Sunday, September 11, 2005

feasting on God's love (a short sermon)

Following is the text of a sermon I gave some time ago at Oasis. I include it here in hopes that it will refresh your soul.


Feasting on God's Love
a short sermon by Troy Cady

One Sunday about 7 years ago in Barcelona I preached a sermon about a very simple topic: God’s Love. That Sunday, there was a man visiting our church who told me how refreshing it was to hear a sermon that was simply about God’s love, and nothing more. He told me that it had been more than 5 years since he’d heard a message on God’s love! He had listened to about 5 years’ worth of Sunday sermons and not one of them had God’s love as their primary focus!

I thought to myself, “Surely, he’s exaggerating.” But recently I read a story about a pastor named Charles that makes me think his comment might be accurate.

Charles was a man who developed a bad image of God because of some things that happened when he was a child: first, his own father died when he was only seven months old. Then later, when he was nine years old, his mother married a violent, hostile, hateful man. The author of this true story writes the following words:

“Because of his dulled experience of God and the harshness of his father, Charles was left to fight for approval and acceptance. The solution to every problem was to work harder. He preached more and longer. He tried to pray the most. His perfectionist standards seeped in to his sermon preparations so that even these became a chore. Each new sermon had to be better than the last. If he gave a good sermon one Sunday, it had to be great the next week. Finally, he reached the end of himself.

"Exhaustion nearly killed Charles, and his recovery took a full year, during which time he began to see himself in a new way. He saw how he had tried to force things to work, and he recognized his attempts to win God’s acceptance by meeting a perfectionist religious standard-—a standard that was always beyond his reach. He saw his excess need to control and win.

"By the time Charles reached his forties he had achieved tremendous success, yet he was discontented. He fasted, read books and attended religious seminars, but nothing helped. His standard answer had been, 'God will straighten out any problem—-all you’ve got to do is get on your knees and get in the Word.' When he did begin to open up and share his struggles he got scared—-as if looking inside would cause him to sink into unlimited grief and darkness.

"Finally, in desperation, he arranged a meeting with four friends to seek their help. They went on a retreat to discover what was wrong with Charles. Once there, he shared his life story. He spoke for hours over the course of two days. He began with his earliest memory (of sitting up in bed as a child, crying) and continued to talk of his life up to that day.

"When he had finished, his friends spoke for the first time. One man asked Charles to put his head on the table and close his eyes, which he did. His friend then said, 'Your father just picked you up in his arms and held you. What do you feel?' Charles burst out crying, and continued to cry for thirty minutes. The sense of his father picking him up felt wonderfully warm. He felt secure and loved. And he cried some more.

"Charles began to realize what was wrong. He had always been slightly aware of a wall between God and him. But as he sat with his head down, crying, it occurred to him that he had never felt God loving him. He would tell other people that God loved them, and he knew intellectually that God loved him, but he had never felt it.

"When he returned to work he pulled out his sermon file on 'the love of God.' There was only one sermon on God’s love in all those years of preaching. He remembered that it was so pitiful that he had only preached it once, whereas most other sermons had been 'recycled' several times. It had been bad, he realized, because he hadn’t really known what he was talking about. He was a successful minister who could translate the Greek text, but he could not translate God’s love into meaningful words. Charles had been unable to believe deep down in his heart that God could love him unconditionally. Over time he has come to know he is loved just as he is, that he doesn’t need to try to do anything to earn God’s fatherly love.” (from The Search for Lost Fathering by James Schaller)

Some time ago, Mountainview held a series of services that was based on the premise “People are starving for the greatness of God.” I would also add to that statement, “People are starving for the love of God.” In the two examples I’ve given, we’ve seen two people hungry to encounter the love of God, yet being denied the very thing that nourishes our souls. Going to church for 5 years and never once hearing a message about the love of God is like going to Christmas dinner and eating only a crust of dry bread. Preaching sermons for two decades and only speaking on the love of God once is like setting the table for a nice banquet but never putting the main course on the table. God’s love feeds us. We need fresh encounters with God’s love just like we need healthy food every day. God’s love should be a regular part of our spiritual diet, not just an occasional snack.

Psalm 36 links God’s love with feeding our spirits. It says in verses 7 and 8, “How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights.”

Ephesians 1 also tells us that God puts a banquet before us that keeps on coming. It says that we have received the riches of God’s grace. And that God has lavished those riches upon us. When Paul wrote the word "lavish", he used the same word that occurs when Jesus fed the 5,000. There, even a little bit of fish and a few pieces of bread was enough to feed 5,000 people and they had some left over. In Ephesians, Paul tells us that God lavished the fullness of His rich grace upon us, not just a few loaves and fishes. Now, if God can take a couple of bass and a baguette to feed 5,000 people and still have some left over, just think what happens when he lavishes a full meal on us! There will definitely be leftovers!

Later, Ephesians 3 portrays the limitless, bountiful nature of God’s love with these words: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. And to know this love that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” As if the picture of God’s abundance isn’t clear enough, the passage goes on to explain what “the measure of the fullness of God” is when it says: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever, Amen.”

This limitless picture of God’s love is also corroborated by Psalm 36: “Your love, O LORD , reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies...”

God’s love is rich, lavish, wide, long, high, deep. God’s love surpasses knowledge. God’s love is full. God’s love is immeasurable. God wants us to know His limitless love. God’s love is like a banquet. It feeds us and feeds us and feeds us and there is always plenty more left over.

But, even with the great lengths that God goes to in order to show us His incredible love, we still sometimes don’t see it. I recall once, while living in Barcelona, getting in a car accident. Afterwards, I thought to myself, “God must be punishing me for something I’ve done. I guess I’ve really blown it now. God must be angry at me for some sin in my life, that’s why He allowed this car accident to happen.” Even though I believed in God and had experienced His forgiveness and grace many times in my Christian life, I still, somehow, had this idea of God as primarily a punishing judge.

Perhaps you’ve had this. Perhaps you’ve had a time in your life when you’ve sinned and the first thought that pops into your head is this: “Look at you! You’ve really blown it now. I can’t believe you did that again! When are you going to grow up and learn? I’m so ashamed of you.”

But that voice is not God’s. God’s voice is not condemning; it is loving, patient, kind and gentle. Psalm 103 confirms this. It says, “[He] forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
[He] redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, [He] satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.” It says, “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” Then Psalm 103 explains why God treats us with kindness, gentleness, compassion and forgiveness with the same limitless imagery as Psalm 36. It says, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

Are you getting the picture? There’s nothing more I want to say now other than “God loves you. God accepts you. God forgives you. God is gracious towards you. He is kind, gentle, compassionate."

God loves you. Period. Nothing more. God loves you. Let’s feast on that. Let that nourish your soul.

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