Did you catch what Phil Robertson begins to say at the 3:49 mark? “If you’re not a believer and you don’t believe God exists at all then the only hope you have is that He not be there. That’s your hope. Maybe He’s not there. What we’re saying is, ‘We trust that He is.’”
If you do believe in God, then you really have one of two directions you can go. First, you can try your best to appease Him and hope your best is enough. Up until the age of 19, that was my plan. I believed the key that would unlock heaven’s door was my good behavior. Of course the all-important question is: How good do you have to be?
I distinctly remember thinking as a teenager that because I hadn’t killed anyone I was qualified to get into heaven. I guess I thought it was okay to lie, steal, cheat, treat people unkindly, ignore those in need and have very little room in my life for God, but as long as I wasn’t guilty of murder–I was fine. My view was that heaven was our default destination and you really had to screw up big (like commit murder) to not make it in.
The problem with this view is obviously found in the definition of “good.” If it’s true that God created me and He created heaven, then what would lead me to think that my definition of good is the right one, that I get to determine the entrance requirements for heaven? Stop and think about it for a minute. It’s a really arrogant perspective.
If you’re trusting in your good behavior to get into heaven, let me encourage you to first find out what your god requires. And then get hard at work following his commands. And hope you don’t slip up. Hope you don’t somehow commit an offense he’s not willing to forgive. Sadly, I think you’ll find you can never quite shake that feeling that maybe you haven’t done enough. And that should motivate you to keep trying harder. As far as ever experiencing genuine, lasting joy or peace–forget it. How could you never knowing if eternal bliss or eternal punishment awaits?
So you can choose to believe God does not exist and then hope you’ve guessed right. Or if you do believe God exists, you can try to be as good as possible as defined by whatever god you’re believing in. Remember, you don’t decide what’s good or bad. He does. If this is your belief system, then your only hope is that you do enough good to outweigh your bad. Good luck with that.
The other option is to believe in the God Phil Roberston spoke of, a God who created us to live in friendship with Him. But because the human race has rebelled, we stand guilty before Him with no hope of ever being good enough to earn forgiveness. So a loving and moral God took on flesh and bore our punishment on the cross. Jesus died in our place and offers us the gift of forgiveness.
But a gift must be received. Have you received the gift of Christ’s forgiveness?
If this whole thing about Jesus seems like a fairy tale to you, then you’re back to either one of the first two options. You can hope God isn’t there or you can hope you’re good enough to appease Him.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:16-18)
I used to pray for “breakthroughs.” For God to do something big, something unmistakeable to change my circumstances. Do you pray that way?
My breakthrough prayers usually sounded something like this: “O Lord, You see my situation! I really need You to come through! I need a breakthrough today!”
If it’s not finances for you, maybe it’s in your marriage you’re praying for a breakthrough. Or with one or more of your kids. Or in your work. Maybe it’s in the area of your health. I’m not suggesting you stop praying for a breakthrough, but I think there’s a better way to pray that’s more in line with how God works.
I can’t speak for you, but I know that when I’m praying for a breakthrough what I’m really saying is this: “God, I’m uncomfortable and I don’t really like it, so I want You to change my hard circumstances to pleasant ones. And I want You to do it today.”
What my breakthrough prayer is revealing is my desire for personal ease and comfort more than my desire to know God better or be conformed to His image. And yet God’s way of dealing with us isn’t to make our lives easier, it’s to make us stronger and better equipped to handle whatever comes. God’s plan is for me to know Him and trust Him to take me through, not out of my difficulties.
Look at the pattern we see in His word. God didn’t stop all the wrongs done to Joseph and then immediately rescue him when he was thrown in prison. God accomplished His purposes as Joseph went through trials not out of them. The same is true for Moses and Abraham and David and Daniel. It’s true for Jesus’ disciples. And it’s true for me and you.
God’s pattern isn’t to take us out of trials, it’s to take us through them. Rather than praying for a “breakthrough” next time, try praying for a “go through.” Trust Him for the grace, power and wisdom to go through the trial. It’s in the trial that we often experience God.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Our sun is 93 million miles from earth and contains 99.99% of the mass of our solar system. To try and give some perspective–one million earths could fit inside our sun. Huge, right? But there’s a star named Betelgeuse that is anywhere between five and thirty times larger than our sun. It’s hard to begin to even comprehend something that large.
