Summary: Faith comes to most of us some packaged form. In the lives of many Christians it is never unpacked - it remains in the box.
I have had this idea for a sermon illustration rattling around in my brain. Today seemed like the perfect day to use it. A few weeks ago now I referenced the beginnings of this illustration. It actually began with new siding and windows on our home. That meant a new deck. The old one was an eye sore and failed to meet code also. Then there was one more thing. A new barbecue. At first, Elaine said that she would be happy to assemble it. I thought that sounded like a great idea. I am worse than terrible when it comes to putting things together. So we went out and bought one. Really, of all the things that I mentioned, this was the most glaring need. It came unassembled, in a box. For several days, maybe weeks, it sat on the deck, in the box. Things like that are sources of conviction to me. I come home for supper and I see it there daring me to take it out and try to put it together. Finally I responded to the challenge and decided that Elaine and I would put it together. She would read the directions and I would do exactly as she said. I thought that this was a great character building project and hoped that the barbecue would be put together and the marriage would stay intact. We did it! We still love each other. Even through the minor mishaps where we put together something out of sequence and it had to be taken apart so that we would not run into an impasse later. I don’t think I complained even once. And she was great as always. And now we have a fully functioning barbecue on the back deck.
What I wanted to do was to buy a barbecue and bring it on the platform this morning in the box. Now if you could use your imagination from here. I wanted to put my apron on and throw a steak on the box and pretend to cook it. There is no imagination required to know that you can’t cook a steak on a barbecue that remains well packaged but in pieces in the original container. It’s ludicrous to think that a person could do this or that they would even try. But it might serve today as a visual picture that would direct our thoughts relative to faith.
For most of us, faith comes in a box or some sort of package.
First of all, for most people, faith comes in some sort of package. I have packaged my faith for my own kids in the best way that I know how. Much of that has been to try to help them avoid the negative aspects of Christianity that I have encountered along the way.
To be honest, I never found that coming to Christ was a very freeing experience at least not in the way that I imagined. The faith box was a constricting one. It had to do with people’s expectations. And they were so diverse. I think that people in my church loved me more when I was making no profession of faith than they did when I jumped through the hoops.
The big hoop for me was to respond to the “altar call”. When the preacher gave the invitation at the end of the service, people walked down front while everyone else sang and then bowed at the front pew, which no one sat in. I was just nervous in front of people and it wasn’t as some suggested that I was ashamed of God. I was ashamed of me. We were poor. In my mind we weren’t as good as the other people there in one way or another. I loved God and feared Him at the same time. If someone had told me that I could have accepted Christ without ever having to do that, I would have done so a long time before I did.
Religious hoops that we set in front of people are detriments to the gospel of grace. I would imagine that there may be people who never find their way to heaven because of things like this that we lay on people’s shoulders. Little traditions that we develop and we assign inherent spirituality to their practice. People come to believe that in resisting the practice or the hoop that this places them in opposition to God. But this is symptomatic of the “boxy-ness” of our beliefs. The idea is so silly when you think of it. To think that we give people the impression that God is so limited or confined that He must meet us in front of the church like this.
Now I have become accustomed to this practice. As a matter of fact, so have many of the rest of us. When we say that we long to see the altars filled, we are confessing that we see this as measurable evidence to the moving of God. Do you know what? I look back to points of spiritual advancement and growth that are centered around a trip to the altar. I also want you all to know that the altar in our church is a place for you to symbolize your desire for God or your dependence on God as you come to pray with people or for people. So don’t hear me say that I think that there is no value in coming here to pray. I am just saying that you can come to know Christ as your Savior without walking down this aisle and kneeling at these altars. If you are here today and you’d like to have someone talk to you about a spiritual need that you are sensing, there are many here this morning who can help you. The pastors of course, but you know, any person who has accepted Christ as their Savior can help you as well. It doesn’t require any special training, . . . really.