Are you looking for love in all the wrong places? What does God's agape love for us look like? What obstacles do we put in our way from receiving His love?
Hello. Before we dive in, I would love to do a quick introduction and a shameless plug. My name is Vincent and I, part of the Teaching Team here at Cornerstone SF, as well as the Production Director. Now, one of the main responsibilities that that entails and the part of my job that I enjoy the most is coming up with the creative productions we do each year for Easter and Christmas.
This year, our special Christmas Presentation will be all online, but it’s going to be 25 days long. We’ve created a Virtual Advent Calendar and starting this Wednesday, December 1st, all the way up to Christmas day on December 25th, we will have something special for you. Every day at 10:00 AM the digital door that corresponds to that day’s date will open and present you with a digital gift.
There’ll be music videos, some old ones that we’ll repurpose and some brand new short films and dramas, downloadable content, prayer devotionals, as well as invitations to in-person opportunities throughout the season. Now all of these are to help you stay connected and engaged throughout the Christmas season and to help facilitate you experiencing both the joy and the fun of Christmas, but also the hope and the true meaning behind the birth of our savior
Jesus. And you can find all this information on our website as well as on all of our social media platforms. So make sure you check those out daily to not miss out on anything. Okay, so now that we’ve got the business side of the way, I’d love to pray for us. And then move ahead with the teaching that I’ve prepared.
Father, I invite you into this time to open up our hearts to receive your love and the specific word that you have for us today. Jesus’ name, we invite you. Amen.
The title of my message today is For The Love Of God. I picked this title because no matter where we are in our life stage or our spirit to journey, we all have this to be thankful for the love of God. Even if you haven’t fully accepted yet, or you don’t even believe that God loves you. Even if your life is falling apart and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better,
anytime soon, I have been there too. We will always have, we have right now the love of our God. And that alone is something to give thanks for. So what does God’s love for us look like? Let’s look at a passage from 1 John chapter four verses seven to eleven. Dear friends. Let us love one another for love comes from God.
Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed His love among us. He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love. Not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son as an atoning sacrifice for our sons.
Dear friends since God so loved us. We also ought to love one another. There are so many things to impact here. Love comes from God. Not only that, but God is love. And we know that He loves us because He has sent His Son to die. This is the core tenant of our faith and what sets the Christian life apart from all other religions and ways of life.
Our identity is defined by God’s love for us. It’s less about our love for Him though. That is of course important, but we can only love because He loved us first and out of this love. He gives us flows our love to Him. Now in the short passage, the word love is mentioned 11 times, but what kind of love is the apostle John writing about, the kind of love we have for chocolate and naps?
The kind of love we have for our kids or family, or is it a different kind of love entirely? Let’s explore to find out. Scholars typically agree that in the New Testament, there are four Greek words used for our one English word of love. I don’t know Greek at all. So excuse my pronunciation. But there is storge, which is a familial love and is similar to what we would call affection.
There is philia or phileo, which is a brotherly or sisterly love that we have for someone, a close friendship. There is also eros, which is probably the one we think about the most. When we think about love, it is romantic love or erotic love a passionate bond. All three of these are good reflections of love, but none of them are complete.
None of them desire the objects good, simply for the objects sake itself. Yet each in its own way, imitates love, which brings us to the fourth love. And this is the one we attribute to God. It is agape love Agape love is unconditional. It seeks the good of the object desired only for its good, wanting nothing in return for itself.
Now an interesting fact about agape is that when the apostles were writing the New Testament in Greek, they didn’t look up the word in historical dictionary. There was actually a new word that they formed and its meaning was derived by looking at Jesus’s life and teachings throughout the whole New Testament.
There is a parable that Jesus told that illustrates this agape love. It’s probably one of the most famous parables and most popular. It is the story of the Prodigal Son. We find this in the book of Luke chapter 15, verses 11 to 24. And here’s what it says. Jesus continued, there was a man who had two sons, the younger one said to his father, father, give me my share of the estate.
So here, the father divided his property between them. Not long after that, the youngest son got together. All, he had set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.
He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. When he came to his senses, he said, how many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare? And here I am starving to death. I will sit out and go back to my father and say to him, father, I have sinned against heaven and against you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son, make me like one of your hired servants.
So he got up and went to his father and then this beautiful line. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him. He ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, father, I have sinned against heaven and against you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son.
But the father said to his servants quick, bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet, bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate for this son of mine was dead and is alive again. He was lost and is found. So they began to celebrate.
The story continues. And there’s an interaction between the father and the older brother who is resentful of the reunion. And there is a whole sermon that can be derived from that interaction alone. But for the purposes of today, I’m going to ignore the older brother and focus only on the younger brother and his return home.
And so what can we glean from this parable? We’ve explored the kinds of love mentioned in the New Testament and we’ve explored what Gods agape love looks like in a parable, but we need to push further and adopt this knowledge into our hearts. We have to move from a head knowledge to an experiential heart knowledge.
There’s a difference between knowing something and knowing something. In the Old Testament, the word yada is used to describe this kind of knowing this kind of absorbing it into our being and living from that.
