Monday, July 11, 2016

We Love Because God First Loved Us


It has been a rough past week.  I shared last week about peace and security in the Lord…and that topic would still certainly be appropriate for a time like this.  Many people have a lot to say at times like this, a lot of opinions are shared when we have tragedies occur, which is their prerogative.  I guess I am just the opposite.  For me, at least, it is not a time to plea or pontificate…but a time to ponder and pray.  I just don’t know that anything I would have to say would be sufficient to deal with the raw hurt, anger, fear, sadness and other emotions that people are feeling…feelings which are entirely real and understandable.
So, whether it is the right thing or not, I try to let Scripture speak.  I want to hear the voice of God when bad news seems to be overwhelming.  It is not much different when I get called to the hospital to help a struggling family.  Sometimes…most of the time…people just need you to be present, and they need to know that God is present.  So, as it came to sharing this message today, I spent a significant amount of time thinking – what does a preacher person say?  There are a number of important passages that we could and perhaps should consider.  I tend to default to the Scriptures that remind me of God’s attributes, and what it is that He shares with us and wants us to know.

Today, I want to talk about one of my favorite Bible characters, and some of my favorite words that He shares with his readers…with us.  John is known as the apostle of love.  This is certainly due, in no small part, to His understanding and grasping the nature of his Father…and in this section he tells us that God is love.  One of the keys to John’s writings is that he wants us to know that anyone who knows God has been born of God’s love and will…and is responsive to God’s love and will.  At the beginning of chapter two of John calls his readers, “My little children.” As an aged person at this point, all of his readers would be like his children…and this reflects the fact that we are all children of our Father.  This is our big picture.  John provides to us some critical information concerning love (here, 1 John 4:7-21)…and he starts with this -- Love is not God; love does not define God, but God does define love, for God is love.   Much of what is called “love” in modern society is in reality…lust.  It bears no resemblance or relationship to the holy, spiritual love of God.  The “God kind of love” is special, unique -- agape, from the Greek, meaning – a love that knows no boundaries…it is unconditional, powerful.  It is born out of the very essence of God.  It is unique because it was delivered to us in the most powerful way --through God’s only begotten, one of a kind, Son…Jesus Christ.  None of this took place or was prompted by any love that man has ever had for God…man has betrayed God over and over – it was prompted by His love for us.  The Father was the initiator!  Unbelievers love their families, and even sacrifice for them in many respects.  Many people have some kind of intellectual understanding concerning God, but what is lacking – a personal relationship…a personal experience.  But, John says, God is invisible -- no one can see Him in His essence, only through special appearances of His glory, shekinah – burning bush, pillar of fire and cloud, mercy seat.  Yet, Paul says – “Jesus is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).  By taking on a human body, Jesus was able to reveal God to us (John 14:7ff).  God wanted to do more than just tell us of His love, rather, “God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  And even more than this, He wanted to live or abide in us!   He says this six times in this section.  And so He is able to do so through His Spirit…bearing His fruit.  Jesus ascended and left His Helper, the Holy Spirit to guide us.  In this way, the Father reveals Himself through the lives of His children. 

So, men may not be able to see God directly, but they can see God in us…the Father in the lives of His children.  His love is experienced in us, and then it is expressed through us to all.  Christian love is evidence that people truly know God!  It is not simply an intellectual pursuit, but through an exciting day by day walk that makes us Christ-like.  At the same time, there is the other side of the coin.  This is the part that the world does not understand, unfortunately.  We love not only those who are like us, but even those who are different from us or would be enemies to us.  For those of us who are in Christ, we can and must always find ways to reconcile our differences in the Lord.  As children of our Father, we may fuss like regular children, but we also forgive and move on.  We cannot love God and hate a brother or sister in the Lord.  We love, unconditionally…and are a blessing to all.

Yet another wonderful characteristic of the Father’s love is that His positive love removes negatives, such as fear and punishment.  Knowing the persecution that early Christians were experiencing at the time of John’s writing this letter, one would think that they would have plenty of reasons to be afraid.  Not so!  John says that we Christians can experience boldness or confidence toward our Father…we do not need to fear the past, present or future – the love of God transcends all this.  We are indeed sons and daughters in relationship to our Heavenly Father, and not prisoners who cringe before a judge, because our judgment is not future…it is past.  Jesus Christ took our sins to the cross and suffered judgment for all mankind – if we are in Him, we have no need to fear, but can have blessed assurance.

Rob Chaffart shares this -- Point Pelee's Lifesaving station in Ontario, Canada was established in 1901 as a result of the numerous lives and vessels lost to this peninsula. With its many shoals and reefs, it is most certainly a sailor's nightmare.  On November 22, 1906, the Conemaugh, a wooden steamer, lost all control in the Pelee passage. It hit the shoals with such a force that most of the blades of the propeller were broken off by the impact. The crew was in dire panic.  The team of seven at the nearby lifesaving station set out immediately to the rescue. Their task wasn't easy however, and it was made even harder by the tumultuous waves that constantly invaded their tiny boat. Once they were finally near enough to the Conemaugh, the crew went about the task of rescuing the crew.  One thing they didn't do, however, was try to pick and choose who would be saved. Imagine if they had said something like this: "Oh, here is Joe, my neighbor. A real jerk of a man! I don't think there is room for him in my boat. Good riddance!" But no such thought ever entered their heads. Rather, they made three trips, risking their lives each time, so that anyone on board of the Conemaugh could be brought safely ashore.  Would we have done the same? I'm speaking to those of us who have experienced God's love in our lives! Why is it that we have no trouble loving God, but when it comes to loving our fellow mankind, we are left wanting? So often we end up pondering how it is possible to truly love others. After all, we have been burned so many times, and these wounds continue to haunt us every step of the way.  How can we love like Jesus does? Is it even humanly possible? Immediately we are reminded that "Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold..." (Matt 24:12 NIV) It is completely normal, given the evil in this world, to hesitate to love. Nevertheless, this Bible text continues "…but he who stands firm to the end will be saved." (Matt 24:13 NIV). Those of us who do not let wickedness influence us in our love for others are the ones who stand firm!  We were destined to love! No wonder the evil one tries to thwart God's plans by every means possible! Will we let him? It all depends whether or not we are "standing firm".

We can know…we can experience genuine agape love, if we fully know the Father through the Son and have His Spirit dwelling, living in us.  We also understand that the love of the Father is sacrificial!  Know that the love of God is part of His very essence.  When we understand the Father’s love for us, it makes all of the difference in our lives.  Even, if we have not had a good example of an earthly father’s love in our lives.  When all of the pieces of the puzzle come together and in place in our lives, God’s plan becomes apparent to us and real for us.  When we understand our Heavenly Father’s love for us, we share this love with others and have no need to worry or be afraid.  He helps us to grow in our love for Him and for others.  We have everything to look forward to in our hope of joining our Heavenly Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  If we are living for Christ, we can be confident that we will be with Him one day.  We can now respect and understand just how it is that the Father had done what He has done for us…He wants us to be with Him!  We were all steeped in bad news at one time…news like the world has to offer.  But, now we have the Good News that we enjoy, and that we need to share with a world that desperately needs it.  Life is short…love is what matters.  The Father’s love through His Son is what matters most – and it is what makes the difference for us, His children.

Blessings, Don