To be honest, I’d never heard of that rule, and I have never seen it implemented, but can you imagine the pressure of that moment. Obviously, the opposing coach is going to choose the most unlikely shooter, so the pressure would really be on. If that was me, I’d be running to the locker room or hiding under the bench. Can you imagine?
In a sense, this scenario reminds me of what the church is facing today. We are under attack, and, in many cases, we are losing. Atheism is on the rise. Men like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchins have belittled God and gone public with it. I just heard Richard Dawkins on an NPR interview talking about how foolish and irrational a belief in God is.
Christian politicians are mocked in the press. I do not know anything about the personal life of Christine O’Donnell, who is running for the Senate in Delaware. I do not wish to defend her personal life because I really do not know it. But I do know this: She is openly mocked on websites like the Huffington press and in the mainstream media. She had the audacity to say that indulging one’s lustful thoughts equaled adultery. Saturday Night Live spoofed that so mercilessly that it made the mainstream news. Well, if you read your Bible Christine was just agreeing with Christ! Indulging lustful thoughts is compared to adultery. Christianity is being attacked in our country.
Now if I were someone like Christine actually stands up and says what the Scripture says and is so lampooned, other believers begin to get gunshy. We may begin to seek retreat. We want to, if you will hide under the bench or head to the locker room. But its the last second of the ballgame and we’re called, everyone of us, to take the shot. The ball is in our court.
My question this morning is, How are you responding? Are you shooting or are you running? You see, I rather suspect that many of us are running. We run for many reasons. Some of us just don’t want to be hurt. We see the pain of taking a stand and, quite frankly, we’ve got better, more comfortable things we can do with our time. We’ve got enough trouble just putting food on the table or keeping our job in a bad economy that we don’t need to complicate our lives by taking a shot for Christ. We run because we don’t want to be hurt.
And then we may run because we don’t want to be corrupted. Engagement with the world can get messy. It’s safer to sit on the bench. You don’t risk failure. For decades conservative Christians have preached isolation. Somehow we thought that if we disengaged from the culture, the culture would come to us. Wrong! We disengaged from the culture and the culture got worse. Some of us are in isolation mode this morning. We’re afraid of being drawn into sin or into compromise, but I tell you, fear is no excuse for running from the challenge. Yet that’s exactly why some run. They don’t want to be corrupted.
Others just don’t to be challenged. They’re lazy. They don’t want to have their faith questioned or their answers disputed. Everything is lined up in neat rows in their Christian lives and they don’t want the evolutionist or the atheist disturbing them. But we’ll never reach a world we do not engage, and engagement means that you’re going to be challenged. Listen Christian! If the Bible is true, and it is! If God is God, and He is! If Jesus did rise and He did! If those things are true, we have nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to fear. We may not know the answers to the challenges, but we can find them! We must not run because we don’t want to be challenged.
So whatever your need when it comes to taking the shot for Christ, Peter can help us. He was writing to a culture that was much like our own when he penned his first letter. I say that because it is likely that strong persecution had not yet erupted. Nero had not yet begun his crackdown on the church, but that doesn’t mean that there was not resistance. As a matter of fact, while Christians were not forbidden to meet, they were highly suspect. They were considered cannibalistic because they spoke of drinking the blood of Christ. They were considered to be incestuous because they spoke of “brotherly love.” Just like Saturday Night Live does, comments were taken out of context and used for ridicule. Peter writes to this situation when he says in v 13 of chapter 3:
And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” 15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; 16 having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. 17 For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
Now Peter gives these ridiculed believers some good instruction here. He tells them how to take the shot, if you will, and make it count. Running, for him, was not an option. Neither should it be for us.
That’s why, this morning, I want to talk to you about taking the shot. I want to use God’s word to explain to us exactly how we can do that. You see, Peter gives us four “f’s” of success in accepting the challenge we’re given. Let me give them to you and then we’ll talk about them. Success in meeting the challenge of this world must have the following ingredients: Faith, fear, facts, and fruit. The first ingredient of success is:
DIV 1: FAITH
Now, what I like about the way Peter begins is that he does not “assume the worst.” He begins this paragraph with a very positive question that looks for a particular answer. He asks, And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good?. Now the answer he’s looking for is “no one.” The idea is that, if I am genuinely doing what is right, all things being equal, that integrity will be respected and people will treat me with favor.
