Today I’d like to talk about spiritual blessing by doing a quick overview of the book of Ephesians, three sections in particular.
Please turn with me to Ephesians 1:3
Paul starts this letter with the conclusion. This is Paul’s starting point. We have EVERY spiritual blessing in Christ. To have Christ is to have everything. Christ is the full blessing, it is not a partial blessing, there is nothing lacking, God is not holding out on us. And as believers, we have every blessing because we have Christ.
Why do we have every spiritual blessing in Christ? To answer this, let’s read Eph 4:7-10.
I’ve talked about this before and I was reminded again of the significance of the cross in our everyday walk with him. We can claim the truth that we have every spiritual blessing in Christ because when Christ died, he went to the pits of hell and did battle with Satan.
And just like the Romans when they won a military victory would return to Rome with a trail of prisoners of war in tow, Christ by defeating sin and death on the cross bound up Satan and all the forces of evil as he rose from the dead and returned to heaven in resurrection glory.
Do you believe this? That we have every spiritual blessing in Christ?
When I was younger, I think I used to be a much more positive person but life has a way of just knocking the wind out of you. Life deflates, it disappoints. You look at your life and your life is not where you thought it would be. And you look in the mirror and you are not the kind of person you hoped you’d become.
Our glass being half empty is an expression indicating a person who thinks that no matter what happens in one’s life, good or bad, something is always missing, something that needs to be filled or corrected.
I think our glass is half empty mentality expresses itself through a variety of questions we have, both spoken and unspoken.
I came across a song this past week and I can’t share the title of the song because it doesn’t have one. Actually, it is titled, Untitled by Simple Plan. Pretty clever. How many have heard of this group? Well, I never heard of this song nor the group, but I was driving home from work this week and praying about what to preach on and some music was playing from my ipod in the background like most drives back.
I wasn’t really listening and then this song started playing. I have no idea how it got there. Really. Maybe God listens to itunes and he drops songs into people’s ipods when he wants to communicate a message to someone like me who is hard of hearing.
I’d like to play a segment of this song.
I think this song captures the dilemma of a person who is nearing the end of his life but because he doesn’t know God, there is no one to turn to and so the full weight of all the regrets and mistakes and unanswered questions of life rests on his shoulders. He only has himself to turn to. And the burden, he discovers, is too heavy to bear. And as the lyrics go, the night goes on, as I’m fading away, I’m sick of this life, I just wanna scream, how could this happen to me?
What about for the believer? How are we any different? Many of us, myself included, have a similar mix of regrets and thoughts and questions and as believers we bring these to God, but God seems awfully silent at times.
just answer us? So many things happen to us in the course of one year and certainly over a lifetime and I wonder how many of those specific questions we asked God we could point to and say, yes, God answered me.
I know I had my share of questions in 2009 and I am still evaluating how this past year was and I have been asking myself, were those questions helpful? Did they draw me closer to God? Or did they fuel my dissatisfaction because instead of getting answers like I had hoped, I was left with a deafening silence?
David captures this sentiment very well in Psalm 13 — I’ll read from v1.
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
This psalm sounds like a Christian version of the song we just heard. God, where are you? Why are you silent when we are crying out to you? All I see is me and my thoughts and I am wrestling with myself. Lord, how long will you hide your face from me?
I just want to pause to say, God does speak to believers. He speaks to us through His Word, through people, through circumstances all the time but we simply may be unable to discern his voice. That’s true. But there are also instances that for whatever reason, God remains silent, or at least it is a perceived silence.
At least with an answer of No, there can be closure and we can stop asking. But silence is confusing.
This is the Christian dilemma – we pray, we ask God, we bring various requests but from our end, all we see is a lack of response.
Why is God silent at times?
The first reason God is silent is because he wants to deal with our glass is half empty mentality. Second, God is silent because He wants to cultivate in us a deeper thirst and hunger for him.
I had a strange encounter at the end of last year.
I thought, great, my work is in West Hollywood so I wasn’t about to drive back so I was eyeing the gate and it’s about this high it has sharp twisted points at the top. 10 years and a few pounds ago, I’d be like no problem and I’d be climbing over. But that was then and this is now. There is a bit more of me now and I was thinking I am a father of 3, what would be the impact to my family if I sprained my ankle?
And as I was mulling over my options, this drunk Jewish guy who looked like a Rabbi came up to me. West Hollywood is very Jewish — there’s even a Jewish private school about a block away from my work. And our parking lot empties into an alley so he must have spotted me and he came over and mumbled something to the effect of, God blesses those who help others.
He seemed like a good religious man, but I was still nervous because I thought he might be trying to pull a fast one on me. Maybe he is trying to steal my money. Or he wants to help me so that he can ask for money afterward. Then I thought, he is 60 years old and I have a black belt so if things get out of hand, I was pretty sure I could take him out.
First, he asks me some questions to verifiy that I am not doing anything illegal and that I do in fact work for this company. I explained to him that my car is stuck there but if I get over this fence, I might be able to manually turn off the gate and pull the gate open. I guess I looked trustworthy because he believed my story so he told me, okay, step on my shoulder. He was very skinny and he was old so I certainly didn’t want to apply my full body weight on his shoulder.
And he saw me hesitating. And the next thing I know he is climbing over and jumping over the fence, very athletic and graceful at first. Until he hits the ground on the other side and then he tumbles over. When you are drunk, I guess it deadens pain and he got up and said, I’m fine.
Another side effect of being drunk is you don’t listen to directions. He was on the other side, it was too late. This situation is getting me more nervous now. All I want to do now is get that gate open so that this drunk Rabbi can be set free and not break into my company. And I asked him to check the the motor which controls the gate to see if there was an off switch, but it was pitch black and we couldn’t see a thing. Then, he got this idea that he would go toward the building and look for a switch. I know for a fact that such a switch does not exist so I told him that he shouldn’t go toward the building, but despite my protests, he went toward the building and sure enough he set off the alarm.
At that point, I started panicking. I told him, we got to get out of here. He somehow defied his age once again and stepped on top of the garage bin and braced himself on a phone pole and jumped back over. After I saw that he was okay, I was about to start booking down the alley but he said, please bless me. I wished that I could thank him more or pray with him, but the police was going to be there any minute so all I could muster was, I bless you, my brother. Then I turned and ran.
And it got me thinking, all the questions that I have and that we pose each day is related to this idea of blessing, aren’t they? It’s the glass is half empty mentality. We know that we live in a world where resources are scarce, and rightfully so. There is only so much wealth and popularity and fame and attention to go around and I need to excel in my little arena so that I can get my slice of the pie.
And sadly, I think we approach Christian life in much the same way. God, you saved me but you know that is not enough. Thank you for Christ, and for forgiving me and saving my soul and securing my eternal destiny, but I need more… I need to feel like the sacrifices I have made for you amount to some tangible reward or recognition. A little spiritual power or a little respect or something, Lord.
Underlying all the questions that we ask God, I think runs this subtle complaint, why am I not more blessed? I thought if I believe in you and you are the most powerful Creator of the Universe, the Sovereign God, I thought you could zap all of my problems away.
The context for Ephesians provides some interesting insight into why it is difficult to be satisfied with Christ alone.
I took a class last year at PCC and it was an anthro class entitled Magic, Witchcraft and Religion. I know it sounds strange and it was but through this class I learned about magic and I decided to write my final paper on the prevalence of magic in the book of Ephesians.
Paul was very aware of the problem of magic in the first century. Ephesus was the center of magic and many of the early converts in the church of Ephesus formerly practiced magic. So magic was a real-life problem that Paul needed to address.
Given this background, it makes sense that to this church, Paul wrote this kind of letter about Christ and how Jesus overcame all spiritual forces of evil at the cross and how we need to put on the full armor of God and stand firm.
The whole premise of magic can be summed up in the phrase abra cadabra. You’ve all heard that phrase. It’s what magicians say right before they are about to wow the audience with some amazing feat. Like having a hat, saying abra cadabra and out comes a rabbit.
This term, abracadabra, was coined in the 2nd C. and it was spoken in those days while performing incantations and magic spells. In Aramaic, abra cadabra means, “As I speak, I will create.”
In the world of magic, there is an explanation for every event that happens in your life, esp. bad ones. If something bad happens, it’s because evil forces are working against you or someone put a spell on you. On the flip side, magicians believed that if you needed something, you could perform a spell to manipulate the forces of evil to get what you wanted. It’s a life of direct cause and effect. There are no questions or mysteries. You input something — some spell or incantation — and the output can be predetermined. By chanting this spell, I can produce some desirable benefit for myself.
