Last time we met, which was in January, I think was the coldest day of the year. I could barely turn the pages of my notes, but we talked about, we started, I guess you could say, a series on pain, suffering, and evil. Why does God allow it, particularly if He is a loving God?
And real briefly, I want to just mention that there were three questions that I answered, questions that generally are raised when so much dreadful suffering is going on around us. The first question was how could you believe that a loving God even exists when you consider the horrific events that have taken place throughout human history?
The second question, why didn’t God design us in such a way that we can experience pleasure but not pain? And the third, and probably one of the most often asked questions, why could God not have designed us in such a way that we’re not capable of carrying out evil acts? In other words, why couldn’t He have given us free wills, but with the propensity to not abuse that freedom and harm others? Why didn’t God create utopia? And one of the conclusions we came to was God cannot create utopia if he’s going to give man the freedom to act, the freedom to go his way, and do what he wants to do.
There is one point I did make last time, and I want to go back and review it because it’s going to launch me into what we’re going to discuss this morning, and I shared it with you about a guy, that I described him as an agnostic. He challenged me on that and he said he really wasn’t agnostic at the time, but he felt that the Bible was an interesting book but really wasn’t sure that was the Word of God. Since then, he has had a complete change of heart as he spent a great deal of time investigating the veracity of the Christian claims, and began to really read the Bible voraciously, and he made this comment, which I shared with you last week.
He said, you know, the thing that strikes me about the Bible is that it is so counterintuitive. He says, it’s one of the reasons I believe it’s true. Man could never have come up with this stuff, and really what he was saying is that so many of God’s truths run counter to man’s natural intuition. In regard to God’s ways and God’s principles, they run contrary, often, not always, but often run contrary to human reason. That’s why God says in the book of Isaiah, “My ways are not your ways and My thoughts are not your thoughts, as the heavens is higher than the earth, so are My ways so much higher than your ways, and My thoughts so much higher than your thoughts.” And in Psalm 50 it says, you think that I’m just like you. God is saying, you think, talking to us, that I’m just like you and I think like you and I would do what you do, but I’m not. My ways are higher than your ways. And I think it’s important to realize that maybe, just maybe, God’s perspective on pain and suffering is different from ours, particularly when you consider His perspective on time.
As I shared last time, you know, I’m almost 50 years old. God willing, I might have 20, 25, 30 more years of life, and so my entire focus is on that slice of time, and yet, in I Peter chapter 3 it says, to God, a thousand years is like one day. And I shared the example of how being a parent with three young children, how my kids don’t understand my ways, nor do they understand the boundaries that I set on their lives. They don’t understand why I require them to do certain things they don’t want to do, particularly distasteful things, and why I inflict pain, why they have to go to the doctor and have needles stuck in them, why they can’t watch TV when they want to, why they can’t do all the things, the limitations that my wife and I put on them.
And, as I shared the real issue here is, my wife and I have a totally different time perspective than our kids do. We’re concerned about them growing into adulthood and the type of people they’re going to become, and so, we operate on a completely different time frame as our children. And I use this as an illustration to explain that we, in one sense, are like our kids. We fit focus on the next year, the next two years, the next five years, but since God cares about eternity, and our eternal well-being, one year, two years, five years is very inconsequential to Him.
And so, I want to go back now, after going back and mentioning that, and launch ahead and talk about the fact that I contend, it’s my opinion, that God has a much different view of pain than we do, particularly us who live in the prosperous, comfortable Western world. You know, in the first chapter of the book of I Corinthians, Paul tells us this, an interesting thought, he says, “The wisdom of God often appears to be foolishness to mankind.”
In other words, Paul is telling us that the ways of God and the principles of God are often somewhat of a paradox. In other words, they run contrary to common wisdom or common sense, but they are, in fact, true. I do a lot of teaching, and I did a series, on the different paradoxes that you see in the Bible as it relates to God, His ways and His principles of life, and probably one of the most important paradoxes that I taught on was this one.
