Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Impressed
by Jack Wald | October 18th, 2009

Ephesians 1:3-14

In May 1982 for our fifth wedding anniversary, I decided to surprise Annie. We belonged to a health food coop at the time, because the food was less expensive and because we wanted to eat healthy foods. Part of what made it inexpensive is that we all took turns doing the work and on this day it was Annie’s turn. When I dropped her off at the coop I told her I would bring a dress for her to wear when I picked her up later that day so we could go out to dinner to celebrate our anniversary. But what I did not tell her is that I had made reservations for a room at a nice resort and arranged for our neighbor to take our two daughters for the night. I packed her an overnight bag and bought a pretty nightgown as a gift.

All this was in the trunk of the car and when I picked her up she tried guessing where we were going. As we went along she figured we were going to Oglebay Park but she only thought we would have dinner. When I pulled up in the parking lot and opened the trunk and she saw the overnight bag, she had a wonderful look of surprise and joy on her face.

The Message translation of Ephesians 1 carries this sense of planning and joy as God set out to surprise us with a great gift.
Ephesians 1:3-14
How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.
7–10 Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.
11–12 It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.
13–14 It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.

God loves us. It’s amazing but true. God loves us. I mean he really loves us. It is way beyond the sentiment that prompts you to send a greeting card to someone for their birthday. It is far deeper than the love we have when we first fall in love and are preoccupied day and night with thoughts of our new love. God loves us more than we can imagine.

And the problem is we are separated from him. He loves us but it is impossible for us to be with him. So what did God do? Did he send a card, “Missing you. Wish you were here.”?

Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.

From the beginning he sat down and thought through what it would take for us to be with him. In the beginning he had us in mind and when he thought about us he knew he had a problem on his hands.

When he created us he wanted us to love him back and in order to do that he had to give us the freedom to choose to love him or reject him. If he created us with no other option than to love him, then the relationship would be less than satisfying. To create a robot that tells you each day, “I love you,” does not provide any satisfying relationship. A despotic ruler who demands his subjects tell him they love him will hear what he wants to hear but will not receive the love of his people he desires.  Only someone who has a choice can say “I love you,” and it means something.

So God created us with free will. We can choose to love him or reject him or be indifferent to him.

When God created us with free will, he created the possibility of sin and we choose to disobey him. This is the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis. God gave the whole incredible garden filled with delights but said, “Do not eat the fruit of this one tree.” Adam and Eve delighted in all the wonderful gifts in the garden but then chose to yield to the temptation of the devil and that is what happens with each of us. Each of us when we are given the option to choose, choose selfishly. It is our nature to choose imperfectly.

So what to do? God is incredibly creative. Even a simple look at the beauty and intricacy of the created world reveals that – and God used his creativity to bring us back into an intimate relationship with him.

God revealed himself to Abraham and began to instruct Abraham and his descendants about who he was. There were many myth stories circulating around the ancient world in which the gods acted in very human ways as they fought and seduced to get what they wanted. God revealed himself to Abraham not as a human god but as a holy and transcendent God who loves his creation. He revealed himself as a holy God and began to work in Abraham to create a man who would be set apart from the sinful behavior of the world.

God revealed to Moses a set of laws that instructed Israel about his character. Obedience to the law, perfect obedience to the law, would lead people into the intimacy with God he desired.

But our nature once again proved to be an obstacle. No matter how powerfully God revealed himself; no matter how many times God forgave and started again, his chosen people rebelled and reverted to worship of other gods.

So what to do? Even in the creation of the law God began to create an understanding of what he would do next. He taught through the law the importance of shed blood as a means of paying the price for sin. Through the instructions for the High Priest he taught the necessity of having someone who intercedes with him on behalf of those who are separated from him.

There were four hundred years between the last prophet in Israel and the birth of Jesus. Israel waited with great anticipation for God to come and save them. But only God knew when he would act. We don’t know how time works in heaven, but perhaps the anticipation Israel had was surpassed by the even greater anticipation of heaven as the time approached for Jesus to be born as a human.

We do know what happened on earth when Jesus was born. There were angelic visitations to Zechariah, Mary, Joseph and the shepherds. The magi came from the east to see what the stars had revealed to them.

