Paul exhorts us to live in response not to what we feel but what we know is true - that we love and are loved by God. This passage lists six ways we can testify to a true love of God. Do these responses describe our lives?
Believed the Truth? Received the Life? Then Walk in the Way.
Getting a Grip on What it Means to Love God
Believe What He Has Done, Be Living Like He Has Done It
The Blueprint of the Church, part 2
The Blueprint of the Church, part 1
A Reasonable and Right Response to His Radical, Redemptive Love
The Divine Dimension of Love
The Breadth, Depth, Width and Height of Puppy Love
A Suffering Steward in a Cell: What was True of Paul Ought to be True of Us
Things into Which Angels Long to Look
Father, thanks for a chance to gather tonight and to sing songs that are true, to sing songs that reinforce us with truth, to sing Scripture, to remind ourselves that you alone are our resting place, and to confess that, again, we do believe that in all other things we find emptiness, but in you and you alone do we find life. Our souls are weak.
We thank you that you understand our weakness and that while we were still sinners, Christ demonstrated his love for us, which we're going to celebrate tonight in the way you have given us to do it. You love us enough to sacrifice your own flesh, to shed your own blood, that we might be strengthened, that we might be made right in your eyes. What an incredible gift.
We thank you that the purpose of Christmas and celebrating it is what we anticipate, which is Good Friday, which is only good because of Easter Sunday, that that good man was made evident as being God, and he was raised from the dead, that we who believe might also be raised in likeness with him.
May we live that way even now that people might have a hope, not just this time of year, but all year long, that Christ is King, that Christ is God, that Christ is good, that Christ saves men from deceit, both in this world and then forever in eternity with him as he does away with sin. May we be evidence of that now in the way that we live. May we respond to you appropriately in the way that we love. In Christ's name, amen.
Turn with me to Ephesians, chapter 4. I want to look very quickly here together and make a quick comment what we have there, and then we're going to launch to probably one of the most familiar passages in your Bible. Kurt and I have a friendship that we're always trying to encourage one another and spur one another on in areas we need to grow in.
He shared very honestly about a week and a half ago about how I was exhorting him in the way that he shares. Kurt speaks with such conviction and is such a great communicator, but often, we talked about how he says a lot of the same things the same way, again and again. I told him, "Don't be discouraged by that because there's a central message of your Bible which you keep you doing."
We laughed because he's teaching through James, and in James, chapter 2, one of the things it says explicitly there is that you should love the Lord your God, and the way you should love him is evidenced in the way you love your neighbor. We talked and laughed together about how every single commandment, every single prophecy, every single truth in the Scripture is driven back to that central truth.
This morning, he was teaching in James, chapter 3. I knew he was going to be there, and I was in the room as he was teaching. As he taught in James, chapter 3, it's all about the tongue, about how you handle your emotions and how those emotions and the actions of your heart are manifested specifically with the way you speak.
I laughed because if I was going to continue through Ephesians, in Ephesians 4:25-32 it talks about three areas that a Christian ought to be different in. Those three areas are your speech, your emotions, and your actions. Then he repeats himself: "Your speech, your emotions, and your actions ought to be different."
Knowing that's what Kurt was going to be teaching on this morning, and knowing that not everyone here was there for that, I thought, "Well, what I'm going to do is teach on what Kurt usually teaches on which is loving God, how you do that, and why that makes sense with where we're going to go next week with how you control your tongue."
Look at verse 25 with me. It says, "Therefore…" You'll see this again and again through this book of Ephesians because Paul is building an argument. Therefore is always in response to or on top of something which he has established as true previously. He would write, "Therefore, because you have a new life…" "Therefore, because you have a new Lord…" "Therefore, because you have a new hope…" "Therefore, because you have a new nature…" "Therefore, because you have a new power which dwells within you…"
"Therefore," he says, "I want you to lay aside falsehood." He'll go through, and we're not going to spend time there because that's where we're headed next week. You go and look. I'll give you a little preview. You see if you can find what Paul does. He has a pattern. He states something negatively you shouldn't do, something positively you should do, and why those two things are true.
Then he'll move to the next. He'll say something negatively you shouldn't do, something positively you should do, and the reason for it. He does that a total of five or six times in this little passage. Go through and see if you can find them in anticipation of where you're going next week.
Even more so, take one and see if you can live it because if you believe everything Paul has established up to this point, if it is true that you no longer are chasing after life and things which are empty… As Kurt shared and we all laughed together, the Ags found out they were trusting in something that was empty. I have to tell you; I think the Longhorn fans who are happy right now are happy in something that's empty. When they run into Florida State, they're going to find out that they were holding on to a vapor.
It's just inevitable. Sooner or later… I'll share with you, again. Cliff Harris, when he was in the locker room after the Cowboys won their second Super Bowl… He looked over at one of his fellow defensive backs. This is in the locker room minutes after they won the Super Bowl. Cliff Harris leans over to his buddy and says, "You know something? I hate to admit it, but I'm depressed."
The reason he said that is because having gotten to the top of the sport, not just being there once but being there twice, it's empty. There's nothing there. It is futile. That is the entire idea behind Walt Disney's marketing strategy. He takes the MVP of the NBA Finals, of the World Series, of the Super Bowl, and he asks them, "What are you going to do now?" "I'm going to Disney World!"
Why? "Because winning the Super Bowl and being MVP isn't enough. If I could just go hang out with Mickey, then I'd be happy!" Nancy Kerrigan exposed that lie when she went down there. She shot herself in the foot. You can go down to Disney World and not be happy, I guarantee you.
What we're going to look at tonight is that we are a people who have been changed. We have a new life, we have a new Lord, we are a new creature, we have a new power. "Therefore," he tells us. That therefore is how we must respond. What I want us to do is before we get into what Paul's going to do is the very practical things you should do. I want you to understand that these are things… I told you this way back in chapter 4. These are things we do in response to love.
Knowing that, I want to talk about tonight. By the way, let me just do this. Let me show you one little thing. Look at verse 21. It says, "…if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him…" Those words, and I don't have time to go back to establish it and prove it, but I'll tell you to take me at my word, those are synonymous with "if you have personally come into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, if you are trusting in the blood of Christ alone for your salvation."
"If you have done that," he then goes on to say, "…just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life…" I want to show you there that this is not imperative. He's not commanding this. These are not commands for the Christian to obey; these are statements of fact. The way it's written can be a little bit confusing, but understand that what Paul is about to establish and lay out is not that you should then do this. He gets to that in verse 25.
What he's going through in verses 22, 23, and 24 is that these are things that are true. It's not subject to your feeling as to whether or not they exist. They are facts, if indeed you are a Christian. Now watch this, understanding that. He says, "If indeed you have heard Christ, if you have trusted in him, then in reference to your former manner of life, it is laid aside. It is no longer controlling you, that part that is corrupted, that part that is in accordance with the lusts of deceit, but you have been renewed in the spirit of your mind."
That right there is a continual process which he's going to elaborate on in chapter 5. These are not things you need to do; these are statements of fact you need to believe. The parallel book to this…in fact, he wrote it from the same prison cell…was in Colossians. Listen to this, if this sounds familiar.
Colossians, chapter 3, verse 1: "If then you have been raised up with Christ…" That would be synonymous with "if then you have heard the truth, if then you have been taught truth." "If then you have been raised up with Christ [if you're a Christian] , keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory."
What he says is, "If then this is true, then live like it. Evidence it out." I want to confess to you that I did a lousy job of this this week. I was reading Ephesians 4:25-32. I read it with my family a number of times, and I want to tell you, I did a lousy job. I kept going back to this and going, "This is unbelievable. I am not speaking words which are only good for the edification of those who might hear it. I am wrestling with anger. I am wrestling with my attitude."
I kept going back and quoting these things, and I said, "God, it's not according to how I feel. I want to live in response to what you have done, by faith." I want to tell you; it was very difficult. The reason it was difficult for me is because I was not pursuing, the way that I should, I think, that love relationship with Christ, which is central to all of this.
This is not a list of dos that you should most concentrate on. That's the song I had decided. I decided that being good is just a fable; don't go and try and do it. You need to respond to truth and let the Spirit of Christ live through you. It is not according to how you feel, and I said two weeks ago (I want to clarify this, and we'll hit it again next week), that it's not that your feelings don't matter. You need to deal with your feelings.
In fact, the Scriptures don't tell you to ignore your feelings. Your Scriptures tell you to acknowledge your feelings. They're there; they're real, but don't let your feelings master you. Feelings are going to be a natural response to what's around you. Paul is arguing that your feelings, your flesh is no longer your master.
If you let your feelings dictate how you operate, then you are of this world. But you are not, he says, of this world because you have died with Christ, you have been raised with Christ, which we had the picture of last week in baptism, and the spiritual life is lived in faith which is evidenced in love.