Often, not always, often God’s greatest blessings are a result of the painful events of life. And a principle that’s converse of that, and is very clear in the Bible, that often, not always, prosperity and comfort, and an easy pain-free life, can corrupt us, can corrupt us spiritually. God says in the book of Jeremiah, “I spoke to you in the midst of your prosperity, but you wouldn’t listen. You didn’t want to listen.” I know this is kind of painful for a big group of business people, when you think that that for the American, the goal of life of so many is to get enough money, so I can have an easy life, yet it’s interesting, what God says, can happen.
I want to share two quotes that I think illustrate this point. Many of you are familiar with this first one because I share it a lot. It’s one of my favorite quotes outside of the Bible. It’s from Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who, many of you may know, he won a Pulitzer Prize back in the 70s for his writing. He gave that very famous, but controversial, commencement address at Harvard, “A World Split Apart”.
He was thrown into prison for eight years because he wrote some disparaging remarks about Stalin. Eight years of his life he spent in a Russian gulag. He went in as an atheist. He came out as a Christian, and the first words that he uttered when he came out of prison was, “I bless you prison, I bless you for being in my life, for there, lying on rotting prison straw, I learned that the object of life was not prosperity, as I had grown up believing, but it is the maturing of the soul.” And so, he said, “I bless you for being in my life.” Now, how could anyone say, after eight years away from their family, their friends, in a cold hellish place, that this was a blessing in my life? But really, what he was saying is, it’s the only way that I would have ever seen the truth, that which I was otherwise blind to.
And then, a second quote. This comes from a guy who, I just love his writing, he’s a guy by the name of Malcolm Muggeridge. He’s dead, he’s deceased; lived almost to be 90 years old. You may not be familiar with him. If you lived in Britain, you would. He was a very famous celebrity in that he was editor of Punch Magazine, on the TV a lot. I saw him several times on public television, and I’m going to quote to you from an interview he did on Crossfire with Bill Buckley, and this is right the end of his life, and he says this, “As an old man, Bill, looking back on one’s life, it’s one of the things that strikes you most forcibly, that the only thing that’s taught one anything is suffering, not success, not happiness, not anything like that. The only thing that really teaches one what life’s about, the joy of understanding, the joy of coming in contact with what life really signifies, is suffering and affliction.”
Now guys, don’t you think this goes against the grain of modern thinking? That the greatest blessings in life often come from the greatest pain? In the last couple of months, I’ve spent a lot of time researching and reading on this subject. There’s a lot out there, and what I want to do this morning, is take maybe 20 to 25 minutes and share with you three observations that I’ve made. Three observations that hopefully, will be a benefit to you, because, as we talked last time, as we closed last time, if you remember, Jesus promises one thing. He says, you’re either building your life on the rock or you’re building your life on the sand. Everybody’s building a house, and He said this, regardless of how Godly you are or how Godless you are, He says, it doesn’t matter, the storms in life are going to come. He promises us that, and so, hopefully, what we’ll talk about this morning will serve you well, and will be a profit to you.
Now, the first one. If you had asked your typical American on the street this one question how would they respond? What is the greatest good in life? What is the greatest good in life? Peter Kreeft, he’s a philosophy professor at Boston College, and has been a professor for over 40 years, he got his degree from Yale, wrote a great book called, Making Sense Out of Suffering, and he said, “If you ask the modern person out on the street today, here in America, that question, their answer would be, the greatest good for my life is to feel good, to have a problem-free, stress-free, happy life. That is my goal,” and he goes back, and says, “if you go back in time though, the classical answer, the way the Greeks would answer, is the greatest good in life is to be virtuous, to have wisdom. If you go to the New Testament, God tells us the greatest good in life is that we would be conformed to the image of Christ, that we would become Christ-like.”
Now, the first time I ever heard this, the thought of, that God wants me, as a Christian, to become more like Him, you know, that didn’t sit real well with me. I don’t know what your first reaction is, the thought of spending the rest of my life with the goal of becoming more like Jesus. But my first thought was rather distasteful because my perspective was, and my interpretation was, then I’ve got to become more religious, but that’s what Jesus was all about, religion and being religious. But you know, the more you read the New Testament, one of the things that you recognize very clearly is, Jesus was not religious at all, in fact, the religious people, they didn’t like Him at all. They hated Him. They put Him to death. They didn’t like who He hung out with. They didn’t like the fact that He didn’t follow all the religious customs.
What has struck me most forcibly is to become like Christ involves three things. One, a strengthening of your character, because He was perfect. Number two, a growth in wisdom. You know, He confounded the most brilliant people, the religious leaders, and He was uneducated. And the third, a deepening compassion for people. That’s the one thing you see about Jesus, He had compassion. He wept over people, He wept over Jerusalem. Strength of character, wisdom, compassion for others; isn’t this what we all really desire? Isn’t this of great profit?
And yet, there’s a vast difference in the modern view versus this Biblical view. You know, what is good for my life? The modern man says, what I’m feeling. The Biblical view is, what I’m becoming, and there’s a huge difference in that, but the problem is, and I think this is true of all of us here, we’ve been raised in a generation that grew up on slogans like, delight yourself, indulge yourself, grab all the gusto you can, if it feels good do it. You know, watch the appeal of advertisers today. They appeal to our feelings. And then Jesus comes along, and He throws cold water on the modern culture that we live in when He says, gives us these words, “If anyone wants to follow in My footsteps he must give him up all right to himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospels will save it.”
You know, I believe very strongly in the statement that God is more concerned with the development of our hearts and our souls than He is with our comfort and our pleasure, because, as we live this life, most of us focus on what we’re experiencing, where God focuses on what we’re becoming. As Solzhenitsyn says, “the maturing of the soul”.
Now, you may be asking, what does this have to do with pain? What does this have to do with suffering? What does this have to do with difficulty? Well, the Bible talks about how God uses pain in our lives. In Job’s life, he says, when I’m through with my affliction, Job says, I will come forth as gold. In Romans, it says, affliction creates perseverance and proven character. We read about Joseph in the Old Testament who had all kind of horrible things happen to him. His brothers beat him up, threw him into prison, I mean, sold him into slavery, he was thrown into prison unjustly. Remember when his brothers come to him, I love his quote to him, he said, they’re all scared to death because here he was this big wig in Egypt, and he says, you meant it for evil, you committed evil against me, but God has used it for good.
And it says in Psalm 105, God had him, he was imprisoned that he might learn wisdom. And then in II Corinthians, it says affliction, that we experience affliction that we might comfort others in affliction. There you have it, character, wisdom, compassion, Christ- likeness. This is what God desires for us. This is, in His eyes, is the great good in life. This is the door, He says, that leads to our ultimate happiness, and a high quality of life, the people that we become, and this is the paradox. Pain and suffering may be the road that gets us there.
Several years ago, I was in the audience listening to a guy speak. If you heard this guy’s life, you would say this is a picture of the American dream. A guy that was raised in poverty, pulled himself up by the bootstraps, had an incredible college and professional career, and by 40, had all the money he wanted, successful in his work, beautiful wife, beautiful children, pillar of his church, and then his early 40s, he found out he had cancer. And I’m sitting here listening to this guy, he has no hair, going through chemotherapy, has been told he has a 50/50 chance of living, and he said, you know, before this cancer entered my life, he said, every day in business, I would screw people. He said, I had no real appreciation for my family, I just kind of faked it, and he said, I rarely gave any of my time or my money to my God or my church.
And then, I was so impressed by what he said, that this is what he said, I’ve come to understand that suffering is good for us. He said, it helps our minds focus on what’s important, because we have a tendency to love the trivial. He said, it has deepened my relationship with my wife. Our relationship is at a place it’s never been, ever. He says, it has given me a greater burden for people that are hurting, and, finally, he said, for the first time, God is so real in my life. And this guy did survive the cancer. But think about this. Consider the impact success and smooth-sailing had had on his life, and then consider the impact of suffering.
