I believe that as we study God's word, He will teach us truth by His Holy Spirit if we open our hearts to Him. Have any of you had the frustrating experience of not getting to the plane or bus or train on time? I have had that experience several times and I have watched it happen to others.
There is a saying that misery loves company and I guess it is wrong to look at other people miss their connections and not feel bad about it. I have missed connections enough times myself that when I have seen others miss their connection, I have thought to myself, I guess I am not the only one that has that awful experience and perhaps that is not the way I should feel.
Several weeks ago I was at the Houston International Airport waiting for a flight to Wichita. My flight was almost two hours late, so I had a long wait. There was one plane getting ready to leave and the man at the ticket counter kept saying, "This is the last call if you want Flight Number Such-and-such," and it was going to Minneapolis (I think). Evidently there was a tennis tournament up there because there were a number of people boarding this plane with tennis rackets.
It looked as though that was all they were there for. They had almost no baggage. They just came with their tennis rackets. I guess they checked everything else. He kept saying, This is the last call. I was wondering to myself, How many times can you have a last call? But finally after he had said, This is the last call about six times, they did close the door. About two minutes after they closed the door I saw two young ladies with their tennis rackets come running clear from the other end of the concourse. They were running as fast as they could with their tennis rackets up to the counter and asked if they could get on. He said, I am sorry. It is too late. The doors were already closed and the plane was away from the jetty.
Those two ladies looked out at that plane and there it was. It was the one they wanted to be on, but they were just a little bit too late. I thought of all the times that had happened to me. It happened to me not too long ago in Saint Louis. I did not get to the airport as quickly as I should have. I was standing in line, watching the clock, and I thought, Oh, I still have enough time.
After I had stood in line for a number of minutes, I got right up to where I was going to check my baggage and the lady flipped the sign over from OPEN to CLOSED. She said, This line is going to be closed for about a half-hour. That meant that I had to go to the back of another line and start waiting all over again.
By the time I got through the second line, I had the very same experience that those two young ladies had. I went clear to the other end of the concourse just as fast as I could go and when I got there, they had just closed the door. I could see my plane right there, but I had missed it. It is frustrating when you are not ready.
The Bible says that at the end of time there are going to be a lot of people who will not be ready. That will be a terrible experience when you realize that now it is too late to get ready. You either had to be ready or you will not be ready at all. Something happened, you intended to be there--usually it is a whole series of things that happens so you are not there when you should be. When we have those experiences, we need to pray and say, "Lord, help me, whatever happens, not to be too late for what is really important."
When I come to the end of the road of this world whether it is for death or translation, I want to be ready. Do you not? This is the story of a man that when he came to the end of his life, he was ready.
Turn to 2 Timothy 4:6-8. We read here the dying testimony of a man that was ready. This is the letter that the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy just a short time before he was beheaded. He knew that he was going to be martyred. He knew that he was very soon going to give his life, a sacrifice for the cause of the gospel. But he was not sad about it because he was ready, and he said he was ready.
"For I am now ready to be offered." As I have studied this, I have said, "Lord, I pray that when I come to the end in this world, I will be able to say that." Do you want to be able to say I am ready? It will not be good enough to be almost ready.
Ellen White says that to be almost but not wholly or completely saved is to be completely lost. When you come up to the gate and they close it and the doors to the plane are already shut, you are almost there, but you are lost for that flight. You were almost there, but you were not there.
Friends, there are going to be a lot of people in this world that are almost saved, but they will be totally lost. Do not let it happen to you. What can we do so that we will be ready? What good will it do in the day of judgment for you or me to say, Well, I was almost saved? That will not bring you any comfort. It will not do you any good.
You will either be ready and be saved or you will be lost. The apostle Paul did not say he was almost ready. He said, I am ready. Are you ready? Well, somebody says, I will get ready--tomorrow. Friends, there are many millions of Christians in the world that if you ask them today, they would say, No, I am not ready to die today but I am going to get ready.
