Josh & the Gospel (a sermons preached at INSIDE OUT in 2006)

November 5, 2007

I don’t get to do this often, so whenever I’m asked to teach I go through a serious crisis – what is the most important thing I can share? And honestly, I have a hundred Biblical issues running through my head that all seem important to me, and I pray, and I read, and I study and try to discern what God would have me say, and that continues until the night before when, God-willing, it all comes together in a bright flash of light, the space-time continuum splits wide open, and God personally hands me a sermon, especially designed for every one of you.

Okay, so only some of that was true, but I do believe that what I have to say tonight is especially important, and I just ask that you give me your full attention. I want to share a story – a very familiar story most likely – a story about a man named Joshua.

Josh was born and raised a Lower-Middle class kid – he wouldn’t have found himself on St. Simons Island. In fact, his town – set between two much larger towns – would’ve been more like living in the nearby ‘metropolis’ (sarcasm alert!) of Darien (Darien is a small town north of us, for those who aren’t local folk).

His Mom got pregnant out of wedlock, told her folks she was up to no wrong, even though she WAS engaged, and that was most definitely suspicious. Some people thought she’d had a short affair with some fellow on leave from the military, but her fiancé accepted her wild story that amounted to something like believing in Santa to most everyone else who heard it.

As far as everyone knew, however, Joe was either the boy’s father, or just a really incredibly good guy, because when little Josh was born he raised Him as his own.

While growing up, Joe – Josh’s dad – worked in the local construction industry, picking up odd jobs from various contractors, and supporting his family the best he knew how. They later had other children: one named Jamie, and the other named Jude – apparently they liked ‘J’ names.

Now, Josh was a good kid. Actually, he was a generally spectacular kid, in some ways, but still, he was a child. I mean, Kenimer is the joy of Cyle & I’s lives right now, but the kid isn’t “Saint Lewis” or anything. Anyway, Josh was a Bible-study freak, which was good, but he did sometimes question his parents, though as respectfully as could be hoped for. And though he never EXACTLY ‘ran away’, he did disappear on occasion, and rather intentionally, it seems. Once, when they had finally tracked the kid down he was at church, explaining to the pastor why he was wrong, and showing the guy chapter and verse to prove it.

Years passed, and Josh studied, and worked, and pretty much lived a normal life, except that he lived with his folks till he was 30! Maybe that was because he’s from a rural community, or was just so busy running his Dad’s business (he went into business with his Dad, by the way). Still, that struck some as a bit odd.

And, Speaking of odd, Josh has a cousin named Jon who was a wingnut – a homeless, ‘fire-n-brimstone’ street preacher who ate bugs and junk. Strangely enough, some folks actually listened to this dude, too – he was like ‘Brother Jed’ in hippy clothing, and quite a site to see.

Well, to celebrate his 30th birthday Josh decided to track down his crazy cousin, and as soon as the loon saw Him, he said to all those around – some of which were actually listening, but a good number who were simply there to taunt – “Whoah – check this out! Look!”, pointing to Joshua, he spoke both quiet and slow – “ the scapegoat who’s gonna take the blame for all of this.” And I’m sure everyone there would’ve gotten a good laugh if time hadn’t stopped and something really strange and beautiful happened that no one can QUITE put into words. The best any could explain it was that “The sky opened, some thunder boomed what almost sounded like language, and a beautiful bird landed on Josh’s head”. Jon seemed to be the only one who really understood it at all, and he seems strangely pleased – as though all his life had been leading up to this.

So, can you IMAGINE being there? Would you be wondering if Jon laced the brownies with something more than insects that evening? That’s WEIRD stuff. The sort of thing that, while it’s happening you say, ‘that’s amazing’, but a week later you question whether or not it was real, and a year later you don’t even remember that it happened, except when someone else brings it up, and then it just seems like a fairy tale or a figment of your imagination – something you dreamed that accidentally laced itself together with your conscious memories in a way you can’t quite fully accept, but also can’t shake.

From that point on Josh’s day to day life changed significantly- he stopped building people’s cupboard’s and the like, and gathered up a bunch of Shrimpers, a Criminal Defense Lawyers – not the one’s who defend those who are really not guilty, but the one’s who play dirty while defending the REAL BAD guys and manage to regularly get child rapists and real scumbags off scott-free – THOSE GUYS – not to mention a few drunks, political activists, and a prostitute or two. They were all pretty much sick and tired of the current government, so He told them that he thought God had called Him to run for president – okay, not exactly, but he did tell them all that, in a sense, he already WAS the president. Yes – you are right: they were all pretty confused, but they were all pretty sick of both the current political party’s guy, and the other party’s fellow who was president before him, so they thought – what the heck…let’s help him run his campaign…the worst that can happen is we’ll lose, and we’ll jump ship for the next guy who comes along.

