"Hard to Believe, But True!" #79-50
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on August 19, 2012
By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Too Much TV and Internet a Sin?)
Copyright 2013 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: John 6:66-69
Grace, and mercy, and peace be to you through the incredible Grace of God in Jesus Christ, a grace that you can believe and receive today, through faith in Him alone! Amen!
There are some things in life that are very hard to believe, but just because it's hard to believe, sometimes, doesn't mean that it's not true or that it's not true for you!
Just a few hundred years ago, who would have ever thought of a single cell as a complex entity full of information, even life? And who would have thought that making these cells work in our bodies would make life so much better here on earth. In fact, if you think about it, if things are "well with your cells," things are probably pretty good in your life too. Hard to believe that knowing things at such a basic level could bring so much potential blessing. Hard to believe, but true!
Or think about the things that we take for granted today. Who would have believed that something as simple as aspirin, or as mundane as penicillin could do such incredible things for pain, infections, and disease? Hard to believe when you look at those little pills that they can keep so many problems at bay, hard to believe but thank God it's true for me and for you.
But, such hard to believe but true phenomenon exists not just in the physical, nuts and bolts world of creation, but also in the world of relationships and friendships too. Just try to imagine this world without things like love, mercy, kindness, commitment, and joy. I can't even imagine what this world would be like without them. And yet sometimes, its very hard to believe that they really exist, that they can indeed be true in our lives, too.
There's always that time in every person's life when one wonders if real love will enter one's life. You can have all the physical blessings of this world, the house, the car, the toys, even physical health, but all that is empty if you don't have someone to share it with.
Can you remember a time when that kind of love seemed out of reach, beyond your capabilities and then, boom, there it was for you?
Think about the time that you got up the courage to ask that incredible girl out on a date. You know, the one that's out of your league, the one that shouldn't give the likes of you the time of day, and yet you did it, you asked, and you found out that she was everything you thought she'd be and more, but then you found out that she thinks you're pretty special, too. Love exists and it exists for you. Hard to believe, but truer than you might think. (I know this last one's true because it actually happened in my life. She's still married to me after 27 years.)
There are all kinds of hard to believe things in life that are true. In our lesson for today, we see the most important one of all. It concerns your relationship and my relationship to God, dear friend. In Jesus Christ, your sins, your guilt, your troubles can be overcome, and you and I can know God's love. We can trust in Him and have the very life that He wishes us to have in all of its fullness.
It's the most wonderful, hard to believe, but true thing there is in this world. And this offer is to anyone who repents and puts their faith in Jesus above all things.
Hard to believe, yes, but true. True for you and me, dear friend. Remember what Peter said when Jesus asked Him if He and the Disciples were going to leave like all the rest that day.
He said, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. And we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy one of God."
An amazing thing is happening in our lesson for today. Jesus was, as Acts 10:38 summarizes later, He was going around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with Him. HYPERLINK "http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+10:37-39&version=NIV"
Just open your Bibles and see some of the things that Jesus was doing in the first few chapters of John. There were miracles and healings. Feeding the thousands with a few fish and loaves, healing the man at the pool, even Jesus walking on water, bringing His disciples safely to the other side of the lake.
How could someone, doing such incredible things, suddenly be without friends, all by Himself, alone? How could this Jesus be so "rejected," that He even has to ask His trusted Disciple, Peter, whether he, Peter, would leave like all the rest? Jesus knows that our natural inclination to Him is one of sinful rebellion, sinful disbelief, even faith is truly His gift to us.
An English missionary doctor named Helen Roseveare, tells this story about an incident where she had to be shown again God's miraculous love, a love beyond her wildest expectations, experienced during her time in Zaire, Africa.
One night she had worked hard to help a mother in the labor ward; but in spite of all they could do the mother died, leaving them with a tiny premature baby and a crying two-year-old daughter. They had no incubators or even electricity so they used a hot water bottle to keep babies warm during the cold, windy nights. When one of the nurses filled the hot water bottle it burst due to the dry rot. And it was their only hot water bottle. They wrapped the baby, then, in a blanket and they slept with it by the fire.
