Ephesians 1 has to be one of the most incredible passages in the entire Bible. In that book, Paul is showing the church in Ephesus, and us, what our identity is, who we are. Many of us look for someone to name us. We want to know from an early age that we are worthwhile, that we matter, that we can be someone, that we are important.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. -Ephesians 1:3 – 10
The picture here is incredible. We were orphans. Lost, destitute, hopeless.
We’ve adopted two boys, one domestically and one from Ethiopia. The moment that you meet an orphan is overwhelm- ing. I remember holding our son in Arizona when we met him.
He was two days old, weighed five pounds, and looked a little like Benjamin Button with all his wrinkles. The reality of what lay ahead for him in the state system if we didn’t adopt him was so sad to think about. No, we didn’t rescue him or save him, but we did adopt him and make him one of our family.
I remember the moment we landed in Africa to meet our son Judah. The brokenness of the country, the poverty, the smell, was overwhelming. The sense of helplessness you feel and the desire to do something, anything, is great. Judah was four when we met him and not excited about meeting us. I’m sure he had seen families come into the transition home who didn’t take kids home. He certainly saw families come and go while he stayed put. So he was unsure about who we were and if this was for real.
It took over an hour for him to even look at us. Even when we would get down on one knee to be at his eye level, he wouldn’t look at us. We spent a week with him, loving on him, playing games with him, hoping to communicate that “We love you and we are here for you.”Then one of the worst moments of our lives happened.
We had to leave.
For some reason, the policy for adopting in Africa meant we had to take two trips. I will never forget the look on his face as he began to understand that we were leaving, and in his four-year-old mind, we weren’t coming back. We tried to communicate with him through the translator, but he just looked at us with his big eyes and cried. Not a soft cry but screaming. As I carried him back to his room, he clung to my neck for dear life. As I tried to hold it together and be tough, Katie was falling apart. It was one of the worst moments of my life.
I remember getting back into the van with the other adop- tive families (we were the only ones leaving that day), and they asked how we were doing. I know they were trying to be helpful, but I wanted to shout at them. Our flight home was one of the quietest plane rides I’ve ever experienced, as Katie and I sat there completely run-down emotionally.
How do you tell a four-year-old who only knows one word in the English language (“fish,” because we brought goldfish to eat) that we are coming back? That we don’t know when—it could be four weeks or six months—but we will be back. I wanted to shout at the top of my lungs in his language, “We’re coming back.” Even as the workers tried to comfort him and tell him, he just continued crying and reaching out to us so that we would take him with us.
I remember when we got off the plane and we got to the hotel, I asked Katie if she wanted to walk around or get something to eat, and she said, “I just want to sit here and cry.”
This is the struggle we have in trusting our heavenly Father. We were all orphans before Christ. We know the feeling of being left. We know the feeling of being forgotten. We know the feeling of being looked over, of not being chosen.
This is why Paul chooses the words he does.
God chose you. As a follower of Jesus, God chose you. When?
Before the foundations of the world, before creating anything, God chose you.
He chose you so that you could be blameless and holy before him.
“But how?” you ask. In love.
This love is different from the love we see in movies or read on Hallmark cards or listen to as we slow dance to a song. Love in those places is a feeling, an overwhelming, uncontrollable feeling. This is why people say things like,“You can’t choose who you love.” None of that is true. Love is not an overwhelming, uncontrollable feeling. Think for a minute, what if God loved you with that kind of love? What if God’s love for you was a feeling, where he said, “You can’t control who you love”?
God’s love, the love we are called to have for those around us and in our relationships, is a choice, followed by a feeling. God chose you in love.
Adoption, as sons (and daughters) in Christ, according to the will of God. This was and is God’s plan. This was not unexpected for God. The idea that Jesus would die in our place and rise from the dead was his plan.
Because we are sinners, because we are lost, because we are broken and can’t fix ourselves, and because we are orphans.
Every time I read through Ephesians 1, I am overwhelmed by the love of my Father in heaven. I stand in awe that he loves me as he does. That he would go to the lengths that he did to save me and give me life.
Can I trust God?
Maybe you still struggle with this question, “Can I trust you, God?” After all, when we sin, we are telling God we don’t think we can trust him. This is a question everyone has; in fact, it is the same question Abraham had in the Old Testament.
If you’ve grown up in church, you know the story of Abraham, and our knowledge of his story kind of takes away some of the amazingness. In Genesis 12, we have this man named Abram. He all of a sudden appears in the pages of Scripture. He is out in the desert and he hears a voice. A voice he may have heard before, but maybe not. We aren’t told. This voice, God from heaven, tells him to pack up what he has and move “to a land I will show you.”
Now picture this: Abram goes home and tells his wife Sarai that they are to pack up and go to a land that this voice (God) will show them. I always wonder what that was like. If she was like most wives, she probably asked him how long he’s been hearing this voice. Has it said other things? Did it give any directions? Any hints on what lay ahead?
No, Abram would tell her. Only that we are to start walking and stop when he says.
What God does tell Abram is that he will one day be a great nation and that all the people of the world will be blessed through him. The irony of this is that Abram has no children and is seventy-five years old.
Finally, as he walks to this land, there is a fascinating promise given to Abram in Genesis 15. Time has passed, and Abram and Sarai still do not have a child. From their perspective, they are not any closer to being a great nation than when they left their home. So Abram does what we would do. He whines to God. Complains, actually.
God takes it and is incredibly patient with Abram through this entire conversation. As Abram unloads his feelings of despair, lack of faith, anger, and hurt over his desire to be a father, but yet not having this desire met (are you beginning to see the connection between not trusting God and giving in to temptation or other sins?), God tells him to look to the heavens and number the stars. Abram can’t number the stars, as there are too many of them. “So,” God tells him, “shall your offspring be.”
God doesn’t just stop there. He tells Abram what he (God) has done. What is interesting to me is that when God gives commands in Scripture, in particular the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, before giving a command, he reminds the people of what he has done. God is about to make a covenant, a promise with Abram, but before he does, he reminds Abram of what he has done so far. He hasn’t just led him to a new place and promised him a son; he has guided, provided, and protected him and his family.
Then and only then does God give commands or make covenants. In Exodus 20, before giving Moses the law, he reminds him, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery”(20:2). This is the foundation of the commands of God, his promise and the freedom that he provides.
In Genesis 15, after reminding Abram, he makes a covenant with Abram. We aren’t told in Scripture if Abram asked for it, but he was at least doubting and wondering if this was going to happen. He was complaining to God, as we would do. This has always been a comfort to me, that God doesn’t strike down questions in the Bible, but listens and answers them.
God tells Abram to bring him a heifer, a female goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon. Abram did, and cut them all in half. In this time period, when two people made a covenant, they would kill the animals and cut them in half, and then they would walk through the animals, saying, “If I don’t keep my end of the covenant, may I end up like these animals.”
It was getting late and Abram fell asleep. Then God made a covenant with Abram, while he was asleep. As the sun set and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and flaming torch passed between the pieces. Abram never passed through the animals; only God did.
This is the extent to which God goes to keep his promises as our Father. He makes the promise and keeps it, even when we don’t. Even in our moments of failure, doubt, and fear, he is still strong and sure.
*This is an excerpt from my brand new book, Breathing Room: Stressing Less & Living More. Click on the link to purchase it.