Friday, July 31, 2009

Watch Your Mouth

Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4: 29 NRSV

I am thinking that this would be an excellent scripture to have over the door into the sanctuary, on our name tags, and perhaps even on our church voicemail. Maybe open worship with it as well! I can't tell you how many people have been hurt, left church and never darkened a church door again after someone else's "evil talk" came out of their mouths. Forget the color of the carpet or the time of men's bible study! What others say can inflict more damage than any issue in the church.

Recently I have read a couple of John Gottman's books on marriage. One thing that really struck me was the understanding that being verbally critical of your spouse can lead to feelings of contempt. To feel contempt means that you see yourself as superior. And this can lead straight to a total breakdown of the marriage.

What is true within the marital relationship is equally true in the house of God relationship. Being verbally critical of one another can cause more damage among worshippers. It says you think of yourself as better than the other person when the truth is that God sees us as all equally important in the Body of Christ.

Paul reminds the church at Ephesus (and us as well) to watch what we say. Are our words going to build someone up or hurt someone? Do we allow ourselves to spew all kinds of evil talk or open our mouths with love that builds up?

God, help us keep our mouths shut when we are tempted to speak evilly. Guard our mouths and help us build one another up in love. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Question of the day: When have you let evil talk come out of your mouth recently?

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Getting Angry

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Ephesians 4: 26-27 NRSV

These verses were written for all of us. They address those who get angry quickly and let their emotions out. They address those who let their anger simmer for long periods of time.

For those who get angry and let it all out: Don't sin.

Sin includes saying hurtful things, acting violently, breaking the commandments just because you have let your emotions take over.

For those who let their anger simmer: Don't let the sun go down on your anger.

This includes dealing with your feelings and not letting them become either self-destructive or passively aggressive.

For everyone: Do not make room for the devil.

The devil can use explosive anger as well as simmering anger equally effectively.

It's okay to be angry. God just wants us to learn how to deal with it before the devil does.

God, help me to be angry but not to sin. God, help me not to let the sun go down on my anger. God, let me not make room for the devil. In your son's precious name I pray. Amen.

Question of the day: How can you avoid making room for the devil when you get angry?

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Sunday, July 12, 2009

I Insist

Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. That is not the way you learned Christ! Ephesians 4: 17-20 NRSV

Paul moves from begging to insisting the the church at Ephesus stop acting like they used to. They have learned about Christ so they need to act like it.

Would someone visiting your church today be able to say that your church is acting like Christ-like? Or is there very little difference between your church and one of the local community organizations or clubs? What kinds of differences should we be seeing, exactly?

Paul tells the church that those on the outside live in the futility of their minds. I imagine that
this would be like living thinking you know the answers to life in the superiority of your own mind and minds just as brilliant as yours. Because of this self-importance, Paul says these folks are alienated from God and their hearts are hardened. He goes on to talk about lack of sensitivity, licentiousness, greed, and impurity that results. These folks are simply acting apart from God, in the dark as it were.

But, Paul says, you in the church know better! You have been taught about Christ and should stop living in your own minds.

In fact, Paul insists on it.

God, you have given us the opportunity to learn Christ. Help us to act like it. In Christ's name. Amen.

Question for the day: What kind of behavior have you shown lately - Christ-like or futile?

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Being Tossed Around

We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped as each part is working properly promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love. Ephesians 4: 14-16 NRSV

I have a terrible habit of getting distracted. I may be headed into one room in our house to do a certain task but then something will catch my eyes - a project, a problem or a pleasure - and I am suddenly doing that which I had no plans and certainly no time to accomplish. Even in trying to do what God would want me to, I get distracted. I really do try to order my steps but I find myself off course more than once a day!

The same thing happens in church work - someone says something and I get totally off course in the way I was trying to act or the non-anxious presence I was trying hard to convey.

So when Paul says we must no longer be children, being tossed to and fro and blown about by any wind, I really can relate!

But what can I do to stay on track?

