Occasionally, it’s possible that even Christians lose sight of the big picture.
Believe it or not.
I say “occasionally” - because the hope is that Christians aren’t as easily swayed by current events, natural disaster, trivial personal conflicts, the ups & downs of emotion…because, hopefully, the Christian’s outlook on life is grounded in the revealed Word of God, the unchanging Truth which triumphs over every doubt and worry and disaster.
That’s the hope, at least.
But occasionally, perhaps a little bit more often than occasionally, it’s possible that even Christians lose sight of the big picture.
I don’t know. What do you think?
Is it probable that Christians lose sight of the big picture? And not just on an occasional basis, as though it’s only once or twice or three times a year when the Christian gets caught up in the pain and the worry and the doubt which drives so much of what the unbelieving world does?
Or, to put it simply: Have you ever lost sight of GOD’S “big picture”?
I know I have.
It could happen any number of different ways. But my guess is that if you examine your life, your heart, your thoughts, what it is that drives what you do – you’ll find a little bit of what I’m talking about.
Consider for yourself:
- the time, the effort, the heart you put into your occupation…and the way your work is taken for granted, expected as normal, maybe even surpassing the efforts of your co-workers – but with little recognition, no recognition, or maybe the simple reward of more work to do.
- Or perhaps the scrimping, the saving, the tough choices you make as you manage a household budget or small business budget; but rather than finding appreciation for a stable financial position, or gratefulness for work well done, or even the simple satisfaction that you made some God-pleasing decisions that have borne some fruit…instead, you find second-guessing, grumbling, resentment.
- Generalize to any aspect of life: shortchanged, taken for granted; all the effort, all the work, none of the recognition, no one even notices or says ‘thank you’; running on empty, tired, worn out, hungry, unappreciated, unnoticed, locked into a task or occupation or job that you once loved but which you now have no choice about – simply because no one else even notices that they could help.
Occasionally - perhaps more than occasionally? Is it possible, even probable, that Christians…you & I…lose sight of the big picture?
Is it possible, even probable, that some of what I’ve mentioned resonates with you – and you can fill in the spaces with the details and the heartaches and the frustrations & disappointments?
And, worst of all – that maybe, perhaps, possibly, you’ve gotten so used to the way things are that you haven’t even noticed that it wasn’t always like this?
Occasionally, it’s possible that ‘even’ Christians lose sight of the big picture, that ‘even’ Christians feel SHORTCHANGED about our obligations, our responsibilities, the lack of recognition…with the result that each of us has come here carrying a grocery bag, briefcase, backpack, truckload of quiet, nagging, guilt – frustration – disappointment at our occupations, circumstances, personal aches or emotional pain or health problems?
That’s a wide net, I realize.
But is it possible that we’ve lost sight of the big picture, and that we feel that same sort of disappointment toward GOD?
Talk about a bombshell!
Not on purpose, and surely not verbalized…but might we feel shortchanged about:
- the job God has given to me, with the boss he has placed over me, the not-so-much of a salary that the Lord has provided;
- the spouse or children whom God has given to me, and the time and heart that is ignored and taken for granted;
- the blessings God has given and the discontent over what he hasn’t;
- even within our church family, feeling shortchanged about the work God has given us to do;
- perhaps feeling frustrated or shortchanged with the mind and the rational capability to comprehend the treasures of God’s grace, the basics which we understood or accepted so easily as children…profound truths that leave us with our adult minds spinning in frustration.
We know too well the dreadful, deadly echo of age-old words - as Adam said:“Lord, the woman you put here with me…SHE’S the real problem!” And Eve said: “Lord, the other creatures you put here…THOSE are the problem!”
Fill in the blank: Lord, the tree you placed in the garden…the money you’ve given me to manage…the job you’ve provided…the task of sharing your Word…
…and perhaps, is it possible, is it probable, that we’ve lost sight of the BIG PICTURE – feeling that God has somehow shortchanged us; and our discontent with the BLESSINGS God has given is really just thinly veiled discontent with the One who gave those blessings.
That might be how the Ephesians felt. As our fellow Christians, I should say, that IS how the Ephesians felt; because even though we’re separated from them by a tremendous gap of time and space, those Ephesians were just like you and me.
They felt shortchanged.
Their beloved Apostle Paul, who had spent two or three years at their church, in their city - their beloved Apostle Paul was gone, languishing in some enforced leisure time under house arrest in Rome. Meanwhile, the worship of Artemis was still running full tilt in Ephesus – the temple of Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and it brought pagans of every stripe flooding to the city…so much so that one might think of Ephesus as a Las Vegas-style Disneyworld – souvenir shops on every corner, unspeakable adulteries carried out under the guise of worship of this fertility goddess.
