Sunday, February 22, 2015

Follow to the Wilderness

into   LENT

Goodness, we have had alot of snow in Ohio.
We have now cancelled three Sundays in February at TUMC.
We didn't get to have Ash Wednesday, again this year. 
Lent has begun, and so has this emphasis. "FOLLOW"
Follow into LENT and allow God to change your heart.

"How dry I am..."

Luke 4:1-13

New International Version (NIV)

Jesus Is Tested in the Wilderness

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted[a] by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’[b]
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’[c]
The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[d]
12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[e]
13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

6 Sundays cover the time of Lent.
That's just not adequate time to actually cover all the scripture that has to do with the Lenten season. 

For the preacher, there is so much we'd like to say and so much scripture that is pertinent to this season. But, alas, we are forced to pick and choose. So it is with these six weeks. I have felt the need to cover these particular scripture as we walk towards Easter. We'd like to cover all of Jesus' ministry. I only had 6 weeks before we actually got to Lent. Not enough time to talk about all that Jesus said and people he healed and miracles he performed. Now, we'd like to see and cover all the preparations and times he referred to the cross and the temple and the moments he dealt with Pharisees and religious leaders.  

Just not enough time. 
So, it is with the wilderness. 

What is the "wilderness"?
Well, if we're just talking plainly, Jesus went out to the desert.
What is the desert like? It's barren. Not much grows there. 

It's hot. Nothing to protect a person from the sun. 
And, because of the harsh conditions, there's just not enough time.
What in the world are you talking about? What do you mean?
I mean exactly that. Stop and think about it. 

There's no time for anything to grow out there. By the time you took a young plant and stuck it in the ground, tried to water it, left it to grow, by the end of the day the heat and harsh climate would have certainly killed it. You don't have good soil in which to help a plant grow. Just a bunch of sand. Because of the sand, the water just gets soaked up or rolls away. It's just not a real good place for anything to survive. 

And, this is where Jesus goes. The desert. The "wilderness". 

The moment leading up to this is a grand one. 
Jesus was baptized at the Jordan. The heavens broke open. A dove descended. Some people thought they heard God speak. "This is my Son, whom I love". Mountain top material. Emotions escalated. Feelings of invincibility at an all time high. "I'm here to take on the world and nothing can stop me." 

And, then we head to the wilderness. Why?
Why can't we hang on to those moments of elation and awesomeness?
The scriptures say that the dove was the form of the Holy Spirit. 

Then we turn the corner into this scripture and it begins by saying "Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit..."
It seems when we find ourselves in those moments of elation that the very next thing that happens is that the hard times approach. In fact, in Jesus' case, it says he was actually "led by the Spirit into the wilderness". Using the parallel bible study feature over at Bible Gateway we see that every translation you can look up in our English version uses the same phrase. "led by the Spirit into the wilderness". No variation there. If you're an avid bible reader, you should be used to seeing various translations using different phrases and words to actually say the same thing. Not in this passage and not on that verse. It's the same all over. "led by the Spirit" God the Father shined down upon his one and only Son, told him he loved him, fills him with the Spirit, and then sends him right into hard times. What in the world?

You've heard me refer to it many times. James, the earthly brother of Jesus, in his only letter, opens up by stating, "Count it all joy brothers, when you encounter various trials..." (James 1.2) Most all of us are not jumping up and down with joy at having to come down off the mountain top and go back to our pasty faced, dry, boring lives. We want to hang on to the elation. The joy. The excitement. The good times. The good feelings. But, the awful truth is that it does not last. Nor, is it supposed to. Trial always comes after excitement, elation, empowerment. Here comes the moment of testing. 

Some people are not comfortable with it, so I'm going to make note of it here. 
Yes, I am intentionally putting ourselves in Jesus' shoes. Why? Because we want to follow.
The Apostle Paul would make it clear to us that Jesus endured the same trials that we face. The same temptations. The same struggles. There's no shame or harm in going right for it and saying that what Jesus went through, we go through it also. Jesus was in the wilderness and so are we, at times. 

The wilderness is where we go to see if we can hang on to the great experience we just had. 

Any born-again Christian will attest to the fact. 
You come through a revival service where you worshipped like you were on the mountain top...
Hard times are going to hit you when you come down.
You go away for a retreat weekend and get full of good fellowship and awesome spirit...
Hard times are waiting for you when you get back.
You go away on a mission and feel incredible because you've been doing God's work...
You come home and have to go back to your same old boring life. 

