TRANSFORMED: View of God    Ephesians 3:14-20     Pastor Dan Elliot   (2nd Service)

The topic I’m looking at is a transformed view of God.  That’s a big topic to take.  My hope is that we’ll be able to come up with some kind of a working definition that may kind of stretch us a bit; we’ve got to be stretched when we’re talking about God.  I believe very strongly, as I’ve been working on this sermon, that this view that we have of God influences the way we view life.  I think it’s pretty important that we have a good view of God, if we’re going to be stepping into life and meeting the challenges we’ll face day by day.

We’re going to be looking at Ephesians 3:14-20.  For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every 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 Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Wow! That is a big passage, so I think it’s good for us to start at the feet of a big God.  Let’s bow our heads in prayer.  Dear Heavenly Father, I thank you so much, I thank you so much that you are here.  I ask you to speak to us, to speak through me, to challenge all of us.  We want to see you.  I pray this in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

As I think about this topic, it’s probably important that I share a little bit with you about how I met Jesus, how I came to give my life to God, if I can use that terminology.  I see a little blond haired, seven-year-old kid.  It was in the summertime and I was at camp.  I was at Montrose Bible Conference Children’s Camp.  I remember this Wednesday night, the leader was teaching about the story of Daniel.  We learned the song Daniel was a man of prayer // Daily prayed he three times // Till one day they had him cast in a den of lions // Even then, in the den, fears could not alarm him // God just shut the lions mouths, so they would not harm him.  I don’t remember anything else about that night, except that there was an invitation given.  If you’re unfamiliar with this language, an invitation is where we kind of open it up and say, “Hey, if you’d like to give your life to Jesus—or if you’d like to accept Jesus into your heart…”  That’s what was given that night, so here I was, seven-year-old kid thinking, “Lots of kids are going to go forward,” so I stood up and I started down.  As I was a quarter of the way down the aisle, I realized nobody else was going down!  So I started looking for an empty chair, but all the kids were sitting, so I ended up going all the way down.  Our leader was a lady known as “Mrs. J.”  She was in charge of the whole children’s camp.  I had an “in” with her because she was my aunt.  We always called her “Meal.”  I have no idea why she had that name.  She was sitting on a stool and had given the whole Bible story on flannel graph, I must admit.  I still remember Aunt Meal taking me through the steps and I accepted Jesus as my savior.  I have to admit, I didn’t feel all that different.  Two days later, Friday, in children’s camp, there was a radio station from the town that came and put on a radio program which we all shared what when on while camping.  Guess who had to share his testimony, as a seven-year-old?!  What an experience that was!

Sixty years later, I look back and realize I didn’t have a clue what I was in for.  I also have to tell you, as a sixty-seven-year-old, I’m not sure I have a clue of what I’m in for.  But God has been walking with me and showing me step by step and I’ve got tons of learning to go.  As I try to unpack a definition of who God is, I hope you realize it’s in wet cement and always formulating.

There’s a name I remember from the Bible—Uzzah.  I don’t know if that rings a bell, but Uzzah had a father named Abinadab.  He was a farmer.  It just so happened that the Ark of the Covenant ended up on his farm.  King David wanted to move it to Jerusalem where all the people are.  Uzzah and his brother, and a whole host of people, began to move the Ark of the Covenant.  There was a point where the oxen began to stumble and the cart began to rock.  The Ark of the Covenant was rocking on the cart and Uzzah put out his hand to steady it and he was zapped!  I don’t want to get zapped in front of you today, so I think the best thing as we wrestle with the definition of who God is, is to see who God says he is from his word.  That’s why we’re looking at this passage today in Ephesians 3.

It’s a big passage.  In fact, if you look at it….in our English translation we have periods and sentences.  If you look at it in the original language, it’s one long run-on sentence.  It just keeps on going and going and going.  He wouldn’t have made it through my high school English class, writing like this!  There’s something that happens in this passage that kind of breaks it up, and that’s a little phrase that means “so that” or “in order that.”  I’ve inserted it in verses 16, 17 and 19.  For this reason I kneel before the Father, from who every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, in order 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, in order that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—in order that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  We’re going to look at those three phrases to build this definition of God.

