The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: June 2018

Stand in the Evil Day

The charismatic movement was sweeping through North Jersey when we planted a church there.  Talk of demons erupted everywhere.  Fascination with “casting them out”  made me uncomfortable.  I believed that “spiritual forces of evil” were real, but held no relevance in my life.   Paul’s final remarks in Ephesians reprove me.

“Finally be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power”. . . (6:10).

Paul is reaching the end of his letter from imprisonment in Rome to the Ephesus church.  “Finally”,   he writes. Because his words about evil spirits come last they’re not unimportant.  In fact they may signal our greatest danger.

Paul piles up power words–“be empowered. . . in the strength of his might“.  Again and again, Scripture points us to God’s might for us . . .

  • “He said: ‘Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says to you: “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s”” (2 Chronicles 20:15).
  • “I love you, O Lord, my strength” (Psalm 18:1).
  • “For who is God besides the LORD? And who is the Rock except our God?  It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect” (Psalm 18:31,32).
  • “But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.  O my Strength, I sing praise to you; you, O God, are my fortress, my loving God” (Psalm 59:16,17).
  • “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know . . . his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength,  which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,  far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.  And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church” (Ephesians 1:18-22).

Elsewhere Paul refers to God as his enabler . . .

  • “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, NKJV).
  • “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service” (1 Timothy 1:12).
  • “But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth” (2 Tim 4:17).

Here he urges us to be “strong in the Lord”,  Why? So we can “take [our] stand against the devil’s schemes” (6:11b).   As Christians, we’re caught up in a “struggle”.  How can we be strong in the Lord?  Pray devotedly.  “Train” in the Scriptures daily.  Participate in the life of the church.  Engage in Holy Spirit-present worship.  And . . .

 “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11).

This we have to do.  God doesn’t.  We have to put on the armor.  And so we are “strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might”.

Paul may have taken his armor-idea from his guards.  I can see him eyeing the soldier’s armor.  “Put on the full armor of God . . .” Paul urges us.
With ” . . . so that”, Paul introduces the purpose for putting on God’s armor  The devil “schemes” against us!  The Greek word is methodeia“craftiness, cunning attacks, deception”.  With multiple attacks, he tempts us, accuses us, fosters division in the church, stalks us to undermine our faith, and more.

We must ” . . . take [our] stand” against the devil’s schemes.  Greek histayme–“hold one’s ground”.  Andrew Lincoln, British New Testatment scholar, comments . . .

“The decisive victory has already been won by God in Christ, and the task of believers is not to win but to stand, that is, to preserve and maintain what has been won. It is because this victory has been won that believers are involved in the battle at all. They are in a decisively new situation in contrast to their previous condition described in 2:2,3, where there could be no battle or resistance because they were in total bondage to the enemy. So the call to the readers to stand against the powers is also a reminder of their liberation from the tyranny of these powers. The major victory has been achieved, but the eschatological tension with its indicative and imperative characteristic of Paul’s thought remains. Believers must appropriate what has already been gained for them and do so against continuing assaults, and this is not automatic. Indeed there may be minor defeats along the way; hence the urgency of the imperatives. [Paul’s] focus, however, is not on the possibility of such minor defeats but on the ability of his readers to make the assured outcome of the overall battle their own by standing and maintaining the ground that has been won”.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:12,13).

Paul explains why we must put on God’s full armor:  “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against . . . the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”.  ” . . . struggle” is the NIV’s translation of the Greek palay–literally, “wrestling”.

Wrestling was popular in the Ephesian athletic games.  Like  “flesh and blood” wrestling, we believers in Christ “wrestle” against spiritual powers.

This was certainly true in Ephesus.  The city was famous for magical arts, especially the so-called “Ephesian Letters” (Ephesiagrammata). These six magical terms (askion, kataskion, lix, tetrax, damnameneus, and aisia) were said to possess power to ward off evil spirits.

One story told of an Ephesian wrestler who was unbeatable in the Olympic because he wore the “Ephesian Letters” on his ankle.  Officials discovered and removed it.  The wrestler then lost three consecutive matches.

Paul says our struggle “is not against flesh and blood”.  He means behind human opponents work “rulers . . . authorities, powers of this dark world . . . spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”.  Paul does two things here.  First, he piles up terms to show us the overwhelming nature of these spiritual powers.  Second, he implies that the present world order is organized in rebellion and under the dominion of these powers.  Christ’s appearance on earth caused an outbreak of activity by them.  But his coming, as they feared, sealed their doom.  In fact, he triumphed over them, so they’re already beaten . . .

“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15).

By putting on God’s armor in faith,we can make his victory ours.

” . . . the evil day” is this present evil age which may contain certain “hot” days of evil.  Paul explains our fight in the evil day  is to “stand [our] ground.”   Paul wants us unshaken and steadfast when the enemy attacks.  As Lincoln explained above, “The decisive victory has already been won by God in Christ, and the task of believers is not to win but to stand . . . ”

* * *

Looking for demons everywhere is extreme.  But so is presuming they have no relevance in my life.  If I doubt God’s promise that even in my old-age-illnesses he’s working for good, Satan lurks, urging me on in my self-pity and unbelief.  I can sit up straight in my wheelchair, put on the full armor of God and resist his lies.

