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Research psychologists have found there are at least three situations when we are not ourselves. First, the average person puts on airs when he visits the lobby of a fancy hotel. Next, the typical Jane Doe will try to hide her emotions and bamboozle the salesman when she enters the new-car showroom. And finally, as we take our seat in church or synagogue, we try to fake out the Almighty that we've really been good all week.1

Have you ever done that?
I remember as a young man taking my date to a fancy restaurant and the waiter brought out some wine I had ordered. He offered it to me to taste first. Like I would have known a good wine from a bad one. But I played along and tasted it...waited a moment and nodded my approval. The waiter smiled and poured two glasses. I imagined him going back into the kitchen and pouring the last few drops back into the "wine left-overs" bucket where it had come from.

Do you ever do that in church ... pretend to God that you've really been better than you actually have been?
I would hope not.
I heard a saying once that I like: You don't have to put your . . .

 

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:12-13


Research psychologists have found there are at least three situations when we are not ourselves. First, the average person puts on airs when he visits the lobby of a fancy hotel. Next, the typical Jane Doe will try to hide her emotions and bamboozle the salesman when she enters the new-car showroom. And finally, as we take our seat in church or synagogue, we try to fake out the Almighty that we've really been good all week.1

Have you ever done that?
I remember as a young man taking my date to a fancy restaurant and the waiter brought out some wine I had ordered. He offered it to me to taste first. Like I would have known a good wine from a bad one. But I played along and tasted it...waited a moment and nodded my approval. The waiter smiled and poured two glasses. I imagined him going back into the kitchen and pouring the last few drops back into the "wine left-overs" bucket where it had come from.

Do you ever do that in church ... pretend to God that you've really been better than you actually have been?
I would hope not.
I heard a saying once that I like: You don't have to put your best foot forward with God because he knows what your other foot looks like anyway.
There are a couple of thoughts that come to mind:

1. I wonder if we really take seriously what God has told us about forgiveness: that when we come to the Lord in sincerity, confessing our wrongs before him, that we really are forgiven. Completely.
If you find yourself in prayer coming into God's presence reluctantly, doubtful of the reception you will find, then you are not taking God seriously. God has said you are forgiven because of what Jesus has done for you. Every day is a new day and the past is gone. Believe that. Come into his presence with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for sure, but not half-hearted for fear God holds a grudge against us. You are forgiven!

2. I wonder if we begin to understand the depth of God's love for us. I am sure we do not. Maybe its not really possible to comprehend how much we are loved. But we are.
You are.
Loved far more deeply than you can possibly imagine. Your life is infinitely more important to God than you can imagine.
So is everyone else's, but that does not diminish how important your life is.
Jesus says God knows the number of hairs on your head.
And the love of God is the most powerful force on earth.
Love is the most powerful force on earth and God's love is the fountain head, the mother-lode.

Remember in Star Wars, Yoda instructing Luke Skywalker how to use "The Force".
What is interesting to me is that most fiction, especially science fiction, is built upon some premise that as often as not later turns out to be true.
The greatest of all "Forces" is the love of God.
Faith, Hope and Love are the Trinity of forces.
Jesus says that with faith, you can move mountains let alone space-ships.
Medical science knows that hope keeps people alive beyond the point when their bodies ought to just give up.
But Paul points out that as powerful and faith and hope are... the greatest and most powerful of all ... is love.

There are a myriad of examples, but here is one that will brighten your day:

In January 1998, 6-year-old Ryan Hreljac listened intently when his grade one teacher talked about the plight of people in Africa who had to walk many kilometers every day just to fetch water, the most basic element for human survival. Ryan was shocked and decided he needed to build a well for a village in Africa. He ran home from school and begged his parents for $70 - the amount he thought was needed to drill a well. They eventually agreed to let him do extra chores to earn the money. Four months later, Ryan's completed the task, but that was just the beginning of the journey. Seventy dollars would buy a hand pump, but to drill a well cost closer to $2,000.00. Ryan said he would do more chores. Ryan's friends and relatives pitched in to help. The project grew. A sum of $2,000 would finance a hand auger to drill a well, a task that would take many people and much time. Power equipment to drill a well would cost closer to $25,000.
Ryan said he would raise $25,000. A story ran in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper then on television across Canada. Once the vision caught hold the money came in small and large donations.  Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief, (CANPAR) became involved and Ryan had his first well drilled next to Angola Primary School in Otwal subcounty of Northern Uganda.2


Since then the organization, Ryan's Wells has raised over a million dollars and dug hundreds of wells in Africa.
Love is by far the most powerful force on the planet.
Love will completely transform a life.
God's love will completely transform your life as you open yourself to being loved.