First, I need to start with the “bookends” of this prayer.  The first bookend is For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  Here’s Paul, he’s praying to the Father…. from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.   Not just earth, in heaven.  Some of you may have a translation that says “every kindred in heaven and on earth.”  Some of you may have a translation that says “every father in heaven and on earth.”  That word can have all those different meanings.  It really seemed to say to me what’s going on here is I’m praying to Father God and every relationship here on earth is defined by who He is.  Every relationship up in the heavenlies is defined by who He is.  Every aspect of what a father is suppose to be is defined by our Heavenly Father.  Every aspect of what a mother is suppose to be is defined by our Heavenly Father.  Every aspect of what a brother or a sister or a friend….every relationship we know is defined by our Father in heaven.  There’s one thing I go away with:  Stop defining God by my experience with my own father.  I’ll always kind of fall short.  Start looking at God the Father and realize it’s THAT fatherhood that I should use to define my earthly father.  It’s THAT relationship I should use to define any relationship that I have here on earth.  It’s going to be in the heavenlies as well.  THAT is a big person that we’re praying to.

I said “bookends,” so I’ve got to go to the end of the prayer as well.  Verse 20 — Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…  Think about that.  I like to think I’ve got a pretty good imagination, but this is saying I can’t even begin to imagine God.  That’s BIG!

We had a staff retreat this past weekend up in Evergreen.  The last day, Aaron Bjorklund led us in a devotional.  He challenged us, “I want each of you to think of one of the goals you have for your departments. I want you to pray and multiply that goal by ten thousand.”  I could only do a thousand and that was even out of range.  I thought, “Wow! That’s a little bit big for me to grasp.”  But this is saying even more….even more than I can multiply by ten thousand.

Many of you know I have a habit of waking up in the middle of the night.  I wake up and my mind starts going.  I found I need to go outside on the deck and look up.  I need to get my star fix.  By that I mean just to see the awesome, immensity of the universe around me.  I know I only see a very small, small, small part of it, but it stretches my imagination.  There’s something about realizing that God knows every star, every planet, every galaxy; He’s got them all named.  He holds them in the palm of His hand and He’s right there with me in bed.  I found that helps me fall back to sleep.

God is immense.  So I want to start our definition with these two bookends.  First I was thinking, “Oh, God is awesome,” but then I thought it has some baggage to it.  So I want to say:  God is awe inspiring.  Our God is awe inspiring and it’s that awe that draws us into worshipping Him.

So it brings us to that first little phrase in verse 16.  He’s praying to his Father that is awe inspiring — In order 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.  That first little part of our definition—God is awe inspiring—does blow my mind, it’s hard to think about.  But THIS concept is hard to rationalize.  He’s praying to the Father, and out of the glorious riches that the Father has, he’s saying, “May his Spirit strengthen you with power so that Christ may dwell within you.”  The Father’s glorious riches….the Spirit’s power….the Son’s presence.  Father.  Son. Holy Spirit.  Three in one.  We call it the Trinity or the Triunity and it’s tough for us to get our arms around this thing.

Let me go back to Genesis 1:26,27 — Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness……so God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.   One time he’s saying let’s make them in OUR image, next time he’s saying, “So I’m going to make them in MY image.”  There’s another juxtaposition that doesn’t necessarily jump out at us in the English.  Then God said….  That word for God is plural.  That word ‘said’ is singular—he said.  Gods…..he said.  Talk about flunking English class.  That just doesn’t make sense to us.

If you go to Genesis 2, there’s a word used throughout that chapter—Lord God.  Lord is singular, God is plural and it puts them both together.  I try to wrestle with this whole thing of this triunity of this God that we follow.  I have to admit, over the sixty years since starting this journey with God, that’s been one of those sticky wickets that I’ve always wrestled with him.  About twenty-five years ago, I came to this conclusion that said, “Hey, you know, that’s a proof to me that Christianity is true.”  If there was anybody trying to come up with a religion and just write it, they would NEVER think of the Trinity.  They would stay as far away from something as irrational as that.  Three people in one.  This is God revealing himself to us.  Three people in one.

