Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Scandalous Gospel - A Scandalous Secret, pt. 3

By Timothy Howe

Recognize Jesus as the true Messiah through these 3 pursuits.
This week, I have written about recognizing Jesus as the true Messiah through 2 different pursuits - (1) Pursue a personal relationship, not personal blessings and (2) Pursue personal sacrifice, not personal benefit.

The two pursuits are sequential. One is much more willing to pursue sacrifice after he or she has established a relationship with another. I am much more willing to sacrifice for the people closest to me.  It is vital that we establish a relationship and that we are willing to offer personal sacrifice to nurture that relationship and to accomplish purpose within it. I would suggest that a third pursuit should follow.

3.  Pursue personal spiritual growth, not personal spiritual hype.
We live in a world where image is often more important than substance. We all want to be seen as important. This is true in all areas of life, no less true for many people in areas of spiritual concern. Many people want to appear to be spiritual, but are not willing to invest in the hard work of being a daily disciple of Jesus and thus exchange true spiritual growth for cheap “spirituality.” This leads many people to experience false spiritual emotions that supplant genuine spiritual development. It is far too easy to mistake spiritual "feel-goodism" for spiritual depth. Yet, Jesus calls His disciples to daily growth.

Pursue an Endeavor with Vigor
This summer my family went on vacation back to the Mediterranean where we once lived. It was a refreshing and wonderful time for my wife and I to retrace some wonderful memories. We stayed in the fishing village pictured here. Our hotel was a short 5 minute walk from this small port. We watched the boats going in and out. The fisherman returned early each morning with their catch ready to sell at the market; not an easy task. They have to find their catch hidden under the sea and then bring it back to land and hope to find a buyer. This is all hard work and none of it comes about by happenstance. They have to pursue this endeavor with vigor if they hope to be successful. It costs them something to accomplish their goals. They must first nurture a relationship with the sea so as to know how to approach the task and then they must be willing to make real sacrifices in terms of time and effort if they want to be successful. Even as they establish this relationship and make the necessary sacrifices they must also grow as fisherman. 

Pursue Perfection with Steadfastness
The same truths that govern the endeavors of the fishermen discussed above are true in our spiritual journey. I do not know anyone who believes that they "have arrived" when it comes to spiritual maturity. James tells us in James 1:4 

   And let steadfastness have its full effect, 
     that you may be perfect and complete, 
     lacking in nothing. (James 1:4 ESV)

This concept of being perfect and complete does not mean that we must be without all faults. James is speaking about a spiritual maturity that each person must strive for if they are true disciples of Jesus. This is not easy, though. We must pursue spiritual maturity with a constant steadfastness. It is a constant working out of who God wants us to be, day by day. I believe the best way to do this is through spiritual disciples. One should establish a regular and consistent life of habit in the areas of prayer, scripture reading, scriptural study, meditation, worship, devotion, fasting, generosity, and so on. As we do this, we give ourselves the greatest tools to become spiritually mature.

The Not-so Nefarious Substitutes
But I have watched many people experience a spiritual "mountain experience" and think that they have attained the highest degree of spirituality. I must confess that I, too, have fallen prey to this. We go to a conference, hear a message, experience a powerful spiritual emotion and confuse it with true steadfast discipleship. These substitutes are tricky because they are not nefarious, sinful or evil. They are often useful and powerful tools in moving us in the right direction towards spiritual growth, especially if we have been stuck in a spiritual rut for some time. But they should be motivators towards, not replacements of true spiritual growth. And true spiritual growth is what it will take for us to achieve spiritual maturity.

What do you want?
What will you pursue? To best answer that, first assess what you want out of your spiritual life. Do you want occasional spiritual headiness, or you do you want true spiritual maturity? If it is the latter, seek spiritual growth and you will recognize the true Messiah who told the disciples to conceal His secret for a time.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Scandalous Gospel - A Scandalous Secret, pt. 2

By Timothy Howe
Pursue personal sacrifice, not personal benefit.

Yesterday I wrote concerning the question, "Doesn't it seem odd that Jesus would not want people to know who He was and embrace His role as the Messiah?" Remember how Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem and he was preparing the disciples for what would happen once he arrived. It was at this time that we stumble across a scandalous secret - Jesus was the Messiah but did not seem to want people to recognize that fact. The reason is that Jesus want people to recognize Him as the true Messiah, not someone from whom one could extract personal gain.  

