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OCTOBER 7th, 2018                                                                         PASTOR DON PIEPER

MAIL FROM JAIL                                                                          EPHESIANS 2:19-3:7; 8-21


                                    “THE HEART OF THE MATTER


            We've been reading from the Apostle Paul's inspired letters to the early church, written while in chains in Rome to those being cut loose, these words, written in ancient Greek, a dead language, are alive in their timeless relevancy.  Still, should we even be reading them?  Isn't there a law against opening other people's mail?  We could get in trouble – kinda like my young Calvin friend...


Susie:             Calvin!  Pass this note to Jessica.    It's a secret note.  So don't read it. 

Calvin:                        (smiles malevolently, reads...:) Calvin, you stinkhead, I told you not to read this. Susie.

                                                                                                            (The Essential..., p. 43)

            I told you you could get in trouble!  Yet, like Susie's note, Paul seeks to impart secrets as well – what he calls, God's Mysterious Plan. But Paul's letter, unlike Susie's note, is not meant for an audience of one, but many.  In fact Paul's letters, including this one written to the church in Ephesus, were meant to be shared – to be passed from one church to another. 


            And at the heart of this letter, both in terms of its literary location but in terms of its significance – Paul offers a glimpse of the very heart of God!  “Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit,” Paul declares, “because of what Christ has done for us.”  (Ephesians 2:18)


            All of us, meaning Jew and Gentile!  God has broken down walls of hostility so that sinners of all shape and manner may be saved.  This is God's mysterious plan, in the hopes that all may be saved – that all of us can come to the Father.  And the safety net God has thrown us is that of His own son...


            “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God's presence.”  (Ephesians 3:12)  This was the mysterious plan that God the Creator of all things had kept secret from the beginning.  God's purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom …”   (Ephesians 3:9-10)   That is, as the church is Christ's hospital for sinners, it displays God's grace and goodness by revealing the kind of people God loves – all of us!   And Paul's prayer reveals God means for us to both understand …, as well as experience, His reckless love for us. 


            But comprehension is not so easy. Paul concedes that we will never fully comprehend it. (3:19) That's not too surprising.  We struggle to comprehend love in general: She loves me; she loves me not...   


            It brings to mind the husband who decided to honor his wife for her birthday.  When he asked what she'd like for her birthday, she answered, “I'd like to be sixteen again.”  Right! 

            The next day he whisked her off to a nearby amusement park where they did the whoop-to-whoop, the triple-decker ferris wheel, and the tower of fear roller coaster.  He bought her cotton candy and pizza and then took her out to the movies and watched the most recent Star Wars movie.

            When they arrived at home she collapsed on the bed.  'what was it like to be 16 again,' he asked. 

She opened an eye and glared at him, “I was talking about my dress size, you idiot!”

            So you see, even if he is listening, he may still not get it right. He may still not comprehend... 


            If we can't comprehend the mindset or the heart of those we can see, how can we hope to ever comprehend that of the Almighty?  Yet, even so, Paul prays that we may “have the power to under-stand how wide, how long, how high, and how deep God's love for us really is.”  (Ephesians 3:18)


            Why does Paul bother to pray this if no one will ever fully understand it?  Because the ability to comprehend is a gift.  It comes thru a power that is beyond us, the power of the Holy Spirit.  That's why Paul prays not only for an understanding but for an experience: “May you experience the love of Christ, then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”  (Eph.3:19)


            But if God's love is so deep, wide, long and high – what keeps us from experiencing his love all the time, 24/7?   Three things get in the way: 1) We devalue ourselves; 2) We inflate our selves; and 3) We distract ourselves. 

            Many of us devalue ourselves.  We become convinced that God could never really love us.  Usually this is because we've come to believe a lie about us, or God, or both – a lie, like, we're nothing


Charlie Brown:           I can't talk to that little red-haired girl because she's really something and I'm

            nothing.  If I were something and she were nothing, I could talk to her or if she were something

            and I were something, then I could talk to her... Or if she were nothing and I were nothing, then

            I also could talk to her..., but she's something and I'm nothing so I can't talk to her...”

Linus:              For a nothing, Charlie Brown, you're really something.  

                                                                                                (The Parables of Peanuts, p. 167-8)

            For those who devalue themselves, listening to lies about who they are or aren't, scripture offers some powerful truth to counter those lies such as you were created in the image of God, or,..., God so loves you that he sent his only son.   Or this one: “(You) are God's masterpiece.  He created you anew in Christ Jesus to do the good things He planned for you long ago.”  (Ephesians 2:10)  Those of us inclined to devalue ourselves would do well to keep morsels of such truth handy. 


            On the other hand, many go to the other extreme of inflating themselves, convincing themselves of themselves, that they don't need help from beyond.  As it says on a bumper-sticker I saw in town recently: “I couldn't have done it without me.”   Wow!  Really?  Some of us risk pulling a muscle patting ourselves on the back.  And our culture caters to that!  'You deserve a break today.' 


