Tag Archives: Ephesians 3

Just a bit..desperate, Lord!

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

(Jn 15.5,7&8)

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

(Ps 2.1-3)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…

(Gal 5.22&23)

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, may have power, together with all the saints, 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 fulness of God.

(Eph 3.16-19)

Bare twigs, dead leaves, no sign of life or fruitfulness.

Barren life, bitter thoughts, wasted hopes and faded dreams, no signs of life or fruitfulness.

A spirit warped by self-centredness that cannot break free; a mind that is enslaved by its own small troubles and incapable of really embracing anything else.

Telling stories of my life that are full of darkness, pain, failure and inadequacy; as though my eyes are bound in dark and distorting spectacles so that I can see no other way. Weighted down by the shame of bringing burdens not blessings to those closest to me, of being so hard to live with and so little joy to be around. Above all, and underpinning it all, the utter awareness of failure to bear witness to the transforming power of the Christ whom I profess to be Lord of my life.

If I were truly rooted in Christ, his words living in me, dependent upon him hourly and daily for my life as the branch depends upon the vine….would I then be in this condition? Is it not a reproach to call myself a follower of Jesus and live with such a negative spirit? Where is the fruit? Where the joy, peace and patience? Where the love which boldly and tenderly speaks truth for the sake of the beloved, willing to suffer that they might thrive? Where the self-control that drives me to do the hard things – instead of the fear-driven withdrawal which allows wrong to continue for the sake of avoiding conflict?

Forgive my sins Lord – above all the sin of unbelief, which allows me to get stuck in my own small despair. Forgive me for living as though I alone were beyond your saving power! Take my distorted vision, and correct it by the lens of the gospel, so that instead of the negatives, I see the great positives of your love, mercy and grace – see you at work even in me, to bless others.

Let me believe that you are still at work, in me, that I am not a dead branch, withered and fit only to be flung away. Let me see buds which are your promises of life, of hope, of fruit that may yet be.

O Lord, make it real in me; this life of abiding in you, make it true and vivid and constant. I don’t know what to do, how to change so that your word takes root, transforming my thoughts and my attitudes. But I know that you are my only hope for the days that remain to me in this world – and for the sake of those who have to live with me, as well as for your glory, I pray you will bring new life to this branch, that I might yet bear fruit for you…

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What are we for?

And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus…

God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

(Eph 3.6,10&11,20&21)

I wonder what answer you might give if someone asked what the church – not just your local congregation but the entire body of believers around the world and down through the ages – is for?

Humanly speaking, there may appear to be many different purposes, some more prominent at times than others – some purposes of which we are now ashamed such as the violent crusades of the Middle Ages, or the misguided propagation of western culture under the guise of mission. At times, the churches have wielded political power, or acted as the moral authority for a nation – enforcing certain patterns of behaviour regardless of belief or understanding. In the western world today, many regard the church as primarily an agent for social action, usually on the side of the oppressed and needy.

These are not necessarily bad things in themselves – to our deep shame and regret, there is more need than ever in our world for compassionate, radical change to transform lives blighted by poverty, war, starvation and oppression. But this is not the special calling of the church, the body of Jesus Christ in the world today. And I believe that without a clear vision of what we ARE for, there is a real danger of allowing ourselves to be squeezed into the socially acceptable pigeonhole of compassionate care, and campaigning for the weak. Those activities will not offend our secular society, they might even make us quite popular!

In the book of Proverbs(29.18), there is a verse which – in the old King James version reads as follows: Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. Our modern translations give it this way: When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is joyful. 

What is the vision, which we need in order to avoid perishing; the divine guidance which we must accept in order to avoid running wild (and by implication, away from God’s care and salvation)? What is the church for?

Paul is stunningly clear, and absolutely emphatic in his letter to the Ephesians, that the church universal, through all time, exists in order to show every power which has ever existed just how amazing God’s love is; just how breath-taking his wisdom, in addressing the deepest need of humankind – to be united in fellowship with him.

Consider for a moment what this means for your congregation.. that particular gathering of people, whom you know to be imperfect, and whom you struggle to love at times (as perhaps they struggle to love you!). THAT congregation, has an amazing purpose in God’s great plan of redemption, to be a place where God reveals his power and wisdom, in transforming lives and bringing light, hope and new life to people who were as good as dead in their inability to save themselves. We..you and I …are part of a body of people who are designed to be a showcase for God to our world!

