Monday, November 27, 2017

Is Your Faith For Real or For Looks?

Introduction
            I'm so thankful to Frank and Kaye Fetzer, Jean Coker, and Amy Harris and the youth of Pleasant Grove UMC who came out last week to decorate our sanctuary to get it ready for Christmas.  After they got all the decorations out and on the tree, the youth made their own Christmas decorations for the youth room.  They had some clear Christmas ball ornaments that they were painting or filling with colored sand or glitter.  They made some very creative and colorful ornaments.  However, it struck me how the ornaments are so fragile and really aren't useful for anything other than decorations.  As you read this blog, I would like you to think about your faith in Jesus and ask the question:  is my faith for real or for looks? 

John 16:1-4
1 “I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith. For you will be expelled from the synagogues, and the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God. This is because they have never known the Father or me. Yes, I’m telling you these things now, so that when they happen, you will remember my warning. I didn’t tell you earlier because I was going to be with you for a while longer.


The Persecution of the Early Church
            Jesus didn't want his disciples (or us) to be caught of guard when trouble and persecution came; so he warned them.  A day was coming when his followers would be expelled from the synagogues.  This also meant they would be excluded from their social connections.  Buying and selling and getting along in the world would be very difficult.  In addition, Christ's early followers could find their property being seized without cause and they would have no recourse to fight it.  Jesus never said being his disciple would make life in this world easy.  To the countrary, the early Christians faced arrest, torture, and even death simply because they claimed Jesus was the Messiah who died and rose again.  As early as the seventh chapter of Acts, we see the first Christian martyred for his faith.  Stephen was stoned to death for simply bearing testimony about Jesus death and resurrection.  Immediately after, all the Christians in (except the Apostles) were driven out of Jerusalem.  Can you imagine having your property seized and people telling you to leave town or die?


Real Faith Sustains
            Jesus said, “I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith.”  Christ wants his followers to have real faith, not merely faith that looks good.  So I want to share some characteristics of real faith.  First off, real faith sustains you when troubles come.  Stephen’s real faith gave him peace and courage.  Even as he was stoned to death, he showed real faith and courage.  He looked into heaven and saw Jesus and asked God to forgive the ones who were murdering him.  Stephen's faith can encourage us even today when we face troubles.            The early Christians who were driven out of Jerusalem were not silenced; they spread Christianity everywhere they went.  Instead of whining and complaining about how they were mistreated, they were faithful to Jesus' Great Commission; they made new disciples of Christ wherever they were driven.  So the very trials they faced spurred them to grow God's Kingdom because they had a real faith that sustained them.
            Not all trouble comes from people.  American Christians do not usually face the same persecution as the early New Testament Church.  however, we face sickness and hardships and grief and other troubles.  Do you have the kind of faith that will sustain you when the troubles of life come or is it as fragile as a Christmas ornament hanging on a tree?


Real Faith Isn’t Always Pretty
            Christmas decorations bring back some sweet memories.  I remember how my family decorated the Christmas tree when I was a child.  My poor parents had four children so their were lots of raggedy homemade Christmas ornaments on our tree.  The first year they might look decent, but as years went my our paper snowmen and macaroni creations became more and more ragged.  Yet, to throw them away would be sacrilegious!
            There are a lot of sweet sentiments we associate with Christmas time.  The secular world has embraced Christmas for some of its prettier values.  They especially like the idea of Christmas miracles, notions of peace for all mankind, and love.  However, the world's understandings of these concepts is often quite shallow.  Real faith is so much more than a sweet sentiment. 
            Consider what Christmas really commemorates.  Christmas celebrates God coming into our world to save us from our sin.  "Of course, preacher!  Everyone knows that!"  But dig a little deeper into the ramifications of that statement.  God (the Almighty who made the universe and everything that is) came into our world.  That alone is amazing.  But why did He come?  To save us.  That's great too!  But if the God of the universe had to come to save us, that means we needed saving from something very terrible.  Yes, terrible indeed.  It is sin that threatens to destroy us and our world and it lives inside our very soul. 
            So you see, this is incredibly serious stuff--so much deeper than the secular world wants to talk about.  the Good News Jesus brought includes convicting us of our sin and calling us to repent.  The world today loves the idea of the sweet baby Jesus in a manager, but most don't want to think of Jesus (or his followers) preaching about conviction of sin and repentance.  The world's ideal is to just let people be who they are and do what feels good; you know, follow your heart.  But real faith recognizes Jesus is Lord.  His way is the right way.  We need to repent of the sin of following our own heart; instead, we need to give our heart to Christ and follow Him.
            The secular world also likes the idea of peace that Christmas brings to might.  But the peace Jesus offers in not the kind of peace the world thinks of.  So often to the world, peace means just keeping everything the way it is and not upsetting anything or anyone; worldly peace avoids conflict at all costs.  That is not the same peace Jesus offers.  Jesus came to turn the whole world order on it's head.  He came to bring down the high and mighty and proud and powerful; and he came to lift up the humble, the poor, the forgotten, and the oppressed.  You see, there are many things that are not right in this world.  Jesus came to rock the boat, to tip the boat completely over, and to make everything that is wrong right.  Jesus' kind of peace is not too appealing to our broken world that wants to stay the same.  That's why they crucified him. 


Real Faith is Rooted in Christ
            Something many people asked themselves this time of year: are we going to have a real Christmas tree or a fake one. The fake trees are easier and last longer. You have to water a real tree and it might shed needles all over your floor, but a real tree looks so nice and smells so good.
            Of course, it's not really accurate to call any tree you cut down out of the forest and drag inside your a home a "real tree.  A “real” real tree is rooted in the earth and draws nourishment through its roots to stay alive.  Real faith is rooted firmly in a real relationship with Jesus Christ from which it draws nourishment to sustain it. John 15:5 – “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”
            Is your faith firmly rooted in Christ?  Do you worship him regularly in church? Do you talk to him everyday through prayer?  Do you listen to him by reading scripture? Do you walk with him through service? Do you commune with him often though the Lord's Supper? These are the ways to have a living relationship with Christ that will nourish real faith.


Real Faith Challenges You
            Sentimental Christmas images on our Christmas cards imagine us sitting by a cozy fire, beautifully decorated for Christmas with stockings hanging on the mantle.  We sit and sing carols and a doze on our comfortable couch.
            However, real faith starts as soon as we step outside our comfort zone.  It’s hard to grow your faith from inside your own safe bubble.  Jesus said, “Go make disciple of all nations..."  Go is more an attitude for believers than a geographical location. Some will go to Vietnam, the Philippines, Africa, or El Salvador. Others will simply go next door to their neighbor or coworker or relative.  Bit we all must go, even if it is uncomfortable or awkward or scary. Going is not optional, it's a command.  How does your faith challenge you to get outside your comfort zone?

So, Is Your Faith For Looks or For Real?
            My sanctuary is all decorated.  Your homes are or will be decorated soon.  Decorations are for looks.  They are fragile and that’s ok; they don’t have to be very durable.  They’re just for looks. 
            But what about your faith?  Is your faith in Jesus just for looks or is it for real?  Will it sustain you when the troubles of life come?  Will it hold fast when people oppose you or persecute you?  Is your faith in Christ alone—even if the whole world abandons his teachings?  Is your faith rooted deeply in a real, daily, intimate relationship with the living Savior, or are you only following a dead man you’ve heard about from a book or in church.  Does your faith challenge you to step outside your comfort zone to GO where Jesus sends you and do what he asks of you—even if it’s hard?  Does your faith give you strength to obey? 
            These are the thing I challenge you to contemplate as you prepare for Christmas over the next few weeks.