Fellows – three days ago Pastor John gave us his last sermon in his series on genuine faith. Thanks to his three previous admonitions to us, we've become fairly well grounded init. So in this last one he recapped and summed up. He began by reading from the Apostle John's first letter, chapter 4 verses 1 through 6:
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.”
I take it upon myself to read again that first sentence: “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Sounds as if the Apostle John is writing to us right here today! We certainly need to hear that, given what is bouncing around in the world today all around us.
Pastor John then asked us” “what are the most important determinants of genuine faith?”
He splashed on the Vision Chapel screen a scene from fireworks in China. Early most every calendar year you have in China the Lunar New Year celebrations. For many centuries these celebrations have included fireworks displays, handled both by local authorities in China and by individual celebrants. In contemporary times these fireworks have been banned by authorities because of injuries frequently suffered by misuse or accident. However these fireworks bans have not lasted long because of widespread popular opposition. Popular belief from ancient times to the present in China and elsewhere in east Asia is that loud noises from the fireworks drive away evil spirits. Pastor John used this as “exhibit A” in illustrating to us the concept that beliefs (including superstitions) drive attitudes and actions.
Pastor John then showed us a photograph from a concentration camp in eastern Europe in the early 1940s. Under Adolf Hitler the Germans maintained a network of such concentration camps, mostly in conquered Poland. They brought millions of people that Hitler and his party considered undesirable to these camps, to be either gassed or starved to death. Millions thus died horrifically, because of the beliefs of this one man. His beliefs and dominant personality drove the attitudes and actions of the thousands of people that were necessary to carry out the campaign of mass extermination. This you may call Pastor John's “exhibit B”.
How then to determine what is true and false in beliefs that drive attitude and actions?
Pastor John tells us to go to the claimed source to see if the supposed notion is true. This brings us to “exhibit C” President Donald Trump, Time magazine, and the magazine's famous annual “Person of the Year” designation. President Trump claimed that Time Magazine was considering designating him “Person of the Year” recently, but that because of the conditions tied to it he told the magazine “no thank you”. The magazine editors when asked about his claim stated that they never tell a “Person of the Year” designee in advance of their plans.
So from exhibit C we must learn to verify the truth. Read 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 “Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good,” In other words, don't accept or dismiss a prophetic claim out-of-hand, but instead check it out first. Go to the source.
Pastor John's “exhibit D” had to do with the debate over the necessity and efficacy of vaccinations, especially early childhood vaccinations against infectious disease. Pastor John noted that children die because their parents are told lies about vaccinations and believe these lies. More recently in our Covid-19 emergency there have been claims and counterclaims about the necessity and efficacy of wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, and quarantines, among others. In such matters we can easily fall into a trap of fallacy if we do not learn to test and verify.
So also with faith!
Christians use the Truth we have in the Bible to cut off lies. Read from the Gospel of John, chapter 14 verse 6: “Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'”
So then, just what about prophecy? As we saw above, do not despise prophetic pronouncements out-of-hand, but test them. If someone, no matter how emphatic in speech and attractive in his or her manner says “God just spoke to me and said....” then test it.. If it is is founded in the Bible, and not taken out of context, then such modern day prophecy can be credited. But if it is contrary to the Word, then obviously it cannot be believed. Sorry to say, false prophecy is much more common than the truth. Jesus warned us this would be so – read Matthew 24:4-5 “And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many”
All false claims how to counter them? Remember that our faith is rooted in God's faithfulness.
To illustrate this Pastor John mentioned his “Adventure of the Flat Tire”. He was at the side of the road with flat tire; he had to change it. He'd done that before, so it was no problem as he told those with him. But...Pastor John experienced...a sudden mental blank – he had forgotten how! His quick reference to YouTube was a welcome help to solve the problem, while his past knowledge didn't help. This is why we read our Bible every day! We remind ourselves to anchor ourselves in the things of God. Rather on relying just on our recall of past teaching and experience to remind ourselves of what God has done. This is a critical part of how we care for our most precious possession, our genuine faith. Our genuine faith breeds genuine obedience.
Lastly Pastor John bid us to remember that with this genuine faith we can handle anything in life. In bad times and through dark events, our faith frees us from anger and bitterness and depression when they creep back in because we remember His assurance that He is always in control. In good times through genuine faith He calls us out of our comfort zone to His purpose. God does not tell us to "shape up or else", but rather through our faith we fall in love with the Word and the Way. That is God's hold on us.
That is genuine faith!