Looking for a Sign

“Lord, just give me a sign…”

“Teacher, we want to see a sign…”

“No sign with be given, except…”

“I saw the sign, and it opened up my eyes…”

I’ve been thinking a lot about signs in the last week or so. In fact, to be perfectly honest, I’ve been looking for signs. Wishing for a sign.

It’s Holy Week, a week for focusing on the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. A week to be thinking about my mortality, my weakness, my sinfulness, and the awesome gift of grace found in Jesus. A week to stand before the cross and empty tomb and listen to my Savior speaking peace to me.

But…

A week before Palm Sunday I was asked by another church to join their ministry team. I have a few weeks in which to gather information, seek advice, and make a decision that will affect my ministry, my family, and both congregations for years to come. Funny timing. Humbling that God and these church leaders would put such a decision in my hands.

So, Lord, could you just give me a sign what the best thing to do is?

Have you ever felt that way? Ever had a big decision to make, and wished for some divine graffiti to tell you what to do? Ever prayed, “Lord, just give me a sign”?

Here’s some more funny timing – this week, my teaching plan for a religion class I teach on Thursdays to a group of 8th graders had us looking at Jonah 2. In the materials for this class, materials I wrote four years ago, we are led to Matthew 12:38-41 –

Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.

“A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign.” Ouch. Did you put that there for me, Lord?

I don’t think Jesus is trying to heap guilt on people for asking God to give them some direction. He’s addressing the sinful motives of the Pharisees, who are essentially saying, “We refuse to believe that you are from God, and refuse to believe anything you say, unless you can prove to us in a way that satisfies our arrogance that you truly are who you say you are.” In many ways, this is no different than people today who insist that faith in God is foolishness if you can’t produce evidence of his existence. “Show us a sign that your God really exists,” they say, and Jesus answer to them is, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign.”

But there is a warning for believers in this as well. Many want to hear God’s voice whispering to their ears or hearts. Many want to see some kind of miraculous evidence that God is at work. The warning is not too look too hard for God to speak apart from his Word. What does Jesus point to? He points to the Scriptures, to the story of Jonah, and says, “This is the sign to look for. This was a foreshadowing of what will happen to me, and when it happens, then you will know that I am the Lord.”

And it did happen. And we have the testimony of the people who were there to see it. Today is Good Friday, and in just a few short days we will celebrate together the only sign Jesus says we should look for. Jesus died and came to life again. What greater sign do we need? This is where we get our confidence. This gives us every reassurance we need. If Jesus rose from the dead, then he is the Lord and God he claimed to be. The salvation he said he would bring is real. Nothing in this life can separate us from his love. Jesus is Lord, and we are his. What greater sign do we need?

If Jesus rose from the dead, then he is Lord wherever I go to serve. If Jesus rose from the dead, the choice to serve and the promise of blessings in either place is certain. If Jesus rose from the dead, I can’t make a wrong decision between serve him here or serve him there. If Jesus rose from the dead, it really isn’t that big of a decision, because in the end, he’ll use either choice to build his kingdom.

The same can be said of your big decisions. Jesus rose from the dead. That is the sign that he is Lord, and everything he said about your life and his promises is true. Are you wrestling with a job decision? Jesus is Lord and will bless either choice. Trying to decide if now is the time to work toward marriage? Jesus loves marriage and will be your strength. Deciding on a big purchase? Jesus is the giver of all good things, so if this is a good time for this, then take hold and enjoy with thanksgiving.

In the end, the decisions of this life are but a sliver of what is to come. We have eternity to look forward to – because Jesus rose from the dead. So while these decisions may feel very big today, when we pass on to glory, we won’t look back with regret. No need to worry, Jesus has this. Because he rose from the dead.

Now, I won’t say that God never gives us a nudge here or there. Sometimes everything falls into place and you just have to grin. It’s just that he doesn’t promise he will always work that way, and he doesn’t want us to get decision paralysis while we wait for him to convince us of something.

