I don’t know exactly what everyone here believes, but I think I know most of you well enough that I can make a few blanket statements about what most of us believe.
And for most of us, these beliefs have radically changed our lives. These beliefs have changed how we see our world. They have changed how understand our purpose in existing. They’ve changed how we raise our children. They’ve changed how we work, how we interact with our neighbours, how we manage our money, even how we spend our free time. I mean, these beliefs have changed everything!
And for some of us, holding these beliefs have come with a cost. Some of us have lost friends because of what we believe. Some of us have been openly mocked because of what we believe. Some of us, because of what we believe, have had to make choices that set us back in our careers or cost us financially. And while I don’t think it has happened yet in our group (although we certainly see it in other parts of the world), the day may come when our beliefs may cost us our freedom, our families, or even our lives.
So holding these beliefs come with huge ramifications. These beliefs will change the course of your life forever.
And the issue that I want you to wrestle with today is that all of these beliefs come from one primary source – this book right here – the Bible. As Christians, everything we believe about our world, about God, about Jesus, about our purpose in life, about how to live life, about eternity – all of that is rooted and based on the words we find in this book.
We are risking our friendships, our finances, our family’s future – perhaps one day even our freedom or our very lives based on the words in this book!
How important is it then, that, #1, we know without a doubt that the words in this book are trustworthy, true, and reliable? and #2. that we fully know and accurately understand what this book is saying?
The stakes are so high! We are staking both our present lives and our eternal future on the words in this book.
So I don’t know about you, but I sure want to know with certainty that the words in this book are indeed true. And if I can establish that, if they are true, then I want to know and understand and apply to my life everything it says!
And so to that end, I want to spend the next couple of weeks looking at the issue of the Bible. What is it? How did we get it? Can we trust it? And if we can, then how do we make sense of it all? How do we understand it and live out what it says? How does it make a difference in our lives?
These are super important questions that we need to have answers for, and so I’m pretty excited to go through all this stuff with you over these next couple weeks.
And of course, this is all part of our “Healthy Habits” that we’ve been talking about. Reading and studying and understanding and memorizing and applying the Bible to our lives is one of the cornerstone practices of all healthy, growing Christians. Of all the spiritual disciplines that we’re going to be talking about in this series, if you want to start with just one – this is the one I want you to start with! The Bible lays the foundation for everything else that we do and believe. Read the rest of this entry »
Well, last week we began this new series – Healthy Habits – A Guide to the Spiritual Disciplines. And maybe that doesn’t immediately strike you as something very exciting – the word “discipline” rarely invokes thoughts of joy and happiness…. But one of the key things that we took away from last weeks’ message was that:
Just like how we tend to grow physically unhealthy and unfit if we don’t do anything to stay in shape – in the same way we tend to grow spiritually unhealthy and unfit if we don’t do anything to stay close to God. Having that sinful nature means that our natural tendency is to grow distant from God – rather than grow closer to Him.
And Jesus tells us that the key to living a full and abundant and fruitful life is to stay close to Him. He tells us in John 15:4
4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5
On our own, we can’t produce that fruit of the Spirit like we talked about last week. It’s not our effort to “be a good Christian” that does that. That’s the job of the Holy Spirit. He works in us to produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
But He only does that when we (the branches) stay connected to Jesus (the vine). And so these spiritual disciplines are the practices what we do so that we do remain in Him. These are the things that build up and strengthen our relationship with God, so that more and more the Holy Spirit can help us become more like Him.
And again, as I mentioned last week – this has nothing to do with our salvation. We aren’t saved because we do these things. These aren’t the things that bring us forgiveness and life. The Bible is very clear that we are saved only by putting our faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Romans 10:9-13 tells us…
If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. 11 As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” 12 Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. 13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:9-13
So none these other practices that we do – reading our Bible, fasting, going to church, giving our offerings, serving each other – none of these things determine whether we are saved or not. And God doesn’t love us any more when we do these things – and He doesn’t love us any less when we don’t. He just loves us!
When Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave three days later – He accomplished everything that was necessary for our salvation. He did it all. There is nothing left for us to do, but believe and accept it.
But now that we’ve done that – now that we’ve believed and accepted what Jesus did – our response to that salvation is to get to know this God who has saved us! I don’t know about you, I want to know more about who God is and what He’s like. And I find that, the more I learn who God is, the more I want to be like Him. I don’t want to live a life full of all this sin junk that is messing up my life. I want to live in the freedom and the joy and hope and peace that comes when I live like Jesus.