Let me show you. I want to put some teeth on one specific aspect of the Christian life which is so difficult. We've heard it so many times, but I want to give it some teeth tonight and give you a way that you can subjectively (because I needed it) decide how you are doing at loving God. Turn with me to Matthew 22.
We're going to set it up. We're going to go into a place that, again, is probably one of the most familiar passages in the Bible. We'll read it, and then we'll put some teeth on it. We'll give you some good things you can grip it with, that you can evaluate it with. Look at Matthew, chapter 22, and then look at verse 15. We'll start here.
"Then the Pharisees went and counseled together how they might trap Him in what He said." The reason I lay this out is because again and again, I hear this question: "How do you know what the will of God is for your life? I really want to know what God wants for me." How many of y'all have asked that question? "If I just knew what God's will was, man, I'd love to do it. I'd really love to know."
Ephesians is laying it out, but I want to show you that just asking the question, "What is God's will?" is not enough because a lot of people will parrot the right words. A lot of people will appear to be really earnestly seeking God's will, but a lot of times, when somebody wants to know that, they're escaping what is already before them.
It's like a little girl who has received instructions from her mother, and then she goes to ask her father if she gets another sort of counsel or instruction to find something that's more suitable to her desires. You'll do that. You'll find people who will leave churches, who will leave leadership, who will leave discipleship until they find somebody who will condone their attitude, who will condone their activity, who will say "yes" to their lifestyle.
There are churches which thrive and prosper solely as a result of that. I will tell you that you can find a teacher who will tell you whatever you want to hear if you're willing to tithe enough, give him enough exaltation, pat him on the back enough, and tell him that what he says is true and good and you admire him for it. They'll say whatever you want.
It's not just your asking God, "What do you want with my life?" It's really in your heart. That's what he's always after. Are you really after that? I want to show you because the Pharisees ask the right question here, but you ask this question with me: Did they mean it? Here's what it says in verse 16.
"And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians…" I'll just throw this out for you. You'll see right away, the Pharisees and the Herodians, without getting too deep into the history of the day, were enemies. They were about as separate as a Republican and a Democrat could be in the middle of a budget crisis.
The Herodians were folks who had sold out, and they were called Herodians because even though they were religious leaders, they were men who aligned with Rome and felt like, "Well, the best we can do is deal with what we have, and what we have is a Roman authority over us. Let's get in there and work with them and see if we can make it livable."
The Pharisees were separatists. That's exactly what the word Pharisee means: one who is set apart, a set-apart one. These guys didn't want anything to do with Rome, and they felt like anybody who compromised with Caesar and aligned themselves with Caesar was forsaking the promises and covenants of God.
Both of these groups of men were so wrapped up in their own authority and power of the day that when Christ came and threatened it and rebuked them both, they got together to take on him. They didn't want a third party, one who was winning the hearts of the people with truth. The two of them came together and look what they said. Tell me if these words aren't correct.
"Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any." Did they really know that Christ was truthful and that he teaches the way of God in truth? Lip service… They really weren't concerned with what it meant to follow him. They really weren't concerned with what his truth was. They were just throwing out a trap.
"Tell us therefore, what do You think?" He asks him a question, knowing that however he responded, it would offend either the Pharisees who didn't think you should have anything to do with Caesar, or the Herodians who thought you may as well live under the system and do what you should. It was regarding what is called a poll tax.
Let me jump you down to a third group. Look at verse 23. "On that same day some Sadducees came and questioned Him, asking, 'Teacher…?'" They throw out a question for him, and they want to know an answer, and Christ responds to them. A third group comes to him and says, "Tell us then, what do You think?"
Then finally, in verse 34: "But when the Pharisees heard that He had put the Sadducees to silence, they gathered themselves together." All three of them had gone to him pitching a problem at him, and they had all failed in setting this guy up. So they sent one more little group back to him. "And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?'"
If you will, he responds this way: "'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it…" What does he mean when he says the second is like it? I will tell you this.
He means the second is the greatest and foremost. It is not an A and a B. It is an A and an A prime. They are both inseparable. You cannot do one without the other. There is not a first and second commandment. These are the first and greatest commandments. There's not a separation, if you will, in the Ten Commandments; they are all essential to what God desires for us. There's only one that's not repeated in the New Testament, and that's the one that has to do with the sign of the law, which is the Sabbath, but the other nine are there.
