rest. Keeping things in right priority is not easy, but we are intent on having fuel in December and in beginning the New Year so it is worth it! Keeping our lives in right priority will always be a challenge but we have been given the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to help us! (I’ve been reading John 15 and 16 this morning). I am banking on the fact if we seek first His kingdom and righteousness, He will add what we need. (Matthew 6:33).
In this Christmas season, I pray that you would be filled with the fuel of encouragement and strength from intentional connection with Jesus. May you have the peace He brings. May your focus and desire be first for Him. O, COME LET US ADORE HIM!
Have you ever had an encounter in the Word? I mean have you ever had something happen where the Word of God, a Scripture, a passage, a story suddenly comes to life in vivid 3-D in your mind and heart? The Lord speaks so clearly to your situation through His Word that you are marked by that Scripture! These encounters become a place where you go back to and draw on the refreshing truth of that particular Scripture again and again. And these experiences remind us that truly God’s Word is living and active and every bit as powerful and applicable today as it was when it was written.
I had an experience like that as I sat down to meditate on Ephesians 1:4. I’ve been working through meditating on and writing about each verse in Ephesians after going through the Martyn Lloyd-Jones teaching on Ephesians 1.
Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him in love... Ephesians 1:4
So, on one particular day it was time to meditate, chew on, and think upon Ephesians 1:4. The interesting thing about this day was that I had just read a Facebook post that had me rattled. You know those posts? The ones that you read and wish that somehow they hadn't ended up in your feed? This one was a challenge to the church, and it disturbed me. Not because of the challenge being issued, or because the church doesn't need to be challenged in lots of ways, but because there was something that was just off in what this person was saying. I couldn't quite articulate it and it had me disturbed. I often feel the need to figure these kinds of things out.
The person was hammering the need for the church to LOVE. Yes. Absolutely. I get that. But, then he wasn't just hammering love, he was actually downplaying holiness and he asserted that the church is stuck on a list of “holiness” things that aren't even critical. He even said, “The bible says we will be known by our love. Not our holiness.” Hmmm... it does say they will know we are Christians by our love, but isn't holiness important, too? Rattled. This just rattled me but I couldn't fully get to the “wrong” of it.
So, with this turmoil in my mind, I set it aside to spend some moments in meditating on the Scripture.
Again, let's actually read these words in Ephesians that jumped off the page to me that day: even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him in love...
Suddenly I could see both of these words “holy” and “love” in the same verse and it all collided in my mind.
(Note: I realize that some translations put the phrase “in love” with the following verse relating to how God predestined us. The teaching we had just heard from Martyn Lloyd-Jones however puts the “in love” phrase in verse 4 referring to how we are before the Lord.)
We are CHOSEN by the Lord. Why has He chosen us? We are chosen for a purpose. And, it is clearly stated here. We are chosen so that we SHOULD BE holy and blameless. This is huge. We aren't chosen to be before Him in love only. We are chosen to be holy and blameless before Him.
This means that the value God places on our holiness is EQUALLY as valuable to the state of our hearts in LOVE. We aren't just chosen to be holy and blameless... We are chosen to be holy and blameless before Him IN LOVE.
The problem with this person's blast at the church was suddenly clear. You CANNOT downplay holiness in favor of love JUST as you cannot downplay love in favor of holiness. The point is we are chosen for a purpose and the purpose is to be something (holy and blameless) and somewhere (before Him) in a specific state of being (in love).
We are chosen to be holy.
What does this mean? This doesn't mean that we are chosen to live according to a set of rules and dot our “i's” and cross our “t's”. This means we are to be set apart. It means we should look different from the world around us. We should have peace in the face of storms; we should love in the face of hate; we should give even from our lack; we should live according to the Word and Will of God, not according to the popular words of men or the ever-shifting will of culture or even according to our own will. We should stand on the Word of God even when that's not popular. We should do all things in love and with grace.
We are chosen to be blameless.
This is not something we can accomplish by ourselves. We are with blame... We ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Even the best person alive cannot actually be blameless before the Lord. His perfection and glory are so far above and beyond even our best efforts. We can only be blameless through the blood of Jesus Christ. So, being chosen to be blameless isn't something we can do, but rather something we receive and walk in. We walk in the salvation that has been purchased for us at such a great price by Jesus' blood. This alone makes us blameless before God.
We are chosen to be before Him.
