Friday, August 23, 2013

Part 5: Sharing God's Love Expands His Kingdom

Many Bible scholars consider the apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians to be the “opus magnum” of his theological writings, especially in regard to God’s greatest desire for His church!

In Ephesians 3, Paul writes out his own prayer to our Father God. In this text (vs.15), He is described as being the Father of His family in heaven and on the earth.

Paul uses the Greek word, pas, which literally means “all without exception.” This word has been variously translated as ‘every’ family or as ‘the whole’ family.

The focus of the entire book of Ephesians is on the church, as the coming together of Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus from all across the ancient world.

Because of this focus, and especially within the specific context of the remaining portions of this particular prayer of Paul’s, the translation “the whole family” seems more precise.

Paul continues his prayer, with very powerful exhortations for the Body of Christ to come together in God’s love, as each person individually grows in and shares that special love with all the others:

EPHESIANS 3:17 May Christ through your faith [actually] dwell (settle down, make His permanent home) in your hearts! May you be rooted deep in love and founded securely on love,                    

18That you may have the power and be strong to apprehend and grasp with all the saints [God’s devoted people, the experience of that love] what is the breadth and length and height and depth [of it];

19That you may really come] to know [through experience for yourselves] the love of Christ, which far surpasses mere knowledge [without experience]; that you may be filled [through all your being] unto all the fullness of God [having the richest measure of the divine Presence, to become a body filled and flooded with God Himself]!    

20 Now to Him Who, by the [action of His] power that is at work within us, is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly, far over and above all that we [dare] ask or think [infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams]                  

21To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout every and all generations forever and ever. Amen (so be it).

In these verses, Paul casts a vision for the Ephesians and for every type of gathering of Jesus’ followers, throughout all time.

Paul’s wondrous vision begins with Jesus making His abode, dwelling place, permanent home, within the hearts of each of us, as we continue to believe Him and learn to trust Him more and more.

Trust is the operative word for our relationship with Jesus, because it connotes both knowledge that the Person we are trusting really does love us, and an understanding that we must have faith in that Person, in order to truly trust them.

Our knowledge and acceptance of the love of Jesus for us grows with our faith and trust in Him. As our ability to receive the love of Jesus for us grows, it must flow out through us, in love toward others.

Strong, deep, secure roots always produce good fruit, if the planting is allowed to grow to its full measure!

When we begin to live out and act on the love that Jesus wants to shine through us to others, we must learn to lean on Him to be empowered and enabled to actualize His loving-kindness, because it will always take us beyond our own abilities.

Jesus’ love must take on more and more of a corporate nature, as we learn to work with others, to show His love to many more people than we could do by ourselves, as isolated lone rangers.

This empowerment is not only for what we are about to do, but is also given to us to envision, to begin to see how immense His love can be, how far it can stretch, and how many people could actually be touched by it, as it is being expressed by many combined believers walking and releasing His love together.

Of course, this combined effort is not only built on individuals knowing the love of Jesus themselves, but is generated by each sharing with many others within the Body of Christ, so that the love flows out of an abundance, that is present and active and growing already.

The real, ongoing experience of loving together, not only broadens our horizons in knowing how unimaginably huge God’s love, but everyone touched by it is indelibly impacted in a positive way.

This impact is so great that it causes the people who have been touched in this way to move far past any theoretical understandings in their minds.

They rise up, to go on and become filled with the very Presence of God, until He Himself has saturated and flooded their beings, both as individuals and as a whole gathering of God’s people.

Being flooded with the richest measure of the fullness of God not only seals the true experiential knowledge of God in us, but also teaches us to expect the full power of God resident within each of us by the Holy Spirit, to be available to us as we pray, worship, and move forward in His unfolding will and His Kingdom extending out from us.

Fully embraced by Jesus’ love, and enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be more fervent and bold in our prayers, and in our godly objectives.

We can move forward, prophetically enlightened to trust God farther, knowing He will always do “superabundantly, far over and above all that we [dare] ask or think [infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams].“

This level of faith and love is not usually experienced by an isolated individual, but is the result of sustained corporate walking by faith and working in God’s agape love by multiple dedicated servants of Jesus.    

Paul’s prayer concludes with a faith-filled hope for every generation to somehow enter into the same kind of glory that Jesus Himself walked in, during His days on the earth.

His hope is not unattainable, because it is the same as Jesus indicated could happen, if His disciples would learn to love and trust and obey all that He was teaching them (and each of us since their day).

We have this only this singular generation in which to become totally His, and to become mightily used by Him, for His purposes to the people of our day and time, people we are being called to learn to love, even as Jesus loves them.

This can never be humanly accomplished on our own, but by purposely committing ourselves to Jesus daily, we will be found in Him and He in us, both to generate within, and then to transmit His incredible love out to others through our eyes, our bright faces and smiles, our words and our actions!

Neil Uniacke, Executive Director 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Too Blessed to Complain

Recently, a devotional from Our Daily Bread spoke to me. The concept of being “too blessed” is not new and we often speak about our blessings and I know that I have abundantly more than a lot of people in the world. But sometimes seeing it firsthand is more powerful than just hearing or reading about other people’s struggles.
My church has been trying hard to reach out to our local community. We have been interacting specifically with three families.  Believe me, none of these families have it easy. The one couple has severe health issues and a tremendous amount of their money goes for prescription drugs.  They were so appreciative when the church financially helped to send two of their children to a Christian camp for a week.  It would have been impossible for them to come up with the money to send them, and they were so grateful that their children could have this opportunity.