The empty tomb is the only sign we need. Would it be nice to have extra direction once in a while? Maybe. But it doesn’t really change anything. Jesus is Lord. That is enough.

Why I’m Not Boycotting Beauty and the Beast

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The remake of Disney’s classic Beauty and the Beast will be in theatres this weekend, and my wife and I have our tickets to go and see it. However, I know that many Christians are opting not to, and that well-meaning articles have circulated explaining why. It all comes down to a brief moment in a single scene, where the actors and director make one character’s sexual orientation clear – and he is gay.

In defense of my Christian brothers and sisters, their concern is valid. The movie makers have unnecessarily altered an established character in their remake of a classic story. While not unprecedented, it’s a transparent maneuver. There is no reason other than to normalize a behavior that, when the original animated film debuted, would have offended virtually the entire audience. And while it is done in the name of acceptance and tolerance, Bible believing Christians see it for what it is: giving one more sin the status of every day human behavior.

As it is a movie aimed at children and families, it is especially onerous, because it means that Disney knows full well they are working to shift the center in the minds of the impressionable young. Christian parents have a right to be miffed, concerned, and grouchy that, without warning, Disney would hijack a classic for the sake of agenda. Why not simply write a new fairy tale with a same sex romance at the center, while leaving the other stories be? Wouldn’t this be more satisfying to both sides? This feels like a poorly executed bait and switch.

My criticism of Disney’s choice doesn’t end with the issue of normalizing sin, though. Frankly, I think they made a strangely poor choice of character in whome to insert their péché du jour. I’ll go so far as to say that what should really offend Christians here is the utter lovelessness and disrespect with which Disney has treated the matter. For those struggling with same-sex attraction, to be confronted with it in a popular movie in the form of a bumbling, comedic buffoon of a villain sidekick would be a slap in the face. Why isn’t the LGBT community up in arms at so ridiculous a portrayal? I certainly find it disrespectful.

If you’re a fellow Christian and for these reasons or others you’ve decided you’re not going to see the movie, I am not trying to persuade you otherwise. I respect your choice, and I support you, and I love you. Please do not take the rest of the post as a critique against your choices.

That said, I’m seeing the movie. My wife is a lifelong Disney fan, and Beauty and the Beast has always been her favorite story. Belle is an intelligent, ambitious, and courageous young woman, who demonstrates sacrificial love for her father and learns to show unconditional love and acceptance for the Beast. Yes, I know we can make sideline jokes about Stockholm Syndrome and all of that, but in the end, it’s a charming love story mixed in with grandly entertaining musical numbers.

Am I sacrificing my morals or my conviction by choosing to be entertained, given the inclusion of a gay character? According to some articles and comments I’ve seen on social media, I am. But I’m not so sure. Here are a few of the challenges from my fellow believers, and how I respond to them:

  1. You’re supporting their agenda by giving your money to them. First of all, I don’t think Disney executives think that every movie-goer who buys a Beauty and the Beast ticket is doing so to say, “Keep adding homosexual characters! It’s just what we’re looking for!” They know that people are going to see the movie because they love the story and want to be entertained, and they know that the inclusion of a gay character is a wink and nod and little more. Second, if I were to apply this consistently, I’d need to avoid anything by Disney because whether it’s through Beauty and the Beast, Moana, or Cars 3, it’s all one company. If giving money to the company supports their agenda, then I need to expunge Disney from my life completely. Besides all that, Disney doesn’t need my money to pursue their agenda, and their agenda isn’t going to fall apart for lack of my money. I can’t stop sin by boycotting its presence – only Jesus has the real solution to sin.
  2. You’re condoning sin – you’re making entertainment more important than taking a stand for what’s right. Is it not possible to be entertained by something and still disagree with some aspects of it? Can I find Friends, Big Bang Theory, or Seinfeld funny and still call premarital sex sinful and unwise? Our movies and TV choices have always included some amount of ungodly behavior, from cohabitation to no-fault divorce to casual sex. Yet we justify it when we are entertained by other aspects of the story. What makes homosexuality a “special case?” Perhaps it isn’t. And what about violence, foul language, insults, gossip, humor at the expense of dignity – do we get concerned about these in our entertainment choices? We live in a sin-filled world, and no entertainment will be squeaky clean. Is it taking a stand to identify one sin among the many and oppose just that? Is there a better way to speak to our culture about sin – and about grace?
  3. You’re letting yourself (or your children) become desensitized to sin. Here’s the funny thing about sin and sensitivity to it – I already do a really great job of desensitizing myself to the sins I like to fall into. The danger of being desensitized to sin is that it will capture me and try to make me its slave all over again. I have a whole host of sins that I need to worry about being desensitized to that are a real problem for me, I don’t need to worry about this one. But there’s a solution to the problem of a seared conscience – and it’s not found in boycotting certain movies. It’s found in returning to the Word, that shows me the mirror of God’s Law and reminds me of the ugliness inside of me, which is what Jesus said truly makes a person unclean. As for my kids? Well, I know the sins they need to face up to as well, and I will help them face them with the same mirror. Then together we’ll turn from that mirror to the cross, where we find the solution to the problem of sin.

