Sunday Sermon Notes: February 28, 2021

Title: This is Love

Text:  John 4:7-12

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 sins.

1 John 4:7-10

This is where John begins the central core of this letter, and this core runs from verse 7 to the end of this chapter.  It is not only the central core of the letter, but it is also the central core of Christian theology.  All of those comparisons at the beginning of the letter, and all of the discussion of evil, antichrists and the testing of spirits comes back to this theme, for without it, the rest of the theology of our faith is rendered meaningless.  In short, what is written in this section is the one thing that gives Christianity its power and authority, and against which the gates of Hell itself cannot, and will not stand.

The last sentence in this text is the key: God loved us. In fact, he loved us while we were lost, and not loving Him at all.  Yet God loved us anyway− He loved us so much that He sent Jesus to die for us.  Yes, you’re right, this has already been pointed out in this letter, but here it is again, as the core of everything else: that is how important it is that we grasp this simple concept.

How could God love us so much and in spite of everything?  Because God is love.

That being the case, we are to love one another, just as God loved us.  Nobody can do this unless God is in that person, which is to say that person is in Christ.  Loving one another as God loved us runs counter to every teaching of this world, as it also runs against our natural human inclinations.  Therefore, if a person does not love, it is because God is not in him or her.

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

1 John 4:11-12

Simply stated, this love core flows like this:

  1. God loved us while we were still sinners.
  2. God sent His Son to die for our sins.
  3. We loved God and responded to the Gospel.
  4. God loved our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Therefore, so do we.

We see this pattern at work once again in verse 11.  God loved us, so we should love each other. Then John, as was his custom, takes one more step.  Since no one has ever seen God, and since God loves all of us and we love Him, if we also love each other, God’s love will be complete in us and visibly expressed within His Body, the Church.  This is as far as John has gone so far…

At this point, we can infer that there is another step.  The other step is implied in John’s mentioning that “no one has seen God.”  OK, why did he choose to write that?  Think…

No one has seen God, but if we love one another as God loved us, then His love will live amongst us, and though us all will see it.

I have seen a number of debates about Evolution and Creation.  These kinds of discussions usually have at their core, an assumption that if we cannot observe some “evidence” that God exists, then we can determine that He does not exist.  I’m no scientist, but this seems to be a natural inclination on the part of people who are educated with regard to the Scientific Method.  Remember that one from your school days?  It was the one about observations, and testing theories with observable evidence.

Back to John.  Have you ever thought that it would be nice if you could find the positive “proof” of God’s existence? Yes, something that can be observed and studied?

Are you sitting down?

John just gave it to you− The proof is God’s love at work in our lives and within the Body of Christ; at least it should be.  Maybe if we started taking these verses to heart and putting them into our everyday manner of living, like we are commanded by God to do, more people would notice that the greatest “proof” of God, the observable evidence is right there in front of us all: Love for one another as Jesus has loved us, and gave His life for us.

Let’s wrap up for today with a question to think about: Do you ever wonder if it is a coincidence that the whole concept of Godly love has been corrupted and demeaned in our culture? After all, doesn’t society use the word “love” to mean just about anything other than Godly love?

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Walking in the morning stillness

I have always enjoyed going for a walk, especially early in the morning when the air is still and the land is relatively quiet and calm. Now that I finally live in the country, this is even more true for me.

These days my morning walks serve a dual purpose for this is a workout. I begin in the woods where footing isn’t always great, there are big tree roots in the path and some holes that are often obscured by fallen leaves. In the woods I am warming up, stepping carefully and enjoying myself in a time where it’s just me and God. Eventually, the pathway leads to normal roads where I kick it up several notches and get my heart rate up into a cardio workout that I keep up until I get back home where I see what Mr. Fitbit has to say about my efforts.

Without a doubt, that first part is the part that keeps me doing this most every day.

