Scotsman Eric Liddell traveled to Paris to participate in the Olympic Games in 1924. Liddell was both a runner and a devout Protestant Christian. The 100 meters was his intended event but that contest had been scheduled to take place on a Sunday--a day Liddell was convinced was the Sabbath. Liddell was determined to remain true to conviction. Rather than "break the Sabbath" by competing on Sunday, instead he ran in the 440 meters, won, and set an Olympic record. And yet, his deepest ambition was to be a missionary. He went to China in 1925, in 1932 was ordained a minister, and accomplished fruitful work for Jesus until he died in 1945 in a Japanese internment camp.
Liddell said, "When I run, I feel His [God's] pleasure." He also said, "It has been a wonderful experience to compete in the Olympic Games and to bring home a gold medal. But since I have been a young lad, I have had my eyes on a different prize. You see, each one of us is in a greater race than any I have run in Paris, and this race ends when God gives out the medals."
Contrast Liddell's values with this tweet which appeared on Twitter 48 hours before I first preached this in February 2018:
"Dear kids: I'm a Baby-Boomer. We are getting old. But at least we had sex, drugs, and rock & roll. Seems like millennials have moral panics, workshops, and grievance circles. Time to rebel! xxMom."
This person seems to be saying to the younger generation, "Lighten up and join us in another useless round of hedonism."
God always has something better. Paul, in Colossians 1:16, in speaking of Jesus, tells us "all things were created through Him and for Him." Liddell was right. Every one of us is brought into being for a purpose. There is a greater contest than an Olympic race. We are not made for hedonism but for Jesus. When we run Jesus' race, we will feel His pleasure.
A World in Need
Some people openly doubt the Bible's teachings about the end-time. The way they understand it, Christians are offering a solution to a non-existent problem. They think that there is no impending judgment or time of emergency during which God's people demonstrate His goodness by victorious living.
Contrary to that, our Lord Jesus calls us to a supremely important mission: to show the watching universe it needs Jesus and that those who find Him can be totally changed. In Jesus' strength humans can live without sinning.
Listen again to the apostle Paul:
Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. For this reason it says, "Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you" (Ephesians 5:11-14).
God calls this generation to abandon abandonment, to make a choice, to stop adding acts of evil to this world. God is calling His children not only to not do evil, but to expose evil.
Expose it? Can He possibly mean that? Does He actually want us to call it out? Wouldn't that be out of sync with the times! Tolerance is the 2018 keyword; be inclusive! Anything and everything goes; all is good; nothing is evil; light is darkness and darkness is light.
Only, actually, God is calling us to abandon evil. He is calling us to identify and expose deeds of darkness. Things become visible when they are exposed by the light. And how is that to happen? God could blast messages to every sinner brain right now. He could force everyone to hear and perceive a message: "I am a rightdoing God and you are a wrongdoing human. You have sinned against Me. Admit your guilt or I'll fry you starting in five seconds." He could. But He chooses not to work that way.
Instead, He communicates truth through prophets and Bible writers, through inspired men and women who hear His voice and declare His Word, whether people will agree and live by it, or not. How do we know what truth is? God reveals what is otherwise inaccessible to us. We can measure and investigate in the natural world; but our knowledge is incomplete. If our vision and our knowledge limited, how then do we know what is true and what is false?
Autonomous Reason or Submitted Belief?
We humans are ready to make our reasoning the measure. "I think, therefore I am." Descarte set the fatal pattern in 1637 centuries ago. Since then basic certainty is not centered on God but on man. After Descarte, the subject, man, is seen as essentially autonomous. Its all about what humans think. Joseph Boot observes:
As heirs of this method, people today have gradually lost any real certainty, even with respect to the nature of man himself. . . . any method putting the reach of the rational faculty of sinful man in the place of final authority and judgment is making a huge faith commitment, and a highly destructive one (Boot, Gospel Witness, loc. 739).
Human reason is not that good, not that autonomous, not that fair and not that perfect. The human heart is in command and will misuse reason to justify whatever it wants. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us: "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?" God can and does. There are no answers beside Him. Boots point:
As we respond to contemporary objections to our faith, we must remember that the truth of the gospel is not simply a matrix of facts or set of propositions to be accepted intellectually, but a relationship with a person to be received as Lord, by the heart, requiring the openness of one's entire being to God. . . believe in order to know (Ibid, loc. 800).
The starting point for my belief cannot be my reason. The reason of the clay cannot judge the reason of the potter. Rather, I must believe in order to know. Jesus said, "If any man will do His will, he will know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of Myself" (John 7:17 KJV). We must begin by believing. Only thus can we test the truth. We experiment. God asks humans a simple thing: "Taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8).
The Bible tells us that after Adam and Eve sinned, human perception was veiled. Nature itself was bent. Death was introduced; nature became a distorted canvas to read off. More than this, now spiritual realities became opaque to us. On one occasion the king of Syria sent an army into Israel to kidnap the prophet Elisha. Do you recall the story?
Therefore he sent horses and chariots and a great army there, and they came by night and surrounded the city. And when the servant of the man of God arose early and went out, there was an army, surrounding the city with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, 'Alas, my master! What shall we do?' So he answered, 'Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.' And Elisha prayed, and said, 'Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.' Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha" (2 Kings 6:14-17 NKJV).
Some people are color blind and do not see as many colors as other people. But some animals see in the infrared. Bees can see things that you cannot see. When it comes to the spiritual, God does not want us to be coerced by reality. He wants us to choose right because it is right, not because we have to admit it is right. He wants us to learn to trust Him. Is that a bad thing? If you and I are being offered an eternity of meaningful, happy life, is it too much to ask that we invest some bit of energy exploring the spiritual and learning to trust God as we learned to trust our parents?
