Series: Christianity Uncensored
Message #6: Destination Uncensored
By: Mark Whelchel
Well, good morning. I do hope you had a great Thanksgiving. It’s sure good to be with you this morning.
You know isn’t it kind of fun to think about, to imagine what Heaven might really be like? You know there’s been many different movies similar to the clip that we’ve just seen that have tried to portray a picture of what Heaven is going to be like. I’m kind of hoping that this picture wasn’t quite accurate, I have a different vision in mind for Heaven.
You know, as you look through the pages of the Bible we get some good descriptions of what Heaven is like. But it seems to me as I read those pages that God has given us just enough information to really whet our appetites but He hasn’t completely given away the surprise. You know, a lot of people have written about Heaven as well. Songs have been written about Heaven, books have been written about heaven, there’s people who have had near death experiences and they come back and describe what they have seen; and some of those descriptions are pretty elaborate, and others are more simple, like a great white light and a feeling of peace. And then there’s some people like Shirley MacLaine who claim to travel back and forth to Heaven on a pretty regular basis, has kind of a frequent flyer mile thing going, or something.
But you know, the main message of the Bible, the overall story of the Bible, is that God has bridged the gap between Heaven and earth, that God is moving closer to you, and He’s moving closer to me. And I think one of the great pieces of art that depict this truth is this painting by Michelangelo that we find on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Take a look at this picture with me for a moment. What I love about this painting is that while Adam seems to be rather lackadaisical on the one side, if you look at this picture of God it’s like He’s stretched out every tendon, every muscle reaching out to man. And all Adam has to do is move just a little bit, just even raise the tip of his finger and he can make contact with God. But God, in this picture is giving it His all. And again, that is the central story of the Bible, God is giving it his all to bridge the gap between Heaven and earth to be with you, to be with me.
You know, when Jesus came to the earth He was given the title Emmanuel, which means what? “God with us,” right? God with us. Look at this passage with me from II Corinthians. Great passage. It says, “For we are now the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, I will be their God, and they will be my people.’” Jesus said in John fifteen, “I no longer call you servants, instead I have called you my friends.” So the central story of the Bible is that God is with us each day. He resides within us through His spirit. He considers us His friend. He desires to have a relationship with us. His arm in essence is stretched out towards us. You know, God is not content to sit on the sidelines in Heaven and wait. He wants to be a part of our days right now.
Let me give you this example. Way back, years ago when I asked my wife, Christy, to marry me, I asked her, it was early in the summer, kind of like late May early June, and she set our wedding date for like nine, ten months later…February fifteenth. I think she was building in plenty of time that she could back out if she wanted to. So we had a long engagement time - nine, ten months. How do you think Christy would respond if on the night that she set our wedding date, if I said to her, “You know I love you. I can’t wait to be your husband, I can’t wait to live my life with you. And so, you know, I give you complete permission, plan the wedding any way you want and I promise I’ll see you on February fifteenth at what, two o’clock, right?” How would she respond if for nine or ten months I didn’t spend any time with her, didn’t call her, we didn’t talk, basically lived my life as though, you know, we weren’t even engaged? Well, I can tell you for sure, she would not be content to sit on the sidelines and wait. In fact if I were to do something so foolish as that and show up at the church on February fifteenth at two o’clock I could guarantee you I would be the only person there, just me and the crickets, that would be it. And in a similar way, God does not want us to commit our life to Him and tell Him, “Man, I cannot wait to spend eternity with you in Heaven,” but then live our life, go through our days as though He doesn’t exist. To live like we really don’t know each other, to live like we’re not really friends.
And you know, this is a great backdrop to the passage that we’re going to be looking at today in James, because James is describing somebody who is living their life in just this way, they’re living their life as though God doesn’t exist. They’re making plans without God in mind. In fact, they were, like, living life without God. Look at verse thirteen and follow it with me, James right there, writes this: “Now listen you who say today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money why you don’t even know what will happen tomorrow. As it is you boast and brag and all such boasting is evil.” Now we see here in these verses someone who is making plans, right. Business plans. Now what’s wrong with the plans being made here? They don’t include God, right? God’s not a part of this person’s day. He’s not even a part of this person’s plans for the entire year.
