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Thursday, 28 August 2014

Ephesians 3:14-17

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family[a] in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love...

All you need is love. The trusty NRSV makes the connection between verse 17a and 17b clearer by getting rid of the full stop. The way that Christ comes to dwell in us is through a revelation of love: it is as we are rooted and established in love that Christ tabernacles in us. How at home he is depends on how much we get that he loves us. And so how do we get it? Oh how I want to know know know that he loves me. To have roots that go so deep that the starting point of everything is Because he loves. 1 John 4.19. We need power. We need God's help to know God's love. In accordance with his abundance so god gives. And so, ask. Ask on your knees not just for others but for yourself. Ask that the spirit will so move, so speak, to the most intimate, bruised, vulnerable parts of your being that faith will arise. You will trust that whispering I love you instead of dismissing it. This afternoon I ended up in a muddle of facebook gossip that has caused offence and hurt. But gossip's root is insecurity. The nagging feeling of being missed out, let down, talked about. What is the remedy? Love. The unshakable foundation of Christ and the precious gift of his home made in us is our only defence against a world that would crush us with endless speculation, self analysis and comparison. Love is all we need.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Ephesians 3.12-13

In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

Earlier this week, I met the shiniest person I've ever seen. Psalm 34.5: "Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame" As she served me a cup of coffee, she was utterly radiant. I tried to find the right words to say this to her and she simply smiled, eyes full of joy and depth of gratitude and said, 'I was a heroin addict for 25 years. I love the Lord.' We continued to chat and she looked at me with eyes that brimmed again with tears of thankfulness, 'Those who have been forgiven much love much,' she said simply. 

As I sat down to drink my coffee I turned to Ephesians. Here was someone who embraced the truth of 3.12 and celebrated it everyday. A daughter of the king who ran across the polished palace floors with mud stained feet and flung herself daily into the outstretched arms of the father. What difference then between her forgiveness and mine? Sin is the great leveller and whilst part of me clings to a manufactured hierarchy that feigns comparative innocence, we are all the same. All have fallen short.Romans 3:23. It is not that this woman had more sin, but that she knew the size of the gap. Ezekiel 22:30. She knew her need of the cross and so still wondered at it with childlike awe. We need more wonder. We need to consider him more and ourselves less if we are to be radiant. 

And, once you've got it, asked for it, lived in the beautiful reality of our dirty feet being welcomed on his holy ground, verse 13 follows. Don't worry. In light of all this everything else is momentary, fleeting. Don't worry about persecution or famine or hardship or sword or rejection and misunderstanding as we speak this mystery to others. For all of that is worth it to see another trail of muddied feet shining on the marble.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Ephesians 3:10-11

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I have been dwelling on these verses for a few days. There's the same kind of totally-insane-say-what! quality as 1.22. What exactly is God's eternal purpose? Whatever it is, the church is God's chosen methodology for making it known. In Christ, God accomplished what he always intended to: he won back his children. He made us holy and blameless in his son. At the cross, God perfectly demonstrates his character and we become those to whom that character is continually and beautifully demonstrated. In a way, that cross is an act of character vindication. At Calvary the world is shown the fullest measure of grace, love, justice. All at the same time. Jesus makes known what the Father is really like whilst gaining for himself an inheritance, a people who will love and praise him forever.

And so, what of the church? Well, God decided before the creation of the world that his people would be part of the grand plan. Now is time. We are those living post the advent of the kingdom. It has been and is being ushered in. We are those who live to show the world that God's redemption plan is wise and that his reign is good. A new spiritual Israel showing our neighbours what it means to live under him. What the church looks like matters. The way we love each other matters. As the church reveals the wisdom of god things start shifting. And not just on earth either. This is heavenly warfare. The rulers and authorities of the spiritual realm are looking to us as they looked to Job. They consider us and what our lives say about God. The church's very existence reveals that God's plan worked. But what do our actions reveal about the kind of God he is?

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Ephesians 3:8-9

Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.