As you and I face what we know to be a hostile world, we must begin with this notion. If I do right, most of the time, I will be rewarded. You know what? Most of the time that’s true, and that’s the idea we must begin with. Christians should be optimistic people! I get so tired of people talking about how bad things are, don’t you? Look, if you do right, you must believe that, even in the here and now, things are going to turn out well. You must have the faith to believe that God is going to protect you and that things are going to be ok. Doing good will be rewarded.
But let me hasten to add that this isn’t always true. Peter knew that and this is why he went on to say in verse 14, But even if you should suffer for righteousness sake, you are blessed. This is so good! Do you get what he is saying? In the case of the Christian, if you do good and win you win and if you do good and lose you still win! There is no “losing” for the Christian! That word “blessed” in this verse is makarioi. It’s the same word Jesus used in the Beatitudes to speak of those who were blessed. It speaks of someone who is a “privileged recipient of divine favor.” What Peter is saying is that, ultimately, when Christ appears, you will be blessed, regardless of what happens now, so believers are to go for it. We’re not to sit on the bench. We’re to go take the shot because, ultimately, the ball’s going in the hoop. We can’t lose. We start our response to this hostile world from the stance of faith. If we win we win and even if we lose, we win!
You see, there are some particular habits that leave you when you are filled with faith. For one thing, you refuse to whine. Does it ever seem to you that Christians are some of the greatest complainers in the world? I mean, just act like you’re going to make it a little hard on them for their faith and they’ll scream bloody murder.
In that, they remind me of the rest of the world. Boy, do we ever live in a complaining society. People complain about everything. For instance, the following are actual responses from comment cards given to staff members at the “Bridger Wilderness Area.” People wrote:
Trails need to be wider so people can walk while holding hands.
Trails need to be reconstructed. Please avoid building trails that go uphill.
Too many bugs and leeches and spiders and spider webs. Please spray the wilderness to rid the areas of these pests.
Please pave the trails so they can be snow-plowed during the winter.
Chair lifts need to be in some places so that we can get to wonderful views without having to hike to them.
The coyotes made too much noise last night and kept me awake. Please eradicate these annoying animals.
A small deer came into my camp and stole my jar of pickles. Is there a way I can get reimbursed? Please call ______________;
Reflectors need to be placed on trees every 50 feet so people can hike at night with flashlights.
Escalators would help on steep uphill sections.
A MacDonald's would be nice at the trailhead.
The places where trails do not exist are not well marked.
Too many rocks in the mountains.
Ok. That’s pretty bad isn’t it? But doesn’t it seem like we are often just like that as believers? Any minor inconvenience is the end of the world. When I am filled with faith, the whining leaves me. You may forget to call my name, but I’ll be ok; you may overlook me or slight me, but I will refuse to quit. You may even persecute me for my faith, but my Spirit-inspired smile will still be on my face. Why? Because I believe.
And when I am filled with faith. I also refuse to quit. Yes, I may even suffer real persecution, or I may be go through something that would cause someone without the power of God to defect, but I keep holding on! Why? Because I genuinely believe God’s promise that, if I will obey him, I will be rewarded.
And then, when I am filled with faith, I refuse to doubt. I don’t begin to question God’s goodness nor His control when I suffer. I look beyond the suffering to the future.
It was A.D. 111. The governor of Bithynia was a lawful man named, Pliny, the younger. He wanted a peaceful reign, but it was not to be. Christianity was the problem. It was so prevalent in his province that the idol temples were all but abandoned. Christianity was catching on like wildfire. Something had to be done.
So being a conscientious governor he sought to arrest Christians. Some held firm to their faith and some recanted to save their necks. Yet, something bothered Pliny. Having arrested many believers, he began to see their faith as harmless. So he wrote the emperor, Trajan, and asked him if he should continue the crackdown. Trajan said it all depended. He said if Christians showed up in his court, he should require them to recant or die. But he also said that Pliny should not go out “head hunting,” so to speak.
