How many of you are superhero fans? I’m not a ComiCon regular but I do love a good superhero movie; in fact, I can’t wait to see “Doctor Strange.” If you’re not into superhero movies, let me tell you something about each one of them has in common: they all have an origin story. Each superhero has a story from their past to describe who they are. They almost always include drama and hardship and heart break. Let me give you a few examples:
- He struggled with social interactions, suffered from bullying, and lead an uninteresting home life anchored by his loving aunt and uncle. All of that changed, however, when he was bitten by a radioactive spider while on a high school science field trip. (ANSWER: Spiderman)
- As a young boy, his parents came face-to-face with an armed mugger after leaving a theater through an alley. After a scuffle, the thief panicked, firing his gun twice, and killing both of his parents. Inheriting his parents’ vast fortune, he dedicated the rest of his life to becoming the perfect weapon against crime and criminals. (ANSWER: Batman)
- After being taken prisoner he was forced to use his skills as an arms designer to build a weapon of mass destruction. Kept alive only by the treatments given to him by his captors after shrapnel had lodged near his heart, he had little choice but to obey. But instead of making the weapon, he used the materials to build a suit of nearly invincible armor loaded with weapons. (ANSWER: Ironman)
A good origin story has difficulty and hardship. The more barriers the character faced early on, the better the story. This is not only true of comic book heroes, but real life people as well. See if you can name these real-life superheros?
- His grandfather was killed in an Indian raid. His father witnessed the attack. His father then moved to Kentucky were he took on odd jobs. He disliked the hard labor associated with frontier life and was considered lazy by neighbors and family members for all his “reading, scribbling, ciphering, and writing poetry, done to avoid manual labor.” He preferred to stay home in the one-room log cabin he was born in on the Sinking Spring Farm in Hardin County, Kentucky. (ANSWER: Abraham Lincoln)
- She was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, to an unmarried teenage mother. It was a single sexual encounter and the couple broke up not long after. Her mother was a housemaid. After her birth, her mother traveled north and they spent her first six years living in rural poverty with her grandmother. She was so poor that she often wore dresses made of potato sacks, for which the local children made fun of her. Her grandmother taught her to read before the age of three and took her to the local church where she was nicknamed “the Preacher” for her ability to recite Bible verses. When she was a child, her grandmother would hit her with a stick when she did not do chores or if she misbehaved in any way. (ANSWER: Oprah Winfrey)
That’s an amazing story. All the best stories begin with an against-all-odds origin story and in case you didn’t know, yours does too.
Today we are continuing our series “The God I Wish You Knew.” You see, there is a god out there that you might have met. He’s angry. He doesn’t really care about you; he just wants you to follow the rules. This god bombs abortion clinics and protests gay pride parades. He’s not really interested in a relationship with you as much as he is interested in how much you drink and what’s on your DVR.
But that’s not my God. My God loves you. He values you. He forgives you. He wants to be in a relationship with you. You don’t have to stop smoking or drinking to come to him. He wants you just as you are. He doesn’t want you to stay that way, but if he asks you to make a change it’s not to keep you from fun. It’s to keep you from hurting yourself. The God I wish you knew wants you to live life to the fullest and he would do anything he could to make that happen. Including helping you overcome your origin story. And some of you have a tough origin story:
- Your life was cruising along until one day your dad sat you down and said, “Your mom and I are getting a divorce.” You can still remember the details of that day like you remember 9/11. You just wanted a happy family, but you got a difficult origin story.
- You went to a party and someone offered you a beer. It seemed harmless, but what you didn’t realize is that was the beginning of a lifetime of addiction. All you wanted to do was fit in. Instead you got an origin story.
Today we are going to look at our origin story. As we do we are going to find out that despite our origin, God loves us. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or where you’re from God values you and wants the best for you.
As we get started in Ephesians 2, Paul, the author starts with our origin story. This is everyone’s origin story. It’s not just a few of us. This covers all of us.
