Church as God's Greatest Creation

David Stockton
Series: Ephesians

We’re going to be starting a new book today: Ephesians Chapter 1 is where we’re going to be. I’m going to give you guys a little bit of insight into what we’ve been working on this whole year. We’ve been trying to sneak attack you guys a little bit.

Our leadership team went away last August. We were really seeking the Lord for the year 2019, which is the year we are in. We really felt that one of the things that kept coming up was the idea of “Family Strong.” We wanted to see how we can strengthen families. As we defined it more and more, we ultimately landed on, we wanted to see the households that you and I foster, that you and I create, that they would become more spiritually strong. So that’s something that we’ve done this whole year. We want family strong.

Up until this day right now, we’ve been focusing more on the biological family. We did Origins of Innocence where we kind of talked about generational type stuff, we did prayer and fasting at the beginning of the year. Home Full of Hope was our goal for fasting and prayer. We did things like Other Hours and all of those sermon series, Freedom Immersion. We’ve done all of those things. We did classes. Because, ultimately,  we were trying to get whatever kind of good resources we could into our households, hoping that they would become places where the good things of God could grow more easily.

What we’re shifting into now for the rest of this year is the same, exact concept—same banner, “Family Strong,” but we’re going to try to get a vision for what is church as family. When we read the Bible and we see Jesus’ life, he talks about the church, the people of God being family. Even, at one point, he said, “Who are my brothers? Who is my mother?” When his actual mother and brother were outside looking for him. And he answered that question by saying, “The people who follow God are my brothers. They are my mothers;” in so doing, in some way, kind of elevating the relationship that we have with the people of God, even above our own biological family. The Bible is very clear about making sure we don’t neglect our biological family. Some of you are like, “Man, my biological family, I’ve been neglecting for years. They’re crazy.” But that’s not exactly what we’re talking about.

We’re really trying to see the people of God, the Church family, not just here at Living Streams, but all around Phoenix, all around the world, every tribe, every tongue—it’s really a fantastic, amazing thing to get a vision for. And that’s what we’re going to be trying to do over these next few months. Not only get the vision for it, but let that vision kind of direct our lives into all that God has for us in the Church as family.

We also are going through some time as a nation and as a people, where things are a bit heavy. I wrote this in a weekly email, but I want to bring it up today, as well. 

When our eyes have been blinded by the searing pain of deadly shootings, the heavy burden of poverty’s constant ramifications, and the crippling curse that sin has brought upon humanity, we need a vision. We need a vision in days like this. We need a vision or else we’ll find ourselves succumbing to the sorrow of the Slough of Despond.

Now, that phrase comes from The Pilgrim’s Progress, which is a book describing the life of someone who’s trying to find his way into the life of Christ. As he’s going on his journey, he comes upon this bog of some sort, this swamp. And it’s called the Slough of Despond. Even when you say that, “The Slough of Despond,” that describes perfectly what I go through at times in my life. 

What that is helping us to identify with, the Bible is very clear that we, as a people, are living in a cursed world. I know we hate to hear that. It’s so frustrating and there are other truths that are just as real. But that is a fact that the Bible does not beat around the bush about. So there is a heaviness. I’ve been experiencing it recently. And it’s triggered by things in the news and all of that at times. Sometimes it’s triggered by my own soul. Or loved ones that I know are going through hard times. 

But the Slough of Despond is basically a description of what it’s like to live and be really aware of the curse that came into our world because of sin. Because Adam and Eve decided that they had a better idea than what God was leading them to do. They caught a vision that was not the vision of God and they leaned into that. And ever since then, we’ve been struggling under the weight of the curse of sin. Even when we try to do right things in our marriage, in our family, in our church, in whatever…so often we can end up hurting somebody or ourselves. And it’s a troubling place.

What do we need when we have a spirit of heaviness? We need a vision of God. The Bible says, “Put on the garments of praise for a spirit of heaviness.” And the concept there is, when you have that spirit of heaviness, you need to lift your eyes. You need to first see God and then get a vision from God for what he’s planning on doing in the world and in our days. 