And so that’s why I want to remain in Him. That’s why I want to draw close to Him. I want to see that fruit in my life. And practicing these disciplines is what helps me do that. These are the healthy habits that I want to develop so that I stay close to and connected with my Heavenly Father – and through the Holy Spirit, I can become more like Him.
And I think that most of us would have that desire as well. So while we may not love the word ‘discipline’ – I think the benefits we receive because of it makes it all very much worth while. So let’s begin looking at the first of these spiritual disciplines.
Now I want to start with a bit of a disclaimer. The Bible never gives us an exhaustive, comprehensive list of all of the spiritual disciplines. So you’re not going to find a passage that lumps them all together. But you will find these disciplines mentioned and even commanded several times throughout the Scriptures. Most of the time though, they are talked about either one at a time or perhaps there will be two or three lumped together. Several practices naturally go hand-in-hand like prayer and fasting for example, and so sometimes those are talked about together. But for the most part, we just find these commands and examples scattered throughout the Bible.
As I read several different books and articles on all this, I found several different lists of the disciplines – some had as few as just 8 different ones – other lists had as many as almost 20 different disciplines. So there’s no hard and fast rule for what’s considered to be a spiritual discipline and what is not. The key criteria is “Does this help me abide in Christ? Does it help me know him and experience his presence?” That’s what we’re looking for here.
There are some very obvious disciplines that have been practiced by almost every follower of Jesus over the ages – things like studying the Word of God, prayer, and worship. Everybody knows about these things – Christians have been doing them for millenniums! But then there are some that are a little less common, but still very valuable – things like silence and solitude, fasting, or confession. These things – particularly in our day and age – seem a little more rare. Although as we go through some of these things, I think we’ll find that they shouldn’t be so rare.
So there is a whole variety of these tools that help us abide in Christ and that help us know and become like Him. And the one I want to start with is actually one of the less common ones.
If you ever take a theology class, one of the first things that you’ll probably learn is that God has revealed Himself to us in two kinds of ways. One of these ways is called General Revelation and the other way is called Special Revelation.
Special Revelation is where God has directly intervened in human history to reveal Himself in some way. And there are a few different ways he’s done that. There are several times in the Bible were God personally shows up and talks with people – God talking with Abraham is a good example. Moses and all of his conversations with God is another.
Special revelation also includes the times when God gives people dreams or visions. Joseph and Daniel both had dreams and visions from God. John recorded the entire book of Revelation after God showed him a vision of the things yet to come.
And on that note, the itself Bible is also considered to be a major part God’s special revelation. God miraculously guided the authors of all the different books of the Bible to write the message that He wanted them to write – while at the same time allowing them to use their own writing style and personality. We’ll probably talk more about that next week when we focus on God’s Word. But that’s certainly part of God’s special revelation.
And of course, the ultimate form of special revelation is Jesus Himself. To have God come and live with us and among us was a huge act of special revelation. When that little baby Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem, God was revealing Himself to us in a completely new and amazing way! So all those things are considered to be ‘special revelation’.
General Revelation is how God has revealed Himself (not by direct intervention), but simply by what we can see and observe in all of God’s creation.
I found a good definition of general revelation on the internet at gotquestions.com
General Revelation is… “the revelation of God to all people, at all times, and in all places that proves that God exists and that He is intelligent, powerful, and transcendent.”
~ S. Michael Houdmann – GotQuestions.org
If you’ve ever gazed up at the stars or watched a mother with her baby or just sat and watch the sunset even, it quickly becomes obvious that you can learn a lot about God simply by observing his Creation.
Paul even tells us that no one has an excuse for not knowing God because the evidence for God as seen in Creation is overwhelming. Paul writes in Romans 1:20…
For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. Romans 1:20
Creation makes God’s existence and his power obvious to us. The more we study God’s Creation, the more it reveals God’s intelligence, His power, and His transcendence. And that’s why I would suggest to you that perhaps one of the most simple practices of the spiritual disciplines is just observing and contemplating God’s Creation. We see so much of God in what He has made.
King David spent a whole pile of time out and about in God’s Creation and it would certainly seem to me that He probably spent a lot of hours just looking up into the stars at night while he was either watching his father’s sheep or camping out with his armies. And look what he writes in Psalm 19…
1 The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The skies display his craftsmanship.
2 Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known.
3 They speak without a sound or word;
their voice is never heard.
4 Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
and their words to all the world.
I don’t know if you’ve spend a lot of time star-gazing, but I tell ya, when you look up and see all those twinkling lights and you imagine how huge those stars must be and how far away they are – and then, when you consider that God just created them all of out of nothing – I mean, WOW! That sure gives you fuller appreciation for who God is. If this was night time, I’d love to take us all outside and just look up into the stars for a while. But since we can’t do that, I’ve found a short little video that will help blow your mind next time you go star gazing…
Now this isn’t made from a Christian point of view or anything, but it sure gives us some amazing perspective on who our God is.
