Are You Playing Church?
Are You Playing Church?
The goal of the Church is not merely to help the youth to have fun, strengthen relationships, and become good people. The goal of the Church is to help you become disciples of Jesus Christ. Let’s go through the steps you'll have to accomplish if you're going to be a true Christian.
During the last week of December 2004, Louisville, KY, was the center of attention for over twelve hundred participants at the 2004 Winter Family Weekend sponsored by the United Church of God. Activities organized for attendees of all ages included sports and recreation for three full days, followed on the Sabbath by dozens of special classes and seminars for those from age five to a hundred and five. The family weekend culminated with special dinners, dances and entertainment for pre-teens, teens, young adults and families.
On the Sabbath before an overflow audience and after special music by the teen choir, Gary Petty, pastor in San Antonio, TX, and presenter of the Good News Radio Program, addressed youth and families with a message titled, "Are You Playing Church?"
I had an interesting experience yesterday. I was playing ultimate Frisbee. Now there's another minister here from Texas, Mr. Tom Damour. I won't ask him to stand up, but it is suffice to say that he is old, fat and slow. I was quite excited when I got matched up against him. I was trotting along thinking, boy this is easy, and he took off and caught the Frisbee and scored. My wife was trying to console me last night, and I said I passed into the surreal. I'm now getting beaten by the old, fat and slow, so it's been a very difficult time for me.
Years ago I worked in radio advertising. One thing you learn when you go into advertising is that all forms of marketing are driven by market research. Everybody does research to find out how to best get their product into your hands. And the most analyzed group of people are teens, people in their twenties and people in their thirties. Once people get over forty, they basically know what they're buying patterns are going to be, but it's in their teens and twenties and thirties that's very important.
So everyone analyzes what are their patterns and how can we shape them? Because it's not just your patterns, and I, maybe this will be a surprise to some of you but, you are manipulated all the time by advertising. The jeans you wear, the clothes, the makeup you buy, the look you have and there are people who are geniuses who are always studying you if you're in that age group, especially the eighteen to thirty-four age group because you're going to be buying your first car, first television set, first house. Once they get you, they can keep you on that brand. And so you are studied.
When you go buy you a pair of jeans, there's probably been hundreds of man hours put into getting you to buy that particular pair of jeans. Even packaging, how things are packaged, the color on it, is all analyzed. They do what they call focus groups, so if they want to do a television and they want people, say sixteen to thirty to buy that product, they bring in a bunch of people between the ages of sixteen and thirty and they show them the television ads. And they ask them, how did this affect you? Did it want to make you buy our product? Well, no. How come? Well because of this, this and this. And then they go back and they change it until they finally, the focus group says, yes, we want to go buy that. They so okay, now we can go get all those people to go buy our product.
Everything's driven by market research and you young people in your teens and twenties especially. You are the focal point of all kinds of market research. Something's been happening though in the last ten years or so that's very interesting. They're now doing market research for churches, and you are the focal point of much of the market research being done for churches. People in there teens to people in their twenties because they're asking the question, how do we keep people in their teens and people in their twenties coming to church?
It's actually become a multi-million dollar industry, researching how you can get in, how to keep young people in the church, how to get them into churches. They're entire churches now designed for the eighteen to thirty-year-old. And the way they present things, the way they do things, the music, the design of the building. There are dozens of books and seminars done all across the United States every year teaching leaders of Christian churches how to design youth groups.
Now something in all this research and I've gone through a lot of research the last couple of weeks, market research on churches. Some of it very interesting information I think came up in it. One is many protestant and catholic churches have become extremely effective in keeping their teens in the churches. What they also found is that the overwhelming majority of them leave once they get into their early twenties. Only thirty-one percent of people in their twenties in the United States even attend a Christian church. Realize that's only about three out of ten. And yet a large number of them were very dedicated to their youth group as teens.
One of the reasons why they found out because teenagers, just because of the stage of life that you're in, you respond very intensely to relationships and so they built teen programs to help build relationships, which was a good thing and these teenagers built relationships with their parents, with other teens in their church, with church leaders in their church. And then what happened? Because that was the core of the youth program, building relationships. When they all reached twenty, they all went off and got married, and they moved and they started new jobs and they went off to colleges, and as the relationships were broken, their tie to their church was broken, and people in their twenties...it drops, the older you get in your twenties it drops dramatically. Between twenty-five and twenty-nine only twenty-two percent of the people in this country go to church, any kind of church. And yet most of them, many of them have some kind of Christian background, actually, most of them claim to be Christians. Most of them were very dedicated to their youth program.
Ever since I was a child, about seven years old, I've heard the question, how do we keep our kids and young people in the church? How do we keep them in the church? What do we do? What do we do to keep you interested, to help you understand what is being offered to you? What kind of youth programs do we develop? We continue to ask that question. I've been doing this now for forty-one years and I have that conversation on a regular basis with somebody. How do we keep young people in the church? What do we do? What kind of youth programs have we filled? How many basketball games does it take for the young person to decide to stay in the church? How many tournaments? How many dances? How many trips to camp?
Well there's a problem with the market research because there is a lack of understanding of biblical concepts. What the market research on churches does give us some insight into the world that you and I live in. How do we keep you in the church? Well I want to change the question. Today, I'm going to change the question from how do we keep you in the church to how do we fulfill the commission that Christ gave to his church? How do we help young people come to an understanding of the gospel and become disciples of Jesus Christ?