In this evil day I can stand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Household Codes

“Household codes” are Paul’s teachings about how the Christian household should relate.  Wives should submit to their husbands.  Husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the church.  Children should obey their parents.  Slaves should serve their masters as if their masters were the Lord, and masters should treat their slaves as if they were the Lord (Ephesians 5:22-6:9).

To some churches these “codes” are embarrassing.  So they explain them as cultural relativism–relevant in the first century, no more in the twenty-first.

True?  We’ve already unpacked Paul’s instructions for husband and wife (Ephesians 5:22-33).  He calls for conduct that he compares to Christ.  In other words, the husband-wife relation flows out of the Christ-church relationship.  In fact, it images it.  Doesn’t sound like cultural relativism, does it!

Let’s unpack the last of Paul’s “household codes” here (Ephesians 6:1-9).

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’– which is the first commandment with a promise— ‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’ Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1-4).

Paul began his “household code” in 5:21.  Household members should submit to one another.  Wives to husband, husbands to wives (by loving them) (5:22-32).  Now children to parents (by obeying them), fathers to children (by rearing them in the training and instruction of the Lord), slaves to masters (by obeying them), and masters to slaves (by treating them as if they were the Lord).  Submit “out of fear (awe, reverence) for Christ”.  To not submit is to rebel against Christ, who himself submitted to the Father to the death for us.  As in husband-wife instructions relationships within the Christian family are defined by Christ.

For added clout, Paul cites the fifth Commandment.  Obedience honors, attributes worth to parents.  Honoring is an attitude, but it must issue forth in obedience.

Quoting the promise of Deuteronomy 5:26, Paul asserts that if a child honors his parent it will “go well” with him and he will “enjoy long life on the earth”.  How are we to understand this?  We’ve all seen a good life cut short.  But the principle holds. Think of it like this.  Father says, “Don’t hang out with thieves who try to steal someone’s credit cards.  You may lose your life. Avoid a prostitute who may give you a disease. Work to provide for yourself, so you won’t suffer want”.  In each case, obedience will cause “things” to go better with the son and probably give him longer life.

Father is the household authority.  In Roman households, absolute authority.  He could imprison his child, beat him, keep him working long in the fields, or kill him.  Against that cultural backdrop, Paul’s instruction rings loud and clear.  Fathers must not abuse their authority by provoking their children to anger.  Instead, they are responsible to teach them the basics of the Christian faith.

“ . . . obey your parents in the Lord”.  Not all parents are Christians.  If they call children to do something contrary to God’s revealed will, they’re not “in the Lord” and not to be obeyed.  John Calvin said, “If our parents spur us to transgress the law, we have a perfect right to regard them not as parents, but as strangers who are trying to lead us away from obedience to our true Father”.

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.  Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.  Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.  And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him” Ephesians 6:5-9). 

More radical Christian conduct can hardly be called for!  Christian slaves are to obey their masters “with respect and fear” and “with sincerity  . . . just as you would obey Christ . . . not only when their eye is on you . . . Serve wholeheartedly as if you were serving the Lord . . . ”  We apply this to Christian employees, and it sounds extreme!  How must it have sounded to slaves?

Why didn’t Paul condemn slavery instead of just calling for masters to treat their slaves “in the same way”?  One factor:  Paul is not addressing race-based slavery, as that in pre-Civil War America. Anyone who tries to justify race-based slavery from Scripture is a heretic. African-American slave-holders argued that their slaves weren’t fully human.  Black-skin meant one was a descendant of Ham, and thus under God’s curse.  Paul would have seen race-based slavery as a moral outrage.

When Greece and later Rome conquered other people, they often brought back the conquered as slaves.  Some were made laborers on Rome’s massive and continuing civil engineering projects.  Others became household servants, often treated as family members.  Paul’s instructions for Christian masters are far kinder.

As with husbands and wives, Paul says the child-parent relationship and the slave-master relationship connect to the Christ-church relationship.  The issue is not cultural relativism but gospel theology.

* * *

Most of us have authority over someone–parents over children, employers over employees, for instance.  Here’s a take-away from our text:  treat them as Jesus would.  Or in Paul’s words,  with respect and fear, with sincerity of heart, serve them, do what is good to them, don’t threaten them or show favoritism.  And parents, we must bring our children up in the training and instruction of the Lord.  Pray with them and teach them and show them Jesus in how we live with them.  Make our home “a little church”.   For our children, it’s the most important church in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Baking Cake

These are days when the free exercise of religion is being challenged in America.  We need to be aware. So below is a blog by the Kleins (forced by Oregon to close their shop) commenting on a recent decision by the Supreme Court.

Oregon Forced Us to Close Our Cake Shop. Here’s What the Masterpiece Decision Means for Us.

Aaron and Melissa Klein were fined $135,000 by the state of Oregon after declining to bake a custom cake for a same-sex wedding due to their religious beliefs. (Photo: First Liberty Institute)

We are thrilled for our friend, Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop who recently won his case at the Supreme Court.

