I can remember sitting outside of Poudre High School in a car with my friend.  I was in college at the time, volunteering and serving with an organization called Young Life.  We would go onto high school campuses and talk with high school students and strike up friendships.  Our hope was that we would eventually have the chance to share Jesus with them and point them to the great God that we know.  It was the very first time I was walking onto a high school campus with that purpose in mind and I was paired up with, what I considered to be and he would admit, not the strongest of our leaders.  We saw a group of high school guys standing in a circle talking.  He says to me—this was his training for me—I think you should go up and talk to that group of guys.  So I went up and I sort of busted in their circle and said, “Hey, guys, how’s it going?”  That was as far as I thought.  They looked at me and I went, “Big gulps, huh?”  And none of them had seen Dumb and Dumber and none of you had either.  It was that moment with eight high school guys.  I remember walking to him and he says, “I don’t think that went all that well.”  No thanks to you, it didn’t go that well!  I can remember going back to the car, hanging my head in shame and thinking, “Why in the world do we do this?”  Why am I putting myself in this position, to be embarrassed and to be made a fool.  I don’t need this.  Why in the world are we doing this?

Over the last few weeks, I picked up a few books by a prominent author and out-spoken atheist named Sam Harris.  Listen to what he says in one of his books, The End of Faith:  “The power that belief has over our emotional lives appears to be total.  For every emotion that you are capable of feeling, there is surely a belief that could invoke it in a matter of moments.”  He goes on to write later in the book:  “The danger of religious faith is that it allows otherwise normal beings to reap the fruits of madness and consider them holy.”  I was struck by Harris’s book because, while I disagree with much of his premise, I think he’s right.  I think Harris understands the nature of faith far better than many followers of Jesus do.  To answer the question ‘Why did I walk on a high school campus and talk to people I never knew and might never see again?’ well, it was this faith that was stirring in me.  It was this same faith that Harris talks about.   Not the same thing, but it’s the same type of conviction.  This is the way the world is.

One of the things Harris picks up on is this faith—that followers of Jesus have and that people of other faiths have—is powerful.  It’s one of the most powerful things in the world.  Faith is so powerful, it’ll cause people to do some pretty amazing things.  I saw a “Dateline” episode that talked about the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints Church’s leader, Warren Jeffs and his four wives.  The story was about one of his daughters who wanted to leave and was being abused.  She couldn’t bring herself to leave until she hit rock bottom.  I thought, “What in the world keeps a person in that situation?”  For one, faith.

In 2013 in Pakistan, there were 869, what they called, “honor killings.”   It’s when a person in your family brings disgrace or shame on a family.  They don’t brush it under a rug or pretend it didn’t happen.  When you shame your family, in a Muslim culture like Pakistan, you’re either stoned in the streets or mutilated or murdered by your family.  I read one story that happened earlier this year in September, about a girl who was raped.  She came back to her family and because of what happened TO her, her family “honor killed” her.  Why?  It’s this faith.  It’s this idea of this is what the world is like.

In the late ’30s and early ’40s, we saw what an idea, what faith, can do when 11 million people were murdered in concentration camps.

A day we will never forget in the United States….September 11, 2001….where two planes were flown into the World Trade Center buildings.  Listen to what Harris says about that event:  “The men who committed the atrocities of September 11th were certainly not ‘cowards,’ as they were repeatedly described in the Western media, nor were they lunatics in any ordinary sense.  They were men of faith—perfect faith, as it turns out—and this, it must finally be acknowledged, is a terrible thing to be.”

Now, while Harris’s stance on being a follower of Jesus is off, his perception about the power of faith is right on.  And it’s different from what you would hear in most churches.   It’s different than what you’d hear what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  Typically, we don’t attribute faith to having this kind of power, do we?  If you look at it, all around you, the fruit of faith—not necessarily faith in Jesus, but faith in something—is exhibited on every corner of the globe.  Faith has unbelievable massive potential and power.  For good.  Or, for evil.  But I would argue that John, in his letter of 1 John, understands faith to have the kind of power and significance and momentum and energy that Sam Harris describes that he has.  I think he’s spot on when he describes the potential and the power of faith.  It’s stronger than most followers of Jesus give it credit for.

Today I want to teach from the Scriptures what Pastor John, in the closing chapter of this letter that he writes to this series of churches that he loves, that he helped plant, that he is over, writes about the power and prominence and potential of faith.  Open your Bible to 1 John 5, that’s where we’ll be camping out today.  Listen as he writes about the power, prominence, and potential of faith.  Everyone who believes {This would be the same word as faith, as translated from this one Greek word, ‘pistis.’  That’s the word (pistis) , as we talk about faith, as we talk about belief.} …that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God,  {He says okay, when you believe, something happens on the inside.  There’s this spiritual awakening.  The Bible searches for words and calls it a rebirth, of sorts.  As you believe.  John would say faith….unbelievable potential.}  …and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.  (vs. 4)  For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.  And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.  John goes, oh man, church, don’t miss it!  By faith, you overcome evil, you overcome hate, you overcome lust, you overcome anger.  All the things that are intertwined with the way of the “world.”  Your faith is what empowers and what enables, by God’s grace and the Spirit at work in you, to overcome.  This is not an insignificant thing.

In verse13, John says this:  I write these things to you who believe….  {Here’s what he’s doing.  If you ever took a class in college where you were suppose to read this big, thick, boring book, but at the end of every chapter they gave a summary, and you got smart and thought, “What a second!  This is a succinct summary of everything I just read.”  You decide to just read the summary.  This is what John’s doing….he’s going, “Look up at me.  Don’t miss this.  I am writing these things to you.  The reason this letter to you who believe….”} …in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.  He’s saying that when you believe, you have the kind of life in you that bubbles up and never stops.

When we read the words ‘eternal life,’ we typically think of heaven.  You can see that John does not talk about heaven in this chapter.  He talks about life in the here and the now.  When the Scriptures talk about eternal life, typically what they’re talking about is the kind of life that certainly lasts forever, but the kind of life that you would want to last forever.  It’s eternal in both quality—oh, this is good—and duration—this is good and it’s never going to end.  John says, “Oh, faith is the way that you step into rebirth and renewal.”  Faith is the way that you step into victory.  Faith is the way that you step into, what the Scriptures call, eternal life.  Here’s what John would say:  Faith is the doorway into the life God designed you to live.  Faith is the doorway into and the path to living in the life that God designed you, wired you, and longs for you to live.  John would say to his churches that faith has the potential to completely transform a life forever!

I grew up in a church, during my teen years, that ended the church service the exact same way every single Sunday.  The pastor would finish his message and then would add an ‘addendum’ of the sinner’s prayer.  If you want to put your faith in Jesus today, pray after me.   Every. Single. Sunday.  While it took a little bit of the mystery out of where we were going, it also caused me to wonder where we got this idea.  Where did we get the idea that faith is the equivalent of prayer?  As I look at the way of Jesus and as we study the words of Jesus, certainly Jesus invites people to receive him, and he invites people to confess their sin and have faith in him, but if we’re under the notion that he stops there, we miss the greater part of the New Testament.  If faith just ends with a prayer and we’re like “Alright, now we can get on with whatever we had going on,” we’ve missed the point of what this word means in the New Testament.  A profession of faith and a life of faith are two different things.  I think what Sam Harris points out is the power and potential of faith….he’s more on than just say this prayer and everything’s going to be okay.  When the Bible talks about faith, it talks about a life of surrender to Jesus as Lord, not just about saying a prayer.

If you have your Bible, flip over to Hebrews 11:1.  This entire chapter is a picture of what it means to live by faith.  The author of Hebrews uses this same word, pistis, that we’re looking at in 1 John.  Now faith is the assurance {Maybe it’s better understood as the substantiating, the bringing something that’s off in the distance into the present.  Bringing something that’s in the future into the now.  Faith pulls the future into the present.} ..of things hoped for, the conviction {The certainty.  It’s the ground underneath.} …of things not seen.    I think sometimes, from this verse, we get to this idea that faith is certainty, in the sense that we never doubt.   But if you read through Hebrews 11, you’ll find people who doubted.  You’ll find people who doubted but were unwilling to let go.  I think that’s a far better picture of faith.  Faith and doubt are not opposites.  They make way better dance partners than they do polar opposites.  Faith is saying no, no, no, no, no, I’m confident, God, in who you are and what you’ve promised, and even though I don’t see it and even though I may never see it, I’m going to continue to pull it into the present with the conviction that you are good.  Faith is about striving to remain faithful in the midst of uncertainty.

An affirmation of faith and the life of faith are two different things.  Faith in a moment and faith daily are two different things.  {Will you look up at me for just a second?}  Jesus is not inviting us or calling us to just say a prayer and check it off of our list.  He’s calling us to surrender a life and to find more joy….eternal life….than we ever thought possible.  Dallas Willard talks about the life of faith like this:  “The greatest issue facing the world today, with all of its heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples — students, apprentices, practitioners — of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.”  Steadily learning from him how to the live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.  THIS is the life of faith.  This is the invitation that God gives us.  THIS is powerful.  THIS….that type of faith can….HAS changed the world.

