Powerful Prayers: To Know the Unknowable (Ephesians 3:16-19)

George Hood of Naperville, Illinois, a 62-year-old former Marine, just set the endurance record for holding a plank. The plank, an isometric exercise which strengthens the abdominal muscles, is like a pushup, except one rests on one’s forearms and holds that isometric position. I can hold a plank for about a minute. George Hood held it for eight hours, 15 minutes, and 15 seconds.

The former Marine trained for years to set the record. He did 4 to 5 hours a day in a plank position, performed 700 pushups a day, 2,000 sit-ups, and 300 curls. He eventually became strong enough to hold an 8-hour plank.

Some things require strength. In Ephesians 3:14-21, the Apostle Paul surprises us with the revelation that it takes strength to grasp (and, I suppose, hold onto) the love of Christ. Grasping the love of Christ is more important and brings better results than holding an 8-hour plank and – here’s the thing – together we can become strong enough.

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Pastors: Targets to Aim at or Leaders to Follow?

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

According to the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, there are currently around 380,000 church congregations in the United States. Christianity Today’s Rebecca Randall reports that number was higher in 2006, with approximately 414,000 congregations. From 2006 to 2012, an estimated 30,000 congregations closed.

That’s the bad news. The good news is the church still has the lowest closure rate of any institution in the country. And while 30,000 churches closed between 2006 and 2012, there are still something like 50,000 more congregations in the U.S. than there were in 1998.

Most of those 380,000 congregations are led by pastors, sometimes by large pastoral staffs. How often do these pastors leave their churches? It is difficult to be sure, since study results vary widely, but in 2011, Lifeway Research found the average pastoral stay to be 3.6 years. Other studies show the typical pastoral tenure to be between 5 and 7 years.

What this means is that churches need to find new pastoral leadership more frequently than I need to find a new car. Since pastoral leadership is important to the life and health of a church, what should a local congregation be looking for in a prospective pastor?

Most pastors have a job description. They frequently detail duties such as preaching, teaching, and visiting the sick. In recent years, many job descriptions include things like “strategic leadership and planning” and call for the pastor to be the church’s “lead visionary.”

Such things are good, but they don’t replace the fundamental requirements given by the apostles of Jesus and preserved in the Bible. A key passage comes in St. Paul’s letter to his protégé, Pastor Timothy. He lays out some of the essentials in 1 Timothy 4.

First, the pastor is to be an example for church members to imitate. Paul lists some specific areas in which Timothy should provide the pattern. The first is speech. The Bible says a great deal about speech – it is to be true, loving, gentle, interesting, free of gossip, manipulation, and deceit. How pastors preach is important, but how they speak when they’re not in the pulpit is even more important.

Furthermore, their lifestyle is to be exemplary. What is important to them? How do they spend their time? Do they value people more than money, character more than fashion? Are they hard workers? If church members all patterned their lifestyle after their pastor, would the church be a better or worse place?

The apostle specifically calls Pastor Timothy to model love. Love can be taught from the pulpit, but it is caught in personal interactions. Of all the places in the world, the church should be the place where people know they are loved. The pastor must demonstrate that.

Pastors must also be devoted to Scripture. They must love the Bible, read it privately and publicly. They should teach the Scriptures, not their own pet subjects or their thoughts on the latest news cycle. (I once heard a sermon based entirely on a news story that appeared in the previous evening’s paper.)

Another essential for the pastor is that he or she is growing as a person and as a disciple of Jesus. Pastors like to look like they are completely grown, as if they had already arrived at the optimum level of spiritual maturity. But if your pastor is already done growing, it’s time for a new pastor.

St. Paul counsels Pastor Timothy to demonstrate his growth “so that everyone may see your progress.” This leaves no room for pretending one has already arrived. The church does not need a pastor who impresses them by how far he is beyond them. A faraway leader won’t be followed.

The church should look for pastors who are obviously growing, leaders who openly admit they are fallible and imperfect but whose progress is plain to see. A pastor who has already arrived is not a leader to follow but a target to aim at, as churches throughout history have proved.

Churches must remember that even the best pastor makes mistakes, has flaws, and failings. Only Jesus is perfect. The leaders he sends are not, but still he sends them, and we must do our best to love them and grow with them.

First published by Gatehouse Media

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Powerful Prayers: Make Yourself at Home

(Note: For a few weeks , I will post the manuscript that goes with the audio (posted Tuesdays) from a sermon in the Powerful Prayers series. People have requested the sermon manuscripts many time, but I’ve always been reluctant to make it available for two principal reasons: 1) I never simply read a sermon, so what people read is not exactly what I spoke. The manuscript might be better or it may be worse but it will be different. And (2) because the sermon has not been edited for publication. With those caveats, here is The Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation III (His Incomparably Great Power for Us Who Believe)

(Ephesians 3:14-19) For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 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. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, 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.

Why pray? Or, to be more specific, why do you pray? To be more specific still, why do you pray for other people – friends, family, your kingdom comrades from Lockwood or other churches? We often talk about what to pray but seldom talk about why to pray.

I suspect – I know this is true of me – that we usually pray because we are aware of a need, of discomfort, or of danger. We pray when we see a threat to someone’s health or security or faith. And when we are unaware of a threat, we don’t think to pray.

That we don’t think to pray when things are going well betrays a faulty understanding of prayer and probably a false belief: that God left us here to muddle through and keep ourselves intact in the process. When that becomes more than we can manage, then it’s time to pray.

But do you see what this reveals about our view of God? We think he’s like the butler in a Jeeves novel – the smartest, most capable person around – who (for some reason) has nothing better to do in life than to get us out of scrapes and make us comfortable. But to think that is to misconstrue our purpose here and God’s, his role and ours.

The Apostle Paul doesn’t think of God as if he were “our Jeeves in heaven.” It’s not that he doesn’t want us to pray about our need—he tells us to do just that: to present our requests to God. But most of Paul’s prayers in the Bible don’t seem to come out of a sense of discomfort or fear or even need. They come out of a readiness to join God in what he is doing. That’s different than a readiness for God to join us in what we’re doing.

In verse 14, Paul says, “For this reason I kneel before the Father…” We’ve seen this before: Paul likes to explain the reason for his prayers. He told the Colossians that he had been praying for them ever since he heard of their faith and love. He told the Ephesians something similar. He was excited when he heard what these Christians were doing, and he wanted to support them with his prayers.

