Ephesians 1

He chose us in him before the world was made, so as to be holy and irreproachable before him in love. He foreordained us for himself, to be adopted through Jesus the king. That’s how he wanted it, and that’s what gave him delight, so that the glory of his grace, the grace he poured on us in his beloved one, might receive its due praise.

We are chosen by God through Jesus before we were born. Actually, before the universe is born. We are his and he will never turn us away, but instead we have his pure love. We are connected to God through Jesus.

But notice we are not chosen for the sake of ourselves. We are chosen because of what God wants to do through us in his plans. That “the grace he poured on us in his beloved one, might receive its due praise.”

To be chosen is to go beyond salvation. Salvation is only part of the process. Salvation is the beginning and God moves beyond our salvation and works through us to fulfill his plan. Bringing in his Kingdom. Your actual life is the way God is bringing his Kingdom into the lives of people you influence.

And it’s the same for a community of Christians. A church community is not chosen for itself only, but that it is expanded out into the surrounding world so God can work through it.

And because God is most present where his work is being done, you are most vibrant when you are doing that work. Your church is most vibrant when it is doing God’s work in the world. Slowly American churches are discovering this.

It isn’t the size of your church that is a measure of God’s influence, it is the vibrancy of your people and how they are responding to work for God in the community.  The most effective mission work and Kingdom influence always occurs where few are gathered or one-on-one to have compassion and spread joy. This is the way large churches connect to their community. This is the way small churches connect to their community.

Kingdom influence isn’t about the stadium as much as it is the street.

ME

Americans are caught up in a celebrity culture. How does this affect the Christian Church?

 

Ephesians 1

From Paul, one of King Jesus’ apostles through God’s purpose, to the holy ones in Ephesus who are also loyal believers in King Jesus: may God our father and the Lord Jesus, the king, give you grace and peace! Let us bless God, the father of our Lord Jesus, the king! He has blessed us in the king with every spirit-inspired blessing in the heavenly realm.

Ephesus was a center of the Christian Faith in the earliest days of Christianity. St. Paul worked here as a tentmaker, probably supplying the Roman army. He would take a break at midday and rent a lecture hall to train up people to go out and plant mission outposts. We hear about some of these outposts as they are written to by Paul. The church at Collosae is one such place, where we get a letter Paul wrote to them, the letter to the Colossians.

It is likely the Letter to the Ephesians is a circular letter which is meant for many different groups to read.  Like a group email.  It might be more accurate to call it the letter from Ephesus, as this could be a letter in their possession they send out when Paul was imprisoned.

Let us bless God, the father of our Lord Jesus, the king!

Ephesians begins with worship. This is appropriate. Whenever we think of God the Father, we remember he comes to us directly. He is not hidden or obscure. He sends Jesus to bring all people together in him.

Then a very powerful thought comes through right away. Because Jesus is in God, we receive the same blessings he does as we are in the King.

He has blessed us in the king with every spirit-inspired blessing in the heavenly realm.

The things of heaven are available to us as we are in Christ. Do you know how strong that makes us? Whatever is happening around us, we are his and we know we are secure. We can stake our lives on that.

ME

Consider the ways you are living your life this week as an act of worship to God.

 

Psalm 134

May the Lord who made heaven and earth bless you from Zion.

This is the last verse of the last song of Ascent. It is appropriate because the Jewish people thought God was present especially in Zion, another name for Jerusalem. God would come down to the Temple. This is why Jerusalem and the Temple were so critical to the faith life of Jesus and his fellow Jews.

But, there was a major crisis to the Jewish faith when the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD. The Temple was the only place they had true worship. So, now what? Well, the synagogue, the house of teaching, became prominent. But, it was the home that became the center place for focusing on God, in particular on the Sabbath.

The destruction of the Temple was not a crisis for the Christians who followed Jesus. They believed Jesus himself became the Temple. We follow this same teaching.  Wherever those who love Jesus live, there is your Temple. Where we live, where we work, where we spend our time, that’s the Temple as we bless others.

