Some time ago when I preached this message in one of the churches I was helping to plant, I got a few smiles and chuckles as I entered the pulpit. The reason was because of the way I was dressed. I wasn’t wearing my clergy shirt, but a set of green medical scrubs. I had a stethoscope draped around my neck and my CEEC.CHURCH clergy ID card clipped to my pocket.
I’m not a medical doctor. I don’t even play one on TV. I hold a PhD in Leadership and a Doctor of Ministry, but neither of those require scrubs, to be sure. That morning I began by explaining that I wasn’t there as an internist, checking out the insides of people. Nor was I there as an oncologist looking for cancer. Not a dermatologist, cardiologist or surgeon. I was there that morning to be a PNEUMATOLOGIST. I was there to examine the pneuma — the “spirit” — of the folks gathered to hear my message. I’m going to help you check out your spirit this morning.
Today’s verse says PEOPLE MAY BE RIGHT IN THERE OWN EYES, BUT THE LORD EXAMINES THE HEART.
Most of us have received a physical exam to check the general state of our health. Usually it’s no big deal. One day in 1990, I went to a doctor to get a physical. As he was a new doctor for me, I walked in and said, “Okay, Doc, what are we going to do?” He said, “Well, I’m just going to kind of give everything a little exam. Strip to the waist. I’ll have you walk and bend over and touch your toes. I’ll check your eyes. I’ll look at your heart. I’ll kind of look at everything.” We began and everything was going great — right up until the time he got to my back and he kind of scratched his head. That’s when I heard him say, “Hmmm, this doesn’t look quite right.”
Well, I’ll save you all the gory details. But two weeks and two doctors later, I found myself in the Melanoma Clinic at Mass General Hospital in Boston where a team of trained medical people spent three hours going over every part of my body inch by inch. At about 10 o’clock the primary doctor walked in and he looked at my back. Then he turned to the nurse and said, “I need to know when the next surgical opening is.”
Two thoughts dawned on me at roughly the same time. First, the fact that I was going to need surgery was a pretty big shock. Second, and worse, was that I hadn’t even told my wife anything yet. (In my own defense, I didn’t have a lot of information to tell yet. I had figured I’d come back from the hospital with a list of problems, issues and plans for next steps.) When the nurse walked in and informed the doctor that there had just been a cancellation at 10:30 and the doctor said, “Prep him,” I knew I was going to have some explaining to do.
I had already learned that I had cancer two days before my trip to Boston. That morning I learned I had a choice — cut it out or die.
The problem was that doctor couldn’t give me a promise of success. He didn’t know how it was going to turn out.
This morning, while we’re waiting for the Great Physician to return, I thought I’d give you a little exam to see how your spirit is doing.
Let’s start with your walk. The scripture says as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, walk in Him. That seems pretty straightforward. How do we receive Christ Jesus as Lord? For those of us who have done it, we know that we have received Him by grace through faith. It is not something that comes out of ourselves or our own efforts. It is the gift of God; not based on our works, so no one can boast. We don’t get saved by doing good works or by being good, or by attending a particular church or avoiding a particular place. We’re saved by grace through faith.
If the word says, “As you received Christ Jesus as Lord, so walk in Him,” how are we supposed to walk in Him? We received him by grace through faith. So we’re going to walk in Him by grace through faith.
Now, unfortunately the Bible doesn’t give us a specific definition of grace. There are some really insightful explanations of it, of course. You can spell it out = G-R-A-C-E = and use it as an acronym — God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Let me give you the Bishop Robert definition. Grace is undeserved love applied to meet a specific need. Grace is when Jesus loved us enough to come down to earth, live His life, then give His life to meet the very need we have. He chose to forgive my sin and your sin.
He applied grace. As we walk our walk, we’re all going to have opportunity after opportunity to choose to love, to choose to forgive and to choose to apply grace. If we’re going to walk properly, we need to be walking in love. Jesus told His disciples, “A new command I give you – that you love one another as I have loved you.” Talk about a high standard. And He said something very interesting. He said this is how everyone’s going to know we’re His disciples. Not going to be by the size of the Bible we carry, or the version of it; and not by how many verses we can quote doctrines we can explain.
It’s not going to be by how long our dresses are or how short our trousers are. People will TRULY KNOW we are His disciples by the way, we love one another.
Do you know why? Because no one in the world really cares how big your Bible is. They don’t care how many doctrines you can write on the back of a note card, because they can’t see that all the time. They’re not looking for that. They’re in the middle of a world that is going to hell in a handbasket. It’s going crazy. It’s falling apart. We have people driving huge trucks down sidewalks for miles to see how many people they can kill. We have people going into coffee shops and blowing themselves up. We have people taking sniper rifles and shooting police officers. We have a world that is falling apart and nobody is impressed with how big your Bible is; what will attract their attention is how we love one another. Because if you look out in the world, you don’t see a lot of love. That’s why Christ said we have to be so deliberate about it.
We have to be willing to forgive because people are going to offend us. There’s going to be plenty to forgive.
PEOPLE MAY BE RIGHT IN THERE OWN EYES, BUT THE LORD EXAMINES THE HEART
As we walk with Christ, we’ve got grace and we’ve got faith.
Thankfully, the Bible does give us a definition of faith. It says faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not yet seen. That may be a little bit too theoretical, so let me bring it down to where we walk since we’re talking about walking. Faith is taking what God has given you, even before you see it. Faith is being convinced that He gave it to you when you can’t see it yet. So convinced in fact, act on it. Faith is taking what God has given you and walking right to the edge of the light. As far as you can see, and then taking one more step into the darkness where you can’t see yet what God’s going to do. I happen to believe faith isn’t faith until you act on it.
Faith is putting what God has given you into action. Taking one more step. As you’re walking, you’re going to find some things happening. They’re not all going to be fun. Things are going to be changing. Things are going to be challenging. This is where the Pneumatologist says, “Let me see if you can bend down and touch your toes now.” Can you flex, reach out and adapt?
Jesus is always giving MORE grace, strengthening your faith, speaking to your heart. He enables us to keep walking, and reaching, and loving.
When I look at me, and I believe when you look at you, we see the truth is we don’t love enough. Now, some of us don’t love because we don’t know Jesus. But for most of reading this today, we don’t love enough because we started out and things got tough and we got hurt. When the doctor walked in the office at Mass General he walked in, he looked at me, then he gave me a diagnosis. I needed cancer surgery, cut it out or die. No promise of success. Here’s my diagnosis for us today. We need surgery, too. We need a new heart. We need a new spirit.
It’s impossible for us. But Dr. Jesus does it every day. In the book of Ezekiel we read this promise:
“I will give you a new heart. I will put a new spirit in you. I’ll take out your stony stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive one.”
He IS ABLE to give a promise of success; His heart procedure works every time.
You need a heart transplant, a new spirit – and you’re going to need regular infusions of His love. Our heart has to be changed. That’s the truth. We need to get rid of the old one. We need Him to put a new one in us. One that’s stronger. One that can keep going. One that can keep walking, that can be flexible and do what God calls us to do. Because the one we started simply isn’t up to the job, but the new one He gives us will be.
We need to be able to walk by grace through faith. The doctor says, “I’ll fix your heart. Whatever’s happened to the one you’ve got, I can change it. I will give you a new heart so that you can love the way I loved. So you can operate in faith. Take what I’ve given you and act on it. I will give you the infusion of my Holy Spirit so you can use the gifts I’ve put in you, so you can impact the world the way I want you to impact the world. I’ll give you regular infusions that will empower you in love, because the only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love.”
If you’ll listen, He’ll have more to say. Find a quiet place to sit in His presence, and invite Him to speak to your heart.
My little pre-exam preparation is done. The doctor will see you now.