“God is Still in the Resurrection Business”
It's a remarkable thought that we worship a holy and perfect God. In this message, we're going to get into the implications of that for you and for me. Before we do, I want to mention…next week, we're launching into a new series. It's about what God does through families, and it's going to be called…it's a four-week series called, Hatch 'em Patch 'em Match 'em and Dispatch 'em. It's what families do. It's designed to build up families but also to build up our family because God's plan is that the Church be actually, a kind of the family where every human being who wants to can belong and be at home and be embraced.
Next week is Mother's Day, and a lot of times families and hearts are kind of open to God right around that time, so we wanted to let you know that series is coming. Be praying that it can reach it's full potential, and invite people to be here to be a part of it.
Okay. Here's what I'd like to start with this message. USA Today had an article one time about the 10 hardest things to do in sports, the 10 most challenging athletic activities. The second hardest according to this survey was to drive a race car at mega speeds and not die. Indy 500 cars will go up to 220 miles an hour on the straightaway. That was number 2. Number 3…the third hardest thing was to pole vault over 15 feet high…very challenging. Number 4 on the list…this surprised me a little bit…was hitting a golf ball long and straight. I thought that was kind of silly because a golf ball is just sitting there. It's not even doing anything; it's not moving. A child ought to be able to hit a golf ball. But that was number 4.
Does anybody want to guess what was number 1 on the hardest thing to do in the world of athletics? Hit a baseball…to hit a baseball thrown by a major league pitcher…toughest thing to do in the world of sports.
When we moved out here years ago, Ned Colletti, who attended our church, used to be with the San Francisco Giants at that time. He asked me if I'd do a chapel for them. Then when I went out there, he said, "Would you like to take batting practice at AT&T Park?" He asked John Yandle, who threw batting practice for Barry Bonds, if he would throw me some pitches. Now John was couple of years older than me. He had never actually pitched in the majors, so it wasn't like facing a young major league pitcher in their prime, but he does professional batting practice for Barry Bonds. So I thought, This will give me a good chance to kind of assess, to get an objective sense of, my athletic skills.
I never played organized baseball when I was growing up, but we used to play in a vacant lot in our neighborhood when I was a kid. The best pitcher in our neighborhood was a kid named Greg Clausen. When we were in the fifth grade, I could hit him better than any other kid in the neighborhood. There were only 2 other kids in the neighborhood, and both of them were in the first grade, but I was still the best. So I thought, Well, I did pretty well against Greg Clausen, and we'll see how this goes. This will give me a chance to get kind of a good measure on how good I am.
So, it's really cool…I'm downstairs under the bleachers in the batting cages at AT&T Park. John winds up and lets go of the ball, and I heard the sound of a ball hitting the net behind me. All of the sudden I realized, He's not just lobbing them in there; He wants to make this a contest. He's throwing as hard as he can. He's trying to show me up. He wants to see if I can hit his best stuff.
So I got a little amped up, and he wound again and pitched. This time I swung, but the ball had already hit the net several seconds by the time my bat got around to the plate. So I kept starting my swing earlier. Eventually, I would begin my swing about the same time I saw him start his windup. Eventually, I had several foul balls, and a couple of balls that I think dribbled into what would have been fair territory.
I was actually feeling pretty good about myself…until then, John said, "Do you want me to put a little zip on the next one?" And I realized those had been his lobs that he'd been throwing at me. So I said, "Well, sure. Go ahead, put some zip on it because it's been kind of hard to time these slow balls you've been throwing me." He wound up and threw, and I never even saw the next pitch. So I asked him, "That's your best pitch?" He said, "No. You wouldn't even want to see my best pitch." (Like I could even see his best pitch.)
I was trying to figure out where do I grade out on this scale? So I asked him, "Like when you throw a really good pitch, what level of player would be able to hit that well?" And he said, "Oh, a good high school player would crunch it." Oh, thanks a lot. "So, a college guy would be above that?" "Oh yeah. A good college player would strike out a high school guy with his eyes closed. Minor league guys would throw shutouts at college guys without breaking a sweat. You put a major league arm against a minor league batter…it'd be ugly."
