The PATH, March 30-April 5 2020

Weekly devotions from Ephesians

The PATH. March 30-April 5, 2020

Theme: This week we continue studying the book of Ephesians. Someone once said that the question when we approach Ephesians is not so much what we will do with this book, but the question is what will this book do with us. It is a powerful testimony of the grace and power of God. The book has a two fold focus, and it is Jesus and the church. Paul wants us to see how the grace of God changes and empowers the church to be the light of the world in the midst of a crushing darkness.

Monday – Ephesians 3:1

Paul calls himself a prisoner of Christ Jesus here. He is writing these words from prison and yet Paul knows that he is not a prisoner of man. He knows that it is God’s will for him to be in prison. God has allowed it to happen so that Paul would proclaim the truth of the Gospel as he writes his letters. Paul’s circumstances were extremely negative but God was working in them. We would do well to remember that. God has a purpose for what we are going through. Believe it or not God is working through even something like Covid19 and He will make good come out of it. So give thanks even in hard circumstances that you are because God is working in those circumstances and God is with you in them as well.

Tuesday – Ephesians 3:1

In ancient times Kings would take prisoners after the battle was over. Paul here refers to himself as a “prisoner of Jesus Christ.” At one time he was God’s enemy. He was living for himself and for his flesh. He was persecuting the church of Jesus Christ, He was God’s enemy. But now Jesus has won the battle (on the cross and through the empty tomb), He is risen King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is triumphant and on the Damascus Road He took Paul prisoner. Paul now recognizes that as part of his identity. He is a willing prisoner. He is thankful that he is now a prisoner of Jesus, before he knows that he was a prisoner of sin and of his own flesh, but now he knows that that is changed. He has been set free by Jesus from his sins and his flesh and now He is grateful to be a prisoner of Jesus. It is his identity and it has changed his life. How do you define yourself? If we know Jesus, we are children of the Father, we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and we too are prisoners of Christ Jesus.

Wednesday – Ephesians 3:1-7

Did you ever have a secret? Most of the time when we are told a secret what do we want to do with it? We want to tell everybody. When we were younger there was a song that we would sing, “secret, secret, I’ve got a secret.” Paul has been given a secret, he calls it a mystery, and he is definitely not going to keep it to himself. He is going to share it with the world. What is the secret? It is awesome news for us. The Gentiles are given the revelation of the gospel. That is good news for us because we are gentiles. This mystery changes everything. We can now know God. We can now have our sins forgiven. We can now have the promise of the Kingdom of God to look forward to. Don’t keep this secret to yourself, share it with the world. After all, the world needs hope.

Thursday – Ephesians 3:8-13

Have you ever looked at a prism that had light shining on it? Colors explode everywhere and it is beautiful. In Ephesians 3:10, Paul says that God’s multifaceted wisdom may be known through the church. The picture that he is painting is that the church is a prism that displays the rich colors of God’s wisdom. We are to show God’s wisdom in the midst of the world that we live in, we are to show God’s grace in the middle of Covid19 or whatever else is going on. We are to bring the grace of God and the love of God to every tribe, tongue, and nation. That starts with shining God’s light into our community. During these difficult days, the need for the church to be the church is greater than it has ever been. People are looking for hope. People are asking why? People are looking for wisdom. We as the church have all of that. We have hope, we have the wisdom of God, we have His power. We may not know the answer to the question of why, but we do have the assurance that God is working in the midst of it and that He is going to make good come out of it. We also know that He is with us as it rages. Because of this we cannot be silent, we must let God’s light shine on us so that His wisdom, His grace, and His majesty can be reflected out into the world.

Friday – Ephesians 3:14-21

Most of us would say we agree that prayer is powerful. Most of us would say that we know that we are supposed to pray, but if we are honest most of us don’t pray the way that we should. The last few days may have changed that however. Someone said years ago that when we pray our greatest need is not for the subject of the prayer to be answered but instead our greatest need is for us to be in the presence of the Father.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t need but it does mean that as large as the need is, it is not as significant as our need to be in the presence of the Father. In reality the greatest need that we have in any season of life is the presence of Almighty God.

Paul knows that and that is why he prays what he prays here. Before he begins to pray however he says, “for this reason I kneel before the Father.” In other words this is the reason that I pray. What is the reason? Well you have to go back to the verse before and in that verse he is talking about the church at Ephesus being discouraged and he is talking about the afflictions that he goes through. He is saying I’m going to God in prayer, because you are discouraged and I’m going to God in prayer because I am suffering through all sorts of afflictions. This is a prayer born out of discouragement and a prayer born out of affliction.

