Saturday 22 August 2015

United in the Father (Ephesians 1:3-5)

[ Preached at a weekend away with a local Chinese Church. Listeners were a combination of Mandarin, Cantonese and English speakers (including young children). The message was translated into Mandarin. ]

Are you Chinese?

I have a serious question for you: Are you… Chinese? How do you know… you are Chinese? Are you sure that you are Chinese?

Number 1: You can cook rice with one finger.

Number 2: Your cupboard has ten types of Chinese tea.

Number 3: You keep frozen drumsticks in ice-cream containers.

Number 4: Everything is wrapped in plastic.

Number 5: Your oven is not an oven.

(Source: Twitter #growingupasian)

It is easy to point to someone and say, “He’s Chinese!” It’s obvious. But can you point to someone and say, “That guy is definitely a Christian”?

For the next few days, we will be trying to answer that question by looking at the book of Ephesians. Why? Because Ephesians is a book about the church, that’s why. Ephesians is all about God’s family. But by the end of this weekend, I hope that we will be able to say, “Ephesians is about my church.” “Ephesians is about my family in Christ.”

Our theme for this weekend is: United to witness. Now, over the next few days, we will learn that the church has to be united in the Son as the body of Christ (that’s tomorrow afternoon). We will learn that the church is united by the Spirit. God gives us his Holy Spirit that lives in each one of us. That’s Sunday.

But tonight, we will see that the church has to be united in the Father. This is the most important lesson because what makes us a family in Christ is our Father in Heaven. The way that God unites us together as a church is by uniting us to himself as our loving Heavenly Father.

Tonight’s talk is short. We have three points from three verses (Chapter 1, verses 3, 4 and 5). Firstly, we learn that God the Father blesses us. Secondly, God chooses us. Thirdly, God loves us.

God blesses us

Firstly, God blesses us as our Father. This is verse 3: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”

Do you know what a funnel is? This is a funnel (see photo). When you have a big bottle of soy sauce (which you buy because it’s cheap) and you want to fill the small bottles you use at the table, you use a funnel. You pour the soy sauce on the top and fill up the small little bottles.

Now Ephesians says that God pours all his blessings into us through a funnel. That is, he pours every blessing from heaven into our lives - in Christ. It’s squeezed into our lives through Jesus Christ. Now why is that important?

Because often times, we look at God’s blessing from the wrong end of the funnel - from the big end. We say, “Where’s my blessing?” Or, we say, “Why is he getting more blessing that me?” We look at God’s blessing from the wrong end of the funnel - we look up to heaven asking God to bless us - when we should be looking at Christ. And we look around us and think that the person who is most blessed by God is the person who has the most blessing - the most money, the best health, the nicest car - and say, “Wah, God really loves that person. Look at all his blessing!”

Who comes to mind when you think of a rich person? For most of us, it’s Bill Gates. (The teens will think, ‘Mark Zuckerberg’ but the aunties won’t know who he is) Did you know that Bill Gates is giving away 99% of his money? Imagine you have a rich dad and he says to you, “I have 100 pounds, but I am only going to give you… one pound!” He gives one pound to this uncle, one pound to that auntie, one pound to your friend. He gives 99% of his money away and give you… one pound. What would you call that? A stingy dad!

Well, actually, Bill Gates is giving away 99% of his money not because he hates his children but because he loves his children. He wants to leave them enough so that they “can do something… but not a lot of money… so that they do nothing.” There is such a thing as too much - too much money. Too much blessing. (And too much, ice-cream!)

That’s Bill Gates. But that’s not God. God gives us 100% of his blessing; it says there, “every spiritual blessing in heaven” but he gives it to us in Christ. What’s the difference? Well, think about it. Christ was God’s son who had all the blessing in heaven… but he gave it up to die on the cross. Christ has all the riches of heaven but the bible says he became poor for our sakes.

It means that the person who is in Christ is not the person who has the most blessing but the one who is most generous with his blessing. He gives it away. He sacrifices for the good of others. In Christ, we have all the blessing of heaven. But that shouldn’t make us envious or greedy or spoilt. It should make us generous, sacrificial, thankful. Because God gave us his most precious possession, his only Son on the cross.

So the first thing we see is the Father blesses us. He blesses us with every spiritual blessing, but in Christ. In Christ. In Christ. In Christ. He’s the funnel. He’s the one we need to hold on to, not the blessing, but Christ.

God chooses us

Verse 4: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” This is a strange one because it says that God chooses us as our Father.

Fathers, how many of you chose your children. How many of you said, “I want my daughter… to be able to play the piano.” “I want a son who can play football.” You had no choice! Your son is your son. Your daughter is your daughter (whether she plays the piano or not!).

But the mums understand. When you were pregnant and you child was still in your tummy, you said, “Whoever you will be - boy or girl; tall or short; smart or simple - I will be your mum. I will love you.” Ephesians says that before we were born, God said, “I will love you.” Before the universe was made, in fact (verse 4: “the creation of the world”), God said, “I choose you to be in my family.”

But the big difference between the pregnant mum and God is: God knows what kind of person you are going to be. He knows you will reject him. He knows you will sin against him. But still he says, “I will love you. I will be your Father. I will send Jesus to die for your sins on the cross.”

