Recent Sermon2019-04-18T15:16:35-07:00

Your Relationship With God

Pastor Joe Wittwer talks about three things he hopes will inspire and equip you to have a personal, real, and practical relationship with God. First, God loves you deeply and created you for a love relationship. Second, God pursues you relentlessly and initiates the relationship. Third, God calls you to respond and enjoy the relationship. 

Life is about relationships. The most important thing in life is a love relationship with God. And what’s remarkable is that God wants a love relationship with you! Now, the thing God wants from you more than anything else is to love Him with all you have! 

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Sermon Transcript

God pursues a love relationship with you

Offering:

Before I dive in, let me thank all of you who are so faithful and generous in your giving to Life Center.  I feel like David after they received an offering to build the temple and the people were incredibly generous.  He prayed:

1 Chronicles 29:14 But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.

1 Chronicles 29:16 Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you.

Why were they so generous?  Because God was generous with them.  They recognized that everything they had came from His hand and belonged to Him, so it was easy to give back.

We are generous because He is generous.  Thanks for being generous.  Lots of ways to give…

  

Introduction

I’m Pastor Joe, the founding pastor of Life Center…and a couple months ago, I turned 70.  I know what you’re thinking…how does a guy look like this at 70?  I posted that picture on my birthday with #making70lookgood—and got lots of comments, including a few from folks who didn’t recognize Photoshop.  

Since I’m 70, that means I was around for the Jesus People movement in the 70’s.  What a ride that was!  In the midst of huge social upheaval—the VietNam war, hippies, free sex and drugs—God started moving among young people.  The revival started on the west coast and spread across the country, making national news.  It gave birth to the Maranatha Music and the modern worship movement, to Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard movements and renewed churches all across the country.  Our church and the way we do church is a direct descendent of the Jesus People Movement.  

When we sing “Do it again” like we just did, and we get to the part that says, “I’ve seen You move, You move the mountains, and I believe You can can do it again,” it makes me think of that time.  Because I saw Him move—and I know He can do it again.  It won’t look the same.  C. S. Lewis said that the one prayer God won’t answer is “Encore.”  He’s too creative to repeat something exactly the same.  But I expect to see Him do it again in a fresh way.

One of the hallmarks of the Jesus People movement was the emphasis on a personal love relationship with Jesus.  We did a lot of buttons and bumper stickers.  One said: “Not religion!  A relationship with Jesus Christ.”  Religion is all about what we do to please God.  It’s about duty, rules and obligation.  You can be religious and not know God.  You can go to church religiously and not know God.  You can know the Bible religiously and not know God.

John 5:39–40 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

  Jesus said this to the Pharisees who devoted their lives to the study of Scripture religiously—and missed the point.  The Scriptures point to Jesus and yet when He stood in front of them, they didn’t recognize Him.  Not religion—a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Do you know Him?

Here is the most remarkable thing in the universe: God wants a love relationship with you.  Imagine that.  

ILL: Who do you admire from afar?  For me, here are some authors I’ve enjoyed lately and I’d love to hang out with these folks.

Dr. Francis Collins is the author of The Language of God, and head of the Human Genome project and since 2009 director of the National Institute of Health.  Dr. Collins is both a devoted Christian and a widely respected scientist.   

John Perkins is the author of One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race.  He is a pastor, teacher, community developer and civil rights activist who is 91 years old and has an amazing life and legacy.  

Fleming Rutledge is an Episcopal priest, theologian and author of The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ.  This 84 year-old powerhouse is widely acknowledged as one of America’s best preachers, and a teacher of preachers.   

These are 3 people (of many) that I admire from afar.  How about you?  Who is on your list?  Shout out a name.

Now: imagine that person coming to you and saying, “I would really like to get to know you. Let’s hang out.”  You might think, “Me?  Really?”  You’d feel honored and excited.

Now realize that God, the creator of the universe, wants to have a relationship with you!  In fact, He is pursuing you!  Mind-blowing!

This is part two of our series on Experiencing God.  Hundreds of you are in an Experiencing God group, and we’re looking at 7 realities of experiencing God.  Last week, we talked about the first reality: God is always at work around you.  This week is the second reality: God pursues a love relationship with you.  

