Episode 1. The Core Problem of Life
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You know, the more I look around, the more I come to the conclusion that we’re masters of self delusion. All this stuff going wrong in our lives, and we blame everyone except ourselves… Join …
You know, the more I look around, the more I come to the conclusion that we are masters of self-delusion. All this stuff going wrong in our lives, and yet we want to blame everyone rather than taking responsibility for our own actions …
The Missing Link
I don’t know if you have noticed this before but we are masters of self delusion, you and I and half the rest of the world too, I would have to say. That’s a bold statement, isn’t it? So what leads me to this earth shattering conclusion? Well I don’t know, we seem to have this amazing capacity to make excuses. To see something that’s obviously wrong and then to rationalise it away – look at how long it took us to acknowledge that smoking was bad for you, even though the evidence was there for long, long time.
It seems that what we do is that we separate the impact from the cause; the symptom from the disease, because we just don’t want to acknowledge the disease because that means taking responsibility and then….then what we do is the rest of our lives, we spend those treating the symptoms instead of dealing with the underlying issues of the disease. It is as though there is a missing link.
Today we are starting a new series called, “Extravagant Grace”. It was sparked by a pastor in a place called, “Bukavu”, which is in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He wrote to me recently and this is what he said. He said, “We appreciate very much your programmes but many of our people here are traumatised by war; they have become like children in their thinking. In reality, they need some “milk” teaching to grow up as well as “meat” teaching that we are feeding them.”
That really made me think – how easy is it to quickly gloss over the centrepiece of what Christianity is all about? The Gospel; the Good News that God created the whole universe and He created us and we turned our backs on Him and what we deserve is His punishment, and so often in life you see peoples’ lives are a mess because they have turned their backs on God. And Jesus comes and what He came to do was to pay for that sin so that we could have a new life; an eternal life.
It’s a wonderful story of extravagant grace, but so often we don’t talk about it and so often we fail to make the connection between God’s story of extravagant grace and our desperate need of that grace – between our rejection of God and all that stuff that’s ruining our lives. How do I know that?
Let me tell you something interesting. I produce fifty of these programmes each year, in fact over five hundred radio programmes a year – the different programmes that I’m involved in. That’s a lot of programmes! And we deal with all sorts of different subjects – sometimes it’s about the underlying disease, sometimes we talk about the symptoms, sometimes we deal with issues like forgiveness, or discovering who God made us to be. All sorts of different things but you know the three most popular series have been – the ones that have had the phone ringing hot? “Dealing with Difficult People”, “Anger Management” and “Affluenza”, which was all about working too hard, spending too much money, being addicted to spending money.
See, people have a felt need – there is something wrong in a relationship and so the phone rings hot at our office: “I want to buy that CD – send me the Life Application Guide”. But a series leading up to Easter, let’s say, looking at who Jesus is; some poignant vignettes of Jesus life; personal intimate pictures of who He is – just as good; just as relevant, yet we have nowhere near the same response. Why is that? Because people respond to their felt need – it’s about dealing with the symptoms.
“I have a difficult person in my life; I need those programmes dealing with difficult people.” “I have an angry person in my life, I need anger management”. “I have money problems; my credit cards are maxed out – send me those CDs on “Affluenza”. See, we try to treat the ills in our lives by managing the symptoms. And we fail to make the link often, between the symptoms and the deep underlying causes. See, if you treat the underlying causes the symptoms go away.
All my life I have been overweight – it’s just one of those genetic things, I guess, plus I love food. And last year I felt tired and lethargic and uncomfortable and I wasn’t sleeping well, so I saw a doctor about my sleep and he did the tests and he said, “No, you don’t have sleep apnoea”, he said, “just go and lose some weight”. Now that’s confronting – I knew that I was overweight – I knew that that was probably the cause of me not sleeping well but I just didn’t want to deal with it, and since then I have lost weight … a lot of weight and I feel fantastic.
It’s an awesome thing – you deal with an underlying problem and the symptoms go away. It’s the same thing over and over again in our lives – marriages are falling apart; people are leading miserable lives; people in really difficult situations. You know, over half of the millions of people who will listen to this programme this week, live in poverty, in a war zone, under threat – it’s like an emotional battering ram.
We have unforgiveness in our hearts – we have fear – some people are into witchcraft, other people are into worshipping wealth and money. There is an answer! God has done something that breaks through all that and goes right down to the root of the problem, to heal it with His extravagant grace.
Over these next few weeks on the programme, that’s what we are going to be looking at. And I would like to start with what the Apostle Paul writes in Romans chapter 1, verses 16 and 17. He says:
I am not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes – for the Jew and the Gentile. For in the Gospel, a righteousness from God is revealed; a righteousness that is by faith from first to last.
