Thursday, March 10, 2005

pleasing God--part ii (a sermon)

Here's the manuscript for a sermon I just gave last Saturday. Hope it is helpful to you in some way. --Troy

How to Live a Life that Pleases God, part 2
a sermon by Troy Cady

In case you’re wondering, I just want to set the record straight once and for all: God loves us no matter what. The message of God’s extraordinary, unconditional love is written all over the Bible:

For example, Romans 8: Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ's love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture...None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I'm absolutely convinced that nothing--nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable--absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love...

God loves us, no matter what. No matter what happens, no matter what we do or don’t do. God loves us. Period. There’s a word for this kind of love. That word is grace.

Frederick Buechner describes grace this way: “Grace is something you can never get but only be given. There’s no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth…

“A crucial eccentricity of the Christian faith is the assertion that people are saved by grace. There’s nothing you have to do. There’s nothing you have to do. There’s nothing you have to do…”

Speaking for myself, I can say that this is the kind of love for which I have been searching my entire life. Unconditional love. Love-no-matter-what.

Sadly, there have been times when I’ve expected this kind of love from all kinds of people (like teachers, friends, parents, my wife, my kids and even myself) only to discover that none of those people can deliver that kind of love 100 percent of the time.

And if we were to take a close look at the various relationships each of you has had over the course of your life we would find the same: some people love you unconditionally some of the time, and some people even love you unconditionally most of the time, but no one loves you unconditionally all of the time. The only one who can do that is God. The only one who does that is God. With Him, it’s always true: “There’s nothing you have to do. There’s nothing you have to do. There’s nothing you have to do…”

So, question: Once you find this kind of love, how do you respond? How would you naturally respond to the person who offers you this kind of love?

It seems natural (doesn’t it?) to want to get closer to the kind of person who loves you like that. It seems natural to want to follow that kind of person and live the way He wants you to live. After all, He has your best interest at heart. He loves you like no other, remember? Sure, there’s nothing you have to do to earn God’s love, but when that kind of love is offered it’s not a question of “have to” anymore; now it becomes a question of “want to”. It would seem natural then, when that kind of love is offered to us, to want to lean into God and His desires for us by responding in this way: “…take in…the extravagant dimensions of Christ's love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3: 18-19)

Another way of describing this kind of response to God’s love is by saying simply: “Live a life that pleases God. Be the kind of person God wants you to be. Keep living in his love and grace.” That phrase (living a life that pleases God) is found in our text from Colossians. In Colossians 1:10-12, Paul tells the church (in essence): “I’ve been praying for you. I’ve been praying that, based on the foundation of God’s love, you’ll respond to his love by living a life that is pleasing to him.” After laying that foundation, Paul then goes on to describe how to live a life that pleases God. He describes that with four big phrases. Last month, we looked at the first two phrases of those four. We looked at how (first) we please God when we bear fruit (in other words, we please God when we exhibit godly, life-giving character qualities). Then we looked at how (second) we please God when we grow in our knowledge of him (in other words, we lean into God’s desires for us when we get to know God more through first-hand experience, not just through second-rate cerebral activity).

This month, we’re looking at numbers three and four in Paul’s description of how to live a life that pleases God.

After telling us to bear fruit and to grow in our knowledge of God, Paul tells us to “be strengthened with all God’s power.” A few notes about this:

First, here’s a note about why it is essential to be strengthened with God’s power. I’ll address this through a story I found to be quite funny. It’s about a man named David Huxley who holds a world record in a very unusual category: he pulls jetliners. On October 15, 1997 for example, he broke his own record at Mascot Airport in Sydney, Australia. He strapped around his upper torso a harness that was attached to a steel cable some fifteen yards long. The other end of the steel cable was attached to the front-wheel strut of a 747 jetliner that weighed 187 tons. With his tennis shoes firmly planted on the runway, Huxley leaned forward, pulled with all his might, and remarkably was able to get the jetliner rolling down the runway. In fact, he pulled the 747 one hundred yards in one minute and twenty one seconds. A superhuman feat indeed.

Now: in our lives, we know we need to get from point A to point B. The problem is: point B is a lot further away than a mere one hundred yards, it’s more like one thousand kilometers! That’s because we know deep inside that we need to move from cities like Confusion, Indifference, Anger, Lust and Hatred to exotic places like Peace, Conviction, Grace, Love and Mercy.

Now, we know that’s where we want to go, but the question is: “How are we going to get there?” We can try to get there in one of two ways. We can choose, like David Huxley, to pull with all our strength and try to do it on our own, inch by inch, only to discover at the end of our life that we never even made it off the runway or we can simply light the fuel of God’s power that’s available to us and literally soar thousands of miles on the wings of the Spirit.

You can see that, without being strengthened with God’s power, it isn’t just difficult to go to the places God wants us to go to, it’s impossible! There is no way you can live a life that is pleasing to God without also relying on his supernatural power.

