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The Empowered Life (John 1:1-5,10-18)
Stuart Berger was a health columnist for The New York Post for a number of years. He was also the author of best-selling diet and health books that promised increased longevity to those who would follow his regimen. He wrote such books as Forever Young: 20 Years Younger in 20 Weeks and Dr. Berger's Immune Power Diet. People who read his column in the newspaper, and those who read his books were surprised to hear in 1994 that Dr. Berger died, at the age of 40. They were especially surprised to read that he weighed 365 pounds at the time of his death. Needless to say, when those who were following Berger's regimen heard the news of his death and his obesity, Berger's credibility died with him.
Credibility is an issue in all religions. All religions speak of a source of authority. How can we know that what is being said is true? How can we know that this church or this preacher is interpreting Scripture as it should be interpreted? A bigger question is: How can we know the Bible is true? What reason does a believer have to make a claim? The source of every religion needs credibility, and if it is to catch hold and grow, persons with credible witnesses are needed.
We have two generations today who have very little knowledge of the Bible. Added to this young adult and middle adult group are youth who are questioning and older adults who were turned off or disillusioned by religion years ago. And, there are stories of pastors, churches, and other religious groups who have dropped the ball morally and in other ways. There are a lot of folks who are struggling with credibility issues relative to religion.
The same was true in Jesus' day, and following His death and resurrection. Many would not listen to the resurrection news because they couldn't accept the fact that a Messiah could die -- and especially a scornful death on a cross. It was difficult for people who had been taught another thing all of their life to believe that the Messiah would die. In their minds, the Messiah would never die. Just so today, there are people who refuse to hear the good news of God's love because they have problems with some other religious issues or life situations. Some close their minds to God's love because it doesn't make sense or they don't believe they are worthy to be loved.
More than other gospel writers, John takes the issue of credibility seriously. He deals with God's coming into the world, not in a narrative sense as do Matthew and Luke, but in a theological sense. He deals with authority and respect; two issues that have to be settled in one's mind if religion is to be meaningful.
Power is rooted in respect. Power is a word that speaks of being inspired, of being energized. If someone gives you power, you have resources beyond your own. On the other hand, if you don't respect someone, they don't have power over you.
Authority is different than respect. A person can have authority over you without there being any respect. Authority doesn't inspire or energize, unless the energy comes from fear. Laws, rules, and organizational charts define authority. Authority is a given, whereas respect is a power that is earned. A parent may have authority over a child, but not have the child's respect. A boss may have authority over a worker, but not his or her respect. The goal that every parent, every boss, every politician, every leader should have is to have authority and respect. Authority without respect robs energy; authority with respect energizes.
In the Old Testament you read about God's authority. In Jesus, he came into the world to earn our respect. He came to energize us, to empower us.
That was John's belief. He begins his gospel record by noting the authority of God in Jesus.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
After establishing God's authority in Jesus, John moves to the issue of respect, the issue of empowering God's people. "... to all who received Him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God." Those who received Him bowed before Him with reverence. They respected Him. They were empowered!
If you're trying to establish credibility for meaningful religion, you will never find all the mind-answers you crave. The God who revealed himself in Jesus is far greater than our minds can comprehend. The Word became flesh! God stepped into history in the form of a human. He came, not to give us answers for our questions; He came to give us Himself . Being a Christian is more about a relationship than anything else. In giving Himself to us in Jesus, God gave us power to become his children. We become heirs of God, as scripture says (e.g. Romans 8:17).
John declares that Jesus came to earth to empower us with God's Spirit. And in the highest sense, that's what religious living is all about. It's about sensing power within life that is greater than our own. It's God's power.
The Bible and the Church speak of this inner power in different ways. Some of the phrases that are used in reference to being empowered are: Being born again; being born of God; being in Christ, or having Christ in me; having faith in Christ; being baptized by the Holy Spirit; the Spirit-filled life, or having eternal life. They all have the same meaning. They all refer to inner power for living.
As is illustrated in the New Testament, people experience Jesus and this inner power in different ways. Some experience emotional upheavals when inner power comes; others know inner strength in the quietness of their spirit. Sometimes God's power enables a person to be transformed; sometimes God's power gets a person through a difficult time; sometimes God's power enables a person to forgive another who has caused hurt. There's no mold that everyone has to fit in. The point is that God's power enables a person to know inner strength that's greater than one's own strength. Don't fret about how the experience happened to you, or how it will happen, just rejoice and be thankful.
Though we experience God's empowerment in life in different ways, there are common ingredients that empowered people know. This morning, we will look at four of these common ingredients.
First, There Is a Jesus-focus. Empowered people keep their focus on Jesus. It's not on a preacher, not on a church, not on another person who professes to be a disciple of Jesus, not on one's failures, and not even on the Bible. The focus is Jesus.
When you study the lives of the first disciples, you discover that their strength came when their focus was Jesus. When they changed their focus to the sins of others, to the Pharisees and Sadducees schemes, or to their own confusion or fear, their inner power waned. The same happens to us.
A lot of people get into trouble by comparing their faithfulness with that of another person. Or, we do that which disappoints us and we focus on our failure more than Jesus' desire to forgive us. Or, we allow a disappointment to get to us and blur our focus on Jesus.
