This morning, I want to begin a new sermon series with you, but it’s not the series I was planning to do. For weeks, and maybe even for months, I have been planning to start a series of lessons on the life of Jesus from the gospel of John. I’ve been planning out those lessons, thinking about some of the passages that I was going to cover, looking at some of the themes. And that was my plan for today….until about a week and a half ago.
I truly believe that God has a way of nudging us in the direction he wants us to go. Well, sometimes it’s a nudge. Sometimes it’s more of a shove, or a kick in the pants. But, usually it’s a nudge. About a week and a half ago, I was in the county library, picking out some books to read to a second grade class over at Manchester Elementary. Along with several of you, I go over on a regular basis to read to the students. And we have a choice; we can either read the books that the teacher has on hand or we can take our own, and I always prefer to pick out my own books.
So, just about every week, I will make a trip over to the library and go into the children’s section to pick out a few books. I’m not sure what the library workers must think because they always see me in the children’s book section, but I never have any children with me. They probably just assume that I have a low IQ and those are the only books I can handle.
But, last week, I picked out the books that I wanted to read to the kids and checked out at the counter. But, before I left, I decided to go over and take a look at the wall where they put the “new arrivals”, the adult books that have recently been added. I’m not sure why I paid any attention to that because that’s not something I normally do. In fact, I rarely check out physical books any more to read for myself. I’ll check out digital copies and read them on my Kindle, or I’ll check out an audiobook and listen to it, but I hardly ever check out physical books. And, even if I found one I liked, I probably wouldn’t even have time to read it.
So, I’m not even sure why I was looking at the books. Curiosity, I guess. What’s new? Who knows, maybe I’d find something interesting. But, as I looked down the shelves, nothing looked the least bit interesting. Until I came to a book titled “Everybody Always”. And it wasn’t so much the title that captured my attention as it was the sub-title, “Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People”. And I thought to myself, “That could be interesting.”
I turned to the back cover and read that this was a book designed to help people to “love people, even the difficult ones, without distinction and without limits.” Thus, the title, “Everybody, Always”. And I was intrigued by that.
The author of the book is Bob Goff. I hadn’t heard of Bob Goff before, even though he wrote another book, a best-seller called “Love Does”. But, the back cover said, among other things, that he was an adjunct professor at Pepperdine Law School, and that was enough for me to say, “I’d like to read this book.”
And so, I checked the book out, took it home and immediately started reading it. And as I began to read about love – about God’s love for us, about examples of people loving other people – I began to get this feeling that love is not nearly as much a part of my life as it ought to be. You see, it’s easy, especially for a preacher, to talk about love, to do word studies, to explore all the different characteristics of love that scripture talks about. But it’s a lot more difficult to actually put love into practice.
And it’s easy for us (at least it’s easy for me) to think that we love people when the truth of the matter is all we’re actually doing is thinking about loving people. But love, if it is true love, always does something. Our key verse for this series of lessons is going to be I John 3:18, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” Or, as the New Living Translation translates it, “Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.”
And so, I decided that I would change what I’m going to preach on for the next few months. I’m sure I will eventually get around to preaching those lessons on the life of Jesus from the gospel of John, but for now, I need to be challenged. I need to be challenged to do more than just talk about love; I need to do a better job of putting my love into action. And so, I hope you’ll all take this journey together with me.
In addition to the sermons over the next few months, Sueanne and I would like to invite you into our home every Sunday evening from 6-7 p.m. to discuss this material together as a group, to share stories with one another about how we’ve seen love demonstrated, to help motivate each other to live out our love. At each of these sessions, we’ll also watch a short video of Bob Goff telling one of his stories. And I’ve got to tell you that Bob is not only profound in what he has to say, he is hilarious in the way he presents it. In fact, let me give you just a clip of Bob talking about his book “Love Does”.
I love that quote — “Love doesn’t just think about it. Love doesn’t just plan it. Love does it.” And so, let’s begin our journey.
One of the first questions that I asked myself in preparing this lesson was this – is it possible that 10 lessons on love is a bit too much? But, the more I’ve thought about, the more I’ve come to believe that it actually may not be enough, because of how important love is.
I want to do an experiment with you in just a moment. I would imagine that one of the things that you have to learn when you’re in the military is how to find your way if you get lost. And so, one of the first things you want to do is to figure out which direction is north. Now, if you have a compass, that’s not too difficult. But most of us don’t carry around a compass all the time.
What I’d like for you all to do is, at the count of 3, everyone here point to the direction you think is north. No fair looking at your neighbor. Chances are, that’s not going to help you anyway. I just want everyone to point to the general direction that you think is north.
Everyone ready? 1, 2, 3, point!
