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Friday, January 01, 2010

A New Year's Message from iMonk

On the calendar, today is the beginning of a new year and a new decade. I can’t think of a better text of Scripture upon which to meditate than this one from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

In Eph. 1:3, Paul tells us that every person who is in Christ is immeasurably rich, a multi-billionaire when it comes to “spiritual blessings”—God’s favor and gifts. We lack nothing. Nothing. You can’t get any more from God than you have right now in Christ. He has given you the keys to the whole store.

These blessings are a pure gift from God. The text says God has blessed us. Period. It was his idea, his initiative, his undertaking. He planned it and performed it on our behalf. He came to us and laid this gift on our doorstep. God’s favor and gifts are entirely of grace.

These blessings are ours in Christ. It is in union with Jesus the Messiah that we come to own these blessings. In salvation, we have been personally united to him, a connection that has been established by God’s grace working through faith (2:8-10). Since we belong to Christ and are citizens of his realm, all the benefits thereof accrue to us. And this is true of everyone who is united to Christ, no matter how weak or immature their faith.

These blessings are operative in “the heavenly places”. This phrase is one way Paul described “the kingdom of God,” the realm where God rules, invisible to us now but nevertheless real and present. The heavenly places are not “way out there,” far away. Nor is this domain reserved only for the future. In Christ, God invaded this world and right now, through the Spirit, his kingdom is nearer to us than ever before. There is much more to life than meets the eye—the spiritual realm where Christ reigns is as real as the ground beneath our feet.

Now as we go into this new year, those who hold pietistic views or promote a prosperity gospel will try to tell us that the challenge for 2010 is that we must do something for our lives to be more blessed. It’s time to step up our game as Christians so that God can work. They will challenge us to pray more, read our Bibles more, serve more in order to have a barn heaping full of God’s blessings. They will goad us to be more spiritually disciplined so that God can transform our lives. They will encourage us to plant seeds of faith in order to bring forth a harvest of blessings. They will try to sell us their books containing the secrets or principles that will lead the skilled practitioner to a place of blessing.

In their view, “faith” is the key. But it is faith as a technique, a tool, a key that opens the way for God to work. It’s spiritual technology. To them, it’s also what we display to show God we’re serious. Then he will act. Exercise faith (in whatever specific form being promoted), and God will be impressed and give us the blessing.

They have it exactly backwards. More accurately, God has blessed us, therefore we believe.

The true and living God does not wait for the likes of you and me to act. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has already blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. And as we face 2010, we can be sure that he has already moved ahead of us into this new year. He knows everything that is coming and he has already given us every resource we need in Christ to face what is coming. We need not ask God for more. We need only have him and his immeasurable wealth. Through the simple means of Word and sacrament which he himself ordained for us, he is with us each day and communicates to us the blessings we need from his inexhaustible storehouse.

In response to God’s incalculable blessings in Christ, we face this New Year with this as our bold confession:

So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:

They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.
We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us. (Romans 8:31-39, MSG)

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