OPEN: An evangelist in South Africa had a van with this sign on the side that said this:
“Where will you spend eternity?
Most people don’t decide till the 11th hour.
Our service begins at 10:30.”
That evangelist’s van was telling people that there was a “decision” to be made.
It asked: Where you gonna go when you die?
Will you spend your eternity in heaven or in hell?
You get to make the choice.
You get to make that decision.
Now, some people don’t make the decision until the 11th hour but we’re going to make it easy on you – we have a service at 10:30.
Implied in that clever message was this:
Make a decision.
Decide where you’ll spend eternity (we want to help)
The Bible is filled with scriptures that tell us to make a decision.
When God had brought Israel up out of slavery in Egypt He told them: “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now CHOOSE life, so that you and your children may live.” Deuteronomy 30:19
When Joshua had led Israel to conquer the Promised Land “ "Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then CHOOSE for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." Joshua 24:14-15
Isaiah declared: "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? LISTEN, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Isaiah 55:1-2
Listen to me! Choose that which satisfies!
And that was essentially what Jesus said: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33 KJV
If you want to have that which satisfies: Choose God’s kingdom and righteousness/ place God and His priorities first in your life and you’ll be taken care of.
So, when Elijah stood on the mountaintop challenging the prophets of Baal and Ashteroth, he echoes the very same cry God has always put before His people: CHOOSE!
“How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” 1 Kings 18:21
MAKE A CHOICE!!!
As I was preparing this sermon it occurred to me that the in the previous chapter, Elijah didn’t talk to anyone other than the King. He appears out of nowhere, tells the king there is going to be a drought and there will be neither rain nor dew until he says otherwise… and then he leaves. He doesn’t return until now… 3 ½ years later.
BUT now, he doesn’t talk just to the King. He addresses the entire nation of Israel. He tells King Ahab to assemble these 950 prophets of Baal & Ashteroth at Mt. Carmel and then stands and makes a public challenge before all the people of Israel.
He says to them: “Choose!”
“If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”
MAKE A CHOICE!
Why address the entire nation?
I believe Elijah did that because that’s what he’d come to do. He had come to help the people of Israel make that very decision.
Yes, he came to confront and convict King Ahab.
Yes, he’d come to confront and destroy the false prophets
BUT the primary reason he’d come back was to preach this message to this audience
Make a choice! Decide who you will follow.
Why challenge Israel this way?
Because the Israelites had gotten into the habit of trying to live in two worlds. They were TRYING to follow BOTH God and Baal. They probably prayed to Yahweh and some of them may have gone down to Jerusalem to worship. BUT the altars of Baal and Ashteroth were more convenient and it was obvious the government didn’t like their God. Many of the prophets of God had been put to death by Queen Jezebel.
So they decided to compromise.
They decided to mix and match their gods.
They prayed just enough to God to feel comfortable but they spent a lot of time down at the altars of Baal and Ashteroth.
But Elijah appears before the nation and tells them
You are descendents of Jacob.
You are Israelites.
You belong to God
If you’re people of God… why aren’t you living like it?
That’s why – when he built his altar - he used a very specific number of stones.
How many stones did Elijah use for his altar on Mt. Carmel? (Twelve)
1 Kings 18:31 “Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob”
He was telling his audience:
You are God’s people.
Make a choice to follow Him.
But the people of that day preferred a milk toast, watered down version of faith.
Now people in our day do much the same thing.
They’ll worship Jesus… but they’re convinced all the other religions are OK.
ILLUS: According to a 2008 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life:
57% of evangelical church attendees said they believe many religions can lead to eternal life. In fact, 70 % of Americans with at least some religious affiliation shared that idea.
The results of survey led one sociologist to comment "The survey shows religion in America is, indeed, 3,000 miles wide and only three inches deep," D. Michael Lindsay, a Rice University sociologist of religion.
Why would people believe that? Why would they accept the idea that all gods were the same?
