As Jesus progresses through His final week the conflict with the religious leaders intensifies. Jesus’ responses to the religious leaders questions that are meant to trap Him become more and more direct and reveal the reality that not all who witness lives of sacrifice for the glory of God will rejoice and celebrate. Yet, Mark also drives home the truth that God will remember and empower those who live sacrificially for Him.
As we wait for the 2nd advent of Christ God makes the most of our waiting. He desires that our love for Jesus would grow deeper and stronger as we wait on His return. The Psalmist offers a clinic of hopeful waiting that deepens our yearning for the presence of Christ in Psalm 27.
One of my great joys as a pastor is getting to share in the excitement and happiness of a couple preparing for marriage. I never tire of listening to couples talk about one another, how they met, how perfect they are for each another, and how everything is so much brighter when they are together. Yes, I am a hopeless romantic, and even though I try to hide it and play the part of the macho man, I want to see those sappy romantic comedies as much as my wife does.
One of my great sorrows as a pastor is witnessing a couple who has been swallowed up by the dark side of the vulnerability of love. The twinkle in the eye is gone, the idealism has eroded, and all that is left are broken memories of what was and what could have been.
I have yet to meet a couple who steps into my office or my home with the intent of giving marriage a try for five years or so and then deciding whether they would like to move on to other endeavors or not. When we get married we want it to last for life and we want the happily ever after. The problem is that the happily ever after takes work. It may be a tired cliché but it is true that the shine of love fades when you have to pick up the dirty socks and underwear that somehow ‘missed’ the laundry basket and ended up in an entirely different zip code or when the pounds begin to pile up around the midsection. It was a real eye opener for my wife on that first morning after we got married when she turned to kiss her ‘perfect man’ and was engulfed in a cloud of simple chronic halitosis. I knew it was true love when she fought through it and kissed me anyway.
It would be wonderful if kissing your spouse even when they have a serious case of bad breath were the only thing required for a good marriage, but we all know there is more to it than that. So what is the secret to a good marriage? What is it that keeps a couple together for ten, twenty-five, fifty years, or ‘til death do us part. What is it that allows them to go on sharing an ever-deepening love with one another?
The trouble is that this question is very easy to answer, but it takes a lifetime of hard work and commitment to carry out. No matter who we are, there is a need to be constantly reminded of the foundation upon which happy and healthy marriages are built. So at the risk of appearing trite, shortsighted, or completely out of touch with reality, I’m going to attempt to share two ‘simple’ principles that help build that happy, healthy, hopelessly romantic marriage we all dream of.
I learned a long time ago that in order to give something we have to have it or have experienced ourselves. One of my favorite ancient writers applied this to love when he said, “we love because [God] first loved us.” Some of us have enjoyed the luxury of growing up in the shadow of a marriage in which our parents modeled love for each other and love for us, but sadly many of us did not enjoy this luxury, and don’t desire to journey down the same path as our parents when it comes to love. Regardless of your personal experience with love, or what has been modeled for you, your surest source of receiving love and experiencing love in the purest sense is through knowing God. That same ancient writer not only said that love is from God, but that God is love. He perfected love because love is who He is. Marriages can and do survive apart from acknowledging God and His love, but only by both partners being in a place of regularly receiving the lavish love of God can a marriage soar. The only way to position ourselves to regularly receive God’s love is to receive the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ. Once again the ancient writer, John, sums this up beautifully, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son in the world, so that we might live (and love) through him.”
It’s not enough to just know love. Sadly, many who profess to know perfect love through a relationship with Jesus Christ end up with a shipwrecked marriage too. In many of these cases it is the result of forgetting a second fundamental principle; love is a giving thing. Our experience of love is richest and most satisfying when we are giving love away. It is paradoxical but undeniable. Think about what makes a great love story. It doesn’t take a PhD. to recognize the love found in sacrificing everything for someone else. It could be financial security, lofty dreams of fame, or even life itself, and though we may call it foolish, from a practical perspective, we can’t deny that the point has been made that love superseded anything else in life in these cases.
Lucky for us, living out the principle that love is a giving thing doesn’t require regularly making these kinds of momentous sacrifices. In reality, the healthiest marriages are the ones in which both partners have learned to make it a daily practice of giving love in the small things. It never ceases to amaze me how a little can go a long way. Time and again I have watched marriages in danger of caving, begin the healing process by simply committing to daily saying “I love you” in creative ways. From writing I love you on the bathroom mirror so it shows up when the steam from the shower collects, to a chocolate on a pillow, a random phone call, voicemail or text message, there is power in the realization that your spouse is thinking about you. And the truth is, most of us think about doing these things but just don’t take a few moments to carry them out. We did when we were dating, so what has changed? I am not saying that this will solve all your problems, but another ancient writer wisely observed that love covers a multitude of sins. When we know someone loves us there is a lot more we are willing to overlook, even endure. So find a fresh way to express your love every day.
