Teaching – 09.19.2021
[1 Peter 2:1-5 and 1 Timothy 1:1-7]
CS Lewis once told a story about a time when he was speaking at an event, and talking about “theology” and a fellow stood up – an old, hard-bitten officer and the officer said, “I’ve no use for all that stuff. But, mind you, I’m a religious man too. I know there’s a God. I’ve felt Him out alone in the desert at night; the tremendous mystery. And that’s just why I don’t believe all your neat little dogmas and formulas about him. To anyone who’s met the real thing they all seem so petty and pedantic and unreal! Now, on the one hand, CS Lewis admitted – I agree with you. I think that man probably did have a real experience of God in the desert. It’s kind of like standing on the shoreline of the ocean, and then turning around and looking at a map of the ocean. Turning from real waves to bit of colored paper. Theology, those teachings about God, they are like a map – they are not as real as that authentic experience of God we find in those rare moments in life, just like a map is not as real as standing with your toes in the sand feeling the wind and the spray of the waves.
But there’s two things we need to remember: 1.) The map is what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing on the ocean. In that way, the map has behind it masses of experience, just as real as what we experience when we stand on the beach. The map fits all those experiences together. The second thing to remember is that if you want to go anywhere – the map is absolutely necessary. Teachings about God, theology, doctrines are not God – they are only a kind of map – but you need that if you want to grow. You see, what happened to that man in the desert may have been real, and was probably very exciting – but nothing comes of it. It leads nowhere. That’s why people like the sort of vague, new age type religion. Those exciting, emotional experiences of God – they are all thrills and no work! But you’ll never figure out how to get to Africa or England or anywhere else by simply standing on the shore and watching the waves. As Lewis says, “you will not get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic [from the shore] and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music.”
Today is part two of our sermon series called We are the Church. Each week we are looking at a piece of what it means to be a part of the church – last week we got started by talking about fellowship. Today we’re going to look at the importance of teaching. As CS Lewis said, “Everyone reads, everyone hears things discussed. Consequently, if you do not listen to Theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones – bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas. For a great many of the ideas about God which are trotted out as novelties today are simply the ones which real Theologians tried centuries ago and rejected.” If we want to grow in our connection to that thing that’s out there – it’s time to look at the map.
Now, in a minute we’re going to get into 1 Timothy and then we’ll move over to 1 Peter, but I wanted to set it up a little bit so you know what we’re getting into. You see, these books of the bible – like MOST of the new testament – are actually letters written to leaders in the early church. Basically this is a Pastor reaching out to another pastor about how to handle some conflict in their church. Some folks call them the “pastoral epistles” which is just a fancy way to say – letter to a Pastor. And the issue of teaching and false teaching comes up over and over – this is not a new problem. There have always been conflicts of doctrine in the church. Let’s dive into Timothy, right at the beginning of the book. [read v.1-2]. So this letter is from Paul, written to his buddy Timothy – who is leading the church in Ephesus, and Paul starts out with a little, “hey timmy, miss you bud.” [read v.3-4]. Paul tells Tim, “Stay there, to protect them from a different doctrine.” Now, there’s a lot of different definitions floating around, but let me lay it out like this – Doctrine is the map we follow to discover who God is. And Paul is telling the people – you gotta stick to the map! Otherwise you’ll get lost. There’s other teachers out there selling an off brand map of who God is.
Paul says the people teaching a different doctrine, [read v.4b “occupy themselves…”] Like, sure you’ve got your bible and the thousand of years of church history and the map that that was created to help folks grow closer to God – but I have this shiny new opinion over here that I just made up, let’s add THIS to the map. Like just looking at the map – I think it would be more fun if there was a valley over here, and let’s erase this mountain, that’s an Old Testament mountain, we don’t need that mountain anymore. I think there should be a canyon over here, and the ocean should be shaped like this. But Paul says, nope. Doctrine is not a wish list or a description of what we WANT God to be like. It’s a map of the reality that is out there. Look, if God was this made up thing, right? Like if God truly was just an opiate of the masses designed to make people be nice and benefit society and make church leaders rich – then you can shape him and mold him into whatever you want. Sure, redraw the map to fit the culture – that would be way easier for church leaders. And honestly, this is what I see with false teachers in the modern world. A lot of them don’t believe there’s anything actually out there – and so they feel they have the right to reshape God into whatever they want. But if God is a real thing. If the divine is truly out there – we don’t get to make the map. We don’t craft God in our image – all we can do as puny humans is respond to what has been revealed to us about God. And in case it wasn’t clear – God has been revealed to us through his word. And I’m talking about both the person of Jesus Christ AND the scriptures we have been given. Paul keeps going and says, [read v.6-7]. Paul tells Timothy, you gotta hang out and stay there in Ephesus, because these other teachers don’t know what they’re saying and they don’t know what they’re talking about. If your goal is to connect people to God, Timmy my man, you’ve got to stick to the map. Now, before we move over to Peter – you might have noticed I skipped a verse and we gotta go back. Paul tells Timothy, the whole point of all this talk about doctrine and the map to God and false teachers, verse 5 [read it].
