DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

The Reason the Son of God Appeared (Genesis 3:15, 1 John 3:8)

One of the biggest questions in life is: what is wrong with this world? This comes up in many different ways. In theology, it's called the problem of evil. It raises the question of how evil and suffering can coexist with God.

Sometimes it comes up as a philosophical question. When the Mississippi River bridge in Minneapolis collapsed on August 1, 2007, killing thirteen people and injuring 145, people asked why God could have allowed that to happen. Or, when an earthquake and tsunami hit in 2004, killing more than 225,000 people, a lot of us wrestled with how the goodness and power of God intersects with a natural disaster of that magnitude. How could a good and powerful God allow this to happen?

But sometimes it's not a philosophical question; it's a personal one. I once went to McDonalds. I was starving. I looked up at the pictures of the hamburgers and ordered one, but what came looked nothing like the picture. It looked like some high school student who really didn't care had thrown it together, which turns out to have been the case. I expected what I saw in the picture and ended up with reality.

That's exactly what it's like in every area of our lives. A couple falls madly in love with each other, but they soon discover that the reality of their marriage doesn't match the picture they had on their wedding day. A couple has a child, and they discover a few years in that their child is a sinner whose favorite word is "no!" For the first time they come to understand the term "the terrible two's." Even worse, in a few years that child discovers that her parents aren't as good as she once thought either.

You start a new job, and within a few months you find that your boss is passive-aggressive, that you really have enough work for two people, and that Joe in the next cubicle thought he should have been given your job.

In every area of life, we expect the hamburger we see in the picture, and we end up with reality instead. There is something fundamentally wrong with this world.

So today I want to ask why this is so. And then I want to tie this into Christmas, since it's the first week of Advent. But the place to begin is with understanding why we have this problem in the first place.

Made for the Garden

Someone has put the problem well:

We all deal daily with annoyances. The first motorist in a green arrow left-turn lane is often some dreamer who lurches forward like a startled hippo just after the arrow has come and gone...We toss sixteen socks into the dryer but get only fifteen back... (Cornelius Plantinga Jr.)

We all face annoyances. But below those annoyances is something even more serious: regrets. Regrets about decisions we made that have locked us in to a career we don't enjoy. Regrets about mistakes we've made, and memories we wish we could forget.

Even deeper than annoyances and regrets is the sense that this is all that there is, and it will be gone soon as well. We look in the mirror and realize that we are aging. Someone's said that we only walk through the valley of death once, but we walk through the valley of the shadow of death our entire lives.

You're probably no stranger to feelings like boredom, anxiety, restlessness, shame, and guilt. You can't escape the sense that we get that everything is supposed to be different here. There is something fundamentally wrong with this world.

Why is the world like this? Scripture tells us that it hasn't always been so. In Genesis 1:1-2 we're introduced to an earth that is formless and void and dark. But then God speaks, and he brings light, order, and life to the world. And he continually pronounces that what he has made is good. And as the pinnacle of creation, he creates us in his own image, male and female, and then we read: "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good" (Genesis 1:31). Then God took a day for rest and enjoyment of all that he had made, because all of it was very good. This is the way it's supposed to be: very good, a place in which we feel at home.

We read in Genesis 2 that God placed Adam and Eve this is a place of luxury and pleasure. It's like a royal park. It's a place of abundance, in which all the trees are both nice to look at and good for food. It's like a divine sanctuary where humanity can enjoy all both God and all that he created, including each other. And God gives the command to work the garden and keep it, and not only to do this but to fill the earth and have dominion over it. In other words, to take the Garden and spread it throughout the entire earth, so that the whole world is like Eden. This is the world that we were created for.

This is behind all of our unmet longings and our desire for the world to be more than it is. We were meant for Eden, but we don't live there. The world is not what it was supposed to be. We have to ask: what in the world happened?

The Vandalism of Shalom

According to Genesis, something went very wrong with the world, and it had tragic consequences. Sin entered the world, and as a result of sin, the world has become a broken place. It's no longer what it should be. It's no longer the world that we were made for.

A couple of weeks ago in a study I'm leading, somebody asked why sin is such a big deal. Why did it have such an effect on the world? If your child knocks a cup over at home, and pieces of glass go flying all over the kitchen floor, you don't say, "Well, that's it. The whole house is coming down. This place is a wreck!" No. You get out the broom and you clean up the mess. Why can't God do the same with sin? Why did it change everything?

I don't think Adam and Eve knew what they were unleashing when they sinned. A couple of weeks ago, my young nephew found something on a hotel room floor and stuck it in his mouth. That's what toddlers do; they stick everything in their mouths. Nobody knows what it was, but within minutes his face started to get blotchy, and a rash began to spread over his body. He's fine, now, by the way. My nephew has one thing in common with Adam and Eve: they never imagined what they were unleashing when they ate what should never have come close to their mouths. When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they came to know evil experientially, and it wasn't just a cup that had fallen to the floor that could be swept up later. Their act of defiance and rebellion changed everything.

It changed their relationship with God. Adam and Eve were meant to govern the earth on God's behalf. Instead, they rebelled against God and instead obeyed one of his creatures. This went beyond disobedience. This was treachery.

It also changed their relationships. Up until that time, there had been no discord. But when sin entered, they began blame shifting.

It changed their relationship with evil. You can know about evil, but it's another thing altogether to experience it. Once they tasted of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, something inside them had changed. They had chosen their own way over God's, and now knew evil by experience. They had tasted it. And for the first time, they also knew shame and guilt.

But it gets even worse, because what they did actually affected the entire world. Up until this point, the world was in a state of shalom. Shalom is a Hebrew word that means absolute wholeness - "full, harmonious, joyful, flourishing life" (Tim Keller). Shalom means:

...universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight - a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be. (Cornelius Plantinga)

Shalom is God's design for this world. But when Adam and Eve sinned, the shalom of the world was destroyed. One theologian says that sin is actually the vandalism of shalom. So when Adam and Eve sinned, they did much more than slip up. Their sin changed everything, and the world changed instantly.