Now until that moment, I had no objective idea where I stood relative to the biggest challenge in the world of athletics. I just in my mind thought, You know, I was pretty good against Greg Clausen. I had no idea until I stood at that cage at AT&T Park what reality was, and I found out. I got it in writing. He actually sent a scouting report to Ned Colletti on me…no kidding. This is what it said: "John Ortberg…bats right, throws right, took 10 minutes of batting practice. As a hitter, John makes a good pastor." Ned Colletti thoughtfully forwarded that on to me. Then he went to work for the Dodgers, which confirms he's kind of gone over to the dark side.
But that day at Giant's stadium, I got a little taste of athletic reality. I learned there is a vast chasm between sandlot baseball on Brendenwood Terrace in Rockford, Illinois, and major league talent at AT&T Park. That day I found out it's not just that I wasn't good. I didn't even know enough to know how not good I was.
This capacity for self-deception is not limited just to athletics. There was a study done a few years ago. People were researching the dynamics of incompetence, published in a psych journal. The researchers wrote that the first sign of incompetence, the first consequence of incompetence, is it creates the inability to perceive incompetence. The first thing that happens when you're not competent in something is you don't even have the ability to recognize how incompetent you are.
We deceive ourselves, not just about our athletic ability. We deceive ourselves about our intelligence. I think I'm pretty smart, until I read in the newspaper (as I did a couple weeks ago)…somebody who did not miss a single question on the SAT or the ACT or the PSAT…not a question. All of a sudden, I don't know that I can spell PSAT.
We deceive ourselves about our talent, don't we? People at a karaoke bar get up and sing with far more confidence than a realistic appraisal of their voice would allow. You hear some of them right here in this room, don't you?
We deceive ourselves about our appearance or about what aging has or has not actually done to us. A guy named Gordon MacDonald, a decade or two older than me, a writer and a speaker, was on a tram at an airport going out to the rental cars not too long ago. He was standing, and there was a young woman sitting in a seat nearby him…an attractive young woman. She smiled up at him, and Gordon thought to himself, I've still got it; feels pretty good at my age, I've still got it. Then she spoke to him. She said, "Excuse me, sir. I'd be willing to stand. Would you like to have my seat so you can sit down for the rest of this ride?"
We don't just fall victim to an inflated view of ourselves. In our society, we actually cultivate it. A book has come out in the last month called, The Narcissism Epidemic. The writers of it talk about how we don't just suffer from narcissism, though…we admire it; we promote it. Guess who Donald Trump names everything he owns after? Donald Trump. Ted Turner said, "If I had a little humility, I'd be perfect." In the article about this book: "How many narcissists does it take to change a light bulb?" Did you hear this? Just one. He holds the light bulb while the world revolves around him. That's where we live.
This means that nowhere does this inability to have an objective, accurate, reality-based view of our lives, our performance, show itself more than when it comes to the spiritual realm…when it comes to my moral character. How pure is my heart? How much duplicity is there in my actions? How much deceit goes through my lips? How much sheer unadulterated selfishness bleeds through everything I do?
Many, if not most, people in our society have never given serious thought to asking, "How would my life actually grade out?" Not by the standard of the neighborhood sandlot where I can always find a first grader to compare myself to, but in the eyes of a holy, just, righteous, perfect, truth-telling God. Holy, Holy, Holy...
The word sinner doesn't get used much in our day. It might offend somebody. It might hurt somebody's feelings. But the writers of Scripture are quite clear on this issue. The apostle Paul puts it like this: "For all (everyone of us) have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." That's the standard; that's the benchmark. That's what you were made for…to reflect the glorious goodness of God.
Now, after Jesus had been crucified on the cross and then resurrected on Easter, and then returned to His Father, the Holy Spirit was sent to His little band of followers. The Spirit came with great power. There was a huge feast going on in Jerusalem, and thousands of Israelites had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate…(it's called the Feast of Pentecost)…from all over the ancient Mediterranean world. They saw this strange phenomenon, this spiritual power being poured on this little group of followers of this would-be Messiah who had recently been crucified.
