DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

Hot Potatoes: Tolerance

We're in our third week of talking about hot potatoes, and today we talk about tolerance. We're talking about this because tolerance is now seen as society's greatest virtue. Over the past forty years, we have seen a major shift in our values. Forty years ago, there was almost universal agreement about what was true, what was right, and what was wrong. That didn't mean that everyone did it - they didn't. But forty years ago, in the generation that fought World War II, these people at least knew what was wrong. There was no disagreement about what was wrong, what was right, and what was true.

But we're in a new day. Today we have a whole generation that doesn't know the difference between right and wrong. Today, our society teaches that there is no right and wrong. We are taught that everything is right somewhere, and that nothing is wrong everywhere. As a result, people from all walks of life - Christian and atheist, religious and irreligious, conservatives and liberals - all generally agree that today our society is in a state of moral decline. 80% of Americans questioned say that the number one problem in America is not the economy, but the decline and decay of moral values. I'm sure the same is true in Canada. There is a decaying of values in our society.

What's the problem? Tolerance. Another term for tolerance: truth decay. We no longer value truth. Instead, we value tolerance. We value letting everyone choose for themselves.

WHAT IS TOLERANCE? Tolerance, strictly speaking, is a good idea. You could define tolerance as being broadminded and fair. It's to recognize and respect others' beliefs and practices without necessarily agreeing or sympathizing. It means that in matters inessential, we live and let live. Tolerance can be a virtue. We should be tolerant of other people who believe, think, and act differently than we do. We shouldn't force our beliefs on them. We shouldn't refuse to hire them because they're different. The Bible teaches us that we should treat people - everyone - with dignity and respect, and that we can accept people without approving of their lifestyle. We are called to be tolerant in that way.

But in recent times, tolerance has been redefined. Today, it no longer means tolerating competing ideas. Instead, tolerance today means that everyone's beliefs, values, lifestyles, and truth claims are equal. It means forced neutrality. No one should express any idea that could offend another. And this new view of tolerance is strictly enforced through cultural pressure and speech codes. If you disagree with anyone, you're intolerant.

One person writes:

It's the only serious sin left. Even murder has its mitigating factors, but not this one. It is the pariah sin, the charge that makes you untouchable without need for further explanation. The sin is intolerance, and the greatest sinners...are evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. America is sick of intolerant people, and it's not going to take them anymore. (Daniel Taylor, January 11, 1999 Christianity Today)

Today I want to look at three deceptive philosophies that have led us to this point, and then I want to look at the solution. I'm beginning with the deceptive philosophies first because your beliefs are important. It's easy to buy into these philosophies without ever realizing it. In fact, they have influenced every single person here. If you turn on your television, read the newspaper, or have contact with anyone else in society, your values are affected. Your beliefs determine your behavior, and your behavior determines that you become. What you believe ultimately determines who you are.

The three deceptive philosophies that we're going to look at can be summed up in two words: truth decay. They're all philosophies that have caused us to question whether or not there is such a thing as universal truth. The first deceptive philosophy is this:

1. INDIVIDUALISM

Individualism means that I live for myself; that only I can be the standard for my life; that only I can judge what is really truth; that you don't have a right to tell me what's right or wrong. Individualism means that ultimately, I am my own god. I get to set the standards for myself.

Individualism is nothing new. It's been going on for centuries - even millennia. The Bible talks about a time in which Israel was in total chaos. Judges 21:25 describes it: "In those days Israel had no king, so the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes." Does that sound vaguely applicable to today? Everyone had their own definition of right and wrong. Everyone is his or her own final authority, without reference to God or anyone else. There's no standard, no judges, and no absolutes.

This is a great philosophy to hold on to, because it means that you never have to feel guilty. If you can set your own standards, then anything goes. The only thing that matters is me.

The second deceptive philosophy we've bought into is:

2. SECULARISM

Secularism can be summarized in three words: God is unnecessary. It doesn't mean that there is no God. You can believe in God and still be a secularist. All it means is that I don't need him in my life.

For forty years now, we've been systematically reducing God from every area of public life - from schools, government, media, and newspapers. Today, God has been removed from the mainstream. The separation of church and state was originally designed to protect churches from the influence of the state, but today it's used to protect the state from the influence of the church. We've removed God from all of life, except for an hour on Sunday morning. God isn't necessary in life.

We're at the point today that if you hold Christian beliefs, you're suspect. If you're a Christian political leader, you're feared because what you believe may affect what you do. If, as in British Columbia, you go to a Christian university for teacher training, you can't be accredited as a teacher because your Christian beliefs may make you intolerant. Secularism means that God has to be removed from everyday life.

The third deceptive philosophy is:

3. RELATIVISM

Relativism sounds like a medical condition caused by having bad relatives. But it isn't. Relativism can be summed up in two words: no absolutes.

Relativism works like this: What's true for me may not be true for you, and what's true for you may not be true for me. Therefore, what's right for me may be right for you, and what's wrong for you may not be wrong for me. Nobody can say what's right or wrong, because all truth is relative.

People say, "It doesn't matter what you believe or do, as long as you're sincere about it." But think about it. If you believe a cup is full of water, but it turns out to be sulfuric acid, you will be sincerely dead. It does matter what you believe. If you leave church and take the off-ramp onto the highway instead of the onramp, and have a major collision, will your sincerity matter? If you're offended by the "Wrong Way" sign and say, "Who are you to tell me which way is wrong?" will it help you avoid the collision? We need more than sincerity in life. We need absolutes.

The next time somebody tells you that there are no absolutes in life, ask them, "Are you absolutely sure?" If you make an absolute statement that there are no absolutes, you've just contradicted yourself. You've just proved yourself untrue.

Not only that, but the entire world is built on the fact that there are certain absolutes. I've found that gravity is true for me, but it also appears to be true for you. What would happen if you went to your bank and said, "Well, that may appear to be $5 to you, but to me it's a million?" You would probably end up absolutely overdrawn. I've found that when I go to a pharmacy for medicine, I don't want to hear the pharmacist say, "There are no absolutes, and I thought this medicine would be as good as any other!" Our whole world is built on the fact that there are abso lutes.

What if you were playing Scrabble, and all of a sudden came up with an unrecognizable word? You put it on the board, and somebody else says, "That's not a word!" You respond, "Well, it's a word to me, and it gets 57 points!" Or what if there were no traffic laws? What if stop signs meant "Stop if you feel like it"? What if the line down the middle of the road meant, "Pick a side, any side"? We'd all be dead. Don't let anybody fool you. Don't be conned by individualism (living for myself), secularism (God is unnecessary), and relativism (there are no absolutes).

Now, these three values have led us to the point that the highest value in our society is tolerance. We value tolerance more than truth. As G.K. Chesterton put it, tolerance is a virtue for those who do not believe much. If you disagree with anyone else, you're called a bigot. You're narrow-minded, judgmental, and intolerant. Remember again: tolerance no longer means that I will respect you and treat you with dignity, even though I disagree with you. Now tolerance means that you have to agree that every idea is valid. If you don't condone or agree with somebody else, then you're labeled as intolerant.

What's the cost of tolerance? Our culture is collapsing. Children are now divorcing their parents. Pornography is at every corner store. Violence is mainstream. Our kids have to face realities at a younger age than any of us did. In the next thirty minutes, 228 children will be beaten, molested, and otherwise abused. 57 kids will run away from home, and three out of those girls will end up selling sex to survive. 20 children will attempt suicide. 285 children will become victims of a broken home. Today, adult bookstores outnumber McDonald's three to one.

Ephesians 4:17-19 says:

With the Lord's authority let me say this: Live no longer as the ungodly do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their closed minds are full of darkness; they are far away from the life of God because they have shut their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They don't care anymore about right and wrong, and they have given themselves over to immoral ways. Their lives are filled with all kinds of impurity and greed. But that isn't what you were taught when you learned about Christ.

How can I react to the issue of tolerance? How can I handle this hot potato? Three ways:

1. CHOOSE THE RIGHT FOUNDATION FOR YOUR LIFE

The first step that you have to take is you have to choose the right foundation for your life. My mother is having her bathroom renovated. She had a bit of a scare last week when she began to think that her floor tiles were laid without a proper foundation. It turns out that without a proper foundation, the tiles could crack as the wood underneath expands and contracts. A proper foundation is the start of any good building project.

You have to choose your standard in life - your foundation. There's a book - God's Word, the Bible - that contains truth. And the first step to handling the issue of tolerance is to make sure that your life is built on a foundation that will endure. Proverbs 2:9 says that if you tune our hearts to God's wisdom, "Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair, and you will know how to find the right course of action every time."

One time, Jesus got up to speak to a hillside of people. He spoke about what God says about prayer, about money, about worry, about sex. He taught in a way that connected with everyone who listened. And at the end of his message, he said this:

Anyone who listens to my teaching and obeys me is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won't collapse, because it is built on rock. But anyone who hears my teaching and ignores it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will fall with a mighty crash. (Matthew 7:24-27)

What Jesus was saying is this: you have a choice. You can view God's Word as an incidental to your life. You can view his Bible as just another book to help you make homeowner improvements to your life. It can be a Bible study that you never apply to your life. But Jesus warns you that if that's the case, you won't have a solid foundation to your life. Without a solid foundation, your life will crumble.

Or you can build your life on God's solid foundation. You can make his words foundational. Jesus said, "If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock" (Matthew 7:24-25 The Message). If you're going to survive the storms of life, you need to build your life on a solid foundation. You need to build your life on God.

Psalm 119:105 says, "Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path." God's Word is like a flashlight. If you build on his unchanging truth, you won't stumble as much. You won't make so many mistakes.

Really, the question is this: which foundation are you going to build on? You only have three choices. You can build on your own foundation. You can make yourself the final arbiter of truth and justice. You can do what works for you, and build your own standard for living. But, Jesus says, you're going to find your own foundation to be very weak when the storms come. Your own foundation isn't going to do it.

You have a second choice. You can build your foundation on an external standard. You can look at what society's doing. You can look at what's popular, what's the latest fad. But you'll run into two problems. In a few years, the world's going to change, their fads will change, and their standards will change. And you'll find that their foundation is so unstable that it will never give you the solid foundation that you need.

Or, you can make the third choice, and say, "My foundation is God. I believe that his truth is absolute, universal, and unchanging." In a few minutes, I'm going to lead you in a prayer to do just that. That's the first step you need to take. Choose the right foundation for your life.

The second way that you can react to the issue of tolerance is:

2. COMMIT TO LETTING GOD CHANGE YOUR THINKING

That's the second key to handling tolerance. Don't let the world change you. Commit to letting God change your thinking. Romans 12:2 says, "Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think."

The problem with a lot of us is that we're more influenced by the world than by God. We're more informed by Oprah than Obadiah. A lot of us are going to get to heaven one day and have a better knowledge of sports stats and television shows than we will of God's Word. One person translates Romans 12:2 this way: "Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking." Don't buy into individualism, secularism, and relativism. Commit to being different from the world.

How do you do this? Verse 2 continues, "Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think." It's all about what you're thinking about. When your mind begins to wander, where does it go? What you think is vitally important. If you think the world's way, you'll end up just like the world. If you think God's way, you'll end up just like God.

John Stott wrote:

There is an urgent need for more Christian thinkers who will dedicate their minds to Christ, not just as lecturers, but also as authors, journalists, dramatists, and broadcasters, as television script-writers, producers and personalities, and as artists and actors who use a variety of art forms in which to communicate the gospel.

The world needs Christian thinkers.

Your thoughts are like an automatic pilot. What is your au tomatic pilot? Finish this sentence: "It's just like me to be..." That is the agenda you've set in your life. One of the things you ought to start choosing to think about is God's Word. Jesus said, "Your word is truth" (John 17:3 NKJV). If you want to change, start filling your mind with the Scripture. Psalm 1:1-2 says, "Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with scoffers. But they delight in doing everything the LORD wants; day and night they think about his law." When we meditate on God's word it gets into our mind and changes us.

Philippians 4:8 says, "Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise." Colossians 3:6 says, "Let the words of Christ, in all their richness, live in your hearts and make you wise." Psalm 119:11 says, "I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you." Joshua 1:8 tells us, "Study this Book of the Law continually. Meditate on it day and night so you may be sure to obey all that is written in it. Only then will you succeed." You begin by thinking God's word. If you're not having a daily quiet time, you're not seeing much change in your life - at least not as much as you could be seeing. Commit to letting God change your mind. Let him be your influence. Read his Word. Memorize it.

