Don't Stop Believing
Updated: Feb 3
Sunday was my first time back preaching since Sophie's passing and as you can see, I thought it would be wise to wear a Mandalorian helmet to cover my face when I could feel myself starting to cry as I preached.
I went through over 20 tissues between both services, but I am thankful for the opportunity to share what God has been laying on my heart, on our hearts, these past 6 weeks. You can CLICK HERE to watch the whole sermon. I also decided to share my manuscript below, just in case you don't want to see a "grown man, cry" or because you don't want to hear me blow my nose into the microphone multiple times...I don't blame you. As always, I hope it can be an encouragement to you today.
"Don't Stop Believing" from 10/31/21
So here’s my goal for not only today, but for this next month as we wrap up our “This is the Way” series. Today we will look at 1 John 5, next week, the book of 2 John which is one chapter, the week after, 3 John, also one chapter. Then on Sunday, November 21st, I will be sharing where we are going as a church, Avenue Christian Church, to practically show this love as we re-introduce ourselves to the community so that together, we can help people find new life in Jesus Christ. It is a Sunday I am so excited about and cannot wait to share with you what we as leaders have been sensing from God’s Spirit and praying for our church throughout this past year.
So if you have a bible today go ahead and turn to 1 John 5; if you’re grabbing a bible in the setback in front of you, turn to page 988. I am so thankful for God’s Word and I am thankful to serve at a church where every week we open God’s Word, together. Not only can we believe in the truth we find, not only can we have confidence that this is God’s primary way of speaking to us, but we also have and continue to see that these words, His words are relevant and applicable to our lives today. This is something that Maria and I have found to be even more true in this season. To be honest, there have been days where I want nothing to do with His Word and their are other days the pages are wet from the tears I’ve shed and the comfort I have found in pouring myself into reading. We have reminded ourselves daily to believe that God is good and wants to speak to us in the midst of our pain. It’s that word, BELIEVE, that I want to focus on this morning as it comes up quite often in this last chapter. Because when you and I BELIEVE in Jesus, we are able to share and experience His love. That’s what we’re focusing on and we will see in this passage three different actions that come from our belief in His love that help us to live in the way of love, to practically show and verbally share His love to those in our lives. Let’s jump in:
1 John 5:1-5 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
First thing we see in these five verses is that when we believe in Jesus, we obey because of His love. These verses are a continuation of what Pastor Brett touched on last week, that it is God’s love through faith in Jesus that empowers and compels you to love others. It’s what causes a man to drop a lawsuit and forgive someone who committed fraud against him. You and I are able to obey Jesus’ commands to love God, love others, love our enemies, love the people we don’t get along with, only because we believe God loves us. And this belief is rooted in Jesus dying in our place on the cross. The Apostle Paul writes about this in Romans 5, that we were enemies of God, wanting nothing to do with His love or His way, and yet, He still gave up His son on our behalf so that we didn’t have to die and be punished for our sins. When we hold this belief about Jesus, we are able to obey the command to love everyone no matter what! We can overcome the ways of this world, the ways of getting back at someone, the ways of getting even with someone, the ways of being controlled by a desire for rightful vindication for the wrongs committed against us, the ways of clapping back at someone who takes a shot at us in-person, over email or on social media; we can overcome because of Jesus’ love. Is it hard to live this way? Yes, it actually feels like a burden to live this way, so how can John write that it’s not a burden? The answer is because we have the love already inside of us when we believe in Jesus. It would be a burden if we had to go out and find that type of love or do things on our own to initially develop that love. But we can tap into that love, that power, that strength, we don’t have to muster it up on our own, it is available because of our belief in Jesus. I have felt the need to really tap into this love this past week. I have struggled to be loving and patient with my kids, finding myself struggling with feeling overwhelmed with grief and not being the best dad to my kids. I am reminded of Paul’s words in Ephesians 6:4 where he tells Fathers to not exasperate or agitate their kids. I have struggled so much with that this past week. But I am so thankful that I can tap into God’s love inside of me to show them love and ask them to forgive when I fall short of obeying God by loving them. When we believe in Jesus, we obey because of His love. Let’s read the next set of verses:
1 John 5:6-12 This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9 We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
This is what we see in this next set of verses: when we believe in Jesus, we hope because of His love. Hope is confident expectation. Hope is something we know and expect even though our circumstances might not reflect what our hope will be. The crazy water, spirit, blood talk about Jesus in verses 6-8 isn’t as confusing as it seems. If you remember, the false belief John was writing against was “Gnosticism,” a belief that did not recognize Jesus as a physical person who lived a physical life, died a physical death and physically rose fro the dead. They viewed Him as this spirit being…thus any type of spiritual thought or feeling a person had, they viewed as coming directly from God even if it completely contradicted the physical words and physical actions of the physical Savior. So, by saying Jesus came by water and blood, He is referring to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry when he was baptized in water and then when he dies on the cross and his blood was shed for the forgiveness of our sins. Does the Spirit testify to the physical reality of Jesus? Absolutely, all three are in agreement, which is why we affirm that Jesus is fully God and fully man, 100% God and 100% man. So then in verses 9-12, John’s point is clear, you can hope, have confident expectation that you are a child of God because of your belief in Jesus. Unlike the “religious gnostics” of the day, you do not need to have these ultra-spiritual experiences, these out of body revelations…in fact, you can have all of that, but if you don’t believe in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for your salvation, your experiences are false. As verse 10 says, your claims make God out to be a liar and as verse 12 affirms, you don’t believe in Jesus. But for those of you who believe, and on some days, feel like your belief, your faith is small, your belief, your faith is shaky, you don’t feel the presence of God, you feel like He’s not around or that His promises aren’t true…because of the love He displayed on the cross 2,000 years ago, you can have a confident expectation, a hope, that you are His child, He loves you, He has not forgotten or forsaken you and He will one day usher you into His perfect presence where you will be fully restored…your hope, your belief, will become your life, eternal. Final thing we see about our belief is found in in verses 13-20, we will read versus 13-15 first:
1 John 5:13-15 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
Here’s what we see about belief: when we believe in Jesus, we pray because of His love. In verse 13, John reaffirms our confident expectations which sets the context of verses 14-15. People in the church who weren’t super spiritual and having this gnostic visions and experiences were struggling, not only in believing they were children of God, but that God was their Father and would actually listen to them. John’s point is because He loves you, you can pray, you can ask, you can approach Him and He hears you and gives you what you need according to His will. This idea of God’s will is always a tricky thing to navigate, because who knows the full heart and mind of God except God Himself? No one! Yet there are things God has revealed in His Word that He desires, He wills, and we can have confidence in praying those prayers and expecting God to move. In the next set of verses John references a prayer that God delights in hearing, that is in His will. But I want to take a moment because all of us have prayed prayers that seem like they are in God’s will, but they go unanswered.
I might need the Mandalorian mask for this one…when I got the call from the doctor’s office on Monday, September 20th that Maria was ok, but they could not find a heartbeat for Sophie, I quickly called a friend, drove up Cass Avenue through downtown Westmont and dropped Max off at their house. I then continued on Cass Avenue until I got to Ogden Avenue, turned east and headed to the office in Hinsdale right by I-294. As Max was in the car, I was praying this simple prayer in my mind over and over again “In the name of Jesus, resurrect Sophie.” Once I dropped him off, I was screaming this prayer at the top of my lungs. How could my prayer not be answered? It’s not like I lacked the faith, I truly believed He could get her heart pumping again; He’s the one who created her, knitted her in her momma’s womb at conception; He’s the one who had heard hundreds of prayers from so many of our family, friends, church family, neighbors who had been praying for her to be healthy; He’s the one who seemingly answered every prayer during this pregnancy and paved the way for us to get pregnant, He could do it…and yet He didn’t. How could Sophie living in this world not be a part of His will? This isn’t even the prayer I wanted to pray when I drove on an avenue. I wanted to pray that our church, Avenue Christian Church, would be a church that is focused on our mission, so intentional about connecting with people where they are at, that’s what my avenue prayers should be and now as I drive on those avenues, I feel disappointed, discouraged, distraught, wondering if anyone is actually listening to my prayers and if He is, does He even care?
Phillip Yancey writes this in His book “Disappointment with God” that “faith means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.” This means believing that Sophie’s life and legacy will be of eternal value on this temporary earth, that God will be glorified because of her story even though right now, six weeks after her death, the thought of it seems unfair, cruel and infuriating that this is what God would choose to do with her life, the life that He ultimately created. This is a harsh reminder of the broken world we live in, the tension of God being sovereign, in control of everything, but in His sovereignty, Satan is allowed control of so much in this world as we will see in just a moment. But it is also a hopeful reminder that this life is temporary, this world is not our home, and my daughter’s eternity has already begun, something I had already been praying for these last nine months, that she would love Jesus forever, and she does, and I am thankful that this prayer was in God’s good will.
