A Bigger Story, A Better Hero

My kids love stories. It doesn’t really matter what story I read, Cat in the Hat, Fox in Socks, Spiderman, or Star Wars, my kids just want to hear stories, they love them and they always want more. But when my oldest son Hutch, was 2 ½ years old, I decided to change up the routine.

I didn’t read him a story, I told him a story. A story about “Hutch, the Dragon Slayer.”

It was a simple story really, that I made up on the spot, wanting to give my boy an adventurous tale where he could be the hero. He would set out to save the village, journey up the treacherous mountain, defeat the dragon, save the princess, and live happily ever after.

Do you know what story he wanted the next night?

And the next?

“Dadda, can you tell me about Hutch and the dragon, and the dragon cave, and the sword, and my spear and my shield, and the princess?”

“I’m sorry, what story?”

He loved it, he was constantly thinking about it and though it didn’t change, he wanted to hear it over and over and over again.

bigger story, better hero

We are a people who love stories. They entertain. They distract. They have the power to take us into other worlds and adventures; they allow us to experience love, fear, excitement and wonder all within the safety of our own home or local movie theater. How many of you have grown up on comic books, video games, fantasy novels, fairy tales and princess stories?

Stories captivate our attention, but more than that,  they make us yearn for something greater: for our own story to make sense and to have a plot line where we have significance.

I remember back when James Cameron’s Avatar came out, news outlets shared about people seeing the movie over and over in 3D, not wanting to go home, not wanting to go back to their normal lives because normal life just wasn’t as good.

Avatar was a fun three hours that took them into another world, but it was a defective story, defective because it didn’t help make sense of the people’s own stories. It only made their story look worse.

But this phenomena is not limited to high-tech science fiction fantasy. For me, in high school and college, it was movies like Braveheart and Gladiator, or a series like Band of Brothers, movies and tv that showed real men thrown into impossible situations revealing their true colors in the face of serious evil. But then the movie ends or the show is over, we go back to living lives that look very different.

A friend from college posted on Facebook a while back, “multitasking between bench pressing and fantasy football, never in my life have I felt so much like a man…” Now, nothing against working out or even fantasy football, but is that all there is in this grand adventure? Is that the peak of our story?

Where are the Roman soldiers to defeat? Where’s the English tyrant to defy? The Nazi army to overcome? The dragon and the dragon cave, the sword, the shield, and the spear?

The problem is, none of those stories are good enough, we need a better story; not one that pulls us out of our world, but one that makes sense of it; one that calls our name and pulls our story into a bigger story. We need the “Big Story.” And that story is found in the Bible. Pastor/author Justin Buzzard calls it the “one true story that can make sense of all we encounter in this broken and beautiful world.”

The problem then, if it really is the Bible, isn’t that you haven’t had access to this story, but rather, maybe you haven’t had the keys to unlock it.

bigger story, better hero edit

Jesus Makes Sense of the Bible

Have you ever been watching a movie and a friend joins you late? It seems like the rest of the time they’re leaning over and asking, “Who’s that?” “Why’s that important?” “What are they talking about?” They never really get the full story.

Now, it doesn’t just have to be the beginning. While the beginning usually sets the stage, many movies have their crucial moments later on (think: Sixth Sense) that brings all the pieces together.

That key moment in the Bible comes in the New Testament in the Gospel of Luke, in chapter 24. Two followers of Jesus were walking away from Jerusalem toward a village called Emmaus talking about his trial, crucifixion and burial. Jesus, some sort of disguise, joins their little walking party and asks them what they’re talking about. They can’t believe he doesn’t know, everyone in Jerusalem knows about these events, but even more: the tomb was found empty and angels said Jesus was alive.

But an empty tomb hasn’t brought these followers joy, just confusion. So Jesus is compelled to clear things up:

Luke 24:25-27  And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

I love that story because, oh! how I long to have heard that conversation; to hear Jesus open up the Old Testament and explain how it pointed to Him.

20 verses later Jesus appears to His disciples and He does it again:

Luke 24:44-45  Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,

Jesus is saying that the entire Old Testament is about Him. Jesus is the key to understanding the Big Story of the Bible. But in what way is it all about Jesus? He continues…

Luke 24:46-47  and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,  and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

All of the Old Testament is pointing to Jesus – His death, His resurrection and His good news shared with the nations. It’s not that there a few prophecies scattered among the Old Testament, but that the entire Old Testament and therefore the entire Bible is about Jesus from beginning to end.

“In the Old Testament God points forward to him and promises his coming in the future. In the New Testament God proclaims him to be the one who fulfills all those promises.” – Vaughan Roberts.

Meaning we can only begin to make sense of the Big Story of the Bible if we first know that it is about Jesus and the salvation God offers through Him. Creation (Genesis 1-2) sets the stage, the Fall (Genesis 3) sets up the problem, and the rest of the scriptures unfolds the incredible rescue plan, pointing to and culminating in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

As a better Noah, Jesus saves the remnant from the grave.

As a better Isaac, Jesus is the sacrificed One and only son.

As a better Moses, Jesus frees his people by his own blood, from slavery to sin and death, and as the law bringer places it in their hearts rather than tablets of stone.

As a better Joshua, Jesus leads his people to a better land.

As a better Judge, Jesus is the savior that breaks the cycle of sin.

As a better King, Jesus reigns because of his perfect obedience to the Father; as the great shepherd over his people with all wisdom and authority.

As a better prophet, Jesus is the full representation of God, not just His words.

And a better Ezra and Nehemiah, Jesus leads his people from complete exile and alienation from God into a kingdom that will never be shaken.

And there is far more! The rest of the New Testament follows the church and its leaders who unpack the implications of Jesus’ radical disruption of the plot line, and help us to live in light of our place in the story until the glorious ending when everything broken will be undone.

Genesis 1:1  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Revelation 21:1  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away…

From Creation to New creation, God has had a plan to bless and dwell with His people and the plan all along was for it to happen through Jesus.

Jesus makes sense of the Bible, the Big Story. However, it is not just a story.

bigger story, better hero 2

Jesus Makes Sense of History & Your Story

Harry Potter is just a story. Seven books that tell of seven years of a young wizard’s life that ends in an epic battle with evil. Throughout the series you get hints of what must come: marked with a scar, a strange connection between Harry and this evil one, a prophecy that tells of his fate. But when the prophecies are fulfilled and the story ends, it doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) cause you to run around and tell your friends, “We are saved! Voldemort is gone! Harry lives! We don’t have to live our lives in fear anymore!”  That would be ridiculous, because it’s just a story. Beyond your entertainment, it doesn’t actually affect you.

But the big story of the Bible is different.

The Bible is revealed into and connected to our world, which means that Jesus is also the one that makes sense of history.

This isn’t just the truth of a religion, this is THE truth, the story that explains the entire world. Adam’s sin that causes problems for humanity in the Bible is the same sin and death that causes problems for everyone on earth. From our physical decay, to our relational problems and the hate and selfishness that pervades our world, the Bible understands, the Bible explains. It’s written for this world and the answers it gives are for this world too.

Galatians 4:4 says that God sent Jesus “when the fullness of the time came…” God didn’t just place Jesus in the pages of a book, but sent Him as flesh and blood into a real geographical location on a day, month and year that is part of our timeline.

Jesus came, not just into a story, but into history, directly into our world to bring rescue to all who will trust in His name. And it is this news, this rescue and restoration Jesus brings for which our world still longs.

But if Jesus is the one who makes sense of the Big Story, and History, He is also the one who will make sense of your story.

Because well, what is your story really? What’s the plot line? What’s the adventure and who is the hero?

I think if we’re honest with ourselves, our stories leave a lot to be desired. They fall short of what we’d hope for in a story because of our failures, our lack of power, and our inability to see a purpose that lasts beyond our spot in the ground.

