The Family That Prays Together

Ephesians 1:15-23:

15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit[a] of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20 which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 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. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Do you have a friend who “randomly” sends you a text message (or mails a card or calls you on the phone) saying: “I prayed for you this morning”?

I do.

She prays for me without asking. She prays for me without knowing my needs. She prays for me in whatever ways happen to cross her mind and heart, or, as I believe, as the Spirit leads her to pray for me. (And yes, she also prays for me when I do ask her to pray for specific things!) It absolutely makes my day when I find out that she went before the throne of grace on my behalf. It makes my spirit soar! What a blessing. WHAT an encouragement to me!

When she prays for me, it draws me closer to the Lord and closer to her. Though we are not related by the blood of our earthly fathers and mothers, we are related by the blood of our Heavenly Father, which means we are sisters — both adopted into God’s family. And in His infinite wisdom and goodness, God has established prayer as a means for strengthening His family.

You’ve heard the saying, “The family that prays together, stays together.” Well, that is exactly what Paul is doing here in the second half of Ephesians 1. After having passionately shared God’s divine purpose for us (to be adopted as members of His family) in Ephesians 1:3-14, Paul is now praying for this established family — his fellow Believers — and in so doing, he is exhorting us to do the same. He wants to encourage us. He wants us to not be satisfied with knowing we are members of God’s family, but to grow deep in our family relationships: with Him — and with one another — fully grasping the hope, power, and strength of Christ.

“For this reason…”

We know immediately that Paul is praying specifically for his fellow Believers because Paul picks right up with a continuation of his previous thought, “For this reason…” he begins, referring back to the previous section of text. In other words, he’s saying: “Because we are all members of God’s family, I am praying for you.”

Another indication that Paul is praying for his Christian brothers and sisters here is because he acknowledges the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those for whom he is praying by observing the Ephesian Believers’ “faith and love.” We know that love and faithfulness are two of the attributes of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Thus, faithfulness and love are outer, visible signs of the Holy Spirit’s work in us – it is evidence of the seal of the Holy Spirit we read about back in Eph. 1:13-14.

Then he goes on to say, “I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” Now, I don’t know whether the literal translation of the original language truly means “praying without ceasing,” but I’m willing to bet it means that Paul prayed for the church at Ephesus on a very regular basis. At least daily. Probably multiple times a day. After all, Paul was not distracted by Facebook. (Guilty.) Paul was not distracted by television. (Guilty.) Paul was not distracted by a mobile phone that beeps, chimes, or whistles for every status update, tweet, or text message. (Guilty, guilty, guilty.)

Christian, are you praying and giving thanks for your fellow Believers on a regular basis? Are you praying daily for your brothers and sisters in Christ? Are you … praying at all? And I don’t mean only praying for the missionaries who are living in extraordinary circumstances, but I mean, are you praying for your Christian neighbors? For your fellow church members? For your friends? For your coworkers?

It seems so simple. Guess what … it is.

Perhaps it’s so simple, we’re missing the forest for the trees. We might think, “This person is already saved, they seem to have a healthy walk with the Lord – I mean, she’s a Ministry Leader! And she certainly doesn’t seem to be “suffering” like other Christians around the world. What could I possibly pray for her that would make a difference in her life?”

But Church, our need for prayer is not conditional upon our material circumstances, our spiritual maturity, or our position of influence. We need to be continually praying and giving thanks for one another. God does not intend for us to journey this Christian life alone. He has given us a family of Believers with whom we share our joys, sorrows and burdens. He has created us with a need for one another and then provided us with an avenue through which to grow closer to Him and to one another: prayer.

But as Nike has so aptly and yes, simply, stated: We need to Just Do It.

What do we pray?

“Ok, Lord, I’m ready to pray.”

But … what do I pray for? Well, as we would expect, Paul gives us a beautiful example to follow.

First, Paul prays that the Father would give us wisdom and a revelation of Himself (v17).

He wants us not only to know that we are children of God, he wants us to know God, and to know Him in a deep and intimate way. But since there is nothing we can do to reach God, instead, Paul asks God to reveal Himself to us and to give us the wisdom we need to understand Him when He does.

In both the Old Testament and New Testament, God reveals Himself through dreams and spoken word given through prophets, kings, soldiers, servants, shepherds, angels, and others whom He appointed and anointed by His Spirit. The written Word did not yet exist.

But how does God reveal Himself to us today? Perhaps still through dreams and prophecy. (Who am I to say He doesn’t?) But for certain, God reveals Himself through the person of Jesus Christ, Who is revealed to us in Scripture. In fact, every time you open your Bible, God is revealing Himself to you because all of Scripture points us to Jesus: from Genesis to Revelation.

But even though we have this written Word, we still must have the “Spirit of wisdom” – which is the help of the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom – in order for us to understand the revelation, for it to stir our hearts and thus, to draw us into a deeper, more intimate relationship with the Father.

