Profession Without True Faith

Matthew 7:21-23, NLT 

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’

I profess to be a Christian and have done so since I was 9 years old. I made my profession of faith in March of 1958. We were in revival at my home church, the Sardis Springs Baptist Church in the central part of Limestone County. John Crawford was my pastor and John Ingolf was the visiting evangelist. I have been blessed indeed. Bro. Crawford was an encouragement to me right up till his departure in 2011. Bro. John Ingolf is a retired IMB missionary and a member of Central Baptist Church in Decatur. I have tremendous respect for both men.

Jesus made it clear that professing to be saved and being saved are two different things. The passage above has always unsettled me. It appears that Jesus is discounting grace and a lot of emphasis is being placed on works…Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter…and… We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name. You do recognize of course, that the works below were not accepted and that includes exorcism and miracles which of course I cannot perform. I use to think, “These people did miracles and could not get in so how will I get in?”

So what is Jesus thinking? What is He communicating? Do we earn our way to heaven by being perfectly obedient to the Father? If that is true, who other than Jesus can be saved? I have always wanted to know what Jesus was saying or what He meant and recently the LORD gave me an insight that has really helped me get a grasp of this passage. Before I share this simple insight, as to what it takes to get into the kingdom, let me tell you what will not work.

I. LIP SERVICE WILL NOT GET US INTO HEAVEN

Knowing the language of Zion will not be enough. Empty profession will not get the job done. According to polls, 78% of Americans consider themselves Christian. This includes Mormons, Jehovah Witness, Catholic, Greek Orthodox and many others. Simply stated, the 78% includes those who do not attend church but they identify with the Christian church. Their parents may have been Christians and basically what many of them are saying is, “If I were going to attend a church, it would be a Christian Church.” You and I both know that 78% of Americans are not Christians. Not even 78% of those who attend Christian churches on a regular basis are not Christians.

Being a pastor of a church on a main thoroughfare, we have folks drop in wanting money for gas, this, that and the other all the time. To be frankly honest, I have a hard time being kind to these folks. Some believe that profiling is wrong but I cannot help it and I have a profile on these folks:

  1. They all smoke cigarettes or use some form of tobacco. They may be pulling an oxygen tank behind them but they smoke.
  2. They all have cell phones. I don’t look to see if they are Apple or Smart Phones but I assure you they have a cell phone.
  3. At least 98% of them have cable TV somewhere: they may live in a camper, they may live in the back seat of their car but they have a TV and Cable.
  4. About 95% claim to have some kind of physical disability which is why they can’t work.
  5. All of them are Christians…All…I have not talked to a beggar in years that professed to be lost, they all tell me without hesitation, “O, I am a believer” and I have even had them quote me scripture. I dealt with one a decade ago who knew bible better than I did. I was quoting him a verse and he interrupted me and said, that is not how it goes and he proceeds to quote it verbatim. I had to think fast. I said, “Yea that is King James, I was quoting New American Standard.”

Profession is important but profession alone will not save us.

II. WORKS, EVEN CASTING OUT DEMONS AND DOING MIRACLES WILL NOT GET US INTO HEAVEN

For years I struggled with assurance. One preacher would preach and I would think I was saved and then another would preach and I would think I was lost. I just could not get solid assurance that I was saved. I was trying to gain assurance by the things I did for the LORD. I thought, if I can witness to another person, that will prove I am saved but that doesn’t work. You will never get assurance through what you do in Christ behalf. Unfortunately, many have build their assurance on their works. You are not going to heaven because you taught Sunday School for 40 years. You are not going to heaven because you preached the gospel for so many years. You are not going to heaven because you tithed. Some folks keep detailed records of all they have done for the LORD but it will not matter. You are not going to heaven because of what you have done for the LORD. You go because of what He has done for you.

III. TO GO TO HEAVEN…YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN [a radical change in nature]

True conversion is marked by repentance and faith. Repentance of sin and faith in the LORD Jesus Christ. The result of true conversion is a radical change of nature. Before we are converted, we have the rebellious nature of a goat. When we get saved, we have the nature of a submissive sheep. I believe that this is exactly what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 7 when he says that the ones who will be saved are those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.

