God bless you all tonight. It turns out that I think, I believe that the word that the Lord has given us for tonight is precisely about, you know, is there a relationship between giving and between of the power of the Lord, access to his power, access to his joy and access to what we want of the Lord? And maybe we should start this evening with an observation.
Have you ever noticed, maybe it’s just me, but have you ever noticed that the happiest people you’ve ever met, for instance in my case; I’d have to say that the happiest people I ever met, the most self actualized people I’ve ever met, the most content people I’ve ever met, also tend to be the people who are the best at loving. Have you noticed that? The happiest, most content people I’ve ever met just also tend to be the people who are best at loving others and maybe we’re thinking of the same people. There’s someone like this in your life. If you’re lucky enough and with mother’s day rolling around, maybe I am describing your mom, you know, if you’re blessed, I know I’m describing my mom. I’m certainly describing my wife’s mom and so many moms, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be your mom. There’s probably someone in your life that you can say wou! That person is so gentle. That person is usually the first person to forgive an offense done to them. That person you can count on to serve others without any thought of what they’re going to get out of it. And this person, perhaps, that you’re thinking of has this description begin to crystallize a face or two in heart, usually these people are a delight to be with. You just love being around people like that, you love being around people who love others.
Now, I’ve got a little quiz as we begin this service, it’s a little chicken and egg question. What do you think? Do they love others because they’re happy, you know, as a product of the fact that they’re happy, as a consequence that they’re happy? Do they love others because they are happy, these people that you’re thinking of, or are they happy because they love others? What do you think? Do they love others because they are happy, you know, things just seem to be going right for them? Well, of course they have a surplus of blessing, of course they can afford to love others. Or, do they people that you’re thinking of is the opposite? They are happy as a consequence of loving others. What do you think? You know, lawyers know how to wave the dice, the questions often imply the answers. So, class, what do you think, which is it? The former of the latter? Yeah, good class! And if you’re watching in the Internet and you said the same thing, give yourself a star. That’s right! and you know what? Good day for you, because scripture agrees with you all over the place.
This a bedrock principle of scripture. It’s what Pastor Roberto was just sharing. It’s what Stephen was just sharing when he was saying, gosh, we could use someone here to help clean up after the service and love others in this way. But it’s counter-intuitive. Why are these calls to give? Why are these calls to service? Often so difficult and I’ll tell you why. It’s not in our nature. It’s really not inherent in human nature. Perhaps, in a couple of really, fabulously blessed people who walked this earth, but even those folks have their envelope, have their limit. And don’t worry, God will make sure that those people love beyond their envelope and beyond their limit too.
You know, the mistake most of us make is that we wait, like the pastor was saying. It’s ten a month to giving. We wait until our retirement is set and we wait until the kids are in college, before we give. And the step of faith is when we give in our zone of discomfort. It’s the same with love. The mistake most of us make is that we wait until we are happy, or fulfilled or until we believe we have our docks in the row, before we feel that we can afford to love somebody, before we feel that we can afford to love sacrificially.
Now, where does this come from? First of all, I think part of this is sociological or biological or playliological, whatever floats your boat. It’s parts of the survival instinct. I have to be sure that I’m going to survive. I’m going to make sure that I’m going to get mine first, that I’m taking care of first, and if there’s anything left over, then maybe I’ll share, but first I have to take care of me, myself and I. And that translates even to the kingdom. And it translates into our spiritual experiences.
And here guys, I’m going to make it easy on you. Most of us, myself included, did not come to Christ to learn how to love others. I did not come to Christ so that Christ would teach me how to be an effective lover of others. I came to Christ because there was a chasm in my life, the size of Montana that he needed to feel. I came to Christ because I had an amazing need. I needed his joy, I needed his love, I needed his intervention. I needed something from Christ. That’s why I came to him and that’s why most of us come to Christ. We come to Christ because there’s something that we need. And in the course of coming to Christ, that’s fine in those first days with the Lord, the challenge is many of us get stuck there and we live out our spiritual lives constantly describing to the Lord our need and not hearing what he’s telling us in scripture over and over again, and it’s this, he says:
“You want fulfillment, you want love, you want joy. You want these things that you’re asking of the Lord, then become an instrument of my love. Love others, let me love others through you and in the course of loving others or letting the divine love of the Lord course through you, in the course of that you’re going to find everything you need.”
And there’s a passage I think that encapsulates all of this. Let’s go to the gospel of John, chapter 15, let’s start with verse 17 and then let’s skip back to verse 7 through 17. I think this passage makes more sense to me when I read 17 first, and then see it in the context of the rest of this passage. And verse 17 declares this:
“ this is my command, this is an order, because I love you I’m not giving you any…… with this, love each other….”
And then we go back to verse: “…..if you remain in me and my words remain in you, my commands – and we’ve just heard his command: love each other - … ask whatever you wish and it will be given you. This is through my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourself to be my disciples, as the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now, remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s command and remained in his love. I’ve told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this, love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends, you are my friends. If you do what I command, I no longer call you servants because the servant does not know his master’s business. Instead I’ve called you friends for everything I have learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name, - and here again, - this is my command, love each other.”
First of all, why do we want to pay attention to this command? Why does it make a difference? Why is this so revolutionary, so critical, so essential to our Christian walk? First of all, when I hear the Lord saying, “…if you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given, this is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit showing yourselves to be my disciples….”
The first thing that leaps out in me is that word, fruit. In fact, that’s the whole parable, so to speak, that governs this chapter. I’m the true vine, the Lord begins, and my Father is the gardener. He goes on, in verse 5, “… I’m the vine and you are the branches, if a man remain in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit, apart from me you can do nothing…”
When I think of fruit, I think of fulfillment which is wht most people want. I mean, I don’t know about you, but perhaps at the age of 43 you begin to think, ok, what was this life about and what is ahead? What is my legacy? What have I done that’s going to survive? What have I done that’s going to bear fruit?
You think of this in college, you think of this …. I hear high school students think this way. The college students, those that God has given a vision to, we’re asking them, what is it that you want to do with your life? And it comes down to this: what do you want to be known for? What do you want associated with your life? What things do you want to see connected with your life? This is a common desire: we want to leave a legacy, we want to be remembered for something. It’s the reason why Donald Trump is spending millions of dollars on real estate that all bears his name. It’s the reason why people give to charitable foundations give, and give in enormous amounts. Why? So that someone’s name is perpetuated, sealed and has a part, buys, perhaps even, a part of something that you do. And we want to be remembered.
And the Lord is saying to us, you know, what? You want to bear last that would last, then become grafted on to this vine. Bear fruit through me. See, the thing is, he wants you to bear fruit. I love the fact that he says, “… it is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit..”
You know what that means? C.S. Lewis in his essay, Wait of glory, says that one of the ways in which we can think of that term glory, is the fact that God recognizes you. You show up in heaven and he sees you from afar and he says, that’s my boy. That’s my daughter, that’s my child. Come and share with the glory of your Lord, thank you for obeying me and for allowing me to work through you.’
You see, it’s like this, if we’re grafted on to the Lord and we’re bearing fruit, the fruit that we’re going to bear is going to be precisely the kind of fruit that God bore through Jesus. In other words, heaven on earth is going to pass away and the Lord is going to say, if you really want to bear fruit, if you want to leave a legacy, the kind of legacy that you want to leave is the kind of thing that Jesus is remembered for, that Jesus is worshiped for.
If we’re grafted on to an olive tree we’re not going to give out avocados, if we’re grafted on to a grape vine, we’re not going to produce mangos. We’re grafted on to the Lord and the gifts of the Lord are… it was a compassionate lover of people who were in the margins. He noticed people who no one else noticed. He broke bread with people that no one else would want to be seen dead with in their company. This was Jesus. This was the fruit that he bore. This was his Father’s fruit and the Lord is saying, ‘I want you to bear fruit that’s going to last and that is to my glory. I will be glorified in the fact that you’re going to bear this fruit’.
And also it’s a source of power. Look at this: “… by this all will know that you were my disciples, he says, as the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now, remain in my love, if you obey my commands you remain in my love just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love…”
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now, how did the Father love the Son? And I guess, the best way for me to encapsulate this is, first, the Father was open and exclamatory about the love that he had for his Son. He loved Jesus openly. It is the Father’s voice that you hear over Jesus declaring, this is my beloved Son in whom I’m well pleased.
So, he’s going to recognize, he’s going to say wou! This is my Son, and not only that, Jesus and his Father shared an intimacy. They were together almost all the time. He shared time alone with the Lord, they were penetrated one with another. They shared time with one another. It was a beautiful intimacy, but beyond that because of the closeness that the Father and the Son shared, this Jesus was an expression of his Father’s love. What to I mean by that? An expression of his Father’s love.
It’s Jesus who says, you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father. Now, imagine that. I’m going to love you the same way that the Father loves me. So, the object of this is, people see you coming and saying, wou! You’ve seen Roberto, you’ve seen the Father. You’ve seen Tim, you’ve seen the Father. You’ve seen the Father. You’ve seen Annie, you’ve seen the Father. You’ve seen Dave, you’ve seen Jesus.
Having these people in your home, breaking bread with you, calling this person up at two o clock in the morning, it is the same as getting a hold of Jesus on the line. And God is going to entrust his authority, his power, his love through you. Isn’t that a remarkable thing? We become living extensions, emblems, icons, of the love of God. and in that course he says,: “…I’ve told you this, so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete..”
