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  • Writer's pictureDan Mueller

New year, same God

Updated: Jan 5, 2023

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will — 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. (Ephesians 1:3–8 NIV).

What’s your plan for 2023? For some, 2023 might hold excitement and new possibilities — a new school, a new job, new adventures. For others, perhaps 2022 has ended poorly so you are concerned 2023 will continue the trend — severe weather events (such as flood), sickness, death, loss, or grief.


However we feel 2023 might turn out, I think we all agree that we want God's blessing for the new year. St Paul seems to promise this in the opening to his letter to the church in Ephesus: ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every blessing in Christ.’ (Ephesians 1:3). Bring on the blessings for 2023!


Except I've missed out an important word, haven't I?! ‘Spiritual.’ ‘Praise be to God … who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.’ The promised blessings are spiritual, not material.


Yet spiritual blessings are much more important than material blessings. Material things are temporary. Our houses, property, even our experiences and bodies are all transient — like grass or flowers, here one moment then gone the next. In contrast, spiritual blessings are eternal.


God lavishes his spiritual blessings on you. I love this word ‘lavish.’ It’s the word that stood out to me the most as I meditated on Paul’s opening. “Lavish.” Say it aloud slowly a few times. It means “fullness” or “superabundance.” St John says the same thing in a different way, ‘We have all received one blessing after another. God’s grace has no limit.’ (John 1:16). Some translations have ‘grace upon grace.’ God heaps grace upon grace. When you think you might have enough grace, out of his riches God heaps some more upon you!


Imagine you have a new pool in the backyard that you are trying to fill up. But the water mains to your house is currently off. Now imagine a neighbour shows up with a 1L bottle of water. You pour it into the pool without much effect. Then another friend arrives with a 20L container of water. Again, it hardly does anything when poured into the empty pool. Our paltry efforts do almost nothing! But now imagine that the heavens open and rain buckets down. Water washes into the pool from all directions. Before long it’s overflowing into the storm water drainage system. This is what it means for God to “lavish” his grace upon you! This is what it means to have “grace upon grace.”


Was there a time in 2022 that you felt empty? Tired? Emotionally drained? Spent? Whenever we're empty, God wants to fill you with his love and grace. And this love that he lavishes upon you is not a mere word, but this love is demonstrated with action: his blessings are ‘in Christ.’ God gives himself to you in the person of Jesus, Jesus shed his blood to show you what self-giving love looks like, to show you who God is and what God is like. It’s Jesus’ blood that brings you a superabundance of spiritual blessings.


What are these spiritual blessings that God lavishes on you in Christ?


(1) The past. St Paul writes that you are part of God’s plan since before creation. God has chosen you ‘before the foundation of the world.’ Before a single atom was brought into existence, God had you and Christ together in his mind. You are ‘predestined’ according to his plan. God is working out everything according to his will and purpose.


Really?! Everything? For some 2022 has not ended well. People affected by floods have lost everything, they are hurt and angry. Is this God’s plan?! Senseless violence and murder has featured heavily on the news during the last few weeks of 2022, with a shooting in rural Queensland and stabbing in North Brisbane. Is this God’s plan?! Countless people spent Christmas sick in hospital, apart from family. Is this God’s plan?!


We need to remember that God has promised us spiritual blessings. St Paul reminds us here that we are placed in the ‘heavenly realms’ — this means we get a glimpse of things from God’s perspective. His ultimate plan is to redeem us and bring us closer to him. And this might mean hardship, suffering, and pain in the temporary, material world. But from God’s heavenly perspective, our current hardships are merely one small (alien) part of his grand plan to lavish his eternal spiritual blessings upon us. God wants to strengthen our faith in him, to empty us of ourselves, to crush our pride and self-reliance — God is working out everything according to his will and purpose from his heavenly vantage point.


(2) The Present. St Paul writes that you are adopted to ‘sonship.’ In our politically correct times, this can sound contentious for women. Women might rightly ask, “Am I adopted as a son?” And the answer is yes, you are adopted as a son! We are not adopted as generic children of God, but as sons of God. In New Testament times, the historical reality was that women and daughters were not afforded the same rights as men e.g. they wouldn’t inherit property. But Paul says that everyone — Christian men and women — are adopted as God’s sons, with full rights to the inheritance.


