Word of Grace

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Colossians 1:1-2 “From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will, and Timothy our brother. To the holy and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae. Grace and peace to you from God our Father.”

This is the beginning of April and Easter is just a few days away. Each month, I have been reading one of Paul’s letters in their entirety each day and then journaling about a few verses. This has been an awesome tool for spiritual growth. Not only do I have the opportunity to see the whole letter, but I also have been looking at shorter passages within the letter and seeing how it fits in with the whole context. I have learned, even more, how easy it is to take verses and ideas out of context and fit into what we want them to say instead of viewing them in the light of the entire work and historical context.

Before we jump into Colossians this month, I wanted to follow Paul’s example and offer you a word of grace. We have been on this 40 day journey through the season of Lent. This journey can bring up many feelings or attitudes and we can begin to feel like we are in the desert. When we begin to feel this way, we notice we become more distant from others, our temper has a shorter fuse, our frustration level and pet peeves begin to rise more. We simply forget that we are not alone. Yes, we may feel like we are in the spiritual desert, but Christ is with us as well.

We are not just taking a journey through the desert; we are taking a journey that will lead us to the cross. Most importantly, we are taking a journey that shows us the resurrection. The resurrection shows us the power Jesus has. This is the same power he gives to us. We may feel as though we cannot come back to life after being in the desert and parched for water; but Jesus can and does bring us back to life.

This is the great message in Colossians. Jesus Christ is central. Everything we do we should do for the glory of God. God is granting us the grace and peace to go through this life. We do not journey alone. We journey with The Creator of the universe, The Creator of you and I. This means we can experience peace beyond understanding in the midst of trials and scorching heat from enemies and challenges. God is freely giving grace to us so we are equipped to go through life and reflect the light of Jesus Christ in all we do, all we say, even all we think.

You are the “holy and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.” This is your calling. I pray God’s grace and peace will be reflected in you and through you in all you do.

Let’s take this journey to explore Paul’s letter to the people of Colossae.

#ToTheGloryOfChrist

Even in the Storm

Most important, live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel. Do this, whether I come and see you or I’m absent and hear about you. Do this so that you stand firm, united in one spirit and mind as you struggle together to remain faithful to the gospel. That way, you won’t be afraid of anything your enemies do. Your faithfulness and courage are a sign of their coming destruction and your salvation, which is from God. God has generously granted you the privilege, not only of believing in Christ but also of suffering for Christ’s sake. You are having the same struggle that you saw me face and now hear that I’m still facing. (‭Philippians‬ ‭1‬:‭27-30‬ CEB)

“Live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel.” When you think of this phrase, what does it mean to you? At first when we come to faith in Jesus Christ, we may have the idea that life will be easy and that all of our problems and issues will go away. We can easily forget how Christ suffered, and he was God in flesh!

The gospel of Jesus Christ does not guarantee there will be no suffering or struggles. The gospel tells us the God is with us and we do not live this life alone. We will feel alone at times because we can choose to go through our struggles alone; but the gospel message is that we are never alone and God has experienced life as we do and knows how hard life can be. 

We have the opportunity to share life with others who are struggling also. Since we know that we are not alone, we have the privilege to show others that, even in the storms of life, they are not alone either. We can be a tangible, physical reminder of God’s presence to them. 

People will say all kinds of things about you and about me. We stand firm in our faith because Christ is with us and is guiding us and walking with us; so we don’t have to be afraid or fearful in any way. Paul is a great reminder of this. He kept his joy and peace because he leaned on his faith in Christ to allow him to endure any situation. Paul had people care for him and you and I have people that care for us. 

So, “live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel.”

#BeJoyful

Encouragers of the Faith

It is my expectation and hope that I won’t be put to shame in anything. Rather, I hope with daring courage that Christ’s greatness will be seen in my body, now as always, whether I live or die. Because for me, living serves Christ and dying is even better. If I continue to live in this world, I get results from my work. But I don’t know what I prefer. I’m torn between the two because I want to leave this life and be with Christ, which is far better. However, it’s more important for me to stay in this world for your sake. I’m sure of this: I will stay alive and remain with all of you to help your progress and the joy of your faith, and to increase your pride in Christ Jesus through my presence when I visit you again. (Philippians 1:20-26 CEB) 

What is it you hope to do in your life? Where has this dream come from? Do you have people who support you? Will you be willing to do what God is calling you to do unashamedly? I believe Paul has wrestled with those kinds of questions in his mind and has come to a deep understanding of who he is and what his mission is. Paul knows he has deep intimacy with God through Jesus Christ, so he will not do anything that goes against his calling.

