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Thursday, 31 July 2014

Ephesians 2:8-10

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

We are equipped to demonstrate how beautiful God's grace is precisely because of our helplessness. Are we tired today? Rundown? Doubting? Unsure of how to communicate Jesus to a world that so urgently needs him? Fear not. For we are fragile, cracked vessels of grace and we are so because of our cracks and fragility. God delights to reveal himself in the middle of what we cannot do. This gives me great hope. I am not my own doing. I am God's. Our lives must be a confession of weakness and humility, of knowing our need of him, and of speaking hope in him and not ourselves. We have nothing to boast of but him. 1 Corinthians 1.31. I love the NRSV's verse 10: we are what he has made us. If we are anything at all it is only because of him. Take courage: there is work to be done but it starts with admitting that we cannot do it. Our works prepared in advance were never intended to be done without the help of the one who prepared them for us. 

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Ephesians 2:6-7

"And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus."

We are in Christ even now as he sits on the throne beside his dad. Somehow our inchristness is so thorough, so absolute, so intricately are we bound that already we are raised. We are hidden with his resurrected body so that our life and his have become inseparable: he is our very life (Colossians 3.4), he in us and we in him. (John 14.20) And why would God do such a thing? Why would God put us inside his son? We become the demonstration of his grace. We are the means by which his perfectly merciful, richly kind character is displayed. We - not isolated I, but the unified fullness of his church (John 17.23) - exhibit his character to a world which doubts him because he showed us his love whilst our backs were still turned. His love is so great that I - little, undeserving, earning nothing by my own merit (Deuteronomy 7.7) - am called to reign with him in the heavenlies. Vagabond to queen. Pauper to prince. 

And yet, we are not only trophies to show off God's character traits. We are for the display of his glory but we are also those to whom that glory is continually displayed. For all the ages to come we will receive his grace. Incomparable, immeasurable grace will be expressed to us for all eternity. We will never grow tired of knowing it and all eternity is not enough time to receive it. All the ages to come will be an unfolding of goodness towards us who are in his son.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Ephesians 2:4-5

God makes a way where there is no way. This morning, there is a certain dullness in my spirit. I am tired and a little overwhelmed by need. In short, I can't really be bothered. I cannot always see how change is really possible, how sin can be overcome and lives transformed. But even in the deadness of sin, even in the darkness of transgression, even in our isolated state from our heavenly Dad, living under the weight of the curse, and his wrath at our rejection of him, there is the breath of new life. The rising sun shines precisely on those living in darkness, in the shadow of their own death. (Luke 1:78-79). I am reminded of Gandalf's words to a nervous Hobbit before the final battle: "It is darkest before the dawn." The lives of many that I love feel dark right now and yet the riches of God's love penetrate the night with radiant hope, with the promise of rescue, with the appearance of such a saviour. (Titus 3:4) It is by grace, by God's initiative, by his way-making, that we are saved. And so, sometimes, we must wait amongst the dead, in the ditch, in the wilderness of the valley of dry bones for the dawn. God makes a way where there is no way.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Ephesians 2:1-3

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

The them and us of this passage is stark and uncomfortable. Yet it is a division that only serves to remind us of our shared helplessness. There is no self-help remedy that can rescue us from the morgue. The dead cannot undead themselves. Trip Lee puts in thus:

Hey I was born less than human
I know it sounds crazy
But I was really born a robot as a baby
No real life in me, I just played my role
No self control, I just did what I was told
I got my first order, I was just a day old
But I didn't have a chance, cause my heart was way cold
My heart took the order, I couldn't break the mold
Sold under bondage and I couldn't take control
So I was just chilling in my robot clothes
With my robot friends, and my robot flows
Living robot ways, cause that's all I know
Till I heard I could be freed from my robot soul

It is too easy to jump to the glory of grace without dwelling first on being dead, too easy to jump from the darkness of Friday to the resurrection of Sunday. Paul's reminder is brutal: we were dead. Lifeless. And we didn't even know it. Bound by sin. Trapped in wrong thinking. Following all that we knew. Blind to the reality of glorious substance because air seemed substantial enough. And so, let us reserve judgement. Let us be oh so careful what we condemn in others. What we blame. Because those in the morgue need resurrection not rebuke. Re-birth. To be born again. And that is what we cannot do. We cannot un-dead. But God can. And he did. Romans 4:17. We used to be dead. But now we live. We are X-robots freed from our robot souls. Why then do we still live as the dead do? Why copy the world's wisdom? Why crave what the world says we need and tells us will satisfy? Why chase after the wind?

