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Monday, October 25, 2021

Love Endures Forever

Introduction
How do you know if someone is really a Christian?  What evidence that proves it?

If you asked 10 different people, you might get 10 different answers.

Some might say, “You know someone’s a real Christian if they pray for someone and actually heal them or prophecy about the future and have it come true.  That’s a real Christian.”

Others might say, “A real Christian reads their Bible and knows what it all means.  They can explain how Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins. They are a real Christian because they know Christian doctrine.”

Another person might argue, “No.  It all comes down to faith.  It is only by faith that a person is a real Christian.”

Yet another person might retort, “Yeah, but what about good works?  People must do good and give to the poor and help the needy.  That shows they’re a real Christian.”

Someone else would say, “Yeah but what about the martyrs?  Someone who dies for their faith, surely that’s undisputable evidence they are a real Christian—the best Christian of all.”

The members of the 1st Church of Corinth were arguing about these things.  In fact, some were saying, “I’m a better Christian than you, because I can do this or I’ve done that…”  And in answer, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, and we find a good summary of Paul's response in 13:1-3.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3
1 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

So Paul says it’s not supernatural power, it’s not knowledge of the Bible, it’s not doing good or being good, it’s not even dying as a martyr for your faith that proves you’re a Christian. Paul says, it all comes down to love.  Love is what proves you are truly a Christian.  When the love of God lives in you and you love others, that’s proof you are a Christian.

But the kind of love we’re talking about is not necessarily the type of love the world talks about.  So Paul goes on to explain what God’s love is like—the kind of love we are to have and show.  And today, I want to finish our series on Paul’s words about love from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.  Today, we learn that love endures forever.

1 Corinthians 13:1-7
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Endurance
One of my church members, Kate Roberts, achieved a personal record at her cross country race this weekend in South Carolina.  Cross country racing is an endurance sport.  The runners push themselves to their physical limits racing long distances, competing as a team.  They train their bodies everyday to endure the pain and strain of physical exhaustion from running 3 to 6 miles as fast as they can.  I think Kate was able to run 3.1 miles in less than 20 minutes this weekend.

Endurance is the ability to withstand hardship or adversity.  How in the world does endurance belong in a definition of love?  If you are young and "in love" you tend to focus on all the ways the person you "love" makes you feel good.  When you've been married a long time, you understand much better about the "endurance" element of love.

Of course, I hope by now in this series, you understand that real love (God’s love) is not about how someone makes us feel.  Love is not a mere emotion or a pleasure we derive because we like being around someone.  Love is a gift we give to others regardless of whether we get anything at all in return.  And sometimes love—real love—has to endure many things we don’t like about others.

As a parent, I can tell you I didn’t enjoy it at all the time I took my young kids to see a movie and one of them got sick and threw up on me.  And I had to take one kid to the bathroom and get her cleaned up.  I had a change of clothes for her in the diaper bag, but not for me!  So I had to wear that filth all the way home while trying to comfort a sick child.  Yeah, that was not fun and I didn’t like it at all.  But I loved my child and cared for her.  I “endured” the disgust and discomfort of “wearing” vomit soaked clothing until I could gather up my kids and get them home, cleaned up, and then clean myself up.

But that was just a hour or so of endurance.  I think about my own Mom’s enduring love over the years with me and my siblings.  I know we have all done many things to disappoint her and even break her heart at times.  Yet she has endured.  Now, as my mother is growing older and her health is declining, we are taking loving care of her more and more (especially my older brother and younger sister, because they live closest to her).

Redefining Romantic Love
As I have told you in previous blogs, 1 Corinthians 13 wasn’t originally written about the romantic love between a husband and wife.  Yet this passage is often read at weddings, because it is such relevant advice for newlyweds. 

Our society is infatuated with the concept of romantic love.  Unfortunately, popular culture—through movies and music—has degraded the idea of romantic love to be all about how a person makes us feel.  We have taken the greatest godly virtue of all and turned it upside down.  Love in the world is not about selfless sacrifice, but about deriving pleasure at the expense of the person we “love”.

