Picture of Pastor Smith

Sermon delivered July 23, 2011 by Paul Smith

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Life With God is Like

John 14:1-3

(RealAudio Version available)

Have you ever received one of these?  A Whitman's sampler box of chocolates.  A lot of special treats here.  Do you remember taking off the wrapper and sliding off the lid and looking at all of the different shapes and colors.  How's that just after breakfast?  Do you remember looking under, at the second layer.  Choices.  Do you remember making the choice?  Taking the bite and being pleasantly surprised?  Sometimes a little disappointed.  Have you ever taken a nibble and put one back?  I have.  Wasn't it Forest Gump who said, life is like a box of chocolates.  He quoted his mama.  His mama said, life is like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you're gonna get.  And that's a pretty good analogy or metaphor for life.  It's sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter.  Unpredictable.  Often a surprise.  Most of us can relate to the phrase, life is like a box of chocolates. 

But how would you finish the phrase, life with God is like.  Well life with God is like the best of relationships.  You always know what you're going to get.  Always.  He's dependable.  The same yesterday, today, forever.  That doesn't mean life is going to be boring.  That there's no spontaneity or surprise.  Life with God is an adventure, but to the modern mind, the atheist missionary to the postmodern, it's preposterous to think that this God would want a relationship with humans. 

Scripture uses a fascinating collection of metaphors to help us understand God's desire to be in relationship with us, and what life with God is like.  From beginning to end, the theme of Scripture is God's love to us.  His pursuing us.  His desire to win our heart and our mind.  The overwhelming theme of Scripture is the fact that God wants to be friends with us.  He calls us to be His lover's.  Our most intimate and most precious relationships on earth are just a taste, just a glimpse, of what God desires to experience with us. 

If I were to ask you what your dominant picture or metaphor of God is, what would you say?  Is God like a policeman in the sky just waiting to catch you doing something wrong.  Is he a stern judge sitting on a lofty bench looking down just waiting to throw the book at you?  Or is he perhaps a benevolent father scanning the horizon looking for your profile, your silhouette, just hoping, hoping that you will be inclined in coming back toward him.  Perhaps you see him as a joyous groom, planning to surprise and delight and care for his bride.  Saying, I'm going to prepare a place for you so that you can be where I am.  I'm planning a wedding banquet to celebrate us. 

I enjoy reading John Eldredge.  He's a Christian writer, counselor.  Not long ago I was reading a page from his book The Ransomed Heart.  It's a collection of devotional readings and in that little book I found something that got me thinking.  The essence of his thought was this, that the Bible uses a number of metaphors to describe our relationship and the various stages that our relationship with God goes through.  These progressive, ascending metaphors lead to a fuller understanding of how God would like to be in relation with us. 

This morning I'd like to look with you at six ascending relational metaphors, and I want you to note particularly the progression.  What's notable is how they build on one another and there's a progression in the intimacy and closeness of the relationship.  Each of these metaphors shares an aspect, truth, the reality of how God would relate to us.  As we do this I'd like you to think about your personal relationship with God.  How you're getting along.  Where you are in your relationship, and choose which of these metaphors perhaps best describes your current relationship.  It's easy to get stuck in a relationship, but I hope that our relationships are growing and dynamic and changing. 

I drive around Chattanooga quite a bit.  I've been down the Memorial hospital several times this week and whenever I pass Macauly school there on Dodds Avenue they have a nice entrance, and on that sign there's a statement and this statement is taken from the Westminster Confession.  The statement goes like this.  Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  Our purpose, our lifelong quest, is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.  Do you enjoy God? 

As I walk through the day there are times when I just smile and enjoy what's happening to me.  In the early morning I can be out in the kitchen just banging around a little bit and we have a little parakete and if the door is open inevitably he will flutter and fly and land on my shoulder and talk to me.  Sometimes when I walk around the corner through the hallway he'll be flying and just hit me in the chest and kind of nestle and hang there.  What kind of God would make a little bird like that that just enjoys finding a friend and literally hanging out with him.  Sometimes when I enjoy a meal it's almost a worshipful experience.  I had some homemade bread this week and I had a fresh sliced red juicy tomato that I picked out of my backyard.  What kind of a Creator God would make those things and make us so that we enjoy and relish them so?  Our chief purpose, our chief end, is to glorify God the Creator and to enjoy Him forever. 

The question this morning is, how is your relationship with this God?  What is life with God like for you?  Has it gotten sweeter as the years go by?  Are you growing in your love and admiration for this magnificent Being?  Are you awed by the Creator, the one who put it all together, the one who made it all?  Or are you perhaps more enamored with the glitter of what He has made.  How is your relationship?  Has it plateaued?  Has it become stagnant or static?  Perhaps you feel like saying, it's just not going anywhere.  No spark.  No magic.  No passion.  Through the years our relationships can get stuck.  There are seasons of dryness and if we're honest, all of us would say, I've been there. 

But healthy relationships grow.  They're dynamic.  They're renewed.  They mature.  They are such that you can pick up with a friend where you left off even though time has interrupted.  You enjoy just being in each other's presence.  You can finish each other's sentences.  You really can read each other's minds.  You anticipate their needs.  The best of human relationships is just a glimpse of what God would like our life to be like with Him, and the best of human relationships is just a glimmer, just a look, just a piece of what God would like. 

The first metaphor I'd like to look at is the potter and the clay.  We're the clay and God is the potter, and at this level we merely are aware that our lives are being shaped, sometimes broken by a powerful hand.  There isn't much communication.  There's just an awareness of the sovereignty of God.  In the beginning, the creation story, God spoke the world into existence and on days 1 to 5 He was working with His words, but as creation week continued and He came to the creation of mankind He knelt down.  His hands got dirty.  He formed Adam out of the dust of the earth.  Adam's name actually means 'red clay'.  There was involvement, but it was pretty much one way.  What can a lump of clay say?  Would God have us stuck in this level of relationship?  We need to be supple and moldable but certainly God wants more than just that. 

You remember Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet who went down to the potter's house.  In Jeremiah 18:4,6 it says that Jeremiah went to the potter's house and the vessel that the potter made was of clay and it was marred in the hand of the potter.  He made it again, another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter.  The potter creates and then re-creates.  Handmade, sculpted, fashioned by God.  We had an opportunity with our own local potter a few weeks ago to experience the clay and to shape it and to mold it, but God is shaping us and fashioning us.  As we embrace the curriculum of life, God makes us new people. 

Ministry of Healing has an interesting quote.  The potter takes the clay and molds according to his will.  He kneads it and works it.  He tears it and presses it together.  He wets it dries it.  He lets it lie for a while without touching it and when it is perfectly pliable he continues the work of making it a vessel.  He forms and shapes it, trims and polishes it on the wheel, he dries it in the sun, bakes it in the oven. 

Does your life sometimes feel like you're going through some of those motions.  You're on the wheel.  You're being shaped and trimmed and dried and wet.  Life comes at us doesn't it?  We're not in control and God, our potter, shapes us through the experiences of life, transforming us, remaking us through the crucible of life.  We are the clay, God is the potter and we need to be humbly submitting.  That's part of our relationship.  He is God, the awesome one.  Surely we should submit humbly to his molding and shaping. 

But as we move up in the metaphorical ladder we come to be sheep and He is the shepherd.  Now that's a little better position isn't it?  But hardly flattering.  Sheep don't have the best reputation.  Sometimes they just go and do without much thought.  Peer pressure.  But at this stage, as the sheep of the shepherd, we feel provided for, cared for, watched over.  But a sheep really doesn't intimately know the shepherd.  We're just different creatures.  Psalm 23 says the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  John 10:11 says, speaking of Jesus, I am the good shepherd.  I give my life for the sheep and my sheep know my name.  I call them.

We move up the metaphorical ladder just another notch.  We come to the metaphor of the master and servant.  As we move up the ladder just a little higher, we get to go into the house.  Even though we have to wipe our feet and not talk too much and mind our manners.  It's interesting that most Christians get stuck in this relationship.  The master and servant.  Most of us get stuck here.  We just do what we're told.  We stay in the box.  Not too much thought given.  Just like the song and the bumper sticker, God said it, I believe it, that settles it for me. 

And while we do need to be obedient to the Master I think God really desires something more intimate than just a puppet on a string or a robot.  He doesn't want just a blind faith.  Unquestioning.  Unthinking obedience.  A meek submission to power.  We were created to be more than a pet, like a dog or a cat.  We were created in the image of God as thoughtful rational beings. 

We are to be like clay, submissive.  We are to be like sheep, willing to follow.  We are to be like servants, obedient.  And yet the metaphor of the servant is not all that God wants us to be.  It gives us an insight into our relationship, but God wants more, really.  The master/servant relationship is not where we want to get stuck.  Where we are committed to obey.  What does a servant do?  A servant listens.  It obeys.  The apostle Paul refered to himself as a servant.  All the apostles really.  James, a servant.  Simon Peter, a servant, apostle for the Lord.  God wants us to be more than just an unthinking obedient servant. 

As we look at another metaphor, the father and the child, we see another aspect of the relationship God would have us.  This brings us to the possibility, really, of intimacy.  Love is not something that a vase has for its sculptor, it's crafter.  Nor does the sheep truly know the Shepherd's heart, though he may enjoy the benefits of the Shepherd's leading. 

Now, as a child of the father we are in the father's house.  Certainly this is more intimate than a servant.  You're part of the family.  Children get the run of the house.  They get to sit on daddy's lap.  There are bedtime stories.  They may fall asleep in the family bed.  They may have the privilege to the family tools and toys.  They may even get the car keys.  These fortunate children understand God's fatherly love to them.  They experience his warm embrace and they feel at home in the father's house.  The fortunate children are dependent.  They are respectful.  They inherit the family name, and the child resembles the father's character and characteristics. 

Many scriptures talk about the relationship of the father and child.  As a father pities his children so the Lord pities and has compassion.  Can a mother forget her nursing child.  Then of course there's the prodigal son and the waiting father.  There are many privileges being in the father's house, but eventually that relationship matures and the child and the parent become friends. 

But still there is something missing, even in the best parent-child relationship.  Friendship opens a level of communion that a five-year-old just doesn't know with their parent.  We are called to be friends.  John 15:15 reads this way.  No longer do I call you servants for the servant does not know what his master is doing, but I have called you friends for everything that I heard from my father I shared with you.  I told you.  God desires to be a friend where we trust him and we talk to him.  We dialogue.  God's Facebook account is for more than just casual friends.  As friends we enter into a deeper level of intimacy.  Deeper than a servant or even a child.  As we walk with God we become companions.  We share in His mission.  We know what's on His heart and He knows what's on ours.

Enoch walked with God. Can a man walk with God, unless he's a friend?  Job asked the question, what's happening to me?But he also said I know my Redeemer.  I know that I will see him.  Moses was slow of speech.  He said, I can't go before Pharaoh.  I can't talk.  Send Aaron.  But it was kind of flattering a little later when God said, you know what I think I'm going to start all over with you.  Moses argued with him and said, no I don't think you should do that.  What will people think.  And there was Joseph who said, how can I do this wicked thing and sin against God?  He had a passion to please his God.  And there was Abraham, the friend of God.  He argued to save Sodom.  If there are 50 people, would you save them Lord?  If there are 50 righteous people.  He was concerned for God's reputation.  Then of course, David.  A man after God's own heart.  David was transparent.  He expressed his joy, his sorrow and his frustration.  Why do the wicked prosper? 

Friends share from the heart.  They question, they discuss, sometimes they argue.  Servants do what the master says.  Friends can ask questions, they can challenge.  They can wrestle with issues.  There is a higher level of intimacy as we become friends with God.  As our relationship matures with God, there are comfortable conversations.  We can ask questions and seek to understand God and to enjoy Him more fully. 

John Eldridge speaks of yet a higher level of intimacy, awaiting at the very top of this metaphorical ladder.  God calls us to be lovers.  A lifelong honeymoon begun in the garden continues and culminates with a special feast, a banquet, a wedding feast in heaven.  God says, I will take delight in you.  As the bridegroom rejoices over his bride so will I rejoice over you.  So that we might say in return, I am my beloved's and his desire is for me.  The bridegroom and the bride.  A beautiful metaphor of what God would enjoy with us. 

As you think about a special one in your life, whether you're dating, looking for Mr. Right or whether you're married and enjoying that relationship and sometimes struggling through it, regardless of where you are on this continuum, there is joy in restraint.  Savoring the anticipation of time with your beloved.  Keeping yourself for each other.  There is joy in restraint.  Whether you're young and looking for the right person or whether you're married and you found a partner, there is joy in restraint.  Keeping yourself for the other. 

Whether dating or in the midst of married life, as we walk through the day there are opportunities to push out of sight and mind the allurements that compete for the one who you call special.  With our wedding vows we plainly state that we will keep ourselves only for the other as long as we live.  That's God's covenant and vow with us.  His desire for us.  He wants us to experience that.  He wants the privilege of sharing that with us.  He has given us marriage as a living illustration of his own love for us and how he wants to live with us.  Marriage is practice.  It's an opportunity to enter into a special joy.  The joy of restraint, the joy of hour by hour, day by day, keeping ourselves for our beloved. 

The Bible is a story of God's relationship with us, his children.  Ezekiel spoke of Israel as being unfaithful.  As going after strange lovers in place of her husband.  The prophet Isaiah.  His personal life was a metaphor of this estranged relationship that God was having with Israel.  His personal experience, his story, his wife left him, became a prostitute and he went and bought her back.  Brought her into his house as his servant and tried to win her back.  To win her love.  Hosea 2:6,7 says that he put brambles in her way so that she can't go out and find her lovers.  And then finally, God celebrates and says, in that day declares the Lord will you call me my husband and no longer my master. 

In Matthew 9:15 Jesus declares himself as the bridegroom.  In John 14:1-3, this is language of betrothal.  Language of engagement.  Preparation for marriage.  Here the young man says, in my father's house are many dwelling places.  If it were not so I would've told you.  I go to prepare a place for you so that when I return I can take you to be where I am.  The correct translation of that is, in my father's house are many dwelling places.  Many rooms, and it was the custom, the culture of the day that after the man would win the hand and asked permission for marriage he would go back to his father's house and he would put an addition on the house and when he had completed the addition he would come back and take his wife to be in that room in his father's house.  This is language that any Jewish person of Jesus' time would understand and would know. 

We are at the culmination of the story and Revelation 22 talks about the return and a wedding feast, a wedding banquet.  Just now we're a waiting period.  We the church, the bride of Christ, are waiting anxiously for the bridegroom to return.  The Bible is the story of the rocky relationship that God has had with us.  Patiently he waits for us and through the most intimate of human relationships he seeks to communicate with us the closeness that he desires for us and with us. 

It was a painful experience walking through a valley with this young friend.  We'd known this young man for many years and he and his single friends often came to our house for home-cooked meals and to do their laundry while we talked.  He'd been somewhat of a loner and it happened, finally something very special happened to him.  This captivating young woman came into his life and a spark came into him like I'd never seen before and he began to flourish.  She enjoyed mountain biking and camping.  All the things that he enjoyed and they both just enjoyed being together.  I remember the joy and elation as I watched this young couple.  I wasn't going to officiate at the wedding, but we had opportunity for them to come over and we talked about some of the marriage issues that they were facing. 

Well, the day arrived and we went to the church and we were there about 15 minutes early but it was strange because as we made our way to the church, the parking lot was nearly empty.  There were only a few cars.  There off in the distance under the portico near the main entrance was the groom.  All dressed up, ready for the service.  His parents were there, and there were a few groomsmen there, but there was no bride dressed in white.  I'll never forget the look on his face.  The healthy glow had gone.  He was pale.  There was a feeling of emptiness.  He made a feeble attempt to explain what had happened.  He almost made excuses for the bride. 

He talked about the night before and their conversation after the rehearsal.  They discussed their future together and the bride-to-be had some concerns.  She had some second thoughts, and she needed some time.  She thought she might need some time to think about it.  To think things through.  When the groom went to the church the next day for the wedding he was met by a note that was taped to the door and it simply said, I'm sorry I just can't go through with this. 

Jesus, the bridegroom, responds to us, his bride.  He wants us to be there.  He wants us to show, but he is giving us time to think things through.  I Like the way John Eldredge described it in his book Desire.  We are at the time of the wedding for the bridegroom to return.  By the end of the story in Revelation 22, the church is practically panting for Christ's return. 

Notice Revelation 22.  The last chapter of the love story and how it all culminates.  Revelation 22:17.  And the spirit and the bride say come.  And let the one who hears say come.  And let them take of the water of life.  And then in verse 20.  He who testifies to these things says yes, I am coming.  Come Lord Jesus.  He's coming.  He wants to meet us.  God says to us today, I will take delight in you.  As a bridegroom delights in the bride.  We humbly and gratefully respond as in the Song of Solomon, I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine. 

At the end of creation, God pronounced that it was very good.  Just a few hours before he said it is not good for man to be alone.  And it's not good for God to be alone.  Could it be that there is a vacancy in the heart of God.  A relational void that only you and I can fill. 

So I ask you this morning how is your relationship with God?  What level, which metaphor best describes where you are.  Has your relationship grown?  Are you at a place where you are beyond inanimate clay.  Are you beyond the life of the sheep who just blindly follow? Are you more than just an obedient servant?  Have you come to the place where you obey God, not out of fear of punishment but out of a love and a desire to please because you know and trust him, that he has your best interest in mind.  He wants you to be more than just a servant, a mere robot, a puppet on a string.  He desires children, transformed into his image.  Like father, like son or daughter.  He wants faithful friends who know him and understand him and converse with him.  He desires passionate lovers. 

It's awesome that God loves us, and that's what our closing hymn is about,  The Wonder Of It All, that God loves you and me.

Hymn of Praise: #92, This Is My Fathers World
Scripture: John 14:1-3
Hymn of Response: #75, The Wonder of It All

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Sermon at McDonald Road transcribed by Steve Foster 8/19/11