What happened in heaven? Maybe the hoard of angels who appeared to the shepherds was just one part of the celebration in heaven that took place. Astonished angels watched as God acted boldly, in a surprise gift to the people he loves.

Peter wrote in his letter that (I Peter 1:12)
Even angels long to look into these things.

What an extravagant gift!

It wasn’t clear to everyone how wonderful this gift was but Simon, in the Temple, was given the spiritual eyes to see and he proclaimed. (Luke 2:29)
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

Thirty-three years later the extravagant gift that God gave was revealed in all its glory.

7–10 Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.

What was our situation before Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead?

The writer of Ecclesiastes thought about the meaning of life and concluded (Ecclesiastes 3:18)
As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. 19 Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless. 20 All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.

And Job, as he contemplated the meaning of his suffering, said (Job 14)
“Man born of woman
is of few days and full of trouble.
2 He springs up like a flower and withers away;
like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure.

5 Man’s days are determined;
you have decreed the number of his months
and have set limits he cannot exceed.
6 So look away from him and let him alone,
till he has put in his time like a hired man.
7 “At least there is hope for a tree:
If it is cut down, it will sprout again,
and its new shoots will not fail.
8 Its roots may grow old in the ground
and its stump die in the soil,
9 yet at the scent of water it will bud
and put forth shoots like a plant.
10 But man dies and is laid low;
he breathes his last and is no more.
11 As water disappears from the sea
or a riverbed becomes parched and dry,
12 so man lies down and does not rise;
till the heavens are no more, men will not awake
or be roused from their sleep.

King David, in his prayer at the dedication of the Temple, said (I Chronicles 29:15)
Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope.

Those who took time to reflect understood the reality of life. The writer of Ecclesiastes, Job and King David reflected and then asked, “We have this life and then what?”

It is into the meaninglessness of our earthly existence that God burst forth with this extravagant gift that gave us reason to hope that there is more than this life. The meaninglessness of life was smashed to pieces as Jesus worked on our behalf and gave us a future to anticipate.

Knowing what would happen to him, Jesus entered into Jerusalem. Knowing Judas would betray him, he went to the Garden of Gethsemane. Knowing he would die, Jesus went voluntarily to the cross.

Although he had legions of angels at his disposal, he allowed himself to be arrested, beaten, mocked and crucified. His blood was poured out on the altar of the cross, just as the blood of sheep and bulls had been poured out on the altar of the Temple over the centuries of Israel’s existence.

But this blood accomplished far more than the blood of sheep and bulls. His blood shed on the altar of the cross paid the price for our sins, one sacrifice for all time. We were doomed to a meaningless existence and then an eternity spent apart from God. Because of our selfish, sinful choices, we deserve eternal death but we were rescued from that. God paid the price for us so we could be free to live in this life and in the eternal life to come.
Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free!

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus
Paul wrote to the church in Rome (Romans 8:1) We are no longer separated from God. Because of Jesus, when we come to him and cling to him he leads us into the intimacy of a relationship with the eternal, pre-existing God.

And then as if that was not enough, God picks us up and begins the process of cleaning all the dirt off of us. God sent the Holy Spirit to work in us, transforming us, making us more and more holy so that when we die our physical death and come into his kingdom we will be able to soak up all the delight that will be available in our eternal world.

This is a gift that never stops giving. It goes on and on and on and on and will never stop giving until the day we enter into his house and his house becomes our home.

This is a gift from God that was premeditated, perfectly planned, given with great delight and a gift that reveals to us how much we are valued and loved.

This is the gift that Paul talks about in his letter to the church in Rome; the two-stages of salvation: justification and sanctification. We are saved and we are delivered.

And what is our response to all of this?

I’m really glad you saved me but why do I have to have this illness? Or why can’t I find money to pay my bills? Or why did my sister have to die? Or why does my life have to be so difficult? Thank you for dying for me, rescuing me, but what have you done for me lately?

We so easily take for granted what is so extraordinary.

Floating around on youtube is a clip from an American late-night tv show. Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXStPqhLmIk)

I sent this clip out in the RICEmail this week and I hope many of you were able to see it. (If you did not receive the RICEmail, make sure you give me your name and email address and I will add you to our mailing list.)

