How Will I Answer?

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I learned early in life that things aren’t always what they first seem. What looked to six-year-old me like a murder in the making, turned out to be nothing nearly so nefarious. After tearful consultation with my mother about a possible rescue mission, I learned from her that momma cats aren’t trying to kill their kittens when they pick them up by the neck, crying and mewing, and carry them off to an undisclosed location. (Life on a farm can get complex pretty fast!)

In my last entry on grace, I talked about how Isaiah witnessed the holiness and power of the Lord and immediately assumed the worst: “Woe is me!” Isaiah feared for his life when he realized how unworthy he was to approach the King in such a sinful state; instead of using his power to punish, though, God chose to forgive. Through the redemptive powers of God’s loving grace, Isaiah became “holy and blameless” in the eyes of God. Not quite the death sentence Isaiah had first expected.

In the opening doxology of Ephesians, Paul reminds his Jewish listeners of this ancient call, but he doesn’t stop there:  “In [God] we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will… In [God] you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit…” (Eph. 1:11-13).

Paul says the Lord has called EVERYONE – Jew and Gentile – back to him. Because of God’s lavish grace, all who believe may live in the presence of God as a part of the Church, Christ’s body, of which Jesus is the head (Eph. 1:22-23). The question, I think, for the universal Church today is this:  How will we answer God’s call?

Paul’s doxology – a listing of God’s spiritual blessings, one cascading into the next, three times acclaiming “to the praise of his glory” – leads one to ask… How can we possibly accept such gifts from God and not respond with the same zeal as Paul? No longer are we separated from our Maker. God calls us! Through no action of our own, but by grace alone, God has redeemed us! God has adopted us! God has united us in Christ!

What looked like unavoidable death, is now eternal life.

So how do we respond?  To start with, I believe the Church should fall on our corporate knees in gratitude for the grace of God, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the bonding together with every other Christian in Christ, and work to strengthen the entire body through our individual voice, enthusiasm, and action.

Theologian Karl Barth writes, “Grace is not a state of being; peace is not a commodity to possess. Both are gifts we receive over and over again.” In other words, grace and peace aren’t static. They’re dynamic, constantly being given to us by God as we need them. Every day (maybe even multiple times a day!), God calls me and says, “It’s okay. I’ve got you,” and I wonder… how have I been answering him? Have I answered with love? Have I answered in ways that strengthen the body of Christ?

God calls. He always has, does, and will.

How will I answer?

In Christ… Together

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Have you ever had to write a letter from a prison cell? I haven’t, but I think – no, I’m certain – if I did, it would include whining, pitifulness, more whining, sad faces, and a big helping of extra-whiny on top just for good measure. That’s not what we find in the Letter to the Ephesians, though.

It’s debated who actually authored the letter, but if it was the apostle Paul (as many believe it was), then he would’ve written it while imprisoned in Rome. However, Paul didn’t spend even one sentence wallowing in self-pity about his situation. Rather, he was laser focused on reminding Christians of everything God had done for them and, in turn, how they should live their lives in light of those gifts. No matter he was in prison… Paul had a mission. And nothing would get in his way.

The letter begins in remembrance, thankfulness, and praise:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.  (Ephesians 1:3-6 NRSV)

In these three short verses, Paul praises God for:

  • Spiritually blessing us in Christ
  • Freely and by grace alone choosing us to be made one in Christ
  • Viewing us as holy and blameless when we stand before him in love
  • Adopting us as his own children through Christ, his Beloved

Throughout these verses (and as we’ll see, the entire letter), Paul repeatedly emphasizes that we – corporately, not individually – are one body in Christ. As Klyne Snodgrass states in The NIV Commentary on Ephesians, Paul uses the specific terminology ‘in Christ’ as a way to talk about Jesus as our Lord. A believer’s life merges into the life of Christ (and all other believers) to become one body of which Jesus is the head. It is ‘in Christ’ that we find our salvation and spiritual blessings. It is ‘in Christ’ that we are at home.

We can’t help but give praise and thanks to God as we’re reminded that he chose to reveal his love to us by his grace shown through his Son Jesus and his gift of the Holy Spirit’s abiding presence. Paul’s theology emphasizes our blessing as one body and reminds us that corporate worship is essential to our life in Christ, who lives in constant relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit; therefore, we are to live in loving relationship with others – a relationship we will examine in detail as we move further into the Letter to the Ephesians.

Lent – Day 25

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Today’s Thought: Just a Psalm.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

This week, I’m sharing a few of the most basic—and, I believe, oftentimes taken for granted—elements of Christianity. Yesterday, it was prayer as conversation with God. Today, it’s the Psalms as prayer, worship, and Christian identity. Anglican priest N.T. Wright sums it up beautifully…

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Lent – Day 13

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Today’s Thought: What do I worship more than God?

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:2-3)

In The Letter of James, addressed to the twelve tribes of the dispersion, the author reflects frustration similar to what we read yesterday in Luke. James (generally identified here as the brother of Jesus) is trying to bring the early church together in serving God, but their personal wants and desires are getting in the way. James fears for their relationship with God, as well as the future of the church, and he doesn’t hold back in his letter.

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