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Showing posts with label 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Show all posts

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 naïve 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.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Love is NOT Irritable

Introduction
Kelly and I thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Puerto Rico last weekend as we celebrated our 27th wedding anniversary.  Thank you for allowing me the freedom to be away.  It was a much-needed vacation.  Puerto Rico was a beautiful, interesting place.  I learned so much about it.  Puerto Rico is an American territory and Puerto Ricans are proud America citizens.  The island has a distinctive Latin/Caribbean vibe, but it is also very much American.  90% of the people we met spoke perfect English.  And they live very much like Americans on the mainland.

There was one exception.  As we drove to the airport to fly home early last Monday, we were driving on a major highway at about 4:30 in the morning.  As we came to the red traffic lights, cars would slow down a bit and then run the red light when they determined the intersection was clear.  Everyone was doing it.  I guess that’s just the way they do it in Puerto Rico!  I said, “Well, that’s not the way we do it in Georgia!  So I’m not doing it!”  But then I started to get really concerned, because we would be driving along at 65 MPH and I’m thinking if I stop, these cars behind me are gonna rear end me because they’re not expecting me to stop!  So, I started gingerly running the red lights too (because I didn’t want to cause an accident!).

That got me thinking about road rage. Road rage is a modern phenomenon where drivers get angry and lose control and lash out at other drivers because of stress and frustration while driving.  Most of the time, road rage only lead to verbal attacks (or the use of obscene hand signals).  But sometimes it even spills over into physical violence. 

Road rage is a modern problem.  I don’t think people were arguing, flipping each other off, and rudely tailgating each other’s camels in Bible times.  There’s something about being inside a car that makes otherwise polite, mild-tempered people feel empowered to lash out at other people in ways they would never act if they were face to face with another human being. 

We see something similar on social media.  People will sometimes lash out and call people names and speak rudely on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram in ways they would never act if they were with someone in person.  In past centuries, we might have been more polite and kept mean words to ourselves, because we were speaking with people face-to-face.  It wasn't necessarily that irritation wasn't deep down in people's hearts, but they didn't express it.  Then came the telephone where you could speak to someone miles away—maybe an operator or customer service rep you would never meet face-to-face, and suddenly people felt safer to berate someone over the phone.  Now, people are mean to others over the internet.

Anger, irritability, and unloving attitudes often hide down deep in the human heart.   But what the world needs is love.  And the kind of love our world needs is revealed in the Bible in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

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.


Love Is NOT
Last week, David did a wonderful job teaching that love is NOT jealous or boastful or proud.  Today I tell you, Love is NOT rude.  It does not demand its on way.  And, It is NOT irritable. 

Someone who is irritable is grumpy, easily annoyed or made angry.  They are like the road raging driver who is so quick to lash out with angry words at the annoying driver who’s driving too slow in front of them (or stopping at a red light in the middle of the night in Puerto Rico while everyone else is running those red lights). 

People can get irritated when they don’t get their own way.  Irritated people are impatient and can be down right rude.  One person’s rudeness irritates someone else who then lashes out at someone else.  Before long, everyone is irritated.  And irritation and anger are slippery slopes where people sometimes slip down to rage and violence.

Real love puts a stop to it all.  When we love—really love the way God loves us—we find that love “does not demand it’s own way.”  And love is not irritable, but rather is easygoing, patient, and gentle.  Jesus once used love to quench a spark of irritation among His disciples.

Luke 10:38-42
38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Most people have experienced a situation like this.  Are you typically Mary or Martha in the story?  Are you the one doing all the work or the one sitting their having a good time? 

Martha was annoyed that she was doing all the work while her sister, Mary, was sitting at Jesus’ feet.  She got irritated and went to Jesus to complain.  I want you to notice verse 40.  She goes to Jesus and calls him “Lord”.  That’s a good way to start—recognizing that Jesus is the sovereign Lord of all.  But then, in frustration, she accuses the Lord.  She asks a question, but it’s not really a question.  She asks, “Doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work?”  Martha uses the question to point out what she thinks should be obvious to Jesus.  Really she was accusing Jesus saying, “My sister is making me do all the work and you aren’t doing anything about it!” And then she proceeds to try and tell the Lord what to do.  (That's pretty brash!)

