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July 27, 2003
I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to Ephesians, chapter 3, and follow along as I read verses 14-21. Hear what the Spirit says to us:
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,
15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.
16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit,
17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.
18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth,
19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine,
21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
The word of God. Thanks be to God.
Tornado in a Can
Everyone complains about the weather, but no one DOES anything about the weather—until now. Frank Polifka, a white-bearded, lifelong Kansas farmer has figured out how to create, contain, and control the raw and tremendous power of a Great Plains whirlwind. He does it inside a large tin can he has built behind his barn. He has put his contraption, a cyclone-making machine, a tornado in a can, to good use by creating radically new possibilities in waste management, food dehydration, and a host of other twisted surprises.
It sounds crazy, but Polifka used his weather sense, ingenuity, and hard work over many years to create an apparatus he anticipates will do “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (3:20 KJV), because it’s astonishingly useful. One big company executive commented, “It kind of looks like something your uncle might invent in the back yard. But it really sparks the imagination what you could do with it.” Inside Polifka’s corrugated shed that serves as the test site for Vortex Dehydration Technology’s (VDT), the stocky farmer simply cranks open a valve to unleash the force of a twister. The roar of the machine is deafening, but the results spectacular.
In Scripture, the Holy Spirit is often depicted as a mighty wind. Acts 2:2 say;s that at Pentecost, there was “the rush of a violent wind.” And in this Ephesians text (3:14-21), the Apostle Paul brings together a Trinitarian force of unimaginable power. Paul begins with the Father, saying in v14, “I bow my knees before the Father.” He moves to the Holy Spirit, praying in v16 that his readers, “may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit.” And in v17, he turns to the Son who lives in our hearts by faith. This Trinity enables us to be rooted and grounded in the tremendous, astonishing love of God. This triune God places us in the center of a vortex of power that enables us to accomplish the unaccomplishable, to do the undoable, to achieve the unachievable! This is a whirlwind of blessing, blowing into us a power beyond our imagining or even our ability to articulate.
Frank Polifka’s machine is called the “Windhexe,” and it is very powerful. But it is not like the Holy Whirlwind of God. Polifka’s machine breaks things down. The Holy Spirit does the opposite. The Holy Spirit does not break us down. It builds us up.
When Polifka flips opens that valve on Windhexe, superheated compressed air rushes into an 8-foot-tall steel cone whirling and spiraling counterclockwise at incredibly tremendous speeds, producing a vortex of hot, powerful wind which pulverizes solid rock into dust and grinds concrete into powder. No wonder a parade of visitors from all over America has been arriving at his door to see his machine, to witness for themselves whether it really does what they’ve heard it can do. Poultry people in particular are keen to learn whether this Tornado-in-a-Can is able to convert their industrial byproducts of billions of pounds of awful chicken offal — feet, feathers, heads and entrails — into dry powder and thence, into green money.
An Australian company asked, Can Windhexe dry out huge stores of underground coal and make it a viable alternative to oil? Some farmers in Ireland wonder if it can it dehydrate duck manure. Another company asked if it can it separate gold from sand and gravel, thus allowing them to mine thin gold deposits. Polifka’s supporters say that Windhexe can do all this and more. The possibilities, they say, are as endless as a Kansas sky on a clear day.
To test their theory, the Vortex folks have tossed in rocks, dirty diapers, pallets of household garbage, buckets of jelly fish, barrels of eggshells, tomatoes, sweet potato rejects from the farm down the road, soda pop cans, glass bottles, broccoli flowers, asparagus spears, manure, carrots, pine wood chips, 400 pounds of Oreo cookies, frozen pizza dough, even a dead bird — all were reduced to fine powders, which, depending upon the material, could be reconstituted with water, spread on fields as fertilizers or used in a thousand other ways.