His solution: speak truth in a loving way and grow in our life with Christ. In other words, we must be mature in our faith and be willing to stick with that maturity in our words and actions. If we feel like we are being led astray, we need to say so but in a loving manner. The best part of this is we are not to try to do this alone. Paul says we are a part of the Body of Christ. When we find ourselves trying to be a finger when we are an ear, that is when we need to be corrected by one another. If the other person is not aware of where they are straying, we need to lovingly steer them in the right direction. Notice the lovingly part, though!

God, you have given each one of us with different gifts so that we complement one another. Help us to be the body parts you call us to be and help us to lovingly correct each other when we lose our sense of direction. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Question of the day: Where have you gotten off track lately?

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Friday, July 10, 2009

Now the sermon...

I therefore, a prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3 NRSV

Okay, we've had the greeting, the announcements, the praising, and the prayer. Now we get to the sermon. And, I must admit, Paul preaches a lot like I do- he doesn't hold back any punches!

Paul says, with authority, that the church must follow through in the life God has called them. In doing so, they should not think of themselves either better or worse than others in the church, they must be caring and kind with one another and they must not get anxious in trying to hurry things or people along. In following through with God's call, they must "bear with on another in love." In other words, don't just deal with it but love each other through it. Throughout all this, they must do their best to preserve their relationship with the Holy Spirit which binds the church together in peace.

Can we say church argument? Dysfunctional fellowship? Congregational split? Church leadership disagreement?

I have yet to serve a church that didn't have this happen at one time or another. Most of the time it was detrimental to the congregation (two out of four of my previous congregations have closed). Obviously, these kinds of things have been going on for a long time.

But just as obviously, we still haven't listened to what Paul has been saying for almost 2000 years: God made Jews and Gentiles one in Christ so please be one in the church! God could do what seemed impossible by bringing these two groups together in Christ. The example of Christ should motivate this group to get along. And the main key to this getting along is love.


So simple.

So hard.

God, you call us all to a special calling. Help us to love one another as Christ has loved us. In His name we pray, amen.

Question for the Day: How can you show love to other folks in your church?

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Working Together

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21 NRSV

I was planning on going on to chapter four today but something about this verse really spoke to me. I had never noticed this before but Paul does not just say that God's power can do much more than what we can either ask or imagine. Paul says that God working through the power within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine!

So, it isn't just God doing great things. It is that God give us the power to do things beyond what we can do alone. In fact, Paul makes it sound like God's power in us can do more than God can do alone! And the things that can be done are abundant - more than anyone actually needs!

I think Paul is speaking from personal experience. He has seen God's power do so much more than he would have been able to accomplish on his own. He has also seen a multiplicity of incredible things happen.

In my own personal experience, I know this. But often I get too pig-headed and want to do things on my own. Why can't I just let God's power work through me? Hopefully, it does happen even when I am doing my best to resist. Reading this verse makes me realize that I do have to claim my part in this - God is not working alone. Working together with God through God's power will answer more prayers before I even begin to ask.

God, you want to work through us to accomplish so much in this world! May we realize our potential when we work together with you. Fill us with your power, Lord! Amen!

Question for the day: Are you allowing God's power to work within you?

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Praying for the Church

I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through Faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3: 16-19 NRSV

What a wonderful prayer!

Paul is praying for the church in Ephesus to be made strong by God's power in the Spirit, that Christ would be at the center of their lives and hearts, and that they would be able to fully understand Christ's love for them.

It is also wonderful to hear what Paul is NOT praying for this church.

He isn't asking that their membership increase.

He does not petition God for their financial well-being.

He doesn't pray that their leaders be inspired and influential.

He is not even asking that their outreach programs be successful.

Paul prays that the church be strengthened with the strength that comes only from the Spirit's power. Paul prays that Christ dwells within them. Paul prays that they are filled with Christ's love. Paul prays that this church understands the incomprehensible love of Christ.

Paul asks for love and strength in Christ.



Absolutely necessary for any church. Even yours.

God, I pray that, according to the riches of your glory, you may grant that we may be strengthened in our inner being with power through the Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith, as we are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that we may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that we may be filled with all the fullness of God. In Christ's name. Amen.

Question for the day: What are you praying for your church?

