Monday, November 26, 2012

Almost a Christian

I was invited to preach at Chriesman United Methodist Church yesterday.  I had been reading Wesley's 2nd sermon about being almost a Christian and knew what I wanted to say.  I met with Dr. Jordan, my minister, and he gave me a lesson on how to preach with illustrations.  I made a point of adding them herein.  I got off script, and spoke about each.  Holy Spirit helped me with this one and I think it went well.  Good lesson and it definitely speaks to me!

Almost a Christian

Acts 26: 28-29 “Agrippa says to Paul, “Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian?” Paul replies “Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that not only you but also all who are listening to me today might become such as I am.”

So what does it mean to become a Christian?  We are all familiar with John 3:16 that says God gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.  So of course, a Christian is someone who has given his life to Christ, believes that Jesus was the son of God, who died for our sins, so that we may have eternal life with Him.

My question for you today is this:  Is that all there is to it?

We believe that when someone truly accepts Christ as his/her personal savior, than we become spiritually reborn, forgiven of our sins, and able to have a personal relationship with God.  But what does that mean?  How is this expressed in our everyday lives?  What does it mean to become such as Paul became?

Illustration:  I remember time when my wife Tracey and I were at our lowest point.  It was in the spring of 2002.  Baby, Autism, depression, I wondered, “Is this all there is?”  She said, we are going to church.  We did, and I learned that I was not what I thought I was.  Christian in beliefs, but not in service.  Christian by word, not by deed.  Saved, but stuck in my ways, no personal relationship with God, I guess you could say I was a baby Christian.  I had been born again, but I hadn’t progressed beyond that point. 

How many people are stuck where I was?  Christians, but not fully experiencing the great love of Christ, of having a real and personal relationship with God? 

Of course there is another type of person.  A good person, who has never accepted Christ as their savior.

Most people in the world today are not evil.  They go about their busy lives, helping others when they can, seeking justice when it’s not too difficult, most don’t steal, commit crimes, or are out to hurt others.  Good people, but being good doesn’t make them a Christian.  There are even some really good people who work daily to feed the hungry and help those in need as part of their everyday lives, but they don’t know Christ.  Indeed this is what Christians are called to do, so they are not far off the mark, but they are still only almost Christians.
Who could not study the life of the Buddha or Ghandi and not be impressed with their righteous ideas of treating others with respect and dignity?  Great human beings, but not Christians. 

You know these two types of people, the baby or almost Christians and the good, non-believers, both may work hard to do good works for others.  They may seem to be Godly people in their actions and their lives.  The Christian may even attend church, partake of Communion, and even try to lead others to Christ.  They may have a prayer life and practice the forms of religion.  But they are missing out on the greatest aspect of being a Christian.  A personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  John Wesley, the founder of Methodism said, “They need sincerity and the faith to truly accept Christ in their lives.  Sincerity is the inward principle of belief in Christ.  It is from this faith, this true belief, that our Christian actions flow.  For indeed, if we don’t have this crucial faith in Christ, we are just good people, maybe we are only almost Christians. 

Illustration:  John Wesley’s life:  Raised in the Anglican Church, became a minister, came to America, failed, ran out of town, escaped back to England.  He doubted his Faith, his calling, He did not have a personal relationship with God, and he referred to himself as an almost Christian.  Then he went to Aldersgate, heard the word, felt God’s touch, and came to understand that God wants more for us.  He wants a personal relationship with each one of us.  That when Jesus suffered and died on that cross, he died for each one of us, individually.  In other words, if you had been the only one who would have accepted him as your savior, he loved you enough to die for you.  This realization of God’s overwhelming, divine, and personal love for us is the key to growing in the faith. 

We all need to first accept Christ as our personal savior, then we need to accept the personal relationship God offers us in our lives. To become an authentic, fully developed Christian.  We are all in the process of being sanctified by the Lord.  That is growing in the faith to gain in understanding of God in our lives both inwardly in our souls, and outwardly in our lives. 

We, as Christians should truly know the love of God.  We are taught the greatest commandment by Jesus when he said, “Love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”  Such a love fills our hearts with affection for all mankind, and fills our souls to capacity in our love for Jesus.  Such a Christian has a spirit that continually rejoices in God the Savior.  He delights in the Lord, in the Lord’s creation, and his/her desire is to serve god in all aspects of their lives.  This person is a servant to all, not seeking personal glory, but seeking to extend the kingdom of God.  Wesley said this kind of Christian dwells “in love, dwells in God, and God in him.”

The second greatest commandment according to Christ is to love thy neighbor as yourself. So who are our neighbors?  Every person in the world for every child is God’s child.  This includes our enemies, the enemies of God, and any who stand against us.  We are called to love even those who are hard to love.  We are to love them as Christ loved us. Paul explained this type of love for us.  He described it as a love that is “long suffering and kind.”  It does not envy others, it is not rash or hasty, and does not judge others.  It is not puffed up with pride, but makes us the least of mankind, a servant to all.  This person seeks to do good to all others that they might be saved.  We are called to reflect Christ to all we meet wherever we may go.  Love is not wrathful, thinks of no evil, and rejoices in the truth.  This kind of love covers all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things in the name of the Lord.