Well, they’re not.
* The Eastern Religions like Buddhism Confucianism teach that there is no god… and no afterlife. Because it’s difficult to have a religion without something to worship, many either worship Buddha or their ancestors. But officially there’s no god, no afterlife in these religions.
* Now Hinduism takes the other way with a vengeance. They have many gods (3 major gods, but thousands of other gods. And they have many afterlifes. They believe they are reincarnated over and over and over again. Many gods, many afterlifes.
* Then there’s Islam. Like us they have only one god – which they call Allah – and one afterlife. But he’s nothing like the God we worship. Allah is an impersonal god, who actually cares nothing for his worshippers. To attain the afterlife in this man-made religion, you need to accumulate enough brownie points to please him. If you have enough self-righteousness… you get to go to heaven.
But none of those gods in those other religions is even remotely like the Jesus you and I serve.
Our God is a personal God, who cared so much for us that He gave His only begotten Son so that we might have our sins forgiven. He offers heaven as a gift, but it’s a gift you and I could never earn because none of us would be good enough to be good enough to get through those pearly gates.
None of these religions is even remotely alike. The belief that all these different religions worship the same god is common but it’s irrational. Just on pure logic… any god who would reveal himself thru all these world religions would either be a liar or a lunatic.
He’d be a liar if he told one group "This is the way" and another group "NO… that is the way."
Or he’s schizophrenic. He’d have a multiple personality disorder.
One day he’s Shiva, the destroyer.
Another day he’s Brahma an impersonal force that saturates the universe.
The god you get – kinda depends on what day you bump into him
(Loosely based on an illustration by Joel Smith, Wellspring Community Church)
And the competing religions of Elijah’s day were even worse.
Worship of Baal called for human sacrifice. Children were placed in the red-hot hands of this idol and burned to death… their skin of the face tightening the mouth into a smile that would indicate the god was pleased.
And Ashteroth’s worship often involved worshippers sleeping with the priests and priestesses in places around the altar.
No… not all gods are alike.
And not all religions lead to heaven.
Now that was then… this is now
And there are a lot of people in US that are not into Allah, or Buddha or any number of other gods. They believe Jesus is God. They like going to church once in a while. But they don’t want to get too serious about this stuff.
Their problem is they want God to God… over there.
They want God an hour a week (if that) and - oh yeah - they’d like to be able to put in an emergency call now and again.
They really haven’t CHOSEN God.
They haven’t decided to follow Jesus.
They just want God to be around when they want Him.
Ronald Reagan once said: "We can’t have it both ways. We can’t expect God to protect us in a crisis and just leave Him over there on the shelf in our day-to-day living. I wonder if sometimes He isn’t waiting for us to wake up, He isn’t maybe running out of patience."
(Ronald Wilson Reagan, September 9, 1982, at the Alfred M. Landon lecture series on public issues)
I wonder if God isn’t just waiting for us to wake up.
To make a decision.
To make a choice.
To put Him first in our lives.
You see… many people live a kind of milk toast.
A compromised kind of Christianity.
But that’s a recipe for disaster.
The Israelites tried to compromise their faith… and they ended up with 3 ½ years of drought.
Their lives got hard.
Their existence became harsh.
They said they were God’s people but they weren’t living like it and they paid a terrible price of their weak religiosity.
When you SAY you believe one thing… and you DO something else you’re in for a lot of drought in your life. There will be discord, uneasiness, conflict. You’ll find you’ll NEVER be totally be at peace. And you will NOT be satisfied with your life.
ILLUS: Psychologists have a term for this: “Cognitive Dissonance”.
Cognitive Dissonance is when what you BELIEVE one thing, but you DO something else. Psychologists tell us that when people try to live like that dissonance or disharmony results.
For most people, that dissonance manifests itself as a feeling of uneasiness, a lack of peace. People want their lives back in balance. They want the return of peace. Instead – because they try to live their lives in this type of tension – they experience this “dissonance” in their lives… and just naturally want to get rid of it.