Because I'll tell you something, we can have a weekend like this every weekend for the next year. We can help young people build strong relationships and we can teach them about God. And we can have them come together, we can help their families grow, and we can do a lot of good things and we can make you be better people, but in the end, in the end, we're only successful if you have starting to understand and live the gospel, you're becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ, otherwise all we've done is make you good people, but that's not what we're here for.
If that's all we do, we will be no different than the youth programs that have seemed to be so successful for the last twenty years. It kept teenagers in their churches until they reached <inaudible>. And they all left and when they asked them why, there are interesting answers. What I found interesting was when they asked them why did you stay? The teens who stayed in their churches, no matter what their denomination, and the overwhelming answer was because somewhere in that first twenty years of life, they came to an understanding of a spiritual need for God.
Now youth programs can help bring that about. By the way, the number one reason when they asked young people why you stayed in your church. The number one influence on them was their parents, number one influence. Seems youth programs are tools and support systems. The main responsibility falls on us parents. What is it that you need to know? So I've changed the question that we should be asking. We've asked that question for a lot of years. The question we should be asking is how do we help people come to the knowledge of the gospel and to become committed disciples of Jesus Christ? Because that is the only way you will stay in the church in the long run anyway.
I'm going to be hard on you today, a little bit. We're going to be a little bit hard today when we go through what is required of you. We're not going to talk today a lot about how God's way works. Those are good things and we need to talk about them. We're not going to talk about the zone today. We should. Those are good things. We're not even going to talk about the Ten Commandments today. Those are good things. We're going to talk about the hard things today. Because until you face the hard things, you're never going to stay in the church anyways.
We're going to go through six steps you have to go through if you're going to really be a Christian. Six steps you're going to have to go through if you're really going to be a true Christian. I'm also going to talk about six myths. Now the six steps come from the Bible. The six myths, by the way, come from market research. The six myths are what they found in most and many overwhelming majorities of people in their teens and twenties actually believe in this country, and they're not true. So we'll use a little bit of marketing research today.
First thing you have to do. I Corinthians 1. Now you younger ones, you're going to say, oh boy, I ain't going to talk to the older kids and stuff. Let me tell you something marketing research has found. Most children make a decision to stay in the church they're in as adults before the age of nine. Interesting, isn't it? They had the same answer. It wasn't because of their Sunday school. It wasn't because of their youth program although it was part of it. It was because in that experience they understood that they needed God.
I Corinthians 1. Paul writes to the church at Corinth. Now I'm going to go through a lot of scriptures you've heard a lot of times and I want you to open your Bibles and I want you to read them because they're to you, this is what you're going to have to do if this is more than just volleyball. Because you know what happens? Someday...this is hard to imagine, but someday you're going to get old, fat and slow, too, which is actually a great comfort to the rest of us.
I Corinthians 1:26. "For you see your calling, brethren..."
Now I'm going to stop right there. You are here today because you were invited. You aren't here today because you were born with some right to come to church. I wasn't born with the right to be here either. If we're here, it's because the creator of the universe invited us here. It is a holy convocation on a holy day so that we can be holy people and only God can make something holy. You are here because you are invited. You're here because it's a privilege, not a right. You're here only because of the grace of the almighty God. Understand that. That's the only reason any of us are here. You're called.
Now, you know, the telephone can ring and you don't have to answer it, and you can pick up that telephone and say, no, thank you, I'm not buying what you're selling today, and you can hang it up. So you have a choice to do what you want with the call, but I will tell you, you are here because the phone is ringing that's why you're here. You are here because God has called you here, so do not take lightly your first step. Your first step isn't because you went to heaven and said, here I am! I'm a great guy take me. That's not why we're here. Now be ready for the next part because he goes on.
Verse 26-28. "For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are."
First great myth. Christianity exists in order to foster your self esteem. Oh boy. That's not what this says. I don't know about you, but this says the reason you're here is because you're about as average as you can be. You're here not because any one of us is any better than anybody than anybody else. You just picked up the phone and you came and so you're here. And he says the reason you're here is because he didn't call the great people and there's a reason he didn't call the great people and the next statement helps you understand the myth isn't, Christianity isn't here to make you feel good. In much of Christianity today, in this country is feel good religion. It has one purpose. People go to church to feel good about themselves. It's a religious fix. You go, you get your drug, you go home. And you come back the next week and you get your fix again to feel good and that's not what Christianity is all about.
You and I are here because of the next statement and this gives us our real worth. This gives you a value beyond comprehension.
Verse 29-31. "That no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God -- and righteousness and sanctification and redemption -- that, as it is written, "He who glories, let him glory in the LORD."
Do you realize what that means? Here's why God called you on the phone. It has nothing to do whether you are a good volleyball player or not. And I can tell you it has nothing to do with whether you can play ultimate Frisbee or not. He calls you because he said, I will show the world what I can do in you. Not what you can do. We're not here because, well, let's see we all have IQs of 210. That's why we're here. No we're not. We're all here because we can play basketball like Michael Jordan. No we're not. We're all here because we can make money like Donald Trump. No we're not.
We're here because God can show us what he can do. That's what this is about. Otherwise we're playing church. This is all about what God can do to people who will submit to God. Now that's not what most churches become by the way. Most churches become a place where people sit around and argue and fight with each other. If we're going to understand what true Christianity is, we have to understand the only reason we were called is because God said I'm going to show people what I can do through you and nobody's going to say, oh, yes, you did it through them because they were so wonderful. Because they were the smartest and the bravest and the biggest and they could run faster than anybody else. You picked them because they were the people with all the talents and all the abilities and he can say, oh no, I picked the people that were as average as you can be. And I'm going to show what I'm made of.
