Over the past 2 Sundays I had the privilege to preach at my church. I took this opportunity to rehash some of the foundational beliefs of the Christian faith: God loves us and we were created to love him and love others. Over these two weeks we looked at John 3.16, 1 John 4.19 and Matthew 22.37-40. It was a lot of fun preparing for the sermons and then sharing them with my church family. What you'll find below is the general outline for each of the two sermons. In some cases I stuck with exactly what is written here, in other places I skipped over what is written, re-worded it, or added other material. I share these outlines with you under the hope that they might encourage you, not to toot my own horn.
Week 1: God's Love
Love is what I want to spend this week and next week discussing because I think love is something we could all get better at doing.
Now, I'm not talking about your misguided 'love' for KU basketball or how much you 'loved' the new Iron Man movie. I want to talk about love that is wild, active, unrelenting, unflinching, and perfect.
Now I know your shocked that such a muscular, manly man such as myself would choose to spend two weeks talking about love. But let me tell you a secret: I love love. I really do.
I can't wait to be a dad because I want to love my kids and I want to be really, really good at loving my kids.
I want to be able to look my kids in the eye, all 12 of them, and have them know that I would do anything for them, not because they've earned it, but simply because they are my kids and I'm their dad. And friends, that is how God feels about us. Whenever we talk about God's love we've got to talk about Jesus, and not just because we're in church. But because the greatest example of God's love was the sacrifice of his Son Jesus.
I don't know about you but when I think about Christ's sacrifice the analogy that I'm most used to is that Christ paid my debt. He was a substitution, he took my place. And this can be a powerful image.
The problem with this analogy is, at least to me, it seems too easy, too clean.
What I mean by this is it doesn't feel personal to me. I might be the only one who feels this way, but I doubt it.
I've been told my whole life that God loves me, but in the context of Christ's substitutionary atonement, love doesn't really seem to come to the forefront. It seems more like a transaction to me. Let me be clear here, so you don't think I'm a heretic.
I agree completely with the doctrine of atonement. But what I would like to rehash is how some of us have come to understand it, me included.
Christ's atonement for our sin is not a business transaction, it's deeper than substitution, it's more personal than paying off a debt.
It's an act of head over heels, unflinching, unending love.
And in the immortal words of DC Talk, Love is a verb. Love is about action. It's not just saying you love someone, love manifests itself in action, it has to, it doesn't know what else to do but be alive and doing.
Now, I think it's safe to say that we're mostly all familiar with John 3.16:
For God so liked the world. that he thought about it a lot? that he wrote a haiku about it? how do I love thee? thy roundness, floating in space I give you my heart
God's love for us is so incredibly strong and true that he took action. He saw our situation, our self inflicted doom, and he made something happen. And not just anything, right?
He loved us so much that he sent his own Son to DIE for us.
Are you kidding me!?
God's love makes my head hurt. It just doesn't make sense to me, why God would love me and love me so WELL?
One of the issues with focusing on the 'Christ paid our debt' picture that I have is that somewhere inside we can buy into the lie that if we work hard enough for long enough we can earn enough to pay our own debt.
We may say that we know we can't do this, but if we look at our lives, at our thoughts, at how we act, we might be surprised to find that we buy into that lie quite often.
But, if we take a few moments to consider the fact that the only thing that can save us from doom is God acting out of love for his creation, then maybe we can begin to see that God has something incredibly important at stake here. And that something incredibly important is you and me.
I want to invite Houston up here to share a story with you all from a book by Bob Goff, with the same title as this series, Love Does.
**Reading of Ch. 1 of Love Does**
What a great story.
Have you ever thought about the name Immanuel, 'God with us', in light of how God loves us. You can't love from a distance, you cannot be with someone from a distance, let alone the distance that separates us from God due to our sin. Yet, God is with us, wherever we go, because he is constantly in hot pursuit of us. He loves us from up close. He is with us.
I would venture to say that most of us struggle with this concept: God loves me and he did something amazing to prove it to me. And then after I ran from that truth, his love for me caused him to run after me, so that he could be with me. My Immanuel, God with me. Right here, right now.
There is no place we can be where God cannot say 'I am Immanuel, I am with you'.