This is the process. Mountain top to valley. 
To see if we can hang on to what we have. To energize us to face what's ahead. 
Hard times. They are going to come. Dry spells where things are rough and mean. Can't avoid em. 
Trying to make sure you never have another misunderstanding or argument with your loved one? Not going to happen. There are going to be moments when you don't see eye to eye. The truth of it is, you can manage how you handle yourself in that moment. Oswald Chambers would speak of coming back around to the same moments again and again until we learn how to overcome that "thing". That rough moment when our faith fails and we give into the temptation to do the wrong thing. We will revisit it again and again until we get it right. The wilderness is unavoidable fact of life. It will come. And, we need to learn how to handle ourselves when it arrives. 

How did Jesus handle it?
Well, we need a closer examination of what exactly he went through. And, the examination doesn't take very long, because our enemy doesn't use but the very basic of things to try and distract us. 

You might be used to me referring to Matthew 25, if you've followed enough of my messages. 
What is it that Jesus uses as his illustration of those who are following him? Remember the sheep and the goats? Where the sheep doing that Jesus liked? Feeding people. Clothing people. Visiting them when they were sick or in prison. They were meeting the needs of people on that very basic level. Food. Shelter, Clothing. Hospitality, Love. Fellowship. 

Now look at what our enemy, the devil, is tempting Jesus with in his wilderness moment.
tell this stone to become bread" Hey feed yourself. You know you're hungry. 
Jesus is focused on something other than food in this moment. God's word is what kept his steady. 
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’
"The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world." If only Jesus would worship the devil. Was Jesus so lonely and desperate out there in wilderness as to turn away from all he knew? He had no fellowship. Hadn't had any in 40 days. Maybe he was that lonely. maybe he felt the power of that Jordan River moment slipping away. 

No, Jesus is still in touch with that voice he heard from the heavens. He has a fellowship with the Father that few understand. Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only. He would continue to hang on to his mountaintop experience. But, there's one last thing the devil would push his buttons on. An abuse of power. 

Men have gone to prison for abusing power. And, some people have gotten away with much, never paying a cent for their crimes. Jesus knows how hard thins road to the cross is going to be. By the time we get to the Garden of Gethsemane in about 3 years, while Jesus is praying, the scriptures say that "his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground." (Luke 22) That was what it would take to say mankind. Blood. Sweat. Tears. Was it all really necessary? In the Garden, it says an angel visited him and comforted him. In the wilderness, there is no comfort. No visitation. No fellowship. It would be really easy to abuse some power here and simply make this all easier. No fuss, no muss. 
 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

The devil would like to see an angel appearance now. Jesus knows better. 
The only way to get this done is through the road that lay before him. To the cross. 
Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

We actually get to see something grow in the desert. 

It took 40 days. There was a need to stay with it. Stay on top of it. Not let go. 
It got it's beginnings right here. What was it?


Jesus needed faith? You better believe it. 
Don't you need faith? Jesus went through everything that we go through. 
These wilderness moments are meant to try our faith. We have these great moments where everything is going good and wonderful. What does that do for our faith? It certainly helps it. We think God is listening. We think our prayers are being answered. And, then life goes sour. It seems like nothing is going right. It seems like God is distant and far off. What's being tried in that moment? Faith. 

Jesus went through this wilderness to be shown hat his Father would never abandon or forsake him.
In turn, we are shown that the father would never leave us or forsake us, just as the writer of Hebrews would state in the 13th chapter. Check these words out.

Hebrews 13

New International Version (NIV)

Concluding Exhortations

13 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
    never will I forsake you.”[a]
So we say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
    What can mere mortals do to me?”

What were we looking at from Matthew 25? How can we meet the basic needs of people? In doing so, they won't find the need to give in to temptation trying to meet those needs in a wrong way. See all the ways we could get off the path of faith and following here in this Hebrews passage. All because we think God has forsaken us or given up on us. We end up taking matters into our own hands. We try to do things our own way. Wasn't that what the devil was tempting Jesus to do in the wilderness? That's what happens in thos wilderness moments. We are tempted to give up on God. 

