Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Ephesians 3:16-19, NIV 

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Unity Cross by Gwen Meharg

Paul started this prayer in chapter 1, verse17.  Through many asides and digressions, (aaahhh . . . Paul) he continues it. 

God is rich.  Richer than the richest person on earth.  In fact, He owns it all.  Everything.  It's all His.  Nothing belongs to us, really.  And, it's not just the tangible things that He owns, He is absolutely full to the brim (and it never goes lower than full) with mercy and compassion, love and forgiveness, strength and power.  From this glorious storehouse of wealth He fills our inner being, our spirit, with the strength and power to BELIEVE that God is who He says He is and that Christ lives in our hearts, the seat of  our entire personality.

The result of Christ living in our hearts is love.  Paul uses two metaphors here, one biological and one architectural: "being rooted and established."  The first is of a tree with deep roots in the soil of love and the second is of a building with strong foundations laid on the rock of love.  These two pictures are not accidental.  They are meant to give us an image of the strength of love from God to us and  from us to others.  (See Col. 2:7)

Paul once again reinforces the importance and power of the church by attaching our ability to understand this powerful love to our relationship with other believers.  Remember, Paul's letter to the Ephesians is most concerned with unity in the church . . . and, that unity is achieved by the power of love. 

God's love is "wide" enough to reach the whole world.  It is "long" enough to stretch far into eternity.  It is "high" enough to raise us all, Jew and Gentile alike, to Him who sits on the throne.  It is "deep" enough to rescue us from the clutches of sin.

Paul realizes that he is trying to measure the immeasurable and so he prays.  He prays for believers everywhere and through all of time that we might know the unknowable -- that we might know a portion of this love that is incomprehensible.  Just a portion of this love is powerful enough to change the hardest of hearts.  He prays that this immeasurable, unknowable love would do it's work in us, fill us full to the brim with the faith to believe and to trust the God who loves us and the power to love all those who believe with us.

In love,

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Ephesians 3:14-15

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.

. . . and from the Message:

My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth.
by Unknown

For this reason, I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles -- (vs 1) . . . kneel (vs 14).  Paul responds to the knowledge of God's unfathomable love for people (Jewish and Gentile alike) and God's enormous, immeasurable desire to save us (Jew and Gentile alike) and His glorious and rich plan to make us one by getting on his knees before the Father.  It is a humble act on Paul's part.  An act of submission to the One who is all-wise and who makes all of Paul's brilliance and genius seem like nothing.  Up to his conversion, Paul lived a life of Jew against Gentile, Jew above Gentile; but, no longer.  God's plan for the Gentiles is revealed and now the apostle lives to make it known. The Church, with all its cracks and flaws, is alive.  At its best, it reflects the glory of Jesus Himself.  At its worst, it reflects the reason we need Jesus.  Paul knows this.  He fought for it.  He paid a great price for its growth (albeit, a price not comparable with that of Jesus).

This humble apostle knows who he is and to Whom he belongs.  Friends, we are named after Him!  We are God's family!  Co-heirs with His Son!  Adopted by Him and belonging to Him!
 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.  Romans 8:17, NIV
. . . He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—   Ephesians 1:5, NIV
We do not belong here -- we belong in heaven . . . and heaven is a part of us here and now.  The family of God is Jew and Gentile alike, no matter whether you are slave or free! (Gal. 3:28)  And, here's a truth: we are both slave and free.  A slave to sins that still grip us, but, in Christ, we live a free life . . . no longer condemned by those sins . . . not controlled by those sins, but controlled by the Spirit of God.
 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2, NIV
You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.  Romans 8:9a, NIV

The Church Militant and Triumphant by Andrea da Firenze

The Church is alive.  It has overcome the forces of evil that have tried to destroy it time and again.  It is not a building.  It is a Body!  It is made up of men and women of all nationalities, different personalities, a plethora of gifts, many cracks and flaws . . . its head is Jesus, and, . . . it lives.
  And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.  Ephesians 1:22-23, NIV
Paul fought hard for this truth so that nothing would divide it, but, instead it would be the Church triumphant!  For this reason . . . he kneels.
This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It's adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike "What's next, Papa?" God's Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what's coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we're certainly going to go through the good times with him!  Romans 8:15-17, MSG
I kneel,

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Ephesians 3:10-13

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory. 

