Meditations on Ephesians 5:19-21

Hiking in the Collegiate Peaks, Colorado

Be Filled with the Spirit


Ephesians 5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.


On the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the first disciples, Peter declared,

Acts 2:38  “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

So if the Ephesians already had the gift of the Holy Spirit since they had repented and been baptized, how can Paul tell them to “Be filled with the Spirit”? (And of course the same admonition applies to us.)

As with any good Bible study, we should begin by looking carefully at the words behind our English translation. In this case the words “be filled” correctly translates one Greek word plêrousthe (πληροῦσθε) however, Greek verbs are a little different from English verbs. Here the words “be filled” are passive which could be translated “allow yourself to be filled with the Holy Spirit.” In other words, we can get in the way! We can become so focused on ourselves – we might say “so full of ourselves” – we don’t have room for the Holy Spirit!

We received the gift of the Spirit when we became Christians but many people keep the gift of the Holy Spirit in the closet of their hearts. We focus on things rather than God. It might be work or it could be a grand cause. It might be another person, or sports, or relationships, or collections – anything we are passionate about – but the point is our focus is on something other than the Holy Spirit. God is not the center of our life and so Paul declares “be filled with the Spirit!” In the next meditations, we’ll begin exploring how to do just that.


Spiritual Virtues: Discernment

Santa Teresa’s Bow

We are forced to make decisions every day. Have you tried to choose a bag of potato chips lately? There is a whole isle at the grocery store devoted to snack chips. Do I want pita chips, tortilla chips, potato chips, corn chips, rice cakes? Do I want dipping size, ruffles, kettle fried, baked or something else? Do I want salt, sea salt, kosher salt, salt substitute or no salt? Sometimes there are just too many choices!

Most of our decisions aren’t life shattering. The world won’t end if I bring home the wrong can of soda pop but there are choices that carry dire consequences. The most important choices seem to revolve around relationships. Should I trust him? Will you be my friend? I love you.

So how do we make decisions? We need the gift of “discernment.” That’s an essential spiritual quality. In the days of the New Testament, there was even a miraculous gift of discernment. The Holy Spirit gave people insight (1 Corinthians 12:10) and the Apostle Paul prays for his friends in Philippi, “that you may be able to discern what is best,” (Philippians 1:10) and tells their neighbors, the Thessalonians, to “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil,” (1 Thessalonians 5:21, 22).

Recently Jan and I helped rescue a young man who had been blown out to sea in a rented kayak. He was found eleven miles off shore without water, food or even a hat. “I’ve made a lot of bad decisions in my life,” he confessed and as he continued, renting that kayak was just one of them.

“Perry, we all make mistakes. That’s just life, but what matters is where we go from here,” I answered. David sinned with Bathsheba and there were consequences. Peter denied he knew Jesus. Paul persecuted Christians. Moses was a murderer. What matters is how we use those experiences to grow. We learn how to make decisions. That’s discernment: the ability to choose between good and evil. Little children don’t know the difference between what is morally right and wrong (see Deuteronomy. 1:39; Jonah 4:11) and the Hebrew writer explained, “solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil,” (Hebrews 5:14).

In other words, Christians are called to go through life with both eyes wide open. We are to make judgments all the time about most everything. Is money good or evil? (The answer is “Yes.”) Will this friendship make me a better person or will I be dragged down to places I don’t want to go? If I say “no” to this opportunity, what am I saying “Yes!” to?

Of course, how we make those judgments is critical. Are we constantly looking for “what’s wrong with this?” or are we looking for what’s good? Are we asking, “How can I grow from this experience?” The former attitude is all too common – even among Christians and it’s been my experience that a critical attitude results in an unhappy heart while those who are constantly seeking the good in life will find it.

Finally, there is a huge difference between judging people (always wrong) and judging results. Jesus told us:

7         “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye, (Matthew 7:1-5).

As Marshall Keeble explained, “I’m not a judge, I’m just a fruit inspector.”

Sailing Lessons: Big Things in Small Packages

A rudder is a very small part of a boat. It is tiny compared to the tall sails and amounts to only a fraction of the size of the keel but big things often come in small packages.

Jan and I were sailing in our first boat, a little 22 foot sloop, in the northern Sea of Cortez in Mexico. I had been up all night when Jan started her watch. There was hardly any wind and our destination was nearly twenty miles away. I settled into a bunk below and left Jan and her big straw hat at the tiller. When I woke four hours later, she was grinning from ear to ear. Wanda Sue was heeled far over and we were charging ahead like a racehorse. It was time to “reef the sails.” (Reefing makes the sails smaller so the wind can’t push the boat over on her side or even capsize her.)