The truth is...God hasn't given up on us. 
And, our faith will be stronger when we come to grips with that.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Blame & Forgiveness

Our 2015 emphasis at TUMC is simply one word.
In January, we focused on "The Church". 
There was great encouragement for the church to follow Jesus and to embrace it's calling. 
We are in the midst of 3 Sundays until Lent begins.
Last week we focused on the message of Salvation.
We stay on that subject this week also.
You are encouraged to bring your family and friends to church to hear the message of Salvation in Jesus. 
Because, we want others to FOLLOW Jesus as well.

The blame is closer to home than you think.
So is the forgiveness.

Luke 7:36-50

New International Version (NIV)

Jesus Anointed by a Sinful Woman

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,[a] and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

"Preaching to the choir."
You know the old adage. When the preacher is sharing a message, probably about salvation, and everyone in the house that day should and most likely has already given their heart and life to the Lord. What's the preacher doing then? He must be preaching to the choir. Maybe the preacher is hoping that somebody up their closer to where the pulpit is located will respond, because everybody down in the pews already has this covered. And, that is pretty much what Jesus is doing here in this passage. He is sharing the message of salvation with a crowd who should already know this time honored truth. 

Jesus has come to the home of a certain Pharisee named Simon.
We are not given to many particulars about this Pharisee. Is he a sympathizer of Jesus? Has he brought him here to get to know this "prophet" better? Or, has he brought Jesus here for a one to group questioning session? Maybe talk some sense into him. Jesus is beginning to cause quite a stir around the area. Healing people. Teaching in the temple. Speaking sternly with the religious leaders, especially the Pharisees. Whatever the intentions were in bringing Jesus to his home the dinner meal is cut short by the interruption of a displaced woman who is now inside a home where she does not live or seem to know anyone around the table. 

Except for Jesus. 

The only person this misplaced woman is focused on in this moment is her Lord and Savior. She seems to not be concerned about what anybody else around the table or in the house thinks about her intrusion into the home. Our scripture states that Jesus had been invited here for dinner. Those dinner plans are now cut short by a woman crying. She is bowing at Jesus' feet and crying so much that her tears are falling on his feet. Since she does not live here and has no idea where to find a towel she uses the only thing she could possibly use. Her hair. 

It's one of these passages that gets away from us fast and we need to apply the brakes here or otherwise the entire moment will slip past us. It's one of those flash-pan moments where things are happening so quickly and without reason or rhyme that we need a wrench and some sealant quick so as to not lose everything out of the basin holding the fast moving water. Jesus is in a man's home, a Pharisee's home to be precise. A woman comes in almost immediately, it seems, and is crying and washing his feet. What in the world is going on here? Put yourself in the shoes of Simon the Pharisee, if you dare, see if the words don't come rolling out of your mouth. 

Maybe it would help us to know what exactly a Pharisee is before we go much further.
As author Ken Gire would put it, a Pharisee is "an intellectual guardian of the Law". They have studied it and been raised to know what it says. But, their knowledge would become their downfall. Or, rather, what they didn't know or understand. In literal terms, the word pharisee means "separated one". Their understanding of the Law has led them to think in terms of the need to separate themselves for everything and everybody, for the sake of their own salvation, of course. Other people can be the greatest detriment to keeping ourselves holy and righteous. We need to keep our eyes on the prize. Some people just don't care about keeping statutes and ordinances. There are laws that tell the Pharisee about cleanliness. There are laws that explain the proper place to sit and what exactly to eat and even whom to eat said food with on what day of the week. There are laws that explain what exactly "work" is. They have explained laws for themselves right down to how many hands it takes to actually do work. If it takes two hands to do something, then it must be considered work. But, if I can unbutton my shirt with just one hand, then that's not work. It's all very legalistic and holy minded. You probably wouldn't understand it. Unless you've been privileged to do so. 

Such is the moment when an unexpected woman barges into the home of a Pharisee unannounced and does something so ceremonially unclean that the common Pharisee is left with much disdain. So many laws have been broken this day! For one, you don't just barge into someone's home unannounced, especially uninvited. Secondly, feet are not washed with tears and hair. They are washed by the lowest of lowly servants in the house. And lastly, righteous people do not associate themselves with people who make their living off of using other people in such a manner as this woman has done in such a promiscuous way. You have to look out for yourself! You have to keep yourself clean and unstained by the dirtiness of the world. A person who follows the Law would know such things and, obviously, this woman knows nothing of such things. 

Except for Jesus. 