. . .and from the Message:

Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels! All this is proceeding along lines planned all along by God and then executed in Christ Jesus. When we trust in him, we're free to say whatever needs to be said, bold to go wherever we need to go. So don't let my present trouble on your behalf get you down. Be proud! 
Paul at His Writing Desk, Rembrandt
Ever had issues in your church that seem insurmountable?  Ever been hurt or let down by your church or someone in it -- a trusted friend, elder, pastor?  Ever find it difficult to be excited about going to church?  Difficult to feel inspired by sermon after sermon, tradition after tradition?  Honestly . . . yes.  Yes, to all.  Church is a messy place and it's filled with messed up humans all trying to do their best to live like something that resembles Christ and failing miserably a good percentage of the time.  Here's the good news, though: by some miracle, we display the glory of God to the angels!  Friends, this is no small statement!  Through all of our mess . . . through all of our failures . . . through all of the cracks and chips and flaws and stains of the broken vessels that make up the Church, we make the angels stand up and listen!  (I think I'd rather listen to them, but whatever.)  God's extraordinary plan to save us from the mess we are and remake us into people who live and love well is done only through His Son.  And, because His plan is eternal, it applies to all of history, as well.  That means that God's eternal plan to save us through His Son was doing its work in the sacrificial system in place throughout the Old Testament.  That system was meant to lead people to the grace and mercy of God -- in the same way Jesus' death on the cross, the ultimate and final sacrifice once for all, leads us to the grace and mercy of God.  (Hebrews 7:27)  This IS the "manifold wisdom," God's varied and diverse and complex plan to save us, that the angels love to hear us talk about and rejoice over!

Worship Painting by Jun Jamosmos

Considering this grand plan, Paul draws a conclusion: when we trust in Jesus, we have freedom to approach God with boldness -- with confidence, knowing that this plan to save us through the ultimate sacrifice really did work and God accepts us as we are!  (Hebrews 4:16)  When we come to God through His Son we walk through the blood that cleanses us from unrighteousness and walk into the all embracing, never failing love of God.

In verse 13, Paul rounds off this lengthy parenthetical statement of the administration of God's grace that has been entrusted to him by reminding his audience that his imprisonment (first mentioned in vs. 1) should not bring them discouragement.  It should instead bring them blessing and freedom.  The Apostle Paul knew the messy-ness of people.  He experienced the church with all its cracks and chips and flaws and stains and still believed in its potential to be a powerful force in the world -- just as God planned -- and he fought hard for her.  He paid a big price for her growth and expansion.  Paul saw his imprisonment, and all his sufferings for the gospel, as the price to be paid for the Gentiles to know the gospel.  That's HUGE!    How about you?  Do you see any of your sufferings as an opportunity for others to know the gospel -- to know the love of Christ?  I don't know.  I tend to wallow a bit in my trials.  Paul's life gives us much to think about.

Worship by Miki De Goodaboom
 Here we are two thousand years later and the Church still exists, more than that, lives . . . more than that, THRIVES!  Yes, the Church can be a messy place, but at her best, she is beautiful to behold and a force to be reckoned with.  I believe the angels still stand up and listen whenever we proclaim the gospel or whenever we live out God's plan as a part of His Church.  God's plans cannot be thwarted!

"I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted."
Job 42:2, NIV

Part of His Church,

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Ephesians 3:7-9

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.

And, from The Message Bible . . .

This is my life work: helping people understand and respond to this Message. It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details. When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God's way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities. And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ. My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along.

What do you think of when you hear the word "servant?"  You might think of the people you find in mansion environments who do all the work, like maids and grounds keepers -- those who do the bidding of the wealthiest sorts.  Or, maybe you take it all the way back to slavery -- those who were forced into the service of another, no choice, no voice in his or her lot or fate.  The most typical picture and definition of a servant, however, is a table waiter.  A table waiter is always at the bidding of his customers.  The Apostle Paul lives and works as a servant (whatever image you have) doing the bidding of Christ and His church.

Apostle Paul by Rembrandt

Paul considers his services to Christ and the church a gift -- a grace given to him by Christ.  He did nothing to deserve such an important role as "servant of the gospel."  God did it.  God gave it to him.  God took care of every detail in Paul receiving this grace.  All Paul did was breathe.

We talked a little about Paul's deep humility my last post.  If you still weren't sure about Paul as a humble sort, maybe this statement will help: "although I am less than the least of all God's people . . ."  Paul was always aware of his past as a hater of The Way, a hater and murderer of Christ followers.  Do you struggle with a sin in your life that is difficult to live down, one that is always haunting you, always reminding you of how wretched you were and therefore making you feel as if you do not deserve anything good from God, least of all His forgiveness and grace?  I am convinced that Paul, being ever so human like the rest of us, allowed himself to be kicked around between two worlds: the "worst of sinners" and "beloved by God."  We all find ourselves there sometimes. Yes?  But, here's the good news:
  Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. (1 Timothy 1:15, NIV)
and . . . 
Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. (Isaiah 1:18, NIV)
This past summer I had the privilege of teaching several 5th and 6th graders about God's Word at a little 3 day retreat.  One of the many crafts designed to emphasize and highlight God's truth was soap making.  Isaiah 1:18 was the verse used for this particular craft.  They learned that crimson was the color of a deep, red permanent dye and its deep stain was impossible to remove from clothing.  They also learned that God doesn't just cover up our sin, He lifts it out and completely removes it from our lives.  In the case of the crimson dye, no amount of bleaching or scrubbing or re-dying to another color would hide the stain.  It was always there for you and me and the entire world to see.
Sometimes the stain of sin seems equally permanent.  With God, that crimson red stain, impossible to remove in any other way, is lifted out.  Not covered up -- lifted out and removed!  What once was stained, is now white as snow, like the white wool of a an unblemished lamb.

And so. . . here is Paul, over his head in writing about things that go against everything he was taught as a young Jewish boy and student of the Law.  He learned from his own life that it's all about grace and mercy and God's love for all of humankind and . . . servanthood.  He lives and works in the service of Christ and His church bringing out into the open everything that our mysterious God had planned for His people from the beginning of creation: the mystery about His love and generosity through Jesus Christ, my Lord and yours!

A servant,

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Ephesians 3:4-6

In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. 

And, from the Message Bible . . .

As you read over what I have written to you, you'll be able to see for yourselves into the mystery of Christ. None of our ancestors understood this. Only in our time has it been made clear by God's Spirit through his holy apostles and prophets of this new order. The mystery is that people who have never heard of God and those who have heard of him all their lives (what I've been calling outsiders and insiders) stand on the same ground before God. They get the same offer, same help, same promises in Christ Jesus. The Message is accessible and welcoming to everyone, across the board. 

We are still in the midst of a lengthy parenthetical statement.  Simply put, as the Ephesians re-read Paul's letter to them, they will be able to make their own judgment about whether the apostle has really grasped the essence of God's secret plan.  It seems that Paul's credibility was always in question because of how he became one of the apostles  Unlike Paul, the other apostles were apostles because they lived with, ate with, spoke with and learned from the Master, Jesus, during His 3 years of ministry on earth.  Paul became an apostle later after Jesus went up into heaven.  He's always having to defend his credibility as one of the apostles equal to Peter and John and the others.  Maybe that's why he's always so long winded and works so hard at driving his point home and explaining his message over and over again.  How about you?  Do you ever feel as if you have to defend yourself, your credibility?  At work?  At home?  As a Christian with some knowledge of scripture?  I bet we can all relate to Paul a bit here.

The Apostle Paul in Prison by Rembrandt

The mystery of Christ was simply this: Christ lives in and among His believers and gives us an unwarranted and unexplainable hope of eternal glory.  This mystery was not made known to the generations before them.  Paul extrapolates this mystery out a little further knowing what we now know.  This mystery extends to Gentiles, too.  Now, in and of itself, this is not news.  Genesis 12:3 says that through Israel ALL nations will be blessed.  We've talked in depth about Israel's important role to the other nations.  It was through Israel that the other nations would know the Living God -- the same as the church's role today.

The big news here is that the old theocracy is superseded by the body of Christ composed of Jews and Gentiles -- equally.  We stand together on the same ground.  The ground is level at the foot of the cross of Jesus.  The Jews were no longer the ones through whom God would speak and lead the nations.  The Church now takes that role.  The Church, as we know, is made up of any and all who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  It knows no distinction between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, rich and poor, married and divorced, etc.  If you believe in Jesus as Savior and confess Him as Lord, you are among those to whom this mystery extends.  The Message is accessible and welcoming to everyone, across the board.

Paul is exhaustive in his attempts to bring this point home -- to make it clear to Jew and Gentile alike -- to you and to me.  As far as his credibility goes, even the great apostle Paul had his insecurities.  Friends, if nothing else, this should make him someone to whom you can relate.

