Harold Bullock: We're going to take a look at some different facets of the thread of your life. And we're going to look at it on a little bit larger scale. Today I'd like to talk with you about your life in the context of what God's doing and what God would like to do, particularly with you. Did you ever look forward to Christmas? I did. I looked forward to it a lot more as a child than as a parent. Oh, you still look forward. It's just a little more tiring. I remember one Christmas, I don't know, I might have been six years old, in our house in East Tennessee. I'd been so looking forward to Christmas, and all the gifts that would be there. And I woke up about 6:15 Christmas morning. I opened my eyes. I had the door to my bedroom open so I could see into the living room. It was off the living room. And I opened my eyes, and I saw the Christmas tree, and there were all kinds of presents there. And I yelled out, "Santa's come!" and jumped out of bed and ran for the tree. My two sisters woke up and staggered into the living room with me.
And it had happened. I looked forward to Christmas for so many weeks, and here it was. I didn't realize my parents had gone to bed about 45 minutes earlier.
Whenever you hope for something and it finally happens, it's a tremendous joy. Christmas is one of those. In the Chronicles of Narnia, CS Lewis, who wrote several children's books and The Chronicles of Narnia, says in the first book, or second book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (the first one you tend to run into). And if you may have seen the movie, the statement is made though when evil has taken over this country, the statement is made that it was always winter but never Christmas.
Wow. That'd be a hard way to live. Always winter, but never Christmas. No matter how hard you hope, it just would not appear. No matter how much snow there was, it just would not appear. Very interesting statement. There's a great deal of delight when our hopes materialize. And when they don't, it's pretty disappointing.
People in this world fall into two broad groups. One is those who have yielded their life to Jesus Christ, and the other is people who have yet to do that. Now, of course you can divide up people a lot of ways, but we are all made by God. People without Christ, people who have yet to commit their lives to him, they are magnificently made. It's an amazing thought. The Bible says this, "I praise you because I have been wonderfully, remarkably and wonderfully made." Wow.
Each one of the animals that God has made on the planet is pretty marvelous. I mean, once you get into the complexities of just a single cell life, it's amazing, all the little engines that are running inside that single cell to make the life go forward. As you get into more complex animals, the design factor is just amazing. But you know, we human beings are different from that. God, the Bible says God made us in addition to the animals, but not simply as an animal. It's our bunch that has sent rockets to distant planets. Hmm. They've landed on Mars. We've been able to get pictures back from little rovers on Mars.
We're the only ones that can do that. Now we're not all rocket scientists. We'll agree to that. Okay? But, it's out of us that these things come. God made us marvelous. It's amazing what he's done. He made us actually connect with him. And then connection with him to do things that are more noble than you would ever realize. We're marvelously made, magnificently made.
At the same time we're separated from God. The rebellion of our original grandparents and then our own personal rebellions have broken the relationship that we were designed for with God. Isaiah 59-2 in the Old Testament says, "But your iniquities have separated you from your God. Your sins have hidden his face from you so that he will not hear you." Hmm. Rebellion, that the idea of sin is just rebellion against what he wants. What he said.
We're just that way. We grow up that way. The race has been like this for a long time, separated from God. And so the connection that was originally intended, where we would know God and walk with him, is broken. Now, we are aware of God. Most people are aware of God. Very often it takes a long time to reason yourself out of the thinking there is one. But most people are aware. However, we're not connected. Sometimes we sense that God's being kind to us. Other times we're mad at God because life hasn't turned out like we thought. But the connection just isn't there. It's one thing to have an awareness; it's another thing to be connected.
And because of that, we live on a futile life track. One that ends up just… keeps on being pointless. The Bible talks about this in Ephesians 2, a short letter in the New Testament. It's full of a lot of insight. "In the past," it's talking to people who've become Christ followers. "In the past you were dead because you sinned and fought against God." Now the sin is not being as bad as you can be. This is just rebellion. God has his way. And it's not that you're opposed to God. You just want your way. And you fought against God. The thought here is not that you set out on a crusade to destroy God. Instead it's just down in the depths of your own heart, over and over again, you have sensed what you should do and what's right to do, and you didn't do that. You fought against it because you wanted to do what you wanted to do. So you fought against God.
