What an amazing evening this past Wednesday as we observed Ash Wednesday! We have officially begun our 40 day fast (excluding Sundays) and focus on praying to experience God’s love, to show God our love and to pray for ways to show God’s love to others. Our “Extreme Love” groups begin this week, and I would like to use the next couple of sermons to explore God’s love for us, our love for God, and our love for others. Our national office has developed a prayer calendar for us to use during “Focus Forty, Extreme Love.” Please pick up a prayer calendar on the Welcome Center to help you pray during the next several weeks. Also, you can download daily devotions from the Church of God national website: www.chog.org. Put in “Focus Forty” and then click on “Resources” where you can download the devotions. If you don’t have internet access there are a few copies of the devotions on the welcome center as well.
I hope whether you have a spouse or are in a dating relationship with someone or not that you were reminded this past week that you are loved. More than anything I hope you were reminded somehow that God loves you with a passionate, on purpose, relentless and unending love. Once people experience God’s love and come into the middle of it . . . that is, once they allow themselves to be enveloped by God’s love it totally transforms their life. The Apostle Paul knew how transforming the love of God was and prayed that the Ephesians would be enveloped by God’s love. Stand as we read:
Ephesians 3:17-19 “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
How deep is God’s love? Have you heard the expression about a person in love, “He has it bad? Or she has it bad?” Or “They are in deep!” Thought we are all out of God’s league, God is in deep with His love for us. It is interesting to me that being filled with the measure of all the fullness of God is tied to knowing or experiencing God’s love. Just what are the dimensions of God’s love? How wide, long, high and deep is the love of God?
In preparation for this message, I sought to find the first time God’s love is discussed in Scripture. I was almost sure there would be an exchange between God and Adam and Eve in which He told them of His love for them. It wasn’t there. Surely somewhere in the flood story God told Noah and his family how much He loved them? Nope. Surely Abraham heard God say, “I love you.” Nada. J Isaac never got a Valentine from God. Jacob never heard “I love you” from God nor did Joseph.
I was shocked to find that God’s love wasn’t mentioned at all in the book of Genesis. It isn’t until Exodus 15 that God’s love is even mentioned. The Israelites were celebrating their deliverance from slavery in Egypt and in a song of celebration they sang of God’s love: “In your unfailing love you will leadthe people you have redeemed. (Ex. 15:13) No mention of God telling Israel He loved them up to that point, yet Israel testified to God’s unfailing love. In fact, there is no mention of God telling anyone He loved them until we get to Isaiah 43. Do you know how much history takes place from Genesis 1 to Isaiah 43? Do you realize the hundreds of years that pass? For hundreds of years no “I love you” words were spoken by God yet Israel testified to God’s unfailing love! It can seem a bit odd until we remind ourselves that talk is cheap. It is action that validates and verifies a person’s love. Israel spoke of God’s unfailing love that they knew, they experienced, and that they witnessed through their redemption from slavery.
The second place we read about God’s love in Scripture is in Exodus 20:6. God is giving Moses the 10 Commandments and He says of Himself that He will show love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments. Aha! God revealed what love is about. It is about a demonstration. It is about an action. It isn’t saying, but doing. The dimensions of God’s law can be calculated by processing God’s words, but the dimensions of God’s love can only be calculated through observing God’s actions.
In that respect, God’s love is observed in the beginning, in chapter 3 of Genesis where after Adam and Eve transgressed God’s law, God demonstrated His love. Adam and Eve did the one thing God told them not to do. They knew what the consequences were and that the price of disobedience was steep. If they ate from the one tree God told them not to, they would experience spiritual death . . . separation from the God who created them, gave them life, and created everything in the Garden for their enjoyment and fulfillment. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you!
Imagine being at Disney Land. This man gives you a key to the park. Every ride operator is there just for you, every vendor is stocking shelves just so you can shop until your heart is content, every restaurant is open for you to take advantage of, and it’s all free for the taking. There is no wait to experience anything that is available, and there is no limit to how many soft pretzels you can eat or how many times in a row you can ride “Space Mountain.” The man tells you when you are through exploring the park to come tell him all about your experience because he has much more to show you. As you turn to explore, he says one more thing. He gets very serious and tells you there is one ride that is off limits. You are told not to ride “It’s a Small World After All.”
(Start showing ride pictures)
You can do it, but you are told not to. If you do, you are told you will be cursed with unending boredom and the lyrics to that song, “It’s a Small World,” will be forever stuck in your brain. There will be no rest for the rest of your life. You won’t be able to sleep. You will be relegated to wearing only “It’s a Small World” t-shirts and Hawaiian leis. You will have to shake maracas for the rest of your life. You will be sucked in to a fantasy world that keeps you going around and around in circles. You will get nowhere else. You will be trapped inside this “small, small, world.” You will lose the privilege of experiencing the rest of the Disney Park because you will be captive inside the boat. Once captive you will not be able to come back to the man who gave you the key to continue the relationship with him that was meant to give you far more than a Disney experience.
Even though you have the whole park at your fingertips, and even though you have been give more than ample warning about the consequences, what do you do? You head for “It’s a Small World After All.” You just have to explore what is off limits. It looks enchanting. You can hear the happy sounds from the inside while you are inching closer to the doorway. It seems harmless enough. Before you know it, you are in a boat headed for an unending journey that captures you and takes you on the most joyless and boring ride in the park! You become a prisoner of the little wooden people with hokey costumes and smiles, and you are kept from doing all of the other things you would have loved to enjoy without any guilt or restriction. On top of that, because you are stuck in the small world, you can’t get back to the man with the key who said he had a lot more to show you.
Okay, so that was a silly and light-hearted explanation of what happened in the Garden of Eden, but it illustrates how foolish it was for Adam and Eve to trade Paradise for a piece of fruit! I don’t know about you, but when I observe people do something foolish when they clearly knew it wasn’t a good idea or that it would bring devastating consequences, I am not so quick to run to their rescue.
The extreme love of God responds differently than the love of this world. Adam and Eve weren’t just selfish or stupid. They had sinned against God. The worst thing a person can do is sin against God. They did the worst thing a person could do. And what did God do? He expressed His love for them.
Sin demands a sacrifice. The Bible is clear that the payment for sin, the worst thing a person can do, is the most precious thing available, blood. God killed an innocent animal whose blood atoned for their sin. God wanted Adam and Eve to see and feel how valuable they were to Him.
There was a greater tragedy for Adam and Eve than the forfeiting of the pleasures of the rest of the Garden of Eden. The greater tragedy was that sin separated them from God, the One who had so much more to offer them. They went into hiding. The relationship between them and God was broken. But God, knowing that Adam and Eve couldn’t fix the relationship went to them to bring repair. He clothed Adam and Eve with the animal skin after it was sacrificed. Satan had told Adam and Eve that if they would go ahead and eat of the forbidden tree their eyes would be opened. Their eyes were opened alright. They “saw” or recognized their nakedness, and it hit them. They realized just how un-presentable they were before a Holy God in their sinful state, and they were ashamed.
Guilt and shame are the two most devastating human emotions, and Adam and Eve were wallowing in both of them. It wouldn’t have mattered how much God had sacrificed to repair the relationship, if Adam and Eve were still living in shame they would never be appropriately connected to God. They would have still stayed in hiding. They would keep running from Him. So God dealt with BOTH their guilt and their shame. Their guilt was atoned for through the animal sacrifice and their shame was removed when He clothed them with the animal skin. God’s love was CLEAR! He came to them not to convict them but to cover them! What an amazing love! Hallelujah! Isn’t that what we read in 1 Peter 4:8? “Love covers a multitude of sins.” Tell your neighbor, “God’s love has got you covered!”
God’s extreme love sacrifices for our sin and takes away our shame!