The baby made it through the night, and in the morning Helen gathered the other children to pray as she did each day. She explained the situation about the little two-year-old girl, who was crying because her mother had died, and her infant sister, and how the baby would probably die during the next night without a hot water bottle.
During the prayer time, one ten-year-old girl, Ruth, prayed with the usual bluntness of children who don't know any better. She said, "Please, God, send us a water bottle. It'll be no good tomorrow, God, as the baby will be dead, so please send it this afternoon. And while You're at it, would You please send a dolly for the little girl so she'll know that You really love her."
Helen was in a tight spot. She knew that God can do everything. But there are limits, aren't there?
The only way God could answer that particular prayer would be by sending her a package from back home in England, and in the four years since she'd been in Africa, she'd never received a package from home. Anyway, if someone did send a package, who would put in a hot water bottle? They lived on the equator!
Later that afternoon, a car came by and left a large 22-pound box at Helen's front door. When Helen got home, she saw it and gathered the children around.
They opened the box, and Helen began pulling out brightly colored clothing for the children, as well as bandages for the leprosy patients. Then she put her hand in and pulled out a brand-new, rubber hot water bottle!
Helen began to cry. She hadn't even asked God to send it, because she didn't really believe He could. But Ruth, a little 10-year-old girl, did believe. She was in the front row of the children, and she rushed forward, crying out, "If God has sent the bottle; He must have sent the dolly, too!" Rummaging down to the bottom of the box, Ruth pulled out the small, beautifully dressed dolly. She had never doubted!
Looking up at Helen, she asked, "Can I go over with you, Mummy, and give this dolly to that little girl, so she'll know that Jesus really loves her?"
That parcel had been on its way for five whole months! Packed up by Helen's former Sunday school class, whose leader had heard and obeyed God's prompting to send a hot water bottle, even to the equator. And one of the girls had put in a doll for an African child - five months before - in answer to the believing prayer of a ten-year-old girl to bring it "that afternoon."
Just like the Bible says: in Isaiah 65, verse 24, God says, "Before they call, I will answer!"
That's the hard-to-believe part of this text. It's hard to believe the truth of this whole Bible! All of this is true; this forgiveness, life, salvation, joy, and peace with God, with one another, all of it's true because of Jesus Christ alone. He's God's answer even before you call.
Like people said then, this is a hard teaching.
In Christ alone, you can have God's blessings. Without Him, there is no hope at all because you're on your own. Without Him, life is nothing but one damnable thing after another, with no way out at all. But, here He is, asking Peter, asking you, "Do you really know who I am, because trusting in Me changes everything?"
Jesus began to teach them a hard teaching, He wasn't asking them to follow a unique set of rules, He wasn't telling them some new philosophy of life, He was telling them that their lives were in His hands alone, that faith in Him, trust in Him alone. That was God's way for life, right there, right then for them.
Hard to believe, but true. This Jesus is not just a Spiritual guru; He's not just another political freedom fighter leading a movement of the shifting politics of the day.
I'm sure that these things were a bit confusing for the disciples that day. Why had Jesus declined the acclimation of the crowd. Why did He always feel the need to get away from these admirers? How could so many people begin to reject him rather than receive Him?
Just read the chapter and you'll see. Jesus ramps up the discussion. They ask Him, "What should we do to be doing the works of God?" Jesus says, "This is God's work that you believe in the One whom He has sent." They say, "Oh, you mean like receiving the gifts of bread that came from our Father Moses?" Jesus said, "Yes, receive God's living bread when He gives it....but then He says, "I am that living bread, come down from heaven itself, whoever eats of me will live forever." Wow! Can it be any clearer than that?
But, Jesus pushes further. He says that His flesh is given for the life of the world. His blood will be shed so that others might live. Then He really blew the people away when, before the Sacrament of Communion had been instituted, He called them to salvation by eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood, being totally, unconditionally connected to Him for life and salvation. It was no wonder that early Christians were accused of being cannibals, but nothing could be further from the truth. They weren't gnawing on the body of Jesus, but receiving the fullness of Christ in His Supper miraculously as a gift. Jesus' point here is clear and direct. "Only with me," He says, "can you have the things of God. Without me, you have nothing!"
