Thy Kingdom Come

History tells us Edward VI (1537-1553) of England sat on the throne in the 16th century. He is remembered as being a very spiritual. He attended worship regularly. He stood when the Bible was read. He took notes on the weekly message and studied those notes later. And, he strived to apply the Gospel to his daily life, altering his opinions and actions. No one questioned his sincerity, because he always surrendered to God’s will. Here is an interesting question. Will you be remembered as one who did it your way? Will you be remembered as one who did it God’s way?

Today, we look at this line in the Lord’s Prayer: Thy Kingdom come; thy will be done.” In order to understand that line you must be able to answer this question. What is the Kingdom of God? The Kingdom of God is not a location, like 12 Paradise Way. The Kingdom of God is not limited to a certain time, like during the time of King David. The Kingdom of God can’t be understood in human terms. It is much more elusive. If you do not believe me, then look at the teachings of Jesus. The Kingdom of God was central to his teaching. Sometimes Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God in the past. He said Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the prophets were in the Kingdom of God. Sometimes, he speaks of the Kingdom of God in the present. In Luke 17:11, Jesus said, the Kingdom of God is, “in the midst of you.” Sometimes, he spoke of the Kingdom of God in the future. He taught people to pray for the coming of the Kingdom of God. It is all quite confusing. Theologians and Bible teachers don’t clarify the matter. William Barkley (1907-1978) was a Bible professor at the University of Glasgow. He wrote a popular Bible commentary on the New Testament. He sold 1.5 million copies of those commentaries. I own one. In that commentary, he defines the Kingdom of God as a society in this world where God’s will is perfectly done, as it is heaven. That maybe correct but it is a little wordy. Let me answer the question for you. I believe, the Kingdom of God can be summarized in one word, obedience. We are part of the Kingdom of God anytime we obey God. We are not part of the Kingdom of God when we don’t obey God. With that in mind, say the line in the prayer again. Thy Kingdom come thy will be done. It’s all about obeying God’s word. How obedient are you to God? We should not be surprised, because, being obedient is a dominant theme throughout the Bible, both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Do you remember these stories?

Do you remember Noah’s story? At the center of it is obedience. According to Genesis 6, the world had grown so wicked God decided to start over again. There is only one righteous man left, Noah. God tells Noah of His plans to destroy the world with water and commands Noah to build an ark of cypress wood to save himself and his family. There traveling partners will be the various animals. Noah hears God’s words and begins to build the ark on the driest day of the year. The people must have thought he was crazy, but he obeyed God. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done.

Do you remember Moses’s story? At the center of it is obedience. According to Exodus 3, God spoke to Moses through a burning bush that was not consumed by the flames. The sight was odd to Moses’s eyes, but the words God spoke to him were painful. God asks him to do the one thing Moses feared, face his past. You remember the story. Moses, a Hebrew, is raised in the palace of the Pharaoh. Yet, he never forgets his roots and on an ugly day Moses killed and Egyptian defending one of his own, a Hebrew. Moses runs away and plans to never return to Egypt, but God had other plans for him. God tells Moses to return to Egypt to liberate his people. Moses tries eluding his divine mission, but in the end, Moses returns and obeys God. The rest is history. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done.

Do you remember Mary’s story? At the center of it is obedience. Christmas was just a few weeks ago. According to Luke 2, Mary was a teenage girl with her entire life in front of her. She must have dreamed of being a respectable Jewish wife with a pack of youngsters. Unfortunately, that was not God’s plan for her life. Of all the women who had ever lived, Mary grabbed God’s attention. The angel said, she was highly favored, but Mary must have had her doubts. She is going to give birth to a boy and name him Jesus. He is the son of God, Himself. Two thousand years later, we still admire her, but on that day many scoffed. Discarding the personal plans for her life, she obeys God and changes this world forever. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done.

Do you remember Jesus’s story? At the center of it is obedience. Jesus did nothing wrong. He lived for thirty-three years and never committed a single sin. If salvation can be earned, then Jesus was home free. Unfortunately, salvation cannot be earned. We are saved by grace and by grace alone. Salvation is only possible by the sacrificial acts of Jesus. According to Mark 14, after Jesus ate the annual Seder with the disciples, he went to the garden to prayer. The scriptures say he was overwhelmed with sorrow, so he prayed these words, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” It was God’s will for Jesus to die an agonizing death, so we have an opportunity to spend eternity in heaven. Jesus didn’t like it, but Jesus obeyed. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done.

The problem is not ignorance. The problem is obedience. Don’t tell me you don’t know what God expects you to do. You know you are to love unconditionally. You know you are to forgive. You know you are to have faith. You know you are to respond to human need. You know you are to live generous lives, giving your time, talent and your financial resources. You know these things, but do you obey? How obedient are you? Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done.

Mary Fairchild is a Christian blogger. In a blog called Why Is Obedience to God Important, she says there isn’t a single reason why we shouldn’t be obedient to God. She says, there are numerous reasons. Let me read some of them to you.

  1. Jesus calls us to be obedient. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, you need to obey what Jesus said. John 14:15 quotes Jesus. He said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
  • Obedience is an act of worship. You cannot earn your salvation by obedience, but you can express your gratitude for your salvation by obedience. Romans 12:1 says, Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice.”
  • God rewards obedience. That is a constant theme in the Bible. Luke 11:28 says, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
  • Obedience to God proves love. 2 John 6 says, “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands.”
  • Obedience to God demonstrates our faith. Your obedience is part of your personal evangelism. 1 John 1:3-4 says, “We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, ‘I know him but does not keep his commands is a liar.”

This is the bottom line. If you want to be part of the Kingdom of God, then you must obey. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done.

When I was about five years old, my family got our first dog. She was a black miniature dachshund by the name of Jenny. I believe they got her because my Uncle Bob and Aunt Phyllis had two miniature dachshunds, Heidi and Fritz. They were great dogs. They loved everyone. Jenny wasn’t a great dog. She hated nearly everyone. She hated children, including me. She bit me and my friends regularly. She hated all men, including my grandfather. She growled at him the entire time he was in our home. She hated everyone who was in the room when she was eating. She once bit a family friend during mealtime. The woman got mad. She bit the vet during her annual visits, so we had to tranquilize her. She wanted to maim the mailman daily. At some point, my parents decided to take her to obedience school. They wanted to teach her the basic commands, sit, heal, and bark on command. It didn’t go well. During the final exam, she bit the instructor. I believe, she is the only dog in the county to fail obedience school. In the end, her sparkling personality was her demise. That is another story for another day. However, Jenny was not dumb. Jenny loved my mother and my mother loved her. My mother defended the dog’s poor behavior for years. This is the truth. Despite all the biting, we loved Jenny because she was our dog. This is equally true. We loved her but we never trusted her. How could you? She was disobedient and may have been the world’s worst dog.

What does my childhood family dog, Jenny, have to do Lord’s Prayer? You are more like a miniature black dachshund of yesterday than you think. Just think about it for a moment. We loved our disobedient dog, but we never trusted her. In the end, she was the one who missed out. In the same way, God loves His disobedient people, but He can’t trust them. How obedient are you to God’s will? Maybe this is a better question. Can God trust you? In the end, the disobedient miss out. Joyce Meyer (born 1946) is an American author and speaker. She once said, “Obedience to God is the pathway to the life you really want to live.” Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done.

Our Father

For the next five weeks we are going to be in the Gospel of Matthew, so it is important you get some background. The early church believed it was written by the the former tax collector, then disciple, then Apostle Matthew, between the years AD 50 and 70. The original recipients were Greek-speaking Jewish Christians. That is why Matthew quotes more Old Testament verses than Mark, Luke or John. It was written for one reason. He wanted to proclaim Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. That is helpful but what is equally helpful is the outline of the Gospel. Matthew contains five great discourses. Our reading for today comes from the first.

It is found in the sixth chapter of Matthew. Many call it the Sermon on the Mount. It covers chapters five through seven. Several years ago, I was in Israel and part of our tour was the location of the Sermon on the Mount. I was surprised. It was more of a hill than a mountain. Jesus must have had strong lungs for all to hear. Many believe, it didn’t happen on a single occasion. They believe it is a collection of Jesus’s teaching from various times and locations. They may be right. I don’t know. However, what I do know is the Sermon on the Mount is rich in divine truth found in three different kinds of literature. The first are the beatitudes, the blessings. The second are the ethical teachings. The third is the contrast between Jesus’s teaching and the teachings of the orthodox faith. The Sermon on the Mount ends with a short parable about practicing what Jesus taught. Our reading for today, Matthew 6:5-13, is considered an ethical teaching.

In our reading for today, Jesus teaches us about prayer. He begins by saying that prayer must be sincere. Pray is not about religion, it is about a relationship. Do not pray to show off your piety to impress others. Pray to build a relationship with God. Please don’t misunderstand the scripture. There are times we pray in public. The faith is lived out in a community. For example, I utter a Pastoral Prayer three times each Sunday. I pray before each meeting and meal. It is important we pray together as a church. There are times we pray with fellow believers. For example, I pray with people who are hospitalized. People expect me to pray before their surgery. There are times we pray alone. Those are the times we can be completely honest with God and share our greatest concerns with Him. That is when I pray for my wife, children, and granddaughter. That is where I confess my great shortcomings, disappointments and fears. The location and the company do not matter. The only thing that matters is our prayers are sincere. Let me state the obvious. Jesus understood the value of pray! According to the Lord’s Prayer the first thing every prayer must contain is praise. How much time do you spend praising God in prayer?

The Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) was one of the leading military and political figures of Britain in the 19th century. He was the one who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. History remembers him as a demanding leader. He rarely showered his subordinates with compliments. Yet, even Wellington realized that his methods left something to be desired. In his old age a young lady asked him what, if anything, he would do differently if he had his life to live over again. Wellington thought for a moment, then replied. “I’d give more praise,” he said. I hope that isn’t your story. I hope you praise the people in your life because people need encouragement. Life is hard. I hope you praise God because that is what He expects. If you don’t believe me, then look at the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s prayer begins with praise. How does the prayer begin?

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Don’t just recite the words. Slow down and think about them. The word OUR reminds us we are not living out the faith alone. The word OUR means we are part of a community. There are 2.4 billion Christians in the world today and you stand with them. The faith was not meant to be lived out in isolation. The faith was meant to be lived out in community. That is why church is so important. The word FATHER in Greek in the prayer is close to the English word for DADDY. God is not a harsh distant father, always correcting. God is an intimate loving father, always encouraging and loving. The words HEAVEN and HALLOWED remind us God is an all-powerful and pure God. There is no way you can compare your imperfect life to our perfect God. With that understanding, look at that verse again. Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name, it is a praise. The Lord’s Prayer is a model praise. That means Jesus expects you to included praises to God in each one of our prayers. Do your prayers contain praise? Here is a question you must answer. Why is it so important that our prayers contain praise? There are two correct answers. First, God expects us to praise him. Second, our praise to God is beneficial to us.

Debbie McDaniel, along with her husband, have been in the ministry for years. She is a blogger for crosswalk. Many have found them beneficial. She wrote a blog called: What the Power of Praise Can Do. In the blog, she says there are five benefits to praising God. I cannot disagree with any one of them. She hit the nail on the head. Here is her list:

Praise gets the focus off yourself, and back on God. When we praise God, we stop thinking about ourselves. Let me tell you something you already know. Life is not all about you. We know that in our heads, but we all tend to be selfish. God expects us to keep our eyes on Him, because He is our true hope. Psalm 150:2 says, “Praise him for his mighty deeds, praise him for his excellent greatness.”

Praise brings us to a place of humility. When we praise God, we admit our dependency on God. God is in control, not us. Psalm 95:3 says, For the Lord is a great God, a great king above all Gods.”

Praise leaves no time for complaining and negativity. When we praise God, there is no time left for negativity or complaining. Some people believe it is their role in the life of the church to complain. Do you know of anyone who complains all the time? How much time do you spend encouraging? How much time do you spend complaining? Psalm 103:2 says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.”

Praise makes room for God’s blessings in our lives. When we praise God, we identify our blessings more easily. Ephesians 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places.”

