Prayer

Last week, we began a new study on the book of Ephesians. In just the first few verses, we saw that God the Father planned our salvation, God the Son provided our salvation, and that God the Holy Spirit protects our salvation. After reflecting on God’s purpose for us, Paul then prays for the Christians in Ephesus. “Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers” (Eph. 1:15-16). These verses are given to us as a model on how to pray for our spouse, kids, neighbors, nation, and those we are inviting.

The Spirit of His Wisdom
The first thing Paul prays is that God would give them “the spirt of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him” (1:17). “Wisdom” means intelligence in diverse matters and “revelation” means instruction. Paul is laying some heavy stuff on us spiritually and we cannot understand the mysteries of God apart from God. “Knowledge” in this case isn’t just knowing facts, it’s knowing experientially. Some people are always learning but never come to a knowledge of the truth. More than information, we need transformation! You can know about God and not know God. The classic example is Judas. He lived and worked with Jesus for three years. Many Americans have heard the Gospel and were brought up in church. Maybe you know the God of the Bible in your head, but you do not know Him in your heart. God wants us to know Him, have a relationship with Him, put our faith in Him, and love Him.

The Sight of His Understanding
In verse 18, Paul prays that their eyes would be enlightened to the hope of His calling. Having your eyes opened is understanding you have hope. Hope in the Bible is not like we use the word in English. It is not, “I hope Kentucky or North Carolina makes it to the Final Four.” In the Bible, hope means certainty. I am confident of the hope of heaven. Why is it some people go through hard times and fall apart, and others go through similar situations and come out stronger? The difference is hope. We can be hopeful about the past, present, and future because of Jesus! Pray that your neighbors would know Him, that their eyes would be opened, and that they would find hope in Him.

The Strength of His Power
In verses 19 and 20, Paul prays that they would know Jesus’ resurrection power. The resurrection sets Jesus apart from all other religions. Paul did not pray for more power. How could there be more power than has already been given? He prayed that they would know the power they already have in Jesus. In creation, God created something from nothing. In the resurrection, God brings the dead to life! If your life seems like nothing, God can turn it into something! Where sinful choices have brought death and destruction, God can bring life and restoration. God brings strength from weakness. The cross appeared to be only suffering and weakness for Jesus, but three days later He said, “Look at me now!” Life may look like suffering and weakness today, but because of Jesus, we soon will say, “Look at me now!”

The Sovereignty of His Christ
Finally, Paul acknowledges the sovereignty of Christ as he prays. God the Father “seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet…” (1:20-22). Even when things seem out of control, they are under His control. When waves are over your head, they are under His feet! In the end, Jesus wins! If we love and trust Him, in the end we win! Revelation 11:15 says, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” You do not “make” Jesus Lord. He is Lord! Salvation is when you submit and surrender to His Lordship. No sinner is beyond redemption. No saint is beyond restoration. How do you need to pray for yourself and for those around you today?

Purpose

I’m excited to begin a new series on the book of Ephesians. Ephesians is often regarded as the most profound book Paul ever penned. Chapters 1-3 are very doctrinal; Paul explains the message of the church – the Gospel. In chapters 4-6 he deals with life – marriage, relationships, conflict management, forgiveness, etc. These chapters are very practical. What you believe determines how you behave.

The Father Planned It
Don’t let biblical words like elect, chosen, or predestination intimidate or scare you. There are many things we don’t understand and can’t explain in life. Looking at Ephesians 1:3-6, we know that the Father’s role in our salvation was one of divine election. We are born with a sin nature. No one has to teach us to do wrong. In our sin, we have no desire to come to God unless God puts it there.

What does it mean that God chose us? We are not a burden to Him! You may feel like you never get picked for anything, but the God who chose Abraham, Israel, and the Apostles, has chosen you! God chose to bless us (v. 3) in Christ before creation (v. 4). Salvation was no afterthought and it was more than foreknowledge. There has never been a time that God did not know you and love you. He chose you not because of what you could do for God, but because of what He could do for you. From God the Father’s viewpoint, I was saved before the creation of the world.