That my friends is the new law of Christ.  Love God, love each other.  Finally the authentic Christian is to have faith that Jesus is the savior of mankind, to trust in a personal relationship with God, and to witness through our actions, not just our words.

Authentic Christians, according to Wesley, not only believe that the Holy Scripture and the Articles of our Faith are true, but also have a sure trust and confidence to be saved by Christ.  That we are reconciled through the blood of the lamb at Calvary. 

So the big question today is, are you a non believing good person who needs to accept Christ today, or are you a baby Christian who needs to grow in the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit, or are you an authentic Christian who reflects Christ throughout his/her life? Ask yourself:  Do I practice justice, mercy, and truth as God would have me do it?  Do I act like a Chrsitian but do not have true faith?  Do I look for ways to do good and help others?  Do I keep the word of God and do as Jesus instructed not to judge, but to love others and to represent Christ on earth to them, so that they might come to know the power and saving grace of God?  Do I do all these things with the sincere desire to please God in every aspect of my life?

Have you gone that far in your walk with Christ? Have you been good at being almost a Christian?  Has God seen true sincerity and faith in you?  Where do you devote your time and your money?  Do you reflect Christ to a hurting world where ever you go and whatever you do?

If you need to accept Christ as your savior, want to rededicate your life to Him, or simply want to speak to me about a personal relationship with him, I invite you to come down during the last hymn, or you can simply pray and worship where you are.  I pray that we may all experience what it means to be a true and authentic Christian, justified by his Free grace, forgiven our sins, and knowing eternal peace and joy rejoicing in the Glory of our God, so that he may fill our hearts with the Holy Spirit and lead us where he would have us go.  Amen.

Grace Revival

I was invited to preach at an old time Saturday all day revival.  It was on my heart to talk about grace, love, and acceptance of all people.  Here it is:

Hello all my brothers and sisters.  It’s wonderful to be here with ya’ll today to worship our Lord, to break bread together, and to love each other.  It’s amazing to think how awesome all this is, considering we are all base sinners.

 Does that shock you?  All these wonderful preachers and muscians that have come before you today.  They are sinners too.  I am.  We all are.  See we have all sinned and fallen short of the Lord.  I don’t care that we all try to be good, do good works, and go to church or come out here in fellowship.  We can never measure up to earn our way to heaven.  I always think of those signs  at rides at theme parks that say, “you must be this tall to ride this ride.”  I remember when I was a kid at Six Flags in Dallas being mad that I was just an inch shy and couldn’t ride the ride.  Anyone else ever have that experience?  Have you ever wanted to be included in a group, a club, or an organization, but never quite fit in, measured up, or was good enough, popular enough to be included?  Then I’m talking to you today.  If you are one of the popular, successful people who never experienced any of what I’m talking about, then I’m really talking to you today!

My friends, we live in a fallen world, we live in a sinful state.  None of us deserve eternal life with our Holy God.  The ancient Hebrews understanding of the word Holy is “set apart” .  God is Holy, He is set apart, he is perfect Goodness and perfect Love and perfect Justice.  No human being can measure up.  We are always divided and set apart from God’s Holiness as we cannot be purely good, show perfect love, or live according to the law.  We cannot live without sin.  We can try.  We can devote our lives to living as good as we can, but we always fall short of perfection.  Some of us may live better than others, and some of us don’t even try.  My prayer is for those of us that know we need to change and need help, and for those of us who think they don’t.  We all sin.

So what is sin? Dictionaries often define it as a transgression against a religious or moral law; deliberate disobedience to the will of God; or a condition of estrangement from God resulting in disobedience that is often shameful, deplorable, or utterly wrong.

My understanding is that sin is when mankind makes a choice to be disobedient to God’s will, to separate from Him, to live without Him, to break the relationship with God.  We do this by choosing to do things that hurt our relationship with God.  When we put other things before doing His will, we hurt that relationship.  For instance, we may choose sex, work, drinking, drugs, or anything that is purely ego-centric that does nothing to further the kingdom of God.  These things may be crimes, but they do not have to be.  Sins may be small sins like lying, lusting, addictions but it could also be murder and rape. Big or small, they are all sins.  They all violate the holiness of God and hurt our relationship with Him.

Adam and Eve willingly sinned against God.  They made a choice to taste the Tree of Knowledge, and in so doing broke the relationship man had with God.  If a wife or husband lies to their spouse, does this hurt the marriage relationship?  Of course it does.  The same is true here.  To make sin even worse, it is in direct opposite of God’s Love.  In effect God cannot look upon sin, as it is an anathema to His divine character. 

