Our Real Riches
Many of us who have been Christians for many years have moments when we should be mature,
but we allow our immaturity to show up.
This is frustrating to us.
We must pray to God to strengthen us.
A mature Christian's life doesn't come about by popping ourselves into some spiritual microwave
and coming out quickly, mature.
For this reason, Paul said in Ephesians 3:14-21:
"I bow my knees before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name,
and that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory,
to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man.
So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love,
may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,
and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge,
that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God."
This is a marvelous prayer in which Paul asks the Lord the Lord for a logical succession of things;
that we might
a) be strengthened with power,
so that b) we may experience faith and love,
so that c) we may experience the fullness of God.
So, let us look at each of these spiritual blessings.
First, Paul prays that we might be strengthened with power through God's Spirit in the inner man.
This inner strength is not self-discipline or the power of positive thinking.
It is not self-talk or inner renewal.
It is not getting a grip on yourself or turning over a new leaf.
Inner strength is not a spiritual muscle we can build by working out at the gym or jogging 10 miles a day.
It is a gift of God that comes to us through prayer.
It is a spiritual strengthening that enables us to do what needs to be done.
It is a fundamental work of God from His Spirit to our spirit.
In the book, "Fearfully and Wonderfully Made" by Philip Yancey, Yancey describes the importance
of white corpuscles in our blood stream.
They are "the armed forces which guard against invaders."
"An alarm seems to sound
As though they have a sense of smell
Nearby white cells abruptly halt their aimless wandering.
Like beagles on the scent of a rabbit, they hone in from all directions to the point of attack.
Using their unique shape-changing qualities, they lose their tissue via the most direct route.
"When they arrive, the battle begins
a shapeless white cell, resembling science fiction's
creature "The Blob," lumbers towards a cluster of luminous bacterial spheres.
Like a blanket pulled over a corpse, the cell assumes their shape,
for a while they still glow eerily inside the white cell.
But the white cell contains granules of chemical explosives, and as soon as the bacteria are absorbed
the granules detonate, destroying the invaders.
In 30 seconds to a minute, only the bloated white cell remains."
When the body is attacked, it resists.
To do this, it must be strengthened from within.
When Christians are attacked by the forces of evil, we too, must resist.
And to do this, we need reinforcements.
We need to be strengthened from within.
That is why Paul prays that God according to the riches of His glory, may strengthened us
with might by His Spirit in the inner man.
No matter what form the attack takes, we can be "more than conquerors."
In fact, that's the only way we can keep coping and functioning and living in a world such as this.
Not by eliminating our temptations and problems, but by being strengthened by God to live above them.
Not without pain and suffering, but in spite of pain and suffering.
What is the source of this power of inner strength?
It is God, the Father.
How do we get it?
We ask Him for it in prayer.
What kind of power is it?
It is not physical power.
It is not intellectual power.
It is not emotional power.
It is spiritual power.
All my Christian life, I have wanted and needed that kind of power.
Power to do what I should do, and power not to do what I know I should not do.
Power to close that gap between what I ought to be, and what I am.
So where's the power?
What does it look like?
How do I get it?
Why haven't I felt it?
Haven't you ever wanted to pray, and have the rain stop; and then pray, and have it start raining again.
Haven't you ever wanted to pray and see multitudes saved?
Haven't you ever wanted to see signs and miracles?
We don't have that kind of power.
Some claim to have it, but they don't!
When we study the Bible, we learn that the signs and miracles were concentrated within a relatively
short time frame periods of rapid or crucial change such as:
the deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt,
or the time of the prophets when God was trying to get the nation of Israel to repent
so that He would not have to send them into captivity.
Or the life and ministry of Jesus and the time of the early church when God moved
to a different level of relating to his children.
As the message of the Gospel was established and began to spread, exciting displays
of supernatural power begin to subside.
Trace the chronology of the epistles in the New Testament (which is different from the order
they appear in the Bible) and you will see that the Christian faith take on a deeper, quieter tone.
In the lives of believers we see hope, contentment, thankfulness, joy, peace, prays, humility,
steadfastness, patience and love.
While none of these are flamboyant manifestations, there are subtle, but miraculous evidence
of the power of God strengthening the inner man.
For without the power of God, we cannot grow and become more like Christ.
Without the power of God, we can not be motivated selflessly to serve others;
and we cannot be content in Him.
God does not promise us the power to overcome all circumstances or the power
to change all our thoughts, behavior, and our character immediately.
What He does promise is a strong underlying power of a gradually, growing, changing life
to be more like Christ.
There are times when the power of God seems to be more obvious.
There are times when I have been almost overwhelmed by the presence of God.
There are times that I have been gripped by a spiritual truth and astounded by the realization
that God just used me or blessed me in an extraordinary way.
And I would like to have that power all the time.
But if I did, I would get used to that kind of power, and soon it wouldn't be enough.
I would want greater power.
I would want to make an axe head float on water.
I would want to call fire down out of heaven.
Perhaps even throw a lightning bolt or two such Power!!
The point is the power resides in God, and not in us.
And if we want to see signs of it, we must look through eyes of faith.
God is at work in us and through us.
We don't always recognize it because we are looking frantically in the wrong directions
or for the wrong thing.
Paul prays that we might be strengthened with power so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith.
When we were little children, we believed Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio's little friend, who sang,
"When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true."
So I wished upon the evening star "Starlight, starbright, give me the wish I wish tonight."
I wished on birthday candles.
And I was sure that if I believed hard enough, my wishes would come true.
Needless to say, I have had lots of disappointments.
Unfortunately, many "grown up" Christians operate under a similar kind of Magic Kingdom illusion:
if you pray long enough and hard enough, and as some would say, "claim the result." It will happen.
And they would tell us that the only thing that will keep it from happening is -- if our faith falters.
In other words, if you believe something will happen, then it will.
This is not faith.
It is wishful thinking.
Faith is strong and solid and active.
Faith is believing what God has said and acting accordingly.
Many people today say, "It doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you believe it sincerely."
Others say, "Faith is believing in spite of the fact that there is nothing to believe."
Or even worse, some say, "believing in spite of the evidence to the contrary."
But faith is only as good as the object in which it is placed.
We place our faith in an airplane every time we take a plane trip.
We place our faith in an elevator that it will take us to the top.
We place our faith in steel and concrete every time we cross a bridge.
We place our faith in our car every time we get in it to drive.
Faith by itself is absolutely worthless.
Faith will not get us off the ground.
Faith will not even get us to the second floor.
Only an airplane can fly us across the United States.
Only an operating cable system can get us to the top floor.
Only a solidly, engineered and built steel and concrete bridge will get us across the river.
When it comes to power for daily living, the object of our faith must be Jesus Christ.
Once we have invited Christ into our hearts, we must allow Him to settle down and be at home in us.
That requires the strengthening power of His Spirit.
Robert Munger, in his book, "My Heart, Christ's Home," we find it very helpful illustration of what this means:
He says, "The Christian life is like a house.
When we invite Jesus in, He moves from room to room.
In the library of the mind, He throws out the trash, and replaces it with His Word.
In the dining room, He replaces our sinful appetites for prestige, materialism, and lust
with virtues for which we, as believers, are to hunger and thirst humility, meekness, and love.
He moves on to the living room, where He finds many worldly companions and activities,
and even into the closets were we keep our hidden sins.
Only once He has cleaned every room, every closet and corner in the entire house
can He settled down and be at home.
He takes up residence in our hearts when we accept Him.
But to have Christ dwell in our hearts through faith means that He is at home in every corner of our lives
because we believe His promises, and, therefore become obedient to his Word. (John 14:23)
Paul prays that we might be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man
so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith
and so that we may experience abundant love.
In his book, "Lessons from a Sheepdog," Philip Keller tells of a border collie that he bought
to herd sheep in his ranch in Canada.
The collie was inexpensive because it was ill-tempered and unpredictable, but Keller was short on funds
and hoped the animal would work out until he could afford a better one.
When Keller got the dog to his ranch, it quickly became clear that the animal had been beaten,
starved and neglected.
It was wild and nervous, and filled with fear and suspicion.
Keller spent several days just trying to win the trust of the dog.
He spoke repeatedly and gently to the collie.
He never moved quickly and consciously tried to pet it.
The dog remained suspicious and unpredictable, and refused to eat.
After nearly a week of this, Keller realize that the dog was going to starve to death
unless he let it go free.
So he released the collie, and watched it disappear over the hill.
Although he figured that he would never see the animal again, he continued to put out food and water
and frequently let his eyes roam the horizon, hoping to catch a glimpse of the dog.
One day Keller spotted the dog watching him from a distance.
He spoke to the animal softly, and then it disappeared.
The next day, the dog appeared again, and that evening some of the food was gone.
For several days, this pattern was repeated as a distant bond of trust began forming.
Then what seemed impossible, happened.
One morning as Keller set on a large rock overlooking his grazing sheep,
he noticed out of the corner of his eye movement the collie was coming up behind him.
Keller said motionless, his hands braced behind his back,
suddenly, he felt a cold, wet nose on his hand.
After a moment, Keller turned slightly, and the dog stayed.
Keller put his hand on the dog's head.
The dog's tail began to wag, and at that moment, the bond was sealed between the man and his dog.
The collie became Keller's constant companion, giving to him unwavering devotion and obedience.
When Keller left the ranch, the dog refused to eat.
The animal became an extension of Keller himself, working the sheep with uncanny instinct
and precision, loyalty and devotion.
Keller's experience with the collie is a picture of the healing, enriching and transforming process
and progress of love.
And that process between God and man is exactly what Paul is talking about in Ephesians 3:17-19:
that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints
what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ
which surpasses knowledge
Paul is saying that we are like a tree, sinking our roots deeply into the soil of God's love.
Tapping into His love.
Experiencing His love gives us life and strength, and enables us to stand with security, stability and permanence.
When the winds of adversity blow, the love of God holds us steady.
The Character of Love
Paul prays that we may be able to comprehend the magnitude of this love:
"The breadth and length and height and depth" of God's love.
This is not always easy, because as human beings, we have a distorted view of love.
Remember that romantic moment in "My Fair Lady" when lovesick Freddie
wanders the street in front of Elsa Doolittle's house, lamenting "that overpowering feeling"
that he has for her?
That's how many see love as "that overpowering feeling"
And if we wake up the next morning and don't have that overpowering feeling, we assume that love is gone.
So we dump that relationship and move on, searching for another emotional experience
or we are deluded again into thinking that this is love.
Some years ago Elvis Presley made famous these lines:
"It's now or never,, hold me tight.
Kiss me, my darling, be mine tonight.
Tomorrow may be too late.
It's now or never,
my love won't wait."
That isn't love!
It is how the world views a tomcat.
Love can always wait.
Does God hate the world's concept of love?
Without a doubt!
But not for legalistic reasons, and not because He wants to spoil our fun.
He hates it because the value system of the world is totally opposed to His value system.
The value system of the world says: "love isn't forever
it isn't unconditional
we can leave it any time we want to
we can be totally selfish and self-absorbed
nothing is permanent
everything is relative."
That is the value system of the world and every time we act on these worldly definitions of love,
we sow the seeds of our own destruction with the result being pain, emptiness and dissatisfaction.
God is love!
God mirrors the true definition of love.
God loves us forever!
God loves us unconditionally!
God will never leave us nor forsake us!
God sacrificed His beloved Son for our salvation!
God only does what is best for us.
God always does what is best for us!
And the more we become like Him, the more joy, meaning and satisfaction we will have in our lives.
How do we comprehend His love?
One important way is through the evidence of that love in the lives of His children.
When we experience the love of Christ demonstrated by His people,
the capacity to comprehend the meaning and importance of God's love is awakened in our hearts.
Why else would Christ have commanded us to love others as He has loved us?
The Fullness of God
Paul prays that we might be strengthened by His Spirit in the inner man so that we might experience
a supernatural faith and love
and so that we might experience the fullness of God.
J. Wilbur Chapman, a minister from a previous generation, used to tell the true story of a man who,
after years of estrangement from his family, had become destitute.
One day, positioned near a train depot, he touched the shoulder of a passenger getting off the train.
"Mr," he said, "can you give me a dime?"
The passenger turned around, and the beggar started to hold out his hand.
But when the beggar saw the passenger's face, he went white with shock.
It was his father who he had not seen for years.
"Father, Father, do you know me?" He cried.
With tears in his eyes, the father threw his arms around his son.
"Oh, my son, at last I have found you!
I have found you!
You want a dime!
Everything I have is yours."
How like that we are.
We go around tapping the world on the shoulder, begging for a dime,
when our heavenly Father wants to give us everything He has.
We are content to scrounge for crumbs, when we have been invited to a banquet.
We settle for the emptiness of the world, when we can "be filled up with all the fullest of God."
What is the fullness?
Some say it is the state of nirvana where all troubles seize.
Some say that it is some state of charismatic ecstasy of "blessedness" in which we are free
of all pain and problems.
We began to taste the fullest of God as, through the process of prayer, the exercise of faith,
and the experience of love, we are transformed more and more into the imaging character of God
as we become more and more like Him.
God does not force Himself on anyone.
God's Holy Spirit impresses upon us our sins and convicts us of our need of Christ,
and touches our heart with His love and His Word and shows us Jesus
and invites us to give Him our lives.
And when we invite Jesus into our lives, God gives us Jesus and we give to God the control of our lives.
And when we turn over control to God, He fills our mind, our emotions, and our will.
The mind of God influences our thoughts.
The love of God warms our heart.
And the will of God becomes stronger than the pull of the world.
And we are filled up with God, and we began to think His thoughts, know His will, feel His love,
and experience the realms of His Presence.
This is our inheritance!
This is our real wealth!
Sermon was adapted from several sources by Dr. Harold L. White