I climbed up on top of the cabin and began to lower the mainsail. Suddenly Wanda Sue swerved out of control. It knocked me down and I glared at Jan. She looked back in surprise. The erratic maneuver wasn’t her fault. Jan hadn’t moved the tiller at all. The rudder had snapped leaving the boat out of control! (Later we discovered it was my fault. I repaired the rudder after I broke it backing down a trailer ramp. My first attempt at fiberglass repairs was a disaster and the strong waves and winds had snapped the rudder in two.)

Without a rudder and with a storm bearing down on us, we were in serious trouble. I was able to start up the little Johnson outboard motor and use it to steer us safely across the sea. We ended up in a little bay fifty miles from the nearest village. It took two days to patch together a new rudder from hatch boards, duct tape, lashings and a pair of aluminum oar handles.

The rudder may be a very small part of your boat but it does great things. James, the brother of Jesus, compared our tongues to the rudder of a boat:

2 We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.

3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts, (James 3:2-5).

Many people might have given up on sailing after an experience like that but together Jan and I made it back to Puerto Penasco (“Rocky Point”). Since this was Jan’s first long trip, I was afraid it would be our last. (Not only did we lose the rudder, we lost two anchors and ended up hard aground in the middle of a giant mud flat at low tide!)  Jan didn’t let it curb her enthusiasm. As we limped back to Rocky Point, she looked at me with a big smile and declared, “We’ve got to get a bigger boat!”


Sailing Lessons: Rope

What is the greatest invention of all time? The most common answer is “The wheel,” but as important as wheels are, the great South American empires didn’t have them. No, I think the greatest invention was rope. I am fascinated by the stuff.

Did you know the great Viking long boats weren’t held together with nails? They lashed planks of their ships with rope. From suspension bridges to flag poles, rope is found everywhere and holds so many things together. It’s amazing!

I love rope and while Jan sat swinging in a rope hammock suspended from the mizzen boom of our boat reading a good book, she swayed in warm, tropical breezes. I was unraveling the end of a length of line and splicing it into an eye for a new dock line.

Have you ever really looked at a piece of rope? It is made up of long strands wrapped around each other and twisted into bundles. The bundles are in turn twisted around other bundles until they form the right dimension for the project you are working on. A splice simply twists fibers together into a new form that carefully maintains the strength of the line.

I stared at my fuzzy handiwork for a bit and thought about how a rope could represent the church. The strength of a congregation comes from the strength of her individual members, their lives entwined. Alone, a single strand or a single member is pretty weak. There is no way you could securely fasten a boat to a dock or raise a sail or anchor a ship with a single strand but with enough filaments, carefully wrapped around each other, no load is too heavy and no job is too great.

“Honey, I’m stuck in this hammock. Would you go below and pour me another drink?” she asked.

“Knot now,” I objected. “I’m all tied up.”

“Very puny. Now take off that Viking helmet and please get me something cold to drink!”

Whether you’re talking about the filaments of a rope or the members of a congregation, we really do need each other!


Sailing Lessons: Keels & Sails

During our recent sailing vacation, Jan and I tried to think of the different ways sailing illustrated the Christian life. Here are two more “sailing lessons” from our logbook.

Santa Teresa under sail in San Diego

I love getting in our dinghy and rowing away from our sailboat, Santa Teresa. I’m not trying to escape but to gain perspective. I love to look at her sitting at anchor. She has classic lines from her long, beautiful bowsprit to the sweet upturn of her transom. (The bowsprit is a twelve-foot spruce and mahogany laminated beam that sticks out of the bow of the boat to hold the foot of the foremost sail. Thanks to Paul Yarrington, George Riley and especially Tom Donnellan for rebuilding it last spring! The transom is the back of the boat.)

The surprising thing is what you don’t see. If you don’t count the masts that hold the sails up in the air, there is much more sailboat below the water than above! The seven-foot keel sticks down into the ocean and weighs over 9,000 pounds. It stretches from the bow to the stern and her purpose is to keep us sailing upright. When the winds howl and threaten to turn us upside down, the keel fights back and keeps us on course.

