Waging war

Ephesians 4:14-16 so that we may no longer be children, lightstock_116370_small_user_3963721tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

In WWII, the U.S. Army developed a new tactic: airborne operations. Under this new tactic, specially trained units would parachute in behind enemy lines before a major offensive. Their objective was to take strategic pieces of land, such as bridges and roads, and to eliminate particular sections of the enemy defenses. In essence, their job description was to be surrounded by large numbers of enemy troops and accomplish highly dangerous missions. Sounds fun, right?

Well, time to rise and shine, soldier – you are in the Airborne as you read this devotional. Anyone who follows Christ is most definitely behind enemy lines in this world. We are surrounded by a mass of enemy fortifications. Our circumstance in this respect is certain, and there is no way around it. Now we must choose whether to pick up our rifle and march forward, or crouch down in the ditch and pretend there’s not a war going on.

This reality is what Paul speaks to in 4:14. Spiritual warfare is all around us, and is infinitely more real than the game on TV last night. We ought not be shocked when the bullets start flying, not if we accept and understand our position. We’re supposed to be maturing and growing in our stature in Christ. We are supposed to be warriors who see the danger and are engaged in the fight.

The particular battle described here is one of the Church drawing people to Christ through our actions, our true selves, not just the bulletins that we pass out at bake sales. Fighting this battle involves growing into the fullness of Christ (verse 15), so that each member of the body functions properly. Thus, the whole unit becomes effective.

The Christian life is far from passive. Read over this passage several times and grasp the all -encompassing nature of our calling. Make no mistake, the enemy is playing for keeps, and he means to wreck, steal, and devour. Never stop seeking after Christ and allow Him to use you. Become a weapon in His hand.

———-  How are you letting yourself be used by God to wage war against the enemy?

Equipped for service

325064_2851984026582_830175113_oEphesians 4:11-13 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,

The idea of gifting and that each person has a unique gifting is certainly a familiar one; however, there is a good chance that we need to widen our perspective. Take all of Ephesians 3 and the first section of chapter 4 as your context. Paul describes the radical love of Christ in chapter 3, and then goes on to make several radical statements about how the church is supposed to represent that love. Our lives ought to be worthy of this calling, and it is with that foundation that Christ gifted each of us.

In 4:12, we see the purpose clearly – we have our gifts so that we can be equipped for service, and so that the Body might be built up for Christ’s glory. Verse 13 tells us what each man must do. In present day language, it might go something like this:

“Look, each one of you has a skill set. But those skills and gifts are not an end in themselves. We have been called by Christ and given our lives to Him, and our purpose now is to create, in our interactions and daily lives, a picture for the world to see that represents the Love that has been showered on us. Every man must apply himself to growing in Christ. Just as children grow physically, we need to grow spiritually so that each part of the Body is mature and functioning. The people in Ephesus that don’t know Jesus, they should be drawn in by their interactions with you, and that will happen when each of us pursues Christ above all else.”

Don’t be passive. You have certain strengths that will bless other people. Those strengths must be put into action, and they must be under the headship of Christ and used with this over-arching perspective.

———-  In what area of ministry are you currently using your God-given gifts and abilities?

A Genuine Man

F1ONRF-00003778-001Ephesians 4:25-32  Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,  and give no opportunity to the devil.  Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Nobody likes a phony. We can often accept imperfections as long as people are genuine. Paul speaks to that in verse 25, saying to get rid of all the falsehood and smoke screens in our lives, and be real with each other. This comes directly after encouraging us to “put on our new self” in Christ. I believe that the vulnerability and honesty Paul mentions is critical to the overall goal here – we have to break down all the walls and barriers that human nature puts in the way of true relationship.

A major component of that effort is found in verse 29 – “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth.” Rather, we ought to lift each other up and be Givers of Life. When people walk away after interacting with us they should feel encouraged and touched, whether they are fellow believers or not. Go back to the “salt of the earth” idea. What is the aroma surrounding your personality? Is it pleasant to those whom in reaches? Taking it one step further, nobody ever said, “This is the best salt I have ever tasted!” While we are supposed to flavor and enlighten, this is not about us as all. Unless our efforts point to Christ, we are wasting our time and making it about us.

