So last week we kicked off a brand new series here at MRC called “My Story.”  What we are doing is looking at seven choices that we make that will forever mark our story spiritually.  Last week, on Easter with all of our friends here that we haven’t seen since Christmas we hit a big one.  We looked at the decision we can make that will absolutely change the course of our spiritual journeys forever…that choice was to enter into a relationship with God, or to choose religion…and without re-preaching that talk we realized that one of those ways was going to lead to a full life in Jesus, and the other was going to lead to a life of exhaustion, frustration, and confusion.  I know, I know not a fair way to present you options to choose from but it’s the truth.  When we choose a relationship with Jesus, we are allowing Jesus to do all the work for us, which is so freeing.  When we choose religion, we are saying that we need to do all the things for us that no person can actually do for us and when that happens we end up with a big mess on our hands.  So last week was a big one, and a fun one because I’m not sure there is anything Ken and I like to do more than to expose religion for what it is and try to encourage you into a full and loving and freeing relationship with Jesus and today just builds off of that choice.

Today we are going to look at the second big choice that we make that can forever mark your spiritual story and literally change the course of your life and I’m just going to warn you…this one is not only important, but can rub some of us the wrong way…so we may need to buckle up and hang on for this one!  So here’s where we are headed today, we have the ability to choose between two types of spirituality one is counterfeit and the other is real.  It’s interesting that last week I shared with you my definition of the spirit of religion do you remember that?  Religion is trying to take away Jesus and the magnitude of what He did for us on the cross.  Well today we are going to see the product of that.  There are many false religions out there.  There really almost always has been.  If you go back to the Old Testament, as the Israelite people were heading into the Promise Land, God very clearly tells them to destroy all these other forms of religion so they could just focus on God fully.

Deuteronomy 7:1 When GOD, your God, brings you into the country that you are about to enter and take over, he will clear out the superpowers that were there before you: the Hittite, the Girgashite, the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite. Those seven nations are all bigger and stronger than you are. 2 GOD, your God, will turn them over to you and you will conquer them. You must completely destroy them, offering them up as a holy destruction to GOD. Don’t make a treaty with them. Don’t let them off in any way. 3 Don’t marry them: Don’t give your daughters to their sons and don’t take their daughters for your sons — 4 before you know it they’d involve you in worshiping their gods, and GOD would explode in anger, putting a quick end to you. 5 Here’s what you are to do: Tear apart their altars stone by stone, smash their phallic pillars, chop down their sex-and-religion Asherah groves, set fire to their carved god-images. 6 Do this because you are a people set apart as holy to GOD, your God. GOD, your God, chose you out of all the people on Earth for himself as a cherished, personal treasure. MSG

This wasn’t God speaking against a certain race of people.  This wasn’t talk on what race you can marry, this has everything to do with the dangers of falling to false religion.  God is saying destroy it all, if you don’t you will begin to fall to what they worship instead of worshiping the one and only God.  Because there only is one God and one way…which will become a theme for this talk today.  Now here’s the thing, the Israelites got rid of most of the other nations and religions, but not all of the other religions and nations…and you still see them fighting today in the Middle East which is amazing enough in its own right.  And guess what happens to the Israelites when they didn’t get rid of all of the false religions?  Everything that God said could happened, ends up happening.  They began to worship these idols and false gods of the other nations which led to devastating results on the nation of Israel just as God said that it would.  Amazing isn’t it?  I think for us it’s easy to think, “How silly these Israelite people are!  God was so real to them and yet they fall to silly idols…I would never do that!”  But I think it happens really easily, and I think it’s still happening today.  Remember how sneaky this religion thing is…it’s hard to discern what is real over what is counterfeit.  Let’s not pick on the poor Israelites any more than we have to, let’s talk about you and I and our culture today.  You know if you think about it, there are a lot of religions out there and in many ways they appeal to people just like those gods of the Canaanite people that lured God’s people in, there are many things today that do the same to thing to us because I think we have a thing culturally today that says we are a little smarter than the generations before us, we are a little more “evolved” may be a better way to put it.  I mean this is the enlightened era right?  We don’t bully and we certainly don’t pick sides and say that one thing is wrong and one thing is right…because that would leave someone not feeling good about themselves, and we are smart enough to know that we should be tolerant and inclusive today.  Well there are a lot of religions out there today outside of Christianity and I want you to see something as we get rolling today.  There is a theme to all of them, which is this… “If I am good, and if I do good things, I will follow my good actions right to eternal bliss.”  Which is a nice thought and this is theme to every religion but Christianity…all of them.  But here’s what is interesting about that thought, and probably what appeals to so many as they choose false religion over the real.  If this is true then it means that we don’t need God at all.  If this is true than there is no need of a savior.  If this is true than we are doing it and not Jesus.  Which a lot of us like because we don’t like the idea of needing or depending on anything or anyone.  Remember my definition of religion?  Religion is anything that takes away Jesus and all that He did for us on the cross.  There are millions and millions of people in our world today choosing this form of counterfeit religion over the real and it is really where I wanted to hang out with you today and I think it’s awesome that it builds so well off of last week.  If this whole spiritual living thing is about what we do than we don’t need God…because our salvation is done in our own efforts…it’s the perfect lie.  So today we are going to talk about the way to salvation and eternity and by the end hopefully you will see the choice as it is laid out before you between false religion and the real…I think in the end it is very black and white.

