Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Starving Millionaires: Ephesians 1 (Day 1)

Ephesians 1:18-21 (Click here to read All of Ephesians 1)
I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 

I once heard a story of an old widow who struggled immensely in the last years of her life.  After her husband had passed, she lived her days always wanting but never having.  Because money was scarce, she chose to stay at home everyday in order to save her pennies.  She wore the same clothes and ate the same simple meals.  She was a lonely widow, left with nothing and nobody.

One day a concerned neighbor decided to help this widow by offering to clean her home.  As they cleaned, the neighbor came across an old tattered envelope with the old widow's name written across the top.  As they opened the envelope, inside was revealed the information regarding a multi-million dollar account that was in the old widow's name.  Her husband had left it for her 20 years earlier before he had passed.  All this time she had lived a life of starvation...yet all this time, she had riches at her fingertips.

I find this story suiting to start out this series, for two reasons.  First, the book of Ephesians alone is a large treasure found among the pages of God's word.  It's easy to be missed, but inside its pages is a priceless knowledge and wisdom to us as believers.  Secondly, the book of Ephesians is themed as a reminder to the church of the strength and treasures we have in Christ.  Treasures that may otherwise go unnoticed and unused.

The first chapter of Ephesians is written by the Apostle Paul from Rome as he is awaiting a final decision regarding his life.  He had been imprisoned and on house arrest for preaching God's word.  And even in his chains he never lost sight of the treasures he had in Christ Jesus.

This letter was a reminder to his dear friends in Ephesus that the only things they truly needed were already in their possession.  This letter was a cry for them to open up their eyes to the glorious riches that they had.

What's ironic about this is that Ephesus was known to be one of the richest cities in all the world.  Materially, it was an economic plethora of riches.  The people were not lacking physical riches...but through their material riches they had missed their inheritance of true riches, spiritual riches.

Strange...sounds much like you and I living in America today. 

Though the entire first chapter is dedicated to all the glorious gifts and riches we possess in Christ, my heart found itself taking refuge in verses 18-21.  The treasure of Christ's power.

POWER.  The average human being doesn't really associate with this word.  I, for one, tend to see myself as powerless in many aspects of my life.  There always seems to be situations, relationships, and circumstances that are many times out of my control.  But power is not defined as control.  Rather, power is defined as the ability to do something.  But my favorite definition of power is this: The source of energy used to operate a system.

The source of energy.  According to Ephesians, that source is within us.  The ability to "do something"...in fact, the ability to do anything is at our disposal because of the power of Christ living within us.  The same power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in our average, mundane, everyday lives.  Just think about that statement for one second.

Power to speak.  Power to affect lives.  Power to heal.  Power to be healed.  Power to live.  Power to change.  Power to bring change. Power to break free.  Power to thrive rather than to "just get through".  Power over our sin.  Power over our selfishness.  Power over our depression, our addictions, our worries and our pain. Power over our relationships, our circumstances, and our situations. 

We have an unlimited bank account of power, with limitless checks at our disposal...yet for some reason, we choose not to use this precious gift.  We choose to try and make it on our own.  We choose to live as millionaires...dying of starvation. 

May God save us from ourselves.  May God open our eyes as Paul prayed for the Ephesians, to see the power that we already possess...and to live in it.  

Grace and peace to all of you.

Incredible song By Hillsong United:
"The Same Power that Conquered the Grave Lives in Me": 

To learn more about the Ephesians 7 Day devotional tour click here.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A 7 Day Tour Of Ephesians:

Dear Friends & Readers,

Let me begin with a thank you- and by saying that all of you have been very important fuel to my writing and I appreciate all the encouragement, comments, emails and interactions I have received as a result of your faithful readership.

But more than anything, this blog has been a source of accountability for me, as well as a gauge of my spiritual-life and the time I am spending in God's word.  You may have noticed busy weeks- with little to no posts.  There have been times of dryness, moments in the desert- where I have interacted with God out of duty rather than passion.  And there have been times overflowing with thoughts and ideas as I am interacting more deeply with God and His word.

This season, I have felt a calling to go deeper in my walk with God...and, naturally, to take this blog with me.  Anyone can read their bibles, but I want to take on the challenge of engaging and interacting with scripture on a very regular basis and encourage my readers to do so as well.

I have decided to listen to God's prompting and take a 7-day tour dedicated to a book of the bible. For seven days, I intend on posting solely from the book of Ephesians- challenging myself to interact with and soak in the many lessons to be learned from God's word and challenging myself to read the six chapters of this book over and over again.

