May 25-26. Ephesians 1:3. #blessed (a short reflection).

Ephesians 1:3. 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

If you search #blessed on Instagram there are 111 million posts. This doesn’t include #blessedlife, #blessed with white praying hand emoji, #blessed with black praying hands emoji, #blessedbe #blessedday, #blessedbeyondmeasure, or #blessedmama (all actual hashtags).

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And if you look at a few of these 111 million posts you will see things like:

  • New hat today from the flea market #blessed
  • Motherhood isn’t easy but it’s worth it #blessed
  • New deeper rims and tires are expected soon #blessed
  • Flight time #blessed
  • It’s Friday #blessed
  • I won on the Price is Right #blessed
  • Caught 19 fish #blessed
  • Headed out to (favorite restaurant) #blessed
  • Haven’t showered in 56 hours but still loving Europe #blessed

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If you look at how the Bible actually uses the word blessed or blessing you might be surprised to know that it is most often used to describe how God is to be blessed by us, like at the beginning of Ephesians 1:3 – blessed be God, or like Jesus being blessed on Palm Sunday, or when God is being blessed around his throne.

Then comes the times it is used in prayer. Like Jesus blessing the bread and the wine at the Last Supper or the bread and fish at the feeding of the 5000.

And then there’s the times we are told to bless others. Like Romans 12:14.

Finally, and actually quite rarely, there is us being blessed by God.

As you know, Ephesians 1 says we are blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. A deeper word search reveals that in Galatians we have the blessing of Abraham. In Romans we are blessed because our sins are forgiven (4:7-8). In 1 Corinthians the single woman is blessed in the Spirit for staying single (7:40). In James we are blessed when we remain steadfast in trials, receiving the crown of life (1:12), and when we obey the law of liberty (1:25). In 1 Peter we are blessed when we suffer for righteousness (4:14). And in Revelation we are blessed a lot, mostly for dying and living eternally with God (1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7; 22:14).

What do we NOT see? Not a single verse connects God’s blessing of us to a material or earthly blessing. Not a single one. The blessing is always a deeper experience of Christ and his love and grace.

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What does this mean for us? It means yes, go ahead and count your blessings name them one by one. But if you are failing to see the ONE who is your Blessing then stop. Your heart has been misled. If your hope is found in new hats, fishing, motherhood, game shows, and treks across Europe then you’re missing it. Those things are not eternal enough or good enough to satisfy your soul. Only God is – blessed be God!

Refocus. Christ is the ONE true blessing from God. Every spiritual blessing is found in union with him alone. Nothing else. Only he can make you #blessed.

Listen closely: Rend is singing about spiritual heavenly blessings, not just earthly.

May 24. Ephesians 1:5. Blessed part 5: Adopted.

Ephesians 1:3-5. 3 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… In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.

We are blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. These are the blessings of Christ himself. What he has we have in him. And all of these blessings flow from God’s fierce love for us.

God really, really, loves us. Before anything else he loved us. Before creation. Before election. Before the incarnation or the crucifixion or the resurrection he loved us. Why? Because he did. He loves us because he loves us. Because he wants to – according to the purpose of his will.

God doesn’t just love us, he loves us with a purpose. A will. God’s love and God’s will collide in this phrase: he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ. Because God loves us he predestined us to be adopted. Because God always gets what he wills, we have been adopted as sons. And God’s love and God’s will collide in the person of Jesus Christ. Because we are in Christ we are loved. Because we are in Christ we are predestined (willed) to sonship.

What does this mean?

God’s love for us has a purpose. A destination. We are predestined. His love is not only a feeling or a sentiment. It’s a purpose. A path. A plan. A hope. And that purpose, path, plan, and hope for us is to be sons of God that have been conformed to Jesus THE Son of God.

Romans 8:29-30. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

God’s love for us is personal. Christian, God has adopted us to himself. We are his possession and prize. This is what God has wanted for all of eternity – to make you his own. To join his life to yours.

You’ve chosen to love.