That is very dangerous. There are stories in the Bible about people who made that decision. They knew they were not ready right then, but they said, I am going to get ready when I have a better opportunity. Remember Felix said, "When I have a better opportunity; I need a better opportunity."
There are a lot of people waiting for those better opportunities. Those better opportunities do not come. Do you know why? The very best opportunity that you have to be saved is today. Tomorrow will not be as good as today, but tomorrow will be better than the next day. Every day that I go down the path of sin, my heart is becoming harder and it is becoming harder for me to overcome.
That does not mean that it cannot happen, but it is becoming more difficult. So your best opportunity, as the apostle Paul said, "Today is the day of salvation." Your best opportunity is today. Is the Holy Spirit telling you that you are not ready but you want to be ready?
The only way you will be ready tomorrow is if you decide I will get ready today. That is why the apostle Paul could say near the end of his life, I am ready. This was not the first time that he had been ready. You do not just go down the path of sin all of your life and then all of a sudden near the end of your life make a change. I am not saying this is impossible, but it is very difficult to do and very few people succeed in doing it.
How was it that the apostle Paul was able to say, I am ready? This was when Paul was on the Damascus road. When they were very near to Damascus all of a sudden a great light shone all around the apostle Paul. He fell down on the ground and he heard a voice (verse 4). The voice said to him, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me? (See Acts 9:3, 4).
Jesus said, Why are you persecuting Me, Saul? And he said, "Who are you Lord?" And the Lord said, I am Jesus, the One that you are persecuting. Rise up and enter into the city and it will be spoken to you what you shall do. (See verse 5). Some manuscripts add the words; "It is hard for you to kick against the pricks." Plus the words, "Lord, what do you wish for me to do?"
The Lord told him what to do and so he went into Damascus and he was there not eating or drinking--but praying for three days. Ananas came. What was it that happened? This was a turning point in Saul's life. He was turned completely around, the opposite way from where he had been before.
The word in the New Testament that is translated conversion is a word that means to turn around. He came to persecute Christians, but he left preaching for Christians. This was Paul's conversion experience and it began when he saw himself in a new light.
When Jesus said to him, Why are you persecuting me? Some thoughts started going through his mind that he had never had before. He realized what he had done to Jesus. By putting men and women to death and by putting them in prison, he had hurt the heart of Deity. He realized what a terrible, wretched person he was. Friends, unless you and I realize how terrible and wretched we are, there is not much of a chance that we will be converted. Nor will we be changed in our hearts and lives, as long as we think we are pretty good.
The Pharisees and Sadducees thought they were pretty good. Not too many of them were converted. One of the first steps in conversion is the realization that I have a heart--a spirit--in which there dwells no good thing. The apostle Paul said that in Romans 7:18. He said, "I know that in my flesh there dwells no good thing."
He saw his need of Jesus. He saw himself as a terrible, wretched sinner who had been hurting Jesus by what he had been doing to His followers. That is one of the first steps of conversion. We have to realize how bad we are. If we do not, we will never have a thorough conversion.
The Bible says that the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Are you going to believe what you think? Or will you believe what the Bible says? If I am going to be a Bible-believing Christian, I have to believe what the Bible says about me. The bible says that in me there is no good thing.
Any righteousness that I can get has to come from Somebody outside to help me. Paul begins to understand that. He thinks about all the Scriptures he had memorized. He thought about where righteousness came from and how his life could be changed. He repented of his past life. He attempted over and over again to confess to the Jewish people, but they were beyond the point of receiving his confession.
On his last visit to Jerusalem on the steps of the temple he told the Jews of his experience, of the light that had shone all around him and how it had changed his life. And in the people he had persecuted, he realized that he had been hurting Jesus. His life was changed. He repented and he confessed his sins.
