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Archive for September, 2014

addiefishmiafishmayfish

“Fishing with four girls.  This is going to be difficult.”

My husband’s idea of vacation includes only three main ingredients: eat, sleep, and fish.  Coming from a family who baits before breakfast and trolls well past twilight, the sight-seeing, sunbathing, sand-happy shopper in me had to learn how to deal with this deep sea dilemma.

Seventeen years ago I really could have used a crash course on how to smile after seven hours spent sitting with a sinker.  Nevertheless, I can honestly say I have adapted.  I actually enjoy fishing – in moderation – and I no longer have any outlandish vacation expectations that disallow the glorious sport I refer to a gigglybobbin’.

We spent the past week at the beach.  More specifically, on the pier, the dock, and the bridge casting, reeling, and, yes, catching fish.  With three little girls and a wife who won’t wound worms without a Hazmat suit, the mechanic clearly had his work cut out for him.

I just have to stop right there and acknowledge his patience.  Literally, the moment one line was cast, the next was reeled back in.  “Bait my hook, Daddy.”  “He stole my shrimp, Daddy.”  “I had a bite, Daddy.  I lost my bait again.”

Between blocking blondie (Addie, 6) from hook havoc and reloading lures, I reckon my aforetime anxious angler really wondered why he didn’t breed boys.

But, no.  He just kept baiting bare hooks for his baby dolls.

Bravo to these pixie’s papa.  I’m impressed.

All the girls caught fish…lots of fish.  When Daddy finally got his turn on the pier, he pulled one up after another…after another.  The Blues were biting for the better part of six hours that night.  Ironically, our family were the only ones catching them.

I know that the risk of this beginning to sound like a full-fledged fish story is quite high…but I assure you that it is true.  The guy next to us said he’d been fishing all day and hadn’t caught much of anything.  As soon as my husband tied one of his special gigglybobbin’ lures onto that guy’s line, he immediately began pulling Blues up one after another right along with us.  The guy next to him went down to the bait shop and bought one.  No sooner did he drop his line before he, too, pulled up a Blue.

It continued that way until the pier closed for the night.  We caught so many fish that we stopped counting.  The guy next to us caught so many he couldn’t fit them all into his cooler.  I’ve never seen so many fish caught in such a short amount of time.  It was amazing.

I thought about how patient my husband had been with the girls when I know he really wanted to focus on his own fishing fun.  I thought about how he’d described his lucky lure as one that really wasn’t special – one you can buy at any bait ship for barely three bucks.  I thought about how fortunate we’d been to find so many fish and how proud I was to be the wife of a fisherman who was willing to friend a man he did not know and share his good fortune.  I thought about how bold that man was to share his story about how he had escaped the depths of this world’s despair and became a Christian some years ago.  And then I thought about Jesus and his fishermen.

I thought about how he’d told them to let down their nets after they’d fished all day.  I thought about how they’d listened despite their doubts and how he’d blessed them so enormously for their obedience and trust.  I thought about how they caught so many fish that their nets were breaking; so many fish that their boats began to sink!

And then I remembered…that is how God blesses men who are willing to obey him when his commands seem ridiculous.  That is how God blesses men who trust him.  That’s how God blesses men who sacrifice their own agenda for His; who patiently pursue preferring others.  I thought about how when he does it – and he will – those men do not expect or horde it.  Instead, they fall down in humility and gratitude over his goodness and forgo fishing  in exchange for following him fully…just like a few other famous fishermen who went before them.

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him. ~Luke 5:8-11

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After Paul spends two paragraphs digressing in an effort to make sure the necessity of
God’s grace in him and for the Ephesians is understood, he comes back to reinforce the reason he is laboring so hard for the gospel and for them.

Unity was the reason.  One kingdom body formed from two people groups who happen to comprise the entire human race – Jews and Gentiles. (Ephesians 2:17-22)

For this, not only was Paul willingly imprisoned and persecuted, but he was also earnestly praying on his knees for the men and women he formerly hated enough to kill.  He asked that they’d be strengthened through the Holy Spirit, in faith, in love, in knowledge, and with the fullness of God.

Note how he describes the one he is praying to:

“…the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named…”

Paul is focusing on the concept of family.  Why?

Families were God’s idea.  Paul says he “named” each one indicating his headship authority over them.  Beginning with Adam and Eve and culminating at the end of all things with the international family of believers –  a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages (Revelation 7:9) – God is the Father.  God is the FatherGod is the Father.

