"The Power of a New Beginning"#84-28
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on March 12, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Is Holding a John 3:16 Sign an Effective Way to Share the Good News?)
Copyright 2017 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: John 3:1-17
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed. Hallelujah! And in Him there is a new beginning possible for all who believe. Amen.
Is that possible? Is it possible to actually have a new beginning in your life right where you are right now? Is it possible to have that in our lives? It's the old obstacles overcome. The baggage that weighs us down; gone, sent packing. Is it possible to truly be a new person? A new person today, tomorrow; old habits, old mistakes left behind.
Now you're probably saying "That's a nice thought, Pastor, but that's... that is not real life. That's not the way it is; what's done is done. I hear this all the time; what's done is done. You've just got to learn to live with the way things are.
But today I beg to differ. What's done in your life is not done. It's not the end of things. The situation where you're at right now; you're not stuck. You may be overwhelmed. You may be overcome. You may be under water. You may be sinking fast. But it is not a signed, sealed, and delivered deal because of Who Jesus is.
And so today it is Jesus Who comes alongside of us and He says; here it comes, ready? "Stop believing in yourself." That's what He is actually saying to you. "Stop believing in yourself." Why, because you have Someone much better to believe in. Someone Who actually does believe in you. Someone Who actually knows what you can be, what you were created and redeemed to be; and Someone Who can make that happen in Him for you. Stop believing in yourself on your own terms. Put your faith in Jesus Christ.
Listen to these hope-giving words again. Jesus said these life-restoring, hope-restoring words; "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son." Put your faith in Him. "For whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life." So if you have a chance today, He's saying, "Stop believing in yourself." Stop trying to do things on your own terms. Stop trying to muster up your own determination because you have a Lord Who is determined to love you, to forgive you, to grace you, to bless you, to be the you He created and redeemed you to be.
That's help that comes outside in, not inside out. That's help that comes outside in and all of us, all human beings on the face of the planet, need God's outside in help for their life and salvation.
Let me give you a little glimpse of what that's like. His name was Xzayvier. Little Xzayvier knew what he wanted to be from the time he was just a little boy. He wanted to be a soldier. He wanted to defend people. He wanted to be there to fight for what was right.
Only one problem: his right leg never bent straight. As he started to grow, it became more painful and there was nothing they could do. They actually did a surgery on him when he was two years old. They broke his leg. They tried to straighten it out. They tried to get it to start stretching. It just didn't work.
By the time he was seven years old, he had had several surgeries; none of which worked. And then, finally, they said to the parents, "The only way we're going to be able to deal with this is we have to amputate his leg." And so little Xzayvier who wanted to be a soldier, they had to amputate his leg just above the knee.
That dream would never be, right? It would be impossible. I couldn't almost read this because this is what little Xzayvier said to his mother after he lost his leg. He said, "Mom, when I grow up, could they give me your leg?" And what did she say? "Honey, if I could give you my leg, I would do it."
Anyway, a couple of years passed and they were outside walking one day and there was this guy who was in town that day. His name is U.S. Army Specialist Larry Harris and he was doing some community service in little Xzayvier's neighborhood and he bumps into him. They're walking; and by the way, Xzayvier had a little walker now and that's how they did it. And he still was a joyful little kid just doing the best he could and they ran in to each other.
Special Army Specialist Harris ran into them and they started talking about this and little Xzayvier said, "I've always wanted to be a soldier." And do you know what he did? He ran inside, as only he could with his... he ran inside and he got his teddy bear. He brought out the teddy bear and he gave it to Harris. The teddy bear had fatigues on.
Harris looked at this teddy bear and this is what he says. He said, "I was determined from that moment on to help this little boy." He said this, "We have veterans who have been to war and combat; they really need our help, but this little one needed my help too and I was bound and determined to find a way to help this little wounded fighter. Outside in. It's the only help that finally works.
But let me pause. Do you need a little outside in help today? I mean; are you at that point too where whatever you're dreaming about just seems absolutely impossible? There is no way this is going to be. Your life's just the way it is and that's the way it works. Is that where you are?
Well, that's the context of John, chapter 3. Nicodemus was stuck. Nicodemus sneaking around at night looking for Jesus because he was stuck in his life. He was a person who was empty in his life. He had climbed the ladder of success. He was a leader in his community, but that wasn't enough. He was disheartened, broken-hearted, he was empty. He regretted a lot of his mistakes. He regretted a lot of his missteps.
And so he sneaks around because he's thinking maybe Jesus is the place to go for this stuff. Nicodemus, there was no way he could believe in himself anymore and he had enough of that regret. He had enough of that guilt. He'd had enough of that disappointment. He needed help outside in.
And that's why Jesus...He understood exactly what was going on. He looks at him and He says, "If you want My help, you must be..." what... "born again." Now I love Nicodemus' response to that because Nicodemus says, "Born again...hmmmm...uh, Jesus, how can a man be born when he is old?" Basically what the translation is "Jesus, are you crazy?" There's no way. This is impossible. A second chance, impossible. It's too outlandish. It would take a miracle. There's no way. But that's exactly why outside in help from God comes for people like you and me.
Now back to little Xzayvier. One day, Friday afternoon, a bunch of Humvees come roaring down a street with police cars in the front and police cars in the back. Do you see what I'm talking about? They pull up alongside the school. Outside comes Harris. He goes into his classroom...and Xzayvier doesn't know any of this stuff is coming. Did you...so he's sitting in class, just an average day, and then he sees Harris standing with his fatigues. "Young man, can you take a ride with me?"
He gets up and as he walks over and he's walking with that little walker with him, and they walk outside and all of his classmates and all of his school is lined up and they're like this. And they're clapping and they're saying his name and he gets into the Humvee. What's going to happen next?
He gets in and they start to go and then the sirens go on and the streets are actually blocked off. They thought he was the President of the United States. They literally start racing towards the Army Reserve Center. Xzayvier has no idea what's happening.
Then they get to the Army Reserve Center and there's his mom and his dad and his family. They usher him to the front and then Harris sits down. His job is done. Distinguished Lieutenant Colonel Melvin Bauman stands up and this is what he said, "Over the past 40 years I've had the honor of swearing in several soldiers, some who have gone on to become generals. I've never sworn in a young man this age. Raise your right hand and repeat after me. I, Xzayvier, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States, against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, and I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers over me according to the regulations and uniform code of military justice, so help me God." And that little boy said it with all the fervor he could muster. And then Bauman said this, "This 14th day of October, you are now an honorary soldier."
Can you imagine what had changed that day because there was outside help that came in that literally made what was impossible possible? He said this to his mom. He wasn't about worrying about that leg anymore. He looked at his mom and said, "Mommy, do you understand today I became a soldier? Can you believe it?" Can you believe it?
I've got even more good news for you. On top of that new beginning, allow me to let you in on a secret. The American Legion, the United States Veteran's Association, they stepped in to help little Xzayvier with his leg problem and he's getting some of the finest care today all expenses paid by this community that gathered around him that day.
That's what can happen when outside in helps. When outside in helps, it has the capacity to help. That has the commitment to help. And that's what Jesus is talking about today. "God so loved the world." That He had the capacity to help and He got involved in whatever you're going through so that you could have His life and salvation.
I understand if you don't fully identify with little Xzayvier. I get that because I don't have that issue but maybe you've felt that loneliness. Maybe you've felt that struggle. Maybe you've felt that frustration. Maybe you're in the middle of something right now that is absolutely impossible; and I guess I'm asking the question can there be even greater help than what Harris gave to him. What does this text say? Absolutely. The greatest help of all is that God Himself, the One Who literally created the heavens and the earth, came down. He came down with a message of life and salvation for a people just like you and me.
God so loved the world that He came for you. In Christ, the impossible forgiveness is made possible in Jesus. In Christ, God's love which surpasses anything that's here in the human existence, even something that's as incredible as an event like this, it's nothing compared to the love of God in Jesus Christ for you. God so literally loved the world that He sacrificed His only Son. God literally moved heaven and earth so that he could be your Savior.
I love Philippians 2. If you ever want to see a Bible verse that should blow your mind, it says, "Have this mind in you which is in Jesus Christ." And what was the mind of Christ; that even though He was God He became man and even as a man, He became a servant unto man so that He might redeem and restore rebellious mankind to Himself. That's what it's all about; capacity, commitment, outside help come just for you and me.
Now that's what happened to Nicodemus. Jesus didn't let him be. He was his help too. Do you know what actually happened the rest of his life? Because Nicodemus was sneaking around trying to get to Jesus that night, but Jesus got to him. He began to realize that Jesus was the answer to his impossible dream.
When you go in John, chapter 7, a little time later, Nicodemus stands up for Jesus, among his peers. He actually stands up and defends Him when they're going to go try to arrest Him. He's saying, "Hey, this Jesus; He's the real deal." And then John 19, and this is probably the most powerful, John 19, after Jesus has been crucified on the cross, Joseph of Arimathea comes to gather His body and who's there with him? Nicodemus.
He's not going to be silent about Jesus any more. There is no reason to hide his love for Jesus because he's experienced the power of a new beginning that comes with those who put their faith not in themselves but in the Jesus Who loves them with an everlasting love.
Now remember Nicodemus' question; "How can a man be born again when he is old?" Good question. Look, I want that new beginning. I need that new challenge. I need that new purpose. I need...how does this happen Lord Jesus? And then I love the verse in Romans, chapter 6, because it's the same kind of thing that Jesus says to Nicodemus God says to you. It says, "Therefore those who are baptized into Jesus Christ, they are literally baptized into His death. So that just as Jesus Christ rose from the dead, you too will walk in newness of life."