In adopting us God has brought us into his family and granted to us all the rights, privileges, and blessings of his family. This includes his very own life, his own character, his own love. How? By bringing us into his presence. When a child is adopted there is no denying that they still exhibit the attributes of their biological parents. But there is also this amazing phenomenon that occurs that adopted children take on the attributes of their adoptive parents. They are transformed by the presence of this new family. They become like their new parents. In the same way we too become like our adopted Dad (God) by being in his presence. And as we become like Dad we become like the only begotten Son, Jesus. We become what he is – holy and blameless.

We know people can make a baby biologically “by accident,” without necessarily wanting that baby. But I’ve never heard of an accidental adoption. To adopt is to love. To adopt is to will. To adopt is to predestine. To adopt is to say to a child “I have a place for you. You will be my son, my daughter. You will be one of us. And this will change your future forever.”

When it feels like your life doesn’t matter. When it seems like you’re never going to be anything but ordinary. When it becomes obvious that you will fail in your latest endeavor. When you can’t be the hero you want to be. When you’re not noticed, not appreciated, not all together, not “special.” Remember that you are the son of the King. You are the daughter of God. His very own. The one he created, lost, pursued to Hell and back, and then legally adopted to make sure that he would never lose you again. That’s your God. That’s your future. That’s your hope. That’s “to live is Christ.”

May 23. Ephesians 1:4. Blessed part 4: In Love (and like too).

Ephesians 1:3-4. 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… In love.

We spend a lot of time in this blog talking about Christ and our union with him. But let us pause today to be reminded once again that everything that we have in Christ flows from the love of God the Father. The love of God is the source and motivation for all of our spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. God is love. There is no love apart from God and God does nothing apart from love.

Have you ever been in love? I was doing some premarital counseling the other day and the groom to be said that he had never really been in love before so the feelings he had were so new and strange and yet exciting. And then he said something like “It made me think ‘Is this how God feels about me’?”

Yes.

In love is God’s position. He is in love with you. With me. With us. Everything he does he does from his great and perfect commitment to us. Because he loves us everything he allows will ultimately be for our good.

Ephesians begins with this incredible doctrine of our union with Christ. A doctrine that we could center a whole blog around (wink wink). But without the love of God there is no Jesus Messiah. No IN CHRIST. No spiritual blessings in heavenly places. No election. No adoption. No salvation. No eternal life. No being filled with all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:17-19. 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

And this is the whole point of this letter, that because God loves us he is moving us toward an end. And that end is Christ. It is God himself. His presence. So God’s love is not mere sentimentality, it is power. Power to move us into the fullness of God.

Despite all of this it’s so easy for us to struggle with the love of God isn’t it? Often we merge it with the performancism that we talked about yesterday. God loves us when we perform. When we get it right. When we love him first.

Or we qualify God’s love. Is God’s love reckless (Cory Asbury’s hit song “Reckless Love” has been played on Spotify over 77 million times. 97 million on YouTube. Whether God’s love is “reckless” or not is up for debate I guess. But obviously people want to believe that God loves them)?

Or maybe it’s something like “I know God loves me but I doubt that he likes me.” We see God as having a job to do that we often just get in the way of. Like a dad who pays the bills and puts food on the table but never really plays catch with you in the backyard. He “loves” his family by doing his job. We see God as something like Troy in Fences who bluntly explains to his son Cory “I ain’t got to like you.”

Warning: strong language. Is this how you see God?

Or maybe it’s “God is love so he has to love me.” Like he doesn’t have a choice. His love is just another character trait like being tall or smart. It’s just a theological point. It’s not personal.

But God doesn’t love us because he has to, or because it’s simply his job, or even (don’t miss this) because he looks past us and sees Jesus (as if he only really loves Jesus not you).

Nope.

“To live is Christ” means God loves YOU. He delights in you. He can’t wait to live with you forever. He laughs at your jokes. He collects your tears in a bottle. His heart breaks when yours breaks. He cheers when you win. He hugs you when you fall down. He sings over you. He brags about you. He thinks about you constantly. And unlike Troy he likes you too.