Like Jack, we know what it is like to be treated unfairly by a state agency and mocked, threatened, and abused by critics. We can only imagine the relief Jack is experiencing.

At the same time, we wonder what the future holds for our case, our lost business, and our family. Ours may be, as Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, the case that allows “further elaboration in the courts.” And we are encouraged to know that seven justices of the Supreme Court agree that a state’s hostility to the religious beliefs of its citizens will not be tolerated under the First Amendment.

In one sense, Jack’s case is very similar to ours. We too declined to create a custom cake that would have required us to express a message our faith teaches against. And, like Jack, we faced a commissioner—Brad Avakian, commissioner of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industry at the time—who was hostile to our religion and biased in his consideration of our case.

At one point, before we had even had our day in court, Avakian told the media, “Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, but that doesn’t mean that folks have the right to discriminate.” He also went on Facebook to advocate “one set of rules,” saying “Everyone has a right to their religious beliefs, but that doesn’t mean they can disobey laws already in place.”

The Oregon Constitution allows religious exemptions from laws that are generally applicable, but Avakian ruled that out from the very beginning. Can he really be presumed to be fair and neutral when he said our business was unlawfully discriminating before he had even heard our case?

In the same interview about our case, Avakian revealed what may be his true motive for punishing us: “The goal is to rehabilitate.”

Well, his actions led to the closing of our business. That hardly seems like rehabilitation. But, is it really the state’s job to determine whether or not our religious beliefs need to be rehabilitated?

We agree with Kennedy who wrote of Jack’s unfair commissioners that such anti-religious “sentiment is inappropriate for a commission charged with the solemn responsibility of fair and neutral enforcement of [a state’s] anti-discrimination law.”

But in another sense, our case is not exactly like Jack’s case. We were penalized $135,000 for the “emotional damages” we caused by politely explaining our religious convictions and why we could not create a custom cake to celebrate a same-sex ceremony.

The outrageous magnitude of that penalty—based largely on the fact that we dared to quote in our business the scriptures we hold sacred—is, we think, the type of anti-religious bias Kennedy had in mind when he determined that Jack’s commissioners “violated the state’s duty under the First Amendment not to base laws or regulations on hostility to a religion or religious viewpoint.”

We hope the justice system will undo the damage Avakian’s lack of respect and neutrality has inflicted upon us. When the government acts with hostility to someone’s religion or religious beliefs, citizens take that as license to treat one another with even greater hostility.

While Avakian was publicly judging our religious beliefs, Nicole B. voiced her opinion on Facebook: “I hope your shop burns and you never make another cake, wh—.”

Matthew M. wrote: “If being a Christian means being a prejudiced, stupid piece of s—, you both are great Christians!”

But Briana T.’s was one of the most painful to read: “We hope your children get cancer and die … . You are worthless.”

Beyond that, our business was shut down, our vehicles were vandalized, our home was broken into, and we have received more death threats than we care to count.

We recognize that good people will disagree with each other from time to time, but we agree with Kennedy that, whether before a state agency or in the court of public opinion, “these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs.”

America’s commitment to free speech and religious liberty has provided space for each of us to disagree with one another, but, at the end of the day, to coexist peacefully as neighbors. It is this tolerant respect for the varied beliefs and opinions of our neighbors that makes us such a great country.

For now, we wait and hope that, like Jack, one day a court will correct the religious hostility we suffered at the hands of Avakian and recognize, as Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in his concurring opinion, “[t]he Constitution protects not just popular religious exercises from the condemnation of civil authorities. It protects them all.”

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Holy Marriage

Archaic.  Smells of male superiority, female inferiority.  Opens the door to wife abuse.  Maybe okay 2000 years ago, but not now in the 21st century when women are well educated and proven leaders.

Here’s the text this is all  about . . .

“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her  to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,  and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church– for we are members of his body.  ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery– but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:22-32),

Hold on!  This is a bone-rattling ride.  CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE IMAGES CHRIST’S “MARRIAGE” TO HIS CHURCH.

Twice the church is referred to as the “bride” and “wife” of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7; 21:9) . . .

“Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready . . . One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.'”

Paul describes that relationship this way . .

  • Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
  • To make her holy
  • Cleansing her
  • To present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless
  • Christ feeds and cares for the church

Now Paul draws  comparisons between Christ’s relationship to his “bride” and Christian marriage . . .

  • Wives submit to their husbands as to the Lord.
  • For the husband is head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church—its Savior.
  • Wives submit to their husbands in everything as the church submits to Christ.
  • Husbands love their wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy . . . and to present her to himself as a radiant church.
  • Husbands love their wives as their own bodies . . . no one ever hated his own body but . . . feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church.

In other words, Christian wife and husband, ponder Christ’s “marriage” to his church and relate to your wife/husband like that.  This is Christian marriage.  This is holy marriage.  This is staggering.

Human marriage is messy.  Routine days.  Moments of passionate romance and foolish, “little-things” wars.  Dish-washing, laundry doing, house buying, children raising, illness enduring.  And in the midst of all that, as the husband loves his wife as Christ loves the church and the wife submits to her husband as the church submits to Christ, their marriage images Christ’s marriage to his church.

