“In light of our fallen nature, we cannot model the moral perfection, holiness, and righteousness of Christ, but by the grace of God through the Holy Spirit we do assimilate the life-pattern of Christ. At the heart of this life of assimilation is the cross and resurrection of Christ. As the church of Jesus Christ, we are called to live as pilgrims in this world taking up our own cross—a life of suffering (it is impossible to carry Christ’s cross). As we assimilate the life of the cross, God exalts His beloved servants. The Christian life is one of humiliation to exaltation, just as the life of our Savior is one of humiliation to exaltation. This activity is a work of God’s sovereign grace through the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. Within the dynamic of God’s work, the believer now lives as an example of Christ’s work.” (William D. Dennison, Ph.D)

The Life-Pattern of Christ

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Grace to you and Peace

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:1-2, ESV).”

Paul begins his letter to the Ephesians with his standard greeting. Many of his New Testament letters begin this way with slight variations. At first glance, the greeting may seem innocuous to readers of Ephesians. It doesn’t flow that smoothly due to its complex syntax, and its endless stream of key bits of information multiply without pauses. In my estimation, this is a good thing because the richness of it requires the reader to digest it one clause or phrase at a time. Paul jam packs his greeting to the Ephesians with foundational truths about God the Father, God the Son, and their followers.

The apostle Paul starts the greeting by identifying himself as an apostle of Christ by the will of God. This brings to mind the apostle’s testimony before Agrippa about his Damascus road conversion wherein Christ reveals to him his mission and purpose (Acts 26:12-18). Paul doesn’t stop with identifying himself as Christ’s apostle. He adds a crucial qualifier that his apostleship is by the will of God. This commissioning by Christ reveals that the Father’s will was for Paul to become an apostle of Christ. Paul’s conversion and commissioning by Christ demonstrate the partnership between God the Father and God the Son.

There is a distinction between the Father’s role and the Son’s in Paul’s conversion and subsequent commissioning as an apostle. First, Jesus calls Paul on the road to Damascus, and tells him what he is to do as Luke records in Acts 26:12-18. Second, Paul uses the greeting to reveal to the Ephesian believers and to subsequent readers of his letter that his conversion and apostleship had been the Father’s will. Another way to say this is that the Son’s conversion and commissioning of Paul not only carries out the Father’s will, but it demonstrates it, too. The implications of this in Paul’s life are at least two: 1.) His ministry to the Gentiles bears witness to the character and life of Christ; and 2.) as Paul bears witness to the Gentiles about Christ, he’s demonstrating and acting on the Father’s will.

Finally, Paul reveals two important truths of his message to the Gentiles or in this case the Ephesians. He mentions these at the beginning of the second verse by saying, “Grace to you and peace…” (Ephesians 1:2, ESV). Grace refers to the unmerited favor extended toward undeserving sinners by the Father in the Son through the Spirit. On the Damascus road, Christ chooses and empowers Paul with his grace to be his messenger. This is stunning considering the fact that only hours previous Paul had supervised the martydom of Stephen. Clearly, Paul did not deserve such favor from Christ; however, this shows the sovereignty of Christ and the Father as demonstrated through the work of grace in Paul’s life. Because Paul experiences this sovereign grace in his life, he has the foundation and authority to declare grace in his ministry to the Gentiles.

When it comes to peace, Jesus’s words to the apostles in the upper room come to mind: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you…” (John 14:27a). No doubt Paul understands this truth even though John’s gospel wasn’t written at the time of Ephesians. Paul understands sovereign grace enough to know that peace comes with it; therefore, peace has its source in the Father and the Son. After all, Paul knows the Old Testament backwards and forwards, upside down and inside out as a former Pharisee. When he ministers to the Gentiles, Isaiah’s words might be fresh in his mind: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…his name shall be called…Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6, ESV).

