Friday, February 19, 2016

That Predestined word again

You got to know a little about the Apostle Paul as we Galloped through Galatians.   We get to see a different side of the apostle in this letter—one that is more uplifting towards his readers.  Some contest the authorship of this letter and think that perhaps one of Paul’s helpers might have written it in his name taking the message that Paul wrote to the Colossians and tweaking it just a bit for the saints in Ephesus.  Those who contest the book’s authorship did not surface for about 1700 years and today most accept the fact that Paul wrote this letter.

Unlike the letter to the Galatians, it follows a more traditional format.  It has the salutation and the blessing and some verbiage of thanksgiving—the part noticeably absent from his comments to believers in Galatia. Paul likely wrote this from prison in Rome.

Ephesus was a major port city in Asia Minor.  It boasted of a booming trade business in the Roman Empire.  It had many large public buildings for both political and sporting purposes and it had a couple of regional pagan gods for the people to worship.  In many ways, it was an eastern Rome.

But it had a church.  It had believers—saints if you prefer.  It was a city where John may have spent many years.  John surely wrote to this church as well in Revelation.  When John wrote, he commended them for resisting the idolaters but chastised them somewhat for not loving as they did at first.

Paul’s writing precedes this time and is surely to a fairly new flock of believers.  His first part of this letter is his blessing which is rich in theology for the Ephesians and for us.

In this blessing we get very much to the heart of this lesson.  In Christ, in him, we are chosen, redeemed, made harmonious with God’s will and purpose, and sealed and secured.  Apart from Christ, we are a mess—a very big mess that can’t really fix ourselves.

In this blessing part of Paul’s letter, I want you to contemplate and meditate upon who you are as a Christian.  

There are some self defined Christians in the world who think they are paupers, men and women of poverty, that this whole last will be first thing means that we can never have anything of substance in this world.

They think that they have to sing, “Poor, poor pitiful me until that twinkling of an eye when we will all be changed.”

Paul understands that we have passed from death to life as Jesus described in John’s gospel and that there is yet an age to come that is even fuller than this life we have entered; but Paul notes what we have now in Christ.

In Christ, we are holy and blameless.  We are set apart for God and not tainted by our sin.  Remember, we are only this way in Christ.

We should remember that this wasn’t just some happenstance event.  We were chosen to be holy and blameless from the very beginning.  Many times we have good discussions about God’s plan and his plan for us.

Some see God’s plan as wrapping itself around every detail of our life and causing every event good or bad that happens to us; but for the moment, consider God’s plan in this context.  He planned, prepared, made a way for us to be holy and blameless before flesh was every placed upon this planet.  Part of his plan was that we would be holy and blameless in Christ.

In Christ, we are redeemed and forgiven through his blood.  More than that, in Christ, God reveals to us what had been mystery:  That all things in creation would be reconciled to and through Christ.  Some of you may note the similarity with Paul’s letter to the Colossians, which we will get to in due time.

Remember in Galatians, Paul talked about the fullness of time when the Christ would be sent into the world; now he talks about the work of Christ coming to fruition in the fullness of God’s time. Everything in this creation that we know will be reconciled to and through Christ.

What does that mean?  Well, I am thinking that the Weather Channel will be out of business.  Earthquakes and tsunamis, tornadoes and hailstorms, droughts and floods will be things of the past.  We will not only love one another but live in harmony with this wonderful creation that we have been given.

In Christ, we become part of the glory of God.  We live for God’s purpose.  We bring glory to his name. Paul would later call our lives a living sacrifice, but in so living we know God’s purpose.  Think less mystery and more revelation.

In Christ, we are sealed.  We know that we belong to him.  The Holy Spirit lives with us and within us now guaranteeing that every promise of God will be fulfilled, assuring us of our inheritance, and helping us live to the glory of God.

Now here is the thing that some people get hung up on—all of this was predestined by God.  Most folks don’t handle that word very well.  It sounds like God made us to be robots and that our every step was recorded long before time began and we have no choice.

This predestination stuff is just hard to reconcile with free will.  It seems like it has to be one or the other—predestined or free will.

Why must we always try to fit God into our box?

Before time began God knew that Christ would be the path to the fullness that he wanted us to enjoy.  He chose us!

God not only created us but he chose us for a very special relationship, one that we could only know through Christ Jesus.

Adam and Eve not eating the apple in the garden could not have gotten us to the same place that we have now.  Maybe we should beat up on them too much.  They had and lost a paradise but through Christ we gain so much more.

We were chosen to be holy and blameless through Christ before this whole story began.  In fact this whole thing that we call history is really His Story.