            You've heard how an American changes a light bulb, haven't you?  He or she just grabs on to the light bulb and waits for the world to revolve around them!  Pastor Erwin McManus speaks to this:

            “There's a difference between loving ourselves and being in love with ourselves.  When we're in love with ourselves we are prone to only listen to what we want to hear.  We want to feel good about ourselves more than we want ourselves to be good.  When we fill our lives with loving ourselves, we make no room to experience God's love for us.”  (Erwin McManus)   

            If we're to experience the love of God in all its power than we must simultaneously see our selves as prince and beggar.  In the words of Martin Buber: “Everyone must have two pockets, so that he can reach into the one or the other according to his needs.  In his right pocket are to be the words, 'For my sake was the world created,' and in his left pocket; 'I am dust and ashes.'”   (Martin Buber)


            A third hindrance is that of our being distracted.  We touched on this last week...  One problem we have is that of being too busy.  Never in the history of the world have so many people tried to cram so many activities into a 24 hour day.  But truth is, we have no less time than our ancestors.  We're just more stretched.  As Bilbo Baggins put it …  “I feel like too little butter spread over too much toast...”


            Many of us can relate.  After all, “It takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place.  If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

                                                                                    (the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland)



            But if we want to sense the presence of God, if we want to experience his love for us in all its fullness, then we must slow down...and still down.   It’s interesting to note that the majority of folks who share what they liked most about Alpha, tend to celebrate the moment we all got quiet …


            So how does that work?  How can you experience more of His love for you?  Paul's prayer points the way.  Among other things, he prays, “May Christ make his home in your hearts as you trust in him.”  (Eph 3:17)  It starts by our inviting him into the most intimate, private places of our lives, just as our homes are the most intimate private places....


            Ever visit someone who told you as you entered their home, “make yourself at home”?  Well, if anyone ever does, don't believe them!  They don't mean it!  And neither do you!   We don't really want them to make themselves at home!  What would that look like?  They'd help themselves to your food, eat up your favorite snacks, sit in your favorite recliner, hog the TV, leave their smelly socks in the living room, brush their teeth with your toothbrush, and sing in the shower – loudly and off-key!


            They'd move in and never move out!  And Jesus, he'd see what you eat, how much you drink, how you talk to your spouse when your tired!  He'd see what you spend your money on, what kind of movies you watch, your closet skeletons, and your colorful underwear!  And that's just your home – Paul is saying we should make him at home in our hearts!  That means he's also going to be privy to what you think about, what you dream and fantasize about, what you fear and your buried pain.  He knows all that already and still wants to come in and make himself at home amidst your dirty laundry.  

            Paul's saying, the one who loves you like no other, wants to come in …   His plan is to share his heart with you – his heart for you – and how he can help make the best you!  Will you let him in?


            Second, Paul prays that your roots will grow down into God's love and keep you strong.  (Eph 3:17)  We sink our roots into God's love by rooting our day to day lives in his Word.  Paul's metaphor echoes back to the very first psalm: “Those who delight in the word of the Lord, meditating on it day and night, are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season.”  (Psalm 1:2-3)  


            By spending time in the Word we come to understand and appreciate the heart and mind of God.  We come to recognize his voice, his still, quiet and beautiful voice.  I'm not sure when but some where along the way of twenty-five years of marriage I came to recognize Claudia's voice.  I can pick out her voice in a crowded room.  She could remain hidden to me by being silent but as soon as she begins to talk and laugh my Claudia antennae can pick her out anywhere. 

            So it is with Jesus – or so it should be.  If we spend enough time with him, if he's at home in our home and in our hearts, he will speak life and truth and love into our lives, and we'll recognize him!  


            Finally, Paul prays for his friends to be filled with the Holy Spirit, that “God will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit..., so that you may experience the love of Christ..., and so that you will be filled with the fullness of life and power from God.”  (Ephesians 3:16, 19)


            That is God's heart, to empower you with His Spirit as you experience Christ's love for you.  It's

a life-changer!  Paul says that with the power of the Holy Spirit at work within us, “we're able to accomplish infinitely more than we might even think or ask for!”   (Ephesians 3:20)

            That means whenever we gather together we should expect amazing things to happen!  God has made us a force to be reckoned with, praying prayers that make Satan tremble, as God's reckless love fills us and flows through us to those around us, especially those who are desperate to be so loved! 



            I've experienced that love at worship, and when Alpha friends prayed for me at HTB, and during a fast once, and when some of you prayed for me but most consistently God's reckless love has filled me as I am given the chance to pray for others.  I think that's how it’s supposed to work.  We receive so we can give it away.  It grows as it’s shared. 

            So how about you?  Can you comprehend how much God loves you?  Would you like to...?


            Let me/us pray over you. Let's pray: “I pray now that from God's glorious unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit.  I pray that Christ will fully make his home in your heart(s) as you increasingly trust in him.  May your roots grow down into God's love and keep you strong.  And may you have the power to understand, as all God's people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his (reckless) love for you is.  May you experience the love of Christ though it is too great to understand fully.  (And as He fills you with His Spirit), may you be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.


            Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accom-plish infinitely more than we might ask or think.  Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus though all generations, forever and ever!  Amen!”                               (Ephesians 3:16-21)

Don Pieper

My family has been serving here at Redeemer for the past 21 years.  My wife, Claudia, and I particularly love worshiping with the Redeemer family and seeing people come to faith, as well as growing in faith through our Alpha Course, small group ministries, youth group and such.