Scripture: 1 John 4:1-6
“It’s too good to be true!”
We’ve all heard this phrase before right? We’ve probably even said it a few times ourselves.
Usually when we’re talking about something being too good to be true, we’re hearing about a really good deal on something. And when we see such a good deal, we want to be sure it’s not someone trying to sell us a rip-off.
We’ve all heard stories of someone getting what they thought was a really good deal, only to realize it’s not what they thought it was. There’s stories like this in the news all the time!
Our phones ring at dinner times with offers just like these on occasion, often too many occasions!
We are wise to recognize that someone might be trying to take advantage of us. The hard part is often these people are good salespeople, who are well trained, and are really good at putting on the pressure to make the sale.
Typically I do not respond to high pressure sales. There have been times when I know I’ve needed something, we’ve gone to the reputable store, and the salesperson keeps making offers trying to sweeten the deal so we’ll just have to leave with a purchase. High pressure sales make me uncomfortable, especially as one who tends to be a frugal shopper and likes to research before I buy.
If you’ve ever gone shopping for a car, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I’ve walked off a few car lots and out of a few showrooms when the salesperson doesn’t respect my request for basic details and not pressure me for a sale today.
The same can be said for our moral and ethical lives. We need to carefully measure what it is we are committing to. In most cases these decisions are far more important than which sofa we are going to buy. But, people may still be pressuring us to make a hasty decision, a decision we haven’t considered before, and could have long lasting consequences.
We call that peer pressure, and if any of you remember your teenage years, you know what kind of weight that pressure can carry with it. And I’m convinced it’s much more difficult for teens now than it was for me in the late 80s and early 90s.
Just look at how drugs and alcohol have changed over the last number of years. Alcohol is now packaged as pretty much anything they want to have it taste like. There’s hard lemonade, hard root beer, and many many more, all sorts of options we never had to face as kids.
And drugs are far more potent than they were just a couple of decades ago, and even what’s considered the most harmless drugs are now being found with traces of deadly drugs like carfentanil.
The world is constantly changing. New technology is generally a good thing. It helps us communicate, it leads to new science equipment to help discover cures for diseases, and learn more about the world. But it also allows for a greater potential for harm and destruction. We need to be careful how we use it.
Our own spiritual lives, our faith, is really no different. We need to be cautious about the things we are allowing to impact our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
John reminds us in our reading today we need to test these things to be sure they are from God. This is coupled with the acknowledgement that many false teachers are out in the world trying to pull us apart from God, to sever this wonderful, life-giving relationship.
This is the tricky bit in having a relationship with God and a solid understanding of our own faith. People are actively trying to undermine faith, and some people don’t even realize it because it has become such a norm for our society.
So we need to to be able to test things. How do we do this? The first thing we do is compare it with God’s general will. Well, how do we do that?
We have the ability to consult it every day. It’s called the Bible. The Bible is God’s general will for his children. So if we are questioning whether something is from God or not, the first place we need to go is our Bible to see if it lines up with God’s word. That is our first step. If it doesn’t line up with God’s Word, his general will, then we drop it.
But not everything we experience is captured in the Bible so clearly. A lot of it is, but not everything. So we need to go the next step. The next step is to pray about it. Not just pray, but actually ask God what we are supposed to do about it and listen for an answer. Sometimes we will get an answer, and we’ll know just what to do. Other times we may not hear an answer, so we need a third step.
The third step is to get confirmation. This can happen many different ways, we can ask others to pray about it, and maybe they will hear an answer on our behalf. Another way could be a repetitive message, and I touched on this last week. If we are hearing a repetitive theme in our lives, particularly at times when we are seeking direction from God, then we must pay attention because it could be God giving us a message.
For instance, people may be praying for patience. Haven’t we all asked for patience at some point in our lives? Well it could be that God will not give us abundant patience, but instead put us in situations where we will grow our ability to be patient.
If you aren’t a patient person, and you ask God for patience, be prepared to be put into situations where patience will be required. Maybe you’ll get stuck in construction traffic when you are in a hurry to get somewhere. Maybe you will continually find yourself in the slowest cashier line at the grocery store, no matter which line you get in. God is helping you to learn patience.
Do you remember the movie The Karate Kid? Remember when the young student, Daniel, wanted to learn to fight the bullies he faced? What was the response of the sensei? Paint the fence, up… down, wash and wax the car, “Wax on… wax off.” All these chores Mr. Miyagi had Daniel do all were preparing his body to do the moves required in karate to fend off attacks. Once his body was trained and ready, then Daniel was able to apply them to his life.
God is training us too. If we need patience, then we find ourselves in situations where we will need to practice patience. If we’re asking for self-control, then we’ll find ourselves in situations where we’ll need to practice self-control.
