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

Galatians 3-4

“But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’ Through Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, so that we who are believers might receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith.” 3:13-14 

This verse jumped out to me this morning, namely the use of the term “cursed”. Another time this word is used in the Bible is when God curses Satan for provoking the woman to sin in Genesis 3. Yiiiiikes. 

Jesus took upon himself our wrongdoing. He covered us, and we are to follow his example. Give each other grace, put others first and exemplify Christ’s sacrificial love for one another. 

I don’t like being wrong. Even when I’m the one to blame and things are directly my fault. So taking the heat for something I didn’t do and absorbing someone else’s blame feels impossible. But God calls me to this. In marriage, in parenting and in leadership, I’m given a daily opportunity to hold back pointing fingers and meekly let God define who I am. Just this morning, I had the opportunity to defensively protect myself in an email to a coworker. I eagerly wanted to clarify that IT WASN’T MY FAULT OKAY, but restrained. Moments like that are rooted in selfishness and insecurity. I’m afraid that my identity is on the line and my worth is marked by being right. But what do today’s chapters tell us? We are not rule-followers, we are Christ followers. Our identity is in him, not in perfecting our behavior. And he wants us to cover each other. He tells us to turn the other cheek, give up our seat at the head of the table and lay down our lives for a friend. 

Take notice of your tendencies to protect yourself today. 
-Carly 

Galatians 1-2

In Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas are in the cities of Iconium and Lystra, which are part of the Galatian providence. The churches left in these cities were the recipients of this letter. Paul wrote it in Antioch, shortly after, surprised at how quickly everyone had bought in to a “works based salvation gospel”.

The group sugggesting this notion were called Judaizers. They viewed Christianity as a gracious off shoot inclusion of Gentiles version of Judism, and figured these guys needed to be caught up on Jewish law to really be acceptable to their God. 

“Look, if you’re claiming to be some child of Abraham, you’ve got to be circumcised. Judism 101, folks, we’ve been doing this since Day One! Plus, we’ve got a ton of other laws that you should pay attention to. We ignored them, once upon a time… did not end well for us.”

It follows. Except for the part where Jesus fulfilled all the requirements of the law, which were impossible for us to uphold, and gave us His perfect record. THAT is the Gospel.

Paul, who used to be a Pharisee, extremely zealous for the law, understood no one could be made right before God by partially upholding some aspects of the Law. He wanted to shut down this nonsense ASAP.

You’re either saved by grace through faith in Christ, or dead in your sins as pointed out by the Law. There is no both and.

“We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” (2:16)

How quickly we also convince  each other to tact on works to our salvation. This is not freedom, but slavery to that which we were freed.

Now, there are principles in the Law that still are wise to observe in our cultural context, because God has always given His people wise instructions (I.e. How to wash your hands, not having idols, not murdering, etc). If we think those things are the brownie points getting us a ticket to heaven, however, we are sorely mistaken.

Putting the weight of our Salvation on our own shoulders only breeds bad things: pride or arrogance under the impression of success, or shame spiral insecurities under the impression of failure. Neither are God’s lifestyle designs for His children. Christ’s death and resurrection was to bring us abundant life!

It’s easy to see why Paul is taking this issue so seriously. “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”

Where do you see yourself on this issue? Is there a work you expect of yourself and others to prove Salvation? Is there something you’ve done, which has become a point of pride or a twinge of shame? Submit all these things to the blood of Christ!

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

-Bethany

2 Kings 25

I read through this last chapter in my chronological Bible and I loved the commentary on it, so I’m sharing it with you:

“The book of 2 Kings opens with Elijah being carried to heaven-the destination awaiting those who follow God. But the book ends with the people of Judah being carried off to foreign lands as humiliated slaves-the result of failing to follow God. The book of 2 Kings is an illustration of what happens when we make anything more important than God, when we make ruinous alliances, when our consciences become desensitized to right and wrong, and when we are no longer able to discern God’s purpose for our lives. We may fail, like the people of Judah and Israel, but God’s promises do not. He is always available to help us straighten out our lives and start over. And that is just what would happen in the book of Ezra. When the people acknowledged their sins, God was ready and willing to help return to their land and start again.” (NLT Chronological Life Application Bible, pg 1134)

Those words are beautiful and wrap up this book better than I feel able to.

I love reflection. As soon as we get into the car after something social, I’m already 340 words into verbally processing the evening before my poor husband has his seatbelt buckled.

Here are a few questions I’m asking myself as I reflect on this book:

  1. How is my relationship with God similar to Israel’s?
  2. What specifically am I making more important than God?
  3. This book had a lot to say about leaders. How will it impact my heart and actions as I approach the upcoming presidential elections next month?

Up next, we will being reading through the small epistles (Paul’s letters to the church), starting with Galatians. After that, we’re diving in to Genesis! Back to the beginning.

 

-Carly

 

 

 

2 Kings 23-24

It took a LOT of work to overhaul the land of Israel and get out all those idols. SO MUCH SMASHING! Hauling everything to Kidron, sorting through dead bodies for common folk bones… Nasty work, but important work, which the LORD certainly honored. 

How discouraging to see the next king quickly turn the car around to get back on the ol’ path of destruction. It doesn’t take long for things to tumble out of control. The LORD was ready to put this one down. 

