“Not yet,” he answered.
Of course he hasn’t. But neither have you. In fact, even if you're a sickly, aged, and decrepit shadow of a human being, you haven't yet lived all your life—eternity stretches ahead. Death may come, but that's not the end.
Insurance statistics may tell you how long you may expect to live and pay premiums, but no one can tell you how long life will last—no one except the person who gave you life—God.
At the other end of the spectrum, we pat a child on the head and, for want of any better conversational material, say, “And how old are you?”
The answer depends upon the maturity of the child. Younger children tend to give their age—“I’m three.” As they get older, they tend to express their ambitions, “I’m five, going on six.”
Neither of these answers are correct. Mathematically, perhaps, they're satisfactory, but from the viewpoint of Paul, they're not only skimpy, but untrue.
Paul writes “He hath chosen us in him before the foundations of the world” (Eph. 1:4). He has “predestinated us unto the adoption of children.”
Predestination is a frightening word to many. It shouldn’t be. Breaking it down, we find two principle parts: pre—meaning “beginning,” and destination—meaning “end.” It's simply one more alpha-omega in the Scriptures.
Whether or not the word predestination frightens us, or, possibly, comforts us more than it should, it's an uncommon word in our conversation and a common practice of our everyday life.
The end's always contained in the beginning. The timid bride, making her first cake presumes that she can do it. She prepares the eggs, flour, milk, and baking powder. She presents these strange ingredients to each other and preheats the oven. She then presides over the baking and awaits the destination—the cake.
When the cake comes out of the oven, she's not surprised when it turns out to be what she had predetermined it would be. Its destiny was set. The end was in the beginning. The omega in the alpha.
She's, in a sense, a god in her kitchen. She's sovereign. She's a creator. Every creative act follows that same pattern. An architect's not surprised when a house turns out to be as he pre-planned it. A composer's not surprised when his work turns out to be a song instead of a recipe for cabbage soup.
Since the believers in Ephesus were Gentiles—non-Jewish, that is—they would not have been familiar with the writings of David, the song-evangelist of the Old Testament. Had they been, they would have known about the predestination concept. … I am fearfully and wonderfully made … . My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them. How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand … (Ps. 139:14–18).
Some of you may remember me telling you of the observations of modern scientists that the human mind is so powerful that it outshines any computer we can construct. If we indeed could make a computer that could do what the mind can do, it would have to be housed in a building one hundred stories high and as big as the state of Texas.
Can you imagine that? Of course not. It seems infinite. But even Texas is not infinite—it only seems that way. God is. And that's why he can make infinite (endless) plans for you.
Naturally you can’t see this. You can’t even imagine this. You can’t comprehend it even if there were someone clever enough to explain it to you.
No wonder Paul prayed for you that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe” (Eph. 1:17–19). Two stories, both as true as they are amazing, follow:
A friend told me of an employee whom I shall, for the moment, call Sam. Obviously that's not his name, and when you hear his story, you'll know why I give him the protection of a fictitious name.
Sam was a good-hearted, hard worker. He drove a truck for Joe’s plumbing business … just a good-hearted, hard-working truck driver who delivered merchandise and kept the contractors happy.
But Sam was not your ordinary blue-shirt worker, he had a romantic streak. He liked to put flowers on the desks of the women who worked in the office. As I get the story, the women were embarrassed by this. There is, as you women know, one thing that's worse than not getting flowers from someone you like—it's getting flowers from someone you don’t particularly like.
Being snubbed didn’t discourage Sam.
One day two well-dressed gentlemen showed up at Joe’s warehouse. They asked for Sam. They didn’t explain their mission, they simply asked for Sam the truck driver. When Sam appeared, they asked him his name—first and last. Then they asked his father’s name. As soon as they had satisfied themselves that they had indeed found the man they were looking for, they explained their reason for seeking him. “An uncle of yours died, leaving you some money. As a matter of fact, a substantial amount of money. And since you claim the name and can prove it, you now have six million dollars—tax free.”
Sam kept on driving a truck for a while, but his acceptance level around the warehouse changed perceptibly. He quit sending flowers to get a little acceptance. He probably had more acceptance than he could handle from that time forward. He was, to use Paul’s Ephesian phrase, “accepted in the beloved” (Eph. 1:6).
This modern story is simply a repetition of what Paul's describing. God is looking for you. A vast inheritance awaits you. You didn’t earn it. You didn’t even know about it. You don’t even have to deserve it. In fact, there's nothing you can do to deserve it. You can simply open your eyes to the possibility—or more correctly, let God’s spirit open your eyes—and claim it. Of course, you have to establish your relationship to the one who “willed” all this for you. Then claim what's yours through God’s grace. Deceptively simple? Yes, of course. It is simple, but deceptively so. Relationship is the secret ingredient and it's the one place where most of us miss the blessing. Living in relationship to God and to the rest of God’s family are two sides of the same coin. It's not easy. Possible, but not easy.