When He says that you're washed in His Name, He connects you to His death, He connects you to His resurrection so that you can have a beginning right now.
Splashed with grace, wet with grace; you were literally brought back in time and you were put through the paces so that you can walk where Jesus walks today. That's what God gives us through baptism, the Lord's Supper, through the power of His Word. We can have new beginnings each and every day of our lives.
So help has come. That's John 3:16. Help has come and it's not an inside out thing. It's an outside in thing. And when that outside in thing is Jesus Christ Himself, there is a capacity for a new beginning, a commitment for a new beginning that comes from God Himself for people like you and me.
Put your faith in Him, not in yourself. Trust in Him, not in the things of this world and with a heart that now beats eternally in His love; that faith will make all the difference in your life. That can start today. Don't trust me on it; trust Him.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; and all of God's people said, "Amen."
Action in Ministry for March 12, 2017
Guest: JoAnn Zintel
ANNOUNCER: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour and this is Action In Ministry; a call to action in response to all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
SELTZ: Mark, as I was talking about new beginnings today and the only love that lasts, today you might be thinking about other loves that didn't last.
ANNOUNCER: That's right. Maybe you weren't looking for a new beginning but that's where you find yourself today as the result of divorce. If so, we want you to know about a print resource we have titled Beyond Divorce. Here to talk with us about it is JoAnn Zintel. She's the coordinator of a divorce care program at her church and she knows first-hand the pain divorce can cause, but she's also a firm believer in the power of God's restoration.
SELTZ: JoAnn, again, the pain...we're sorry that you went through that but we're also so happy that you're here to talk about that restoration power. It's great to have you.
SELTZ: Now, listen JoAnn, the first thing we read in this booklet are the words, "The Journey Begins". So we understand, perhaps, 40% of first marriages end in divorce and the rate's even higher for remarriages. What is common with those beginning this journey of divorce?
ZINTEL: It's a difficult journey. The journey becomes difficult way before the divorce actually happens or occurs.
ZINTEL: Once it does occur there's a tangled ball of emotion; conflicting emotion. You might hate a person and love them at the same time, which makes absolutely no sense. Then some people are just...just numb.
ANNOUNCER: How does God help someone deal with the pain of divorce?
ZINTEL: I think that it's really a time when a person is brought to their knees; where they really have little hope. They've lost hope in their marriage, which is a very difficult place to be.
ZINTEL: And so they're kind of on the ground not really sure how to get up. That's at the point where self-sufficiency; this fake idea that we can be self-sufficient without the Lord; ends and we have to figure out how we're going to begin to build our life back. That's where I've seen myself, as well as others, really begin to feel the presence of Christ.
ZINTEL: And reach out to Christ.
SELTZ: Like I've always talked to my some of my guys doing city ministry; I've said, "When you get stripped down and you realize that all you have is Jesus and you're scared because that's all you've got, then you realize that's all you need." Then life does change, doesn't it?
SELTZ: It really does. Well, this booklet brings out an interesting point. It does say that divorce is Satan's playground. What does that mean and why does Satan...why do you think he attacks marriages so intensely today?
ZINTEL: I think one of the reasons is the family. I think the family is the first opportunity to become aware of our humanness...
ZINTEL: ...and our ability to get along with others.
SELTZ: And even put God's gifts of forgiveness to work, right?
ZINTEL: Sure. Absolutely.
SELTZ: And so Satan goes after that. Why else do you think he goes after that stuff?
ZINTEL: I think because God created marriage. I think that is sacred and something to be attacked.
ANNOUNCER: Now many people get stuck in that pain that follows a divorce. They live with bitterness, hatred, mistrust. They find themselves unwilling to love again because they don't want to be hurt again. How do you help people see beyond divorce?
ZINTEL: One of the most difficult things that I see with working with people that are healing from the pain of divorce is this tendency to blame the other partner...
ZINTEL: ...for what's happened in the marriage. And, I think it's really important for people to look at what was their own ownership in the failure of that marriage which brings us to the reality that I'm forgiven in Christ. Christ forgave me, and as a result it's my responsibility to forgive others.
SELTZ: That's what I love about this booklet. It's powerful, to the point, and, if you're listening in today, even if you are the one that cheated on your spouse, or you were the one that gambled all your money away, or whatever the case might be, you too can receive the same grace, and forgiveness, and restoration. But whatever side you're on, it's one thing to hear about this grace and forgiveness, it's another thing to embrace it and to really realize it's there for you, isn't it?
