No excuse…

He is called the Boston Marathon Bomber.

BomberNo one, including his defense attorney Judy Clarke, is bothering with the word “allegedly.”

In her opening statement, Clarke told the jury her client did it.

“It was him.”

There is no doubt as to his involvement in the 2013 bombing that killed three people and injured 264 others.

Clarke’s argument is that his older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev influenced the then 19-year-old to commit this act of terror that literally ripped limbs from its victims.

This is known in court as mitigating circumstances. Seventeen of the 30 criminal charges faced by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev carry the death penalty. The mitigating circumstances are not presented to prove the defendant’s innocence but to, in this case, prevent him from receiving the death penalty.

We have a bad habit of mistaking God for a judge with whom we can present mitigating circumstances.

God’s mercy is not dependent on mitigating circumstances.

God offers us mercy because of His great love. (Ephesians 2:4-7)

And yet we trudge along, willfully doing our own thing, making excuses and then telling God we’re sorry but…

“It’s just the way I am.”

“I couldn’t help it.”

“It wasn’t all my fault.”

“I didn’t know any better.”

  • The fact that your husband is a jerk does not make the thing with guy at the office okay.
  • The fact that your wife left you and you are lonely does not make the whole computer thing okay.
  • The fact that you overpaid last year, that they will never know or it all comes out in the end does not make fudging the income taxes okay.

You know better.

I think God must get really sick of us not just coming to Him and saying, “Lord, I really messed up. I am so sorry. Please forgive me.”

The thing is that we know when we willfully disobey but we don’t want to admit it’s willful.

We want to pretend we couldn’t help it.

So we present God with mitigating circumstanceNot_Guiltys hoping to receive His mercy.

Mercy He has already extended.

What an insult.

This week we celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. He left the magnitude of heaven to spend time on this harsh soil because He loves us. The beloved Son of God, crucified because the Father has mercy on us.No_Greater_Love

And we, disciples of Jesus, have the nerve to willfully choose to do our own thing and then give Him some paltry excuse in hopes that He will forgive us.

Once we have accepted His redemption, all is forgiven.

What’s with the excuses?

Yes, as fallen man, we will mess up. We are redeemed creatures living in an unredeemed world. But the excuse

“That’s just the way I am”

no longer flies.

Guess what? It isn’t true.

Paul spent the first half of his letter to the church of Ephesus emphasizing their/our beautiful identity in Christ. Chosen, adopted, forgiven, blessed…

He tells us we have been made new.

“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, [Did you catch that?] even when we were Ephesians_RegimensWithGracedead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved.) Ephesians 2:4-5

Then in chapter four he reminds us to “walk worthy of the calling” and in verses 24-31 lists behavior that has no place in our lives.

This is not “oops!” behavior.

  • Lying (vs 25) is not accidental.
  • The type of anger he mentions in verse 26 is what comes when you allow something from the day to simmer until it turns into more. (See Psalm 4:4)
  • Stealing (vs. 28) is a choice.
  • Bitterness and rage are things we choose to harbor.
  • Read through the first five verses of chapter five as well. You will see that all of these behaviors involve choosing to thumb one’s nose at God.

Apparently the Ephesians were like us – prone to excuses – because Paul wrote, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.(Ephesians 5:8)

In other words, that is not just the way you are. He is telling us that we have been made new. We need to act like it. In fact, (and this may be a radical thought) all of that behavior is not normal for a child of God.

I’m going to write that again.

Ongoing willful rebellion is not normal behavior for a child of God.

It is all tied in to Ephesians 4:22-24. “That you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”

And that’s where he begins to tell us the old behavior to get rid of. That old man died. Some of us walk around like zombie Christians, insistent on keeping the old man walking , allowing for mitigating circumstances.

And God says

Just. Stop.

He knows. He knows we aren’t perfect. He knows it’s hard. He certainly does not want His beloved children to walk in shame for sin that has already been forgiven. But with a God that loving, why do we snub our noses at His mercy by making excuses that there were mitigating circumstances?

There’s more.

The sad thing is that we project this attitude on to the rest of the world. We are forgiven yet we continually offer paltry excuses for our willful rebellion, acting like we don’t know any better, ashamed to come before the throne of grace and lay it all out before Him.

And we offer excuses for every one else who hasn’t yet come to know His mercy.

“Well, I believe people are all basically good.”

“They can’t help it. They just don’t know any better.”

As Paul would say:

“Baloney!”

Actually, what he did say was:

The only way the world will know their need for Jesus is when they see us relying on our need for His mercy. If man is basically good, there is no need for God.

