Rev Dr Edgar Mayer – Living Grace Lutheran Church, Toowoomba – Date: 5 April 2015

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On Father’s Lap

 

Jesus was tortured before he died. He hung on a cross – with his body being naked and bloodied by whips and soldiers’ fists – with nails piercing his hands and feet. Time was moving slowly and every moment hurt – thorn spikes pierced his skull, breathing became difficult as his body weight squeezed his lungs, the nails were pure agony – and then there were the people. His disciples (most of them) had deserted him (run away). The crowd (the masse of ordinary people for whom he preached and provided miracles of healing) had screamed for his death and stood before the cross mocking him in his suffering. The religious leaders had set him up and the Roman authorities sacrificed him for political favour with the native population. Wherever you look, there is pain and it was Jesus’ pain and the pain of his Father in heaven – our God.

And we caused the pain because – first of all – we are no better than the people around Jesus at the cross. We are all capable of deserting him when the pressure is on (August Fricke rang me on Monday and shared that Neville Mirtschin has just spent a week in a Vietnam jail for leading Bible studies in that nation and the police was not very polite to him) or being ungrateful – demanding his banishment (if not death) when he is not quite delivering what we had wanted from him (Jesus, I want a happier marriage or else). We may give up on Jesus when this may give us credit with others. Only the other week, I heard of another young Christian man that gave up his faith because he married a girl from another religion. “Jesus, you have to go or I cannot get married.”

Then – second (and this is the more foundational) reason – we all caused the pain of Jesus on the cross (no exception) because, in Jesus’ words, he died for all of us. Humanity was so broken – so separated from God – so lost in deception, sin and rebellion against God – that nothing but the sacrifice of Jesus (God’s own son) was sufficient for redeeming us. Jesus died because we require forgiveness for our sins and a complete makeover of our sinful nature which – from birth – is always turned against God. We need a fresh start – a new relationship with God – which is precisely what made Jesus go to the cross. Jesus died for love but we caused the pain.

After some long hours, the dead body of Jesus was taken from the cross and he was buried in a tomb and – three days later – the miracle of Easter happened. Jesus rose from the dead – received new life – full of power and was fully moving again in all of his divine ability as the Son of God from eternity.

How good is this day? Many of you know the Easter message. You know the value of Jesus’ death on a cross and his resurrection from the grave – the value of conquering death with new life – (you respond to the Easter greeting with “he’s risen indeed”) but how happy are you with this message? I read to you two verses from the Bible:

 

Colossians 1:13-14: [You may live] … giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

 

You may live giving joyful thanksbecause you are rescued from the dominion of darkness into love and forgiveness – a new life in another kingdom. But how joyful are you? I am not sure. The memories of Good Friday are still raw and the suggestion – the truth – that we have caused the pain is not relaxing. There is the shame of our sin and the shame of causing Jesus so much pain. When people first realized what they had done (when the disciples began preaching to the crowd in Jerusalem after Jesus had risen from the dead and ascended to heaven), they werecut to the heart” (Acts 2:37) – distraught and upset. And this was a necessary response (and it is a necessary response for you) on the way back to God but it was not yet joy. How do you move from shame to joy?

And it would not be right to classify the shame as purely being a new Christian’s shame – a beginner’s shame – in our relationship with God which you are going to lose with maturity. Sometimes the opposite is the case. The more you know about God – the more you love him – the more you appreciate his holiness – the more Jesus means to you – the more upsetting it is (and embarrassing and shameful) to cause him further pain by sinning against him. We don’t want to do this. Growing in our relationship with him, we have become more sensitive to the sneakiness of selfishness – the self-deception – the selfishness that masks as something else (servanthood) – and we are appalled at ourselves. Jesus is so beautiful and we are not.

It also doesn’t help that God’s standards are supernaturally strict. Any sin causes separation from him. Nothing but perfection – absolute holiness – can survive the atmosphere of his presence. He’s fire and any sin causes a man (or woman) just to burn up. How then can you relax your mind and not squirm in shame?

Can you see the problem? Is this your problem? How joyful are you on Easter morning? A few years back, I met a man who shared that one day he wasw worshipping in church. He had his arms up and praised God when he had a vision of God sitting on his throne in perfect splendour and purity but he himself was wearing filthy rags – dirt and grime everywhere. Then, God – the Father – was waving to him and calling him up to sit on his lap. No, he couldn’t do that. How could he sit on the Father’s lap? He was filthy! He saidnobut the Father encouraged him. He was not worried about getting dirty and this man ended up sitting on the Father’s lap, resting his head on the Father’s chest and relaxing in his love.

This testimony is spot on. How many Christians are there that worship God with arms held up in praise but – when it comes to it – are too ashamed to sit on the Father’s lap – too ashamed to come close and relax in the Father’s love? Yet, the Father is calling us:

 

Colossians 1:13-14: [You may live] … giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

 

God doesn’t want us to squirm over sin. He has dealt with all of sin on the cross and – with the victory of Easter morning – there is now a new life for all those that put their trust in Jesus. Sin – falling short of God’s holy standard of love – is a serious matter but the Father never dealt with it except with extreme love for us. God the Father loves you. Jesus Christ – his only begotten Son – loved you even on the cross. He prayed for everyone, saying: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

There is so much love and God knows how much we also suffer under sin – the bondage of addictions – the wounding of our hearts – and his heart goes out to us. Jesus loves those that don’t have it together. He said: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (Luke 5:31). He knows our weakness and he’s not there to condemn us but encourage us and strengthen us. Jesus didn’t mind the filth of the cross to save us and the Father doesn’t mind the filth that’s still clinging to us and has us come and sit on his lap – enjoying his love and protection.

When Elijah lost courage in warfare – succumbed to self-pity and despair at the latest threat against his life – and wandered into the desert to die, God didn’t come and berate him – accuse him of being weak and lacking in faith. No, God sent an angel that just took care of him:

 

1 Kings 19:5-7: Elijah lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat …”

 

When Peter had betrayed Jesus – Mark 14:71: “He began to call down curses, and he swore to them, ‘I don't know this man you’re talking about.’” – Jesus did not abandon him in his shame. He did not even bring it up – there was no need – but he restored him and – three times – hammered the point that all that mattered between them was love:

 

John 21:15-17: … “Simon son of John, do you love me more than the others do?”Jesus asked a second time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” … Jesus asked a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” …

 

At all times, Christians struggled with getting the depth of Jesus’ love for them. Therefore, the apostle Paul wrote the following verses in the Bible:

 

Ephesians 3:16-19:  I pray that from the Father’s glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all Christians [original: saints] how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

 

You need to the strength of the Holy Spirit to get it – love that surpasses human knowledge – a God that loves you in all circumstances. He will not approve of everything that we do but he will never meet us except in love and compassion:

 

Romans 8:15-16: “… but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” [See also Galatians 6:4; 1 John 4:24.]

 

Have you ever sat on the Father’s lap? Would you come and sit there? In your prayer time – worship time – do you ever expect that he would invite you to be with him that close?

 A church leader like Bill Johnson struggled with the same issue of shame that kept him distant from God and depressed. It took him years but then his life changed:

 

Kris Vallotton & Bill Johnson: The Supernatural Ways of Royalty, Shippensburg: Destiny Image 2006, p51-59:

Living in forgiveness does not mean we are to forget our past. Rather, seeing my past through the blood of Jesus brings praise to my lips and frees me from the burden of a guilty heart. Jesus will be known throughout eternity as the Lamb of God; so we will always remember that it was the provision of the spotless Lamb that obtained eternal redemption for us.

I struggled for so many years with this truth. Shame and discouragement were close friends of mine. I would counter such feelings with more prayer, study, and reading about the lives of great men and women of God from the past. Yet, my problem wasn’t solved, even though I was doing what most would counsel me to do. I found that when our perspective is wrong, more study and prayer can actually add to our discouragement and shame, as it did for me. Every biography impressed me, but also made me feel hopeless. They were all too perfect. I couldn’t relate to any of their God-encounters. It seemed that they were God’s favourites, and I just existed. One day I heard a tape from David Wilkerson called, “Facing Your Failures.” In it he talked about how the “great ones” all had failures and weaknesses too. He shared some of his struggles and failures. It was the most refreshing message I had heard in my life. It was the beginning of a change in perspective for me. But the religious spirit was not about to give up on me so easily.

I had surrounded myself with people of like passion—revival at any cost! I was weaned on this theme. I slept, ate, and prayed it constantly. But it was common knowledge to all of us who had studied the revivals of the past—we weren’t holy enough. So I constantly re-examined my motives and personal holiness, and always came up short. My passion for God was alive and well, but my efforts at personal holiness were killing me. I am embarrassed to admit it, but I was a pastor for a few years before I actually started to get well. Every week I would get buried in my stuff – my sense of worthlessness and hopelessness. Thankfully, I was able to “faith my way out of it” by Sunday so I could give the people I pastored something healthy to eat.

A dear friend and mentor of mine, Darol Blunt, lived a life of grace. Life seemed so easy for him. He walked me through so much and modelled a life without the intense introspection that I was trapped in. He laughed a lot, and knew how to have fun without being coarse. That was new to me. I was too serious for my own good. I had been a class clown while growing up, and had learned how to be crude for effect. I turned from this and everything else I knew to follow God completely. Unfortunately, I left a valuable part of who I was back on the chopping block of personal holiness, and picked up a false image of spirituality that never did work.

How did God begin to change me? There wasn’t a one-moment encounter that changed everything. But there was a series of things that God brought my way to establish me in Him and break off the religious spirit that had me bound. Repentance was needed. It sounds strange to say it, because repentance was a major theme of mine. Yet, true repentance is to “change the way we think.” I needed repentance that would affect my mind, and redirect my heart toward a God who forgives. Faith is evidence of true repentance. I wasn’t living in secret sin. There were no unrighteous habits in my life to torment my conscience with shame. My shame was over my humanity, and my discouragement was over who I wasn’t. At some point I actually had to believe that what King Jesus did was enough. It sounds so simple now. My shame quietly denied His atoning work. My discouragement dishonoured the sufficiency of the King's promises.

It took a while, but I finally realized that my best moments (mentally, emotionally, and spiritually) were when I just did my best, and stayed away from introspection. This was a scary thing for me, because in my mind introspection was almost a rite of passage to my biggest dream – to be a revivalist. After years of struggling with the conflict of personal holiness, I prayed something like this:

 

Father, You know that I don’t do so well when I look inward, so I’m going to stop. I am relying on You to point out to me the things that I need to see. I promise to stay in Your Word. You said that Your Word was a sword – so please use it to cut me deeply. Expose those things in me that are not pleasing to You. But in doing so, please give me the grace to forsake them. I also promise to come before You daily. Your presence is like a fire. Please burn from me those things that are unpleasing to You. Melt my heart until it becomes like the heart of Jesus. Be merciful to me in these things. I also promise to stay in fellowship with Your people. You said that iron sharpens iron. I expect You to anoint the “wounds of a friend” to bring me to my senses when I'm being resistant toward You. Please use these tools to shape my life until Jesus alone is seen in me. I believe that You have given me Your heart and mind. By Your grace I am a new creation. I want that reality to be seen that the name of Jesus would be held in highest honour ...

 

Some years ago I heard a prophetic word that really touched my heart. In it, God spoke saying, “I will not remove the scars from your life. Instead I will rearrange them in such a way that they have the appearance of carving on a fine piece of crystal.” Such is the love of God. What was despised becomes a testimony of God's grace—a thing of beauty!

The mind set on the flesh is death and at war with God. That is the “unrenewed” mind. In essence, the renewed mind is the mind of Christ. It is able to demonstrate the will of God, which is best described in the prayer, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10) The exhortation of Scripture is clear, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 2:5) The renewing of the mind begins with our new identity obtained at the cross. We were once slaves of sin, but are now slaves of righteousness. Our thought life must support that reality. The apostle Paul emphasized this in his letter to the church at Rome, saying, “Even so, think of yourself dead to sin.” (Rom. 6:11) It’s an attitude...a way of thinking...an evidence of repentance.

The mind has a power to affect our behaviour either positive or negatively. But it does not possess the power to change our nature. That alone is accomplished when we are born again. When people are born again, they are transformed from the inside out. It is not the external things that are likely to change first. God takes up residence in our hearts, transforming us, as it really is an inside job. On the other hand, religion works on the outside. While it can bring conformity, it is powerless to bring transformation.

“For as he thinks within himself, so he is” (Prov. 23:7). When we are charged to think of ourselves dead to sin, it is more than a suggestion to think positively about our conversion. It is an invitation to step into the momentum of a reality made available only through the cross. The supernatural power released in this way of thinking is what creates a lifestyle of freedom. It is able to do this because it is TRUTH. To say that I have sinned is true. To say I am free of sin is truer still. The renewed mind is necessary to more consistently taste the supernatural life, which God intended to be the normal Christian life ...

“God will not share His glory with another” (Isa 42:8). The most common understanding of this verse is that God is glorious and we are not. In reality we are not “another.” Why do you think He made us individual members of His body? The lowest (the least) member of His body is superior to the highest principality and power of darkness. The original target in the creation of man was for us to live and dwell in His glory. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). The cross removes the obstacle to His purposes, and restores us to His original intent. The religious heart is unwilling to recognize that we really have been made in His image, and that being born again restores us to a place of absolute purity.

Jesus added to this in His priestly prayer, “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one” (John 17:22). It is recorded in Proverbs that wisdom will bring to us a crown of glory. Even our bodies were designed to live in His glory. As we become more and more accustomed to the presence of His glory, even our bodies hunger for God's glorious presence. The sons of Korah, who had spent considerable time in the actual glory of God, and had seen the effect on their physical being, sang, “My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God” (Ps 84:2).