Praise invites God’s presence. When you praise God, you invite him into your presence. Psalm 22:3 says, “He inhabits the praise of His people.”

I would encourage you to write those five things down. You will need them the next time you discover your prayers are void of praise. The first line of the Lord’s Prayer reminds us our prayers must contain praise.

Years ago, I was involved in a pulpit exchange in another community. I arrived early to meet the people and to settle before I preached. A woman holding a purse met me at the door and I identified myself. She didn’t know what to do with me, so she ask if I wanted to go to an adult Sunday school class. To be honest, I didn’t, but it was expected, so I said, “Sure.” I was escorted to a room down the hall and was introduced to a man wearing an old brown suit and tie. He welcomed me and encouraged me to take a seat at the end of the table. When the other six class members showed up, the lesson began. It was a lesson from the Old Testament, but the group seemed more interested in olden times. For about fifty minutes, they reminisced and cursed our modern world. Everything was better when they were young. As the hour came to an end, the man in the old brown suit and tie encouraged the group to bow their heads for prayer. He pulled a piece of paper out of his suit coat pocket and prayed. In his prayer he prayed for the people on his list. His prayer was close to this:

God, we prayer for Mildred who is struggling with shingles. We pray for Ed who is struggling with kidney stones. We pray for Betty who is having hip surgery and Dave who is having knee surgery. We pray for Ernie whose dog ran away and we pray for my granddaughter, Melissa, who wants a date with a guy named Steve. We prayer for Sue’s grandson who is back in rehab.

The pray went on for about five minutes and he closed with an Amen.

It was an odd prayer. As a rule, I am not critical of other people’s prayers and I have no doubt his prayer was sincere. However, his prayer seemed incomplete. His prayer seemed out of balance. He wanted the best for the people in his life, but that didn’t seem like enough. He wasn’t praying to God. He was informing God. Ok, I will say it. To my ears, his prayer seemed selfish. Can I ask you an uncomfortable question? To God, do our prayers sound selfish? There is more to prayer than informing God about our needs and wants. There must be praise. Our praise is important because it forces us to get our attention off ourselves and on God. M.R. DeHaan (1891-1965) was a Christian doctor. However, he was also the co-editor of Our Daily Bread. He wasn’t wrong. He once said, “If we would talk more about the Lord and praise Him, we would have less time to talk about ourselves.”

What Does the Bible Say?

In 1857, John Henry Hopkins Jr. (1820-1891) wrote one of the great hymns of the church, We Three Kings. At the time, Hopkins served as the rector of the Christ Episcopal Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. However, he wrote the carol for a Christmas pageant in New York City. The carol is a combination of Bible and tradition. Tradition, not the Bible, tells us they were kings. Tradition, not the Bible, tells us there were three kings. Tradition, not the Bible, tells us the names of the three kings. Melchior was an old gray-headed man with a long white beard. He brought the gold. Caspar was young and beardless. He brought the frankincense. The myrrh was brought by Balthasar, who was dark-complexioned. Those things are interesting, but those things aren’t in Bible. We are a Biblical church, which means we are more interested in what the Bible says about the Magi (not kings).

We find ourselves today in the second chapter of Matthew. According to that chapter, sometime after Jesus was born, Magi came from the east to see the newborn king. They had seen the star which announced his birth. That sounds innocent enough, but it led to many dark days. Do you remember what they say about assuming? The Magi assumed the newborn king was born in the palace. They were wrong. They should have stopped and asked the shepherds. He was born in a barn. Their wrong assumption ignited the insecurities of the sitting monarch, King Herod. He summons all his counselors and discovers where the child was born. The Magi told him when he was born. The Magi never see Herod again. Thanks to a dream, they returned home by another route. Once Herod discovered he had been fooled by the Magi, he gave a cruel order. Based on what he knew, he ordered the death of all baby boys in the vacancy of Bethlehem who were two years old or younger to be killed. That means your nativity set is wrong. The Magi and the shepherds never met. What does the Bible say? It says the star rested over a house, not a barn or manger. Here is a question you must answer.

Why is the story of the Magi so important to us today? There are two reasons. First, the Magi illustrate for us that Jesus came for all people, the Jews and the Gentiles. The Magi were Gentiles, non-Jews. All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. Second, the Magi model for us true discipleship. Never forget we are in the disciple making business. In true discipleship three things must happen. The Magi do each one. Let’s look at them individually.

Shortly after Booker T. Washington (1856-1919) took over the presidency of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, he was walking in an exclusive section of town when he was stopped by a wealthy white woman. Not knowing the famous Mr. Washington by sight, she asked if he would like to earn a few dollars by chopping wood for her. Because he had no pressing business, Professor Washington smiled, rolled up his sleeves, and proceeded to do the humble chore she had requested. When he was finished, he carried the logs into the house and stacked them by the fireplace. A little girl recognized him, and later revealed his identity to the lady. The next morning, the embarrassed woman went to see Mr. Washington in his office at the Institute and apologized profusely. “It’s perfectly all right, Madam,” he replied. “Occasionally I enjoy a little manual labor. Besides, it’s always a delight to do something for a friend.” She shook his hand warmly and assured him that his meek and gracious attitude had endeared him and his work to her heart. Not long afterward she showed her admiration by persuading some wealthy acquaintances to join her in donating large sums of money to the Tuskegee Institute. God uses humble people.

First, the Bible says the Magi bowed down. In other words, they humbled themselves.Who were the Magi? Many have tried to answer that question. Some say they were scientists. Some say they were astrologers. Some say they were politicians. Some say they military officers. Some say they were priests. We do not know who the Magi were, but we do know they were important, and they bowed down and worshipped Jesus. In other words, they humbled themselves before Jesus. That fact is so important. True discipleship begins with humility. James 4:10 says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” Do the people in your life consider you humble? The Magi bowed down.

Money is always a challenge in the life of the church. We are no exception. Because money comes in unequally, we never know where we stand until the end of the year. In many cases, I am convinced churches like to cry ‘poor’ because churches generally don’t want to do anything. That isn’t the case here. I saw the final treasurers report for 2019. I am pleased to report, we met the budget. In other words, all the bills are paid, and we paid our district and conference support in 2019. That is impressive. However, in my opinion, the best part of the report is the fact they we raised approximately thousands of dollars for missions. That included things like Heifer International, Estonia, Baton Rouge and the rest. That figure came from the church’s treasurer’s report and does include other groups like United Methodist Women or Helping Hand. They gave generously too. That figure does include our various collections, like the giving tree, warm weather tree, socks and food collections. Generosity is the sign of a growing church. (Don’t get too excited. We started over again on New Year’s Day at zero.)

Second, the Bible says the Magi opened-up. What did the Magi give? Everyone knows the answer. They gave Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh. They were odd gifts for baby. Gold was a great gift for a king. Jesus is the king of kings. Frankincense was a great gift for a priest. Jesus is the great high priest. Myrrh was a great gift for the dying. Jesus died so we could live. Those gifts had one thing in common. They were expensive! That means the Magi were generous. How we spend our money says a great deal about our priorities and our spiritual maturity. Hebrews 13:16 says, “And do not forget to do good and share with others, for such sacrifices please God.”  Do the people in your life consider you a generous person?The Magi bowed down. The Magi opened-up.

Third, the Bible says the Magi changed. According to the scripture, after the Magi worshipped Jesus, they stayed long enough to need sleep. As they slept, they dreamed and in one of those dreams they were warned to return home by another route, hence avoiding Herod. In other words, they knew what God wanted them to do and they changed. In our time, we know what God wants us to do, but we seldom change. For example, we continue to love selectively, not universally. If you want to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ, then you must be prepared to change. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Do the people in your life consider you flexible?

Did you know on approximately 40% of Americans make a New Year’s resolution? That figure came from the Cleveland Clinic. Most resolutions revolve around three things. The first is health. “I am going to lose weight.” The second is economics. “I am going to get out of debt.” The third is education. “I am going to learn something new.” The Cleveland Clinic also tells us 90% of resolutions are forgotten in a few weeks.

On New Year’s Eve, Kathryn and I were with friends. She asked me the question many have asked me through the years. “What is your New Year’s resolution?” I have answered that question the same way I have for many years. THIS YEAR I AM GOING TO BE A BETTER PERSON. However, this year I have decided to make a different resolution. THIS YEAR I AM GOING TO TAKE MY DISCIPLESHIP MORE SERIOUSLY. I would challenge you to do the same. However, let me warn you. Discipleship is not easy. It takes work. You must do what the Magi did. They humbled themselves. They were generous with their time, talent and finances. They changed. They obeyed what God commanded. Can the same thing be said about you? Brandon Cox is the founding and Lead Pastor of Grace Hill Church in Bentonville, Arkansas. He once said, “Discipleship is the art and science of helping people find, follow and fully become like Jesus.

The Incarnation…

I love the story of J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972), who ran the FBI for years. No one questioned his authority, so his subordinates were on the lookout for ways to impress him. A young FBI agent was put in charge of office supplies. Trying to cut costs and impress his boss, he reduced the size of the office memo paper. One of the new memo sheets soon ended up on Hoover’s desk. Hoover took one look at it, determined he didn’t like the size of the margins on the paper, and quickly scribbled on the memo, “Watch the borders!” The memo was passed on through the office. For the next six weeks, it became nearly impossible to enter the United States from Mexico or Canada. The FBI was watching the borders. I tell you that story to make one simple point: communicating can be a complex thing.

Have you ever stopped to consider all the ways in which we have to communicate in our time? Like J. Edgar Hoover, you can write a simple note on a scrap piece of paper. You could write a formal letter on a piece of stationary. You can pick up your land line phone and call a loved one or business associate. You pick up your cell phone and call a fringe person in your life as you drive home from work or travel down the interstate. You can email a friend. You can rent a billboard. You can face time someone or communicate with them on Facebook. I could go on, but I won’t. You get the point.

There are more ways to communicate today than any other time in world history. However, this is also true. There are more ways to be misunderstood today than any other time in world. Do you know Brinkley’s Law? It says, “If there is any way it can be misunderstood–by someone, somewhere, sometime–it will be misunderstood.” When was the last time you were misunderstood trying to communicate? Perhaps, that is the reason God came into the world, taking the form of a human. The best kind of communication is still talking face to face.

At Christmas, we ponder the wonder of the incarnation of God. Just ponder that theological point for a moment. God left the perfection of heaven to enter this imperfect world. It is more than the human mind can handle. Augustine said the incarnation of God is beyond all human understanding. But perhaps one of the reasons he came into the world was to communicate with us. He didn’t want there to be any misunderstanding, so he came into the world to communicate with us face to face. This evening I want to talk about tree things that God wants to communicate to us. They are three great revelations that are grounded in basic Christian theology. Each one is important to the spiritual maturity. My goal is to help you have a better understanding of God and a greater appreciation of God’s plan for you in this world.

First, the incarnation reveals the heart of God. The great Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) told the story of a prince who was running an errand for his father one day in the local village. As he did so, he passed through a very poor section of the town. Looking through the window of his carriage, he saw a beautiful young peasant girl walking along the street. He could not get her off his heart. He continued to come to the town, day after day, just to see her and to feel as though he was near her. His heart yearned for her, but there was a problem. How could he develop a relationship with her? He could order her to marry him. It was within his powers to do so. But he wanted this girl to love him from the heart, willingly. He could put on his royal garments and impress her with his regal entourage and drive up to her front door with soldiers and a carriage drawn by six horses. But if he did that, he would never be certain that the girl loved him or was simply overwhelmed with his power, position and wealth. The prince came up with another solution. He moved into the village dressed only as a peasant. He lived among the people, shared their interests and concerns, and talked their language. In time, the young peasant girl grew to know him, and then to love him. That is the story of Christmas!

John 3:16-17 says, “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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” God came into the world to tell us that me love you and me! The incarnation reveals to us the very heart of God. The God of the universe is in love with us! He could have impressed us with his power. He could have ordered us to love him. But God entered this world to share our interests and concerns to win our hearts. The incarnation reveals the heart of God.

