I’ve had a couple things happen to me recently that kind of pointed this out to me. I was talking to a man who grew up in the same church that I’ve attended since I was eighteen years old. He said that as a child he was never good at sitting still, being quiet and paying attention. Consequently, church was a nightmare for him. A number of the adults there – the deacons and deaconnesses, and the people that sat around him – you know, the crabby ladies – began to target him as a bad kid. He’s in his forties, and he said that to this day he gets uncomfortable when he goes to church. Being quiet was more important than him feeling like he belonged in that congregation.
Last summer, when we held the first ever Camp Outreach back in the Lexington, Kentucky, area, young adults helped repair homes for elderly, poor widows and widowers, who couldn’t afford to hire it done and couldn’t do it themselves. Afterwards, one of the young adults there went to dinner with some older people from one of our Church of God organizations, and of course, he was just all filled up with his experience at camp, so he just couldn’t stop talking about what he’d learned there. They tried to convince him that his effort was wasted, that it would have no lasting value. He could have spent his time better serving the corporation that they were a part of instead of these poor people. After all, poor people are a bottomless pit of need, you know, and don’t you know that you can never help all of them? So he pulled out his Bible, and he read in James that taking care of people who need help is pure religion, and they simply waved him off.
So, I was thinking about the state of the Church of God, and what we have taught, and what we have to teach our children, and what’s important, and what’s not important. And that brought me to think about what spirituality really is. Do we know what it is? Well, I know that I don’t know all there is to know about it, but I can read the Bible and have learned a few things. It seems to me, in this past year, things that I’ve read for many years suddenly have come to my awareness in a way that I never understood them before. In fact, I’d say that I’ve learned more about what spirituality is in this last year than in the last forty-two. So I’m excited about that. I’m thoroughly excited.
So, I thought, today, that I would begin a new series on spirituality. We need to ask, when we think about that – when we think about spirituality and being spiritually minded – what are we talking about really? Well, we’re talking about knowing what God reveals, about valuing it the way He values it, and then about doing it – about integrating it into our lives and putting it into practice. When we can do those three things, then we are in line and in sync with God in our understanding, in our valuing and in our behavior. That’s what it is.
We’re going to talk about what God tells us, why it’s important and how we can apply it in our lives with the hope of growing spiritually and becoming more spiritually minded, so that we can be stronger Christians and, consequently, have stronger congregations that can more effectively help our children become spiritually minded beings in their own right and in God’s own time. So, it’s not just for ourselves, but it’s for our children and for our church and for God. And we’re also going to concentrate on where I think we, as a group, are weak, rather than on focusing on what we do well. If we just pat ourselves on the back all the time, we don’t ever learn anything. But if we talk about the problems, then they will tend to get fixed.
So, the first message in this series is called God Knows Best. Some of you will remember a series I gave on the beatitudes. And you’ll know that the first beatitude is being poor in spirit, the essence of which is to understand that God knows best. So, it’s not a complicated idea, and it won’t take long to explain it.
God provides us an amazing insight into His value system in Isaiah 66, verse 1.
Isa. 66:1 – Thus says the LORD, “Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me, and where is the place of My rest?For all those things My hand has made, and all those things exist,” says the LORD. So God says, “I made everything! I’m in total control of the universe! I am way more powerful than you can even understand!” And then He says something else. He says, But on this one will I look…. “Even though you are utterly weak and fragile and temporal, there is one quality that really gets my attention when I see it in a human being” …On him who is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word. So the Lord of the universe takes notice when a human being values and lives by the word of God more than on his or her own understanding. When we believe that God knows best, and when we act like it, that really gets His attention.
We all know that God loves all of us from before our birth, don’t we? It just goes without saying. But when we start to understand that God knows better than we do, it draws special attention to us in His mind. That is what we just read, wasn’t it? On this one will I look…. There’s lot’s of people out there. But when He sees that, it draws His attention. His face turns toward us, and He starts paying attention to us.