They all wonder what's going on. So the apostle Peter stands up and he gives them the very first sermon, the very first talk about this man, Jesus. Of all of the millions that would be given over the next 2,000 years, Peter stands up and explains to this crowd that there had never been a man like this Jesus. Nobody ever knew God like Jesus. Nobody ever understood life like Jesus. Nobody ever taught like Jesus. Nobody ever healed, manifested power, like Jesus. No one ever died like Jesus. No one had ever been resurrected, triumphed over death, like Jesus.
Here's the climax of Peter's sermon: "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." Leader and redeemer. "This Jesus, whom you crucified..." Now you think of the raw courage it would take a speaker to stand before a crowd and say those words, "…whom you crucified."
These were not spiritual slackers. These were people who had sacrificed time and finances…most of them were not wealthy…to travel from all over the ancient Mediterranean world…quite a dangerous thing to do…to be in Jerusalem for this feast, to worship God, to proclaim their devotion to him. They knew, compared to all the people who had not come, they were the moral and spiritual elite.
Peter stands up before them and says, "The truth is, your actions, your lives, are what led to the crucifixion of the best man who ever lived." You expect them to turn on Peter… "Who do you think you are?" You expect things to get real ugly. They're going to pick up stones, but they don't. "When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart…" They were to cut to the heart. "…and they said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what should we do? '"
Here's what's going on. Jesus had told his disciples that when the Holy Spirit comes, He will convict people of sin, and it happened that day. It still does. So let's talk about the conviction of sin because it is so important and so misunderstood.
Conviction of sin is not just doing something wrong and then being in pain over it. Sometimes people get caught doing something wrong, and it can be excruciating. Maybe they get caught by one person, maybe a spouse. Maybe they get caught and it makes national headlines. There can be great pain, but the truth is, it's not conviction over sin, it's embarrassment over being caught. In that moment, my pain is pain over…how are other people thinking about me? If no one knew what the reality is, then I wouldn't really be in pain. What I'm really in pain over is my reputation. That's not conviction of sin.
Conviction is not the same thing as the fear of punishment. Has anybody here ever looked in the rearview mirror of your car and seen blue lights flashing behind you? Anybody here? Mass confession…how many of you have every seen blue lights flashing behind you in the car?
When we first moved from California to Illinois about 15 years ago…we had just been there for less than 2 weeks…I was driving from church where I had been speaking. It's only about a mile to our house back there, suburban side streets. Wouldn't you know it, I got pulled over when I was almost to our house by a law enforcement officer who got out of his car, came over, and asked me through the window of our car, "Do you know why I pulled you over?"
I hate it when they ask that question. I said, "No, I don't know, but I know you'll tell me." He said, "Well, it's because you just came to a stop sign back there, and you did not come to a complete stop. You just came to a roll. I noticed that your license plates say 'California.' In California, they may be fine with it if you just roll when you come to a stop sign because California is kind of a loose state, but you're in Illinois now, and in Illinois, stop means stop."
I thought, You must be so proud of your state. I said, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do this, but I was coming home from church. Did I mention I work at a church…like, I work for God?" He said to me, "If I let you go, will you say a mass for me?" I realized he was Catholic and he thought I was. So I said, "Well, God bless you and hail Mary," and it all worked out okay.
See, conviction is not being embarrassed that I got caught. Conviction is not being afraid of the consequences. Conviction is when I get a glimpse of what I'm capable of. How did I become the kind of man who could do that? How did I become the kind of person who regularly cheats on tests? How did I become the kind of person who tells lies to get what I want? How did I become the kind of person who is so cowardly about what I say? How did I become the kind of person who wounds the people I say I love? How did I become the kind of person who can be so self-absorbed in the face of little kids who die everyday? You cut to the heart.
I don't even know how bad it is. That's conviction. It happens. Now, it can be quite a painful thing, but it is a wonderful gift of human beings. I mean, guilt can be neurotic and it can be distorted or mangled up, but the capacity to recognize moral truth is one of the most glorious things of what it means to be human. The loss of it is the loss of humanity.