Recognize Jesus as the true Messiah through these 3 pursuits.
We saw the first pursuit that we should have in our effort to recognize Jesus as the true Messiah:  Pursue a personal relationship, not personal blessings.
Today, I want to consider to another pursuit that will permit us to recognize Jesus as the true Messiah in our lives. 

2. Pursue personal sacrifice, not personal benefit.
Jesus described to the disciples what they should expect if they wanted to follow Him. Jesus required sacrifice of His disciples. He asked them to be willing to make personal sacrifices. Leaders of most movements - religious, political, social, cultural, sportive, etc. - entice their followers by elaborating on what's in it for them. They tell of what benefits the prospective member should expect if they join that cause, organization or movement. 

Jesus was different. He taught that those who truly want to follow Him must be willing to make sacrifices, great sacrifices. His followers would lose respect. His followers would lose financial gain. His followers would lose friends. His followers would lose family. His followers would often lose their very lives. 

And what Jesus declared to His earliest disciples has continued to ring true throughout the ages. Followers of Jesus throughout most of history have sacrificed much, often all. It is only in the last couple of centuries that this has changed in some places in the world, most notably in the West. In Europe and the USA, being a follower of Jesus does not cost much. In reality, the benefits outweigh the sacrifices in most cases. This is still not true in much of the world today. Yet, isn't it interesting that where Christianity has gotten comfortable is precisely where it appears to be in demise. Where it is hard to be a Christian is where one witnesses its greatest growth!

I believe that there is a direct correlation in the willingness of Jesus' disciples to pursue sacrifice and the growth of His church.

Are you pursuing personal sacrifice or personal benefit from the Messiah?

Tomorrow, we'll consider another crucial pursuit for those who want to recognize Jesus as the true Messiah.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Scandalous Gospel - A Scandalous Secret

by Timothy Howe

     And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him
Mark 8:30 ESV

This command comes from Jesus just after the disciples openly declared Him to be the Messiah. A similar statement is found in several locations throughout the gospel of Mark. Jesus told a leper to not tell others about his cleansing (1:44) and unclean spirits to not make known who He was (3:12). Doesn't it seem odd that Jesus would not want people to know who He was and embrace His role as the Messiah? The answer to this question comes with understanding the timing and the purpose of that recognition. 

Mark 8 comes on the heals of vast crowds gathering to hear Jesus' teachings and expecting to see miracles. One the miracles included feeding 4000 hungry people with just a small portion of food - some bread and a few small fish. The reason that people gathered around Jesus seemed to be for very self-serving purposes. Jesus was about to raise the stakes for those who would follow Him. 

On to Jerusalem
Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. He knew what awaited Him there. He would try to prepare the disciples for the impending suffering and abuse he would receive at the hands of the authorities that they would witness. It was with this understanding that He performed miracles and taught great messages. If the disciples were going to survive as true disciples, then their faith would have to be of greater substance than hoping in personal gain on account of following Jesus. 

The Scandalous Secret
Here is the scandalous secret - Jesus was the Messiah. Why was it scandalous? First of all, it would seem that a messiah would certainly have wanted people to recognize him. Secondly, wouldn't a messiah have used his miraculous powers to entice followers to join his cause? Yet, Jesus was different. He wanted people to follow Him for different reasons. He wanted them to embrace Him as the True Messiah, not some performer of parlor tricks. Furthermore, I believe that He desires the same for us today. There are many reasons that people come to accept the teachings and requirements of Jesus. I would strongly encourage each person to check their motives and determine if they are pursuing Jesus for proper motives or for personal gain. 

Examine the following question: 
How can we know if we are pursuing Jesus with a pure heart, 
     not for selfish gain?

The answer to this question is found in how we pursue Jesus.
Recognize Jesus as the true Messiah through these 3 pursuits.

1.      Pursue a personal relationship, not personal blessings.
People get involved in religious practices for many reasons. For some people, it is tradition. For others it is for peace of mind. Other go to church because Mom expects them to do so. One of the most common reasons that people get involved in religious activity is due to the desire for personal blessings.