Now let me explain a few good reasons I have for going:

  • I want to understand my culture. I’m actually blessed with the job of being a student of both culture and theology and trying to meet the one with the other. I know people who do that as a hobby, I actually have people who give me a livelihood for doing it. But the only way to do that is to see how the culture presents its values, and yes, even how it seeks to normalize its pet sins. If I step back every time the culture piles on a new immorality, I’m going to get too far back to make sense of it anymore.
  • I want to engage with the world. Be in the world, not of the world. So said Paul, who spoke about his desire to be all things to all people, so that by all possible means he might save some. That doesn’t mean joining them in their sin, nor does it mean silently endorsing it. But it does mean being close enough to talk about it. Being able to sit shoulder to shoulder with someone and say, “Let’s talk about this,” rather than standing on the other side of the fence saying, “It’s awfully nasty over there, you know.”
  • I want to help my children understand what they see. I will not be able to shield my kids from the knowledge of good and evil. That fruit was eaten before they were born, and they’re going to eat of that fruit every day of their lives. I can’t keep them from knowing about homosexuality. Or porn. Or premarital sex. Or divorce. Or sex trafficking. Or gossip. Or brazen disrespect. They will learn of these things sooner or later – and actually, they already know about almost all of those things. What I can do is talk to them about them and guide them in seeing them for what they are. And I can show them how to love people who fall into them. I can love my children when they fall into them. And they will. Maybe not all. Hopefully not most. But maybe some, and a host of other sins. My job is to prepare them to face those things. Now, I’m not going to parade sin in front of my boys intentionally day after day – but I’m not going to live in fear or hide them in my cloak whenever sin walks by either.

As I said much nearer the top of this, I do not fault the Christian who says they will not be seeing this movie. I’m explaining my choice, and giving you food for thought, but you might come to different conclusions. In the end, we stand in grace, under the cross of the one who set us free so that we can live in freedom.

Election 2016 Commentary

Elections are intense, and they capture the attention of the whole nation. I kept a running commentary on Facebook of my thoughts on the whole process over the last 36 hours or so, but if you didn’t catch that, here it is in handy one-post form.


Monday, 11/7/2016, 9:52 PM: Tomorrow we elect an earthly ruler. Whether or not our country makes the “right” choice is a question for the historian. The theologian knows that the heavenly ruler remains, and that he is good. Rest at peace, my friends. Tomorrow is not such a big day after all.

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Tuesday, 11/8/2016, 7:21 AM: Went for a good hard run to start the day. Who knows, maybe we people of God will need our practice doing so. Thought about how Abraham, father of the promise, got his wife’s maidservant pregnant (at his wife’s insistence!), but then when his wife got pregnant, sent the maidservant and her child off into the desert to die. Scandalous! But Jesus still came.

