Helping you grow closer to God
Download the Chip Ingram App
What Now? What Next? Resources on sale now.
About this series
What Now? What Next?
Making Disciples in a Disrupted World
In the day-to-day reality of increasing upheaval and discord, how are Christians to think and behave? How do we anchor our conversations and attitudes when everything in us wants to either retreat or lash out in anger? In this new series, Chip provides a biblical path to allowing Christ to reign in us and work through us no matter what's going on.More from this series
Let me give you a handful of things of how God, brings about good in disruptions and challenge and tribulation. You’ll notice on your notes, if you have a pen, go ahead and pull it out, because I have left you a blank so you can do a little bit of work. But let me give you four very specific things that God does, especially during challenging times, that often they don’t feel so good, but they are really, really wonderful.
The first thing He does is that He exposes idols. Jeremiah 9:23 and 24 says, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Let not a wise man boast in his wisdom, let not a rich man boast in his riches, and let not a mighty man boast in his might, but let him who boasts boast in this: that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord God who exercises justice and lovingkindness and righteousness in all the earth, for I delight in these things.’”
The second positive thing that happens in very challenging times is He tests our faith. 1 Peter 4:12 and 13, he says, “Why are you surprised?” Peter is writing during a time of Nero. It is just, they are being marched into colosseums and being burned. And he would write and say, “Why are you surprised at the fiery trial that you are going through as though something strange were happening?”
And then he says to them, “God is testing your faith, He is refining your faith, He is helping you discover who He is in the midst of your need, like never before, so that you suffer now, but there is great, great glory and reward that follows.”
The third very positive thing that happens is He develops our character. I would love to say, and you would love to say that we just, we dig into God’s Word, we pray at a fresh level, we are super disciplined, we are really on pace, but the easier life is, the lazier most of us get.
In Romans 5, he talks about, we have been justified and we have peace with God and so, we exalt or rejoice in this grace. “We also exalt in our tribulation, knowing our tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope doesn’t disappoint because the love of God is poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”
This last year, a lot of rough edges in all of us, a new level of dependence, an awareness of what matters and what doesn’t matter, of temporal stuff that used to overwhelm us and now an eternal perspective.
A lot of us have looked at our priorities and what are we doing with our life and have really stepped back and said, “My, I have got to do what matters most.” And in the midst of the hurt and the prayers and the struggles, you have drawn near to God, and He has drawn near to you, and He has made you more like Jesus. And that’s God’s big agenda.
The fourth good thing that happens is in the mist of these really, really challenging times, God searches for difference-makers. I’m going to ask you to open your Bibles to a little bit obscure passage. It’s Ezekiel 22. Anybody reading in Ezekiel lately? I didn’t think so. By the way, me neither.
Ezekiel chapter 22. Once you get to Isaiah, keep going right. And the historical parallels are quite similar. God’s people have not been very obedient, they have been exiled, and God, again, I want you to hear His mercy, His love, His compassion. He is always longing to restore. He delights to show mercy. He wants to forgive. He wants to help people no matter what we have done.
And what I would tell you is that in these times, God searches for difference-makers. Look at verse 30. In the midst of all of this, the Lord speaks.
“I searched for a man,” and mankind, a person, a woman, a student, “I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it,” that was His hope. That was His desire.
And the next three or four words to me are, if not the saddest, among the most sad in all of Scripture. Look down at your actual Bible or in your phone, whatever you are reading, what does it say? “I searched for a man among them to build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, but I found no one.”
The result, verse 31, “‘Thus I have poured out my indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath;” notice, “their way I have brought upon their heads,’ declares the Lord God.”
There comes a point when no one stands in the gap, when there’s not a Moses to say, “Lord, no, no, no!” When there’s not someone to stand up and say, “I know it’s unpopular, but this is really wrong, and this is really right.” And right now, God is looking for people in America and around the world to build up the wall of righteousness and truth and love and holiness and to literally stand in the gap.
