Explosive Power

“And I pray that He would unveil within you the unlimited riches of His glory and favour until supernatural strength floods your innermost being with His divine might and explosive power.”
Ephesians 3:16 TPT

Paul continues to pray for his friends back in Ephesus. And this is not a prayer along the lines of “Please bless Aunty Mary…”, good though that is sometimes. This is a powerful prayer. A prayer that is tuned into the God-zone. A prayer for a life-changing transformation to take place in lives that were perhaps not fully aware of what was within them. Now imagine a room with a door that has never been opened. In fact, a room where the door blends into the surrounding walls to the extent that most of the time its existence is hidden. But one day, someone detects that the door is there and opens it to find an amazing treasure trove behind it. Perhaps Paul had a picture of a similar door in the hearts of his readers, a door that they were only dimly aware of. A door that they had timidly opened just a crack, and had peeped in to see what was there. But they had ventured no further. Well, Paul was praying that they would grasp the door handle and yank the door open to expose “the unlimited riches of [God’s] glory”. And he prayed that they would keep it open until what was behind the door could flood out into their lives.

So what were these “unlimited riches” hidden within them? And how will a knowledge of them help today’s pilgrims in their life journeys? The Passion Translation which I have used today mentions God’s “glory and favour“. Paul prayed that “supernatural strength floods [our] innermost beings“. And he doesn’t stop there. He mentions God’s “divine might and explosive power”. If true, this verse has to be transformative for our lives. For our pilgrimage. If true, where is this power? Where are the lives being impacted by it? 

On my pilgrimage through life, I have come across Christians who deny that the power Paul wrote about was applicable to today. They claim that the work of the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity who delivers God’s “divine might and explosive power“, stopped when the Apostles finally all died. Sadly, I think they worship a limited God who I don’t fully recognise. I worship Paul’s God, the Almighty Being who has made His “unlimited riches” available to me. Why would He say to me that He has all this power, that He has put it within me, but then say He was sorry but He only allowed those first Apostles to use it? 

So back to my question. What is this power? I suggest that the only limitation to what God can do in our lives is our faith, or lack of it. Matthew recorded Jesus’ words about faith – he wrote in Matthew 17:20, “He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” I think we can all agree that telling a mountain to move, and seeing it happen, is a pretty convincing demonstration of God’s power. Jesus also said, as recorded in John 14:12-14, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” There doesn’t seem to be any limit to what God can do. 

So there is only one answer to my question. It is an answer that starts and finishes with God. I have to tune into my own God-zone, with faith that He is who He says He is – the Omnipotent, Omnipresent and Omniscient Almighty Creator God. And so we take small steps of faith in our life-pilgrimage, building up the spiritual muscles that will enable God’s “explosive power” to impact our lives and the lives of those around us. In my life there have been occasions when God’s power has been indisputable. And I continually thank Him for making His resources available to me. He truly is a God of power, and love, and grace. We worship an exciting God, who only waits for willing servants to share in His exciting plan for mankind.

The Church and the Plan

God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display His wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was His eternal plan, which He carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.”
 Ephesians 3:10-11 NLT

Perhaps in days past, verse 10 came to form the basis for the ornate and expensive buildings that today bear the name “church”. Wonderful created works such as St Paul’s Cathedral in London. My local abbey in Dunfermline dates back to the 12th Century, a beautiful building standing as a testimony to the builders. There are many examples of a previous age of religious building that are truly amazing in their expressions of beauty and value. Perhaps it was hoped that the impressive architecture would be an example of God’s wisdom, in the process reminding the “unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” of His plan. But it is clear from Scripture, that the “Church” is the people, not the building. We read in Colossians 1:18 that Jesus “is the head of the body, the church“.  Jesus isn’t the head of a building. 

So we Christians are the “Church”. And God’s purpose was to use us, not buildings, to show the inhabitants of the “heavenly places” His wisdom. Much is said in the Bible about the church, such as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27, “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.”). Or the bride of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2, “For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband—Christ.”). And we all together, in unity, will one day be present at a marriage feast, as we read in Revelation 19:9,  “Then the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ And he added, ‘These are the true words of God.’” Jesus even taught about it through a parable, which we can read in Matthew 22. 

Many books have been written about the Church, but what does all this mean for a 21st Century pilgrim like me? How does God’s purpose for His people affect me? Or involve me? Can I just gloss over this verse and continue to warm a pew every Sunday and live my life regardless? This is obviously a personal decision, one that needs to prayerfully be made in God’s presence. But if God has a plan for His Church then He has a plan for me, because I count myself as one of His people. Part of His global and eternal Church. And as we read today, I am part of His plan to display His wisdom not just to a sinful world, but also as a sign to the “unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places“. We who are His people pray together for access to this “wisdom in its rich variety” so that we can be worthy of our calling. And we do our bit for His purposes, fulfilling His plan, disseminating the Good News about “Christ Jesus Our Lord“.

The Least Deserving

Though I am the least deserving of all God’s people, he graciously gave me the privilege of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ. I was chosen to explain to everyone this mysterious plan that God, the Creator of all things, had kept secret from the beginning.”
Ephesians 3:8-9 NLT

““Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting!”
Acts 9:5 NLT

Paul described himself as being the least deserving of all God’s people. A bit harsh, don’t you think? A false humility? A personal put-down? No, I think I can see where Paul was coming from. When faced with this new counter-cultural but, in the traditional Jews’ opinion, blasphemous cult of “The Way”, Paul suddenly found his life-mission. The most important thing he could do. Perhaps he thought he was the only solution to the problem of this cult. Everyone else was just complaining, tutting, plotting, in the end not doing very much. But he was going to sort it. He was single-handedly going to wipe all these “blasphemers” from the face of the earth. At best he was going to imprison them. At worst, stone them. Speaking of which, that is where Paul, then called Saul, first cropped up in Scripture. At the stoning of Stephen. He held the stoners’ clothes. He looked on in approval. And in him birthed the burning desire to complete the work. We read in Acts 9:1, “Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples….”. His intention was to go to Damascus where he had heard there was a fellowship there, some disciples of “The Way”. With letters of authority he was going to drag them as prisoners to Jerusalem, where they would stand trial for “blasphemy”.

But as we know, something dramatic happened on the Damascus road. A dramatic U-turn so incredible and life-changing that it puts into insignificance the U-turns of our elected politicians. Saul, soon to be Paul, met the risen Jesus. A meeting so amazing that Paul, literally in a flash, changed from being a persecutor of the early Christians to being one of their greatest evangelists. We read that he was blind for three days. Can you imagine the agony of what he was going through? The enormity of what he had been doing must have been driving his thoughts, and we read that “he was praying“. The regrets, the guilt, the hurt. Enough to drive him to insanity? (Incidentally, he was accused of being mad in Acts 26:24 but that’s another story). 

So it is not surprising that Paul thought himself “the least deserving of all God’s people“. I can imagine the poor man must have regularly held his head in his hands, distraught over what he had done. But the mind-boggling truth is that God’s grace was sufficient even for sins of the magnitude of Paul’s. There was no limit to God’s grace in Paul’s day. And there still isn’t today. God will never reject a repentant sinner, even one who is “least-deserving” like Paul. We must never think that we are too bad for God to forgive. Too sinful even for His grace to save us. As Christians, we all experienced a U-turn in our lives. That day when we said “Yes” to the Holy Spirit’s promptings. That day may not have been so dramatic as Paul’s was. But the outcome is the same. We are forgiven by grace. God’s unlimited and wonderful grace. And like Paul, what else can we do than share the wonder of God with those around us. As I have said before, we are “beggars, showing other beggars where to find bread”. Let’s always keep a few crumbs in our pockets for the needy who come our way.

Spreading the Good News – 2

God did not reveal it to previous generations, but now by his Spirit he has revealed it to his holy apostles and prophets. 
Though I am the least deserving of all God’s people, he graciously gave me the privilege of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ. I was chosen to explain to everyone this mysterious plan that God, the Creator of all things, had kept secret from the beginning.”
Ephesians 3:5, 8-9 NLT

So imagine the scenario. We have an amazing secret that we now want to go public on, revealing a bombshell of life-changing information to a fractious and divided population. How would we go about it? Obviously, we would need to choose men and women of good standing in the community, with a reputation of being experts in their particular field of science, medicine or theology that the information was related to. People who would be well respected. It would be hoped that they would be listened to and their information and advice therefore followed. We see such an activity today – someone, for example, stands up and announces a new diet that, if followed, would prevent our risk of this illness or condition, or other benefit, usually for the bottom line of some corporation or other. 

But not so with God. Firstly, his “bombshell of life-changing information” was infinitely greater than any man-made quackery. God’s secret plan was so life-changing that human plans paled into insignificance in comparison. Secondly, God did not choose to announce His plan with the help of the religious experts of His day. Those mighty theologians who dominated Jewish thought and teaching. No. He used ordinary men and women to announce His plan. Fishermen, a tax collector, a doctor, a tent maker. The human response would be that it would be bound to fail. But. There’s always a “but” when God is involved. We read in Acts 4:13, “The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.” In 1 Corinthians 1:27, we read, “Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.” God didn’t need the experts and educated people of the first century to disseminate His plan. Just Spirit-filled men and women who were bold enough to turn to God and say “Yes, Lord”. Like a young peasant girl did when an angel asked her to bear God’s only Son, Jesus. God doesn’t need educated people. He doesn’t need university degrees, or long years spent in a seminary. Just people who have “been with Jesus“. God has turned our world values upside down. So on our pilgrimage through life we may be considered fools for believing what we believe. But God thinks we are wonderful and He has entrusted to us the privilege of sharing His message of hope with the dying world around us. What an amazing God we serve.

