For the past two weeks we have been taking a look at Israel and Judah’s leaders who were being threatened with an attack from the enemy. We’ve studied these leaders in order that we might gain some insight into how our nation is to respond to the current events taking place in our world. We’ve learned how Judah’s King Jehoshaphat called the people of his nation together to pray and seek God’s will in a time of potential war. We’ve seen how Joshua became overly confident in the successful tactics of the past and forgot to go to God for direction and God’s battle plan. The result of Joshua’s failure to seek counsel from God was a humiliating defeat at the hands of a much weaker opponent. Finally, last Sunday night, many people gathered in our sanctuary to cry out to the Lord on behalf of our leaders, nation, and the leaders of other nations. I am praying that those who gathered last Sunday will continue to gather with me on Sunday nights here in our sanctuary to call upon the Lord in these times of turmoil and world tension.
At the end of our time of study last week I mentioned to you that it is not just the leaders of nations that need to cry out to God for wisdom and direction when times of conflict surface – we all need to cry out to the Lord on a daily basis as our struggles come. There is not a single, solitary individual seated in this sanctuary this morning who does not carry the scars of battle upon their hearts. We’ve been through our own personal battles; wars that have ripped at our hearts and blown our hopes and dreams to bits. There are some among us this morning that are engaged in battle even as I speak. The war is raging in your heart and mind and the enemy is winning. You have done your best, but the war has not ceased. You’ve dug in your heels and yet it seems like the enemy keeps coming at you with wave after wave of mercenaries bent on your total destruction.
Just this past week I have talked with friends of mine, some old friends and others new friends that I am only getting to know, who can barely hear the sweet songs of grace and mercy for the mortar shells of destruction that are pounding their hearts and homes. I’ve listened to stories of lives torn apart by addiction, homes torn apart by unfaithfulness, hearts torn apart by debilitating diseases, and relationships torn apart by impending death. How do we cope? How do we make it? Where do we turn to know how to navigate our way through this maze of sin, sickness, and sorrow? These are such relevant questions. These are the most all-encompassing questions of humanity and there are many who suggest answers for us.
We have been studying a great little book in our Promise Keeper’s study on Tuesday mornings called, The Case For Faith by Lee Strobel. During the last two weeks we have been taking a look at a belief that many hold today. The belief is this – “When you boil it all down to the basics all religions really believe the same thing. They all believe in the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of humanity.” The guys who have come to the study have learned that this na?ve belief is the furthest thing from the truth. We’ve learned that Hindu’s worship over 300,000 gods, Buddhist’s do not believe in God at all, Muslims believe in a God who is absolutely different and unreachable by humanity, and the New Age movement believes that at the core of who we really are – we are gods. These same faiths have much to say about sin and suffering. The New Age movement, Hindus, and Buddhist’s believe that suffering is an illusion – it is not real. They believe that because of our sin we are reincarnated over and over again until we get it right, until we live noble enough to escape this life. The Muslims believe that suffering comes because of our bad behavior. Living a good life is the only escape from the suffering of this life. If you or I live a good enough life then hopefully, one-day, Paradise will be the reward. For the men, Paradise will come complete with 72 virgins to enjoy for all of eternity.
Every belief system, apart from Christianity, places an incredible emphasis on “doing good” and “living right.” We can come close to God by living well and doing what is right. For most people, those who truly know that even on their best days they fall far short, this type of belief will only lead to absolute despair.
Christianity speaks a bold word to those who would hold to such beliefs. It is not those who are good that receive the abundant and eternal life that only God can give, but only those who know they are incapable of ever living a “good life,” and who will place their faith in the finished work of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus has accomplished for us what none of us could ever accomplish. Those who trust in His righteousness and holiness are those who will receive the abundant and eternal life of God. It is the grace of God alone that justifies us. Let me tell you a story to illustrate what I am talking about.
There was a man who died and went to heaven. When he arrived at the Pearly Gates, St. Peter met him. St. Peter says, “Here’s how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you’ve done, and I will give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in.” “Okay,” the man says, “I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart.” “That’s wonderful,” says St. Peter, “that’s worth three points!” “Three points?” he says. “Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithe and service.” “Terrific!” says St. Peter, “that’s certainly worth a point.” “One point? Man, this is tough. How about this: I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans.” “Fantastic, that’s good for two more points,” he says. “TWO POINTS!!” the man cries, “At this rate the only way I get into heaven is by the grace of God!” “That’s right! Now you have got it!” said St. Peter. (Afterhours Inspirational Stories)
Christianity has a totally different message for you and me than all of the other belief systems of the world. The Bible teaches that God is distinct, He is holy, He is absolutely righteous in all of His ways, and He is perfectly pure. The Bible teaches us that there is no way for us to work our way to God. All of the good deeds that you or I could ever muster would still be tarnished by the sin that is in our hearts. Yet, the Bible also teaches that God has come to us; to those He has fashioned with His own hand, to those who have turned away from Him so that our hearts might be turned back to the One who made us and who has a plan for our lives. He has provided a way for us to be made right, to receive eternal salvation, to find meaning in this life of struggle, and to possess hope in all things.