Nobody knows who turned him in, but somebody, for whatever reason, accused the Bishop, Ignatius, of crimes against the state. He was a believer. So, in keeping with what he had been told, Pliny tried him and sentenced him to die.
Since great festivities were being planned in Rome, he was sent to the capital so that his death could be a source of amusement for people during the party. On his way to Rome, he was allowed many Christian visitors and some of them vowed to write letters to Rome to secure his release from death. They may have succeeded, but Ignatius refused. He wrote to them:
I fear your kindness, which may harm me. You may be able to achieve what you plan . . .
He believed that through this ultimate sacrifice he will begin to be a disciple, so he wants the Christians in Rome to pray not that he be freed, but that he will have the strength to face the trial. He wrote further:
If you remain silent about me, I shall become a word of God. But if you allow yourselves to be swayed by the love in which you hold my flesh, I shall again be no more than a human voice.
So he went to Rome and ultimately to his appointment with the lions because he was a man of faith and he refused to give in. That’s what it takes to be successful in the face of this world’s challenge. You must be a man of faith, but if you want to be successful in the face of this world’s challenge you must also be a man or a woman of
DIV 2 FEAR
Ok, maybe you didn’t see that one coming, but it really is true. If you are to successfully face the challenge of this world, you must be afraid . . . of the right things, that is. The proper fear is what matters. So what is the proper fear?
Well, we can explain what it is by telling what it’s not. You see, we are not to fear man’s threats. Peter tells us this in v14 where he says, And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled. Peter quotes the prophet Isaiah who, in his prophecy, was exhorting the Kingdom of Judah not to be afraid of the enemies allied against them. Peter brings that message to his readers and he personalizes it. He says, “Do not be afraid of what these people threaten.”
And I can hear what some of them may have been saying: “O Yeah, Peter? O Yeah? Well, just how am I supposed to be fearless when I’m losing my job? How am I supposed to be confident when I’m getting a bad grade because of my stand for Christ?” And if you were living in some parts of the world today, you might be asking even more serious questions like, “How am I supposed to be fearless when Islamic terrorists are killing Christians? How can I NOT be afraid?
Well, Peter goes on to tell us. He says, And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled, But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts. One writer says of this phrase:
This does not mean to make Christ more holy, but to treat him as holy, to set him apart above all human authority. This sense is clearly seen in the Lord’s Prayer, “Hallowed be thy name.” “To ‘hallow’ the name means, not only to reverence and honor God, but also to glorify him by obedience to his commands, and thus prepare the coming of the Kingdom.” Peter, then, asserts that Jesus is to be honored, reverenced, and obeyed as Lord.
Here’s the logic of Peter’s argument: If I fear man, I do not fear God; If I fear God, I do not have to fear man. If Christ is set apart as Lord in my heart, there will be no room for anyone else on that throne.
One writer talks about teaching his son to swim. He started when he could barely talk. It was a chore. He says that the little guy didn't like getting water in his face in the bathtub, much less the massive ocean of a pool. At first, "teaching him to swim" meant getting him to splash around a bit on the top step, and maybe putting his lips in the water enough to blow bubbles if he was feeling really brave.
Eventually Dad convinced him to walk around with him in the shallow end. Poor little guy did it with shallow breathing and a death-grip around his father’s neck. Then it was time for jumping off the slide. His father lifted him out of the pool, put him on the slide, and said, "Come on, jump!"
Of course, at that moment, his one-year-old son wrote him off as a crazy man.The look on his face, in about two seconds, went from confusion to dawning understanding, to amused rejection, to outright contempt. His little boy frowned and said, "No. I go see Mommy."
But his father chased him down and, with various bribes, got back in the pool, put him on the slide and said "Come on, kiddo," I said. "I'm right here. I'll catch you. I promise!" His son looked at him half skeptically, did one more little wind-up, bouncing at the knees, and then fell into the pool with what was more a flop than a jump.
And his dad caught him. That did it. At that point they were off to the races. "Doot 'gain, Daddy! Doot 'gain!" And so commenced half an hour of jump, catch, lift, reset, jump, catch, lift, reset.
When he says that his wife and he started to worry that maybe their son had gotten a bit too comfortable with the water. What if he wandered out to the pool when no one was there with him? Would he remember all the times he'd safely jumped into the water and decide he had this pool thing whipped? Would he jump again?
Over the next few days, though, they watched him around the pool, and what dad said that what they saw both comforted him as a parent and touched him deeply as a father. Never once did his little boy think about jumping into the water—at least not unless he was standing underneath him with his arms out, promising to catch him. And then he would fly!
You see, despite all his apparent successes, my son's trust was never in his own ability to handle the water. It was in his father, and in his father's promise: "Come on kiddo. Jump. I promise I'll catch you."
You and I are like that little boy. When we face the trouble and the contradiction of this world, we are not up to the task, but we can trust our Father. If He is calling us to take the shot. If He is calling us to jump, He will catch us. We do not have to fear man.
You see it is that fear of man that really robs us of our opportunity to stand and win for Christ.
In his book Max Lucado writes about the power fear possesses to turn us into beastly people:
[Fear] turns us into control freaks … [for] … fear, at its center, is a perceived loss of control. When life spins wildly, we grab for a component of life we can manage: our diet, the tidiness of our home, the armrest of a plane, or, in many cases, people. The more insecure we feel, the meaner we become. We growl and bare our fangs. Why? Because we are bad? In part. But also because we feel cornered.
Martin Niemöller documents an extreme example of this. He was a German pastor who took a heroic stand against Adolf Hitler. When he first met the dictator in 1933, Niemöller stood at the back of the room and listened. Later, when his wife asked him what he'd learned, he said, "I discovered that Herr Hitler is a terribly frightened man." Fear releases the tyrant within.
You see, it really is true: If I fear man, I do not fear God; If I fear God, I do not have to fear man. If Christ is set apart as Lord in my heart, there will be no room for anyone else on that throne. If I am under His control and His dominion, I realize that nothing can touch me that does not pass through His hand and I am able to live a fearless life. As the writer of Hebrews says in Heb 13:6, The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
Now that is the stance of the faith-filled believer. He reverences God and that connection takes away his fear. By the way, did you know that what you fear really becomes your god? That’s right. The thing you fear really is god to you.
In our lives we have some things that we fear that can become our god.
For instance, when you fear that mean, cantankerous, threatening boss that is always on your case, you actually treat him like god. You put your boss on the throne of your life instead of Christ. But, you see, your boss really shouldn’t be in that position. You don’t work for him, you work for Christ. He cannot do anything that God does not allow. If you don’t set apart Christ as Lord, your boss may take the job!
And if you fear failure, you’ve made yourself into a little god, did you know that? O yes. When I am afraid of failure, I’ve made the error of believing that my success is really up to me and my efforts. When I fear failing to hit the sales numbers or failing to successfully parent my children, I have actually placed myself in control of my life instead of God. If I don’t set apart Christ as Lord, I’ll keep wanting to sit on the throne.
And some of us fear catastrophe. That’s right! We’re afraid of what danger or bad circumstance that is going to happen next. We walk through life waiting for the next “shoe to drop.” We’re always cringing in anticipation of bad news. If that’s you, can I just give you a verse? Ps 112: 7-8 says that the righteous man will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord. You see, fear of catastrophe puts your circumstances on the throne. If you don’t set apart Christ as Lord, your circumstances will rule you.
In our witness, we have fears that can become our god. I did a little informal poll around our office and asked a few of our staff member this question. “When it comes to sharing your faith, what is the one thing that causes you to hesitate? What is the thing you worry about? Here’s what I learned, and, by the way, I think you’ll be able to relate to their answers. By the way, I sure can! I struggle with most of these myself. What is it that we fear as Christians? When its time for us to “take the shot,” what are we afraid of? Well,
Some of us fear ignorance. We’re so afraid that someone is going to ask us a question we will not be able to answer. We may not understand a lot of the answers we think we should know, so we are afraid to open our mouths for Christ. But here’s the deal: When we allow that fear to drive us we’ve put our own intellect on the throne. We, in essence say, “I have to figure out these things for myself, and until I can, I’m going to be quiet. We put our intellect on the throne when we fear ignorance.