I take that definition—God is awe inspiring—God is an awe-inspiring community of One.  That may not strike us, but one of the things that comes out to me in that definition…..I go back to John 17:20-23, where Jesus the Son is praying.  He’s at the end of his ministry.  He knows he’ll be crucified the next day.  He knows the resurrection is going to be coming.  He knows he’s going to be leaving his disciples.  He has this amazing prayer in John 17 and this is what he prays near the end:  My prayer is not for them alone.  {In other words, my prayer is not just for these disciples you’ve given me.}  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, {Guess what, that’s us! Jesus, two thousand years ago was praying for us.} that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.    There’s an ‘in-ness,’ that’s the only way I can say it.  There’s some kind of an ‘in-ness’ of this community.  Jesus is IN the Father, the Father is IN Jesus.  The Spirit is IN the Father, the Father is IN the Spirit.  The whole process of the Trinity….they’re in each other.  They’re one.  I can’t paint it for you.  I know we say take an egg….you’ve got the shell, you’ve got the yellow, you’ve got the white….there’s the Trinity.  No, that’s not the Trinity, because they’re one!  It stretches, it boggles our imagination.  It takes me back to this prayer that says I can’t even imagine this God that we worship.  Guess what?  Even in this prayer that we have , we’re looking at the Father, we’re looking at the Spirit, we’re looking at the Son, so that Christ may dwell IN us, IN our hearts.  There’s that IN-ness, that one-ness.

I’m thankful that I’m not the only one that has to wrestle with this, because, good grief, we’d never come up with any kind of answers.  There’s a term—-perichoresis.  It’s what people have used to describe this Trinity and how they interact together.  How they indwell each other.  How they actually work together.  Perichoresis.  In fact, they say the best way we could describe this Trinity is using the word “dance.”  They dance together.  There’s a one-ness in their movements.  They dance.  That’s coming from a Baptist preacher’s kid, who was never allowed to dance.  Even as a third grader, I remember, very distinctly, going in with my little note to the phys ed teacher.  The note said: Please excuse Dan from the phys ed class today as you’re teaching square dancing.  I remember sitting in the bleachers watching all my classmates learn how to square dance.  I think I was injured for life—I have two left feet still to this day!

Perichoresis.  The Trinity.  God—the Three-in-One.  They’re a community who come and invite us into their community.  They want us to be part of them.  That’s big.

Let’s go to the next phrase—-In order that you may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.  Again, a HUGE thought—how wide, how long, how high, how deep is this love that Christ brings into us, because he’s dwelling inside of us.  This prayer is that we would come to understand what that is.  I couldn’t come up with any good explanations of it until I was reading this book called Experiencing the Trinity by Darrell Johnson.  He put it this way, and I think it hit something right on the head.  His love is wide enough to embrace all seven-and-a-half billion people on our planet.  Every tribe, nation, people, tongue, country.  He doesn’t regard what those people have done, He loves them, and He so much wants them to embrace his love. But He’s embracing them.  Do you ever think that there’s some people that miss out, that aren’t loved by God?  Let me tell you, you’re wrong.  They might not realize they’re loved by God, but they are.  His love is wide enough.

His love is long enough to encompass all time.  And into eternity—from either ends of time!  Way back before time even started, way back before the universe was put together, God’s love was as consistent then as it is now.  Way far into the future, beyond our time span as we get into eternity, His love is going to continue and continue and continue.  It boggles my mind!  That’s the God that we’re asked to walk with.

His love is deep enough to leave the heavenly place wherever He is to come down here to walk in our shoes.  To put on our skin.  To know the murk and mire of this world.  His love is so deep that it allowed Him to go to the cross on our behalf.  His love is so deep that it allowed Him to conquer death once and for all. And His love is so high to lift us, to lift our sin from this muck and mire and bring us up into His community, into His relationship with Him.  That’s a big challenge.

We come to the third aspect of the definition. The others were God is an awe-inspiring Community of One who invites us into Their love.  This is the God we embrace.  This is the God I gave my life to when I was seven years old, who invites us into Their love.

