26 June 2011
I'd like to get going this morning with a little input from you -- input in the form of some agree/disagree statements. If you agree with the statement I want you to give me a thumbs up. If you disagree – a thumbs down. Now I know that this is going to be a little tough for a few of you so I think we better start out easy.... Okay. This one will be really easy.
The carpet in this room is orange and shag.
Agree thumbs up. Disagree thumbs down.
That was too easy. Try this – just to get you riled up:
Our country would be better if voting was a mandatory obligation of citizenship. (Australia does that) Agree/Disagree
Not all will have the same answer, that's okay.
Good. Now, let's get down to the nitty-gritty -- and the issues at hand.
1. Most people live dull and uninteresting lives because they are totally and utterly clueless about what's really important in the world.
2. The reason that so many people get caught up in the problems of celebrities is so that they can escape their own overwhelming problems.
3. The #1 problem in every person's life is an unwillingness to acknowledge sin and personal failure.
4. The world is an overwhelmingly dark place for most people who live here because they fail to acknowledge God.
Final statement --
5. Most people, including Christians, lack genuine fellowship with God and see such as an unattainable ideal for themselves (perhaps for others but not themselves).
Obviously, there is some nuancing that you like to do when you commit. They are complex issues. And they are some of the issues that work their way to the surface as we continue our trek through 1 John -- although probably not compulsory voting. (The Bible does not say a lot about how to run a democracy.)
As you recall from last Sunday I said that 1st John is about bonding or fellowship with God and each other – the glue. And I explained the premise that the apostle lays out – that The basis of our fellowship and joy is the reality of Jesus in the flesh – a true man who completely identifies with us in our humanity...
And secondly the reality of Jesus the eternal life – eternal God going out of his way and by grace breaking into the world to identify with us in our humanity. Jesus--the God-Man. Fully God and Fully Man. He is the complete and full basis of our bond and fellowship with God – and each other.
Now, this begs the question-- which is so apparent that John never comes right out and asks it in an obvious way – IF THIS BOND WITH GOD IS SO WONDERFUL AND SO POWERFULLY, HOW IS IT THAT SO MANY PEOPLE ARE SO DISCONNECTED FROM HIM?
In other words, why isn’t it working better?
Is it because they haven't had the right enlightening experience in the sweat lodge -- you know...gone through the right ritual and uttered the right mantras?
And apparently there were some people running around in the first century who were teaching that fellowship with God only came through an enlightening esoteric religious experience -- an experience through which you learned how divorce your spirit from your flesh. It sounds kind'a new agy doesn't it... Well, new age isn't all that new!
And John deliberately picks up on some of the lingo that these false teachers were using and he infuses it with his own new meaning and turns it against them. Well, the issue is just as real and just as relevant today-- even if you're not into new age stuff -- which most people aren't.
- How is it that people are so disconnected from God if the fellowship of his Son is so strong?
- Why is it that there is so much darkness in the world?
- Why is it that people struggle so much to get a handle on life? Sometimes taking their struggles to the extreme. People intentionally step in front of trains or jump off overpasses onto the freeway.
Well John, is addressing this point in our text this morning -- 1 John 1:5-2:2. And for the sake of clarity I've broken his argument down into two main points and three very practical how-to responses. It is amazing that John in the midst of all of this very heady stuff that he's got in here should also be so very practical and applicable to our own lives.
Well, the first thing that I want to draw your attention to is John's observation in verse 5...(#1 on message guide). GOD IS LIGHT.
Verse 5 – “This is the message that we have heard from him and announce to you: ‘God is light and there is no darkness in him at all.’”
Hey, folks, if you're looking for the light that will light your life – look no further, says John.
- The religious vendors in the market may tell you that you have to delve deep into your inner self to find the light.
- The self help gurus in the book stalls may give you a formula for lighting your life.
- The academic experts at the university may tell you that there is no real light and that it's a futile search.
The metaphor of light, of course, is used in numerous ways throughout scripture. In the Psalms 119 God's word or the revelation of his self is described as light. God’s commandments are the light that illumines the path in front of us -- and leads us through life. For example:
- Psalm 119:105 – “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.”
