Have you ever had someone in your life and you really, really wanted a deeper relationship with them? You wanted to take that relationship a level deeper and they just wouldn’t go there with you? Maybe back in high school or college and there was this person and you were really falling for them and they were not falling for you. You keep trying to get the relationship to go to a deeper place and they just won’t cooperate. They’re polite and kind about it but they’re distant.
Or maybe you have adult children and you made some mistakes with them in the past and now you’re trying to reconnect with them. And you don’t just want to have Christmas and Easter with them or just send cards occasionally – you want to have this deeper connection where you’re friends and transparent and you’ve got a deep relationship. And no matter how hard you try, they’re just not going to let you in. They’re not going to let the relationship go to where you want it to go. Or perhaps it’s the other way around and you’re trying to connect with your parents. Maybe your parents were divorced and you grew up with mom or dad and now you’re trying to have a deeper relationship with your other parent and they want nothing to do with it. Everybody is kind and everybody is polite but everybody is a little distant.
You want so badly for the relationship to go somewhere else but there’s just nothing you can do to get it there. Maybe it’s your marriage. That’s the toughest one. Things used to be great. Things used to be intimate – you were like best friends hanging out. And over time something happened and you want that kind of relationship with your husband or wife but it’s kind of like they just checked out. They’re polite. They’re kind. But distant. And you get so frustrated and you try everything you know how to do to bring them into that intimacy that you want. But they just won’t go there.
Have you ever been in any kind of relationship where you wanted to go deeper than it actually ever goes? Isn’t it frustrating because there’s nothing you can do to force somebody to go with you to that level of relationship where it is so comfortable and you are so transparent and you relax and you enjoy being with them?
Now this might be hard for you to believe; it might take a long time for this to get to your heart; and as I’ve lived in some of these sorts of relationships; and as I prepared for today, the prayer I have for myself is God, help this get from here to here.
Believe it not, throughout the whole Bible we are presented with God as one who desires with all of his heart to have an intimate relationship with his creation but time and time again creation stiff arms him and is polite and generally and casually respectful but refuses to go the level of relationship that God desires and has paved the way for us to have. God is pictured in the Bible as a father who wants to have relationship with his son and his son says “I’m going to go do my own thing” and it’s the story of the Prodigal Son and the father waits and waits and waits because he loves his son so much and the son says “no I’m going to do my own thing” and the father never gives up.
He’s presented as a shepherd who loves the sheep but the sheep decide they’re just going to go do their own thing and it breaks the shepherd’s heart.
We see him in the Garden of Eden, the creator God whose creation has turned their back on him. And we see a God who wonders around the garden calling out for his creation – the relationships been broken and he longs for it to be the way it used to be.
From cover to cover the Bible shows us that your heavenly father desires a relationship with you that is not casual and is not distant and isn’t just respectful and isn’t based around a holiday or an environment where you just show up and sit in a row. Throughout Scripture your heavenly Father desires a relationship that is characterized with intimacy. And yet, for reasons we’ll talk about in a few minutes, we treat him respectfully but casually not intimately.
If you have your Bibles, or use your message notes; I want to read a few verse with you. They’re found in Revelation. The book of Revelation was written by John. John was one of Jesus’ first disciples – they hung out together. In the beginning of the book of Revelation, John communicates by writing seven short little letters to some churches. And these letters are essentially God’s word to each of these churches as God wants to say some specific things. So these words were written to a specific church/area called Laodicea. They were written to Christian people in a Christian church yet they reflect the fact that you can be very religious and you can be a believer in God yet have developed a perspective that keeps God at arm’s length. You’re going to be respectful, because after all, it’s God. But you’re not going to let him go with you to a level of relationship that he wants. Read Revelation 3:15. Things aren’t as well as you think they are. Read Revelation 3:20. You’ve got some stuff going on – but here I am. I know you’re busy and you’ve got programs and committees and Bible studies but here I am. But I stand outside the door and knock.
