LentBlog 2015, Day 26: Paul’s Concluding Request

Ephesians 6:18-23, NRSV:

 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel,[d] 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

21 So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus will tell you everything. He is a dear brother and a faithful minister in the Lord. 22 I am sending him to you for this very purpose, to let you know how we are, and to encourage your hearts.

23 Peace be to the whole community,[e] and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace be with all who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ


Ya gotta love passages like this in Paul. He’s in prison, chained for proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus as the Messiah. His Jewish countrymen for the most part want his head on a plate. And as he concludes his letter to the church at Ephesus, he asks for their prayers. NOT so he can get our of jail. NOT that his circumstance will change. NOT so that he can get out there and start more churches or something. He asks them to pray that he would be able to preach with clarity and boldness about the Lord Jesus, which is the reason he’s in chains in the first place.

It’s almost as if he’s got other priorities than his level of comfort or something.

More I’m thinking about in relation to this, but I shant publish it publicly. 🙂

Blessings,

Mark

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Lentblog 2015. Day 25:

Ephesians 6:10-17, NRSV:

 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our[b]struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these,[c] take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.


Again, so much has been written about this passage… it’s so prevalent among spiritual “warriors” out there… I think tonight I’ll keep it simple. Just some of my first thoughts as I read through it.

v.10- our strength is in the Lord, and comes from God’s power. Seems to me this is a good thing to remember, lest spirituality become some sort of “me” power trip, which I’m convinced it’s not, faith healers, prosperity gospel folks, and name-it-claim-it nonsense to the contrary.

v.11– if we are in God… through Christ… we will stand against anything the devil throws at us. It’s not a fair fight, even. God is that much more powerful.

v.12– see yesterdays post. 🙂

v.13–  again here the armor is God’s, not mine. These are gifts of grace, not human design. And the whole goal seems to stand, not militantly conquer.

v.14–  truth keeps your pants on… holds everything up and keeps it together. Again, Jesus is truth… truth isn’t some set of things to learn and agree with. Righteousness covers the vital organs, and forms the front of the uniform, like where the insignia might be. Righteousness in Paul is by grace through faith…

v.15 ::screeching tires sound:: wait… I thought we were at war here… I thought these are weapons of a new Christian empire or something… No… It says wear on your feet whatever makes you ready to proclaim the Gospel of PEACE.

v. 16:– Shield of faith protects… extinguishes attack, keeps one alive in the midst of the barrage. By faith.

v. 17:– Salvation protects your head. Again we are protected by something we can’t take credit for. It’s a gift.  Then finally, the sword of the spirit… it isn’t lost on me that out of all the pieces of armor mentioned here, only one is actually a offensive weapon. Everything else is defensive. And by “word of God” here Paul tends to mean more than just like the Bible or something… Much as I hate to disappoint all the folks doing “sword drills” tomorrow in church. Scripturally, cool stuff happens when God speaks… and He speaks through the Spirit.

Blessings,

Mark

Lentblog Day 24: Choose your battles.

Ephesians 6:10-12 NRSV:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our[b]struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.


Confession time:  I cannot stand the hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers.” This is really too bad, because it gives a decent hymntune a bad rap, but I refuse to sing it. The lyrics glorify some sort of Christian Crusade straight out of the bad old days. I tend to agree with General Patton: “War is Hell.” So, as a Christian, I think it’s a bad idea to view ourselves as in some sort of war with the world, with culture, with folks who don’t believe, with ISIS, or really anyone else. 

This is where Ephesians 6 comes in. Paul reminds us that our struggle is NOT against people. Read it again: our struggle is not against people. It’s NOT. It’s not against the world that does not yet believe. It’s not against culture. It’s not against the Republicans or the Democrats.  We’ve got to understand we’re not at war with anybody, really, and as long as the church keeps trying to find, name, prosecute and persecute “enemies” who are flesh-and-blood people, we will fail in the mission of Jesus, which is to redeem all things. Understand this, church… we fail in being like Jesus when we participate in demonizing other people. 

I’ll admit, this is a tough one for me, but in regards to a totally different people group. Folks outside the church don’t aren’t threatening to me any more. I do not see non-believers, hard-core atheists, or folks who a disillusioned with church as my enemies. (I believe in prevenient grace.)  See, for me, my enemies tend to be “church” folks: folks who claim Christianity, but for various reasons don’t live really at all like Jesus. I have a serious problem with the clergyperson or layperson who preaches or says the right Sunday School answer in a church gathering, but then lives as if none of it is true. I’d rather have a conversation with an honest atheist than with a church person who is just playing games.  So perhaps I too am in danger of failing in the mission of Jesus, because it’s easy for me to think my battle is with those people.

