He was a bit odd. I noticed him in class the first week of graduate school. His glasses were so thick that it seemed to make his whole face blurry. His hair was light brown and oily and so was his skin. He was tall and thin and wore clothing from yesteryear. His choice of cologne was a poor one. His accent was heavily Eastern European, and hard for this Southern boy to understand. And he kept looking at me. From day to day I did not notice that he stared at anyone else, but I kept noticing that he just stared at me. It made me a bit uncomfortable. I had already decided at first glance that we were not going to hit it off because he was a bit odd. But he had already decided differently.
I had tried to avoid this individual, sitting as far from his cologne as I could, trying to sit where he could not stare at me. But one day it happened. As we were waiting outside of a class room for the time to go in, we ended up standing close to each other. I knew that he had walked up behind me because I smelled that cologne. I chose not to turn around, until he tapped me on the shoulder. I turned and looked up into his blurry eyed face. Then he said with a big smile and heavy accent, "I like you. Ve vill be great friends, no? I can tell." To which I replied, "Oh, that's nice." Saved by the bell, it rang and we went into class. I tried, unsuccessfully, to sit far away from this strange individual but he followed me.
The next day we met each other in the hallway once again. He introduced himself and told me where he was from. (I won't mention his name or country of origin because he may read this sermon on the internet and not appreciate my first impression of him.) After he introduced himself, he asked me for help. "I need you to help me." "How can I help you?" was my un-heartfelt reply. "I van't you to help me speak English more clearly. When I talk I want you to correct me when I need to be corrected." I had him now! Here's my perfect escape. I replied in my best Southern drawl, "Ah'm a pore choice to hep ya cuz I'm from a part of the cuntry where we are not known to speakin' rat (right)." My heart sank when he replied, "You vill do just fine! You vill be my best friend!"
He was right! We actually became great friends. We studied together. We prayed together. We played racquetball together. He was good. I learned a lot from him and he learned how to speak English with a proper Southern accent. And I wish today that he did not live on the other side of the globe because I miss his friendship.
Turn to with me to Luke 6. This text slaps me in the face more than once. Luke 6:32, 33 - "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Wow, right there. "Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that." Wow, Jesus, quit talking to me so forcefully.
Our love is often so conditional.
I became a little paranoid in college: I loved my car, a red Mustang. My red Mustang was an awesome vehicle. I soon learned that it became a burden. Some of my dates, I learned, liked my car and could have cared less about me. They liked being seen in the vehicle. I picked them out by using my dad's old pickup truck and picking them up for date occasionally. When I saw the look on their face, I knew, "Oh oh, that's not the one for me. She care more about the vehicle than about me. It's a conditional love." I picked up one date in my Mustang. The first time she had ever seen the car and she got in and didn't make mention of it. When she learned what kind of car it was, she could care less. I was impressed. I married her. I keep trying to convince her that it's time for a new Mustang, but...
We must be raised in such a way that causes us to have conditional love. I know we don't do it intentionally with our children, but we would never tell our children that we would love them more if they behaved a certain way, but maybe our actions imply that to them. Our children should know that our love for them is not based upon whether or not they have their eyebrows pierced and their hair spiked and painted blue. They need to know that our love for them will never waver because they are ours! Yes, the standards of our homes should be exceedingly high, but the standard of our love should be even higher. The concept of love and the concept of approval should never be confused in a young person's mind, or an old person's for that matter. God loves us unconditionally but does not approve of our actions un-conditionally.
We may even catch ourselves witnessing with this flawed concept of love. We feel assigned to go out and change the world. Oops. Why do we want to change the world? We want to change people so that we can love them better, so that God can love them better. But this is not the Gospel, this is not the good news, that we are to be spreading! The Gospel is that God loves us unconditionally where we are, that Jesus died for us while we were still sinful because His love is not based upon perfection. Let's look at Romans 5 and starting with verse 1. Mr. Lacey was so correct; there's so much in here that we could read. But we'll look at this quickly. Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom we have gained access by faith into His grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, Whom He has given us.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrated His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
That's the good news! That's the gospel that the world needs to hear. We are not given the task of changing people. We are given the task of loving them and teaching them. The job of changing hearts belongs to the Holy Spirit.
Jesus' message on this earth was not "Change so the Father can love you!" People did not follow Jesus, hoping that He would love them. They followed Jesus because He loved them! Their hearts were changed because He loved them unconditionally. Jesus told them, "If you love Me, keep my commandments." He did not say, "Keep My commandments so that I will love you." Notice, the only condition that we see here is "love." Not His love for us, but our love for Him. Only, on the condition that we love Him, should we do as He asks. Otherwise, obedience is only a meaningless act of penance. Obedience without love is not obedience, it is an insult to God and a miserable life for us. It is an insult to God because we are trying to purchase Heaven with filthy rags when He gave His Son to pay the price with His own blood. It is miserable for us because there is no joy in obedience without love and it only gives us a false and uncertain hope of reward.
