We are so keen in our era in understanding purpose and meaning. Many of our preoccupations and occupations have to conform to a “why” and “because” rationale. In our breakfast on Thursday morning, Ken’s reading provoked us to think about purpose and I recalled that a short time ago one of the top books Christians were reading was “The Purpose-Driven Life” which was preceded by Rick Warren’s “The Purpose-Driven Church.” We even have to invent purposes for our games and leisure activity:
Fishing is relaxing, a natural stress reliever.
Hockey is good exercise.
Golf is a place to build good relationships.
One of golf's immortal moments came when a gentleman from Scotland demonstrated the new game to President Ulysses Grant. Carefully placing the ball on the tee, he took a mighty swing. The club hit the turf and scattered dirt all over the President's beard and surrounding vicinity, while the ball placidly waited on the tee. Again the determined Scot swung, and again he missed. The President waited patiently through six tries and then quietly stated, "There seems to be a fair amount of exercise in the game, but I fail to see the purpose of the ball.” There’s that word “purpose” again.
I read an account last week about a rich man who was determined to give his mother a birthday present that would outshine all others. He read of a bird that had a vocabulary of 4000 words, could speak in numerous languages and sing 3 operatic arias. He immediately bought the bird for $50,000 and had it delivered to his mother. The next day he phoned to see if she had received the bird. "What did you think of the bird?" he asked. She replied, "It was delicious."
I think at times we exist because of purpose. If we were to miss the purpose of the church we could turn it into anything negative and wrong-spirited and some have. But if I were to ask the question about the purposes of God, I think Paul would easily answer … Ephesians 2:4-10 … Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- 9 not by works so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
God’s purposes for you and me flow out of His love for us. It is just that simple: God loves His creation. When He breathed into our nostrils the breath of life, we received a life-giving spirit. We have been distanced from Him by sin, but we are not unloved. Paul makes it clear that even though we were “dead in trespasses and sins” God loved us. So many people have tried to plumb the depth of logic for God’s reasoning in loving us. Andrae Crouch wrote a song expressing the mystery of God’s purpose:
I don’t know why Jesus loved me, I don’t know why He cared
I don’t know why He sacrificed his life, Ah, but I’m glad, I’m glad He did!
God’s purposes were accomplished in love and made real by Christ’s resurrection. We were made alive with Christ and called to sit in heavenly places. How many people here today really feel as though they have been sitting in heavenly places? Some will say to themselves: “you don’t know my work environment.” Others will say, “You don’t know where I live!” Heavenly places may not necessarily refer to our natural surroundings. I am positive that Christians who labor in some of the world’s developing countries endure things that aren’t exactly “heavenly.” I listened to a Canadian soldier describes the mean sounds, smells, and dangers of Kabul, Afghanistan. “Heavenly” was not his terminology. There are two things we need to remember about the purposes of God:
- When Christ ascended into heaven 40 days after the resurrection, we ascended there too. He is the head and we are the body. We are “in Christ” and today we await our faith to be made sight. The Rapture of the church will change our location, but our citizenship is already in heaven!
- There are times when we have felt the touch of heaven. There are moments when the presence of God is so real that we can easily break the bonds of distraction and preoccupation with this life and feel in our spirits the kind of kinship there is with Jesus Christ. It can happen in worship or prayer and perhaps it never happens often enough. It is a little like John in the penal colony of Patmos as the Revelation unfolds. The scripture says, “He was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.”
The means God used to provide us with spiritual life was grace. Jesus Christ applies the power of His perfect sacrifice to the inborn stain of original sin and the sins that we have committed and the power of His blood is able to make us clean – all of this comes at the request of a penitent heart. The reality of that new relationship with Him should make us worship with intensity. Grace tells me that something completely external has provided for my salvation. I am saved by grace which is activated personally by faith.
Verse 7 is really the crux of my message. God’s purposes are displayed there: “in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace.” All that God has done has been done in order that He might display us. This past week New York City put the hospitality of the people of Gander and vicinity on display with the Broadway production of “Come From Away.” People sometimes take priceless items and display them, like the British government does with its crown jewels. All of this talk of showing us off as trophies of His grace challenged me as to where God would show us off. I reflected a few options in my title:
Does God want us as trophies: dusty pieces of metal and wood that mark something that is past? Trophies are for events and achievements that are over. I had my name on two trophies when the Bruce Arena burned. My achievement went up in smoke. No matter. I think the award was for the most minutes in penalties! I think God is more interested in something that is timeless and current, not a dusty memento of the past.
Does God want us in a curio cabinet? Now, to me, this is a place to keep one of-a-kind-things, little gifts and curios. A curio is something considered novel, rare, or bizarre. I know what you’re thinking, but many of you belong there too. But a curio is also a decorative object; it has no usefulness beyond its curiosity value. It’s a spectacle, a conversation piece. I think God wants more than that from those whom Christ has cleansed and filled with His Spirit.
