Ephesians 3, love, Paul's Prayers, Power

LOVE in 4 Dimensions.

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family[a] in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 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, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

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, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ever heard the kids song, Jesus love is very wonderful?

It’s chorus goes “So high you can’t get over it, so low you can’t get under it, so wide you can’t get around it, oh wonderful love!”

Yet with my literal understanding as a child made this love sound like some form of impenetrable wall, until I had an epiphany when I heard another children’s story/song ‘I’m going on a bear hunt’ which has the chorus “you can’t get over it, you can’t get under it, you’ll have to go through it”.

It’s based on the end part of Paul’s prayer for the Church in Ephesus which talks of God’s love being a love in four dimensions.

God’s love isn’t a wall, barrier or constraint but rather it needs to be experiences as an ever present reality that surrounds us, the psalmist says “where can I go from your presence, if I go to the heavens you are there, and if I make my bed in depths of the earth you are there too”.

The love of God is an inescapable reality for Christian, God’s love for us is eternal and ever present, it is beyond our understand and comprehension “a love that surpasses knowledge” and although this love exceeds our understand, our experience of it can grow and grow as we walk on further, longer and deeper with God. The image Paul uses here is of the Christian putting the roots of their life down deep down into God and his love for us. Interestingly in times of draught a plants roots dig down deeper in the hope of finding water, this is the image Paul is using become more firmly embedded in the love of God, for finding ourselves in him is where we gain our identity and purpose.

John reminds us that “God IS love” -not just God is loving, or God feels love, but God is the very embodiment and personification of love- God the Father uniquely revealed in Christ the Son “if you have seem me you have seen the Father”, Jesus is “love with skin on.

Yet although Paul’s prayer is that we are transformed by experiencing God’s love but this love is also backed by power and authority as children of God, God who is at work in us, and in his Church “more than we can ask or imagine”. God not only loves us but is able to help us and work through us the book of Romans reminds us that “God’s ear is not deaf to our call or his arm is not too short to save”.

Often our prayers become limited by either our belief that God is not actually good, or not actually powerful enough to make a difference, yet here Paul’s prayer makes it clear both our true. God is All powerful and All Loving ,Omni-powerful and Omni-loving.

There is another kids song I know which asks the question “Have we made our God too small, too small? Have we made our God too small? For he made the heavens above and earth and sky and has the time for you and I, have we made our God too small, too small?”

So, let’s rediscover God’s awesome love and power, that transforms our identity as we pray to him, we discover afresh who we are, we are because he is “for this reason I kneel before the Father from which every family on earth derives its name” -a joke about two similar words in Greek, but making the point that without God we are nothing, as Corinthians (and the marriage service) reminds us “without your love our deeds are worth nothing” or as St. Francis said “without you we cannot please you” but in him “we live and move and have our being”. This is a reminder of our total dependence, fully reliant, on God who made us, sustains us and has through Christ redeemed us.

So, let us echo the words of Paul in our prayers for ourselves that we are transformed by having this fresh and fuller revelation of who God is, that in turn transforms us by the revelation of who we are.

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Adoption, Eternity, identity, Life in the Spirit, love

A.L.I.V.E

I’m a terrible Anglican!

I am rubbish at the three point sermon (as any regular reader of these blogs can testify)!

I was chatting today with a really wise older Pastor and was gently trying to pick his brains about stuff.

He  said if he  could preach his first sermon again he’d talk about and he was talking about peoples inferiority complexes, which is at the heart of most of the pain and problems we have in our Churches.

The insecure ‘victim mentality’ never thinks it is their fault -It is always someone-else’s.

Yet why do people in Churches hold on to roles, power and stuff so tightly? It is because they get their value from it.

Most jealousies stem from an insecurity too.

Sometimes insecure people or people who feel inferior also are the people that put others down to make themselves feel better.

There is an adage of hurt people hurt people, and it is true sadly people struggling with insecurities will lash out.

