As we prepare to begin a New Year I want us to sit down and consider a few things before we take our place at the starting line. I want us to look back over the ground we’ve covered in the past year and ask the Lord to show us where He wants to change our course for the upcoming year. I want us to consider “who” God is calling us to be for the New Year. I want us to consider “what” He is calling us to in the New Year. I want us to consider “how” we can know God’s will and then follow in faithfulness. I raise these questions because I believe that the time is now. We can’t sit around and wait for things to get better, we can’t wait for society to change so that we will be more acceptable to those around us, we can’t put God off until we feel like serving Him…the time is now.
Our time is much like the time of Elijah. It is a critical time. Elijah is most remembered for his showdown on Mount Carmel with the false prophets, but there was much more going on in Elijah’s life than the showdown. There was a pagan influence, a constant ungodly spiritual influence, a spiritual distraction, on the followers of God who lived in Elijah’s day. The ungodly of Elijah’s day were much like those in our own society who are opposed to God’s ways and are constantly trying to persuade us to lighten up in our commitment to our King.
God warned His people over and over again to stay away from those who worshipped other gods, but the Israelites were persistent in going astray. Before we come down too hard on the Israelites, let’s remember that when we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place we will try almost anything to find relief. When times of famine would come and the crops failed the Israelites were tempted to turn to Baal, or other false gods, so that their crops would be productive.
The people of God were given a great opportunity to turn from their ways and to get right with God during Elijah’s day, but they blew it. They continued to turn away from God. About one hundred years later another prophet appeared on the scene. His name was Amos and he was familiar with the wayward hearts of God’s people. He ministered during the reigns of Uzziah, king of Judah, who ruled from 792-740 B.C. and Jeroboam II, the king of Israel, who ruled from 793-753 B.C. His most bold prophesies were delivered between 760-750 B.C. when there was great prosperity being experienced in Israel and when there was peace between Judah and Israel.
Amos knew about what was going on with the people on Mount Carmel and he challenged the idolatry and pagan worship that was taking place in the land. God had opened a door of opportunity one hundred years earlier, during the days of Elijah, but now the door of opportunity was closing and the day of judgment was coming. In Amos 1 we read,
1 The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa– what he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel. 2 He said: “The LORD roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds dry up, and the top of Carmel withers.” (Amos 1:1-2 NIV)
Judgment was coming upon the land and the richness of Mount Carmel would be devastated when the Assyrians arrived as the sword of God’s judgment. Judgment was coming because the Israelites didn’t learn their lesson. 100 years before Amos appeared on the scene and spoke against the people for their idolatry, the prophet Elijah appeared on the scene in the most famous showdown Mount Carmel has ever seen. One hundred years had passed, but nothing had changed in the hearts of God’s people. What were they waiting on? What are we waiting on? The time is now!
We don’t know too much about Elijah. We know that his name in Hebrew means, “My God is Yah,” “Yah” being a shortened version of “Yahweh.” We know that he was from Tishbe in the region of the Gilead. Other than this we really don’t know too much about Elijah’s background. The most important information that we have about Elijah is his name. Elijah’s ministry was characterized by his name—for Elijah there was no other god than Yahweh. The pagan gods that King Ahab and Queen Jezebel had made popular were no gods at all to Elijah. Elijah could have responded to what was happening in his nation by saying, “Well, that’s just the way it is. You know I’m only one man, I really can’t do anything about where the nation is heading under Ahab.” Isn’t that the way most of us have responded to the changes we’ve seen take place during our lifetime? Isn’t that the way we respond when we hear that the Church has compromised once again? Elijah didn’t sit back; he stood up, and called for a showdown. I believe that it’s time for us to stand up and speak out for the truth of God’s Word today.