Christianity isn't about showing what we're made of. I'm going to be hard on you today. It is about what God is and what God can do in us. First myth. This isn't about building up your self-esteem, and I'm not going to do it today because I love you too much, but I am going to tell you how much you're worth.
Second point. This second point is that after you understand you're being called is that you have to understand that inside you at the very core and some of you already know this, inside of you at the very core, is an ache. Inside of you at the very core is a hunger and thirst that cannot be filled. You know a lot of young people say, well, wait a minute I've spent my whole life obeying God. I've kept the Ten Commandments; I've tithed; I've gone to church every Sabbath since I was born. Well, Mark 10. I want to read Mark's account of this because Mark says something. He brings out a point that the other apostles in writing their accounts did not bring out and it's very important, talking about Jesus Christ.
Mark 10:17 Mark 10:17And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?
American King James Version×. "Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?"
The other accounts say it was a young man. It was a young person. This young person runs up to Jesus Christ, and says, Rabbi, good teacher, what must I do? I want to obey God. What must I do so that I can have eternal life?
Verse 18-21. " So Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. "You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not bear false witness,' 'Do not defraud,' 'Honor your father and your mother. And he answered and said to Him, "Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth."
Verse 21. "Then Jesus, looking at him...said..."
Oh no you haven't. No that's not what it says. It says he's looking at him, he says he...
Verse 21. "...loved him..."
This young man had probably never broken the Sabbath. This young man had never worship an idol. This young man had never committed adultery. This young man had never stolen. This young man had kept the Ten Commandments, which you should do. When Jesus saw this man's dedication from his youth, it says he loved him, but he hadn't dealt with something that was deep inside of him.
Verse 21-22. "Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me. But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions."
And we look at this, and we say, oh boy, that's what was wrong with him, he was wealthy. Well you know there are lots of people in the Bible who followed God that were wealthy. The problem is that his wealth is what he was stuffing that empty hole with. Inside him is that empty hole so he stuffed it with things. You and I stuff it all the time. In the negative sense, we'll stuff it with drugs, sex, television, movies. We'll stuff it with whatever so we don't have the feelings. We can ignore and pretend it's not there. People will stuff it with positive things. They'll be so busy and accomplishing things and doing things that they've never faced that's inside of them. They'll fill their whole lives with doing good deeds and never face that inside every human is a big hole. And it's a hunger and it's there and some of you know it's there.
You've felt it late at night when all that anxiety of life or what is life about. And it's there. Some of you have felt it when you have a close friend that dies and you know what I mean. And the first time you face death and the temporariness of life you feel that empty hole and it's there and it's inside every one of us. If you're going to become a true Christian, we can talk about the good things in the zone, I'm talking about the hard things. You're not going to even understand that; you're going to have to embrace it. Psalms 42. You're going to have to embrace an emptiness. You're going to have to embrace that need for God. That hunger we have for a relationship with God that has been ripped from us, and you're going to have to embrace that and all of its pain. Do you want to be a true Christian? This is what we have to do.
David says, verse 1...
Psalms 42:1 Psalms 42:1As the hart pants after the water brooks, so pants my soul after you, O God.
American King James Version×. "...As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O God."
You've seen an animal with its tongue hanging out. There were some guys playing basketball yesterday like this, their tongues hanging out, dragging for water. You know, when you put that bowl down and that dog is just licking it up. David says, when it comes to God, I'm panting, I'm thirsty, I can't get it filled. Be ready when you embrace that part of you that needs God so much. You start on a journey to have it filled and it will never be totally filled until Christ comes back.
I need to warn you about that before you embrace it. Before you open up and realize how much you need God this is a journey. Christianity is not an event, it is a journey and it won't be totally filled until he comes back, so I need to warn that about it. I'll go open up, understand how much I need God, he'll fill it. No, it starts to be filled, but then you move forward. It just doesn't happen like that and you know why? Because you and I have free will. Amazing thing this free will. We get to decide. David says...
Psalms 42:2 Psalms 42:2My soul thirsts for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?
American King James Version×. "My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?"
It says when am I going to finally drink in enough that this emptiness is gone? And he had to embrace and understand to be a true Christian there is a certain ache in life. That doesn't mean there isn't joy and fun; that's all this other things, but there is also that, to embrace both sides of life and you embrace the fact that we are cut off from God and you want to be with God and God is filling that up a little bit at a time. It's a whole lot easier to talk about how long your dresses should be. This is the hard stuff, but if we don't tell you the hard stuff, we'll make the same mistake that the protestant and Catholics have made making huge youth programs that make ours look insignificant and having the majority seven out of ten walk away as soon as they reach twenty or twenty-one.
God says, I'll fill that. Look at Isaiah 58. See understand. If we love you, we'll tell you the hard stuff. We will. We'll tell you reality. We won't hide it from you. Isaiah says...
Isaiah 58:11 Isaiah 58:11And the LORD shall guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and make fat your bones: and you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.
American King James Version×. "The LORD will guide you continually, And satisfy your soul in drought..."
Now he doesn't mean that there's no rain, a physical drought. You and I have to understand that deep inside our core is a drought, an absolute need for God that we hide and we pretend it's not there, but I don't ask for a show of hands that if you want to admit it you know you have felt it. You've felt it. Now it even gets harder. Okay? If you're willing to pick up that phone and answer the call and you're willing to accept that inside of you is a drought, a need for God, an emotional and mental absolute craving that can't be filled. You know this is, by the way, a lot of marriages fail. Two people get married thinking the other person can fill the need that only God can fill.
