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On Monday afternoons a number of us have been going over to Shannondell to pray with those in the Rehab Center. We were invited by the Activities Director after we went Christmas caroling there back in December. And it's been an absolute blast! If you'd like to join us, just let me know.
When we arrive we receive a list of those we can visit on all three floors. And if we have enough we divide up into teams of two and each team takes a floor. We usually start around 1 and end by 2. Just an hour, but what an hour it is! We try to assure every person we meet that God loves them and pray for them if they want us to.
A few weeks ago we stopped in the room of a guy I'll call Bill. Bill was sitting in a wheel chair and we quickly introduced ourselves and asked him if we could pray for him and read a short portion of Scripture. And Bill said, "No. " He didn't want us to pray. He didn't want us to read Scripture. He said, "God doesn't like me."
And so we asked why he thought that. And he told us that he had a stroke, his second stroke actually. And Bill isn't that old. And then he said that he's had a lot of bad things happen to him and he told us some of them. And one involved a pending court case that he was facing against his ex-girlfriend.
So when we left we told him that we would pray for him that week. And as I was walking out the door I said, "Bill, God doesn't like you. God loves you. And I know that's hard to believe right now, but it's true. And we're going to pray that you feel that love." He said, "Whatever. I guess it all depends on what you believe."
What about you? Can you relate to Bill? What bad things have happened in your life? Broken home. Divorce. Abuse. Miscarriage. Accident. Injury. Illness. Stroke. Job loss. Law suit. Addiction. Break up. Unwanted pregnancy. Infertility. Abortion. Death of a loved one. Live is full of difficult things. Are there times when you've thought, "God doesn't like me."
Have you ever allowed the circumstances of life alter your view of God? When things are going well, God likes me. When things aren't going so well. God doesn't like me right now. I know I have. It's easy to do. But it's not the truth. God may not like the way we're living at times, but God always, always, always loves us. God cannot not love us because love is who God is.
This morning we continue our series called What If? with a teaching called "I Am Loved." Last week, Matt said that in this series we want to narrow the gap between belief and faith. Over the years experts have measured that gap and discovered that it's about 18" long. The Bible calls that distance a cubit. It's the distance from our head to our heart. That's the gap between belief and faith that we want to close.
You see it's one thing to believe something intellectually and have it in our head and something else to depend on it, to rely on it, to act on it, to have faith in it when everyone and everything around us seems to argue against it.
For instance, I believe this stool can hold me up. I can stand here and believe that's true. I can inspect it. I can study it. I can become an expert on this stool. I can be a world renowned stoolologist. But I'm not putting my faith in this stool. I'm not trusting in this stool until I sit down on it, lift my legs up, and put my full weight on it. That's when the gap between belief and faith gets closed. Now I'm trusting in this stool.
Church, we want to live life putting our full weight on the truth that God loves us and that whatever happens nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Absolutely nothing.
The Apostle Paul had his share of tragic circumstances, many because of his relationship with Jesus. Yet he writes this in Romans 8:35-39, Who or what shall separate us from the LOVE of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? ... 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who LOVED us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the LOVE of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We are loved. We are loved whether we like it or not. We are loved whether we act like it or not. We are loved whether we feel like it or not. And we're not loved because of our faith in Jesus. It goes way beyond that. We are loved because we are God's creation. We are all made in his image no matter what we believe. God loves every man and woman, boy and girl on this planet because he created them all. And that's enough to make each of us the apple of his eye.
That's unconditional love. The Bible has a word for it. The Greek word is "agape." The Greeks had four words for love. Two are used in the New Testament, agape and "phileo." Phileo means affection or fondness for some one. It's the word used for Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love or shove for those of you from Pittsburgh or New York or Dallas or Boston or pretty much any other rival we have.
Phileo is found 54 times in the New Testament, but agape is everywhere. It's used 259 times. It's plastered all over the New Testament. It's as if God can't say it often enough or loud enough so he splashes it all over Scripture.
"I love you unconditionally, not based on your race or your religion or your creed or your theology or your income or your behavior or your sexual orientation or any other way that we love to divide people. I am committed to you. I love you. You are my son. You are my daughter. You are made in my image. I cannot not love you. And I am all in when it comes to having a personal relationship with you."
Like Matt said a few weeks ago, "The Bible is all about God wanting to get his kids back." So in this What If? Series, it's not really if I believe I am loved. It really is, if I exist, if I have a heartbeat, if I have a pulse, if I'm a human being created in the image of God, I am loved. You and I have never met a person that God does not love and we never will. It's impossible for God not to love us because that is who he is.
And God wants us all to grow to gain a better understanding of his love for us and to feel his love for us. He wants us to see life through the lens of the love he has for us and for every person. He wants to close the gap between what we believe intellectually and what we feel and experience emotionally.
That's what Paul prays for in the passage that Matt read last week in our second worship gathering. Ephesians 3:17-19, And I pray that you, being rooted and established in LOVE, 18may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how WIDE and LONG and HIGH and DEEP is the LOVE of Christ, 19and to know by experience this LOVE that surpasses knowledge -' that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Church don't let your circumstances, as tough as they can get, alter your view of God's love. Don't put the blame on him and push him away when you need him the most. Instead, run to him and let him embrace you. Let him pick you up and carry you when life gets tough. God doesn't just like you. He loves you and he wants you to feel his love not just know it.
