Tuesday, September 29, 2009

This Week's Sermon: Lining Up for Battle Together

Ephesians 5:21-6:18.
Authority can be such a divisive topic not only in churches, but in the family, and in the workplace as well. We all know who’s in charge, sometimes they won’t let us forget it! And those who are not in charge, those who feel they don’t have power, what do they do? They find ways to undercut and manipulate and get what they want by going around the powers that be. This kind of worldly authority patterns don’t get us very far. They make those in charge bullies, and those subordinate bitter. This passage has been used in the past to justify the worldly system, to defend abuse and slavery. I want to tell you this morning that if that is the way we read these words, we have been getting it wrong. This passage, just like the rest of this letter to the Ephesians, is calling not for an authoritative power structure, but for unity in spite of its existence in the world.

Many times we forget that this book in our bibles is not a theological treatise, but a letter. It was not written to be dissected, but as an encouraging letter to be read from start to finish. When we forget and begin chopping the letter into sections, we tend to leave behind the previous sections and content and see each section as a separate entity. So, to review and connect our passages together, Paul started by telling the Ephesians to praise God because of his gift to them of every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ; reminded them of their adoption into God’s family; showed them where they were—far away—and how they had been brought near; told them of how he prayed for them—for God to open their eyes and enlighten their hearts to his love for them and his power at work within them; and then lines out how their lives should be different from their old way of living since Christ has made them new. And through all of this, there is a continued emphasis on unity; of our level footing at the cross--salvation by grace not works; of God’s destruction of the hostility that divides us; of his bringing together and making us one; and how this new life lived in gentleness, patience, humility, and love leading to unity through the bond of peace. The last section that we read ended with some ways the Holy Spirit shows up in our lives: speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing to God, and giving thanks.

Now, without pausing to take a breath, Paul says "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." This statement is so much a part of these two sections, it is a manifestation of the Spirit at work within us, and it is also the beginning of the section we will study today. “Submit yourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Everyone usually "amens" that verse, and cringes at the next. Today we are going to stop being afraid of the word submission. We are going to stop being held captive to the view that submission is somehow a reinforcement of the world’s system of oppression and abuse. Instead we are going to see this word as a blessing. It is going to become something encouraging and a blessing to us in all of our relationships. Submission. Who would have thought?

Let’s look at this word, submission. In the Greek, the root is hupotasso. It has a military definition, which is going to be key to our boldness with this word from today forward. The military definition is to line up troops, to arrange them under a commander for battle. In this case, an ending is placed on the word that makes it not an absolute command, but a matter of our own decision--hupotassomai. Not just “submit!” but instead submit yourself voluntarily. Paul says to these Ephesians “Submit yourselves (voluntarily) to one another out of reverence for Christ.” In that verse, who is our commander? Christ! He is the leader of our army. We are to voluntarily submit to one another—line up for battle with one another, out of reverence, respect and fear for our commander. That puts a whole new spin on our way of thinking, doesn’t it? Suddenly we are not fearing each other. We are not fearing the person in authority over us. We are acting out of reverence for Christ. It does not take away the earthly authority, but suddenly we have a greater purpose and a greater authority that we know we can trust with every part of our lives.

Now Paul takes this into our daily lives--marriage, family, and work--where we are most likely to experience conflict and anxiety over authority and power. He starts with the one closest to home. Paul says “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ; wives to your husbands as to the Lord.” Then he finishes by stating the authority structure already in place—for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. Our response to this verse should be to look around and realize we are standing on a battle field. No one argues over power when enemy fire is coming. So, just as the believers are to line up together for battle under Christ, wives are to line up for battle with their husbands. Wives, we have to be watching their backs. When troops line up for battle, everyone looks out for everyone else. Submission is a matter of seeing the bigger picture: we have to remember our trust, and our hope is not in our husbands. Our hope and our trust is in the Lord. On the field of battle, sergeants and captains don’t lay out the battle plan. The plan comes from the general or the commander. Christ is our commander, and we put our trust in him, because he already proved he would die for us. This gives us the boldness to be respectful of our husbands, not manipulative, not steamrolling them, and not heckling them to pieces.

