iWeek #2 in our series from First John – A Letter From an Old Friend
Read 1 John 2:1-27 If you’ve been around me very much, it probably hasn’t taken you very long to figure out that I’m a big sports fan. I love all kinds of sports – especially college football and basketball. There could be an NAIA Division III basketball game on TV and I’ll watch it. I’m also a pretty big fan of the NFL. I enjoy watching the NBA sometimes and Major League Baseball – especially when my St. Louis Cardinals are playing!
This week has been a tough one for fans of professional sports. There’s the NBA ref who has admitted to betting on games that he was officiating. In spite of the Commissioner’s announcement that this was an isolated incident, the former referee has agreed to name names regarding other officials who have been involved in gambling.And there’s the New York baseball slugger, Jason Giambi, who recently confessed to using steroids. Because he cooperated with Major League Baseball’s investigation into the whole performance enhancing drug controversy and because he gave a large sum of money to some charities, the commissioner has announced that Giambi will not face any more punishment. In essence, he struck a plea bargain.
And, of course, the sports world turned its collective eyes and ears to a courthouse in Richmond, Virginia. While two of the colleagues of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick pled guilty to charges relating to dog fighting, the media world wondered if Vick would accept a plea deal offered to him by the government. Like I said, this was not a very good week for professional sports.
The crimes committed in these stories are pretty bad. The dog-fighting allegations are especially gruesome. It’s easy to look at these popular stories and say, “How could they do that? What were they thinking?” The truth of the matter, however, is that these examples are merely illustrations of a much more serious problem that all of us continue to face on a continual basis.
The problem is sin.
It goes back to the moment when the serpent first convinced Adam and Eve that tasting the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden was, in fact, a good idea. It all goes back to the moment when Adam and Eve took a taste of that seductive fruit. From that moment on, the entire world has been stained by the ugly, destructive power of sin.
And none of us have been immune to its power. It’s a murky, muddy mess that we try to safely navigate. As we continue to walk, however, we find that there is no escaping the sin that surrounds us and on our own, there is no escaping the seductive power of the sin. So we continue to walk along, gathering more and more gunk on ourselves as we try so desperately to get clean. Unfortunately, the more we try to clean ourselves the messier we become. And so our lives become a horrible mess. Just like these shoes. (Take out dirty shoes. Place shoes on right side of stage)
And just like the mud on these shoes, the sin in our lives taints everything around us. Although we were free to walk in the mud and get as messy as we wanted to get, that mud limited us in where we could go. You wouldn’t want me to put these boots on and begin stomping around the sanctuary would you? Of course not! It would make a mess of this room (and some of you might want to skin me alive!). My freedom to walk would be limited. And the same is true in our lives. The sin that has stained our lives has limited what we can do and where we can go. God the Father is a holy God. He requires holiness of those He encounters. When approaching the Throne of the King of Kings, dirty shoes are not allowed.
So what can we do then? The more we try to clean ourselves up, the messier our lives become. We just can’t get clean enough on our own. And there are no plea bargains that will somehow lessen our sentence. It’s all or nothing.
But if God loves us and wants to have a deep, personal relationship with us, how is that supposed to happen if we can’t approach Him because of the mess in our lives? Thanks be to God that there is an answer! Jesus Christ, the Son of God – God in the flesh – willingly chose to give up his own life so that you and I could be clean. Because of the sin that had ruined our lives, we could not live righteous lives. But, because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we are able to have a right relationship with God. Jesus takes off the old shoes that were covered in sin – the shoes that left a nasty mark anywhere we went (move shoes to left side of the stage), and he gives us new walking shoes. (Take out new, white shoes).
These new walking shoes give us the freedom not to sin. Because of these new walking shoes, we have the ability to walk like Jesus did: in the Light of God’s love. Just like Jesus, we can live our lives in the presence of God. The more we spend time in Him, the more our love for Him grows. And as a result of that increasing love, we’ll want to do His wishes even more. Obedience is the direct result of living in His presence. You can’t claim that you are living in that presence and act some other way than Jesus would act. Those who share in the righteousness of the Son and are children of God live out lives of righteousness. And when people see them, they can distinguish between children of the enemy and children of God. Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God.
Don’t get this backwards. Our obedience is a result of God’s love for us. Doing what is right is not something we can do to make God love us more. Remember – God is radically and wholeheartedly in love with you. He sent His Son to die for us, removing the barrier caused by our sins. There is absolutely nothing we can do to make God love us more. He wants to know you and to know me. He wants to live in us and us to live in Him.
There is a story from WWII about a hungry boy war torn city of London. The boy was peering through the fogged-up glass of a bakery shop as the bakers pulled fresh donuts out of the oven. He wanted one so bad. He smacked his lips as he imagined the hot pastry melting in his mouth. But he didn’t have a dime in his ragged pockets. A soldier came around the corner in his Jeep and slammed on the brakes. He saw the boy and knew immediately what was happening. He walked over to the boy and asked, “You want one of those donuts?” “Yeah!” the boy said with enthusiasm. The soldier walked inside and bought a dozen hot donuts and gave them to the little boy. The boy stared at the solder and asked, “Mister, are you God?”