So. Perhaps it’s time for all of us to discover a different way. A more Christlike way. A way that remembers who the real enemies are and who they aren’t. I’m not saying we just need to spiritualize every single thing and blame every bad thing that happens on the Devil or something, excusing peoples’ terrible choices and full-blown sin as OK or something. That position is theologically bankrupt. But. We could better understand this passage from Ephesians, I think, and that might lead us through this present darkness. Inside the church and out.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 23: With Singleness of Heart

Ephesians 6:1-9, NRSV:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord,[a] for this is right.“Honor your father and mother”—this is the first commandment with a promise: “so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.”

And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women,knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free.

And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality.


Methinks this passage is a lot more than just one more of Paul’s “do this, not this” lists for which he is known. And the key is in v.5. He calls on slaves to obey their earthy masters as they obey Jesus. And how do they obey Jesus? “With singleness of heart.”

Because one who follows Jesus with a single-minded heart will be the same person and act the same way whether they are being watched or not. There’s an integrity… a wholeness in the midst of brokenness… that happens when God helps us to love and obey him with a singleness of heart.

And that integrity is not dependent on whether one is slave or free, whether they like their job or not, or whether life is turning out the way they had hoped. It is possible, in Christ, to obey the Lord with a singleness of heart, regardless of circumstance.

May it be so in me. And in you.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 22: Submit.

Ephesians 5:21-33, NRSV:

21 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior.24 Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, 27 so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30 because we are members of his body.[b] 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. 33 Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.


After all that has been said about this passage… all the male appeals to scripture for women to just shut up and submit (or something). All the ways folks have bent and proof-texted snippets of it to prop up their sexism…. I’m not really interested in taking those perspectives apart tonight. Though I do believe this text does, in fact, take them apart. I think I’ll simply invite the 3 or 4 of you who are for some reason reading this to contemplate verse 21:

21 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.

No frills. No big theological treatise. Just think about v. 21. And remember it serves as the heading for the entire passage.

Now let’s get off our high horses and start loving our spouses.

Blessings,

Mark

Lentblog 2015, Day 21: The Music of God’s People.

Ephesians 5:15-20, NRSV:

15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts,20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.


Reading this passage, vv 19-20 jump out at me a little this evening. It says being filled with the Spirit can be accompanied by singing and other kinds of music-making. A couple of things stand out to me:

– The songs happen “among yourselves” (plural). This is, again, a church thing and not an individual thing.

– It doesn’t say they are all “happy-happy-joy-joy” songs, does it? At all times and for everything, our singing is to be eucharistic… “with thanksgiving.” What would it mean for that to include songs of lament, for example? Reading this passage, one might assume that being filled with the Spirit means the stuff we will write and sing will always be happy, energetic, and peppy or something. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t reflect real life. I’m pretty sure someone could be “in the Spirit” and still have a terrible day (or month or year…) and the song in their heart could be one that gives thanks through lament.

-The church as the diverse-yet-unified Body of Christ means we’re not all playing the same instrument, and that’s a good thing. An orchestra really only needs one piccolo, for example. And one set of timpani, unless you’re playing The Planets by Holst. But seriously, if the whole orchestra were a clarinet, where would the french horns be? And an orchestra without horns would be a terribly sad thing.

I wonder what kind of music our people are making this week?

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 20: Living an Exposed Life

Ephesians 5:6-15, NRSV:

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be associated with them.For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly;13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Sleeper, awake!
    Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”


I’m reminded of a photography class I took in high school, back before digital photography really existed. We had these interesting devices called film cameras, dark rooms, and enlarging machines. I guess it’s all pretty primitive now, considering what used to take 1/2 an hour in a dark room now takes 5 clicks on PhotoShop (or paint.net, which I recommend) and hitting print. See, we used to have to tightly control how much exposure to light the film or the paper received. Too much exposure ruined what happened in the dark room.

Light does that, you know. It tends to really mess with what happens in the dark. In real life, light exposes things… makes hidden things visible. There’s no hiding the dirt when the light gets turned up. No more pretending things are clean when they really aren’t. This is the life to which passages like this call us. It’s an exposed life. One where there’s no more hiding, because everything has come to light. No more secrets hidden away in dark corners, shamefully (or not) glad the light hasn’t shown them for what they are.

I think the grown-up life in Jesus means walking in the light. Even welcoming it. Letting God heal those things that are too shameful to even mention. No more shame. No more hiding. No more hypocrisy. No more explaining away our willful sinful behavior using stupid cliche’s like, “I’m not perfect… just forgiven.”  It’s groups of people, living exposed, dancing around in broad daylight, unafraid to be seen for who we are, because who we are is being made holy… like, really holy… by the grace of God.

Are you living exposed?

Blessings,

Mark