Below is a message I delivered to my youth group this week.
I realize more and more that there is a big difference between what we know and what we believe.
I know that drinking soda and adding artificial sweetener to my coffee is bad for me, but I believe that it won’t hurt me much in small quantities, today. So I allow it.
I know that too much sun exposure is bad for my skin, but I believe that I will be OK out in the sun for short periods of time without sun screen. So I run outside multiple times a week with no protection.
I know that cocaine, heroin, meth, and other drugs are bad for me, and I believe that if I try them I will either die on the spot, or be addicted instantly. So I don’t do drugs.
It isn’t, then, so much about what we know, but rather what we believe. Because what we believe is what guides our actions on a daily basis.
I know that if I work out and eat right on a daily basis then eventually I will have the physique I want, but I don’t do that every day. For some reason, I don’t believe what I know to be true. Because if I really believed that, then I would do it. I guess I believe chocolate and peanut butter tastes better than broccoli and celery.
I know that as a Christian I should “go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” And, I should teach these new disciples to obey all the commands Jesus has given us (Matthew 28:19,20). But I am not doing that, at least not in a way that I see as being sufficient. So then do I really believe what I know to be true? I guess I believe that protecting myself from ridicule or embarrassment is more important than sharing God’s love with people.
I believe that a lot of you know who God is. You know the stories of the Bible. You might even be able to spout off all 10 commandments or recite scripture. I am sure many of you know that Jesus was a real life, living person who was both God and man. You know he died for our sins and rose from the dead and is still living to this day, preparing a place for us in heaven. And, one day he will return to conquer evil for good and those who believe will be saved.
Why then, are we not living lives that reflect that knowledge?
If Jesus is real then his teachings are equally as real. Jesus teaches love. He teaches compassion and acceptance. He teaches mercy. He teaches forgiveness. He teaches us to put others before ourselves. But I look around and I see that we aren’t living that way. We aren’t loving. We don’t have compassion, and we certainly don’t accept everyone for who they are. We don’t extend mercy or forgiveness to each other. We [yes, myself included] live for ourselves. We put our wants first, our needs first, and our satisfaction first. In short, we are sinners. We do what we know is wrong.
So what does that say about what we believe?
Though we know what the Bible teaches, for some reason we must believe that it’s not true. Or, it’s not true today. Perhaps “being a Christian” is something we can put off until tomorrow.
Here’s the problem. There is no guarantee of tomorrow. I know, you’ve heard that 1,000 times, and every time someone says it, you still wake up the next morning. But guess what? Close to 150,000 people around the world who were alive yesterday aren’t alive today. And almost 7,000 of those were in the United States. And around 500 of those were in Florida.
Statistically, then, you have a pretty good chance of waking up tomorrow. Statistically, you only have a 0.3% chance of dying each day. That’s pretty good. But then again, those 500 people who died yesterday also only had a 0.3% chance of dying. Today, they are 100% dead.
I’m not trying to scare you. We can’t tip toe around all day long wondering if we are going to drop dead at any moment; that someone might drop a piano on our head, or that a rogue drone is going to come attack us in our sleep. If we lived our lives by the risk of death, then we would never want to leave the house, drive a car, eat food in a restaurant, drink water from the tap, or use a cell phone or microwave. We would just sit in the middle of our beds and do nothing. And then we would die anyway.
So what am I trying to say? Good question. I’m asking myself the same thing.
Let’s see what the Bible says about it.
In Matthew 24, Jesus begins talking about what we can expect before his return. He talks about wars between nations, death, destruction, earth quakes, famine, and false prophets rising up, tricking people into believing they know when his return will be.
Sounds a lot like 2012, doesn’t it?
Matthew 24: 14-31 (NLT)
27 For as the lightning flashes in the east and shines to the west, so it will be when the Son of Man comes.
28 Just as the gathering of vultures shows there is a carcass nearby, so these signs indicate that the end is near.
29 “Immediately after the anguish of those days, the sun will be darkened, the moon will give no light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
30 And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
31 And he will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.
It sounds like we get plenty of warning then doesn’t it? We should be able to do whatever the heck we want and just ask for forgiveness when we see the signs, right?
Jesus goes on to say,
Matthew 24: 36-44 (NLT)
36 “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.
37 “When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day.
38 In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat.
39 People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes.
40 “Two men will be working together in the field; one will be taken, the other left.
41 Two women will be grinding flour at the mill; one will be taken, the other left.
42 “So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming.
43 Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into.
44 You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.
Now you know. You know that he is coming when you least expect it. You know it will happen quickly. And you know that some people will be saved and some people won’t. There will be people who are ready, like Noah was ready for the flood, and there will be people who know what is going to happen, but who aren’t ready because they don’t believe. They will deny deny deny up until the very end. And the end will be too late.
You have some choices to make.
1. Do you believe that Jesus is coming back?
2. Are you ready for his return?
3. What do you want to be doing when he does comes back?
I’m not here to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. God gives us the freedom to choose. Spiritually, every single one of you must choose for yourself what you believe based on what you know. Just make sure that what you know and what you believe match up.
Say you get home tonight and your parents tell you they are heading out of town on a trip Saturday morning. You will be left alone in the house for part of the weekend, but a family friend will check up on you Saturday and Sunday night. At some point you get the idea in your head that you are going to get wasted drunk.
You know it is a bad idea. You know it is wrong. You know what would happen if you got caught.
You know your parents are leaving at 10am to get to the airport nice and early so they can get through security. You know that the family friend won’t be over until 9pm that night. And you know that if you stop drinking around 5pm, then you will be sober by the time they get to your house.
You believe you can get away with it.
Saturday morning comes and mom and dad head out the door. You wait for 10-15 minutes just to make sure the coast is clear. Then, just as you are about to down your third shot, mom comes running through the door, frantic because she forgot the plane tickets. And there you are, standing in your kitchen with an open bottle in front of you and a shot glass in your hand. I’m sure for most of you, the next part of that story doesn’t go so well.
You believed you could get away with it even though you knew it was wrong.
Every day we are faced with choices we must make based on what we believe. And every day we make choices that we know are wrong, but we make them anyway because we believe we can get away with it, and that it will benefit us somehow. This is sin.
At the same time, we now know that Jesus could come bursting through that door at any minute. This brings us back to my questions – what do you want to be doing when Jesus comes back? Will you be showing love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, and acceptance towards your neighbors? Or will you be so focused on yourself; on your own wants and desires, that you hardly even notice him enter the room? And what will you say when Jesus asks you what you are doing?
I’m not going to ask anyone to raise their hand tonight to see who wants to live a life that reflects what we know. And I am not going to give you a list of things that you can do to show me that you believe. Everyone in this room is old enough to know the difference between right and wrong. Instead, I am going to challenge all of us, students, leaders, and myself, to take what we know and show our friends, our family, and God, through our actions, that we believe.
If you need ideas on how you can make changes in your life, pray about it. Ask a leader. Come talk to me tonight. Just don’t leave here until you have asked yourself this question.
What do you believe?