Second, the incarnation reveals our greatest human need. They tell me sitting majestically atop the highest hill in Toledo, Spain, is the Alcazar, a 16th-century fortress. In the civil war of the 1930’s, the Alcazar became a battleground when the Loyalists tried to oust the Nationalists, who held the fortress. During one dramatic episode of the war, the Nationalist leader received a phone call while in his office at the Alcazar. It was from his son, who had been captured by the Loyalists. They have the son an ultimatum to deliver to his father. If the father didn’t surrender the Alcazar to them, they would kill his son. The father weighed his options. After a long pause and with a heavy heart, he said to his son, “Then die like a man.” Let there be no doubt about it. Jesus died like a man.

Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God understands our greatest need was for a savior. Do you remember these words?

If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator; If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist; If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist; If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer; But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.”

It is impossible to separate the baby in the nativity from the Savior on the cross thirty-three years later. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice for our sins. He died so we could live. The incarnation reveals our greatest human need, forgiveness.

Third, the incarnation reveals the mystery of God’s plan. The Hebrew world waited for generations for the Messiah. They knew he is going to be something special! They dreamed of his greatest, but they almost missed him because he was quite common. The story of the nativity is filled with common people. The announcement is given to common laborers in the fields, who their orthodox leaders had rejected, the shepherds. When the Messiah is born, he is entrusted to a common couple, Mary and Joseph. Two years later, when the Magi appeared, they go to the palace because the child was a king. They find him in the barn. The mystery of God’s plan is that it is entrusted to common people like you and me.

1 Timothy 3:16 says, “Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great:
He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.” 
From the very beginning God’s plan to save the world had been a mystery. It is impossible to understand God’s ways. The incarnation reveals the mystery of God’s plan.

Cecil B. DeMille (1881-1959) was making one of his great epic movies. He had six cameras at various points to pick up the overall action and five other cameras set up to film plot developments involving the major characters. The large cast had begun rehearsing their scene at 6 a.m. They went through it four times and now it was late afternoon. The sun was setting and there was just enough light to get the shot done. DeMille looked over the panorama, saw that all was right, and gave the command for action. One hundred extras charged up the hill; another hundred came storming down the same hill to do mock battle. In another location Roman centurions lashed and shouted at two hundred slaves who labored to move a huge stone monument toward its resting place. Meanwhile the principal characters acted out, in close-up, their reactions to the battle on the hill.  It took fifteen minutes to complete the scene. When it was over, DeMille yelled, “Cut!” and turned to his assistant, all smiles. “That was great!” he said. “It was, C.B.,” the assistant yelled back. “It was fantastic! Everything went off perfectly!” Enormously pleased, DeMille turned to face the head of his camera crew to find out if all the cameras had picked up what they had been assigned to film. He waved to the camera crew supervisor. From the top of the hill, the camera supervisor waved back, raised his megaphone, and called out, “Ready when you are, C.B.!” The communication was poor. They hadn’t filmed a single thing!

Don’t let that story be your Christmas. It has been a wonderful scene. There has been the colored lights and the holiday decorations. There has been the cards and gifts. There is one at home waiting for you. There has been special music and parties. It has been fantastic but don’t miss what God is trying to tell you. Christmas is not just about the birth of a baby that came into the world two thousand years ago. It is about God, himself, taking a human form to experience all that we experience. He came to make sure there was no miscommunication. He came to reveal his heart. He came to reveal his plan. He came to reveal our great need. It has been said, “The beauty of Christmas is not in the presents but in His presence.”

Peace On Earth

We find ourselves today in the second chapter of Luke. It is the same reading as last week so the opening words may sound familiar. The scene is familiar because we visit it annually. Joseph returns home to Bethlehem to be counted in the national census. A census in the Roman Empire was taken for two reasons. The first is to be counted for military service. However, Joseph was excused from military service because he was Jew. The second is everyone had to be counted was taxation. Joseph probably wished he could have been excused from taxes, but he wasn’t. Joseph didn’t travel alone. He travels with his betrothed, Mary. She is pregnant and gives birth shortly after they arrive in Bethlehem. She gave birth to a little boy. That baby would change history. There were many questions about the boy’s biological father. Some say it was Joseph. Some say the boy was the very son of God. The answer to that question is found in our reading for today. This scene is equally familiar.

Shepherds are out in the fields in the hillside surrounding Jerusalem. We love the shepherds but that was not the case of their own generation. Their generation looked down on the shepherds because their vocation didn’t permit them to carry out the various washings of their faith. They are basically ignored by their society, but they are not forgotten by God. They are favored by God. They are the first to be told that the long-awaited Messiah had been born. The message is delivered by angels. In the Bible, angels are messengers, not protectors. The great announcement carries two great truths. First, the Savior of the world had been born. We looked at the concept last time. Second, the Savior would bring peace. That is good news because our world seems to have a shortage of peace.

Did you know there are fifty-five military conflicts in the world at this moment? That fact came from a Wikipedia. This is how it breaks down. There are four active military conflicts which have taken more than 10,000 lives in the last year. There are eight military conflicts which have taken 1,000 and 10,000 lives in the last year. There are twenty-five military conflicts which have taken between 100 and 1,000 lives in the past year. There are eighteen military conflicts in our world that have taken less than 100 lives in the past year. I think, one life is too many.

Did you know, according to an organization called the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 397 mass gun shootings in 2019 in the United States. The first happened on January the first in Tallahassee, Florida. The last happened on December 15 in Columbus, Georgia. Our society is so violent, mass shooting no longer grab the headlines. That 397 figure may go up, because there are a few days left in this year. Unfortunately, this is the sad truth.

In the Gospel lesson for today has nothing to do with political or civil peace. However, it has everything to do with spiritual peace. Do you remember what the angels sang? (verse 14) “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” In other words, peace does not come to all. Peace only comes to those with whom God is pleased. Do you think God is pleased with you? God’s peace can be looked at in three ways.

