This is too long for a blog, so if you don’t read it all, I get it. Should you read it, I hope it encourages you. I did the whole thing in a dream this morning, and I almost never share dreams, but, here goes. Sermon follows:
I have listened to speakers speak here for years, and they begin the same way. “I love Craig and Amy so much, you have an amazing church, and I am so delighted to be here today.” It is that last phrase where I listen, you know, to hear what they say. Are they saying, “I am humbled and honored, truly!” Or, does it smell a little more like “You are in for a treat! I think I have something amazing. In fact, a lot of folks think I am amazing!”
So how could I possibly be preaching here?
What I think happened was that we made a small mistake! You know how when a manager walks to the mound and he starts to touch one fore arm, but he puts a couple of fingers on the other, like he wasn’t sure, and he could not remember who was warmed up in the bullpen?”
I am the bullpen. I am that guy in the bullpen whose name is Tom, or Tim, I am pretty sure it wasn’t Tammy. He is a member that we don’t call members at LifeChurch, but we have a couple of hundred thousand of those. He tithes most months, but more people are completely faithful there. He and Jill lead a life group just like 251 others at Stillwater. And the Stillwater campus is a mistake. If we had not added it when we did; we would not fit the profile where they hope to expand these days, but GT and Megan were commuting every weekend and God was working, and today, one in ten staff members in all the Life Churches have passed through Stilly.
That kind of “mistake”.
So, they called the wrong guy out of the bullpen. In fact, someone might investigate where I got a uniform and dropped down into the bullpen with my glove and enough swag to act like I just got traded from a Canadian hockey team where I was the equipment manager.
Wrong guy. I am a small mistake, but LifeChurch is a great place because I have been comfortable in the dark watching Craig on screen. He is really taller in person.
Well, maybe I am here because you are a small mistake. Maybe you have a sin or two because you somehow think they make you cool. See, I swear for effect some days when teaching or making a point. And like everyone who smokes I have it under control, except when my daughter in law, Fair Claire, sends a request through my son that I watch my mouth during Christmas in front of the grandkids. You see, “under control”.
It is freaky, but sometimes when the stress is bad, or my health is in the toilet I swear more. Isn’t that the dumbest thing? I think I can pin my potty mouth on something outside me when the Bible says, “The stuff coming out of your mouth is the overflow from your heart.” Oops. My heart’s overflow must resemble my toilet overflowing.
So there you are, sitting in the dark, or with your computer using earphones so your family and neighbors don’t know that Jesus is the best thing that ever happened to you, but you seem to make more mistakes than progress in following Him.
It could be that you love Jesus, and are astonished that He left heaven, lived and did all those astonishing miracles, and got religious people angry at Him — and they crucified Him thinking, “That takes care of that;” only God raised Him from the dead to emphasize His boy was telling the truth. All along. Every day. In every miracle for undeserving people. Jesus was telling the Truth, and telling Truth so well that it turns out that Truth is one of His Names. Truth has a Name above all names and it is — wait for it: Jesus.
And that right there makes Jesus, forgive me, unbelievable. I mean Jesus was just like us except for the perfection thing, having Satan give Him the VIP tour of earth and testing, miracles everywhere, demons testifying to who He was when He was trying to be cool about it. Okay, not exactly like me. I am an example of human, I think.
And that makes me uncomfortable even in the dark some weekends at LifeChurch. Jesus was true to His calling, true to His message. And I fail my calling, and some days I fail His message that I deliver. You know how people say Craig is the same in the pulpit and at home except when driving? My wife and sons and daughter in law would all say, “He is the same in both places” with all their fingers crossed in back of them.
When Jesus walked out to the mound, Heaven rushed the infield to breathlessly watch. When I walk to the mound, people are checking their programs and smartphones and shrugging at each other, “Who is that guy?” No name on the back. His pants are too big, and why can’t he stand up straight? How come he isn’t even listed?
In spite of all that, I found some small things that surprised me in the Jesus story.
