When I was a small child, my brother and I would wait with great anticipation all week for Sunday night, because that was the night that Walt Disney came on TV. I see heads nodding. We’re really giving away our age, aren’t we? Back then TV was new. It was a big deal. Everybody in the neighborhood was home at 6 o’clock on Sunday night to watch…wasn’t it the Walt Disney Hour? Is that what it was called? Or just Walt Disney? And one of our all time favorite things on that show was the serialized version of Davey Crockett. Remember that? “Killed him a bear when he was only three?” Fess Parker and Buddy Epson. Remember that? Well, one of the characters that was on this show was a riverboat gambler. Do you remember him? He’d set up a little table, and he would take three half English walnut shells, and he’d take a dried English pea, and he’d put it down on the table and cover it with one of those shells. Then he’d move the shells around really fast, and you were supposed to guess which one the pea was under when he got done. They would bet on it. That’s how he made his living – cheating people on that. This series is like that little pea. The things of God are kind of like the little pea. It’s very easy for us to get distracted and lose sight of the things of God. It’s hard for humans to keep their eye on what’s really important to God.
Now, I confess that in this series I have an ax to grind – an agenda. I hope to focus people away from all the superficial and unimportant things that some of us seem to think are so important. And I want to talk about the things that are truly important to God.
I was talking to a friend of mine a few days ago. This man’s been in the Church of God for many years. It seems to me that every time I talk to him, he’s a little bit spiritually stronger than he was before. And he observed that when people leave one of the Church of God organizations, they seem to go through a time of exploration. He said, “It’s as though they decide on what to believe all over again.” And he said, “Astoundingly it seems like they always have to grind over the same things, as though they were brand new issues, like which day should we observe? When should we observe them? Is God one, two or three? Are we saved or aren’t we? Who’s in charge?” And he said, “It’s been like this for thirty years! It’s like there’s nothing new to dispute about, so we just keep grinding over the same stuff. And to some people, it’s like it’s brand new, and it’s been around forever.”
And these issues – and others – have been dividing friends and weakening congregations, and destroying the faith of our children. So that’s my agenda. I hope to start being able to focus on the things that are really important to God. And like I said, this is the fourth installment. Our first one was God Knows Best. That would be God knows best, not us. The second one was Christ Is For Salvation and the Law Is For Blessings. In other words, we can’t earn our own salvation from the Law. It’s a gift because of what Christ has done for us. The third one was called Walking Worthy. That is about how the receipt of that gift that Christ gives us implies a submission to God. When we accept that, it means that we’re going to start walking worthy of the gift He’s given us.
Now, this fourth one is called Life Is About Relationships. Now I feel a little bit funny about this one, because we talk about this so much in our efforts to make the church a spiritually healthy place. If feels to me like we’re covering old ground. But the other side of that is, you can’t have a series of sermons on what true spiritually is and not talk about relationships, because they’re so important to God. So, for the sake of completion, that’s what we’re going to do today.
Now these questions – Which day should we observe? When should we observe them? Is God one, two or three? Are we saved or aren’t we? Who’s in charge? Who’s right? – these questions…they are important questions, but they’re not important to dividing the church – not to that extent. You know, it is possible to believe differently about all these things and still get along. And the first step to getting along is to know that getting along is more important than all these things.
Let’s go to Genesis 1:20. I want to remind you of something.
Gen.1: 20 – Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures and let the birds fly above the earth, across the face of the firmament of heaven.” So God created great sea creatures, and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, and said, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters and the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth.” So, would you think it a fair statement to say that God created many animals? He did, didn’t He?
Now let’s go to chapter 2, and verse 7.
Gen. 2:7 – And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils – not their nostrils, but his nostrils – the breath of life, and man became a living being. So God didn’t make a lot of people. He just made one. He made one man.
V-20 – And then in verse 20, it says, And Adam gave names to all the cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast in the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him. He was the only one. And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept. And He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, He made into a woman. And He brought her to the man. And Adam said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called, ‘Woman,’ because she was taken out of man.” So now there are two people. And the second one is made out of the first one. Right?
So what does this mean? Why didn’t He make a whole lot of people, like He did the animals? Well, one of the points of the story is that we are all related. All of us! We all came from two people! See, we don’t think about that. We don’t see it that way. We see a huge division. We get the Muslims, and the Christians, and the Buddhists, and the…you know, all of that. And we’ve got all the races, and ethnicities, and cultures and all this stuff clashing. But this is about how God sees things. And to Him, we’re all one family.
