Blessed 2x

Ephesians

Many months ago I began writing about the book of Ephiasians. You can find that post here – From an Apostle to the Saints.

For various reasons, I did not write more on the subject but I am very pleased to return to it today. I did promise you it might not be a series… and I make no further claims now!

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ”

Ephesians 1:3 (WEB)

After Paul’s introduction, he wastes no time and dives straight in! Blessed! Blessed be God! You can feel the power of his words leaping from the page as you read this. Before he says anything else on any other subject, he starts with praise.

It’s a great place to start a letter, and it’s a great place to start a prayer. In fact, it’s a great way to start anything really! Whatever you’re doing, be it work, washing up or watching TV, always start with a word of praise.

Praising God has many effects on us, which we can consider in a moment, but praise isn’t about us at all. It is about God Himself. We turn our attention off of ourselves and our own lives, and we focus as fully as possible on the One who made us. Worship is our reason for being, and on days when I feel I achieve little else, I want to be able to say I fulfilled my created purpose by praising the God of Heaven today.

Imagine the effect on us, if we uttered words of worship prior to any activity. Take the TV example above. How different might our TV viewing choices be if we were to spend a moment thanking and worshipping the Father before picking up the remote.

Paul identifies God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we rejoice in that. There’s also a nod towards the Trinity here, so see if you can spot the Holy Spirit’s presence also. If not, I’ll pick up on that in a moment.

The word “Blessed,” appears twice in this verse, although they are slightly different Greek words. The way we read it naturally in English is how it was intended. The first “blessed,” is referring to God being blessed, or praised, and the second, refers to the blessing of God or invocation of God’s blessings on people.

What Paul says next is astonishing to me. He says, “who has blessed you with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Read that again before you continue.

God has blessed us, which is wonderful. To simply say we’ve been blessed though, is something of an understatement!

God has “blessed us,” and we must first notice the tense. This is not a blessing we will get in the future, but something we hold right now.

What have we been blessed with exactly? “Every spiritual blessing,” That word translated as “every,” is the Greek word – pas – and means “every,” “any,” and “all.” That’s every spiritual blessing! Not some of them, not half, not most, but all of them!

You might not be feeling all that blessed at the moment, in fact, you might be looking at a stack of bills or a doctor’s report feeling anything but blessed. This verse shouldn’t be interpreted as “God is going to give me whatever I want…” as I don’t think that’s true. We do the Word and God Himself a great disservice however, when we diminish a verse like this and explain it away not accepting what it says.

You are more than just your body, and your life is more than just your bank balance. We must not limit the blessings of God to the physical realm. The spiritual world is far more real than this physical one, and came first. There was “spirit” long before there was any earthly matter.

Paul calls it “spiritual blessing,” and some therefore limit this to refer to things of the spirit such as sanctification, justification, salvation etc. And of course, all these are included. But the blessings here are “spiritual”, I believe, not because they are spiritual in nature, but because they are given by the Spirit of God. Christmas gifts are given at Christmas, that’s what makes them Christmas gifts, not because the gift itself has anything to do with Christmas (although it certainly might do).

Thus in this one verse Paul has pointed us to God the Father God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

My point is that this blessing given by God is no small thing. It’s not limited to things of the spirit, although we would do well to focus on the eternal things more than the temporary.

So where is this blessing exactly? We find it in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. You might be thinking you’d rather have the blessing down here on Earth than locked away in heaven with Christ. Yet if the blessing is in Christ and Christ dwells in us then the blessing is not as far away as we might think.

We are too often guilty of thinking that blessing relates to money possessions or things this world holds so dear. Paul goes on to talk about many wonderful spiritual blessings in the next few verses and we will examine these another time.

The take home message today is really to think about what we mean by being blessed. If we ask God to bless us are we asking for something God has already done?

What we have as believers and adopted children of God is far greater than anything this world can offer. Our eternal hope is held securely in Christ and God can do no more than He already has to enable us to access heaven forever.