God tells us, that if you live your life this way – if you don’t live it HIS way - cognitive dissonance will be the least of your worries.
Proverbs 13:15 tells us “the way of transgressors is hard.” KJV
Isaiah 48:22 "There is no peace," says the LORD, "for the wicked."
By contrast, Isaiah praises God because “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” Isaiah 26:3
AND “The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.” Isaiah 32:17
Jesus promised: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27
Now, you can choose God’s kind of peace - or you can try for the world’s version.
And the world’s version of peace will last… for awhile.
The world’s version of peace is short lived. It’s based upon:
How much money you have
How much power you have
How many friends you have
How entertained you can keep yourself
But if those things ever disappear, or disappoint, you’ve got nothing left.
That’s why Jesus said: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21
All the things you might think will satisfy will eventually be stolen away or destroyed.
Once they’re gone, so is your peace.
But Jesus said: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27
And Paul wrote that if I live and think the way God tells me: “… the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7
In other words: Jesus can give you peace that will last even when you LOSE everything else.
Or as someone else said: “Peace rules the day when Christ rules the mind.”
That’s what we want!
But we’ve got to make a choice.
We’ve got to make a decision.
To refuse to decide is to decide.
You can NOT have Jesus’ peace if you try to compromise between the world and God. It just won’t work. All you’ll get when you do that is conflict and confusion.
Elijah faced off against the most powerful and prominent prophets of Baal and Ashteroth
He gave them all the advantages and he said “Let’s see who’s God can deliver.” And when the smoke cleared their gods came up empty.
So, let’s have a contest with the world and see who’s “god”, who’s version of “reality” is best.
Let’s take the best that society has to offer and see how well things turned out for them.
ILLUS: In last century there were 2 prominent atheists H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw. They rejected God… and placed their trust in their own systems of belief.
Could their lack of faith give them peace?
H.G. Wells’ final literary work, for example, has been aptly called "a scream of despair."
He declared: "I have no peace. All life is at the end of the tether."
And George Bernard Shaw, shortly before he died in 1950, wrote, "The science to which I pinned my faith is bankrupt. Its counsels, which should have established the millennium, have led directly to the suicide of Europe. I believed them once. In their name I helped to destroy the faith of millions. And now they look at me and witness the great tragedy of an atheist who has lost his faith."
Elijah stood on Mount Carmel and basically told the people.
Watch and see which God supplies.
But once you see the contrast, you need to make a choice.
CLOSE: Charles Bradlaugh was an outstanding atheist in England. Down in the slums was a minister by the name of Hugh Price Hughes. All London was aware of miracles of grace accomplished at his mission.
Charles Bradlaugh challenged Mr. Hughes to a debate on the validity of the claims of Christianity. This challenge perked up the ears of all in London... what would Hughes do? He immediately accepted the debate and in doing so added one challenge of his own:
Hughes said. "I propose to you that we each bring some concrete evidences of the validity of our beliefs in the form of men and women who have been redeemed from the lives of sin and shame by the influence of our teaching. I will bring 100 such men and women and I challenge you to do the same.
"If you cannot bring 100, Mr. Bradlaugh, to match my 100, I will be satisfied if you will bring 50 such men and women who will stand and testify that they have been lifted up from lives of shame by the influence of your teachings. If you can’t bring 50, then bring 20 people who will say, as my 100 will, that they have a great joy in a life of self-respect as a result of your atheistic teachings. If you cannot bring 20, I will be satisfied if you bring 10.
"Nay, Mr. Bradlaugh, I challenge you to bring one, just one man or woman who will make such a testimony regarding the uplifting of your atheistic teachings."
You know what happened? The debate never took place. Bradlaugh couldn’t meet the challenge. The world never could.
But now you need to make a choice.
Make a decision.
If God is God, then follow Him.