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March 11, 2019, 10:11 AM

GOD IS LOVE


Your Story 2019 – God Is Love.

            Had a great couple of days at man up. Some really powerful moments, but I’ll talk more about that next week. Right now I gotta talk up the Great Plains Theatre. Mari & I went there for the first time to see the Academy Production of Les Miserables. Cool place. Reminds me of K-State’s purple mask theatre.

 

            Mari & I joke about how little we have in common and that’s really not far from the truth. But the most important thing we have is our love for God and Les Mis. We both absolutely love it that musical. How many of you have seen it? I know Stan and Pam have. They were there the same night we were! Fun stuff.

 

            Now that particular production was done by our kids here in Abilene. And it definitely warranted a standing O for all the time and effort and energy those kids and the staff put into it. What a great performance. The passion on that stage was just over the top. Now our favorite version of Les Mis is the musical version with Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway & Russell Crowe. Awesome, although Russell Crowe sure wasn’t chosen for his singing ability.  

 

            If you pay attention to the theme it’s a story of redemption; a story of heart change and even salvation is brought into the picture. But you know what’s really grabbed me about Les Mis - is the story behind the story. The original novel was written by Victor Hugo, whom I had thought for years, was an avowed atheist. And I kept asking myself how could someone who believes there is no God, speak so strongly in his work about the very core of our faith.

 

 

            A little research shows he wasn’t atheist at all. He was raised in the Catholic Church as a boy, but turned away from the church later in his life. He considered himself a “rationalist and a freethinker.” But he held onto his beliefs in heaven and hell; and he continued to pray every morning. Makes a lot more sense to me now. But why’d he leave the church?

 

Well it sounds like it started as a gradual drift away from the church – like so many others. But it’s believed that the real reasons behind his hard core move away were the attacks on his works and the banning of so many of them by the Catholic church. “Hugo counted 740 attacks on Les Misérables [alone] in the Catholic press.”  And I want Paula to know I got that little statistic from Wikipedia.

 

But most of those attacks on his novel were because of the political rebellion portrayed in the story – young people rising up against oppression of the French government. Things were different back in those days. The church was highly politicized and indifferent to government corruption.  

 

But I find the church’s actions in the case of Les Mis incomprehensible. Speaks volumes about the controlling and judgmental nature of the church in those days, as well as, the narrow mindedness.  I mean even in his political exile and his animosity toward the church, Victor Hugo didn’t take his eye off the mark of God’s redemptive story.  He was never mad at God. Just the institution.

 

 

 

But this backstory to me really affirms the misguided role of church as an institution and clearly defines what church should NOT be. The church should reflect Christ and that reflection is one of truth and love. Now this story is really a topic for another day, and it will be, but it ties to our message today and it tells us this is EXACTLY the problem that’s perceived by so many with the church even today.

 

That’s it’s comprised of rules and structure and control, acting in

judgment rather than love, all of which lends itself to an image of hypocrisy. And that’s exactly what turns people off and away from the church. They understandably associate church with God – makes sense right; logical. BUT if their faith wasn’t strong enough to begin with, then their view of church becomes their skewed perception of God. And that’s where Satan tries to turn the knife. Religion is not Christ’s idea for His church. Never was. That’s man’s idea.

 

Christ’s vision for His church is love for God and others all in a unified worship and glorification of the Father through Christ as the head. That’s church.  That’s my rant for the day – well, I might have one more left in me - but it actually does tie in to our message. Now I didn’t cut my last message short like I did the one before, but today we’re going to pick up kind of where we left off. Plus, we missed a week in there and there’re a few points I want us to remember. I want to reinforce those key words we all repeated together. Remember what they were? Let’s say them again.

Love! Know! Live! Grow!

Transparent. Accountable. Intentional.

The last 2 or 3 weeks we’ve really spent time unpacking what the words transparent, accountable and intentional should look like in the life of a Christian – to each and every one of us here. And those four words; love, know, live, grow, I’m lifting up as our mantra as we move forward together in God’s kingdom work. Love God first, then others. Know God and His Word. Live a life that reflects Jesus and Grow God’s Kingdom.

 

            Simple as that and I don’t think any of us can deny the importance of  those elements of biblical teaching. All are foundational to truth and should be evident in the life of every single believer. Remember Christianity is not some kind of passive faith. Faith is action. Love is action. Our witness – is action. Our four defining words – love, know, live, grow – all clearly show decisive action  and our three adjectives – transparent, accountable, intentional – are all descriptive of a life that’s fully abiding in Christ.

