Tuesday, September 22, 2015

God's great goodness and grace

“and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.” Ephesians 3:9-12 (NRSV)

“So they (Joseph’s brothers) sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept. His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said. But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Genesis 50:16-20 (NIV)

The mystery that Paul is speaking about in the Ephesians passage is the great good of God—grace. If there is one theme that prevails in the Bible, it is this great goodness that God extends toward man. God uses Paul’s letter to the Ephesians to remind us of this grace. In verse 11, we find out that God’s grace has an eternal purpose, which is to give us access to God forever.

Although we are constrained by the frame of time, eternity encompasses this time frame. This gives each moment of our lives on this earth an eternal connection. We may mess up very badly, but this great goodness of God can take even the grievous of sins and turn it in to a greater good—an eternal goodness.

The story of Joseph in Genesis is a wonderful picture of the great eternal goodness of God. Joseph recognized that in spite of his own suffering—rejection, slavery, and imprisonment—God still used him to save millions of people.

God does this for all of us. In spite of our addictions, God can use each moment of our lives to accomplish His great good. In spite of our greed, God can use each moment of our lives to accomplish His great good. In spite of our unemployment, God can use each moment of our lives to accomplish His great good. Think of it--the Apostle Paul ordered Christians to be murdered at one point in his life, and God still used him for the great good! God's great and eternal power is more than enough to work in a mighty way in each of our lives. Let’s thank God often for the eternity impacting moments that make up each of our lives.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Decay and redemption

“19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Romans 8:19-25 (NRSV)

This passage of scripture is about hope, and about God’s great purpose for creation. This scripture reveals a bigger picture of God and creation than we may ever be able to fully comprehend.

There are many bad things happening in this world. Actually, the word horrific is a better word for the pain and suffering in our world. This is a very narrow picture of creation and man, but it is often the picture I find myself looking at and relating to. However, the scripture above gives us a bigger picture of creation than the sinful world in which we live.

In verse 19 of the scripture above, Paul states that creation longs for the revealing of the children of God. Simply put, God created for man. The entire universe was set in motion and subjected to futility for the purpose of hope that God gave for man.

There seems to be no logical sense to this. Why would God create such a vast universe only to let it decay and be destroyed by man? Paul says, in verse 22, that creation has always been groaning in labor pains, and verse 20-21 tells us that God created everything in the hope of man’s redemption. God set the universe in bondage to decay so that everything will hope for man’s redemption! What astounding grace! How great must God be to create everything—from distant stars and galaxies to a grain of sand on a beach—for the hope of our redemption.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Imitators of grace

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2

Be imitators of God, as beloved children. I love this statement because it helps us to understand God’s purpose for man from the very beginning. The book of Genesis tells us that God created man and woman in His own image in order to fellowship with us. God created us to imitate Him, and to imitate His goodness. However, Satan tempted us to take it a step further. Satan suggested to Eve that knowing the difference between good and evil would make them not imitators of God’s goodness, but it would make them like gods themselves. Instead of imitating, mankind attempted to become like God.

The problem with our new found knowledge is that we were left to our own devices of how to be good. This is where the law steps in. Archaeologists have found that ancient man and ancient civilizations strove to define good behavior through the law. Since the beginning of civilization, every generation of man has been defined and governed by law. God has shown us, by allowing us to govern ourselves, that we can never be like Him just because we know the difference between good and evil. This is why God sent His son to us. Jesus was a man whom we could imitate. We can imitate His goodness and love.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Works and holiness

Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:29-32 (NRSV)

This passage of scripture is not about salvation. It is about our Christian works, which define our Christian walk. There is a simple allegory for this passage of scripture. Parents often tell children to clean up their rooms. And, when children clean their rooms and put away their toys and clothes, the children generally find that life is a bit easier. Their belongings do not get lost when everything is in its proper place. Children should be the primary beneficiary of a clean bedroom, not the parent. In a similar way, this passage of scripture tells us that as we strive to do the right things, we are building up and imparting grace to others. We, the body of Christ, are the primary beneficiaries of good works.

To continue the allegory, maintaining a clean room is an ongoing process. Parents do not tell their children to clean their rooms, and then the rooms are clean for the rest of their lives. Similarly, our lives are a work in progress, from the moment of our birth until our mortal bodies die. Verse 31 says that we must put away all bitterness, and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander. We must put away all of these things, just like a child puts away his toys. It does not mean that all bitterness and wrath are eradicated from our lives. It means that we make attempts to control and corral these destroying spirits. When toys and clothes are put away or gotten rid of, there is room for new toys and new clothes. When we put away bitterness and anger, we make room for love, joy peace patience, kindness goodness gentleness and self-control.

Striving for holiness is not striving for God’s approval or salvation. God has already deemed us worthy through Christ for salvation. Striving for holiness is cleaning up our rooms so that we can make room for the fruits of the spirit.