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This weekend, Todd kicked off a new series about relationships called “Can You Relate?” It’s been said that what you think about God is the most important thing about you…that if you don’t get your relationship with God right it will affect every other relationship in your life. Todd taught us about the importance of us viewing God as the good, loving, perfect, holy Father that He is.
How We Relate To God
Good morning, and welcome to 2018. We're going to start a little series called Can You Relate? It's going to be a series about all kinds of relationships in our lives…our relationships with one another, our relationship with our spouse, our relationship with singleness, our relationship with our boss, our relationship with the Word, our relationship with all kinds of things.
Any series we're going to do that would talk about relationships has to start with the single most relationship in your life. We often say around here, "If you don't get the God question right, it doesn't matter what other questions you ask," or to say it another way, what you think about when you think about God is absolutely the most important thing about you.
Now we all have different images in our minds that flash before us when God comes up, if we're playing word association games, and for many of us, we might throw out words like love. There are all kinds of words. In fact, one of the things I'm going to do before I give you my options for this week is tell you that every single week I'm going to give you a word that will help you if you hold on to this word in the context of every relationship.
There will be a specific word for spouse, a specific word for singleness, a specific word for community or one another, a specific word for children. If you get this word right when you think about this aspect of your life, this relationship you're in, it will bless you and set you on a really good course.
What we think about when we think about God is the most important thing about us. I had a lot of options for God. This is the one I wrestled with the most. The rest of them almost came to me right away, but this one I was a little conflicted, because I didn't know what to choose, because when you look at the way God has revealed himself, he has chosen to reveal himself in the person of the Father, the person of the Son, and the person of the Spirit.
It would be appropriate if I said when you think of God the very first thing you should think of is Father. That's hard for some of you, because you've been abandoned or abused by your daddy. In fact, psychologists will tell you the way a child forms their primary view of God is through their relationship with the earliest authority figure in their life, which for all of us is father, and for many of us we had an angry, abusive, or absent dad.
So when you hear of God as Father you're way set back. What happens to you as a child is formative in your life. It is appropriately said that the child is the father of the man. Meaning, what you go through as a child is often what influences you even when you become a man or a woman. It's really hard for a lot of us, because our earliest authority was nothing that would make us think we want more of it. In fact, we're so glad to get away from it.
So Father would be a hard one, even though that is the favorite name Jesus used of God. Over 200 times when Jesus is referring to God he calls him Father, because it's part of who God is. God is Father. God is also Son. I could say Jesus. Why? Because Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God. We know in 1 John, chapter 4, it says God is spirit, and it's hard for us to relate to a spirit. I don't care how friendly Casper is; he's still a ghost.
So if I think of God as a spirit… In fact, so many of us struggle, and that's why there's so much abuse with the person of the Holy Spirit. The person of the Holy Spirit is not an it; it's a he, and he is the present, most intimate part of what we relate to with God. He can be grieved. He can be put off. He can be put down, but the Spirit of God is tough.
In fact, I did a series on the Holy Spirit. I beg you to go back and listen to it. It's called The Low Down on Filling Up, what it means to be filled with the Spirit. I talked about how sometimes we think of God kind of like "Big Daddy, Junior, and the Spook." Those are kind of the aspects of the Trinity that are out there. But who do you think of? How can I help you think of God?
It would be great if you thought of Jesus, except most of us don't really have an accurate, biblical view of Jesus. We think of him as some pasty white male who was basically kind. Butterflies sat on his shoulder, kind of an Uncle Remus figure. He wrapped little lambs around his neck and was kind and got beaten up, thrown on a cross, and it worked out well for us. That's a really bad view of Jesus.
Jesus said again and again, "If you've seen me, you've seen the Father. If you love me, you love the Father." The Scriptures say he is the visible image of the invisible God. If you really want to know what God is like, just look at Jesus. Jesus doesn't ever blow it. One of the phrases my kids use a lot is "Dad, you're ragin'," because I told them to play 30 minutes of Xbox and not 17 hours.
Jesus rages, except he doesn't rage like I do. Sometimes I do rage. Sometimes I rage in a way that is the anger of man, and the anger of man doesn't accomplish the righteousness of God. You'll see that Jesus wasn't just this pasty white, meek and mild individual. He raged against sin. Doesn't that encourage you, that God is a God of justice? You can't say you love people and never have consequences to people who don't do the right thing.
One of the things we all long for in a great leader is he's benevolent, he's kind, and he's just, but here's the problem. When you see God for who he really is, when you really get a good picture of God and think about the fact that he hates sin… The Scripture says he forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin, and that his lovingkindness goes to thousands of generations, but it says "By no means will he let the guilty go unpunished."
Here's the problem. All of us know at some level we are the guilty. So how do you relate to God? What's the right word to think of when you think of God? I'll tell you the word I'm going to choose in just a moment. I can tell you one of the earliest books I read right after I came to know Christ. It's a book that was written in the 60s. It was a small one, so I picked it up. It's called Your God Is Too Small.
All of us are victims of the image we throw on God. It has been well said that God created man in his image and mankind has returned the favor ever since. Meaning, we make God a lot like us. We make him impetuous, moody, not able to really fix everything. We make him performance-based in his relationships, like so many of us are. Men all over history have created mythologies to explain what the gods are like, because we look at this world, and it doesn't look like whoever God is that he's doing a really good job.
George Carlin used to say, "Hey, man. Don't tell me God is sovereign and loving. When I look around this world, it looks like this world is run by an office temp with a bad attitude." So we sometimes wonder, "How do we think of God?" This book by J.B. Phillips is a book I read as I was forming my theology, and it's a book that lists a bunch of ideas about God that are not good for us. He has a whole list of destructive views of God.
One of them is "resident policeman" who's walking around with a billy club ready to knock you over the head if you do wrong, so you'd better get it right. Or we have a parental hangover. I've kind of talked about that already with the father issue, where he's a grand old man. He talks about that. A lot of us have that idea that he's more like Father Time than a holy, sovereign, intimately acquainted God.
Kids hear about a God who is there. When they're young they're told, "When you're older you'll understand it," so if God knows all things he must be much older. Yeah, it's great that he did some things in the past, but is he really relevant? Can God really relate to my world and the complexity of it? In fact, they asked a bunch of kids in 1960 if God understands radar, and they went, "No. He's the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I mean, he knows how to herd goats."
But then they thought, "You know what? My idea of God is too small. God isn't just some grand old man." How do you relate to God, though? Who is he? Who is this God? You have to have a constructive view of God or you're in trouble. In fact, where we get into trouble is that we buy a lie about God. Every single one of us. For many of us it's our own made-up view of God. For others it's a god that's projected upon us.
Did you know the very first thing that got the world into trouble…? The only reason darkness, hatred, and death are in this world right now is because man had a wrong view of God. They bought a lie. The lie went like this: "Hey, God isn't good. Even though this is Edenic, even though there's nothing but life and prosperity and provision around you, God doesn't have your best interests in mind. He told you to look to him, to trust in him, and walk with him. Why do you want to trust him? Go your own way. You don't need God."
God said, "Here's the deal. If you don't walk with me, you're not going to get what exists only with me." What exists only with God? God reveals himself as the God of light and life and love. "When you leave me, you're going to get darkness, hatred, and death." When you buy a lie that God is anything other than the fullness of perfection, goodness, love, rightness, justice against evil, and provision for those who are evil if they want to experience his love, you're in trouble.
When you believe God isn't good, his Word isn't true, and disobeying him is not that big a deal, you're in trouble. If you make your god so small he can be appeased through your church attendance, your giving, your philanthropy, your morality, then you are in trouble, because your god is too small. He is not like you. He can't be appeased with works. He is holy, holy, holy.
In fact, that might be a good word to use for God, except that holiness isn't so much a thing as it's an attribute, an adjective that describes every aspect of God. The word holy describes the fullness of something. God's love is holy, God's justice is holy, God's wrath is holy, and God's grace is holy. It's the fullness of every good thing.
Many of us have an idea of God like this: "I have to manage my relationship with God. I don't really love him. Nobody really loves him. I'm like a baker in Chicago in the 1930s with Al Capone running around, and I just want Capone to leave me alone. Every now and then his thugs come in and say, 'Hey, bro. You need to pay tribute right now to me.' If I don't give him tribute, he's going to blow up my bakery. So I don't love Capone, but I give him what I need to give him so he'll leave me alone and I can go on running my bakery the way I want."
You kind of manage your relationship with God like that. You kind of hope God doesn't see you, but I need to let you know God sees you. In fact, let me tell you a story. The night of December 15 into the next morning… I was hanging out up here. December 15 was a Friday night, and we had our staff gathering. We had an amazing time with all of our families and celebrated and had a blast and committed again to serving you and loving one another and just celebrating, as many folks do when they gather at this time.
I didn't get home until about 11:00 or 11:30. That night was the night of the high school state football semifinals. A lot of the kids I coached as they were growing up, and my son is a senior at this particular high school. They happened to be playing in the state semifinals, and because I was up here I couldn't go and watch them, but I had recorded the game on TV. So when I got home around 11:30, I started watching the football game on TV.
It went about two hours, so about 1:30 the game is over. I got up and was just knocking off some lights in my house, now early in the morning December 16, and walking around, and as I was knocking off a light by my front window, I noticed a car coming down my street. I live on a dead end street kind of teased into a retaining wall there by 75. I noticed this car was driving unusually slow, and then it turned around, and then it kind of went forward right in front of my house and parked catty-corner from my house.
I noticed it wasn't one of my neighbors' cars. It's unusual for a car to drive that slowly at that time of night, and it was certainly unusual for it to park right there, so I just stood there for a second and watched it. I wasn't really sure what it was doing, so I decided to walk outside and stretch at 1:30 in the morning, like everybody does. I walk outside on my front lawn, and I'm kind of looking around and looking over at the car. The windows were heavily tinted, and I decided not to walk over to the car, because no one had gotten out yet. I wasn't sure what was in it.
I went inside and intentionally knocked off the last light and kind of ran upstairs and looked out my upstairs window. It wasn't about another two or three minutes before three guys got out of that car, flipped up black hoodies, and popped on some flashlights. They had some tools with them. Now I don't know if you know me or not. I have six kids, and five of them now are driving age, so I have an entire fleet of cars with 100,000-plus miles in front of my house, slowly acquired. They start messing with these cars.
Catty-corner from me, my neighbor sells Maseratis, G-Wagens, and other cars. He has over a million dollars worth of cars in his driveway at any given time because he sells these cars. So, they're messing around, looking in these different cars. I quickly grab my phone and dial 911, and I just say, "Hey, Dallas 911, this is Todd Wagner. I live right here. I have three guys I was just watching out my front yard. They got out, and they have flashlights. They have tools. They're trying to get into cars. I've seen them enter into two cars that aren't theirs."