A young man in our church has been struggling with assurance. He has been under attack. The devil is shooting those fiery darts of doubt and one minute he feels OK and then next he feels horror thinking that maybe he is not saved. In a recent conversation I asked him, “Do you have a desire to please Christ? Do you have a desire to obey Him?” Some people trust Jesus to save them from hell but do not trust Him on a daily basis. That would be like having insurance on a car that does not run. God cannot be mocked: He does not provide insurance on a faith that doesn’t work. If your faith isn’t working; it is time to get a new faith. It is possible to have a car with insurance that runs. The spirit of obedience is in every child of God.

Dr. Adrian Rogers once said, “I can sin all I want but I don’t want to sin.” I agree, I do sin but I don’t want to sin. The difference between being saved and being lost is that they we cannot sin without it a making us miserable. I can sin but I cannot enjoy sin. Deep down I want to please Christ not grieve Him. What Jesus is saying in the sermon on the mount is that all God’s children have that desire to be obedient. If we are not serious about obedience, we are not saved. If you say in your heart, “I will do as I please”, you are not saved. When you have the spirit of a rebel, you are not saved. You should not have a goats nature. Listen to what Paul says to the Ephesians…

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. 2 You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. 3 All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.

4 But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, 5 that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) 6 For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. 7 So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.

8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

If you are still ruled by the spirit of disobedience, you are not in Christ.  If you have burning desire to do the good things He planned for you, to be obedient to Christ, to honor and love Him, you are saved. So examine your heart tonight. It is not about decision in a revival or VBS, it is not about an experience whether it be a vision, dream or goose bumps. The question is: Do you have a desire to obey Christ? You either do or don’t and that is the issue.

CONCLUSION

  1. Is there a deep desire in your heart to please and to honor Christ?
  2. Have you put your faith/trust is something other than Christ? [an experience, feelings, good deeds, baptism, church membership, etc]
  3. Is Jesus Christ LORD of your life?

Caution Flag! Jesus is not an insurance plan to keep us out of hell. If He saved you from something [Hell] He is saved you to something [Heaven] and for something [Humble servanthood].

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Watch Out For False Prophets

Matthew 7:15-20

Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. 16 You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. 19 So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. 20 Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.
 

False prophets are not a new fad, they have been around since Cain. Even Moses was opposed by two false prophets  by the name of Jannes and Jambres. We are going to see them in greater numbers until the LORD returns. Jesus said in Matthew 24:11 “And many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.” Jesus wants us to learn to recognize the FALSE PROPHETS. At first it may seem hard but the bible gives us a lot to work with in this area. Jesus Himself gives us some clues in the Sermon on The Mount: He says three major things about them:

I. THEY COME DISGUISED AS HARMLESS SHEEP.

  1. They are deceitful in the sense that they keep their agenda hidden. They oppose the truth just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses. They have depraved minds and a counterfeit faith. No false prophet can afford to be honest, therefore they become very good at pretending. They look like a sheep and act like a sheep but they are not a sheep. Jesus wants us to learn to recognize the FALSE PROPHETS. They are always subtle. As Jude said, “They come in by stealth.” They slip in without anyone noticing. At first it may seem hard but we can learn the discipline of spotting false prophets.
  2. They are self-willed and rebellious. At the core of their being is a lust for power and control. They cannot yield to the will of God or others. Things must go their way.
  3. They are destructive by nature just like a wolf. They harm the flock, the fellowship. They create division and unrest. True prophet pray where as false prophets prey. They will ruin what they cannot rule.