It is no wonder that so many people experience broken relationships, broken marriages, and are extremely confused and scarred when it comes to romantic love.  Our culture has created an idealized fantasy about love that does not exist, and when people fail to achieve or maintain the “feeling” of love, they feel cheated, become disillusioned, are broken-hearted, and wonder “why can’t I just find true love like everyone else?”  

Can you imagine how it would revolutionize the world and our romantic relationships if the prevailing notion of love became the biblical view of love?  If it wasn’t about how another person made you feel, but about how we gave ourselves to one another sacrificially? 

Ironically, you are more likely to find “feelings” of love more often when you stop chasing them.  When you give yourself to your spouse sacrificially, you are more likely to have romantic feelings.   And when the husband and wife are both loving each other sacrificially, they will both likely feel more intense attraction to each other. 

God’s Enduring Love
Now I want you to consider the never-ending, enduring eternal love of God for the world.
God created the universe and everything in it—the stars in the sky, the land and the sea, the plants and animals and us.  In sacrificial love, God gave us life.

When humanity broke God’s heart by turning against Him, He didn't give up; God continues to love us because His love endures forever..  God made ways to protect us—even protecting us the best He could from our own sin, while still allowing us the freedom to choose how we live.  People often get frustrated or angry with God because bad things happen to them or God.  God didn't cause those bad things.  We cause them by our sin (or they were caused because humanity has been wrecking God's perfect creation for thousands of years).  It is a miracle of God's love that we are still here and haven't completely destroyed ourselves and that God has still preserved our freedom to choose how we live.  Unfortunately, our choices cause a lot of hurt and suffering, but God still preserves us through HIs enduring love.

4,000 years ago, God chose a man of faith named Abraham to begin the process of saving the world—even saving you.  4,000 years ago.  Think about how long ago that is.  The American Revolution was 245 years ago.  That seems like a long time to a lot of us, but it is only a blip on the timeline of God's love story told in the Bible.  4,000 years ago, God was thinking about you and working to save you when He called Abraham to begin the rescue mission for humanity.

Even when Abraham’s descendants were slaves in Egypt 600 years after Abraham, God's love endured and He kept working through the Israelites to save the world.  God used Moses to deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

3,000 years ago, God made David the king of Israel and said, “I will raise up one of your descendants… I will secure his royal throne forever.” (2 Samuel 7:12-13)  God was talking about Jesus, who is David's great great great... grandson.

Jesus was born 2,000 years ago.  He lived as the perfect lamb of God, without sin or blemish.  He gave his life sacrificially to atone for our sin (showing God’s perfect, unconditional love for you and me).

Through all of these thousands of years, God’s love endures.  We've given God a million reasons to give up on us, but He hasn't and He won't.  God is hoping beyond hope that people will finally hear Him calling and turn from their sins, receive His love, and be saved.

And God is hoping beyond hope that we will all start to love God and love our neighbor just as Jesus did and that our love will endure in every circumstance because real love endures forever.

My mission, the reason I’ve devoted my life to work as a pastor, is so that more and more people will turn to God and receive His love and in turn love others the way God loves us.

1 Corinthians 13:8 says, “Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever!”
All the things in this world we think are so important now will pass away. 
It won’t matter what kind of clothes we wear, or the car we drive, or which house we lived in.
It won’t matter which flag we saluted or whether we were democrat or republican.
It won’t even matter if the Braves won the world series in 2021.

1 Corinthians 13:12-13 says, “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that [we] know now is partial and incomplete, but then [we] will know everything completely, just as God now knows [us] completely. Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”

Monday, October 18, 2021

Love Never Gives Up

Introduction
If you followed football yesterday, you may know that Ole Miss beat TN.  Alabama beat Mississippi State.  Georgia beat Kentucky. Auburn beat Arkansas. LSU beat Florida. GT beat Duke.

You know, in a football game, there often comes a certain moment in a game where the tide turns for your team and the game is no longer winnable.  You can sometimes gauge when this critical moment comes, because you may see fans start leaving the stadium.  They know their team is beat at this point.  So they start leaving to get ahead of the traffic.

