"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power." - Ephesians 6:1

The Christian life, according to Paul is like a wrestling match. It involves struggle and not just struggle with flesh and blood (although it includes that), but spiritual struggle against spiritual enemies. Paul recognises the overwhelming nature of the struggle and he says to the Ephesians that in order to stand they must strengthen themselves in the Lord, or be strong in the Lord & his mighty power.

This idea of strengthening oneself in the Lord is one that has a long biblical heritage. So David in 1 Samuel 30 is in all kinds of trouble, Saul is pursuing him and wanting to take his life, his families town has been ransacked and his own men are ready to stone him to death because of their situation and we are told- that David regathers and strengthens himself in the Lord. I'm not 100%- as to what that looked like but it was a game changer, David was enabled to rally his men and focus them again on their mission.

Joshua also found himself in a difficult position. He was called to follow on from Moses after he died and lead his people into the ‘promised land’. He was no doubt daunted by the task ahead of him, but we are told that the Lord instructs him to be strong and courageous. Why was he to be strong and courageous? Not because he was a hero on the inside and if he only reached down into his own well of resource he would shine but rather because the Lord had called him and the Lord had promised to go with him.

All that to say; strengthen yourself in the Lord. Remind yourself of your great salvation in Christ press into him, remembering every blessing, and every hope. Don't lose hope or despair- remember who you are and the God who is for you.

Grace and peace from Marcus

 Pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you.

To him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.

Twice in his letter to the Ephesians (Eph 1:15-18 & 3:14-21), Paul turns from reflecting on the wonder and awe of the very full salvation that we have in Christ, to prayers and petitions for the Ephesian Christians. So what does Paul pray for?

In Ephesians 1 Paul prays for the believers to be given a Spirit of wisdom and revelation in order that they might know God better. In short he is asking God to give the Ephesian believers a revelation of God himself. But this is not all he asks for, he also asks that the hope of eternity might flood the believers hearts now in order that they might be able to endure all kinds of hardship with joy and hope, because of what is laid up for them in Christ Jesus.

In chapter 3 on the other hand Paul turns in his prayer to a request that the Ephesians believers might be given resurrection type power to comprehend the inexhaustible love of God expressed in Christ. He also asks that Christ might dwell in the hearts of the Ephesians through faith.

What strikes you about these prayers that Paul prays? To me I am struck by the grand nature of them. For Paul you see- "to live is Christ," is his life motto and his prayers take on that priority accordingly. Our prayers are often very small in comparison (health, employment and escaping trails) (well mine are anyway), but this insight into Paul’s petitions is a good encouragement about what really matters, big salvation matters. To be sure we can pray about anything and everything big or small but let's like Paul move beyond the small things to praying big bold, Christ centred prayers over our church, our family and our world.

Grace and peace from Marcus

"You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Acts 1:8

The Holy Spirit is a missionary. That is, fundamental to his work and presence in the world, is the task of Christian mission. You can see this in the fact of his presence in many of the bible's great commissions. So in Matthew's gospel in "the great commission," the disciples are told to go into the nations making disciples and as they do, they are told that Jesus will never leave or forsake them. This of course is on par with a promise of the Holy Spirit's presence. John in his gospel assures us of the Spirit's presence in his great commissioning in John 20:19-23. Earlier in John, Jesus tells us that it is the Spirit who convicts people of both their own personal sin and of the judgement to come. To him- the Spirit's presence is imperative to mission. Luke shares his great commission in Acts 1:8. In this example, the Spirit is promised as the fuel of mission. The believers are told that they will receive power and they will be witnesses to the nations. This promise is fulfilled soon after in Acts 2. The Spirit falls on the disciples and there are some strange manifestations- and Peter is asked for an explanation for these signs and he preaches the gospel and people are cut to the heart, repent and join the church.

Perhaps this is why Michael Frost lists- "listening to the Spirit," as one of the five practices of highly missional people. The Spirit is a missionary and we are the instruments of that mission. So give yourself to the discipline of "listening to the Spirit," with a missional ear. Ask the Spirit; what are you up to in the lives of friends and family who don't know Jesus? Listen and follow his leadings and promptings to show God's kindness, through blessing and hospitality directed toward those God has called you too. May the Spirit fuel a missionary zeal in us.

Grace and peace from Marcus

(Acts 1:8, Acts 4:23-31, Acts 9:31, Acts 13:1-3)

For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12)

Paul loved the church at Thessalonica and they were, it seems, drifting from recognising his authority among them. This grieved Paul deeply and he sort to win them back by reminding them of the nature of he and his team's ministry among them. It is here that he reaches for the rich image of fatherhood. He says- his ministry to them was reflective of the way in which a father deals with his children. Of course- in reaching for this imagery he is reaching for the best versions of such a relationship and thankfully he gives us a picture of what "the best versions" might look like. So what did it look like? Well- his ministry and by implication, his ideal picture of fatherhood, was a relationship that consisted of encouragement, comforting and urging ones children to live lives worthy of God. This for Paul is the "mission of fatherhood".

Jacques talked about remodelling our marriages by embracing the mindset of Christ from Philippians last week. Paul likewise here is, by implication wanting to remodel fatherhood/ministry and in doing so he articulates the goal- "a life worthy of God", and something of the pathway to that goal; encouragement, comfort, and urging. Many Christian parents prepare their children for many worthy things in life; things like the workforce, a place at university, for friendships- but our "chief task" as fathers is surely discipleship. We are called to pastor our children and help to live lives worthy of God.

May God grant you grace to encourage, comfort and urge your children to live lives worthy of the Lord- this after all is God's will for you.

Grace and peace from Marcus

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

It is easy in life to get discouraged, and to lose heart. You might have a hard time, face strong opposition, or be battling to be productive and you just feel defeated or discouraged or ready to give in. At these moments it hard to see a way forward, a way through the fog but the author of Hebrews here is speaking directly into this problem of losing heart, of being discouraged and he is showing us the way out. How does he do this? He does it by pointing toward the “great crowd of witnesses” and toward the “author and perfector of our faith.” Let’s start with the great cloud of witnesses? Who are they- they are people mentioned in chapter 11. People like Abel, and Enoch, Abraham and Moses. What is special about them- they lived their lives “by Faith.” They did extraordinary things based on nothing but bold active faith in an invisible but powerful God. They banked everything on his, trusted his word and did as they were directed by him. They are a witnesses in the sense that their lives of loyalty, faithfulness and endurance over the long haul are a witness to us of the possibilities of a life lived by faith. Their lives resound with the lesson- God can be trusted, he is faithful so throw your whole life in with him, Don’t be discouraged, don’t look down but trust in God.

Of course that is not the whole story. We are also invited here to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith.” The whole life of Jesus was an example of unbroken and unquestioning faith in his heavenly Father. This of course found it ultimate expression in Jesus prayer- “not what I will but what you will” and Jesus’ willing walk toward the cross without faltering or flinching from the path- simply because God the Father had said to him-“this is the way walk in it.

Grace and peace from Marcus