God's Powerful Love - Wellington First Assembly

Wellington First Assembly

326 W Botkin Lane, Wellington Kansas ........Family Faith Lessons - 9:30 AM........ Sunday Worship - 10:30 AM


Sunday, May 7, 2017

God's Powerful Love

The frigid water bubbles, trickling down the tiny stream.  Scraps of leaves, tiny twigs, and assorted debris are carried by the swirling current around the small pebbles jutting up from the bottom.  The mountain fed spring is always fun to play in, refreshing after a hot summer afternoon.  The winding path of the brook carries own downstream, to the delight of others enjoying its freshness. 
Yet that vision of serenity belies the true power of the constant trickle.  Because over the course of a month, a year, and a decade, aided by occasional microbursts upstream with the resulting deluge that pours down the hill, that brook becomes more than a wandering vision.  The might of the rushing water carves out new ditches, reaches into tiny crevices and expanses, dislodges obstacles and charts new passages.  The refreshing water also possesses power, cleansing everything which stands in its way.
In the same way, we can experience the power of God’s love.  His love surrounds us, enables us, cleanses us, recreates us, yes, even channels us in the same direction of the flow.  Jagged lives are made as smooth as a water caressed stone.  Dull fragments are shined into glistening specimens. And how is this accomplished?  Just as rocks tumble together in the water, having their rough edges shorn off over long periods of time, so we are jumbled with those around us.  It is through God’s powerful love, that we learn to love each other and in turn are made beautiful in His image.

In our text today, Paul continues to write to the church at Ephesus about the keys to living in a community of faith.  Those principles are timeless.  Every social group in history invariably doesn’t get along with each other at some point.  But Paul points out that this aspect of our human nature can be overcome – not through our own efforts – but through the impossible wonder working love of God. 
Please stand with me if you able as we read God’s holy word from Ephesians 3:14-21.