Friends, we are sinners, saved by grace.
But too often, when we look in the mirror we think I'M A SINNER, saved by grace. We focus so hard on the fact that we're not perfect that we start to think that God can't really love us for who we really are. We're too dirty, we've done too many bad things. No one in their right mind would love us if they actually knew who we were.
This is what we learn from the world right? If you don't look this way, dress that way, talk this way, make this much money, drive this type of car…you aren't worth loving because you aren't good enough. We get beaten up, torn down, and knocked from side to side.
And so we say, yea I'm saved by grace, But I AM A SINNER. And we hold on to that like it's a medal of honor. And it's true we are sinners, every single one of us. But we are SAVED BY GRACE and grace is the vessel by which God shares his action-packed love with us.
So I think we should see that statement this way: I AM A SINNER, SAVED BY GRACE.
We cannot forget that we are sinners, that is a fundamental truth we cannot ignore. What we do need to remember, however, is that we are indeed the subject of God's wild, active, unrelenting, unflinching, and perfect love. Church, our capacity to love others and be loved by others is directly related to our understanding of God's love for us. And it's my hope that we can, day by day, gain a deeper, richer, and more true understanding of just how much love God has for us.
Let's end there today. Please, stand and let's close our time together with a final song.
Week 2: Love God, Love Others
Last week we ended our time together with this statement:
"Our capacity to love others and be loved by others is directly related to our understanding of God's love for us. We cannot love well or be loved well unless we let God love us well."
In other words "We love because he first loved us", 1 John 5.19.
God's love serves as both teacher and guide for us. It is by his love that we learn how to love ourselves and others.
God's love teaches us what it means to let our love be active and how to pursue others in love, and it guides us in our commitment to love well.
If we take 1 John 5.19 to heart then we must realize that our capability to love is solely dependent on the fact that God loved us first. I'll repeat that again, our capability to love is solely dependent on the fact that God loved us first.
Love is not a human invention, it is not something we're naturally good at. We're much better at liking than we are at loving.
All you have to do is watch how children act to see that this is true. Kids like you a lot until you take their favorite toy away. Normally a temper tantrum ensues. At that point they no longer like you and they let you know it. They aren't thinking "well I know mommy loves me so she probably has a legitimate reason to not let me play with that right now".
How many of you parents have heard your children say 'I don't like you anymore' or even better 'I hate you!'. These statements are proof that humans are really good at liking and disliking and really bad at loving.
At this point you might be thinking, Cam you're talking about kids, that doesn't seem fair.
Ok then, let's think about adults for a second. I guarantee we've all seen adults throw temper tantrums. In fact I'm sure many of us adults in this room have decided not to like someone because they took away our favorite 'toy'.
Whatever that toy may be in your life: someone else got the promotion, your significant other dumped you for someone else, someone cut you off on the highway, or took 'your' parking spot at the grocery store.
You see the difference between liking and loving is selfishness. Human beings are great at liking because we're selfish, we're not so good at loving for that very same reason.
This is why we can only learn to love from God: he's the only one who knows what it means to love perfectly, the only one who's motivations are pure, and the only one who isn't selfish.
So what does it look like for us to love, like God is trying to teach us?
"Love the lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and Prophets." - Matthew 22:37-40
I love verse 40: On these two commandments depend all the Law and Prophets. As if to prevent us from saying, surely there is more to it than loving God and others?
Nope. The ENTIRE Old Testament is built on these two things: loving God and loving others. Let's just think about that for a second, the ENTIRE Old Testament, everything God was trying to teach the Israelites from Genesis to Malachi, is dependent upon loving God and loving others.
Let's dive a little bit deeper into these verses from Matthew 22.
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength."
Our heart is what is most important to us. What resides in our hearts is what we worship, the things that we ascribe ultimate value to.
We see examples of this throughout scripture, especially in the Old Testament. When Pharoah's heart is hardened towards the Israelites it is because he is unwilling to admit that God is greater than he is.
All throughout the Law the heart is discussed. Do not harbor hatred in your heart, do not follow after the desires of the flesh with your heart or eyes, keep the commandments of the Lord in your heart. 'heart' occurs 117 times in the Psalms alone.
