I Am Thankful for you

Ephesians 1: 15-16 “For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.”

For this reason: for what Christ has done, what the Spirit is doing and what is ahead of us and also for what I am hearing of you …

Paul carried appreciation for these people in his heart and it soon spills out after the first 14 verses of praise.

You are called by God for people. Its others before you. It is putting people ahead of you. Serving others, reaching others, others all the time, every time. It is never about us. Never, never entertain the thought ‘Well what about me? What about what I want? How I feel?’ for they are destructive thoughts. The prison wants you to have those thoughts for they will take you into an inner prison that is hard to get out of. How do I know that is true?  Is it a doctrine given in the Bible? No, it is a letter sent from a prison.

It is incredible that someone in a prison can be not only thinking of others but writing to them to thank them for their lives. Of course, Paul is not thinking, “Okay today I shall write part of the Bible.” Nor when the people read or hear the letter do they stop and understand that this is Scripture. This is a personal letter revealing a man’s appreciation for people he loved.

But here is the point. We can learn a lot from doctrine (and Paul gives his fair share on this). We live in a world of accessibility to teaching and opinion, it is all around us. However never forget the impact of seeing someone express their appreciation for others or having a glimpse into another’s prayer life of thankfulness, especially when it comes from a difficult place. Your expressed thankfulness can turn out to be the greatest doctrine. There are times when your doctrine needs to be seen and not heard.

Value people, be genuine and influence them to keep going by thanking them for where they have been. Specifics are hugely important. Being thankful generally isn’t good enough. For what are you thankful? “Your faith and your love” that is what Paul thanks them for. He was there in the beginning as the church first started and now he has heard a report of how they were doing. Can you imagine how they felt when they heard that Paul had not stopped praying for them? This was not some random sporadic prayer. They were on his daily prayer list. Who’s on your list?

Make sure you send them a text, an email or a letter, a zoom or a FaceTime call to tell them.

I am marked

We come to the end of this explosive and exuberant praise from Paul who is sat in a Roman prison as he writes to the saints in Ephesus.

Ephesians 1:13-14 “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

He clearly is not thinking about the constraints of the prison but his mind has been on the Exodus and the redemption of the Jews which is now overshadowed by the story of Christ’s blood, the mystery of God, that we can now see will “bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” v10.

The Promised Land, our inheritance, is not some far-away place where we leave the earth behind to rot or burn up. Rather it is ‘Heaven on Earth’ not created by some man-made utopian experience, but by His plan. God is bringing Heaven to Earth.

So why is this exciting? Apart from the fact that it is; you and I get to be in that united inheritance.

I am marked, branded, sealed by the Spirit. Why?

The Spirit is our guarantee.

During this virus many of us have had the experience of missing out on our holiday destinations or concerts, theatre bookings, parties etc. For those with deposits then we know the experience will still be there (unless we get the deposit back) for the deposit is our guarantee. The assurance that we make the inheritance is the presence of God within us, the Holy Spirit. He is speaking to us continually saying, “You’re going to make it, I will be there and I am in you, so you’re going to make it.”

The Spirit will take us there.

Just as the cloud led by day and the fire  by night, the Spirit leads us through this wilderness into our inheritance, the wonderful new Heaven-Earth world. That leading involves the protection of our souls, revelation of our mind, the inspiration for our spirit, it is to make us more like Christ. “So our faces are not covered. They show the bright glory of the Lord, as the Lord’s Spirit makes us more and more like our glorious Lord.” 2 Corinthians 3:18

The Spirit witnesses to us.

A deposit is an experience in itself. Clearly it is not the full experience that will come, but this gives a taste, a glimpse, the certain hope that we will soon experience everything. So is the Holy Spirit in our lives a taste of what is to come. That is because the Holy Spirit, the presence of God, is already there ahead of us, He is in the new world, but He has come to us to take us there. In doing so He continually speaks to us about what we should stand up for or withdraw from simply because it doesn’t belong to the culture of the new Heaven-Earth order. So we love our neighbour as ourselves, we are kind and considerate, we are not rude or self-seeking; we stand against injustice, racism and hatred of all kinds. Those involved in it won’t make it out of the wilderness.

The Holy Spirit guarantees us and takes us, witnessing to us of the new Heaven-Earth order. Which John saw in his Revelation, “He will wipe all tears from their eyes, and there will be no more death, suffering, crying, or pain. These things of the past are gone forever.” (21:4)

We will be there because the Spirit got us there through the powerful blood of Jesus.

I Am In His Plan

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, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1 v11-12

 

I’m in this prison but He is working it out, the prison is in His plan.

I’m in regret, how could I have been so stupid, I ate from the tree but the tree was in His plan.

I’m drowning and it has gotten worse for I’ve been swallowed by the fish but the fish is in His plan.

I’m on the cross, put there by Herod, Pilate or the Religious leaders, but the cross is in His plan.