It is truly humbling to think about what God has done for us.

But God commends his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8 (WEB)

We in no way deserve “every spiritual blessing” but it is ours because of what Jesus did at the cross. That is grace. And I join with Paul in saying “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” Amen!

TV Reality

Do you ever watch reality TV? It is really anything but reality, and if not entirely scripted, then it’s heavily edited to give a very narrow view of what actually happened.

Instead of reality TV though, today I want to discuss “TV Reality”.

I started thinking about this the other day at a party. A dad was playing with his children, and it was great to see them all having such fun. To be truthful though, I felt a little guilty and questioned my own meager attempts at parenting . They seemed to be having such a good time, and I couldn’t imagine them ever having a falling out or a cross word.

They didn’t seem to have a care in the world, and appeared the perfect family.

That’s not reality though.

It is so easy to look at others and not see the problems that they face. It is all too easy to think we are the only ones having problems, or the only one going through a difficult time.

We glimpse the “perfect” life of another, and think it’s their day-to-day reality. It’s no more real than reality TV – in fact, it’s TV reality. TV Reality (my own idea) is where we see the portrayed reality put out into the world and believe it, whereas behind the scenes real life is going on and isn’t as good as it seems.

Social media makes this all the more problematic. No one ever puts their real life on Facebook, but only selected highlights. if you are scrolling through your Twitter feed thinking, “They’re all having such a great time, and I’m struggling!” Then you are not seeing the truth.

It is important to remember this, because when things get tough, it can be all too easy to believe the grass is greener on the other side. How many marriages broke down when things got tough, because one or both partners believed life would be better on the other side?

The Bible tells us to consider ourselves with sober judgement.

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

Romans 12:3 (EVS)

To consider yourself with sober judgement means to be honest. It means we ought not to look on others, and believe all things are rosy for them, when it’s hard for us. Sober judgement means not being harder on ourselves than we should, or excusing our mistakes either. We beat ourselves up over our sin at times, and then at others gloss over it!

The big problem is comparison. We compare ourselves to each other (often on social media feeds) and no good can come of it. I’m not saying we can’t learn from each other, far from it. But comparing ourselves with each other only leads to disappointment.

The only true measure of our lives is against the Word of God. In His Word, God sets out the way He wants us to live. He tells us what to do and what not to do. More importantly, it points us to the only One whose opinion really matters – God Himself.

If we compare against another person, we either judge ourselves better or worse than them. Neither is a good place to be.

Don’t look to others’ TV realities and focus on everything that’s wrong in your life. Don’t waste your time and energy keeping up with the Jones’ or being jealous of others social media lives.

Look to God’s Word for reality, and when you do, you’ll realise you come up rather short. Don’t despair though, God knows we cannot meet His standards and that’s why He sent Jesus to meet them for us. Instead of pouring your precious energy into living up to false realities, pour it into your relationship with Jesus. It’s a whole lot more satisfying!

R. E. A. P.

I often read the Bible on the train, and so it is handy to have a number of tools to help study. A few days ago I encountered this little study technique and thought I would share it with you today.

It is called R. E. A. P. And stands for read, examine, apply and pray.

R is for Read – the first part of the technique is to read. You take a passage and read it. Simple right? Pay attention to the things that stand out to you . Always think about the context as this can affect the meaning. Ask yourself if the passage is poetic, historical, prophetic or another type of literature. Watch out for who is speaking, and to whom.

E is for Evaluate – Having read the passage thoroughly, we then move on to evaluate it. Here we go a little deeper and try to listen to the Holy Spirit and what He is saying to us through this part of the Bible. We consider the main themes of the passage and what it would have meant to those who first received it. Before we can apply it to our own lives, we need to understand how it would have applied to those originally hearing or reading it.

A is for Apply – At this stage, we start to think about how this passage applies to us. The Bible is timeless, but sometimes we need to think about the way that what we have read applies to our modern day lives. Does the passage require us to do anything? Is God asking us to give something up, or to start doing something positive? Do we learn something about God here, and if so, how does that affect the decisions we make today?