Doesn’t that blow your mind? Our God created all that! Psalm 33 tells us that…
6 The Lord merely spoke,
and the heavens were created.
He breathed the word,
and all the stars were born.
That’s amazing! We can’t even comprehend that kind of power! Isaiah 40 says…
25 “To whom will you compare me?
Who is my equal?” asks the Holy One.
26 Look up into the heavens.
Who created all the stars?
He brings them out like an army, one after another,
calling each by its name.
Because of his great power and incomparable strength,
not a single one is missing.
27 O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?
28 Have you never heard?
Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
29 He gives power to the weak
and strength to the powerless.
30 Even youths will become weak and tired,
and young men will fall in exhaustion.
31 But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40: 25-31
It is so incredible that the same God that created all those billions of massive stars – the same God that created all those billions of massive galaxies – that God loves you. That immeasurably powerful God who created all of that, loved you so much that He was willing to be born as a human baby (born in a manger!) and to die on a cross so that you could be with Him forever. That’s the most incredible thing that you will ever hear!
And of course, we’ve heard that message before. In fact, I preach that same message in different ways almost every Sunday. But I’m guessing that after we took some time to observe and contemplate God’s amazing Creation, suddenly, our understanding and appreciation of that message changed. I think we have a deeper understanding of how amazing it is that the Creator of the universe loves us! I think King David experienced that same thing. In Psalm 8, David writes:
3 When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
the moon and the stars you set in place—
4 what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?
I can’t speak for you, but I think that after looking into the night sky and considering the power and the wisdom of God, I’m a lot more inclined right now to submit to His authority. I’m a lot more inclined to trust Him in every area of my life. I’m a lot more inclined to do whatever it takes to honour Him with my life.
And that’s the point of this discipline. When we regularly take the time to observe and contemplate God’s Creation, it helps remind us of who this God is that we’re in relationship with. It deepens our understanding of Him. It increases our trust in Him.
Even Jesus, when He was teaching about the character of God, pointed people to look at God’s Creation to better understand who God is. I’ll give you an example. Matthew 6:25… Jesus is teaching here about trusting God in every area of life. He says in verse 25…
25 “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?
28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?
31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
Jesus is teaching us a fantastic truth about God and he directs our attention to nature to illustrate his point. Look at the lilies of the field – Look at the birds of the air – all of creation shows us glimpses of who God is and what He’s like. We just need to take the time and make the effort to take a look and consider the implications.
One of the professors at Dallas Theological Seminary said…
“Nature is God’s picture book for man, much like the picture books we give to children who are not yet able to read. The pictures tell the same story the Bible tells with words.” ~ Bob Deffinbaugh – Dallas Theological Seminary
And certainly we can’t replace the Bible with nature. I’m not suggesting that we can shelf the Bible and just go camping instead. Although there are many people who actually do that. But nature is not a replacement for the Word of God. There are many things that nature simply doesn’t reveal about God – and that’s why we have special revelation. But I think we’re wise to study both. God’s creation vividly illustrates God’s character in a way that words don’t.
So on a practical side of things, how do we make this practice of observing and contemplating God through His Creation – how do we make that a regular part of our lives?
Well, I think the answer to that is probably as varied as the people in this room. I don’t know that I can give you a specific way that’s going to work best for you. I can tell you what works well for me and I can certainly give you some suggestions of what you can try, but it probably comes down to a bit of trial and error on your part – trying different things to see what methods work great for you.
For example, if you’re a night owl, maybe instead of watching binge-watching that new netflix show, if the night is clear and somewhat warm, maybe you want to enjoy a hot chocolate out on the deck and just watch the stars for a few minutes. Maybe imagine the moment when God just said the word and all the stars appeared….
Or if you’re a morning person, perhaps you want to get up and go for a walk along the edge of town – listening to the birds or watching the sunrise. The quiet early mornings are great time to think about the God of peace. There’s that verse that says “Be still and know that I am God.” Early mornings are a great time to do that.
Or maybe on a lazy Sunday afternoon, you just want to go for a drive out in the country with your family. Go throw rocks in the river or even head out to Banff if you want! Marvel at the majesty of the mountains or be in awe at the power of the river when its threatening to over-flow it’s banks. Those are great pictures of God.
But of course, it doesn’t have to be that involved either. I bought my wife some flowers the other day, and as I was reading my Bible one morning, I just spent a minute or so just looking at these flowers. And for a few moments I just thought about the beauty that God has created in this world and the creativity He must have to come up with all the amazing variety that we see. And if God does that for flowers, how much more does he do that for people? And I had a whole little thought process that went along with that that just made me marvel at and appreciate God for who He is and what He’s done.
And that’s really the bottom line for whatever you do to apply this practice of observing and contemplating God through His Creation. Whether you’re looking at the stars, or just enjoying the smell of fresh muffins or listening to great music or watching some puppies play – in all of those things we can ask ourselves, what does this tell me about God? How does this remind me of the goodness and the greatness of God?
So if I were to give you some homework for this week – that question would be it. I would challenge you to, at some point in every day this week, to take a moment to observe something… anything in God’s creation and just ask the question “How does this remind me of the goodness and the greatness of God?”
And just that simple practice of looking to God’s Creation for reminders of God’s goodness and greatness will give us a clearer and deeper understanding of who God is and what He’s like.
I hope this week will be full of those reminders for all of us.
As I grow older old, I’ve noticed that being healthy and fit is not my default state. If left alone, that’s not where I naturally end up. When I look back over my last 15 years, I can see my tendency to slide towards being unhealthy and unfit.
Of course, in my younger days, it certainly seemed like health and fitness was the default. When I was in my 20s, it didn’t seem to matter what I ate or didn’t eat. I didn’t have to go to the gym or really, pay any attention to my health or fitness. It seemed I was just naturally in pretty good shape.
But now, as the years have passed, I increasingly find that that is not the case! I can no longer do all those things that I once did. I can’t eat whatever I want without consequence. When I’m doing physical activity, I get tired quicker. My energy runs out sooner than I’d like. My body complains loudly after I do some of those strenuous activities.
I used to spend a lot of time at camp and back then I had just as much endurance and energy as any of the kids. Of course, I was never the most athletic guy – I’ve never been super muscular or particularly skills at sports. But I certainly wasn’t out of shape. I loved the wide games at camp. I could run pretty quick, so I loved capture the flag or prisoner’s base or all those running games.
Well, I played floor hockey over at the Innisfail Baptist Church a few weeks ago – and after an hour of running around, (and certainly not at the intensity that I used to) I was pretty exhausted. And the next day, man, I was feeling it! 15 years ago, I could have done that with no problem. But not anymore.
And its not just a matter of getting older though… The guy in charge of the floor hockey was at least 10 years older than me and he was still quicker at the end of the night than most of the young guys! So it’s not simply an issue of age – it’s a matter of health and fitness.
So over this past year in particular, I’ve noticed more and more that being healthy and fit is not my default state. Unless I do something to stop this downward progression, I will increasingly grow less healthy and less fit. My energy levels will continue to drop. My ability to run or play games with my kids or go for hikes or all those things – I’ll be less and less able to do those things. And that’s certainly a concern for me.
We just helped move my Grandma – who is 94 year old now – into a senior’s home just a few weeks ago. She has certainly slowed down, but for a 94 year old, she done a pretty good job over her lifetime of keeping healthy and fit. I hope when I’m 94 years old, I’m as healthy and fit as she is.
I was out for a walk a couple weeks ago and I stopped to chat with my neighbour who was out edging his lawn. He was mostly done by the time I came by – he had edged up and down the sidewalk in front of his house and had done most of the walkway up to his door. There was quite pile of sod that he had trimmed up – and as we were chatting, he told me that he was cerebrating his 80th birthday that week. Man! I hope when I’m 80 years old, that I’m healthy and fit enough to still do as much work as what he was doing.
But I’ll tell ya, if I don’t intentionally do something to change my natural direction, I won’t be. I’ve got to intentionally work at staying healthy. If I don’t want to be shuffling around with my walker when I’m 60, then I’ve got to start working at being healthy and fit today. If I still want to be able to play and run with my grandkids or my great grandkids when I’m 70, then I need to start working at it now.
And it does take work – that’s for sure. Recently, I’ve been experimenting – trying to find the best way for me to stay healthy and fit. And so there’s two specific things that I’ve been trying. One of them is just trying to eat a little more healthy. I found an app that I like for my phone that tracks what I eat. I find that just seeing how much I eat in a day helps me refrain from over-doing it on snacks and second helpings and such. But it’s hard… There are a lot of good things to eat in this world, so it’s work for me to exercise that self-discipline and make sure I don’t over do it.
