A Work in Progress (12/18/16)

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People have interesting hobbies. A friend of mine collects railroad memorabilia. I have a collection of Looney Tunes glasses from the 1970s and 80s on top of our kitchen cabinets. Some people enjoy buying and restoring old cars. Jim Otto, a member of our congregation, bought a 1930 Roadster to restore. When this car was new, the paint was perfect and there were no rust spots or dents in the metal. However, after decades of exposure to the weather, this car needed a lot of work to restore it to its original condition.

In the Old Testament, the new nation of Israel was once new and impressive. God brought the Jews out of slavery in Egypt and gave them the Promised Land. Once they settled there, they slowly rose in influence and grew in economic trade to become a powerful nation in the region. They were supposed to be a light for God so other nations would want to worship him too. Most of the Israelites didn’t do this. Many of them forgot God and began to follow the gods of the local people.

They also fought among themselves and split their land into two nations. Israel became the northern nation and Judah became the southern country. Since they were ignoring God, he sent foreign armies to attack them as punishment but, more importantly, as a way of trying to get their attention.

Scholars agree Psalm 80 was written right after the nation of Israel was attacked by the Assyrian army and refugees fled into the southern kingdom of Judah. It says:

Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. Awaken your might; come and save us. Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.

How long, Lord God Almighty, will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people? You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowlful. You have made us an object of derision to our neighbors, and our enemies mock us. Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.

17 Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself. 18 Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name. 19 Restore us, Lord God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.

Israel was once new and powerful. Now God was removing his blessings and punishing them. They were weak and overrun. Just like Jim’s 1930 Roadster, they needed to be restored.

You and I need the same thing. Our humanity was once new and impressive. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Adam and Eve was created in the image of our perfect God. This meant that, in its original form, humankind was also flawless. This didn’t last too long. Sin entered the world in Genesis 3 and created a rift in humanity’s relationship with God which still affects us today.

Sin has weakened us and separated us from God. We need to be restored.

The definition for the word “restore” is “bring back; reinstate.” Jim wanted to bring his car back to its original condition. In order for him to do that, he couldn’t simply paint over what was already there. He had to strip off all of the rust, old paint and parts that was keeping the car from being perfect.  Spraying new paint over rust spots and chipped paint doesn’t work in the long run. It might look good for a little while but eventually the underlying problems will bleed through. It was only after the imperfections were removed that he could start restoring it.

God was trying to do the same thing to the nation of Israel. He wanted to remove the underlying difficulties that were causing their downfall. They needed to stop worshipping other god’s and return to him. They needed to remember the poor and work for justice. God knew complete restoration couldn’t happen until their imperfections were removed. In his mercy, God wanted to help his people move past these problems. He sent Jesus to both redeem them from their sins and to help them be faithful.

When he was eight days old, Jesus’ parents took him to the temple in Jerusalem to be circumcised. When they arrived, a man named Simeon, who was full of the Holy Spirit, took Jesus in his arms and said, 29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel (Luke 2:29-32).

What did Israel do with the help God sent to them? As part of our Christmas Around the World theme for Advent, let’s go back to Israel. According to Jerusalem-insiders-guide.com, “Christmas in Israel is unlike anywhere else in the world. Christmas in the Holy Land offers a unique opportunity to focus on the spiritual meaning of the holiday. With few outward signs to create a holiday spirit, you’ll have to find Christmas inside of you, so it may be the most meaningful one you spend after all. …. the material and outwardly seasonal displays found in the rest of the world are conspicuously absent. People sometimes complain that they feel a lack of holiday spirit – no trees, no strings of lights, no carols on the radio. Christmas lights in Jerusalem street. This is understandable, since it is probably the first time many of these visitors find themselves at Christmas in a country where Christians are a distinct minority.” The reason there are few Christians in Israel today is because most of the Jews rejected the help God sent them. Because of this, they’ve never been restored to their original condition.

The same help God sent to the nation of Israel is available to us. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 says, 23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”

If we accept all that Jesus has to offer us, he will take us on a journey that restores us to our original relationship with God. The journey is difficult for many Christians because they want Jesus to be their Savior but don’t want Jesus to be their Lord. The sanctification process Paul mentions in 1 Thessalonians doesn’t only include salvation. It also involves being stripped of our pride, love of possessions, past hurts and any other imperfection we have. If God doesn’t remove these things, they will keep bleeding through and come out in the way we live.

When Jim restored his car, he didn’t do it by walking up to it and saying, “I’ve purchased you with my money and parked you in a garage. Now you’re restored.” After he acquired it, he scraped, grinded, cut and welded to restore it.

Jesus doesn’t restore us by saying, “I’ve purchased you with my blood. Now go park yourself in the church and be restored.” After we accept the salvation he acquired with his blood, he starts scraping, grinding and cutting away our imperfections so he can sanctify us. Then he welds in the new pieces he wants us to have. Going through this process is one of the hardest things we’ll ever do.

As many of you know, I used to be part of a family logging and firewood business. We had good years. We had bad years. At one point, we had 35 employees and millions of dollars in assets. Then within a short period of time, everything fell apart.

Severe problems were coming at us faster than we could solve them. As a result, I became very angry. The pressure of trying to deal with everything and not knowing how it would turn out led to depression. There were some days when I had trouble getting out of bed and going to work. One thing led to another and within a couple of years we lost almost everything. By this point, I wasn’t a very pleasant person to be around even though I was a Christian and a pastor.

I had to choose how I would move forward. Would I stay this way and end up a bitter old man who was mad at the world because life had been unfair? Or, would I ask God what he wanted me to learn from this and move on in life? I chose to do the latter.

Moving forward wasn’t easy. It took years for us to deal with all of the issues and for me to get healing from my depression. However, with God’s help, I made it through. I also learned some things.

I learned I don’t need possessions and land. Money really doesn’t buy happiness. God does carry you through the valleys of life if you let him. During the times when faith is all you have, faith is enough.

I’m a better person because of what we went through. To be honest, I’m not sure what kind of man I might have become if our business had thrived and I’d made a fortune.

Do you ever stop to think that perhaps many of the problems you’re facing in life are put there by God because he’s trying to restore you? How do you react when Jesus starts scraping, cutting and grinding at the things he needs to remove from your life so you can become closer to him?

After long hours of work, sweat and perhaps even a few tears, Jim restored his car. Israel hasn’t been restored because it rejected God’s help. What about you and I? Even though it takes a life time and we’re always a work in progress, are we being restored? Or do we want Jesus as fire insurance that keeps us out of hell but don’t want him to sanctify us?

If the last question describes you, I have bad news. A close reading of the Bible tells us it doesn’t work this way. God wants to restore us so we can have a closer relationship with him. Jesus will lead us through this process. So, let’s end one more question.

Am I willing to give up the person I am to become the person God wants me to be?