I don’t want to be too hard on Martha.  She was a good woman.  She welcomed Jesus into her home.  She was being a good hostess, making sure everyone was fed—and it had to be a big meal.  There were a lot of mouths to feed—Jesus and all his disciples (that’s 13 people), plus there may have been other’s accompanying them.  It could have been a gathering of quite a few people. And Martha is trying to take care of everyone while her sister is sitting at Jesus feet.  (Sisters really know how to annoy each other, don’t they?)

Thankfully, Jesus didn’t get irritated with Martha.  He loved Martha (and her sister, Mary).  Rather than escalating the situation, Jesus said the truth in a gentle way.  He speaks tenderly, “My dear Martha…”  It’s a very tender way to rebuke her.  He knows her name and she’s dear to him.  Jesus appreciates what she’s doing—or at least he appreciates she is trying to help in the best way she knows how, by taking care of the meal.  But Jesus also conveys that what He really wants, the food that truly feeds him, is to teach and to have students soaking up the Good News about God’s Kingdom he came to give the world.  Mary is sitting at Jesus feet listening.  She has chosen the most important thing.  While Martha is “worried and upset over all these details”, Mary is sitting in the listening at the feet of God’s only begotten Son. 

My Way, Highway
Love does not demand its own way.  When we try to demand our own way, we are easily frustrated. When we are frustrated, we become irritable. When we’re irritable, we are rude. We might even say something for which we’ll be sorry later.  We might even go to the Lord, like Martha, and try to rebuke him saying something like:  “Now listen here Lord!  You should’ve told so-and-so to do what I wanted them to do.”  In that moment, we’re not loving God.  We’re not loving our neighbor. 

When we act like that, we’re being selfish and demanding our own way.  Our “own way” might not be the most important way.  It may not even be the right way.  We’re so distracted by all our plans and concerns that we don't care.  We’re not thinking of anyone else.  That's not love.

Martha was so distracted and concerned by all the details of fixing a big dinner for her guests that she missed the main point of the gathering, which was to spend time with Jesus.  The best hosts I’ve ever known—people who truly have a gift for hospitality—know how to make people feel welcome.  They don’t get so wrapped up in the details of serving that they lose sight of the people they are serving.  Exceptional hosts always keep the main thing the main thing. And the main thing is the people they are hosting.  The food, the setting, and everything else supports the people and if they they don't, they are simply discarded. 

When we get so wrapped up in accomplishing all our own big plans, we may not even notice our big plans have nothing to do with what Jesus really wants.  And who’s plans do you think are more important—ours or Jesus’?

So if you find yourself “demanding your own way”, it might be a good time to check yourself and ask: “Have I drifted off course here?  Does it really matter?  Why am I so upset and frustrated?  What’s the main point of all this anyway?  Have I abandoned love in this circumstance for the sake of something I really want?  Am I demanding my own way?” 

Conclusion
The kind of love our world desperately needs is "patient and kind.  It is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.  It does not demand its own way.  It is not irritable."  That’s only half the definition of real love from 1 Corinthians 13, but can you imagine how much better our world would be if everyone just lived out this first half of 1 Corinthians 13's definition of love? 

Well, if you are a Christian—if you call Jesus Lord—you are called to live this way.  The early Christians changed their world with this kind of love.  They started out as just a handful of people living in a hostile, unloving, unchristian world, but they didn’t let that stop them. 

You see, Jesus didn’t say, “Go out there and only love the people who are loving to you.”  No, Jesus said, “Love everyone.” He even said, “Love your enemies.  Pray for those who persecute you.”  And that’s what those early Christians did and it changed their world.

And that’s what Christians are called to do today—to love everyone, even our enemies.  When we do, it changes our world and makes it better.  So we need to get out there and do it. 

Maybe you aren’t a Christian, yet.  Maybe you haven’t decided to follow Jesus.  I would like to invite you to start today.  Jesus loved you so much he gave His own life for you.  And there is no greater love than this.  His love is so deep and powerful it can set you free from sin and shame.  It frees you from the wounds of the past and gives you a whole new future.  You can make a fresh start through Jesus' love.  Jesus’ love will change your live and empower you to change others too.  

You see, Jesus has already won.  And if you decide to follow him, you are included in His victory too.  There won’t be anything this world can do to you, because you’ve already won.  You have nothing to lose, because you've already been crucified with Christ and risen to new life and you have the greatest reward anyone can ever receive--eternal life.  So you have nothing to lose!  Even if the evil forces of the world kill you, they still can’t defeat you because you have eternal life.  Living is serving Jesus and sharing His love with the world.  Dying is going Home to live forever celebrating Jesus love in the holy presence of God, where there will be no more sickness or sorrow or suffering or death.  For as the Bible says in Philippians 1:21, “Living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.”