Jesus knows all about these things. 
In fact, these are the very kinds of people that he is seen associating himself with again and again. The lowly. The downtrodden. Those who know that life has been hard and probably have done things to provide for themselves in ways that do not make them proud. People who have "sold their souls to the devil". Another old adage suggesting that life has taken some folks to far from the edge. There is only so far you can go in this life and still find salvation. There are lines that a person can cross and then it just too far to get back. Salvation just isn't possible for everybody. Maybe this woman has felt like this for far too long. Maybe she has heard about this Jesus and other people who have found healing or forgiveness. maybe she heard about the man who not only stood up after not walking in a long time, but also heard words from Jesus like "Your sins are forgiven. Go and sin no more less something worse happen to you." Maybe she isn't too far gone. Maybe there is a chance she can find forgiveness. Maybe if she just barges in and kneels down in front of him then he'll really see how sorry she is and how much she really wants to start over again in life. She wants to turn over a new leaf. She wants a second chance. And, she's not too proud to beg for it either. Even if it means entering uninvited into the home of a man she doesn't even know. 

Except, the man who owns the home, this Pharisee, knows in his heart that this unclean woman should know better than to come so close. Maybe this all was a test of sorts. Or, at least it turns out that way. If Jesus really is "from God"; if he works for God or speaks on God's behalf, then he should know that this whole seen is absolutely improper and should be put to a stop. Right now! “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” Thee was a church where I served. A group of us went to a conference. Can't remember the particulars. What it was about or what we covered. The thing that sticks with me was the refreshment time afterwards. After getting some food and sitting around the table taking the conversation shifted unexpectedly to the cleanliness of some of the congregants. I will not forget the comments made as one woman looked me straight in the face and spoke of the odor coming from one woman who attended church on Sunday mornings. "It's like she hasn't showered in weeks!" I recall saying nothing. I was shocked, to say the least. I just looked at her talking and then went back to my food without saying anything. It was one of those moments when you think of what you wanted to say later. "Really?!?! Seriously?? This is how the people of this congregation treat others? I must be in the wrong place." 

Am I preaching to the choir today?
Is there anyone here who feels that they don't need forgiveness? Is there anyone here, after trying on the Pharisee's shoes, could say they have not treated someone with the disdain and an unwelcoming nature so as to suggest that you are better than they are? How can we even suggest that we know what salvation is, much less obtain it, if this is the attitude in which we live our lives? Forgiveness is not some small thing, as Jesus illustrates to his audience. Forgiveness is a large matter. We all need it. Just some don't think they need quite as much as other do. And, the attitude we take towards it shows in how we love and extend mercy & forgiveness to others. The matter of how much we understand our forgiveness shows in how we extend hospitality to others. Last church I served acted like they could care less if people stuck around or not. People came for awhile. If some folks would end up M.I.A. over time, not a soul spoke up and asked where so & so was now. Nobody went out of their way to speak to visitors or extend the hand of fellowship. There's nothing quite like helping people to feel that we are glad they are here. And, don't think that they don't know it or notice it. 

Am I preaching to the choir today?
Maybe the choir needs to get on it's knees. Maybe, just maybe, today of all days the light goes on and people wake up and realize just how much forgiveness is needed. Or, maybe we go on playing the blame game. Like the Pharisee. It's always somebody's fault. It's this unclean woman's fault. It's this clerks fault at the store for not giving me exactly what I want the way I want it. It's my spouse's fault for not doing exactly what I wanted them to do. It's the President's fault for not doing what he said he would do. Hey, it's even God's fault. Because I know better than God. Even If I'm not sure who God is and he's sitting right here at the dinner table... because I invited him home... for dinner. It's Jesus' fault. He should know this woman is unclean or hasn't showered in a week, and smells and shouldn't be here in my home. 

 It's always somebody's fault. There's always somebody to blame.
The problem is, the last person we usually look at is the one in the mirror.
Instead, we insist that other needs forgiveness more than we do. We haven't done anything really all that bad. The world is full of people worse than we. "Lord, I thank you that I am not like this man." When all the while we should be "that man". We should be the one pounding our own chest, afraid to even look up at the heavens. "Lord, have mercy on me. A sinner." 

There's enough blame to go around. 
There's even more forgiveness. 
The questions is - how much do you want it?

