Sunday, November 06, 2005

Back to Basics: We Love Because

This is the next in a series of sermons from my pastor Carl Palmer. I have tried to remain true to the spirit of his views; and even to maintain his wording. I have sent them to him and he has not slapped me yet – so I guess I am okay.

The first in the series was Back to Basics. Back to Basics II was a completely self-written addendum to the first that I hope was in its spirit.

This sermon was delivered on September 18, 2005. Sorry for being such a laggard.

We Love Because
[The words and ideas are from Carl Palmer]

Carl reviewed Back to Basics (something I will not really do) and again stressed that our church leadership was asking God to do a new thing in His our church for His glory. That new thing was based on getting rid of “church as usual”. It is based on cutting through our distractions and differences and focusing in on basic Christianity, rooted in the Word of God. That basic theme from the Word of God:
Mark 12: 28 One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, "What commandment is the foremost of all?" 29 Jesus answered, "The foremost is, `HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; 30 AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.' 31 "The second is this, `YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
and the vision statement we have derived from that
We want to see God transform our lives and our world as we grow in a daily, practical experience of loving God and loving people.
Carl and the elders believe that God is calling us to a “journey” of becoming more like Him – by becoming people who greatly love. Whatever else we understand, or do not understand, let us be people who love. We do not need extra rules, but to transform us from the inside out – and then transform our world. The world will not be changed by our programs, tracks, banners – but by us being different people.

Today… commit to a journey of faith and obedience.
Some have said that they do not know if they really love God. They believe, and they want to escape hell; but He just isn’t with them – they can’t feel Him.
Do you think God cares? Do you think he cares if you just believe things or if you love Him? Do you think God just wants to populate Heaven with people avoiding hell? Would that delight the heart of our God for us to show up there mainly because we didn’t want to go to the other place? That’s pretty meager.

God has a much bigger plan – to turn us into people who love Him. When we get to Heaven there are two things I know we will do: we are going to love God and we are going to love people. We are trying to do here what we are going to do there for all eternity. It will be easier there because God is going to fix us and we are going to see Him. - here we have to walk by faith and not by sight; and faith means learning to love God and love people. This isn’t about the intellectual agreement to some facts; but about a changed life. He wants us to show up in Heaven as a mature lover.

Why does He care? God is Love ( I John 4). Not that God does love, but IS love. God wants us to love because He is love. Of course then He is a lover. Why should we love? We love because He first loved us. The reason for this journey is not because I think it is a good thing for our church in these days (I do though); but because I deeply believe this is what God wants for you and your heart is to learn to deeply love Him because He first loved you and He is love. God is not going to leave us alone in this weak kind of love we have - because it is a weak kind of love.

The Prodigal Son: Luke 15 starting in verse 11

There are three parables in chapter 15: the parable of the lost sheep; the parable of the lost coin; and the parable of the lost son. In the parable of the lost sheep the shepherd finds that one of his hundred sheep is not in the fold. Leaving the 99 behind, he searches for the last one – and when it is found everyone celebrates. Starting in verse 8, He tells of a woman who loses one of the coins from her marriage necklace – and straightened out the entire house and put it in order until she found. Again, everyone rejoiced. First, 1 out of 100; then 1 out of 10; and now 1 out of 2

Carl points out that this chapter, and this parable, mean so much to him because he still vividly remembers when he was this prodigal [so do I]. The younger son asks for this inheritance (this is something very bad in the culture at the time) and
and there he squandered his estate with loose living. 14 "Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. 15 "So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 "And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him.
Then (Carl loves this line) He “came to his senses”. He decided to get up, go home, and tell his father that he was not even worthy to be his son – but please make me like a hired servant because even his father’s servants lived better than he was now.

So he went home and when his father saw him far away (you know how you can recognize how your kids walk) he ran to meet him –which is something fathers didn’t do in that dignified culture:
his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 "And the son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'
– but his father cut him off:
22 "But the father said to his slaves, `Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; 23 and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.' And they began to celebrate.
What is the main thing: the son coming home? The son really doesn’t deserve to come home. His motives are mixed. There is no real repentance, just a realization that he is starving and his fathers servants at least eat.

What is important is the fathers eyes. You can treat this as an impartial observer unless you are the son. If you are the son you are going to look into the eyes of the father to see whether he really forgives you or not. – am I really welcome? – will I really be okay?

The most important thing is the love in the eyes of the Father [capitalization shift notice!]. Have you ever been the prodigal? Have you ever seen the Father’s love? Some of you have never experienced that and until you do you will never be able to love Him with all your heart , soul, mind and strength.

