MORE ABOUT JESUS PART 2 — IT’S WHO YOU KNOW
by Pastor Mike Fortune
March 14, 2007
The story is told of a man who got to heaven, and Peter met him at the gate. And Peter said, “We’re on the point system up here. You need a hundred points to get into heaven.” The man replied, “Okay. No problem. I was a faithful husband for 40 years.” And Peter said, “We’ll give you 2 points for that.” Next, the man said. “Well, I was also a deacon in the church.” And Peter says, “Good! You get 1 point for that.” “Really, that’s all?” The man’s getting desperate now. He says, “I helped people who didn’t have any food and clothes and gave them food and clothes.” And Peter, “Good, half a point for that.” And the man exploded. “The only way I’d get in here is by the grace of God!” Peter smiled, and said “Welcome in. But are you willing to give up your 3 ½ points?”
As politically incorrect as it sounds, as we discovered last time, Christianity really is about Who you know. Now a true story. There were a group of people who went to the street corners of Chicago and asked everyone they could find: “What is a Christian?” And all the answers were behavioral answers. A Christian is someone who does what is right. Is nice to their neighbors. They do unto others as they do unto you. And the name of Jesus was never mentioned. Different faiths. No faith. Random people on the street. Same answer. Christianity is about what you do. Which should strike all of us as odd because Acts 11:26 says Paul and Barnabas were first called Christians in Antioch not because of what they did, but because of who they knew. All they were talking about was, “Christ did this. Christ did that.” And the Bible says talked about Jesus for a year straight! That’s why the Bible says these new believers were called Christians because they talked about Christ so much.
Who do you talk about?
So if you want to know if you’re on the right track, if you want to know if you’re a Christian like Paul and Barnabas, who longed for the 2 nd coming of Christ, there are at least a couple of common sense ways to tell if you’re a genuine Christian Adventist. The first is “Of whom do you love to talk?” I can’t tell you how many generations of parents I’ve talked to who all say the same thing when their children leave the church. “I don’t understand it. They knew it. They learned all about it in Sabbath school. They learned it in church. They learned it in school. They know it.” What’s the common denominator? Big clue. It’s not about it. It’s about who. Of whom do you love to think and of whom do you love to talk? Did those young people hear their parents talking more and more about Jesus or just about it?
So here’s the deal. I think we can definitely know if we’re on the right track on any given day. We can definitely know beyond a shadow of doubt whether our Adventist Christianity is like Paul’s. Because if it is, we will be talking more and more about Jesus. For years straight! So these are 2 simple common sense clues you can ask yourselves—or if you’re courageous enough, you can ask your children. Or grandchildren. Cause they’ll tell you the truth. Who do they say you talk about? Ask them! Who do they say you think about? Is it about it? Or who? Before we go tonight, we’ll identify a few other clues so you can tell if you’re Christian. It’s not a bumper sticker.
But before we do, just so we’re all on the same page, let me go back to Kindergarten for just a minute and remind us all that a Christian is also someone who is planning on eternal life. John 3:16 (KJV) says, let’s read it together, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” A better word for believeth in Him is “trusting in Him.” “Whosoever trusts Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
So in a nutshell, a Christian is someone who loves to think and talk about Jesus and is planning on eternal life because they know Jesus. Which indicates relationship. So as politically incorrect as it sounds, it really is who you know that counts.
My senior year of high school, I took the Strongs Campbell Inventory Test. Which is a tool guidance counselors use to determine what vocation or occupation another person might be gifted in or good at later in life. The test said I would be an excellent bus driver, park ranger, or mortician. Well, none of that really interested me so I experimented with Physical Therapy and Biology. Until I realized that really wasn’t for me and, out of desperation more than anything else, I started asking God what He wanted me to do. And the answer that kept coming back, in various ways, in small annoying voices, was that I should pursue ministry. Which I eventually did. And ever since, pieces of my life just fell into place. I used to think that God only calls you into one job. And that’s true. It’s just that the job He calls us to do is to think and talk and know Jesus whatever we get paid to do as an occupation. The New Testament clarifies that we are all ministers. We are all called to be thinkers talkers and knowers of Jesus. People are supposed to be able to identify us as Christians. Just like they did to Paul and Barnabas in Antioch in Acts 11.
