The Preacher Says....  
  Face the Music  

Somebody told me a joke and it had to do with some people on a desert island. I think there were four of them, and they had been there a long time and they only knew a given number of jokes. And they told them all so many times before, that they didn’t bother to tell them anymore. They simply numbered them, and if somebody said “2” everybody laughed. Or “4” or “3”. And so on. And so it is, I think to a degree with those of us who speak. You mention a name and you know what he’s gonna speak about almost before he speaks. And perhaps all of you are not so cynical as I, but I have in my mind, various names and the kinds of speeches or talks. I have the poet, the mystic, the interpreter of prophecy, the growth of the inner man, the first principles man, the adversary of materialism, the rule maker, the sensationalist. Each of you, I’m sure has some sort of code word that you identify with each speaker. It’s kind of sad, too, in a way, because it really means that each of us obsessive about an idea, and you peck away at it, because we think that perhaps people among us need to be told this and we have to keep telling it over and over because they’re not getting it. The code word or phrase currently for me is “Don’t be too hard on yourself, you’re only human.” And the last half dozen talks, no matter how elaborate they may have been, that is really what I was saying: don’t be too hard on yourself, you’re only human.

But this was only the latest code, or phrase, if you will, of talks. I had a previous phase, which I called the inspirational phase, during which I exhorted you to be aware of your high calling, the high calling of Christians. Just the awareness of that high calling ought to drive you, ought to spur you on to motivate your life in ways in which it was not previously motivated. But I got discouraged, I suppose, without really realizing it, in giving inspirational talks primarily because I wasn’t inspired. You see, speakers most of the time speak about things that trouble themselves. And I discovered that after having spoken for decades, I don’t see any improvement in me, and the truth be known, I don’t see much improvement in any of you. That’s a conceited notion also, you know. Why should people be moved by what he said to a higher plane of existence?

And so, as my thoughts went along this way, my first impulse was a rather dramatic one, to call my talk “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” That’s the name of a song, I think, I’m not certain, but I just went through my mind, I heard it somewhere, “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” But you see, no matter how dramatic the title I’d gone by had gone back to my same old theme, don’t be too hard on yourself, you’re only human would be the way that talk worked out.

But events coming up in my life, late this summer in my business life, shorted my thoughts from my usual code, or the phase in which I now find myself. Two or three months from now I’m going to have to do something in my work on a certain day, that I never had to do before. And I want to do it, but I want so badly not to have to do it. It’s one of those things where, what involves in doing involves terrible pain and suffering, mental suffering, but there’s also the chance of elation. And so right now I’m running away from it. I don’t think about it. I try not to worry about it. But in a couple of months I’m going to have to get busy, and sooner or later, at whatever expense to myself in terms of mental anguish and time and travail, I’m going to prepare myself for that event, because unless something extraordinary happens, like my death, or the Second Coming of Christ, this thing is going to happen, on a certain day, and so I’m gonna have to face the music. So, with a flash of inspiration, I have suddenly gone onto a new phase of talks. The new phase is face the music.

It’s dangerous to do what I’ve just been doing, you know, making fun of myself and making fun of you. It’s cynical and dangerous because you heard it before doesn’t mean that it’s any less factual, or any less beneficial, or any less edifying to pay attention. And so we need to have less critical ears, more contrite hearts, more sympathetic ears. It all does us some good. I’m convinced that whoever stands up here and speaks has something that can help us. You may have to discard a lot of chaff in your own mind, but if you try hard, there’s something there that can help you. I want you to try hard this morning.

What is this music that we have to face as it relates to our spiritual lives? Two things, the culmination of the age and the impending judgment that follows hard on the culmination of the age. We see ourselves now, we’ve heard this time and time again, in a period of moral degeneracy, a period of time when the proliferation of atomic material makes it highly probable that some nuclear accident will set off some sort of horrible holocaust, we see shortage of raw materials, somebody brought me up short when he said we’re still in that time yet for the culmination of the age, because we haven’t gotten to the time as they did in Rome when they threw humans to the lions. But there’s so much violence in the world now, and so much obsession with violence, that I expect that we’re coming to the time when human sacrifice may be some sort of pleasure for the perverted minds. What I’m saying is that we think we’ve sunk to the depths of human depravity, but we’ve underestimated the depths of human depravity. In any event, certainly the events seem to be snowballing towards the culmination of this world in which we live. The world can simply no longer go on as it has gone on in the past. And when these events finally culminate in the ultimate war when the Lion of the Tribe of Judah will come back to judge us. And these are facts, just as sure as the fact that I’m going to have to do that awful thing at the end of this summer. Viewing this prospect, the fact that the culmination of the age, and the fact of the judgment, how are we so cavalier about it all? I suppose its not as real as this thing at the end of the summer, because no date is fixed, but my point is we need to make it real.

And its not just enough to say, as I’ve been saying in the past, well I’m simply going to rely on the grace of Christ to get me through all this. The first and second letters of Peter, they’re catholic Epistles, which means that they are universal Epistles, they’re not addressed to a single church, as the letter to Galatia is, for example. They were written by Peter just before the destruction of Jerusalem and the commencement of the persecution of the Christians, at a time when he was aware, he said of his own impending martyrdom.

The first letter is called an inspirational letter. The letter tells you to discipline your mind and your body to withstand the trials and tribulations and punishments that are going to come upon you. And I think the letter probably has two-fold application. Certainly it had application to the time of Peter, because those things happened. Peter said in the 1st Chapter, the 13th Verse which was read to you: “Gird up the loins of your mind” discipline your faith, that’s a poetic phrase for that, a beautiful one. “Gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” And again, in the 3rd Chapter, of First Peter, talking about the inevitable tribulation that is come upon them, and may come upon Christians at the culmination of the age, “But, and if ye suffer for righteous sake, happy are ye. And be not afraid of terror, neither be troubled, but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear. Having a good conscience that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. For it is better if the Will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing than for evil doing.”

The second letter of Peter, written just a year later, it is thought, told the churches that they needed to guard their faith against the false doctrine that was going to come with the chaos that was going to come with the persecution of the Christians. And we all know of the attempts by the many pagans of the time to inculcate into Christianity notions foreign to the truth, and so Peter in the second letter said you’ve got to guard your faith against the false prophets. There were false prophets, he said, in old time and they’re going to be false prophets again, that are going to cause you problems. So, strengthen your faith. And then he goes on to say, but, add to your faith, virtue, and to virtue knowledge and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience, and to patience, and to patience Godliness, and to Godliness brotherly kindness and to brotherly kindness charity, “for if these things be in you and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

You know, it’s clear that we don’t save ourselves, that our faith saves us, and we read it all through the Bible. Just one illustrious passage, from the second chapter of Galatians, 16th verse: “Know that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ. Even we have believed in Christ that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the Law. But by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.

So its clear then, that the only thing that’s going to save us, says Paul, is faith. How is it then that Paul, in that same letter, 6th chapter, commencing at the 7th verse, says this: “Be not deceived, God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man sow, that shall he also reap, for he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption, but he that soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing, for in due season shall reap if we faint not.” Paul uses the same phrase in the 2nd letter to the church at Thessalonica. He says: “Be not weary in well doing” there. And in Romans the 2nd Chapter, he admonishes the church at Rome to “patiently continue in well doing.”

Its remarkable to me or seems to me worthy of remarking, that there is this constant hammering away at this principle. Be not weary from well doing. As I look out at you, some of you seem to be weary. I wonder if you are weary from well doing. Of course, that’s really not what the phrase means, it means that you don’t stop well doing. And the truth of the matter is that when you are involved in well doing you don’t get weary from well doing. It is the greatest pleasure. It’s clear without reading more Scripture that true faith, the kind of faith that is required in order to have salvation will bring out in us a form of selflessness, which expresses itself in various ways. You show me a man who is bitter, who feels aggrieved, who feels persecuted, who worries about himself all the time, I’ll show you a man who is weak in faith. That’s one of the things I think today, that is wrong with the Christian movement. People constantly talk about what Christianity is doing for them. It’s egocentric, and if your Christianity is egocentric it’s not Christianity. If you are always saying that since I came to Christ all these good things are happening to me, and for me, and for my benefit, then you are missing the point. Good things will happen to you but because you are a Christian, you’re concern is making good things happen to other people. So we have the oft-repeated phrase:

“Love thy neighbor as thyself.” “Be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” says Paul to the church at Corinth. And the most telling passage about how Christians are to behave if they have the true faith is, I suppose, in the 12th Chapter of Romans: “I beseech ye therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect Will of God.” “Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil, cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another, with brotherly love, in honor, preferring one another, not slothful in business, fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing instant in prayer; distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitability. Bless them which persecute you, bless and curse not.”

Remember earlier when I was talking about the code and how each of us can probably predict in advance how somebody is going to speak? Well, we also have codes about people in general. If I say “Vera” or “George” or “Mattie” or “Bob” what comes up in your mind? A picture of a person comes up in your mind, but something else comes too. A picture of a character, a personality. You get a picture of a being and what you think of that person. Now, the impression in your mind is often false, but consider this fact. The mind of Christ, if you will, if He hears these names, has certain images of Vera, and Mattie and Bob, and whomever. And those impressions of one’s character are not misperceived. Christ does not misperceive, as you and I do. Now we know the impressions we ought to see, or what he ought to have, or what is, our great Savior has manifested a selfless life. Well, fortunately the Christ who perceives these perceptions of each one of us, I’m going to change the metaphor now, is as though He were using a camera with a filter on it. I’m told that movie stars, as they age, they have filters, their pictures are taken through gauze or something so that the ravages of time do not so easily appear. And that’s the way Christ is willing to receive his impression of you, through a filter. One that filters out the broken promises that you’ve made to yourselves and to other people. One that filters out the lapses in your conduct, and the weaknesses of your faith. So says the letter to the Hebrews, Christ was one of us at one time, but He had the edge, He was the Son of God and He recognizes that we’re going to slip and He is willing to look at you through a filter and filter out those weaknesses.

Now I want to change the metaphor one more time. It’s clear from the Scriptures, or they are replete with admonitions to this effect, that we, either as plants or as people, must bear fruit. We must be fruitful. We’ll be known by our fruits. We must not be barren or unfruitful. The metaphor occurs over and over again. So when Christ looks at you, through His filter, He sees your fruit. He doesn’t see the blemishes on the fruit, the mars, or the imperfections, but he can’t manufacture the fruit. The fruit, however marred has got to be there, because that’s the earnest of your faith, that’s the consideration. That’s the evidence, that’s the substance.

How does Christ perceive you? Do you have time to change His perception? It’s time to face the music.