There is this day when Jesus has been feeding thousands and the people want to make Him an earthly king, and Jesus realizes that before He can address the crazy crowd, He has to get rid of His disciples. All of them. He puts them in boats and dismisses them, and only after sending away His own does He lose the crowd. The disciples were wanting to drink the Kool-Aid. They were ripe for everything except what Jesus was doing.
Jesus also had been handing out freebies on miracles, food, healings, casting out demons and He knew it was time to ratchet up the message, call people to faithfulness, to followship, to maturity — and people were walking away — and this is the part that froze my heart. Jesus turns to His disciples and asks, “Do you want to walk away, too?”
And all of God’s plans and power, and all of God’s predestining, and all of God’s plan for planet Earth comes to this point. Jesus hands the ball to failers (not failures by God’s grace) but failers like me. Like you.
And obviously, at this moment, Jesus is thinking that handing the Gospel Football to these guys is maybe not going to work. He is looking at Peter who suffers from foot in mouth disease. The two Sons of Thunder who think the coolest thing about Jesus is that He can call down fire from heaven and maybe blow away an entire town. Matthew is a never ending fountain of questions. Mary of Magdala is still conflating a puppy love for followship. And Judas, Judas is stealing from the till and will pointlessly betray Jesus at the critical time, just before Peter denies Him three times.
Do you want to walk away, too?
I don’t know any mature Christians who have not made some sort of truce with church and religion, and decided to still love Jesus more than what they see in other Christians. Ouch.
Some of them believe Christ even though what they saw in me made believing Jesus tough, because what they saw in me made them want to walk away. OUCH!
My wife, Jill has this thing that thunders in the silence, “Your Plan A was to use us all along? Even with the Holy Spirit, what were you thinking, God?”
Which forces the question. Is God missing something, a lot of somethings, or did God decide what was most true about us before He began the experiment?
I am a creature saved by God’s grace and I lust for if-not-sex then intimacies where I should not, and toys, and money that buys toys. All are true. Now for the HUGE question. What is more true?
Life and faith have daunting conundrums. The light coming out of these lights, is it waves or particles? Yes.
Is Jesus fully God and fully man? Yes.
Is God three or One? Yes.
Am I a sinner or God’s dearly bought son? Yes.
And Jesus knows how I struggle here! Remember that night before they killed Him? No? Let me tell you how crazy this is. The die is cast. The trial members have been assembled in two houses. Soldiers are following Judas to find Jesus, and Jesus is in this Garden with his sleeping disciples, yes they failed Him this time as well, and Jesus is sweating blood! No kidding. Think about it. Sweating blood. I would say He was really wrestling, wouldn’t you? And here was the question. Here was Jesus’ big question. It was time to die. It was time to suffer. For better or for worse, there was nothing more Jesus could do for the disciples. And it all looked impossible.
Jesus was asking for a bye. Jesus was asking to be let out of this part of the contract. He went from thinking about it, to truly tempted to bail out. He was sweating blood.
Jesus was asking if God could be happy with less.
And God thundered back in silence to His beloved Son. Sure you feel this drag, this bent to failing, and this understandable horror at dying. Now, which is more true? You’re wanting to bail out, or you are My beloved Son with Whom I am well pleased?
He knows when I want to fail. When I want to be let off the hook. When I want to be left alone. When I don’t want to measure up. How afraid I am to walk out to the mound some days. When I want God to settle for less from me.
Occasionally God sends someone to remind me who and Whose I am. Occasionally, He puts me in the stands to remind some friend, or student, or colleague what is most true about them — that he or she is a son or daughter of the High King and He was right to give her salvation and call her to follow Him.
But sometimes, God is silent. He and heaven hold their breath to see me come through, to see me come true, knowing that I face bogeys. Some days, I am sweating bullets, and God nods silently to His angels who will never understand why God trusts us, and he says, “Let the bet ride on my boy, Thomas.”
The angels can think of as many reasons as I can, maybe more why God should spread His bets, and God laughs, and according to Ephesians 1, He is gesturing that He was right to let anything ride on me.
God’s bet is riding on me because He has given me Jesus and Spirit, and watches to see me act on what is most true about me.
How about you?