What does Paul pray? That we would be strengthened with God’s power in our inner being. What is the remedy for discouragement? Paul would say it is the strength of God. He also prays that Christ would dwell in their hearts through faith. Again what is the remedy for discouragement and affliction? It is the presence of Christ. Our greatest need in any season is the presence of God. Paul prays that we would be aware of that presence here. Not only that he prays that we would be rooted and established in love. That we would be growing in Christ and unshakeable because of His love. When discouragement reigns, God gives us the ability to be established and unshakeable. When afflictions come, His love helps us grow through those times.

Then he prays that we would know the length and the width and the height and the depth of the love of God. He prays that we would know that which is unknowable. So what is Paul saying? He is praying that we would have an awareness of the love of God, and that we would daily be learning about how much He loves us. That love overcomes the pain of affliction and the heartache of discouragement. That love changes everything. And it is that love that we need on a daily, moment by moment basis. Whether we are in the season of Covid19 or the season of peace and solidarity, our greatest need is for the love of God.

So during these days of social distancing (I prefer the term physical distancing) let’s draw near to God with the promise that He will draw near to us, and let us pray this prayer for ourselves, for our families and for the church. Let us pray this prayer for those that are lost, and then let’s be amazed at what our God can do!

Throwing Off

Hebrews 12:1 – “Let us also lay aside every weight and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

Yesterday morning we awoke to a flooded garage. I went down and started pushing the water out but then I quickly realized that it had ran behind bookcases and shelves so it was going to be quite the clean up job. I issued an “all hands on deck” call to the rest of the family, and we spent the rest of the afternoon and some of today working and cleaning things up.

We moved, we sorted, we pushed, we pulled and we threw away. In fact we threw away a lot. Things that were old, things that were broke, things that were no longer needed, things that were soaked with water. It’s probably the best that the garage has looked in the last 12 years. Most of the clutter is gone.

In much the same way Scripture tells us to “throw off” or throw away the things that hold us back and the sins of the world. Why? Because they clutter up our lives. They cause problems, they hold us back. They keep us from being what we are supposed to be in Christ. Which means sometimes we need to do some spiritual spring cleaning. We need to get rid of the things in our lives that hold us back in our relationship with Christ and that keep us from running the race of life effectively.

At the end of Hebrews 12, in verse 28 the writer says “let us therefore be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” This gives us another reason that we throw off the things of the world. They are temporal, they are fleeting, they can be shaken.

We have certainly been reminded of that with the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of the things of this world are shut down. They are temporal, they are fleeting. It shows us that the things of this world fade away. Because of that we need to throw aside those things so that we might more effectively concentrate of the things that really matter.

We must get rid of the clutter that bogs us down. Things like doubt and unbelief must be thrown away. We must get rid of the weights that hold us back. Things like fear and anxiety need to be taken to the trash heap. We must also get rid of the sin that holds us back. Selfishness, worldliness and pride need to be taken to the landfill. All of that is temporary. God’s kingdom is eternal.

Let’s throw off the temporary so that we might fully concentrate on the eternal. Lets let this pandemic be a wake up call to live for what matters. After all we really were born for such a time as this.

A Prayer for Now

Ephesians 3:14-19 – “For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named. I pray that he may grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power in your inner being through His Spirit. And that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Most of us would say we agree that prayer is powerful. Most of us would say that we know that we are supposed to pray, but if we are honest most of us don’t pray the way that we should. The last few days may have changed that however.

Someone said years ago that when we pray our greatest need is not for the subject of the prayer to be answered but instead our greatest need is for us to be in the presence of the Father. That doesn’t mean that we don’t a need but it does mean that as large as the need is, it is not as significant as our need to be in the presence of the Father. In reality the greatest need that we have in any season of life is the presence of Almighty God.

Paul knows that and that is why he prays what he prays here. Before he begins to pray however he says, “for this reason I kneel before the Father.” In other words this is the reason that I pray. What is the reason? Well you have to go back to the verse before and in that verse he is talking about the church at Ephesus being discouraged and he is talking about the afflictions that he goes through. He is saying I’m going to God in prayer, because you are discouraged and I’m going to God in prayer because I am suffering through all sorts of afflictions.

This is a prayer born out of discouragement and a prayer born out of affliction. What does Paul pray? That we would be strengthened with God’s power in our inner being. What is the remedy for discouragement? Paul would say it is the strength of God. He also prays that the Christ would dwell in their hearts through faith. Again what is the remedy for discouragement and affliction? It is the presence of Christ. Our greatest need in any season is the presence of God. Paul prays that we would be aware of that presence here.

Not only that he prays that we would be rooted and established in love. That we would be growing in Christ and unshakeable because of His love. When discouragement reigns, God gives us the ability to be established and unshakeable. When afflictions come, His love helps us grow through those times.

Then he prays that we would know the length and the width and the height and the depth of the love of God. He prays that we would know that which is unknowable. So what is Paul saying? He is praying that we would have an awareness of the love of God, and that we would daily be learning about how much He loves us. That love overcomes the pain of affliction and the heartache of discouragement. That love changes everything. And it is that love that we need on a daily, moment by moment basis. Whether we are in the season of Covid19 or the season of peace and solidarity, our greatest need is for the love of God.

So during these days of social distancing (I prefer the term physical distancing) lets draw near to God with the promise that He will draw near to us, and let us pray this prayer for ourselves, for our families and for the church. Let us pray this prayer for those that are lost, and then lets be amazed at what our God can do!

What Are You Looking For?

John 12:21 – “So they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee and requested of him, ‘Sir we want to see Jesus.'”

I have a set of my uncle’s binoculars from World War 2. They are one of my prized possesions. I can’t imagine the things that he saw as he looked through them when he was stationed in Germany and in Italy. Perhaps as he looked through them he saw the enemy advancing and they may have saved his life. Other times he could have looked through them at a snow covered mountain or a peaceful lake and found hope. Hope in the midst of crisis.

I have a feeling that is what most people are looking for today. Hope in the midst of crisis. This morning I read the latest reports about Covid-19 from the World Health Organization looking for a glimmer of hope in the midst of the numbers. Are we following the track of Italy or China or Germany in regards to the growth of the virus. Of course our numbers show steady growth here because they are testing people now and obviously the numbers will go up. How long has it been here? How long does it normally take to peak and decline? What countries have seen the numbers drop and how long did that take? Searching for hope in the midst of chaos.

The reality is however that I didn’t need to look at the numbers. I didn’t need to explore the headlines, I didn’t need to inspect social media, I just needed to open my Bible. Because the Bible is filled up with hope. In John 12 the Greeks come to the festival and they have one request “We want to see Jesus!” When I read that last night I couldn’t help but think that that ought to be our prayer in all of this. I want to see Jesus. Give me a glimpse, just a glimpse of Jesus.

Jesus had earlier said that He had sheep that weren’t of the sheep pen (John 10:16). He of course meant Gentiles that were going to begin following Him. Here in John 12 we see that promise coming true. That is one of the beautiful and wondrous things about God, His promises are always true and they always give us hope. That is why we should be praying “I want to see Jesus”. We need a glimpse of Him in theses troubling times, we need His presence and His strength. We need His wisdom. We need to be reminded of His promises, after all they are far more filled up with hope than anything we might read or hear on the news today. They will even be more filled up with hope than the news when the numbers start going down, and the virus is history. His words are beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life regardless of the season or situation.

The PATH, March 23-29, 2020

The PATH, March 23-29, 2020

Theme: This week we continue studying the book of Ephesians.  Someone once said that the question when we approach Ephesians is not so much what we will do with this book, but the question is what will this book do with us.  It is a powerful testimony of the grace and power of God. The book has a two fold focus, and it is Jesus and the church. Paul wants us to see how the grace of God changes and empowers the church to be the light of the world in the midst of a crushing darkness.

Monday – Ephesians 2:11-12

Paul calls the church to “look back and remember”.  Why? So that they will realize how blessed the are now.  He calls them to remember back to the time before they knew Jesus, back then they were separated from Christ and they had no hope.  Now however they have a relationship with Jesus, they can run to Him in prayer and because of that they have hope.  

Can you imagine how bad it would be to not have Jesus in this world?  What if you didn’t know Him? What if you couldn’t run to Him in prayer? What if you didn’t have the assurance that He is praying for you and that you have the hope of heaven because of Him?  What if you were still dead in your trespasses and sins? What if you had no hope?  

We live in a world that is almost void of hope today.  The fears of the coronavirus as well as financial fears associated with it have left many in the world hopeless.  Yet we as followers of Jesus have hope. It is a hope that is only available through Him. So today be thankful for the hope that you have in Jesus but also pray and ask God to give you the opportunity and the ability to share that hope with someone around you.  There are so many that are hurting and scared and thankfully Jesus makes all the difference in the world.