So we have needs for each other as man and woman and when a marriage relationship is each other fulfilling those needs, it's a wonderful relationship, but I've seen a lot of marriages destroyed because both people are trying to fulfill something or wants the other person to fulfill something in them that only God can do. Because at the core only God can do it. You're going to have to embrace that. And then it gets hard because then you have to begin to understand that inside your personhood, inside your personhood, what you are, what your nature, your nature is corrupt.
It's a lot easier to talk about sin. Don't steal. Okay, I won't steel. We're going to go beyond that if you want to be a true Christian. You're going to go into the core of who you are and realize, you are evil, partly. Remember Adam and Eve? Remember the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? They took of the fruit of good and evil, and at that point, or that point on, they became a mixture of them both. I'm a mixture of both; you're a mixture of both. Every one of us has at our core some evil. You're going to have to come to grips with that. You're going to have come to grips with the fact that inside of you is evil.
You think you and I are the only incomplete physical things as far as creatures on this earth. I mean dogs are dogs. They're complete. Dolphins are dolphins. They're complete. Human beings are not. You and I are born incomplete. We are not a complete creation. That's part of our problem. You and I were created for a very specific purpose of becoming the children of God in his kingdom forever, but in order to get us there, we had to participate in the process because what God wants for us requires free will in this time period, so we have to participate in the process. So we're made neutral. You and I aren't made evil or good, so that God can now work with us to complete the creation process, but you and I because of Satan have become evil.
In our center of personhood, there is badness, you say, oh wait a minute. I grew up in the church. I'm not a pimp. I don't go out there and, you know, steal. I don't take drugs. Okay. Here's...let's compare. It's like a cake and this cake has ten drops of cyanide and this cake has one drop of cyanide in the batter and now I'm going to bake the cake and you can eat the cake. This one you die quick and this one takes you longer. You die both ways because inside the core there is cyanide. Inside the core of your being you have evil and you're not complete yet. You're not done. And God says, okay, now I'm going to complete the creation and we say, no, I'm not going to accept that hunger that would drive us to God so that he can complete the creation.
We want a relationship with him, so what we do is we stuff the hunger like the young man. He stuffed it with things. You and I, we'll stuff it with Nintendo, we'll stuff with whatever, we'll stuff it with sports, we'll stuff it with boys, we'll stuff whatever we have in that hole so that we don't have to accept it because as soon as you accept that hunger you now have to accept there's something wrong in me and once again most of you have felt that. Most of you, if you're honest, you have felt it. You have felt there's something wrong with me. That's why I said that first myth about Christianity. It's going to make you feel good. It's the first job. I'm just, don't shoot me, I'm just the messenger. The first job of a minister of God is to tell you there's something wrong with you. I know. There's something wrong with me, too. At that core, there's evil. At that core, there is selfishness. It's there, but we have to let God deal with that.
And that means we have to come to the next step. The next step...oh by the way, before I go to the next step, let's go to Romans 12. To show about this idea that we're not complete. You and I are not completed yet. Romans 12:1 Romans 12:1I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
American King James Version×. Paul says...
Romans 12:1 Romans 12:1I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
American King James Version×. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service."
Now you talk about an oxymoron. They killed a sacrifice. You're a living, dying thing. What's that mean? This is why Christianity is so tough. This is why we can't give you a health and wealth gospel. We have to tell you what it really is. This is the heart and core of the gospel. There's that hole, that part of you is evil, and you have to be changed and it happens between us and God and the church and the Bible and the youth programs are all tools to help us all get there, but they are not ends of themselves. And they can't be. They are tools to get us someplace and that is in this relationship with God so that he begins to heal us because we're very sick people. We're all very sick people.
So why are you giving this message to the kids? If market research is right, the majority of people who will choose to follow God will do so before the age of twenty. He says...
Verse 2. "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."
We have to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We have to be reconstructed. Inside the core of our being we must be reconstructed by God. This isn't a matter of a little patch up work. I grew up in the church; I just need a little patch up work. I'll tell you what's a shock. I grew up in the church. It's a real shock to find out how evil you are. I thought I was, you know, pretty good. It's a real shock when you get down there in the core and you find out, well, I'm capable of anything. Human nature is amazingly adaptive. So we'd adapt to anything if God didn't pull us out of it.
You know and here's another myth. Fifty-five percent, not even the young people, this is actually fifty-five percent of all the people in the United States, including most Christians believe that you go to heaven, well, this was Christians. Fifty-five percent of Christians in the United States believe you go to heaven by doing good works. You know, if you just go out and serve enough meals to the homeless, which is good by the way, that's a great thing to do, I do it, I hope you do it, but that's not walk I'm talking about. They believe if you do those good works enough you get to go to heaven, and I'm telling you the only way you get to the kingdom of God is you have to be reconstructed from the inside out.
There is no other way to do it and all the good works in the world without being reconstructed from the inside out is just stuffing the hole, that's all you're doing. You're not changing anything. So we can set up all the good works programs we want, and if they're not being motivated for the proper reasons, then there's good things, but it's not exactly what God wants. God wants everything from you, which brings us to the fourth point...
You must begin to repent. Now many of you keep waiting for this epiphany, right? You're parents talk about what it was like to find out that you didn't have to keep, or Christmas was wrong and they talk about this amazing revelation that they had to quit going to church on Sunday and keep a whole day Sabbath not just a one hour service, but you know the whole day was the Sabbath. And they talked about what it was like when their friends turned against them, and well, there's waiting for this epiphany to happen.