Look at it this way. If you change a certain behavior because your spouse has nagged you about it for three years, is it done with joy? No, the change is made with resentment and the behavior will return at a sour point in the relationship. BUT, if you change a certain behavior because you love your spouse and you know that it would make that person happy, then the feeling is totally different. It becomes a joy to make the person that you love happy! The change is also more likely to be permanent.
If a child washes the dishes because the parent has forced them to, it is done with grumbling. But if the child sneaks into the kitchen and washes the dishes when it is not their turn to surprise mother, it is done with joy and excitement!
Both of these illustrations fit. We are preparing to be the "Bride" of Christ, and we are already "Children" of our Heavenly Father. God wishes us to keep His commandments only out of love for Him. He wants us to experience the joy and excitement of changing and living for Him.
I used to work for my dad in his piano shop. I enjoyed working there. I enjoyed rebuilding pianos, using my hands and learning all kinds of things. But my work was not perfect. I know that I will never know how much time my father spent, after hours, fixing what I had thought to be perfect. I would go back to work the next day and observe that the project was better than the way that I had left it. It made me desire to do it better next time.
Our Heavenly Father loves for us to serve Him. He loves the opportunity to cover up when we mess up. Our love for Him should build the desire in us to be more like Him.
The perfect love of God is impossible for imperfect people to comprehend. God sent Jesus to give us an example of that perfect love. He also gave us a daily reminder of His love, named, MOTHERS. Look at Isaiah 49:13
You know, my first memories of my mother, I don't know how old I was, but I remember, it's all a little blurry, but I remember I was standing, looking over the rail of my crib. The room was dark, but there was a light in the hall. I remember my mom in the rocking chair, humming. That was my first memory of mom. Happy Mother's Day.
Isaiah 49:13 has an interesting comparison with God and mothers. Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains! For the Lord comforts His people and will have compassion on His afflicted ones.
Look at these characteristics of love: "comfort," and "compassion." These two aspects of love are most often associated with motherhood. A father's love is more often seen as "strong" and "protective." God's love is a perfect combination of the best of both worlds. But when Isaiah wrote these words, Israel was in need of comfort because they had run away from home and had encountered the dragon. They were in need of compassion because they had been wayward and they knew it. The dictionary says of compassion: "a feeling of pity that makes one want to help or show mercy." The Hebrew word for compassion is even more insightful. It is seldom used when describing a man. In fact, the Hebrew word comes from the root for "womb." So Isaiah is describing God using words which more often describe a mother. This makes the following verses even more meaningful.
Isaiah 49:14, 15 (first part) Zion said, "The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me."
Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? The implied answer to the question is, "No. That sounds almost impossible. A mother should be the last one to ever forget the child that she has borne. Not only can she never do enough in her mind for her children, you can't either!
A mother and her eight-year-old son were staying at a fashionable resort and every day the youngster couldn't wait to go swimming in the lake while his mother, who did not know how to swim, watched from the shore. One day she looked out and saw that her son had passed the ropes and he looked like he was in trouble. She screamed and said to a lifeguard, "My son! He's too far out! He's in trouble!" The lifeguard looked out and called to the boy, "You're out too far; come on in." But the boy didn't seem to hear. Then his head couldn't be seen, and the lifeguard dove in. He had to go down several times before he found the boy. The boy seemed lifeless when they came to shore, and the lifeguard began using every method he could to revive this boy. He finally gave up, and the mother said, "No. Don't stop." After a while, the child choked and spat up some water and opened his eyes and revived. The mother grabbed up her son and held on to him. The lifeguard waited a moment and then said gently to the boy, "I hope that'll teach you not to go out in the deep water." The mother looked up at the lifeguard who had saved the life of her son and said, "He also had a hat."
The point of the story is not the ingratitude of the mother but the fact that one can never do enough for your child. "Go out and find his hat."
I'd come home from work and Susan would have a little frustrated look on her face, "I didn't get everything done today that I wanted to get done." She was the mother of two small ones. She said, "I'm not a good mother." "Are the kids alive?" "Well, Yes." "You're a good mom. What else did you do?" Well, I fed them and I changed them and I bathed them and wiped their noses... And I was exhausted." Mothers can never feel like they have done enough. Even today, I'll go home and she'll say, "I didn't get everything done today." The day I go home and she says, "I'm done." That's the day I'm done. No matter how much you do for God's children, there is more to be done.
