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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Ephesians 4.20-24

That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Put off the old self. Not him but me doing it. An active discarding of everything to do with the pre-Jesus self. Take it off. Take off old attitudes, old ideas, old desires. Rub away the tarnished marks of lies once believed. Throw it all away. Put in under lock and key and don't be tempted to check it's still there. Be rid of its corruption and deceit, its empty promises and whispered undermining. Don't be deceived. Watch your steps. Check your tongue. Analyse your intention. What you think you want is not what you really want. Why then the jealousy? Why the niggles and the nudges? The fear of missing out, being overlooked. Becoming judge of others and their behaviour in order to avoid judgement of myself. Madness. A quest for the intangible sense of being ok, a futile search for approval.

And so. Be made new. Be made new. Be made. Be new. Be. How to be? Let your mind be filled with his truth. Do not conform to the status quo but love the conformers. Be transformed. Be changed. A being that is simultaneously human effort and divine doing. Let him do the transforming but don't just sit there. Peel off the encrusted layers of past, scratch hard, dig deep, prise away years of clung to attitudes and manufactured defences. Put it on. Put put put on. Do it when you don't feel like it. Practice what you can't yet bring yourself to do, to feel, to think. This is not pretending. This is becoming who you already are. 

Friday, 26 September 2014

Ephesians 4:17-19

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
Yesterday, I ran at dawn, just as the sun spilled over the horizon and the leaves began to shine. With face speckled by snatches of dawn light, I prayed that God would keep my heart soft. Don't let my heart grow hard. Keep it soft and keep it malleable. Don't let my heart grow cold. Keep it burning by the bonfire of your love. There is caution in Paul's word. Hardness of heart is not reserved for unbelievers. We need to be alert. We have responsibility for conquering futile thoughts and shaking off the attitudes that would seek to enslave us. Dorothy Day says that the soft heart is one that is easily bruised, the heart which is wounded by another's pain, the heart which will not take offence. I will place my heart on the potter's wheel; Father, take your hands and mould me. Do what you will. Make what you wish. But take your hands and mould me. Today we need to lay our calloused, disappointed, burned out hearts before him and let his strong hands knead out our knotted-ness.
What does hardness look like? For many years, I have wrestled with God over Romans 9. How could God choose to harden hearts? I do not know. But I do know that for almost every mention of God hardening Pharaoh's heart (Exodus 7.3, 9.12, 10.20, 11.10),we are told that Pharaoh had his own hand in becoming stonehearted (Exodus 8.14, 8.32, 9.34). Romans tells us that God is obvious, available, undeniably printed in all of creation. (Romans 1:19-20) There is a calculated deliberateness in choosing to ignore him just as there is calculation in my shutting out of his still, small voice when I don't want to be obedient. God gives us over to dark empty thinking when we forget him, refuse him, don't pay attention, don't acknowledge his goodness, don't say thank you. But there is pain on his part too. A refrain repeatedly echoed down generations: return return return. Do not die. Do not separate yourself from your very life. Do not ignore the beauty of the dawn intended to show you me. Learn to love the gentle spirit-stirring of my presence and look not for an idol, build not a broken cistern. (Jeremiah 2:13)

Father, keep my spirit sensitive to you today so I don't get lost.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Ephesians 4:14-16

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
I am reminded of the rebuke that the writer of Hebrews gives: you are slow to understand. Not yet ready to be a teacher because you're still on baby food, still drinking milk when you should be on solids. Hebrews 5.11-14. In many ways, I am still an infant: too easily thrown off course, too quickly discouraged, suddenly doubting. Content to keep repeating the first lessons over and over again because I can't seem to move up a grade. And the remedy? Tough love. And lots of it. You don't grow in faith without correction and the wise know that they need it and lap it up. Proverbs 9.8. Let a righteous man strike me - that is kindness. Let him rebuke me - that is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it. Psalm 141.5. Oh but I do. I am a refuser. I don't like being corrected. I don't like having my faults addressed. And yet, I crave maturity. I crave christlikeness. Paul says that speaking the truth in love is what gets you there. Not glib condolences and try harder next time but truth. And sometimes truth hurts. Who have you given permission to speak truth to you? Who is the brother, the sister, whose rebuke you welcome? Who is allowed to tell you when you've stuffed up and need to sort it out? Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. Proverbs 27.6. Truth-filled wounds are sometimes the only way that we can be set free. John 8.32. Isaiah 53.5.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Ephesians 4.12-14 equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.

Christ is in the business of perfecting. His bride is being made ready. But this wedding preparation is more akin to a proverbial village raising a child than a singular bridezilla trying to do it all on her own. It takes the whole church to be the bride. We must surrender our western individualism - our me-and-my-salvation need only the cult of the isolated quiet time to survive attitude - and embrace our always intended corporate identity. We are a body. I can't be a body on my own. And it's high stakes here: how much we know about Jesus is dependant on how much we're willing to be dependant on his people. The body is built up by every member. Each member is needed if we are to reach maturity, if we are to know the Son, if we are to attain fullness. 