You followed the ways of this world. Interesting. We do that. We grow up, and we want things in life. We look around, we see our society, and we take cues from it, and we set out that direction. The ways of this world ... If you wanted that in a short term, it would be this. Cool. You want to do what's cool. What's cool may be different for different groups, but you want to do what's cool. You want the cool clothes, you want the cool possessions, whether it's the new phone or the right kind of TV. We want the cool possessions. We'd love to have the cool experiences. And of course it is very important to be cool on Facebook. It's cool.
It's not so much wrong as just not adequate. We follow the ways of the world. We set out to try to be happy, and we tend to go in the same direction our society does and obey the devil. Now most of us don't wake up in the morning and think, “I'm going to obey Satan today.” First of all, most people don't believe in him. Secondly, why would anybody want to do that?
However, the way things turn out, it turns out he's actually the one who is towing the world in its long-term direction. So as I set on to cool in adjusting to my culture and its ways, what I do is I unknowingly begin to drift his way. He rules this world, and his spirit has power over everyone who doesn't obey God. You don't realize it, but it's there. “Once we,” that's people who have become Christ followers, “were also ruled by the selfish desires of our bodies and minds.” Again, you don't wake up in the morning saying, "I think I will be ultimately selfish today. What does my body want? What does my mind want?" Instead, just as we move through the day, we have desires, and we decide we're going to satisfy that. You get hungry, you get a sandwich. That's your body talking to you. You get bored, maybe at work, maybe a video game will help.
It's desires of body and mind. We just do those things. We don't think about it. We drift that direction. We made God angry, and we're going to be punished like everyone else. There will be a day when all of us give account to God for who we've been and what we've done. And it doesn't look good as you look ahead, friend.
So this is where we're at. It's a futile life track, wrong life track, and it keeps on leading to futility. We keep having hopes, and the hopes keep not turning out. In a way, I mean all of us face struggles. Some of us face very intense battles in one area, others face it in a different one. Some of us face real problems with health. Others face problems with relationships, where we dearly love people, and there are just all kinds of problems. And we face problems at different challenges and different stages in life. And some of them are really intense. There is no one who skates through this life without facing struggles.
And we keep hoping that whatever it is will happen, and then it will all be okay. It keeps on turning out that good things happen, but you know, it keeps on being winter, and Christmas just doesn't come.
Let me show you something. This is June 7, headline in the Washington Post—" Suicide rates rise sharply across the United States, new report says." This is, of course, not good. Suicide rates rise sharply. And a number of people have written about this. Suicide’s up a great deal. Rushdoony, RJ Rushdoony, he was a scholar, did a series a number of years ago, a series of lectures on Western civilization. I went through the lectures. Very, very broad sweep kind of thing. But one of the interesting comments he made was in the 1920s, for the first time since the Roman empire, suicide began to be a problem again. Wow, since the Roman Empire. That's 1,600 years. It's not that during 1,600 years it didn't happen, but it was just pretty minor. And in the 1920s it began to take off again. Why?
Well, the first time, by the 1920s, the culture had shifted toward,” I'm going to find my real life in this world”—in the West. It's all going to be in this world. It's going to be about here and now. And the further we've gone with that, the more disappointing it becomes. And as our own society has changed considerably over the last few years, the pointlessness of life shows up. Life on the normal futile track. Some would say the reason why the rates are up is because people don't have the possessions they want, the money, or the recognition. They feel insignificant and therefore take their lives.
But this summer, within a two week period, within a week, two very talented, high profile and rich people committed suicide. Now one was Kate Spade, 55, brilliant lady, fashion designer. Made a lot of nice things, and apparently a decent person. And then a few days later, Anthony Bourdain, celebrity chef, handsome guy, had worked his way into fame and fortune, was sort of near the top of the elite. Bragged about denying himself no pleasures, bragged about his drugs, and joined President Obama in Southeast Asia at a unique culinary restaurant. A very high profile guy. Had about everything you wanted. He committed suicide. Actually a month earlier Margot Kidder, who back in the '70s and '80s was Lois Lane in the Superman movies. She committed suicide.
