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The gospel according to Starbucks

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: 2 Chronicles 7:11-16

Starbucks is clearly America’s favorite coffee shop, with some $8 billion in sales last year. Since I don’t drink coffee, I have never bought their product. And so I was interested to learn that Starbucks prints quotes from customers on their cups. Some are quite interesting, or even inspiring.

But one cup and quote is not so uplifting. It was given to me last Sunday morning after church: “Why in moments of crisis do we ask God for strength and help? As cognitive beings, why would we ask something that may well be a figment of our imaginations for guidance? Why not search inside ourselves for the power to overcome? After all, we are strong enough to cause most of the catastrophes we need to endure.” The quote is signed by Bill Scheel of Ontario, a self-described “modern day nobody.”

I have an answer for Mr. Scheel, and for anyone who is wondering how you can experience God today. We have learned that God Almighty is awesome, to be feared and revered; and that he is intimately interested in each of us. We have discovered that he is both love and judge. Now we learn that he responds to our faith, and yet he is unchanging. In everything he does he is awesome, intimate, love, and judge. He never changes. But the ways he acts can change, depending on us.

Let me show you why that theological fact is true, and why it is so crucial to living a life God can bless today.

Why does God bless his people?

God called Solomon to build his temple, a place where the Lord would always meet with his people, receive their sacrifices, and hear their prayers. But Solomon was the son of David’s adulterous liaison with Bathsheba. A man who had won no battles and had yet to accomplish anything of significance. How would such an untested leader accomplish the greatest and most significant building project in Israel’s history?

When we trust God, he responds to our faith with his grace.

The king had accumulated 100,000 talents of gold (3,750 tons) and a million talents of silver (37,500 tons; 1 Chronicles 21:14). I ran the numbers recently: that’s a total of $60,504,000,000. Solomon would inherit a net worth 25% greater than Bill Gates’. And that doesn’t count the “quantities of bronze and iron too great to be weighed, and wood and stone” (v. 14). With this disclaimer: “And you may add to them.”

Who would utilize all these riches? His father had enlisted tradesmen in every kind of work (vs. 14-15). Who would help him organize this massive effort? David had enlisted “all the leaders of Israel to help his son Solomon” (v. 17).

So it was that a man who had never won a battle, never built a kingdom, never built anything that we know of, was called to build the most important structure in human history. And succeeded. When we respond to God, he responds to us.

Now David’s son has finished his task. It would seem that he has achieved success for the ages. But success in his eyes or that of his people is immaterial. God is clear: only “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways” (2 Chronicles 7:14a) will he bless this Temple.

“Humble ourselves” means to admit that we need his help and hope and direction, that we cannot accomplish his purpose in our plans and power. So we submit ourselves to his plan, his will, his glory. It’s not about us–it’s all and only about him.

So we “pray” as we turn to his power and purposes, not our own. When we pray we “seek my face” with honest, heart-felt, intentional, intense, soul-giving prayers. We seek a personal, daily, intimate relationship with him.

When we do, we must “turn from our wicked ways.” The closer we draw to him, the more our sins are exposed by his light. You see the dirt on your hands not in the dark but in the light.

Only then will he “hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (v. 14b)–the purpose of this Temple.

Only then will his eyes be open and his ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place–the purpose of this Temple. Only then will he use the efforts of men for the eternal glory of God. Only then.

When we respond to God, he responds to us. When we pray, he answers; if we don’t, he doesn’t. When we seek his face we find him; if we don’t, we don’t. When we respond to God in faith, he responds to us in favor. When we don’t, he can’t. This is just how it is with the God who responds to the people he has made.

Does God change his mind?

Have you ever wondered about the times when Scripture indicates that God “changed his mind”? There are numerous biblical references which seem to indicate that God did this. Remember Abraham’s intercession for Sodom and Gomorrah–if ten righteous people had been found, God would have changed his plan to destroy the city (Genesis 18-19).

Other examples are even clearer:

When Moses prayed for the nation as they worshiped the golden calf, “the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people” (Exodus 32:14).

God told the prophet Jeremiah, “At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it” (Jeremiah 18:8).

When God showed Amos the destruction he planned for the sinful nation, Amos prayed for his mercy. Then “the Lord relented concerning this; ‘It shall not be,’ said the Lord” (Amos 7:3).

After Jonah preached to Nineveh, “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it” (Jonah 3:10).

And yet the Bible teaches that God is “immutable”–that he does not change. Hebrews 13:8 states that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” James 1:17 says that with God “there is no variation or shadow of change.” In Malachi 3:6 God says, “I the Lord do not change.”

If God does not change, how can he change his mind? The fact is that he doesn’t, at least not in the way we think. What happens is that God alters his plans when our actions warrant such a change. He would have brought judgment against Nineveh except that they repented of their sins. He would have destroyed Israel except that Moses and Amos prayed for the nation. Seen in human terms, he “changed his mind.” But not in the sense that a human persuaded him to do a right thing he would not otherwise have done.

We all deserve to spend eternity in hell, for we have all sinned and come short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). But God alters his response to our sin when we repent and trust in Christ. He does not change his character, but his action. For such grace we should be exceedingly grateful.

Can God bless your life?

So it was at the Temple: if the people would live in confession and repentance, God would respond with blessing and grace. If they would not, he could not. God is always both awesome and intimate, loving and judge. We choose which side of God’s eternal character we will experience today. So, are you living a life God can bless? How can you know? Let’s apply Solomon’s example.

First, have you decided to yield every part of your life to your Lord? Solomon dedicated his Kingdom and his fortune, his people and their work to this project. He could have reserved it all for himself, but he didn’t. He could have spent it all to build an even greater palace, an even stronger army, an even more glorious nation, but he didn’t. He chose to yield it all to God.

Have you done that? God can bless only what he can use. He can lead only those who will follow. Do you begin the day by surrendering it to the Lordship of Jesus Christ? Have you decided to use your life to honor his Kingdom? When last did you make this surrender?

Second, have you humbled yourself before this God in prayer? Self-sufficiency is the enemy of spiritual power. If Satan cannot get us to do sin, he’ll settle for getting us to serve God in our strength. He knows that we cannot convict of sin or save souls, that only what God does matters. When last did you ask God to transform lives through you?

Third, have you sought his presence in confession? To seek his “face” is to seek his intimate presence. The closer we get to God, the more clearly we see ourselves. And when we do, we must confess what we find there. When last were you so close to God that you were sorry for all he saw in your life and heart?

Last, have you asked him to use your life for his greatest purpose and global glory? God intends to “heal our land” through us. Do we need to be healed?

According to the FBI’s “Crime Clock,” a violent crime occurs in America every 19 seconds. A property crime occurs every three seconds; a murder every 29 minutes; a burglary every 13 seconds; a larceny every four seconds; a motor vehicle theft every 23 seconds.

30,000 Americans commit suicide every year. 1.3 million abortions are performed annually in our country. Some 16 million Americans use illegal drugs; pornography is a $10 billion annual business in our nation. Do we need for God to “heal our land”?

What is the answer? The better question is, Who is the answer? You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. You are the presence of Christ in our nation, his hands and feet. You are the world’s only hope. God wants to use your life for eternal significance, but he can do that only if you are surrendered to him, humbled in prayer, close to God in contrition, asking him to use you. Then he will, guaranteed.

In The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis makes this assertion: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.” Which is true for you?

Conclusion

God is waiting for you to choose the “gospel according to Starbucks” or the gospel according to Jesus. He has a plan to prosper you and not harm you, to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). But the awesome, intimate, loving Judge of the universe has given us freedom, and will honor it. If we will live a life he can bless, he will bless our lives. If we won’t, he can’t.

On Thursday our Men’s Bible Study heard Afshin Ziafat, our Thee Camp speaker the last two years. His is a remarkable story. His family fled Iran when the Shah fell in 1979. His father is a doctor and the head of the Islamic Medical Association in Houston. Afshin came to Christ in high school, and was promptly disowned by his dad. He had to choose between his earthly father and his heavenly Father, and chose to follow his Lord.

How has God responded to such obedience? Afshin started seminary with four dollars in his pocket, but God provided the support he needed and then called him to the staff of one of our area’s largest churches. He led him into a preaching and evangelistic ministry which crosses the nation. He called him to partner with ministries which are shipping Bibles into Iran and training Christian pastors in Muslim lands.

Afshin will be in Turkey next month and India the month after. God is using this former Muslim to share the grace of Jesus with the entire world. Not bad for a kid who didn’t know how he would eat or what he would do with himself.

What is God waiting to do with you?