Posted in Ephesians, John, Matthew, Revelation

The Mysterious Bride

“The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.” Matthew 22:2

In this parable a king (God the Father) is having a wedding feast for his son (Jesus), and his people (the human race) are invited to attend. The first invited (the Jewish race) reject the invitation which leads to their judgment (Matthew 22:7), yet this leads to others being invited (the Gentiles), both good and bad, but even then, “many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14)

What is unclear is who the son is marrying. In Matthew 25 Jesus tells another parable about a coming wedding feast and this time the people being described are in the wedding party. There are ten bridesmaids who are waiting with the bride (who is not mentioned in the parable) for the bridegroom’s party to come and take them to the wedding feast. If it was an honor to be invited by the king to a wedding feast for his son, it is a greater honor to be in the wedding party. But we are still left with the question: Who exactly is Jesus marrying?

Finally we have a definitive answer in Ephesians 5:31-32: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” You and I aren’t just invited to the wedding; we aren’t just part of the bridal party; we are called to be the bride! Our invitation is actually a proposal from God. No wonder John wrote, “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb.” (Revelation 19:9)

Yet when Paul writes the words, “…and the two…,” he is saying that Jesus is one – the Bridegroom, and the church is the other one – the bride. You and I aren’t called to be brides, but to be part of the bride. No wonder Jesus prayed that the Father would make us one! (John 17:21) Individually we are sons and daughters, but we are only the bride together. One bride – there isn’t a young bride and an old bride; there isn’t a black bride, a Latino bride, and a white bride; there isn’t a male bride and a female bride; there isn’t a rich bride and a poor bride; and there aren’t Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, and Charismatic brides. There is only one bride which is why pleasing God must involve us letting go of our prejudices, and learning to love and accept one another in Christ.

Jesus is calling, inviting, knocking, and yes, even proposing to you. Will you refuse the One who gave His life for you, or will you respond by giving Him all of your heart?

Posted in 2Corinthians, Ephesians, Isaiah, John, Matthew, Proverbs, Psalms

The Secret of the Lord

“The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him, and He will make them know His covenant.” Psalm 25:14

The margin of my Bible has “intimacy” as an alternate translation of “secret.” I believe that  a certain measure of the fear of the Lord is necessary for anyone to come to Christ. Proverbs says: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10) A revelation of God’s love for us in our weakness and immaturity is necessary to grow us up in our faith. (Ephesians 3:17-19) But I think to walk close to God’s Presence another level of the fear of the Lord is required. 

It says in Isaiah 11:3 that Jesus delighted in the fear of the Lord. He experienced the secret promised by Psalm 25:14, enjoying the continual intimate friendship of His Father. He didn’t fear man, He didn’t fear death, He didn’t fear storms, He didn’t fear lack of supplies – He only feared God and cared only about obeying what the Father was saying. (John 5:19)

Maybe the idea of the fear of the Lord seems heavy to you. I think it was just the opposite for Jesus which was why He was able to say, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30) He only had to please the Father to be a complete success. Paul said something similar to this: “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent (from the body), to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord…” (2Corinthians 5:9-11a)  

Only one ambition! What a simple life, what an easy yoke, what a light burden. May God pour out the Spirit of the fear of the Lord on each of us and make it our delight for His glory.

Posted in Ephesians

Receiving God’s Love

“For this reason I pray to the Father… that your roots will go down into God’s love and keep you strong.  And may you have the power to understand… how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is.” Ephesians 3:14; 17

A few years ago I had the privilege of doing a youth retreat in another city.  During a session I called a young woman out and asked her name, then gave her this word: “When Samuel went to the house of Jesse to anoint one of his sons as king, Jesse had overlooked his son, David.  David wasn’t even invited to the feast.  But God’s eye was on David; God saw him and God wants you to know that He sees you.”  Later that night, after I preached, I invited any who wanted to drink of the Spirit to come up and receive prayer.  This young woman came up and when I prayed the Holy Spirit touched her in a dramatic way as He was touching many others.