Well, there epiphany was first mental, a reasoning process and then the second stage was emotional. Here's what's different with many people who grew up in the church. Your experience is first emotional and then cognitive. The reason why is you kept so many of the laws in the letter you don't understand the depth of your corrupt nature. When they came along with this mental process, oh, they saw the truth and was like wo I've set my life wrong. And you're saying, well, I've set my life right. You don't have to discover that you don't have to, you know the holy days, you know them. Discover the Sabbath, you know it. You don't discover that you shouldn't have little statues of things in your house. You already know it. To them when that knowledge came to them there was a process and then they responded emotionally.
Yours is a little different because, well, I've, you've already done all these things and now you have to deal with the core of your nature. Psalm 51. You want to know what repentance is? You see this is what's, if I was a good Baptist preacher, I would do an alter call. What? There's some laughing. How many have ever been to an alter call? Oh, okay, there's a few out there. What I would do is say that you have to repent and give your heart to the Lord. And what you have to do is come up here right now to the front of this stage and I have someone come up here and we'll lay hands on you and you give your heart to the Lord. And I would try to work you up into a very emotional state to ask you all to come up here. It works very well by the way with teenagers and people in their twenties.
They'd all run up and go up together. Why? Because they suddenly fill that hole and so they, well, I'm going to get filled if I go up there and do that, but I'm not going to do an alter call because I'll tell you what it's a whole lot harder than that. True repentance hurts. It is painful because you have to embrace the hole that's inside of you and you have to embrace your corrupt nature, and you say, well, wait a minute I'm only ten years old. Remember most children make their decision to stay in a church, this is what adults say, by the age of nine because they suddenly somehow feel, I, there's something wrong with me. So that's what I'm doing today. I'm telling you there's something wrong with you. Psalm 51. David said...
Psalms 51:1 Psalms 51:1Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving kindness: according to the multitude of your tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
American King James Version×. "...Have mercy upon me, O God..."
He pours his heart out here. David had spent his whole life basically obeying God until he fell flat on his face and committed a whole bunch of sins and then said, wo, I had no idea how deep that this core, how corrupt I was. I didn't know it. See David had grown up obeying God. He knew it intellectually, but now he was faced with something he had never faced. He had never faced this.
Verse 1-3. "...Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions..."
Read all of Psalm 51 because David pours his heart out and he just says, I cannot stand what I am deep inside and I want you to do something to me I cannot do. You have to forgive me because I can't fix it. No amount of good deeds, he says later, I would go kill a thousand, you know, he says what do you want a thousand animals, ten thousand animals, he says, I can do that, but all those good deeds would not change what I am inside. Change me and I will embrace my emptiness and I will acknowledge my evil. And God forgave him. And he continued his journey.
See this is another myth. Myth number three: Since God loves me he just accepts me as I am. Because God loves you he wants to finish his creation. God created you because he says I want you as my child. You have to understand that. God knows you by name. He knows every person in the world, every person that's ever lived, he knows them personally. He knows everything about them. He loves them immensely and what he wants is for everybody to embrace the emptiness, for everyone to embrace their corrupt nature and for everyone to come to him and say, finish me because I'm a mess. Finish me because I'm a mess. Wow, this is a downer. I'm telling you right now there's nothing more exciting and positive in life, this sounds strange, it's an oxymoron, than to embrace the emptiness, to understand how corrupt your nature is and go to God and experience God's changing your life, to experience God's presence, to experience God's forgiveness, to experience God's love because you're just poured out and say this is all there is and it's really not much.
So once you start down that road to repentance, now you must give something up. Number five of our six points. Luke 14. I debated and I debated and I debated for weeks. When I was asked if I'd give the sermon, my first inclination was no, then I debated for weeks should I give this subject? Should I say these things because, you know, we're going to fill a room with twelve hundred people and I'm going to pound them in the face just as hard as I can and that really, God tells us to do this because this is the only way to get where you want to go. You can stuff that hole all you want and it'll never be filled. It won't, so let's go do what we have to do. It's the only positive way to get where you want to go and everybody will sell you a bill of goods. There's lots of preachers who come along and tell you that it's not this hard, and they're not telling you the truth because it is, it is this hard, but understand what there is at the end. Understand that this is the only thing that gives you a reason to get out of bed in the morning, especially when you're old, fat and slow, because you know where you're going. You know where God's taking you. Jesus says...
Luke 14:25 Luke 14:25And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said to them,
American King James Version×. "...great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them..."
You want to know the price, by the way, that's being asked of you, this is the price. This is the full price that's being asked. What does it cost? You have to know what God requires of you if you're going to become a true Christian. It's a whole lot harder than a youth program. It's a whole lot harder than the zone once a week or once a year at camp. Those are little bits and pieces of it. This is the bigger story. If anyone comes to me and doesn't hate, what this means you're comparing two things and you're saying my commitment and my love to this thing is so great it makes this thing seem insignificant. It doesn't mean it is, it means it seems insignificant.
Verse 26. "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also..."
...if he doesn't see that as insignificant in comparison to what God is offering us, he says...
Verse 26. "...he cannot be My disciple."
That's what Jesus said. And if you're going to be a true Christian you must become a disciple of Jesus Christ. Now you go to school all the time, most of you. Many of you are in college. Many of you are still in grade school and high school and you have teachers. That, you are not a disciple of that teacher, you are a pupil. A disciple, the concept of disciple is the disciple imitated, which is where the word comes from, he imitated the teacher. You learn to think like that teacher. You know, you think, well, isn't that weird, why didn't people in Jesus time think it was weird that Jesus walked around with twelve other guys? There they go walking, oh, there they go, you know, that must be weird, all these, thirteen guys going every place together. I don't understand.
