Colossians 1-2

“He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.” (1:13)

“He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them.” (2:15)

“Let no one disqualify you.” (2:18)

You’re not in or out based on rule following anymore. You have been transferred out of the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of Christ!

Jesus is not an alternative medicine, quick fix, emotional crutch. He is Destroyer of Death, Embarrasser of Evil, Creator of the Universe, Firstborn From The Dead, Image of the Invisible God… and guess what??? Our lives are hidden inside His life! We are identified with Him! 

If this truth seeps down to our roots–we are transformed! Deeply, thoroughly, completely, revolutionary. There is suddenly nothing to fear and everything to celebrate.

Understanding this is a Spiritual battle. If you struggle with identity (as we all constantly do), PRAY! Let’s pray this for each other:

“That you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” (1:9-13)

And let’s not forget to worship our glorious Savior!

-Bethany

Philippians 3-4

“….I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.” 3:13-16

I like this. I feel encouraged to strive for a godly character, but not shamed for the ways I fall short. I’m reminded to look back on my past, but not dwell on it. To let go and instead cling to the progress I have already made. 

I also appreciate the patience in Paul’s words when he says he’s going to rely on the Holy Spirit to make things clear to people. He doesn’t suggest jumping on social media and debating the fine print of Christianity, but seems to shrug it off and trust God. People do not convince people. I’ve never seen anyone be talked or shamed into conviction or changing their mind. (If you have, teach me your ways.) God uses people and speaks through them, sure. But it’s the Holy Spirit alone that changes, and I often seem to forget that.

Chapter 4 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible and I’ve often tried to memorize it. Paul’s  writing voice is such a great reminder to be encouraging when speaking to other believers and above all else: rejoice in the Lord. There are many terrible things to dwell on and plenty of arguments to have, but let’s “fix our thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. “
-Carly 

Philippians 1-2

Our faith is relational. Paul’s heart for the Philippians leaps off the page! “I hold you in my heart” he says, like that E. E. Cummings poem everyone loves. “Standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” If you’re running this race alone, it’s all wrong. 

Chapter 2 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. At different points of my life, I’ve had it all memorized (now it’s probably in pieces). My Sunday School teacher (and bonus father figure growing up), Mark Gosvener, told us that if we could memorize and live out 2:3-4, we would really nail this Christianity thing:

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” 

This has become my anthem in youth ministry as well. If we’re all looking out for only ourselves, there’s just one set of eyes, seeing one perspective. But if a group of 5 people all commit to looking out for each other, they’ve all got 4 sets of eyes covering all angles. This is better, no?

What does this take? HUMILITY. Cue verses 5-11 where we read the best “for example” of all time: Jesus Christ. The Greatest Person Ever, humbled himself to the lowest low–to death–and, there, receives the Highest Title. The Name above every name. 

Our reflex is to be proud, self preserving, untrusting, painfully vain (thanks selfie mode), but this must not be our way if we want to live life fully and truly. Only when we grasp this can we begin to wrap our minds around 1:21 “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain”.

Jesus knew exactly who he was and laid it aside for us. Who are you? What does it look like to lay your life down for others?

-Bethany

Ephesians 5-6

These are chapters I’m familiar with. Words I’ve read before that have encouraged me, maybe irritated me and that I’ve pushed up against. Something I love about rereading the Bible is how it speaks to you in different tones in different times of your life. Truth doesn’t change, but the way we receive it does, based on our maturity level, softness of our heart and what the Spirit is wanting to tell us.

This time around, instead of getting stuck on the details of the text, I was struck by the sequence of Paul’s message. I read it fluidly, instead of yanking out a particular verse from it’s context. Chapter five and most of six seems to be setting up his point in the last couple paragraphs of the letter.

First, he tells us “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”. Assuming that this might lead to entitlement, he clarifies that husbands are to love their wives as much as they love themselves. Then he tells children to obey their parents, putting extreme emphasis on it. He urges fathers to take on an active role in bringing up children.

He zooms out more. Slaves, obey your masters. Is slavery okay? No. But we are to imitate Christ, who served humbly and enthusiastically in a position he wasn’t suppose to be in.

Then, he wraps it up perfectly with a remind that our battle is not with each other. Don’t get hung up on all this stuff. Don’t get distracted by bickering with your spouse. Don’t resent your parents. Don’t fixate on hating your boss at work. These are all distractions perfectly crafted by Satan to keep us focused on ourselves and out of the real battle. “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rules and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” 6:12

Paul covers some major issues in these chapters, and I deeply appreciate that he acknowledges them. 13 year-old me needed to hear that obeying my parents had eternal weight to it. Newly-married me needed someone to address submission. These are great verses and topics to push up against and unpack in a godly, productive manner. But we are so distracted by these dynamics. The last thing Paul wanted was us to take a sentence or two out of the message and get hung up on the specifications of it. It’s the opposite. These aren’t blanket statements about how God feels about oppression. Paul is addressing our earthly relationships and the tension that comes from them to say stay strong, it’s not about that. 