On the road to Damascus, Paul experiences grace and peace in Christ, who saves him and commissions him as a messenger of his grace and peace. Paul becomes an example of a life testifying of Christ to the Ephesians. The apostle’s entire letter is a reminder to the Ephesian believers of what they have received and how they should live in light of what they’ve received. This means that the Ephesians are examples of Christ’s work of grace, too; therefore, the scope and impact of Christ’s redeeming work extend beyond the Ephesians in Paul’s day, to all believers throughout history until he returns in glory. Anyone who encounters Christ, encounters his grace and peace, which leads to a life bearing witness to those divine attributes in her/his own life.

The apostle Matthew records the following words of Jesus: “…freely you received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8b). May that characterize our lives as ambassadors of Christ’s grace and peace until he returns.

“Few things do so much harm in religion as exaggerated expectations. People look for a degree of worldly comfort in Christ’s service which they have no right to expect, and not finding what they look for, are tempted to give up religion in disgust. Happy is he who thoroughly understands, that though Christianity holds out a crown in the end, it brings also a cross in the way.” (J.C. Ryle – commentary on Matthew 10:34-42)

Taking up our cross

Earning the Right to Influence

“With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone.” (Proverbs 25:15, ESV)

Before beginning my day, I spent time in the Lord’s presence praying and reading his word. I felt led by the Holy Spirit to read the above quoted scripture verse. After reading it, I experienced encouragement and conviction. Encouragement flooded my soul and spirit as I recalled the ways my previous employer bestowed greater responsibility. Conviction followed shortly after the encouragement as I remembered my turbulent interactions with the same employer.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but that doesn’t negate the necessity for reflection. There were many instances where impatience ruled my words and actions with my previous boss. To make matters worse, the impatience erupted in outbursts of anger and frustration. Now, I mention my part simply to reveal how I’ve taken ownership of those past interactions. My previous boss contributed his portion, but I’m responsible to the Lord for my words and actions. Because of my impatience toward him and/or the circumstances, there was no way that I’d persuade my boss of my position.

I certainly wasn’t using a soft tongue, so it’s obvious that there wasn’t anyway in breaking through his perception of the circumstances and my response to them. My influence hung by a thread, which I kept damaging due to my lack of self-control. Instead taking a step back from the immediate circumstances to assess my heart, I plunged ahead at times to the immediate detriment of my influence. Over time, I needed to surrender my emotions, my need to defend myself, in order to trust in the Lord for his protection and guidance. What the Lord started showing me was his desire to go before me with my boss. This meant acknowledging the Lord’s sovereignty over my boss, my circumstances and most importantly, me. It also meant trusting him to show me how to navigate the circumstances.

When reflecting on the verse out of Proverbs, where do you see impatience damaging your influence with those in authority over you? In what ways are your words undercutting your ability to bring grace and truth into your sphere of influence?

Powerful and Powerless

Sunday announced the start of premarriage counseling for Charity and me.  The material comes out of Bethel Redding, specifically Danny and Sheri Silk’s Loving on Purpose teaching and counseling ministry.  In the first session, Danny Silk centers his presentation on the following terms: powerful and powerless.  These become the categories to identify the areas, attitudes, and behaviors that are either powerful or powerless in the couples pursuing the covenant of marriage.  Now, Silk develops these categories or terms, powerful and powerless, in order to describe the types of couple pairings, too.  Because of space constraints, I’m going to focus on the actual terms in relation to inner character traits.

According to Silk, powerless characterizes those attitudes, behaviors, and thoughts where the flesh rules and reigns rather than the power of the Holy Spirit.  In fact, he never really states it that way, but the implication is loud and clear throughout the 45-50 minute DVD presentation.  When there’s an unsurrendered area of my life, this manifests itself through forms of manipulation and self-centeredness.  In the context of a relationship,  this may look like passive aggressiveness, emotional dependency, and fits of rage.  These manifestations of powerlessness indicate areas of spiritual darkness in desperate need of the light of the world (John 6:12).