The Son Provided It
From God the Son’s viewpoint, I was saved when He died for me on the cross. Look at verses 7-12. Verse 7 says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins….” Jesus provided our redemption. There are six Greek words for redemption meaning to buy from the marketplace, to repay and cancel a debt, to set free from slavery, to reconcile two individuals, to adopt as a child, and to justify. Jesus did all of that for us. He purchased us, cancelled our debt, freed us from sin, reconciled us to God who adopted us, and He enables us to stand justified before the Father. He also cast our sin as far as the east is from the west and holds it against us no more!

Verse 9 refers to all of this as a mystery. Some things we do not fully understand on earth, but this we know, He did it because He wanted to. Jesus said, “No man takes my life from me. I willingly lay it down.” God the Father planned our salvation. God the Son provided it. There is no salvation apart from Jesus and the Gospel. It is heresy to think you can be “elect” and not know it. All who will be saved come to faith in Jesus Christ.

The Spirit Protects It
God the Holy Spirit protects our salvation. Look at verses 13-14. From the Holy Spirit’s viewpoint, you were saved when you heard the gospel and believed. People may break their promises, but God always keeps His word. The Holy Spirit protects our salvation with a seal. In Scripture, a seal means security, authenticity, and authority. We also read in verse 14 that the Holy Spirit is a “deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.” When you trust Jesus, you get the down payment of an inheritance with the promise of payment in full. There is an inheritance reserved in heaven for you. Jesus has put part of Himself in us, through the Holy Spirit, with the promise to make us complete like Him one day.

Everyone is in one of two groups: in Adam or in Jesus. In Adam means you are still in your sins. All you had to do to get in that group is be born. The only way to get out is to be born again, to be in Jesus. God the Father planned it before time began by choosing you. God the Son provided it on the cross by dying for you. God the Holy Spirit protects it for all of eternity and makes it real to you today if you will hear and believe.

Our King Has Come

Growing up in church I never heard a sermon on Judges 17-21. After you read these chapters you’ll understand why. They include some of the most violent, brutal stories in the Bible. Stories like we see on the news today: mass murder, gang activity, rape, domestic violence, bullying. “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6). A world without a king is:

A World of Idolatry
In chapter 17, Micah coveted, stole and lied about silver, disrespected his mother, made a graven image, and hired his own priest. The Levite Micah hired knew that images of God were wrong, but he went along with it anyway. In chapter 18, the Danites came, took Micah’s idols and his priest, and left him with the question of, “What more do I have?” (18:24). As Micah found, without Jesus, you have nothing!

We are made in God’s image; God is not made in ours. “Well my God would never….” “I don’t believe in a God that would….” The god made in your image says it’s OK to cohabitate together, to have sex but not be married, to get divorced for any reason, to rob God and spend all money on yourself. “After all, God wants me to be happy!” The world has created its own god, but it is not the God of the Bible. You may say, “Well, I prayed about it and God gave me peace.” That does not change who God is or what God’s Word says. You can’t make God as you prefer Him to be. A god of your own making cannot save!

A god of your own making cannot save!

A World of Immorality
God created one man for one woman. In chapter 19 we read of a Levite who had a concubine who “played the harlot against him” (19:2). He goes after her and ends up in the home of an Ephraimite. “Perverted men” of the city surrounded the house and the Levite gives them his concubine. “They knew her and abused her all night” (19:25). The Levite found her the next morning lying at the door of his house, not responding. Verse 29 says, “he took a knife, laid hold of his concubine, and divided her into twelve pieces, limb by limb….” We think, “How could anyone do such a thing?” The truth is, we live in a society just as barbaric. Babies are ripped apart, limb by limb, and sold for body parts! Pornography, polygamy, adultery, homosexuality, gang activity, rape, abortion, no value of human life… there is nothing new under the sun.

