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What If...?

Read this message transcript from the "In _____ We Trust" message series

Have you ever been disappointed in God? Maybe you were seven years old, and you really wanted to meet a Power Ranger, and so you asked God, "Please, oh God, let me meet one," and he never showed up. Or maybe you wanted to be one, and no matter how much you prayed and how hard you smacked your hands together, the power just never came. And you get disappointed in God.

Maybe you grow a little older, and you're at that point in life where love is in the air, and you find someone, and you...boy, you would love to date that person. You pray, and you pray, and it just never happens. Or maybe you do date. You begin a relationship, and you're just absolutely certain this is the one, and they get interested in someone else. You've prayed and you've prayed, but God didn't answer. At least he didn't give you what you wanted.

Maybe you've gone further in life, and you hit some of the really hard things, and you prayed that they would go away, and they just never did. Or maybe you've done something really stupid, foolish. It really brought hard consequences to you, then you prayed, "Oh, God, please make the consequences go away," and they would not go.

We hit points where we pray, and we pray, the prayers never come to pass, and we get disappointed in God. Now, sometimes we get hurt and mad, and we back away from Him. Now, sometimes, we decide there is no God. Very often, people who don't believe in God are angry at God over something. We decide there's just not a God. Well, what if there really is? What if God really is?

I'm Harold Bullock. I'm the senior pastor here at Hope. If we haven't met before, I'd enjoy meeting you after the service. There's a point in our lives where we have to make some decisions about how we move forward. It's very simple, particularly if you've been hurt. You feel God has hurt you. It's very simple to move forward just stubbornly ignoring Him, but what if he's real? What if he's trustworthy? Doesn't seem like it. What if he's trustworthy? The Bible says, actually, God does exist, and most of us have a sense of that. We sense there's a God, but Him existing really actually means a whole lot that we tend to not be aware of.

Because God does exist, you actually have meaning. If there is no God, then you're just an animal. Everyone you know is just an animal. You're just like a cow; maybe a little smarter, you hope, but just like a cow. That's it. Human beings are just animals. If there is a God, he's made us differently. There's something about us that's more than the animal. If there is a God, then some things are right. They're just right. Every culture on Earth believes that some things are right, and some things are wrong. If there is no God, nothing is right, and nothing is wrong. If there is no God, you decide that you're being victimized, you get angry. Well, the person who victimizes you decides nothing has gone wrong. If there is no God, you can be victimized, and it's just too bad for you. In the evolution of life and in the race for the survival of the fittest, you lost. You're just an animal, anyway.

If there is a God, then there is right, and there is wrong, and these things matter. If there is a God, the noble things that are in your heart, the stuff your heart just rises to...those are actually valuable. They have meaning. God Himself is noble and has that kind of heart, and we have a heart that reflects it. If there is no God, those noble things mean nothing. I mean, they're just emotions you have.

In World War II, millions of people went to war. All kinds of people died for freedom. Freedom is a noble idea, but without a God, it has no meaning. I mean you like freedom. I like slavery. I take you my slave. “ But it's not right because freedom is what we ought to have.” No, no, no, no. What is, is. There is no noble thing, and you just lost in the evolution of life. But there is a God, and so these things keep welling up and fall in human hearts because we've been made like Him, and they have meaning. It's not a pointless world.

Not only is there a God, He's the...Scripture says he's actually sovereign. He rules everything. Well, that one raises questions. “If He absolutely rules everything, then why didn't I get to be a Power Ranger?” Well, He's also smart. That might not have been the best thing for the world. “Why didn't I get to marry so-and-so?” Well, I had that question myself. There was a lady I really wanted to marry, and then another one I was very serious about marrying, and then I met Deborah, my wife, and I understood why God had said no so many times.

