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Summary: We see real love in Jesus as he gave up his life for us.

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Love First

Jan 8, 2012

Intro:

Let’s start with a little exercise: I want you to think of a fictional character that is widely admired. I’ll give you a bit of a start – I looked online for some lists of famous fictional characters and came up with some names: Batman, James Bond, James T Kirk, Harry Potter, Darth Vader, Indiana Jones, Sherlock Holmes, Gandalf. Others you might like to add to the list?

Now, as you look at the list, toss out some adjectives that might describe those characters: just yell them out, I’ll try to jot them down quickly (and no doubt illegibly).

Now, despite Paul’s instruction that we 2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think, I maintain that most of us are very thoroughly products more of our culture and our world than by the inner transformation of God on our lives. I maintain that most of us have, indeed, allowed ourselves to be squeezed into the mold of our world (borrowing JB Phillips translation of that same passage). And I would back that belief up with any one of us, myself included, by asking one simple question: how much time in an average week do we open ourselves up to the powerful, shaping, influences of our world – through TV, media, music, movies, work, newspapers, etc – versus how much time in an average week to we open ourselves up to the powerful shaping influences of the Holy Spirit – through prayer, worship, Scripture reading and study, Christian service, etc.? I would be very pleasantly surprised if there were more than 5% of us here today for whom those numbers would even begin to be equal. Here’s a New Year’s Resolution for you – resolve to spend as much time reading Scripture and praying (or other, intentionally created spiritual disciplines) each day as you do watching TV, movies, Youtube, or reading newspapers and magazines. With your leisure time, strive for an even balance. That seems a huge stretch.

And, I think, that proves my point: most of us are very thoroughly products of our culture.

So let’s return to this list of admired characters and the adjectives that describe them. Is loving anywhere on that list?

Here is my thesis this morning: the one, highest, most powerful, singular concept and power at the heart of our faith – that of love – has been ignored, re-defined, misappropriated, and thus robbed of all that God desired it to be by our culture and has, as a result, been completely neutered in our imagination and our practice.

And yet we know we need it.

We long for it.

We are deeply moved when we experience it.

In fact, we are transformed by it.

We recognize it, celebrate it, and tell stories about it when we see it in its authentic, real power. And yet if we look for it in our society, say by asking google news for stories about love, all we get are the latest Hollywood boyfriends/girlfriends, sports stories about elite athletes and their obsession with societal honors, or Demi Moore and her love/hate relationship with her body. As if that mattered in the slightest.

But then, in our little church community, we hear of our kids raising $650 for kids in the Casa program in Bolivia. We come together and create Christmas hampers for those in our circle of influence who need some of the basics. We, once again, fill a tree with mittens for inner city folks. We start a Sunday school ministry again today where busy adults give up a couple hours of their week, each week, to open the Bible with a group of kids and try to bring it to life. We hear of how relationships begun at our Christmas banquet have carried over into coffee conversations, between people just genuinely trying to share the love of Jesus with people newly settled into housing after deep experiences of poverty. We see a simple, short email on Dec 27 letting our congregation know that we were about $20k short of our 2011 expenses turn into a deposit of $34k, without a Sunday offering (about $27k of that towards our base budget). We see our members take time off of work to install cabinets in our basement to save us some insurance money. We see individuals struggling to live and parent teens and overcome other problems ask for, and receive prayer and encouragement and companionship down a difficult road. We see a community come together to worship the new-born Christ child, in humble simplicity, and be moved by the reality of Immanuel – God with us. We see 8 people giving weeks of their time and thousands of their dollars to go to Bolivia and stand with our partners in a few short weeks. We see, and are part of, a group of people committed to and living out (however imperfectly), this single, great commandment: love one another, as I have loved you. And each of us, everyone, recognizes, values, and celebrates the love of God for us and the love we share for one another.

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