A World of Inequality
These chapters are stories about inequality and injustice. In chapter 20, the Benjamites refuse to turn over these guilty men so the rest of Israel fights against them. By protecting the guilty, they caused the massacre of innocent men, women, and children. Sanctuary Cities are nothing new. In chapter 21, we read that more men and women were killed and that 200 women were taken to be wives for the surviving men. Men were oppressors of women instead of protectors of them. Human trafficking still takes place today. The story is about homelessness, prisoners, genocide, kidnapping, abduction, and bullying. Why? Everyone did what was right in their own eyes, ignoring the law of God.

A World of Inadequacy
The book of Judges ends with despair, but the book does not exist by itself. There is another book in the Bible called Ruth that is written as a companion to Judges. Ruth is not an Israelite. She was an immigrant, refugee, and a poor widow. The book of Ruth ends with a son who would be the grandfather of King David. Jesus was born from the lineage of David! We often look at the Bible as individual books and stories, but the Bible is one book, with one storyline from beginning to end. It all leads to King Jesus, the Savior of the World. All have sinned and come short of the Glory of God, but while we were sinners, Christ died for us. Jesus came not to condemn the world, but so that the world through Him might be saved. Our King has come! Will you be your own judge, or will you let Jesus be the King of your life?

The God of Another Chance

The God of Another Chance
It’s great to be back from vacation! I appreciate Chip Dean preaching for me and doing the blog post last week while I was away. This week, we will pick back up on the life of Samson. Samson was strong but he had weaknesses. We all do. His struggle started early and it was something he battled his whole life. Like Samson, if you have messed up and made mistakes God will give you another chance…

To Overcome Bad Habits
Judges 16:1 says, “Now Samson went to Gaza and saw a harlot there, and went in to her.” Samson keeps going in the wrong direction, into the enemy’s territory. His first wife was a woman he knew he shouldn’t be with. Samson’s problems started long before Delilah! He keeps making the same mistakes over and over again.

To Overcome Bad Company
“Afterward it happened that he loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah” (Judges 16:4). Delilah was devoted to his downfall. She seduced him and brought him low. Are you in an unhealthy relationship? Friends are like buttons on an elevator; they take you up or they take you down!

The devil has strategically hired someone to be your hit man or hit woman. Delilah never drifts into your life. She is sent to blind and bind you, to keep you from doing what you were called of God to do. Delilah’s come in all shapes and sizes. What is your Delilah? You may be playing games with God, but the devil is not playing games with you. He is committed to your failure.

To Overcome Bad Judgement
Delilah “pestered” and “pressed” Samson so that “his soul was vexed to death” (Judges 16:16). She was trying to expose his secret. He should have run right then, instead, he told her all his heart (Judges 16:17). He told her his secrets. Samson had spiritual gifts but he lacked self-control. Giftedness is no substitute for godliness. Guard your heart! His talent took him where his character could not keep him.

Because of his choices, Judges 16:20 says that “he did not know that the Lord had departed from him.” These are certainly some of the saddest words in the Bible. He is not what he used to be. He cannot do what he used to do. He did not even know the anointing was gone. What have you lost because of sin?

To Overcome Bad Situations
Samson ends up blind, in prison, with the Philistines having him “perform” for them (Judges 16:23). They are laughing at him, mocking him. Samson made a joke of sin and sin made a joke of Samson! Is that the way you want to be remembered? Are you in a prison of your own making? Do you feel trapped? What is it that you can’t stop doing? Where is it you can’t stop going? Are you grinding at the treadmill of sin?

This does not have to be the end of your story. “Samson called to the Lord, saying, ‘O Lord God, remember me, I pray’” (Judges 16:28). God heard his cry and gave Samson more victories in the end than in the beginning. He can do the same for you. You may have fallen, but you are still a child of God. Jesus sets the captives free! God is giving you another chance.

