The Difference between God and man
John 3: 22-36 Hebrews 1: 1-4
I know it is a very old joke but...
What is the difference between God and us?
God doesn't think he is us.
And really that joke is the theme of today's passage.
If we can understand that truth then our life will be so much better.
Now we may be saying to ourselves, ‘Hold on a minute. I don't think I am God. So what is McNeil going on about?’
So let me describe it differently.
There is a dark secret that most ministers have...we are really insecure.
We know that we are not supposed to compare ourselves with other ministers but we all do.
If another church is doing well then we wonder why our church isn't doing well.
We are working just as hard, if not harder than other ministers.
How come their Sunday school has 15 children in it and they don’t even have a minister, while ours has less than three?
If their church has a band and everyone is joyous then how come our church isn’t like that?
And I know every minister thinks to himself, or herself, ‘Our job is not to be successful, but to be faithful,’ but we would love to be successful as well as faithful. And to be honest if we had to choose we would probably choose to be more successful than faithful.
Recently there has been a mega church in America and it has been suggested that their minister has been less than moral.
Now while that church was exploding the minister was going on and on about how much is was due to God’s blessing and their hard work. That they had a work ethic and a level of professionalism that God deserved. Their worship was unbelievable and so professional. And people flocked to that church.
And it caused resentment with other churches.
‘They are too secular, bringing in pop music into the church. Their worship is less worship and more like a performance.
They are too crowd pleasing, they are dubbing down the Gospel message.’
And when that minister seemed to fall they were secretly pleased. Forget about all the hurt that had been caused. What mattered was that this minister wasn’t perfect and so everything he had done was worthless.
And to be honest a lot of it was due to jealousy. ‘How come their church is doing so well and our isn’t?’
Some of it was due to hurt, when ministers who had put their life and soul into the church found they were losing members to the mega church because it was the new fad...that hurt the old ministers.
The thing is.
I don't think it is just ministers that have these feelings.
I think we all have the temptation, only not with our church, but with our life.
‘How come they have such a great life, I am just as worthy of a decent life than they are, yet my life is miserable and they are off enjoying themselves all the time?’
How come I don't have children when I would have made a great parent yet they neglect their children?
How come I stayed faithful in my marriage and it counted for nothing yet they betrayed my trust and they are enjoying life?
How come I look after myself, I don't drink or smoke or have any bad habits, yet I get cancer and that fat slob who has never exercised right has good health?’
It is these negative feelings that destroy us.
What is worse, when the object of our jealously stumbles or falls a part of us is secretly pleased at their disaster. Our heart is just a dark place.
And the root problem behind it is a God complex.
The very first words of the Bible betray it.
We know the rhythm of the words
‘In there beginning God said...and it was so...’
God decides that something should be, and it is.
And we are made in his image. We believe that is the way it works for us.
If we do this and this and this...then this happens.
And to a certain extent it does work that way.
If we study for the exam properly then the will probably pass the exam.
If we practice the dance properly then we will probably be able to do the dance well.
I can juggle three balls with relative ease...because I practiced it and I can do it.
I can fold a towel so that it makes a decent looking python...because I practiced it enough that I can do it.
But it doesn't always work like that.
Except for God...and we are not God.
What is worse, when we try to make life work so that it always works the way we want it to, then we try to be God. And that never works out.
We need to let God be God.
That’s what this passage is about.
Imagine John the Baptist.
He has been told from a very young age by his parents that he has a great destiny. He is to be the fore runner of the Messiah, preparing the people for God to be part of their lives.
It is like being a church minister.
Only he isn't going to be like all those other ministers. He is going to tell it exactly as it is. No pulling any punches, no holding anything back.
And the people flock.
Oh how they flock.
And he is true to his calling.
Once the people come he stays loyal to his principles, exactly the way he has always been.
He isn't tempted by money to get better clothes and project a better image of himself. He sticks with the raggedy clothes and eating honey and locus.
He isn't tempted by the prestige and influence to avoid getting into controversy. He is still willing to attack the political tyrants no matter what the cost.
And then suddenly the people stop coming in the numbers they used to.
John’s disciples start to get at him.
He needs to attack that Jesus guy. That Jesus guy came to him and is now stealing his followers.
For the sake of the mission, for the sake of God, for the sake of the church, John needs to do something.
And John doesn’t.
That’s why when I look at John the Baptist I see an amazing guy.
Because John is at peace with the person God has called him to be.
You see if I was John I would have gotten a wee bit resentful.
‘How come Jesus doesn't want me at least to be part of the new revival?
How come Jesus hasn't asked me to be one of his disciples?
I know the ropes, I know what needs to be done, and I know how to do it.’
Personally it would be like me working away here and this new minister comes along and does everything differently because they see the long term future of Alva Parish as completely different from the vision I had.
And this new minister doesn't seek my advice, doesn't ask my opinion, doesn’t consider my offers of help.
I would love to think that I would say that I was the right person for my time and they are now the right minister for this time, but I know my ego would be struggling with it.
Yet John doesn’t... because John sees a greater truth and lives by a greater truth.
The truth is that God has laid out a life for us to live, and not to be jealous of the lives that God has laid out for others to live.
Our joy, our hope, our peace, is to take the next step with God and be happy for what God is doing in other people’s lives.
Our joy, our hope, our peace, is to take the next step with God and help those who are struggling in their lives.
It’s like this.
The adverts tell us that if we have this wonderful holiday then we will be happy people. But the advert doesn't show you the terrible waiting at the airport. The noise the neighbours make in the next chalet. The adverts show a peaceful beach with you lying on it. They don’t show the other 20,000 folk all on the same beach making a racquet and babies crying and children dropping ice cream.
If you are smart then you know it is not about where you are that matters, but how you feel. So you can walk up the glen and just watch the water flow down the waterfall and be more at peace than spending thousands to find an experience that you need to share with the other 40 in the bus tour.
John’s disciples saw contentment in being successful...and success in being the best there was in ministry.
John saw contentment in being in a right relationship with God... if he had that then nothing else mattered.
If John had listened to his disciples then he would have gone into competition with Jesus to see who had the more authentic ministry and no one would have been happy.
That’s why John is such an amazing person, because he is willing to just live his life seeking the next step with God.
Not worrying about how he looks to others.
Not comparing himself with others.
Just living the next step with God.
Letting God do the God stuff, and making sure he does the human stuff.
He doesn't need to worry if things don't go the way he expects, because that is God’s worry.
And if he doesn't need to worry about it then he is free to enjoy his life and help others enjoy their life.
So my advice for the start of this year...
Don’t worry about it. There’s no way you can second guess what the year will bring, so don't even try.
And the thing that will really trip you up, that is the thing you would never have guessed, so don't waste your time trying to guess it.
The future, that is God’s problem, leave it to him.
And don’t compare yourself with others, because you were not made to be someone else, you were made to be you.
Just live out your life with God, taking your next step with him.
If you can do that, then your life will be a lot simpler.