Why don’t you make a choice to be a Christian and follow Jesus today? I invite you to pray to Jesus right now and ask Him to forgive you and accept you as His follower.  He will save you and give you Eternal life and also fill you with His Holy Spirit who will guide you to live for Him and His Kingdom.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Love is Kind

Introduction
Yesterday, on September 11th, many remembered what they were doing in 2001 when two planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, one crashed into the Pentagon, and a fourth was brought down in a Pennsylvanian field by passengers who bravely fought back against hijackers.  I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing the morning of September 11th.  A more hopeful memory comes from that evening when I attended a church services at North Point Community Church in Alpharetta.  We poured out lamentations for the death and destruction  caused by evil and we prayed for our country.  They cut in with a broadcast of  a brief message from President Bush on the screens in the church.  I was struck by how the President quoted Psalm 23 and his obvious faith in God that fortified his resolve to lead the nation through the crisis.  While the terrorists sought to destroy America, their evil act united us as we set aside all our differences and came together as Americans--at least for a few weeks. 

Twenty  years later, we are under attack from a different kind of enemy—a virus so small you cannot see it.  What’s more, we’ve been under attack for a year and a half.  People are weary.  We just want our world to go back to normal. Unfortunately, normal seems a long way off.  At this very moment, they are conducting a funeral at Salem Baptist Church for Rodney Lee, a beloved PE teacher from Varnell Elementary School, who died from COVID.  It is clear that we have not returned to normal yet. 

Will we ever return to normal?  I don’t know.  God hasn’t shared those details with me.  However, God has reminded me that what the world needs now, more than anything else, is love.  Whether we find ourselves under attack from terrorists or a virus, love is the answer.  Some may think it is just like a preacher to say something like that.  “What an empty, cliché!”  

Friends, don’t mistake my statement as froo froo, pie in the sky religious nonsense.  The love of which I speak is not some empty, worldly platitude.  The love of God described in the Bible is as deep as the ocean and more powerful than an atomic bomb.  It not only changes people, it changes generations and alters empires.  And biblical love, God’s love, is not the same as the love offered by the world. 

God’s love was demonstrated when Jesus died on the cross for our sins, not because we deserved it, but because we desperately needed God’s grace and forgiveness.  And so Jesus, God’s only son, who was perfect in every way, atoned for our sin.  Jesus died in our place, to pay the price for our sin, even though He was totally innocent.  In Christ, we see the picture of real love.  For he said in John 15:13, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” 

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 defines the kind of love Christ demonstrated, the kind of love that changes people and generations and empires.  It is the kind of love the world needs now and Christians are called to give at all times and to all people.

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. 

Kindness
Today, I want to focus on only the second element of divine love—love is kind.  Kindness is being friendly, generous, and considerate.  It’s not hard to understand kindness.  It’s so simple, even a child understands it.  The challenge with kindness is doing it and doing it to all people, even those who are unkind to you.  We get so wrapped up in ourselves it is hard to turn our gaze outward to others who need kindness.  When we struggle to meet our own needs and wants, who has the energy to be kind to someone else?  The ironic thing is that I find showing kindness to be energizing.  When I am depleted and show kindness, it doesn't empty me.  Somehow it fills me up. 

Jesus was kind.  In his day, like our own, they practiced strict social distancing.  In particular, you were not to come near anyone who was unclean.  While they weren’t worried about COVID-19 in the first century, there were many things that made a person unclean.  The most obvious was leprosy.  Leprosy is a contagious skin disease that causes severe, disfiguring skin sores and nerve damage in the arms, legs, and skin areas around your body.  Lepers were required to live apart from the rest of society, so as not to spread their disease to others.  While in quarantine, they couldn’t work normal jobs, couldn’t go to worship, and couldn’t visit with family and friends because that would make them unclean too and they would have to quarantine for 7 days—even if they didn’t get sick (see Leviticus 13).

Of course, being that Jesus lived in the first century, a time with little understanding about how to properly diagnose one disease from another, any skin disorder could be mislabeled as leprosy.  I have heard it said that even a teenager with severe acne could be labeled as a “leper” in first century Israel.  People were irrationally afraid of leprosy, because it was a social stigma as well as a legitimate health risk and it was something they didn't understand. 

