Three days ago Pastor John got us into our second installment in finding out what genuine faith is by reading from the Gospel of John chapter 2 verses 3 through 6 (NIV) We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.
Pretty good way to start a discussion about what genuine faith is, don't you think?
Then: do you remember that video clip that Pastor John used? The old guy (Teacher Rand's age at least!) had an obviously old model of Rolex watch. I think that you fellows all know that a Rolex watch is by definition an expensive luxury item. He thought that since his watch was quite old that it might be worth about $1500 to a collector. Well, the experts with him on the television program examined his watch carefully, checking out its serial number and so on, and all of the old paperwork that came with the watch, and figured out that altogether it was really worth about $70,000. It was a genuine old Rolex with a complete pedigree, not some fake look-alike product. So, “wow!”
Well, even Rolex watches, like our bodies or anything else of this world, no matter how nice and how wanted and cherished, are ultimately corruptible and perishable. In the context of eternity they mean...nothing! But your faith is quite another matter in ultimate importance. Yet like the Rolex watch, it could be (let's be honest) just fake or it could be genuine, the real thing. The difference is so important. Pastor John read to us 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 (NIV) Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
Alright then, how much more will you cherish genuine, authenticated faith. How can you tell?
Pastor John remembered the authentication checklist the Rolex watch authenticators used on the television program. So by analogy he gave us a kind of faith authentication “checklist”:
One - faith must come with ACTION. If you have real faith it will show itself in ACTION.
Two - those whose faith is genuine will keep God's commandments. Genuine faith is not burdensome obedience but it bursts beyond that to a truly joyful pursuit. Pastor John illustrated this point by reading from the First Letter of John, chapter 5 verses 2-5 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
The joy in obedience is not passive joy but active joy. You go beyond day-to-day obedience to find true joy. Finding true rest in the Christ is through joyful obedience. The destination makes the journey all worthwhile. Don't hide the pain that comes with the effort but look beyond the inevitable pain and suffering to God's purpose and discover the truly liberating joy in that.
Pastor John said that our lives are 100 percent about relationships. A Christian feels most alive when he is close to the Father. If we love God then we must love our “brothers and sisters” (to use the broadest meaning of the phrase). That is a marker of genuine faith.
Jesus is the life. Now, if you are okay with how the world is and you like the way it works then you know that your faith is not genuine. Read Colossians 1:13. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, If your faith is genuine, you reject the worldly dominion of darkness and behave as a citizen of God's kingdom.
Pastor John told us how faith all began with the invitation from Jesus Christ to be a part of his family. If that faith is genuinely our focus then our actions – what we do day-in and day-out - will automatically follow. Jesus said from the start that having such faith is not easy; it is guaranteed to produce suffering. But then so is physical training when you are preparing to compete in an athletic contest.
At the end of our brief terms of temporal existence we want our God, our Lord and master to say to us “well done good and faithful servant!” Jesus showed us the way when he stuck it out in obedience to the Father's will even to abysmal separation from the Father when he died on the cross. In that separation from the Father Jesus was closest to the Father in obedience.
So, genuine faith, the authentic article, means that we are obedient to God in all situations or circumstances no matter how difficult or painful because in such obedience...
...we are closest to God!
You fellows along with Pastor John are even at your young ages pretty savvy consumers, I expect. Especially with techie-toys you know most of the time what product is good and what similar product is lacking. You have an eye for the real thing and can mostly spot something that is bogus. So then, how do you decide if something is genuine or not? Do you remember the visual examples Pastor John gave us? Specialman versus Superman, Sunbucks versus Starbucks, Ill-tempered birds versus Angry Birds, and so on. Sometimes being able to spot the difference is really important: if somebody gave you a $100 bill in payment for something, could you tell for sure if the bill is genuine or not? Plenty of counterfeit $100 notes are out there, and if you get stuck with a bogus note because you weren't careful, the loss is yours! There are real medicines for various illnesses, and also fake ones that can harm you if you mistakenly take them for your sickness. So, being able to tell genuine from counterfeit is important in this world.
It is even more important when you think about eternity. Is your faith genuine or not?
Last time we worshipped together, Pastor John began the service by reading Matthew 13:1-8: That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
This passage reminds us that not everybody who hears the Good News actually stays the course until the days he passes from this earthly existence to eternity. For one reason or another, many or most people fail! That is scary yes, but very frankly that is how it is, and Jesus reminds us of it many times in the Gospels. Read this: Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. And from the Apostle Paul: 2 Timothy 2:5: “Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.”
