Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ephesians 1:3-14

"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. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
"In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory."
-Ephesians 1:3-14

After about five previous attempts to begin with something profound, I will settle for a simple admission of my inability to fully grasp and articulate the profundity of this text and move on. What an incredible declaration of the blessedness of the believer by the apostle Paul! There is much to say about this passage, and much of it is beyond my skill in articulation, so I will simply share a few thoughts here.

Paul is writing this epistle to the Ephesian church (mostly Gentile if I'm not mistaken) from prison. While we are not a part of his originally intended audience, I think it is safe to say that the apostle's words here apply to all believers.

How often do we place blame upon God for not working things out the way we think He ought to? We accuse Him, perhaps implicitly, of failing to bless us as we expected Him to. "God, if You love me, how can you allow this pain, this financial struggle, this death of a loved one, this undeserved ailment, this spiritual dryness, this purposelessness..." An inspired Paul responds by declaring that God "has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places..." Before moving on to the blessings enumerated thereafter, I would like to briefly dwell on this incredible statement of God's goodness toward us. We might initially think it absurd to think that we have received every spiritual blessing; we certainly hold that we have received some, but every one? As Paul goes on to list the blessings we have already obtained as Christians, our true beatitude becomes more apparent, especially as we consider our undeservingness, and the fact that even more blessings are guaranteed to await us. Paul provides the suffering saint (much more, the comfortable saint) with much-needed perspective in order to inspire an attitude that more accurately reflects the true state of things, namely, an attitude of worship.

"He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world..." I must here confess my more Calvinistic tendencies, but I will save a further explanation for a later post. Without getting too controversial, I think this beautifully expresses the immensity of God's grace toward us. We have verses like Romans 5:8 that depict Christ's great and gracious love in that He gave Himself up for undeserving sinners, but that is taken to a new level here where Paul explains that God chose us before we or anything else even existed. To what end were we chosen? We were chosen that we might be holy and blameless before God. To be declared holy and blameless is one thing, but to be so before God, the God of the Bible, is infinitely more. Isaiah's vision of God in the sixth chapter of his book gives a great image of what I intend here. The seraphim declare the holiness of the Lord, and Isaiah despairs of his life for having seen such holiness. Shall we not do the same before Him? Yet we too have been atoned for with a burning coal in the person of Jesus Christ, and we have thus, like Isaiah, been considered holy and blameless, even in the presence of Holiness Himself. For this we were chosen by our gracious God, even before His work of creation.

Paul continues his enumeration of our blessings in Christ by saying that God "predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will," further illuminating the completely unmerited grace we have received from the hand of a loving God. Why did God decide to adopt us? Because it is His will. That is like the infamous "because I said so" we all suffered from our parents in childhood, but the lack of explanation here merely shows that no explanation is possible with regard to the grace of God. His hand is unmoved in His embrace of His adopted children. Not only were we chosen to be holy and blameless (and who isn't painfully aware of how un-holy and blameworthy they are?), but we were predestined for adoption as sons of God through the Son of God in love. The reader cannot help but note the highlighting of holiness and love at this point, recognizing God's bestowal of His own attributes upon His children by His grace. In case we forgot what we are doing with this list of our blessings, Paul reminds us: "to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved." We do not ponder the gifts we receive in order to congratulate ourselves on obtaining them, but in order to praise the grace of the Giver.

Is there more to be had in Christ? No Christian can skim over the redemption he or she has through the shed blood of Christ, and Paul certainly takes care to note this pivotal Christian doctrine of the atonement. Again, I will save a rant about the post-modern de-emphasizing of the atonement for another post. We were redeemed through Christ's blood, and our trespasses were forgiven; our list expands to include the negation of evils along with the goods, so that we do not merely receive blessings with our curses, but a wiping away of all record of anything meriting punishment. This redemption and forgiveness likewise find their source in God's grace, for which Paul now uses terms like "riches" and "lavished," perhaps in conjunction with his recent declaration of our adoption into the family of a King, or his coming words about the inheritance we have received and will receive.