I really, really want to think that some people just don’t know better – that people don’t understand that there is a need for God. But Jesus spoke hard truth:

“If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.”

(And it is the Spirit of truth He talks of in verse 26, who takes away the Believer’s excuses.)

David tells us in Psalm 19:1-6 (AMP) that “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows and proclaims His handiwork….There is no speech nor spoken word [from the stars]; their voice is not heard. Yet their voice [in evidence] goes through all the earth, their sayings to the end of the world…”

God’s very creation testifies His nature and yet man turns a blind eye to it, bastardizing the message He offers. God put every star in place, choreographing the universe into an intricate dance of solar systems, constellations and galaxies. Yet man declares it all started with an accident, turns God’s marvelous dance into a method of fortune telling and insists on worshiping the creation rather than the Creator.

So as followers of Christ, our responsibility is two-fold.

  • All is forgiven. We are free! We have to accept responsibility for our own behavior and live that way.

“Christ has liberated us to be free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1, HCSB)

In this, in our wrongdoing, we set aside our pride and stop making excuses.

“For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

No excuses. The devil didn’t make me do it. It was no one’s fault but my own.

Mercy, not mitigating circumstances.

  • Our second responsibility is to show God’s love and mercy to the world.

Not excuses. Mercy.

Not judgment. Mercy.

“For God so loved the world that He gave…”

That’s all that’s needed. No excuse necessary.

 

For more study on this part of Ephesians, click here to download notes: Ephesians Study; ch.4/5

 

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The chosen one…

Ephesians_RegimensWithGrace

Chosen…

Choice is a big word these days.

We choose to give awards. There are the People’s Choice, Critics’ Choice, Teen Choice and Kids’ Choice Awards.

We watch the news to learn of the constituents’ choice for political office and how that politician will vote about the constituents’ right to choose to smoke marijuana, own firearms and have abortions.

In addition to choosing, there’s being chosen. Chosen for a game at recess, for a team sport, a prom date, for college acceptance, for the right job, for a marriage partner…

We spend most of our lives wondering if we are adequate enough to be chosen.

Someone says yes.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world,that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love,”

(Ephesians 1:3-4)

Wait. Don’t just skip through that.

“He chose us…”

Think of the very best thing for which you have ever been picked. Savor that moment for a sec. Boss, best friend, teacher, boyfriend/girlfriend? It was a pretty awesome moment. You felt special. Wanted.

Paul starts this by giving praise and through that he lets us know the enormity of all that he’s about to tell us. He gives praise to the Trinity.

God the Father: “Blessed be the God and Father..”

God the Son: “of our Lord Jesus Christ”; or “the Lord of us, Jesus the Messiah”

God, the Holy Spirit: “who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing…” This one doesn’t immediately jump out but it is really cool. That word “spiritual” is pneumatikos, and comes from the word pneuma, which means breath or spirit. When you see the word spirit in the New Testament, Holy Spirit or otherwise, pneuma is used. Pneumatikos relates to the realm of spirit or the invisible sphere in which the Holy Spirit imparts faith, reveals Christ, etc. So, as the Amplified version puts it, every spiritual (given by the Holy Spirit) blessing…”

PPaul to Ephesiansaul is about to spend a good bit of time reminding the Ephesians who God says they are. So, a little like a person introducing the main speaker, Paul is first emphasizing His magnitude.

“In the heavenly places in Christ” Just in case we aren’t properly awed by the thought of the Trinity, he is telling us to remember: God has given you every spiritual blessing in heaven and it is yours in Christ.

And now that we have proper context,

He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world…

That is a really big deal.

The Greek for that implies to make a highly deliberate choice, a real “heart-preference” with a definite outcome.

This was not a random, eeny-meeny-miny-mo kind of choice. This definitely wasn’t a choose-and-then-put-on-the-shelf kind of choice. And beyond a doubt, this was no “Well, I have to take her because she’s the last one left” kind of choice.

This is an “I have wanted you since before the beginning began” kind of choice.

As far as romance goes, this love story beats all others.

And no matter who you are, what you think or how many horrible things you’ve done – they do not matter because He chose you before any of that happened. It doesn’t even matter if you believe that He exists because He chose you.

He chose to make you “holy and without blame.”

The sacrifice of Jesus Christ makes those who accept His offering pure in His eyes. We are His bride, set apart for Him, “not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but…holy and without blemish.” Ephesians 5:27)

You are chosen.

