Lessons Learned From One Heartby Ed de la Cour on October 6, 2013
There are many times when God makes Himself known in the most surprising of ways. At last Sunday’s worship service on the Hyannis Green, many of us felt God moved surprisingly to bring pastors and people together with an unprecedented willingness to display real spiritual unity. That apparent unity was not easily created and it is not easily maintained.
Marriages, friendships, and churches – each one of those relationships require a huge investment of emotional, spiritual, and even physical capital. There are a lot of good reasons why marriages fail. There are many reasons why friendships fall apart, and reasons why churches split. Last weekend was surprising in that we saw so many usually independent churches come together for a common cause. It might be that the cause was so great it made it possible for churches to leave smaller things behind. We witnessed many pastors willingly set aside their own worship services and perhaps lose income in their offerings, in order to allow their people to hear and to enjoy other servants of God.
There are a lot of big churches in this world and there are many pastors who have charismatic and very strong personalities, some of whom seem to appear larger than life. Most of us shy away from such people because we feel threatened by them. We worry our congregations will be tempted to wander off and into the pasture of another shepherd who is more exuberant and probably much more gifted than we are. So it is a very significant thing when such a day happens, when nearly twenty pastors agree to cancel their worship services and come together, to stand side by side on a platform, to take part with no personal recognition and no applause, save for the applause that was directed to Jesus.
How does that happen? How is it that such a measure of agreement and love can swell the hearts of a bunch of veteran pastors? For that matter, how is it that a marriage works? How is it that a church can grow in love and in harmony? What is the key to that success? Can we grasp and hold onto it in our own lives and in our own church?
I remember an elderly Christian woman here who used to irritate me regularly by quoting 1 John 3: 11, “We should love one another.” At the time, that seemed so much like a cheap expression found in a Hallmark card: gushy and sentimental, but unhelpful and without practical impact. I was much younger then and I lacked wisdom. Since those days, I have come to believe the old lady was right. Love is not a warm fuzzy feeling. Love is a decision of the will made in the cold light of day after weighing the alternatives and the real costs. To love or not to love is a rational choice. The man or woman who belongs to Jesus will choose to love one another and that choice will always have practical and life-altering ramifications.
We saw that work out in real and practical expression last Sunday. Leaders of churches put aside their personal and professional preferences and chose to prefer one another rather than what they liked. You saw a visual display of laying down one’s own desires in order that someone else may be blessed. You saw a platform full of pastors, none of whose names or the churches they represented was announced. You saw them stand shoulder-to-shoulder. You saw a crowd of people eager for more. The people of God caught a vision for the heart of God – a vision God gave to a man who installs satellite dishes!
We will flesh this out a bit as we move along today, but the key to success in marriage and in the church is to learn how to be humble in our relationships. Right away, John pointed to Cain, who was only focused on himself and who murdered his own brother, as the poster child for self-centeredness. If you want to know who not to pattern your life after, it would be this man, Cain. Instead, Cain has become a hero in the modern American way of looking at life. We want to be sure to take care of number one, numero uno, ichiban!
If you are a Christian, you must stand opposed to any person, any relationship, any government, or organization that focuses on satisfying the self. It’s too easy for me to allow myself to become the center of my own life. The Christian’s great calling, the church’s great calling, is to love one another, to put other people first. One of the ways the world gets to experience the reality of God is when they see real love. When we love without regard to cost that is a very powerful kind of love. Such love will never be manipulative. Costly love is dynamic and it is persuasive. That is one reason why the cross of Jesus carries so much power. You and I have a problem comprehending such cost, but we sure can appreciate it. You and I are humbled by what the cross cost Jesus. The blood, the shame, the separation from God and from man that Jesus experienced, that forsakenness on my account; I cannot despise it and I refuse to cheapen it by passing off some bogus and make believe version of love as the real thing.
On the cross, Jesus gave Himself completely for you and me. He held nothing back and He kept nothing for himself. If you are going to stay married, if you are going to remain in the church, you’ll have to learn how to love.
Costly love is what the Christian is given and costly love is what the Christian is called to share. Even our definition of love is grounded in the cross. Verse 16, “This is how we know what love is.” The cross of Jesus is how love is defined. This is how we experience real love. Anything that is called love and does not manifest itself in costly expression can hardly qualify to bear the name. John says in verse 18, “Let us not love with words or tongue.” Talk is cheap. If you really do intend to love, “Put a ring on it!” Make a commitment. Follow through on that commitment; and not once in a while when you feel like it, but every day. Men have always known that truth. That is why a man gives the woman he loves a diamond. The stone is costly. It is a vivid picture of his love for his woman. That’s a man making a commitment.