Abracadabra – as I speak, I will create. Using the power of evil, I will create life as I want it. A life where there is no unanswered question and I can create blessings on the fly.
You may be thinking, what relevance does magic have for us today?
In fact, there is a growing interest in magic and the black arts in modern times. You might be surprised to know that according to a USA Today/Gallup Poll in 2002, while the number of people attending organized religions like Christianity was in decline, other less traditional fringe religions and various other forms of spirituality were on the rise. Guess what is the the fastest growing religion (in terms of percentage)? It’s Wicca or Witchcraft.
From 1990 to 2001: Numbers of Wiccans went from 8,000 to 134,000. And from 2001-2008, the number of Wiccans more than doubled from 134,000 to 342,000.
What these numbers tell us is that people are searching for answers. And religions like Wicca are growing in popularity because these type of magic arts provide direct answers.
You had a bad day, maybe you are being bewitched by someone. Here’s a spell to appease the spirits. People are attracted to this almost scientific approach to religion. Every event has a cause. Every question has an answer. Everything is within our control.
God is not someone we can manipulate to give us what we want. Yes, there are problems in life. Yes, there are conflicts. Yes, there are many loose ends that may never be tied. Many questions left unanswered. But that is okay because guess what, many of the things we complain about and ask God to bless us with fade into the background when we consider what God has already given to us.
True blessing is to have Christ, not to have a change in circumstance or a better life, however we define it.
After Paul establishes that Christ is every spiritual blessing, that in him we lack nothing, he explains that the foundation for such claims is the victory of Christ over all the forces of evil at the cross. And he ends Ephesians with a practical application that can be found in Eph 6:10-13 so let’s read that.
10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Ephesians 6 exhorts us to stand in prayer in the midst of spiritual battle. The phrase to stand repeats itself several times in Eph 6. v11 – stand against the devil’s schemes. And v13 – stand your ground and after you have done everything, again, to stand.
Satan’s tactic is to knock us down and prevent us from standing. He wants us to fall. And how does he do this? He wants us to believe that we do not have every spiritual blessing in Christ.
Satan wants you to think you are lacking in Christ, that we do not have every spiritual blessing in Him. Isn’t that what Satan did in Genesis 3 when humankind fell into sin? Satan’s questions caused Adam and Eve to agree with him and say, yeah, I am lacking in terms of blessing, God must be holding out from us.
The battle is NOT against that circumstance or person or bad experience or unanswered question, but against the spiritual forces of evil, waging war on our minds and thoughts and perspective so that we continue to believe the lie that our glass is half empty and that Christ is not enough.
Every spiritual blessing is in Christ – Christ is the full package. He’s not like windows vista basic, vista professional, vista ultimate. It is Jesus Full, there is no other version.
God is silent because he doesn’t want to answer questions that pertain to how you and I feel jipped and need more blessing. Because his answer is always the same — you are already blessed in Christ. Your glass is not half empty.
As David confesses in Psalm 23, my cup overflows. Our glass is not empty because we have Christ. For the Christian, God is silent at times because perhaps he is teaching us that our glass is not half empty but full, in fact – if we had eyes to see – overflowing.
For the Christian, that’s our starting point. Instead of glass half empty, my cup overflows.
And if that’s our starting point, perhaps we would revise the questions we ask God — instead of asking how can I be more blessed, we should be asking God and ourselves a different set of questions — questions like how can I know Christ more, how can I arrange my day so that I can spend more quality time with him, what things should I let go so I can have unhurried time with Jesus?
If you are baby Elijah, you give him a gift and it’s wrapped in a shiny wrapping paper and a bow, he’ll be totally happy playing with the box. As we get older, we realize the good stuff is beneath the wrapping paper and cardboard and tissue paper. Have we been content with the wrapping paper, just a surface level understanding of Jesus?
Even one person is so interesting, you can spend 50 years with a person and still not know that person fully. How much more when it comes to the infinite Son of God?
God invites us to go deeper with him.
Maybe you’ve known Jesus as an acquaintance. You know he is a blessing to the extent that when I die, I know I am blessed ultimately because he saves me from eternal death and prepares a place for me in heaven. But Jesus is much more than a ticket to heaven. He invites us to go deeper with him.
In Eph 3:16-19, Paul prays this prayer for the Ephesians —
16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Do you know how much God loves you? Not conceptually, but as a personal reality. God loves me, Ray, far more than I know. God invites us to go deeper with him to know this love.
That is why God does not give us quick and easy answers. In his silence this past year, I feel I am thirstier for him this year. I am realizing that truth cannot be figured out. Truth is not a bunch of laws and doctrine that we can piece together on our own. God cannot be put into a box and carried in our back pocket by someone who says yeah I know God well enough.
For this reason, God had no choice but to reveal himself in the context of a relationship with us. God started with Abraham and eventually formed a people and He interacted with the Israelites throughout human history. But even this was only a partial revelation of who God is. That is why God sent Jesus who was and is both fully God and fully man, to enter into human time and space so that we can have the full revelation.
Truth is no longer veiled. Truth came down to us and took on human flesh and he lives among us.
He ate among the disciples, he taught them, he cried with them. He washed their feet. For the believer, we share a similar testimony of entering into a personal relationship with this same Jesus. God came down to us because in a million years we could not find our way to him ourselves.
Rather than understanding Jesus and learning facts about him, the invitation is extended to us to spend time with him. That’s why Christianity, more than anything, is a relationship.
Often, we are changed in the context of relationship because you end up becoming like the person you spend time with. Abraham jdsn and I have spent a lot of time with each other over the years and we both love sports, diet coke and coffee and we even started having similar body types.
Daniel Lim, on the other hand, he has not yet entered the deeper fellowship. How do I know this? Well, he is still skinny and doesn’t drink coffee. Daniel is a sensitive guy who doesn’t like to shock his delicate system with caffeine so he only drinks room temperature water. How can I have a deep talk with Daniel at Starbucks when I have my nice delicious americano and he is sipping his water bottle. After a point, we just hit a wall.
For parents, we see the same phenomenon of 2 people spending time together and becoming similar when we look at our kids. Timothy, my eldest son, had his first bball game this past Saturday and certainly the apple doesn’t fall from the tree. I guess the first 6 years of his life that he spent near me, some of me must have rubbed off on him.
Because when I was watching him play bball, I thought I was watching a miniature version of me. First of all, he didn’t play any defense. You had occasional fathers yelling out exhortations to their kids but Jackie and I were the only parents where both mom and dad were yelling at their kid the whole game. Timothy, keep your hands up, play defense, go for the rebound.
I am just like that. I don’t play defense. I don’t like to rebound. And in the middle of the game, Timothy did one dribbling move where he juked a defender then did a nice bounce pass under his defender’s arms to his teammate and got a nice assist.
I was the proudest father at that moment – that’s my boy. So it was a brief display of offensive brilliance. And he did some kind of celebration dance move and started skipping to the other side. He was so proud of himself.
I am like that on offense, too. One quick spurt of activity after long stretches of not moving much followed by an extended display of celebration and trash talking.
And the funniest part was when he went back on the sidelines, the assistant coach was keeping a record of the stats and Timothy kept leaning over and looking at the stat sheet. That’s when I knew, that’s my boy.
The same goes for Jesus. It is not enough to read books about Jesus and attend seminars that talk about Jesus and how to learn techniques about how to forgive others or strategies to evangelize. But if you spend time with the one who embodies forgiveness and love and compassion, then over time, some of his qualities will rub off on you. Christianity is a relationship and in his silence, our heart is being cultivated to have a greater thirst and hunger for Jesus.
I want to end by rereading Psalm 13 but this time unlike the first reading I want to include and highlight the final 2 verses.
1 How long, O LORD ? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? 3 Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; 4 my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. 5 BUT I TRUST in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. 6 I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.
Despite asking questions to God and wrestling with his thoughts and the many unanswered questions of life, David claims that in the end he can still place his trust in God’s unfailing love and rejoice in his salvation and God’s goodness.
Trust is a relational word. You trust someone when you have spent sufficient time to know that this person has your back.
Our life journey should be thirsting after Jesus and unraveling the richness, depth and overwhelming beauty of Christ in whom we have every spiritual blessing.
Time of guided prayer.