In the moment, we don't necessarily know what's best, but there is a question. And then what about horrible things that happen to people? If God is sovereign, does that mean He's evil? Well, it means that...two things. One is we really do have a will, and we can hurt people. That's the way the world is. He made it so that we could actually have a will. Then, it's a broken world. Our rebellion against God has broken all kinds of things. He is sovereign, but that...“yeah, but that”... Well, I don't understand how it all fits together. I've studied this for years. I know some answers, but He's still in charge. If He's not in charge, then what's happening to me is a pointless flow of events. Day by day by day I get up, and stuff happens, and then I search for meaning in it. There is none. It's just happening.

Well, actually, He is sovereign. He's there, and one of the things that means is, though there are a lot of questions, my days are not full of a pointless flow of events. God actually, in small ways, is meeting me, and He's bringing me opportunities to serve Him, to trust Him. The stuff that flows through my life is not simply by accident. He's not only sovereign. What if He is also trustworthy? What if you really can trust Him? Wow, that's an amazing thought. He's trustworthy?

I still have a significant role to play, I mean, because I don't just say, "God, I trust you for enough food for the month." I have to get out and work for it. He actually made the world that way, but what if He is trustworthy? If He really is trustworthy, there's a lot of anxiety that can evaporate. A lot of stuff comes my way. There are a lot of possibilities could happen in the future. There's different kinds of stuff stirring in our society right now. What about all that? Well, if He is trustworthy, I don't know how it's all going to work out...but if He's trustworthy, that means I move into the future, actually, rather differently.

Now let me share with you a Scripture instance. Paul was a first century church starter and wrote a number of the books in the New Testament. He had been taken prisoner in the eastern end of the Mediterranean and was on his way to be tried in Rome, in Italy. He was traveling in chains on a sailing vessel. Well, actually, by today's standards, a pretty small boat but wooden, sails. They had sailed to an island in the Mediterranean, and was a little bit late in the year, and so it wasn't a good time to sail. Paul advised the captain not to take the boat out, but they decided they'd really try to make it anyway, further, before they wondered.

This is what the Bible says: "Before long, a wind of hurricane force called the Northeaster swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind, so we gave way to the storm and were driven along by ..." This is a hurricane with a wooden sailing ship running in front of it. It's driving it across the Mediterranean. Another verse a little bit later says, "On the 14th night, we were still being driven across the sea." 14 nights?! Yes. This is the apostle Paul. He's the guy, through him, God actually had done some healings and some miracles, and he's on this boat and after day, after day, after day of storm and tossing and wondering if the boat's going to make it, it's going on, and on, and on, and on. After several days of this, an angel appears to Paul at night and tells him the boat is going to wreck, but everyone on it will be saved. And then the storm goes on, and on, and on, and on.

You know, a lot of times, whenever the storms hit us… we understand there are some problems in life, but it goes on, and we pray it would stop, and it goes on, and we pray it would stop, and it goes on, and we pray it would stop, and it doesn't. It's very interesting that this guy, who really walked with God--actually was on God's mission--has 14 days driven before a hurricane. They've already thrown off everything they can, and to make the ship float, they're throwing supplies overboard, and it goes on and on. The angel appears, but it doesn't stop. Finally, the ship does wreck, and they make it to safe shore on the island. They've actually made record time. Very few boats go that fast. They land on an island where Paul shares the gospel, and a lot of people come to Christ. Amazing. Then he goes on to Rome to be tried.

God is at work, and He's trustworthy. It doesn't always go like I think it should, but I can trust Him. The angel appears. The storm is not over. The angels appears, gives him a message, and then there's still more faith to be worked out. God is constantly in my life because He is trustworthy and, because He's in charge, He's constantly sending me opportunities, all the time, to trust Him; small things that happen through the day to ask Him for help. In the middle of a hurricane, I'm sure there's a lot of asking for help, but there are small things that come through the day: traffic, responses of people on my job, things that happen with the children. There are small things that happen through the day that really are God saying, "Trust me. Go ahead and ask me. Ask me for help."