This is God saying, "In evidence of your right relationship with me," and the first part of the law all establishes that. The second ones all have to do with the way that you treat one another. In fact, if you want to go back and look at Ephesians, chapter 4, verse 24, it says in there that you have been made new, that you are now people who are established in righteousness, which is the way you deal rightly with one another, and in holiness, the vertical and the horizontal.
Everybody who is right with Christ is going to have a right relationship and be holy before him and is going to be right in their relationship with man. It says in Acts that Paul says, "In view of this, I do my best to maintain always an attitude of blamelessness before both God (holy) and man."
Jesus is saying here, "The first is this and the second is like it." In other words, the second is just like the first; it's the first and greatest. You can't separate them. "'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets."
Here's what I want to do tonight. Before I get even further into Ephesians, which lays out some specific things you should and should not do, I need to ask us this. There's a group of us who gather, the whole body is invited. We're praying that we as a body would repent, that we would begin to really hate sin the way God hates sin, that we would really begin to believe that he alone is the Author of life, and that throughout the week, we would evidence that in the way we treat one another, in the way we pursue things in this city, the way we allocate our time.
We're praying diligently for the body, that we might control our tongues, control our emotions, control our attitudes. Not that we might be blameless by doing that but that we would live according to who we are in Christ, people who are seated with God in the heavenlies. Therefore, we'll think heavenly-minded ways.
The first that Christ renews in us, in our new man, is our mind. He says in Romans, "I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.""And to renew yourself, transform yourself, by the renewing of your mind." "…be renewed…" It says in Ephesians, chapter 4. "…in the spirit of your mind…"
It's a continual process, that you as a new man have come to love new things because you have a new Lord. It's no longer self and your flesh; it is Jesus Christ, and so you'll begin to love the things that he loves. How do you love God? I'm going to give you six things, and all they come from is the area of what it means to love somebody. I'm going to ask us, and just go through and check yourself and say, "Is this true of me?"
First, in a love relationship, there is mutual trust. Does God trust you? Are you a go-to person? Are you somebody he knows he can send out to represent him rightly in Dallas, Texas? We talked about last week that we ought to be a people who come in here and ought to have shirts on that say, "Body by Jesus," and we look like it. He shouldn't be embarrassed that we're a group of people who carry his name.
Is there a mutual trust? Let me ask you this: Do you trust him? That song we sang, "O God, my God," says that my praise tomorrow is not going to be contingent upon circumstances and how they flesh out. Is there anything in your life that could happen that would cause you to forsake praising him, to acknowledge his sovereign and loving hand in your life?
We have been studying, some of us in the morning, the book of James. In the book of James, it talks about how trials are going to be introduced into your life. When you don't understand why they're there, seek God. Get on your knees and wrestle with him. It says that he'll give you the wisdom you need to understand why it's there. You may not understand all of the specific whys, but eventually, what you'll see is that the ever-present why is best answered in the everlasting who. There's a loving God who seeks to conform to his image who is behind it.
Spurgeon said it something like this: "God is too good to be unkind and too wise to be wrong. Therefore, when we cannot trace his hand, we must trust his heart." Do you trust him? Do you know that God is in everything? It's not just that God had a bad day with sleeping when you got fired from your job, when you got blown off by that one who loved you, when horror is introduced into your life, whether it be health problems or financial problems. We have them in this room. God is in it. He knows you and what you can handle and what you can bear. Do you trust him?
I go, "God, I don't understand this. I don't even like it. There's nothing about this I like, but I know that this passed by your loving hand, and you are intimately acquainted with my ways, so I'm going to trust you in it. I will not forsake you. I will not then now go to another course of counsel. I will not trust in another god, meaning myself, to dig me out of this and then turn back to you."
Do you go, "I have to deal with it my way now"? Do you say, "I have to lie, deceive, recalculate, refigure, misrepresent, whatever I need to do to get out of this situation and then I'll go back to trusting you"? Or do you go, "God, I don't know how this happened or why it's here…" Sometimes we can look and see. Sometimes we can trace it to our own foolishness, but when you can't, are you able to trust him? When you cannot trace his hand, will you trust his heart?
There's an old story about a little girl in a village who they went to seek because there was an accident in a mine. In this mine, there was a man who was trapped down there. They had to come through a different way. They couldn't get to him to give him food or water. It was going to take two or three days, and they needed to find somebody who was able to go down this little hole and get the food to him.
The only one who was really old enough to hold the food they needed and still fit through the crack that was there was this little girl. They brought her there. They carried her there, kicking and screaming, and they set her over the hole and said, "You must go and take water to this man." She said, "I won't do it. I'm not going to go."
They said, "Look, we have Big John here who can play tug-of-war with an ox and win. He's going to hold the other end of this rope. Just go down; he'll pull you out." She said, "I will not do it." They said, "Look, we're going to tie the rope to you. You couldn't squirm out of the rope if you wanted to. You're going to go down there, and Big John is going to pull you out. You're safe in his hands."
She said, "I will not go down until my father holds the other end of that rope." She was saying, "It doesn't matter about the strength of Big John. I don't trust him; I don't know him. There's not a mutual trust that is there. I want to know that my daddy is holding that rope." I have to ask you a question. In love relationships, there is mutual trust. Do you trust God, and can he trust you? Is there a situation, any situation that he can put you in and know that you'll be faithful? Does he know that you'll say "yes" to the next thing?
I'll tell you that there is no way that God is going to ask you to say "yes" to something you're not prepared for. For a long time, I didn't want to trust Christ because I thought when I did, the very first thing I'd get is a call to the ministry. I almost hit a guy when I was a freshman in high school. I wasn't a Christian yet. I was involved with a church, and I was coerced into leading a youth Sunday at my church. At the end of it, I was standing at the back of the church, and a guy walked up to me. He said, "Son, you blessed me today. I think you're going to go into ministry."
I was about half-cocked to deck the man. "Don't you prophesy over me, you old man. There's no way I'm going into ministry. In fact, that's why I'm not going to have anything to do with this church in four years. When I'm out of here at 18, I can go where I want to go. I'll do what I want to do because I don't want to live the kind of life that being in the ministry would represent."
God didn't ask me to go into the ministry. God asked me to first trust him, and I'll tell you what. He changed my heart. It is the delight of my life to get to spend my days the way I spend my days. I trust him, but he's not going to ask you to go tomorrow to Ecuador like he did Jim Elliot. He's going to ask you to grow in your relationship with him so that next year, when he needs you to do something else, you'll be ready to say "yes" to that. Does he trust you, will he ask you things, and do you trust him?
Let me give you the second one. When you love somebody, intimacy is both pursued and enjoyed. The first one is mutual trust; the second one is intimacy is pursued and enjoyed. When I first started dating my wife and spending some time with her, I have a good friend that I explicitly trust. He lives up in Denton.
I did not call him and say, "Hey, Skin, do me a favor. There's this girl I have noticed who has real pretty long, brown hair, even a sweeter character, has a glow about her, a love about her, a wit, and a spunk that I am really drawn to. Would you do me a favor? Would you take her out on Friday night and spend some time with her?
Would you go out with her, get a cup of coffee, sit and visit with her, and would you come back and tell me about the sweetness of her voice? Would you tell me about what makes her laugh and how her eyes sparkle when she giggles? Would you tell me?" He comes back and gives me that information.
Would I then say, "Oh, gosh, that is so neat"? "She sounds like a girl I really do want to spend some time with. Would you go out with her again and this time, develop the relationship a little more? After six months, eight months, whenever we're really ready to commit, would you kiss her and tell me how soft her lips are?"
That's ridiculous, isn't it? You cannot fall in love by proxy. You can't send somebody else to fall in love with somebody for you. One of the horrors we've created in the American church is me, talking heads who are dating your God. He's not my God for me to tell you behind the wizard's curtain every week how wonderful he is. You come skipping out from Oz, and you go, "He must be wonderful because Oz talks about him." You need to know him. He's your God, not mine. He's our God. You personally…
A guy gave this illustration; it's so true. As a dad, I love the time I get to spend with my family. It's so appropriate that we come together as a family and we worship and spend time with our God, our Father. Do you know what would horrify any dad? It would horrify me if my little girls, as they got older, said, "Dad, hey, I love our family time, our family vacations, but I desire to have no time alone with you. I don't want to spend some time on little dates. I don't want you to take me to McDonald's. I'll do all the family things you want, but as far as one-on-one time, that doesn't please me or strike a chord with me at all."
As a father, I love my time with my family, but I also love the times like I had yesterday, on a couch for 15 to 30 minutes with my little girl, listening to Christmas music with her waking up and falling asleep on my chest and saying little things back and forth. I need that time with the individuals in my family. God loves it when we have family time. It's appropriate, but he wants time with you.
You cannot fall in love with this God by proxy. You can't send somebody else to do it. You can't say, "Todd, tell me about your quiet time. Tell me about what God's teaching you." You have to be able to say, "This is what God's teaching me. When we had our own time together this morning, this is what I learned." Do you love God? Let me ask you this question: do you pursue intimacy with him, and do you enjoy it when you have it?