They were part of an eastern culture, you know, they're not, the middle east isn't exactly a western culture. Oh, come on, you see them on the Kung Fu movies. You know the master walks around, all the disciples wear the robes, okay, that's eastern culture, right? They follow the master; they follow him and he calls them grasshoppers, and you know they...They imitate the teacher. Until the imitating is so good they become so much like the teacher, the teacher says, okay, now you go out and find some disciples and you make them imitate me. This is what's asked of you.
This is the only reason you'll stay in the church by the way. I don't care what a good job your parents do. You'll stay in the church because you become a disciple of Jesus Christ or you won't stay. That's it. You will stay in the church of Jesus Christ, the church of God because you become a disciple of Jesus Christ or you won't stay, because you know why? It'll get too hard. This is too hard. Why do this? And this is why you will stay if you stay. Verse 27. It was only about ten years ago that I understood verse 27.
Verse 27. "And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple."
I for most of my life believed that meant, okay, you've got pick this cross and carry it for awhile and then you get to put it down until it dawned on me. In their society whenever they someone carrying the cross, what did that mean? Whenever they carried them things they nailed them to it. You carry your cross until you die. That's the point he's making. Be careful here because when you pick this up God's offering you the universe. God's offering you eternity. God's offering you a decent life now. I say decent because you're always going to have problems. No use hiding that from you. You're always going to have trials. You're going to do good things and bad things are going to happen to you. You're going to follow God and people are going to persecute you. Sorry, it's reality. I'm only the messenger.
But if you want the kingdom, then you're going to carry it, we're going to carry it 'til we die. You're going to fight that ugliness inside you 'til the day you day. That hole inside you is going to get, you know, God is going to fill it and there's going to be times God seems so far away you're going to wonder if he even exists. You're going to do well one day and God's going to heal you. Three days later you're going to have such a crisis of faith, you're ready to give up and never go back to church again. That's what it means to be a Christian. What it means to be a Christian is to fight some personal sin you have, whether it be your anger or your lust or your hate or whatever we can make, you know, greed, we could list all these things and you're going to fight it and you're going to think it's conquered. And you're going to do fine and two years later it's going to come back and you're going to start fighting it again and you're going to pick up that cross, you're going to carry it 'til the day you die.
Now God's going to carry it with you. He doesn't make us do this ourselves because we can't do it ourselves. That's the point. You and I can't do this ourselves. There's an awful lot of Christians trying to do this themselves, and I don't just mean Baptists and Pentecostals. There's an awful lot of Sabbath keepers still trying to do this themselves; they don't get it and that's the problem. That's the problem. God's not doing it; they're trying to do it themselves.
The problem is that many people who do a lot of things themselves have remarkable will power and remarkable personality and they do lots of things themselves, but you can only carry yourself so far and you can't carry that cross very far. Someone has to carry it with you. He doesn't always carry it for you; he carries it with you. This is what is required of you. If you're here for the volleyball, you can go to sleep because, you know, this is too hard. If you're here because you want the kingdom, this is the best stuff in the world. There's nothing more important than this in the whole world.
Sixth point. You now can take your place as a responsible member of the church. You've answered the call. You accepted your own hunger for God and thirst and you've embraced it. You've accepted your corrupt human nature. You've gone through the repentance process. At this point, certain things begin to happen as far as baptism, the receiving of God's holy spirit. You begin to become now and commit your life to being a disciple of Jesus Christ and now you can take your place as a responsible of the church. Here's the problems with youth programs that say okay let's make all these teens believe that they are somehow already baptized. Some youth programs actually take that approach. That's why they do the alter call. Okay, you're now saved. No, it doesn't work that way.
You're in a process. You know when I said, God called you, why are you here? Look at Acts 2. You say, well, God called my parents not me. Okay, let's look at Acts 2. Because here we have one of the most remarkable models of a church. Now you can say well my congregation isn't this good. Well, no it's not, you know why? Every member of the church is on the same journey you are. If you're looking for a perfect church, you know what you'll end up with? At home by yourself. Right? When new people come to church, I always them, now I want to tell you up front if you're looking for the perfect church don't come to ours. Oh, thank God, someplace where I don't have to go be perfect. We're all on the journey, you've got to come and try, but nobody's there yet. We're on the journey. God's taking us someplace and we're working as hard as we can and sometimes we fail miserably.
One thing young people hate is hypocrisy. Understand everybody's nature is corrupt and all of us are struggling to have God rip that out and replace it with something else. All of us are struggling to become Christ-like and sometimes we do it very poorly. That's reality. You can come join us and we'll accept you and you don't have to be perfect. You see? It's easier to go along with people who aren't perfect than go along with a bunch of people that are perfect because you won't fit in after a while.
Acts 2:37 Acts 2:37Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brothers, what shall we do?
American King James Version×. Peter had just preached a very strong sermon to these people and he touched them at their emotional core level, what I'm attempting to do here today. They understand. Now the people he was listening to, young people I want you to understand this, the people he was talking to, all these people had obeyed God all their lives. These weren't pagans. These were people who kept the Ten Commandments. These were people who observed the holy days. These were people who worshipped the one true God. They didn't understand who Jesus Christ was, but these were people who worshipped God and were actually in a covenant with God. So these are people that were in a covenant with God. And when Peter preached to them and they realized, yes, inside us there's something wrong and when it dawned on them, here's what they said...
