You are God’s Masterpiece

I used to write a lot of bad poetry in high school – full of angst and pining and teenage wisdom. I did write a couple of things that were not so awful. My creative writing teacher submitted one of my poems to a national contest.  I got an “honorable mention” award and my poem was published in their compilation of “outstanding works.” I don’t remember the poem or the contest, but it made a mark on me and encouraged me to keep writing. It became more than a hobby. It’s my calling from God as part of this teaching ministry.

In Ephesians 2:10 Paul tells us that “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  When we consider this verse we tend to jump on that last part so quickly. You were created to work for God. Like we’re just one of many employees in God’s business. You – preach. You – sing. You – teach. You – keep the nursery. You – type bulletins. You – cook the Wednesday night suppers.  You gotta stay busy for God.

But consider the original Greek meaning of the word workmanship: “poiema” – from which we get our English word “poem.” Now read that verse again: “You are God’s poem.” You are God’s sonnet of love, His work of beauty and rhythm in a world that is ugly and chaotic. You are the expression of His creative brilliance and power; a testimony to the graciousness of Almighty God. When you do the “good work” you were created to do you are a living ode to the One who created stars and mountains and vast oceans. God created you, not to be a worker bee, but to point the world to Him. Beloved, how will you show the world the creative beauty of the Author of your life?

VBS and the Armor of God

Today kicks off our church’s Vacation Bible School week. I am doing the mission lessons for the elementary school students – trying to plant some seeds of sharing the gospel into the minds of wiggly, giggly bodies will be a fun challenge. I am sure I will need therapy by the end of the week. I loved VBS as a kid. The churches in our community scheduled VBS on alternate weeks throughout the summer to give exhausted moms a break. My brothers and I went to all of them.

I am reminded of one summer when a friend and I created a VBS program based on the Armor of God from Ephesians 6:10-18.  We learned about the heroes of the Bible and their great exploits for the kingdom of God. We studied each piece of the armor, created them as craft projects (man, that was a lot of aluminum foil!), and taught the children to “put on” the armor every day by touching their heads to remind them of the helmet of salvation, touching their waist to remind them of the belt of truth, crossing their arms over their chest to remind them of the breastplate of righteousness and so forth. 

The day we studied the shield and the sword we spent hours blowing up hundreds of balloons and writing words like sin, anger, jealousy, disobedience, cursing, unkindness, etc. First, we took away their shields and swords and tossed them to the kids who had no way to protect themselves. Then we handed them back their armor pieces and “attacked” them again as they blocked the balloons with their shields and batted them away with their swords. It was a simplistic way of explaining the armor, but I think the kids got it and I knew it was a powerful visual to me.

So much of ‘putting on the armor” is mental – but still very practical. It is intentionally wrapping ourselves in truth, remembering that our heart is protected by the righteousness of Christ, that satan’s words have no power because of God’s salvation.  It’s building up a store of “swords” to fight the enemy and reminding ourselves to stay safely behind our faith in God. It’s leaving footprints of peace wherever we go.

Beloved, are you fully dressed to face the day in this world? The Armor of God is not just good theology, it’s good practice every day. Because we’re not just battling balloons out there.

Who are You Praying For?

We know that praying for others can make a big difference in someone’s life. James said, “The fervent prayer of a righteous man [or woman or parent or grandparent or sibling or friend or – well you get the idea] is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). But sometimes we struggle to know how to pray. We feel the weight of the need but just don’t know where to start.  That’s when I turn to the Bible.  When I pray for someone, I like to use prayers from the Scriptures, for they are God’s own words and we know that His word “ will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire, and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). Paul’s letters are always a good source for prayers, and Ephesians is a gold mine of inspiration.

For someone who is struggling with a difficult situation, I pray that they “May be given the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, and the eyes of their heart may be opened so that they may know the hope to which You have called them” (Ephesians 1:17-18).

For someone who is depressed and discouraged I pray that they “Being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that they may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-18). (I also pray this one over my granddaughter every day.)