You know, since I gave this talk back in January, I can’t tell you the number of people who have approached me and said, you don’t, you’ll never know, how the great, the most significant things that have ever happened in my life, have come through cancer, or other types of horrible events, and they said, you know, people don’t seem to understand, and they’ll look at me with pity, they’ll never know what a blessing it’s been in my family’s life. So, that’s the first observation, the paradox. Often, the most blessed events of life come from the most painful events. Second observation that I’ve made about pain, suffering, and evil, is that God sometimes uses it so that it becomes an instrument to motivate people who may be either Godless, spiritually indifferent, or maybe half-hearted in their spiritual life. He uses it as an instrument to cause us to seek Him for the first time with great fervor.
As many of you know, one of my favorite people to quote from, and read from, is Blaise Pascal, the famous French mathematician and philosopher, and he had this radical conversion, and, over time, it says he became stunned at how his friends and colleagues cared so little about spiritual truth. And he called them “fugitives from reality”. Listen to what he says about this. He says, this is written like 350 years ago, it says, “The immortality of the soul is something of such vital importance to us, affecting us so deeply, that one must have lost all feeling not to care about knowing the facts of the matter. Our chief interests and chief duties should be to seek enlightenment on this subject, on which all of our conduct depends, and that is why, amongst those who are not convinced, I make an absolute distinction between those who strive with all their might to learn, and those who live without troubling themselves or thinking about it.”
And then, he becomes really, comes down hard on his friends, he says, “This negligence in a matter, where they, themselves, their eternity, their all are at stake, fills me more with irritation than pity. It astounds and appalls me, it seems quite monstrous to me.” You know, I’m not sure how many friends Pascal made because he said that the indifferent person looks for diversions in life, so he doesn’t have to think about death and eternity. He said he realized that the indifferent person will not learn unless someone jump-starts their dead battery. He didn’t use battery, that’s my, that’s the word I used from a book, and then it says, he attempted, and you see it in his writings, to shock people into caring about their spiritual lives through what he wrote. Like I said I’m not sure how many friends he made, I mean, he was probably dropped from the cocktail party circuit, as I’m sure nobody really wanted him around as he was trying to shock people, and yet, when it gets right down to it, I think he’s right.
Now, I share this because C.S. Lewis comes along, and he says that God uses the pain that comes into our lives for that very purpose, and he wrote a great little book called, The Problem of Pain: How Human Suffering Raises Almost Intolerable Intellectual Problems. Let me just read to you a couple of excerpts. He says, “The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender to God as long as all seems to be well with it. Now, error and sin both have this property, that the deeper they are, the less their victim suspects their existence. They are masked evil. Pain, on the other hand, is unmasked, unmistakable evil, every man knows that something is wrong when he’s being hurt. We can rest contentedly in our sins and in our stupidities, and anyone who has watched gluttons shoveling down the most exquisite foods as if they did not know what they were eating, will admit that we can ignore even pleasure, take it for granted, but pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to mankind in the midst of his pleasures and He speaks in our conscience, but He shouts in our pain. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. A sinful man happy is a man without the least inkling that his actions do not answer, that they are not in accordance with the laws of the universe. Until the sinful man finds his sin unmistakably present in his existence in the form of pain, he is clothed in illusion, but once pain has roused him, he knows that he is, in some way or other, up against the real universe, reality. He either rebels and gets angry and bitter, or else makes some attempt in an adjustment with which, if pursued, will lead him to faith. No doubt, pain as God’s megaphone, is a terrible instrument. It may lead to final unrepented rebellion against God, but it gives the only opportunity for the sinful man to have for amendment. It removes the veil, it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of our rebel souls.”
Final comment, he says, now, “God, who has made us knows what we are and that our happiness lies in Him, yet, we will not seek it in Him as long as He leaves us any other resort where it can even be plausibly looked for. While what we call our own life remains agreeable, we will not surrender it to Him. What then can God do in our interest, but to make our own life less agreeable to us, and take away the plausible sources of false happiness?”