Pray, Read Share
But how do we get to that point? How can we help people identify us Christians? How do we become a Christian? And most importantly once we do, how do we stay a Christian? Well, we’re going to be praying and talking about that every Wednesday night from 6 –8 pm till Jesus comes again so join us in the journey and bring a friend! But long story short, there are basically only 3 things anyone needs to become or remain a Christian. And they can be abbreviated by the letters PRS. Not PMS, PRS! One, pray. On your Mark 9:29, get set, and pray! At 9:29 am and 9:29 pm. And soon if you do, it won’t be long until your body will want to pray and recenter and recalibrate on Jesus every hour at half past. And the cool thing about prayer is, anyone can do it! You don’t even need to know how. Number, two Read. Read the Bible for a relationship not just research. Every night I’ll give you a homework page that includes some Daily Bites pieces of Scripture and some tips on what to read. One for every day of the week until we meet again. Pray, then Read. And jot your thoughts down. That’s how God speaks to you in the 21 st century! We’re gonna talk more about that soon. And the third thing is to tell someone else what you got out of the first two. Sharing isn’t hard when you’ve got something to say. Especially when Jesus first shared it with you at the beginning of your day!
So becoming Christian and staying Christian isn’t complicated. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you something! Pray, Read, and Share. That’s pretty simple right? But how much of it are we doing? So we start to read the Bible again and become authorities on Genesis. And lost by the time we hit Chronicles. To be honest, I have never read the entire Bible all the way through. It’s on my to do list though just to say I’ve done it. But I’ve tried and haven’t succeeded yet. So don’t judge me! Pastors aren’t perfect! Especially yours! Ask Jackie if you don’t believe me yet!
Get to know Jesus
So why do we convince ourselves reading the Bible from cover to cover is the best way to get to know Jesus? Why don’t we start where He is most clearly revealed? And why don’t we encourage emerging generations to read it or listen to it in a version that makes the most sense to them? So I got an NIV version and a NLT version and a MSG version and started and still haven’t stopped reading the Gospels. Over and over again. I’ve got the New Testament on my iPod and I listen to 5 chapters a day before I ever roll out of bed! And I’m often finding more meaning and power and messages in listening to Scripture read to me than when I read it on my own. It’s so tempting for pastors to read the Bible for research and not a relationship! I posted an article on my blog about a brand new Bible with music and sound effects read to you by Denzel Washington and Blair Underwood and Samuel L. Jackson and a host of other actors and professionals. Buy these CDs or download the MP3s for your children and grandchildren. Get them in the habit of listening to Scripture! So they can learn to discern His still small voice. After doing this for a while, it makes all the difference in the world. Never forget: You are spending time with Jesus to get to know Him as a friend, not just to put in time! At first, it is hard work. Quite deliberate. I had to force myself to read the Bible because I’d rather look at Sports Illustrated. But later, as I continued to seek Him, my interest in other things began to wane. Even in the swimsuit edition believe it or not! Because for me it’s not about it anymore. It’s about who. And who you know makes all the difference in the world.
But as the years passed and I was nearly through with seminary, even though I was learning to enjoy spending time with Jesus, sometimes it was and honestly still is difficult waking up in the morning to do so. Do you have that problem too? And then I felt even worse after reading how Jesus woke up in the morning to spend time with His heavenly Father. Mark 1:29–35 [NIV] says, “29As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30Simon’s mother‑in‑law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. 31So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them. 32That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon–possessed. 33The whole town gathered at the door, 34and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was. 35Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”
Ask God to wake you up
So here you’ve got Jesus all worn out from healing people and ministering to people all day and night and then, before the sun rises, very early in the morning, probably between midnight and 3 am, He wakes up to pray! So if Jesus who was exhausted could still get up and pray, I decided to ask God to help wake me up even if I’m exhausted and pray. And I’ve found that God does that! Which is what I think Isaiah had in mind in Isaiah 50:4 (NKJV) which says, “He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to hear as the learned. The Lord has opened my ear.”
If you’re wasted and tired and can’t wake yourself up, guess what, God will wake you up! He wants to spend time with you! If Jesus and Isaiah were awakened by our heavenly Father, maybe God has a wake up call that is available for us! If we ask Him to. Remember, Christianity is never about coercion. God won’t force you to spend time with Him. But if you want to. He’ll help you to. And so I’m experimenting with that.
But some folks say, “Come on, Pastor Mike, you’re going too far. That’s not what Isaiah 50:4 means. He’s not going to wake me up. Besides, why did God invent alarm clocks?” To which I usually respond, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but God didn’t invent alarm clocks! That, I’m sure, was the devil!” Is anyone else with me on that one? Is anyone else dragging this week after daylight savings time arrived so much earlier this year? I am. I’m still not sure I’ve adjusted. So I concede that there are other methods to start your day. To spend time getting to know Jesus in the morning. Even with an alarm clock. But I much prefer His still small voice to that annoying buzzer in my ear! That snooze button is just too tempting. And what you thought was important the night before isn’t nearly as significant the next morning. Especially after staying up too late watching your shows on TV.
