Ephesians 3 v1 -21 Be Filled, be expectant
Reaching the end of a job interview, the Human Resources Person asked the newly qualified graduate what starting salary they were looking for. He replied “In the region of £80,000 a year, depending on the benefits package” The interviewer replied “Well, what would you say to a package of 10 weeks holiday, full medical & dental insurance, company matching retirement fund to 50% of salary, and a company car leased every 2 years---say, a BMW 5 series?”
The Graduate sat up straight, much energised said “Wow! Are you kidding”
The interviewer replied “Yeah, but you started it” Is our expectancy realistic?
I want to tell you three boat stories this morning that I hope will bring out and endorse Paul's great words in his letter to Ephesians.
Maggie and I have recently returned from a week spent in the Lake District. One of the highlights of our visit was a boat trip on Lake Windermere. The owner of the small boat not only loves sailing but is a chief. He moored up in the middle of the lake and cooked us and 3 others on board a 4 course meal, wine and beers etc. in abundant measure were all inclusive. He even provides transport to and from where you are staying, which was just as well. Whilst having a pre dinner drink we watched the sun set over the mountains of Windermere. Then after dinner, whilst having coffee we witnessed the beautiful starry sky including The Milky Way. This trip together with the days our friend chauffeured us in his comfortable Mercedes to most of the Lake District not only made us in awe of God's Creation but it far exceeded our expectation, especially as about 35 years ago we spent a few wet days camping in just one part of the Lake District.
The following day we arrived home from the Lakes, I with a few members of this church went on the Sail and See trip I organised. As I had few takers from the Just Men Group, in fact only Roy, for the first time I allowed a woman to come. Wendy was so excited and enthusiastic about going on the trip, I just couldn't say no! God blessed us with no rain and plenty of wind to sail in the Solent. After the trip I asked her if it had matched her expectancy. Matched it? No it far exceeded it she told me. She had a smile on her face from the moment I picked her up till I dropped her back home! I know Roy also felt this way.
I want to ask you, what is your expectancy of God? Does he exceed the expectancy you had when you invited his son Jesus into your lives? What do you expect to happen when you come into God's presence, either here at church or during a quiet time at home?
Most theological colleges, including the one I gained my Certificate from, teach a good sermon should have 3 main points, and although within today's reading there is much scope for at least 3, I felt led to concentrate on one, although we will touch on others. It was verse 20 that really stood out as I prepared this talk. “Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us” Christ will always fulfil, in fact exceed our expectation, providing we are prepared to be open to His infilling of the holy spirit.
Although St. Paul has at times had his critics, especially some women who falsely accuse him of being a male chauvinist, he is my hero, I'm longing to meet him in heaven. His heart for God was not just huge but massive. In our reading he is admitting that he is possibly the worst Christian ever, yet he by grace has been chosen to spread the mysteries of the gospel to all mankind. Can you imagine him in prison facing a probable death sentence, yet in v 14 we are told he get on his knees to intercede on behalf of the Ephesians, not for the first time. Paul's prayer v14 -21 is concerning their spiritual welfare, having a focal point on knowing and accepting the magnitude of Christ's love for us, where as his first prayer in Ch1 centres on knowledge.
I don't know theologically if the need for us to pray ends when we get to heaven, I've never really thought about it. But I'm sure if so Paul would be on his knees saying the same prayer for me and you. It would be his desire and more importantly God's that we lay aside the less important thing like ritual and tradition, the outwardly signs we think are important and as v16 says “That he (God) would grant us, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man”. He wants our hearts to dwell in, he wants to abundantly fill us with all the fullness of God, the peace that passes all human understanding, the joy, the strength, the comfort only Christ can give, the same things that Paul himself is experiencing even whilst on death row! We are to let God dwell in our hearts by faith, not merely live but to be at home in - to abide. The Bible is very clear that God wants us to be a Holy Temple fit for Jesus to live in. That blew me away the first time I heard it. How could Jesus want to live in such a dirty stained often unholy place? So much so I started by giving up smoking! Can I assure you that God has no interest in the external, the outward appearance we give, or the way we choice to worship providing our worship is sincere. I don't have time to tell you the full story about my Liberian Pastor friend Joe who we befriended whilst he was at All Nations Bible College. But to illustrate my last point I want to tell you about his 7 year old son that he left in Liberia with his Gran whilst Joe was here studying. Sadly the very week Joe was to return home the civil war started in Liberia and he was unable to return as all intelligent people were being massacred by the rebels. Although Joe had been informed his son had been killed, it transpired 4 years later he survived, having ran off into the jungle living on plants, rats, caterpillars and taking old clothing of dead bodies. He must have looked awful, yet God saw beyond all that into his heart and eventually miraculously bought him home safe as he stayed focused on God in such appalling conditions.