There have been countless times in my life where I feel like I do not want to do what I know I need to do. Sometimes the life that God calls us to do is more challenging and more upfront than we are comfortable with. But, we can remember that Christ is with us and we do not live this life alone. Imagine how Paul was feeling. He was in house arrest, surrounded by guards all the time; yet he praised God for his situation. Paul’s personality was probably such that he didn’t mind talking with anyone and everyone. After his conversion experience (Jesus meeting him personally on the road to Damascus in Acts 9), Paul had a spiritual fire ignited in him and he did not allow it to be extinguished. John Wesley once said, “I set myself on fire and people come for miles just to watch me burn.”

The life that we are invited to live in by the grace of God does come with opposing thoughts at times. What I mean is this: we want to be with Jesus Christ always, and we want to be with people to walk with them in their life journey. Paul knows he wants to be with Christ in heaven. We can also experience this kind of life here on earth because God is with us and has never and will never leave nor forsake us, even when we try to turn from Him. Paul also knows he is called to walk with his congregation through their faith and be a source of encouragement for them. We are also called to be encouragers to people so they can be reminded of God’s presence in and around them and that they do not live this life alone.

We are not put on this earth to abandon people. We are here to be in community with others and be a source of strength and support when life gets rough. Paul knows this and tells his people that he loves being on this earth so he can encourage them. Paul knows who he is and he knows who his people are: children of God. He doesn’t say he wants to stay with them because he feels he is the only one who can provide this encouragement. That would be done out of pride. We should be careful of this attitude as well. Paul is saying that God is working through him so the people are strengthened and encouraged. It is God who is doing the work through Paul (look again at Ephesians 2:8-9).

Our challenge for today is to see who God has placed in our lives to encourage and find ways to walk with them through life to either find Christ, or to live life with the confidence Christ is working in and through them. Someone is doing that for you and I right now. 🙂

#BeEncouragersInTheFaith

Grace With You

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Ephesians 6:21-24 Tychicus, my loved brother and faithful servant of the Lord, can inform you about my situation and what I’m doing. I’ve sent him for this reason—so that you will know about us. He can reassure you. May there be peace with the brothers and sisters as well as love with the faith that comes from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. May grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ forever. 

Paul always ends his letters with a statement of grace. Even though there are times when he had to scold the congregations he planted, he wanted them to know and live into the grace that God was giving. I believe we could take the example of Paul and be sure to send people who will keep information correct about us, but also be there to support and build up the community.

These are trusted people by Paul and he knows their gifts and graces. Paul sends Tychicus because he knows the job he will do and that he will be able to reassure the people. Can you imagine what it would be like to have you leader thrown in jail and you are carrying on after this happened. What must have been going through their minds. But Paul is as calm as he can be and find great excitement in showing people the love of God in all his words and actions. This is Paul’s purpose.

He also longs for there to be peace among the brothers and sisters because there can be strife; but Paul wants the people to live in peace because this is the life that Christ calls us to. Peace even when everything seems to be going wrong around us. This peace is not just everything working out; but it is an inward peace which we have opened ourselves up to to show we are trusting in the Living God. This peace and faith comes through Jesus Christ and is offered to those who love the Lord Jesus Christ forever.

Paul’s salutation is full of life and grace. Is this how we leave people when we’re not around them? How can we work with God toward bringing the message of peace to those who need it most?

#TheGospelChangesUs

Praying in Confidence

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Ephesians 6:18-20 Offer prayers and petitions in the Spirit all the time. Stay alert by hanging in there and praying for all believers. As for me, pray that when I open my mouth, I’ll get a message that confidently makes this secret plan of the gospel known. I’m an ambassador in chains for the sake of the gospel. Pray so that the Lord will give me the confidence to say what I have to say. 

Now we are getting toward the end of the book of Ephesians and Paul is shifting his focus on teaching the people to asking for prayers for himself and his ministry. Normally when we ask prayers for ourselves, we will ask about physical healing and for circumstances to improve. This was not the case for Paul. Not once does he ask to be free from the prison he’s been placed in or asking for people to pray for any physical limitation or condition he may have or may be going through. All he says is “Offer prayers and petitions in the Spirit all the time.”

