BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATERS
FEBRUARY 20, 1994
This past summer, I had the privilege of watching a large group of golfers play one of the most difficult golf holes I’d ever seen in my entire life. The tee-box was built out on the edge of a cliff. The object of this par-3 hole was for the golfers to hit from the tee-box across a vast expanse, a gulf, a chasm, of crashing surf, onto a green about the size of a postage stamp.
I sat there one afternoon, mesmerized, as I witnessed golfer after golfer after golfer, from all backgrounds, all racial and ethnic groups. They would putter up in their golf cart, walk to the tee-box, and they could tell it was a very difficult hole. They would pick up a few blades of grass, like they’ve seen, maybe, Greg Norman do, and see where the wind was blowing and what direction. Then they would rush back to their cart, look in their bag, and pick just the right club to meet the conditions. Then they would walk confidently up to the tee-box, place their ball on the tee, take a couple of practice swings.
And then: the moment of truth. Whoosh. In a brief nanosecond, as the ball would leave the tee-box and accelerate into the heavens, they would have a look of confidence, a look of assurance. Then the winds would catch the ball, the ball would seem to hang in the air, and about 95% of the shots would fall miserably short. Like a rocket descending from the heavens into the depths of the ocean, it would travel. You should see and watch their countenances change. Their shoulders would drop, they would say a couple of words I cannot utter from this stage, some would look at their clubs like, “It’s the club’s fault! I’m going to get a new set of clubs.” They would walk off, and they would tee another ball up, and whoosh. It would hang, it would do the same thing.
What was happening here? What was going on with this large group of golfers? They were doing something very common. They were overestimating their athletic ability, their golfing ability, the power of their swing. They were underestimating the distance, the expanse, between themselves and that green, that small postage-stamp-type green.
Golf, though, is not the only area where we overestimate ourselves. We overestimate ourselves in the business world. I hear people say, “My company is bullet-proof! It’s impossible for us to ever falter or to fail.” Then a couple months roll by and they file for chapter 11. Some overestimate themselves in the classroom. You know a test is occurring tomorrow and you think, “I don’t have to study! I know this stuff, no problem! I can nail it! I can ace it!” What happens, though, is that you take the test, and when the test is given back – “A 57? Come on, what happened?” You overestimated you intellect on that particular subject. Some people overestimate themselves in the political domain. A man or a woman runs for a particular office. They think, “I’ve got it. The campaign is going well.” Then the returns come in and they are literally slam-dunked at the polls. We have this natural tendency, don’t we, to overestimate ourselves.
I’ll come right out and say it today; I’ll be very, very clear. The biggest area that we overestimate ourselves has to be in the spiritual domain. Most people think they are competing on the PGA level concerning their spirituality, regarding their relationship with God. But if the truth were known, most are at the local putt-putt trying to get a little tiny ball through the windmill. Remember that one?
Today I want you to know beyond a shadow of any doubt, before you exit this place, where you stand in the eyes of God. Are you overestimating yourself, or maybe underestimating the distance between you and God? Where are you, where am I, in the eyes of God? “How do you know, Ed, where you are in the eyes of God?” you’re asking me. You have to take four steps. When you take these four steps, you will know. You will have assurance of where you are in the eyes of God.
The first step in knowing where you are in God’s agenda is: you’ve got to realize that God loves you, and He offers you a wonderful plan for your life that is abundant and eternal. I said a lot there; I’ll go back. First, the first step we have to take. God loves you, God loves me. We matter to God. We are loved by God more than we can comprehend, and He loves us so much, He has designed a plan, a purpose, for your life and for my life. In fact, if we could make up some sort of a plan for our lives, if I could say, “Okay, everyone take out a pen or a pencil and write out on your bulletin the ultimate plan for your life,” we could write up some pretty hot things, couldn’t we? “I’d like to make this amount of money, I’d like to have this and travel here, and this relationship would go well.” We could write out, selfishly, an incredible purpose for our lives. You could take that plan, that I would write out and you would write out, and compare it to the plan God has for you in heaven. God’s plan would blow yours out of the water. That’s how abundant, that’s how awesome, God’s plan is for you. He loves you and He wants you to discover His plan.