It’s hard to know what is or isn’t in God’s will when we pray, but if we are His children, He does hear us, He does care and He will do what is His best for us, what is in His will, even if it makes absolutely no sense right now. The “No” answer to your prayer may be a “No,” like in our case, but I have also prayed many prayers which I thought were “No’s” but were actually “not yet’s.” But John reminds us, it doesn’t matter if you’re super religious, have religious visions, doesn’t matter if your a pastor, priest, monk, doesn’t matter if you’re a prodigal son or daughter who keeps running away from God…when we believe in Jesus, we can pray and know that whatever answer we get or experience, it is out of His great love for us, it is what is for our good and His glory and a part of His will even if it doesn’t make sense now or even until we are on the other side of eternity. So keep praying for that breakthrough in your family or at work, keep praying for that desire or dream God has put in your heart to come to fruition, keep praying for that healing, keep praying for that relationship to be reconciled, keep praying because as you pray, you find yourself growing in your love for God and being overwhelmed by His love for you…don’t stop praying…don’t stop believing. We see this encouragement to pray in these last few verses:
1 John 5:16-20 If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.
18 We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. 19 We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. 20 We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
We can sometimes get caught up in the semantics of verses 16-17, what sin can lead to death, what sin can’t lead to death? Plain and simple, the only sin that leads to death is disbelief in Jesus as Savior, as the only way to being made right with God. This fits within the context of why John is writing this letter and is also an echo of Jesus’ words in various Gospel accounts in which one rejects the Holy Spirit’s confirmation that Jesus is Savior and Lord. Rejection of Jesus is the sin that leads to death, to eternal separation from God. Every other sin, from murder to lying, is sin that can be forgiven because of the blood of Jesus, as verse 17 states. But verses 18-20 are a reminder that as a follower of Jesus, we will not continue to sin and in this case, is pointing back to the sin of disbelief. Will we sin, be tempted to sin, for the rest of our earthly lives? Absolutely, but it is our love of God and the truth that we are his children that compels us to love Him and not sin. But the sin of disbelief that is addressed throughout this entire letter is a sin that one will not continue in if they are truly a sin or daughter of God who believes in Jesus as Savior.
As Pastor Brett shared last week, there are eternal consequences for those who do not believe, they will suffer eternally in Hell, separated from God forever. However, you and I don’t know people’s hearts, it’s not our job to be the individual judge of every human. We can be confident in the truth that faith, belief in Jesus as the only way, only truth, only way to find new life and we can also be confident in our own heart what we decide, what we believe. We can be responsible for our belief in Jesus, responsible for our love of God. But do you see our role laid out for others…we pray for others. John doesn’t tell the Christians: “Yell at those Gnostic Heretics! Tell them to turn and burn!” John tells them, “pray for them, pray for one another, prayer is what moves their heart to turn to believe in Jesus.” And that’s what we do, we pray for one another, we pray for that prodigal son/daughter, grandson/grand daughter…we pray for the neighbor, co-worker, friend to turn to Jesus, we pray for their hearts to be softened and their eyes be open to believe in Jesus. And we also pray for the Christian who has gone astray, who has decided to live in such a way that doesn’t honor God. We pray that the Holy Spirit would continue to gnaw at their heart and mind so that they would confess and repent of their sin. This act of prayer is the most loving thing we can do! I am so thankful that over this past month you church have been praying, submitting requests weekly through our online or in-person prayer cards. I am so thankful that every week there are prayers coming in to pray, not only for health, for jobs, for whatever, but also for prayers of salvation, prayers of turning back to God. Church, don’t stop praying, don’t stop filling out these requests, you have a staff and prayer team that takes seriously all of these requests, you have Deacons and Elders, church leaders, who take seriously your prayers when you approach us on a Sunday morning. We believe prayer works, prayers draws us closer to His presence and His will, and we will continue to pray for God to work in our lives and be the church He is calling us to be: to practically share and verbally show his love so that people can believe in Jesus and experience the new life He has to offer them.