Appearances Can Be Deceiving

28 Jan, 2014

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Appearances Can Be Deceiving,’ preached by Pastor Mike White on Sunday, 1/26/2014, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click here:

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

I started going back to the gym recently. My wife and I lived in a building with a weight room in the basement for the past several years, but we just moved to a new building without any workout equipment. So, I did what any New Yorker would do: I bought a membership at Crunch.

I’ve only been going a few weeks, but I’ve already seen several things I wish I hadn’t. Guys’ apparel in the gym has gotten out of hand. Personally, I would consider a shirt that doesn’t cover my nipples to be inappropriate for the gym, but Crunch can be full of young to middle-aged men in less than decent shape who apparently don’t share my views. I saw a guy a few days ago in a skin-tight sweatsuit that looked like it was spray-painted onto his body, hanging on for dear life. Of course he chose to 1) stand right in front of me as he worked out and 2) look at himself in the mirror and flex…but moving on…

This gentleman, along with many others, have led me to an interesting realization. There are two types of people who go to the gym: people who actually come to exercise (an underwhelming minority), and people who come to look at themselves in the mirror. Some people come to use the gym for its original intended purpose, but others just come to see themselves and to be seen by others. It’s a sad state of affairs. But is church really that different?

There are also two types of people who come to church: those who come to honor themselves (to look at themselves and be seen), and those who come to honor God (use church for its original intended purpose). So, what’s your purpose for being in church? Are you coming to church because you have to, or because you get to?

Purposes That Honor Us

Appeasing our conscience is a reason for coming to church that honors us instead of God. We all want to feel like we have a part to play in our own salvation. It’s the way we’re wired, and it makes us feel good. After all, why should God get all the credit, right? Wrong.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9

The Bible specifies that our own works have nothing to do with our salvation. We need to take a step back and realize Jesus Christ is the only Man who can take credit for saving our souls. We are saved by grace, through faith.

Purposes That Honor God

We should come to honor God instead of ourselves. The first way we can do that is through praise and worship:

“So Samuel said: ‘Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams.’” – 1 Sam 15:22

Many times we get anxious when the Bible tells us to ‘obey.’ The meaning of the word ‘obey’ in this passage (Hebrew ‘Shama;’ Strong’s #8085) is to hear God. He wants our obedience, which becomes inescapably easy when we are able to discern His voice and practice listening to Him. Psalm 141:2 describes what our worship services should look like:

“Let my prayer be set before You as incense, The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” – Ps 141:2

We don’t have to struggle and strive to help God out with our salvation. He already accomplished it on the Cross. The sacrifices He wants from us now are obedience and praise as a result of everything He has already done. These things should be effortless with a proper understanding of the Cross.

We should also come to church to grow in community. There are certain things that become possible when we gather together as a body of believers that are otherwise very difficult at best, and impossible at worst. The beginning of Acts 2 describes that the early church 1) gathered together and 2) stood in agreement before the Holy Spirit fell. Community facilitates God’s Presence and the move of the Holy Spirit. God also tells us this: “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matt 18:20). Whenever we are gathered in community to honor Jesus Christ, He promises that He will make His presence known.

Expectation Determines Outcome

Your purpose in coming to church every week will determine what you get out of it. This is why we talk about expectation so much at CityLight Church. When we expect God to show up, He will. When we expect the Holy Spirit to move and give Him the freedom and the opportunity to do so, He will. When we expect Jesus to heal and build our faith around that expectation, He will.

Joseph Prince has a teaching called ‘Life Abundant When We Feed on Jesus’ that explains what we should expect every Sunday when we come to church: bread, fish and egg. The teaching is phenomenal, and focuses on the following verse:

“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” – Luke 11:9-13

The primary purpose of this verse is to illustrate that when we ask God for more of His Holy Spirit, He will never turn around and give us a counterfeit. This is why, as Christians, we should never be afraid of the experience we call ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit.’ Whenever we ask for more of God – His presence and His anointing – we will be satisfied.

Prince explains that this passage is also relevant to what we should expect when we come to church every week. First, we should expect bread. This is the Word of God: Jesus Christ Himself. The Word should be our primary intake and substance, and we should expect a healthy dose of it every time we’re in church.

In addition to bread, we should expect fish. Whereas bread is static, fish is dynamic. Fish dart here and there and all over the place. In the context of the passage above, the fish symbolizes a practical application of the Word of God. Fish should answer the question, ‘How does God’s Word relate to me here and now, based on exactly what I’m going through?’ When Jesus fed five thousand men in Matthew 14, He gave bread and fish together. In conjunction, they make for a satisfying meal.

Finally, we should expect egg. Every week when we leave church, we should bring something home with us. Maybe there is a passage that we heard but don’t quite understand, or a principle our pastor explains that hasn’t quite hit home. This is egg. We should brood over (sit on, incubate) our egg the same way a mother hen broods over her eggs. If we spend enough time incubating, eventually the egg will split open and produce more food! Egg has tremendous potential to give life, and gives God the opportunity to give us revelation during the week, outside of the four walls of the church.

If we expect to get all those things when we come to church – bread, fish and egg – we won’t leave disappointed! God will give them to us!

Beyond Church

On a broader scale, our purpose in living life will determine what we get out of it. Now is as good a time as any to be blatantly honest with yourself. What gives you joy? What’s your reason for living?

Many times we turn to family for fulfillment. I’ve had people tell me ‘my kids are my religion.’ My response is always this: can your kids save your soul? When you die and go to heaven, God isn’t going to ask Little Johnny if He should let daddy into heaven. He’s going turn to Jesus and ask Him one simple question: ‘Did you know him?’ If we rely on our children – or our spouse – for satisfaction and fulfillment, we are placing an unfair burden on that person (or those people). We’re setting ourselves and our family up for failure because we’re expecting to receive something that person (or those people) can never, ever provide.

What about career? Are you finding joy in waiting for that big promotion? My guess is you won’t be fulfilled even after you get it. The problem with putting your worth and value in what your boss and/or colleagues think about you is this: they will always love themselves more than they love you. Jesus Christ is the only Man who ever loved you most.

What about money? Maybe fame? These can’t provide fulfillment either. Any financial goal we rely on for happiness will become a moving target. As soon as we hit it, it will increase. Fame won’t bring happiness and joy either. There are plenty of statistics highlighting the fact that celebrities are more depressed than your average person. Seeking happiness, meaning and fulfillment through any of these things is like trying to hold on to a fistful of water: you’ll just end up frustrated and empty-handed.

Finding Meaning

If we put our hope, trust, or joy in anyone or anything other than Jesus Christ, we will end up empty and alone. I’ve tried it. It doesn’t work. A frustrating aspect of being ‘saved’ is that – if we’re honest – after coming to Christ, some days we look around us and almost envy people who don’t know the Truth. In certain ways life was so much easier when all we had to worry about was making money, finding love and pursuing the American dream. But God offers us so much more. Infinitely more, in fact.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matt 6:19-21

Anything we build up for ourselves on this Earth can’t come with us when we enter into heaven. We can’t take family, fortune or fame with us when we go. But when we make God our reason for living and put our joy in Him, heaven bows so that we may enter in.

– by Pastor Mike White


© Michael D. White and CityLight Church, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael White and CityLight Church with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.