It’s a little tougher to understand what prompted this prayer. Once again, Paul mentions there is a reason behind it, but it is hard to be sure what that reason is. If you compare verse 14 to verse one, you will see they begin in exactly the same way: “For this reason…” But in verse 1, Paul interrupted himself with what amounts to a long parenthesis. (The NIV conveys this with a dash.) Most scholars believe that in verse 14 he finally comes back to what he stated to say in verse 1.

If Paul is just getting back to what he was poised to write in the first verse of this chapter, then the reason for his prayer must come out of what he said at the end of the last chapter. There, he wrote about what God has done to bring Gentiles, like the Ephesians and Colossians, into his people. He also wrote about what God is doing to build his people, Jews and Gentiles alike, into a magnificent, living temple in which God can dwell and through which God can act. That is tremendously exciting to Paul and it sends him to his knees in prayer.

However, I think Paul’s reason for this prayer must also include the truth he mentions in verse 12: that through Jesus, it is possible for people to bring their requests directly to God “with freedom and confidence.” That is too great an opportunity to miss, so Paul requests God’s help for the Ephesians’ role in the living temple project. That’s why he kneels before the Father.

Kneeling to pray was not all that common in Judaism. The normal posture for prayer was standing, with eyes lifted to heaven and arms raised. When someone kneeled – like Jesus in the garden or Paul on the beach with the Ephesian church elders – it was a sign of submission to God and of deep emotion. Paul was awed by the amazing wisdom of God in bringing Jews and Gentiles together in the living temple project. It was happening before his eyes and it brought him to his knees.

The principal request in this prayer is for God to give – Paul knows he is a giver – the Ephesians strengthening power. He asks him to do this “out of his glorious riches” or, better, “according to his glorious riches.” Paul is not asking God to deplete his riches by giving some of them to the Ephesians. He is asking the Father – the infinitely wealthy, incomparably generous God – to give in a way that is consistent with his famous largesse.

But Paul is not asking the Father to give these Christians money. He’s asking him to strengthen them; to give them power. Did you realize that God wants to empower you? He wants to you to be strong and capable.

Our culture talks a lot about empowering people: women, children, minorities, workers, gays, the transgendered, and, lately, even white men (though it’s usually white men talking about empowering white men.) Our society has a thing about power: it worships it. God doesn’t want us to worship power, but he does want us to use it.

When our culture empowers a person or a group of people, it divides them from other people. That’s how cultural power works: it raises some up by forcing others down. God’s power is not like that. It doesn’t divide. It unites. God’s power does not enable people to get their way. It enables them to walk together with others in God’s way. God’s power does not provoke resentment; it generates love.

Hold onto this thought: God wants to empower you. God, said C. S. Lewis, “seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye.” He empowers us.

But why? What does God want to accomplish by empowering us? Why does Paul ask God to strengthen the Ephesians (literally) with power? Before answering the why question, Paul deals with the where question. Where is this strengthening power going? Paul says it is going to the “inner being” (or, as some translations put it, the “inner person”). It could also be translated, “the inside man.” Other than its lack of gender sensitivity, I prefer that. God has an inside man (or woman) working undercover in you, if you have been born again! And that inside man needs to be resourced, reinforced, and empowered, if the work is to succeed.

Look at verse 16, and let me to give you a more literal translation: “that he might give you, according to the wealth of his glory, to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inside man.” The word the NIV translates “strengthened” is used only three other times in the New Testament, twice of the boy Jesus, who “grew and became strong.” It is very important to God that you become strong – a great deal depends on it.

I’ve met parents who do not empower their children, even when they are twenty or thirty years old. I could almost believe they preferred their children to remain weak so they could control them. God is not that kind of parent. He wants his children to become strong.

There is an important reason for that. Look at verses 16 and 17, where Paul answers the why question: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being…” Why? So you can be independent? No. So you can be tough? Not really. No, he strengthens you with power (verse 17): “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”

That has always been the plan. It is “the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints … which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27-28). God is transforming individuals from every race and people group so he can connect them to each other on the deepest level. A people who are strong enough to love, loving enough to sacrifice, and pure enough to become the temple through which God meets, receives, and transforms the world.

Another way of putting it is to say, as Paul did in chapter 2, that God’s people are “being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Eph. 2:21-22). For that to happen, Christ must live in each individual. As verse 17 puts it, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts.”

When Carol Leet’s four-year-old granddaughter, Amanda, went to the Pediatrician’s office with a fever, the doctor looked in her ears and said, “Who’s in there? Donald Duck?”

Amanda, with the forthrightness of a four-year-old, said, “No.” He looked in her nose and said, “Who’s in there? Mickey Mouse?”

Again she said, “No.” He put his stethoscope on her heart and said, “Who’s in there? Barney?”

Amanda answered, “No, Jesus is in my heart. Barney is on my underwear.”[1]

“Jesus is in my heart.” More precisely, Jesus is in our hearts: the hearts (or command centers) of every person who has faith in God and has confessed Jesus as Lord –the world’s rightful ruler and our leader. What we share with each other and with the Tiwi believers in Australia, with Wolof believers in Senegal, Papuans, Inuits, Ojibway, Quechua, Hmong, and every other people group you can name is Jesus in our hearts. He is the connector.

God is building something, something big, something great – a living temple in which he dwells and through which people encounter him – so it is absolutely essential that every believer in the world be linked.

Computing offers a helpful analogy. There is a supercomputer in Barcelona known as the MareNostrum 4. It is comprised of 48 racks with more than 3400 Lenovo computer nodes, each with two Intel Platinum chips, each with 24 processors, which means the main part of the computer has 165,888 processors. Cost to date (because it is continually growing) is something like a quarter of a billion dollars.

Some years ago, Virginia Polytech made its own supercomputer. It cost about 5 million dollars. They used faculty, technicians, and students to design a supercomputer from 1,100 off-the-shelf Apple Macs, and they built it one month. By linking every one of those computers, they made a supercomputer.[2] Similarly, by linking every one of us with the same operating system (Christ, not Intel, inside) God is making a living temple.