The other thing I’ve been trying to do is just to exercise more. As a pastor, much of my day is spent sitting and having coffee with folks or reading and studying or working on my sermon in front of my computer. There’s not a lot of physical activity required. So I’ve had to make a particular effort to be more active in my recreation time. In the summer time, that meant lots of family bike rides or going for a walk around the block. Sometime when I can, I try to walk to the church instead of driving there. But again, it all takes work. It’s much easier to drive across town than to walk – but if I want the benefit of being healthy and fit – especially in my later years, then I’ve got to put the work in today and make the sacrifices today so that I can enjoy that later.
And I tell you all this this morning because I’ve found that my spiritual health and fitness works very much the same way. Just like how everyone wants to be physically fit and healthy, as Christians, I think we also want to be spiritual fit and healthy.
We want to enjoy a close relationship with God. We want to continually make right choices and honour God with how we live our lives. We want to be like those great heroes of the faith that we admire so much. We want to do our part in helping others come to know and love Jesus. We want to experience the full and abundant life that God has promised us.
But unfortunately, spiritual health and fitness isn’t our default state either. As people born with a sinful nature, our natural inclination is away from God – not towards him. And just like how, without intentional effort, we tend to grow physically unhealthy and out of shape, likewise, without intentional effort, we tend to grow spiritually unhealthy and out of shape. Read the rest of this entry »
At the beginning of this series I shared with you a video clip of a news piece that NBC aired a few years ago that talked about the different views of God that American’s have. So if you believe in God, these researchers found that there were typically four ways that you might see God. The first ways is…
So according to these researchers, those are the four views of God that most North Americans would hold to. But none of those four views are really accurate. The God described in the Bible doesn’t fit well in any of those categories, so that’s kinda shaped the direction I’ve taken with this series. I’ve tried to point out where the descriptions of the God in the Bible disagree with those four views.
So for example – to counter the idea that God is the angry, judgemental God – we looked at how the very character of God is Joy and Generosity! In fact, we read how God is the source of all joy and how He deeply desires every one of us to delight in Him and enjoy the eternal, abundant life He has prepared for us.
And lest we take that to the extreme and say that God is never harsh, would never punish anyone – we also looked at how God is just. It is his nature to right the wrongs in this world and to oppose the sin that is so destructive to us. His justice and his love actually go hand-in-hand. Of course, that’s why God’s Son, Jesus, came to earth to die on that cross for our sins – He was being just and loving at the same time.
We also countered the idea that God is some far-away, uninvolved God. He saw how God is so intimately involved in our lives that he has even numbered the hairs on head. If God knows when hair #943 falls out, we can be confident that He knows and cares about the much bigger issues in our life too.
So that’s what we’ve talked about so far, and finally today, to wrap it all up, I want to counter this last idea that God is some impersonal force like what we might see in Star Wars – that He’s like gravity or electricity – some force to be harnessed for good or for evil. Because that’s certainly not the case. As we see in the Bible, God is a personal being. And it is our personal relationship with Him that makes all the difference in our lives.
I don’t think I need to spend a lot of time arguing the case that God is a personal being. I think everything that we’ve talked about over the past few weeks confirms that already. Impersonal forces don’t have characteristics like joy or generosity or being just or caring about the details of your life. Electricity doesn’t care how many hairs are on your head and gravity can’t be joyful.
So instead of showing you that God is a personal being – I’m going to assume you believe that already – and instead, I want to focus this morning on reminding you why your personal relationship with this personal being is the one thing that will made all the difference in your life.
And I think this is particularly important for our church right now.
We’ve been holding services here in Penhold for just about a year now – we celebrate our one year anniversary in just over two weeks. We’re starting up our kids club and our teen building program. We’ve got ladies Bible study starting again soon too. Justified has been running for several months. We’ve had several chances to get involved with the community – the community Christmas event, helping with at ice-cream shack, running the kids corner at the fall festival. These are all fantastic things – but it’s important to remember that these activities and all this involvement – that’s not the purpose of this church. Those are all means to an end – but they are not the end in themselves. There is a reason why we do all that.
You might remember when we first started up, we wrote up a list of some of our commitments as a church. And there is one in particular that I want to remind you of this morning. This is what we said…
We are committed to making disciples of Jesus Christ. We are not satisfied with gaining “church attenders” or even “church members”. We want to see people changed by the Holy Spirit who increasingly know, love, and obey Jesus Christ and are passionate about helping others do likewise.
That’s what we are trying to do. All those activities and all that involvement is a means to this end. To help people come to know and love and to obey Jesus Christ.
In other words, we want them to have a personal relationship with a personal being – with God.
Because it’s not our kids clubs that will change people’s lives. It’s not our Bible studies that will change people’s lives. It’s not even my sermons that change people’s lives. It’s God who will change people’s lives. He might work through all those different things – but it is Him who makes the difference.