Maybe you do not think you are a prodigal. Maybe you have never come home. Once you have realized you’re the prodigal, and you have gone home, and you have seen the love in the Fathers eyes and realize you are going to be OK – then you have to learn to love like that.

That is why we are doing this. We can analyze all of this out, but have you ever seen that love in the Father’s eyes? Do you know that we are deeply loved by a wonderful Father?

Some of you are thinking about your earthly fathers, and you were never loved like that. For you, this will be especially hard. Also, this is especially important to you because that lack of love you saw in your earthly father’s eyes has held you back from knowing how deeply your heavenly Father loves you. Some day that will be healed but in the meantime you have to get on your knees in front of the heavenly Father and ask Him: Am I truly accepted? Am I truly forgiven? Am I received back? Will there be a party for me; a robe and a ring; and new shoes? Carl want to say you will, and you have. Do you know that? If you do then you know better than anyone why you have to love.

To “love God and love people” is: The basic will of God for us – to know and do. Nothing else matters as much as this. The way God accomplishes His purpose. The most powerful, amazing experiences you have had in your life are because somebody deeply loved you; lived it out and acted it out; you received it; and you’re a different person because of it.

This is the way God changes people, and countries, cities, communities, neighborhoods, and families: if this doesn’t work in your home who cares about anything else anyway. One of those questions is: who is my neighbor anyway? And God answers: that person you married. For kids, its mom and dad: we need to learn to honor our parents. It’s the person in the next cubicle; the crippled one by the side of the road on your way to work (like the story of the Samaritan). It is the best way to live.

This was cross-posted at Street Prophets
Next: The Power to Love

4 comments:

  1. What a great message! I've also been wrestling with this. Many Christians today seem more focused on "speaking the truth (with love)" and "contending for the faith." Which are good and necessary endeavors, but can sometimes cause us to lose perspective. If each of worked harder at simply loving others more diligently and unconditionally, imagine how radically the world would be affected.

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  2. John, long time no comment-contact. This sounds like a really interesting program your church is on. The summary paragraph on the three paragraphs of Luke 15 is, to my eyes, a first rate literary exigetical point. The way the gospels move from a general point to a penetrating focus is something that, most of the time, is felt rather than thought while reading the text. I curious, what sort of resources does your pastor use to prepare his sermon? Which commentaries, publications, etc? Is there, to your knowledge any kind of organization of preachers focusing in like this on the essential commandments?

    If I have one bone to pick it's a small one. I'd like a little more practical discussion of how we are to bring Christian love into real moments of our everyday lives.

    Do you think God cares? Do you think he cares if you just believe things [and do and don't do things - tcs] or if you love Him? Do you think God just wants to populate Heaven with people avoiding hell?

    I don't think that a list of things to do and not to do as a distillation of the "love God/love your neighbor" is the apropriate theological/ethical procedure, but examples of people who forgave the unforgiveable, loved their enemy etc. discussed in order to challenge the congregation/blog community might be good. Also, I'd be really interested in a post about how this current program is actually effecting change in your congregation. Y'all have been workin' this love thing for about 40 days. Is it time to come out of the desert and lead by example? That, to me, is the crucial test of a ministry.

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  3. Hi guy,

    Yeah, had to get a real job.

    He has explicitly said this is not about a list of things to do; or not to do - but a natural outpouring once you have moved God's love from your head to your heart (one of the longest 18 inches there is)

    When he talked about just believing things - it was more theology rather than to do list i.e. the belief in the Apostle's Creed in your head rather than love of God and love of people in your heart.

    Funny you should mention the desert (the 40 days is really an interesting point - why does God like that number so much?). Our pastors and elders will be having their annual joint retreat 11/17-9 to work on that very issue.

    They are asking prayer for wisdom and discernment (and unity) as they examine the programs of the church based on our new strategic vision.

    Of course, there are some things. Soul Care has been extended from being a "womens" ministry to the church as a whole (with mens training and senior training going on); we put together 1000 personal hygeine kits in an all day session and drove them to Louisiana; and our first of many teams of 12 people are heading to Mississippi this month to work on flood cleanup in the homes of the elderly and low-income. We have teamed up for at least a year with a Christian food distribution center in Lousiana.

    Join the prayer team and bring all your friends.

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  4. Oh, on his resourses - I will have to ask. When I told him his teaching on Luke 15 was well recieved he said he probably stole it somewhere - but I didnt ask him where

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How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly