Monday, November 2, 2015

Telling It - Sounding the Depths

Preached on Sunday November 1, 2015

Scriptures: Acts 26:19-32; Mark 10:17-31

I remember playing checkers with my grandpa when I was about ten. I beat him at the game and that was so exciting.
Looking back, I wonder if he let me win; but I also remember clearly that he gave me a run for my money. He almost beat me, and that makes me wonder.
Walking near Desert Aire/Mattawa WA: October 2015
But one thing doesn’t matter. No matter how the game turned out, it would have been a game of love. It was a serious game of love.
I have to confess that my relationship with Jesus is often a game like that: a serious game of love. In the checkers game of faith, I always loved Jesus, but Jesus had to take all of my men in order for me to lose. Losing the game was the only way for me to win. Jesus knew this and that was why he beat me in love.
Most of all, Jesus outmaneuvered me by dying on the cross. By the end of our game of love (of course it’s not really over yet) I couldn’t get around that move. I was finished. I was done.
I know I shouldn’t say this but, when I share the good news of Jesus, I am playing a game of love. But I learned the strategy of that game from Jesus. Jesus has a strategy of love.
We see Jesus playing this game of love with the character called the rich young ruler. Even though the young man walked away from the game, I like to think that he came back to it later and finally lost to Jesus.
Maybe that happened after the cross and the resurrection. The presence of Jesus came back to him and won the game.
Part of the good news of Jesus is that you are the presence of Jesus in your encounters with others, and especially in the times when you share the good news with them. Jesus wants to meet and win the whole world, including the people in your life and the people you may meet seemingly by chance. Our job is to tell the good news of how Jesus wants to meet them and win them.
When I was in college, I was in Christian groups where we learned how to share the good news. There is a model for sharing the good news of Jesus that’s called “The Four Spiritual Laws.” It sorts out the good news and organizes it in a wonderfully orderly way.
I knew the model of the four laws really well, and I tried to use it a few times, but I could never get my conversation with other people to follow the outline. I was never very good at outlines anyway.
Let me tell you a couple of the four spiritual laws. The first law is this: “God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life.” The second law is this: “Man is sinful and separated from God. Therefore, he cannot know and experience God’s love and plan for his life.” In the booklet, the second law has a diagram. The diagram shows what it calls the great gulf that separates us from God. This is the first half of the outline of the good news, as Bill Bright, of Campus Crusade for Christ, drew it up in the 1960’s.
The outline comes from the Bible. Even if you can’t make it work for you, it’s good to know.
If models, and outlines, and diagrams don’t work for us, we can also learn how to share the good news of Jesus by looking at how Jesus did it. He did it a different way with every person he met.
And we can learn how to share the good news of Jesus by examining how Jesus shared the good news with us. We can revisit how he did it by working and speaking through others, and by working and speaking for himself, from within us, in the course of our lives.
Mark tells us that, as he was talking with this rich young ruler, “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” (Mark 10:21) The spiritual laws ran true in Jesus. Jesus looked at this young person and he saw “the wonderful plan” that was possible for him. Jesus looked at this young person and saw the great gulf that separated him from God. Jesus looked, and loved, and saw that here was someone who could be truly rich, within, if he stopped being rich in his pocket.
Jesus treated everyone differently. Everyone is different. Jesus was able to look, and love, and see what everybody needed. He looks at you, and loves you, and sees the wonderful plan and the great gulf (or what remains of that great gulf). Jesus knows how to deal with that, and how to deal with you through that gulf.
For me, the wonderful plan is hard to put into words. It’s easier for me to be in touch with how Jesus dealt with the great gulf between him and me. The power of Jesus is always in his cross and his rising from the dead, but Jesus uses this power in a way that addresses the differences in each one of us.
I will tell you that Jesus came to me with a plan. I had planned to settle for being myself the way I was. Jesus’ plan refused to allow me to settle for being myself the way I was. Often we can see this in others, but everyone is different.
When Jesus makes you look at someone and love them as he loves them (even if they are a stranger to you), then you can see the special plan that applies to them. You can see the special form the great gulf takes in them. You can sound the depth of that gulf.
Some years ago I was driving down the road after a rainstorm, and I noticed a hitch-hiker. It was a woman, and I stopped to see what she needed. She needed a ride home. Home was on the Yakima Reservation.
She had been away from home for quite a while. Her life had been going badly. She told me it would be enough if I could drive her to Connell where she had friends.
As I drove, she talked about her life. I listened and tried to respond in love and understanding. I also talked to her (just a little bit) about God’s love in Jesus. She listened very politely, and I felt as though she really was listening.
All of a sudden, the sun came out. It was late afternoon and the sun was shining on the road and hitting us in the eyes as we headed west. I said, without thinking, something like this: “Look how bright the road is ahead of us.” She answered “Yes” and there was happiness in her voice.
It suddenly came to me that I had said the right words to her. She knew that the God we had been talking about would bless her path ahead. She knew that Jesus would bridge the great gulf that she had been struggling with in her heart.
I also realized that the turning point for her wasn’t anything that I had said. The presence of Jesus had made an even better thing possible. That shining road ahead was God’s word to her. It was God’s good news to her.
I had been looking for a way. I had been playing a serious game of love, because I had been seeking to give her the love of God. But, more than that, God was there in Jesus. “All things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)
When Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell everything he had and follow him, it was only for the purpose of telling him to do the thing that Jesus was prepared to do for him, and for the whole world. Jesus gave up everything he had in order to bridge a great gulf and make us part of his wonderful plan.
In this plan Jesus gave himself on the cross to give his treasure to the poor: that is to us. Before Jesus went to the cross he gave his followers a life of the cross so that they would know him better. Jesus still gives his followers a life of the cross. Now we know, because of the cross, how much love he has for us when he looks at us and loves us.
When you know Jesus and experience that love, then you have it in yourself to look at others, and to love them, and to help them see the wonderful plan and the bridging of the great gulf that is in their heart.

Then the good news of sharing that good news of Jesus belongs to you.

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