“To live is Christ” is to be in God’s love. And that’s the best place to be.

May 22. Ephesians 1:4. Blessed part 3: Holy and Blameless.

Ephesians 1:3-4. 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,even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

Think with me for a minute about all the ways that we self-justify or prove our worth. Prove that we deserve to be here. Think about all the score keeping we do. Grades. Goals scored. Likes on social media. Promotions. Compliments. Dates. Purchases. “My child is an honor student” bumper stickers. Ministry involvement. Lying at your high school reunion. Busyness (our ultimate humblebrag). Nothing is easy. Idleness is evil. Time off is weakness. 

Suicide rates are up. Medicating is up. Depression is up. Anxiety is up. Yes, in our culture “success” is way up, but with it happiness appears to be way down.

More and more it is becoming clear that we have created a whole new religion in our culture known as Performancism. We are defined by what we do and how well we do it. We worship success. “Salvation” is for those who earn it by being the best. We exalt celebrities. We compare our lives on social media. We judge ourselves and others based on our own failures. Even as Christians we label each other as “good Christians” or “bad Christians.” Holiness has become more about achieving than receiving.

The Good Place scoring system…or…a better option is to be declared blameless, right? 

Enter union with Christ.

In Christ we have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. We have been chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. For what? That we should be holy and blameless before him.

What glorious freedom! To know that our holiness and blamelessness are not achieved but received. They are found in Jesus Christ and his holiness, his blamelessness. What’s his is ours. He became sin for us that we might become his righteousness.

This is the nature of holiness (as seen all throughout the Old Testament): holiness comes from being in the presence of God. It comes from worship. From beholding. It comes from God himself.

In Isaiah 6 when Isaiah finds himself in the presence of God’s holiness, he must first recognize his own unholiness:

Isaiah 6:5. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

But then he doesn’t work hard at getting holy. He doesn’t turn over a new leaf. He doesn’t begin a rigorous program of self-denial and bible study and prayer. What he does is receive God’s cleansing and holiness as grace:

Isaiah 6:6-7. Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

It is the presence of God that accomplishes our holiness. It is the presence of God which removes our need to sin. Why? Because we sin when we believe we are in lack. We sin when we feel as though we are not enough, that we need more, that we fall short. But if the presence of God is the ultimate reality. If it’s the best place to be. The place of all joy and satisfaction. Then the presence of God it seems would remove all sin and bring all holiness.

“To live is Christ” is to live in the presence of God. We are chosen. We are accepted. We are brought near. This means freedom from Performancism. It means no longer having to achieve your holiness and blamelessness. You have been given Christ’s holiness. His righteousness. Your guilt is taken away. Your sins are atoned for. No more comparing. No more earning. No more stress. No more pressure. No more scoring. Instead we have a holiness that comes from constantly being in the presence of God. Constantly satisfied. Constantly loved. Now that’s a spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

 

May 21. Ephesians 1:4a. Blessed part 2: Chosen.

Ephesians 1:3-4. 3 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,4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world…in love.

Ephesians 1 stands as possibly the greatest teaching in scripture about our union with Christ. And the opening verse kicks things off with a big, bold, bang – we have every spiritual blessing in Christ!

And from there it gets better and better as Paul begins to lay out what these spiritual blessings are. And what they mean for us.

Do you remember those terrible days as a kid on the school playground when they would pick teams for kickball. The two captains would look out at all the available players (classmates) and one by one choose who they would have on their team. Of course the most gifted athletes were chosen first, and so on and so on down to the last couple kids. At that point the thinking was “which one will hurt my team less?” Do you remember how terrible it felt to not be chosen first, or second, or third? Or even worse to be chosen last? Some of you can relate. Some of you are Gen Z and have no idea what I’m talking about. Others of you have always been winners and never chosen last. Congratulations.

Christian, God chose you.

He chose you before you existed in time and space.

He chose you before you did anything of any worth.

He chose you, not last, but first – before the foundation of the world.