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
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Paul is writing to a community that is divided. Years earlier, when Paul had first established the church in Ephesus, it had been done so under some considerable commotion.  Paul’s preaching had interrupted the business culture to the point where near riots had broken out.  Calmer minds had won out when the elders persuaded everyone it was in their own self-interest not to attract the attention of the Roman garrisons.  A begrudged truce was in effect.  And the church continued to grow
And just as adolescents occasionally have sharp growing pains as bones strengthen and muscle tissue expands, so the early church at Ephesus also had twinges.  Growth is hampered when there are obstacles in the way.  And even though the church was growing, there were still leftover feelings and personal biases from those much earlier experiences.  Just a snide remark here, a slipped comment there, even if just a fraction of a person’s verbal record – can cause the next generation to pick up some unhealth habits and feelings.
Mind you, we are not talking about differences between Jews and Gentiles worshiping idols or practicing immorality in the context of the Diana cult.  The issue going on here is that even among those who are committed to the way of Christ, certain stereotypes exist about the other which limit their experience of worshiping together.
For Paul, this cannot stand unaddressed.  Paul had firsthand experience of what it meant to be ostracized, questioned, held off at arm’s length – and all for good reason as he had spent time arresting early Christians.   But Paul also had experienced the powerful love of God, washing over him in a blinding light and completely transforming his character.  He recognized that the body of Christ is only strong when it works in unity with a singular purpose.  Paul understands intuitively, that while positionally, through the work of the cross, Jews and Gentiles are in a place where they can live in moral excellence and be united in one accord, the reality is still far from perfect – yet it can be done by experiencing the fullness of God’s love.
The problem for the church at Ephesus is the same problem we often find in our modern day.  We don’t always get along with each other.  Instead of dialogue, people shout.  Instead of finding a way to work together, we find ways to avoid each other.  Past hurts build up into scar tissue.  Often the target of our distrust is not even the same person who made us that way. This happens in our relationships at church, in our workplaces, at our school sites, and in our homes.  When we live like this, it is only ourselves that we hurt.  We build our own cages, locked in our own saferooms – never experiencing the wonder of creation that occurs outdoors.  It is an incomplete life.  So how can it be changed?
Paul suggests that you can experience the fulness of God’s love.  The love that can shape us from what we know can be, into that which is.  Today, we will look at four principles from this passage.
You can experience the fulness of God’s love by acknowledging the Father’s sovereignty.
It’s easy for us to quickly affirm this theological notion in our mind.  But verse 14 actually takes this concept from thought into action.  How so?  Paul bows to his knees.  At first glance, that’s nothing.  We have a tradition of bowing to our knees in prayer.  That’s sort of an idiom we grow up with.  That’s why our tradition even has alters up front for people to bow down and pray.  So, what is so special?  Because pray was not usually done on your knees in ancient culture.  Prayer was done standing up.  This section, put into the context of a prayer report, shows that the proper attitude of a person coming before the Father is actually that of a subject, kneeling down as Romans did before Caesar.  When all the people kneel down in obeisance, it becomes quite clear that there is no difference between the subjects – there is positional equality before the Lord.
But Paul doesn’t leave us alone with the Roman imagery – he quickly transitions to the vision of the Garden of Eden prior to the Fall.  The time when God’s sovereignty is on full display.  When the proper relationship between Creator and creation is displayed.  He named the man Adam.  He named the woman Eve.  And then he gave humankind the authority of stewardship to name the created animals.  Naming indicates authority.  When a bridge or a building is named and the letters are imprinted upon the sign hoisted above it – it is only done upon the approval of those in authority.  Parents name their children – it doesn’t work the other way around.  With Paul reminding us that God named his creation – our forefathers and mothers, it re-instills in us the idea of God’s sovereignty.
Half of our problems today – even more than half – is that we don’t recognize those in authority.  It’s too easy to ignore our parents.  It’s too easy to denigrate or scoff at our elected officials –It is too easy to blame teachers or bosses instead of taking personal responsibility.  I didn’t say you had to agree with them or even to support them all the time– but there is a line that is too often crossed.  Some people ask me where that line is – and I will tell you it’s on the other side of prayer.  If you are not actively praying God’s blessings and guidance upon those that you disagree with or even can’t stand, you have no right to speak out against them.  That’s the difference between walking in the prophetic anointing versus desiring revenge.  The first calls for repentance and restoration – the second calls for obliteration and destruction.  You will never experience the fullness of God’s love when you engage in the second.  Is there room for appeals and peaceful protests?  Absolutely – as long as you are praying for the other person!  O, you can still be a Christian – God will still work in your life – but you will never experience the incomprehensible fullness of God’s love until you fully acknowledge his sovereignty and his will for your life and situation.
The second principle in which you can experience the fulness of God’s love by is this:  Becoming firmly established in Christ. 
This is Paul’s Christological statement.  While the first point allows for interfaith cooperation in a secular environment in a society such as ours – that is not where it ends.  For Paul, there is much more than an Old Testament notion of God’s creative sovereignty.  It is all filtered through the events on Calvary.  The death, burial, and resurrection is the supreme example of the power contained within the love of God.  Without Christ, there is no demonstration of the extent of God’s love.  Paul had written to the Romans this point in an explicit manner – In Romans 5:8 – “God demonstrated his love for us – while we WERE YET SINNERS – He died for us.  It is then only natural for Paul to conclude in this text that if you desire leave your sin and experience the resurrecting power of God, then you must become anchored to Christ. 
To reinforce this imagery, Paul draws upon two different concepts – one for those who work in the agricultural areas - and a second for those, mostly gentiles, who served as civil engineers.  Remember, Ephesus is a modern city –  multi-storied buildings, indoor plumbing, acoustically sound auditoriums.  The term grounded is used in architectural situations, referring to foundations that reach deep in order to support the massive columns which rise up.  Just as the pagan temples in Ephesus had deep foundations to support their weight, so too Paul draws upon this concept to proclaim that the spiritual foundations of Christ are deeper as they lead all the back to creation.  While you can still today travel to modern Turkey and see the remains of these temple foundations, these giant blocks of carved and fitted stone – they are still in a state of ruin.  It is only the solid rock of Christ which stands across the sands of time. 
Paul’s second image of the tree, firmly rooted and planted, receiving nutrients from the soil, ever-growing taller and wider, and larger -- hearkens directly to a familiar passage – The very first Psalm 1:1-3:
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
Note that this verse ties together our second principle with the first.  The man or woman of God is unable to yield fruit if they spend their time scoffing at others.  But when Jews and Gentiles, when people who are on opposite sides of an issue, when parties opposed to each other in conflict, when husband and wife who disagree focus not on what drives them apart, but on the moral excellence and perfection which is in Christ Jesus – dysfunction cannot take root.
The best way to keep weeds out of your yard is to make sure your grass is healthy, with the right soil mixture of nutrients and moisture.  The difference between my neighbor’s front yard and mine is that he is constantly paying attention to it.  Adding grass seed when needed, laying down fertilizer at the right times of the year, spraying with special treatments every couple weeks.  Guess whose yard sprouts dandelions?  Not his!  If you do not tend the garden of your heart, you will never experience the full power of God’s love in your life.
Paul suggests a third principle in this passage.  You can experience the fulness of God’s love by Probing the expanse of His Wisdom.
We need wisdom.  Wisdom is the ability to comprehend the full knowledge of the facts and then the strength to make the difficult decisions.  Most of us discover wisdom through the back door.  You know what I mean.  It’s the gift of hindsight.  For example, never cut through the bull’s pasture when you are wearing your red Valentine’s day dress, right?!  Most of us tend to turn to someone who is older, maybe been around the block once or twice to get their opinion – their wisdom on a situation.  Those people who have a multiple of counselors, Proverbs 15:22 reminds us – usually do not fail.  Especially when they heed the wise counselor’s advice!  Which in the ignorance and ambition of youth – is often not as often as should be.
In verses 18 & 19, Paul switches from concreate examples of trees and buildings to the abstract philosophy of the educated class.  The Greek philosophers of Athens had a large following within the educated Gentile class of Ephesus.  Paul uses a classic wisdom motif that shows the expanse of wisdom and knowledge in four dimensions:  breadth and length and height and depth.  While some of pointed out these are the same directions of the arms of the cross, more than likely, Paul borrowed from the wisdom language of the Stoic philosophers, who used this language in a cosmic context of those who think deeply and figuratively walk all the dimensions of the universe in their minds – trying to deeply comprehend the expanse of God.  For Paul, there is not a place one can go where the love of God, made incarnate in the Logos -- the Word of God – who displays the traits of personified Wisdom – Sofia -- is not present in the form of Jesus Christ.
Paul is challenging the skeptics and the thinkers to use the full faculties of their minds to explore the truth of his claim.  He is confident that those who seek God in this manner will also discover that it is Christ who provides all wisdom.  At the end of the day, wisdom is wrapped up in and displayed in the power love of Christ displayed on the cross.
The final point Paul makes, might just be the most meaningful.  Because it is here where the metaphors and the constructs meet up with us in our lives, day in and day out.  You can choose how much you want to experience God’s love.  You have your own rheostat.  You get to turn up or turn down the volume.  How much air do you want the fan to blow in your direction?  How much of the Spirit do you want involved in your life?  It all comes down to this.  You can experience the fulness of God’s love by embracing a worshipful attitude.
Don’t want to walk in God’s power and love? – have a grouchy attitude!  There is nothing worse than showing up to church ready to get your worship on then by being greeted by people who hate to be there!  That’s a total downer!  But if you want to see what God can do in your life and in your relationships, then come expecting God to do something.  Come with an attitude that says, not matter what the world throws at me, I’m gonna worship my God today!  Blessed be His name, even in the bad times!  Because that’s how I will survive and move forward to the blessings he has waiting for me.
Verse 20-21 is sung in confidence.  It’s shouted in anticipation.  It recognizes that everything in front of us is an obstacle, that the things we need appear to be impossible, that reconciliation is near improbably – but it holds out the promise – not just the hope – but the promise that Our creator will do the impossible!  With God’s power of love in each believer’s life, Paul was confident that Jewish and Gentile believers can function and love one another, even though it seems not naturally possible.
  For us today, that means Restoration of marriages, True dialogue and fellowship between ethnic groups.  To the praise of his name forever and ever, we worship in spirit and in truth.  It is in worship to our creator, and service to each other that love breaks through.  Politics divide, but worship unites.  Opinions create rifts, but praise ties us together in the bonds of His powerful love. 
Worship is not about the songs we sing on a Sunday morning – that may be part of it, but only a fraction.  Worship is how you orient your life towards the creator.  Do you thank Him in the morning?  Do you praise Him at Sundown?  Do you tell others about his wondrous works?  Do you care for his creation, do you steward the planet?  Do you show love and respect and kindness to those who persecute and despise you?  An attitude of worship reminds us once again that our sovereign God is a good, good Father who is always taking care of his family.

