GOD CARES FOR ME!
by Pastor Martha-Jean Fitch
September 11, 2016
Text: Ephesians 1:3-7, Ephesians 3:14-20
Begin with Children's Sermon, based on this idea from Sundaychildrensfocus.com Andrew Hewlett
Good morning children! When I was young my mother used to write my name on just about everything I owned. She would put my name on my shoes, on my towel, on my toys. Is your name written on things that you own? I'm a bit older now but I still have my name written in various places. Look at my driver's license here. There is my name right below my picture. Look at the church bulletin here. As the pastor my name is written right there below our church name. Here is my favorite Bible. My name is written here inside the front page. I'm glad that it's there because it lets others know it belongs to me. (Add your own examples.)
I'm glad that I have my name written in these places. But I'm really happy that my name is written in a place that I can't even see. The bible says that if we are followers of Jesus our names our written in heaven! In the bible (Luke 10:1-20) some followers of Jesus were rejoicing that they were able to do wonderful miracles. But Jesus said that what was even more wonderful was that their names were written in heaven. They could truly rejoice because they
belonged to God. I don't know how our names are written in heaven but if we are followers of Jesus our names are right there in heaven with God. That's something to be excited about! He knows our name, he loves us, and he watches over us every day of our lives.
Isn't it amazing! To think that the King of kings and Lord of lords knows our names! The Creator of all the Universe - takes notice of you!
Last week, we began our new sermon series on "Believe." This sermon series will be going on throughout this school year - and will be discussed in a couple of adult Sunday School classes as well as the Children's and Youth Wednesday night groups. This whole series has the goal of helping us to live the story of the Bible to become more like Jesus. We are going to be looking at 30 essential beliefs, practices and virtues that every Christian needs to know and live their faith. And we are using as our guide, themes and scriptures from the "Believe" book compiled by Randy Frazee. We have a hand-full of these books available for $5 that you can purchase today, if you are interested in having one. It gives you many more Scripture references, written out for you that go along with our topic each week - many more than we will be covering in the sermon. And there are also gray boxes that sum up the basic beliefs and key ideas we are focusing on. It would be a good companion for our time together throughout these next few months.
Last week, Pastor Greg started us off with the foundational belief we need in our lives and that is that the God of the Bible is the one TRUE God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Truly that is where our faith journey begins as we believe in God. He is the Creator of every living thing and we can see His hand in all of creation. He is the one all-powerful, all knowing, eternal God.
King David when he looked at the incredible greatness of God, exploded in praise in Psalm 8 saying:
1LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory in the heavens.
3When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
4what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
Have you ever gone out and looked at the night sky and gone and marveled at the beauty of the moon and the stars - or maybe looked through a telescope at all the star clusters or planets like Jupiter? It truly is amazing isn't it? To see the glory of all of creation - and to praise God for all He has made!
I read once that one of the atheistic leaders of the French Revolution said one day to a Christian villager: "We are going to pull down your church tower, so that you will have nothing left to remind you of your God or religion." The man said, "Well, you will not only have to pull down the church tower - you will also have to blot out the stars before you can destroy all that reminds us of God. They all speak to us of God."1
God is big and mighty and awesome! But what is incredibly amazing is that God is also a personal God - taking notice of you and me and caring for us!
All throughout Scripture, we hear how God wants to be in relationship with us - and loves us so dearly. In fact, in the beginning, we hear that God was in relationship with Adam and Eve and walked and talked with them in the Garden. That was His plan when he created us - to be in a loving relationship us.
The Apostle Paul, writing in the letter to the Ephesians, wrote to encourage the church and remind them who God is and what God's plan is for us. Paul said,
3-6 How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He's the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth's foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish
gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.
I don't know about you - but I stand amazed at this incredible good news. That before the world was created - God had us in mind! We were created to be loved by God. And His great desire is to be in that relationship with us. And He wants to lavish us with His grace through His Son Jesus.
All throughout Scripture, we are told that God continually pursues His people wanting to be in close relationship with us. He calls us the apple of His eye - and even delights in us. Zephaniah 3:17-18 tells us-
For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty Savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness. With His love, He will calm
all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.
Isn't that incredible? The Lord, who is mighty to save, sings over you! No matter what is happening in your life, the struggles you are going through, God is with you and when He sees you, He sings a song! And when we are afraid, as we turn to Him and trust Him, He will calm us with His love.
We have a personal God who loves and cares for each one of us! In fact, Augustine once said, "God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love."2
The Apostle Paul knew what a difference it made in your life to know how much you are loved - to enter into a deep, close personal relationship with God. While Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians, he was in prison. He had faced all sorts of trials and suffering. But he could endure and persevere because he knew the depth of love Christ and Christ had come to live and reign in his heart. So Paul prayed for the church to be strengthened and equally know this great love of God.
Open your Bibles up to Ephesians 3 and we will read Paul's words in verses 14-19. Ephesians is kind of in the middle of the New Testament. Turn there and follow along as I read to you from the New Living Translation.