And when it comes to taking our shot for God, some of us fear misunderstanding. That’s another answer I received. The world has told us that we aren’t allowed to talk about Christ. Faith is something “personal” and if you ask someone if they are on their way to heaven, you’re invading their privacy and setting yourself up as the judge. That’s foolish. If this building were on fire this morning, I don’t think you’d mind me pointing out the exits to you, would you? You would not consider me judgmental if I pointed out the fact that humans tend to burn when they come in direct contact with flame and that the best policy in the case of a fire is to evacuate! Look! Yet, this world tells us to keep our faith to ourselves. And here’s the deal: As long as you fear misunderstanding, you have put public opinion on the throne.
And others fear not being perceived as loving. They feel like, when they talk about Jesus, they come across as harsh and judgmental. They say that because they’ve heard plenty of unbelievers express that perhaps. But if I were dying with an infection this morning, and you were the only one with an antibiotic to treat me, would you be loving me by telling me how sick I was and offering me the medicine I needed? Certainly not! You see when I fear being perceived as unloving, I am putting human perception on the throne of my life.
That’s the principle: Whatever you fear becomes your God, and that is why it is so important to “set apart Christ as Lord in your hearts.” When I fear man, I do not fear Him and when I fear Him, I need not fear man. Why? Because the Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
I am to successfully face the challenge of this world with faith and with fear: the fear of God, that is. And that’s not all. I will be successful in the face of this world’s challenge with
DIV 3: FACTS
V 15 goes on to tell us, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; I love that verse! It tells me that I am not to back down from the challenge. When the world asks its question, I don’t just shut them off and refuse to discuss the issues. No, I am to engage the world and trust that the answers that Christ gives me will really make a difference.
But, let me hasten to say that there are some important qualifications given for this answer which we are to give. It must first of all be timely. Peter says, always be ready. That just says that we ought to walk around in a constant state of readiness to answer for our faith. We ought never to be too busy, or too tired, or too confused. We must be ready. And the only way that can happen is for us to be continually filled with the Holy Spirit. I have noticed as I have been studying through the book of Acts that over and over again the scripture says that, when the people were filled with the Holy Spirit, they spoke the word with boldness. That’s what is meant by always being ready. I’m plugged into the power source and I can speak with authority. The answer must be timely.
And then, the answer must be prepared. Peter tells us to be ready to give the answer. That means we must be prepared with the answers. We must engage, to whatever level of mental ability we have, to get the answers. You ought to know why evolution doesn’t make sense. You ought to know why we say that this Bible really is God’s word. Your answer must be prepared and timely.
But, then, it must be engaged. Peter says we are to be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you. We are to connect with the culture. One commentator wrote, The Christian community may be a colony in a strange land, but . . . “Cultural isolation is not to be the route taken by the Christian community. It is to live its life openly in the midst of the unbelieving world, and just as openly to be prepared to explain the reasons for it.” My answer is to be timely, prepared, engaged, but last of all it is to be . . .
Humble. Peter says that we are to offer our answers with meekness and with fear. Now the first question that may pop into your mind when you see that is this: “Rusty, I thought you just told us that we were not to fear other people, but here the Bible is telling me to give my answers with meekness and fear. This is confusing.” Well, taken in context, it makes sense. When you are told not to fear in the earlier part of the verse, it speaks of the reverence you reserve for God alone. So we are not to be afraid of the threats we receive from man because we are fearing God. When it says, here, that we are to answer people with “meekness and fear,” it speaks of the respect and gentleness with which we are to treat others when we answer them. Our answers are not to be offered in a “gothca” spirit. We are to be gentle and respectful in the way we answer others. We must do it with humility.
You see, there really are answers to the questions of our culture, and we our answers must be timely; they must be prepared; they must be engaging; and they must be humble.
You might say, “Wow, that’s a tall order, Rusty, how can I pull that off?” Well, let me suggest four actions you can take to do this. First sensitize your heart. Be willing to get involved. I know so many of us like being “ostrich” Christians. We want to stick our heads in the sand and act like the world isn’t even there. We’ve got enough on our plates without involving ourselves in anyone else’s life. I know you’re like that, because I’m very often like that. Here’s what you and I have to do. We have to stop walking in the flesh and start walking in the Spirit. We must allow God to make us sensitive to the issues going on around us. We must sensitize our hearts.