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I pray that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory. Ephesians 3: 13 NRSV

I'm being held prisoner and it is all your fault! But I am trying to follow God's will for my life - the biggest part being you Gentiles to Christ, helping you all to see that you are a part of this wonderful new structure that God is creating in the world. I don't want you to be left out! So, if I am writing this letter from a Birmingham jail, don't be concerned but rejoice! All this means is that I am doing my job 'cause I got into trouble with local law. I have not lost my faith, in fact I am more in touch with God than ever before. I am strengthened by God's continuous support and grace each and every day. You all need to be celebrating this! I'm suffering on your behalf but you are not to let this get you down.

[My own interpretation of the beginning of Chapter Three of Ephesians]

God, thank you for Paul and people like Paul who suffered and continue to suffer for our sakes. Don't let this get us down, Lord, but help us to rejoice!

Question for the day: Can you name one person who suffered on your behalf so that your faith can be where it is today?

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Breaking Down the Dividing Wall

For he is our peace: in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. Ephesians 2: 14 NRSV

We humans are good at building walls. There is the Great Wall of China. Hadrian's Wall between England and Scotland. The wall of the Soviet Block Countries. Now we have the wall between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

We Christians are even better at building walls. We can create divisions, impasses and hostilities in our churches faster than anyone could get the bricks and mortar ready.

Yet, Christ has abolished division with his own flesh. This fleshy part could be interpreted as either the establishment of the Last Supper, Christ's giving himself up to death, or even his resurrected body. Maybe he brought folks together with all three! In any case, in Christ both Jews and Gentiles were able to be believers and live a new life. Without all that Christ had done, such a peace would not have been possible.

Where in the world, in your neighborhood, in your church or in your life, do you see the need for Christ's flesh to once again create peace and break down hostility?

Whether you have realized this, Christ has also become flesh through you.

There is some peaceful work for this Body to be doing!

God, thank you for the gift of Christ in the flesh. Thank you for helping us become part of that Body. Help us, God, to take our responsibilities seriously. We can do it with your help! Amen.

Question for today: Where do you need to start breaking down walls?

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Without God

"...Remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world."
Ephesians 2: 12 NRSV

Do you remember being an alien, a stranger, having no hope and without God? Although I grew up a baptized Christian, there have been times in my life that I have tried to alienate myself from God. I remember what that feels like and the feeling is pretty empty and without deep meaning. Also, I think I was pretty self-righteous. Okay, so I know I was being self-righteous.

I see similar things in folks who claim to be atheist - they think they have all the answers and are seeing the world in the right way. Hmmm, actually I see that in some Christians as well. Maybe we all tend to make ourselves into aliens and strangers. No matter what our belief system, we can be living without hope and certainly trying our best to live without God.

The thing is, Paul wants the folks at Ephesus to remember what that felt like, especially compared to what they feel like now. We too should spend some time in recalling how it feels to live without hope. Then we can rejoice when we are again filled with Christ's hope.

God, you have made us your children rather than strangers and aliens. Thank you. May we grasp the hope that you have given us in Christ and hold on tight. In His name we pray, Amen.

Question for the day: When in your life have you tried to be a stranger to God?

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Our Way of Life

For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Ephesians 2:10 NRSV

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Where do these fin in with good works?

What are good works, anyway?

Feeding the hungry.
Clothing the naked.
Housing the homeless.
Studying scripture.
Sharing the good news.
Loving God and neighbor.

I think those would top the list. Maybe you can think of a few others.

And doing good works would make us happy, don't you think? Not a blissful, everything is super in my world kind of way but more in a joyful, peace-centered way.

Certainly being free and alive to do good works would be nice but not essential. I've heard powerful stories of people in prison or facing death who truly exemplified good works - the first being Paul himself!

Because of God's gift of salvation we are free to pursue the life-sustaining happy power of good works.

Praise God! Amen.

Question for the day: what would you add to the list of good works?

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Friday, July 3, 2009

Not Our Own Doing

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God - not the result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 NRSV

As Christians, we are all about sinful people accepting Christ. We ask new Christians to choose a Christian lifestyle. We ourselves are often asked to commit or recommit ourselves to Christ. Even in my own devotional times, I often focus on surrendering my will to God's will. All of these are works, things we do.