The people cry out, "What do I do? What do I do?" Peter says, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ..." Now there's a new possibility for the human race. "…so that your sins may be forgiven, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." See, part of why we need the convicting power of the Holy Spirit is we cannot even see out own sin in our own power.
I'll give you an old illustration of this. When we lived in Chicago, there was a season when we would often get heavy snow. It was called winter. It started in August and ended in late June. To keep the traffic flowing, they would cover the roads with rock salt. Are any of you familiar with rock salt? Snow and rock salt are two reasons why Chicago is a stupid place to live. The salt would end up coating your windshield. There'd be a whole film covering your windshield. But here's what was interesting. At night, when you're driving in the dark operating by headlights or street lamps or moonlight, you don't even know the film is there on your windshield. You can drive it just fine. Then the sun comes up.
I was reading about that this week. Do you know how much more intense sunlight is than moonlight? It is 500,000 times more intense. In the intensity of the sunlight, truth is revealed. All the salt on the windshield gets illumined. Then you can't even see out of it. Then you're not going anywhere. Then you just have two choices. You can get the windshield cleaned up, or you can drive only at night, just stay out of the light.
John wrote, "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil." Of course we do. Of course I do. We connive with each other, see, because we don't want to see it…because it hurts.
A tiny picture of this, but it goes on all the time…Nancy and I were in South Africa a little over a month ago and talked with a lot of church leaders about my age about the era of apartheid. A number of them talked about it like this…They said, "You know, I never favored it. I knew it was a bad idea. But I look back on it now that it's been dismantled and discredited, and I find myself asking, 'Why didn't I say more? Why didn't I do more? Why didn't I protest? I was working in a church; I was talking about God and light. Why was I so silent on this? ' "
See, there's a whole system. If you were white, you talked mostly with other white people. The evil and the injustice and the sin of this whole system did not enter your mind with sufficient force to move you to act. So millions of people lived in injustice and cruelty, and of course they could see it because they were the victims of it. The evil still ripples out. That's just our world, over and over and over.
That same dynamic is at work in you and in me. Money, greed, sexual impurity, gossip, judgment, hypocrisy, deception, flattery, bitterness, hatred, ego…I can't even see it. I'm just in the dark. I'm on the sandlot measuring myself against first graders…never stopped to think in reality, in the eyes of a truly holy, truth-telling, perfect God.
Then one day the Holy Spirit comes. The presence of the Spirit of God is the blazing light that makes sin impossible to ignore, and I see the truth. Then the pain is not just about other people knowing. It really doesn't matter. In the eternal scheme of things, it does not matter what people know or think about me. Then the pain is not just about some painful consequences. They don't really matter. They will not last through all eternity. They're not the deal.
Then the pain is me, my sin, my brokenness. Peter says, "Repent." God, forgive me for my sin. God, send me as much light as I can stand. God, clean off the windshield what I cannot clean. God, cleanse me of whatever needs to be cleansed in me…not somebody else, now…not my brother, not my sister, not my husband, not my wife…me.
Now repenting of my sin is never despairing of my sin. It's always done in hope. There is a God who loves to forgive. No child of his has ever run so far away that he doesn't open his arms wide up at the first step of a turnaround and say, "Yeah, come on home. Come on home." Then repentance is not just asking forgiveness. It is also deciding to have a new strategy for living. From this day on, my strategy for life is…I will trust Jesus…not trust myself. My life won't be about me anymore. I will surrender. I will submit. I will bend the knee. I will do what he says as he helps me. I will put my life and my future in His hand.
That's the most important question in life: Who are you going to trust with your life? When I repent, I acknowledge my sin. I ask God to forgive me through Jesus' life and death and resurrection. Then I make Jesus the one I trust. I commit myself to do what He says. He promises to send the Holy Spirit to be with me to help me. People are cut to the heart. What do we do? Peter says, "You repent."
Then there's a next step. There's a kind of picture, a sealing of that decision. I want to show you what it looks like. Peter says that if you have not been baptized…if you become a follower of Jesus and you've never been baptized, then your next step is to get baptized. It's kind of the public way of expressing with your body the decision, the spiritual reality that you have experienced in your soul.