I was talking to a married couple some time ago, asking them how they found each other. They both went to Ambassador University in Texas. The man said, “We didn’t know each other when we were at college.” I had assumed because they went to college together that that’s where they met. They didn’t. They knew who each other were, but he said, “I would see her playing her flute at church, but we didn’t really get to know each other until after we graduated.” He said that they both wound up in the same local church area for awhile after college, and that’s where they got to know each other. He started talking about how he had seen her around for four years, but when he started talking to her, he understood how intelligent she was, how caring she was and what a quality person she was. He started to look on her. He started to see her. There were lots of people at college, but when he started to realize what she was like, it really got his attention. That’s what God is saying. There’s certain things about people that can really get God’s attention. And the one big one is that when we know that He knows better than we do….
Have you ever had that experience with somebody? I had that experience recently. I got to know someone. I’d known her for a long, long time – a young person. She came to visit us and what I learned about her while she was visiting absolutely blew me away. There was so much more substance there than what I’d understood all those years before. It wasn’t that I’d really underestimated her, it was just that I didn’t know her that well. When I did finally understand how brilliant she was and how dedicated to God she was, it really got my attention. That’s the same thing that we’re talking about here. That’s the experience God has when He finds a person who knows that He knows better than we do.
Why does that get God’s attention? Why is that important? Keep that question in your mind as I tell you that faith is one of the weightier matters of the law, isn’t it? That’s what Christ said. What we’re talking about here is faith – trusting that God knows better than we. Paul said, “We walk by faith and not by sight.” What does that mean? Well, that means that we believe that God knows better than we do. And when He tells us to do something, we’re going to do it, whether it seems sensible to us or not. We’re going to walk by faith and not by how it looks to us. God knows best.
So when we believe that God knows better than we do, we do what He tells us, even when it goes contrary to all of our inclinations, or our understanding. So this understanding about God is the basis for our faith, isn’t it? That’s what underpins faith.
Heb. 11:6 – If you look with me in Hebrews 11:6, Paul said, Without faith, it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. This scripture is about our relationship with God, isn’t it? We’re pleasing God. When people have a relationship, generally, if it’s a positive one, they please each other. Faith is the underpinning of a relationship with God. And the underpinning of faith is the understanding that God knows a whole lot more than we know. And so we’re going to follow Him.
Then once we believe that God knows best, all sorts of good things start to happen. It pleases God. And we have a reason to seek Him, because we know that He knows more about how to live our life than we do. That opens the door to a lot of really good things from God, because the things that He tells us to do are all a part of His law, and the law is for blessings, right? So, we’ve just opened the door to receive a lot of blessings from God. Underneath the whole faith thing is the idea that God knows best. We saw there, in Isaiah 66:1, that what draws God closer to us – and His attention on us more – and when He finds us in that state of mind where we know that.
Have you ever seen the movie The Matrix? I know nobody here has ever seen that, but…. It’s a rhetorical question. It’s about a guy who discovers (it’s a science-fiction movie) that people really are just housed in pods connected to a computer program that simulates a life in their brain. It’s all in their imagination, or in their minds. They’re being grown by machines in warehouses. And all the things that he was thinking was just part of an illusion that they’ve created to keep him occupied while he grew to maturity so they could, I guess, harvest him. In his world, the life he’d lived all his life was just an illusion that had been created for him.
Not long after that movie came out, I was talking to a teen, and she told me she knew several young adults who had gotten baptized after seeing that movie, because it helped them understand for the first time that what they’d been taught in church – that this life is not really life as God has in store for us. It just seems real. It’s just temporary, and that real life is something else. So, they wanted to learn more about God’s kind of life. If we think about it, we are physical. God is spirit. There is this huge gulf between us and God, right? Between you and me, there’s this great gulf fixed. There really is no way for us to learn anything about God, is there – you can’t see Him, you can’t hear Him, you can’t reach out and touch Him – except that He reveals it to us. We’re totally dependent on Him for every single thing that we know about Him. Consequently, if we hope to ever learn anything about God, we have to let Him teach us, instead of formulating our own ideas. Our own ideas about God only contaminate our understanding of Him, because we can’t understand anything about Him of ourselves. It all has to come from Him. That’s another reason why that really gets God’s attention – because He knows that’s His only hope to ever really make us understand who He is if we believe that He knows more about Him than we do.