They go, "Great. What's your address?" I go, "Here's my address again," and they go, "Okay, thank you very much. We'll report." I go, "No, no. I'm reporting it. I need you to send somebody out." They go, "Sir, we can't tell you we're going to do that." I go, "Wait a minute. There's a crime actively being committed right now in my front yard." I go, "I just want to know what the response time is going to be."
"Sir, we don't give response times. Okay, thank you for calling," and they hung up. I was like, "Oh my goodness!" I was like, "Okay. Well, if they're not going to do something, somebody has to." So I went and gently woke up my wife. I said, "Sweetie, I'm about to go outside and talk to three guys in black hoods who are messing with cars. I'm going to call Dallas one more time, and then you might want to call after I go outside."
I pick up the phone and dial 911 again, and I simply say, "Hey, Dallas 911, I want to let you know there are three guys currently breaking into cars." I kind of upped the story a little bit. (They were.) I said, "Are you going to send somebody?" They go, "Sir, we don't tell you if we're going to send somebody. Thank you for reporting. Somebody else has already reported in the area." I go, "Well, you know it's me. Right? I just called."
I go, "I'm going to ask you one more time. Are you going to send somebody?" They go, "Sir, we aren't going to tell you that." I said, "Great. Well, I'm going to go engage the suspects." She goes, "No, no, no! Do not go outside." I go, "Hey, I'm not asking permission. I just want to let you know I'm going," and I hung up on them, so now we're even. I thought, "Okay, maybe they'll be interested to come watch the fight. That'll maybe get some guys out."
Now look. I have friends who work for the Dallas police. I know they are grossly understaffed right now, and I know they have a lot of area to cover, but they weren't coming. So I go, "Okay, I'm going to go." I'll pick up the end of that story in just a little bit. How do you think I felt, though? I'm watching three guys in black hoodies messing with stuff that isn't theirs, violating, stealing, acting unjustly, and I saw everything they did.
Now they were three guys in their 20s. They might not have been too concerned when one guy comes onto three, but what if the three-in-one God watches the one thing you're doing? You think the guys in the neighborhood are asleep. Right? Here comes one guy who wasn't asleep. I don't know what you know about God, but he never sleeps.
I don't know what you know about God, but the Scripture says he is aware of everything you do, even the words in your mouth before you speak them. God is intimately acquainted with your ways. All of us have black hoodies. All of us have been rifling through other people's stuff and doing things we know we shouldn't do. We are people of unclean lips, and we live amongst a people of unclean lips, and we know what that means.
How do you relate to a holy and just God? These guys were about to figure out how to relate to me. How do you relate to God? Here's what one guy did when he was in that exact same situation. I want you to see it, because it sets us up with where we're going. This is who your God is. I don't know how you think of God, but if you think God can be appeased with you helping people with broken-down cars more than breaking into cars and it'll all even out to your benefit, you need to hear something: that's not the way it works.
Isaiah, chapter 6. This is the story of God. This is what this book is. This is not a collection of fairy tales or made-up ideas so we can get some human-made concept. This is the revelation of God. The way God shows you who he is is he goes into history and says, "Learn from the way I deal with people throughout history so you can know who I am." This is God's revelation. It's not mythology. It's not made-up philosophy. This is history and the record of God showing himself to men because he wants men to relate to him.
Here's the thing. God is not looking to punish you for your sin. Sin is the punishment for believing that God isn't life and light and love. When you move away from God, as our world has, as our forefathers did, as we've continued ourselves, we get what is there. God is not punishing you; he's just letting you have what you want. It says in Psalm 106, "God gave them the desires of their hearts."
In other words, Israel didn't want to walk with God, so he said, "Good. Go walk with somebody else. Go walk with gods that are no gods at all. Go your own way. Lean on your own understanding." It says he sent leanness to their souls. He didn't have to so much send it as that's what you get. When you leave light you get darkness. When you leave love you get hatred. When you say, "I don't want to deal with the God who is life" you're going to get death. That's why God said that.
It's not so much a punishment he gives us as it is the fruit of what we choose. You don't relate to God by getting punished; your desire to not relate to God is the punishment. This is what you need to know about God. In history we know there was a guy named King Uzziah who lived. He had just died. There was a man living named Isaiah. Isaiah lived in relationship with God, but he also knew that no matter how well he lived he was not somebody who could stand before a holy God. He understood the beauty of God.
This is Isaiah 6:1. "In the year of King Uzziah's death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted…" That's who God is. Whatever you think of God, if your god is not lofty and exalted, if he can be appeased through your good works, your philanthropy, your doing more good than bad, your god is too small. This God is lofty and exalted. "…with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim…" Which is one class of angels.
You're going to find out classes of angels are given provision to be in the presence and holiness of God. God is so glorious that even those that were created can't be in his presence without being consumed with his holiness. God gives them provision to show humility by having wings that cover their feet. He gives them wings, it says, to minister and to move, and he gives them wings to cover.
"…each having six wings: with two he covered his face [because God is holy] , and with two he covered his feet [because God should be worshiped] , and with two he flew[and did ministry]. And one called out to another and said, 'Holy, Holy, Holy…'" In other words, God isn't just the fullness of something. He's the fullness, fullness, fullness.
It's a Hebrew poetic way of saying God is so far beyond anything you can imagine. He is eternal and you're finite. You don't get that. He's immortal and you're a mortal person. You don't understand that. He's invisible, and you don't understand how to deal with invisible creatures. So how do you relate to this God? The angels were saying, "We can't even tell you. Human language isn't enough," but Isaiah is about to get a glimpse.