- Psalm 119:130 – “As your words are taught, they give light; even the simple can understand them.”
In the gospels Jesus describes himself as the personal manifestation of light...the light of the world.
- John 8:12 – “Jesus said to the people, ‘I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won't be stumbling through the darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.’”
- John 12:46 – “I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the darkness.”
He is the source of all that is true and clear and right. Unlike the Force in Star Wars – which has a light and dark side – There is not an ounce of darkness in God! Think about this for a minute. This is a big thought...a big idea. Let it begin to sink into your minds...God is light. God is light.
You know how wonderful light is. You know how reassuring light is.
You’ve seen those poor kids in the battery commercial. They’re out camping and the adults with them have just told them a ghost story – and so for the whole night they huddle together around the one flashlight which has batteries that will last that long.
Light helps us feel secure.
I’ve spent some nights out on very remote islands that had no electricity -- no lights. And on a night when even the moon is hidden -- IT IS REALLY DARK -- and you don’t know what or who is lurking in jungle 25 feet away. Sometimes life feels that way.
And the premise in John's argument is that God is the light that defuses the troubling darkness. This is where you have to start if you're going to have fellowship with him. Because he is light he can’t be tainted by darkness.
If God is light and there is no darkness in him this means that GENUINE FELLOWSHIP WITH HIM AND HIS PEOPLE REQUIRES THAT WE SNUFF OUT ALL TRACES OF DARKNESS.
(#2 on message guide).
Look at verses 6 and 7 –
“If we claim, ‘We have fellowship with him,’ and live in the darkness, we are lying and do not act truthfully. But if we live in the light in the same way as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin.”If light is truth and righteousness -- then darkness is sin -- that which would hide from light and resist it. And John says, if you're going to relate to God you have to relate to him as light. Don't try to bring darkness into his presence – and pass yourself off as a child of light. If you do that you're a liar – and the truth is not in you.
Well wait a minute, I might be a nice guy and all -- how many of you think I'm basically a nice guy? (Good I need the ego strokes.) Well, how many of you think I'm perfect? (Go ahead...raise your hands a little higher so I can see them--hmmm...)
You're no dummies. I'm not perfect. There are some things about me that I don't want you to know. If I am ruthlessly honest, there are things about me that are down right dark at times. And while as I look back on my life I can see some real progress, quite frankly though, I do not see any point in the near future when I'll be done with the struggle.
So how then, can I possibly relate to God? If he is light and I'm still struggling with darkness? How is it possible that I have fellowship with God?
I don't care who you are or how long you've been a Christian -- if you are truly a Christian you can identify with this tension.
There was an old man in rest home I used visit several years back -- a man who had a lot of problems and complications in his life -- and his comments to me were always the same.
I'd ask him, "Well, Rex, how are things going?" and he'd say: "I just don't feel like God could love me. With all the ways that I've messed my life up I don't see how God can love me"
We'd get the Bible out and I'd show him some verses about God's love and his grace -- which he's like But in the end he'd always come back to the same point. "I just don't feel like God could love me."
It was pastorally frustrating.
And while he was more obsessed with the problem than most people – he was really no different than the rest of us. When we each take a serious look at our lives we're going to find points of darkness which pop up off and on and which blur in our minds his love and make relating to God very difficult. Sin does that.
So how do we overcome sin? How do we, as people who struggle with darkness relate to a God of light?
John here gives us three clues to solving this mystery.
First of all, he says: you've got to DUMP THE DENIAL.
You can't pretend that you're past the struggle. You've got to be ruthlessly honest.
There was an old Twilight Zone episode – (an early version of the Jim Carrey movie “Liar Liar”) – in which a used car salesman was placed under a spell that forced him to be honest. He couldn't help himself – as he walked through the lot replacing placards on the windshields.
One might say: RUNS GREAT! And he replaces it with one that says: JUNK! Another says: LOW MILEAGE, which he replaces with ODOMETER ALTERED.