There is another kind of distributive computing known as quasi-opportunistic supercomputing, in which the processors are geographically separated, and yet are all connected or networked. The actual work is distributed through the various nodes across great distances.

That’s like Jesus’s people. Jesus unites them and is present in each of them by his Spirit, wherever they are. The network key, if you will, is faith in Jesus. Christ dwells in each person’s heart by faith (verse 17). So these believers are united together even though they may be separated by thousands of miles and have never met each other. They don’t even need to know what the others are doing. The one controlling the network knows that.

The goal, as we’ve seen before, is the universal rule over all things in heaven and on earth under one head, even Christ. That’s big. We are part of something big, the biggest thing in the world. So don’t be discouraged. The architect and builder of this greatest of projects knows what he is doing.

With all these illustrations, we may need to be reminded of the principal request of this prayer: that God will give these Ephesians power to become strong so that Christ can dwell in their hearts through faith. The word the NIV translates as “dwell” is used of a person settling down somewhere. For example, it is used of Jesus moving to Capernaum and making his home there. When we pray this prayer for someone, we’re praying that God will do what is necessary in that person so that Christ can settle in and make himself at home in that person’s heart – the command center.

Why do people need to be strengthened for that to happen? Because genuine conversion is like a spiritual earthquake. Christ is bigger than your heart. If he comes to dwell in you, you will need to be renovated. Walls will be knocked out, the structure reinforced.

Imagine the President of the United States was forced to relocate from the White House to your house. You say yes to having him come. What happens then? His forces come in, evaluate, and start changing things. You’ll need a fiber optic network. The entire house will need to be reinforced and shielded. A wing will need to be added here and another there. Walls moved, ceilings raised, tunnels dug, and on and on.

Do think having the president dwell in your house would require fewer changes than having Christ, the ruler of heaven and earth, dwell in your heart? You need to be strengthened for that. It is a major project.

A moment ago, I used the word “conversion” in regard to this project. Many people think of conversion as an instantaneous thing. I wasn’t a Christian. I converted. Now I am. But that’s not the way it works.

Conversion is a process that begins even before Christ comes to live in us. It begins with the Spirit’s work to prepare our hearts and minds. Then, when we say “yes” to God, the Spirit begins changing us on the inside. That’s what is in mind verse 16, where Paul prays for the Ephesians to be “strengthen[ed] … with power through his Spirit in [their] inner being” – the inside man. Conversion continues throughout a person’s life on earth (and, I expect, in heaven). That is why believers in Jesus keep growing, changing, and – if you won’t misunderstand me – getting “bigger”.

The process itself can be uncomfortable. Knocking out our carefully constructed walls can be painful. Raising the ceiling can be scary. The tools God uses to do that are sharp and disruptive. (But no one ever said that being a Christian is for wimps.)

That’s why God’s inside man or woman needs to be empowered. Paul asked God to give that power to the Ephesians and we should ask God to give that power to us. We’re going to need it!

Let’s take this seriously and start praying this prayer. Let’s try picking out three people we know – friends, pastors, ministry leaders, spouses, children – and pray this pray for them over the next week. Let’s ask our openhanded, power-sharing Father to empower them so they can be and do what God has planned for them. Let’s ask him to make them bigger so that Christ can dwell in their hearts by faith and they can know Christ is dwelling there. Let’s start, though, by praying this prayer for ourselves:

Father, I pray that out of your glorious riches you may strengthen us with power through your Spirit in our inner being, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. Amen.


[1] Carol Leet, New York. Today’s Christian Woman, Vol. 18, no. 4.

[2] John Beukema, associate editor PreachingToday.com; source: John Markoff, The New York Times (10-22-03)

Posted in Church, From the Pulpit, Prayer, Sermons, Spiritual life, Theology | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Powerful Prayers: Make Yourself at Home (Ephesians 2:14-19)

Our culture talks a lot about empowering people: women, children, minorities, workers, gays, the transgendered, and, lately, even white men (though it’s usually white men talking about empowering white men.) Our society has a thing about power: it worships it. God doesn’t want us to worship power, but he does want us to use it.

When our culture empowers a person or a group of people, it divides them from other people. That’s how cultural power works: it raises some up by forcing others down. God’s power is not like that. It doesn’t divide. It unites. God’s power does not enable people to get their way. It enables them to walk together with others in God’s way. God’s power does not provoke resentment; it generates love.

Hold onto this thought: God wants to empower you. God, said C. S. Lewis, “seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye.” He empowers us. But why? What does God want to accomplish by empowering us?

The answer to that question is what this sermon seeks to address–and that answer is full of hope.

Listen and share your thoughts in the comment box below.

God’s best to you!

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Didn’t See That Coming: Living with Uncertainty

In over a hundred years of Major League Baseball, only 16 men have homered four times in one game. Most of them were power hitters. Twelve of the 16 hit 200 or more career home runs. Nine of them hit 300 or more.

Then came Scooter Gennett, a 5-foot-10, 185 pounds utility player who spent his Major League career bouncing from one team to another. Scooter had only 38 home runs in his entire career and was on an 0 for 19 slump, when he came to the plate for the Cincinnati Reds on June 6th, 2017. In that game, he hit one single and four home runs (including a grand slam). No one in the ballpark was more surprised than Gennett. He didn’t see that coming.

In his novel Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry has his protagonist say, “Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there … I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led…”

My wife and I know what Jayber meant. When we left college, neither of us imagined that I would be a pastor for nearly forty years. We did, however, think that we would work overseas, probably working with the poor in Latin America.

We had a general idea of how the future would work. We’d get jobs. (Did that.) Get married (Did that.) Get a master’s degree. (Didn’t do that.) Apply to our denomination for credentials. (Did that.) Do two-years of required home service (did that), probably as a youth pastor (didn’t do that). I would be ordained (did that), receive approved missionary status (didn’t do that), and move to South America, maybe Ecuador, where we would spend our lives. (Not even close.)

That’s how we thought things would work out. Instead, I, who never had a pastoral ministry course and hated the idea of talking to a room full of people, have spent more than 38 years pastoring and preaching, mostly in rural southern Michigan—and am grateful for it. But I didn’t see that coming.

The fact is none of us can see what’s coming. We try to shine a light into the darkness that is the future by making plans, but it remains pitch-black. How many people can say life has turned out as they expected? Only a few, and not many of them are over the age of 40.