Our unity, as believers and children of God, is to be a demonstration of God’s loving wisdom, fulfilling his plan to create a people for himself whose diversity celebrates his infinitely rich character, while reflecting the loving harmony between Father, Son and Spirit. In the same way that God is glorified in Jesus – our Saviour, Redeemer and Lord – so also he is to be glorified in the church!

Since we remain in a fallen world, we confess how badly we fall short of this vision. How much bitterness, division, selfishness and coldness exists – within and between congregations and denominations. God forgive us; we rob him of his glory, and blind people to his beauty by our own ugliness.

Oh may our hearts and minds be increasingly filled with the vision of the glory of Christ, so that blind to all else, we love one another for his sake – seeing his image in one another and united in our desire to see others come to know and be transformed by his forgiveness and love. Then and only then, will we truly glorify God as we ought.

Love is…. You are!

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

(1John 4.9&10)

It would be the easiest thing in the world for me this week to do no more than write out the words of some of the many hymns and songs of praise which have been written over the centuries in an attempt to respond adequately to the love which is revealed to us through Jesus Christ. As I sit, I have line after line running through my head, tunes swelling up in adoration and worship of the God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – who loves me. And perhaps that the best place to start. If I can discipline my thoughts long enough at the start of this new week to deliberately focus on the wonderful love poured out through Christ, then I will have the best possible attitude to whatever the week will bring.

What does this love look like? It is the relentless pursuit of the eternal good of the beloved – even us, even rebellious, stubborn and proud humanity! It is the willingness to pay the ultimate cost of redemption – of putting right that which was so badly damaged – and to fulfill justice by dealing with the need for sin to be punished. And not only are we put right, but we are adopted into the family of God, given a birthright, and a guarantee of eternal life.This love pours out daily in grace upon our lives; it is continually working to transform us so that sin loses every foothold, and we become truly the image of God, reflecting his character, and finding fulness of life and joy as we live in him.

The Scottish preacher Samuel Rutherford was a man utterly enchanted by his Lord and Saviour. Over and again in his writings, he exhorts his readers to look to Christ, finding there all and more than their heart’s desires. This little extract – although archaic in language – clearly expresses his frustration at his own inability to grasp the fullness of love offered in Jesus, and I am deeply comforted even as I identify with him. “Christ all the seasons of the year, is dropping sweetness; if I had vessels I might fill them but my old riven, holey, and running-out dish, even when I am at the well, can bring little away. Nothing but glory will make tight and fast our leaking and rifty vessels… How little of the sea can a child carry in his hand; as little do I take away of my great sea, my boundless and running-over Christ Jesus.” Praise God, there will be a day – in glory – when I will no longer feel that I catch but a glimpse, and remember but the tiniest fraction, of the wonderful love so freely given! Then I shall receive in full the answer to the wonderful prayer of Paul for the disciples in Ephesus:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, 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 fulness of God. (Ephesians 3. 17-19)

This love waits patiently by my side as I dither and wander, as I doubt and rebel, drawing me back over and over in repentance and new dependence on God. This love is overflowing with kindness towards me – expressed  through other people, and through the gifts and signs that only I notice and appreciate as coming from my God. This love is never boastful, but always wooing, never forcing itself upon me. This love restrains anger, and has lost any record of my past failures. This love rejoices in every small indication of my true desire to serve and honour my Lord, and every little effort to be faithful and obedient – forgetting the frequent failures and unfulfilled promises. This love is constant in protecting me, faithful in believing that I will be transformed, relentless in seeking the best for me.

And the truth that I need to remember at all times about this love – the truth which sustains the thousands of our brothers and sisters across the world who are suffering for their faith – is that no one, and nothing, can ever take this love away from me! I am going to finish with words from Paul again – Romans 8 – as found in the Scottish Paraphrases, my heart language, where he celebrates and affirms this wonderful truth. May it bring you comfort, strength and joy this week!

The Saviour died, but rose again triumphant from the grave;

And pleads our cause at God’s right hand, omnipotent to save.

Who then can e’er divide us more from Jesus and his love,

Or break the sacred chain that binds the earth to heav’n above?

Let troubles rise and terrors frown, and days of darkness fall; 

Through him all dangers we’ll defy, and  more than conquer all.

Nor death nor life, nor earth nor hell, nor time’s destroying sway,

Can e’er efface us from his heart, or make his love decay.

Each future period that will bless as it has bless’d the past;

He lov’d us from the first of time, He loves us to the last.