II. THEY HAVE A VICIOUS APPETITE [Like a wolf in a flock of sheep]

  1. First they have an appetite for “Praise”. Although they wear religious garb [sheep clothing], their ego will come to the top. It is like a balloon submerged in water, once the anchor is loosed, it goes to the top. The false prophet is a very good actor but he/she cannot keep the ego submerged. They want to be the center. They want praise. They will surround themselves with people who will praise them. They are quick to alienate those who disagree with them. They surround themselves with minions, parrots and yes men.
  2. They not only have a vicious appetite for praise but they also have an inordinate love for money. I don’t think there is an exception to the rule: false prophets are always greedy. They may not appear so on the surface but if you look into their finances you will discover some gross irregularities. They have their own definition of giving and it is not biblical. Jack Taylor once said, “I don’t pray with a men who don’t tithe. If a man will rob God, he’ll rob anyone and I am not going to close my eyes with a thief in my midst.” Whereas Dr. Jack may have overstated the problem there is something suspicious about a man who will rob God. You find very few who will admit what they are doing. They rationalize away their guilt…”I give my time and talent, besides, God does not need my money. He owns the cattle of a thousand hills.”
  3. They love control. All false prophets are good at manipulating others. They have inverted God’s order. They love money and use people when God’s way is to love people and use money. Control is a major issue with a false prophet because they command a following. All cults have charismatic leaders who have the ability to create cultish of slavish following. Their followers are utterly loyal to them and never ask questions. These people are so under the spell of their leader that they cannot think for themselves or decide for themselves. They have to go to their cult leader so that he/she can tell them what to do. I went on a Mission Trip several years ago with a big church out of Atlanta. There were four or five churches represented on the trip but we kept hearing one church being interjected into every conversation. Their spokesman would remind us that his pastor’s vision was such and such. I almost threw up. The people we were attempting to help didn’t have a clue as to what he was talking about. He thought the trip was about his church and the commission his pastor had given. It was a KINGDOM TRIP and our commission came from Jesus Himself. We were there to represent our boss, Jesus Christ. We where there as ambassadors of Christ. Note I said we: this one little group [not all of them] were parrots. We have to learn to spot this: when people laud and praise their pastor more than they do Jesus, it is not a good sign that something is not in order and no one should be more upset than the pastor. No where in scripture are we exhorted to promote one church over another: this is competition not kingdom building. Unless our disciples are talking about JESUS, we have made them the wrong kind of disciple.

III. THIRDLY, JESUS SAID THAT WE COULD IDENTIFY THEM BY THEIR FRUIT AND THEIR ACTION

  1. Fruit is identifiable. I’m no genius but I can tell the difference between an apple and an orange. Ray has fig trees in the back and there are two apple trees right beside the fig trees. It is no problem to tell the difference.
  2. Fruit takes time to mature. The thing about fruit is that it takes a lot of time. No tree bears fruit over night. Bearing fruit is a process. There is no such thing as instant fruit. We have instant coffee but you cannot make instant fruit. Sometimes the only way to identify a FALSE PROPHET is close observation over an extended period of time. Remember: False prophets clone: they want minions or slaves who adhere to them but a true man of God will make disciples for Christ and that takes time.
  3. Good Fruit is lasting Fruit: Jesus said in John 15You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. [Illustration] I went back to my first church a couple of months ago to help with a Celebration of Life Service. A young man walked up to me and said, “You don’t remember me do you.” I know he could see the wonder on my face, he looked familiar but I could not call his name. He said, “I am David Blankenship, I was a little boy when you came to our house. That was 42 years ago and I have been active in this church since.” Suddenly, a light came on and I remembered the visit, the night that Elmer Jackson [Chairman of the Deacons] and I visited David’s family. It was a Cornelius type experience where I got to share the gospel with the entire family. Some of them were already believers but the entire family came to Christ and we made only one visit. I don’t think I will ever forget that visit. What did I say? I don’t remember. I know it was not profound. I was 20 years old and green as timber. Not only did I not know much, I didn’t even suspect much. It was a God thing and I give Him praise. I surely appreciate David jogging my memory.

CONCLUSION

When It comes to fruit bearing, the tree cannot be its own judge but you can look at the tree and tell if it is fruitful and what kind of fruit it is bearing. I have to admit that I am convicted every time I read Ezekiel 34. Sometimes I see false prophet tendencies in my life which causes me to examine myself and re-examine myself. I want to be true to Christ and true to the people who He has entrusted to my care. It is an awesome responsibility to be the under shepherd of God’s flock. I wonder if those who covet the calling are not a bit psycho: why would anyone want such responsibility.