We make plans and try to use them like battering rams to force our way into the future, often irrespective of God’s plans. Jesus once told the story of a successful businessman who had done well for himself, had a significant income, and expanded his holdings.

Jesus tells the story like this: “He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.””

Jesus ends the story this way: “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.’” He didn’t see that coming.

St James, who regularly echoes Jesus’s teaching, wrote: “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.”

Humans cannot see what’s coming. Days before the stock market crash that initiated the Great Depression, the economist Irving Fisher assured the Builders Exchange Club that stock prices had reached “what looks like a permanently high plateau.” He should have read the Book of James.

Admitting that we don’t know what is coming next is both intellectually honest and emotionally daunting. Yet, if we have experienced the love and goodness of the God who does know what’s coming, the future can be faced with courage, no matter what it may bring.

First published by Gatehouse Media

Posted in Faith, Peace with God, Spiritual life | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Powerful Prayers: The Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation III (His Incomparably Great Power for Us Who Believe)

(Note: For a few weeks , I will post the manuscript that goes with the audio (posted Tuesdays) from a sermon in the Powerful Prayers series. People have requested the sermon manuscripts many time, but I’ve always been reluctant to make it available for two principal reasons: 1) I never simply read a sermon, so what people read is not exactly what I spoke. The manuscript might be better or it may be worse but it will be different. And (2) because the sermon has not been edited for publication. With those caveats, here is The Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation III (His Incomparably Great Power for Us Who Believe)

(Ephesians 1:18-23) I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. 

Imagine you are at your high schooler’s track and field regional finals. She has already run the 100-meter relay and won’t run the 200 for at least a half-hour, so you mosey over to watch some of the field events. The shot putters are competing right now and they are well-matched and they are remarkably good. A couple of them are throwing around the 60-foot line.

At the moment, your school has a pretty strong lead, which might be unsurpassable. Then a shot putter from another school steps into the circle. He hoists the shot, gets into position, spins and releases. The shot flies not 60 feet, not 65 feet, but 75 feet. He doesn’t beat the previous best by inches but by 15 feet. It is astounding. It is miraculous.

What word would you use to describe the difference between this shot putter’s throw and all the rest? Greek has the perfect word for it: huperballon, which means literally “throw beyond,” and figuratively to outdo something by a long shot. That is the word St. Paul uses to describe the power of God. It is not even in the same ballpark with any other power we can name or conceive. It is beyond our grasp.

When Paul wrote this, the Roman Empire was the paradigm of power. Its enormous standing army, garrison cities, elite special forces, and latest military hardware were well beyond any other earthly power. But God’s power surpasses Rome’s like the world record shot putter surpasses the high school freshman’s best throw.

In order to impress his readers with the enormity of God’s power, Paul piles on one descriptor after another. You could translate verse 19 like this: “and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, according to” – now listen to how he piles it on – “the working power” (we get our word “energy” from this word) “of the ruling power” (the word “autocrat” come from this root) of the forceful power of him.”

The primary word for “power” here is frequently translated “miracle” in the gospels. A miracle is an expression of power and God’s power is nothing short of miraculous. The word has the idea of ability and is sometimes translated that way. To possess power is to possess the ability to do what one chooses. In its verb form, the word is frequently translated as “I am able” or “I can.”

We are not always able. Human power is strictly limited. We cannot do everything we choose to do. I may choose to open a jar of homemade preserves but lack the ability (the power) to unscrew the lid. Jesus pointed out that we lack the power to add a single hour to our lifespan, no matter how desperate we are to do so. Human power is limited.

Even collective power, as displayed in government or business, is limited. Rome might have been the paradigm of power in the first century, with its enormous army and advanced weaponry, but even Rome lacked the power to root out rebellion. Rome lacked the power to end starvation and disease. Rome didn’t possess the ability to create a just society based on mutual respect. And though we’ve come a long way since the first century, today’s “superpower” still lacks the ability to do those things.

God does not. His power knows no limits. A critic will immediately ask: Then why is there still starvation and disease? Why does justice evade us? Where is universal human respect? If God is so powerful, and he wants these things, why hasn’t he made them happen?

There’s no getting around it: that is a difficult question, with a multi-part answer and none of us has all the parts. So, even after we have given our best and truest answer, there is much that we don’t understand. But here, at least, is one part of that answer. God has chosen to demonstrate his ability to do these things through the saints, effectively transferring (or, better, investing) some of his incredible power in his people. He wants to demonstrate what he can do in the Church. Later in this same letter, Paul will write of God’s immeasurable, unimaginable ability (the verb form of the noun translated “power” in this passage) which is at work in the church!

But before writing that, Paul tells the Ephesians that God’s intention is to make known to rulers and authorities his wisdom – the absolute brilliance and effectiveness of his plan – and to do so through the Church. The Church is his proving ground, his test track. The church is intended by God to be a model of what can happen – what God has the power to make happen – in the world. The Church is on display as the prototype of God’s wisdom and power.

Every year in January, Las Vegas hosts the country’s biggest tech show. People come from all over to see the latest tech innovations: self-driving cars, delivery drones, next-gen software solutions – even bathroom mirrors that respond to voice command and turn on the shower, make it warmer, soften the light, and more. This year at the tech show, Char Broil introduced smart propane grills, which will take the temperature of your meat, raise or lower the heat at your command, and warn you if a burner goes out. (Next year’s model will actually eat your steak.)

Imagine you are at the Char Broil demonstration at the tech show. The guy running the demonstration looks at an app on his phone and it tells him the temperature of his T-Bone: 130 degrees. That’s not high enough, so he touches his phone screen, and the grill turns up the heat to medium high. He shows his audience the phone and smiles knowingly. But then something happens. Flames start leaping from the grill, catch the display deck and its backyard furniture on fire, and the entire Las Vegas World Trade Center has to be evacuated. That demo will probably not generate many buyers or investors.

So with the church. God has a display. He is demonstrating his know-how and power in a group of very imperfect people, transforming them into “an all-inclusive community of loving persons, with himself as its primary sustainer and most glorious inhabitant.”[1] As God transforms us into this work of art, (functional art, by the way), we experience his power in our lives. Our desires begin to change, as do our attitudes and our relationships, and we gradually become that beautiful community of loving persons. While undergoing this transformation, we become witnesses to Jesus. We experience his power, and others see what God is capable of doing.