When God’s royalty touches our lives, we discover we are designed to live in God's glory. We no longer live in the bondages of our past – performance and comparison in our daily lives, but we know our worth in simply loving Him. For out of that springs living water and revelation for those who have not found the truth in the nations of the earth!

 

God is actually not as nit-picking as we are. We may cringe knowing our short-comings – especially when we go digging for them with self-critical introspection – but God is not like that. He loves us and he looks at us through the eyes of a Father and he is proud of us. He gives us far more credit than we give ourselves. He is better to us than we are to ourselves.

The disciples of Jesus – full of pride – were arguing with each other who among them was the greatest. They were opposed to suffering and opposed to Jesus’ calling to die on a cross. They did not understand God’s plan of salvation. They were ready to call fire down from heaven or prevent mothers to bring their children to Jesus when Jesus was about mercy. Jesus often challenged them: “Where is your faith?” The disciples behaved like ordinary Christians but listen to what Jesus told them right at the end:

 

Luke 22:28-30: You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

 

How can Jesus say that those flawed disciples had stood with him in his trials? That same night, all of these disciples would fall asleep rather than pray with him and doesn’t this sum up their defects? Yet, Jesus looked at them with different eyes – he looks at you with different eyes. He knew that they needed saving and he was going to provide the grace that they needed. But he was fond of everything that they were able to give to him and he rewarded them outrageously which shows the value that Jesus puts on all of our feeble efforts and tokens of love. Jesus promised them thrones in his kingdom.

Can you see it? Not only does God the Father invite you on his lap. He is also pleased with you, saying: “Well done. I love this. You’ve been amazing. Have this.”

 

Mark 9:41: I can guarantee this truth: Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.

 

God is better than we think but I will give you one more reason why we struggle to accept this joyfully on Easter morning. We cannot live with two value systems. We cannot – on the one hand – sit on the Father’s lap with filthy rags and enjoy his love that is freely given to us but – on the other hand – point the finger at other people and put them down because of the condition of their rags. This doesn’t work. No one can be that inconsistent. Either one standard is true or the other. [Maybe it works for hypocrites who are not honest with themselves but I doubt that it even works for them.] You cannot – on the one hand – expect acceptance – (no more than acceptance) delight from God – despite your flaws but – on the other hand – believe that you are justified in gossiping and put-down humour and harbouring feelings of unforgiveness and resentment against those that have mistreated you.

I read to you two Bible passages:

 

Romans 2:1: … At whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

 

Matthew 7:2: For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

 

We cannot live with two value systems which contradict one another – grace for yourselves and critical supervision for everyone else – and God himself watches over the integrity of his values. He will enforce the standards that we set and adopt – either grace for everyone or nit-picking torment for everyone, including ourselves: “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

God the Father wants us to sit on his lap because Jesus died for our sins and conquered sin and the wages of sin which is death on Easter morning. He has grace for us – compassion and rewards – and he want us to see the depth of his love by the power of the Holy Spirit and maybe the only reason that we are not yet – not quite – seeing the truth is that we are stuck to a negative value system in the way we are judging others. Give up your grudge and faith will grow in grace.

Last week, I shared some of the journey of this congregation and I shared how the Qld Bishop may not have always treated me correctly but I know that Jesus loves him and I know that he is a man of integrity that is trying to please God as best as he can. If I want to receive grace from God – sit on the Father’s lap – I have to accept that the Qld Bishop is also sitting on the same lap of the Father.

And – getting over our differences – it is not hard to see why God loves him. He told me that he prays all of the time – in the car, everywhere, when he thinks of someone – and then he closed our meeting at McDonald’s by praying out loud and it was not a short prayer and it came from the heart. I want to see what the Father sees and he is looking at people with the eyes of love and he is fond of us.

People have left us over the years but I have always said that we will not get better ones. They are good people – maybe (or maybe not) leaving us for the wrong reasons – but in a time of persecution I am certain that many of them would surrender their property – even their lives – for Jesus. They sit on the Father’s lap with me and you.

God does not want you to live in shame. In love, he gave you his Son who conquered sin and death on the day of his resurrection. He has grace for you and he knows that you are weak but he does not mind as long as you come to him, sit on his lap (rejoicing in his love) and let him shower you with his appreciation for every little thing that you do for him.

 

Colossians 1:13-14: [You may live] … giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

 

You can say it with joy, sitting on the Father’s lap. “He is risen.” “He is risen indeed.” Amen.