"'…the whole earth is full of His glory.' And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke." This is a picture, as best as Isaiah could describe it, of what he saw. "Then I said, 'Woe is me, for I am ruined!'" When you stand before God, if you don't think of yourself being ruined, you don't have a right understanding of the holiness of the nature of God.
"Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips…" God is nothing like me, and I'm in trouble when I stand before that righteous God who never sleeps, who knows all about my black hoodie. "…and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.""And that means he has seen me, and that means it's time for him to deal with me."
"Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs." This is a symbol, a picture, a vision. What Isaiah is going to find out is "You have no business, prophet of God, one whom I've given insight into the coming Messiah… You have no business being in my presence, and there's nothing you've done in seeking me that could make you worthy to be in my presence."
It says he took from the altar a burning coal. What does fire do to impurity? It purifies it. Right? It takes away dross from silver. It makes it as it should be. God's gracious provision was given to Isaiah to make him what he otherwise could not be. It says in verse 7, "He touched my mouth with it and said, 'Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.'"
He's not ready to lay into Isaiah and tell him all he did that was wrong. He's ready to say, "Isaiah, you have no business being here. You're right when you say, 'Woe is me.'" When Jesus came, the very first words he spoke were, "Blessed are the poor in spirit," who know they have nothing in and of who they are in and by themselves that could offer anything to God. They just fall down to say, "I'm a sinner, and you are anything but that. I have chosen to try and find life away from you, to light my world with my own direction, and my world is dark."
God says he is gracious to those people, and he makes provision that people may be in his presence. The reason Isaiah was not consumed is God made provision for him. What kind of God is this? Let me just say a couple of things to you, just to start. I know Father is the favorite word Jesus used of God, and I know that's really hard for you. I was going to use the word Father to say that's what you have to think of, but it's hard.
Can I just say this to you people who have a hard father, that your child is the father of the man? In other words, that child experience of an imperfect father is continuing to make you, as a man or a woman, not have an okay relationship with God as Father. Here's what you need to know: God is not the reflection of your earthly father; he is the perfection of him. Your earthly fathers, all of them…
My kids don't have a perfect father. Nobody has a perfect parent. I know some of your dads were more imperfect than others, but God is not the reflection of your earthly father; he is the perfection of him. Everything you wish your dad was God is. He is provider and protector. He is compassionate and gracious. He is slow to anger. He doesn't ever rage the way your daddy rages. He's abounding in lovingkindness and truth.
In fact, the number-one name of God in the Scripture that God uses is a name even godly people in time of old wouldn't speak. We don't even have all the words. When you see Yahweh in your Scripture or the Lord in all caps, it's the word Yahweh, which basically means lovingkindness, covenant-keeper. That's who God is. The word I want you to associate when you think of God…
In fact, when you don't get this right, when you don't get this word correctly in your head for God as an association, it's going to mess you up like nothing else. Here's what you need to know. God is not the reflection of your earthly father; he's the perfection of him. Secondly, you'll never want a relationship with God as much as he wants a relationship with you. The truth is my kids will never want to be as close to me as I want to be close to my kids.
I love my kids. I know my sin does stuff to hurt our relationship, and I certainly know their sin does stuff to hurt our relationship, but I want to be a perfect father. I want to be somebody they can come to and seek instruction from and not live according to their own understanding, but in all their ways acknowledge the wisdom God has given me in my love for them, that I seek their own best interests, that they would trust me.
I want to grow them to really trust God. Get me out of the way. I want them to walk with the God of my faith, because that God will bless them. That's all I want for them. Here's the thing about God. God desires to have a relationship with me more than I'll ever desire to have a relationship with him. He seeks us and makes provision. Guys, if it wasn't for the grace of God, like we see shown in Isaiah, chapter 6, our longing for more of God, our longing for more of heaven, our longing for more intimacy with him would not only be futile…
We can't ever work our way into God's presence. It wouldn't just be futile; it would be suicidal unless God made some provision for us from his presence, brought it, and purified us by his work. That's who our God is. Here's the word I want you to think of. It's a word Jesus took advantage of, and it comes in Mark, chapter 10. He's dealing with a guy who is basically going, "Hey, I want to know how I can have eternal life. I know I'm immortal. I know rabbis are supposed to teach me about God."
This rich young ruler had heard about this God who was revealing himself through the teaching of the rabbis, and specifically this one from Nazareth. It says in Mark 10:17, "While Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to him and knelt before him," and he said this. It was just empty words. It was quick words. He didn't really know Jesus, but he used words that were probably meant to be flattering. He said, "Good Teacher…"
You need to know this about Greek. It's different than our language. There's often more than one word that is translated into our single English word good. There are actually three. One of them is agathos. Agathos is the word for deep, intrinsic perfection. All the way through, from beginning to end. It is like the word holy, that there is no inconsistency, that from beginning to end there is value, dignity, glory, beauty, and honor.
There's another word, chrestos, which means that which is useful or that which is good for others or that which is helpful. He didn't use that word here. He came up and said, "Morally perfect teacher, the one who from beginning to end and without blemish is glorious and beautiful, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus' response is really interesting. He says, "Why do you call me that? Don't you know nobody is that except God alone? Nobody is morally, intrinsically perfect except God alone."
What Jesus didn't do here is deny that that guy should have called him that. What he was doing was saying, "Look, you need to know that what you just said about me is true, and if you knew who I was you would know what you need to do to have eternal life. You would need to take what I'm here to offer you so you can be what God wants you to be." In other words, "I am from the burning throne of God. I am God's provision to give you what you can never get on your own. I don't care how Isaiah you want to be."