People are looking for God. There is a sensitivity to spiritual matters today that rivals few other times in American culture. If we continue to live in the presence of God, others will have little difficulty seeing the face of God – both in what we say and do.
While I was at Milligan and again at Emmanuel School of Religion, there were many new students from outside the Johnson City area. It was interesting watching students from the ‘culturally refined’ West Coast or the ‘flatlands’ of central Indiana and the Midwest try to adjust to life in Appalachia. Many times, they come to town with a pretty harsh judgment of the cultural quirks of the Tri-Cities region. The ironic thing, of course, is the longer they spend in upper East Tennessee, the more they become that which they once mocked. And once you leave the area, you find yourself longing for the days when you could have real iced tea – you know, the kind with sugar in it…lots of sugar, Firehouse barbecue, saying “y’all” or “you’uns” and knowing that people understand you, and clogging to live old-time country music. Time spent in upper East Tennessee brings about a change in you.
So if living in a particular region of the country can bring about a significant change in who you are, imagine how much change is possible by living in the presence of the Holy, Loving God. That love changes us. And out of that love, we love one another. The end result of the new walking shoes we have been given is the love we show for each other. This is the defining characteristic of a person walking in the Light and living in God’s presence: how we treat each other. How we love one another. And the only way we can truly love one another is by putting on the new walking shoes.
There is an old tradition that states that John would preach the same message over and over, regardless of the occasion or circumstances. Even when he was very old and frail, the members of the church would carry him into the assembly and physically support him as he sat up to speak. He would say, “Brothers and sisters, love one another.” When members of his congregation asked whether they couldn’t, sometime, hear a different message, he answered, “When you have mastered this lesson, we can move on to another.” Loving one another is the central theme to what it means to be a Christ-follower. Maybe that’s why reading 1 John sometimes feels like you’re hearing the same thing over and over again. (And maybe that’s why a sermon series on 1 John might feel like you’re hearing the same thing over and over again) John wants to make sure we get the message – obedience to God means loving one another.
Take a minute and look at your own life. Are you showing love to those around you? Are you showing love to people like God has shown love to you? Remember – this is the same God who gave up His own life for you and me…while we were still sinners…enemies of God. If that’s the kind of love He shows for His enemies, think about the love He shows for those of us who now call Him friend. If you’re not showing that kind of love, there’s only one solution. It’s not what you might think. Your first thought might be, “Well, start loving more.” Which makes sense, but you can’t do it on your own. The only way we are going to be able to love each other more fully is if we are living in God’s presence. That means it’s time to put on your new walking shoes and start walking further into the Light. The only way to walk in obedience to God’s commands is by loving others. And the only way you can do that is by allowing God’s love to transform you.
There are times when we are going to still fall into sin. As we are walking the journey of life, we will continue to be surrounded by sin in this fallen world. Of course, the ideal would be that we would never sin again once we put on our new walking shoes. That, unfortunately, is not the case. The amazing thing about the grace of God, however, is that we still have an advocate speaking in our defense to the Father. The forgiveness that is offered is free and available at any time for anyone. All you have to do is put on the walking shoes available to you and start walking like Jesus did – in the Light.
The world can be a tempting place. The seductive voice of the forbidden fruit calls out to us every day. “Try this,” it says. “Surely God didn’t mean that when He said this,” it explains. The world of muddy, murky world continues to invite us to put on our old, dirty shoes, and play in the mud for a little bit longer. The idols that were propped up before you before you started walking in the Light continue to invite you to return. It could be money, success, sex, alcohol, shopping – anything that you once loved more than you loved God – can still try to seduce you to turn around and go back to the life you once had. And something about it could still be very exciting and inviting. Don’t allow yourself to fall back in love with the things that once ensnared you. Don’t look back. Keep your eyes on the Father. Keep your new walking shoes on. Keep walking in the light.
If you have never begun living in the Light, if you haven’t ever begun living in God’s presence, you can begin doing so today. God has a new pair of walking shoes that will fit you perfectly. He will help you take the old, muddy, nasty shoes off and will give you a clean life and will show you how to live in God’s presence. And there’s nothing you have to do to be good enough to start this new walk. Many times, people think they have to get this fixed or this thing right in their life before they can begin following Christ. Jesus Christ didn’t come to die for just the small stuff. He gave His life for the sins of the entire world. No life is beyond the reach of the loving grace of God. Don’t buy into the lie that you have to get cleaned up in order to get cleaned up. That’s like washing your car so you can get your car washed. Or it’s like performing heart surgery on yourself so you can get a pacemaker put in. You can’t do it on your own. It would be silly to try. It is up to the life-changing power of the blood of Jesus Christ. He will give you new shoes. And, of course, he doesn’t end with just your shoes. He changes your entire life. But it starts by choosing to follow Him. By choosing to walk as Jesus did. By putting on new walking shoes.