So we move over to 1 Peter, which is a different letter for a different situation, but very similar vibe. Peter writing a letter to Christians in the early church. And he writes, [read v.1]. Now I wanted to read more than one verse at a time, but I gotta stop there. I know we’re talking about teachers and doctrine and stuff – but this is for everybody. Peter says, “get rid of all these nasty traits.” Malice, guile, insincerity, envy and all slander. And I want to focus in on those last two. Envy and slander, because those go together. Avoiding false teachers and sticking to correct doctrine is very important – especially in the modern church. But I have noticed a trend in church life. As a Christian church, we do this thing where all the other churches in town – we don’t see them as brothers or sisters – we see them as competition. And sometimes in that competition, we become envious. That church has more people, that church has a nicer building, that church has the better preacher, that church has a bigger program. And then that envy between churches, turns to slander. Well, they might have a nicer building – but you know they’re just a bunch of false teachers over there. Now, of course there are moments when churches out there are teaching the wrong stuff and they need to be held accountable – that does happen. But more commonly it is our inability to cheer for our brothers and sisters that leads to a false accusations of false teachers. Now I haven’t been to every church in Flushing, but I have visited a bunch of them, I’ve joined them for worship on Sundays, when I take vacation – I’m gonna worship on Sunday, and so many of them are amazing. Flushing is blessed with great churches. Fantastic preachers, godly leaders doing the best with their programs and people – loving God, showing people the map. And a little bit I’m up here, nervous to say that. (oh my gosh, if I say other churches are good we’re going to lose everyone in the pews. They’re all going to leave this building and go over to that building). And that fear shows my heart. It shows that I have lost sight of the purpose of church. Like Peter says, we need to rid ourselves of this mindset. We need to unlearn the bad habits of competition. My goal will never be to get people from other churches to come to this church. My goal is only, ever, for every single person that comes through the door – my goal is to show them the map, to help them discover the presence of God.
And here’s why – verse 2 [read 2-3]. Alright, it’s a little weird – but the metaphor here is a baby longing for its mother’s milk. And the presence of God to us should be like when a baby finally gets that mother’s milk. The presence of God is nurturing to us, sustaining, satisfying. And I know it’s strange, but Peter says, “you gotta taste and see that the Lord is good.” Let the presence of God fill you and satisfy you in a way nothing else in this world can satisfy you. Like a baby wants its mother’s milk. Now, okay – I’m going to try really hard and get through this metaphor without saying the word boob in the middle of my sermon. But I am a father of three little boys, and they were all breastfed – and I’ll tell you, when they wake up in the middle of the night or from naptime or whatever – they don’t want dad! Right? I know my children love me, they do, but we all know who the favorite is. I do not have the proper equipment that they are looking for. I am useless for that. And on those nights, when I choose to serve my wife – and the baby cries and I hear it on the monitor and I say, “no, you go back to bed – I will take care of the baby” and I walk into the babies room with a pacifier – I can’t fully express the look of disappointment on my kid’s face. “what are YOU doing in here? Not even a bottle, come on Dad – get with the program.” And it’s the most natural thing – for a baby to want milk, to want nourishment, and that’s what Peter’s getting at. We should want God, we should chase God, we should cry out for God like a baby longing for pure spiritual milk.
What you need to understand is that God is that thing that is missing from your life. So many of the people out there are living this empty life, like you get it to look good on the outside, like a house of cards – and you get really good at making it look shiny, and you get really good at getting your life to stay upright – every card balanced so perfectly. But then you live terrified, waking up and moving through every day worried that a simply gust will knock the whole party over. Just one big thing will send you tumbling. And so we make ourselves feel better. We fill this void with stuff. We get super involved in our job, or we obsess over going on the best vacations, we pour ourselves obsessively into our kids activities, we volunteer, we get super political, we binge tv, we fill in the space between the cards with anything and everything we can think of. We are addicts, desperate to fill that relentless urge inside with every drug and habit and time consuming nonsense our society can come up with. Because we KNOW. Deep down we know there’s something missing. All of this. All this fascade, this face we put on for the world. It’s this close to collapsing. It’s this close to crumbling.