Luke 5:12

12 In one of the villages, Jesus met a man with an advanced case of leprosy. When the man saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground, begging to be healed. “Lord,” he said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”

Here was a leper who was required by law to stay away from people.  He was supposed to stand off at a distance whenever people came around and yell out a warning that he was “Unclean! Unclean!”  But this leper has already committed a social taboo by approaching Jesus.  He is desperate.  He begs Jesus to heal him.  And Jesus loves him and is kind.

Luke 5:13
13 
Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared. 

The Antonine Plague (165-180 AD)
Jesus was the Son of God, imbued with miraculous power.  We might think it was easier for Him to put His health on the line by reaching out in kindness to touch and heal a leper.  Surely, God would not allow His only begotten Son to be infected by leprosy because of an act of kindness. But what of Jesus’ followers?  Are we to show similar acts of
kindness, even if it risks our own health?
 

To be sure, Christ does not wish Christians to be cavalier with their life and health.  I believe Jesus would encourage American’s today to take proper precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19.  It is an act of kindness to the community to wear a mask, take a vaccine, and limit physical contact with others.  However, Jesus is clear that His followers are to be willing to suffer and even risk their lives for the sake of the Kingdom.  For Jesus said, “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) 

Early Christians in the first century showed incredible loving kindness in the face of plagues far deadlier than COVID-19.  The Antonine Plague during the second century killed 1/3 of the population of the Roman Empire.  the plague, thought by modern historians to have been measles or smallpox, killed 25% of the people who contracted the disease.  Non-Christians Romans were so scared they fled from the infected cities, which merely spread the pandemic further because they took the disease with them wherever they fled.  Pagans abandoned their sick to die alone, while “the earliest Christians would stay and tend to the sick and dying, knowing full well that it would likely result in their own deaths. They showed works of unreasonable, sacrificial mercy that simply dumbfounded the pagans. In Rome, the Christians buried not just their own, but pagans who had died without funds for a proper burial. They also supplied food for thousands of people on a daily basis.[i]  In another plague in the fourth century, the Emperor Julian, who was not a Christians, said pagan priests needed to act more like the Christians and show love and kindness.[ii]  

Christians’ loving kindness during the darkest plagues of disease and death during the Roman era  changed society so much that the Roman Empire itself adopted Christianity as the official religion in the fourth century.  Christian ideas about forgiveness, love, kindness, and sacrificial service changed Rome and the world forever. 

Two thousand years of Christian influence teaching people to love to the point of putting your own life on the line for the sake of others has left an indelible mark on our world—even among non-Christians.  It is Christian core values that led firefighter and first responders to rush toward the burning twin towers on September 11th, putting their own lives at risk for the sake of others.  Whether they were Christian or not, whether they were conscious of it or not, their bravery and self-sacrifice traces roots back through the centuries to those early Christians and to Jesus himself, who died on the cross for the sake of a world who desperately needed His love, even though they didn't deserve it.  Some might think self sacrifice is a universal human trait.  It is not.  It was not normal for people to do this before Christ taught the world to do so by his teaching and his actions. 

If you are a follower of Christ, you are called to love one another and to exhibit Christ’s love to the world—even to your enemies.  Last week, we learned that Christian love is patient.  Today I tell you love is also kind. 

When I think of our world today, of how mean-spirited we are with one another, and how we are so quick to condemn and argue and accuse and think the worst of each other, when I think of I think of how we call each other names and demean those with whom we disagree and call people evil, it breaks my heart.  We are tearing each other apart.  We are destroying each other in way the 9/11 terrorist could not.  And self-professed Christians are sometimes the worst.  We must repent and do better.  We must follow Christ.

The Kindness Challenge
I challenge you to be more kind this week.  Make a commitment to be kind.  Start each day with a prayer that God would help you be kind.  The type of kindness real love requires is something beyond human capability.  It must be empowered by God’s Holy Spirit.  So choose today to follow Christ as your Lord that He may save you and fill you with His love. 

What are some practical things you could do this week to be kind?