I’ve lived my whole life hearing about how much God loves me, but still I have a hard time fully accepting it and living from that truth. It doesn’t always settle in my heart the way that it should, the way that it settles in my head. And that was, as I was preparing this message, I considered a lot of the obstacles that I put in the way of receiving God’s love.
And I don’t think I’m alone here. What prevents you from receiving God’s love? What obstacles are thrown in your path or what obstacles do you put upon yourself?
Maybe up until now, our idea of God has been walked by experiences we’ve had with our own parents or other people in our lives. Or perhaps you’ve been taught about a one-sided God who lives in a permanent state of wrathful vengeance. God is multifaceted and multidimensional. We could never do justice to describing the entirety and complexity of His character ever.
But what did John say in the passage we opened with today? God is love. And what does the parable, the prodigal son show us that God is a God of love waiting eagerly to embrace His lost children. Henry Nouwen wrote a beautiful book about the prodigal son in which he explores parable, as well as Rembrandt’s famous painting of the homecoming. In the book, he says this.
If I am able to look at the world with the eyes of God’s love and discover that God’s vision is not that of a stereotypical landowner or patriarch, but rather that of an all giving and forgiving father who does not measure out his love to his children, according to how well they behave. Then I quickly see that my only true response can be deep gratitude.
Let’s take a quick detour off of our focus on the father and look at the youngest son who returned home. What I want to point out here is that the son, when looking for love in all the wrong places, he was in his father’s house under his agape, but it was not enough for him. Is this you? I know it’s me. Too many times than I can count or would
like to admit. I have been trying to find agape love in eros or phileo or storge love, but there is nothing that can satisfy us. Not even any of the other kinds of loves. Our spouses can’t do it. Our family can’t do it. Our kids, our friends, our jobs, our pets. In the Epistle that John wrote, he mentions that God is love.
But it’s important to note that the converse of this is not true. Love is not God. And I think sometimes we make love our God, especially in our modern society. Are we looking for love in all the wrong places? Maybe it’s time to return home.
There’s a scene in one of my favorite movies, the “Perks of Being a Wallflower” in which the main character asks his English teacher, why nice people choose the wrong people to date or to love. And the teacher responds by saying, we accept the love we think we deserve. That line always stayed with me because how true it is.
I think this is true as well for how we approach God. At least I know it is for me. The prodigal son in the parable finally comes to his senses and decides to return home, but he does not think he’s worthy of his father’s love anymore. The best he can hope for he thinks is to be hired as a servant.
Sometimes I stumbled so much. I keep returning to my sin over and over again that I think I don’t deserve God’s love any longer. Is the same true for you? I know in theory that His love is unconditional and eternal. But surely He has grown tired of my stubborn ways. Surely He expects more from me before I returned this time.
No, going back to the movies as I’m wont to do. And one of the climactic songs of the musical, dear Evan Hansen, the main character Evans life catch up to him and everything comes crashing down and he sings these lines, which break my heart every time I hear them. I’d rather pretend I’m something better than these broken parts pretend I’m something other than this mess that I am, because then I don’t have to look at it and no one gets to look at it.
No, no one can really see. Cause what if everyone saw, what if everyone knew would they like what they saw? Would they hate it too? Will I just keep running away from what’s true? These words have rung true in my life. So many times, both in how I approach the people around me and God. And I wonder if the prodigal son thought the same as he stayed into the slop that the pigs eat, seeing his marred grimy reflection.
How long will it keep running away from the truth of his situation that he is now found himself in? How long will he keep running away from the truth of his father’s love waiting to embrace him back home. How long will this subtle form of pride, this idea that we are unsavable, unlovable, unreachable by God’s all powerful grace and consuming love,
continue to keep him away? Continue to keep us away. I think the devil sometimes tries to trick us into thinking that shame is a virtue that are low self-esteem, especially in light of the holiness of God makes us unworthy. Now of course, God is holy and we are unworthy, but that’s precisely the whole point.
That’s what mercy is. We get to have a love that we don’t deserve. He loves us still. He always did. He always will. As Henry Nouwen put it for a very long time. I considered low self-esteem to be some kind of virtue, but now I realized that the real sin is to deny God’s first love for me to ignore my original goodness.
Let’s not hold back from receiving God’s mercy for love for us, because we don’t think we deserve it. Of course we don’t. That’s the beauty of it. He is waiting arms wide open to receive me. He loved me before I loved Him. Jesus died on the cross while we were sinners. His love never changes. Of course, there is something to be said of repentance and not treating God’s grace cheaply, but that’s a whole other discussion and is not my focus for today.
Tied directly to this idea of God’s enormous mercy is that there is nothing we can do to earn His love. How many of us fall into this trap? Yes. Faith without good works is dead. And yes, we must live according to the spirit because we have been made new creations, no longer slaves to sin, but all of these actions stem out of God’s love for us and are never a prerequisite for His love.
