The Good Mystery

November 30, 2012

When you hear the word mystery, what comes to mind? Do you think of something esoteric and incomprehensible, or do you think of a whodunit crime novel? For Paul in Ephesians 3, mystery means something that God had not previously made known or made clear, but has now revealed. We could not arrive at this mystery by reason or observation alone. The good mystery was revealed by God.

God’s plan was progressively revealed. We see a hint of it in the curse on the Serpent in Genesis 3:15 and in the promises to Abraham and David. The prophecies of the Old Testament point to it. But the mystery was not fully revealed until it was revealed to the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 3:5). Yes, the mystery when revealed was a bit of a shock to some Jews. But Paul assures us: the good mystery was revealed to the apostles and prophets.

What is this good mystery? It is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, fellow members of the same body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel (Ephesians 3:6). God’s plan was to create a new humanity in Jesus “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Everyone can share in the inheritance. Everyone can be a part of the body. Everyone can partake of the promise. The good mystery is that the gospel is for all.

That means the good mystery is preached. Paul became a minister of the gospel “to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God” (Ephesians 3:8-9). Paul makes clear that the church is an integral part of the plan.

… so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord … (Ephesians 3:10–11, ESV)

I suspect that we struggle a bit thinking about spiritual beings observing the church to see the wisdom of God. But what they should see is a new humanity in Christ Jesus. They should see is both Jew and Gentile formed into one family of God. They should see people, regardless of nationality, race, culture or language, being united in Christ and transformed into Christ’s likeness.

The good mystery is revealed by God. It has been revealed to the apostles and prophets. We read about it in our New Testaments. The mystery that Paul preached is that the gospel is for all.

The Upward Call

November 24, 2012

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12–14, ESV).

I find Paul’s statement encouraging. I’m glad that Paul admits to not being perfect. He is on a journey and has yet to arrive (at the time he writes this). By the way, we do not pull ourselves up by pulling Paul (or anyone else) down. Paul would want our comparisons made with Christ, which is where we recognize our lack as well as find our help.

Paul’s admission, however, reminds us that everyone needs grace. Everyone needs to grow and mature in Christ. Everyone needs sanctification — the process of becoming more holy and Christlike. It is easy to have a Sunday morning facade if we are not careful. Paul’s honesty encourages our own.

I find Paul’s statement challenging. I want you to notice the phrases that communicate effort and purpose: “I press on,” “But one thing I do,” “straining forward,” and “I press on.” Paul does not approach the Christian faith in a lackadaisical manner. By Paul’s own admission “Christ had made me his own.” The person who belongs to Christ has no higher commitment. God and Christ come first.

I can’t earn or merit my salvation, but we can’t read Paul and say that eliminates any effort in Christian living. Paul will admit that he’s not relying on just his own strength later in the letter: “For all things I have strength, in Christ’s strengthening me” (Philippians 4:13, Young’s Literal). But the need for strength means there are things that challenge and tax our strength. Paul was a tireless worker for Christ who challenges me to be about the Lord’s business.

I find Paul’s statement inviting. Paul has a destination to his life. The perfect that he has not yet attained lies ahead. I’m reminded of Paul’s own blessing, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely” (1 Thessalonians 5:23a, ESV). I long for that.

Look again at Paul’s terms: “what lies ahead,” goal, prize, and the upward call. God’s upward call is to be in his presence for eternity, and the only way we can have a hope of such a thing is in Christ. He has paid the price. Paul is inviting us to live a Christian life of purpose, because life in Christ has a goal, a wondrous destination — the upward call.

What Makes Thanksgiving Thanksgiving?

November 16, 2012

Last year for Thanksgiving Day I was in New Zealand. I’ve had a number of New Zealand Thanksgivings through the years. I remember searching the grocery store for canned cranberry sauce last year ‑ my contribution to the Thanksgiving feast. I finally had to break down and ask where it was, but I was thankful that they had some.

