June 25, 2013

Grow- Love

I love the movie Elf! Every year we watch it about 2-3 hundred times. Bri hates it...so when Lori and I want to spend some time without her we start an Elf Marathon! I think we have kept her from the room for a good week before.

Love, Love, Love...

We all have different thoughts that come to mind when we hear that word. Watch an episode of Jerry Springer to see how differently two people can interpret that word. “I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you!” “Yeah, well, I love you, but I’m not IN love with you!” Which isn’t really love it’s more lust and not the same thing.

We use the word “love” for everything from sexual intimacy to our favorite place to eat. We don’t have much choice because the English language doesn’t offer us any. We have exactly one word to represent all the varying degrees of emotion. So, I tell my family that I love them. I tell my wife I love her. I tell the guy at the coffee shop that I love the Mocha Latte. And you better believe I am not talking about the same kind of love. If I am, it makes the barista REALLY uncomfortable.

But for those who are Jesus followers, love is THE foundational word for our faith. The Apostle John, in 1 John 4:7-8, tells us the very nature of God is love and that our call is to love. “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

When asked, “What is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.'” and “ 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Why would he say this? Because, “All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Over the next few weeks, we are looking at the Fruit of the Spirit, and what God wants to bring about in our lives because we have placed our faith in Jesus Christ and allowed the Holy Spirit to work in our lives.

It is important for us to remember two things: first, it is Fruit, and, second, it is of the Spirit. Fruit grows naturally on a healthy tree or vine. If we are following Jesus, and seeking to live the Spirit-filled life of a disciple, then these virtues will show up in our lives. This is not a pick and choose kind of thing. This is not a one person gets that fruit and another gets a different fruit like the gifts (plural) of the Spirit. This is singular “fruit” and that means these fruit will be seen in the lives of those who are living according to the Spirit.

We also recognize these fruits as being of the Spirit. This means we cannot MAKE them grow. We do the work of the gardener by tending our lives, but no gardner can MAKE the plant produce fruit. We also have some measure of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control...because of the mark of God’s image on our lives, but we cannot live out the Fruits of the Spirit to the level God desires without the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

And if love is the core description of God’s nature, and since Jesus says that love is the core of our ethic as Christians living out the Gospel in our world, it no wonder the Apostle Paul place love at the beginning of his list of the Fruit of the Spirit. Love is so important that if we don’t get this right...we can’t get the others right.

One author, writing about love’s relationship to the rest of the Fruit of the Spirit, says, “It is ‘love’ which embraces and includes all the other ‘virtues’ which follow so that...this list may be regarded as a description of the concrete ways in which love is expressed.” (Interpretation Commentary, pp. 139-140)

Love is what it means for us to be led by the Spirit and to have our lives centered in Christ.

The Love God wants to grow is Self-Giving.
I find it interesting how often church people assume things...for instance, we assume that everyone knows the Bible stories or our favorite author or our favorite verses.

A few years ago Tim Tebow led the Denver Broncos to a surprising victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers to win the AFC wildcard playoff game. During that game he wore eye blacks, the black smears beneath a football players eyes, that read John 3:16. By the next morning John 3:16 was the most Googled search term on the internet...because for most of the world...they don’t know this verse which is so many of us learned as children in Sunday School or from a parent or grandparent, and we assume everyone knows it...

People taught it to us, though, because this verse is foundational for understanding God’s love and what He wants to develop in our lives..

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son...”

God so loved that he GAVE...The love the Holy Spirit wants to produce in our lives is a self-giving, self-sacrificing love...the Bible tells us that God gave and Jesus willingly laid down His life for us...a love that freely gives of itself for others, a love that does not think of itself first.

If you have ever loved you understand this...parents give up things all the time so their children enjoy life...we do this because we love them. We give up our time to take them places. We give up our money so they can do stuff. We give up our space so they can have a bedroom. We give up our privacy so they can walk into the bathroom at any given time. We give because we love.

We give in every relationship...that of a spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend. Remember how you would give up your seat so the one you loved could sit down in the crowded restaurant waiting area? You gave up that last cookie so the one you love could have it?

When we love we give of things we could have so those we love can have instead...that is what love does. And self-giving, self-sacrifing love is the same kind of love God’s spirit will grow in us.

The Love God wants to grow is Unconditional

To love unconditionally means we love without conditions. It means we love someone for who and what they are and not what we want them to be. This sometimes goes against what seems natural to us. We love because it profits us or because we get something out of a certain relationship. We might even love because of how they make us look in front of others. It offers us something, so we love, or maybe rather than love, we should say we accept and treat them well. That person does what we think they ought to do...so we love them.

When I was in college, I went on a ministry trip to Washington DC. We had all brought dirty, ragged clothes because we were going to live on the streets for a day as a “homeless person.” On Friday night we dressed in our clothes and went to bed. Saturday morning, not allowed to shower, they dropped us off at various locations throughout the city. We wandered around looking for food and shelter. It was very cold, and there was two feet of snow on the ground.

When we returned to the hotel that night we expected to go straight to our rooms and shower. But our professor called a meeting. He decided to have six of us would go to church the next morning dressed in our homeless clothing. He put all our names in a hat, and I was relieved when my name was not selected. It was the prize I didn’t want to win because I got to shower.Unfortunately, one guy in our room was chosen. He was not allowed to shower or change out of his clothes.

The next morning people were trying not to sit by him on the van because he stunk so badly. You could almost see the fumes rise off his clothing.

As we approached the church, we realized it was a very wealthy church. The BMW’s Lexuss, Lexi? Cadillac’s, Jaguars you name it...filled the parking lot. There was a large chandelier hanging in the foyer. We assumed we had these people figured out they would probably ask our friend to leave the service. Most were dressed in clothing that I still can not afford, much less as a college student. It think the lady in front of me was wearing a coat that could have payed my tuition!

What was so amazing is despite his look and smell, those people welcomed him into their church as though he were a long time friend. They hugged him. We didn’t even want to ride in the same van with him much less hug him, and he was our friend!

Jesus demonstrated unconditional love every time he met someone...leprosy, blindness, poverty, the socially rejected...Jesus loved them right there; in that moment. Unconditional love means we love people no matter what they look like, smell like, or even how they act. We love them because God loves them. We love them because they are inherently valuable.

The Love God wants to grow is Vulnerable.
Love means opening ourselves to being hurt.

The love God desires is vulnerable and intimate. By intimate I do not mean what we see on television or romantic movies. By intimate I mean personal involvement. There is a connection, a cost to this love. When you and I are personally involved with someone we become vulnerable and open to being hurt.

There is high risk in loving the way God wants us to love. When we love sacrificially, unselfishly, unconditionally we open ourselves up for abuse, critic, and misunderstanding. To love the way God wants us to love is to open ourselves up for a lifetime of hurt. And we recoil from this thought. Who wants to be hurt on regular basis?

When we are hurt or feel vulnerable we say, “I will never let something like that happen to me again!” “I will never let another person hurt me that way again!” We do it to protect ourselves. It is a natural reaction to a painful situation, but we are really making things worse.

When we vow to “never let that happen again,” we are really building a wall around our heart that will deaden and eventually crush us to the experience of real love. This wall seals us off from the hurt, but it also seals us off from significant, loving relationships.

Jesus knew these feelings first hand, John 1:10-11 says, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”

And God’s answer is to be vulnerable and love in spite of the pain we will inevitably experience in our relationships. It is personally and emotionally costly.  He is not trying to minimize the hurt and pain we feel in such situations. Jesus fully understands the rejection and hurt, probably more so than we could ever understand. He was hated by the religious rulers. He was rejected by the people. He was left to die alone on the cross by those He called friends. He understands the pain of this love.

But even in the midst of the pain He loved, and we too are asked to love. Loving someone is always risky business, and this is what leads us to our final point because here is where the work of the Spirit really comes into play...

The Love God wants to grow is for the Unlovable
All of those wonderful thoughts about love being self-giving, unconditional, and vulnerable...God wants us to show that kind of love to people who are unlovable. This is where you know it must be the Holy Spirit at work in your life because our inclination is not to love the unlovable.

Matthew 5:43-48 says,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

It is easy, or at least easier, to love those who love us, treat us right, and say nice things about us. It is easier to have a self-giving, unconditional, vulnerable love with people we trust and, for the most part, won’t hurt us.

 It is not an easy request for us to love everyone else...

The people who annoy us.

Those with whom we completely disagree.

The sinful, the poor, the hurting, the broken, those rejected by society...

The enemy who hurts us.

The power of the Spirit at work in our lives is demonstrated not in how we love those everyone finds easy to love. The power of the Spirit is demonstrated in our lives when we love the people whom it is acceptable to hate.

You have just been relationally hurt by your boyfriend or husband and every one of your friends is ready to hate him...and it feels ok to do that too.

You have a horrible boss...it is easy to stand around and hate on him in the lunch room or the bar after work.

That group of people over there have a bad reputation so we hate them because of their skin color, their preference of sexual partner, their sinful activity.

And I’m not saying it is easy. We have to work hard to tend that part of our spiritual garden. It takes a willful, determined decision on our part because loving those on the outside, loving those whom it is acceptable to hate is so very easy, and seems so natural.

As church, we tell people “Come as you are, you will be loved” because it doesn’t it matter what your background is...you will be loved! We will have people who are not “church broken.” They will wear things we would never wear, but we love them. We say it doesn’t matter what your life is like, and we will get people whose sins we would never think of committing. We tell people, Come as you are, you will be loved not because it is easy, but because it is what God calls us to do as a church and as individuals living out the Gospel in our world.

God meets a person where they, and not where we want them to be.

Imagine what could happen in our world if we would love this way. If we committed to doing everything possible to make this kind of love a part of our lives, and loving not just the  lovable, but the unlovable as well! We would still experience pain and rejection, but over time more and more people would be drawn to God rather than pushed away from Him because of the Church.

Lives would be changed. People transformed, and God’s Kingdom expanded...Our call is to love not because it is easy, but because the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives growing our ability to love.

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