I am convinced that we, those of us who live in the United States of America, are the most blessed people on the face of the planet. The freedom we have is unmatched. The standard of living that we enjoy is unparalleled. The opportunities that are before us are many. With all of these many blessings right before us you might assume that we would be the most grateful people on the planet. That assumption would be false, far from the reality that is present in our land.
If you listen to people talk you will find that many, many people are discontent, unfulfilled, unhappy, lethargic, suffering from some angst of the soul, depressed over one thing or another, wandering aimlessly without hope or direction, feeling left out or looked over by God and others. We are not content with our lives. We feel like we’ve been short-changed. We’ve drawn the short end of the stick. Rather than focusing on how we’ve been blessed, we tend to focus on our inabilities, our insufficiencies, what we lack rather than what we have, and those things about ourselves that we just don’t like.
What is the cause of this conundrum? Where did we get off track? Is there a way to refocus so that we are able to see our abundance, the plethora of plenty that God has showered upon us? I believe there is.
First of all, let me share with you what I see as the root problem of this angst that many people are dealing with in life. There are only two ways to view life: From “my” perspective or from the revelation of God’s truth made known to us. If I view life from my perspective, apart from God’s revealed truth, then gloom, a restlessness of the soul, despair, and anxiety are sure to follow. Let me illustrate what I am talking about for you.
Long before Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, or Sam Harris decided to become antagonists of the Christian faith, Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) was writing essays and books like, “Why I Am Not a Christian,” in which he writes things like,
I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principle enemy of moral progress in the world. (Russell, Bertrand. “Why I Am Not a Christian.”pg. 21, 1927.)
In an essay titled, “What I Believe,” Dr. Russell wrote this revealing statement: “Outside human desires there is no moral standard.” (Russell, Bertrand. What I Believe. pg. 62, 1957.)
What we read in Dr. Russell’s writings is the perspective from an individual’s point of view rather than from the revealed truth of God. Dr. Russell allowed his own desires to lead and guide his life; he allowed his own understanding, his own desires, to govern his life and to serve as his ultimate truth in life. Where did it lead him? It led him to a gnawing emptiness and undeniable despair. He was married four times and was notorious for his affairs, but what can you expect from a man whose moral code is simply fulfilling his own desires?
A strange twist of irony is that Dr. Russell had one daughter named Katharine. Katharine was educated in the progressive school that her father founded called, Beacon Hill. Katherine was educated in an atheistic humanistic environment and yet Katherine later became a follower of Jesus. Katharine wrote a book called, “My Father Bertrand Russell,” after her dad had died. In her book she writes,
I believe myself that his whole life was a search for God…. Indeed, he had first taken up philosophy in hope of finding proof of the evidence of the existence of God … Somewhere at the back of my father’s mind, at the bottom of his heart, in the depths of his soul [which he did not believe he had — WJ] there was an empty space that had once been filled by God, and he never found anything else to put in it. (Tait, Katharine. “My Father Bertrand Russell.” (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975. pg. 185.)
The world knew Bertrand Russell as an erudite scholar, a brilliant mathematician, a prolific author who wrote 66 books during his lifetime, but his daughter saw the emptiness inside of her dad. She longed for her dad to come to know the peace and joy of knowing God, but it wouldn’t happen. She writes,
I would have liked to convince my father that I had found what he had been looking for, the ineffable something he had longed for all his life. I would have liked to persuade him that the search for God does not have to be vain. But it was hopeless. He had known too many blind Christians, bleak moralists who sucked the joy from life and persecuted their opponents; he would never have been able to see the truth they were hiding. (ibid. pg. 189.)
Bertrand Russell’s life is a tragic illustration of life lived from “my” perspective. What I believe apart from God’s truth. What I want regardless of what God says. What I will in spite of what God has decreed. This is the life that many are living today and I believe this is the root problem for what ails us.
There is another way. There is truth beyond what seems apparent to you and me. There is purpose in the midst of pain and suffering. There is a plan even though life may at times, even oftentimes, seem purposeless. Let me show you what I’m talking about by turning to God’s Word. Let’s read together from Ephesians 1:2-14.
2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will– 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9 And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment–to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. 11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession–to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:2-14 NIV)
The way out of the conundrum that many of us find ourselves in today is to live by God’s revealed truth found in His Word. This morning’s lesson will give you a foundation upon which you can build your life. It will give you a purpose beyond anything this world has to offer. It will serve as your rudder and sail to help you navigate the stormy seas of life. It will define you as a person of infinite worth and value regardless of what you may think of yourself or what others have to say about you.
