Sunday, July 30, 2006

Abundance Beyond Imagining

[This message was shared with the people of Friendship Lutheran Church during worship celebrations on July 29 and 30, 2006.]

Ephesians 3:14-21
Some of you may remember the second big oil crisis that hit this country back in 1979. The Shah of Iran was ousted from power and the new radical Islamist government there lowered their oil exports, driving up the price of gas at the pump here in America. Although we had just a 4% loss of total fuel supply, there was such a panic that lots of service stations ran out of fuel for periods of time and others either limited how much gas they sold or how long they were open.

In the midst of this, my wife, a friend, her daughter, and I went to the wedding of my best man, held on one of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York. We stayed with friends who lived near Syracuse and on the morning after the wedding, said our goodbyes to them and then, headed for our home in Columbus. We were a little low on gas as we set out. But because a fair number of stations had been open on the way up, we were optimistic that we could find a place to fill up the tank heading home.

Boy, was that naive! As the fuel indicator needle moved closer and closer to E, we became more desperate to find a place to get gas. More than a few times, we pulled off the Interstate only to find stations that were either closed or completely out of fuel. We finally found a station, packed with cars and trucks, where we were able to get gas. Never in my life was I so happy to be able to fill it up as I was then!

Our Bible lesson for today is about getting filled up. Like all our Bible lessons of the past several weeks, it comes to us from the New Testament book of Ephesians, which has traditionally been ascribed to the apostle Paul. The passage before us today contains two prayers and a last section known as a doxology.

That word, doxology, is a compound term that comes to us from the Greek language in which the New Testament was written. Doxos means glory and logos means word. A doxology is a word of glory or praise to God.

There are many doxologies in the Bible and in song. But there’s one song often called simply The Doxology that I’ll bet you know. Would you sing that with me right now?
Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.
Praise Him all creatures here below.
Praise Him above ye, heavenly host.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen
There’s a reason I asked you to warble that hymn with me. It can help us to understand the two prayer petitions that Paul mentions in our lesson.

In the first, Paul says:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.
Here, Paul prays for the Ephesians, that with their lives built on God’s love, God’s Spirit will fill them up and Jesus Christ will live in them.

Then Paul prays:
I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Here, Paul is asking God to help the Ephesian Christians to understand the bigness of God and of Christ’s love and so be filled up with the superabundance of God.

Paul then glorifies God for being able to bless us more abundantly--to fill us with more of His love, forgiveness, and power--than any of us can imagine. Blessings flow from God and, Paul knew, God wanted the Ephesian Church to experience them. God wants the same thing for you and me.

God wants us to experience His blessings for the same reason that, if you’ll forgive a little anthropomorphizing here, a car wants gas in its empty tank. A car is designed to take people from place to place. Without gas, it can’t fulfill that purpose.

You and I can’t fulfill the purposes of our lives as Christians or as human beings unless we’re filled up with the God we know in Jesus Christ, unless we’re filled with God’s Holy Spirit. You and I are meant to glorify God in our own unique ways. Our lives are meant to be doxologies. When we’re filled with God’s Spirit, our lives can be just that!

The fact is that if we believe in Jesus Christ, we already are filled with the Holy Spirit. That’s what the Bible teaches, although we don’t always realize it. So, why would Paul offer up two prayers asking God to fill people with the Holy Spirit who already are filled with the Holy Spirit?

It may be that the Ephesians were confronted with a special challenge at the time. Consider an analogy based on one in Billy Graham’s fantastic book, The Holy Spirit: All the houses and buildings in our area are connected to water mains that supply the needs we have for water in everyday living. But what happens if a fire breaks out? Firefighters will tap into a nearby fire hydrant to get a bigger flow of water for the emergency. Christians are full of the Holy Spirit. But sometimes, the New Testament said, God filled them again so that they could glorify God, in particular circumstances.

The circumstances we face may be helping someone in need, telling a person about Christ, dealing with temptation with integrity, or confessing a sin to God so that it can’t take root in our lives. But whatever the challenges we confront may be, we can’t face them on our own. We need to tap into the power of God.

But I think there’s a more important reason that Paul prays that people already filled with God be filled with God all over again. Once, we went to Myrtle Beach and although I don’t know how to swim, I rented one of those inflatable rafts, the kind you use to ride waves onto the beach. I had been out with the thing for a long time when a huge wave came along that literally upended me, spinning me around, head over heels. When I finally gained a footing, I realized that somehow, without realizing it, I had gotten a lot further from the shore than I’d known. The shore hadn’t moved. But I sure had.

Sometimes, my life with God can be like that. I go through dry spells in my life as a Christian. Without even realizing it, I get a long way from the God we meet in Jesus Christ. I’m not proud of that. But it’s true. In those moments, I realize that God hasn’t moved, but I have. It’s possible for you and me to have God and yet, for God not to have us, not to be at the center of our lives, our actions, or our wills. Paul is praying that the Ephesians will have all of God.

Christians, more than any other people on earth, know that our lives are not our own. We belong to the God Who made us, to the Son Who died and rose for us, and to the Spirit, the Counselor, the constant companion who reminds us of God’s love and will for us. We know (don’t we?) that God has called us to glorify Him by living for those five major purposes we’ve discussed again and again since Lent, 2005:
  • to love God
  • to love neighbor
  • to serve others in Christ’s Name
  • to tell the world about Christ
  • to keep growing strong in our faith in Christ.
My prayer for you (and it should be your prayer for yourselves) is the same as that offered by Paul for the Ephesians: that grounded in God’s love, the Father will fill your inner being with the Holy Spirit and that Christ will live in you; and that the vastness of God and of Christ’s infinite love will fill you with the fullness of God so that it spills all over your life and world.

There’s another simple song that embodies the goal of Paul’s prayer. You know it. Sing it with me now, please:
In my life, Lord, be glorified.
Be glorified.
In my life, Lord, be glorified.
Be glorified today.

In Your Church, Lord, be glorified.
Be glorified.
In Your Church, Lord, be glorified today.
May the fullness of God so fill you that the whole world sees Jesus in you!


Robbo said...

Thank you for sharing these devotions from the book of Ephesians. I am planning to read all of them. I was particularly interested in the way you expounded this passage (Ephesians 3:14-21) because it has become on of my favorite passages from the New Testament. I have a collection of sermons on tape preached by a Minister in the church I previously attended in Leeds, England in which he spent five Sundays dealing with this very passage. He discussed

Week 1. Being strengthened with might in the inner man by the Power of the Holy Spirit

Week 2. Christ dwelling in our hearts

Week 3. Being Rooted in the Love of God

Week 4. Being Grounded or Founded in the Love of God

Week 5. God's unsurpassing love- the width, breath, height and depth.

I have listened to these sermon tapes again and again in my car.

On the devotion you share here, you draw attention to the doxology and this has given me a further perpective on this great passage of scripture and I am greatly blessed by your writing.


PS. nice to know that there are other adults in America, even American pastors, who can't swim.

Mark Daniels said...

Thank you for your gracious comments! The sermons by your former pastor in Leeds look interesting, the topics addressed following along with those in Ephesians.

Thanks once again for your kind words.

Blessings in Christ,
Mark Daniels