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Lombard CRC

Can I know God personally?

[Put trophy on stool] J

So now you know what happened

last Wednesday night at the Cadet Pinewood Derby,

again!

If you’re counting,

that’s two first place finishes in a row for me J

Congratulations to all the winners,

it was a great night of fun

watching the excited boys and girls

and older boys like me

race one another.

The thrill of victory,

the agony of defeat,

the imagination of those special design cars.

It was great watching expectant dads and moms

put their son’s or daughter’s car out there,

and greater still watching sons and daughters

take credit for dad’s work,

maybe mom’s work? J

It is good to remember and experience again

the blessing of being a spiritual community

together, like extended family.

 

I don’t have the trophy up here to brag,

well, maybe a little, J

you can’t blame me can you!

This serves as an object lesson for us

when it comes to thinking about God.

Do we think God, salvation, heaven

is something like a trophy we gain,

an achievement?

If I know enough

or I’m good enough

or I’m better than you then I get God?

Or if I know enough

or am good enough

I don’t need God;

I’m better off on my own!

 

Our Explore God series

is all about resisting this false idea.

Throughout our whole series we have met

people who encountered the living God.

The Lord is that personal,

being spiritual is not about being good enough,

faith is not just ideas or concepts in your head,

faith is about being loved and loving a person, Jesus.

Either he is who he says he is

and because of that I love him and follow him,

or he isn’t who he says he is

and I go my own way without him.

 

We started with a woman named Martha

and asked about life’s purposes.

Jesus met her and invited her

to his righteous thriving and flourishing

beyond her busyness and just living for

her own personal accomplishment and recognition.

 

Then God met Jacob on the run and fearful

and without any thought that there was a God.

He found out not only that there is one true God,

but this God is with him.

 

Job asked the question,

 Why does God allow suffering and pain?

He found the answer in the Lord

who died and rose again

to redeem our suffering.

In the presence of God he could say

I know God is against me;

I know my Redeemer lives

and even after my skin has been destroyed

yet in my flesh I will see God.

 

Nicodemus met Jesus at night.

Convinced tho he was of his own spiritual choices

he saw something in Jesus that not only he.

but everyone he knew, was missing.

It turned out Jesus is needed

by even the most spiritual

to complete our flourishing and destiny.

 

Paul’s story is one of many

that reveal Jesus really is God.

And how really all our spiritual questions

come back to this question,

is Jesus who he said he was?

Christ’s resurrection is power and proof enough.

 

Many unnamed witnesses helped us see

that the Bible is a reliable revelation of the grace

and truth of God.

In the Bible we are invited to find our story in God’s.

The Lord is so personal God speaks to us

in His Word,

and as we take God at his Word

we experience that we belong

in life and in death to the Lord our Savior.

 

Named and unnamed,

suffering and celebrating,

men and women,

pillars of the community and outcasts,

religious folk and those with no clue about God,

each meets the living Lord.

Each encounter is given to us

to assure us that yes,

we can know God personally.

In fact, this is what we are made for.

The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes says it well,

‘God has set eternity in the human heart.’

Our soul’s desire is fulfilled in knowing God

heart to heart, by heart.

 

The story of the Samaritan woman at the well

is your invitation to know the Lord personally.

To me,

this summarizes what all the other questions

are all about,

including the ones we have

that aren’t part of this series,

questions about the claims of science,

questions about social issues and justice,

and the question of Christian hypocrisy and failure.

 

Our human assumption maybe,

the temptation surely, the danger,

of asking all these questions about God

is that we unintentionally reduce spirituality

to a fact-finding exercise,

or an apologetics debate,

or a reasonable rational argument,

and we make Christianity to be nothing more than

an intellectual exercise,

so faith is just what we THINK  about God.

God becomes a notion, an idea,

a concept in our head.

Is God all in your head?

Then we need a story like this to be reminded

Jesus is God one of us

God with us

and we are made to live belonging to God.

 

That’s how the story starts:

As Jesus made His way from Judea to Galilee, he “had to” pass through Samaria.