The plan is abundant. In fact, Jesus said in John 10:10, “I am come that you might have life, and that you might have it,” here’s the kicker, “more abundantly.” Not just a life better than most people, not just a decent life, not just a good day or a couple of good months. An abundant life. The word abundant is a beautiful word. It’s pronounced perisos in the Greek. The picture behind this term is of someone pouring a glass of water, and they get so excited when they’re pouring the water, it overflows onto your hands, and it gets your dress or your shirt cuff wet. That’s what abundance means. It’s more than we can handle. It’s a picture of the waves hitting upon the seashore over and over and over and over again. It’s a life full of meaning and purpose. That’s the abundant life. That’s the kind of life God intends for you, He intends for me, to live.
And the plan doesn’t stop here in this short stint. It keeps going in eternity. In fact, it never stops. God wants us to begin that plan here, and to continue that plan in a perfected environment in heaven. I always say heaven is not a place where we just sit back in a la-z-boy, drink Snapple, and channel-surf. It’s a place of ultimate enjoyment, ultimate fulfillment. In fact, next Sunday I’m beginning a message series entitled, “What in Heaven’s Going On?” We’re talking about angels and heavenly beings. I’ll stop right there and we’ll continue that thought next week. That’s kind of a teaser out there. But heaven is somewhere that’s eternal, and God wants you to live there.
Isn’t that great? God loves you and He offers you a great plan for your life. Why, then, why aren’t people experiencing this abundant life, this plan? Why aren’t they experiencing the peace that passes all understanding, a clear conscience, power and strength? Why? Well, I’ll tell you why. Guys, how many of you have ever been stood up on a date? Lift your hand. Come on, raise your hand. How many of you have been stood up? Here’s what happened. You saw someone, that girl. She caught your eye and you thought, “Whoa, wouldn’t that be incredible if I could ask her out? Man, that would be the ultimate.” So you get up enough nerve: “Uh, will you go out with me? Yes? Uh, okay. I’ll call you back and tell you all the details.” You call her back, and you have planned this great date. The ultimate date. The flowers, the music, the carriage ride. A great night. What happens a couple of hours before you’re going to pick this, what you call, “babe,” up? She phones you and she says, “Um, Bill, I can’t make it tonight because I have to wash my hair.” It feels terrible, doesn’t it? You think, “Oh, I had all of these plans, all of these wonderful things we were going to do, and you stood me up.”
In a real sense, we have stood God up. What a plan, what an eternal date, He has planned and He has purposed for your life and my life, but we’ve stood him up. We say, “God, I’m going to go my way. God, I’ve got to wash my hair. God, I’m going to try this path or this direction.” We take our little self-centered fingers and grasp the wheel, and we say, “I’m going my way.” That’s precisely the reason why most people are not experiencing God’s abundant plan. That’s precisely the reason most people don’t confidently know that if they were to die right now, they would go to heaven and spend it in eternity with Jesus.
It’s because, here’s the second step, man is a sinner and his sins have separated him from God and the plan, the agenda, that God offers. In other words, there is a Grand-Canyon-like chasm separating man from God. At the bottom of this chasm there are sin-infested, sin-troubled waters. Here’s what God’s word says about our sin, about man’s condition. Isaiah 59:2: “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sin hath hidden His face from you.” You see, we don’t have some Pinocchio-type existence with God controlling the strings. “Okay, Ed, now it’s time to preach a sermon. Now it’s time to pray. Now it’s time to read your Bible.” When God made us, He designed us in His image, and we have a freedom of choice. We can choose to love Him, we can choose to follow Him, or not. In fact, the Bible goes on to say in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned,” that’s not just most people, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” There’s a chasm, a Grand-Canyon-like gap – get this in your mind, now – that separates man from God.
No one taught you, or instructed me, in how to sin. In preschool and daycare programs across the country, there is not a little class that teachers teach you: “How to Sin in the Preschool Life.” “Well, here’s how you cheat, and here’s how you think impure thoughts. Here’s how you be selfish and steal toys from others.” It’s a natural thing. It’s inborn. We were born in rebellion from a holy God. We have God, He’s holy, and He cannot lower His standards, yet man is a sinner. Even a little itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny sin is abhorrent in the eyes of God. The Bible says there are ways that seem right to man, but they only lead to destruction.