If you’re a true fan, you may hold on to hope.  You may think, “That’s Ok.  We can still get this back.”  And you’re rooting for your team and you’re hoping that they will retake the lead and win the game.  Then, the opposing team get’s another score.  And you’re frustrated.  But it’s still not over. You still believe—because you’re a true believer.  You believe your team can still pull out a win.  But the time is ticking off the clock and soon your down to the final minutes.  And you’re hoping beyond hope that your team can still do it.  Maybe you’re thinking, “If they get the ball back, and this happens and this happens… They could still do it. It’s possible!” You start running through different scenarios in your mind.  “It may take a miracle, but it’s still possible!”  But then the clock is down to the last minute, then the last seconds, and all your timeouts are gone…

I remember watching a few football games with my dad and older brother as a young kid, I would always be the last one to give up hope.  Dad and Nelson were older and knew the game better.  They could read the writing on the wall when the game was lost.  But I was young and na├»ve and I loved our team and was full of hope.  I would hold on till the last seconds.  But then our team would lose.  It was inevitable. 

Well, that’s football.  But love, according the 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, love is another story. Love never gives up.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

The City of Corinth
This passage is from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church.  The Corinthians lived in Corinth, an important port city in Greece.  Corinth was especially important because it was located on the isthmus of Corinth—a narrow strip of land separating the Gulf of Corinth and the Saronic Gulf.  Ships could be carried over land about four miles on a special paved road made just for moving ships.  It saved a tremendous amount of time and money and was much safer than sailing 185 miles around the treacherous Peloponnesian peninsula.  Corinth’s strategic location made it a very wealthy city, and with it’s wealth also came debauchery.

Ancient Corinth was the home of the temple of the goddess, Aphrodite—the Greek goddess of love.  It was said that the temple employed 1,000 professional prostitutes to “help” the people “worship” Aphrodite.  (I guess that's one way to get people to church!)  

By the time Paul wrote his letter, Corinth had been taken over by the Romans, who converted the Temple of Aphrodite to the Temple of Venus (the Romans name for the goddess of love).  Both Aphrodite and Venus “are known for their jealousy, their beauty and for their affairs with both gods and mortals.”[i]

Study notes in the The MacArther Study Bible say, “Even by pagan standards of its own culture, Corinth became so morally corrupt that its very name became synonymous with debauchery and moral depravity. To ‘corinthianize’ came to represent gross immorality and drunken debauchery.”

Despite Corinth’s centuries of sin and debauchery and corruption of the virtue of love, God did not give up on them.  God sent Paul to Corinth in AD 49 or 50.  According to Acts 18:11, Paul spent 18 months discipling a group of new Christians who then formed the Corinthian church.  God is always working to save people and bring them back from the brink of destruction.  And it doesn’t matter how far gone they seem to be, God still cares.  We see this clearly in the Corinthian church.  From a city as wicked as Corinth, God established a group of Christians to be a beacon of God’s light.

But they still had a lot to learn.  The Corinthian church had some severely warped ideas of love—no wonder; they were a product of a city that worshipped the so-called “goddess of love” that taught love was only a carnal, consuming thing.  Paul wrote about the One True God’s love that is demonstrated in Jesus self-sacrificing love on the cross.  And Paul wrote “Love is patient and kind.”  It had to teach the Corinthians that real love is not jealous like the so-called love of Apphrodite or Venus.  And love “is not boastful or proud or rude.” So they shouldn’t fight amongst themselves about who was the most important or who was more spiritual or who was in charge.  And today we’re learning that “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful…” just as God never gave up on the Corinthians, despite their centuries of wickedness and sexual immorality and moral corruption.  God's love neve gives up and it changes people's live and even changes the whole world.

John 3:16
John 3:16 is probably one of the most well-known verses in the whole Bible, and for good reason.  John 3:16 could be a summary of the entire story of the Bible.  “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

The whole story of the Bible—from beginning to end—is the story of God’s love that “never gives up, never loses faith, and is always hopeful” that people will turn from their evil ways and return to a love relationship with God.  Throughout the centuries, while God is reaching out to people to beckon them to come back to Him, God is also setting up His plan to save the whole world.  The ultimate message of God’s love is given through Jesus Christ.  In Jesus, God came in the flesh to show the world His love.  He came teaching people the truth about how to live.  His presence brought healing and life—everywhere he went, the lame were made whole, the blind could see, and the deaf could hear.  Leprosy and deformity and demonic possession were banished.  And so, hoping beyond hope, God reached out to fallen humanity.  There is a way to heal your spirit!  There is a way to be made whole again!  There is a way to be saved!

