What Have You Said Yes To?

The crowd roared as the popular worship band exited the stage. Hundreds had stood in response to the call to follow Jesus. They had come forward to thunderous applause, some weeping, some bewildered, and joined the throng at the foot of the stage. A member of the band led them in a group prayer and volunteers tossed handfuls of gospel tracts over their heads. What a night! Awesome music. Sensational testimonies. Hundreds responding to the message of the kingdom.

But then they all went home. The excitement fizzled. Rush hour traffic replaced the soaring harmonies. Overdue bills and hateful coworkers pushed the thrill of that night into a hazy memory. The craving for sensual pleasures overcame the flicker of spiritual longing, and many who had walked forward for change now walked back to the world. Belonging to Jesus had seemed so emotionally thrilling at the concert, but what was all this about obedience? Mountaintop expectations began to resemble humility and self-sacrifice. Disillusionment set in. They hadn’t really listened to the part about lordship, self-denial, or endurance, and after a few weeks it was clear that the response for many had been to the rush of adrenaline, not the Holy Spirit. Like seeds planted in rocky soil, they sprouted quickly but would never grow because there was no root to sustain them.

 Have you said “yes” to a rush of adrenaline or “yes” to the lordship of Jesus? 


Will Your Faith Survive?

Josh slumped in the shadows, praying the school bell would ring. This school was not like his old one. He had spent the first fifteen years of his life in a small town, seeing the same people at school, church and the grocery store. It had been easy to be a leader, obey Christ, and stand for his convictions when almost everybody else felt the same way. 

But then his family moved and everything changed. The gang of thugs that owned the hallways of this mega high school had spotted him at once and the terrorizing began. "Is that a Bible?" one of them laughed when Josh's backpack spilled open. "Hey, preacher man, show us how you turn the other cheek!" After the first slap, the bullying never stopped.

At first, he tried to ignore it, but after a couple of weeks, he got angry. Why wasn’t God helping him? He began to reevaluate what he had always thought he believed. Acting like a Christian had never required anything from him back home. It was easy, even made him popular to be the leader of his youth group. But now he wondered: Was he truly committed to Christ or to an easy lifestyle?  Was his faith real or just a hand-me-down from his Christian family? 

The more he thought about it, the less he wanted it. By fall break, he had shoved the Bible into a bottom drawer, started partying, and did whatever necessary to be accepted by the cool crowd. The seed planted in his heart had fallen on the rocky soil of personal comfort, popularity, and fun. What he had called faith was only a reflection of the faith of others. When things got tough, it was not enough.

We are called to follow Christ, not an easy lifestyle. Will your faith survive when things get tough? 



Dropping God

http://www.4wildblue.com/images/Two-women-on-phone.gif"Hey Carla, this is Beth. I haven't seen you at church or Bible study lately. Is everything ok?" 
 An awkward silence crackled in Beth’s ear before Carla's voice came over the phone. "Yeah, I've just been going through a hard time. I tried the whole God thing, but it didn't work for me. He doesn't seem to care about what I'm going through. I prayed and all that, but nothing changed. Okay, so I’m drinking again and partying, but my old friends make me feel better than God ever did. I guess some people can do the Christian thing and some can’t."

Have you ever felt like Carla? Maybe there was a time when you really thought you were connecting with God. Things were going your way and you assumed it was because you were right with God. Then the bottom fell out of your life and you felt betrayed. Had God dropped you like a hot rock? After a while, you dropped Him. If this was what following Jesus was like, then no thanks. Many times, we approach salvation like a business arrangement. Then when God fails to live up to our standards, we feel justified in walking away. That about-face is a clear indicator that the soil which accepted the seed was filled with rocks called “expectations.” Unless we come to God whole-heartedly, acknowledging His right to be Lord, we cannot have Him at all.

We don’t “try on” God like a pair of shoes. We only experience Him when we allow Him to be Lord of all.


Who Is Being Worshiped Here?


The preacher smiled at the packed stadium. “Brothers and sisters,” he said, and the crowd burst into applause.  “God is delighted with every one of you! He wants you to believe in yourselves and your own awesomeness. Jesus died for all of us so that we can believe in ourselves. Pray this prayer after me, and God will bless you. If you voice your dreams and visualize them happening, God will make them come true!” 

The ecstatic crowd was on its feet. What a religion! God would give them what they wanted if they accepted Jesus, repeated a prayer, and visualized success? This was better than a rabbit’s foot.

We were warned about teachers like this in 2 Timothy 4:3, but despite the warning, they are gaining popularity. They are part of a pseudo-religion which claims to be Christian but bears little resemblance to the discipleship Jesus requires (Luke 14:26-33). This is nothing but New Age self-worship, decorated with Bible verse pieces to make it sound Christian. These teachers are wildly popular, because they focus on making all hearers feel good about themselves, rather than calling people to repentance and service as scripture does. They present Almighty God as a cosmic Genie who exists to do our bidding—and Jesus is the key to His treasure chest. 

This me-centered “gospel” has no roots, so when hardships come, it crumbles. The victims of this message think God has let them down, when in fact their faith was in the wrong god all along (2 Cor. 11:4). Unless our faith is rooted in the "whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), it cannot withstand the schemes of the devil or the temptations of the world.

Evaluate the message of the teachers you enjoy. Do any of them fit the description of 2 Timothy 4:3? 