I think the life of Paul is a great example of this. If anyone was involved in religious activities – Paul was certainly that guy. Just to give you a bit of his background, we read in Acts 22:3….
Then Paul said, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today. Acts 22:3
If Paul was in our modern context, we would probably read that Paul grew up going to Sunday school and kids club and Bible camp. In fact, he was a camp counsellor for many years and eventually went to Bible College & Seminary. He got his masters in Theology and then went on to get his doctorate (twice). He taught Bible studies and often preached in his local church. If anyone lived a life of religious activities – Paul certain did!
But for all of his learning and for all of his religious activities, Paul did not have a personal relationship with God at this point. In fact, he zealously persecuted those who did. verse 4…
And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison. 5 The high priest and the whole council of elders can testify that this is so. For I received letters from them to our Jewish brothers in Damascus, authorizing me to bring the followers of the Way from there to Jerusalem, in chains, to be punished.
So Paul is very zealous in his religion – but He has no personal relationship with God. But then one day, all that changed. Verse 6.
6 “As I was on the road, approaching Damascus about noon, a very bright light from heaven suddenly shone down around me. 7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’
8 “‘Who are you, lord?’ I asked.
“And the voice replied, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, the one you are persecuting.’ 9 The people with me saw the light but didn’t understand the voice speaking to me.
10 “I asked, ‘What should I do, Lord?’
“And the Lord told me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told everything you are to do.’
And from then on after that encounter with Christ – everything changed for Paul. Even his name. He went from Saul to Paul. He went from persecuting Jesus to preaching about Jesus. He went from hunting down Christians to building up the church. He was radically and completely changed all because He personally met the personal being – Jesus Christ.
Paul’s life was not radically changed because of all the teachings he received. Paul’s life was not radically changed by all the religious activities that he was involved in. Paul’s life was radically changed by meeting God.
Paul would later write in Philippians 3:
We put no confidence in human effort, 4 though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!
5 I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. 6 I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.
7 I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. 8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9 and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!
Paul makes it pretty clear that it wasn’t his religion that changed him. It wasn’t all the good things he was doing. He was changed by the person – Jesus Christ. That’s why he says in verse 8:
Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Philippians 3:8
And again in verse 10:
I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. Philippians 3:10
So my question for you is, do you know Him? Knowing Christ – having a personal relationship with Him – is the most important thing you can do in this life. Everything else is worthless in comparison.
You might be a smashing success in business, you might have a fine home with all the bells and whistles. You might have a great reputation in the community – you might be known as wonderful parent, a great friend, a pillar of the community. But if you miss out on having a personal relationship with the God of the universe – you’ve missed on everything!
And on the flip side of that – maybe your life doesn’t look that rosey. Maybe you’ve had a failed business or you’ve lost your job and you’re the brink of bankruptcy. Maybe you’ve had some lousy relationships and you’ve made some poor choices in life. Don’t despair! Even then you can be a smashing success at the most important thing in this life – and that is knowing Jesus Christ.
There’s a little clip of a sermon that’s been floating around the internet for several years now. It was preached by an african-american baptist pastor in Detroit in 1976 – Dr. Lockridge his name and as I was working through this topic of knowing Christ – this clip came to my mind and I thought it might be good to share it with you.
Well, I would echo Dr. Lockridge’s question to you this morning: Do you know Him? Do you know my king? And the question isn’t – Do you know OF Him? But do you know Him? Personally?
I know that many of you do. For many of us, we began to get to know Christ years ago when we first put our faith and trust in Him as our Saviour. And hopefully, over the years, we’ve come to know Him even more and more.
And by the way, how are you doing with that recently? How has your relationship with God been in recent days? And to be clear, I’m not asking you what religious activities you’ve doing… Sometimes we get those mixed up.
Sometimes we equate our relationship with God with our ‘religious activities’ like reading our Bible or going to church or praying. Often in Christian circles we might ask one another – How’s your relationship with God recently? And we might answer, “Not too good. I haven’t been to church recently or I haven’t been reading my Bible.” Well, that certainly indicates that perhaps you haven’t been doing much to pursue your relationship with God – but don’t confuse the activities for the relationship.
Jesus talks a bit about this in Matthew 7:21… He said…
21 “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’ Matthew 7:21-23
Doing those religious things isn’t what makes the difference. It’s knowing God. Having a relationship with Him. Listening to what He says and responding in obedience.
In a book on discipleship that I’ve been reading just recently, there was a quote that said that being a disciple of Jesus means constantly asking two questions:
#1. What is Jesus saying to me? #2. What am I doing in response?
Answering those questions requires relationship. It’s listening and then responding.