For a Christian, the Holy Spirit is the equivalent to a keel. Temptations and trials may threaten to turn us upside down but the Holy Spirit keeps us upright and on course. While the Spirit is quiet, lying there just below the surface, he gives stability to everything we do and helps us pass through every storm.

Back on board, we raise the anchor and hoist the sails. Just as the winds move us along, so the storms of life drive us but there is an interesting twist to this story. Have you watched the boats in the bay? The wind blows the same on all the boats but some sail left and some sail right. How can that be? The answer is the set of the sails.

Some people put their sails on a starboard tack and some choose a port tack but the wind is the same for everyone. Likewise, we all face challenges and trials. Some people are overwhelmed and some people thrive. What makes the difference? The set of your sails. What you choose to do with your trials will determine which way you will go. What you choose to do with Jesus will determine where you will spend eternity.

Jan popped up from the galley with a steaming bowl of soup, hot rolls with toasted cheese and a mug of coffee. “Are you preaching to my friends the dolphins again?” I shrugged sheepishly and we both broke out laughing.

Sailing Lessons: The Kayaker

It felt like the perfect anchorage. Jan slowly motored into the shallow cove and I stood in the bow “swinging the lead.” (The old sailors would cast a lead weight and line into the water to find out how deep it was. As they coiled up the line, they would count the coils. Since an average man’s arm span is about six feet wide, each coil of the line measured about six feet of depth: a fathom.). At six fathoms deep, I let go the anchor. The water was so clear I could see it dig into the sandy bottom. Jan slowly motored backwards while I played out the anchor chain. It was beautiful and soon we were relaxed on deck enjoying the last of our cheese and crackers, sausages and fruit. The songs of a thousand birds echoed in the cove and the sun slowly sank behind the island. Seals were barking and we went to bed early, sorry our voyage was coming to an end but also looking forward to long, hot showers and the comforts of home.

It was a dark night (the moon wouldn’t come up until after midnight) but the light of a thousand, thousand stars, gently lulled us to sleep. Then someone was shouting! Lights were shining into our windows. I sprang on deck and a sixty-foot American sport fisher with half a dozen men was trying to get our attention.

“We’re on our way south but we found a lost kayaker at sunset. He’s an American from Rosarito Beach and got washed out to sea. We’ve contacted the Coast Guard. Can you take him?” They motored along side and a dozen hands passed a kayak, paddle and 30-year old man across.

We took him below. Perry was very muscular, had a shaved head that glowed red with blisters from the sun, a goatee and wore a grey sweat suit one of the fishermen gave him. Jan gave Perry a couple of bottles of water and began making soup. He had rented a little kayak in Rosarito Beach, eleven miles away on the coast. Then he had decided to paddle out into the Pacific for a look. The wind and the waves caught him and he couldn’t get back to shore. For eleven hours he fought for his life without food or water or even a hat. Wearing just a red shirt and shorts, his thighs were fried and he despaired of life but as the sun was going down, the Americans found him. They found us and now he was safe.

Perry said he was suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder from his childhood and after talking, eating and drinking for a while, we bedded him down, and contacted the Coast Guard. Since he was in no immediate physical danger, they asked if we could bring him to San Diego with us in the morning.

Dawn was grey and overcast. As we motored back to the States I asked him, “You’ve had an amazing experience. What did you learn from it?”

“I’ve made some bad decisions in my life. Trouble always seems to find me.”

“It’s been my experience that we find what we go looking for. We all make mistakes Perry but the important thing is what we learn from them. You’ve been given a second chance at life. What are you going to do with it?”

Perry’s answer at least was honest. “John, I don’t believe in God. The Bible is just a bunch of myths written by a bunch of old guys. I’m going to buy a hybrid car and never go kayaking again.”

“That’s sad. God has given you a second chance at life. By all rights, you should have died last night. You have an opportunity to do it right this time. Why do you want to make the same mistakes you made before?”

“Can I smoke? One of the fishermen gave me a couple of cigarettes. I’ll hang real far over the back.”

He seemed very nervous as we pulled up to the police docks for our customs inspection. “Do you think they’ll do a background check? I have two outstanding warrants including one for assaulting a police officer in New Jersey…”

I shook my head and thought, Perry that is the least of your troubles. So what would you do if you had a second chance at life? You know you do. Our God is a God of Second chances. What are you doing with it?

Sailing Lessons: Changed in a Moment

It was time to start home but that was going to be a challenge. We had been blessed with strong winds blowing from the north to push us south on our journey but now we needed to sail north – against the prevailing winds – to get home to San Diego. On top of that, the cold California current runs north south and we would have to fight that too. It seemed like our best bet would be to use our tiny 35-horse power engine and scoot north during the night after the winds have died down.