Every time I open my Bible, I ought to be praying: “Lord, please reveal Yourself to me, and give me the wisdom to understand. Use this time to draw me closer to yourself.” But, as Paul has prayed for Believers, we should also be praying in this way for one another.

From Your Head … to Your Heart

Now, lest you are concerned that Paul is only concerned with our “head knowledge”, he continues praying: “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened…”

Our heart. Our heart. How interesting. Usually when I think of something being “enlightened” it is in reference to the mind. But Paul prays that the eyes of our heart would be enlightened. Why would that be?

In verses 18 and 19, Paul says that when our hearts are enlightened, we will know hope, we will know power, and we will know strength:

“… that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength which he exerted in Christ…” [emphasis mine]

First, we will have hope. This hope is not a “hope so” kind of hope. Rather, it is a “confident hope” – a certainty of something that is yet to come. I think he is praying that we won’t doubt God’s promise of our future inheritance in the Kingdom of Heaven. When we do not doubt for our future, then we are released from the discouragement of our present suffering. Our hearts need to be enlightened so that we will have hope.

Second, we will know “his incomparably great power.” God’s incomparable great power…

… Created the Universe in a spoken word

… Flooded the entire earth, but in His mercy, preserved humanity through Noah and his family

… Parted the Red Sea and allowed Moses and the Israelites to cross on dry ground

… Kept the fiery furnace from harming, singeing, or scorching Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, nor was there even the smell of smoke on them

… Halted the lions’ jaws from devouring Daniel

… Healed paralytics, lepers, and those possessed by demons

… Took enough food for a child and used it to feed five thousand (and more!) until they were satisfied.

This same power is known to us, in us and, get this, for us, is what Paul says. ALL of the power of God has revealed since the beginning of Creation is for us … it is for us to know Him.

And certainly, not forgotten from my list above, Paul says that this power is like His strength, “which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead.” The same strength that conquered sin and death is made known to us.

How is it made known? As Paul goes on to describe, through Him [Jesus] who is “seated him at his right hand … above all rule and authority, power, and dominion, [above] every title that can be given, not only in the present age, but also in the one to come.” Remember, all of Scripture points to Christ.

My dear friends, the eyes of our hearts need to be enlightened so that we will know Jesus.

But returning to the beginning of verse 18, what is truly challenging to me is that we won’t know hope, power, and strength when we give Him our mind and enlighten our mind, we will only know hope, power, and strength when we give Him our heart.

We need to be praying that the eyes of our hearts would be opened and enlightened to the hope of Jesus, the incomparable power of Jesus, and the mighty strength of Jesus.

I don’t know what your prayer life is like. Maybe this isn’t a struggle for you. But I know for me, I tend to find it easier to remember to pray for things that are going wrong. I almost always remember to ask for God’s blessing. But Paul exhorts us by his example in this passage to pray for our Spiritual Family into which we have been adopted, that:

  • God would reveal Himself to them
  • The Holy Spirit would give them wisdom – that they will understand the revelation of Himself, and for it to stir their hearts and draw them into a deeper, more intimate relationship with the Father.
  • The eyes of their hearts would be enlightened, that they would know the hope, power, and strength of God, made known to us through Jesus Christ

Will you pray for your Christian brothers and sisters in this way?

And will you ask God to give you the name of a specific Believer right now for whom you will pray in this way each and every day?

And then … will you send her a text message (or send a card or give her a phone call) and tell her that you prayed for her?

I promise you, it will make her day.

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Being God’s Children: Sealed by the Holy Spirit (Part 3 of 3)

Ephesians 1:11-14:

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.sa

I have to tell you, what God has taught me in these last 2 verses of Ephesians 1:11-14 is absolutely thrilling, and I have a lot to say, so I want to jump right in!

Part 3: Sealed by the Holy Spirit

To quickly review, so far, in Part 1 and Part 2 of this three-part series of Ephesians 1:11-14, I have shared that:

The Triune God, in ongoing relationship with us, is teaching us what it means to be His children in these ways:

God the Father, choosing us by His will, for His glory
Jesus, including us with Him and claiming us at the redemption

And now we come to Part 3: the role of the Holy Spirit in teaching us what it means to be God’s children.

Paul says, “having believed, you were marked in him [Jesus] with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.”

First of all, I love this image that receiving the Holy Spirit is like having been “marked with a seal.” I used to think (erroneously) that this verse meant the Holy Spirit was a seal, like a covering … like a protection so that nothing could get in or out. (Silly as it may seem, the image I had in my head was kind of like Saran wrap.) But that’s not the kind of “seal” being suggested here at all. The picture here is like that of signet ring or an insignia stamp or a family “coat of arms” – a seal that denotes ownership. I am marked with the family seal of God!