I’m in the grip of an enemy, Satan intends to harm me but God intends it for good, for that grip is in His hand, it is in His plan.

I’m in a confused, criss-crossed, messy reality but turn the cross-stitch the right way round and it is a tapestry of grace for the working out is in His plan.

I’m in a pandemic but when disaster comes to a city has not the Lord caused it, for the pandemic is in His plan.

Today there are estimates of 20 Christian martyrs per hour. How do they go through this? Is there someone reading this who is going through the trauma of their worst day? God doesn’t always give us what we want. But He is certainly the God who determines what is best. He has perfect timing, who appoints everything. He permits, assigns, chooses, selects, prescribes and establishes. Everything works according to His will and purposes which are perfect. It takes faith and discipleship to be able to say this abomination is in His plan.

I Am In His Plan

I have a story

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, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfilment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. Ephesians 1: 7-10

When you cannot see the future or when it frightens you make sure you can see the past. ‘Don’t look back’ is often given as positive advice but it isn’t always the case.

In looking back Paul sees the Passover story but through the filter of the cross.

This is the fulfilment of that.

This is my testimony.

This is my Passover story.

I have a story.

Don’t move on without taking your Exodus with you.

A few days ago in a conversation about some childhood story, I said to my daughter, “Ask your gran, she knows all the details.” I recognised how important it is for the next generation to know the ancient stories.

There are stories that our children and our grandchildren need to hear us say. We don’t need to rewrite our history to make the story more palpable. But we do need to let grace rewrite our story.

You may have a story of a life of work. A story of marriage and family. A story of life containing failings and achievements. Speak it out.

Can you imagine, as Paul is in prison, he sees the mystery of the freedom of his life bought by Christ and out of the overflow of his heart he sees the fulfilment of the ancient Passover? Can you imagine what this does for him in his present reality?

I have a story.

Exodus 12:13. “The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.”

The story of my Passover. The blood preventing the destroyer. Oh the blood of Jesus!

I needed rescuing and Jesus did it.

The blood is greater than this prison. It is greater than my fearful future. The blood of Jesus overcomes the powers of sin and death, racism and hate. This is my story.

I Am Highly Favoured!

 

Happy Pentecost Sunday! The birthday of the Church! Jews from every nation of the world gathered as pilgrims from different cultures in Jerusalem to celebrate their Pentecost. It was then when God decided to birth His Church who would then reach the nations of the world.

Paul in prison, but in the right place, the heavenly realms, chosen, a child of God now tells us we are highly favoured.

“… to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” Ephesians 1 v 6

Where are the words ‘highly favoured’? It is found in the word ‘grace’.

The word is Charitoo.

It not only means highly favoured but surrounded by favour.

I have a chair. It’s my chair, it is one of the house rules. However, if there is a guest in my home and they sit in my chair the family may wonder how I will respond but I will happily let them enjoy my chair. I am honouring them. The word Charitoo is to be given the best seat in the house.

Your circumstances may be that you feel the weight of prison chains but you know you have the front row seat in Christ.

There is only one other time when this word is used and that is with Mary. When the angel went to Mary to tell her he had chosen her he used the words ‘highly favoured’. ‘Charitoo’, it means ‘a once in all role’. Mary was deliberately chosen for a once in all history role. There was no one else like her; special; privileged; chosen.

Today on Pentecost so is the Church. So are you. We have been given a once in all role. There is no one like you; unique; special.

We live in days when the powers of evil are all around and at work. The powers of racism, sexism, hate speech, persecution and intimidation are waging war. The Church highly favoured needs to be welcoming guests into their best chairs and to honour, respect, speak love, bind the wounds and bring freedom to the broken. We belong to the One who brings glorious grace!

If I am highly favoured then I practice it.

I am His child

In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will 1:5

Paul would call himself later in his letter a prisoner of Christ Jesus and also a prisoner for the Lord. He is never just a prisoner. Never let your circumstance or situation label you.

God foreknew this prisoner. Maybe some will think this is a stretch too far. That Paul is referring to the Church as a whole. I am sure he is. However, it is a stretch I am prepared to make. So that Paul is saying whether you are free or not, whatever the circumstance of your life, you may be outside living your life or inside a prison like I am, it matters not, God foreknew you not based on the situation around you but for what He has done in you.

What did He know? Paul has already told us that God knew before the creation of the world that we were chosen to be holy and blameless in His sight. He knew He would come and do the work to make that possible through Jesus Christ. But there is more in this verse today. God foreknew He would adopt us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ, to be His sons and daughters, His children, His family.

