Jesus’ Vast Love (Ephesians 3:14-21)

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One of my most favourite things to do is travel. When I get the chance, I love to pack a bag, throw it on the back of my motorbike and explore this vast, beautiful country of Australia. Over the years I have been blessed to be able to travel along just about every major highway and a lot of secondary roads as well. It always amazes me how big and how beautiful this nation is. And there are still more roads I’m looking forward to riding in the future…

When I hear Paul’s prayer for God’s people in Ephesians 3:18, I think of exploring God’s love the way I’ve been able to explore Australia. Paul’s hope is that we will be able to grasp with both hands and our whole heart just how enormous God’s love is for us, especially in the person and work of Jesus. Like riding this nation’s highways and back-roads, God’s love is enormous and full of amazing beauty. Even though we might think that we have seen everything, we can turn another corner and be blown away by the majesty and grandeur of what we encounter. With each and every changing circumstance of life, we have the opportunity to gain a deeper and fuller understanding of how vast and truly awesome God’s love for us is in the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. As we connect God’s love for us in Jesus with every new situation we face in life, we explore the infinite width, length, height and depth of God’s perfect love for us.

This is important for us because God’s love changes us. I received an email on Friday morning with a link to an article entitled Why sometimes love is the best parenting solution. The author, who isn’t Christian as far as I can tell, wrote:

When you’re having a tough day with your child, one thing that can reduce everyone’s stress and overwhelm is to focus your mind on love…
Before deciding that’s too simple, remember the research on feeling loved being at the foundation of self confidence, happiness and resilience.
Next time your children are driving you mad… Stop thinking, steady your breathing, don’t worry about the next moment and make your next move an expression of LOVE.
Love reconnects. Love forgives. Love renews. Love energises…

How much greater is the possibility for us to be growing in love, to be changed by love, and to extend love to others when we have direct access to the infinite and perfect love of God in Jesus. I agree with the author that in all our relationships, not just between parents and children, the best solution is love. In our relationship with God through Jesus, we have access to love that is so wide, long, deep and high that we can spend our entire lives exploring its beauty and life-changing grandeur, and never reach its limits. Like riding the roads of Australia, we can spend our whole lives discovering it and there will still be more to see.

And I haven’t even started talking about traveling overseas yet!

A problem we can face as Christians is we can be like people who watch travel shows on TV or go to information events about different tours and think that we’ve seen what we wanted to see. There is a big difference between seeing a TV show about a destination and experiencing its sights, smells, tastes and its beauty for ourselves. Paul’s prayer is that we will ‘experience the love of Christ, even though it is too great to understand fully’ (v19a NLT) for ourselves. It’s not enough to sit on a couch or a pew, listening to someone else who has seen it or been there. Following Jesus is not a spectator sport! The life of faith is about getting off our metaphorical posteriors and exploring ‘how wide, how long, how high and how deep his love is’ for ourselves. It’s only when we are willing to get out of our comfort zones, open God’s word, listen to his promises of love in the Bible, and connect them with the realities of our lives that we start to explore the infinite goodness of God’s love for ourselves.

That is largely what our congregation’s Discipling Plan is about. In particular, when we talk about Growing we mean exploring how wide, long, high and deep God’s love is for us in Jesus so that we can grasp it with both hands and experience it’s life-changing reality for ourselves. Just about everything I do is geared towards this one hope: that by opening God’s word together, listening to his promises of love, praying together and being Christian community together, you might be able to encounter God’s love in a new way and grasp a little more how his love can make a difference in your life.

Paul’s promise is that, as we explore the width, length, height and depth of God’s love for us in Jesus, the Holy Spirit changes us. Paul writes that as we explore the vastness of God’s infinite love for us in Jesus, and as we experience the love of Christ, we ‘will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God’ (v19b). Try to imagine what that could be like: to be made complete with the fullness of God’s life and power. The NIV puts it a slightly different way: ‘that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.’ It boggles my mind to start thinking about the difference being filled with God’s fullness can make to our lives…

In all of life’s joy and challenges, difficulties or stresses, how would you like to be filled with ‘the fullness of God’s life and power’? Paul is saying this is possible when we are exploring how wide and long, how high and deep God’s love is for us in Jesus, and when we are experiencing the reality of that love in his word and in Christian community.