From my front door, it takes me roughly 90 seconds to reach this spot where I can leave everyone behind for a while. I took these photos on the one day I brought my iphone along with me, December 16, 2020. It was a tad chilly on that morning, just after sunup; I’d say probably upper 40’s F. As I began walking down this path into the woods all I could hear was the slight rustling of leaves overhead, the birds singing in the trees and cattle mooing in the distance. Then the crowing of a rooster in a nearby farm… and far off a train sounding it’s warning as it approached a grade crossing.

Suddenly in the brush, the sound of an animal which doesn’t want to meet me. It could be a squirrel or a rabbit; maybe a mouse. One thing I know, on this December morning, the reptiles aren’t moving very fast, if they’re even awake.

Now the quiet returns and it’s just me and God; how lucky I am to be in the midst of His marvelous Creation early this morning.

Off to one side as I move along, I approach a meadow; it could be almost anywhere, but if you notice the little palm in the bottom corner, I guess that narrows the choices down a bit. As I continue past the meadow, I notice a chill little breeze that is moving across the open ground where the vegetation thins out on that side.

I keep walking with God, side-by-side…

Eventually, I’m near the little lake where the alligators live; they won’t be coming out to play this morning. If this were summertime, I wouldn’t be strolling by here at feeding time.

I’ve been told that the ones in this water aren’t very big and will run away from a human, and that normally alligators are a bit on the lazy side. Frankly, I don’t really want to find out for myself. I’ve seen them in a Zoo, and if I’m honest, they creep me out… Yuk!

Funny, I always seem to pick up my pace in this stretch, strictly for enhanced cardio purposes, you understand.

A few minutes later I come to this stand of bamboo; this stuff must be 25 or 30 feet high. A slight breeze comes along as I walk through here and causes the bamboo to rustle and make a curious song as the poles tap each other almost like those bamboo wind chimes at the exotic import shops…

Back I go into the woods, where photos are hard to take; the sun isn’t high enough to get much light in here yet.. and then there’s a little break in the trees.

What a great sight as the early morning sun catches those leaves. Maybe I should have brought my real camera instead of my phone, for this photo doesn’t come close to doing the view justice.

I have to be honest with you: On these morning walks, I’m reminded each day how very lucky I am to be able to do this, to stroll though a bit of God’s glorious Creation, just me and God, alone together in His Creation talking things over, getting ready for a new day. Thank you, Lord.

Shortly before I made it back to was passes for civilization around here, I accidentally made a discovery. I always wondered how people take selfies, and on this morning, I hit the wrong button on my phone and found out, so it’s only appropriate that I sign off now with my first, and obviously, last ever selfie…

Believe me when I tell you that I’ve made it a point to forget which little button does this, and I can assure you, this won’t happen again! 😊

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While I was Away… part 3

I’ve asked myself a number of times why it is that people move from the city to the country, after all, in spite of the noise and congestion of a city, there are quite a few amenities and conveniences that can’t really be found anywhere else. Here’s one that’s important to me… The Los Angeles Dodgers never play their games out in the countryside near a town you’ve never heard of.

Out in the country, there isn’t even a Trader Joe’s: How can you live without that?

It’s becoming clear to me that there are a great many reasons people have moved to our little community in the middle of nowhere. One thing we don’t have around here is church, that is, unless you want to drive a long way to get there. That’s really not such a problem, but from long distance, it isn’t so easy to be involved in the church community from 30 or 40 miles away.

A lot of people miss that.

Not everyone moves out this far just because they’ve always wanted to be in the country, like I have. A fair percentage have left town because they have been hurt in some way and don’t want to be around a lot of people, at least for a time. Some have even been hurt by a church.

I wasn’t here too long before I came to realize that there were people here who had been hoping and even praying for a church right here in the neighborhood. At Christmas, the lady who lives behind us, over that famous hedge, hosted a time for reflection, reading of the Christmas story from the Gospels, a few songs and prayer in the clubhouse. Having been invited for Christmas Eve, we went…

Afterward there was mingling and conversation, and for no particular reason other than I knew I should do this, I asked if anyone might be interested if there was a Bible study. The response was immediate: that would be an answer to prayer, so losing all common sense, I asked what about a regular service on Sundays.

