A Very Personal Walk through Ephesians – 30

Embracing God’s love for me

30. God, my role model, is intentional.

Ephesians 5:10, 15-20. “Carefully determine what pleases the Lord…. So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (NLT)

To continue the thoughts about intentional living from yesterday: What I am beginning to see is that God is consistently intentional in how He deals with us. Earlier in Ephesians I saw that before any of us were born God had a plan for each of His followers. Recognizing His intentionality at least partially answers the question raised in 5:10, What pleases God? Ephesians 1:5 tells me that God’s plan for our salvation was His decision “and it gave him great pleasure” (NLT). God’s intentions are also seen in 1:11, “he makes everything work out according to his plan” and in 2:10, “the good things that he planned for us long ago.” His intentional, purposeful plans for His children bring Him great pleasure. That leads me to believe that when I live deliberately, it pleases Him. 

My recent readings in the Psalms demonstrate that God’s plans and purposes for His people are seen throughout Old and New Testaments, as seen in Psalms 138 and 139: “The Lord will work out his plans for my life” (138:8) and “Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed” (139:16).

My take-away: Reinforcement of the concept that living my life purposefully will honor God and bring Him pleasure, along with the reminder that it is God’s work in me (not primarily my effort) that fulfills His plans. I live within the biblical tension between His great power that accomplishes His plans, and my efforts to live intentionally by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Thank You, Father, for showing me not only Your consistency over the ages, but also Your intimate interaction in our lives. This is probably what amazes me the most about You. That the creator of the universe has inter-woven plans that include all of Your creations. I cannot begin to understand how that can be done, but I praise You for Your sovereignty over all of Your creation. Amen

From the personal devotional notes of Peggy McKechnie, certified life coach and follower after God’s own heart. You are invited to contact Peggy through ChurchHealthMinistries.com.

A Very Personal Walk through Ephesians – 29

Embracing God’s love for me

29. How can I figure out what pleases the Lord? 

Ephesians 5:10. “Carefully determine what pleases the Lord.” (NLT)

“…try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” (ESV)

“…test everything to see what’s pleasing to the Lord” (CEB)

When I read this passage this morning, my primary question was “How can I ‘carefully determine what pleases the Lord’ today?” Would He be pleased as He watches me doing my chores, going to work, interacting with people, checking off each item on my to-do list? The conclusion I came to was – yes and no. I think that my Father would be pleased that I was serving and loving other people. But I think He would also be sad that I let myself get stressed by having to rush to work; that I didn’t ask for His help when I had that problem at work that I could not solve; that I filled all my “alone” commuting time entertaining myself rather than spending any of that time listening to Him. These responses would not be terrible, but they would demonstrate that I was living unintentionally. Although I periodically examine my life to see that I am heading toward goals I think God has planned for me, I too often drift through my days without specific thought about what would please God that day. 

I recognize that in this passage Paul is instructing the readers to be careful to determine what pleases God in the context of the darkness surrounding them, with immoral sexual practices and temptations present. Those are not my primary temptations, but rather the comfortable pattern of being busy doing tasks without a deliberate purpose in view. There are days when checking off items on my to-do list is my highest priority. The things I am doing are good and many are necessary, but I want to live a higher goal than that.

The verses surrounding verse 10 expand on this topic. In verse 11 the “deeds of evil and darkness” are characterized as “worthless” or “unfruitful” (ESV). They are the opposite of deeds that are purposeful and valuable. Verses 15 through 17 encourage me to “be careful how [I] live,” “make the most of every opportunity,” and act thoughtfully.  There is no room here for drifting through life. I want to live purposefully, intentionally doing what I know is pleasing to God. 

For me, that starts with actively exercising faith by trusting God in each situation, each day. What does that look like?

  • Meeting with God during my morning quiet time, not just reading a passage in order to complete that task, but taking time to listen to what the Holy Spirit may be saying to me through the Bible and prayer.
  • Making time for undistracted prayer before I leave for work, not just counting on praying while I drive to work.
  • Asking God for help with each challenge, big or small, that arises during the day.
  • (And giving myself grace when I forget each of the above. My goal is to increase in these areas. I know it will be a gradual process.)

Father, please help me to be intentional in how I follow You. Remind me during this day to be purposeful in my thoughts and actions. Show me how my experiences throughout the day fit together to help me grow and to bring glory and pleasure to You. Amen

From the personal devotional notes of Peggy McKechnie, certified life coach and follower after God’s own heart. You are invited to contact Peggy through ChurchHealthMinistries.com.

A Very Personal Walk through Ephesians – 28

Embracing God’s love for me

28. Living as people of light

Ephesians 5:8-9. “For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.” (NLT) ESV: verse 8, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.”

Paul has described the change in his readers from “old nature” to “new nature” in chapter 4 and now he views this internal change from a different angle, from “dark” to “light.” It’s interesting to me that he does not say I was in the darkness, although I was, but that I was dark, (which is more obvious in the ESV translation) and now I am light. This is not just a matter of changing my environment; it’s a matter of changing my identity.  Paul is again emphasizing the supernatural change that occurs when Christ lives within us. I would love to exude goodness and righteousness and truth naturally, but I know that is not going to happen by my effort. I need to be changed by supernatural power, not by my willpower. 

As an aside, this contrast between being darkness and being light reminds me that the “world” has so trained us that the most interesting things in life are those that involve darkness. For instance, the most popular movies, programs on TV, or news broadcasts are about murder, sexual sins, robberies, political misdeeds, etc. There is very little that would fall under the heading of what is good, right, or true. Those good stories would not sound particularly interesting or appealing. However, it is true that since the pandemic started, I have seen many more news broadcasts about people helping each other. Many of these positive acts of “light” have been performed by followers of Christ, but there are also many nonbelievers who have shown compassion and sacrifice for others. Perhaps this is an indication of the image of God in all whom He has created. 

What would a light-filled life and interactions really look like? Paul is going to explain this more thoroughly in the next 5 verses. 

Father, as Your daughter I now have light from You that gives light to my life. Christ in me is full of goodness, righteousness, and truth. Please help me to live according to my identity in Christ so that others may see Him in me. Amen

From the personal devotional notes of Peggy McKechnie, certified life coach and follower after God’s own heart. You are invited to contact Peggy through ChurchHealthMinistries.com.

A Very Personal Walk through Ephesians – 27

Embracing God’s love for me

27. What are my idols?

Ephesians 5:5. You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. (NLT)

What idols do I worship? I’ve heard I can determine this by looking at how I spend my time, my money, and my energy (emotional, physical, and thought energy). I recognize that sometimes there are things in my life that are a higher priority or more alluring to me than God, that fill my mind and stir my emotions and could almost be obsessions. When I initially fell in love with Allan, he was nearly all I could think about. When my “perfect” job started it crowded out most other thoughts for a while. My ongoing thrill of having grandchildren brings me enjoyment that rivals other interests in my life. The enjoyment and refreshment of a new hobby takes up my thoughts, time, and money. Are these idols?

When recognized as gifts from God, and received with gratitude to Him, I don’t think these experiences and responses are sinful. But I am aware that they each have the potential of distancing me from God, as when they crowd my daily quiet time. But they also have the potential of drawing me closer to God when I thank Him for His gifts and use them to serve others and bring glory to Him. In these situations, I need to monitor the impact of the gifts by being aware of how they might distract me from other priorities and responsibilities. Focusing on thanking God for these blessings will help me keep appropriate boundaries and priorities.

Was Paul referring to these types of distractions as idols? I don’t think so. Some commentators, because of the obvious context of the passage, believe that Paul is referring here to unrestrained sexual greed as being idolatry. “All the important idolatries have always centered on those forces which have enough specious [deceptive] power to be truly counterfeit, and therefore truly dangerous: sexuality (fertility), riches, and power (glory). All idolatry is a form of covetousness,” wanting to get personal gain without acknowledging that the gifts and/or power are from God.*   

So what are clearly the real idols in my life, which I put ahead of my relationship with God? I asked a wise man today what he thought was the most common idol among American Christians. He said, “independence.” I can identify with that idol. Isn’t wanting to be self-sufficient, in control of my circumstances, and the solver of all my (and everyone else’s) problems exactly how I naturally respond to life? Why do I first try to control life with my plans and abilities and only remember to trust God with my cares when my own plans fail? In those situations, I want to “do it my way” without acknowledging that I need God’s help. My progress in exercising faith is slow, but I am learning.

Father I am aware of my tendency to run after the things that bring me the most immediate gratification. Please help me to love You more than them all. Turn my affections and attention back toward you as a response of gratitude. Please convict me when I am neglecting you for the things of the world, no matter how bright and shiny they are. My desire is to love you with all that I am and all that I have. And please help me to trust You quickly when I am in need. I want to live in truth, recognizing that I am completely dependent on You. Amen

* L. T. Johnson, as quoted in Andrew T. Lincoln (1990). Word Biblical Commentary: Ephesians. Dallas: Word Books, p 324.

From the personal devotional notes of Peggy McKechnie, certified life coach and follower after God’s own heart. You are invited to contact Peggy through ChurchHealthMinistries.com.

A Very Personal Walk through Ephesians – 26

Embracing God’s love for me

26. When gratitude is more than an attitude. 

Ephesians 5:3-4. Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes — these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. (NLT)

In this passage Paul strongly denounces sexual sins and greed, described first in general terms and then referring to sexually inappropriate speech. As an antidote to these sins, he advises thankfulness. At first this didn’t make sense to me. How was thanksgiving the opposite of or the cure for sexual sin, especially since Paul’s emphasis is on sinful sexual language? 

Once again, O’Brien’s commentary was very helpful for me. He points out that thanksgiving “is the distinctive mark of Christian speech;” giving thanks verbally reflects a completely different attitude from the sins just described. Sexual sins and greed are self-centered and arise from a desire to please myself; thanksgiving is the opposite and focuses on God’s generosity. “Thanksgiving is almost a synonym for the Christian life. It is the response of gratitude to God’s saving activity in creation and redemption, and thus a recognition that he is the ultimate source of every blessing.” *

The emphasis here is on how to talk. The positive message of this passage is to be thankful to God. I usually think of this as an attitude, but in this passage verbally giving thanks is a concrete action which is the opposite of crude speech. 

How can my conversation be full of gratitude today? I will look for opportunities: 

  • to tell others about a blessing God has given me, 
  • to let someone know how grateful I am for him or her,
  • to pray my thanks to God each time I recognize a gift.

Father, please help me remember to be thankful and to develop the habit of rehearsing your gracious blessings to me, our family, our church, our country… Amen.

*O’Brien, Peter T (1999). The Letter to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, p 361.

From the personal devotional notes of Peggy McKechnie, certified life coach and follower after God’s own heart. You are invited to contact Peggy through ChurchHealthMinistries.com.

A Very Personal Walk through Ephesians – 25

Embracing God’s love for me

25. Is God my role model?

Ephesians 5:1-2. Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. (NLT)

I love to watch children imitate their fathers, little boys “shaving” their chins, children trying to dunk a basketball into a three-foot-high hoop, pushing a plastic mower behind Dad as he cuts the lawn. As a human father can be a role model for his children, so our Father God is a role model for His children. The more time I watch my Father and spend with Him, the more I will know Him and want to be like Him. And the more I will know how to be like Him. This knowledge comes mostly through the Bible, but also through watching God’s interactions with the world He created. He is kind even to those who do not acknowledge Him. He still loves me even when I am avoiding Him, when I know what I should do but I’m slow to do it. He does not reject me for my flaws but instead sees me as being perfect, complete, and whole in Christ because He sees Jesus, and Jesus is interceding for me. The more I recognize how God reveals Himself the more I will be able to imitate Him.

Verse two gives specifics on how to imitate God: love others as Christ did during His life and by His sacrificial death for us. If I follow the example of Christ, I will love and act gracefully even to those who don’t reciprocate. I will see others as creations of God and treat them with respect, compassion, and patience. I will sacrifice my “rights” for others –- the whole concept of “consider others as more important than yourselves” in Philippians 2:3.

How can I imitate God today? I would love to do this spontaneously, without pre-planning, and I do pray for God to make me naturally more like Himself. But I also know that I need to take intentional steps to imitate Him. So today I will look for one person or situation in which I can intentionally give up what I would prefer in order to demonstrate God’s love. It’s a little step but moves me in the right direction. 

Father, I know I can never be entirely like You, but today my desire is to be loving like You. Please change my core attitude to be more loving toward others; then may that attitude shape my actions into expressions of Your love. Holy Spirit, today make me aware of an opportunity to imitate God. And may it be “a pleasing aroma” to You. Amen

A Very Personal Walk through Ephesians – 24

Embracing God’s love for me

24. How can my words build someone up?  

Ephesians 4:29. “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” (NLT)

ESV – let your speech be “such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

NIV – speak “only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

When this passage is taught, we often stress the importance of avoiding foul language, as indeed we should. But this time going through Ephesians I am struck by the potential of positive communication.

My conversation can have a significantly positive effect on others! What a lofty goal! I am to speak to others in a way which could “give grace to them.” O’Brien puts it this way: “Having put on the new man, we will want to develop new standards of conversation so that our words will be a blessing, perhaps even the means by which God’s grace comes to those who hear.” * I have heard and read a lot about the power of words and the encouragement that can come from one person to another based on what is said. But I’ve never before understood how powerful this could be. That God would dispense grace to another person through my conversation with them?

This raises a conversation from a pleasant feel-good encouragement to a supernatural level in which the Holy Spirit can communicate to another person through what I say, sometimes through my words and sometimes in spite of the words I use. I believe that the Spirit can communicate directly to people by causing them to understand more than what the speaker has actually said. Sometimes the Spirit helps the listener to “connect the dots” between the current conversation and multiple messages a listener has heard in the past and come up with a deeper understanding than he/she had previously. 

How can I speak in a way that builds others up and blesses them? What can I say that is more than just a culturally acceptable pleasantry? The context gives me some general direction: 

1) I can choose to speak words that “build up” the hearer. One commentary describes using “any words that build the confidence of one’s sisters and brothers, encourage them in their tasks, and create goodwill.” **

2) I can choose words that “fit the occasion” and are “according to their needs.” What are the needs of the person I’m talking to? Does she need encouragement? Has he accomplished something to be celebrated? Are they new to our church and perhaps need welcoming words? These questions point out the need for me to get to know my brothers and sisters on a deeper level, so I know what their needs are.

3) This passage implies that God will work through some conversations to give grace to the hearer. The possibility of supernatural benefit for another person motivates me to prayerfully consider how I can talk with others, and to ask the Holy Spirit for sensitivity to know what and when to speak.

One way to start is to ask myself, how would I like a spiritual sister or brother to speak to me? What kind of comment would encourage me? How would I like to be celebrated? What kind of response from a friend refreshes and energizes me? When I am going through a difficult time, what kind of conversation would help me trust God more?

Father, please help me to develop the ability to build up others through my speech. I want to be a conduit of Your love and grace to others. Thank You for those who have given me Your message through their words. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

*O’Brien, Peter T (1999). The Letter to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, p 345. Emphasis added.

**Andrew T. Lincoln (1990). Word Biblical Commentary: Ephesians. Dallas: Word Books, p 306.   

A Very Personal Walk through Ephesians – 23

Embracing God’s love for me

23. How do I put on the image of God?

Ephesians 4:17-24.  “With the Lord’s authority I say this: live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity. But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God — truly righteous and holy.” (NLT – my italics) or “created after the likeness of God” (ESV)

Continuing the thoughts of my last devotional time, looking at taking off my old nature and putting on my new nature. Another thought from this passage is that my new nature is “created to be like God.” We know from the creation account that Adam and Eve were created in God’s image. I wish I knew exactly what Genesis 1:26-27 meant by that. Are we like God in the way we are relational beings, able to love and connect with each other? Are we like Him in our range of emotions? In our creative abilities? In our desire for purposeful life? After human beings first sinned, did that change how subsequent babies were created? Was our image of God corrupted after the Fall, leaving us unable to be righteous? And now, as believers, is our new nature a quantitative or qualitative change in our natures? In other words, is God changing our inborn image-of-God qualities to be more pure, more loving, more patient, etc., than we would be without His work? Or is He giving us totally new qualities from what we had before new life in Christ began? Or perhaps a combination of both??  

Once again, I end up with more questions than answers. What I do know from Ephesians is that I have been created “anew in Christ Jesus, so [I] can do the good things he planned for [me] long ago” (2:10). Without this new birth, I would be unable to accomplish the good things He prepared for me to do. And I also get a hint from James 3:9 that human beings are still “made in the image of God.” That affects how I view others; since they are made in the image of God, I owe all people respect and compassion. 

Father, no matter how You have put Your stamp of identity on human beings, I want to see myself and others in the same way You view us. Please, Holy Spirit, change how I think and feel and act so that I can look more and more like Jesus to those with whom I come in contact. Amen.

A Very Personal Walk through Ephesians – 22

Embracing God’s love for me

22.  How do I take off one nature and put on another? 

Ephesians 4:17-24.  “With the Lord’s authority I say this: live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity. But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God — truly righteous and holy.” NLT 

I love the play of tenses in this passage. The Greek indicates that throwing off my pre-Christian ways involves actively turning from what used to be my natural desires and actions. This is something I need to do intentionally, agreeing with God that those ways are not God’s ways, and turning away from them (confessing and repenting). Then, in contrast, Paul instructs us to replace that way of living by a passive response to God* by letting His Spirit change how we think and feel. This is similar to Paul’s instructions to “let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think” in Romans 12:2. At times I tend to reverse the actions of taking off and putting on. I passively accept God’s forgiveness for my ungodly thoughts, feelings, and actions, and I put lots of energy into trying to make myself better, at least in my own eyes. 

So how should I throw off my old nature? Some parts of my old nature are easier to take off than other parts. But I need help on all parts. Some things mentioned in this chapter are fairly simple (but not easy), to take off. For example, “stop telling lies” (v. 25). The simple solution? Just don’t tell them; still easier said than done, right? But other aspects of my old nature are much more complicated. For example, how do I get rid of bitterness (v. 31) that may have developed over years in response to hurts? 

I think the point is that all aspects of my old sin nature need more than just my decision to stop, more than just my willpower. They need supernatural intervention. My part is to recognize aspects of my sin nature as I become aware of them through the Holy Spirit, confess, repent, and ask God to remove them. He will help me change, sometimes abruptly, but most often gradually. And God often works His supernatural change through interaction within a relationship with another human being or community.  For example, when I talk with my husband Allan about a characteristic needing change in my life and enlist his prayer and accountability help, it is more likely that I will see God changing me internally. 

Holy Spirit, please do Your often-painful work of convicting me of my sins and giving me grace so that I can turn from them through Your help. Make me more like my Father. Amen.

*O’Brien, Peter T (1999). The Letter to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, p 329.

A Very Personal Walk through Ephesians – 21

Embracing God’s love for me

21. Why did God give gifts and people? 

Ephesians 4:11-16. “Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” (NLT)

My outline of the progression of this passage:

God gave gifts to certain people —or— God gave certain people as gifts to the church (passage might mean either or both according to commentaries),

  • In order to – get God’s people ready to do His work (the meaning of “equipping”);
  • In order that — the community of Jesus-followers will live and work together more effectively; the church will look more like a living organism (a body) than an organization;
  • In order that — we all become spiritually mature by being united in our faith and knowledge of Christ;
  • So that – 

> we will individually be mature and Christlike; 

> we won’t be fooled by those who teach ideas that are 

contrary to the truths presented in the Bible;           

> we will lovingly speak the truth;

> we will grow more and more like Christ in every 

aspect of our lives;

> we will fit together with our Christian brothers and 

sisters to form a healthy functioning Church;

> we will each do our own special work, 

using our individual gifts for the benefit of all;

> we will help each other grow;

  • Resulting in – personal spiritual maturity and a more loving, growing, healthy church. 

What do the gifts say about the giver of the gifts? (God)

  • He is generous. He could manage His business Himself, but He has chosen to work through His human followers.
  • He wants His community, His Bride, to be united, taking care of each other, and helping each other build His kingdom. 
  • His goal for us includes personal fulfillment (each with a gift, each with a significant purpose, each benefiting from the interactions with other believers, each in personal spiritual relationship with the Father.) 
  • His goal for the Church is to carry on the work of Christ, loving and bringing honor to God, loving others, reflecting the nature of God, inviting others to enter a relationship with God, etc.

Where do I fit into this progression? And how should I respond?

1. I will recognize my gifts and use them as part of the church. This will require communication with others in the church so I know how I fit together effectively with others in our church. 

2. I will recognize others’ gifts, work harmoniously with them, and pray for their effectiveness and personal growth.

3. I will feed myself wholesome (spiritual) food and exercise (my faith) regularly so I can continue to grow spiritually. 

Thank You, Lord, for the gifts You have given to Your church. Thank You for how You have made each of us to play a significant part in Your church body, just as each of our physical organs plays an essential part in our physical body. Please help me to remember that any gift You have given me or ministry You have called me to is for the purpose of building Your community, not primarily for my personal satisfaction or feeling of fulfillment.  Purify my motives so that I will serve You and others out of love. Amen