This marriage, writes Paul, is “a profound mystery”.  Why “mystery”?  Marriage’s deepest meaning has been partly hidden but is now being revealed: marriage images the relationship between Christ and his church. “If you want to understand God’s meaning for marriage,” says John Piper (founder and teacher of desiringgod.org), “you have to grasp that we are dealing with a copy and an original . . . ”  The original is Christ’s “marriage” to his church; the copy is a Christian man and woman united in marriage.

But how do we love like Christ and submit like the church?  How can we carry out Paul’s admonitions?  Do we draw up specifications, rules?  I (the husband) make all major decisions.  You (wife) decide where to grocery shop.  Or, you (wife) get a decision every three weeks.  Or, if we disagree, I (husband) win, no matter your (wife) input.

Well, this text often comes down to decision-making.  But, of course, Paul’s teaching is broader than just decisions and deeper than rules.

Here’s how Lois and I did it.  We heard Ephesians 5 preached.  Periodically read it.  Understood I was to love selflessly like Christ.  She was to submit respectfully like the church.  We trusted the Holy Spirit to work in us the love and submission he wanted.  Then, we just did it.  Oh no, not perfectly.  In fact, in the first few years I was pretty immature, not the model self-giving lover.  Still, Lois submitted.  Fifty-five years later, we’re still at it–still loving, still learning.

Still leaning (harder; we’re older) on Jesus.

Leaning, because every day I fall short of loving like him.  Yet, by his grace, he causes our marriage to (somewhat) image his to his church.  That’s not only holy.  It’s a wonder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Be Being Filled with the Spirit

“ . . . we’ve all seen what goes on in the revivalist’s tent or on [the Trinity Broadcasting Network].  Sadly, being ‘filled with the Spirit’ is easily equated with the shoddy theology and gimmickry of modern Pentecostalism . . .”

That’s how a well-known California pastor begins his Ephesians 5:15-21 sermon.

My brother, I know you’re calming your church’s nerves about Paul’s command to be “filled with the Spirit; but you’re painting with a way too-broad brush.  You imply every revivalist’s tent has shady stuff going on.  And that all Pentecostals have shoddy theology and use gimmicks.  I’m a Pentecostal.  Without a tent.  My theology’s not shoddy.  And I don’t use gimmicks.

With that introduction, Ephesians 5:15-21 demands unpacking . . .

Therefore be careful how you [live], not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.  So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.   And do not get drunk with wine, for that is [reckless, immoral, wasteful living] but be [being] filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (NAS).

Paul fills Ephesians chapters 4-6 with exhortations.  “ . . . lead a life worthy of the calling you have received” (4:1) is the banner hanging over all.  The others define how to lead a worthy life.  “ . . . you must no longer live as the Gentiles do . . . ” (4:17) . . . “Be imitators of God, as beloved children . . . ” (5:1) . . . “Be careful how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (5:15).

Wise, careful-living Christians understand that the days are evil.  They’re not looking for a demon behind every bush.  But they know that “our struggle is not against enemies of flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).  Evil powers are out there.

It’s interesting that evil days are the context for “be filled with the Spirit”.  That’s the positive part of Paul’s command.  The negative:  “ . . . do not get drunk with wine . . . ”  Not, “do not drink wine”.  But, “do not get drunk with wine”.  Why?  Because if you get drunk, you’re living recklessly, immorally and wastefully.  And that’s foolish and unworthy of your calling.

“ . . . but be filled with the Spirit”.  John Piper says (half-jokingly) Paul meant to write “be drunk with the Spirit.”  In other words, don’t put yourself under the influence of wine.  But, if you insist on getting “drunk”, get drunk with the Spirit.  Paul’s not trying to create Christians who stagger around the room with slurred speech, or fall on the floor making animal noises.

He wants Spirit-influenced worship!

Dr. Gordon Fee (Professor Emeritus of New Testament Studies Regent College Vancouver) says God wants Christians whose lives are so totally given over to the Spirit “that the life and deeds of the Spirit are as obvious in their case as the effects of too much wine are obvious in the other”.

The apostle Paul put it this way . . .

” . . . speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,

. . . singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord,

. . . always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father . . .”.

That’s the fruit of Spirit-empowered worship.

I’ve used the New American Standard translation for this text, because it’s true to the original Greek.  The NIV, for instance, says, “Speak to one another . . . ” and “Sing and make music . . . “.  It makes “speak” and “sing” commands, while the Greek is participles.  Why the grammar lesson?  Because participles aren’t commands; they reflect action.  What action?  Results.  From being filled with the Spirit you (church) will be speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.  From being filled with the Spirit you will be singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.  From being filled with the Spirit you will always be giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God.

“ . . . be filled . . . ” is Greek present tense, implying “go on” or “keep on” being filled with the Spirit.  Theologians from different camps argue about the number of times we can be filled with the Spirit.  Is it one, at regeneration?  Is there a “second blessing”—the baptism in the Holy Spirit?  Paul says, “Keep on being filled with the Spirit!”  In other words, we seek multiple fillings.