So, what do healthy families do? Well, sometimes they fight. But we learned recently that healthy families know how to repair relationships. And they look out for each other, don’t they? And they help each other. And they take care of each other. And they stick up for each other. And they have a sense of responsibility to one another. And they love one another. That is one of the really important things to God. He created us all one family for a reason. And He lets us know that He did that for a reason. He does that to make a point. And that is, that we are all one family. And families are all related to each other.
Now, which day we are to worship on is also in this story about Adam and Eve, isn’t it? We know that God rested on the seventh day, not the first one. Right? So that’s in there. So that’s important. But which we day we worship on really isn’t that big of an issue for us in the Church of God, is it? But how we treat each other has always been an issue. For some us, who’s in charge is more of an issue than being related and taking care of one another. For others of us, when we observe some of the annual holy days is so important that we’re willing to walk away from longtime friends. For others of us, being right is so important we will insult people in an effort to impose our beliefs on them.
One of our spiritual pillars in this series is that of knowing that God knows better than we do. So let’s read what He says is importnat to Him regarding our behavior in the church. I mean, we know that we’re a family, but we’re also a church family as well, aren’t we?
Eph. 4:1 – I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called. We read that last time. Making sure that everyone knows that we’re right, that we know better than others, because we tell them all the time with authority that we know how it really ought to be and they don’t. No, that’s not what it says, is it? It says, With all lowliness and gentleness, and with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. What is the unity of the Spirit? You can have unity of the Spirit without having unity of belief, unity of organization. You don’t even have to live in the same place, do you? If you have the Holy Spirit, then you’re unified with other people who have it. It doesn’t matter what organization they’re in, where they live, what they believe. “So, yeah but, the Holy Spirit….” Yes, the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth, doesn’t it? But how does it do that? I kept Pentecost on Monday for years before I ever learned when it was supposed to be kept! And I think I still had the Holy Spirit while I was making that mistake – an egregious mistake to some people. Unity of the Spirit doesn’t mean all sitting in the same place in straight rows, wearing a suit and tie, and never arguing about anything.
V-4 – He says, There is one body, and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling. One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. So while there’s all these things that are very unified and together, there are some differences. …to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore he says, “When He ascended on high, He lead captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.” So God is telling us here that He’s given people various spiritual abilities to serve the church. Now He didn’t ask our permission to do this. So we have to treat other people with respect, as they make effort to strengthen the body of Christ, in case we might be insulting God by putting them down.
Go to verse 11.
V-11 – He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come into the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, that we should no longer be children tossed to and fro, and carried by about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, and the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting. We’re not supposed to be gullible. We’re supposed to know why we believe what we believe. We’re supposed to be able to explain what we believe to people. And we should be able to listen to others, and tell them they don’t believe the same thing we do.
V-15 – But – it says in verse 15 – speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head, Christ. God predicts for us that the church would become confusing, and tricky – any time you have people, that’s always how it’s going to be – that things would become divided. It was already starting to become divided, as far as what people believed back then. But in spite of that, how we treat each other is important to God. We’re supposed to deal with people in love. You know, better to pull people together with our words, than to drive them apart.
Why divide and fight? Why do we insist on being right? In just a little while – of course, this is more true the older you are – but before long, all of us are going to know whether God is one, two or three for sure, aren’t we? All of us. Now, some of us know already. All of us will know shortly, won’t we? It will all be clear to us, won’t it? We will also certainly know who is in charge, pretty soon, too, won’t we? Why would we risk dropping something that’s so important to God as relationships with each other, not taking care of one another, not loving each other.
Some time ago, a congregation invited me, along with some other people, to come speak to them for a special occasion. It was over a weekend. And one of the people that they invited to come speak to them was a woman. She was going to give a seminar to them. One of the men in the group was so offended that a woman was going to come speak, and he began talking to people, and stirring up trouble – kind of roiling the waters. He made some really hard statements, and he got angry, and he walked away from people that he had known for many years and had been told by God to love and take care of. To me, what should he have done if he really valued the family of the church more than he valued being right? Here were all these people he’d known for years, and they were telling him that there wasn’t really anything wrong with listening to a woman talk about some topic that she was knowledgeable in. And he was saying, “No, you’re wrong. I’m right.” I don’t know if this entered his mind or not, but he could have skipped the seminar, and still had dinner with his friends, and come to church, and all that. But did he? No, he walked away.
Let’s turn to Ephesians 3:16.