To summarize, Polifka’s machine claims to have harnessed the power of a tornado. That is serious power. In the southeast, we have all too often been the recipients of that power. We know that a twister can level huge brick buildings and lay waste to an entire trailer park in seconds. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Anna Emanuel has lived through two tornados ripping through her area in three years. The house was destroyed this time in the twister that ravaged the countryside last March. Fortunately, her family was safe, although the storm killed six and injured 200. This is the same region where a twister struck on Valentine’s Day in 2000, killing 20 people.[see Duane Stanford, “Woman survives second twister in 3 years,” Friday, March 21, 2003.]
I still remember the aftermath of a tornado that happened over thirty years ago. My wife and I were dating and we had been to a movie. On the way home, we began to see, in the car’s headlights, this stuff all over the bushes and the trees and the road. It turned out that the stuff was insulation from a mobile home. While we were in the movies a tornado had touched down and blasted that poor mobile home to bits.
That is what a tornado can do. To take that kind of power, or a downsized portion of it, and harness it inside a vessel made of metal is almost miraculous.
But tornado power is nothing compared to the power of God. In Ephesians 3, Paul is searching for words. You get the sense that he does not feel up to the task. To put in words the tremedous power of a Trinitarian God would be — by the very words used — to limit an Unlimited God.
The very concept of the Trinity is so mind boggling that most Christians would rather just not think about it. The Westminster Confession of Faith says: “In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost” (2,3). That is the definition of the Trinity: “three persons of one substance, power, and eternity.”
Perhaps we can understand the doctrine of the Trinity better if we think of it as the answer to a question. The question is: Who is God? The question is important because we constantly confuse God with not-God. This is the confusion we are warned against in the first commandment: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” If we are to keep the commandment, it is imperative that we understand who God is and who God is not. Who is God? The New Testament answer is that God has revealed himself in Christ through the Holy Spirit. This is the basic affirmation of the Christian faith. And this is what the doctrine of the Trinity is about.
You might say that “Christian faith” obviously is faith in Christ. Yes, it is, but it is more than that. Christian faith is faith that God was in Christ. What we are saying is that in Jesus Christ we are not merely dealing with a man sent from God, like John the Baptist, like Isaiah, nor are we merely dealing with an angel. It would have been easier to think of Jesus that way. It would have been easier to think of Jesus as a prophet or some kind of angel, but that is not it. Faith in Christ is faith that in Christ we have God present with us and in Christ we have God doing what only God can do.
Moreover, with the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the church recognized the Spirit as the continuing presence of the resurrected and ascended Christ. ICR12:3 says, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” No one can profess Christ except by the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Thus, to have the Spirit is to have Christ, and to have Christ is to have God. The spirit is God then and Christ is God. The Father was of course mentioned frequently as God. Thus we have the Trinity.
But the Trinity is a difficult concept for us to get our minds around. Understand, we are not just saying that there is one God with three names. That is what a lot of people seem to think. They think that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are just different names for God. There is some truth in that but not all the truth. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God. They are not separable. There is only one God. So if we speak of the Son doing something or the Spirit doing something then God is doing it and all three persons of the Trinity are doing. Thus, if the father created the universe, the Holy Spirit created the universe and the Son created the universe, which is to say, God did it.
But the church has also found it necessary to distinguish between the persons of the Trinity. Perhaps we might express these distinctions this way.
In Christ, we have God with us.
In the Holy Spirit, we have God in us,
In the Father, we have God over us.
Thus, we have a threefold nature of God that is best expressed by what the church has traditionally called the doctrine of the Trinity. Now understand that the word “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible. What we are saying is that the only way we can describe the God of the Bible is in Trinitarian terms. The Bible speaks of God being over us as our creator, Lord, and king. The Bible speaks of God being with us as our savior. The Bible speaks of God being in us to move us to do his will and work his work.
Now some folks, a lot of folks actually, have said to me. “I do not care about theology and I do not care about the Trinity. All I want to know is how can I be reconciled to God and how can I have the power of God in my life now and forever.” And I hear what they are saying but my reply is that the answer to what they are seeking is the Trinity. In fact, our scripture today is a direct answer to that kind of question.
