Refusing a Minimalist Spirituality

*This is the final post in a multi blog series reflecting on Ephesians*

This life is bigger and broader and more far reaching than we ever have imagined. The grace of God is unleashed into the world through His church. Every moment we live is a moment with God. There is nowhere our feet can tread that God, in His love for us, is not with us and working on us. As Abraham Kuyper famously said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” There is far more to who God is and what He is doing than we ever thought. As we grow in resurrection maturity we begin to see this. Our capacity to take in the grace of God grows. Eugene Peterson says, “Becoming mature means refusing to live a reduced life, refusing a minimalist spirituality.” God’s work is no longer confined to a geographic location. Our lives have now gotten bigger and smaller at the same time. As we are engaged by the grace of God into the work of God we see that what we do has far more purpose and significance then we ever have imagined but far less to do with us and our abilities. Life is not just made up of what we see and what we can taste and touch with physical senses. Life has far more to do with what we can see with the eyes of our hearts. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in his sermon “Paul’s letter to American Christians” challenges us to live with reoriented lives. To live more deeply and to read more slowly. To not be so quick to get to the end that we miss the adjectives that make life so beautiful.

“But America, as I look at you from afar, I wonder whether your moral and spiritual progress has been commensurate with your scientific progress. It seems to me that your moral progress lags behind your scientific progress. Your poet Thoreau used to talk about “improved means to an unimproved end.” How often this is. You have allowed the material means by which you live to outdistance the spiritual ends for which you live. You have allowed your mentality to outrun your morality. You have allowed your civilization to outdistance your culture. Through your scientific genius you have made of the world a neighborhood, but through your moral and spiritual genius you have failed to make of it a brotherhood.”

God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in His son Jesus Christ. He has lavished grace richly upon us. He has assured us of our place with Him in the next life and He has made away for us to walk in the way of resurrection in this life. He has given us a miraculous community of ordinary people to do it with. He has given us purpose and included us in his grand plan to redeem the world through His son. He has tucked grace in every nook and cranny of his creation. May the eyes of our hearts be enlightened, that we may know what is the hope to which he has called us, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

When Strangers Become Family

*This is part seven of a multi blog series on the book of Ephesians. Read part 6 here.*

We, often not even conscious of it, our obsessed with ourselves and our abilities. Our ability to call one thing grace and another work. Our ability to label one thing holy and another as ordinary. We think of grace as locked up in a church or in a sermon or worship song. We love to categorize and make lists of what is sacred and what is secular. Ephesians is begging us to stop making list and to start to take in all the grace that is around us. To have the eyes of our hearts opened and be able to perceive all that God is doing. This dynamic understanding of how grace transforms works is what allows us to do so. 

These newly opened eyes and this new skill of perception must be used in the context of community. Coming together is what naturally happens as our lives are reoriented. As we are transformed as individuals so is the community of God’s people to which we belong. We become a community that enjoys the adjectives. Our new transformed work finds its truest expression in the “give and take” of life in the Church. The Church is a miracle made up of the ordinary. It is a true act of God to take strangers and make them family. We find ourselves in a community with people with whom we may know very little about yet what we in common is the most important fact about us. 

This community can only function in the new reality of the resurrection life. How can we coexist? How can the banker, and the home maker, and the garbage man all be united? How can the Jew and Gentile? It is by grace of course, but grace is not a moment in time. Grace is the on going work of God that we enter into and walk according to. It is what we bring to each other as the gathered people of God. It is that which give us meaning. It is the great leveling agent that allows the Church to be the beautiful mosaic that it is. The banker, the home maker, the garbage man, the Jew and the Gentile all derive their purpose from the same place. It does not come from their work, or their children, or their last name it comes from “the praise of His glorious grace.” All of our lives have the same end. All of our vocations have the same purpose. We are all walking together in the good works God has prepared for us. Carrying with us — in us — the grace of God to each other and to the world.  “Grace originates in an act of God that is absolutely without precedent, the generous, sacrificial self-giving of Jesus makes it possible for us to participate in resurrection maturity.”

