God Has a Plan

“God has now revealed to us His mysterious will regarding Christ—which is to fulfil His own good plan. And this is the plan: At the right time He will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth.
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭1:9-10‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Hardly a day goes by without us making a plan of some sort. We plan the things we have to do in the day ahead. We plan how to get to work. What shopping we need. And then there is the process of planning a holiday, or a building project in the garden. Life is full of plans and the associated costs in implementing them. Jesus referred to the importance of planning – in Luke 14, He pointed out to His disciples that there was a cost involved if they wished to follow Him. And He used the examples of building a tower, or going to war, as events needing a plan. Of course, there are many days when we don’t make a plan. Perhaps a leisure day. But even then the decision not to make a plan is a plan in itself. I was once involved in planning major engineering projects and the saying “Fail to plan and you plan to fail” was often demonstrated by cost overruns and time delays. Life is full of plans.

So it must be no surprise to us to find that God has a plan. In fact the Bible is full of circumstances and events where God had a plan. For example, He orchestrated the events around the birth of Jesus, events meticulously planned out and recorded in the Gospels. In our verses today, Paul records that God’s plan started out as a mystery. Why did Jesus come? Why did He have to die? These, and many other events that took place during His short life here on Planet Earth totally flummoxed the peoples living in Palestine at that time. The plan they thought God would one day implement to set His people free was nothing like the one God had in His mind. 

Paul reminded the Ephesians of what God’s plan was. It started with a young peasant girl saying “Yes” to an angel visitor; the subsequent birth, life and death of God’s own Son, Jesus. And His plan continued through the work of the early church as God’s plan for salvation was preached, and continues to be preached, throughout the world, to this day. In the spiritual realms, Jesus is building a house for us, because one day we who are Christians will join Him there. And then there is a day coming when Jesus will assume command over “everything”, not just a religion. “Everything” includes, well, everything. Governments, peoples, societies and so on down to the smallest particle ever created. Of course, it doesn’t stop there – it will involve all of Heaven as well. Jesus’ authority will be total. That is God’s plan, a mystery no more.

There is an amazing and mind-boggling implication in all of this. As God’s people, we are not observers, mere pilgrims standing on the touch lines of life, looking on as God’s plan is worked out through our traditional outlets such as missionary organisations and churches. We all have the opportunity to play a part in God’s plan. Of course we all cannot just up and leave our families and jobs to preach the Gospel in far-off lands, though perhaps some will be called to do so. But our part is very important, no matter how small we think it might be. God has resourced His plan with ordinary human beings, whom He has placed in just the right time and place to further His plan. We are no less important in our roles as Mary was two thousand years ago. Our role might not be so dramatic and high profile as being the Mother of Jesus, but in its own way our interaction with our friends, family and communities is still part of God’s plan. Because in doing what God has asked us to do we are bringing forward that day Paul called, “At the right time”.

So in our Pilgrimage through life, we have a job to do. We are not just plodding along towards Heaven, hoping that it won’t be too long before we get there. On the way we will meet other pilgrims, who God has plans for too. Our interaction with them in the way God requires is all part of God’s plan. Perhaps all He wants us to do is to give a cheery and encouraging word, “at the right time”. There may be some practical help involved in the case of others. We may be asked to build relational bridges with those who are outcasts and unloved – after all, Jesus was often accused of being a friend of sinners. We may be required to sow Gospel seeds not just through our words but also by the way we live.

One last thought. A very humbling thought. God doesn’t use the great saints of history to fulfil His plan. He uses sinners like you and me. Ordinary punters with our struggles with the sins we commit. With the issues of life. In the end, we are after all, “Beggars showing other beggars where to find bread”, to quote Bishop D T Niles. And one day, “at the right time”, we will hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23). We praise You Lord!

