Sunday, February 14, 2016

God's Love for Us - the message presented at NRN today

Here is the manuscript for the message I brought today at NRN:

God’s Love for Us

The tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were whispering among themselves. They said, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them a story. He said, “Suppose one of you has 100 sheep and loses one of them. Won’t he leave the 99 in the open country? Won’t he go and look for the one lost sheep until he finds it? When he finds it, he will joyfully put it on his shoulders and go home. Then he will call his friends and neighbors together. He will say, ‘Be joyful with me. I have found my lost sheep.’                                      Luke 15:1-6

INTRODUCTION:  Any Dr. Seuss fans in the house? We’ve all probably had Dr. Seuss books read to us when we were young, or read them to our kids. And one of the classic Seuss books is Green Eggs & Ham. I’m sure you know the story of someone who had never tried green eggs and ham. Never tried it, but still was sure he didn’t like it. And then there’s this other character named Sam I Am. And Sam I Am is convinced that the other guy would love green eggs and ham if he’d just try them. But this other guy refuses. He has no interest in even trying green eggs and ham. But Sam I Am is a determined, persistent pursuer. He insists that this dude would love green eggs and ham. And he will not stop pursuing him until finally he gets him to taste the green eggs and ham. And … it turns out, he loves them. Mind blown. Totally, completely, loves them. That story actually reminds me quite a bit of you, and me, and God.


You and I remind me of the guy who insists he won’t like green eggs and ham, and runs away from Sam I Am.  Because there is something in us that pushes God away.  Something in us that believes we don’t want God. And so we say, “I don’t want God. I would not want him in a house. I would not like him with a mouse.”

Now why are we like that? Well, it may be something that’s happened in our past.

      Maybe you knew someone who called himself a Christian, but didn’t act the part.  And it turned you off to the whole Christian thing.
      Or perhaps you’ve experienced a church that seemed to be more concerned with upholding their own traditions than holding out the love of God; or with raising money than raising up people’s spiritual lives.  And you thought, “If that’s what church is all about, I don’t need it.”

Maybe something that’s happened has led you to push God away.

But the truth is we don’t need anything to happen. There’s something in us that leads us to run from God.

ILL: Max Picard, a French existential philosopher from the 1930s, wrote about what he called, “the flight from God.” He comments on the Biblical truth that every person, every generation, every culture, is in an active, rebellious, breakneck sprint away from the presence, power, and provision of God. The flight started with Adam and Eve. When they committed the world’s first act of rebellion against God, the first sin, the first thing they did was run. They hid. And ever since, to be born is to enter into the flight from God. And people run from and hide from God in all different ways. In fact, for some, church can be a part of their flight from God. People can use church to run, to hide, from him; creating a false image and learning a bunch of Christian clichés so they can feel good about themselves, when in reality they don’t want to come before a holy God and bow their lives before him. In different ways, at different times in our lives, we’re all involved in the flight from God.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.                                    Psalm 139: 7-12

“They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people.”           Ezekiel 12:2

We all run from God and so … God pursues us.


See God is a whole lot like Sam I Am. It’s ironic that in the Bible, the name God calls himself is “I Am.” I doubt that Dr. Seuss intentionally did that, but it is an apt comparison. Because God is a pursuer. You may not realize this, because you may think of God as distant or uninterested. But, no, that is not God. God is chasing you. He is a relentless, tenacious seeker who will never stop pursuing you.  He is a God who will never give up.

And the reason is because he loves you and wants to be in a relationship with you. And he knows that what he’s offering you is something you would love, if you’d just try it.  Just like this strange guy who assumed he wouldn’t like green eggs and ham, but when he tried it, did.  God wants you to try him - a relationship with him, life with Him.  

In fact, the Bible actually says,
                     “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”  Psalm 34:8

God knows that the life he has for you is something you’d really enjoy. It’s what you were made for. It’s what would give your life meaning, and purpose, and direction, and joy.  And that’s just in this lifetime. That’s not even to speak of the eternal life to come. God knows that you would love it, all of it.  I like to call this passage the mission statement of Jesus – as He said:

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”  Luke 19:10

And so God is going to pursue you. That’s who God is. It’s the picture we get of him in the Bible. From cover to cover, because of His love, we see that God is a relentless, tenacious pursuer of people.

We see that right away in the Bible, with the very first people, Adam and Eve.  God creates Adam and Eve. He gives them a perfect garden paradise to live in. That’s awesome. He’s living in a perfect relationship with them. That’s awesome. He gives them only one rule to follow. That’s not bad – only one rule …but immediately they break it. Adam and Eve sin against God. So what does God do? He pursues them. They hide, and he starts seeking. It’s our first picture of God as a relentless, tenacious seeker who will never stop pursuing you. Our first picture of the God who will never give up on you.

So if you think about some of the horrible things you’ve done in your life and wonder, “Could God still love me? Could he love me again?” There’s your answer: Yes. God will never give up on you.

We see God as a relentless, tenacious seeker who will never stop pursuing people, in love, for relationship, throughout the Old Testament of the Bible.