So, Josh went on the road – but not too far, just in the surrounding counties – and publicized his issues. He primarily spoke in churches, and He spoke on things like poverty, racial discrimination & forgiving debts, which made the liberal pastors real happy but made the Bible-believers think this Joshua fellow must’ve been a democrat, UNTIL Josh also spoke on the importance of life – this fellow was CLEARLY pro-life, and seemed to say some thing that were quite supportive of capitalism, which, of course, made the Evangelical’s (who were mostly Republicans) very happy, but made the liberals quite uneasy. The politicians were baffled with the man – trust me: neither party wanted him for their president.

The real issues would end up even worse for Josh’s campaign: the religious folks were almost ALL in agreement: the fellow had a lot of ideas that made him flat out dangerous. Apart from the societal refuse that was helping to run His campaign, no one trusted him, and even those folks had days where they suspected Josh was just a nut. You see, this was the problem: there were the liberal religious folks – they didn’t really believe the Bible, but enjoyed the ‘traditions’ because they made them feel very spiritual. These folks were totally bought and sold by the culture, and were only in the ministry because it gave them important seats at all the big town events. Yeah, you know these folks: well, they HATED – and I mean HATED – Josh.

1. Josh believe the Bible, and whole-heartedly.

2. He believed in morality and truth – I mean, they sorta thought “What’s good for me is good for me, and what’s good for you is good for you – just don’t undermine the traditions, and it’s all good”

3. He talked about people being raised from the dead – which they didn’t believe in; and following God above the pop-culture, which they just thought was in pretty bad taste.

4. Their issue was this – Josh was a TRUE BELIEVER: he was convinced there was truth – REAL right and REAL wrong – that people were either LOST or FOUND…

5. And mostly they hated Him because, well – I personally like Josh for this ‘cause it sounds like something I would do when not really thinking too much about consequences. He told them, “You’re Satan’s illegitimate kids.” DUDE – that is so off the chain! Now, if I’d said it I’d been like “Hey – Yo MAMA’s married to the devil” because, HEY – EVERYTHING is more interesting when said in reference to ‘yo mama’, right?

Yet, then the Bible thumpers also hated Josh. Though they loved the Word, they were merciless with sinners (unless they ‘changed their sinning ways’), and thought that the way to God was through rules. The problem was, people break rules, so they made rules protecting the rules – that way, even if you broke one of their rules, it wasn’t REALLY a sin, necessarily, because that rule was just there to PROTECT you from breaking the real rule somewhere down the road. For instance, let’s say the neighbors property has a ‘no trespassing’ sign on it, and for the sake of your safety your parents told you that, to keep you from trespassing and getting in trouble, you weren’t even to come NEAR – within 10 feet – of that neighbor’s property line. Well, that sounds understandable, to a degree, but what if you parents told you that you couldn’t even GO OUTSIDE? Now the rules are getting ridiculous! Well, anyway, these people had invented something like 700 extra rules to keep them from even coming CLOSE to breaking the REAL rules! Overboard! And the real problem with that is this: it gave the false impression that they were really holy, and they weren’t – their hearts were still far from God, and they only did good things to keep from breaking the law. Well, they hated Josh…

1. Josh regularly undermined and broke some of their 700 laws – often just to spite them – and sometimes, when it seemed important enough, even reinterpreted even some of the 10 commandments!

2. Along with the religious people he regularly was challenging, he hung out with hookers, liars, drunks, and…well, just about anyone that looked like ‘lost trash’ to the holier-than-thou’s…and he not only hung out with them, He LOVED them even when they didn’t ‘get it’ and respond the way they should.

3. Lastly, he used God’s name in a way that they didn’t think was appropriate. No, I’m not saying that he ‘cursed’, but that’s how they took it. Well, imagine this – what if went up to your pastor and told him that something he preached on Sunday was wrong. Well, though that might be bold, he would probably ask me why it was wrong. Now, let’s just say I respond with, “Because I said so.” Now, if I really said that, I’d be NUTS, but there are two other options – I’m an arrogant liar and think my opinion counts for far more than it’s worth, OR I’m somehow saying that I’m God and WROTE the book. In my case, I’d be the arrogant liar or the nut – Josh was God.

So, there you go – 30 year old Middle-class boy, runs for president, or Lord/King – you choose the word (the concept remains similar) on a platform NO ONE quite supports entirely, he campaigns and ends up infuriating everyone, eventually getting attacked by an angry Mob who secretly have a connection to the people in charge of getting folks put in the electric chair, and he gets gruesomely executed along with two other murderous revolutionary criminals. In the 3 years they were with him, the folks that were supporting him in his ‘run for office’ never really ‘got it’, and so they go back to their old jobs immediately, and life sort of returns to normal for a few days.

That is, until a few of the women – who, of course, one being former hooker, weren’t well respected or considered very trustworthy, attempt to visit Josh’s grave, and find him gone. Some of Josh’s other friends had gotten together and were sharing stories, and when the women tell them they respond like any of you would: “DEAD people, last I checked, TEND to STAY DEAD. You two are nuts!” One guy goes so far as to say, “I’ll believe you after I touch his bloody wounds…” But eventually Josh makes his appearance, and every one of his former friends suddenly understand… he wasn’t running for an earthly ‘presidency’ – Josh IS, in REALITY, the REAL PRESIDENT – the HEAD HONCHO – the real BIG KAHUNA – the Fellow BEHIND the Curtain: that guys who MADE IT ALL, and BY HIS VERY THOUGHT and DESIRE HOLDS EVERYTHING THAT IS TOGETHER.