P is for Pray – Lastly, having read and applied the passage, we take it back to God. We pray about the passage at hand, and ask God to help us apply it and live for Him more. It may result in us praising God, and thanking Him for a particular blessing or worshipping an aspect of His character.  We may realise we need to pray for someone we know, or for ourselves, and it is great to be led by the Spirit in that respect.

 

So there you have it! It is not a perfect tool, nor should it replace dedicated study, but in certain situations, you may find it a helpful way of looking at a Bible passage.

Whatever you do, I pray that your Bible study time is fruitful this week.

A (Prophetic?) Dream

I’m not particularly prone to dreaming, and when I do, I rarely remember them. Last night however, I had a very vivid dream. It concerned people I’d never seen and in a setting I wasn’t familiar with. When this happens, it could be prophetic in nature. I share it below in case it is of meaning to someone.

 

I was climbing up several flights of stairs with a group of people I didn’t know. Many of them were from various countries around the world. At a high floor, we went into something like a classroom. The tables were laid out in broad rows but there were perhaps only one or two of them.

It was a Christian meeting of some kind.

I looked out of the window, and saw people moving past on the street below.

Back in the room, a young man stood up and preached a sermon, but I have no recollection what he said. I got the impression it was his first time preaching.

Afterwards, the anointing was extremely strong and many were touched by the message the man had given. The group were discussing what they would do (individually) in response to the message.

I begin talking to a girl who had been moved to pay back a debt of around £12,000 which I believe was for a motorbike. She said that the group of people gathered here had been extremely supportive and she wanted to repay them. I think she referred to them as N.E.S. or N.E.B? Or something similar.

As we were talking, another woman took something from her hand and rebuked her for losing focus. The girl I’d been speaking to walked away, seemingly quite upset.

I followed her and began to give her words of prophecy.

“You are a consuming fire. But you are being smothered by those around you. They try to cover you in a tarpaulin to cut off the oxygen or fuel for the fire. They hope to contain the flames, but it only burns hotter inside of you. You must come out from under those who would smother you. God has put this fire in your heart for power and passion, and wants you to use it for His Kingdom.”

 

At this point, I woke up. It was so vivid that I had to write it down. As I say, I didn’t recognise any of the individuals in the dream, nor the place where we were. It could just be a random dream, or it could be something more.

If it means something to you, then I hope it is encouraging. If not, please ignore!

Wrestling with the Sovereignty of God

I don’t mind telling you that I’ve been wrestling with a tough issue of late – the sovereignty of God.

This began a while ago, when after a comment in a previous post, someone challenged my view of what sovereignty means. I am determined not to shy away from such challenges, even if uncomfortable, as it can only lead to growth of understanding to review one’s position. You either confirm what you already thought, or learn something new which changes your perspective.

In this case, I am certainly reviewing my previous view.

What does “Sovereignty” mean?

This, I think, is part of the problem. We all have a slightly different understanding of what we mean by the term “Sovereignty”.

One definition is simply that God being sovereign means He is the Supreme Being, Ultimate and without equal. I hope that no Christian can take argument with such a definition.

Going further though, some take sovereignty to mean that God controls every aspect of our lives here on Earth. Nothing happens by chance and everything happens according to God’s will.

This definition I struggled with. Like all who have faced this subject, the obvious question is “If God controls everything, then how come a) bad things happen, and b) how can anyone be held responsible for their actions?”

I previously did not hold to this view. I did not believe that God’s Sovereignty meant that He controlled every little thing in life, and that our very decisions were ordained on high by Him.

I could be wrong…

Two texts

There were two main Bible texts which challenged my view. I should clarify that I mean two main texts which I examined, rather that the big two.

