What do you believe?
I'd like to talk to you today about knowing God...how can we really know him...and understand the truth about him?
Pretty broad question isn't it...refers to all things you know to be true.
Maybe better question is, "Where do your beliefs come from?"
- parents, teachers, newspapers, TV, friends, books, etc.
Welcome to the Information Age
Wide variety of sources of information-we live in the "Information Age". We have 24-7 access to all kind of books, articles, video, you name it to inform us about things.
When I was in grad school (first time!) the world-wide-web was just beginning to become popular. I remember thinking at the time what a cool resource it was. I was working in the lab at the time and the !! Watch Out!
web gave me access to vast databases of information. I could search data that was being dumped into the Human Genome Prjoect right from my little lab bench in Minnesota and plug into things mugh bigger that my little project. I knew that if I needed to know something and if I didn't have it right in front of me, somebody out there probably had the information and hopefully had made it available. It allowed me to gain knowledge about what I was working on faster, and, honestly, I fell in love. I love researching things, trying to understand them better, see things in different ways and this was like the best, most rapidly updated encyclopedia ever!
In just over 10 years, what was once a way for the research community to share data has exploded into this vast internet. The technologies that exist just for producing and accessing information are astounding. I know that if there is anything I want to know about, I can sit down at a computer an at least begin to learn about it.
There is a problem with this, however. There are no filters on the kind of information available to us.
Anyone, anywhere can publish whatever that want these days, and somtime we come across that information. We have to find ways to filter out the good from the bad and only pay attention to the good.
We have the same kind of problem when it comes to truly knowing God. There is all kinds of information offered to us. Whether it is the things we read or watch...or the things we are told by people around us, it can be confusing. There is a variety of explanations out there for who God is...whether he really exists at all...what Jesus actually did or said..a person could get lost examining all the different points of view offered. We have people around us having different experiences with church or church people....and those things affect their views of who God is.
It is a real problem....<common misbeliefs>
How do we determine what is true and reliable as we navigate the path toward an ever-closer relationship with God? I consider knowing God, following Jesus to be the most important things in my life, so I don't want to be thrown off track...and I want to make sure I'm giving good information to all you, so you don't get off track either, so it's important to know what's reliable.
Helps to begin with knowing that God wants us to know Him, so He has given us all we need to have good knowledge of Him. He's provides us with reliable info and gives us the ability to weed through everything if we take the time to seek Him out.
If there is any one things I have learned about understanding the truth of a situation; it is that you need to do you best to find a firsthand account of what really happened. We are often told and asked to believe things by a second or third-hand account. Your friend tells you something he heard from a friend...who heard it from his brother...who overheard his girlfirend talking on the phone.
The problem is that even a second-hand account is never as good as an initial witness. Things get left out, emotions and body language are misinterpreted and added to the story. If someone tells me something they heard from someone else, I've learned I really need to try to withhold judgment until I at least try to go back to the original sources to find out what happened.
When it comes to knowing the truth about Jesus, we need to do the same thing. People today have all kinds of opinions of Him, but can we somehow find firsthand, eyewitness accounts?
Look at what the apostle Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1:16:
We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. (2Pe 1:16)
Goes on in vv 17-18
They were there! They knew Jesus: They saw Him, touched Him, lived with Him for about three years with him, watching him, learning from Him and following Him. This letter was written shortly before Peter was put to death in about 67 AD. Jesus' death and resurrection happened around 33 AD, so Peter wrote these words only about 30 years later. There is actually very little ancient historical literature in existence today that was written during the lifetime of the people who witnessed the events recorded. This collection of letters we have in the Bible is an incredible gift to us. We have access to firsthand witnesses of Jesus that have been carefully preserved throughout the centuries.
Now we know that people today have their own firsthand encounters with God...when we accept Jesus as our savior and receive God's Holy Spirit and continue to grow in our faith, we develop a personal relationship with God and have real, life-changing encounters with Him. These are important and valid ways of sharing and understanding who Jesus is...and we want to continue having people share those personal testimonies...but there is something different about these accounts of people who were there when Jesus was on the earth. That is actually why this collection of writings makes up our Bible. The people who complied these books knew that even there there are ongoing encounters with God...and that people continue to talk about and write about those encounters, that there are also enough people telling lies to decieve people or who have misunderstood who God is, that we needed something set apart to keep as our foundation...the God-inspired words of those who knew Jesus best.
Keep it consistent
So, that is the first step to understanding the truth about Jesus...get eyewitness testimony...see what those who knew him best has to say about him.
But then as we continue to seek God, we are going to read books that are published today...and listen to the personal stories of people who know Him today. We do'nt want to be too quick to reject everything we hear, because we all have things to learn, but we want to be careful, too.
Something else Peter wrote in this book of 2 Peter struck me as important in understanding how to listen to reliable information about God.
In verse 19, he says, "And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts." (2Pe 1:19)
The prophets of the Old Testament told of the coming Messiah-or saviour...and their words were made more certain by the actually life of Jesus. The real events fo Jesus' life confirmed the words they said came from God.
The things we hear from people today can be confirmed by what we know about God from the Bible...if they are consistent with God's Word...if they point us back to the Jesus revealed to us from those firsthand accounts in the bible. It is important to check what we are told, and not just believe it so we don't end up going down the wrong path.
Reminds me of a favorite Bible passage: 1 Thes 5:21, "Test everything, hold onto the good."
Even as we examine our own personal experiences with God we have to ask ourselves, "Am I understanding this is a way that is consistent with what I already know to be true?"
We want to be inviting people here who are seeking to know the real truth about Jesus, and our goal is always to offer them reliable information that won't lead them astray.
Check their character
In our efforts to truly understand who God is, the last thing we'll need to remember is that there is really bad information out there and we need to know who to avoid listening to altogether.
in Chapt 2 of 2 Peter, the apostle writes: vv 1-3
"In their greed" these people will exploit us with stories they have made up. We want to be able to avoid this kind of teaching without even having to listen to it and try to determine whether it is consistent with the Bible. This can be determined by looking at the character of the person shaing the information. They are greedy and selfish. We need to ask, "Is this person trying to get something from me, or help me grow closer to God?" Are they exploiting me-playing with my emotions, or getting me to respond through guilt? Do they treat me and others with Godly respect? Do they humble themselves before God?
I have honestly listened to the teaching of people who seem to be giving good and reliable information, but they misuse the bible...or they have a negative attitude toward other people, and I've had to realize that I can't trust what they are going to say....they are going to be motivated by selfish desires.
We need to be listening to people who have a desire for us to know the truth about God, and draw closer to Him on our own, rather than in getting something from us for themselves.
So, there is a bit of work involved in sifting through all the inforrmation we have presented to us about God. But it is worth the effort to truly know Him...and the life He offers us is full of His goodness and live and wisdom. This is a life worth seeking and pursuing with all the resources God has given us. God want us to know Him and has given us all we need to know the truth about Him and His precious Son, Jesus. He has given us His Word...inspired by His divine direction, and preserved through His Spirit so that we may have access to those who know God best and who walked the earth with Jesus.
He has given us His Spirit for discerning the character of those who offer their own beliefs about God, and He has given us one another....the church...to seek and share and struggle together to know the truth about God.
As we seek to know Him...He makes himself know....and as it is will all things we believe...when we have done the work of learning about Him...we must take the final step...to take a step of faith...and choose to believe.