Here's the third thing. The third thing is simply this: T-I-M-E, time. Where do you spend your time? It's not just your quality time, it's not just your quantity time. I think it's both. I was doing a sex and dating panel one time, and I had a high school kid raise his hand in the back. He said, "Todd, what do you do when a girl tells you she just doesn't really have time for you?" I sat there, and I thought, "Help me be sensitive."
I said, "Brother, let me tell you something that's going to save you a lot of time. When a girl says she doesn't have time, what she means is she doesn't have time for you. She has time. She doesn't have time for you." Am I lying, women? Was I wrong? If there's a guy that you like, do you have time? You have all day! You can get creative at work. You're sick; you're not feeling good. It's a mental health day. You're gone. There's time. You can tape Friends. You don't care. "Thursday night? I'll be there." You have time, don't you? If you're drawn to somebody, you make time.
There is no excuse I have in my life for not spending time with Christ other than, I need to be honest, I've lost my first love. Every single one of us in this room has a first love, and by that, I mean present tense. Today, you have a first love. What is it? Is it God? What he is saying is, "I ought to be your first love every day, every second, every minute."
Collin Raye has a great song that says the exact same thing, that every day, every second… He talks about how he has second thoughts. He says, "You know, you've said I've been having second thoughts about you, and you're right. Every minute, every day, every second I'm thinking of you."
That's the way it ought to be. Christ is not an aspect of our lives. That's right I have a real problem…Kurt and I were talking about this…with the idea of discipleship. Listen to me; discipleship is not what you do, it's not a relationship you enter into to teach you about spiritual things because spiritual things are not just a segment of your life. Discipleship is helping you walk as Christ walked in every area of your life.
When you disciple somebody, you don't help them understand about the dispensations. You don't help them understand about the major theme of the gospel of John. When you disciple somebody, it affects the way they're married, it affects the way they date, it affects the way they spend their money, it affects the way they spend their Saturdays, it affects everything about their life because we don't segment our lives.
It's not like we go to church and then we're over here. There is no such thing as a secular life to a Christian. He is the total of your life, not an aspect of it. Straight up, just ask yourself. Let's quit kidding ourselves when say we love God. Do you love him with all your heart, soul, and mind? It's the first and central thing.
You cannot control your tongue if you're not in love with the one who says, "It's in a relationship with me… If you abide in me and I in you, then ask whatever you will, and it shall be granted to you. I'll give you the power." "Therefore," Paul writes, "because you are a new life, because you have a new Lord, because you have a new nature and a new power, then you can do these things. Therefore, because you are in love with the giver of life, who strengthens your weak soul, your life can be different." Time…
Here's a fourth. Is there consistent communication with you and the Lord? In any love relationship, there is consistent communication. I'll tell you this. I'm learning this; I've been married now going on half a decade-plus, and I'm learning that communication is not what I say. Communication is not just what I say; it's what she hears. It's not only what she hears; in my wife's case, it's what I listen to back, and I am a terrible listener, I've found.
When you communicate with God, that's what prayer is. Do you listen to him? This is one of the most difficult things for Christians. We are good about letting God know. If you love somebody, you communicate with them. When you communicate with God, it's not just going down a list. It is saying to him, "These are the things on my heart. These are the things I'm feeling. These are things your Scripture is teaching me." Then, gang, shut up. Shut up and listen.
I have never heard the audible voice of God, but I want to tell you this. I stand before you and tell you: he has spoken to me. He has never told me to go part the sea. He's never told me to plant some great new ministry. He has just told me things about what I need to do in my daily life.
I ask him specific questions. "What's the next thing I need to change about my relationship with my wife?" And I listen, and I want to tell you what. The paper gets filled as I let my pen flow. "What's the next thing I need to do to be a more faithful man in my relationship with you?" Sometimes I go, "No, I'm not going to write that one down," or I'll paraphrase. He goes, "No, write down these specific words." I go, "I'd really rather not write that down because I'm accountable to it." He goes, "Write it down!" I listen.
Do you know one of the great marks of a Christian man? I had a guy ask me this in my office the other day: "Is it wrong for a Christian to doubt?" No. Let me say it again. It is not wrong for a Christian to doubt. Doubt is healthy. God is not afraid of your questions, he's not afraid of your doubt, and he's not afraid of your fears.