God cannot be boxed

The uncomfortable wrestle of the middle ground 
A no man's land that refuses to subscribe to a camp
Hesitant to create a box, to tame a lion
For you are wild.
                  Extravagant in grace
                               Outlandish in love
                                         Pure as water
                                                 Holy as fire
I cannot box you in.

You defy lines,
Unending circle, 
                      you will not be confined by reasoned dimensions.
A myriad of colours rainbowed through glass
Momentary flashes of revelation create mystery.
An endless juggling act of 
                                  holy love 
                                  loving holiness
The impossibility of pinning down clouds 
of capturing by camera what only the eye sees
of holding all of you 

God cannot be boxed.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Ephesians 1:20-23

Ephesians 1.20-23 was a well timed reading. I'd just had a really difficult run in with a family that is struggling under the weight of all manner of things: anger, alcoholism, neglect, fatherlessness and years of pain and hurt that has been passed down in a seemingly unbreakable cycle. But then I read that Jesus is far above ALL rule, authority, dominion and power. Either we take this as truth and live as those who proclaim that nothing is outside the remit of God's grace, no stronghold beyond the breaking of him who broke death or we do not. Or we water it down with reason and logic and the complications of individual circumstance. Christ is in charge. End of. And his inchargeness is a gift to us, his broken, utterly fallible body. He is our head for our good. And we - somehow - sinful, fallen, doubting, are his gift to the world: the fullness of him who fills everything in every way living on this earth right now. As Elaine would put it: SAY WHAT?! All the fullness of God is in Christ (Colossians 1:19) ans He has chosen to fill us with that same fullness (Colossians 2:10). We are to overflow with the fullness of God. Oh to get this. I cannot even start to comprehend what it means, but I want to take it seriously. To live a life where his fullness overflows for the sake of this world where we are now his body incarnate. 

Friday, 18 July 2014

Ephesians 1:19-20

I got the power... I got the power.. For those of you that missed it, that was a reference to Snap's 1990 classic. And also to Ephesians 1.19-20. We are to know the power that we possess. And what power is that? This is grave conquering, death defeating, curse breaking resurrection power. And we are to know not only that we have it but that it is at work in us. It has been at work in us since the awakening of faith: we were dead. Ephesians 2.1. We needed something earthshakingly mighty to wake us up. We, like Jesus in the grave, could not live again lest God make it so. To know the reality of power at work in the past is to respond with awestruck wonder and thankfulness in the present. He said live and we lived. Ezekiel 16.6. But there is more: the power which first woke us from slumber when God called our names is still at work in us. We are still waking up. We are still being made alive to the reality of God's power at work in our hearts. We are to count ourselves daily more and more alive to Him. Romans 6:11. Am I doing this today? Am I fully awake to all the possibilities of God? Is my Spirit alive to his leading or still dead in parts? Are my ears pricked to the whisper of His voice? Wake up, sleepy-headed Nic. Know the power that you possess to live this life for Him.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Ephesians 1:18-19

Ephesians 1.18-19. I am currently sitting in Mcdonalds and the lyrics of the song playing say,' God knows we're worth it.' Admittedly the song is talking about a relationship between humans. Ephesians talks about how God feels about us instead. Paul's desire is for the deepest kind of knowledge. A knowing that floods every corner of the human soul. A brightening of darkness, a quickening of dullness. Illumination of our entire emotional and intellectual understanding. This is no academic assent to doctrinal truths. This is intimate revelation. We need to really really really know hope. We need to live it and breathe it and remember that God was the initiator. Not us. He called us into hope from hopelessness. And again, the most remarkable thing is that He wanted to call us. Not only do we have an inheritance, but we are someone's inheritance. Let that sink in. We are a treasured people, God's most precious possession. God has been waiting since the beginning of time for us to be his. Wow. To him, we are glorious riches. Christ so longed for us to be with him, that he scorned the cross' shame. Instead he considered the joy set before him. He considered us - his inheritance. God knows we're worth it. 

Monday, 14 July 2014

Ephesians 1:15-17

Ephesians 1.15-17. How dedicated am I to thanksgiving and prayer for those who I long to know everything that God has for them? Paul has not stopped saying thank you. He is continually astounded by the way in which God is at work, by the incredible reality of verses 13-14: Paul sees God's hand and he can't help but pour out his gratitude. As a rule, I am ungrateful. I miss what God is doing and even when I do see it, I don't say thank you. 

