Michael Youssef - Counting Stars Gets You Back On Track - Part 1
There is a classic Christian book that was written in the middle of the 1600s. The book is called, "Pilgrim's Progress". And the author, John Bunyan, who lived between 1628 and 1688 was thrown into prison for preaching without a license in England. In prison, he wrote this book as a Christian pilgrim progressing through life heading for heaven, his ultimate destination. Throughout his journey, he encounters all sorts of challenges just as we do as Christian pilgrims: temptations, difficulties. And yes, thank God there's some places of rest. In one place, pilgrims find himself in a place called vanity fair, but the book makes it clear there are three distinctions about the pilgrims.
The first distinction is their clothes. Their clothes are different from the people who are living in vanity fair. They were looked upon as weird for the clothes they're wearing. I'm going to explain that in a minute. Secondly, there are, very few people could understand the language that the pilgrims were speaking because they were speaking the language of Canaan while the other people are speaking the local language. And thirdly, they have value difference. They had difficulty understanding and comprehending their values because it's so different from the values of vanity fair. The people of vanity fair could not understand their values.
Why did not they share their views? Why did they have to come with something so unique, something different? Why can't they just get along to get along? The clothes, at least in the mind of the author, is that robe of righteousness of Jesus Christ that he imputes upon the believers. That is something that makes the unrighteous angry. And the language they speak is the language of God, what concerns God, what's near and dear to the heart of God rather than this world perspective. And then thirdly, the value is different because the world allurement has lost its appeal to them. Oh, that this would be the pilgrims of the 21st century Christians.
What is a pilgrim? I think that's an important thing 'cause the Bible refers to Abraham as a pilgrim. So you have to ask the question, what is a pilgrim? It's not just a person who leaves home and wander around aimlessly. That's a drifter. But is a person who leaves home heading for another home. A pilgrim has a vision to accomplish. A pilgrim has a goal in mind to reach. A pilgrim has a destination that he's aiming at to arrive at. A pilgrim has a determination to reach his destination regardless of the difficulties and regardless of the suffering and regardless of the pain. And because of this vision, because of this goal, and because of this determination, he or she holds everything else in life with open hands. In this period of our history, at this moment of time, God is looking for true pilgrims in the midst of this vanity fair world.
Regardless of your age, whether you're young or old, and regardless of your station in live, I believe the Lord is looking for pilgrims and that's precisely what God wants us to learn from the life of this pilgrim man, Abraham. Look with me please at Genesis 12:5. We looked at the first four verses; the promise of God, the covenant of God, and here we look at verse 5. It says, "When Abraham left Haran, he accumulated a great deal of wealth". Listen, the Bible does not waste words. Let me assure you. There is no waste a single word. You see, at this time, Abraham was 75 years old. That is considered middle age for he lived to 175.
You see, to Abraham, his wealth that he accumulated in Haran did not stop him from being a genuine disciple of Jesus Christ. I want you to go to the Book of Acts in the New Testament, chapter 7, because I'm going to show you something very significant in relationship to this Haran destination. Stephen, the very first Christian martyr, he was stoned to death. Before they killed him, he stands before the Sanhedrim. Jesus stood before the Sanhedrim. Peter and John stood before the... this is the supreme council. This is the supreme court of the Jews. He decided to give a speech; that is to walk these religious leaders through the history of their nation but specifically pointing to the hand of God working despite of them, and this is something that they saw as an insult.
"Who's this young deacon who is telling us about our history? We know the history". But he does that deliberately. And so, in chapter 7 of the Book of Acts, verse 3, God called Abraham and God told him to leave your country and your people. God said, "Go to the land which I'll show you". Verse 4, "And so he left the land of Chaldeans and he settled in Haran", for about 6 years. Listen to me. Haran is that land of vanity fair where the temptations of alluring, enticement has taken place. After the death of his father, God sent him to the land where we are now living. He was standing there in Jerusalem in front of the Sanhedrim speaking, and I want to give you a Middle Eastern perspective on this.
Now, are you listening to me? What I'm going to tell you is not in the Bible. I don't want anybody go home and start looking for this and trying to find it and say, "Wait a minute, I can't find it in the Bible". It is not in the Bible. It's a Youssef thing. After God told Abraham, "I want you to leave your old life behind, leave the Ur of Chaldeans and go to the land where I'm going to show you," a good Middle Eastern guy that he was, he basically pulled the flap of the tent of his father, Terah, and he said, "Pops..." Actually more like, "Abba, I'm leaving you. I'm going to go somewhere. I don't know exactly where, but God called it Canaan and he is going to show me where to go. I'm going to leave this hometown. I'm going away from my past, and I'm going to a new land".