He shows this guy that he loves something other than God. He says, "Hey, let me ask you a question. Have you kept the commandments?" The guy right away rattles off some of his chrestos goodness. "I've never cheated on my wife. I haven't murdered anybody. I'm not an adulterer. I don't steal. I basically am a good, helpful person in society." Jesus says, "Way to go. Good for you." He probably hadn't done it as well as he thought.
He said, "I'll tell you what. Why don't you go sell everything and come and follow me?" It says the man didn't want to do that because he had many things. In other words, there was something he loved more than perfection in God. God showed him, "You don't even keep the first commandment. You have something before me. You have an idol that you love. You don't love God; you love your possessions. If you knew I was the visible image of the invisible God, you'd leave everything to follow me."
Now that doesn't mean everybody has to leave everything to follow Jesus. It means you have to be willing to say, "I want nothing but you." Why would you want nothing but God? Why would you want God more than illicit sex? Why would you want God more than the ability to vent your anger? Why would you want God more than to return evil for evil? Because God is life and light and beauty.
Here's the word you have to think of when you think of God, and if you don't think of this word you're setting yourself up for pain. The word is good. I'm not talking about useful to you. I'm not talking about bailing you out of trouble. I'm talking about he is life. He is the fullness of everything you desire. This is what makes sin so deceptive. We think that thing will make me happy, will give me life.
We desire comfort and security more than God, and the crazy thing is comfort and security can only be found in God. That's why God says, "Look, if you want to go try to find life apart from me, I'm not going to judge you. That is the judgment. You're buying the lie that if you live your way and choose your things and don't look to me life will go well for you." You need to know that God is good.
Here are two verses. If I could tattoo two verses onto your heart, it would be Psalm 16:11 and Psalm 84:11. Psalm 16:11 says, "You make known to me the path of life." Isn't that what a good, good father would do? If my high school kids, if my junior high kids, if my college kids would believe, "Let's talk to Dad and Mom, because everything they tell us to do leads to life and blessing. It might be a harder way. It might not be the easy way. It might take work. It might take self-sacrifice, but listen to them. Love like they tell us to love, because it has never not led to life…"
I'm an imperfect dad, so sometimes I get it wrong. God never does. God is good. "How good is he, Todd?" He is this good. Everything he tells you to do leads you to life. "In his presence is fullness of joy, and in his right hand are pleasures forever." I'm like, "Are you kidding me?" This is why one of the words I was going to choose was the word fear, but it's another bad word like father, because we think of fear like, "Oh gosh! If I don't do the right thing, God is going to get me." No. The word fear is best understood as respect.
In other words, you ought to live with a sense of "I'm an idiot if I don't pay attention to God, because everything God desires for me is good." So with great self-love I am totally attentive to him, because I don't want to miss out on any of the path to life, the fullness of joy, and the pleasures forever even through hard things, because we live in the midst of people with unclean lips. We ourselves were some of those people, and now we've learned the goodness of God.
In a land of judgment, in the land of death, darkness, hopelessness, despair, and hatred, we can be people of love. We kind of go, "This isn't working out." It's going to work out, as will the grace of God for others. Psalm 84:11: "For the Lord God is a sun and shield…" What is that? The sun is a provider. It causes growth and life and light. A shield is a protector. That's who God is. He provides everything you need. He guides you and protects you.
"…the Lord gives grace and glory…" Did you hear that? He gives you what you don't deserve. He gives you what you want to be. You're seeking glory and a life that is filled with purpose and meaning. "…no good thing does He withhold from those who [love him] ." If that is true, if that's who God is, you go, "All I want to do is relate to God. It scares me that I wouldn't be related to God, this God who's immortal, eternal, the only wise. How do I relate to him?"
The answer is he comes near to you and makes provision for you. He knows all about your black hood life, but he loves you and wants to give you what you can't find doing what you're doing. As I started to think about biblical characters who really experienced this and got this, my mind immediately raced to a guy named Jacob. Jacob's name means deceiver.
If you have a Bible, turn to Genesis 28. I want to show you something. This is a very familiar story to almost all of us, but I want to show you some things you've never seen before, and it answers the question, "How do I relate to God? How does a person know this God?" Jacob had heard about the God of Abraham and Isaac. There was no Jacob yet. He is Jacob.
God was already working in history to take a pagan grandfather and bring grace to him and, for no other reason than that God gives grace and glory, was going to show who he is by working in the context of history so that everybody else would go, "We want to know the God of Abraham," and Abraham could say, "That's great, because that's why God blessed me: so you would be blessed, so you could know there is a God, and it's not the polytheistic gods and pagan gods of Canaan, Egypt, Syria, and Babylon; it is the one true God.
His name is lovingkindness and covenant-keeper. By no means will he keep the guilty from being punished, but he wants to make provision for you and be gracious toward you, as he has me," Abraham would say. Jacob had heard about God, could tell you about God, because he heard stories of what God had done for his daddy and his granddaddy, but he didn't know him. In fact, what we know about Jacob at this point is that he was a deceiver. The name Jacob means deceiver.
When Jacob was born he was the second of twins, and when his older brother Esau came out of the womb he was grabbing him by the heel, almost as if to say, "I have to get out first, because it makes sense. If you're firstborn, you get the larger inheritance, you get the blessing, and I want to beat you, Esau. I have to have what the world offers." So they called him Jacob. It means trip up at the heel. It's a euphemism in Hebrew for one who tricks you. This is who Jacob was.
