You can be deeply loved and yet not experience it.
Many, many years ago, I remember reading the article. Maybe some of you can remember about the bubble boy? He was born without an immune system. And this little boy grew up and he was in a bubble. Literally. A bubble.
And his parents, they would have to put things in through the bubble. He never got touched. His parents loved him and they cared for him. But he never got touched and he lived literally in a plastic room bubble. Because if he came out, he would die.
You know, I think there’s a lot of Christians that, on the outside, there’s this God that longs to connect with you and touch you and love you and encourage you. But there’s this bubble.
Many times by our own creation, sometimes by the work of others. And God wants to break through that and connect your heart to his so you experience his love.
Let me give you the two major ways that God has designed for us to experience his love. God designed love to be birthed and modeled in our families.
Ephesians 5:15 through chapter 6 verse 4. I’d encourage you to follow along and I don’t usually read a long passage. But this one is one you just need to lean back and listen as I read.
Notice we said, love comes from God’s Spirit. Notice he’s going to talk about you surrendering or allowing the Spirit to control you and then I’m going to show you, from scripture, that God has a very clear design that where he wants us to learn about love is in our families.
He actually designed the family system to work in such a way that little boys and little girls would grow up feeling loved, affirmed, cared for. Not for what they do but for who they are.
Pick it up with me in verse 15. The Apostle, after telling us all this great stuff we have in Christ, says, be very careful then, how you live. Not as unwise but as wise. Making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.
Therefore, don’t be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And he says, well, what’s the will of the Lord?
Well, don’t be drunk with wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled, and the word means “controlled,” with the Spirit.
Well, if you’re filled with the Spirit, well, what happens? Well, speak to one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. And then, by the way, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
When you’re filled with the Spirit, there is a joy in your heart, there’s a melody, there’s a perspective where you realize, God’s in control and he’s good and you choose to give thanks.
And then he says, now I’m going to talk about relationships and how love works when the Spirit’s in control and he says, the baseline is, no one steps up and says, I gotta have my way on my terms.
Submit or surrender one to another. In other words, God, you’re the great choreographer and you’re going to put relationships together. You show me my part of the dance. You show me my role so that I can get and receive your love and then give it in the way you want me to.
And so then he starts and says, okay, family relationships. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body of which he is the Savior.
Now, as the church submits to Christ, so wives should submit to their husbands in everything. And just before the women go, are you kidding? He says, husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church.
Well, he died. You’re starting to get the point, guys. And gave himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing of the water with the word. To present her to himself as a radiant church without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it just as Christ does the church.
For we’re members of his body. For this reason a man will leave his mother and father and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery but I’m talking about Christ and the church, however, application, each one of you must love his wife as himself and the wife must respect her husband.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother. Respect. Don’t talk back. Listen to them. Obey them. Why?
Well, this is the first commandment with a promise. That it may go well with you and that you may live and enjoy a long life on the earth. Fathers, do not exasperate your children. Instead, bring them up in the training and the instruction of the Lord.
He’s going to go on and talks about slaves and masters. But here’s what he says. The Spirit of God contains the love of God. The Spirit of God comes into a human heart. He’s going to say, there can either be resistance or you can surrender and say, I want to do life your way.
And here’s God’s plan. It’s really very simple. A tiny little baby gets born and a mother says, I want to nurture and love this baby. And a father says, fantastic. And the mother says, I think this baby will learn how to love if I love my husband the way God says. And I really have to trust him.
And so, I’m going to respect my husband and I’m going to encourage him, I’m going to affirm him. I’m going to realize he does have a pretty fragile ego. And I’m gonna, when I have to challenge him, I’m going to do it in some ways that he understands. I’m going to ask some probing questions. And I’m going to take strong stands on things. But I’m going to let him know I’m behind him one hundred percent.
And as that happens, a man feels loved and empowered and as he does he feels, he experiences God’s love through his wife. He says, you know something? I’m going to step out and I’m going to lead this family emotionally, spiritually, financially.
