Episode 1. Start Living the Important Stuff
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So many people who believe in Jesus are wondering – why isn’t my life all that I expected? Why isn’t my life everything that the Bible promises that it should be? Well, it turns out that those …
So many people who believe in Jesus are wondering – why isn’t my life all that I expected? Why isn’t my life everything that the Bible promises that it should be? Well, it turns out that those people, probably aren’t living the important stuff.
BELIEVE THAT HE IS
So, back to that question that I just asked you: What sort of a life do you think that God wants for you? Well your answer to that, I guess, is going to depend on two things: Whether or not you believe that God actually exists, and what sort of a life you’ve had so far. Those two things more than any others are going to shape your answer to that all-important question.
I’ve thought an awful lot about the life that I’m living, and the lives that other people are living. You see, I have more opportunities than most to reflect on the lives of other people. You can imagine that I receive a lot of feedback from listeners to these radio-messages from right around the world: Letters and phone calls and E-mails, and messages on our website at Christianityworks.com – lots and lots of feedback.
The abject misery of many of those people’s lives at times rocks my faith to the core: The woman in London who had to sell her body on the street just to get food on the table; the guy who was on the brink of suicide; the woman whose husband had just left her for another woman; the elderly man who lost his wife of fifty-four years. So many people share the deepest despair of their lives with me, and at some point, you have to ask yourself the question: “Hang on. Is God still on His throne? Is God the God of love for real? In fact, does He exist at all”?
Am I suggesting that everybody’s life is a mess? No, not at all, but it’s as plain as the nose on my face that we all go through difficult times: Times of tragedy in our lives that leave us wondering about this so-called God. And in between the times of tragedy, sure, there are high points; there are times when things seem to be chugging along just fine, and then there’s that dull monotony of the daily repetition of the same old routine.
So it doesn’t seem to matter so much what particular cycle of life we’re in – a trough or a crest of a wave, on the up or on the down, you can come back to the question: “What sort of a life am I living, and what sort of life does God want me to live”? That’s why I produced this radio series. It’s called Your Road to a Stunning Life. Indeed I’ve written a book by the same name, because I’m utterly convinced that God wants you and He wants me to live an absolutely stunning life, difficult though that may seem for some people.
So if it’s true, if God really does want you to live a stunning life, how do you actually get yourself on that road? The what is pretty meaningless without the how, wouldn’t you agree? Well, that’s what this series and my book are all about: How to live a stunning life how to get on that road.
You and I have heard it a million times: This life is not a dress rehearsal. We get one chance at each day and pretty soon, it’s going to be over. Lao-tzu many, many years ago said the journey of a thousand miles begins with? The first step, so here (as far as I’m concerned) is the first step. The very first step along the road to a stunning life is simply to believe that God is God; that He exists; that He is who He says He is.
I know, it sounds trite; a bit too obvious; a bit too simplistic, doesn’t it? “Oh, give me a break, Berni. I don’t need platitudes in my life; I need some real, grassroots how-to to help me to get through the stuff that I’m going through. It’s hard-going, you know.” I know you do, and I know it is, and that’s why I’m sharing this first step with you. Let me say it again: The first step is believing that He exists; that He is who He says He is, because it’s a step that has some significant consequences.
We live in a world of cause and effect: You do this, then that happens. Sometimes the consequences are predictable; sometimes they’re totally unpredictable. In this case, the consequences of taking that first step are completely predictable. This is what God says will happen to you if you believe in Him. Hebrews 11:1-8:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. Indeed by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the Word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that were not visible. By faith, Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval as righteousness, God Himself giving approval to his gifts. He died, but through faith he still speaks. By faith, Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death, and he was not found because God had taken him, for it was attested before he was taken away that he had pleased God. And without faith it’s impossible to please God, for whoever would approach Him must believe that He exists, and that He rewards those who seek Him. By faith, Noah (warned by God about events as yet unseen) respected the warning and built an ark to save his household. By this he condemned the world, and became an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance, and he set out not knowing where he was going.
See, when we step out on that road in faith, believing that God exists, God’s Word tells us that we’re going to receive these things: First, His approval and acceptance; second, freedom from death; third, His rewards; and fourth, an inheritance. That’s what that passage that we read just tells us. Like Abraham, when we step out on that road, we have no idea really where we’re going to be headed; simply God’s promise to approve us, accept us, set us free from death, reward us, and give us the most amazing inheritance.
Come on; if that’s not a stunning life, I just don’t know what is. Yeah, I know, I know. You’re going through all this stuff, right? It’s hard, right? How does any of this make any difference whatsoever to all of that, right? But let me tell you something. When God promises us something, even something spectacular like this, He delivers. And when God delivers, that makes all the difference. It completely changes your life.
CHRIST AS YOUR CORNERSTONE
Just recently, I was invited to visit India to participate in the laying of a foundation stone for the Lutheran Central Cathedral in the city of Guntur in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Now, Guntur isn’t far from the Bay of Bengal – a bustling thriving city, and the Lutheran parish is made up of about 25,000 people.
I visited just one of their churches in the parish, St. Matthew’s in the suburb of Brodipet. There were – I’m guessing… I don’t know – somewhere between 4 and 5,000 worshippers there. It was a day of great celebration because we were laying the foundation stone of a 10,000-seat cathedral, to be built over the next two-and-a-half years. The service on the Sunday started at 9 am and it finished around 1 pm with the unveiling of the foundation stone which, amongst several other names, has my name chiselled in gold letters in the granite.
So when some young person looks at the stone in a hundred years’ time when I’m long gone, they’ll wonder: “Who is this guy with a funny name, Sri Berni Dymet, from Australia, and what was he doing there”?
I had the chance to meet the architect of the cathedral and he showed me the plans. I tell you, what an amazing structure! Huge as you can imagine, if it’s going to seat 10,000 worshippers at one time. When the crowds had disappeared early in the evening, they asked me to come back out into this wide-open space, to share the Word of God with some of the young workers who’d been toiling away for the last thirty-six hours nonstop behind the scenes, making the whole event possible.
You see, they’d missed out on everything, so it was such a pleasure and an honour for me to open the Bible with them, and chat with them, and we talked about their lives and their futures – the plans that God has for them, and it struck me in that moment that here we were in this open field where a massive cathedral will one day stand, but … well, strictly-speaking an open field, because part of the cathedral was already in place. The construction had already commenced. It was of course the foundation stone which we’d laid.
One day, it’ll be part of the wall of the cathedral. There it was, already concreted in place, and over the next thirty months, this massive 10,000-seat building would be constructed around it, on top of it: Everything set out from the beginning, this foundation stone. The place of that stone would define this whole massive structure. Pretty amazing really.
So let me ask you this: Who or what is the foundation stone of your life? What pervading truth or reality defines your life, that one thing which is right at the centre, around which day by day as each brick of your thoughts and your actions and your reactions is laid down, to construct this thing which one day, you’ll be able to look back on and call your life? What’s your foundation stone, the rock on which you stand? Choose the wrong one, put it in the wrong place, point it in the wrong direction, and your life simply won’t be what it was meant to be.
See, way too many people get this wrong, and so they end up constructing for themselves lives that are less than what they could have been. Have a listen to this amazing piece of wisdom from the apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesian church almost two thousand years ago. He said (Ephesians 2:13-22):
But now, in Christ Jesus, you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He is our peace. In His flesh, He made both groups into one, and has broken down the dividing wall that is the hostility between us. He has abolished the Law with its commandments and ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God, in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So He came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, for through Him, both of us have access in the one Spirit to the Father. So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built up on the foundation of the apostles with Christ Himself as the Cornerstone. In Him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.
Pretty amazing. See, the central truth that Paul’s talking about here is the fact that Jesus died for you and me, to end the hostilities between God and us, brought about by our own rebellion. Through Jesus and His death on that cross, you and I can finally have peace.
Is there anything more sublime than peace? Is there any commodity more valuable than peace? And through that peace you and I, who were once far off from God, we’ve been drawn near into His very bosom, and so everything else flows from this. Christ, Paul writes, is the Cornerstone of the church, the stone from which everything else is set out. That’s what Paul’s saying here, and not only is He the Cornerstone or the foundation stone of the church, He’s meant to be the Cornerstone or the foundation stone of our lives, and it’s at this point that theory turns into practice.
It’s at this point that a simplistic distant intellectual belief in some supreme being totally fails you, because our life isn’t a theory; it’s not an idea; it’s as big and as tangible, and it’s even more magnificent than that 10,000-seat cathedral’s going to be, and it needs something more than a theory on which to rest. It needs a real, tangible, powerful, rock-solid foundation stone around which to be built, for without it, our lives go awry. They won’t end up being what we wanted them to be.
The person who accepts Christ, not as an idea but as the Cornerstone of their lives around which everything else is arranged and built, is the person who will be living the life that God intended them to live. This is the person who is on the road to the stunning life, the life of impact, the life of meaning, the life of intense sacrifice and satisfaction, that God means for them to live. So, might I ask you this, very quietly but very kindly and very directly: Are you that person, or not?
PUTTING FIRST THINGS FIRST
Deciding what to do next is probably one of the most difficult things to get right in life. The skill of prioritisation, it’s absolutely critical to anyone who’s going to achieve what they set out to achieve. I spent thirty years in business, working as a consultant with senior management in hundreds of businesses around the world, and I can tell you that effective leaders are the ones who know how to prioritise, and so often, the urgent tasks conflict with the important ones. You know the story. The phone keeps on ringing, but what you really need to do is to write this report … That’s in business.
The same is true in our home-life. The house needs cleaning, but our children want our attention. By the way, you just haven’t had much time for yourself to relax and recharge your batteries. It seems that for many of us, there are always more things to do than we have time for, and so we have to make trade-offs, and how we make those trade-offs, how we prioritise our time, is absolutely critical.
Actually, the children do need our undivided attention, and yes, the house actually does need to be cleaned, and yeah, each one of us needs to find some time for ourselves as well. The problem is, we tend not to think too much about how we prioritise, do we? We simply react to the one that’s screaming at us the loudest, or we do the one that we’d most like to do. And if we decide poorly like that, time after time after time, it’s not too hard to see how our lives start heading in the wrong direction.