These things do work -a little bit- with boosting our EGO, yet they don’t actually heal or solve the issue- in fact in the long run they actually make it worse.

Yet the insecurity and inferiority actually I believe stems from a lack of understanding of who we are in Christ, what is our identity.

I was thinking about this. Before Christ our identity is ‘far from God’ and ‘dead in our sins’… which probably isn’t going to help us address our insecurity or inferiority issues.

Yet when we become Christians we gain a new identity.  We who were dead in our sins are now alive in Christ, we who were once far off, are now seated with Christ on high in the heavenly places.

So, although not three points, nor starting with the same letter, we are A-L-I-V-E in him.

A   Adopted.  he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— (Eph.1.5).

As I thought about adoption I thought people can fall pregnant by accident, but you can’t adopt someone by accident.

When we think of adoption we think of God Wanting us, choosing us, called by name.

Also, adoption is giving us a place in God’s family the word adoption talks about our belonging to God and belonging in his family.

“See how the Father has lavished his love on us that we can be called children of God, because that beloved is who we are”. 1 John .

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, Abba, Father.  AND “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, Abba, Father.” -God himself -the creator and ruler of the universe says you can call him dad!

Adoption also talks of our inheritance to come, citizens of an eternal inheritance of heaven, our unearned rights as Gods children.

L Loved… This amazing truth that the God of the universe, loves us, likes us, want a relationship with us.

we are loved with a passionate love that caused  Jesus to be nailed to the cross, and die for us.

Love so extravagant and gracious that we cannot get our head around it.

I   In-dwelt… The amazing truth that God promises by the power of his Holy Spirit that he lives and dwells within us.  God of heaven living in us.

The Bible tells us that we have the same Holy Spirit living in us that raised Jesus from the dead, he that is within us is greater than he that is within the world.

V  Victorious.  In Christ we are not failures, not mistakes, but in him we have victory of hell, sin and death, the cross and the grace from it speaks louder than our mistakes sin and failures.

E  Eternal/Eternity. Our destiny is for eternity. God wants to be with us forever, and ever and ever, and loved with an everlasting love.

So, in Christ remember we are adopted, loved, In-dwelt by God most high, Victorious and Eternal.

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Good Friday, love, Worth

The Indestructible £5

The new £5 is meant to be indestructible? Right? wrong!

I want my money back! I was reading an article about how someone hit a £5 with an axe and it still wouldn’t break.

I thought I’d do a clever talk around £5 being unbreakable, then I’d link to God’s love that didn’t break or tear away from us, even when Jesus was nailed to a cross, or sealed in a tomb.

Love so indestructible that Christ over-came death, hell, sin and everything that separates us from a relationship with God.

It even tied in with the song Meekness and Majesty as it has the line “Love indestructible in frailty appears” (why is it that when Easter comes so do all the old Graham Kendrick songs?).

Yet it took one 6 year old to ruin my talk!

An axe couldn’t split a £5 but a 6 year old could destroy it in seconds.

In fact my fiver got ripped in two (and no this isn’t a clever way into talking about the Temple Curtain ripping in two, from the top to the bottom symbolising that they way is now open to God!)

At the end of my talk the £5 was presented stuck back together with cellotape, and was told that the bank would swap it (not that the kid gave my £5 back!)

But this sort of illustrated my other £5 note talk, where I used to screw up some money, threaten to clean my ears out or blow my nose on it… but yet however broken or disfigured the note got it was still worth £5 for as long as the words “I promise to pay the barer the sum of of five founds” visible upon it. I normally go onto say that this is like us, no matter how battered we get, no matter how much we get screwed up or stuff is done to us, our value does not diminish at all in God’s eyes, he still sees us as precious and valuable, so precious that God sent Jesus to die for us.

God says you and I are worth dying for.

Reminded of a kids song… “I’m special because God has loved me for he gave the best thing that he had to save me, his own son Jesus, crucified to take the blame for all the bad things I have done, thank you Jesus, thank you Lord, for loving me so much I know I don’t deserve anything, help me feel your love right now, to knw deep within my heart that I’m your special friend”.

 

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Community, community of grace, Compassion, love

Where is the Love?

I remember watching the musical Oliver and the child sings this song “where is love?” and it is really heart-wrenching song, the production I saw had written as a sign on the workhouse wall the words “GOD IS LOVE”, as the work houses at that time were very proud of their Christianity, but showed no little love for the people they served.

This is so at odds with the words of Jesus who said “by this all people will know you are my disciples that you love one another” and “Love one another as I have loved you”, “Love your neighbour as yourself”.

John the apostle writes in his first letter “God is love and those who live in love, live in God and God lives in them”.

Paul says “If I do not have love I am a clanging gong or a resounding symbol…” and ends by saying “If I have not love I am nothing”, talking about all the great and worthy things we can do in acts of service but if they are not rooted and grounded in love they are worth nothing at all.

Yet, why do our Churches often feel so unloving?

Philip Yancey’s quoted a young man wrestling with his sexuality in one of his books and he said “Sometimes it is easier to get sex on the streets than a hug in a “Christian Church”.

I know love can be expressed in different ways, but I wonder whether the people in our Church and our fellowships feel loved? Do they feel loved by us?

Perhaps there is something you can do to bless someone who needs to feel that loving touch of God?

Perhaps too, you can be part of re-writing a churches DNA, and living out a different life that loves and is gracious even when it really really tough.

For me, there are people I struggle to love in my Churches, and sometimes I find it almost impossible to give them communion, but when I feel like this I need to be reminded of how much God loves me -and I know I screw up and let him down loads-, which enables me to pass them the bread and the wine, knowing that (to quote George Herbert) “It is love that bade us welcome”…

 

 

 

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Discipleship, Giving/Generousity., justice, love, Matthew 25., Servanthood., welcome

Making Disciples Jesus way… P3.

I almost entitled this blog “A little less conversation” because that is what discipleship sadly so often has become, people talking, and yet discipleship needs to be lived out, the world needs to see what following Jesus actually looks like in real, authentic everyday life.

I remember reading in Philip Yancey’s book “what is so amazing about grace?” of a story of a woman who really messed up big time, and she was asked about going to Church, to which she replied “I feel bad enough already, Church would only make me feel worse”.

Somehow this seems a million miles away from what Jesus said “by this will all people know you are my disciples, that you love one another as I have loved you”.

Discipleship I believe is about being that community that loves one another, and loves and welcomes in the broken, marginalised, ostracised and disenfranchised… A Church that welcomes the last, the least and the lost.

People talk a lot about creating an Acts 2 Church, but I wonder whether we need to create a Matthew 25 Church?

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Mother Teresa describes this as “Jesus in his most distressing disguises”, in serving the hungry, homeless, imprisoned or hurting, we are in fact serving Christ.

This has always been on God’s heart, in the book of Amos, God says he is fed up of all this religious activity and events whilst people were corrupt, unjust and lacking compassion…

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
    your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
    I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!

In  Isaiah 58.6:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”

In the book of Micah it says:

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God”

And in the first letter of John it says:

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children,let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

Discipleship is not about sitting around pontificating.

Too often western discipleship fills the head but does little in the heart, and even less to make the world a better place. I would argue that Discipleship should not only bring about transformation in us and out lives, but we are actually practically partnering with God in (to quote Bishop Stephen Conway) “turning this broken and upside down world the right way up for Jesus Christ”…

Christ reveals the priority of heaven when he encourages his people to pray “may your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”, we know eternity is where peace and love reign and where violence, corruption and hatred have no place, and we are called to see this translated onto the earth.

we read in Luke of his mandate -taken from Isaiah 61-

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”

I believe that we over spiritualise these passages, thinking Jesus is talking about the Spiritually blind, or the spiritually imprisoned, but I think he actually meant those who were actually blind, broken hearted, imprisoned.

