Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Story of Forgiveness

Despite the dreariness of the day, Brad welcomed us with his usual bright warmth. "Good morning!" Included in his opening monologue was the statement, "We can overestimate our righteousness before God," tipping his hand to today's theme.
Announcements included this Thursday's Navigate 2011, an important semiannual church meeting in which we will plan and discuss our vision for the new year and present new ministry initiatives. Dinner, a chili dog fundraiser for Adventure Club, will be at 6:00 p.m. with the meeting commencing at 6:45. Stay tuned for more information about Operation Christmas Child as well.

After the introit Brad read to us Psalm 23 and we entered into a time of worship followed by the offering and prayer.

The Story of Forgiveness

Today's sermon was essentially a modernized retelling of the Lord's parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector as found in Luke 18:9-14...

9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about[a] himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'
13"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'

14"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

On his way home from Florida this week Brad shared his faith with someone on the plane. Such situations offer many opportunities for sharing. After the initial introductions, "What do you do?" is a normal question and a conversation can quickly become oriented to spiritual things when you are a pastor.

This week's encounter had an earnestly positive outcome, but for today's message Brad wished to share about a similar on-the-plane encounter he'd had another time on a flight from Chicago to Minneapolis.

He set it up with a story about playing racquetball at the Y. Brad had played a bit of racquetball and felt confident enough to enter a tournament. There were three classes in the tourney -- A, B and C -- and he was trying to decide what level to compete at. Needless to say, he figured the C class was fielded by beginners and the only decision was whether to be in the A or B category. In Brad's mind the C league was for rank amateurs and since he had played for a few months the only decision was whether to go a winning the B category or competing in the A group for experience... and who know?

While he was studying the poster an older gentleman of somewhat short of stature asked if he were thinking of entering the tournament. Brad could tell the guy was checking him over as to what level he played at, and Brad was doing the same. With stubby little arms and a potbelly, the guy looked like a physician and no threat. The man said he had played in last month's tournament and Brad asked what level. The man said, "C" and Brad thought, "It figures." With a measure of pride the man added that he came in tenth, and even seemed proud of it, which Brad dismissed thinking, "If I came in tenth in the C class I'd crawl in a hole and die." Brad decided to play the guy to gauge how well a C player can play. This would hep him determine whether to sign up for the A or B level.

"You can see where this is going," Brad said, and yes, we could. The guy smoked him. 21-zip.

Athletics is not the only area where people overrate themselves. It happens in business, and it can happen in politics. Most people are convinced that they are playing in the A level with pleasing God, too. Yes, most people overrate how good they are in the eyes of God.

This story was a perfect setup for the story of that flight from Chicago to Minneapolis, the quintessential business traveller. After the usual niceties the man asked what Brad did for a living. The man told how he used to go to church, and believed his kids needed a little religious orientation. Brad decided to spice things up a bit. "If someone asked you how to get to heaven..."

The man admitted that he wouldn't know what to say.

Brad then asked if the man were planning to go to heaven when he died. His reaction said, "of course," and he proceeded to elaborate on some of his good deeds and his business ethics. Brad replied, "Do you really want to know what God's standard of good is?"

Brad took out a napkin and drew a line up and down from top to bottom and wrote GOD at the top. Parenthetically, he added "God's standard of goodness." Then he asked the man to put an ex on the napkin to represent the place where he viewed himself at in regards to being good in God's eyes.

Just before handing the man the pen, Brad asked, "Who do you think is the best person living on planet earth right now?" and after thinking for a minute he said, "Mother Teresa."

Then Brad said, "I wouldn't argue with that." (This was when Mother Teresa was still alive.) And Brad added, "There's something I think you should know about Mother Teresa. I've heard her on audio tape, and she feels terrible about how far short she has fallen below God's standard of goodness and perfection. She would place her X about two-thirds of the way down that vertical line.

Then Brad asked who the best person in this country might be. The man offered up Billy Graham as an exemplary man, but Brad replied, "I've heard Billy Graham give some talks and I feel that I could say, without fear of him contradicting me, that he would probably place his X a little south of Mother Teresa."

Brad then acknowledged that he himself was in the ministry and doing the best he good to honor God and would still put his X well south of Billy. Brad then put his X on the line. At this he said, "You need to know that Mother Teresa is in trouble and she knows it, and Billy's in trouble and he knows it, and I am in trouble and I know it. But I think you're in trouble and you don't know it." You could tell the guy's wheels were turning.

Brad pointed out that this drawing was aimed at showing how we overrate our goodness if we don't have any benchmarks. And we underrate the seriousness of this issue.

Brad had an opportunity to go further with the businessman, who admitted shortcomings in terms of his business ethics and his relationships. It was presented as a golf scorecard, and as they went through the areas of his life, the score looked far worse than he envisioned or admitted.

God is holy and His standards are high. When we fall short, someone has to take a hit, someone has to pay the price for our sin. Because of God's outrageous love for you and me, God commissioned Jesus to come to earth as a human and die a substitutionary death on behalf of each of us as sinners.

Have you ever taken a moral inventory? How many of us overestimate our value? One day we will each stand before God...

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