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A Love Worth Giving

This post include the sermon  text for the message I, Bill Nieporte, preached on the first Sunday of February, 2015 at the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, VA.  The video will be added soon.

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A Love Worth Giving

Acts 17:24-28

 24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’  As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

 

 In his book A Love Worth Giving, Max Lucado asks if we might not be missing a step or two in this LIFE ADVENTURE called LOVE.

 

 For many people, love seems like such hard work.  The reasons are obvious.  Some people are just so hard to love.  The vow-breakers and truth-benders.  The money grubbers and back-stabbers.  Sometimes we meet them casually on the street.  Other times we work with them as we pursue a career.  On occasion they sit on the row over from us in church.  More often then we’d like to admit, we marry them, or call then sister, brother, parent, or child.

 

So what’s the missing step in loving people who are difficult to love?  Lucado says that the missing step is our failure to recognize how much we have FIRST BEEN LOVED.  He puts it like this:

 

 God loves you.  Personally.  Powerfully.  Passionately.  Others have promised and failed.  But God has promised and succeeded.  He loves you with an unfailing love.  And His love–if you will let it–can fill you and leave you with a love worth giving.

The missing step in loving others is recognizing and celebrating that WE HAVE FIRST BEEN LOVED BY THE DIVINE LOVER.  God Himself has romanced us by His grace and God continually seeks to love us into a lifestyle that overflows with love toward others.  When we realize how greatly we have been loved, we are far more fully able to love others.

 

Over the last several weeks, we have been looking at lessons we can learn as a congregation in the 21st Century by looking at the church in the 1st Century.

 

 We’ve talk about believing that God can do great things in our lives and church – and many of you confirmed the power of God with testimonies about healings and provisions that could come only from God.

 

 We’ve addressed the importance of faith when dealing with trials, troubles, and tribulation, and we have spent time praying about specific concerns in the life of our fellowship.

We’ve also conversed a bit about the boldness of the early church in its witness to the gospel.  When Peter and the other disciples faced opposition and persecution for preaching and healing in Jesus name, they remained courageous in their witness.  They prayed not for safety, not for respite, not for escape – but they prayed that they would be bold in their ministry and witness to the gospel.  Specifically they prayed:  “Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.”

Today we come to another important lesson,  In fact, I think this is THE lesson from which everything else flows in terms of our witness, our mission, and our ministry together as a congregation.   If the church is going to move forward advancing the Redeemer’s Kingdom, we need to know intimately, personally, and powerfully, that we have been given a message worth sharing and a love worth giving.

 In that passage we read moments ago from the Book of Acts, we learn that GOD IS A GIVER AND THAT HE HAS DESIGNED US TO BE RECEIVERS.  The author declares that we do not serve God’s needs, because God doesn’t need anything.  God is completely secure and totally self-sufficient.  God has no need for anything that we might consider a work, and act of service, an offering, or a gift.

So much of what our culture values are things related to independence and rugged individualism. We are all a bit like Frank Sinatra. Our theme song is “I Did it MY Way!”

The Christian motto, however, shouldn’t be anything like that. It’s not our way, but God’s. It’s not our strength, resources, knowledge, or ingenuity, it’s all about God. As an old confession of the church says, “In God we live and move and have our being.”

Biblical Christianity is not about independence or rugged individualism. In fact these ideas are actually at the core of the biblical story of the Fall. What did the tempter, the devil, that old serpent say in the garden. “You will be like God,”). If you are LIKE GOD, then you think that you no longer need God. You think you can live independent of God. That is the core value of a sinful life system that leads only to brokenness and death.

That’s kind of hard for some of us to accept. We see sin primarily as a lack of ethics leading into actions of immorality.   But if what the scripture teaches in true, then sin is simply thinking we can “go it alone without God’s help.”

 When we attempt to take God out of the picture we try to disconnected from God as the source. When that happens, we end up spending our days trying to find something or someone to fill that perceived void and cover our despair. We try to find something to put on us or in us that will give life some sense of meaning and purpose. It might be alcohol, or drugs. It might be going to church and acting religious, and doing good deeds. It may look good when compare to bad to the world, but spiritually speaking, it’s still bankrupt. It forever remains a completely inadequate substitute for God.

 In parable Jesus told about the prodigal in Luke 15, sin was not only expressed in terms of the younger brother declaration of independence on the Father, taking his portion of the estate and wasting it in foreign lands of wild and reckless living. Sin was also expressed in terms of the older brother’s rugged individualism as he stayed home, worked in the field, and obeyed the father’s rules, not out of a sense of passionate love, but rather with the notion that he was earning his way and earning his keep.

