Decisions – Part 10

In Sermon Series by Rachel Schultz

Assurance in a Bowl of Spaghetti

Someone once called it “the ultimate roll of the dice.” The biggest bet a person can make.

Do you know what he was talking about? Not a million-dollars-on-the-pass-line Las Vegas gamble with a lifetime pile of chips on the green felt table. Not a cross-country move, sight unseen, to take a new job. Not the installation of a new, unknown president with an unusual name.

No, the writer was talking about marriage. That moment when you stand up in a church and experience “the ultimate roll of the dice.”

Now, why would he use that very intensive metaphor? Was he overstating the situation? Actually, for anyone who’s married, and committed to that marriage, the answer is obvious. You’ve staked your entire life, the rest of your life, to that person. “For better or for worse. In sickness and in health. In prosperity and in poverty. Through thick and thin (speaking of diets.)” And you’ve promised to stay by the side of that new husband, that new wife, for the rest of your life. “As long as we both shall live.”

Now, most of us stand there at the altar, thinking about the honeymoon and how wonderful the next fifty years are going to be. But you know that down the road are going to be some hardships. There’s going to be some “worse” along with the “better.” There will be days when frustration mount, when that person you married doesn’t look so good or act so good. There’s a cute story where the great Christian writer Charles Shedd did something which really irritated his wife. She was as mad as a wet hen—and yet was committed to still spending the rest of her life with this jerk-like person. She sent him the following letter: “Dear Charlie, I hate you. Love, Martha.”

Maybe you’ve heard the story where Dr. James Dobson’s father sent his bride-to-be a letter on their wedding day. He anticipated happiness and violins and flowers and lots of kissing and cuddling . . . just as all men do. But then he acknowledged that something unforeseen could make their marriage less than heaven. It could end up a burden instead of a bounty. It could be years of purgatory instead of paradise. “If that happens,” he wrote, “I’m committed to being faithful to you no matter what.” And for how long? For “as long as we both shall live.” That’s why it’s the ultimate roll of the dice.

I’ll never forget seeing a hunched-over little old couple at a camp meeting event a few years ago. Grandma and Grandpa had been married probably 60 years. And now this dear woman had Alzheimer’s Disease.

And all of us present watched as her husband tenderly took care of her. Helping her with her meals. Guiding her back to their room. Steering her through the many moments of mental confusion.

Now, he was still a strong-looking man with some good years left in him. There was quite a bit of tread still on his tires. He could easily have slipped out the back door and found someone else. But, you know, he’d made a promise, a commitment. And so he stayed right there with his bride of sixty years. What a memory that is for me!

This takes us to the commitment we’ve been studying together in this sermon series. Our decision to surrender our entire lives to God . . . well, that’s the super-ultimate roll of the dice. That is the biggest decision a thinking man or woman can ever make.

You remember, as I mentioned a few weeks earlier, we’re not talking about giving God just one bad habit like lying or an envious attitude. This isn’t a trial marriage where we say, “Okay, I’ll try church for the next three or four weeks and see if it makes me feel any better.” No, this kind of surrender is the surrender of everything. We don’t give Him part, we give Him ALL. Every part of us. In fact, we give up any idea of doing part of the job ourselves. We turn over the pink slip and all the registration papers to God. We’re betting it all on Him.

Yes, it’s a big choice . . . the biggest. It’s what the “rich young ruler” faced. It’s what God’s people faced on the top of Mount Carmel. It’s what every man or woman faces when they consider the cross of Christ. But it’s also the best decision you can make. Let me tell you very personally: this is a roll of the dice that IS a guaranteed winner. I praise God right now if you’ve decided to give all of yourself to Him.

Now, once you’ve made that choice, you are a Christian. That commitment counts! At this very moment, you are saved. The Bible says in John 5:24: You have crossed over from death to life.

I want to say a special word of encouragement to those of you who may have very recently decided to give your life to God. And you want to have peace of mind, assurance, that you actually are saved. Maybe you got baptized and didn’t feel that much different when you came up out of the water. Maybe you made a choice for Jesus, and then found out that the following week or month you still struggled with some of the same sins and hurtful tendencies. You start to wonder if your conversion actually ”took.” You wonder if your e-mail of decision ever got to heaven after you hit the “Send” key.

This issue of peace of mind is one that grips many of us. “I want to know!” you say. And so in my years of ministry I’ve tried to faithfully share verses like I John 5:13 which tell us we can indeed know that we have eternal life. First John 5:13—read it and underline it and memorize it for yourself. While you’re at it, add the verse right before, where John tells us very plainly: He who has the Son has life. He who does not have the Son of God does not have life.

But then, what about tomorrow and next month and next year? You might enter into a marriage commitment this coming weekend at church, and discover five years from now that you’re no longer married. The relationship of trust has shattered on the rocks. The person you loved so much is now out of your life. You once “had” a wife, or a friend, and no you do not “have” that person.

So can the same thing happen in the Christian faith? Can we commit our lives to Jesus Christ and determine that we’ll live in a trust relationship with Him—and then later change our minds and back out? And if we CAN do that, what happens to our assurance? Do we have to walk around with a wobbly kind of fear in our hearts . . . saved, lost, saved, lost, saved, lost. Is our salvation security no more reliable than those tumbling dice in Las Vegas? Lucky eleven on one roll and snake eyes on the next?

Let me say one thing. I’m truly glad we have a God who doesn’t force us! He welcomes our commitment and He’s happy to hold us securely in His loving grasp. But He never forces us to stay there. And I’ve seen people who later decided to “take a walk” . . . and, you know, God permitted them to do that. With tears in His eyes, He let them go. The man with two sons reluctantly let one of them head out for the distant city of sin.

But I want to tell you today: that doesn’t have to be! God’s people don’t have to spend their years as Christians living in fear and uncertainty, wondering how things are going to end up for them.

With that in mind, I want to share a delightful little math illustration that gives me real comfort.

I understand that sometimes in higher-level upper-graduate classes, a student may decide to prove some long and tangled geometry postulate or theorem, one that might have ten or fifteen intermediate steps to it. And he uses what we call the proof-by-induction approach.

It goes like this. If you can prove the first link in the chain—let’s say that A equals B—and then if you can prove that every subsequent step leads to the one right after it—that C must follow B and that D comes after C—then that immediately takes you right to the finish line.

Okay. Did you follow that? Probably not. So let me share with you the more down-to-earth illustration I heard.

Suppose you want to swallow a whole loooong piece of spaghetti. Basically you do two things. First, you get one end of that spaghetti in your mouth. And then all you have to do is give a good mama-mia suck on that spaghetti . . . and every inch of that tube of pasta will pull the next inch in right after it.

It works the same with dominoes, if you can relate more to that. If they’re all lined up and you just knock down the first one, the end result is assured.

Before I take you too far afield here and your eyes begin to glaze over, let’s bring all this spaghetti math down to our brand new Christian experience.

Day Number One, which is today, right now, this Sabbath morning. You commit your life to God. Lock, stock, and barrel. You decide to live in a trust relationship with Him—and you also spend some time today in getting to know Him. You invest some time in this brand new commitment by getting acquainted through Bible study and prayer. The writer C. S. Lewis has a great line about training the habit of faith, about spending some time each day just looking at the important things we believe.

Tomorrow you do the same thing. You recommit your life to Jesus. You decide again tomorrow that you’re going to give Him your entire self. And you spend some time tomorrow getting more acquainted through more Bible study and prayer.

The third day, you knock over one more domino. Every day you simply stay in that relationship.

What does this mean, then? It means this: assurance! Total assurance! You simply stay in that relationship every day. You give your life to Christ every day. You spend time with Him every day. In a sense, every domino knocks over the next one . . . and you keep right with it to the very end of the line. What could be more secure than that?

It’s that way in our marriages, isn’t it? Let me tell you something. I happened to mention to my bride, on our wedding day, that I loved her. I told her I was committing my life to her, linking our futures together.

The next day, I did the very same thing again. I told her again that I loved her. I reaffirmed my commitment. I spent some time—in fact, pretty much the whole day, as I recall—getting better acquainted.

And so on and so on, right up to today. And do you know something? My spouse and I have experienced total assurance in our marriage relationship every step of the way. We don’t walk around worried. We don’t freak out or stress out, wondering every day if we’re still together. We know that our marriage is for keeps.

Does that mean we don’t have tough times? No, it sure doesn’t. Every commitment in life is a hard one, especially our Christian commitment and our marriage commitment. Those are Number One and Number Two on the Richter Scale. With my spouse and me, there are times when one or the other of us doesn’t feel like being married any longer. There are days when we don’t feel like spending the necessary time in communication, when we’d rather be alone and indulge our own interests. There are times when we’re tempted to walk away from it all. But for all the years God has allowed us to experience together, we’ve continued in our relationship. And because we do it every day, we’ve enjoyed continuous assurance, even through the hardest of times.

Dr. Tony Evans, who pastors the Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, has written a powerful book entitled The Victorious Christian Life. Here’s his counsel for tough spiritual moments: “When Satan rears his head and brings temptations our way—which he is certain to do—we flash our wedding ring of faith in his face and say, `Sorry. I’m married now. I have a brand new name and a new life to go with it. The person I was, along with all my old habits and shortcomings, no longer exists.'”

So that’s good counsel for the first day. But the reality is that this is going to happen over and over! Sanctification, we’re told, is the work of a lifetime. Getting to know God is going to use up the next fifty years. With that in mind, Pastor Evans then adds this marvelous insight: “A wedding ceremony generally takes place only once. However, we renew our wedding vows at the start of each new day, and again throughout the day as we face decisions which propose a contamination of our commitment to stay married to the same person. Living the Christian life is no different. Choosing to yield ourselves to God is a process—not an event—that will continue throughout our lives.”

Pastor Bill Hybels, author of a number of helpful Christian books, uses the metaphor of Christian living being a marathon, not a sprint. We gear up for the long haul, for the marriage that is aiming to celebrate a golden anniversary some day. And this involves seven commitments a week, 365 of them each year.

You know, there’s one Bible verse that sounds like it’s contradicting EVERYTHING we’ve discovered together in this serious on decisions. Philippians 2:12. It goes like this: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

Wow! And oh dear! “Work out our own salvation”? “Fear and trembling”? That sounds like the opposite thing from assurance and peace of mind. Does this wipe away everything we’ve studied about salvation being a gift and God doing it all?

Not at all. Listen. It’s hard to surrender. It’s hard to enter into a commitment and hard to stay in it. Whether you’re getting married or giving your life to Jesus Christ, there’s a daily work to be done. There’s a discipline to it all. There are duties to be performed and acts of sacrifice. But it’s a good work, a friendship work, a surrender work, a relationship-building work that brings lasting joy. Shall we pray?

Father, all of us want to know that we are Your children forever. Thank You for choosing to adopt us. Now help us to carefully and wisely and faithfully choose You as our Lord today and every day. Help us to abide in a saving connection with Your Son Jesus. And thank You for teaching us to relax in You, to rejoice always, and to always “have the Son.” In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.

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