Well, no he didn’t.

In fact, Jews usually passed around Samaria,

such was their hatred of the Samaritans.

So there was a well traveled road around Samaria.

But Jesus had to pass through Samaria, why?

Because God’s desire is for persons

to know the Lords’ presence, love and Lordship.

These Samaritans would not come to Jesus,

but Jesus did come to them.

 

This is the grace of God,

that because of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross

there is nothing that can separate you from his love.

Look at the obstacles Jesus overcomes

so that this one can know she belongs to God.

First, she is a Samaritan.

Second, she has a history of failed relationships.

And third, she is a woman.

 

That’s what surprises the disciples the most.

That Jesus is talking to her, of all people:

27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

There may be a race issue here,

but there is also a gender issue.

The disciples in their time and culture

cannot comprehend why Jesus

would be “wasting His time” talking to a woman.

But Jesus did. Over and over.

The first witnesses of his resurrection were women.

 

Maybe you are not surprised by this.

I hope you can see just how radical

the inclusive grace of Jesus is.

But maybe you are surprised at the sort of woman

he is talking to.

At Jesus’ offer to give her living water

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

17 “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

 

Many are quick to find guilt and label her a sinner.

They assume five failed marriages, five divorces,

and now an extra-marital relationship,

and they assume she is at fault.

That’s why she tells Jesus the truth,

but only a part of it.

They forget the culture.

In her day the husband did the divorcing;

the wife didn’t have a say.

We don’t know if she had been widowed

along the way, either.

 

But let’s imagine that she has been divorced

by her husband, more than once.

Imagine being told you’re not good enough for me.

Imagine being told I don’t want you anymore.

I don’t want to be with you.

Go on your way.

Imagine this is the story of your life.

Imagine her being with the guy she is with now

simply because she needs a roof over her head,

but knowing even for him

she isn’t worth the promises of marriage.

Saying, I have no husband, isn’t a lie,

it is her sorrow, her shame, her pain.

 

We hear her story and think guilt.

Jesus knows her and her shame.

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

No wonder.

The town well was the gathering place.

The place to meet friends and neighbors

and know you belong.

But that didn’t happen for her.

She drew water at noon,

the heat of the day,

so she could avoid all the judgment and stares.

She didn’t belong.

 

But she belongs to Jesus.

Look at the obstacles Jesus overcomes

to draw this woman into God’s redeeming love.

He is a Jew; she is a Samaritan.

He is a man; she is a woman.

He is pure and divine; she is shamed.

There seems to be no common ground,

no reason to talk,

and nothing to agree upon.

Jesus speaks to her.

Jesus asks her for a drink.

She has something to offer.

He patiently talks with her.

He considers her questions.

Graciously, he tells her the truth.

And he does all this to save her,

so that she can know the Messiah, personally.

She finds her identity in being known

personally, by the Savior.

 

She runs to her neighbors,

all those folks that she avoided

she now invites to know Jesus as Lord also.

 

Maybe you don’t think of faith

as a relationship to Jesus.

How can I relate

to one who lived 2000 years ago,

who is at the right hand of the Father today

as Lord and Savior?

How can I relate to one who I can’t see with my eyes,

hear with my ears,

touch with my hands,

walk beside in his shadow?

How can I have a relationship with the living God?

So most times we assume faith

is nothing more than religious practices.

But there is a big difference

between faith in Jesus

and going thru some spiritual motions.

The incarnate, crucified, risen, reigning Lord Jesus

is so much, much, much more

than an idea or notion or religious thought.

If I asked you what sets Christianity apart

from every world religion what would you answer?

The biggest difference is called: union with Christ.

That the Christian faith is not a religion;

it is a relationship.

In our search for comfort in life and in death

the only lasting answer is
I belong, body and soul, to my faithful Savior.

 

Our Heavenly Father loves you.

The Triune God gave you life,

and Jesus gave his life for you,

and promises to be with you always,

so that you find a fullness and newness

that you cannot give yourself alone.

You were made for God,

I call you friends, says Jesus.

 

By the power and love

of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection

and by the grace of the Holy Spirit

we not only draw near to Jesus,

not only does he walk with me and talk with me,

not only is he always with us,

we commune with God –

we are united to God

as children of God,

and Jesus lives through our lives.

 

Is it hard to wrap your thoughts around this?

How about we start here:

belief in God is about presence not program.

 

Most of us follow some programs to be

the person we want to be:

we are on a sports team and practice;

or we are learning a musical instrument;

or maybe the doctor puts you on a certain diet

or there are pills we have to take

and exercise we have to do;

and we budget as we save for a house or retirement;

or we’ve decided on a certain course of study

as we prepare for our calling or vocation:

a program.

And this can make us think

we’ve got to do the same thing

when it comes to God.

We think God is a program to follow:

God is about being good enough.

God is about knowing enough.

God is about holding certain political views.

God is about doing or not doing certain things.

 

But when it comes to knowing ourselves rightly

and knowing God rightly

we are made for communion,

with the risen Lord:

a person, not a program.

being united with the Lord and his people.

Faith is personal,

it is in the person and finished work of Jesus

who lives in us.

 

You see, if faith is only an idea,

or a take on things,

or a list you can point to in order to say

I’ve done what I’m supposed to do,

then we miss the person of Christ.

We have a virtual faith

that just sort of exists in our heads.

And life is still just about me.

We miss the love and the friendship and the belonging and the identity.

More, out of pride we make God fit our agenda.

 

Andrew Root talks about sitting with young people

at a retreat and talking about salvation.

They had just heard a gospel presentation.

One of the teens said it’s like not deserving an A

but being given an A anyhow

because Jesus has taken the test for us and aced it. This is a pretty good deal, they all said.

Except it doesn’t really change us

for the better does it?

If we get an A without deserving it,

without learning the material

or mastering the course,

we haven’t really become a different, better person. Our substitute test-taker left us with good marks

but still ignorant.

All this assumed that the point of life

 was to get the grade,

not to participate in something beyond ourselves.

It’s missing the relationship.

So how can we better respond to the invitation

and reality that God is with us

and as we are known by Jesus

we can know and love and live in him?

 

Jesus has blessed us thru the Holy Spirit

with ways and means to meet Jesus personally.

The primary way is through the Bible.

There we meet the God who speaks to us.

There we meet Jesus who is the way to know God.

Reading the Bible opens our souls

to the Word of God.

Can we encourage one another in regular

Bible reading, study, and memorization?

There the Spirit transforms us in God’s loving grace.

We don’t know God

just by thinking our own thoughts about the divine, but by listening to the Lord speak to us.

 

We meet God in creation.

The heavens declare the glory of God,

the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

But we only meet God there

in praise and wonder.

Intentionally responding to creation’s beauty.

It’s time to get outside again;

(maybe not today! but soon J

it’s time to develop our praise of the Lord.

 

Church fellowship is Christ’s gift

to you and me for living with Jesus.

Where two or three gather in my name

there I am, Jesus promised.

 

I know the trend today is to try to do faith

without the church.

It’s easy to judge the church

or make up your own worship or creeds

or justice or service.

But Jesus built his church

and he said it’s only by the church

that the gates of hell will not stand.

Simply put,

you can’t love Jesus if you don’t love his bride,

the church.

You can’t know Jesus fully if you don’t know his body,

the church.

The old Christian wisdom

that there is no salvation outside the church

is just spiritual common sense.

It makes sense because God is personal,

God is trinity,

God is three-in-one,

God is community,

so we meet God fully in person,

in the community of his people.

 

And when we make promises

to one another and our children,

and find assurance together

in sharing the one loaf and one cup of communion,

as we pray together,

worship together,

grieve together,

and rejoice together,

give and serve in mercy and justice together,

there Jesus loves us drawing us close to him

so we gradually get eyes of faith

to see Christ in others, too.

 

So continue to explore God,

not as a project,

but in the person of Jesus,

who made you,

died to redeem you,

and knows you by name;

he is that personal.

 

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