Immeasurably More?: childlike faith in our great God

childlike faith

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
(Ephesians 3:20-21)

I often say, in reference to these verses from Ephesians 3, that I have an overactive imagination and, therefore, could imagine God’s ability to do quite a bit!

In some ways, Paul’s words here put us very much in mind of being children before our Father. With naive humility we approach the Father to ask big and bold things.

Of course, the Father may respond however He would like. He may astound us with His powerful answer. He may sift through our silly requests to do what is truly wise, right, and needful. He may gently or sternly respond to us so we learn how to ask for what He truly desires to give. Just because we imagine it does not mean it is the right or appropriate thing to ask for. However, God is always Father-like in His approach to us in prayer.

Overall, the aim of prayer here in Ephesians 3 is that believers become rooted in God’s love, know God’s love, and be filled with the fullness of God. It is out of this place that we boldly approach God as our good Father who always exceeds what we ask for.

What Does It Mean to Abide in Christ?: two essentials for bearing fruit

vine and branches

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener….Remain in me as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:1-4)

The theme of this passage is God’s people bearing fruit as living “branches” within Jesus the “vine” as tended by the “gardener,” who is Father God.  At various places in the Hebrew Bible, Israel is referred to as a vine: a vine transplanted from Egypt (Psalm 80:8), God’s vineyard intended to develop a harvest of justice and righteousness (Isaiah 5:1-7), and a once living vine now shriveled in exile (Ezekiel 19:10-14). Here in John 15, amidst the upper room discourse, Jesus describes the new community formed around Him as branches sustained by a vine, which is still called to bear fruit.

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….This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:5-8)

Again the theme returns: a calling upon God’s people to bear much fruit for the Father’s glory. The key to such fruit-bearing is remaining, or abiding, in the vine, who is Jesus. There can be no fruit-bearing apart from Jesus. To not remain in Him is equivalent to becoming lifeless, and this lifelessness leads to a fiery end. Remaining in Jesus is the key to fruit-bearing, as well as to having effective prayer-communication with God. The question, of course, is what does it mean to remain or abide or continue in Jesus? the first clue comes in verse 7: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you.” To remain i Jesus is linked to His words remaining—or abiding or continuing—in us. There is a parallel here: remaining in Jesus means letting His words remain in us. Perhaps it is easier to understand this if we use the word “continue.” If we want to continue in Jesus, we will need for His words to continue in us; not just informationally but transformationally in our lives. This parallel between remaining in Jesus and His words remaining in us is followed by another parallel in the next verse: bearing much fruit is linked with showing ourselves to be Jesus’ disciples.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command….This is my command: Love each other. (John 15:9-17)

In verse 9, the metaphor switches from gardening to relationships. Along with that the concept of “remaining” switches contexts from branches remaining in a vine to friends remaining in the love of the ultimate friend. Jesus is the ultimate friend because He loves to the ultimate extent: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (15:13). Jesus does this because He keeps the Father’s commands and remains in the Father’s love (15:10). The connection between remaining through keeping commands and remaining in love is tied so tightly that it is difficult to see how one could exist without the other. Like the individual strands of a braided rope, it is hard to know whether to call it “rope” if they are not all there braided together as one.

So, Jesus says, if we want to remain in Him and bear fruit to the Father’s glory, it will involve obedience to His commands/word while also abiding in His love. His command ultimately is “Love each other as I have loved you” (15:12, 17). While there is certainly a sort of experiential mysticism of remaining in Christ’s love here, it is vacuous of true remaining if it does not simultaneously translate into remaining in Jesus’ commands through practical obedience. Or, as the Apostle James wrote, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17).

Teach me, Lord, to truly remain in You,
like a branch in the vine that bears fruit,
like a friend sustained in love to a Friend
through overflowing love.

Senior Pastor Video Update in the Time of COVID-19 (April 22, 2020)

Here is my latest video update for Eastbrook Church as we navigate the time of COVID-19. I will continue to re-post these weekly video updates here at my blog for those who have not seen it or who are not part of our church but could use the encouragement. You can watch it here or at the Eastbrook Church Vimeo channel.

 

In this video update I reference Lamentations 3. I am including a longer portion of the passage because I find these words so rich and powerful.