To Wrestle with True Freedom
Boot speaks of true freedom this way:
Some kind of authority is a governing reality in all of our lives--the only question is which authority people surrender to.
When God gave freedom He really meant it. All are given opportunity to choose unselfishness or self-service. We choose our pleasure or God's pleasure. We build our own Babel tower, or receive Jesus' offer to sit with Him on His throne. I can be the king of nothing for a moment in time, or, I can live for eternity in a kingdom in which all are unselfish and experience endless intellectual growth and emotional fulfillment. All are offered opportunity to follow the Creator's prescription and attain the heights for which He designed us. This sounds like an easy choice but it is very hard for the reasons Boot suggests:
We must also be mindful that the call of the gospel is life-transforming. The claims of Christ are total and leave out nothing (Luke 9:23; Colossians 1:15–20). They are profoundly personal, totally comprehensive and lifestyle-challenging. The gospel is fundamentally a call to reorient every aspect of one’s life and thought to Christ as Lord. Thus, we are not coming to the unbeliever with an abstract hypothesis to be coolly weighed on unbiased scales with few implications for their lives. On the contrary, it is literally a new birth that is required. And so there is no neutrality with respect to Christ, no fence-sitting once He has stated his claims upon us (Matthew 12: 30). Presenting the faith to the unbeliever is much more like bringing a marriage proposal than trying to market a house or an effort to change someone's politics, and so we should act accordingly. Through us Christ is inviting people to be His bride, the church, not to join him at a gym class to improve our fitness. Joining a gym is just one more thing. Coming to Christ changes absolutely everything and costs us everything (Luke 14: 25–35)! As we share this life-transforming gospel we are coming up against a person's cherished artifices, forged to escape God's claim upon them (Ibid., locs. 847-863).
That is true. From childhood onward everyone builds fortifications all their life to protect their tiny personal kingdom. They think much as Milton framed Satan's thought in Paradise Lost: "Better to be a king in hell than a slave in heaven." Only, those who go to heaven are the true Kings; there are no slaves in heaven. Slavery is to personal habit, personal imaginations and unrealities. Freedom is for princes and princesses and Jesus invites us to join His royal family. But that means a different life today, not tomorrow.
Hear the same but from Ellen White:
If we love Jesus, we shall love to live for Him, to present our thank offerings to Him, to labor for Him. The very labor will be light. For His sake we shall covet pain and toil and sacrifice. We shall sympathize with His longing for the salvation of men. We shall feel the same tender craving for souls that He has felt. This is the religion of Christ. Anything short of it is a deception (Christ's Object Lessons, p. 49).
When SpaceX launches a Falcon rocket, the flight reporter soon states, "Stage one propulsion nominal." That means that the rocket motors are lit and everything is working well. Think about your life. Realize, whenever things have not been "nominal" it has been when you were doing it your way. When we run our own race we don't feel God's pleasure. Then what we do experience is cheap, artificial, and empty. But what Jesus offers is beyond price.
A Final Demonstration
The title for this message is "Last One in Turn on the Lights," a reversal of the phrase "Last one out, turn out the lights." When you leave a room, you leave things in order and one way you do this is to turn out the light. Some think of Christianity as an escape religion. The Second Coming of Jesus is imminent; we are leaving earth soon; we are abandoning the place.
But Its not about us; its about God's pleasure. And what is God's pleasure? He loved this world so much that He gave Jesus a sacrifice for humans. Whoever chooses to run this race where God hands out the medals, he will be doing what? He'll be working for the salvation of souls. He'll be joining in the program of the king. Our focus will not be on our leaving earth but on saving others--on more of God's children leaving earth. Our focus is not on our comfort but on the saving of God's final generation. How?
The last generation will turn on the lights.
Jesus said, "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in Heaven" (Matthew 5:16). Remember that this comes after the beatitudes, which climax with the persecution of believers for righteousness' sake. Jesus says His people are not the light of Jerusalem or of the Church but of the world. They are the salt, the preservative, and the light, the premier end-time evidence that God is good. They are to give light to all who are in the house. Every human being will be tested. How? By being shown God's goodness and then embracing or resisting it.
Nothing will pass away until all is accomplished, until everyone in the house has been given a persuasive opportunity to choose God's goodness. The final generation will make this demonstration.
When Satan has perfected his temptations, when men are 6,000 years of genetic decline downstream from Eden, when men think themselves smart enough to revise the plan of Jesus, then comes the final contest. Men and women will be running a race for their own pleasure. There will also be a people running the race for God. They want the salvation of souls, what He wants. They are ready and willing to suffer in the attainment of that purpose. They are just common, ordinary Christians like you and I but who have consented and cooperated to become like Jesus.
Surrounded by meaninglessness and hedonism, having sampled the paradise surrounding us and found it not to be paradise, those determined to belong to God will choose to run God's race God's way. We will feel His pleasure as we run it. God is looking for a generation that will give up everything to follow Jesus. He is looking for those who will practice war no more, who will not trust in their own ideas about God but who will submit to God's ideas about God. Jesus is looking for a generation of unreserved Christians who turn the lights on and shine the way to His kingdom.
The question is for us ourselves. Am I tired enough of sin, am I committed enough to Jesus, to partner with God in His plan to end the cycle of sin from Genesis until now? Am I ready to do something 100,000 times more meaningful than colonizing Mars? Am I ready to belong fully to Jesus, give up every plant He has not planted, and be His agent today? Am I willing to be the filament through which He shines? Am I ready to turn on the lights and hasten the resurrection of the faithful dead and meet Jesus together with them in the clouds? There will be such a generation. If we want that experience, Jesus will give it.
Deer Park WA SDA 2018-02-17
Clark Fork ID SDA 2018-03-31