In this week’s worship broadcast, we hear a message that challenges our understanding of love – a debt we cannot repay. It’s based on Romans 13.8-14, with support from Ephesians 6.10-17 and 1 Thessalonians 5.1-10. You can watch the entire broadcast below, or just the message below that.
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).
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 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).
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 (126.96.36.199).
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).
Having written about the tragedy in Humboldt, Saskatchewan a few weeks ago, I was going to write today about the Southwest Airlines Pilot who successfully landed a plane with a non-working engine, a fan blade from which killed a passenger. Her testimony is remarkable.
But then someone decided to drive a van on a busy Toronto sidewalk on Monday.
Ten people were killed, and half again as many were injured. What was most notable about this tragedy, if one can find any good in it, is the fact that one lone police officer managed to arrest the van driver, within minutes of the whole episode beginning, and without firing a single shot.
On Wednesday, I wrote to the congregation I serve to encourage us not to be afraid in the wake of this event, that the best thing to do is to trust in the Lord and push on. Perhaps another point to emphasize as we continue to reel from this catastrophe is that it’s imperative for God’s people to be engaged in the lives of others, especially those who might seem unlovable.
The man who drove the van that killed ten innocent victims last Monday, according to research revealed online, was a troubled soul, and frustrated (for lack of a more sombre term) that he couldn’t get any dates with women. It was this, apparently, that led him to run over that crowd of pedestrians – mostly women – and to want the police to kill him.
To be sure, there will be those who think that he should have been killed, but that was not the arresting officer’s mandate. His mandate was de-escalation, which he performed in textbook fashion: weapon drawn, but not fired. Now, hopefully, the driver can receive both justice and the help he needs.
What could have prevented this man from evenwantingto do something like run over people? We may never know for sure, but I think it’s fair to say that experiencing more love would have helped. We don’t know what his relationship is like with his parents or his wider family, and we don’t know if he has any kind of relationship with a church or with the Lord.
The lesson for us is to love our kids, and all people we encounter, with the love of Jesus. Who knows what difference our care could make in the life of another person? Could our care save lives?
Possibly. What have we got to lose?
“Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love” (1 Corinthians 13.13b, The Message).
For Christians in many traditions, this coming Wednesday marks a special day: it will be Ash Wednesday. And if you notice the calendar, it falls this year on February 14, which is also widely celebrated in western culture at Valentine’s Day.
When you were a kid, maybe your experience was a bit like mine. My mother had me write out Valentines for each of my classmates. After all, it was the right thing to do. But did you feel, well, awkward about some of them? Like they were going to be received as pregnant with meaning when they weren’t?
Love, as they say, is a many-splendoured thing. And it is multi-faceted, like a beautiful diamond. It can be possible to read too much – or too little – into an expression of human love. A Valentine can be an expression of single-minded devotion, or it can be simply conforming to a cultural tradition.
Ash Wednesday inaugurates the season of Lent, a 40-day (note that Sundays are not included, since each Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection!) period of penitence and preparation for the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is a whole season that prepares us to receive the greatest gift of love – the greatest Valentine – ever offered. There is nothing ambiguous about this Valentine. Jesus only has one meaning for it – selfless, life-giving love.
You don’t need to celebrate Lent to value what Jesus has done for us. But many people find it a helpful time to awaken their awareness of what God is doing in their lives.
This coming Wednesday, whether you receive the imposition of ashes or not, understand that the greatest Valentine you will ever receive has paid the price for your sins, has paved the way for eternal life to be yours.
“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command” (Jesus, John 15.14-15a, NLT).
By now, you may have heard about the massacre in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, earlier this week. Shootings are always tragic, but when one happens inside a church building, all of us, even those who are not big fans of the church, are rattled by it.
Whatever would cause someone to engage in such a heinous act? Reports say that the shooter was an obsessive white supremacist, and that he truly hated black people.
Why? What causes someone to develop this? Racism isn’t a genetic trait; it’s learned. And in this case, it was costly to many families, and very costly to one church family.
There are many instructive points for us in this terrible story, but perhaps one that hits close to home is the importance of having healthy, engaged community surrounding our children and youth, starting in the home.
Parents, grandparents and other relatives, surround your kids with love and encouragement. Let them see that, just as in God’s eyes, all people have value. True, all of us are fallen, broken sinners, but we are still all made in the divine image and carry intrinsic value as a result.
Parents, grandparents and other relatives, teach your kids that violence is not the way of Jesus. While we in Canada don’t have the same kind of ‘gun culture’ that exists south of the border, there is, nevertheless, an unnecessary degree of violence that takes place, often among youth, and frequently in our cities. Help your kids learn that dialogue and conversation are more useful tools than guns or knives.
Parents, grandparents and other relatives, model for your kids the love with which God has showered you. Children and youth want to know, above all, that they are deeply loved. We all want to know, above all, that we are deeply loved! You are deeply loved by God, and that enables you to love others. It is hard to love when we do not know that we are loved. Tell your kids you love them. Tell your kids that God loves them. Prove it with your actions.
And pray for the people of Charleston, South Carolina – for the church family at Emanuel AME Church, for the families left behind, and for those whose hearts are hard enough to kill because of colour.
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3.1, NIV).