Are you ready? (long)

February 25, 2008 at 10:36 am | Posted in Christianity | Leave a comment
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People that know me know that I like to ask questions. Right now, I’ve got a question for you. It’s a really simple question. As a matter of fact, it’s one that you’ve probably asked this week.

The question is: Are you ready?

That’s it. Real simple. Now, some of you are probably sitting there waiting for me to clarify it. You’re thinking, “Am I ready for what?” And that’s how we usually use the question.

            Are you ready…for the weekend?

            Are you ready…for some football?

            Are you ready…for Christmas?

I want to let you know that as Christians, if you are asked “Are you ready”, the answer should immediately be “yes” even if it’s not clarified…

Let me give you some examples of what I’m talking about. For these examples I’m going to make two very large assumptions. The first assumption is that everyone that’s reading this is a born-again Christian. That assumption is probably much bigger than we even realize…The second assumption is: not only are you a born-again Christian, but others know it. Not because you speak “Christianese” and not because you just go on and on about your church. They know you’re a Christian because they see it in your everyday life. They see it in how you treat your kids. They see it in how you treat your spouse. They see it in how you treat your co-workers and your employees. They see it in how you treat total strangers…that’s another big assumption.

So, let’s say that both of these apply to you. You’re at work and you’re hanging out with some friends and someone comes up to you:

            “Um…can I ask you a question?”

            “Sure, go ahead.”

“I’ve heard you talk about Jesus being the Savior of the world and the Son of God. But, how do you know that? See, I’m a Muslim and my scriptures say that God doesn’t have a Son. They say that Jesus was a good man and a prophet. They say that He didn’t even die on the cross. How can you believe that He’s the Son of God?”

Are you ready for that? Do you have an answer? Or, let’s say it isn’t a Muslim. Let’s say it’s a Jewish person.

             “Hey, can I ask you something?”

            “Yeah, sure!”

“I’ve heard you talk about Jesus being the Messiah. Where do you get that from? According to the Jews, the Messiah hasn’t even come yet. I’ve gone to synagogue all my life and I’ve never heard Jesus proclaimed as the Messiah! How do you know that Jesus is the Messiah?”

Are you ready? Do you have an answer? Could you show them that throughout the OT everything that talks about the Messiah points directly at Jesus? Could you show them things like Gen. 3:15, Psalm 22, Psalm 118, or Isaiah 53?

Maybe it’s neither. Maybe it’s not a Muslim or a Jew. Maybe it’s an atheist, or a secular humanist, or an evolutionist.

            “I just wanted you to know that I admire the fire you have for what you believe, but I’ve got to ask you a question. How can you believe that God exists? I mean really…Geology tells us that the earth is 4.5 billion years old. Astronomy tells us that we are receiving light from stars that are thousands of light years away. Biology has shown that man evolved from a chemical soup to one cell to multiple cells to man. Paleontology shows us a fossil record full of transitional forms. Psychology has shown that religion is just a crutch. How can you believe that God exists in the face of all these facts?

Now, none of these “facts” are true, but are you ready for that? Do you have an answer for them?

Let’s do this. Let’s push religion aside for a minute. Let’s forget all about it. Let’s say you know someone that’s going through a divorce. Or, you know someone who’s been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Or, it’s someone who is watching as their family or their finances fall apart.

Are you ready? Do you have an answer?

See, the answer that’s usually given in most of these situations is “Jesus loves you and He died for your sins”. I’ve got news for everyone. While that’s true, IT’S NOT ENOUGH! It’s not enough. Why? Because everyone who comes through the doors of a church comes in with problems. They are looking for answers to those problems and the church has been advertising for years that it has the answer. But, when people come to the church looking for that answer, they get a fake smile and “Jesus loves you and died for your sins”. Then, when they realize that they still have their problems and the church doesn’t have the answer, they leave and are even more convinced that Christianity is just a bunch of garbage.

“So, are you saying that I need to be a religious scholar? That I need to know everything about Islam and Judaism and evolution? That I need to know about divorce, finances, health, and family counseling? “

Nope. I’m saying that you need to know your faith. Should you know about those other thigns? Yes. Why? Because, chances are, in your lifetime you’ll come across a Muslim, or a Jew, or an atheist, or a Mormon (they knock on everyone’s door). You’ll have contact with someone who is going through a divorce, or financial trouble, or family problems, and they’ll be looking for an answer.

