Sunday, March 20, 2011

When the Spring Comes

Here are my unedited notes from today's message at Crossroads.  The audio is available through this link.
It felt a bit awkward, for some reason, but it turned out alright, partly because we were able to share, at the beginning and the end of worship, a story from man named Cory... ask me and I'll tell you more.

The main point is that Jesus moves the attention from any good work other than what he did on the cross for us.  He makes us look at him, not at any other work.
Scripture – John 3:1-17
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
4 “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 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.”
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

Scripture - James 1:21–27
Remember this book is written to CHRISTIANS—to people who have already been born again … none of this will save you EXCEPT what it says in verse 21—humbly accepting the word of God, which can do that saving work.
        21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.
26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Lord Jesus, come now through your Holy Spirit as we apply your Word to our lives.  Transform us, change us, so we are more and more dependent on you.

106 years ago today, the following article was published in the New York Times:
 The crowds rushing into the streets found that in a row of eight new houses, four had collapsed.  The rear walls of two fell out completely, while the rest were so badly damaged that it was … doubtful whether any would withstand the continued warmth of the weather.  Deputy Inspector Jordan of the Building Department said that the collapse was probably due to the use of freezing mortar in violation of the law.
You have heard the story of the wise man who built his house on the rock and the foolish one who built his house on the sand, right?  The same thing is true when you build with the wrong materials at the wrong time.
In all, on this day 106 years ago, 7 large brick houses fell in New York City due to the fact that they had been carefully built, so carefully built… with freezing mortar… and when the weather warmed, the mortar thawed, and one after another the buildings fell down.  Sometimes one wall at a time.
Is that your life?
That was Nicodemus’ life.  And it was James’ life too.  In fact, it is the life of every single solitary individual in this big old world… unless we are born again.
(start clip…) (you can see it at this link - about 4 minutes in...)
This is from One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich … A wall is being built in a Soviet slave labor camp.  One of the workers, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov—Shukhov is his last name… Ivan is taking pride in his work…
Here’s a quote from the book:
Shukhov didn't make mistakes... If one of the blocks had a corner knocked off or a kinky edge or a blister, Shukhov spotted it right away and knew which way around it needed to be laid and which spot in the wall was just waiting for it.
He scooped up a trowel full of steaming mortar, slapped it on the very spot, making a note where the blocks in the row below met so that the middle of the block above would be dead-center over the groove. He slapped on just enough mortar for one block at a time. Then he grabbed a block from the pile — he was a bit careful, though, he didn't want a hole in his mittens, and those blocks were horribly scratchy. Then he smoothed the mortar down with his trowel and plopped the block on it. Then, quick as quick, he squared it up, tapping it into place with the side of his trowel if it wasn't sitting right, making sure it was flush with the outside of the wall and dead-level widthwise and lengthwise. Because it would freeze on and stick fast right away.
Next, if any mortar had been squeezed out from under the block, you had to chip it off quick and flick it away with your trowel. (In summer you could use it for the next block, but this time of year — forget it.) Then another look at the bonding in the row below — there might be a damaged block, where a bit had crumbled away, and if there was, you slapped on more mortar, thicker under the left end, and didn't just lay the block but slid it on from right to left so it squeezed out the extra mortar between itself and the block to the left. Make sure it's flush. Make sure it's flat. Block set fast. Next, please!
Off to a good start. Get two courses laid and tidy up the old rough bits and it's all plain sailing…

It will all fall down.
I remember reading the story of Ivan Denisovich Shukhov back in high school or junior high. 
It was close to 40 below zero that day.
I thought to myself – that mortar is going to freeze and it’s going to all come down.
What is Shukhov’s careful work going to mean then?
And what is your life going to mean when it comes down…
Spring is coming.  Fire is coming.  The end is near.

In First Corinthians 3 (slide #1) it talks about building.
“Each builder must choose with care how to build…
… if anyone builds with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it,
(slide #2)
because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done.”
(slide #3)
Sometimes we get so occupied with building, sometimes we get so occupied with our life in this world, sometimes we get so focused on doing good work that we forget:
Spring is coming – Fire is coming – and nothing we have done in this life will matter if we’re working with frozen mortar, if we’re working with a hard and sinful heart.
Spring is coming.  Fire is coming. 
And that is something we all need to hear.
 (slide #4)
Nicodemus needed to hear it.
(slide #5)
Nicodemus, like the rest of us in his natural human way…
Nicodemus had spent his whole life building with freezing mortar.
When he came to Jesus he came because he recognized good work – he recognized that Jesus did things right and in a way that could not be explained by simple human ability.