Now, it's a learned endurance. One of the things I like about the hurricane story is you just have to live through it. There is no stopping it. There are miracles that God can do, but there are also times He chooses not to do them. You have to learn endurance, and it comes. It actually comes to me through the day, many, many small ways to learn endurance, to see life as flowing from His hand. If He is in charge, then the stuff that's happening during my day--I may not be able to figure it all out--but it is flowing from His hand, and then thank Him and praise Him for it.

Paul, at another point earlier, had been in jail in a Greek city, and he and his partner had been mobbed and then had been beaten with whips. Their backs were like hamburger. They were put into jail, chained to the wall, and they're praising God late into the evening, on to midnight just thanking God and praising God. Why would you do that? You've just been mobbed. You've just been beaten. Why would you do that? Because they understood that even this came from the hand of God and, actually, if you looked at it from God's perspective, they had been given the opportunity to suffer for suffer like Christ, actually. He also was beaten. They're praising God. Thank Him and praise Him. That's one of the things he gives opportunity for. Out of that came a church in that city.

As the day moves on, He gives me opportunity to pray for others and for the advancement of the kingdom. People come to mind; it's an opportunity to pray. He gives me an opportunity to do good to people just like Jesus did. Do good like forgive them. People need a lot of forgiveness to help them. Yeah, just small things maybe, but I'm God's hands and feet there. Or to share Christ with them, to witness to them about how real and good God actually is.

Maybe it's to train my kids, if I have kids in the home. Your kids are constantly being trained by watching how you read situations, whether you read it from God's hand or you read it from just the human stuff, and to see how you trust God or how you don't. We can tell them all the Bible stories we want to, but they're reading reality by watching how you handle it. That's where they learn what's really real. You get, constantly, opportunities to train your children, if you have kids in the home, to serve, to help out in different ways. And actually, God opens doors into the future, many a times, that way, but small things come. Opportunities come.

These small things are actually ways I qualify myself for more in the kingdom. Luke 16:10-12 says that God's looking for faithfulness, so I'm getting all kinds of small opportunities to show myself promotable, trustworthy and promotable in the way I handle small things. Jesus says the Lord's going to check what you do with small situations before He gives you big ones. Small things. That happens during the day a lot, a lot of small things. The way I handle stuff that belongs to others: their reputation, maybe the job that I have (the company really belongs to someone else), or maybe the car I borrowed. He's checking to see what I do with other people's before I really get my own.

If I'm using my money to do what He wants, Scripture says, Jesus said that the Lord checks what you do with the “unrighteous mammon,” the stuff of this world, before He releases real spiritual power. So, I'm getting all kinds of small opportunities to show myself promotable. I tend to look at them with the eyes of this world--”Why, it’s just a problem!” Yes, it may be, but it's a problem that my Father has allowed, and He wants to see what I will do with it. God is the one that you have to respond to as the small stuff is going on. He actually is trustworthy. He keeps His promises.

This is one of the key verses in the Old Testament. It summarizes a good part of the whole Old Testament: "He is the rock," Deuteronomy 32:4. "He is the rock." He's the only reliable safe place to stand in all generations. "His works are perfect, for all His ways are just." If you want to put that into everyday English, it would be this: Everything He does is flawless because all the paths He chooses are judgment. That is, He will never step out of the path of giving people what they deserve. Actually, He's merciful as He does that. He'll never treat you unfairly. Of course, you just think about that for a moment, that could worry you. What if He really treated you like you deserve? But he is gracious. Everything he does is flawless-- everything--even in the middle of this messed-up world.

A faithful God who does no wrong...that's lost on Americans because we have a Western history of thinking that there is a God there, and He ought to behave Himself. Well, the ancient world that this was written to, the gods were anything but faithful. They were powerful, and they were squirrelly. You never could rely on them. They were selfish. They were demanding, and they might decide they like somebody else better than you. You're in tough luck. Whenever this word is said, “He is faithful, He is reliable,” that's an amazing God in the ancient world, but He is reliable. He's always reliable. He does no wrong. He doesn't twist off in any way. He's upright. He always rises to His standards, and He's just. He always picks the best path, the good path. He doesn't treat you wrongly, even if you don't get to be a Power Ranger.