Now look at verse 4 again. What does it mean that God chooses us to be “holy and blameless”? Why does it say that we are supposed to be “holy and blameless”? It means that God wants us to be like Jesus.

The words “holy and blameless” are used in the Old Testament to talk about two things: the priests and the sacrifices. The priests were holy - meaning, they were chosen to do a special thing - to serve God at the temple. To be holy means exclusive for God. And the priests spent their whole lives serving God and God alone (in the temple). Now the second thing it refers to are the sacrifices at the temple. The animals that were sacrificed, the vegetables that were sacrifices, were not leftovers or Sainsburys yellow sticker expiring cheapo stuff. No, they were pure and blameless.

So when God chooses you and me to be holy and blameless, what does this mean? It means we live for him. Do you get it? It means I don’t live for my own comfort. My life is a sacrifice for God.

Earlier, we said that God is a God who blesses us. With every spiritual blessing in heaven, he blesses us, like a father who empties out his whole bank account and says to his son, “Nah. For you.” But why does he bless us? So that we can be more and more like Jesus. So that we can generous, yes. But more so that we can reflect God’s generosity. Our lives are to be lived in worship of God, always giving glory to God; always giving thanks to God. Everything that God gives us in Christ is so that we will give him the glory!

A mother was praying for her son who left home. Now most mothers here pray for blessing, don’t you? You pray for God to bless your son or daughter, don’t you? But this mother’s son had left home and rejected his family and rejected God. He lived a sinful and destructive life. So she prayed, “God do everything and anything you can to bring my son to his knees.”

We want our children to be blessed by God. But do we pray for our children to worship God? Dare we say to God, “God do everything and anything you can to bring my son, my daughter, my husband, my wife, my brother, my sister… to their knees and call you their God?” We will if we understand that God has chosen us - not to be happy - but to be… holy. That’s his ultimate purpose for our lives. To be more and more like Jesus.

God loves us

Finally, we see that God loves us. He loves us.

Verse 5: “In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ.” The important word there is “adoption”. God loves us so much… that he adopted us into his family. None of us were born into Christianity. All of us were outside God’s family but one day he came to us, he said to us, “I will be your Father. You will be my daughter; my son.” He adopted us.

Many years ago I went to an orphanage, which is a home for children who do not have a mother or father. I went there and asked the aunties, “What can I do to help?” They said, “Just be a big brother.”

So I sat down on the couch and read the newspaper. Immediately, two kids sat next to me, on the right and on my left. They didn’t want to talk or disturb me. They just wanted to be near me. I read my paper and put it down… and there were more kids sitting around me, this time, on the floor around my feet. Here were children who were so starved for love; so starved for attention, that even sitting around a stranger reading his newspaper was enough for them.

I distinctly remember a five-year-old boy who ran out the door shouting, “Papa come already! Papa come already!” He ran out to the driveway, shouting, “Papa come already.” I looked outside but there was no one at the gate. The auntie told me, “He does this every day. His Papa never comes.” It was heart-breaking.

I tell you that story for two reasons. Number one: God has come to be our Heavenly Papa. He says to us, “I love you. I choose you. And I was you to live with me forever.”

But number two: The church is not an orphanage. Some of us come to CCCC because people are so loving. Here we find big brothers and big sisters who love us and really pay attention to us. But we have never, ever met God and we have never ever felt God embrace us and say to us, “I love you. I am your Heavenly Papa.” I say to you: CCCC is not an orphanage. It is God’s family. And God is our Heavenly Father. Do you know Him? Do you love Him?

Our theme for this weekend is United to witness. I was talking to XM last week and he said, “When I think of ‘united’, I think, ‘Manchester United’!”. That’s true, isn’t it? We think of a football team like Manchester United that works together and is well-known around the world. And sometimes we want our church to be like Manchester United - a church that works well together and known all around the world.

Do you know why Manchester United is so… united? It’s because of a ‘hair-dryer’. Seriously. Their (former) coach, a man named Alex Ferguson, would shout and scream at his players, “Hey you! Be united! Play better! Work harder!” until they were more united as a team. He shouted at them so often and so loud, the players said, that it was like having a 'hair-dryer' blow in your face! And you see, sometimes we think that’s what God does in the church. He tells us to work harder. He scolds us to fix our problems. Until we get it perfect.

Friends, it is possible to a church that is united to one another but is dis-united from God. It is possible to be a church that loves one another but hates God. And I say to you: That’s not the kind of unity we want for our church.

Before we talk about being united together or being united in mission as the church, tonight I want us to answer one simple question: Am I united to God? Do I know God’s love as my Heavenly Father; my Heavenly Papa?


Three things: God blesses us; God chooses us; God loves us.

God blesses us in Christ. The most important thing is not the blessing, it’s Christ. Not: do I have this blessing or that; but Do I have Jesus Christ?

God chooses us to be holy and blameless before his sight. It means what God wants most for your life and my life is not for me to be happy but to be holy. What God wants for your children is for them to bow their knees before Him and give their lives in worship to Him as God.

Finally, God loves us. We say that a lot of times: “God loves me, of course, he loves me.” But do you know that God loves us? When you pray to him, do you call him, “Papa?” And do you hear him say to you, “My son. My daughter. I love you.”

I pray that tonight, you will.

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