June 23, 2002
Hi, I’m here in beautiful Keystone, Colorado at the Senior High retreat and you can see we’re having a great time. (To students) “Hey, how are y’all doing? Wow!” Yeah man, having a great time. Anyway, we’re here in Colorado and God has shown up in a big way. I’ve been talking to the students every night about what it means to have conviction, what it means to live the Christian life.
Today I want to talk to you about a guy named Elijah. Elijah was mentioned over in the Old Testament. Elijah was a man who really had conviction. He had a high conviction quotient. He was on fire for God. If we’re really on fire for God, what does it look like? What should I expect? What kind of adventure, what kind of excitement is out there when I really hold strong to what I believe? Well, in the next couple of minutes, we’re going to talk about it, because our boy Elijah went to the top of a mountain. Not a mountain in Colorado, but a mountain in Israel called Mount Carmel. Elijah did battle with a lot of people up there. Check it out, because I believe this talk will revolutionize who you are. It will change your convictions. It will help you ignite and get on fire for God. Let’s go to the mountaintop!
(Video ends with Ed riding to the top of a mountain in a gondola.)
Convictions shape conduct. In other words, what we believe affects how we behave. However, in our politically correct culture, it cries something like this, it says, “Hey, whatever opinion you have, whatever conviction you hold, it must be right because you’re sincere about it, thus, if you’re convicted about something that must be true, because it’s true to you.”
Now, if you think about it, that line of thinking is ludicrous, it’s false. That dog will not hunt. An object is either true or false. An ideology is either true or false. Whether we’re convicted about it or not doesn’t mean a thing. I can be convicted about something that is wrong or convicted about something that is right. I can be convicted about something that is true or convicted about something that is false. My convictions bear no weight on what the object, or person or ideology is all about. Our convictions, to really be great convictions, must be tethered to truth. We need to find the truth source; we need to find the absolute. Once we find the absolute, then our convictions must be tethered to them. That’s why Jesus said in John 14, “I am Truth.” “I am Truth.”
Once we know Christ, once we connect with Him, once we have the truth source, then, we can have true conviction. Let’s say the word conviction: Conviction. What am I talking about? I’m talking about a strong belief. I’m talking about trust. I’m talking about being on fire for God.
A while back I was on an airplane and I was having a conversation with a gentleman in his sixties. We were talking about the whole thing about truth. This man was a gentleman who sort of floats on the seas of relativism. I said, “Bob, see this book right here?” I had a book in my hand. I said, “If I let go, what’s going to happen? The law of gravity will take over and gravity will pull this book to the carpet of the 737.” He said, “Yeah, I know that.” I said, “Bob, whether I believe in the law of gravity, whether I trust the law of gravity, or whether I am convicted about the law of gravity, doesn’t mean the law of gravity isn’t going to take over.” So I said, “Bob, it doesn’t really matter if you believe in Jesus, if you believe in the Bible, or if you don’t believe in Jesus, or don’t believe in the Bible, it’s still true. It’s still absolute.” There is a truth source out there. There is an absolute out there.
In today’s service, in this 9:30 weekend gathering, we basically have three groups of people here. Now, I kind of shy away from grouping people, but for today’s topic, I’ve got to do this. The first group of us would be the majority. The majority of people in here, group one, will be those of us who have convictions. We are tethered to the truth of Christ. We are living out His truth and we believe in it. We are on fire for God. I’m talking about the people who make Fellowship go and flow, week in and week out. That’s Group One.
Now Group Two is those people here who have convictions in the opposite realm. You don’t believe the biblical record. You’re not religious whatsoever. You’re not really sure there’s a God and so forth. Your life mantra is, “If it feels good, do it”. You’re convicted about the world and its systems. Let me say we’re happy to have you here. Every time we design a worship service we think about you. We don’t only think about you, but we do think about you.
The Group Three people are those people who don’t really have any convictions. Group Three people would be double-minded people, unstable people, if you will. One foot in Christianity, you know, kind of giving Jesus the “high five”. But on the other hand, you’re kind of with the world, giving the world the “high five”. You’re not really sure where you are. You’re in limbo. You’re kind of like the person you saw in the drama, straddling the fence. I’m talking about Group Three people.
