Ephesians 1:15-23

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you,remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit[f] of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

The exterior of the library at Ephesus

The exterior of the library at Ephesus

I recall a moment of great relief when a medical test proved that one of our children did not have a serious disease. I was moved to a deep sense of thanksgiving and praise to God. I recall receiving an unexpected gift of money from an anonymous source, and the great joy that it brought me with praise to God. I recall a moment in worship when I sensed that we were one within that body of believers, and the sincere thankfulness that welled up in my heart. I occasionally remember the time in our life when we would have to think twice or three times about whether or not to buy a $5 bottle of wine, as I enjoy a glass of wine today, and give thanks to God that I can pay $20 for a bottle of wine today with little debate.

Those momentary flashes of thankfulness are real, sincere, and worthy cause for praise to God. But they are incidental, and not what Paul speaks of here. Paul never stops giving thanks to God. Because he saw God’s work in the lives of the people of Ephesus: their faith in Jesus and their love for one another. Beyond that, however, he prays for their continued connection with Jesus Christ, giving all glory to God.

It is also remarkable to me that Paul does not encourage them to love one another (though he will certainly speak to that later in this letter). He speaks here, however, of the source of our love for each other. When we embrace the love of God in Christ by faith most fully, we will be moved to love one another. He is the source of our love for each other as well as the inspiration for our love for him.

That is why all glory goes to God. And Paul’s expression of praise to God is vitally important, even as he prays that these people will know Christ better, and be enlightened as to our hope in Christ.

I get that, and hope that somehow I can have that same thankful attitude to God for his people whom I serve. I am writhing this for my own personal spiritual edification. But if you’re reading this now, please know I thank God for you and pray that we together may give all glory to him…now and for all eternity!

Revelation 2:1-7

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
“‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’

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The theater in Ephesus is where rioters once shouted, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians”. When we visited there we sang praise to Jesus Christ.

Jesus stands among the churches to whom he writes. His presence is at once comforting and challenging. On the one hand it is good to know that Christ is near his people. On the other hand it is a cause for proper fear. Martin Luther explains it this way in speaking of the Ten Commandments, “We should fear and love God…” We can find comfort in God’s presence and grace; we love him for that. We must also realize that he really does care what happens to his church, his people, and the world itself; we will restrain ourselves out of a healthy fear of offending him by hurting those whom he loves.

In this passage, Jesus calls the Ephesian church to repent for the loss of their first love. It seems likely that this church to whom Paul had written, “By grace you have been saved by faith…” had forgotten how dead they had been, or how far God had reached to them in redemption. They were in danger of losing the church itself by their abandonment of this deep thankfulness for God’s grace.

Grace is free, but not cheap. It cost Jesus his life. It is a priceless treasure. God’s grace is the constant companion of those who look to Christ in repentance and faith. But lose sight of it, neglect the awareness of our need for it, take it for granted, and we are likely to lose it. That’s not because God stops being grace-full, but because of the nature of grace itself. Arrogance discards grace as a relic of weakness and a quaint bygone religious relic.

God calls us to repentance and the good works he has prepared for us to do (Ephesians 2:10); works not to gain grace, but to express our praise to God for his glorious grace. I hope somehow I can express my thanks to God for this glorious grace today.

Revelation 1:4-7

To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

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The Coastline of Kavala (near Ephesus, one of the seven churches of Revelation)

Oswald Hoffmann, former speaker of The Lutheran Hour radio program told a joke that I’ve retold many times, and always to a good laugh. The punchline is, “I’m fine, I’m just fine!” If you really want to read the whole joke you can see it here. Suffice it to say, context is everything.
That’s so true if we are to understand the book of Revelation properly. The first thing to remember is that this revelation was given to John during a time of persecution of the Christian church, and of John himself. Interpret this whole book with John’s exile because of his testimony to Jesus Christ, and the dangers everyday Christians were experiencing firmly in mind. You will gain a much better read on what God was actually saying.
As important as the milieu of John’s day is, the words at the beginning of this book are vitally important. John offers “grace and peace.” This phrase is more than a formalistic greeting at the beginning of a letter. This is a deep-felt expression of good will toward those who would read these words. These are the words of a close loved one with your best interests at heart.
That’s not always easy to hear, and sometimes we rebel at challenging words even when spoken out of deep pure love. But if we are to hear what is going to be offered in the coming pages, we must keep grace and peace in mind.
God has incredibly pure and true good will toward us. He wishes us deep and profound peace. If we are to be disturbed, it is so that we will move to a better place and experience a better life. Sometimes that requires that we be disturbed. But the disturbance is akin to being violently awakened from a peaceful deep sleep because the house is on fire and unless we are roused, we will perish in the flames.
God’s words to and through John in this Revelation of Jesus Christ are light and life. They come from the One who rules over all, who also died for all, who also has the keys to life and death. He has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us to be a kingdom of priests to serve our God and Father. This is a great blessing and profound responsibility. We ready ourselves for God’s revelation. We need to know these things. We also need to take to heart his call to vigilance.