How?  Pray.  Study the Word.  But I suggest Paul’s three participles signal not only results of Spirit-filling, but means.  Get in a congregation where Christians are singing for others to hear.  Where they’re singing and making music with their hearts to the Lord. Where they’re always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God.  And in that worship, you’ll be filled.

Can this kind of worship be both results of being filled and means?  Grammatically that’s hard to prove.  Logically it seems a stretch.  But the Spirit, like wind, blows where he wants (John 3:8).  So he can affect both results and means if he wishes.

What’s this got to do with not living foolishly in evil days?  First, it clarifies Paul’s prohibition:  don’t get drunk with wine and live a dissipated life.  Don’t get caught up in the crowd who drink too much and influence you to go along.

Second, it offers us Paul’s counsel to be better equipped for living in evil days.  Spirit-empowered worship is that way.  It’s the kind of worship that leaves us sensing we’re standing on holy ground in the presence of the Holy One together with fellow-worshipers.

Only the Holy Spirit can do that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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But If Not

“The Lord is strong enough to rescue me
if he chooses.
But if not, I will not give in to sin.
My God is able to heal me
if he decides it best.
But if not, I will not forsake my confession of faith.
My God can undo this disability
if he but speaks the word.
But if not, I will trust in the God
who will raise me from the dead.”

Those faith-defiant words
belong to Greg Morse
in a desiringgod.org blog
(https://www.facebook.com/1595029729/posts/
10214939297667998/)

my younger daughter sent me.

They’re easier said than said.

“I will pray, oh, will I pray,
‘Lord, deliver me from evil.’
I will pray, ‘Father, let this cup pass from me.’
I will pray, ‘O my God, let me not be put to shame;
let not my enemies exult over me.’
I also will pray,
‘But not my will, but yours, be done’.”

Easier said than said.

(Morse asks) “Do you see him sympathizing with you?
Do you see him suffer for you? As all else fails,
is he enough for you?
Do you believe his promise
that soon you will suffer no more?
Do you see him with you?
Do you know the depths of his love for you?
Do you know he is strengthening you,
even in this, even now?
Are his scarred hands holding yours
as he whispers of glory to come?”

I’m fighting the biggest faith-fight of my life.
But I’m not forsaking my confession of faith.
I’m still trusting God—who else do I have?
I believe I will “wake to see his face in glory”.

But that’s just it.
(Dare I publish this?)
My desire is not
to depart and be with Christ.
I believe as Paul wrote
that it’s better by far.
But I want to stay here longer.
I don’t want this cancer to kill me.
Don’t want this PLS to deaden my legs.
I want to help carry Lois’s burdens.
Want to celebrate my children and grandchildren.
Want to serve through this blog.
Want to walk again.
O Lord, make it so!
But if this cancer spreads and PLS persists, what then?

I will take courageous faith
from Morse’s blog.
I will pray for power
to hold to my confession of faith
and trust my Lord.

And to the very end I will pray,
“Lord, stop this cancer-spread.
Reverse my PLS symptoms.
Just a word from you,
and it will be done.
Then I will enjoy great good,
and from me you will receive great glory.”

O, but I’m bargaining.
Trying to convince him
it’s in his best interests to heal me.
A fox-hole “Christian”:
“God, get me out of this
and I’ll serve you forever.”

No, I’m not above bargaining.
But, only briefly.
Again and again I come back to:
“If you’re willing,
you can make me well”.

But that’s too little, isn’t it.

I have to end with this defiance:
But if not, I will cling to my faith-confession
and trust you, my Lord.”

Easier said than said.

So, also, in my sinfulness,
I will pray for sufficient grace.
And in my weakness,
I will pray for his power
to be perfected in my weakness
that even “if not”
he will be glorified in me.

 

 

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Sleeper, Wake Up!

Six of us sit around the table.  Three are on cell phones.  It’s innocent.  Texts probably.   Helpful.  But it’s also a living parable of how invasive the world has become.  Cell phones certainly aren’t sinful.  They are wonderful, useful tools. But like “social media” they can be subtle carriers of what Paul calls “evil days”.

So can blogs.  I read one this morning that glamorized actor Robert DiNiro shouting, “F. . . you, Trump!” at the Tony Awards in New York City.  Enough crude language in the ear eventually escapes the mouth.

Paul’s concern in today’s text (Ephesians 5:7-17) is that we “wake up” to the sin around us and not let it shape our actions, rather expose it as the sin it is.

“Therefore do not be partners with them” (Ephesians 5:7).

Paul warns his readers (and us) not to partake “with them”.  “[T]hem? The people he’s just referred to in 5:5,6—the “immoral, impure or greedy”. Don’t “throw in your lot” (NJB) with them.  Why?  First, “because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient”.  Second, . . .

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)  and find out what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8-10).

Once you were “darkness”—without moral and spiritual renewal, under the dominion of the devil and demons.  But now you are “light in the Lord”—have been morally and spiritually renewed, under the dominion of the Lord.

So Paul urges us to put into practice what we have become in Christ.  Live what we are now in the Lord.   That means producing a willingness to give and share (“goodness”).  It means doing justice, doing what God requires (“righteousness”).  It means loving truth, loving reality as opposed to pretense (“truth”).  “ . . . find out what pleases the Lord”.  Our lives are to have a new goal:  to find out what pleases the Lord.  This comes from studying his Word.  And from Spirit-led discernment in the “thick” of living.

“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.  But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you’” (Ephesians 5:11-14).

The Greek welegcho (translated “expose”) means to call what someone’s done a sin and urge him to stop and ask God’s forgiveness.  Paul says it’s not enough not to participate in “fruitless deeds of darkness”; we should “expose” them.

This takes grace.

Twenty-two-year-old Joe was zealous for the Lord.  I think he fancied himself a prophet, quick to point out others’ sins.  He did it, I’m sure, for good, so that Christ would shine on the Christian who was sinning.  But he came across as judgmental, as harsh and legalistic.  Most people whose sin Joe “exposed”, instead of repenting, reacted against Joe.  “Who does he think he is telling me what to do?”

“Be very careful, then, how you live– not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (Ephesians 5:15-17).

Christians in Ephesus (and surrounding west Asia Minor cities where Paul’s letter will circulate) are a small outpost among an overwhelming population of pagans.  It’s no time for careless living.  Live carefully, live wisely in Christ-pleasing ways and you will be “making the most of every opportunity” to show that there’s an alternative lifestyle to “evil days”.  Don’t live senselessly.  Gain insight into what the Lord wills for you living among pagans in evil days.

* * *

Sexual intercourse before marriage has become common–at least if we believe the movies.  In fact, movies promote it.  And sure enough, we yield to our natural sex drive and do it.

Because I watch the news most evenings, I hear politicians spout half-truths–or no-truths.  We’ve come to expect it.  Now we can hear half-truth-telling on many lips.

Wake up, sleeping Christian!  Call sin sin.  Don’t let it sneak up on you.  And Christ will shine on you.

 

 

 

 

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God-Imitators

I decided to buy an imitation leather Bible.  Not the quality of genuine leather, but considerably cheaper. That’s what I think of when I hear ” imitation.”  But Paul doesn’t hesitate to use the verb form here . . .

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children  and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1,2).

” . . . therefore” points us to what preceded (Ephesians 5:17-32), especially ” [be] forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (5:32b).  But “therefore” also points forward.  ” . . . ” [be] forgiving one another as dearly loved children . . . as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us . . . “.  Reasons fueling Paul’s imperative.  For these reasons “Be imitators of God”.  Gaze deeply into who God is and what God’s done and imitate him.

“Imitators”.  I think it a strange word.  A pretend word.  God’s the “real thing”.  We’re to be play-actors mimicking him.  But, no, not a strange word at all.  God is our Father through Jesus Christ.  We are dearly loved children.  As such, we must try to walk as our Father walks, love as our Father loves.

That’s hard to imagine, isn’t it–God the Father as our model.  But he’s revealed himself in Christ.  And in him we have more than imagination; we have the written Word that reveals him.  And imitating God means to “live a life of love”.  There can be no vagueness about that love.  It’s self-giving for others.  It’s sacrificial to God.

That last point must not be missed.  “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”.  Christ gave himself up for us, but “as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”.  It was Christ’s worshipful obedience to the Father.  It was Christ’s wrath-satisfying-sacrifice to the Holy One.

Now we who believe, we who are like dearly loved children:  “live a life of love”.  Primarily, love one another in the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:1-6).  But Scripture stretches love to include neighbors.  And yet more–enemies.  It’s easier to say, “Live a life of love to everyone”.  Thus, having been loved by God in Christ, we are to imitate God in Christ.

“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.  Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:3,4).

 While love must permeate the church, vices must not.  ” . . . there must not be even a hint” .  “Hint” is the NIV’s translation of the Greek onomazo–“be known, be named”.  “Hint” captures well what Paul warns against.  Pornaya must be absent from the Body of Christ.

  • ” . . . pornaya” (sexual immorality”) refers to any kind of extramarital or unnatural sexual intercourse.  Paul placed it first in his warning perhaps because unbelievers worshiped the goddess Artemis in her magnificent temple through prostitution.  The so-called oldest profession was a most-honored and lucrative profession in Ephesus.
  • “. . . akatharsia” —moral uncleanness, indecency
  • ” . . . pleonexia”–covetousness, avarice, a disposition to have more than one’s share
  • ” . . . aioxrotays”–obsenity, dirty talk
  • ” . . . morologia”–foolish, silly, or useless talk
  • ” . . . eupareleea”–coarse joking, vulgar talk

These vices are anayko–not fitting, not proper “for God’s holy people”; that is, for people God has set apart to himself through Christ.

“Obscenity , foolish talk and coarse joking” about sexual things are also “out of place”.  Instead, God’s holy people should give him thanks for sexual gifts.

I suspect Paul’s warning against sexual immorality after just calling for love is this:  we confuse love with lust.  In the first century A.D. sexual immorality was accepted.  A man should have a mistress.  And we know that the great temples were staffed by hundreds of sacred prostitutes.  It was argued that young men should have the love of a prostitute.

But Paul forbids it–explains why we must treat his warnings with the utmost seriousness . . .

“For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person– such a man is an idolater– has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient” (Ephesians 5:5,6)..