We are chosen for a destination. When God calls us to Himself it's not just to live on this earth like drifters with no destination. We are called to be before the Living God of all creation. He is in an actual place and He desires us to be before Him, with Him, in His presence. In John 17:24, Jesus expresses this desire. He prays to the Father saying, “Father, I desire that those you have given me would be with me where I am and that they may see my glory!” This is incredible!!!! This is our purpose!!! To be before him!
We are chosen to be in His presence IN LOVE.
We aren't dragged into His presence kicking and screaming. We are called and we stand before Him IN LOVE. One of the most critical things I believe that the Father will want to see in our lives when we stand before Him in eternity was did we learn to love as He loves? Did we grow in love? Jesus said the greatest commandment is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. This is His desire to have a Bride who is wholehearted in LOVE!!
So, we must not deny holiness or love. Surely, we don't want to get caught in legalism in which we try to operate from a list of rules and rely on our ability to keep God's commandments. The Facebook guy was right on that. But, we also don't want to just sound like the hippy movement and talk about “love man” that really means nothing even close to true love. If we are truly walking with Christ, then BOTH of these attributes should be increasing in our lives.
Jesus is our example and He NEVER violated the Father's will or His Word. He was truly Holy. Perfectly Holy. AND, He ALWAYS operated with a motive of love. He never violated either of these things in the way He walked.
We should pursue Christ and remember we are chosen for a purpose and we can walk as holy people, in love before the Lord!
Let me share something that has been on my mind recently. Facebook is the only choice of social media that I use. But I will say boldly that I only post pictures of my family and family life that I want people to see, what I want them to know about me, my family, my house, the ministry I am involved in, etc. I just don’t post a lot of pictures and posts about when things….are yucky. I don’t post pictures of the cat throwing up on our floor and stepping in it in my bare feet. Yuck, I mean who would want someone you invite over to your house to know that the cat throws up on the floor. I don’t post pictures of the state of cleanliness in my vehicle (it would scare many at times). I don’t write posts about me screaming like a girl when I am surprised by a snake. I don’t write posts after I have yelled at my kids and have hurt their feelings. I don’t write posts when I have been angry, impatient, and selfish with my wife.
The point behind all this is that my family and I are not as spiffy as we may present ourselves on Facebook. We only post what we want others to see. Seriously. Facebook is a weird thing. I will even say I have a tendency to scroll and then look at all of the great posts from people I know and get down because I am not as cool, organized, well off, or “together” as much as them. I don’t usually remember that they don’t post the bad stuff much either. We let people see a minimum of bad stuff, in an effort to control what people perceive about us. It’s not just about Facebook, this is something we do in other parts of our lives, too.
My life is filled with mess ups. I have lots of weakness that I want to escape from. I want to hide them. My life isn’t “together” as some might think. My Facebook profile and feed don’t sum up my life. I want you to know something though, even with all my weaknesses, imperfection, regrets, etc, that I keep hidden from Facebook, only sharing the posts that I want to share, I will say MY LIFE IS BETTER than I can ever share on Facebook because it’s mostly through my weaknesses and my own inability that I learn about God and His ways. Those are the places I learn about His great value, care, and love for me. I learn that He upholds my family and His guidance is good even when I can’t make sense of what is going on around me when I feel surrounded by disappointment, discouragement, chaos, confusion, frustration, or failure.
I am challenged to share more of my weakness, maybe even on social media, not because I need to bring shame on myself, but to show others that that Lord is a good leader and that He helps us in weakness. He gets us through the dark times. He sustains His people and restores their souls. He teaches His people in their mess ups. When you are in the family of God, you can know that real value of His strength being made perfect in our weakness.
I think other people out there have weaknesses they don’t want to admit. They are scared to say they don’t feel ok. And, maybe if they admit their weaknesses, they will be like a frog getting dissected in science class. FAR TOO PAINFUL! Far too painful to talk about, to painful to expose.
If we are in the family of God, the weaknesses are actually a part of God’s design so that we will lean on Him more and learn to trust His leadership through all circumstances. We will discover He is trustworthy, a good Shepherd and leader, that He is faithful and true, strong in our weakness, and a refuge for us. He is the ROCK we can build our house upon. Though our frames are but dust, His glory and love can shine though us.
