Saturday, December 16, 2017

Worth Pondering...

     Like you, I have sometimes been asked, “What is your favorite Christmas memory?”
     I have no tales of dramatic rescue, needy children, or the-present-that I-always-wanted-but-thought-I would-never-get-yet-somehow-did.  In both my youth and adulthood, Christmas has been pleasant but generally uneventful.  
     Yet one thought has recurred.  One image has remained.  One memory has resonated. 
     Each year, like every other child, I could hardly wait for Christmas.  By Christmas Eve, my head was dancing, albeit not with visions of sugarplums.  My parents, kind souls that they were, knew that for a child anticipating Christmas, a day is like an eternity.  So in their mercy, they allowed me and my sister to open one present on Christmas Eve.
     I am sure my perception does not purely match with reality, but I am confident that far more than once, my Christmas Eve present was underwear.  Yes — a clear, squishy package of white undergarments designed to equip me for life in this cruel world.
     (This was followed, on the day of Christmas, with good gifts from my sensible but generous parents.)
     Why do I remember this?  I am certain that more often than not, I received underwear with far less fondness than I now feel in writing about it.  Surely I thought, “Great.  It’s Christmas Eve, and all I get tonight is underwear.”
     But what is a gift?   It is something that I cannot demand because I do not deserve it.  All the gifts I received were because of the generosity and graciousness of the people who chose to love me.  It is a matter of perspective.  If I think I deserve everything, I will be sullen and angry with anything less.  If I know I have no right to demand anything, I will be joyful and thankful for whatever I receive.
     Christmas is about a gift that we could hardly call glamorous, but now can proclaim glorious.  It is about a gift that came not with loud trumpets, but with a little baby’s first cry.  It is about a gift that we did not deserve and could not demand.  
     As I ponder the underwear of Christmas Eve, I believe I am now genuinely thankful for it, along with all the fun stuff I opened the next day.  But I must always remember that the best gift came two-thousand years ago, and I am humbled that it came not because I had the right to demand it, but because God had the heart to desire it.
     Because of this I can say, “Merry Christmas.”

Friday, December 15, 2017

With Patience...Ephesians 4:2

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner
worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience…”

     Where is your least favorite place to drive?  Maybe it is a small town with too few roads and too many cars.  Perhaps it is an interstate where people mistake the highway for a speedway.  For many people, it is anywhere near a shopping center.  As you approach your least favorite place to drive, you know someone will do something that is frustrating or infuriating.  You must prepare to face the situation without blowing up.
     This principle applies to all human relationships.  While Paul is primarily thinking of the way we relate to each other in the church, his admonitions about walking in a worthy manner apply to every situation we face and all the relationships we have.  Now Paul calls the Ephesians to live with one another with patience.
     The word here refers to forbearance or longsuffering.  In a fallen world, you know people will give you trouble.  Sometimes it is as small as a rude act on the road, but other times it is as great as damaging a relationship through lies and deceit.  Godly people suffer long.  They resist the temptation to respond with vengeance.  Even when they must respond in opposition, they respond with patience.
     This is a gospel issue.  God’s people follow God’s ways in God’s strength and because of His mercy to them.  The gospel declares that God has been infinitely patient with you.  He suffered long with your sin before you knew Jesus, and even as you grow in grace, He suffers long with your ongoing failures.  You begin to win the fight with patience as you immerse your soul and spirit in the patience God has exercised with you.
     This is also a wisdom issue.  As I reflect on my struggles with patience and the opportunities I have had to teach on patience, one theme keeps coming back: You must prepare to be patient.  Whether you face a rude driver, an obnoxious co-worker, or an irritating relative, you are often able to predict the situations where you will be tempted to react with impatience.  As you anticipate those difficult moments, you must prayerfully prepare for them.  
     Be explicit with God: “Father, you know that when I get into a room with this guy, I want to strike him down with my words — or even my fist.  I know this is wrong.  But I also know I will feel this way.  Help me to remember your patience with me and exercise patience with him.”
     Ponder this issue.  As you enter each day, pray through the roads, meetings, and people who will test your patience.  Ask God to supernaturally calm your spirit and enable you to honor Him as you respond with patience.  This may be your least favorite response to your least favorite situation, but He will help you.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

All Gentleness...Ephesians 4:2

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner
worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
with all humility and gentleness…”

