In this worship gathering, we hear a message on Song of Songs 8 about how we need to set Jesus as a seal on our hearts. You can watch the message below, or the entire worship gathering below that.
Your First Love
It’s amazing what the human memory can retain and what it can’t.
Some days, I can barely remember why I got up to go to the kitchen. But I can remember the strangest minutiae that don’t matter in the least.
I remember when I was in kindergarten – kindergarten, almost 50 years ago! – I decided there was a girl in my class that I liked…a lot.
At our school, the kindergarteners had their own designated, smaller yard set aside for recess. And at recess one day, I decided I would express to my classmate how I felt about her. So I started chasing her around the yard, with the express intent of kissing her.
It seems she wanted no part in this, and it also seems she could run faster than I could, because I don’t recall that my lips ever reached her cheek (which was all I would have aimed for at such an age)!
I guess you could say that was my first love, requited though it was.
In Revelation 2.4, John records the ascended Lord Jesus’ words to the Ephesian church when he accuses them: “You have forsaken the love you had at first” (NIV).
Jesus wasn’t talking about a love like my kindergarten attempt at romance. He was talking about love for him, as well as love for their brothers and sisters in the faith.
In our culture, which applauds busyness, we can get so tied up in an activity for which we have passion that we forget the whole reason we do it in the first place.
We get so busy studying doctrine or defending our faith that we fail to love others well.
We get so busy advocating for some issue – poverty, climate change, social justice – that we fail to spend time with the Lord who gave us that passion in the first place.
We forsake our first love.
Let’s remember, whether we are studying God’s Word or supporting a cause, to love the Lord and his people first and foremost.
“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22.37-40, NLT).
It’s what makes the world go around, some say.
It’s what will keep us together, according to a song from my youth.
It’s rooted in God, according to the Bible.
So why is it so complicated?
The short answer is we make it complicated. The longer answer is that our predisposition toward sin affects how we love, and how we view love.
But as God loves us unconditionally, so he calls his people to love others unconditionally.
This is especially difficult with people we find hard to love. They may be people with whom we disagree on an important matter, or people whose personal hygiene makes us uncomfortable, or people who have hurt us in some way.
We may think that we can’t love these people on our own. And that’s true. We can’t love them on our own.
But as followers of Jesus – recipients of this love of the Father that sent his Son to the cross for our sins – we have the Holy Spirit living in and through us, and that is why we can love those we find hard to love.
Here’s a challenge for you and for me: think of someone you know whom you consider hard to love. Pray for that person to know the Lord and to serve him. Pray that the Holy Spirit will help you love him or her. And, amid physical distancing requirements, act in some way to show love to that person in the coming week.
Then, focus on another person, and do it again. And again. And again. You get the idea.
“Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us” (1 John 4.11-12, NLT).
Symbols of hope
Perhaps you’ve been walking in your neighbourhood more often lately. I know I have. And if so, you’ve probably seen various neighbours’ windows decorated with rainbows.
I went to the all-knowing Google the other day and typed in, “Why are people putting rainbows in their windows”, only to discover mid-search that I’m not the first person to ‘Google’ that question.
It turns out that this trend started in Italy, accompanied by the phrase, andra tutto benne – everything will be alright – when the Coronavirus problem got serious in that country. And it spread across many countries in the western world, including here in Canada.
Some Christians may be uncomfortable placing rainbows in their windows these days, because of the fear of misunderstanding: a certain demographic some time ago decided to appropriate a variant of the rainbow as its primary symbol, and not everybody understands the difference.
For followers of Jesus, of course, the rainbow is a sign of God’s promise never to destroy the earth again by flood. It’s a sign of hope. Indeed, ultimately, everything will be alright.
But if you want to try something different, why not do so? Some of my social media friends decided to create stained glass Christian images in their windows using masking tape and paint that can later be removed.
With today being Good Friday, and Easter being around the corner, we could use images like the empty cross, or the heart, or even the anchor. We can even use words, provided they are painted (or printed out) large enough for passersby to see.
Many of our neighbours are hurting and lonely. A lot of people are looking for hope, looking for something stable to which they may cling in this season of uncertainty. Consider using your front window as a witness. When this is all over, who knows what seeds God may have planted in people, through our silent witness, to draw them to him who is unchanging?
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13.8, NLT).
By the way, if you don’t have an online church ‘home’, feel free to watch our live-streaming of worship on Good Friday, and on Easter Sunday, at 10:00 a.m. You don’t need an account to watch at http://www.facebook.com/stpaulsnobleton. You can watch later at http://www.stpaulsnobleton.ca/sermons.
For some people, the one day that’s scarier than Friday the 13th is Friday the 14th…when the 14th lands on a Friday in February! (Okay, there’s also tax deadline day, but that’s another story.)
Yes, it’s Valentine’s Day.
As a child, I remember that it was customary to bring a valentine for everybody in my class at school. Looking back, I think that seemed a bit artificial, but there was value in leaving no one out. At the same time, I sort of wished I could have just brought one valentine…usually for the prettiest girl in the class.