I want to talk with you about three things that I hope will inspire you and equip you to have a personal, real and practical love relationship with God.

  • God loves you deeply and created you for a love relationship.
  • God pursues you relentlessly and initiates the relationship.
  • God calls you to respond and enjoy the relationship.

And since this is all about relationship, and relationships are reciprocal, back and forth, we’re going to cover one point and then respond with worship.  Let God speak to us, and then speak back with a song.  We’re going to sing the sermon!

  1. God loves you deeply and created you for a love relationship.

Have you ever wondered why you’re here?  Why you exist?  You exist because God is love.  He created you out of His love so that He could have a love relationship with you.  He loves you more deeply than you could ever imagine.  

ILL: Parents, you should all understand this immediately.  Your children were born out of your love with your spouse—don’t make me explain that.  And why did you want to have children?  So you can love them!  They are born from love for love.  My deepest desire for my children is to have a love relationship with them.  I love them and want them to love me.   

In much the same way, God created you out of His love and His deepest desire for you is to have a love relationship with Him.   You were created from love for love.  

Let that sink in.  This is why you’re here.  You were created from love for love.    God is love, so He created you for Himself, to have a relationship with you. 

1 John 4:7–10 (p. 1056) Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

God is love.  He created you from love for love.  How has He shown His love for us?  

9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

God showed His love by sending His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. 

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

How has God loved you?  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. He didn’t love you because you deserved it; He loved you because He is love.  

  • You did nothing to earn His love; you can do nothing to lose it.  
  • He loves you at your worst and at your best. 
  • He loved you before you did anything good or bad and continues to love you whether you do anything good or bad.  
  • He loves you because He is love, and nothing you do can change that, because that’s who He is.  

Let that sink in.  You are deeply loved by God.  More than you can imagine.

When I say that God loves you, what exactly does that mean?  Does it mean He feels affection for you?  Yes…and so much more.  Love is doing what is best for another no matter what it costs you.  How do we know that’s what love is?  From the verses we just read.  The Bible says “this is love” and points to Jesus on the cross.  There, in the death of Jesus, He did what was best for us no matter what it cost Him—and it cost Him dearly.  That’s love.

So when we say God loves you, we mean that He is stubbornly committed to your well-being, to doing what is best for you.  He wants what is best for you—always.  

1 John 4:16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

We know and rely on, or believe in, the love God has for us.  Do you know it—deep in your knower—that He loves you?  Do you believe it with all your heart?  He loves you.  

ILL: My first experience of God’s love came at summer camp. It was my first year at camp, I was 14 and a new Christian.  We ended every day by sitting around a bonfire, singing to the Lord.  (Turn your eyes upon Jesus). Toward the end of the week, as we were singing at bonfire one night, I was overwhelmed by God’s love.  While everyone else sang, I sat there and wept, and when we were done, and everyone else left, I sat there and continued to cry, tears of joy and gratitude.  It felt like God was hugging me.  I knew that He loved me just as I was, with all my faults and failures.  In that moment, God’s love went from head to my heart.  I knew in my knower that He loved me.  

I want that for each of you.  Let’s sing this together.

Sing “He loves us.”  Pray.  

God loves you deeply and created you for a love relationship.

  1. God pursues you relentlessly and initiates the relationship.

God initiates the relationship, not us.  You can see this all over in Scripture.  

  • God called Abram.  It was God who took the initiative and moved toward Abram and called him and gave him a promise.  Abram responded by believing and doing what God called him to do.  But God made the first move.
  • God called Moses.  All of you in Experiencing God groups are going to read Exodus 3:1-6 which tells the story of Moses and the burning bush.  Moses was minding his own business, tending sheep in the backside of the desert, when God took the initiative and got his attention through a burning bush.  Moses answered God’s call and entered God’s story, but it was God who made the first move.
  • God called David.  God sent the prophet Samuel to anoint Him with oil as God’s chosen king.  It wasn’t David’s idea—it was God’s. God made the first move.
  • Jesus called His disciples.  None of them were volunteers, like the donkey in Shrek, “Pick me, pick me.”  Jesus said, “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you.”  Jesus made the first move.
  • Or think of Saul, violent opponent of the Christian faith—the Osama bin Laden of his day toward Christians.  He wasn’t seeking God—but God was seeking Him.  Jesus intercepted Saul on a mission to arrest and imprison Christians and calls Saul into relationship.  Saul became Paul the apostle—because Jesus made the first move.   

