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Nothing you can do about it

We like to work hard to accomplish our goals.

Build a house. Wash a car. Earn a diploma. Plan a road trip. Raise children. Plant a garden.

Somehow, it just feels good when we can look back on our lives, or even just one event of our lives, and say, “I did that.”

But we also know the reverse is true. Some times we work hard and fail. We don’t like to admit, “I did that.”

As I read through Ephesians 2 this morning, I thought, “This passage eliminates pride and failure at the same time. It takes the responsibility completely off of me. There’s nothing for me to brag about. There’s no risk of failure.”

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:1-9).

Look how the paragraph starts: “You were dead.” Corpses can do nothing on their own. They have no energy. There is no life in them. They can only respond to the forces around them. Someone else has to move them. Someone else has to dress them up for the funeral. Gravity pulls on them.

And that’s how we were. Controlled by the forces around us. Doing nothing that would make us attractive to God.

“BUT GOD!” God who is rich in mercy and loves us greatly, put life in the corpse. He made us alive in Christ. He raised us up with Him. He seated us with Him in the heavenly places.

Quite the contrast to what we were like and doing at the beginning of the paragraph.

And God did it all.

Saved by grace through faith. Not of our own work. Gift of God. Not a result of works.

Since God did the work (notice it’s all in past tense), and we did none of the work, it’s all in God’s hands.

I can’t do anything to earn my way into heaven. What can a corpse do?

I can’t do anything to lose my way into heaven. How can I fight against a sovereign, all-powerful God who always carries out His plan?

There’s nothing you or I can do about it.

 

I am blessed. Are you?

Don’t panic. It’s not November. Thanksgiving is still five months away.

But have you thought lately about your blessings?

What were the first five blessings that came to your mind?

Family. Health. Job you like. A place to call home. Freedom.

Those are indeed blessings for which we should be thankful. But how often do we stop to remember the spiritual blessings that we have?

After the greeting, Paul starts his letter to the Ephesian church with praise to God for the spiritual blessings He has bestowed on them:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined usfor adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:3-14).

Let’s list off some of the blessings in these paragraphs:

  • EVERY spiritual blessing – we already have them all; we’re not missing any
  • Blessed in Christ – a lot to unpack, but it’s in Christ, not in our goodness, that we have the blessings
  • in the heavenly places – set aside and secure
  • chosen before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in His presence – it’s going to happen, because it’s God’s plan!
  • adopted to God as sons through Jesus Christ – not slaves, not friends, but sons
  • redemption through His blood – purchased and set free from the slave market of sin through the payment of Christ
  • forgiveness of our trespasses – they’re forgiven, all of them; no need to worry that we’ve forgotten to ask for forgiveness the right way at the right time
  • grace lavished upon us – not just a little bit, or just enough grace, poured out and overflowing
  • knowledge of His will – we don’t know every detail, but we know a lot from the study of His word
  • an inheritance – something great is coming
  • sealed with the promised Holy Spirit – nothing is going to break that seal

All because of God’s plan, through God’s strength and for His glory!

Nothing we’ve done. Nothing we’ve earned. Nothing we’ve deserved.

And that’s the greatest blessing. It’s all because of God and for His glory – no matter how I feel, what I’ve done, or what others think of me.

I am blessed because of God’s work in me on my behalf.

Encouraging Words

Sometimes a day, or a week, or even a month or a year, can be discouraging. Our plans are not going as we had planned. When we look back at our lives, it’s not been as smooth and pleasant as we had hoped.

Maybe sickness or death has hit a sudden blow into our lives.

Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church to answer a question, and he ends the paragraph with the phrase, “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” It’s not just theology, it’s encouragement.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Let’s break this paragraph apart a bit to find the encouragement for ourselves, and to share with others.

“…that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Grief is not wrong. Sometimes we think it is, but it’s not. And we can grieve with hope.

What’s the source of that hope? “For since we believe…” Our faith – what we believe – helps us to have hope.

Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, we know that God will bring with Jesus those who have died. We believe in the resurrection of Jesus, which gives us hope for the resurrection of those who have died, believing in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

So we have hope of seeing those who have died believing in the work of Christ on the cross and his resurrection. If the grief, the stress, the upset schedule is because someone has died or is dying, we can have the hope of seeing them again.

And, if we’re still alive when Jesus comes back, we’ll be caught up in the air with him.

So where’s the encouragement for us? If we’re trusting in the work of Christ on the cross, paying the full penalty for sins, then if we die or if we live, it doesn’t matter what’s going on in our lives. We have to get through it. We have to deal with the issues. We have to take responsibility. We have to learn and grow.

But we can take confidence in the work of Christ, the promise of his return and the hope of the resurrection, we have hope.

That is the encouragement that we need.

Every day.

Who’s to blame?

Often when we hear expert analysis of a crime, the blame is put on someone else, or some events, rather than on the criminal.

“He came from a rough neighborhood.”