Because of the decision he made at that time, he was later able to say, I am ready. In Acts 9:17 Ananias came to him and Paul not only received his physical sight, but he received spiritual eyesight and he was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Then it says he arose and was baptized in Acts 9:18, and immediately he was ready to preach. Notice, it says in Acts 9:20 that he immediately went into the synagogues and proclaimed (or preached) that Jesus is the Son of God. Paul preached this story over and over again after that. Look at Acts 22:18. This is close to the end of his life. This is his experience later when he wanted to work for his own countrymen. He wanted to confess to them and tell them about Jesus. This is what happened to him when he was in the temple.
In Acts 22:18 he said that "A voice spoke to him to quickly go out from Jerusalem because the voice said, They will not receive your testimony." Acts 22:19, "And I said, Lord, I also myself--He wanted to confess to them what had happened to him. He thought that it would turn them around just like it had turned him around. The Lord said, No, they will not receive your testimony.
So the Lord sent him away from there to the Gentiles, "far away" as it says in Acts 22:20, 21. Saul never got over his experience of holding the garments of those who stoned Stephen. He refers to that in this passage. That sin bothered him so that he wanted to confess it and do something to rectify as much as possible what he had done.
The Lord told him, "You will have to leave here." They will not listen to you. And so, at the end of that experience he was sent to Caesarea. He related his conversion experience to the Jews in Acts 22:6-16. Now he relates it to King Agrippa in Acts 26. Starting with Acts 26:12 you can see again Paul's account of his conversion experience.
He concludes by saying to Agrippa in Acts 26:19. "Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision." He made a decision and he followed through on the decision.
He saw his need of a Saviour from sin. He realized how bad he was. Friends, we must all go through that same experience. We must realize our need of a Saviour and realize how bad we are. Then he surrendered. He said, Lord, what do you want me to do? Have you surrendered to Jesus? Not holding anything back? Have you said, Lord I surrender everything I have to You, as my Lord and Saviour? Have you done it? If you have not, you cannot say, I am ready.
He surrendered. He repented. There is no such thing as salvation without repentance. Repentance is sorrow for sin and turning away from it. Not just being sorry but being sorry enough to quit. The apostle Paul said in Romans 2:4, ". . .The goodness of God leads you to repentance." Friends, if we see what our sins have cost Jesus, we will begin to realize how awful sin is and we will want to quit.
If we do not want to quit sinning, we have never really seen Jesus on the cross. Paul repented and he confessed. He had a lot of confessions to make. He had to confess to the Jewish Christians. Can you imagine how humiliating and how terrible it would make you feel to have to go and tell people, I am sorry. I am the one that was responsible for the death of your wife, or your husband, or your pastor, or your deacon, or your elder. He had to make those personal confessions.
There is no such thing as salvation without confession. Sins that are unconfessed are unforgiven. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9. Remember, the first word of the text is "if." There is no salvation without confession. Never forget that because if you do, you will meet up with your sins in the Day of Judgment.
Sins that are unconfessed are written in the books of heaven against our names. If we do not confess them, we will meet them at the end of the millennium, because they will still be written there. Paul confessed and then he consecrated himself to Christ as a servant. From then on you will read in his epistles, he always begins, "Paul, a servant . . ." That is from the Greek word doulos which really means a slave.
Paul dedicated his life, everything that he had to Jesus. And from then on he was ready. Are you ready? You do not get ready in a moment of time at the end of your life but it is the result of getting ready beforehand. Look what he says to the Romans. This is not the end of his life. "So as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome." Romans 1:15.
From the time that he was on the Damascus road, whatever God wanted him to do, he said, Lord, I am ready. I am Yours. Can you say that? The way that you get ready to say, I am ready when you come to the end of life's road, is to get ready today. Because Paul made that decision, for the rest of his life he was ready.
Are you ready? Remember that the only way that you will be ready tomorrow is if you decide today to get ready. This world is full of people who are hoping and desiring to be saved but they will be lost because they do not choose today to get ready. They are waiting for a better opportunity and that better opportunity does not come.
Paul came to the end of his life and he had the wonderful experience that I hope that you and I can have, he said, I am ready. I do not have any regrets. I made the right decision and now I am ready. "I am ready and the time of my departure is at hand."