We’re not done though. The largest identified star in our galaxy is named VY Canis Majoris. It is 1,800 to 2,100 times larger than our sun. How do we even begin to think about something that large? Fortunately, someone has done a little math for us to try and bring things into perspective.
If you were to fly non-stop in a Boeing 747 at 550 mph, it would take two days to fly all the way around the earth.
It would take 206 days to fly all the way around the sun.
And to fly all the way around VY Canis Majoris, it would take 452,965 days. That’s 1,241 years.
Now consider this…
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1-3)
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (Hebrews 1:1-3)
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17)
The same Jesus who spoke VY Canis Majoris into existence, along with hundreds of billions of other stars, says to you today:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Jesus created the universe and is sustaining all things by His powerful word. He is holding all things together. You can trust Him to sustain you and hold you together as well.
Yesterday, we talked about taking a spiritual fitness test. If we’re honest, most of us would say we’re not doing as well as we’d like to do. At least that’s what I’d say. I’d always like to be further along. I’d like to bear more fruit. I’d like to be less tempted by the same old sins. I’d like to know God better than I do.
Can you relate?
Today, let’s look at the only way we’ll ever truly make progress in the Christian life. The “secret” is found in John 15. You can read the whole chapter here. We’re just going to look at one verse though. Verse 5 says:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
It’s really that simple. Remaining in Jesus results in a life that bears much fruit.
The secret isn’t working harder or longer. It’s not trying harder. It’s not following a list of rules.
The secret is to remain in Jesus. So how do we do that?
Let’s take a look at a few passages that might help…
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness… (Matthew 6:33)
When asked which commandment was the most important, Jesus said:
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Let’s not ever lose sight of this very simple truth: God is a person who wants to be loved and sought after.
He doesn’t need our love or attention. He doesn’t need us for anything. But He does want us. He wants us to love Him and seek Him and make Him our top priority. He wants us to surrender total control of our lives to Him. That’s what it means to remain in Him–surrendering to Him and loving and seeking Him.
Then as we remain in Him, we bear much fruit as He produces His life in us and through us and we become more like Him.
Apart from Him, we can do nothing.
It’s a very simple concept. It’s just not easy to practice. Naturally, we don’t want to surrender. We want to maintain control over our lives. We think we know what’s best for us. We’re not always convinced God is looking out for us. And so we assume control and go our own way…which always results in less fruit, less of the life we really want.
If you’re not happy with where you are, if you’re continuing to struggle with sin, if life seems void of joy and peace and purpose…then it’s time to get reattached to the vine. And then remain there by seeking Him. Remain there by making your love relationship with Christ more important than anything else.
The branch just remains and bears whatever fruit the vine produces.
Yesterday, my 17-year-old son and I took a fitness test. It’s the first step in the 60-day Insanity workout program. We’ll repeat the test every two weeks so we can chart our progress.
I thought the test was hard! My son outscored me on every exercise. My wife and daughter also took the test and I’m not sure I want to know how I compared to them. I’m okay coming in second, but I don’t want to be fourth! Of course the object of the test isn’t to compare myself to others. It’s to set a benchmark so I can see my own progress.
So this test got me thinking about spiritual fitness. What would it be like to take a spiritual fitness test? Not to compare myself to others, but to simply chart my own progress. Is their such a test? Does God give tests?
Yes, God does give tests. Here are a few examples…
Genesis 22:1-2 says:
Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
Deuteronomy 8:2 says:
Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.
John 6:5-6 says:
When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
I Thessalonians 2:3-4 says:
For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.
Clearly, God tests us. And 2 Corinthians 13:5-6 says we’re also to test ourselves:
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test.
So if our goal is to become more and more like Christ, it shouldn’t be too hard to measure our progress, right? Let’s take a look at Philippians 2:3-8…
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
When it comes to your relationships–how are you doing compared to a year ago? If you’re married, are you becoming less selfish? Are you valuing your spouse above yourself more than you used to? Do your interests come first or do your spouse’s interests more often come first? Do you look out for your own advantage or do you serve your spouse by meeting his or her needs?
When it comes to your character and your emotions–how are you doing? In Galatians 5, we see:
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Which are more evident in you–the acts of the flesh or the fruit of the Spirit? Would your spouse agree? Would your children? Your roommate? Your friends or co-workers?
If you test yourself and aren’t happy with your grade–hold on until tomorrow. There’s a very simple way to start improving your “score.”
For a long time, I’ve assumed it should be easy to seek and find God. I’ve been wrong though.