Now, I want to be real quick to point out. The problem here is not the fact that plans are being made. Planning is not the issue in these verses. In fact it seems to me people fall into one of two pretty distinct categories on this: some are planners, and some are not, they just don’t. Some of you here today, you are natural planners. You are quick to make a plan as you wake up in the morning you have a plan for your day, right? You have a list of all the things that you’re going to get done during the day and you’ve prioritized it. And if you do something during the day that’s not on your list, what do you do? You write it on your list. Why? So you could check it off and see that you’re making progress in the day. You’re the kind of people who keep the Day Planner calendar people in business, right?
Now there’s others of you here this morning, you’re not quite that way, right? You’re more on the procrastinator side. You know, your gift in life is that you can go through life keeping your options open, right? You just keep your options open. It’s not that you don’t have a day planning calendar, it’s just that you don’t remember where you put it. You know. I thought it’d be kind of fun, just see, you know, how we shake out here this morning with a show of hands. How many of you are in the natural planning category, you’re just good planners? Okay, pretty good. How many of you are on the opposite side, you’re natural procrastinators? Wow, there’s quite a few! How many of you need a little more time to decide? Okay, yeah. You’re in the second group, right?
You know, what I want us to see is that, again, planning is not the issue. Because the danger is the people who are the non-planners here among us, which really this morning was the majority, you would look at this verse and say, “See, see - planning is bad, you know it’s more holy, it’s more spiritual to just kind of float through life, keep your options open,” right? But that’s not what James is talking about. James is not saying really much about planning at all, he’s saying it’s not good to plan or live your life as though God is not a part of it. It’s not a good idea. But I also want you to see that James is writing this and saying this to people who are followers of God. You know, throughout this whole letter that James has written, he addresses his readers with the term, my brothers, or my dear brothers. And so in this passage when he writes, “Now listen you who say that today or tomorrow we go into this or that city,” he’s writing to brothers. He hasn’t changed his audience here. And so in essence what James is saying is that it is possible to be a follower of God and yet to live your life and plan your days as though God has no part of it. He’s saying it can happen. And so you need to be very, very careful.
You know a little while back I went away to a conference, it was a conference in the state of Kentucky and I left on an early Monday morning. And late Wednesday afternoon in Kentucky my cell phone rang. And I was on a break so I answered it. And it was one of my sons and he said, “Hey Dad, when are you coming home from work? I was wondering if you could stop at the store for me.” I said, “Well, you know I’m in Kentucky, right?” And he said, “The state of Kentucky, really?! When,” he said, “When did you leave?!” I said, “I’ve been gone, you know, since Monday. Two days! You haven’t noticed that I haven’t been at home?” And he said, “Oh Dad, this is going to hurt your feelings but honestly I didn’t know, I didn’t know that you weren’t here.” It was a sad conversation for me as a father. I mean, you laugh but it was sad. And what makes it particularly sad is that if my wife, Christy, is gone for five or ten minutes the kids will say, “Where’s Mom? When’s Mom coming home?” like it’s a catastrophe! I’m gone two days, and you know…
It got me thinking that there’s sometimes stretches in my life where things get real busy and I just get real focused on things and it’s not that God is away and I don’t recognize it, but worse it’s that God is present and I don’t recognize it. You know I get to the end of a day or two or even longer and it’s been a hectic time and my head hits the pillow and I all of a sudden become aware that I am not living at all in the presence of God. I haven’t been considering Him, I haven’t been thinking about Him, and that’s not only wrong, it’s sad because God wants so much more for us in our life. I mean, has that ever happened to you, you know where you’ve just been busy, you’re focused and then you get to the end of a day or two and you realize, “Man, I just haven’t been thinking about God? He’s not been a part of my decisions, He’s not been considered as I, you know, in how I treat other people. He’s just not been a part of my day.” And you know again it’s not just wrong, it’s sad because God wants so much more for you. He wants so much more for me.
So James gives us some thoughts on how we can do life better, he talks about living life in the presence of God. Look at verse fifteen with me, he says, “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” James is talking here about making God an everyday part of our life. He’s essentially telling us to live our life, to make our decisions in light of the will of God. To follow God’s will in everything that we do.