For those who did not see the clip, a comedian, Louis CK, is talking about how much things have changed in his lifetime. He talks about growing up with a rotary telephone. It came attached to the wall and you could only walk away from the phone as far as the cord would reach. Inevitably you would walk too far away and the phone would come crashing down on the floor.

Today we have cell phones that you can use, increasingly, anywhere. And they are so small they can fit in the pocket of tight jeans without being noticed.

We take it all for granted and never stop to think that when we are walking along, talking on our little cellphone, that our voice is going up into space and then back down to wherever in the world the person is we are talking to – and it happens almost instantaneously.

Louis CK talks about people complaining about how terrible their flight was, how uncomfortable it was, how they had to wait an hour for the plane to take off and yet they never stop to think about how miraculous it is that they can sit in a chair and fly in the sky. We can fly to the US in six hours. A hundred years ago it took six or more days and it was very expensive.

Annie and I sit down in front of our computer and we talk with our daughters and their families in Boston and Thailand. The technology of a simple photograph is amazing enough but we are looking at a picture that moves; a picture that moves and talks to us; a picture that moves and talks to us and responds to what we say; an interactive picture and we do this even though the people we are interacting with are 5,500 kilometers and 11,000 kilometers away. It is amazing!

When I came here ten years ago we had to use the phone to call our family in the US. Now we can chat on the computer and see each other. Incredible! And yet when the connection shuts down or the sound is not clear, I get irritated and walk away, frustrated that it is not working better.

We live in a world with such amazing technology and yet we so quickly take it for granted and live with this level of technology as our new base line.

This is why I put the picture of a horse that seems to be talking on the bulletin cover. If the horse started talking to us, how long would it be before we would take that for granted and begin to be frustrated because he didn’t clean up for himself or do something else extraordinary like writing.

This is the same problem we have with all that God has done for us and is continuing to do for us. We know all this. Jesus saves us and the Holy Spirit works within us to transform us. We have heard it before. And now we accept that as our new baseline and look around for more.

We sing Amazing Grace but we are not always amazed.

So what should I encourage you to do? Should I ask you to start out each morning by exclaiming, “What you have done for us Father is so amazing!”

If Annie said to me each morning, “I am so fortunate to be married to you. My life with you is amazingly wonderful.” how meaningful would that be? I have to say there are days when she does say that and it is a miracle to me that I am loved so well. But if Annie told me that every day, I would begin to wonder what was going on.

Every moment of every day with me is not wonderful. And even if I was perfect and the pre-existing creator of the world, every day with me would not appear to be wonderful.

When I opened the trunk of our car and Annie saw the overnight bag, she did not have to manufacture emotion, it was authentic emotion. She expressed what she felt at the moment. And that is what God wants from us. He wants us to be authentic in our expressions of amazement and wonder at all he has done and is doing for us.

So this is what I encourage you to do: be consistent in reading the Scriptures. Be consistent in meeting with others to pray. Be consistent in taking time to read books about living a Christian life. Be consistent in reflecting and journaling about your life. Be consistent in your prayer and praise. You can thank him for things he has done even if you do not feel enthusiasm for what he has done.

It may be that you feel guilty, or inadequate because you do not feel enthusiastic and amazed. That’s OK. Only artificial Christian living expresses continual amazement. Genuine, authentic Christian life moves in emotional ups and downs.

Over time God will work in your life in such a way that new insights will come to you. Old truths will be experienced with new depth. God will lead you into a profound spiritual experience and you will find yourself crying out, “Father, you are so amazing! What you have done for us is amazing! Jesus, how could you love us so much?”

This is what happened to John when he received the vision of the Ascended Jesus while he was in exile on the Island of Patmos. He fell as though dead at the feet of Jesus and only Jesus mattered to him.

God knows what we need. God is at work in us. God knows when you need to be encouraged and when you need to persevere through dry times so your faith will be built. God knows what you need and he loves you so much he will give you what you need, when you need it.

As a Christian, you stand on powerful and life-changing truth. God has saved you and he is at work in you to make you more holy. That truth is not affected by how enthusiastic you are about it. Today you may take this truth for granted, but God is at work in you and you will see this truth in greater clarity as you move along in your life with Jesus.

Persevere and allow God to lead you into deeper and more profound experiences of him.