My fear of the LORD has driven me to the habit of standing before Him before I stand before others. I prayed over this message before I printed it or preached it. It is my offering to HIM and after I have offered it to HIM, I will offer it to his people. I do not see my self as a total failure but neither do I view myself as a success. I am a voice. Actually, I am His voice crying in the wilderness. My strategy is simple, I preach the word; not eloquently as some are gifted to do but simply. I have no confidence in my flesh. I do not rely on my strength which is feeble at best. I’ve put all my eggs in one basket: If Jesus doesn’t come through for me, my ship is sunk. I must say that the older I get, the fewer doubts I have so I am confident that Jesus will come through. He is the vine and I am just a branch. He will bear fruit through me and His fruit will be good and lasting.

I got an email from a pastor friend last week. He said that a couple of women had gotten involved in church after hearing a simple gospel presentation that I made on a recent mission trip. My grand son and I talked about this last night. I cannot remember what I said but I remember how I felt as I walked away from the dump that day [presented the gospel at the city dump]. You are going to be shocked…I felt nothing. The one thing I have learned over the years is that feelings mean nothing, absolutely nothing. My confidence is in the word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.

I am a gardener. I love to plant things. I plant with confidence. My confidence is not rooted in me as a gardener but it the seed I plant and the God who give light and rain. All the seed will not come up but most of them will and so I plant in faith, knowing that eventually, I will reap a harvest from those seeds. The word of God is precious, perfect and potent seed. Our job is to plant it, God will give the increase.

All of us are fruit bearers. We are all sowing seeds that will produce a harvest. The question is: what kind of fruit are we bearing and what kind of a harvest will we reap?

The Golden Rule

Matthew 7:12

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” {NLT}

“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” {NASB}

An older gentleman had a stroke and since his wife has already passed away, there was no one to care for him except a son. The son moved his dad into his home. They fixed him a room and he shared meals at the table with the family. Unfortunately the man could not eat with out slobbering which was very gross and bothersome to the man and his wife and their two teenagers daughters. The only one who did not complain was a their boy who was eleven. After discussing the problem, the man and woman decide to make pop eat in his room. This way no one had to watch him eat. It was easier to clean up the mess around his wheel chair that to see him slobber and drop food back into his plate. grandpa had a hard time handling the utensils and he was bad to drop plates and bowls. There solution was wooden bowls. So grandpa ended up eating by himself out of a wooden bowl. It just so happened that Dad had a wood working shop in back and one day he caught his son using the lathe. “What are you doing?” The dad asked. The son said, “I’m making bowls for you and mom so you will have them when you get old.”

The Golden Rule has both a positive and negative connotation.  First, we should not treat a person in a way that we would not want to be treated. Secondly, we should treat people or do for others what we would appreciate if someone were to do the same for us. When dad saw his son making him a wooden bowl, he realized that he had not treated his father in a respectful manner. He knew that he didn’t want to be treated the way he had been treating his father. The Contemporary English version translated the Golden Rule “Treat others as you want to be treated.”

The Question

The question is: How do you want to be treated?

  1. Do you want to be loved and accepted?
  2. Do you want to be honored and respected?
  3. Do you want to be appreciated?
  4. Do you want people to treat you fairly?
  5. Do you want people to be honest with you?
  6. Do you want people to be understanding and compassionate toward you?
  7. Do you want people to be kind to you?
  8. Do you want people to share with you?
  9. Do you want to be made fun of or mocked?
  10. Do you want people to speak to you and be friendly?

Here is the game plan. You can take the list above or your own list and for everything that you want others to do for you…you begin doing those things for them. In other words, if you want love and acceptance, start loving and accepting others. If you want to be honored and respected, begin honoring and respecting others. If you want to be treated fairly, begin treating others fairly. If you want people to be kind to you, start being kind to them.

Let’s say there is a person at work or school is unkind to you. Although they are not treating you the way you want to be treated, start treating them the way you want them to treat you. The Golden Rule is both positive and pro-active. If you make this rule the rule of your life, you will reap a good harvest. Martin Luther believed the Golden Rule was woven into the fabric of the universe, a kind of natural law. It is like the law of the harvest: “We reap what we sow. If we sow kindness and love, we will reap kindness and love.”

