You know who 'that person' is. She's the one who pushes all your buttons. He's the one you force the fake smile on after you slap on armor for protection so they don't hurt you. 'That person' is the one who drives you nuts. 'That person' is a real struggle in your life. 'That person', in all honesty, has put or kept you so far from God and godly actions and thoughts. You know what I'm saying. You've tasted the Real Ugly Stuff when you think of this person. You've hurt profoundly because of this person. And, oh yes, in the face of this is that Second Commandment—the really challenging one—the one that says to love your neighbor.
Now when it comes to the commandments, let me ask you something. When you think of religion, what comes to your mind—a set of rules, regulations and obligations—or a deep, intimate relationship with God?
Yes, there are certain guidelines God wants us to follow, but God's purpose in giving them is to protect us from the consequences of sin. When we have a relationship with God through Christ, life gets exciting. And life gets exciting when we have a relationship with Christ because this happens, this always happens: God stirs up a passion inside us to love people. It's true.
Here's the proof in what I just said. It's another question, and you know the answer to this one, just like you knew the answer to the one I just asked. Ready? Here's the question. Do you love move people before church, or after?
You love more people after church. Before church, before that corporate worship everybody together life is good because God is good time, you're what? Half full? Three quarters good?
And then what happens after worship? Are you heavy or light? Are you grumbling like before, or glad to have had the community experience of God?
Yeah, it's the latter. We love more people after church than before because we get again that it is God who is love, and when we are nearest to God, we, too, catch that love thing. With God, we don't have to struggle to do the things He calls us to do. It just happens naturally. Even better than that? It happens joyfully.
Our scripture today confirms this. It's a scripture note because I want you to remember it. In Romans 8:9b, Paul says this: You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. If you choose to let the Spirit live inside you, if you choose each day to be God led and God fed, you will be controlled, maneuvered, empowered and guided not by your will but God's ways. And here is something you need to hear over and over again, and it's this: God loves you. That's all there is to it. He may not like everything you do, but He's never going to stop loving you. God is not impressed with your works at all. What He cares about is your heart.
I believe the greatest thing God wants to hear from us is this: "I love You, Lord. And Lord? Thank You for everything You've done in my life. I want to do what's right. Keep teaching me."
Christianity is about living a vibrant, exciting life in Christ, and it goes hand in hand with developing a personal relationship with God. Jesus wants us to be in love with Him. And the next step is natural, too. Jesus wants us to be in love with others, too.
In opening the door to relationships—even, or especially, with 'that person'—consider yourself to be someone who has a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ by way of the Holy Spirit. And why a personal relationship? Because God himself is personal! God, out of love, personally sent a part of Himself to us so that we can have this loving relationship ability here on earth—not just with our triune God, but with each other. Jesus Christ was sent to this earth so we could have a living, vital relationship with God, not just a bunch of rules and regulations we're forced to follow. And there's more. God sent His Son so that we can be in relationship to each other.
We have a relational God, a God whose deepest desire for His children is to be in relationship with Him. God wants to be involved in everything we do. God wants us to fellowship with Him, which means communicating with Him throughout our day just like we do with someone who is our close friend or family member.
Open the door to a relationship with God. Discover that having a real, intimate relationship with God is not about using the "right" words, spiritual techniques, twisting God's arm, or trying to live a perfect life. It's not about what you do, how long you do it or where you do it...but it's about knowing who God really is.
In the Gospels, Jesus demonstrates with His own life that a relationship with God is not about rules, rituals, or religions. These things are used to exalt and impress people and they are fruitless when it comes to attaining a real knowledge of God.
In Luke 11, we read that even the disciples struggled with really knowing God. One day, when they were observing Jesus' deep communion with the Father while He prayed, they noticed how Jesus spoke to God intimately. The disciples wanted to have that same connection so they asked Jesus to tell them His secret to having close communion with the Father.
Jesus reveals the answer to them in an astounding parable, which is summed up in verses 9-10: "So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seek finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened."
God earnestly desires to talk to us. God earnestly desires to spend time with us through prayer. God earnestly desires to love on you each day, every day. All God is is love. The Gospel of John confirms this. All God is—all that God is—is love. And when we come to the Lord in prayer, when we begin to pray ceaselessly as Paul encourages us to do, in 1 Thessalonians 5, we can be certain of this: God is not so distant and so removed to not help us; God is not so busy to not hear us; instead, God is exceedingly ready to come to our aide and bless us.
And when God blesses us, we, in turn, can bless others. Consider that it is not your inward ability to love the stranger, but it is God within you that enables you to love the stranger, love the unlovable, and live your life not by your plan but by His?
Open the door, or maybe today is the day you open the door wider. Have a relationship with God. How do you know you have a relationship with God? Here's the answer. You know you have a relationship with God when the other relationships in your life are godly. Relationships that are godly are relationships built on and carried through with love.
This all sounds neat and tidy. It's a pretty picture. But some of you here today have a sticky something. Actually, I misspoke. You don't have a sticky something; you have a sticky someone. You have a relationship that, said bluntly, isn't perfect. Maybe it's one of your kids. Maybe it's a grandchild that, if you are honest about it right now, is a thorn in your side. Maybe there's someone in your world who you often ignore or push aside because you really don't want to talk about or face the mess.
It's getting cooler and some of you long for the ol' summer days. Well, suppose I handed you a ticket to some tropical island vacation. You are given seven days of pure, euphoric bliss. Sounds nice, doesn't it? There's one catch. You have to spend all your time with that one person who truly challenges you. Suddenly you realize this: there's no island big enough for the two of you.
When you get that God is love, when you get that God's deepest desire is to be in love with you, you begin to see this: God's desire is to be in relationship with everyone. Everyone? Yes, well, that includes the person you're with on this vacation.
Let me tell you this, straight up. If you have a relationship mess right now, you have a self-guided approach to the situation. That's on your notes page, too. Here it is again. If you have a relationship mess right now, you have a self-guided approach to the situation, not a God-inspired one. That person who did you wrong or disappointed you is not living up to your standard. And this is true, likely they've hurt you or profoundly they've hurt you. Substance abusers steal from their family to support their habit. Sexual offenders literally do the unthinkable. Rapists rape. Alcoholics destroy. Liars weave such pain around your heart that you feel barbed wire tightening around your soul. All of this is true.
And this is true, too. As God loves you, God loves them. And God does love you with His perfect love even though He knows what you know. And what you know is this: you aren't perfect. Perfect you? Ha! Swallow some truth now. You've lied, cheated, stolen, and destroyed someone or something at some time. You were mean-spirited rather than Holy Spirited.
And God knows this. And God does this. He loves you. In that love, you can build your relationship not just with Him, but also with those He has put into your world.
Hear Paul again with our lesson from today. It's the last fill-in on your sheet. Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life (or your spirit is alive) because you have been made right with God. Romans 8:10.
Now just listen to the two verses following the one you just heard. "The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.
Open the door to your relationship to God. In so doing, this will be a natural outcome. You will open the door to better, deeper lasting, and far more loving relationships with others.