Being adopted means your relationship with God is forever changed. Yes, being sons of God means having forgiveness of sin — you are forever washed clean, holy and blameless. But your relationship with God is so much more than your sin. Your relationship is now about your identity — you are adopted to sonship. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, because he poured out his blood for you, you are a son of God. Nothing you do, nothing that happens to you, no sin, no wrongdoing, no thought, no action, changes your identity. Nothing on earth or even heaven, no angel or demon can ever change your identity. Because of what Jesus has done, you are always a son. What a spiritual blessing! No one can take this spiritual blessing away — it is eternal and permanent. If you lose your car, if your house burns down, if you lose your job, if you don’t get into the university course you wanted, nothing that happens in this material world can affect this spiritual blessing — nothing in all creation can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.


(3) The future. St Paul writes that you are an ‘heir to an inheritance.’ The inheritance is not material. Not money. Not a precious heirloom. Not a house or property. But a spiritual inheritance. You are an heir to eternal life. A home with God forever. Unending love, joy, and peace.


You even get a down payment on this future inheritance — a guarantee, a deed marked with a wax seal to make it official and binding. ‘You were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.’ (Ephesians 1:13–14). We get to enjoy part of our inheritance already now! The Holy Spirit is a down payment who brings you love, joy, peace right now. He fills you up when you are empty. When we hear God’s Word. When we are forgiven. When we sit in God’s presence through prayer. When we take Holy Communion. When we gather with other sons of God. You are filled with the Holy Spirit. God lavishly pours out himself into you.


He pours out so much that he overflows into the lives of those around you. He gives you so much spiritual blessing, that it overflows to everyone else. Love and forgiveness, hope and strength pours out from you to others. It’s like you’re a glass at the top of a champagne glass tower. God pours his abundant grace out into your life, and it flows down into the lives of those around you. Your family. Neighbours. Friends. Your work colleagues. Those you serve in the community. Your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.


Story: “The dumpster diving waitress”

Let me tie everything together with a story. There was once a waitress working at a five-star restaurant. The generous owner would offer free meals to anyone who struggled to pay the bill. But as word got around, the waitress noticed an increase in poorly dressed, hungry customers who claimed they couldn't afford the meal.


The waitress brought this up with the owner, saying this type of customer didn't deserve the meal and were taking advantage of the generosity of the owner. She suggested they enforce a strict dress code, and if people still snuck in, to reduce the size of the meals as a cost saving measure. But the wealthy owner insisted he didn't care about the money. Instead he told his staff to increase the meal size and squeeze in more tables to accommodate the growing number of customers.


The waitress quit, not happy that her ideas were ignored. She worked at series of other hospitality jobs, each for a cruel owner who exploited her. But after a few months, each restaurant was sold to an anonymous new owner and promptly closed. This impacted her resume and she began having trouble securing work. Her friends moved and the bank balance dwindled. She was hungry all the time.


One night, while dumpster diving for dinner, she recognised her old place of employment. The lights were on and she could hear laughter coming from inside. She stepped through the front door into the light. A young waiter welcomed her enthusiastically and seated her at a table.


Her stomach growled as she looked over the familiar menu. She ordered the smallest, cheapest dish. It wasn't long before the owner of the restaurant arrived at the table with a mouth-watering plate piled high with the finest food. The old waitress shook her head, showing her empty purse. But the owner motioned to the kitchen and a stream of wait staff brought plate upon plate of delicious food to the table — far too much for the waitress to eat in a week, let alone one meal. There wasn't even enough room on the table for all the plates!


After the waitress had eaten as much as she could, the owner came to the table smiling. He explained all this was part of his plan. He had purchased and closed each of the restaurants she had worked at, to save her from the cruel owners and ultimately bring her back to his restaurant. In his hand the owner had an employment contract marked with his signature and company logo, appointing the women as full partner and maître d’ (head of wait staff). The only condition was that she freely lavish meals upon any needy person who walked through the door, just as she had received. The waitress’ life was changed forever.


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2023 is a new year, but may you know that God is the same. New year, same God. And God is a God of superabundance. In Christ, God lavishes his spiritual blessings upon you. You are a part of God’s plan since the creation of the world. You have been adopted as God’s son, with full rights. You are heirs to the inheritance of eternal life. And as a down payment you have been freely given the Holy Spirit. When you feel empty or struggling in 2023, remember that God freely pours out his grace upon you. Grace upon grace. He lavishes abundant spiritual blessings that aren’t merely material or temporary, but eternal and everlasting. May you live in these promises. Amen.

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