In Ephesians 1:2, Paul extends the “grace” and “peace” of God to his brothers and sisters in Ephesus. That same grace and peace are extended to us today because it is the grace and peace of God. The Greek work, which is translated, “grace,” is the word, “?????” (charis). “Grace” is the undeserved merciful kindness of God. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…” (Ephesians 2:8 NIV) It is God’s rich grace that has equipped each of us to serve Him. Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:7,
7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. (Ephesians 3:7 NIV)
There is nothing you or I have done to deserve God’s grace. It is simply extended to each and every one of us because of who God is and because of His desire to bless us with His grace.
The “peace” of God is also a gift of God. The peace of God is a gift, not payment for good behavior. It is a gift, not a bonus because we have lived well. The Greek word that Paul uses, “??????” (eirene), means, “security, safety, tranquility of the soul, and harmony with God and others.” It is the equivalent of the Hebrew word, “Shalom.” John MacArthur writes,
Grace is the fountain of which peace is the stream. Because we have grace from God we have peace with God and the peace of God, ‘which surpasses all comprehension’ (Philippians 4:7). (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Ephesians. pg. 2-3)
We read in Ephesians 2:14 that Jesus “is our peace.” In Ephesians 2:15 we learn that Jesus has made peace between us by His death on the cross. In Ephesians 2:17 we find that Jesus “came and preached peace” to Jews and Gentiles. In Ephesians 4:3 all of the followers of Jesus are urged to,
3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:3 NIV)
The grace and peace of God are available to you and me right now. We don’t have to wait until we get to heaven. God’s grace and His peace are available to each and every follower of Jesus right now.
Let’s move on. In Ephesians 1:3, Paul writes that there is the possibility of a new reality, a new way of going about life, for those who are “in Christ.” Read along with me. Paul writes,
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (Ephesians 1:3 NIV)
With all of the troubles and trials of life, with all of the heartbreak and sorrow, disappointment and discouragement that comes our way, is it any wonder that people lose hope and find themselves grasping for anything that will help them escape, even if for a moment, the predicaments and pain of life? But, for those who are “in Christ,” for those who have been transformed by His grace and mercy, there is the assurance that we lack nothing, that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing “in Christ.”
Paul insists that “in Christ” there is a perspective and a power available to you and me that is otherwise unknown to people regardless of how smart, diligent, motivated, or upbeat they may be. Paul wrote to the folks in Colosse.
9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. (Colossians 2:9-10 NIV)
We have “been given fullness in Christ…” What do the followers of Jesus lack? The answer to that question is “nothing.” We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ and we have been given fullness in Christ. Peter echoes this belief in 2 Peter 1:2-3.
2 Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:2-3 NIV)
Paul says that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ. In the first fourteen verses of Paul’s letter to the folks in Ephesus he mentions “Christ, Jesus Christ, the Lord Jesus Christ, Christ Jesus, the Beloved, He, Him, or His” (all referring to Jesus,) fifteen times. The phrase “in Christ” or “in Him” is found eleven times. If we were to broaden our search for the phrase, “in Christ,” to all of Paul’s writings we would find that phrase 164 times! That’s amazing! It is a phrase that meant everything to Paul.
I know many folks who pray for God to bless them, but what kind of blessing is it that we are seeking from God? We ask for all kinds of things, but Paul is thinking about something other than asking God for a raise, or a new home, or some other material blessing. In vss. 4-14, Paul lists the many ways that God has blessed us with spiritual blessings. There are seven blessings that I count in these verses and they are:
1. God has chosen us. (vs 4)
2. God has adopted us as His very own. (vs 5)
3. God has redeemed us from slavery to sin. (vs 7)
4. God has forgiven us of our sins. (vs 7)
5. God has made known to us the revelation of His purpose in history. (vss 9-10)
6. God has sealed us with the Holy Spirit. (13)
7. God has guaranteed our inheritance by His Spirit. (vs 14)
We will take a look at these spiritual blessings in the weeks to come, but it is important for us to know that all of this has been done for us “in Christ Jesus.” It is “in Christ” that you and I will find meaning and purpose in life, and nowhere else. It is “in Christ” that we will be assured of His forgiveness and find deliverance from the gnawing guilt that reminds us of our past. It is “in Christ” that you and I can find peace with God and peace with one another.
What do you need this morning? Do you need peace? Even when there are no troubles raging in your life you are still uneasy, restless, and anxious. Jesus says,
27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27 NIV)
What do you need this morning? Do you lack security in your relationship with God? You’ve convinced yourself that you’ve gone too far, that God would never forgive you for what you’ve done. You’ve prayed to receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you were baptized and you meant it, but still you wonder if God really loves you, if He has really forgiven you? I’ve come to tell you that the security you’ve longed for is found “in Christ.” Paul wrote to the folks in Rome and told them,
1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus… (Romans 8:1 NIV)
What do you need this morning? Do you long for contentment? Your history has made it clear that even if you get what you want, what your heart longs for in life, you still are not content. You want more and yet you know deep in your heart that “more” is not going to satisfy you for long. Listen to what Jesus said,
35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:35 NIV)
In Him you will find the contentment, the satisfaction, that you long for my friend. Do you remember what Bertrand Russell’s daughter said about her father? She said, “…there was an empty space that had once been filled by God, and he never found anything else to put in it.” Won’t you find your contentment, your satisfaction, in Jesus?
What do you need this morning? Do you need confidence, the strength to tackle whatever challenge comes your way? You’ve failed so many times that now you won’t even try. When a challenge comes your way do you simply ball up in the fetal position and hope that it passes you by? I’ve come to let you know that “in Christ” you can do it. “In Christ” you can face every challenge as an opportunity. “In Christ” you can have the confidence that you lack. Paul said that he had been hungry and he had been in need, but he had found the secret to overcoming all of these challenges. Paul said, 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13 NIV)
What do you need this morning? Do you need wisdom? You’ve made some bad choices in the past that have cost you dearly. You’ve got some important decisions to make about your life in the near future and you don’t want to blow it once again. Where do you turn? What are you going to do? I want you to know that “in Christ” you will find the answers you need. They may not be the answers you are looking for, but you will find the answers you need. God’s Word tells us,
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5 NIV)
What do you need this morning? Do you need a new lease on life, a new beginning? You’ve made New Year’s resolutions in the past, but nothing changed. You’ve turned over a new leaf time and time again only to later realize that it was the same old leaf all over again. You’ve tried to live with new direction, a new purpose, to make a break with your past, but it just didn’t last. I’ve come to let you know that what you are looking for, a new lease on life, is found “in Christ.” Paul wrote to the folks in Corinth and told them.
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV)
Folks are looking high and low to find satisfaction, some sense of meaning and purpose in this life. I am not so naïve to believe, or would try to convince you to believe, that there isn’t anyone who is not a follower of Jesus that hasn’t found, what they would describe, as peace or purpose in life outside of Christ. There are those who are not followers of Jesus who have accomplished great things in life and they would tell you that it has brought satisfaction to their life. There are those who are not followers of Jesus that are highly motivated and driven by what they believe and they would tell you that it has given them meaning and purpose in life. If you would have interviewed Paul before he met Jesus, he would have told you the same thing. When he wrote to the people in Philippi, Paul said,
4 …If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. 7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Philippians 3:4-9 NIV)
Paul was an accomplished man. He was a passionate man about what he believed and what he was doing with his life…until he met Jesus. When Paul met Jesus it put everything else in perspective. All that he previously valued became rubbish, pure junk to Paul. He found his everything “in Christ” and so should we. Yet, for many of us, we continue to cling to our dreams, our hopes, our longings and we try and convince ourselves that there is a place, a point out there somewhere where we will find what we’ve been looking for in life.
Jesus calls us to come and die in order that we might live. It is in dying to ourselves, and everything that we deem as meaningful and important, that we will find life, abundant life.
Henry Stanley was a journalist who worked for the New York Herald in 1869 when he was sent to Africa to find the famous Dr. David Livingstone. The story is told that Stanley had bad stomach ulcers that required that he drink goat’s milk. While he was looking for Dr. Livingstone, Stanley came in contact one day with a tribal chief. The chief wanted to make a covenant with Stanley and he was eyeing Stanley’s goat. Stanley was hesitant, but he felt led by the Lord to give the chief his goat. When he gave the chief his goat, the chief gave Stanley his staff, which looked like nothing more than a stick. Later that day, Stanley confided in one of the men who was traveling with him, “I don’t know what I was thinking. How could I have been so foolish as to give my goat away? I don’t know what I’m going to do with this stick.” One of the tribesman who was with him said, “You don’t understand. That isn’t a stick. It is a scepter. You don’t just own one goat. Now you own all the goats in the tribe.”
By holding on to what we think is most important in life we are holding on to the equivalent of Stanley’s goat. By relinquishing what matters most to us, and living to serve Christ alone, we gain all that is found in Him. Won’t you invite Him into your heart today?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
September 25, 2011