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?

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