In scripture the heart is the center of all life and spiritual activity. So when we read love the Lord your God with all your heart we must understand how incredibly deep that command is. We are to love God to the very core of what we hold most dear.
Our soul is our true being. To love God with our soul means our very purpose in life is to love and serve God. We each may carry that purpose out in unique and different ways, but the perfect end of our being is to love God, it is what we were created to do.
Psalm 19.7 The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. How often do you hear of laws that revive the soul?
But if we trust what verse 40 says, that all the law and prophets are summed up in these commandments, we can rightfully conclude that loving God and others revives the soul. And a revived soul goes a long way in helping us continue to learn how to love God and others well.
Now, our mind is the root of all our thoughts and reasoning. To love God with all our mind means that our thoughts, our reasoning, and our motivations are wrapped up in the knowledge of God's character and love.
The more we know God, his character and his love, the more our thoughts become his thoughts, our reasonings become his, our motivations for action become his motivations.
In Romans 12.2 Paul says, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."
If we can discern the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect, chances are we'll gain an even better understanding of God's character and love. So Friends, the renewal of our minds which stems from the loving of God with our minds, is incredibly vital to our faith.
Our strength is our physical presence and ability. To love God with all our strength means to love God through our actions. To meet the physical needs of others, to honor God in our work, to take action in his name.
James 2.15-17 says, 'If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, Go in peace, be warmed and filled, without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead."
Pretty much what James is saying, and what loving God with all your strength means, is if you love God, do something about it. Let your love for God prove itself in the actions that you take.
To sum all of that up in a few over simplified words: Love God with everything you are. God wants every part of you, every last bit that makes you, you. He wants it, that's why he sent Jesus, that's why he chases after us, and that why his love is so unrelenting.
And so we come to verse 39, love your neighbor as yourself. How do we do this? What does this even mean?
Well let me start by saying that our neighbor is any other person on the planet, not just the people in your neighborhood. Right now a team of people from FBC is on their way back from Ethiopia where they spent time loving our neighbors. And the cool part is that while they were over there they were being loved as neighbors by our Ethiopian friends.
So love other humans as yourself. Here's the final selfishness killer. If learning to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength doesn't somehow kill our selfishness, this should. There is nothing more humbling than putting others before yourself. Nothing.
And I'm pretty sure that's why God calls us to do it.
There is something about the physical presence of others in our lives that really makes us put our money where our mouth is. We can say we love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength but remember, love must take action. And this is how our love for God takes action: in loving others as ourselves.
You see God's a smart dude. He knows what we're like, he knows theory is always easier that practice. But love is all about action, about doing, about serving, about being unselfish. So he calls us out of theory and into practice.
If we love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength we won't be able to stop ourselves from loving others. Our love for God will lead us into action, it won't have any other outlet. It's only when our love is directed away from God that we forget to love others and we become selfish. And then we forget what it means to love and then the world becomes a really awful place to live.
So how do we love others as ourselves? Let me suggest a few things:
Listen, watch, act.
Listen to what others around are saying, what is bothering them, what could they use, how are their relationships, their jobs, etc?
Watch how the people around you act, work, carry themselves, interact with people. What do they spend their time doing? What do you see that they enjoy, what do you see that they dislike?
When you spend time listening to and watching others you can gain some insight on how you can act to show that specific person the love of God.
This isn't breaking news, it's not some new, cutting-edge way to do things, it's just caring about people.
What I hope we're seeing from our time together these past 2 Sundays is that every part of who and what we are was created to love God, to love others, and to be loved by God.
When Christ died and rose again he ushered in the renewal of all creation, which includes our hearts, our souls, our minds, and our strength. Salvation is more than eternal life, it is the renewal of the very core of who and what we are.
John Stott puts it like this: "God has united us with Christ in his death and resurrection, and thus obliterated our old lives and given us entirely new lives in Christ. He has adopted us into his family and made us his children. He has put his Holy Spirit within us and so made our bodies his temple. He has also made us his heirs and promised us an eternal destiny with him in heaven. This is what he has done for us and in us. This is what we are in Christ."