Same response; the only problem was that there wasn’t anyone who could lead the study or service.

Then I lost all control and told them that I could do it.

We began the study group, really a small group study, right after the holidays were over, and our first Sunday service began last week. I’ve been quite amazed thus far at how receptive people have been to this, and how universal the notion is that we don’t need formality, traditions or human restraints, just relationship with our Lord. Mind you our group is quite diverse doctrinally in terms of backgrounds…

As I reflect on the whole thing, we have an amazing opportunity to share Christ with our neighbors here, after all, nobody is a stranger for very long in a small community in a remote location, and it seems that we are all clear that what people need from us is not a great sales pitch or a good speech, but simply for them to see God at work in our lives. As a result, in each of our 2 studies a week, since the first week in January, save one, and in our first service last week, we have had at least one new person in the group.

What an amazing God we have!

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Jesus Gives an Answer That Changes Everything

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:37-40

One of the great challenges to our understanding of life is found in how we view God’s commands, or to put it another way, “rules”.

Is following Jesus, the same thing as following rules? Is that all there is- checking off rules you’ve followed?

Yet another way of stating the same essential question is this: Should we view the God as being transactional or relational?

In the text above, the Pharisees were setting a trap for Jesus to see if they could entice Him into making the mistake of suggesting that we could neglect one command to favor another. If they could get Jesus to put one over another, then they could say something like, “Oh yeah? What about this, what about that, you heretic?!”

In His answer, Jesus covers all of the bases: Love God is the greatest, but the second is love your neighbor. Just in case they might think they could pounce, Jesus went one small step further, and when He did, He set their world on its ear:

All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (22:40)

Our God is not a god of checklists, rulebooks and “gotcha!” He isn’t following us around trying to find a way to exclude us from relationship with Him: He loves you. If you think about it, this is the very definition of relational, not of transaction consisting or ordinances and violations followed by punishment and banishment.

God so loved you and me that He sent Jesus to die for us so that we might live eternally in relationship with Him, because He had no desire to punish anybody. This way, the choice is entirely ours of whether or not to live with Him.

Friends, that is some serious love!

Of course, we all misstep from time-to-time; we all mess up and fall short of Christ’s example, but take heart in this: God has gone to extreme measures to take care of this problem, for He knows that we are mere mortals living in a corrupted world and that we are not perfect.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

1John 1:9

We have nothing to fear.

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While I Was Away… part 2

Before we left Iowa for the move to Florida last fall, we pretty much remained at home, not really seeing anyone for our last 3 weeks. Three days before we hit the road, my wife Cathy went to the auto parts store with mask on and keeping the recommended distance and all that, to get new wiper blades for the car. She paid for them, and the nice man came out and put them on for her and she returned home. On our second day on the road, she began feeling funny; on the last day, so did I.

That’s how we got COVID.

On our first full day after arriving, we were tested, and a couple days later we received the positive results with a quarantine order…

If you get a quarantine order, it becomes unlawful to leave the house for the specified period of time. I wonder if it occurred to anyone that means you are cut off from seeking medical attention. There was also no food in the house, and since we moved way out in the country, you can’t get it delivered like we were doing in Iowa.

Don’t tell anyone, but we drove into Deland to get provisions. No, wait, don’t go crazy on me!

We ordered online for curbside pickup and the nice store workers put our stuff in the trunk and we never got out of the car or came into contact with him in any way…

Even so, I hate to think of what would happen if we needed a doctor. I guess you call 911… not sure.

I know that many people like to keep up with all of the latest trends and fads, but even though COVID is all the rage, I really can’t recommend it. As for the symptoms I experienced, it didn’t really ever rise to the level of a bad chest cold, at least as best I can remember what a cold is like, for I can’t recall my last one, it was so long ago. The thing about COVID, at least for me, was the fatigue factor that starts to set in. After the first few days, at about the time I was thinking this was going to be a cakewalk, I started to feel really tired. The day after that, I took a nap in the afternoon, which is highly unusual for me. Then I needed a morning nap and an afternoon nap, and I didn’t wake up in the morning until after 6 am (I am normally up by 4).

The next day I had congestion in my chest and didn’t want to get up at all, and the day after that, day 10, it was completely gone.

Even so, I felt weak for a couple of weeks after we were all clean of the virus, and even now I cannot really smell anything. I would imagine that if I had more underlying conditions than being over 55 and a bit overweight, that fatigue period would be when the virus would really get rough…

Ironic, isn’t it? All of the times last summer when we didn’t do a very good job of following the rules, nothing happens. When we were following the rules very carefully, it got us both: This virus is a nasty piece of work; please don’t take it lightly.

Next time I’ll share our new neighborhood church with you. Last Sunday was our very first worship service- you won’t want to miss this one!

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What a Hope We Have!

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Jeremiah 29:11-13

Jeremiah sent this message to the Jewish leaders at a very difficult time in Jewish history, for as we can see in verse 1 of this chapter, it is part of a letter he sent to the surviving elders who were being held in Babylonian captivity.

This is a message of hope for a future which would have appeared to be very dark to those who received it, for they had been dragged hundreds of miles from home by the greatest military force on the planet at the time. Consequently, there was no earthly hope available to them.

Imagine how that would feel- utter hopelessness.

Yet they received a message of hope from none other than God Himself: Things would eventually change. As it happened however, that change didn’t quite take place within the lifetimes of the original recipients.

The captivity lasted 70 years. In spite of that, the change did come in the fulness of time: God kept His promise that had been made to the very people who were most responsible for the captivity in the first place, the leaders of the people who had rebelled against God.

Now there is something to think about.

Looking at this whole situation through the long lens of the New Testament, we can see something even more amazing, for it can be said that there is more to these promises than the original recipients could have understood in their time.

All of humanity has been held in bondage to sin and death since the events of Genesis chapter three. From as early as the time of Abraham, God has promised that He would set humanity free of those chains, and in fact He has already done so through the work of His Son, Jesus. In Him, our sin has been taken away, and we have an eternal future. Even so, our entire world has been going through a very difficult time for the past year and for many it has been a time of sorrow and deep loss, loss of loved ones, livelihoods, and in a sense even of liberty in their daily lives.

There is a better day coming! Yes, it will be a better when this terrible pandemic passes from the scene, but let’s not forget that pandemics are really nothing new. The great day comes when Jesus returns and takes all sin, death, pain, sickness and suffering away for good.

I don’t know when that will be, but I do know that our God has a perfect record when it comes to keeping His promises; He will never let us down, and when the times are tough, that is the basis of our hope.

And what a hope we have!

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While I Was Away…

There are times in this life when I agree to do things that surprise me; one of those things happened last summer. It all began last spring…

Throughout our adult lives, my wife and I have dealt with our responsibilities. You know how this story goes, first you are trying to get established in life, then you have parental responsibilities; later, after the kids grow up and go out on their own you might have responsibilities for aging parents, as we did. When my mother passed away a year ago at 96, right after my wife retired, we found ourselves sitting in “self-quarantine” with little to do and nowhere to go, but with the means to do most anything we wanted to do… and thinking.

We could live anywhere we want!

To make a long story short, we moved from Iowa to Florida last Fall after buying a house there in late summer.

I hate to move. My wife wants to move every 2 or 3 years. Oh yes, that’s right, she was military, and even after she got out of the Navy, she continued to work as a civilian for the military and kept the mindset of moving every few years. For some reason, I agreed to this very quickly.

From my point of view, there was a payoff, for you see all of my life I have dreamed of living in the country, but was held back by responsibilities… and the fact that I do not have the skillset for country living, having spent my life in the city. We found a place that was the best of both here in Volusia County. For one thing, we are definitely in the country, country that is full of live oaks, Spanish moss, wildlife and agriculture, mostly fern farms believe it or not. At the same time, we live in a park with mobile and manufactured housing, a nice pool area, clubhouse and work out room, and a hundred or so people, many of whom are here only in the winter.