I don’t how many of you are familiar with Tim Keller. He’s a Presbyterian minister of the probably the fastest growing church in New York City. He said that after 9/11, he said his congregation grew 15 to 20 percent. He said it’s remained at those levels, and he made this observation. He said, “The vague emptiness we sense during prosperous times can only deepen during hard times. Pain and suffering does not create, but reveals our spiritual need.” He said, “September the 11th gave millions of people a brief glimpse into their souls. Some will search for spiritual truth for the first time, but some will go back to their diversions, for those things that’ll take their minds off their spiritual well-being.”
You know, guys, I believe that the greatest obstacle to a man coming to faith is his pride, his ego, you know, I don’t need God, God is for weak people, I know what Governor Ventura said. Or, Christianity is for the simple-minded, you know, a kind of intellectual arrogance. That’s why C.S. Lewis says, “Pride is an attitude of superiority.” It’s this attitude of superiority we have. We’re always comparing ourselves with others. And then he says this very interesting but, I think, oh, so true, remark about pride. He says, “This is the problem with pride. This is its nature.” I can see pride in every one of your lives; when I see arrogance in somebody, or you see it, you know it, and we don’t like it. It’s very unattractive isn’t it? We can. I can see it in any of your lives when it’s displayed. You know the only problem, he says, is? I can see it in everybody else’s life; I just can’t see it my own. I’m blind to it, and that’s why he says, pain has the ability to strip us of our arrogance, of our vanity, and our self-righteousness, and it makes us realize that we’re not bulletproof.
I remember hearing Larry Moody speak in this room a little over a year ago, very close friend of Payne Stewart, had a real impact on leading Payne to Christ. He said Payne Stewart surrendered his life to Christ when, for the first time, he realized he was not bulletproof. That was two years before he went down in a plane.
You know, whether we realize it or not, guys, every single person in this room has a philosophy of life. Every single person in this room has an opinion about God and religion. Every single one of us even has a strategy for coping with our mortality, even if it’s, you know, use of diversion, so I don’t have to think about it, but, you and I will never know how reliable and trustworthy our world view of life, or our view of life is, until its truth and falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to each of us personally.
That’s what C.S. Lewis said, when he faced the grief of losing his wife. He got married late in life, was in love with this woman, and within a year or two, she died a horrible, painful death of cancer, and he says, you never know how what you believe, you never know whether it’s true or not, until it’s truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death. So, that’s the second observation about pain, how, again, God sees it different. He uses it as an instrument in men and women’s lives.
And the third and final observation that I want to make is this. Pain, suffering, and ultimately, dying, death is truly meaningless, without the cross, and without the Resurrection. You know, the cross, in one sense, tells us that God has not just given us words or theories about pain and suffering. He gave us Himself. In fact, if you think about it, the cross offers proof that God cares about our suffering. He cares about our pain because He died in the midst of it. You know, I said earlier, one of the great descriptions of Jesus was His compassion, His compassion, and you know what the word compassion literally means in Latin? To suffer with. That’s the way Jesus sees it. He’s not up there looking down; He came and suffered with us, and He is with us, desires to be with us in our suffering.
Let me read to you what Dorothy Sayers said about this, I want to read two quotes on this. She said, “For whatever reason, God chose to make man as he is, limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death. He had the honesty and courage to take His own medicine. Whatever game He is playing with His creation, He has kept His own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that He has not exacted from Himself. He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money – the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death at the cross. When He was a man, He played the man. He was born in poverty, and He died in disgrace, and He thought it well worthwhile.”
The quote that really, I think, captures this best is by John Stott. I don’t know if any of you had a chance to hear him. He was here several years ago, spoke at St. Luke’s – just a brilliant wonderful priest, theologian, I’m not even sure how to describe him, I mean, he’s written scores of books, and this is what he says. He says, “I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the cross. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I’ve entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of Buddha, his legs crossed, his arms folded, his eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world, but each time, after a while I’ve had to turn away, in imagination, I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness, that is the God for me, He laid aside His immunity to pain, He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death, He suffered for us, our sufferings become more manageable in light of His. There’s still a question mark against human suffering, but over it, we boldly stamp another mark, the cross, which symbolizes divine suffering. The cross of Christ is God’s only self-justification in a world such as ours.”
