My daughter is currently infatuated with one of the hottest mystery series of our day … the various adventures of Harry Potter. She has plowed through five volumes of Harry’s life and we have pre-ordered the sixth volume due to arrive at our house on Saturday July 16.
Mysteries have always attracted us. Since the days of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, books aimed at pre-teens have focused on the appeal of a mystery to entice kids to open up a book.
In all mysteries we’re drawn into the story because someone knows something we don’t yet know. Following the plot, unraveling the clues, paying attention to the details — all our attention is trained on ferreting out the secrets that will reveal the mystery to us. Everyone wants to find out that secret and be let in on the mystery.
A greater mystery we have pondered is the question of "who are we"? Any religion’s ultimate quest ultimately rises and falls based on its ability to answer this question. In most religions the answers to this question is guarded by a select few who teach those within the community and work to insure that others are properly excluded.
The first-century saw a tremendous growth in the varieties of what scholars call the mystery religions. Each group centered itself around a different secret, a unique story, a separate god or being, which offered the seeker a way to find the true meaning of their lives.
Paul’s divine calling made him about as good as a five year old at keeping a secret. Tell a child a secret, and what’s the first thing they do? They rush to the nearest relative and tell everything they know about the big secret. Paul is called to preach throughout the Gentile world the secret of God’s mysterious plan for redemption. This big mystery, God’s established secret for
reconciling Jew and Gentile and redeeming heaven and earth, is Christ Jesus our Lord (verse 11).
Jesus is the secret … quick tell somebody. Jesus is the answer to the human need for acceptance, forgiveness, and love. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians reminds us, Christianity
isn’t about unknown secrets. God doesn’t keep secrets. Christianity is a
mystery revealed, a religion that spills the beans. We’re called to declare the mystery of Christ
(Colossians 4:3). Or as Paul wrote the Colossians 1, God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (1:27).
Look at the title page of any New Testament and what does it say? The New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! The title gives away the story! Jesus is our Lord and Jesus is our Savior! End of secret! Paul admits that this divine plan might have been a mystery to prior generations, but the cat is out of the bag now. God has executed the divine plan for redemption in Christ Jesus our Lord (verse 11).
In the prayer of Great Thanksgiving we say together the mystery of faith: “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again!”
Do you believe it? Can Scriptural Christianity be this simple? Examine a coin … what does it say? In God we trust, but all too often we trust in ourselves. I live a moral life;
I do not cause problems, etc.
We take pride in our American heritage — a history filled with rags-to-riches stories. We praise and admire those who have been able to "pull themselves up by their own bootstraps." We preach to our children that independence is good and dependence is bad.
But as admirable and motivating as this rhetoric is, it denies a basic Christian assertion. The God-breathed, Christ-centered, Spirit-driven believer knows that all our strength and power comes from God. When Christians work together to accomplish good in the world, there is no sense of "we are able," but only that "God is able."
1. God is able…. Poet W. H. Auden said that humans are notorious for "grossly overestimating [their] powers." So often today we see ourselves not just self-made men and women, but as self-made gods.
Paul tells us that this is the heart of the mystery. Get this wrong and we get everything else
wrong: God is God and we are not! End of story!! Tha’ts the mystery!!
Many of us ask with Thomas: "How can we know the way?" (John 14:5). What is The Way, The Truth, and The Life? The leading answer is what some call "The Sinatra doctrine" of “I did it my way."
The Way, Truth, and Life is not my way! The Way is not my will, my wants, my wishes, or my way. No, the Way belongs to Yahweh.
2. God is able to accomplish…. The God who is able wants to do some things in our lives. Our God is a God who appears in history and does something, not just a God who speaks and sits back to watch it unfold. The well-known greeting "This is the day the Lord has made …" can also be translated "This is the day the Lord has acted …."
"The one who calls you is faithful and he will" … what? … "do it." (1 Thessalonians 5:24). Nike’s slogan "Just Do It" has power for a reason. We know what to do. We just don’t do it. We don’t make the effort. That’s why we have an environmental problem. That’s why we have a racial problem. That’s why we have a poverty problem.