For one who has wandered from God, I pray that they may “Live a life worthy of the calling they have received and be completely humble and gentle, patient, bearing with others in love and making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

But sometimes we don’t even know the need – how do we pray then?  I borrow from Lazarus sisters’ prayer in John 11:3: “Lord the one You love needs You.” He has the wisdom to understand the need, the heart to care about the need, and the power to meet the need. Remember the friends who lowered the paralytic through a roof to Jesus (Luke 5:17-26)? That’s what we’re doing when we pray for others. Beloved, who can you bring to Jesus today?

Blood-stained Faith

I know, this is Hebrews Monday, but this morning the Holy Spirit has a different word from the Word. It is one of those Old Testament to  New Testament connections I love so much.

The psalmist said, “May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands” (Ps. 149:6). You probably picked up on that “double-edged sword” and recognized it from Hebrews 4:12: “For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword . . .” You may also recall John’s vision of Jesus in heaven: “out of His mouth came a sharp double-edged sword” (Rev 1:16). You know that this sword is none other than the Word of God – the Bible – the Holy Scriptures. You know that in the Armor of God the sword of the Spirit is the only offensive weapon we have (Eph 6:17) – but it is enough because the Word of God sends satan packing. This sword is powerful and purposeful.

But the Spirit made another connection for me as He reminded me of the scene in heaven. Under the altar dwelt “the souls of those who had been slain” – martyred saints. Why? “Because of the Word of God and the testimony they had maintained” (Rev. 6:17). And what was their testimony? The same writer said, “And this is the testimony: ‘God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son’” (1 John 5:11). Do you see the connection?

What is praise but declaring the great Name and work of Almighty God? The martyrs throughout the history of the church have held tightly to the name of Jesus and the Word of God as their source of strength and conviction. But martyrs are not only part of the church’s past. Believers are being slain for their faith today, and as the world moves farther away from God, more saints will face the same fate. Maybe even you and me. How will we endure? How will we not fail our Savior? The same way they did. With the name of Jesus on our lips and our hands frozen to the sword (2 Sam 23:10). Come to think of it, this verse is right in line with the message of Hebrews: stand firm in Christ Jesus and do not lose heart. Hard times are coming Beloved, but so is Jesus!

God loves you. Yes, you.

I’m taking a “Counseling and Spiritual Integration” course this semester and we are our clients. This week I worked on the feeling I struggle with the most: accepting love. The issue is rooted in my childhood.  The Holy Spirit drew my mind to the verse I pray over my granddaughter every day: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints, 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 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18-19).

I dug into that verse and examined the dimensions that Paul used to try to express this love. I thought about the highest thing I knew – outer space, and the longest thing – eternity, and the deepest thing – the ocean, and the widest thing – the arms of Jesus stretched out on the wooden crossbeam. His love is higher and longer and deeper and wider than that. I thought about how God’s love doesn’t depend on me. It’s all Him – God is love (1 John 4:16). It’s perfect love (v. 18) so I can’t mess it up no matter what I do or don’t do. It’s a love I can rely on (v. 16). God doesn’t love me because I love Him, He loves me because it is His very essence (v. 7,10). I thought about how God is so generous with His love. John said that He has lavished His great love on me and had claimed me as His own child. (1 John 3:1). The truth is, I don’t deserve God’s love, but He gives it to me anyway.

I’ve been in teaching ministry a long time and one of the most consistent issues Christians struggle with is feeling unloved. It affects us in every aspect of our lives, in our friendships, marriages, raising children, working and community relationships, and it’s rooted in our relationship with God. We can’t give what we don’t have. But when we are “rooted and established” in the unfailing, unending, unshakable love God has for us, the fruit will be all the sweeter as we share it with others. Beloved, hear this clearly and receive it deeply: God loves you. Yes, you.

Hebrews: This May Make You Mad

According to Scripture, my job as a Bible teacher is to make you mad. My brothers will tell you I’ve been practicing for this my whole life. The writer of Hebrews said, “Let us spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (10:24). The word “spur” means “to incite, irritate, or provoke” and it comes from a root word that suggests a sharp disagreement. “But wait a minute,” you say, “I thought we were supposed to always get along and be at peace with one another.”  We are. But sometimes peace requires confrontation. The church suffers greatly because we are not willing to confront uncomfortable issues. Like what a Christian should look like. The writer pointed to two specific things: Love and good deeds. 

