Last week we began with a written prayer. I am asking each of you, if you agree with it, to pray this and keep praying daily throughout the weeks ahead as we do the New Testament reading together the first three months of 2016, Lord willing.
Here it is again: (on screen)
Our Father in heaven, we praise you and come before you in the mighty name of Jesus Christ. O Lord, draw us closer to you and closer together as by your Spirit, through your word, in and with your blood bought people, you build your church, which is the body of Christ, the church of Christ. Through your power and according to your will, please work in us to carry out your mission of seeking, saving and serving as through us, you bring light and truth into this fallen world of darkness and deception, all to the praise of your glory and grace, in Jesus name, Amen.
Will you join me in making special efforts to build our prayer lives around God’s vision and mission for us, asking Him to open our hearts and minds to His way and will?
(Greeting one another)
These lessons are not intended to give answers but to introduce what we will explore as we do our New Testament reading together. This is just getting ready for the journey. Imagine it as a road trip with the family. Before we load up and leave we plan the trip, think about the destination and look at the map for the way. Ephesians 3:14-15 reminds us that we are a family. God’s vision for us is that we as a family would make the journey through life following Jesus Christ until we reach eternal glory in Him.
Ephesians 1-3 flood us with God’s vision of His blessings and workings for us in Christ. When we were dead in our sins, He made us alive in Christ, He forgave our sins, He empowered us through Christ for good works that He created in advance for us. God pours out His grace on us in astounding ways. He has predestined us in Christ, He adopted us in Christ, He redeemed us in Christ and He has given us the very name of Christ to wear and the very likeness of Christ to share. God’s vision is universal, calling everything in heaven and on earth together under one head who is Christ. God has placed Jesus Christ and His name above all names and above all powers and authorities of all time and all eternity… and He did it for the church, the body of Christ, the fullness of Him who fills everything everywhere.
Eph. 2:8-9 For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.
This passage is shocking. This talks about two tracks for salvation: what it is and what it is not. It is of grace through faith; it is not of ourselves. It is a gift of God; it is not of works. The punch line is in the last five words, “lest any man should boast.” In other words, the gospel of Christ affirms that we are saved by grace through faith as a gift of God. Salvation is not of us nor is it of our works, but by God’s grace. This leaves us without any room for boasting, and strips us of our selfish pride. But notice, along with grace are those two little words “through faith.” What do they mean?
Joel said it really well last Wednesday evening in our study of Revelation. He asked what motivates us to do what we do, and went on to say that it is not what we “know” but what we “believe.” We live by faith. Knowledge isn’t enough. We need faith. How many of us have said, “I know I shouldn’t do that, but…” or, “I know this is not good for me, but…” . We do what we believe, even when we know better. Knowing is important, but not enough. The Bible tells us: Without faith it is impossible to please God. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world. It also tells us that faith without works is dead. Paul helps us see that we don’t need faith in ourselves, but faith in God. Faith in ourselves produces pride. Faith in God invites His saving grace.
We don’t need a great man made vision for the church. We need God’s vision. When we put confidence in ourselves we are the limit to what we can do, but when we put our hope in God and believe in Him, He does greater things than we can imagine. He begins to work His workmanship in and through us. He empowers us beyond ourselves with His strength within us.
We will never accomplish God’s vision for the church unless we have faith in Him to fulfill it through us. We don’t just need to know God’s vision, we need to believe in it and have faith that He is able to accomplish it by His Spirit, through His word, in and with His blood bought church. We here in this church are part of that great vision and mission of God. It is as far greater than ourselves as salvation through Christ is.
You can’t read much of the Bible without seeing that God takes people and gives them a vision and mission that is beyond them. Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, the judges, the kings, the prophets, Jesus Himself said in John 5:30 “Apart from my Father I can do… (anything I want, because I’m the Son of God? No!) Jesus said, Apart from my Father I can do NOTHING.” Does that sound strange coming from the Son of God? Jesus is showing us His relation to His Father and demonstrating how we are to relate to God as our Father. This relationship can only come through Jesus. Jesus tells us, “I am the vine and you are the branches, apart from me you can do nothing.”
All our workings apart from God lead to zero. But as we come to the Father through Jesus Christ His Son we are empowered to accomplish His will beyond what we can ask or imagine. (See Eph. 3:20-21). Notice this power in us is not so we can do things we chose, but to accomplish God’s mission. There will be great difficulty along the way, but He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
God does not hide from us that there will be great difficulty. Is it worth it? Consider the cross and know, God considered that you were worth it. Beyond the trials there is tremendous reward in Christ.
Honestly, God’s ultimate vision for us is too good to even grasp and understand. Yet it is ours in Christ. If you just read the ending of each message to the seven churches of Asia as recorded for us in Revelation 2-3 you will see the progression of promises to those who overcome: the tree of life, no fear of the second death, manna to eat, white stone, new name, power over the nations, the morning star, clothed in white, Jesus confesses their name before the Father and the angels, made a pillar in the temple of God, have the name of God, Jerusalem and the new name of Jesus written upon him, given the right to sit with Christ in His throne just as He overcame and sits with the Father on His throne.
Finally, I want to encourage and motivate you to not just know the vision and mission of God, that is one thing, but also to uncover and commit to God’s vision and mission in faith and agreement with God. We need to have and hold God’s vision and mission in our own hearts. We don’t need a good program on the vision and mission of God. We must have God’s vision and mission, and that must become our vision and mission. We don’t need to give this a good try. We need trust and give ourselves to God. This will require us to let go of lesser things. This will require us to turn from selfish idols to the true and living God. This means that in true faith we can say that Jesus Christ is my Lord, my life, my hope, my all in all and really mean it even as we fight the rebellion and selfishness of our fleshly nature to do so.
This is not about doing what you want. It is all about doing what God wants. It is about bending my heart, mind, soul and strength toward God even as I don’t want to. Even as everything in me screams at me for attention. It is one thing to boil down a lesson from scripture and give it out in fun and pleasant ways that tickle our ears. It is quite another thing to be before God Almighty and listen to His voice and fight my fleshly instincts of pride, fear and pursuit of happiness and personal comforts. We are going to walk with Jesus in the gospels and listen and learn from Him as He speaks and watch Him as He works the works of the Father before our eyes. We will be able to observe how others responded to His words and works and how He called them to follow Him. We will see how many resisted Jesus and hear what Jesus said to them. In Jesus we discover God’s vision and mission most clearly through seeing Jesus seeking, saving and serving in word and deed.
We must ask ourselves: Are we committed to Jesus Christ as our Lord? Is Jesus Christ the ruler of this church? This is a serious question that we must answer. Our eternal destiny depends upon how we answer that question. Those who follow Jesus, hold to God’s vision and mission for His church.