Choose the right foundation for your life, and commit to let God change your mind. There's one more way to handle the issue of tolerance:

3. CHALLENGE THE THINKING OF OTHERS AROUND YOU

You're not the only person who has been influenced by society. We all have been. That's why we need to be prepared to challenge - respectfully but truthfully - the deceptive philosophies of our day. Learn what to say when someone tells you, "There's no such thing as absolute truth." Learn how to handle it when someone says, "Your faith in Christ is good for you, but I really don't need it."

A lot of us don't know how to do this. Some of us just begin to clam up. We're terrified. We don't know what to say. If that's you, you need to get a book like Paul Little's Know Why You Believe. You don't need to be a genius. You just need a little help. Do your homework, and if you don't know what to say - get some help. You don't need to know all the answers. But don't clam up!

Some of us have no problem speaking up, but we don't do it with enough love. 1 Peter 3:15-16 says, "If you are asked about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But you must do this in a gentle and respectful way." God isn't honored by over-the-top rhetoric. Love those who are opposed to you. Show respect to them. Learn how to disagree without being disagreeable.

The founder of Prison Fellowship, Charles Colson, addressed a press conference. One member of the press stood up and admitted that he liked the work of Prison Fellowship, but he didn't really care for Colson's "exclusivist" message. After all, he said, "All roads lead to heaven." What would you say at that point?

Charles Colson asked the reporter, "Do you approve of Mother Theresa?" The reporter said yes. "Do you know why she helps the dying?" "She's a great humanitarian," the reporter shrugged.

"No," Colson answered. "She does it because she loves Jesus - the One who says he is the only road to heaven. And that's why I do the work you like in the prisons. I wouldn't do it for a moral teacher." There were no more questions.

If we are to be salt and light in this world, we need to learn how to challenge - respectfully and yet boldly - the deceptive philosophies of our day. We need to learn how to present Christ in a winsome and attractive way.

Apologist, author, and speaker Josh McDowell writes:

Tolerance says, "You must approve of what I do." Love responds, "I must do something harder: I will love you, even when your behavior offends me."

Tolerance says, "You must agree with me." Love responds, "I must do something harder: I will tell you the truth, because I am convinced ‘the truth will set you free.'"

Tolerance says, "You must allow me to have my way." Love responds, "I must do something harder: I will plead with you to follow the right way, because I believe you are worth the risk."

Tolerance seeks to be inoffensive; love takes risks. Tolerance glorifies division; love seeks unity. Tolerance costs nothing; love costs everything.

Let's pray.

If you would like to place your life in the hands of the one who not only tells the truth, but who is the truth - if you would like to come to the one who can't tolerate sin, but instead sent his Son to pay for your sins, then would you pray this in your heart:

"Father, I'm so thankful that you always tell us the truth. I'm thankful that your Word is a solid foundation upon which I can build my life. And today I declare that my foundation for deciding right and wrong is you. It's not going to be public opinion, and not even what I think. It's not going to be what's convenient. It's going to be you.

"Today, as much as I know how, I give my life to you. I ask forgiveness for my sins, through what Jesus did on the cross for me. And I pledge to follow you for the rest of my life. In the name of Jesus, Amen."

Hot Potatoes: Belief Systems (Acts 17:16-34)

A recent newspaper included the following article:

Got a friend who is feeling sick? During a dark or full moon, take an unfertilized egg from a black hen. In a sacred space, clean, concentrate, and empower the egg. Then rub the egg all over your friend's body and chant, "Within, without, up and down, I banish the illness all around." Finish by throwing the egg in a body of water, asking the water to whisk the illness away.

This New Age spell is among dozens of mystical exercises laid out cookbook style in ‘Teen Witch: Wicca for a New Generation,' a 250-page handbook that's flying off the shelves at Borders, Barnes and Nobles, and other mainstream stores. Written for 10 to 17-year-olds by New Age author Silver RavenWolf, it boasts everything a kid needs to become a pinnacle-wearing, spell-casting, completely authentic witch, that includes instructions for such uniquely teen rituals as the ‘Unground Me Spell,' the ‘Just Say No Spell' and the ‘Bad Bus Driver Spell.'

"In a number of books just like this one," the author says that their publishing house is putting out, "parents don't need to be concerned. These can be read as a kind of introduction to Eastern Mysticism and homespun folklore from Tarot reading to Feng Shui, a practice that combines Chinese Astrology and interior design." All of these are being positioned as spirituality options in our day, available not just to adults, but even to young people, 10-year-old kids.

We're talking today about belief systems. There's a tremendous spiritual hunger today. If you go into a local Chapters store, you'll find aisles of books on spirituality. You'll find Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. But you'll also find a wide selection of books on astrology, the New Age, on Wicca, and the occult. As a result, we have a dizzying array of religious choices. Christianity becomes just one of many.

Something else has happened. People used to believe that all religions were false. Now, many believe the opposite: all spirituality is true. It's like a spiritual smorgasbord. People take a little bit from one, and a little bit from another. It's a la carte spirituality. You take the bits that you like, and you throw out the rest. People say, "I like this symbol. I like this belief because it's comforting to me, but I can do without that one. I'm designing my own spirituality just for me."

One sociologist wrote a book called Habits of the Heart. She refers to one person named Sheila who named a religion after herself. Just think - we could have 30 million Canadian religions, one for each of us. She said, "I believe in God. I'm not a religious fanatic. I can't remember the last time that I went to church. My faith has carried me a long way. It's Sheila-ism." And this is what Sheila-ism believes: "In defining my own Sheila-ism, it's just try to love yourself and be gentle with yourself."

The good part about defining your own religion is that you have a lot of freedom. You can choose all the parts of different religions that won't interfere with your life. You can choose mercy and love and acceptance, but skip the moral obligations. You can choose the parts about how to be a strong, charismatic, powerful personality, and leave out the repentance for sin part. Leave out the helping the poor. You can leave out any sort of transcendent, moral authority to which you must give account for your life. You're the boss. You can still be religious, but without any of the inconvenience. You get your own designer religion.

With all the organized religions out there - Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and all the disorganized religions out there - Sheila-ism and Mark-ism and Bob-ism, not to mention movements like the Wicca and New Age movements, what should we do? I've noticed three responses to all the belief systems out there. Let me tell you what they are, and see which group you belong to.