Repetition can be God getting our attention and helping us grow in a particular area of our life.
So there’s three simple steps to test something to see if it might be from God or not: Check the Bible, Pray and listen, seek confirmation, whether from others or from our daily routines. God speaks to us in many different ways! We just need to train ourselves to notice.
We are all children of God, whether we really know it or not. And God wants us to know him as intimately as possible. The reason for this is if we look to God first and foremost, then it’s much easier for us to avoid the temptation to sin and the evil around us.
John says, “Little children, you are from God and have overcome [the evil spirits], for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:3)
We put our trust in the Lord. We allow the one who is greatest in all of creation and beyond to speak to our hearts so we can avoid and possibly even overcome the one who seeks to dominate this world.
And it might look like the voice of the world is doing a pretty good job of leading the charge right now. As Christians we need to be willing to stand up against these evils and work for the good of God’s children, as God would have us act! Which is why it’s so important for us to be close to God, and also be able to hear his voice in our lives.
One thing which has been big in the news over the last few days is the decision in Quebec around wearing clothing which covers the face. This is a direct response to women who wear head coverings and scarves because of their faith. These women are being told they must show their faces in order to receive government services, including in libraries and on busses. The agent must be able to see their face in order to service them.
This is racism. This is an attack on the freedom of a certain small minority of people in Canada. Do you think they will refuse services when someone wearing a parka and scarf tries to get on a Montreal bus when it’s -40 in February? Of course they won’t.
This needs to be spoken against, as Christians, because our brothers and sisters are being targeted because of their beliefs. Our Federal government should be all over the Quebec government for making such a law, and should be using all their resources to overturn it. Yet the Prime Minister says he will do nothing.
Who will speak for our neighbours when our government refuses to speak? There are now muslim women afraid to leave their home because (1) they won’t be able to receive any services, and (2) they are worried they will come under further racist attack. These are two very good reasons to stay home.
If Canada considers itself a Christian society, and I would say we still do, although it’s often hard to tell any more, then we need to act as Jesus calls us to serve, to love our neighbours as God loves us.
On Friday morning, I met for breakfast with other pastors in Cape Breton. The reason we get together is for mutual support, to share what’s on our hearts, and to pray for one another. We come from a number of different denominations, and we can all find things on which we will disagree theologically. But there’s one thing we all do agree on, and it’s what we all see as critically important for the future of Cape Breton, we need to love one another and we need to love Cape Breton just as Christ loves us.
And this includes the people who are even speaking out against the church, and for good reason in some cases. We are called to love and serve. Plain and simple.
And knowing how to love and serve our neighbours comes from a deep connection with the one who loves us most, our Father in heaven.
How amazing is it that God was willing to sacrifice his own Son to show us how much he loves us. Jesus came to the earth to teach people about the abundance of God’s love and grace for all people, and then to show how far this love would go, Jesus gave his life for us on the cross.
He allowed it! He didn’t need to die, he could have called upon God to send his angels to save him, but he freely took the pain of the cross to show the world the depths of God love for his broken and hurting children. Including each and every one of us here today.
If you are struggling with something in your life, I would encourage you to take it to God. He knows your struggle and he wants to help you through it and he wants to heal your pain.
Over the last two years God has healed a few points of pain in my life, and I know there’s probably more inside me he needs to help me with still. But I suspect I’m not quite ready for him to take me into those memories just yet. God is still preparing me, still working in me, to help me be a better child of my Father in heaven.
Just like he wants to do in you. Just like he wants to do in his churches, our neighbourhoods, our streets, our schools, our workplaces… God wants to heal the pain of this world. So much of the pain we have caused for ourselves because we have separated ourselves from his plan for it all.
Will we be bold enough to let God work in our lives? Will we let him live in our hearts and help us hear his plan as we test those big decisions of our lives.
Will we do the three steps: read our Bibles, pray and listen, and seek confirmation of God’s will for us?
My friends, we are the church, we are God’s hands and feet in the world. If we are going to do the work of God, then we need to be connected to the head, that is Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour, and let him lead us as we go.
He is our God, he is our Father in heaven, and through him all things are possible. What a gift it is to know him in our lives when we submit to his direction and let him lead the way.
Let us pray,
You have given yourself so we may know our heavenly Father and his love and grace for us. Help us to understand what it is we are here to do, in our church, in our home, in our work, in all of our lives, may we be close to you.
May the Holy Spirit be our guide as we make the big decisions of life and service to God. And may we be ever faithful in our daily walk.
Lord Jesus, we ask you for help, we ask you for guidance, and we ask you to make God’s love and grace known to us as never before. We ask all of this in your precious name, you our Lord and Saviour. Amen and amen.