The Bible celebrates God’s power of doing and our power of being. We go through life the other way around — wanting the power of doing while leaving to God the power of being. Our God is not an
abstract principle. Our God is a real presence, a very present help in time of trouble, a burning bush revelation, a Jesus of Nazareth incarnation. Our job is to get out of the way and let God’s will be
done. Our job is to remove the obstacles that block God’s work within us. Our job is to learn how to be more than how to do. We do not possess God’s power; we dwell in God’s power. John 14:10
reads: "The Father that dwelleth within me, he doeth the works" (KJV). God wants to do "the works" in our lives. And what is "the works"?
3. God is able to accomplish abundantly far more…. Len Sweet suggests that his favorite definition of a Christian is “someone who loves the impossible.” Those against you may have money and power; they may have all the king’s horses and all the king’s men. But even with all that … how will you prevail over the God who made heaven and earth, the King of Eternity?
As Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego found out, the issue is not will God keep us from suffering. Indeed, there is no suggestion that we will be spared trouble or suffering (Isaiah 43:2; John 12:26; 2 Corinthians 12:8-10). The biblical faith is this: God promises not to take us out of the flames, but to be with us in the flames.
4. God is able to accomplish abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine…. Now how many
superlatives can you have? Abundantly … far more … that we can ask … or imagine. How much is that?
I am not sure, but the answer lies in prayer. Prayer is alignment and attunement. Our body is basically vibrations, or so says string theory. Our bodies are songs that are either in tune or out of tune with God.
Our body is an instrument, tuned for the right pitch, which is God’s pitch. But we get out of tune very easily. And to get out of tune with God is to get out of tune with everything inside and outside you.
Prayer is tuning one’s life to God’s Spirit. Prayer is lifting your life toward God. Prayer is getting in tune with the eternal. Prayer is turning off and turning down alien frequencies, and tuning in and turning on to God’s frequencies. In prayer we find those rich, new registers where mysterious things happen, even where sympathetic vibration can take place until we resonate with the divine and our beings vibrate until it’s as if they have wings. Jesus’ resurrection power raises life to a higher power right now. We can begin eternal life now.
Now that’s scary because "We all scratch our toe in the sand somewhere, saying, ‘I can go this far, Lord.’" (Brad Hill with Ruth Hill, Slivers from the Cross [Covenant Publications, 1990], 100). I find myself so often limiting what God can do because I am limited.
I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but it happened. I poured over the demographic realities of the Crystal Coast of North Carolina. 30,000 people … 4 out of ten had no relation with God … 3 out of ten claimed a relationship and a church but could not name their pastors … that’s 21,000 people who needed Jesus. And I was trapped making sure that those who had gathered in at Swansboro UMC were safely kept in the fold. Trapped because I served a savior who said leave “the ninety-nine in the wilderness and seek the lost one” and I had found 21,000 that I encountered at volleyball games,
soccer games, grocery stores, walks along the beach, and hanging out at my favorite coffee shop. Trapped because I served a Lord who said “I can do abundantly far more than you can ask or
imagine” and Jesus asked me “are you willing to be used for my purposes?”
I have been in trouble ever since … Trouble like John Wesley experienced when he preached at St. Mary’s Chapel at Oxford University on August 24, 1744. Wesley, a fellow of Lincoln Collge, took the pulpit in his regular rotation and found his sermon on "Scriptural Christianity" being greeted with the scholarly indifference. That is, until he moved to a practical application of the sermon … he pushed the students and the faculty to trust that God is able … (The university arranged for a substitute every time Wesley’s name came up for preaching until his resignation in 1751).
This afternoon we continue a journey of praying about what God is able to accomplish in our midst. I have some big ideas about that, you may have some visions, but God has even bigger dreams.
Dreams of the Far More Church (thanks to Len Sweet): The apostle suggests that in such a case, only our imagination limits our opportunities. What would your Far More Church look like?
- Far More giving to missions?
- Far More evangelism?
- Far More hospitality?
- Far More love for our neighbors?
- Far More youth in Christian education?
- Far More families staying together?
What about the Far Less Church (a mirror image?):
- Far Less bickering?
- Far Less wavering and doubting?
- Far Less negativity?
- Far Less unfriendliness?
- Far Less rigidness?