Standing Tall And Walking Straight
I Kings 18:20-21
So many times when I read the Bible what I read seems so current and so relevant that it is almost as if I am reading the daily newspaper. The story of the prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel is a case in point. You remember what happened…
The leaders of the nation of Israel together with the King had been summoned to meet on the slopes of Mount Carmel to make a great decision. It was a time of national emergency. Something had to be done. Elijah cried out to the crowd gathered there: “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, then follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him.” It was a day of decision. It was a time to choose.
Now of course the people who were gathered there on the slopes of Mount Carmel were very much aware of their nation’s history. They were aware of how their forebears had been led out of slavery in Egypt and into this new land as pioneers. They were aware of how the law of God had become their national constitution. The Ten Commandments were for them a Declaration of Independence and a Bill of Rights all rolled up into one. They were aware that their national history had been marked by great leaders—people like Moses and Aaron and Joshua and Deborah and Gideon. Great leaders all but great because they themselves allowed themselves to be led by God. The people were aware of the fact that because God was the Lord of them all and the Lord of their nation, that theirs had been a blessed nation indeed. And therefore, at least up to that point, the whole national life had centered around the worship of God.
But then with the passing of time, something happened in their national life. Somehow over time, the faith and the vision of their founders had begun to fade. The people began to lose sight of the principles upon which their nation had been founded. The people began to love things more than they loved principles. That kind of materialism had a god in those days. That god was called Baal. The priests of Baal encouraged their followers to simply pursue their natural inclinations. And the priests of Baal offered to their followers those things which our base human instincts crave the most. The worship of Baal was expressed in indulgence, exalted in selfishness, and inspired by lust. The priests of Baal in essence said to the people: “Do whatever seems right in your own eyes. Our goal is a good time to be had by all.” Little wonder that the practice of Baal worship grew in popularity.
But of course those people standing on the slopes of Mount Carmel did remember their nation’s past. There was still some small slice of their national conscience which remained alert and active. They remembered the fact that God was the Lord. But they were also pulled by these other forces and so the people took a little bit of God and a little bit of Baal. They became more and more broadminded. They said: “It’s a free country after all. And besides, who wants to be old-fashioned?” So morality became a relative thing. The nation’s standards of what was good and right began to be lowered and the worship of God and the worship of Baal got all mixed up together.
Elijah, the prophet of God, saw the danger. Elijah knew that if the nation’s morals standards were weakened, the nation was bound for destruction. Elijah knew that if the people forsook their God and turned away from their charter and constitution that they were headed for trouble. And so Elijah called together those leaders of the nation, and he said to them: “How long are you going to go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him. But if Baal, then follow him. Now is the time to decide.” It was, Elijah saw, a time of national decision. There could be no neutrality. They had to come down on one side or the other. They had to make the decision as to whether their nation would be governed by God or ruled by tyrants.
It was a time to decide. In order to make the case, Elijah set up a contest between himself and the priests of Baal. You remember how the contest was conducted. Elijah gathered an enormous pile of wood for a bonfire. Then he challenged the priests of Baal to call out to their god, Baal, to ignite that fire. The Scriptures tell us that the priests of Baal began to chant and to shout and to dance, calling upon Baal to send down fire. Nothing happened. Elijah began to chide the priests of Baal. He said to them: “What’s the matter? Where is your God? Why isn’t he answering? Maybe he’s asleep; why don’t you wake him up?” They cried louder. Louder and louder they cried. And Elijah taunted them all the day long. Finally hoarse with their shouting, weary with their dancing, bleeding from their self-inflicted wounds of desperation, the priests of Baal gave up. There was no response. No answer. No fire. Only silence. Deathly silence.
It was then that Elijah, the lone prophet of God, stepped up to the challenge. In order to make the task even more difficult, he ordered the wood to be soaked with water. Then Elijah spoke to God. No ranting, no foaming, no shouting. Just a quiet prayer to God: “Lord, send down the fire.” I want you to listen to how the Scriptures describe what happened then: “Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and cried: ‘The Lord is God! The Lord is God!”‘ It was a day of decision in their national life. It was time for them to choose whom they would serve.
It reminds of what had happened some years earlier in their national life when the great leader, Joshua, had delivered the same words to people but in different words. Joshua called out to them: “Choose this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” What an incredible thing to say—what a great thing for a father to say. What a great thing for a mother to say. What a great thing for anyone to say: “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Sometimes when I read the Bible, what I read seems so current and relevant that it’s almost as if I’m reading the daily newspaper. When I read the story of Elijah on Mount Carmel, I suddenly realize that what happened then is happening now. Now we are at a time of decision in our national life. There can be no middle ground. No one can declare neutrality. We must come down on one side or the other. Therefore I take to this pulpit today, to call us to stand tall and walk straight—no more limping our way through life with two different opinions. I call us to stand tall and to walk straight for Jesus Christ in this life and in this land.
