LentBlog 2015 Day 4: On the salvation of all things…

Ephesians 1:8b-14

With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance,[c]having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this[d] is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

NRSV


 I’ll cut right to it tonight because it’s late and I’m bushed.

Verse 10 is hitting on something I’ve been thinking more about lately, especially since I am currently teaching a Theology course for the District Nazarene School of Ministry that deals with soteriology. God’s plan in Christ is “to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” 

Verses like this and others throughout scripture point to the idea that salvation is cosmic in nature. In Christ, the whole of creation is redeemed as he gathers everything to himself. We live in the country, far enough from a city that we can actually see stars at night. The other night arriving home from teaching, I looked up, saw the amazing view, and thought, “Lord, I sure hope you do redeem everything, because this is a pretty cool place you’ve made.”

What would it mean for all things to be included in what God is redeeming in Christ? For the “New Jerusalem” to descend from heaven to earth?

I think it might mean:

  • The universe is a good place, not a bad one (See Genesis 1).
  • The universe is headed in an overall good direction (as Christ will gather all things to himself) not a bad one.
  • Stewardship of the earth is important…
  • May the Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven… the dynamic here again is heaven coming to earth, not the residents of earth escaping to disembodied heavenly blessedness.
  • Gnosticism is for the birds…. though not really for real birds, because they tend to smell and be dirty, which is much too fleshly for a Gnostic.
  • If the Kingdom comes in its fullness to earth, I’m moving to Florida. 🙂

Blessings,

Mark

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Lentblog 2015; Day 3: One very important, life-changing word.

Ephesians 1:3-10

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. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 

NRSV


There’s a lot of classic Paul in this passage. Again it contains a bunch of classic Pauline theological buzzwords… including one of the most used and theologically important: the word “in.” This is the word that jumps out at me tonight, and that I’m pursuing. Look how many times Paul uses “in Christ” or “in him” in these few verses:

“In Christ”…

…we are blessed by the Father with every spiritual blessing.

…we are chosen to be holy and blameless before the foundation of the world.

…we receive grace freely bestowed on us.

…we have redemption through his blood.

…the Father’s good pleasure is set forth.

…all things in heaven and on earth are gathered up.

And that’s just 7 verses.

That word… “ἐν” (in) all of a sudden becomes pretty important. What does it mean for all this to happen in Christ? What does it mean, as Paul talks about all over the place, for us to be “in” Christ or for Christ to be “in” us?

Probably we could all spend the rest of our lives pursuing being ἐν Χριστῷ. For now, I’m reminded that because all this happens in Christ, it’s not my creation. WE didn’t do any of this. Lest we think we are all that on a Popsicle stick, or that salvation is in any way us making the first or decisive move, we’re kidding ourselves.

My $.02 after a long, tiring, 18-hour day.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015, Day 2: Grace and Peace

Ephesians 1:1-2

 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

NRSV

Okey… So I think I’ve decided to begin at least with Ephesians during this season of Lent… thought I reserve the right to change mid-stream or go somewhere unexpected when I finish Ephesians.

The opening 2 verses of Ephesians are easy to overlook. They’re the signature, address, and salutation of the letter. They look pretty much the same as every other opening paragraph from Paul. He identifies himself as the author, says to whom the letter is written, and gives a blessing. They’re almost all the same in Paul, and it’s easy to blast past them.

But not tonight.

It’s the “grace and peace” that give me pause tonight.

The first thing Paul does is bless his readers. And he blesses them by wishing them grace and peace.

Grace is a biggie in Ephesians… in chapter 2 Paul reminds us salvation comes only by grace through faith. Peace is one I haven’t done much New Testament word study on, though שלם (shalom, shalem, basically meaning “peace”) is important in the O.T. Philippians talks about the Peace of Christ passing all understanding and guarding our hearts.  It’s not lost on me tonight that Paul wishes (or maybe pronounces?) grace and peace to his brothers and sisters in Ephesus.

I think the rest of v.2 is important… grace and peace come from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. I think sometimes we delude ourselves into thinking grace and/or peace really come from ourselves. Or at least what we do or earn or attain (in terms of peace, anyway).