And God says, “If you don’t…” this is sort of the Old Testament version of Romans chapter 1. See, God has a passive wrath. He’s holy and He is just and there are times where people say, “I’ll do my thing, I’ll do my thing, I’ll do my thing, I’ll do my thing,” and He’ll say, “Okay.”
You want to just decide that life is not very important, and you want to sort of glamorize violence? Go ahead. Feed your minds on it, have your games play it, then don’t be surprised when people randomly kill one another and shoot one another and you have anarchy. You don’t think the family is really important? Only twenty, twenty-three percent of all the families in America have a mother and a father and children of the same biology. Nuclear family. You don’t believe in the family? Okay. Do it your way. You don’t believe what I have told you about being wise, of being generous with the first portion to honor Me, of saving? And you’ve got thirty trillion dollars of debt, okay. I have made a design, biologically, for a man and a woman to come together and you want to do your own view of gender and sexuality? The heartache, the pain.
And in the midst of that, there is you and there is me. And the eyes of the Lord are going, literally, all over the world right now and He is looking for a man or a woman or a student who would build up the wall and stand in the gap.
And the way it works, there’s not some big hero coming, okay? It’s us. He always chooses, I mean, you go through all through Scripture, it’s just some little, ordinary, regular, not-all-that-intelligent person who has faith and courage and says, “Lord, here am I,” Gideon. “Here am I,” Esther. “Here am I,” Moses, “you know, I can’t speak very well.” Almost everyone God uses are, “I’m just a fisherman,” “I’m a corrupt tax collector,” “I’m a revolutionary.” And all through history it’s the same.
God is calling us to be difference-makers who stand in the gap, and we do it by making our focus, notice, on Christ not causes; making our response healing, not hostility; making our priority relationships, not real estate or programs; making our attitude innovation, not indignation; making our passion substance and not success. Let me tell you what I mean by that.
The challenge, as you see in your notes, is that Christianity has suffered deeply by adopting the world’s passion and perspective of success.
I don’t have time to go there, but I put the passage. It’s Luke chapter 16, verses 10 to 15. And Jesus is being attacked and as He is being attacked, He tells them a parable. And He tells them the parable, it’s called the unrighteous steward.
And it’s basically the story of a guy who is corrupt, so he gets fired and he thinks, You know what? I’m too proud to beg and I’m too weak to dig. I know what I’m going to do, and…
He calls in all the debts and he changes all the invoices so that he gets favor so that when he gets fired, he’s got a lot of friends. Now, Jesus doesn’t say what he did was right, but He says, “His perspective was shrewd.” In other words, what he knew was, “I’m going to do something right now that is going to set me up for the future.”
And when Jesus finishes that in verse 9, He says, “Now, you, in your temporal life, do what is important to set yourself up so you’ll be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
And then He talks about money and greed and success. And He says, “If you are faithful in a little thing,” speaking about money, materialism, “you’ll be faithful in much. If you are unrighteous in the little things, you will be unrighteous in much.” And it says that the Pharisees sneered at Him, because they loved money.
And He said, “You can’t love two masters.” Money, fame, success, and Jesus. And then verse 15, it’s a verse I memorized as I was struggling, as I think we all do on occasion, I really struggled with pleasing people and outward performance. And I memorized this verse in verse 15. “And Jesus said to those religious leaders,” He, you know, kind of people like us, He says, “That which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.”
The thing that everybody clamors for, the thing that people position for, that, “What do people think?” How many likes? How many followers? How many this? How many that? Where is my zip code? What do I drive? How am I dressed? All the rest, all those things, when done to impress people out there, He says, “The things that we want to impress everybody out there, if our priorities aren’t first and foremost on Him, He says it’s detestable in the sight of God.
And I want to suggest that, unfortunately, we have focused on success instead of substance. The gospel has been perverted. I gave you the passage; it’s not new. Paul would write to Timothy, he says, “There are actually people that think the gospel is a way to get rich!” Now, none of us have ever seen any of that, have we?
