Relationships and Getting Prepared (Ephesians 6)

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As we all know, marriage is not the only relationship that we have in this life (aside from our relationship with God). We are also sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, and slaves and masters. These relationships must also display the same sacrificial love that I spoke about yesterday. Paul writes, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right (6:1, NASB). No matter what we are to listen to our parents. It is even one of the big 10 rules God gave us, the Ten Commandments. When we obey and respect our parents, we show our understanding of God’s authority over us. Just like our parents did when we were little, God sometimes asks us to do thing that we don’t quite understand. We must obey what our Heavenly Father is asking of us, in order to show him honor and glory.

Paul then turns his eyes on parents. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (6:4, NASB). I know it says “fathers”, but honestly it can be applied to mothers as well. As parents, we should not intentionally do things to harm our children. In speaking about prayer, Jesus asks these questions to the crowd at the Mount, “What man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?” (Matthew 7:9-10, NASB). Jesus is talking about God taking care of us, and having our best interests at heart. This same relationship, should be the one that we have in relation to our own children. Care for them and have their best interests at heart.

Some of you may have given your screen a second look when I said “slaves and masters”. I assure you that this relationship still exists in its most basic form, only today we call it employer and employee (or government and citizen). As slaves, it is our duty to obey the authority placed over us. We get this from another of Paul’s writings, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” (Romans 13;1, NASB), or in Jesus’ own words “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11, NASB). We should treat all authority over us as if it where actually God giving these commands (so long as it aligns with God’s Word). As masters, we are to realize that everyone under our authority is a loved creation of God. We cannot abuse these people and exploit them so that our lives can become a little easier. No matter what, we are not the true masters. Everything has been given to us on loan from the real master in Heaven.

Finally we come to the armor of God. I know that I have heard dozens of sermons and read tons of teachings on the subject of the armor. All I will say is that this armor represents our need to be secure in God, and be prepared for the battles that face us everyday. At some point, we will be questioned for our faith. Someone will ask questions that can shake you if you are not prepared. Knowing who we are in Christ, and knowing what God’s Word has to say to us, is the best thing we can do to prepare for that day. It’s coming, are you ready?

Paul teaches us how to live out our day to day lives in this chapter. No matter what, you have one of these relationships facing you today and the need for preparation for battle. Spend time in the Word everyday. That is my best suggestion I could ever make. Don’t just read your Bible, that doesn’t count. Simply reading your Bible is an intellectual exercise that will barely scratch the surface of what Scripture can do for you. Pray through the Bible. Ask God to show you what you need for the day. Ask Him to enter into your time with Him. This allows us to be prepared for the battles, and helps us to be more like Him in our relationships. It’s hard to be imitators of someone we do not spend much time with. So spend time. I provided some Psalms to pray today if you need some help getting started. But give this practice a chance. It will help you polish your armor and get you ready for the day.

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 4-6

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Highway of Holiness (Isaiah 33-35)

Book of Isaiah

Today’s section starts with a message to Assyria. God tells them that even though they are mighty, and will destroy the Northern Kingdom, they will be destroyed. He goes on to describe that Jerusalem will end up being strong. “I will be like a tent whose ropes are taut and whose stakes are firmly fixed.” (33:20, NLT). “The people of Israel will no longer say, ‘We are sick and helpless,’ for the Lord will forgive their sins.” (33:24, NLT). The Lord then explains His wrath against all the nations of the world. He states that He has problems with every single one of them. Yet He singles out the nation of Edom (the descendants of Jacob’s twin brother, Esau). He promises that the Edomites’  land will be destroyed and become a wasteland. God then delivers a hope for salvation and restoration. He describes the land as becoming lush and abundant. “Yes, there will be an abundance of flowers and singing and joy!” (35:2, NLT). Lastly there will be a road that cuts through the deserted area called the Highway of Holiness. This road can only be found and traveled on by those following God; all others would perish in the wilderness.

The “Highway of Holiness” really is another prophecy about God’s redemptive plan. “And a great road will go through that once deserted land. It will be named the Highway of Holiness. Evil-minded people will never travel on it. It will be only for those who walk in God’s ways.” (35:8, NLT). Before Christ, we were all stuck in our sin. There was no way out. I love the phrase that the pastor Louie Giglio has been throwing around, “Sin makes you dead”. Sin is exactly like the deserted land being described in these chapters. Nothing is alive in sin, everything is dead. Yet a pathway has been cut for us to travel through this deserted land and into a living place full of singing and joy. That path was created when Christ died on the Cross. Jesus told his disciples, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life;” (John 14:6). Jesus is telling us that if we want to get through the deserted place and come into life with God, we must travel on the Highway of Holiness. The only way to reach that Highway is through belief in Jesus Christ.

