When I was a little boy I wanted to be strong like Superman or Batman. When I arrived at Roosevelt Junior High I wanted to be strong like Vikings players Allan Page and Carl Eller. As an adult I have had many times where I wanted to be recognized as “strong” in various ways. Being strong is not a bad thing in itself, but the dangers come in what motivates our desire for strength and what we do with it when we have it.
Another common problem with the way we often view strength is that we exalt certain people over other people based on physical or intellectual “strength” as we define it. Our society is exceedingly addicted to people looking a certain way, excelling in a specific set of activities and bragging about their kids’ grades. This really isn’t a new phenomenon. All through Scripture we see this taking a variety of forms in which people are claiming glory and trying to make a name for themselves. Another way to view this would be that the people are attempting to be strong or top dog in the “Human Hierarchy” that occurs when people buy into the fallacy that some people are of greater value than other people.
Built into the Human Hierarchy way of viewing things is an unhealthy competition and a personal rising up by having others below you. This goes directly against our theme this past week of surrender or lifting others up. We are continually invited in the Gospels to see Jesus live freely and powerfully serving others and trusting God the Father. Jesus’ strength was manifested in giving to others and never for personal ego inflation.
The good news for us today is that God wants us to be strong. But the source of this strength is God Himself and the gifts that come as we walk with Him in trust for all that we need. God is far more aware than any of us of the ways we truly need strength. He knows the enemies that are trying to destroy our souls, our hope and our joy. He provides all that is needed for us to have full lives in the here and now, as well as a confidence in our eternal home through Jesus.
Our text for this Sunday expresses the way that our God equips us and cares for us so that we can stand against all opposition. Our all-powerful God also wants us to know that we are not intended to go through life on the defensive or in a posture of fear or trepidation. We possess the power of Jesus’ resurrection, as well as the light that the world needs to live in truth. The past seven weeks have brought us to celebrate ONE… in many of the ways it is expressed in the book of Ephesians – source, life, family, revelation, body, example, surrender and this week we conclude with strength. Paul brings it to a magnificent conclusion as he invites us to join him:
There are words and concepts that are very difficult for us to grasp biblically because our cultural definitions are so ingrained within us. Here are a few words that quickly come to my mind that fall into this category: love, leadership and power. The “redefining” or biblical perspectives of these three words will be discovered by realizing that they are all played out to the fullest as Jesus gives up His life and dies on the cross.
If we read the Bible and truly consider the way God works we will be forced to come to grips with the fact that God does things in different ways than we do. He is able in every situation and always to work with perfect justice and love – at the same time! He has a righteous anger that consumes while extending an invitation to each of us to know His gracious tenderness. These apparent contradictions can make our heads spin but they are naturally and flawlessly played out in God’s rule in His Kingdom.
With this in mind God invites us to rethink the concepts of submission and surrender. Our text for this week’s Sunday morning message calls us to “Submit [surrender] to one another.” [Ephesians 5.21] My initial gut reaction to reading the previous phrase is – NO! I don’t want to give up my reign. We should do all we can to be in charge. In fact, it is very natural and even “hard-wired” into me to seek to establish and stay in control of myself and my world. The problem is that I am not very good at controlling my world if I am honest.
This week’s theme in our series is entitled ONE…Surrender. I chose this title to stress the point that the many facets and opportunities to surrender [submit] will flow from what happens when we surrender to the rule of Jesus. It is in following Jesus that we gain a new perspective and understanding that will bring freedom to our lives and joy to our hearts. This goes against the ways of the world but it is the standard operating procedure in God’s Kingdom.
On my own, I am fearful of surrender because it seems to mean - I lose.
The world’s processing of submission and surrender is to place myself in the hands of someone or something that doesn’t have my best interests in mind. It means to become the one used by others and I really would prefer to be the one doing the using – it is more comfortable and I like it more that way. But along comes Jesus and He submits or surrenders to the Cross. He chose to go there to lift us up – he sacrificed for our benefit. He wants us to live with that perspective in our lives as well.
Jesus calls us to trust Him to do this today. Take a chance and surrender. Take a chance and serve. Take a chance and humbly surrender to the King of the World. We don’t rule anyway, so why not trust the one who does?
If you believe that the above statements are meant to describe our lives as Christians then I am guessing you have bumped up against some of the complexities of life. I chose just a few biblical thoughts to illustrate how far beyond my own capabilities I am called to live day in and day out. If I am serious about my God and my faith I will quickly come to the conclusion that I need help – a lot of help.
For those of you who may not quickly resonate with the Bible’s reign in your life, I am guessing you can still relate to the fact that life is at times very complicated and at times we feel quite inadequate to live confidently in our decisions. For instance, have you ever wondered whether you should discipline your children or just hug them? Have you ever encountered a situation at work where ethics and relationships seem to be impossible to maintain at the same time? Or how about just staying “positive” while evil is real and my death awaits me?
It is in light of all of this need for help that I rejoice in God’s provision and care. Of course, we rejoice that the primary thing to know about Jesus is that He is our savior that has brought us hope, forgiveness and eternal life. But alongside that, it is vitally important to know that He is also the perfect example for us of how to live life to the fullest and honor God all along the way. Jesus knows all about relationships, joys, sorrows, temptations and everything else that comes our way. He came to Bethlehem in a perfect balance of “grace and truth” – then He lived each and every day in that same perfect balance!
We are to follow the example that Jesus has given us in the pages of Scripture and we are also blessed with the Holy Spirit of God that lives within us. The Spirit guides us into what is good and true in all situations. We are not alone or unequipped as we deal with all the complexities and troubles that life can send our way. So, the real question is, will we trust God’s ways or will we try to travel a different road?
Trusting Jesus as Savior and example,
This morning I got out of bed and continued to breathe since there was just the right amount of oxygen for me to go about my business as usual. I looked out the window of my bedroom and noticed that the sun was just rising above the eastern horizon the same way it did the morning I was born. My day, my world and my universe are filled with a design that I have largely taken for granted my entire life. The precision of it all is really quite meticulous and miraculous. It is as if it was put in just the right place with just the right amount of stuff to operate in just the right way at all the right times. WOW!
The same power and wisdom that put all the surroundings of my day in place is doing His thing in the Church as well. He has created this living institution to accomplish what needs to be done to pass His story and gifts from generation to generation. One of the most amazing things about the Church is that it is made up of millions of people that are unique, one of a kinds in many ways and messy. The individual members of the Church don’t have nearly the precision and dependability of the solar system, yet it fits together perfectly because God accomplishes just what He said He would do.
God gives each of us an invitation to take our place in the Church. Another name for the Church is the Body of Christ. The God who designed the universe so perfectly wants us to understand that He is able through His wisdom and power to ultimately do things perfectly in and through the Church even though it is composed of imperfect people like you and me. It is referred to as a body because of the many numerous parts that work together to accomplish the tasks that need to be done.
So, the really amazing thing is that God accomplishes exactly what he sets out to do while using unpredictable, inconsistent, even selfish people - like me - to compose the Body of Christ. When I bring all of this together I find myself in a place of worship, thankfulness that I have a uniquely particular place in the Church and a sense of peace because God is always God!
You have been creatively and uniquely designed by God Almighty for this time and this place. You have a very particular set of gifts, resources and contexts that Oak Hill needs to faithfully be God’s people today right here and right now!
Joined and growing together,
Pastor Nick Mundis