Just like I told you, it's the life of every believer in Jesus Christ. God calls us from the life of sin with which we were born, calls us from the old life before Christ, pre-Christ, into life with Christ. "Abba, I don't know where this land is, but I'm going". Upon hearing these news, old Terah freaks out. "What? You're going to leave your poor old father here? You're deserting your old man who's been good to you? I mean, who's going to take care of me at my old age? I mean, your brother, Nahor, he is such a scatter brain he can't even take care of his son Lot. And you're going where? What did this God say to you? Are you going to count stars? You don't even have any children". Rub it in. "You are going nowhere fast without me".
Possessiveness of the life of your adult children is not very healthy for them. To be sure, you should never stop loving them. You should never stop serving them. You should never stop helping them. You should certainly never, never, never stop praying for them, but they are called by God to leave and cleave. Amen belongs here. See, one of the reasons God called his future friend Abraham to leave the old life and leave Ur and get out, get away from home, he wants to get him out of idol worship. He wants to get him from that environment. He want to get him away from bad companions. He want to take him away from the old life to the new one.
Now, I have a word to believing children who have non-believing parents. You must always love your parents. You must always respect your parents. Always honor your parents. Above all, you must never, never, never, never stop praying for your parents if they're not believers. If they're believers, respect them, but always do what God calls you to do. And so, Abraham comes back from work and he sees his dad had all the bags packed. "Father, what are you doing? Where are you going"? "With you of course. You're not going to go without me. Did you think I'm going to let you leave me here? I'm going with you".
Now, I want to show you something here in the Scripture. Go up one chapter 11, Genesis 11, just few verses up, verse 31, "Terah took his son Abraham". Well, wait a minute. God called Abraham. He didn't call Terah. But he's not going to go without him. God calls Abraham, but the father says, he took Abraham, and then, he took Abraham's nephew, Lot, and Abraham's wife Sarah. "Together they set from the Ur of Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they got to Haran, they settled there". Why Haran when God said that the pilgrims' destination is Canaan? "Why Haran"? Well, I'm glad you asked 'cause I really have been anxious to tell you. I've been chomping it to bits to tell you.
Haran is the city where the great temple of the moon god is placed, and pagan Terah saw the temple of moon in Haran and he thought that he died and went to heaven. He loved the moon god so much, he named one of his three sons Haran. Haran to the moon worshipper would be like Mecca to the Muslims, or Salt Lake City to the Mormons. I mean, it is the place of all places. Again, let me give you a Middle Eastern perspective here. Abraham's father, Terah, got to this Las Vegas kind of thing and he said, "Whoopee. Abraham my boy, I am glad I came with you. Forget about Canaan. Let's stay here and take some night shows. I mean, let's experience some nightlife". I mean, Haran is a place of fun for the pagans. I mean, this is great.
"But, dad, God said Canaan". "Well, one place is good as the other. This is better than Canaan. Canaan probably is going to be boring. This is where the fun is". "But God told me to leave the Ur of Chaldeans and go to Canaan". I told you in the last message, there are so many Christian believers who start their Christian life well. They get saved and become joyful and they have what the Bible called the joy of salvation and they're excited about their faith, and then, they walk for a little while and then they come to what I call the land of compromise where they begin to marry materialism to the Christian faith, where they begin to put the old life with the new life, and then, they start rationalizing it. "Well, you know, the grace of God will take care of it". Basically giving themselves a license to compromise, and there they sit. Beloved, if that's where you are... I know some probably watching around here. This is a word from the Lord for you.
If you are in Haran right now, get out while the getting out is possible. Turn to the grace of God while it can be found. Christian believers, please listen to me. All of us, your pastor is included. All of us try to settle in something that falls way, way, way short of God's perfect plan for us. I know I've experienced at least two Harans in my life. He took me out of my Harans before it was too late. Now pray the same for everyone here and those who are watching around the world. I wonder how many of us have come to a certain point in your Christian life's journey with God and you said, "That's enough. I have come so far, but no more. I have given so much, but no more. I have done so much, but no more. I've served so much, but no more". Today I implore you in the name of Jesus, get out of Haran while you can. Say to the Lord:
Lord, I'm sorry I stopped in Haran and stayed in Haran. Lord, I'm sorry I wandered away. I'm sorry I got to Haran and stayed there. Lord, I know you wanted to take me to a greater height of serving you, you wanted to take me to a greater height of loving you, you wanted to take me to a greater height of sacrificing for you, you wanted to take me to a greater height of glorifying your name, you wanted to take me to a greater height for my prayer life, and I'm sorry I got stuck in Haran.