And tell you what. I’m gonna, I’m gonna give my life for this woman. I’m gonna figure out what makes her feel loved and I’m gonna do what the scripture says. I want to be a living representation of Christ and I want to love her in such a way and then she loves me in such a way and these little kids look up and see this mom and dad loving each other.
And they create this secure environment that’s not performance oriented. And they have their ups and downs and when they blow it, they forgive one another. And they’re committed to one another.
And then kids grow up and they begin to obey and realize, you know what? I don’t like these boundaries. I don’t like it when my dad says no, when my mom follows through, and when they’re both on the same page.
But wow, I guess my life isn’t going down the tube like a lot of my friends and my parents are staying together and, boy, that feels kinda good and I guess if I can’t obey my mom and dad now, who I can see, I’ll never obey a God that I can’t see.
And then they grow up and become adults and because of those kind of things they have a good self image and they learn to trust God and they become adults and they actually kind of come back to your house and it’s full circle and your kids, adult kids, love you and you watch them start to raise their kids and there’s this dynamic called the family.
Where Jesus has clothes on called moms and dads and kids. And it’s imperfect but it’s a design that God has put into place and when families follow this design, kids grow up strong, healthy, clear, great self-esteem, people of integrity.
Husbands feel supported and empowered. Wives feel loved and cherished. And when those kind of families, very far from perfect but very different from the world, tell you what. People around go, man, what do you all have? Where did you learn that?
Because see, a lot of them are out looking for position or fame or sex or success or appearance or possessions and they’re getting all the pseudo-loves and every time, keeps coming back empty.
And when you’re really loved, you have the freedom to be you. Just, just you. And the most attractive person on the face of the earth is when you are really you. Loved by God. Free not to impress anyone. Free to be you. Free to accept you. And free to love others.
And so, that’s design number one. It’s an amazing design. I put a little chart there. You know, the Holy Spirit. Then you have this relationship. Husband to wife, wife to husband, parents to children, then children to parents.
And it’s this vicious cycle of love. It’s God’s design.
Now, here’s what I know by personal experience, unfortunately. Most families, non-Christian families or Christian families, at least in the last forty to fifty years, have not followed this design very well. Alright?
So my dad was an alcoholic. He’s a good guy. He was just an alcoholic. Theresa’s dad was an alcoholic. He’s a good guy too. He’s just an alcoholic.
I never heard my dad ever say to me verbally, I love you, until he was probably late fifties after he’d been a Christian four or five years.
I don’t think I saw my mom and dad kiss but like two times growing up. I didn’t see this nurturing. So, as I grew up, what was I doing? I’m looking for love in all the wrong places. Just like most of us.
Now, here’s what’s amazing. Catch this. Because, you know that, some of your body language when I went through the family of design, if I could read your thoughts it would be, I sure wish I could have got that. But I didn’t.
That was part of you. The other part was, I know I’m supposed to be doing that kind of model and yi, yi, yi, yi, yi. I’m not. And you’re thinking doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, where am I going to go with this?
The wonderful thing about God, he’s a God of grace. And that means second, third, and thirty-fourth chances.
And so what you’re going to find is that when we fail to follow God’s design or when others fail to follow God’s design and we reap the negative consequences, he’ll actually take our deepest pains, our dysfunctions, and our hurts if we bring them to him and he’ll actually use that as an opportunity to express his love in the midst of our pain.
Notice the next point. It says, we often experience love most deeply when we need it most desperately.
Romans 5:3 through 5. It starts out, literally, verse 1. It says, thanks be to God. We have peace through our Lord Jesus Christ. And we exalt or we rejoice in this brand new salvation that God’s given us. And it’s exciting. And he says it’s in this grace in which we stand.
And then in verse 3, he says, but not only this, but we also rejoice or exalt in our tribulation or our problems or our difficulties. And then he says, why? Because tribulation or difficulties produce perseverance and perseverance produces character and character produces hope and hope never disappoints because the Holy Spirit pours out the love of God.
And what he’s saying is, when difficult, painful things come and you will turn to God and sometimes, you know what perseverance means? Just endure. This is a hard marriage. I endure. This is a tough situation. I endure.
You know what? I’m not getting any better physically. I endure. My parents are going through a rough time. I endure. But I’m turning to God in my endurance. As you endure what happens, something happens inside, your character changes as you trust him. And as your character changes you begin to see, there is hope.
God can change me and he can change things. And the hope is received when the Spirit of God through the word of God in the context of community pours out into your being and you actually can come out of very dysfunctional families and painful issues and experience God’s love and say, there’s hope.
That’s the girl that I met. Girl that I met not only had a difficult, painful, really negative childhood. She looked for love in all the wrong places and got married early. And then she had a husband who abandoned her.
Sleeping with someone else for a couple years and she didn’t know it. Then she gets pregnant with these twin boys, and he leaves never to be heard of again.
I met her two and a half years later. It was in that pain that Theresa, out of dysfunctional family and being abandoned by a man who was so on drugs, turned to God and she persevered. And that persevering and she would pray at night and sing at night and cry out to God and she didn’t have any money.
And in that persevering it built some character and I got to see the character of this Godly woman. And that produced hope. And I met her about two and half years later where it was like a piece of coal turned into a diamond.
And I saw a heart for God and a love for God and someone who understood the amazing forgiveness of God and it attracted me.
And I just came on the other end of it. I hadn’t been through difficult, painful times. I was empty in success. I was on the performance track. So I didn’t understand God’s love, you know?
Affirmation felt like love so perform, perform, perform. You know, get As, score points, get pretty girlfriends. I’m loved, right?
No. You’re empty. You just appear plastic and you have things that everyone told you would fill the hole and it never did. And it was out of that that I persevered. That built character. That I came to Christ.
And then said, you know something? Adulation and affirmation and false intimacy and position. They’re empty. And it’s hard because I can see those things and I can’t see God’s love.
Where are you at today? Would you like to really experience God’s love? I’ll tell you, there are very clear steps to experiencing God’s love. I put them in your notes. They’re very, very clear. They’re very, very clean.
Step one is, you need to step down. We talk about R12 Christians and some weren’t around when we went through that. You have to surrender. You know, you can live life on your agenda or God’s agenda.
But a certain day at a certain time, even as a Christian, you gotta say, God, from this day on, I’m gonna do it your way. I know I’ll mess up, I know it’ll be hard but whatever your word says, I’m doing life your way. I desperately need you.
Some of us get there because the pain is so great there’s no place else to go.
Second is you gotta step away. You know, you walk in darkness. You know, for me it was hanging out in bars and doing stuff. I knew it was wrong and I had to step away from the world’s values and I had to be separate from the world’s values.
And I had to say, you know what? This is really different and really hard but I’m going to do life your way. And I gotta start hanging around some people that do life your way. You step away.
And then you have to step in. You can’t be, sort of this, you know, lone ranger Christian out there. You gotta get with a group of people that are on the same page that are moving and you say, you know what? Little by little, I’m going to let you in on who I am. I’m going to hang with you all.
That’s, I mean, the reason that we’re so adamant about small groups is because life change happens in authentic community.
Jesus lives inside of you if you’re a Christian, and he lives inside of other people and it is impossible to live and experience his love apart from deep, authentic connection and vulnerability with other people.
Is it risky? Yes. The option, though, of not being loved is the only alternative.
And so, at some point you step down, then you step away, then you step in. And then when you’re in that community, at some point in time, you’re going to step up. And you gotta step up and quit playing it safe and saying, this is my sober self-assessment.
I’m good at this, I struggle with this. I want to be God’s man or God’s woman and I want you all to help me.
And I’m going to let you see the parts of me that are not very pleasant. Everyone has them. Because you never feel loved until you meet some people that see you’re not so pretty stuff and they look right at you and go, yeah, I’ve seen that. I still like you. In fact, I love you.
I mean, I’ve seen that for years. I’ve got it. You’ve got it. Do you know how freeing it is? I mean, help me with this but is there anybody here who’s perfect? Just go ahead and raise that hand, do I see those hands?
I mean, we intellectually say that so why would I be threatened at a certain point to say, you know something, I struggle.
A guy last night, I was so proud of him. I met him early, he came down, he goes, you know, I’ve been in this small group. It’s really great. I’m an alcoholic, I’ve been clean now for a little while.
And the small group’s great but I gotta find, like, another guy or two where I just zip and, I mean, you know, I’ve been through some stuff.
And I said, hey, men’s ministry. Tuesday night. They have a Jonathan Program. Took his name. I said, I will connect you, man.
But you know what he said? He goes, I gotta step in, I gotta step up. Yeah, I’m a part of the church and I’m growing, I’m making progress, it’s great. But he was saying, I need to go to the next level and I need to get real, where I really put my past behind me.
And then what you do is you step out. You step out. And you get your focus off of you and you say I bet there’s someone hurting a little bit more than me. I bet there’s someone a little poorer than me. I bet there’s someone whose marriage is even more messed up than mine. I bet there’s someone whose addiction is even deeper than mine.
And you just start to give your life away with your time and your energy and your money and Jesus promised, give and it’ll be given unto you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, back into your lap.
And all I can tell you is, if you want to experience the infinite, unconditional, powerful, life-transforming love of God, you step down, you step away, you step in, you step up, and then you step out.
Now, some of you are wondering why we have an old ladder and this is, like, what are we doing here? Can I give you a visual? If you want to be loved, here’s what it’s going to take.
Every person in the world is stepping on something. You know, we talked about the ladder of success, the ladder of appearance and some people really work at, I’m going to be this super perfect mom and other people are, you know, I’m going to keep pumping those weights so I look and the girls are like me.
And, you know, some people are trying to afford liposuction and other people it’s the, you know, we all got it, right?
But everyone of us are stepping on certain things we think if we can just get this, we’ll be loved and at some point in time, you know something? You step down from that and you surrender to God and you say, you know what?
You may give me appearance, you may give me some money here and there, but I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna step down and surrender to you, lock, stock, and barrel. Many of you, that’s the step you need to take today.
Second thing, you know, you’re kinda in the dark. You need to step away and step into the light. You gotta step away from the people, step away from the environments, step away from the media that keeps giving you the messages that there’s some step there that will make you a somebody.
And you step away and step into the light and you start walking in holiness. And boy, that’s a big one. You gotta be like that guy. I have an addiction. I need help.
And you know, by the way, it’s not always drugs or alcohol. You can be addicted to shopping. You can be addicted to people’s approval. You can be addicted to all kind of stuff. You can be addicted to ESPN. You can be addicted to fantasy football. You can be addicted to just trivia.
Where in the world is your life going? Do you want to be loved?
And then, third, you gotta step in. And you gotta get with a group of people and you gotta say, you know something? I’m going to play it safe at first because I don’t know you people. And I know you’re Christians, but, you know Christians are flaky people like everyone else.
And so, I’m gonna figure out who’s gonna not share what I share with other people and little by little by little I’m gonna do life with you all. I’m going to make it a priority.
I mean, some of you make it a priority to work out. Some of you figure out how to work seventy hours a week. Some, I mean, you make a priority. You do what matters to you. So you decide what matters to you.
You want to experience love. You step down, you step away, then you step in. And then someplace in this stepping in, you take a step of vulnerability and you say, you know something? I know I’ve presented this side and I’ve showed a little bit of me.
Now, take this in the right spirit. I’m gonna show some of you a little bit, I’m gonna show some of you the part of me that I’m not real proud of and when you get loved, when you step up and you say, I think I could be a benefit strengths. But I want you to know, you know, I got some things I’m not proud of and you get accepted even in your foibles.
Tell you what. You will experience the love of God like never before.
And then, you step out and you get on your little spiritual bicycle and you say, you know what? I gotta get going, I gotta get focused on helping some other people.
Here’s my question. What step do you need to take? God loves you. The Lord your God is with you. He is mighty to deliver. He takes great delight in you. He will quiet you with his love. He’ll rejoice over you with singing.
But there’s a condition. And the condition is, you need to figure out whether it’s a ladder issues, a stepping away and into the light issue, a stepping in issue, stepping up.
And then you know, it’s by faith. You say, God, I’m afraid. Everything I’ve ever done, in fact, in scripture, every time I find anybody that’s doing anything significant either an angel or someone comes and says, do not be afraid, do not be afraid, do not…why? Because they’re afraid!
Well, that would mean people would know this? Yep! They would! But think of how much energy you use hiding it. How much energy we use pretending.
Where do you find love? Source of love is God. It comes through his Spirit. You need to walk in his Spirit. How do you get it? The ideal is that it’s in this family system and for those of us with families, let’s ask God to help us create those kind of families of Ephesians 5 and 6.
And then, no matter where you’re at in your pain, sometimes we get love most deeply when we realize we’re really desperate and we say, okay, I’m willing.
Final question. How do you give it away? How do you give it away? The R12 application is serving in love and many of you were here and we went through this process, everyone in the church read this book, if you joined the church recently, you were given a copy of this book.
And what I can tell you, page 153 through 210 is if something in your heart is resonating with what I’m saying right now and you’re thinking, you know what? It’s one message, this guy talks so fast, he makes me crazy. I really need - I’m an underliner and a thinker. I need to process, how would it work?
That’s the section in this book that’ll give you the very clear, Biblical process to step down, step away, step in, step up, and step out.
Everybody makes decisions and all those decisions make you. Make a decision today.
Second thing is, I thought of something real, real practical and it’s really brief but I thought of the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And the most loving person in the world was Jesus, right?
Most loving person. So, what did he do? And I literally, I mentally went through Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. I just went through the life of Christ, life of Christ. I thought, what did he do? Are you ready for this?
This is how Jesus loved people. He did it by talking with them. He did it by walking with them. He did it by eating with them. He did it by praying with them. He did this to his family. He did this with his friends. He actually did these things with his enemies.
He did it by playing with them. I tell you, I think Jesus was a very fun guy to be around. Holy for sure. But I mean, a lot of us, we don’t get some of those jokes. I, that day he said, hey, Pete, John, come here, you know what?
You know, for rich people? You know, those questions they keep asking me? You know how hard it is? See that big camel over there? Yeah! It’d be like that big camel going through, like, this little knothole and…
Aw, Jesus, that’s a good one! I mean, hey! Man, you like it?
You know, we read this like, whoa, God must be in a black coat…
I mean, he was real. He was loving. I think they played together. He suffered with them. When things got hard, I mean, they went through it together. And then he did two things, both with his family, his friends, and his enemies. He taught them. And he forgave them.
Now, you know what? I don’t know about you but that list is not rocket science. If you’re leaving here, I put this down because I’m thinking, now what should I do to become a more loving person with my family? Oh, with my friends. Mm, with my small group. Mm. Even at work. Yeah. Or even with my enemies.
Here’s a novel idea. Talk with them. Eat with them. Hey, you wanna go for a walk? Pray with them. Play with them.
If you’re in the role, teach them. And if they’ve hurt you, forgive them. Let me just ask you, in your family, are you doing that? Or are you too busy? You’re too busy to eat together? Jesus wasn’t too busy to do that. Too busy to talk together? Too busy to take a walk? Too busy to have some fun?
Why are you too busy? My recommendation, take a big step.
Open up the iPad of your heart, push the button, and when that thing goes dat, dat, dat, dat, dat, dat, dat, dat, dat, lock on to God. Now you know how.