Hard to believe, but true. The very grace of God, the very love of God that was offered then and is offered now to you today through this Word, Christ's Word, as if God, Himself is declaring to you that in Jesus, you can be reconciled, redeemed, and empowered to live abundant life in His Name.
Peter said it best, "Jesus, we know who you are, and we believe, trust, and follow you."
Peter asks, "Why are you asking us Lord?" But what he's really saying, so, Jesus, we get it. We know that there is nothing in all of creation, no person, place, or thing that could satisfy our longing to be with God, other than through you! If you are not the One Lord, where else would we look? If we could be so ungrateful to You by forgetting Your love for us, where else could we turn? Peter said, there is no other, but You for us!
Now, I'm not saying that people haven't looked elsewhere. The Bible is full of stories of people looking in all the wrong places before they look to God alone. Maybe you've heard of King Solomon. He looked into the world of wealth, and pleasure, and power. But read what he thinks of all that in the book of Ecclesiastes...all the riches of life without God are vanity! Then there's David and Bathsheba....You may have heard that story of adultery, murder, and intrigue...It's a story of destruction and redemption, even amidst real pain. The human story is a story of all of us looking in all the wrong places. But the Bible's story is of a God who comes looking for the lost, for you and for me. Even Peter would learn this over and over again throughout his life.
So Peter got it right when he said, "Lord, there's nowhere else to go for our relationship to God, but to You."
You have the words of eternal life. No mere human words either. These are God's Words, Christ's Words, Words that are full of the Spirit and life. In fact, the Holy Spirit is moving in many of your hearts today, through this message. Many of you are being re-confirmed in your faith. Many of you are saying, I'm going to start today, to read my Scripture more, to spend time with my family like God says, or to make a difference for Jesus in this community! Many of you are experiencing just what I am talking about; the power of the Word of Jesus.
Remember, the Bible is a love letter written from Jesus to you. I challenge you today to open up the Bible, and see for yourself. Read the whole book of John, and see who this Jesus is in action for you. Come to know that Jesus loves you and that His words are indeed Spirit and life for you!
Peter got it right when he said, "Lord, You are the Holy One of God, God's certified Agent to accomplish salvation for a rebellious world.
When you listen to this program, my friend, our whole goal is to have you get to know Jesus. We want you to see the promises of God made from the very beginning of time, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we want you to see that all those promises are fulfilled in this Jesus for you and for me. In Jesus, God became flesh so that this sinful world might have His life again.
My prayer is that you hear His Word amidst all the noise of this world. I want you to see the Holy One in action for you, through the cross, in the power of His resurrection, as God at work so that you can live life again in the Name of the Holy One whom God has sent for all. I want you to see your need for Him. Yes, so that you can know the joy of living life in His Name.
Peter saw it and he testified to it on that day, and later, when his very life was at stake, he testified that Jesus is Lord and Savior for all, even though that testimony cost him his life.
In some churches, each Sunday, right before they read a selection of the Bible from one of the four Gospels, they sing these "Words of Peter" with an "Alleluia of Praise" for good measure. They sing, "Lord, to whom shall we go, You have the words of eternal life, Alleluia!" Then they listen very carefully to the Gospel reading of the day as if God, Himself were speaking directly to them, because He is.
What they're singing is "Lord, we know who You are, we know what we need, and we know You alone can bring it; so, "speak, Lord, for we are listening, believing and ready to receive and act upon what You say."
But, the most important question for this message, my friend, is "Are you listening?" Do you hear His Word, this day, for you? There are many things in this world that are beyond our wildest imaginations, but still very much true for us. This message from Jesus to you is the most important of them all.