The father in the parable ran out to meet his son, threw his arms around him and prepared to celebrate. He didn’t recount a list of all the things they had done wrong or hand them a Google spreadsheet of things he needed to fix or repaid before the celebration before we took her back. No, he was welcomed back in, in that moment just as he was.
In fact, the father was waiting for him. This love of God is a gift to us. There is nothing we can do to earn more favors or to rack up more debt in God’s balance book, because it has already been paid in full and all bonuses paid out past, present and future by Jesus atoning sacrifice on the cross. So let’s stop working so hard to be loved.
For those of you who don’t know my story. I am a single dad to my now six-year-old son Hosea. My late wife, Aletha was part of this community here at Cornerstone and on staff actually. But she passed away shortly after our son was born. We weren’t married long, about 13 months, but you learn a lot in marriage about the nature of God’s love.
And I will say you learn a lot about God’s love as well through the death of a loved one. Now when someone dies, you often hear a person regretting and saying that they wished they had loved their deceased spouse more or express the love more of the person who passed away. But I’ve come to realize that over the years, since Aletha left, that that isn’t really my regret, my greatest regret is that I wish I had allowed myself to be loved by her more.
She saw the man I was, and the man that Christ was forming me into. And she loved me for both of those. She loved a version of myself, I couldn’t even see yet gently ushering me to become that, but too often, I got stuck on my own insecurities and anxieties and self-doubt, and didn’t rest in that love. How much more wonderful could have been if I’d learned to trust and rest in her love for me, I suspect it might be the same for many of us when it comes to God.
We don’t know how to rest in His love. We try to measure up even unintentionally. We try to bring our best sales. We try to, we worry too much about our shortcomings. We think we’re less than instead of just trusting and resting in the unrelenting, uncompromising, unquenchable love that He has for us.
One final thing I’d like to point out from this parable is that the passage opens that we shared by saying, Jesus continued. Now, what was he continuing? If we look back before this parable of the prodigal son, he actually shared two other shorter parables of lost things. The first was a shepherd who had a hundred sheep, but one got lost.
What did the shepherd do? He left the 99 and went to find the one lost sheep and celebrated when he found it. The second parable is that of a lost coin. A woman had 10 silver coins, but lost one. She lights a lamp and searches high and low throughout her whole house until she finds the missing one and celebrates when it’s found.
And then we have the parable, the prodigal son. Now in all three of these parables, God does the searching. We just have to be found. Henry Nouwen puts it beautifully. For most of my life, I have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God. I’ve tried hard to follow the guidelines of the spiritual life. Pray, always work for others, read the scriptures and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate myself.
I have failed many times, but always tried again, even when I was close to despair. Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time, God has been trying to find me to know me and to love me. The question is not how am I to find God, but how am I to let myself be found by Him? The question is not, how am I to know God, but how am I to let myself be known by God.
And finally, the question is not, how am I to love God, but how am I to let myself be loved by God? God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me a longing to bring me home. Maybe we haven’t had a good example of love in our lives. Ever. Maybe we’ve been hurt or burned too many times before by people.
Maybe it’s the church who led us down. Maybe we’ve been following God for a long time, but still we feel far from His love. Maybe we try to earn it even unintentionally. Maybe we feel unworthy at so much so that he can’t even reach us. Maybe our hearts wonder too much to the far country exploring the other kinds of loves. Wherever you are,
we can be thankful that we have a God, a Father who from the beginning of creation has stretched out His arms, never forcing Himself on us, but always waiting, never letting His arms drop down and despair, but always hoping that we, His children will return so that we can fall into His arms as He embraces and smothers us with His love.
He is the great initiator and the great pursuer, and He will never stop loving you
Allow me to pray.
Heavenly Father. I thank You for this love that You have for us. I know that we cannot even fathom the depths and the heights of Your love, but I thank You that You’ve given us ways to understand that through the people in our lives and through mostly ultimately Your Son, Jesus. I thank You that this love is neverending and all consuming and can fill us and satisfy us and we’ll never run out.
And I pray now that we are able to receive this love, that whatever obstacles are in our way, maybe we don’t know you’re there. Maybe we don’t feel that You are a God that is loving. Maybe we feel we are far too out of Your reach. Maybe we feel we don’t measure up. Maybe, we just want a little more of You. Whatever it is, Lord, I pray for those obstacles to fall away at Your feet for us to just run into Your embrace and fall upon Your arms of grace. In this, I pray Jesus, help us experience Your great love for us.
Amen. Thank you for letting me share with you today. Thank you for sticking it out. And I hope that you were blessed by our time together. In a moment, right now, actually the band is gonna play a song that I picked that matches this theme of God’s immense love for us that I hope you’ll enjoy. Um, before we do that, uh, one final reminder is that now is our time of giving, uh, which is a chance for you who feel connected to this church body to give financially of your tithes and offerings unto the Lord.
We are so grateful for all the support. This year, and we hope that you will continue to partner with us in the coming months and years ahead, as we continue to spread the message of God’s love to all who need to hear it. And so with that, here comes the song and then to PT for a final word.