Cascading Grace

“Since we are now joined to Christ, we have been given the treasures of redemption by His blood—the total cancellation of our sins—all because of the cascading riches of His grace. This superabundant grace is already powerfully working in us, releasing all forms of wisdom and practical understanding.”
‭Ephesians‬ ‭1:7-8‬ ‭TPT‬‬

Here is another spiritual blessing – the treasures of redemption. But let’s unpick these two verses because they in themselves contain a treasure of Spirit-inspired truth. First of all we are “joined to Christ”. Paul takes this as read because Jesus is family. He’s our older brother. So we are related and joined to Him through our adoption into God’s family. Redemption happened through the sacrificial death of Jesus at Calvary – He shed His blood so that we could, and would, be forgiven for all our sins. As these verses say, they have been cancelled. For ever. And this reality opens a door exposing an eternity full of treasures that we can now access. Without redemption for sin, a lost eternity would hold no treasures. Just an empty God-less place full of torment and regret. But we have access to the treasures through God’s grace. But what are these treasures? We know that being in God’s presence is in there; wonderful and amazing in its own right. There are other gems such as righteousness, purity, no more sickness, no more death – the list is endless and we are unable to fully appreciate, by a long way, the extent of God’s riches, made available to us through His grace. 

But in this life, as we tramp along life’s highways and byways, we can dip into God’s gracious treasure trove, accessing all the resources we need. We find that there are truly “cascading riches of His grace” flowing over us in times of need. Think of the times when we need nuggets of perseverance, patience, love, peace – all available to us just by lifting the lid on His treasure chest and seeking out just what is needed for our souls. All there through His grace. Day by day. Hour by hour. Wisdom is in there too. Lots of it. And as the verses say, it is working within us – most of the time we don’t even know that it is there. The use of the word “practical” is significant. Our God is a practical God, helping and resourcing us in practical ways. By His grace we march on, God-drumbeats powering our steps. 

The “treasures of redemption” are not just there, though, for us to look for and find. We are not in a life, searching for some Holy Grail, jumping through hoops or undertaking some difficult mission to find these treasures. Note that they are given to us. They are right here now. The treasure chest is before us. The key is in our hands. There is nothing to stop us accessing its contents. God’s amazing grace, His super abundant grace, empowers us. Whatever our state is in life, good or bad. Easy or difficult. Sick or healthy. We are breathtakingly blessed by the riches of His grace, cascading over us. Forever. 

Adoption

“God decided in advance to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. This is what He wanted to do, and it gave Him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace He has poured out on us who belong to His dear Son.
‭Ephesians‬ ‭1:5-6‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The previous verse in Ephesians 1 burst into our consciousness with the thought that we have been chosen by God, not on a whim, but before God even created the heavens and the earth. This theme develops in our verses today. Not only did God choose us an eternity ago, but He has placed us in a special family. His own family. And Jesus is our elder brother. He did it through Jesus’ death at Calvary, the place where Jesus took on our sins and gave us instead His cloak of righteousness, enabling us to not only be able to stand before God in a sinless form, but to be adopted into His family.

My sister was adopted. I know other people too who were adopted. People who came from a family where parents were unable to look after their children and instead allowed them to be chosen by new parents, with the will and means to look after them. Most adoptions work well, devoted new parents pouring in all the resources required, but others perhaps haven’t been ideal. Thankfully, in God’s family, there are no failed adoptions. Every child of God is assured an equal place in His family, and the certainty of a lifelong relationship with a gracious and loving Parent. A relationship that extends beyond the grave. As a Parent, God gets great pleasure from His adopted family. And there is no limit to the size of His family either. His heart of love is infinitely able to embrace all who respond to His call.

So with Paul, another adopted brother in God’s family, we praise God for His “glorious grace”, grace that sees beyond the imperfect sinful beings that we are, and instead beckons us through the door of adoption into His presence. What an amazing “spiritual blessing”. What an amazing Father God!

He Chose Me

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight.”
Ephesians‬ ‭1:3-4‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

There is much depth in these verses. Right at the start of this Epistle, Paul sets the scene. And his focus is on our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He starts by offering his praises to Father God for Jesus. After all, if it wasn’t for his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road, Paul wouldn’t have found himself in a zone of blessings. A zone so real to him that he wrote about yearning to be with Christ (Philippians 1:23), a yearning underpinned by his understanding and knowledge of “every spiritual blessing in Christ”.

