Summary: If we are to enjoy our relationship with God, we must realize 1. God is for us. 2. You have to want it. 3. You have to enter into it completely.
Ferdinand Magellan was the Spanish explorer who led the first expedition to sail around the world. As he approached the tip of Argentina, in the year 1520, he came to the region he named Tierra del Fuego (land of fire), because there were natives on the shore tending several large fires. But as the great ships passed by the natives, who had surely never seen nor heard of sailing vessels in their lives, they completely ignored the ships as though they did not exist. When Magellan and his crew landed he learned that they had considered the ships unreal, an apparition, because they were so unlike anything they had seen before.
Magellan’s experience with the natives of Argentina is a metaphor of modern civilization. We see sights around us every day that point to God’s presence and we dismiss them as unreliable, because they are beyond our experience in the world as we know it. We have kept ourselves from seeing and understanding the spiritual and supernatural world around us because of a fixed mindset that is unwilling to accept the concept of God. Jacques Monod expresses the current worldview of those like him who refuse to see what is right before them: “Man must learn to live in an alien world that is deaf to his music and is as indifferent to his hopes as it is to his sufferings or his crimes. . . . Man at last knows that he is alone in the unfeeling immensity of the universe, out of which he emerged only by chance.”
How sad it is that the people of earth are trying to discover their place on the planet and find where they fit in the universe, while avoiding the obvious, and refusing to put God in the equation. God is sailing by and they consider it a fantasy. They turn their heads away as they tend to the fires of their own existence. The problem with this is that our civilization is left with an empty and vacuous world void of meaning and purpose. When we avoid God, we miss the reason for our existence. We also miss all that he wants to do for us. We miss the warmth of his love, the completeness of his forgiveness, and thrill of his embrace.
The scripture today tells us that God is searching for us. The author of the book of Acts tells us that the whole reason the world was created is that we might know God and have a relationship with him. Hear it again as he says, “God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:27-28).
The unfortunate thing is that the religious folk of our culture are often as oblivious as the people of the world when it comes to understanding what it means to have a relationship with God. They come to church and fulfill their religious obligation and think that is all there is to it. They assume that it is all about keeping rules and going through the motions of religious observance, and thereby miss the whole point of what God has in mind.
This morning I want to talk about three things that are necessary in order to enjoy a relationship with God. The first is: We must realize that God is for us. God is not the angry avenger who is peering at earth looking for wayward sinners that he can condemn. He is not looking for the wrong we do. He is looking at us in compassionate love. It is hard to get it through our skulls that God is crazy about us. He is passionate for us. He is longing for us. He is wanting us. He desires us. He is calling us to himself that we might have a relationship with him. Here is what the atheist misses — living with the realization that they are loved by the Creator of the universe. They do not understand that at the heart of the universe is a heart that is throbbing for them. And so, for that matter, do those believers whose idea of Christianity is a list of obligations which we owe to God. There are many who have been poisoned by a toxic religion that has led them to believe that God is hard to please and impossible to satisfy. They see him as looking for faults and marking down their sins. He loads them with guilt and delights in their shame. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Jesus says to us what he said to the woman with a shameful life: “Neither do I condemn you” (John 8:11). Jesus says to us what he said to greedy Zacchaeus: “Come down. I want to stay at your house tonight” (Luke 19:5). Jesus says to us what he said to the sinful woman who washed his feet: “Your many sins have been forgiven” (Luke 7:47). God is the father of the sinful son who runs out to welcome him home, and not only throws his arms around him, but throws a party as well (Luke 15:20). In the Old Testament book of the Song of Solomon, the relationship between God and us is compared to two breathless lovers who are full of passion for one another. In the New Testament he calls us his bride. He speaks with tender words calling us his beloved. In no other religion of the world do you find a God who is breathlessly in love with the people of the world. Not in Hinduism, Islam, or Buddhism. The amazing thing about Jesus is the intimate vocabulary he uses when addressing us. He calls us his little children. He said things like, “I no longer call you servants. . . . Instead, I have called you friends” (John 15:15).