Let’s jump back into 1 John and ask what does this life of faith look like?  What does it look like exhibited in our lives on a daily basis.  Let’s start in verse 2.  John’s going to say a few things.  Here’s what it looks like.  Here’s the litmus test of faith and here’s what the life of faith continually pushes towards.  He says this:  By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.    {He says listen, if you want to know if you love God, it’s pretty easy.  Do you obey Him?  Do you love the people around you?  Then you know.  Verse 3.}  For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome.  I love this!  Sixteen-year-old me didn’t believe this.  I was in high school; I was being dragged by my parents to church.  My summary of what it meant to be a follower of Jesus was you just tried to do everything that’s not fun.  That’s what it means to be a follower of Jesus — if it’s fun, you can’t do it!  And you shouldn’t.  For some reason, God loves that and he’s out for that.  He’s going, “Bet you can’t wait to get to heaven, huh?”  Sixteen-year-old me was like, “I don’t know if I like that.  I don’t know if I’m in.”  College me had that completely turned on its head because as I started to follow Jesus, I realized there’s no better adventure, there’s no better purpose, and there’s no better meaning that I could find in life.

John wants to push back and say, “If you think being obedient to Jesus is taking all the fun out of life, taking all the joy out of life, you’ve got it completely backwards.”  Following Jesus is not burdensome.  Literally, in the Greek, it’s not weighty.  A better picture is it’s not confining.  That’s what that word means.  Picture a strait jacket.  Oftentimes we think of commands like that.  All this stuff I really want to do, I can’t do.  The stuff I’m told to do, I don’t want to do.  We think oh man, this is the life of faith.  John says you’ve got it completely turned on its head.  It’s not burdensome, it’s actually….freedom.

Faith exhibits itself in delight driven obedience.  Listen to the way Jesus talks about this in John 8:31-32 — So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,  {As you abide, you become disciples, apprentices, learning to live in the way of Jesus, with the heart of Jesus.  After you do that….}  …and you will know the truth, {Truth was subjective.  You get inside of it and go, this is the way you designed me to live.  This is what’s wired into my DNA as a human being.  I didn’t see it from the outside looking in, but from the inside…oh, now I get it.}  ….and the truth will set you free.”  Not put a burden on you.  It’ll free you to walk in the design that God has for you.  It’s why Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”  Rest for your soul.  My burden is easy and my yoke is light.  (Matt. 11:28-30)  It’s not burdensome.  It’s an invitation of delight-driven obedience.

John would say, if you’re a person of faith, what steps of obedience are you resisting?  Is there some sense of ‘this is what God’s called me to do, but I just have too much fear to step into it?’  Is there a sense of ‘I know God would have me be generous during this Advent season, but you have no idea what my calendar looks like?’  Is there the idea ‘I would forgive that person, if they asked for it and if they apologized?’  What steps of obedience are we resisting, because we’re really resisting delight, freedom, goodness.  This is what faith leads us to.  To say back to God, “God, I trust you, I have faith in you, so I’m going to walk in your way.  If you say to do it, God, I’m going to do it.”  Even if I don’t get it.

Jump down to verse 14, as we start to see what the life of faith looks like.  And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.   John starts to dispel some of the roadblocks that you and I and his original readers have towards prayer.  It’s nothing new to wrestle with prayer.  It’s nothing new to ask questions like:  God, do you actually hear when I pray?  John goes not only does he hear, he hears you.  Peter would echo that not only does he hear, but he cares. (1 Peter 5:7)

You can pray and the life of faith is the praying life.  He hears us.  God moves through the prayers of his people. I don’t know the mystery of how it works — God’s sovereignty and humanity’s prayers.  I don’t know how those two things intersect and intertwine to shape and form the reality and the future that we live and will live.  I don’t presume to know the answer to that.  If anybody does claim to know the answer to that, be very, very skeptical.  Because it is a mystery.  Here’s what I do know:  I do know that in the Scriptures we are very clearly commanded to pray.  We’re commanded to pray with the confidence that God moves through the prayers of his people.