Tim Keller puts it this way:

We are told that as soon as we determined to serve ourselves instead of God - as soon as we abandoned living for and enjoying God as our highest good - the entire created world became broken. Human beings are so integral to the fabric of things that when human beings turned from God the entire warp and woof of the world unraveled. Disease, genetic disorders, famine, natural disasters, aging, and death itself are as much the result of sin as are oppression, war, crime, and violence. We have lost God's shalom - physically, spiritually, socially, psychologically, culturally. Things now fall apart. (The Reason for God)

This explains why we feel the way that we do. This is the reason why the Big Mac doesn't look like the one on the menu. It's the reason why your marriage, children, and job have let you down. You were made for the garden, but instead we live east of Eden, banished from the garden in which we were made to live.

The Gospel in Advance

But even in the story of the vandalism of shalom, there is a note of hope. God says to the serpent in Genesis 3:15:

And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.

Right as the world falls apart, and as God explains the consequences of what's happened, we also have this note of hope. The traditional interpretation of this verse is that the serpent would be defeated by a future descendant of Eve. That descendant would crush the head of the serpent, but not before the serpent struck his heal. But the victory would go to the descendant of Eve, because being crushed in the head is far more serious than being stricken in the heal.

This verse has been called the "protoevangelium" which means the first announcement of the gospel. It is the announcement that although the serpent has succeeded in causing Adam and Eve to vandalize shalom, that the serpent would one day be defeated by a descendant of Eve. This is what gives us hope that the world won't always be this way.

According to the prophets, this descendant would do far more than crush the head of the serpent. Isaiah spoke of a day when the Messiah would come and restore all of creation to a harmonious state like the Garden of Eden before sin. He would reintroduce shalom to the world:

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
Infants will play near the hole of the cobra;
young children will put their hands into the viper's nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
(Isaiah 11:6-9)

The prophet says that the world that we long for will one day be here, and all will be restored to the way that it should have been.

Who is this person, this descendant of Eve, who will one day set the world right again? Who will take this broken world and make it into what it should be? Who will crush the serpent's head?

Hebrews 2:14 says that because we are human, "he (Jesus) too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil." It's Jesus who breaks the power of the serpent, who holds the keys of death.

1 John 3:8 says, "The devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work." Everything that the devil accomplished in the Garden of Eden is undone through Jesus Christ. This is the reason the Son of God appeared: to destroy the devil's work.

You don't normally see this verse on a Christmas card, so I'll read it again: "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work." In other words, everything that the devil accomplished in Genesis 3 - the destruction of shalom, our separation from God, our estrangement from each other, our banishment from Eden - will be undone by this baby that was born in Bethlehem. Jesus became human to destroy the works of the devil and to restore shalom to this world. Jesus became human to destroy the works of the devil and restore the world to what it should be.

What does this mean for us? I hope this makes you long for Jesus. If you think that Jesus is just some nice story from long ago, then you don't know who Jesus is. Jesus has come to set things right, to restore this world to what it should be again. I hope that makes you long for him. I hope that leads you to worship him. I hope that you surrender your life to him.

I also hope that you see that Jesus came to do more than save us on a spiritual level. I want to be careful here. He did come to save us spiritually, to rescue us from alienation from God, and to bear our sins so we could be forgiven. But that's not all that Jesus came to do. He came to set everything back to the way it should be.

C.S. Lewis said:

Christianity is a fighting religion. It thinks God made the world–that space and time, heat and cold, and all the colors and tastes, and all the animals and vegetables, are things that God 'made up out of His head' as a man makes up a story. But it also thinks that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again.

Finally, I hope this makes you long for heaven. To quote C.S. Lewis again, all the adventures we have ever had will end up being only "the cover and the title page." We will one day begin "Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before."

Jesus became human to destroy the works of the devil and restore the world to what it should be.

He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.

Let's pray.

Father, thank you for Jesus. Thank you that he is setting this world to what it should be once again. Help us today to long for him, to worship him, to see the scope of his work. So, your kingdom come; your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Even so, come Lord Jesus. Amen.

When Each Part is Working Properly (Ephesians 4:7-16)

For the past few months, we've been looking at the book of Ephesians together. Ephesians is all about God's eternal plan in bringing all things together in Christ. Paul has been explaining how this plan works, including how God has brought us together within the church, which is his new humanity.

A couple of weeks ago we looked at the topic of unity. But if you take a look around within any church, you realize that unity does not mean uniformity. There are huge differences between us. Take any issue - our logo for instance - and you'll have tons of different opinions. How in the world do we operate as a church as a unity, and yet as a unity of people who are different from one another?

Do you ever encounter someone in a church and wonder how in the world they think? Sometimes we come across people who make us scratch our heads. Other times we appreciate the differences. Our musician guests this morning do things I'll never be able to do.

And this, according to the apostle Paul in Ephesians, is for a purpose. Today we're going to look at this passage which says that our diversity as a church is for a purpose. Let's look at the goal that we're shooting for, and then let's look at how this passage says we're meant to progress toward that goal.

The Goal: Maturity

One of the hardest things to come to an agreement about as a church is our goal. Believe me, I've been in the meetings! If you ask around about what the church should look like at its best, you'll get a hundred different answers.

While there's some room for filling in the details in a particular context, we really don't have to wonder what our goal is as the church. Paul tells us in verses 12 to 16:

...so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

The goal, according to these verses, is one word: maturity. Paul gives us a number of images here, but the overarching theme is that we become a church that is mature, until we "grow up into him who is the head, that is Christ."

Take a look at the images he uses. Verses 12 and 13 use the image of a mature person, compared to verse 14 of an infant. Paul's a master at mixing metaphors, because in verse 14 he also offers a picture of a boat being tossed around at sea in the middle of a storm, before he switches back to the picture of a body that is growing up with every part of that body doing its work.

Understand that he's not writing about becoming mature individually. He's writing about the maturity that the church attains as a body. It's important to understand this as you think about the image we encounter in verse 15: growing "up into him who is the head, that is, Christ."

Some people have large heads and small bodies, and they don't look quite right. You see this little body and then this big head. Paul says that we are the body of Christ, and maturity means growing so that our church grows to take on the proportions that are befitting a body that has Christ as its head. Paul's hope is that the body - the church - grows and matures so that it takes on the proportions of Jesus Christ, who is the head of the church.

Practically speaking, Paul says that this will mean two things: truth and love. When we're mature, he says, we'll believe the right things, the true things. If you read verse 14, you realize this won't come easily. There are going to be winds of teaching blowing us off course, and cunning and crafting people who scheme to persuade us of lies. Believing the truth is crucially important if the church is going to grow to the proportions befitting the body of Christ. This is why the basic truths of the gospel are so important. If we don't hold on to them, we'll easily be blown off course and we'll never reach maturity.

Paul also says that we'll experience unity and love. If you find a church that holds to truth, and is unified in love, then you've found a church that's mature.

How We Reach Maturity

The question is: how do we get there? We don't have to guess, because Paul tells us. But that hasn't stopped us from guessing. For some reason we've come up with all kinds of theories about how the church should grow and mature. We try all kinds of things: business methods, programs, books, personalities. None of these are bad in themselves; they're just insufficient. The church won't become what Paul has described by reading the latest business best-seller, or by implementing a new program.

Instead, Paul tells us that there are three things we need if we are to mature as a church:

1. We need gifts from the ascended Christ

If we are going to grow into maturity, it begins with what Jesus has accomplished for us. This takes a bit of explaining. In verse 8, Paul quotes Psalm 68, except he adds a twist. He says:

When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.

What does this mean? When a king was victorious in battle, he would plunder the opposing army, and when he returned victorious, he would share the spoils with his people. The victorious king shares the spoils of victory with his subjects.

Paul applies this to Jesus, who came to earth and won victory at Calvary. At his death, he defeated the invisible and hostile forces, and he won victory. Now, Paul says, he has ascended to heaven to the place of victory. In fact, he's in a place of authority beyond what we could imagine. Verse 10 says, "He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe."

And the victorious Christ give gifts to his people. Verse 7 says, "But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it." As we're going to see in a minute, Paul's not talking about grace to become a Christian at this point. He's talking about grace to serve his church. Let's read this again: "to each of us" - to every single person within the church - "grace has been given as Christ apportioned it." Every single person within the church has received the grace of serving his church. This is where it all begins: with the victory Jesus won at the cross, and the spoils of victory that he's given each of us. It all begins right here.

Before we move on, let's stop here and think about this for a minute. Most of the stuff I've read about the church has a problem. It begins with us. A couple of years ago I saw a pamphlet that said, "The future of our church is up to you!" The friend I was with is a bit quicker than I am. He said, "If the future of the church is up to us, we're doomed!" He's right.

But the future of the church really isn't us, and the solution to the church's problems is never us. It's Jesus. It's the victory that he won at Calvary. Paul says that it all begins here: with Jesus' triumph over evil at the cross. The victory he won at the cross paved the way to his triumph in heaven, where he reigns over the whole universe and is head of the church. It all begins with, and it all depends on Jesus. The future of the church is up to him.

But it still involves us. Do you ever wonder how anything we could do makes a difference? Paul says that it's because God gives us grace, so that when we serve the church, we're actually benefiting from the victory of Christ at the cross. That victory has translated into grace to serve. If it wasn't for this, we'd never expect much from what we do. But what we do matters, because "to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it."

This is where it all begins, Paul says. The church is going to grow into maturity. And the process begins with the grace that has been given to the church through the victory won at Calvary.

But Paul says we need something else:

2. We need Christian leaders

This is going to seem a little self-serving, because I am one. But I keep reading people who say that we need to get rid of Christian leaders because they just get in the way. I think I know where they're coming from, because a lot of Christian leaders do get in the way. But Paul says that Christian leaders are necessary. He writes: "So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service" (Ephesians 4:11-12).

Here Paul lists four or five different roles within the church. There's some debate about whether pastors and teachers are one or two in this list. This isn't an exhaustive list, but it is a list of Christian leadership in his day. Apostles and prophets had a foundational role in receiving and proclaiming the mystery of Jesus Christ. Evangelists were kind of like church planters. Pastors and teachers lead and teach the church. Paul says that all of these are given by Christ for the church. This means that Christian leadership within the church is not only necessary, but it is actually a gift from Jesus Christ himself for the benefit of the church.

Notice something else here. Business leadership says that what people need is visionary leaders. I'm all for visionary leadership, but the leaders Paul lists are by and large all teachers. What we need more than visionary leaders are Christian leaders who can teach about what Jesus Christ has done. Tim Keller has said:

My dear friends, most churches make the mistake of selecting as leaders the confident, the competent, and the successful. But what you most need in a leader is someone who has been broken by the knowledge of his or her sin, and even greater knowledge of Jesus' costly grace.

Our goal is maturity, so that the church grows to its proper proportions under Christ. To do this, Paul says, we need gifts from the ascended Christ, and Christian leaders. But then we need one more thing:

3. We need every part of the church working properly

If our church is going to grow to maturity, then we need one more thing. We have gifts from the ascended Christ. We have Christian leaders. Now we need every part of the body doing its work. Every person is needed.

Paul says, "So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers," why? Verse 12 continues, "to equip his people for works of service." Every single believer in Jesus Christ has been given a gift for ministry (that's point one). Every church should have Christian leaders (that's part two). But their job isn't to do the ministry. It's to equip all the people in the church to do the work of ministry. That's part three. Paul said it perfectly in verse 16: the church will grow and build itself up in love "as each part does its work."

The way that Paul says we will grow into maturity as a church is by tapping into the gospel, putting Christian leaders into place, and then allowing them to equip - to make sufficient and adequate - for ministry.

I need to pause here for a second and defuse an excuse for not serving. A lot of us don't serve because we don't know what our gift is. It's interesting that the Bible never tells us to figure out what our gift is. We don't need to take surveys or assessments. These can be okay, but they can also be a form of narcissism. They're too focused on us. The emphasis in the Bible is simply beginning to serve, and the gifts are merely the ways that the Spirit uses us for the good of the community. We don't need to discover our gifts; we just need to get serving somewhere, somehow.

The key to our becoming what we should be as a church isn't some new strategic plan, or some new book from a business guru. The key to our church becoming what it should be is actually quite simple.

One: Focus on Christ, who gives us all that we need. Two: Put leaders in place, who don't do all the work, but who make it possible for others to minister. Three: as each one of us have received grace that was given according to the measure of the gift of Christ, then serve. Because "from him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work."