The problem with this whole predestination business revolves around heaven and hell.  Did God chose some for heaven and some for hell.  The Presbyterian denomination had some trouble with this for a time.  The Cumberland Presbyterian Confession of Faith tells us early on that we do not believe God made any eternal reprobates.  That is a fancy way of saying; we do not believe that God made anyone for the purpose of sending them to hell.

How can we say this?

God desires none to perish.  We were all predestined for this special relationship through Christ.  Will we all accept this wonderful gift from the Lord?  That might just be a horse of a different color.

It is a question that we will not answer here.  Does God get the desire of his heart?  Will all come to him through Christ?

Long ago and far away, I was a lieutenant series commander at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina.  I had a few series under my belt when I came into my office one Sunday afternoon only to have the series gunnery sergeant greet me with some bad news.  One of my drill instructors had gotten drunk the night before and gone into the barracks and started hitting recruits.  He didn’t get very far as the hit the platoon guide while he was sleeping and this young recruit knocked him to the ground as he awoke.

Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep the next couple of days as I conducted my inquiry, and subsequently recommended a court martial for the Marine.  He was charged, convicted, had a stripe taken away, and sent to the brig.

I thought that was the end of the matter at least until he got out, but it was not.  The colonel called me into his office a few weeks later and instructed me to go to the brig and get tell this Marine he could get out for a day.  I think it was his anniversary or another date that should be spent with family.

I went to the brig, had the Marine brought out to me, and delivered the news.  He refused this merciful gift.  Here I was a young officer with 3-4 years of experience delivering this gift to a Marine who had about 10 years of service in the Corps and was given a wonderful opportunity to spend some time with his family and he refused.

Long before I heard the phrase, Stupid is as stupid does, I was witnessing it firsthand.

God desires none of humankind to perish.  He grants us free will to accept this free gift of salvation.  How everyone responds is beyond our knowing, but we must know that God chose all of us to enjoy this wonderful relationship with him through Christ before the beginning of the world.

Our God-given destination is living in the fullness of a wonderful relationship with him through Christ Jesus.

For those who know this and have accepted this wonderful gift of grace, how could we ever sing, “Poor, poor pitiful me?”  We are rich in the grace of God and the fullness of the relationship that we know in Christ.

Paul continued his letter to these believers with thanksgiving and prayer.  He was thankful that these men and women had faith in the Lord and prayed that they receive the wisdom to understand the richness of the blessings that they have already received.

Paul is saying, “Do you guys really get this?  Christ is everything!  He is over everything now and forever.”

Most of all, he is the head of the church.  The church is his body.  We are that church.

Paul did not write to the church in Ephesus because they had a bunch of problems.  He wrote because they were ready to understand more of this wonderful relationship that they had entered.  They were ready to grow in grace.

He prayed that God would open the eyes of their hearts and they would know the richness of the blessings that they enjoyed.

Are our eyes and our hearts open today?  Do we understand how richly we are blessed?

God chose us.  We are holy and blameless before him.  In Christ, we are holy and blameless.  Without Christ we are dead in our sin but we are not without Christ.  We are in Christ and because of that we are holy and blameless before the Lord.

That should be a pretty good pick me up on a bad day.

In Christ we are redeemed and forgiven, and we have revelation.  We have a window into the reconciliation of all things.

In Christ, we live for God’s purpose.  We get to bring glory to God.

We as Americans thrive on making the game winning shot or a goal line stand so our team wins.  We love the walk off homerun or delivering the final strikeout in the bottom of the 9th.  We love to bring glory to our team or our school.

We get to be a part of the team that brings glory to God.  It’s been 40 years since I hit a baseball over an outfield fence.  I don’t know if I could even get one to roll to the fence now, but we never get too old for bring glory to God.  He lets us hit them out of the park as long as we live and breathe.

In Christ, we are sealed.  We know that we belong to him.  

The Holy Spirit lives with us and within us now guaranteeing that every promise of God will be fulfilled, assuring us of our inheritance, and helping us live to the glory of God.

So what can I say about this predestination business?

Nobody has a better destination for us than God and in Christ we are on the best path to that destination.  But we must realize that we are on the path and not fully arrived at that destination, and that we are currently living as the church in this world.

We are his body in this world and we need to bring glory to him because in him we are so richly blessed.

In Christ we are richly blessed, holy and blameless before God, and very much assured that God will reconcile everything in his time.  In the mean time, we have God’s own Spirit to be with us as we navigate this world.

As we go into this world we must remember that we are the body of Christ and we are to bring glory to his name.

We are the body of Christ and will are to bring glory to God.

We are predestined for a wonderful and eternal life and we are to be his arms and legs and light and love in this time and in this world to bring glory to God.

God chose us for a very special destination and richly blessed us to bring glory to his name on our way there.


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