Thursday, September 3, 2015

Know God - The Champion

Preached on Sunday, August 30, 2015

Scripture readings: John 17:1-19; Romans 8:26-39

Fullerton Arboretum, Fullerton, CA: June 2015
“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
A long time ago, in my early twenties, I decided that if everything in my life hung on one, single sentence in the Bible, this would be the one. I didn’t choose it because my life with God had proven that things fall into place when you know, and love, and trust God. I chose that one sentence because I was sure that no other way was possible.
Things falling into place: Paul was writing about so much more than that. He was writing about love. If we looked back through this eighth chapter of Romans we would see that Paul was writing about a world full of a love that cannot be wounded, or broken, or lost, or decline, or fade.
We are waiting to become children of God who are able to perfectly love, and to be perfectly loved, in a world of love. Or we are waiting to see more than a glimpse of that love, because we seldom see more than a glimpse. We are waiting for the promised work to be done.
To love and to be loved, in a world of love, is not the way Paul says it. Paul writes about “life and peace” (8:6); “putting to death the misdeeds of the body” (8:13); “sharing in Christ’s suffering and in Christ’s glory” (8:17). That is love.
Paul writes about the Holy Spirit telling us, deep within, that we are children of God (8:16). “The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” (8:19) Paul pictured the whole creation knowing, instinctively, that everything would be better, everything would work, nothing would be lost or in vain, when we (as God’s children) arrive at our full identity; when our time arrives in the love of God (as God’s children).
There are people all over the world, and all around us, who seem to give up on happiness and love. And there are so many reasons why they do so.
And, when so many people give up and when so many people settle on other things, and pursue those other things, so much trouble comes from it, and on the story goes: trouble, distress, harassment, famine, nakedness, danger and sword. Even on a smaller, more personal scale it goes on. On and on we produce the trouble that separates us from love.
When we have learned from Jesus to call God “Abba” (which means “father” but, most of all, “daddy”) then we know that we are part of the plan of God, in Jesus, to make a world of life and love that will last forever. When we have learned from Jesus to call God Father, and Daddy, we still see how scary love can be. We see how love can seem to change.
We see how fragile human life, and heath, and safety can be in the people we love; and in those who love us. We see how fragile our emotions are, in the way they feed into love. We see fragile our own love is: how hard it is to give the love that others should have from us all the time. We see how hard it is to receive love with a thankful heart from others, when they fail to give us the love we yearn for all the time.
We see how fragile our own love for God is. We see how impatient, how thankless, how fainthearted, and how unenthusiastic we can be.
God has called us for the purpose of making us people of love. If we want to know what kind of love God has called us to, we find the answer in Jesus. God has created us and brought us to his saving love in Jesus, in order to make us complete people who resemble Jesus in his completeness.
Paul tells us that this is a part of a plan that is designed to be fool-proof. God has designed his plan to not fail. It is a plan that we are right to call our destiny. It is such a strong plan that it is timeless and eternal in its certainty of success.
We are predestined to it. “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (And we can say “many brothers and sisters.”)
We have been created and rescued by Jesus in order to be adopted into a family of love, a team of love, a network of love, a community of love, a world of love. All our life together will be like Jesus.
There is a plan that cannot fail to bring us into a love that never ends and never fails. Yet so much goes on in our world and in our lives to make us doubt this. There is so much frustration, and imperfection, and stress, and resistance, and conflict, and distraction. There are so many misunderstandings. There is so much loss and grief.
Because of this, we don’t feel the excitement of being “more than conquerors.” We feel like the conquered ones.
“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” Sometimes things are so far out of place for you, before you receive the calling of God’s love in your life, that everything does fall into place for you: because, “in everything God works for good.” That is a great and wonderful gift.
When I chose this sentence to hang my life on, the reason was my fear of failure. I feared that I would fail to be what God wanted me to be. I feared that I would not have the strength to do everything he asked me to do, and never give up.
One of the lessons this sentence taught me was to not measure myself, but to remember the power of God’s love that cannot be measured. The only measurement of God’s love is Jesus whose love gives us birth into the world we would all yearn for; if only we had faith that such a world could be.
The work that Jesus did has been designed to escort us into the life beyond the cross and the resurrection; into a life which have no measure. The sentence on which I hung my life taught me to trust the promise that God was at work in everything to make it possible for me to follow him into that life.
In everything, God works. In everything God works together. If life seems like work, God agrees and works together with us. We don’t know how to pray, but we do it and we find that God is praying with us, and within us. God doesn’t help us when we are at our best. Of course he does that as well. The point about God’s design for us is that, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.” (8:26)
I had someone helping me with a computer problem the other day. I found myself asking him a lot of questions, and he would turn around and ask the questions that I should have asked if I had known what I was talking about. Instead of answering my questions, he answered the questions that I should have asked if I had known better, and then he did the work that I couldn’t do for myself. But I did need to ask my questions so that he could even fix my questions. That is a real conversation, and that is like the work that God does with us, and in us, in prayer.
It’s not just prayer. Everything we do with God is a real conversation. Everything is a conversation with Jesus “who died and who was raised to life.” (8:34)
In all the pressures of this world, and in our struggle to be faithful people of love, there are constant readjustments that come from dying and rising with Christ. We should constantly hear Jesus say, “I died for you. I died for you and I rose from the dead for you.”
Conversation can be hard work. And Paul gives the strongest share of the conversation to God. God doesn’t usually speak loudly, but what God has to say to each one of us carries the most weight, and that has to do which what he has done for us in Jesus.
How life stacks up against us is overwhelming. Paul gives us these lists that are more than long enough. There is trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and the sword. There is death, life, angels, demons, the present, the future, powers, height, depth, and anything else. The lists could go on.
Paul expects those who read these lists to not find anything surprising or out of the ordinary about them. For Paul and the people of Jesus in those days, the challenges on the lists were life as normal.
They don’t seem normal to us. They seem to belong to far away places with strange sounding names, where people aren’t like us.
If we thought that our part of the world was becoming like the world in the lists, we would be concerned. We would think that something had gone badly wrong, or that something new was in the picture. The fact is that, because the world is full of the challenges on Paul’s lists, it means that the world is becoming more and more normal.
We are living in the world of Paul and his friends. We are living in the world of the disciples. This can be overwhelming. The point is that God is more than a match for the world, no matter what it seems to be changing into.

Paul stacks the whole creation in heaven and earth against us, and he tells us that the love of God (that is ours in Jesus) outweighs it all. God is the champion of our love and faithfulness. Nothing can separate us from that love.

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