The early church in the Book of Acts knew differently. They knew that they were never meant to live independently from God. They were never meant to earn our way or to earn our keep. We do not live in order achieve God’s blessing or pay God back for His goodness.

What we discover in scripture passages like the one we read this morning is that we were created to draw our strength and resources from God. God is a GIVER and we are RECEIVERS. The only way we can share love and life and good news with the world is to first recognize that we have received these grace gifts freely from God.

We are not meant to live FOR God, but FROM God, out of the abundance of his love, and grace, and resources for living.

 That’s why Jesus must remain central to everything we do as a church. When Jesus enters the picture we discover the truth that by him we are connected to God. In Christ Jesus we have a life source that is sufficient to meet all our needs. When Jesus animates our life, we begin to be changed from the insider out, rather than the outside in.

 Here’s the truth:  GOD DOES NOT NEED US, BUT WE CERTAINLY NEED GOD.  Without God nothing exists.  Without God WE do not exist.  The Bible is clear: God does not NEED us.  But here’s the good news: God  wants us.  God loves us.  God gives us life and breath.  God continually works through the circumstances of our lives to bring to us awareness of his personal, passionate, and powerful love.

When I was on the Eastern Shore, I was invited to teach an extension course titled:  “The Doctrines of the Church” for the Virginia Union Theological Seminary.  I was lecturing about these ideas, using highfaluting theological concepts and terms.

Part way through the lecture one of the students raised his hand to ask a question.  But it was one of those rhetorical questions, more designed to make a point than offer an inquiry.  In so doing, he got right to the point.  He said:

“So, Dr. Nieporte is what you are saying that GOD IS A GIVER AND HE HAS MADE US TO BE RECEIVERS.”

 He was right on target.

 When we, by faith, learn to receive from GOD–life is a blessing from God, and a blessing from God for the entire world.

God is seeking to pour out His blessing upon us.

God is pouring out His very life through us into the world.

God wants us to EXPERIENCE HIS DIVINE LIFE so that we can EXPRESS HIS DIVINE LIFE to the world.

God fills us with Himself–his LIFE, LOVE, MERCY, FORGIVENESS, ACCEPTANCE, STRENGTH, POWER–to the point where all that great stuff overflows from us into the lives of the world around us.

We have received grace to give it away.  We have been loved so that we will have a love worth sharing.  And what is this love that is so valuable that we have to share it? It’s Jesus.

Jesus is God’s gift of mercy, and forgiveness, and fellowship.  Jesus is the resurrection and the life.  Jesus is the way the truth and the life.  JESUS is this LOVE worth giving.

The early church knew this was the central, non-negotiable, foundational cornerstone of what they were all about as believers.

Here’s the challenge.  Far too many people come our way seeking to find God…seeking to discover God’s grace in Jesus…seeking to find that love we have worth giving…but what they too often find is NOT CHRIST, but CHURCH.  We claim to preach Christianity, but what we too often seem to be about is churchianity.

Instead of Christ Jesus, what they find are our traditions, our religious culture, our denomination, our rules, regulations, and rituals.

These things DO NOT feed the hunger of the heart.  People are not hungry for CHURCH–but THEY ARE HUNGRY FOR A RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD.  They are hungry for a connection with God.  They are hungry for JESUS.

Our response must be more than our rituals, rules, and regulations.   Our response must be something more than our history and human traditions.   Our response must be to tell everyone we meet about the grace, mercy, forgiveness, life, and love that God has freely given all the world through Jesus.

There are so many reason why we think we can’t do this.

Sometimes we will blame the world.  “They won’t listen.”  “They reject Jesus.”  “Jesus is little more than a curse word.”  “They will get offend if we preach Jesus!” Sometimes we put the blame on ourselves.

 “We are too old!”

“We are too small!”

“We are to set in our ways!”

“We don’t have the time!”

“We don’t have the money!”

“We don’t have the strength!”

Here’s the thing.  If we truly recognized, believe, and affirm that God has placed within us a message worth sharing and a love worth giving, then should stop saying, “WE can’t!” and instead say, “God can!”

A Love Worth Giving: Living in the Overflow of God’s Love by: Max Lucado publisher: W. Publishing Group, published: 2006-04-18 ASIN: 0849913462 EAN: 9780849913464 sales rank: 134026 price: $1.49 (new), $0.01 (used) Low on Love? Finding it hard to love? Someone in your world is hard to forgive? Is patience an endangered species? Kindness a forgotten virtue? If so, you may have forgotten a step — an essential first step. Living loved. God loves you. Personally. Powerfully. Passionately. Others have promised and failed. But God has promised and succeeded. He loves you with an unfailing love. And his love — if you let it — can fill you and leave you with a love worth giving.

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