So my questions, if I’m asking about prayer, are God, do you hear me?  God, do they affect you at all?  God, does is affect our world at all when your people prayer?  To that last question, I think Karl Barth answers it pretty well:  “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”  Here’s what Barth would say….if you want to start a revolution, start praying.  It doesn’t start on the throne somewhere, it starts with somebody on their knees saying to God, “God, we need you to move.”  Prayer is a beautiful, subversive, and powerful act.  I think, when it all comes down to it, we really don’t struggle with prayer.  We struggle with faith.  Faith believes that we have His attention, He hears us.  And it inspires our petition.  So we cry out to God.  {Slide: Attention inspired petition.}

Listen to the way John goes on in 1 John 5:16.  I would add that verses 16 and 17 have no light amount of literature written on their meaning.  If you were to get ten commentaries on 1 John and read them all, they would all have a different idea about what this means.  But I’m going to solve that for you today!    If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death.  There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.  All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.  {Let’s close in prayer!}

There’s three primary views of what’s going on.  One is that there’s a specific sin that John has in mind that is an issue in his community that he’s addressing.  The second is that John is addressing apostasy—leaving the life of faith.  The third prevailing thought (this is probably where I’d land if you pinned me down) is he’s addressing what the Scriptures would call blasphemy against the Spirit.  You can read about it in Matthew 12:28.  Essentially what it means is you see God working, you see God moving, with eyes wide open you understand it as such, and you refuse to acknowledge it, and you vehemently push against it.

But, in all the scholastic things I’ve read, here’s the way I think I understand this and here’s the way I would apply this.  John is saying if they’re not dead, pray for them.  There’s a sin that leads to death and they’re dead, don’t worry about that.  If they’re not dead, pray for them.  Pray that they would come to know Jesus.  Pray that they would come to know freedom.  Pray that they would come to know eternal life.  Pray for them.  It’s what we call the ministry of intercession.  That’s what John’s talking about here.  Going to the throne room on behalf of somebody else, begging and pleading, “God, heal that marriage, we ask you.”  God, free that person from the anger and the lack of forgiveness and the bitterness that confines their soul.  Please!  God, heal that person, we pray.  It’s the ministry of intercession.  Here’s the way I would say it:  Prayer isn’t the thing we do when there’s nothing else we can do.  It’s the FIRST thing we do, because if God doesn’t move, it doesn’t matter what we do!

September 23, 1867, Jeremiah Lanphier was a Dutch Reform pastor in New York City.  His church was on the decline.  He started to sense from God that he needed to get outside of the walls of his church and start to minister to the people around him.  He started a one-hour long prayer meeting in a conference room in a business park in New York City.  He went on September 23, 1857, and he sat down at noon, after putting pamphlets and flyers out advertising this time.  He sat down in the boardroom and started to pray and started to wait.  He looked at his watch and five minutes in, no one was there.  Ten minutes in, no one was there.  Twenty minutes in, no one was there.  He said he committed to staying the entire hour to pray alone, even if no one showed up.  A half hour in, six men came in and joined him for the last half hour of prayer.  The next week, forty people came and sat down and joined him at this hour of prayer.  Within six months, 10,000 business people, in New York City, were gathering Wednesday from noon to one and praying.  Every single Wednesday.  Within two years, a million converts (people who put their faith in Jesus) were added to American churches all across the states.  It started with one conviction.  God moves through prayer.  It’s called the businessmen’s revival of the 1800s.

So maybe as we embark on this Advent season next week, maybe you decide prayer isn’t going to be a last resort but a first resort.  Maybe it’s just five minutes you decide to wake up in the morning and spend some time praying.  Spend some time intercessing.  Spend some time asking God, “God, move, work, redeem, show your hand mighty.”  The life of faith is the life of prayer, and maybe it’s doing exactly what John says to do.  We’re just going to pray for people who need it.  Let’s just pause right now and if God brings somebody to your mind, just spend a silent moment praying.

Here’s how this letter closes.  John is going to lead us through three convictions, framed as ‘we know.’  We know….we know….we know….that end his letter.  We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, {If you have the Spirit of God in you and you’re walking with Jesus, to live contrary to the way of Jesus and the heart of Jesus just doesn’t make sense.  He’s going to continue to pull you back and pull you back and make you miserable and pull you back so that you surrender to Him for your joy and his glory.}  …but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.  We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.    He says we have this conviction that we’ve been born of God and live in the way of God.  The ‘whole world lies under the power of the evil one’ means that anyone who lives in the way of the world….he talked about in 1 John 2:15-16 — the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.  When we choose that way we live under the power of the evil one.  He controls those things.  But our world is birthed in conflict—conflict between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of his Enemy.  Conflict between the Kingdom of Love and the Kingdom of Hate.  We need to choose which one we live in, and when we live under the Kingdom of the World, we live under the power of the Evil One.  And he says finally:  We know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, {Chapter 1–We’ve seen him, we’ve touched him, we’ve heard him, we’ve experienced him.}

Each of these words….we know, we know, we know….is the Greek word ‘oudia.’  It means book knowledge.  It’s the knowledge you can get if you read through the Encyclopedia Britannica that you have at home with dust gathering on it.  That’s oudia, that’s intellectual book knowledge.  Then John leads to we know and we know and we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true;  Ahh!  Not oudia.  This ‘know’ here is ‘ginosko.’  It means experiential, first-hand, I’ve touched it, I’ve seen it, I know it in the depths of my bones, not just in my head knowledge.  We know, we know, we know so that we may know him who is true and good and beautiful.