Paul’s explanation is blunt.  “For of this you can be sure”.  Paul piles two Greek words on top of each other, both meaning “to know”–oida and ginosko.  This you can know with certainty.  No one who practices immorality, impurity or greediness “has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God”.

And Paul’s warning is clear:  Don’t let yourselves get taken in by religious smooth talk. God gets furious with people who are full of religious sales talk but want nothing to do with him” (The Message Bible).

* * *

Our model for living is God.  God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ.  Christ who “loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”.  So, our model calls, “live a life of love”.  This is how we imitate God.

Are we presumptuous to even think we can imitate God?  No.  We know imitations have less “quality”.  We know that we can love selflessly, but not to the extent of Jesus’ sacrifice.  But to not give ourselves to imitate God, to not give ourselves to love like Christ–even though we fall short–is to not live in a manner worthy of our calling (4:1).

Imitations are less.  In this case far less than the Original.  But churches of God-imitators show the world a bit of what God is like and of what Christ has done.  And they are “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”.

 

 

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Wedding Bells Are Not Ringing

I was surprised to read, “Religious congregations hosted (only) 22 per cent of weddings in 2017. . . ”  Then I read other interesting and concerning statements, so decided to send the whole blog by Jacob Lupfer.

 

(RNS) — As summer begins, another wedding season is upon us. The air is warm, the earth is lush and everything is as pretty as a June bride.

But for all our marriage cliches, one now belongs on the endangered species list: Wedding bells are not ringing.

We live atop shifting sands, at least as far as faith is concerned. Part of the change is that fewer Americans are Christians. Churches nowadays do not usually have bells, especially churches that meet in storefronts, rented school cafeterias or aluminum-sided monstrosities in far-flung suburbs. And the percentage of weddings that take place in churches has plummeted, dropping by almost half in less than a decade.

Reporting on a survey from a leading wedding website, the evangelical Facts & Trends discussed religion’s recession from the wedding landscape.

Religious congregations hosted 22 percent of weddings in 2017, down from 41 percent in 2009. Churches are losing ground to banquet halls, hotels, country clubs, wineries, rooftops and museums.

Clergy are solemnizing fewer and fewer marriages. Instead, couples are turning to civil magistrates or even loved ones who obtain credentials. In 2009, 29 percent of couples had a friend or family member solemnize their wedding. That number had increased to 43 percent by 2016.

What accounts for this dramatic change? Is anything lost? Does it even matter?

The main reason church weddings are dropping is that more people are raised without religion. This is something we can prove empirically: Though rates of belief remain persistently high, church membership, worship attendance and congregational participation are in decline.

Since the 1960s, social expectations concerning sex, cohabitation, childbearing and marriage have quietly undergone profound changes.

Religion is the great loser in that revolution, not only ceding its cultural influence, but also struggling to govern the lifestyle choices of its own adherents.

Clergy and churches, once gatekeepers to the social respectability that marriage afforded, are now often reduced to paid extras and photo ops.

Couples are increasingly choosing less traditional locations for wedding ceremonies. Photo by Ibrahim Asad from Pexels

It’s not just a decline in faith. With Americans more mobile, atomized and rootless than ever before, fewer have a connection to a religious congregation where they live or even “back home.” Thus, when rites of passage like marriage (or birth or death) come, we are less likely to turn to the church to help us mark them.

It would make sense that couples who lived together before marriage and/or have no intention of attending worship together thereafter are much likelier to skip the church wedding today than in previous generations.

In this way, it is perhaps a credit to young people’s integrity: At least they are not pretending to care about marriage as a sacrament or religious rite. Many just do not see marriage (or sex or childbearing) as bound up with religious faith anymore. We can debate whether that is god or bad, but it is undeniable.

This was certainly my own experience. My first marriage as a 21-year-old virgin was a traditional religious wedding, though held outdoors.

When I remarried following a divorce, my religiosity was at a low ebb. But having cohabited with my then-fiancee and having no intentions of being religious together, we were in no mood for pretending. We hired a notary public, had her say a prayer or two commensurate with my nominal religiosity and my unhealthy need for older folks’ approbation, and got married in a city park.

Lots of marriages today seem to lack a self-consciously divine character, and certainly not one mediated through the life of a religious congregation. They are not “Christian marriages” in any meaningful way.

So what, if anything, is lost?

I hesitate to admit it, as a person whose religious marriage ended in divorce, but both church and society are worse off as marriage has declined and shed its sacredness.

With no religious wedding, couples receive less marriage preparation. They have less access to marriage counseling from a clergyperson. They do not spend time thinking or praying about what’s distinctive about sacred marriage. They aren’t taught to embrace marriage as a vocation to a particular way of being in relationship as a symbol of Christ’s love for the world.

Marriage is a bedrock social institution. We all suffer if it is weakened. Civil marriage may have no sacred character, but strong, enduring unions are vital to our common life together. Sacred marriage builds social capital that benefits everyone.

Religion imbues marriage and families with value, commitments and permanence that neither law nor culture can confer. Society is impoverished when fewer couples enter marriage through this portal.