 I didn’t know what God was doing in her until the pastor of that church was driving me back to the airport on Monday morning.  He told me that she had told her mom on the way to church (we were back from the retreat by then) that she had a new peace and felt different.  Her mom shared this with the pastor because to her this was a miracle. She had sent her daughter on this retreat out of desperation.

This girl had grown up in a single parent home and had become wild and agitated all the time.  There was nothing the mom who loved her could do to help.  Others had tried to help, but it didn’t seem to change anything.  Yet God saw her.  God spoke to her.  God touched her and that changed everything.

 Maybe you’ve been overlooked by people and have felt small and rejected.  Please know God’s loving eye is on you.  Why not open up your heart again and ask Him to speak to you and touch you in a new way?

Posted in 2Corinthians, Ephesians

The Call to Sexual Purity

“For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband—Christ.  But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent.” 2Corinthians 11:2-3

 Why has God given us sexual desire and attraction to the opposite sex and then commanded that we control that desire and attraction to save it only for our present or future spouse?  To get to the why of sexual purity we have to go back to why God made sex in the first place.  When we understand what it pictures we will more easily be able to accept and even delight in His call to sexual purity.

 In the text above, Paul says we are called to be the bride of Christ and have only eyes for Him; pure and undivided in our devotion.  In Ephesians 5:31-32 he says: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.  This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.”  So marriage was created to speak of this higher relationship with Christ and human beings.

 The two become one not by intercourse but by this “leaving” all others, and this “joining” to only one another.  The two becoming one flesh, sexual intercourse, consummates and celebrates that shared devotion to only one another.  Why did God make sex fun?  Why did he give us desires that are fulfilled in this act of passion?  Because it represents the spiritual pleasure available to us in our union with Christ.  There is fullness of joy in His presence.  But our union to Him is not based on spiritual pleasure, but on His devotion to us and our singular devotion to Him.  Spiritual pleasures make it easier to stay devoted to Him, and it strengthens our resolve.  It makes our relationship more than a duty; He is our delight.

 God created sex within marriage to sweeten our commitment to our spouse, so they wouldn’t be our duty, but our delight. Our singular commitment to them pictures for all the world to see our commitment to Christ who left His Father’s home, took on flesh, died and rose again, just so we could be His forever.

Posted in 1John, 1Timothy, 2Peter, Ephesians, Galatians, Hebrews, John, Psalms, Romans

The Value of Godliness

“Train yourself to be godly.  Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” 1Timothy 4:7-8

 To train ourselves to be godly is to reorder our lives in a way that makes living close to God our highest priority.  Asaph said, “the nearness of God is my good.” (Psalm 73:28)  In what way is godliness good for us?

 First, Paul says it’s valuable in this present life.  Later in his letter he gives a qualifier: “Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything out.” (6:6-7)  The more we pursue godliness with contentment the more we live defined by God and the more all other definitions fade away.  We are not our financial net worth, or what other people think we are, or even how we define ourselves – we are God’s masterpiece! (Ephesians 2:10)  Only the godly grow away from the traps of this world into their true identity.  Letting the One who loved us and gave Himself up for us (Galatians 2:20) be the One who defines us is tremendously liberating.  His perfect love drives out fear and insecurity (1John 4:18), so that we can simply be ourselves filled with His Holy Spirit.

 Then Paul says godliness has value for the life to come.  Asaph says that those who live “far from You will perish; You put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to You.” (Psalm 73:27)  The ungodly will “perish like beasts” (2Peter 2:12) and “be consumed” eventually in the eternal fire (Hebrews 10:27), but the godly will share eternal life with God.  This is the simple gospel: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

 Godliness begins by forsaking our own works and by putting our trust in Jesus Christ because salvation is God’s gift to us.  “Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness (right standing with God!).” (Romans 4:4-5)

Posted in Ephesians, Matthew, Revelation

Choosing Jesus In The Darkness

“As I watched the Lamb broke the first of the seven seals on the scroll.” Revelation 6:1

In Matthew 24, Jesus gives to us the conditions on earth while the gospel is preached: false religion, wars, natural disasters, and persecution of the truth that in some instances ends in martyrdom.

In Revelation 6, we see these same four conditions but they are seen from heaven’s perspective. They are not incidental; they are necessary before the day of the Lord can come.

Seals were not part of a Jewish legal document – they were on the outside and represented conditions that had to be met before the document could be opened or enforced. Jesus is the only One who is worthy to break the seals which lead to the coming day of the Lord, but we must ask, “Why?” Why has God insisted that the gospel be preached in such darkness before He comes to actively rule the world?

Here’s my opinion: He wanted us to choose Him in the darkness, so we never reject Him again for all eternity. The first group, the angels, chose Him in the light and eventually a third fell away. Angels have free will even as we do, and a third of them chose self-rule over God’s rule even while living in a perfect heaven, and beholding God’s beauty face to face.

By having us choose Him in the midst of darkness, in the midst of the worst conditions and the ugliness of sin and horrors of the curse, it will be almost impossible for us to reject Him when we see Him face to face in the light and glory of heaven.

Ephesians 3:10-11 says this: “God’s purpose was to use the church to display His wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in heavenly places. This was His eternal plan, which He carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.” “All” means both the angels that fell away and those who remained true.

Those who fell away are judged as they see the church choose Him even while they can barely see Him, when they had rejected Him while seeing the beauty, glory, and power with absolute clarity. Those who remained loyal see through Christ’s coming and the church’s devotion more of the beauty of God’s love and humility. This strengthens them, I can imagine, and further secures them from the danger of ever falling away in the future.

When the day of the Lord begins, every eye will be able to see God’s active judgment and redemption, but right now we must choose Him in the darkness. God Himself has ordained this!

Posted in Ephesians, Luke, Romans

The Generosity of God

“Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” Romans 8:32

Any sense of entitlement in us will undermine our faith. God never gives to us because He has to; He gives because He wants to. The gospel starts by revealing to us that God owes us nothing but hell because of our sins, and then proceeds to show us His kind intention of adopting us as His sons and daughters. (Ephesians 1:4-6)

I was speaking in Uganda about entitlement and told a story where God revealed to me that I had been waiting for an apology from Him. I felt I had been mistreated just like Job and the older brother did (Luke 15:26-31), and that attitude was keeping me from experiencing the generosity of God.

After I was done speaking a woman found me and said I had to talk with her friend, Annette. Annette was laying on a mat on the floor of the church and was unable to get up because of crippling pain in her back. Through an interpreter, Annette told me that God spoke to her through the message. She had experienced a number of setbacks and had been angry with God. Now she was free because God showed her she needed to let go of her bad attitude.

I felt in my heart that God now wanted to heal her body, so I asked if I could pray for her back. After a brief prayer, I told her to move her back around and eventually told her to stand up. As she did, tears started to pour down her face.

“Ask her why she’s crying,” I said to the interpreter.

The answer was what I was hoping: “She says God is healing her back.”

Before my next teaching, she came to the front with the joy of the Lord on her face and gave testimony to what God had done in her heart and then in her body. Everyone then rejoiced in the generosity of God.

Sometimes we become focused on the outward miracle we need while having the wrong attitude in our heart. Do you feel God owes you something because of your obedience, sacrifice, or prayers? Why not lay down your disappointment, acknowledge that God is not in your debt, and focus on His generosity?

“He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not, also along with Him, graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32)

Posted in Ephesians, Psalms

The Heartbeat of Missions

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.” Ephesians 1:18

The modern missions movement is often cited as beginning in 1732 when two Moravians by the names of Johann Dober and David Nitschmann were willing to sell themselves into slavery to reach the natives of the West Indies with the gospel. It wasn’t their act of going that became the heartbeat of missions, it was why they were going. Why would they leave the comfort of their homes and families to go reach people they had never met?