Can you think of any good or worthwhile activity that’s easy?
Eating healthy and staying in good physical condition requires planning, commitment and hard work. Doing well at your job and advancing in your career can mean long hours and sacrifices in other areas. Getting a college degree requires a big financial investment and years of studying. Having a good marriage requires a lot of time and effort. Having a thick, green, weed-free lawn requires year-round attention.
Anything good requires commitment, sacrifice and hard work. So why would we think any less is required to truly find God and experience Him? And let me take this one step further. I suspect it will require more effort to find God the longer we’ve known Him. If you work out, you know the longer you train the harder you must work to continue seeing gains. I believe the same is true when it comes to God. I’m not suggesting He’s hiding from us, but let’s not make the mistake of thinking God is easy.
Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” To seek Him earnestly means to seek with serious effort…and when we do, He rewards us.
And Jeremiah 29:13 says,“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” We don’t find Him when we seek Him with minimal, half-hearted effort.
If you want to lose weight and get in better shape, you know it means saying “no” to the potato chips and ice cream and “yes” to healthier foods. It means going to the gym or running three miles rather than sitting on the couch.
What do you need to say “no” to, so you can say “yes” to more time in prayer and reading the Bible? What habits or sins are keeping you from seeking Him with your whole heart?
Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”
If we sow little effort in seeking God, we will not find much of Him. If we sow serious, whole-hearted effort, we will find much more of Him.
I believe we can experience as little or as much of God as we’d like. So the question is…
According to Merriam-Webster, an “opinion” is: a view, judgment, or appraisal formed in the mind about a particular matter.
One person’s opinion on a movie may be very different than another person’s opinion. I’ve heard many people rave about the film, Les Miserables, but also know several women who walked out part way through the film. Same film. Different opinions.
You and I have opinions on all kinds of matters. I think football is the greatest game ever invented and soccer is boring. You may think just the opposite is true. Neither of us is wrong. We just have different views.
You and I also have opinions about ourselves. I may think you look fit and healthy, but you may think you need to lose ten pounds. I might think your new hairstyle looks great, but you might hate it. Neither one of us is necessarily right or wrong. We just have different opinions, right?
But what if your opinion of yourself is different from God’s opinion of you? Is your opinion equal to His?
Ephesians 1:4 says:
“For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight.”
Holy and blameless. Does that describe you?
You may be tempted to say it doesn’t. After all, you know all the things you’ve done wrong. You’re well aware of the mistakes you’ve made and the sins you’ve committed. You know how selfish you are. You can think of so many times you’ve been unkind, angry or impatient. So, holy and blameless? No way.
And yet, God says in Christ you are holy and blameless. Before the creation of the world, before you’d taken your first breath, before you’d done anything good or bad, God chose you to be holy and blameless in His sight.
But how can that be? Knowing all that you’ve done wrong–how can God see you as holy and blameless?
Because you are in Christ. And Christ is in you. And God sees you as He sees Jesus.
Maybe you don’t see yourself as holy and blameless. But God does.
So whose opinion matters more? Yours or God’s? And if your opinion of yourself doesn’t line up with God’s opinion of you…who needs to adjust?
One last thing–if you have never placed your faith in Christ, then you need to know God doesn’t see you as holy and blameless. Read Ephesians 2:1-6 and you’ll see that you are an object of God’s wrath. Your sin has separated you from Him. And a holy and righteous God cannot let sin go unpunished. Either you will have to pay for it or you can receive the gift of forgiveness Christ offers. It’s a choice we all get to make.
When I was growing up, my mother made me go to church. Fortunately, it was only an hour on Sunday morning. No Sunday nights. No Wednesday nights. No youth group. Just one hour on Sunday. Going to church seemed like a good thing to do, but as far as it actually being relevant to the rest of my life…it wasn’t. So I didn’t like going. At all. I didn’t have a problem with God. He just seemed irrelevant.
Then during my freshman year at Cornell University, I met a guy who connected the dots for me. He explained that God loved me and had a plan for my life, but there was a barrier between God and me, a barrier the Bible calls “sin.” This barrier was preventing me from experiencing God both now and forever. The good news was that Jesus died in my place and paid the penalty for my sin.
I had earned death, but instead, Jesus offered me the gift of life. That’s grace.
So the ball was in my court. It wasn’t just enough to know these things; I had to make a decision. Would I receive the gift of forgiveness Christ offered?
