Saturday, May 19, 2007

Become What You Believe

These are the notes for a sermon I am sharing at church tomorrow. They are in "bullet point" form, but it's basically a narrative text...I pray it speaks to you!

Become What You Believe
27-28As Jesus left the house, he was followed by two blind men crying out, "Mercy, Son of David! Mercy on us!" When Jesus got home, the blind men went in with him. Jesus said to them, "Do you really believe I can do this?" They said, "Why, yes, Master!"
29-31He touched their eyes and said, "Become what you believe." It happened. They saw. Then Jesus became very stern. "Don't let a soul know how this happened." But they were hardly out the door before they started blabbing it to everyone they met.

· I think all of the miracles Jesus performed have various purposes. Sure, one purpose is to heal, or feed, or just do something amazing, proving to those around that Jesus truly was the Son of God. Often another purpose is to cleanse someone’s soul, forgive them, etc. But I think there is more to these accounts. This one has stuck out to me for some time now, especially since I first read this translation of it a couple years ago. I think that sometimes we miss what these have to say about our life as believers…
· In this account, we have two blind guys begging Jesus for mercy. Notice they aren’t saying, “Hey Jesus, make us see again”. Now, I realize that “have mercy” may have implied that they wanted to see… Jesus asks if they believe he can have mercy (and heal) them, and they say, “yes”. As he touches their eyes, he says the phrase that both speaks to me, as well as haunts me a bit: “Become what you believe”.
· Are we doing this? Becoming what we believe? Do we truly believe that each of us are in need of mercy? I’m not sure all the time… Some of us are, as although we realize we are human and fail often, our focus is increasingly on Jesus and allowing God to mold us accordingly. For others, we may have “started strong” in the faith but need some wake-up calls, need to re-visit our faith story and be reminded of what beliefs drive us. For others, though, and more often than most of us would like to admit, we hear that phrase, “Become what you believe”, and say, “Oh, ok…wait, what do I believe, exactly?” Too often, I fear this is where most folks calling themselves “Christians” park. Sometimes this may happen to folks who honestly have had a real experience with Jesus at some point and even have placed faith in him, but for whatever reason, have never taken the time to really grow in the knowledge of God, of faith, theology, whatever. The danger there is it allows for some not-good things to easily creep in as there is no “filter” in place. For example: I was just at my parents’ home last weekend in the Houston area. Both my parents are believers, and my mom is a big reader, as evidenced by the library she has set up (my favorite room to hang out in, by the way). Since it is known by her friends that she spends much time reading, sometimes she gets books as gifts. Well, while sitting in the library last weekend perusing the books, one caught my eye that immediately sent the red flags up. Many of you may have heard of it, but since I don’t think the point of today’s message is to stir the philosophy of this book up, I’ll just leave the title out of it. I asked my mom, “Um…why is THAT book in your library? Are you just trying to keep informed of the various worldviews out there in case you need to defend your faith against them (which is a good idea, by the way)?” She informed me that it was given to her by a fellow church member, who gushed and gushed over its’ “power”. Thankfully, my mom and I agreed that the book’s goals are misguided at best, anti-Christian at worst…
· The point? My guess is that this lady (whom I think I know) likely has neglected “becoming” what she believes by not spending time actively cultivating her faith, and as a result, has fallen prey to other philosophies that aren’t God.
· Become what you believe…
· Some folks don’t even get as far as the lady above…in short, they don’t really ponder anything “faith based”, or even “philosophy-based” for themselves. They just plug along, doing their own thing. Even folks who sit in churches each week. I’m surprised often, in fact, how many folks (of all ages) when asked questions like, “Why are you a Christian?”, “Why do you believe in Jesus?”, etc., either answer in ways that are confusing at best, or, “I don’t know” at worst. This is something that should be a concern for us, both folks who do have a strong sense of faith and those of us who can’t answer “why” at all.
· I think an example of how most of us are can be found in my brief and turbulent college intramural basketball career. I am an AWFUL basketball player. Can I shoot baskets, play horse, and other fun “basketball-based” games? Sure, but the actual game, not really. Somewhere around my junior year, a bunch of friends in the fraternity (a Christian one, so I think there motives were true) invited me to be on their team. I thanked them, but proceeded to tell them how utterly clueless I was at basketball and let them know I really didn’t feel like getting embarrassed (or embarrassing them) night after night, probably costing them victories. “Nah, we’re just out to have some fun. It will be cool. Don’t worry about it; we just like you around.” To which I replied something like, “No, you don’t understand. I STINK. You will probably wish I wasn’t on the team.” “Ben, were just out there having fun. No biggie.” So, reluctantly, I joined the team…since I think they genuinely wanted me to “join them in the game”.
· The first game, right from the start, I knew I was in trouble. The captain huddled us up, and began spouting off some sort of code (it seemed) that everyone but me got the memo on. “Alright, we’re gonna run a 2-3 defensive zone. Davis, you take top left.” Now to some of you, that’s perfectly clear English, and I may even be butchering the translation even now (I’m not much better in basketballese, even 11 or so years later). Well to me, I was too embarrassed to raise my hand and ask something like, “uh, guys, what is a 2-3 zone?” So, the game started. The other team won the tip, so we are on defense. I have no idea what to do, so I just pick a guy and try my best to “defend” him, no matter where he was on the court. Since everyone else was doing a zone defense, I was quickly running into my own teammates, and the guy scored easily. No one said anything…yet…
· Now we were on offense. You also need to know that all I know about offense in basketball is that you have to dribble, you can’t travel, it’s a good idea to pass the ball around, and the goal is to get the ball in the hoop. But running plays? “Pick-and-roll”? When to pass and when to shoot? Uh-uh. So whenever I got the ball, I basically did my best “mental coin flip” and either just shot the ball (usually a miss or a block clear across the court) or passed (which often resulted in a steal because I “telescoped” the pass: it was too obvious where I was passing so defenders could easily intercept). So, not much better results on offense, either.
· About 2 or 3 possessions into that first game, captain calls time out. You could tell the team was rapidly questioning the wisdom of inviting me to join them. I was reminded of our defensive scheme, and I replied, “I told you: I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING! You need to explain it to me.” So, they informed my that I had an area I was in charge of on defense, and if the ball handler left my area, another of my teammates would pick him up, etc. I knew it couldn’t be that simple (this was later confirmed, but even this amount of explanation helped some). So, while I was still quite confused, I at least had some clue. None of this helped the fact that I simply was not a skilled basketball player fundamentally, but I wasn’t completely worthless. I did have endurance, some speed, and I hustled a lot, so that made up for some of the deficiencies. In short, I tried real hard. I’m still sure my teammates cringed though, when they were short players and knew the only option for a 5th player on the court was me…but I warned them!
· The purpose of this story? Because a lot of us play similar roles in the life of faith.
· Some of us want SO BADLY for those around us to “get it” like we do. Whether we wish folks prayed more, or studied scripture more, or share their faith, or catch on to some “vision”…many of us are like my friends that wanted so badly for their buddy to join them…and did not realize that I had no clue. The danger here is lack of patience and frustration. The apostle Paul challenges us here: Ephesians 4:2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
1 Thessalonians 5:14And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
· This is hard for those already running this “faith race” diligently in some way, as we often do a good job of “holding it against” folks who don’t seem to get “it”. I often catch myself in this place with the youth, or parents, or friends, where I want them to seek the Lord so much, and often you just see tired eyes staring back…and I can be the one on the other side, too, frustrating those when I don’t seem to get it…but we need to seek and pray for patience, and like the 1 Thes. passage says, “warn, encourage, help…” This is where those of us who get easily frustrated with others’ spiritual “stuck-ness”, apathy, or confusion need to come alongside, to train (not just “teach”…I think there is a difference). This is an area where God is speaking loudly to me right now, even when it comes to youth ministry…how much has been just “teaching”? Where can we start living faith better?
