A week of failure and a day of grace

Holy week, as it is called, might just as easily have been called failure week.

It was a week when the weakness and human frailty of just about everyone in the Easter story was painfully exposed.

The fickleness of the crowd is staggering. From “We want Jesus to be King” to “We want a terrorist to lead us” within the space of five days must have left any polling organisations in Jerusalem looking very foolish.

Of course, we expected as much from the religious leaders. And Pontius Pilate was always going to make a decision that he believed would protect his career.

But the disciples! Judas’ deal with Jesus’ enemies to betray the Lord is astounding. The bickering over who would be the greatest in the kingdom was perhaps unsurprising. But abandoning Jesus when He was arrested  probably came as a shock to the disciples themselves.

And then there is the seeming failure of Jesus’ own mission as He hangs on the cross.

Holy failure seems to be the message of holy week.

Yet even in the midst of the unfolding failure, Jesus Himself speaks of resurrection (Matthew 26.32). Even in His prediction of Peter’s denial, He speaks a word of grace: Peter will be restored and he is to strengthen his brothers (Luke 22.31-32).

Resurrection followed the cross. Easter Sunday brought grace after a week of failure. The deserting disciples were restored in their faith and recommissioned to go into the world (John 20.21).

Thankfully the week of failure wasn’t followed just by a day of grace but by a whole era of grace. An era that we still live in because of Christ’s death and resurrection. And that grace extends to each of us no matter where we find ourselves.

There are weeks that reveal our weakness. There are circumstances that unveil our susceptibility to temptation. But because of Easter there is grace. In fact, because of Christ’s resurrection, even the week of failure looks like a huge God engineered victory.

 

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Escaping from the Escape Room

Apparently the latest must have holiday is one in which you book yourself into what is called an escape room. You are locked in a room, along with some other people and you have to find your way out of the room using clues left in the room and solving puzzles. The idea began as a virtual reality game, but in recent years has been transformed into being physically locked into a “real life” room. It’s supposed to be a phenomenon that appeals to younger people. Perhaps those of us who are older are well used to locking ourselves into or out of places simply because we have forgotten where we have left our keys.

For so many Christians, trying to live the Christian life can feel like an escape room experience. Sadly, the abundant life promised in John 10.10 begins to look more like the frustrated life of Romans 7 – wanting to do the right thing but never quite getting there.

In Ephesians 3, Paul reveals how he is praying for the church at Ephesus (14-21). He wants the lives of the members of that church to be God-filled. And the way he prays shows that he believes that is possible.

So how do we move from escape room Christianity to God-filled living?

A number of things emerge from Paul’s prayer.

Firstly, he prays that they will have this experience. That might seem an obvious point, but it is so obvious it can often be missed.

We know that in Christ we have all the riches of heaven. But having all the riches of heaven and not praying is like have millions in a bank account and forgetting the PIN number for your debit card. You cannot access God’s riches without prayer.

Secondly, he prays that they will be strengthened with power through His Spirit in [your] inner being.

Too often we try to change our behaviour on our own steam. Simply trying to make a decision to live for Jesus is not in itself enough. It is through the power that the Holy Spirit gives that our inner being is strengthened. Then as we believe God, the influence of Christ fills our lives, He dwells in our hearts by faith.

Finally, if we want to escape from escape room Christianity into abundant living, we need a profound revelation of love. In verses 17-19 of Ephesians 3, Paul empahasises love in three ways.

He wants believers rooted and established in love. That is the love of Christ for us. He wants us to grasp the dimensions of the love of Christ – wide and long..high and deep.

And he wants us to know His love that surpasses knowledge.

The picture is that of an absolutely overwhelming revelation of the love of God. And it is that revelation that brings about the God-filled life of being filled with all the fulness of God.

We don’t have to live escape room style Christianity. Abundant life is on offer. Oddly enough, Paul was in custody awaiting trial when he wrote Ephesians. It just goes to show, that even if you are confined in what feels like your own personal escape room, you can still live the God-filled, abundant life.

You need the right environment to produce the desired result

Climate change and environmental disasters are never too far from the headlines these days. Most of us could name at least some of the hurricanes that have wreaked havoc across the world, not to mention the tsunamis that have wrought so much devastation in Asia.

However, one of the geatest environmental disasters of the last hundred years was one that took place in America and it lasted throughout almost the entire decade of the 1930s. It is known as the Dust Bowl. Drought, soil erosion and dust storms or “black blizzards” left what had previously been fertile farming areas in parts of Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma as a dust bowl. Crops died. Livestock perished. People were forced to abandon their farms. What should have grown and flourished there, no longer did so because the environment undermined the very best attempts of farmers to farm their land. It doesn’t matter how hard or how carefully you work your land, if the environment isn’t right all you most diligent efforts will come to nothing.

There was an era in church life when you could find lots of sermons, books and articles with titles that began with the words Keys to…. You can still find these kinds of talks, but I don’t think that they are as popular today as they used to be. Perhaps we have found the “three easy steps to…” an approach that feels a little bit shallow in the face of the complexities of life, even though these kinds of talks did often set out good solid biblical principles.

I am sure that many sermons have been preached over the years on the subject of living in victory over sin. And I am sure that, on occasion, the strategy was laid out in terms of a number of keys. Romans 6 certainly lays out principles that are crucial if we are going to live in victory over sin. We need to know who we are in Christ. We need to know that we died with Him and have been raised with Him.

And on the basis of what Christ has done we need to count ourselves dead to sin and offer our bodies to Christ. And there you have it. Boom! Done and dusted.

Well almost. It’s just that often we forgot Romans 6.14:

For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

We forgot that for commitment to Christ to flourish we needed the right environment.

The Greek word translated “under” literally means subject to the power of. We are not subject to the power of God’s law. We are subject to the power of God’s grace. It is important to note that “law” here is not a reference to religious traditions but to the real thing, the real law, as in ten commandments law. The law, good as it was, only defined sin and condemned sinners (Romans 3.20). Grace, on the other hand, enables sinners to become saints and enables saints to live the life – to be like Jesus (Romans 5.17).

We can work out and work through all the Romans 6 principles that I set out above, however, if you believe and practise counting your self dead to sin and offering your self to God without realising you are under grace, you might just find that you are trying to live by grace in an environment of law. It’s like planting crops in a dust storm in a long dry summer. It will yield very little fruit.

How else can you explain the experience of Christians who have worked through freedom courses and discovering your new identity courses and yet they still feel condemned? Still beating themselves up. Still more sin conscious than grace conscious. If you don’t recognise that God has brought you into an environment of grace, you might as well be trying to grow crops in the Dust Bowl.

What does an environment of grace look like? It’s an environment of favour (2 Corinthians 6.2). People who have really discovered grace know that God is for them. It’s an environment of peace (Romans 5.1). People who have discovered grace, have found God as their friend. It’s an environment of love (Romans 5.8). People who have discovered grace are secure in God’s love and secured by God’s love. It’s an environment of freedom (Galatians 5.1). They know that they are free from the penalty and power of sin. And they know that they are free from the demands of the law.

When we pursue our relationship with Jesus and our commitment to Him in an environment of grace it makes all the difference. All the difference in the world.