Tuesday, 11/8/2016, 8:10 AM: Just cast my vote. It’s out of my hands now! Thinking about Abraham’s grandson Jacob, a guy so slick his name actually means “Deceiver.” But his uncle tricked him into marrying two women, and swindled 14 years of labor out of him for it. Scandalous! But Jesus still came.

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This might be favorite moment of the whole day.

Tuesday, 11/8/2016, 9:06 AM: What can get a whole group of nuns into a Lutheran Church? Voting! Thinking about how God used Moses to lead his people out of slavery, even though he killed a guy and ran away, and later on literally broke God’s Law – smashed the two tablets to bits because he was angry. Scandalous! But Jesus still came.

Tuesday, 11/8/2016, 11:10 AM: What if today doesn’t go “your way”? I’m not actually sure that any way it can go is all that great. But there are bigger things at work than political machinations. I was just thinking about Samson – blessed by God with super-strength, but he slept around, married a couple different women, and was brought low by a woman’s feminine wiles. Scandalous! But God used Samson, and Jesus still came.

 

Tuesday, 11/8/2016, 1:51 PM: RealClearPolitics is currently predicting a Clinton win by only 6 electoral votes, while ElectionProjection is predicting a Clinton win by 20. But news sources are also saying that these results could swing wildly as the day progresses. My Facebook news feed is just SWIMMING in goofy memes and people wearing their “I Voted” stickers. I’m thinking about King David. Here’s a guy who had multiple wives, but took his friend’s wife to bed with him (while his friend was off at war) and got her pregnant. He tried to cover it up, but that didn’t work, so he had his friend killed. Scandalous! But God called David a “man after his own heart,” and Jesus came anyway.

Tuesday, 11/8/2016, 7:20 PM: Polls are closing along the east coast and reports are coming in with some kind of results. My computer is protesting the election by refusing to anything until I restart it, but the restart is going on 15 minutes so far. Whatever. I’m thinking of King Solomon, wisest guy who ever lived. Unless you count the 300 wives and 700 concubines. Scandalous! But Jesus came anyway.

Tuesday, 11/8/2016, 9:36 PM: Still too early to tell who’s going to win this thing, though stuff is starting to really list toward Trump. But lots of people are also talking about the really big upset, which is the change of Toblerone’s shape to include LESS CHOCOLATE! I’m thinking about a regional governor named Pontius Pilate, who could find no fault with a man called Jesus of Nazareth, but had him publicly tortured and put to death anyway, just to appease the crowds. Scandalous! But Jesus came anyway.

Wednesday, 11/9/2016, 6:59 AM: I went to bed still uncertain of the outcome, but with a prediction in mind. All night I dreamed various scenarios. I woke to the news that Donald Trump is our next president. I don’t know if this is good for America or not. I don’t know what I’d feel if they had gone the other way. What I do know is that the sun is rising, I still have breath in my lungs, and God is still good.

There have been many scandalous people in positions of power throughout history. It is no coincidence that the names most often associated with human horror were also people in government leadership. Such is the way of the world.

Yesterday I repeated the refrain “But Jesus came anyway,” but that’s not the most accurate way to phrase it. See, Jesus didn’t come in spite of scandalous human leaders. He came because of them. He came for them. And for us, with all our own scandalous sinful lives. Jesus came precisely because he alone can solve our problems, can remove our scandal, and can give us hope and a future.

Whatever you’re feeling this morning, whether anger, fear, triumph, gladness or sadness, set it aside for a moment. Rejoice that your good God reigns. Remember that Jesus came for this. And that Jesus is coming again to take us from this.

Gospel Go

It has millions of followers, with more added every day. It is drawing people together from all walks of life, opening doors of communication, cooperation, and friendship between people who otherwise never would have glanced at each other. It is inspiring people to go out into the world and explore.

And it’s a video game, about made up animals with goofy names. But wow! It’s incredible that a children’s game that first appeared twenty years ago has become a world-wide phenomenon with the release of a free-to-play mobile app, and that it has literally changed the way people go about their daily life!

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m astounded, because Pokemon Go is everywhere in the news, social media, and your neighborhood. I’m not even joking about it being in your neighborhood – to play the game, people walk around towns and neighborhoods, looking at a map on their smartphones, and the program plots the creatures onto the map. Players “catch” the creatures – called Pokemon – and add them to their collection.

They can take the Pokemon to assigned places called “Gyms” (designated locations in towns and cities) and let them compete against other people’s Pokemon, or they can feed them candy to make them change forms. When you visit certain landmarks and monuments in your area you can collect special items. Sometimes you find an egg, which you “incubate” by walking around, and when it hatches who knows what you’ll find!

You’ve probably heard horror stories in the news of people getting into trouble while playing this game – crashing their car or bike because they’re playing while driving. Walking off a cliff while playing. Getting attacked by people because they wandered into the wrong place. These stories might make it sound like it isn’t worth the trouble.

But those horror stories only make news because they’re sensational – and actually fairly rare, compared to the number of people playing. For more common is the kinds of stories the news media doesn’t find exciting enough. In Kalamazoo the police department shared a story from one of their off duty police officers. He was hanging out one evening in a park, watching people all over the place playing the game. A man in a business suit comparing collections with a couple of goth kids. Dads running around with their kids catching Pokemon. A pizza guy selling pizzas for $5, and someone bought one for a homeless man who spends a lot of time in that park. The homeless guy ended up walking around handing people the extra slices.

Community. Cooperation. Communication. Friendship. And all because of something as simple as a mobile phone game.

Church, I think we should be paying attention to this. See, we have something way more meaningful, way more powerful, way more lasting than Pokemon Go. It unites us, it breaks down all barriers of culture and age and gender and walk of life. It opens doors for communication, it inspires us to go out into the world and work together, and it instantly makes friends – no, brothers and sisters – of everyone who has it.

I’m not talking about a hymnal. I’m talking about the Gospel, the foundation of our faith. It is the simple, beautiful truth that in Christ we have been forgiven all our sins, given life, salvation, and a future, and that through faith in Jesus we are adopted into his family, called sons and daughters of the one true God. In the Gospel we have the promise of a day when we will all spend forever in a world of perfection, with nothing to separate us from each other or to stand in the way of us truly loving each other, and no prospect of it ever being ruined. That knowledge alone already gives us reasons to care for each other, to look for our brothers and sisters in Christ, to communicate and cooperate with them and grow in friendship and community with each other.

If a mobile app about a children’s game can do all this, I guarantee the Gospel can do so much more. But in order for it to do so, it has to take as much of a priority in all of our lives as Pokemon Go does in its players lives. Here’s what I mean: I’ve played Pokemon Go, and so have my kids, and when you start playing it, I’ll tell you, it catches you as much as you catch the Pokemon. You want to have the app open while you walk around, just in the hope that you’ll find something. You want to keep it open so that your eggs will hatch. You assign it a spot on the home screen of your phone so that you don’t forget to open it the second you walk out the door. You think about it and read about it when you’re not playing.

That sounds like a lot of obsession for a silly game, right? But what if we had the same obsession with the Gospel? I know some Christians who do, and it’s evident in their lives. They really live it. And if you ask them, “How do you have such a deep relationship with Christ and his Word?” they’ll answer, “I read it. I think about it. It’s the first thing I look at in my day. I make sure to have ready access to it. The Bible app is on my home screen on my phone. I read books to help me understand it, and I pray about what I read.”

I want to encourage you, Church, to make the Gospel your obsession. Sink into it day after day. Let it change the way you go about your day. You know, God said something like this to his people a long time ago.

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deut 6:6-9)

The blessings of all of us growing deeper into the Gospel don’t stop with those of us who are already part of the Church. See, with Pokemon Go it’s all about us seeking out and finding the Pokemon wherever they’re hiding. An important part of the Gospel is all of us going out and seeking and finding people who need to hear it, looking for the people we can call to know who Jesus is and what he’s done. The more familiar we become with the Gospel, the more eagerly we want to let other people know about it.

