Many years ago, I heard someone say that the problem with most Christians in the UK is that we build bungalows on foundations that God put in for skyscrapers. I think it’s a great comment, and one that deserves some serious thought. Anyone visiting London would almost certainly notice The Shard. It is an extraordinary building, some 1000 feet tall, well above adjoining buildings. Unsurprisingly, its foundations go down some 172 feet deep. Since there were underground train lines close by, extra care was taken with the foundations.
Imagine how ridiculous it would look if, after putting in those foundations, the builders erected a bungalow on them! But that seems to be what many Christians do. God has provided all that is needed for us to live far better and more effective Christian lives. He must be very disappointed at times.
The first time I heard the bungalow analogy was probably in the early 1960s and it became a favourite quote of Graham and Kaye Stone, two Salvationist friends. We were all in our teens, and worked together in a mission organisation. As I consider what I have built since then, I also wonder where Graham and Kaye are today, and whether their dream of becoming Salvation Army officers ever came to pass. They certainly had incredible potential, and I hope they made it.
The issue of foundations and what we build on it came home to me recently when preparing a Bible Study for some of the men at HMP Gartree, in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.. Chapter 1 verses 3 to 14 Paul informed them that they were “blessed with every spiritual blessing”, and then lists something of what that means. Each aspect in this amazing list could be the basis for a profound sermon. Take a look:
- Chosen before the creation of the world
- Loved by God
- Part of God’s plan
- Adopted into God’s family
- The object of God’s pleasure
- Beneficiaries of God’s glorious grace
- Redeemed through Christ’s blood
- Forgiven of our sin
- Recipients of grace that has been lavished upon us
- Those with whom God has shared his plans
- Included in Christ
- Heirs (guaranteed by the gift of the Holy Spirit)
Isn’t that amazing? All of this is not what will be, but what is now! But Paul continues immediately by telling the Ephesian Christians that because of all that is theirs as a result of their faith in Jesus Christ, he prays for them, that they will build on what God has already provided. The key word in the remainder of chapter 1 is “know”. Two different Greek words are used. In verse 17 it expresses the sense of a growing understanding. In verse 18 it is full comprehension. In other words, on top of all that God has already done for them, there was more to be discovered.
But this ongoing experience of grace depends not solely on our efforts but because of the work of the Holy Spirit, who enlightens our understanding and excites our desire to know more completely God’s plan and purpose and how we fit into it like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle making up a beautiful picture. We grasp the fact that his people on earth are the riches of his inheritance as he is ours, and discover an incomparable power available and working within us to change us, so that the world around might see God’s grand work like a great building breaking above the skyline.
So much is possible in our lives. God’s power is unlimited. The potential is there. At the end of chapter 2 Paul writes, “[You are] built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
The Shard was planned and designed by Renzo Piano, but it was built by hundreds of people employed by or contracted by Mace, and later Turner and Townsend. Someone was needed who could read and understand the plans who could turn the drawings into the tallest building in Europe. In the same way, God wants us to read and understand his plans and, working with others, build something amazing that will make people say, “Who designed something so amazing?”
Barry Osborne – 13th January 2018
(Diary for the remainder of January added in e-letter)