How do I know that God chose you (and me)? First because he chose Christ. God’s free will election first fell upon Christ himself. Jesus was chosen before the foundation of the world to save the world (1 Peter 1:20). Because Christ was chosen, and we are IN CHRIST, we too are chosen.

“Because catching them all starts with one.” Hmmm

Second I know God chose you (and me) because he chose us. The church. The church has been in Christ since before the creation of the world. Like Eve inside of Adam physically, Jesus’ bride was in him spiritually. When he went to sleep the glorious bride was revealed. That’s us. You and me. Are you a Christian? Are you in Christ? Then you are chosen. Just like Jesus and just like his bride.

Knowing this and trusting this is the greatest of spiritual blessings. Why? Because no one can undo what God does of his own will. This is the greatest of assurance. The greatest hope. The greatest peace and joy. The greatest love.

In love. God didn’t have to choose us. The choice didn’t precede the love. The love preceded the choice. God wasn’t obligated to love us because he chose us. He chose us because he loved us. Because he loved Jesus the Son.

He chose us in him. In Christ. Jesus is the cause and the goal of our election. Jesus’ union with us in the incarnation allows us to be chosen in him, and our union with him by the Holy Spirit causes us to be chosen in him. The glorious end of our election is our full and final union with Christ. And the glory of God!

Oh and please don’t let this verse be used to start arguments, even in your own head, about election and predestination and free will and determinism and contingencies and the “hidden will of God.” It is far better for us to focus on the revealed will of God which is that God, in his grace, willed to save humanity in Christ. And by choosing Christ and thus all that are in Christ he has done just as he said he would. He has saved the world.

So rather than letting election drive you crazy, let it remind you that God is crazy about you. However, he did it, he did it. Yes, the theology is important. But right now can you simply accept God’s acceptance of you?

“To live is Christ” is to live from this awesome reality of being loved. Being picked. Being wanted. Not because God had to but because he loved. And he still does. And he always will. Do you believe this?

May 20. Ephesians 1:3. Blessed part 1: Every Spiritual Blessing.

Ephesians 1:3. 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,

Welcome to Ephesians. This is the first of Paul’s “prison epistles” that we will journey through together in our quest for a greater understanding of the indwelling life of Christ in us. If you are new to this blog, there is no better place to begin than this amazing letter. Ephesians 1 alone is a master class on our union with Christ.

Ephesians was written by Paul from Rome. At the end of Romans, Paul said he wanted to travel to Rome and visit the church and eventually go to Spain. Well Paul did make it to Rome, but not the way he had expected. After returning to Jerusalem, he promptly got himself arrested and sent to Rome in chains to be placed on trial. The book of Acts ends with Paul on house arrest in Rome. After that things get fuzzy for us. It seems most likely though that this letter was written from prison and not just to the church in Ephesus. It was meant to be a letter that would be very general and circulated to all the different churches in the region.

Ephesians starts out huge and doesn’t let up. Look at Ephesians 1:3 again. God has blessed us with EVERY spiritual blessing IN CHRIST in the heavenly places.

We know from Romans that we share everything that Christ has because we died with Christ and we have been raised with Christ to new life. His life. A spiritual life. A heavenly life. Which has empowered us to live and love like Christ even in the midst of the spiritual war that we are living in today.

The blessing was on her feet all along. She just didn’t know it.

The heavenly places that Paul speaks of in 1:3 is NOT heaven as in the streets of gold and pearly gates. It is the spiritual realm. The place where spiritual forces dwell, some good and some evil (6:12). It is the place where Jesus is enthroned. And so are we (2:6). Paul is NOT talking about blessings we get when we “die and go to Heaven.” He’s talking about the spiritual realities that we experience right now. Today. On earth. But they are heavenly realities. They are spiritual blessings.

The spiritual blessings that God offers us are ONLY found IN CHRIST. And we have every last one of them. We have every spiritual blessing that Christ himself has. Let that soak in for a minute. None are lacking. All are found in him alone. These are the blessings of his very life. His eternal love and goodness applied to our life today.

So what are they? What are our spiritual blessings? Well that is what we will explore over the next several days (go ahead and read Ephesians 1:3-14. How many times do you see the phrase “in Christ” or similar phrase? How many blessings can you see?).

Let’s just start by saying that our spiritual, heavenly blessings are NOT the #blessed blessings of social media. They are not the earthly blessings of good health, more stuff, job promotions, ministry success. Yes, those things are from God and they are good. But the spiritual blessings that Paul is talking about are far better, for they can sustain you in the battle of life even when you lose your health, your stuff, your status, or your very life (like when you’re in prison).

“To live is Christ” means that you already have EVERY spiritual blessing. YOU CANNOT BE MORE BLESSED THAN YOU ALREADY ARE. This is the good news. Now we can live life as Christ does – not to earn a blessing but from being blessed. There’s a huge difference. One will destroy you, the other will give you wings to fly.

May 18-19. Romans 15:13. The Normal Christian Life.

Romans 15:13. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

We are drawing near to the end of this most glorious of letters. This final powerful prayer of Paul’s in Romans describes the normal Christian life. Hope. Joy. Peace. Faith. Power. All by God’s indwelling life through the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Christ).

We’ve already been introduced to these truths earlier in the letter:

Romans 5:1-5. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Some Christians have placed their faith in Christ for salvation and forgiveness, but they rarely experience lasting hope, peace, and joy. They believe Romans 3-5. Jesus died FOR me. But that’s as far as their faith has taken them. They’re going to heaven, but they live for this world. They are missing the normal Christian life.

Others have moved into Romans 6-7. I died WITH Jesus. They believe they are dead to sin and to the law and resurrected to God. Their faith has drilled deeper into their union with Christ. And with it has come a deeper level of hope, joy, and peace. A Romans 8 experience if you will. They live beyond this world, looking forward to a future adoption. A glory tomorrow that makes them more than conquerors today. That’s hope!

And then there are those who have moved from Romans 6-8 into Romans 12-14. Because they are abounding in hope, they are able to present themselves as living sacrifices. They love with genuine love. They pursue peace (shalom) for everyone – weak Christians, strong Christians, their neighbor, even their enemy. They joyfully prove the will of God, and use their gifts to serve the world. They live as kings and queens in a kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy (14:17).

What makes the difference? Why do different Christians have different experiences of Christ? Why do so many fail to abound in hope? Why are so many Christians not living the normal Christian life of Romans 15:13?

The answer is faith. Believing. God fills us with joy and peace in our believing.

Unfortunately, Delmar’s faith seems to be in his baptism not in God or Christ.

This is not about having “more faith.” Union with Christ is about the object of our faith, not the amount of faith that we muster. It is about consistently having faith in our Savior. Our Righteousness. Our Hope. Our Peace. Our Joy. Our King. Our God. Jesus Christ.

Think about what Paul is saying in 15:13. The power for the normal Christian life is the Holy Spirit.

Listen to me Christian, you already have all of the Holy Spirit. You cannot have more and you cannot have less of him. You have access to ALL the hope, joy, and peace that exists in this universe. The reason you’re not experiencing it is because your faith is misplaced. But in believing we experience the life of Christ. His hope. His joy. His peace. Not in trying. In believing. We don’t achieve hope, joy, and peace. We trust that we already have it (read Romans 5:1-5 again).

Stop trusting in yourself. Stop evaluating your levels of hope, joy, and peace. And trust God’s love for you proved by his cross. By his love poured into you, you have hope (5:5). By trusting his love in more and more situations of life, you can abound in hope. The reason you don’t feel hopeful today, the reason there is no peace and no joy, might just be because your faith is actually misplaced. It’s in yourself. Rather than in your union with Christ. “To live is Christ” means this life changing faith is possible. The God of hope wants you to abound in hope. He wants you to experience joy and peace. And so do I. What’s stopping you? Only you.

My prayer for you echoes that of Paul, let it soak in: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Amen.