I know without a shadow of doubt from the Word of God that this is a prayer that God will rejoice over, and he will empower you to do it. God loves it when his people begin to move out of their comfort zone. God loves it when his people begin to implicitly trust him with all of their heart. God loves it when we get off our blessed assurance and do something great for God. God loves it when you will begin to invest your all in his kingdom. God loves it when you begin to invest your life in the lives of others on his behalf. And I believe with all my heart if there's a lesson that God wants to teach us, it is this. Counting the stars when you can see none is going to get you back in the right track, get back to be restored in your vision for God. God wants you to learn not to settle in Haran. Get out while the getting out as possible.
Let me ask you: are you stuck in Haran, whatever your Haran may be? And it's different from one to the other. Are you reluctant to take the first step and move out of your Haran right now? Have you allowed your life to be so cluttered up with all kinds of junk that you do not want to leave behind and you're clinging into it? Remember this. Whether a personal or corporate revival, it will not come to us just because we want it. Revival will not come just because we're waiting for it. Revival will come when each individual, I'm talking about each individual believer, move out of their Haran and build an altar in Bethel.
You see, building an altar back then is a symbol of renewing of the vision of God for your life, and that's exactly what Abraham did when he got out. He started by building an altar there in Bethel. Start counting the stars even when you see none, and renew your vision and God's vision that he has for you. Abraham learned the hard way that personal revival will not be found in part-time obedience. Personal revival will not come when there is partial obedience. The secret is not in the destination, the secret is in the trip. The secret is not in the place, but in the place of obedience when we go where God calls us to go. The place of holiness... Oh yeah, you haven't heard that word very much. Holiness. You heard tolerance. I know. Holiness.
And yet the Bible said, "Without holiness, no one can sees God". The place of holiness begins by thorough self-examination. Not pointing finger at somebody else, pointing finger at me. Examination to find out all of the things in us that are displeasing the Lord and get rid of it. You know, there are so many people, I hear it everywhere when I travel as well. They just love to quote 2 Chronicle 7. "If my people humble themselves and pray and repent and seek my..." Here's why I cringe. First of all, this is not for the New Testament. It is not for the blood-bought children of the living God in the New Testament. This was a promise to the land of Israel. It's a promise to people who're worshipping in the temple offering animal sacrifices, but it's more than that.
Most people when they pray this prayer, they're pointing their finger at the sins of others instead of repenting of their own sin. They kind of say, "All these are the bad people". God cares about his children, not the devil's children. He can take care of them, and he will. Make no mistake about it. But he called us to repent individually. Until we come clean with God as individual believers, our own disobedience, our own stubbornness, our own wanting to stay in the place of our own choosing and wanting our comfort and wanting our ease and wanting our conveniences and what we like and what we don't like, until we come clean with God, until we do that, we're still in Haran with all of its muck and we will never make an impact on our culture. I pray to God that this will be a day of renewal, of turning from our individual Haran into the Canaan of God.
My dear friend, the late Dr. J. Edwin Orr... I'm so grateful to God that in the '70s I had the joy of sitting at his feet. He was considered to be the foremost authority on the history of Christianity in America, particularly the history of awakening and revivals and the condition of the church. In 1990 he wrote an article, and he was talking about true revival. He said that before the War of Independence, the morals and the spiritual condition of the nation was in a tailspin. Alcoholism became rampant. Crime was fast on the increase. Churches were on the decline so much so that John Marshall, the Chief Justice of the United States at that time, wrote the following. He said, "The church was too far gone to be revived".
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. But God raised up a man by the name of Jonathan Edwards. He was without a doubt probably the poorest communicator of his day. He had such poor eyesight that he read his sermons word for word and he had to put his notes so close to his eyes so he can see it. But you see, God specializes in that. He uses unlikely people. Jonathan Edwards was influenced by a godly Scottish minister who wrote a book. I want you to fasten your seatbelt just for the title, just the title of the book.
Imagine of a... what the book... and here's the title: "An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God's People and Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ's Kingdom on Earth". That's just the title. Well, that book ignited what is known back then as a concert of prayer. This was a network of prayer meetings across the country. And as they say, the rest is history. And God sent an awakening like he's never done since. Has done a couple of times, but not like that.
I can tell you also categorically that change will happen, will happen when God's people, not the outside world, when God's people, not the government, when God's people, not society, but when God's people repent of their sin and turn to him and become fervent in prayer. Then you can watch out. My beloved friend, get out of your Haran. Whatever your Haran may be, get out of Haran and start counting the stars even when you see none; for counting the stars, it will most certainly lead you back on the right track. Even if you wandered off, God is waiting with open arms.