I chose this book because it's original purpose was to encourage and strengthen the body of believers....which I believe is something that I ( and I assume the modern church at large) could use a huge dose of today. 

I am also challenging you to come along with me on this tour.  To get into your bibles every single day, to read the chapters over and over, to soak it in, allowing yourself to engage with and interact with God's words and His spirit in your day to day.  I am challenging you to read along with me everyday, reading the verses I have expanded on through these blog devotionals- but even more importantly: to allow yourself to glean lessons directly from God. 

May this seven day period ignite our desires to get into God's word...and not just take it for granted.  I wrote about this a few months ago in a post:

"You see, I, like many other middle-class, American, Christians...own about 6 bibles.  I have a study bible made of leather, my name inscribed with gold.  I have a couples devotional bible, also inscribed with my name.  I have a pocket bible, to carry in my purse in case I am traveling.  I have an online bible, to use while on my laptop sipping on a Starbucks cup of coffee.  And that's just to name a few.

I am sad to say it, but in my affluence and abundance I have lost something.  I have lost the passion for God's words.  The bible has become so common place in my life that I take it for granted day after day.   Don't get me wrong, I read my bible every day....but you see, that's just where my problem begins, I settle for that.

Let's not settle for simply that.  Let's take time in our lives to allow God's words to mold us and transform us.
So, if you're interested, tune in September 1st as we begin this seven day tour.  And let's encourage others to join us by passing along this link via twitter, face book, and email.  I'm excited to see what happens.

Will you join me?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Angels in Disguise:

Hebrews 13:1-2
Keep on loving each other as brothers.  Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.

The past couple of weeks I have had a lot of extra time on my hands.  I'm not working right now as I anxiously await the birth of our daughter.  This extra time has brought with it many unexpected interactions with strangers- from the cashier at the grocery store to the electrician coming to fix our home.

I've noticed something interesting during these interactions with strangers the past few weeks.  Upon showing a little warmth- people begin to really let their guard down.  The bible talks about this concept in Hebrews 13 as Christians are encouraged to show brotherly love and hospitality to those they come into contact with.  Another translation calls us to show "hospitality" to strangers...a term that doesn't just mean opening our homes, but even more so, opening our hearts.

I've had some significant conversations with strangers the past few weeks...learning about their family struggles, financial problems, relationship concerns.  Hearing about their lives, their jobs and their journeys.  All in all, God has given me miraculous opportunities to share His love.
I don't think there has been anything special about this month, and I don't think these things have been coincidences.  The only change I can seem to really pin point has been me.  I have made myself available.  I have allowed myself to take the time.  I have stepped out of myself for a moment and into the worlds of others.  

And as I read this verses, I can't help but wonder....were these opportunities meant to help others, or were these opportunities really meant to help me?  What if these moments are made to allow me the chance to realize how attached I am to a daily schedule, and to release me into the freedom of God's time-line.  What if they were meant to give me humility by allowing the lives of others to be more important than mine for even just a moment.   What if they were created to allow me to get a glimpse of the true state of my heart?

There is no way to be sure, but one thing is clear- these moments are of high significance.  God want's to know what we are really made of- especially when we think no one is looking.

If what the book of Hebrews is saying is true- we may think we're showing love to strangers...and unknowingly be entertaining something even greater.  Angels.  Seems strange, doesn't it?  Doesn't even seem possible if you really think about it.  But the reality is, this verse is right there- smack dab in the middle of the New Testament.  I'm telling you, it's more than just a strange song by the Newsboys.  Whether we are comfortable with it or not, it is reality.  It's almost as though God has sent these messengers to give us the opportunity to really put our faith into action.  To really live out what we believe. 

I don't know about you, but that will definitely make me think twice about the next conversation I have, for the cashier at the grocery store or the homeless guy on the side of the road may just end up being something divine in disguise.  

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Background Noise: On Life's Significant Moments

Ephesians 6:12
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

I was thinking about what it would look like to take a cross-section of my day and view it from God's perspective.  I would not be surprised in finding out that the things I dub most significant would probably fall under a totally different category from His vantage point.

I got to thinking about this after a conversation I had with my husband.  You see, he is currently involved in some important medical research.  It's funny because going into work everyday this past month, the main focus in his mind was to accomplish productive research and gain beneficial results. 

Recently, his research was pleasantly interrupted by a conversation he had with an Atheist co-worker.  This conversation had significant spiritual implications as they discussed the intricacies of the human body and the possibilities of a Divine Designer.