There is something so beautiful that can happen as we set ourselves before the Living God to worship Him. When we lift our gaze to Him, our perspective changes. And, when a group of people come together to lift up His name, sometimes He will weave together an amazing tapestry. Through the prayers and thoughts of our hearts, combined with the songs that are sung and the prayers that different people pray all weave together into something that is clearly a theme. You are left in awe of the way God is able to communicate with His people.
This is what happened at our Lampstand meeting in June. We spent time worshiping, led by Bethany Oakes, and the songs, prayers, and scriptures all flowed together to bring great encouragement to our herats.
Bethany sang a song called Conquering Lion that led us into praying about how the Shepherd leads us so well to fountains of living water. Bethany didn't know when she chose the song Conquering Lion that we would be talking about Psalm 23:2 which refers to the Lord leading us to quiet waters. This is an illustration of the way the Lord can weave things together as we seek Him. I love to see His Holy Spirit work in this way.
At the end of worship, Matthew shared about a recent experience in which he went to the eye doctor who told him his eyes were dry and needed oil. He played a song by David Ruis called “True Love.” There is a spontaneous part of this song on the CD where David Ruis shares about people with contact lenses and how they get dry. He said spiritually sometimes our eyes get dry and we need the gift of tears. God gives us tears to cleanse our hearts.
As Matthew played this song for us, I personally felt such encouragement and healing. It's easy to get frustrated, dry, and irritable. Times of focus on the Lord bring such healing and restoration. I think this was a time for many of us to find refreshing tears and just encouragement in the Lord.
We are in a series about Psalm 23 using the book A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm by Phillip Keller. We highly recommend this book to anyone! This is a powerful look at the way the Lord Jesus is our Good Shepherd. This Lampstand we were focusing on Psalm 23:2.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters.
Some highlights from the message are:
-Sheep do not lie down unless they are free from fear, friction with other sheep, pests, and hunger. In each of these circumstances the presence and ministry of the Shepherd makes all the difference.
1.He protects us and His nearness reminds us that we do not have to fear.
2.When He is near, we don't tend to fight with one another!
3.He applies the oil that frees us from pests that distract and destroy us.
4.He works to ensure we are fed and nourished.
-He leads us to quiet waters. He knows where the water is and has provided the watering places!
Sheep have 3 main sources of necessary water.
1.Dew! Getting up early and beginning our day with the Lord is like drinking dew from the grass.
2.Deep wells! He digs these out and provides them for us. Jeremiah 2:13...let's drink from the sources He provides and not from unhealthy substitutes.
3.Streams! Are we drinking from potholes along the path or are we drinking from the beautiful streams He leads us to?
As Matthew shared about these things, we were all encouraged to trust the excellent leadership of our Good Shepherd who always leads so well.
Taking time to respond to this message helped to seal these words in our hearts.
In December of 2017 I battled some annoying and prolonged eye infections, mostly on my eyelids from sties. People joked about my wife clocking me. I had to defend her constantly. Ha! Anyway, after weeks of warm compresses, ointments, drops, and visiting the eye doctor, my eyes (more accurately eyelids) cleared up. The pain and the irritation subsided. People stopped accusing Julie of spousal abuse.
Yet after all that my eyes have not seemed to be as they were before. They seem to dry out easier. My eyelids seem to get red around the edges more often. I have gotten what seems to be small sties that do not last long.
At a recent appointment to get new glasses, the optometrist shed some light on the subject. He described the dryness I was feeling as not stemming from a lack of tears but a thin layer of oil that covers that tear layer. Without that layer, the eyes dry out. He said that layer comes from oil glands on the edges of my eyelids. Long story short, I have some oil glands that have been damaged on my eyelids. I need a little help from some specific eye drops that contain mineral oil. WHAT A DIFFERENCE IT HAS MADE. My new glasses have helped my eyes to not be so strained, thus less rubbing my eyes when they have trouble focusing and are tired.
This oil thing has really “opened my eyes” though.
Let me share a little context about “oil.” We have been focusing on “getting oil” at our Lampstand meetings (growing in the knowledge of God, developing a secret life with God, growing in connection and communion with the Lord). Oil is the fuel for our lives so that in hard times we are not burning our wick but the oil source we have stored up. It causes our light to shine brightly.
We also have recently studied the oil used by shepherds with their sheep; to protect against highly irritating insects that can greatly annoy the sheep and even can lay eggs in their nose. Thus the larva can drive them crazy.
The work of the Holy Spirit and His anointing are also described in terms of oil in the Scriptures.
