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Relating to God – 1 – Where it all Starts

Jesus told a parable of the judgment in which those who did not follow the King were told “I don’t know you.” His statement brings to mind an important question: How does one get to be known by God – in the sense of being taken into God’s family for eternity?

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Today we’re going to talk about how we relate to God. I’m going to make an excuse for myself right out of the chute here. I’ve talked on this topic very recently at the Feast and at Lexington, but every time I give a single sermon, I always think, “There’s so much more there.” That’s why I like to give series. To make it a complete package, I need to repeat, to some degree, what I said earlier, so that it’s all together in the same series.

So when we think about how we come into relationship with God, what do we think of? Well, we usually think about our faith story, don’t we? I gave a presentation some time ago called Old Time Religion. And I talked about how, when I was five, my mother had a song on a 78-record, and it was called Old Time Religion. And I think that may be where God first started to work with my mind, related to religion itself. Or we tell the story about how God called us. Maybe He didn’t do it with a song for you – maybe something else. Or maybe about the time we got blessed – I told you about the time I bought a motorcycle – a Harley – for fifty bucks – or when He blessed us for tithing, or when somebody said something that just went boing! and we suddenly got it – you know, the big a-ha! Or when He taught us directly out of His word – something we’d never seen that just leapt off the page at us.
Those are extremely important pieces of our faith development. But there’s something even deeper than that – even, I think, more important – more fundamental to our relationship with God. And, if all we know is our story, then I think we’re missing out on something really big that affects us every day – and can affect our children every day, and everyone around us, as they come in contact with us – something before God took action in our lives directly. I think that a lack of understanding about this can actually hinder – or make more difficult – our walk with God. And certainly, if we’re parents, it can hinder our efforts to help our children relate to God.
So that’s what we’re going to talk about – how God starts to work with us first. Let’s go to Proverbs 30, and verse 18 and verse 19. It says here:
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Proverbs 30:18-19 – Three things are too wonderful for me – four I do not understand. So there are three things and then there’s a fourth thing that’s even more important. The way of an eagle in the sky…. I was up in Minnesota awhile back, and I watched an eagle try to take a baby loon away from its parents out on a lake. I might have learned more about how amazing loons are than I learned about eagles that day, because that papa loon got plum ferocious! Of course, the man that was with me – who knows eagles more than I do – told me that eagles are afraid to be over water, so he was more timid than he normally would have been. But an eagle – I’ve seen them a lot in the wild – and they are an amazing creature. And it doesn’t take a lot of smarts to realize that. You just take one look. They’re so big and so majestic. I suppose that the more you learn about eagles, the more amazing they are. The second one was the way of a serpent on a rock. I don’t know enough about snakes to get that one, but I’m sure, if I studied snakes, I would learn some amazing things about snakes and what they do on rocks. …the way of a ship on the high seas. I’ve never been on the high seas on a ship, but I have been on a sailing boat on Pelican Lake in Orr, Minnesota, and I did learn how to wind surf when I was in Hawaii at Kauai. And that is one of the most amazing things how that all works – how you actually travel against the wind. It’s amazing how you can do that! …and the way of a man with a virgin. That’s the fourth thing that he mentioned.
Every day I work with at least, it seems like, with one young girl and I know a lot about how amazing they are, and how amazingly they relate to me. I think the point of this scripture is to tell us that God has not only made a vast, gigantic creation that is just the most amazing thing you can imagine, but He also places His attention on the finest details of His creation. We look out and we’re amazed. And the more ability we have to look small – you know, the new telescopes and the microscopes that we have – it’s like it gets bigger as you get smaller, and it gets bigger as you get bigger. And everything we look at that God has made becomes increasingly complex, increasingly inter-connected, increasingly multi-faceted, and increasingly multi-purposed. Everything gets used for more than one thing.
