Let me ask you a question: How has your faith been the past few weeks? Has the abundance of time off given you a chance to really invest in your faith and make it stronger than ever? Or without the regular routine has it slowed to a standstill? Maybe, if we are honest it's been wrecked since we last met. Life circumstances just totally seemed to overwhelm you.
Take a moment and self-assess your faith. Where do you fall? I don't ask this to judge or condemn, that's not what Christ is about. If we do fall short there is a new start available today, and not because of the new year. It's available because of what Jesus did.
The 21-Day Fast
As you may know, our church every year starts off with a 21 day fast. A fast is a time when you give up something for a set period of time to focus more on God. I started fasting this past weekend and Saturday I had the house all to myself. I found myself praying and seeking God, and I felt Him drop this message for you into my heart.
Message: "My Faith Cannot Be Based on Anyone Else's Faith"
I've titled it "Guide Rails," but I debated calling it many things like: "Celebrity Faith", "Christian Idols", or "Christian Training Wheels". They all convey the same idea that I want to talk about today:
"My Faith Cannot Be Based on Anyone Else's Faith."
Let me show you what I mean by that.
Paul planted a church in the city of Corinth.
He hung out there for a bit, then had to continue on his journey.
Sometime later a dude named Apollos showed up. (We met him in Acts). He's legit, a true Christ-follower, and had an incredible teaching gift.
Corinthians have some disagreements and questions, so they write to Paul.
Paul then writes a letter in response, which is the book we now call 1 Corinthians.
We find the church here divided. And they are not divided over major doctrine issues, the color of the carpet, music styles, or any of the normal things churches have fights over.
They are arguing about who the best preacher is.
Some are like: "Paul started this church! He is the best!"
Others are like "Yeah but Apollos is a way better teacher!".
Still others are like "They are cool and all but Peter actually saw Jesus and has a way bigger church so He is the best, no cap"
Let's put this into our context. If you have been here on Sundays, over the past few weeks Pastor Rodney, Sal, and Jim have all spoken. What's happening here in Corinth is some of the people are like "Rodney is the main pastor, he has done so much. I'm not going to go to church when someone else speaks." And then other people are like "Yeah maybe but I really like the way Jim preaches better." And others are like "Guys, clearly, Sal is the best".
Or maybe you or someone you know watches church on TV sometimes and they are like man this Steven Furtick guy is way better than my pastor. I'm just going to skip church and watch him. And the people are divided, arguing, all focused on the wrong thing, and missing the entire point of Church.
Paul pushes the point further in chapter 3:
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly-mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? 4 For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere human beings?
5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe-as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God's service; you are God's field, God's building.
Paul says you guys are totally missing the point. Apollos and I are nothing. We are not important. We exist only to serve Jesus. I started the church, and maybe Apollos has done a better job at teaching, but that's all irrelevant. What's important is GOD IS THE ONE MAKING IT GROW.
The Danger of Celebrity Faith
Paul is angry that the Corinthians are all basing their faith not on Jesus, but different celebrity pastors. He is trying to teach them what our main point is today. Let's all say it again: "My Faith Cannot Be Based on Anyone Else's Faith."
But I fear this issue still happens even today, some 2000 years later. Despite being an ancient document, I have heard some of these exact things said in our church today. No matter their skill at teaching or what they have accomplished; Paul, Apollos, Peter, Rodney, Jim, Sal, Steven Furtick, are all just humans. They are all just servants. Jesus is King. Jesus is the one that saves. And Jesus is the one who gave those Pastors the ability to breathe, let alone speak.
The Dangers of Putting Faith in Humans
The audacity then to ever let our faith be based on a single messenger then, as opposed to the message and the one who sent it. There is great danger in this, not only because we then are following a human rather than God, but because humans fail. Humans make mistakes. Even celebrity pastors and our spiritual heroes are humans who mess up. And then, if our faith is based on them, and they mess up, what happens to our faith?
Over the past year, God has done some incredible things. All over the world, the church has grown, despite hard circumstances. Yet also, this year has seen some major defeats for celebrity Christians.
The Imperfections of Christian Leaders
There have been multiple big-name Christian leaders of huge churches that have either been caught in affairs or even stepped away from the Christian faith altogether.