Much of the Big Story of the Bible is anticipation for the rescuer, but the rescuer has come. His name is Jesus. Yet often we still live like He hasn’t. We’re in a bigger story, but we’re still trying to be our own hero; trying to provide our own rescue and we can’t do it.

This is even written into the juggernauts of modern storytelling: the Marvel Cinematic Universe. From the first time these “heroes” have assembled, we witness that not only are they not strong enough to do it alone, but often they create bigger messes just by being there. Yet that is part of the appeal. I think we are drawn to these flawed heroes because deep down we know that even if we were super, we still wouldn’t be enough.

But here’s the good news: the Big Story isn’t about Hutch the Dragon Slayer, it isn’t about Derick the Pastor, it’s not about You the (CEO, student, athlete, Mom, Dad, Adventurer, Maven, whatever), but it is about what God is doing through Jesus. When we discover that 1) He is the hero and not us, 2) He is inviting us to join His story, and 3) in His story our story makes sense and has purpose, only then will you find what you were really meant to do: walk with Jesus to bring God glory.

It’s simple really: We bring our problems. We bring our need for rescue. He brings the solution, and the solution is Himself. Jesus is the hero that conquers dragons.

bigger story, better hero 3

Maybe it’s time to dust off that Bible again and see Jesus as the hero we need, and the Big Story that brings Him to you.

Will you trust Him with your story? Will you enter into His?


Derick Zeulner is an associate pastor at South Shores Church. He has a M.A. in Theology from Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, CA and he loves the wacky adventures of doing life with his wife, Rebecca, and 4 kids.


Resources for seeing Jesus throughout the Scriptures:


The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones

The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross by Carl Laferton


The Big Story: How the Bible Makes Sense Out of Life by Justin Buzzard

The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story by D.A. Carson

God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible by Vaughan Roberts

Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek & Find Christ in the Old Testament by David Murray

According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible by Graeme Goldsworthy



This post was originally published at http://www.southshores.org .


From Rocks to Berries

At the 1 year birthday of my daughter Avonlea we held a little party for her and her friends. It was a strawberry themed party because that’s what my daughter asked (or what her parents thought would be cute). For one of the games, which involved a large bucket of dirt, my wife, Rebecca, painted rocks to look like strawberries for the kids to find – it was a hit.


Before the party a friend was over to help with some of the preparation and she asked, “How’d you find so many rocks that look like strawberries?” And I laughed. And it still makes me laugh. Because none of the rocks looked like strawberries until Rebecca made them look like strawberries.

Similarly, when we’re in heaven, I can envision an angel saying to Jesus, “Where did you find all these holy people, these people that look like You?” And I imagine Jesus would chuckle a little bit, because none of us looked like Him, none. Not one. But God will have made us look just like Jesus.


For what Rebecca did with a little paint, God does as the supreme artist, not just covering but actually changing us from the inside out. Our heart, our mind, our priorities, our desires, our passions our love — turning rocks into real strawberries, sinful humans into righteous, holy, Christ-like saints. And He does so, in concert with us, across the grand journey of our lives.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
1 Thessalonians 5:23 ESV


By the way, we put real strawberries on her cake, not rocks.

He Prays for You

My prayer life is inadequate. There I said it. Anyone willing to join me in my confession? It’s not often enough. I don’t always know the words to say. And sometimes it feels like I’m just going through the motions. The truth of the matter is, I wonder how often I’m even aware of what I really need?

dennis-inadequateprayersEach night when I put my kids to bed I try to give them an opportunity to pray. It is often a simple list of thankfulness or requests for a fun day. Sometimes they recall people who are sick, or thank God for Jesus’ death on the cross, and sometimes they don’t feel like praying at all (and I don’t make them). But there are also times when they want to pray, but just don’t know what to say. It is these times that they ask if I will pray with them, for them, so they can repeat after me. They want to pray, but they feel inadequate.

Sounds familiar?