His whole life, he did what seemed right to him. Where we are in Genesis 28 is that Jacob had taken advantage of weakness in other people to steal their birthright. Jacob had been deceptive with his mother in order to steal from his older brother what his older brother should have had, except that God in his kindness had chosen to continue the goodness and the working through Jacob, but Jacob didn't trust God. He had to make it happen on his own.
So he and his conniving mother Rebekah had done some things that ended up with Jacob having an older brother who said, "I'm going to kill you as soon as Daddy is gone. I know it would break Dad's heart to see us fight like this, but I'm going to kill you, Jacob, as soon as Dad is dead, and he's almost dead. He was close enough to death that you could deceive him by telling him that you were me."
In fact, the only time Jacob had used the name of God up to this point was to lie. His daddy Isaac said to Esau, "Go and kill some wild game for me and bring it back to me, let me eat it, and I will bless you." Rebekah heard about this and said, "Jacob, quick. Go kill two goats. Bring them to me. I will cook it up, and you can take it to your father." Jacob said, "I'm not like Esau. I'm not hairy and an outdoor guy like Esau is."
She said, "Well, we'll make you a furry coat so your daddy when he feels you will think it's Esau, and I'll cook the game only Esau can cook." So Jacob went. He took it to Isaac. He gave it to him, and Isaac said, "Hey, how did you get back here so quickly?" Jacob says in Genesis 27:20, "The Lord God blessed me." All Jacob knows is how to lie. If he has to invoke the name of God to do it, he'll do it.
Isaac says, "Let me feel you. The hair is the hair of Esau, but the voice is the voice of Jacob." Jacob lies again. What happens is Esau says, "I'm going to kill you." Rebekah hears about it, so Rebekah says, "I'm going to work up a scheme to get your dad to let you go back to where I'm from. I'm going to tell him I can't stand Esau's wives." Esau had married two girls who were pagan polytheists from that area.
She said, "These women are hurting our family. They don't want to follow the God of Abraham. Send back one of your boys to get married where you married me, back to our monotheistic land, back to Paddan-aram." Watch this. Just a note to self, mama. Are you ready for this? Rebekah said to Jacob in Genesis 27, "Hey, you go for a little while until Esau's anger subsides, and then I will send for you."
That little while turned into 20 years, and during those 20 years Rebekah died. She never saw her boy again, because she thought she had to get a God-given promise fulfilled in a God-forbidden way. Never do that. Trust in the Lord. He is good. He is seldom early, but he is never late. It cost Rebekah her beloved relationship with her son. Jacob was a mama's boy.
Esau would go out and hunt and bring home game for Isaac. Jacob would sit in the kitchen and smock. He was just a young boy who was a conniver. He was enabled by an overbearing mama. He didn't trust God. He didn't know God. He had a death wish on him. He was a sinful deceiver, but he got money from his daddy to go back to Paddan-aram. That's where we pick it up. He is marching about 1,200 miles, this mama's boy, in the wilderness. Here we go.
Genesis 28:11: "He [Jacob] came to a certain place and spent the night there…" Think about this. You're reading your Bible. Don't blow through the verse. Stop. We're talking about Jacob. What is true of night? It is dark. You're in a desert area. I don't care how hot it gets in a desert. It gets cold, and it gets lonely. Look at where Jacob is. He is in a dark, cold, lonely place. Behind him is sin, death, and despair. Over him is darkness. In front of him is anxiety. This is a life without God.
It says this boy who used to be very rich is now very poor. He's on his own. This boy who used to be very comfortable is now very uncomfortable. So much so that he had a stone for a pillow. "…he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place."
How is Jacob going to relate to God? This is a sinner filled with anxiety. All he knows about God is that some people think that name is worth using, so he uses it to deceive. Then that night, the God who wants a relationship with Jacob (and you) more than Jacob will ever want it with him gave him clear vision of who God really is.
Some of you are in this room right now, and you are in the same spot Jacob is. This is when God shows up. Trouble, one guy said, is the shadow of the wings of God. In other words, when you are in a place of great discomfort, darkness, and loneliness, filled with despair on one side and anxiety on the other, you are maybe finally at a place, with a hard pillow, that you will start to think differently.
That trouble is a shadow of the coming of the wings of God to comfort you. When a man is flat on his back is sometimes finally the first time he looks up. This little boy… You're going to find out that God cares about him, just like you. It says, "He had a dream…" In other words, a clear and vivid picture of the beauty of the Lord. "…a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven…"
That word ladder limits us here. The word is cullam. It only shows up one time here in your Bible. It's not just a ladder; it's a grand staircase. I want you to think about a wide girth that leads its way up to a palatial throne where there is divinity and regality sitting there ready to bless you with a Dilly Dilly. That's what you have right here. So not just one ladder. I want you to think about a wide girth. It says in that wide girth here's what's going on.
"…the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, 'I am the Lord …'" Now what's he going to say to that black-hooded liar? What am I going to say to those three guys I am watching? I see what they're doing. They're violating my cars, my neighbors, my neighborhood. They think I'm asleep, but I am wide awake, and we're about to engage. What do you think I'm going to do? What do you think God is going to do with you?
He said, "I am…the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac…""You don't know me, but the land on which you lie… I'm going to give it to you, because I said I would, because I am the covenant-keeping gracious God. Your descendants, Jacob…you're not even married yet…are going to be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and the east and the north and south, and in you and in your descendants all the families of the earth will be blessed. I'm going to do something through you that's so good everybody from ever more is going to be blessed."
