Monday, January 04, 2016

New Year Apprehensions? A Strategy and Four Strengths for 2016

[This was shared with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church during both worship services yesterday morning, the Second Sunday of Christmas.]

Ephesians 1:3-14

It’s a new year. Feeling apprehensive about anything as you consider what awaits you in 2016?

If so, that’s normal. And I say that as a recovering worry wart.

But in today’s second lesson, Ephesians 1:3-14, we’re given two things that can help us face our apprehensions.

The first is a strategy for dealing with life.

The second is a set of four reasons for why we don’t need to be apprehensive or worried or frightened.

Our lesson from Ephesians comes near the start of this New Testament letter. Scholars have argued for years over the letter's authorship, but many scholars believe that the book was written in the mid-first century AD by the apostle Paul while he was imprisoned.

If that’s so, the book of Ephesians is remarkable. Seemingly in need of encouragement himself, Paul writes to encourage others!

And how does he do that?

First of all, right here in our lesson, he worships, praises, and prays to God
. “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,” verse 3 begins. For Paul, worship displaces worry!

God commands us to worship Him, of course. He does this when He tells us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” first, through Moses in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and then, when Jesus gives the great commandment in Matthew.

God doesn’t give this commandment because He’s needy

And He doesn’t command us to love or worship Him because He’s an egomaniac

God commands our worship because w
e need to worship God.

We need to acknowledge that our lives come from Him and that only He, through Jesus, can make us whole, give us His presence and His guidance, and give us life beyond the grave.

When we worship, we acknowledge the truth of what Jesus has told us: “Apart from Me, you can do nothing” [John 15:5].

And as we worship and love God, we can say with Paul when he writes elsewhere: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” [Philippians 4:13].”

Without worship of God, we may exist. But when we worship God, we
live! God commands us to worship Him because He loves us and wants us to do more than exist.

So, from his confinement, Paul experiences a brush of eternity with God, just as we can experience every time we pray, read God’s Word, worship with our sisters and brothers in Christ, or every time we hear the words, “Given and shed for you.” That strengthens us for living!

I’m not encouraging a utilitarian view of worship here, by the way. We don't worship in order to get goosebumps or to feel good. Nor is worship some kind of magical psychotherapy.

We worship because we long for God or, at least, we
want to long for God.

In the worship of God, our priorities get shifted. Our pride is challenged and we experience the joy of repentance. Our need for grace is fulfilled. Our relationship with God and our sisters and brothers in Christ is strengthened. God restores us to our right minds and right hearts. The panic diminishes. God gives us the strength to face our apprehensions.

Paul then says, starting in verse 4: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”

Paul isn’t saying here that God predestined who would come to faith in Christ and those who wouldn’t
. Just as was true of God’s ancient chosen people, Israel, Christians may be members of a Christ's church, they are part of God's saved people by faith. Genesis tells us that Abraham, the father of ancient Israel, believed in God’s promises and God counted Abraham’s faith as righteousness. Abraham had been chosen, but he was only saved by grace through faith. The same is true for we who have come to know God through Jesus.

Ephesians 2:8 tells believers that: “...
it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Through Christ, God has chosen us as His people and that’s one reason we should never be apprehensive.

Our lesson goes on: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”

Since the fall of Adam and Eve, God has had a plan for bringing heaven and earth together again in a fellowship undistorted by sin, death, or darkness. This is God’s good pleasure. To put it another way, God’s good pleasure, the thing God wants more than anything else is you.

God wants you, not as a subject or a piece on a game board He can manipulate.

God wants you.

He wants me.

He wants the whole fallen, imperfect human race.

He wants us so that He can set us free to be who we were made to be, who we have been redeemed to be through Jesus Christ. So that we can be our true selves, our God-made selves for all eternity.
We should be strengthened in the face of our apprehensions by knowing that God wants us as His children! The world may spurn us or view us as rejects, but God never will!

Verse 11: “In him [that is, in Christ] we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.”

God once told the people of Israel through the prophet Jeremiah: “...I know the plans I have for you...plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” [Jeremiah 29:11]

God could be addressing those words to you and me as the Church this morning!

Jesus tells us that there
will be difficulties--even grief and death--in this life. But He will never abandon us. “...surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age,” Jesus promises. [Matthew 28:20] And eternity with God is part of His plan for us. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 2:11-12: “Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.”

Jesus’ gives us strength to face our apprehensions through the promise of His constant presence and of eternity with God

But in the rush of events, it can be hard to remember to worship or praise God. (I know; I sometimes forget God and try to get through life in my own power!) When life comes at us, we can lose the strength God wants to give us by forgetting God’s faithfulness, instead turning to our modern world’s golden calves, things like money, sex, status, entertainment, the daily horoscope, sigils, the applause of the crowd.

Even when we forget God though, He never forgets us
. Anyone who remembers to come to Him in the name of Jesus Christ, worshiping and praising Him for His faithfulness in standing with us and redeeming us, can be given strength to face what gives us apprehension or fear. We’ve already talked about the strategy for dealing with these things, worship. And we’ve talked about three ways in which God can strengthen us to face our apprehensions.

But God gives us more. Verse 13: “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

To strengthen us, God gives believers in Jesus the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit, Paul is telling us, is God’s down-payment on our eternity, guaranteeing us that all God promises us in Christ is true!

Recently, I was apprehensive.

There was a situation in my extended family. I had volunteered to be the one who confronted a family member. I had no idea what to say, but I knew something needed to be said. I prayed for several days.

Finally, one evening, I prayed: “God, I have no idea what to say, how to even bring things up. This will catch this other person by surprise and they’re likely to be very angry. Help me to know how to approach things. I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

The phone rang. It was the person I was contemplating contacting. “Just thought I'd give you a call,” the person told me.

More silent praying: “God, send Your Spirit.”

After some pleasantries, I found myself speaking. I don’t know exactly what I said. The other person
did get mad. But then I explained my motives and how much I loved this person. We talked for about forty minutes. At the end of the conversation, we had reached an understanding. A situation had been dealt with.

I hasten to add that not all my prayers are so quickly answered. There have been some requests I've brought before God daily for years before, in ways I never could have anticipated, answered them.

Jesus exhorts us to persevere in prayer, I believe, so that when He delays answering our pleas positively, we will have no doubt that the answer, when it arrives, is from Him. And, so that when the answer is no, we will have formed the habit of turning to the God Who knows what our suffering is like and has redeemed us from the worst that this life can bring us.

In any case, those who turn to God through prayer in Jesus' name have the power to live!

And that is always the Holy Spirit’s doing.

We can be encouraged face our apprehensions because who believe and are baptized have the power of God’s Holy Spirit working in our lives

As 2016 begins, are you apprehensive? Turn your apprehension into worship and then be strengthened by knowing that you have been chosen to be part of God’s people, that God wants you as His child, that You can stand on the plans and promises of the crucified and risen Jesus, and that, to guide you in your walk with God, you have the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Happy new year!


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