Blessings are great. I want blessings in my life. I want all those around me to have as many blessings as possible. The Scriptures are replete with God's blessings in both the Old and New Testament. The Aaronic Blessing in Numbers 6:24-26 is one of the most beautiful in the Bible and Ephesians 1:3 reminds us that Christ has blessed us all with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

Yet, blessings should not be the main focus of our religious intention. Jesus wants us to know Him via a personal relationship. People wanted Jesus to give them blessings, yet they ignored the greatest blessing that He wanted to give them - Himself. Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus? Do you spend time with Jesus every day? Do you take time to get to know Him. 

"Depart from me, I never knew you"
Matthew 7:21-23 speaks of people who expect to get into heaven because they have done religious works. Some of these people will have done truly remarkable things designated as "mighty works." Yet Jesus shockingly tells them "I never knew you; depart from me you workers of lawlessness" (Mt 7:23b ESV). Knowing Christ is so much more important than being blessed by Christ. Are you seeking to know Him? Are you pursuing a personal relationship with Him, not just seeking His blessings?

We will consider two more pursuits this week. As we do, let each of us daily ask ourselves, "What is our true religious motivation?" Are we seeking to connect with the Divine and fulfill His purpose for our lives?

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Scandalous Gospel - Scandalous Behavior

by Timothy Howe

Jesus, a different sort of Messiah
Matthew 8-9 emphasizes the authority of Jesus as the Messiah through his miracles and teachings. Yet much of what Jesus does and says is at odds with what people expected. Jesus did not cater to the religious elite; he ministered to the marginalized and crossed barriers to touch those who had previously been left without important spiritual status. 

Hanging out with sinners
In Matthew 9:9-13, we encounter a story in which Jesus dared to eat dinner with a tax collector, someone who was held in the same esteem as a prostitute. The term most associated with "tax collector" in the New Testament is "sinner." That indicates how despised these people were. And the appropriate attitude toward sinners, at least according to those who were "spiritual," was avoidance. Jesus did something different. Instead of avoiding the sinners, he hung out with them. 

The religious authorities challenged Jesus on this. Well, they really weren't so bold. They challenged Jesus' disciples on this. But Jesus overheard them and responded anyway. And he tells us in Matthew 9:12,

     Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.

Jesus came to help sick people, not hang out with those not in need of his forgiveness. This is ironic since, in reality, we all need his forgiveness. Jesus' behavior was considered scandalous. This would likely play a great part in his rejection by the religious elite. Yet, He continue to behave scandalously for the sake of a gospel that He intended rather than one they expected.

How do we see others?
I would challenge each of us to consider how we treat those around us who are less than perfect, ignoring our own imperfections for a moment. This starts with how we see them. A few years ago, I received laser eye surgery that took me from being blind as a bat to seeing better than 20/20. It was as if I received a new pair of eyes. The same should have happened to each of us as we came to know the mercy of God through our Christian faith. We should view the world differently, including seeing others. How do we see others? Do we see them as Jesus does? Do we see them as in need of a physician? Are we willing to be that physician? 
When you come to Christ you receive a new pair of classes, with new lenses that cause you to see things unlike you did before – better, clearer, more vividly and mostly importantly, correctly. 

Behave scandalously 
I believe that every Christian should behave scandalously for the sake of the Gospel because of his or her new spiritual lenses. How do we do this? I suggest we do so by changing our focus to a focus that our new spiritual lenses give us.

Focus more on people than deeds.
Jesus focused on people more than deeds.  Jesus recognized that He was dealing with a person. Every person was initially created in the image of God. Our failings push us away from God, but we must continue to cling to the hope of the redemption of the person regardless of his or her deeds. We do this by spending time with people.  Jesus spent time with people. 

Focus more on opportunities than circumstances.
Jesus focused on expectations more than on life circumstances. It is easy to judge people in difficult circumstances and play the blame game, explaining how they got to this low-point. But just because someone is at a low-point in life does not mean that it is there final destination. Many people have turned their lives around. We should focus on what opportunities can do for someone more than his or her present circumstance. Jesus spent time on the unexpected. He healed and helped the marginalized. He called the rejected. And he created a fantastic team that would change the world out of these "rejects". He recognized that there were greater opportunities than their current circumstances suggested.