The first kind of peace is the peace of God. I have seen it countless times in the ministry. A church member is facing a crisis in their life. Surgery can no longer be avoided, so the date is set. A few days before the surgery I will be in the home of the soon to be patient. I go for one reason, prayer. After some small talk and a cool beverage the time comes. We stand up, hold hands and pray. A few minutes later, I say, “Amen.” With words hard to find, the one with the problem will look at me and say, “Russ, I don’t know how this is all going to work out, but everything is going to be ok.” With moist eyes and a slight smile we all agree.

The peace of God is an emotional peace. It really is quite in creditable. With everything the world throws at us, addictions, death, disappointments, financial hardship, and the rest, we know everything is going to be ok. The Apostle Paul understood the peace of God. We hear it in Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The peace of God is an emotional peace. Have you ever experienced peace in the middle of one of life’s storms?

The second kind of peace is peace with God. Nicholas Ridley (1500-1555) was the Bishop of London. His faith was unshakable. He made powerful enemies. In 1555, he was burned at the stake because of his witness for Christ. History tells us, on the night before Ridley’s execution, his brother offered to remain with him in the prison chamber to be of assistance and comfort. Nicholas seemed confused by the offer and declined it. He told his brother to leave early because he wanted to get a good night’s sleep. The next day was going to be a big day because he was going to meet the Lord. If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, how would you sleep tonight? Peace with God is a spiritual peace.

The founder of the great Methodist movement was John Wesley (1703-1791). His brother, Charles (1707-1788) was a minister too. Charles was the great hymn writer for the movement. He also wrote more than 1600 hymns. Did you know he wrote the first hymn ever in every Methodist hymnal ever published, O For Thousand Tongues to Sing. He knew something about words. He wrote these words about peace:

                   I rest beneath the Almighty’s shade,

                   My grieves expire, my troubles cease;

                   Thou, Lord, on whom my soul is stayed,

                   Wilt keep me still in perfect peace.

On the day that I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior I experienced one emotion, peace. Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Are you at peace with God?

The third kind of peace is peace with others. Not everyone was happy when poet Elizabeth Barrett (1806-1861) married Robert Browning (1812-1889) in 1846. Her father did not approve so they married was secret. After the wedding the Browning’s sailed for Italy, where they lived for the rest of their lives. But even though her parents had disowned her, Elizabeth never gave up on the relationship. Almost weekly she wrote them letters. They never replied. After 10 years, she received a large box in the mail. Inside, Elizabeth found all her letters; not one had been opened! Today, those letters are among the most beautiful in classical English literature. Had her parents only read a few of them, their relationship with Elizabeth might have been restored. How many people do you know who can relate to the Elizabeth Barrett Browning story?

For many people the Elizabeth Barrett Browning story is the story of Christmas. Is anyone in your life an expert at holding a grudge? They just can’t forget or move on? The event may have happened years ago, the details may have gotten fuzzy. At some point the details stopped mattering. Only “the principle” mattered. Pride has set in and forged a wedge between the two parties. One party is always going to teach the other party a lesson. The truth is no one wins those situations, no one ever learns a lesson. The only thing that really happens is opportunities are lost and loneliness wins. Both parties demonstrate their smallness. It takes a big person to initiate reconciliation.

Peace with others is relational. What are you missing out on because you refuse to forgive? Making-up with other is the Christian thing to do. Second Corinthians 5:19 says, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”  Christmas is a great time for reconciliation. Is there someone in your life you have battled long enough?

Ours is not the only generation of Americans who have lacked peace. Peace has been lacking in every generation. When the Civil War ended in 1865 hatred filled our country. Some feared it would never end. However, time has a way of healing old wounds. In time, former president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis (1808-1889) died. Sometime earlier, the former general of the Union forces and former President of the United States, Ulysses Grant (1822-1885) died. However, their widows, Varina Davis (1826-1906) and Julia Grant (1822-1902), outlived their husbands and in time became close friends. They did something their husbands failed to do. They modeled peace for a new generation.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you modeled peace for your world? Wouldn’t it be nice living with the peace of God? Our lives are filled with great hardship, but we have peace because we have God. Wouldn’t it be nice to live at peace with God? Your room in heaven is waiting for you. Wouldn’t it be nice to live at peace others? When the last service of Christmas Eve is over, I go home. I am tired, but I can’t sleep. I am wired. I sit alone looking at all the colors my Christmas tree. You may think I am crazy, but I can still hear the words of the angels, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”  Those words are well crafted, but Jesus said it better, “Blessed are the peace makers because they shall be called the children of God.”

Jesus Came…

We find ourselves today in the second chapter of Luke. The scene is familiar because we visit it annually. Joseph returns home to Bethlehem to be counted in the national census. A census in the Roman Empire was taken for two reasons. The first is to be counted for military service. However, Joseph was excused from military service because he was Jew. The second is everyone had to be counted for tax reasons. Joseph probably wished he could have been excused from taxes, but he wasn’t. Joseph didn’t travel alone. He travels with his betrothed, Mary. She is pregnant and gives birth shortly after they arrive in Bethlehem. She gave birth to a little boy. That baby would change history. There were many questions about the boy’s biological father. Some say it was Joseph. Some say the boy was the very son of God. The answer to that question is found in our reading for today. This scene is equally familiar.

Shepherds are out in the fields in the hillside surrounding Jerusalem. We love the shepherds but that was not the case of their own generation. Their generation looked down on the shepherds because their vocation didn’t permit them to carry out the various washings of their faith. They are basically ignored by their society, but they are not forgotten by God. They are favored by God. They are the first to be told the long-awaited Messiah had been born. The message is delivered by angels. In the Bible, angels are messengers, not protectors. Luke 2:11 quotes the angel, “Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord.” Did you hear what the angel said? Our Savior had been born. Later we discover the name of that baby is Jesus. The name Jesus means, “The Lord is salvation.” There is no way to talk about Jesus and not bring up the complex topic of salvation. Can I ask you a personal question?

What do you need to be saved from this Christmas? Does anyone here need to be saved from their family? You promised to help watch the grandchildren occasionally, but now they are over every day. Or, do you need to be saved from your in-laws? You married your spouse out of love, but no one told you the love of your life came as a package deal. You didn’t just get the pretty girl or the handsome young man, you got the entire clan. Does anyone here need to be saved from Christmas cards and presents? The issue is money, but the issue is also time. Does anyone here need to be saved from their own guilt? Your past includes some ugliness and the people in your life won’t forget. Does anyone here feel like they need to be saved from responsibility? Wouldn’t it be nice to be selfish just once? Won’t it be nice if someone in your life did something for you? What is it in your life would you like to discard? What do you need to be saved from this Christmas? However, the Gospel lesson for today is not about the details of our lives.

The Gospel lesson for today is about the major issues of our lives. The Gospel lesson for today is about eternity. It is about your eternity. If we are going to rediscover Christmas, then you must remember some basic Christian theology. I hope, they are not new to you. Jesus came for three important reasons.

First, Jesus came to save you from sin. Back in 1830, George Wilson was convicted of robbing the U.S. Mail and was sentenced to be hanged. The case was complex, so President Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) issued a pardon for Wilson. Everyone was shocked when Wilson refused to accept it. The justice system didn’t know what to do. The matter went to Chief Justice John Marshall (1755-1835), who concluded that Wilson would have to be executed. “A pardon is a slip of paper,” wrote Marshall, “the value of which is determined by the acceptance of the person to be pardoned. If it is refused, it is no pardon. George Wilson must be hanged.”

We live in a world that is rejecting the pardon. Jesus Christ came into this world to free us from our sins. We do not have to die. However, many will die because they have rejected the pardon. One of the things you really need to do today is accept the fact that you are sinner and you can’t earn your salvation. Roman 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” How many people do you know justify their sins by comparing their sins to others? We look good next to murders, child molesters and terrorists. The problem is they are not part of the equation. The only sins that should concern you are your own. How do you compare next to Jesus? We have all sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. Jesus came to save us from our sin. Martin Luther said, “The life of Christianity consists of possessive pronouns. It is one thing to say, “Christ is a Savior”; it is quite another thing to say, “He is my Savior and my Lord.”  Jesus came to save us from sin.

Second, Jesus came to save you by grace. I love the story of Clara Barton (1821-1912) and Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919). During the Spanish-American War, Clara Barton was overseeing the work of the Red Cross in Cuba. One day Colonel Theodore Roosevelt came to her. He wanted to buy food for his sick and wounded Rough Riders. But she refused to sell him any. Roosevelt was perplexed. His men needed the help and he was prepared to pay out of his own funds. When he asked someone why he could not buy the supplies, he was told, “Colonel, just ask for it!” A smile broke over Roosevelt’s face. Now he understood–the provisions were not for sale. All he had to do was simply ask and they would be given freely. I understand why Teddy Roosevelt couldn’t understand. We are raised with the fact that nothing in this world is free.

If I were God, I would give everyone who labors in the church a bonus! If I were God anyone who labored in the kitchen all day so others could eat all the food in a few minutes would get a bonus. If I were God anyone who served on the Board of Trustees and shouldered the responsibility of maintaining our property would get a bonus. If I were God anyone on the Finance Committee would get a bonus. If I were God anyone who tithed or wrote an extra check for denominational financial expectations would get a bonus. If I were God Sunday School teachers would get a bonus. If I were God everyone who showed up for choir practice or contemporary worship rehearsal would get a bonus. If I were God anyone who sacrificed for another would get a bonus. If I were God every preacher would get an extra big bonus. The job is becoming harder. It is harder to find people, and it is harder to keep people. Respect for clergy is at an all-time low. If I were God, I would give everyone who labors in the church a bonus! This is the problem.

I am not God. I am like you, a sinner. There is no way to earn your salvation. We are saved by grace. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”  In other words, it is a gift. There is nothing you can do to earn your salvation. I love that divine truth, but it is hard to swallow. Jesus came to save you by grace.

Third, Jesus came to save you for a purpose. Two of the greatest names in baseball history are Yogi Berra (1925-2015) and Hank Aaron (born 1934). Berra was a catcher for the New York Yankees. Aaron was a power hitter for the Milwaukee Braves. In 1957, the Yankees and Braves played in the World Series. Berra was famous for his endless chatter. As Aaron approached the plate, Berra said to him, “Henry, you’re holding the bat wrong. You’re supposed to hold it so you can read the trademark.” Aaron didn’t say anything, but he hit the next pitch into the left field bleachers for a homerun. After rounding the bases and tagging up at home plate, Aaron looked at Yogi Berra and said, “I didn’t come up here to read.” That sets up an interesting question.

What is your purpose? God did not put us in this world to be consumed by our own needs. God put us in the world to be consumed by the needs of others. Our blessings were not be hoarded; they are to be used. Salvation is not just fire insurance to keep you out of hell. You are saved for a purpose. Ephesians 1:11-12 says, “In him we were also chosen,having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” Jesus came to save you for a purpose.

One of the great names in history is Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821). His soldiers raised him to super-hero status. Folklore tells us one of his marshals was mortally wounded in battle. As the last struggle drew near and he lay dying in his tent, he sent for his chief. Napoleon came. As Napoleon stood there the man yelled out his name and said, Save Me!” Napoleon didn’t have the power to save the man and sadly walked away.

There is only one name that will save you. That name is not Napoleon. The name is not Donald or Nancy. The name is not Ben or Baker. The only name that will save you is Jesus. He came to save you from your sins. He came to save you with his grace. He came to save you for a purpose. The great evangelist Billy Graham (1918-2018) once said, “Make sure of your commitment to Jesus Christ, and seek to follow him every day. Don’t be swayed by the false values and goals of this world but put Christ and his will first in everything you do.”  

God's Love Is…

Blog 120819

God’s Love Is…

We find ourselves today in the third chapter of John. The scene is shared by two men. One is Jesus and the other is Nicodemus. You know Jesus. He was the son of God, the very incarnation of God, the Savior of the world. You may not be as familiar with Nicodemus. He was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin. That means he was respected by his society for his religious views. Daily, he must have answered people’s spiritual questions, but in our reading for today, Nicodemus has a question for Jesus. Through the years, much has been made about the timing of his visit. It was night. Some say, he went at night to protect his identity. How would it look for a respected Pharisee to go to an itinerant preacher with questions? Some say, he went to Jesus at night because the day was complete and there would be time for the two to talk. No one really knows why Nicodemus went to Jesus at night, but we do know the question Nicodemus asked Jesus? The respected Pharisee was concerned about his own salvation. In verse 3, Jesus says, I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” That verse triggers a long discussion between the two men. Jesus tells Nicodemus there is a great difference between the ways of this world and the ways of God. Jesus wasn’t wrong. Nicodemus was confused and Jesus tries to simplify the matter in verse sixteen.