Yesterday, I ran in the rain like a giddy child. I ran the last stretch home at a sprint, lungs bursting, heart pounding, grinning from ear to ear like a dog with its head lolling out of a car window. As I ran, I was listening to the lyrics "I love the king and the king loves me" on repeat. Simple but utterly profound. I love the king and the king loves me. Simples. And yet, how hard to cling to that in the
middle of life? How easy to lose that childlike giddy feeling of being loved, the thrill of knowing that the creator king is mindful of me every hour, minute, second? Paul tells us that grace is specific. This grace. Not that grace or someone else's grace. My grace. The specific apportioning of grace given to me to do what God would have me do today. Paul's commission to the Gentiles was an act of grace and his doing of it was done standing in grace. God’s grace is enough for whatever he has lined up for us. We, like Paul, are called to make plain, understandable, accessible, the unbelievable richness of God. Jesus is boundlessly beautiful, good, pure, holy, loving. How to make that plain? How to speak it, show it, live this story in a way that others can make sense of? Whoever God has graciously given you to speak his story to, his promise is the grace to do it. More grace please, Jesus. More knowledge of just how boundless you are.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Ephesians 3:7

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of god's grace given me through the working of his power.

It is easy for me to think of being a servant of Christ - easy to think but not to act on - but I was stunned by this verse's insistence that it is the Good News that we are serving. The word, the gospel, is our master not simply Jesus. The word has a life of its own: spreading, flourishing, moving, returning at a rate that confounds authorities and overcomes opposition (Acts 4.17, 6.7, 12.24). Spreading is what the Good News does. We are not needed but graciously wanted, asked and equipped as co-labourers. We sow seeds, we speak words, we live, breathe, act Good News, but we do it in cooperation with God's grace, anointed and enabled by his power. And so what does this mean practically? For we are reading a practical book here. To be a servant is to receive orders, to act on behalf of, to work for, to give yourself in service of. And this is not just any old master. This Good News is radical, peacemaking, reconciling, accepting. A beautiful boss to be working for. And so what's our office? Where's our desk? What's on the don's agenda? We have been appointed a particular, peculiar, unique set of circumstances in which to serve this mighty word. Be an agent of good news today. Be a willing slave and listen out for your instructions.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Ephesians 3:4-6

In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

This morning, I listened to a sermon that hurt. Matthew 25.1-13. What do I care more for? The burning success of a ministry or the oil of intimacy? A lamp for outward show or the indispensable day to day connect with God which keeps that lamp burning? The wise prioritize oil. (Matthew 25:4 “The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps”) So often, I am a fool. Tangled up in doing, preparing, ministering. Too busy to sit at His feet and be awed by mystery. Too preoccupied to cultivate intimacy then hoping for a quick fix: can I borrow some oil? 

But relationship isn't transferable. No one can love Jesus on my behalf. No one can rejoice in my salvation for me. The bridegroom loves with abandon and he wants a bride who does the same. Oh to hear him say, "I know this one! She's like Mary. I know this one. She loves to sit at my feet. She loves to hear what I think and listen to my heart. She never forgot the goodness of being loved by me and being mine, such mystery always retained its wonder to her. I know this one."

But I am a foolish one. A Martha who needs to learn to be a Mary. An heir who sometimes can't even be bothered to stop and love the one who adopted her. Oh to be wise today. To ask for oil not just a lamp.
How much do I value intimacy with Jesus? How much am I awed by the fact that I, Gentile, outsider, one standing far off, should be welcomed into the king's court, given the privileges of a son, desired as much as a bride? It is a mystery indeed. Beautiful, deep, unfathomable riches. Romans 11.33-36.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Ephesians 3:1-3

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles. Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly.

If we know anything about God we know it because He revealed it to us out of grace. And such revelation is not only for our own benefit and delight but for others. God chose to tell Paul about his plan for salvation amongst the Gentiles not to puff up Paul's ego or provide opportunity for him to show off newfound knowledge but so that he might give such knowledge away. Do we view what we know of God this way? If God has graciously revealed to us that he is our Dad do we seek to share that wonder with others? For such revelation is given that it might be given away: a gift to the fatherless by one who now knows what it is to be in God's family.