Any seasoned marriage veteran will tell you there is so much more to a happy and healthy marriage than just these two principles. But without these there is not much of a foundation to build upon. Those who overlook these may enjoy marriage for a season, they may even stay together for a lifetime, but in order to experience that ever-deepening, satisfying love relationship with another human being that is the stuff fairy tales and romantic comedies are made of we must commit to these two principles. Allow God’s love, given to us through Jesus Christ, to be your deep flowing well from which your love gives selflessly and regularly to your spouse in little and big ways.
Jesus prayer in John 17 makes a bold statement that the world around will know who His followers are by the love they have for one another. This series fleshes out Jesus prayer and the implications for His followers and their relationship with one another and the world around us. To view individual messages and resources click on the following link. http://www.morningstardayton.org/resources/audio/series/info/love-house
message text: Revelation 2:1-7
message date: 03.14.10
These days it seems that everyone has a strategy, opinion, plan, or formula for how the church should look and operate. However, only one voice really matters, the voice of the one who gave His life for the church, Jesus Christ. The book of Revelation contains 7 letters to 7 churches in which God tells us what His church should look like in order to reflect His image. He shares what to avoid and what to embrace as we reveal the image or our glorious Groom, Jesus Christ. Jesus words to the church of Ephesus include encouragement and correction. The bottom line is that if we abandon love then our right practice and right beliefs become mechanical and merciless.
Love is one of the most sought after and needed things among the human race. Studies have shown that babies who are depraved of love actually experience long lasting physical, emotional, psychological and physiological damage. This was clearly evidenced by some information compiled by Rene Spitz. In a South American orphanage, Spitz observed and recorded what happened to 97 children who were deprived of emotional and physical contact with others. Because of a lack of funds, there was not enough staff to adequately care for these children, ages 3 months to 3 years old. Nurses changed diapers and fed and bathed the children. But there was little time to hold, cuddle, and talk to them as a mother would. After three months many of them showed signs of abnormality. Besides a loss of appetite and being unable to sleep well, many of the children lay with a vacant expression in their eyes. After five months, serious deterioration set in. They lay whimpering, with troubled and twisted faces. Often, when a doctor or nurse would pick up an infant, it would scream in terror. Twenty seven, almost one third, of the children died the first year, but not from lack of food or health care. They died of a lack of touch and emotional nurture. Seven more died the second year for the same reason. Only twenty one of the 97 children survived, most suffering serious psychological damage. Love isn’t a luxury it’s a necessity.
Unfortunately, love is also one of the most misunderstood and ill defined notions within humanity. I came across a story in Reader’s Digest this week of just such a mistaken understanding of love. A young man was attending a junior stock show when a grand-champion lamb, owned by a little girl, was being auctioned. As the bids reached five dollars per pound, the little girl, standing beside the lamb in the arena, began to cry. At ten dollars, the tears were streaming down her face and she clasped her arms tightly around the lamb’s neck. The higher the bids rose, the more she cried. Finally, a local businessman bought the lamb for more than $1000, but then announced that he was donating it to the little girl. The crowd applauded and cheered. Months later, the young man was judging some statewide essays when he came across one from a girl who told about the time her grand-champion lamb had been auctioned. “The prices began to get so high during the bidding,” she wrote, “that I started to cry from happiness.” She continued with: “The man who bought the lamb for so much more than I ever dreamed I would get returned the lamb to me, and when I got home, Daddy barbecued the lamb—and it was really delicious.” Everything we perceive as love isn’t necessarily.
In the words of Johnny Lee, “[We are] lookin’ for love in all the wrong places, lookin’ for love in too many places.” If most of were asked to give a definition of love we would hem and haw around a little, stumble and stammer a little more and then come up with some definition that was a conglomeration of clichés like, “love is a warm fuzzy,” and “love is never needing to say I’m sorry.” But regardless of most of the definitions we give, eventually we recognize that they fall short of what love really is. We see what we think to be love carried out but then realize it has fallen short of what we sense to be love, but still we can’t seem to get our arms around.
