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.