I was talking to a woman that I know and respect a lot. We were talking about God. I’m learning how to talk to people that don’t believe the way I do about God. She was telling me that if the ancient people wanted to worship trees and other inanimate things, that was beautiful to her. She was one of these open-minded people – free to worship however. I asked her if she knew who Molech was. She said, “No.” I said, “Well, Molech was an ancient god. He was also called Baal. Sometimes he was represented by a hollow metal idol, and they would build a fire in the bottom of it and throw their newborn infants into its mouth as a sacrifice. So, you see, people left to themselves to figure out what God is like, doesn’t work. It’s just throwing stuff against the wall and hoping it sticks. It’s blue-skying it. You can’t know anything about God unless He tells you. So, we need God to tell us how it is, what He values, how to worship Him, and how He wants us to live. Otherwise we will always get it all wrong. God gives us a choice as to whether we will worhip Him or not, but there is very little choice that He gives us in how to worship Him, because He is God and He gets to say how He should be worshipped.
If I ask you how you’re feeling today, and you say, “I’m feeling a little discouraged,” should I say, “No you’re not!”? If somebody says to you, “You know, I really would like a back rub right now,” and you say, “Nah, no you don’t. You want somebody to rub your feet.” So, when we go to God and He says, “I want you to worship me this way,” what should we do? We should do it His way, right? I mean He’s the One who wants to be worshipped, because it’s good for us. So He’s the One who gets to tell us how to do that. We don’t get to tell Him. And we would never guess how He wants us to do it, except that He explains it to us. We don’t know anything about Him unless He lets us know.
Paul did say that the law is written in the human heart. Not all of our inclinations are wrong all the time. Mothers are inclined to love their children. Most people realize that lying doesn’t pay off in the long run. Most of us know that stealing doesn’t work in the long run either. What’s important in life is another huge problem. Jesus said, “Why do you worry so much about what you’ll wear and eat? God takes care of animals and He’ll take care of you, too, if you’ll trust Him.” So we have some inclinations that are good, and some that aren’t.
But here is the major reason why it is important to know that God knows best. All these reasons are important, but the one we’re going to talk about now is most important. We already saw that we must believe that God knows best to have faith. We know that we’re saved by faith, right? So the only way that we’re ever going to be changed and live forever is by God. We know, too, that there are certain things that we must do if we want to participate in that process. Of ourselves we would know nothing about any of that. Some people think that the way you gain eternal life is to spin a wheel with prayers written on it. And every time that wheel turns around, all these prayers go up to God, and that’s earning you points in the great lottery in the sky. That’s what happens when you try to worship God and earn your own way, or do what God wants you to do without consulting Him about how to do it. The only way we can learn about salvation is by understanding that in spiritual things we are completely ignorant without God. Who would ever know to repent and accept Jesus Christ, except God revealed it to us? Who would know to be dipped in water and have hands laid on their head, except that God tells us to do that? And who would understand why we should do that, except God shows us? And who would know to obey the law of God, or even know what the law of God was, except that God shows that to us? And who would know that our destiny is to be in a family with God? And who would know how to worship God?
We can tie our own shoes, we can drive our own car, we can lift a fork and stick food in our mouths, but except that God shows us, we would never even know that those simple tasks are supported by universal laws that God has created. We can’t even tie our own shoes without Him, although it certainly seems like that to us, doesn’t it? And in spiritual things, well, we’re just utterly clueless without God to show us what we need to know.
Sounds really simple, doesn’t it? It’s sort of a no-brainer when you stop and think about it. And yet, this is not simple, and it’s not easy to do. Some people think this isn’t high-level spiritual activity. It’s sort of kindergarten stuff for Christians. Everybody knows this. Well, I should hope that we know it. The problem is not with the knowing of it. The problem is living by it. We’re talking now about application. We first talked about what God tells us. Then we talked about why it’s important. Now we’re going to talk about applying this in our everyday life.
Among the churches of God, how many views do we have on when to keep Passover? How many different ideas do we have about how to keep the Sabbath? Well, the answer to that is, how many people do we have going to church? How many different ideas do we have about it, and where do they all come from? When should we keep the Feast of Tabernacles? How many differing ideas do we have about what needs to be observed from the Old Testament? One of the reasons that we see so much diversity in all this is because we have inserted our own thinking into the process and have failed to thoroughly follow God’s thinking. So that’s why none of us want to accept the trinity doctrine, right? Because you can’t find it in the New Testament. It was a by-product of extrapulation in 300 or 400 AD…when they tried to understand more about God by looking at the Bible and then thinking about it. Do you think if all of us really trembled before the word of God like we should that we would be all over the map on all this stuff?