Now this brings up for many followers of Christ the big million dollar question which is, “How can I know God’s will for my life? I mean, how can I know? How can I know who God wants me to marry or what career I should choose or which house I should buy or which college I should attend? How can I know if God wants me to leave this job and take this one? How should I know if God wants me to buy this car or try to make this one last a little bit longer?” There’s a thousand questions just like these but they all boil down to one basic question: “What does God want? What is His will concerning this decision?” And as we’re asking this of God we’re basically saying, “God, just tell me! You know, show me a sign, right? Throw me a bone, let me know what You want me to do.”
Well, in the next few minutes here, I’m going to try to explain to you very concretely, very specifically how you can know God’s will for your life. How you can know what God wants you to do and we’re going to look at three real basic principles that will help you answer the question, “What is God’s will for my life?”
The first principle that we’re going to look at is: Look. The principle
“look”, what did God say, what is God’s clearly revealed will? Now to illustrate this I’m going to come over here and get in this little area here. I’d like you to imagine that this area is actually larger than this, but for the sake of this illustration we’re going to say that everything that is inside of this parameter here is within God’s will. Okay, you with me? And everything outside of this parameter, outside of this boundary, is outside of God’s will. And so with the first principle we are to look and see what has God said, what has He already revealed about what is inside His will, and there’s a lot of things that God has already told us that, “This is my will for you.” Things like you should love God. You should love your neighbor as yourself. He said that love must be sincere, hate what is evil, cling to what is good, be devoted to one another in brotherly love, honor one another above yourselves, a lot of different things like that, that reveal how God wants us to live.
And then there’s things that he has specifically said that are outside of His will. The Ten Commandments is a great example of this. Things like: don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t lie, and on and on it goes. Just lots of different things where God is saying, “If you do these things you are outside of my will.” And so if we’re considering doing something that is outside of this parameter we don’t even need to pray about that one. You know, we don’t have to pray and say, “Okay God, I’m having trouble with my neighbor, should I murder him? You know, it’s just this once, I can hide the body.” You know we don’t even have to pray that because God’s already answered, right? He’s already kind of weighed in on that decision. So the first principle is we “look,” what has God already said? His word, the psalms says that, “Your word is a light to my feet, a lamp to my path.” It gives us specific direction. So that’s our first principle.
The second principle is: Apply. We apply God’s truth to specific decisions. Apply God’s principles. And the reason that this is important is sometimes there’s decisions that you’re making that are not directly talked about specifically in God’s word. For example, let’s say you’re trying to decide, um, let’s say you’re at a point in your life where you’re going to buy a house and you’re trying to decide, “Should I buy this house or this house? What is God’s will on this decision?” Well, you could look all through the scripture, you’re not going to find something that says, “Thou shalt buy a house,” or, “Thou shalt not buy a house,” right? You’re not going to find anything that says “Thou shalt live on Green Valley Parkway,” or, “Thou Shalt not live on Horizon Ridge Parkway.” You’re not going to find it, right?
So instead you have to look at, “Well, are there any principles that God has given me, any truths in His word that somehow will lead me to making a better decision here?” And in this case I think there are some. For example, the principle of stewardship might apply here. You know, God has called me to be a good steward of all that He has given me. Well, is purchasing one house as opposed to the other being a better steward? A principle of influence could apply here, God wants me to be salt and light to the Earth, is there, you know, a greater chance for that in one neighborhood as opposed to another? And we can apply all of these different principles to come to a good, God honoring decision.
Now I think a very important point to make in this, with this second principle of applying God’s word is that we shouldn’t be worried that there’s only one right decision. We shouldn’t be kind of stuck to that. Because many times, as long as we’ve looked and we know that we’re within God’s revealed will, there could be any number of good decisions. Could be we could pick from a dozen houses and God would be pleased with the decision that we’re making. We sometimes, you know we boil it down, think, “You know, there’s just gotta be one right one,” and that’s not always the case. Many times God says, “Choose, you know I love you. Choose, just do what’s honoring to me.” So we look. What has God revealed?
We apply specific truths to come to a good decision, and then the third principle is: We Release. We submit ourselves and our decision to God, because basically once we know we’re within God’s revealed will and we’ve weighed His truth to come to a good decision the last part here is we release it to God. And I kinda look at that and when I’m making a decision and saying, “I’m putting this decision palms up, it is open to you God. Lead, direct, guide, open doors, close doors, if you don’t want me to do this close the door. If you want me to do this, open the door. But I submit this decision to You.”
