Friday, October 20, 2017

Knowing the Power (4)...Ephesians 1:19-23

“And he put all things under his feet
and gave him as head over all things to the church,
which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.…”

     Consider this dialogue between Augustine and some friends:
     “I want you to know that I am now a Christian.”
     “I shall not believe it, or count you as a Christian until I see you in the Church of Christ.”
     “Is it then the walls of a church that make a Christian?”
     The answer is no.  The walls of a church do not make a Christian, but can a Christian live and serve well as a Christian without entering the walls of the church?  It is a hard question.  Some say, “I have been hurt badly in the church.”  I have been, too.  
     Yet what is God’s attitude toward the church, even with all its foibles and failures?  As Paul completes his portrait of the power he wants the Ephesians to know, he mentions the particular power God gives to the church.  Yes, God strengthens individual Christians.  But Jesus has authority over his body, concern for this body, and calls His people to unite with this body.
     The last phrase of this section is perplexing.  How is the church the fullness of him who fills all in all?  F.F. Bruce summarizes the point well: “The fullness of deity resides in (Jesus), and out of that fullness his church is being constantly supplied.”
     So the church is the body Jesus rules, cares for, and supplies with His power.  What does this mean for you as an individual Christian?  You must participate in the life of the church.  Why would you neglect such a source of power in a world where you are so weak?  How can you expect to mature in your faith and life if you isolate yourself from the place where God’s truth is proclaimed, God’s people are united, and God’s work is done?
     The objections return:
     “You do not know what I have been through.”
     “There are so many lousy churches out there.”
     “Every church is full of flaws.”
     Again, the objections have some merit.  Not all churches are alike, and you must search for a church that loves God and people well.  No church is close to perfect.  The church will fail you.
     But keep up the pursuit.  You need God’s power to live faithfully and fruitfully for Him, and He gives you such power through the ministry of the church.  God’s truth transforms you.  God’s people encourage you.  God’s labor matures you.  While you can imitate much of this in your own little world, God’s richest blessings are upon those who choose to unite with God’s people to proclaim God’s glory and perform God’s service.
     You need to know you have God’s incomprehensible, resurrection, and authoritative power.  You must also realize the reality of God’s particular power in the church.  May you seek, find, and receive from God’s fullness there.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Knowing the Power (3)...Ephesians 1:19-23

“…and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,
far above all rule and authority and power and dominion,
and above every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come…”

     Little children are cute but challenging.  I am especially nervous when I am watching a child who is old enough to walk, yet not old enough to possess much common sense.  I was recently helping care for a group of kids with one of those children.  He is as cute as can be, but he wants to wander everywhere.  I follow, I correct, I redirect, and sometimes I simply pick him up and take him elsewhere.  I can do this, and I must do this.
     Paul prays for the Ephesian Christians to know the hope of the gospel, the riches of their inheritance, and the power of God.  This power is immeasurable power, resurrection power, and authoritative power.  God the Father has raised Jesus the Son from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.  God exercises authority through Jesus, and Jesus sits far above all rule and authority and power and dominion.  This could be a reference to the Jewish conception of a hierarchy of angels.  A. Skevington Wood writes, “Angels were thought to control human destiny, but Paul sees Christ as controlling them with absolute authority because he is infinitely superior.”  This interpretation echoes the book of Hebrews, where the writer says Jesus holds a position higher than the angels.
     As humans, we tend to see authority in other places.  Some believe humans are fully free as the masters of their fates.  Others attribute outcomes to luck or chance.  A religious person might trust in the authority of angels or saints.  But Paul is asserting the absolute authority of God through Jesus over everything.  Like little children, we may wander all sorts of places.  In a world of amazing natural forces, storms, earthquakes and other natural disasters may occur.  People may incite trouble that we have no way to explain.  None of this occurs outside of God’s powerful authority.  While everyone may seem to be wandering around apart from divine oversight, Jesus is on the throne, ruling over it all.
     This should be a comforting word to you.  We struggle to understand why our authoritative God ordains and permits the tragedies and trials we see and experience.  Yet the alternative is horrifying.  If God is not in charge, who is?  Have Satan and his evil angels won the day?  Is the universe subject to the whims of luck and chance?  While we cannot explain everything, we should rejoice that our good God is also the great God who rules over all things.  Nothing occurs apart from His sovereign rule and reign.  We must trust fully in Him.
     God follows, corrects, redirects, and sometimes openly intervenes.  He can, must, and does rule with authoritative power.  Walk before Him in faith.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Knowing the Power (2)...Ephesians 1:19-23