Finally, we come to that last phrase—-In order that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Again, a mind-boggling concept!  We’re to be filled up to the brim!  That’s mean it’s possible that we can be filled up to the brim with the fullness of who God is.  When I say that, don’t lessen it.  Think of the character of God, inside you.  Think of all the attributes of God, inside you.  Think of all the presence of God, inside you.  His holiness, his relatability, inside you.  That we could be filled with the fullness of God.  Again, it’s hard to imagine this.  Paul told us that…’re going to have a hard time imagining this.  Okay!  I agree.

There’s a Hebrew word that means peace—-shalom.  We oftentimes think peace is the absence of war, the absence of problems.  The concept of shalom is a lot greater—it’s wholeness, it’s completeness, it’s having purpose, it’s having vision, it’s having fullness.  When I go back to that Garden and I see the shalom that Adam and Eve were invited into—to be able to walk and talk with this God, who’s way beyond my imagination, it makes me kind of wonder, what did they see?  I often pictured that when Lord God came to walk with Adam and Eve, it was kind of an old guy, might have had a cane.  But now I wonder if it was three of them.  I wonder if it was a community—here comes the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit saying, “Hey, you guys.  Let’s walk!  We want to show you our creation.”   But I think it was something that would just expand beyond our imagination.

So it brings me to the last aspect of our definition:  God is an awe-inspiring Community of One, who invites us into their love so we may live life in their Fullness. Since I haven’t been incinerated, I think we’re on the right track.  That’s a big, big God.  Huge concept.  God invites us into that.

I go back sixty years ago to that little blond-headed kid who’s walking forward to accept Jesus in his heart.  I want you all to know, in a moment of pure transparency, he did not know God like this.  Basically, I was going forward because I was scared of Hell, and I wanted my get-out-of-Hell-free card.  That’s what kept me going down that aisle.  Boy, for sixty years God’s been working with me to show me that how I look at Him affects how I look at you, how I look at me, how I look at our community, how I look at our world.  I want to read something to you.  It’s from a book called Apprenticeship With Jesus by Gary Moon.  He starts out with two stories that I’ve got to share, because it’s kind of my experience.

Let me tell you the two stories that have had the biggest impact on my life—and, perhaps, on the entire Christian church.  Each presents a very different vision of what is, from the human perspective, the most important concept in Christianity. 

The First Story   In the first story God creates two naked people without belly buttons and places them in a garden.  It’s not real clear why he does this, but there is good news—they are naked (I may have already mentioned that) and their primary job is to be fruitful and multiply.  

One day while taking a break from multiplying and naming the animals, the woman, influenced by a talking snake, tricks the man into taking a bit from an apple, and all hell breaks loose.  God is surprised and then becomes extremely angry.  He curses them, every dog, cat, rock, and leaf—the entire universe and each of the seven billion-plus and counting descendants who will follow.

Through many millennia God stews in his wrath.  He does write down a few instructions and occasionally sends a plague, prophet, or flood to keep folks in line.  But mostly he just sits around on a throne, looking a lot like Charlton Heston, and scowls down through the glass-bottom floor of heaven as he thinks up new ways to make humans behave.  Then finally, when he can take it no more, he sends his own Son to be tortured and then brutally murdered.

While there are a lot of theories about why God’s Son had to die, the bottom line is, it somehow caused God to feel a whole lot better about things and helped him to decide that anyone who hears about what Jesus did and says a magic phrase will once again get to live forever and enjoy paradise.  And for those who don’t say the incantation?  They will burn in flames for all eternity.  Don’t say the right words and your fate will be a more grotesque horror than what could be conjured up by a committee comprised of Nero, Hitler, and Ghengis Khan.  I never liked this story.

Story Number Two    In the second story God exists as a loving community of three whose relationship is so joyful, pulsating, and vibrant that it has been described as a dance.

God decides that this is all too wonderful to keep to himself.  So he creates an entire universe and tenderly places humanity at the center, like the offspring of proud parents brought home to a nursery.

Then God does something even more amazing.  He plants within the human heart a small but glorious piece of himself.  Under his watchful eye these two creatures are to grow into beings who will become as much like God as possible.  They are to join the dance, become partners with the Trinity.  

But the very first two make a fatal decision.  They decide that they can live unplugged from the Tree of Life—the presence and energy of God—and can, in fact, be God themselves.

