Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Love Defined

The playwright Arthur Miller wrote a memoir in the late 1980s.  Miller had a lot of great stories to tell; he had written acclaimed plays (including Death of a Salesman and The Crucible) and movies. He had interacted with some of the most famous people in the history of the entertainment business.  But what most people were eager to read about was his marriage to Marilyn Monroe.  In the book, Miller describes watching Monroe fall deeper into despair and drug addiction during the filming of The Misfits, the movie he wrote.  One evening, after a doctor had been persuaded to give Marilyn yet another shot and she was sleeping, Miller stood watching her. "I found myself straining to imagine miracles," he writes. "What if she were to wake and I were able to say, 'God loves you, darling,' and she were able to believe it! How I wished I still had my religion and she hers."  A little more than a year and a half later, she was dead. 

            That’s a heartbreaking story, and it’s hard for me not to think of that when I see a picture of Marilyn Monroe or watch one of her movies.  Yet it also makes me realize how fortunate I am that I can say with confidence “God loves us.”  But how can I have this confidence?  Last week we looked at that statement in v. 8, “God is love.”  But is that proof?  Some may not be convinced.  An abusive husband will often tell his wife, “You know that I love you.”  A crooked politician says to his potential constituents, “I love all the people of my district.”  How do we know that it’s not just words when God says He loves us?  And even if He’s sincere, what good does it really do for God to feel this way about us?  Last week, I read in a second-grade class at McNamara.  It was my last time with those kids for this school year, and I told them I hoped to see them again next year.  One little girl raised her hand and said I wouldn’t be seeing her, because she was going to another school.  Simultaneously several students said “Yes!”  The teacher quickly reprimanded those kids, and I tried to soften things for that little girl, but there was nothing either of us could do to take away the hurt she felt.  It showed on her face.  I have no idea what this child had done to bring the scorn of her entire class upon herself, but would it have made her feel better if someone told her that God loves her?  Should it? 
            Those might be the two most important questions you will ever consider: Does God really love me?  Does it really matter?  I believe we find the answers in three key phrases of our text for this Sunday, 1 John 4:9-10.  I hope you'll be with us at WBC. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

How Can God Be Love?

          You might recall about five years ago, Apple had a series of commercials for the iphone.  They featured the tag line, “There’s an app for that.”  The point was that no matter what you wanted to do, you could find an application on your iphone to help you do it.  Can’t remember where you parked your car?  There’s an app for that.  Need to find the nearest gas station?  There’s an app for that.  Need to kill some time while you wait in line?  There are multiple apps for that.  There are apps to help you get to sleep and to help you wake up; Apps to motivate you to work out and eat healthy, and apps to help you find the nearest, cheapest junk food; Apps to help you plan a vacation, learn a new language, and meet your soul mate.  But is there an app to teach you how to love?  Jesus said the most important thing in life—true success—is to love God and love our neighbor.  He also said that when we show love to others, especially to the poorest and most downtrodden people, we’re showing love to Him.  So if we want to be joyful, successful people in an earthly sense, and prepare for eternity, we will focus on love.  Can an iphone help us do that?  I went to the app store on my iphone and searched “love.”  I wasn’t happy with the results.  So I typed in “how to love.”  Without getting specific, let me just say that was a mistake. There’s no app for that.  I’ve never seen a continuing education course on how to love.  Nor have I ever seen an expert on Oprah or Dr. Phil who claims to be able to teach us how to love. 
             1 John was written to a church that was dealing with false teachers.  Their main question was, “How do we know who’s really one of us, and who is just a wolf in sheep’s clothing?”  You might be surprised at what John says.  He doesn’t draft a long doctrinal statement and say, “Make them sign this.”  He very clearly says the people who belong to God will be distinguished by love.  They may be doctrinally sound and morally above reproach, but if they aren’t loving people, they aren’t saved…don’t let them teach.  He doesn’t just say that here; look at 2:9-10, Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.  Or 3:10, This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.  There’s more where that came from.    
            What the world needs more than anything else is the love of God.  We are studying the attributes of God this year, and for the next three weeks, we’ll be looking at His love.  We’ll do that by studying six verses in 1 John 4.  We’ll deal with the greatest evidence of His love next Sunday.  Two Sundays from today, we’ll talk about how we should live if we’re loved by God.  But this Sunday, I want to talk specifically about the love of God, as explained in 1 John 4:7-8.  We have to be clear what we mean when we use that word, love.  We’re not talking about the kind of love we have for our football team, our video game system, or that cup of frozen yogurt we’ll enjoy this afternoon.  We’re not talking about the kind of self-centered love that we tend to celebrate in songs and movies; a love that’s based on you looking a certain way and making me feel a certain way.  We’re not even talking about the kind of love a grandparent has for his grandkids, a very permissive, “aw shucks, aren’t you adorable” kind of love.  We’re talking about the love we see in God Himself.  In fact, v. 8 tells us God IS Love.  That doesn’t mean He is an impersonal force.  It means that love itself is defined by what we see in God.  Everything He does is motivated by love.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Breaking Idolatry