Go ahead and download Pokemon Go and have some fun with it. It’s a fun game to play. But all the more, sink into the Gospel and let it guide the way you live day after day.

#onelifematters

Black lives matter. Blue lives matter. All lives matter. But no matter how many hashtags we post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Friendster, MySpace, etc., in the end it seems like it… doesn’t matter. At least, it doesn’t seem like the hashtags are solving the problems, does it?

I’m not trying to be cynical. I recognize that there are deep issues here. I’m distressed by the stories of what seem to be hasty decisions by police officers. I’m distressed by stories of violent protests against police officers. My little brother is black; his life matters. One of my closest friends is a cop; his life matters. I have a wife and two children; their lives matter. My life… well, that might be debatable some days, but you get the point.

In the end, there’s only one life that matters. More on that in a moment.

It’s been weighing on my mind how we react on social media to every incident. (And note, I say “we” because I believe I have been just as hasty at times.) We see a video or a meme and quickly hit the “share” button, but have we bothered to look more than three paragraphs into the news articles before forming an opinion? Have we waited for due process to reveal the truth of the matter? Are we so quick to jump to a conclusion based on which voice is telling us what to think that we end up contributing to the problem?

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? – Matthew 7:3

In so many ways this is just our human nature blatantly on display. It’s no different than when we rush to judgment on our neighbor because something in their life doesn’t look right to us. We think we know all that’s behind their behavior, we put on our holiness hat, we point a finger and cry foul.

But God will judge us all. And what will he see when he looks at us?

Well, this is why I say there’s only one life that matters. And it isn’t mine. Or yours. It’s the life of a man who came exactly because of all the crap we do to each other day after day. All the times we rush to judgment. All the times we assume we know the score. All the times we take sides against each other. All the times someone makes a hasty decision that ends a life, or a deliberate and well planned one.

Jesus came for all this. He saw this moment in time, when it seems like the world is falling apart around us. He saw all the other moments when our hopes soared and when they came crashing down. He saw all the rottenness in all of us and the rotten things we do to each other. He stepped in… and lived better.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. – Lamentations 3:22

He was compassionate. He was kind. He healed. He forgave. He chastised. He called for repentance. He rebuked. He called. He sought. He sacrificed.

Jesus lived as though every life matters, because to him, every life matters. So he didn’t just live to show us an example, he lived to be a substitute, and then did the unthinkable – he gave up the only life that truly matters, the only perfect life anyone ever lived. He offered it up as appeasement for all of our failure to love each other, for our failure live as though all lives matter. His one life for all of our lives, to make our lives matter.

We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. – Hebrews 10:10

And God accepted that sacrifice as full substitution for everyone. That’s the point of the resurrection. Jesus’s return to life was no gimmick to wow the crowds. It was a sign that his life matters so much that even death can’t hold him down. Can’t hold us down, either, because we have him on our side. That’s how it works – he can overcome death for himself, he can overcome it for us.

So now what? I’m of the mind that if we live as though his life is the only one that truly matters, because only his life truly gives our meaning, then we don’t contribute to the problems – we become the solution. When we live as though Jesus’s life is the only one that matters, we think less about how we can make ourselves significant and more about how we can accomplish his mission of saving the lost. When we live as though Jesus’s life is the only one that matters, we’re less likely to point the finger of blame at others and more likely to ask the question, “How can I help?” When we live as though Jesus’s life is the only one that matters, we draw others to him and show the true meaning of the Gospel to a world that desperately needs to hear it.

Blue lives matter. Black lives matter. All lives matter.

One life matters.

The Power at Work in Us

I had the opportunity to present the chapel devotion at Minnesota Valley Lutheran High School this week. These were the thoughts I shared:

I don’t know what Zacchaeus imagined was going to happen the day he climbed that tree to see Jesus. Did he expect that the experience of seeing this new rabbi would change him in some way, or was he just caught up in the idea of catching a glimpse of a celebrity? He certainly didn’t know he was going to be hosting Jesus in his home, and I don’t think he had any clue how much his life would change that day.