Focus more on future potential than past failures.
Jesus focused on future potential because He could see what was in the heart of people and what was the content of their character. Do we judge people correctly? Do we let their past failures determine what we think they are capable of? Jesus was not satisfied with what people had done. He raised expectations.

Focus more on mercy than on religious activity.
Jesus had seen enough religious activity. He criticized people who came and demonstrated how holy they were at the temple, but did not have a real heart after God. Jesus pointed out that he came to offer mercy, not sacrifice. This must be our message. This is the hope of the gospel. This is the purpose of evangelism. We must bring mercy to people, not more religious activity. Religious duty will not get anyone into heaven or into good graces with God. Only His mercy does both. Will we offer His mercy to those around us?

What is God's mercy? 
     “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, 
     he gave the right to become children of God.”  John 1:12

Have you received, believed, and become a child of God?
Will you lead others to receive, believe, and become children of God?

Friday, October 12, 2012

When Life Happens - Unexpectedly

by Timothy Howe

Tom & Tim surrounded by a sea of gold and green
I love baseball. Recently, my brother and I attended the last baseball game of the regular season for the Texas Rangers. The game was played in Oakland. It was our birthday and we both love baseball, so it was a perfect idea. We had not been together on our birthday in 15 years. This was going to be a treat. 

When we initially planned on going to the game, we fully expected it to be a meaningless one in terms of how the results would affect the 2012 baseball season. The Texas Rangers had led the division pretty substantially for much of the season and the only serious perceived threat was their rival from Southern California, the Los Angeles Angels. 

We were just going to this game for fun.

Then things got interesting. The Rangers finished the season with a lackluster performance while the Oakland A's, their perceived non-threatening but feel good story of Northern California, kept winning when no one expected them to. And they kept winning. Then they swept the next-to-last series in the season to put them one game behind Texas with 3 games left to play head-to-head. If Oakland won all three games they would win the division and not Texas, the season-long favorite. 

Oakland won the first two games of the series.

October 3 - the last game of the season. And it matters. Whoever wins this game, wins the division. This was not expected to happen. But it did. So, now we are two Ranger fans in a sea of gold and green. We are proud for the A's. I live in the Bay Area and have pulled for the A's all season. (But shhh!, don't tell my co-worker, she's an A's fan and its a source of fun between us.) They have been the feel good story of baseball. But I really wanted Texas to win the game.

Texas jumped out to an early lead, but the comeback A's, something they have been dubbed this year due to their penchant for winning late in games, charged back in the late innings of the game and won the game decisively; and with it - the pennant.  So, hat's off to the victorious opponents. 

I am reminded, yet again, that life often does not turn out like we hope or expect. Things might be going extremely well and then take a swift tack (the case of the Rangers) or things might be going less than perfect and then improve drastically (the case of the A's). 

Very few of us mind any unexpected upswings. Most all of us would prefer to avoid the downswings. I wish one team had one a game, and I am happy for the team which did. Unfortunately most of life's problems are a lot bigger than whether or not your team won or lost a game. 

What will be your response to unexpected changes in life. Do you have the deep inner peace that helps each person through the most difficult times in life? Do you have the confidence to know that tomorrow will be another day and that we will get up and make it through it?

You can find a peace and confidence regardless of what life throws at you. My confidence rests in the Lord. 

Proverbs 3:25-26 tells us 

              Do not be afraid of sudden panic
                 or of the storm that strikes the wicked;
              for the Lord will be your confidence
                 and will keep your foot from being caught.

I pray that you find confidence in the Lord today.

Friday, May 18, 2012

How You Can Live in Unity

by Timothy Howe

Yesterday we read in Ephesians 4:23-24

And…be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and…put on the new self, 
created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

We saw that by the renewing in the spirit of our minds, we are able to do things which do not come to us naturally. Returning to Ephesians 4:2-3, we find out how we can achieve the unity to which Ephesians 4 calls us by means of living out HUMILITY, GENTLENESS, PATIENCE, LOVE and PEACE.