Husbands, Paul says something radical to you, love your wife as Christ loved the church. Think about that for a moment. What did Christ ever do for himself? What did he ever do that had a purpose other than to raise up the church and glorify the Father? Nothing. Are you ready for that kind of sacrifice? That takes some serious trust in God. Laying down your life for your wife, being willing to sacrifice your wants for her needs, that is tough stuff. But that is exactly what Real Men of God are called to do. Husbands, your wives are lining up for battle with you, you need to line up with them as well. You are under fire from a common enemy, this is not the time for power plays and bullying. This is not the time to bellow, “I am the king of my own castle.” What good is a castle if all your troops are lying dead around it? Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church, sacrificed himself in the battle so he could win the war.

This lining up for battle does not take away the authority roles that are already in place, it just makes them less of a focus. Children obey your parents, for this is right, and so that you will have a long life. If privates don’t obey the more experienced captains and sergeants on the field of battle, they are toast. Children, even you need to know that we are at war. We have an enemy who would like nothing more than to ruin your lives by leading you astray. Line up for battle with your parents and trust their lead. Parents, since we are at war, don’t exasperate your children, they may just decide to join the other side. You need to raise them in the instruction of the Lord Jesus. That means not only teaching them facts, but living out the new life that Christ has placed in us through the Holy Spirit.

The next groups addressed are servants and masters. Today we could read this employees and employers, or working people and managers. You all know how it goes in a work environment. The boss uses his power to make himself feel important and the working people all stand at the water cooler and conspire to play minesweeper for an hour everyday to get back at him. We start to see each other as enemies, when in reality we are all under fire from the same source. Even co-workers and managers who are not Christians are under fire from the enemy. They sometimes pass that fire along to others, but a lot of it is internalized. If we could see the bigger picture, and decide to stop undermining each other, we could line up for battle together. What if employees chose to voluntarily do their work as though they were serving Christ? What if Bosses saw that they were going to be held accountable for their actions by the same judge as those who worked for them? If we could do this in the workforce, we would stop losing ground and the witness of Christ would advance.

I know the whole military analogy is sometimes hard to swallow, but let’s not forget that Paul does not transition to another topic in chapter 6 verse10. No, he says “finally,” to sum it all up. After we get our attitudes toward each other in the right perspective, one more reminder that we must put on the armor God provides for us so that we can stand against the enemy who is not flesh and blood. Your enemy is not your spouse, your children, your parents, your boss, or your workforce! There is an enemy, and unlike an earthly enemy, this is one that we cannot defeat. Only God can defeat him, but God has given us the armor necessary to stand our ground. So, stop fighting each other for control. Stop the power struggle at home, in your marriage, and at work. Open your eyes to the battle raging around you and choose to line up and stand in formation under our one commander Jesus Christ, looking out for the wellbeing of those around us, and standing our ground together.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Fall Mini-Calendar

Important Dates to Remember!
2nd-3rd Emporia Clean Sweep in our area

Tuesday the 6th Elder’s Meeting 6:30 pm

Sunday the 11th Business Meeting following Worship
Fall Harvest Party at Rainsbarger’s 5:00

Thursday the 15th Burundi Presentation at 6:30 pm

16th-18th Women’s Retreat Weekend

Sunday the 25th Area Rally at Gardner Friends


Sunday the 15th Beginning of Family Sunday School
Shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child
Thanksgiving Meal

This week's sermon: Out with the Old, In with the New

Ephesians 4:17-5:20.

These declarations and prohibitions are all expansions on verse 2 of chapter 4, where Paul says to “be completely humble, gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love.” This is that life of humility and love lived out practically. Paul takes us through four statements of what we ought to look like as children of the king. Paul tells the Ephesians to 1. Stop living like the gentiles; 2. Put off the old self, and put on the new; 3. Be imitators of God as dearly loved children; and 4. Be careful how you live, live wisely. These four statements are expanded on in the surrounding verses, detailing the old life and what to put off, and the new life, what to put on.