     One of the more amusing plays in football usually occurs near the goal line.  The offense runs the ball, and the runner barges into the pile and slows down.  One or more of his teammates get behind him and shove him forward.  The whole pile tumbles toward the goal line, and the runner often scores because the offense has pushed and pushed until it got its way.
     While this is fun to watch in football, it is destructive to human relationships.  Paul writes that a worthy Christian life includes gentleness.  The word here can also be translated “meekness.”  We think of meekness as weakness, but it is actually a strength that exceeds the power of the strongest football players.
     Meekness and gentleness develop from a firm trust in God.  When He adopts you as His child through faith in Jesus, you know He is on your side.  His will and ways are always for your good, even if they are difficult.  You do not need to push others for the fulfillment of your desires because you trust Him to push for you and provide all you need.  
     As a result, you can focus on loving others instead of serving yourself.  As some have written, you do not need to think about yourself at all because you know God will take care of you.  Instead of pushing your agenda, you press forward with the love and service that honors God and blesses others.
     Here is a common example.  You are in a competitive workplace, and you want a promotion.  There is nothing wrong with that, but you could sin as you pursue your desire.  Perhaps you will make sure the decision-makers know everything about your work.  Maybe you will drop some not-so-subtle hints about the quality and quantity of someone else’s efforts.  You may even boldly declare that you have the right to the new position.
     But when you live with the gentleness and meekness God desires, you simply do your work.  You strive to perform well for the good of the company, and you let God guide the hearts and minds of the decision-makers.  You pray, and you do what is right, but you feel no need to push for your desire because you know God will take care of you, no matter the outcome.
     This is how you should function in the church, your home, in community activities, and in all the places of your life.  Because you love and live for a God who is your Father, you rest in His fatherly care for you.  Even as you do what is right, you entrust all outcomes to Him.  
     Stop living like you are in a football game at the goal line.  Let God push for you, and display the gentleness He desires.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

All Humility...Ephesians 4:2

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner
worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
with all humility…”

     This morning I was working in a coffee shop, and nearby one of the employees was trying to hang a huge Christmas wreath on the front door.  He is considerably shorter than I am, so I offered to help him attach the wreath to the top of the door.  After I finished the job, he thanked me, and we talked about the advantages and disadvantages of being tall and short.  If you are tall, you bang your head a lot.  If you are short, you use stools a lot.
     As Paul begins to describe a worthy Christian life, he calls the Ephesians to all humility.  One way to describe humility is to say that you see yourself as short and everyone else as tall.  This is not the shortness that says, “I am worthless.”  People of all sorts and sizes are infinitely valuable in God’s eyes because they are His creation.  Our redemption in Jesus affirms God’s eternal love for us and everlasting care for us.  Humility does not make you nothing.
     But with a humble perspective, you have a particular view of others.  They are “taller” than you.  Before God they are no more valuable, but you value them more than you value yourself.  You respect them with your thoughts and words.  You submit to their desires as long as those desires are not sinful.  You find ways to serve them and make their lives easier.  You admit when you are wrong.  We might say you “shorten” yourself in what you think, say, and do.
     How can you do this?  You are a child of the Father who sent His Son to humble Himself for your sake.  Because Jesus died for you, you want to live for Him.  You honor Him when you emulate the humility He exhibited during His life and in His death.  You know He wants you to live with this humility so you can be confident He will enable you to demonstrate it.
     Where must you do this?  Everywhere.  You may find it simple to live with humility before particular people or in certain situations.  Jesus described a scene where you take a seat of honor, only to be removed from it.  No one wants that.  A position of humility can be advantageous.
     But humility should shape every aspect of your life and each relationship in your life.  Maybe that is why Paul writes of all humility.  Whether you are dealing with your co-workers, spouse, children, friends, fellow church members, acquaintances, or other shoppers or drivers, you want to show the humility of Jesus.  
     You must prayerfully and intentionally strive to cultivate this habit.  But by God’s grace, you may grow in humility.  No matter how short or tall you are, may God instill this perspective and enable you to display this quality.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Worthy Manner...Ephesians 4:1

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner
worthy of the calling to which you have been called…”