 

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A Call to Be Different (Isaiah 5-8)

Book of Isaiah

As we start today’s readings, we finish the description of fallen Judah. God gives His reason for their punishment through a song about His beloved vineyard. He tells of a vineyard that only produces bitter grapes, rather than sweet ones. In order to solve this problem, He says to them, “Now let me tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will tear down its hedges and let it be destroyed. I will break down its walls and let the animals trample it. I will make it a wild place where the vines are not pruned and the ground is not hoed, a place overgrown with briers and thorns. I will command the clouds to drop no rain on it.” (5:5-6, NLT). God is telling His people that they must change and come back to Him; they are not the people He sent them out to be. These first few chapters (1-5) were set up to address Judah as it currently was.

Then Isaiah returns to the beginning of his ministry. He recounts God’s calling upon him to be a messenger to the people. We receive many accounts about the glory and majesty of God. Aside from Revelation, Isaiah 6 might just be my favorite. “He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. Attending him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings … Their voices shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke.” (6:1-2, 4, NLT). After having his sins forgiven, Isaiah volunteers to be a messenger for God.

The first message Isaiah is sent to give is for King Ahaz. Ahaz was facing both the armies of Israel and Syria. God told him not to fear and to trust in Him, because He would not allow the opposing armies to win. God then offered to give Ahaz a sign for the promise He made to him. Ahaz refused to “test” God, so He chose a sign for him. “Look! the virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel” (7:14, NLT). Isaiah then receives a call to act differently from other people.

This final call of Isaiah’s still rings true for us today. We are called to still live a different life from unbelievers. Let’s take a look at some of these points:

Make the Lord of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life. (8:13, NLT)

Preserve the teaching of God; (8:16)

But shouldn’t people ask God for guidance? (8:19)

People who contradict his word are completely in the dark. (8:20)

It doesn’t sound completely unlike the things we are told today. It just goes to show me that the things God wants from/for us never really changes. Unbelievers do not do any of these things, especially realize they are in the dark. God calls us to live a certain type of life, and to do certain things. This isn’t because God just decided this was the way to be. It is the best way to be. That’s what God wants for us, the best. There is another passage of scripture where we are called to be different.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all me will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35, NASB). Christ even acknowledged that we are to be different.  On the night of his betrayal, he gave a prayer to God saying, “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” (John 17:15-16, NASB).

We are called to be separate from the world. It should be obvious. People should know from the way that we are that we believe in the one true God, and that we believe in His Son and Holy Spirit. Our faith changes us. It’s not merely something we say, “Yeah, I’m a Christian” without even breaking a smile! God changed you through faith! You are not the same person you were before, but you now stand new. You cannot be a follower of Christ and expect things to remain the same. Christ was a game-changer. He changes our lives. We are called to be different, and that’s what we must be. Sure, you’ll be ridiculed. But what’s more important? Your friends not picking on you, or your Savior knowing you by your faith and love?

 

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 99-100

 

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Holy Week Day 5

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Maundy Thursday

Today is Maundy Thursday. Today we see Jesus realizing that the end of his earthly life is near. He institutes Holy Communion, while celebrating the Passover early with his disciples. Jesus took elements from the Passover meal, which has significance to the Jewish people, and re-purposed them for the use of his followers. The first was the bread, which he made his body. The second was the cup of wine, which became his blood.

The meaning of the term “Maundy” comes up from John 13:34. The term comes from the Latin word “mandatum”, which means commandment. “Maundy” is an English version of this word, and applied to today because Jesus instituted a new commandment on this Thursday. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:24, NASB). The heart of this day rests in loving each other and serving one another, as Jesus did for us. He showed us what love is on the Cross. “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 John 3:16, NLT). Today begins a series of events where God showed us what love is ultimately about.

I encourage you as we celebrate today to especially read John 17. These verses are the final prayer that Jesus prays before being arrested. He would have prayed these words either really late tonight or really early in the morning. I just think this is a good prayer to pay attention to during this time of celebration and remembrance.

Today’s readings: Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-26; Luke 22:7-23; John 13-17

 

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 93

Holy Week Days 1&2

Well everyone, I’m back and both baby and my wife are doing excellent!


 

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I thought that for this week we would look through the final events of Jesus’ life as we observe Holy Week. However, I am starting this a day late so we will be taking a look at the events of both Palm Sunday and Monday.

Palm Sunday

The events that happened on Palm Sunday can be seen in all four of the gospels. Jesus left Jericho early in the morning with his disciples. They traveled towards Jerusalem. When they reached Bethany, Jesus sent two of his disciples to get a donkey for him to ride into the city. They met on the Mount of Olives, and Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey. The people shouted at him, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel” (John 12:13), “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38), “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David; Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9-10),  and “Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9, NASB); all of which echo the words found in Psalm 118:25-26. All of these things were done to fulfill a prophecy found in the writing of the prophet Zechariah:

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you:
He is just and endowed with salvation,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
–Zechariah 9:9, NASB

After these events, Jesus went into the temple in order to have a look at the environment. However he soon left to go back to Bethany, which was were he and the disciples stayed during this final week of Jesus’ life.