There's this symbolism in it. Paul says, "We were buried with Christ through baptism into death..." Die to my sin. Die to the old way. "…in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father [that glory of which we have all fallen short] we too may live a new life."
I want to show you a video from the church where I used to work of people being baptized. I want you to look at the life in their faces because every one is a story. Look in particular for one guy. His name is Dave. Bill Hybels who is the senior pastor had known Dave for years. They sailed together; they were friends. Dave was about as far away from God as you could be. Bill would pray for him and have conversations with him and Dave just held God off at arms length, month after month, year after year…five years.
Finally, the Holy Spirit broke through, and Dave made a commitment to Christ and said, "Okay, now I want to get baptized." Bill told Dave, "Here's how baptism works. The worse your sin is, the deeper you have to get pushed under water to get all that stuff cleansed out of you." So watch this video and see if you can tell which guy is Dave. Take a look.
I have to tell you…the joy of getting right with God. Just having gone down another road and then turning and saying, "God, I want to know you. I want that junk to be cleaned up. I want to be forgiven. I want to live in grace. I want declare myself to be a follower of you. I want my life to matter for eternity. It's just the best to be part of a community that declares and manifests that reality. It is worth giving your life for like nothing else in the world.
So, if you have never done what it is that Peter invited those folks to do…just saying, "Spirit, go ahead. Come into the heart. Give me all of the light I can stand. Clean me up. I want to be forgiven because of what Jesus did." Do it. Don't just drift. Some of you…I just get concerned for you…you may attend the church for months or even years and say, "Yeah, I believe in God," but you just never allow the Spirit of God to push you to that point where you say, "Alright, no more messing around. No more sitting on the fence. I'm declaring myself." You declare.
Then, if you've never been baptized before and God is kind of tugging at you to say, "You know what? I'm going to let the world know." People sometimes ask, "Do you have to be baptized to be saved?" Well, there's nothing magic about the water or the ceremony or anything. I think the real question is…If you're going to be a follower of Jesus, why in the world would you start your Christian life by refusing to do the very first thing He asks you to do?
Next month, we're going to have…we'll see what happens…but somebody has volunteered to let us use the pool at their house, and we're going to do a baptism deal and put you down as deep as you need to go, and then bring you up.
Everybody, just turn in your program real quick... Everybody just go ahead and grab your program. On the inside back panel there's this little space Responding to the Call just to help you clarify. We're going to pray right now. If you have just been kind of drifting for whatever reason…if you have not declared yourself as a follower of Jesus and you're ready to say today, "I want to repent. I want to make Jesus my forgiver and my leader. I want to be His follower," then you put a little a checkmark in that box. We'll have folks with baskets around and you can just slip it in there. We'd love to help you as you seek to grow.
If you've not been baptized, if you want to declare your faith, affirm your faith through baptism, or you just want more information about that, put a little checkmark in the box that says, I'd like to learn more about being baptized on Sunday, June 7. Then give us some contact information. Then, if there's anything else, any other decision that you want to make or anything that you'd like prayer for, we have folks who have said they'd be willing to pray or to respond this weekend. So let us know about that. Don't resist the Spirit if that tug is going on in you.
Let's pray right now.
Now, right now, you before God…you know the Holy Spirit has lost none of His power. He still breaks through sometimes in moments when we least expect it and pierces our defenses and cuts to the heart. If He's doing that to you right now, then what Peter said all those centuries ago, God still does.
You just repent. If you never have before, then you tell Him, "God, I repent of my sins. Would you forgive me? I want to stop leading my own life now. I want to submit. I want to bend the knee. I want Jesus to be my friend and my guide and begin a new life today that will go on into eternity with You." Tell God that right now, and you just make that little checkmark in that box.
We'd love to help you grow. If God is tugging at you to get baptized today, to say, "I want you to have the courage and the love for Me that you will publicly declare yourself." You tell Him right now, "Alright, God, I'll do that. I want the world to know You matter more to me than anything or anyone."
Father, your Spirit's at work in this room. Would you cut us to the heart? Then would you heal us? Will you help people who need to die right now die, and then bring us back to life…real life. We pray this in Jesus' name, Amen.