Though Valentine’s Day is in no particular way a Christian feast day – not even among most of those who celebrate saints’ days – my childhood experience does reflect something of God’s view on love. That is, God has a valentine for everybody. After all, Jesus said that God so loved the world – not a select few. God’s love for everybody is what sent his only Son into the world…that whoever believes in him will have eternal life.
Here’s a way I’ve seen it depicted visually. Spend a few minutes pondering this image, and give thanks to God that he sent you a valentine in Jesus. Will you send one back to him?
The best things in life…
The devastation left in the more northerly islands of the Bahamas by Hurricane Dorian this week has been unspeakable. The images that have been flooding social media (perhaps an unfortunate, yet apt, choice of verb) have torn at our hearts.
People take different lessons from natural disasters. Some will say a deity is angry (a strange notion and a stranger way for said deity to express it) and that we need to appease it. Others will say it’s a side-effect of climate change (which would be difficult to prove) and that we should take better care of the planet (which is always a good idea). There may be countless other lessons people will take from the hurricane.
But here’s one to consider: life is fragile.
I remember a number of years ago being given a tour of the beautiful home of some friends. In their daughter’s bedroom there was a small plaque that simply said, “The best things in life aren’t things.”
How true that is!
In recent years, as I have reflected on vacation times, I’ve discerned that my favourite part of vacation has been conversations with people; that’s a big deal for an introvert! But more than bringing Stuff home, more than seeing great sights, what has been most impactful is encounters with people.
When someone is in a tragic accident, or when a loved one has died, we often read social media posts to the effect of, “Hug the people you love.”
For those folks in the Bahamas, and in other places severely affected by this hurricane, that phrase may have more meaning than many of us will ever know.
Stuff is helpful. Things are meaningful. But none of it matters as much as people. Life is fragile.
“O Lord, what are human beings that you should notice them,
mere mortals that you should think about them?
For they are like a breath of air;
their days are like a passing shadow” (Psalm 144.3-4, NLT).
Earlier this week, I met with my spiritual director, as is my monthly custom. As she was praying for me at the conclusion of our meeting, a thought came to my mind which I have been holding before the Lord ever since. It is this: “For a Christian to elevate love over holiness renders love hollow.”
As I’ve spent time pondering this – and even asking a few friends to reflect on it – I’m convinced that it is true. Secular society, and even some of the church visible, makes love the ultimate virtue. Of course, we would expect nothing more of secular society, since in not knowing God, it cannot grasp the concept of holiness. But God’s people are called, first, to make him exclusively our God (Exodus 20.3), and in response, to be holy because God is holy (Leviticus 11.45). It is only then that we can love fully, because his love is made perfect in us (1 John 4.12), only then that we can fulfill Jesus’ commandment that disciples love each other as he has loved us (John 13.34).
For Christians, to prize love over holiness cheapens both. However, we likewise can’t prize holiness without love, since that would make us legalistic. Love is best expressed through holiness, and in a sense, we can communicate a sense of the holiness of God through our expressions of love – but only if we are first committed to growing in holiness ourselves.
I know some people have come from or are in traditions where the call to holiness is accompanied by guilt and shame. But that’s not the biblical call to holiness. Jesus doesn’t say “straighten up”, he says, “Come here!” The Lord’s call to holiness is a call to follow him in every way, recognizing that there is grace to help us in the ebb and flow of our walk with him.
So my encouragement to you today is to pursue holiness, for only as we grow to become more like the Lord will we be able to love others with the “agape” love with which he loves us.
“13 So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. 14 So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. 15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy.16 For the Scriptures say, ‘You must be holy because I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1.13-16, NLT, citing Leviticus 11.45).
To love and serve
I was doing some research for a message this week, and I encountered a prayer-hymn. It struck me to the point I thought it would be worth sharing with you.
It was written by Richard Baxter, a 17th-century Puritan clergyman who wrote widely and deeply about Christian faith. His seminal work is called The Reformed Pastor, which is worth reading even if you’re neither Reformed nor a pastor! (Truth be told, he wrote it in response to The Country Parson, Anglican cleric George Herbert’s work on pastoral care.)
Background aside, I think you will find this a prayer worthy of your lips. If you’d prefer to sing it, it’s set in Common Meter (220.127.116.11).
Lord, it belongs not to my care
whether I die or live:
to love and serve thee is my share,
and this thy grace must give.
Christ leads me through no darker rooms
than he went through before;
he that into God’s kingdom comes
must enter by this door.
Come, Lord, when grace hath made me meet
thy blessed face to see;
for if thy work on earth be sweet,
what will thy glory be!
Then shall I end my sad complaints
and weary, sinful days,
and join with the triumphant saints
that sing my Saviour’s praise.
My knowledge of that life is small,
the eye of faith is dim;
but ’tis enough that Christ knows all,
and I shall be with him.
“So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart” (Psalm 90.12, NRSV).