And there’s many different examples in scripture, especially in the life of the apostle Paul, where it says God opened doors for ministry and He closed doors for ministry. And Paul was open to being lead however God directed him.
And so if you approach each of the decisions and how you live your life with these principles in mind, if you look, if you apply, and then you release you’re going to find that you are right where God wants you to be. Right in the center of His will.
Now with these principles as a foundation, I want to tell you what I believe to be the most important truth in knowing God’s will for your life. The most important truth; and in fact it’s so important to me that I wrote it out word for word in your notes that you got this morning. And it’s this truth: Following God’s will has much more to do with who you are becoming and how you are living than it does with specific decisions. Let me repeat that. Following God’s will has much more to do with who you are becoming and how you are living than it does with specific decisions.
See, most of the time when we think about, “What is God’s will for my life?” We’re thinking of specific decisions. Again, “What job should I take, who should I marry, what college should I attend, where should I live?” On and on they go. But honestly, the vast majority of how God in His word has directed His will toward us has to do with who we are becoming and how we are living than it does with specific decisions we are making.
I think if we look at this from a parents’ perspective it helps us to make sense of it because God is our parent. You know, I have four kids, and with my children, while I’m concerned with decisions that they make I am far more concerned with who they are becoming and how they are living their life than what particular decision they make.
For example, two of my kids are teenage boys. Now just think about it, what are decisions that are important for teenage boys? Well, one would be, “Where can I get a job, where should I work?” I mean, it’s important for any teenager. You know, “Should I work at the grocery store, should I work at the movie theater, Taco Bell, In-N-Out, where should I work?” Now again, while I’m concerned with the decision that my son would make, I’m concerned that it be something that fits him, that’s convenient, that I’m not driving him out to the west side of town everyday, you know? I am more concerned with how he works, than where he works. I’m more concerned that he approach work with integrity. That he be a hard worker. That he be an example in the workplace. That he be salt and light. You know that is far more important to me than specifically where he’s working.
Another decision that’s important for a teenage boy might be, you know, after he’s worked and saved some money, “What car should I get? What car should I drive?” Now I think every parent in this room could relate with me when I say it is far more important to me how he drives than what he drives, I mean that’s just far more important. But for most teenagers it’s just the opposite, it’s more important what I drive than how I drive.
Another decision might be, “Should I date, and if I date, who should I date?” Not that they would ever consult me on this decision. But again all things being equal, whether he date a Lori or a Cindy doesn’t matter nearly as much as how he dates Lori or Cindy. Again assuming all things are equal, that these are both good girls who are not going to corrupt my son, right? I am more concerned with how he dates than who he dates, I’m more concerned that he is respectful on a date, that he is a protector of his date’s honor and purity than who specifically he is going out with.
See, overall I’m just more concerned with who my children are becoming than with specific decisions that they’re making, and I think God as our heavenly Father is similar with us. Not that He’s unconcerned with our decisions, but the bigger issue to God is who we’re becoming. And if we’re becoming more and more like Christ we’re going to make decisions that are honoring to God, we’re going to be making good decisions. And even if we’re off a little bit, if we make a decision that doesn’t quite work out, God knows that we’re going to grow through it, and that’s His bigger purpose, how, you know, the person that we’re becoming.
The bigger thing for God is that He just wants to be a part of our daily life. Just like we want to be a part of our kids’ life. Now the reason that this is so important according to James, he writes that eternity honestly is just right around the corner. James wants to make very certain that we honestly see what is real, that we view our life in the midst of eternity. Look at verse fourteen with me, he says, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow, what is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James says, “What’s your life; you’re like a mist.” Have you ever just sprayed a spray bottle, you know what it’s like, he says that’s what your life is like. In light of eternity it’s short, it’s brief, and this answers the question why; why do we make plans and live our life on a daily basis with God? Because life is short and eternity is real, and it is just very short sighted to view life and how we live our life apart from the idea of eternity.