You go, "Wait, Todd. What did Jacob do except sin and get cold, scared, and lonely?" Nothing, just like you. "Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised [for my name's sake] .""The world is going to know who I am. I said I'm going to be gracious, and if you'll just let me, I'll do it."
What God had to do was let Jacob get to that spot. If you're really, really fortunate, you'll never experience the hard pillow. All of us get it at some level, but you don't want to have to wait until you're cold and lonely and scared, filled with anxiety and depression, before you start to seek God, but if you do, you just need to know God is not mad at you.
Did you read this story? You have to read this story. My sweet little friend Amy hooking herself out, about to sell herself for 20 grand to go spend some time as an escort in Hawaii, involved with pornography, divorced, bankrupt, and God said, "Amy, I'm your God. I know you think you're in the wilderness right now and you're cold and lonely. I see you. Amy, do you see me?"
You don't have to be good for God to love you; you just need to know that the God who loves you is good, and you have to stop working your program. Look at what Amy said. "Something in me that night was telling me that life could be different." "Jacob, quit doing what seems right to you. Turn to me." Amy said, "I thought I was an evil person, that God would not want anything to do with me. I had to finally get to the place where I began to believe that God views me as his treasured possession."
Jacob was about to find that out. Everybody whose life has truly been changed believes that. We leave the lie that God is trying to rip us off, and we see that he is tender toward us. The more broken you are, the harder your pillow, the colder your night, the lonelier you are, the more sin in your past, he loves you.
He's a Father, and he's like, "Oh, would you listen to me? You want to relate to me? Let me take you where you can't go. Let me do for you from the throne of heaven what you can't do for yourself. You want to know how to relate to God? Relate to me by faith. I'm good. You don't know anything like me. You have a destructive view of me. You've bought the lie. I am the God who gives grace and glory. You can't earn my love."
Jacob awoke from his sleep. This is in Ephesians: "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." "Awake! Awake! Believe who I am." This is your God, a good, present Father who is near the brokenhearted. That's Psalm 34. "Taste and see the Lord is good." "Come, believe in me. There are angels descending and then will ascend and get more from me what they want. I'm always aware of you."
I did a Real Truth. Real Quick. answering the question…Do you have a guardian angel? I don't want to discourage you, but you do not have a guardian angel. Go watch the Real Truth. Real Quick. I want to encourage you with this: you have infinitely more than a guardian angel. You have angels, like Jacob, that are constantly there to help you. Jacob thought he was in the land of despair and darkness.
He was on a divine thoroughfare, where God was attentive to every aspect of his life and seeking to help him, reaching out to him in that moment. "Jacob, are you ready to listen yet? Do you want to know who I am? Right now you don't know who I am." I heard one guy say Jacob had a postcard faith. He had heard and seen pictures of God, but he had never been to where God was, and God is trying to show him who he really is.
"Jacob, come there with me. Know me the way Abraham does. Know me the way your daddy Isaac does," even though Isaac was still, at times, not believing God was good and trying to run his own offense in a way that made sense to him, just like you and me. Jacob was about to learn that God is good. He was going to take his name a little bit later in this exact same spot. Fast-forward a number of chapters, and God changes his name from Jacob to Israel.
That's who Israel is. It's the descendants of this guy. Israel means God strives with, God is for you. "You don't have to trip other people at the heel and do what seems right to you in your flesh. No. Walk in me who leads you on the path of life. And guess what? All of the nations of the earth will be blessed through you." Through the line of Jacob came one who descended from heaven, and while he was here he was the justice of God.
If you, aware of God's kindness, will trust in him, it will make you pure, your faith in Jesus Christ, who ascended to sit now at the right hand of the throne of God until he returns to judge the living and the dead. He makes us his messengers during this season, who relate to him by grace through faith, who see a clear picture of God who demonstrates his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
He was kind to us while we were still black-hooded punks. Amy didn't get her life straightened out before she came to God. She just believed that God loved Amy in all of her corruption and selling of her body. In all of my figuring out on my own, going my own way, in all of my black-hooded, unclean living God sought me, and he's seeking you. You relate to him by believing he is that glorious.
By the way, that's who you are right now if you know Jesus. You have been somebody who has come to know God who has on this earth for a moment lived here around people of unclean lips who are supposed to speak as a messenger. That's what the word angel means: messenger. You are a "eu-messenger," a "eu-angel," an evangelist, some well-spoken messenger of God who tells others of the kindness of God, that God would send you and me…
We're not created spirit beings. We're people who have a relationship with God through his Spirit who tell others about the throne room of God and his love for them. Watch what Jacob did. He awoke from his sleep. That's what you need to do this morning. He said, "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it." Here is the ever-present, constantly initiating, always waiting grace of God.
I just need to take it. I need to want it. I need to trust it. I need to wait for it. I need to seek it. I need to believe the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God is mine if I'll just take it. I don't need to make God up for who I think he is. I need to listen. This is a book that reveals God working in the lives of people just like you to this day, giving you a chance in your hard-pillow, sin-wracked world, filled with anxiety.
"I love you. I'm not looking to rip you off. I'm looking to set you free. There's going to be a day when I'm going to deal with all sin and injustice. I don't want you to be that guy who worships me on the back of my full revelation. Take me now. See me now. I have descended and shown my love for you."
Jesus, in John, chapter 1, saw Nathaniel under a tree, and while Nathaniel was there, Jesus said to him from across the way, "Hey, an Israelite in whom there is no guile." The word guile is the word for deceit. Nathaniel was probably reading the story of Jacob. We know that, because it freaked Nathaniel out. He goes, "Whoa! You're a prophet of God. Surely you're the Messiah," and Jesus said, "It was that easy, that I could tell what you were reading from a distance?"