Persecution, Dropping Out, or Compromise

Introduction to Philosophy was the most popular course on campus. Dr. Barnard was an outstanding teacher and made learning fun. But he was also known for his hostility toward what he called "the coward's approach to a meaningless existence,” otherwise known as Christianity. He publicly ridiculed any student who tried to defend his or her faith and boasted that many Christians enrolled in his class but only agnostics completed it. What he had learned was that with enough pressure the strong dropped out and the weak compromised. The same thing is happening all over the world today.

Opposition to the time-tested truth of God’s word is the new “cool,” and everybody wants in on it. Even some who profess to follow Christ are openly challenging the validity of scripture, the deity of Christ, and every absolute from sexual boundaries to the reality of hell. 2 Timothy 3:12 promises that those who desire to live godly lives will suffer persecution. Even now, we are being confronted with some rather unpleasant options: enduring greater persecution, dropping out of society, or compromise. By the thousands, rocky-soil “believers” are choosing the latter. Sinking roots through the rocks of challenge, doubt, and persecution proved too difficult, so they invented a compromised version of “Christianity” which is more acceptable to the world. They even define “God” any way they choose and declare that reality can be whatever they say it is. The Bible already told us this would happen (Rom. 1:18-32). 

Nothing reveals the validity of someone’s faith like persecution or challenge. As pressure increases in our world, it is critical that we who truly know Christ sink our roots deeply into the truth of His word and stand firm. 

Which option have you chosen as you face escalating opposition to the truth of God’s word?


Decisions or Discipleship


But since they have no root, they last only a short time.”  Mark 4:17-18

Miss Linda set aside the Bible and smiled at her classroom of six-year-olds. “So that’s all there is to is!  Who loves Jesus? Who wants to go to heaven some day? Raise your hand!” All fourteen hands went up. “That’s wonderful!” cried Miss Linda. “Now repeat this prayer and you are saved forever!” Miss Linda went home satisfied that there were 14 new converts in the kingdom of God. But were there? Were those “converts” still following Jesus ten…twenty…thirty years later?

We sometimes reduce the plan of salvation to a 1-2-3 formula that supposedly assures us of heaven while we resume our regular lives. But Jesus never preached any such thing (Luke 14:25-33). While some 5-year-olds truly are able to surrender their futures to Jesus, many people assume that because they once prayed a prayer or got baptized they now belong to God—despite the decades of hellacious living that followed. 

Scripture does not support this idea (1 John 3:6). When a seed is planted, we can tell it is alive because it produces roots, stems, leaves, and eventually fruit. If it doesn’t take root and produce, it is dead and useless. Likewise, when the word of God takes root in our hearts, our lives begin to change. If His word has not produced roots, growth, and fruit in a person’s life, then what they considered a “decision for Christ” may also be dead and useless.

 Are you relying on an early “decision” for your salvation that has not resulted in a transformed life? 


Thorny Dilemmas

Still others are like the seeds sown among the thorns.” 
Mark 4:18

It was the job offer of a lifetime. Six figures to do what he loved. It would require some compromise of his convictions, but…
►She could hardly believe it! The love of her life asked her to marry him! Okay, he wasn’t actually a Christian, but…

►He’d been president of the youth group back in the day. But who had time for church and Bible study now?

They’d planned to raise their kids in church, but family time at the lake and ball games were important too, weren’t they?

Thorns. Thistles. Briar patches. They are a death knell to tender plants. They quickly overwhelm and overshadow any seed that tries to flourish. This world is a briar patch for anyone who desires to follow Christ. If we are not wise and on the alert, it can choke the spiritual life right out of us. We may have started well, but the magnetic pull of earthly interests can quickly overwhelm and overshadow any new believer who tries to flourish.   

When we live as though earthly delights are more desirable than eternal treasure, we are headed for the briar patch. Eternity can seem like a hazy fantasy when fame, fortune, and friendships vie for time and attention. But when we stand before God, all that matters is how we invested what He gave us.

When you stand before Jesus, will you regret the way you invested your time, money, and energy?


Soil/Soul Types Matter


Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop...  Mark 4:20

After spending six months with a jungle tribe, a missionary in the last century had led only one man to Christ. The man wanted to be baptized, but because of the difficulties in communicating the full message of the gospel, the discouraged missionary had doubts about the man’s sincerity. So he told him, “I’m going away for a year. When I come back, if you are still following Christ, I will baptize you.” True to his word, the missionary returned a year later. Waiting on the banks of the river to welcome him stood the entire village! “We have all trusted Christ and we now want you to baptize us!” his old friend exclaimed. The seed that had been sown in one man’s life had fallen upon good soil and the harvest was plentiful.

Soil type matters if seeds are to flourish. Heart-type matters if God’s word is to flourish. When His word is sown into a heart ready to hear, it takes root and produces a crop. That crop is soon evident to everyone else. Attitudes change. Interests change. Perspectives change. Sins that were once acceptable are seen as disgusting. A life once focused upon self-interest is now consumed with God-interests, or what the Bible calls “fruit.” This “fruit” is described in Galatians 5:19-23 and has eternal significance. It won’t vanish when this world does. Spiritual fruit results in God-honoring relationships, pure conduct, and new believers being added to God’s kingdom. One way to identify followers of Christ is to inspect the fruit of their lives (Matt. 7:16-22). 

Identify some of the fruit that the word of God has produced in your life. Where could there be more?