Adam and Eve knew they couldn’t be in God’s presence in the condition they found themselves in after they had sinned. They had done the worst thing they could do, disobey God. Previously, they had experienced God in His holiness and weren’t afraid or ashamed, but following their sin, they were both afraid and ashamed.
Some of you here today know you have done the worst possible thing. Your sin against God has you trapped. You know it could have been different. You know it could be different, but you are trapped in a “small world” of your own making, and you are going around in circles. You are afraid to die because you know eternity awaits and you are ashamed to face God now because the shame makes you feel so exposed, so dirty, so unloved, and so unwanted.
Yes, you are exposed. Sin exposes who we really are apart from God. Yes, you are dirty. Sin creates a stain in our lives that mars the image of God in us. But unloved and unwanted? That has never been how God feels about you nor will it ever be.
God loves every one of us with an everlasting love. Read the Psalms. The Psalmist talks incessantly about the love of God. He has been stalking you with His holy love since before you were born. How did God demonstrate His extreme love for you? We know what He did for Adam and Eve, but how did He show us His love?
God showed His extreme love for you and His desire to be with you forever when He offered His extreme Sacrifice. His name is Jesus. His Son, Jesus, paid the price for the sins of all the world, past, present and future, through His blood, shed during a horrible crucifixion on the cross of Calvary. John 3:16 tells us that “God so LOVED the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but will have everlasting life.” The next verse goes on to say that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
GOD’S EXTREME LOVE WILL NOT CONDEMN YOU. IT WILL COVER YOU! That feeling of being exposed? That feeling of being dirty? God has an “app” for that! It is called the application of the blood of Jesus! I John 1:7 tells us the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin. So, we are made clean by the blood. We are no longer dirty! When God looks at Christians, He looks at them through the blood of Jesus that has been applied to their hearts, and He sees them as perfect!
But how do we see ourselves? We still feel exposed! We realize what we have done and who we have been. We still deal with shame. Don’t underestimate the power of shame! It will make a person hide from God and others. It will make you keep God at a distance and make you put distance between yourself and other people as well.
The only way to get rid of your shame is to let God cover you with the blood of Jesus. In Genesis 3:7 we see that Adam and Eve tried to deal with their shame themselves. They tried to cover their shame by sewing fig leaves together to make clothes for themselves. The last time I checked, fig leaves weren’t very durable material for making clothing. Oh, it might have been a quick fix. It might have made them feel better for about a half hour as long as they were sitting still going nowhere, but the minute they walked away from their hiding spot to look for another one they would have been exposed again as the leaves tore and fell to the ground.
We do all kinds of crazy stuff to cover our shame. We hide in ways that continue to make things worse. There is no human way out of shame. The only way to remove shame is to have it covered by the blood of Jesus!
Now let me show you something. Adam and Eve had to do at least two things before God could clothe them with the animal skins. If they were going to experience God’s extreme love:
- They had to come out of hiding. Why did they hide? They hid because they realized they weren’t good enough to be face to face with God. That is a rational conclusion, and it’s true. They weren’t good enough. We aren’t good enough. Your sin smells as bad as mine does to God and my sin smells as bad as the addict who is out on the street. All of us are fallen. None of us is good enough, and there is nothing we can do to make ourselves good enough.
The first step to coming out of hiding is to admit you aren’t perfect, and that you can’t get perfect on your own. But what do we do? We act as if where we are isn’t so bad. We give reasons for staying where we are. We blame other people for our actions. Eve blamed the serpent. Adam blamed Eve. We blame other people to try to take the spotlight off of the fact that we aren’t good enough. If we can get God and others to think it is someone else’s fault, we think we will be off the hook, and we think no one will see our imperfections.
When blaming people doesn’t work, we try to minimize our actions by comparing what we do to the sins of others. We come to false conclusions that our sin isn’t as bad as someone else’s therefore we are OK. Wrong answer! Sin doesn’t have degrees.
God already knows who and what you are. You aren’t hiding anything from Him. In your heart of hearts you know who and what you are. You aren’t hiding anything from yourself. None of you are winning an Oscar for pretending to be different from what you are. Quit hiding. ADMITTING you aren’t good enough is the first step to embracing Jesus, the One who was good enough for all of us!
- They had to take off their plant pants and shrubbery shirts, the ones they had made for themselves and let God cover them His way!
Listen, too many people think they can just stay the way they are and add Jesus. It won’t work. I’m not saying a person will automatically change who they are and how they act when they become a Christian because that is almost always a lifelong process, but what I am saying is that we have to be willing to give up the things we have added to our lives, the things we have put on in an attempt to cover our shame. We have to let Jesus clothe us in His righteousness and teach us who we were created to be all along if we are going to experience the depths of God’s love.
Some of us are wearing plant pants and shrubbery shirts. We have been lying about where we have been and what we have been doing in order to protect what we think is our image. There are things we are drinking, things we are snorting, things we are injecting, things we are watching, things we are listening to, things we are doing behind close doors, and relationships we are in that all make us forget our troubles for about ten minutes, but when the ten minutes are up the plant pants and the shrubbery shirts fall off, and we are exposed. When we realize what we have done AGAIN we hate ourselves, we sink deeper into delusions and depression and go deeper into hiding because we know the truth, and we can’t stand the thought of anybody else finding out. We think if we hide we will be safe. If that is you, you need to encounter the love of God today and grasp this love that surpasses knowledge. He doesn’t care what outfit you have put on in an effort to look presentable! He doesn’t want to condemn you for wearing it. He just wants to give you a new look! What you have been wearing isn’t in style before a Holy God, and He has a perfect outfit picked out for you! He wants to clothe you in the righteousness of Christ!
People who believe they are in a true love relationship are willing to be vulnerable. They believe they are safe in the relationship because of the love that has been demonstrated. Therefore, they are willing to be real and honest. They are willing to let someone else lead them because they know the other person loves them perfectly, wants what is best and has demonstrated they will sacrifice whatever is necessary in order for them to experience it. God’s love is a SAFE love. Some earthly love isn’t safe. Some earthly love is flawed, controlling and belittling. It is a false love. It is a relationship, perhaps, but it is full of belittling, condemning, controlling and shaming words and actions. That is not God’s love! God will never SHAME you. He has come to redeem you. Listen to what He will do if you will come to Him and become vulnerable before Him:
Hebrews 9:14“How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” God will not allow you to remain in shame. He won’t allow you to wallow in self-loathing. He wants to take your mind that has been in the gutter and set it in a place of victory where Christ is now seated at the right hand of God. He will teach you new ways to view your sin which don’t involve the shame of beating yourself up! He will help you see that everything in your past can become a trophy of God’s grace if you will bring it to Him. He won’t just polish your past to put a new spin on it, but He will melt it down and make a sparkling trophy out of it for His glory and your good. He will teach you to think like a redeemed person instead of a broken person, a whole person instead of a man or woman on the run. Nothing sinful you have done will go unredeemed if you give in to the extreme love of God. What wondrous love is this, O my soul! He SACRIFICED everything to rescue you from SIN and to rescue you from SELF!
Ephesians 2:1-5 “1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.
God’s extreme love is looking for some extreme recipients today. My husband wooed me with dinners out, flowers, and long walks and talks. I fell in deep. Jesus wooed me with His blood. He came to my hiding place, took off the false pretensions and gave me the security of the righteousness of Christ. Because I know how far He went to save me and because I know He loves me in spite of my sin and weakness, I am never afraid of telling the truth about who I am and what I’ve done. I know He will forgive me again, clothe me again, and redeem whatever I keep tripping over. Eventually I will get it right. Until then, God’s extreme love will hold me fast in the palm of God’s hand.
Romans 8:37-39 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
God has never said, “I love you if,” but simply “I love you.” His words are backed up with His extreme action. How long, wide, deep, and long is the love of God? Long enough to reach you, wide enough embrace you, deep enough to cover you and long enough to last for all eternity.