So God gives Paul the urge to write and the words to say. He writes to Christians THEN and Christians TODAY – people who’ve felt shortchanged and who have lost sight of the big picture.
And you’ll notice that rather than simply providing some short-term solution or a list of some positive thinking practices and self-help strategies…Paul takes them back to the beginning. Even before the beginning, at the same time zooming ahead to NOW and looking ahead to the end of time.
You could say that Paul takes the Ephesians, and us, along as he zooms up to 30,000 feet to show them the big picture:
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.
9 And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
God reached down into our world - a world (and heart) that says you’ve got earn what you have, you’ve got to work hard for every penny, and you deserve the praise you get (or the ridicule you receive) . . . and God reached down, long before you were born; God reached down with conscious thought and heart-rending work, to pour out his overflowing grace into our lives through his Son Jesus Christ; and he has sent his Spirit to plant this truth deeply within your heart, and bring forth its fruit in your life, and to encourage you every time you’ve felt shortchanged, or neglected, or forgotten; God encourages you with the truth of your eternity – and to prove that eternity is not just as some far-off future event, God has given his Spirit as a downpayment, a deposit.
Just look at the way God speaks here. Again and again, you get the impression that God is being as generous as possible with all of his blessings, piling blessing upon blessing in the fullest measure possible: Predestined - adopted - freely - redemption - forgiveness - made known - included - marked with a seal!
And in case you missed the point, Paul restates things once more:
11 In [Christ] we were also chosen, having been predestined…in order that we…might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having 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.
Right there, in these verses, God addresses every feeling of emptiness, frustration, disappointment, shortchange-ed-ness with overflowing blessings. Sins forgiven, Spirit given as a downpayment of heaven; and all of this, beginning to end, freely and overflowingly done
and given for the praise of God’s glory - all that the Father planned, all that Christ lived and died for, all that the Spirit continues to do among you and me – for the praise of God’s glory!
Talk about a “big picture”!
Christian webcomic, Adam Ford, occasionally making its appearance on our church’s Facebook page or blog. Very perceptive cartoons demonstrating God’s eternal truth. Doesn’t paint a fake picture of Christianity.
One of his more recent went like this:
“I struggle with anxiety and depression. I’ve been a Christian for about 10 years: 5 of them as a type-A extrovert, 5 of them as an anxiety-ridden introvert. The first time I had an anxiety attack, I thought I was having a stroke. I was driving. I almost crashed. I couldn’t drive for a long time after that. I’ve never been the same since that day. Anxiety and depression have changed my life.”
He goes on to describe and put into words some of the feelings that people struggle with, some of the decisions that seem so overwhelming - the simplest things such as what to have for breakfast, and the worry about when in the world any of these feelings would change.
He doesn’t claim to have an exhaustive answer of any sort for why God allows such pain and disorder in his life. But this is what he says: “I do believe, though, that part of the reason is so I can encourage others who struggle as I do. Feelings can be dirty, filthy, stinking liars - so I am writing this to encourage you with the truth.”
And what does he point to? What comfort does this fellow Christian draw from God’s Word? Exactly what we have before us today. The comic puts it this way:
“The truth of the gospel is not dependent on how you feel about it at any given time, Christian.
God loves you and chose you before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless, even if you get too depressed to care sometimes, Christian.
Jesus died on the cross to atone for your sins and to secure your status as an eternal child of God, whether or not there are enough happy chemicals in your brain right now for that thought to give you the warm and fuzzies, Christian.
Your standing before God is based on the work of Jesus Christ, and when God looks at you, even anxiety-ridden you, even depressed you, even in your very lowest points, he sees his beloved child securely clothed in the full righteousness of Christ, Christian.
Store the truth in your heart and cling to it in those times when your emotions betray you; the truth is not dependent on our feelings. I thank God for that.”
What a beautiful truth: you are at a time and a place that God had in mind and planned just for you, even before he said “let there be.” You are absolutely unique in your set of talents, the people you know, your personality, everything that you are; and all that you are, from your words to your thoughts to your actions to YOU have been redeemed by Christ Jesus himself and made new in the resurrection from the dead, in YOUR resurrection from the dead.
And in his grace, God has met our feelings of shortchange-ed-ness with the fullness of his grace; God has met our resentment and disappointment with his forgiveness and his promise. And as we, together, congregationally, look at the opportunities to share that truth; as we look at our summer outreach, our parades, VBS, the effort to talk to the people who haven’t been here in a long time, the new building and ministry plans, all of it - dear friends, start here: God has met every bit of reluctance, anxiety, worry, doubt, depression, every feeling of shortchange-ed-ness and not-enough-ness - God has met all of it with his eternal plan in Christ: to generously pour out his grace on YOU. May God bless us, as we work together to share this truth; AMEN.