The first is Ephesians 1:4-5, which says:

just as [in His love] He chose us in Christ [actually selected us for Himself as His own] before the foundation of the world, so that we would be holy [that is, consecrated, set apart for Him, purpose-driven] and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined and lovingly planned for us to be adopted to Himself as [His own] children through Jesus Christ, in accordance with the kind intention and good pleasure of His will

Ephesians 1:4-5 (Amp)

This idea of being chosen by God opens up the heart of the sovereignty issue for me. Did God choose me first, or did I choose Him? Did He choose me, knowing that I would choose Him? If this doesn’t make your mind tilt, then you’re a wiser person than I!

The key here is to look to when God made the choice. “When” is a difficult one to apply to God, as He is outside of time. We think linearly, there is a start, a middle and an end, but we can’t think that way with God. He has no beginning, middle or end, and He just is.

What does the verse say? “Before the foundation of the world…” This means, put simply, before the Creation. If this is true, and as it is Scripture, it is, then it means that before you and I were born, before we did anything right or wrong – then God had chosen us.

The next obvious question is – on what basis did He make this choice? If it was before we did or said or thought anything, then it cannot be on our performance and behaviour. God did not choose you because you were “good” or “bad”, rather it was an act of His will.

We want to understand how and why God made His choice because we want to understand something fundamental. Why me and not them? A scant understanding of the Gospel should tell us that it is nothing to do with us – not our performance or how well we did or didn’t do, but completely and totally on the finished work of Christ.

The second text is from Romans 9:18-20

Therefore, God has mercy on whomever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomever he chooses. 19 You may ask me, “Then why does God still find fault with anybody? For who can resist his will?” 20 On the contrary, who are you—mere man that you are—to talk back to God? Can an object that was molded say to the one who molded it, “Why did you make me like this?”

Romans 9:18-20 (ISV)

Here, Paul addresses what is at the very heart of this issue. Indeed, verse 19 asks the precise question we hope to answer. “If God controls everything, then how can anyone be held responsible for their wrongdoing?”

What is his answer? And I warn you, it may not satisfy…

who are you—mere man that you are—to talk back to God? Can an object that was molded say to the one who molded it, “Why did you make me like this?

Who are we to ask such a question of the Sovereign God? We are trying to wrap our limited minds around an unlimited concept. Human thinking cannot comprehend the sovereignty of God. Who are we to question Him in this matter?

If, like me, you feel somewhat unsatisfied by this, then I understand.

I want to give you a “better” answer here. I want to be able to explain this to you in such a way as to enable you to accept and understand it. I tried. Then it dawned on me that if the great apostle Paul can only give the above answer, then how can I expect to come up with something better?

One author suggested we approach this issue in the same way that we approach the Trinity. That is, we approach it knowing that it is true and having no human understanding of how it can be so.

I sigh at this point, realising that theologians have considered this for centuries and no “good” answer exists. God is God, and we are not. His ways are higher than ours, and this is one of those (few) occasions where we cannot explain or understand Him.

We can do nothing except humbly accept it.

Conclusion?

Hardly! I can’t hope to conclude such a topic in a few simple lines here. Like many who have gone before me, we can only walk this road our own way. At each step we must try to see the Bible as a whole in a systematic way. There will always be things, this side of heaven, that we do not comprehend.

Does it make God any less? No, if anything it highlights how “Sovereign” He is.

Does it somehow weaken our faith? It should not.

I’ve asked God the big questions as I’ve begun to examine this subject. It can only weaken our faith if we allow ourselves to engage in pride. “I should be able to understand this” or “How can God choose some and not others?” This betrays an attempt by us to somehow reach God’s level. When we question His ways, we are on some level suggesting that we know better. Such thinking is not only futile, it’s comical.

My journey has not come to an end here. I began this post by saying it had led to me to review my way of thinking about God’s Sovereignty. This is true, but I’ve not completed it yet (and I suspect I never will!)

I have questions, and I’m guessing you do too.