This got me thinking, because deep down I believe that THESE are the most significant moments in our lives.  These are the treasures buried beneath the sand of our busy schedules.  It's so easy to get caught up in things that have no ultimate significance from an eternal perspective:  that big exam, that new job, the financial situation, that future career goal...but at the end of the day, it's all just background noise.

Don't get me wrong.  I believe God has placed us where we are at for a reason.  If you're a pharmacist, do your job well.  If you deliver Sunday morning papers, do it to the best of your ability.  If you're a doctor, a stay at home mom, or a pastor...pour yourself into doing your best.  But please, never let these roles take priority over the ultimate role we have been given:  to be lovers of God and lovers of man.

These are the things we were created for.

God has given us other things in our lives to enjoy as we are living our ultimate purpose...but it would be a severe tragedy to live our lives focused on the appetizer and never really get to the main course.  And sadly, for many of us...that is a description of our day to day lives.

May we be challenged, today and everyday, to live for the significant moments.  May we be empowered and enabled to see our lives from the perspective of our Savior, savoring the moments of eternal significance and living to love Him and to love others.   

And may everything else begin to fade away as simply background noise. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

God with Skin:

1 John 4:12
No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

I have to admit, my idea of ministry has gone through a divine transformation the past couple of months.  You see, for me, ministry and service to God meant big and bold things.  Serving in foreign countries filled with poverty, helping people deal with intense emotional and spiritual issues, visiting with families in the inner city projects, and trying to leave huge dents of God's love in a world full of pain and brokenness.  

All these are good things, and all these are still a passion of mine that will never die.  But in this season of my life God has called me to something new, something different. 

You see, this new move has left us uprooted from the ministries and the people that we loved.  There are not many homeless men and women in the streets of Hershey, PA.  There isn't row after row of project housing and poverty-stricken areas.  There aren't barefoot children walking around with no food to eat.  But at the end of the day- there are still people.

These people may not be what I had formerly envisioned as "my ministry".  They are dressed well, financially set, and intellectually stimulated.  They are the new set of people that God has placed in my life.  People He still loves.  People He still longs to be in relationship with.  People who's lives still need to be dented by the powerful love of God.

They may not be homeless and needy- but all of them still in need of the same thing:  love and relationship.  This season in my life God has given me much time to devote to either myself...or to others.  As tempting as it sometimes is to choose the former, I am choosing the latter.  I am choosing to try and make myself available to this new kind of ministry, and choosing to allow this new kind of ministry to change me as well.

I am choosing to invest in relationships that I may not have otherwise felt a desire to do.  To invest in people who I may have otherwise passed over.  They may not be "poor" on the outside...but many of them are still poor on the inside.  Longing to fill a void that this life will never succeed in filling.  I am choosing to love, because it is only in love that God is made tangible, it is only in love that He is made complete.

God calls us to love one another and invest in each other no matter what season of life we are in.  He calls us to step out of what we are comfortable and into what matters...even when it's uncomfortable.  He calls us to take His love...and put some skin on it.  Make it real.  Make it believable. 

Choose to make Him tangible to someone today. 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

All This Talk About Faith is Making My Life a Little Crazy...

1 Peter 1:7
These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

The one thing about choosing to blog about your spiritual life is that it forces you to face any kind of hypocrisy you might have going on.  I mean, I can't write a blog about loving my husband and than turn around and disrespect him.  I can't write about what I am learning about encouragement and in the same breath gossip about a friend or give a bad attitude to the slow cashier at WalMart.

There is something about sharing your spiritual journey with others that keeps you accountable.  I usually love and appreciate that accountability.  But this morning, I hated it...because I almost freaked out...

I got a call this morning that the transferring of my license to work as a professional counselor (from IL to PA) which I had anxiously been awaiting had fallen through.  In short this means no work for at least another 2 months.  At least.  The process had already been delayed a month past what I had planned on...and now it's being delayed indefinitely.  In addition to this, I am left with about 90 phone calls to make and 35 letters to send out (okay, not that many, but it sure feels like it).

I immediately went to my husband to whine and complain and vent my frustrations.  What a waste of my time this had all been.  What a slow department and what a complicated process.  What an annoying state we chose to move to...how dare they.  What about the money we were planning on me earning during this time?

Typically, I probably would have spent the next couple days just pouting my shattered plans desperately trying to figure out how to put the pieces together.  But, miraculously- it lasted only about 5 minutes.

I say miraculously because all this talk about faith is changing some things in me.  All this talk about faith is allowing me to take these moments to really put my faith under a microscope and analyze how I handle these situations of pressure and failure.  In all reality, all this talk about faith is making my life a little crazy - because it's forcing me to new levels of faith and belief that I have never really been to before. 