That’s exactly what we see Paul doing on the road to Damascus. God made his voice very clear for Paul and Paul responded: verse 10 in that passage says…
“I asked, ‘What should I do, Lord?’
“And the Lord told me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told everything you are to do.’
And so that’s exactly what Paul did. He heard what Jesus was saying to him and then he responded in obedience.
Of course God doesn’t often speak to us in such a dramatic fashion, so we need to actually take the time and make the effort to find out what God is saying to us. That might include listening to sermons. That might include praying. That might include reading your Bible. That might include journaling. That might even include fasting. That might include being part of kids club or teen building or Bible studies. But the purpose of all of those activities is to help you hear what God is saying to you and then to work out what you’re going to do in response.
That’s the relationship part of the equation. Don’t mistake the activities for the relationship. Because it’s very possible that we can listen to 1000 sermons. We can read all the way through our Bible twice. We can even recite a prayer every night and still have no relationship with God if we’re not trying to hear what He says or respond in obedience.
It’s not about going through the motions. It’s about knowing God. It’s interacting with Him – Responding to what He says and what He does.
So if I were to ask you this morning – What has God been saying to you in these past two weeks? And then what are you doing in response to that….? Would you have an answer?
If you have a hard time answering those questions, maybe you need to evaluate your relationship with God. And I’ll be honest with you – there are times when I have a hard time answering those questions and I have to question my relationship with God.
As a pastor, my week is full of religious activities. I read my Bible and pray every day. I know you’re all going to be expecting a message from me on Sunday morning, so I spend a lot of time in God’s Word, studying and trying to understand and looking for ways to apply what we’ve learned.
But that doesn’t always mean I personally listen to and respond to what Jesus is saying to me. It’s very easy for me to just go through the motions and leave my personal relationship with God out of it.
But what a difference it makes in my life when I actually take the time and make the effort to know God! To listen to what He is saying to me and then responding to that.
When I do that, that’s when my life changes – that’s when I become more like Him. When I take the time to actually interact with God – That’s when I see more of the fruit of the Spirit in my life – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Listening to and obey God just brings that stuff out! And I love that! My family loves that too! They like it when I act more like Christ.
But those changes in my life only come when I interact with Jesus personally. When I listen to what He is saying to me and then I act in obedience in response. That’s the kind of relationship that Jesus is talking about when he compares our relationship with Him to a branch’s relationship with a vine.
4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5
We need to have that close, continuously relationship with God. Otherwise, we do nothing.
So many Christians live such empty, fruitless lives. So many live in defeat. Some even conclude that Christianity doesn’t work for them! But based on these verses here, I wonder if they feel that way because they don’t maintain that relationship with God. Certainly they know of Him, but they don’t know Him in a personal way. Perhaps they go through the motions of reading their Bibles or praying or attending church. But if they never really interact with God, if they never listen to what He says or respond in obedience to how he leads, of course their Christianity “isn’t going to work” – of course they are going to feel empty and fruitless. It’s because they have no relationship with God. They’ve been severed from the vine.
So here’s what I would propose. Maybe you’ve already got a real healthy relationship with God – you’re constantly interacting with Him personally. You’re hearing what He’s says and acting in obedience. And if so, that’s awesome! Keep doing what you’re doing!
But if this is an area of struggle for you – if you find that it is hard to stay really connected with God. If you find you’re just going through the motions of going to church or reading you Bible but nothing is happening and God just seems silent or distant. Here’s what I suggest you should try.
Before any of your ‘religious activities’ – before you go to church, before you read your Bible, before you go Bible study or whatever you’re going to do, I want you to stop and just ask God to speak to you through that activity. Ask Him to show you through His Word or through the speaker, through whatever… what it is that He wants you to do?
And then, pay attention. I believe God will answer that prayer. He tells us in Matthew 7:7…
“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Matthew 7:7-8
If you ask God to speak to you, He will. But then it’s up to you to listen and respond in obedience – even if you don’t particularly like what He says.
So at the end of your activity – be it the Sunday morning message or your morning devotions or your ladies study or whatever it is – ask these two question.
What is God saying to me? What do I need to do in response?
Every time – after every activity – What is God saying to me? What do I need to do in response?
And through that, as you get to know God, as you interact with him, hearing his voice and following his leading, God’s going to change your life. With his help, you’re going to bear much fruit. You might find that over time, you’re quicker to forgive or that you’re less stressed about life. You’ve got more joy or you’re more generous. You sin less. You love others more. You have more peace. You’re going to notice a change!
And other people are going to see the change in you too as you become more and more like Christ. Your spouse is going to notice. Your kids are going to notice. Your neighbours and boss are going to notice.