What's keeping us from this? Christ has been doing his part, so we really can't lay any blame there. There are only two other places to lay blame. One is with the leaders. It may be that we - and I include myself in this - have to do a much better job at equipping, so that we don't hog all of the ministry to ourselves.

But it may also be that in the busyness of life, with competing demands, career pressures, family, hockey, baseball, life - that not every part of the body has been doing its part. This passage teaches that everyone has a gift. Everyone is needed. It's going to take every single part doing its job for a body to work, and we can't afford for some of you to sit it out. You may need to pray, you may need to read Scripture, and you may not know at first how God can use you - but I guarantee that God has you here for a purpose, and we'll never grow to maturity as long as you sit it out.

I'm really glad that God didn't leave us to guess what our church should become. We should grow into maturity to become a church of truth and love, that fits the proportions of a body belonging to its head, Jesus Christ. And I'm also glad we don't have to guess how to get there.

What remains is for us to increasingly focus on what the ascended Christ has done for us, to make sure that our leaders do everything they can to get you ready to serve, and then for you to use your God-given grace to serve the church. If we do this, Paul says:

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Would you pray with me.

Father, thank you for Jesus, who has ascended and given gifts to the church, gifts that enable us to serve.

Father, thank you that Jesus has given leaders to the church. I pray that these leaders would know your grace. Lord, help us to do a better job in equipping others to do the work of the ministry.

Father, I thank you for all those who serve. Thank you for the reminder that it takes each part of the church. I pray today that you would deal with those parts of our church that aren't doing their part. I know for some of them it may be they don't know where to begin. For these, help them find a way to serve.

But for a lot of us, Lord, we need to repent that we've been content not to serve. I pray that today you would change us so that every part of this body is doing its part, so that we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Why Sing?

The question I want to ask today is: why sing?

The fact is that we do sing. If you go to any church you can think of, you're going to find some sort of singing.

Not only that, but the Bible is all about singing. The largest book in the Bible is a book of songs. We're commanded to sing some 50 times in the book of psalms. "The Bible is filled with references to music, from the dawn of creation to the final scenes in Revelation (Job 38:7; Revelation 15:3)" (Bob Kauflin).

Let me give you just one example of a command to sing:

Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the King of all the earth;
sing to him a psalm of praise.
(Psalm 47:6-7)

Let's take a few minutes and try to come up with some answers to the question: why do we sing? [write answers on flip chart]

Those are excellent.

For a few minutes, I want to suggest two of the biggest reasons from Scripture that we sing. Here's the first one:

1. We sing because it's fitting

When we were kids, we used to watch a show The Price is Right. One of the fun parts was when the host said, "Joe Schmo, you're the next contestant on The Price is Right. Come on down!" Even before they won something, the level of excitement for some of them was over the top.

We always had fun imagining how a proper British woman - I think we imagined someone almost like the Queen - would react. It just seemed that if you were chosen for a game show, or especially if you won a new set of pots for the kitchen or whatever, a bit of emotion was in order.

Psalm 33:1 talks about two things about God: his word and his work. And as it begins it says:

Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous;
it is fitting for the upright to praise him.

See that phrase: "it is fitting for the upright to praise him." It's the right thing to do. As we get a sense of God's saving activity - that he is present and active within creation- and as we think about the great theological truths, it should do more than just fill our heads with knowledge. It should also move our hearts to praise. And when our hearts our moved with praise, then it is fitting and upright to praise God. We praise God as a celebration for who he is and what he has done, because it's fitting that it move our hearts and come out in music.

You see this over and over. In Ephesians 5, which we just read, singing is a result of being filled or controlled by the Spirit. It lists four results of being filled with the Spirit; two of them are signing.

Over and over in Scripture you see that when we have a fresh experience of God's grace, and when it moves both our heads and our hearts, it overflows in singing praises to God.

Bob Kauflin writes:

The emotions that singing is meant to evoke are a response to who God is and what he's done. Vibrant singing enables us to combine truth about God seamlessly with passion for God. Doctrine and devotion. Mind and heart.

All of this reflects the reality of heaven, where Jesus Christ is being worshiped because he is worthy, and has triumphed, and has saved us.

And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God's people. And they sang a new song, saying:

"You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
members of every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth." (Revelation 5:8-10)

Worship is fitting. It's a response of worship from the heart for what God has done.

There's another reason why we sing though:

2. We sing because it's powerful

We don't just sing to express our hearts; we sing as well to change our hearts. Read Ephesians 5 again with me:

Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-20)

We actually learn a lot through singing. Colossians 3:16 says, "teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts."

N.T. Wright says that hymns and songs "are not just entertainment; they are instruction, consolation, warning and hope." They're powerful. Verse 14 of Ephesians 5 is probably part of a song that Paul used to teach the Ephesians. You see this all over the place. Songs and music teach us about God.

Songs and music shape who we are. Igor Stravinsky, one of the most influential composers of the last century, gave some lectures at Harvard in the 1940s. Stravinsky, a Russian, said in those lectures that the Soviets had to get control of the music in order to get control of the culture and society, because nothing is more powerful than music.

In the music Cabaret, in prewar Germany, people are skeptical that Nazis will ever get power. But then a Nazi begins to sing, and everyone was captivated by it and stood. Music is powerful and changes us, for good or for evil.

When God was about to send Israel into the promised land, he knew they would forget how to live. So God didn't give them just a lecture; God gave them a song. In Deuteronomy 31:19, God says, "Now write down this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it..." He wanted to implant his word in their hearts through music.

A church recorded some songs of Scripture from Galatians. A year later, a man in that church lost his memory due to a stroke. The wife emailed the pastor to say that although he could not remember a single sermon on Galatians that he had heard from his pastor, he could remember every single song. Songs teach us.

A few more stories. A pastor's daughter was murdered in Alberta a couple of months ago. It was a horrible and senseless tragedy. Just the month before, though, they had purchased a CD of Christian music. One of the songs really grabbed them, called It is Not Death to Die. The song begins:

It is not death to die
To leave this weary road
And join the saints who dwell on high
Who've found their home with God

Looking back, they believe that God was preparing them. In the day following Emily's death, that song strengthened them.

Music teaches us and encourages us, but it can even evangelize us. Bono wrote in an introduction he wrote to a book on the Psalms:

Words and music did for me what solid, even rigorous, religious argument could never do, they introduced me to God, not belief in God, more an experiential sense of GOD. Over art, literature, reason, the way into my spirit was a combination of words and music.

A man was on his way to take his own life in the Thames River one night. On the way he heard singing from a church, Westminster Chapel in London. The music was so lovely that it gave him hope. He went in, gave him hope, and he went inside and eventually became a Christian.

One last story. Anne Lamott is someone who used to be very opposed to Christianity. But she was longing for something. One day she went to church hungover. She couldn't stand for the songs. She usually left when the sermon started, but this time she stayed, and thought it was ridiculous. But then:

The last song was so deep and raw and pure that I could not escape. It was as if the people were singing in between the notes, weeping and joyful at the same time, and I felt like their voices or something was rocking me in its bosom, holding me like a scared kid, and I opened up to that feeling - and it washed over me.

And that was the day that she became a Christian.

Why do we sing? Lots of reasons, but today we've said there are two big ones. One: it's fitting and it's right. It's absolutely necessary as a response to all that God has done. Two: because music teaches us and it changes us. That's why we sing week after week after week.

So:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)

The Gospel and Relationships (Ephesians 4:1-6)

When you boil it right down, we only have two basic problems. One is that we believe the wrong things; the other is that we don't act consistently with our right beliefs.

That may sound confusing at first, so let me back up and explain. One of the big problems that we sometimes have is that we believe the wrong things. Let me give you an example. Someone I know, who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty, had an airline ticket for 18:00 hours. We all know that this translates to 6 PM. Except she somehow got it in her head that her flight was at 8 PM. So when she showed up to the airport, she of course missed her flight. And because she was flying charter, this mistake ended up costing her hundreds of dollars plus a lot of time. Her problem is that she had a wrong belief. She believed that her fight left at 8 when it really left at 6. The solution would have been to bring her beliefs in line with reality.

That's why, by the way, the Bible spends so much time teaching us what we should believe. In many ways it's more important than telling us how to behave. Someone's put it this way:

The Bible spends much more time on shaping the spiritual mind than commanding particular behavior. We need far more training in the ways of grace, of spiritual perceptions, and of what God is really like than we do on how to communicate with our spouse. Understanding the glory of Christ is far more practical than our listeners imagine. (Lee Eclov)

It just may be that some of your biggest problems in life may be a result of wrong beliefs you have about God, about Jesus, about the gospel, and about yourself. This is why theology is so important. It's also why what we've been studying in Ephesians 1-3 is so important as well. Paul's told us about God's eternal plan, about us as sinners, and about what God is doing to reconcile all things under the reign of Christ. He's also told us how the church fits into this. This helps correct one of our two basic problems: the problem of wrong beliefs.

So that's one of our two basic problems, and here's the other one: not acting in a way that's consistent with our beliefs. A police officer pulled over a man for careless driving, but instead of giving him a ticket, the officer arrested the driver and threw him into jail. A few hours later the officer came to the jail cell, let him out, and apologized. "There's been a terrible mistake," he said. "When I saw the fish emblem and the WDCX sticker, and the 'honk if you love Jesus' sticker, and then saw the way you were driving, I concluded that the car must be stolen. Now I realize that you're just a hypocrite, and hypocrisy, unlike auto theft, is not a crime." There are a lot of times that we believe exactly the right thing, but our conduct doesn't line up with our beliefs.

These are our two basic problems: wrong beliefs and inconsistent conduct. Most everything that's wrong with us is some combination of these two problems.

So as we come to Ephesians 4:1 we read, "As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received." This statement is the hinge of the book. It takes everything that Paul says we should believe in chapters 1 to 3 and applies it to how we should live in chapters 4-6. In chapters 1 to 3 he's told us of God's eternal plan, and how we, as individuals and the church, fit into it. Now Paul is saying, "Live a life worthy of what's true." And the rest of the book is going to apply what he's told us. It's going to answer the question, "If what Paul has told us up until now is true, how would our lives be different?"

In other words, Paul wants the whole deal with us. He wants us to believe the right things, but then he wants us to bring the rest of our life in line with these beliefs. And although he's going to cover a lot of topics as he applies what he's taught, he's going to begin with an interesting topic: relationships.

The Challenge of Relationships

Why would Paul begin by applying what he's been teaching us to relationships? One of the reasons is because there are few areas of life that are more challenging - and important - than relationships. This is true especially within the church.

Paul's been teaching us some pretty amazing things that we ought to believe about or relationships. For instance, in chapter 2 he taught that God has broken down the wall of hostility between groups that previously had nothing to do with each other. He's brought peace between the two groups, making them into a new humanity and the very dwelling place of God. Then in chapter 3 he's said that the church is proof to angels and demons that the gospel is true and that it works. This is pretty heady stuff. And the thing is, it's true. We don't have to make it true. It already is.

So that's what's true. But then we look around and see what actually exists around us. There's this person who always seems to be a bit cantankerous. And then there was this incident that happened a couple of years ago, and since then you've never really talked to that person. And you've never seen eye-to-eye on issues with this other person. And you just don't like the way that certain people look. It may be true that God has eliminated the hostility between us and made peace between us, but you wouldn't always know it by the way that we act.

My second year as a student pastor, I attended a board meeting. The pastor and a particular board member always seemed to clash. At one point the board member said something combative. The pastor smirked, and things exploded from there. Within minutes both had left the meeting in anger and the rest of us just sat there staring at each other. "His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace" (Ephesians 2:15). You wouldn't have known it that evening.

I wish I could tell you that this is the only time I've seen hurt and tension and conflict within the church. I've seen someone almost physically attack a pastor. I've seen people leave churches with unresolved issues. I've seen friendships break down.

I've seen people get hurt by others. I've seen tensions come up over all kinds of issues. I've seen high-grade and low-grade conflict and everything in between.

So the real question in each of these cases is what kind of problem we have. Is it a belief question or a problem with living consistently with those beliefs? Paul helps us figure out which problem we tend to have in this passage, so let's ask ourselves which problem we tend to have.