Second, embrace your faith. Don’t just mentally embrace your faith, emotionally embrace it. Don’t just love the facts of the truth, love the person of the truth. That’s what I love about Christianity. It isn’t about facts primarily, its about Jesus. After all, it was Christ Who said I am the way the TRUTH and the life. Love HIM!
Sensitize your heart, embrace your faith and then, humble your pride. As you learn truth about Christianity, there will be a tendency for you to become arrogant and proud. Reject that tendency. Always answer with meekness and respect.
And there’s one more. You must prepare your mind. If you don’t know how to share your faith, take EE or Sharing Jesus without fear. If you don’t know why Jesus’ resurrection is one of the most reliable facts of history, do some investigation. Get some answers. You see, there really are answers out there. Take a look at this.
VIDEO - youtube - the bible can be trusted - lee strobel - LET’S PLAY THE TRUTH CARD
But if you are going to play the “truth card” you must prepare yourself, and you must deeply know the truth. And just in case you want to know where to get started, I want to make some suggestions.
GO THROUGH THE TEN BOOKS
Defending Your Faith - Sproul - EVIDENCE FOR EXISTENCE OF GOD AND TRUTH OF SCRIPTURE
The Consequences of Ideas - Sproul- WHERE OUR FALSE CULTURAL IDEAS COME FROM
Scaling the Secular City - J. P. Moreland.
Slandering Jesus - Lutzer - DEFENDS JESUS AGAINST CURRENT ATTACKS
The Case for the Real Jesus - Strobel
The Case for Christ - Strobel
The Case for the Resurrection - Strobel - GIVES A STRONG CASE FOR BELIEVING THE RESURRECTION
The Case for Creation - Strobel - DEALS WITH DEFEATING EVOLUTION
Defeating Darwinism - Phillip Johnson
You can face the challenge of the world through faith, fear, and facts. Last of all, the greatest weapon you can wield in this battle with the culture is this one. It is:
DIV 4 - FRUIT
When I say “fruit,” I am speaking of the power of our testimony, the force of a life that demonstrates integrity. Peter, here, introduces to the two sides of this final weapon when he says in v 16 . . . having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. The first side of this weapon is inner fruit. He says that we should have a “clear conscience.” That just mean that our integrity must flow from a clear conscience in our personal integrity before the Lord. You can’t talk about the power of God to change lives if your life hasn’t been truly changed. The inner conviction and passion that flows from a cleared conscience become mighty weapons in the hands of the Holy Spirit. A powerful testimony begins with inner fruit.
But there must also be outer fruit. Peter says, having a good conscience that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. Don’t miss what He’s saying here. In the middle of our persecution when the world is rasing charge after charge against us, the world will turn and look at our lives and when they hear the charge that we’re dishonest, they’ll respond, “That’s not true. He’s always honest with me;” when they hear the charge that we’re “angry fundamentalist,” they’ll respond, “That’s not true. She’s always kind to me;” when they hear the charge that we’re just out to get money and spend it on ourselves, they’ll respond. “That’s not true. Last year when I lost my job, that church gave me food and they paid my light bill.” And in the face of the evidence, the accusing world blushes in the embarrassment of the obvious deceit of their lies. Fruit is the greatest weapon with which to face the challenge of this world.
And all of this leads me to two applications: First, if you don’t have inner fruit, outer fruit is just hypocrisy. In fact, some of us here today are demonstrating outer fruit with our very presence in this room, but our inner fruit is sorely lacking.
Husbands, do you act one way here in front of us, but another way at home when you’re screaming at your family? Teens, do you act one way in front of your church friends, but another way infront of your friends at school? Church member, are you filled with faked praise while sitting in front of the pulpit, but filled with lust when sitting in front of your computer screen. Do you lift your hands when we sing, “Lord I give you my heart, I give you my soul, I live for you alone,” then refuse to obey God? Outer fruit without inner fruit is just hypocrisy.
