I have been excited about the opening of the Wash Me!
series since I first began working on the messages a few weeks ago.
In particular, I liked the first message called The Works. (Get it? Like in a car wash where you punch in the code for the most deluxe wash of them all, the Works?) Based on the book of Titus — an epistle I honestly can’t remember ever using for preaching in the last 24 years — the sermon was designed to help people understand the difference between the symptoms of their sins and the disease of their sin. You can read the rough manuscript below, though I didn’t script out the exact language for the invitation. That varied at each hour depending on the setting.
We came up with a slightly revised process for “offering them Christ” at the conclusion of the message and despite a couple of hiccups, it represented an improvement. We were able to take those who made commitments to a quieter, more prayerful space than the front of the Worship Center. Most importantly, each person who completed a card received a follow up phone call on Sunday night.
Ministry got multiplied and so do the numbers of people who responded to an offer of salvation.
We had 61 people throughout the morning who came to new places in their living relationship with Jesus Christ.
Have you noticed how often we spend so much time treating symptoms that we overlook the diseasethat’s underneath them? It happens all the time. Sometimes it’s not all that serious . . . like that season in my life where I’d always get an upset stomach after lunch. I figured I was just putting the wrong stuff on my sandwich. So I stopped having meat loaf sandwiches – most of you will say I never should have had those in the first place – and started having turkey. Still sick. Tuna. Still sick. Finally I realized that what was upsetting my stomach wasn’t the stuff inside the 2 pieces of bread; it was the bread itself! Now: much better.
But it gets worse, more serious, and some of you know exactly what I’m saying. Like that guy from NYC who though he was in his early 30s had achy joints and low “romantic interest.” So they gave him the meds for Low T . . . the kind they advertise all the time on sports talk radio. But within just a few short months he was critically ill and then died of a liver issue – all because the people helping him were so focused on the fixing the symptoms that they never looked for an underlying disease. So sad when the constant hunger becomes diabetes, when the indigestion turns out to be heart disease, and when the coughing masks the cancer underneath. It’s difficult business when we focus so much on symptoms that we never look for disease.
And this can be so tempting to do in church land. It’s so interesting to me what brings people to church. Or back to church. It’s usually symptoms. Now: sometimes it’s boredom with or anger at a previous church. Other times it is an inexplicable, ill-defined spiritual yearning. We preachers like to think it’s either that OR they’ve heard so much about us as proclaimers of the word that they have to check it out, but that’s typically not it, either. No, in my experience many if not most who return to or begin church do so because they want something fixed. Repaired. Cleaned-up. They’ve made a mess or they have a mess of something in their lives and so it stirs somewhere in their heart: God/faith/church/Jesus can help me clean up what’s fouled up. May be why some of you are here today.
It’s that marriage headed nowhere fast. Except divorce court. It’s those finances that never work out. It’s the temper that the harder you try to control it, the more it controls you. Or it’s even like that young person who asked to see me over some heavy anxiety she felt over family relations – blended, fractured, fighting. And more than occasionally, it’s a self-destructive cycle in which you’re caught. You don’t WANT to drink so much, drug so much, gamble so much, but you do. It’s like “This THING is dirtying up my life, it might even be a SIN, and I want to clean it up!” And what most of you don’t realize is that that thingis not the thing. It’s just a symptom.
Which is the kind of thing Paul tells Titus in a section where he includes himself in the malaise:
3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.
Some of you read that and it’s like check! Foolish? Check! Deceived? Check! Enslaved? Check! Double check! That’s exactly my behavior! Trapped! And so I figure if I can just wash that thing off, deal with, fix the ISSUE, then VOILA! I’m good! Even 3:3b lists some of the relational fallout some of you are trapped in:
We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.
You’re like, Yep! Describes my marriage, my former marriage, my siblings, that rock band I was in. It so opens us up to Wash Me Fix Me Help Me.
And yet . . . and yet . . . I want to suggest that if cleaning up that thingis your priority today you are in the right place but for the wrong reason. And I say that because of 3:5b
He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,
He saved us through the washing of rebirth. Look: they’d been enslaved, they’d been self-destructive, they’d been at each other’s throats (like us!) and the solution was not to get those issues fixed, not to get those symptoms clean. It was instead so mch more comprehensive; to deal with the disease that was rotting them from the inside out. The washing Titus and his friends received wasn’t partial; it was total. They couldn’t get the part tidy until the whole was cleansed. Something had to happen for the repair/restoration/healing to have some real staying power.
See, when we come to God/Jesus/church to get this habit tidied or that relationship fixed, we are treating symptoms and ignoring disease. Of you could say it’s like putting deodorant on a corpse or lipstick on a pig. Underneath, one is still dead and the other is still swine. And we’ve still got a disease no matter how we have or have not dealt with some symptoms. And what is that disease that we have underneath that we all try to ignore by dealing with its symptoms? Ready for an old-fashioned answer? It’s your sinful nature. Not the sins you commit. The sin nature you have. (Some of you are thinking: “I thought this was a Methodist Church! Methodists let those other people talk about sin and they just talk about love!”) Well, we hope to be a Christian Church and the fact that at the core, at the center of you & me & every human who has ever lived is a sinful nature that, get this, hates God and bucks up against the commands, the truth, and even the love of God. It’s not that you do sinful, self-destructive stuff and that makes you a sinner. No! You do that stuff because it’s all symptomatic of your sinfulness. You got to get the WHOLE dealt with before you attempt to deal with the part. Heal the cancer before fix the cough!