· For those who related to my “comic relief basketball career” as my character, the one who jumps in, has no clue, is afraid to ask, speak up, etc., hopefully some questions are stirring in your heart. Be willing to ponder those questions… “What do I believe?” “Where do I start?” I know that many already do have faith, but something has us “stuck”, and the reasons and excuses may have some validity here and there. But we have to seek God. Scripture is teeming with this challenge, to simply “seek”. And no formulas are given, which is hard in our society as we want the “to do list”. If this character in the story is you, my encouragement is to ask the hard question. We say creeds every week that are supposed to be reminders and claims to what we believe. Do we really believe Jesus biological father was not earthly? We say it every week. Do we really believe that his death on the cross is the ultimate sacrifice for our sin, which each of us have, no matter how “good” you feel compared to others “worse” than you (we are WAY TOO GOOD at making that comparison, by the way…since it is an attempt to validate, give excuse for, our reluctance to fall truly at Jesus’ feet and make him King of our lives…)? Do we really believe Easter happened the way scripture tells us? We say it every week. This is a good place to start. Find a creed (Apostles, Nicene, etc.), and really go search the claims…
· I think often we get stuck here because we hope God speaks to us through “osmosis”: we just expect God to smack us over the head all the time, with no effort, seeking, or desire on our part. Can He do that? Absolutely! But does He usually seem to want us to respond to the love He gives, the sacrifice He made for us, and have a desire to be with Him? I think so. It has to be more than just coming here each week, singing songs, hoping to here something “good”, etc. It has to be looking for God’s fingerprints everywhere. And maybe you do want to respond to the desire to follow Him in your heart, but have no idea how to get things rolling, or don’t see where you can join in. If that is you, let those you consider “leaders” (staff or otherwise) know, not in a complaining way, but in a, “We really need to be trained…and I want to be a part of it”-way. Maybe it’s basic theology. Maybe denominational distinctives. Spiritual discipline methods (like ways to study scripture, pray, listen, journal, etc.). Sharing our faith. Serving folks out of simple love for them, beyond just “duty”. Figuring out ways to live together in our various giftings. Heck, figuring out what our gifts are!
· Finally, I know there are lots of folks out there when asked, “Are you a Christian?”, either flat out say “no”, or say “yes”, but then can’t give a good answer why. They might talk about attending church their whole life, or they figure this is just the “right” place to be, etc. but there is no sense of a “story” as to why and how they came to faith. Some can even spout off scriptures, etc., to share gospel truths, which are true, but still cannot tell their own story of how they realized their own sinfulness (and how it takes them away from God, even the “small, innocent stuff”; see the scripture Romans 3:23 that Glenn referenced a couple weeks back), how the Holy Spirit (aka God’s voice) spoke to them, exposed their true selves, and they realized that Jesus is who he says he is (full God-full man), and through his death and resurrection, raises us up into His Kingdom, which while it is a “later” thing (like Heaven or Hell), it is also a NOW thing. Too many of us have no sense of that story within ourselves. If that is you, I challenge you to spend time with God on this, with scriptures, with friends that seem to have a sense of that truth in their own stories.
· Become what you believe. If we believe Jesus and scripture, we too need to cry out for mercy. And we need to believe that Jesus offers it to us. And if we believe it, we need to BECOME it…so let’s do this. Graduates, you are entering adulthood. Your faith is now your own, not mom and dad’s. Become what you believe. Confirmands, you are entering the crazy world to the teen. You will have questions, struggles, desires, etc., that you have never had before. You need to NOW, ask God to help you become what you believe. For all of us, this is Jesus’ challenge. True discipleship. Discovering what we believe, and becoming it, joining Him in his huge plan, and changing the world…