So, I’ve been there recently. And some things that have come to mind: Revelation 21. I want to speak this over you, just in case you might have a spirit of heaviness today. 

1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven [the cursed heaven] and the first earth [the cursed earth] had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 

And the sea represents the division of the people. 

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

That’s the vision of God. That is the end of those who follow in his way. They’ll be put together like a beautiful city, like a bride. And he will wipe away every tear and every stain that the curse of death has brought upon humanity. The old order of things will be gone and remembered no more. 

I have a guy that I go to often when I’m looking for hope. His name is Jon Foreman, and he writes songs. He writes, basically in response to this, 

Until the sea of glass we meet
When at last comported and complete
Where tide and tear and pain subside 
And laughter drinks them dry
I’ll keep waiting, anticipating.

The song that he writes all of that in is called “Restless.” 

Then I had another friend—he’s not very famous—but he wrote a song that I love and I think about all of the time, again, in light of this same vision. 

We will soon be with him forevermore
Where we can walk with him on that crystal shore
And talk with all the saints of old
And bow before the might throne of God

This is a vision that is not just revelation. It’s not just a vision in the end. But this vision actually begins in Genesis, as well. This concept, God has has this vision that, “They will be my people and I will be their God.” At first, the vision was for this family, that, “They and their family will understand that, they are my people and I am their God.” And that family turned into a nation called Israel, which means “Governed by God.” And that nation turned became someone that God intended, “They will be my people and I will be their God.” And that nation kind of crumbled and faltered. Then Jesus came and gave birth to something else, called The Church.

But the vision is the same throughout. “They will be my people and I will be their God.” And it has never wavered. It has never been in jeopardy. The vision of God has always been there and always will be there. And one day it will be completely fulfilled. Right now, the Bible teaches us that we see in part. “We see through a glass dimly,” is what the King James says. It’s like we’re looking through a glass and it’s all foggy. We can’t quite see what’s on the other side. But one day we will see face to face. That day when our faith becomes sight. Oh, what a day of rejoicing it will be.

And when we come to the book of Ephesians, what we’re getting is a guy whose name is Paul, writing to us because he is getting, like a prophet, a vision of what the church is supposed to be here and now. We know what the vision in the end is. But what is the vision right now? What is God doing in this thing called the Church? We did not replace Israel. We were grafted in. And God has plans for the Jews, no doubt about it, to be grafted in again as a people that belong to him. 

The Church is much bigger than us at Living Streams. It’s much bigger than us in America. It’s much bigger than us in this twenty-first Century. It spans all ages. All nationalities.—On that road trip to Texas last week, we went to Roswell.—It might even span the aliens! I don’t know. My wife is kind of into it. She was like, “Man, there’s some convincing stuff in that little museum.” I was like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Whatever. Totally different discussion.

All right. Let’s get a vision for the Church. Some of you come to the Church and you have these ideas of what the Church is, what the Church isn’t. Some of you have been totally beat up by the Church. Whatever it might be. Let’s get God’s vision that he put in the heart of Paul the Apostle on what the Church his supposed to be.

Ephesians 1: 

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Praise for Spiritual Blessings in Christ
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. 

Now, that’s a bold statement right there. And when you think of Paul, who’s writing this, a couple of things we need to keep in mind. First of all, Paul is not writing in the Twenty-First Century, where Christianity has become the dominant religion; where Christianity has been able to spread its wings and touch almost every part of this planet; where you can’t go anywhere in the world now and not find some little, old lady serving people in the name of Christ. It’s the most beautiful thing in the world. 

Paul’s writing when the church was, maybe, ten thousand people. Just a very, very small movement. And yet, he’s getting a vision of what the church is supposed to be. So keep that in mind.

The second thing to keep in mind is that Paul used to be called Saul. And Saul was a jerk. He was a big time jerk. Actually, he’s introduced to us in the book of Acts as someone who was breathing out murderous threats. That was Saul. He was so upset, so in turmoil, and so frustrated that he was actually persecuting a people group. He hated the Christians, the people who were following the way, the people who were saying that they know Christ is risen from the dead and has empowered them to walk in a new way. He hated them and actually put them in prison. He tried to remove all of their authority and power. He tried to keep them on the run and persecute them into nothing; and even oversaw the death of some of them. 