Last week, Tammy and I saw the devastation of the Tennessee wildfires that killed 14, injured 134, and burned 1600 structures. Nothing is left but foundations where homes once stood. However, all over that mountain, in the black ashes, is the greenest grass you have ever seen! New growth! God gives beauty for ashes, strength for fear, gladness for mourning, peace for despair. The fire that the enemy meant to burn you is producing new growth in you! Cry out to the Lord. He is the God of another chance.

Reach Hampton Roads

Guest Blogger: Chip Dean

This week we talked about how every Christian can be the “Light of Jesus” in our community of Hampton Roads. The way God called my wife and I to move to Hampton Roads and minister at Liberty, even through all the phone calls, interviews and tours, was by one phrase that Pastor Grant said. “We want to see the loving arms of Jesus wrapped around Hampton Roads.”

That was a vision that my wife and I could give our lives to. In the same way, we believe that every Christian can contribute to vision that God has given all of us at Liberty. It will take more than pastors and more than a staff to reach the 1.7 million people of Hampton Roads. In order to reach Hampton Roads, it will take every Christian contributing to this God-given mission!

In Philippians 2:9-16, Paul tells the church that we are to “shine as lights in the world” (2:15). As we look through this whole passage, Paul doesn’t just tell us to shine our lights, but he shows us how to shine our lights. I’m so thankful that Jesus is “The Light of The World” and it’s His light that shines through us! Let’s look at what lights up our lights in order to be the “Light of Jesus” in Hampton Roads.

Awesome
Paul tells us that God’s glory is not a “what,” but a “Who.” “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow… and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). God is most glorified when we are bowing our knees in submission and using our mouths in profession that Jesus Christ is the Lord of all life!

Let me encourage you to start every day physically or spiritually on your knees before Jesus as your Lord. Start every day either out loud or from your heart professing that Jesus is your Lord. These are simple ways to show that Jesus is the most awesome part of your life. When Jesus is our awesome, then He can use us to reach Hampton Roads. Every Christian can contribute to our vision of reaching Hampton Roads when Jesus is our AWESOME!

Actions
Paul commends churches who not only obey God when the Pastor is around, but also when the Pastor is absent (Philippians 2:12). When Jesus is their awesome, their obedience doesn’t depend on who is around. When we obey God, even away from our church, then we become the church among our community.

Our community needs to see our obedient actions worked out in front of them. Aren’t you thankful that it’s God’s work in us that works out His actions in front of them (Philippians 2:13)? When Jesus is our awesome, then His light shines through our obedient actions to reach Hampton Roads. Every Christian can contribute to our vision of reaching Hampton Roads by our Christ-like ACTIONS.

Attitude
Not only our actions, but our community needs to see our Christ-like attitude. Paul challenges us to “do all things without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14). When our community hears us complaining, they hear us saying that our God is not good enough. When our community sees us arguing, they see us saying that our God is not loving enough.

Instead, when we are tempted to complain, we need to praise God for what we do have. When we are tempted to argue, we need to show the same love to others that God has given us. Every Christian can contribute to our vision of reaching Hampton Roads by our Christ-like ATTITUDE.

Afterlife
This is nothing new. When Paul wrote this thousands of years ago that our awesome, our actions, and our attitudes will shine as lights in a world that is starving for God (Philippians 2:15). He encouraged us to “hold fast to the Word of life” until the day Jesus returns (Philippians 2:16).

In fact, the Apostle John writes later about a vision that God gave Him of what eternity will really look like. He said that he saw a great multitude of people from every nation, people group, and languages from around the world. He said they wrapped around the throne of the Lord Jesus in worship.

Liberty, lets never forget that the vision God has given us is His same vision He gave John about eternity. Just like heaven, we are calling the multi-ethnic people of Hampton Roads to join us in worshipping Jesus. Just like heaven is Jesus inviting us into His home, He is calling us to invite people into our homes for Connect Groups, fellowship, and witnessing.

By the four simple words: Awesome, Actions, Attitude, and Afterlife, I believe that every Christian can contribute to our God-given vision of reaching the 1.7 million people of Hampton Roads for Jesus Christ!