Eph. 3:16 – That he would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, that you, being rooted and grounded in love…. That doesn’t say, “Be rooted and grounded in arguing with people into your way of thinking.” It doesn’t say, “Rooted and grounded in rules keeping.” It doesn’t say, “Rooted and grounded in bossing people around, rooted and grounded in doctrine.” It’s good to be rooted and grounded in doctrine, but that is not what it says here. …being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width, length, depth and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. When we forebear with others, when we accept other people – even though they don’t think just like we do – when it’s more important to take care of our church family than it is to be right, then we are filled with all the fullness of God. And when we don’t, what does that say for us?
I’ve always noticed that when these kinds of things happen, we think that we’re doing it for God. You know that guy that walked away from his friends because they had a woman come and talk to them? He thought he was doing that for God. But really, the Bible tells us he was really just doing it for himself – to be right.
So, let’s think about what we’ve talked about so far. All humans are all one family. We are related by blood. And the church is called the family, as well. So we’re all related to each other by the Holy Spirit, as well as by blood. It’s all about relationships. Families are related to each other. And in the church, we are related by the Holy Spirit. That’s what gives us what we have in common. It’s certainly not the attitudes we have, or where we work, or the kind of clothes we wear, or any of those things – such a diverse group of people in the church. But what we have in common – what relates us – is the Holy Spirit.
Now, so far in this series, we’ve covered the purpose of the Law. We said it’s for blessings. We said it’s not to earn salvation, or to use as a tool to condemn and look down on other people, or for being right. So why is the Law important? Well, we said that the greatest blessing of the Law is that it leads us to a relationship with God and with other people. All people, who profess to obey the Law of God, should understand that that is the way that God uses to cause us to relate in a healthy way to other people. That’s what it’s all about. There are two great spiritual prongs of the Law – love toward God, and love toward fellow man. That’s what Jesus said. I’m just going to read that scripture again. I like to read it so much. It’s in Mark 12, verse 30.
Mk. 12:30 – “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength. This is the first commandment. The second like it is this. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” And so the scribe said to Him – this was Jesus quoting this – “Well said, Teacher, you have spoken the truth. For there is one God and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” So the Law shows how to have a good relationship with God and with other people. It shows us how to treat God and treat other people.
Now I received two letters recently. They were both about the same issue. We made a statement in one our biweekly letters. We said that we’d been told by many people, in the independent church of God movement, that doctrinal differences were causing weakness and division in the church. And I said, “Those differences were the Achilles heel of the independent church of God” – a statement which, by the way, I borrowed from somebody else. One man wrote me a long, impassioned letter, and he told me that he had been part of a fairly large group at one time, but they had divided and divided again. And others had trickled away until they were just very small. And he said that the ones that remained wondered why that happened. So they did some very deep soul-searching, and they all came to the conclusion that doctrinal differences were what was stated, but they were really only the superficial reason that group had sundered so many times. He said the reason was that they just didn’t love each enough to hang in with one another. And he asked me, humbly, to reconsider my statement. Well, of course, he’s right! He’s absolutely right. He was so spot on, and so humble, and so gentle in his approach that I asked him if he’d like to collaborate with me on a project in his area sometime. And he was all excited about it. And I’m really excited about it, too.
Now, the other letter I got was a little different from that. This letter was a bit different. And he was reacting to the very same statement. In his letter he sarcastically asked me where had I been. He told me I, obviously, had my head buried in the sand – that the real problem was people like me, who were trying to build followings for ourselves, because our egos were too large to ever be satisfied. And he told me, as a parting shot, to wake up before the wrath of God came upon me.
And I was noticing the difference in my reactions to these two different letters. I know that there are people who have tried to pull a following away for themselves, and we believe – and I think it’s pretty obvious to most people – that we’re not trying to start a new church, or gain a following. We’re just trying to support the ones that are already out there – helping to retain more of their children. But anyway, he failed to make that distinction, and I was noticing my reaction to his letter, as opposed to the first one. Both letters were corrective, but one of them drew me into relationship, and the other one sent me the other direction.
Think about this scripture. It’s in Matthew 7, verse 12.
Mt. 7:12 – Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them. For this is the law and the prophets. So I think the first man wrote me a letter as he would like to have received it. But the second man…he wrote it from his anger. And I don’t know what he’s really angry about, but I doubt that he would have tolerated this similar response from me – a letter written to him in the same tone. See, the Law is to put people together, and not to tear them apart. And as the Pharisee, or the man and Jesus said to each other, the Law is about loving. It’s about relationships. Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them. And that is the essence of the Law and the prophets. So the Law is also about relationships, isn’t it?