Let’s take a look at this man and maid thing. When we think of that – the way of a man with a virgin – we think about romance, we think about sexual attraction, we think about the magnetism that the sexes have. We just think about that amazing thing. And that is amazing. It is amazing. But God doesn’t just have that in mind here, I don’t believe. His ways are just too wonderful, too deep, too complicated, too inter-connected for us sometimes. Sexual attraction isn’t just about sex. He uses it for more than one thing. It’s not just about finding a mate or having kids. It’s way more complex than that. For example, did you know that God uses the maleness of a father to instill confidence and comfortableness in his daughter’s femaleness? It doesn’t come from mom. It comes from dad. When she turns into a teenager, mom introduces her to the world of women, but her ability to be confident in herself, as a female, comes from her father, because he’s the opposite sex parent. So his approval of her makes her feel accepted as a female. When she’s a little girl and he sits across the kitchen table from her and smiles while she’s telling him about her life and her interests, he makes loving eye contact with her in those little ten-second bursts, she learns that she, as a female, can be approved of and is worthwhile and is safe. And that happens because her father is a male. It’s kind of hard
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for us to think about that, because we think about male and female, and sexual attraction and all that is just one thing. There’s a lot more to it than that.
You know, it’s interesting that in the Bible, mostly when you see the word man in Hebrew, the word is ish. I believe that was the word God used to describe Adam. And that’s sort of just a generic word for man. But this word that is used here for man is geber and it’s got some loaded meaning there that doesn’t come across in the English. Brown, Driver and Briggs says it means man as strong, distinguished from women, children and non-combatants, whom he is to defend. So this is a mature man who is masculine, who is protective and who is established. Isn’t that interesting? So it’s not talking about courting. It’s talking about the role of a male as a protector. And if it’s father, that’s the best that she can get, but others can fulfill that role, too.
I had a young teen in my office for awhile. And the year before she came to see me she attempted suicide and was locked up for two weeks on suicide watch. She’d been cutting herself and was very angry, very depressed, suffering. When she came in she had a raging case of post-traumatic stress disorder. I think it was safe to say that every single adult male in her life had caused her only grief in one way or another. She’s sitting in my office on her first visit . She’s dug deeply into my couch. She’s got her arms and legs folded. She has a very big frown on her face. And guess what? She’s been having a recurring dream that’s troubling her. She’s being chased and hunted by an evil man who is intent on hurting her.
So what does that tell us? Well, it just jumps out at us, doesn’t it? I mean, it didn’t just happen one time. It’s been going on for weeks. Her relationships with males, and fear of males, and disappointment in males and longing for a connection is not there. Her sense of self is in serious jeopardy.
So I asked her to explain her dream to me and she did. And I showed her that her dream was about her feelings and that it was about fear of men and about all the strong emotions that go along with that. I said, “So, given that, and sense we have to work together, what’s it like to be in a room by yourself with a man you barely know?” She confessed that it was pretty uncomfortable. And I said, “And yet, you so much want to feel better that you’re willing to endure that discomfort – pretty brave!” And then I said, “Young teen, I’m 65. You’re young, I’m old. I was married for 30 years before you were born to the same woman. I raised two daughters – one of whom is now 40-something and the other, whom is 30-something. And I just want you to know that I don’t want anything from you except to see you feel better. I know that you’ve been hurt by every man in your life, but I am not those men. I’m here to help you. And that’s what I’m going to do, if you’ll let me. So you can think about that and make up your own mind. It’s completely up to you.”
Well, before too many sessions had passed, she’d come up out of the couch and was warming to the work and was pouring her heart out. When her mother came in to set up the appointment, I asked her why, with all this trouble with men, she was bringing her to a male therapist. And she broke down and cried, and she said, “Because I haven’t been
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able to provide a decent man for my daughter. And I’m hoping that a male therapist will help.” I got to sit across the room from her, and smile at her, and approve of her, and take care of her, and help her rebuild her sense of herself – her female self.
So is that a digression? Well, where would this fit in? Who is God? Well, He’s our Father – right? – our protector. And who are we? Well, we’re the bride of Christ, aren’t we? We’re the little girl. The way God works with us is just way too amazing for us to take in sometimes. It’s hard for us, as guys, to think of ourselves as virgins for Christ – as young girls. And yet, there’s very much there for us, if we’ll just let it in. It’s just too amazing.