So with this eye issue I felt like the Lord was encouraging me that I need the “oil” He gives to see rightly in a spiritual sense as well as with the eye drops that contain mineral oil to see rightly in the natural.
We need the background of His word, knowledge of Him and His ways, daily encounter, connection and communion, and the oil of the Holy Spirit (a supernatural work we cannot do) applied to our vision. It is with that, that we can rightly discern what He is saying and doing, SEEING CLEARLY AND WITH RIGHT PERSPECTIVE.
I don’t know about you but I need this in my life. “Lord, apply the oil to our minds and vision. Help us to see the way you see. Help us to see rightly. Amen.”
We have talked many times at our Lampstand Meetings about the necessity of “getting oil” for our lamps. The oil is the source of fuel for us to have to have burning hearts for the Lord Jesus in every season of our lives. It is about having real revelation of the knowledge of the Lord found in Scripture, growing in connection and relationship with Him, and developing a personal history with God. That fuel is what sources the flame of the testimony of the Lord that others see in us. The oil fuels the ministry that we have toward others in His name whether that is our children and spouses, people in our church, or those who don’t know Him, to give a few examples.
I was listening to a recent teaching by Mike Bickle from His recent Bride of Christ series (Growing in Intimacy with Jesus) and he made the comment that many times we are so busy looking for areas where we can shine our light that we neglect getting oil for our lamps. How true this is! If we think about it, if we have a blazing flame that is fueled by deep intimacy and wholehearted devotion to the Lord, dynamic knowledge of the holy God, and a vibrant, growing heart for Him and the things He values, the impact we desire to have flows freely from us and we don’t have to focus as much on the effectiveness we have on others.
Have you ever met someone who loved to talk about one particular subject? Maybe it was something like trains or cars, or food, or decorating, or some other subject that is important to them. It’s easy to see their passion and fervor. It’s easy to see their depth and dedication. You can’t help but take notice of what they value. If as followers of Christ are deeply engulfed in, preoccupied with, caught up in, immersed in, captured by, enthralled with, and captivated and fascinated by in Him, won’t that be obviously noticeable and impacting to others?
(Sometimes as believers we can get into “run around and do” mode. We are busy with ministry activities. This program or that, this campaign and that. It is often with good motives. We want to make an impact, see people come to Christ, advance the kingdom. Yet many times we forget about the necessary connection with Him. Yet many times I think we don’t see the impact we want to see from those endeavors. We get beyond the reach of our light and we can burn out. This is because we are more focused on “getting our light out there” rather than cultivating the secret life of God that is within.)
I have seen people try to minister Jesus to others without much fuel in their lives, without much life of Jesus on the inside. Not only is it not very effective, it can be damaging to those they are trying to minister to as well as to themselves. How do I know? I have been there. I have stepped out to share and have had a wrong attitude, bad motives, not much to say, and no real desire. I have often done it because I feel obligation to do it. Isn’t this what I should be doing to be a good Christian, leader, etc? I can even see that I wanted the kingdom to grow and I wanted to be used to do it. Yet when I did it without a working knowledge of His love and truth and without much real devotion, the result has been even more lack of desire, more disappointment, frustration, and disillusionment.
But I can honestly say that since I have taken more time to cultivate the connection and communion with the Lord, to grow in devotion and love, to learn more about Him and His ways, I have reached out more than I ever have. I have shared with more unbelievers the gospel of Christ and shared more with believers about a deeper life with Him. I have had less fear and insecurity. I have felt that my words have been an extension of His heart and love. I have shared with more joy and excitement, I have been less selfish and angry in my attitude. I have had more to talk about and I have a growing desire to talk about Jesus.
Not only do I see this reality in myself, I look around at those I see spending consistent time in personal Bible study, prayer and worship times, and getting oil and I am personally encouraged by them and am astounded over the impact they have on others.
Hear me, I’m not saying there aren’t times we share about Christ when we don’t feel like it or that we don’t support outreaches, programs, and service projects. My point is, if we focused more on the oil in our lamps, wouldn’t the outreach, service, proclaiming the gospel, flow more naturally and supernaturally from our lives? I mean, it does say in John 15, if we abide in Him, we will bear much fruit.
As I think about all this, I want “getting oil” for my lamp to be even more of my life vision. The Lord will handle the impact of my light. I am certain it will be greater than if I just went around with my dim flame trying to let me light shine.