That sounds like an odd statement. Why would anyone not allow themselves to be loved?
Because of past hurts and experiences of being let down of course.
Or perhaps being raised in an atmosphere lacking love.

Seldom is anyone raised in an environment COMPLETELY devoid of love. There is almost some evidence of being loved even in the most troubled family. But a scarcity of love, or love that is conditional or unreliable will set emotional patterns in people so that they are suspicious or closed off to receiving love except from a very few trusted people.

We don't know much about the family of James and John, the two fishermen Jesus called as disciples. We know their father, Zebedee was a fisherman and reasonably successful as he had hired men working for him along with his two sons. We know they had an ambitious mother. One day she came with her two sons and asked for special status for her two boys and set the fox among the chickens with the other ten who were outraged when they heard about it.

We know the two brothers had hot tempers. One one occasion when things were not going well they wanted Jesus to call fire down on a particular village. Jesus gave them the nicknames, Boanerges which means "sons of thunder".
So when I read John's gospel and John's letters I get curious. In the gospel of John there is regular reference to "the disciple whom Jesus loved."  And in the description of the passover meal, this disciple is said to have sat leaning against Jesus.
Leonardo DaVinci and of course Dan Brown in the DaVinci Code have made hay over this description.
As a result, John was usually portrayed as a bit effeminate.

But like I said, I get curious at the two quite different descriptions. In one John is a fiery hot-head calling down thunder and lightning on a village, and then in another passage, refers to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved.

Why would he say, "the one whom Jesus loved"?
Didn't Jesus love them all equally?
Of course He did.
But the fact that HE was loved was apparently a mind blowing experience for John.
It transformed him.
You can see the transformation in the letters of John. They are filled with references to loving one another.

At some point in his experience with Jesus, the truth got through to him. He was loved.
At no time do we ever hear any words of condemnation or criticism from Jesus for John or James' personalities. Just this nickname, Boanerges. I wonder if Jesus called them that with a chuckle of humor. Here comes the thunder brothers.
Jesus didn't turn on them when mom asked for special status for her boys. He just used the occasion to talk about servanthood that was applicable to them all.

John discovered what absolute total acceptance meant.
He experienced it in Jesus and that revolutionized his life.

It revolutionizes our life too, when we realize that we are loved.
Let me ask you a question that I don't expect you to answer.
Do you ever wonder about what God thinks of you personally?
Do you ever succumb to the notion that God is not nearly as pleased with you as you would like. That yes, God has given you eternal life and for that you are grateful, but that all things considered, God maybe is just a bit disappointed in how things have turned out for you.
Here is some news. That is totally false.
Jesus had no illusions about any of his followers, or any about us. He is a total realist.
But he also knows we are flesh and blood and prone to all the weaknesses of being human.
And He loves us anyway.
So much that as John points out, there is no greater love than that he laid down his life for us.

When you offer your life to God and ask for forgiveness, you are given a completely clean slate.
Completely clean.
And God sees you as new and fresh.
Whatever you might wonder about how God sees you, remember that if you belong to Jesus and admit your failings and try to overcome them, God sees you through the lens of what Jesus has done for you. Not through the lens of what you have done.

I am going to pause to give everyone an opportunity to offer their life to God, if you have not done so.
And if you have, you have this opportunity to say thank you for what God has done for you.
Let's pray.

Lord, we come to you in faith that you mean what you say. You have totally forgiven us. We accept that as truth. For all that is broken or sinful in our life we express our sorrow. If we have not done so, we ask you to clean the slate for us and we offer you our lives to follow you for today on.  Thank you for your love for us which we cannot really comprehend. Help us to understand that we are loved.  We pray this in Jesus name. Amen

Preached  May 21, 2006
Dr. Harold McNabb
West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia

Notes
1. Dr. Perry Buffington, licensed psychologist, author, columnist; "Playing Charades," Universal Press Syndicate (9-26-99)
2. For more information on this amazing story visit the website Ryan'sWell.ca

Online Resources Consulted
http://www.preachingtoday.co

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