1. Is it a belief problem?

The problem with some of us is that, frankly, we don't believe the right things about each other. Our biggest problem is that our thinking hasn't adjusted so that we understand who we are. As a result, the way we see each other tends to be shaped by our likes and annoyances rather than what God says is true.

John Stott is a wise and older minister from London who's had a big influence on the evangelical church. He's honest enough to admit that he finds some people draining and even difficult to like. But when he deals with people like this, he responds by working on what he believes about them. As he stands face to face with this person he has difficulties appreciating, he says, "Oh, what a precious child of God you are. How much God loves you." That's exactly what we're called to do: to believe the right things about each other, to correct the mistaken beliefs that we have as we relate to each other.

So what are some of our mistaken beliefs? One of the most common is that we can remain independent. It's surprising how many of us think that we can come to church on Sundays without our lives becoming enmeshed with each other. I don't say this to make you feel guilty; I say this because it's a belief that needs to be corrected. For some of us it's an issue of inconsistency, but for others of you it's a belief issue. You don't even believe that church is meant to be more. But this belief has to change.

For others of us, it has more to do with the belief that we can choose whom we love. I've had people tell me that they are going to refuse to love some other person for all kinds of reasons: music, length of hair, age, or because they believe something different on some secondary issue of doctrine. One of the most subtle ways this happens is when we choose people who are like us and who share our tastes. When this happens in an entire church, pretty soon everybody is just like everybody else, and you don't have to wrestle with the differences because there are none.

But Paul writes to the Ephesians - to a church where people are genuinely different - and he tells them what they must believe about each other in verses 4 to 6:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Paul says that there are seven things that unify us:

  • One body - There is only one church, so if you are part of God's people, you are united with every other believer in Jesus Christ. There may be different congregations, but there is only one body, and you are united with every other member of that body.
  • One Spirit - There is only one Holy Spirit. Regardless of who we are or how we came to faith in Jesus Christ, the same Holy Spirit is at work within us and has made us one.
  • One hope - Hope doesn't mean something that we wish for but probably won't happen. Hope in the Bible means a confident expectation in what God has promised us. We've already heard Paul say that the Holy Spirit is proof of what's yet to come. Paul is speaking of the day in which we will stand shoulder to shoulder with people from every nation, denomination, and age. The things that divide us now will be gone
  • One Lord - A.W. Tozer gives the illustration of a hundred pianos. If you try to tune the pianos to each other, it's going to end up as a disaster. You'd never get an accurate pitch. But if you tune them to one tuning fork, they would automatically be tuned to each other. Tozer says that we don't become unified by pursuing unity with each other; we become unified by pursuing Christ. The more we're in tune with our one Lord, the more we'll be in tune with each other.
  • One faith - I believe that Paul is talking about the gospel here, the body of our belief. It's that God has sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to become a man, and to die for our salvation. It's by grace and through faith - not by anything we've done or could do - that we're saved. This gospel joins us together across all possible barriers because it's the gospel that unites us.
  • One baptism - It really doesn't look like we have one baptism when you look at how different denominations practice baptism. But when Paul wrote this, baptism was kind of the entry point to one's walk with Christ. Every new disciple was baptized, so that everyone in the church could look at each other and remember that they shared the same entry point of baptism. It's what we're trying to recover here at Richview, that if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you are baptized as one of the first things we do. It unites us with Christ, and therefore also with each other.
  • One God and Father of all - Finally, Paul says that the source of all that we have in common is our God and Father. God the Father is the one from whom all of this flows. Paul has mentioned the Spirit and Christ, but here he reminds this that all of this flows from the one true God who is over all, through all, and in all.

Paul is saying that our unity is based on what God has accomplished through Jesus Christ. We have the same Savior. We share the same Holy Spirit. We have a common hope, a common faith, a common baptism that unites us. Unity isn't something we create; it's something that already exists because of what God has done.

And so Paul asks us to examine our beliefs, because it's easy to lose this belief because we look and act so differently from each other. With some churches and with some people, the problem is that they don't have a strong enough theology of relationships. At Richview we need to really understand that in Christ we have become one. It's not enough to just attend church. We need an understanding that we are one as a result of what God has done.

But for some of us, the problem isn't our beliefs. The problem is that we don't act consistently with these beliefs. So Paul leads us to ask a second question:

2. Is it a behavior problem?

Let's face it. Some of us do have a correct theology of relationship within the church. Our problem isn't our theology; our problem is the guy two rows over who drives us crazy. Our problem is applying our theology to real people who really sin and who really let us down. It's why Paul applies his theology of relationships in verses 2 and 3:

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Paul has just revealed some of the most profound theology in all of Scripture about the eternal purposes of God, and now he goes to apply it. And this is what we find? Advice on getting along? Yes. The reason is because God's purpose is to bring all things under unity under Christ. And since he's done this very thing in the church, we had better preserve the unity that God has given us. And if we're going to do so, it involves applying our theology in real churches with real people, not as an ideal but as a reality.

And this is what it will take, according to Paul:

  • Humility - The Greeks in Paul's day saw humility as a quality for servants and wimps. If someone back then called you humble, it wouldn't have been a compliment. But Paul urges us here to pursue humility, literally lowliness of mind. It means that we see the inherent worth and value of others, refuse to insist on our own rights, and put their interests before our own.
  • Gentleness - Gentleness refers to a disposition towards others. Some used it to refer to domesticated animals. It means controlling one's strength to be courteous and considerate of others, being more concerned about the common good than getting our own way.
  • Patience - A different way of putting it is to be long-suffering towards aggravating people. It's closely related to the next and final quality:
  • Bearing with one another in love - There will be tensions and conflicts, and sometimes we'll have to just put up with each other. But Paul says not just to do this, but to do it with love.

This is what it will take if we are to apply our theology of relationships. Don't you love how real this is? There will be real tensions and real aggravations, and Paul says we're to maintain the unity that we have in the gospel through huge doses of humility, gentleness, patience, and just plain old putting up with each other in love.