He couldn't help himself because he was under a spell.
Well, no one puts us under a spell. But if we're going to relate to a God of light we've got to be brutally honest and up-front about things which would hinder our fellowship with him.
Look at verse 8 – “If we claim, ‘We don’t have any sin,’ we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
Most modern people have a limited number of big time indiscretions which they consider to be actual "sins." What do you think most people would name as a sin?
Right. So they don’t understand verse 8 because most people don’t consider themselves to be real sinners. But remember, biblically speaking -- sin is all in thought, word, and deed that is contrary to God and his ways. It’s not just the biggies. Thus -- verse 10 – “If we claim, ‘We have never sinned,’ we make him a liar and his word is not in us.”
The Message paraphrase of verse 10 gets to the heart of it. “If we claim that we've never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God.”
This is interesting because in verses 6 and 7 John seems to indicate that its unthinkable that people who walk in darkness would have fellowship with him who is the light.
But now he's saying, “What I mean by that is, if you're going to have fellowship with him you have to be willing to admit that you're still struggling with darkness – with sin.” He's focusing the lens.
You can't be in fellowship with God and at the same time deceive yourself into believing that you're sinless. Denial breaks our fellowship with God.
Okay, you say, but what does this have to do with me? I'm the first person to admit that I'm a sinner and frankly of the top of my head I don't know of anyone in this church who thinks that he is sin-free.
Even among Christians as a whole, who would deny that we're sinners? Oh, every now and then someone will twist scripture around and come up with some argument to that effect... but really, who of us would deny our sin? None of us... and yet, we do so every time that we fail to take the sin in our lives seriously-- when we sluff it off and say: “That's just the way I am. Too bad. I guess I'll always be this way.”
Or when we start justifying our behavior -- “Hey, I know it's wrong but given my circumstances God will certainly understand and who can blame me? I'm not getting what I need from my husband or wife at home so I have to step out to get it. I know I shouldn't but I don't see any other way.”
Or “I try to do my own work but I don't really understand algebra and if I don't pass this test it will be hell at home and I can't handle that – so I just look at the cheat notes when I really need to. Certainly God understands and accepts me in spite of my educational handicaps.”
In a sense, when we do that we're admitting to sin but at the same time we're denying the seriousness of it. It's as though we admit it and then take our words back... and we aren't considering the eternal consequences of what we do. We're not considering that it's messing up our relationship with God.
Have you ever tried to pray or read the Bible after you've had a fight with a neighbor or someone at work – and you know that you said some things that you shouldn't have said? Even if you try to rationalize it and say that they deserved it or they started it – no matter what you say – it's still tough to be walking close with God until you admit that you were at fault and address the issue.
King Fredrerick II, an 18th century ruler in Prussia, was visiting a prison in Berlin. And all the inmates were jockeying to get a word into the king-- they were all trying to prove how unjustly they'd been imprisoned -- all except one who quietly sat and watched the commotion.
Seeing him sitting over on the sidelines by himself the king turned and asked him what he was in for.
“Armed robbery, your highness,” replied the prisoner.
“Well, are you guilty?” asked the king.
“Yes, sir, I entirely deserve my punishment.”
At that the king reportedly turned to the guard. “Release this guilty man. I don't want him corrupting all of these innocent people.”
The first step to overcoming darkness is to dump denial.
Secondly, CONFESS TO RECEIVE CLEANSING.
When Calvin and Hobbes was in the newspapers I used to read that comic strip all the time. And in one cartoon – Calvin says to Hobbes, “I feel bad that I called Susie names and hurt her feelings. I'm sorry I did it.”
“Maybe you should apologize to her,” Hobbes suggests.
Calvin ponders this for a minute then replies, “I keep hoping there's a less obvious solution.”
Confession is the obvious solution that we avoid like the plague. Look at verse 9. These is a verse that we’d do well to memorize. It comes in handy a lot – whether you need to remind yourself of what to do after you've sinned or if you're looking for reassurance that there really is forgiveness – no matter how bad you've blown it.
