Sunday, January 5, 2014

Faith is the catchers mitt, it's not the pitch

On the heals of my previous post, I listened to two sermons that proclaimed "The Gift" that came to us on that first Christmas.  And each, in its own way, deals with:

1. What is that gift.
2. What it looks like to receive that gift.

On the heals of my previous post, I present to you the salient parts of each sermon, distilled to less than 5 minutes of audio, for your discernment.

Audio:  < 5 min.  - "The Gift that Lasts and Lasts"

John 3:16 is, in so many ways, the Heavenly Father leaning over into the cradle of our dark existence, and saying to people who are struggling with failure, and weakness, and shame, and uncertainty, and do not know how they will take care of it all, "Don't you know that I would move heaven and earth to help you."

John 3:16 is saying, "Don't you know that God loves you this much." And yet it is the very things that we stuggle with ... our weaknesses and our faults and our failures that somehow make God seem so distant that this can't possibly be true. And so He begins to reveal Himself to us in such simple but profound terms to say, "Don't you know, how big is my heart, for you."

And the evidence of it is in the great gift that is being described. You know these words ... "God so loved the world that He GAVE His only son." And the reason that you and I need to say that is even here today there are those among us who say, "Listen, I've heard this gospel, and you gather at church, and you look good, and you look fine, and I know Jesus died for you. But if you knew who I really am, and what I struggle with, and what's in my life, you would not want me part of this church." And what you need to hear me say is, "God does know, and sent His son for you."  That was His very purpose. That He could know the worst, and still say, "But I give the gift." That is how big is the heart, that is how great is the gift, that it would be even for those who are undeserving, because that's ultimately who we all are.

And because He loves us that much we ultimately have a great hope. That God gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. It's so important to read the words, "whoever BELIEVES in Him."  The persons who are made right with God, who get this great gift, are those who believe in Him.

Because formal religion says that you're made right with God because of some religious practice, like you've been baptized, or you joined the church. You pray long enough, or read your bible well enough, or you've done things exceptional, made a pilgrimage of some sort.  It may even be that you're saying, "my faith is in my faith". I have the right frame of mind, I have the right doctrine. Listen, whether you are saying that your faith is in your practice, or your faith, in all of those kind of frame of mind, frame of reference, frame of activity, your actual faith is in you.

No, the faith [of a believer] is in Him. Not in the degree of your faith, not in the rightness of your practice, not in the goodness of your background, the faith is in Him. Well, what does that mean? You have to believe that Jesus was SENT for you, and was SIN for you. That on the cross, what made you right with God was not your background, not your religion, not your practice, not even your correct beliefs. That what makes you right with God is that God put your sin upon Him, that what was represented in Jesus was the penalty that we deserved. I'm not made right because of what I do or think. I am made right because of leaning upon what Jesus has done.

We have to remember that faith is the catchers mitt, it's not the pitch. Right? It's something I receive. It's not that I've thrown enough faith at God. It's not that I've thrown enough practice or baptism. It's not what I have done. It's what I have received. He was sent for me. And I believe I'm made right with God because of what He has done. It's the step away from self, not the building up of something in self.

Believe in Him. That God sent Him for you. And that He was sin for you. And when you depend on that alone, you are His now, and for ever. Father, would you work the gospel into the hearts of all who are here. You call us to believe this very simple but profound gospel. That your heart is so big, that you would give your Son for us. And that if we believe in that, that He was sent for us, and took our sins upon Him on the cross, that we are ... yours.

Audio:  < 5 min.  - "The Greatest Gift Ever"

Because as we think about the coming of Jesus, we could certainly look at it from the angle that God gave the world the most remarkable gift the world has ever known. He gave His Son. Moreover I think you can also think about it from another angle ... you see as with any gift this gift that God gave must be received. It has to be received. Tonight what I want to do is just spend a few minutes as we prepare out hearts for Christmas, to think about the gift that God gave us that first Christmas, how amazing that gift really was, and what it looks like to receive that gift.

Jesus is the gift. Jesus is the greatest gift ever given. He looked into our brokenness. He looked at our fallen world. And He sent His Son. The bible says, in John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, that whoever would believe in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." Romans 5:8 says, "God shows His own love for us in this ... while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." God sent His Son into the world that very first Christmas to reconcile His wayward people back to Himself. And He would do this by coming to earth as a man, and going to the cross.

The bible makes it clear ... all of us have sinned. We've all rebelled against God and our sin separates us from our perfect God who cannot tolerate sin. But at the cross, the bible tells us that every single sin of those who would believe ... every sin past, present and future ... was nailed to Christ. Now, how's that dear friends for an amazing gift.

But here's the thing. Like any other gift, this gift, for it to apply to you, must be received. And remarkably, this is a gift that is often outright rejected. Or one that is rejected by those who think they have received it.

There are some who believe the truths of what I'm telling you academically, and yet still reject this gift. They believe that Jesus came and walked the face of the earth. They believe that Jesus really lived. They believe that He was really crucified, that He was really dead, He was buried and He was raised on the third day. But they reject Christ with their life style.

And John [in 1st John] is very clear that false claims about ones relationship with God mean absolutely nothing. He says [that] if we claim to have fellowship with God and yet walk in the darkness, (in other words we don't live for Him), John say we lie. Or he says that if any one says, "I love God", but does not love his brother, (and that's referring to a brother in Christ, and that's referring to, when you read 1st John, knowing brothers and sisters in Christ, being connected to a church, serving people, laying down your life for others), he said if someone says, "I love God", and does not love his brother, he's a liar.

You see, receiving the gift of God, receiving Jesus, truly believing in Christ is a life changing experience. Jesus Himself said [that] if anyone wants to come after me, if anyone wants to be my follower, he must deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow me. You see we can't earn or purchase a right standing with God. We've already seen it's a gift. God did it. And yet when you read the scriptures you know this gift will cost you your life.

When we come to believe in Jesus, He becomes the king of our life. Jesus says [that] if you love me, if you really love me, you will keep my commandments. Receiving Jesus means believing in Him entirely for your right standing with God. And it means submitting your life to Him as your King, as your Lord, as your master ... following Him wherever He leads ... now, and for all eternity.

So that's, that's Christmas.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this, clarity through juxstaposition, clarity of a difference in substance... resultant reflection beacons how a saint will glorify God differently being fed by either message... as is said, '... delivered by God fearing, well intentioned ordained ministers...'

Anonymous said...

Are you suggesting that preacher #2 is preaching error or misusing the Scripture? It sounded to me like he properly interpreted 1 John. These ideas must all fit together into a comprehensible whole, unless we are to cherry pick our Bibles and only use the favorite parts. Where is the error? Help me to see it.

Stephen said...

Thank you for your input. You are right to remind us that, for each one of us, these ideas must all fit together into a comprehensible whole. And groups of people over time have tried to help us in this endeavor. The Roman Catholics took up this cause mightily, as did the Lutherans, and no less the Baptists. I don't mean to trivialize your point because it is true. Each of us must act from a sincere faith, and seek truth relentlessly.

Regarding error, I have little doubt that through the ages there have been men (and women), much more devout than I, with far greater intellectual prowess, that could, with a clear conscience, find fault with, or champion, the content of either one of these sermons.

And I think you share sound judgment when you share that the second sermon properly interpreted 1 John. And yet you do seem to suggest that you read some tension between the two sermons. That happens to be one of the main points of this post. It may even be that you and I would resolve that tension differently.

I would encourage you to speak openly about this kind of tension with any elders in your life that can provide a shepherding role. Hopefully, they will respond with openness and grace and love, and shepherd you well, with truths that agree with scripture.