Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ephesians 2:1-10

Read the passage here at Bible Gateway.

I like zombies. They make such cool horror movie staples that I can't imagine the genre without them. You just don't feel bad when a shambling undead corpse gets put back in the ground, often with a vengeance.

I can't help but think that the author here is kinda comparing us, pre-salvation, to zombies. The living dead. Verse 1: we were "dead" in our transgressions/sin. Even moving around, going through life, we were already dead. The only difference was the time it would take for that fact to catch up with us. Verse 2: we were following the world and satan, both of which have only destruction in mind for us. Verse 3: we lived for ourselves and ourselves only, and because of that, became the objects of God's holy wrath.

We were shambling dead men and women, and we didn't even know it.

The rest of this passage shifts from this horrible thought to not how God eradicated the zombie threat, but how He redeemed it. We were "made alive" (v.5) in Christ, saved "by grace" (v.5) and "raised up" (v.6) into God's presence and love.

Great verse for the day: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Ephesians 1:15-23

Read today's passage on BibleGateway.com.

I think it's appropriate on a day like Memorial Day to discuss something simple like giving thanks. We thank our troops and our veterans on Memorial Day for the sacrifices they've made, sometimes giving up their lives, to protect our nation and safeguard freedom. They deserve thanks on every day of the year, yet we tend to be so forgetful and self-absorbed that we had to carve out a specific holiday to remind us to say "thank you".

So it is with God. The author dips into a prayer -- or at least, a description of his prayers of late -- in the final verses of the first chapter. And what does he start with? "I have not stopped giving thanks for you." The author recognizes that all things, even (and especially) people are a gift from Christ to his children, and as such, are deserving of unrelenting praise. Does the author need an excuse to say "thank you"? A special day? A momentous occasion? Nope -- he just keeps on giving thanks.

I envision it a bit like a tide. The blessings flow out from God in waves, sometimes powerfully, sometimes almost invisibly. But they do wash over us, saturate our lives, give us reason for celebration. And what thanksgiving do we send back when the tide recedes? Probably a trickle, if you're anything like me. Probably a thin stream of "Oh yeah, by the way God, thanks for that thing."

So today I thank my God for my life, for people who care about me, for my wife, my ability to live without starving or freezing to death, the opportunity to minister to others, my family, the joys of writing and gaming and reading, my country and my faith. I hope I can grow more and more thankful instead of hording up all the blessings to myself.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Ephesians 1:1-14

Wow... how much is packed into these few verses? The author goes on an all-out blitz to not only pour praise out to God, but to sum up the believer's past and place in the world. Let's count them, shall we?

1. We are tremendously blessed by God (v.3)
2. God chose us to follow Him before the world was even made (v.4)
3. God called us to become holy and blameless (v.4)
4. We are predestined to be saved (v.5)
5. Our purpose is to praise God (v.6)
6. Grace is given to us freely out of God's love (vv.5-6)
7. We are redeemed through the sacrifice of Jesus (v.7)
8. Our sins are forgiven through Christ (v.7)
9. We are invited to know God's will (v.9)
10. All things will eventually be brought together in Christ as King (v.10)
11. We are part of God's plan and have purpose through it (vv.11-12)
12. Our salvation is sealed by the Holy Spirit (vv.13-14)

Overwhelmingly, the case is made for the purpose of our lives: that we are not random accidents, beyond God's control, but instead we are cherished, loved creations who God has chosen to use -- not because we are essential, but because He wills it -- for a receptacle of His love, grace and work.

The passage has a nice flow to it, in terms of a timeline. The "Past" mentions how we were chosen and predestined before the creation of the world. The "Present" looks at the process of our salvation, forgiveness, redemption and justification, as well as the work God has laid out for us. The "Future" is the promise of Christ's kingship and our final redemption through the promise of the Holy spirit.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Ephesians Prologue

It's been an embarrassingly long time since I've either (a) kept to my daily devotions pledge and (b) updated this blog. It'd be easier to cite defeat, but what's the fun in that? Might as well feel a bit ashamed and try again.

Today I wanted to start reading through one of my favorite NT books, Ephesians. I don't know why Ephesians has stuck out to me to the point where I eagerly point many new Christians to it -- most seminarians I know would prefer to whack someone over the head with Romans or Hebrews. But unlike the dense complexity of those books, Ephesians almost reads like an easy-to-understand owner's manual of Christianity and belonging to the church.

Paul, along with Priscilla and Aquilla, helped to found the church in Ephesus (as documented in Acts 18:19-21). A Jewish convert named Apollos came shortly thereafter to further help build and lead the church (Acts 18:24-26). This city would later be the place Paul called home for almost three years.

Ephesians was written around 62-63 A.D. when Paul was most likely a prisoner in Rome. Ephesus was about 700 miles from Jerusalem, which would be in the western side of modern-day Turkey. It had almost a half-million residents in the first century, making it the largest city of the day. It even had an ampitheater that could seat over 24,000 people! It was a city well-known for its many religions and faiths, including a Jewish population.

Paul used the city as a base of operations for his third missionary journey and most likely wrote 1 Corinthians from there. The church in Ephesus makes a reappearance in Revelation 2:1-7 as a church that persevered yet had forgotten its "first love". The church there remained an important influence over the region until the city's decline in the third to fifth centuries. Today Ephesus is one of the largest sites of Roman ruins, of which only 15% have been uncovered.

Although it appears to specifically mention the church in Ephesus, this letter was most likely intended to be copied and circulated to all of the churches in the region (aka a "circular letter"). Think of a primitive form of e-mail forwarding.

As a book, Ephesians kicks off with the starting point of any Christian: salvation. Paul details what blessings the gospels have in store for believers, how believers should grow in the church, and how believers should live a life in Christ. Interestingly enough, Ephesians 3:3-4 indicate that Paul had already written the church, although that epistle has been lost to the ages.

Ephesians is a letter full of praise, worship, vivid imagry (the "armor of God" passage comes from here), and very practical application for the Christian life. Tomorrow I'll dive into the first chapter.