But what are these “spiritual blessings”? Several are listed in this chapter in Ephesians. Some we won’t fully inherit until we are in God’s presence. Some blessings we can start to experience in our lives right now. One thing for sure is that a blessing in Christ is infinitely, and eternally, better than any earthly blessing. But one spiritual blessing I would like to focus on today is that God, through Christ, chose us. He chose you and He chose me. And amazingly He chose me before He even created the world. He could look down from eternity at my life on this earth and through His love and grace, He chose me. Of course that is not to say He didn’t choose other people. We know from that famous verse, John 3:16, that He loves everyone in the world, regardless of when they lived, past, present or future. But that doesn’t dilute the fact that He loves me in a personal way. He whispered my name as He was putting together the plans for creating Planet Earth. 

But the spiritual blessing doesn’t just end there. He chose me to be “holy and blameless in His sight”. It is at the realisation of what this means, that the enormity of this spiritual blessing really hits home. How can God not only choose me, but then establish me through Christ as being “holy and blameless”? Really? After all my sins committed in this life? After all the times I have rejected Him? But that is what this verse says. Paul didn’t just write some nice words, nice ideas based on his feelings. No, this was a faith-filled statement written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This was God saying how it really is through Paul’s pen.

But there’s a catch. I can’t just read these verses and then move on, unchanged, regardless. I have to respond to God calling my name. His whispering of my name hangs there in eternity, waiting for me to respond. And He’s waiting for you as well. We have to respond to His invitation, saying “Yes” to Him, accepting Christ as our Lord and Saviour. Confessing and repenting of our sins. Aligning our lives to become worthy of His choice. But that personal gentle whisper won’t be there for ever. When we cross the Great Divide, the whisper will stop. Opportunity gone. God’s choice rejected. Many go to a lost eternity because they have rejected His calling.

Truly, we can do nothing else other than what the Apostle Paul did. With him, we bask in the awesome realisation that God chose us. What else can we do but utter our praises to “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And we won’t stop. Ever.

Credentials

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
‭Ephesians‬ ‭1:1-2‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

The first verse in the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians contains much information. Paul starts by claiming his apostleship – the account of his conversion from a Christian hunter and persecutor to a Christian maker and lover on the Damascus road can be read in Acts 9 and 22. History records Paul’s credentials as an apostle. The verse continues with a description of who the epistle, the letter, is addressed to. It wasn’t to everyone – just “God’s holy people”. Credentials describing those who faithfully followed Jesus. And because of the God-credentials of both the writer and the reader, God’s blessings of grace and peace in the second verse can be uttered and received, real and true.

What are my letter-writing credentials in life? In writing a similar letter to someone, how would I describe myself? Something like, “Fred, the husband of Chloe” or “John, the accountant in London”? Or perhaps something with spiritual weight, such as, “Matt, a believer in Jesus”? But how we describe ourselves, who we are and what we claim, will impact the receiver of our letter. Often, our self-description can be at odds with our behaviour though. Hmmm…

Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church would have been read out in a public meeting. And what a letter it was. The grace and love of God dripping through every stroke of his pen. And this epistle is read and re-read today, fresh and real, because of the credentials of the writer, Paul. A servant of God; a life dedicated to His service.

In our pilgrimage through life, we need letters. Epistles of encouragement, correction, guidance. Biblical accounts and passages that we can always refer to because God is in them. Step by step we can hear God’s voice, providing for us all we need. There is a man near me who lost his son to multiple sclerosis 30 or so years ago, and just last week he had to have his dog put to sleep because of an incurable spinal condition. And he is devastated by grief. The death of his son is still raw many years later and now the loss of his wee dog, who was like another son to him, has opened up all the old wounds. A pilgrim without the comfort and presence of God facing into the realities of life alone, uncomforted. And he has rejected the One Person who is able to help him. He needs a Letter, God Himself, to bring peace to his soul.

What do I need today? What do you need today? Whatever it is, there is a Letter written by the Creator of the Universe. Jesus came as God’s Word bringing the solution to all our worldly dilemmas and assuring us a future with the Letter Writer Himself. John 1:1-5 reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” What a Letter Jesus is. His credentials are indisputable. Irrefutable. Eternal. And His letter is written just for you and me.