This is how God works.  He makes the first move.  If you are a Christian, it’s because He found you, not that you found Him.  

ILL: I met Jesus when I was 13, and far from God.  I was not interested in God.  In fact, I considered myself an atheist.  I was not seeking God—at all—not even a little.  But God was seeking me.  He sent a friend of mine to knock on my door on a Saturday morning and invite me to a youth rally at his church.  I didn’t want to go—but I’m a people-pleaser and didn’t want to disappoint my friend.  So I said yes, and went, and was ambushed by Jesus.  

I’m a Christian because Jesus came after me, not because I came after Him!  And the same is true of you.  If you think about your story, you’ll see where God made the first move towards you.  He initiates the relationship.  

And of course, the first move God made toward all of us was in Jesus.  As we read a moment ago in Romans 5:8, God demonstrated His love for us in this: while we were sinners, Christ died for us.  He moved towards us while we were rebels on the run.  He came after us.

God is always at work in people’s lives, moving towards them, taking the first step, drawing them to Himself.  When the Lord puts someone on your heart, and you begin praying for them, that is God working to move towards that person, to call them to Himself.  Be attentive to God’s work.  When the Lord puts someone on your heart, God is at work—so go find them, tell them about Jesus, and bring them with you.  Find, tell, bring is us being attentive to God’s work and joining Him. 

In fact, there are two words that the Lord keeps saying to me over and over lately.  Be attentive.  Be curious.  I want to be more attentive to God’s presence and God’s activity in my life and the lives of others.  He is always with me, always working, but often I’m oblivious, just not paying attention.  I want to be attentive.  And I want to be curious.  I’m a disciple of Jesus—the word “disciple” means “learner.”  It’s the opposite of a know-it-all.  Too often I act like a know-it-all, not a learner.  So I want to be more curious—and less judgmental.  

God is always at work, moving toward you, taking the first step.  Be attentive.  And God is relentless about moving toward you—He is pursuing you relentlessly!  He wants a love relationship with you and won’t give up.

ILL: Tedd Kidd was five years older than Janet, finished college before her, and started to work in a city hundreds of miles from her. Even though they’d been dating for seven years, they always seemed to be at different places in their lives.

Every Valentine’s Day, Tedd proposed to her. Every Valentine’s Day, Janet would say, “No, not yet.”

Finally, when they were both living in Dallas, Texas, Tedd reached the end of his patience. He bought a ring, took Janet to a romantic restaurant, and was prepared to reinforce his proposal with the diamond. Another “No” would mean it was time to get on with his life without her.

After dinner, it was time. Tedd summoned up his courage. Knowing that Janet had a gift for him, however, he decided to wait. “What did you bring me?” he asked. She handed him a box the size of a book. He opened the package and slowly peeled away the tissue paper. It was a cross-stitch Janet had made that simply said, “Yes.”

Seven years—seven Valentines Day proposals—relentless pursuit.  That’s how God loves you.  He is relentlessly pursuing a love relationship with you and longs to hear you say, “Yes.”  And it’s not a one time yes.  It’s a daily yes because He keeps pursuing us, moving towards us every day.  

In a moment we’re going to sing “The Goodness of God.”  The chorus says, “Your goodness is running after, it’s running after me.”  Do you know where that comes from?  That line comes from the most famous psalm—Psalm 23.

Psalm 23:6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life…

The Hebrew word translated “follow” is usually translated “pursue” or “run after.”  It was the word used for Pharaoh’s army pursuing the fleeing Israelites, or for Saul pursuing David in the wilderness.  In those instances and most others, the pursuit was to harm someone.  Here, it is God’s love and goodness pursuing you, running after you, to do you good.  God is taking the initiative, moving toward you, pursuing you with His love and goodness.  He won’t give up; He wants your Yes.  Let’s sing.

