I want to share with you something that had a decisive impact on my life; it was a turning point for me. And ever since, it's been an anchor to my soul. It's something so obvious, but so easy to miss: Our relationship to God validates everything else.
There was a season in my life when I wanted to garner all the blessings of God I could, and to please God with my life. I figured it would require more Bible reading, more prayer and fasting, more serving, more giving, more devotion. But there was something in the process of this journey that was missinglike when you embark on a journey and you know you forgot something, but you just don't know what it is.
It was when I was reading Revelation 2 that the answer exploded. It was almost as if the Lord put my name in a passage. It said: Wayne, I know your deeds and your toil and your perseverancethat you don't endure evil men and you test those who call themselves apostles and you find them to be false. You've persevered; you've toiled and have not grown weary for my name's sake. That's all good, Wayne. But I've got something against you.
I stopped and thought, Moi?
And this is what the Lord said: You have forgotten something in your pursuit. I thought, What's that?
And as I read on, he revealed it to me: You've forgotten your first-love relationship with me. You've displaced that simple and pure relationship that's independent of what you do and how you perform. Those are wonderful things, but you're trying to please me without the relationship, and you can't exchange the two. Relationship is what really pleases me, and that validates everything else you do. Return to that.
God loves us because we are his children.
Some time ago, some wonderful people in our church gave Anna, my wife, and me a dinner certificate to a nice restaurant for $100. We thought: Wow, a hundred bucks. Let's go for it. So we found a free evening. We dressed up. I took a bath, used deodorant and colognethe whole thing. I even washed and waxed my car, because we wanted to take it to the valet, and I didn't want my Ford Pinto to look bad.
The night came, and we were excited. We went to this ritzy restaurant and walked in. They gave us a nice, candlelit table overlooking a lagoon adjacent to a moonlit bay there in Hawaii. Oh, it was nice. And we thought that for a hundred bucks, with just the two of us, we could eat high on the hog. So we ordered the most expensive thing there. It was wonderful.
When the bill came, I said, "Honey, why don't you give me the certificate." She said: "I don't have the certificate. I thought you brought it." I said: "No. You give me the certificate now." And she said, "I didn't bring it." I said: "You have to have it. You're supposed to have it. You're the wife!" She said, "I don't have it." And I thought, We are in deep yogurt. Here we arewe look rich, we act rich, we even smell rich. But if we don't have that certificate, it invalidates everything.
There are times we look holy, we can act holy, and we can smell holy. But without that relationship with the Lord that's independent of everything else we do, we've forgotten something. It's relationship that validates everything else.
God loves us because we are his children. Let me take you to Matthew 3 as we talk about what pleases the Lord. I want to take you to a scene out of the life of Jesus that illustrates a relationship that's absolutely critical, but we often miss it. Slide down the banks of the Jordan with me and take a look as John the Baptist is baptizing some of his disciples. Lo and behold, to his surprise, Jesus, the Son of God, walks into the muddy waters.
Let's pick it up at verse 13: "Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent him, saying, 'I should be baptized by you. What are you coming to me for?' And Jesus answered and said to him, 'Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.' And then John permitted it."
John was saying: Lord, this is just a minor detail. It's not that big of a deal for me to baptize you. We don't really need to do that.
And Jesus said: It might seem like a small thing to you, John, but to my Father in heaven it is a big deal. It is something so important that if you will permit it at this time, something of the righteousness of God will fall into place. Something that seems to have been missing in this picture will be complete.
And John must have caught it, because it says, "Then John permitted him." And then after being baptized, Jesus went up immediately from the water, "and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him. And behold, a voice out of the heavens said, 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'"
That rang in my heart, because that's what I was trying to do. I was trying to please God. We know whom he is talking to because he says, "This is my beloved Son." But then he says, "in whom I am well pleased." And I remember saying, "Lord, why are you so pleased with Jesus?" The heavens are broken open only three times in the New Testament in such a dramatic fashion, when God the Father speaks. This is one of them, so it must be important.
