For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. – Ephesians 3:1-13

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Dogwood Canyon Nature Preserve | October 2019

Perhaps you’ve been part of a progressive reveal party. It started for one woman when her husband told her on morning, “Pack your bags for a five night stay. Bring clothes for warm weather, including your swimsuit.” The day started with a trip to the airport. Somehow he managed to keep her from learning their destination for a period of time. When they landed they were in Hawaii. It was an early celebration of her birthday!

When she woke up that morning she had no idea of what would come her way. We’re in much the same situation. We have no idea what God is planning for us day by day. One day unfolds like the other. But who knows what tomorrow will bring? We have some idea of God’s good will. He has made promises about the day of redemption.

We know we’re heaven bound because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We know it will be gloriously wonderful. Streets paved with gold. A heavenly feast of grand celebration. But we are also told, “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears” (1 John 3:2). There is yet a mystery to be revealed.

Throughout the ages of the Old Testament the people of God anticipated the coming of the Messiah. They knew something of his coming, but had no idea of what he would actually look like. In fact, they were hard-heartedly wrong in their expectations and rejected the true Son of God.

Imagine life in Egypt the day prior to the Exodus. Could they have known what God had in store for them? First elated, then worry about the pressing Egyptian army and the Red Sea. Fearing all was lost only to see the sea parted and a way made for their escape. And so it goes. One day after another. One time after another. God reveals a bit more of his plan. Another page is turned. Another mystery unfolds.

Then comes the message of Jesus to the Gentiles. They had no idea until God revealed it to them through Paul. Then comes their joy at the Good News of their salvation and their place at the table with the Jewish believers.

What will tomorrow bring for us? Trouble? Perhaps. Challenge? No doubt. But there will be a day when a new unfolding of God’s grace will make its presence known. We will marvel in delight on that Great Day.

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. – Ephesians 3:1-13

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Waterfall III | Dogwood Canyon Nature Park | October 2019

I couldn’t wait to tell everyone. The news was good, and a weight of worry had been lifted from my shoulders. Our son’s sweat chloride tests came back “negative.” When you have a medical test, “negative” is a good thing to hear! He didn’t have cystic fibrosis. I wanted to call my sisters, my mom, our friends and church members, “Stephen’s OK. He doesn’t have CF!”

The implications of that good news are more far-reaching than you might imagine. If he had CF it would mean that both Diane and I had the recessive gene that causes this dread disease. It means that our family members would quite possibly have the recessive gene as well. The bad news would roll out over many people and even shape decisions for generations to come. CF is a dread disease. And we were spared its grave consequences.

The Good News of Jesus’ love, sacrificial death for our sins, and his resurrection from the grave are truly good news for all people. Those who believe in him have the promise of eternal life. When he returns at the end of time we who are his will rejoice forever in praise of his glorious grace. We need to spread this Good News to everyone.

Your neighbor needs to hear this Good News. So does your boss, your children, spouse, co-worker, friend, and even your enemy. But so does someone else it seems. Paul was given the task of sharing the Good News with the Gentiles “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”

I heard of a unique approach to the drug war. A community near a park was beset with drug dealers, pimps and vandals. They would call the police and the problem would abate for a few hours. A creative person convinced their neighbors to try a different approach. They started playing classical music. Symphonies, concertos, canons, and fugues filled the air. Not too loud, but loud enough to cause the drug dealers and others to find a different place to ply their trades.

When we sing praise to God angels rejoice and demons retreat in aversion. Next time you sing a hymn or Christian song, next time you praise God, next time you acknowledge Jesus to be Lord consider how far-reaching that really is. Angels rejoice. Saints and martyrs join in your praise. Satan and his minions recoil in anguish.

I like the thought of that.

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. – Ephesians 3:1-13

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Waterfall II | Dogwood Canyon Nature Park | October 2019

Dan Rather 8MMPerhaps you recognize the name Dan Rather. He actually has Houston roots, and received some notoriety when he first signed his contract with CBS News. He was on the cover of the February 25, 1980 issue of Time magazine, emblazoned with the words “$8,000,000 Man.” He ended his career in some disgrace, signing off the air on Wednesday, March 9, 2005 with the word, “Courage.” He said that these words were for the sake of a country that was facing challenges at home and abroad. It was a return for him to the one-word sign-off that he had used for a week early in his career.

Courage: You don’t have to be the lion in the Wizard of Oz movie to lack it. You don’t even have to be facing fierce enemies, or clear and present dangers. You need courage whenever you feel the undertow of Satan’s ploys. The fear can begin subtly, and quickly grow to sheer terror. Courage.

I’m reminded of the hymn, In Christ Alone:

In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid Ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

Songwriters: Keith Getty / Stuart Townend
In Christ Alone lyrics © Capitol Christian Music Group

Paul speaks of the need for courage in the face of his sufferings. We may at first dismiss this as unnecessary, but consider this: If Paul suffers this way, what might become of those who have followed his teachings? What if he – under duress – gives them up? What if those who wish to silence the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection resort to oppression and persecution?

There is reason to fear these days. A baker is forced to say things he disavows. San Francisco prohibits travel of city employees to any state that has a heartbeat law. Family values and godly morality are attacked regularly on TV and by Hollywood. Violence threatens our schools and people riot in the streets. The church is challenged on every side and many are in sharp decline.

These threats are real, but we need not lose heart. The love of God, the fellowship of believers, and the hope of the resurrection are the sources of courage. Consider especially the fellowship of believers, for the message here is that the Gentile believers are part of a body of believers which is one in Christ.

That calls for courage on the part of the persecuted and threatened, and encouragement on the part of the rest of the body – whether they are Jew or Gentile. I’m led now to consider who among my brothers and sisters in Christ might feel threatened, and how I might encourage them. They might not be part of my tribe, but if they are part of the body of Christ, the redeemed the fellowship of believers, they are my brothers and sisters in Christ. And if I can help them to keep their hearts strong, I want to do that.

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. – Ephesians 3:1-13

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Waterfall | Dogwood Canyon Nature Park | October 2019

We had a bad habit years ago. We would watch the TV evening news in bed, and then M*A*S*H immediately afterward. We joked about trying to turn off the TV before the beginning notes of the M*A*S*H theme song came through the speakers. We didn’t manage to succeed until they stopped running reruns of the show. Now we don’t even watch the TV news. It’s so sensational, focusing on dramatic Late Breaking News of freeway accidents, gang shootings, apartment fires, and high-speed chases. Late breaking it may be. But important? No.

In the context of the sweep of history the message of Jesus is late-breaking news. Yes, it’s 2000 years old. Yes, it’s been proclaimed week in and week out from church pulpits and in Sunday School classes. Yes, missionaries and everyday people have witnessed to Jesus’ love daily. But this is late breaking – especially in view of eternity.

My friend says, “Eternity lasts a long, long time.” So this mystery of God’s love in Jesus that was first revealed explicitly 2000 years ago is not only late-breaking, it is far-reaching. The impact of this good news bent the arc of history. This revelation of the mystery changed the course of people’s eternal destiny. Late breaking and far-reaching.

This late-breaking news is especially late-breaking and truly new-news to those who are outside the fellowship of believers. We cannot overstate this – although we are likely to think little of it. When a person is brought to faith they recognize this as profoundly new and late-breaking. The older they are the more obviously late-breaking it is.

Do you know someone who is apart from the fellowship of believers? Do they know the real story of Jesus? They need to hear this late-breaking news in a way that is neither sensational nor trivial. This is real good news. Late-breaking and far-reaching: We are partakers of the promises of God from the beginning of time and reaching through the span of eternity.

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. – Ephesians 3:1-13

 

We used to watch BBC mystery programs on Sunday night. Whether it was Sherlock Holmes, Poirot, or Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle, there were several common characteristics. The plots were tight and complex. The bad guys clearly evil, but no match for the prowess of the detectives, and before the program was ended I was asleep! I claimed to have enjoyed these, but there may be a valid argument due to the fact that I seldom saw the entire episode! When the mystery was solved, in fact, I was often unable to put the pieces together – even after it was revealed.

There is a deeper and more profound mystery in the person of Jesu Christ. Paul – a great mind, thoughtful scholar, and religious expert – says that the mystery of Christ is that we Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel

This is a greater mystery than any of our favorite fictional detectives could ever solve. Here is a quote that begins to get at that. Commenting on an idea of appointing an ambassador to Christians, Rosenberg wrote:

“That makes Jesus,” wrote Rosenberg, “known in Hebrew as Yeshua – the world’s most famous and beloved Israeli, and the New Testament the best-selling Israeli book in the history of mankind.”

That’s a mystery and a sublime joy to this fact. Joe doesn’t think of Jesus as a Jew. Thomas thinks Jesus was a Jew, but is no longer. Mary knows Jesus was a Jew and that he is the fulfillment of all that the Jewish people were to have been. Many more people are like Thomas and Joe. Few think of Jesus as Jewish and fewer still consider us who are not Jewish to be Gentiles.

So this is the standing mystery: Christ is our key to the eternal blessings of God. He is that for all people. Let’s not fall asleep while we consider that mystery!

Here are selected verses from five psalms. Today is November 3, so these will be from Psalm 3, 33; 63, 93, 123.

Psalm 3:8

Salvation belongs to the Lord;
    your blessing be on your people! Selah

Psalm 33:1-4

Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous!
    Praise befits the upright.
Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;
    make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!
Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

For the word of the Lord is upright,
and all his work is done in faithfulness.

Psalm 63:3-4

Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.

 

Psalm 93:1

The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty;
    the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt.
Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.

Psalm 123:1-2

To you I lift up my eyes,
    O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
Behold, as the eyes of servants
    look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant
    to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
    till he has mercy upon us.

If you read five psalms a day, beginning with the psalm of the day of the month and adding 30 to each psalm, you will read through the psalms in 30 days. I will often omit Psalm 119 on the 29th day (it is very long), and read that on the 31st.

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. – Ephesians 2:11-22

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Massive Bridge Connector | Dogwood Canyon Nature Park | October 2019

Pastor Jeff Doria and fellow staff member Seth Gehrke and I were invited to a Pastor Appreciation event at Covenant Academy today. It was an interesting and enlightening experience. The school employs a classical model of education. As the head of the school explained it to me, this is based on the design of God and the child’s development. According to Classical Academic Press,

The classical approach teaches students how to learn and how to think. … Regardless of their learning style, children learn in three phases or stages (grammar, logic or dialectic, and rhetoric), known as the trivium. In the grammar stage (K–6), students are naturally adept at memorizing through songs, chants, and rhymes.

Part of the event included a discussion with the several pastors present about differing approaches to education, and how the church can bring unity among people who come from differing educational paradigms. One pastor spoke about God’s glory being in any gathering of believers, and that rather than focusing on differences we ought to be celebrating our unity in Christ. Another said that the devil is the father of division.

I had to think of Jesus’ words in his High Priestly Prayer, that his disciples “may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:22-23). 

The challenge is greater than we might think. More than once Paul had to write the new Christians about their disunity, or to encourage them in the face of attacks on them that they were not legitimate parts of the body of Christ. Corinth was a divided church – people claiming to follow Paul, Peter, and some supposedly above the fray altogether, saying that they followed Christ. The church in Galatia was beset by enemies of the Gospel who claimed that they were not true Christians unless they were circumcised.

Add to those external threats the internal threats of selfishness, envy, distrust, and greed, and it’s a wonder that we are able to claim any sense of unity, and accomplish anything of note together. The art of working together is a lost art. Perhaps we can rededicate ourselves to the tasks at hand, and do the hard work of working with others.

It requires faith, patience, longsuffering, kindness, humility, mercy, and mutual respect. Where do we learn these things? From Jesus’ perfect life, suffering and death. Where do we get the motivation for working together in such a manner? From the same Lord Jesus who overflows with all those graces toward us.