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

(Lamentations 3:19-26)

The Soul-Satisfying Love of God: a reflection on Isaiah 55

Glass of Water

Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David. (Isaiah 55:1-3)

Are we thirsty? Are we in touch with our thirst? Are we penniless? Do we know just how empty our pockets and storehouses are?

For a moment, if only for a moment, let us come into contact with the depths of our insatiable desires and our utter incapacity to truly satisfy those desires by our own efforts. There is so much available to us from God, as represented here in Isaiah 55, but the simple key to access it is our decision to come to God and find life. Such an apparently simple action seems difficult in one way yet easy in another way.

Deciding for God and the satisfaction that He offers is difficult because it costs us in at least two distinct ways. First, it costs us because we must open our live, admitting our great need and dissatisfaction. We must say, “Yes, it is true. I am not as satisfied as I suppose or portray. I actually desire something much more than I can attain for myself.” In a culture set on personal freedom and capacity it may seem like a cardinal sin to admit our lack of contentment with all that is available to us. Second, and related, coming to God is costly because it leads us away from all other things we have attempted to use as means to satisfy ourselves. It costs us our other gods, our delightful soul-sweethearts, leading us out of their embrace and into the jealous embrace of the God sho is the true Lover of our souls. Turning to God will be costly in at least these two ways, making the journey of coming to God one that is challenging for each and every one of us.

In another way, however, coming to God is easy. The God of the universe steps forward with His arms open, promising to satisfy us with true life. He takes both the initiative and pays the cost necessary to make such an offer possible. We want what God has for us. We come with nothing to offer—no payment for the price necessary—and yet the offer is ours for the taking. The reorientation of our lies to this God and His great promises of love and life are something we simply step forward to receive through the response of faith. Certainly, it is the beginning of the journey with God that involves continuous letting go of that which is not life, and grabbing ahold of God and what is truly life. Yet, the satisfaction of our desire and the filling of our need by God is also ever-new. In fact, we are told that God’s steadfast love is new every morning and His faithfulness exceeds our expectation (Lamentations 3:22-23). The turn toward God is easy because, in comparison with the cost, the sheer gift of falling into the satisfying embrace of God is pricelessly valuable.

So, let us come to Him and find life. Let us shed our idolatrous soul-sweethearts and encounter the Lover of our souls—not once, like some fling, but again and again within the covenant of love.

Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.

Why Did Jonah Run from God?

Jonah

1 The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.

Jonah receives a word from the Lord that he should preach to the people of Nineveh in the Assyrian empire that they might repent. Instead of obeying God, Jonah runs away from God. This is not the story we expected to find about one of the prophets.

We learn from 2 Kings 14:25 that Jonah was from Gath Hepher. He was called by God to go to Nineveh, which is far to the north in the Assyrian empire; a city that overlaps with present-day Mosul in Iraq. Instead, Jonah hoofs it south to the port city of Joppa to catch a boat to Tarshish on the far side of the Mediterranean world, a city which is either in present-day Spain or Sardinia.

Clearly, it is not fear of travelling that keeps Jonah from obeying God, but something else. That something else is that Jonah knows something about the mercy of God. Jonah believes, as we find out later, that if he preaches to the Ninevites about Yahweh, the God of Israel, the Ninevites will actually turn from their wickedness and encounter the mercy of Yahweh God.

Jonah is afraid of this reality and will not obey God. Why?

Perhaps it was because Jonah was in thrall to King Jeroboam II. Jeroboam was a powerful king, who provided unequaled economic prosperity and political stability during his forty-year year. He was also one of the most godless kings of the northern kingdom of Israel. According to 2 Kings 14, Jonah prophesied favorably for King Jeroboam, and so perhaps Jonah did not want to defy the king and prophesy in another kingdom.

Perhaps Jonah’s disobedience was because the Assyrian Empire was threatening the people of Israel. We do know that later, in 722 BC, the Assyrians completely overrun Israel and the capital of Samaria, leaving nothing left. Perhaps Jonah was afraid of this larger, more powerful kingdom.

Or perhaps it was that Jonah simply did not believe that God’s mercy should extend to another people group, particularly one so wicked and violent as the Assyrians. Jonah may have wanted these wicked people to get what they deserved.

Whatever the exact reason, or perhaps the combination of reasons, Jonah has a problem in his heart that God needs to address. And that is really the driving theme of the entire book of Jonah.