Paul turns this concept on its head and inside out.

Paul says that being saved is not something we do; it is something God does.

Our salvation is a gift not a choice.

Our salvation is not a decision we make. It is given to us by God.

Because if it were all up to us, we would think more of ourselves than we would of God. If salvation was all about us then we could boast to our friends about what we have done: we have saved ourselves from God's wrath and eternal damnation!

We are saved by God not because of what we have done but because of what God has done.

Saved by faith not works.

How very un-American.

God, we like so very much to be in control and doing what we can for ourselves. Yet, you give us the gift of salvation. Thank you. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Question for the day: Where in your faith life have you given yourself all the credit?

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The eyes of your heart enlightened

I apologize for this not loading yesterday. I set it up to post on Thursday but I think the picture was too much for it. So, today you get two devotionals! A.

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the workings of his great power. Ephesians 1: 15-19 NRSV

According to this part of Paul's letter to the church at Ephesus (although we don't know for certain that it really was Ephesus as he never mentions the church specifically), Paul has never visited this church. However, their reputation proceeds them. They apparently have such faith in Jesus that other Christians have heard of it and passed the word to Paul. They have also been collecting money to be sent to Jerusalem for the poor, the widows and the orphans. That is the love for the saints that Paul is referring to here. So this church is faithful and generous and has come to Paul's attention so that he is giving thanks and praying for them.

Paul is specifically praying that they may have wisdom and revelation as they come to know Jesus. He is asking God that their hearts may be enlightened so that they have a firm grasp of hope, true riches and God's power.

I love the phrase: "with the eyes of your heart enlightened." What does that mean? A literal reading would tell us our hearts have eyes -but we know that isn't true! Paul is speaking metaphorically. It is more than opening your heart to something. If you have eyes, you can see. If your eyes are enlightened, you can not only see more, you see with truth, greater depth and clarity. In fact, you probably realize things that are not truly visible. What a gift that would be!

Wouldn't it be great if someone was praying for the eyes of your heart to be enlightened?

God, I ask that the person reading this prayer right now would be given the gift of having the eyes of their heart enlightened. In Jesus' powerful name I pray. Amen.

Question of the day: What would be be revealed to you if the eyes of your heart are enlightened?

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Letter to the Ephesians

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God. To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ....In him you also, when had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1: 1-2, 13-14 NRSV

Paul's letter to the Ephesians begins with a wonderful description of God's chosen people. He talks about being blessed with spiritual blessings, being chosen, holy, and blameless in love, being adopted and redeemed through Christ's blood, and being destined to have a part in the blessed inheritance. However, a closer reading makes one realize he is not addressing the people of Ephesus until verse 13! "In him you also" means that the saints in Ephesus can share in all this good stuff, all because they have the mark of the Holy Spirit. It is almost as if Paul has gotten carried away in describing the saved people that he belongs to and then realizes he has left someone out. "Oh, right, this applies to you as well since you have responded to the gospel."

The faithful in Ephesus must have been used to being left out by this time. They were part of a very large port city (now a part of Turkey) in which they were surrounded by the pagan culture of the Roman Empire. They were no longer part of that culture - which probably effected their income, their livelihood, their families and their homes. They were no longer a part of the Jewish community, either. Paul's letter, despite his rude introduction, was probably a very welcome form of encouragement.

Paul is going to continue his description of this community of faith as well as give them some admonitions of staying in faith and not giving up the life of faith to the surrounding culture.

How often we need to hear this today! We are in need of hearing again our stories of faith as church communities, the wonder of being a part of God's chosen people, the claim of the Spirit on our lives and the firm reminders of staying on God's path. I invite you to join me in the next few days in studying Ephesians, looking at your story and your community's story of faith and reminding ourselves of remaining part of that faithful family.

God, you have called us as part of your chosen people. May we not take your adoption of us for granted and may we live as your people in all times and places. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Question for today: Do you know your faith community's story?

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims