The Lord is with Us!
Photography by Don Blais
Above and Beyond
May 16, 2021
In Ephesians 3:20 Paul describes God as the one, “…who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine….”. What are your expectations of God? What do you imagine God can or will do? It is a very common idea that we get what we have coming to us. One of the things that stands out for me in Ephesians 3:20 is that God does not limit his involvement in our lives to what we deserve but that he goes above and beyond that standard in granting us grace and mercy. Considering God’s mercy, and the encouragement of Ephesians 3:20, we can follow the advice of Isaiah 55:6-7 which says, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” Isaiah encouraged the wicked to turn to the Lord expecting to be forgiven rather than receiving punishment. Isaiah wants us to expect mercy not judgment. When I think about someone being wicked, other people come to mind, certainly it doesn’t mean you and me, does it? Isaiah 53:6 says, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way…” Romans 3:23 agrees. It says, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” Do we really believe that God will pardon us if we have gone astray? The answer to that is found in many places in the Bible but Micah 7:18-19 says it as clearly as anywhere else. “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” Isaiah 1:18 also tells us, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” Imagine that! Your iniquities hurled into the depths of the sea and your sins completely washed away.
But that forgiveness comes at the great price that Jesus paid on our behalf. Isaiah 53:6b says “…the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Because Jesus paid that price, we can receive the righteousness that comes from God. Romans 3:22-24 explains, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.”
Many years ago, I read that Christianity is the only religion that is built on the idea that God has taken the initiative to establish a relationship with us. In John 15:16 Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you…” We do not need to earn God’s favor and there is nothing we can do to deserve it. In Jeremiah 31 God said he would establish a new covenant with people; one that is based on faith not following religious laws. That is what came to be through Jesus and as a result, God promised in verse 34, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” I understand that to mean that when we ask God’s forgiveness the record is wiped clean; God no longer remembers those things we have asked forgiveness for. That is part of what the Bible means when it speaks of being justified. Being justified by God makes me just-as-if I’d never sinned. Luke 18:10-14 tells this story. “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” The one who believed he had earned God’s favor because of his actions received none. It was the man who acknowledged the errors of his ways who was forgiven. It is God who delivers us from sin. The author of Psalm 40:1-7 understood that. He wrote, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.
Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare.
Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have opened; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, “Here I am, I have come — it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”
This speaks of being transformed by an ongoing relationship with God which resulted in the author choosing to let God be the Lord of his life. Along that same reasoning, in Romans 12:1 Paul suggests the following response. “Therefore I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.” His suggestion is that we acknowledge God’s gift to us by being living examples of a life of faith. We are not dependent on our own resources to do that. In Ephesians 3:16-19 he wrote, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
An unfortunate trait of many us is that too often we limit our expectations of others on the basis of their past behavior. We tend to hold onto the memory of their misdeeds and expect their past actions will be an accurate indication of future behavior. While that may prove to be true in some cases, that attitude on our part tends to rule out forgiveness and ignore God’s mercy. Where would we be if God treated us that way and didn’t believe we could be redeemed? In explaining his attitude toward us, in Isaiah 55:8-9 God said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” How can we truly be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God and still continue to define people according to their past? If, Isaiah 53:6 and Romans 3:23 are correct, then we have all sinned and are in need of forgiveness just like everyone else. As Paul said in Ephesians 2:1-5 “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved.”
When he wrote “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature…” he included himself as having needed and received salvation. Is it possible that we can not only be saved from the punishment due us because of our sins but that we can also be saved from our judgmental nature? Jesus seemed to believe that about us when he said in Luke 6:37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. There is further evidence he believed that in Luke 15:1-7. “Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Jesus is the good shepherd seeking the lost sheep. That includes you and me when we go astray but also many others. You and I are called to have a part in fulfilling that. In Ephesians 3:16-19 we have Paul’s prayer that we be strengthened in our inner being; that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith; that we might grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ; and be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
In verse 20 he wrote of God as “…able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…” When we daily walk in faith that power is at work in us and will show to the people around us.
The hymn You Are the Seed was written with that understanding. Please read the lyrics.
You are the seed that will grow a new sprout; you’re a star that will shine in the night;
you are the yeast and a small grain of salt, a beacon that glows in the dark.
You are the dawn that will bring a new day; you’re the wheat that will bear golden grain;
you are the sting and a soft, gentle touch, my witnesses where-e’er you go.
You are the flame that will lighten the dark, sending sparkles of hope, faith, and love;
you are the shepherds to lead the whole world through valleys and pastures of peace.
You are the friends that I chose for myself, the word that I want to proclaim.
You are the new kingdom built on a rock where justice and truth always reign.
You are the life that will nurture the plant; you’re the waves in a turbulent sea;
yesterday’s yeast is beginning to rise, a new loaf of bread it will yield.
There is no place for a city to hide, nor a mountain can cover it’s might;
may your good deeds show a world in despair a path that will lead all to God.
Go my friends, go to the world, proclaiming love to all,
messengers of my forgiving peace, eternal love.
Be, my friends, a loyal witness, from the dead I arose;
“Lo, I’ll be with you forever, till the end of the world.”
You are the seed. Through you, Christ is transforming the world.