So I said: "Lord, why are you so pleased that you broke the heavens open?" This is only Matthew 3. Jesus hasn't done anything yet. He hasn't even started his ministry yet. He hasn't preached a sermon. He hasn't healed a lame person. He hasn't opened the eyes of the blind. He hasn't even written a magazine or a book. Nothing. Why is God so pleased? I said to God, "The only thing he's got going for him is that he's related to you."
And then it was like the Lord broke the heavens open again. He said: That's what pleases me. That's what pleased me then, and that's what still pleases me today. Not all the stuff you might do. That's important, but what pleases me the most are people in genuine relationship with me. That's enough, because out of that comes all your works of service and the things you do. But apart from our relationship, everything else is invalid. That's what pleased me then, and that's what pleases me today. Everything flows out of relationship.
When my daughter Amy was three years old, we had her in a preschool. They were going to give the parents of the preschoolers a Christmas concert, so we filled this tight capacity room. Every parent was there, equipped with a camera and the biggest flash that camera could bear. About 30 kids came out and filled up the risers, all tucked together. And one teacher up front led them in "Joy to the World." She had a nylon string guitar that probably hadn't been played since the Christmas program the year before, and that was probably the last time it was tuned as well. But she nevertheless had a willing heart.
These kids were only three years old. They could barely speak in complete sentences, let alone sing full measures of music. Undaunted, this teacher began her solo"Joy to the world!"but the kids were more interested in locating their parents: "Hi, Daddy! Hi, Mom!" The teacher kept singing, "Joy to the world!" And Amy saw me. I took a picture of her. And the teacher kept singing, "Joy to the world!"
Just then one of the boys in the back of the risers began to fall off backwards. He bravely took four others with him. Bang! She kept singing, "Joy to the world!" It was absolute chaos, formless and void. When the song was done, I was the first to jump to my feet like popping popcorn. All the parents gave them a standing ovation. We took pictures. It was like Halley's Comet just came through the room. We were so proud.
After it was done, I went outside to get some air, and I was chuckling to myself. I thought, That's the worst concert I have ever heard. We gave a standing ovation to the worst concert we've ever heard. And I took pictures of the worst concert I've ever heard. Then I thought, But wasn't Amy good? She's cool.
Why in the world did I applaud? It wasn't because of their performance. It was because that was my little girl up there. I applauded them based not on performance, but on relationship.
When I was thinking about that, it was as if the Lord again reminded me: Wayne, that's why I applaud you. It has nothing to do with your performance. It has everything to do with the fact that you have a relationship with me and you're my kid.
My heart began to melt and tears came to my eyes, because I began to understand that what pleases God the most is the relationship we have with him.
A lot of times we have a secondhand relationship with Jesus. We listen to a testimony and think, Oh, that's so nice. And we start to put a collage together of everybody's testimonies and everyone else's experience, and we put this patchwork picture of Jesus together from what the Sunday school teacher said, and we think, That's really nice.
And we come to church maybe because the church leadership is good. The Lord says: But that's a secondhand relationship. What about you? I'm not asking you to know about me. I'm asking you to know me.
That's why Psalm 34:8 says, "O taste and see that the Lord is good." Taste and see. Taste for yourself.
A relationship with God gives us the power to change.
Everything flows out of relationship, as we saw in Revelation 2 and Matthew 3. Why is it so important? Let me give you two reasons why relationship is absolutely critical to the Lord Jesusnot just walking holy or smelling holy or acting religious or even congregating, but that personal relationship that every single individual one of us must have.
Number one, because relationship gives us the power to change. The power to change is predicated on relationship. The Bible says that God is changing us from glory to glory. He continues to move us toward his image. Romans 12:2 says, "Don't let the world press you into its own mold." But I had. When I came to Jesus, I felt like a squashed aluminum beer can, empty and mangled. And change wasn't just hard; change was virtually impossible.
Have you ever tried to get your life together outside of God's embrace? You can't do it on your own. How many people say, "Before I come to church, I have to get my act together"? I tried that. You can't. Outside of God's embrace, you can't do it. That's why the Lord says: Come just as you are. Come into my embrace with all your baggage, with all your problems, with all your wounds, with all your warts, with all your foibles and frailties. Come, and I will help you get your life together. I will begin to give you the power to change, but outside of my embrace you can't do it. It's only in relationship, for the power to change is predicated upon relationship.