12 Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God's presence. 13 So please don't lose heart because of my trials here. I am suffering for you, so you should feel honored. 14 When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, 15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth.16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God's love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God's people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
Paul prays that as we trust in Jesus, that He will come and live in our hearts. And then we will know how incredibly we are loved - that our roots will grow down deep into God's love and we will find the strength for each new day.
When we come to know the breadth of God's love - we understand how wide God's love is. God's love reaches all around the world - including each and every person, in every age and every world.
And to know the length of God's love - we can know that God's love continues throughout the length of our days. In fact, God knows us from the very moment we are conceived. Psalm 139 tells us that God was the one who knit us together in our mother's womb. And that love continues throughout our life, even to our death. And nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even death itself. (Romans 8)
To know the height of God's love - is to know that God rejoices with us and His love rises to the heights of our celebration and joy.
And then, God's love reaches to the depths of our depression, darkness, discouragement and even death. God's love is total and reaches every corner of our experience.
There is no one outside of the love of Christ, no place outside the reach of Christ and no experience so bad that Christ is not there, reaching out His hand and pulling us back home.
This week, I read of a woman named Linda who was taught as she growing up that God was a God of Righteousness, Justice and Judgment. He was not a God of Love, but One to be feared. God was aloof, sitting on a throne in Heaven, far removed from us. She hadn't heard the story of the gift of Emmanuel - which means that God is with us. She hadn't heard that God is a God of Love, Mercy and Compassion.
Therefore, when Linda's personal life began to fall apart, she found no consolation from a view of a Judgmental God. She needed Someone who personally loved her and cared for her. Finally, one of her friends (from another church) showed her from Scripture, that God is Holy, Just and Righteous -- but He also is a God of Love, Compassion, Forgiveness and Mercy. He told her that God not only loved her and would forgive her for all her sins, but that He also wanted to heal her and fill her with His Love so that she could pass it on to others.
Linda could hardly believe what she was hearing; it was too wonderful to even comprehend. Was God really like this? Did He really love her like that? Could she really learn to love others with His Love?
The first few weeks after that conversation, Linda tried to believe in a God who unconditionally loved her. Each time she chose to step out in faith, however, the old nagging doubts came rushing back in and the overwhelming fear of condemnation and guilt consumed her. And when she faced different trials in her life - and walked through times of pain and suffering - she would often find herself in a dilemma. Would she believe that God is love and is with us through every storm and trial OR would she believe that God is cruel and doesn't care about us in our pain?
She discovered as she read the Bible, that the main theme running throughout all the Bible is God's great love for us. Over and over she read how God sent His son, Jesus, to this earth to heal broken hearts and to bring His people back into relationship with Him.
She finally ended up - out of pure desperation - writing down all of God's promises of love in the Bible on 3x5 index cards, and carrying these cards with her wherever she went (in her pocket, in her purse or in her car).
When the doubts, unbelief, and the enemy's taunts came in, she quickly confessed and repented of them, whipped out those cards, and read out loud how much God loved her. Finally, she chose to step out in faith and believe what God's Word said. Even though she didn't "feel" anything yet, she persevered by faith and God honored her obedience by eventually aligning her feelings with her choice.3
In His timing and way, she began to have "living experience" that God did, indeed, love her. And, upon that solid foundation, she was able to continue her walk with God, filled with a spirit of joy and peace and learning to love others, as she had first been loved by God.
Maybe today, you are like Linda. Maybe there are times you have a hard time believing and experiencing this personal relationship with our good God of love in your own life. Perhaps your feelings and fears have deceived you - and led you to worry or fear or even despair.
So my challenge for you today is to write down some Scriptures - personalize them and learn them by heart! Make up 3x5 cards, just like Linda did. Keep these cards with you at all times-in your car, in your purse, on the mirror in the bathroom, etc. Then, when doubts, fears, unbelief, insecurities, etc., come over you, whip out those cards, confess and repent of the things that are not of faith and give them to God. Then choose by faith - not by feelings - to believe what God says and in His timing, He will align your feelings to match your choices. Let these words dwell deep in your heart, becoming the strong foundation to build your life upon. Words like:
· God loves me so much that, He has engraved my name on the palms of His hand. (Isaiah 49:16)
· God loves me so much that He will never leave me or forsake me. (Hebrews 13:5)
· God tells me: I don't have to be afraid. Whenever I go through suffering - feeling like I am drowning in difficulties or I am walking through the fire - I will not be consumed; because God is with me. He says I am precious to Him and He loves me." (Isaiah 43:2-4)
· The Lord is my shepherd and I have everything I need. When I walk through a dark time in my life, I don't have to be afraid because God is close beside me. His goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life and I will live in the house of the Lord forever! (Psalm 23:1, 4 & 6)
Believe the good news my friends! Cling to these words of love and let them permeate every part of your lives! And walk in love - loving others as God has first loved us.
Thanks be to God that He loves us and is a personal God!
1W. Walters, "The Stars and Their Message" in Bible Illustrator
2Quote by Augustine as cited in Catholic WebPhilosopher
3Nancy Missler, Way of Agape, How Can We Prove that God Loves Us? http://www.khouse.org/articles/1999/224/