Okay, not only are we all one family genetically, not only is the church all one family through the Holy Spirit, not only is the Law all about relationships, but salvation also is all about relationships.
Eph. 3:14 – For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named. There are beings up in heaven that are part of the family, and there are people down on earth who are part of it, too. God is the Father. Jesus is the Son. We are the children of God. We’re in a family – not just the family of the church, but we are in an eternal family. It’s an eternal relationship. And this part of it – the physical part of it – is preparation for that life with God in that eternal, familial relationship with Him and with Jesus Christ.
Now, I can remember a time, when some folks focused on being kings and priests for a thousand years, on the size of the mansion they were going to inhabit, on the number of cities they would rule over, and on the rod of iron they would wield. We talked about all that in times past, didn’t we? But we never talked about the fact that Jesus said He would come and heal the brokenhearted, the lame, and the blind. That part kind of got left out. We were more into the power side of things.
I’m working with a brokenhearted child right now. He’s eleven. And several months ago he told a teacher at his school that he wanted to die. Life was too hard for him. He’d been sexually abused. He was targeted at school by bullies. His mother is a real trip – totally over controlling – and he just saw no way out. He just wanted to die he was so unhappy. Well, how do you help a child like that? Well, what we will be doing in the eternal family of God is to help heal brokenhearted people. And we’re going to be doing the same kind of things with them that I’m doing with him. And he’s starting to show signs of perking up a little bit.
He builds these giant battles in a sand tray. (We’re doing play therapy with him, and we do that because you talk to adults and you let kids play. It accomplishes the same thing.) When he builds these giant battles, the side that is weak and losing has always been his side. Well, last week he built a battle that was just the same, but I found out that the strong side was his side. I asked him how that change happened. He said, “I have help now.” I said, “You do?” He said, “Yes.” He looked me right in the eye, and he said, “You.” See, we’ve been, over the last few weeks, creating a relational field in which he can heal himself. My support and my presence is what enables his healing. It’s all about the relationship. And it’s not going to be any different in the Kingdom of God when we face the walking wounded who have come out of all the terrible things that are going to happen. It’s exactly the same.
I want to stop right now. I’m going to talk some more about this little guy in a minute. But I want to ask you, once we’re all changed and eternal members in God’s family, do you think it will matter a hoot in a whirlwind who was right about when Passover falls? Why should we fret ourselves, why should we divide ourselves, why should we weaken ourselves over things that don’t matter in the long run. When we’re given eternal life, we will be one forever, and all of those things that we used to fret about in the past are going to be ancient history. And what will be left is our ability to relate. The togetherness that we build now is the foundation of the relationships that we’re going to have later.
Not only is salvation about relationship, it’s always been about relationship. I said a few minutes ago that this little boy is being healed by our relationship. How and why does that work? Well, this is, to me, one of the biggest proofs of what God is doing – what’s really important to Him. When babies are born, they come out of the womb looking for a human face. As they get a little older, and have a little more control of themselves, when they look at a human face, like their mother’s, they wiggle and coo. And when their mother’s face reflects back to that baby, and when her voice reflects back to that baby, “I see and I hear you, and I’m sending the same sounds back to you that you send to me so that you can know that I love you just the way you are,” that’s all taken into the baby’s mind. It’s wired in, we know. It’s wired into the brain structure. What we’ve learned is, that much of what babies believe about themselves comes from other people. You know this whole idea of build your own self-esteem, pull yourself up by your bootstraps? Doesn’t work! Especially with children. What children believe about themselves comes from other people. A baby’s brain is designed to reach out and connect with the minds of other people. And that connection changes the physical structure of their brain. An infant’s sense of self begins with a connection to another human being – usually mother. And what that means is, it means we’re all designed – we were designed from the get-go – Adam was, and Eve was, and everybody that’s been born since then, everybody who will be born – is designed for relationships. We can’t live without it.
As I sit with this little boy week after week, reflecting his feelings back to him, and understanding his worst fears and hurts, and looking approvingly and encouragingly into his eyes, he is literally rewiring his brain to understand that he can be understood, he can be accepted, and he can be valued. See, he doesn’t know that, because it has not happened to him much. He was made that way. He was made so that he needed relationship to become…. So much of his view comes from other people. You know, all that points to something. It points to something very profound about us, and about what’s been happening to us.