The first step towards living together in unity is for each of us to become humble like Jesus was humble. Humility was not something looked highly upon during the time of Christ. The word here for humility is closely associated with a drooping flower or someone who is in the act of cringing in fear. Christ tells us, though, that he came to serve not to be served. Those who follow Him must also serve others. It means to put other people’s interests above your own. Humility is the basis of unity in the church.

One seeking to live in unity with others must constantly show gentleness. Gentleness does not mean weakness. Think of the example of a powerful horse. A horse is much stronger than any person. Yet, we long ago learned how to tame horses by placing a tiny bit in their mouths. With that bit, the horse comes under the rider’s complete control and all of his strength is applied to some good purpose. As our minds are renewed, it is God who takes control over us and makes us gentle in spirit.

Patience is the virtue that allows us to persevere. The word used here for patience was closely associated with the Roman army to mean “unconquerable.” The Romans considered themselves the greatest in the world, able to withstand any adversity. In the same way, godly patience gives us strength to face life’s difficulties, setbacks, and problems. William Barclay says that “Christian patience is the spirit which will not be broken by any misfortune or suffering, by any disappointment or discouragement, but which persists to the end.”

As Christians, we are to love each other in the same way that Christ loved us. This type of love goes above all emotions. This type of love does not consider what will be given in return. This type of love ignores whatever wrongs have been committed. It is the kind of love that has nothing but the absolute good in mind for the other person.

When Paul talks about a bond of peace in verse 3, he is referring to getting ourselves into right relationships. This means that we have nothing wrong between each other that can cause us to be upset. Christ offers us peace with God by giving us a right relationship with Him showing us how to have the same sort of relationship with other people. He did this through sacrifice of Himself on the cross. Here is the key to have a right relationship with other people – self-sacrifice.  When we die to ourselves and our lives begin come under the control of the Lord, we will find incredible peace between us and God and between us and other Christians.

Paul tells us that these five things – humility, gentleness, patience, love and peace – are the key to living together in unity.

Perhaps you don’t have unity in your family. Perhaps your church has some disunity within it that you could help to do something about. Consider what the Lord is speaking to you. Are there areas in your life where you need to let go of personal pride and become more humble.

Do you respond too harshly to circumstances?

Does the Lord want to help you be gentle instead?

Where can patience take root within your daily life?

Is there an area where you could better demonstrate a type of love
 that has nothing but the interest of the other person at heart?

Do you want peace with God? 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Enjoy One Another

by Timothy Howe
As we have been looking at Ephesians 4, we have seen how Paul switches from talking about Christian Principle in chapters 1-3 to sharing with us how to live out a Christian PracticeA key Christian practice is to learn how to enjoy being together.

Enjoy one another
Ephesians 4:1-7 explains to us how:
We are to be known by our love for one another.
We are to be part of a fellowship with one another. 
      Fellowship is concerned with harmony.

Harmony is the surest sign that the Lord is in the Church. The Lord Jesus Christ brought to a world divided the one way to unity – faith in Him. The Church’s task is to share this with the world, the way we share it best is by how we live. Harmony and unity go hand in hand.

Walk Worthy of the Calling
Remember how Paul refers to “the manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called.”  It is God Himself who has called us to live a life of unity with other believers.  Disunity originates in pride. So we must be humble.

Live in Unity
Ephesians 4:4-6 emphasizes this unity by reminding us that there is only ONE body, which is the church; ONE Spirit, the Holy Spirit; ONE hope, ONE Lord, ONE faith, ONE baptism, and only ONE God and Father. Paul underscores how important it is that we live life in unity.

But it is not always easy to live in unity with those around us, is it? It is often far easier to get angry or annoyed with each other than it is to show grace and forgiveness. Because we are humans, we can too often be selfish, self-centered, impatient, and quick to get mad. If we as the church are supposed to live out a life of unity with one another but our human nature wants to live for ourselves, the question is, “how can we learn to live in unity as Christ wants us to?”

Created After the Likeness of God
Paul tells us how we can do this in Ephesians 4:23-24

And…be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and…put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

By the renewing in the spirit of our minds, we will be able to do those things which do not come to us naturally. Returning back to Ephesians 4:2-3, Paul tells us how we can achieve this unity with each other as a result of the renewing of our minds. It is by living out the five attributes of HUMILITY, GENTLENESS, PATIENCE, LOVE and PEACE.