Martin Luther, the Reformer of the 16th century, had a really bad temper. He once called fellow Reformer John Calvin "a pig" and "a devil." Mark my words, that and worse will happen sometimes even in the church! But John Calvin replied, "Luther may call me what he will, but I will always call him a dear servant of Christ."

Maybe some of us need to change our beliefs about relationships within the church. I hope you've seen from Paul that the church is more than a collection of people who come and go while staying independent. The gospel - what God has done through Christ - has made us one. Some of us have to adjust our beliefs so that we really understand the church. "Christ wants to create a 'people,' not merely isolated individuals who believe in him," writes one preacher (Sinclair Ferguson). When we come to Christ we belong to him, and we therefore belong to each other.

But maybe some of have the right beliefs about relationships, and our challenge is to change so that our conduct matches our beliefs. And not just in some ideal church community in which people are nicer than they are here. Paul calls us to relationship not in some dream world, but in the real world of people who will require every ounce of patience Christ can give us.

And this can only happen through Jesus. "For Jesus Christ alone is our unity. 'He is our peace.' Through him alone do we have access to one another, joy in one another, and fellowship with one another" (Dietrich Bonhoeffer).

Let's pray.

Father, may we think the right things, biblical things, about relationships. And may we bring our actions in line with what is true and right, not through our own power but through Jesus Christ.

We come now to the table because we need him. May we live lives worth of the calling we've received, and may we do so in the way we love one other. In Jesus' name, Amen.

A Prayer for Experience (Ephesians 3:14-21)

When most of us pray, we tend to pray the way that we learned from others. When I was young I learned to pray by listening to older men at the church pray. I grew up in a church that used the King James Version, which meant that I had to learn a whole other type of English when I prayed aloud. "Our Father, we thank thee that thou art a great God, who bestoweth blessings on thy people." Nobody ever taught me that you had to use King James language in order to pray, but that was the way people prayed around me.

Most of us tend to learn how to pray from others. Another example is how we offer thanks at our meals. If you say grace a certain way, you'll soon discover that your kids do the same thing.

The problem is, though, that not all of us have had mentors who have been able to teach us how to pray. If the truth were told, a lot of us have fallen into ruts in our prayer lives, or even more truthfully, we hardly pray at all. We desperately need good role models who can teach us how to pray, including what we should pray for, how to pray, and how to keep a focus on God, rather than just ourselves, in our prayers.

This is why the prayer that we have before us today is so important. We have before us a prayer that can teach us how to pray. Even better, we can actually use this prayer, because I believe that the things Paul prays for have the power to change our lives.

At the end of this message, I'm going to suggest that we commit to using this prayer in our own lives, at least in the coming week, and, I hope, beyond.

This is an unusual prayer in a lot of ways. Paul doesn't pray for anything about the circumstances of the people that he's praying about. There's nothing wrong with praying about circumstances, of course, but Paul teaches us that there's something even bigger. Most of us think that if our circumstances changed, then we would change. But Paul knows that circumstances don't make us who we are. If Paul's prayer is answered for us, then we can truly change, even if the world around us stays completely the same.

This prayer is also unusual in that it's both theological and practical. Most of us have developed a healthy fear of theologians. It's not completely our fault. We've heard enough pastors and professors talk about theology to know that theological talk can be a good cure for insomnia. We can almost feel our eyes glazing over. But Paul knows that there's nothing more practical than good theology. So we're going to pray a prayer that's steeped in theology, and yet is all about real change, change that will affect us in the deepest parts of our lives.

One last thing that's unusual about this prayer before we jump in. This is also an emotional prayer. Paul says in verse 14: "For this reason I kneel before the Father..." It's not unusual to see someone bow to pray. Some churches even have kneelers right in their pews. But when Paul wrote this, people generally didn't kneel to pray. The normal posture for prayer in that day was standing. Why did Paul kneel, then? Probably because this prayer carried some emotion. This isn't just a cold, intellectual prayer. There's some emotion behind what Paul's going to pray.

So what does Paul teach us to pray? There are essentially two requests in this prayer, and there's the first:

Pray that God will give us power so that we're changed within.

Not just power in general, but power toward a specific purpose: power that we would be changed in the depths of our beings. Read verses 16 and 17: "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith."

What's Paul praying for? Paul's praying that something will happen in what he calls "the depths of our beings" or "your hearts." This is the inner part of you that no-one can see, the part that makes you who you are. Paul's praying for the very essence of who we are, at the very center of our personalities.

And what does Paul pray for our inner beings? He prays that we'll be strengthened with power through the Spirit. The purpose of this prayer is that "Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." I used to have a suit that I wore. A friend of mine called it my power suit. The idea of the power suit is that when you wear it, you look good and you can create a good impression on others and win friends and influence people. But this isn't the type of power that Paul prays for. He doesn't pray that we'll have a power that will improve our standing with others or get us more of what we want. The power Paul prays for is that the inner parts of us will become places where Christ can make his home.

There are two words that Paul could have used when he said dwell in verse 17. One means to inhabit a place as a guest, kind of like you stay in a hotel room. You may not even unpack your suitcase. You certainly don't strip off the wallpaper if you don't like it and make plans to remodel the place. You're only there for a few days. But that's not the word that Paul used when he said dwell. It's a strong word that means taking up permanent residence, to really settle down. Paul's praying that our inner beings will be strengthened so that Christ may really settle down and live there. And if Christ lives at the very center of our beings, it's going to mean transformation. We'll never be the same.

We have to ask a question here. We know that Christ already dwells within believers. So why would Paul pray for something to happen that's already happened? D.A. Carson says that it's like a couple that scrimps enough money together to put a down-payment on a home. They buy the house, but they know that it needs a ton of work. The wallpaper needs to come off, the carpet is disgusting, the basement is full of junk from the previous owner, and the kitchen was designed by a man. The roof leaks and the insulation barely meets the minimum standards. The electrical service is 60 amps, the furnace is about to die, and a lot of the appliances are olive green. Other than that, it's a really nice house.

Before the couple moves in, they rip up carpet and clean up. Over the years they tackle the repairs. They remodel the kitchen, fix the leaks, and buy a new furnace and air conditioner. They redecorate and even add an extension at the back of the house. They landscape around the house.

After living there for twenty-five years, the husband turns to his wife one day and says, "You know, I really like it here. This place suits us. This house really feels like home to me."