Jesus said that love would be the distinguishing mark of His followers (John 13:35) and you may recall that the only directive Jesus gave was when He commanded us to love one another (John 15:17). John went a step further (on someone’s toes) and said if you don’t love believers in Christ, that’s a good indication that you are not in Christ (1 John 2:9-11). Love is non-negotiable for the Christian.

We are also called to do good deeds. Paul said that we are saved by grace through faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). But James said that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Who’s right here? Both. Salvation comes by faith in the grace of God and is evidenced by good works. No, you don’t have to go to Calcutta and join Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity to prove that you are a Christian. Simple acts of love, kindness, gentleness, and compassion are good fruit in the believer’s life. Hate, harshness, rudeness, and indifference are evidence that one is not a Christ-follower. If there’s no good fruit there is no root in Christ.

Love and good deeds are the identifying marks of the Christian. If neither is present, then Christ is not present. If that makes you mad then take it up with God – He’s the one who said it first, not me. Also you might need to re-examine your relationship with Him.

The writer of wisdom said, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Prov 27:17). Sharpening iron involves rubbing it with an abrasive stone to grind the edge. Sometimes we need kind words and other times we need a gritty whetstone. I’m called to give you both. I love you too much to not tell you the whole truth, even if it makes you mad.

The More You Know . . .

To know, know, know him is to love, love, love him

Just to see him smile make my life worthwhile

To know, know, know him is to love, love, love him

And I do.

Written by Phil Spector and first recorded by “The Teddy Bears,” this song hit the number one spot in 1958. Through the years it was covered by many other artists and I bet as you read those lyrics, you were singing the melody. I know I did as I typed them. One of my daily prayers for my granddaughter is that she will grow in the knowledge of God and love for God every day of her life.  Because the more she knows God, the more she will love Him. How can she not?

When she knows that God is holy, when she knows that He is righteous, when she knows that He is high and lifted up and that He not only sees her but cares about her (Gen 16:13)  . . . when she knows that He is mighty, when she knows that He uses His power on her behalf (Eph 3:20) . . . when she knows that God is faithful and will “never leave [her] nor forsake [her] (Jos 1:5), when she grasps “how wide and long and high and deep” is His love for her (Eph 3:18) and understands that “nothing can separate [her] from the love of God (Rom 8:38-39) . . . when she knows that He loves her so much that “He sent His one and only Son” to die to save her (John 3:16) . . .

How can you not? Perhaps it never occurred to you that you can know God, but over and over His Word invites us to do just that. Paul prayed that believers will “know this love that surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3:19). I have discovered that the more I come to know Him, the more I love Him and the more I love Him the more I want to know Him. Beloved, can there be any better pursuit for your life than to seek to know God? “My heart says of You, “Seek His face!” Your face Lord, I will seek” (Psalm 27:8).

Think Bigger, Pray Bigger

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What are you asking God for today? What do you imagine He will do in your situation? You need to imagine bigger and pray wider. Why do I say that? Because the Bible says, “Now, to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine . . .” (Eph 3:20). Whatever you’re asking, and however you think God will move is so much less than He has in mind.

Take the disciples. When Jesus called Peter and Andrew, they were content to spend their lives casting nets over the side of a boat as fishermen. Jesus said, “Come, follow me, and I will me you fishers of men” (Matt 4:19). They had no idea how big that be, but they were the first seeds of God’s plan to change the world. Even after spending more than three years in ministry with Him, they still had such a small vision of who He was and what He came to do. After His resurrection, he met two of His disciples walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. When He asked them what they were discussing, they explained that they were talking about “Jesus of Nazareth” (I almost envision the Lord chuckling to Himself) who had died just three days before. They said, “we had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:13-21). But they were thinking too small because Jesus came to redeem the whole world, not just one nation.

But there’s something else I want you to see – something God revealed to me I’d never seen before. Look back at verse 20 – what is the first word? “Now.” Now indicates a continuation of the previous thought. What was Paul’s previous thought? He was praying to the Father for the believers in Ephesus, that they might be strengthened with the power of His Spirit, that they would have faith, and that they would be “rooted and established in love” and “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” and know this “love that surpasses knowledge.” And get this: that they “may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:14-19).

Then he said, “God is able to do more than all [I’m] asking.” Can you imagine what the world would be like if we believed God for all that? Imagine bigger, Beloved, this is God we’re talking about.