It is a rule, a spiritual principle but it is not magic. There is always the possibility that some may not return our kindness. Jesus did not die of old age. He was crucified by some unkind people. What they did to HIM, He would have never done to them. We may run into some hard cases and there are no guarantees but generally speaking, kindness will break down most hostilities. When Jacob returned home from Haran he was very concerned about Esau mental attitude. Esau was a “Bubba” and a big one. He was rough and rugged…very good with bows and in brawls. He was a fighter and he had an army of 400 that traveled with him. Jacob was scared to death when he heard that Esau and the 400 were on their way to met him. Immediately, Jacob sent out envoys with gifts. Every few hours, Esau was getting gifts from Jacob. Jacob was a smart man: he was using kindness and generosity to soften Esau. What if Jacob had sent a threat instead of a gift? Jacob applied the Golden Rule and it worked.

Kill Them With Kindness

When I was in Seminary, I pastor a small church in East New Orleans. One of my first converts was a middle-aged woman who had two grown children and one grandchild. She lived with her husband in a trailer park not for from the little church. I have never seen Jesus make a more radical change in a person than he did Wanda. She was radiant and excited about her new life in Christ. Her husband was not excited. He would have preferred that she never attended the church and he would have been fine with her quitting all together. He was a big man, rough and gruff, kind of like Esau. Wanda was so excited about her faith and so appreciative of me coming to her trailer park and sharing the gospel that she wanted to adopt us. She would ask us to go home with her every Sunday for dinner. June and I were 400 miles away from home and had no family in New Orleans and so we quickly made Wanda our Seminary mother. Her husband Grady was not thrilled to see us for Sunday Dinner but Wanda insisted. She waited on Grady hand and foot and he never had a kind word for her let alone a “thank you very much.” I was amazed, she would just smile and go right on. The more unkind he was to her, the more she showed toward him. He took her a while but her kindness broke him down. He was a big teddy bear. Not only did he want us to come to Sunday dinner, he invited us back for Monday night football. It even got to the point that he would give us money just like we were one of his children.

JESUS Wants Us to Be Pro-Active

Thomas Hobbes, the 16-17 century English Philosopher believed that all men are moved by the restless desire for power. In his opinion, this is what makes human bitter competitors even to the point of endangering the lives of others. He believed that everyman, in his pursuit of power, has the right to take anything he can, even the life of another. But says Hobbes–We stay within the context of the law because we fear the consequences. If we take a life, someone might take our life in retaliation. Thus there is this unwritten law, the basic social agreement that if…”I don’t harm my fellow man, he will not harm me.” It is a negative view of the golden rule. I mind my business and you mind yours. You don’t bother me and I will not bother you. You leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone.

You would be surprised at how many people live by the silver rule [you leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone] but that is not what Jesus had in mind. There may be some truth to what Hobbes said but the greater truth is that Jesus transforms our fallen natures. Hobbes was judging the human race by the action of Cain. Jesus has the power to change us. He changes our heart. He gives us a new modus operandi.

The Two Gates

Matthew 7:13-14

“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.

INTRODUCTION

Dan Brown  is an American author who writes thriller fiction. He is best known for the 2003 bestselling novel, The Da Vinci Code. Brown’s novels are treasure hunts set in a 24-hour period, and feature the recurring themes of  cryptography, keys, symbols, codes, and  conspiracy theories. His two most successful novels are The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons and both have been made in to motion pictures. Brown has been under attack by conservatives because his books seem to promote the prevalent worldview that one religion is as viable as the next. Brown’s view along with many others is that all religions have something to contribute but none or viable in and of themselves. No one religion has a corner on the truth. Of course, I have a problem the Brownian worldview and so did Jesus.

First of all: I do no consider Christianity a religion for many reasons. Christianity is based on a relationship with the Son of God. Religion is spelled D-O whereas Christianity is spelled D-O-N-E. Religion is what man does for God but Christianity is what God did for man through His Son Jesus Christ. Religions have founders [human origin] but Christianity has a resurrected Savior, a Head, a living LORD. All religions are tied to the thoughts, beliefs and the legacy of some human agent or cultish leader. Christianity is revealed to man and through man but from a divine origin.

