I recently read a book Entitled “With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God” by Skye Jethani. It challenged the way we think of, and relate to God. I hope you will listen to my story as an illustration of the concepts developed in this book.
BELIEVED IN GOD—I grew up going to church and believing in God. My dad and mom sent me to a private Christian school until I was in the 5th Grade when we moved from Indianapolis to a cabin in the beautiful hills Brown County.
“You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror” (James 2:19).
LOVED GOING TO CHURCH—I loved going to church. I would even play church when I was very young. Since my pastor wore a robe, my grandma made me a robe to wear when I conducted church services for my family. I can still remember my grandma, aunts, uncle, cousins along with Dad, Mom and my sister patiently listening to me lead them in singing hymns and then enduring my “sermon!”
When we moved to Brown County my Dad and Mom joined with several other families to begin a church in Nashville. Each Sunday I would stand and proclaim, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord…” I meant every word.
A BIG PROBLEM—There was only one problem: I didn’t have a relationship with the Lord. I knew all about Him…I could recite many Bible stories, repeat all 10 of the 10 Commandments, knew the Lord’s Prayer, the Nicene Creed, and the Aaronic Blessing…but I didn’t know Him—I mean really KNOW Him.
“that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).
KNEW ABOUT GOD—I knew God like I know Andrew Luck. I know all about him…I’m even a big fan, but I’ve never met him personally. So it was with my relationship with God. Because I had this superficial knowledge of God I thought I was okay. In fact, I thought that if you believe God exists and try to be a good person, you were assured of going to heaven when you died.
ARGUED I WAS OKAY—My high school girlfriend went to Purdue as I went to Indiana University. She got involved in Campus Crusade for Christ and began a relationship with God when she placed her trust in Jesus Christ. When we met at Christmas break she tried to explain to me what had happened in her life. I passed it off arguing with her that I was okay because I also believed in God. The truth was, she made me uncomfortable as she talked about her relationship with God, and because I felt threatened, I tried to distract her with confusing arguments trying to prove to her (and more importantly to me) that I was a Christian.
Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:3).
CHURCH ATTENDANCE WAS CHRISTIANITY TO ME—As Donna and I were married in 1974 we attended her evangelical church each Sunday. The culture of her church was very unfamiliar to me. The preacher often yelled at the congregation, accusing them of all kinds of sins. Most of the sins he mentioned I didn’t recognize since they weren’t listed in the 10 Commandments I had memorized.
“he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).
A PROVIDENTIAL BREAKFAST—One morning I was having breakfast with another businessman by the name of Pete John (actual given name Peter Paul John.) He was telling me how I could have a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. I was troubled as to why he didn’t think I was a Christian. Listening to him brought back memories from my previous girlfriend when she came back from Purdue. He wasn’t being judgmental. He simply talked to me as if he understood something I didn’t.
During the breakfast he shared many Bible verses, each time having me turn in the Bible to the passage he was explaining. I was using all my skills as a salesman trying to “sell” him that I was a Christian. After all, I was an American and believed in God. Didn’t that make me a Christian? No matter how well I tried to make my case I could tell that he wasn’t buying it.
“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).
A MOMENT OF SURRENDER—As I continued talking with Pete that morning I had the thought, “What if he knows something I don’t? What if he’s right?” When we finished our breakfast Bible study Pete asked me, “If you would like to pray and ask Jesus into your life, you could do that right now?” In a moment of surrender I prayed, “God, I don’t know why I’m even arguing with Pete. I do believe you died for me and rose from the dead to take away my sin. I ask you to forgive me sins, come into my life, and take control.”
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
THE BIBLE CAME ALIVE—The moment I trusted in Christ it was as if scales fell from my eyes. The Bible came alive to me. I couldn’t read it or study it enough.
“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
INTENTIONAL DISCIPLESHIP—Over the next several years I was discipled by men of God who knew how to teach me to obey the deep truths of the Lord. As I applied God’s word to my life, my marriage, my parenting and my business, God poured out His blessings on me. This is when I truly began to grow in my faith.
“Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you” (Matthew 28:20a).
A TEST OF MY FAITH—Most of you know my story of how God tested my faith when my wife, Donna, was killed. Through this horrific time God taught me by experience about His continual presence, His comfort, His strength, His peace, His grace, and His love. He confirmed my faith
“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10).
A CALL TO MINISTRY—As I recovered from the pain of Donna’s loss, the Lord led me to vocational ministry. This meant I had to leave the business world and prepare myself to be a pastor. I had a huge vision including big goals and plans for all I would accomplish for God.
“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11–12).
LIFE FOR GOD—One of my heroes of the faith was William Carey (1761-1834) because he had been quoted as saying, “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.” This resonated as I was certain I was going to do great things for God. I imagined growing my church to huge proportions with thousands and thousands of worshippers each week. I felt my value was directly related to how much I did FOR God. No matter what I accomplished I always felt defeated. There were always others who were doing more for God. I lived with this constant feeling of failure as it related to my ministry.
“Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8a).
A LIFE-CHANGING ENCOUNTER—One day I was preparing to teach on Song of Solomon and thought that rereading it would be helpful. I was doing this very much like an academic exercise so that I could teach on this book more effectively. I was sitting in a fast-food restaurant having breakfast as I read these words,
“You have ravished my heart, My sister, my spouse; You have ravished my heart With one look of your eyes, With one link of your necklace” (Song of Solomon 4:9).
As I read this the Lord spoke to the quietness of my heart through the Holy Spirit and said,
“Did you know you ravish my heart, Gary?”
I instantly responded, “O yes, Lord, I know how your bride (the church) ravishes your heart.”
“No Gary,” the Lord continued, “You ravish my heart!”
I knew how Kathy ravished my heart so this thought was inconceivable to me. I prayed, “Father, how can this be? I’m so broken, unworthy, frail, and so undesirable. How can I possibly ravish your heart?”
“This is how much I love you!!”
I sat in that restaurant with tears streaming down my face. I later smiled wondering what people thought. They didn’t understand that at that moment I was having an encounter with the Creator God of the Universe who was expressing His faithful, undeserved, limitless love for me.
A CHANGE IN MY LIFE—This encounter changed me forever. I stopped studying the Bible to know the Bible and began to study the Bible to know the Author! And this makes all the difference in the world.
“that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings” (Philippians 3:10a).
“When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:4).
Jesus said in His prayer to His Father,
“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
Jesus defined “eternal life” not as going to heaven when you die, but as a present tense relationship with the Father through Him.
LIFE WITH GOD—Skye Jethani proposes that there are several ways people relate to God. They can see the Christian life as Life UNDER God, Life OVER God, Life FROM God, or even Life FOR God.
He writes, “LIFE UNDER GOD sees the world as governed by the capricious will of God. LIFE OVER GOD places immutable natural laws at the center. LIFE FROM GOD assumes the world orbits around the self and its desires. And LIFE FOR GOD sees a divine mission at the core of all things. To begin we must understand how the LIFE WITH GOD posture differs from the other four. LIFE UNDER, OVER, FROM, and FOR GOD each seeks to use God to achieve some other goal. God is seen as a means to an end. But LIFE WITH GOD is different because its goal is not to use God, its goal is God. In other words, God would cease to be how we acquire our treasure, and he would become our treasure.” *
How are you relating to God? Have you really come to know God? I don’t mean do you know about Him. I don’t mean have you prayed a prayer to get your ticket to heaven. I mean, DO YOU KNOW HIM?
If you’re not sure what I mean, please let me know. It would be my great joy to help you learn HOW TO REALLY KNOW GOD.
Onward WITH God,