Now, the resurrection, you know, where does it fit into this puzzle? And since we’re in the middle of Lent, and since we’ll, over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be hearing a great deal about the resurrection, I just want to read to you one story. It’s a powerful story and I think it helps as we consider pain, suffering, particularly that leads to death. Philip Yancey wrote this, he said, “In October of 1988 one of my closest friends died in a scuba diving accident in Lake Michigan. The very afternoon Bob was making his last dive, I was sitting oblivious in a university coffee shop reading, My Quest for Beauty, a book by the famous therapist and author Rollo May. The book tells of Rollo May’s lifelong search for beauty, and among the experiences he recounts, was a visit to Mount Athos, a peninsula of Greece, inhabited exclusively by monks. Rollo May was beginning to recover from a nervous breakdown when he visited Mount Athos. He happened to arrive just as the monks were celebrating Greek Orthodox Easter, a ceremony thick with symbolism, thick with beauty. Icons were everywhere, incense hung in the air, and at the height of that service, the priests gave everyone present, three Easter eggs, wonderfully decorated and wrapped in a veil, Christos Anesti, he said, Christ is risen. Each person there, including Rollo May, responded according to the custom, He is risen, indeed. Rollo May was not a believer, but he writes in his book, ‘I was seized then by a moment of spiritual reality. What would it mean for the world if He had truly risen?’ I returned home shortly after reading that chapter, and was met at the door by my wife who conveyed the news of Bob’s death. Rollo May’s question came back to me many times in the next few days. What does it mean for the world if Christ has truly risen? I spoke at my friend’s funeral and there, I asked Rollo May’s question in a different way, in the context of grief that pressed in on us from all sides, what would it mean for us if Bob rose again? We sat in a chapel, numbed by three days of sadness. I imagined aloud, what would it be like to walk outside to the parking lot and there, to our utter amazement, we find Bob. Bob, with his bounding walk, his big grin, his clear gray eyes. That conjured image gave me a hint of what Jesus’s disciples felt on Easter Sunday. They too, had grieved for three days, but on Sunday, on Easter, they caught a glimpse of something else- a glimpse of the future. I think Rollo May asked a very penetrating question. What would it mean to the world if He is truly risen, but more importantly, what does it mean to you and to me today that He is risen?”
If I had to summarize everything that I’ve learned in all this study and research, and hopefully this quote is worth you being here for. I want to share it, and then I’ll give you my conclusion, my final remarks. This is Philip Yancey, and it’s in his book, Where is God When It Hurts.
“Where is God in the midst of our pain our suffering, in the midst of evil, as we face death? He has been there from the beginning, designing a pain system that, even in the midst of a fallen world, still bears the stamp of His genius, and equips us for life on this planet. He transforms pain, using it to teach and strengthen us, if we allow it to turn us toward Him. With great restraint, He watches this rebellious planet live on, in mercy allowing the human project to continue in its self-guided way. He lets us cry out like Job in loud fits of anger against Him, blaming Him for a world we spoiled. He aligns Himself with the poor and the suffering, finding a kingdom tilted in their favor, he stoops to conquer. He promises supernatural help to nourish the spirit, even if our physical suffering goes unrelieved. He has joined us, He has hurt, and He has bled, and He has cried, and He has suffered. He has dignified for all times those who suffer by sharing their pain. He is with us now, ministering to us through His spirit and through the members of His body, the Church, who are commissioned to bear us up and relieve our suffering for the sake of Christ. And one day, one day, God will create for us a new world, and pain shall be no more. And we’re told that also in Revelation 21. This is what eternity is like for the believer. He said, ‘I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, behold the tabernacle of God is among men and He shall dwell among them and they shall be His people and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes and there shall no longer be any death, there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain. The first things have passed away and He who sits on the throne said, behold I’m making all things new, and He said write, for these words are both faithful and true.’”