Let's call the first group UNCRITICAL. They believe it doesn't matter. Believe whatever you like. They think it's like belonging to a club. You belong to a club; they belong to a club; in the end it doesn't matter. They believe it's just a matter of preference. Nobody's right; nobody's wrong; it's all a matter of personal choice. Whether you're Buddhist, Christian, or a Sheila-ist, it doesn't matter. You're serving the same god. This group is very accepting, because they believe that sincerity is all that matters.

We're going to call the second group UNCARING. That term may be a little harsh. These people care a little. They care about the truth. They even care a little that others don't know about the truth. But they mainly care about themselves. It's a little like the TV show Survivor, in which they vote a person off the island every week, and the last person on there wins a million dollars. If you're on that island, you care a little bit about those getting voted off. But the truth is, you're more concerned about you. Some in this group want to roll back the clock to the time that Canada at least appeared to be a Christian country. But a lot of people don't really care that there are so many belief systems out there.

And the third group could be called UNPREPARED. They don't know what to say. They know what they believe. But their worst fear is that someone is going to knock on the door and ask engage in a religious discussion. Now, if you're in this group, you've got good company. A graduate-level seminary professor found that most graduating students were unable to respond intelligently when he played devil's advocate against Christianity. A lot of us - if we do care - don't feel like we're qualified enough to deal with those who belong to other religious groups.

Which group do you belong to? Are you uncritical, uncaring, or unprepared? Some of you are looking for "none of the above." Well, we're going to talk about how we can respond to the religious diversity that we face. We're going to in fact discover that it's nothing new. It's the same situation that has been facing Christians from the very first day.

Let's look at Acts 17. It's the story of Paul, and the time that he went to Athens. Now, ancient Greece was a lot like we are today. They were very tolerant. They had a lot of gods. Anytime that they came in contact with a group of people, the Romans usually conquered them. And when they found out about these people's religion, they just invited these gods to be part of their own Pantheon. Somebody has said that the Pantheon was like a Motel 6 for gods. They'd always leave a light on for the next one. They had lots of gods on Mount Olympus.

What was Athens like? They had lots of gods. And, as Acts 17:21 tells us, "All the Athenians as well as the foreigners in Athens seemed to spend all their time discussing the latest ideas." Sounds a little like today - lots of gods, and lots of discussion. And it's here that Paul demonstrates how we can react to the many gods and much discussion that we find today. How should we respond? Paul gives us three perspectives that need to deal with competing belief systems:

1. DON'T BE UNCRITICAL - BE DISCERNING

A pastor sat on an airplane beside a woman. They started talking about spiritual things, and she told the pastor how in her marriage one was a Catholic, and the other was Jewish. They didn't practice much, but occasionally, on a holiday, they might go to the Synagogue, or sometimes they might go to the Catholic church. The pastor asked, "Do you ever wonder which one is right?" She said, "No." The question had never occurred to her. She said, "They're both saying pretty much the same thing, aren't they?" And her response isn't unusual.

Many people believe that all religions are basically the same. They are all different pathways, people believe, to the same god. For instance, Steve Van Brandt, who played guitar in Bruce Springsteen's E-Street band, has gone on record as saying, "I am a reformed Taoist, part-time Bu ddhist, Hindu, animist, pagan, Jewish mystic, and Christian. I always got along great with priests and rabbis and mullahs and gurus, even though I spend most of my life constructively criticizing them." You don't have to choose your religion anymore. You can belong to all of them, while at the same time you criticize all of them. That's quite a deal.

Now, Athens was like that as well. In Acts 17:23, Paul says, "As I was walking along, I saw your many altars. And one of them had this inscription on it - ‘To an Unknown God.'" These people were spiritual. They were searching for God. They were covering all the bases. A long time before Paul was there, a story goes, they'd had a big epidemic in Athens. They decided to release a whole flock of sheep. Wherever the sheep would lay down, they would look for the closest altar and sacrifice the sheep to that altar. They hoped that one of the gods would stop the epidemic. But if the sheep lay down and there wasn't an altar nearby, then they would sacrifice that sheep to the unknown god. They were afraid that maybe there was a god out there that they hadn't heard about. They observed every religion they knew, and then threw in an "anything we don't know about" category just in case.

But listen to what Paul says. "You have been worshiping him without knowing who he is, and now I wish to tell you about him." Paul pointed out that in fact there was a god they were missing - they were missing the one and only God. He created the universe. He has no needs. He was the one who gives life and breath to everyone. And he is the judge. He's the only God worth thinking about. And he's the God who has made himself known to us - most clearly and most powerfully through Jesus Christ.

There's no need to cover your bases with other gods. Be discerning. Don't uncritically accept every religion out there. Worship the one true God. Don't be uncritical. Be discerning.

Some people say that all religions are more or less the same. That is a deeply insulting to those who hold different belief systems. Some Hindu groups claim to have 330 million gods. Judaism has one God. Some Buddhists have no gods. The greatest belief system today - naturalism - says that there is no such thing the supernatural. To say that all of these belief systems is the same is ludicrous.

Now, I have to admit that it's attractive to believe that everyone is going to heaven as long as they're sincere. But the Bible says that sin has separated us from God. It's as if God is on one side of the Grand Canyon, and we are on the other. A lot of different belief systems try different ways to get across that canyon. Some try religion. But religion is never enough. Religion has never bridged the gap between God and humans - no matter how good a religion it is. Others try sincerity. And they sincerely try to jump across that canyon. But sincerity isn't enough. Other religions try keeping rules. They figure that if they keep enough rules and do enough good, then that will get them to God. But they fall short. Some people take the hereditary approach. "My mom was a Christian...my uncle is a Christian." They try many different approaches to God, but none of them work.

But Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). Jesus is the way to God. He's the only way. And so the first action that we need to take is to believe in Jesus. Don't settle for believing that everyone is right. Believe in the only person who can provide the only way to the only God who has created you. Give your life to him.

1 Corinthians 8:5-6 says, "According to some people, there are many so-called gods and many lords, both in heaven and on earth. But we know that there is only one God, the Father, who created everything, and we exist for him. And there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom God made everything and through whom we have been given life." Don't believe that it doesn't matter what you believe. Don't believe it's a matter of preference. Don't be uncritical. Be discerning. Know that Jesus is the only way to God.