He chose you so that “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” (Ephesians 1:7)

Redemption means ransom paid. He has paid the necessary cost to set you free.

He chose you.

“In Him also we have obtained an inheritance…” (Ephesians 1:11)

I love this part! We only see this particular word for inheritance one time in the New Testament and it has a different meaning than you would expect. It means to BeFunky_Roman20dice2.jpg“assign by divine lot-cast.” Now, if you or I were rolling the dice, it would be a game of chance. Pure luck. However, this is a divine lot-cast. Think weighted die. When God rolls the dice, they land exactly the way He plans.

He chose you.

“being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.” (1:11)

He chose and appointed us, marked us ahead of time, before it all began, for His purpose, and He promises to work it all together for His divine plan and our good. (Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”)

When Robert Downey Jr. was picked for favorite movie actor in the 2015 People’s Choice Awards, he could have rejected the people’s choice and refused the award.

And so it is with God’s choice. Salvation and all He offers with it can be rejected.

That’s our choice.

“In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation;…”

And when we choose Him, it is a “done deal.”

“…in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14)

You are chosen,

you trusted,

you believed

and you are sealed.

In the ancient wax-seal_21349252world, a seal served as a legal signature, guaranteeing the contents of what was sealed. The Holy Spirit has set His stamp of ownership on you. He is the guarantee of your inheritance until Jesus comes back to redeem His already ransomed possession.

You belong to Him.

He has already paid the price.

He is coming back to pick up His chosen bride.

That’s you.

The chosen one.


I encourage you to read this passage in Ephesians with today’s devotion. To do so online, you may click here: Ephesians 1:1-14

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Blame-free…

Ephesians_RegimensWithGrace“Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace; by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” Ephesians 4:1-6

I was recently reading Acts 13. It was the Sabbath and the Bible says that almost the whole city had gathered to hear the Gospel. The Jews however, were “filled with envy” and “opposed the things spoken by Paul.”

Then in verse 46 it says, “Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold [I like that part!] and said, ‘It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first, but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.”

Oh boy! Is that the height of arrogance or what?!

God determines something should be and man decides otherwise.

But that’s what we often do today. We accept His gift of eternal life, resting in His promise that had been preached by Paul the previous Sabbath that “and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.” Acts 13:39

Then we continue to wallow in shame.

“I am justified.”

“I am such a sinner.”

“Jesus made me whole.”

“I am broken.”

“I am forgiven.”

“I am so ashamed.”

Judging ourselves unworthy.

While we continue to remember the wonderful grace of Jesus, we must also remember that God loved us before He created this incredible universe.

Before He laid the foundations of the earth,

before He buckled Orion’s belt,

before He taught the morning stars to sing,

He chose you.

Before the beginning, the Lord God Almighty decided that He wanted you to be His.

He desired to make us holy and without blame.

He sent His Son to die and be resurrected in order that He might adopt us as sons and daughters, that He might “freely bestow” His grace on us.

I have accepted His amazing grace. I have been adopted into the family of God. He has called me blameless. He has taken away my shame.

I have no right to judge myself unworthy

when He has called me holy.

 Blame-free_RegimensWithGrace

You see, God not only gave us the gift of salvation.

He gave us the gift of blamelessness.

 

 

“Oh most holy God, I don’t get it but you have decided to love me and to make me Yours. You have given me, not only the gift of salvation and eternal life, but have called me blameless. Help me Lord, not to insist on walking in shame, dredging up what You no longer see.”

  • For more on being blameless, shame-free and holy, click here:  He calls me holy…
  • For the first in our series Ephesians: Paul’s letter to me…, click on the tag Ephesians to the left or start with the first devotion here: Faithful in…
  • As a personal study aid, you can print or download Bible study notes here: Eph – Week 1 Chosen

Blessings!

 

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On darts, missiles and clenched jaws…

Ephesians 6

I don’t think the shield of faith is supposed to give you clenched jaws.

But judging by my tense shoulder muscles and that old familiar TMJ ache, that’s where I’ve been attempting to carry the shield of faith this week.

Or not.

People hear “spiritual warfare” and they think of head-spinning, pea-soup-spitting, gutteral-noise-making, wild-eyed people requiring some super-hired holy person with great Scriptural knowledge.

Warfare in the spiritual realm doesn’t usually look like that.

“Fiery darts,” by the way, translates as “missile, dart, javelin, arrow.” We’re talking weapons of all sizes. Sometimes you get missiles, sometimes darts.

The missiles are ones that we often think to pull out the shield for – “Run for shelter! That’s a biggie!”