But the good news about God’s wake up calls, just like any good parents, is that God is very good and kind and patient with us as we allow him to wake us and lead us in the Christian way and try to get to know him better and He’ll keep reminding you as He keeps reminding me to spend time with Him, as Isaiah 50:4 says, “morning by morning.” Joshua was cranky when we woke him up this week. And when I dropped him off at school, Mrs. Holland said she was struggling that day too. I told her I’d be praying for her and her class because there were probably going to be a bunch of cranky kids in class that day! But God knows. He understands. He’s patient with us. And like any good parent, He’ll wake us up gently the next morning.
So a Christian is someone who loves to think and talk about Jesus and is planning on eternal life because they know Jesus. They are not and never will be saved because they’re good or do good things. It’s not about it. It’s about who. If the Protestant Reformation taught us anything, it is that we’re saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Period. No ifs ands or buts about it. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you something. Or sincerely wrong. That’s why we’ve said that a person will never be lost simply for being bad. They will be lost because they don’t know Jesus. And a person will never be saved simply for being good. They will be saved because they know Jesus. What does Jesus say over and over and over in those parables? “Depart from Me, for I never knew you.”
But are those all the clues we’ve got? Are there any other indicators that we’re on the right track? How else can we know if we’re on the right track, heading the right way, going the right direction in our spiritual walk with Jesus? I believe there are. And that’s what we’ll spend the rest of our time on today.
Is your focus on Jesus?
Yes, there are indicators. One of them is my entire focus in life is on Jesus. I tell Joshua we’re quiet in church because we want everyone to hear about Jesus. We go to church because we want to hear more about Jesus. We invite others to church so they can hear more about Jesus. Our entire focus in life is on Jesus. John 17:3 says, “And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth.” Psalm 24:1 [NIV] says, “1The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”
Another clue you’re Christian is you have a daily experience with Christ Luke 9:23 (NKJV), “Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.’” You don’t wait to get to know Jesus a week at a time. His love for you wakes you up and draws you out of bed and to your knees where you begin your day, every day, with Him. But you don’t leave Him by the bedside either. The closer you get to Jesus, the more often you bring Him with you. Until sooner or later, you’re inviting Him to come and stay with you moment by moment throughout the day. Every day. You’re having a daily experience with Jesus.
Another one is you have a deep interest in the Bible. John 5:39-40 (NKJV). “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” So we read the Bible to get to know more about Jesus, not necessarily to fill in the blanks in our Sabbath school quarterly or to find ammunition for a sermon. That’s research. But the deep interest in the Bible Jesus was referring to is reading for relationship. There’s a difference. And we’ll talk more about that.
Third, we have a meaningful prayer life. Luke 18:1 (NKJV). Jesus said “Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart.” And rightly understood, prayer is always a dialogue not a monologue.
Fourth, we have a desire to witness. Not to make ourselves, or even our church look good, but because God is good. Mark 8:35 (NKJV) says, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it.”If my primary interest as a Christian is to get myself to heaven, I probably won’t be there. If my primary purpose for being a Christian is to share with someone else the good news, then I’ll probably be there along with them.
I admit that I am a sinner number five. 1 John 1:8 (NKJV) “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Ever met any good people that say they haven’t sinned in 3 years? Or good people who say that before Jesus comes again, there will be a bunch of perfect people who haven’t sinned in years? That there will be a perfect final generation? John didn’t talk like that. And neither did Paul. Who said I am the chief of sinners, even though he had been a Christian for 14 years. We need God’s grace on a daily basis and He has assured us in 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NKJV), “My grace is sufficient for you.”
Six, we have love for others. 1 John 4:7-8 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” Instead of being among the crowds of people whose only good news is bad news about others, we have love for people. A preacher once said “It’s too bad that the Gospel is good news. If it was bad news we’d be happy to pass it along and the work would be finished a long time ago.” No, we have a different attitude toward others. We love them with no strings attached.
But not just others. Also with God. Number 7, we think of God differently because Romans 5:1 says we have peace with God. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Peace means you can relax. And enjoy life. Even on a sin scarred and war torn planet. If your Christianity isn’t fun, it won’t be long till you’re done.
Perhaps you heard about the lady who was stopped by a police officer and as he looked at her license, he said, “where are your glasses?” She said, “I have contacts.” He said, “I don’t care who you know, I want to know where your glasses are.” As politically incorrect as it sounds, as funny as it may seem, it really is, (let’s say it together) who you know. Are you a Christian? Don’t you want to be? Would you raise your hand and say you want to be known as a Christian?