We don’t know why Paul was so angry. We know he was a Pharisee. We know he was legalistic. We know he was trying really hard to be good and do right—which is really one of the most frustrating things there is, because he was doing it all in his own strength. 

And then, one day, breathing out murderous threats, breathing in the toxic stuff of life and breathing out murderous threats, he has an encounter with Jesus. And they talk some things over. And the next time we see Paul, he is someone who is still breathing in all the same smog of life, all the same cures of humanity. None of those things changed around him, but, for some reason, now when he breathes out, it’s not murderous threats, but it’s words of life and love and grace and peace. He starts all of his letters that way, basically: “Grace and peace to you. I no longer say to you murderous threats. I now say to you grace and peace from our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

What a change. What an amazing thing that Paul, who is someone was persecuted, someone who has lost everything for the sake of the gospel, someone who is living in the most bizarre places as he’s sharing the grace and peace of Christ around the world, someone who’s been beaten almost to death, someone who’s been whipped forty times, someone who’s lived with nothing at all. He writes to the Ephesian church and says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms. What an amazing thing to be able to speak that out, to write that firmly.

My question to us and to myself is, “Do I feel like I have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms?” My answer, honestly, is, I think I’ve felt it at times. There are definitely moments when I can say, “Lord, I think I really do have it all.” Sometimes it’s been in good moments and sometimes it’s been in real, real hard moments. 

Paul is wanting us to understand that God has not withheld anything from his people. It’s not that, one day you need to gain something so that you can be more Christian or experience more of God. You have it all in Christ Jesus. All the promises of God are yes and amen in Christ Jesus. We sang about it today.

So it goes on:

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 

So in this little chunk—bam. Paul is the king of the run-on sentences. I love it. It gives me freedom to do run-on sentences. He starts gushing. He’s just gushing as he’s got this vision of what God is saying to him. He’s understood what God is doing in the Church. There are four things that I want us to notice here. I put it in a little different language. We’ll catch it in Paul’s language too. 

In this, he says, first of all, the Church is God’s purpose from the beginning of time. Right there. He says, “He chose us in him before the creation of the world.” Well, that sounds a little interesting, because, really, the Church didn’t really form until after Christ, and that was two thousand years ago. But that was just the newest phase of what God has been doing since the beginning of time. Again, the vision has always been there. They will be my people and I will be their God and I will wipe away every tear. That’s the vision. That’s what God’s been doing from the beginning. 

Somehow in that holy Trinity, that triune being of God the Father, God the Son, God the  Spirit that is in community within itself, created mankind, you and I, to enjoy that same community. Jesus prayed it. If Jesus didn’t pray it, I would not feel comfortable teaching it. But he prayed in John 17, “Father, I pray that they would be one with us, even as you and I are one.” 

That’s heavy. That’s deep. That’s a vision beyond what we could ever come up with on our own.  But it was God’s will from the beginning of time. So, when he made Adam and Eve, he had Revelation 21 and the Church and the Bride all in mind. When he made a covenant with Abraham, ultimately, he had the Church in mind. When he gave the law to Moses and said, “Let’s form this into a nation that’s going to be powerful and a witness to all the other nations, he had the Church in mind. When he whispered those things to the prophets, he had the Church in mind. When Jesus Christ was on the cross, it says that “He endured the shame for the joy set before him.” The Church was on his mind on the cross. And when he rose from the dead and he imparted to the apostles, he said, “Go be my witnesses,” the Church was on his mind. She’s a beauty. She’s a wonder.

Not only that, but the second thing, the Church as family. Here, the way  Paul says it is, “In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship” [or daughter-ship. You could throw that in there, for sure.]  In love he predestined us. His whole plan was that we would be part of a family. You could picture the table in heaven and there’s a place set for you, with your name on it. 