My second problem with this “All religions are viable” ideology is that it is not logical, practical, realistic or observable. Obviously the Creator knows what He is doing. He is not confused, not conflicted but morally absolute. He can be no other. This means that there is always a right and wrong, a black and a white–nothing more, nothing less. One brief illustration: Take the person of Christ…the world view of Christ is that he was a good moral man, esteemed teacher and founder of a viable religion called Christianity. Obviously they have not studied scripture or else don’t believe it. As C.S. Lewis pointed out some 50 years ago, Jesus is either who He said He was, the Son of God or He is a liar and a lunatic because he did profess to be the Son of God. The one thing He cannot be is a good man who taught a good ethic. Either the Pharisees were right and Jesus had a devil or else Jesus was right and the Pharisees were sons of the devil but both were not right. One was right and one was wrong. This is the crux of the message today. Note: there are two of everything, not three: there are two gates, two kinds of people, two ways, and two destinations. Thus with Jesus there were only two ways: a right way and a wrong way.

THERE ARE TWO GATES

Of the two gates–one is broad [wide] and the other is narrow. Many people do not like the word ‘narrow’ but it is not a bad word. A cutting edge must be narrow or sharp. This is a major reason liberalism does not work: it is too broad and has no cutting edge. Liberals can destroy a church but they cannot build one simply because doctrine is so broad that it has no cutting edge. The gospel they preach has nothing to say about sin and repentance. Their social gospel is broad and inclusive: “God loves you and everyone is going to heaven.” This is not what Jesus teaches. God does love you but everyone is not going to heaven. Everyone doesn’t want to go to heaven. The devil was in heaven at one time but he did not like playing second fiddle to Jesus. Heaven is about Jesus. People who don’t like Jesus will not be happy in heaven. This leads us to our second point…

THERE ARE TWO KINDS OF PEOPLE

My good friend Phil Glisson, a full-time evangelist from Memphis, Tennessee, says there are two kinds of people: the kind and the wrong kind. I like that and there may be some truth in what he says but Jesus is talking about the [1] saved and [2] the lost. Those on the narrow way and those on the broad way. There is no category for almost saved or partially lost. You are either saved or lost. Jesus said, “Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me.” There is no category for indifferent. There is no gray area in Jesus theology. Several times in my experience I have had members and many times leaders who attempted to hide in the gray area. In times of controversy these folks are always the same, “We are not taking sides.” I always quote Luke 11:23 [above] and tell them, “Jesus didn’t give you a third option.” Folks we either crown or crucify, there is nothing in between. There are always weak and uncommitted people who pretend to take the high ground in any church conflict by saying, “We are neutral: we aren’t taking sides.” No decision is a decision. Taking no side is taking a side. What you are lacking is courage and faith. You are controlled by your fear. You are not concerned about Christ or His kingdom, you are looking out for your own interest. This leads to the third point…

THERE ARE TWO WAYS

If you enter the narrow gate, you join the minority and you will find the way difficult. If you take the way of the masses, the broad road, life is must less of a challenge but remember; its the dead fish that go with the current, they float down stream. Floating with the current is what the majority do and it is easier than going against the current. I’ve been in the minority so long, I think I have gotten use to it. Why is it that no one ever preaches on Luke 6:26, Woe to you when all men speak well of you, For so did their fathers to the false prophets. The great majority of Baptist are worried about offending someone. I don’t have to worry, I have been blessed with worriers in every church I have attempted to pastor. I have had people get visibly upset because certain people didn’t like me. I had a man who actually believed that a preacher should have no enemies. He always thought it was my fault that people hated me. I always told him the same thing, “Jesus didn’t die of old age.” He died because He had enemies who hated Him.” Somehow I was never able to convince him of that truth. You can not be popular and be a sold-out committed follower of Christ. The great majority are on the broad road and you will be going counter-culture to all of them. Don’t be fooled by appearance; the world hates people like Tim Tebow. He is a hero to those of us who believe but to the world, he is a problem. They see him as a real threat. They may pretend to admire him but the truth is, they would enjoy seeing him fall. Trust me, the boy’s name would be plastered all over the media if he were to be caught making a critical mistake. We call this persecution and all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. This brings us to the final point…