But when we sin and fall short of the glory of God – when we fall short of bringing glory to God – because we refuse to give; refuse to forgive; act hypocritically; gossip; mislead; manipulate – we catch fire, burn down the display, and empty the church. There are not many people wanting to buy in when that happens.

Paul longs for Christians to know, to the full extent of their mind’s ability, the supreme greatness of God’s power. He knows that when the Spirit of wisdom and revelation opens people’s eyes to God’s surpassing power, it changes them. It gives rise to reverence in them, what the ancients called “the fear of the Lord,” and makes them passionate worshipers. As our knowledge and experience of God’s power grows, the fear of failure, fear of people, fear of the future, fear of privation is extinguished. Knowing the power of God sets people free to try, to give, to enjoy, to love. We need to know, to the very limits of our ability, the power that God possesses.

This power, Paul says, is “for us who believe” or “for us the believing.” Do you think that is an accurate description of you? John the believing. Dawn the believing. Ethan the believing. Emily the believing. Not everyone is in position to take advantage of the power Paul is talking about.  It is for the believing.

That begs the question, doesn’t it? What are “the believing” believing? In my experience, many people who confess belief in God have little more than a blur or smear of religious thoughts – some quite pagan – about a God who is generally nice and will look after us, and take us to heaven when we die. Would Paul recognize those folks as “the believing”?

I don’t think so. A fuzzy belief in god doesn’t mean much to Paul. “The believing” believe in Jesus the Lord, the rightful ruler of the earth. They believe that what Jesus says is true and his sacrifice is sufficient. “The believing” have more than head knowledge. They have a heart – that is, a command center – commitment to Jesus the Lord.

There is a correlation between belief and the experience of God’s power. In the gospels, there is a remark made in passing by the narrator that has enormous implications for our experience of God. The Evangelist comments, “And he [Jesus] did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith” (Matthew 13:58). St. Mark says something even more starting: “He could not do any miracles there, except lay hands on a few sick people and heal them” (Mark 6:5). God’s power – his energetic, working, ruling, overcoming power – is for “the believing,” whose belief becomes a conduit for the exercise of God’s power.

But what if I doubt? Doubt is not a big problem. Unbelief is. Doubt exists in the absence of knowledge and when the knowledge is supplied, the doubter believes. But unbelief – the refusal to believe – is different. It is not motivated by lack of knowledge but by an unwillingness to commit. Doubt is routinely the predecessor to belief. Unbelief is the predecessor to ruin.

Is the power of God capable of meeting your need? It is. As difficult as your situation might be, Jesus’s was worse. He was dead and in the grave when God’s power changed everything. One minute, Jesus was dead and gone and the next he was alive and raised. He was as an impotent corpse, then he was ruler of heaven and earth. Paul says that God’s power for us is just like that power.

“That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come  (Ephesians 1:19-21).

If you’re in need of power – capable, energetic, authoritative, overcoming power – the person to see is Jesus. He has been raised to the heights of power (verse 21), all things have been subjected to him (beginning of verse 22) and he has been appointed head over everything for the Church. Now, if you’re not in the Church, this power is not for you. But if you are in the Church – you’ve joined Jesus and believe in him – he is the one to go to.

It is important to realize this power is not meant for individuals in isolation from the Church. God loves the Church of Jesus so much he chose it for his inheritance. He invests in the Church and values it tremendously. He releases his great power to “the believing.” This means that, if you are not in the Body of Christ; if the Church is not important to you; if you’re not invested in it; you won’t see much of God’s power.

There are people who are not in the Church, not involved in its mission, not committed (or even giving a thought) to what God is doing in the world – summing up all things in heaven and on earth under one head, even Christ – who still wish to see God’s power in their lives. They want God to use his great power to get them a job or cure their disease or change their son’s attitude but none of that is happening and they cannot understand why. They give to a TV ministry that promises – quid pro quo – that God will heal them or help them, but it appears God is not keeping his end of the bargain. They pray, they ask others to pray, but nothing seems to happen. Why not? Because they are not where the power is.

Imagine living on Lockwood Road in 1936. You don’t have electricity (and don’t really trust it, either). None of your neighbors have electricity. But then Edna and her husband – he works at the car dealership in town – become the first to sign up. The Electric Company runs a wire from Angola Road to the new pole and then to their house. If you want to see what electricity can do, you need to go to Edna’s house. They’ve put in electric lights, a refrigerator, and even a toaster. The only way you’ll see electric power at your house is if lightning strikes, which is not very likely. Just so, God’s power may strike someone who is outside the Church and doesn’t care about Jesus’s mission, but it’s not very likely.

This is hard for us to understand. Western Christians tend to see a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” in isolation from Jesus’s mission, his church, and God’s glorious inheritance in the saints. But when God displays his power, it happens where Jesus is obeyed and his mission advanced. Since the Church is the prototype or the test site or the working model for what God can do, it is where we find his power at work.  

Imagine again that it’s 1936 and you’ve just got on the bandwagon and had the electric company run a wire to your house. You’ve got two electric lights in your kitchen, a lamp in your living room, and one in each of your bedrooms. You have five places where the electricity can actually accomplish something in your house.

It’s a good start. Now imagine that its 1966, and those five light bulbs are still the only electricity-using devices in your home. It’s what you’ve become accustomed to, and you don’t think much about it, but you’re not experiencing many of the benefits electricity could provide.

Similarly, if we have little outlet for the power of God, we will have little experience of the power of God. The first time many people are aware of God’s power is when it flows through them to someone else. This is supposed to happen in the church all the time. Power runs through me for you, through you for me, and through us for everyone else. A Christian who doesn’t serve others doesn’t experience God’s power. We want God’s power in our lives. God wants our lives in his church, delivering power where it is needed.

If you want to become a conductor of God’s power, as well as a recipient of it, try this: Begin praying seriously for something (for example, Children’s Ministry, Family Ministry or Youth Ministry) or some person (for example, someone on the prayer panel in the bulletin). Make yourself available to God for his will regarding that person or ministry. If he brings something to mind for you to do – it can be as simple as sending a card or making a phone call – do it. That’s how you plug in to the power.