John, one of Jesus’ disciples, wrote centuries ago that God is love. I would say that most of us have heard this phrase at least one time in our lifetime, but have we really let it sink in? This is a statement about who God is within Himself. Love originates in God and perfect love is supremely expressed in Him. This is the love we are looking for! But, as with any of us, this is something that we cannot know about God, or know at all, unless He reveals it to us. Fortunately John also tells us that God has shown His love to us through giving His Son, the object of His eternal love, to forgive us of our sins. In this great act of forgiveness God reveals to us the greatest expression of love the world has ever known. And it is right here in front of us. Unfortunately, we are constantly rejecting, reinterpreting, and redefining this love and accepting crumby counterfeits in a futile search for this love that God is openly offering to us. It’s as if we are walking through life and at every turn God is offering us the very love we are so desperately searching for, but we are so focused on the phony fabrications that we miss it at every turn. Looking for love? If you are not looking to Jesus Christ and the forgiveness He offers at the cross then you are most assuredly looking in all the wrong places.
I recently came across a Spanish story of the relationship between a father and son which became so estranged that the teenage son ended up running away from home. Realizing the consequences of his stubbornness the father quickly had a change of heart and began a journey in search of his estranged son. The father searched for several weeks with little success so he decided to run an ad in the local newspaper. The ad read, “Dear Paco, meet me in front of the newspaper office tomorrow at noon. All is forgiven. I love you, your father.” The next morning the father showed up at the newspaper office shortly before noon and to his surprise, there waiting for him in front of the office were eight hundred ‘Pacos,’ standing there, all of them seeking forgiveness and love from their fathers.
The reality brought out through this story is that we all want and need forgiveness in our lives. Though our desire for forgiveness may vary from situation to situation and some of us may have effectively desensitized ourselves to our drive for forgiveness through resisting it, this built in mechanism still resides within all of us. This innate drive to seek forgiveness is further confirmed by our decisions to withhold forgiveness from those who have wronged or hurt us or someone we love. Withholding forgiveness is like our way of disabling the individual who has been so insensitive to us, and seeking to keep them in a position of indebtedness to us until such a time as we determine that the price has been paid for the pain they have inflicted.
I was recently speaking to some friends of mine who work in the area of finance and banking. I asked them what they believed was the average amount of credit card debt for an American. I figured they would say something like eight thousand dollars, but I was shocked when they shared that it was probably closer to the neighborhood of fifteen thousand. That figure does not include mortgages and cars! Some of you may be higher than this average and some of you may be lower but just imagine if the every lending company you are indebted to called you this week and released you from all further payments on your debt. I’m talking mortgage, car loans, boat loans, second mortgages, third mortgages, credit cards, department store cards, etcetera, etcetera. There is not one of us who would refuse such an offer though we may ask to see the fine print and ask what the catch is.
Forgiveness between individuals is much like the financial debt we have incurred. Each time we pain someone we sustain a moral debt to them. As we seek to pay back this debt the individual from whom we have incurred the debt makes the determination at what interest rate the debt will be paid back. Our desire is that forgiveness would be granted with just a simple “I’m sorry,” and the debt would be cancelled, though just as with our financial debt, forgiveness usually requires more than just a simple, “I’m sorry.”
Jonathan Edwards, a preacher who was central to the Great Awakening of the 18th century described it this way, “Any sin is more or less heinous depending upon the honor and majesty of the one whom we have offended. Since God is of infinite honor, infinite majesty, and infinite holiness, the slightest sin is of infinite consequence.” Our debts against God carry a humanly immeasurable interest rate, thus making the debt humanly un-payable. No amount of saying, “I’m sorry,” no amount of good deeds or kindness can ever cover the debt even of just one thought that is contrary to the holy character of God. That is what makes God’s offer of forgiveness so absolutely amazing. Only He could take the necessary steps to guarantee our forgiveness and rather than dangle that fact over us like a vindictive and vengeful God, He followed through for us at great personal price to Himself. Our moral debt against God requires a morally perfect sacrifice, and the only morally perfect sacrifice was God’s only Son, Jesus Christ. Forgiving our moral and spiritual debt against God cost God His one and only Son and what does it cost us, absolutely nothing. It is highly likely that your bank won’t call today and cancel all your financial debt but it is absolutely certain that God is calling today offering full forgiveness of all your moral and spiritual debt to Him through His Son Jesus Christ. No fine print, no catch just a free gift of a debt cancelled. All you have to do is accept it.
message text: Luke 10:25-37
message date: 06.28.09
When asked the question “who is my neighbor” Jesus tells this parable which turns the question around and provides some life changing applications. Jesus response to the question is not to answer who is my neighbor, but who among us is proving to be a neighbor.
message title: Love Captivated
message text: 2 Corinthians 10:1-6
message date: 06.07.09
Continuing look at Jesus command to love God. This message is a look at what it means to love God with all our mind, recognizing that there is a spiritual battle going on for our minds to capture and control.