Certainly extravagant love for people was how the early Church took the words of Jesus, now sadly it feels like we are far too selective in our use of scripture, preaching on Paul’s letters and John 3:!6 and omitting all this talk of justice, transformation and the Kingdom of God.

So few of our Churches practice radical hospitality, feed the hungry, help with housing, visit people in prison. John wimber once asked when the Church ‘did the stuff’ meaning signs and wonders (and I’m really, really up for that) but I think the same question could be asked for acts of love, ministries of mercy and the pursuit of justice.

The book of James says that “worship (although some versions mistranslates as religion) that God finds pure and faultless is to look after widows and orphans in their distress…”

One evening instead of doing our normal Bible Study I took my home-group out into the city to feed, bless and talk to the homeless… It was one of the deepest and most spiritual evenings we shared together as a group.

So, lets look at what is on the heart of Christ, lets not just talk a good game on comfy sofa’s, let us get out and partner with God in ushering his Kingdom in, and we start by welcoming Christ in his most distressing disguises.

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Authenticity, Discipleship, love, Matthew 23.

Making Disciples Jesus way. Part 2.

Yesterday I wrote about how Jesus actually made disciples.

Yet Jesus gives us some insights into how NOT to make disciples!

Here is what he says in Matthew 6:

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Here we see Jesus attacking doing things for appearances sake, and sadly although 2000 years have elapsed from when Jesus said these things sadly they feel as relevant and fresh to our generation of Christians to those to whom Christ was speaking too.

Sadly there is still pomposity, pretentiousness and pride creeping in and distorting our worship, prayer, giving and discipleship.

I love the way Jesus instructs his disciples to go home, shut the door and pray quietly -and think there are vast armies of Saints faithfully praying unknown to any of us. A Vicar I once worked for used to talk about  “Investing in our secret history with God” by which he meant the time we spend with God on our own that no one other than God knows about.

In a world so fed up of spin, exhibitionism and pretence there is something refreshingly real and authentic about Jesus words on giving and prayer that I believe both resonates and challenges us all. At the heart of this type of discipleship is “living for the audience of one” -where the opinions of others don’t matter only the opinion of God is sought.

Jesus’ discipleship is about our internal lives, -the reality of our hearts- this is not just about our external or superficial lives, his stark warning in Matthew 6 occurs later on in Matthew 23 (perhaps that Jesus made this point more than once shows how seriously he meant it?).

25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs,which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

Yet Jesus said many other things about discipleship and how not to do it, here is some of the things Jesus said in Matthew 23:

14 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. 15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

This is not just an attack on gracelessness and jugdementalism, although neither have a place within the life of the Church.

Here Jesus tells the Pharisees they are fake, although they are “holier than thou” with their legalism, and their ruthless expectation of perfection from people, they don’t actually ‘practice what they preach” and don’t end up creating disciples but because their discipleship has become so distorted they are creating monsters.

Listen to the strength of language that  Jesus uses “shut the door of the Kingdom of heaven in peoples faces” and making converts “twice the child of hell as you!” ouch! Powerful words, it is not just saying that their efforts fall short, but are so counter productive they are demonic driving people away from God.

what of us?

Can we be legalistic too?

Do we expect a standard of behaviour from other people that we ourselves can’t keep?

23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

There are times when I have recently thought a lot about quitting as a  Church of England Vicar and mainly it is summed up in these verses about “straining gnats and swallowing camels!” -why are so many people in our Churches get so stressed about tea bags, bits of paper or furniture and yet wont come to a prayer meeting, or invite a friend to Alpha or do some act of compassion or justice? why to do so many Church meetings major on the minors and ignore the important things. I had to write a letter as part of a course I was doing to an aspiring young leader and the best bit of advice I could think of was “keep the most important thing the most important thing” as I worry that too long in some places could turn me into a gnat straining camel swallower, perhaps maybe I do swallow the odd camel and maybe strain a few gnats already? Maybe Christ is calling all of us to review our priorities?

