Affirmation: “The Bible is true. The Bible is true for me. The truth of God’s Word should change the way I believe and I behave.”
Today, I want to talk about CHOICES. Disclaimer: This message draws from previous messages on this subject; but with a very specific purpose in mind.
Doing a quick internet research, I learned that an adult makes about 35,000 remotely conscious decisions each day (a child makes 3,000). According to one Cornell University Study, we make 226.7 decisions on food alone!
Choice is a GIFT of God. It originates in God and is fulfilled in God.
Creation Story: God gave Adam & Eve the choice to live in right relation with Him OR to “surely die” by choosing to eat fruit of the forbidden tree.
Gen. 3-11à Illustrate humanity’s rebellion by the choices we make and God’s response.
Gen 12à God CHOSE Abraham to create a people who would be the light to the nations to bring all people back to God. Israel chose otherwise.
In the fullness of time, God sent Jesus Christ to be for the world what Israel could not.
Listen to this Good News from Ephesians 1:3-5à 3All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. 4Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.
And this assurance from John the beloved in his first epistle: This is real love–not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. (1 John 4:10 NLT)
Choosing to save us was God’s idea. Being saved in Christ is OUR RESPONSE.
Again, listen to the apostle John in his Gospel: But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1:13 NLT
Jesus himself said in his great prayer from John 17:3àAnd this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
The offer of Salvation is a choice of God. The acceptance of God’s grace is a choice by us.
Being a Disciple requires daily choices to follow Jesus, doesn’t it? Jesus said, “Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.”
Daily choices to follow after God. To trust our Lord for everything. To trust God’s Word more than we trust our own imaginations. THAT’S what I want to talk about today. To do that we’re going to look again at a famous OT story from 1 Kings regarding Elijah and the prophets of Ba’al. Let’s Read 1 Kings 18:17-21.
Northern Kingdom of Israel, under King Ahab and his wicked wife, Jezebel, had wandered far away from God and His commandments, worshipping Baal and Asherah and other forms of idolatry, temple prostitution, unfair treatment of foreigners, unfair labor relations and more. In short, they were not being a light to the nations!
Background on Canaan, Baal and Asherah:
Canaanà the Promised Land before Israel begins its conquest. It was inhabited by many tribes and nation states who developed an elaborate array of deities to worship and paid tribute so their land, health, and families would flourish. Two leading gods were Baal and Asherah.
Baal : believed to be the “Life Giver” àThe inhabitants of Canaan worshipped Baal, which means “LORD” or “master.” Canaanites believed that Baal was in absolute control over nature and people. Baal was the principal deity of the land who was in charge of the rain and the weather, and man’s survival was dependent upon Baal’s provision. Baal was known as the god of thunder.
Asherah was considered the female counterpart to Baal, and was known as the goddess of fertility to the Semitic people of Canaan.
It was believed that if the earth experienced severe drought or famine, then the gods Baal and Asherah were angry and were unavailable to the Canaanites.
Israel worshipped God but also the gods of the Canaanites. God had enough of their idolatry and sent Elijah to do something about it. Elijah tells Ahab that there would be no rain until God said so.
It had been 3 ½ years since the LORD commanded no rain. Elijah (whose name means God, my Jehovah…or the LORD is my God) has been in a season of preparation, performing a private ministry that included a widow and her son in Sidon. But now God is about to use Elijah mightily in a public ministry!
It’s about to rain, but before God sends the rain, the LORD needs to be sure that the people know WHO is going to cause it to rain. So he arranges a showdown on Mt. Carmel between himself and the so-called gods of Canaan.
It was TIME!
Time To Make A Choiceà Elijah tells Ahab to summon the 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah and when all the people of Israel were on Mt. Carmel, along with the 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah, Elijah begins with these words :
“How long will you go limping between to different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word.
Time to See Who is the Real God! So he instructs the false prophets to choose from two bulls, cut the bull and place it on their altar to Baal, but put no fire to it; then call out to their god. Elijah would do the same and whichever God burned up the sacrifice, THAT would be the real God.
They follow Elijah’s instructions and cry out to Baal all day. The Word tells us that they “limped” around the altar until mid-day. Elijah even taunts them saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”
The prophets cry out louder and even cut themselves until blood gushed out! “Crickets.”
Now it’s time for the evening offering to the LORD, so Elijah sets up another altar, one that included a stone for every 12 tribe of Israel. He carefully arranged the wood and the bull pieces on the altar.
Then Elijah makes it interesting. In essence, he tells the prophets to “tie God’s hands behind his back and blindfold Him.” Drown the sacrifice with water, making it virtually impossible to burn.
Time To Pray. The people need to see that this is NOT Elijah’s contest, it is God’s. Elijah needed God. It is not by our might, but by the Spirit of the living God that we live, and move, and have our being! It is through prayer that God hears, forgives, heals, and restores. And it is for God’s glory that He acts. Listen to what Elijah prays :
“O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”
Well, as you might expect from God, when He does something He REALLY DOES it! Fire fell from heaven and consumed the meat, wood, stones, water and even the dust! God left NO doubt that God was who He said He was!
