Monday, February 16, 2009

This week's sermon: Because he first loved me

1 John 4:19 “We love because he first loved us.”
Mark 12;30-31 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”
2 Thessalonians 3:5 “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s Love and Christ’s perseverance.”

Valentines Day has become a day for love. We see hearts and flowers and cupids and think “love is in the air.” But the kind of love that is advertised at Valentines Day is fleeting. It is temporary and conditional. It requires that we buy our loved one something expensive, or that we plan the perfect date in order to win or keep their affection. God’s love for us is completely different.

I Corinthians 13:4-8 shows us a love that is greater than anything we have ever known. It is a picture of God’s perfect love:
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.

This is God’s love for you. In fact you can put his name in those verses: God is patient. God is kind. He is not envious, not proud, not rude, not self-seeking, not easily angered. How often are we afraid that if we mess up that God will abandon us, or that we will have to somehow make it up to him? But because of Christ and his sacrifice on the cross, we don’t have to worry about that. Romans 8:1 tells us that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. God keeps no record of wrongs.

If you are in a relationship with God through Christ, you are part of God’s family. You have been adopted in, and what better daddy is there than our God? God always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. God never fails. God’s love for you never fails. God is completely trustworthy and his love for us will never ever fail. He will never stop loving us. In fact, before we even knew who he was, Paul tells us in Romans 5, while we were still living our lives in opposition to God as his enemies, Christ died for us. He laid down his life to pay the penalty for our sin, so that we could have new life in him.

God’s love for us is sacrificial. He loved us so much, John 3:16 tells us that he sent his only son, so that whoever believes in him would not perish, but have everlasting life in him. God’s love for us does not require that we do things for him in order for him to love us. No, instead, God proves his love to us in this that while we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. He didn’t die for the righteous, he died for the ungodly. He died for you and me, knowing even then how we would mess up and hurt him. That is the love God has for us.

It is the love that gives, instead of asking to be given to. How many of you agonized over the perfect gift for Valentine’s Day? With God, we never have to worry about getting him the best gift. We simply need to accept the perfect gift from him—new life in Christ.

If we are in Christ, God calls us to live our lives according a different kind of love as well. He pours his love out on us, but it isn’t just to bottle it up and keep it for ourselves. He gives us his love and he wants us to pour it out on those around us, so that they can come to know his love for them as well. Jesus said that the most important thing we can do is love God with all that we are and love our neighbor as ourselves; and he told us to love even our enemies. But that is impossible. How could anyone love an enemy? I can’t, can you? I don’t have it in me to want to begin to love and do nice things for someone who is my enemy. It is not within my strength.

The key to the kind of love God calls us to is His love for us. 1John 4:19 says "We love because he first loved us." We have the power and ability to love others, even when they are unlovely because He loved us while we were rebelling against him. Paul tells us in Romans that while we were enemies of God he sent his son to die for us. He loved us while we were still actively opposing him with our lives, and he has promised to put his Spirit inside of us to make it possible for us to love others with His perfect love.

So why am I talking about loving our enemies? That is not a very romantic topic for Valentines Day. Ah, but it is. The key to long lasting love in any relationship, whether it is a friendship or a marriage relationship, is the kind of love that persists even when the other person acts like our enemy. Anyone here been in a friendship that has lasted more than a year? How about a dating relationship that has lasted more than six months? What about a marriage that has lasted more than a few weeks? Then you know what I am talking about! Sometimes our friends, our family members, and our spouses look like our enemies.

If you have been in any relationship you know that your friend or boyfriend or husband has at some point in time said or done something that made you angry, that hurt your feelings, or that was downright mean. Like flushing the toilet while you are in the shower. That is just plain mean. When that happens we have a choice in how we respond. We can respond in a loving way, with gentleness and forgiveness—even if we have to confront them and tell them that they hurt us, we can do so in a loving way. Or we can react in an unloving way, saying or doing something to hurt them back. We can go in and flush the toilet while they are in the shower every day for a week, just to get back at them. But I guarantee you that if you consistently respond in an unloving way, your relationship will not last.

Every time we intentionally do something to hurt or get at our spouse, it is like taking an ax to the side of a redwood. Redwoods are big trees, and they can take some abuse. If one person hit a redwood with an ax now and then, it would probably heal up and be fine. If you are both swinging axes, it doesn’t take long to fell that tree, no matter how big it is. When you respond in anger and vengeance, you cut into your relationship. But by responding in a loving way, you pour life in to your relationships. You let people know that you are a safe person. You will be the kind of friend, lover and spouse that you want someone to be for you. We all want the people we love to forgive us if we mess up. We don’t want them to hold it over our heads, or try to get us back. We need to do the same for them, too. Choose forgiveness and add life to your friendships and other relationships.

God’s kind of unselfish love is very romantic. It builds romance because it builds safety, peace and stability. And don’t get me wrong, a nice gift or the perfect date don’t hurt your relationship, but they are even better when they accompany a love that seeks to give rather than receive, to listen rather than to be heard, to serve rather than to be served. That is the love Christ offers us, and that we in turn can offer to others because of his spirit living in our hearts.

As you seek to love others with the same kind of love God offers to us, let me encourage you with these words from 2 Thessalonians 3:5 “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s Love and Christ’s perseverance.”

No comments: