Saturday, February 5, 2005

how to live a life that pleases God (a sermon)

Here's a sermon I gave at our Oasis gathering based on Colossians 1:10-12.

How to Live a Life that Pleases God
a sermon by Troy Cady

Many of you may not be parents, but I’m convinced you can relate to what I am going to say now: I love my kids. I would give my life for them. And no matter what happens, or what they do, I will always love them. There is nothing, absolutely nothing in all this world that can stop me from loving them. That part of my relationship with them was settled at conception. Of that much I am certain. I love them.

Now: because I love my kids, I do various things for them. I feed them. I clothe them. I make sure they have a place to live and a bed in which to sleep. But I want to give my kids something that will go beyond just their temporal needs. I want to invest in their hearts. I want to leave an eternal mark on them. Because of that, I try to teach them how to live life well. I do this because I want them to benefit themselves and others. Because my kids are now seven and five years old, we have some rather humorous ways of teaching them how to live life well.

In our kitchen, for example, we have a couple of pieces of paper taped to the wall that remind us of these things. One of those pieces of paper is red and says, “Cady Family Rules: No hitting or hurting each other, No arguing or complaining, Always obey Mom & Dad, Treat each other with respect.”

Now, here are some questions for you to answer: Do you think my kids always obey all those rules all the time? No. Do you think that I stop loving my kids if they don’t obey those rules? No. Is it important for my kids to learn to obey those rules? Yes. Why? Because those things are for their good and for the good of the world-at-large. Now: How do you suppose I feel when my kids disobey? Anguished, torn and sad. How do you suppose I feel when they obey? Ecstatic, is the first word I can think of! Now: my love for them never changes, regardless. But let’s face it: it makes me glad when they obey.

Our relationship with God is like that:

God, our Father, loves his kids. He gave his life for us to prove it. And no matter what happens, or what we do, he will always love us. There is nothing, absolutely nothing in all this world that can stop him from loving us.

Now: because God loves his kids, he does various things for us. For starters, he takes care of our temporal needs. But he wants to give his kids something that will go beyond that. He wants to leave an eternal mark on our hearts and lives. Because of that, he teaches us how to live life well.

Now, here are some questions for you to answer: Do any of us live the way God wants us to live all the time? No. Do you think that God stops loving us if we don’t follow his ways? No. Is it important for us to learn to live life God’s way? Yes. Why? Because doing so is for our own good and for the good of the world-at-large. So, how do you suppose God feels when his kids disobey? Anguished, torn and sad. And how do you suppose he feels when we do obey? This is to say: When we live a life in accordance with God’s desires for us, it not only blesses us, it also makes God happy.

And that brings us to today’s topic: How to Live a Life that Pleases God. The apostle Paul addresses this in his letter to the church at Colossae. In the beginning of the letter, Paul starts out by telling the Colossians that he has been praying for them. After this, he tells them why he has been praying for them, for what purpose. He tells them the point of his prayer and the point of their lives in chapter 1, verse 10: “And we pray this in order that…” (here’s the whole point!) “…you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way.” Resting on the foundation of God’s love, Paul now tells these followers of Jesus that their lives need to be about “pleasing God in every way.”

Thankfully, in the following phrases, Paul tells us how to do this, how to live a life that pleases God. He writes: “…bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might…, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father…”

Just as there are four big things hanging up on our kitchen wall that we would love our kids to do, so there are four things in our walk with God that would enable us to gladden his heart and please him. Here they are:

1. Bear fruit in every good work.
2. Grow in the knowledge of God.
3. Be strengthened with God’s power.
4. Joyfully give thanks to God.

For this first message, we’re only going to unpack the first two of these four things, so next month we’ll talk about the third and fourth parts.

First of all, to live a life that pleases God, bear fruit. There are few things that please God more than when we “bear fruit.” To know how to do this, though, we need to know three things: what “fruit” is, what it means to “bear” fruit and how to bear fruit.

The first thing to keep in mind is how God defines “fruit.” Galatians 5:22-23 gives us a good working definition: “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” In other words, God wants to produce life-giving character qualities in us. The person who leads a fruitful, abundant life is the person who exhibits these qualities. (So, to “bear” fruit means to produce these things).

Now, I’ll be honest, sometimes I forget this. Sometimes, for example, I think that what God wants from me as a pastor is a “fruitful” ministry, which basically translates as: we need more people doing more of this and more of that more often. So, I regularly need to remind myself that churches can be large on the outside but small on the inside. Churches can be physically active yet spiritually paralyzed. This (need I say?) does not bring God great pleasure.