Verse 37. "Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?"
How do we do this? How do we begin to have the inside healed? See they were going through the emotional process first not the cognitive process. Why? They'd been raised with the cognitive process. Just like you have for most of you, but they never dealt with the other part.
Verse 38. "Then Peter said to them, Repent..."
So we have to tell you this. If we only tell you, well, keep the Ten Commandments, if we only tell you, love your neighbor, now we have to tell you those things, I'm not saying we shouldn't, but if that's all we tell you, you will do those things, but the heart and core will never be dealt with. You have to repent just like every adult who came into this church that didn't grow up in it. I grew up in it, and I had to repent, too. I'm still repenting because I still have a hole in here, and I still have corrupt human nature. So I'm still doing it.
Verse 38. "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
The only way that you become a total, complete member of the church of God is you receive the holy spirit. It's the only way to do it. There is no other way to do it. Now you say, well, I don't have God's spirit, where am I?
Verse 39. "For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call."
He says, look when I call you I call your children, too. Now you don't have to respond any more than your parents did. You don't have to. The phone rings. You don't have to pick it up or you could pick it and say I'm not buying what you're selling today God and you could hang it up. But your phone rings, you're not excess baggage that came along with the deal. You know, God said, well, I'll call you...now you don't have to stay. Many kids make that decision early on. I think people make the decision not to stay in the church before the age of nine, too.
You just see it, I'm going to be here and you see it. And they're not there, you know, they reach seventeen and they're gone. They make that decision. I don't know how that works at the young age, but I've seen it. You don't have to come. We like you to. That's one of the reasons we work so hard at this. We want you to, but we can't make you. We can tie you up and drag you along, but sooner or later you'll run away, so we better tell you what's required.
Now notice what happens down in verse 40. These people are baptized, they repent and they receive God's spirit and this church immediately begins, this is sort of a model. Now understand very few churches, the Jerusalem church here did not stay this good for very long and many of the other churches never attained this level of what a church is supposed to be. Just read the letter to Galatia or Colossae or I Corinthians. You talk about messes of a church. Or read Revelation 2 and 3 because all seven of those churches existed at the time of John. Some of them were a mess, but for a little short period the Jerusalem church got it, and if you're going to take your place as a responsible member of the church of God this is what you have to come into and you have to contribute to. You can't just say the church is there for me. You must contribute to it.
Verse 40-42. "And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation."Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine..."
I want to stop there because here's another myth that market research shows. Most people in their twenties and most teens do not believe doctrine matters. To this church it mattered; they continued in the apostles' doctrine. You know why I'm in this church? In my cognitive process why I'm here is we're trying to be this church, that's why. That's why I'm here because this is what we're trying to be and we're trying to do the apostles doctrine. This is what this church begins...
And so this is myth number four: doctrine doesn't count. You know what they had found out that most people today under thirty, their religion is a little bit of Catholicism, a little bit of old time southern Baptist that grandma used to be, some new age ideas, a little bit of philosophy they learned in college and a couple episodes of the X-Files. And it sort of all gets mixed up together and that's their religion. Right? You don't believe that? This is what Christians believe, teens and twenties. Eighty-three percent of teens believe that truth is based on circumstances. Eighty-three percent. There's no absolute truth. Only seven percent believe that moral choices should be based on the Bible. Only seven percent of young people in all these great youth programs, only seven percent of them believe that moral choices should be made on the Bible.
Why? Well because that would mean homosexuality is wrong and that makes me judgmental and I can't be that way. Then let's not pretend we're Christians, okay? Let's pretend we're members of the X-File cult, but let's not pretend we're Christians. Sixty percent of the people in the United States, professing Christians, this is adults included, do not believe Satan exists as a person; he's just a symbol of evil. Forty-four percent of all young people in this country believe that Jesus sinned. Of course, he's not really the son of God. He's just sort of a super man that God was with and he sinned because he's just like me. See once you remove the concept that you and I are corrupt and in need of God and have to become something then God becomes us. We're not, you know, the whole idea of humanity is to be made; we were already created in the image of God. We're not complete. We're to be made into the children of God.
Once you remove that concept do you know what we do? We make God like us. We make God in our image, so Jesus sinned. Forty-four percent. That's almost half, but people under twenty believe that that are Christians, they're professing Christians. They, this was a church that understood doctrines. Do you understand the doctrines that you claim to believe? Can you prove the Sabbath to someone by yourself with a Bible? Can you prove the resurrections? Baptisms? I said plural because there is more than one kind of baptism mentioned in the New Testament. Can you explain the laying on of hands, which has almost disappeared from Christianity? Can you explain why we don't teach you die, you go to heaven? Can you explain why we don't believe good works will get you to heaven? Do you understand what salvation is? Do you even understand what the doctrines, the apostles doctrines were? That's what the church is. People who accept and believe and internalize those doctrines. He goes on, he says...
Acts 2:42 Acts 2:42And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
American King James Version×. "...steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread..."
These people had close relationships. They had close relationships. This by the way brings up myth number five, which is very common among people twenty and younger, but there is this concept of independent Christian. In other words, I don't have to go to church, I don't have to participate in the church, I don't have to do that, it's just me and Jesus and the Bible. Just me and God and the Bible and that's all I need. If you read the New Testament, you will find that it's inconsistent with the concept of Christianity and it's a totally non-Christian concept. It is impossible to be an independent Christian. If you're an independent Christian at best, you're an immature Christian, at best. It's a myth. Christians develop relationships. Now that's where the youth program becomes so important as part of the commission in developing relationships and then teaching these core truths, but that's a myth. It goes on and says, they were praying people, verse 42, it says...