John is saying objective truth is the ground for subjective, but very real, spiritual experience.  We know, we know, we know, but it doesn’t just end here, so that we may KNOW and experience the love that God has for us.  That’s what the life of faith leads to — intimate relationship with Jesus.  In 1 John 5:10, John said:  Whoever believes (has faith) in the Son of God has the testimony (witness) in himself.  They know.  They know God.  They know that even though they walk through the valley of the shadow of death they can fear no evil because He’s with them.  They can’t quantify it, but they know it.  They know that he who is in us is greater than he who is in the world.  They know it.  They know that greater love has no one than this that he would lay down his life for his friends, and Jesus calls you friends.  They know it, it’s in them.  They’re walking with Jesus, they’re talking with Jesus, they’re meeting with Jesus, they’re living with Jesus.  They’re not living FOR Jesus, they’re living WITH Jesus.  John would say that this is what the life of faith does.  The question we have to wrestle with is have we intentionally cultivated this relationship?

One of my favorite authors is Henri Nouwen.  At the end of one of his great books, called Spiritual Direction, he writes about going to visit the circus.  He writes about being enthralled by the circus and going back another day and eventually introducing himself to “The Flying Rodleighs.”  People who would be launched into the air and have to grab the arms of another person—trapeze flyers.  Listen to what Nouwen writes:  “The next day, I returned to the circus to see them again and introduced myself to them as one of their greatest fans.  They invited me to attend their practice sessions, gave me free tickets, asked me to dinner, and suggested I travel with them for a week in the near future.  I did, and we became good friends.  One day, I was sitting with Rodleigh, the leader of the troupe, in his caravan, talking about flying.  He said, ‘As a flyer, I must have complete trust in my catcher.  The public might think that I am the great star of the trapeze, but the real star is Joe, my catcher.  He has to be there for me with split-second precision and grab me out of the air as I come to him in the long jump.’ ‘How does it work?’ I asked.  ‘The secret,’ Rodleigh said, ‘is that the flyer does nothing and the catcher does everything.  When I fly to Joe, I have simply to stretch out my arms and hands and wait for him to catch me and pull me safely over the apron behind the catch bar.’  ‘You do nothing?!’ I said, surprised.  ‘Nothing,’ Rodleigh repeated. ‘The worst thing the flyer can do is to try to catch the catcher.  I am not supposed to catch Joe.  It’s Joe’s task to catch me.  If I grabbed Joe’s wrists, I might break them, or he might break mine, and that would be the end for both of us.  A flyer must fly, and a catcher must catch, and the flyer must trust, with outstretched arms, that his catcher will be there for him.’  (Nouwen concludes by saying…) I want to live trusting the catcher.”  So do I.  I want to live trusting the catcher, not in a one-time affirmation, but in a daily walk.

Here’s what Sam Harris and his friends get right:  Faith has unbelievable power and unbelievable potential.  But here’s what they get wrong:  They don’t see that faith has been used for unbelievable good in the world, and followers of Jesus, you included, are responsible for making God’s world and even more beautiful place.  Let me give you one example as we close.  The Catholic Church is the largest (non-governmental) provider of health care services in the world.  They have 18,000 clinics, 5,500 hospitals, with 65 percent of them located in third world countries.  Why?  Faith.  Because they believe that’s what Jesus would do.  So do we.  Here’s the other thing they get wrong:  They think non-faith is an option.  Let me tell you, non-faith is a non-option!  We all have confidence and faith in something.  The question is is that something going to catch us?  We’re all flying through the air, and if we think our bank account, and if we think our reputation, and if we think our accomplishments, and if we think our other relationships, if we think anything else in the world is going to catch us, we are mistaken.

It’s interesting the John doesn’t end his letter ‘little children, keep yourself from unbelief.’  No.  He ends it by saying:  Little children, keep yourselves from idols.  Not keep yourself from unbelief, but keep yourself from wrong belief, because we all have belief in something.  As we close this book and this series, here’s my invitation to you:  Would you ground your life on the God who says, “I am light.  I am life.  I am love.”  Would you live a faith, not just an affirmation, but an action.  That faith is powerful.  That faith has changed the world and it will change it again.  May it be our faith and God’s power through us that does that.  Amen?  Amen.