The story of Cain demonstrates how impossible it is to manage a successful relationship by being self-centered. We show the presence of God by maintaining a spirit of humility in the way we relate. Relationships at home, at work, and in the church flourish only when we begin to value love over personal preference.
Often church people will try to legislate unity by creating a constitution and bylaws with the intention of forcing things to work together for good. By laws and Robert’s Rules of Order are useful in helping organizations operate more smoothly and efficiently, but they can never protect the unity of the Spirit. They cannot prevent friction or the birth of factions. When we insist on rigidly obeying a bunch of organizational structures with an overbearing adherence to rules, we are doomed to failure. The only antidote to this kind of organizational suicide is love. That may sound syrupy, but love is the answer to the spirit of Cain that inhabits the heart of every person.
Robert’s Rules certainly can make a meeting flow in a more business-like manner, but the church needs people who are willing to pray about decisions before the decisions are made. Perhaps the world can afford to scream and yell and call people names, but not the Body of Christ. The world can argue, but the Church will pray. The world can play politics, but the Church will seek the presence of God.
John is saying quite forcefully that love is our identity. Love is the spiritual DNA present within those who are saved and who follow Jesus. If we lack love and if our behavior demonstrates that lack, it is clear evidence we are not alive in the Spirit as we may have thought, but we are actually quite dead. Love is the evidence that we have passed from death to life. What evidence is present in your life that you are alive to God.
Relationships are difficult to keep and maintain, and that truth is evident all around us. But if you are seeking a way to maintain a relationship and see it grow, then humility is the key you seek. You can’t have a growing relationship in which both parties find mutual enjoyment and satisfaction without humility. You saw genuine humility last Sunday as those pastors stood together. Now it may be true that anyone can manage to stand for an hour or two in agreement with other people. We are interested in relationships that last, that finish well. That time of worship in Hyannis was the result of years of prayer, the result of many long and deep conversations, and years of those men growing in love and friendship. Gradually, trust was built. Gradually, love developed and it began to manifest the fruits of godly relationships.
We can learn a lot from this experience. It is love that allows the world around us to see and understand that God is for real. Hypocrisy is a powerful weapon in the devil’s arsenal, but real love defuses that weapon and renders it useless. Real love means meeting needs. The sharing of material possessions John mentions is indicative that love has been birthed in a relationship. If you are married and you each have your own checking account, your own money, and you do not hold your finances in common, you may well question whether that relationship is founded on love or whether it is just convenient to live together.
Love means the needs of another are met and satisfied. There is no love if there is no compassion. Saying, “I don’t care,” is simply not a Christian response and is completely inappropriate for anyone who claims a relationship with God. You see in verse 15, that John is saying essentially the same thing as verse 17. It is incongruous for a person to claim to be in the church if that person’s life is empty of the love of God. Such a person demonstrates the love of God is simply not in him. If the love of God is not in you, you have no part of Jesus and no part of the life of Jesus. You are still in your sins and you need to repent.
But if we make Jesus the center of our lives, things will begin to change. When Jesus becomes the focus, the self takes a back seat. When self is no longer behind the steering wheel directing the flow of my life, I am free to allow Jesus to become the Lord in fact of what I have been claiming all along was already His to rule.
Our marriages are then no longer intended just to meet our needs, but they become places of safety where our spouses begin to feel themselves appreciated and free to grow into the people God created them to become. The church begins to become a place of rich resource – even in the midst of a terrible economy – as we gladly serve one another and just as gladly serve the community around us.
I believe the community in which we live is really looking for God and I do not believe folks should left to struggle on their own to decipher and de-code all the conflicting messages out there for people to receive about God. God is literally bringing hundreds of people into this building every week – and for what purpose? Just to use this building as a place to meet? Might not God have brought them here to experience the real love and the real presence of God? Is it possible that God has called you and me to be His hands and His feet to demonstrate His love in real and understandable and concrete terms?
“Love one another” is not a sentimental greeting card slogan. Love is the operational language of the Kingdom of God. Humility is not a sign of weakness. Humility is the way of life God intends for us to embrace.
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