 

Everything is Sacred

*This is part six of a multi part blog series on the book of Ephesians. Read part 5 here*

In chapter 2 of Ephesians Paul puts flesh on the testimony of God about us. He tells us who we were, dead in our trespasses and children of the Devil, and who we are now in Christ, seated with Him at the right hand of the Father. He then empowers us in a way that we have never been empowered before. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Grace and good works can easily be placed at odds with each other. One is a gift of God and the other is a human accomplishment. Paul doesn’t present good work as human accomplishments. In fact, the apostle does not appear to make much of this distinction. He seems to see them both as vital parts of living a resurrection life. He sees good works as that which make up the reality in which we now live after having been the object of those great “verbs of God.” Good works are what Peterson calls “containers of grace”. They carry in them the truth of the reality of the resurrection life. They are not something that we do in order to get, they are something in which we walk because we have already received. Good works are not rungs on ladder of spirituality or accomplishment. Peterson writes, “When the wild bull of American ambition is bred with a tame Christianity with no cross, the result is a mongrel spirituality” .  The cross makes sense of good works. Jesus living how we are intended to live and dying the death that we should have died, rising from the grave on the third day so we can have absolute assurance that we will have acceptance before God reorients us away from ourselves and the small minded task of building our kingdom and bringing honor to our own name. Again, the reasoning for this glorious reorientation is “to the praise of His glorious grace.”

This grace injects meaning into everything we do turning all of our work into “good works that He has prepared beforehand for us to walk in.” This turns the world on its head. It crushes the division between sacred and secular. Now, in Christ, changing diapers, taking out the trash, leading board meetings, and having coffee with a friend become good work. Works that pull back the curtain on the universe, not to reveal human accomplishment, but rather the lavish grace of God.

Testimony not Biography

*This is part five of a multi part blog series on the book of Ephesians. Read part 4 here*

John Calvin writes in the beginning of his Institutes that true wisdom is made up of two kinds of knowledge, knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves. As we begin to know God our own identity comes into focus. Paul is imploring us to not live life by our biography but by God’s testimony. Our biography is the life we have made for ourselves. It is what the sum of our actions say that we are. Testimony is the account of someone else. It is God’s word and declaration about us. It is what the sum of God’s actions say that we are. 

Paul describes God’s actions in chapter one of Ephesians. We see every member of the Trinity at work. Every person in the Godhead actively involved in reorienting our reality and bringing us into resurrection life. The Father chose us and blesses us. We have redemption and adoption through the Son. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit. Using seven identity defining verbs, blessed…chose…destined…bestowed…lavished…made known…gather upPaul tells us what God has done to make us who we are.If we are careful we can treat these verbs like they are adjectives, quickly skimming them in order to “get to the point.” These actions of God are not the fine print that we must agree to in order to get on to the Christian living. These verbs make us alive. They usher us into real life. Life lived with God. Every blessing that Paul points out to us is centered on the presence of God and is tied to communion with Christ. These verbs make us who we are. They are our origins. Eugene Peterson writes, “If we live too far removed from our origins, we will never arrive at the full stature of Christ.”

Why is God doing this? Why is God remaking, reorienting, blessing, choosing, destining, bestowing, lavishing, making known, and gathering up? He is doing all of this for His glory. Three times this is repeated in the opening sentence of Ephesians. The freedom that this brings with it is remarkable. Our lives have purpose! There is no meaningless minute. All of this is for the glory of God. Peterson speaking about the freedom that comes from God acting upon us for His glory writes, “This rescues us from small mindedness, from thinking too small about our lives. This salvation-resurrection world is large. Anything we can come up with for ourselves in terms of goal or purpose is puny alongside what is already in motion in the cosmos to the praise of his glory.” 

 

*Testimony and biography is and idea that I first read in Mark Driscoll’s book Who Do You Think You Are. Plagiarism is bad.*

Clear Eyes. Full Hearts.

*This is part four of a multi part blog series on the book of Ephesians. Read part 3 here*

When we read the book of Ephesians it is important not to elevate the “how to” above the “how come”. The letter can be split almost directly down the middle. Chapters 1-3 are known as the doctrinal section, or the “how come.” In these chapters the apostle Paul unpacks the marvelous, wonder working grace of God in Jesus Christ. Paul defines the reality in which those in Christ live. Paul gives God’s testimony about God’s people. In chapters 4-6 Paul lays out for us the “how to”. What it means to walk faithfully with Christ in this resurrection reality that he has shown us in all its glory in chapters 1-3. 