And there was a tremendous sense of hope.  The Disciples followed Jesus.  And crowds of people heard his teachings and saw his miracles and they believed.  Could this be the Messiah who was sent to save us, even when it seems all hope is lost?

But They Crucified Him
Jesus came in love, but we crucified him.  Can you imagine the disappointment of Jesus’ disciples and followers?  Jesus was love.  He was hope.  They put all their faith in Him.  And then He was brutally murdered on a Roman cross.

Roman crucifixion was the most painful, humiliating, degrading way to kill someone.  It was intentionally designed to make a bold statement to anyone who dared challenge Roman rule.  Crucifixion’s message was: “We own you.  We can do whatever we want to you—any of you.  It doesn’t matter if you are a peasant, a religious leader, a king, or even supposedly a messiah or god, we can strip you naked and beat you to a pulp and nail you to a cross and hang you up to die and agonizing death that will take days while everyone watches in horror—including your mother.”

If ever there was a moment in history when the game was lost, it was on the Friday they nailed Jesus to the cross.  And I don’t care who you were or how much faith you had, everyone who saw Jesus die new the game was over.  Love had lost.

Some cried bitter tears.  Some got angry and cursed Jesus and spat on him.
Some just left, because they knew the game was over. Some ran away in horror and hid in shame.
Some just stared in disbelief.
How could this happen?  How can evil triumph over good?  What do we do now?

There’s a certain point in a football game that’s the point of now return—when the game is lost and there’s no hope to win.  But football’s just a game.  What do you do when it’s real life?

What do you do when the marriage really is over and ends in divorce?
What do you do when your son’s addiction finally takes him?
What do you do when cancer wins?
What do you do when the game clock of real life finally says zero and it really is over?
What do you do when Jesus is really dead?

A Childlike Faith
Jesus was dead and buried in a tomb.  A stone was rolled over the door. 
Soldiers guarded the entrance.  No one was going to get in. 
But Jesus was going to come out!  On the Third Day, Jesus rose from the grave!

With God’s love, true love, divine love, there is always hope.  1 Corinthians 13:7 says, “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful…”  Love never fails.

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15)

Children often have more faith than adults.
Adults know better.  We know how the game of life works.  We know when the game is over—even if the clock hasn’t finished running out.  We think we know when all hope is lost and how it will all end.
But children believe in magic.  They believe in hope.  They still believe in miracles.
And God can work through miracles.  He saved the world through a miracle.
Jesus was dead, but then He was alive!
Jesus can save you with a miracle.  

So, we need to be mature and use our intelligence, but we also need to keep our childlike faith.
“Humanly speaking, it may be impossible.  But with God, everything is possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

Invitation
I want to tell you something though. 
Sometimes you've got to lose before you can win.
Sometimes you've got to die before you can rise to new life.
There may be something you've got to let go of before God can give you something new.
Do you trust Him?
Open your heart. 
Let go. 
Let God do a new thing in you.



[i] http://www.differencebetween.net/miscellaneous/culture-miscellaneous/difference-between-aphrodite-and-venus/

Monday, October 11, 2021

Love Rejoices With the the Truth

Introduction
We’ve been studying 1 Corinthians 13.  Last week, Rev. Donna Lucas was gracious to continue the theme of our series while I was away celebrating my son’s marriage, preaching “Love Keeps No Record of Wrongs”.  It was a wonderful weekend celebrating their love.

1 Corinthians 13 is popularly known as the “love chapter”.  It is the number one scripture read at weddings and it certainly does give invaluable advice to a husband and wife about how they should love each other.  However, this chapter was not originally written for weddings or newlyweds.  It isn't specifically about romantic love at all.  1 Corinthians was written to correct a dysfunctional church.

The Corinthian church had a lot of serious problems.  There were power struggles and jealousy among the members. Some were claiming spiritual superiority and expecting special treatment.  Some were abusing the sacrament of Holy Communion and getting drunk on the communion wine while others were being left out of the meal altogether.  In Corinthians 5, we read that one Corinthian man was sleeping with his father’s wife (his stepmother) and the church ignored his sexual immorality.  Paul writes, “You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship.”

