Hebrews 12:1-4 (From the New Living Translation)
ďTherefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward. Now he is seated in the place of highest honor beside Godís throne in heaven. Think about all he endured when sinful people did such terrible things to him, so that you donít become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.Ē
Peter Pan Christian
By, Toni Smothers (approximate. word count 2,400)
On the third day after Jesus died, He rose from the dead. His disciples and many other eyewitnesses verified this. Because of this reality, disciples where changed from frightened deserters to dynamic leaders in the new church. This single fact, the resurrection of Christ, was and is today, the foundation of the Christian faith.
All of us who have accepted Jesus as our Savior are in the process of being changed, recreated, just like the disciples were. After the change, we experience personally a bountiful influx of Godís perfect forgiveness and love and from then on we possess an abiding confidence that our bodies will one day be raised to live with God forever. And besides that, the same power that raised Christ to life can give, even people like us, the ability and fortitude to follow Christ each day.
Sometimes we think of the rebirth experience as a once in a lifetime experience - Itís true that in some instances the Holy Spirit hits a person right between the eyes with a dramatic, sudden, revelation that Christ is truly who He said He was... WOW! Others of us, however, have come to faith more gently, gradually through years of family example, prayer and study and our revelation is not so instantaneous, but rather progressive Ė like a light coming on here and there, as the darkness retreats. Light shines through the darkness and once it does, the darkness can never extinguish it as we gradually understand.
There are probably as many ways to experiencing Christ as there are people, but there is only one way to find the Father, God. Jesus said, ďI am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.Ē We must all understand that there is no side door into heaven. Jesus is the door and if anyone enters by Him, only then will he be saved. Our rebirth experience may have been outrageously intense, or it may not have been anything specifically dramatic. That really isnít too important. The thing that makes our experience of Christ invaluable is the end result, which must always be, our realization of our need for forgiveness and our unconditional acceptance of our salvation through Jesus death and resurrection.
Okay, most Christians agree on the basics. But then what? Is our adoption, redemption and eternal inheritance the totality of the alteration God has planned for us? What about the rest of our lives spent living here, now, within the midst of a lost and ailing world? Are we to only develop friendships from church membership and avoid non-believers altogether? Do we place an invisible barrier around ourselves and stay separate from those people and activities outside of our church? Sure, we could do that. Some of our friends from church become especially close to us and we prefer to spend time together. It is so easy to become an exclusive group of people. After all, the fellowship of believers is vital for strengthening and nurturing one another. We are connected, which is truly good. As the body of Christ we are individuals sharing our faith, helping and providing for each other. We are brothers and sisters in the family of God. Doesnít that make you all warm and fuzzy?
Sure it does... But, many others, some friends, some strangers and neighbors all around us, not to mention many of our very own family members, are all out there, having no such connectedness and they have no assurance of their loving Father who awaits them. Many of them are truly good people - Just folks trying to raise a family, get by, survive for the most part. But they do all this alone. They rely only upon themselves and they fear failure at every turn. Can we possibly go about our daily lives with no regard for this devastating fact? Can we truly be Godís people; accepting all the many blessings we have received, while at the same time hoarding all God's love and grace for ourselves? We have knowledge of the most important information available today. How can we be unwilling to share it?
Now whether you realize it or not, Jesus message, his incredibly good news about forgiveness and salvation truly is the most important information there ever was or ever will be. Yet we remain nonchalant and in some cases even embarrassed about it. Instead of rationalizing my message today as extreme, or maybe just ďpie in the skyĒ, I challenge you to take time off from any defensive tendencies - Just for a little while.
Okay, with all our various facades dropped, mine included, and our guard down, letís honestly ask ourselves, ďDo we, or do we not, possess a faith that tries to follow Christís teachings?Ē Because if we really do, how could we bear to face the fact that we are constantly missing and even deliberately avoiding, chances to bring our friends and loved ones to the throne of our welcoming Savior?
If we read the Bible, spend time in prayer daily and really get what this whole salvation business is about, how can we live with the deliberate disobedience our silence and inaction represents? It seems unfathomable, doesnít it? We all love the Lord. We all want to do what is right. We all have read and heard, repeatedly, what is right, what it means to follow instructions that are plainly stated in the Bible.
So if after accepting the most precious gift we could possibly conceive of, our salvation and our new relationship with Jesus, how can we still remain quiet and uninvolved in terms of outreach? How can we compartmentalize our faith and restrict it to the designated portion we allow it to exist in our day-to-day thoughts and actions? How ever can we make any sense of our behavior?
Jesus told us to go out and make disciples. How many disciples have you made lately? How many disciples have I made lately? How many times has He forgiven us for opportunities missed?
So, does ignoring all that, which we mostly do, mean that we are evil, or ignorant, or stupid, or what? I mean what does our lack of motivation to serve mean in terms of our relationship with Christ? The only answer I can come up with that makes any sense to me is that we seem to have this undefined comfort zone that we stay in. And because itís comfortable and familiar, we donít want to stray past the invisible, yet very definite, boundaries of that zone. Itís a kind of self-created environment that suits us well and serves our purposes. God is good to us there and we need do absolutely nothing in return. We are simply cared for with no strings attached. Pretty neat, right? This no-obligation zone reminds me of the childhood story about a character named Peter Pan.
