Some years ago someone asked, “If a man takes his girlfriend out to dinner, spends $35 on concert tickets afterward, and then takes her home in a taxicab, should he kiss her goodnight?” An old bachelor who obviously never understood much about romance said, “I don’t think she ought to expect it. Seems to me he’s done enough for her.”
A woman says, “I met my husband while I was working in a science library. He came in every week to read the latest journals and eventually decided to take out the librarian instead of the books.
After a year and a half of dating, he showed up at the library and started rummaging through my desk. I asked what he was looking for, but he didn’t answer. Finally he unearthed one of the rubber stamps I used to identify reference books. “Since I couldn’t find the right engagement ring,” he said, “this will have to do,” and he firmly stamped the top of my hand. In capital letters my hand now read: “NOT FOR CIRCULATION.”
But doesn’t that wash off?!
I want to talk to you this morning about your love life. Now I’m not referring to anything private. I’m referring to the very public act of how you’re doing on treating someone in a loving manner or whether you don’t. Ephesians 4:2 tells us to “be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” I like this because at least we hear we have to bear each other with love, which means we often have to carry someone else instead of dropping them or discarding them. Love is the strength or wisdom to give others a second or third or more chances.
Just so you know when the Christian author of Ephesians tells people back in his day to be completely humble and gentle, patient and bear with one another in love, it’s not like it was easier to say something so “sappy” and weak-kneed back then when compared to today.
This was the same time, the same society that would soon feed Christians to lions, tigers, bears, gladiators, the cross, fire, and something
called the Iron Bull, which is a metal container with an opening that you put a Christian or two in and then you light a big fire underneath it. I will let you imagine what that would have been like as the metal container slowly heated up to a red hot glow.
So if you think those Christians back then just don’t understand how tough it is to be a softy today and be respected and to be seen as a man or woman of God (I guess because God is the ultimate tough Guy in many people’s thinking), then you don’t have a clue. Telling people back then to be humble, patient, kind, and loving was completely outrageous. It was radical, and totally counter-cultural.
So be completely humble and gentle; be patient and bear those around you with love, kindness, forgiveness. In this way, you bring Christ’s kingdom alive and among us.
The thing is, many people have a very hard time deciding when this is supposed to be the right play, and when you just got to kick that kindness stuff to the side and “get real.” I wish we would err on the side of kicking the tough act to the curb and keeping scripture up front and center instead.
Elise and Lucas’ basketball team played yesterday. We played a very good team with two boys on the team who could really play. One of the boys’ dad is the coach. He is a rather intense coach–really into high performance playing, high critical coaching, especially of his son, who is the first or second best player in the league–and all about the W, the win. We were losing by quite a bit.
In the third quarter, this boy is driving to the basket, sticks his left arm out a little bit, makes contact with one of our players who knocks him down. He falls out of bounds and slides pretty far. I was right there but I had stopped watching him after I saw he had landed alright and had turned to see how my player had fallen, to see if he was alright. He was.
I turned back to look at the first player and he’s still on the ground, holding his head. I touch him on the shoulder and ask if he’s alright but he’s still in some pain. His coach/dad comes over about this time. As he closes in,
he tells his son to get up. But the boy doesn’t. The dad tells him again to get up as he takes him by his arm and starts to pull him up.
Then he tells his son, honest to Pete, “Your head just hit the floor.” His son points to the metal leg of the chair that shouldn’t have been there, and says he hit that. And then his dad tops it all off by telling him that he was the one who made contact first and this is what he gets.
It’s obvious this man, coach, dad has lost sight of the priority of love toward his boy. Basketball is somewhat important and winning is a fun thing, but priorities have to be made and kept. Make love the priority. Don’t trade it in for anything, and certainly not for something as cheap and meaningless as winning a game among seven-year-olds.
But you know love isn’t just for our families. Few of us can make a living off of simply being a good person. Most have to fight hard for what you get, work hard, and take some hard shots and even hand some out. Or so we believe. We mustn’t leave our love life at the door of our office, or store, or workplace. Bring it along with you and through the doorway.
You may have heard of a man named Tim Harris. He’s the 28-year-old with Down syndrome who founded Tim’s Place, “The World’s Friendliest Restaurant,” in Albuquerque, N.M., where he’s known for serving breakfast and lunch with an extra-big hug. Tim’s hugs have made headlines before. Last year, when Harris’ family realized his birthday fell on National Hug Day(Jan. 21), they knew they wanted to dish out more than just good meals and warm embraces. So, they hosted the first annual Hug-A-Thon, where Harris hugged more than 1,000 people and raised $6,000 in three days. The money went to Firefighters Random Acts, a nonprofit that enables firefighters to perform random acts of kindness in their community. This year, Harris set a new goal: 2,000 hugs and $10,000. In four days he beat that, according to the Tim’s Place Facebook page. He hugged more than 2,000 people and earned $13,000 in donations. “This is so amazing,” Harris says, choking back tears during this year’s Hug-A-Thon. “I’m very happy. I have somebody here to love. Everybody, I love every one of you!”
After listing nine fruits of the Spirit, fruits such as love, joy, peace, and generosity, Paul tells us, “There is no law against such things.” Gal 5:23b Tim Harris knew all about this deep down.
The thing is it’s very easy to forget it. It’s so easy to look at all of the Christian talk of love and see it in terms of the law. What I mean is that we want to know the particulars of when, where, who, how often, and the rest. It’s like we say, “Sure, I can do that love thing as long as I turn it into a law.” But that defeats the whole point of it. This is exactly how we box it in and of course don’t actually have to love, except when we’re finally forced to by someone being really nice to us first.