But here’s what I need you to hear this morning. All of it – all this stuff you fill your life with to keep the house of cards upright – all of it is nothing. All of it is empty and meaningless and you don’t need it. What You NEED is time with your CREATOR. With the one who made you, and gives your life purpose and loves you and protects you and fulfills you. Like a baby needs its mother’s milk, we need the presence of God. God is the thing you’re missing. The living rock that gives you a foundation.
See, I thought I became a pastor to help people. It seemed noble, like I was going to have a career of basically just loving people. But then, as I have moved in this church, and in this denomination – in the modern Church – I started to notice all the idols. All the things we worship INSTEAD of actually worshipping Jesus. Like knowledge. So many of us thought – just get all the knowledge up into your head and that will fill the void. Did it work? No! We know practically everything, more information than your brain could ever hold – and are we a happier people? As a society we drug ourselves – both legally and illegally – just to get through the day. Depression is at an all time high. Suicide is at an all time high. And it’s not just knowledge. We use the god of technology – just need better tech. The god of money – just need more money. The god of politics – just need my team to win, get the laws we want, get the political victories. When I became a pastor I thought I was going to use God like a tool to fix people’s lives. Let me put a little bible study here, a little volunteering there, an awesome worship service there and I will solve all your problems with my godly type answers. But as I’ve continued in ministry – I realize even the construct of religion, as great as church can be, it will not fill the void. It will not shake the urge. It will not satisfy you. TO aim all this religious stuff at yourself. To use God as a self-help guru for your problems. It’s not enough. You need God. You need the presence of God dwelling in your life. A treasure that inspires you to give up literally everything in your life, your entire life is a sacrifice – if it just could mean that you get a little closer to Jesus. God saved me from the idol of religion by coming up into my life and showing me he was real. And he can do that in your life too. We don’t use God for OUR purposes, we NEED God to satisfy a longing that nothing else in this world can even comes close to filling.
There’s an old catechism, called the Heidelberg Catechism, and the question they ask is: What is your only comfort in life and death? And the answer, I’m gonna put it on the screen. Our ONLY comfort in life and death is: That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.
(That was written in 1563. There’s nothing wrong with the map)
The good news today is that God has provided everything you need to learn about him. He created you for this purpose. He created you and he knows all about you. And he has put the tools you need in life to grow closer to him. So that we could glorify him. Not a hair on your head will fall without your God knowing about it. All things in your life work together for your salvation. God has put everything in your life together, crafted your entire experience so that he would be the answer to the question of your heart. So that you would cry out to him like a baby searching for mother’s milk. God has provided everything you need to learn about him. The presence of Jesus, the word of God in the scriptures – teachers, brothers and sisters to serve and learn with – so that God can save your life.
So I have two pieces of application and then we’re done. First, taste and see that the Lord is good. Don’t try to use God as a self-help tool for your purposes. Don’t try to erase parts of the map you don’t like. Call out God like a baby. Let his presence fulfill every single one of your deepest desires. Let God comfort you, hold you in his powerful arms, rock you to sleep. If you don’t know God, maybe you’re a first time visitor today – and you’re nervous. What if God knew this about me, or what if God knew that about me. I don’t deserve God’s love, his care, his mercy. So let me show you one last piece of the baby metaphor. The baby doesn’t deserve mom’s milk. The baby didn’t DO anything, good OR bad, that would deserve the goodness of being nourished. There’s no test, there’s no qualification. Well, only if it comes out really cute does it deserve to be fed. NO! The baby has been designed that way. The baby comes out screaming because the world is cold and bright and scary and the baby has been crafted and created to be fulfilled by the mother’s milk. You are the same way. You have been created, crafted by God in such a way that only God can satisfy your deepest need. We come into this world, or we walk through the doors of the church screaming (maybe we’re screaming on the inside) – because the world is cold and bright and scary and we need God. I’m not up here telling you about God’s grace because you deserve it. I’m telling you about it because you need it. You won’t survive without it. Whether you’re brand new first time guest, or you’ve been in the same seat for decades – Taste and see that the Lord is good.
If you stand on the shore with your toes in the sand, you can experience the ocean. And in the same way in rare moments throughout your life you can experience the presence of God moving. But if you want to grow, or get anywhere in your faith – you need to pay attention to the map. So let me leave you with this. The word of God – found in the bible, and in the person of Jesus – gives us this incredible map, a theology or doctrine. Because there is an incredible God out there, and he loves you and he is what you need. So come close – taste and see that the Lord is good. Amen.