 

            So now today we’re going to begin a sub-series on these virtues and consider how they all work in synergy to create a vital and functioning body of Christ. Just a quick visual of what I mean by synergy. It’s as simple as this. Normal math tells us 2 + 2 = 4. Right? Well through synergy, 2 + 2 might equal 5, or 6, or 10, or 20 or it might look like 2 TIMES 2, instead!

            When we come together with Christ – seek His guidance – and form a synergy of our actions and ideas for His kingdom work, the growth from that becomes exponential. And that’s the whole idea behind discipleship which to me is the type of growth Christ intended for His church. 1 becomes 2. 2 becomes 4. 4 becomes 16. 16 becomes 256. 256 becomes 65,536. 65,536 becomes something, not sure what, my calculator wouldn’t go that high.

But I think you get the idea. That’s exponential growth and that’s Christ’s vision for His church.  It’s not about how many people are sitting in the pews on Sunday morning. It’s about how many are out sharing His gospel of love and growing His kingdom throughout the week!

 

            We’re going to begin today at the beginning – with the first word of our mantra - love. Our Scripture today is from 1 John, ch 4, verses 7-21. If 1 Corinthians 13 is called the love chapter, 1 John has to be the BOOK of love! I’ve mentioned before how close John was to Jesus. Along with Peter and James, he was part of Jesus’s inner circle. He was known as the Beloved Apostle; the one who held the place of honor at the last supper; sitting next to Jesus. In DaVinci’s painting you see him nearest Jesus where he can hear the Lord’s comments intended for his ears only. They were like best friends.

 

            John lived to the wise old age of 94 and just like E.F. Hutton, when John spoke, everybody stopped to listen. More than anyone else, John walked with Jesus and heard from the Lord himself the explanations of all things spiritual.  As John grew older he had to be carried from church to church to teach and in his later years his words became fewer and fewer, but no less profound.

 

            Early Church history has it that in his last days the crowds would still gather to hear from THE man who walked with Jesus and John would say to them, “My little children, love one another.” Then he would pause – and say again, “My little children, love one another.” Then another pause – and one last time, “My little children, love one another.” Then silence. That was it. But what else did he need to say.

            Better than anyone else, John knew God is love. He knew firsthand the depth of Christ’s love for all of us; what He sacrificed. He was the only disciple at the foot of the Cross the day Jesus was crucified for all mankind. He was given by Jesus from the Cross to Mary as her son; the only one Christ trusted enough to care for His mother. John saw and he touched Jesus’s risen body and he watched as Christ ascended to heaven.

            John’s message in his letter here is consistent with his Gospel – God is love and by knowing Him we will have love for one another. Let’s read, 1 John 4:7-21.

                        Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
                In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
                Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.

                And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.             

                By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the Day of Judgment, because as he is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
                We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

            Lot of Scripture here, but the message is so simple. If we press it all down it comes out, God is love and by His love for us, he sent his Son as the propitiation – the atonement – for our sin. And because of His great love, we ought to love Him and love others. And by this we abide in God and He abides in each of us through His Spirit. I mean this is the Gospel of salvation, “whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God.”  

 

            How much simpler can it be? God’s love is perfected, meaning it reaches completion by the degree to which it is shared among us. Can you see the triangle effect in that love relationship that John’s talking about?

                                     

 

                            Love God                                         

         PERFECTED

     Love Others      As Self

 

Love God. Love others. As self.

            And then apply that visual to the Scripture that’s foundational to our mantra, Matthew 22:36-38, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The vertical first. Then the horizontal. This is the crux of John’s message. God’s love is perfected through His love for us and our love for Him and our love for others. But this can only be made real – perfected - when His Spirit abides in us.

 

            Ok. Time for rant #2. Now I want to preface this by saying I’m not here to offend anyone. I’m not. But I am here; I am called to speak God’s Truth. And His Word is culturally offensive. It's contra to what sinful society wants to hear, because it’s counter to cultural desires. It cuts across the grain of the earthly pleasures and material gain that are the standard in our society.

           I believe part of the problem in our culture today is a confusion about the emotion of love. For instance, I think too many people get caught up in lust for the flesh and misinterpret that as love. They give in to those desires and THAT becomes the foundation for the relationship and even marriage. Not real love.  The words til death do us part are just words to get through the ceremony.

 

            And when those sexual desires for each other become routine, boring and start to fade, they begin to search – maybe on the internet through porn, maybe in relationships outside the marriage.