This is not simply volunteering for a job. This is connecting to God so that his energy can flow through you. Every time someone does that, it’s like a light comes on in the church. When we all do it, the church becomes the success of the entire exhibition known as life on earth. It becomes, in Jesus’s metaphor, a city on a hill that cannot be hidden.

Let’s light this thing up!

We’ll close our time by praying Paul’s prayer for our church family. We’ll personalize the words to our situation as we pray:

God of our Lord Jesus Christ, glorious Father: give us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that we may know you better; that the eyes of our heart may be enlightened in order that we may know the hope to which you have called us, the riches of your glorious inheritance in the saints, and your incomparably great power for us who believe. Amen.


[1] Dallas Willard

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Powerful Prayers: The Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation III (Incomparable Power)

Imagine you are at your high schooler’s track and field regional finals. She has already run the 100-meter relay and won’t run the 200 for at least a half-hour, so you mosey over to watch some of the field events. The shot putters are competing right now and they are well-matched and they are remarkably good. A couple of them are throwing around the 60-foot line.

At the moment, your school has a pretty strong lead, which might be unsurpassable. Then a shot putter from another school steps into the circle. He hoists the shot, gets into position, spins and releases. The shot flies not 60 feet, not 65 feet, but 75 feet. He doesn’t beat the previous best by inches but by 15 feet. It is astounding. It is miraculous.

What word would you use to describe the difference between this shot putter’s throw and all the rest? Greek has the perfect word for it: huperballon, which means literally “throw beyond,” and figuratively to outdo something by a long shot. That is the word St. Paul uses to describe the power of God. It is not even in the same ballpark with any other power we can name or conceive. It is beyond our grasp.

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Has the Generation Gap Become an Abyss?

The term “generation gap” came into use in the 1960s, as both young and old people recognized basic generational differences in outlook, aspirations, and values. Acknowledging that there were differences did little to improve strained relationships. It may even have exacerbated them.

The troublemakers in those days, at least in the eyes of the “Traditionalists” (as they are sometimes called), were the Baby Boomers. Those young whippersnappers went off to college and suddenly thought they knew everything. They called the older generation names: “square,” “uptight,” and “plastic” (that is, hypocritical). They faulted them for not thinking for themselves; for just doing whatever “the Man” told them to do.

How ironic it is that today’s Millennials and Gen Z’s, while using different terminology, accuse the formerly freethinking Boomers of the same things. The gap may not be as wide as it was in the sixties, but it has deepened. When a Gen Z says, “OK, Boomer,” they’re not just telling Boomers they are wrong, they’re telling them they don’t matter.

My wife and I were at a large family gathering, where I saw firsthand the tension that exists between the generations. I sat at a table with two Boomer and three Millennial women and listened in on their conversation. I was wise enough, or maybe fearful enough, not to voice my own opinions.

When I sat down, the two Boomers were raking “younger women” over the proverbial coals. Younger women are wimps. They are thoroughly self-centered. They put themselves before their kids. With anecdotal evidence and questionable analytics, they supported their conclusions.

It was obvious to me that the Millennials at the table took offense and felt slandered, but the Boomers didn’t seem to notice. They continued to press their point until the discussion became a debate. The younger women didn’t say it, but “OK Boomer” was written all over their faces.

Has the generation gap become an abyss? Recently, a Minnesota church announced to its members that it would temporarily close its doors while it reorganized and prepared for a relaunch under new pastoral leadership. Older people were asked to “move to an alternative worship” for 15 to 18 months, to allow the new pastor time to attract younger worshipers to the church.

Apparently, the church (and perhaps its denominational leadership) thought the presence of older members would compromise efforts to attract younger members. Not surprisingly, older people in the congregation took offense. They interpreted the invitation to worship elsewhere for 18 months to mean they were no longer wanted. The pastor, however, insists that was never church’s intent.

People have questioned whether leadership was right to make the request. A more fundamental question is: were they right in their estimation of the situation? Does the presence of Boomers hinder efforts to attract younger Millennials and Z’s?

I suspect it does. Yet the Church should be setting the standard of love and respect for people, whether old or young. Older people should remember they can learn from younger ones. After all, Jesus was in his early 30s during his teaching years. And younger people should remember the biblical injunction to “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly…”

St. Paul goes even further. He does not limit the display of respect to the elderly but encourages all of Jesus’s people to “Outdo one another in showing honor.” The idea is to lead the way in honoring other church members, regardless of their age, race, or class.

Is it realistic to think that this attitude can be maintained? Can church members from different generations take the lead in showing each other genuine respect? It is possible, but only if we live counterculturally and refuse to segregate the church generationally.

The racial segregation of the Church has discredited us and hindered our witness. Must we compound our mistakes by adding generational segregation?  

We must not. One generation cannot wait for another to be the first to show respect. We cannot even refuse respect to those who don’t respect us. If we do, we are conforming to the age in which we live rather than to the clear directives given by Jesus and his apostles.

First published by Gatehouse Media.

What do you think? Is generational segregation a problem? Any ideas for fixing it?

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The Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation: The Riches of His Glorious Inheritance in the Saints

(Note: For a few weeks , I will post the manuscript that goes with the audio (posted Tuesdays) from a sermon in the Powerful Prayers series. People have requested the sermon manuscripts many time, but I’ve always been reluctant to make it available for two principal reasons: 1) I never simply read a sermon, so what people read is not exactly what I spoke. The manuscript might be better or it may be worse but it will be different. And (2) because the sermon has not been edited for publication. With those caveats, here is The Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation III (His Incomparably Great Power for Us Who Believe)

(Ephesians 1:15-21) For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

To date, NASA is pretty sure it has found around 4,000 planets outside our solar system and has compiled a list of 4,000 more promising sites. Since it is utterly impossible to see planets in another solar system, even with the most powerful telescopes, how does NASA look for them? Astronomers look for the temporary dimming of a star’s light, which they believe happens when a planet’s orbit takes it between us and its own sun.

Doing astronomy is a little like solving a detective mystery: one must search for clues. In a mystery novel, the brilliant detective walks into the room and knows almost immediately that the duke slumped over in his chair did not die of natural causes. He’s certain someone else was in the room when his lordship met his untimely death. The police, of course, noted the wine glass on the tray but only he understood its significance: the dead man was a teetotaler.   