Tornado Power in You
Imagine the power of a twister created and contained inside a corrugated can. Now imagine that power of God instilled, installed, and inspired within you, doing its work for you, to you. That is Paul’s point — that the tremendous power of God can be in us and can change our lives, and that the power of God is greater than our greatest problem, greater than our most perplexing situation, and greater than any of our fears or sins.
God is the Tornado. We are the Can. As we read scripture, sometimes it seems like God is a whirlwind. God is incarnated in Jesus Christ, the baby grows into the man who calls God Abba, daddy. Jesus goes everywhere teaching and healing. From his arrest and execution on the cross to resurrection and ascension, he caused heads to spin. He sent his spirit with the sound of rushing, violent wind and divided tongues as of fire and caused more heads to spin. God was a whirlwind in Christ. God is the tornado. We are the can.
This is true on a personal level and on a church level. Paul is speaking both to the church at Ephesus and to individuals within the church. Notice the prayer Paul offers: He prays that the Ephesians —
• Would experience God’s gifts “according to the riches of his glory” (v. 16)
• Would be “strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit” (v. 16)
• Would experience Christ as one who “dwell[s] in your hearts through faith” (v. 17)
• Would be “rooted and grounded in love” (v. 17)
• Would have “the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth” (v. 18)
• Would “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (v. 19)
• Would “be filled with all the fullness of God” (v. 19)
All this in the name of the One who does the Unimaginable (v. 20).
This is a powerful prayer. This is a prayer we should memorize and pray every day of our lives. We pray today that we will be the can, the container, receptacle, or channel for the awesome, transforming power of God!
But Paul is also speaking to the church. God is the Tornado. The church is the Can. Notice that in v20 it is God who is glorified “in the church” by Christ Jesus. The church, too, is to be the vehicle through which the whirlwind of God sweeps across our neighborhoods, communities, nation and world. We are the Can Church, the Can-do Church, energized by a holy whirlwind to do the unthinkable. God catches us up in this whirlwind, into this splendid richness of life and power and love.
That is a message many people are almost literally dying to hear. Jeanette Windle wrote an article for the Latin America Evangelist [July-October 2002, 14-15] entitled, “Giving hope to the hopeless.” She writes:
Maria came from a poor, single-parent home in the highland city of Cochabamba [Bolivia]. Discipline was harsh, and Maria was not always obedient. When she was 9, she ran away, somehow ending up in our lowland city of Santa Cruz. As she scrounged for a living on the streets, she leafed through newspapers and listened to the radio, hoping her mother would care enough to broadcast a missing-child report. But none ever materialized. By the time Maria was picked up and admitted to the orphanage, she no longer cared to see her mother. Her goal was an education ....
Few of these children know what it is like to be loved, hugged and cradled to sleep at night. Even fewer can look forward to encountering that love where they might be headed. Adoptions are rare once children are past the infant stage. The closest to a family many will experience are the older street kids who hook them on drugs and teach them to steal and work for them. That they are loved with a deep and everlasting love by the Creator of the universe is a truth they drink in eagerly and with astonishingly trusting acceptance.
You do not need to be a Bolivian street kid to feel that way. When we realize that we are “loved with a deep and everlasting love by the Creator of the universe,” we drink in that same truth with trust and acceptance.
Andrei Rublev was a 15th century Russian monk and icon painter. He live in a time of turmoil and division. Apparently things have not changed much in Russia. Around 1410 he produced his most famous icon, the Old Testament Trinity. This Icon shows three figures who are visiting the Old Testament patriarch Abraham. They sit at a small table, each figure representing a person of the Holy Trinity, and as they sit, they point to a chalice on the table, a symbol of God’s overflowing love. But they sit only on three sides of the table. There’s an open side, and one of the figures points to the vacant space, inviting the viewer, inviting us, to sit down with the three persons and share fellowship. The icon invites us to share the overwhelming divine love that exists among the three figures at the table and to become participants in sharing the mystery of divine life and love. It pictures God’s great desire to draw us in and to share his love with us.
Huslin, Anita. “‘Tornado in a can’ pulverizes materials.” The Washington Post, December 10, 2002, Seattletimes.nwsource.com.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 7/23/03