Our lives should be constant prayer. We should have lives that reflect constant communication with God. What kinds of things should we pray for? We should pray for our situation and for God to be known through the situation. We should pray for healing: physical, emotional, spiritual, relational. We should pray for other people, our leaders, our family, our friends. We should pray for and about anything. Praying keeps our focus and attention on Christ and we are better able to see the world through His eyes than solely through our own eyes.

Paul asks for something unique, in a way, that he would like people to pray for. He doesn’t ask for his situation to be improved in the way that we might. He asks for the confidence to speak the message of Jesus Christ to any and all people he encounters – especially the guards. His life is in prison, at this point, and he is asking to be able to speak the peace of Christ to those who are guarding him and all those he is able to encounter.

So, who is it around you that needs to hear the message of Jesus Christ? Who is it that you will encounter that you will need the courage and confidence to speak the truth about Christ? The truth is all people need Christ. Many people just don’t know that’s who they need. Maybe there is a part of you that doesn’t feel confident enough in the gospel. This may be God reaching out to you right now to show you that He is with you and is giving you the confidence and the words to speak when they are necessary. The only “magic formula” for presenting the gospel to others is trusting in the power of Jesus Christ to help give you the words and equip you at the time you need it.

The power of the gospel is that is changes everything about us, especially about what and who we pray for.

#TheGospelChangesUs

Guarding

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Ephesians 6:10-17 Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and his powerful strength. Put on God’s armor so that you can make a stand against the tricks of the devil. We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens. Therefore, pick up the full armor of God so that you can stand your ground on the evil day and after you have done everything possible to still stand. So stand with the belt of truth around your waist, justice as your breastplate, and put shoes on your feet so that you are ready to spread the good news of peace. Above all, carry the shield of faith so that you can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word. 

As Paul is wrapping up his letter, he teaches about the most important thing we need to do in our lives.He has already talked about the relationships we have with those around us, and those in our families; now he is talking about our relationship with God. So in this, Paul is showing what it means to keep God as our guide and power of strength to live this life in a manner that is worthy.

How can we keep our hearts and minds focused on the power of God as we go through the day ahead? We have the opportunity to put on the tools and “armor” that will protect us, save our hearts, and guard our minds against those things and attitude that take our focus away from God. What is really fascinating, to me, is the manner in which Paul describes how we can allow God’s power to be our guiding force in our lives. We simply “put on the full armor of God.”

This imagery may conjure up negative images for some people, but this is really an important thing for us to do each day. When we get up for the day, we put our clothes on to protect our physical being, so why not put on the clothing that God provides to protect us emotionally and spiritually? So, Paul goes into the items that we should “put on” to help us allow God’s power to work in us and around us. There are so many forces around us that we are battling and that are fighting for control of our minds, emotions, spirit, relationships; but God provides a way to protect us from those things that are trying to pull us down and go against God.

We should put on the “belt of truth.” This means that we are allowing God’s truth to be wrapped around us so we constantly are reminded it is God’s truth that is holding us together and keeping us intact. Over our hearts, we wear the “breastplate of justice/righteousness” to guard our hearts from following those situations and ideals that culture can and does embrace but is not as God intends. Then we always have to have the “shoes” on our feet. This is what allows our feet to move so that we can travel to those who need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. We can pick up the “shield of faith” to block those attacks that attempt to destroy us. The “helmet of salvation” protects our minds and allows us to meditate on God’s word and presence around us. The “sword of the Spirit” means we have the word of God ready within us so we can speak truth to people in love.

Putting on this “armor/clothing” is us allowing God to transform our lives and to be the light in the world. Since we are to be the light of the world and reflect God’s image and grace to those around us, why not put on shiny armor that reflects light. The Gospel of Jesus Christ protects us and changes our lives from the inside out.

#TheGospelChangesUs

Obeying and Respecting

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Ephesians 6:1-9 As for children, obey your parents in the Lord, because it is right. The commandment Honor your father and mother is the first one with a promise attached: so that things will go well for you, and you will live for a long time in the landAs for parents, don’t provoke your children to anger, but raise them with discipline and instruction about the Lord. As for slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling and with sincere devotion to Christ. Don’t work to make yourself look good and try to flatter people, but act like slaves of Christ carrying out God’s will from the heart. Serve your owners enthusiastically, as though you were serving the Lord and not human beings. You know that the Lord will reward every person who does what is right, whether that person is a slave or a free person. As for masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Stop threatening them, because you know that both you and your slaves have a master in heaven. He doesn’t distinguish between people on the basis of status. 

