September 4, 2016

     Our Gospel Reading for this morning is John 3:17. You might be wondering why I chose only one verse, and why this particular verse.  It is because I am going to use it to illustrate a principle.  John 3:17 in the NIV version reads like this, "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.  Each word in that verse is a part of that verse.  The words put together in the correct order give the verse it's meaning as a whole.  But what if we took just one word out of its intended position in the verse and moved it somewhere else in the verse.  It might read like this, "For God did send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but not to save the world through Him.  By moving one word we completely changed the meaning of the verse.  It went from a verse full of good news to a verse full of damnation. 

     Then there is the title of this message.  The second word  can be spelled p-i-e-c-e or p-e-a-c-e.  By changing the spelling, you change the meaning.  The first way refers to a small part of the whole.  But the second way refers to being at peace with the puzzle.  That is what this message is ultimately about.

     And the meaning of the written word can even be changed without changing or moving any of the words or letters. Sometimes all it takes is a change in the punctuation.  The "Dear John" punctuation example is a very commonly used story about a man who received a beautiful letter from his loved one.  In the letter, his girlfriend spelled out, in no uncertain terms, how much she loved and adored John and it was clear to anyone reading her words that she couldn't live without him.  With the original punctuation it reads like this:

Dear John:

I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we're apart. I can be forever happy; will you let me be yours?


     But what could happen to the letter if there were some punctuation mistakes and it was punctuated in an entirely different fashion?  Let's read the exact same words, but punctuated differently this time:

Dear John,

I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we're apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?

Yours, Jane

     So even the humble comma is important, and sometimes even Randy's most hated form of punctuation, the semi-colon.  These tiny dots and dashes can make or break a heart!

     And then there are numbers.   Zeroes mean nothing, unless they follow another number - especially if that number is preceded by a dollar sign!  And speaking of numbers and puzzles, does anyone here also like to work Sudoku puzzles?  I usually do one every morning while I eat breakfast.  It gets my sleepy mind working.  The thing about these puzzles is if you put just one number in the wrong square, and you keep going, when you get to the end you won't be able to make it come out right.  One of the lines or one of the cubes is going to have a duplicate number in it.  And you have failed.   I've crumpled up and thrown away a few in my day, not wanting to take the time to backtrack and figure out my mistake.

     Are you starting to see a pattern here?   One word, one punctuation mark, one number¦  they are all important to the whole of whatever they are a part of.  Puzzles.  I love puzzles.  I have been working on a 500-piece puzzle on a table in the fellowship hall.  I use the photo of the completed puzzle to help me figure out where the pieces go.  But what if I didn't have that, and didn't know what the completed puzzle was supposed to look like?  I would have to go strictly by the shape of each piece, and it would take me much longer to complete.   And what if there is a piece or two missing?  How could I complete the puzzle? 

     Our lives are very much like such a puzzle, and the puzzle of our lives is part of an even bigger puzzle of all of human history.  Each and every piece is vitally important.  Without each piece, it cannot be completed.   And without each piece in the correct place at the correct time, it won't end up the way God intended.  How often do we try to force a piece into the wrong place?  Back in the day, I used to listen to a song by Dr. John called "Right Place, Wrong Time.  The first line goes, "I been in the right place, but it must have been the wrong time".  Yes, sometimes we have the correct puzzle piece in the correct place, but our timing is off.

     Speaking of time, has anyone seen a movie entitled "Memento"?  It is a psychological thriller film that was directed and written by Christopher Nolan in 2001.  Memento is presented as two different sequences of scenes interspersed during the film: a series in black-and-white that is shown chronologically, and a series of color sequences shown in reverse order (simulating in the audience the mental state of the protagonist, who suffers from anterograde amnesia). The two sequences "meet" at the end of the film, producing one complete and cohesive narrative.  I remember this movie, and it is excruciatingly confusing.  God has ordered our time on earth to travel from past to present, the flow of time never ceasing to run at a steady rate in a forward direction, for a reason.  If our days and years were allowed to suddenly exist out of sequence, chaos would most assuredly ensue.  So while sci-fi buffs might like to imagine and speculate on the idea of time travel, God is the one who ultimately controls earthly time, even though both He and His eternal kingdom exist outside of the realm of time.  Even the individual moments of time have to be in the right order, to complete the whole of the puzzle that God alone has seen in its completed form.

     Yes, I am not only a puzzle buff, but also a psychological thriller movie buff.  So how about another one... "Butterfly Effect".  It was written in 2004, and stars Ashton Kutcher and Amy Smart. The title refers to a popular hypothetical example of chaos theory which illustrates how small initial differences may lead to large unforeseen consequences over time.

     But this message isn't about having an OCD-like obsession with making sure every tiny puzzle piece is in the exact correct place and position at the very millisecond it is supposed to be there.  I am not trying to make everyone crazy!

     On the contrary, I am simply trying to point out that we have an almighty God who is in complete control, and has a beautiful future all planned out for us.  All we have to do is let Him have his way, and all the pieces will fall into place!  We have to relax and let God do His thing.   He knows where each piece needs to go, and when.  All we have to do is trust Him, and stop trying to do everything our way.  That doesn't mean we just sit back and do nothing and expect God to drop a completed puzzle in our laps.  It does mean we need to follow what He has written in His Word, like looking at the picture on the puzzle box and reading the clues in a crossword puzzle, and by listening to what the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts. 

     And in conclusion, don't forget that each piece is important!  YOU are one of those pieces, and YOU are important!  You were born at just the right time, in just the right place, to do what it is that God put you on this earth to do.  Just because maybe you haven't saved thousands of lives, or saved thousands of souls, doesn't mean that the difference you make in someone's life is any less important.  So be a puzzle piece that is at peace.  Let go and let God!  Amen.