What a night at the Indians game last night! We had a blast! It was a late night, though. We got home shortly after midnight, but I know some people didn’t get home until closer to 1 a.m. And they were still there in the worship service this morning! And I don’t think I saw them doze off once! Now that’s dedication! I’ll post pictures as soon as I can get my dialup to let me.
I haven’t seen a tape yet, so I’m not sure if we have a recording of this week’s sermon. If i find one, I’ll post a link as soon as possible. I opened the sermon by asking if anyone had a quarter they could give me. I’d be glad to give them a dollar in return. I also asked if anyone had a dollar and I’d gladly give them a twenty in return. Of course, I gave them Monopoly money instead of real money…
In an age where the common person can easily purchase a laser printer and a high-resolution scanner, the amount of counterfeit operations has increased exponentially. Every day, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of people trying to pass off their fake money for the real thing. Bankers have to remain ever vigilant. They are constantly on the alert for fake money. People who work at the bank handle countless amounts of money each and every day. With the amount of money they handle on a daily basis, how are they ever going to catch a fake bill when it comes across their desk?
They could spend all their time learning about and focusing on the different methods of counterfeiting money. They could put all their energy in learning to spot a counterfeit by learning about counterfeiting. But with available technologies becoming more and more advanced, it is nearly impossible to keep all of the different techniques counterfeiters use because they can change on a day-to-day basis. Instead, bank tellers become very familiar with the real thing. Because they handle money on such a regular basis, they know what it looks like, what it feels like, smells like, sounds like, and some might even know what it tastes like. In addition, the US Mint has made it very clear what the defining characteristics are of all paper money. So when a bank teller is handling a cash transaction, he or she will be able to spot a fake bill right away because something about it does not display the characteristics of legitimate money. They can easily tell you the false money because they are so familiar with the real.
The same is true with us as followers of Christ. There are all kinds of teachings about God floating around out there. With the advent of the Internet, any kind of teaching from any kind of theological perspective is readily available at our fingertips. It’s not limited to our computer screens, however. Popular music and films are filled with statements about the nature of God. We find theological statements in newspapers, books, and magazines; and on nighttime talk shows, morning news shows, and all shows in between. We can’t get away from God-talk, even if we tried. In many ways, that is a very good thing. It opens the door, allowing us to have conversations with others about who God is and what His character is like and how He loves us so much that He was willing to send His Son to die for us. But it is also presents a viewpoint of God that does not align with the teaching of Scripture, the experience of the church throughout history, or our own encounters with God today. In short, false teachings are all around us. And it can be very easy to run around and battle this false teaching and that false teaching and get so caught up in understanding the many false teachings that we lose our focus on the Truth. And that is exactly what John is addressing in 1 John 4. Go ahead and turn there with me now. Remember, 1 John is towards the end of the New Testament; after Hebrews and 1 & 2 Peter. Today’s passage is found on page (?) in the pew Bibles in front of you.
Remember, John is writing to a group of churches that have experienced a great amount of turmoil. A group of teachers have risen up and are proclaiming a message about Jesus that is different than what they had learned from the Apostles. The issue about the nature of Christ and His relationship with God and with us shook this young church at its foundation. There was at least one church split because of these issues. And many people followed the dynamic, charismatic teachers down a path that took them in a completely different direction. It is in this context that John writes to the churches:
Read 1 John 4:1-6
How are we able to discern what is right and what is wrong? We hear many statements about God today that are similar to what has been said about God for the past 200 years. They have said and continue to say: The Jesus we read about in the Bible couldn’t possibly have been a real man. He can’t possibly have any historical connections. And if there really was a Jesus the man, he certainly didn’t do all of those miracles. And he most definitely was not God in the flesh. At best, he was a prophet sent by God – but not really God Himself. Or – What’s really important is to find the christ within yourself. You have the power of God within you. There is no need for an outside God. Just have faith.
There are all kinds of variations of these teachings. We could spend the rest of our lives trying to learn what they are and how they’re different from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And to a certain extent, it is necessary to know what is being said so we can have real conversations with people about the real and living God. And we need to test the spirit of what is being said – not by analyzing it to death but by measuring it against what is real: that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God. He is fully God and fully human.
It all comes down to relationship. If you’re in an intimate relationship with God, you’ll know something is false when it is presented to you. You will know and understand the love that He has for you and you will continue to experience that love on a daily basis. And as we continue to place our focus on the love of God, His love will show through us as we become more and more like Him.
After John makes this plea to focus on what is real, he describes what the real is. Continuing in verses 7-21.