For me, tonight, I find myself keenly sensing my need for both grace and peace. When I think about my life currently, “peace” is not the first word that comes to mind. So for Paul to pronounce grace and peace to his hearers, I hope I’m one of his hearers. And it helps to remember that both come from The Lord.

Lent is about a certain type of hunger. We fast things during this season, so that when we desire them, we are called to prayer. We hunger after righteousness etc. Tonight, I’m hungry for the peace that comes through grace. Maybe you are, too.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog 2015 Day 1: Joel 2:1-2; 12-17: On Confession, Repentance, and the Means of Grace

Hard to believe it’s Ash Wednesday already. I write this with not a little guilt, because I told myself I was going to blog a lot more this year, not just during Lent. And that didn’t happen. But here we are, anyway… another LentBlog begins. I’m a little behind the 8-ball this week- it’s been terribly busy- and I haven’t chosen a scriptural book to read during Lent this year.

I was asked this weekend to preach an Ash Wednesday Gathering, and I chose the OT Reading in Joel as a text. I KNOW this is a no-no, and I will not be doing it again, because preachers who use their sermon texts devotionally are headed for trouble, but for tonight, I’d like to post what I’ve wrestled with a little from this Joel passage. Here is my sermon script for tonight. May it edify:


Joel 2:1-2; 12-17
There’s bad news in the congregation… Or at least there was among God’s people on this day.
It turns out God’s people don’t always live as God’s people… And these folks were really terrible at it.
They had a sin problem… See, they kept breaking commandment number one. They kept forgetting. They kept serving other gods. Serving themselves. Forgetting every single thing they had was from The Lord. Even their religious practices became nothing more than a thinly veiled “Look at me!”
They kept committing the same. Old. Sin. Day after day. Week after week. Even year after year. And it seems in this passage God has had enough. And that’s bad news.
We don’t do that, do we? We don’t ever get in a self centered rut, do we? None if us ever get stuck in a pattern of struggle, sin, confession… Struggle. Sin. Confession. Do we?
Here’s this passage from the Prophet Joel who comes along and says, “enough.” The day of The Lord is coming. And his judgement is about to fall on folks… Like us.
He elaborates for another 9 verses about how bad the Day of The Lord will be (the lectionary reading edits it out)  and thankfully he doesn’t leave us there.
He inserts the word, “yet.” Yet can be a really good word. Kind of like “but” (example a little) A lot can turn on “yet.” “Yet” is a hopeful word. A word that means there’s more to come, and the more that comes isn’t necessarily bad.
Yet. Yet even now. After all this. After all your struggle. After all your failures and faithlessness. Yet even now…
…you can return to The Lord with all your hearts.
Really cool word in the Hebrew here: “shuv” (say it, elaborate)
They never really returned…. They never really repented (and turned). They never really shuv-ed. Sure, some prophet would come along and point out their sin and they might even confess it… Might offer sacrifice… But they never returned. They never really repented. You can confess your sin all day long. Week after week. Month after month. And never be free. Confession has to lead to repentance and repentance must lead to transformation of our lives, or we get nowhere and we stay stuck. You must shuv. it is not God’s will that your spiritual life be an endless struggle, dealing with the same old junk over and over again. It could be that God wants to change us, replace our cold, hard hearts with hearts of flesh and then write his law on them so we can love him undividedly. Wholeheartedly. With integrity. And you don’t have to sit there and struggle. You must shuv.
Turn to someone and say, “it’s time to shuv to The Lord.”
How do we shuv?
-replace old patterns of life with new ones.
-call a fast. Assemble the people. Gather even the babies together. Repent. Shuv. Return. Rend your hearts, not your clothes.
-The season of Lent provides us with a perfect opportunity to do just that.
-here’s the key though…. There’s a catch: All this confession, repentance, fasting, soul searching, spiritual discipline… We must practice them as Means of God’s Grace. They are means to an end, and the end is transformation. you can Do all this stuff and if all it ever is is a thinly veiled “look at me and how Godly I’m trying to be” you will only wind up back at square one. Struggling again with no real change. It’s not you who changes you. It’s God who changes you.
And that’s why before we receive the ashes and begin this lent journey, we are going to come to the table tonight.

We followed this with communion, then receiving the ashes. I think it was helpful.

I’ll have a full devotional reflection tomorrow night.
Until then,
Blessings,
Mark