A second couple lives in a mobile home in a mobile home park and both are on disability so have a very limited income. They were so excited when we as a church, also gave their girls the opportunity to experience a week at camp.  They wanted to drive the girls to camp the first day to register them and see their cabins but they had no gas for their car until the next disability check came.  We were able to loan them $20.00 so they were able to make the trip.
The third couple also lives in the same mobile home park. Their mobile home dates back to 1966 and is in great need of repair. There was water damage to the ceiling and walls of the house and because they also are on a very limited income with only one of them working, they were unable to buy the paint and other materials needed to patch things up. Using money from our benevolence fund, we were able to help them buy the materials and also give a hand with the repairs.

These families have so little and I have so much. Of course I do not have an unlimited money supply, but I can afford to send my child to camp. At the gas pump, I swipe my card and don’t question whether I have enough cash to fill my tank. If our house needs maintenance and minor repair, we go and get the materials that we need without debating whether there is enough money in our bank account to cover the cost. Yet I will complain that I haven’t gone on a vacation for years, that I have too much yard to mow, that the house is too big for me to keep after, or that I am so busy working I don’t have time to do something else that I would enjoy. How SILLY! I need to stop and look around me and see how I can share the blessings that I have with others. I need to change my attitude from “I don’t have time to deal with other people’s problems” to “I need to take the time to listen and to help others who are dealing with major life crises.”
Working with these families has opened my eyes to how many around us live on a very meager income and just barely scrape along and sometimes can’t even afford what we consider the necessities of life. I have no idea why I have so much and others so little (life isn’t fair). However, maybe I have been put in these people’s lives for such a time as this. If I am available to listen to them, love them and their children, and pray for and with them, God is able to do much more than I can ask or imagine in all of our lives. My prayer is that I will keep my eyes and ears open to ways that I can bless others and that I will keep my mouth shut when I am tempted to complain about some minor inconvenience in my life.

We don’t need more to be thankful for, we just need to be more thankful. ~ Bill Crowder
Mary Lehman

Monday, August 12, 2013

"One Thousand Gifts"

Several months ago a friend recommended that I read "One Thousand Gifts" by Ann Voskamp. As I read the back cover of the book I saw that this book "beckons me to leave the parched ground of pride, fear, and white-knuckle control and abandon myself to the God who overflows my cup. The author invites you to intentionally embrace a lifestyle of radical gratitude; and slow down and catch God in the moment."

As I started to read through this book, I quickly realized that I often see what is NOT in my life instead of seeing all of the things that ARE in my life. Too often, I live a life of ingratitude. I saw my need to adjust how I look at life.

The author started to make a list of 1000 gifts she saw in her life. They included such simple things as "clean sheets smelling like the wind, hot oatmeal tasting like home, and bare toes in early light." Ann was seeing the things that are around her every day and she started to count them as gifts. She then encouraged the reader to count their gifts also.

Throughout the book, Ann opens up and shares some of the pain she so carefully hid deep inside herself. As she started to count gifts in her life, her whole outlook on life changed. Her friends and family saw Ann looking at life in a different way. She was seeing what God had given her and focused on those things instead of focusing on the things she had lost in life.

I must admit that I started to read this book and did not finish it right away. Ann writes in a poetic style that took me a while to get used to. I did start to read through the book again not long ago. While the writing style is still different than anything else I have read, when I get past the style of the book, the message is something my heart needs to hear. I need to look at life with a heart of thanksgiving and gratitude for all that I DO have in my life. I do truly have an abundance.

I have started to make my list of 1000 things I am thankful for. I have not gotten too far and I catch myself being ungrateful and negative at times. But when I remember my list and add something to what I have to be thankful for, my attitude changes and I again remember that God really is good all of the time. My circumstances may not change, but my heart changes. And, that is a gift in my life. I think that I will go add another gift or two or more to my list of the over 1000 gifts that I have to be thankful for.

Deb Riddell
Thrift Store Manager

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Listening with Love

I've recently read an older book by Abraham Schmitt titled, The Art of Listening with Love (1982). Each chapter gives examples of how listening with love changed a person's life. Now, you would think that a professional counselor would be an authority on listening well, but I must say that sometimes, I'm not a very good listener.

I'm one of those people who hears a portion of something a friend is saying and instead of listening completely to the entire thought, I begin to formulate what I'm going to contribute to the conversation. In doing that, I miss a lot of the heart behind my friend's communication.

Proverbs 18:13 states, "He who answers before listening--that is his folly and his shame." Many a time, I've put the proverbial foot in my mouth because of an over-zealous need to speak. Obviously, that kind of self-orientation can hurt people.

But, there is hope for most of us "quick-speakers." If we change our half-hearted listening to whole-hearted listening, it slows us down. We turn from thinking of our own agendas and what we want in the conversation to listening with love for the other person. And some pretty awesome things happen when we listen with love.

We hear what's in-between the words. We hear the heart and spirit behind the circumstances or story. Then, as we appropriately (and in a timely fashion) respond, we're able to ask deeper questions or state empathic words of comfort. Our friends know we truly care. They can walk away from the conversation knowing that even if their circumstances haven't changed, they are not alone.

So, let's experiment in our conversations this week. Let's vow to listen be slow to speak and quick to listen. Shoot us an email here at New Hope and let us know how it made a difference. We'd love to hear your stories!

Shannon Shertzer, MS, NCC