Loving Kindness

In my previous post I quoted some verses from Ephesians 2. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them since, although my thoughts have moved in another direction – God’s word is packed with goodness! And it’s not that I’ve learnt something new, but it has hit me with fresh impact, so here are some thoughts on the kindness of God towards us:

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions…And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  Ephesians 2:4-7

These are truly incredible verses!

Paul explains to the Ephesian Christians and to us that 1) our merciful God loves us with a great love. (He loved us even when we were “dead” in our sin)

2) Because of his love he has rescued us from sin and death through Jesus’ sacrifice in our place,

3) We have been raised and seated with Christ in heaven (spiritually for now, but one day physically too!)

4) The reason for this is so that “in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us”

WOW.

It’s easy to miss that last part amidst all the other amazing things that Paul says, but it is an incredible truth.

Most people whether Christians or not, know that Jesus came to die on a cross for sinful people. But how often do we reflect on his motivations and feelings in doing so?

We’re grateful, and amazed at such a painful, generous sacrifice. But perhaps we sometimes think that God’s forgiveness is him hauling us out of trouble because he is merciful and good, but that he views us as trouble makers whom he cares for semi- reluctantly. ‘We’re more trouble than we’re worth, but what’s a loving God to do but keep on loving us?

But this verse explodes that theory.

the incomparable riches of his grace” 

The Besotted Bridegroom

God’s purpose? Not a grudging one-time rescue, but an enthusiastic resolve and determination to love you and I, and keep on showing his kindness to us for the rest of eternity!! He can’t wait to show us greater depths of his love in Christ Jesus, like a bridegroom who looks past the wedding to a lifetime of finding new ways to love his bride.

This is not a reluctant love, or an abstract, theoretical, ‘textbook’ love. This is real, sacrificial, passionate, unfailingly kind love.

Please don’t misunderstand me, we are not at the centre of the universe as we like to imagine. He is! God is not like us, and first and foremost he glorifies himself. Nevertheless this is a biblical picture of how he feels about us. It is even more wonderful a truth when we consider how ‘other’ God is, how far above us in every way, and how undeserving we are!

Christ's Bride Ephesians 2

The Blushing Bride

The more I consider this, the more I feel like the blushing bride that scripture says I am! (Is 62.5, Rev 19.7) His love for us is so undeserved!

Perhaps I seem ‘spiritual’ writing this blog, but trust me that the depths of my heart show my great need of Jesus Christ every single day. To hear that this good and holy God loves me and wants to show unfailing kindness to me, gives me confidence to draw near to him. How can I help but respond to this kind of undeserved, freely given, frankly declared love?

We are blessed people with an eternally loving God, I hope you’ll join me in rejoicing in his love.

Nim

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Essential Dependence

We’ve all seen the films where a character with super powers is reliant on a special object or circumstance, without which he or she becomes weak and powerless. – Iron Man and his armoured suit, Thor and his hammer…

I’m certainly not likening myself to a superhero, (missed opportunity I know!) but according to the verses below Christians are similarly dependent – on a person – Jesus Christ!

Read this:

‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.John 15

Jesus tells us that we are part of him, like a branch is part of a plant, and that we can’t be fruitful apart from him! ” If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers”

It’s a pretty clear image isn’t it? If you’re a follower of Jesus did you ever realise that you were this dependent?

Do you act like it?

I know that personally whenever things are going well, I quickly begin to rely on my own abilities as being enough for day to day life. Perhaps I’m more reliant on God for his wisdom and help when it comes to the big things, but I know I often don’t act anything like a branch attached to the vine that is Jesus!

I like to think that I’m my own little plant, industriously growing fruit that I will later (humbly) present to my maker! But he tells us himself that this is not going to be enough. If we want to bear good fruit – loving obedience, useful service, spiritual growth etc. We need to remain ‘in him’ – attached, dependent, reliant!

But this dependence is not presented as a burden.

Although this passage is a strong reminder to us not to stray from the vine as we seek to grow and serve as Christians, it contains some great promises too, that should make us wonder why we would ever consider detaching ourselves from Jesus in the first place!

‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love…11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 

Isn’t that staggering? If you are a Christian then Jesus loves you and I as much as he himself is loved, in all his glorious perfection, by God the Father!

He simply invites us to remain in that love, to enjoy it, to depend on its certainty in everything that we do, and to have joy in this undeserved, but freely offered relationship with God himself.

When I reflect on this, it doesn’t seem like a chore at all but a very appealing invitation! And a kind of dependence that brings peace and joy, not limitation or drudgery.

It’s stupid for us to try to continue on our own, when such deep and inexhaustible resources are offered to us in Christ Jesus. He is not asking us to jump through hoops to get his help – only to remain in him, to be close to him, to ask help, and to feed on his strength and wisdom and righteousness!

If you have time why not read the whole passage in the Gospel of John, chapter 15 – There’s lots more that I haven’t mentioned!

Nim

Foundational Issues

Recently I’ve caught a glimpse of just how much I’ve been relying on my own efforts to keep living faithfully as a Christian.

Over past months a variety of situations have shaken my foundation. I have seen spiritual running partners stumble, and even one or two seem to drop out suddenly and completely from the race.

I’ve also been reminded in my own life and failings, of the deceitful and often subtle effects of sin. Suddenly I’m feeling a whole lot less confident! It scares me.

This, I think, is a good thing.

When there is an earthquake, you get to see the effectiveness of your foundation. Changes can be made to protect in future quakes.

The foundation of my faith has at times, been some parts Christ, some parts a general trust in my own ability to make good choices, and perhaps subconsciously the false belief that sin only deceives the careless!

But we only have to look at scripture to see that this is wholly inadequate.

The heart is deceitful above all things
    and beyond cure.
    Who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9

and a couple of verses earlier we read:

Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
    who draws strength from mere flesh
    and whose heart turns away from the Lord….

But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.”

Although it’s a terribly vulnerable feeling to have my foundation exposed as flawed, it has led to a humbling joy too.

All those times when I’ve trusted in myself more than in the desperately needed salvation of the cross, God has continued to be faithful and merciful!

He is at work now to show me that the foundation of my faith needs his work.

I can look back to times I have strayed way too close to the cliff edge in regard to sin; moral and spiritual failures, defiant disobedience, and his hands have upheld my inadequate foundation, or I have heard his protective warning or rebuke.

Please hear me: I don’t look back in indifference, as if these are memories to be shrugged off. Sin is seriously destructive, to ourselves and those around us, and offensive to our holy God and saviour.

I can’t afford to be complacent about sin when it holds such power to derail me. But I continue to be deeply thankful for his grace, and the work of his Spirit in my life.

So how am I changing my foundation with God’s help?

Well I hope this will be another reminder in a long list of them, that I need Jesus far more than I know. May it cause me to grow ever more dependant, remaining in God’s word regularly, prayerful for myself and God’s church. The foundation of my faith simply cannot continue to be found in me or my will power alone!

If I understand the power of sin and Satan, I should never stray far from my saviour and his words. I should also be ready to involve my Christian brothers and sisters, enlisting their help and vigilance too.

In addition I am reminding myself of the clear promises of God, for days when the fear strikes that I won’t make it to the finish line:

27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 

John 10:27-28

33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

17 The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

Zephaniah 3:17

With God’s help I will continue in the marathon race of the Christian life – Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)

(The rest of Philippians chapter 3 contains other helpful reminders, as the Apostle Paul calls us not to put our confidence in the flesh as we live for Christ.)

This post is just me thinking aloud…perhaps I’ve missed something, or you have a comment to make in response?

In Christ

Nim