Our Origin Story: We Were dead
“1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,” Ephesians 2:1
That’s the beginning of a great origin story, am I right? You were dead. I have a buddy who this is his origin story. His name is Brad Fite. He was here a couple of months ago. He is in a band with Kyle, the Music Director at Canyon Springs Church, called The Whisper Mill that is blowing up right now. A few years back Brad was in Afghanistan and the military truck he was riding in rolled over a land mine and blew him up. On the way to the hospital he died three times and had to be revived. That is an amazing origin story, don’t you think? I’m glad that didn’t happen to me but imagine if it did; if that happened to you, you could trump any dinner time conversation: You got a new job; well, I was blown up by a bomb in Afghanistan. You met Mel Gibson; oh yea? I died three times.
What Paul is saying here is that this is all of our origin story. Before we got in relationship with God we were dead. He’s not talking physically dead like Brad; he’s talking spiritually dead. If you think about it, that’s actually the worst kind of dead. If you’re physically dead, but spiritually alive, that means that you will spend eternity with God in heaven. But if you are spiritually dead and then actually dead, you will spend eternity separated from God. Definitely not the option I would choose.
One way or another Paul’s words above described you and me. We were spiritually dead. Dead in our sin. Dead in our trespasses. The word trespass means to pass over someone else or to overstep the bounds of decency. To step on someone’s feelings. To step over your commitment to your spouse. This is the line of right and wrong and you step over it. Let’s face it; we’re all guilty of that. Aren’t we?
In this verse, Paul says we were dead. We were dead in our relationship with God. He’s perfect; we’re not. He’s worthy; we’re not worthy. There is no reason why a perfect God would want to be with people like us who yell at their kids and text on the freeway and try to sneak 12 items into the express line at the grocery store. Paul calls us dead. Then he describes just what dead looks like:
“1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” Ephesians 2:1-2
We Followed the Ways of the World
Our culture has a way of drawing us away from God. For example, we all know someone who struggles with alcohol; a friend, a family member, someone at work. Have you followed the Jose Fernandez story? Jose was an all star pitcher who just won the Comeback Player of the Year award, but last month he took some buddies on a boat trip and his boat was found upside down and everyone in his boat was dead. It has since been discovered that his blood alcohol was twice the legal limit and he had used cocaine. It’s tragic. I’m not saying that you can’t ever have a drink of alcohol, but we all at least have to admit that it’s dangerous when you over-indulge. We all know a person or family that’s been devastated by alcohol and those are just the ones we know; alcoholics are really good at hiding.
Our society doesn’t just sell alcohol though; it also sells us sex. One study shows that 27% of advertising is using sex to advertise. What does that do to our culture. What kind of impact does that have on our junior high kids? How does that affect the longevity of marriage? What does that do to women who are already struggling with their body image?
Amanda Seyfried put it like this:
“I try not to look in the mirror very much. Nobody’s perfect. Only in Hollywood are people perfect and that’s because they spend thousands of dollars on trainers and diets and surgeries. That’s what we’re made to feel like we’re supposed to look like but if you put it in perspective, there’s nothing realistic about it!”
If Amanda feels like that, how must the average woman on the street feel?
These are the ways of the world. The ways of the world also include materialism, the pursuit of money, the pursuit of popularity, the pursuit of the perfect body, workaholism, and the list goes on. We are constantly being sold a lifestyle that takes us away from the pure lifestyle that God wants for us.
Here’s the crazy thing about it: The world will tell you to pursue alcohol, run after sex, seek money above anything, but when people actually do it, they get hammered. You see TV show after TV show depicting extramarital affairs and yet if you have an affair, our culture will destroy you. We are consistently advertised hundreds of kinds of alcohol, but if you become an alcoholic and you’re in the public eye, every late night show host will mock and ridicule you relentlessly.
I want to point out to you one more phrase in this verse:
“you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air.” Ephesians 2:2
This isn’t just a plot set up by this world to take you out. It’s a plot designed by the kingdom of the air, which, in this verse, is a reference to Satan. It’s an insidious plot. It promises fun and laughter and satisfaction but leaves you empty.
