Summary: The first in a series which built on the "Interactions: Transformation" study book from Willow Creek Resources. Sermons follow study chapters.
Transformation Series, Week 1
Love Enough to Give It All
A massively built woman with wild hair came storming into the clerk’s office and slammed the door shut behind her. She thrust a piece of paper at the clerk, she said, “Did you or did you not issue this license for me to marry Jacob Jones?”
The clerk looked at the document carefully, and replied, “Yes, ma’am, I believe I did. Why do you ask?”
“Because,” she said, “he has escaped, and I want to know what you plan to do about it!”
Run, Jacob Jones! Run, and don’t ever look back!
Real love can only be found where there is freedom. As children grow older and begin to wrestle with faith issues, I have often heard them ask, “Why didn’t God make everyone so that they would all love him and obey him?” And the answer is simple: “Where there is no freedom, there can be no love. So from the start, God gave us the freedom to choose whether we would embrace him and follow him, or push him away and live for ourselves. Really loving God, or really loving another person, is simply opening your life to that person — sharing yourself with them, and allowing them to share themselves with you.
But there is a tremendous amount of confusion in our world today about what real love is. We use the word “love” so casually, so carelessly. How many times have men said to women "I love you," when in truth they only wanted to share their bed, or – in the case of the ladies whose stories we hear on Unsolved Mysteries – the men were only after their savings accounts or real estate.
So many things go parading as love in our society that, as a nation, we have lost touch with what love really is. Think about the TV shows that have used the word love to attract an audience: The Love Connection, The Love Boat, Love and War, and that old show Love American Style, the soap opera "Loving" . . . but how often did viewers see real, selfless, sacrificial, committed, long-term love on these shows? I remember that some time back one network advertised their daytime soap operas using the theme "Love in the Afternoon," but I suspect what they really broadcast was "lust in the afternoon," or "lying, cheating, and fooling around in the afternoon." Rarely have I seen real love depicted on TV or in the movies.
But for you – for the Christian – it is vitally important to know what real love is, because the two most important duties of the Christian concern real love.
What we find in Matthew 22 is a familiar story. A lawyer came to Jesus. This wasn’t the kind of lawyer we have today. This was an expert in the Jewish religious law. Elsewhere Matthew calls these people "scribes." The scribes or lawyers copied the Scriptures by hand, and actually counted the letters on the page to make sure nothing was left out. They were also responsible to copy and know the commentaries on the law. Theirs was not an easy task.
So here is a person who is intimately familiar with God’s law. He has copied it by hand over and over. He has memorized it. He has read and copied what other people had to say about it. And he comes to Jesus and asks, "What’s the bottom line? Out of this huge body of material called the Jewish Law, what is the most important commandment of all?"
And Jesus says, "Love" – "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself."
What is the bottom line on what God wants for us? ...having a life that is open to God, and open to other people, an openness to God and to others that we could also call “love.”
In our Transformation study books this past week, we read about and reflected on the problem of having a “hard heart” — a heart that is closed to God’s will, closed to God’s voice, closed to the needs of other people. And we read in Ezekiel that God’s plan and desire for us is to work a miracle of grace that softens and opens our hearts to Him.
But what does that look like? What does it mean to have a life open to God?
First, loving — having an open life — is an attitude of the heart.
Sandra Palmer Carr, in the devotional booklet "The Upper Room," told about rocking her younger son, Boyd, who was then four years old. They were in a high-backed rocking chair, and Boyd was looking up at his mom as the rocked.