Therefore, Jews and Gentiles do not have the right to exclude each other based on their earthly fathers.  God did a new thing in Christ.  He made room for every dead sinner his Father gave to him and he told us all to live in peace together.  The Ephesians needed to understand that they were indeed God’s children.  The Jews needed to understand that no matter how pristine their ancestry line traced, only those who had God as their Father were his children.  And the same wisdom is needed for us today.

Unbelievers who come to Christ apart from a Christian family and clean upbringing need to understand that they are indeed God’s children just as much as anyone else who is in the faith.  Likewise, those who are steeped in religion and church culture from the time they exit the womb need to understand that their earthly line grants them neither automatic nor superior citizenship in God’s kingdom.  God is the Father of his true children and he adopts all those who are his.  We are being built into his kingdom equally together.  Therefore, let us strengthen one another regardless of how diverse our earthly backgrounds are.  Let us remember that God is our father and that he can do far more abundantly than all we ask or think.  Let us pray for the family of God.  He will get all the glory.

“to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

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Paul begins chapter 3 by assuring his readers that the reason he was a Pharisee turned Christian, the reason he was willingly imprisoned for the preaching of the gospel, the very reason he so painstakingly sought to explain the mystery of that gospel with clarity to them was because they – yes, they – the lawless, the non-kosher, the idolatrous Gentiles – were a huge part of God’s massive kingdom building plan.

Ephesians 2:17-22 tells us (and them) exactly what reason Paul is speaking of in verse 1 of chapter 3.  Jesus Christ came, not only for Jews, but for Gentiles.  He came to make one kingdom people which was to include all kinds of different people.  That’s new for Paul.  That’s new for the Jews.  That’s new for these folks.

Three times Paul emphasized God’s grace upon him in the opening 13 verses.  Paul is trying desperately to communicate this one main idea:

God has given me, a wretched, people-hating sinner, grace. (Eph. 3:2)

God has given me, a wretched, people-hating sinner, grace. (Eph 3:7)

God has given me, a wretched, people-hating sinner, grace. (Eph 3:8)

For you.  (Eph 3:1)

For you.  (Eph 3:2)

For you.  (Eph 3:13)

Paul understands exactly why God saved him.  It wasn’t to make him comfortable.  It wasn’t so he could relax and enjoy the rest of his life until he landed in heaven.  It was to preach the gospel of his Lord to people who needed to know him as much as he did.  For that cause, he was willing to suffer greatly, love unconditionally, and sacrifice whole heartedly – even when it meant pain, prison, and great patience on his part.

So why does he spend two paragraphs at the front of chapter 3 explaining these things? Because the last thing Paul wants is for the Ephesian people – the people he wants Jesus to save through his ministry – to think preaching the gospel to them is miserable.  The last thing Paul wants is for unbelievers to feel like they are a heavy burden laid upon him.  Therefore, he shares, in detail, how big a part of his joy and his life’s purpose they really are.  Remember, Paul was a devout Jew whom Christ converted and sent to preach to, to love, to serve, to suffer for, to encourage Gentiles.

His point is this: I was saved by grace.  I was sent for you.  When the Lord saves you, it will be by grace. He will send you for others.

God is building a great kingdom full of every different kind of people.  He has given grace to we who know him, not only for our benefit, but for the benefit of those who don’t.  He did not save us so that we can be comfortable.  He didn’t do it so we could relax and enjoy the rest of our earthly lives conveniently waiting for heaven.  The last thing we should ever want is for the unbelievers around us to think that sharing the gospel with them is miserable and that they are nothing but a big old backbreaking burden to us-even in the most extreme event that we are imprisoned for their and the gospel’s sake like Paul!

We were saved by grace.  Directly afterward, we are sent out for others – different others.  How willing we are to suffer, to love, to sacrifice, and to endure patiently for those fiercely unlike ourselves is often a direct reflection of how much or how little we recognize the true origin of our salvation.

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After reminding the Ephesians of how immense God’s grace had been to them, he reminds them to remember some more.  It’s as if Paul is saying, “This is who you were without Christ; this is what you were like, so take a good look at it.  Remember, remember, remember.  Do not ever forget where you would be today – and where others are today – without Christ.

You were separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to God’s promises, without hope and without God.  In a word, Ephesians, you were excluded from everything good, spiritually speaking.

“But now…”

But now!  Oh, look at what he has done for you all!  Look!  Remember!