One of these affected me personally when Joshua Harris, a pastor, and author of multiple books that I really clung to as a teenager, stepped away from the faith and even divorced his wife. It's devasting when anyone looks Jesus in the eyes while He is on the cross for them and says "eh no thanks", but even more so when someone we love, trusted or had an impact on us walks away.
This isn't the first time this has happened, and it sadly won't be the last. Why? Because no matter how great a ministry, the pastor is still human. Does this then mean the ministry is false? Does it mean we should discredit it and that God can't be trusted?
The Bigger Picture
This is the story the enemy, the world, and media headlines will tell you. If this Christian superhero cant does it, then how can you? You might as well give up. Today though I want to tell you, these stories don't disprove the Bible. In fact, they prove it all the more.
Why? Because this isn't a book with stories about people doing great things. In fact, it's really the opposite. Read it for yourself and you will see. It's a story about people really messing up:
Adam and Eve didn't trust God
Abraham was a liar and adulterer
Jacob was a cheater
Moses couldn't speak and was a murderer
Gideon was a coward
David was an adulterer and murderer
Israel, God's chosen nation, was often more immoral than the pagan nations around it!
Paul murdered Christians
Peter betrayed Jesus
Yet these are the "heroes" of the Bible. Why? Because it isn't a story about humans doing great things. It's about humans messing up, and God doing great things anyway.
Finding Strength in God Amidst Imperfections
And that is the same story told in the failure of every big name pastor. It's the same story told whenever some Chrisitan we respected or trusted fails in our eyes. Because anything they accomplished, was actually God not them. And even in their failure, God can and will work it out for good. But to see that, my faith needs to be on Jesus, not them. Let's say our main point again: "My Faith Cannot Be Based on Anyone Else's Faith."
How many of you guys here can drive? And even those of you who can't drive, I am sure you noticed the long metal fences along the edges of the road.
They are called guide rails. They help guide you on the road and keep you from falling off. They aren't perfect though. If you hit them hard enough you can go through them, and sometimes they just aren't there. They are a good help, but you need to be able to stir your vehicle with or without them if you want to get to your destination.
Guide Rails in Our Faith
That reminds me of a lot of what our spiritual leaders and pastors are. They are people sent by God to help guide us on the path, but they are not the path themselves. It's good and healthy to have a mentor, someone you look up to and learn how to follow God from. But you have to grow to the place where your faith is your own.
I have a few people who really impacted me as I grew in faith. One of them was a man named John Yagalla. He is the guy who invited my dad to this church and is probably the reason anyone in my family is saved. He would often hang out with us and teach us about the Bible. I can remember many times asking him questions, and almost always he would respond just by giving me a Bible verse to look up, or say "Ask your teacher".
By asking your teacher he meant to ask the Holy Spirit to answer me. I often found these answers annoying, cause well, I just wanted him to answer me. But he told me he did this because he never wanted me to look to him as the one who had answers. He was training me that my faith had to be my own, not based on his. He taught me to rely on God alone for truth. That although I had good Christian role models to lean on, I had to learn to follow God for myself.
Our Faith Must Stand Alone
My Faith Cannot Be Based on Anyone Else's Faith.
The truth is, even if our Christian guide rails don't fail us and never break, there are times in life when they simply won't be there. Whether that's cause we move or go off to college or are just not able to be in contact, there may be times when we don't have any human person to call for help. What happens to your faith then?
I wonder if tomorrow there was no longer church, what would happen to your faith? If you no longer had a pastor to learn from, what would happen to your relationship with Jesus? Let's take it a step further if you no longer had access to a Bible, is there enough of the Bible already in you to carry you for the rest of your life?
A Challenge to Our Faith
I want to challenge all of us with these questions today, not cause I'm saying don't go to church or don't listen to a pastor, but I want to push all of us to be totally dependant on God, and God alone. And I challenge myself as well.
We need to be people who can drive and stay on the road with or without guide rails. We need to be people who can follow Jesus no matter what.
My Faith Cannot Be Based on Anyone Else's Faith.
And tonight I want to close by us all taking a moment to reflect on that. Let's all spend a few minutes in prayer. No band, no music, no one up here leading. Just us, sitting in silence, alone with God.
"is your faith your own?"
"Are you reading and praying and worshiping, growing in God each day?"
Let's all take a moment to pray and repent if we need to, and to commit ourselves anew to making our faith our own, not based on anyone else.