14 August 2011
Bud was a factory worker with more than a slight resemblance to Archie Bunker. (And if you don’t know who Archie Bunker is -- well, you have a YouTube assignment this evening.) Everyday Bud would come home sweaty and dirty. He'd come in the back door, grab a beer from the frig and plop himself down in front of the TV until his wife brought him supper.
One day as he was driving to work he happened across a Christian psychologist on the radio -- kinda' of a local version of James Dobson-- and something the commentator said stuck in his mind -- that being that love and marriage are about sacrifice.
For some unknown reason that idea reached out through the radio and grabbed him. It convicted him – that he'd been expecting his wife to sacrifice for him but he'd never really sacrificed much for her. So he decided that he was going to surprise her the next day.
Before coming home he showered and shaved at the factory. He went to the florist and bought flowers and instead of going in through the back door he went to the front and rang the bell. When she answered the door he held out the flowers and said -- "Honey, they're for you! I love you." She looked at him, her mouth dropped open, and tears came to her eyes...
And she said, "I've had a terrible day. Junior broke his leg and I had to take him to the hospital. No sooner had I gotten home than the phone rang. It was your mother and she's coming to visit for two weeks. I tried to do the wash but the machine broke and now there's water all over the basement floor. And now, you come home drunk!
Poor Bud -- It's hard to win at love. But he'd finally gotten the right idea!
He was on the right path, at least as mapped out by John in our text this morning. True love is always characterized by sacrificial action.
We tend to think of love in terms of intense feelings. We tend to think of love in terms of emotion or even in terms of intentions. In the past I served as an on-call hospital chaplain. They would call me as the back-up when the regular chaplain was unavailable -- usually middle of the night stuff.
And usually it was when someone had died and the family was looking for someone to pray with them or to talk with them. Occasionally, the nurses would call because they needed help in diffusing a really tense situation and they wanted to have a neutral person there to help calm a distraught family.
And a few of those calls were really interesting – like walking into the midst of a group of worked up, family members, all with smokers voices – and obviously not much going for them otherwise – weak vocabulary – mostly four letter words to make any point.
A 50 year old man had died – alcohol related illness – wasted life – couldn’t ever do any work on a regular basis to support his 6 kids and 2 ex-wives. And I tried to get people talking about him – but all they could say was – “You know, his heart was in the right place.”
And that’s what really counted to them – his heart was in the right place.
My take on the situation is that the guy never loved anyone but himself (of course, I wouldn’t say that – especially in that situation). There was a guy who was was a total jerk – irresponsible toward others and himself. But he really wanted things to be different – I suppose – at least that’s what the family was saying.
And he felt for other people who had problems. So in their minds his heart was in the right place. And I don’t want to be the judge of where any person’s heart is – that’s not my role. But frankly, there's more to it than that.
Just because someone has loving feelings or emotions – that doesn’t mean that true love exists. It would be so much easier if we could talk in simplistic terms and just say--"well my hearts in the right place."
"I really want to help and I really feel for you but..."
The but stands in the way of love. You see, true love is always characterized by sacrificial action. Isn't that John's point in 1 John 3.16? “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.”
This is one of those nutshell verses. You know verses that tend to pack a whole lot of gospel into a small amount of space. Sound bite verses.
John 3.16 is a nutshell verse: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
2 Timothy 3.16 is a nutshell verse: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.”
Don't get the wrong idea -- not all 3.16 verses are nutshell verses but it just happens that a few are -- and 1 John 3.16 is among them. “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.”
Earlier on in 1 John, if you'll recall, we laid out three tests or indicators of true fellowship with God. They were:
- right acknowledgment of the person of Jesus.
- and love
Those who would say that they love you and then instead of sacrificing their hormonal urges, would manipulate and push you and take advantage of your vulnerability and desire for friendship and intimacy.
You can tell true love by this -- that he laid down his life for us -- the cross. Jesus came to lay down his life for us on the cross. He loved us so much that he took upon himself the sin of the world -- and he took it to the cross where it was crucified -- killed, wiped out. And our slates were wiped clean. Because love found it's way to a cross. This is the gospel, isn't it?
That God loved the world so much that he gave his only son -- so that all who believe in him (that is, acknowledge and accept with their lives what he did for them) should not die but have everlasting life.
And John says that this is the kind of love that ought to characterize our lives as followers of Jesus. We ought to be doing the very same thing -- if you're a true follower. True love is always characterized by sacrificial action.
“So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.”
I know, I know, it's not popular to "ought people" these days. We ought not to ought people -- which is really a contradiction -- but then again we humans are rarely logical anyway.
The fact is, though, that people don't like to be told that they ought to do something. I resent the commercials and advertisements that tell me I ought to buy certain things. I suppose I can handle them making suggestions – but often they cross the line and tell me that I ought to have a certain car or I’m a nobody.
You ought to max out your credit or you’re not living life to its fullest.
I resent it when someone comes right out and tells me that I ought to do something -- especially something ABSURD. It's a part of my cantankerous nature to resist that kind of pressure.