We can stand tall and walk straight for Christ in the way we love.
You remember when Jesus said: “People will know that you are my disciples by the way you love one another.” Being a Christian and being loving are synonymous. The only way this world will ever know that we belong to Jesus Christ is by seeing the way we love one another. There is a wonderful story which Thomas Wheeler tells on himself. Thomas Wheeler is the chief executive officer of the great Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company. One day Thomas Wheeler and his wife were out for a drive in the countryside. They pulled into an old seedy, dilapidated gas station in order to fill up the car. There was only one man working in the gas station, and he didn’t seem to be too interested in helping. So Thomas Wheeler, the great CEO, pumped his own gas. But while he was pumping his gas, he noticed something that kind of surprised him. His wife struck up what was obviously a very amicable and friendly conversation with the man who was running the gas station. He didn’t think too much about it. He kept pumping his gas, and when he was finished he paid the man. He got in his car, and he and his wife drove off down the highway. He then turned to her and he said: “Honey, do you know that fellow running that gas station back there?” And his wife replied: “Know him? Indeed I do. We used to date very seriously when we were in high school. In fact, we even talked about getting married.” Well, Thomas Wheeler just couldn’t help himself. He swelled all up with pride and said: “Boy honey, you sure are lucky I came along. If you had married him, you’d have been the wife of a guy running a rundown gas station instead of the wife of the CEO of Mass Mutual.” His wife looked at him and said: “My dear, if I’d have married him, he would’ve been the CEO of Mass Mutual and you would’ve been pumping gas!”
Fun story—serious point. We are who we are because of our relationships. Think about it. Change your relationships and you will change your life—guaranteed. Why do you think Jesus spent so much time telling us that we need to build our relationship in life on love—not envy, not jealousy, not competition, not vindictiveness—just love? Jesus said: “The only way this world will ever know that you belong to me is by seeing the way you love one another.” Just recently a schoolteacher in New York state, she happens to be a Christian, decided to do something a little unusual in her class. She got a whole bunch of blue ribbons and she had imprinted on those ribbons in gold letters the words: “Who I am makes a big difference!” Then this teacher called all of the students up in her class one by one and pinned on to each one, one of these blue ribbons saying: “Who I am makes a big difference!” She then proceeded to tell each student in turn how special that student was to her and how important that student had been in her life. Well, the students were delighted. Then this teacher had another idea. She had a whole bunch of extra ribbons and she gave them to the students. She said: “Now, I want you to go out and I want you to find one person who has made a difference in your life. I want you to pin a ribbon on them and then I want you to give them some other ribbons. And then encourage them to go find someone who has made a difference in their life.” Well, the students were delighted and they took off on the task. One of those students went to see a family friend, a man who was a junior executive in a large company. This young student thanked the man for being such a close friend to his family and thanked him for making such a difference in his life. He pinned the blue ribbon on him. Then he handed him some other ribbons. He said: “Now, I want you to go find someone who has made a difference in your life and pin a ribbon on them.” This young executive went to see his boss—the boss in this large company. He was a man whose reputation was that he was very harsh and grouchy, very difficult to deal with. But this young executive walked up to him and said: “I want to pin this blue ribbon on your coat.” The boss was so stunned that he just let him do it. He didn’t even know how to respond. Then the young executive said to him: “I want to thank you for making such a difference in my life. I admire you because of your creative genius. You’ve been important to me and I’m grateful for you.” The boss was overwhelmed, but still couldn’t find the words to respond. Then this young executive said: “Now, I’ve got some more of these blue ribbons. I want you to take these blue ribbons, and I want you to find someone who has made a difference in your life. I want you to pin a ribbon on that person.” The executive by this time was getting impatient, so he grabbed the ribbons and stuffed them into his pocket. He stomped off, and he never gave it another thought. Until that night, that night at home he suddenly called to his fourteen year old son and said: “Son, I want to talk to you for just a minute. Today at work something incredible happened to me—never happened before. One of our young executives came up to me and he pinned a blue ribbon on me. That blue ribbon says: ‘Who I am makes a big difference!’ Then he thanked me for the impact that I’d had on his life. And he thanked me for being a creative genius. Can you imagine that? Then he said to me that he wanted me to find someone who’d made a difference in my life, and he wanted me to put a ribbon on that person. As I was driving home tonight, I suddenly thought about you. I know I don’t spend enough time with you. I know I’m always on you about your grades. But tonight, I want you to know that I love you. You have made a big difference in my life.” With that he pinned the blue ribbon on his little boy. The startled boy suddenly began to cry. He began to cry, and he couldn’t stop crying. He sobbed and he sobbed. His father was alarmed at his response and wondered what in the world he could do. After a few moments, the boy finally caught his breath and said: “Dad, I was planning to run away from home tomorrow because I didn’t believe that you loved me, but now I don’t need to.” And both of them cried. Who I am makes a big difference. Oh what a message of love to deliver one to another. By the way, that wonderful little story comes from a wonderful little book with an even more wonderful little title. It’s called Chicken Soup for the Soul. It’s written by Jack Canfield and Mark Hansen. Read it and I promise you, it will make you feel better. But the point is clear. Jesus said: “This world will know that you belong to me only when people see the way you love one another.”
We are called to stand tall and walk straight for Christ in the way we love.
And we are called to stand tall and walk straight for Christ in the way we trust.
This last week it was my great honor to share a platform with Dr. Peter Drucker—a man who has done more good for the world of business and the world of government than any other man alive in our time. He’s 85 years old and he speaks and teaches with an incredible power. But what I want you to understand is that the great Peter Drucker is a very powerful Christian. As I listened to him deliver his teachings on the subject of Jesus Christ, I found myself overwhelmed with inspiration. So many of those teachings I have tucked away in my heart. But one of them I want to share with you today especially. Peter Drucker says: “We as Christians tend to say: ‘Jesus is my Lord, my Savior. I accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.'” When we say that we are saying it wrong. We ought to have it the other way around. Peter Drucker says we ought to be saying: “Jesus is my Savior and my Lord.” Because Savior comes first. That’s what God in Jesus Christ does for us. God comes to us in Jesus Christ to save us. And only when we are saved in Christ can we then in complete trust make Jesus Christ the Lord of our life and the Lord of all life. So therefore, he says, we need to say: “Jesus, Savior and Lord.” I’m going to try in my life and in my preaching ministry, always from this point on, to say it right: “Jesus, my Savior and my Lord.”
William Sloan Coffin said: “Faith is not believing without evidence. It is trusting without reservation.” We are saved in Jesus Christ. We put our full trust in Him. He becomes the Lord of Life.
On a driving trip to Colonial Williamsburg to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, Roy and Karen Pike of Columbus, Ohio were involved in a terrible accident. Their car collided with a tractor trailer rig. Roy and Karen Pike were killed instantly in the grinding crash. They left three sons—ages 20, 17, and 16. Three young boys left in their grief to open anniversary and sympathy cards all at the same time. To take roses sent for an anniversary celebration and turn them into memorial flowers at a double funeral. To take a heavy step into adulthood by having to choose their parents’ caskets and burial places. And yet through it all, those three young men held fast to their faith in Jesus Christ. Kevin Pike, the 17 year old, testifies as to how in the wilderness of his own pain and grief, he more than once experienced the power of the presence of God. “Right now,” he told his pastor, “I see God as being the shelf in my life and suddenly everything on the shelf is changed around, or moved, or broken, or gone. And I know that nothing will ever be the same again on that shelf in my life. But I’ve learned something else. I’ve learned that the shelf is still there. God does not change. God is always the same.”
I can count on that. Better, I can count on Him. Words from a 17 year old heart, spoken to every heart in this place today. We can count on God. Kevin Pike, though just 17 years old, had learned from his parents and from his church how to trust God completely in life, how to trust God in all of His ways and for all of his days. How is it in your life? Are you limping your way through life with two different opinions? Or are you trusting God completely? We are called to stand tall and to walk straight for Christ in this life and in this land and we do it in the way we trust.
So many times when I read the Bible what I read seems so current and so relevant that it’s almost as if I’m reading the daily newspaper. When I read the story of Elijah at Mount Carmel, suddenly I realize that what happened then is happening now. This is a time of decision for us—for us in our national life and for us in our church and for us in our individual lives as well. There can be no middle ground. There can be no cries of neutrality. We have to come down on one side or the other. What America needs most these days, my beloved, is women and men who will set before this nation the essential choice. What will it be? God…or Baal? The Lord…or chaos? Faith…or materialism? Conviction…or compromise? Discipline…or disintegration? This is the time to decide. The poet writes:
God give us faithful people; a time like this demands
Strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands,
People whom the lust for office cannot kill,
People whom the spoils for power cannot buy,
People who possess opinions and a will,
People who have honor; people who will not lie,
People who can stand before a demagogue
And damn his treacherous flatteries without winking.
Tall people, sun-crowned, who live above the fog
In public duty and in private thinking.
I am calling us to stand tall and walk straight for Christ in this life and in this land. I know we cannot do it alone. Even if every person in this great congregation were to decide to follow Jesus Christ in life at all costs, that still would not be enough. But it would be a start. It would be an incredibly powerful start.
I’m no prophet like Elijah. And I’m no leader like Joshua. So I can do no better than simply to echo their words:
“How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, then follow Him…Choose this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house…
we will serve the Lord!”