The Holy Spirit in me is evidence to God (and to the world!) that I am “included with Christ” and that I belong to Him. In fact, Paul calls the Holy Spirit in me “a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance…”

Think about what an inheritance is: It is what a parent (or other relative, typically) leaves to another member of the family as a way of ensuring that treasures of wealth and value remain in the family. Furthermore, a legal document of some sort, a last will and testament for example, is drawn up and executed upon the death of the one leaving the inheritance guaranteeing that their wishes will be properly carried out.

Now, our inheritance is not a financial one. It is not treasure or material goods that can be stored up here on earth. It is not a promise for health, wealth, happiness and prosperity in this life. No, our promised inheritance is far, far greater.

But before going on, I really must underscore again that Paul is very clear: this inheritance is for those who are believers in Christ Jesus. He clearly writes: “Having believed …” referring back to the “word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.”

So, for those of us who are Believers in Jesus Christ, our inheritance is the New Jerusalem. The New Jerusalem: where God will be our God and we will be His people. Where he will wipe every tear from our eye. Where there will be no more sadness. No more death. No more pain. (Revelation 21:2-4)

Where the Holy City will shine with the glory of God and its brilliance is like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. (Revelation 21:11) Where the great street of the city is pure gold, like transparent glass (Revelation 21:21).

Where the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city will not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. (Revelation 21:22-23)

Where there is a river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street. And on each side of the river stands the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:1-2).

This inheritance was also made sure. Not at our death. But at Christ’s death. And it is guaranteed by something far more secure than any legal document here on earth could enforce – it is guaranteed by God himself in the person of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the “deposit” of our inheritance – a “down-payment” if you will. And why do you make a down-payment? When there is more yet to come.

Now, as speechless as this stunningly awesome inheritance yet to come leaves me, what God has shown me here in Ephesians is that this “deposit” is “for the praise of his glory” (1:14). And what really pressed into my heart as I was learning here in Chapter 1 about being in God’s family is that this deposit – the Holy Spirit – is not only for our future (so Christ will see us identified with His family’s seal and we will receive our inheritance), but it is also so we will be for His glory now.

Remember in Part 2 when I shared that we are included with Christ so we are worthy of being used by God to demonstrate His glory … but now we see that it is the Holy Spirit in us who actually does the work of putting God’s glory on display in our lives. Anytime you see God’s character revealed in me, it is not me – it is the Holy Spirit in me.

In Romans 8:15b-17a, Paul puts it this way:

But you received the Spirit of sonship[1]. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…”

[1] – The underlying word for sonship here is “adoption”

Do you see? We are not worthy to call God “Abba Father” (which is expressive of an especially close relationship, like calling God, “Daddy”); but it is the Holy Spirit in us Who calls out to God for us. We are not worthy of calling ourselves God’s children; so it is the Holy Spirit in us that “testifies that we are God’s children.” And once again, we see here that we are called “heirs” of God and “co-heirs” with Christ. And who are “heirs?” Those who have been promised an inheritance.

Now bringing this all into the context of our study of Ephesians 1, let’s put all of these lessons in order:

  • God establishes us and equips us with grace so we can have peace with Him, because… (vs. 1-2)
  • God wants to adopt us into His family through a plan, by a promise, for participation in His family that includes both rewards and responsibilities… (vs. 3-10)
  • For the purpose of His glory – so that He can reveal the fullness of Who He is through us (vs. 11-12).
  • We are made worthy of revealing God’s character only because we are included in Christ’s sufficiency to meet the just requirements of our holy God and Christ will redeem us as God’s own people, (v.13-14)
  • Which is guaranteed to us, having been marked by the seal of the Holy Spirit as a deposit of our inheritance and Who, as a result, does the work of showing God’s character in us, even now.

Think About It:

  • In what ways do people see the Holy Spirit – God’s family seal – in you?
  • Do your life choices, actions, thoughts, and attitudes reflect the Holy Spirit in you?
  • How will you respond to Jesus today knowing that He has marked you with the seal of the Holy Spirit, guaranteeing your inheritance to be forever with Him in the New Jerusalem?

Being God’s Children: Included with Christ (Part 2 of 3)

Ephesians 1:11-14:

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

It has been a number of weeks since I have had the opportunity to sit down, think through and write about the lessons that God is teaching me in my study of Ephesians.  In fact, since I last posted, my personal devotions have taken me to the end of Ephesians and have now turned back a few books where I have taken up in Romans.  What can I say? I’m a bit of a “Paul junkie.”

So, though I’ve been battling for time and opportunity, my desire to share what I am learning has not waned in the least.  In fact, I would say it is quite the opposite and is actually increasing by the day!  If only I had more time to write!  (Whoops! There I go again!)