Sometimes we have big decisions to make and sure; they can influence our lives greatly, but mostly, it’s the accumulation of the little choices that we make hundreds of times each week that shape the direction of our lives.
So you might ask yourself: ‘How do I begin to start getting my decision-process in order How do I start to make right decisions, so that the accumulation of all my tiny little decisions has me heading in the right direction, on the road towards that stunning life that Berni keeps talking about on the radio’?
Well, over the last little while, we’ve been chatting about believing in God and setting Jesus as the Cornerstone of our lives, and if you missed any of the messages in this series, I’ll tell you shortly how you can catch them up. The whole point is that if we trust God with our lives and have Christ as the foundation stone on which our lives are built, then we’re going to be building the sort of life that at the end of the day, we’ll be able to look back on with all the ups and downs that we’ve been through, and quietly breathe those words: ‘It was simply stunning’.
So today, we’re going to chat a bit about how we make that happen on a day-to-day basis; how we actually implement our faith; how we live it out; how we make Christ the foundation of our lives, and actually, Jesus told us exactly how to do that by quoting God’s Word out of the Old Testament in Matthew 2:34-40:
When the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked Jesus a question to test Him. He said, ‘Teacher, which commandment in the Law is the greatest?’
’You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment, and the second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and all the prophets.’
You see, the problem that the lawyer had was that the Old Testament books of the Law, under which they lived their lives, had some six hundred and thirteen commandments and prohibitions in them: Kind of a lot to remember, I think you’ll agree. So the lawyer’s saying: ‘Well, where do I start? What’s the most important thing I have to do? Jesus, can You sum up the whole Law in a nutshell for me?’ And right here, Jesus gives him the decision-making process for every decision that he’ll ever have to make in his life, and incidentally, for every decision that you and I will ever have to make in our lives too.
All too often we think love is just a noun: A thing that we receive or possess or give, and of course it is, but love is also a verb. It’s something that we do too, through what we say and how we behave. So just imagine for a moment when you’re faced with a decision to make, if you applied Jesus’ decision-making litmus test to it. Does this action demonstrate my love for God with all that I am, and does it demonstrate my love for other people? Those two of course being two sides of the one coin.
So, will I watch this movie? Well, does it honour God or doesn’t it? Will I walk into this bar? Does it demonstrate your love for God, or not? Will I send this E-mail? Well, does it really speak of your love for that difficult colleague, or not? Will I check out Facebook while my daughter’s telling me about her day at school, or will I give her my undivided attention?
Do you see how all of a sudden, the amazing words that Jesus spoke help us make those small decisions dozens of times each day in the right way? And as we accumulate more and more right decisions, we start living and more and more stunning life. It just follows like night after day. Now of course, there are always going to be trade-offs: A parent who spends all of their time playing with their child and no time cleaning and tidying up the house isn’t doing that child any favours, but what we need is a guiding light to help us to build the sort of life that God has planned for us.
Making decisions, large or small, is something we do dozens of times each day. Each decision we make is either going to contribute to or detract from the stunning life. Have you thought about that? Decision after decision after decision, you’re either going to be building a stunning life, or you’re going to be pulling it down. Now, are you going to get 100% of them correct? Course not! But the more decisions you make in God’s favour, the more God has someone He can work with; the more God will bless you and honour you; the more you’ll be able to look back on a life one day that was truly worth living – a life that was simply stunning.
Now if you’re anything like me, there are just a few areas in your life where you’re going to be struggling. We each have our Achilles heel, don’t we, that one thing that seems to beat us every time? For some it’s anger; for others, it’s gossiping; for others, it’s low self-esteem; for some it’s lust … It’s rather a long list, and I’m sure you know what your Achilles heel is. If you don’t, someone close to you will: A wife or a husband or a close friend …
In those particular areas of your life, you might find it useful to plan ahead. Remember: Good decisions, God-honouring decisions, are going to contribute to your stunning life; bad decisions will detract from your stunning life. That’s not to say that every God-honouring decision will bear fruit immediately. Often it brings persecution, but in the long run, mark these words: God-honouring decisions will bring the blessings of God down on your life, through the richness of the character that the Lord develops in you.
So, if you know that you have a weak spot, simply plan ahead. Know the situations where you so often stumble, the triggers that cause you to stumble and come up with pre-planned responsive strategies for dealing with them. Victory comes one battle at a time. In fact, without the battle, you can’t have the victory. No military commander would go into a battle without a well-thought-out, well-considered battle plan. Well, nor should you and I.
It’s amazing how when you pray it through and think it through, you can come up with a simple plan to make sure that when that decision-point comes, when there’s the choice say between gossiping or not, you’re ready with a pre-planned response that’ll swing things in the direction of honouring God, rather than falling to the temptation.
God develops our character one battle at a time, one decision at a time, and when that crunch-point comes, the trick is to be ready to love Him in word and indeed, rather than to dishonour Him.