Time to Confess the Truth. When the people saw what God did, they fell on their faces (an act of worship and penitence) and made this profession: “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.”
Today, when we are confronted with the Gospel of Jesus Christ as found in Scripture, then those with open, honest hearts are prompted to confess as “doubting Thomas” did in seeing the resurrected Christ: “My LORD and my God.”
On the contrary, people who encounter the Truth and do NOT confess Jesus Christ as Lord have an emptiness and pain inside. Over time – as the conscience is seared over by pride, the cares of this world, and disbelief, the unrepentant is able to suppress the guilt of sin and the unbelief.
This is one of two groups that my heart aches for the most…those who have heard about and experienced some measure of God’s goodness, grace, and forgiveness and yet refuse to claim, “The LORD, He is God.”
The other group of people that bring me great sorrow are the ones who claim, “LORD, LORD” but go on living as if God’s Word is not authoritative in their own lives. The only follow God to the extent that it serves their needs and worldview. THAT’S where I want us to focus for the rest of our time together.
The Big Idea: “Choices”
What I want us to see this morning—beyond the chopped sirloin, soaked firewood, and even the miraculous fire from heaven which proved which god was real and active in their lives—is that we, like the people of Israel, are once again faced with a choice: “If God is God, worship Him…if it’s Baal, then worship him.” No more limping between two opinions!
FACT: Israel never stopped engaging in religious activity with God. Many of us never miss a Sunday church service.
FACT: Israel sacrificed animals, oil, & bread on God’s altar. Many of us give money, offer our time in service to others, and even support missions.
But Israel ALSO hedged her bets by offering something to the other so-called gods of fertility, prosperity, long life, etc. It’s called syncretism.
It boils down to a lack of trust by Israel that God’s Word was true…that He would provide, protect, and prosper God’s people as they maintain a loving, trusting relationship with Him.
Many of us claim faith in God, but we don’t fully take God at His Word. “Did God really say…?” “Does God really mean…?” “Do we “really” have to follow what the Bible says?”
We may read the Commercial Appeal more completely than we do the Bible
We may spend more time talking with perfect strangers about our problems than talking with God about them.
We may spend vast amounts of time & money on our physical health but seldom invest in our spiritual health through small groups, Bible studies, etc.
In other words, we say we believe in God, but truth is we put our trust in others things just as much. How long will we go on limping between two opinions?
The showdown at Mt. Carmel and the question posed to the Israelites was not the first time they had been given a choice. During his 3rd and final speech to the Israelites before Joshua assumes command, Moses said this:
“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!You can make this choice by loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life. And if you love and obey the LORD, you will live long in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Deut. 30:19-20
And after most of the conquest of Canaan had occurred, their leader Joshua gave a similar plea:
“So fear the LORD and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD alone. But if you refuse to serve the LORD, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:15-15 NLT
Friends, I think this is where we are today in the church, especially when we consider the events and behaviors of United Methodist clergy, bishops, and other leaders. I don’t think we’ve abandoned God altogether. I think, as a denomination, we have allowed the gods of this world—the gods of self-indulgence, political correctness, and self-determination—to have a voice and power in decision making. We don’t want to seem exclusionary to outsiders, so we excuse sin and call it compassion.
Let me be clear. We are not the judge of the world. That is the work of God. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. We are called to love the world for the sake of Christ. We cannot look upon others outside the fellowship of believers and expect them to be transformed by the renewing of their minds in Christ Jesus. No, they will be conformed to the patterns of this world until or unless the Holy Spirit convict them.
My concern is how our family acts—the family called Byhalia Church and The United Methodist Church, who claim to believe and follow the God of the Old and New Testament. We should align our lives up with the ethos of God as found in Scripture. And when we are out of alignment, God’s Word can show us how to re-align ourselves. This happens through prayer, reading the Bible, and holding one another accountable in love.
The danger, however, is that we would rather NOT choose sides. We would rather stay on the fence about such controversial issues as human sexuality facing our denomination. But hear this: Making no choice IS MAKING A CHOICE. By making NO choice, we are in essence agreeing with the actions and attitudes of those leaders willingly operating outside of God’s Holy Word. To me, that is simply unacceptable.
What part of God’s Word are we willing to obey and what part would we prefer to ignore? To ignore or violate one part is to violate it all, says the apostles Paul and James. And when we’ve done that, we have refused to wholeheartedly serve the LORD.
Friends, I believe God is confronting us with the choice. Will we hedge our bets and allow other so-called “truths” to guide us, or will we wholeheartedly trust and serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and King Jesus!
Finally, on Mt. Carmel It was Time for a Reckoning
As this confrontation came to a close, the prophet said: “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And Elijah killed them all on behalf of a holy and just God.
Church, there will be a time of reckoning. We WILL give an account of what we do and don’t do, say and don’t say. We all know the saying that a person who will not stand for anything will fall for everything. And, when it comes to the judgment of God, the fall will be hard and violent, trust me.
As decisions and debates continue around the issues confronting our denomination (that DO affect our local church, by the way) will we be seen limping between two opinions? Or will we choose this day whom we will serve…and NO other?