“But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong.”
What a great promise! If we quit denying to ourselves that sin is a problem and then take it a step further and admit to God that we've blown it – the slate, on the basis of God’s grace through the death and resurrection of Christ – will be wiped clean.
Sometimes, and more times than we Protestants are willing to admit, confession needs to involve an additional person... an intermediary that will help us get our words out to the Lord.
This is what James means in James 5:16 when he says – “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results.”
Yes, we have complete and full access to God on our own but there are many times when we need to confide in a trusted confessor who will help us articulate what needs to be confessed and then pray for and with us.
I'll tell you, this experience of confession is not as common as it should be. And we are hindered in our spiritual development because of it. In my own life I can think of only a few of guys whom I have confided in in this way -- all pastors.
And it's not like I'm looking for something else to do or that I really want to be privy to your sins but I would count it a privilege to have your trust and reassure you of the forgiveness that we have in Christ. If not me find someone else that you can trust -- maybe Daisy. But it doesn't have to be a pastor. We're available and we want to help you discover that confession leads to cleansing.
Now, when I say this I'm not suggesting that the process of confession is what's going to make you clean and give you a fresh start in your fellowship with God. Catharsis does have a certain amount of psychological value. But we're talking about cleansing that is dependent on the work of Christ.
This is #3 RELY ON THE REALITY OF CHRIST'S RIGHTEOUSNESS.
- 1 John 1:7 – “But if we live in the light in the same way as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin.”
- 1 John 2:1-2 – “My little children, I’m writing these things to you so that you don’t sin. But if you do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. 2 He is God’s way of dealing with our sins, not only ours but the sins of the whole world.”
We don't have time to go into all the intricate and wonderful details of the atonement but we know that the language here in 1 John is rooted in the Old Testament system of atonement and sacrifice. Each year, the Jews, following the command of the Lord would offer up a blood sacrifices on the day of atonement or Yom Kippur. And these sacrifices symbolically atoned for their sins. (Leviticus. 16)
Well, John picks up on this sacrificial atonement language and says: "Hey, the reason that you can have fellowship with God even though you still struggle with darkness and sin is the blood sacrifice of Jesus -- the righteous one – the atoning sacrifice – not only for your sins but also for the sins of the world.”
So while you won't be able to live the darkness-free life needed to have fellowship with God the light. Jesus did and he provided the way. As a matter of fact your fellowship with God is based on his righteous sacrifice. God himself provides the means through which we have fellowship with him and all that we have to do is rely on that provision. And that provision is the sacrifice of Christ.
He is the one who overcomes the darkness. He's the one who brings us into fellowship with God – even though we're not worthy or capable of being there on our own.
I remember one winter when I was flying through Chicago, along with a few pastor friends, and we got stuck at O'Hare Airport during a snow storm. O'Hare is not exactly the most comfortable place to be stuck! It's crowded and there is limited seating.
Well, one of the guys traveling in on our team was Gary Walter – who is now the president of the Evangelical Covenant Church -- THE big cheese -- but back then he was the director of church planting. Since Gary was (and I’m sure still is) a frequently flyer he had paid his dues and joined the Admiral Club -- a nice comfortable cozy club at the airport – lunge chairs – big screen television -- open to members only. And those that they bring in.
So we spent several hours in the warm fellowship of the Admiral's Club -- not because of what we had done or because we paid dues -- but because Gary brought us in. It was great! I'm sure you get the point.
Our fellowship with God and each other isn't based on our own ability to snuff out the darkness but on the acceptance that is ours through the snuffing that Christ did.
And this is the good news!
Let’s pray: Right now I would like us to pause for prayer and focus on the what the HE might be saying to us to you this morning.
Use this time of silence to listen for God's often still and small voice speaking to you about changes and adjustments that need to be made in your life. Perhaps there is some darkness in your life that needs to be confessed. Do that now.
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your name. Amen.
Let me reassure you of the forgiveness that is ours and yours through the blood of Christ and that if we truly confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.