And yet he recounts very briefly the experience of his life. He says, "I have fought a good fight." If we are ready when we come to the end, we have to be fighting the fight now. What is this fight? Paul has a good deal to say about this fight in his epistles. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 he talks about the fight that he had to gain absolute control over his body.
He said, "I bring my body into strict subjection, absolute slavery, so that after I have preached to others I might not be found to be castaway, that is rejected, myself." The fight involves bringing the body with its appetites and passions into strict subjection to the higher powers of the mind. He talks about this fight in Ephesians 6: 10-17 where he advises us to put on all the armor of God so that we may be able to resist in the evil day.
He said, "For we do not wrestle with flesh and blood, but with angels, with principalities, with powers, with spiritual wickedness in high places." We have this fight in which we must engage. And, friends, one of two things is going to happen to every one of us in this as well as everybody else in the world. We will either conquer or we will be conquered. It is just that simple. There is no truce. The devil has never given anybody a truce. The devil comes to you and me and we are either going to conquer him or he is going to conquer us.
Sons and Daughters of God, 328. "In every soul (that means in yours and mine) two powers are struggling earnestly for the victory. Unbelief marshals its forces, led by Satan, to cut us off from the source of our strength. Faith marshals its forces, led by Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith. Hour by hour, in the sight of the heavenly universe the conflict goes forward. This is a hand-to-hand fight, and the great question is, Which shall obtain the mastery? This question each must decide for himself. In this warfare all must take a part, fighting on one side or the other. From the conflict there is no release."
There is a war going on. There is only one way you can quit fighting and that it is you decide to let the devil have the victory. You either have to fight, or you have to surrender. Here is another statement about this warfare that we are engaged in. This was written to a young man who was not winning the war. Ellen White was trying to encourage this young man to fight the fight and to win the war. This young man had lost some ground and Ellen White was trying to encourage him to fight and win.
"Pure religion has to do with the will. Your promises are like ropes of sand, and you regard in the same unreal light the words and works of those in whom you should trust. You will be in constant peril until you understand the true force of the will. (A large part of the spiritual battle in which you and I must engage has to do with the will.) You may believe and promise all things, but your promises or your faith are of no value until you put your will on the side of faith and action. If you fight the fight of faith with all your willpower, you will conquer." Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, 513.
Are you fighting with everything you have? God has promised to help you but He does not promise to help you and me unless we try with everything we have, with all our will power "Your feelings, your impressions, your emotions, are not to be trusted, for they are not reliable . . . But you need not despair . . . It is for you to yield up your will to the will of Jesus Christ; and as you do this, God will immediately take possession and work in you to will and to do of His good pleasure. Your whole nature will then be brought under the control of the spirit of Christ, and even your thoughts will be subject to Him. You cannot control your impulses, your emotions, as you may desire; but you can control the will, and you can make an entire change in your life." Ibid 514.
There is hope for you, friend, if you choose. If you decide, Lord, I will fight and I will give it everything I have! The Lord will come to your aid and give you the victory. Here is what can happen. She is still writing to this young man and she says, "Will you not say, 'I will give my will to Jesus, and I will do it now," and from this moment be wholly on the Lord's side? Disregard custom and the strong clamoring of appetite and passion. Give Satan no chance to say: 'You are a wretched hypocrite.' Close the door so that Satan will not thus accuse and dishearten you. Say, 'I will believe, I do believe that God is my helper,' and you will find that you are triumphant in God." Ibid
Have you made that decision? Have you said, "Lord I choose to yield my will to You? I will fight the fight of faith with everything I have. Have you gone through that battle? Everyone that has done it knows that it is a battle, but that is the only way to win. Say, "I will believe, I do believe that God is my helper. I will give my will to Jesus and I will do it now."
She even puts the words in our mouths, telling us what we should say so that we can get help. Here is the result of that. "By steadfastly keeping the will on the Lord's side, every emotion will be brought into captivity to the will of Jesus . . . Talk faith. Keep on God's side of the line." Ibid. If you do that, you will find that God will be your helper. How is it with you? Are you fighting the fight of faith with everything you have?