Ian led worship at this Lampstand gathering and we really spent time declaring that the Lord is WORTHY! Lifting up the name of Jesus because there is no other name like His name! His name is higher than every other name. As we spent time doing this, Ginny shared that the Lord was encouraging her about honing the weapon we have of crying out and declaring His name!
There was a unique time of sharing things people felt the Lord stirring after our worship time. It was confirmation of the value of these meetings. I think it was valuable to people on many levels.
We are beginning a series about Psalm 23 using the book A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm by Phillip Keller. We highly recommend this book to anyone! This is a powerful look at the way the Lord Jesus is our Good Shepherd.
At this May Lampstand, we began with Matthew sharing from the chapters of the book dealing with Psalm 23:1
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
Some highlights from the teaching time:
-The Lord is my shepherd. This is a declaration, almost boasting, by David, Israel's shepherd king. He is declaring that the Lord is the manager of his life and that He is an excellent manager! It is important to ask, Do I really believe the Lord has the credentials to be the Shepherd or manager of my life? And, truly, He does!! He created us; He loves us; He gave His Son for us; He continually provides for us. He is an excellent Shepherd!!
-I shall not want. Sometimes people take this to mean that if you come under the management of the Lord, you will never have troubles or problems. This is clearly not true and not even Biblical! The idea of this statement is saying I am content in His care and management of my life. Like in Philippians 4, are we able to say, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation”? Will we trust the Lord to care for us and lead us despite the trials and valleys and challenges? Can we be content IN Him?
There were so many beautiful things shared by people in attendance. We all felt the challenge to trust the Lord's leadership and the reminder that sin, Satan, and self are poor masters!!
At the end of our response time, Linda Martin shared a dream she had had years ago about climbing with the Lord on a very narrow path. It was frighteningly narrow and eventually they turned a corner into a lush green pasture. Sheep were resting in the pasture and there was a beautiful stream. After resting, Jesus was ready to lead them on again. The way forward couldn't be seen and it looked scary. Some wouldn't follow and wanted to stay in the pasture. So as He led on, some remained behind and Linda saw wolves come out of the bushes in the lush green pasture and devour those who had remained behind. Where we are seems “good enough” but we must ALWAYS keep following Jesus!
We must make this our declaration: Lead ON!! We will follow in Your footsteps, Lord!
I began what I had hoped to a series of responses to a Martyn Lloyd-Jones (MLJ) Ephesians study we had begun through our TRIHOP friends. (You can find the original 2 in the series here, about how we look at Scripture and here, about who we are in Christ.)
I fell off from it for quite some time, but as I have been continuing with the study and have been so encouraged by chewing so thoroughly the MEAT of Ephesians 1, I want to pick back up again. I am learning that it’s not always about never lapsing with something, but that it’s so critical to pick back up and keep going. “Failures” happen, but the key is to not let our failures, real or imagined, stop us from pressing onward.
So, back to Ephesians.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul begins every one of his letters with these words or a blessing very similar to this one you can read here in Ephesians chapter 1 verse 2. Every letter. I looked.
These are like Paul’s characteristic opening remarks. Like Johnny Cash starting his concerts in his booming bass voice, “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.” Paul always starts with, “Hey this is who I am (Paul, an apostle, etc), and this is who you are (Saints, faithful in Christ), and GRACE and PEACE to you guys.”
Unlike Johnny’s characteristic opener that caused people to erupt in cheers, we face the constant temptation to just quickly pass over these words as customary greetings that are just polite things to say.
But, just stop. Check this out from the Doctor (MLJ) himself: ““The Apostle does not use words such as this lightly and loosely and thoughtlessly; it is not a mere formula which he uses automatically at the beginning of a letter; the words are charged with profound meaning.”
In every chapter, Martyn Lloyd-Jones makes some kind of statement like this reminding me not to take any word of this Bible we hold lightly but to gaze long and lovingly at each phrase and press the oil out of it that it would enliven my heart.
I mean, why would Paul repeat these words in every letter if they weren’t full of meaning to him? And, thinking beyond Paul, if truly the Holy Spirit inspired all of the Scripture, then that means the Holy Spirit wants to breathe on these words as much as any others in the Bible. He didn’t fail to inspire Paul’s greetings, giving Paul free rein to make whatever opening or closing remarks he wanted.
No, these words are meant to be meaningful and a powerful blessing. These aren’t words that Paul coined as simply his catchy greeting for his letter-writing ministry. These words express a heart-felt prayer and a burning desire in Paul. He loved the people he was writing to and he wanted them to know, to experience the grace and peace that come only from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
So, let’s zoom in on these words and chew on them a little more carefully.
Grace. We throw this word around a lot, but what does it really mean? Grace is nothing less than miraculous favor from God. Favor that we do not deserve and could never earn. “Grace is the origin and the source and the fount of everything in the Chrisitan life,” writes Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It is God’s love stooping down to us; His kindness that we could never, ever procure on our own.
And, Peace? Peace is often primarily defined by an absence of something. The absence of fighting, war, strife. Or, it’s known as rest or quiet. But, truly the Biblical idea of peace is UNION. Union after separation.
If grace is the beginning of our faith then peace is the end of our faith. PEACE…this is the purpose of our Christian life. This is what a Christian life should produce!
Okay. Good. I like things defined, so we’ve defined things. But, why do we need these things so badly that Paul would pray it for and speak it over every person in every letter he wrote?
We don’t really understand grace and peace until we understand the Fall. Not the season that is usually marked by falling leaves. The Fall of man as recorded in Genesis chapter 3. Because of Adam and Eve’s choice, we are all infected with sin. Which means, we are at war with God. This also leads to people being at war with one another, and even at war within ourselves.
Because of the huge disobedience of people to God, because we reject Him and do not listen to Him, we deserve the punishment the righteous God would dish out. YET, in spite of all of this, God is FULL of GRACE and He STILL looks on us with favor through the work of Jesus Christ.
Because of His amazing grace, God has made peace. Not just the absence of fighting with Him, not just the absence of war with our fellow humans, not just absence of turmoil within ourselves. PEACE. The opportunity for RELATIONSHIP with God through Jesus; unity with other people like we can’t produce through men’s peace treaties; peace within ourselves.
And, we’ve really already seen this, but it’s worth it to ask the question: How do we have access to this amazing gift of grace and peace?
Through the source of everything in life: God. Which God? What kind of God? OUR Father. To all Believers, God is not just the Father of Jesus, but He is OUR Father. For those who have known the goodness of a loving earthly Father, He is Heavenly Father. For those who never knew an earthly father’s name, much less his love, He is Father. For those who wished they hadn’t known their father’s name because there never was any love from him, He is Father. He is our Father. Father who gives grace and peace.
And, this grace and peace flow to us from the Lord Jesus Christ as well. Jesus is so central in every step of redemption. In every blessing God pours out. It is all because of Jesus. Because of the work He accomplished on the cross, dying and shedding His blood so that our sins could be covered and we could become righteous in God’s eyes. The only way we could come back into relationship with God, the Righteous One.
Look at how Paul refers to Him: the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lord: Jesus is the Master, the Boss, the Leader.
Jesus: His very name means salvation! Salvation has a name, it is Jesus!
Christ: This means “the anointed one.” The rightful king, the descendent of David who reigns on David’s throne forever.
The Lord Jesus Christ. Through this one we have access to GRACE and PEACE.
Thank you, God, our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ for this amazing gift.
Now, will we live like we truly have been blessed with an amazing favor and an indescribable peace?
To the saints who are in Ephesus and the faithful who are in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 1:1
Identity is such a catch phrase these days. Everyone is talking about knowing who we are and knowing our identity. There is also so much confusion about identity. Wouldn't it be helpful to know, to really know, who we are? Especially as Believers? Who am I? And, how do I find out?
Well, maybe the answer is somewhere we wouldn't expect.
To the saints who are in Ephesus and the faithful who are in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 1:1
These simple words at the beginning of Ephesians that you can read in chapter 1 verse 1 that are so easily skimmed over actually contain some important answers to the above questions. If you are diving into a reading of this letter from Paul to the Ephesian believers, we usually skip over most of the words to see who is Paul addressing: Ephesians. Okay, now on to the meat of the letter.
But, if we are going to zoom in a little closer and carefully consider each word as Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is encouraging us to do in his sermon series on Ephesians, then we must stop and see that there is something much bigger here than what is visible in a quick glance.
We are seeing something profound here: a statement of who we are as believers! These few, brief introductory words highlight some keys about who we are at the very core before the Lord. Let's take a look at each piece of this picture Paul is painting.
Paul is addressing this letter not to every single person in Ephesus, but to the SAINTS in Ephesus.