We live in a world without hope. You see it etched on the faces of friends, co-workers, family members, and even church friends every day. The reason the world is without hope is because we are looking for hope in all of the wrong places. Hope can only be found in one place – in Christ. As long as we try to work our way out of depression we will never find lasting relief. As long as we try to think our way out of predicaments we will never find lasting relief. As long as we try and maneuver our way through treacherous times we will never find the peace that surpasses all understanding.
We try everything under the sun to figure it out, work it out, and sort it out, but we just end up wrung out and hung out to dry. So where do we turn? Where do we go? How do you find something different than what we have experience in the past? I am so glad you have asked. Let me share with you four essential steps to take in experiencing life like you have never experienced it in the past.
First, we must admit that we are not able. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous may not point you or me to “the” Higher Power, but they sure get us started on the right foot when they say, “You must admit that you are powerless.”
The great American motto is “We can!” Nike tells us, “Just Do It!” and we believe we can. In Adam Sandler’s great theological cinematic release, The Waterboy, Bobby Boucher is a goofy, Louisiana, backwater waterboy until the coach discovers that he can deliver a blow like a Mac truck. Bobby becomes an overnight sensation and is on track to be an All-American linebacker. As his team experiences more and more success, Bobby is under more and more pressure to perform. Bobby had never been in a situation like that before, but he had two country fellas who seemed to always show up in the movie and just at the right time they would shout out, “You can do it!”
We may suffer from low self-esteem and not think too highly of ourselves, but we sure don’t want to ask for help. We keep trying and trying to do it, to get it right, and work it out. What we need most is to admit that we are incapable of doing right – we can’t do it. The Apostle Paul knew the condition of his heart and soul. Paul writes,
15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:15-19 NIV)
I have to get honest with God. For so many years when I would attempt to be “good” there was always an ulterior motive – I wanted something. Even today, years after I have come to know Jesus as Lord of my life I still find Paul’s words piercing my heart. I can try to do good and end up making a mess of things.
Can you be bold enough today to agree with the Lord that there is no good that resides in your soul on your own? Are you going to pretend to be good when you know the thoughts you think, you know the condition of your heart? Are you going to continue to find mass murderers and serial killers to compare yourself to so that you look better than you really are? Why not cry out to God and admit that nothing good lives inside of you? This is the first step to a brand new life.
The second step is to know the problem. For us to really experience life like we have never experienced it before we must know our problem. Our problem is not a lack of education, a better plan, or better connections in the community. Our problem is not a lack of money, a hyperactive child, a disinterested mate, anger, lust, sticky fingers, or being raised in an unstable home. These are all symptoms of the problem, but they are not the roots of our problem. Our problem is sin. It is not that we sin, but that we are a sinner that makes us incapable of doing what is right, just, and godly. It is the presence of sin in our world that leads to friction, fragmentation, frustration, and the like. Sin will do you in.
David was a wonderful king of Israel, but he had committed adultery, murder, and was caught lying when he wrote these heartfelt words in Psalm 51.
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. 5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (Psalm 51:3-5 NIV)
Jeremiah was a committed prophet of God. He was a man who suffered ridicule, persecution, and even torment during his life because of his commitment to doing what God had called him to do. Yet Jeremiah knew the condition of the human heart. Jeremiah writes,
9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV)
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” You can go to a doctor and communicate your problems. You may have a temper than is out of control. You may suffer from depression because of what you’ve done or what has been done to you. You may be diagnosed as a kleptomaniac, pyromaniac, insomniac, hypochondriac, or a flat out maniac. The doctor can give you a prescription for your ailment and you can get better, but still have an emptiness that pervades your life. We have a heart problem that no cardiologist can cure. It is not our symptoms, but our sin that permeates every fiber of our being and we are absolutely powerless to change. In the book of Romans Paul wrote about how pervasive this problem truly is for all of humanity. Paul says,
10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12 NIV)
We have turned away from God and not one of us truly seeks to do good. No wonder there is so much strife, heartache, and disenchantment in our world today. What are we to do? We can either go back and try to do something different, do something better, or try a little harder or we can take the time to seek God’s solution.
So many folks today are convinced that some day they will get serious about God. They know they really need to take faith more serious, but they just can’t seem to fit it in right now or they want to wait until they get their life straightened out.
It reminds me of the family that moved into a new town. The town was small so one of the more aggressive pastors stopped by to say, “Hi” and welcome the new family. When the pastor got ready to leave he invited the family to church on Sunday. The man assured the pastor that he would come just as soon as he got straightened out.
Several months passed, and he still hadn’t taken his family to church, so the minister called the family again and repeated his invitation. The fellow hadn’t yet gotten everything straightened out, but he’d be there just as soon as he did. A few weeks later he died, and his widow asked to have the funeral services in the church. The preacher graciously agreed. Later when a member of the congregation asked the pastor if the man was a Christian, he answered, “I don’t really know. He never attended services here. When I talked to the family nobody could recall him ever talking about his faith in Jesus, so I can’t say. I only know he was a man of his word. He promised to come to church just as soon as he got straightened out — and he did!”