That kind of a challenge for some of us stirs our hearts and causes us to stand up and prepare ourselves for whatever may come. For others of us here this morning, we’ve got too long of a “to do” list which we are unwilling to abandon even if it is God inviting us to walk in the footsteps of Elijah and throw caution to the wind so that we might serve Him. For still others, fear pulsates through our entire body whenever we are challenged to take on a task or adopt a lifestyle which is outside of our comfort zone.
I believe that the reason why we modern-day Christians shrink back or become full of fear is because our faith has grown dry, dreary, and uneventful. Many of us don’t want to admit this, we come up with our own evidence of why this is not true, but I think we are kidding ourselves. Rather than looking for God to use us to make a difference, we pat ourselves on the back for making the sacrifice of sitting in a pew for an hour on Sunday morning. I want to give us a short quiz to help us gauge where we are this morning.
• Is your Christian life most spent sitting stiffly and quietly in a thing called a “pew?”
• Have you ever pushed any part of your life to its limits, only to realize that there was probably more to life than you had ever thought?
• Can you recall the last time you felt fully alive, electrified, or reaching for your full potential? I’m not talking about watching someone else reach for their full potential, I’m talking about you being stretched?
• Is your idea of “risk” putting a Christian bumper sticker on your car or wearing a cross around your neck?
• Is your idea of maturing as a Christian serving on two committees at the same time?
• Is your idea of “holiness” confined to frequenting the church building on Sunday morning for worship?
• Have you ever risked it all and lost—and still thought it worth it because it brought you into a deeper relationship with the Living God?
• Do you really feel like you can “do all things through Christ who strengthens you?” Or are those just nice words to memorize?
• Is your faith a dull habit or an acute fever? (Tim Hansel, Holy Sweat, pg. 22)
How did you score? Are you trusting God to do what only He can do in your life? Are you being stretched? Are you taking the easy road?
I am convinced that the Church has become too predictable. Like a week-night sitcom complete with laugh tracks, poor humor, and 23 minutes of the same old stuff each week, the Church has become predictable, stodgy, dry, dull, and dreary. Rather than listen to the voice of God who we know will lead us into uncharted waters, we listen to our friends, who we know will never press us out of our comfort zones.
The Church should be unpredictable! Every day when you and I arrive at church for Bible study and worship we should be filled with wide-eyed wonder as we imagine what God is going to do on that day. We serve an unpredictable God, and those who follow Him should never be trapped by the monotonous, mundane, Pavlovian dog-like drudgery of faith. For those of you who are wondering if God really is unpredictable, irrational, or illogical—allow me a moment to share from His autobiography.
• In the opening pages of the Bible, in the middle of the beauty and overwhelming magnitude of creation, God tells us that the crowning moment of all His artistic ecstasy is that He created people—in His image, no less, from dirt.
• God chooses a grumpy, cynical old couple named Abraham and Sarah to give birth to a nation that would change human history for all time. Would you have been cynical if someone were to tell you that you were going to have a baby when you were ninety-nine years old?
• God decides to rescue His Hebrew people from captivity through an unemployed Egyptian-Israelite prince who tends sheep and stutters. He reveals Himself through a scrub bush that is on fire and yet never burns. Later He splits the Red Sea long enough to let the ungrateful nation pass through on dry ground.
• God chooses a teenager, who liked to play with sling shots, to a nail a nine-foot tall warrior right between the eyes. The boy grows up to become a man “after God’s own heart” –even though he breaks three of the Ten Commandments in one history making blunder.
The New Testament also shows the unpredictability of God. The same God who acted in history in illogical and unpredictable ways over and over again opened the New Testament with an event that left the world scratching their heads. Maybe you’ve heard the story. God chose to reveal Himself like never before and He decided to do it by being born…in a barn…to a virgin. Take a look at some other unpredictable events orchestrated by God.
• Jesus took a trusting kid’s leftover lunch and fed enough people to fill the Ford Center. After it was all said and done, the people were full and still needed “doggy bags” to carry the leftovers home.
• Jesus constantly shocked, surprised, and stupefied the Pharisees. They brought Him a woman caught in adultery, He wrote something in the dirt, then invited the sinless to launch the first stone. When they dared Him to break the Sabbath, He did so while quoting Scripture.
• He went to parties with low lifes, people of questionable character, and the immoral, while at the same time He threw “respectable” businessmen off the steps of the Temple. People called Him a “wine bibber and glutton,” and He was ridiculed for being a friend of “sinners and outcasts.”
• Rather than appearing on a talk show or going to the authorities, He revealed who He was to a Samaritan woman, an enemy, who had a handful of husbands and lovers.
• He chose the number one persecutor of His message to be His lead evangelist.
• He gave the keys to the Kingdom to the one disciple who failed Him most miserably by denying Him three times in one night.
Predictable? Come one. Logical? What logic class did you attend? Any serious student of the Bible knows that the one way that won’t work, the one path which should be avoided, the one idea that seems ludicrous—that is the one thing God is going to choose.
Why is it that we serve such an unpredictable, adventuresome God and yet we seem to be more preoccupied with safety than obedience, security rather than yielding to God’s heart, the routine rather than righteousness, and religion rather than a living, vibrant, life-giving, life-transforming relationship with our unpredictable Lord?
I’m tired of cold, stale, staid religion. I want to run up to the edge of everything rational and logical, everything tried and tested, and dive off into faith just to see what God can do with an old, worn-out, sin-scared, unworthy, used up, has been! I’ve seen it happen before in the lives of God’s men and women who had the courage to get up off the couch of conformity and comfort and allow Him to use their ordinary lives to do extraordinary acts in history.
I love Elijah. Elijah was a man who lived with reckless abandon for the Lord. He experienced the mountain top, the moment of ecstasy when God revealed Himself and delivered him, and he also experienced the depths of depression when he thought his life was over. Elijah didn’t walk the middle road, he lived by faith.
The enemy of the people of God in Elijah’s day was Ahab and Jezebel, the most powerful people in Israel. They wanted the people to simply conform to what they wanted to do in the nation. Their routine was leading the people away from God and Elijah wasn’t about to go-along-just-to-get-along any more. He was willing to take a risk, not a calculated risk, but a wild-eyed, faith-filled risk for the Kingdom.
The story I want to share with you finds Ahab coming to Elijah and confronting him with his so-called rebellious ways. Elijah called Ahab out. It was time for a show down between the God of Elijah and the gods of the false prophets who were leading the people of Israel astray. Elijah knew he was taking a risk, he knew that if God didn’t answer he would be killed, but there was more at stake than his life, at stake was the good name of his God. Take a look at 1 Kings 18:17-39.
17 When he saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?” 18″I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the LORD’s commands and have followed the Baals. 19Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.” 20So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. 21Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing. 22Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the LORD’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. 23Get two bulls for us. Let them choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. 24Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire– he is God.” Then all the people said, “What you say is good.” 25Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” 26So they took the bull given them and prepared it. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “O Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made. 27At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention. 30Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the LORD, which was in ruins. 31Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” 32With the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. 33He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.” 34″Do it again,” he said, and they did it again. “Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. 35The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench. 36At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” 38Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. 39When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The LORD– he is God! The LORD– he is God!” 40Then Elijah commanded them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let anyone get away!” They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there. (1 Kings 18:17-40 NIV)
What a great story! Nobody would have given Elijah a chance. Four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and four hundred prophets of Asherah against one little man who believed with all his heart that the Lord was truly God! No newspaper publisher was preparing a headline proclaiming Elijah’s victory, but Elijah wasn’t reading the morning news—He was listening to the voice of God!
The real question is not about Elijah’s faith, but I want to ask you this morning, “What are you doing?” Are you boldly standing against the forces which seek to petrify the people of God? Are you living on the edge or are you aimlessly ambling through life?