Paul begins this section by describing the life of the gentiles as a dark, separated, ignorant, numb, indulgent lifestyle that does not satisfy. Sounds great, right? I put it right up there with sleeping on the street without a blanket. Do you remember last week’s picture of the beggar turned son of the king? This is the life he was giving up. This is not much of a sacrifice, and yet sometimes we treat leaving this life of darkness, loneliness, and hunger as a great martyrdom. But if we are in Christ, Paul says we should know better. This is not the Truth that we were taught in Christ. Remember the woman at the well, Jesus said to her, “If you asked me I would give you water so that you would never thirst again.” God does not call us to a life of emptiness, but a life so full of himself, we realize our former starvation without him.

The Truth we learn in Christ is to put off the old way of life that does not satisfy. It no longer suits us to be wearing the clothes of a beggar spiritually, but the very robes of Christ’s righteousness and holiness. That is why put off the cloak of lies we hide behind. Not because it is wrong—which it absolutely is—but because wearing the robes of righteousness we don’t have anything we need to lie about. Lying is a survival skill in some people’s lives. It is how they make up for the fact that they feel inferior, weak, ashamed of who they are. But in Christ, we are God’s children, the sons and daughters of the king. What do we have to hide? Even the things of the past are no longer important, they are overcome by what Christ has done for us in bringing us into the family, and the Holy Spirit is doing in us to transform us from the inside out. This is the ultimate recognition of grace, to live in honesty with one another. To refuse to judge, to refuse to fear the judgment of others, but to be in complete unity as one body.

This unity is held together by our obedience to deal with our disagreements and even anger with one another in a way that brings about healing, not wounding. It is not a sin to be angry. It is a natural response we have to injustice, or pain, or being wronged. What we choose to do with that anger can become sinful if we allow it to fester, if we refuse to practice constructive confrontation, if we let it go down to bitterness and drive a wedge between ourselves and another person. Then it is sin, then it causes wounds that become gangrenous. And injuring our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, or allowing a wound in our hearts to fester by continually picking it open gives the devil a foothold. It is like making a whole in the network of sentries around the castle so that the enemy can sneak his troops over the wall.

Paul describes many things that are part of the old life and the alternative new life actions. Stealing is part of that old life. Working—not only for our own living, but so that we can find value in sharing with others is part of the new life. Tearing people down through course language and gossip is part of the old life. Building people up in conversation and bringing them encouragement in what we say is part of the new life. Seeking a loophole so that you can still engage in the habits you enjoy while feeling smugly superior is grieving to the Holy Spirit, it is trying to hang onto the old life while pretending to live in the new. So don’t do it. Life in Christ is not about what you can get away with, it is about how deeply you can immerse yourself in Christ to experience his abundance. This is why Paul tells the Ephesians to imitate God as dearly loved children.

When kids see their parents and do what they are doing, it is not because there is some rule that they must. It is out of love and a desire to be just like daddy. I remember when Kathrina started taking her plastic alphabet letters from the fridge 9particularly the green letter “T”) and shaving just like daddy, or when she would want to help mommy sweep and mop the floor. Bella loves to help do the dishes, and both girls love to sit in the computer chair and “work.” It should be the same with us. We should love our heavenly daddy so much and desire to be like him that our behavior naturally patterns after his. And we know that God is love, we should live in love towards God and one another, following the pattern Christ set for us.