     What is the hardest part about installing a washer or dryer?  It is often the problem of getting the new appliance balanced on the floor.  You raise this leg, lower that one, then try all over again in an attempt to get everything in balance.  If you fail to achieve this balance, your washer or dryer will run poorly or break down altogether.  
     We now reach a turning point in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.  The first three chapters have described God’s will for the world.  Now Paul moves firmly to the gospel’s implications for our lives.  The rest of the letter provides detailed instructions for our ways.  This prisoner for the Lord, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, will exhort his readers about living in union with Jesus.  As we have seen, the word translated “walk” refers to the whole conduct of your life.  This walk should be in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.
     Paul’s readers have been called to faith in Jesus.  What is a worthy life for such people?  One writer says the literal meaning of the word translated “worthy” is “to bring up the beam of the scales.”  When you use a scale, like with a washer or dryer, you want the two sides to be balanced.  Paul wants his readers to balance profession and practice.  If they profess Jesus as Savior of all and Lord of living, he wants their practice to reflect this reality.
     This is central to God’s honor and glory through our lives.  When you live in unworthy ways before God and others, you discredit your profession of faith.  But when people can see how your faith transforms your daily living, you testify beautifully to the life-changing power of Jesus.  Your words are not mere words, but signs of a changed life.
     The issue of worthiness extends to everything we do.  
     You want your marriage to be worthy of God’s call upon that union.
     If you are single, you live with the purity God desires for you.
     You want to lead your children to faith and new life, particularly through the example you set.
     You work not just for people, but for God, for this reflects upon His character.
     You speak with integrity because you love a God who speaks the truth.
     You serve others because Jesus has served you, even to death.
     You show compassion to the needy as a reflection of Jesus’ care for others.
     You oppose wickedness because you serve a holy God.
     The examples are endless, but the principle is timeless.  If people could weigh your profession and practice, would they balance?  Or would they say you are all talk and no action?  May you heed Paul’s exhortation, and may God’s Holy Spirit continually bring your practice into balance with your profession.

Monday, December 11, 2017

He Is Able...Ephesians 3:20-21

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think,
according to the power at work within us,
to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus
throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.”

     A.W. Tozer once wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us…The idolatrous heart assumes that God is other than he is — in itself a monstrous sin — and substitutes for the true God, one made after its own likeness.  Always this God will conform to the image of the one who created it…A god begotten in the shadows of a fallen heart will quite naturally be no true likeness of the true God.”
     As Paul culminates the first half of his letter to the Ephesians, his inspired words burst forth in praise to the true God.  Paul has described God’s will for this world.  He has predestined a people to be His own.  This grace has not come because of our worthiness, but despite our unworthiness.  God’s eternal plan extends to men, women, and children of all nations.  The result is peace between God and people and between people and people.  This newly redeemed gathering is growing into a living temple whose construction will culminate when Jesus returns to unite all things in Himself.  
     But can God carry out this plan?  Yes!  He is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think.  We tend to read those verses very personally.  We say, “Yes — God can do great things in my struggles!”  This is true, but Paul’s perspective is much broader.  He is declaring that God is ready, willing, and able to accomplish His purposes for His world.  If you grasp the cosmic dimensions of God’s plan, you may wonder whether God can do what He pledges.  He can.  He is.  He will.
     We are involved in all of this.  God accomplishes much of His plan according to the power at work within us.  God’s people fulfill God’s purposes through God’s power.  As we live as citizens of this new kingdom, residents of this new household, and pieces of this new temple, we declare and display the glory of the true God.  Through our efforts, God calls more people to faith in Jesus.  He will continue His program until all the elect are gathered and Jesus returns to consummate His kingdom.
     As you shuffle or stumble into a new day, remember this.  God is up to big things, especially through your faithful service to Him.  When you believe you are weak, you know His power can work in you to enable you to advance His purposes.  As you journey through this life, may this reality come to your mind about God, and may it encourage you to faithful and fruitful service to Him.  Glorify Him and see how He glorifies Himself among the nations through you.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Worth Telling...

     In The Treasure Principle, Randy Alcorn recalls the life of Alfred Nobel.  In 1888, Nobel was shocked to read his obituary in the newspaper.  It was actually Nobel’s brother who had died, but Nobel was also bothered to see that he was remembered only as a scientist who had invented the tool of destruction we call dynamite.
     As Alcorn writes, Nobel decided to change his legacy.  He eventually left more than $9 million to fund awards we now know as the Nobel prizes.
     What kind of legacy are you leaving?