Actually, the way the Revelation teaches us is even cooler. It says that you are going to be given a stone that has a name on it that is only known between you and Jesus. The name that’s going to be written at your seat, when you read that name, your heart is going to do a backflip. “How could he know me so well?” Because he’s your Father. In love he predestined you for adoption. He’s been watching you your whole life. He has such good plans for you to be a part of his family and to experience all that is there. 

The next thing: Church is what is glorious in God’s eyes. The way Paul says it, 

in accordance with his pleasure and will

All this was done in accordance with God’s pleasure. God’s not up there going, “Oh, man! It’s so much work trying to get these people all together. Wash them clean, give them vision. A bunch of squirrely people.” 

No, it’s his pleasure. He is so thrilled at the work that is being done in the Church and through the Church. It’s his pleasure. It’s his joy. It’s kind of like that hobby that he has that just is like, “I can’t wait to go do some more of that.” It’s kind of like that video game on my phone right now that I can’t wait to play all the time. He loves the work that he does with the Church. Which is amazing to me, because I work with you people. I work with myself. And it’s not always a pleasure. There’s pleasure in it, but it’s real and it’s hard. But for God, it’s all pleasure. It’s pure joy to make this family, to ready this bride. He loves it. “According to his pleasure…and will.” It’s not just God’s will because it’s good. It’s his pleasure and will. 

And then, the last thing is that the Church is what brings praise to God’s glorious grace. The way Paul says it, 

to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

The Church is the message to the whole world of God’s grace. Bono said, “Grace, it’s the name of a girl and it’s the thought that can change the world.” And it is a mystery. Because we, as people, don’t easily understand grace. We understand rules. We understand cause and effect. We understand consequences for actions. We don’t understand grace. And so the work that God is doing in the Church, when we get it right, it’s this amazing, marvelous light that shines and shouts to the whole world of grace. Of grace. That God’s righteousness is more powerful than your unrighteousness every single time. It can’t win. No matter who much unrighteousness you do, you can’t outdo the righteousness of God. It’s his grace that is more powerful than anything else in the world. It’s a marvel and it’s a miracle, and it’s hard to grasp. But it’s the thing that the Church is called to make so clear and plain to the world.

Verse 11:

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. [there it is again] 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

In this little chunk that we did right there, we have the gospel in a nutshell. I just want to unpack a few words here for us, as we do this. He says here, “You have been chosen by God. You have been predestined by God.” That means he has a vision for your life and he knows how to get you there, “You have been included into his family. You have been marked—sealed in some way. Your name written in the book. And you have been guaranteed an inheritance.”

When we say “yes” to Christ, when we turn our direction from the vision that we’ve come up with, the vision the our parents gave us, the vision that America gives us—whatever vision it might be—the vision that Drake’s given us—whatever it might be—God’s plan, God’s plan, right? And we turn from those visions to the vision of God, found in Christ Jesus, in that moment, that’s it! In that moment, we move from death to life. We move from tension to grace. And we realize that, all along, we’ve been chosen by God. We’ve been predestined by God. We’ve been included into his family. We’ve been marked somehow by him as one of his one. It’s like we’ve got Stockton on the back of our shirt now. We’ve got Jesus on the back of our shirt now. You’ve been marked. You take on his name. And you’re immediately guaranteed an inheritance, the kind of inheritance we talked about at the beginning of this message.

Those of you who have made that shift and surrendered to the vision of God over your life, that’s you. Those who have not, that is not you. This is found in Christ Jesus. But today would be a great day to be like Paul, to be like me, to be like so many of the others in this room and to go ahead and take a step in that direction, and begin to walk with Jesus. It’s only you keeping you from Jesus. 

Today you really can get his vision for your life. And most of us are here because we’re so compelled by his vision for life that we don’t want to go anywhere else. And, yes, we still have pulls in other directions, but we continue to come back and say, “Ultimately, Jesus, your vision is the most beautiful.” But that’s a thing that can happen today. We’ll have opportunity for that later.