See, there’s something about the way we are naturally – all of us – that contaminates our relationship with God. Some of us are insecure and instead of trusting God to make us whole, we try to do that ourselves. “I know best what’s good for me.” Some of us think that we’ll be okay if we cannot only be a Bible scholar, but a Bible scholar who learns something out of the Bible nobody else knows – new truth, new doctrine. “I’m right. I’m okay. Follow me.” Or, if we can’t find anything new, then something different will suffice to make us feel like we know more, or better, than other people. That’s not true spirituality. Knowing something other people don’t know isn’t what spirituality is about. Spirituality is about trembling before God’s word and fearing to misunderstand it. And if that puts you right smack in a path of a million people who believe the same thing, good! It’s not about that. It’s about knowing what God says to do. So that would generally require us to consult with others and subject our ideas to the scrutiny of the community as a whole, rather than running off with the bit in our teeth, wouldn’t it? Yes, it would.
Let’s look at something else. Let’s think about church government. I heard a story about a young woman who attended a Church of God Bible program. One day an instructor walked in who was nearly three times as old as she was. He started teaching them about church government. He put a graphic up on the wall that was a pyramid as an example of church government. She raised her hand and she mentioned that a pyramid is not a biblically supported symbol for the way the church is organized. She explained that there were only two biblical pictures for us to draw from. One is the temple. “You are a holy temple.” Right? Jesus Christ, Himself, being the chief cornerstone – not at the top, but at the bottom, supporting everything. The other is the human body, where everything is interlinked, and all dependent on one another. Everybody has a different role in the body, but all connected and dependent on one another. It’s an organism. Now, I believed in a pyramid, too. Okay? I’m not picking on this person. But there he is. He put it up there in front of the class, so he should be responsible to defend himself in front of the class or admit wrong. So what are you going to do? Well, he essentially ignored her and continued to teach. What he was really teaching was corporate organization. But he had gotten that confused with the organism of the church and the temple. At some point, I had to say, “Oh! Oh!! It’s not a pyramid. It’s a body! It’s a temple.” When I was willing to do that, that was saying, “God knows more about this than I do,” wasn’t it? I wasn’t willing to say that for a very long time, so don’t think I’m picking on anyone. We all have a lot to learn in this area. But it was such a striking situation, it made me realize the importance of trembling before the word of God. There it is in church government.
I was at the Feast this last year and was invited to be on a panel in one of the teen Sabbath school classes. They had a Q & A at the end, where they could ask the panel whatever. There was a boy there who had grown up in the church and he was talking about the Sabbath. He said that he had commitments – like school band, for example – that he had to keep, so he participated in school band on the Sabbath. That, to a number of us there, was an example of him using his own understanding to decide what to do, because in Isaiah 58 and verse 13, it says:
Isa. 58:13 – If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD, honorable, and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure nor speaking your own words, then you shall delight yourself in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken this. God tells us that when our personal commitments…. And I don’t know of a high school in America where band is anything but an elective. So even there it’s a choice, right? It was his choice. It’s not a spiritual thing that he had to do. It was just something that he chose to do. We might call it a commitment, but God says it’s really just an entanglement.
Where did we learn about the Sabbath? We learn about it in the Bible, don’t we? So, who knows best about how to live our life? Does God? Or do we? “Keep your foot off My day. Don’t do your things on My day. Do My things on My day and I will bless you.” Okay, that’s what God says. So what are we going to do? Spirituality is doing what God says once we know it – once we understand it – because we believe He knows best. That’s a real clear-cut example of how that works.