When I was dating my wife, Anna, one thing I admired about her was her love for sports. I love sports, too, but there are two sports I don't like. Forgive me if you like these, but I don't. The first is bowling. I can't understand it. You pick up this cannonball and throw it on this beautiful maple floor that's tilted. And it goes down and disappears, thank goodness. All of a sudden, it comes back again. You throw that thing down again, and it goes down and disappears. All of a sudden, it comes back. All night you're trying to get rid of it. Finally, when you're done and you try to leave, they make you pay for throwing that ball down on the ground. That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. The other is roller skating: four wheels, none of them turn, and they expect you to go around in circles.
This is a true story. On our first date, I knocked on her door. I was excited. I said, "Where would you like to go tonight?" She said, "Do you like bowling?" And she picked up her own bowling ball. She had her own bag. Now, I was in love, so when she asked if I liked bowling, my answer was, "I love bowling." And we went bowling all night. We had a great time.
The next week I knocked on her door. I said, "Where would you like to go this week?" She picked up her skates. She said, "Do you like skating?" I said: "I've been waiting for months for someone to ask me to go skating. I love skating." And we skated all night.
I look back on it now and think, What made it easily for me to change? Did I have to work up this thing to change my desire for bowling and skating? No. It was because of my relationship with that girl. Because of the love that I had in relationship with her, change was easy.
The power to change is predicated upon your relationship with God. How often I think: God, it's hard to do what you're asking me to do, hard to change. Do I just grit my teeth? The Lord says: No. Why don't you just come closer to the cross? Why don't you let me restore and renew my relationship with you? Would you come close?
Then I realize it isn't something tough, after all. That's exactly what 1 John 5:3 says: "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments; and his commandments are not burdensome." Isn't that cool? This is the love of God. This is what it's all aboutthat we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not tough. Why? Because of the love relationship you and I have with the Lord. He's saying: The more you fall in love with me, the more I can change you into my image.
Why? Because love has what we call a creative affinity to it, which means the more you love something, the more you become like it.
For example, I have a friend who loves tennis. He wears tennis stuff. He reads tennis magazines. He uses tennis talk. He has a racket, and his hair looks like a tennis ball. I have another friend who loves surfing. He dresses with surf stuff, and he reads surf magazines. He uses surf talk. He's even starting to smell like seaweed.
That's why the Bible says the greatest commandment of all is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. That is the greatest commandment of all. Why? Because in relationship, the power to change is given, and you become like what you love. That's why God says: What pleases me the most is the relationship we have, pure and simple and independent of anything else. That pleased me then, and that pleases me yet today.
When I start to get nearer to the cross and I ask him to show me again his all-encompassing love, whatever changes he asks me to make become easier. If something God is asking you to do gets toughwhether it be to change an attitude, to ask for forgiveness, to get closer to a spouse or your parents or your childrenthe first move is to the cross. Say, "Lord, would you show me again your all-encompassing love for me?" And when that relationship is restored, you'll find the power to change.
A relationship with God gives us the power to forgive.
This relationship that gives us the power to change also gives us the power to forgive. Because I came from a broken family with lots of wounds that were never healed, forgiving others never came easy for me. But when I got to know the love of Jesus and pressed in nearer to him, and when I began to see how much he had erased from my criminal record against heaven and the patience that he had for me, something began to happen in my life. I realized how much he loved me when I deserved it the least.
Forgiveness was not given on the magnitude of my deservedness. Forgiveness was given on the magnitude of his love. The Bible says we love because he first loved us. Something began to happen inside me when I understood his love for me. He who has been forgiven much loves much, says Luke 7. And when you understand God's unrelenting love and patience for you, you come to a point where you say: "Hold on. God is patient with me. What am I doing putting on the brakes?"
I have a friend named Gene who would take me to lunch every week. Every time we'd go to lunch, he'd demand to pay for it. I thought it was nice and that maybe it was his ministry, so I let him do it for the first 80 times or so.
