Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What's love got to do with it?

My step by step walk through Romans has come to possibly the most treasured but complex verse in all the Scriptures- Chapter 8 v 28. It is timely for me as I have some big decisions to make in the next few weeks and it seems right that I am now dwelling in this text. This mornings sermon has deeply impacted me because it is about the nature of love and we would all do well to listen to it and ponder its consequences. As has often been the case over these last few months, this is a sermon that has forced me to think deeply and pray earnestly.

Here are two questions for you to ponder that God asks you.

1. Do you love me?

2. Why do you love me?

We are familiar when this first question is asked of a husband by his wife and the answer is obviously yes, of course I do darling. The second is the follow up. "Why?...." (with a raise in pitch to the voice). I remember hearing Keller teach on this and it has stuck with me ever since. The question "Why?" often forces us to wrongly resort to a 'because' and then attach some attribute. "I love you because I think you are the most beautiful girl in the world". The trouble with an attribution is that were it to be taken away would you still love without whatever quality you attach after you say the words 'because'? Is the beauty you cite the same before and after a terrible car crash that require you to see your wife's beauty in an utterly different way perhaps than the way you meant it in answer to the "because"?

My friend told me that his mother has very sadly recently been diagnosed with alzheimer's. He told me his niece always used to love it that her granny could draw and loved the amazing pictures she drew her. A few days ago the little girl asked her grandmother to draw a princess and she tried to but the picture was very poor as her disease has now taken hold "That's rubbish" she exclaimed running off in a huff. The question one might ask the little girl is do you love granny because she can draw or do you love granny? We are all rather like the little girl demanding her princess.

The right answer is "I love you because I love you"- end of.

That is a wonderful thing for a wife to hear and it is what God demands of us. I love you come what may. I love your essence. The 'you' of 'you'.

Here is the final section of the sermon for you to grapple with:

"Do you love God in this way? Let me help you love him by exploding a certain Catch-22 effect that Romans 8:28 has on some people. Suppose you come to this promise in Romans 8:28 and feel yourself excluded. You say, "This promise must be true for me so that I can love God in response." But you see that this won’t work, because the promise is not true for you unless you love God. "The promise must be true for me," you say, "so I can love God. I must love God so the promise can be true for me. Catch 22."
This is the trap of many people who think that the love of God is essentially gratitude for his blessings. I will love God when he treats me well enough, because, they say, love for God is essentially a response to receiving his gifts. There is no way out of that trap and that Catch 22 in Romans 8:28 if you hold on to that meaning of love for God. The promise must be true for me so I can love God in response; and yet I must love God for the promise to be true for me.
The escape from the trap – and I invite you to take it right now – is to look through the promise to God himself first, before he applies the promise to you, and behold God himselfin and through his promise. Look first at all that he has done in history to reveal himself. Look especially at Jesus Christ and the glory that he had before he came, and the glory of his sacrificial coming and his servanthood and suffering. Look at the mercy and wrath and justice of God mingled on the cross for utterly undeserving sinners. Look at the power and righteousness of God in raising Jesus from the dead. Look at new-covenant, promise-keeping faithfulness that pours out the Holy Spirit on sinful people. Look at the triumph of God’s grace to change hostile God-neglecters into humble God-lovers.
Look at God in all these ways, I say, and behold the God you were made for. Behold the fulfillment of all your desires. Behold the most satisfying treasure in the universe. And then when you see his glory and his worth, and when you treasure him, then the promise is yours. All things will work together for you good, because you love God.
And what if you say to me, "Pastor John, I don’t feel like looking at God. I just want to go home and watch television. I just want to be with my friends. I just want to eat and work on my house. I don’t feel any desire to look to God"? To this I respond, "If there is any remnant of fear, if there is any shred of desire to desire, O endangered sinner, use it to pray the promise of Deuteronomy 30:6, ‘O Lord circumcise my heart—change my heart—to love you with all my heart and soul, so that I may live, and all things may work together for my good. Have mercy upon me that I may love you.’"

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