You know being a Pastor is an absolutely amazing thing.  I love what I get to do each day and having grown up a Pastor’s kid I have some advantages over those who just try to step into this “job” without watching your own family walk through it for a few decades first.  It’s funny, there are a lot of unspoken challenges that come with the title, “Pastor.”  There are a lot of weird expectations and things that people kind of put on you as a Pastor…which is why I try to remind you all of just how human I actually am from time to time.  I’m not trying to sound like a diva here today but it’s funny, when you are “General Superintendent of Lobar Sam” nobody cares which glass you pick up at a wedding for the toast, or which Political Party’s signs are in your yard or on your car.  Nobody cares who you are following on social media or who’s post you liked or didn’t like.  But Pastor Sam has to be mindful of these things all the time!  It’s funny what that title can do.  With that title it means that I have to be really thinking about my facial expressions or tone, because I can encourage or crush someone without even realizing it sometimes.  Pastor Sam needs to mindful of his filters all the time…and if you know me you know that isn’t exactly a strong suit for me!   General Superintendent Sam can cheer loudly at his children’s sporting events but Pastor Sam should quietly be clapping and encouraging the referee and other team at all times.  Pastor Sam needs to be very mindful of which glass he picks up at the wedding reception!  Pastor Sam needs to watch what he likes, doesn’t like, or follows on social media.  Pastor Sam has to watch what he says or does on huge things like where will his 9 year old daughter play soccer, or why certain magnets are on his car and why certain magnets aren’t on his car…and by the way that car better not be as nice as mine…General Superintendent Sam can drive a decent car but not Pastor Sam!  So it’s a quiet thing that I just exposed to you but it’s something I understand and I do my best to toe the line.  I am like a ninja at a wedding reception quietly sneaking off so everyone can have more fun than I’m allowed to have without feeling any conviction.  I try to stay right down the middle on a lot of things so as not to cause a stir but what I find funny about it all is none of those things really matter.  What glass is in my hand at a wedding, what car I can or can’t drive, how I cheer at a sporting event, right down to how I feel about different social issues, or why there is or isn’t a political magnet on my car, or just how I feel about this that or the other thing…none of that really matters so I just toe the line as best as I can.  Why hurt or hinder someone over such silly things…so I do my best to stay in the middle ground as best I can.  I can hear my wife now telling me to make sure I add the (as best as he can part.)  But there is one area that matters more to me than any other.  There is one area that I do not believe there is a middle ground.  There is one area where to most of the world I am a very polarizing figure.  There is one area where there is no negotiating at all.  That is the area of our salvation, our pathway to eternal life.  It’s that area that is non-negotiable and there is just no plan B.  Our salvation is found in Jesus…there is no other way.  There are many religions out there to choose from all of which tell you all the things that you need to do to earn your own salvation, and in our culture today where we don’t like right and wrong, that sounds nice.  Let me choose my path, and live my life y way and in the end if I’m   just be a good person, it will all work out.  Well I will keep the magnets off my car, and I will try to remember to only grab the water glass at the wedding reception, and I will probably not like the wrong thing on social media but I need you to hear me clearly today.  There is only one way to Heaven.  Is this harsh?  Is this polarizing?  I want you to hear Jesus’ words hear today and we will walk through them…

John 14:1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” 6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  NIV