In verse 31, Paul describes the inner chaos and turmoil that marks a lost soul, much like the smoke-filled room from yesterday. In contrast, we are to be “tender hearted.” Tendons in the body connect, reach out, and enable. However, they are not weak and malleable. Tendons are among the toughest fibers in the human body – they do not break easily. I think we ought to be the same. Connecting hearts, forgiving one another, engaging someone else’s life with thoughtfulness and care…these are crucial tasks, and it says nothing about weakness.

Forget the stereotypes of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, but at the same time, strongly reject the soft male idea that was projected in the 1970’s – one of passivity and lack of direction. (Ladies, please don’t feel left out. Becoming and raising tender, Godly men is a job for both sexes.) Jesus was tender hearted and understood the feelings of others, yet was the strongest man that ever lived. This is our calling.

———-  Take an honest, prayerful look within yourself and ask, “How am I doing at being the kind of Christian Paul describes in Ephesians? Where can I improve?” Seek God’s guidance in making you more into the image of Christ.

*This devotion by Jeremy Bunge first appeared in February of 2011.

Walking as Christians

Ephesians 4:1-6 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge IS4086RF-00002343-001you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—  one Lord, one faith, one baptism,  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Have you ever heard a statement like this? – “Jesus and the ideas he talked about sound great, I’m just not so sure about all these Christians.” Ours is a world desperately seeking Truth. Take any social context or issue (marriage, family, crime rates, teenagers being prescribed drugs so they can feel “normal”) and the broken human condition is clear. Any honest search for Truth can only lead to the reality of Jesus, but those who search are often confused by their experience with Christians.

My purpose is not to lay guilt on anyone, but to illustrate the depth of our position, and the purpose of Paul’s writing in Ephesians. He starts by saying, “therefore,” a reference to his earlier point, namely, that Gentiles are equal heirs in the promise of Christ. From this radical statement that surely shocked his audience, Paul then says in 4:1 that the Church is supposed to be a picture of this all-encompassing love.

We are to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling” and act with “all humility and gentleness.” When people enter our sphere as co-workers, friends, or neighbors, this is the picture we ought to project. And it’s not a matter of performance, either. Down to the deepest fiber of our being, we need to understand that Jesus chose his Church to represent Him. There is no plan B. Furthermore, the picture we are painting with our lives is one that the world longs to see!

This is not a spectator sport, ladies and gentlemen. Be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit” is no light statement. With diligence, we much each master our impulses , tempers, and die to our Selves a thousand times in order that when others see us interact in congregations, in our homes, and in our different social circles, the cumulative thing they take away is Jesus. And it will require everything we have to give.

———-  After paying close attention to what Paul is calling us to do as Christians, is there anything you need to change about the way you present yourself in front of others as you represent Christ?

 

*This devotion by Jeremy Bunge first appeared in January of 2011

A New Walk

Ephesians 4:17-24  Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.  They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.  But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus,  to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,  and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Have you ever had a stellar coach or mentor who always had an encouraging word? That’s what Paul gives us here in verse 17. (As an aside, he does use the word “therefore,” again, referring to his previous statements. We would do well, then, to keep the big picture in mind through this entire chapter – the radical love of Christ and his rescue mission to every religion, and how the Church is supposed to represent that. ) Paul, in affirmation with the Lord, claps us on the shoulder and says, “You have new life! You no longer have to wake up every day feeling lost, like so many others do. Now go reach them with your inner light!”

In verse 18, Paul contrasts the life of Christ with those who walk in futility, “being darkened in their understanding.” The picture here is a room full of dark, thick, inky black smoke. Stumbling and flailing, people who are your neighbors and co-workers attempt to find their way across the room. Is there a window or doorway? Is there even a destination or purpose? We who have the life of Christ within us have the smoke cleared away, if only we will trust and hold tight to Him.

For this reason, we are encouraged to “lay aside the old self” and be renewed in the “spirit of our minds.” Think in layers for a moment. Your mind is the foundation, followed by attitudes, and manifested in behavior. Some days we have to set aside the old self several times in one hour! But it is our destiny to see through the smoke, to live with true understanding, so that we mature and walk as Christ would walk. Exactly what the specific results of that new walk may look like are too numerous to list here, but grasp the picture Paul is painting and make it your banner today.