That's exactly what Paul is talking about. When Christ takes us residence within us, he finds the equivalent of piles of junk, dated wallpaper, olive green appliances, and a leaking roof. He moves in, but it's not at all appropriate for him. But he moves in to our inner beings, and as he does he begins cleaning, repairing, and expanding. Over time, our inner being dwelling places that reflect who lives there. Our inner beings become dwelling places that reflect his character.

It's so important that we see how this happens. It's not the result of some self-improvement program. Paul prays in verse 16 that it's "out of his glorious riches" and "through his Spirit." It doesn't totally cut us out of the picture, because it also says "through faith." But make no mistake: this is something that God does. It's based on the glorious riches of Jesus Christ secured by him at Calvary. What Jesus did for us at the cross is more than enough not only to save us, but to change us in our innermost beings. The power comes not from us, but from the glorious riches of Jesus Christ that are applied to us through the Spirit.

So this is the first part of Paul's prayer. It's not just that we believe certain things. The devil himself believes. This prayer is about much more than believing certain truths about God. It's that we will be increasingly transformed in the very depths of our being by the one who's taken up residence there. If you want to learn to pray, this is a very good prayer, one that we can use in our daily lives. Pray that God will give us power so that we're changed within our inner beings, at the very core of who we are.

That's Paul's first request. There's a second request that's related and yet different. Here it is:

Pray that God will give us power to grasp the limitless love of Jesus.

Paul writes in verses 17 to 19:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

It's strange. Again Paul prays for something, in a sense, that's already true. He prays that we'll grasp the love of Christ. I find that most people who are Christians get this at some level. Little kids can sing, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so."

But there's a level at which we really don't get it. A lot of us have this picture of God who's perpetually disappointed with us. We try to obey God, but for a lot of us the motivation is about duty or obligation than as a response to God's love.

I'll put it like this. In every marriage, there's a time where one spouse looks at the other and says, "Do you really love me?" At one level, I'm sure that they know their spouse loves them, but at that moment they don't want to just know it. They want to experience it at the very depths of their being. They want to grasp it.

A 10-year-old boy was in the hospital and was quite sick. One day he awoke to see his mother sitting beside his bed, quietly crying. As he saw his mother crying, it overwhelmed him and he blurted out, "Why Mum, you do love me!" Of course, that finished her off and she ran from the room. If you had asked him if he was loved by his parents the day before, he would have said yes. But at that moment he really grasped his mother's love for him. This is Paul's prayer for us: that we will not just know about Christ's love but really grasp it. You even see this in Paul's prayer: it's that we will know something that surpasses knowledge. It's that we'll really get it, and really grasp it.

The result of this is found in verse 19: "that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." This means essentially that we will become spiritually mature, so that we will become all that God wants us to be. In other words, if we're to grow spiritually into the people we're meant to be, it begins with grasping - really getting - the limitless dimensions of God's love. It won't come from theological education or from years of attending church. It will come from really grasping Christ's love so that it becomes real to us, as real as the person next to you.

So let me ask you: have you experienced this lately? Have you really grasped the limitless dimensions of Christ's love? It's a gift from God; it's something God has to give us, but we can ask him for it. We can pray that we'll really get the breadth and length and heights and depths of the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. Pray for it. Christianity is more than a head-job. It's about really grasping the love of Christ. It will change us like nothing else will.

Let me give you a few examples as so you can see how real this is, and how it can happen with different kinds of people from different backgrounds. Five examples very quickly:

  • Blaise Pascal, a French mathematician and philosopher
  • Saint Teresa of Avila, a Carmelite nun from the 16h century
  • George Whitefield, a British Anglican priest and evangelist
  • Jonathan Edwards, one of the greatest minds America has ever produced
  • Dwight Moody, an American evangelist

Teresa of Avila, who lived in the 16th century, talked about reaching a state of blissful peace, a conscious rapture in the love of God. She talked about these prayers as being a glorious foolishness. She begged God not to do this to her in public. She was overwhelmed by the loving presence of God.

When Blaise Pascal died, they found sewed into the lining of his coat a diary entry of an experience that happened for two hours in 1654 from 10:30 to 12:30 one night. He experienced the love of God as a fire, and he never forgot it. He sewed the record of that event in the lining of his coat so it would always be near his heart.

George Whitefield often found that when he prayed at night, he began to experience God's love so powerfully that he couldn't get to sleep. He had to ask God to stop because he had to get some rest.

Jonathan Edwards, a great thinker, wrote that as he meditated on a Scripture, he was overcome with "a sense of the glory of the Divine Being; a new sense, quite different from anything I ever experienced before." He was overcome with "a sweet sense of the glorious majesty and grace of God, that I know not how to express."

Dwight Moody was praying for more of God. He was walking along the streets of New York City in the late 1850s and he said, "Suddenly God came down in a way I've never forgotten, and I started to experience so much love poured out in my heart that I had to ask him to stop."

And these are just a few examples. another evangelist from the early 20th century (R.A. Torrey) became so overwhelmed by God's love for him that he began to weep and weep. He eventually asked God to show him no more because he couldn't bear it.

Paul prays that we will grasp, really grasp, the unlimited dimensions of Christ's love for us. It may not be as dramatic as the examples I've just given you, but Paul wants it to be real. And he doesn't just want it for one or two individuals within the church. He wants us to have the power "together with all the Lord's people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."

And lest you think that this prayer is asking too much, Paul concludes:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

So will you join me in learning to pray this prayer with Paul? Take it home. Print it out. Hang it on the mirror. Pray that God will give strengthen us in our inner beings so that Christ makes takes up residence there. And pray that we will grasp to the depths of our being the limitless dimensions of Christ's love.

Father, we pray right now that you would strengthen us in our inner beings. May Christ make his home in our hearts through faith. And as he takes up residence there, we look forward to the transformation that will take place as changes us so that we're more fit for him to dwell.

And would you reveal to us how wide and how long and how high and how deep the love of Jesus Christ is, a love that surpasses knowledge. Allow us to experience it. Fill us with the fullness of God.

And we thank you that you can do immeasurably more than all that we ask or think, according to the power that is at work within us. To you be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.