I asked our stage crew if they would to set up this door for me, because I wanted to use this door as a visual reminder that eternity, that Heaven, really is just like right around the corner from us, that it’s just right there. That’s what James is saying. Any, every single one of us in this room will one day walk through the very thing that this door represents. We will walk from this life into the next and James says it’s going to be like a mist, it happens so quickly. The Bible says it happens like in the blink of an eye. And the fact that eternity is real, that Heaven is real and right around the corner ought to make a huge difference in how we live our life every single day with God.
I thought of a great illustration of the shortsightedness of living life for today without consideration for eternity. Let’s say that you’re having a house built and it’s not going to be ready for another three months. But the house that you are living in is already sold, you’ve already had to move out and so for about three months you’re without a house. But fortunately for you, you have a friend who says, “I have a house and it’s going to be sold, but it’s vacant now so you can live in it for three months.”
So for three months you have a temporary house. Now, as you’re moving into the house you think, “Well, I really like this place,” and so you’re going to fix it up a bit. And so you start with the landscaping. And you hire a landscape architect. And that landscape architect, he comes in and removes every plant in the front yard. And he puts in new plants, and he puts in hardscape, and a walkway and a porch out front and he completely changes the look of the house. And while that’s going on you think, “Well, I’d love to have a home theater in here,” and so they come in and install speakers in your ceiling and all through the house, and while that’s happening you think, “Boy, the backyard could use a pool, you know, I’m going to dig, have somebody come in and do a pool for me.”
And so you’re getting a pool, and while the pool’s being done you think, “Man, new appliances would be great,” and as you’re doing those you think, “We could really use some new flooring.” How smart would that be? I mean, that’s ridiculous. It’s a temporary residence, you’re only living there for three months. But when you look at our life, our spirit, our soul, who we really are, we are just living in temporary housing. James says it’s like a mist, is all. And it’s gone but God is making a permanent residence for us, for those who follow Jesus.
Jesus said in John 14, “In my Father’s house there are many mansions, or many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go and prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again, take you for yourself, that where I am you may be also.” And then one of the apostles who heard him speaking said, “But Lord, how will we know the way, how will we know how to get to that house?” And Jesus answered him. He said, “I am the way, I am the truth, I am the light. No man comes to the father except by me.”
So doesn’t it just make sense that we live our life in the presence of God now on a daily basis? Paul writes in II Corinthians, “Now we know if the earthly tent that we live in is destroyed we have a building from God. An eternal house in Heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling.” And then he goes on to say, “Now it is God who has created us for this very purpose.”
Now I love the wording that Paul uses here, he says we groan. We long for this dwelling. In fact, he says we were created for this very purpose. We were created to live each day of our life with God. That’s what he’s saying. He’s saying it is by nature our heart’s desire. And I sometimes think the longer we live and walk with God the more we long. The more we groan. The more we look forward to it. I think sometimes the longer we live in a fallen world where sin abounds, where there’s pain and there’s heartache and there’s sickness; the more we long, the more we groan to be with him, to live with him.
One of my favorite authors, Dallas Willard, tells the story of a young boy - true story- six-year-old boy whose mother had passed away. And this boy was having a really hard time finding peace in his life and it really showed up for him especially at night when he was trying to go to sleep. And so for a while his father allowed him to sleep with him in his bed and that helped quite a bit. But even then when the lights were turned out and it was dark in the room the boy would ask his father, he’d say, “Dad, is your face turned towards me?” And the father said that when he answered and he said that, “Yes, my face is turned towards you,” that it was enough and it allowed his son to have enough peace to get some sleep.
And I think we should live our life with that same kind of passion to be saying to our father, “Father is your face turned towards me? Turn your face towards me. Be with me in this day, be with me in the decisions that I make, be with me as I treat other people, be with me in every part, every moment of my day.” That should be our passion. And, in fact, Paul says that’s what we were created for.
And I thought I would close this morning by giving you a blessing. It’s a great blessing. In fact it was the favorite blessing of Jewish people, it’s found in the old testament in the book of Numbers. But I think this blessing is not only appropriate for the topic that we’ve been talking about, but it’s also appropriate for the season that we’re entering into. A time of thanksgiving, a time of remembering God being with us by celebrating the birth of Jesus. So here’s the blessing for you: “May the Lord bless you and keep you; may he make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. Amen.” Have a great Sunday.