And this is some serious fullness we are talking about: the fullness of Christ is the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. Ephesians 1.23. We can't get filled up on our own. Not completely. This is joint enterprise. There are things about Jesus that I don't know, and perhaps can never know, unless I am willing to listen to the rest of the body. Oh so tempting to create a hierarchy of whose knowledge counts. Who will I let tell me something about Christ? Do I have the humility to listen to the parts of the body that I perceive as weak but God says are indispensable? 1 Corinthians 12.23. Leah is 10 years old but she knows Jesus in a way I just don't get. Her childlike faith is unsmeared with cynicism. Jesus loves her. This she know know knows. She knows it so much that this morning she got up at 6 to pray and paint and say thank you to her god. Let us always listen to the youngest voice in the room. Let us never scorn a child's wisdom. On the contrary, the parts we think are less honourable deserve special honour.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Ephesians 4.7-11

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:
“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”
(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,

Paul is ingenious in his Old Testament exegesis and so much of it is lost on my Gentile mind which glosses over footnotes and ignores Psalmic references. But to the scribe who finds treasure new and old in his storehouse, there is gold here. (Matthew 13:52) Psalm 68's conquering king is re-figured by Paul's theology as the risen Christ, victorious over satan, ruling in heaven. But what is the connection to gifts? What triggered this psalm in the apostle's mind? Paul expects a level of familiarity with the Old Testament which we fall far short of. It is not just an isolated verse, but the whole of the psalm that frames Paul's thinking and lurks between his words, lingering in the margins. Psalm 68 is an encouragement to God's weary inheritance. It is a reminder that God is the good giver. He is the one who sheathes the wings of us, his precious dove, in silver, coating our dull tawdry feathers with shining gold. Psalm 68.13. God bestows gifts on an unworthy and ordinary Israel. The triumphant Christ hands out his bounty to an unworthy and ordinary church. It was he who gave us our gifts. He is the maker of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers. We are not self made men. Our feeble wings fly only with his anointing. No boasting then. No comparing. No sideways glances at how others are getting on. We each got what Christ chose to give. And he knew what he was doing.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Ephesians 4.4-6

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Unity is seriously important. Just in case we haven't got the message yet. What does that mean for how we pray for one another? There is only one universal body of believers: one holy, catholic, apostolic church. Our suffering brothers and sisters across the globe are members of the body that binds us all, tabernacles of the same spirit. The same mind-binding hope unites us. That hope, to become his precious inheritance and live with him forever, is the same for the Christians in Gaza, Iraq, Syria, Korea, South Sudan, Ukraine, Russia. Oh that these brethren of ours would know hope afresh today. Let's pray for them today. Let's pray that God would allow us to share in their wounds and know their sorrow. 1 Corinthians 12.26.

And what of those closer to home? Our own communities? I imagine Paul's tone here to be the same emphatic insistence as when he pleads with Euodia and Syntyche. Philippians 4.2. Agree in the Lord! Stop squabbling! And yet, the Lord isn't always known when there is disagreement. Often, I long to yell at the top of my voice, a loan shout amidst age old family feuds and new fangled social media debates, "You are missing the point! God loves each of you. Equally. You don't need to live like this. You don't need to cling to your grudges out of fear of forgiveness being confused with weakness." How to speak such words? How to have the courage to be a wilderness voice? But I can pray. I can pray to the God who is over all and through all and in all. I can ask the one who fills the whole universe to take his place here, to be the centre. I can pray for my own life, that Jesus would be the centre in such a shocking and stunning way that the world would know there's an alternative to waging war. From my heart to the heavens, Jesus be the centre.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Ephesians 4:2-3

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Paul knows how to pack a punch when it comes to practical application. Those who aspire to live lives worthy of their calling need to be ones who welcome scripture's scalpel (Hebrews 4.12). There is no leeway here. No loopholes. The "completely" of verse 2 is as uncompromising as verse 3's "every effort." Ouch. I'm not even sure I would stretch to call myself semi-gentle. Most of the time I am resoundingly ungentle, unhumble. Uniquely, these are the two virtues with which our faith's author labels himself: I am gentle and humble in heart. And yet gentleness doesn't seem a particularly exciting thing to aspire to. It's almost synonymous with weakness, doormats, being walked over, relegated alongside kindness as an often forgotten and overlooked fruit of the spirit. But Jesus isn't asking us to learn to be well-meaning wimps; his humble gentleness is a different thing entirely. Meekness is not weakness because our saviour is not weak. It is the conscious restraint of power and strength for the sake of others. It is choosing someone else's importance. To be truly gentle with someone is to be aware of their hurts and sore spots, to have a tamed tongue and considered actions, to be deliberately tender even when that isn't one of your more obvious character traits. Gentleness is Jesus's way. We need to walk in it.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Ephesians 3.21-4.1

" him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received."