Well, a long time ago a guy named Elijah, a prophet of God, talked to Group Three people. And I want to teach you what Elijah said because I’m going to reserve my comments for Group Three people. Yeah, Group One and Group Two, you’ll get something, but specifically this is for Group Three people. Let me give you a hypothetical situation Group Three. Let’s just say you decide today to stop straddling the fence. Let’s say today you take off the mask of being a hypocrite and you go Christ’s way. Let’s say you make a choice to become a life long follower of Jesus. Let’s say you have this conviction; you’re on fire for God. What does it look like? What should you expect? How do your convictions play out on, like I say, on the rugged plains of reality? I’m glad you asked. I really am.
I want to take you back to the Old Testament, to the book of 1 Kings, 1 Kings 18. If you have your Bibles turn there, 1 Kings Chapter 18. If you don’t, just check out your message map, right there in our worship guide. Before we jump into Scripture, let me set the historical context of where I’m going to go today.
King Ahab was running the show in Israel. Ahab, though, made a horrible decision, a bad decision that I see a lot of people making today. He married the wrong person. He walked down the wedding runner with a young lady named Jezebel. She was a pit viper. Mean, sadistic, she was into Baal worship and she must have been beautiful for him to follow her around like he did. When they got hooked up, Jezebel was so powerful she made Ahab adopt Baal worship in the nation of Israel.
Now are you ready for that? God’s people, who should be living God’s way, are now accepting Baal worship. Now you may say, “Ed, what is Baal worship?” Baal worship is the worship of lust, sex and power. They were building all of these shrines and things, all these idols to worship Baal. The children of Israel were worshiping Baal and also worshiping God. They were straddling the fence. They were in limbo. They were unstable. They were undecided.
Suddenly the “E” train comes on the scene. I’m talking about Elijah, God’s prophet. Elijah confronts Ahab and Jezebel. Elijah says, “Guys, because of your sin, because of your rebellion, here’s what’s going to happen, it’s not going to rain for three and a half years.” And then Elijah does what a lot of prophets of God did back in the Old Testament. He spins on his heels and says, “See ya, don’t want to be ya!” I made that last part up. He left.
Conviction Ignites Conflict
Well, for three and a half years, no rain! The streams are drying up, the lakes are drying up, cattle are keeling over, flies are buzzing around, carcasses everywhere. For three and a half years there’s a drought in the land. Suddenly, guess who shows up back in town? The “E” train himself, Elijah. He comes back and he has this confrontation, this interchange with Ahab again, and that’s where we jump into 1 Kings 18. Let’s look down in verse seventeen, because I want you to notice something. Conviction always ignites conflict. When he saw Elijah, he being Ahab, when he saw Elijah he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?” Ahab was walking around a national disaster area. Most of the cattle had died and the streams had dried up and it was because of Ahab and Jezebel’s sin. Ahab sees, the Bible says, Elijah, and what does he do? He does what most of us do. What does he do when he is convicted? What does he do when he is called on the carpet? He does what we do! He points the finger of blame! “It’s you, you troubler of Israel!” Look at Verse 18. “You’re the problem Elijah. It’s your fault!”
What happens when you are convicted? What happens when you are confronted? What happens when the Holy Spirit of God taps you on the shoulder and reminds you of your rebellion? What do you do? I wish we could say, “I know what I’d do, I’d just say, ‘God, thank you, you’re right, I’m wrong and is there….’” That’s not what we do. Usually our first response is to blame others. “It’s your fault! It’s your fault! It’s your deal!”
Think about the whole realm of psychotherapy. I think Christian counseling is great when it comes from the biblical baseline. But, if it comes from secular humanism, it’s a bunch of baloney. Basically, it’s a complex system that looks for a place to pin the blame. “Yeah, I’m the way I am because of my mommy, my daddy, and the painters who painted my nursery the wrong color. I’m just going to blame and blame and blame and blame.” We have a bunch of people who are blaming “boomers” and “generation excusers”, a bunch of people who… That was funny; did you get that? I know it’s early in the morning, I have to delay the humor and I try to slow down for the 9:30 a.m. crowd, but you’d really help me if you’d kind of respond now and then. Because that mistake was not just off the cuff, get it? Blaming “boomers”, that’s baby boomers who blame and generation excusers, always excusing….Okay. Whoa!
When we’re convicted, when I’m convicted, the first thing I do is blame. The first thing you do is blame. And here’s what we do, we point out faults in others that we don’t like about ourselves. Don’t we? We’re carrying around guilt, and we tend to rip others apart where we are weak. And that’s what Ahab did.
I want to tell you something about the Christian life. If you have conviction, if you’re on fire for God, you will experience conflict. You will experience it. And if you’re not experiencing conflict right now in your Christian life, if you’re not experiencing a cross-pull, if you’re not experiencing the adventure and the vitality and the excitement and the growth of doing battle, of being at war, you better check your pulse. Conflict is a good thing, because it’s a God thing. The Bible describes the Christian life as a fight, as a war, as a wrestling match, as running a race.
I talked about this issue in my series on spiritual warfare, entitled Tank U, several months ago. I said, “God is a warrior, and most people don’t even realize there’s a battle going on. Once we realize there’s a battle going on, then and only then, does our life really come together.” I met a guy here several weeks ago at Fellowship Church. He looked at me and said, “Ed, my situation at work is about to rip me apart. I cannot tell you the fight and the stress and the conflict that I’m under right now.” And this is a guy who’s living the life! He looked at me and said, “You know, Ed, I think I might have to resign because I can’t do what my company is wanting me to do.” That’s what I’m talking about. That guy’s experiencing the adventure and the excitement and sometimes the difficult times and the down days of doing battle for the Lord himself. A war’s going on out there and Elijah was in battle. Conviction always, always ignites conflict.
Check out Verse 19. Here is what the “E” train said, I mean this guy was bold. He said, “Summon, Ahab, all of your boys and girls up to Mount Carmel and we will rumble.” So 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asheroth (Baal was the male god; Asheroth was the female god.) ascended to the top of Mount Carmel. All these evil prophets wore this white regalia of long flowing robes. They wore gold medallions that would embarrass even Ludacris. (Ludacris is a rapper; rappers wear a lot of gold.) Baal was the sun god and they wore big medallions to reflect the sun like fire, okay.
Conviction Sears a Message
Alright, let’s go to the second one. Conviction ignites conflict, but conviction also sears a message. Wouldn’t you say that? Conviction sears a message. It really does. We love to send messages these days, email, voice mail. We love to check our messages. We love messages. Messages, messages¸ messages¸ messages. I’m sending a message with my life. Day in and day out, and so are you. What I don’t realize is the kind of message I’m sending. Nor do you realize the kind of message you’re sending. If we understood how many people are watching us live our lives, we wouldn’t believe it. If we really understood how many people are just checking us out and seeing if we have a conviction quotient, we would just blow a fuse!
People want to see conviction. They want to see someone on fire for God! They want to see joy! They want to see excitement! They want to see the abundant life! Do you know why? Because their life is not working. What they’re chasing after is not giving them the answers. Therefore they want to see it from you, and you, and you and me. We often times do not realize the impact of our lives until later on. We often times do not see the messages that we’re sending until later on, because what did Ahab do? 1 Kings 18:20: “So Ahab sent a message among all the sons of Israel and brought the prophets together at Mount Carmel.”
When I was in junior high and high school I had a friend that I hung out with after school named Steve Standifer. Steve and I did a lot of stuff together on the school campus, but after that we didn’t hang out, because Steve was into some stuff that I was not into. So we were friends at school and it stopped there. I never preached to Steve. I never really even shared my faith with him or invited him to church. I just lived the life, because I was walking with God then, too.
After my junior year I moved to Houston, Texas, and finished out my senior year of high school there. I then went off to Florida State for several years. During the middle year of my sophomore year I walked down the steps of our athletic dorm to check my mail. There was always a letter from Mom in there, you know. Anyway, then I pulled out another letter and, when I looked at the return address I couldn’t believe it. It was from Steve Standifer. I thought how in the world did Steve Standifer track me down in Tallahassee, Florida? Unbelievable!
I hadn’t talked to Steve in years. I opened up the letter and, you know, I’m not a real emotional guy. I don’t cry a lot, but as I read this letter I cannot tell you what it did to me. It said something like this, it said “Dear Ed, I want you to know that recently I have become a Christ follower. One of the main reasons I became a Christ follower is because I reflected back on the life that you lived in junior high and high school. Because of your example, because of the way you handled yourself, I am now a believer.” That letter shocked me! I had no idea! I mean I had no idea that anyone was watching me. I didn’t know my life was sending a message like that.
I talked to Steve Standifer three months ago and I’m glad to report that Steve has a wonderful Christian marriage. He has two children and he’s one of the key leaders in a great church in Columbia, South Carolina. So I’ve got to ask you one quick question. Who’s your Steve Standifer? Who’s your Steve Standifer? Your teammate? Classmate? Office mate? Your boss? Your manager? Your client? Your relative? Your spouse? Your child? What kind of messages are you sending with your life? If people didn’t know anything about Christianity, could they see Jesus, or do they see Jesus in you and in me? I didn’t say perfection, because none of us are perfect – we know that. I’m talking about what kind of message are we sending? It’s a powerful question, full of some serious octane!
Conviction Sparks a Decision
Conviction ignites conflict. Being on fire, conviction sears the message. Also, conviction sparks a decision. It sparks a decision.
You know I’ve been in Colorado for the last several days teaching a series of lessons to our senior high. One afternoon I took a break from studying and I did a little run. I didn’t realize that the place in Colorado where we were staying was like 9,000 feet above sea level. I’m in decent shape and I just started running. Normally I run about this pace, you know, but I mean up there, I was like…huff, puff, etc. Well, my lips got all chapped from being outside and so I found this sporting goods store. There was this guy standing behind the counter, you know, typical, kind of granola-type looking guy. So I walked in and said, “Hey, how’re you doing?” He answered, “What’s up?” He didn’t ask me “May I help you?” or “Do you need anything?” I said, “Listen, my lips are really chapped and I was wondering if you have any ChapStick?” Here’s what he said, “Uh, ChapStick? Not really.” I thought about that for a second. “Not really.” How do you “not really” have ChapStick? You either have it or you don’t.
Well, believe it or not, Elijah dealt with that mentality. Because basically, the children of Israel said, “Not really.” I’ll tell you what I’m talking about. Look at Verse 21. Elijah went before the people. We’re talking about the confrontation at Mount Carmel now. He went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? How long?”
He was into the time thing. He was like, “Hey, guys and gals, how long are you going to straddle the fence? How long? You have one foot worshiping Jehovah and the other foot worshiping Baal. How long are you going to do that? I mean I’ve given you three and a half years because of the grace and the mercy of God. For three and a half years you’ve been in a drought. How long? Why are you putting it off? What’s the deal? What’s the holdup? Why do you press the pause button?”
I’ve got to pose the same question to you, Group Three. How long will you waiver between two opinions? How long? Come on now, what is keeping you from stepping over the line? What is keeping you from giving your tax, title and license to Christ? Now if you don’t want to do it, just go ahead and take the hypocrite mask off. Just discard it and go for the world. I mean just go ahead and follow Baal, follow Asheroth.
“Ed, Baal and Asheroth, come on man. That was a long time ago, how can I relate to that?” Relate to it? We worship Baal and Asheroth right here in Dallas/Fort Worth. Just take a quick panoramic view of the Metroplex. Power, sex, money, fertility…a lot of us are into modern Baal and Asheroth worship. A lot of us are.
I don’t think it was an accident, though, that Baal rhymes with jail. Because if you follow Baal, it will put you in jail. You will be incarcerated. You will think you’re free, you will think you’ll get liberated, but in reality you’ll be in jail. How long will you waver between two opinions?
Two opinions, Elijah said. Two opinions. Two. He didn’t try and reconcile Baal worship with following the Lord. He didn’t go there. These people had some serious problems with their opinions. You see, Elijah talked about the difference between following God and following Asheroth in Baal. That’s like people who try to say, “Yeah, you know, Islam and Mormonism and Buddhism and Taoism and Hinduism and Christianity. You know they’re all the same. You know they all lead to the same path.” No they don’t!
When someone says that, they are not advertising their intelligence, they’re advertising their ignorance. They’ve never studied the world’s religions. They’re different. They’re distinct. They’re unique. And Christianity stands above all of them. It is different than every other world religion.
So the people in Israel, they were trying to reconcile and trying to kind of combine Baal worship with following the Lord, with being on Jehovah’s team. Elijah is going, “Man, that dog will not hunt, it will not go.” How long will you waver between two opinions?
I like to say, “You do Satan a favor when you waver.” “If the Lord is God,” Elijah said, “follow him, but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing. The people said nothing. How long will you waver Group Three? How long will you waver between these two opinions? Are you just going to do nothing? Are you going to be neutral? Or, are you going to step up and say, “Okay, from this day forward I’m going to follow God.”
Notice Elijah did not go through all these reasons why someone should follow the Lord, like it’s good, it’s kind, it’s sweet and all this stuff. He just said, “Hey, follow God because He is God.” And basically that’s the deal. We need to follow God because He is God. He is the one true God.
Remember that little song we learned as kids? (Singing) “Put your left foot in, put your left foot out, put your left in and you shake it all about. You do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around. That’s what it’s all about.”
Well a lot of us are living our lives that way spiritually. “Oh, okay, here’s Jesus, and the Bible, and getting involved in Fellowship Church. I’ll put my left foot in, I’ll take my left foot out, I’ll put my left foot in and I’ll shake it all about.” How long are you going to waver between two opinions? Don’t put your left foot in; put your whole body in. Everything, tax, title and license. Say, “I give it all to you.”
But the plot clots, because here is what Elijah says. Elijah now takes several bulls and he tells the prophets of Baal and Asheroth to make an altar, and to put the bull on the altar and to pray to their God. And then after that Elijah says, “I’ll take a bull, I’ll make an altar and whichever God answers by fire, that will be the one true God. That will be the one true God, that will be the true God.” That is what he said, over and over again.
So the people who followed Baal and Asheroth said, “Yeah, that sounds great.” So they make this altar and they’re freaking out, doing all these flips and dancing. The Bible says they’re cutting themselves. “Answer us, Baal. You never fail! Answer us, Asheroth. Yeah, okay, come on.” They’re praying, praying and praying.
Wow, so many of us are doing the same thing, following Baal and Asheroth, aren’t we? We’re just asking for our god, little g, to answer us. “Hey sex, answer me, just this next sexual conquest, surely it will do it. Hey pleasure, answer me. Surely, come on, answer me. Possessions, the next corner office, the next house, the next trip, that’ll do it.” And we’re like the prophets of Baal. We’re cutting ourselves and we’re wondering, what’s the deal? God, little g, has not answered.
Now, I want to show you a cool verse. Skip down to Verse 27. 1 Kings 18:27 shows us that trash-talking began in the Bible. You think I’m lying to you! At noon Elijah, after hours of this stuff, of watching the prophets of Baal freaking out, at noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder”, he said. “Surely he is God. Now perhaps he is deep in thought.” You know what that phrase means, “deep in thought”, in the original Hebrew? “Deep in thought” in the original Hebrew, I promise you it means this, means “maybe your God is in the men’s room.” Read the Hebrew; the translators were afraid of it! I’m serious. “Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he’s sleeping and must be awakened.” He was talking some serious smack, wasn’t he?
Now look at Verse 32. So the “E” train says, “Okay, you guys. You had your deal, now let me have my deal.” And he builds an altar. All he had was wood, he doused it with water, and then he had a bull. Check out what happened. “Then the fire of the Lord fell, burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stone, licked up the water in the trench…”
Now I want to stop here for a moment. I was thinking about this a while back. Now the people, they didn’t want fire. The people had been in a drought for three and a half years. They wanted rain! They probably would rather have gotten rain on them. But if God had rained on them, that wouldn’t really have gotten their attention, would it? They could have explained that away. On the other hand, fire from heaven! Whoa! Fire! That’s something drastic! That’s something that’ll rattle your cage. God’s got a fire. I just thought I’d throw that in.
Verse 39. When all the people saw this they fell and cried, “The Lord is God. We’re with you Jehovah, all the way.” Here’s the math. One human being plus God always equals the majority. Always. I was reading in James a while back and I just ran into this verse, James 5:17. And I just thought to myself, “Why in the world would James just say that Elijah was a man just like me.” I mean it’s kind of a unique verse. A New Testament writer saying Elijah was a man just like me. I started thinking about it. We can all identify with that. He’s a man just like me. He’s a human being just like you. He’s just a person. He was on fire for God. Check out his life. He was prepared.
Elijah was a man of prayer. He talked to God. He connected to Him. He said, “God, not my deal but your deal. Not my will but your will.” And he lived out a phenomenal life. Also, Elijah was available. God’s not concerned about our ability, as I say, he’s concerned about our availability.
You know what Elijah offered God on that show down at Carmel? Wood, water and a bull. Do you know what I have to offer God? The only thing I have to offer God, the only thing you’ve got to offer God, is wood, water and a bunch of bull. We’re sinners. We can’t do this stuff alone. We can’t pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. We can’t say, “I’m going to have the discipline, I’m going to have the courage, I’m going to have the convictions on my own.” We can’t do it! We’re got to say, “God, here’s my wood, here’s my water, here’s my bull. Here’s my sin, here’s my junk, engulf me by the power and the flame of your Holy Spirit.” Are you ready to say that? Are you ready to make that call?
I leave you with one question, a very simple one. How long will you, Group Three, waver? How long will you waver over those two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him. If Baal is god, follow him. “But as for me and my house, we are going to serve the Lord.”