So why doesn’t the church have the answer?

Well, the main reason is that we don’t know the truth anymore! Now, I’m sure some of you are sitting there saying, “I don’t know about everyone else, but I know the truth.”

Really? Let’s find out. We’ll play a little game. It’s called “Said it or heard it”.

I’m going to quote three different scriptures, one at a time, and if you’ve ever heard it or said it I want you to raise your hand high (if not physically then at least mentally…), not low by your side. I want you to be honest with yourself and God today. Think about each question before moving on to the next one…Ok?

Here’s the first one:

            “Well, ya know, God’s thoughts are higher than your thoughts and His ways are higher than ours.”

If you’ve ever heard that or said it, raise your hand.

Does that scripture apply to you?

Who is God talking to here?

Usually, we quote this when someone is facing things that seem totally incomprehensible and God seems to be nowhere around…

To find out whom He’s talking to, you need to read the context. The scripture is Isaiah 55:8-9. If you look at verse 7, you’ll see whom God’s talking to:

Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him, And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.

 He’s talking to the wicked! So everyone who identifies with that scripture is identifying themselves with the wicked. And we don’t even realize it! Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 2:16, that we have the mind of Christ! John 16:13 says, “when the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into all truth”! Proverbs 28:5 says, “Evil men do not understand justice, but they that seek the Lord understand all things”.

But because we don’t know the truth, we just continue to misquote it and hinder ourselves from growing closer to God. If I have the mind of Christ, and the Spirit of God is leading me into all truth, and I seek the Lord, then I should be able to understand the things of God! Often, this doesn’t happen immediately, and it may take years for everything to make sense, but we seem to quote this as an excuse for living life our way and then saying, “I just couldn’t understand what God was saying”. If you are in an area in your life where things aren’t making a whole lot of sense, then it seems to me that there are one of two reasons that it’s happening. One, you are suffering one of the trials and tribulations that Jesus promised would come (John 16:33) and having your faith tested; or, you don’t have the mind of Christ, you aren’t being guided by the Holy Spirit into all truth, and you aren’t seeking God. Both reasons are valid, but looking at the modern church, I truly believe that the second reason is infinitely more prevalent than the first, but that’s another message…

Here’s the second one:

            “When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Lord will raise up a standard against him”.

That’s Isaiah 59:19. Usually, we hear that one when we are being attacked and are at our wits end and don’t know how to move forward. If you’ve heard that or said it, raise your hand.

Of those of you that raised your hand, how many of you realize that the word for enemy isn’t even in many translations for that verse? Many Hebrew versions don’t have enemy either! It’s not talking about the enemy! But that’s how we quote it…Well; if it’s not talking about the enemy then who’s it talking about?

That’s easy…read the context. I could start in verse 15 but…if you read verse 16, it says that God’s own arm would bring salvation. If you read verse 20, it says that a Redeemer will come to Zion. Who does that sound like to you? Sounds like Jesus to me…

Ok…Here’s the last one:

            “Whom the Son sets free is free indeed.” (John 8:36)

I know that we’ve all heard that one. And usually we quote that to someone who is having a crisis of faith. They are struggling with something and are unsure of their salvation. They’ve been facing a hard trial, they’ve fallen and are staggering under the weight of sin, so we quote this…

“What! Are you saying it’s not true?”

Nope. I’m saying that there’s more to it than that. See, we seem to forget that God is a covenant God. You know, a covenant. Like marriage used to be back in the day. When you made a covenant back in the day, you meant it because the only way out was death. “’Til death do us part…” (Does anyone remember that?)

A covenant was between two people or families or tribes and basically it was like this:

            “If you do this, then I’ll do that.”

            “If you do that, I’ll do this.”

That was a covenant. God is a covenant God. Read Deuteronomy 28. Verse 1 says, “IF you diligently listen to all that I’ve commanded you”…THEN you’ll be blessed and protected, etc… That’s the first 14 verses. Then, God says, “but IF you don’t listen to what I’ve told you, THEN…” and the remaining 54 verses speak of the diseases and calamities that will befall them for disobedience…

It’s the same here. We say, “Whom the Son sets free is free indeed” because we want the blessing part without the work of the covenant. John 8:36 actually says, “So, if the Son shall make you free, you will be free indeed” (emphasis mine).  Jesus said there was more to it. Look at John 8:31-32.