I say that to admit to you that in order to get started writing again, I had to go back and give myself a refresher from this passage and ask the Lord to bring back to mind the exciting things He was showing me when I shared Part 1 of this three-part series on Ephesians 1:11-14.  Here is the summary of that first post:

The overall lesson of these three verses is that the Triune God, in ongoing relationship with us, is teaching us what it means to be His children in these ways:

God: is choosing us by His will, for His glory (vs. 11-12)
Jesus: is including us with Him and claiming us at the redemption (vs. 13-14)
Holy Spirit: is marking us as His own and guaranteeing our inheritance (vs. 14)

I shared that God has intentionally and specifically chosen His children for the purpose of revealing His character – His glory – to this world that so desperately needs Him.

So, as I have returned to think about God the Father choosing me to glorify Him, I am struck again by the same question:  How in the world can a sinner like me reveal the fullness of character of an awesome and perfect God like Him?

The simple answer is: I can’t. And that is where our study picks up today.

Part 2: Included with Christ

There is a disappointing trend in our culture today, though I often wonder if it speaks more to our nature, than our cultural environment: it seems that people almost always perform to the lowest expectations.  Yes, there are certainly the over-achievers among us, and the exceptional people around us who consistently exceed the requirements, but in general, “we the people” seem to have a tendency to identify the minimum effort required to produce a desired result, and aim only for that mark.  Often times, we miss even that.

So when it comes to satisfying the just requirements of a holy God, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Paul nails it down for humanity in this succinct declaration: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23).

I’ve heard it said: “The Greek word for ‘all’ is … ‘all.’  There is no other interpretation, translation, or understanding for this word.  ‘All’ means ‘all’ and that’s all ‘all’ means.”  All fall short of the glory of God.

So, as I am facing this question of how I could possibly be worthy of revealing God’s glory to anyone, I must consider that because my natural character (which is sinful) is in conflict with God’s character (which is holiness) left to my own self I will fall short of God’s glory every time.  There is absolutely no way in my own strivings, with my own effort, of my own nature, that I can ever be sufficient for God’s glory.  Therefore, if His purpose for me is to reveal His glory to the world, then He must put His character in me because in this world, mine will always be found lacking.

And that is exactly the promise, through Jesus, that He is showing me here in Ephesians 11:13-14.  Paul says, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.”  (Eph. 1:13a)  We are worthy of being instruments of God’s glory because we are included with Christ.

Christ was the perfect atoning sacrifice.  And we are included in Christ’s death and we are included in Christ’s resurrection.  Thus, when we believe this “word of truth, the gospel of salvation,” we are included in Christ’s sufficiency to meet the just requirements of our holy God and therefore, Jesus Christ himself will claim us and redeem us as God’s own people at the end of time.

I am not worthy to be used as a vessel to glorify God.  But Christ is.  And because I am included with Christ, and He will one day return to claim me as God’s own, God finds me included with Christ, and therefore, finds me worthy to be used as an instrument to reveal Himself to the world even now.

So, once again, adding this new lesson into the context of what I am learning about being in God’s family from Ephesians Chapter 1, I see:

  • God establishes us and equips us with grace so we can have peace with Him, because… (vs. 1-2)
  • God wants to adopt us into His family through a plan, by a promise, for participation in His family that includes both rewards and responsibilities… (vs. 3-10)
  • For the purpose of His glory – so that He can reveal the fullness of Who He is through us. (vs. 11-12)
  • And we are made worthy of revealing God’s glory – His character – only because we are included in Christ’s sufficiency to meet the just requirements of our holy God and because Christ Himself will redeem us as God’s own people, (v.13-14)

The final piece of this incredible set of lessons of what it means to be in God’s family remains yet to come in Part III of this series.

In the meantime, may I ask you:

  • Do you believe this “Word of truth, the gospel of salvation”?  If not, would you email me and allow me the opportunity to share with you more about why I do?
  • If you do, would you thank God right now for including you with Christ and then ask Him to reveal His glory through you in a fresh way today?

Choose Your Words Wisely

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. Ephesians 4:29 

With words, God spoke creation into being.

With words, He gave us His law.

With words, His prophets foretold the coming of Jesus.

With words, His angels announced His birth to the world.

With words, He declared victory over sin and death.

With words, He gave His Holy Spirit.

With words, He commissioned The Church for service.

Jesus Christ, Himself, is The Word.

We are made in God’s image. And as such, we have also been given stewardship over our words to create (relationships, love, ministry, hope, build others up), condemn (discourage, tear down, stir up anger) or commission (encourage, teach, “spur one another on in good works”).

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.

Your words are powerful.  Choose them wisely.

Being God’s Children: Chosen for God’s Glory (Part 1 of 3)

Ephesians 1:11-14:

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

Have you ever seen a family that was so alike it was almost funny! They look alike, they talk alike, they have the same mannerisms — they even have the same intonations in their voices! You can spot them at 50 paces!