And like Paul, neither am I ashamed of the Gospel, because the Good News of Jesus Christ is the power of God for everyone who believes – the power to save us; the power to heal us; the power to deal with all of those symptoms by striking at the underlying disease. I am not ashamed of the Gospel because it is a Gospel of extravagant grace.
Maybe there is a missing link between the symptoms and the disease and it’s time to deal with that once and for all. And I’m not ashamed to tell you, the answer is Jesus.
I spent a lot of my life making excuses for things. Perhaps you have too. Do you remember as a child when you did something wrong, how quickly you were able to formulate an excuse for your parents when they held you to account? It’s amazing how early in life we start with the excuses and then later in life we deal with this issue and that issue. We make a mistake here or there, perhaps even reject God as I did for much of my adult life and we have an excuse. “Well, I didn’t know!” “Well, you know, I felt this or I thought that and well, so it didn’t turn out ok, it’s not my fault.”
And that’s the bottom line! We want to shift the blame somewhere else. “Well, I didn’t realise there was a God. I didn’t realise that He is a good God and some of the stuff I’m into is like a slap in His face.” We’d all like to think that God is a kind and loving God, and He is. But when we turn our backs on Him, as we all have done, there’s a price to pay and I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t tell you that, from time to time. So it’s easy to go through life, living on this superficial level.
Some people listening today are pretty well off; others are in war zones and refugee camps. Some are pretty resilient, some are damaged emotionally but it doesn’t matter who we are or where we are at, this is something we need to hear – a message from God. I am going to share that with you today.
If you have a Bible, please open at Romans chapter 1. I’m reading from Romans 1 verses 18 to 25. This is what he says:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power, His divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
For although they knew God they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like men or birds or animals or reptiles.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator who is blessed and praised forever.
This talks about our wickedness; our sin. Sin literally means “to miss the mark”. The whole point of life; the whole point of existence is for us to have a wonderful life in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Sin is about turning away from that and missing the point and what Paul is saying here, that the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
No matter who we are or where we are at, we need to hear that message and Paul actually goes on, beginning in Romans 1 and verse 29, to list some of those wicked things. He says:
They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, they are insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
Maybe you relate to some of those things in that list. But you know what we do? We end up blaming everyone else – “Not my fault, so and so did this and that and then they made me feel this and besides, I have never really thought about God. Does He really exist?” See, we make excuses – we duck shove these things – we lay off the blame somewhere else.
If you have stuff happening in your life – relationship issues, fear, perhaps you live in a dangerous place, perhaps people have done some bad things and you feel emotionally damaged – you might be saying, “Berni, I don’t need to hear this”. Listen to me, no matter who we are, it’s time to stop making excuses.
Let’s put first things first – God, does He exist or doesn’t He? Listen again to what Paul says:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, because what may be known about God is plain to them because God has made it plain. Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power, His divine nature – have been clearly evident, being understood from what He made so that men are without excuse.
Look around; look at creation! People want to deny God – look at the stars, the cosmos, the earth, the plants, the animals, the forces of nature, the land, the sea – it’s got God’s fingerprints all over it. Stop and think about it for a few minutes – it’s so vast, yet so intricate, so complex, yet so beautifully simple. Everything is so interdependent; working together brilliantly. Was that an accident? Or did God make it?
God’s invisible but who He is can be clearly seen and there are no more excuses. God is God! We have rejected Him and all He wants for us to do is to admit that and turn back to Him. There’s a link between what we are going through in life and where we are in our heart relationship with God – there is!
But what we do is exactly what Paul says:
Although we claim to be wise we become fools and we exchange the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal men and birds and animals and reptiles.
You know, some of the people listening to this today live in parts of Africa where witchcraft is huge. People have rejected God and they have gone after evil spirits. You see, we have traded the physical reality; the things we can see and touch for the great unseen reality of God.
We’ve started to worship what we can see – and some people worship money and some people worship the devil and some people worship through witchcraft – we’ve replaced God with all that stuff. And there are consequences!
See, one day you and I, all of us, will stand before God in judgement. But there are consequences here and now too. We rebel against God; we go our own way; we’re stiff necked and we are insolent and we are ruthless and we’re faithless and on the other hand things are falling apart all over our lives. They are the consequences of rejecting God – it is right in front of our face!
Listen to me. God is talking to us through His Word today. Wake up! Where ever you are, are you in this place that Paul is talking about? Don’t get me wrong – God isn’t a bunch of rules but there are a few things; just a handful of things He says, “Don’t do!” And when we reject Him; when we turn against that, there are consequences – there just are. And now that you have heard it, there are no more excuses. It is time to turn back to Him.
I remember when I was a kid, doing some things that were just plain wrong. Well, it’s part of growing up and every now and then I’d get a good, old fashioned belting. It never seemed fair; I never enjoyed it – I guess that natural. But now as an adult I look back on that, when I disobeyed my parents, there were consequences, as there should be. I got my just desserts!
And that’s something that we pretty much understand. There are certain boundaries in life, like the boundary between right and wrong and when we cross those boundaries, there are consequences. You eat too much, don’t exercise, you’ll go to an early grave. You smoke and you probably will end up with lung cancer. You fool around outside your marriage and the marriage will fall apart.
We pretty much understand that, at least, for other people. For them there should be consequences, absolutely, but me, well, we are prepared to cut ourselves a bit more slack than that aren’t we? It’s true we are prepared to judge other people far more harshly than we judge ourselves and that, as it turns out, goes to the heart of our relationship with God.
In this series, “Extravagant Grace”, grace is something we don’t deserve. It’s extravagant, God’s grace, it’s over the top. It’s more than we can hope for or imagine. But we have no need for God’s grace unless we are someone who doesn’t deserve it – “But surely I’m not such a bad person, surely I deserve God’s favour? I mean surely when I get up there in heaven He’ll pat me on the back? But that old cow over there, she deserves God’s judgement.” Sound familiar?
Well, have a listen to how the Apostle Paul deals with that sort of thinking. We’re reading, if you have a Bible, open it up at Romans chapter 2. He says:
You, therefore, have no excuse – you who pass judgement on someone else. For whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgement, you do exactly the same things. Now we know that God’s judgement against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere person, pass judgement on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgement? Or do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you toward repentance?
But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when His righteousness judgement will be revealed. God will give to each person according to what he has done. To those who by persistence in doing good, seek glory and honour and immortality, He will give eternal life. But for those who are self seeking, who reject the truth, who follow evil there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every person who does evil but glory, honour, peace for everyone who does good, both for the Jew and the Gentile, for God does not show favouritism.
I love that first part. We are in the business of judging other people – “God should zap that person, they deserve it,” but Paul turns the table back on us. He basically says, “You are doing exactly the same thing.” Wake up! You think no one will notice but God notices. Don’t you realise that God’s kindness is meant to lead you toward repentance? But instead you are showing contempt for the riches of His kindness.
And then Paul goes on to say here, that because of your stubborn and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath against yourself – God’s wrath. “Oh, come on Berni, lighten up, people just have sex before marriage these days. It’s just the way it is – people live together. Come on Berni, it’s not that serious, my sins are only small sins, no one will notice.”
Listen to me, sin is never small, why? Because it’s rebelling against God – there will be a day of judgement. There will be a day of reckoning and when we deny God, what we are doing is rejecting truth and following evil. I know that is an unpopular message but it’s the truth and there are consequences.
Look again at verse 9 of chapter 2 of Romans.
There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil, for the Jew and the Gentile. But glory and honour and peace for everyone who does good, both the Jew and then the Gentile, for God does not show favouritism.
And there are troubles and consequences now as well, not just then on the day of judgement, but now.
What makes us think that in this beautiful world that God created we can reject Him and there won’t be consequences? If we are going to be angry and selfish we are going to have fractured relationships – if we are money hungry, we are going to be lonely and one day we are going to lose that money. Where will we be then?
Wake up, Paul is saying, God doesn’t show favouritism – this is for you and me – for the Jew and the Gentile, for everyone. Not just that person over there that you and I think should be judged, but for you and me as well. God is fair; God is impartial. Why am I sharing this with you? Because this isn’t just for those other people, it’s for us too. “We all have sinned”, writes Paul in Romans chapter 3, “We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
All of us, you and me and that’s why we need God’s grace. Today on the programme you might be thinking, “Why is Berni hammering this so hard? I’m hurting; I’m afraid. This person has done this to me and there is war raging around me and Berni’s doing the guilt trip on me.”
It doesn’t matter who we are, where we are, what’s going on, good or bad or indifferent, what we are feeling, at the end of the day, the heart of the matter is this: if we have a fractured relationship with God that is because we have sinned and missed the mark.
You and I are in desperate need – there is judgement; there are bad consequences to sin. We need an answer and we won’t find that by staying on the surface with the symptoms – we have to deal with the disease and we need to let God’s Word cut deep to deal with that disease.