            “And Jesus said to the Jews that believed in Him, ‘If you continue in My Word, you are My disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”

How many of you want to be free? There’s your answer!

How do I “get free” (Have I mentioned how I hate “Christianese”)? What does the scripture say? It says for me to be free, I have to know the truth. How do I know the truth? I continue in the Word…I don’t have to jump up and down, I don’t have to leap pews, I don’t have to spew out some long drawn out prayer or go to a special event. I have to know the truth. Period. How do I know the truth? I continue in the Word! How do I know that I’m a disciple? I continue in the Word! It’s that easy!

If it’s that simple, then why are Christians going to church two or three times a week, but still lacking answers. Why? Because we’re suffering from something called “penguin Christianity”. Have you ever watched a penguin feed its kids? That’s what’s happening in today’s churches. The pastors, the leaders, and the teachers are chewing up the Word and then feeding it to everyone else. No one does their homework anymore. We think that because someone is called “pastor” or “elder” or has some other church title that we can just take them at their word and everything will be ok…

But, that’s not what the bible says! As a matter of fact, the bible makes it clear that we are supposed to check everything against scripture. In Acts 17 Paul commends the Bereans because they take everything that he says and compare it to scripture. Think about that for a minute! We’re talking about Paul here, a former Pharisee! The one who met Jesus face to face on the road to Damascus (Acts 9)! He commends them for checking what he says against scripture! If they did this for Paul, how much more do we need to be doing it today? We should be checking everything we read and hear against scripture!

But we don’t because that would involve more work than we’re willing to do. So, we are destroyed for a lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6).

And if that weren’t bad enough, not knowing the truth leads to other things.

One of the things that it leads to is compromise. We see this happening in the church more today than ever before. In 2003, the Episcopal church ordained the first openly homosexual man as bishop. In the 4 plus years since that’s happened, they have suffered a church split. Entire congregations and councils are leaving the denomination. Why? Because they compromised scripture. The Lutheran church recently did the same thing. How long will it be before they suffer the same trials? It is becoming more and more common for those who profess Christ to compromise the truth of the Bible with the ideals of man. Man says that homosexuality is okay. Now the church does too. Man says that we evolved from apelike creatures millions of years ago. The church does too. Man says that adultery is okay. The church does too. Why? It’s all because of compromise. The Word of God is no longer the final authority in the lives of those who say they believe in Christ. Because of this, Christians are doing anything they want and finding “pastors” and “teachers” who agree with their viewpoint to make them feel good.

Not only does not knowing the truth lead to compromise, it also causes a change in foundations. Because there is no longer an absolute truth (according to many churches), they are changing their foundations. This is rampant in America. There are movements like the seeker-sensitive and emergent churches. One way churches have changed foundations is through programs. They develop programs for everything and hope that through the programs, people will not only come to church but that they’ll come to know Christ as well. One large example of this is Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. Willow Creek is one of the first churches to develop a “seeker-sensitive” program. Along with churches like Saddleback Church in California, they develop programs with the hope of getting people “plugged in”. In 2004, Willow Creek did a survey of the effectiveness of programs in their church. When they gathered all the data together, crunched all the numbers, and made their reports, the results were shocking. They presented this information at a leadership conference. The senior pastor, Bill Hybels, said that when he looked at the information, he was “shocked”. Willow Creek has been running programs and spent millions of dollars on them over thirty years. And, according to the data from the surveys, they’ve not done a thing to help bring people to Christ. Sure, they’ve brought people into the church. WC sees 50,000+ people a weekend. But they aren’t becoming Christians. Why? Because Willow Creek has changed foundations. When talking about the implications of this, Hybels said that if they would have done things right, they would have focused on the things that people were really asking for. What were those you ask? Prayer, studying the Word, and evangelism. Those are supposed to be the only things that we’re focused on anyway!

