Refrigerator Art

Awhile back, I was thinking about how we all have our preferences for worship.  A recent lesson focused on Cain and Abel.  In that case, God showed his preference for Abel’s form of worship.

I’ve wondered about our common interpretation of that story — that Cain’s offering was not acceptable.  Perhaps it was acceptable, but that Abel’s was God’s favorite.  It says that God spent more time looking at and considering Abel’s offering, while he did not do so with Cain’s.  He looked on Abel’s offering with favor, but not so with Cain’s.  Does that mean that Abel’s was his favorite?  In other words, did Cain merely come in second place, rather than being rejected?

I can still remember track and field days in grade school where I could count on finishing well back in the pack for the 50 yard dash.  That is NOT a great feeling.  You’re running your hardest, and all it gets you is a participation ribbon.  Coming in first feels great.  All the other spots?  No so much.

Cain’s sin may have been more in how he reacted (and what he went on to do later) than with the acceptability of his sacrifice.  I think his sin was in his unwillingness to be happy for his brother.  For wanting to win first place, rather than to merely honor God with an offering.

I think much of our modern worship culture has too much emphasis on “winning” rather than simply honoring God.  I’m glad that God doesn’t let us know who’s his favorite when it comes to our “worship offerings.”  Some of us like the Gaithers.  Some Maranatha.  Some Integrity Worship, some Hillsong United, and some Bethel.  The list goes on and on.

But when it comes to how God views us, I sometimes wonder if even the very best of what we offer is the equivalent of a 4 year old’s art work that gets stuck to the kitchen refrigerator for display.  It’s not professional quality.  It’s not suitable even for framing.  But for a parent, it’s cherished, and prominently posted in a place where Mom & Dad will see it often, and the little one knows it’s appreciated.

Does a parent think any less of it because it’s not professional caliber?  Not at all.  That art work was made by your kid!  It’s awesome!  Not because of how it looks, but because of how you know your child wanted desperately to please and honor you.

We would do well to avoid comparing ourselves with others when it comes to what we offer to God.  In John 4, the woman at the well brought up the question of what kind of worship was best.   Jesus declined to “declare a winner” and instead focused on the fact that God desires worshipers who worship in spirit and in truth.  As God told Samuel, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.”

May we do the same, starting with our own hearts.  As we do so, we can take joy in knowing that our gifts to God are cherished, regardless of the outward appearance.  What counts is the attitude of our hearts as we seek to please our heavenly Father.

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Emmanuel — God with us

Jesus is God’s gift to us — of himself.   He gave up all of his divine privileges, and took the form of a baby.  A helpless and vulnerable tiny little human being.

As he grew up, he took on the role of a servant.   Jesus was selflessly humble and obedient to his Father’s will.

I recently heard someone say that the Bible is limited, in that it was written by men, and men are not perfect.  True — men are not perfect.  However, God chose to work through men and women.  God could have become a human being with no involvement on the part of Mary, or Joseph.  He could have appeared as a man, fully grown and fully formed.

But he chose to partner with mankind.  With us.  And he still does so today.

Even in his death on the cross — God chose human representatives to carry out the awful deed of putting Jesus to death.   The Roman empire, Jewish religious leaders, the crowds present in Jerusalem, and even the disciples all played a role in either crucifying, condemning, turning against, betraying, or abandoning Jesus at this time.

Sometimes we wonder — why doesn’t God eliminate human suffering that is so prevalent in our world today?  Once again, God chooses to partner with us — to work through us.  We should be asking the question, “God, how can I be used to eliminate some human suffering today?”

And for those who do suffer, we can take at least some comfort in knowing that God, through Jesus, chose to identify with those who suffer by allowing himself to be vulnerable, to be a servant, and to be crucified as a result of the sin and evil in this world.

Beyond that suffering though, is the hope that Jesus offers us — in that suffering is only for a season, while eternal life through faith in him is forever.

Today, God is with us.  Someday, we will be with God.   Forever.

John Baptizes Jesus

This morning, we learned about how John the Baptist baptized Jesus.   Many of us take baptism for granted, but in John’s time, this was kind of a new thing.   The Jewish people had a ceremonial cleansing ritual, but John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance.

Repentance and baptism was a way for people to publicly declare that they wanted to turn away from ways that did NOT honor God, and turn back to God and seek to honor God with their lives from that point forward.

John was kind of a crazy guy — he ate bugs dipped in honey — and yet people took him and his message very seriously.   He was preparing them for Jesus, and the need to be ready for Jesus’ upcoming ministry in the public arena.

But then Jesus came to where John was baptizing, and asked John to baptize him.   Jesus had no need to repent, or even to declare his intention to serve God, and yet he said to John that he needed to have John baptize him to fulfill God’s plan for his ministry.

I think that in humbling himself, and having John baptize him, he was doing a number of things.

  1. He was validating John’s ministry, and John’s message of the need for repentance.
  2. He was bringing himself to the place that we all need to go as well.  Jesus wanted to identify with all of humanity and our need to turn away from our self-driven way of living, and declare our desire to live in a way that honors God.

    Jesus meets us “at the river.”  He doesn’t sit and wait for us at a distance.  He took the first step, and reaches out to us.  He gives us a pattern to follow — not just rules to follow.

  3. He was humbling himself, and allowing God the Father to glorify him.  The Father spoke and declared, “This is my son whom I love, and I am very pleased with him.” (Matt 3:17)

    (By the way, we sang this — maybe your son or daughter can sing it for you!!)

I mentioned to the kids that our church has a place where we baptize people.  Some of them expressed a desire to see a baptism.  Our church has a baptismal service coming up the first Sunday in November — maybe you could have your child view it with you!

 

You Must Be Born Again

Last Sunday, we learned about how Nicodemus, who even though he was a Pharisee, wanted to talk to Jesus and learn more about him.

Jesus was not much into chit chat.  He cut to the chase.  He told Nicodemus, “You must be born again.”   Nicodemus was really confused.   “What?  How can I re-enter my mother’s womb (tummy) and be born again?”

Jesus said we need to be born physically AND spiritually.   Those born of the Spirit are like the wind.

He said, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8, NIV).

There is something mysterious about those who are born of God’s Spirit.   They do things that show evidence of God’s Spirit, even though you can’t see God.  You can see the effects of God’s Holy Spirit in their lives — in the things they do, the words they say, the places they go.

God is Spirit.   We can’t see him.  And yet he chose to show himself to us in the form of his Son, Jesus.   Jesus went on to tell Nicodemus, “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.  Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,  that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (John 3:13-15) 

We can experience life in God’s kingdom — true, eternal life — when we believe in Jesus and his words of life.  And we can be born of the Spirit and become people that are moved by that Spirit.