We can try and straighten out our problems or we can take another step in the direction of faith. Won’t you take that step with me?
Third, we must look to the Solution. When God opens our eyes to the fact that we aren’t able to deal, cope, or overcome the sin that dogs us day in and day out then we are in the absolute best position of all – we are able to cry out to the One who is our Solution, our Salvation, and our Security.
Jesus didn’t die so people could wear crosses around their necks, but He did die with the sins of the world upon His shoulders. The author of Hebrews tells us, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness for sin.” Jesus’ blood was shed. He was the perfect Lamb of God led by the hand of God to the cross so that your sin and mine could be paid in full. Paul wrote in Romans,
8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 NIV)
God has demonstrated His love for us by doing for us what was impossible for us to do for ourselves. God has opened the door. He hasn’t said, “Choose any door you want and know that it leads to Me. Just be sincere in whatever you do.” God has given His Son at the greatest of costs so that you and I can be in fellowship in Him. Paul wrote to Timothy and said,
5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all men-the testimony given in its proper time. (1 Timothy 2:5 NIV)
Do you see what God has done? God has taken all of salvation into His own hands. He has provided the way, He has provided the means, and He is the Author and Finisher of salvation for those who will believe. This has been done so that none of us can boast about how good, how holy, or how righteous we are. How can we boast when we haven’t paid the price? Paul wrote in Ephesians,
1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-9not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:1-9 NIV)
There are people here this morning that have never accepted what God has done on your behalf. You have never accepted Jesus into your heart as the payment of your sin, as your Lord and Savior, but today you can know the security that comes through knowing Jesus. How can you know this peace that surpasses all understanding? Let me share with you what God says. Turn to Romans 10 with me and let’s read together.
9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile-the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13 NIV)
When a person accepts Jesus into their heart as Lord and Savior of their life then their salvation is secure. It is His work on your behalf that secures your place in heaven, not your work. Charles Haddon Spurgeon once said, “It is not your hold of Christ that saves you, but his hold of you!” The world may be convinced that they must do more to go to heaven, but God’s Word teaches us that the moment we ask Jesus into our hearts as Lord of our life then there is absolutely nothing more that we could ever do to to be acceptable in God’s sight.
The security that we all yearn for in life is not found in stringing together a series of good days or feeling like we have done something noble or godly. Our security is based solely upon God’s promise to us that He has won our salvation through the victory of His Son over sin and death.
Someone once asked Martin Luther, “Do you feel that you have been forgiven?” He answered: “No, but I’m as sure as there’s a God in heaven. For feelings come and feelings go, and feelings are deceiving; My warrant is the Word of God, nothing else is worth believing. Though all my heart should feel condemned for want of some sweet token, there is One greater than my heart whose Word cannot be broken. I’ll trust in God’s unchanging Word till soul and body sever; For though all things shall pass away, his Word shall stand forever!” Martin Luther (1483-1546)
Last of all, we must gratefully walk in what Christ has done for us. We have come to the realization that we are not able, we have identified our problem is sin, we have turned to the Savior for salvation, now we must live in joyful gratitude for what He has done for us each and every day. How can we experience joyful gratitude? Listen to this.
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 NIV)
In life, in death, in troubles, in joy, in suffering, and in peace – Jesus makes all the difference for you and me.
There was a sergeant who had his leg blown off by a shell in the second Bull-Run battle. He said of himself that he was “the happiest man you ever saw.” As he told his story he said that when he was injured he laid on the field all night, engaged in prayer. He said, “I prayed; and Christ seemed to come and stand by my side all night: and he comforted me. I felt sure that my sins were all washed away in his blood; and I do tell you, chaplain, that I forgot all about my wounds for the moment. It was the happiest night of my life.” In this frame of mind, he lived the last few remaining days of life, and then he went home to be with His Savior who had suffered for His freedom.
Do you want to know that peace regardless of what you are going through in life? Do you desire to know the security that only God can bring? Are you tired of wondering if you will go to heaven when this life is over? I want to invite you this morning to put all of those questions to rest and rest in the secure arms of the Father.
Some of you may be wondering if this is really the right choice. I would tell you that it is the only choice. There are some people here this morning and the Lord is speaking to your heart. He is calling you home. He is calling you to step out in faith. Step out of your independence. Step out of your mire of mediocrity and madness. Step out of your insecurity. Step out of your sorrow. Step out of your despair. He is calling you to step out so that you can step in to His loving arms of grace. How do you know when the Lord is calling you? Great question. Let’s allow a 12 year old boy to explain this deep theological question to us.
The little boy had became a Christian during a revival at his church. The next week at school his friends questioned him about the experience. They said, “Did you see a vision?” “Did you hear God speak?” The boy answered no to all these questions. “Well, how did you know you were saved?” they asked. The boy searched for an answer and finally he said, “It’s like when you catch a fish, you can’t see the fish or hear the fish; you just feel him tugging on your line. I just felt God tugging on my heart.”
You feel the tug upon your heart so won’t you come and invite Jesus to take your heart hook, line, and sinker?