Although, I suppose I shouldn’t be so amused. Considering that most families spend an average of two decades together – day in and day out – it isn’t unusual for children to take on the characteristics of their parents, is it?

Well, as I was working and praying through these verses – asking the Lord to teach me a lesson that I could understand and apply in my every day life – I became so excited because what I saw emerge from this passage is exactly that: The Triune God, in ongoing relationship with us, teaching us what it means to be His children:

God: choosing us by His will, for His glory (vs. 11-12)
Jesus: including us with Him and claiming us at the redemption (vs. 13-14)
Holy Spirit: marking us as His own and guaranteeing our inheritance (vs. 14)

And as the result of our day-in and day-out relationship with Him, we are transformed into recognizable members of His family! (For additional context, see my post “We Are Family, Eph 1:3-10”.)

As I began writing, however, I quickly realized God has so much to teach me in each of the ways He shows Himself to us: as God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit, that they could stand as a post on their own! So, that’s exactly what I’m doing. Not wanting to lose the context of the whole passage together though, I’m including the entire 3 verses together at the top of each post, but I’ll share what I’m learning in 3-parts.

Part 1: Chosen For His Glory

Before I really dive in, let me go ahead and say up front that I’m not commenting on the “pre-destination part” of this verse. The reason is not because I am “afraid” of this somewhat controversial topic. Neither is it because I don’t have thoughts on pre-destination. The reason I’m not commenting on it is because it is not the crux of what I think the Lord is teaching me from this verse on this particular trip through Ephesians. Remember, my purpose here is not to try to be a theological expert (I am not!) and provide a full exegesis and commentary on the passage, but rather to simply share what God is teaching me as I spend time in His Word.

Therefore, this is the lesson God has me focusing on verse 11:

We were chosen according to His will that we might be for His glory.

To put my thinking into correct context, I first had to go back and understand who the “we” is in this statement. Is this, “we” – all of mankind? I do not believe so. I think, because this verse follows vs. 3-10 (11 does typically follow 10 after all!), where Paul has just given us God’s plan for adopting us into His family, this “we” refers to those who are members of God’s family through our redemption in Jesus Christ.

Okay, so “we” (Believers in Jesus Christ who are adopted into God’s family) are to be for God’s glory? Well, this led me to wonder: What exactly does it mean for me to be for God’s glory? What is God’s glory? How do I, a mere … (sinful) person … glorify the Almighty God?

I think the notion of God’s glory is easily misunderstood because perhaps we equate glorying God with how we (as a culture) “glorify” celebrities: The red carpet at the Oscars, Super Bowl [or insert professional sporting event of your choice] media coverage, the love-life of TV latest’s sci-fi-sitco-drama heart-throb splashed across the cover of a grocery store tabloid. When we “glorify” celebrities, it does not reveal their true character as they really are. Rather, it puffs them up and puts on a set of exaggerated false pretenses that sucks the audience into believing it is truth … at least until the next commercial break.

In contrast, God’s glory has been explained to me quite simply as this: God’s glory is His character. It is the complete sum of Who God is. Another writer describes God’s glory this way:

It is all [God’s] attributes to infinity in perfect balance. (Bible.org)

So, to glorify God is not to puff Him up or put exaggerated false pretenses on Him. No! To glorify God is the exact opposite of how our culture “glorifies” celebrities (shocker!). When God is glorified, His true character is revealed. When God is glorified, His “manifold majesty, brilliance, depth, and awesomeness” is made known to us (Herrick, Bible.org).

Wow! So, what an incredible thought it is that we were chosen by Him that we might be for His glory! As God’s child, my purpose is for His character to be revealed in me and through me!

Let’s go back and put this incredible notion into the broader context of Chapter 1:

  • God establishes us and equips us with grace so we can have peace with Him, because… (vs. 1-2)
  • God adopts us into His family through a plan, by a promise, for participation in His family that includes both rewards and responsibilities… (vs. 3-10)
  • For the purpose of His glory – so that He can reveal the fullness of Who He is through us (vs. 11)

When I look at verse 11 in this fuller context, it just makes so much sense to me! Of course His purpose is for us to reveal His character in and through us. He is our Father. We are His children.

Don’t we all raise our children wanting them to see the best aspects of our character and then take that character unto themselves, revealing it to others for their good? Don’t you think our Heavenly Father, Whose holiness and love and justice and forgiveness and everything is perfect and infinite, also wants His children to receive the fullness of His character so that we might reveal Him – His glory – to a world that so desperately needs Him?

I do. And I think the next two parts in this series will show us how God intends for this to happen.

Think About It:

  1. How can I even recognize God’s character if I do not know Him? How will I recognize God’s character revealed in me if I am not first spending time knowing God (loving Him with my heart, mind, and strength) in His Word and in prayer each day?
  2. How do the choices and decisions I make each day change when I filter them through my purpose of being for God’s glory?