Josh or Joshua – literally, in Hebrew, Y’Shua – which we ended up translating into English as Jesus: Jesus is THE King…THE Lord… God Himself. I hope you understand my story – I can imagine that parts of it might be a little confusing to you. The reason I told it this way is that it’s SO EASY, when reading the new testament, to think of Jesus as a RELIGION – even if we believe it, we can read the Bible like it’s a myth, no more important that the myth of Thor or Ulysses or Zeus. But the New Testament, except for Paul’s letters and Luke’s Gospel, was written by COMMON, ordinary, jacked up kids – and I do mean KIDS – John was only like 13! Kid’s like you, who’s lives were TURNED ON THEIR HEAD by this VERY REAL, VERY HISTORICAL, LIVING, BREATHING God smack-up-in-their-face person we call Jesus. Jesus could tell the liberal ‘religious folk’ that there was truth because HE WAS THAT TRUTH. Jesus could tell the self-righteous religious folk that Sinner’s were welcome in God’s kingdom, because He, himself, was making a way for them to come in – he was actively inviting them, US, to be part of what He is up to – His agenda…HIS LORDSHIP & KINGDOM!

Listen to me, those of you who know you are Christians – I want to challenge you to live your life more radically for Jesus. Don’t just ‘hold on’ for something far off – a distant heaven that’s somewhere – pie in the sky, by & by…but NOW: You can build your LIFE on this Jesus. Jesus lived in THIS world not only so He could be like us in everyway, but so WE could then LIVE LIKE HIM. Remember that the Gospel is not just a class in the schoolhouse of life – it’s the University in which you take every other course. I challenge you to see how God fits in to every area of your life – how you can worship the Lord with your HOMEWORK, your DATING, your SLEEPING HABITS…Jesus, that very real flesh and blood person, BOUGHT YOU AT A PRICE. I challenge you to remember this: YOU ARE JESUS’S…

But, for those of you who don’t ‘know Jesus’…when I say ‘know’, I don’t mean, ‘know about’. Let’s just say that someone said they ‘know Shannon’ – if that person tells you I’m a 4’ 11” albino prostitute, you can pretty quickly figure out thy they’ve got the wrong chap. However, if they describe me to the minutest of detail, yet say they’ve never ACTUALLY talked to me – that they simply know me through other friends, that person still does not ‘know Shannon’. To KNOW, Biblically, is a relational term, and in relationships to know facts about the individual, and you actually commune with – you relate to – them. If you don’t KNOW Jesus, you don’t have a genuine relationship with him. If you find yourself enslaved to certain ways of living that you KNOW are just not working for you – whether it’s outright blatant sin, or if it’s just that you try and try to make God happy and feel as though you’re doing ‘pretty good’, but just know that God doesn’t OWE you anything.

Well, this is the good news…

    • If you feel like your sin is owning you, Jesus paid the price with his own life to buy you back – you may be a slave to sin, but Jesus can free you.
    • If you stand right now, recognizing that you are GUILTY – that if you were in a court of law before God without a lawyer that you would receive a nasty sentence – well Jesus can justify you, and he is the best lawyer that money could NEVER buy.
    • Do you feel lost, unsure who you are, unsure where you fit in, not sure where you came from or where you’re going – Jesus is looking for you, and you mean infinitely much to Him, for he was willing to lay down his life to bring you back to him. In Christ you will find meaning, purpose, significance, and direction.
    • Do you find yourself in a bind, or heading down a road that you are sure will lead to destruction – ‘Jesus saves’…that’s what it means! That’s what it means!
    • Do you feel alienated from God – does He seem somehow distant most of the time, or is there a division between you and your friends, or your family – Jesus is a God of reconciliation…
    • Or have you simply been abandoned – by your family and friends, and those who thought you trusted. God is waiting to adopt you – he signed the papers with Christ’s blood – and once God calls you His child you can never been anything less than a child of the KING.

If you take ANYTHING home with you tonight, I pray that it is this…

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”

2 Peter 1:16

Do you know who wrote that? Peter – arrogant, and often too trusting, bullheaded Peter. The man that stepped off the boat onto the water, yet also tried to cut off a man’s ear – the man who promised NEVER to fail Jesus, but then publicly denied him three times to a young GIRL when asked if he knew Jesus. THAT Peter, a very real, very jacked up fellow trying to lead his everyday life – now abandoned to Jesus.

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”

Jesus was, AND IS, VERY REAL. He is something and someone you can build your life upon – no, he commanded you to build your life upon his life, and if you don’t, yours will be washed away. Don’t you want ETERNAL, significant, REAL, Jesus’s-lovin’ Life?

I challenge you – if you haven’t – to get your life right with the Lord. Give Him your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Even if you know Jesus, this is an opportunity for you to respond: the Gospel IS LIFE – it is ALL of your life! LIVE! LIVE!

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