You can do a lot with an hour. Yesterday morning I dropped in on a friend and we had some breakfast, read the Bible and prayed together. It was punchy and because we've been doing this for over three years (not always over breakfast) and are committed to helping one another to grow, there's no need for awkward cagey commentary about life - we can, easily enough, tell it as it is.
Time with people and the Bible: a gift that walks me back into the arms of Christ.
We're reading a bit of Ephesians together and I was very much refreshed by our brief look at 2:1-10 this morning. For my own benefit, and perhaps for yours, a few things that struck me.
If there's not much wrong in this world not much help is needed, and if not much help is needed then anyone can do what is required. I persuade myself of the middling and mediocre story and allow myself to be numbed. Headlines and disturbing images awake us from our stupor for a moment, but this also passes easily enough.
Verses 1-3. The darkness in me...
As Paul writes to the kinds of people who call themselves Christians, in first Century Ephesus his analysis of humanity is bleak. We were dead (several mentions of death on this page - in the previous and next section too). Disobedient. Deceived by others. With corrupted desires. And standing under divine wrath. Here I'm reminded of Neal Plantinga's book Not the way it's supposed to be, with its penetratingly Biblical diagnosis of fallen humanity.
Left to my own devices I don't think things are so bad. It's suits me to think that things ok. And yet, nothing in these verses feels alien. It resonates, its reasonable, its real life. We look back on those who went before us and are scandalised, so people will be by us, by our blindspots and perverse assumptions about what is and isn't ok in this world. By the grace of God not perhaps as bad as we might be, and we are given our latest breath to breathe... I am not holier than thou, we're the same, family, very much alike. This story we might disagree, dispute or deny. But as Glen Scrivener puts it: it's happening.
Verses 4-7. A God unlike any other.
But God. By contrast. Rich in mercy. Great love. Intending to show the immeasuable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. Utterly unlike me. Utterly unlike any God I would ever imagine.
He takes what is dead and raises, and seats us... for in chapter 1 Paul tells us that Jesus was dead but is now raised and seated... what happened to Jesus happened to us... it happened to him because it needed to happen to us. Death is terrible, but this God of rich mercy, great love, immeasurable riches, grace and kindness IN CHRIST is into resurrection.
Left to myself, I picture God as indifferent at best, or against me. And myself left to whatever I can accomplish. My plans. But this word shines into my darkness and invites me to receive from the one whose arms are wide open. As my old boss Tim Rudge put it last week "Look again to the cross, see the blazing love of the Father and the Son for you."
Verses 8-10. Rebuilding my life.
By grace, by faith, not works, not my doing. The shape of this IN CHRIST salvation is all gift, and - as in Paul's other letters - it takes on my boasting, it takes on my self-promotion and nullifies it. Not boasting, rather I can walk in the good works I was made for. I'm seated IN CHRIST but get to walk here. Receiving the gift that is this participation in the Triune life I can gift to others.
Left to myself I boast. I care what others think of me and validate myself by them and my own view of myself. I locate my meaning inside myself. This word confronts me with magnificent comfort. This word turns me to think less about myself and more of Christ.
In the light of his love, what a privilege to be a tiny mirror, reflecting glints and glimpses of his glory - a glory that, Ephesians 1 says, is worth praising, which is to fill all things... what kind of glory? Glory that is Christ, matchless mercy, lavish love, great grace, kaleidoscopic kindness. Yes I was grasping for adjectives by the end of that sentence, such is the nature of praise..