Verse 42. "...and in prayers."
Verse 43 says...
Verse 43. "Then fear came upon every soul..."
Verse 44 says...
Verse 44. "Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common..."
These people feared God; they didn't take sin lightly. That's what it is to be a Christian. This was a very generous church. Read verse 44, 45, 46. They were a generous church. They gave to each other. Verse 46 says...
Verse 46. "So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart."
These people were thankful. These people did not have their lives overly complicated. They knew what their goals were, their priorities because their priorities had been set by God.
Verse 47. "Praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved."
God won't add to the church until the church is healthy enough to be added to. They were praising God, which by the way brings us to another myth. This is the sixth myth. So we're on the sixth point, this is the sixth myth: that the worship of God is all about feeling. It's all about creating feelings. There is in the United States today, if you go, if you'd read Christianity Today or some of the big Christian magazines—they're talking about the worship wars. Churches are fighting each other for people, all you twenty-year-olds, you twenty-something's, they're fighting for you. Some might have <inaudible> and one will have some kind of pop music playing and then this one will have a rap group play to get you to come to their church. This is worship. Well, you know worship does involve emotions, but the purpose of worship is to honor God, right?
Think about it. You know this. The purpose of worship is to honor God. Well the purpose of worship is to go listen to the type of music I like. Well, I like gospel. I mean hand clapping, foot stomping gospel music, don't find any of those in our hymnals. Worship is towards God. You can worship God in a lot of different kinds of music, but if we're only there to somehow be entertained with the music, it's a myth. It's just a myth. It has nothing to do with what real Christianity is all about.
Well, I filled up almost all the time. Of course, I have a philosophy. You know these little fifteen minute sermonettes that pass for sermons, sermonettes are for "christianettes." True Christianity is more than a set of rules, it's more than a set of doctrines, that's part of it, but it's more than that. True Christianity means if you want this, if you want what God is offering to you, and I don't care what your age is and I know you're tired, I've talked a long time, so please listen to the last couple minutes.
You're going to have embrace the hunger and understand when you, you will feel it even more intently at times because you'll want Christ to come back so much. When you embrace that hunger, when you see evil in the world it's going to hurt. You can hide from it now, you just turn on and watch TV. The more you embrace that hunger, the less ability you have not to be hurt by the evil you see around you and sometimes you will feel overwhelmed from it, but that's what you're going to have to do. You're going to have to embrace that need for God and then you're going to have to accept that your nature is corrupt—partly good, partly evil.
No cyanide is allowed in the dough and it has to come out. You're going to have to repent and you're going to have to live a committed life to being a disciple of Jesus Christ. There are lots of people who keep the Sabbath and the holy days and believe a set of doctrines and have never yet, have never yet committed themselves to being a disciple of Jesus Christ, acting like and talking on it and thinking like the master. There's lots of Christians who have not taken that next stage. They're still stuck; they do certain things, but they're not yet disciples and you're going to have to become a disciple if you're going to go all the way with this. You have to pick up the cross and you have to carry it. He'll carry it for you or with you.
Only then, understand, this is the only way you will stay in the church. Parents, we want them to stay in so much, don't we? But you know this is the only way you and I stay in, it's not different for them. I know, I grew up in it. We stay in because we go through this process and we stick in this process and we become converted. That's the only way you'll stay. We want you here. Our youth programs are here to help you do this. We develop more and more programs for you twenties because we realize we're, and this is all this market research, people in their twenties, where do they fit in our society?
There's a lot of very sort of lost, wandering in their twenties, that's why there's only three out of ten that even go to any Christian church. What's the relevance of Christianity? Well, I don't know. I don't know what the relevance of Christianity is if it's not dealing with the core heart of a person. If it's not dealing with that it's just for religion, it's just a form of religion, it's just another religious drug and in that case Karl Marx was right, it's the opiate of the people. And so we realize that and we want to do things for you, but you are here, understand, you are here because of an invitation by the creator of the universe. It's why you're here. You didn't come here because you somehow just had this right to be here. He called you. He brought you here.
When you think about it how crazy do you have to be to drive through a snow storm to come here? But we were <inaudible> to do so, weren't we? You weren't going to turn back no matter what. Why? That's not even smart. Because we were drawn here that's why. Because God's spirit pulled us here that's why, you felt it. <inaudible> that you young people are waiting for this cognitive epiphany and that's not going to happen. On the inner level you felt it and you were drawn here and you were brought here.
He's offering you eternal life as his child and it's not going to be easy, it's not easy, folks, so we got to be honest with you. Now I don't know you could live life without God, I don't know if there's a more empty existence. I can't imagine something more empty than life without God. I can't imagine it. You could try it. He won't stop you. So I don't know, we say it won't be easy, I think the other way is a lot harder by the way. It's a lot harder to go the other way. He's offering you his kingdom. You have to fight, you've got to fight sin, you're going to have to fight your own nature, you're going to have to fight ridicule, you're going to have to fight trials. You will struggle with times of crisis of faith that will be immense. There are times you will be lonely and the only thing that is there is you crying out to God and saying, do for me what I can't do for myself. It's going to happen if you want to go this way, but he will.
Young people, the kingdom is being offered to you. What is the kingdom? It's beyond anything you could imagine. I have a pretty good imagination. I actually do not believe I am old, slow and fat. The phone is ringing. The answer is up to you.