Folks, this is your origin story. This is who we all were. We simply followed the ways of the world. It’s what everyone’s doing. We just tried to satisfy our cravings and when we were at our selfish peak we hurt people. Lots of people. And consequently, we were objects of wrath. Not only were we objects of the wrath of people, we were objects of the wrath of God:
Verse 3 puts it like this:
“3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” Epshesians 2:3
There are a lot of people in our world that that verses describe what they think about God. He’s mad at us. With God it’s all about pointing out what we did wrong. Trying to get us away from satisfying our desires. Picking at us for our mistakes. I guess if you stopped reading after 3 verses that would be your view of God. But those three verses only give us our origin story. If you keep reading until the conclusion you get the total picture:
4 But 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. Ephesians 2:4-6
It’s a shame that people stop just a few verses short of who God really is. Yes, he knows our mistakes. Yes, he sees the trouble we’ve caused. Yes, He can see our weaknesses. But God only reminds us of our origin story so that we can know just how great his love is for us. What makes Abraham Lincoln’s story amazing is where he came from. What astounds us about Oprah is what she had to overcome to get to where she is. We love Spiderman because he started out as little nerdy Peter Parker. You can’t fully understand the love that God has for us until you understand your origin story.
Good news: God Changes Our Origin Story
God didn’t look down on you and say, “Wow, he’s really great. I want him. Wow, she’s pretty; I want to use her.” God doesn’t work that way. There was a campus ministry I heard about when I was younger that targeted people that way. They would openly say, “We look for the head of the cheerleaders and the captain of the football team and if we can get them, we can get everyone.” God never does that. In fact, it’s his pattern to pick the most unlikely.
God didn’t pick us at the height of our success and achievement. He fingers us when we are dead in our transgressions. When we were at our worst. It wasn’t when you were at your prettiest and most confident and successful that God reached out to us. It was in the shadows when you were at your worst.
- after the abortion
- after the DUI
- after using that woman
- after getting loaded
It was while you were at your worst that God reached down and gave you grace and mercy. Let me give you a couple of quick definitions of those terms: Grace is getting what you do not deserve. Mercy is not getting what you totally deserve. We deserve punishment; He gives us forgiveness. We deserve separation from God; He would do anything to be close to us.
[bctt tweet=”Grace is getting what you don’t deserve; mercy is not getting what you do.” username=”canyon_springs”]
Here’s the great thing about being chosen when you were at your worst: You don’t have to pretend to be anything other than what you are with God. You don’t have to prove yourself at work; you don’t have to work out more so your body looks in shape; you don’t have to make a certain salary; you don’t have to get into that college or date that girl or go to grad school for God to love you. When you were at your worst Jesus died for you.
I want to end by giving you a little insight into my origin story. When I was a kid by dad drank. It looked nothing like the exciting times portrayed on a Bud Light ad. He was angry and violent and scary. As a result, I was terrified all the time. I was the shyest kid you would have ever met. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. I don’t remember having any friends at school. I walked to school alone, ate alone, walked home alone. I have a picture of me when I was in 3rd grade:
You see that vacant look in my eye? All my pictures looked like that. Either scared or like one of those pictures taken of the early American pioneers with that far-off look in their eyes.
Then when I was 13 my life changed. That’s when Jesus entered my life. I spent a couple of years in high school as that shy kid and then, all of a sudden, God changed me. If you know me, you know that I’m embarrassingly outgoing. At least that’s what my family will tell you. I treat the waitress, the grocery store checker, the bus boy, the mailman, all like my best friend.
It’s funny when I show people pictures like this of me when I was younger because they get embarrassed for me. It’s uncomfortable for them. But I don’t feel that way. I’m okay with it because I know that’s what I looked like when I was dead. But I’m not dead anymore. God has saved me by his grace. I’m not the same person. My origin story started off rough, but I have been saved I have been given mercy that I did not deserve by the God that I wish you knew.