Man’s smart, though. I mean, we are pretty ingenious, because we have devised certain methods over the ages, and we’ve thought these methods would somehow reach God, would somehow bridge the gap, would somehow take us over these troubled waters. I want you to meet one of them. The first one is named Good Works. Good Works? Let’s meet Good Works, let’s give him a round of applause. Good Works! Yes! Good Works – he is a man with a vertical jump. He’s trained with Michael Jordan over the past four months. You see, you thought Michael was training for baseball. He was, but really he was training this guy, Good Works, because I think if his vertical jump is powerful enough, if he can get enough air, surely, on his own merits, he can cross this Grand-Canyon-like gap. He says, “I’ve given to the United Way. I’m a good person. I really am. You know, I don’t cheat on my wife, I pay my taxes, I’m honest. Hey, I haven’t had a beer in about a month! Hey, I’m a good guy, here! I’m clean, you know? I’m good. I’m just a good guy.” Well, Mr. Good Works, let’s see how far you can jump. A lot of people think, “Good Works surely can take me from man’s side over to God’s side.” Okay. Come on, now, you’ve got it – surely –
He didn’t make it. He fell short. The Bible says, if we’re relying on our good works to get us to heaven, to get us to God, “All have fallen short,” the Bible says, “of the glory of God.” All have fallen short.
There’s someone else, though, that you’ve got to meet. Surely this person can do it. Where’s the religious person? Do we have a Religious Soul here with us? Oh, look, this guy’s a big one! Come on down! He’s religious. “Well, you see, I’m Catholic,” or “I’m Baptist,” or “I’m assembly of God,” or “I’m Lutheran,” or “I’m Methodist.” He is relying on his denominational background to get him to God. He’s been baptized, he’s been sprinkled, he’s been immersed, he’s been pasteurized. You name it, this man has done it. He’s at the church every time the church doors are open. He prays a lot. He even taught Sunday School a couple of years ago. Surely, surely, if you’re religious, you can do it. Let’s put our hands together one more time. Go! Hey! You’ve got it! Come one now!
Whoa. That was even a bigger crash than the first one. You know, Jesus had one thing to say about religion. He was against it. We say this all the time, but I can’t say it any better. You spell religion D-O, it’s a man-made system of do’s and don’ts. You have to jump through all these hoops in order to somehow appease a holy Gold. I don’t care how many hula-hoops you jump through: you can’t do it. We learned about six months ago that Mother Teresa and Billy Graham both have gone on record saying, “We’ve fallen miserably short before a holy God.” I don’t think there’s a soul here that’s going to pass Billy Graham or Mother Teresa in regard to good works, do you?
There’s someone else here, though, that you’ve got to meet. This person is a philosopher. Mr. Philosophy, come on down! Oh, nice green shirt there. This person devises intricate philosophies. He reads from the great minds and he’s got this thing figured out. Philosophy is kind of like this. It’s people who say, “You know, there are many different roads that lead to the same path, and as long as I’m sincere, well, that’s enough.” This morning I had a cup of coffee. What if I put arsenic in that coffee, and then I took a sip of the coffee with the arsenic? Pastor Ed would die. I would sincerely drink the coffee and sincerely be wrong. You can be sincerely wrong. People who say there are many different roads that lead to the same path – if you take that mentality it’s like saying I could walk into a phone booth anywhere in the USA and just dial a number of the top of my head, and I would get my residence. There’s only one number that gets to my home, your apartment, your condominium, your place, and that is a specific number. The Bible says there’s a specific way to get to God. Surely Mr. Philosophy can make it. Try it, you can do it. He has a pretty good vertical jump, too. I’ve watched him here. Watch him. He came close in the first service!
Oh! He missed it too. Sin-troubled waters down there. Here’s what the Bible says. Romans 6:23. We don’t like to hear this verse any more. This is a tough verse. The Bible says, “For the wages of sin is death.” The word death means eternal separation from God. They just closed the door right there on their eternity. They missed it. They lost it. We deserve a Christless eternity. We deserve to spend our lives in eternity in hell. Why, you ask? Because God is holy, He’s perfect; we are sinners. We cannot come into the presence of God, because we only have to have holiness to get to God’s presence. We have to live a life of perfection.