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Big House

Our 2015 emphasis at TUMC is simply one word.
In January, we focused on "The Church". There was great encouragement for the church to follow Jesus and to embrace it's calling. We now have 3 Sundays until Lent begins.
During this time we will focus on the message of Salvation.
You are encouraged to bring your family and friends to church to hear the message of Salvation in Jesus. Because, we want others to FOLLOW Jesus as well. 

It's a big, big house. 

John 3:16

New International Version (NIV)
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

It's a big, big house
with lots and lots of room
A big, big table
with lots and lots of food
A big, big yard
where we can play football
A big, big house
it's my Father's house

"Big House" - from the album Don't Censor Me, Audio Adrenaline 1993

What if I told you that someone loved you so much that they spent everything they had to ensure that you would be taken care of and looked out for? What if I told you that there was a place called Heaven? What if I told you there was only one way to get there?

Sound to good to be true? Sound like a fairytale? Sound like something out of an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary? (What if I told you...)

In the midst of a conversation with a guy named Nicodemus comes a line that is our most widely known and hardest to believe. For God so loved the world... It's all a bit hard to believe. God. Looked down upon this world and offers to save any who can do just that one thing. Believe. But, what is it that we are supposed to believe? Well, maybe we'll take a closer look at that conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus. Maybe there is a place where we can put ourselves in the shoes of a person having a hard time believing.

Nicodemus is a person with a lot of weight upon his shoulders.
He is the person that everybody comes to learn from. He is a teacher for the people of Israel. In fact, he is the highest teacher they have. He is the one who is supposed to have all the answers. There are usually two kinds of people. Ones who think they have all the answers. And, others who aren't afraid to shy away from giving any kind of answer at all. Don't call on me. I see Nicodemus in a place in between these two islands. He is supposed to have all the answers. People have most likely come to him asking about this Jesus. Who is he? What does he mean when he calls us to repent? Who gave him such authority? In his staunch aristocracy he could most likely muster an answer that would satisfy his peers and students. But, there seems to be a piece of himself that is struggling with the questions as well. 
Who is he? What does he mean when he calls us to repent? Who gave him such authority? Such authority, he has been taught, comes from a person who has been well taught and learned under the highest educators in the land. This Jesus just walked in to the picture out of a carpenter's shack in Nazareth. Reports say the heavens broke open and a dove descended upon him. "This is my son, with whom I am well pleased." Voices from heaven. Water into wine. People being baptized and people dropping everything to follow. Who is this guy?

Then there is the conversation Nicodemus has with Jesus. 
If we are looking for straight lace, forth coming answers then this isn't the conversation we want to read. It sounds as if he is appeasing to Jesus, hoping to butter him up, hoping to get on his good side.
“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”(John 3.2 NIV) Wouldn't we all just like a direct response? Thank you! Glad you noticed. That's not the kind of response you get from Jesus. “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” Didn't really confront Nicodemus' statement and opened a whole new can of worms in the process. The Kingdom of God? Born again? Yea, I might have that look on my face and responded just like Nicodemus. “How can someone be born when they are old?” Surely, you can't be serious. Yep, that's the response most of us would give. And, just when you think it can't get any does. 
“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” 
Like a freshman trying to understand calculus for the first time, like Bill & Ted on an excellent adventure, that look of utter "Whoa" might come upon our face. All Nicodemus can muster is a simple “How can this be?”Wait. It gets better. 

“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?
AH, Jesus appeases to Nicodemus' higher learning. There are so many in this world who think they have all the answers. What salvation takes and where believing begins is where we admit that we don't have all the answers. Salvation brings us to a place where we utter realize how desperate we are. We cannot save ourselves. No amount of "right living" can get it done. No accumulation of higher education can release the mind. Nothing about ourselves can save us. But, then again, why do we need saved? Jesus seems to take care of that in the course of this conversation too. He take Nicodemus back to one of Israel's bleakest moments. The people of Israel find themselves in a place where they should not have gone. 

They refused to believe. 