Empowered people have a Jesus-focus.
Secondly, Empowered People Have a Spirit of Reverence for Jesus. In our language, it's a holy respect. It's respect that causes us to yield to Him and His ways.
You are aware that when Jesus taught His early disciples to pray that He said, early in the prayer, "Hallowed be thy name." He taught the disciples to bow before God in reverence as they prayed.
This morning, I'm going to make a confession. It has to do with applauding in church. I was reared being taught that one should not applaud in church. I don't feel comfortable doing it. I was taught that the church is God's house and that when I enter the sanctuary I should be reverent in spirit. I've changed my thinking about some things I was taught as a child, but I haven't changed that belief. What we do in God's sanctuary is bow before Him. Worship isn't a performance; it's our hearts yielding to God, opening ourselves to his Spirit.
I've never made an issue out of applauding in the sanctuary because others have different views. In the Psalms it says to clap your hands before God (e.g. Psalms 47:1). Yet, I am concerned about the loss of reverence we have for anything, including God. At one point we even had a weekly television show that was titled "Nothing Sacred." Folks, that's nothing to boast about. No wonder we have so much killing and so much trouble in the land. I'm convinced that it's tied to our loss of reverence for God.
The picture of God that people have in their minds finally becomes the picture of humanity that people have. That's true in all religions. A God who is likened to a mighty warrior is worshipped by people who make war holy. A theology that accents God's judgment will make a person judgmental. A God who is mean-spirited makes a person mean-spirited. A God who is likened to Jesus is worshipped by people who make life sacred.
When you study Jesus' life you see Him bowing before God in reverence. You hear Him talking about his Father's Spirit being in Him. Just so, when we bow in reverence we sense the Spirit of God being in our spirit. That verse of "I Surrender All" says it well:
All to Jesus I surrender,
Now I feel the sacred flame;
Oh, the joy of full salvation!
Glory, glory, to His name!
I surrender all,
I surrender all,
All to thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

The Third Ingredient in Empowered Living Is a Grace Filled Spirit -- a spirit that recognizes that by ourselves we can't make it. We do well for a time, then stumble and fall. Grace-filled spirits are found in people who draw from the well that never runs dry -- the well of God's grace. Grace-filled people are people who don't worry about whether they deserve God's love; such people just accept God's love and rejoice.
Grace-filled spirits are seen in people who live off God's forgiveness and who forgive others. Grace-filled spirits are spirits who accept new beginnings and offer new beginnings to others.
But notice this, grace-filled people don't take God's love for granted. God's love is not separated from the holy respect or reverence we have for God. (Romans 6-8 is an excellent resource for grace-filled living.)
A grace-filled spirit is a spirit that is dependent on God. It's a spirit that recognizes that always we are but children of God. When John writes that Jesus came to give us power to become children of God, He means that we are always dependent on God, just as a child is depend on parents. When you have that sense in your mind, you know God's power for living.
The Fourth Ingredient That's Found in People Who Know Empowered Lives Is an Active Response on Their Part. This Has to Do with Us Being Faithful to Him Who Is Faithful to Us.
Faithful people are thankful people, and they evidence their gratitude in their life witness. They are giving people; they are praying people; they are worshiping people. They are serving people. They are people who study God's Word. All of this is done to get to know better the One who lives in their Spirit.
I say it again, Christianity is more about a relationship than anything else. It's about being empowered by the living Christ! When you make this discovery, being a Christian, being a disciple is exciting. It's life-changing. It's empowering! If your religion is anything else than an empowering relationship with Jesus Christ, you're missing it.
Last week I received from our General Board of Discipleship a mailing titled Dateline. The feature article in the mailing is titled "We're not playing church anymore!" The author is Larry F. Beman. I share with you two paragraphs that caught my attention:
"There is a difference between being 'religious' and being 'faithful.' When you are religious, you do all the right things. When you are faithful, you engage in a life-time encounter with the God of salvation. When you are religious, being part of a church is a should. When you are faithful, you find a church that gives you life and energy. When you are religious, the Bible is something you want to read. When you are faithful, the Bible is a living part of your soul.
"Churches spend enormous amounts of energy 'being religious.' They use committee meetings, goal-setting sessions, and volunteer time to care for their institutional maintenance and survival. These churches, for the most part, have reached a plateau or are in the throes of decline. The churches that are filled with energy are those that remember their primary reasons for existence. They don't just "believe in God"; they know God. Knowing God, they engage the journey of faith, and they invite others to join them."1
I say "Amen" to what Beman says. I'm thankful that I don't serve a church that just wants to be religious. Being faithful is to know Christ and that's what matters! God's energy is here because there are people who have Christ in their hearts. Thanks be to God!
If you don't know such living, I pray that you will find it! Remember the four ingredients in life that is empowered by God.
There's a focus on Jesus.
There's a spirit of reverence for Jesus.
The empowered person knows he or she is a child of God and has a grace-filled spirit.
The empowered person responds to God's gift in Jesus with gratitude and faithful living.
1Larry F. Beman, Dateline. General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church. January 1998.
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