But after a while I said to him: "Let me pay today. You always pick up the tab." And he said: "No, no, no. I want to pick up the tab." I said: "Come on. I want to do this." He said, "No, no, no."
So the next week I got there early and said to the waitress, "When the bill comes, would you bring it straight to me?" She said: "Oh, Gene said you might do this, so I can't give it to you. I have to give it to him." I said, "Come on; you're kidding." She said, "No, that's what he said."
So I sat down. I said, "Gene, would you let me pay for the lunch?" He said: "No, no. I'll pick up the tab." I said, "Gene, I want to pick up the tab." He said, "No." I said, "I yearn to pick up the tab." He said, "No." I said, "Gene, I'm starting to dream about picking up the tab." He said, "No, I want to pick up the tab." "I beg you," I said, "let me pick up the tab." He said, "No." To this day, I have not yet picked up the tab on lunch with Gene.
Listen carefully. Jesus has picked up your tabnot once, not twice, but thousands of times. And because he has, do you see what happens to your heart? Because of that relationship, you start to feel compelled to do the same. Not because we learned it in Sunday school, not because we get points for it, not because we think we're going to gain God's blessings if we do. We love because he first loved us. Do you understand how that flows out of relationship?
And then our hearts yearn to do the same. You say: "Wayne, wait a minute. You don't know about this forgiving stuff. You don't know what I've gone through. You don't know what my uncle did to me. You don't know what my father did to me. You don't know." I understand that and I hurt, because my background is the same. But I know that forgiveness is possible. Out of relationship, you will get the power to forgive. Your heart will change to the point where you want to forgive, because he first forgave us and loved us.
It's sort of like this. Say I'm going to Nancy Beach's house, and I drive in her driveway and by mistake I run over her favorite cat. B-bump, the thing is gone. (Now, if you're an animal activist, please don't write me any letters, because this is just an illustration. I love animals. I have a dog, two cats, two birds, fish, and three children.)
So Nancy comes out and says, "That's my favorite cat you just ran over." I say: "Oh, Nancy, I'm so sorry. I just won the lottery and I was so excited." She says, "I don't care what you won. You just ran over my cat."
"Please, forgive me."
"I can't forgive you. That's my cat. I loved that cat."
"I know I can't bring it back to life. I'm sorry. Would you forgive me?"
"No, I can't forgive you. You can't bring that cat back to life. I can't forgive you. You are a mean, cruel person."
"Oh, Nancy, I'm sorry. I know I can't bring this cat back. But I just won the lottery, so here's a check. I know I can't bring the cat back, but would $50,000 help you to forgive me? Here."
She looks at the check. "Whoa. I forgive you, brother. Hallelujah. You're absolutely forgiven. God bless you."
I say, "Nancy, while we're on the subject, do you have trouble forgiving people?" She says, "Now that you mention it, yes, my neighbor called me a name the other day."
"No, I can't forgive him."
"Well, Nancy, here is a check for $25,000. Would you forgive for 25?"
"He's forgiven. Yes, he's completely forgiven. And Wayne, if the cat was $50,000, I have a dog in the back yard. I'll lay him down right here. I also have a husband I'll lay down."
I say, "Well, anything else?"
She says, "Yes, my uncle did something."
"Okay. Here's $100,000. Anything else?"
"I have a former teacher who did some things I didn't like."
"Okay. Here's another $100,000. Anybody else?"
"Well, someone in church did something."
"Here's $200,000. Will you forgive now?"
"Oh, yeah. Forgiven."
"And here's another $500,000 to make sure there's no residue left anywhere. Will you forgive everybody now?"
She says, "I am the most forgiving person in the world now. I forgive everybody."
Jesus didn't pay just $100,000 or $5 million or $10 million to give you the power to forgive. He spilled his blood on the cross in order to give you the power to forgive. He says: I want to give you a gift, and it's not for the other person. The gift is for you. In order to keep you free from the other person's sin, to keep you free from that person's mistake, I will pay the ultimate price to give you the most beautiful gift. You can give it freely away, because it has already been paid for. It's not yours, it's mine, and I'm going to ask you just to deliver it, because I paid it all.
It's out of relationship, and when you understand that, you begin to forgive freely.