———-  Are there any behaviors or attitudes that you’re holding onto and not laying aside?

Worshipping false idols

Habakkuk 2:18  What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols!

As we look through the Old Testament of the Bible and see many examples of idol worship, it’s easy to arrogantly think that we’ve come so far from that way of life.  It seems so silly that someone would fashion an idol out of wood or bronze and then worship something that they had just created.  We know in our minds that God is the one worthy of worship as the Creator, but still we do worship the created.

Don’t think that this is true today?  How about extreme environmentalism where man worships the earth, which God created?  Or how about trusting in money to get you everything you want from position to health to security?  Some of us even worship our own children, building our entire lives around their little needs and wants.  We do worship idols that aren’t worthy of our full devotion.  There’s nothing wrong with taking care of the earth, earning money, or loving your children.  All of those are good things.  But when they are the main focus of our lives, they are our gods.

Habakkuk rightly points out the absurdity of putting our trust in and directing our worship towards idols we’ve created and expecting them to better our lives somehow.  Only God Himself is worthy to be praised and He deserves our full attention and devotion.

True love

1 Corinthians 13:4-8  Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

It’s clear in God’s Word that love is of the utmost importance.  What’s less clear in today’s hyper-sexual, idolatrous society, is just what true love really is.  We know we should love each other, but what does that look like?

The answer to this question lies in a scripture that is very often quoted in wedding ceremonies and very seldom remembered in marriages.  The apostle Paul, again emphasizing just how essential love really is, points out a few key characteristics of love.  Take the time to get familiar with these verses and begin to apply them in your relationships.

It’s worth noting that one thing Paul never says about love is that it’s an emotion or a feeling.  There’s never any focus on how you feel about the other person, just how you treat them.  Keep that in mind as you think about the nature of love and think about it more deeply.

———-  Which of the characteristics of love seems to make the least sense to you based on what you have always thought about love?

He hears us

1 John 5:14-15  And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.

Joshua prayed with confidence because he knew that God would hear his prayers.  God had told him earlier that He was on Joshua’s side.  The apostle John also knew the value of approaching God in prayer with confidence.

If we know that He hears us, we know He’ll grant us all that we ask accordingly with His will.  To pray according to His will though, we must be daily in His Word, seeking Him.  When we’re in close communion with our heavenly Father, we’ll know what we can ask for and expect to be heard.  With that, we can ask with confidence.

Knowing that our Father loves us and cares for us makes a world of difference as we approach Him.  Thankful hearts, knowing that He hears us, make it all the more likely that we’ll ask according to His will.

———-  What are you asking God for right now?

 

Find Strength

Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

No matter where you find yourself, you’re not too far away for God to find you.  No matter what your circumstances, He can walk you through.  He is good, and you can trust Him in good times and bad times.

As followers of Christ, we would benefit from following the example of Paul, learning how to be content in all situations.  A heart that’s truly fixed on God will not let events determine faith.  Focus on the nature of God and know that no matter what, no matter how good or how bad, you can trust Him.

You can do all things through Him who strengthens you.  Pray in all things and rely on Him to provide.  He is more than able to be your everything.

———-  Where are you trying to find your strength?  Is it in God or in the things of this world that don’t live up to their promises?

Don’t worry, pray

Philippians 4:6  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Central to Paul’s thoughts on prayer given to the Philippians is the aspect of thanksgiving and praise.  Want to be free from your burdens?  Rejoice in the Lord!  Are you bringing your requests to God?  Do it while giving thanks for what He’s already done!

Pray knowing that God hears the cries of His people.  Bring all things to Him, cast them all before Him.  Know that God is faithful and just.  Trust, knowing what He has already been faithful in, that He will continue to provide your every need and hear the desires of your heart.  Give Him thanks!

Echo the thoughts of Paul:  Rejoice in the Lord always!  This attitude in prayer will lead to peace, no matter what burdens you carry.  The Lord is good and He will lighten your load.

———-  What’s your biggest worry?  Cast it before God and have the faith to let it go.

Equipping believers to follow Christ and make Him known