You know, this is the gift of God. This is what is promised to mankind, an eternal relationship with God. Listen to what he says again. “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He,” talking about God, “shall dwell among them and they shall be His people and God Himself shall be among them.”
As we think of relationships, here we talk about this relationship with God, as we think of relationships, the Bible speaks of all different types of relationships, but he says very clearly this, there are only two holy and binding relationships in all of life, and both of these relationships have to be chosen. The first is our relationship with our spouse, and the second is our relationship with our God, and both of these relationships have got to be entered into. They just don’t happen. They both require a commitment, they both really, in essence, require a willingness to surrender.
Think about when you got married, I think most people in here probably have been, think about when you get married, think about the commitment, think about what you say in your vows, I will love, honor, and cherish you, in sickness and health, and rich or for poor, for better, for worse, as long as we both shall live. In one sense, you’re saying, I’m giving my life to you, and you know what else that struck me? It didn’t strike me when I got married, it was a little period of time afterwards, not only do you give yourself, everything you have you give. I mean, it didn’t hit me until, you know, after I got married, and my wife’s name started appearing on my bank account. On the mortgage, on the deed of my house, everything I owned was no longer just me, it was ours, because that’s the nature of the commitment, to enter into that type of relationship, that’s why it’s called holy matrimony, and, in essence, that’s what’s required to enter a relationship with Christ. Think about what we read earlier. Think about the words of Jesus that one statement He made where He said, if anyone wants to follow in My footsteps he must give up all right to himself. Think about what C.S. Lewis said, in that book, The Problem of Pain. he talked about man and his unwillingness to surrender to God. I love that word “surrender” because to me, that captures it. You don’t just believe it up here, that is important, but you surrender right here.
You know, we don’t have a problem with that in marriage, but we’re not so sure about this when this comes to God, and again, I think the problem that people have with this goes back to the problem of modern culture. We want what Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls “cheap grace”, a Christianity with no cost on my part required. A Christianity with no commitment required. We want a Christianity where I can keep Jesus right over here where I want Him, so He won’t get in the way of my life, and He won’t get in the way of my agenda, but you know, that’s not what Biblical Christianity is, and it struck me in church this past Sunday, at our little church, we use the 1928 Episcopal prayer book, and these words, as we were taking communion, it’s the same exact words that are in the ‘79 prayer book, but this is what we have prayed. “We offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls, and our bodies, that our lives might be a living sacrifice unto Thee.” Now, you know, guys I know we’re supposed to pray those words, but are we supposed to mean them?
I think Jesus speaks to this issue very clearly in a little short parable in Matthew 13. He says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding that one pearl, the kingdom of God, that one pearl of great value, it says, he goes off, and he sold everything he had, and he bought it.”
T.S. Eliot said it best when he said, “Christianity is a condition of complete simplicity, costing not less than everything.”
I’m going to close in prayer, before I do, I want to make this one quick comment, and we’ll be finished. You know, I agree with Pascal that there is no greater issue in life than our spiritual well-being. If you’re here for the first time, I hope you’ll come back. That’s what this forum is for. If you’ve been coming, you know, when you look at a group this size, I have no idea where you are in your spiritual journey, but I challenge you to go deeper wherever you are. I challenge you to make this a priority. Consider a Bible study, consider The Investigative Study. I’ll meet with you one-on-one. I do a lot of that, but don’t walk out of here with the thought of, I’ve got all my diversions in life to keep me from thinking about these weighty, but very important, issues, so I challenge you, if you were interested in any of the things that I’ve mentioned, do you want any of the CDs, just put it on the on the card, tell the person that invited you, but I do appreciate you being here, and with that, let me close in prayer.
Father, I thank you for just being here with us this morning as we meet together among friends at this beautiful place, this wonderful meal in a city that we all love so much. We do thank You Lord for the gift of relationship, the gift of love, most significantly, Father we thank You Lord that You are a God Who sent Jesus into the world because You do love us, You do have compassion for us, and that You do desire for us to spend eternity with You. Help us to realize though, Lord that there is a cost, and that You’ve made it clear. We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.