God is not surprised—he saw this day coming even as he was knitting them together.  You can’t surprise someone who lives outside the boundaries of time.  And he is not angry.  He does, however, become very sad as separation and the reality of free will play out before his eyes.

He sets in motion a series of plans to woo us back home, refusing to give up on his original plan to be a nurturing parent to his precious children, showing them how to grow their character until it mirrors his own.

Through the passing millennia God becomes the prodigal Father, standing by his driveway, straining his neck waiting for his children to come home.  He sends cards and letters, patriarchs and prophets with the same message: “Your inheritance is waiting; the promises can still be cashed.  Come home, I want to be with you, I want to teach you to dance.”

But when it becomes clear that we will not come home for longer than a brief visit, God can wait no longer.  He empties himself of divine dignity, and wades into the murk and sits down in the mire alongside his prodigal children—becoming as much like us as possible for a while so that we can learn to be like him forever.

Jesus brings the good news that the doors to the kingdom are open wide and that the Trinity still wants us to join the dance, to become as one with them as they are with each other.

And he inhales death and separation into himself and shows through the gruesome image of crucifixion what it looks like to freely die to all that is separate from the will of God.  And then he demonstrates through his resurrection that he knows what he’s talking about. 

But that’s not all.  He sends the Holy Spirit with music and a dance chart so that we can learn how to waltz with the Trinity, even now, as we wait for the real party to begin.

I like that story.  I have to admit, as a seven-year-old, I kind of had been taught that first story.  I have to admit, throughout those sixty-seven years of my life, I oftentimes default back to that first story.  But I so much want to live in the second story.  When I go back to that first story, this is what happens to me—I become uncomfortable to be with God.  I mean, let’s face it, God is scary.  God is angry.  I don’t want to do something to rile him up.  There’s not really that impetus that wants to be with God, when I’m starting from that first story.  I become more and more behavior oriented.  By that I mean, I’m trying to come up with what are the right things I need to do so I can make sure that God will be pleased with me.  How do I control God?  Maybe another way to look at that is my religion becomes wrath-management.  I’m looking for those little loopholes.  Spiritual disciplines become dry and obligatory.  Having a quiet time in the morning is something I HAVE to do, it’s not something I want necessarily.  And the worst is obedience is motivated by shame and guilt, and I’d add…fear.

But when I find myself walking in that second story, my outlook totally changes.  Instead of finding myself uncomfortable to be with God, I grow in my desire to be with them.  I realize they love me.  I don’t have to be afraid of them.  They love me.  In fact, they loved me when I was born.  They loved me when I was doing all these stupid things before I became a follower of theirs.  They love me even when I do stupid things as a follower of theirs.  They love me; I want to be with them.

Instead of being so concerned with what I DO, I start to realize there’s nothing I CAN do to make God love me more or to make Him love me less.  His love is the same and it’s been eternity’s past and eternity’s future.  WOW!

Spiritual disciplines that seem dry and obligatory become tools to help me deepen my walk with God.  Boy, the opportunity to have a quiet time in the morning—just me and God—wow!  To picture the Three of them opening up this Word, or opening up my mind, or opening up my eyes to see the beauty of what they made around me. What a privilege to be able to talk to them in prayer, to be able to read their word, to be able to walk in nature and let them open my heart.  It becomes tools to deepen my walk with them.

Finally, the best of all for me, obedience becomes motivated by love.  By God’s all-encompassing love.  I don’t have to worry about making a mistake because God is there as a parent to help me, to get me back up on my feet, to walk with me.

That’s the story I want to embrace and live in.  I envision for us that story, because I can’t help but wonder what it would be like, as we think about this God who is so awe inspiring, and is so beyond our imagination of being three-in-one, but invites us in their amazing love of a community together and then empowers us to walk in their shalom into the world around us.  And to be used to spread that fullness that he wants to see everybody have.  What a great thing that would be.  Could you imagine what South would be like to be a church known for that?  To walk into this community with that God and that second story.  Let’s bow our heads in prayer.

Oh my dear Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I’m amazed….I can’t even think fully or imagine all of who you are, but how wonderful that you invite me to be in you.  Oh God, I know you invite each and every one of us to be in you.  Thank you.  Father, lead us in worshipping you right now.