The good news is: God does make his power available to us. The Bible tells us that when we place our faith in Jesus Christ and give our lives to him, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our hearts. This means God’s power is available to all who believe in Jesus. That’s why Paul writes in Ephesians 3: “I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit--not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength--that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in…God can do anything, you know--far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.”

So, through the Spirit, God’s power is available to us. The problem is we’re a little like a guy named Ira Yates who owned a sheep ranch in a West Texas town. After the Great Depression of the 1930’s, Yates was unable to meet the payments of his mortgage. He almost lost his ranch. Bill Bright tells the rest of the story: “Day after day, as Yates grazed his sheep…he no doubt was greatly troubled about how he would be able to pay his bills. Then a seismographic crew from an oil company came into the area and convinced Yates there might be oil on his land. They asked permission to drill a…test well, and Yates signed a lease contract.

“At 1,115 feet, the drillers struck a huge oil reserve. The first well came in at 80,000 barrels a day. Translated into today’s market value, that would be a gross income of about [4 million] dollars a day from that single well. And that was only the beginning!

“Many more wells came in—some more than twice as productive as the first. Then, after oil had been pumped for more than 30 years, a government test of just one of the wells showed that it still had a potential flow of 125,000 barrels of oil a day. And the one time sheep-rancher named Yates owned it all!”

Like Ira Yates, we are living with a vast power resource lurking just under the surface of our lives. That power is just waiting to be tapped into. The question now is: “How do we access this power?”

To answer this, I’d like you to think of the Holy Spirit’s power like the power of the wind. This image is not far-fetched since the Scriptures tell us in several places that the Holy Spirit is like the wind. Now, imagine that you are a sailboat and you need to get from one place to another. The only way you will get there is by appropriating the power of the wind. So, what do you need to do? You need to put up your sails and then you need to turn your sails in the right direction to receive the wind.

Being strengthened with God’s power works like that: the wind is there, but you have to let the wind control, guide and direct you. It’s a choice, a decision on your part. And we indicate that decision, that choice, by simply saying to God: “I want to be filled, I want you to control me, I want you to guide me.” When you do that, God will not refuse. He will fill you, he will guide you, he will give you power to move ahead. And you’ll find yourself on an amazing voyage! You’ll find yourself going to the places God wants you to go. You’ll find yourself living a life that pleases God.

So, be strengthened with God’s power. Let’s look briefly now at the final way we can live a life to please God: “joyfully give thanks to God.”

It’s obvious to see how giving thanks to God brings Him pleasure. We all like to have someone say “Thanks” to us. God is no exception. When we say thanks to him with joyful hearts it brings him great pleasure. That much is certain. But, I’d like to highlight something else about this phrase that isn’t so apparent: when we give thanks to God, it not only pleases him, it also blesses us and brings God’s blessing to the world around us.

Let me explain how this phrase (“joyfully giving thanks”) literally says that to us.

First of all, there’s a play on words here that you can’t see in English. That’s the down-side of translation. When Paul said “joyfully giving thanks” he used two words to play off of each other: “charas” and “eucharisteo”. You can see that these two words are closely related. The first means “joy” or “gladness” or “happiness”. The second, however, is a compound word: “eu” meaning “good” and “charis” meaning “grace.” (Interesting, the words “joy” and “grace” are just one letter apart: “charas” and “charis”!)

You can also see that Paul is literally telling us to “joyfully give eucharist”. In other words, “joyfully hand out goodgrace”. Many of you are familiar with the word “eucharist.” We think of it as another way of saying “The Lord’s Supper” or “Communion”. But, here we see that “eucharist” is invested with a much broader, much richer meaning. Eucharist is any means by which we receive (or dispense) God’s grace.

For example, I could say that my relationship with my wife is “eucharistic”. If I were to describe it in that fashion, I would be saying: “I receive God’s grace through Heather and Heather receives God’s grace through me.” Our relationship is the vehicle through which God’s grace is administered. (So, the next time I write a love letter to my wife I think I’ll tell her: “Honey, I love you because you are so…eucharistic.” How’s that for romance?!)

Anyway, you can see that the whole of our life is to be lived “eucharistically.” Think about it: you receive God’s grace in so many ways: through nature, through God’s Word, through Jesus Christ, through friendships, through God’s provision, etc. Question: Why not just add yourself to that list? Why not think of yourself as eucharist? Really, why shouldn’t you live your life in such a way that when people see you or hear you or touch you they receive God’s grace? Let your life be a thank-offering to God and, in so doing, let your life be a grace-offering to others.

If you were to live life that way (blessing God, blessing others--and being blessed in return) people wouldn’t need to go to a church service to have the Lord’s Body and Blood: they’d have it every day on the street, or at work, or at home in your body. God’s grace coursing through you would fill the gaping hunger of their souls. At last, at long last, God’s grace would fill every corner, every crevice of creation! At last, deliverance and liberation would be free for the taking!

So, let’s bear fruit, and let’s get to know God more and let’s tap into God’s power that He has graciously made available to us. But, above all else, let’s give thanks by giving grace.

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