These are people who had money, had fortune and fame, and in the case of Bourdain, who denied himself no pleasures. Why? Why? That's the futility track. You're just made for more than this. And you were made for more than this. If you have all the money you want, until you do, you're sure that money will at least make a major difference. If you have all the money you want, and you have the fame you want, someone said all of the money you need is just a little bit more, no matter how much you have. But you know, I mean there's a point where you know you've got it. As you have the opportunity for whatever pleasures you want, why would you commit suicide?
Because life is not about money and fame and pleasure. It's just not. To be as rich as you want, as famous as you wish, and to indulge whatever pleasures you desire, whatever it is our body or mind, it just will not give you meaning and purpose. It won't do it. It won't give you hope. As a matter of fact, the more you have all that you want, the more you realize how pointless all that you want really is. You're made for more than this. You were made to connect with God, and you were made to walk in line with him, and to be called to things greater than you realize.
Ephesians 2:12 talks about the hope, and it says, "Remember at that time," talking to people who have come to Christ, "you are separate from Christ, separated from God, without hope and without God in the world." You're aware, but you're not connected. Without hope—That's very interesting. It's always winter, but never Christmas. I mean, there are things you look forward to, they happen, you enjoy them, but it's just not that.
Here's another verse. First Peter, 1:3. "Praise be to the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." Whenever you become a Christ-follower, you understand who he is, and you sign up with him, and you follow him; life changes. There's hope that goes beyond you. There's hope that goes beyond time, actually. And it's real. When people meet and follow Christ, first of all, they connect with God.
First Peter 3:18 says, "The Messiah himself died for sins once and for all, a righteous person on behalf of unrighteous people, that he might bring you to God." This is the whole purpose of Jesus that you might personally connect with God. Our rebellion, he died to pay the price for, so that now you can connect with God. You're not separated.
And then when you connect with Jesus Christ, you start to change. You do not become a wonder overnight. Most people don't stand back and say, "You are so radically different." There are few people that may. Because they really know you. But change just begins. It starts out of him. And it progresses over time. You begin to see life differently. You know, we all operate out of how we see life. You begin to see it differently. A statement about this in the New Testament. "So from now on, we regard no one from a worldly point of view." I mean, we all approach life from a worldly point of view—what it thinks is important, what its set of values are—but no longer do we do that. “Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.” Your way of seeing things shifts, and it keeps on shifting. You begin to focus on better things.
Philippians 4:8 says, "Finally brothers, whatever is true,” that's good. “Whatever is honorable,” that's good. “Whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable. If there's any excellence, if anything worthy of praise. Think about these things.” This is what you focus on. If you're thoroughly awash in the media, it's hard to find these, actually. Every now and then you do.
But these things, they just point your life in a different direction. Now, it's not enough ... You have to actually continue to walk with the Lord. If you simply yield your life to Christ and then stay awash in the media, you'll develop a media mind, and the media mind sees things very differently. It sees things in three dimensions. It sees things just like the world. But Christ will shift things if you'll walk with him. You actually have the power to do rightly. “So I say live by the spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the wicked nature, the sinful nature.” Now God's spirit moves in, and he begins to give you power for change, and you still have the old stuff cropping up. It's not that once you yield your life to Christ, all your problems are solved. Actually, some problems just begin. Because he's going to tow you a very different direction from the way you've gone, and sometimes it's uncomfortable. There are other things you'd rather do. So the battle starts, but there's power from him to actually do the right. Without him, the power just is not there. I mean you aspire.
You see something noble; maybe you go to a movie. I think of the Lord of the Rings, the number three, The Return of the King. There's one moment where all these horsemen are on this hill. The valley is filled with vast numbers of bigger and more wicked people. And they charge into the valley yelling a war cry to try to act on behalf of right. That kind of thing does call your heart up. It's a noble thing.
So we see things and we aspire, and then we try, and then we tire. We aspire then we tire. Then things go back to where they were, because there's just simply not the power in ourselves to pull this off. But when Christ moves in, there's additional power, and things begin to shift. You have to walk with him. You need to learn how to do that. We also treat people differently.
Colossians 3:12 talks about the new lifestyle. "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another." That's very different from the way things normally happen in the world. But it comes out of you because he's living within you. You want to learn how to walk with him.
