Episode 1. Blood Relatives
Listen to the radio broadcast
Download audio file
Doesn’t matter who we are or where we’re at, it’s so easy to come to the conclusion that we could never possibly be close to God. Other – yes. Us – no. We might yearn for that …
Doesn’t matter who we are or where we’re at, it’s so easy to come to the conclusion that we could never possibly be close to God. Other – yes. Us – no. We might yearn for that sort of closeness, but we could never experience it.
INTIMACY IN THIS DAY AND AGE
Intimacy in relationships is something that we all long for but we live in a world today where very few people really discover the intimacy that they are looking for. Why is that?” Well, let me just give you one example – pornography and the internet – they seem to be made for one another. Every year the internet pornography industry is measured in the hundreds of billions of US dollars. At any second well over fifty thousand people are viewing pornography on the internet and somewhere between 5 and 10 % of all websites are pornography related. Now those estimates are probably way under the reality.
And the research says that this is having a real impact on marriages – there is increased marital distress and there is a risk of separation and divorce through pornography. There is decreased marital intimacy and sexual satisfaction – there’s infidelity – there’s increased appetite for more graphic types of pornography and sexual activity associated with abusive legal or unsafe practices. Monogamy – that’s one husband, one wife – is being devalued. Marriage and child rearing are falling apart; there is an increasing number of people struggling with compulsive and addictive sexual behaviour.
See, pornography is something that the world says ‘Well, it’s just a lifestyle choice – instant gratification is fine’ but actually it’s a silent killer. When it comes to true intimacy, people are forsaking the one wondrous blessing of intimacy that God planned for them in marriage – the real thing – for a fake.
Do you see the irony of this? And it’s not just in pornography; you see it in business, you see people being overworked; you see tiredness – life is a whole bunch more transactional today than it ever was. It’s a ‘supermarket check-out’ kind of world instead of a ‘corner-store’ kind of world. So we’ve come to have pretty low expectations when it comes to relationships of real depth. We just expect the world to be more transactional and less relational; less intimate – we do!
And yet deep inside the heart of every man and woman and child is a deep yearning for intimacy. A huge part of that is a yearning to be close to God. Not everybody calls it that; not everyone sees it that way – you look across every culture and civilization though – advanced or so called ‘primitive’ – and you see a yearning for God. Whether we have never really encountered God or whether we have been walking with Him for a lifetime, there remain many people who want to be close to Him and yet they struggle to discover that sort of intimacy. It’s frustrating.
That’s why we are starting a new series today called “How to Get Close to God”. There are two parts to that: understanding the simple truths about what God has done to bring us close – God’s truth is always as simple as it is beautiful; and understanding how we can respond to that. So we are going to look at some simple, practical guidance as to how; that’s why I’ve called this series “How to Get Close to God” not some esoteric theory but discovering His truth with our lives.
I want to introduce you right now to something that God says in the New Testament – it’s in the Book of James:
God yearns jealously for the Spirit that He has made to dwell in us. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Humble yourself before the Lord and He will exalt you” (James 4: 5-10)
It’s a beautiful simple statement – God yearns and when we take a step or two; small and faltering though those steps may be – when we take those steps towards Him, the promise is that He will draw near to us, when we humble ourselves by doing that, He will exalt us.
This is something we are going to unpack on the programme this week and in the coming weeks – to bring this truth alive in our hearts; flowing through our veins – a truth that’s for living, not just a truth just for knowing in our heads, you know. This getting close to God is about knowing the truth but experiencing the truth and living God’s truth in our lives. Actually, living a life where we experience a ‘closeness’ to God. So it’s not just head knowledge – it’s a truth for living.
Now that I should be the one to speak with you about drawing close to God is such an incredible testimony to God’s outrageous grace. You see, for me it all began, this ‘Jesus’ thing, in a dark and dangerous hour – a time in my life when I seemed such a long way off from God – at least that’s how it seemed. I’d strayed so far and yet, it was in the middle of the darkest nights, on the stormiest oceans of life that His grace found me. His light shone for me. I will never forget the inky blackness that surrounded me in those days and I shall never forget how my Saviour reached out to me in that place.
And my prayer for you as we journey together for a time is that the things that we talk about from God’s Word today and over the next few weeks will be a signpost; a marker that points you Christ-ward. And as you come to grips with these beautiful and simple and profound truths, that the Spirit of God will write them on your heart so that you will never be alone again.
I look back on my life as a teenager – I had everything – a good home, a good school, great friends and later on in my high school life, I encountered Jesus – I believed in Him and I began a relationship with Him – in fact, I committed my life to Him. You know what that is like as teenagers, we have the luxury of, I don’t know, innocent idealism and we are not afraid to be dreamers.