If you recall, Peter wanted to live forever as a kid and never grow up. Peter lived in Neverland, a fantasy world, where the theme of never growing up was totally embraced. Anything associated with restraint or authority was completely disowned in Neverland. The children of this strange fantasy world supposedly remained in a sort of suspended state of happiness, free of aging and any demands. The story is also about the idea of play vs. work. Work was considered very objectionable. So besides no rules, we have no work. The premise was, Peter would just have fun and live forever as a happy youngster.
Well, although Neverland did allow Peter and the other boys there to remain children, it still wasnít really a perfect world. There was danger there in the form of the pirates and the crocodile. And what about Captain Hook? In other words, it wasnít as good as one first imagines. Sure, no children had to grow up, but they did have to deal with things like, walking the plank, being captured, tied up... all that... plus who could forget Tinker Bell? She almost died, if youíll recall.
You know, I really can remember being one of those earnest little kids clapping loudly with tears running down my face and an intense anticipation in the pit of my tummy as I rooted for Tinker Bellís revival with everything I had. You see, I did believe in fairies and I especially believed in little Tinker Bell.
But I was a child then - Just as I was when I first believed in Jesus and the salvation He bought for me, paying with the price of nothing less than his own brutal death. My child status as a new believer wasnít about my chronological age either. In terms of years, I was much older, well past my little girl status. No, it was about my newness to my faith and my small knowledge of His Word that accurately described me as a child.
If you clapped real hard for Tink back then too, Iíll bet you never once felt foolish about it. But now, most of us canít muster up anywhere near that kind of genuine enthusiasm for something as important as the revival of our faith...Is it because weíd feel foolish? Why arenít we just bubbling over to tell others of our delight in the Lord?
I think Jesus continues to want our applause, even when it means some personal discomfort. He wants us to express our joy outwardly, over what we know to be true inwardly - To give life to our faith, by demonstrating openly, our willingness to share what He wants everyone to embrace - His gift of unconditional love and salvation. That is called witnessing and that is very much a part of His rules for our changed lives.
There is so much more Iíd like to say about this, but people often donít want to listen. Many of you have been Christians a long time now and so you may feel inclined to dismiss my remarks as pertaining to someone else. No one wants to look at himself as a Peter Pan Christian who is unwilling to grow up in the Lordís teachings. That image isnít exactly flattering.
But we may find true value in forcing ourselves to be honest. One way to evaluate spiritual maturity is by looking at the choices we make. The writer of Hebrews notes many of the ways those choices change with personal growth. Do we strive to teach others, rather than just being taught? Are we developing depth of understanding, or do we still struggle with the basics? Do we avoid self-criticism but still spend time clearly evaluating our behavior and motivations? Do we seek unity or promote disunity with unbendable opinions and ideas? Do we have an active faith or are we trapped by cautious apathy and doubt? Are we confident or fearful? Do we take the time for careful study and observation or do we blurt out ignorant rhetoric and make halfhearted efforts to be knowledgeable? Do we judge our experiences in the light of Godís Word or according to our own feelings?
And finally, the really big question, ďHow seriously do we believe in Jesus and his instructions, which are clearly spelled out in the Word of God? In the fourth chapter of Hebrews, it says, ďFor the word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires. It exposes us for what we really are. Nothing in all creation can hide from Him. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes. This is the God to whom we must explain all that we have doneĒ.
The Word of God is not simply a collection of words from God, a vehicle for communicating lofty ideas Ė It is living, life changing, as it works in us. The demands of Godís words require decisions. We must not only listen to these words, we must let them shape our life.
When we have truly matured in our faith, our priorities will be in total alignment with Godís and we will feel no conflict within ourselves about going out and making disciples. We will gladly seek out and draw near to our Lord, all those we are able to touch with our testimony. Can we commit ourselves in that way? I really donít know the answer for each of you, but I know my answer is yes. Yes, with Godís help, I can begin today to become the person He wants me to be. Can you? Will you?
Can you see your church just bursting at the seams as it welcomes all those new disciples that are out there right now, waiting for us... each of us... to boldly reach out with confidence as God enables us to express what and why we so firmly believe? You now, I really can see that. Join me and together we can be about our Fatherís business.
And now I implore each of you to pray daily for Godís empowerment and then move with confidence against those boundaries that entrap you. Go in peace and love to serve our Lord.
(Below is a matching, quick kids mini-sermon if your church uses them.)
By, Toni Smothers (approximate word count Ė 200)
What do you think about living forever as a kid and never growing up? Would you be interested in doing that? What are the good parts of that? What would you miss if you never grew up?
God was wise when He planned all the different stages of our lives. He wanted us to be able to experience all of the different blessings that will come to us as we grow and learn. So if you ever feel some time that you donít want to change and learn something new thatís maybe a little harder than youíd like it to be, just remember that God is always with you and He will help you to grow up.
Letís pray together - Lord, thank you for these precious children. Bless each of them with the firm and abiding knowledge that as their loving Father, you will always be available to them as they grow. We also ask you to multiply their number so that all children in our community, who need to learn of your love, will come and find spiritual fulfillment in this place of Christian love. We pray in the saving name of Jesus, Amen.