Tuesday – Ephesians 2:11-13

We were once far off, which means we were once no where near Jesus, we didn’t have a relationship with Him.  We couldn’t talk to Him. We couldn’t run to Him for hope. We couldn’t cling to Him when life was falling apart and He wasn’t clinging to us.  Now however everything is different. Now we have been brought near. Now we can have a relationship with Jesus. Now we can pray to Him and cling to Him, and even more importantly we can know that He is holding on to us.  What made the difference? Simply put the blood of Jesus.  

His sacrifice on the cross of Calvary and the precious blood that He shed changes everything.  It wasn’t our works or our goodness that brought us to God. It isn’t the family that we grew up in or our accomplishments.  It’s not the amount of money that we have given or the number of times that we have come to church. We are brought near to God in only way, and that is through the blood of Jesus.  His blood changes everything. Because we have been brought near we should want to gather for worship, we should want to pray and give and do good things, but not to earn our salvation. Instead we do those things out of gratitude for the wonderful act of Jesus on the cross.  We do those things in thanksgiving for the blood that He shed.  

Wednesday –  Ephesians 2:1-14

Verse 14 is overflowing with wonderful truths.  Jesus is our peace. Jesus has broken down the wall of hostility between us and God.  Jesus gives us access to the Father. It is all about Jesus and His blood. What a wondrous God we serve.  Because of Him we can have peace. That certainly means peace in the midst of a world with no peace, but it is even richer than that, through the blood of Jesus we have peace with God.  We can now have a relationship with our Father, how? Because Jesus’ blood washes our sins away. Sin keeps us from God, because a holy God can’t look on sin, but because of Jesus’ blood our sins are washed away and now we can have peace with God.  Which means the wall of hostility is gone. We were once enemies of God and now we are His friends, and in fact His children. We can go to Him, pray to Him and trust in Him. We have peace with God!

We also have peace in this world.  We live in a world of chaos and hopelessness, but in the midst this world we can have peace because of Jesus.  We can have peace knowing that He is with us, that He loves us, that He is in control and that He has prepared a place for us in His kingdom.  

We can also have peace with one another.  The blood of Jesus is so powerful that it unites us together.  His blood gives us the ability to truly love others and forgive others.  His blood gives us peace.  

Thursday – Ephesians 2:11-19

As I read through the book of Ephesians I am convinced that it a book that we need to read and perhaps even memorize.  Memorize an entire book? It is certainly possible and in this world of uncertainty, fear, and panic it is certainly needed.  Hebrew children during the times of the Old Testament would memorize the first 5 books of the Bible, perhaps we can learn from their example.  

Ephesians is so filled up with hope, and with peace and with joy that it is a word that we desperately need.  Consider what Paul says in this passage: we are forgiven, the hostility is taken away, we have peace, we have hope, we have access to the Father.  Not only that we have peace with other people and most importantly we have peace with God.  

Now Paul says we are new creations, and we are given the Holy Spirit.  In addition to this we are fellow citizens with other believers of the Kingdom of God.  We are part of His family. These are real life amazing promises that are in effect today.  No wonder the hymn writer wrote the familiar refrain “Standing on the Promises of God”. His promises are amazing, life changing, and good for all eternity.  

Friday – Ephesians 2:11-22

Paul concludes this chapter by saying, “you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”  In other words the Holy Spirit of God dwells within us and is working within us to transform us into the dwelling place of God.  He is working within us each and everyday (sometimes we are aware of it and sometimes we aren’t) to make us into what we were created to be.

The promises of God give us hope for the present, erase the sins of the past, and let us know what we have to look forward to in the future.  They also affirm to us that God is working within us on a daily basis. He is working and moving in us and hopefully through us to transform us and then to use us to make a difference in this world.  

Let your prayer be today: “Lord continue to mold me and shape me, continue to make me into what I’m supposed to be and use me for your glory in the here and now and into the future as well.”  

STAYing In?

Isaiah 26:3 – “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”

Over the past week we have progressed from business as usual to “stay in” unless you have to get out. “Don’t travel unless its essential.” Things can quickly change. We went from Spring is coming and I can’t wait to get out to being told we really should stay in.