In fifteen sentences, John uses the word ‘love’ 25 different times. What is the reality of God? God is love. God loves us. God showed us His love by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to spread out His arms and die for you and for me. If it weren’t for this radical, self-sacrificing love, we’d have no idea what love truly is. And that love that was freely displayed for us allows us to love God and to love others.
This kind of love shown to us is the radical love of a living and active God. God is not some kind of plastic, distant being that has little concern for us or what is going on in the world. No, God has been active throughout history and wants to be intimately involved in the life of His Bride, the church – in a real, loving, and authentic relationship.
And he wants us to have that same relationship with each other. If the love God has for us is to be displayed through us to each other, that means we need to get real with each other. No more plastic Christianity that has plagued the church throughout the centuries. Too many times the church has tried to present itself as a collection of Barbie and Ken dolls – perfect people with a perfect smile without a single flaw. How fake is that? God knows we don’t have it all together. Why do we think we need to act like we do? It’s time for us to take off our masks – to stop pretending to be plastic people – and to allow each other to see what really makes us tick. I don’t have all the answers. You don’t have all the answers. And we certainly don’t have it all together! If loving God means loving each other, then that means we need to pull back the curtain of our lives and allow each other to see the real us…warts, scars, and all. Our lives are roller coasters – full of victories and disappointments, unending joy and unspeakable sorrow, times of chaos and times of peace. We are walking this journey of faith together. Loving one another means we help each other through the good times as well as the bad. Loving one another means we take off the masks that we’re tempted to put on to cover up our faults and our weaknesses. Loving one another means we ask each other how they’re doing and really want to hear the response. And, loving one another means we actually tell each other how we’re doing instead of just saying, “Oh, pretty good I guess. How are you?”
For some people, that’s a scary proposition. Maybe you’re thinking, “OK – that’s a nice thought. But you don’t know what I’ve been through. You don’t know the hurt I’ve felt. You don’t know what I’ve done.” Life has gotten so messy that you’re concerned that if people saw the real you they’d want to have nothing to do with you. You’re worried you’ll get hurt again if you open up and make yourself vulnerable. So you put on a mask with a fake smile, pretending everything is OK; and keep everyone at arm’s distance. When in reality, all of that hurt and pain is just eating you up inside. You know what? You’re not the only one. All of us have hurts. All of us have done things that we are ashamed to admit. None of us have arrived at some destination of perfection. There’s no need to be afraid. All of us are broken and in need of a Savior. You won’t find condemnation here. Instead, you’ll find love, acceptance, and a place to heal your brokenness. And that love drives out the fear of being condemned or singled out for the burden you carry.
Dr. Bruce Shields, a seminary professor of mine, once said, “If leaders (and members) in the church can’t be open and honest with each other, then it isn’t the church.” That’s what the church is – a place where people can love and be loved. Out of that love comes honesty. Honesty with God and honesty with one another. And that’s what I pray we’ll continue to find here at Cowan Christian Church – a loving place where we can be authentic and honest with God and with each other. I pray that our Sunday school classes will be authentic. I pray that our worship will be honest and whole-hearted. I pray that the preaching will be real and authentic. No masks. Just real people loving the real God in a real way.
Like I said before, I don’t have all the answers. I was baptized almost twenty years ago and have come a long way in my own journey of faith. But I know I have a long way to go. I’m not perfect. Not by any stretch. I mess up all the time. I’m forgetful more than I’d like to admit. Anyone remember hearing an alarm go off at the beginning of the sermon a few weeks ago? Yeah – that was me. I forgot to turn off my own alarm. That’s how forgetful I can be. (By the way, this is a great reminder to please silence your cell phones when you come in on Sunday mornings. See, even the preacher needs to be reminded!)
I have experienced such amazing spiritual highs in my life that I never wanted to come down from the mountain. I’ve also experienced such horrible lows that I could barely see the end of the valley. I have experienced indescribable joys and unspeakable sorrows. I have more questions than I have answers. And the more questions I ask, the more I realize I don’t know very much. In spite of all of that – or maybe because of it – I know that we serve an amazing God who is far beyond our comprehension and who loves us with all of His being. Even during times of questioning and doubt, He has proven faithful in His love and patience towards me.
I’m pretty sure many of you in here have had similar experiences. Amazing mountaintop experiences and devastating valley experiences. It’s time for us to share those stories with each other. We serve the one, true, real God who expresses His one, true, real love for us every day. It’s that kind of love that we need to show each other. God can sniff out a fake a mile away. There’s no need to pretend to have it all together. No more masks. No more plastic Christianity. Let’s get real.
And yes, I did give them their money back.