Generally speaking we are great at “how to’s”. Give me a list and I can check it off as long as the day is long. I can dot every i and cross every t. I can make things happen. Paul is not concerned with us making things happen. He is showing us what has happened, and in doing so he is pushing us to live more deeply. He is telling us a grand story in which we have, by grace, a part to play. Eugene Peterson explains it this way, “We are not spectators to a grand cosmic show. We are in the show. But we are not running it.” This idea of seeing the story and knowing that the author has carefully and skillfully written us into His grand narrative is of great importance. Paul bookends Chapters 1-3, this great reality-reorienting section of the letter of Ephesians, with a prayer to that end. In Ephesians 1:16-21 the apostle prays:

  I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places

Paul knows our propensity to live by our own power, white knuckling our way through life. And so he prays. He prays that we would live with expanded imaginations. That our ability to perceive the grace that God has poured out on us would be enlarged. That we would, as C.S. Lewis says, not settle for playing in the mud when a holiday at sea awaits us. It is never God’s love for us that needs to be greater but rather our awareness of it. Paul prays that we would be overwhelmed by the extravagant love of God for us in Christ and that love would fill our hearts and clear our eyes that we would be able to see ourselves and God Himself rightly.

 

The Most Beautiful Science

*This is part 3 of a multi blog series reflecting on the book of Ephesians read part 2 here.*

Reading the book of Ephesians can be like that walk from the front door to the driveway. We can get in such a hurry to arrive that we don’t stop to take in all the life that is there. In our desire to figure out what Paul is trying to say we miss what he is actually saying. Paul is not setting out a series of theological propositions that he is looking for us to affirm. He is, through the work of Christ, reorienting our lives. Paul is giving us a new imagination.This reorientation is the goal of all theology and is why Karl Barth refers to it as “the most beautiful science.”

The theme that seems to be running through the entire letter is set before us in Ephesians 1:2.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

When God’s grace moves into our lives it reorients us and allows us to live truly at peace with ourselves and the universe. This work of reorientation is not an easy one. Paul is giving us a “gospel detox”. It is difficult at first as we have built callouses on our hearts and scales on our eyes. What Paul is offering is  different from just another way of managing life. He is offering us a new life, what Eugene Peterson call a “Resurrection Life.” In his book Practice Resurrection Peterson offers a description of this reoriented life, this resurrection way of living:

We need to make ourselves conversant with the largeness, the sheer immensity of the world in which we are growing up in Christ. Every part of the landscape, every shift in the weather, every conversation, every person we meet, every book we read provides a different and unique slant on what is involved: God’s grace activated. God’s grace in motion — in us. It isn’t our business to figure this out or catalogue it or master it. Get used to the abundance. God isn’t a noun to beobjectively defined. God is the verbing of a noun.

As we are remade by the grace of God we are given new eyes and new ears. Eyes to see the overwhelming, all encompassing grace of God. We are given new ears to hear more than propositions which we can affirm or deny. The curtain has been pulled back, the scales have been lifted and we can see the “Never Stopping, Never Giving up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love” with which God loves us.  

 

Consider Lily.

*This is part 2 of a multi blog series reflecting on the book of Ephesians read part 1 here.*

Lily is my four year old daughter. She loves to laugh, to make up silly songs, to dance, and to take the long way. Most mornings I take her to school. From the time the alarm goes off in the morning until the time I buckle her into her car seat and we pull out of driveway the morning is fairly chaotic. When it is finally time to leave the house I usually am carrying my brief case, her school bag, my lunch, her lunch, and sometimes a gym bag. Just getting out the front door is an accomplishment. It is quite common for me to make it to the car only to turn around and see Lily stopped somewhere between the door and the driveway. Sometimes she is picking a flower, which is really a weed. Sometimes she is saying goodbye to Chester. Chester is what she calls every squirrel. Sometimes she stops to pick up an odd looking stick that she wants to show her teacher when she gets to school. Lily loves the adjectives of life. 

It was on one of these mornings that I decided I was going to quit rushing Lily. She was basking in all the little things that this big world has to offer. Instead of hurrying her along so she is not late to pre-school I decided I would join her in her discoveries. I would smell the flower, I would talk to Chester, and I would look for sticks.