Those are clues for finding murderers and exoplanets but what clues would a detective (say, an apostolic detective) look for to determine whether God was in a church? St. Paul knew the signs and referred to them again and again. When you find (v. 15) the presence of faith in Jesus, along with a love for all the saints, you can be sure God has been there. No one else leaves precisely those clues. They are as good as a fingerprint. They are God’s fingerprint.

Some people think the surest clue to the presence of God is a miracle. Paul didn’t. Even if he found one, it wouldn’t prove to him that God was there. Jesus warned that imposters would also be able to do miraculous things, so even an incontestable miracle is not sufficient proof that God has been there.

I’ve heard people say of a church with lots of buzz and excitement that God was obviously “in it,” but it wouldn’t mean that to the apostle Paul. When Paul found money, power, and the cultural signs of success, he did not say to himself, “Ah, I can see He’s been here.” But when he saw faith – confidence – in Jesus and love for Jesus’s people, he was absolutely certain that God was there.

As I mentioned last week, the sole request in this prayer (though some English versions blur this) is for God to give the Ephesians a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him. The presence of this spirit will enlighten the eyes of the Ephesians’ heart – their command center – and lead them to know three things: (1) The hope of God’s calling; (2) the glorious riches of his inheritance in the saints; and (3) the incomparably great power God is prepared to use in the lives of those who believe. We looked at the first of these last week. Today we will look at the second.

Paul wants the Spirit of wisdom and revelation to bring home to Jesus’s people the inestimable value – the “riches” or “wealth” – of the glory of his inheritance in the saints. Of the trinity of blessings for which he prays (knowledge of the hope of his calling, of the riches of his inheritance in the saints, and of the power that works on behalf of believers) this one acts as the binding that holds the other two together.

One scholar suggests that the hope of his calling deals with the past, because it has to do with when we were called; the glorious riches of his inheritance in the saints regards the future, when all God’s people will be together in heaven; and the power that works on behalf of the saints regards the present. That doesn’t quite seem to fit. While it’s true our calling may have come to us in the past, the hope Paul wants us to know clearly deals with the future. Likewise, he did not consider God’s inheritance in the saints to be a future treasure only, as if it were some kind of retirement savings or IRA. Paul regarded the Philippian believers as a very present treasure – his joy and crown – during his lifetime. And the incomparably great power for us who believe was great before we knew we were called, is great now, and will be as great in the age to come as it is or ever was.

It doesn’t seem to me that these three great realities fit into a past, present, and future framework. They connect, and the second of the three, “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,” is where they attach. Or think of it as an intersection where two roads meet: one of them is called Hope Boulevard and the other is Power Avenue. Our hope travels along one, God’s power along the other, and where they intersect there is a roundabout (or traffic circle). The hope of his calling and the greatness of his power circle around his holy people. Hope and power meet in his glorious inheritance in the saints.

Notice the surprising pronoun: it’s not your inheritance or our inheritance but his inheritance—his inheritance in the saints. Paul is not talking, as he frequently does, about our inheritance but about God’s and it is an inheritance to die for. But what am I saying? Someone did die for it: Jesus. We often speak of Jesus dying to give us salvation (which is wonderfully true) but he also died to give God a glorious inheritance in the saints. It’s not too much to say that Jesus was dying to have that inheritance.

But what does God need with an inheritance? Doesn’t everything already belong to him? Doesn’t he hold the intellectual property rights, since he thought of everything? Aren’t all use rights determined by him, since he made everything? Does not “every animal of the forests and the cattle on a thousand hills” belong to him (Psalm 50:10), not to mention every planet and sun and galaxy in the universe. Everything belongs to him by right, including every person who lives, has lived, or will live. But God is not satisfied to have us by right. He will have us also by love. This is the meaning of the extravagant, inordinate, sacrificial life and death of Jesus.

With all of creation at his disposal, God could choose anything that piqued his interest for his personal inheritance: the 420-trillion-mile-wide Eagle Nebula or the blazing Horsehead Nebula, or the pearly Milky Way, with its wealth of planets – over a hundred billion solar systems (by the most conservative estimate).

So what did God choose for his inheritance? He chose the saints – his holy people – to be his treasure. Christ didn’t die for the Horsehead Nebula but for us. Apart from God himself (as if anything could be apart from God), the richest, most beautiful thing in this vast and breathtaking universe is Jesus’s people. For beauty, there is nothing that compares to the Bride of Christ, the Church. For potential to do good, bring pleasure, excite joy, and produce benefit, there is nothing that matches God’s holy people. They are not a natural resource, like gold or oil or timber. They are a supernatural resource, capable of bringing about unimaginable good.

Paul uses the word “riches” or “wealth” (depending on the translation) in speaking of the saints. Enormous wealth resides in the saints – the people who are set apart for God’s service and pleasure. When God chose the saints for his inheritance, he knew what he was doing. He chose the best – most beautiful, most powerful, most promising – thing in the universe. And if you belong to God because you have faith in Jesus Christ, you are a part of this.

Paul also uses the word “glory” – “the glory of his inheritance” – to describe the saints. We look at the saints and we see old Mrs. Smudge, who can never manage to put her lipstick on straight. We see Mr. Contrary, who is about as much fun as a toothache. Then there’s Nancy Neurotic, who is a bundle of weirdness and John Washout, who has failed spectacularly in marriage, family, and business. It sure doesn’t seem like glory that we are seeing.

Jon Foreman described the saints (including himself) as the “Beautiful Letdown.” He called us “the church of the dropouts, the losers, the sinners, the failures, and the fools.” Where is the glory in that?

It’s there, but it’s down deep and we just get glimpses of it. But then our spiritual vision is monocular. We lack depth of vision, especially when we look at the saints. We can’t see past the surface. We see two-dimensional, cartoon-like characters: flat, occasionally funny, frequently sad. But God has great depth perception. He has X-Ray vision! He sees the depths.

God looks past our foolishness and our failures to see deep inside. And do you know what he sees? “Christ in you, the hope of …glory!” (Colossians 1:27). Without Christ in us, we are flat and our potential is limited. But Christ’s presence in us changes everything.