Hebrews 7:25 says of Jesus, “Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

Jesus always lives to make intercession for us. He is our great high priest. Our great “go-between” who knows the right words to say. This week I was encouraged by this paragraph:

“It is a consoling thought that Christ is praying for us, even when we are negligent in our prayer life; that He is presenting to the Father those spiritual needs which were not present to our minds and which we often neglect to include in our prayers; and that He prays for our protection against the dangers of which we are not even conscious, and against the enemies which threaten us, though we do not notice it. He is praying that our faith may not cease, and that we may come out victoriously in the end.” Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 403

So take heart, friends – the right prayers always being offered by Jesus on your behalf and God is pleased to answer Him. Let that knowledge encourage you, not to skip prayer, but to go ahead and join Him. Because, as my kids will tell you, it’s always easier to pray when you know someone else is too. So pray. Pray with Jesus, knowing He prays for you.


Bitterness or Blessing?

We all go through hard times, disappointment and pain. But how are you dealing with it? How is it affecting you?

Grab a Bible and do this little exercise in the book of Ruth:

  1. Read Ruth  1:1-5 | Write out the bad things that  happen to Naomi.
  2. Read Ruth 1:6-18 | Write out the good things that  happen to Naomi.
  3. Read Ruth 1:19-21 | What does Naomi focus on?
  4. Ask yourself the question, “What do I focus on? Bitterness or blessing?”


Naomi has a lot of bad things happen in her life and because of her firm faith in the sovereignty and providence of God, she assesses that God’s hand has been at work in this bitterness. And she is right; God’s hand of judgment has been on her family and she has suffered personally for it. But what is she missing out on? She doesn’t see God’s hand in bringing good things to her too. She doesn’t see that He provides the food that paves the way for her return to the covenant land of blessing and rest. She doesn’t see the highly unusual loyalty and love from her formerly pagan daughter-in-law, Ruth, who  gives up everything to be with her through her pain. She misses out on the blessings and only focuses on the bitterness.

Now, I don’t blame Naomi for this. It’s the human way. I  do the same thing. When I have problems my vision becomes very near sighted and those troubles become the defining features of my life. Yet, when I read chapter 1 of Ruth, I discover that I don’t want to be the person that misses God’s good things even when I am suffering from  painful things.

I’m not advocating just “positive thinking” or even for you to forget your problems, but rather for us to have eyes open to the greater works of God. It’s not about your glass being half-empty or half-full, it’s about knowing where the water is coming from; it’s about raising your eyes to the Source. This doesn’t mean that you stuff your problems away,  stop bringing them before God or keep from sharing with others, but it does mean that you express your faith in God by taking time to look for, thank God for, and share with others the good things in your life as well.

It’s not about your glass being half-empty or half-full, it’s about knowing where the water is coming from; it’s about raising your eyes to the Source.

So, here’s what I’d encourage you to do. If you find yourself regularly bummed out or depressed because of the harder, more bitter things in your life: Make a list of the bitter things (that you will continue to pray for, work on and share with others) and then make a list of the blessings (and try to make that list 3 times as long).

But, how do you do it? How do you find the good things to list out?

  1. Pray. Begin to ask God to open your eyes to His hand of blessing at work in your life.
  2. Provision. Think of how God is providing for your normal daily needs.
  3. People. Think about the people God has brought into your life, specifically other believers that God is working through to show you His love.
  4. Ask others. Maybe you really are like Naomi and you just can’t see it. Then it’s probably time to meet with a close friend and tell them your chapter 1, and let them help you read between your bitternesses and help you find the sweet that God is already blessing you with… even as you continue to pray for the harder things to be resolved.
  5. Christ. Ultimately, we have been given every spiritual blessing in Christ. His death in place of ours. Our life filled by His. If we forget this, we will become bitter, because we will encounter very difficult things like cancer, unemployment, death of loved ones and more, and it will be the love of the One who entered our pain beyond what any other friend can ever do, that will help us to still see God’s smiling face.

How did it work out for Naomi? Well, God’s blessings became too much for her to ignore. In chapter 2, verse 20, she begins to admit that God has not stopped in His kindness, like she had first thought. And by the end of the story, the same women she told to call her “Bitter” praised God for providing her with redemption.