“Her parents wouldn’t let her date.”

“She wanted to give her kids more than her parents had given her.”

“No one really understood him.”

While it is true that our environment does effect our behavior, the Bible clearly teaches that each of us is responsible for our own actions. We are faced each day with a multitude of choices. The principles that we have learned from our parents and other teachers will guide us in our decision-making process.

However, you are responsible for your actions. I am responsible for mine.

Paul wrote the same to Timothy:

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart (2 Timothy 2:2).

Each of us has a choice. We can follow our youthful passions – do what makes us happy in the moment, follow our heart, chase our dreams.

Or we can pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace – choose to be obedient to God’s Word and his desires for us, rather than our own desires.

Paul even brings in the environment.

…along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

If we spend our time with others who are pursuing a godly life, we will be influenced to do the same. We will have resources available in the form of others who are striving after the same goals. They may have had to make the same decisions. They may have faced the same challenges. They can help find biblical solutions.

Environment does make a difference. Choose yours wisely.

Discipleship 101

Discipleship is not that hard. There are books and seminars which may be helpful. Basically it’s one person teaching another person what they know, so they can teach it to others.

We’ve all been discipled. Someone taught us how to ride a bike. Someone taught us algebra. Someone taught us to study the Bible. Someone taught us to be polite.

We’ve had many disciplers in our lives. Many have taught us different things.

And we are able to teach those skills to our children, our students, and our friends.

That’s what discipleship is.

Paul challenged Timothy to do that, giving a four-generation picture in 2 Timothy 2:

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:1-2).

Paul was the first generation, who taught Timothy.

Timothy was to teach faithful men, who then would teach others.

Four generations being trained to live righteous lives, how to conduct themselves in godliness.

Time. Energy. Patience. Love. Strength. That’s what it takes to be a discipler. And if you don’t think you’ve got enough of any of those, then find a student to disciple. You’ll grow at the same time.

 

Are friendships even a thing?

Paul’s second letter to Timothy is extremely personal. The teacher is encouraging his student. The older friend writes to motivate his younger friend. The mentor helping his pupil.

Reading the letter in one sitting, you’ll notice a very close relationship between the two. Paul had trained Timothy for ministry. They had labored side-by-side. They had lived together on the road. Joys and sorrows of working with people were shared. They knew the other’s favorites and what the other really could not stand.

Can you imagine the hours they spent talking with each other while traveling down the roads? The questions that Timothy asked of the experienced preacher? The questions Paul asked to get his pupil to learn?

Take a look at these verses in the first chapter:

I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.  As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy.  I am reminded of your sincere faith… (2 Timothy 1:3-5).

I remember you in my prayers. Paul was able to pray for Timothy, for his specific needs, because he had spent time with him. He knew what tasks were before him, but also what weaknesses Timothy had and the challenges that he would face.

I remember your tears. Perhaps Timothy had tears in his eyes as he parted from Paul the last time. And Paul wanted to see his friend again. He longed to see him.

I remember your sincere faith. Paul had seen how Timothy’s mother and grandmother had poured their lives into Timothy, teaching him the Word of God as a child. Paul continued that, shaping the young man into an effective servant of God.

Throughout the rest of the letter, the closeness of their relationship is revealed. Paul encourages him to continue on in the ministry, in spite of the challenges. And he also tells his young friend that he knows that his earthly life is about to end.

Those kinds of friendships are rare, especially among men. But I don’t think that they have to be. They aren’t instant. They don’t mature around the coffee machine at church. They aren’t strengthened by an occasional text message.

TIME is what it takes. Time working together in ministry. Time learning from each other. Time talking with each other about something other than the weather and sports. Time praying with each other about personal struggles.

And I think the other guys in your church would like to have a close friend, just like you.

What are you going to do about it?

 

Where do nice people come from?

The last chapter of Titus starts with these verses, to which I referred in the last post:

 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.

And as we read further into the chapter, we see the reason why we should be like this.

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.

We should watch what we say and do, because we were in the same condition. Isn’t it interesting that we often forget our previous condition. And it was really bad: foolish, disobedient, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.

That doesn’t sound like someone I’d want to have as a neighbor. But that’s how my life was.

Then something happened, which Paul describes in the next verses:

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Because of God’s goodness, loving kindness, mercy, and grace, he brought about a change. Not because of anything that I have done. He cleansed me, made me new – made me an heir, declared me righteous, gave me hope.

A whole new perspective that came from an inward change!

And the inward change leads to outward changes:

The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.

The change which God has made in my life, creating me brand new from the inside out, gives me a reason to do good works, things which are excellent and profitable for others.

Look again at the description from verse 3:

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.

That kind of person doesn’t do good things to benefit others. They are only thinking about themselves, looking to satisfy their own desires, stirring up anger.

Now, I still struggle with doing things for others, rather than for myself! But at least I now have the power and the desire to do good works to benefit others.

How about you?