The darts? Not so much.

      “What am

I

    going to do about this?”
      “Where
    is that going to come from?”
      “How can

I

    take care of that?”

Clenched jaws. Sore muscles.

What is it about the little things that makes me forget that I already have a shield of faith?

When we see the Greek word “faith” used in the Bible, it is always from God. It is never something that can be produced by people. That thrills me. I’m not so great at this on my own. The Roman shield to which Paul referred was big. I have full protection.Shield of Faith

“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. Who is he that overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5)

Cool, huh? And there’s more.

Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

My problems right now aren’t huge. Not in the grand scheme of things. But they are big to me. And you better believe that the enemy is going to utilize every negative thing in my life to make me worry, to fill me with anxiety, to make me walk around with a clenched jaw.

Fiery darts. Shield of faith. Flaming missiles. Shield of faith.

And Paul said it quenches them. Extinguishes them. Puts them out.

Neither Paul nor Jesus said the problems automatically go away. The darts (or missiles) aren’t necessarily the problems themselves. Usually, it is the way the enemy uses your problems. Jesus said we “will have tribulation.” But He promises peace – “that in Me you may have peace.”

Peace.

Just the word itself brings a calming breath.

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)

Paul says the shield of faith extinguishes the attacks of “the wicked one.”

And because we don’t always recognize problems as attacks, we don’t always realize we need to fight them.

Life’s problems may be just that. Life’s problems. But we are told to “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith…” (1 Peter 5:8)

He is going to take advantage of every situation.

What didn’t strike me until writing this, is that this verse immediately follows the one I have claimed as my own since fourth grade:

“casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

Another breath. The jaw relaxes.

The preface to that is verse six: “Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time,”

Cares and tribulations come. We are assured of that.

I have to humble myself before God.

Then when I’m humble enough to realize that I can’t fix it on my own, I’m able to cast my cares on Him. In faith.

“Can’t do this on my own, Lord.”

    “God, please, help me to trust.”
      “Father, will you fix this? It’s a mess.”

Because He cares for me. He wants me to. I’m really not being a pain when I ask for His help.

That’s all part of vigilance. Of being steadfast in the faith.

It’s hard to hold up my shield of faith when I’m holding on to a pack of troubles!

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How do I smell?

BeFunky_eph5.jpgWhen a lawyer questioned Jesus about eternal life, Jesus responded by asking him what he had read in Moses’ law.

“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Luke 10:27-29) was how the religious expert responded.

“‘Right!’ Jesus told him. ‘Do this and you will live!'”

Evidently the guy thought about this and what it might look like and, as people haven’t changed much in 2000 years, the Bible said he wanted to justify his actions.

“Who is my neighbor?”

So Jesus, all-knowing God and very wise man, told him the story of the good Samaritan.

You know the story. A man, mugged and beaten, lies dying by the side of the road while people who are supposed to care pass by, not just blindly ignorant but intentionally crossing to the other side of the road. And then a kind traveler, a stranger from an area others shunned, went out of his way to take care of him.

Neighbor. Jesus’ answer was pretty clear.

    A neighbor is someone we go out of our way to love.

The nice people next door are not the only people I am to love. My church community group? Not my only people to love on.

In Ephesians 5:1-2, Paul says, “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.”

How do I smell to God?BeFunky_Ephesians.jpg

Am I walking in love?

Walking in love. That doesn’t really sound like smiley-faced-have-a-blessed-day Christianity. That sounds a lot to me like being the feet of Jesus. Like something I have to go out of my way to do.

It sounds like a person taking care of a dying man that no one else loves. Or possibly like a person caring for Ebola patients when no one else will come near. Maybe it means, as it does for one dear friend, passing out a whole lot of popsicles so the neighborhood kids will play in her yard and know the love of Jesus.

The Samaritan’s sweet-smelling sacrifice was the wine and oil he used to dress the wounds. Health care workers offer up the aroma of antiseptics. My friend’s offering delights God with the scent of grape popsicles.

What does it smell like when I go out of my way to show someone the love of Jesus?

Coffee? Cleaning solution? Cinnamon rolls? I don’t know. I just know that I need to do a better job of looking for the person by the side of the road.

“Oh Father, as we come to You, asking You to show us our calling, to give us a ministry, thinking we can do wonderful things for You – help us please to remember to walk in love. Open our eyes Lord, to the hurts of those around us, to people we can love on in your name. Help us to be bold and to smell sweet to You.”

“He who does not love does not know God, for God is love…And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” 1 John 4:8,16

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