11 Mar Starting Over with Jesus
March 8, 2020
Sermon: “Starting Over with Jesus”
Scripture: John 3:1-21
A temporary employment agency in Washington DC began offering a $100 bonus to the employee who makes the biggest mistake of the month. They won’t get a reprimand. They won’t get demoted. They will receive a $100 bonus. Also, I read about an executive who thought he was getting a great deal on a shipment of belts, so he acted quickly and bought a whole warehouse full. Only later did he discover that what he bought was not manufacturing belts for the conveyor system at the factory, but a bunch of those three-inch-wide paisley belts from the 1960s. Instead of getting fired, he was awarded a bronze plaque that proudly commemorated the “Worst Buy of the Year.”
When I read these stories, I had two reactions. My first was: Are these businesses nuts? Have they gone crazy, or what? And then my second thought was that maybe I could talk the church council into adopting a similar policy. Perhaps there could be a bonus for the worst sermon of the month. I can always use some extra cash. And best of all, I am guaranteed to win every month.
Seriously though, there’s a strategy behind rewarding mistakes. The president of that temporary employment company explained it this way: He said that, the objective of the exercise is to get people to take risks. An official at the company where the employee got promoted instead of fired for making that terrible purchase put it this way, “If you don’t go up to the plate and swing hard, you’re never going to hit a home run. If you’re not willing to make a mistake, you’re not really trying.” The bottom-line is that risk-taking is the only road to success. And companies are finding that it’s worth rewarding a few mistakes along the way if it encourages their people to take the risks that can bring in huge rewards. And the same is true for people of faith.
How much faith does it take to follow Christ? How much risk are we willing to take? That’s the heart of the discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus. That’s what Jesus meant when he said you must be reborn. Because birth is an inherently risky procedure. And if you don’t believe that, ask any mom about how risky birth can be.
With that in mind, Jesus tells Nicodemus that being part of the kingdom of God requires the same. Jesus tells Nicodemus that following God takes commitment. And that being part of the kingdom of God demands giving all that we have. Remember what Jesus said? “I assure you, unless you are born again, you can never see the kingdom of God.” In other words, no one can be a follower of God unless he is willing to take a risk. No one can be part of the kingdom of God unless they are ready for commitment. And, we must be willing to let go of our old life, and trust in God for a new birth.
“You must be born again” is the way Jesus put it. In other words, you must take the risk to start again. For taking risks is the only way we grow — not only in business, but in our personal and spiritual life, as well. Either we take a reasonable risk and expand the horizons of our life, or we become stagnant and, in the end, live a life of regret. When people over the age of 95 are asked what changes, they would make if they could live their life over again, one of the top three responses they always give is that they would take more risks. But you don’t have to be 95 to look back on life and wish you’d been more of a risk-taker. Think back to high school days. Don’t you wish you had taken the risk to try out for the school play or the cheerleading squad or the football team? When you look back on some of your friendships, don’t you wish you’d taken the risk of being more honest and open with the people you love?
Many of us can look back on businesses or investments or personal ventures and wish we’d hadn’t played it so safe at the time. No one can go back in time to seize lost opportunities. No one can live life again. But we can go forward. We can take the risk of trusting Christ. We can look to God to lead. So, let’s take a moment today and look at what risk is all about, and why spiritual risks are well worth taking.
First, of all what is risk? Well, risk is simply the ability to stretch beyond the usual limits in reaching for a goal. Risk involves facing a fear and chancing failure. Maybe it’s the fear of the unknown, the uncomfortable, the unacquainted. Or, maybe it’s the fear of physical harm or emotional hurt. Whatever it is, risk always involves adventure. When we face our fears and take a risk that’s when we experience the thrill of following Jesus. Because faith and risk are intertwined. It is only when we stretch the horizons of our lives, it is only when we venture away from the comfortable to follow Christ… that faith takes on a new true dimension. That’s what Jesus was trying to tell Nicodemus. You must be born again. You must risk a new beginning. You must trust yourself to a new birth in God to truly be part of the kingdom of God. As long as you hold on to the old way of living, as long as you are afraid to follow Christ, as long as you are unwilling to risk your life for God, you will not be part of God’s great adventure.