THERE ARE TWO DESTINATIONS

Practically everyone wants to narrow this to one but this is not what Jesus taught: He said emphatically, “The highway to hell is broad.” I don’t like to talk about hell but that does not diminish its reality. Hell is a place were rebels go. No one has to go to hell. It is not pleasing to God for anyone to go to hell but neither will He force you to go to heaven. You have those two choices and that is all. You may want a third choice like the Muslims offer, with 70 virgins waiting on you but that is a myth. It is heaven or hell. To go to heaven you have to be perfect and none of us are perfect so that means we have to have help and of course Jesus offers us His help. Proud and self-sufficient people would never bow to Christ as ask for His mercy and grace but that is exactly what you have to do. You cannot get into God’s heaven without going through the ONE Door and that is Jesus. He is not trying to keep you out, He died to get you in but you can’t get in until you humble yourself before He who died for you.

My wife and I went to the Holy Land on New Years of 1990. One of the many church building that we visited was the Church of the Nativity in the very little town of Bethlehem. The door of that church is less than four feet high. You can not enter the church without bending. You cannot get into heaven without bending.

The Law of Prayer

Matthew 7:7-11, NASB

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? 11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!

INTRODUCTION

Prayer is such a broad subject that it is difficult to organize a message on prayer as a whole but I’m going to try. Simply for the sake of presenting the message is some order without it being random comments on the subject, I have divided the message into four parts, all relating to prayer.

I. THE ESSENCE OF PRAYER

  1. First of all, prayer is a spiritual law that can be summed up in one word “Ask”. George W. Truett said, “The law of prayer is to ask”. This means that prayer is essentially easy and simple. So simple that little children excel in prayer because they know how to ask, they are not embarrassed to ask and they ask in faith. When our son was around 4-5 years old, he asked for a trampoline for his birthday. Needless to say, we could not afford a trampoline. I told him more than once, “Son, you are not getting a trampoline.” He was not detered in the least; I would hear him tell others, “I am getting a trampoline for my birthday.” As we got closer to his birthday, I asked his mother what we were going to do. She suggested that I begin looking for a trampoline. We both knew that we could not afford one. I was in a sporting goods store in Decatur getting prices and the cheapest one I could find was $300 which was out of the question. At that time in our life, we didn’t spend that much on all four of our children for Christmas and this was a birthday. I was about to leave the store when the owner came out. I guess he could see the stress in my face because he asked me if there was a problem and I said, “Yes, matter of fact there is. My son wants a trampoline for his birthday and we can’t afford one.” He said, “Can you come up with a $100?” I said, “That might be a possibility.” He said, “Come with me,” and he took me to the back where they was one already put together and it had a bent frame. He said, “You can either straighten the frame or find a place in your yard where it will set level.” Long story short, the boy’s faith and his persistant asking got him a trampoline which he and the others wore out over a period of years. The law of prayer is to ask in humility with confidence.
  2. I don’t unusally get into grammer because I am not a Greek scholar but Jesus uses the imperative voice. When He says ASK, it is not a suggestion, it is a command. Jesus is commanding us to ask and to do otherwise is a sin of transgression. Prayerlessness is a sin and it is not a small sin.
  3. Prayer is not only a law and a command, it is a blessed priviledge. It is the priviledge of sonship. Note what Jesus said, “Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone?” He is referring to a father giving to a son. Our sonship gives us the priviledge of prayer.

II. THE EVOLUTION OF PRAYER [The growth and development of prayer in our lives]

To illustrate this progression in the practice of prayer: Jesus uses a trilolgy of imperatives. With each new imperative, there is a progression in intensity.

  1. ASK: Asking is the simplist form of prayer and is related to our needs. When we supplicate, we ask for our needs, our daily bread. When we interceed, we ask in behalf of the needs of others. We ask with our lips based on our need or the needs of others.
  2. SEEK: Seeking is more intense than merely asking. We seek with our heart and we seek for that which we have lost or fear that we are in jepordy of losing. Asking is motivated by need but seeking is motivated by passion. We are passionate about the things we seek.
  3. KNOCK: Knocking is much more agressive than seeking. Knocking indicates a barrier, an obstacle that needs to be removed or a door that needs to be opened. It is the most agressive form of prayer. It is like Jacob at Peniel–it is wrestling with God.