Jesus says something here that is very polarizing and that many struggle with, but I want you to see today just how loving this statement actually is.  Jesus says that ‘He is the way, the truth, and the life…and that no one comes to the Father except through me.’  This is our focus for this talk today.  So many don’t want to hear that, because they want to live life there way.  They want to do what they want to do when they want to do it.  So the last thing they want to do is hear that there is only one way to heaven because that doesn’t seem fair does it?  Well we will get into it, but let me say that it is beyond fair…if anything it wasn’t fair to Jesus, who came and did all the heavy lifting for you and for me.  Jesus who took on all of our shortcomings and sins so that we can have eternal life!  It’s all about Jesus.  It is only about Jesus.  He is the way the truth and the life.  So I want to spend some time in the scripture today.  The first thing you see Jesus say is an encouragement to his disciples.  He says… “Do not let your hearts be troubled” He says this to them because has been breaking down to them the fact that his time is up.  He is speaking now in his last 48 hours on this Earth…the Cross is right before Him now.  At this point they have eaten the last supper, Judas has left to betray Jesus for 30 silver coins, and he has just told them they would all scatter and run from him to save themselves and that before a rooster crows that Peter was going to deny Jesus three times.  So yeah, their hearts were a little heavy.  These guys have given their lives to Jesus, they have gone all in.  They have left everything behind, jobs, family, wealth, to follow Him and now things are getting real!  Jesus explains so much to us there in those first few verses…

John 14:1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.” NIV

Jesus is encouraging them, and then explains that He is going on ahead to get our eternal home ready.  He will prepare a place for us all…and he clearly lets us know that He will come back for us so that we can go live in our eternal home with Him.  And then Jesus tells us three things about himself that are such a big deal.  He says first that He is the way.

Jesus is the way.  He is our way to eternal life.  Jesus is the answer to the sin problem.  Remember that sin is the divider between us and God.   And Jesus was God’s loving answer to sin.  The answer, the way is Jesus.  Now I know this isn’t what our culture wants us talking about today.  Our culture says there should be multiple ways and that I should be able to take the one that makes me feel good right now, but Jesus isn’t saying that at all.  This is very counter-cultural, Jesus is saying that I am the way to Heaven.  I will get you to your eternal home.  I am the answer it is me.  I know no one likes absolutes.  No one likes to be told what they can and cannot do and so many people think this is harsh or oppressive.  How dare Jesus tell me that I must do life His way to go to Heaven but think about what He is really saying here; “Hey, come to me and I will do all the work for you so that you can enjoy heaven for all of eternity!”  It’s actually freeing, and loving, and leads us to a life of joy, and energy, and strength because Jesus does it all for us.  Our job is simply to believe in Him and allow Him to lovingly take us home.  Listen Jesus is the way…there is no other option, there is no plan B…it’s Jesus.  Then Jesus explains to them that He is the truth.

Jesus is the truth. Jesus is the only real measure of what is good…Jesus is mercy and grace.  Jesus is forgiveness.  Paul says this in Colossians…

Colossians1:15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before God made anything at all and is supreme over all creation.   16 Christ is the one through whom God created everything in heaven and earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see — kings, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities. Everything has been created through him and for him. 17 He existed before everything else began, and he holds all creation together. 18 Christ is the head of the church, which is his body. He is the first of all who will rise from the dead, so he is first in everything. 19 For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, 20 and by him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of his blood on the cross. 21 This includes you who were once so far away from God.  NLT

Jesus is literally the image of God.  He is the only true measure of God’s own righteousness.  So when we know Jesus we know God…He is truth.  So false religion says that I make my own goodness or righteousness by the good things we do.  While God would say goodness is found through Jesus.  I don’t think it is a stretch for any of us today to say that when we do good things we feel better about ourselves.  I know that I do!  Well this is one of the things that plays on us with these false religions, it plays on that idea of feeling good because we are doing a lot of good things but think about it.  If Jesus is righteousness then we go to Him for goodness, there is nothing that we can do to earn it, or make it.  I believe this is why God spoke so clearly through the prophet Isaiah with statements like these…

Isaiah 64:6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. NIV

God is speaking here…and it sets the tone, all our good deeds are like filthy rags to God.  Jesus is the answer to our righteousness, it’s never something we can work up in our own strength.  I think this is the issue…we try doing life our way.  We work hard at it.  We do good things to make ourselves feel better and we just don’t want anyone in this enlightened era that we live in telling us the truth.  The truth is that Jesus is the only way to find true fulfillment, joy, and life to the full.  Jesus is the only way to Heaven.  Is that constrictive or harsh?  Or is it a loving and redeeming thought today?  “Wait just a minute Sam, can’t I just do whatever I want?”  Sure, you can and probably have been but the reality is that anything man made can give your enemy a foothold into your life.  It is a counterfeit religion and it is you denying the reality of a relationship with God.  People do all kinds of things to feel better about themselves.  We create all kinds of counterfeit religions, now I’m not sure we would label them as counterfeit religions but they are replacing Jesus in our life.  I’m not saying not to do good things…I’m not even saying you won’t get out ahead of some others in the areas that look successful to our human eyes…but I am saying that anything that is replacing Jesus in your life is false.  Why do I say that?  Because Jesus said that He is the truth.  We see all the bright and shiny of this world and we know it will feel good in the now…but the now is such a short time when you line it up beside eternity.  We work so hard to find fulfillment and there is no possible way to find it in our own strength.  We pull Jesus out of the center of lives and run to everything and everything but Him…yet Jesus says that He is the way.  He is the truth…and He also tells us that He is the life.

Jesus is the life.  So, if you are not banking on Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life than you have to be banking on something else to be that in your life and what happens is that we end up working to be good.  You search for the kind of life Jesus told you that He came to give you and you just never seem to find it…remember John 10:10 where Jesus tells you why He came?

John 10:10 …I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. NIV

You simply will never work hard enough to accomplish what Jesus came to freely give you…but when we take Jesus out of the center of our lives and put ourselves in there…boy oh boy do we have to work to be good, and more importantly look good and I have to tell you I don’t think there is anything more exhausting than working for things you can’t ever achieve and acting like something you are not, constantly trying to hold it together so others see the view of you that you want them to see!  This is an exhausting way to live…it’s a total mess.  Here’s the thing, ff you believe in Jesus, that He is the life, you don’t have to work or act like something you’re not anymore.  You can simply embrace the imperfect person that you are!  You don’t have to manufacture goodness anymore…and as you relax in that, Jesus hands you that life to the full that you have always been seeking in the deepest part of your soul and never been able to find.  Maybe this is exactly what Jesus meant that this life to the full thing that He came to give us is us just relaxing in who we are, and being ok with who you are as He covers all our issues for us.  It frees you up to live a whole other way because Jesus is handling everything for you.  No more acting.  No more working.  Simply relaxing in the loving arms of Jesus and allowing Him to do what only He can do in your life.

This is what it means to choose God over counterfeit religion.  It’s us banking on Jesus because of His goodness…and there is a peace that comes to us in the knowledge that we don’t measure up and it’s ok because we don’t have to because Jesus is the life.  Jesus is measured and not us, and He is perfect…we are not.  This is a beautifully relaxing and energizing place to be and it’s our prayer that you could find that in Jesus.  So many people look at Christianity and they immediately think about all the do’s and don’t do’s of religion and think of how oppressive it is, but when you understand that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and you bank on Him…none of the rules and regulations are oppressive anymore, because your focus is on Jesus and not on the religion.  When Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life all those oppressive rules fall away, and you realize that everything that God asks you to do is to lead you into a deeper and healthier life!  It’s amazing when you think about it all the “oppressive” rules that God puts in place that for years have jammed so many of us up don’t have to jam us up.  If we bank on Jesus they won’t, they will help us instead of hurt us.  This is why I always try to tell you forget the whole rules and regulations thing and just focus on loving God…and it will all come into place.  How?  Through Jesus, we bank on Him.  We let Him do all the heavy lifting and we find our goodness in Him.  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  Well, now we get into it.  Because it’s what Jesus says next that I think can really get under some of our skin…

John 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  NIV

So Jesus says that no one comes to the Father except through me!  Well what is up with that because that doesn’t sound very redemptive to those of us living in this enlightened era does it?  “Are you seriously trying to tell me Sam that you won’t put a political sticker on your car, or pick up the wrong glass at a wedding reception, or like the wrong post on your social media but you are going to tell me that you believe that statement from Jesus?”  Yes, I believe it with every ounce of my being.  So Sam if I do the math you are saying that if I don’t believe in Jesus and allow Him into my life I don’t get to go to Heaven because that sounds beyond harsh?  Yes, I believe this with all of my being.  Listen, every religion in this world but Christianity says this…“If I do good things, my god will accept me.”  Islam, Judaism, etc…they all say the same thing but what does that do?  It forces us to make our own way to goodness again!  Listen we humans are not very good at being good.  You don’t believe me?  Should we look down over the Ten Commandments for a minute and see how we do with those ten rules?  Ten very simple, very fundamental rules to live by…and we can’t even live those out!  Listen, this is so important for us to see, we humans are imperfect.  We mess up.  We struggle on our own.  We simply can’t and won’t get this righteousness thing done in our own strength.  We need help.  The beauty of our God in Heaven is that He loves us.  He is personal with us and He sent us the help.  He sent us Jesus.  He is the way.  He is the truth.  He is the life.  This isn’t rigid or harsh, it is completely redemptive.

For most of us humans in the world today we don’t want to hear that there is one way to do anything because that is so constrictive and unfair.  What we really are saying is this… “I am my own way.  I am the truth.  I am the life.  I will do life my way and get myself through in my own strength.”  Can I ask you something?  How is that working out for you?  In our culture today the individual self seems to rule all decisions and to say anything else is just barbaric and not ok.  So what can happen today as I say that Jesus actually is the way, the truth and the life and that there is no other way to the eternal party than through Jesus is that I can be dismissed with one nasty word thrown out in front of my name.  You know what that word is?  It’s a hot button word today…that word is intolerant.  That word allows me to be dismissed…and puts me in a close minded category of someone who isn’t being nice to others.  But let’s think about this.  To say that there is a way to eternal bliss.  There is a way to life to the full.  A way to live life with a depth that you could never have in your own strength would excite anybody!  But then I ruin it by tell you this, that it’s Jesus.  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and He is the way to everything.  He is the only way…and that way is not all inclusive by today’s standards, it’s intolerant and close minded.  Man what a tragedy.  What a setup from our enemy.  We throw all of it away so that we can feel good in the now.  We choose counterfeit religion over true and real relationship all because we want to live life our way right now.  Man this hurts my heart.  Jesus says this…

John 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  NIV

Listen to me, this isn’t cruel.  This isn’t harsh, this isn’t intolerance or close-mindedness.  This is love!  This is grace!  This is God throwing you and I a life preserver in this harsh world…because we simply can’t get this done on our own.  We have spent weeks here at MRC lately talking about how nothing of this world is getting it done…weeks of talks on how we can’t find fulfillment in our own strength.  Whatever it is, more of that thing just isn’t going to work and none of it will get you home with God.  Jesus is there preparing the house for us and Jesus is saying that he is the way to get home with our Heavenly Father to party in all of eternity with Him…we can have all of it.  Everything our souls crave is found in Jesus!  It’s not found in your works.  It’s not found in your goodness.  It’s not found in anything that you can do.  It is found in Jesus and only in Jesus.  He is the way.  He is the truth.  He is the life.  Which isn’t oppressive it is absolutely freeing.

So today we looked at the second big choice in our spiritual journey.  The choice is this, will I choose a counterfeit religion…something man made over a real life in Jesus.  The beauty of that real life in Jesus is the biggest choice we make is to stop working so hard and to allow Jesus to do what only He can do in our lives.  I told you when it comes to most things that don’t matter I can stay in the middle ground.  You won’t see me jumping into silly debates on the internet.  I will do my best to slide out of wedding receptions so you can all have more fun than I’m allowed to have.  I will do my best to stay in the middle ground in lots of trivial things but there is one area that I just will not.  I love you too much not to lead you to Jesus and say He is the way, He is the truth, and He is the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Him.  The beauty of our faith is that Jesus handles it all, paid it all, and leads us all into Heaven.  This is the amazing good news of our faith.  All you have to do is believe, and Jesus does it all for you.  It is so freeing and light yet somehow our culture has made it heavy and oppressive.

So as I leave you today I ask you this question.  How are you doing?  Are you tired?  Are you frustrated?  Are you searching?  Maybe you are working hard at making a better version of you.  I will try to save you some hassle here, it won’t work.  It doesn’t work, and it can’t work.  But God loves you enough to take care of it all for you if you let Him.  And because of Jesus you don’t have to do all of that work anymore.  You can simply believe in Him and rely on Him and allow Him to do what only He can do in your life.  Sorry I just can’t stay in the middle on this one.  It is crystal clear.  When it comes to wedding receptions, political views or opinions, right down to where my 9 year old daughter will play soccer I will tip toe just because I love you…but when it comes to Jesus, I will be very clear because I love you…there is no other way.  There simply is no middle ground here.

John 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  NIV