I remember the pastor of our church sharing one time that becoming a father was the greatest help for his theology, that is, for his understanding of God. He knew up here [pointing to head] that God loved him, but when he had a child he began to understand more in here [heart] that God has the same kind of unconditional love for us that he as a parent has for his child. Interestingly his child didn’t do anything to deserve his love, as a father (or mother) he simply loves them for who they are, his child. While, children are capable of showing great acts of unconditional love, we know they can also be demanding, selfish, want things their way, and sometimes like to test their parent’s boundaries and rules. Children certainly don’t earn our love either. I’m here to tell you, crying, eating, sleeping, and messing diapers aren’t exactly marks of earning any rewards, yet we as parents love them and provide for their needs. Since Elizabeth’s birth last month I now understand what he meant, the love a parent has for a child is abstract until you yourself are a parent. It’s like God has given us something instinctual, built into our DNA when it comes to loving our children.
The Bible says God is love (1 Jo. 4:8), and we are created in his image (Gen. 1:27). We are created to love like him. Our love for our children is a reflection of God’s love for us. In fact we could say our love is only a shadow of God’s because he loves all of his creation, every person.
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us”
The Father loves us, and he lavishes his love on us. The funny thing is we didn’t do anything to deserve his love. In fact it is quite the opposite, while we have a great capacity to love, we are often demanding, selfish, we want things our way, and sometimes we test God’s boundaries and rules. Notice how little things change from our childhood. We don’t deserve God’s love, the Bible says we deserve God’s wrath and punishment for rebellion against God, our self-centeredness, our pride, our bending and breaking of God’s rules (sin) (Rom. 1:18; 2:5, 8). God is unlike any earthly parent because he is perfectly, pure, holy, and just. Neither can we earn the Father’s love. There is no amount of good works or good deeds we can do which will cover our mistakes. Rather we are told in the Bible that like a father or mother, God loves us in spite of our mistakes. God loves us for who we are right now, he will not love us any more or any less. You are the apple of God’s eye. If God has a refrigerator, all our pictures are on it (I guess it would have to be a pretty big refrigerator).
It’s good to remind ourselves that God created all of us for the purpose of loving us. In fact, God planned us from the beginning of time. Listen to David’s words in Psalm 139:
Psalm 139:13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous-- and how well I know it. 15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. 16 You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. 17 How precious are your thoughts about me, O God! They are innumerable! 18 I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up in the morning, you are still with me!
Although the word “love” doesn’t appear in these verses, does this sound like a heavenly Father who loves us? God purposely planned your life out before he ever formed the earth, well before we were a glint in our parent’s eye. Then when the time came he formed us and fashioned us in the womb (Ps. 119:73; Job 10:8; Is. 49:5). We are not here by accident. We are God’s idea. In fact, David reminds us God continues to think about us all the time. 17 “How precious are your thoughts about me, O God! They are innumerable! 18 I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand!” He didn’t just create us and leave us. He is still with us now, he has been with us our whole life whether we have been aware of him or not.
1. Demonstrations of the Father’s Love
a. Self-sacrifice - The Cross
Many times people question God’s love, “does God love me?” They sing the songs like “Jesus, loves me.” But maybe they don’t feel it. But in John’s letter he doesn’t point to feelings as God’s expression of love, he points to two different tangible signs or evidence of God’s love. In chapter four of John’s letter:
NIV 1 John 4:9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Whether we choose to love God or not, the Father loved us so much that he sent his one and only Son, so we might have life through him, that although we can do nothing to cover our sins, God provided his own Son to take our punishment, to die in our place. Wouldn’t you as a father do whatever you could to save your child from harm’s way, even if it required you to make a sacrifice of yourself? The same goes for you mothers. Remember God loves us perfectly and this is what he did for us through his Son’s death on the cross. If we ever doubt the Father’s love we just need to look at the cross.
