Are You Headed in the Right Direction?
Sermon by Rick Crandall
Grayson Baptist Church - Jan. 2, 2013
*One time I heard Bill Stafford preach at a conference in Jacksonville, Florida. Bill was talking about being stubborn, and he said, "I used to be so stubborn, that if I was riding in the car with my wife, trying to get to Jacksonville. And she told me I was heading in the wrong direction, -- I would drive to Miami before I'd admit I was going the wrong way!"
*Well, the Lord helped Bill get over his stubbornness. And that's a good thing, because we all need to be headed in the right direction. But how can we tell? How do we know if we are headed in the right direction in life? Here are four key questions to help us see.
1. The first key question is this: Have I realized the importance of repenting?
*We see repentance in vs. 2, where John the Baptist was preaching and said: "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!"
*Then down in vs. 7, we see people who refused to repent:
7. But when he (i.e. John the Baptist) saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "Brood of vipers! Who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come?"
*We don't want to be rebellious against the Lord like the Pharisees and Sadducees! Who in their right mind would want to be a child of the Snake? Who in their right mind would want to suffer the wrath of God? And there are only two choices: Rebellion against God or repentance toward God.
*But what does it mean to repent? Well, it's not just "turning over a new leaf" or "turning your life around." TV personality David Frost was talking about certain man and said: "He's turned his life around. He used to be depressed and miserable. Now he's miserable and depressed." (1)
*Penelope Stokes said: "The trouble with turning over a new leaf is that once you've done it twice, you're right back where you started." (2)
*There's a big difference between "turning over a new leaf" and turning your life over to Jesus Christ. What does it mean to repent? Paul Decker tells us that "repentance means we have a necessary change of mind. Our views change. Our values and goals change. The way we live changes. Repentance means that we turn away from sin and turn to God." (3)
*Gordon MacDonald once said: "Repentance is not basically a religious word. It comes from a culture where people were essentially nomadic and lived in a world with no maps or street signs. It is easy to get lost walking through the desert. You become aware that the countryside is strange. You finally say to yourself, 'I'm going in the wrong direction.' That's the first act of repentance. And the second act of repentance is to GO in a different direction." We start going in the right direction. (4)
*It's like that car Bill Stafford was driving, and he realized, "Hey, I'm going the wrong way. I don't want to go to Miami. I'm going to turn around." And then you do turn around. You turn away from sin and selfish living. And you turn to God.
*What direction are you headed in tonight? We are never standing still. And all of us need to turn away from bad actions and bad attitudes. So take a good look at your life, and turn away from every known sin. At the same time, turn toward the Lord and all of His goodness.
*In vs. 2, John the Baptist said: "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" Church: To me that means God's Kingdom is so close that we can reach out and touch it, if we will only turn to God.
*How can I tell if I am headed in the right direction? -- Ask this question: Have I realized the importance of repenting?
2. The second key question is: Have I examined the essentials of life?
*Examining the essentials of life is crucial for us all, but we can't even begin until our spiritual eyes have been opened by the Lord. In Matthew 15:14, Jesus was speaking about hard-hearted leaders like the men here in vs. 7, and the Lord said: "Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch."
*In Matthew 23:15-16, Jesus spoke to some of these Christ-rejecting leaders and the Lord said:
15. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
16. Woe to you, blind guides."
*2 Corinthians 4:3-4 says:
3. But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:
4. In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.
*But Hebrews 2:9 speaks to Christians and says: "We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone."
*Think how important our physical sight is. Blind and deaf Helen Keller certainly knew. Here is part of what she said about being able to see for even three days: "Use your eyes as if tomorrow you would be stricken blind. If I had three days to see, this is what I would want to see. On the first day I would want to see the people whose kindness and companionship have made my life worth living. I would call in my friends and look for a long time into their faces. I would also look into the face of a new baby. I would like to see the many books which have been read to me.
*The next day I would get up early to see the dawn. I would visit a museum to learn of man's upward progress in the making of things. The third morning I would again greet the dawn, eager to discover new beauties in nature. I would spend this last day in the haunts of persons, where they work. I would stand at a busy street corner, trying to understand something of the daily lives of persons by looking into their faces and reading what is written there. . ."
*Then Helen Keller ended by saying, "Yes, by God's light in Christ, seeing what matters and beholding the extraordinary in the commonplace." (5)
*Physical vision is a wonderful thing, but spiritual vision is infinitely more important. And that's what we need to examine the essentials in life.
*Here's part of what our Lord said to the backslidden church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:
14. "And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, 'These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God:
15. I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot.
16. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth.
17. Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing' and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked
18. I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see."
*God wants us to see well enough to examine the essentials in life. And in vs. 3-6, John the Baptist shows us some of these essentials.
 First, in vs. 3, we must prepare the way of the Lord in our own lives, for John the Baptist was crying out to us too when he said: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight."
 We also need to stop putting too much focus on the things of this world, for in vs. 4 John "was clothed in camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist."
*John the Baptist wasn't too concerned about wearing fine clothes, and in Mathew 11:11, Jesus said there was none greater than John. I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with nice clothes. But are they essential? What really matters?
 Next John reminds us that we need to confess our sins on a regular basis.
*As we see in vs. 5&6:
5. Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him
6. and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.
*We have to see our sins the same way God sees them. And 1 John 1:8-9 says this to Christians:
8. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
9. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
*God wants us to examine these 3 essentials:
-How can I prepare the way of the Lord in my own life?
-Am I putting too much focus on the things of this world?
-And do I confess my sins to God on a regular basis?
*How can I tell if I am headed in the right direction? -- Ask this question: Have I examined the essentials of life?
3. The third key question is this: Can I find any fruit in my life?
*As John the Baptist said in vs. 8&9:
8. "Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance,
9. and do not think to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones."
*Look at it this way: Our parents, grandparents and ancestors may have been spiritually alive in the Lord. They might have had a great harvest of spiritual fruit for the Kingdom. But that doesn't mean we are alive. We could be spiritually deader than a rock.
*God wants all Christians to live fruitful lives. And we know this kind of life is important to God, because His Word talks about fruit over 60 times in the New Testament.
*Just hours before the cross, Jesus said this about our fruitfulness:
1. "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.
2. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
3. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.
4. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
5. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.
6. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.
7. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.
8. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. (John 15:1-8)
*As we go through the New Testament, we can see at least four different types of Christian fruit:
 The first kind of Christian fruit is holiness, righteousness and goodness, the character of Jesus Christ.
*So Romans 6:22 tells believers, "Now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life." Galatians 5:22-23 tells us that: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." And Ephesians 5:9 says, "The fruit of the Spirit is in all (i.e. in all believers) goodness, righteousness and truth."
 The second kind of Christian fruit is our financial giving.
*In Philippians 4:15-17, Paul said:
15. Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only.
16. For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities.
17. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account.
 The third kind of Christian fruit is our heart-felt praise to God.
*Hebrews 13:15 says: "Therefore by Him (i.e. by Jesus) let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name."
*I want to encourage all of us to be intentional about praising the Lord. Praise Him when you first get up in the morning. Praise Him in the shower. Praise Him on the way to work. Praise the Lord because He is always worthy of our praise. Praise Him because it will lift your load in life. And praise the Lord because all of your heart-felt praise is spiritual fruit in your life.
 The fourth kind of fruit is the one we think of the most, and that is reaching people for Jesus Christ.
*Listen to the Lord in John 4:35-36:
35. "Do you not say, 'There are still four months and then comes the harvest'? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!
36. And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together."
*Then in Romans 1:13, Paul said: "Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you." And why did Paul plan on going to Rome? He said, "that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles."
*We are covering a lot of ground here, but we all need to be more fruitful. And you may feel worn out right now, but don't give up on bearing fruit for the Lord!
*King Duncan told about a young man who was running in a marathon race. He was falling farther and farther behind the other runners. But then he looked as if he was saying something to himself, and he began to pick up the pace. That young man began to pass other people, and he wound up winning that marathon!
*Afterwards, someone asked him what he was talking to himself about, and he replied, "Oh, I wasn't talking to myself. I was talking to God. I was saying, 'Lord, you pick 'em up, and I'll put them down.'" (6)
*Church: The same God who gave us life, the same God who gave us eternal life, will surely help give us a fruitful life for His glory. But can I find any fruit in my life? That's a key question.
4. But the fourth and most important key question is this: Have I trusted in the One who can turn my life around?
*His name is Jesus Christ and we see Him in vs. 10-12, where John the Baptist said:
10. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
12. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.''
*God is doing serious business in these verses. He is separating the wheat from the worthless chaff. A lot of people are going down in the flames, and all of us deserve to.
*If John the Baptist wasn't worthy, do you think we are? -- Not a chance. But Jesus Christ came into the world to die on the cross for us. And He will save you if you will turn to Jesus and trust Him as Savior and Lord.
*Hundreds of years ago an artist named Steinberg met young gypsy woman. He was struck with the young woman's beauty, and frequently took her to his studio to sit as a model for his paintings. At that time, Steinberg was at work on his masterpiece, "Christ on the Cross."
*The girl used to watch him work on this painting, and one day she said this about Jesus on the cross: "He must have been a very wicked man to be nailed to a cross like that." Steinberg replied, "No, on the contrary, he was a very good man, the best man who ever lived. He died for others."
*The young woman then looked up at the artist, and asked, "Did he die for you?" Steinberg was not a Christian at the time, but the young woman's question touched his heart. And he trusted in the Lord, whose sacrifice he had painted so well. (7)
*Let me repeat the young woman's question: "Did Jesus die for you?" The answer is "Yes!" So turn to Jesus Christ. Trust in the Lord, and you will surely start heading in the right direction in life.
*Are you headed in the right direction tonight? -- Answer these four questions, and you will know:
1. Have I realized the importance of repenting?
2. Have I examined the essential things of life?
3. Can I find any fruit in my life?
4. And most important: Have I trusted in Jesus to turn my life around?
*Think about these things as we go to God in prayer.
(1) Quotation from David Frost - Source: "Dynamic Illustrations - Oct. Nov. Dec. 2001 - Topic: Conversion
(2) Words in Season, Penelope Stokes, p. 22 - Source: "McHenry's Quips, Quotes, and Other Notes" by Raymond McHenry - Published by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. - p. 172
(3) SermonCentral sermon "A Dream Come True" by Paul Decker - Matt 4:12-17 - 2272000
(4) Adapted from SermonCentral sermon "REVIVAL" by Gerald Flury - 2 Chronicles 7:14
(5) James S. Hewett, "Illustrations Unlimited" - Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988 - p. 259 - Found in "Bible Illustrator for Windows" - Topic: Light - Subtopic: Radiant Lives - Index: 2173 - Date: 7/1996.813 - Title: Seeking in the Light
(6) "Frustrated by Their Lack of Faith" by King Duncan - Mark 6: 1-6 - Source: 06292002 email from Sermons.com
(7) Clarence Macartney, "Preaching without Notes" - Source: "WHEN I SURVEY THE WONDEROUS CROSS" - Galatians 6:11-14 - www.akronfpc.org/RC-S100221.pdf