A few years ago we had a riveting example of this. Ted Haggard led the National Association of Evangelicals and took a strong stand against homosexuality, only to be caught soliciting a homosexual liason. This little clip is chilling. Take a look:
Without inner fruit, outer fruit is just hypocrisy, but the opposite is also true: Without outer fruit, inner fruit is easily ignored. Some have said, “Hey, if I only have the real love of God operating in my life, the presence of God in me will be so overpowering that there will be no need for to ever breathe a word about the gospel. Listen, Christian, that is a lie! The Bible says as much. Paul, writing in Romans 10, said it like this:
How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:
“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace,
Who bring glad tidings of good things!”
It takes hearing the gospel in order to come to faith in Christ, and that means that inner fruit without outer fruit is often ignored. And it goes beyond what we say to what we do. We don’t just talk about the love of Christ, we demonstrate it in tangible ways.
Here’s my question this morning: How many opportunities are we missing?
Are we missing opportunities because we aren’t trusting God? We are so focused on our problems, as big as they might be, not seeing that God really is in control and He is going to use our very problems and persecution to open a door of opportunity. Are we making mountains out of the spiritual molehills of our lives, grumbling our way through missed opportunities and wondering why we never seem to be able to win anyone to Christ? Are we missing the opportunity to trust God?
Are we missing opportunities because we are fearing man and not God? Are we living in mortal fear of our boss, or that person at work who mocks Christianity? Are we afraid to stand up for the Lord because we’re afraid of being misunderstood? Are we fearing man or God?
And are we missing opportunities because we have no answers? O, the answers are there, but we’ve never availed ourselves of them. If we ever have someone talk with us about evolution we end up looking foolish because we don’t know what we’re talking about? Are we being cowed by the atheist who challenges our faith in God when it is he or she who should be backed into the corner of their own dead-end thinking?
And are we missing opportunities because our inside doesn’t match our outside; because our outer fruit is missing or our inner fruit is rotten. Success comes from faith, fear, facts and fruit. Our culture does not have bring our defeat. It can become the source of our greatest opportunities.
So, how are you handling your opportunities?
Joe Stowell writes
It was six o'clock in the morning, and I had just finished my early run. As I passed the local Starbucks, I decided to stop in and get a couple cups of our favorite lattes and take them home to [my wife], who would be waking up. Since the café had just opened, there was only one other person in line in front of me. But it wasn't your ordinary wait-in-line-for-coffee drill. The guy in front of me was in a tense argument with the clerk. In loud and no uncertain terms, the customer was complaining that all he wanted was the copy of the New York Times that he was holding in one hand while he was waving a fifty-dollar bill in the other. The fight was over the fact that the clerk did not have enough change yet to break the fifty-dollar bill, which made it impossible for him to sell the paper.
It dawned on me that this was an early morning opportunity to commit one intentional act of [goodness] by demonstrating the excellence of the generous spirit of Jesus. So I said to the clerk, "Hey, put the paper on my bill; I'll buy it for him." This immediately defused the tension, and the grateful New York Times guy walked away saying, "Thanks a lot. All I have is yours!" Which evidently did not include the fifty-dollar bill.
To my surprise, when the barista handed me my coffee, he said, "Mister, that was a really nice thing for you to do. This world would be a lot better place to live if more people were like you." What he didn't know was that if he really knew me, he probably wouldn't say that.
His comments caught me totally off guard, and I knew that I could say something at that point that would point the glory upward…but nothing came. So I made some self-deprecating remark and walked out, haunted that I had missed a great opportunity to glorify God. As I was walking down the sidewalk, it came to me. I should have said, "Well, this world would not be a better place if more people were like me. But it would be a better place if more people were like Jesus, because he taught me how to do that."
I turned around to go back and tell him that, only to remember that by the time I left there was a line waiting for coffee. It didn't seem to me that it would be a great idea to break into the line and make a religious speech. My only conclusion was the thought that I was wearing my Moody Bible Institute hat. So I prayed that he would have noticed my hat. That he would always remember that Bible people do things like that, and that the world would be a better place if there were more Bible people around.
You know, Joe probably missed an opportunity there. But I can’t find a lot of fault with him. I must admit that I miss opportunities all the time. But I really do want that to change. I want to become a 1 Peter 3 kind of a Christian. I want to have the right faith and the right fear. I want to be armed with the powerful facts of Christ and I want to have the right fruit, so that others truly see Jesus in me! How about you?