Sunday, January 3, 2016
Welcome to this first Sunday of a New Year. I’ll bet some of you have probably been working on your New Year’s resolutions. On the other hand, it’s only been three days, and some may have already given up on a New Year’s resolution.
One poor guy and I know and you’ve probably heard this before, knelt down beside his bed one night, closed his eyes and offered this prayer: Lord, in 2016, my prayer for the New Year is a fat bank account and a thin body. Please don’t mix these up like you did last year!
Another man kept a careful record of his past resolutions regarding dieting. Here are his resolutions for the last five years:
2011: I will get my weight down below 180 pounds.
2012: I will follow my new diet religiously until I get below 200 pounds.
2013: I will develop a realistic attitude about my weight.
2014: I will work out 3 days a week.
2015: I will try to drive past a gym at least once a week.
The reason I have a copy of his resolutions is that, he finally gave up and threw them in the trash where his wife pulled them out and posted them on Facebook.
A New Year’s resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other. Or how about his one; every year I make a resolution to change myself, this year I’m making a resolution to be myself! That’s actually not a bad resolution.
This year, if anyone has made a resolution, I trust that God will give you the grace to do them. If not, I trust God will give you the grace to accept yourself as you are and, at least, to admire your consistency.
Maybe you can offer this toast for a New Year: May your hair, your teeth, your face-lift, your abs, and your stocks not fall; and may your blood pressure, your triglycerides, your cholesterol, your white blood count and your mortgage interest not rise. May you get a clean bill of health from your dentist, your cardiologist, your gastroenterologist, your urologist, your proctologist, your podiatrist, your psychiatrist, your plumber, and the IRS. May you find a way to travel during rush hour in less than an hour, and when you get there may you find a parking space. May what you see in the mirror delight you, and what others see in you delight them. May the telemarketers wait to make their sales calls until you finish dinner, may your checkbook and your budget balance, and may they include generous amounts for your church and charities. May you remember to say “I love you” at least once a day to your spouse, your child, and your parents.
That last one leads into our message for the day. Our theme for today is “God’s Adopted Children.” Listen to these words from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us for adoption to Son ship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will, to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves.
Did you hear that? God has predestined us to Son ship through Jesus Christ. What an amazing thought. This is the meaning of your life and mine: Because of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, we are sons and daughters of God. Imagine what that could mean as we begin a New Year.
It means, first of all, that we’re loved. If you have any question that God loves you, put it out of your mind. We’re loved.
In Psalm 8 we read, when I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is mankind that You are mindful of them, human beings that You care for them? That’s a legitimate question. This universe is so huge! Why should God care about us at all?
We don’t always judge value based on size. We may be a tiny part of creation, but that doesn’t lessen our value in the least. While we were still kids we learned that a dime was worth more than a nickel, even though the nickel is larger. Value isn’t determined solely by size. We can dig a two-ton rock out of the ground and it won’t be as valuable as a two-ounce diamond. Put that diamond on the third finger of the left hand of a woman, and its value increases infinitely. We don’t love a baby any less because of its size. There’s something about a baby that we love even more because it is small.
If we don’t judge value on the basis of size, why should God? We may be a tiny part of God’s creation, but we’re far from insignificant. Every bit of evidence from both theology and science supports the proposition that this world was created in our behalf, and we’re the most prized creatures in it.
But, you may argue, there are so many of us for God to love. There are over seven billion people on earth. How could God know and care about each of us as individuals? Is God like the old woman who lived in the shoe, who had so many children she didn’t know what to do?
An illiterate man walks into a large library. There are rows upon rows of books. What do they mean to him? He can’t read. What does he see? Don’t you imagine that what he sees is just one big sea of books? My, look at all these books. Just a bunch of books, they all look alike. That’s what he sees.
But what about the librarian? What does she see? Probably not a blob of books. She watched or cataloged these books when they came in from the publishers. She’s checked them out to people, re-shelved them, hunted some of them for clients, and has probably read several of them. She thinks in terms of individual books, individual authors, individual subject matters. The more people know about books, the less they view them as a sea of literature and the more they view them as individual titles. Let’s use another example.
Most of us know nothing about what goes on under the hood of a car. Today, most cars come with all kinds of standard features, such as power steering, power brakes, air conditioning, cruise control, navigation systems and, of course, computers to control everything. These things are a lot more complicated than they used to be. Suppose we have car trouble on a deserted road? We open the hood of the car, but what do we see? We probably see a meaningless mass of metal, wires and rubber.
Suppose we went to Mexico City, or Tokyo--the two largest cities in the world. We go downtown. It’s rush hour, and there are thousands of busy people in the streets. What’s our first impression likely to be? We will probably just see a great mass of faces that all look alike to us. If we were to stay a while in one of those great cities and came to know and love certain people there, and understood their culture, they would no longer all look the same to us. We would see them as individuals.
God knows every single person in the world by name. He knows every Israeli and Palestinian by name. He knows every child in Zambia and South Africa by name. He knows every Saudi and every Iranian by name. He knows all of us by name. The more you know about any subject, the less you think in general terms and the more you think in individual terms.
God knows everything about every one of us. He’s the source of all knowledge and truth. He doesn’t see us as just a sea of humanity. He sees us and loves us as individuals. We’re loved.
And, in Jesus Christ, God has adopted us to be His own children. In love, He predestined us for adoption to Son ship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will. How often do you think of yourself as a son or daughter of God? Once a week, maybe on Sunday? Once a year? How about, never? Some of you have never thought of yourself as a child of God at all. You don’t feel worthy to be a son or daughter of God. And some will say Pastor, you don’t know what I’ve done. Maybe I don’t, but God does. And God still loves you, and God loves me. You are far from worthless. God sees you as having unimaginable value. Indeed, you are so valuable that God gave His Son for you.
God sent His beloved Son into a dark and cruel world for the love of creatures like you and me? It doesn’t make sense. And yet that’s the Good News as we begin this New Year, God loves us just that much.
There was a TV commercial some years back that says it all. Actually, the commercial didn’t say a single word. It simply showed a series of people who have one thing in common, a nasty injury or scar.
There was a cowboy with a huge scar around his eye, and something wrong with the eye itself. There was a fellow with a huge cauliflower ear; another with horribly callused feet. There’s no explanation at all, simply the Nike swoosh and the words, ‘Just Do It.’ The ad has been criticized, as being confusing and extreme. But the key to the controversial commercial lies in the background music. Joe Cocker sings, You are so beautiful . . . to me.
To these athletes, the wrestler with the cauliflower ear, the surfer with a shark bite, the bull rider blind in one eye, their injuries are beauty marks. And to their fans, these athletes are beautiful because of their scars. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
God’s grace, is just as jarring and controversial. Our beauty is found not in us, but in Him. He looks down at us, injured, blind, and scarred and sings, you are so beautiful . . . to me.
We may be a worn doll. We may be sin-broken and bruised like the fellow with the cauliflower ear. But that’s not how God sees us. Because of our commitment to Christ, God sees us as a new creation. And because God sees us as a new creation, that’s how, by His grace, we can enter this New Year. The slate has been wiped clean. It’s time to begin writing a new chapter in the book of our life. God loves us. It’s time to begin living fully and wonderfully in the wonder and the knowledge of that love.