Relationship is the theme of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. All of which leads me to say that the Bible's not a book to be understood and then obeyed; it's a book to be obeyed. Understanding may or may not come.
Recently, a Bible-publishing company wanted to publish a deluxe gift edition of the Scriptures. The directors were discussing the various types of leather that might enhance the appearance and elegance of the book. Should the cover be Morocco leather, eel skin, or some even more exotic leather?
“I suggest we put the Bible into shoe leather,” suggested one director. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a good place to start putting the scriptures into shoe leather—into our daily walk and practice.
Simply put, if you want to improve (1) your relationship with God, simply let God’s spirit first of all convict you about (2) your relationships with people; then you should correct these relationships and confirm (3) the relationship you have with the called family of God, the church.
A vast inheritance, one beyond your power to imagine, not to mention describe, awaits you. Knowing who you are in relation to God’s predetermined plan of salvation is the first step in discovering what that plan is, and what your “inheritance in the saints is.” My second story, also true, does not need to conceal the real name of the hero. His name is Leslie.
In Wichita, Kansas, I was invited to a chicken dinner, not an uncommon experience for a visiting preacher.
After a delicious meal, my hostess asked, “Would you like to hear our grandson play the violin?”
Friends, a violin expertly played makes the angels envious. The gateway of hell is serenaded by beginning students. I was not enthusiastic, but I was polite and, frankly, obligated.
“Yes, please,” I said, smiling a thin smile.
“Leslie is going to play on a violin his grandfather made.” My smile dimmed. An amateur solo on a homemade violin was not a joyful prospect. A handsome young man appeared. The instrument he proudly carried justified his pride; it was beautiful. He began to play a hymn, and I found myself entranced with the mellow music. When he finished, he said, “I played that for my grandparents. They love that song. Now I will play one of my favorite pieces.”
Not being a musician, I didn’t recognize the impressive name of the music he was going to play, but it sounded like something I ought to have known if I were going to make any claim to culture. At any rate, it was magnificent. A difficult piece to play, but worth all the skill and effort it required. When he finished playing it, I was too awed to applaud. Finally I asked. “How long have you been playing the violin?”
“I started taking lessons when I was five.”
“Oh, that explains it,” I said.
“Not really. I took lessons when I was five, but I never really learned to play well until last year.”
“And last year?” I asked.
“I attend Wichita University and play in the philharmonic orchestra. I played second-chair violin. The first-chair violinist, the concert master, as they are called, was a girl. I envied her position. I wanted to play first-chair violin. I began a study of the concert masters of the world’s best-known orchestras and discovered that ninety-five percent of them are Jewish.
“What could I do? I'm not Jewish. I'm Irish. Then I remembered a verse our pastor had pointed out. It's in Romans. ‘For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Rom. 2:28–29).
“So,” Leslie continued, “if there's anything that makes Jewish people better violinists, I could claim whatever the inheritance is. I'm the seed of Abraham. I'm in the genetic line of all the great musicians, before and after David the psalmist. When I realized that, there was such a change in my playing that my teacher could not resist asking, ‘What has happened to you?’
“I'm now “first chair” … the concert master.” Hearing this story, I saw an entirely new dimension to the “inheritance of the saints.” Paul apparently grasped this. Again and again he tells his Gentile friends that whatever there was that separated them from the covenant of promise, (see Eph. 2:12) that wall has been broken down by Christ. “He is our peace who hath made us both one” (2:14). Whatever strengths, abilities, promises, and powers resided in the apostles and prophets, we're building upon them. They're our strengths, our abilities, and our promises. We need to claim them. We need to affirm our relationship. Is this a mystery? Paul said it was.
The late Buckminster Fuller observed that this universe of ours is only a safe combination lock that’s located on the inside.
Paul said the universe is a secret vault, with the combination “in Christ” (Eph. 3:6). Then he says that we are in Christ (see Eph. 3:14–17). Ten times he says, “in Christ” in the letter to the Ephesians.
Christ unlocks the mystery. He reveals the secret. And, if we despair of understanding, who Christ is, the Bible promises that the Holy Spirit will “reveal him.” The Spirit also will affirm our relationship to Christ.
One more warning: We cannot be “in his person” while we're not “in his people.” That's the theme of the rest of the Book of Ephesians. It's not difficult to relate to God through Christ. The place where we forfeit power is in broken relationships with people.
Restoring relationships must become the responsibility of every Christian.
Togetherness was ever on the mind of E. Stanley Jones. One of his most pithy observations says that "the church" can’t go much further than it is without first going deeper. Then he adds: that it can’t go deeper until it commits itself to going together. Jones is right!