Sing: The Goodness of God.

God loves you and created you for a love relationship.

God pursues you relentlessly and initiates the relationship.

  1. God calls you to respond and enjoy the relationship.

So far we’ve talked about God’s part of this: that He loves you, created you for relationship, initiates and pursues you.  But relationships by nature are reciprocal.  They are two-way, not one-way streets.  God loves you, and calls you to love Him back.  God makes the first move, and calls you to respond.  

What is the most important thing you can do with your life?  How does Jesus answer that question?  Love God.  

Matthew 22:34–40 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 

37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The Jewish rabbis had counted over 600 commandments in the Mosaic Law, and there was a popular debate about which were more or less important.  Some of it was easy.  Which is more important: “Don’t eat flies” or “Don’t murder.”  You’re not going to prison for eating flies—the hospital, maybe…but not prison.  “Don’t commit adultery” or “Don’t wear clothes made out of two kinds of fabric.”  But there were still lots of important commands—which was most important?  

Jesus was clear: Love God with all you’ve got—all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  That’s first and most important.  The most important thing in life is a love relationship with God.  This is what God wants from you more than anything else: to love Him with all you have!  

And the second is to love your neighbor as yourself.

Love God.  Love people.  That’s what is most important.  And I amaze myself at how often I forget this and let other things become more important.  Often they are good things.  

I think of the story in Luke 10:38-42.   Jesus and His crew show up for dinner at Mary and Martha’s house.  Martha is scrambling to prepare a big meal—imagine 13 grown men showing up for dinner tonight—it’s a big job!  Martha is doing something good—really good: she’s serving others.  Meanwhile, what’s her sister Mary up to?  She was in the living room sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to Him.  Martha gets understandably frustrated and bursts into the living room.

Luke 10:40  “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Mary had chosen what is better—what was it?  Relationship with Jesus.  To sit at His feet and listen.  Nothing is more important than loving God—having a real, personal practical love relationship with Him.  And how does that happen?  By spending time with Him.  There is no substitute for just being with Jesus, talking with Him, listening to Him. 

ILL: Laina and I have been married for 46 years and are closer now than we’ve ever been.  We are in a really sweet spot in our relationship.  Our secret—we love being together.  We talk, we listen—mostly I talk and she listens—but it works for us.  We have a conversational relationship—a relationship built one conversation at a time.  There are no shortcuts.  

This is true of your relationship with Jesus.  But so often, I’m like Martha, and I’m busy—busy doing good stuff.  I’m distracted by many things, when only one is needed.  He loves me, He’s pursuing a love relationship with me.  He wants my Yes.  And as I said a moment ago, it’s a daily yes.  Yes to spending time.  Yes to honest conversation.  Yes to listening.  

We talk about PBJ time—Prayer, Bible, Journal.  Our daily time with God—like a daily coffee date.  Don’t view it as a religious obligation.  Approach it as an opportunity to get to know someone who loves you with an infinite love.  Come with holy expectation. It’s not hard to be with someone you love and who loves you!  Spend some time with Jesus and build the relationship, one conversation at a time.  

When faced with a choice between spending time with Jesus and something else, what do you choose?  What are you saying Yes to?  What is more important than loving God?

He calls you to respond and enjoy the relationship.  Religion can be a burden; a love relationship with God is a joy.  Here’s how Jesus described it: 

John 15:9–11 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

Remain in His love so that His joy may be in you and your joy complete!  

ILL: When I was a youth pastor, I was driving some students to youth group, and was encouraging them to practice the discipline of PBJ—your daily time with God in prayer, Bible and journal.  Yep—even 50 years ago I was pushing this!  

But one high school student in the back seat said, “Discipline?  It’s not a discipline for me—it’s a joy!  I love Jesus and I love spending time with Him!”  

Out of the mouth of babes.  I whispered a prayer: “Lord, that’s what I want too.  I want a love relationship that is a joy!”  

How about you?

Sing: I love you Lord

Sing: Do it again

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