Our calling is to give glory to God. That is our life's pursuit. We, the church, are coupled with Christ in being tasked with the job of glorifying the father. The life of the son is our model: Jesus was sustained by doing what would bring his dad glory. John 4.34. And we, in imitation of the one we follow, offer our lives as instruments to point to God's goodness. Jesus is insistent: this is not about me. It's about him. I am making him known. I am showing him off. John 1.18, 7.18, 8.50, 8.54. 

A life spent pursuing self aggrandisement is a life wasted: meaningless transient glory that amounts to nothing. And yet there is a way to get glory for ourselves. For a moment, ignore the alarm bells of the prosperity gospel that ring at that sentence and consider this: as the son lays down his life for the sake of his father's glory so is the son himself glorified. John 13.31. Jesus's concern is for the glory of the father but the father's concern is to share glory with the vindicated son. 

Moreover, and far more bonkersly, Jesus is concerned to share that same glory with us. John 17.22. He wants us to see and savour glory forever. But we do so on his terms and for his reasons. Any glory given to the church is to be given back to the glorious one. In this sense, although Paul is a literal prisoner, we too are imprisoned by our purpose. A voluntary slavery and submission to a new master. Sons and daughters who copy their big brother's obedience and inherit his passions. What are you doing today? We are the means by which God's glory can be exhibited or, if we choose, hidden. Let us ask for joy today in fulfilling our heavenly purpose: in using everything he's given us for the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1.12.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Ephesians 3:20

"Now 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."

This verse is thrown around at prayer meetings a little too lightly. It's become a somewhat placid reminder that doesn't mean much. Yes, yes, I know: God can do anything. He is the ultimately able one. And yet, perhaps the real clout of this verse is found in the second half - this limitless god does his limitless things through... Us

Eh? These immeasurably great unthinkable things that we don't even dare ask for, that can't even be articulated into words, are done according to his power at work within us. Yes. You read that right. Us. Little old you and little old me. Why then do we not see God act in ways beyond our understanding? Jesus promises to answer prayers for anything asked in his name (John 14.14) but that isn't the reality of most of our daily prayer lives. And so, is the power at work within us the faulty? Is this same power that raised Jesus from the dead defunct now that it's being worked out through clay jars that don't know what they're doing? 

That is a dangerous trajectory to go down and I am cautious of going down it, hesitant to suggest that the limitation of the power is not the power but the us. We know the reality of the power within us. We are the once-dead dead no longer. And yet what things does God wish to work through us that don't happen? Why do we not see the more than able One doing more than we ask him to? 

I want to access the resurrection power within me for the sake of the world and I want to be willing to consider that my life is part of the problem, part of the barrier. Scripture is, after all, brutal in its emphasis on self examination. Am I asking for what God wants or what I want? (1 John 5.14) Am I harbouring unconfessed sin? (Psalm 66.18, James 5.16, Isaiah 59.2, 1 John 1.9) How's my marriage? (1 Peter 3.7) Am I obedient in the little? (Luke 16.10) Am I loving the poor? (Proverbs 21.13) 

I am not trying to be facetious. Nor am I wanting to spoil the glorious reality of our ultimately able God's desire to do the awesome as we ask him to. But we cannot ignore the possibility that God might need to do some working in us before he works through us. Are we willing to let him search our hearts this morning? Psalm 139.23.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Ephesians 3:18-19

[I pray that you]...may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
There's that power again. Dunamis. The Greek word that we get dynamite from. A veritable explosion. The shaking of bones and severing of hearts that comes with a new influx of knowing. Not just knowing either: this is something stronger. This is violently grasping hold of, seizing, snatching. We need something seriously dramatic to take place within us if we are to get this thing. As Cate Lear says, Jesus, Holy-God-Man from Galilee, the one who pierces the deepest parts of us, God incarnate who overthrows our conceptions, rips through our reflections, and shatters what we used to think to show us what love really looks like. A love so wide that it encompasses every nation and covers every sin; so long it stretches from Calvary back through history and into all of eternity; so high that it joins heaven to earth and even the angels stop and wonder at it; so deep it goes down to the depths of the grave, into the darkness of Sheol, and brings us back. And this love fills us up. Paul loves fullness. Four times here in Ephesians. Twice in Colossians. We are reminded that God is completely and utterly full and that Christ is all that fullness in bodily form. In him, we are filled up. He fills the mouths of the hungry with good things. (Luke 1:53) Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. (Matthew 5:6) What Lawrence Niesent dubs the three favourite phrases of humanity: I love you; I forgive you; let's eat! And so...taste and see. (Psalm 34:8) Gobble it up. Hunger for the fullness of God. Pant for his love. (Psalm 42:1) For anyone who asks him to come in invites a guest to the table. He's waiting to feast with us. (Revelation 3:20)