The very joy that we mistakenly seek by looking after ourselves, or looking out for number one, or trying to capture things, or build things up for ourselves, Jesus is saying, if you obey this command and you just set out to love one another, just love others, you’ll never going to be far from my joy. I’m going to love you the same way the Father has loved me. Which means, there’s never going to be a moment when you don’t have access to my joy, the very joy that you are seeking by building and by striving and by looking up for number one, the Lord is saying, that you’re going about it the opposite way. You want my joy to be in you, then obey this command, love one another.
Which brings us to the whom. When we say, ok, Lord who is it that you want us to love? What do you want us to do in your name? His command is this: love each other as I have loved you. And it’s at this point where most of us become really good lawyers. What do we mean by each other? Who is this each other? And who exactly do I need to love? A little bit like those scholars who approached Jesus and asked him, what’s the greatest commandment? And he said, well, you know, love your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind and love your neighbor as himself. And they come back, ok, who’s my neighbor? How do I get out of this clause? Who do I mean by my neighbor? You know what? The problem with this, when you read scripture is that your neighbor, your each other is just about everybody. It’s just about everybody.
All right, let’s take this like a good lawyer. All right, let’s go in concentric circles. What if he’s just talking about the disciples? Or who are these guys? These guys are people like Simon, the zealot, whose business was the violent overthrow of the Roman occupying government and Mathew the Levi, who was on the Roman government’s take and hoodwinking people out of their tax money. These guys had dinner with one another. These guys had to share Passover with one another. Jesus is looking at Simon, Jesus is looking at Mathew and Jesus is saying, you two guys, love each other. And if you can think of a polarity that bask, in respect of that bask, then you have a good idea of what is like in a normal church, us.
What if Jesus is only talking about us? What if the each other’s only the church? Well, then you’ve got a lot of loving to do, because I guarantee you, there is going to be someone in the house of God that’s going to be very challenging as a love target, very, very challenging. I may be blessing many people, right now, through hey, gosh, how are we going to go about loving Sam? Or how is Sam going to go about loving so and so? Believe me, there’s someone in this house who’s going to step on your toes one way or another. You know why? The Lord designed it that way, because in this church right now there’s a Simon the zealot, and in this church right now there’s a Mathew the Levi, and they both needed Jesus and they both needed the cross, and they both had to surrender whatever it was that they knew, and whatever agendas they had, to become instruments of the Lord’s love.
The circle gets even broader because Jesus wasn’t satisfied with that. It is this same Jesus it says, you know, in fact if we could just turn to Mathew, chapter 5, together, verse 43. Ok, church people, that’s fine, ok. Who else in on the Lord’s list? “
Well you heard it said ‘love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I tell you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven….”
And if we skip down to verse 46, “… if you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Or not even the tax collectors …..” like Mathew here, doing that. Isn’t it interesting that’s one detail that Mathew picked up and inserted in his gospel.
“…. And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect therefore, are your heavenly Father is perfect….”
You know, if we look at God’s command, if we look at Jesus’ command to love one another, think of it in terms of concentric circles. It begins first of all, think of the 5 people that you see most often in your life, the 5 people that you see day to day, the 5 people that you call the most, the 5 or 6 people that you speak to the most, more than likely these people either live in your house or share your work space. And the Lord is saying, start there. That’s where you start.
As the pastor was sharing last week, out of Ephesians chapter 5, that’s precisely where the scripture starts. All of this power, all of this glory, all of this access to the Lord’s anointing, how do you access it? How do you ensure that you are living lives that are in continuous alignment with the spirit of God? Husbands, love your wives. First Peter aggregates, husbands, love your wives so that your prayers will not be hindered. It starts that way.
Dad, love your children. Children, obey, respect, honor your parents, so that your days may be lengthened on this earth, the Lord cares about these relationships and the Lord cares about relationships that shouldn’t be relationships at all. The Lord, we are playing in the major leagues of the love of God when through the power of God’s love, we find ourselves loving people who don’t deserve your love, loving people who do not want your love, loving people who could care less if you loved them because that’s exactly what Jesus did. And we have become extension of his love.
Now, how does he do it? And, what does he expect of us? The scripture goes on to say:
“…greater love has no one than this, that he lay his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants because the servant does not know his master’s business, instead I’ve called you friends, for everything I’ve learned from my Father I have made know to you….”
First of all, what is this idea of laying down your life for his friends? The first thing that comes to your mind, if you look at this literally is martyrdom, and you know, especially in today’s world, today’s headlines martyrdom in the name of God, martyrdom, you know, giving your life, blowing yourself to pieces, killing about 150 people in the course of that, has been you know, in the Islamic world, that has been translated, ok, this is the ultimate way that you can love God, laying down your life.