There's a second perspective that we need to deal with competing religious systems:

2. DON'T BE UNCARING - BE CONCERNED

We live in a city. In a city, you learn to maintain distance from other people. I was in an elevator with a friend. When the elevator door closed, he turned around and looked at everybody. He decided he'd rather look at people's faces than the door. Did that ever make people nervous! It's easy to become isolated and almost unconcerned about those around us.

We're also encouraged to be tolerant. Seinfeld taught us the phrase, "Not that there's anything wrong with that!" We privatize our choices and say, "Well, I wouldn't have made that choice, but who am I to judge another?" As a result, we end up being unconcerned about those around us.

But listen to what happened to Paul as he entered Athens. Acts 17:16 says, "While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city." He was deeply troubled. The word means to be provoked or upset. It has the idea of severe emotional concern. Paul didn't say, "Well, it's their choice." He wasn't dispassionate about it. Paul cared about what they believed. Why? Because Paul knew this: truth matters. Truth really does matter.

Now, I was thinking about how difficult a concept this is for us today. Part of the problem is that we're taught that there's no such thing as truth. Postmodernism teaches us that there is no such thing as objective, universal truth. All viewpoints, all lifestyles, all beliefs and behaviors are equally valid. Institutions of higher learning have been teaching this for years. This has led to the popular saying, "I'm okay - you're okay," which has been updated more recently to "I'm a mess - you're a mess; we're all a mess." If you disagree with this, you're called intolerant.

This begins to affect the way we live. In a recent class, the professor grew increasingly frustrated as students refused to condemn human sacrifices in other cultures because they believed they didn't have the right to criticize another culture. We all get to decide for ourselves what's right and what's wrong. For instance, a man named Dennis Lee Curtis was arrested in 1992 in Rapid City, South Dakota for robbery. Curtis apparently had scruples about his thievery. In his wallet the police found a sheet of paper on which was written the following code:

1. I will not kill anyone unless I have to.

2. I will take cash and food stamps—no checks.

3. I will rob only at night.

4. I will not wear a mask.

5. I will not rob mini-marts or 7-Eleven stores.

6. If I get chased by cops on foot, I will get away. If chased by vehicle, I will not put the lives of innocent civilians on the line.

7. I will rob only seven months out of the year.

8. I will enjoy robbing from the rich to give to the poor.

But when Dennis Lee Curtis stood in front of a judge, his personal code of conduct didn't matter. He wasn't judged by his own standards; he was judged by the higher law of the state. Likewise when we stand before God, we will not be judged by the code of morality we have written for ourselves but by God's perfect law.

There's another example of this. It's about Bill Gates. Bill Gates owns a pretty good chunk of that world right now, and he made a comment about spirituality within this last year. He said, "Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient. There's a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning."

So this is kind of a parable about Bill Gates meeting the Creator. This was in Time Magazine a while ago written by Garrison Keillor.

Bill Gates was the richest man in America, and after he had gained a good deal of the world, God sent him an email: "Beloved Bill, I saw how you allocated your time resources last Sunday morning, and I was not impressed."

"Riding a stationary bike, wat ching guys on the Men's Channel talk about tri-glycerides and PSA counts, three words of advice, Bill, love thy neighbor. Ever hear what happened to the rich man who stiff-armed the beggar, Lazarus? I caused a general protection fault, and he has been offline for centuries. Anything you'd like to talk about? I'm here. Your Creator, God."

Bill Gates typed out a reply, "Dear God, wow, omniscience, cool. But how do I know you're omnipotent too? Gates." The moment he clicked on send, the entire Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington went dark, and the darkness was very great. The air conditioning shuttered to a halt. He heard his employees keening and wailing over lost data.

His office was filled with creeping things and birds of the air. Beads of sweat dripped from his nose. Acrid smells drifted in, the Web site burning after a multitude of hits by Hittites. And he heard the clattering of hooves. A herd of crazed swine trotted down the hall, little pink eyes aglow, little pagers clicked to their ears. On his way out he touched his nose and found a boil. A leper lay in the lobby begging alms, and when Bill Gates dropped in a nickel, the power went on.

Back in his office, a message on his screen: "Beloved Bill, that was only the screen saver. There's more where that came from. Obey my commandments or a virus could come to pass that would bring the information age to a shuddering halt. I did a flood once, and behold, I can do viruses. Once men tried to reach heaven by building a tower, and I made their formats incompatible. I could do this again. Or, I can do love and redemption. I am, after all, God. P.S. Your move."

I don't care if you're Bill Gates or Dennis Lee Curtis. You need the truth. And you need to be concerned when others don't know the truth. Jesus Christ said, "I am the truth." Jesus said in John 8:31-32, "You are truly my disciples if you keep obeying my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

My question for you this morning is: do you know the truth? If so, are you concerned if others don't know the truth? Don't be uncaring; be concerned.

There's a third perspective we need in order to handle the belief systems that are out there:

3. DON'T BE UNPREPARED: BE READY

When Paul got up to speak in Athens, was he prepared! Paul's speech has been called "a model of sensitive but forthright confrontation of an intellectual audience with the claims of the gospel." Paul quoted from philosophers; he met the people where they were; he was an intelligent and articulate spokesperson for Christianity. Paul not only was discerning and concerned. He was prepared to speak on behalf of Jesus Christ.

If you've ever heard Ravi Zacharias, you know that God has gifted that man to do the same thing. Ravi can go into any university campus, he can speak before any crowd, and he can give a credible defense of the Gospel. Usually, when I'm done listening to Ravi, I say to myself, "I'm no Ravi!" And most of us are scared when we think we might have to talk about our faith. But we need to be prepared. 1 Peter 3:15-16 says, "If you are asked about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But you must do this in a gentle and respectful way."

How can I be prepared to talk about my Christian hope? Three steps you can take:

  • FIRST, DO YOUR HOMEWORK. You need to be aware of the major belief systems out there. There aren't that many. But we should all be familiar with the general worldviews of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. And we should all be aware of the fastest growing belief system out there right now: naturalism. It's the belief that natural causes are sufficient to explain everything that exists. It's the belief that there is no supernatural. Nature is all that exists, life arose by a chance collision of atoms. We need to become familiar with the major belief systems out there.

  • TWO, KNOW YOUR FAITH. You don't need to know everything in the Bible to be able to talk to others about the faith. But you do need to know about Jesus. You see, being a Christian isn't just about having all the right answers. It's about having a relationship with Jesus, and lovingly inviting others to join you.

  • THIRD, BE RESPECTFUL. People aren't going to be won by your arguments. You're not going to win them with airtight proofs, or by telling them they're wrong. You're going to win them showing them love - no strings attached. You'll prove more by showing that you want to be friends than by winning arguments. Be respectful of others.

In short, we need to get prepared. If we care enough about the truth, we will.

In an interview, Billy Graham was asked this question: "If you had to live your life over again, what would you do differently?" His answer: "One of my great regrets is that I have not studied enough. I wish I had studied more and preached less. People have pressured me into speaking to groups when I should have been studying and preparing. Donald Barnhouse said that if he knew the Lord was coming in three years, he would spend two of them studying and one preaching. I'm trying to make it up." Don't be unprepared; be ready.

The Bible says that God loves the world so much that he was not willing that anyone should perish. And so he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to come to earth to live a real human life, and to teach us what God's heart is like and what God's kind of life is like. And Jesus went to that cross and died.

The Bible says that when Jesus went to the cross, he was taking on himself your sins and my sins. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, "For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ." When Jesus went to the cross, he died the death that by all rights you and I should have, so that we would not have to die spiritually. Then, when he was resurrected, it was the guarantee of life forever, for you and for me.

That's the heart of Christianity. That's the heart of truth. But it's not enough to just understand it. Because Jesus is more than a belief. He's the way. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).

Some of you are here this morning, and you understand what I'm saying, and now is your time. Amazingly enough, the Creator of this world is not far from us. And he's tugging at your heart right now, and you know it. He's knocking at the door, and you need to understand that moments like that are very important. To make this decision is really a quite simple thing. You can think about it in terms of the ABCs.

A, I acknowledge my sin. I just acknowledge my sin to God because the day is going to come when you're going to stand before God. Say to him, "I acknowledge my sin. I'm a fallen person. I deceive and I distort and I hurt other people and I get arrogant"" You know you're fallen, and it's serious.

Then B, believe. Believe that Jesus came to this earth and died on the cross in my place. Believe that he took the penalty of my sin on him so that I can receive forgiveness and grace as a free gift.

And that leads to C. Commit your life to him. Hand him the reigns. From now on let him be your leader.

Some of you, God is calling you to make that commitment right now. And I want to give you a chance to do that. So I'm going to ask everybody here, would you bow your heads for a moment, this really important moment. Would you bow your heads? I'm going to lead in a prayer, and if you've never made that decision but you're ready to right now, I'm going to ask you to say these words in your heart to God as I say them out loud.

"Now heavenly Father, I acknowledge I'm a sinful person. I acknowledge my brokenness to you and the things that I have done that have hurt myself and others and you. And I understand now that Jesus Christ came to this earth, and on the cross he died in my place. He paid the debt to you that I could never pay, God. So now I commit my life to you . I receive your forgiveness and your grace as a free gift. And as best I can, God, I vow from this day forward, I'll live as your child. Thank you, God. Amen."

How to Refocus Your Life

This morning, we're going to look at how to refocus your life. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to waste a lot of time on superfluous things? It's easy to waste hours, days, and even months on activities that really don't matter. We need to invest more time, energy, and money on the things that matter in life.

The key to an effective life is focus - like a laser. The stronger the focus of a laser, the more power it has. When you focus your life on the things that really matter most, your life will be effective. The problem is that most of us have very unfocused lives. We're trying to do a hundred things at a time, and we think they're all of equal value. An unfocused life causes you to be ineffective. Somebody has said, "If you chase two rabbits, both will escape." If you want to be effective, you need to be focused.

Why do we need to focus our lives? Two reasons:

  • BECAUSE THE ALTERNATIVE IS TO WASTE YOUR LIFE. Ephesians 5:17 says, "Don't act thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do." Don't be foolish with your lives. You only have one life to live. You only have so much time and energy and money. And you have a choice what you're going to do with your resources - to act thoughtlessly, or to try to understand what the Lord wants you to do. Those are your only two choices - thoughtlessness or focus.
  • The second reason we're looking at focus is BECAUSE PERSONAL RENEWAL PRECEDES CORPORATE RENEWAL. In other words, if we are going to be a focused church, we need focused people. Now, some of you may have heard of Richview 2001. We're embarking on a discovery process to answer three questions: Where have we been? Where are we going? How will we get there? We need to become a more focused church. In fact, the next two years will be a high-cost, risky, time-consuming process of asking God for greater focus as a church. But the reality is, we can't be a focused church until we are focused people. Personal focus precedes corporate focus. We must become focused people if we want our church to become a focused church.

I talked to a man who used to lead churches into strategic planning in order to become more focused. He quit his job and joined another ministry. Why? Because becoming a focused church doesn't start with strategic planning. It starts individually. It starts with our personal walks with God.

So don't waste your life. Don't waste your life on things that don't matter. Make your life count. The Bible says, "Don't act thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do." How do you do this? How do live life wisely? The answer is by taking four steps to refocus your life. We find these four steps in the story of one of the most unfocused people in the Bible. His name was Jonah. Now, the tragedy of the story of Jonah is that God's will was very clear for Jonah. Jonah didn't have to ask, "I wonder what God wants me to do?" In Jonah 1:2, God says, "Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh! Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are."

But Jonah was unfocused. He understood what God wanted him to do, and yet he ignored it. He knew that God had a specific job for him, but he didn't want to do it. He chose to waste his life. You know the story. Instead of taking a ship to Nineveh to the east, he took a ship for as far west as he could go. On that ship, he ran into a storm. After figuring out that his disobedience was the reason for the storm, the others on the ship threw him overboard, and a great fish swallowed Jonah.

Now, we're a lot like Jonah. God has a plan for each of us. He has called you for a specific purpose. But most of us rebel against God's plan for our lives. We lose focus. We end up wasting our lives on things that really don't matter. We become ineffective, both individually and as a church.

How can I refocus my life? How can I be more effective? Four steps:

1. REALIZE GOD IS EVERYWHERE

I was one of those kids that my parents would hate to take shopping. No matter what they did, I would get lost. They couldn't take me to a mall without me wandering off somewhere. One day I made the mistake of having them paged over the store intercom. The lady said, "A little boy has reported his parents lost." Did I ever get it when I got home! I thought that my parents were lost. I didn't realize that I was the one that had wandered off.

We tend to do that with God. We leave him and then eventually we turn around and say, "God, where are you? How come you've left me?" But the problem isn't with God. The problem is with us.

Listen to Jonah 1:3:

But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction in order to get away from the LORD. He went down to the seacoast, to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping that by going away to the west he could escape from the LORD.

I love this. He went the other direction in order to get away from God. I don't think you could get a more graphic picture of how we try to escape from God. When God tells us to go east, we head west. We think that we can get away from God and his plan for our lives.

Why do we do this? Three reasons:

WRONG THINKING - Nineveh was part of Assyria, the most powerful nation at that time. Assyrians were enemies of Israel. They were known to be ruthless and evil. Jonah thought, "What is God thinking about? Why should I care about the people of Nineveh?" What you think is important. Author George Matthew Adams said, "What you think means more than anything else in your life. More than what you earn, more than where you live, more than your social position, and more than what anyone else thinks of you." Wrong thinking causes us to leave God.

WRONG FEELING - Jonah didn't go to Nineveh because he didn't care for Nineveh. God's feelings weren't his feelings. He didn't want to go in case his mission was successful. Many times we depart from God because we don't feel the same way that he does. We think that it doesn't matter if we don't feel God's way. As a result, we end up far away from him.

WRONG ACTION - The way that we think affects the way that we feel, and the way we feel affects the way that we act. In Jonah's case, his action was one of complete disobedience. As a result, he wandered away from God.

This can happen to an individual, and it can happen to a church. But no matter how far we wander away from God, God is still there. God is still at work despite our disobedience. You can never outrun God.

Psalm 139 asks, "Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit? To be out of your sight?" (Psalm 139:7, The Message). The answer is no. You can't escape from God's presence. God is everywhere. He is omnipresent. There is no place in the universe where God isn't. No matter where you go this next week, God's going to be there. You cannot escape from his presence. He is everywhere. If you're a believer, he's in you.

Not only that, but God is at work in your life and around you. Philippians 1:6 says, "And I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again." God is always at work in your life. You may be far away from God. You may not even sense him working in your life. But if you're a believer, then God is definitely at work. You may have left him, but he's never left you. He won't stop that work until Jesus Christ comes back again.

One caveat: God is at work in your lives. But you may never have come to that point of committing your life to Jesus Christ. You may be on the run from God. You're running west because you think that God wants you to go east. You may think that you know and feel better than God does. I'm here to tell you to stop. Stop trying to outrun God. You can run, but you can't hide.

As we begin the process of refocusing, we're going to examine how God has been at work, both in our lives and in the church. The reason is simple: we want to answer the question, "Where have I been?" Once we discover what God has been doing, we can align ourselves with his activity. We can join in on what God has been doing.

How can I refocus my life? Stop running away from God. Understand that God has always been at work around you. Realize that God is everywhere. He's at work in your life, shaping you for a purpose. You can't outrun God.

[ED]

What do you do when your life is unfocused? Realize that God is everywhere. He's at work in your life. There's a second step you can take:

2. REFOCUS ON GOD WHEREVER I AM

Refocus on God. Here are four absolute truths about our lives:

  1. God knows what is best for your life! He created you, and wants the best for you.
  2. We think we know what's best! We think what we want is best, and often say, "If I only had this, I'd be happy."
  3. We're wrong! What we want is not always the best. In fact, sometimes it's the worst thing for us.
  4. God will make sure you understand these absolutes. If you don't believe me, look at Jonah!

Jonah 1 reads:

The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, ‘What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?' ‘Pick me up and throw me into the sea,' he replied, ‘and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault this great storm has come upon you.'...Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:11,12,16,17)

I don't know if any of you have ever been in the belly of a fish. I haven't, but I've done some fishing & cleaning. There are some things I know about the bellies of fish, big or small. You don't want to end up there! It's dark, damp, and it stinks. It's cold, cramped, and it stinks. The company's all dead, the future's not too bright, and it stinks!

That's exactly where Jonah ended up. Maybe it's not the belly of a fish, but sometimes we find ourselves in places like that. We end up in hopeless places with seemingly no way out. We make a bad business decision. We maintain bad financial habits. We suffer through relationship breakdowns.

Whatever the situation, you find yourself asking 2 questions. How did I get here? And how am I going to get out? Whenever you find yourself asking these two questions, it's time to refocus on God.

Some of you may be in Jonah's place today. You may be running from God. If so, there are three actions you can take to refocus on God. You can take the same three steps that Jonah took.

FIRST, CRY OUT TO GOD. Jonah 2:1-2 says, "From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said: "In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry." Whether it's in your personal life or in our life as a church, the place to start is to begin by crying out to him. When we cry out to him for his help and direction, we recognize that his help and his direction is what we need most. We recognize his plans are better than our plans. And we recognize true happiness, joy and fulfillment comes from being where he's called us. So if you know where you are today is not where God would rather you be, then cry out to God: Pray to him. Tell him about it. Ask him to take control again.

SECOND, REPENT. Jonah 2:7 says, "When my life was ebbing away (as I was dying) I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple." Jonah repented. Repentance means changing the way you're thinking. You're either thinking God's way or you're not. If you're not thinking the way God's thinking, repent. Change your thoughts.

Jonah thought his plans were better than God's. We know that because of how he acted. The way you act always reveals the way you think. That's why repentance begins with changing your thinking. Romans12:2 says, "Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." Ask yourself right now where you need to change your mind. Change your thinking.

THIRD, SURRENDER TO GOD. Jonah 2:8-9 says, "Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord."

It's easy to cry out to God, especially when life's tough and painful. It's even easy to repent - to change our minds especially when we're between a rock and a hard place.

But surrendering is tough. When we surrender we say, "From now on I'm going to do it your way, God. From now on what you want is more important than what I want. From now on, you're in control." That's not easy to do for a naturally selfish and self-centered person like me. It probably isn't for you either. But the more you do it, the more you'll see it really is the best way. The more you do it the more you realize it keeps you out of the hopeless places with no way out. How do you refocus? Cry out to God. Repent. Surrender to God.

God will always allow you to run. But inevitably, you end up running into him. Don't run too far before you begin to realize that God is everywhere. Refocus on him.

[DARRYL]

The third step to refocusing your life is this:

3. RECEIVE GOD'S SECOND CHANCE

God always gives a second chance. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Jonah 3:1. It says, "Then the LORD spoke to Jonah a second time." God is the God of the second chance. He loves to give people second chances and third chances and tenth chances and twentieth chances. God never gets tired of forgiving. God gives second chances to people. He gives second chances to churches. He can give another chance to you.

The reality is that we often give up on ourselves or on a church before God does. Hebrews 11 gives us a list of heroes. Did you ever study the people on that list? A bunch of them are people that we wouldn't have given a second chance. You've got adulterers and murderers and liars and cheats and swindlers and weak-willed and the wishy-washy. Yet God uses people. If God used only perfect people what would get done? Not much. The fact is, God uses us in spite of our weakness, in spite of our problems, in spite of our faults and hang ups and mixed motives sometimes. God gives us a second and a third and a fourth chance.

How can we receive a second chance? Proverbs 28:13 says, "People who cover over their sins will not prosper. But if they confess and forsake them, they will receive mercy." Two steps are mentioned here. First, confess your sins. Tell God about your mistakes. He knows about them already. Let him know you're sorry. The first step to forgiveness is confession.

The other step we have to take is to forsake our sins. Make adjustments so that it doesn't happen again. Everybody makes mistakes, but only fools repeat them. If you confess your sins and forsake them, then the Bible says that you will receive a second chance.

I don't care what your failure is in life. You are not washed up unless you choose to quit, unless you choose to give up, unless you choose to reject the grace of God. The choice is condemnation or confession. You can either live in condemnation or you can confess it and get on with life. Forget the former and focus on the future.

Do you want a fresh start? It doesn't matter what you've done. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!" God specializes in new beginnings. It is never too late to start over. It's called being born again. It's not a new leaf; it's a new life.

God wants to give you a fresh start. If you've never followed him before, then it's time to start today. God can wipe out your past and give you a fresh start. It means coming to God, confessing your sins, and forsaking them. In a few minutes, I'm going to tell you exactly how to do this.

Isaiah 61:3 says, "He will give beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning, praise instead of despair." Joel 2:25 says, "I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten" (NIV). Jeremiah 29:11 says to a people who were in exile, "For I know the plans I have for you...They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope." God can give you a second chance.

How do I refocus my life? I realize that God is everywhere. I refocus on God no matter where I am. And I receive God's gift of a second chance in my life.

[ED]

Receiving God's second chance is great. For Jonah it meant; being vomited out of the fish, smelling like fish guts for a year, and never eating fish again.

But it meant a lot more than that. It meant that he took a fourth step to leading a focused life:

4. SHARE GOD'S LOVE WITH EVERYONE

If there was one thing Jonah knew about God, it's that God is a merciful God. If he went to Nineveh, there was a chance that they would repent. God loves to forgive people who repent, regardless of their mistakes, failures, and crimes. As far as he was concerned, the Ninevites were beyond forgiveness. They had to pay. They were barbarians. If he ran, then they wouldn't hear about God's forgiveness, couldn't repent, and then they would pay. So Jonah ran.

But God gave Jonah a second chance. Jonah took God's second chance and went to Nineveh. He preached, and they cried out to God. All of them, from least to greatest, put on sackcloth and called on God urgently. They repented, and they surrendered to God Jonah 3:10 says, "When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion." The Ninevites received the greatest gift. They received mercy when they deserved punishment.

God was teaching Jonah the greatest lesson, a lesson he wants us all to learn. God loves people. No one is excluded from that love. And if you've experienced that love, then you must share it with those who haven't. God's love is the greatest thing to realize and experience. But God doesn't just want you to experience it. He wants you to take it one step further. He wants you to pass it on.

Have you experienced God's love, mercy, and grace? Then pass it on! Share it with your family, your neighbors, your co-workers.

The book of Jonah closes with God telling Jonah, "Jonah, you missed the point. You're angry because I forgave the Ninevites, but I love people. I love you and I love everyone else. You needed forgiveness and I forgave you. They needed forgiveness and I forgave them." And God wants us to know the same. He wants to forgive the people in our life 2 Peter 3:9 says, "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." That's why we need to share God's love with everyone.

According to God, there's no cause that's more important for our lives. This must be the reason we do everything else. Everything in your life must point people to Christ. This fall, we're going to spend time in equipping you specifically in this area, because it's so important for us as individuals and as a church.

How do I refocus my life? Realize that God is everywhere. Refocus on God wherever I am. Receive God's second chance. And share God's love with everyone.

[DARRYL]

There are some of you who are here this morning saying, "I don't need this. My life is focused. Everything is going fine in my life." Well, you need to write this down. We all have a tendency to wander. We all have a tendency to lose our focus after some time. God wants you to be refocused on him.

As a child, I sang a song called Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. The words in that song say, "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love." The man who wrote that song was Robert Robinson, who lived two hundred years ago. He was an unstable and an impulsive man. Near the end of his life, a story says that he came across a woman who has studying a hymnal and singing that song. The woman asked him what he thought of the song she was humming. He replied, "Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then."

You may be like that. You may have run from God. It may have been a gradual thing, or it may have been a conscious decision. But today you can refocus on God. You don't need a program or a quick fix. You don't need a gimmick or a formula. You need to refocus on God. You need to if you're going to be effective. And our church needs to if we're going to be everything that he's called us to be.

Let's pray.

You may be a follower of Jesus Christ, and yet you sense that you're not focused. You haven't been living the way that God intends you to. Maybe you've been running from God. Well, today you can become refocused. You can pray this prayer in your heart: "God, forgive me for running from you. I know that I need to be refocused. My effectiveness and my church depend on it. Personal renewal precedes corporate renewal. Today I realize that you are everywhere. You are at work in my life. I today choose to refocus on you, to receive the gift of a second chance, and I pledge to share God's love. I surrender to you and to your will, and I pray that you would use me for your glory. This is my prayer, in Jesus' name."

Some of you may have never committed your life to Jesus Christ. Today you need to come to him and say, "God, I want a fresh start. I want you to give me not a new leaf, but a new life." You can do just that today. Pray these words in your heart: "Jesus Christ, I ask you into my heart. This seems too good to be true, but forgive me. Wipe out all of my sins. Today I confess them and forsake them, and place my trust in Jesus Christ, who died to take care of my sin problem. Make me a new creature today, I pray. In Jesus' name, Amen."