Thursday, December 9, 2010

Man, that's living!

December 12, 1998

Lloyd Ogilvie, chaplain of the US senate retells an old joke with fresh humor.  It is a story about two gravediggers who were responsible for digging the largest grave they had ever been told to dig.  The dimensions of the grave were six feet wide and 15 feet long.

As they grumbled and complained about digging such a large grave, they questioned as to what kind of casket would go into it.  Just as they finished shoveling, a hearse drove up carrying the casket, funeral director, and the attendants.  No one else attended: no family, no friends.

The gravediggers were bewildered why they had been told to dig such a large grave for such an ordinary casket.  Suddenly a trailer for transporting cars pulled up beside the grave.  Fastened securely to the transporter was a magnificent gold plated Rolls Royce.

The gravediggers' surprise turned to downright astonishment as the funeral attendants placed the casket next to the Rolls Royce, opened the lid, and slid the fully embalmed, neatly dressed corpse out and put him behind the wheel on the driver's side of the car.  The funeral director came over to the corpse and wrapped his cold, dead fingers around the steering wheel, and then molded his lifeless, expressionless mouth into a big smile. His finishing touch was to open the dead man's eyes, which looked out onto the world with a blank stare.

As the door was shut, the crane swung into position and hooked its metal cable to the top of the car. It carried the dead man and his gold Rolls Royce to the grave and lowered it all to the bottom with a gentle thud!

One of the gravediggers glanced at the other, looked at the Rolls Royce, and blurted out, "Man, that's living!"

The story becomes a parable of those without a spiritual life.  The spiritually dead seldom slow down long enough to recognize their own deadness.  Think how often we say, "That's really living," about lifeless kinds of popularity or prosperity or power.

Does your life have a vitality, a positive intensity mixed with rich solitude?  Is it cheerfulness mixed with a spark - a little passion and some pizazz?  When you stop to rest, do you become restless with your wooden existence and lackluster survival?  Or is there contentment in your calm times?

Jesus said, "I have come that (you) may have life and have it to the full."  Advent is the time to remember Jesus' coming and ask, "Why did He come?"  Advent means "coming."  Some apply the word exclusively to His second coming - the Seventh Day Adventist, for example - but it is appropriate to celebrate His first advent as we wait for His second advent/coming.

In John 10:10 Jesus gives one very clear reason for His first advent: to offer abundant life.  In the gospel of John the life that Jesus offers is unique.  Usually it is called eternal life.  However, the reference to eternal, has less to do with quantity than it does with quality.  The Bible gives us reason to believe that God has already given everyone immortality; originally the gift of endless life would not have involved a disruptive moment we call death.  Unfortunately, our rebellion brought that about.  Jesus did not come to extend our lives into eternity.  That is already going to happen, either in heaven or hell.  Jesus came to change our quality of life, both now and the quality of our eternity.

In some ways this quality is a by-product of a restored relationship with God through Jesus.  Think of the best friendship you've ever had, perhaps with your spouse.  Then suppose in one of your stubborn or greedy or lustful moments you did something to damage that friendship.  Perhaps you still live together or work together, but there is friction and relational pain where there used to be harmony.

Then suppose that your friend, in a lavish demonstration of love, let you know that you were totally forgiven. You knew it was not a trick or illusion- you really were forgiven and loved.  What has that forgiveness done for your quality of life?  Doesn't it make all the difference in the world?  Jesus has come to bring that quality of acceptance and love into your life, along with His power to live a joy filled life.

Today we will be reading from John 10.  The immediate context is all of chapter nine.  That chapter opens with Jesus and His disciples on a Sabbath stroll through the streets of Jerusalem.  They see a man that is so well known that everyone knows he was born blind.  The disciples ask whose sin caused this blindness. Jesus said sin had nothing to do with this tragedy, directly.

Furthermore, Jesus made a mixture of saliva and dirt, rubbed the mud on the man's eyes and sent him to a specific pool to wash.  The man did, and was healed.  The healing was so remarkable that those who knew him best couldn't believe it was really him.  They asked the obvious questions:  how did this happen? He told them about the mud and the trip to the pool and Jesus.

Such a remarkable miracle deserved to be investigated, so the friends took the formerly blind man to the religious leaders.  The Pharisees were immediately suspect - not because the miracle itself seemed fraudulent, but because Jesus had made the mud on the Sabbath.  The Pharisees had a bad case of something we all battle with:  we prefer to limit God to act in ways that we can approve of!

Because Jesus did not heal with the approved sort of methods, he was branded an evil person.  To shorten the story, the healed man endorsed Jesus methods, he did not understand how they violated any of God's laws.  Consequently he was excommunicated.  He was healed of blindness and then kicked out of his congregation by those born with good eyes!

When Jesus heard that this had happened, he found the formerly blind man and some of his accusers. Chapter 10 is Jesus' verbal whipping administered to the Pharisees, and words of encouragement to the outcast.

Read John 10.

Jesus explains who it is who has the real authority to "let in" and to "cast out."  To the outcast this must've been music to his ears.  To the religious leaders and wanna-be authorities it was another reason to do away with Jesus.

Wanna-be leaders are in for themselves.  They use their followers for selfish reasons.  Jesus came in order to lay down His life for anyone who would follow Him. He came to lay down His life and to give life.

When we get ready for Christmas we make our homes as fancy as they will be all year.  We dress up the outside and inside and sometimes we even get dressed up - decked out.  When God got ready for Christmas, He laid aside His scepter, took off His crown and came as a naked baby. There wasn't much gloriousness about His first advent.  A baby was born - that is very impressive, but it also meant other stuff: meconium, squalling, a desperate need for mother's milk.  God was naked and vulnerable.

This beginning is an interesting comparison to the end of His life where he hung on the cross, naked and vulnerable.  God chose to live in the same flesh you and I live in, the same flesh we die in.  His pain does not erase our pain, but it can redeem it and transform it.

Years ago a missionary was serving the Lord in Korea.  A young Korean woman was expecting a baby, and on Christmas Eve she went into labor.  There was a major storm in progress, but the woman knew if she could just get to the home of the missionary she would have the help she needed.  She put on her winter wraps and started out alone, on foot.  She was several miles from home when her labor pains grew in frequency and intensity, and she knew she could not make it to her destination.

She got beneath an old bridge that provided some shelter.  There alone, in the middle of the night, she gave birth to a baby boy.  She immediately removed her coat and then, piece by piece, the rest of her clothing. Carefully, she wound every item around her baby until he looked like a cumbersome little cocoon.  Then she fell asleep, too exhausted to do anything else.

The next morning dawned, the missionary awoke with a song in her heart.  It was Christmas day, and there were so many people she wanted to see.  She packed the car and started on her way.  A few miles down the road the engine sputtered and the car finally stopped on top of an old bridge.  As the missionary opened the door to go for help, she thought she heard a baby crying.  Following the sound, she went under the bridge where she found a tiny baby boy- very hungry, but very much alive.  Next to the infant, lay his mother - frozen.

The missionary picked up the baby and took him to her home.  In time, she was permitted to adopt the boy. As the years passed she told him how his biological mother had given her life that he might live.  The son never tired of hearing the story and he asked her to repeat it often.

On his twelfth birthday he asked the missionary to take him to the burial place of his mother.  When they arrived, there was snow on the ground, and he asked his missionary mother to wait while he went to the grave alone.  She watched her son as he trudged through the snow, tears streaming down his cheeks.  In amazement, she saw him slowly unbutton his coat, remove it, and gently lay it on the snowy grave.  Next he removed his shirt, pants, shoes, and socks and carefully placed each item on the grave of the mother who had given her all for him.

The missionary could take it no longer and went to her son, placing her coat around his bare, shivering shoulders.  Through his tears, she heard him as he asked, "Were you colder than this for me, mother?  Were you colder than this?" And he knew that she was.

When people doubt or even mock Jesus' promise of abundant life, by pointing to the evidence of pain and suffering still with us, they fail to see Jesus Himself, coming into that same suffering voluntarily.  They also have not tried living with Jesus to discover the abundance of that life.  Jesus said, "I have come that you might have life, abundant life."

If you have felt touched by The Spirit or His Word I invite you to come forward for prayer. (Editor's note: If you are a blogger we invite you contact us thru the comment section or Facebook and we will talk to you about the life change that is available to you thru Jesus.)

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