John 3:1-2
There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.

Good call, Nicodemus.  It’s true.  No one could do the amazing work Jesus did, loving and powerful, setting the captives free, healing the sick, raising the dead…

No one could do that without the power of God.
Nicodemus, and all the people who see something miraculous in good things that happen in this world, they are right.
These things can’t happen without God.
Whenever you see anything good, praise God.  For without God everything is darkness, everything is cold, everything is oppression.  Without God nothing is good Psalm 16:2 – Apart from God I have nothing good.  Take a look at Mark 10:19 too.
Nicodemus is right.
But Nicodemus is a winter worker. 
A frozen mortar guy.
Nicodemus has spent his whole life looking at outward appearances.  He notices good work when he sees it.
But he doesn’t know, and neither do we… he doesn’t know that it’s been winter, that the mortar is freezing, and when the spring comes, when the fire comes, it won’t matter how carefully you’ve laid your blocks.
When the spring comes, when the fire comes, it won’t matter how well you’ve done.
It won’t matter how many widows and orphans you’ve cared for.  It won’t matter how carefully you’ve kept yourself away from the sins of the world.
When the true spring comes all of our good deeds will fall apart.
It will be as it was on West One Hundred and Thirty-fifth Street in New York City on March 20, 1905, when crowds rushed into the streets…  A great rumbling noise was heard as the carefully built walls came tumbling down.
Spring had come!  And spring will come to this frozen world, and fire will come.  And it will all be gone.
Unless, that is, you’ve already been transported into the springtime, unless you’re already on the other side of the fire, on the other side of spring, on the other side of the thaw.

Everything you’ve ever done will be gone—just a pile of garbage—unless (slide #6) you’ve been born again.
There’s nothing more important. 

Nicodemus tells Jesus how impressed he is with what he sees of Jesus work.  “No one can do it as perfectly as you, Jesus.” 
But Jesus wants to tell us this: Get your eyes off the wonderful work of Jesus.  Get your eyes off the work he seemed to do in life.  And turn your eyes on Jesus on the CROSS, when he gave HIMSELF for frozen hearted people like me and you!—look at HIM.
 “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”  
And how does that happen?  Not anything you can do.  You can’t make yourself be born, not the first time, and not the second—not from water, not from the Spirit, not from below, and certainly not from above…
Beginning with verse 5 of John 3, Jesus launches into a very deep teaching that culminates with the key:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:16
Jesus takes Nicodemus’ attention off the good work that Jesus was doing—good work Nicodemus could recognize… work that was straight and true and life-giving, healing and so loving… 
Jesus takes Nicodemus’ attention away from the work and puts his attention on himself. 
“For God so loved the world,” Nicodemus, “that he gave me, his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in ME shall not perish but have eternal life…”
Jesus takes the attention off even his good work…
(slide #7)

And He puts it on himself.
Because a relationship with Jesus is the ONLY WAY you and I and anything will make it through the coming thaw—through the coming fire—through the judgment that will show everything else to be sin.
You and I and every other person in this world needs to have a new beginning, a new birth.
You and I must be born again.
(slide #8)
And this is the day.  Today is the day to give up anything and everything I’ve ever done on my own.
Today is the day to let go and let God.  Today is the first day of spring—a day for starting over.
And I can only do that as I give up any hope of making it on my own, and put my trust, my faith, in Jesus Christ.
·        Without Jesus, we are New York City construction workers—laboring away before it the spring comes and it all falls down.
·        Without Jesus we are Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, piling one block on another, hoping that some of the mortar might actually set.
It’s time to stop.  Spring is here.
The frozen mortar of your life is melting.  The Holy Spirit is here to turn your heart and warm it in Jesus’ love.
No one can do that but Jesus.
John 3:13  No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.  The Son of Man must be lifted up on the cross… that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
Jesus turns our attention from our work to him and his work.  And his work is so good.
He loves you.  And you can give in to that love now.

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