Here’s the third step, though. This is a beautiful step. You matter to God so much, I’m talking about men and women, boys and girls, around the world. We matter to God so much, He couldn’t even entertain the though of people He loved being separated from Him to spend a Christless eternity away from Him. He couldn’t stand this chasm, these sin-troubled waters, keeping us from Him. So in the third step, God sent Jesus Christ to be our Bridge Over Troubled Waters. Our bridge over troubled waters. God sent Jesus to do this. You see, we can’t cross the troubled waters on our own. The only way we can get across sin and know God is to walk across the bridge.
1 Peter 3:18: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins.” In other words, when Jesus Christ died on the cross for all our sins, God arranged the sins of the world to be transferred from our shoulders to Christ’s shoulders. “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins.” Jesus took our death penalty. We deserve capital punishment because of our iniquities. God, because He loves us, sent Jesus to take the punishment. Sin demands a price paid, and Jesus was that price. “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might,” here’s the catcher, “bring us to God.” So Jesus, this bridge is Jesus, goes over the sin-troubled waters. He extends his hands to you and to me and says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” No one gets to God except by me. You can’t earn your way. You can’t philosophy your way. You cannot good-works your way. You cannot denominationalize your way. You have to walk across the bridge, and that is how you connect to God. That’s how someone becomes a Christian. Very plain, very simple, yet it’s the most important thing you’ll ever hear in your life. I’ll read John 14:6 one more time. “I am the way,” Jesus said this, not an option or an alternative, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” If you want to know Christ personally, if you want to have meaning and fulfillment, eternal life, and know what He has for you, you have to – the ball’s in your court – you have to move your own feet, you have to walk across the bridge over troubled waters.
That brings us to the fourth step. You have to take the step, and you have to say, “Jesus Christ, to the best of my ability, I believe what you did for me and that you rose again. I accept this, I receive what you did for me on the cross 2,000 years ago, paying the price for all my sins, past, present, and future. I give myself to you.” The moment you say that, you are a child of God. It’s like giving up control, is what it is.
About three weeks ago my wife and I went to see the Dallas Cowboys play. I’ve not been to very many Dallas Cowboys games, but we picked a couple up from our church who has season tickets, thankfully. They said, “Ed, do you mind if we take your car? We have a suburban, and if we drive our suburban,” they told me, “oftentimes suburbans get picked up and stolen from the parking lot.” So I said, “Sure.” So they began to get into the car, and I said something. I said, “Kerry, listen. I have a terrible sense of direction. Also, I’ve only been to about two or three Cowboys games in my history here. Would you mind driving?” He goes, “Oh, no problem!” so I handed him the keys, and he gets behind the wheel of my car, whoom, starts it up, and off we go. We go this intricate route, and all this traffic and stuff because of the playoff game, and we parked in a great spot.
I thought about becoming a Christian, the moment I handed him the keys, because that’s what we do. Our vehicles were designed for Jesus to drive. I sat in the copilot seat. Our wives in the back, kind of suburbia-style. We give the keys to Jesus, let Him get behind the wheel, and let Him drive, and our lives will cruise. If we don’t, we’re going to be in for some serious wrecks and some serious problems along the road.
What am I saying? I’m saying that to become a Christian you have to do four things, four steps. The first step is, I’ll take the first step, realize that God loves you and He offers you an abundant and eternal plan for your life. The second step: tell the truth about your condition. You’re a sinner before a holy God. You’ve messed up, you’ve fouled up, you’ve cheated, you’ve lied, you’ve stolen. Sin is sin. We talked about it last week. Third, you’ve got to believe, to the best of your knowledge, that Jesus died on the cross for all your sins. But, see, belief is not enough. Some people say, “I believe in Jesus!” The Bible says Satan believes in Jesus so much he trembles. That’s more than some of us. The fourth step: it’s our choice. We have to receive it and walk across the bridge, and then, because of what Jesus did for us, not what we can do, because of what Jesus did for us, we are saved, signed, sealed, and delivered.