That pattern does not include, and never will include, sexual immorality, impurity, greed, obscenity or coarse joking. Why, because they are on the “bad” list? Well, they are, but not just because someone arbitrarily decided they were bad. No, these are symptoms of a greater problem. You know that it is not good for your lungs to fill up with fluid. You know it is bad to loose feeling in your hands and feet. You know that it is really bad to start having body parts fall off. But if you go to the doctor, his concern is to find out why these things are happening. The same is true of the sinful habits in our lives. Paul tells us the basic diagnosis as to why these bad things, immorality, impurity, greed and obscenity, would show up in our lives. The problem, he says, is idolatry. That is the real sin here. That is the root. “But I don’t bow down to an idol!” You protest. But if you can’t say no to sexual immorality, lust has become your god. If you can’t say no to dishonesty and greed, self has become your god. If you can’t say no to obscenity and coarse talk that tears others down to make you look good, popularity and the praise of men has become your god. These become the things you imitate and seek after above everything else. Watch out for idolatry, it is the root disease of all kinds of infection in the Christian life. Now Paul gives a warning about people who will try to tell you that this is all meaningless. They will tell you it doesn’t really matter what you do. They will say that grace covers everything, so live like you want to. Well, grace does cover everything that we allow it to cover. If we are following another god, a god of darkness, emptiness, loneliness, deceit, and death; if we are sacrificing and surrendering ourselves to those gods in idolatry then we cannot simultaneously be surrendering ourselves to the One True Living God and his abundant grace.

As Paul says, there is no fellowship of light with darkness. You cannot have a little darkness and a little light. Wherever there is light, darkness has to flee. Do not deceive yourself into thinking that you are in the light when you are surrounding yourself with darkness. The last admonition Paul gives is to live wisely. We know that the way of the world is foolishness, and there are a lot of ways to ruin your life foolishly. That is why I think the only thing Paul mentions in this little section is don’t get drunk. Probably the biggest thing you could have done in Paul’s day to ruin your ability to make good decisions was to get drunk. Now we have added a whole host of intoxicants and drugs that contribute to stupid decision making. Instead of turning to intoxication to feel good about ourselves and to gain confidence, why not instead be filled with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will come in, give us a good picture of who we are in Christ, give us strength for every situation, give us peace and confidence and a sense of God’s love and grace. All that and no hangover or worries about the foolish things we did the night before.

All of these things that Paul tells the Ephesians again are a way to fulfill the life lived in gentleness, patience, humility, and unity through love. The keys are to stop living like we did before, put off the old, put on the new, imitate God like his children that we are, and live wisely. In this way our lives serve to glorify God, to build up the body of Christ around us, and to satisfy our souls in a way the old life just could not have done. We can’t do all of this alone. But we can have this life with the help of the Holy Spirit and by encouraging each other with Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual songs. Our lives of love and thanksgiving help those around us to continue walking in their new lives as well, and we all build each other up as one body with Christ as the Head.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Weekly Schedule 9/13/09

Tuesday September 15th-
Coffee at Amanda's 9:30 am
Elder's Meeting 6:30 pm

Sunday September 20th- Sunday School 9:30 am
Fellowship in the Birchwood Room 10:30 am
Worship 10:45 am

Iglesia Evangelica Amigos 3:00 pm

Remember to pray this week for those who are ill and those who mourn.

This week's sermon: Sonship 101

Ephesians 4:1-16.
Paul has been telling the Ephesians where they stand. He told them to rejoice and praise God because they were adopted as his children, and they had received every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms. He reminded them that they used to be dead, and now they are alive. He reminded them again, that as gentiles, they were separate, foreigners, outcasts, and now God has brought them near in Christ. Paul shared with them that he prays for them, twice he has shown them his prayers for their hearts, their eyes, their inner being to be enlightened to know the hope God has called them to, his power for them, and his love that surpasses all knowledge. Paul has been showing them right where they are: loved, accepted, adopted, blessed, prayed for, appointed a special ambassador in Paul himself. Now he tells them the rest of the story.

Now Paul tells them that their position in Christ, their calling, requires a change in the way they live. It didn’t require a change to get them into that position, but once they are there their lives must change. Why is that? Well, let’s play pretend for just a minute. Let’s say there is a beautiful kingdom, with a great and mighty king. Let’s say that this king has a son who one day sees a beggar in the street and through his intercession with the king on behalf of the beggar the king decides to adopt the beggar as his son. So now the beggar is the son of the king. In order for the beggar to become the son of the king he had to do nothing, the prince did all the work. But because he is the son of the king now there are certain things required of him.