It is said that they called out to their loved ones on shore as the ship pulled away, “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering!” It wasn’t their love for humanity that called to them; or the fear that people would perish in hell if they weren’t reached with the gospel; it was their burning love for Jesus.

The gospel promises forgiveness and eternal life for us, but the Father isn’t just thinking of what we get; He’s thinking about what His Son gets. He had promised Him in eternity that if He would be born as a son of man, He would be given the nations as His inheritance. (Psalm 2:7-8) Think of it: Jesus died and shed His blood for every human being that you know. If He got His full inheritance, everyone would worship Him, love Him, serve Him, and follow Him.

We all have loved ones we want to reach for the gospel because we want them to be with us in heaven. Maybe instead of praying God would save them for their sake, or for our sake, we should pray that the Father would draw them, so that the Lamb of God might receive the reward of His suffering!

Posted in 2Chronicles, Ephesians, Isaiah, Proverbs

Standing Firm in Your Faith

“If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” Isaiah 7:9b

News that Ephraim and Aram had joined forces to attack Judah resulted in king Ahaz being gripped with fear. The Bible says his heart was “…shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.” (Isaiah 7:2) He would either stand firm in his faith, or he would fall – those were the only two options. In easier more peaceful times you can get by without really believing, but when everything is shaking around you, you either believe God, for real, or you become a victim of fear.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5) When our situation is confusing and intimidating we must lean on God directly, not on our understanding of the circumstances, or even on our understanding of God. He is able to make us stand in the storm, and after we have passed His test, is equally able to speak “peace, be still,” to our situation. When He does the wind and waves of our circumstances will calm down, and we will see the deliverance of God. But it all starts with us standing in faith while everything still looks bad.

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then…” (Ephesians 6:13-14a) If God tells you to do something, do it, but after doing it, only “stand firm.” Don’t worry, don’t strive, don’t doubt, don’t wrestle… just stand. Evil will take its swing at you and me, and God will allow it, but if we stand in our faith, it will come to nothing. Believe in God’s promises; trust in His character; and then “stand still and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf.” (2Chronicles 20:17)

Posted in Ephesians, Matthew

Asking Prayer

“Ask and it will be given to you.” Matthew 7:7

In seeking prayer we seek God for who He is; in knocking prayer we persistently knock for the influence of the Holy Spirit on others; and in asking prayer we ask for our own needs. Jesus said we didn’t need to use many words in asking prayer because “your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” If He already knows, why ask? God wants us to get to know His generosity and love through answered prayer, and He strategically uses delays in answers to refine our character.

Believing is especially central to asking prayer. Jesus said, “And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” (Matthew 21:22) Believing what? Believing that God will give it exactly when and how you want it? Or do we simply believe God is good; He hears our prayer and He will answer it in His own way and in His own time? Martin Luther believed it was the latter:

“We are to lay our need before God in prayer but not prescribe to God a measure, manner, time, or place. We must leave that to God, for He may wish to give it to us in another, perhaps better, way than we think is best. Frequently we do not know what to pray as St. Paul says in Romans 8, and we know that God’s ways are above all that we can ever understand as He says in Ephesians 3. Therefore, we should have no doubt that our prayer is acceptable and heard, and we must leave to God the measure, manner, time, and place, for God will surely do what is right.” (Devotional Classics; pg 117)

A couple of months ago I was praying about a frustrating situation and instructing God exactly when He needed to have this problem fixed by, and if not, I was going to have to do something drastic. After I was done with my little tirade, I heard a one word whisper in my mind that I believe was the Holy Spirit speaking: “Really?” I was instantly repentant of my attitude. I’m not going to take over; I’m going to wait for God’s timing and allow the process to refine my soul.

Ephesians 3:20 is a verse that gives God a lot of latitude in how He answers prayer: “God is able to do far above all you ask or think…” We don’t have to ask perfectly or even think of how God might do it; our part is to pray with childlike faith and trust that our God will take it from there. Ask and it will be given to you.