You know, when you look at God’s purpose with this command he doesn’t give that out, it’s not that easy. In fact, you know, many of us perhaps, we would prefer to die than to love someone who’s difficult to love. We would prefer that out. And you know what scripture taught her that too, because the Apostle Paul, in First Corinthians 13 tells us, if you give your body to be burnt, you do that, go ahead, throw yourself into the lions, call Romans centurions and say, hi, I’m a Christian, crucify me. You do that and have not love, it’s a waste. You’ve done nothing. You’ve accomplished nothing.
You know, what would be a greater sacrifice? There are little deaths that we die as we obey this command, an hour with somebody especially when this is someone that you would prefer not to spend an hour with, and especially when your life is so busy that you don’t have an hour, an hour with somebody is a little death that we die. Signing up for the clean up crew in the hospitality room is a little death, perhaps that we die, especially when you cry out to be seen, when you cry out to be thanked, when you cry out to be recognized, and you do that for the Lord and for your friends here, that’s a little death that you die. That’s laying down your life for your friends.
Forgiving somebody, taking that age old resentment and burying it and knowing that you’re never going to get justice unless it’s justice in heaven, and you just trust God with that, and you take your resentment to the local cemetery, drop it there, and walk away praising the Lord, like a New Orleans funeral, singing praises. That’s a little death that you die. That’s laying down your life.
You know, another way to lay down your life? Intercessory prayer. Praying for people. I look at intercessory prayer as an opportunity that you have to come before God’s throne and give him your wish list. You’ve got 5 minutes before God’s presence, maybe 10 if you’re lucky before you go out to work or something, right? And in that time, instead of you filling God’s ears with things that you want, things that you need, things that are important to you, you say, God bless and you’re calling some other name. In a way, that’s laying down, you’re giving up your turn at God’s presence for God to bless somebody else. These are all little deaths that we die, these are all little ways that we lay down our lives.
And the Lord is saying, you know why you can do this? Because you’re my friends, you’re not just my servants, you are an extension of me. You’re people I can entrust with my inner most desires. You’re people I can entrust with my vision, if you love the people who I am desperate to love, if you go out and in my name, can love them as I have loved them, as I desire to love them, then you become my body, you become my hands, you become my mouth, you could become my voice, you become my mind. You have the mind of Christ. You can go out and you can love them.
And you know, this is the other thing that the Lord gives you, is this: authority. Those of us who are seeking a pathway to God’s anointing, those of us who are seeking deeper, richer ways for God to use us, those of us who are seeking ways so that we can be instruments of his hands with authority so that we speak in the name of Jesus, and demons flee and the gates of hell, tremble. Actually, not a better way, the only way to do that is to become a fruit of the vine. See, God has an agenda, he is in business right now, the work of the early churches has not ceased, it is busier than ever. The Lord has things he wants to do. People that need to be ministered to, kingdoms that need to be destroyed, works of Satan that need to be erased from the landscape of humanity, and the only way, the way that he has chosen to do that is loving through others. And if he identifies, his eyes scan the globe and he sees someone who says, Lord, I am willing to love in your name, you’ve got carte blanche, what do you want? We’re in the same league, we’re in the same business. What do you need? Well, Lord, look at this vision, I don’t know how I’m going to find the time to minister to these people, these widows and orphans. Well, God all of a sudden you’ve got resources of energy and time, and people behind you. all of a sudden, people who decide to love in the name of Jesus, you have carte blanche on the authority and the anointing of the Lord. Why? Because you’re fulfilling his purposes. It is those people that the Lord promises, you know, whatever you do in my name to get this done, to accomplish my purpose on this planet, you’ve got my attention.
I’ve got a little exercise. I’d like to maybe distribute these and almost as a closing prayer, thanks…. Many of you have seen this before. I am a pentecostal preacher son and here I am distributing Saint Francis of Assisi’s prayer, a Catholic monk out of the 16th century, but you know why? Because I believe that Saint Francis nailed this principle in this prayer. I think he nailed it and I believe that if the spirit of God, we just have the spirit of God to breathe fresh, the same Holy Spirit that breathed this prayer into him, we can incorporate this by reference into our own hearts, I know that I have.
Why don’t you read that through once, and then I’m then I’m going to ask someone to just come forward and read out loud on behalf of all of us and just lead in prayer, but just literally reading this out loud and at the end you know, like good high church people, we’ll all say amen. So if someone would like to do that, Sharon? Would you please?
Oh, Lord make me an instrument of thy peace, where there is hatred let me sow love, where there is injury, pardon, where there is discord, harmony, where there is doubt, faith, where there is despair, hope, where there is darkness, light, where there is sorrow, joy. Oh, divine Master grant that I many not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love, for isn’t giving that you receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dieing that we are born to eternal life.
And the people of the Lord say, amen.