Spreading the Good News – 1

“As I briefly wrote earlier, God himself revealed His mysterious plan to me. 
And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus. By God’s grace and mighty power, I have been given the privilege of serving Him by spreading this Good News.
Ephesians 3:3, 6-7 NLT

Paul was much taken up with this thought of God’s “mysterious plan”. Looking back, as we do, there doesn’t seem much about it that is “mysterious”, but to the peoples of Paul’s day, the Middle East in the first century, it must have been an amazing revelation. This is the second time Paul has mentioned the subject in this Epistle, previously revealing it in chapter 1 and verse 10. Can you imagine the impact it would have had on the religious people of Paul’s day? The Jews would have immediately been offended and upset, that someone, particularly someone who they knew at one time was a Pharisee, would suddenly turn their belief system upside down, by preaching what to them was a heresy, committing the sin of blasphemy in the process. To the non-Jews, referred to as the Gentiles, the Good News would have had a similar impact, in that it too would come up against the worship of accepted religions such as the Greek pantheon of gods. The Ephesians had their own special god, Artemis, aka Diana. And we see the mayhem that Paul stirred up in Acts 19 when a riot developed because the local silversmiths, who made a living making images of the goddess, could see their livelihood disappearing. 

So God’s plan was so counter-cultural, that, humanly speaking, it was bound to fail. But as Paul pointed out, “God’s grace and mighty power” was involved. Perhaps the nearest scenario we could imagine today would be if someone was going round preaching the good news that Christians and Muslims were part of God’s plan, which was to unite them into one faith. Can you imagine the mayhem that would result? Even though God’s grace extends to everyone, regardless of who or what they are? 

God’s plan was one of equality and unity. Through Jesus we all share in His unlimited blessings. We all share in an inheritance unlike any other. And Paul again pointed out that he was privileged to be able to share God’s plan, through “God’s grace and mighty power“. A privilege to be in prison for sharing the Gospel? But a privilege it is. God had done so much for Paul, and does so much for us, that it is surely a privilege to be able to serve God through our service to Him. Regardless of the consequences. So we pilgrims continue our journey, conscious of, and grateful for, the sacrifice made by Paul, a sacrifice that laid the foundations for many a church congregation and left us a legacy of his grace and love filled letters. Letters that contain so much of our theology today. We too look out for opportunities to do our bit in sharing the Good News, just as necessary today as it was in Paul’s day. 

The Prisoner

“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles –”
Ephesians 3:1 NIVUK

Paul is in prison. Not a pleasant experience in those days. A dirty, rat-infested and cold cell of misery. No sanitary arrangements worthy of the name. So why is he there when he needn’t be? Paul was probably arrested and imprisoned several times and we have accounts, brief glimpses of his penitentiary experiences, in Acts 16 and again in Acts 21. And all because Paul was an active and effective preacher of God’s Word, the Gospel of Good News. He refused to keep a low profile and ended up arrested, imprisoned and beaten. His life story is recorded in the Bible and through scraps of history from other sources. 

So Paul was imprisoned for preaching the Gospel. The problem is because the Gospel, the message of Good News about the Kingdom of God, confronts the status quo. It encourages people to face the fact that “all have sinned” and points out the consequences continuing to live in sin, in the darkness of the devil’s ways. This counter-cultural view upset the Jews of Paul’s day – they thought that the only way to God was through them and their religious culture and customs – and because the Gospel also reached and included the non-Jews, the Gentiles, who the Jews despised. But Paul wasn’t fazed by any of this and continued to preach the Gospel regardless, to the detriment of his freedom. But we should be clear – Jesus Himself, the Son of God, lost His life for the same cause. And He warned His followers that they would be treated in a similar way. In Matthew 10 we read His words, “Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you….

What about preaching the Gospel in a public place in 21st Century Western societies? “Free speech” is a hot topic in the UK in these days, with people and lobby groups constantly wanting to “cancel” any messages they disagree with. And Christians are increasingly being attacked for their faith. There is even legislation before the UK parliaments that would seek to make preaching the Christian message illegal. 

Would we be prepared to go to prison, to be persecuted, for our faith? Many Christians throughout the world are facing into the consequences of openly being a Christian, especially in places like North Korea and Afghanistan. Pushing back the frontiers of the enemy, the devil, will invoke a violent reaction. At the present time in our Western societies, we are free to hold church meetings and bring our message of hope to our streets. But it may not always be that way. We must pray for our communities, our nations, our families, that God will have mercy on us and graciously and lovingly support us in His mission of reaching the lost. While we still have time. But one day we might just have to choose between freedom and imprisonment, between keeping quiet or denying the Gospel, or preaching it regardless, to whoever will listen. Hmmm…

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.