I pray that this day you begin to know Jesus as your Savior, as your Lord, and that you begin to see His Word as the very power of God to face life, overcome life, and even embrace life forever and ever and ever.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for August 19, 2012
Topic: Too Much TV and Internet a Sin?
ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer. Today we have a question concerning the use of technology. I'm told that the average person watching at least 4 hours of TV a day, and perhaps spends several more hours on the computer surfing the internet. Is too much TV, too much internet, a sin for a Christian? How could the Word of God maybe help us put this blessing of technology into perspective?
SELTZ: Mark, I like that last point, "How can we put this into proper perspective?" because the technology is not sinful on its own, but how it's used can be. Like so many things in this world, it's the how and why of its use that is key.
ANNOUNCER: It sounds to me like more than 5 hours a day is a little bit out of balance, don't you think?
SELTZ: I think that's a very good point. The Bible does tell us in Colossians 4:5 to "make the best use of our time." As Christians, time, like so many things, is a precious gift from God. The key question is, "How are we using it to glorify God and to serve our neighbor?"
ANNOUNCER: Well, you could be using it to gather information, learn new things, keep in touch with people. That would be good.
SELTZ: Exactly. There is no doubt that today's technology has the potential to be a blessing to us or a curse. Good information is more easily accessible today, in so many ways. But, so is bad information. There are some things on TV and the internet that are morally out of bounds, destructive for us as God's people, for us as people in general. And, while social media is connecting people to each other in positive ways, some people are beginning to use that in place of face-to-face contact and that wouldn't be good.
ANNOUNCER: What about the "5 plus" hours, also a problem?
SELTZ: Well, let's just say this; if a person is setting in front of a TV screen or a computer screen "5 plus" hours a day doing basically nothing, I don't think that's a good thing from any vantage point. The Bible wants us to not only cherish the time that we have, it also calls us to cherish the people that we love too. So, spending too much time in "non-productive" entertainment, even if its something relatively positive, is stealing relationship time, family time, spiritual development time, service time. I think that the Bible would call us to put that time to better use.
ANNOUNCER: Because that amount of hours can be harmful, right?
SELTZ: It sure can. Here I would challenge our listeners to investigate the matter more thoroughly than we can today. There are all kinds of studies out there, both pro and con, that will lay out for you what amount of TV or internet time is really productive in a person's life. The content of much of what is on TV or the Internet, when you look at some of these studies, I'm just not sure that it warrants 5-6 hours of our attention each and every day. I think we'd do better out in the neighborhood, among our family and friends.
ANNOUNCER: But, beyond whether lots of TV or Internet is harmful, it's whether it's good for us as well?
SELTZ: I think that is the final test as to its "proper impact in our lives." In the Bible, it tells us in Philippians 4 to think about the honorable, true, excellent things in our daily lives. Now, I've watched a fair amount of TV over the years and I've used the blessings of the internet for a variety of things, and I can tell you that much of what is out there today doesn't meet these basic standards set for God's people, even for a person's amusement.
ANNOUNCER: So, the challenge then is not merely whether it's "good for us," but whether it's also good for others.
SELTZ: Absolutely. I think one of the best things that Christians could do, then, would be to start to limit or to discipline their use of such things. All things can be useful in living a balanced, faithful life with God and with each another. Putting these technologies in their proper perspective is one way to keep them positive and not destructive influence in a person's life. TV and Internet are easy ways to fill up the time, but they're not better substitutes always. Catching up with friends, spending real time with family, being outside with neighbors, or being in communion with God through His Word in study and prayer, I think that's time better spent than 5 hours plus with TV or Internet.
ANNOUNCER: Very good. Thank you, Pastor Seltz. A good reminder that time and technology are gifts and blessings of God when put to good use, when it's used to glorify god and also serve our neighbor. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Awake, O Sleeper, Rise and See" by Stephen A. Starke, arr. Kevin Hildebrand. From Hymns for All Saints: Psalms, Hymns, Spiritual Songs (© 2011 Concordia Publishing House)
"Evening and Morning" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"The Savior Calls, Let Every Ear" arr. Chris Loemker. Concordia Publishing House.