So I want to give you four ways we can experience God's love. These are not duties to perform. These are places we run into God's love. First, through the Scripture. It's been a tough season for my wife Jennifer right now, along with her siblings, who are all caring for their two parents both stroke victims living in two separate care facilities. It's been exhausting at times, physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, relationally.
But this week Jen was ambushed by the love of God in a way that overwhelmed her. I asked her permission to tell you this story. She was reading 1 Corinthians 13 to her mother as she was putting her to bed. And as she was reading it, tears came to her eyes as she thought about God's incredible love for her.
4LOVE is patient. LOVE is kind. LOVE does not envy. LOVE does not boast. LOVE is not proud. 5LOVE does not dishonor others. LOVE is not self-seeking. LOVE is not easily angered. LOVE keeps no record of wrongs. 6LOVE does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7LOVE always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8LOVE never fails … 12For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. 13And now these three remain: faith, hope and LOVE. But the greatest of these is LOVE.
This is a passage that Jen has read many times before, but on that night, in this season of her life, it hit her like a tsunami and she was buried under the love of God for her, especially when she realized that right now we only see a little reflection of it. Then she said to her mom, "I can only imagine what it'll be like when we see him face to face." Sounds like a song doesn't it!
Church, this is why Scripture is so important. If we only look at life through the lens of our circumstances our view of God's love will toss and turn like waves on a choppy ocean. We need the constant reminder of God's love through Scripture.
We need the constant reminder of his love through worship. That's why we sing so many love songs around here. "There's nothing I could do that would ever make you love me more. There's nothing I could do that would ever make you love me less." Sing that to yourself this week as a reminder of God's love.
One of my favorites is The Love of God by Frederick Lehman. "Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made, were every stalk on earth a quill, and every person a scribe by trade, to write the love of God above, would drain the ocean dry. Nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky."
Church, I've said it before and I'll say it again. Don't miss a note of worship on Sundays. Show up on time and let yourself be drawn into God's love. Worship is one way God closes the gap between head and heart and often moves us to tears. Please don't be a worship critic. Come to enter in.
This is why the Lord's Table is so important. It reminds us of the cross, the ultimate example of God's love. 1 John 3:16 puts it this way, This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.
If you want to feel God's love you can find it in Scripture. You can find it in worship. You can find it in what we often think are "random" experiences in life.
I was talking to a woman in our church this week who told me this story about her daughter who attends college in a distant city. Her daughter has been going through a tough time with the pressures of school and life. And recently she called her mom and said, "Mom, I got to tell you what happened today."
"I was getting into my car in a parking lot when two women in the car next to me rolled down their window and said, ‘Excuse me. We're new to this town and don't know our way around. Would you mind praying for us and we'll pray for you.'"
The girl was taken aback by these two strange women asking for prayer. But she said, "Okay. I'll pray for you." And so she did. She prayed for these two women and they prayed for her.
And she said, "Mom, it was so neat. I prayed out loud. I haven't done that in a while." And her mom said, "That's so cool. That's one way God wants to show you how much he loves you. He is there with you."
These women just showed up and asked for prayer and offered prayer. God loves to show up for us like that if we have eyes to see him. And then he wants us to show up for others as well. He wants us to spread his love and not keep it to ourselves. Who are you showing up for?
Showing up is what we're doing at Shannondell each week and it's creating a bit of a buzz. We got a letter this week from a man who thanked us for showing up for his wife and even sent Valley View a donation.
Showing up is what others of you are doing at work or at the gym or with people in your neighborhood. I'm hearing more and more stories all the time. You're showing up with the love of God through a smile, a hug, a prayer, a word of encouragement, a listening ear, an offer to help. And you know what happens when we do that? We feel God's love. In fact, we feel God's love most when we give it away. His love is not meant to be hoarded. It's meant to be shared. It'll never run out!
We went back to Shannondell a week later and when we walked down the hall there was Bill in his wheelchair. And I said, "Yo Bill. How's the guy that doesn't think God likes him?" And he smiled. And he told us that since we saw him last he had been in court and the judge had thrown out his case. And he was so happy about it. So I said, "Last week you didn't let us pray for you, but how about now? Can I thank God?" And he looked around and said, "I guess, but keep it short!" So I did.
We stopped in Bill's room about a half-hour later and had the chance to share the good news of Jesus with Bill and even our testimonies. And we him invited to believe. But he wasn't ready. So we gave him a Valley View card and wrote our names on the back and let him know that we'd pray for him and be glad to talk with him again anytime.
Church, people need to hear about the love of God. It's the only way to live life truthfully. We read about. We sing about it. We get ambushed by it in random ways. And we show up and give it to others. It's the lens through which we see life.
Are you looking at life through that lens? If you are, that's great. Keep it up. If you're not I invite you to step into reality and see life through God's love. Let's stand for closing prayer.