Spring retreat for RCCCCG (Asheboro, NC)
Friday AM @ Mar 15, 2002
By DJ Chuang
Illus: Who wants to be a millionaire? (This was Americaís most popular television show in the 1999-2000 season.) Answer a dozen trivia questions correctly, and you win a million dollars. To help you along the way is three lifelines: to poll the studio audience, Phone-a-Friend, and 50/50 to eliminate half of the multiple choice answers.
Who wants to have all of Godís spiritual blessings? God is offering the whole world of spiritual blessings to all of humankind. We can have all that God desires to give us in the here and now. And God gives us the one lifeline, very similar to the Phone-a-Friend lifeline. And we donít have to audition for a show or have the fastest fingers or be in a bind. We can phone him up any time. But without that using that lifeline, is it any wonder that people are tired, discouraged, aimless, and isolated, among other things.
Yesterday we looked at Godís creation of mankind, and how we were made for a perfect world. But that perfect world didnít last long, and the world became a mess, and now weíre in this imperfect world and separated from God. Thousands of years have gone by, and people have multiplied, reproduced, and migrated all over the world. The knowledge of the Creator God was distorted by some, while lost by others. Various cultures formed their own stories over time for the meaning of life. For example, Confucius articulated for the Chinese (and other East Asian cultures) a whole ethics and way of life, assuming there is no God or higher power.
After Adamís disobedience to God, mankind was separated from God. God is a gracious God, and He wonít stay where He is not welcomed. Yet God still loved Adam and Eve and all of his descendents to come, God promised them the world- a perfect world that God would restore. It would take time for that to happen. God began working in human history.
Many generations passed from Adam to Noah, as recorded in Genesis 1 to 11. Then God chose one particular person to demonstrate his desire to bless all peoples, and that man was named Abram. Through Abram, a whole nation came into being called Israel, and Godís interaction with Israel showed His love, faithfulness, and promise. Israel waited many generations for the promised Messiah, someone who would come deliver them from oppression.
1 God comes down to us
To make a long story short, that promise was fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. God Himself enters into history as the completely God and completely man. I donít know how that works exactly, but God became man, to show us who God is, and to show us how to live. Note: this wasnít God in a human costume, he was really human. Thatís why he was born as a baby, and didnít just pop up in the midst of Jerusalem using a Star Trek-like teleporter. And Jesus was really God, because He did things that only God could do.
Thereís a lot to be said about the life of Jesus. Thereís probably more books written about Jesus than anyone else. But the one thing I want for us to look at is that Jesus gives us a perfect picture of who God is.
In the past God spoke to our forefathers 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 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.
The author of Hebrews condenses the story of Godís work throughout the Old Testament, and how the prophets proclaimed the truth about God in the past. Now that Jesus Christ came, as the Son of God (thatís one of his other titles), He has spoken the truth finally once and for all. We donít need intermediaries to know God, we can know God directly because of Jesus.
Why in the world would Jesus give up all of his heavenly glory and comfort, to come down to earth, take the form of a baby no less? And to live on the earth, to be despised, to be rejected, to suffer a fate of death no less? After all, arenít people terrible sinners, stained with sin, fallen short of Godís glory, and deserving of death? Thatís what we learn in church all these years; I know thatís what I heard anyways. Was God only being generous and had pity on such sad helpless creatures? Thatís how I used to think: God came down to earth, humbled Himself, died for our sin, and when I decided to be a Christian, I struggled with sin and not doing enough for God. I ought to be ashamed of myself. Iíve got to try harder to resist sin. Iíve got to get more disciplined to do Christian things. Iíve got to purify my life and avoid worldly things.
But thatís wrong thinking. God wasnít moved out of pity for worthless sinful people, but rather God is so enthralled with love for valuable human beings made in the image of God! God is motivated with so much love for people like you and me that Heís willing to move mountains to show His love.
He finds something loveable about you and I, that He pursues us, He waits on us, He lavishes us with good things. He thinks about us all of the time.
Psalm 8:4- ďWhat is man that you are mindful of him?Ē
Zephaniah 3:17- He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.
2 Anyone can connect with God
Philip Yancey tells this story about a Christian who works with the down-and-out in Chicago:
A prostitute came to me in wretched straits, homeless, sick, and unable to buy food for her two-year-old daughter. Through sobs and tears, she told me she had been renting out her daughter Ė two years old! Ė to men interested in kinky sex. She made more renting out her daughter for an hour than she could earn on her own in a night. She had to do it, she said, to support her drug habit. I could hardly bear hearing her sordid story. For one thing, it made me legally liable Ė Iím required to report cases of child abuse. I had no idea what to say to this woman.
At last I asked if she had ever thought of going to a church for help. I will never forget the look of pure, naÔve shock that crossed her face. ďChurch!Ē she cried. ďWhy would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. Theyíd just make me feel worse.Ē
People like this went to Jesus for help: the woman caught in adultery. Nicodemus the teacher. The woman with menstrual illness. Zacchaeus the tax collector. The woman at the well. The leper. The blind. The marginalized and downcast of society. The Pharisees called Jesus a friend of sinners and tax collectors, and he wore that label like a badge of honor. It was obvious that Jesus hung out with them, yet he did not sin. Do we have friends who donít know Christ, who would call us their friends?
People with obvious external sins know how bad they are and how theyíre despised and rejected, and they know how much help they need for life. When they reach the end of themselves, theyíre desperate for Godís help. And Jesus meets them where they are.
But those who are religious, those who grew up in church, even those that claim to be Christians, need Jesus just as much, as much as the obviously sinful people. It is the people who donít have obvious external sins that are in danger of never trusting in God. Itís easy for some people to refrain from the obvious sins, but there are all kinds other sins that arenít so obvious. Sins that often go unchecked: pride, self-righteousness, gossip, gluttony. People can do good works without faith. People can go to church, profess faith, and do great things in Jesusí name, yet do not know God. Jesus will say to them: ďdepart from me, I never knew you.Ē (Matthew 7:23)
God wants to know you personally and intimately. He simply wants you to be honest with Him. You have to repent of our goodness as well as your badness. Itís okay to say to God that you feel tired or you have too many other interests vying for your attention. You instinctively know that doing a bunch of rituals or going through the motion of a spiritual life or church attendance doesnít make for a good relationship with God.
Iím not saying God is displeased with you when you donít have a lot of spiritual passion. That passion thing is often emotional, and you know how emotions are- they come and go. The truth of the gospel is that you are fully accepted because you are fully in Christ. Period. What you do or donít is not the issue. You are acceptable by God in Christ. God thinks the world of you and He came into the world to show you His love. To live by grace is to live in response to the gospel.
What is the gospel? The gospel is the good news that God has freely given to us everything we need for life in Jesus Christ. He gives us real life itself, for now and for eternity. I think we preachers do a huge disservice when we talk about eternal life as being entrance into heaven, when God has promised an abundant life in the here and now. So when we receive Jesus, believe in His name, we are connected to Godís lifeline, and God fills us with His strength to do the right thing. To get past the Christian jargon, I may need to redefine some terms, that to have faith in Jesus is to have full confidence that He will do what He says He will do.
God doesnít want anything from you before you believe Him. You donít have to do more good things, or to avoid more bad things. You donít have to clean yourself up. God will clean you up when you trust Him. God will change you from the inside when you ask Him to change you. God will change you by His timing and in His ways when you seek Him earnestly.
So the main thing is this: you have to be connected to Jesus. God wants to pour life into your soul and being. But unlike the opening picture of being on the Millionaire game show, you arenít able to use the Phone-a-friend lifeline because you are dead.
ďAs for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.Ē
How can a dead person make a phone call? Canít dial one number. If you are spiritually dead, you can do nothing to become alive. But the gospel is that God can make you alive.
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved.