Let’s just hope that we don’t all get lost anywhere! The correct answer is, north is somewhere in this direction.
Now, as I said, you would have an easier time figuring that out if you had a compass, but that still may not be enough to get you exactly where you want to go. Because there is a difference between magnetic north and true north. True north is going to point you to the North Pole.
But a compass doesn’t point you to the North Pole. It points you to a spot near the North Pole. Now, the difference between those two is relatively small. If you were crossing the parking lot using magnetic north as your guide, you would get where you need to go. But, if you were crossing the country using magnetic north as your guide, you would end up miles off track of where you intended to be.
I share that illustration with you because it’s so very important for us as Christians to know what true north is if we are going to live our lives in the right direction. There are some people who have absolutely no idea whatsoever which way north is and just like you all pointed in different directions, people head their lives in all sorts of directions. Some people head toward materialism, others use pleasure or popularity as their guide. But, without knowing which direction north is, they all end up in the wrong place, and they miss out on the whole purpose of their lives.
There are other people who just about have it all figured out. It’s like they’re using a compass. They’re heading their lives based on magnetic north, which will usually put them pretty close to where they need to be. And I think a lot of religious people fall into this category. In fact, I think a lot of my life has been spent reading the Bible and following the compass, and getting it close, but not quite on target.
Because what we want to find is true north. What we want to find is that one thing by which we can guide our lives and know that we are on track. And I believe that Scripture is clear that that one thing is love. Let me share with you a few passages that bring me to that conclusion:
In Matthew 22:36, someone asked Jesus the question, “Which is the great commandment in the Law?” And I’m sure you remember what Jesus’s response was. He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
Sometimes you’ll hear people say that all of God’s commandments are equally important. But that’s not true. Jesus said the one commandment that is more important than any of the rest is to love. He said that love is at the very center of all of God’s commandments.
Paul said the same thing in Romans 13:8-10, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
In Colossians 3, Paul lists some wonderful attributes that we need to have in our lives — compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness – but then he says in verse 14, “And above all these [things] put on love…”
And it’s not just the apostle Paul who talked about how important love is. The apostle John did as well.
In John 13:34-35, he records these words of Jesus, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
And in I John 4:8, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
In fact, John mentions love 39 times in his gospel, and 26 times in his short letter of I John. When he was a young man, John was known for being one of the “Sons of Thunder”. But, later on in life, he came to be known as “the apostle of love”.
I love the tradition that has been passed down for hundreds of years about the apostle John. As the story goes, John lived in the city of Ephesus until he was a very old man. As he got older, he had trouble walking to church, so his disciples would carry him. John was so weak that he could hardly talk.
But every time John met with other Christians he would always be given the opportunity to speak, and he would always say the same thing — “Little children, love one another.” After a while, all of the members of that congregation started to get annoyed because they always heard the same words. “Little children, love one another.” “Little children, love one another.”
And they finally asked John, “Teacher, why do you always say this?” And his reply was, “Because it is the Lord’s commandment and if it alone is kept, it is sufficient.”
I think the apostle John understood that the command to love is true north. It is the one thing that should guide everything we say and everything we do. So, I would be inclined to say that ten weeks of talking about love isn’t too much and, in fact, it may not be enough.
So, every week for the next several months, I want to talk about different aspects of love. And, this morning, the key thought that I want to leave with you is this – “In order to love people, we need to be with them.”
Now, that’s a pretty basic idea and it may seem pretty obvious to all of you, but I think this is one of the things about love that I have the hardest time accepting. Because I’m an introvert. I like being alone. I like having the peace and quiet of not being around people. And, over the years, I have fooled myself into believing that I can love people without being around them. But, it’s just not true. “In order to love people, we need to be with them.”
Bob Goff tells a story about when he was a junior in high school. He decided to drop out of school, move to Yosemite and spend the rest of his life climbing mountains. He had a down vest, two red bandanas, a pair of rock climbing shoes, $75, and a Volkswagen Bug. What more could he need? He’d find some work in the valley and spend his off-time climbing mountains.
There was a friend of his by the name of Randy. Randy was a youth leader in a group called Young Life that met at the high school. I think it’s probably something similar to the Youth For Christ group that Clair is working with at Spring Lake Middle.
So, Bob was headed out of town to Yosemite, but first he swung by Randy’s house just to say goodbye and to thank him for being a good friend. Randy asked him, “You leaving soon?” Bob said, “Yeah, right now.” Randy said, “Hang on a minute.” He disappeared and when he came back, he had a backpack and a sleeping bag, and he said, “Bob, I’m with you.”
And he was. He hopped in the car. He didn’t go to lecture Bob on how stupid he was for making this decision. He didn’t try to talk Bob into staying home and getting his high school diploma. He didn’t tell him that he’d never be able to get a job that would support him adequately. All he did was to go with him. “Bob, I’m with you.”
So, they went to Yosemite and camped. Bob started looking for a job. But after a few weeks of not being able to find anyone who would hire him, he finally realized that he had no choice but to go home. But, all Randy would say is, “Either way, Bob, I’m with you.” So, they headed home. I won’t tell you the surprise ending to this story. I’ll let Bob tell you himself when you come to our house this evening at 6:00.
But I love this story because I think it demonstrates so well what it means to have a loving relationship with someone. And, as amazing as it was that Randy would drop everything and go with Bob on the spur of the moment, there was someone who did something even more amazing for us. Because when God wanted to show us just how much he loves us, he came to be with us.
We see in the book of Genesis where God created Adam and Eve, and it certainly would have been wonderful enough for them to have the Garden of Eden to fully enjoy. But God did more than that. He walked with them in the cool of the day. God was with them, loving them the way a father loves his children.
But then, of course, they disobeyed and they found themselves separated from God. But God still wanted to be with us, so he went looking for us, found us, and gave us a way to be close to him through law and sacrifice.
People would try to obey the law, but they always failed. So, they would give up their very best animal for a priest to sacrifice, which would cover their sins so they could get close to God through a priest.
But still, God wanted to be even closer with us, so he sent his only Son, Jesus, the ultimate priest and once-and-for-all sacrifice. And Jesus came to this earth to be with us. In fact, one of the names that Jesus is called in Scripture is Immanuel, “God with us.”
In Matthew 1:23, Matthew quotes from the prophet Isaiah and he says, “‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).”
I’ll be honest. I think if I were God, I would have wanted to stay up in heaven and figure out some way to love people from a distance. But that’s not love. Love wants to be with the one that is loved. And that’s what Jesus demonstrated.
He didn’t just come and live in a cave in the desert to separate himself from all the riffraff. He was constantly with people. He was with the apostles. He was with the tax collectors and sinners. He was with Mary, Martha and Lazarus. He was with Zacchaeus. He was with the Samaritan woman. Over and over, he spent time with people because that’s how you show love.
And even, when it was time to go back to his Father, he said to disciples, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20).
And then, we have this beautiful description of heaven in Revelation 21, but the most beautiful part has to be verse 3 — “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” That’s what God has wanted from the very beginning, to be with us.
Sometimes, I will hear fathers or mothers say, “I really love my kids”, but they never spend any time with them. And I know that they don’t really love them because “in order to love people, we need to be with them.”
Or I’ll hear Christians say, “I love my brothers and sisters in the church, but I don’t really want to be around anybody.” That’s not love, because “in order to love people, we need to be with them.”
Or I’ll hear Christians say, “I love all the people in this community”, but they never make any effort to be around anybody. That’s not love, because “in order to love people, we need to be with them.”
Let me share with you another good piece of advice that I received somewhere along the way. I’m not sure where I first heard this, but it has stuck with me. “Whenever you go to visit someone in the hospital, or visit a family who has lost a loved one, you need to realize that they will soon forget what you say to them, but they will long remember that you were there.”
I think there’s a powerful truth there, and it’s one that we constantly need to be reminded of. Because what I often hear people say when they have a friend going through a tough time is, “I don’t want what to say. I don’t want to say the wrong thing.” But the truth, it really doesn’t matter too much what you say. Because they will soon forget what you said to them, but they will long remember that you were there.
I can give you an example from my own personal experience. Several years ago, my father passed away in Hendersonville, five hours away. I went out to be with my family and, a few days later, we had the funeral service. And, to my surprise, at the church building, a car pulled up, and Joey and Clair got out, along with Judy Liby. I can’t tell you anything that they said to me while they were there, but I can tell you this – they were with me. “In order to love people, we need to be with them.”
I want to challenge you to really think about the people in your life that you’re trying to love and ask yourself the question, “How much time do I spend with them?” Think about members of your family, think about your brothers and sisters in the church, but, most of all, think about the people in this community. Do the people of Spring Lake know that you are with them?
I hope that you’ll all join us tonight at our house at 6:00. We’ll spend about an hour together, listening to Bob Goff tell the end of his story about Randy, we’ll talk about some people who have made a difference in our lives because they were willing to be with us, but, most of all, we’ll talk about ways that we can do a better job of expressing our love over the next week. Because, “Love doesn’t just think about it. Love doesn’t just plan it. Love does it.” We’ll finish by 7:00, but if you want to hang around after that and talk or play some games together, you’re welcome to do that, because we want to be with you.