I called my grandma for a pep talk, and she reminded me about lessons of faith even in these little things.  It's a never ending lesson, really.  Just because I had faith last week doesn't mean I will naturally have it today.  I have to work it out.  I have to refine it and prove it genuine.

Just like Paul was saying to the church- these things happen because God wants to prove your faith- not just to Himself, but to you.  Faith, he says, that is of greater worth than gold.  Faith that at the end of the day, when done the right way will result in nothing less than praising God and drawing nearer to Him.  That's my kind of ending to the day.  I'd rather have that than my pouting and whining any day.

So, here we go- in front of all you readers and friends.  I'm choosing to trust God with this dilemma.  I am choosing to wait on Him, trusting that He must have this under control.  I am choosing to take this "opportunity of unemployment" to give God my time and to give others my time.  To encourage, to minister, and to speak into the lives of those around me.  I know this will work out in His exact timing, and until it does I'm going to seek to praise Him with my life and my attitude...even with the darn licensing lady on the phone:)

Hold me to that.  And then ask yourself- how is God proving your faith right now?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Purse full of Candy...and $1,500?: My Grandmother's Faith

Matthew 17:20
I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.

As a child, I used to see my grandma as a sweet and gentle old woman- who always had a plethora of treats.  A purse full of candy for all her grandchildren.  As I'm getting older and the more time I spend with her,  I'm realizing how superficial my opinion of her has been. 

There is more depth and wisdom, more passion and charisma in this one woman than I could have ever imagined.  And most importantly, more faith than I could ever fathom.  I wrote an article a few months back about an interview I had with my grandma.  It was an interview that challenged my faith and my reliance on God than any book I could have read or sermon I could have heard. 

But more recently, I got to experience her faith- and the direct impact that her faith had on my life. 

Seven months ago, I received a significant doctor's bill of $1,500 dollars.  There was a large misunderstanding between my doctor's office and my insurance company, and I was caught in the middle.  Neither of them would take any responsibility for the mistake, and I got stuck with the bill.

My husband and I have been battling this bill for some time now, and it looked like there was no hope in sight.  We were preparing to just deal with it, and make sacrifices- all the while juggling the financial constraints of a new mortgage and the never-ending list of expenses that come with expecting a baby girl in September. 

After a few last-effort phone calls last week (mind you, this is after letter after letter, appeal after appeal, and phone call after phone call), I decided to call my grandma and tell her about it.  For some reason, I find it hard to ask for prayer for matters such as these.  I can pray for lost souls and the physical illnesses of loved ones- but deep down I have always felt a little selfish about praying for finances.  As if these things were unimportant to God- and He had bigger things to worry about.

My grandma would disagree.  From figuring out how to get food on the table to casting out demons and evil spirits- my grandma brings everything to God in prayer.  

And that's what she did.  After hearing my story, without a shadow of doubt in her voice she said, "God will take care of it.  You won't have to pay a thing."   "But grandma...." I wanted to say.  I wanted to explain to her the complexities of insurance companies, and the process of writing appeals and making phone calls.  I wanted her to have a realistic expectation of how this whole thing would turn out...I mean, she's an old woman out of Egypt, surely she didn't understand the complicated process of this whole matter. 

All the while, God wanted to change my perspective of what it really means to be "realistic".  What it really means to have faith.  To have certainty.  To have an assurance beyond a shadow of a doubt that he would provide.

Sometimes I think my grandma's lack of education and child-like perspective helps her have huge faith.  My logic tends to trip me up.  It tends to act as an anchor, making it difficult for my ship of faith to journey into the will of God.  My grandma, on the other hand, knows no other way than faith.  She has a complete certainty in Christ.  To her, there are no other options. 

The next morning I got an unexpected phone call.  The doctor's office and the billing company had discussed our case, and they decided to adjust the entire bill.  100%.  And that was the end of it.  After seven months of battling this thing- it was over in an instant. 

I got off the phone and I just wept.  I didn't even weep because of the money...but I wept because I was so grateful to be carried on the wings of my grandma's incredible faith.  I wept because I serve a God who cares about the details in my life- even the details of a medical bill.  A God who withholds no good thing from those He loves.  I wept because I am learning great lessons about faith and what it means to have a never-ending assurance.  Faith isn't hope.  It isn't a wild dream.  It's not wishful thinking.  It's certainty. 

My grandma lives with that kind of certainty every single day of her life.  And I want to too.