“…according to the working of his great might
that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead
and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places…”

     I am a healthy middle-aged man with a normal body.  With that in mind, do you believe I am capable of picking up a Bible and handing it to you?  This is not a trick question.  The answer is yes.  A healthy middle-aged man with a normal body should be able to pick up a Bible and hand it to you because this is natural for such a man.  You should not be amazed when I do it.
     As Paul continues to describe God’s power, he mentions God’s resurrection power.  The God of immeasurable power is the God who raised Jesus from the dead.  Why should we be surprised at this?  If God can create the world in six days by the command of His word, if God can sustain a universe vaster than we can imagine, and if God can exhibit His power in countless other immeasurable ways, why would it be hard to believe He can raise the dead?
     Skeptics say, “God did not raise Jesus from the dead.”  The implication is that God did not do this because God cannot do this.  But this perspective denies the possibility of anything we would describe as supernatural.  If people cannot be raised from the dead, then God cannot (and did not) raise Jesus from the dead.  
     But the God who reveals Himself in creation and the Bible is more than powerful enough to do this.  God and many witnesses testify that Jesus did rise.  God could do it.  God planned to do it.  God did it.  He is the God of resurrection power.
     Why is this important?  If God did not raise Jesus from the dead, what reason do you have to believe that you will live after you die?  People of all religious backgrounds talk about how the dead have “gone to a better place.”  But unless Jesus is raised from the dead by God’s resurrection power, what reason do you possess to believe this?  You may wish it were true, but your hope would have no foundation at all.
     When Martin Luther’s 14-year old daughter Magdalena died, Luther grieved.  But he did not grieve without hope.  He declared, “You will rise and shine like the stars and the sun.  How strange it is to know that she is at peace and all is well, and yet to be so sorrowful!”  Like everyone else, Christians grieve death.  But we mourn with the solid hope of the resurrection.  This confidence comes from the nature of God.  Because He can everything we see displayed in His creation and providence, we know He can raise the dead.  More than that, He was willing to do it.  Then He did it.  Know and rejoice in this power.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Knowing the Power (1)...Ephesians 1:19-23

“…and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power
toward us who believe…”

     What Olympic sport amazes you the most?  For me, it is gymnastics.  Whenever I watch, I struggle to comprehend how anyone can have the strength to do what gymnasts do.  Whether it is a male or female, I am in awe over their ability to maneuver their bodies in the ways they do.
     Paul wants the Ephesians to know their hope, their riches, and God’s power on their behalf.  Power is the ability to do what you want to do.  I may wish to pull my body around like a gymnast, but I lack the power.  God has all the power He needs.
     Paul’s description of God’s power flows through several verses, and he begins by describing it as immeasurable.  Just as I cannot comprehend the strength of a gymnast, no human can understand the power of God.  It excels everything we can imagine.  It surpasses all other powers.  It is above and beyond everything and everyone.  Nothing and no one can compare to it.
     This is important to remember because the powers of this world seem so intimidating to us.  You may feel threatened by the vocational power of a supervisor, the physical power of a bully, or even the rhetorical power of a persuasive person.  You may fear the power of nuclear arms or weapons wielded by evil people.  Indeed, humans exercise some forms of power, and they can be frightening and destructive.
     But no human power begins to compare with the power of God.  Whatever you fear, it cannot stand against the sovereign ability of God to do whatever He desires.  We still face mystery here.  There are times when we wish God would exert His power, but He does not.  Biblical writers sometimes wonder why God withholds His power in the face of injustice and evildoing.  The Bible promises a day when God will fully display His power and finally execute His justice.  In those moments, it will become evident that even the strongest human being is nothing compared to the God of such immeasurable power.
     Until that day, live with confidence in this God of such power.  Pray for Him to exercise His power on behalf of whatever is good, just, right, beautiful, and true.  Look to Him for courage and strength as you face people and organizations with far more power than you will ever possess.  Anticipate the day when He will bring the full weight of His power to bear upon the evil of this world.  Appreciate His power in the awesome natural forces of this world.  Ask for grace to trust Him when He does not exercise His power in ways you expect or desire.
     A gymnast trains for a long time to reach their peak of power.  God does not need any such training.  His nature is powerful, and His power is exercised toward us who believe.  Live with wonder before His power.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Knowing the Riches...Ephesians 1:18

“…what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints…”

     I just made a list of my tasks for this evening.  I need to help do the laundry, change the cat litter, put up a couple of pictures, and pay some bills.  The last job will involve getting online to my bank accounts and seeing the balances.  No matter how you do your banking or manage your money, it is important to know how much cash you have.  You ought to be aware of how rich (or poor!) you are.
     Do you know how spiritually rich you are?  Paul has already listed the spiritual blessings of choosing, adoption, redemption, inheritance, and sealing.  Now he declares that he prays for the Ephesians to know not only their hope, but their riches.  They have received these blessings and more, and they must hold this truth in their hearts and let it shape their lives.
     Why might you neglect or forget the reality of your riches?  You live in a world where you are easily distracted.  The physical and temporal blessings of the day grab your attention and seek your affection.  You are so busy with what you can see that you overlook the realities you cannot see.  You become functionally unaware of how rich you are.
     Why is it vital to keep track of these riches?  Your world is full of discouragement, and your heart can be full of self-pity.  Real and imagined disappointments may sidetrack your joy.  For example, a relationship might end.  Maybe this is a friendship that turns sour, a working relationship that goes south, or even a marriage destroyed by infidelity.  This is real and painful.  But it is easy to lose perspective.  You can become obsessed with the lost relationship.  You may let the disappointment of the loss cloud every aspect of your life.  You may fall into moody self-pity that majors on your victimhood.  As a result, joy drains from you.  While people should see the glory of Jesus in you, all they see is the tragedy of loss filling your heart and life.  
     You must check your spiritual bank account and recall the spiritual riches you possess in Jesus.  These riches do not remove the pain of loss, but they put it in proper perspective.  People have failed you, and they may do it again.  But because of the spiritual blessings God has provided, you know you have a Father who will never forsake you, a Savior who will always befriend you, and a Spirit who will forever dwell within you.  The call of the believer in Jesus is to regularly step back from the discouragements of this life and luxuriate in the wonderful spiritual blessings of Jesus.
     Do you?  Just as you check the status of your bank account, be sure to notice the position of your spiritual bank account.  This balance will never fluctuate.  In union with Jesus, know that you are always rich.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Worth Telling...

     Stephen Covey told a story that reminds of us of the need to understand people and their struggles before we make judgments about their actions.
     He was on a subway in New York City.  A man and his children entered the train.  The kids were being rather rowdy.  The man sat down and closed his eyes while the kids kept yelling, throwing things, and even grabbing papers from people.
     Someone finally said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people.  I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”
     The man responded, “Oh, you’re right.  I guess I should do something about it.  We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago.  I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”

Friday, October 13, 2017

Knowing the Hope...Ephesians 1:18

“…having the eyes of your heart enlightened,
that you may know the hope to which he has called you…”

     As I write, people in Puerto Rico are struggling to overcome the devastation from Hurricane Maria.  One of the greatest needs is drinkable water.  Some water is available for washing, but it is not good for drinking.  If people cannot drink water, they will die.
     I have always thought of hope as the water of the soul.  Without hope, our souls wither and die.  With hope, our spirits survive and thrive.  As Paul describes the knowledge he wants for his readers, he starts with the hope to which he has called you.  The gospel is good news because it is a gospel of hope.
     This hope is for this life.  How often do you know or hear of people who describe their life as hopeless?  Every dream has died, and there seems to be no reason to go on.  The result is despair or worse.  But the believer in Jesus always has hope for this life.  You know God is your loving and caring Father.  You are confident that He sovereignly rules your path.  You remember that while times may be tough, His grace is sufficient to carry you through.  You are persuaded that every situation and outcome has a good purpose.  These statements are not just comfortable Christian cliches.  They are the basis of today’s hope.
     This hope is for the life to come.  One of my daily tasks is to look at the local obituaries.  The listings never stop.  Sometimes I see youthful pictures of elderly people who have died.  Often, I see healthy pictures of people who have withered away from disease.  Sometimes I see the age of the deceased wonder how someone could die so young.  If this life is your only hope, you have no real hope at all.  The hope of the believer is that Jesus has died and risen to secure eternal life for His people.  Today’s cross precedes tomorrow’s crown.  No matter what happens here, eternity awaits in relationship with God and His people.
     Hold these aspects of hope in your heart.  If you fix the eyes of your heart on the past, you will live in nostalgia or sadness.  If you keep your focus only on the present, the troubles of this life will often seem overwhelming.  But if you look to the hope of this life and the life to come, you will have the strength and courage you need to carry on.  Just as water enables your cells to function so that you may do what you are created to do, hope enables your soul to function so that you may serve God and love others.  Your heart and your circumstances threaten to rob you of your hope.  Make it a daily and ongoing practice to rejoice in the hope God has provided.  Know it deep in your soul every day, and you will truly live.