What is a saint? What does that word mean? Who are saints? Many people back up right then and think they can't be a saint because they feel average in their struggle to live for God. Surely, a saint is a "special" Christian of some kind.
But, let's look a little more carefully at the word. Saint means "holy," which means “set apart." So, a saint is someone who is set apart from the world, but also set apart FOR something: for a specific purpose and for a specific relationship.
Would that apply only to a select group of Believers? No. Every Believer, every person who calls on the name of Jesus for salvation is set apart for God. Which means every believer is holy, a saint. Even the new, struggling believer. Even the weary, doubting believer. Each one who persists in following Christ, is a saint.
2. The faithful
Paul doesn't just call the Believers "saints" but also refers to them as "the faithful."
The faithful. This has layers of meaning. Literally "faith" and "full"... we are those who are full of faith. We are full of faith in Christ, believing in Him. ALSO, we are faithful in the sense of committed, loyal, or unswervingly devoted.
3. In Christ Jesus
We are those who are "In Christ Jesus."
We are faithful in Christ, but we are also simply “in Christ;" we are those who are found abiding in and trusting in and leaning on Him. Our lives as Believers, our very identity comes from knowing that we are in Christ. Our identity is wrapped up in Him. We now belong to Him. We truly are not our own. We have been "redeemed," bought back from the bondage of slavery to sin and we are now "owned" by Christ, our Redeemer.
Stopping to consider and tear apart each of these phrases fills my soul with strength. Paul and the Holy Spirit who inspired his writing intended this letter to be for all Believers everywhere.
So, put yourself in these terms. I am a saint. I am set apart for relationship with God and for His purposes. I am faithful. I am full of the gift of faith that only the Spirit can give. I am true and loyal to Jesus and by His grace I will endure in my faith until I see Him. I am in Christ Jesus. I belong to Him. I am hidden in Him. I am abiding in Him (John 15).
This changes the way I think about myself and makes me confident in my identity in Him. I don't have to be confused about who I am. I am a saint; I am faithful; and I am in Christ Jesus.
Last month I shared about the Lord highlighting the theme of “Beholding the Lord” to both Julie and me. For some of that story, read Beholding the Lord for a little background to this blog.
It is clear to me the Lord is directing us to “Behold Him,” yet I struggle with practically how “beholding Him” would be fleshed out in my life. Is there some specific aspect of Him or His word that the Lord is wanting me to focus on? It can seem a little overwhelming what to concentrate on. I am already in a couple other studies, and I want the time I have available to spend to count. Since I wrote the last blog, I had another dream with more Scripture in it regarding the subject of “Beholding Him” that answered some of these questions about specifics.
In the dream I was looking at some blue paper with specific passages from the book of Revelation on it. I knew immediately that it was a sheet titled “Hymns of Revelation” that are often available as a resource for people on our Friday night meetings with the Tri-Cities House of Prayer. This is a collection of verses that either describe the character of God or are a proclamation of praise and worship. In the dream, I was looking at those blue sheets and then the verses would appear on a large dry erase board. Certain words would be highlighted (either appearing in bold print or becoming enlarged). For example, the word “throne” would appear larger and bolder. When I awoke, I knew that it was an invitation to me to study these passages, even searching out meaning of phrases and words. But it was an invitation not to just study but to talk to the Lord and worship Him while I study.
Recently, at one of our Tuesday prayer meetings, I prayed through one of these passages on the microphone. Taking the description of God the Father and Jesus from Rev. 1:4-8 and asking for the Bride of the Tri-Ciites to have a greater revelation of who God is, I experienced the unction of the Holy Spirit! As I prayed, I was receiving faith to believe for what I was praying, and there was greater boldness on my words. Oh, how God likes to breath on His word!
Then yesterday, I listened to a message by a man named Gary Ham from Times Square Church in New York City, entitled “Behold the Man.” Because of what the Lord had already been highlighting about “Beholding Him” I was interested in listening and I was greatly impacted, even weeping over the simple message about fixing our gaze on Jesus. To listen to that teaching (I strongly recommend it!), CLICK HERE.
As I share all this I want to encourage you with three specific things:
1) There is a journey that God wants to take each of us on that leads to greater and greater encounter with Himself.
2) He wants to strengthen us in His word and breathe life on His word so it becomes LIFE to us!
3) He is inviting us to BEHOLD HIM and experience life transformation and fascination. WOO HOO!
Matthew or Julie Wine