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« Pastoring in the Twenty-First Century | Main | The Power of Decision (A Sermon) »

Absolutes or Alternatives

“…God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near.”  Exodus 13:17

    “These are times that try men’s souls.”  So wrote Thomas Paine of pre-Revolutionary days.  In our day, we are also tried, not so much by contrast as by confusion; not by clarity of choice, but by a thousand shades of the same color.  We are told that everything is right; we are told that nothing is right. The only absolute is that there are no absolutes. 

    Exodus, the name of the second book of the Bible, means “the way out.”  Between the drama of the Egyptian plagues and the wilderness journeys we find this critical point of decision.  The freshly delivered Jewish nation stood at the Red Sea, still reeling from the events of the past few days.  They didn’t know the way out.  Their entire society had been oppressed by the rulers of Egypt for 400 years.  Few had been within five miles of their birthplace all of their lives.  Now, they were in a quandary.  Which way should they go?  Philistia was the logical direction.  The Red Sea blocked their pathway east, and there was nothing but uncharted wilderness beyond there anyway.  Imagine their shock when God pointed to the Red Sea! 

    The constant quest of every man, throughout all the situations of life, is to find a way to live, a way to make a living, a way to get things done.  We look for a way in, a way out, a way up, a way down, a way around, a way through, a way across, a way by.  Both houses of the United States Congress have a Ways and Means Committee, perhaps the most powerful committees of either house. 

    But things are not always what they appear to be.  That’s why we read that there is “a way that seemeth right unto man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”  Solomon’s wisdom permeates every venue of life:  from history to hang gliding, from farming to football, from investing to romance, from politics to skullduggery, (pardon the redundancy) and everything in between. 

    In fact, the very phrase “a way” is not benign.  It is charged with meaning throughout the Scriptures.  We even read of it described as “the way.”  “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little.” Psalms 2:11-12.  God has a way as opposed to the countless alternative ways.  It is an absolute.

    The implications of this are enormous.  Today’s mood is extremely hostile to anything that exalts one way above any other way.  It’s denounced as bigotry and intolerance.  The preferred term in our culture now is “alternative.”  Alternative lifestyles; alternative selections; alternative philosophies.  The catch is this:  once you legitimize one alternative, then you open the door to a second, a third, a fourth, and so on.  At the same time, you reduce the initial way to simply being an alternative itself.

    Here’s the way it works:  I say that Jesus is the Savior; but you say (for instance) that the ancient god Chemosh is another way to salvation.  If I agree with you, then I have reduced Jesus from an absolute to an alternative.  Human logic, the carnal mind, and the educational communities of our day love this.  Academes are as pleased as punch to see Christianity demoted to the status of just another religion.  The diversity police have that as one of their goals.  Moreover, they would like to eliminate Christianity as even an alternative choice.

    Because there is a plethora of ways that seem right, we must take the task of choosing the way in which we live our lives very seriously.  The scriptures constantly warn us about this struggle.  It is the basis of nearly every Bible story.  Adam and Eve thought the right way led them straight through the forbidden fruit.  Cain was convinced that the way to peace was to murder his brother.  Lot’s right way was the well-watered plains of Jordan. 

    But, how do we determine the right choice?  Do we check it all out first to see what makes the most sense?  Do we see what most other people are doing?  Do we do what seems to be most profitable?  Do we take the path of least resistance?  Does the pain monitor guide our decision-making? 

    I submit to you that the first question we need to ask is, “What does God say?”  Well, God’s way is not the convenient way.  God’s way led Israel in a circuitous route, opposite of the way that made more sense to the travel agents.  God’s way was a wilderness road. It did not factor in comfort, profit, pleasure or human pride.  In fact, more often than not, God’s way is rejected by the majority of people!  “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Matthew 7:13-14.  There are many ways that seem right.  But, don’t forget, there is a way that IS right!  Here are five tests:

    The way of obedience to the Word.  The Word of God orders our steps.  It requires obedience.  It is not enough to respect it, revere it, love it, memorize it, use it or feast on it.  We must obey it!  “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?”  Romans 6:16.

    The way of submission to spiritual authority.  “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” Hebrews 13:17.  This is not a joyful scripture for the leader.  This is an enormous burden for every pastor because he has to give account, which means he has to bear the responsibility for the leadership he supplies to the church.  But obedience requires submission, and without submission, we are outside the safety of God’s provisions.

    The way of consecration and holiness.  “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” Hebrews 12:14.   Holiness is not a mark of suffering, but a badge of honor.  Our attitude towards holiness is often the gauge of our attitude towards God.  That is not an arbitrary statement; that is the result of forty-two years of ministering and twenty eight of those years as senior pastor.

    The way of separation and denial.  And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.   For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” Mark 8:34-35. 

    The way of humility and forgiveness.  “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Matthew 6:12.  If the way you choose circumvents the act of forgiveness, you have detoured from God’s way.  God’s way takes you straight through the painful act of forgiveness.  Forgiveness is no ancillary task that you may or may not do on your way to heaven.  Don’t think of it as a nice add-on.  You must go through it.  You will be amazed, however, at the results!  That heavy burden has been draining you and depleting your strength for a long time.  Forgiveness is the way to emotional and spiritual freedom!

    Now, we come to the crux of the entire issue.  God is not sending us into a wilderness of despair to sever our relationship with Him.  He has promised to go with us, but there is something even better than that.  He is not different than the way He designs for us.  He is not separated or disconnected from the way.  Jesus IS the way!  “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”  John 14:6. With this revelation, it is no wonder that the Apostle Paul said, “That I may know Him, in the power of his resurrection and in the fellowship of his suffering.”  Philippians 3:10.

    We do not choose our way on the basis of convenience, consensus or conformity.  If you don’t care where you’re going, any road will work.  This oneness Apostolic message, however, is not a preference or one alternative among many.  It is absolute truth!  Remember, only those who sincerely contend for this faith are truly tried.  When the dust settles, we have to be on the right road.

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