We Are Family

Ephesians 1:3-10:

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5he[a] predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9 And he[b] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

When we adopted our son, we didn’t just hop on a plane bound for Ethiopia, pick out a kid, head back home and voila! We are a family for happily ever after.

No, there was a meticulously intentional process we followed: We completed a home study, which included three home visits from a social worker; we completed physicals; we completed pounds of paperwork in triplicate that was all notarized and sent to the government of Ethiopia as part of our dossier. We submitted to criminal checks, financial checks, credit checks, medical checks, and driving record checks (no, not kidding).  And then … then, we had to go through the Immigration process with the FBI fingerprinting process, pre-applications, full applications, all culminating in an in-person visit to the US Embassy in the country of Ethiopia to swear that all the information on the pre-application and the full application was correct and true.

Of course, that is just the paperwork side of the adoption process. Rather than being matched with our son by a referral from the agency, we chose our son, having seen him on a “Waiting Child” video our agency had put together and distributed to the “waiting families.”  And, once we “chose” him, we then had to make a personal commitment to him. Even though we’d never met him and all we knew of him was in the background file on him provided to us by the adoption agency, we signed a “Letter of Commitment.” Effectively, we made him a promise that we would pursue adopting him and him alone, and that in so doing, we would become his parents and he would become a full member of our family.

After we made our commitment to him, we went through several more months of waiting for our file to make its way through the Ethiopian court system and once the court certified our file, he was legally named our son. At that precise moment, he was given our last name and became our legal child and responsibility – and we still hadn’t even met face-to-face.

With this as our story, it is likely not surprising to you that I find many parallels between our adoption process and the verses in Ephesians 1:3-10. In this passage, the Lord is saying to me:

He has established a process by which He made us a promise and through which we have full participation in His family.

The Preamble

First, I just have to say that I love Paul’s preamble to this collection of verses. He says in verse 3:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

For me, this is a great sum-it-up sentence. I hear Paul (in my imagination) saying: “Listen, we really can leave it at this: Christ is every spiritual blessing we need. The end.”  But as Paul seems to be inclined to do – he elaborates and gives us a much more detailed description of God’s plan for bringing us into His family and what that means for you and for me.

He has established a process

It is in verses 4 and 5 where we see the Process outlined by which God brings us into his family. It is two-fold, but simple: he chose us and he adopted us.

4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5he[a] predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—

He chose us. HE chose us. He CHOSE us. He chose US.

Sinners. Haters of Jesus. Abusers of His creation. “Rejectors” of His Word. “Ignorers” of His commands. And He chose US! Before creation, God looked down from heaven and chose us. He chose me.  Jesus in my life was His plan for me before He created the heavens and the earth.  Jesus in my life was always his plan for me.  I didn’t just “happen” into this Jesus who saves my soul from eternal suffering … He sought me out.  He chose me. He chose you.

But it is precisely because we are sinners – haters of Jesus, abusers of His creation, rejectors of His Word, and ignorers of His commands – that we are not naturally born into God’s family.   So, in love (verse 5), God developed this process through which the criteria of justice and holiness required to be a member of God’s family could be met — that is, through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ on the cross — and as a result of that process, we are adopted into His family.  Because of Jesus, we are an unnatural (not by birth) member grafted into God’s family.

He made us a promise

Just like once we had chosen our son and were completing our process of adoption we had to make a commitment to raise and love our son as if he had been born into our family, God does the very same thing for us.

In verse 6 and verse 7, Paul writes:

6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace

As part of this adoption process by the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, God makes us several promises.  First, He promises us that our adoption is by His grace.  Remember, when I wrote to you last about the first two verses of Ephesians, Paul says “Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 1:1-2)  Remember that grace is God’s unmerited (unearned, undeserved) favor.  You can’t earn grace – that’s an oxymoron.  But yet, God promises us that we don’t need to try to earn our way into His family – indeed, we cannot!  No, He promises us that we will be adopted by His grace to us – freely given.

Let me pause and ask a question:  When something is freely given, is it yours?  If I show up to a birthday party for you and bring you a present of great worth, and I tell you that it’s for you, and you know in your head that it is for you, and I hold it out to you and you can see it with your eyes, but … you refuse to receive it and claim it as your own … is it really yours?  Do you own it?

No. Even a “freely given” gift is not yours unless and until you receive it and claim it as your own.

Friends, God’s grace is promised to us.  It is freely given.  God is holding out to us His unmerited favor in the form of His beloved son, Jesus, so that we might be adopted into His family.  And then continues to show His grace to us in so many ways in our lives and in the lives of those around us.  He tells us about it in His Word, and by His grace, He does not desire for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).  But, we must receive God’s grace.  It’s not enough just to know about it.

So, how do we receive it?  Verse 6 says “…his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves” (emphasis mine). We are adopted into God’s family by God’s grace when we receive Jesus Christ himself.