And what’s super cool about all this is that it tends to start a chain reaction. As people see how different you’ve become, they’re going to want that too. Everybody wants to have more joy, more peace, to be more loving, right? So when they see that you’ve got that, they’re going to want to know why. And that’s when you’ll have the opportunity to help them know and love and obey God like you do.
And that’s why I said at the beginning, all of our church activities are design to help people come to know and love and obey God. That’s why we have our kids club. That’s why we have our teen building program. That why we have justified. Thats why we have ladies Bible study. That’s why we get involved in our community – to help people come to know and love and obey God – like we have.
But that means we have to lead the way. We have to do it first. We need to be the ones to know and love and obey God first. Otherwise, we’re just going through the motions and have no fruit to offer to anyone.
So let’s taste and see that the Lord is good. Let’s get to know our God personally and let’s experience the joy that comes from taking refuge in Him.
Taste & see that the Lord is good. Oh the joys of those who take refuge in Him. Psalm 34:8
We’ve spent the last several weeks learning and being reminded of who God really is and what He is really like and what we’ve tasted and seen so far is that God is really good!
For example, we’ve seen that God is a God of joy! In contrast to what many people believe about God, He’s not a grumpy wet blanket here to make life boring and miserable for us – No! He loves it when we experience delight and joy because His very character is joy. In fact, He has created us to experience immeasurable joy with Him forever! Pretty awesome stuff!
And that goes hand-in-hand with God’s generosity. He loves to give! He’s not a stingy, reluctant God that we have to bargain with or try to coerce into giving us what we need and want – No! God loves to provide for us and give us abundantly more than we could ask or even imagine!
And God is intimately involved in every area of our life. We saw last week that God is not some far-away, distant God, but He is so near to us that He even keeps a tally of the hairs on our head. And if God is aware when one little hair falls from your head, then He certainly knows about all the other more pressing issues in your life. And not only does He know, but He cares too!
It’s been pretty awesome to taste and see that the Lord is good – and this morning we’re going to be reminded of yet another aspect of God’s character.
So far, all the attributes of God that we’ve looked at to this point are usually pretty enthusiastically embraced. Everybody’s happy to know that God is generous, for example. No one complains about that. When we read that God will generously provide all we need – we’re good with that! Way to go, God!
Likewise when we read that God is the source of all joy – we’re like “Bring it on!” Bring on the joy!
And when we read that God is near, that God even numbers the hairs our head – that’s pretty cool. We’re pretty glad to have a God like that.
But then there are some aspects of God’s character that not everyone is eager to experience. Some of the things we read about God in Bible can sometimes make us feel a little uncomfortable. Read the rest of this entry »
Well, this little clip is probably one of the most famous sesame street scenes in all of sesame Street History. Even this week, I saw a advertisement for a Grover shirt that had a big picture of Grover on the front and it said “This is Near” – then on the back there was a little picture of grover and it said “This is far” – I was kinda tempted to get one….
But what does Grover explaining near and far have to do with our message this morning? Well, I’ll get there in a minute, but first, I need to remind you of what we’ve been talking about in the previous weeks.
About a month ago, we started looking Psalm 34:8 which says:
Taste and see that the Lord is good.
Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him! Psalm 34:8
And basically, for the past few weeks, we’ve been tasting and seeing that God is indeed good. For example, we looked at how the very character of God is joy. He is the source of all happiness, pleasure, enjoyment, and fun. He invented all that. And we experience hints of God’s joy every day – in beauty of a sunset or in the taste of a juicy, ripe peach or in the laughter of a little child. God has filled our world with joy – because He Himself is Joy. And what’s super cool, is that even when everything in our world is falling apart, we can still find true joy in Jesus Christ because He has beaten death and has promised us abundant, eternal life with Him.
We also looked at how God is generous. He’s not stingy as some would think – reluctant to answer our prayers and provide good things us, but He loves to give – that’s actually part of who he is – He loves to be generous. And since Creation, God has been giving and giving and giving to us. Not only does He bless us with friends, family, material stuff – but He gives us grace, forgiveness, second chances, hope, and eternal life! Of course, that’s all made possible because He gave his one and only Son, Jesus – who then gave his life for us. If that’s not a generous, giving God, then I don’t know what is. Read the rest of this entry »
Hi. In case you were wondering, my name is Dave Trenholm. I'm just a [mostly] normal guy who wants please God with my life and help people see how awesome He is. One way that I can do that is to post some of my thoughts and tell some of my stories on this website. Most of my recent content is made up of the sermons that I've preached over that past several years.