Paul has been talking about the life that God desires us to have. This life looks completely different from how we want to live, but it is the life that gives more freedom and more peace. Most of the things he has talked about so far seem fairly easy or at least simple to do, but now we come to this passage.

The end of chapter 5 has Paul discussing relationships in marriage and how the relationship should be between Christ and the church. This is an incredible picture because Christ is place in his right placement as head of the church. And now Paul goes into how children should behave with their parents and how slaves should treat their masters.

Children honoring and obeying parents? What kind of life would this look like? When we read this, Paul does talk about the parenting relationship as a two-way street. The children should honor and obey their parents because the parents have lived life and have important wisdom and guidance to pass on that will help give the children long lives and be able to navigate the challenges life can and does bring. The flip side of the relationship is the relationship from the parents to the children. Children are going to do things and say things that will cause the parents to become frustrated, so Paul is not talking about those times. Paul is talking about the rest of the times when parents have the opportunity to build their children up and instead actually tear them down.

Parenting is difficult and I am no where pretending to think I have all the answers or understand the unique situations each family faces. This is one of the incredible things about Scripture – that all aspects of human life are discussed. We can learn God’s will for individual families by spending time in prayer and listening for the voice of God as a family unit.

We do not like the fact that the Bible talks about slavery, but this is a different form of slavery than we might think of today. Again, Paul is talking about this relationship as a two way street. He says that if you are working for someone, then you should have the attitude that you are working for Christ and not the human boss. This does not mean to treat the human boss as a god; it does, however, mean that when working, we do our work as if we are doing it for Jesus Christ himself. This means we will do the best job we can do. The bosses are not to mistreat their workers. They are supposed to remember that the Master in heaven treated them with respect and this is how the workers are to be treated also.

There are many things talked about in the Bible we do not like to talk about; so this is one of the reasons I love to read the Bible and discuss it. There are so many things we can learn from Scripture and from discussing Scripture with other people. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not meant to keep us away from other people; it is meant for us to engage the culture and people around us. We become changed people because of the Gospel and we have the opportunity to show people and bring people the transforming message of Jesus Christ.

#TheGospelChangesUs

Imitate

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Ephesians 5:1-5 Therefore, imitate God like dearly loved children. Live your life with love, following the example of Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us. He was a sacrificial offering that smelled sweet to God. Sexual immorality, and any kind of impurity or greed, shouldn’t even be mentioned among you, which is right for holy persons. Obscene language, silly talk, or vulgar jokes aren’t acceptable for believers. Instead, there should be thanksgiving. Because you know for sure that persons who are sexually immoral, impure, or greedy—which happens when things become gods—those persons won’t inherit the kingdom of Christ and God. 

Paul has been talking and teaching about the old life versus the new life. This is something that is of utmost importance because our faith in Christ is supposed to change us from the inside out. The power of the gospel is not just to show people heaven and bring people into the Kingdom of God; the power of the gospel is that it transforms and recreates us into new creations to live a life that is holy before God and we can bring people to faith through our life.

We are supposed to live like Christ; he was and is our example of how to live. How can we know how Christ lived? I would recommend reading the gospel accounts. Start with the Gospel of Luke to see the compassion of Christ, then go to the Gospel of John to see the divinity of Christ and the new life that comes from him. After that, go to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. Reading all of the gospel accounts will give a great picture of who Jesus is and how we should imitate him in our life.

The first thing that Paul speaks against is sexual immorality. We live in a culture that is obsessed with this and the truth is we do not realize how much this has control over us. It is important that we do not live in a way that immorality does not live in us because we should view each and every person as a child of God and a beautiful creation of the creator. People are made in the image of God, we just help them realize that fact to guide them to faith in Christ. If we look at people with the wrong set of eyes, we end up devaluing them and it is much more difficult to express the love of God though Jesus Christ when they are hearing a different message from immorality.

Paul then goes on to teach about how we speak to each other. Our words have much more power than we sometimes remember. Our words can bring hope and joy, and then the very next minute bring devastation and fear. Instead of talking down to another person, what if our language, jokes, and communication exuded love yet truth? This is a much more effective way to bring people to faith because they feel as if they are truly valued enough to become who they are made to be.

Finally, Paul warns that sexual immoral, impure or greedy are actually serving other gods, which is idolatry. The first and second commandments God gave Moses was “You must have no other gods before me,” and “Do not make an idol for yourself.” (Exodus 20:3-4) Idols are anything that distract us from the One God. We may or may not have idols in statue form today; but we do have idols in our life: money, sex, power, and anything else that forces our attention off of God. For us to embrace all that God has to give us, we should be of singular focus and see the Creator working all around us and in us.