And as a result of receiving this promise, freely-given by His grace, and thus being adopted into God’s family, in verse 7 God also promises that we have redemption (the punishment we deserved was paid for by Jesus instead, and thus, we are “redeemed” – Galatians 3:13) and forgiveness of our sin (Psalm 103:10-12).

We have full participation in His family

When we adopted our son, we became much more aware of what was required to be “a family.”  We had never purposefully considered this notion before because with our biological children, there was a natural-born instinct providing the mysterious, unmistakable, yet indescribable connection that creates bonds, attachments, and affections.

But, this was not our experience with our adopted child, so we had to really think about how to deconstruct the behaviors, habits, and (even more difficult to address) thought-patterns or strongholds from previously traumatic experiences in order to even begin constructing the positive behaviors, habits, and thought-patterns that would lead to affection, bonding, and attachment — all necessary ingredients for becoming “a family.”

It was through this process that we boiled down “family” to two core aspects: the rewards and the responsibilities.  God shows us the same thing in verses 8-10.

8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9 And he[b] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

The Rewards of God’s Family

Verse 9 gives us the “rewards” of being adopted into God’s family:

• He lavishes us with all wisdom and understanding
• He makes known to us his will, purposed in Christ

To refer again to my post from Ephesians 1:1-2, I am reminded that God equips us for the place where He has called us.  He adopts us into His family, and then, he doesn’t just provide us with wisdom and understanding to learn how to be a part of that family.  He doesn’t even just freely give us wisdom and understanding.  He lavishes us with all wisdom and understanding.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “lavish” as:

“expending or bestowing profusely; produced in abundance; marked by profusion or excess.”

Excess wisdom.  An abundance of understanding.  More than we could want or need.  What a wonderful reward for being a member of God’s family!

And what could be the reason for needing all of this wisdom and understanding that the Father has so graciously lavished upon us?  He says (verse 9) that he makes known to us his will, purposed in Christ.  I believe this means His will is for us to know Christ.  And I do not mean just to know of him, but to know him personally through the Scriptures.  Why do I think that?  Because …

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God and the Word was with God…and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among them. (John 1:1, John 1:14)

The Word – the Living Word – the Bible from Genesis to Revelation – is The Word – it is Jesus revealed to us!  And, having been adopted into God’s family, God has lavished us with all wisdom and understanding in order to know His Word — to know “the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

May I encourage you for a moment?  Do not let yourself be intimidated by others around you who may seem to you to be more wise or knowledgeable in the Scriptures than you.  If you have received Christ as your own, then you are adopted into God’s family, and as a result, He has lavished you with all wisdom and understanding to know the Living Word – to know Him.

The Responsibilities of God’s Family

We are often heard telling our children: “There are many privileges of being an Armstrong, but there are also responsibilities.”  In this household, you don’t get to just reap the fun stuff, you are expected to be a fully participating member of the family.  This means, you contribute to the wellness of the household by doing chores, you help out when you are asked, and you respond to others with respect and kindness.

I believe God has a similar expectation for us, but at much more significant level:

10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

As part of God’s family, we are now, and will be for all of eternity, under the lordship of Jesus Christ.  That is why we worship Him.  That is why we obey Him. That is why we yield our will to His. (And remember, it is an oxymoron to say, “No, Lord.” He is either your Lord, or He is not.  But that’s a whole other topic!)

I could really go on and on about what it means to me to live under the lordship of Jesus, but if I had to sum it up, I think I would quote what Jesus said was the Greatest Commandment:

“‘Love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’…And to ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39)

In keeping this commandment, we know Him and we are making Him known to the world around us.  I believe that is living under the lordship of Jesus – I believe that the responsibility of being in God’s family.

In my welcome message, I mentioned that I have never found a way to share “our adoption story” without betraying the confidences of our son’s personal history.  The same is true for the details of the months immediately following his “homecoming.”  So as much as I would love to conclude this writing by sharing with you the miracle that has taken place within our four walls as we have learned how to be a “grafted” family, I will not.  I will say this though: We are still learning how to be a grafted family.  And daily, it is a great comfort to us to know that, just as God established a process by which He made us a promise and through which we have full participation in His family, we followed a process, we made a promise, and we are now experiencing both the rewards and the responsibilities of participation in our grafted family.  It is not for the faint of heart.  But, by God’s grace, we are living under the lordship of Jesus Christ and it is “more precious than gold, than much pure gold.” (Psalm 19:9-10)

Think About It:

  1. Have you received God’s freely-given gift of grace by receiving Jesus Christ?
  2. Having been lavished with all wisdom and understanding, are you seeking to know The Word (Jesus) by deeply reading, studying, and applying The Word (The Bible)?
  3. Will you engage in both the reward and the responsibility of being grafted into God’s family?