In the past, these verses have made me feel like God doesn’t care about my freedom. I only saw Christians twisting these words, leaving people oppressed and hurt. But really, he cares quite deeply about our freedom and gave himself up for it. He’s just not guaranteeing earthly freedom. People mistreat each other, lord power over one another and enslave their peers. Paul instructs us how to live properly in these relationships and waves us over to where the real freedom is: in Christ.

Paul tells us, gear up for spiritual battle. “Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.” 6:18

Is there someone you need to approach? A feud you need to end, an apology you need to make, reconciliation to achieve? Something that’s distracting your prayer life, taking your time away from loving your neighbors? Don’t give these things power to distract you and take up room in your heart.

Let’s aside time to pray for others, clothe ourselves in the spiritual armor we have and untangle ourself from Satan’s distractions. We have much, much bigger battles to fight.

 

-Carly

 

 

 

Ephesians 3-4

“Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” (3:6)

HALLELUJAH!! We have been adopted into the family of God! This new identity shapes everything.

During my time here, in Armenia, I have had a few conversations with a couple evangelical Christians  about what makes someone a “good Christian”: No smoking (which is a big one for guys, because smoking here is what makes you a man), no tattoos, and no drinking (again, big deal for guys, because vodka). I didn’t find any major cultural sacrifices for women. 

Domestic violence is a major problem in this country, so when I noticed “friendly slapping” happening a lot between guys and gals, I would always say, “HEY! No hitting!” Which was always laughed off. One time I followed it up with, “American Christian guys have tattoos and drink, but they do not hit girls!” This was an impossible idea to swallow. Another time a girl was woefully telling me they think their brother is no longer a Christian, because she knows he smokes sometimes and I had enough.

WHAT REALLY MAKES US CHRISTIAN? Ephesians 1-3

  • The gracious choice of God
  • The redemptive blood of Jesus
  • Being “in Christ”
  • Adoption into God’s family
  • The seal of the Holy Spirit

HOW CAN YOU RECOGNIZE A CHRISTIAN? Ephesians 4-6

  • Humility 
  • Gentleness 
  • Patience
  • Love
  • Unity
  • Peace 
  • Respect 

Christianity isn’t being counter-cultural by modified behavior. It is being counter-earthling by understanding our identity in a Heavenly Family; a family marked by unconditional love and unshakable security.

You can decide to abstain from whatever activity you want, but the WHY will always be most important. Is it to inherit God’s favor? You have that! Is it to distinguish yourself from others? You are!

“Stop living like a Gentile (non family member)!” Paul implores. Why? They don’t get it! “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and given themselves up.” (4:18-19)

We did not find Christ this way. He has given us a New Spirit.

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” (4:25)

Surely we all have behaviors we modified when we started following Christ. Today I challenge us to check our why. Is it to be a “good Christian”? Or is it because of our identiy in Christ, filled with the Spirit, members of God’s family?

Let’s not put the yoke of “should” and “should not” on each other, but instead be constantly reminding each other of this great and glorious TRUTH.

-Bethany 

Ephesians 1-2

Ephesians. Christianity in a nut shell. This is another one of Paul’s letters, although he never gets as specific or personal as he does in his others. The general consensus is that he’s writing to the church of Ephesus, where he ministered for three years (Acts 19-20).

This is a beautiful book to refresh your heart in Christ. This morning, I loved this verse:

“Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” 2:9

Masterpiece. Someone’s best work. A project you’ve poured into, sacrificed time, energy and resources for. Something you get protective over, you love and even adore because of what it means to you. Something you’re proud of. What’s something you consider a masterpiece? 

That’s a fraction of how Christ feels about us. And I love this verse, because no one is specified. Not Jews, Gentiles, men, women of any race or region. Christ’s love is equally available to all of us. And as the first words of the verse insist, there is nothing we can do to earn it. There is so much freedom in that concept for my people-pleasing, performance-prone heart.

What verse jumped out to you today?

 

-Carly

Galatians 5-6

“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (5:13-14)

Before Christ, we were slaves–sin and death ruled us–but Christ came and defeated sin and death, setting us free! Not in a “free to sin away our lives and still go to heaven” way, but in a “now you have the power to choose the right thing” way. His Spirit is within us! And what is His Spirit longing for us to choose? LOVE!

Thinking back to our old friend Josiah and his worthless heir, God says to his son in Jeremiah 22:15-16 “Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? Declares the LORD.” Knowing God is to love others. Caring about your fellow man is His hearts cry. He saved us so we could freely love.

To quote Les Miserables “To love another person is to see the face of God”.

How, then, do we love? Know there are two contrary impulses within you. The flesh and the Spirit. The flesh loves in a selfish, perverted, impulsive, insecure way. The Spirit loves in joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. “Against such things there is no law”. If mankind was fully surrendered to the Holy Spirit we wouldn’t need rules.

But, alas, here we are, awaiting the return of Christ and the second resurrection, so what do we do in the meantime? Take care of one another. Don’t compare and get conceited or insecure. Bear one another’s burdens. Be quick to forgive. Remain accountable to the Spirit; we can only control ourselves. Don’t get tired of doing the right thing. Persevere!

Keep on keepin’ on my friends! Share your burdens. We’re in this together, remember?

-Bethany