We are going to start today with some class participation…
Let’s start with a little exercise: I want you to think of a fictional character that is widely admired. I’ll give you a bit of a start – I looked online for some lists of famous fictional characters and came up with some names: Superman, James Bond, Indiana Jones, Sherlock Holmes, Rocky Balboa. Others you might like to add to the list?
Now, as you look at the list, toss out some adjectives that might describe those characters.
Now, despite Paul’s instruction that I shared a couple of weeks ago…
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
I believe most of us are very thoroughly products more of our culture and our world than by the inner transformation of God on our lives. I believe as the JB Philips paraphrase reads of the same passage that most of us have, indeed, “allowed ourselves to be squeezed into the mold of our world.”
And I would back that belief up with any one of us, myself included, by asking one simple question:
How much time in an average week do we open ourselves up to the influences of our world – through TV, media, music, movies, work, newspapers, etc – versus how much time in an average week to we open ourselves up to the influences of the Holy Spirit – through prayer, worship, Scripture reading and study, Christian service, etc.?
I would be very pleasantly surprised if there were more than just a few of us here today for whom those numbers would even begin to be equal.
As we are completing our fast, I want to challenge you to spend as much time reading Scripture and praying (or other, intentionally created spiritual disciplines) each day as you do watching TV, movies, Youtube, Hulu, Netflix, discovery +, or reading newspapers and magazines on-line With your leisure time, strive for an even balance. That seems a huge stretch.
And, I think, that proves my point: most of us are very thoroughly products of our culture.
So let’s return to this list of admired characters and the adjectives that describe them. Is loving anywhere on that list?
Here is my thought today… the one, highest, most powerful, singular concept and power at the heart of our faith – is love – has been ignored, re-defined, misappropriated, and robbed of all that God desired it to be, by our culture and has, as a result, been completely neutered in our imagination and our practice.
And yet we know we need it.
We long for it….so does the world
It changes us as we experience it.
In fact, we are transformed by it.
We recognize it, celebrate it, and tell stories about it when we see it in its authentic, real power.
If we look for it in our society, say by asking google news for stories about love, all we get are the latest Hollywood boyfriends/girlfriends, sports stories about elite athletes and their obsession with societal honors, or Kim Kardashian and her love/hate relationship with her body. As if that mattered in the slightest.
But then, in our little church…. you have given thousands of dollars to help missionaries around the globe, given to help Mom’s who want to choose to keep their babies. Reaching out with over 100K to place a coffee shop in a broken community to give them hope. For three years, you underwrote the daycare to keep it going to minister to weary parents who wanted a safe place for their children, where they would be loved and learn of God loves them. So many give of their time to touch the hearts of our children through children’s church or give of their time to serve greeting to help make everyone feel comfortable. Not to mention many who share their love and faith on a regular basis everywhere they go. I know I mentioned already but when I see how the dream has come true and is coming true every day with the coffee shop in Monessen I am amazed at the love of God poured through you. This year people have sacrificed time, taken off from work to help with our camps and VBS. They have taken time to volunteer to mow, repair things, and to save the church money from paying for repairs. We have come together as a church to give of our time and finances to help give kids a Christmas through our Christmas boxes and help with the Christmas outreaches to encourage the hurting. We see, and are part of, a group of people committed to and living out (however imperfectly), this single, great commandment: love one another, as I have loved you. And each of us, everyone, recognizes, values, and celebrates the love of God for us and the love we share for one another.
I have absolutely have no doubt, based on very close to 11 years of experience in this church, as lead pastor, that I could call on any one of you at any time, day or night, with a genuine, real, recognizable need, and you would respond with love. I honestly believe that. It is why I am still here.
But here is the problem I see – and it is a very real problem.
When we start to talk about love, and when we start to wonder how to live a life of love, our culturalization grabs hold of us with a near-death grip on our souls.
See, what is love? When we hear the word love, what do most of us think? What connections does that spark in our brains?
Here, I believe, is what most of us are very powerfully, culturally-conditioned, to believe that love is:
– feeling positively towards others
– physical attraction
– the euphoric release of endorphins
I looked up some definitions of love online:
1. a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.
2. a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.
3. sexual passion or desire.
4. a person toward whom love is felt; beloved person; sweetheart.