Grace and Peace

Ephesians 1:1-2

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:
2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Though I am always tempted to rush past these first two verses of Ephesians, the Lord has used them to teach me to look for deep lessons in unexpected places. I would have never guessed that I could learn as much as I have from the opening of a letter. And yet, there are two very important lessons for me in Paul’s opening greeting to the Ephesians:

In every role the Father has for us:

  1. He establishes us
  2. He equips us

He Establishes Us

If you’re really honest with yourself, do you sometimes wish for a different life? In the frenzied frustration of work, kids, errands, home, marriage, ministry – all at the same time – do you sometimes question the roles that God has ordained for you? Are you single, but wish to be married? Married, but wish to be single? Parent of one? Parent of many? Parent of none? Do you work full-time, part-time or no-time? Are you unemployed, under-employed, or over-employed? Do you quietly question whether God really meant for you to be in the place where you find yourself now?

In this opening verse of Ephesians 1, Paul proclaims that he (Paul) is an apostle, by the will of God. Well, if Paul’s role as an apostle was established by the will of God, aren’t my life’s roles also established by the will of God? Yes – I believe so.

By the will of God, I am a wife.

By the will of God, I am a mother to five children.

By the will of God, I am a worship leader.

By the will of God, I am a project manager.

Does knowing God has established me in these roles change the way I approach both the challenges and the triumphs I face in them? YES! In Matthew 6:9-10, Jesus tells us God’s will on earth is the same perfect will with which He rules in heaven, and so therefore, we should pray: “Your will be done.” God’s will on earth does not contain mistakes. His will on earth is not Plan B. God’s will on earth is as it is in heaven – it is perfect.

Therefore, while there may be difficult, complicated, confusing, painful, gut-clenching-heart-breaking circumstances to face as I do life, work and ministry in each of my roles, I am confident that by God’s perfect will, He has established me in each one “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

He Equips Us

But as is God’s loving way, He does not establish us in these roles and then leave us to fend for ourselves. In verse 2, God assures us that He equips us with all we need in order to function in the roles where He has established us. It is so simple, I almost missed it.

I’ve often wondered why Paul starts so many (all?) of his letters out this way: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Why? Why does Paul repeat this phrase over and over? Because Paul knew he had received grace from God, so he had peace with God. And Paul knew that the recipients his letters (including us!) also need grace from God in order to have peace with God. And likewise, these are the two provisions we need to operate in the roles where God has established us:

Grace from God. And Peace with God.

Let me share about those one at a time, but in reverse order.

Peace with God is fairly straightforward. God is holy and we are not – we have a sinful nature. This nature (our “natural-born self”), left unchanged, separates us from God – for now and for eternity.

But, not only is God holy, He is just – He requires “justice.” So, in order to be brought into a “right” relationship so that we can know God now and for eternity, He requires “justice” for our sin: a sacrificial payment – an “atonement” (Romans 3:25-26).

Again, however, being sinful in nature, no sacrificial payment we could ever provide would be “good enough” to make ourselves holy in God’s sight. Even our sacrifices are insufficient to meet the requirement equal to God’s righteousness.

So, God provided a perfect sacrifice for us. He sent His beloved son, Jesus, to earth – causing Him to be born as a baby, live as a man, die as a perfect sacrifice for all of the sin of all of humanity, and then be raised again on the third day to reign for all eternity as King. And God promises, that for those who receive Jesus Christ as Savior, Lord, and King, they will have peace with Him as His children – now and forever (John 1:12).

By providing the way for us to be restored into “right” relationship with Himself, God equips us (by Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection) with what we need to have peace with Him.

But, what about grace?

John MacArthur, in his article “What is Grace?” defines grace in three short words: “God’s unmerited favor.” And not just His “unmerited favor,” but, MacArthur writes, “favor bestowed on sinners who deserve wrath.” In fact, as Christians, we stand in grace – we remain in His grace (Romans 5:2). Grace is not once and done. We deserve punishment and death and yet, God continues to show us His favor instead.

Here are just a few examples from Scripture:

So, follow me here:

By God’s grace, by his unmerited favor, I have peace with God. And because I have peace with God, by His grace, I am able to be strengthened, to learn, and to live rightly in the roles in which He has established me.

Paul writes extensively to the Ephesians about grace, so this is surely not the last time I will share what the Lord is teaching me about grace. But here, in just these first two verses of Chapter 1 that I’m always tempted to breeze past, I receive tremendous assurance that God has indeed established me in my life’s roles and He has equipped me with what I need to live, learn and be strengthened there: grace and peace.

Think About It:

  1. By the will of God, what are your roles?
  2. How does knowing God has established you by His will in your life’s roles impact the way you receive the rewards and the challenges of those roles?
  3. How have you seen God show His grace to you?
  4. Do you have peace with God?
  5. Being equipped in grace and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, how will you approach the roles where God has established you today?