The ups and downs of life come to everyone. But amid the ups and downs, if you learn to walk with Jesus Christ, amid the ups and downs, you find meaning and purpose. If you stay focused on what you want, and life has just, pressing forward with what you want, not what he wants, you're on the futility track. Once you shift, once you decide to follow what he wants and he moves in, then there's, life begins to change. I'm not saying that you become perfect. I'm just saying that there's change. I'm not saying that you never feel hopeless again, because you will. You'll hit points where you feel hopeless. However, he keeps on pulling you past the hopelessness. You'll hit disappointments, but there's power to deal with disappointments. Life starts on a different track.
The door to the different track, the door to blessing, is Jesus Christ. That's it. It's not religion and it's not trying to be a better person. May you be a better person. But we've all tried that and we keep coming back to square one. It's Jesus Christ. “Some people accepted him and put their faith in him so he gave them the right to become the children of God.” This is a new relationship with God.
Another statement Jesus makes in John 14, "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life." You want to know how to walk? Follow me. I'm the way. You want to know the truth? Follow me. I am the truth. And you want to have real full life? Follow me. Real life, the true life, cannot be found on merely a human level. There are a lot of interesting things; there are a lot of good things, but you will never find enough to give you meaning and purpose. It won't happen. You can have it for a short time, but Christmas never comes.
“I am the Way.” The way the Greek language that the New Testament was originally written in, it states it, this is a very definite “the.” This is not a way. It's “the” way. I'm not being narrow minded. That's just what the Greek language says. This is what the Bible says. He's the door to the blessing.
If you're here, if you're not a Christ-follower yet, I invite you to investigate what's involved in following him. You need to actually make an intelligent decision, not just sort of jump into the dark. We'd love to help you get answers and understand what's involved. You can check in with the New to Hope Pavilion out there. There are people who can give you some direction. If you already know what's actually involved but you've never taken the step, then I would urge you, go ahead and take the step. I invite you to do that right now. You might pray something like this.
Lord Jesus, I believe you are God. I've settled that in my mind. I'm a rebel, a sinner. I’d like to go my own way. Thank you for dying for my sin, my rebellion. You paid my price, Lord. I bow to you, come into my life, take charge of it, and make me into the person I ought to be. If you do that and you mean it, he will.
If you're already a Christ-follower and understand, you need to understand this. My friend, you have a story. It's only one of many threads God is working on in the universe. But you have a story of an experience with God that is real. Now maybe there are a lot more awesome stories than yours, but you know how to shift tracks. And all the people that you love are never going to shift tracks unless they meet Jesus Christ. I want to encourage you, friend, pray for God to give you opportunities to tell others how to shift tracks. We're not out to beat up people. People are not a project to us. People are important. We care about people. And we're not trying to get people to join our religion or join our club here at Hope Church.
What we really would desire is that people would make an intelligent choice to follow Jesus Christ and find out that the life that comes, not a life that's problem free, but a life that has help through the problems. We'd love to see the people we love get off the futility track and find real meaning.
Pray for opportunities, friend, to help other people come to know Christ. Ask God. And then if he gives them, take the opportunity. Again, we're not trying to manipulate people. We would just love to see them find the way off of futility.
As we move into the fall, all kinds of people are moving to this area. Many, many hundreds, thousands live here already. But they're people who are precious. They're people marvelously made. They're people whose lives could really count. They're people like you and me who will one day die. But you know this trip is not pointless. And in the context of walking with Christ, there is actually real honest to goodness life.
I'd like you to join me in prayer. Father, thank you for the opportunity to know God. We confess to you, Lord, whenever we became your children, you didn't get a good deal. We know the mess that we are, and we also know the struggles that we've had as we've tried to walk with you. But Father, we also know the change that you've brought, and we look back and see what might have been. What we're walking through right now may be difficult, but Lord, what would it be to walk through it without you? Thank you for the good things you brought and thank you for the promises that lie ahead. You've given us a living hope, not just a “hope so,” but a “know that” because of what we've experienced with you, there is more to come. In the middle of this week's challenges, tap us on the shoulder, show us how to walk through them with you, Father, trusting you. And for our friends who don't yet know you, help them come to an understanding of what needs to happen. And Lord, we ask you, grant blessing to them. To Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.