Paul remembers to pray. He knows that prayer is where it's at. It's the only thing that will make a difference and so he is unceasing in remembrance of his brothers and sisters. Oh for such love and such commitment, such determination for others to experience God's goodness that we would keep asking keep asking keep asking. And for what do we ask? We ask for the spirit. We ask for what is so far beyond us. We ask for a knowledge of God that withstands all opposition and doubt and suffering. We ask for unswerving confidence in the gloriously glorious father that will not be shaken.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Ephesians 1:13-14

13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession - to the praise of His glory.
What does this mean? That I am in Christ? Who else could I be in? Where else, or what else, was I in before? I think part of Paul's answer is found in Romans 5. I mainly think this because of a sermon series by Andy Stanley where he talks about the distinction between being in Adam or in Christ. We're one or the other. We inherited the sinful condition of Adam and we're in him until something gets us out. We get put into Christ somehow. We become viewed as Christ somehow. When God looks at us he no longer sees a sinner; he sees someone who is holy and blameless. Somehow we are clothed, covered, coated over with Christ in such a way that it goes down deep. 

It's not tricking God. It's not like those terrible, fake glasses/moustache combination or a cheap masquerade; something actually happens where we get Jesus' life and he gets ours. This is Aslan's deep magic and I don't get it. I don't get what happens when someone hears the word and believes. An unspeakable transformation takes place in the instant of believing the good news: the excluded become the included; orphan becomes heir. 

But God wants us to be sure. God doesn't want us to question whether or not we're really in His son. He doesn't want his kids to be unsure of their place in the family. His precious Spirit is His way of making us sure. He is our deposit, down-payment, guarantee, pledge. His presence in our hearts is how we know that it's true. 

Even as I read these verses earlier I stuttered on the word 'truth.' Am I really sure? Am I really so uncompromising, so arrogant, as to be able to say that what I believe is universal truth? That Jesus is the truth; He is the truest thing that can ever be known. And yet and yet, I have his Spirit. I have a seal branded on my heart that leads me back to the truth even when it seems impossible to believe it. God has marked me out as His own and he promises to keep me from stumbling. He promises to keep me safe and secure until it's home time. He promises that His Spirit is enough: he is my guide, my reminder, my sustainer. And such a gift compels me to praise Him. 

Friday, 11 July 2014

Ephesians 1:11-12

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.
I am normally pretty frightened by the concept of predestination and here Paul uses the word for the second time in just a handful of verses. I don't have a clear sense of what it means, but what strikes me here is not so much the choosing or the not choosing, the included or the excluded, not so much the picking but the purpose. To trust Jesus is to make God look good. To put our hope in Him regardless of circumstance or doubt or a difficult day is to give God glory. There is beautiful simplicity here: today we have the opportunity to show off how good our heavenly Dad is in a world that desperately needs fathering. Today, just by saying that He is where our hope is, heaven sings His praises just a little bit louder. Our limping faith is enough to cause angels to roar. 

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Ephesians 1:7-10

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding,  he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ,10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
There is so much treasure here. I love Paul's repetition: in Him, through Him. And don't you forget it. All this is only possible in and through Jesus. He is the one who has gained us immeasurable blessing and unlimited access to the Father. And it was fitting that he should do so. It was in perfect keeping with the character of the Godhead. It fit perfectly with God's beautifully lavish nature that He should choose the way of the cross. That He should choose such an extravagant and foolish was to display His love. God was fully aware of what He was doing when He planned our redemption. He knew the cost of our reconciliation and it pleased Him to make it happen. In Christ, what was unknowable and unattainable is now revealed and approachable. The glorious mystery is that He should want to be knowable to us. He should want us as friends and not servants. Angels shudder at that truth. For surely it is madness that the best way for God to show us what He's like and the only way for us to get back to Him is by a dead man on a cross...

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Ephesians 1:1-6

Rejoicers, I am trying to learn Ephesians; a little ambitious I fear but someone recently told me that it was their favourite book and that it was full of deep and precious treasures. Anyone want to join me on the journey? Today is Ephesians 1:1-6.

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
much thrillingly beautiful truth already that the mind boggles. We have everything we need. God has withheld nothing from those who are in His Son. Not one blessing is held back from us. (v.3) More than that - God chose us not out of necessity or obligation but out of pure, wholehearted love. (v.4) It was a pleasure for him to bring us into his family. (v.5) He wanted to. He gives to us freely, open-handedly, longing to pour out grace and grace and grace because that is what He wills. That is the essence of who He is. We are those we are hidden in His Son. Those covered by the blood and washed blameless white. Hallelujah. Happy Tuesday.