So man chooses to break the relationship with God, to deny God’s will for our lives, to live in a selfish, egotistical lifestyle that is man centered, not God centered.  So now God cannot look upon us, as man has basically divorced himself from God.  Sin has caused the death of man, the end our spiritual relationship with God, and the death of our bodies.  And don’t think that Christians are immune to sin!  Paul writes in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of God.”  Sin is universal.  Romans 5:12 states “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all have sinned.”  Those who live self-righteous, outwardly pious lives are not better than anyone else in God’s eyes, as “There is none righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10).  So we chose to live apart, to not follow God’s will, and selfishly seek our own earthly things such as power, money, sex, and influence.  This all leads to death, destruction, and nothing we make or do on this earth will last forever.  So what can we do about it?  What can Man do?  Nothing!  It is not in our power to fix this problem.  This is what we mean by man living in a fallen state. You can’t be good enough, do enough, love enough, sacrifice enough, tithe enough, to earn your way to heaven, or to heal the broken relationship with God.

But like a good parent, God allowed us to try.  He created the Law and allowed man to try to live righteous lives under it, to sacrifice, to tithe, to keep His commandments.  But it was impossible.  Man couldn’t do it, and the Old Testament proves mans failure at this time and time again.  The problem is that now that we have knowledge of Good and Evil, sin is beguiling, enticing, sexy, and deceitful.  It makes us believe that we don’t need a relationship with God.

So, the relationship is broken, we can’t fix it, all mankind is doomed for our own love of the earthly things.  Do are we eternally doomed to death?  Is the God of Love done with us?  Is there no hope?

My friends I bring you Good News!  The Greatest News ever shared.  All your sins are forgiven.  All your brokenness may be healed.  God became human, lived amongst us, experienced our emotions and feelings, taught us wisdom, and then died brutally on a cross meant for you and me as punishment for our sins.  He was an innocent lamb, sinless, but sacrificed so that you and I may be reestablished in a personal relationship with God.  We are redeemed in the blood of the lamb.  Forgiven, the sins which once stained us, are clean, our chains are broken, we are set free.

  See, the greatest love ever shown was given to humanity by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Because through it all, everything truly goes back to God seeking us.   It’s not what man has done to reach God.  It’s what God has done to reach us.

  God wanted a relationship with us. He wanted us and loved us so much, that he sent a part of Himself to become human to repair our relationship with him. Think about this. It’s all about God seeking Man. It is not about what man can do to achieve or be worthy of God. In Christianity there is nothing we human beings can do to be worthy of Heaven, of a relationship with the Creator of everything. He sought us and is still seeking us. That’s amazing and one of a kind in the religions of the world. That’s Grace. God seeking us. God seeking you.

 Hear me once more, as I want to make this perfectly clear: Jesus, though fully human, was sinless. He was obedient to God’s will and as such became the sacrifice necessary to pay the costs of our sins (death), so that we might have eternal, glorious life with God. He died on a cross for the redemption of our sins. He paid the cost of our sins. My sins. Your sins.

He suffered and died on that cross for me, for you, for all humanity for all times and places. But you want to hear something that will blow your mind? He would have done it just for you. If you were the only one willing to follow him, accept him, he would have suffered all that, for you.

As he was dying, he asked God to “forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

And he died. 

Three days later he was resurrected and defeated sin and death, thereby establishing a permanent relationship between people who accept Him into their heart and the God of everything.  Remember that God couldn’t look upon sin?  Once you accept Christ as your savior, accept Him to live within you, you become a changed person.  Christians say you have been reborn.  Now when God looks upon you, he sees Christ.  Your sins have been forgiven, you have been redeemed, the eternal relationship between God and man has been restored.

With Christ you do measure up.  You can be part of the Body of Christ.  God is calling each of us.  No sin is too great for God to heal, to restore us into that relationship our hearts yearn for. 

God Seeking Us. God Seeking you. That’s grace. Do you have grace? Do you know him? Do you want to? Simply ask Him into your life.  Tell Him you want a relationship with Him.  Perhaps you have never truly known the love of Christ.  Perhaps you have gone through the motions of Christianity, but have never truly understood or accepted his gift of grace.  That tug you feel upon your heart is God talking to you.  Remember none of us are good enough.  No not one.  But through Jesus all are made perfect, all are redeemed.    Everyone one of us is offered the gift of grace.  It is not a society of saints that Jesus seeks. Matthew 11:19  speaks of Christ being The Son of Man, feasting and drinking, and you say, 'He's a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!' But wisdom is shown to be right by its results."  Mathew 9:13 says, “Go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Jesus came to seek and save what was lost, Let me finish with this from 1st timothy: “This is a faithful statement and worthy of our full acceptance, To this world the Messiah came, sinful people to reclaim.”

No one is worthy of God’s love, but he loves us anyway.  All of us. You don’t have to look right, dress right, vote right, have the right job, live the best life.  You can be the absolute worst amongst us, and God will forgive you.  He will show you grace.  He will accept you and love you.

You will be amazed at the transformation, the peace, and the hope and the joy that He offers you.

Please consider this Good News and wherever you go, share the love of Christ with everyone you meet.