1 Corinthians 10:12

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

Our group on the New Orleans Segway tour

Our group on the New Orleans Segway tour

Every time I have seen a group on a Segway tour it as been because they had stopped to attend to someone who had fallen. Last week, while on such a tour I was that guy for whom the group stopped. I had become a bit cocky and felt all too competent 90 minutes into the 2 hour tour. A slight bumpiness in the road, a look to the left, an unintended turn, followed by an over-correction resulted in my spill. I fell hard. Had I not been wearing a helmet I would surely have cracked open my head. As it was, I got up, and finished the tour successfully. The incident left me only with some soreness and a bruised ego.

But just because you have navigated safely for 2/3 of your life, doesn’t mean a tumble is not in your future.

The fuller context of this verse points us toward the example of others and the lessons in humility they teach us. We don’t have to learn only by our own mistakes; we can also learn from the mistakes of others. That’s why we have the examples of failures as well as successes in the Bible.We need to be careful not to assume it will be the other guy who falls, or the other woman who gives into temptation.

Thank God for those life-lessons we can gain from others’ mistakes. Thank God we have a Savior who did not fail and who picks us up when we do. Jesus also gives us a good example to follow. He did not fall or fail because he was truly humble. He was fully commitment to God’s ways, and trusted in the Father’s keeping.

When we display such humility we offer a good example for others. We don’t have to be the negative object lesson from whom others’ learn, we can be the shining light of humility and trust that stands out in a world crowded with pride and self-aggrandizement.

1 Corinthians 10:6-13

Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Psalm 145:1-3

I will extol you, my God and King,
    and bless your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless you
    and praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
    and his greatness is unsearchable.

One of the Painted Churches near Schulenberg, Texas

One of the Painted Churches near Schulenberg, Texas

Today, as I read the five psalms that go with this 25th day of the month (see reading plan below), I recalled singing this psalm in my college choir. I went to a state university, but one of the choir professors was a member of a local Lutheran church and composed a choral arrangement of this psalm. I still remember it today – 40+ years later!

The psalm ends with these reassuring words:

The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
    he also hears their cry and saves them.
20 The Lord preserves all who love him,
    but all the wicked he will destroy.

21 My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,
    and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.

What a great promise to hold to! What a calling for his people: praise his holy name. I look forward to doing so today with God’s people at St. John. I hope and pray that the reader of this blog will join with fellow believers in praise to God today in worship as well.

Today’s psalms are 25; 55; 85; 115; 145. That is just one way of reading through the psalms in one month. You take the day of the month, read the psalm with that same number, add 30 to that number, read that psalm, add 30…and so on. Doing that you will read five psalms per day, 150 in a month’s time. (I usually “cheat” on day 29, since psalm 119 is so long I skip it on the 29th and read it on the 31st.

John 20:15-16 (see fuller context here)

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her,“Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

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Saul had a “God moment” on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). The rich young ruler had one when he asked Jesus about inheriting eternal life (Mark 10:17-22). Isaiah experienced a major one in his vision (Isaiah 6:1-5). The soldiers had a different sort of “God moment” when the angel came from heaven and rolled away the stone as they were guarding the tomb (Matthew 28:1-4). In one way or another these encounters with the living God defined their lives for good or for ill. The difference has to do with their ultimate understanding of what God was doing in their lives and in the world.

Mary’s encounter with Jesus at the tomb on Easter morning is powerful in its simplicity and hints at the nature of fear, love, and hope. Mary’s love for Jesus is obvious: she is weeping because she still grieves Jesus’ death. She is fearful that those who treated Jesus so shamefully had managed to inflict further insult and injury by taking and possibly desecrating his body.

Through her tears she cannot tell who she is speaking to there at the tomb. But when Jesus speaks her name, all her worst fears, her deepest sadness, and dashed hopes begin to melt away. I get the sense that her response, “Teacher” was the question of believing disbelief, the encounter with the too-good-to-be-true presence of the living Jesus. Could it really be him? Is he really alive? Is all my worry, pain, grief, and sadness really able to be let go? May my tears really be turned to joy?

God’s promises to his people are so profound, so far-reaching, and so beyond our ability to conceive. There be a day when we will have every tear wiped away, a day when every knee will bow before the Lord of life who is the Lamb of God, who has taken away the sins of the world. There will be a day when we will see Christ face-to-face, and he will call us by name and we will rejoice in beyond-all-our-dreams hope realized. We will delight to proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord!

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