We will go through hard times, it’s unavoidable, but even then God has not stopped in His kindness toward us, and in Christ God has provided for our redemption, leading us to glory.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified. – Romans 8:28-30

reflections: Ephesians chapter four

Chapter four kicks off the second half of the book of Ephesians with a greater focus on practical living as opposed to the thick doctrinal focus in the first three chapters. The primary point for this second half is to live a life worthy of the calling (as expressed in the previous chapters) through unity in the Body of Christ and personal holiness. Here are my reflections:

Ephesians 4:1-16

  • Who we are and what we have in Christ matters. The weight of every command in this chapter in following is completely based in the riches that God has poured out for us in Christ. We must never forget God’s incredible generosity and how it defines the focus of our life.
  • We have been called greatly & we have been called first. It is a great calling and it can be overwhelming… how do we honor the God who has greatly honored us? But we have also been called first… which means that we do not earn the riches, but the riches have been given and we are simply trying to live in light of them.
  • We must have an attitude of unity. There are types of attitudes that can cause division, (you’ve seen them, maybe you’ve had one) but there are also attitudes that encourage and foster unity. These are: humility, gentleness and patience. These are not easy characteristics, they take work, but they unify the church and God cares immensely about that.
  • The church is unified, but it is also diverse and gifted. Paul gives us two little blips on the gifts. In the first, he mentions that to each one grace is given as Christ apportioned it. Everyone in the body has a gift and that gift is important and necessary for the body! This makes up the diversity of the church and shows how everyone has a part! Secondly, Paul mentions some particular gifts – ones that are essential for the growth and protection of the church. Pastors can understand this as, “Wow, I’m a gift to you… aren’t I so great!” or “Wow, God has given me to you, how may I be of continual service to His church.” I think you see the diference.
  • We need a better understanding of our role in growth.  The teaching, the instruction, the giving of the word by the people God has placed in your church is not just for your individual growth. Hear this! Too often we are so concerned with whether or not we are “being fed,” whether or not each sermon hits that magical spot that causes me to grow miraculously and makes my inner spirit all warm and tingly…. Paul says, Knock it off! See the bigger picture! Is the word being given to feed you, yes, but not just you… and you shouldn’t be “eating” just so that you grow, taking no part in the growth of the whole body! It is for the whole church! And you have a part in it.  Paul is clearly calling us to mutual responsibility for the growth of this church!
  • We need to be the wonder of the Church.  God saw it fit in his plan to take a divided people and unite them together to display his glory and wisdom… we should therefore desire greatly to be those people… united; declaring to the world that we are his disciples by loving one another.
Ephesians 4:17-24
  • Sometimes the world seems attractive. At that time Paul felt it was necessary to remind the church that they should not be just like the world around them. The world gets to live for it’s self and in the moment that is what sounds best. But it is not, not even for us… so Paul takes his readers into the heart of the self focused life.
  • The self-focused life is delusional. If you’re living for yourself and you’ve rejected Christ as your King then your world is upside-down and dark. This doesn’t mean your dumb or not intelligent… but it does mean that you’re missing out on the right kind of intelligence:  The ability to grasp the truth of God and the Good News of Jesus Christ.
  • The self-focused life is unsatisfying. This is sort of a paradox: if you live your life for your own satisfaction, then you will never be satisfied. Because ultimate satisfaction cannot be found with you at the center of your purpose and pleasure… It can only be found in seeking God above all else.
  • The Christ-focused life is one of great learning and growth. Christ is the ultimate subject, the ultimate teacher and the ultimate environment for learning to take place. He is ready to help us grow… we cannot grow without Him… we cannot chose the new life without Him.
  • The (Christ-focused) new life is not like the old. It is markedly different… it looks different because it is different.
  • The change has already happened . If you are in Christ you are already new… live like it!
  • The change is occurring right now. The Holy Spirit is actively renewing your mind, patterning it after the mind of Christ rather than your old ways of thinking. It’s a process and it takes time, but praise God that He is the one involved, so work with Him as He works in you!
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
  • In Christianity, the rules are based in the relationship. Everything that Paul tells us to do or to not do is based first and foremost in the relationship we have to Christ. These are not rules to earn favor or position with Christ, but rather because we are already in Christ and because He is at work in us we should live a certain way. This is how we honor the One who has given us the greatest of honors. So we should cherish the opportunity to be given commands that will allow our lives to bring joy the Father.
  • In Christianity, the rules have a personal purpose and a community purpose. Each command about lying, stealing, anger, etc. has first an application to our own lives, obeying will lead us to greater personal holiness, but they also are intended for the sake of the Body of Christ. Each command builds up the unity of the church, helps those in the church who have less, or helps us to keep the devil away from taking advantage of us. Remember, when we seek holiness it is also for the Church. When we sin, it is also to the detriment of the Church.
  • In Christianity, the rules will be followed and they will be broken. This does not mean that those who are able to follow them better can lord it over those who are going through a hard time or are just barely making it by. Paul’s next-to-final admonition in this section is that we be people who deal with each other (especially when failing in sin) with kindness, compassion and forgiveness. Paul knows that we will fail, and when we do, these are the qualities that are to be expressed toward the fallen… because Christ has dealt with us and our sin in the same way.
  • In Christianity, the rules can be summed up: “Be imitators of God & live a life of love.” We are His children and we are to exhibit the familial likeness. What’s our model? Jesus Christ on the cross, showing the greatest love of all. This is the standard of our love. This is how we display the glory of God. Love one another.