Tomorrow we will take a closer look at each of these. 

     Make room for the Holy Spirit to renew your minds. 
     Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God.
     Pursue true righteousness and holiness.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Walk in a Worthy Manner

by Timothy Howe
When a person joins a team, he or she takes on the shared values and purposes of that team. He or she shares makes its objectives and goals his or her own. In doing so, they agree to the standards and aims of the team and the hopeful outcome is success in accomplishing the team's goals. Ephesians lays out some of the standards of joining God's team.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 
Ephesians 4:1-3

Walk in a Worthy Manner
Look at that phrase "walk in a manner worthy of the calling." God expects His children to live life with a higher calling. He calls us to put into practice the principles that His works instills in us. Specifically in this passage, this "manner of calling" refers to believers living in unity with one another. It is God Himself who has called us to live a life of unity with other believers. We cannot refuse God’s will for us if He really is our Lord, can we?

We are called to live ethically.
Once we give our lives to God, we have a higher standard by which to measure our actions. We must conduct ourselves in a "worthy" manner. What does this mean? Well, it means that we must consider every action and how it reflects on Christ and on our fellow believers. Too often there is no distinction in our a follower of Jesus lives life than a person who does not follow Him. We must be a people above reproach.

We are called to live ethically before all people.
Our calling to ethical living is not meant to be something that we do on Sundays. It should especially be lived out on Mondays through Fridays. We should constantly be living out exemplary lives without exception. Unfortunately the charges of hypocrisy leveled against Christians too often ring true. We must live out the teachings of the gospel. James exhorts us - 
But don't just listen to God's word. 
You must do what it says. 
Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.
James 1:22 NLT

We are called to live ethically in all circumstances.
Our calling to ethical living remains in force no matter how unethical the people we deal with become. People treated Christ extremely harshly and yet He continued to live out His plan. Temptations will arise to cut corners when coworkers do so. Temptations will arise to return evil for evil. Temptations will arise to try to get away with something when no one is looking. We must remember to live worthy of the calling even when no one is watching. 

We are called to live differently towards other Christians.
Ultimately, in this passage, Paul is speaking about how Christians should treat each other. This is not to say that Christians should not treat non-Christians in a less respectful manner. There are plenty of how passages that speak directly about how we are to treat all people. But in this passage Paul was addressing the very real problem of Christians behaving badly towards other Christians. He insists that there is no room for this in the church. If we are truly a part of a family, then how we treat each other matters. Paul prioritizes this teaching first in this practical section of his letter.

We are called to live in harmony.
So, how should Christians treat each other? Paul instructs us to live in harmony. Harmony does not mean that we are all blind to each others' differences. What it means is that we look past those to the common purpose for which we were brought together. If ever there was a place where backbiting, gossip, bitterness, grudges or malicious talk should not exist, it is in the church. We are called to lived better than that. This week we will examine how Paul teaches us that we are able to do so. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The United Body of Christ

by Timothy Howe

Worldwide Movement
It is a blessing for Christians to be able to worship together each week. Every week in Canada & Congo; Israel & Iran; Russia & China; India, Nigeria, Argentina, Germany and so on, untold numbers of Christians around the world meet in worship services numbering in the tens of thousands or behind locked doors. Every week thousands of new believers are baptized, children learned Bible lessons and millions of prayers are offered up to the Heavenly Father in thousands of languages.  

How wonderful it has been for me personally to have heard the Lord worshiped in other languages throughout my ministry. This offers a hint as to what the Lord sees every Sunday as He scans across the earth and sees our brothers and sisters worshiping Him in every nation, across every land, and in every language.

The United Body of Christ
This week I would like to share about what it means to be a part of the UNITED body of Christ. As Christians, we have many blessings, much freedom and abundant joy offered to us through Jesus Christ. Paul tells about these freedoms and the blessings that God offers in the letter to the Ephesians.

In the first three chapters of the book of Ephesians Paul writes about the spiritual blessings that God has given to Christians, including the fact that God thought of us even at the beginning of time. Paul speaks of redemption, forgiveness, and grace. He tells us that we have an inheritance and purpose in this life and the next.