Mothers are that way. Mother's look at their children differently than anyone else. They are always looking for the best no matter what. During World War I, a song became rather popular. It was about a mother who was proud of her son who had joined the army. And Jimmy was marching in a parade, getting ready to go off to war. And she was so proud. But she noticed something; when everybody was going left right, left right, he was walking right left, right left. Oh, how proud she was of him. She said, "Were you there? Did you notice they were all out of step but Jim." A mother always seems to be looking for the best in her children. God always wants to see the best in us. He still loves us even when we are out of step.
Within the first week of my arrival at the church I had been given in Atlanta, I received a call from a woman I had never met, not a member of my church. It was a plea for help. "Pastor, will you go and visit my son? He is 26 years old and dying in a hospice." "Of course." I got the address from her and went to see him the next evening, a Tuesday evening. I was a little nervous when I parked on the street in an old residential section of down-town Atlanta. I didn't see anything that looked like I had pictured a hospice looking like. But the number on the address matched up with an old house that seemed quite dark. There was no sign indicating that this was anything but a residence so I knocked on the door. No one came, so I let myself in. At the end of the hall was a desk where a nurse was seated, so I figured that I was in the right place. She pointed to the dining room when I asked about Steven. There I saw the young man seated across a small table from his mother. I awkwardly introduced myself and sat down where they had just finished eating. Then I looked at Steven. He was about my height, very thin and had hideous blemishes all over his skin. When I spoke to him, he just stared at me. That makes for a very unsettling conversation. He never said a word. I couldn't tell whether he couldn't talk or what. And his mother just sat there watching. Finally, I turned to his mother and asked, "Why is he here?" "Oh! I didn't tell you? This is and AIDS Hospice!"
I didn't have any experience with this dreaded disease. But I had heard enough to terrify me! I suddenly did not want to be making this pastoral visit. I was scared. I thought back quickly about everything I had touched since entering the building. "Am I going to die now?" I was so ignorant. My heart was not in this pastoral visit. As I put on my best "I'm not shocked" face, I was sending up prayers for assistance. I had to ask God to take over the visit because I didn't have a clue how to proceed.
I did notice the love in this poor mother's eyes for her son. No reproach for the behavior that had led to this disease, only a desire for the best for her son. No, it wasn't a blood transfusion. Her compassion stirred something in me. I still didn't know what to say and I felt ashamed about how I felt. I had no profound spiritual wisdom come into my head. Only small talk and stares. I finally decided that I had been there as long as politeness warranted and asked to pray with them. More as an excuse to leave. As I began the prayer, it was in stereo, one channel concentrating on what I was saying, the other channel pleading with God to help woefully inept me find a way to make a difference. Then something strange began to happen. It scared me, even worse than before. I felt my hands moving across the table toward Steven. They reached over and grabbed both of his hands. My brain screamed out in fear, "What have you done? You didn't even check to see if he had any scratches or blood on his hands! Are you crazy?" But my hands stayed put by someone else's will.
When I said "amen" to a prayer I don't remember a word of, Steven was still staring at me but his mother was weeping. No one but her had touched her son without latex gloves for a long time. I was now able to release his hands, so I left. I visited Steven every other Tuesday after that. He only stared at me. And I didn't see his mother for a long time. One Tuesday, I went into his room and it was empty. I asked the nurse about him and she said, "I'm so sorry, Steven died two weeks ago today." I had been in his room the day he died and I didn't even know it.
I remember Steven's mother and her compassionate love for him. Yet God's love is even more forgiving and unconditional than a mothers. Look again at Isaiah 49:15.
Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you in the palms of my hands. I remember feeling shame at my reaction to grabbing Steven's hands, wondering if they had any blood on them, worried about my safety. But here are the hands of Jesus described on the cross with scars that he got from touching sinful me. He did not ask us for our promise to follow Him if He died for us. He died hoping that we would. Something so difficult to understand. This kind of love is so "out of step" with what I am used to. Yet, I can comprehend it a little better by watching a mother's love. Thank you mothers for helping me better to understand the love of my Heavenly Father.
Sources: Speaker's Lifetime Library by Leonard & Thelma Spinrad Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations by Paul Lee Tan All the Women of the Bible by Lockyer
Hymn of Praise: #240, Fairest Lord Jesus Scripture: Romans 5:6-8 Hymn of Response: #101, Children of the Heavenly Father
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last updated 5/12/2002 by Bob Beckett.