It is easy to be envious of the specificity of Paul's call. How often do we long for a written in the sky, flashing neon light moment of revelation where God tells us exactly what to do? And yet, when God gives revelation it might not be a popular or welcomed message that we are called to pass on. Paul's revelation and his sharing of it put him in prison. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel. All sent to speak a painful message to a rebellious people unwilling to listen, asked to speak words regardless of whether the hearers heeded them or not. You only need look at Hosea to know that obedience to revelation may take incredible courage and have unwelcome consequences. And yet grace is administered not only in the message but also gives us the means to speak it. Micah is given the power to declare Israel's sin. Micah 3.8. We do not give away our revelation on our own. Words are promised and provided. And so, scatter seeds of what God has given with abundance today.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Ephesians 2:19-22

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

A fitting passage for a Tuesday when I normally pray for our team here in Barnwell. Unity is essential. There is something mysterious here: that we are not only individual tabernacles for the Trinity (John 14.23) but the community in which God chooses to dwell and through which He makes himself known to a watching world. We are his witnesses. We are those who demonstrate who Christ is (John 17.22-23) and what it means to be his Disciples (John 13.35) and we do so through our love for each other. So much is at stake if we fail to love our brothers and sisters. The truth of the Good News is tarnished by our failure to be loving ambassadors. No pressure then! But again there is the hope of the passive: we are not the master builders of this grand architectural project. God is. He's building himself a suitable home and we are the materials he's using. He knows exactly what we’re like but He has still chosen to make his people the place where he can live. This doesn't let us off the hook. Love is a doing word. God's in charge of ensuring the project gets finished but to be united as his body is the cry of our hearts and the work of our hands. And so, love, pray, serve, build up, and do it extravagantly. There's no place for petty squabbles in this kingdom.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Ephesians 2:14-18

"For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit."

My spirit is unsettled this morning but there is great comfort here. Christ is the prince of peace. He is peace to the individual soul and to the entire community. He brings peace between the most disparate and unlikely. He brings peace by revealing our fundamental alikeness. Far or near, Gentile or Jew, middle class or working class, Israelite or Palestinian - we all share the same sin, the same need, the same failure to fulfil the righteous requirements of the law. But christ has fulfilled the law. Matthew 5.17. All of it. And in doing so he has paved the way to peace. We can have peace with each other as we realise we are all in the same boat. We all need reconciling to the father. We all need the blood of the son. The cross is the ultimate leveller: at Calvary god pronounces his verdict on humanity even whilst he frees us from such a verdict. This is what it takes to be right with god. This is what it takes for anyone, everyone, to be right with god. Romans 3.22-24. And so, this morning, i pray for peace for myself and my community. I ask to be a peacekeeper, a peacepreacher. One who believes in an alternative to hostility, one who proclaims the peace found at the cross, the body that reconciled us, the broken flesh that healed us, the wounds that make us whole. Isaiah 53:5

Friday, 8 August 2014

Ephesians 2.11-13

"Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ."

Another case of the in and the out, the endless temptation to make others on the outside once we are insiders. The uncircumcised creating new kinds of circumcision for the purposes of exclusion when the only circumcision that really matters is a surgery that cannot be carried out by human hands. Jeremiah 17.9. It is the heart that needs to be circumcised. And yet we have forgotten that this is a procedure we did nothing to initiate. Brought near. Carried home. His blood. Paul is emphatic in his use of the passive. We may have come back but first something brought us to our senses. Luke 15.17. Israel is rebuked by Jesus for its exclusion of the younger son. The Gentile graft imitates the root but now there are other younger sons to resent. Who do we secretly believe doesn't have a share in the kingdom? Divorced, gay, single mum, charismatic, conservative, convict? But there is no slave free Gentile jew male female now. It is new creation creating circumcision that counts only. Watch out for arrogance today. Remember what it is to be estranged, excluded, cut off and hold the door open for the unlikely stranger. For Jesus warns us that the final in and out will surprise us. Matthew 7:21-23.