Paul goes on to point out that we were once dead, but because of God’s grace, we are now alive and that though we were once cut off from Christ, we are now one with Him receiving the Peace of God.

These chapters offer us the very basic principles upon which Christianity is built and those to which we as Christians are entitled – redemption, forgiveness, grace, faith, hope and love. Isn’t it wonderful to know that these things are automatically part of our Christian identity?

From Christian Principle
To Christian Practice
In the last three chapters of Ephesians, Paul changes his focus a little bit. After acknowledging what it means to be Christians, he now tells us how to live like Christians.  He switches from talking about Christian Principle to sharing with us how to live out a Christian Practice.

      I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a  
      manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 
(Ephesians 4:1 ESV)

How do we "walk in a manner worthy of the calling?"
We'll find out beginning tomorrow.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

When God says "No"

by Timothy Howe

David had a plan.
As David was living in his palace, he devised a plan to do something special for God. In his mind, David was doing a good thing. He was seeking very earnestly  to provide for God as best he knew how. 

His plan served God. He sought to provide a more pleasurable setting for God to be worshiped. His 

plan esteemed God. He sought to provide what he felt was a more honorable environment to worship God than a tent. 

His plan remembered God. He sought to provide recognition for what God had done in his life. The temple would be his personal testimony of the greatness of God.

God rejects David’s plan.
To David's surprise, God told him "no" through the prophet Nathan. This even caught Nathan off-guard. Here David was wanting to do something good for God and God refused. Furthermore, he did not give a completely satisfactory answer to David why he was not permitted to build the temple. God indicated that he does not want to be limited in terms of location, prestige or power in the manner that attaching his presence to a permanent building might be. Yet, he would later permit the temple to be built, so this is not all that there is to it.

Why God says "No"
Through the biblical story there are many times that God says "no" to people. 

God says "no" because of wrongdoing.
Sometimes in the Bible God does not permit something to happen because the person who is at work has done something wrong, what we call sin. God did not permit Adam and Eve to live in the garden because they disobeyed. He did not permit Moses to enter the Promised Land because he struck the rock. 

God says "no" because of abdication.
Sometimes in the Bible God does not permit something to happen because the person who is at work has given up the right for a "yes" answer. Esau gave up his birthright in a moment of thoughtlessness and later when he was ready to receive it, the answer from the Lord was "no, it is now Jacob's birthright." Moses gave up the right to speak before Pharaoh and so Aaron became the spokesperson.

God says "no" because of lack of understanding.
Sometimes in the Bible God does not permit something to happen because the person who is at work does not fully comprehend what is that they are asking. James and John approached Jesus about sitting at his right and left in His kingdom. Jesus tells them that they do not know what they are asking. 

God says "no" because of something better.
Sometimes in the Bible God does not permit something to happen because He has something better in store than is visible at the moment. People approached John the Baptist to see if he was the Messiah. He pointed them to the one who was coming. Several times the disciples asked Jesus if He was going to inaugurate His kingdom at that time. They did not know about  the Cross, Redemption or Pentecost. 

Is God telling you "no" right now? 
If He is, look beyond it and try to determine why. God's ways are beyond our ways. His wisdom is perfect where ours is limited. He sees eternity, we see only the present. He understands the consequences of every single action, we cannot. If God is telling you "no" prepare for what He telling to do right now. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Things Are Not What They Always Seem

by Timothy Howe

I have always been interested in photography. Images have a way of capturing a moment and then that specific light will always remain. The image possesses its own inherent interpretation and yet it is open to the interpretation of anyone who looks at it in the future. 

"Forced Perspective" is a unique perspective that uses optical illusion to force object to interact at unexpected spatial intervals. They might appear farther away, closer, larger or smaller than they really are in relation to other objects. Life sometimes has a way of functioning as a sort of "forced perspective." We make things look like we think that they should, not as they really are. One example takes place in the life of King David.

David's Nice Home
In 2 Samuel 7, David was sitting in his opulent palace and reflecting on a life of success when it occurred to him that, according to his opinion, he lived in a nicer dwelling than God did. He expressed his desire to the prophet Nathan to build God a temple. David was trying to do a good thing for God. He wanted to honor God.

God's Perspective
But God's perspective was different than David's. That night God told Nathan to prevent David from carrying out his plans. God reminded David that He didn't need a house. The Lord owned all the earth (Psalm 24). He traveled wherever His people went - into Egypt, the Wilderness or Israel. 

He also reminded David that it was the Lord that provided for David, not the other way around. And then He turned the tables on David and explained that in reality it was God who was going to build a house for David.

In light of this different perspective God was telling David three things - "No," "Now" and "From Now On." This week I will be sharing When God says "No,When God says "Now," and When God says "From Now On."

Today suffice it to say that God has a different perspective. We do not understand everything. We probably will never understand most things. But that does not mean that they are without understanding. 

God was giving David a new perspective on life. Where are you in need of a new perspective? Where is God speaking to you in a way that doesn't seem right, but that is really going to lead you down the right path? How is God revealing to you what He is doing in your life right now? What are the promises that God has in store of you?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Be still because you have a refuge

by Timothy Howe
       God is our refuge and strength,
  a very present help in trouble.
      Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
  though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
      though its waters roar and foam,
         though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

Yesterday, we were reminded that in the middle of the busyness of our schedule, we must take time to be still. The reminder from Psalm 46 was to "be still and know that He is God." The second part of that phrase gives us the reason why we can be still. There is a God. Throughout this psalm there are many attributes of our God which permits us to be still.

Be Still Because You Have a Refuge
The psalm begins with this reason. Read the first verse of Psalm 46
               God is our refuge and strength,
                   a very present help in trouble.
This verse identifies three aspects of God serving as our refuge.

He is our refuge.
First of all, he is our refuge. That means that He wants to be the place where we go when we are in difficulty. When life presses down too hard, or the options seem limited, that is precisely when the Lord wants us to turn to Him.

He is our strength.
It is in our weakness that He is shown to be strong. As we give our lives over to Him, even the areas where we have stumbled, especially the areas where we have stumble, He is able to accomplish so much more through us than we can ever imagine. And when it is in our weakness, He gets all the more glory.

He is a very present help in trouble.
I like this whole verse. It is a good one to memorize. The poetry in this last part - a very present help in trouble - especially speaks to the heart. Beyond the poetry though is a beautiful promise with three parts. 
     1. He is present
         He is with us no matter what. You go through nothing alone.      
     2. He is a help
         The Lord does not sit idly by and what calamity befall His children. 
         He will intervene, just at His perfect timing. 
     3. He is with us in times of trouble
         The Lord is not interested only in our good times. 
         He is with us in our difficult ones. 
         He wants to hear from you in those times. 
         Be honest with Him. He understands what you are going through.

Do Not Fear.

          Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
              though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
          though its waters roar and foam,
              though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

The rest of the psalm tells us the result of His presence in our lives. We do not have to fear anything in this world. This does not mean that we possess a na├»ve outlook to the very real problems that surround us.  The psalmist does not suggest that we will not have reasons to fear. In fact, he goes overboard to describe fearful events beyond any we will experience - the earth giving away and a mountain moving into the sea. 

The psalmist is communicating that though there will certainly be fearful events to beset us in this life, we can be fortified against them. He calls us to steel ourselves against the most fearful of events and not be paralyzed by fear. And he describes God as the forge for that steel. 

We have a refuge, strength and present help when the worst of the worst comes our way. Let us be a people that rely on the very presence of God. His presence matters most for those who know Him.

The Deeper Value of Presence.
One responsibility for pastors is to visit people in the hospital. Whenever you are in the hospital, you certainly appreciate the care that anyone demonstrates. It is a time of hurting and the presence of someone else is a reminder that you are not alone. Yet, there is a difference in different visits. A pastor visits all sorts of people. Some he knows very well, with whom he has eaten dinner in their homes and gone places. Others, he barely knows. Those with whom he is closest are most blessed by his presence compared to those who barely know him. Again, they all appreciate his presence, but the depth of the appreciation is very closely associated with the relationship to the person. The same is true for the presence of God in our lives. We all can appreciate His presence during our difficulties, but the depth of that appreciation will be proportional to your relationship to Him beforehand. So take time now, to know Him. Spend time in prayer. Read His word. Do so in a still and quiet place before the busyness of the day takes over.

Be still.
Know that He is with you in your time of trouble.