Saturday, June 16, 2012

“Are you posted on God’s Refrigerator?”

 John 3:13-21
            No one has gone up to heaven except the Son of Man, who came down from there.  And the Son of Man must be lifted up, just as the metal snake was lifted up by Moses in the desert.  Then everyone who has faith in the Son of Man will have eternal life.
            God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die.  God did not send his Son into the world to condemn its people.  
            He sent him to save them!  No one who has faith in God's Son will be condemned. But everyone who doesn't have faith in him has already been condemned for not having faith in God's only Son.  The light has come into the world, and people who do evil things are judged guilty because they love the dark more than the light.  People who do evil hate the light and won't come to the light, because it clearly shows what they have done.  But everyone who lives by the truth will come to the light, because they want others to know that God is really the one doing what they do.

2 Corinthians 5:11-18
            Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart.  For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.  For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.  And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
            From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.  So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  All this is from God, who reconciles us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.

           Our gospel reading clearly defines the depth of love that God has for us.  In Jesus own words he declares that because God loves the world he would send His own son (in truth a part of Himself) to earth to live as a man and die the death of a criminal so that the world could be brought back into right relationship with his holy self.
               Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth gives us advice on what changes have happened because of Christ’s sacrifice and what it means in the lives of believers.   
               To better understand his opening statement about knowing the ‘fear of the Lord’, we need to understand that he had previously been addressing that future time when all will stand before God to be judged for what they had done or not done in their earthly life. 
               Thus, the fear of the Lord, is really the fear of having our weaknesses, our failures, our sins exposed in the bright light of God’s presence. 
               Imagine yourself standing in the brilliant physical presence of the Living God as your life is reviewed minute by minute.  Remember, we have all of eternity to watch as the film unrolls a frame at a time.
               That’s a scary thought.  Amen?
               Well, praise God, Jesus blood has been poured all over that film and erased every sin that we’ve confessed. Hallelujah!
               Paul states that this cleansing is his motivation for persuading others of the saving power of grace given through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
               Paul understands that he has nothing hidden from God even now.  And he also tells his readers that he has been open and blunt with them about his trials and tribulations as well as his accomplishments.   This he says is so that they can ‘boast’ about him.
               Doesn’t Boast seems an odd word to apply here.?
               Usually when I think of boasting, it brings to mind the braggart.  
               As a matter of fact, I have an image in my mind of the boxer, Mohammad Ali, taunting his opponents before and during the fight. 
               Some of you are too young to understand that reference but perhaps you can relate it to someone you know or know of that has such a high opinion of themselves that they deride others whom they consider to be of lesser stature.  That is what we generally think of as boasting.
               However, parents, have you been known to boast about the wonderful thing that your child has done or said?   
               Come on be honest! 
               How many have pictures of your kids or grandkids in your wallet or on your phone? 
               And why do you have them? 
               So you can show them off to unsuspecting friends and coworkers … maybe even the person behind you in line at the grocery store?  Amen?
               That is a different kind of boasting.  It is not self centered but other centered
               I want God, my heavenly Father, to be so proud of me that he has my pictures and awards plastered all over his refrigerator!  How about you?
               That is the type of boasting Paul is talking about in this passage. 
               He wants his readers to repeat and retell his story.  Not for his glory, but so that the glory of the Lord can be seen in the telling of the tale.
               Paul is urged to continue with his witnessing about Christ because he is convinced that it is through Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection that he and all of us will be changed
               Part of that change is that we will no longer live our old lives but will take on the life of Christ in this world. 
               In this present age, we are the hands and feet, the ears and lips of Christ to those with whom we come into contact every day.
               Wow! How do we live up to that, Church?
               Here is what Paul says, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view.”  
               A human point of view?  
               We all know what that is, Amen?
               It is with us every minute of every hour of every day. 