And for me, as a teenager, somehow it was so much easier to believe in Jesus back then than it was when I grew up into adulthood – and grow up I did! I had the responsibility and the money and the mortgage and the career and the car – all the things that come with being an adult. And the plain reality of it all was that God was pushed into the back seat, I simply didn’t need Him.
Jesus just didn’t fit into the realities of my career and the money and the opportunity that presented themselves. Well, I guess I still kind of believed in Him, for a while, but little by little I headed off in my own direction. After all I had grown up; I had matured and when that happened it was natural for me to conclude that, ‘Well, I didn’t need that ‘Jesus’ stuff anymore.’
A FADING REALITY
I just want to continue on with a little bit of my own story; a story of a life that just drifted away from God because my hunch is that in the mistakes that I made, well, some of them might just resonate a little bit with you. Because the reality is about where we are living at the moment; we see the world from where we sit. Our perception is our reality.
If we are walking every day with Jesus, praying and enjoying our relationship with Him then that relationship is real; it’s alive, but if we are focussing on all the things in the here and now – which is what I spent most of my life doing – if we allow all our senses to be filled and to be crowded with the sights and the sounds and the smells of creation alone, then all too quickly, the Creator fades from our view.
Now that’s not just a God thing, it happens in every relationship. A man and a woman come together in marriage – they love each other; they enjoy each other, but as time ticks on, they so often begin to focus on a whole bunch of other things that crowd out that relationship part of their marriage – work, careers, kids, money, buying, having, possessing and eventually, sadly, the two that were meant to be one, drift apart again to become two. Eventually that marriage will fall apart. You and I know that this is happening in epidemic proportions. ‘We’ve just grown apart’ they’ll say. For any relationship to succeed it has to be a big part of our present reality. It makes sense, doesn’t it?
Well, it’s the same with God. We can be focussed on a whole bunch of other things and still kind of believe in Jesus; still have that faith somewhere in our heads but the longer we leave it to gather dust in some shelf in our heads, instead of living it with our lives – the longer we focus on other things and not on that relationship with God, the less real it becomes. The faith fades – that’s exactly what happened in my life. That’s how I drifted, day-by-day, month by month, year by year – miles away from the God I knew in my teenage years.
And on top of that because Jesus wasn’t a physical reality; well, He’s not here in the flesh and the blood the way a husband or a wife is, then we can come to a point, which is the point that I came to in my life, of thinking ‘Well, does He still really exist at all? Is He real?’
Right about then, it’s not unusual for the crowd to fade from view or for circumstances to take a turn for the worse. Maybe we lose our job, or there is a broken marriage or relationship or we have money problems or we just don’t have a good sense of our own wellbeing and at that point we wonder ‘Where is God in all of this? Is He real? How can He let this happen, does He really care about me?’
My hunch is that this is something that we all go through in our lives – there’s a point at which God feels like He’s a million, trillion, zillion miles away, no matter what course our spiritual journey had taken up to that point. ‘What happened? Where did He go? Why is it like this?’
That’s the point at which I found myself in 1995, in the month of February – my life was falling apart. All the things that had been so important to me up until then – the shiny baubles, the hopes, the dreams, they lay shattered at my feet. The best I could pray in those dark days and weeks and months; the most that I could muster in faith terms was, ‘God, well, if You are real; if You are out there, I need You. Now would be a really good time, if You exist.’ That’s all I had – I just didn’t know any more because for so long I had been walking in a different direction. I’d been living a different reality. I’d been focussing on other things for so long that He wasn’t real to me anymore.
Frankly, Jesus was a ‘maybe’ where once He had been my Lord. That’s it, that’s how it was and right smack bang in the middle of that, the question was simply ‘What do I have to do to get close to God?’
Let me share with you an utterly outrageous statement from a man named Paul, one of the Apostles of Jesus Christ. He wrote this two thousand years ago. And the reason it is so outrageous is that Paul was a Pharisee; he was a religious nut; a separatist. He was so much into religion by ‘good works’, I can’t find the words and yet after he met Jesus, this is what he wrote:
But now in Jesus Christ, you who were once far off have been brought near through the blood of Christ. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near for through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” (You can read that in Ephesians chapter 2, beginning at verse 13)
You who were once far off; you who once thought that God was a trillion miles away; you who once thought that you had to shout half way across the universe for Him to hear you; you who thought that you had to build a bridge back to Him through your good works; you are the one that’s been brought near to Him by the blood of Christ – that bridge of grace that reaches clear across that eternal and unbridgeable divide between God and each one of us.
In other words the only thing that you and I have to do to be brought near to God is to believe that Jesus died for us and that He rose again. That’s what Paul means: “You who were once far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” While all our failures, all our wrongs, all that junk that God calls sin has a price, the price was paid for by Jesus on the cross.