In the nineteenth-century Russian Orthodox Church, priests hardly ever ventured out of their churches to help people. They waited for people to come to them. But John of Krondstadt was different. He went out into the streets, among the alcoholics and down-and-outers and told them about Jesus. He would lift hungover, foul-smelling people from the street, cradle them in his arms, and say to them, “This is beneath your dignity. You were meant to house the fullness of God.”

John of Krondstadt caught glimpses of Jesus within[1] but God sees Jesus, “all glorious within,” with perfect acuity. Add Jesus, even to people like us, and you get glory. The Russian comedian Yakov Smirnoff used to say the thing he loved most about America was the grocery stores. He’d say, “I’ll never forget walking down one of the aisles and seeing powdered milk; just add water and you get milk. Right next to it was powdered orange juice; just add water and you get orange juice. Then I saw baby powder, and I thought to myself, What a country!”[2]

When God looks at us, he sees something others might overlook: Jesus Christ. Just add Jesus and you get … glory.

We are spiritually monocular – no depth vision – but we are also temporally myopic: we can barely see past this moment. But God sees deep and he sees far, right into the endless future. He not only sees what we are, he sees what we will be. And it’s not that he looks into the future, like a prophet or fortune teller. He’s already there. He sees us, complete and resplendent in glory. He sees the Church, the Bride of Christ, effulgent, breathtakingly beautiful, unconquerably strong. He sees glory. The difference between us now and us then is the difference between looking at a magazine with the designer’s sketch of the new Lamborghini and sitting in the completed car, behind the wheel, on the straightaway, doing 185.

You may think, “Yeah, but … this is just Lockwood.” Yes, this is just Lockwood, but do you know what Lockwood is? A society, as C. S. Lewis magnificently put it, “of possible gods and goddesses … the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship…”[3]

If it seems impossible to you that I should be such a creature, that you should be such a creature, then I tell you your instincts are spot-on. It is impossible … apart from Christ. But add Jesus – even to creatures such as you and me – and you get glory. But it is a shared glory. There are no superstars here; there are only saints, and saints come in a multipack – they’re a package deal. This rich glory is shared.

Every December, the Music Department at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, put on a fabulous Christmas concert. Moorhead waits for it in anticipation. In fact, they start getting ready for it in the middle of summer.

That’s when people in the community begin working on the backdrop for the concert stage—a one-hundred-by-thirty-foot mosaic. Each year, the community designs the mosaic, rents an empty building, and then begins painting. Hundreds of people, from middle schoolers to senior citizens, paint the mosaic. It’s like a large-scale paint-by-number, with thousands of tiny pieces. Day by day for six months, the mosaic takes shape, one little painted piece at a time. For several months, their “work of art” looks like nothing more than a confusing tangle of lines and colors. But by December, it has come together, and looks like a beautiful stained-glass window.

On the weekend of the concert, the people who helped paint the backdrop come early and bring their friends and neighbors. All around the concert hall, you can hear people whispering things like: “See that little green spot below the camel’s foot? I painted that.”[4]

That little green spot had no glory until it shared in the glory of the whole. That is the way it is with us. Paul prays we will know the glory of the saints, not the glory of the saint.

Before we close, let’s look again at the word “riches” (or “wealth”) in verse 18. It will help us understand the nature of this wealth if we can remember Jesus’s answer to Peter, who said: “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” Jesus told him: “…no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:28-30).

In what form do they receive this wealth – homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and fields? They receive it in the form of God’s holy people, the Church. When the economy goes through a downturn; when the stock market crashes; when inflation devalues our savings; when hospital bills send us into bankruptcy; the true people of God remain as valuable as ever and more than enough to cover whatever God wants to do or make of our lives in the world.

It’s important to remember that the saints are God’s wealth and we’d better be authorized to spend his wealth before trying to do so. God will readily use his wealth on behalf of those who serve him – those who put Jesus and the gospel above everything else. But people who expect God to spend his valuable inheritance on their behalf when they are only serving themselves will find their expectations dashed. And people who try to spend God’s wealth without permission – that is, people who wrongfully use the saints of God – will wish they hadn’t.

Now, let’s pull this together. The saints – those people whose lives are set apart for Jesus and his gospel (any of us can be counted among them) – are God’s chosen inheritance. They are unimaginably valuable, yet God can and will spend them to support, provide for, and bless those who put Jesus first.

There is, however, a weird dynamic in play when God spends his inheritance. When we spend ours, we end up with less than we had. When God spends his, he ends up with more. Those saints who are spent by the Father on behalf of the Son are the most precious, most beautiful, and least tarnished treasures in all God’s glorious inheritance.

It is a paradox. The more the Christian gives of himself, the more he has of himself. Now this doesn’t work if he just gives his money or possessions; he has to give himself. As Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap” (Luke 6:38).


[1] James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful God (IVP, 2009), p. 162

[2] From Mark Batterson, The Circle Maker, (Zondervan, 2011), pp. 134-135

[3] C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), p. 45

[4] Mike Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality (Zondervan, 2002), pp. 118-119; submitted by Greg Miller, Madison, Mississippi.

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The Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation (Part II)

You’re reading a novel in which the main character has a fantastical experience which changes him. From that time on, whenever he shakes hands with someone, he can see what that person will be in twenty, thirty, even forty years.

He meets a handsome young man who is brilliantly successful – straight A’s in college, captain of the basketball team, with acceptance letters from Harvard Business and other top graduate schools. But when he shakes his hand, he can see that alcoholism will destroy his life, his wife will leave him at 35, take the kids, and he’ll be dead by 50.

Then he meets a woman. Her eyes are hollow with dark bags under them. She is dressed in out-of-date and frayed clothes. But when he shakes hands with her, he sees her clearly as she will be twenty years down the road. She will be lovely. She will have three children who adore her. People will come to her for her wisdom.

He is amazed to see how people’s lives turn out, some beautifully and some tragically. Then he meets and shakes hands with … you.

What will he see? If Christ is in you, he may see lots of success or lots or failure over the next few years, but he will undoubtedly see glory. That is the amazing promise of God. We explore it this week, as we look again at Paul’s powerful prayer in Ephesians 1:15-23, and especially at “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.”

Your insights are always welcome (comment below)!

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