So what about assurance of salvation from genuine faith? As Pastor John reminded us, here Jesus drew a line; He was very strict about who was actually saved. Read the Gospel of John 2:23 – 25: “Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.” and again from John chapter 6. Read all of it. Jesus miraculously feeds the huge crowd but that just got the crowd to thinking that Jesus was the one who could evict the Roman occupiers from their homeland and so to make this happen they should forcibly make Jesus their earthly king. The crowd only had such earthly thoughts. So, Jesus “withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” Still in John 6, Jesus tells another large crowd of would-be followers that unless they can “eat His body and drink His blood”, they could not follow Him. This was not urging cannibalism but a metaphor to show the degree to which true followers had to commit themselves to following Jesus. Total commitment! Now we come to the crux of the matter. Read John 6:66-69: From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Do you fellows see it? Most people cannot stand the consequences of really following Jesus. So they turn away. But a few, like Simon Peter, are utterly convinced about who Jesus is, and so stay the course.
So again reference to the passage from the Gospel of Matthew that Pastor John read at the beginning. The four kinds of soils represent the four kinds of mentalities of people who receive the “seed”, that is to say, the Good News of the Gospel.
The seed that is snatched up immediately represent people who prompted by Satan reject the Gospel from the get-go. Rocky soil represents people whose faith never goes deep, and so it withers and dies when real adversity in life comes. Thorny soil pictures people who have a lot of competing claims on their attention, and so they never follow Jesus wholeheartedly.
Okay, let's be honest: those three illustrations represent most of humanity. They may or may not START on the road to salvation, but they do not make it to the end. Scary? Sad?
Unless you have good soil you are not saved. That is the reality. Only good soil bears fruit. It is not quantifiable; it is a matter of perseverance, through thick and thin. I know from last year that some of you fellows have been introduced to John Bunyan's “Pilgrim's Progress”. That novel written more than 300 years ago uniquely illustrates the long difficult journey of salvation. Hopefully all of you fellows will read it through to the end sooner than later.
One way to illustrate such perseverance and commitment needed to stay on the road to salvation to the end is questioning how you use your time. As Pastor John told us, all time is a gift from God, just as all money is a gift from God. You only have so much time in this earthly existence; exactly how much for each of you you don't know. Only God knows.
How much of your time do you give back to God, in worship? In quiet time? In prayer?
So then: do you have real faith? Does it matter?
Three days ago Pastor John in Vision Chapel really made it clear that he would try to get us to fully understand worship, from “A” to “Z”, or as he put it, from Alpha to Omega in the Greek alphabet in which the New Testament was written. Since worship is basic to our relationship with God, we surely must conclude that Pastor John's focus in doing this is really important.
First, he read from Matthew chapter 2, verses 10 and 11 “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” Yes, the “wise men” bowed down and worshipped. Think about that phrase. Before they could “worship” they “bowed down”. What does that say about their ATTITUDE in worship?
Pastor John told us about his habit of using the Global Positioning System (GPS) when he is driving. Most of the time Pastor John knows very well where he is going but he likes to defer to GPS anyway. Sometimes though Pastor John doesn't know where he is going and so he really does need to defer to the GPS.
Now, the word “surrender” has for us a negative connotation. But for our purposes here we should equate it to following the GPS. Surrender your choices to the GPS. In doing this we surrender our own thoughts and knowledge to take advantage of the abilities of the GPS. So, it is that kind of “surrender” that we are talking about here. It is just an honest admission that we of ourselves are not enough. So, it is a joyful surrender. As with “great joy” verses above. Another way to think about itbis when in a few years you will be pressed to choose a college a major. When you choose this major or that one, then the other options existing for you up until then are given up. So it is here: we say “I surrender to God, so I reject the other alternatives.” So then our posture is one of bowing down is of our own volition. “I choose you and nothing else.” So, bowing down is significant. It means something. Let us count the ways.
First off, Pastor John mentioned “Bowing down in mind.” He read Mark 10:17 to illustrate: As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Then Pastor John considered “Bowing down in attitude.” This means turning away from sin. Follow redirection from God. Just like conforming to GPS. Do you rememberr how Pastor John gave us the picture of the onion-eating little girl too stubborn to admit that the onion is not an apple. So also we must admit the stuff of this world is not godly. Read Luke 5:4-8 (NIV) When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”. Peter was really bowing down to God in his attitude ehen he accepted redirection from Jesus.
Finally Pastor John got us to consider “Bowing down in Action.” Frankly, there are areas in life that we don't want to let go. But we must. God's commands are for our own good. We must say “Not my will Father, but your will be done.” Now we can better appreciate the meaning of Philippians 2:10-11 (NIV) “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Yes – bow down!
Fellows, as Pastor John told us, either now or later we must say to God “ I trust you and lean or your power.” He is the ultimate GPS, right?
Bear in mind that to live a godly life, to be truly guided by God, we must surrender to God first before we can expect anything else. We read from Acts 16:25-26 (NIV) About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.
See - first Paul and Silas worshipped then their chains were broken. So also with us in our lives!
Last Lord's Day, in his third sermon in a row about worship, Pastor John grounded us in a passage from the Apostle Paul's Letter to the Romans, chapter 12 verses 1 and 2 (NIV) “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Worship. From the last two times we have been at worship together we should appreciate that “worship” is attaching your ultimate sense of value or worth to something. Alright, then - what do you worship? Where do you spend most of your time or money or energy? What really do you get most excited about? Honestly, when you think about it, what is at the center of your life?
As Pastor John said, a compass's needle points to true North. Our spiritual compass should always points to God. But, just as magnetic interference can disturb a compass needle, lots of worldly attractions interfere with our focus on God. Let us count the ways!
Excitement? Center of life? Remember Pastor John told us about the gift of a fancy tread mill somebody gave his family? There was Initial excitement to begin with. But soon it was used as a storage device. Same as when we don't live out the life God created us for, we are a waste of His expensive creation. Pastor John gave us another illustration from experience:
The “SuperSmash Brothers” video game. Pastor John played it for hours at a time. Nintendo gaming was at the center of Pastor John's life as a middle schooler and as a high schooler, and as a college student. But....
God created us to worship Him forever. Shows what you value. If God is really at the center of our live we will be excited to worship. Here's again from the Apostle Paul. Romans 12:1 - “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
This means not just going through the motions, but being genuinely excited to worship. Our almighty God does not at all NEED our worship, but He CHOOSES to engage with us through our worship of Him.
We all are long familiar with the word “hallelujah”. Pastor John deconstructed it for us, then he used it to get us to examine our priorities.
“Hallelu” is the Hebrew word for “praise”. “Jah” or “yah” is the shortened form of the Hebrew word “yahweh” meaning “God”. If we really mean “hallelujah” then we are anchored in praising God. Okay, a reality check - what are you anchoring your life in?
Hallelu-GRADES? Hallelu-SCHOOL? Hallelu-JOB? Hallelu-MONEY? Think about it!
Actually, if you are really anchored in praising God, every area of your life can be an act of worship! Don't worry about some divide between sacred and secular, church stuff and worldly stuff. Preaching the gospel to others and vacuuming the house for others can both be acts of worship if we have the right attitude and godly orientation. Worship is not a separate act or object we give to God. Worship is giving OUR LIVES to God. We have been made “holy and acceptable to God” Everything we do can potentially be an act of worship!
Pastor John quoted from a famous New York City pastor, Tim Keller, in illustrating that right attitude: “You should never go to God because He's useful. Go because He's beautiful. And yet there's nothing more useful than finding God beautiful.” What that means is that God is not a means to an end (“God please give me...”) , instead, God IS the end (“I love you God for who you are.”). Go to God just for who He is, not for what He can do for you. True worship is NOT about what God can do for you, or what you can do for God, but what God has ALREADY DONE.
Romans 12:2 - “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” So then - have done with distractions, renew your mind in whole-hearted worship of almighty God, and be transformed!
Pastor John pointed out that true worship leads us to the WILL of GOD. He gave us the example of the prophet Daniel's three friends who got tossed into a blazing furnace on the command of the Babylonian king because they would not worship his giant golden statue.
From the Book of Daniel chapter 3 verses 17and 18 we read that they told the king: “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.” And here is the key point: “But EVEN IF he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” The three friends were focused first on who God is, not what He can do.
Think about that EVEN IF: The Son of God, Jesus our savior, placed worth and value on us in dying on the cross for our sins. So, we know that EVEN IF we die a physical death from whatever terrible situation, we will keep on going spiritually, which is all that matters. When we place our worth and value in Jesus, we find the purpose of our lives to keep going NO MATTER WHAT.
Pastor John also referred to the crash of Northwest Airlines flight 225 in Detroit in August of 1987. A little girl was found to be the only survivor out of everyone on the plane. In the last seconds of the very short flight her mother's sacrificial love and quick thinking saved her. What of Jesus's sacrificial love? Pastor John illustrated from Paul's Letter to the Romans 8:38-39: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
To sum it up, Pastor John gave us this take-home truth: The will of God in our ordinary daily lives and in our times of terrible trial is to worship God for who He is, and to enjoy Him forever.