Are you ready to show God’s impossible Love?  Remember this.
"The greater the differences and disagreements
between you and another person, the greater the opportunity exists for you to demonstrate how powerfully reconciling God’s love truly is.
Yes, I know.  That’s a tough one.  And yes, it seems so tough that many people have chosen to live in misery in broken relationships and at odds with people their entire lives.  What I have discovered over the years, though is this.  The only one miserable is you.  Many times, it doesn’t even affect the other person.  Often, the other person might not even know you feel this way.
But sometimes they do.  Sometimes, because of your words in the past, your actions in the community, your comments on a public forum, a wedge is driven in between you.  Sometimes it’s even because of natural consequences, your own actions that have necessary punishments. 
But the whole point of God’s powerful love is that those relationships can be made whole again.  Maybe not overnight – some things take time.  But the journey can begin today.  It starts with you.  Are you willing to show other’s just how powerful God’s love can be?
I’m going to close with a quote from Phillip Yancey, a noted Christian author and theologian who has written much about God’s grace and love. 

One who has been touched by grace will no longer look on those who stray as “those evil people” or “those poor people who need our help.” Nor must we search for signs of “loveworthiness.” Grace  teaches us that God loves because of who God is, not because of who we are.  - Philip Yancey
The reality is that each of us can never truly love each other based upon our own resources.  There is no room for any of us who call ourselves Christ followers to look at others and think they require God’s love more than we do. We all desperately need it – and we all desperately need to share it.   If we are honest, we are also those poor people who need help.  We will never experience God’s great love for us until we allow ourselves to receive love from those unlike us and give love to those different from us.  Do you need His Love?  Do you need to show love?  Do you need to receive love?  Let’s experience God’s powerful love. 

Shall we pray.