I want you to concentrate on the screen behind me for a couple of moments, as you watch a man named Peter Cott talk about how he grappled with walking across the bridge.
Video: I was first exposed to Christianity when I met my wife Pam seven years ago. The thing I love most about it is that she has always given me a light and she was always interested in me being there. I remember when we first met, the first thing I said to her was, “I’m Jewish, and I’m not going to convert, and I’m never going to go to church, so please don’t expect that.”
Over the next few years I had been introduced to the Fellowship of Las Colinas, and Pam and I started to go. It began to be a real eye-opening experience for me, because the Fellowship of Las Colinas was saying, “I’m interested in learning about you. I’m interested in you coming here.” Over the years at the Fellowship I began to accept the fact that there might be something out there that would be more powerful than me, and that I would enjoy that. Ed called me about three or four weeks ago, and I think he sensed it, and I sensed it, that I was coming to a conclusion and I was enjoying the prospect of giving up this much control. If I had things to choose to give up control to, this was something that was wonderful for me. It was a great idea.
As Ed and I sat and had lunch, I think we both realized that this was going to happen, that this was the time for me to move my life forward. I wasn’t giving up Judaism, I wasn’t leaving or running away from anything, I was moving into something more complete, more spiritually based for me. So Ed looked at me straight in the eye after a couple of hours at lunch and gave me his equivalent of, “It’s time to fish or cut bait. What are you going to do?” He asked me if I would accept Jesus, and I said, “Gladly,” and so I wanted my wife Pam to be with me. She couldn’t; she was working and had customers in her store, so we ended up in Ed’s car, sitting side-by-side on a car phone, and I prayed and accepted Jesus in my life. Ed and I had just one of the most touching experiences I know I’ve ever had.
I’ll always remember the Sunday I came forward at the church. My parents were there, and being Jewish they were skeptical, but they loved me and they gave me support. It was easy to do it. When I went down, I looked at them, and I told them that I loved them and it was because of that support that I knew I was making the right decision.
After I made the decision, they told me that it was natural to be baptized, and that baptism was going to be in the next week. They told me I was going to be baptized at an outdoor pool, so I had a lot to look forward to. That Sunday was probably the warmest Sunday we’d had in five or six months. It was a wonderful day, and I knew I was in the right direction then. When I was baptized, I was put under the water and brought back out, and everybody clapped, and it was a family environment. I mean, everyone really enjoyed it, and I was glad that that happened.
After the baptism my dad asked me, “How did I feel becoming a Christian?” I could remember a movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” about Indiana Jones in his search for the Holy Grail. At the end of the movie he had to pass through three gauntlets to get to the grail. The third gauntlet found him at the foot of a huge cavern, and at the other side was the grail. There was no apparent way to get to it. I remember Indiana Jones praying for a way to get across, and he put his foot out, and when he put his foot down and took this leap of faith, a bridge appeared underneath his feet, and he walked across and he got the grail. So I said to my dad, that reminded me of when I was with the pastor in his car ready to accept Christ and searching for the bridge. I took that leap of faith, and that’s what it was for me. I would encourage anybody who is in my position to take that leap of faith and walk across the bridge.
Ed: You know, maybe it’s your time to walk across the bridge, to say, “Jesus, I’m tired of playing games. I’ve tried this way and that way, and I want what happened to Peter Cott to happen to me.” Jesus wants to meet you right where you are. You don’t have to clean up your life any. He specializes in taking dirty, sin-stained lives and cleaning them as white as snow, if you’ll only ask Him.
I want you to do something for me. In your bulletin, there’s a card. It’s kind of a manila-colored card, and it has a picture of a man on one side, a bridge, and then the chasm, the gap, the sin-troubled waters separating him from God. The bridge, as you know, is Jesus. Today, if you want to cross that bridge, if you want to cross that bridge, I’m going to ask you to take a couple of moments and just sign your name on the dotted line. That symbolizes that you’ve crossed that bridge between you and God. You can keep this card for the rest of your days. In a couple of moments, I’m going to tell you what I want you to do to this card, but one more time, I want you to listen to the words of Peter Cott as he explains about walking across the bridge.
Video: I would encourage anybody who is in my position to take that leap of faith and walk across the bridge.