Imagine you live in Northern California in the mid-1970s.  Every day, you ride a bus to work.  You notice a scruffy-looking young man on the bus.  He tells you he’s a computer programmer.  Everything you know about computers comes from sci-fi movies, but this kid seems to have some interesting ideas.  He wants to create a company that will put computers into the homes of every American.  It’s going to change everything about how we live…how we communicate with each other, entertain ourselves, even pay our bills.  You become captivated with this idea.  The kid needs money—a lot of money—to get his little venture off the ground.  So you sell your business, put a second mortgage on your home, withdraw all your savings, including your kids’ college fund and your retirement account, and become the first investor in the Apple Computer Company.  I’m no finance expert, but I’m guessing that a person who bought into Apple in 1976 would be substantially wealthy today.  It’s easy for us to see that now.  But imagine being that first investor back then.  People would think you had lost your mind!  “Why are you sinking everything you own into some fruit company?  Is this some kind of hippy cult?  Have they brainwashed you?” 

Scripture tells us that following Jesus is the best decision you can possibly make, but in order to experience the fullness of what God promised us in Christ, you have to go all in.  Jesus said this again and again, in various ways, but perhaps most memorably in Matthew 10:39, Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses His life for my sake will find it.  If you want to live life on your terms, but add Jesus into the mix, it won’t work.  He is either Lord of all, or He isn’t Lord at all.  That's how exclusive Jesus is.  That's the jealousy of God.  We have to deal with the idols in our lives, or they will get in the way of us enjoying the treasure that is Christ.

The silly little parable above is my modern paraphrase of two short parables Jesus told in Matthew 13:44-46.  We'll look at that passage this Sunday, as we wrap up our series on the Jealousy of God.  We'll talk about how we can deal with the idols in our own lives.  But for now, consider this quote from the late, great Henri Nouwen, regarding that parable:

“You have found a treasure: the treasure of God’s love.  You know now where it is, but you are not yet ready to own it fully.  So many attachments keep pulling you away.  If you would fully own your treasure, you must hide it in the field where you found it, go off happily to sell everything you own, and then come back and buy the field…the spiritual life is a long and often arduous search for what you have already found.”

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Sin No One Claims

The comedian Jim Gaffigan talks about how no one will ever admit they eat at McDonald’s.  He says, “They sell 6 billion hamburgers a day.  There’s only a few hundred million people in this country.  I’m not a math major, but someone’s lying.”  He may have the stats a bit off, but he has a point.   

I once heard a preacher who was at least old enough to be my father say that in his years of ministry, he had heard all sorts of confessions from church members and other people. People had sat in his office and revealed extramarital affairs, addictions to alcohol, drugs, and pornography, violent anger, gossiping, lying, stealing, even murder.  But no one had ever confessed that they had a problem with greed.  After I heard that, I thought to myself, "He's right."  The irony is that we live in a culture that is the wealthiest in human history, and everyone knows that as a society, we are incredibly materialistic, yet no one is willing to admit that they themselves have a problem with greed.  They can easily spot it in other people, especially people with more money than themselves.  But no one thinks they have that problem. I’m not a math major, but someone’s lying.

Can you admit you have a greed problem?  Greed isn’t just the sin of hedge fund managers who get angry that their $4 million dollar bonus isn’t big enough, or bankers who can’t wait to foreclose on some poor widow who can’t pay her mortgage.  If you ever find yourself thinking, “If only I had this much, I could be happy”…if you sometimes resent people who have more, especially if you don’t think they work as hard as you…if you’ve got unpaid credit card debt…if you’ve ever bought something you knew you couldn’t afford, thinking, “I’ll worry about that later”…if you spend more time thinking about the stuff you don’t have than you do thanking God for the stuff you do have, you have a problem with greed. Colossians 3:5 says greed is idolatry.  We worship money and possessions.  They give us a sense of identity and a temporary burst of happiness.  We sacrifice our physical, emotional, and financial well-being to attain what we think we have to have.  We sacrifice our children and our other loved ones to work the hours it takes to achieve the lifestyle we think we deserve.  That is worship.  So how can we break that idolatry?  We’ll look at a story this Sunday (Luke 19:1-10) that will be familiar to anyone who went to Sunday School as a child; it’s the story of a wee little man who broke free of the bondage of greed.