Passive aggressive behavior reveals a deep-rooted fear of personal disclosure through confronting the offending party. Emotional dependency occurs when one or both parties feels and/or perceives emptiness in oneself without the other in her/his life.  Fits of rage are  very similar to the temper tantrums of a toddler, who goes into a rage when she/he isn’t getting what she/he wants at that moment.  All three of these examples reflect spiritual and emotional immaturity.  For the believer in Christ, the hope comes in the person and work of the Holy Spirit.  In fact, Silk quotes 2 Cor 3:17 to underscore the freedom given to us in covenant relationship with Christ: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (ESV).”

When the light of the world comes into the believer’s life through the Spirit, there are two key things taking place.  First, light shines into the darkness exposing the deeds of darkness.  Second, the Spirit indwells the believer, and one of the consequences of the Spirit’s indwelling presence is freedom.  This second point is crucial because it connects with another verse from Silk’s presentation, which is Joshua 24:15 where Joshua lays a charge to the people of Israel whether to serve the God of heaven or the foreign gods.  I call this the freedom of choice only after spelling out the truthfulness of the present condition.  When the Spirit indwells the believer, his light shines to reveal the truthfulness of the believer’s condition.  At that point, I have a choice to make: surrender to the Lord or forget what I saw and continue like nothing happened (James 1:22-25).

I will bring this entry to a close with a few parting thoughts.  Number one, where do you need the light of the world to shine in your life in order to experience more of his freedom?  Second, are you willing to take ownership of those exposed areas for greater freedom and holiness and power in Christ?  This isn’t easy work, nor is it solely solitary work.  Christ formed his church, the body, for a reason.  It’s not just to gather, but to find freedom and sustenance through the sanctifying work of becoming like Christ.  Don’t go at it alone.

Resting while serving

When I’ve reflected on my mini getaway to Titusville, I kept noticing how restful and rejuvenating the whole weekend turned out.  I returned to my life in Los Angeles recharged and ready to tackle whatever came my way.  I welcomed the flight back home, and the prospect of starting work the following day.  This brief getaway turned out to be very restful, but it wasn’t a Sabbath rest in the strictest sense of the term.  Let me give a little background first.

What has captured my attention has been the notion of restful activity or rest in the midst of activity.  Charity and I assisted my mom with shopping for the big, weekend meal.  Charity is my wonderful girlfriend of six months.  She and I grocery shopped with my mom, which turned into a time of being with her.  My mom knew what she wanted to buy, so Charity’s presence and mine was largely incidental.  We didn’t exactly help with the shopping, but we spent the time with my mom.  I’d go a little further with this to say that Charity and I served my mom by being with her.  It was restful.

When the time came to prepare the big, weekend meal, this involved a little more work than the shopping.  Despite this fact, I found working alongside my mom and Charity to be restful and rewarding.  We had a banter going back and forth between the three of us.  Humor characterized our conversation along with patient directives regarding the next stage of the meal preparations.  In my own past, these types of family gatherings created tension and stress and a general pall hung over the whole time.  None of that toxicity ever surfaced instead it was restful.

In each of the above examples of activity, the Lord showed me that serving others was the focal point.  During the trip, I failed to pick up on that point even though I knew the time was restful.  Jesus lived a life of service to the apostles and to the multitudes.  He took time to serve, to be with people.  The only times he spent alone were in the wee hours of the morning prior to a heavy day of service and ministry (see Mark 1:35,45).  Jesus spent those early morning hours in the presence of God the Father in order to pour himself out in his ministry.

There were mornings in Titusville spent in the Lord’s presence.  I served my mom and my family and worked alongside Charity, or I partnered with her in serving my family.  Cooking the food, preparing the food, serving my family was work.  All of it was work, yet peace and contentment flooded my body, soul, and spirit.  I experienced joy and rest in the activity of serving my family.  By God’s grace and mercy, he provided me moments to enjoy the pool and take afternoon naps.