That’s the gospel in a nutshell. Let’s go on to verse 17 through 23:

17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his [Jesus] feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

This is the grand vision of God for the church, that we would be the body of Christ, moving at his leadership, his headship, and filling everything in every way. You can picture a frozen world as the light comes up and begins to thaw everything. That’s our job. That’s God’s vision. That we would fill everything in every way. We would bring the light and warmth of Christ to every person in every place forevermore. 

I know the Church, for you, might not be a glorious thing. It’s a little tricky because there’s the Church organization, and there’s the Church organism. The Church organization is what we’re basically doing right now, in a lot of ways. We’re in a building. We have some pastors and leaders trying to show us the way to go. We have a Starting Point luncheon happening soon. And the organization is a man-made thing, sad to say. Living Streams is man-made. Mark and Kristina started it in 1984 in their living room. And Mark and Kristina are amazing in a billion a ways. But they’s also not amazing in some other ways. So we have to live with the beauty and we have to live with the stink.

That’s what I’ve told the staff a couple of times. “Hey, I’m leading the church. You’re going to know what I smell like. You’re going to have to live with some stink.” Because that’s reality. We have a board of elders. We try to do our best. We try to be the best organization of the Church we can be. Create the best environment for the organism to prosper. But at the end of the day, let Living Streams fade and be gone, if at all it’s not helping the organism. Because that is what Christ died for. He didn’t die for Living Streams in this building and the plans we have. He died for this bride, which is a people called by his name, fit together, carrying out his work in the world. 

I’ll tell you, the Church organism is the single most dominant force for good the world has ever seen in any age, in any place. No doubt about it. No one in their right mind could argue that. Yet, the organization has had some very ugly times in world history, and maybe even in your life. I’m sorry for that. But Jesus isn’t the head of the organization. He’s the head of the organism. Hopefully he’s the head of the people in the organizations. They don’t always get it right. 

The Church organism is beautiful and marvelous. As we’ll learn as we go through the rest of Ephesians, it is so precious and vital in God’s sight. We get to be a part of it, both now and forever. Forever. This incredible vision.

Let’s take some time and pray. Now, in light of these things, I’m going to ask four questions of your soul. If you want to bow your heads and just close your eyes, you can. If you’re not comfortable, that’s fine, as well. We’re trying to create a moment where we can have a conversation with God. I’m going to ask the questions, and you and God talk about the answers. 

These questions come from that last passage we just read, where Paul prayed some things for the people of the Church in Ephesus. 

1. How are you doing in wisdom and revelation? Do you have a vision from God that stirs your heart, and when you tell it to the people around you, it stirs their hearts as well? Or are you lacking in wisdom and revelation right now?

Jesus, I pray that you would give this people, your people, your vision. You would give them revelation that would capture their hearts and compel them to walk in your ways. 

2. How are you doing on hope, knowing the hope to which God has called you? You can talk to the Lord about that. A spirit of heaviness or a spirit of hope. A home full of hope, or a home full of heartache.

Jesus, I pray that you would give these people hope, the hope that comes through Christ. Give it to me, too, Lord. 

3. How are you doing at enjoying the richness found in God’s holy people? How’s your community? Do you have the blessing of being able to impart and receive with other brothers and sisters who know Jesus and are chasing Jesus? Or is your community lacking that?

Jesus, I ask like Paul did, that you would help us to experience all the riches that are found in walking with your people. 

4. How are you doing at experiencing the power of God? Are the chains falling off? Are you able to see what you breathe in that’s hard and heavy turn into something that feels like blessing as you breathe out? 

Jesus, I pray that, as Paul prayed for the Ephesus church, that you would bring your power into this place, you would empower us to be witnesses for you. Lord, that you would bring power into these marriages so that they could be unified in that peace, and power into these families so that they could be heading in the same direction, experiencing the fullness of what you have for them.  That your power would come to the single people as they try and walk with you and fight off loneliness and temptation. Your power would come to those who don’t know you, Lord. That they would surrender to you and find your Spirit filling them and giving them a vision. Power for those who are caught up in addiction, that they’d be able to be free. Thank you, Lord.  We pray all of this in your name, Jesus. Amen.

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