It all made sense to me on that winter day in February of 1982. So in the student union at Cornell, I placed my trust in Jesus to forgive my sin and make the person He wanted me to be.
As I walked back to my dorm that day, I distinctly remember the grass being greener and the sky being bluer. Something was different. Something had changed.
What actually happened to me that day? What caused me to even see the grass and the sky differently?
In the letter Paul wrote to the Colossians, he said, “For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
The phrase “brought us into” literally means we were transferred or removed from one place and put in another. We were under the power, the influence, the dominion of darkness. As Paul says in the letter to the Ephesians, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”
The key word is “were.” We were in the dominion of darkness. We were dead in sin.
But if you have placed your faith in Jesus, you are no longer in that dominion. You have been made alive with Christ. You have been transferred to God’s kingdom. “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus…” (Ephesians 2:6)
What happened to me that day? Spiritually, I came alive for the first time. I was no longer in the kingdom of darkness. I was no longer relating to this world only as a physical being. I was simultaneously living in a spiritual realm, a heavenly realm. And there are things true of us in the spiritual realm, which will effect our lives here in the physical realm. Once we have placed our faith in Jesus, life is played by new rules.
But if we don’t understand the new rules or even know they exist, we will continue to live as if we were still dead in our sin, living in the dominion of darkness. Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore what it means to be transferred into a new kingdom and what it means to have a new set of truths and laws to live by.
So if the Christian life hasn’t really been working for you, if you can’t shake the feeling that there’s “something missing,” then stay tuned. Learning and living by the truth will revolutionize every area of your life–your thoughts and emotions, your work, your finances and your relationships.
“For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” (Romans 6:6-7)
I know for some people, believing in God is a leap of faith. They want “proof” of his existence. They want to see scientific evidence.
For me, I simply don’t have enough faith to believe God doesn’t exist. If I had no other evidence than DNA, it would be enough for me to believe there is an eternal God behind creation. Richard Dawkins, a well-respected atheist, admits:
“[T]here is enough information capacity in a single human cell to store the Encyclopaedia Britannica, all 30 volumes of it, three or four times over.” [The Blind Watchmaker]
To believe God doesn’t exist, you must believe super-intelligence somehow found its way into living cells–all 30 volumes times four.
Do I have an explanation for God’s existence? No. I cannot explain how anyone can have no beginning. But the physical evidence (DNA and the rest of this magnificent universe) pointing to an Intelligent Designer is overwhelming to me.
So we’re really faced with two choices:
Everything that exists came from nothing and is purely accidental.
Or everything that exists came from a Creator and has purpose.
What’s ironic to me is those who believe God doesn’t exist do believe the entire universe–70 billion billion stars and the super-intelligence we call DNA–somehow came from nothing at all. Which if true, would be a miracle.
I learned a number of years ago that well-meaning people sometimes need to be ignored. Good people, nice people can sometimes be the most discouraging.
God was leading me to take a step of faith. A big one. And the more I obeyed and trusted Him, the more He confirmed I was doing the right thing. I’d never been more sure of a direction from God. In numerous ways, He encouraged me to believe Him, not my feelings or circumstances.
That didn’t mean He was also speaking to those around me though. I’m sure to others, my path looked foolish, irresponsible, even reckless. Some of the most discouraging people were some close friends. Either by the questions they asked, the comments they made or even the look on their faces–they were discouraging me from continuing to believe God.
In Mark 5, a man named, Jairus, comes to Jesus and pleads with Him to come heal his 12-year-old daughter who’s dying. As Jesus is on the way to heal her, some men come to tell Jairus his daughter has died. Verse 36 says:
Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
Sometimes we have to ignore others, so we can believe God.
If God is leading you to take a step of faith, then trust Him and take the step. Just understand you will very likely encounter resistance, skepticism and discouragement from those closest to you. During those times, you will need to go back to God and spend time in His word and in prayer to receive encouragement and strengthening in your faith. And the bigger the step of faith, the more you will need for God to confirm His plan.
Let me close with a word of caution. Before you choose to ignore someone’s counsel–be sure you are hearing clearly from God. We cannot always trust our desires. Our feelings will often lead us astray. God will never lead you to do anything that contradicts His word.
A man once told me he believed God had led him to have an affair with another woman. No, those were his own sinful desires that led him into an affair and a deceived mind that allowed him to conclude it was God.
The more time you bathe your mind in God’s word and in prayer, the more confidence you can have in taking bold steps of faith.
So is there someone you need to ignore so you can believe God?