And yet, John is operating on a very logical level when he tells us that we ought to laying down our lives for one another. He's not trying to apply pressure and make people feel like slime for failing to love in a complete and true manner. He's just saying that it's the reasonable extension of the gospel into our lives.
The life of the person who has seen the cross for what it really is, is characterized by his or her own sense of sacrifice. We too, carry the imprint of the cross with us. It is a part of us -- of who we are as children of God.
Some would say that living like a child of God is living with the entitlement that goes with being in God’s family. "If you’re God’s child you ought to dress like it. You ought to drive the greatest car and enjoy life in the greatest mansions. For YOU ARE THE CHILD OF A KING! And if you aren't living that way you are dishonoring your generous heavenly Father."
And while there is a nugget of truth somewhere in there somewhere -- notice the emphasis in 1 John. Yes, there is an entitlement that goes with being children of God -- but it is the entitlement that stands the world’s understanding of rights and privileges and royal living on its head.
Dear child you are entitled to the family legacy. And by the way, that is the legacy of sacrifice.
During his reign, King Frederick III of Prussia found himself in financial trouble. Wars had been costly and as he tried to rebuild the economy he kept coming up with serious shortfalls. (Sound familiar?) After careful reflection, he decided to ask the women of Prussia to bring their jewelry of gold and silver to be melted down for their country. And for each ornament received the king determined to exchange a decoration of bronze or silver as a symbol of his gratitude.
Each decoration was inscribed "I gave gold for iron, 1813."
The response was overwhelming. The women loved their gifts from the king more than their jewelry. The reason, of course, is clear. The decorations were proof that they had sacrificed for their king. It was a sign of their loyalty -- it actually became unfashionable to wear ordinary jewelry. And thus was established the order of the Iron Cross -- members wore no other ornaments except a cross of iron.
When we come to our king we too exchange the symbols of luxury and prestige for a cross -- the symbol of sacrifice. And actually, it's not just the symbol of sacrifice that we take on. We’re not really talking jewelry. We’re talking about a lifestyle of practical and tangible sacrifice.
Look at 1 John 3.17-18 –
If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.True love is always characterized by sacrificial action.
So, practically speaking, what exactly does this mean for me? What am I supposed to be doing? (It’s easy to come up with what you think it should mean for others - but what does it mean for me?)
Regardless of your understanding of how military might should be used in the world -- you can’t help but appreciate the sacrifices of the soldiers and sailors on behalf of others. Yes, it happens when they risk their lives in battle -- but also in extended periods of time away from family -- loss of personal freedom required to maintain the discipline of the unit. There is a lot of sacrifice on behalf of others in the modern military.
Sometimes when we think of sacrifice we think of the people who rush into burning cars to save people. I came across a wreck where there were two cars fully engulfed – the people got out okay and they were all sitting in shock on the side of the road.
The fire was in the center divider on the freeway – and the traffic was flowing on the shoulder – and as I drove by with my window closed I could feel this horrible radiating heat. And I asked myself – if those people were still in the car would I be willing to run into that heat to get them out?
Occasionally people are. And the sacrificial love of those heroes make headlines – and rightfully so!
But, you know, the sacrifices that most of us are called to do in Christ's name are not going to be headline making. They're not going to be dramatic. They're not even going to be recognized by most people. To the contrary! They will be routine, often trying, occasionally boring, and relatively uneventful.
And that's alright. We're not trying impress anyone or get anyone's attention. We're just trying to grow the kingdom of God in the place where God has planted us. We're just trying to manifest love in sacrificial action.
It doesn't really matter if anyone else notices because with each and every action the kingdom of God is brought closer to fulfillment.
Now, let me back up for a second and say that we're not opposed to people noticing our sacrificial love...not at all. We're pleased when people are drawn to the Lord because they see how we care for each other.
Jesus said in John 13.35 – “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples."
What I am saying is that we're not putting on a show which needs an audience. We've already got an audience.
So practically speaking what does it mean to lay down our lives one for another?
If you were on camera -- man on the street interview -- what would you say? I want to hear from you. What do you all think laying down life for one another means?
Let me summarize and suggest four ways by pointing to four different body parts.
The first is the ears.
We are laying down our lives when we take the time and energy to lend an ear. You see, being a good listener isn't natural for most of us. We'd rather hear ourselves talk -- at least I would.
But listening to each other is one of the most important things we need. We all at times just need someone to talk with.
Dean was one of my pastoral colleagues in Texas -- still a good friend -- and currently pastor of a church in northern California. And there was a woman in his congregation in Texas who had a very troubled life and was dealing with a multiple personality disorder. And she just needed to talk all the time.
And she'd call Dean on the phone four or five times a day -- often in the middle of the night. I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't have been able to handle that.
Dean didn't know what to do so -- he'd listen and pray with her. This went on for a couple of years -- not a healthy situation according to therapists. But Dean wasn’t doing therapy -- and he didn’t know what else to do.
He just listened to this troubled woman and prayed for her each time. And all of us pastors listened to Dean and prayed for him as he couldn't get a solid night's sleep.
Miracle of miracles though -- through all of this listening, this woman was healed. And it got to the point where she no longer called Dean because she was so busy listening to other people talk about their troubles. And people would call her in the middle of the night.
