I can never ask that question without singing the song and shaking my head. Of course I realize that anyone under 25 probably doesn't understand what I'm even talking about, just a hazard of getting old I guess. Your cultural references all become seriously out of date. Anyway, I hope that you enjoy this blog as much as I enjoyed writing it!
Jhn 15:13 "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends.
There is a great deal of confusion in the world today in regards to the love of God. Pastors have even preached messages and written books that the early Church would have declared as heretical. Most of this confusion comes from lifting one idea from scripture and placing it higher than all others:
1Jo 4:8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
God is love. We read this statement by the oldest surviving disciple of Jesus and we start to make assumptions about the character of God based upon it. There are a number of problems that we run into when we do this however and I would like to address a few of them in this blog.
1. Love is not the only characteristic of God.
We cannot allow a single attribute of God to become the foundation of who we think God is. The scriptures reveal to us many characteristics of God's nature and we must understand that they are all equal in God. Yes, He is love but He is also Holy and Righteous just as equally as He is love and compassion. One of God's attributes does not negate any of His other attributes. Love does not subtract or take away from God's Righteousness. Compassion does not subtract His holiness.
2. What we think love is, is not what God says it is.
We have mis-defined love time and time again. Because of this, we have taken our false ideas about what love is and applied them to the character of God. We have made love out to be something self indulgent and combined it with sex, so that ultimately love is all about how often you make me feel good about myself. This has caused us to label anything that does not pacify our fragile egos as something that is not love.
3. God works through people.
I was once one of those people who declared form the mountaintops that you didn't have to go to church to be a Christian. I had my own personal relationship with God and that was all that mattered. I believed that I could feel and experience His love in my life apart from other people. However, once I really started to read and study the scriptures I came to an amazing earth shaking conclusion. God works through people. If I wanted to truly feel and experience His love in my life I would have to be around other Christians. Not that I don't have personal moments with God by myself. I do. That being said, the most overwhelming experiences of God's love in my life have come during times of fellowship with other Christians.
When you combine these 3 things together you have a recipe for disaster. People start becoming easily offended and hurt when correction is brought to them. Generally, their thoughts go something like this:
Love would never bring correction! Besides, if God wanted to correct me He would do it Himself, not through other people! I don't need to take this abuse, I don't have to come to this building to be a Christian! I think I'll just walk this out on my own.
And so, another sheep gets separated from the flock.
I'm not saying that we always get this right. There are people out there who have been legitimately hurt by people in churches and that can take some time to heal. I just think that there are far more people who have become offended over nothing because they had wrong ideas about love and God. I pray that God starts to bring correction to both the sheep and the shepherds so that we can live out the scripture on John:
Jhn 13:35 "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
Just remember, love isn't always what we think it is.
Luk 9:58 - And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."
Throughout His ministry, Jesus never had a proper place to rest His head. It wasn't something that bothered Him as he walked from place to place, seeking out the lost and hurting people that needed healing. The reason it never bothered Him was because His ministry was never about Himself. Jesus did not come walking out of the wilderness after a 40 day fast and read the words, "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;", all so He could gain wealth and make Himself more comfortable in this life. Everything He did was for the purpose of helping others.
Too often we get sideswiped with the idea that if we serve God we won't have to struggle or go through trials. Then, the first time we encounter just a little bit of opposition in our Christian walk we want to throw up our hands and walk away from the whole Christian thing. the truth is that whether we are saved or not, our fleshly bodies are always after comfort. Most of our lives are spent finding and indulging in those things that make us feel cozy and satisfied. This is exactly what our flesh wants us to do.
Jam 1:14 - But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.
The desires that James talks about in the verse above come from our flesh. Our bodies are how we interact with the world around us and if we aren't careful we can find ourselves cruising on autopilot allowing the vessel, our bodies, to control the path where we are going. Our bodies don't look for the chances and opportunities to fill the needs of others. Our bodies look for the chances and opportunities to fill it's own wants and desires. When we allow our bodies to control us, we end up stuck in a circular pattern of selfish fulfillment. The bible says that sin is pleasurable for a season. The things of this world will feel good for a little while but when the season ends, the pleasure is gone. So, we go back to those things that made us feel good but this time we need more of them to get that same feeling we got the first time. More drugs, more alcohol, more sex, more money, more attention...
What can we do about it? How can we avoid this trap of selfishness and truly live out lives of selfless giving?
Let's look again to Jesus. He never rested his head properly until the moment He leaned it back against the cross and cried out, "IT IS FINISHED". We will never find true rest and comfort in this life until we give ourselves fully unto God and He crucifies us with Christ. We must experience the cross.
This isn't a one time deal either. Read what Paul had to say about the cross.
1Cr 15:31 - I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day!
Every day Paul died to his will and his pride. His body was always trying to take control and set him back on autopilot but he made the decision everyday to follow after Jesus instead. The question is, when was the last time we died? When was the last time we took up our crosses and followed after Jesus? Was it last month? Maybe a year ago?
Perhaps you save it all up and die once a week. Every Sunday morning you go to church and lay yourself out before God and say, "Nail me to the cross". Is that what this is all about? Going to a building once a week to get what we need from God?
I don't think so. Read what Paul wrote in the book of Romans.
Rom 6:4 - For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.
We not only take part in the death of Jesus but we also take part in His resurrection! We are alive in Jesus! Let's not walk in this new life just once a week. Let's walk in it everyday. Paul said that everyday he died to himself. If we only lay down our lives on Sunday, then Sunday is the only day we walk in this new life. However, if we die daily like Paul did, then we are resurrected daily.
Lord, I pray that we all experience a fresh baptism of the Holy spirit every morning and that we give our lives up to you. Father, nail our old selves to the cross of Christ and allow us to take part in His glorious resurrection. Make us new every morning so that we can all be vessels for Your glory and honor. In Jesus precious name we pray, AMEN!
Phillip Reed is the Associate Pastor of Faith Chapel Ministries. His passion is to reconcile the lost to their Heavenly Father.