And like our Jewish friends, this begins in the home.

ME

What are some ways you can make progress in making your home a house of blessing? Try it out.

 

Psalm 134

Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the Lord.

Some Christians, including myself, will raise their hands on occasion, while singing worship songs. Or when praying. This opens up my body more, and gives me a sense of joy. We are wired for this. Watch any toddler react to their mommy or daddy.

This is how Jesus sang songs and prayed. With hands lifted high. In fact, when it comes to prayer in the Bible, the one body maneuver not mentioned is “Fold your hands, bow your heads, and close your eyes.”

The Bible talks about lifting up our hands 21 times. There is something about singing and prayer and using our body. Everyone does this at a sport’s event, right? Get’s their body into it? Well, God is bigger than any sport’s team you can think of. It’s time to get your praise on…

ME

Besides hearing and speaking, how do you experience God with your other senses?

 

Exodus 23

14 Three times in the year you must celebrate a feast to Me…

15 You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread. For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, in the appointed time of the month Aviv, for in it you came out from Egypt. No one shall appear before Me empty-handed…

In ancient Israel there are three major festivals. The feast of Passover, the feast of Weeks or Pentecost, and the feast of Tabernacles or Booths. These are called “Pilgrimage” festivals because anyone who could afford it was to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate.

These are the festivals Jesus attends throughout his life. To get from Galilee to Jerusalem took about five days walking. Just like today, the people on pilgrimage would sing songs to ease the monotony. But, instead of “The Wheels on the Bus,” or “99 Bottles of Beer,” their travel songs are from the Jewish songbook, the book of Psalms.

When the pilgrims finally arrive at Jericho, the last part of the hike is the toughest. They would climb 18 miles, ascending almost 4000 feet, to get to Jerusalem. This final leg was a time for special songs called Songs of Ascents. The songs of Ascents are Psalm 120-134. These Psalms are known for using repetition and keywords, like any modern song.

ME

What is your favorite faith song? Why is it meaningful for you?

Psalm 110:4

The Lord has taken an oath and will not break his vow: “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”

Who is Melchizedek?

In Genesis 14, he is the mysterious king of Salem. This is the area of Jerusalem before it was Jerusalem. Abraham met this king and was blessed by him. Melchizedek means literally, King Righteous.

I tend to agree with folks who think Melchizedek is an appearance of Jesus in the Old Testament. Either he is a human king who acts like Jesus, or this is an appearance of Jesus, himself.

In the book of Hebrews from the New Testament, the Melchizedek/ Jesus connection is made.

Hebrews 5

Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him. And God designated him to be a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Jesus is the Priest/ King. And because now Jesus connects us to God, we are also priest/kings. We are now those who take on this same function when we connect people to God. We bring the joy of the Lord through forgiveness, healing, encouragement, and bringing rightness and fairness to the world.

ME

You are God’s daughter (son) deserving of love and respect and God is using you to change the world. Remember? Keep this phrase before your eyes and thoughts. Repeat frequently…

Psalm 105

Remember the wonders he has performed, his miracles… 

God has worked in your life in the past. He has blessed you.

He wants you to remember this. Are you grateful that God has worked in your life? Then remember it.

The God Times devotions you are reading begin each day with the same instruction.

Spend 5 minutes before you read thinking about one or two things you appreciate in your life. These appreciation memories will enhance everything that follows. 

When we daily think about things we are grateful for, we bring healing to our brains. Gratitude. From medical journals to psychology blogs to yoga instructions, to Christian how-to steps, every health website, every magazine seems to have a article or blog about the same thing.

Being grateful.

Everyone has jumped on the bandwagon of what King David and God’s people have always known to be true. Spend time being grateful each day. This wisdom is now as prevalent as the instruction to drink plenty of water.