She’d just listen and pray with them. And many have come to know the Lord through her.
A second way that we lay down our lives is with our mouths.
There are times when saying something hard to someone is the loving thing to do – challenging them to get honest in their lives – and I'll tell you, confrontation is not easy for most of us. I really dislike confrontation. I'd rather take my chances with a den of lions than have to confront someone -- even gently -- with a problem in his or her life! But it's one of the most loving things you can do – to confront someone with the truth.
Likewise, and I personally find this a bit easier – but it is risky because people are prone to misinterpret your intentions. There are times when we have to risk our reputations and our positions and our comfort levels to speak up on behalf of a brother or sister.
But we do so because we love them and we want them to be treated fairly. It may be someone in your class at school who everyone is mean to and you're the one who steps forward to say that you think he's a nice guy.
It may be a single mother in the neighborhood who is treading water to stay alive and then she's having to struggle with her insurance company over a claim they don't want to pay -- and she doesn't have the energy to pursue it.
And I've seen this happen on several occasions, where some of the men from a church will step in and sacrifice several hours and blood pressure pills to speak up and press her case for her. That is a sacrificial manifestation of true love.
A third way that we lay down our lives is with our hands... extended hands, giving hands.
Last Christmas you all donated enough money so that 20 families from the church in Congo could start family farms. You didn’t earn the Time magazine church of the year award but there are people who are eating today who had nothing at this time last year.
This is a picture of Oh Kyung Soo. Our family sponsored him in South Korea through World Vision in the 60s and 70s when that country was poor.
This is a picture of Bryan. He is the World Vision child that our family sponsors. He lives in an impoverished part of Chile and has cancer.
I know that there are people who are sponsoring 10, 20, or more children through Compassion International or World Vision.
Some of you are foster parents. That’s sacrifice.
You do these things -- not because anyone is making you -- but because you want to. You have this love in your hearts and you're taking 1 John 3:17-18 seriously.
If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion — how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.A fourth way that we lay down our lives is with our FEET.
When we go the extra mile -- the above and beyond the call of duty mile. In a couple of churches where Cheryl and I have been members we’ve been involved in refugee resettlement. That is really wonderful ministry. Generally you agree to help a family out for two or three months as they get settled into the community.
But it’s rarely that simple. People from our little church in Texas ended up providing work transportation for a Russian couple we worked with for nine months. No one made a big deal out it. No one moaned and groaned – just did it. It was ministry – acts of love.
This is what we're talking about when we say that true love is always characterized by sacrificial action.
For whom are you laying down your life these days -- this week?
Now, I know, some of you are looking at your lives and saying – “I don't have much of a life left to lay down.” You are upside down on your mortgage with little wiggle room in the cash flow department. Some of you have costly health issues. Our lives are not our own.
Of course, some of our problems are of our own making -- we’ve over-extended ourselves financially in order to have toys and entertainment. Perhaps we need to re-prioritize so that we’re not so strapped.
Some of it is just the result of the place and times in which we live -- down economy -- bad circumstances over which you have little or no control.
But remember, the first century believers in Asia Minor -- modern Turkey -- to whom John is writing were not exactly setting well either. Many, if not most of them, were slaves. They lived under a totalitarian regime with few personal freedoms. Taxes were high. Opportunities were limited. But to such people the apostle John says, true love is always characterized by sacrificial action.
I preached on this passage about 10 years ago and in preparation for this morning I went back to look at the notes for that sermon. And while the core of the message is pretty much the same -- TRUE LOVE IS ALWAYS CHARACTERIZED BY SACRIFICIAL ACTION -- one thing surprised me. The application here and in this time is really a bit different than there and back then.
Times and places change -- situations change. How we apply the message changes -- even though the message doesn’t change. The types of sacrifices you make today will be a little different than the types of sacrifices that you made 10 years ago.
And the types of sacrifices that you make will be a little different than those being made by the church in Congo or China or Haiti.
But, regardless of time and place, sacrificial love is the common characteristic of fellowship with God and each other. The types of sacrificial loving actions will change a bit from place to place and time to time. What was sacrificial 10 years ago may not be so today.
This means that we’ve got to be constantly asking ourselves what does sacrificial love look like here and now in this place and this time? And that’s what the apostle is challenging us -- YOU to do.
Is there an area where God is calling you to lay down your life this week?
“We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.”
Okay, it's QUIZ TIME!!! And you'll find the quiz on the message guide. Let's see how well you do.
The key point this morning is:
______ A. never surprise your wife with flowers
______ B. true love is always characterized by sacrificial action
______ C. true love doesn’t need sacrifices to prove its worth
______ D. true love sacrifices jewelry
2. We sacrifice because:
______ A. God’s love, which is sacrificial in nature, is in us
______ B. we need to prove to God that we really love him
______ C. we need to earn God’s love
______ D. the situation requires it
3. Children of God are entitled to
______ A. live extravagantly
______ B. live like a royal family
______ C. live like Jesus
______ D. live sacrificially
4. Which body part is NOT related to laying down our lives?
______ A. tonsils
______ B. mouth
______ C. ears
______ D. hands
______ E. feet