Let me put it this way: When we live like this, we lose the power and the big picture of the three greatest words ever written or spoken: God is love. You can’t have God is love if you’re clinging to God is law. You can’t have it both ways. This is what Paul kept telling everyone who would listen to him.
Paul says in Galatians 5:13, “For you were called to freedom….” We are called to the amazing and great freedom from law and into love. It’s freedom because there are no rules anymore that govern your behavior when you act from love.
Doesn’t sound all that great, does it? I mean seriously, you’re probably thinking, “Come on, Pastor, this isn’t practical. I need to know how much and for how long and toward whom. And also when I can just go on and just start being me again.”
I get it. I understand. It would be a lot better if I would just come up with some rules, some limits, instead of all of this open-ended, never going to stop the love train deal. But that’s the law working inside of us, begging for rules and regulations, exceptions and caveats. That’s law-thinking hard at work. And it’s stealing your freedom in Christ to reach deep and drink from the true well of relationship with God.
But I don’t blame you. It’s easy to drop love and pick up law. Happens all the time. It’s so easy to lose the freedom to love. Here’s the thing though: There is going to be a price to pay. Love is the ultimate power. Law isn’t. So
when we choose law over love, when we give up freedom, we will find it impossible to rise to the difficult occasion, overcome a tough situation, to do better than the other person who’s trying to bring it all down.
The price to be paid is it becomes a matter of who argues loudest or longest, who gets the better lawyer, or who pulls out the gun fastest. And in Florida you better be careful when you text in a movie theater or play music too loud in your car.
Keep your freedom. Opt for the better option. Be willing to choose love at any time of the day or night.
Marit and I ride our bikes in the morning sometimes. We head west and end up passing by a Middle School bus stop quite often when the students are outside waiting to be picked up. For three years now we have ridden by one boy who for the first two years would refuse to stand on the sidewalk with the rest of the kids. Instead he’d stand in the bike path, causing us to ride around him and get closer to the actual road. Fortunately there is very little traffic out there and the lane is wide.
Three years ago he was a sixth grader, and just a little guy with a surly look on his face. He grew a year older, looked a little older but kept standing in our way. This year, he’s an eighth grader. He dresses different, looks different, and acts different. He no longer stands in the bike lane.
I never said anything to him. It would have been so easy to tell him he’s doing the wrong thing and tell him I’m the boss. I could’ve laid down the law. I decided not to. We decided to love him rather than law him.
I gotta tell you Marit and I talked about him quite a bit. With that look on his face, we considered it quite possible he had been abused. It was easy to believe his home life was very unpleasant. If this were the case then confrontation was what he was used to. It was his vocabulary for relationships, quite likely. We decided to refuse to play into that. Loving him gave us the freedom to let him grow into doing the better thing. It took awhile but he did.
Free yourself to love. Don’t fall into the easy pattern of telling someone else what the rules are. Give love an opportunity to create something new and special.
The thing is we often expect more out of others than we ourselves can do. We look at folks and see the look on their faces, their abrupt words, their seriousness, take charge attitude, or whatever it might be, and forget that inside of them is someone who is just trying to make his or her way in this world while carrying a whole load of weights and baggage, pain and doubts, sin and foolishness, guilt and fears, shame and wrong choices. The walls go up; they probably went up a long time ago. The security devices are set on high. We avoid real exchanges.
There isn’t much space for love between walls thrown up high and built wide. But this is illusion, false living, counterfeit existence, and a loss of God. Let love break down walls before something else has to, before it’s too late, and you no longer have the chance.
Last Wednesday night I left my office and went to Boca Regional Hospital on my way home. It was after 9 when I got there. Neither of the patients was expecting me, mostly because of how late it was, but also because neither one is a member or even attends often. One, Brad Hawkins, comes occasionally to worship with his mom, Ruth. The other, Leo, hasn’t been here more than two times in the last four or five years I believe, though before that he came regularly. Leo’s wife, Lucille, is a C and E’er most years now. They’re Eleanor Magee’s next door neighbors.
I walked into Leo’s room in Cardiac Intensive Care. He’d been there for a week already. So many tubes were running from a variety of different machines into his body. Leo was still awake and he recognized me immediately. His eyes grew open wide and he started to move about in his bed. He couldn’t talk because of the tubes in his throat.
You might imagine what it’s like to be poor Leo. When you’re in that condition there is very little you can do; there is nothing you can say; you can only think and feel, pray and try not to be afraid. Leo was hungry for
someone to come to him, perhaps for me to be there with him, at nighttime, to comfort him and talk to him.
I came by his side, looked at him, and told him, “It’s ok, Leo. It’s going to be ok,” as I placed my left hand on his forehead and my right hand took hold of his right hand. He calmed down a little at my touch and handholding. I was so glad to be there with Leo–to be there for him. I felt a great love and care for this man whom I don’t often see.
The thing is that night I was able to see him in a way unlike I ever have before. This is the honor and privilege of being a pastor. It’s the possibility that comes when walls fall between us and our strength abates within us and our courage arises only as we reach out in love and hope, and someone answers, takes our hand and tells us it’s going to be alright.
It was also very nice to visit Brad, who has been in the hospital for almost a month, to lay my hand on his forehead and hold his hand while I prayed for him. It was a really special time.
It is such a blessing to show someone you care about them, especially when he or she least expects it. It blesses them for sure. But what a blessing it is for the one doing the caring and loving.
It’s so easy to misplace the power of love in your life, to lose our center in God who is love, to chase after things that seem so important at the time.
Answer instead the call to love. Devote yourself to a ministry of caring. Be known for softness rather than hardness, generosity of spirit not a stinginess of attitude.
Being tough is so easy; it’s much harder choosing to be soft. This is the only way you will find out how much love you have inside of you, and how much you love others. And how much it means to you that God is love.
Can anybody say Amen?