A woman caught in adultery in first century Judea would have no hope for the future. The most she could look forward to is a quick death. She certainly wouldn’t expect freedom and forgiveness. Yet, that’s exactly what happened to one woman, who was dragged out to be stoned to death, and then encountered Jesus. Where she imagined that he would, like every other religious person there, condemn her, instead he rebuked her accusers and offered her forgiveness and a new direction in life.

The mother in the little village of Nain, following her son’s corpse out to the graveyard, could not have imagined that her grief would turn to joy. At best she might have hoped that as Jesus walked up to her, he would show her some kindness and compassion. That within a few moments her son would be alive and well again would have been too great for her to hope for. Yet, when Jesus said to her, “Don’t cry,” he didn’t just mean, “It’ll turn out okay someday, so don’t be too sad.” He meant, “I’m about to take away any reason you have for tears as I prove that I am the Lord of Life.”

As these people – and so many more – encountered Jesus, they found that even the best they could hope for or imagine came short of what Jesus would do for them. His power at work in them was so much more than they anticipated.

Paul’s words that are our text for today talk about this, as he says, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” What is the power he is referring to? To understand that, we have to back up a little. In the verses that comes before this, Paul writes a prayer to the church in Ephesus, and he says, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” The power that is at work within us is the power of knowing the depth of Christ’s love for us, and knowing how he has shown us that love.

Paul was familiar with this power. He had lived it. Of course, there was the miraculous event in which Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus, changing him from one opposed to Christ to a witness for Christ. He had been healed of blindness, saved from death a variety of times, and had multiple personal interactions with the risen Lord. But it wasn’t in those miraculous experiences that Paul saw the greatest demonstration of God’s power. It was in his grace. Paul wrote in Romans 1 that the Gospel is “the power of God for salvation.” Paul, who saw himself as the worst of sinners, knew that he had been saved from death and given access into eternal life. To know the love of God in Christ was far beyond any earthly good for Paul.

And so he wraps up this prayer for the Ephesians by talking about the power of God’s love that is in Christ, and says that according to that power, all those who are in the church, from generation to generation, give glory to Jesus, the one who can do more than we ask or imagine.

That power is in you. Through faith in Jesus, given to you by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, you know the love Christ. Maybe you know it because, like Zacchaeus, you’ve seen a change in the way you live, and the selfishness you used to hold on to has given way to love for God and love for others. Maybe you, like the woman caught in adultery, have known what it’s like to be caught in a sin and afraid of the punishment to come, only to experience grace and forgiveness and release. Maybe you’re like the woman in Nain, and at some point you couldn’t see beyond grief and sadness, but God turned things around and showed you a joyful future. Maybe you’re like Paul, fully aware of your sin, fully aware of your need for forgiveness, feeling like there is no one who has fallen as far as you have – yet you know that at your lowest, Jesus is there with his forgiveness and peace, and you know that you have been saved.

However that power has shown itself in your life, you can trust that it will continue to show itself again and again in your life, in ways you would never ask or imagine. I can’t tell you what that will look like; only God knows how he’s going to prove his grace to you. But he will do it, and he will do so for his own glory, that through your life his glory will be revealed.

And maybe right now you’re in a place where it’s hard to see it. Maybe there’s a sin that has you feeling trapped, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t escape it. Trust in the power of Jesus. Go to his Word and find freedom. Maybe your future doesn’t look so great right now, maybe you’re afraid of what you see on the road ahead. Trust in the power of Jesus. Go to his Word and find strength and peace. Maybe you feel crushed by guilt and can’t imagine how anyone would forgive you, let alone a holy God. Trust in the power of Jesus. Go to his Word and find the assurance that his love is greater than any sin. Maybe you’re just struggling with spiritual apathy, unable to feel much of anything when it comes to your faith. Trust in the power of Jesus. Go to his Word and be filled, and remember that whatever you feel, God’s love for you never changes.

Listen once more to the words of Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, and for you: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”