Here's another one, Numbers 23:19. "God keeps his promises. God is not a man, that he should lie." I mean people lie. You've lied, right? Sure. Some people specialize in it. That is a very human trait, but it's not the way God is. "He is not a son of man, that he should change his mind." People change their minds all the time. They say they'll do something. They don't do it. Scripture goes on, "Has He said, and will He not do it?" No. If God says it, He's going to do it. "Or has He spoken, and will He not fulfill it?" Has he made a promise, and he won't come through? No. God is trustworthy. He's not only there. He's not only in charge. He's trustworthy.

Wow. What if He really is trustworthy? Well, then I would really want to know what He's promised...and I'd be counting on it. I'd encourage you, friend, read the New Testament. Find out what he's promised. Start with John, Acts, and Romans, three books in a row. Begin to find out what God has said He will do. Well, we tend to make up things for Him to do. "Make me a Power Ranger." He's not promised to do that. What He's promised, He will do. You want to use that as you frame your responses to life.

What if he is trustworthy? What if the real path to happiness is pleasing God? We all want to be happy, right? Happy, feeling up, feeling good about life, and we try so hard for it. We try the new iPhone. How long will that make you happy? 15, 20 minutes maybe? A new car. Oh, that might last three or four days. A new spouse, oh, that'll make me happy. Well, that lasts until you get home, then the work begins. How do you hang on to the happiness? Every now and then, we sort of feel it, and then it's gone from our grip. How do you hang on to it?

Ecclesiastes 2:26 says, "To the man who pleases Him, God gives wisdom, knowledge, and happiness." The word that's used for happiness is a word that means like a kind of party, joy. You're feeling up. It doesn't mean you're so blissed out you can't stand it. That only comes through drugs, and they're very dangerous. But there is this happiness, and it comes from God, and it can remain, but it comes as you please God. You have to live in a manner pleasing to Him. I'd want to learn how to do that if that's true, because I really would like to be happy.

Now, I don't believe God and then, zoom, I'm happy. Now, this grows over time because we have to learn a lot of different ways of living, but it does come. I've lived a fair amount of time now, and, over the years, the people who actually develop happiness are the people who have really walked with God. There are all kinds of other formulas, but what if that is the way? You'd be silly to try another. What if your great opportunity, your great opportunity is here, now? Wow, that's a thought. We're always looking forward to, "One day, maybe I'll get a break, and I'll have that great opportunity." Well, may you, but whenever it arrives, it will be now. It's always now.

You're actually in this place, right now, for many reasons. One is that you got up this morning, you poured some water over your head, and dragged your body here. Another is that God has actually worked through time and detail to bring you to this place this morning. God meets you where you are, not where you're not. We very easily get to looking everywhere else, but this is what the Bible says. This is the easy-to-read version: "Intelligent people think about what needs to be done here and now. Fools are always dreaming about faraway places." That's called the American mindset. With the morning news, the noon news, the afternoon news, and the evening news, our mind's everywhere else. With the advertisements, "Oh, if I was just in the Caribbean (not in hurricane season), or Hawaii, or if I were in Europe, or if I were in Australia!" Well, what if? That might be, but you're here now. This is where God's going to meet you.

We tend to look for God all over the world, and especially if we're trying to find out “What is God doing?” Well, God is doing some tremendous things different places, but I'm not there. My life is here. It's now. This is where God will meet me. God is constantly rolling opportunities my way right here, right now. There may be greater opportunities tomorrow, but when I get to them, it will be now. You're never alive tomorrow. Five days from now, if the greatest opportunity you ever saw comes to you, it will still be now when it gets here. It's always now. God meets you now. He meets you here.