God does not want us to acknowledge Him some of the time; He wants it all of the time. We do this when we treat others as the precious creations they are and help them see their value, not only to us, but to the Creator of the universe. Our entire lives (attitudes, thoughts, actions, words, etc) should reflect Christ to all we encounter and show that we are changed. That is an incredible power of the gospel.

#TheGospelChangesUs

Christ Among Us

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Ephesians 4:7-10 God has given his grace to each one of us measured out by the gift that is given by Christ. That’s why scripture says, When he climbed up to the heights, he captured prisoners, and he gave gifts to peopleWhat does the phrase “he climbed up” mean if it doesn’t mean that he had first gone down into the lower regions, the earth? The one who went down is the same one who climbed up above all the heavens so that he might fill everything. 

There are a couple things that stand out to me and give me even more hope in Christ. First of all, Paul reminds us that each person has been given the gift of grace because of Jesus Christ. This means that we all have been given the same amount of God’s grace. No one has more of Christ than anyone else. As we go through our life, we can remember this truth: everyone is equal in the eyes of Christ. He loves and reaches out to each person; and this is what we should do. Because God first loved us, we love other people. Because God pursued and continues to pursue us, we go out and pursue people for Christ with the Holy Spirit directing us in our steps.

The second thing Paul reminds us is that Christ ascended into heaven, a subtle reminder that Christ was resurrected and is with God. But even more than that truth, Paul is reminding the people of the other part of the gospel message: Christ came down to earth and lived as a human among us. This is the aspect of the gospel message that we can sometimes overlook. Christ’s death and resurrection is the pivotal point of the message; but Christ also lived among us so he could show people how much God really cares.

If you ever get to a place where we doubt that God is for us, we can remember that God, in human form, Jesus Christ, walked among us. As it says in the book of Hebrews, “he was tempted in every way yet was without sin.” His life was an example for us to show us what life should look like. The same person who is in heaven right now is the same person who walked among us and who walks among us today.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is so impactful to our us that if we allow it, the message will change us.

#TheGospelChangesUs

Worthy Life

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Ephesians 4:1-6 Therefore, as a prisoner for the Lord, I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God. Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all. 

“But you don’t know what this person did to me!” “How can I treat them with gentleness and patience when they are the ones clearly in the wrong?” I have heard people say many times, “I wish everyone would just follow the Golden Rule (treat others the way you want to be treated).” As I heard the person say this, I remembered how they bad mouthed another person right before that.

Living in humility, gentleness and patience in this world is not easy. This kind of life is so against how everyone else wants us to live. We walk around wanting to get revenge, or even hold back forgiveness. But, in reality, who is holding back forgiveness and plotting revenge really hurting? See we want to have justice done, but we forget how damaging attitudes like that actually are to our soul. We become calloused and do not see people as God sees them. We’ll focus on the brokenness and become blinded to any amount of goodness in another person. There is no one too far away from God to come close and know God. We can be the people to show others this incredible grace by our words, actions, and even thoughts.

Our attitudes are the most important thing that people will remember about us after we have an encounter with them. This realization struck me several years ago when I found myself not wanting to offer forgiveness to a person who hurt me. Somehow, God brought healing into my heart and I was able to forgive. This doesn’t mean I condone or tolerate what the person did; instead I released the control that negative attitude had on my life.

Though I am far from being a very humble person, I ask God daily to show me the qualities in people He desires me to see. When I look at people, I am in awe at how God is moving in their life, even when they can’t see it for themselves. We are all called to show and teach people about the Kingdom of God and God’s grace. People will be turned away if we have, even the slightest hint of, a feeling we think we’re better than them. Jesus Christ has made it so that everyone is equal in the eyes of God. “There is no slave or free, Jew or Gentile….all are one in Christ Jesus.” This is the spirit we should work with because the Spirit of God is residing in us.

God is working in all people, in some way. He has also called us to a live of serving and loving those around us, even the difficult ones (add your own phrase); but God still desires we live in humility, peace and gentleness with each other. This does not come easily to us; in fact it goes against our basic instincts. But, this means we have the chance to call on God and allow His Spirit to work through us.

God is calling, and has called, you and me to change the world with Him by proclaiming Jesus Christ in all aspects of our lives; and to make us a “city on a hill whose light cannot be hidden.”

#TheGospelChangesUs