a week late #3 – reflections: Ephesians chapter three

(Due to the busyness of last week I have several posts I hand intended to write, but just never got to them… here is number three)

Chapter three of Ephesians serves as a prolonged capstone to the ideas presented in the first two chapters. Paul starts by turning to prayer, but then is sidetracked into a discussion of why he is a prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles, and then finally returns to his prayer for his readers. Here are my reflections:

Ephesians 3:1-13

  • Distractions can be from God. When I was first trying to understand the structure of this section I kept getting annoyed at the seeming disconnect between verses 1 and 2. Finally, with some help of smarter people (scholars), I recognized that Paul was beginning in prayer, but had a thought… and he chose to follow that thought (for 12 verses). Paul recognized that as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, this may cause some disconcertment to his readers and they needed to know more about his story.
  • Our own story of change can present the Gospel and God’s mighty hand. Paul makes sure his readers know that his change was not one of his own cleverness, but the God who had grace on him and poured out revelation. Paul saw himself as the “least(er) of God’s people” and so was able to point to God’s mighty power in whatever was accomplished through Paul.
  • The mystery was in the mechanism. The great mystery of Christ was not that Gentiles (foreigners, non-Jews) were brought into the people of God, but how it was done… through the death of Jesus Christ and the proclamation of His Gospel message. These mechanisms of the mystery then allowed not just conversion to the old system, but being made into a new people with equal standing. Through the Gospel, in Christ Jesus.
  • The purpose of the Church – make God’s manifold wisdom known. Yes, Jesus died so that God could be reconciled to man, and so that he could dwell with a holy people, but this is only the penultimate goal… the ultimate goal: God’s glory. That by taking a rebellious and divided people and bringing them together (church) and to himself, God can show off to the world and to the heavenly beings his incredible multifaceted wisdom. Declaring that His ways are the better ways. Even in suffering, loss, poverty, and abuse, God’s people will continue to praise God, prove Satan wrong, and actually be happier in their sufferings than Satan’s people are in their maximizing of possessions and pleasures… this is the manifold wisdom of God displayed.
  • We need to know and proclaim the wonder of the Church.  Paul never got over the wonder of the great doctrine of the church, nor that he had been commissioned to make it known to the world. We are notn apostles, as Paul was. We have not received fresh revelation. But the revelation is ours no less than it was his, and our responsibility to know it and proclaim it is the same as Paul’s.
  • We need to be the wonder of the Church.  God saw it fit in his plan to take a divided people and unite them together to display his glory and wisdom… we should therefore desire greatly to be those people… united; declaring to the world that we are his disciples by loving one another.
Ephesians 3:14-21
  • Prayer is worth getting back to. As I mentioned before, Paul takes a diverting thought for a few blocks, but here he returns to the very prayer he had already intended. Paul, a man who knew that God was sovereign and working out His divine plan was compelled to be part of it through praying for his fellow believers.
  • We need God’s power. Having done all that Paul can to help his readers understand who they are in Christ, Paul does not simply jump to telling them to just live it out on their own strength. He knows that left on their own they will be discouraged and defeated. Instead, he prays for the Spirit to empower them.
  • We need Christ’s presence. This is the verse from which I took my blog’s name. Paul is praying for Christians, so it is not for non-believers to initially come to Christ, but for Christians to submit themselves to the continual rule of Christ in their heart. Christ’s presence, His dwelling is a ruling presence/dwelling. This blog too is for believers: to encourage you to be filled with Christ, His Word, His Spirit, His rule…
  • We need to grasp Christ’s love. It is vast! It is knowable and yet it also surpasses knowledge. It is most clearly seen in Jesus on the cross.
  • We need to mature into who God has us to be. A wonderful result of being empowered by the Spirit, indwelt by Christ, and understanding His great love… we change, we grow, we mature.
  • To the glory of God, who does more. More than we can have asked for or imagined.
  • This can be a disappointing prayer. It may not be the prayer we would have prayed for ourselves (Lord, give me this or change this or fix this), but it is the prayer we need. God is a good Dad and cares about our hurts and wants and needs, but He also is a Dad that is working out something even greater in us: that despite pain, or hard times, we as His children can praise Him, can bless others, can reveal His great wisdom and glory into this world… by His power, His presence, His love, and His fulness revealed in us.

reflections: Ephesians chapter two

We have now unwittingly covered Ephesians chapter two in its entirety (in length, not depth) and so I’d like to give you some of my own reflections on this incredible chapter taking us from “once were”, to “now are,” and “forever will be.”

Ephesians 2:1-10

  • Apart from God we are, in fact, dead. Unfortunately it seems that we get the idea that simply because people are walking around, doing business, eating, drinking and seemingly living life that we are in fact alive. Yet, here our experience is an illusion compared to the biblical truth. Beating hearts and breathing lungs are no comparison to being spiritually alive. Paul can say, “As for you, you were dead,” and it is a true claim about each and every person.
  • Our death is complete. There is no self-revival, no self-resuscitation. Paul shows us that the only thing that dead people do is stay enslaved to the world, the devil, and the flesh (our natural, sinful desires). Dead people do not get alive of their own merit, their own charm, their smarts or good looks… the dead stay dead… destined for the judgement and wrath of a holy God that does not associate with spiritually dead slaves.
  • But God. In our desperation, in our destitution, unable to do anything to save ourselves, God moves. This is the Gospel (good news): that despite our wretchedness, God acts in order to make us alive. Why? His love, His mercy, His grace, His kindness… God moves to save us because God wants to. Praise God!
  • We were made alive to live. This seems like a silly statement, but it is gospel truth, and one we fail to realize (or at least to put into practice). We have been made alive, we have been raised with Christ and seated in the heavenly places. The world is no longer our home… so its sin should not be ours. The devil is no longer the ruler of our domain, but Jesus Christ is our King… so we live under His rule. And our flesh having died with Christ is no longer our most powerful force within us, but the Spirit who dwells in us. Do not climb back into the grave! Live!
  • We are His trophies. Now, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t make a trophy in my own likeness, let alone actually use me as a trophy. It doesn’t seem like there would be much honor to bestow with that. But God thinks differently than I. He tells me that I am a trophy, of His mighty power to convert a dead rebel into a living son, and of His grace because I deserved none of it. Thereby, my very existence now points to God, points to His rich and incredible grace.
  • God. Not you. Just in case you forgot… Paul makes it very clear in verses 8-10, that your new life is not your doing… but the God who is generous beyond anything we can comprehend.
Ephesians 2:11-22
  • Gentiles were missing out. Now, unless you a descendant of Abraham (Jewish), then you too were missing out. Israel was God’s people… not part of Israel, not part of the blessings, the covenant, the law, the hope… without God. (Do you know the general timeline of the Old Testament? It’d be worth looking into… It’s helpful to have a bigger picture, see my abbreviated one here)
  • But Christ. He took those far away and brought them near. Just not in the way that they thought… it was not for a new way of converting people to Judaism, but to create a new man, a new race of people united in Christ and united to God by Christ. This trumped everything people had been expecting… and is the wonderful new truth we get to live in. We were not just made alive, we were not just saved, but we were saved into a people! A people with a new way to relate to God and a new purpose.
  • We are new. New citizens of God’s Kingdom, new family members of God’s household, and new stones being added together to make up a temple where God dwells. Again, When God saves he doesn’t just get rid of the bad of before, He takes us into SO MUCH BETTER. An existence with full equality and unity and purpose; not to mention the promise of an existence intimately connected to God’s presence.
  • God gives. God is a giver, a saver, a planner, a doer, a maker of people and a breaker of walls. All out of his own generosity and for His own glory. Praise Him.

