Welcome to the next level


   "Welcome to the next level." That’s what flashed on the screen of 1990s video games after mastering one level. The next level was always more challenging than the one before. Today God invites you to the next level, not of a video game but of the Christian life. This next level, however, isn't more challenging; it's less.

   Before we find out about the next level, it's helpful to look at the level most of us are on now. On this level, people question God; on this level, people second guess God right and left. You're on this level: if you're not content with the riches of God, if you believe that you should have more than you do, if you believe that God is not being fair, that He should give you a better job, greater blessings, more of His riches. You’re not ready for the next level.

   On the level most Christians live, not only is questioning God's riches a daily thing but so is questioning His wisdom. His unsearchable judgements are searched; efforts are made to map out His untraceable paths through the use of the never-ending ‘why’ question. Why did God do this, allow that, not do this, or do this that way? Although no man or woman has ever been God's counselor, although He has never turned to anyone for advice, on this level, people, I mean Christians, act like God needs them for a counselor!

   On the level most are, God's riches and wisdom are questioned, debated, and second-guessed, and so is His knowledge. Everybody thinks they know better than God does on this level. What God says in His Word doesn't settle things. "That's only God’s opinion." This level is arrogant and downright sinful. When we're on this level, we're on our high horse, we're on our soapbox, we're up the Tower of Babel. We're shaking our fist at God; we're lecturing Him, or if we're polite, we're slipping one arm over His shoulder saying, "Let me tell You how things should be." But no matter how polite we may be, when we're on this level, we're no different than the damned man of Lk. 16 screaming at Abraham that God's way of salvation was wrong.

   Yes, accusing, second-guessing, or questioning God, is straight out of hell itself. And no matter what your circumstances may be, no matter how long you've suffered, no matter how justified you may think your questions are, no matter how much people may support you're bitter, intellectual, or arrogant questioning of God, God's going to call you to judgement for it. Think not? Think again. If God called Job to account for questioning Him after he lost 10 children, all of his possessions, and his health, do you think He won't call you?

   But in the midst of affliction, pain, or grief you're probably not that afraid of being knocked off your high horse, of having your soapbox pulled away, of having your Tower of Babel destroyed. But aren't you tired of the misery, the anxiety, the agitation? Read Ecclesiastes. There you find the memoirs of a man who tried to know what God knows and to trace out His untraceable paths. And what did Solomon find? Only vanities of vanities, emptiness of emptiness. When we live on the level that feels it's right to question God, we are in effect our own god. And then everything becomes jumbled. Using a computer analogy, man does not have the capacity to run God's programs. Using a Biblical analogy, the riches, wisdom, and knowledge of God are so deep that man can’t even safely wade into them let alone get to the bottom of.

   Thank God for the sake of Christ we don't have to stay on this level.  Thank God He invites us to another level. But it's not like video games; you don't have to master one level to be welcomed to the next.  Simply and solely because of God's love, grace, and mercy for you in Christ, He welcomes you to the next level. Jesus played the game in your place, perfectly, but then paid the price for you to freely go to the next level in blood, sweat, and tears. His not yours. Christians on this new level give all glory to God forever. No matter what happens, no matter how bad things are, no matter how miserly the riches of God seem, no matter how foolish His wisdom feels, no matter how limited His knowledge appears, people on this level give all glory to God.

   I’m not urging you to do what Pentecostals do. They’ll give all glory and praise to God with cheerful voice because of the death of a loved one, because of the disease they have. But this is not how the woman who lost her son acted in Elisha's day. No she went to Elisha in grief for help. Neither is this how the NT church acted when Eutychus fell asleep during Paul's sermon and fell out of the window to his death.  They didn't thank God for his death; on, the contrary, they were alarmed, and Paul raised him to life. Nor did Christ stoically thank God because people died or were sick. No He wept for His friend Lazarus.

   Giving glory to God always isn’t the same as being happy, agreeing, or thankful. It’s recognizing that God is glorified by all that happens. He is to be praised for His riches, wisdom, and knowledge even if we can’t be happy at how His riches are distributed, agree with what His wisdom decides, or be thankful for His knowledge. David was on this level when he wrote, "My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother" (Ps. 131:1-2). This is the level another psalmist was on when he wrote, "As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, … so our eyes look to the Lord our God till He shows us His mercy" (Ps. 123:1-2). This is the level Job was on when he repented of questioning God, "Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3). 

   God doesn't want you on this level for His sake, but yours. God doesn't need you to give Him glory always, but He wants you to enjoy the pleasure and peace of this level. He wants you to pass your days on this earth like a weaned child passes his days on the lap of His mother. God wants you to have no more cares or worries than a slave does in the house of a gracious, merciful, master. God wants you to have the joy that the angels and the saints in heaven know. But where is the path to this level? The path is not up but down: down on your knees. Our text ends: "From God and through God and to God are all things." In one sentence, Paul maps out the path from grieving over God's actions to glorifying Him come what may.

   The first step toward the next level is to recognize that God is the source of all things. Literally out of Him come all things. It's not true what evolution teaches: that chemical reactions have brought about the creation we now see. It's not true, as certain philosophies would have us believe, that the universe is eternal. It's not true, as New Agers would have us believe, that power comes from inside of us. All things flow out of God. He is the only self-sustaining Being there is. Every thing that lives, everything that has power gets it from Him. Every form of energy be it a beating heart, a blazing sun, or a splitting atom, comes only from Him. 

   There is no renegade energy; there is nothing in the universe that does not depend on God for power be it aliens from a different solar system, terrorists from a different country, or devils from the depths of hell. There is only one power in the universe and He is your God and tender Father in Jesus. What father in this room does not want to use the power at his disposal to take good care of his children? How then could we ever believe, think or question whether, our loving, perfect heavenly Father would be any different?

   "From God are all things," that's the first stone the foot of faith steps on while going down to the next level. "Through God are all things," is the second. God is the medium of existence for all things.  He is not only the source of all power, but, as Paul says in Acts 17, "in Him we live, move, and have our being." Get it? Paul does not say in medicine, in physical fitness, in technology we live move and have our being. He says in God we do. None of those things are bad in and of themselves. God blesses His people through medicine, physical fitness and technology, but none of these things are what keeps us going. Therefore, none of these things should lead us to question or to second-guess the riches, wisdom, or knowledge of our God. God often leads us down paths that can’t be traced backwards or forwards to good medicine, sound physical fitness, or modern technology. But it's in Him we live, move and have our being, not in them. The paths He takes us down are leading us toward everlasting life. Though they may lead away from knowledge, wisdom, and tech here in time, they never lead away from eternal life.

   The first stepping stone for faith is "From God are all things." The second is "Through God are all things." The third is "To (literally into) God are all things." God has always been the goal. God's point in bringing you into existence was not to bring you into happiness, into peace, or even into love. God's goal was always to bring you into Himself. Therefore, things will happen that are contrary to your happiness, to your peace, and even to your feeling loved, but they are never contrary to God's goal to bring you into Himself.

   Lift up your eyes, lift them off of bank accounts, success stories, love stories, and peaceful easy feelings. Lift your eyes all the way to heaven itself, to the dwelling place of God, and see that this is where He means for you to be and will not be satisfied until you are there. This is what His only beloved Son sweat, and bled, and cried for. This is what He suffered hell for you to have. The paths He leads you to heaven on may be unsearchable and past finding out, but the place He’s leading you to is not. It's the place, according to the Ps. 84, where one day is better than a 1.000 here on earth. See that brings us to our knees and that’s the next level. Welcome. Amen. 

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (20230903); Romans 11:33-36