“But now in Christ Jesus…”

Because you are in him, look what he has done!  You have been brought near to God;  the dividing wall which kept you from the place of sacrifice for sin has been broken down;  peace has been made; reconciliation with God has come; hostility has been killed; you’ve been preached to; you have access by the Spirit to the Father; you’re no longer strangers and aliens; you have been made fellow citizens; you have been made citizens and members of one body.  In a word, Ephesians, you have been included in everything good, spiritually speaking.

Now, I can’t tell you much about how it feels to be treated like a Gentile in a Jewish-run synagogue, but I do know something about what it is like to be treated like an unbeliever in a self-righteous religious-run church.

The Jews, who trusted in and flaunted their external privileges rather than the mercy and grace of God did so at the costly expense of the very people God sought to join them together with.  The Christians, who often trust in and flaunt their external privileges rather than the mercy and grace of Christ, do so at the costly expense of their very own blood-bought brothers and sisters.

If we could all just remember, remember, remember and never forget who we were without him and that his whole purpose is to have one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God, and one Father of all, we would never be prideful, arrogant, self-righteous excluders of God’s people — or any people.  Instead, we would be humble, generous, kind includers of all who would come to know him.  Why?  Because that is who he has been to us.

He has been good to we Gentiles.  Let us be good to those who remain dead in sin as well as those alive in Christ.  We may be better off, spiritually speaking, but we are certainly no better.

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school

“It’s not spelling, it’s writing!”

“It’s not math, it’s language!”

These are the type of emphatic statements my daughter makes when I correct her school papers.  She does not understand why I mark spelling wrong on her penmanship homework.  She doesn’t get it when I tell her about how she wrote her “5” backwards when she numbered her language quiz.  She thinks each subject should remain separate.  At 9, she has learned to compartmentalize her life in such a way that she feels comfortable justifying error.  She can now enjoy the benefits of avoiding personal responsibility, refuse helpful accountability, and ignore necessary correction – at least in as much as she can continue to convince herself that it is perfectly safe to live life in sordid, unconnected, error-filled pieces.  

I guess spelling, penmanship, math, and language are going to have to wait.  This lesson is far too important to sidestep.  I need a divine lesson plan straight from the Almighty.  As far as teachable moments go for the week, this is it.  I can’t afford to fumble.  

I spend the next five minutes trying to explain how every part of her life is a piece of her puzzle.  I tell her everything must fit together if she wants the best outcomes.  I feel desperately inadequate as we close our studies for the day.  I look to my Father for help giving a less insufficient answer and I ask him to show me how to help her.

What I find is myself standing in utter need, waste deep in confession, and at the mercy of mercy itself.  How many times have I said in my heart things like, “It’s not church, it’s a picnic.”  “It’s not Sunday, it’s Saturday night.”  “It isn’t right, but I’m not wrong because this part of my life has nothing to do with that one.”

That one.  You know, that part which holds it all together; the centrality of all of life; the big picture creator; the weaver of this great tapestry; the one golden thread running through the whole of it all.  The subject?  Jesus Christ.

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:17)

He holds all things together.  Every piece of our lives belongs to him.  There is not one about which we have the liberty to say, “This isn’t Christianity, it’s recreation.”  “This isn’t about Jesus, it’s about me.”  “This isn’t religion, it’s work.”  “This isn’t God’s business it’s mine.”  No.  None of that holds water at the end of the day and we all know it.

We know that if Christ is not welcome at work or play or in the recesses of our own hearts and minds at any given moment – if we relegate him to any specific areas and leave him there – nothing will ever fit together properly.  The pieces of our lives will simply never match.  The practice of compartmentalizing our Christianity means spiritual slumber, carnal living, and abdication of personal responsibility.  A compartmentalized Christian repeatedly refuses helpful accountability and ignores necessary correction.  The Bible calls that person a fool.  

A fool despises his father’s instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent. (Proverbs 15:5)

Little wonder why it also warns parents that folly itself is indeed bound up – tied in knots; holding captive; intertwined to a serious and dangerous degree – in the hearts of our children.  We must teach them his ways if we want them to lead righteous lives.  

The problem then becomes us.  We cannot teach what we do not know.  We cannot teach what we do not do.  If our lives are separated by subject, our children will never learn integrity, consistency, faithfulness, or sacrifice.  They will learn, however.  They will learn hypocrisy, abdication, irresponsibility, and self-righteous self-defense.

iF u dOnn’T blevE me, teSt mY werDs?