Paul wrote the first letter to the Corinthians to reprimand the church and try and bring them back to authentic Christianity.  The letter comes to a climax in the 13th chapter as Paul explains that the most important thing is love.  It all comes down to love.  But the kind of love we’re talking about is not some wishy washy, warm and fuzzy kind of love.  It’s a deep, sacrificial love—the way God loves us, a love demonstrated best by Christ when He died for sinners on the cross.  Let's review 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.


1 Corinthians 13:4-7
1 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.


Love Does Not Rejoice About Injustice
The NLT says, love “does not rejoice about injustice”.  The NIV translates it “Love does not delight in evil…”  The world today has a warped idea about “Love”.  People today value tolerance, so naturally they like the idea of love being patient and kind.  But, most people would prefer to chop off that part that says love does not delight in evil. Biblical love holds people accountable to God’s Holy Truth. 

A big part of the problem is how people define what is evil.  The world has one standard, and that standard changes from generation to generation.  Things that were considered evil when I was a child are accepted and even praised as  good and wholesome today.  However, God’s standards of good and evil never change and they are preserved in God’s Holy Bible. 

Christian love holds people accountable to God’s standards of good and evil.  That is why the Apostle Paul can write to the Corinthian church about love and also say in the same letter: “It isn’t right for a man to sleep with his stepmother.  You need to remove this man from your church if he won’t repent of his sin.”

Real love doesn’t put up with evil and injustice; it holds people accountable.   

We see a lot of evil and injustice in our world today.  And Christians who are loved by God in Christ and who also profess to love God and love our neighbors ought to call out evil and injustice whenever we see it.   

We should start with ourselves--as individuals and then as the Church.  Jesus once said, “Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?” (Matthew 7:3)  So where do we see evil injustice in our own lives?  Don’t let pointing the finger at someone else’s sin be an excuse to ignore your own.  Examine yourself.  Ask the Lord to reveal where you have fallen short.  Repent of your sin and ask the Holy Spirit to reform you. 

On the other hand, don’t let your own imperfection be an excuse to rejoice about evil and injustice in the world either. Some will shy away from calling sin “sin” because they are too ashamed of their own sin to say anything to someone else.  So they keep silent and their silence condones what is evil. 

Love Rejoices Whenever The Truth Wins Out
But love doesn’t only go around telling people how wrong they are.  Love “rejoices” when the truth wins out.  Love is happy when people finally get it.  Love is overjoyed when it sees someone earnestly repent and turn to God.  Love celebrates with a feast when a prodigal son comes home and reconciles with his estranged father.  Love looks for the good and celebrates it every chance it gets!

Jesus is the very best example of true love.  I guess this is because God is love and Jesus is God so Jesus is Love in Love’s purest form.  Jesus never condoned evil.  Yet, in love, Jesus knew how to call out evil and call people to repentance and also to rejoice whenever the Truth won.  

I want to close with a story from Jesus’ life that I think illustrates how love "does not delight in evil but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.”  It comes from Luke 7:36-50. 

Luke 7:36-38

36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. 37 When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. 38 Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.

I learned in Sunday school a couple months ago that this jar of perfume was probably used by the woman as part of her “trade”.  Her trade was probably the oldest profession (prostitution).  If so, she would want to use perfume to make herself more attractive to her clients.  When Matthew and Mark tell this story in their Gospels, they say the woman smashed the jar of perfume—symbolic showing she was never going back to her sinful life.

Luke 7:39-48
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”

40 Then Jesus answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.”

“Go ahead, Teacher,” Simon replied.

41 Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces to the other. 42 But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”

43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”
“That’s right,” Jesus said. 44 Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.

47 “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” 48 Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”

When we have the privilege of celebrating the sacrament of Holy Communion, we rejoice that the Truth has won.  Jesus, gave His life so that we can repent of our sins and return to God as Lord.  When we accept God as rightful Lord of our life and surrender to His will, we are saved by the sacrificial love of Christ.

Examine yourself now, and ask, “Lord, show me the sin for which I need to repent today so that I may come to Your table and celebrate how Your Truth has won the victory in my life today.”  

May the Lord show you and may you repent and follow Christ. Amen.