He can’t go around wearing a beggars clothing. He can no longer sleep on the street without a blanket. He must eat good food. He may be given assignments by the king. And he needs to get along with the other members of the king’s household. The same is true for the Ephesians that Paul is writing to. They were adopted into the king’s household. Now they must not live like the beggars they were before. Paul tells them, and we need to hear this as well today, that the first thing about living in the king’s house is getting along with others.

Paul gives some nice baby steps: humility, gentleness, patience, love, and unity. These are the values of the kingdom, and as the king’s children, we must live them out with each other first. We talked about some of these kingdom values at the recent ladies tea. Humility is simply a matter of being grounded, knowing who we are as children of the king, without forgetting the beggar we used to be. Gentleness is being approachable, available to those in need. Patience is waiting for God to work in us and in others in his own timing, even when it hurts. Love holds all these things together, and really is what makes it possible for us to consider being humble, patient, and gentle; love that does not come from us, but that comes from God at work in us. Paul reminded the Ephesians of God’s work in them, his mighty power, and his love that surpasses knowledge. That love is at work in our hearts to produce love in us for others. When all of these kingdom values are in play, we will be unified. This is of vital importance, because as Paul tells the Ephesians, we are all part of one body.

When we are adopted as his children, God not only makes us part of his family or his household, but he makes us part of the church, the bride of Christ, which is one organic unit. The church, no matter how we try to divide it into denominations or sects, is one body. We all have the same hope, we all have the same Holy Spirit at work in us, we all have the same Lord Jesus. We may disagree on how to baptize, but we all agree in the necessity of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. We have one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism. We all have the same God and Father who is over all and through all and in all. Paul wants the Ephesians to know this, to grab onto it, to hold tightly to this truth because sometimes it is hard to see the bonds that hold us together.

We are all part of one body, but even though we are one, we have many different gifts, different roles to play, different assignments from the king. Paul tells the Ephesians that Christ led captives in his train and gave gifts to men. These assignments and talents come from Christ by way of the Holy Spirit. Here Paul calls it grace. Grace has been appointed to each of us as Christ saw fit. He didn’t do a survey to find out what you think you should be doing, he gave you a gift and he expects you to use it. But that isn’t fair! Some people would protest, but I would answer that it is not fair to take a beggar and make him part of the king’s family. The king doesn’t ask those in his household what they want to do, he knows them well and he gives them the tasks as he sees fit. As independence-loving Americans it takes a while for us to wrap our minds around that concept. Trust me, I would never have thought that I would make a good pastor. It was nowhere on my radar, but God called me. I argued strenuously against it. But you can’t win an argument with the king. He is the king. He wins.

Grace has been apportioned to each one of us, that means we all have a job to do, and that we have been given the ability to do it. Paul doesn’t list all of the spiritual gifts here, so don’t worry if you don’t see your gift in these verses. Paul gives a basic overview not of God's gifts to men, but of what God has given to the church in order to produce maturity. It says he gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers. Apostles are sent ones, the ones that God tells to go somewhere else to tell the gospel, these are our missionaries. Prophets get a bad rap as spooky mystics who tell the future, really a prophet is simply someone who speaks forth the word of God. This is the person who will tell you the truth no matter how much you want them to blur the lines for you. Evangelists are those who are devoted to the good news. These guys can’t wait to talk about the good news of the gospel of Jesus to anyone and everyone. At the end of the list are a squashed together double-teamed group of pastors and teachers. Pastors are shepherds, they live in the field with the sheep. They lead them to water and show them where the good food is, and keep the sheep from eating poisonous plants or falling off cliffs. Teachers teach the word of God, the things of God. Good teachers don’t just throw information at you, they get you to take hold of it yourself and spur a hunger for more.

These are not just gifts that God gives individual people, rather they are the gifts that God gives to the church. He gave to the church some people to go, some to speak the Truth, some to have a passion for the gospel, and some to shepherd the people and engage them in learning about God. He gave these gifts to the church so that the body might be built up. The job of missionaries, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers is not to make a name for themselves, but to prepare God’s people for works of service. Their job is to get others ready to go, to speak the truth, to share the gospel, to lead and to teach so that the whole body is built up and comes together in unity.