We already talked about taking care of the poor. Our past Church of God position was that the church came first and that giving to the poor was a waste of God’s money. There’s just one problem with that. That’s not what God says. It is true that Jesus said that the poor will always be with you. Now that can either mean that, because it’s a problem that can’t be solved by us, we shouldn’t try to do anything about it, or that just means there will always be poor people for us to take care so we can show praise to God. Which way is it? Well, there’s a very simple way you can figure this out. If you are under a freeway overpass, sleeping under a newspaper in the winter time, and you haven’t had a bath in weeks, or anything to eat that day, would you want to be clean, warm and fed? So God says to us, in His word, that we’re to do for others what we would want others to do for us. Right? So, if you come across somebody that’s in that condition, what should you do? Simple, isn’t it?
If you were an elderly widow, on Social Security, who had outlived all of her family and friends, and you were living in a little, run-down house, and you had no money to fix it up and couldn’t fix it up yourself, because you’re too infirmed, would you want someone to help you keep your roof from leaking? Yeah, you would, because if water gets in your house, it’s going to fall apart. So, if we find somebody in that condition, and we have the resources to give, what should we do? Well, the answer is right there in your mind, isn’t it, because we know what God tells us to do in that case. Doing for others as we would have others do for us is not a suggestion. So, not only is it not a waste to do these things, it’s commanded. And it’s not a waste, because somebody gets helped and we get to think like God and feel what it feels like to be like God, as He brings rain on the just and the unjust, for a little while when we do that. We get to experience that state of mind that God is in a little bit. What’s that worth?
I gave a seminar at the CEM festival sight this year on abstaining from pre-marital sex. Some of the material covered was instruction from God telling us how to guard our hearts by not allowing ourselves to get romantically enmeshed with someone until we’re prepared for marriage – you know, it’s time to be married. So, for all those who have romance and marriage ahead of them, how’s it going to be in your life? Is it going to be the way God tells you to do it, or do you think you know better than God about that? The choice that you make determines whether you’re spiritually minded in that instance.
Let’s look at one final example. Matthew 6:19.
Mt. 6:19 – Do not lay up for yourself treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moths nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there you heart will be also. The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If, therefore, the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness. No one can serve two masters. For either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Mammon here could be money, but it’s generally just talking about avarice – a covetousness, an attitude of wanting more. It doesn’t just apply to money and things, but anything that can be acquired – you know, power, position, control, whatever. It could be talking about climbing the corporate church or structural ladder at your office. It could be talking about putting people ahead of God. All the people that we love can be put ahead of God if we’re not careful. So this is a huge area.
I was talking to a young friend recently who works in construction for his brother. His brother owns a small construction company. He was telling me that his brother wants the fancy car, or if can’t have a fancy car, he’ll at least go out and buy a set of fancy alloys for it with some fancy racing tires. “Things are really important to him,” he told me. Now, this young man knows that he needs to be financially successful so that he can provide for the family that he hopes to have. And he knows that to do that, he needs to work hard and focus on his career. But he doesn’t really care about fancy stuff. He’s completely excited about God and about taking care of the people around him – taking care of his wife and his friends and the church. He doesn’t want to control anybody – just himself. That is spirituality applied to his life. That’s where the rubber meets the road when it comes to being spiritually minded. Like I said, he’s young. He’s not a minister. He’s not anyone of note among those who are in power positions anywhere, but he is a spiritually-minded person, who is way ahead of many people who are three times as old as he is.
There are so many areas we could talk about, but I think you are getting the idea. Whatever God says, if you believe that’s true, and any ideas you have to the contrary are not worth that, then you are spiritually minded.
Let’s look at one more scripture to close. Matthew 16:21.
Mt. 16:21 – From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. Then Peter took Him aside, and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Be it far from you, Lord. This shall not happen to you.” Peter is just going to deny spiritual reality. But He turned and said to Peter, “Get you behind Me, Satan, for you are an offense to Me. For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” “You want to take matters into your own hands, and whack somebody’s ear off to protect Me.” So that kind of sums it up, doesn’t it? Are we mindful of the things of God? Or are we mindful of the things of men?
Jesus knew that Satan wanted to distract Him from the things of God and focus His mind on the things of men. He knows that Satan wants to do the same with us. But the true reality is not in the stuff that Satan throws out to us. And he uses our own human impluses to do that. The reality is in the things of God. Of ourselves, we know nothing about spirituality, because it is outside our senses and outside our understanding. So, the fundamental starting place of spirituality is to always acknowledge that God knows best.