The fact of the matter is the gospel has been perverted to a self-help means to financial prosperity, personal success, self-actualization, and its goal is happiness. Except that’s not the gospel.
In like manner, because of that, I think shepherds have betrayed their calling. I gave you a passage in Ezekiel 34; it’s not new. Where shepherds fleece people and tell them things and the people who get rich and the people whose lives are – it’s the shepherds or the pastors. It happened in Israel; it’s happening today.
And third and foremost, there’s a famine in the land because of it. God’s people today don’t know His Word, they don’t know the historical doctrines, they don’t know His promises, they don’t know His purposes.
And in general, with wonderful and excellent exceptions, I’m not down on everyone. Don’t hear that. But in general, if eight point five to nine out of every ten Christians lives don’t reflect Jesus, there’s a problem in the pulpits around America and around the world.
“Never have so many,” wrote one observer of Christianity today, “never have so many professed to know Jesus as there is today in the world whose lives so little reflect Him.” Scandals among evangelical celebrities, both during their lifetime and after. It is so sad.
Catholic priests and sex scandals and cover-ups, financial corruption here, especially in Asia as well. There’s mega-everything, mega-everything except mega holiness and mega love. And the state of the Church, I think, it breaks Jesus’ heart. He died for His Church. But we have championed on success.
Pastors have drunk the wine of bigger, better buildings, money, fame. And so, we have told people the same thing. So, pretty soon, it seeps into the minds and the hearts of believers. And so, you’re successful.
And ask yourself, as you have raised your children, has been the goal that they become successful? Has your focus been on how well, what school they get into, and how well educated or how much they know the Scriptures? Has it been: did they make the traveling team and are they great at sports? And, gosh, if you have to choose between that and church, well, we will catch that later.
I have had so many conversations, not just in recent days, but in probably the last five or ten years, but I had one over here in Peet’s just probably two, three weeks ago. A super, super successful person in the medical field. Worked with all the professional teams, has a reputation, absolutely impeccable.
Came to the conclusion about two and a half, three years ago that he was on the success ladder and, yes, he came to church; yes, he dropped his kids off in the youth group. And I remember as we talked, we became friends and I introduced him to the Bible. You understand that, I mean, the percentage of Christians in America that read the Bible is super slim. The American Bible Society has done a, has researched, if a person is not in the Scriptures regularly, at least four days a week, it makes no difference in their life.
We live in a world where people don’t know the Bible, they don’t know what is right, they don’t know what is wrong, they haven’t taught their children. Some of those old school ways of people actually eating a meal together, opening the Scriptures, having a deep conversation, talking about news events and what does the Scripture say and what is a worldview? And teaching your kids a theology – those things aren’t happening.
Instead it has been, you know what? You know, we’ve got to spend extra money and we will get you two tutors so your SAT and ACT scores so you get in this school and this school and this school.
He is as successful as he could be, and I’ll never forget, he said something over at Peet’s, he said, “You know, there is an absolute world of difference between a church-going Christian and a Word-centered Christian.” And he kind of, he was quite the athlete in college, and so, when I told him basically, “This is our playbook, dude.” We both played college sports and I said, “If you want to get to know God, you can’t get all pre-digested food and listen to me or anybody else once or so a week. You’ve got to renew your mind.”
And he, I’m not sure he has missed a day in the last two or three years. And then pretty soon, he’s reading. And then now, he just, he’s, you know that ten, fifteen, eighteen, nineteen years of the success and providing money and finances for the success of his kids. Now he’s shocked or disillusioned to find his kids don’t believe what he believes. Their morality has abandoned Christian morality. And I’ve got news, his story is one that I have heard over and over and over and over.
You have to stand in the gap. Notice the repetition of this that has happened. The famine in our land is not a famine of food, although that is a significant one in many parts of the world. Hosea chapter 4, verses 6 and 7, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” The context is the lack of knowledge of: Who is God? “Since you have rejected knowledge,” He says, “I will also reject you from being My priest; since you have forgotten” – what? “the law of God, I will also forget your children. The more they multiply, the more they sinned against Me; I will change their glory into shame.” And isn’t it interesting to see what has happened?