Unity is so important because it is only by learning to stick it out together and learn from each other that we can hope to attain a maturity of faith and understanding that will enable us to grow up in all things. Paul ends this section with a reminder of who is really in charge, Christ is the head of all things. We are supported by ligaments, but the whole body has to do its part as the head directs it so that the body can be in tune. Then the body works together to build itself up instead of tear itself apart. This is a lesson the church is desperate to learn. More blood has been shed and more martyrs made in the church because of Christians killing Christians than by any other means. Usually it is over matters that don’t really matter. I am not suggesting we accept every new wave of thought and teaching, obviously Paul would say that would make us still infants. But not rushing to judgment, considering our standpoint, returning to scripture and evaluating both perspectives in humility, gentleness, patience, and love; we may just find that we are the ones in the wrong, or that it is a matter of no consequence one way or the other. If there must be confrontation, after this time of searching, it can be done as we are instructed "speaking the truth in love." Then we will find when we are neither persuaded nor provoked to wrath at every new wave of teaching, that we have grown up into Christ-likeness. And we will have passed the first level of Sonship 101: how to get along with others in the king’s household.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

This Week's Sermon: Taking Hold of God's Love

Ephesians 3:14-21.
The need for love surrounds us. It is expressed everywhere in popular culture from music to children's movies. The popular songs throughout recent generations shout the need for love: "You're nobody 'til somebody loves you..." "All you need is love..." "Don't you want somebody to love, don't you need somebody to love..." and on they go crying out for someone to love. Even in the children's movie Beauty and the Beast the thing that will break the curse is when the enchanted prince learns to love someone and to be loved in return. We all need love. The world around us is starving for love, and we as Christians find ourselves--whether we realize it or not, swimming in an eternal sea of love.

Paul is praying in this section for the Ephesian believers. For this reason; because as he stated in verse 10, God’s eternal purpose was to make known his wisdom through the church, and because we can approach him boldly through faith. Paul boldly asks for things that seem impossible. He asks that they know the unknowable, that they be filled with the immeasurable, so that their lives may bring glory and honor to God.

I love this prayer. Paul in a nutshell prays for everything that would perfect the church and turn us into the God-glorifying, Christ-imitating, Gospel-shining people he wants us to be. All in just a few sentences! If we could have these prayers prayed over us, and if God answered in all his power and might, and we allowed him to do this work in us, there would be no containing the results.

The first thing Paul prays is that the Ephesians would be strengthened. That is good. We would all like some extra strength. But he doesn’t stop there. The source of that strength is God’s glorious riches. Out of God’s abundance, his inexhaustible resources, out of the strength that he has that will never quit, Paul is praying for that strength to enter the lives of the Ephesians. And the vehicle for that strength is the very Spirit of God. So Paul is asking God through the Holy Spirit—who is the only one who could possibly handle that much power—to give strength from his everlasting power to the Ephesians in their inner being. There is no real life comparison to this, but the closest thing would be charging a tiny battery from the world’s largest power plant. The purpose for this power and strength in their inner being is so that they are capable of having Christ dwell in their hearts through faith.

Do you realize that it takes a supply of strength from God’s abundance for us to have the ability for Christ to dwell in us? For us to have the faith to let him in, God goes to his storehouse and pours forth his power through the Holy Spirit. That is what it takes for us to have Christ dwell in our hearts through faith. Next time you are having a low faith day, remember this verse, and stop trying to conjure up faith on your own. You have to be hooked into the power supply in order to even have a chance. It is a job that is way too big for us. We have to let God pour his power into us! He has the abundance, we have the need, we just have to let him in. Wow, and that was just one part of the prayer!

Next Paul prays that they will be rooted and established in love. Rooted, like a tree, and established like a skyscraper that has to have foundations deep below the earth’s surface. That is what we need in order for the next part of Paul’s prayer to be possible, and it is what Paul assumes is already in place for the Ephesians if the first prayer is answered. If Christ is dwelling in your heart through faith, you are getting roots that are growing down into God’s love, your foundations are being laid deep beneath the surface. Assuming that process has begun, and that God is faithful to complete it, Paul prays that out of that rooting, out of that establishment of foundations in God’s love, we might have more power to grasp how wide, and long, and high and deep is the love of Christ.