But the bottom line is, what the man and woman thought was love, was really Satan’s design to corrupt mankind by destroying our most sacred institution – the family.   

 

            And then consider Satan’s efforts to destroy the family even further by elevating homosexuality in our society to a level that they can demand that government change the structure of family from the biblical mandate of one man and one woman to basically whatever a flawed humanity thinks is right. Dear God how far have we drifted away from you? All because of our passivity as Christians!

 

            I think most of you know about the struggles within the Methodist denomination.  There is a doctrinal split in the view of same sex marriage and ordination of homosexual clergy. We have been praying for God’s resolution here for well over two months. The split is this… The Traditional Plan is favored by those in the church who hold the traditional view of marriage as being one man and one woman. It also tightens restrictions on homosexuals who wish to serve as members of the clergy.

 

            The One Church Plan, on the other hand, would allow individual churches to decide where they stand on the issue of homosexual marriage and clergy. It opens the door to same sex weddings and ordaining openly homosexual clergy.  Ultimately it came to a vote a week ago and praise God, the One Church Plan failed to pass by a vote of 436 against and only 386 in favor. Praise God. But you know what’s really sad to me; is that the vote was that close and that it failed on the strength of the African church.

            But what’s even more egregious is what was said after the vote. I read this on Church Leaders a credible faith based news site, “Despite the bishop’s attempt to address the elephant in the room graciously, the backlash from those opposed to the Traditional Plan made it clear that this vote will cause many churches (particularly in the US) and LGBTQ+ clergy members to leave the denomination.

            While most delegates from the Central Conference of the UMC, which represents churches in Africa, Europe and Asia, rejoiced over the decision, the general feeling of the delegates from the US was one of dismay.” Instead of recognizing what’s Scriptural they would choose to leave the church and go against God’s will and His Word to do their own thing. What is going on?

 

            No doubt this shows the state of the church in America; why it’s shrinking; why objective truth is becoming lost and why America’s foundation in God is crumbling. Many in the US call this liberal movement progressive. God doesn’t see it that way. He calls it rebellion and sin.  “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (Romans 1:24-25).”

 

            Satan convinces us that all this pleasure he offers is ok and we become so enticed and so drawn by our lustful desires that we lose sight of our relationship with the Father.  We don’t hold ourselves or others accountable to God for our actions. Lives are no longer intentional in seeking Truth. Instead they’re on a reckless collision course with eternity.

            Read another Facebook blog this week about the First Methodist Church in Manhattan. Pastor was quoted, “I really thought this was a time that we would open it up to allow differences and flexibility among churches.” And then all the supporting comments broke down pointing to intolerance and narrow-mindedness. Where is truth in these words? As Christ’s church we are absolutely called to love everyone in all their differences, reject no one because of who they are. Not to stand in judgment. But we are called to stand firm in God’s truth.

 

Jesus set the example for us to love everyone. He went to the homes of some of the worst sinners of the day. He certainly didn’t shun them. But He went so He could deliver truth. Not to condone their lifestyle.

 

            You see, the root of our problem is until we get the vertical relationship right – meaning our relationship with God – we’re always going to struggle with the horizontal – our relationships with others. This whole LGBTQ+ thing is rooted in sinful pleasure and rebellion against God. It’s not biblical. It’s not truth and Paul calls it out.

 

“For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error (Rom 1:26-27).”

 

            Now this message today was not intended to be a rant on homosexuality and it’s not – even though it might sound like it. But in the context of love I think it’s important to understand how grossly misunderstood and misinterpreted and misguided love can be.

 

Jesus loves more deeply than anyone, but in His love He holds us all accountable for our sins. Our lives are an open book to Him. Love doesn’t give us give free reign to do whatever we want – to live lives that are in open rebellion to God. Real love is transparent and good. Real love is accountable to God and to others. And real love is intentional in its truth and its actions.

 

            I want to talk for just a minute about the four types of love we find in the Bible. Love is one of the most powerful emotions we can experience with vastly different degrees of intensity. The Greeks understood that and distinguished, but we tend to lump it all together. We can say we love ice cream and chocolate – which I do… a lot, and we can pledge our love to our husband or wife until our dying breath – and I’ve done that too. Human beings crave love from the moment we’re born. Our Scripture tells us God IS love. For believers love is the truest test of genuine faith. So you can see love is really all over the board.