reflections: Ephesians chapter one

Well, our new service, South Shores Remix, has now had its second service and I am very encouraged and excited for the future of this branch of South Shores Church. It has had great support from the pastors, staff, and congregation and I look forward to what new joys the next service will hold. That said, in two Sundays we have covered the first chapter of Ephesians (in two parts) and I’d like to reflect on some key ideas that have stuck with me:

Ephesians 1:1-14

  • God is generous. As Paul lists out all that God has planned, worked out through Christ and given through the Spirit, I am overwhelmed by God’s generosity (freely gives, according to his pleasure, because of his glorious grace) that is to our benefit and His glory. It’s my hope that we (me too) will see God’s generosity as the pattern for our (my) own generosity.
  • We have every spiritual blessing in Christ. If you are “in Christ” then you have it all. Not some, not part, not a chance of getting a little more… you have everything. Upon trusting in Christ you can know that you have been chosen, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, let in on the purpose of the whole plan, sealed, and given a down-payment guaranteeing and giving a taste of the full inheritance (ie dwelling with God). And all these blessings are only found through Christ Jesus.
  • Good doctrine leads to good praise. Paul had an incredible knowledge of God and what God has done… and he praised him wildly. The 202 word sentence of verses 3-14 is a rapidly growing snowball of theology and exaltation because Paul couldn’t separate the two. We shouldn’t either.
Ephesians 1:15-23
  • Be thankful for other believers. It is a simple part of this chapter, but to me it speaks volumes: “ever since I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you.” We too should be thankful for other Christians.
  • Pray for other believers. Paul doesn’t stop at being thankful for them, he prays for them. He prays a deep prayer that fits exactly with their needs. And their needs are our needs.
  • We need to know God and know His blessings. Sure, Paul tells us about God and he lists out the blessings, but his prayer is that the people reading would grow in their understanding of them and their direct experience of those blessings. This week I discovered a new function on our church copy machine: guided book scanning. Now, this machine had always had this capability, but I didn’t know about it, and I certainly hadn’t put it to use. Paul wants us to know these blessings (found in verses 3-14) and put them into use (because we already have them… all).
  • God has power for those who believe. What kind of power? The kind of power that raised Christ from the dead and placed him in authority over everything. Power that shows we too will conquer death and will join as co-heirs with Christ. Even when we’d like to see more of God’s power working right now in the thing we need right now… we need to rest knowing that He has shown His power and taken care of the most important things of all (death and an eternal dwelling place with Him).
I hope that you too are being encouraged and challenged by this great letter of Paul. Keep reading, keep praying, and keep expecting God to continue to work in you as you seek after Him.