We nearly ran over her. It looked like just a pile of clothes on the road. But it was a person, a young girl, 15 years of age, she was called Maria meaning ‘sea of sorrow’ or ‘wished-for-child’. Both applied to Maria. She had a traumatic story, a painful ironic story as a rejected child. My mum had only had 2 sons I’d wondered if she ever wanted a daughter, here she was. My parents never adopted her legally but for the next few years they put her back together again and gave her a new start in life. For me, it was strange to have a female peer, who was 1 year older than me, in my space. Now I had 2 older siblings bossing me around! Our family all had to adapt. With adoption there has to be adaption. I look back on my own walk with God who adopted me and I thank Him for the many times He has adapted to my waywardness. When I have gone left or right, He adapted and found me and brought me back to the centre. When you were sinking into a sea of sorrow He adapted, He stopped and picked you up and brought you to Himself again and again, time after time. The adaption of God for your life is as precious as your adoption.

Why does He do all this?

It is in accordance with his pleasure and will.

Meditate on those words, they are so beautiful.

Let me start with His will. He wanted to. He didn’t have to because God is love and He has to do that. It is in His will to have you as His child. Think for a moment with tears in your eyes of the many lost people in this world who don’t feel wanted anymore. We have to let them know that they are wanted by Him. You see when you are sat in a prison as Paul was it is very easy to think you are not wanted.

But as I close I do so with the best bit for me. His pleasure. I am blessed and truly graced to have a beautiful relationship with my son and daughter. As I reflect on our story of life together pleasure has been a central component. I have seen their desire and enthusiasm to please me with not just kindness but with a desire to live their life for God. They are strengthened, inspired and empowered by my pleasure. So I know they are trying to please me and they know they are a pleasure to me. In that place we both thrive. Now how much more with God! As we come closer to Him, as we walk with Him and try and please Him we also feel His pleasure, we know His smile and His applause.

So today we can sit in any prison that may come our way and we say I AM HIS CHILD.

I am chosen

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. Ephesians 1:4

Even though it is now over 30 years ago I remember studying 1 year of New Testament Greek in Bible College. I actually don’t remember enough but this one thing has come back to my mind this morning as I have meditated on this wonderful verse. These first 14 verses in the original Greek are a single sentence!

As you know every morning in my time with God I am typing out a blog on a verse. I have known those moments when I can’t stop typing words and then I look back and think oh no this sentence is far too long. Not being a grammar expert I think I need at least commas, a semi-colon, I need to put a full stop somewhere in the middle and create another sentence. Looking back at the moment I am trying to bring a better order so that it can be read a little easier. This is what the translators have done with verses 1-14. But in the moment, Paul had no breaths, no full stops. He is bubbling over and praise just seems to spill out from his lips. This is a cascade of adoration. This is a burst of worship coming from the depths of his heart in a prison.

In this prison I am chosen. Whatever the circumstance of our life, left behind, locked down or in prison, it is easy to look through the bars of the prison and see that all the activity is outside. Everyone else seems to be advancing rather than me. I see they have great marriages, perfect families, nice homes and satisfying jobs. But it is not the activity of life, the destiny of life in terms of experiences gained, qualifications and accolades earned that is of any importance. None at all. It is this and this one thing. To be chosen. Not to be chosen for the stages of the world. Not to be chosen by a man or woman. But by Him, God.

I recall the time when a leader said to me, “Paul, I want you to know I nearly chose you for my team. You were in my top 12. I could have chosen you out of those 12 people. But I didn’t. You nearly made it. I just want you to know how close you were to being chosen.” I smiled, lost for words, gazing at a leader who had become lost.

You may wake up this morning and realise you were nearly chosen. Friends! You are! By the one who really matters!

What matters is that you are chosen not for activity but relationship with Jesus! How we need more people to realise that!

When did that choosing happen? Was it when you did something amazing? No of course not! It was when you was never even here. It was before any of us were here. Before the world began He saw you and He chose you. He actually chose us. He saw in His mind the Church, you and me, together as a community being built for His glory. Not chosen to be an island but in connection.

What were we chosen for? To be holy and blameless in His sight.

Here is what happened:

  • We were made in His image.
  • We were significant, we had a purpose.
  • We were provided for, safe and secure.
  • We had a sense of identity and belonging to God and others.
  • We had an environment.
  • We sinned and lost it all.

What we lost was our image of who we belong to and what we are here for. So we began to bear sons and daughters of our image and not God’s. Then we built a world set against the Lord’s image in our lives. And all the time we carried a hurt, a gaping wound in our heart.

And God saw it all. He saw how we would be holy and blameless in his sight. And of course that is the work of Jesus.

You may wake up a failure. Maybe you are not where you should be. Or perhaps you wake up in a prison charged with accusations that are just not true and in truth you should be anywhere but where you are right now. Let the words of the Spirit fall into the recesses of your mind and heart: you are holy and blameless in his sight. How? It is Jesus. If we fail tomorrow, how? It will be Jesus. It will be Jesus until He takes us home.

And he chose us to be his very own, joining us to himself even before he laid the foundation of the universe. Because of his great love, he ordained us, so that we would be seen as holy in his eyes with an unstained innocence. Ephesians 1:4