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…
- You might see God as an authoritative God – that’s the judgemental, angry God who brings punishment and destruction. To some people, that’s who God is.
- Or on the flip side of that, you might see God as a benevolent God – the God who is your best friend, never harsh, always kind and gentle
- Or You might see God as a critical God – the God who doesn’t really involve himself in your life, but in the end, as God, He will judge you for how you lived your life – whether you’ve been good or bad. Kinda of a Santa Claus God…. He’s pretty much out of the picture 11 out of 12 months, but on Dec 25, you sure hope you’re not on the naughty list. Some people see God that way.
- And then finally, you might see God as a distant God – the God who created the universe, but since then has had nothing further to do with it. You might think of this God more like the force than a person. This God – this force doesn’t necessarily have a mind or a will – it’s just kinda out there. And we’re pretty much just left us to ourselves – free to live and do whatever we want. As far as God is concerned, there’s no end game – no consequences.
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.