Which is why washing of rebirth is NOT personal improvement, not individual development, it’s a whole new you. The new you were you at long last acknowledge: Oh, I am powerless to clean myself & to work my way to heaven; I have a rotten-ness at the core that only the blood of Jesus can clean; so I’m submitting my life to his. The whole, not the part. The disease, not just the symptom. I need THE WORKS. Because here’s what I know is true: You can’t clean the symptoms of your sins until you wash the disease of your sin. You can’t get the thingcleaned up until you get the wholecleaned out. Get this: maybe God is using your enslaved part to get you to the place where you have a surrendered whole. He’s holding out on healing that addiction or repairing that relationship until you say: “I’m done. I’m ready to become a Christian TODAY. Wash me and re-birth me.”
So let me ask you: are you just in church, trying faith, for symptom-cleaning? A sponge bath? And you’ve never realized until this moment that what you really need & long for is full surrender to Jesus? You’ve always thought of your sins or your issues like things you deal with one at a time (shoulder) rather than healing the core first? Are you trying to do right without first getting right? Because if so, look at the really good news in 3:4-5a:
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.
Ah! When we are at our worst – our most disease-ridden, our filthiest – kindness & love APPEARED. I have been praying all week that these very words right now for many of you would be a vehicle for that appearance. And when that kindness appears and when you respond in faith and surrender to Jesus, you get forgiven not for your all of your sins but of the core of your sin. Not of your symptoms – which is all the crazy stuff you do – but of your disease – which is the internal sin nature that makes you do them!
And how does God do that forgiving, that healing? How does he measure? Not by performance! Not by improvement! By mercy. By what you don’t deserve but he gives anyway. Sort of like the little boy who asked his mom for a PB sandwich and five minutes later he bit into it and it was PB AND J. “Mom!” he said, “You gave me more than I asked!” So does God. You can’t clean the symptoms of your sins until you wash the disease of your sin. Get your soul, your core right with God before you expect to do right for him and by him.
Here’s something to think about. Let’s say you don’t buy what I’m saying. Let’s say you’re OK with God/church/Jesus, just not OK with the comprehensiveness I’m talking about. You feel like you are basically a good person who occasionally does naughty things rather than thinking you are Naughty By Nature. And let’s say you GET YOUR SYMPTOM HEALED: the addiction goes into recovery, the relationship gets restored, the temper goes into hiding. But you know what? Under that way of living, your symptom might get better, but it’s still not forgiven. You’re still not right with God because you haven’t had Jesus’ blood wash your whole self clean. You got better – and praise God for that! – but God wants that to be the appetizer for what it’s like when your whole self is healed. I don’t want a whole lot of symptom-free people from Good Shepherd to wind up in hell. I just don’t. It’s why 3:7 reads this way:
so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
Made right with before you do right for.
You know how this worked with me? When I was a kid, I always slumped my shoulders. Playing tennis, at school, meeting people. My sadness and insecurity was really written into my body and my posture. Here’s a classic picture from 1974 where I lost the championship match for Boys’ 12 and under in Texas. My loss is written all over my little blue-clad body.
And yet when I became a Xn – overnight, I didn’t get better, I just surrendered and I got NEW – the first thing that happened was this “lift.” I felt it. My shoulders went up. I could look people in the eye. I got more confident. Get this: I DIDN’T get my attitude fixed. I got ME fixed and the healing flowed. Or even that young person I told you about earlier who was filled with anxiety over her family. Well in our conversation, we were able to step back from the situation – a SYMPTOM! – and ask, have you given Jesus your life? No. Would you like to? I think so. Would you like to now, here? Yes. So she decided, she surrendered, we prayed, Amen. Same young person is getting disciple, volunteering, and reading some of the best Xn books ever. Did those relationships get all better? Sorta. Did she? Absolutely. Disease at the center now delivered. You can’t clean the symptoms of your sins until you wash the disease of your sin.
I love out Titus 3:5 evokes baptism. Because do you know what baptism is here? (Some of you might think it’s like the little boy who kept trying to baptize his cat by immersion. The cat, understandably, would have none of it, clawing, hissing, the whole bit. Finally, she clawed so hard and hissed so loud that the little boy got a tiny bit of water from the tub, sprinkled it on the cat and said, “Fine, be a Methodist!”)
Well not really. We celebrate the whole thing. Because baptism more than anything else is death to the old and rising to the new. It’s really tomb – you’re baptized into his death, it’s shaped like a coffin – back to the womb. In the early church, the waters of baptism as you emerge out represent the amniotic fluid of a mother’s womb. And in that fluid, you find new birth & new life. Not of someone better. Of someonenew. Not of someone with improved symptoms. Of someone who has been delivered from disease.
I’d love to give you a chance to do just that . . . .