The reason is that Thanksgiving in New Zealand is a different experience. Obviously, the fourth Thursday of November in New Zealand is a normal work day. The Americans gather on a Saturday to have our Thanksgiving. Not everything we may be accustomed to is easily found. For example, turkey is too expensive, so it is usually chicken.

One year David and Mary Nelson searched the stores for Karo syrup for pecan pies to no avail. Mary decided to use Blackstrap molasses as a substitute. I won’t say that the pie was bad, but through the years that pie has been better as an amusing anecdote than it was to eat. That was followed by my tip to New Zealand when I carried Karo syrup in my checked luggage. It was interesting explaining to New Zealand customs what Karo syrup is. I think my suitcase also had some French fried onions for the green bean casserole too.

David always has a video of a Dallas Cowboys football game sent from the states by his brother-in-law. Watching it may include comments from New Zealanders like, “American football sure is slow — not like rugby.”

What makes Thanksgiving Thanksgiving? A few ingredients seem to be essential. First, we gather with family and friends even when we “adopt” family on foreign soil. Our table has often included those who are not our biological family, but are family none the less.

Second, we make wonderful memories. I suspect our traditional foods are one of those ways. Listen to people planning a Thanksgiving meal as they try to decide what are the non-negotiable items — the things you must prepare. It usually has to do with our memories of the past. It has to do with our traditions that link us with family. You may have other ways of making memories for that day — festive table cloths and candles on the table to football games in the afternoon.

Third, and most important of all, we thank God for our blessings. I have no patience for definitions of Thanksgiving Day that only say it is a day for celebrating the harvest. For me, it is a day “to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God” as in the words of George Washington from 1789.

But for you, what makes Thanksgiving Thanksgiving?

Marks of a Saved Person

November 10, 2012

The Apostle John states the purpose in writing 1 John: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13, ESV). So how do I know? What are the marks of a saved person? John’s letter provides answers.

What direction am I headed? Am I walking in the light? Read 1 John 1:5-10. It’s not that I bounce from the saved category to the lost category to the saved category with each sin and confession of sin, and I just hope that I die in the saved category. God is looking at my lifestyle–the general trend and direction of my life. This does not deny the possibility of going the wrong direction and being lost. Rather, it keeps us from going to the opposite extreme and losing any sense of Christian security.

Do I acknowledge sin in my life? Read 1 John 1:9. John is talking about a lifestyle that is willing to own up to sin–a lifestyle that listens to the correction given it by the Word.

Can I honestly characterize my life as obedient? Read 1 John 2:1-6, 2:29. We won’t be perfectly obedient, but there still ought to be a reality to our claim of obedience.

Do I love my brothers and sisters? Read 1 John 2:7-11, 3:16-24, 4:7-21. Certainly one important example of our obedience is loving our brothers and sisters.

Where are my priorities? Read 1 John 15-17. Does God come first or the world?

Do I acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, God’s incarnate Son in all I say and do? Read 1 John 2:18-24, 4:1-6, 5:1-12. The false teachers of John’s day were denying that the Son of God became flesh, dwelt among us, died on the cross, and was raised from the dead.

Do I abide in the apostolic teaching? Read 1 John 4:1-6. The “us” of this verse is the apostles. The false teachers of John’s day were not abiding by apostolic teaching. Note also the “we” of 1:1-4 and the “us” of 1:3.

Am I practicing sin or am I practicing righteousness? Read 1 John 3:1-12.

Is the Holy Spirit at work in my life? Read 1 John 2:25-29, 3:24, 4:1-6. Is the fruit of the Spirit being produced in my life (see Galatians 5:16-26)?

Note: the above questions come from a series of lessons by Mike Moss. See also his book: C. Michael Moss, Lord, Sometimes I Don’t Feel Saved! (21st Century Christian). He has recently started a blog. Dr. Mike is a dean and professor at Ohio Valley University.