But you’d think like he’d huff and puff and blow the house down if you’re God – what are you doing knocking? Just go in and have your way with them. Jesus says, no I’m just going to knock.
All of sudden we’re introduced to a concept – this thing that sets Christianity apart from every other religion, that our God who invites us to call him Father says this: “with all my power and with all my ability, there is one thing that I cannot do. And it is the one thing I desire the most. I can make you obey me. I can make you fear me. But I cannot make you love me.”
I can threaten you. I can take your children. I can take your finances. I can take your health. I can take things from you. I can give things to you. But I cannot make you love me. Throughout Scripture we see God searching for the very thing he paid such a high price for. He’s searching for the relationship that he had at the beginning. It’s a relationship characterized by the word “intimacy.” But because he can’t force you to love him, he’s standing on the outside saying, “I want in.” I don’t want in like talk about me, believe in me. I want in like a relationship that only you can allow me to have with you. Because I can’t force you to love me. So sometimes as Christians, we have opted for something second. Instead of relationship characterized by intimacy we’ve opted for religion.
Religion is a response to God that allows us to treat God respectfully but not intimately. As some of us have learned, religion is a very empty thing but it’s a substitute for what God ultimately wants. And when you’re committed to religion as opposed to the real thing, God becomes a formula. And you all know the formula – go to church (check), read your Bible (check), say your prayers (check), pray at the meal (check) and if you sin you pray “dear lord please forgive me of my sins in Jesus name, amen.” And then God gets out his eraser and erases all the sin and then zaps his memory so that he can’t remember them anymore. And then I go out and sin a whole bunch more and repeat the formula and the angels whisper ssh, God’s forgotten that. Kind of like an old guy who can’t remember anything.
So in the formula we can be respectful of God but there’s no intimacy. It’s a relationship of ritual and you know what happens eventually to religious people, God becomes someone who just does stuff for me and I become very self-centered; religious people are very self-centered; it’s not about God it’s really about me. It’s about finding the right combination of how I can get God to do for me what I want God to do for me. How do I throw God a bone every once in a while so I can get God to do my bidding? And I would never say that because that would be disrespectful and I don’t want to be disrespectful but I don’t want this whole thing to get too close.
That’s religion. It’s a formula. It’s a way to get God in on my deal and eventually you become judgmental. You become judgmental because you decide that God likes certain things and doesn’t like certain things and when you see people doing things you’ve decided God doesn’t like, then you don’t like them because they’re ungodly.
Sometimes you want to do the things they’re doing so you just hate them. If you weren’t religious you get to do some of that stuff too. So if I’m religious that just doesn’t work – I’m empty and if I’m not religious then I just have guilt and no place to go with my guilt. What am I to do?
Religion is not about love, religion is about harnessing the power of God for me. It’s trying to get God to do something for me. Here’s what Jesus said about some religious people. Read John 16. Jesus says this is where religion goes. This is why it is so dangerous. They will do such things because they have not known the father or me. Not believed but have not known.
There’s no relationship. There’s all kinds of general belief. All kinds of respect. But you don’t know the father. That means the father is a stranger to you. And over time you become a stranger to his ways. And then when things don’t do the way you think they ought to go if there was a God then you get all upset with God who you never knew anyway. Because if there were really a God the way I think there were a God then everything would’ve gone my way.
And when things fall apart you wonder why wasn’t God there and God’s like – you didn’t know me because if you knew me you wouldn’t have done that – you would have never asked her; if you’d have known me you never would have gone; if you had known me you never would have signed; don’t blame me, you don’t even know me. You’re respectful but you don’t know me.
If you don’t know God you’re a stranger to his ways. And if you stranger to God guess what else you’re a stranger too – you become a stranger to God’s love. And when you’re a stranger to God’s love here’s how you view God – God wants me to perform my way into his good graces. And God’s really excited when I sit in a row and put up with a 40 minute sermon. He’s so excited about that. You become a stranger to God’s love and you think the whole thing is about performing your way into his good graces and perhaps performing your way into heaven and you hope you’re a good person. You know why you think that? You are a stranger to God’s love.