  • Write a note to someone to encourage them. 
  • Pray for someone and pray that God would show you one way you could do something kind for them. Then do it.
  • Buy for a stranger’s meal if you are out to eat.
  • Offer to return a stranger’s grocery cart to the front of the store.
  • Don’t take the closest parking spot in the parking lot. Leave it for someone else.
  • Sponsor someone to receive and Operation Mercy Drops grant.
  • Bring treats to your local fire station.
  • If you use social media, use it to be kind to others. Wish someone a happy birthday. Say a kind or encouraging word to someone online. Be creative, but don't be mean.
  • Be kind to yourself. Sometimes, we are our own harshest critics. Cut yourself some slack. Be kind to yourself.

What are some other things you can do to be kind this week? Share your ideas in the comments.

[i] https://midtowncolumbia.com/blog/early-christians-and-the-plague

[ii] https://biblemesh.com/blog/the-compassion-of-early-christians/

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

What the World Needs Now is Love (Love is Patient)

Introduction
One of the most cherished words in our world today is also one of the most misunderstood and misused words.  Love.  In 1965, Jackie DeShannon sang, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.  It's the only thing that there's just too little of.”  

I do believe love would solve the majority of our problems if we could learn to love one another.  This is the biblical message of the Christian faith.  However, the love that will change our world for the better must be the true kind of love that's defined by the Bible, the kind of love Jesus demonstrated as the core of God’s character.  In this message series over the next few weeks, I want to study the elements of the true, biblical love God has for us and that we are called to have for God and each other. 

True love, the kind of love God offers and that the world needs now, is clearly defined in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.  You may be familiar with this famous passage.  It is often read at weddings to teach newlyweds how to love one another.  However, this passage was not originally intended for weddings.  The Apostle Paul wrote this passage to reprimand the Corinthian church for all their bickering, division, and strife and to teach them how to treat one another. 

When I think of how divided our world is today, how we argue with one another over politics and vaccinations and wearing or not wearing masks, I think these are words about love we need more than ever.  What the world needs now, is love, sweet love.  It’s the only thing, that there’s just too little of.  But the kind of love we need, is written in God’s Word in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. 

1 Corinthians 13:4-7
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful,
and endures through every circumstance.

Love is Patient
Today, I want to focus on only the first part of the first sentence of verse 4 – Love is patient. 

Patience is the ability to tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.  True patience means having a good, loving attitude even in the midst delay, trouble, suffering.  It is a weak, feeble patience that is constantly complaining and crying “woe is me!” the whole time they endure trouble.  A person with real patience has a good, positive attitude while they endure. 

Patience is an essential element of real Christian love.  It is the patience Jesus demonstrated on the cross as he endured the suffering and shame of crucifixion.  As the angry crowd mocked him and spat upon him, Jesus prayed for His enemies, “Father, please forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)  Jesus was able to be patient because Jesus is God and God is love and love is patient.  Jesus told a parable about God's patient, unconditional love.

Luke 15:11-12
11
To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them
this story: “A man had two sons. 12 The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

God is Patient
The father of the story is incredibly patient.  He agrees to his son's request even though the son basically said, "I wish you were already dead so I could have my inheritance now."  You see, this callous son doesn't really see his father as a human being worthy of love and respect, with whom he wants a relationship. To the son, the father is just a means to an end--something to use up and then leave.  

Many people see God like that.  God is merely there to serve our needs--to give us what we want or what we need or help us out of trouble.  We don't see God as someone worthy of our respect and love and adoration.  How rude we are with God! 

God is extremely patient with us.  Right now, I feel like people simply are not focused on God. Going to church is not a priority for people in our world. While Christians in Afghanistan risk there lives just to believe in Christ and worship Him, Christians in America can hardly bother going to church.  Even among “Christians”, people are not really interested in God.  God is not the first priority in people’s lives. He’s not even the second or third priority. He’s much farther down the list.  People say:
"Maybe I’ll go to church if I don’t have a trip planned."
"Maybe I'll go if my son doesn’t have a baseball game."
"Maybe I'll go if I'm not too tired (because I stayed out too late on Saturday night to make it to a church service that doesn't start until 11 AM)."

And so out of four Sundays in a month, a typical family may only attend church one or two times. (And this is a Christian family that claims they follow Jesus as their Lord and that God is the top priority in their life!)

This doesn't even touch on the subjects of attending Sunday school or Bible study (where you really dive deep in your faith) or serving or your prayer life or tithing (which is giving 10% of your income as the minimum financial contribution to the work of God’s Kingdom), or actually living out Chritian values in a secular world even if it puts you at odds with the culture around you.