And then (and we see this in the beginning of the New Testament) God came down from Heaven and pursued us himself, in the flesh, through his Son, Jesus. God sent Jesus.  When we were in the greatest despair – God has a plan.    

And that is why God sent Jesus. Jesus came from Heaven to earth, and he pursued people. He pursued people who had given up on and walked away from God. That’s why Jesus was called a “friend of sinners.” Because Jesus came and showed that God wasn’t just for the good people, the religious people. No, Jesus revealed that God is for us, that God is for the sinners.

And the religious people of Jesus’ day couldn’t understand. Why was Jesus spending time with sinful people? In response, Jesus once told a story. A story to give people a picture of God’s heart.

We find it in Luke 15:1-6: “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.  But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

 Then Jesus told them this parable:  “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’”

This story is not really about a shepherd and his sheep. Jesus tells this story as a parable, or a metaphor. And in the story the shepherd represents God, and the sheep represents … you. And me. The Bible uses that analogy in other places. For instance, in Isaiah 53:6, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way…”

The idea is that we’ve wandered away from God. We’ve separated ourselves from him. So we’re like the sheep in Jesus’ story.

And God is like the shepherd. It’s not acceptable to him that you’re gone. He’s not OK with the distance between you and him. So he pursues you. Jesus says he will search for you and will not stop until he finds you. Because he loves you. Because he wants to be in relationship with you. Because he knows what he has to offer to you is something you would love, if you’d just try it. So God has been pursuing you your whole life, and He is going to keep pursuing you, trying to get you to “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”  

God is inviting you to taste and see. He’s inviting you into relationship. And I want to invite you to come back for the rest of this series, as we explore and seek to understand this God who is for the rest of us and who wants to pour his love into your life, if you’d just let him.

Let me talk for a minute to those of us who have already tasted and have already seen that the Lord is those of us who have decided, at some point to give our lives to Jesus and follow him.
Following Jesus means living like Jesus did. He was a friend of sinners. He lived a life that revealed to everyone that God is for them.

So what does it mean that you follow Jesus? It means you’re to be a friend of sinners. Christians don’t hide in church buildings and huddle up with other “holy” people. No, Christians follow Jesus, and so we’re friends with sinners. We live and we love in such a way that everyone who comes into contact with us comes to realize that God is for them.

Following Jesus means living like Jesus did. It also means adopting his mission as our own. Jesus said that he came to “seek and save the lost.” He came to pursue those who had wandered away and help them find their way back to God. And he said, in John 20:21, “… As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” He gave us that same mission.

So what does it mean that you follow Jesus? It means your mission, your purpose, is to help people who are far from God find their way to God.

In that scene from the Bible we saw earlier, there was Jesus – who wanted to be with sinful people, ate meals with sinful people, and who sinful people wanted to be around. And there were the Pharisees – who were somehow blind to their own sin, and who thought they were too good for sinful people, and tried to avoid them. Here’s the problem: Too often today Christians are more like those Pharisees than they are like Jesus. How backwards! And we need to truly follow Jesus, which means that we’ll be friends with sinners; and realize that we’re sinners too. We’re not any better. We’re just lucky sinners who have been the recipients of God’s grace. And so we want to share it. We adopt Jesus’ mission and try to help everyone find their way to God so they can experience his love.

CONCLUSION: And, again, if you never have experienced God’s love, more than anything that’s what I want for you, because I believe God’s love is what you’re looking for, and that it will change your life. God loves you. He is relentlessly, tenaciously seeking you. He will never stop pursuing you, because he has never given up on you. He loves you. But he won’t force himself on you. You have to let him.

Closing ILL: There was a traveling preacher who was preaching at a church one week. He stayed with one of the families and they had an older son. He said, “I never saw him all week. I didn’t see him because he was a party animal and he’d be out way into the night. I’d get up in the morning, he’d still be in bed sleeping the night off.  In fact he’d sleep till mid-afternoon. And when I came in late at night after speaking at the church he’d still be out somewhere.” He said, “I didn’t see him at all, until the end of the week. One night after our meeting I went out with some people for something to eat and I came in really late. And I noticed his car was in the driveway. And as I went to the room I was staying in, I had to pass his room.  Every other night there was just an empty bed in the room. But that night I was kind of interested to see if he was in there, so I tiptoed down the hall and I peeked in, and I stopped because of what I saw.” He said, “I’ll never forget the scene. The boy was in the room, laying on the bed passed out.  But the thing that stopped me in my tracks was that his mother was sitting in the bed beside him, and she didn’t notice me.  And I watched transfixed, at the strange beauty of this scene. Because she sat there and lovingly stroked his hair and gazed at his face, until finally she noticed my presence. And she looked up at me and, kind of apologizing, said words I’ve never forgotten. She said, “He won’t let me love him when he’s awake.”

God has been pursuing you. He is for you. He wants you to taste and see. God loves you. The question is: Will you let him? Will you let God love you?

Check back tomorrow for the letter I read at the close of the worship. 

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