b. Adoption into God’s Family
In our memory verse this morning John continues with another way the Father demonstrates his love to us, or to lavish his love on us as the NIV says, it says he allows us to be called his child. For some of you that may sound like strange language, he “allows” us to be his child. Some people have been mistakenly taught that all people are children of God just because God loves and created every person. John is clear in his letter that not every person is a child of God, but only those who receive Jesus. NLT 1 John 5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God (born of God). Being a child of God is not automatic, it’s a privilege. God extends the free invitation to be a part of his family to everyone, but it is up to us to choose whether we will receive it or not. Perhaps you have heard the phrase, “You get to pick your friends, but you are stuck with your family.” Unlike our families, we didn’t choose who our parents would be or which family we would be a part of. It was chosen for us. It was out of our control.
When we are adopted we have a new family, the family of God. I want you to look around you. This is your family, along with all other Christians around the world. Of course, now you may be thinking, great, now I’m stuck with this family.
Getting back to the question, how do I know if God loves me?
NIV 1 John 4:12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
When we are children of God he fills us with his love so we can share it with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
As we love our brothers and sisters in Christ we experience the love of God. His love is made complete (or perfected) in us. In other words we experience God’s love through others and as we offer it to others.
A few months ago I read a story in Readers Digest called “Learning to Love,” maybe you happened to catch it. In the story a woman, Heidi Solomon, and her husband Rick, decided to adopt a seven year old orphan boy named Daniel from an orphanage in Romania. Everything seemed to be going well until his eighth birthday and he started going off the deep end, anger boiled out of him as he realized he had been abandoned for the first six years of his life. He began to take it out on his adopted parents, not realizing they were not his birth parents, and believing they had left him for those six years. His rage was so strong he would gouge holes in the walls of his room, he assaulted other kids at school, he threatened his principal with a shard of glass, and he bit a therapist leaving a three inch gash. At one point he pulled a six inch steak knife on his adopted mother with the intent of killing her. He was out of control. After several failed attempts at medication and psychiatric care they were at their wits end. Because Heidi would not give up on Daniel, her husband was ready to leave her. Friends, relatives, and professional counselors had encouraged her to give up because Daniel would never return the love. Finally, they discovered he had a condition called “reactive attachment disorder,” a rare condition caused by being alienated, unloved we might say, in his younger years, the effects of which lead to anger and rage.
The psychotherapists recommendation for his adopted mother Heidi was to literally be within three feet of him 24/7 for two months. He couldn’t ask for anything, he could only accept the food and clothes she handed him. This was an effort to recreate the boding between an infant and mother which he hadn’t been able to experience, but it also was intended to prove to Daniel that she loved him and would not abandon him. Surprisingly, Daniel actually began to turn a corner, and gradually it sunk in that they were his adopted parents and they chose him to love him and give him a family he would not otherwise have.
Perhaps for some of us, we didn’t initially get to choose whether we would be a part of God’s family, perhaps someone like a parent made the choice for us. They baptized us as a child, they brought us to church, but we never understood the love of God. Yet I’m here to tell you God continued to love you, like the mother in the story, Heidi, he has been within 3 feet of us not just for two months, but our whole lives. He waits for us to awaken to the reality that he loves us, but in order for us to be whole we need to receive that love.
Even though Daniel was not Heidi’s own child, she loved him as her own. She wasn’t going to give up on him even though everyone else had. Reading about Heidi reminds me of how much we are loved by God. God never gives up on us, even when we are angry at God or rebel against him, he never leaves us or forsakes us. He is always near us, whether we feel his presence or not. Even though we may not love God, rebel against him, he never gives up on us.
The question is what do we do with the Father’s lavish love? Do we receive it or reject it? NLT 1 John 2:23 Anyone who denies the Son doesn’t have the Father either. But anyone who confesses the Son has the Father also.
It is our choice will we receive the love of the Father through his Son or will we reject it? Will we continue to offer that love to others so they too can experience God’s love?
Today is Father’s Day and I am reminded that fathers (and mothers) are the first glance our children get of their heavenly Father. Do we reflect the love of the Father to our children? Do they see the love of God in us?