The word “stay” is used in the Bible close to 50 times. Here Isaiah uses it to say “you will give peace to the one whose mind stays with you,” or is “stayed on you.” We view staying in as a bad thing but staying can be a good thing. It can be a good thing when we “stay” in Jesus. The word STAY that is used in Isaiah 26 means to sustain, to uphold, to lean upon, to be braced. Oddly enough the word seems to mean that someone is having to help us stay. It isn’t enough that we stay ourselves, someone must help us stay. In other words on our own we won’t stay set on Jesus. Left to our own devices we won’t keep our minds stayed on Him. The old hymn is correct when it says that “we are prone to wander”, we really are. Our minds don’t stay on Jesus naturally, instead they wander. They wander to worry and anxiety and fear. The wander to the temptations of the world and ultimately to ourselves. Our minds and our hearts wander and when they do we lose our peace. After all the Bible says that God keeps us in peace, perfect peace, when our minds are stayed on Him.

We however are incapable of staying our minds on Him. The word means to “be braced”, “or be sustained”. It means to be “upheld”. We can’t brace ourselves, we can’t sustain ourselves, we can’t uphold ourselves. God can however, and so part of staying our minds on Him means crying out to Him for something as basic as the ability to focus on Him. We can’t do it on our own, we need His help and His power.

When we cry out to Him and He empowers us through His Spirit to lean into Him, and to stay our minds upon Him, then He gives us this wonderful promise – that He will keep us in perfect peace! Peace isn’t going to be found through scrolling Facebook or Twitter. Peace isn’t found on Instagram or listening to the evening news. Peace is found on our knees when we cry out to God and ask for Him to help us lean into Him. It starts when we ask for God’s power to sustain us and direct our hearts and our minds toward Him. Without His power and His Spirit the sad reality is we will wander.

But when our minds are STAYED on Him through His power then we will have perfect peace. The word perfect and the word peace are actually the same word in Hebrew. The word shalom. They mean wholeness and security. When you put them together, i.e. perfect peace or shalom shalom. They mean satisfaction and contentment.

Wow! In this world of discontentment, where no one is satisfied and everyone is fearful and panicked, God says I can give you PERFECT PEACE. Shalom Shalom, wholeness, security, satisfaction and contentment. When we feel like we are falling apart, God can give us wholeness. After all He is the one that is holding all things together (Colossians 1:17). When it seems that all the things that we found security in are gone, God is our security. As Billy Graham said “my security is not found in the government, or in other people, or in my money, my hope and my security are found in the Lord Jesus Christ and Him alone.”

When everyone is dealing with discontentment and uneasiness about the future, God says I can give you contentment. And when everyone is unsatisfied and terrified, God is our satisfaction and our peace.

This world has changed drastically over the last few days. Everyday brings something new and something largely unwanted, but even when all of that is raging, we can have perfect peace. How? Through humbling ourselves before God, crying out to Him, asking for Him to keep our minds stayed on Him, and then simply trusting Him.

Crisis Response

Matthew 16:18 – “……and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Many people who were alive in the 1960s could tell you precisely where they were when President Kennedy was killed. Others could tell us where they were when they heard about the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. Or Princess Diana. Alan Jackson wrote a song describing 9/11 and asked the question, “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?” I can certainly remember where I was on that fateful day, sitting in a hospial in Danville, Virginia while a dear friend had surgery.

Many of us will remember the last few days very vividly as well. We will know where we were when the news of shut downs caused by Covid-19 started to come in. I know I will remember it very well.

But I hope I also remember the response of the church. Churches all across our nation had to figure out what to do during this time. How could they continue to make a differnce for the cause of Jesus Christ in the midst of social distancing and a world that hadn’t stopped turning but was temporarily shutting down.

Our church at Sulphur Springs has found ways to get online services and devotionals. We have set up online giving and we are working together to help the school feed children. We are also networking within the church to make sure that people are taken care of. In short the church is being the church and it certainly isn’t just us, there are churches all across the world who are doing the exact same things.

God is making good come out of this. He is uniting people and opening our eyes to new ministries and new ways to share the good news of the Gospel. He is using it to touch hearts and to call people back to Himself. He is using it to help families reconnect with each other, and He is using it to slow us down and help us truly learn to love one another again.

I’m thankful for the response of churches, and individuals, and families. I’m thankful that God is working in ways that we can see and in a million more ways that we can’t see. I’m thankful for His grace, majesty, and power. I’m also thankful for the reminder that I’ve seen over the past few days that “not even the gates of hell will prevail against God’s church.” Those gates are far worse than Covid-19, so rejoice and know today that in times of trouble the church of Jesus Christ has truly thrived and made a difference. Covid-19 can’t take us away from the love of Jesus, in fact Paul says that nothing can.