Does God want us in a museum? Some of us I know have been called “old fossils.” And we can feel as though we have been mummified and stored away until enough time has passed that we are worth something. I can imagine a group of people in a future time being led through a rare building called a church. The tour guide says: “This artifact was discovered asleep in a pew five hundred years ago. We think the expression on his face means he did not enjoy the sermon. In fact, he might have been dead for a long time, but nobody really noticed.
God doesn’t want artifacts; He wants living sacrifices. He doesn’t want people whose history needs to be interpreted by archaeologists; He wants people through whom He can display life and glory today!
Don’t settle for being a stuffed moose head over someone’s fireplace! I see the one at Marble Mountain every winter. A wonderful set of antlers, glass eyes, sturdy wire frame, a commanding presence, but dead, dead, dead! He no longer walks the slopes, chews the browse or perpetuates his species. He’s a trophy – dusty, lifeless and mostly fake.
For God, there had to be a way to show Himself. After all, He is the author of eternal life and the Creator of our life. How could he show Himself so that others would accept the work He has done? I remember studying art for Reach for the Top. To be more precise, I studied style. Rembrandt had a style as did Vermeer and Breughel and Picasso. To this day I can recognize the variations in style that marked the subject matter and the genius of the artist. God displayed “the incomparable riches of His grace” with a unique style that Paul states was “kindness in Christ Jesus.” The purposes of God are painted with the palette of kindness. God uses kindness as a signature on human life. God’s style is to win the world with kindness. Paul cautioned the Romans (2:4) about overlooking the common grace of God: “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance, and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?”
It is true that God is kind and good, but His kindness comes with purpose. God sends rain and offers sunshine. He has made the world in such a way that its bounty satisfies our needs. But in these things His kindness is incomplete. His kindness has redemption at its heart. Paul wrote a short letter to a man named Titus (3:4-6) and said, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.”
Just like His love, God’s kindness is eternal. Trophies get burnt or broken. Curios lose their appeal and crumble. Museum pieces deteriorate. God wants us on display “in the coming ages.” If a day is as 1,000 years with God, how long is one of His ages? We have no concept of His timelessness or the magnitude of His power and purpose. In fact, He will have to transform our mortal bodies into something far greater to experience His kindness in the ages to come.
All these wonderful and futuristic concepts come with an underlying piece of knowledge that Paul wraps up in verses 8-9: “8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- 9 not by works so that no one can boast.” No one is to glory as a Christian. We are what we are and the future is what it is for us solely because of a gift. It is all of grace. Nebuchadnezzar went from the palace to the pasture and ate grass like an ox. Alexander the Great’s short life at 33 turned him into a weeping, broken man. The conqueror had been conquered. Saddam Hussein prophesied that “the mother of all wars had begun,” but was dug out of a hole in the ground looking more like a vagrant than a tyrant.
Paul said that his boast was in the Lord. Suppose today someone came into your life, a Bill Gates perhaps, and said, “Here Cal, is enough to pay off your mortgage.” When I woke up in Intensive Care, it would be a great moment. But suppose he also said, “I took care of the balance on your truck and I put enough into your account for another one later. And here’s a little something towards your retirement. And would you and Muriel like to go to the Wimbledon Tennis Championships this year? Here’s front row seats, plane tickets, and accommodations.” Sounds pretty dreamy, doesn’t it? We all have our wish list. But what if the next day I met someone and said, “I did it. Paid off the mortgage. Kissed the bank goodbye. And, I own my own car and retirement is looking better every day ... there’s not a fish safe in the Humber Valley.” I would be both ungrateful and boastful. I failed to give credit where it was due. There is a benefactor who deserves better. To give God less is to eat the rare bird without discerning its rarity, quality or value.
Paul says so as he closes this section. He states: “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” It is hard to illustrate this relationship. I thought I could describe it like I see on the New Yankee Workshop. Way before Mike Holmes and Brian Baumler there was my hero, Norm Abrams, who could take a chunk of old worn wood redeemed from an old barn. He planed it and squared it and dressed it. He applied it to a plan for a marvelous table. He used precise instruments: bandsaw, table saw, router, mortise and chisel, joiner, a number of jigs, special joinery, glue and finish until the finished project – every angle right, every detail covered sits there – a table ready to be spread. But even when I work on the analogy I realize what Norm makes has worm holes, (which he calls character) weaknesses and a limited life span. When Norm is history and his work is sawdust and splinters, God will still have His workmanship on display. And for the countless ages of eternity we, the church of Jesus Christ, will draw attention to the finest work of God.
I trust we will give ourselves to the hands of God who is able to fit us into the people He wants us to be. God doesn’t want to hide us but He wants to create something of us that He can display as His workmanship in Christ. Will we allow Him to show His kindness? In grace He has chosen us and by faith we grasp His purposes. Time and eternity will only rightly be used to praise Him for His kindness, love and grace. We need to connect the first and last verses of Amazing Grace to see the picture!