I thought it was interesting that Josiah’s Passover was the first since the beginning of the judges period. That means David, for all his “after God’s own heart”-ness, never had Israel celebrate Passover. 

It’s also interesting to me, how seriously Passover was observed during the life of Jesus. Jews got pretty hard-lined about rules and festivals post exile. 

All this says to me, is the heart of the people and the influence of government is a strange relationship. It says over and over that Jeroboam “caused Israel to commit” idolatry. He told them the golden calves in Bethel and Dan represented the God of Israel. He manipulated them. The LORD repeatedly held him responsible for this. Over time, the people got real comfortable with the gods of Ammon, Sidon, Moab, etc. It makes you wonder which percentage of the population were rolling their eyes or even crying over the reforms of Josiah. It really doesn’t say a lot about the attitude of the people. All we know is that they all joined the covenant in 23:3. We also know Josiah’s son was immediately ready to push the reset button.

Leaders are accountable to where they lead their people, but, you know, we’re in the New Covenant and the Law is now written on our hearts. We’re able to understand the Scriptures,  now, because of the Holy Spirit. He’s taken our hearts of stone and exchanged them for hearts of flesh. Personal responsibility is a thing. 

No matter who our next President is, we’re all responsible to the LORD. What is written on our hearts? Loving our neighbors? Serving the poor? Trusting the Word of the LORD? Loving the orphan, widow and foreigner? 

There’s more in our hands than we’d like to admit. Our next president could be a glorious modern day Josiah and we’d most likely tolerate him and revert back to our old ways as soon as he was out of office. 

At this point in their story, exile was right around the corner. For us, who knows? Some say world war 3. Ask the Holy Spirit what kind of leader He would have you be.

-Bethany

2 Kings 21-22

The contrast between Manasseh and Josiah is so striking. Even reading the words on the page summarizing Manasseh’s evil practices makes my stomach turn. If you are interested in reading a little more about Manasseh’s story, read 2 Chronicles 33-34. I was surprised to read that he too humbles himself to God after a lifetime of evil. And God shows him mercy.

When I read this story about two different kings leading in two very different ways, I asked myself: how am I like Manasseh? How am I like Josiah? And, what does this story tell us about God?

Manasseh didn’t trust God (clearly). “He practiced sorcery and divination, and he consulted with mediums and psychics. He did much that was evil in the Lord’s sight, arousing his anger.” Sorcery and psychic readings are something I’ve never toyed with, but I can admit to a willingness to know the future. There are lots of tv shows, books and even games out there that appeal to this desire in people, because it’s a pretty consistent longing in all humans. What’s going to happen? I tend to think that if I just know what’s going to happen, I won’t be anxious, angry or impatient. Not only are these activities (consulting mediums, etc) directly disobeying God (Deut. 18:9-13), but it demonstrates a lack of faith in him. Loving God is trusting him and giving him control. This is terrifying! Yet freeing.

To be honest, I struggled to find a way to relate to Josiah. Adolescence was not exactly my shining moment. But his story greatly encouraged me to take parenting seriously. God does not have an age requirement before he starts using us. If you’re not a parent, there are still ways to get involved in raising up good kids. Children are the future leaders of our church and our world. Foster care, children’s ministry, youth group and local kids programs are just a few opportunities that are out there. I’m convicted this morning to take my role seriously as a parent, an aunt, a friend, a neighbor and a church member to children and teens out there.

God goes a long way to get a hold of our hearts. I’d encourage you to read those chapters in 2 Chronicles. What can we learn about forgiveness and mercy from this story?

 

-Carly

 

 

2 Kings 19-20

Okay, we need to make a habit of what Hezekiah does here: reads the letter then lays it before the LORD. “What am I supposed to do about this?” 

I love the LORD’s sassy reply. “My daughter will flip her hair at you as you flee.” Ha! Take that, you smug Assyrians! He will save the city for His own sake and for the sake of David, His servant.

“That night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death 185,000 in the Assyrian camp”

(Fun side note: the king’s assassins fled to the land of Ararat! Which is where I currently am!)

Later in Hezekiah’s life, he is diagnosed with a fatal sickness. Isaiah says, yeah, you will not recover. At this point, many of us would give up, or accept our fate. As Muslims would say, “inshallah”, or “as God wills”. Christians also say this in our own way. I’ve done this! We give up too early and accept too quickly. 

Hezekiah probably didn’t think his sad prayer would make a difference, but in that moment he spoke to the LORD through tears, “don’t you remember how whole heartedly I’ve been devoted to you?”

BOOM. The LORD stops Isaiah in his tracks and tells him to go back and report His decision to extend the king’s life. Prayer makes a difference. Relationship with the LORD makes a difference. “You do not have, because you do not ask.” (James 4:2)

Remember how after all the wicked things Judah had done, when Hezekiah turned to the LORD, He immediately swooped in and called Israel His Virgin Daughter. He loves His people, and how quickly He rescues His kids when they cry out to Him! He cares for us more deeply than we could imagine!

Is there something you’ve accepted as “probably God’s will”? Have you given up something, forgetting He is your loving Father? We can’t pretend to know what God’s hard, fast, specific plan is for each of us, but we can affect it. 

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread will give him a stone? Or if he asks for fish will give him a snake? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:9-11)

Let’s challenge ourselves to pray boldly, as God’s dearly loved children.

-Bethany