And that great spiritual adventure is all around us. For instance, when we follow God’s teachings on honesty despite the fear of what it may cost us, that’s spiritual adventure. When we ask God to open doors for us to make a difference in the lives of others around us despite our fear of where that may lead us, that’s spiritual adventure. When we talk to someone about our faith, in spite of our fear of what they may think of us, that’s spiritual adventure.
Those are the times when we leave the smooth, paved road, and when we abandon the boring residential streets for the adventure of unmarked trails that’s when faith becomes real, and that’s the new birth that Jesus is promising us. Faith means being born again as a new person, leaving the comfortable behind and joining God on a new adventure.
Brothers and Sisters, God asks us to be risk-takers for Christ. God calls us to follow Jesus on paths that are unknown. And, God invites us to venture forth in faith beyond the ordinary and mundane.
How much faith does it take to follow Christ? In Matthew 17, verse 20, Jesus answers that question. He says, “If you have faith even as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain: Move from here to there, and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” The question is not how much faith it takes to follow Christ; it’s whether we will use the faith we have. It is whether we will put our faith into practice and adventure forth with God.
The Bible says in Hebrews 11:6 that “God rewards those who seek him.” Rewards come to those who take the risk of faith. Adventure awaits those who decide to follow. And, a new life is ours when we consent to being born again. But the first step begins with us. We must take the risk.
I have a challenge for you tomorrow, start your morning by offering the prayer that Nicodemus was unable to make. Begin by saying, God, I want to take the adventure of faith with you. I want the new beginning that comes with being born again. I want to get serious about my faith. Use me like you’ve never used me before. This is the kind of prayer that says, I want to be part of the action. This is the kind of prayer that says, I want to grow in my faith. This is the kind of prayer that says, “I want a new birth in my following of Jesus. And, God, I want a new adventure with you.
I’ll admit it’s a risky prayer, and a prayer that God will answer differently for each one of us. For some, it will mean devoting ourselves to beginning a new routine of prayer and deepening our faith through spiritual discipline. For others, it will mean asking God to use us as a blessing in the lives of others, by starting a conversation about values and faith, and helping them to new birth as well. For some, it may mean that God has basic training in mind — that it’s time to get serious about Bible study and building a more solid foundation for our faith. It may mean setting aside some bad habit or being more loving at home.
Friends, this morning’s topic is a risky adventure. Because it really isn’t about how much faith we need to follow Christ, but whether we’ll use the faith we have. When we ask God to use us, God will bring us a new beginning. And, God will give us a new birth.
In conclusion, I want us to consider the alternatives before us today. We can let God give us a new birth in following Jesus. And, we can risk a spiritual adventure with a faith that is alive. Or, we can continue living live as usual, maintaining a non-threatening existence, while holding on to our old ways that are so comfortable and pleasing to us. This is the same choice that Nicodemus faced. And this is the choice that faces each of us. But remember the choice we make determines the life we will live. Here is an example.
There was once a man that looked around and saw people love each other. He saw that love made strenuous demands on them. It required sacrifice and self-denial. It produced arguments and anguish. It involved risk and hurt, and the man decided that love would cost him too much.
He decided not to allow himself to be hurt. The risk was too great. Then the man looked around and saw people striving for great goals. He saw men and women pursuing high ideals, but he saw that the striving was frequently mixed with disappointment and the ideals often carried a great cost. And the man decided that great goals and high ideals were too costly for him. So, he decided that the risk was too great. Finally, the man looked around and saw people serving others. He saw them giving money to the poor and spending time in their care. And he saw that the more they served others, the more they were needed. He saw ungrateful recipients of this care and tired out workers. And he decided not to waste his life with serving those in need. The risk was just too great for him. When the man died, he went up to heaven and was confident God would be pleased. This man’s life was free of the hurt and worries of the world around him. The man said proudly to God, this was my life, safely lived and risk free. And God replied, What life? That’s not the life that I gave you to live. You risked nothing…and you helped no one in need.
So, ask yourselves today. Do I have enough faith to follow Christ? Am I willing to risk everything for Him? And when you are contemplating these questions please remember what Jesus said, He said, “I assure you, unless you are born again, you can never see the kingdom of God.” Amen.