Poor Jan was so excited she didn’t manage to get any sleep the night before at all so when I woke up at midnight, she was already awake. Ensenada had been a wonderful stopover. The people were so friendly and the food was delicious. A half-moon was just rising when we untied from the dock. The water in the harbor was mirror calm. The dimly lit green buoys were on our right and the red buoys on the left marked our channel out into the bay. Once there, we were greeted with large, slow swells that had traveled from distant shores. The boat began to corkscrew uncomfortably. We couldn’t see the approaching swells. Back and forth. Up and down. Side to side. It grew darker and darker. The motion was nauseating.

Dawn was welcome. It didn’t make much difference in the motion of the boat but at least we could see what we were up against. It was going to be a slow bash northward. At one point our speed dropped below three knots. “We’re walking to San Diego,” I complained. Jan was exhausted and I was green – very green. Soon I had the opportunity to enjoy the fine fare of Ensenada over again – and again.

We love sailing but not this part. I had to have a break from five hours at the helm and somehow Jan and I were able to trade positions behind the wheel on the bucking bronco without anyone going overboard. “I hate this,” Jan replied. I went below to check on the little diesel engine and try to find some relief. The way things were going, this was sure to be our last voyage!

Suddenly, I heard Jan laughing and squealing like a little girl. I popped up on deck just in time to see “Sally,” a 45-foot blue whale. (I knew she was at least 45 feet long because our little boat only measures 40 feet from stem to stern!) She was just a “biscuit toss” away and keeping pace with us. (Yes, she had to slow way down.) “I’ve named her ‘Sally,’” Jan announced triumphantly. Sally rolled up on her side and looked us over before crossing our bow and swimming down the other side. She seemed to shake her head as if in wonder. “What are these crazy people doing?” and then she sounded. Her massive fluke swung high into the air and she seemed to leave a hole in the ocean as she slipped beneath the waves. In one magic moment everything had changed. All of our troubles were forgotten and we were left with a sense of wonder and awe.

I can’t help but think it will be that way for Christians when we meet Jesus. All our troubles will soon be forgotten. Maranatha – Come Lord!

Sailing Lessons: Trust

Jan and I just returned from a vacation in Mexico on our beloved sailboat, Santa Teresa. We’ve owned Teresa for many years. She was built in 1969 from 16 tons of Mahogany and, as Captain Jack Aubrey said in the movie Master and Commander “There is enough of our blood in the wood to make her a near-relative!”

Santa Teresa at Sail

As we sailed, Jan and I tried to think of lessons the experience was teaching us about the Christian life. For example, I can’t think of a better lesson on faith than to check your chart and your compass and then sail “over the horizon.” You believe there is an island waiting for you out there. It will have a wonderful anchorage and delights for us to enjoy but to get there we have to sail out of sight of land. We trust the compass to show us the way but there is a very serious moment when the coast disappears and all you can see is an uninterrupted horizon of blue all around you. You keep sailing by faith and then there is a moment of magical joy when that fuzzy cloud on the horizon grows sharper and reveals the island you have been sailing for. It is one thing to sail from point to point but quite another to let go and step out on faith.

During the first week of our trip we had clear blue skies but the winds and the waves drove us on. We reached Isla Coronado Sur in record time. At one point our 16 tons reached 8 knots driven by the wind alone! That was glorious but when it came time to anchor for the night, the island didn’t protect us very much. All night long Teresa bucked and rocked at times threatening to throw us out of our bunks. Just a few yards away were dark, ugly rocks bathed in white foam. The shore seemed to be smacking her lips wanting to devour our little wooden boat. The only thing holding us in safety was a thirty-five pound anchor, a hundred feet of chain and two hundred feet of half-inch nylon.

That gives you a lot to think about as you lay in your bunk through the night. Is the bottom hard-packed sand or soupy mud? Does the anchor have a good bite or has it become fouled in the chain? Are the shackles tight or slowly coming unscrewed with each jerk on the chain? Is the rope chaffing against the hull or a rock? Are we fast or are we slowly inching towards those jagged rocks? Many times I sang the old hymn that asks, “Will your anchor hold in the storms of life?” Jan reached across the v-berth and took my hand. Even as the wind sang in the rigging, she smiled in the darkness and said, “I’m glad we used the best anchor!”

