Summary: There is always hope for what God can do in our lives!
Last Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, Pastor Mark and Sandy and Dave and Sharon Makela and Karen and I were at our North Wisconsin District, Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod Convention in Appleton. It was a good convention, and it’s amazing to see how God works at such gatherings of believers, but one thing happened there that happens at every convention. As the we discuss the candidates for various positions, there are the usual comments like, “So and so is a good man or a good woman,” or “Such and such a person is too liberal or too conservative or whatever.” I should know, I’ve said things like that myself. And I must confess that sometimes not a whole lot of research goes into these statements, except for first impressions and hearsay. Once a person gets a reputation, it’s virtually locked in place. That’s a good thing if it’s a good reputation, but it’s also easy to be written off.
No one likes being written off, as if somehow you’re flawed and incapable of change for the better. The Bahn family dog is a big dog by the name of Chopper. Chopper is old for a dog, about 10 years old. He’s big and overweight and furry and black. He almost looks like a little bear walking on all fours. He’s scared a few people in his time. But he really is a big baby that is sweet and gentle, and he has eyes that could melt your heart. Chopper started life in a pound. He was adopted and then returned to the pound, which is where we found him. He was written off. The people who owned him wrote that he is destructive. Let me tell how destructive he is. He goes in the bathroom and somehow manages to separate the cardboard roll from the toilet paper, while leaving the toilet paper in the holder, and he uses the cardboard roll for a nice doggie bone. We now keep the toilet paper up on the sink in the bathroom, and give him the cardboard at the appropriate time. Problem solved. Chopper, a dog who once was written off, no longer terrorizes toilet paper. He is a treasure of a dog inside that big old body of his. Now, if we could just get him to flush… (Just kidding!)
Paul, I’m sure, had to deal with his former way of life when he persecuted Christians, persecuting them even to the point of standing politely by and holding people’s jackets and nodding his head in approval as they stoned Stephen to death. After he met the risen Lord, Jesus, on the road to Damascus, and after he became a believer, it took a lot of convincing to get those early believers to trust him at all. I’m sure quite a few people wrote him off. Even in his letters to the Corinthians, Paul still had to defend his role as an apostle, an eyewitness of Jesus sent by Jesus to proclaim the good news of forgiveness through Jesus.
Even though Paul had to defend himself, he made it clear that defending himself was not his main goal. He was there to preach Christ. As Paul said, “…we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” Jesus is Lord. Paul was only a servant. Any reference Paul made to himself had to be understood with these facts in mind. Jesus is the one who was present at the creation of the world. Jesus is the one who is true God. Jesus is the one who forgives us through his death on the cross and his resurrection. If there is any good in us it is Jesus shining through us. If we accomplish anything for God’s Kingdom it is Christ working in us. Christ Jesus was Paul’s sure defense because Christ Jesus forgave him and called him in spite of all that Paul had done. Jesus re-created Paul and He makes us new as well. This is why Paul’s words now shout for joy as they declare to you and me that “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
God did not, has not, and will not write us off. He will not give up on us even though we may be tempted to give up on ourselves, to resign our selves and say, “well, this is just the way I am, I will never amount to anything. I’m just the scum of the earth. I’m like the pottery that the Old Testament talks about that the potter throws away and smashes. I just cannot break my wicked habits.” It’s easy for us to imagine that God has already given up on us, that there’s no hope. And yet God can get pretty far with a clay jar. He can do a lot with a clay pot. We may feel like we have been flattened, crushed, and torn, “But,” as Paul says, “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”