Living into the mystery,

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Ephesians 3:2-3

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 

Sometimes, many times, I am most grateful for the Message bible and Eugene Peterson's fresh interpretation of God's Holy Word.  It takes what SHOULD be a simple message, made somewhat convoluted by other interpretations (like the NIV, for instance) and makes it just that, simple.  Here it is from the Message:
I take it that you're familiar with the part I was given in God's plan for including everybody. I got the inside story on this from God himself, as I just wrote you in brief.
 Verses 2-13 seem to be parenthetical.  Paul really is the master at this type of writing.  What humors me about this little passage is the phrase "as I have already written briefly."  I would argue that Paul knows how to write on anything "briefly."  His idea of "brief" and my idea of "brief" are two different things.  Chances are, if he was writing books today, he wouldn't have much of a following.  People today would probably say things like, "he's too wordy;" "it takes him too long to get to the point;" "he's too hard to follow."  Although all that may be accurate, the truth is, he is brilliant and altogether humble.  Qualities that don't always mesh together in an individual.

Very few people in scripture can claim to hold the trophy on legalistic righteousness (Philippians 3:6) and then turn around and write a flaming manifesto on the need for God's grace (Galatians) like the apostle Paul.  I've known more than a few people in my life who do not like Paul and have a hard time appreciating his writings.  Not me.  I think his life is fascinating and his writings challenge me.

One of the most intriguing things about Paul is how, at first glance, he comes off as hard-nosed and black and white about everything.  Upon further study of Paul's life and motives and personality, however, you find a man who is not hard-nosed at all.  On the contrary!  He is very tender to those around him and so in love with the One who saved him that day on the road to Damascus that it causes him to speak out relentlessly about God's love and grace.  It's Paul's tenacious personality along with his brilliant intellect that makes him a force to be reckoned with.  And this would be true no matter the group of people that might have laid claim to his loyalties.  It is his humble attitude, humility taught him by the same One who humbles each of us, that allows him and moves him to challenge each one of us to be more than we are right now.  To reach higher and live better and love more fully as we take each breath of life given us by the One who created us.  That's what I hear the Apostle saying to me.

All of that to say, these two verses are not as complicated as they sound.  Paul is simply being conversational.  When you read verses 2-13 like they were in parenthesis, you read it with a bit more understanding.  As he has explained throughout this letter, several times, because he is not "brief," his commission is to the Gentiles and this commission is from God himself.  It's a reminder.  Thank you Mr. Peterson for your simple and fresh approach to God's word.

Reaching higher, living better, loving more fully,

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Ephesians 3:1

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— 

Paul's great desire was for the Church to rise up and continue to grow and build.  Paul has made certain that the Ephesians know and understand ALL THAT GOD HAS DONE to bring it about!  And, we have spent weeks learning this as well!  So, it's for THAT reason . . . so for this reason . . . what?  What is the apostle trying to say here? He doesn't finish his thought.  At least not yet.  "I, Paul," the apostle who can write in "asides" and "digressions" without us ever even realizing it, who so fluently and fluidly writes under the influence of his mad passions and mad skills and mad knowledge of truth . . . doesn't finish this thought until verse 14 where he softly and humbly says, "For this reason . . . I kneel . . ."  We'll have to wait a few weeks to finish his thought. Whatever he is trying to say, it if for this reason: the Church, this mystery wrapped in flesh.  In the meantime, we will sort out all that's in between verses 1 and 14.  (It's kind of like he put a really long thought in parenthesis between 1 and 14.)

St. Paul in Prison by Rembrandt

Paul is a prisoner in Rome.  Paul, however, refuses to regard himself as a victim either of the Jews or of the Roman emperor, rather, he is the prisoner of Christ Jesus.  This statement alone marks him as a true apostle.  It is because of his calling to the Gentiles that the Jews had him thrown in prison.  In Acts 21 we read this account.  Paul arrived in Jerusalem and was immediately warned by fellow Jewish believers that Jews from the province of Asia were in hot pursuit of him, watching for any reason to accuse him of breaking Jewish law.  When they sited Paul in the city with Trophimus, an Ephesian convert, they assumed that Paul had paraded him inside the temple area.  This would be a stretch of an accusation since a) it was forbidden in Jewish law for Gentiles to enter the temple, an act requiring the punishment of death for the gentile who entered; b) Paul was extremely educated in Jewish law and would not have been so careless as to risk the life of Trophimus in such a way; and, c) the law required that Trophimus be punished for entering the temple, not Paul.  They were looking for a reason to imprison Paul -- to stop him from including Gentiles in the promises of God and in the process converting Jews to believers in Jesus Christ as Messiah.

His calling was to the Gentiles but he also loved his fellow Jews.  Paul, a Jew of Jews, zealous for the law, once a Pharisee and persecutor of those who belonged to the Way . . . it is for the sake of the Gentiles that he is imprisoned.  Refusing victim status, no whining or complaining about his circumstances, is a prisoner of Jesus Christ whether he is in chains or walking free -- his status and calling is sure.
. . .circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.  But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  Philippians 3:5-7, NIV