[serialposts]Have you ever noticed how much “Once upon a time” sounds like “In the beginning”? It’s how the great stories begin (and reveals where the great stories were born). I noticed this when I read Ephesians the way I went looking for thimbleberries.
We were backpacking near Vail, Colorado. I had found and eaten wild berries on a hike before, but this was my first thimbleberry experience. They’re like raspberries except more deeply flavored, more fragile, and more vibrant.
And, unlike the few, small wild huckleberries we found at Grand Teton National Park, here the thimbleberries were lusciously ripe, big, and everywhere. When I first noticed them, they were unfamiliar. I took my first taste and realized I should be on the lookout for these. The more I saw them trailside, the better I recognized the spots of shocking red and the wide leaves like open hands offering me their fruit. I picked them as I hiked, and they left happy stains on my fingertips and intense flavor on my tongue.
Reading the Bible is like looking for wild thimbleberries. (Click to tweet!)
When I start to notice a repeated word or phrase, I mark it every time I see it. It’s as simple as looking for distinctive green leaves and red berries on the trail—and as delightful. I agree with the psalmist who said, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked… (verses 1-2)
Among them [the sons of disobedience] we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh… (verse 3)
Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh…were at that time separate from Christ, excluded… (verses 11-12)
But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off (verse 13)
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household… (verse 19)
Once upon a time (these verses say) you were dead in sin; you were separate from Christ; you were far-off strangers…
Taking note of the repeated word “formerly” (and similar words) led me to remember my once-upon-a-time life. And I saw the contrast to who I am now, in Christ.
Here’s a side-by-side look at God’s rich mercy and grace:
|You WERE:||You ARE:|
|dead in sins||loved by God|
|following the course of this world||made alive with Christ|
|following the prince of the power of the air||seated with Christ in the heavenly places|
|lived in the passions of the flesh||raised up with Christ|
|separated from Christ||lived in the passions of our flesh|
|strangers to the covenants of promise||saved|
|had no hope||His workmanship|
|were without God in the world||created in Christ for good works|
|were far off||brought near|
That God would work such a turn-around in me brings me to my knees. Remembering my life before Christ—which Paul says to do (2:11-12)!—makes me all the more aware of how great His mercy really is. His mercy toward me.
Want to look for more wild berries? Read again through Ephesians 2 (or Ephesians 1 and 2) to look for just one of these words:
- “in Him” (or “in Christ Jesus,” “in the Lord,” etc.)
- “near” (and “far off”)
- “glory” (or “glorious”)
- “purpose” (or “will,” or “plan”)
If you begin to walk through the Bible like this, looking for repeated words or phrases the way I picked wild thimbleberries, you just might end up with happy red stains on your fingers and a deep, sweet flavor on your soul.