If what I’ve shared above from Ephesians and Romans holds true (and it does), then I prayerfully wonder how the following Scriptures fit with this. It’s a heavenly jigsaw puzzle if you will, and I’m quite certain all the pieces fit. It may simply be that only God can see the big picture.

Abraham negotiates with God

In Genesis 18, we read a story where Abraham (very respectfully) negotiates with God. God sets out His intention to inspect Sodom and Gemorah (verse 21) with a view to destroying it, and yet Abraham appeals to Him.

This is relevant to our discussion because it seems contradictory. What was God’s will in this matter? Was it to destroy Sodom and Gemorah without any regard for any righteous people living there? Was it always God’s will to save the righteous before He destroyed it? A close reading may suggest that God never intended to destroy it while even one righteous person was there.

Although Abraham very cautiously “talks God down” to withholding the city’s destruction if only ten righteous are found there, in the end we see that it only took one. Indeed, the Angel of the Lord “could not” destroy the city while Lot was still within its limits.

Hurry and take refuge there, for I cannot do anything [to punish Sodom] until you arrive there.” For this reason the town was named Zoar (few, small).

Genesis 19:22 (Amp)

So how do we determine God’s Sovereign will in this matter? The destroying angel could not do a thing until Lot was safe, meaning God had given His Word that the city would not fall while Lot remained.

What does that mean for what God had discussed with Abraham right at the beginning? – did Abraham’s intercession somehow restrict God’s will, or rather his prayers cause God to give grace to Lot who dwelt in Sodom?

It is God’s will that everyone be saved?

Likewise, these are key passages for me that suggest God does not always get His way. If He does, and He does indeed control everything as we have expounded above, then how can we reconcile these verses?

who wishes all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge and recognition of the [divine] truth.

1 Timothy 2:4 (Amp)

The Lord does not delay [as though He were unable to act] and is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is [extraordinarily] patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9 (Amp)

We can clearly see that it is God’s will that everyone be saved. And yet, they are not. How can we place these verses alongside the verse from Ephesians 1 (discussed above) and fit them together?

If God wants all to be saved, then why only choose some?

One way to fit them together  (and it is completely flawed) is the idea that God chose everyone, and that means all will be saved. Indeed, some teach that God will have mercy on everyone irrespective of what they did with Christ on the Earth, and therefore both verses can be true. This is false.

Such teaching does not take a serious view of Scripture and indeed cheapens the sacrifice of Christ. If all are saved irrespective of Christ’s sacrifice, then Christ had no need to come at all. Clearly this is not the case.

There must therefore be another way that these verses fit together.

Your will be done (the Lord’s Prayer)

Finally, we look to the Lord’s prayer. While it is my belief that this is a template for prayer, rather than something we should repeat over and over, one of the points is rather clear.

“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Given what we have said above about God being in ultimate control of every aspect of life, why should we pray for His will to be done? Surely His will being done is a given?

Extending this thought, why pray at all? Indeed, if God’s mind is already made up and His will already established, how can we expect to change anything with our act of prayer?

The Bible makes it absolutely clear that indeed we should pray. Moreover, that our prayers make a tremendous difference on the earth.

And finally…

We could go on. We could cite Scriptures about God controlling the weather from Isaiah, or hardening Pharoah’s heart in the Exodus, or sending a great fish to swallow the reluctant prophet Jonah. Equally, we could look to Deuteronomy 30:19 where life and death, blessings and curses are set before us, and God encourages us to choose life!

Is it God, or man, who makes such choices?

We could go on…

I can’t hope to bring answers to all of these questions here. I also do not want this to come across as a crisis of faith – far from it. If anything, my conviction about the absolute supremacy and infallibility of Scripture is even stronger. I do not doubt His kindness or love, nor do I question His intentions.

I hope this makes you think if nothing else, and it certainly helps me to lay out my thoughts before you. Thanks for reading!

I say again that I can do no better than the apostle Paul who said, “who are you—mere man that you are—to talk back to God?

Indeed, I am not God, but I worship the One who is.