               The human point of view is that “I am the center of the universe and everything resolves around me.” 
               It is that selfish human nature that makes us cry as infants to be cared for, comforted, and fed. 
               That nature changes only by degrees as we grow older.  
               The very Mature among us may be able to rise above that nature for a few minutes every once in a while, but, outside of the Spirit’s power, we are unable to maintain and sustain it for long.
               That human point of view is what helps us separate the world into ‘them’ and ‘us’.  Those that are like us are ‘good’ and ‘right’.  Those that are different than us are ‘bad’ and ‘wrong’. 
               And let’s face it … some people are just a waste of skin … right?
               That human point of view is what allows us to draw a boarder on a map and hate the evil others on the other side. 
               That human point of view helps us to judge those of a different skin tone as less than human. 
               It encourages us to judge those in higher income brackets as greedy, money grubbing and materialistic.
               And those in lower income brackets as lazy, shiftless, drains on the economy.
               People with addictions and dependencies are just weak, gutless losers.
               People living in alternate life styles are immoral and perverted.
               People who have opposing beliefs about politics are just plain crazy … right?
               And people who have different religious beliefs?  Well, we are willing to kill them to convince them that they are wrong!
               I am meddling a little here aren’t I?
               I hope that I’ve stepped on a few toes.
               Because, if we haven’t seen ourselves in any of these examples, … well, then we are not looking hard enough!
               I know where my personal prejudices are. 
               The thing that sets me off in a tirade is ‘stupid people’.  
               I saw a post on Facebook that, Lord forgive me, made me chuckle when it said, “Let’s just take the warning labels off of everything and let nature take its course.”  
               You see, I’m a fairly smart guy. 
               And I can say that without either boasting or feigning humility because I had little to do with it. 
               It is the result of good genetics, proper education and a personality bent toward seeking knowledge and wisdom. 
               You see, the problem arises when I begin to think that this God given intellect makes me “better” than someone who has more challenges.   Ouch!
               I am convinced that God has a wonderful sense of humor. the reason I know this is because he has led me to have a ministry with Alzheimer and dementia patients. 
               I am now dealing with people who have literally forgotten what number follows another.  So, even when they are still able to read the words in our song books, I have to go around the room and help them find the page. 
               Now understand that I don’t consider these patients to be stupid.  They have a disease that has robbed them of their memories.  But working with them has softened my heart toward those people I have considered ‘stupid’, people who, when faced with a choice, seem to always make the wrong one.
               You see, once again, “everything has become new” in me.  And can be in all of us. 
               Therefore, no longer view others from the human point of view.  View them from God’s point of view, as a person to be loved. 
               Somebody said that the only people I, as a Christian, am allowed to hate are the people that God did not create.  I like that.  It narrows down my choices to zero.
               At the same time, it means that it broadens the scope of who I am to love to everyone that God loves. 
               And God loved ALL of us enough to reconcile himself to us through Christ.  Should we do any less than reconcile ourselves to ALL of God’s creation
               For you see, Paul wasn’t the only one given the ministry of reconciliation. 
               We, you and I, have also been given the command to go into the world and declare the good news that God and man are now reconciled through the sacrifice of Jesus the Christ. 
               It may not be necessary for us to go off to foreign lands to tell people the good news.  (Although some are called to do so.)  We have plenty of people around us at home, at work, among friends, among acquaintances, and strangers we meet in our daily lives.  These are the people of OUR world that need to hear our story, just like the people in Paul’s time needed to hear his story. 
               The gospel is easy to tell.  Jesus explained it this way, “God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die.  God did not send his Son into the world to condemn its people. 
               He sent him to save them!”
               From there the story becomes personal.  We, like Paul, have our own story of who Christ is to us and what he has done for and in us.  It is not necessary to have a degree in theology to tell OUR story.
               All of our stories are different and unique.  However, they all have a couple things in common.  We were sinners.  Now we are sinners saved by grace.  Don’t be shy about admitting your weaknesses or shy about telling of God’s strength.
               And who knows, maybe someone will retell our story and ‘boast’ about us, that God may be glorified and sinners brought to reconciliation.

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