I was talking to my sweet grandmother over Thanksgiving. I was sharing with her the gospel. She asked me to bury her when she dies. I said, "Grandma, I'd love to bury you, but I have to share this with you first. Let me have the freedom to share some things with conviction at your funeral." I had a chance to go through the gospel with her a number of times and three or four different ways. We talked, and she said, "I really do believe this. Let me ask you a question, Todd. Sometimes, I wonder if it's all really real. I wonder if Jesus really is God. Is that wrong?"
I said to her, "Grandma, no, that's not wrong. It's what you do with it. When you ask those questions, do you listen for a response? Do you go where there's truth you can respond to? Or do you do what Pilate did, who really didn't want to know. He said, 'Ah, what is truth?' and walked away. See, Pilate asked the right question, didn't he? 'What is truth?' He was standing right before the one whose name was truth."
It's not wrong to doubt if your doubt drives you to find the answer. What's wrong is when you do this… You look at the great men of Scripture, Habakkuk and David… Psalm 13: "God, how long? How long is this going to continue?" But then he shut up, he wrote with his pen, and he communicated as God spoke back to him and reaffirmed that he was indeed sovereign and in control. Habakkuk let God have it. He said, "What is the deal? What are you doing?" But then he shut up, and he let God speak to him.
How are you doing in your communication with God? Is it only one way, or do you sit still and listen? "Be still and know that I am God." I want to tell you. Do you want to change your quiet time, your time of intimacy you're pursuing in joy? When you're done reading your Scripture, close your Bible and pick up your pen, and go, "All right, God, teach me. What does that Scripture have to do with my life? Speak to me. Show me how I need to respond." Communication: listening and talking…
Here's the fifth one, very quickly: a desire to please. If you love somebody, you'll have a desire to please them. Jesus said it this way in John 14:21: "He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him." If you love somebody, you have an incredible desire to please them.
I thought back, and I have to ask myself, when I was dating my wife, and the in love that our world sells so much… We think of in love as a feeling. That is not the way the Scripture talks about love. Love is not a feeling; love is a fact. It's a choice. It's a verb. It's not an adjective that describes how you feel; it's a verb that describes how you act.
If I applied that one truth to my life and my marriage, it would be radically different. If some of you guys understood that love is not a feeling, an adjective that describes something about you, it's a verb, it's an action word, you would not be looking for what you're looking for in a mate. It's a verb, and when you love somebody, you have a desire to please them.
I'll tell you very quickly that this week, my family had the opportunity because we have a grandfather and a grandmother who love my little children and my nieces and nephews on their side, they took them to Disney World this week. My little girl is 2 years old. She's not ready to take in all of Walt Disney World, but it didn't matter because her grandfather and grandmother desperately wanted her to go.
They're getting to the age where they can't really go much beyond this year, so they took her. It was the desire of their life to please these little grandchildren who they so desperately love. Let me give you an idea about where little Ally was in terms of grasping this thing. I was a little embarrassed that we even went. I petitioned and said, "Can we wait a few years?" The answer was no. I had a desire to please my in-laws, so we went to Disney World. Great sacrifice as a son-in-law, wasn't it? I really go all the way for them.
We came home one day, and the bellman was there at the hotel. He looked at my niece, who's 5 years old and really could take it all in, and said, "What happened to you today?" My little niece said, "We saw Peter Pan." The bellman looked at Ally, who's 2-1/2 years old, and said, "Ally, did you see Peter Pan?" She goes, "Yeah, I have panties!" And up went her dress. She's dancing around like this. Not quite there yet.
I was doing a Walt Disney World quiz with them, and we were going through to see how they grasped different things. I said to Ally, "What color were the pink flamingos today at Walt Disney World?" She goes, "Tigger." Kind of missed it… I will tell you that I was a madman taking my little girl up and running her over to get in line so she could see Mickey Mouse.
True story: the first time my little girl saw Mickey Mouse, her eyes lit up, she ran to him, and gave him a hug, I cried. I just cried. I couldn't believe the joy that it brought her. I had a tremendous desire to please my little girl. If you love somebody, you have a desire to please them, and it should bring tears to your eyes when you do things that can create joy in the life of one who you love.
Do you love God that way? Does it bring tears to your eyes? This is a true story. This happens to me all the time. People come up… If they encourage me that I've been used in their life in a spiritual way, I cannot help but have tears come to my eyes. I just can't believe that I could do something that I know pleases God. Does that break your heart? Does it bring you tears of joy? That's what it means to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Finally, the last one is that you have a desire to tell others about somebody you love. Do you not? Is that not true? I've never had to ask a girl who was engaged to show me her ring. They walk around like this. It's like it's tied to a cloud in the sky. They walk around like, "Look, look, look!" They want to tell you not about their diamond but about the wonderful man behind that diamond. They can't wait to tell you about the way he wooed them, about the way he proposed to them, about the way he was creative in expressing his desire to serve her the rest of his life.
Do you have a desire to tell others about Jesus Christ, about God? That's what a loving relationship is about. Mutual trust, intimacy pursued and enjoyed, time, quality and quantity, communication, listen and talk, a desire to please, and a desire to tell others about… George Burns said something like, "The key to acting is honesty. Once you can fake that, you have it made."
In the Christian life, I'm afraid that we've gone, "The key to the Christian life is acting like you're really in love with God. Once you can fake that, you have it made, and you can rise to great heights." Do you know what? You can fool me; you can become an elder at this church… I can fool you; I can become a man who God would use all over the world, and I could not know him. That is the key.
The central thing in our lives is our love relationship with Jesus Christ. Todd Wagner, how are you doing with your time with God? Are you listening? Do you pursue intimacy with him? That's where it all boils down. Do you desire to please him? Do you desire to tell others about him? If you love him, it would be the joy of your life.
We're going to celebrate tonight a God who has defined love. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he sent his Son to be all of those things I just went through for us, a sacrifice for our sins. He sent his Son to be our death on the cross. He sent his Son from the comforts of heaven to be a missionary on this earth, that you and I might know the fullness of life. Oh God, my God, you are my life. Oh God, my God, you're my sacrifice. He came to that little town of Bethlehem, that his body might grow up and be strong, that it could be broken, that you could know him. Let's pray.
Father, we really don't want to just give lip service. We don't want to just say, "Oh God, we know you are truthful. We know you are the giver of life." We want to be people who aren't consumed with Christian activity and actions. We want to be men and women who it is the true depths and reaches of our heart that we are in love with you, that we look deeper into your eyes, that we trust you in ways tomorrow that we didn't know we could today, that you can trust us.
Father, as we stand before this Table, as we get ready to receive an element which is a representation of your body, we are reminded with a physical taste of your incredible love. You tell us to taste and see that the Lord is good, to taste and see that he is love. I pray as that wafer hits our mouth, as it melts on our tongue, that that bread of life is a reminder to us of your tangible love, even as this Christmas season is a reminder of the great depths you went to that you might love us. We can trust that kind of God.
We are grateful for this bread which is broken for us. The body of Christ which was broken as evidence of his love for you. Take and eat and receive it now. We're in the middle of a celebration, a tangible, physical reminder of his great sacrifice. Taste and see that the Lord is good. If you're here tonight and you don't know Christ, we encourage you to continue to observe but pass the elements by.
If you're trusting, though, in the blood of Jesus Christ alone for the provision for your sins, then take and enjoy, and be reminded of the sweetness of his sacrifice for you, that you can trust him. You can trust him so much that this man, if he needed to, would take a death sentence for you. Indeed, he has. The blood of Christ, which is evidence of his love for you, which you should respond to in like manner.
The song says that all who are joyful and triumphant should come. There is never a time that we should celebrate like we should in response to the Table. It is the most humbling thing we do as Christians, to taste the sacrifice of another for us to show his love, that we can trust him. It should be also a time that we rise from our humble position to a stance of praise and celebration and singing. People ought to go, "What in the world are they so wild about? What is the joy that they're celebrating?" It is that we who were dead have been given life.
Most people are desperately looking for answers to such age-old human dilemmas as violence, greed and racism; not to mention personal pain and disappointment with our own duplicity and lack of fulfillment. In this series on the book of Ephesians, Todd Wagner challenges us to open our eyes to the truth that Christ has called us to be part of a completely new society called the Church. Our highest calling then is to be men and women whose lives have been regenerated and empowered through faith in Christ. Our 21st century challenges are not unlike those faced by followers of Christ in first century Ephesus. The Apostle Paul, author of this letter to the Ephesians, emphasizes that the problem with the Church then and today is not that God hasn't given it everything necessary to be successful in its mission. Rather, our problem is like that of a wealthy miser who dies of starvation rather than dip into the abundance of resources at his disposal. Allow yourself to be challenged and encouraged by this ancient letter that adroitly analyzes the plight of Christ's bride, the Church, and then paints a vivid portrait of what we can - and indeed do - look like as His redeemed people. This volume covers Ephesians 3:1 through Ephesians 4:32.