Monday

After 3 years of ministry, today is the day that Jesus makes his final push for the people to come to realize the truth about God and His Kingdom. When he entered the temple, undoubtedly to teach, he saw a sight that he absolutely despised. He saw people, inside the temple, selling animals and other sorts of merchandise, and people who were taking peoples money either with taxes or exchanging currency. Jesus tells the people, quoting Jeremiah, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a robber’s den.” (Matthew 21:13, NASB). He then drove them out with a whip of chords he made, and by turning over their tables.

Both of these days were also filled with teaching and healing. I think it’s nice to see the events of Jesus’ life as his time on earth came to an end. Join me tomorrow as we continue onwards.

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 90

 

Just Believe!

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I’ve had a few different Scriptures hit me like a ton or bricks over the past few days. The one I’d like to talk about today, everyone seems to know the first part: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”. But did you know that there is much more to that whole statement?

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, That the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hate the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. Bu the who practices the truth come to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” –John 3:16-21, NASB

The quoting of John 3:16 is a good practice, but I feel that it’s changing the point of the entire passage. When I read that one verse, I get the message “Yay! God loves me”. Now this is a great message and is completely true, but in light of the following verses I’m not convinced it’s the entire message Jesus is conveying. We see that, as humans, our natural tendencies are towards evil actions (thanks a lot sin nature). Because of this, God has no reason to love me. He should despise me because of what we have done to His Creation. Have you ever spent a ton of time and energy into making something, let’s say a cake? You’re really happy with what you have done, but then the dog sees it and runs towards it. Before you can stop him, he’s destroyed the cake. How upset would you be? I’m sure God’s feelings are similar, saying that the people He created to care for Creation were the one’s ultimately to blame for it’s humiliation.

But God doesn’t hold it against us. He loves you and me in spite of ourselves. We deserve His wrath, but rather we get His grace! We simply have to believe in His son, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was saying in this section from John that we are only judged by whether we believe in Him, or not. Seems pretty simple. It was also a radical idea at the time, and it seems that it’s still pretty counter-cultural today. There is no series of steps to get grace, there is not rituals or prayers you have to say. All you have to do is believe. Believe in the one Son of God. Believe that He has come to save us from ourselves, and to take the punishment of our sin. Believe that God has made all things right between us and Him. All we have to do is believe!

As we go into the new year, I encourage you to take a look at your beliefs. Do you believe in all those things that God has done for you? If not, I encourage you to spend some time in prayer and reading Scripture. Did you know that there is a prayer in the Bible written for unbelief. In Mark 9, a man asks Jesus to heal his son. Jesus’ replay is that all things are possible if you believe. The man then prayed, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24, NLT). Jesus then healed the man’s son. This shows me that even if we don’t believe, God hears our prayers. But we have to be earnestly seeking Him and wanting to overcome our unbelieving hearts, if we expect God to do anything. The lesson here? Prayer works friends, even if you have problems believing it does.

The Letter to Laodicea

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The last letter written in John’s Revelation was for the Church at Laodicea. This church had a problem that I believe most of us get into at some point in our faith journey. Laodicea was “lukewarm”, meaning that they had no passion for God, yet they still had faith. Jesus says to them, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.” (Revelation 3:15, NASB). Jesus is using cold to describe a dead faith, while hot means one that is alive. Jesus tells them towards the end of the letter, “I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.” (Revelation 3:19, NLT). Jesus and John really wanted to send this church the message that their indifference is not okay.

What does this mean for us today? DON’T BE LUKEWARM!!!!!! There I said it, post over.

I’m just kidding. Just saying that is easy, but how to we keep our passion for Christ. So many of us are fired up when we first meet Christ, but somewhere along the line the fire dies down a bit. I believe the biggest cause of this is our expectation when we enter into this Christian lifestyle. Many people think that life will be easy, but it’s not. Being a Christian is a life of hardship, and when we discover this we draw away from God instead of running closer to Him. The second reason I think this happens, actually comes from one of my cures for the problem. I think people also lose their fire when they realize that the Bible actually teaches things that are against the world’s view. It makes it hard for people because then you come to a decision; do I follow Christ, or the world? When we choose the world, our passion for Christ dies a little, and when we chose it enough, the light goes out entirely.