Now, just before, I do believe that the good news can’t be fully embraced or understood until you get the bad news. And some of you are thinking, Buddy, you better get to the good news pretty soon, because if I could walk out, I would right now.
But I’m just telling you, if you don’t face reality, we can put our head in the sand, we can get behind our gated communities, we are among the wealthiest in all the world, we can figure out a way that maybe things will work out a little bit better for us than most people.
If you’re going to make a difference, don’t you think the Spirit of God would be coming and tapping people on the shoulder that have unprecedented wisdom and opportunity and influence and affluence, not to make us more comfortable, but to make us difference-makers who stand in the gap, who build up the wall, who say, “Not on my watch,” or say, “You know what? Lord, I’m sorry. I’m one of them. It happened so subtly. We were like the proverbial frogs in the pot that you heat up gradually. It happened so subtly.
Here’s what I want to tell you, there’s a revolution that is always available, but the revolution always begins, every great movement of God always involves a return, a discovery, and a passion for God’s Word.
When there’s a man, when there’s a woman, when there’s a student, when it’s in a Bible study, when it’s in a church, and it’s the church, I mean, a passion for God’s Word. I don’t mean I ought, I should, a chapter a day keeps the devil away. I mean a passion that says, “This is truth. Man doesn’t live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” It’s powerful! “It’s sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing the division of soul and spirt and joint and marrow, able to judge the thoughts and intentions of our heart.” It’s the kind of passion that Solomon would talk about in Proverbs 2.
It says, “If you search for it,” wisdom and knowledge, “as for silver and like for hidden treasure, then you’ll discover the knowledge of God.” Then you’ll know what He’s like. And when you know what He’s like and you encounter Him, He changes you. And there’s a change of reaction. Christianity, fundamentally, is not about our morality. It’s about being in the presence of God.
The entire narrative from the Garden into the city in Revelation, is the presence of God. Here’s His presence. Because of sin, we are removed from His presence.
He wants to bring His presence, so there’s a tabernacle, and – what? He gives His Word. And then there’s a temple so there’s a place where God can come down on earth and His presence. And finally, His presence manifested inside of – fully God, fully man – bridging the gap between heaven and earth. And in the end, what’s the story? His presence comes down – a new heaven and a new earth.
The most important thing that can ever happen in our life is not some little legalism that I read three chapters or I had my devotions or I read Daily Bread or Jesus Calling. It’s knowing Him. It’s not the Word for the Word. It’s the apostle Paul saying, “More than that,” speaking about all his accolades and all his wealth and all his wisdom, he said, “More than that, I count everything as loss compared to the surpassing value of personally, experientially knowing Christ, for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and I count them dung,” or, “rubbish that I might gain Christ and be found in Him.” That’s the man, that’s the woman, that’s the student who will make a difference.
And it doesn’t have to be big. It’s just you in your world, me in my world, but it starts by coming back to His Word.
Sometimes, I don’t know, I got to talk to my dad shortly before he died and it was a not-good illness but he had one of those, you have heard about it a lot, like, he got super awake and super…
And we had probably our best talk. And people say the most significant things when they know they are going to die.
Jesus had a conversation with his Father before He was going to die. And He knew what was coming. And it’s in John 17 and He prayed for us, and He prayed that we would love one another and we would be one with one another and we would put away petty stuff. Republican, Democrat, mask, no-mask, meet, not-meet, inside, outside. Stop it. Jesus.
We want to be one with You the way You are with the Father, that You might be in us and we might be in You. And us, one to another, to show the world what it looks like. And then how? What did He pray? He said, “Father, set them apart. Make them holy. By Your truth, Your Word is truth.”
I’m going to tell you, really, really, really big problems: really, really low or no relationship with God’s Word. The higher the relationship with God’s Word, in most cases, the smaller the problems.