Have you chosen to yield your will to Christ so that He can work in you to work a miracle in your life? The apostle Paul did this. He said, "I have fought a good fight." He had to fight it every day, just like you and me. He said one time, "I die daily." Sometimes people say, "I cannot resist."
What should we do if we feel that we are so weak that we cannot resist? Here is what we should do: " . . . Many a man cries in despair, 'I cannot resist evil.' Tell him that he can, that he must resist. He may have been overcome again and again, but it need not be always thus. He is weak in moral power, controlled by the habits of a life of sin . . . Those who put their trust in Christ are not to be enslaved by any hereditary or cultivated habit or tendency." Temperance, 112.
Do you know what that means? It is not just talking about my heredity, but if because of my past life, I have habits of sin and those habits have had an effect on my character, God says, You are not to be held in slavery by your past habits of sin. There is deliverance in Jesus.
How does it happen? Here is how it happens. "The tempted one needs to understand the true force of the will. This is the governing power in the nature of man, --the power of decision, of choice. Everything depends on the right action of the will. Desires for goodness and purity are right, so far as they go; but if we stop here, they avail nothing. Many will go down to ruin while hoping and desiring to overcome their evil propensities. They do not yield the will to God. They do not choose to serve Him." Ibid.
Have you yielded your will to God? Have you said, I choose to yield my will to Jesus Christ? I choose to believe that He is my helper and I choose to fight! We must make that decision. We must fight the fight if we want to have victory. There is no victory without a fight.
She says on the next page, "You may believe and promise all things, but your promises and your faith are of no account until you put your will on the right side. If you will fight the fight of faith with your will power, there is no doubt that you will conquer." Ibid, 513. Why is there no doubt that you can conquer? She explains that also for this reason. "The very feeblest prayer that we can offer, Jesus will hear. He pities the weakness of every soul. Help for everyone has been laid upon Him who is mighty to save." Ibid.
If you yield your will to Jesus and you choose to believe and stay on God's side of the question, God has promised you victory. He has promised that as you fight the fight of faith, divine power will come into your life and if you are the weakest person on the earth, you can have victory if you yield your will to God and choose to fight.
One of the great problems in modern Christianity is that there are so many people that are not even fighting. And if you do not fight, you automatically allow the devil to have victory when he attacks.
Paul said, "I have fought a good fight." Remember the fight that he is talking about is largely mental and it has to do with our will. If we yield the will to God and we choose to follow God and obey Him, and we begin to exert all the effort we have to do that, He has promised to help us gain the victory.
Have you fought a good fight? Are you fighting the fight? Do you have absolute mastery over your thoughts? Do you have on the whole armor of God? Are you resisting evil? Paul said, "I have fought the good fight." Then he makes this wonderfully exciting statement. "I have fought a good fight. I have finished my course." I have thought many times, I want to be able to say that when God sees that it is time for me to come to the end of my road in this world, whether it is by death or translation.
The apostle Paul in his writings many times likens the Christian life to running a race. In fact, the word that is translated course, could have been translated a race course. He said, "I have finished my race. I have finished my course. I have finished the path marked out for me to run. I have finished." The people that receive the prize are not the people that begin the race. Rather, the people that finish the race.
There are many Christians that have begun the race, but they will never receive the prize because they do not finish the course. I want to be able to say, when I come to the end of the road, "I have finished the course." Are you running the race? If you want to finish the course, friend, you have to be running the race. You need to be running the race now. None of us know how many more days we have to run the race.
So we must be running the race every day if we are going to finish the course. "Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight (or hindrance) and the (besetting) sin which so easily ensnares (entangles) us." Hebrews 12:1. All of us have easily entangling sins, as we just read.
Now we do not all have the same easily entangling sin. The thing that is an easily entangling sin for one person is not the same as for another. But every person has some sin that is easy for that person to become entangled with.
The apostle Paul said, Take those sins which are easy for you to be entangled with and lay them aside, get them out of the way so that you can run the race. You never want to run a race with weights on your legs. It is all right for practice runs. You want to get those weights, those easily entangling things, those obstacles, out of the way so you can run the race.
There are some Christians that are just spinning their wheels. They are not going anywhere in the race because they have not laid aside the easily entangling sins, so the Lord has to bring them around and around and around until one of two things will happen. Either we will get the victory over that thing and go on, or we will keep spinning our wheels and never get to the end of the course.
How is it in your life, friend? Are you running the race or are you just spinning your wheels? Are you laying aside the easily entangling sin and keeping your eye on the mark? Are you saying, "I will reach the prize of the high calling in Christ Jesus? I will reach the end of the course.
If we do not lay aside the easily entangling sin and run the race, we will not be able to say at the end, I have finished the course. "When tempted to murmur, censure and indulge in fretfulness, wounding those around you, and in so doing wounding your own soul, oh! Let the deep, earnest, anxious inquiry come from your soul, Shall I stand without fault before the throne of God? Only the faultless will be there. None will be translated to heaven while their hearts are filled with the rubbish of earth. Every defect in the moral character must first be remedied, every stain removed by the cleansing blood of Christ, and all the unlovely, unlovable traits of character overcome." Maranatha, 58.
It is easy for us human beings to look around and say, Well, so and so is worse than I am! Suppose that you know somebody else and they are spinning their wheels in the race. Will it give you any satisfaction at the end of your life to say, Well, I did not finish the course, but they did not either!
That will not mean a thing. We need to pity people that are spinning their wheels and not going anywhere. But we do not need to say, "Since they are not going, I will not worry either. We want to finish the course, and we want them to finish also.
There are a few things about the gospel that are hard to say. Jesus said, "Whosoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And whosoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me." (See Matthew 10:37).
There are some Seventh-day Adventists that will go to heaven alone. The people in their very own family will not go along. So we each one have to make that decision. Will I run the race? Or will I wait for my family, my friends or somebody else? You have to decide, friend.
Hopefully your example and influence as you run the race will influence other people in your family to run the race. We have to face the facts. There will be some families where there will be only one or two that will run the race and the others will spin their wheels because they will not get rid of those besetting sins.
You have to decide, friends, whether you will run the race or wait for somebody else. The apostle Paul said, I am going! And he ran the race. He fought the fight. When he came to the end of his life, he could say, I have finished my course. You have to decide whether you will run the race and finish your course or wait for somebody else, maybe a friend or loved one who is just spinning his or her wheels. Maybe if you run the race, you will influence them to run the race, too. The best way to help somebody else that you know to quit spinning their wheels and to lay aside that easily entangling sin and start running the race is to start running the race yourself.
It has happened millions of times. People have to start running the race and leave the members of their own family spinning their wheels with entangling sins. The apostle Paul came to the end of his life and he could say, I have finished my course. Then he said, I have kept the faith. There were a lot of people with the apostle Paul who did not keep the faith.
Demus was one. It said that he loved this present world so he left. There are many things, friends, that can cause people after they start running the race to get side tracked. A train that has been side tracked does not go anywhere. There are some people that before they finish their course; they get side tracked because they lose their faith.
There are many ways that faith is lost. Ellen White said that one of the ways was people were reading books by infidel authors. We do not read books too much in our society anymore. Instead of having books by infidel authors, we have videos, soap operas, television and all kinds of dramatization of things that are not true and that weaken people's faith in the word of God.
Friend, be careful of those things if you want to keep the faith. There are a lot of people today I find that are losing their faith because they are spending more time with faithless things than they are with the word of God that would build up their faith. But the apostle Paul said, I have kept the faith. When you come to the end, will you have kept the faith? Who is the one who will receive the crown of righteousness? He said, "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge will give me at that day." Who is it laid up for? It is laid up for the one that is ready, that fights a good fight, finishes the course and keeps the faith.