Faith in the chart and faith in the anchor are important but how much more important is our faith in a loving heavenly Father? Trim your sails and let’s continue the adventure!

We’re Back!

Thanks for all the prayers and kind wishes for us while Jan and I were away sailing. It was the most refreshing vacation we’ve enjoyed together in many, many years. It was just the two of us on our beloved sailboat, Santa Teresa. After stopping at the Municipal Docks (known as the “Cop Docks” because of the Harbor Police office there) where we were able to load our food, supplies, water and a thousand and one other “don’t forget the _____” items, we had a delightful, fast sail south to the Coronado Islands just across the border in Mexico.

The Coronados are a wildlife refuge and while you can’t go ashore, you can watch over 60 species of birds and 3 types of seals and sea lions. They say the fishing is great but we were too busy doing nothing to fish. (Now that is saying alot!) On the third day, we hoisted our anchor and had another wonderful sail to Ensenada, Mexico. While it is only 70 miles from San Diego, if felt like a million. We stayed at the Baja Naval marina where we were hosted in a most delightful way. The food, shopping and especially the people were truly wonderful. What surprised us was how uncrowded it was. Every three days a cruise ship would pull in but they stayed in a very small district and gave us the rest of the city.

Besides sea food, we enjoyed sidewalk cafes and coffee and nothing tastes better than hand-dipped ice cream on a hot August afternoon. We had time to sleep, read books, meet interesting people and do a whole lot of nothing. It was delightfully decatent!

From Ensenada, we sailed south between Punta Banda and Isla Todos Santos and on another fifty miles to Santo Tomas where we discovered guidebooks don’t always give good advice. The picture of the anchorage on the internet looked great but we we arrived it was open to the weather and choked full of kelp. We tried vainly to anchor three times but eventually gave up. We did collect an amazing harvest of kelp on our anchor and sailed north through the night back to Ensenada drawn on by visions of garlic shrimp and Cerveche.

Finally we had to come home so we slowly did the “Baja Bash.” (The wind and the currents run north-south so a sailboat has it’s work cut out for it going north!) Even though we started north at midnight when the winds were calm, we still fought corkscrew seas. On the other hand we met a curious “little” blue whale Jan dubbed “Sally” who swam with us a way. She was longer than our boat and was very curious. Sally would roll up on her side and look us over before crossing our bow and swimming down the other side. Her spout was enormous and when she finally sounded, she left a hole in the ocean. We also saw two different species of dolphins and a couple more varieties of whales but by the time we anchored by at Isla Coronado, we were truly spent.

Thursday night, after we had been in our bunks for a couple of hours, a large American sportfishing boat pulled up alongside and hailed us. A 30 year old American tourist had rented a small, sit-on-top, kayak at Rosarito Beach and had gone for a paddle into the big blue ocean. Unfortunately the wind and the waves that we had fought all day north, caught him and carried him out to sea. Perry was in shock and blistered by the sun. Can you imagine what it would feel like to paddle against the Pacific, alone, for eleven hours? Just as the sun went down, he was spotted by the fishermen and brought to our sailboat. Jan filled him with soup and drinks and we tucked him in bed while stowing his kayak and paddle on board. We contacted the Coast Guard and they asked us to bring him along with us to San Diego the next day. We thought he might have a problem clearing Customs without a passport or ID (those were left as a deposit for the kayak in Mexico) but the blisters on his shaved head and the glowing red burns on his legs apparently convinced Homeland Security his story was true.

All in all, it was a most wonderful vacation and I’ll be sharing some more of my meditations on the Holy Spirit from the book of Acts tomorrow. Thank you for your prayers and patience!


Jan and I are cruising in Mexico aboard Santa Teresa, our beloved sailboat.

By the way, she was named “Santa Teresa” when we bought her many years ago. Sailors are a very superstitious lot (Son’t begin a voyage on Friday because that’s the day Jesus died; don’t change the name of a boat; and especially don’t allow red-headed women on board! Well two out of three ain’t bad…).

When we moved aboard ST, Jan searched the internet to find out who Santa Teresa was. It turns out she is the patron saint of romance and headache sufferers. Now that’s a perfect name for a boat!

I am so glad so many of you have enjoyed my new book, Wind from the Shadows: Meditations on the Book of Acts. [Update: Through a special arrangement with my publisher, this book is now available free as an eBook! Visit the “John’s Books” link to receive your copy. Blessings! John]