Some of you might ask: if thereís nothing I can do to get this new life from God, then Iíll do nothing. Wrong conclusion. The Bible encouraged us time and again to seek God, to respond to Godís invitation, to get to know God. The mystery of new life is when you agree that Jesus came to earth, lived a sinless human life, died, and was raised from the dead, and believe that God can give you new life when you put your confidence in Christís life for you, you are born again. You become alive in Christ, and youíve called the best friend you can have in this world, and that friend is Jesus Christ. Then God begins to fill you with His Spirit and grace.
3 Stay connected to God for His grace
When you grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, it frees you to be who you were created to be, and it frees you from anxiety, guilt, fear, isolation, and whatever else weighs you down. (2 Peter 3:18) Your life is to be about growing a relationship with God, for you to know Him better and more intimately, and for Him to know you inside and out. And in that communion and closeness, God will fill you with His love, His grace, and His leading.
Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation--but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14 because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Notice the word ďshareĒ in v.17. God shares with us everything in Christ. God is a generous God, and He promises to never abandon us, come what may. We are His sons and daughters, not in an authoritarian distant kind of way, but in an intimately warm kind of way. We can freely call God our Daddy.
This is true for the future, when we shall enjoy all of heaven in a perfect world, but it is also true right now. The adventure of a new life with God begins when you trust Jesus Christ with your life.† What does God want us to do with all this grace that He gives?
He wants you to stay connected with Him. He wants to know you intimately and personally. He desires to commune with you. He gives you all of life to enjoy. You can do what you want to do, and youíre free to do what you ought to do. Youíre no longer a slave to evil desires. Youíre fully accepted by God because you are in Christ.
Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more.
Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.
Do whatever your heart truly desires. If you want to play music, or teach Bible lessons, or cook dinners, serve up food at the soup kitchen, thatís okay. If you want to play basketball, make money, start a new business, work as a middle manager, thatís okay. You can do anything you want in the kingdom of God (as long as youíre doing it in the kingdom of God). Simply stay connected to God, so He can give you His grace, which will shape your heart and desire.
There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
But you have to stay connected to Godís grace. Use the Phone-a-Friend lifeline often, and talk to God in prayer. Let grace sink in to the depths of your heart and soul. It is this filling of the Holy Spirit that creates stronger desires to will and to do Godís good purpose. (Philippians 2:13) What you need is to experience the grace of God over and over by getting to know Him. And letting Him know you. He loves us, and accepts us, and Heíll do the work to grow us. We donít have to know the answers to lifeís questions. God knows what to do, and all we do is use His lifeline, and Heíll help us.
When I say this, it might sound like we do absolutely nothing except pray. I know it sounds like that because thatís how I used to hear it. Now I realize that I have a part in doing what I ought to do. I need to be diligent in planning, in learning, in acting by faith. But I rely upon Godís grace for the results, and for God to do things that I cannot do on my own.
What is grace? Dallas Willard, author of Divine Conspiracy, defines grace this way: Grace is God accomplishing in you what you cannot on your own.
Dallas Willard: Grace is not opposed to effort; it is opposed to earning.
This means to grow spiritually, I ask for Godís grace to change me and to grow me. I cannot decide how fast to grow, but I certainly need to eat the food of Godís Word. I cannot change peopleís heart to trust in Christ, but I can share with them about what God is doing in my life, and spend time with them, and pray they see a difference when Godís grace is working in me.
I too am learning about the grace of God, and being a slow learner, it has taken years for more grace to seep into the depths of my being. My thinking and feelings have changed significantly over the past few years, and I look back and I can see how ungracious Iíve been in the past, because I didnít understand grace. Recently, I experienced the grace of God in a whole new way. Iíll share with you one of my journal entries::
12/21/01 djís personal journal (unedited)
I have a relationship with the Creator, not the creation or creatures or things made by creatures; and that means eternal and infinite wisdom and power to know my place and peace to exist and act upon creation and creatures.
I'm so well loved by my shepherd, my savior, he would do anything for me because he did do anything for me. The peace that comes from that, yields the freedom - to do all things, to fill my desires, as I delight in Him, as I obey Him, as I walk with him. Words redefined so much more richly and freely and empoweringly. See the world thru the lens of grace..