Ephesians 1:1-2 (the message)
I, Paul, am under God’s plan as an apostle, a special agent of Christ Jesus, writing to you faithful believers in Ephesus. I greet you with the grace and peace poured into our lives by God our Father and our Master, Jesus Christ.
As I began reading the first chapter of Ephesians this morning, I was captured by the words Paul wrote…”the grace and peace poured into our lives by God…” My thoughts quickly latched onto grace and peace. These words we so often hear in religious circles but which so often have next to no meaning in our everyday lives. Do you ever really stop to truly look at your journey of knowing God? Do you ever stop and really think about grace…peace…joy…strength? I mean we sing songs about it and we might nod our heads when the Preacher talks about it. We might light up our yard at Christmas with proclamations of joy or pass along emails that speak of Jesus being our strength and how we can do all things through Him. And yet many times we can barely get through a single day without complaining about how hard life is!
I suppose that part of what began to change my life and still stirs me today is my own personal fatigue with the ideas of grace, peace, joy and strength. I know God is very real. I believe the Bible. And so a crossroads came…if I believe the Bible and God are truth then where is this grace and joy in my life? I became so tired of hearing about it and pretending I had it when really I knew deep inside I was as tangled up as anyone else.
You know what I discovered about myself? Even people who think they are quite spiritual can be quite “religious.” Religion, this whole notion of putting God in the box I feel most comfortable with and then grading my own personal performance to evaluate my goodness, can be practiced anywhere, anytime and by any denomination. Religion reeks of judgement and comparison. Instead of encouraging and building others up, it most often finds ways to condemn and tear others down. Oh, we don’t think we do that! That is the church down the street. Smile…
The sweetest part of my life has been finding grace and peace through my relationship with Jesus. Not my religion…not my efforts…not how easily I can judge someone else’s spiritual prowess. Just being near Jesus. Sitting at my kitchen table on some early mornings before my children awaken to simply tell Him I love Him. I need Him. Sometimes pushing aside all of the things on my mental prayer list so I can make room in my heart for the very One I am beseeching. See, grace is unmerited favor. To me, that just means I don’t deserve His attention, His favor and desire to help me, but I get it anyway. No strings attached. My, how those last three words are the part we just can’t swallow, us religious and well-churched folks. We are often so afraid if it doesn’t “cost” something then the worth is low and people should have to prove themselves, after all! I am no Bible Scholar, but I kinda think it’s the wisdom of God that offering an extravagant, already purchased acceptance, forgiveness and crazy love is what turns a hurting person’s life upside down. It’s this kind of love, because of grace, that turns mourning into dancing. It’s this revelation that Creator really wants me. He wants me! So much that I just have to come, just like I am. And when that happens, a deeper and more lasting change comes than will ever be seen through the efforts of man and religion. Even our particular flavor.
Last weekend my husband and I decided to can tomatoes from our garden. Neither of us had ever really done it before, but we had bought the supplies and together, took on the task. As I took the pressure cooker out of the box I was reminded of how my life used to feel like one. Life can be like that. The pressure builds and builds internally with all of the expectations and attempts to measure up and please others until you reach a very dangerous point. The urge to escape the pressure cooker eventually gets the best of us one way or another. We run away or we turn to a drug of choice…alcohol, tobacco, inappropriate relationships, food, gossip and on and on. We don’t know how to relieve the pressure. We can’t find the regulator for our lives. Maybe then we cry out for more than religion. More than what we’ve had but pretended was all it seemed to be. What if in our cries for relief we find grace? Peace? Jesus?
The verse above says God pours grace and peace into our lives as faithful believers. I really like that. He pours it out. So, I guess the only thing left is to take a look at my life. Is there room for what God wants to pour in? If my heart is already full of pride, anger, regret, judgement, self-pity, doubt or unbelief then I must make room. One of the best prayers we can pray is quite simple but poignantly powerful…Jesus, empty me of me. Make me an empty vessel you can pour yourself into.