Go ahead and try to pretend you don’t need reading to do math or language to write.  You will end up like a professor of faith who acts as if he does not need God at work; play; in relationships; etc.  A sayer who cannot, by mere virtue of his own bad theology, be a doer of any good thing.  

Lord, let me not be foolish!  Every compartment of my life must include you.  

 

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After greeting the Ephesians with a reminder of all the spiritual blessings they’d been given in Christ, Paul goes on in chapter 2 to remind them of who they were before those blessings took effect in them.  Alongside reminding them who they are in Christ, he does not fail to remind them who they were without him.  Paul insists that they never forget where they came from, spiritually.  Both reminders are important for children seeking to walk in perseverance and humility.  

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. ~Ephesians 2:1-3

Death.  Spiritual death is where every Christian came from.  Not one of use was born alive in Christ.  Not one who is not in Christ is alive spiritually.  All begin human life spiritually dead.  And spiritual life does not come from us.  It comes from God.  We do not make ourselves alive.  God makes us alive.  

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— ~Ephesians 2:4-5

All who become spiritually alive do so by God’s will and grace alone.  Dead sinners do not make dead sinners live.  God makes dead sinners live.  Paul tells us that it is God’s great love that saves us when we are least deserving – not when we clean up our acts and stop sinning.  First, he saves us, then he sanctifies us.  We do not save ourselves.  We do not sanctify ourselves.  God does both by grace and enables our incapable spirit to respond rightly; to change; to stop sinning; to love Him and others well.  He does so by giving us a new heart, new desires, and a new life wherein we now want to live for him.  His grace is the reason we want to live for him.  

Ceasing from sin and starting to live for Christ means doing good in the world, in our work, in our families, and in our lives.  This is the very reason we were created.  

 

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Paul.  The Paul.  The apostle Paul.  He wrote most of the New Testament.  He was the greatest missionary the world has ever known.  He was sent out by God himself to found and establish a great portion of the early church.  This is who he was – by God’s grace alone.  God’s will is what made Paul who he was.  Before God’s grace entered Paul’s life, who he was was ugly.  He was Saul – the self-righteous religious superior who hated and murdered true Christians.  God’s will made a hopeless man into a hope-filled man.

Paul wrote Ephesians.  This – a letter to Christ’s church in the city of Ephesus.

Ephesus was a great city of importance politically, educationally, and culturally.  Idolatry was rampant.  Christians in Ephesus struggled under false teaching and ungodly interpretations of the gospel.  Paul’s purpose in writing to them was to offer grace and peace through reinforcing sound doctrine and offering the confidence found in spiritual, not physical, blessings in Christ.  In Ephesians, Paul focuses on sharing the mystery of the church.  

 While many a teacher may give in to the crowd-pleasing temptation to begin by asking and expecting God to bless us, Paul begins his teaching by blessing God.  He follows up by telling his readers why we should do so.  

So why?  Because he has blessed us.  One who knows that he has already been blessed by God has only gratitude to speak of.  Those who continuously ask for more often are those who take for granted the greatest blessings.

And what are the greatest blessings?  How has he blessed us?  Spiritually.   While we are constantly tempted to trust in physical and material blessings, Paul emphasizes that the greatest blessings we possess as believers are spiritual.  Therefore, when our physical, emotional, and material circumstances are the very worst, we must recall God’s goodness by remembering the spiritual blessings we have been so generously given.  Paul identifies them here as: election, love, adoption, redemption, forgiveness, a guaranteed inheritance, and the seal of the Holy Spirit.  

Paul gives thanks and prays for his fellow believers.  He asks that wisdom and hope might be added to their faith.  He reminds them that Christ was resurrected and that the same power which resurrected Christ from the dead is what is working in them.  He reminds them that Christ is seated at the right hand of God with all rule, all authority, all power, all dominion, and all glory.  

Therefore, I can trust him.  You can trust him.  Paul reminded them so that you and I would remind each other of who we are, what we’ve been given, and, most importantly, who God is.  Some days are harder than others.  No matter what we face in this wilderness we call earth, the Lord is in control of it all.  The Lord who chose us; who loves us; who adopted us; who redeemed us; who forgave us; who sealed us; who waits in heaven to give us the inheritance he alone purchased for us – eternal life.  Let us cease from fear and be thankful.  The best is yet to come.

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