For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
The churches' websites includes recorded sermons for those who are interested. Click the links below to access them.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

It's All About Love, Part 2

Photo by Joshua Fuller on Unsplash
This is the second in a series called "It's All About Love." The series begins here.

We were created for love. The desire to be loved and to love is built into us. We crave and are driven by a need for love. Our abilities and personalities shine the brightest when motivated by love.

Love is the law of God's kingdom. It is a foundational principle that is to guide the relationships people have with one another. "For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Galatians 5:14). 

God hates it when we are not loved.

Photo by Tom Pumford on Unsplash
When the bully at school picked on you, God saw it and his heart was filled with anger. When you were the subject of malicious gossip at work, God heard it and was stirred. When the rude shopper pushed his way into the queue in front of you, God was watching and writing it in his book of remembrance.

When people did not value you enough to listen to you and you knew they were intentionally ignoring you, God knew. When people did understand you and then rejected you, God was filled with compassion. When people assumed the worst about you, God was not absent. In fact, God knows exactly how you felt. No one has been ignored or rejected more than Him.

Every time that someone treated you with less than love, God not only saw it, but it broke his heart. We will look more deeply into this in future posts. For now, it is important to understand that love is the law of his kingdom.

Laws without penalties are merely suggestions. The violation of the law of love is called sin and it carries a punishment: death and hell. Does this seem harsh? It isn't. We'll look at why it isn't in a future post but ponder for a moment that the punishments for violating laws vary given the gravity of the offense. God considers the violation of the law of love to be extremely wicked and will be punished accordingly. God's action of punishment is a demonstration of his wrath. God's wrath is his love in action against evil. Unlike human anger, God's wrath is always just and expressed with perfect timing.

When someone hurts us our natural tendency is to try to even the score. We want to hurt them back. The realization that violations of the law of love will be punished by God changes the equation completely. They won't get away with it. God "has our backs"! This is why Jesus encourages us to turn the other cheek and love our enemies (Matthew 5:38-48). Paul puts it this way, "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' To the contrary, “f your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head” (Romans 12:19-20).

The fact that God will judge the evil in the world allows us to forgive and even have compassion on those who hurt us. We know that they will be punished. We can trust that justice will be done in the matter. Perhaps not in the time that we like, but eventually justice will prevail. The evildoer will not get away with it regardless of how powerful they are or how clever they think they are. We are free to love.

That only deepens our problem.

The love of Jesus captures our attention, but it also reveals our faults. We are not like him! Created to love others, we have not loved. Perhaps we feel like we are more loving than others. We haven't hit anyone. We haven't robbed a bank. We pay our taxes. But then Jesus makes the standard clear:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire" (Matthew 5:21-22).
The kingdom of God is a kingdom of love. In a civilized society, people learn that politeness helps them to get what they want. "Please" and "thank-you" come rolling off their lips. They open doors for others. They carefully watch the way we act. They want to be "good people." The outward appearances look great and have been polished to a fine sheen. Jesus will have none of it. His words are like a  like a sledgehammer of love working to expose their true condition (Matthew 23:23-27).

The reality is that each of us stands condemned because of our actions. We have not loved others. We have violated the law of the kingdom of God. Suddenly, the reality of the wrath of God on evildoers is not comforting, but alarming. Because we are guilty. We justly deserve the wrath of God.

That is the real reason people push Jesus away.

This insistence on love and the punishment of the violation of the law of love are the very things that cause people to push Jesus away. People desire to be loved. They like the idea evil is punished. But then they realize that but they have not loved. They have done evil. The blazing light of Jesus's love exposes their own lack of love. It exposes their anger, impatience, and selfishness. They prefer the shadows where their evil deeds cannot be so clearly seen (John 3:19).

God's love and goodness are exactly the things that demand that he punish those who violate the law of love. Imagine that someone raped and murdered your daughter. The criminal is brought before the judge and says, "I'm sorry. I won't do it again." Would we consider the judge to be good if he said, "That's okay. Just don't do it again." No! We would say that the judge was not just. We would want him removed from his position. The good and just judge must render a just judgment. In the same way, the goodness of God demands that violations of his law of love be punished.

We might agree with this view of the judge when it comes to a murdering rapist, but what about "lesser" violations of the law of love? Shouldn't there be leniency? Does every violation of the law of love merit death and hell? The answer is a very reasonable "yes." The rationale is simple, and it will be the focus of a future blog post.

It really is about love.
We all want a better and more just society. We all want to live in a society that is grounded in love and caring for one another. This describes the kingdom of God. The hope of our societies cannot be grounded in our political institutions, our universities, or economic theories. The hope of our world needs to be grounded on Jesus Christ, who came to show us how we can live in the kingdom of God...the kingdom of love. 

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