You know verse sixteen, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not parish but have eternal life.”  Many consider that verse to be the greatest verse in the Bible because it summarizes the Bible in one verse. Today, I want to dissect John 3:16. For in this single verse we discover three aspects of God’s love. These points are not original. They came from James W. Moore (1938-2019).

First, John 3:16 tells us God’s love is wide. One of the great personalities of church history was Martin Luther (1483-1546). The great German theologian and reformer will always be remembered as a man of God. He changed Western Civilization. It is easy to lift him to sainthood, but don’t do it. Luther never considered himself a saint. He considered himself a normal man with limitations and human tendencies. Those closest to Luther knew the truth. He wasn’t a patient man. He would often grow frustrated with the people around him. He once grew so frustrated that he said, “If I were God and these vile people were as disobedient as they are now, I would knock the world into pieces!” (How many ugly things have you said in a fit of rage?) The good news for his generation was Martin Luther wasn’t God! Martin Luther was a human being, like you and me. He had limitations. This is part of the Good News for today. God does not have limitations.

John 3:16 begins, For God so loved the world. In other words, it talks about the width of God’s love. Just think about that phrase for a moment. God loves the world! God’s love is not selective. God loves everyone. He loves all nations. He loves people regardless of their language. He loves the rich and the poor. He loves people, regardless of their salvation systems and philosophies. He loves the attractive and the not so attractive. He loves the politically conservative and liberal. He loves everyone, regardless of their sexual tendencies. For God so loved the world! God loves everyone! That means God even loves you! Never question the width of God’s love.

Second, John 3:16 tells us God’s love is deep. There is an old preaching story about a medieval monk, who announced he would be preaching the next Sunday evening on “The Love of God.” When that evening came the congregation gathered as shadows fell and the light ceased to come in through the cathedral windows. In the darkness of the altar, the monk lit a candle and carried it to the crucifix. First, he illumined the crown of thorns on his head, Next, the wounds in the crucifix’s heads where the spikes were driven. Finally, she showed the congregation the scar where the spear was placed. A hush fell over the congregation. The monk blew out the candle and walked out without saying a word. There was nothing else to say. When you actually stop and consider the pain of the cross how can you question God’s love? Never forget! God loves you!

John 3:16 continues, he gave his one and only son. In other words, it talks about the depth of God’s love. God loves us but he didn’t show up in a with a fist full of flowers, a box of candy, wearing boxer shorts. He wasn’t interested in a one-night stand. God demonstrated his love for us by entering this world to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. That is what makes Good Friday so bad. Jesus, the incarnation of God, died on the cross to atone for your sins. That is a heavy thought. Jesus’ death made eternal life possible for you and me!

Third, John 3:16 tells us God’s love is powerful. In the book Becoming a Whole Person in a Broken World Ron Lee Davis tells the story of Marie. She was a little girl with a horrible life. Marie was raised in an abusive home. When she was twelve years old, her parents were drunk, and they began to fight. They began to struggle over a gun. In the struggle, the gun went off. Marie saw her father shot to death. In every way Marie shattered and ended up in a European mental hospital. She lived in a padded cell and acted out in violent ways. The doctors decided to treat her by using something called catharsis. In other words, they were going to let her vent her rage on someone else. The nurse who volunteered to be the victim was a woman by the name of Hilda. Daily, Hilda walked into Marie’s padded cell and was attacked. Marie would kick her. Marie would scream at her. Marie would hit her. Marie spit on her and scratched her. The scene was ugly. However, after an hour Marie was exhausted and would sit in the corners of her ceil and cried. It was at that moment Hilda completed the treatment. She would go over to Marie and hold her. She would whisper in her ears those little life changing words, “I love you.” Little by little, the message got through. In time, Marie got better. She became a whole person. It maybe Marie’s story, but it is the story of all mankind. Someone suffered so someone else could live.

John 3:16 ends, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God’s love is powerful. Do you know of anyone who doesn’t want to go to heaven? If you do, then there is only one option, you must accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. You must believe in Jesus and your hope of salvation will become a reality. It is the greatest gift you will ever receive. We are saved by grace and by grace alone. Good works has nothing to do with salvation. It is too good to be true, but it is true. You can live the rest of your life not worrying about death. It is so liberating. However, it will change you. You will spend the rest of your life trying to find a way to thank God for saving your soul. The love of God is powerful.

Listen to John 3:16 one more time. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not parish but have eternal life.” Did you hear the vastness of God’s love? God’s love is wide. God’s love is deep. God’s love is powerful.

What are you most afraid of? That was the question a panel was asked during the early 1960’s radio show, Conversation. The panel was made up of various famous personalities of the day. Each one was an expert in a different field. They were to debate the question of the evening and come up with one single answer. The question for that evening was what are you most afraid of?  After much heated debate, the answer was nuclear annihilation. Everyone agreed but one panelist remained silent. His name was Bennett Cerf (1898-1971). Do you remember Bennett Cerf? He was a Christian writer who was known for both his quick intellect and humor. He was one of the founders of Random House. He sat quietly and never tried to persuade the others. Later the master of ceremonies inquired about his nonparticipation. Cerf said, “My answer to the question, what are you most afraid of, seemed silly next to the rest.” He finished by saying, “What I am most afraid of is not being loved.” Can you imagine not being loved? The answer is no.

That may have been Bennett Cerf’s great fear, but it is not your fear. The reason is obvious. There has never been a moment in your life when you weren’t love. God has always love you and God always will. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not parish but have eternal life.” Rick Warren is the founder and Pastor of the Saddleback Church in California. He once said, “God’s love is like an ocean. You can see the beginning, but not the end.”