The account comes from Numbers chap 21.
Moses is leading the people through the desert to the Promised Land. As happens on occasion, they run into some other nation. That nation doesn't like the idea of some foreigners walking through their land. The nation attacks Israel. In this case, some of the people are taking prisoner. As the people have done many times they pray for deliverance. They pray to overthrow that nation. The Lord answers and they are delivered. The Lord has led them again and again. With a pillar of fire and a pillar of smoke. Day and night. God is always there. But, in their human predicament, the people have trouble trusting and believing. They begin to grip and complain.
“Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” (Num 21.5 NIV) How many times has God blessed us? Yes, he takes care of us. God looks after us. It will be quite a day when our lives are finally over and we get to see just how much God has done for us. How many times were crisis averted? How many times were we spared some hardship or travesty? Is there still hardships that befall us? Certainly. Are there still crisis that come our way? Absolutely. The question is not whether life went the way we wanted it to. The answer is, did we have someone's hand to hold? Was someone there beside of us through it all?

Trending the other day on Facebook was the interview that British comedian Stephen Fry gave some time back where he stated that he did not believe in God or heaven. Over at The Daily What it shows that, about 5 years ago, Fry gave an interview 5 years ago with the Big Think. Fry was recently a guest on the Irish show “The Meaning of Life” with Gay Byrne, who asked him what he would say to God if he showed up at the pearly gates in heaven. Turns out there’s quite a bit he’d like to get off his chest.
“The god who created this universe, if it was created by a god, is quite clearly a maniac. An utter maniac. Totally selfish.” he said. “We have to spend our life on our knees thanking him? What kind of god would do that?”
Many people are just not ready to thank God for all that he has done for us. We get lost in worry and doubt. The trials of life are too much for a person to bear. We've seen loss. We've seen too much death and hurting. We've witnessed bloodshed and famine. We've have lived in the midst of rioting and responded harshly to the simplest of needs. We arrest those are trying to help and we set free those who we should know will cause harm again. The chaos that permeates this world is enough to drive one away from the realm of believing. I wish I could see deeper into what drives Mr Fry's logic and internals, but I'm willing to venture that it is the same things that drives all of us. We need something we can hang on to and we aren't sure there really is anything out there to do it for us.

For these Israelites, they come to a place of utter brokenness. “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you....” It is the crisis moment that brings us to our knees. Maybe Nicodemus can foresee it. This Jesus is going to change everything. Coming to faith and trusting in Jesus will change everything. What we want is for someone or something to come along and make it all better. And, by make it all better, we mean that hardship and trial go away. Sorry. Wish it was so. That's not what we are going to find in Jesus. It's not a fix-it-all. Maybe it more personal than that. Lord, fix me. Change me. Forgive me. Love me.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Later in the Gospel account, Jesus is speaking with his disciples. He gives some parting words before he goes. 

John 14:1-6

New International Version (NIV)

Jesus Comforts His Disciples

14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Jesus the Way to the Father

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Believing. Why is it so hard?
These men have walked with Jesus for three and a half years. They have witnessed miracles. They have seen the dead rise. They have weathered storms and even run away when it matter the most. They would leave their Lord and Savior in a garden while the soldiers came and took him away. Still, their friend reaches out to them. Coming to them in their sorrow and grief he shows them his hands and his side. The places where nail and spear have pierced his flesh. Ever encouraging them to believe. Always striving toward keeping their faith up. Never once did he say it was going to be easy. Never once did he suggest that following him would make everything right or cure all that ailed them. 

He offers peace and forgiveness. 
He extends his hands that have been abused by our faithlessness and unbelief. 
He stands on his own two feet that have been bruised by our transgressions and offers to carry our loads too heavy for our weary souls to bear. 

The Israeli people who were burdened by doubt and fear and felt the physical pain of the snake bites on their own bodies found relief when Moses was given the bronze snake, put it on a pole, and lifted it up for all to see. A sign still used today by doctors and healers on a universal level. A sign of healing. A way of forgiveness. Unburdening the soul and making all right. Taking us from the realm of doubt and fear to a place of belief and trust. 

Jesus would do the same. Just as the snake was lifted up, so Jesus would allow himself to be given as an offering for our sins. Lifted up high on the cross, for all to see, God gave all he had so that anyone who would believe would find eternal life. Not a fix-it-all for the world's problems. Not a political or educational scheme to rule with. A real and personal mend to the tear in our souls. Healing our hurts. Forgiving our sins. One person at a time. One soul at a time. 

What might you say if confronted by God with the question, "What did you do with my Son?"
Did you believe in Him? Did you trust in Him? Did you ask for forgiveness? Did you seek love?

Today is the day of salvation. Today, you can find peace and forgiveness. 
Jesus goes to prepare a place for you. Will believe and find the hope you've been looking for?