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If I Should Wake Before I Die

When we fully grasp the meaning of the gospel, we’ll really come alive.

Illustration: In graduate school, I took a course in Chinese philosophy. The Buddhist monk who taught the course said to me, "As a Christian, you teach your children to pray all wrong. You teach them to pray, 'If I should die before I wake.' It would be better if you taught them to pray 'If I should wake before I die.' "

The monk went on to point out that most of the people he knew were half awake when they ought to be asleep. But even worse, when they were asleep, they were half awake. No one seemed to be totally alive. Nobody seemed to be turned on to what was going on around them.

I remember teaching a course at the University of Pennsylvania where I picked a student on the front row and said, "Young man, how long have you lived?"

He said, "What do you mean?"

I said, "How long have you lived?"

He said, "T years."

I said, "No, no, no. That's how long your heart has been pumping blood. That's not how long you have lived."

I told the class about the time I went to the top of the Empire State Building in New York City. I was 9 years old at the time, and as we ran around at the top of the building, I suddenly caught myself and said, "Tony, you are on top of the Empire State Building!"

In one mystical, magical moment I took in the city. I lived that moment with such intensity and focused on what was before me with such spiritual energy, that if I live a million years, that moment will still be part of my consciousness, because I was fully alive when I lived it.

I looked at the student and said, "Now, let me ask you the question again. How long have you lived?"

I remember the student looking back at me and saying, "Doctor, when you say it that way, maybe an hour; maybe a minute; maybe two minutes. Most of my life has been the meaningless passage of time between all too few moments when I was genuinely alive."

What an interesting commentary. Most of us do not live life as we should. We let it slip away from us. I don't know where my life has gone. It seems to me that just as soon as my pimples cleared up my hair fell out. Life slips by. It's gone. It's over.

We need to ask whether we have lived life. The only people I see living life with any degree of joyful spontaneity are children. That's why Jesus said that unless you become as little children, you will in no wise enter the kingdom of heaven. Children are so intense. They cry with agony. They laugh with joy. They are turned on to what life is all about.

Jesus said, "Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3). Unless you can approach life with their kind of enthusiasm, you can't be part of what I'm about.

What did Jesus see in children?

1) Children have no doubts about their real importance

First of all, I think he saw kids who had no doubts about their real importance. People who are worried about their , their worth, their value usually go through life being overly concerned about themselves.

Illustration: My friend has a 5 daughter. One day during a thunderstormlightning flashing, thunder roaringhe went to check on her. He found his little girl standing on the window sill leaning spread eagle against the glass.

He said, "Jennifer, what are you doing?"

She said, "I think God's trying to take my picture."

Here's a little girl who knows who she is; she knows her value; she knows her worth.

If you're going to live life fully, you have to feel good about yourself. Most people I know are down on themselves. That's one of the reasons Jesus came. Jesus came into the world to do something that would enable you to feel differently about yourself. Most people I know can name the things in their lives that are wrong. They beat their chests and say, "There's so much wrong with me." Of course, there's a lot wrong with you. There's a lot wrong with me, too. But here's the good news of the gospel: Jesus himself came into the world not only to die for our sins but to absorb everything that is dirty and ugly and negative and to free us from all of that. Jesus not only cleanses you from the dark side of your personality and removes those things that ought not to be, but he imputes to you his righteousness.

I don't know about you, but I can't wait to get to heaven. You can walk in; I'm going to strut. I'm going to yell at the angels, "Out of my way, angels!" Well, they're only messengers. "You there, get me a hamburger! "

I'm going to go before the seat of Christ; I'm going look at God, and just stand there. I'm not going to say anything. I don't have to because Jesus will be there. He will say, "Father, I would like you to meet my friend Tony, the perfect one." I hope my wife is there.

You say, "How can you get off with that?"

The Scripture says your sins are blotted out. They are buried in the deepest sea. They are remembered no more. Jesus will present you before his Father spotless, without blemish. All the things about yourself that you don't like, Jesus says, "Let me take them upon myself and make them my own."

If you were to have psychotherapy, after a brief while you would feel terrific because everything that's negative about you gets transferred over to the therapist. At the end of a session, a good psychotherapist is feeling terrible, and the patient is feeling great because through the process of discussion, everything negative about you has been moved over to the psychiatrist.

Jesus is the ultimate counselor, the ultimate psychotherapist who takes upon himself everything that's dirty, ugly, or rotteneverything that has you down on yourself. He takes it upon himself. He makes it his own. That's the good news of the gospel. You can have the childlike freedom that comes with deliverance from all that is negative and dark. You are able to live life passionately, intensely, and with great excitement.

2) Children have a quality of spontaneous joy

There's another important thing: children have a quality of spontaneous joy.