This is what Jesus says: "Nathaniel, come follow me, and you will see the angels of heaven descending and ascending on the Son of Man. You're about to see the love of God. Come follow me. You want to see God at work? Watch me demonstrate my love for you. You want to see God at work? Watch my grace overturn the effects of sin. You want to see God's love? Watch me go to the cross for you. You want to see God descend? Come and follow me."
He quoted from Genesis 28, because that's probably what Nathaniel was looking at. "I know you don't want to be a man of deceit, but you are. You're a sinner, and you need me. Come and follow. I am the intrinsically good one." Here's what I did when I looked down at my little black-hooded friends. I walked out there. At this point they had made their way up the block a little bit. I came out. I don't know if they saw me or not, but they took a quick ride around the end of the corner.
I live next to another municipality. I know the chief of police in that area. He always told me, "Todd, I know you live in the city of Dallas, but if you have trouble where you are, they're coming my way, so call me." So I called the direct line at the station. I didn't wake the chief up. I just called and said, "Hey, I live in the city of Dallas. I know I'm not in your jurisdiction, but here's the deal. I have this car. Here's the license plate. Three men on foot are headed your way. I've seen them break into cars already. I'm in pursuit. I thought I'd let you know."
She said, "Sir, we wouldn't recommend that." I go, "I'm not asking your permission either." But it wasn't about three minutes later I saw one of their cars coming up. I stopped and talked to the guy. I described what I saw. We actually came down. I showed him the car. I had been in their car already. There were two iPhones in there, which I had put in my pocket in case they got away when I was back so I could figure out how to get ahold of them. I just said, "Hey, I'm going to keep looking." The guy goes, "I've got this."
Anyway, he took off. A little bit later, he and I met up. He goes, "Hey, I just saw those three guys, and they didn't have anything in their possession. I don't know if they've hidden it someplace or not yet, and they'll probably come back and get it later, but I can't do anything if I don't catch them doing something. I know you said you saw them." I said, "That's all right." We'd already run the plates. I was there when he ran the plates, so I knew the name of the guy who owned the car.
So I just kept looking. It wasn't long before it was about 5:00 in the morning. They weren't back yet. I had returned their iPhones to the car, and I was just kind of sitting there trying to figure out what I'd do. I thought about letting all the air out of their tires so they would need help when they came back and I could help them. As I sat there thinking what I was going to do, I ended up writing them a note.
This is a picture of it. It was early in the morning. I didn't have much to do, so it was a little long. This is what it said: "Guys, we, this neighborhood, are not mad at you, but we are concerned for the choices you're making. These choices will not lead to the life you want. I easily could have taken your iPhones, but I chose not to, because I know how expensive and hard they are to replace. I could have damaged your car, but why would I want to return evil for evil?
I saw you looking in my cars, and I'm sorry you're missing something that you think taking from me will give you life, but that's not what you need. You need what I needed: a true understanding of the kindness and grace and goodness of God, hope. In your car I'm going to leave a book that a friend of mine wrote." There was a funeral I had just done of a friend of mine who talked about his journey to understanding Christ. I just left that book in there for them and wrote a note.
I said, "It's his story of how he came to truly know Jesus and the wonder of his love that invaded earth this Christmas season 2,000 years ago. I pray this note and the drinks I left in your car…" They had been out for four hours stealing from people, so I figured they were thirsty, so I put some cold drinks in their car. "I pray that this note and the drinks I left for you make you think twice about the kindness of God. He loves you, and I want you to know the people you are looking to steal from want to serve you and give you something that will forever change your life."
"If you want to visit, you can call me…" I put my number down there. "…and ask for Todd. You can tell him that it is his friend…" I put the guy's name down there, which must have freaked him out. "…calling." I knew his name from a couple of things I found in his car and the man's license plate we ran. I said, "I'd love to meet you and share with you about the love of Christ and the goodness of God. Merry Christmas. May God bless you." Then I invited them to come to Christmas Eve.
I thought to myself, "I want those guys, in their cold, lonely night, out there thinking they might find something in my neighborhood of cars that would give them life, to know there's a God who sees everything they do and there is a wide girth of somebody who is descending to love them and just saying, 'Come, follow me. You're not going to find what you're looking for in other people's cars. You're going to find it in a relationship with me.'"
I wrote down the Romans Road, and I said, "Let's have a relationship, not with me but with your God who loves you." Folks, that is the never-ending, irresponsible, reckless love of God, and that's how you relate to him. Look up, Jacob. Take his grace.
Father, I pray for my friends, that if someone is here who is convinced there's no way you would love them because of the deceit behind them, the dysfunction, the lies, the death threats, the loneliness, the coldness, and the dark of night, I pray they'd find you there. I pray they'd see that you're seeking them more than they'll ever seek you, and all they have to do is just look up and get a clear vision of who you are.
You are not a God who's looking for them to perform; you're a God who is looking for them to receive the grace. You said, Jesus, "Come here and drink some of this. I know you're weary in that land of people of unclean lips." Father, thank you that before we ever spoke a word about you, except in vain, you were singing over us words of love.
I pray that when we think of you we think of good, deep, beautiful, intrinsic, full of grace and glory and goodness, and we wouldn't buy the lie that there can be life found in anything but you and we would relate to you with a great respect, that we don't want to miss any of all that you want to give us. Help us see the unending, reckless love of God, amen.