Picture a tree, planted in the earth. That tree is rooted in the soil, but no matter how long it lives and grows in that soil, it will never reach the top of the sky. It will never reach the center of the earth. It will never spread its branches out to touch on the other side of the globe. The same is true for us. Paul is praying for us as tiny trees to grow until we grasp, and take hold of the completeness of the boundaries of God’s boundless love. We will always grow and never reach the limits. But the way in which we grasp God’s love is the same way that the tree grasps the earth. The tree takes hold of the earth. The tree makes the earth its own. The tree takes in minerals from the soil and so takes on characteristics from the earth. In the same way, we can take hold of God’s love, and make it our own. We can hold onto it, we can take it in, we can let it change us from the inside out. And I would say that being rooted and established in love, we cannot help but take in God’s love. And we would be fools not to grasp hold of it and make it our own. This grasping of God’s love, again is not something we do in our own strength, but only as God works in us to strengthen us. And it is also another step closer to Paul’s ultimate prayer for the Ephesians. He prays that they may have power to grasp the love of God, so that they can know it fully and intimately.

Paul is praying for them to fully know the unknowable, to know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge. It is too great for us to understand. Like the earth is too great for the tree to ever touch every part of it. But to seek this understanding and to grow in the knowledge of God’s love is as much a part of our lives as Christians as the tree’s natural tendency to keep growing taller and push roots further down, and stretch limbs farther out. Every tree grows as if it could someday reach the heavens. Every Christian life ought to be the same.

If we could understand this love that defies comprehension, then we would, as Paul prayed for the Ephesians, have the capacity to be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. I think, in part, this is attainable. Paul prays for them to be filled to the measure. He wants them to be filled to the top, with no space left. It is conceivable that we could be so filled that we would have no desire, no hunger, no empty space left to be filled by anything other than God. Most of us don’t live that way. We do not seek to fill every space in our lives with God, but rather to let God occupy the space we have left over after we fill every other part of our lives with other things. We are happy to have God occupy a tenth of our lives, or maybe a quarter. If we even cross paths with someone who has let God occupy half of their lives, we are shocked, and even a little offended. This part of the prayer has two parts, that they be filled to the measure and that they be filled with all the fullness of God.

Even if we did allow God to fill us 100%, we would not necessarily allow all his fullness in. Let’s face it, there are parts of who God is that we are uncomfortable with. We don’t like the stories of God’s immediate judgment—like the 15,000 Israelites who died because they were complaining about God’s choice of leadership. And we don’t like God’s extreme grace either—like the parable of the workers in the field, we can’t understand why someone who makes a deathbed confession of faith could possible inherit the same heavenly reward as Billy Graham, but Jesus said they do. So we pick and choose what parts of God we want to allow into our lives. But Paul is praying for the Ephesians to be filled up to the fullest with everything that makes God who he is. That is my desire for each of us as well.

All of this is a precursor to the real prayer. That God will be glorified in the church and through Christ Jesus through all generations, forever and ever. And he is worthy of that glory because he is the God who is able to do the impossible. He is able to give us the ability to have Christ dwell in us. He is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. He is able to enable us to take hold of his love. He is able to fill us up with the fullness of who he is. He can do it. If Paul could think to pray it, God is able to do all of that and more. He is the God of the impossible, and he wants to do the impossible in you and me, and in our church and city. The question is not “Is he able?” The question is “Am I willing?” Or even “Will I ask God to make me willing?”

Think with me of that tree for just a moment, and imagine that you can sink your toes into God’s love, that you can stretch your arms out and keep reaching farther to take it all in. The tree doesn’t make the rain, or the soil, or the air, or the sunlight that make it grow. All the tree does is open itself up to receive. My challenge to you this morning is to open your heart and allow God to do his work in you. He is so able, and willing, and can do the impossible in you. Let him in, let him work. See the impossible springing up in your life.