I had another boy come to my office awhile back. He’s fifteen. And a month earlier, he’d sat in his living room with a loaded hand gun for three hours while a police officer talked it out of his hand. He was going to shoot himself. They put him in a mental hospital for a couple weeks, and then they released him with a referral to our clinic for therapy. So I started working with him. One of the things that I kept hearing over and over again is that “nobody really cares about me.” Several weeks later he ran away. And after being gone for four days, he showed up again for therapy. I asked him how he was doing, and he told me that he was thinking about suicide again. I said, “How much are you thinking about it?” And he said, “All the time.” I said, “How intense is the thought?” He said, “On a scale of one to ten, thirty.” So he was really upset. I asked him what was the most upsetting thought, and he said, “Understanding that nobody cares about me.” So I called my supervisor, who tried to convince him that his thinking was distorted – that his family really did care about him, but he was just a teenager (and he was also on Prozac, which isn’t good for kids – for some of them anyway, and that the Prozac was probably just causing these wild mood swings he was having) and if he’d just sit and think about for awhile, he’d realize that they really did care about him. So we sent him back to the mental hospital, where they immediately placed him. Later I was talking to the family therapist, who works with his family, and they mentioned that their family had been planning to go on a trip this next weekend, and even though he was now in the mental hospital, they were going to go anyway. They weren’t going to go visit him. They weren’t going to go tell him they cared about him. They weren’t going to go and spend time with him. They were going to go off on their vacation and leave him there in the hospital. Their trip was more important than showing that they cared about him. And we told them, “He thinks you don’t care.” And the way they decided to prove that they did was to leave for the weekend to go have fun. I began to believe that his thinking wasn’t distorted at all – that he, in fact, had read the situation correctly, and that he is not loved by his family – not distorted thinking, but accuracy of thought. That thought – that realization in his mind – was painful enough that he wanted to end his life. People are created for relationship and he didn’t feel any of that coming from his family, and it was hurtful enough that he wanted to die. Really, he’s one of the lucky ones, because there’s lots of people that feel that way, but they stuff it. At least he knows how he feels and why, and that’s good, because we can work with that. We can help him.
So all this points to something else. All this points to something else. Let’s go back to Genesis. Let’s go to chapter 1, and verse 26.
Gen. 1:26 – Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, over the cattle, over the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So created man in his own image. In the image of God He created him. Male and female he created them. We are made like God. We are relational because God is relational. We are designed for relationship because that is a defining characteristic of God. And that points to the eternal importance of relationship in our lives. Long after all doctrinal confusion is resolved, there’s going to be relationship.
Let’s go to 1 John 4:20. Here’s a guy that really learned about this in spades. He was the one who wanted to bring fire down from heaven and kill people that were rude to Christ.
1 Jn. 4:20 – He said, after his transforming relationship with Jesus, If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar. John, at one point, hated those people that were mistreating his Master, and his solution was to nuke ‘em! Well, here’s what he learned. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar. For he who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, how can he love God, whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that he who loves God must love his brother also. The Kingdom of God is not only about our relationship with God, but it’s also about our relationships with each other. Those of us who walk away because somebody’s giving a seminar that we don’t like, or because we have to be right about some doctrinal thing, we need to think about that. All that’s going to go away, and what’s going to be left is us and them. It has always been about relationship.
Jn. 17:20 – This is what we read on Passover, isn’t it? I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I in You. Ah, we’re going to learn how to relate the same way God and Christ do. And that’s important. …that they may also be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me, I have given them that they may be one just as We are one – I in them and You in Me – that they may be perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. I mean, it’s just relationship, relationship, relationship. Father, I desire that they also, whom You gave Me, may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You gave Me. For You loved Me before the foundation of the world. It’s always been about that. O righteous Father, the world has not known You, but I have known You. You and these have known that You sent Me, and I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them. So there it is. It’s always been that. It’s always going to be that way. It was the driving force behind what Jesus did. It’s all about creating that relationship between us and God. And if we’re going to have that, then we’re going to have a relationship among ourselves. We have to know how to disagree and still take care of each other.
So many of us, over the years, have thought being a part of the church was about being right, about knowing more, about being in control, when all along it’s been about taking care of people. It’s been about helping others. It’s been about sharing ourself and what we have with other people. It’s been about struggling for clear communication. It’s been about bearing with people through imperfection and misunderstanding. It’s been about exercising patience, and restraint, and humility. And it’s been about loving each other as brothers and sisters in the family of God. It’s always been about relationship. It’s about relationship now. And it will always be about relationship in the future. And if we know and act on that, then we are becoming more spiritually in sync with what’s important to God.