This is what Ephesians 5:15 says: "Look carefully then how you walk, how you're living." In other words, be alert, pay attention. "Live purposefully and worthily and accurately, not as the unwise and witless, but as wise, sensible, intelligent people making the very most of the time buying up each opportunity because the days are evil." It's never a good day to follow Christ. "Therefore, do not be vague, thoughtless, and foolish." That's where we tend to live, just... we're living in a fog. "But understanding and firmly gasping what the will of the Lord is." You want to get to know God's will and, as the day flows for you, you want to meet Him and do it as He's sending you different opportunities. You don't want to let opportunities God gives you get away from you.

There's a verse in the Old Testament, Jeremiah 46:17, talking about the king of Egypt. This is what it says: "They cried there, ‘Pharaoh, king of Egypt, makes noise but he lets the right time for action slip by.’" We're going to do something. We're going to do something. We're going to do something...and then the opportunity is gone. Now, sometimes we live thinking, "One of these days, I'm going to do something for God. One of these days, I'm going to do something for God. One of these days, I'm going to do something for God..." and the opportunity showed up, and we walked past it. What if your real opportunity is here and now, today, now, and then as you move through the rest of the day?

One last question: What if the bridge is out on all roads except trust, if God is reliable. We have a lot of stuff to deal with in life, and we get a lot of different responses to it. This is what the Bible says: "We live by faith not by sight." You're always going to have to take a step of trusting God if you do what He wants. It's always going to be that way.

A few years back, I wrote down a note for myself. This is what I decided: “Yesterday's faith is not good enough for today's fight.” It's good you had faith yesterday, but I promise you, as God leads you forward, you're going to have to take a new stretch, a new step to trust Him. This is just how it goes, even when the enemy's attacking. Whenever life is just going terrible, be self-controlled and alert. Watch out. The devil prowls. Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him standing firm in the faith, in the trust. You're just going to have to trust Him. God's going to lead you to do different things. You're going to see it, and you're going to know it's from the Lord, and you're going to say, “There's ... I just can't do that."

We all want to get to a comfortable place and then really trust God. "One of these days, Lord, when I made a couple of million, then I'm really going to give. Oh, I'll give so much money. On one of these days, Lord, after I've gotten past the storms of life and I'm sort of moving forward, I'm going to give everything to you, and I'm just going to be yours totally." You know why we do that? Because when we get to that point, we will have backup. "Yeah, I've got a couple of million, and I can give a lot of money now because, if God doesn't come through, I've got a cushion. Yeah, I can do that. Whenever I get to that point in life emotionally, family-wise, everything else, I'll have a cushion and, if God doesn't come through, it's okay. I've got backup."

God calls you, not that day, but today. God calls you here; God calls you now. All of the bridges are out. You can try every one you want to. There is no way to move forward with God except this. You can try stubbornness. You can try fear. You can try rationalizing your current behavior, but you don't get anywhere. You're never going to reach happiness that way, my friend. There's only one road. It's trust. If He's trustworthy, look for what He wants now.

It's great to think about the future. Look for what he wants here, now. As Monday becomes today and the day starts advancing, look for what he wants here, now. Trust Him here, now. Oh, there may be many years left for you, may you have many, but the opportunity will always be here, now, and the question will always be, “Is He really trustworthy?” And your decision on that question decides whether happiness does become yours or you keep on grasping for the brass ring in the merry-go-round of life. I encourage you. He's trustworthy. Take the risk.

I'd like to lead us in prayer. Father, thank you for loving us. Thank you for making us. Thank you for being the person you are... reliable, just, merciful. Thank you, Father, for Christ Jesus coming and dying for our sins. Thank you that our days are not simply flowing and meaningless, and we, like the cows, are just munching along until death takes us. Thank you for the noble things you put in our hearts. Thank you for the awareness of right and wrong you've given. Thank you, even more, that there's an opportunity to trust you through Christ Jesus. For our friends who are searching for you, we pray that you would help them understand what is involved in that. For those of us who have walked with you, we ask you, oh Lord, encourage us to let go of the cushion and trust you. We look forward to seeing what you will do, oh God, Almighty God, maker of heaven and earth, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.