Illustration: I took my son to Disneyland when he was just a little tyke. As we were leaving, he said, "I want another ride on Space Mountain."

I said, "Wait a minute. I'm out of money, and I'm out of time."

He said, "Jesus wants me to go."

I said, "I'm not reading you."

He said, "When you were in church, you said whatever we feel Jesus feels it. When we cry, he cries. You said Jesus feels every emotion we have."

I said, "That's right."

He said, "If he feels every emotion I have, then when I'm laughing on Magic Mountain, he's having a good time too. I think he would enjoy it if I had another ride on Space Mountain." Not bad theology.

We have a God who wants us to be freed from the burdens that keep us from enjoying life and living it intensely. He wants to fill us with an excitement, a childlike joy that enables us to live life with incredible, spontaneous enthusiasm and joy.

Do you have that in your life? That's what Christianity is about. That's what spirituality is about. It's not about heaven. It's about a Jesus who can invade your life and create in you a spontaneous excitement about living. That's why you need to surrender to the Lord.

G. K. Chesterton said, "I think God is the only child left in the universe, and all the rest of us have grown old and cynical because of sin." What a good line!

Illustration: How did God create daisies? I say, "Like a child." You throw a child up in the air or bounce him off your knee. When you sit him on the floor, the first thing the kid says is, "Do it again!" Throw him in the air; catch him; bounce him off your knee; set him on the floor. The kid's going to yell, "Do it again!" Do it fifty times. The fiftieth time, the kid is yelling hysterically, "Do it again! Do it again!" The excitement of a little child.

That's how God created daisies. He created one daisy. I'm sure of this. In the childlike heart of God, he clapped and said; "Do it again!" He created daisy number two. Something within God said, "Do it again!" He created daisy number three and four and five. Fifty billion, trillion daisies later, the great God of the universe is still creating with childlike excitement and joy and yelling, "Do it again!"

Remember when you were a kid so full of life, and vital and dynamic? It's kind of grown dull and slow and boring. No wonder Jesus said, "Look, why don't you come to me and be born again? Why don't you become like a little child once again? Let me do my thing in you. Surrender to me. Allow me into your life. I am resurrected from the grave. I will take possession of you, and I will change you, and I will give you a sense of worth so you'll be freed from the burdens of negativism. I will fill you with my excitement so you'll know joy like you've never known it before."

That's why the gospel is called Good News.

3) Children have absolute confidence in the future

There's a third quality that comes to all of those who are fully alive in the Lord: it's absolute confidence in the future.

I work with kids, and the society hasn't beaten them down yet. I deal with AAmerican kids and Latino kids on the streets of Philadelphia. Society hasn't beaten them down yet. They still believe in the future.

Ask them, "What are you going to do? What are you going to be?"

They say, "I'm going to be an astronaut" or "I'm going to be a surgeon." They say, "I'm going to be a musician" or "I'm going to be a pro basketball player." They believe in the future.

As they grow older, ugly realism sets in. Did you see the movie The Autobiography of Malcolm X? In one of the most painful scenes Malcolm X realizes the system will not allow him to be a lawyer, and his dream is shattered. Here's the good news of the gospel: we have a Jesus who creates dreams and visions for us.

To paraphrase Scripture, "When the young no longer dream dreams and the old no longer have visions, people perish."

Children believe that they can do something incredible with themselves; there are no limits; they can be anything. I say to you that the Jesus who imparts spontaneous joy and glorious visions of the future to children can impart it to you.

So often people don't have much of a future. I always say a person is old when his dreams are more precious than his visions of the future. You're cynical when, in fact, you don't believe in tomorrow. I want to tell you about the God who wants to make you believe in the future even when you're old. Abraham was 94 years old when God gave him a vision. You're never too old and never too young to surrender to a God who will not only make you believe in yourself but believe that the future will be better than the past.

If there's any argument that I have with modern sociology and psychology, it's that they're too oriented to the past. They say if you want to understand a person, you must understand where he's come from, his background. What is more important than your past and how you were reared is your vision of the future. A person is more controlled by his vision of tomorrow than his dreams of yesterday.

The gospel makes people fully alive and makes us into little children. The gospel makes us believe in ourselves, makes us spontaneously joyful, and makes us believe in the future. Be fully alive! Let Jesus have his way with you.

Tony Campolo is founder and president of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education (EAPE), an organization that promotes educational, medical, and economic development in Third World countries and urban America. His many books include Wake Up America! and The Kingdom of God Is a Party.

(c) Tony Campolo

Preaching Today Tape #124


A resource of Christianity Today International

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Sermon Outline:


I. 1) Children have no doubts about their real importance

II. 2) Children have a quality of spontaneous joy

III. 3) Children have absolute confidence in their future