So, what kind of traveller are you? Do you like to watch travel shows in TV that give you a glimpse of a destination through someone else’s eyes? Or do you like to pack a bag and get out on the road to experience all of the joys, the challenges, the beauty and the wonder which come with exploring our country and the world? There is so much to explore within and beyond our borders. But that’s nothing compared to the life-changing beauty of the infinitely wide, long, high and deep love of God for us in Christ Jesus.

Don’t just sit on a pew on Sunday. Open your Bibles, hear what God promises us through Jesus, and come with me as we explore the width, length, height and depth of God’s love, so we can experience the life-changing reality of Jesus’ love for us and be filled with the fullness of God’s life and power together.

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Identity (1 John 3:1-7)

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If you were meeting someone for the first time and they asked, ‘Who are you?’ how would you answer?

I guess the first thing most of us would say would be our names. However, if that person was wanting to learn who you are and not just what your name is, then what would you say?

Many different influences all combine to help shape the people we are – our choices, actions, work, and relationships are just a few. However, to some degree or another all of these begin with the basic building-blocks of our identity which were given to us at birth. While our identity grows and changes over time and through our experiences in life, the foundations of who we are begin with those characteristics which were given to us by our parents and then shaped by our families.

These words from 1 John 3:1-7 can go a long way to help us discover our identity as they point us to a place where we can find who we are through a relationship with God. John tells us that God has given us his love by calling us his children because that is who we are! God pours out his love into our lives by wanting to be in the closest possible relationship with us, so he welcomes us as his children and gives us all of his perfect and infinite love.

We find the love John describes in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Through Jesus, God clears the way for a new relationship with him. God’s love for us is so great that he took on our identity by becoming human, and suffered more than we can imagine in order to remove every obstacle to becoming his children. Then, through the gift of his Holy Spirit, God our Father adopts us into his family and makes us his children.

God intentionally and deliberately seeks us out, chooses us and welcomes us into this new relationship with him as his children. God gives us a new identity as his children whom he loves unconditionally so we can find who we are in our relationship with him.
As we get to know Jesus, we also get to know who we are. Because Jesus is God’s own Son, when God adopts us, we begin to discover who we are as God’s children because he gives us the nature of Christ. This is what John means when he writes that God

has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is (v2 NLT)

John gives a glimpse of who Jesus is, and who we are becoming as God’s children, when he writes that ‘all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure’ (v3) and ‘when people do what is right, it shows that they are righteous, even as Christ is righteous’ (v7). These are two attributes that God gives to us when he welcomes us into relationship with him as his children: purity and righteousness. Basically, along with the gift of identity as God’s child, our loving Father also cleans us out and makes right everything in us that was wrong.

As God’s children whom he loves, then, our journey of faith is to grow into the identity he has given us. God has given us the basic building blocks to our identity as his children whom he loves. In all the circumstances of life, we can continually come back to this promise. However, there are a lot of other factors which shape us and form us into the people we are becoming.

That is why Christian community is so critical in our growth as God’s people. No one forms their identity in isolation. Instead, through our relationships as God’s family of believers, we are formed into our identity as God’s children as we experience the love God has for us in community together. Christian community is also the way in which we help others find their identity as God’s children through their relationships with us.

We need each other – to be giving experiences of God’s love for us in our relationships together and experiencing God’s love for us in our relationships together as God’s children. When we view our congregation’s Discipling Plan from this perspective, it helps us to think of our congregation less as an institutional organisation and more as a family who are growing in the identity God has graced us with as his children. God is connecting with us by making us his children and embracing us with his love, so that we can be connecting with each other as brothers and sisters in God’s family. We can all be growing in our understanding of who we are as God’s children and how his love shapes us in every situation or circumstance of life. As God’s maturing children, then, we can be equipping each other to live out our identity as God’s children in our relationships with others so they can experience the love of God our Father through us. God is then sending us out into the world as his children to bring his love to everyone we meet and to connect with others who haven’t yet discovered their identity as God’s children.

On Sunday three young people received Holy Communion, the family meal Jesus gave to us, for the first time. I wonder what will be the main influences in shaping their identities as they enter their teenage years? Will it be the shallow, individualistic, consumer culture of the society we live in? Or will we step up as their sisters and brothers in Jesus to help them find who they are as children of God who have been given the perfect, infinite and unconditional love of their Father in heaven?

Whatever age we might be, we are all growing into our identities. There may be times when we wonder who we are in the middle of the confusion and struggles of life. In the grace God gives us in Jesus, we can always be strong in what John tells us. Whatever is happening in our lives, we can see the great love God has for us because he calls us his children – and that is who we are!