5. (used in direct address as a term of endearment, affection, or the like): Would you like to see a movie, love?
Love is an emotion of strong affection and personal attachment. Love is also a virtue representing all of human kindness, compassion, and affection; and the unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another.
Love is central to many religions, as in the Christian phrase, God is love or Agape in the Canonical gospels. Love may also be described as actions towards others (or oneself) based on compassion, or as actions towards others based on affection.
In English, love refers to a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes, ranging from pleasure (I loved that meal) to interpersonal attraction (I love my partner). Love may refer specifically to the passionate desire and intimacy of romantic love, to the sexual love of eros, to the emotional closeness of familial love, or the platonic love that defines friendship, to the profound oneness or devotion of religious love. This diversity of uses and meanings, combined with the complexity of the feelings involved, makes love unusually difficult to consistently define, even compared to other emotional states.
Love in its various forms acts as a major facilitator of interpersonal relationships and, owing to its central psychological importance, is one of the most common themes in the creative arts.
And I think that makes the point….
When we talk about love, or choosing love first, I’m not sure we really know what we are talking about.
– Does it mean we have to put nice feelings first? We must always resort to compassion or other emotions?
– We must form strong affection and personal attachment to everyone around us, and give them everything they desire for their own personal happiness?
– Does it mean we avoid conflict? Run from problems and pain?
– If we truly had a community of love, would that mean that there was never confrontation, never discomfort, never any pain, never any need, never any challenge?
– If we truly loved God does it mean our worship would be constant exuberant emotion, a euphoric sense of the closeness of God that left us skipping out of church upbeat and pumped up?
– If we truly loved one another does it mean that we would just always be nice?
No! No, no, no no! nope! nay! Nyet! Uh-uh. Absolutely, completely, NOT.
Here is why we struggle. Here is the half-truth that we have bought into as the whole truth. There IS an emotional component. Of course. Absolutely. Whenever we encounter love, as defined and created by God, there is a genuine, real, powerful, emotional response. But (and here I ask you to listen very, very closely, that is not what love is. That is, simply, our response to our experience of love.
So, instead of allowing our culture to define love for us, let us turn to a significantly more authoritative source: What does the Bible say…. 1 John 2:15-17
Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. 16 For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. 17 And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.
John through the Holy Spirit tells us the whole idea that the love offered by our world is centered around
- emotional aspects,
- empty cravings, and those things are fading away,
- things that are not eternal.
John continues his better description of love in chapter 3:16-24
We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?
18 Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. 19 Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God. 20 Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything.
21 Dear friends, if we don’t feel guilty, we can come to God with bold confidence. 22 And we will receive from him whatever we ask because we obey him and do the things that please him.
23 And this is his commandment: We must believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he commanded us. 24 Those who obey God’s commandments remain in fellowship with him, and he with them. And we know he lives in us because the Spirit he gave us lives in us.
Obviously, there is much more here than I have time for today.
But we can see the main points: we see real love in Jesus giving up his life for us.
-Is that an emotion? Is that a feeling?? No, it is an action, a choice.
More than that, it is an action of personal sacrifice. That is the point of the next verse as well – the emotion…in this case compassion is critical, but only when it is followed by action…here sharing money.
The point is perfectly clear in vs. 18 – let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions, the choices we make. 19-22 come back to the area of feelings, with the key lines being…. Our actions show and God is greater than our feelings.
Once again, of course the emotions matter, but they are a precursor to and a product of and response to love, they are not love themselves.
We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. There it is.
Maybe some of those fictional characters we admire were self-sacrificing.
Maybe some of them do embody some of these things we see in Jesus, and maybe that is really why they are widely admired.
Maybe we haven’t seen that because we’ve thought of love as sentimentality and emotion rather than what it really is….
the most powerful, active force in the world, best illustrated by the God of the Universe becoming human and then dying a criminal’s death on a cross, a death he chose because of love
Not because he has nice feelings towards you and I and all the world. But because He saw us in need – deep need – of salvation and forgiveness and relationship with God, and He did something about it. He did everything about it.
Now it is back to us. God has demonstrated His love for us, what are we going to do about it?
– do about it Recognize action is needed.
-take Action, make the choice
Love must be greater than your feelings…do as Jesus did..choose to really love!
Will we love first?