As I was thinking about this blog I re-read Dirty Glory by Pete Greig, who wrote of a stripper called Anders who became a Christian in Ibiza and ended up at a Church that demanded he cut his hair and covered his tattoos. Realising that our idea of hat Godliness looks like might actually have very little to do with what God thinks it looks like to live our lives his way.

The call to discipleship is messy, it involves being in the gutter, and living and loving in the grey and confused knowing that within the brokenness of life God’s glory can still shine through greater and more beautifully. I think the messier the Church gets with people with messed up lives as part the family, the more it looks like what Jesus had in mind, and the more it is a club for the suited and sorted the less and less it looks like the plan of Christ for his world.

This was powerfully illustrated in Pete Greig’s book “Dirty Glory” when he talks of a woman who was an illegal immigrant that had been trafficked and enslaved to prostitution by her traffickers becoming a Christian but unable to escape her trade leading worship on a Sunday within the 247 Church in Ibiza. The gospel of the Kingdom calls us away from the safe and respectable and where it is real and messy, but also beautiful and real.

37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.

And I’ll close with these words of Jesus, here we see the discipleship that Jesus is offering coming not from a sense of duty, power or any other wrong motive, but from the right and the purist of places that of love, love not just for those who do what we want them too, but love for the difficult and the disobedient.

Discipleship Jesus way is costly because ultimately it is following in his footsteps giving the ultimate in sacrificial love and compassion.

 

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love

Legacy.

Yesterday I had the privilege of taking a funeral for a wonderful lady who died at 96, yet as I wrote her eulogy, and listened to her grandsons memories it struck me afresh about what is important.

“Nan always had time for me”.

“She never forgot a birthday”.

“She was a wonderful encourager”.

“She listened to me”.

A real reminder of what actually matters in life, in the eulogy no one said how much money she’d earned, or what car they drove or the size of the house they lived in, what mattered most was love.

Paul wrote “three things will last, faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love”.

I wonder how we will be remembered?

Perhaps too how we will be remembered will depend on what we do now? Our choices, those things which maybe little to us, but maybe massive for those around us.

Two films came to mind as I thought about this blog:

One is A Christmas Carol, where Scrooge sees how worthless his life is, collecting Gold that he can’t take with him beyond the grave.

The other is A wonderful life, when the hero sees the world without him and realises the positive difference his life has made.

Scripture talks of building with Gold, silver and costly stones, not wood, hay or straw with get burned up… building for eternity, building with what is unperishable, investing our lives in what will last forever.

In the Bible God says three things to different people when they die.

Jesus tells of a man who spent all his money on building bigger barns, and yet died suddenly. “What does it profit a person if they gain the whole world but loose their soul?”

To this man God calls him a fool.

He may have invested his money profitably on earth but is bankrupt in the things of eternal worth and value.

Jesus tells the story of the faithful (and the unfaithful) servant who invest what God has given them wisely and well, to which we hear God say “well done good and faithful servant”.

And yet we also hear Jesus say another story, and this one is a little more challenging… to some who had done miracles, been on stage, maybe worn clerical robes and dog collars, preached sermons and written books Jesus says these scary words “I never knew you!”

We love, because God first loved us and gave his Son as an atoning Sacrifice for our sins. We love because being human meant we were made to love and be loved, we were made for relationship with God and for relationship with his world.

Sadly many go through life missing out on that relationship that transforms everything, miss out on the one thing above all else that has infinite value the God of all creations love made manifest revealed through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

If you died today, what would they say about you?

Do you know and have that relationship with God through Christ that you were created for?

Love was created to be unending. Are you in relationship with the one who revealed God’s  love for the world by dying on the cross? Christ’s death and resurrection means that this love is not tempory but rather it is eternal, never ending, invites you in, and draws others in too.

A love too good to keep to ourselves.

A love that changes our behaviour.

A love that adjusts our priorities.

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