I’m going to talk now about how God first starts to work with us and the things that come into our lives that are important. I talked about this at Lexington. I called it the baby in the crib. I talked about a cycle. The baby has a need. So what does the baby do when it has a need? It cries. Right? Did you know that a baby never cries unless it’s a life-or- death deal? If they don’t get changed, if they don’t get fed, if they aren’t kept warm, if they aren’t loved and taken care of, they die. And babies don’t have a sense of time, so it needs to happen right now or they feel like they’re in serious trouble. That’s why they cry.
So, when parents hear that, what do they do? Well, we get all panicky. We want to help. We want to take care of them. We’re hard-wired to take care of that baby. So we respond. And the baby, then, has its needs met and it feels like it’s okay, and it stops crying, and it stops using just the emotional part of its brain and the rest of it all starts to come together and gets what we call integrated – where the whole baby is all working together at that point. I showed a really great picture of that at Lexington, but I can’t do that today.
How many times a day does this happen? At least every two to four hours – right? – all day long. So that’s eight to twelve times a day for the first, probably, year of the baby’s life. So that’s 8 times 365. That’s quite a lot, right? So there is something being learned by this experience of having needs and then having them taken care of over and over and over again. And what is that? Well, we call this the trust cycle when this happens this way. Babies learn to trust that they’re going to be taken care of.
Sometimes this doesn’t happen. The baby has a need. The baby cries and the adults don’t respond. They’re neglectful. They’re not old enough to have children and don’t know what their needs are and how to take care of them. Or, they’re whacked out on meth, or they’re drunk, or they’re fighting about something – I mean, there are all kinds of reasons why babies don’t get taken care of and they don’t respond appropriately. Sometimes babies are either hurt, because they’re asking for their needs to be met – things they think are life and death…. And when those needs aren’t met, then the baby stays in a disintegrated state – the whole brain isn’t working together. And from then on, they have troubles modulating their own moods and emotions.
When a mother soothes a baby, it looks like she is soothing the baby. We even talk about it that way. But what’s really happening is, she is activating the baby’s self-soothing
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mechanism – over and over and over again. So it’s learning how – its little brain is learning how – to tune down all that emotion – all that anxiety – all of that stuff that goes on. And the baby is learning how to integrate itself mentally. People that fly off the handle all the time – have trouble controlling themselves – a lot of it starts right there.
I was talking to somebody who told me that his son was very hard to soothe as an infant, so he put him in the car seat and just put him in another room and shut the door. So what does that teach a kid? And this person wanted to take care of his child, but he couldn’t find out what to do to soothe him, and it became unbearable after awhile, so he just moved him away. So what does a baby learn in that situation? Well, let’s think about that.
In the trust cycle, the baby learns, “I’m loved. My needs will be met. When I ask, I’ll receive. I can trust my caregivers.” Right? Think about those four things – I’m loved; my needs will be met; when I ask, I will receive; I can trust my caregivers. That’s what Jesus said God would do for us, wasn’t it? So these are the things that God wants us to learn, as adults, about how to relate to Him. And we can start to learn those things if our parents teach them to us when we’re babies. “When I ask, I will receive.” Remember where Jesus said, “Why do you people get all upset about this stuff? Don’t you think that God’s going to take care of you? He takes care of the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. So why get so upset about it? Don’t worry about it. Just worry about what’s going on today – not about what going to happen tomorrow. And trust God. Trust your caregiver.” That didn’t just happen by accident – that babies are like that, and that parents are hard-wired to take care of them, and that they all learn the same lessons if they’re taken care of. God designed it that way. And He starts us out as babies – and learning what we need to learn – or else we have a problem. Many of us have problems with faith these days because of what’s going on in our society. We’ve talked a lot about how to get out of that cycle. And I’m not talking about that so much in this series as the implications of what we need to be doing with our children, and with other people that we meet, and with God and how we relate to Him – and how our past affects how we relate to Him in the present moment.