(Jacob Lupfer, a frequent commentator on religion and politics, is a writer and consultant in Baltimore. His website is www.jacoblupfer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jlupf. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)

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“Wait ’til your father gets home!”

Not infrequently did I hear that warning from my mother.  Some behavior was off limits for a young boy–especially the same disobedience again and again.

“Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord:  you must no longer live as the Gentiles do” (Ephesians 4:17).

In other words, you Gentiles (that’s us) who are now Christians, must no longer live like Gentiles.  You must not let them influence your conduct or thinking. They (non-Jesus-believers) live “hopelessly confused. Their closed minds are full of darkness; they are far away from the life of God because they have shut their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They don’t care anymore about right and wrong, and they have given themselves over to immoral ways. Their lives are filled with all kinds of impurity and greed” (Ephesians 4:17b-19, NLT).

“You, however, did not come to know Christ that way” (4:20).

The Greek says literally, “But you did not learn (manthano) Christ in this way.”  To “learn Christ” means, not to learn information or knowledge about him, but to have our lives shaped by our relationship with him.

“Personal relationship” is so familiar it’s lost its clout.  Think:  we’re claiming to have a personal relationship with a Jew who lived and was crucified (but claims resurrection) 200 centuries ago!  And this relationship shapes the way we live—not just because we follow his teachings, but because his Spirit actually lives in us.

“Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (4:21-24).

“Surely” is the NIV’s translation of ei ge.  It expresses confidence that we “heard of [Christ]” when we first heard the gospel.  Furthermore, we “were taught in him”.  That is, we  have received ongoing instruction of Christ’s teachings.

We were taught “in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus”. “ . . . the” truth.  Not “my” truth.  Not truth “as we perceive it to be.”  But “the” truth.  It’s found in Jesus.  Any “truth” that contradicts his isn’t.

Paul reminds us what we were specifically taught “with regard to [our] former way of life”.  It comes in the form of three infinitive phrases in Greek. . .

  • to put off your old self”
  • “to be made new in the attitude of your minds”
  • “to put on the new self”

The men, ready to stone Stephen, “laid down their garments . . . ” (Acts 7:58).  Paul uses the same Greek word here—apotithayme.  We were taught to “take off and lay down” what?  Our “old self.”  What we were before—unbelievers with futile thinking, darkened understanding, alienated from God’s life, ignorant and hardhearted, with sensitivity lost, given to immorality and sensuality and always lusting for more.  Here Paul adds another characteristic:  corruption (moral depravity) by deceitful desires (desires that hide the truth). 

The fact is that, even though we’ve trusted our self to Christ, our old self is still around.  We’re forgiven, declared right with God, gifted with eternal life, but still clothed with the “old man”. Take him off and lay him down, urges Paul.  When enticed to lie, to commit adultery, to act selfishly, throw off the “old self” like filthy, smelly old clothes.

Secondly, regarding our new way of life:  “ . . . be made new in the attitude of your minds”.  Literally, the Greek reads “be renewed in the spirit of your mind”.  Here pnewma o nous refers to our way of thinking in our inmost being.  The voice is passive.  Renewal is what God the Holy Spirit progressively does. So for what is Paul calling?  A conscious dependency on the Holy Spirit to renew our thinking.

Thirdly, “put on the new self”.  The imagery remains.  Take off the old self.  Put on (like new, clean clothes) the new self.  Paul isn’t calling us to become “the new self”, but to live out the new life we already have in Christ.

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.  But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions– it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:1-10).

In distinction from “the old self”, “the new self [is] . . .  created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness”.  That is, “righteousness and holiness” according to the truth we’re learning.  This new self is “created to be like God”.  The image of God that from the beginning sin corrupted is being restored in this “new creation”.

Let’s not pass quickly over “created to be like God”.  It harmonizes with “ . . . God . . . made us alive with Christ” (2:4).  Our bodies, sadly, are yet the same old bodies.  But our inner being has literally been created new.  We, who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, are new creations!

Here, demands Paul, are some ways to “put off the old self” and “put on the new self” . . .

“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.  ‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,  and do not give the devil a foothold.  He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.  Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:25-32).

Off:  falsehood
On:  truthful speaking to one another

Off:  nursing anger
On:  anger quickly overcome

Off:  stealing
On:  work to be able to share with the needy

Off:  unwholesome talk
On:  talk that builds up and benefits hearers

Off:  bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander and malice that grieves the Spirit
On:  kindness, compassion, forgiveness as God in Christ forgave you

* * *

 When I drove my mother to mouth that frustrated warning, I was just acting out of a young boy’s nature.  I “had it in me” to stubbornly–or sometimes thoughtlessly–disobey.  Paul won’t allow us to behave that way now.  But, Paul didn’t include my mother’s warning . . .

  • Because my new self is a reality.  The Spirit of Christ really lives in me!  I have what it takes to live “new”.  But not without a struggle.  It’s like learning to walk all over again.  Sometimes I wobble.  Sometimes I trip over myself.  Sometimes I fall.  And sometimes I don’t even try.  But my new self will progressively prevail.
  • Because when our Father “comes home”, he’ll spank no bottoms.  Jesus already took our “spankings” for us.

 

 

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