Furthermore, God, "in all wisdom and insight," makes known to us the mystery of His will: "to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth." What Christian has not offered fervent prayers to God requesting a revelation of His will? Yet here it is, in plain words (ok, not entirely plain): God's will is that all things be united in Christ. While this doesn't help much with my career choice, it does serve to remind me of the blessed truth that my career choice is not terribly important in comparison with God's ultimate purpose. Whenever the "fullness of time" comes, I expect that many of my present concerns will prove to have been frivolous in light of God's will, which will undoubtedly come to pass. God's Word unveils the mystery of His will and tells us that God intends for all things to be united in Christ, and this purpose cannot be thwarted - this is the revelation of the will of God.

On top of all that has been mentioned so far, we have also received an inheritance. Why? In case the pattern has escaped my reader, it is because God predestined our obtaining it in accordance with His will, unmoved by anything greater, unmotivated by any merit of ours. What is our proper response to this undeserved inheritance? To hope in Christ, and thus glorify Him. When our blessedness is recognized as in this passage, it is evident that we ought to hope in Christ; not only should we hope in Him, He is our only hope.

This inheritance is "already-and-not-yet," as Paul says that we have obtained it, then goes on to say that we have a deposit guaranteeing that we are to receive it in the future. When we "heard the word of truth, the gospel of [our] salvation, and believed in Him, [we] were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it." This is a wonderful summary of the believer's conversion, wherein we all heard the truth of the gospel, believed in Jesus, and were sealed with the Holy Spirit. One result of this "sealing" is that we are thereby assured of our inheritance; not only does God grant us this undeserved blessing, He confirms that He will give it to us.

As Paul has emphasized a number of times in this short introduction to his letter to the Ephesians, he also reiterates at the close of this passage: all these blessings are "to the praise of His glory." I went through these verses in sort of a systematic manner, but there is really so much more to be said about Paul's Ephesian prologue. I simply intend to highlight the rich blessings which God has bestowed on us for no other reason besides His glorious grace, and to encourage a proper response to this unmerited favor: gratitude and obedience. Exhortations to thanksgiving can be found throughout Paul's writings, and the way he structures many of his letters points us to acknowledge God's greatness and His great gifts and to respond with gratitude in action. "For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again" (2 cor 5:14-15). Although "obedience" holds a negative connotation for most, the obedience which is our debt to the Lord is no burden, but rather a joy as we desire to do the will of the One who gives us life.

This magnificent passage has become one of my favorite portions of Scripture, so I decided to memorize it. I am almost finished committing it to memory, and I already appreciate having these verses in mind as I can refer to the truths found therein without even needing to read or have a Bible handy. I highly recommend memorizing this passage, and also reading the entire book of Ephesians, as the whole really informs and enriches this part of it. Keep this list of blessings in mind and bless the Lord.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Europe Summer 2009

Here is the quick version of my trip (do you really want to know every detail anyways?). Check it out and see what sounds especially interesting. If you would like to know more, just ask me! I left a lot out, I'm sure, but this gives a general idea of what I've been doing for the past five weeks.

May 28-29 Travel
Long plane flight from LA to Athens, arrived around 3am

May 30- Athens
Bus tour around Athens- not a terribly nice city, besides the historical stuff.
Mars Hill- location of Paul's sermon to the Athenians in Acts 17
Acropolis- highest point in the old city, site of the Parthenon (super ancient and huge temple to Athena) and other sweet old buildings
Agora- marketplace of ancient Athens, birthplace of philosophy
Archaeological museum (not sure if I got the name right)- museum with lots of sweet old stuff in it including the "mask of Agamemnon"
St. George's chapel- on top of the highest point in modern Athens, tiny chapel, great view

May 31- Athens/ Delphi
Ossias Lucas monastery- beautiful Byzantine-era Greek Orthodox monastery, serene setting, magnificent mosaics (my favorite!)
Delphi- site of the ancient Greek oracle, center of high paganism, beautiful place with sort of an evil history
Metro ride- got some delicious coffee, metro station had ancient ruins in it (sort of unusual)

June 1- Cruise ship/ Mykonos
Boarded the Aquamarine cruise ship at the Piraeus port
Mykonos- not a very exciting stop, but very pretty and a nice place to chill in the evening

June 2- Ephesus/ Patmos
Ephesus- incredible ruins, really got a sense of what the ancient city was like, enormous stadium, lots of well preserved buildings, read Acts 18 where Paul would have been, site of a very significant early church (recipient of a Pauline letter and a letter in Revelation, ministered with Paul for over a year, one of the first churches in Asia Minor I think)
Patmos- place of John's exile in the first century and where he received the Revelation of the Apocalypse, cave where tradition holds John had his vision, read the beginning of the book of Revelation in there which was amazing, awesome monastery dedicated to St. John and built like a fortress

June 3- Rhodes
Castle- medieval castle that was never penetrated, walked all along the castle walls, palace reconstructed by Mussolini
Beach- beautiful sunny day, beautiful Adriatic, much-needed tan

June 4- Crete/ Santorini
Crete- heard it was great, but we had the option to sleep in so I did
Santorini- really beautiful island, not much historical significance, but gorgeous

June 5- Corinth/ Mycenae
Disembarked at Piraeus
Corinth- more cool ruins
Mycenae- Agamemnon's citadel (king that led the Achaians in the Trojan War, see Iliad or Aeschylus' tragedies), Agamemnon's tomb (our guide was born in it during WWII bombing when his village was hiding in there... he was born in Agamemnon's tomb)
Boarded a ferry to Italy

June 6- Pompei
Disembarked at Bari, Italy
Pompei- incredibly well-preserved ruins, good enough condition that you can sort of imagine what it might have been like to live in that ancient culture, wonderful site worth seeing
Overnight outside Naples

June 7- Florence
Six-hour bus ride to Florence, arrived late afternoon
Walked around the city, group dinner

June 8- Florence
Duomo- incredibly beautiful cathedral in Florence
Beatrice's church, Dante's house, etc.- I think that was this day
Some Medici and Michelangelo stuff that I can picture but can't recall the names
Baptistery- Byzantine-era, where Dante was baptized
Climbed to the top of the Duomo- great view of the city and the sweet painted ceiling of the dome

June 9- Florence
Pitti Palace- last home of the Medici family, lots of great art
Accademia- home of Michelangelo's David, what a hottie
Piazzale Michelangelo- big hill with a monastery on top of it with a great view of the city and a pretty sunset

June 10- Florence
Uffizi Gallery- one of the foremost art galleries in the world for a reason
Santa Croce- pretty church where lots of famous people are buried (Galileo, Machiavelli, Michelangelo, etc.)

June 11- Rome
End of Torrey Europe trip, said goodbye to everyone leaving that morning
Train to Rome
All the free stuff- Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps (bird pooped on my head), miscellaneous gorgeous churches

June 12- Rome
Vatican museum- my first time there, amazing collection of art, Raphael Rooms including his School of Athens, Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel
St. Peter's Basilica- enormous and beautiful, Michelangelo's Pieta

June 13- Rome
Roman forum and Colosseum
Lateran Cathedral- sticks out in my mind mainly because of the gay pride parade we saw outside of it

June 14-July 4- Mussolente
Train from Rome to Bassano del Grappa
Stayed at Malga Rossa in Mussolente with family for the remainder of the trip, but also took day trips and one two-night trip:
-Asiago- home of Asiago cheese, yummmmmm
-Rimini- horrible beach town, don't ever go there
-Ravenna- a great addition to the Torrey Europe trip, Dante's tomb, capital of the Italian portion of the Byzantine Empire, beautiful churches
-Bologna- unfortunately didn't see much of great interest, but nice city, talked to the leftists who had just won the regional election and got a communist flag
-Trento- site of the counter-reformation Council of Trent
-Montegrappa- big WWI battlefield and memorial
-Vicenza, Asolo, Marostica, Bassano del Grappa, Padova...
-We went hiking one day in the mountains about two hours away (Dolomites?); it's easy to just think of Italy in terms of its historical value, but there is so much natural beauty in that country it's really incredible
-Venice- lots of pretty churches, generally a very beautiful city, our third time there though so didn't do much tourist-y stuff

I learned a lot and had a lovely time, but it's nice being home now. I'm putting pictures on facebook. Like I said, let me know if you want to know anything more about the trip. Hope everyone is enjoying summer!