So, when a baby doesn’t get its needs met, it begins to believe, “I am not loved. My needs are not going to be met. I must take care of myself. And I can trust only myself.” So you see the beginning of a lack of faith, of low self-esteem, of narcissism, of relying on self to take care of one’s self, instead on God – which is a dead-end street – always ends up in disaster. That’s very important for us to understand how that works. That didn’t just happen by accident.
There was a man named Garrickson – a psychologist. He was a developmental psychologist – one of the first people to formulate the idea that humans develop in stages, and that, as your mind develops, you gain new capabilities, and that puts you at a new stage. And this happens, sort of, in spurts. And he said, “The first task of childhood was to learn to trust – and that happened in the first year.”
Another fellow that came along – a long time ago – was a guy named Piaget. He was a Swiss psychologist. He said that trust in parents was later transferred to God as a child’s mind became more able to think in an abstract manner and conceptualize God. I mean,
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that’s pretty much the whole premise of this sermon, actually, and not really disputed any longer.
In our day and age, there is a fellow named Robert Coles. And he wrote a book called The Spiritual Life of Children. He won, I think, a Pulitzer for it. He demonstrated that faith development is not something reserved for Christians, but that all children have the capacity to develop faith by how they’re treated. So the point there for us is, that God has a plan for all children, which is what we believe. All children are capable of responding to God. They all have a spiritual component in their minds and, as they grow, that develops. And it all starts with that trust or mistrust thing going on at the beginning.
I quoted this scripture at the Feast and I think at Lexington, too – maybe not – but it’s in Psalms 22:9. And these are the words of Christ prophesied ahead of time.
Psalms 22:9 – Yet You are He who took me from the womb. You made me trust You at my mother’s breasts. On You I was cast from my birth. And from my mother’s womb, You have been my God.
So it nails what we’ve been talking about, doesn’t it? – that even Jesus submitted Himself to that system of development. Mary was chosen very carefully. And she gave Him the kind of foundation He needed to have faith and trust in God. So trust is the first and the most important thing that we learn in our lifetime.
It’s interesting to think, too, you know, that the US prison population – the most studied group of people in human history – there are all kinds of different kinds of criminals – just a kaleidoscope of difference – and yet they have one thing in common. They don’t trust. That’s what they lack.
So let’s go to Hebrews 11:6 and understand something else about that. Paul said – speaking of God:
Hebrews 11:6 – Without faith, it is impossible to please Him. For whoever would draw near to God – whoever would relate to God – must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him. So there’s the trust thing, right?
Now some people have a much harder time trusting God than others. And what do you suppose causes that? Well, lots of things, but some of it has to do with how we start out in life. I know lots of people that grew up in a really bad situation and they’ve overridden that and have faith in God. And that’s a great thing when that happens. But I also know people who had a really good start in life and faith and trust are very easy for them to have. So that’s a huge advantage, isn’t it?
We’ve talked about poverty of spirit. In the beginning, the first thing with God is that you have to believe that God knows more than you do and that He’s going to take care of you. I’ve said that was the first thing. Well, that was the first one of the beatitudes, but underlying that is the need to trust God. That’s even more fundamental. It’s the beginning
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of faith. Faith makes a relationship with God possible. Okay? Big point. The little girl I was telling you about. Before we could relate, she had to learn to trust me. It’s just how it works. The same thing with us and God.
To this point we’ve generally seen that the ability to develop trust in our parents leads to trust in God down the road. And Psalms 22 verifies that for us. But is there more? That’s pretty much all I’ve said so far about this. But the parent-child relationship isn’t just trust or don’t trust. It’s a very complex dance. And how do those complexities with our relationship with parents and with others – with people at school, with peers – how do they affect our relationship with God as we grow and develop with other people with whom we will inhabit the Kingdom of God? How do those complexities affect how we relate to everybody?
Well, next we’re going to look at something even more detailed and specific with vast implications for our whole life and the life of our children – how our relational style is changed by our experience in infancy and how that style affects our relational style with God and with other people.