ZINTEL: That's true, and forgiveness is a choice. That's been my experience, and I think one of the most difficult people to forgive was myself, as far as the mistakes that I made in the past. The only way I'm able to do that or the only way I've seen other people come to that reality is through Christ.
SELTZ: We all aren't going to experience the pain of divorce, but we all can experience, like you've talked about, the only love that lasts and that's the love of Jesus Christ that sustains us even when others fail and send us on a journey that we didn't choose.
SELTZ: JoAnn, it's so good to talk with you today. Thanks for coming.
ZINTEL: Thanks for having me.
SELTZ: That's our Action In Ministry segment today; to bless, to empower, and to strengthen your life in Christ for others.
ANNOUNCER: To read or download this resource, go to lutheranhour.org; click on Action In Ministry. Or call 1-855-john316. That's 1-855-564-6316.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for March 12, 2017
Topic: Is Holding a John 3:16 Sign an Effective Way to Share the Good News?
ANNOUNCER: Now Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer. Today a listener says they watch sporting events on TV and sometimes you see in the background, someone's holding up a sign that says 'John 3:16.' Now, we love that verse from the Bible, but the question today is by holding up a sign like that, is that an effective way to share the gospel?
SELTZ: Before I answer, Mark, I'm giving a quiz. Can you recite the verse that our listener references?
ANNOUNCER: Definitely. John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."
SELTZ: Do you know what I would say to all our listeners right now? Commit that verse to memory. It will be an encouragement to begin learning today. Teach it to your children and your grandchildren. It's been called the "Gospel in a nutshell," for a reason. It talks about the summary of the saving work of God for us in Jesus Christ.
ANNOUNCER: And for that reason it's a beautiful and life-transforming message. God's love for each of us is so strong that He allowed Jesus to be sacrificed in order to take our sins upon Himself. He suffered the consequences of our sin and in exchange He gives us His righteousness, His forgiveness, and the gift of eternal life.
SELTZ: Yeah, powerful, powerful stuff. So if you're going to hold up any verse, that's it. Because your faith...it talks about how we don't have to face eternal death. Instead, by faith, we are saved. There's nothing like it. It is real hope for the world!
ANNOUNCER: But holding up the sign with the reference? Is that an effective outreach?
SELTZ: Well, I'm never going to criticize someone who has the courage and the calling to direct the world to one of the most life-changing statements in God's Word. John 3:16 is Good News; it's the Good News in the middle of a lot of bad news. People need it; but, I will say that effective outreach doesn't necessarily start or stop there.
ANNOUNCER: What do you mean by that?
SELTZ: John 3:16 is a method of outreach that uses public media. So is the Lutheran Hour, for that matter. We're broadcasting the Good News. I know some of our listeners personally, but there is no way; here's the point; there is no way I can know everyone. And, while the Spirit of God does work wonders with the Good News in broadcast....
ANNOUNCER: ...the real foundation for reaching people with Jesus is being in relationship with people.
SELTZ: That's right. That's why one important way to use this radio broadcast is also as a resource for outreach. If a listener comes to faith in Jesus, or if a Christian hears the broadcast, he or she can say to a friend or family member who doesn't know Jesus, "This message seems to be just for you. Why not listen? It helped me a lot. I wonder if it can bless you, too."
ANNOUNCER: From that I understand that a John 3:16 sign may or may not cause someone to read the Bible, but it could serve as a conversation starter for someone who is led to reach out to someone else in their life.
SELTZ: Exactly. If someone holds that sign up on TV, you might be watching and say, "What does that crazy sign mean?" That might go on in your living room. It can be a conversation starter and each one of us needs to be ready to share the hope that we have in Jesus. He wants us to have that hope, but He wants others to have it as well.
ANNOUNCER: Just think; if everyone were to talk with others in their lives about that greatest hope that we can share.
SELTZ: Right. When it comes to effectiveness, that's the most effective way to share Jesus. An organization, an institution, or even our program will never be as effective as a person in relationship with another person sharing the hope we've got in Christ. You, if you're listening in, you are the most effective instrument of sharing Christ with people in your life. I tell people that we exist here at Lutheran Hour, to help you, now listen to this, help you become the best you you can be in Jesus so that others might get to know Jesus because they got to know you.
ANNOUNCER: The Apostle Peter said, "You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, so that you may might declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9 NIV). We're the ones that God has called to share that Good News.
SELTZ: And if you're looking for what to say it, you go back to the verse our listener referenced. John 3:16 is a simple way to say, "Hey look, God loves you. He sent His Son as your Helper, your Savior, your Friend. If you believe in Him, your life's not going to crumble. In fact, you'll receive the gift of eternal life.
ANNOUNCER: If you want to grow in sharing your faith, call us to receive a free copy of our book, Make Him Known. This booklet addresses questions many people have and it provides a Biblical foundation for sharing your faith. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"Spread the Reign of God the Lord" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)