Jesus lives in every believer from the moment they take the step of faith but Paul encourages beyond that. Don't just let him into the passage or hallway, but every area in our lives must be given over to him. Our relationships, our actions, our thoughts, yes dare I say it our finances. V8 was a great help to me as I took a self imposed sabbatical knowing that Paul considered himself, like I did, such a bad Christian. Although I knew God by his grace had not abandoned me, I needed to do some spring cleaning to enable him to work more efficiently in my life. Things must be done in his power, and with his wisdom, with his love for his glory not ours. I hope that every member of the PCC or any committee, spend time with God listening to His thoughts and using his wisdom before speaking. Think how quickly meetings would end if that were always the case! I bet I'm not alone in being remiss at times.
The third boat trip I wasn't on but I can relate to: There is a story about the old missionary couple who had been working in Africa for years and were returning to New York City to retire. They had no pension; their health was poor; they were defeated, discouraged and afraid. They discovered that they were booked on the same ship as President Teddy Roosevelt, who was returning from one of his big game hunting expeditions.
No one paid attention to them. They watched the fanfare that accompanied the president’s entourage, with the passengers trying to catch a glimpse of the great man.
As the ship moved across the ocean, the old missionary said to his wife, "something is wrong. Why should we have given our lives in faithful service for God in Africa all these many years and have no one care a thing about us? Here this man comes back from a hunting trip and everybody makes so much fuss over him, but nobody gives two hoots about us!”
When the ship docked in New York, a band was waiting for the great President. The Mayor and other dignitaries were there. The papers were full of the President’s arrival, but no one noticed this missionary couple. They slipped off the ship and found a cheap flat on the East side, hoping the next day to see what they could do to make a living in the city.
That night the man’s spirit broke. He said to his wife, "I can’t take this; God is not treating us fairly." His wife replied, "Why don’t you go in the bedroom and tell that to the Lord?"
A short time later he came out from the bedroom, but now his face was completely different. His wife asked, "Dear, what happened?"
"The Lord settled it with me," he said, "I told him how bitter I was that the President should receive a tremendous homecoming, when no one met us as we returned home. And when I finished, it seems as though the Lord put his arm on my shoulder and simply said, “But son, you’re not home yet!”
Hey life at times can be a bitch! As Christian we are not promised an easy ride, far from it. A few weeks ago I warned you how satan will attack the closer we get to God.
Maybe some here are battle weary like the missionary couple, They had no pension; their health was poor; they were defeated, discouraged and afraid, surely we Christians could never sink that low?.... There are two approaches to life and you get the choice. You can choose to live by fear, or you can choose to live by faith. You can be an optimist, or you can be a pessimist. ….Are we pessimists or optimists?... I confess sometimes I seem to flit between the two just like Job. Job was sometimes a pessimist, in Job 3:25, he says, "Everything I fear and dread comes true." Do you know anybody like that? They focus on what they don’t want, not what they do want. However in the end faith won through for Job.
What was St. Paul? As they say on X factor a million percent, he was hugely optimistic! Yet again facing danger, banged up in jail for spreading the Gospel, yet still writing instructions, enlightenment and encouragement.
What do you think is the most dangerous prayer we can pray? “Lord give me what I deserve”. How I thank God for His grace and mercy. Ok sometimes we do deserve more of a blessing that we seem to have got, but remember God's riches go beyond the grave. Many of our riches will be heaven.
You won’t be in heaven for the short time we spend here on earth, but for eternity, if you’re a believer, and some of us will say, “Why on earth did I get discouraged when I knew what was coming? Why didn’t I serve more, pray more, give more, love more, be more what God wanted me to be?” You’re not home yet. Remember your future. I'm sure that thought fuelled Paul's enthusiasm, commitment and obedience.
In conclusion and to prove I did take notice of my tutors, I hope you take home these 3 main thoughts that I was reminded of whilst preparing this sermon: God by His grace, love & mercy will use even imperfect people like you and me to spread the Good News of Salvation. God is only interested in our hearts, our very soul in which he wants to dwell, to be at home in.
And finally having allowed God to fill us with His Holy Spirit, have a higher expectancy of God especially when we pray, knowing that in the words of our reading, he is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us. Amen