Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I have direct access to God through the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:18)

During those tumultuous pre-teen and early teen years, I wasn't sure I wanted to live.  Though my childhood could be described as "normal" (as "normal" as life can be, I guess, without the Lord!), puberty struck like a tsunami.  My height shot up and my weight missed the memo and stayed the same.  I was about 6' 2" and 120 lb. at one point.  With a skeleton for a body, acne on my face and braces on my teeth, I was the butt of jokes, a convenient target for ridicule to take the spotlight off other insecure youth.  I didn't feel like I belonged and so suicide became a pleasant mode of fantasy, though I never actually attempted to take my life.

Years later, I realized that a good summary "name" or "label" for how I was viewed (and how I viewed myself) during those awful years was outcast.  Looking back on those days, if someone were to come to me now with one of those "Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes" checks for $1 million and told me, "This can all be yours...on one condition:  You have to live out your junior high years again!", I would tell them, "No thanks!  Keep your money!!"  Maybe you can relate.

Before the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and His death, burial, resurrection and ascension, the Jewish people were "in", the Gentiles were...well, largely outcasts.  Not so much in God's eyes, but in the eyes of the Jewish nation.  But Jesus changed all that.  His death broke down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile as it was breaking down the dividing wall (the veil of the temple) between man and God.

So now, in Christ, there is no distinction in terms of acceptability to God or access to the Father.  That's what Paul meant when he wrote, "Here there is no Greek [Gentile] or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and in all" (Colossians 3:11).  As Ephesians 2:18 says, we all have direct access to God...into the very Holy of Holies...through the Holy Spirit, because of what Christ has done for us.

Ever feel like an outsider?  Ever feel like an outcast, like you don't belong?  Maybe you have even felt that way as a Christian...that somehow the church is for others, but not for you.  Not so!  You have as much right to come to God as Billy Graham or Charles Stanley or any other Christian leader you see as "worthy."  You...yes you...have direct access (you don't have to go through anyone but Jesus!) to God the Father through the Holy Spirit.  You have the right to come into the presence of God along with all your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Why don't you take advantage of that direct access today and go spend some time with your loving heavenly Father who delights in you?  His scepter is extended toward you today, warmly welcoming you into His presence. 

Thursday, May 12, 2011

I have been adopted as God's child (Ephesians 1:5)

All five of us held our breath as we waited for him to emerge from the crowded, noisy cafeteria.  Our four-year-old son, Lua (later named "Luke"), soon came bounding out, full of energy, eyes bright with joy.  "There he is!" I kept saying as I held the video camera, seeking to capture every movement he made.  Our other kids giggled as they watched their new brother chase a ball we had given him as a welcome present.

Within an hour or so he was sitting in a minivan, driving away from the Rangsit Babies Home, leaving forever the orphanage outside of Bangkok, Thailand where he had spent the previous few years.  He never looked back.  Although there were still official documents to fill out and sign, from that moment on, Luke was our adopted son...part of the "Miller" family.  By law, all the rights and responsibilities of being Luke's parents were transferred to Shirley and me and his former family could never again claim him as their own.

The momentous change to Luke's life that commenced at that moment was far beyond what he could comprehend.  He had a new name, a new family, a new father and mother, new brothers and sisters, a new home, and a new nationality.  He would learn a new language, wear new clothes, eat new foods, experience a new climate and new surroundings, including plant and animal life, and attend new schools with children who looked much different from him.  In reality, Luke had a completely new life, though habits learned in the orphanage would still travel with him to America.

Scripture says that God "predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ" (Eph. 1:5).  God knew long before we were born that one day He would give us a new name, a new family, a new Father, new brothers and sisters in Christ, while preparing a new home for us as citizens of a new "country", heaven.  We would learn a new language of faith and wear new clothes of righteousness.  In reality, we would have a completely new life...the old things passed away...though He knew we would still battle the old ways of living life in the "orphanage" of life without God.  But, praise God, our old Adam...governed by the father of lies, the devil...can never claim us again as his own!  We are welcomed members of God's family, adopted as sons!

"For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption as sons [sonship].  And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father."   (Romans 8:15)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I am a saint (Ephesians 1:1)

The apostle Paul opened up his letter to the Ephesians by saying, "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God to the sinners in Ephesus..."  Hmmm?  What did you say?  Oh, you're telling me he wrote to the saints in Ephesus?  Okay, so he was writing to the super-spiritual people in that city who performed miracles and were eventually recognized by church authorities...  No?  Okay, so Paul was obviously writing to the pastors and elders in that church, right...?  No?  Well then who was he writing to?

You're right!  Paul was writing to the rank and file, those who sat in the "pews" every Sunday morning, believers in Christ, followers of the Lord like you and me.

Most people don't see themselves as saints, so I like to have fun at the conferences I do.  I encourage people to take off their name tags and write St. in front of their name, if they are sure they are one of Christ's followers, and then I have them put their name tags back on.  I jokingly caution them not to put the St. after their name, or they'll become a street!  After wearing that name tag for a day or so, it is exciting to see people become more comfortable with viewing themselves as saints...even calling themselves St. Melanie or St. Frank or whatever.

So what is a saint?  A saint is a holy one, one who (as Colossians 1:13,14 tells us), has been "rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought...into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."  A saint has been set apart from sin and set apart for God.  Saints have been bought out of slavery to sin.  Saints have been forgiven.

Saints, however, aren't perfect (just ask your spouse or a close friend!) but saints do have a new nature and a new identity.  Saints have become partakers of the divine nature (see 2 Peter 1:4), which doesn't mean we become gods, but it does mean we have the capacity to become godly, more and more like the Lord Jesus Christ in our character.

So the next time some well-meaning preacher in a sermon shouts to everybody at church, "Well, we're just dirty, no-good, sinners saved by grace, headed to heaven someday!" you might want to say to yourself, "Well, I was a dirty, no-good sinner.  I have been saved by grace.  But I am now a saint who still sins, but doesn't have to.  And that's the truth!