 

But the Greeks got it right. The four unique forms of love found in the Bible are communicated through four distinct Greek words: Eros which is characterized by romantic love. Storge is characterized by family love. Philia by brotherly love. And Agape, which is God’s divine love. As we look at these different angles of love, we'll try to sort out what love really means, and how to follow Christ's commands to love God vertically and to love others horizontally.

            Eros is the Greek word for sensual or romantic love. The term originated from the Greek god of love, physical attraction, and physical love, Eros. Promiscuity of all types was rampant in the ancient Greek culture and was one of the big challenges Paul had to fight when planting churches.

 

            In 1 Corinthians Paul warns young believers against falling to immorality. Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10).”

 

            But the Bible's prohibition of sex outside of marriage necessarily limits this erotic love to married couples only. That’s exactly where promiscuity so misses the mark and distorts real love.

           

            Storge is a term for love in the Bible that you may not be as familiar with. This Greek word describes family love, the affectionate bond that develops naturally between parents and children, and brothers and sisters.

 

            You find family love everywhere in Scripture; Noah’s desire to protect his wife and their children; the love Jacob had for his sons; and the strong love Martha and Mary had for their brother Lazarus. The most powerful Scripture speaking to storge love is found in the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:12, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

                When we become followers of Jesus Christ, we enter into the family of God. Our lives are bound by something way stronger than just physical ties—the bonds of the Spirit. We’re connected by something more powerful than human blood—the blood of Jesus Christ. God calls his family to love one another with the deep affection of storge love.

 

            Philia is the type of intimate love in the Bible that most Christians practice toward each other. This Greek term describes the powerful emotional bond seen in deep friendships. Philia is the most general type of love in Scripture, encompassing love for fellow humans, care, respect, and compassion for people in need. This concept of brotherly love that unites believers in fellowship is unique to Christianity. Jesus uses philia to identify his followers: "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another (John 13:35)."

 

            Agape is the highest of the four types of love in the Bible. This term defines God's immeasurable, incomparable love for humanity. It’s the divine love that comes from God. Agape love is unconditional, sacrificial, and pure. Remember the Word we came up with in our triangle earlier – perfected. Agape love is perfected just as John said in our Scripture.

 

            Jesus demonstrated this kind of divine love to his Father and to all humanity in the way he lived and died. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8).” Following his resurrection, Jesus asked the apostle Peter if he loved him – meaning agape - sacrificially.

Peter responded three times that he did, but the word he used was philia or brotherly love. Peter hadn’t yet received the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, so he was incapable of agape love.  

           

            Remember what we said earlier - God is love and in His love for us, he sent his Son as the propitiation – the atonement – for our sin. And because of His love, we ought to love Him and love others. And by this we abide in God and He abides in each of us through His Spirit. God’s love is perfected through His love for us and our love for Him and our love for others. But this can only be made real – perfected - when His Spirit abides in us.

 

            This is the very core of our existence; to love God first, more than anyone or anything else. When we base our life on any other foundation, we cannot live the life God calls us to. God created us to be in fellowship with Him. When we’re not, our lives are out of sync with truth. Our love of God must be at the center of our faith walk.

 

All of us want to love like Jesus. We want to be generous, forgiving, and compassionate enough to love people unconditionally. But no matter how hard we try, somehow we always seem to fall short. Our humanity always gets in the way. Self gets in the way. Our judgmental nature. We can love, but we just can't do it perfectly, unconditionally. The secret to loving like Jesus is to abide fully in Him. He is our is rock; our cornerstone; our salvation and our eternity. We live only to glorify Him and not ourselves.

 

When we truly believe that; love God with all our heart; give ourselves over fully to Christ, then we begin to live that truth and we start to understand what Christ meant when he said to follow Him we must die to self. Love God. Love others. Selfish desires are no longer important. What becomes important is seeking ways to glorify God.

 

I am so blessed with God’s gift to stand here every Sunday and deliver God’s message. As we pull this together every week and then stand here in front of you all and speak God’s truth, I am changed. The dial on my heart just keeps ratcheting further and further away from self and toward a greater understanding of God’s great love and mercy. What incredible joy.  And I want all of us, every one of us to experience the joy of a life fully abiding in Christ.

 

Maybe you know that feeling already. Maybe you don’t. I know this message today was strong in it words, but what I hope we all understand is this. I’m not up here pointing a finger. We all make mistakes. We all sin and we fall short. But it’s all about truth; repentance; the condition of our heart and our relationship with God. Where are you on that path? All it takes is that first step toward Him and then just keep putting one foot in front of the other.