There’s a story in Jesus’ life that illustrates this. The Monday before Jesus was crucified, he was making his way to the temple when he saw a fig tree. Since he was hungry, he went over to pick a piece of its fruit, but there was nothing there. This shocked him. The fig tree looked alive, but it wasn’t bearing any real fruit. This, in Jesus’ mind, defeated the purpose and it upset him greatly. Later, he went to the temple and found that place to be rather busy. There were lots of people there doing lots of things. As God, you’d think this would have pleased him. But it didn’t because, like the fig tree, the temple looked alive on the outside, but on the inside it was dead, dead, dead. The shell of God’s house was erect but its heart was still and its spirit was chill. This, too, grieved our Lord.

I’ll take a small church with a big heart over a big church with a small heart any day! Let us forever be a fruit-bearing church! May those who are searching for life find all that they need to carry on here among us. May people find here in you and me the food of love and a feast of joy! May they pluck peace from our branches and find patience in our shade! May we offer the poor of spirit the fruit of kindness! May we nourish a diseased world with goodness. May the starving find us faithful and may the bruised and battered find us gentle. May people find the abundant tree of Jesus here.

Now that we know the kinds of things God is looking for and what it means to bear fruit, we should ask: “how do we go about bearing fruit?”

Thankfully, Jesus describes how to do this. On one occasion Jesus emphasized that the process starts with a seed that is planted in the ground, then dies and disappears, destined to grow into a vibrant, living thing. Fruit, then, is the visible by-product of an invisible process.

In this light, we come to understand that the process of fruit-bearing carries as much importance as the product. “Why and how” matter as much as “kind or quantity.” Jesus gives us another key to “how” in John 15:5 when he says, “If a person remains in me and I in that person, they will bear much fruit.” If remaining in Jesus produces a guaranteed result as Jesus asserts, the question now is: how do we remain in Jesus? To answer that, we could look to our second main point in discovering how to live a life that pleases God: we remain in Jesus by growing in our knowledge of God.

Notice the text does not tell us to get to know more about God. It tells us to get to know God. There’s a difference. You can know a lot about a person, but that doesn’t mean you know them. And that’s what it’s like with God. How much you know about God is virtually irrelevant. One can, in fact, have very little intellectual grasp of God’s complexities yet have a profound understanding of God as a person.

In “The Cure for a Troubled Heart” author Ron Mehl writes:

I heard once about a dear, saintly old woman who was gradually losing her memory. Details began to blur…Throughout her life, however, this woman had cherished and depended on the Word of God, committing to memory many verses from her worn King James Bible.
Her favorite verse had always been 2 Timothy 1:12: “For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.”
She was finally confined to bed in a nursing home, and her family knew she would never leave alive. As they visited with her, she would still quote verses of Scripture on occasion—especially 2 Timothy 1:12. But with the passing of time, even parts of this well-loved verse began to slip away.
“I know whom I have believed,” she would say. “He is able to keep…what I have committed…to him.”
Her voice grew weaker. And the verse became even shorter. “What I have committed…to him.”
As she was dying, her voice became so faint family members had to bend over to listen to the few whispered words on her lips. At the end, there was only one word of her life verse left.
She whispered it again and again as she stood on the threshold of heaven. “Him…Him…Him.”
It was all that was left. It was all that was needed.

Ask yourself, “Do I know the One who made me? I mean: really. Do I know my Father? Do I know the lover of my soul? Do I really know him? I mean: really.” Now, some of you may be thinking, “My goodness, I have gone my whole life and never really known God.” And (dare I say this) some of you even identify yourselves as Christians and are still thinking: “My goodness, I have gone my whole life calling myself a Christian and yet I don’t really know God. Sure, I know a lot about God, but I sense I don’t really know God.” If you can identify with that and you are saying to yourself now, “I sure would like to know you, God”: take heart. It is never too late to grow in your knowledge of God and, really, God is just a faint whisper away. In fact, God is longing for you to say to him, “I want to know you. Not just know about you. I want to know you. I want to have a relationship with you. I need you, God.” If you would like to say that now you can just repeat those phrases in your heart after me: “God, I want to know you. I don’t just want to know about you. I want to know you. I want to have a living, vibrant relationship with you. I need you, God. Amen.”

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