For me to be a follower of Jesus means to live with reckless abandon, and nothing less. When all advice points toward safety and security—I must venture on! When everyone else tells me it would be best to keep my mouth shut—I must speak out! When the public opinion polls say proceed with caution—I must throw caution to the wind! I’m not lying down, I’m moving out! I’m not shutting up, I’m speaking out! I’m not holding back, I’m giving all I got! Oswald Chambers wrote in his classic devotional, My Utmost For His Highest,
Faith is the heroic effort of your life. You fling yourself in reckless abandon on God. God has ventured all in Jesus Christ to save us. Now He wants us to venture our all in reckless confidence in Him…The real meaning of eternal life is a life that can face anything it has to face without wavering…Again and again, you will get up to what Jesus Christ wants, and every time, you will turn back when it comes to that point, until you abandon resolutely…Jesus Christ demands that you risk everything you hold by common sense—and lead into what He says…Christ demands of the man who trusts Him the same reckless spirit…that is daring enough to step out of the crowd and bank his faith on the character of God.
The Apostle Paul spoke of knowing Jesus in an intimate way like none other. There is so much for us to give ourselves to in this life, but Paul knew that everything else was trash compared to knowing Jesus. Paul said,
8 …If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. 7But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ– the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Philippians 3:4-9 NIV)
That’s living by faith! Paul says, “I’ve gained all the world has to offer; I’m of the finest pedigree, I’ve earned scholarly degrees, and I am of the elite Pharisees, but compared to living, loving, knowing, and serving Jesus—it’s all trash!”
When we as individuals embrace a radically obedient lifestyle in submission to Jesus as Lord and Master of our life then we will fully live. When we as individuals join with other believers who are seeking to live in obedience to our Lord and Master then we are going to see a church come alive and touch the world with the Gospel. Clarence Jordan once wrote,
It is difficult to be indifferent to a wide-awake Christian, a real live person of God. It is even more difficult to be indifferent to a whole body of Christians like this. You can hate them or you can love them, but one thing is certain—you can’t ignore them. There is something about them that won’t let you. It isn’t so much what they say or what they do. The thing that seems to haunt you is what they are. You can’t put them out of your mind any more than you can shake off your own shadow. They confront you with an entirely different way of life—a new way of thinking, a changed set of values, a higher standard of living. In short, they face you with the Kingdom of God. There is no washing of hands. These people must be crowned or crucified, for they are either mighty right or mighty wrong.
This flies in the face of everything that we have practiced for centuries. The Church has become part of the mainstream, sanitized, sterilized, and paralyzed by seeking to fit-in in this world gone mad rather than seeking to be radically obedient to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. We need to get back to the mind-set of the early followers of Jesus who knew that to be saved had nothing to do with being “safe.” Lloyd Ogilvie once said, “It’s a great comfort to know that God’s faithful people have always been in trouble. In fact, it’s the sure sign we’re following God, and not men.”
The Church ought to be a dangerous place. When people talk about Britton Christian Church I wish they would be able to say, “If you go there you better watch out! Your life will never be the same again. You will be changed.” I don’t think that is what people say about Britton Christian Church today, but it is my prayer that this dream will one become a reality.
You and I, those who are here this morning and profess to be followers of Jesus, are called to share His love, grace, mercy, and truth with those around us. The Church of Jesus Christ is called to be a “city on a hill” yet today I have to be honest with you and tell you the city has grown dark. We’ve given our energy to building buildings instead of lives. We use our influence to try and attract the beautiful and popular instead of the lost and lonely sheep. Instead of sticking our nose in God’s Word for direction we’ve stuck our finger in the air to see how the cultural winds are blowing. It’s time for the people of God to get back to the ways of Elijah and listen solely for the voice of God.
The first step is for you and me to bow our heart before the throne of God and accept Jesus as Lord and Master of our lives. If you have not done this then why wait another day? Allow God to do in your life what no other can. He will not only give you eternal life, but He will transform the life He has already given you. Won’t you let Him in?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
December 30, 2007