Not all churches use programs as their foundation though. Some use worship. You can enter their church tell that worship is what they live for. Large speakers, lights, and a conglomeration of instruments take center stage. When the service starts, they play energetic, upbeat, songs that get people dancing in the aisles. Then, they tone it down and get serious about the presence of God. There are a number of people who sway, cry, kneel, and pray. This goes on for 30 minutes to an hour. How’s the preaching? It’s alright, if it even happens. What about the children? They have a little Sunday school program and then spend the remaining time coloring or running around. But that’s a WORSHIPPIN’ church…Unfortunately worship is not our foundation. How do I know? Scripture says so. See, for something to be a foundation, it cannot be built on something else. If it is, then it’s not a foundation. Worship is built on other things and, therefore, cannot be our foundation.

In John 4:23-24, Jesus says, “The hour comes and now is, when the true worshippers of God will worship Him in spirit and in truth. Such as these the Father seeks to worship Him. God is a Spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth”.

Worship cannot be our foundation because it’s built on something else: spirit and truth. This doesn’t mean that worship is not important, but it cannot be our focus!

Still, some churches don’t use either programs or worship. They choose prayer as their foundation. I can tell that you’re thinking, “Are you saying that prayer isn’t important?”

Nope, that’s not what I’m saying. If Jesus felt it was necessary to go off by Himself and pray, it’s important. In Matthew 6, when the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray, He gives them a pattern; it’s important. All throughout the New Testament we see the importance of prayer, BUT it’s not our foundation. How do I know? Scripture makes it clear. Prayer is based on something else and therefore cannot be our foundation. What is prayer based on? At the end of James 4:2, the brother of Jesus says, “You do not have because you do not ask”. I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve heard that quoted. And it drives me nuts! Why? It drives me nuts because it’s only half a thought. Quoted this way, it sounds like all you have to do is ask and you’ll receive. If you want a Cadillac, go ahead and ask for it, after all, “You do not have because you do not ask”!

ARRRRRGHHH. This is one of the two things that seems to aggravate me more than anything else. There are two easy ways to get me riled up, one is to quote scripture out of context. The other way, is to take a scripture and cut it off in midstream, taking either the first part or the last part and leaving the thought shredded in the end. James wasn’t done when he said this. He said, “You do not have because you do not ask, and you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives”! If our motives are wrong, it doesn’t matter how much we ask or how many times or how loud, it won’t be answered. Could that be one reason your prayers haven’t been answered? It cracks me up to see these “mighty prayer warriors” shouting at the top of their lungs, pacing back and forth, and swinging their arms as if God is going to hear them because of the volume of their voice or exaggerated movements. The only way God will hear you is through the contriteness of your heart (whether you’re loud or not).

This is confirmed in 1 John 5:14-15. It says, “This is the confidence we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us, and if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, then we know that we have the petitions we’ve desired of Him”. For the longest time, I thought that this was my ticket to getting what I wanted from God. All I had to do was ask and have confidence that He hears me, and that’s it. That’s not it. There is a part of this verse that is crucial to the rest of it. It’s the part that says, “if you ask according to His will”. That’s not the old timey, “Lord, if it’s your will”. We should know His will! He wrote it down for us! What this means is that if we ask according to God’s nature, according to His character, then we can have confidence that He hears us. What’s more, simple logic tells me that if this is true (and it is) then the exact opposite is true as well. That means that “if I ask according to His will” and “He hears me”, then if I don’t ask according to His will, He doesn’t hear me. Could this be another reason that our prayers aren’t answered? And yet, we have thousands of people clamoring about yelling and shouting their fleshly, carnal demands at a God who is holy and just, fully expecting God to jump at the sound of their voice and give in to their every whim…Praise God that He doesn’t consume people in fire anymore…

There is one foundation for us as Christians. That is the absolute truth found in the Bible. If that is not our foundation, or if we’ve twisted it to make it something it’s not, then we are not based in truth and eventually everything we have built up will fall down around our heads. If our lives are not built on the truth found in God’s Word, but instead are based on the scripture “according to us”, then I don’t think that we can honestly call ourselves Christians.

All of this results from a lack of the truth. We are seeing what the results are, but are we doing anything about it? Are we striving to learn the truth of God the way that He spoke it? Are we accepting God’s Word above our own? If we are to see permanent change in our churches, families, and in our nation, we are going to have to return to the truth of scripture and build upon that alone.

So, are you ready?

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