That’s the ‘blood’ thing that he is talking about. Blood was a symbol in Hebrew culture for life – He paid with His life; He spilt His blood, His life for you and me to pay for our sin. Now Christians have heard this message so many times, it becomes almost ‘passe’. The more familiar we are with something, the less attention we pay to it, even if it’s a deep, life transforming truth.
The Gospel, the Good News, well, it can wash past us sometimes and we end up just believing it in our heads. But what about believing it with our hearts and with our very lives – believing in the fact that Jesus died and rose again to pay for our sins, our wrongs, our junk – whatever label you care to use – and then, taking that deep truth and letting it sink in. Drinking it in, soaking it in, so that it becomes part of who we are. What about living it with our lives? What about believing it with our lives?
Because when we do, there is peace; peace with God – hostilities cease because the separation; the barrier, the obstacle is gone – the unbridgeable divide is bridged in an instant. There is no more distance between Him and you, Him and me as there once was, between enemies – peace has broken out. That’s the promise: “We who were once far off are brought near by the blood of Christ.” And you know something? It’s time to start living our lives in that outrageous promise.
A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE
If you won millions in the lottery would that change the way you lived your life? Well, this thing that we are talking about today; this intimacy, this closeness with God, it’s so much better than winning the lottery – it’s more than that. It’s believing that we are set free for eternal life that begins here and now – the war is over – peace has been declared between God and us. It may not feel like that, but that’s the promise that we can believe in – there’s no more gap – far away becomes near.
And faith in that promise is the starting point of getting close to God; in fact, it’s the only starting point. We are now blood relatives with Jesus, adopted into His family, accepted by His grace. We no longer have to be afraid, as we were when we were a long way off.
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the spirit of sonship, of adoption and by Him we cry, “Abba, Father”. The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children and if we are children then we are heirs, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ,” (that was written by the Apostle Paul in Romans chapter 8, verses 15 to 17)
We are blood relatives; heirs, co-heirs with Christ because God made it so through His Son. The cross; the bridge that spans eternity; the bridge that spans the universe; a bridge that is called ‘grace’ – that’s where it all begins, with God’s grace and everything … everything needed to open the door to that relationship has already been done for us by Jesus on the cross.
However uncertain we may feel; however feeble our faith may at first appear; however dark the hour might be, we are brought near to God by the blood of Christ. We discover that whilst we had wandered far away, that in Christ, God is closer than we could ever have imagined. See, that’s the startling paradox of grace. All we need to do, you and I, is believe. The simple truth is that all the good news that you and I will ever need is that when we put our complete trust in what Jesus did for each one of us on the cross; the price He paid for our sin with His life, we are brought near to God. Grace is as simple as it is beautiful.
Father God, we just want to join together right now in prayer. Sometimes it is the simple-ist; the most beautiful, the most wonderful of Your truths that we struggle with the most. Maybe it’s because they are too simple; maybe because they just seem too good to be true and yet Lord, we don’t want to live another minute of our lives without the truth of Your closeness in Jesus Christ, becoming real in us, real in our hearts, real in our lives, real in our experience and only You can do that Lord. Only You, by Your Holy Spirit can write this truth on our hearts.
Father we want to ask You to do that right now in Jesus Christ name. We want to ask You to make Your closeness real in our lives. Lord as we learn more in this series over the coming weeks, show us Your truth; show us how we can simply respond to You; show us how we can live in the certain knowledge, how we can actually experience Your closeness day by day. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
I want to come back to where we started today – James chapter 4, verses 5 to 10: “God yearns jealously for the Spirit that He has made to dwell in us. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Humble yourself before the Lord and He will exalt you.” It’s a beautiful, simple statement: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”
And you might say, ‘Berni, how do I do that?’ We are going to look at that over the next few weeks on the programme. But God is like any other person in a sense – we are made in His image – we know what we have to do to draw close to another person. We know what a husband has to do to draw close to his wife and a wife to her husband and parents to their children and friends to one another. To spend time with one another; to communicate openly with one another, to trust one another … we know all that stuff so why do we think that it would be any different with our God?
God yearns … He yearns jealously for the Spirit that He has made to dwell in us and when we take a step or two – small, faltering though those might be – towards Him, He will draw near to us. When we humble ourselves He will exalt us.
Next week on the programme we are going to see exactly what steps God has taken towards us, practical, real truth that we can experience in our lives. But can I encourage you, between now and then to spend some time in prayer, just reading this passage in James chapter 4, beginning at verse 5 – reading and praying and saying:
Lord, write this on my heart so that I can never forget it. So that when I’m walking through those dark days, when I think that You are a million miles away, I know I can take just whatever step I can towards You and You will draw near to me.
Father, we just thank You for Your Word, in Jesus name.