Just google the word, “gratitude.”

OK, so why is this so important? It is important to remember what you are grateful for because God wires the brain to work best in an environment of appreciation.

You don’t even have to believe in God to know this. In an article I read, “Gratitude without God,” an evolutionary psychologist said this.

The evolutionary explanation for this, he said, is probably that gratitude helps people initiate friendships and alliances—which then help people survive.

I guess everyone knows that daily gratitude is important, it’s just those who trust in God get to thank the source. By remembering the good things God brings into our lives, it  strengthens our health and strengthens our faith. Again this is worship. By spending time each day thinking about what we appreciate, we are declaring God worthy.

ME

How are your times of appreciation going? Actually do this. It’s good for you. Three times a day for 5 minutes for 30 days will rewire your brain. Just start with today…

Psalm 105

Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him.

When I search for God and his strength, I am looking to discover where he is the strongest. Well, Jesus tells us he is present strongest in those who have the greatest need.

Matthew 25

35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

The presence of Jesus is strongest where the blessings of Jesus are needed.

Feeding and clothing those in need. Bringing a healing word to the sick, visiting those in prison.Christians may be involved in all of those things. But, there is something else Jesus instructs that only you, personally can do.

“I was a stranger and you invited me into your home.”

Another way of saying this is, “You didn’t know me and you invited me into your life.”

Who don’t you know that is close to you? Who don’t you know whom can invite into your life? Probably someone who is literally, “your neighbor.”

Let’s focus here. Most of us don’t know our neighbors. But, you are the only one who knows if someone is a stranger to you or not. You are the only one who can connect with this person in your life. This is another way of loving your neighbor.

Do you know the people who live around you? God is with them and inviting you to make them a part of your life.

“But, I don’t know my neighbors because they are never home. They live behind a big fence. They don’t speak English that well…”

OK, you have to start somewhere. A good place to start is to take a walk. As you are walking pray for the houses or apartments you walk by. “God bless the people in this house. God let your love shine on the people who come and go from this home today.”

Just walk and pray. Don’t try to get somebody to talk to you. Heaven forbid, don’t knock on their door. Just pray.

Now if for some reason your neighbor actually appears. or if someone else is walking in the same neighborhood, do this. Look at them, smile and say, “How you doing? Hi. Good Morning.”

OK. that’s enough. You start walking your neighborhood, praying silently for the people who live there, God will do the rest.

ME

Walk in your neighborhood this week. Silently pray for people who live in the houses and apartments you pass. That’s it…

Psalm 105

Exult in his holy name; rejoice, you who worship the Lord.

To exult, is to rely on. To put your trust in. When we rely on God and put our trust in him, we are saying he is worthy. And that is the definition of “worship.” “Declaring God is worthy.”

So, yes, we do gather to worship God. It is part of the rhythm of our lives.

But, blessing my neighbors is the bulk of what I do as a Christian. One way I can bless my neighbor is to come to a worship service with my neighbor, and we can join together and declare Jesus is worthy. Worship is all about Jesus.

That’s why when I hear something like, “How did worship go on Sunday?”  I have no idea how to respond. How many people were in attendance? That has nothing to say about the worth of God. If there are more people attending worship today than there were last week does that mean God is worthier this week?

How about how it went for the people there? It’s not about the people who are there, God is the object of worship. So, again, I don’t know how it went. God is the object of worship and he is the only one who can answer that.

Now, I can have a clue about how worship went. For instance, people sang songs to God. How do you think God likes your singing? As he is your dad in heaven, my guess is he loves to hear you sing. What good dad is going to hear their child sing and say, “I wasn’t really blessed by my kid’s singing this morning?”

Worship is about God. Worship is declaring him worthy. Sunday morning might be what you think of when you hear, “worship,” but your whole life is really a true indication of the worth you ascribe to God.

ME

How are you worshiping God? How are you declaring him worthy by the way you live your life? Make progress this week.