Of course, some will say, “Preacher, you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian. And just because you aren’t sitting in a pew every Sunday, doesn’t mean you aren’t focusing on your relationship with God.”  OK, that is theoretically true.  So what are you doing? If you are not attending church, how much time are you focusing on your walk with Christ?

For the average person in America who claims to be a Christian, but doesn’t attend church because “they can be a Christian and not attend church”, how are you staying focused? Who is holding you accountable to Jesus? What are you doing on a daily and weekly basis to worship, serve, fellowship with other believers?  How are you diving deeper and deeper into the most important relationship in your existence, the one for which you were literally created? 

For you who are "Christian" but not regularly attending church, where is the road you are traveling leading? Where is it leading the next generation?  Do you think you children and grandchildren are going to continue to be focused on God and the Christian values you say you believe in (things like love and forgiveness and patience) if you can’t even bother to go to God’s house regularly on Sunday mornings?

What is going to become of the institutional church?  What will the world be like without it?  

Usually, it isn’t until people experience some crisis or tragedy that they regain some of their focus on God and His Church. Nothing gets people praying and seeking God’s help like a diagnosis of cancer or a financial disaster.  However, when life’s good and our belly’s are full, we don’t want to celebrate and worship the Lord. We wanna go have some fun doing whatever we want to do so we forget about God.

God is extremely patient with us. He gives us our blessings and puts up with us while we ignore Him. He patiently waits for us to come to our senses—either because of some disaster or epiphany where we finally wake up from our sinful, selfish attitude.

Luke 15:13-16

13 “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. 14 About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.

17 “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’
 
20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’

22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

The True Meaning of the Parable
In case you didn’t know, this story is about God and us.  The Father in this story is God.  The son who ran away and then returned home represents a lot of the people in this world who turn their back on God.  The Father in the story (God) is able to welcome His wayward son home because of His patience.  You see, the Father wasn’t bad-mouthing His wayward son the whole time He was gone.  He continued to love His son, even though His son didn’t deserve it.

If the father wasn’t patient, He would be much be much more apt to be angry when His son retuned.  He would be much more prone to say “I told you so! I told you this was gonna happen!”  But we see none of that in this story.  The Father sees His son coming while he is still a long way off and He runs out to greet His son and welcome him home.  There’s no hint of anger or smug vindication in His attitude.  The Father loves the son and is genuinely and completely glad His wayward son has come home.

That’s the kind of patience we are called to have as we love one another. You see, that is truly what the world needs now—love, sweet love. Love that is patient when people don’t do the right thing.  Not an attitude of “See!  I told you so! I was right!  You were wrong!”

That’s the arrogant, mean spirited attitude the other brother has in the story--the older brother, the so-called “good” brother.

Luke 15:25-30
25
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’

28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’

No Patience
The older brother is not like his Father.  He has no patience for his younger brother’s foolishness.  He is angry—not just at his brother, but also at his Father.  There is no love in his heart.  He hates his brother.  What does he want?  Would he have preferred his brother had starved to death in that foreign land and never returned?  That's how it seems.

When you think of the people with which you’ve lost patience for one reason or another, what do you want for them?  Do you really want them to get what they deserve?  Would you like to be a able to stand over them with smug indignation saying, “I told you so!”  If someone doesn't get vaccinated and get's very sick or dies from COVID, do you want to be able to wag your finger at them and scream, "I told you so!"  If someone does get vaccinated and then has complications, do you want to be able to stare at them indignantly and say "See!  I was right and you were wrong!"  And what of the billions of people who do not follow Christ, who think he is just a myth and you are an idiot for believing in Jesus?  Do you want to see them burning in Hell just so you can laugh at them and feel good about yourself because you did “the right thing” and you were a “good person” and they are getting what they deserve?

That's not patience.  That's not love.

Luke 15:31-32
31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”

Still Waiting
When Jesus told this story, he wisely didn’t tell us how it ends.  Does the older brother finally get it?  Does he also “come to his senses” and realize he’s being unloving and is just as much at fault as his rash younger brother?  Jesus doesn’t tell us the end of the story because you and I will be the ones who finish it.  We finish it by the way we choose to live. 

Closing

And God patiently waits.
How will you respond today?·
Do you need to come to your senses and start truly putting God first in your life?
Do you need to come to your senses and repent of your own smugness, realizing you are no better than anyone else?
Do you need to learn to truly love people by being more patient?