Years ago the priority of Christ church was established that said we want intimacy with God – not religion but intimacy. A passionate connection with God. That’s what we stand for – that’s what we would die for – that’s what we want so desperately to have not just for ourselves but for everyone.
We don’t want to become a religious institution. We want to be men and women not on a religious pursuit but one a passionate pursuit to connect with God at the level he’s invited us to connect with him on – intimacy. You know what that means? Intimacy with God is lot like intimacy with a person.
There are several things that happen: it takes time. Unrushed, unstructured, I’m just hanging out sitting with you, time. Some of you here that was your story – when I got alone with God, when I opened God’s word, when I would pray, it was like a breath of fresh air. God was no stranger. There was intimacy. Then things got busy and now I just go to church. And instead of intimacy, I just serve. And instead of this being personal, it’s gotten kind of corporate. And there’s no intimacy. Because I quit giving God time. You can’t have an intimate relationship with anybody where there is no time.
It will also take transparency. This might be new for you. You see if you and I are going to have a real deep relationship we’ve got to be connected. We can’t talk to each other in formulas. It means we’ll have to stop being so polite with God. Honesty. God already knows. Where’s there’s transparency, there’s intimacy. You get the good, the bad and the ugly. And if you accept that from the other person you’ve got a relationship that enviable. Prayer some R-rated prayers, pour out your heart. Listen, he sent his son to die for you so that you could have intimacy with him. How dishonoring is it to keep him at arm’s length and be respectful but no intimate. That leads to third thing for intimacy to happen and this is why we run away from it and towards religion.
There’s got to be submission. This may be the take away for you. Submission is the most powerful relationship dynamic in the world. Mutual submission. I’m going to harness all of my abilities and talents for your best interest. And you’re going to harness all of your abilities and talents for my best interest. And you put two people together or a person and God and you have intimacy. When both parties are committed to mutual submission you go deep. But the idea of submitting to God scares us to death is because we do not know the Father. And we run to religion to keep him at arm’s length.
Mutual submission makes all the difference. And here’s the thing, God has already made the first step. When Jesus died on the cross for you; before you were born; before you said your first prayer; before you did anything – your savior died for you. And in doing so here’s what God said, “I’m going first and submit myself to you. I’m going to put you ahead of me. I’m going to be more concerned about your sin than my glory. I’m going to be more concerned about your sin, your life and your eternity, than I am about my comfort. I’m going to submit to you as an invitation for you to submit to me.”
When we submit ourselves to that kind of relationship something will happen that will take you far outside of ritual and religion.
What are we so afraid of? I’m with you. I’m learning. If I surrender to God, he’s going to huff and puff…no, no, no. Listen God (knocks) I want you to love me. I don’t want you to just be respectful and polite. I want you to love me. I just don’t want you to show up and sit in a row; or perform your way to me; I want intimacy. We don’t need to fear that because God has already surrendered to us. That’s way different than religion but it is what God desires and he cannot and will not force that. He’ll stand at the door and knock.
You know what I want from my children? I don’t want them to use me. I don’t want to be the bank. I can tell when my kids are playing me. I can tell when they want something. But you what really lights me up? When they say, “dad can I talk to you about something?” or “dad can I have a hug?”
If I can tell when my kids are playing me, do you not think that your heavenly father knows when you are playing him? But he wants you to love him and he cannot force that but he has done everything in the world to pave the way for that kind of relationship.
Listen to how John finishes this little letter to these folks in Laodicea. Read Revelation 3:20. (beat the living daylights out of you for making me stand out here so long!) That’s what we fear. It’s not because he can’t get in. It’s because he wants something more than to be in. He wants you to invite him in.
So Jesus says, “Here I am.” Your move! Here I am. Not religion. Your move. I want intimacy with you. It’ll change your life.