So open up your Bible and read it. That is the best way to hear God’s word, reading it! Also spend time in prayer. How can you expect to hear from God, unless you talk to Him? These two activities are essential in the life of a Christian. If you aren’t doing even one of these, we run the risk of being exactly like Laodicea. This is what help us light our fire again, and keep us from being cold or getting lukewarm. So friends, let’s pick up our Bibles and spend time in prayer everyday, for the rest of our lives!

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The Letter to Philadelphia

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The second to last letter written in John’s Revelation was for the Church at Philadelphia (not the one in Pennsylvania). This church is the first church that Jesus didn’t have an issue with. He congratulates them on remaining faithful and encourages them to press on. But what can we learn from this letter? The previous ones were easy, since Jesus had a lesson and warning to give them. But this church gets its statement right at the beginning of the letter. “I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close.” (Revelation 3:8a, NLT).

Christ opens doors for us. He offers us opportunities to further the gospel along. This could as simple as us talking to a friend, or could be a dramatic as becoming a celebrity. The focal point is that we use these opportunities for Christ. But the part that I love, that I believe truly makes the point is “no one can close”. This says to me that if Christ wants you to do something for him, not only will he give you the opportunity, no one will be able to stop you. The enemy will try to stop you, and believe me he will, but Jesus tells us “I will make [Satan and his followers] come and bow down at your feet” (Revelation 3:9, NASB). This shows that we will overcome against them as well. Jesus says that no one will stop us, so continue on in his power.

Has Jesus given you an opportunity to shine the light on him? Are you doing it? The Church at Philadelphia was taking the light shown on them for their good deeds, and reflecting it towards Jesus. We should follow this example, because when Christ has a will, there is no other way. So follow him, and let everyone know that  it is all for His glory (Colossians 3:4). Take no credit for yourself, because we are only able to accomplish what we do by the power of Christ working through us (Colossians 3:17).

The Letter to Sardis

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The fifth letter written at the beginning of John’s Revelation, was given to the Church at Sardis. Sardis is a city located in between Thyatira (north) and Smyrna (south).  The church here had a significant problem with following through. Jesus says to them “nothing of God’s work has been completed” (Revelation 3:2, MSG). Christ even goes to the point of calling them “dead, stone dead” (Revelation 3:1, MSG). He is calling the church to come back to life and continue doing God’s work. He knows that they have the “can-do” spirit to get it done, but they have decided to stop working.

How many of us have this problem ourselves? I know that if I lose interest in a task, it may never get accomplished. But this doesn’t work when it’s God’s work we are doing. James writes in his letter, “So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” (James:217, NLT). That’s what Christ was saying to the Church at Sardis, and it’s the same for us. We cannot simply say that we follow Jesus, and not do anything to progress the gospel (or even live it for that matter). Christ wants us to be alive in our faith, and we show that by doing things.

What can be done? Conveniently, Jesus himself told us how to live out the Gospel. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39, NASB). We must keep God as our focus throughout our lives, and love Him. Then we are to care for others, because this is what Christ taught us to do, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45, NASB).

So let’s come back to life, and resume the work God has given us to do!

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The Letter to Thyatira

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Today’s letter was written to the Church at Thyatira. It seems that this church had similar issues to Pergamum. They were doing great things for Christ, but they tolerated pagan/evil beliefs to enter the church. The difference between the two is that Thyatira seems to allow a leader within the church to teach people these evil beliefs while in Pergamum it was the “regular attender”. Jesus calls this person Jezebel (which is a reference an Israelite queen that influenced Israel to worship other gods, and persecuted the prophets of God) and says of her, “she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray…” (Revelation 2:20, NASB).

This is certainly a message to those of us in leadership in the Church, to be careful what we teach. Whatever we say or do must come from the Bible and be Christ-centered. The instant that this isn’t true is when we become like Jezebel and lead people astray. God isn’t happy about that. He wants His people to follow Him and not some made up god or some made up truth. Church leadership has stress over this because they have to make sure they have a message that speaks to everyone, and cannot be misunderstood.

But what if I’m not a leader? This message still applies to you. Where ever I am, and I have a Bible sitting next to me (or I’m reading it), people always seem to ask questions about it. I’m sure many of you have had a similar experience. We even hear people that talk about Christians, but their understanding of who we are is completely wrong; so you stand up for us and answer their questions. Or maybe you don’t respond, but wish someone would correct them. In these moments, we all have the opportunity to be a leader and bring people to Christ. No we may not see a conversion right there, but at least someone may start to understand. That’s why we have to study and understand the Bible. That way we can use it everyday to help others along.

My prayer for you today is that God opens your eyes to something new in Scripture. I also hope that you pray for your church leadership: pastors, worship leaders, lay leaders, other elders, deacons, committee groups, etc. They all need that prayer for encouragement. We must all be vigilant to be sure that we don’t lead people astray, and be unlike the church in Thyatira.

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