III. THE ESTABLISHMENT OF PRAYER

  1. What is the basis of our praying? Why do we pray? What is the foundation of our praying? This is probably the highlight of the text...”If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” The foundation of prayer is the goodness of God.
  2. Note: the very first thing that the devil seeks to destroy in the mind of Adam and Eve is the fact that GOD IS GOOD. He begins to cast doubt on the benevolence of God and convinces our parents that God is withholding. Satan knew that if he could destroy their confidence in God’s goodness that it would destroy their faith in God. Doing such diabolical things is what earned him the nick name “Devil”.
  3. Jesus also aludes to our evil…so the basis of prayer is not to be found in us. We establish prayer on the goodness of God. He invites us to pray because He is good and He delights to do good things for us. When I pray, I am talking to my heavenly Father who is good and has good things in mind for me.

IV. THE ESSENTIAL OF PRAYER [Note: not essentials plural]

  1. You cannot be saved from hell a part from prayer. I know some of you that have the testimony that you believe you were saved the moment you believed and with that I agree but whether you realize it or not, your prayer was to be saved and you directed that prayer to Jesus. Let me put it to you this way, “Jesus responds to our petition, He never saves anyone against their will.” There will not be anyone in heaven with the testimony, “I didn’t ask to be saved.”
  2. Your spiritual development, your sanctification, your growth in grace depends upon your faithfulness and persistence in prayer. The  present imperative tense used for the verbs in Matthew 7:7 implies that the asking, seeking, and knocking are all described as continuous actions, and this implies that prayer to be effective should also be a continual habit, rather than an occasional plea. Literally, the verse could be translated, “Ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, knock and keep on knocking.” Cease not to ask until you receive–Cease not to seek until you find–Cease not to knock until the door is opened. We will not recover what we lost in the fall unless we seek and the doors will not open unless we knock. Prayer is essential for our spiritual growth and development. PRAYER IS SOMETHING WE DO AND KEEP ON DOING. To be effective in prayer, we must practice everyday. We must as Paul said, “Pray without ceasing.” Prayer must be a way of life. S.D. Gordon said, “The greatest thing anyone can do for God or man is pray.” The question is, do we believe this? We talk about prayer, we even sing about prayer; yea, we attend conferences on prayer but we don’t pray. Praying is one of those things that we do not do once and quit but we keep on keeping on.
  3. REVIVAL, Spiritual renewal depend on prayer. I don’t know how many missionaries I have known or heard speak but they all same the same thing: “Our greatest need is for your prayers. There was a time when I didn’t understand this request and then a time when I doubted the Missionaries integrity. I thought they were singing the company song but then I took a few mission trips. They are being honest. They covet our prayers more than anything else. They need our prayers more than anything else. The last few months, I have felt the same as the Missionaries: I covet prayers. The Grahams have used MY HOPE in 57 foreign countries and it has worked but I don’t think it is working in America. We have only 12,000 churches participating. To put this in perspective, we have only 3 churches participating in Morgan County. There are 100 plus Baptist Churches in Morgan County, not to mention Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal and other evangelicals. I would guess that we have in the neighborhood of 200, maybe 250. Either way, we are talking lest than 1% who are even remotely interested is seeing America come by to Christ. Folks, I cannot move people. I cannot motivate them but we are talking about the Grahams. Billy Graham has a burden for America, he has made a plea but it has fell on deaf ears. Our only HOPE is divine intervention. Only God can save America. This means our only hope is to pray and ask Him to intervene.

CONCLUSION

In Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian gets captured by the Giant Despair who locks him in the dugeon of Doubting Castle. Christian is getting beaten every day and is on the verge of giving up when he realizes that he is not alone. Hope was with him in the same cell. Suddenly he realizes that Hope is the key and sure enough when he aroused Hope, the door came open and Christian walked out of the dark dungeon into the light of freedom. Hope was the key. Without Hope, we give in to despair and we stop praying. We cannot give in to doubt and despair. We must pray for Revival in America no matter how dark the future appears to be.