The roads are mainly dirt, and by that I really mean sand. We live under a canopy of live oaks, we have 10 on our lot, and of course the odd palm tree, of which we have only one. When you open the windows or go out, you hear birds, not cars and trucks. Running around this area are flocks of wild turkeys and, of all things, peacocks, not to mention whole herds of lizards, and quite a few squirrels. In the evening we hear multiple varieties of owls in the trees, frogs, toads and crickets. We also have a small lake in the park that is home to at least three alligators; I’m not quite sure who thought that was a good idea. We also have periodic visits from bears, also not a great idea…

Like many homes in this part of the world, the shower is in the back yard, somewhat different than the way they do things in the city. Yet after using it daily for some months, I’d hate to go back to the other way. Well, I must admit though that the first time the neighbor lady yelled, “Good morning Don!” while I was in the shower it was a bit unnerving… even though she could only see me from the shoulders up. There’s something about being in the shower, feeling a slight morning breeze, listening to the birdsong and seeing the amazing colors of  a glorious sunrise through the tree branches that makes the routine into something very special.

There are some fairly dubious pleasures of country living, however. Phone reception isn’t very good, and sometimes isn’t even available. The internet is not reliable, and I’m told that when there is a major storm, the power can be out for weeks.

On the other hand, everyone knows everyone, and when you are out and about, people seem happy to see you and everyone has a cheerful hello. Even so, it’s an adjustment, but I think I like this place. When I really begin to question the wisdom of this move, I will just remember one thing: A week or so ago, while I was sitting out on the front porch with a cup of coffee at 5 am in shorts and a tee shirt, I checked the weather on my phone and saw that back in Iowa, the wind chill was -28 F.

I like this place!

I’ll be sharing some more of my adventures while away in the coming days, and when I finally win my battle with our new media insertion, I’ll have a little photo journey from my daily morning walk; see you then!

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Why do We Act Like That?

Do not those who plot evil go astray? But those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness.

Proverbs 14:22

I’m not going to ask for a show of hands or anything, but have you ever made some sort of a plan and then realized that what you were thinking of doing was just plain wrong? Maybe you were going to lie about something, or hide something or help yourself to something that wasn’t rightly yours…

Maybe it was worse that these…

Recently my wife and I have been watching episodes of the old Dallas TV show. I must admit to you that my favorite character on the show was none other than Old J.R. Of course, that isn’t because he was the good guy, no sir, it’s because he was the bad guy. He was just so completely outrageous, so utterly crooked, and got the most hilarious lines, hilarious because they were just crazy. He was such an outrageous liar, and managed to lie with a straight face… and with an attitude!

Of course, he’s also a fictional character in a fictional program.

Yet, what made that show the success it was back in the day, is that it had an element of truth to it.

Why do people act like that?

Evidently, it’s nothing new, since Solomon wrote about it so very long ago.

We know of people who plot evil today, and yes, they often have a nice little run for a time, but sooner or later they get caught in some form or fashion. It might be by the law, or their spouse or whomever, but no one seems to be able to get away with evil forever in this life. They certainly have a date set for a face-to-face with God, and nobody fools Him.

Years ago, I knew a business woman named Muriel who, at that time was in her mid 70’s. On one occasion she had dealings with a man who had seriously misrepresented a business transaction they were involved in and when everything was over, she turned to me and said, “Well, that’s the end of that. I’m not going to worry about it any more because people like that just go to Hell, and that’s IT.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle at that one, but even though she had an interesting way of putting it, in the end she had a point.

Jesus showed us a better way to live, didn’t He? There’s no need for us to lie, cheat or steal to get ahead, for our hope doesn’t lie in riches, things or the approval of this world. Our hope is in the One who never lies, cheats or hides, for our hope is in the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

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Old Dogs and New Ways for Old Tricks

I want to thank everyone who commented on my little epistle yesterday about our new block editor here on WrodPress.

OK fine, I’ve decided to shut up and figure it out just like everyone else!

You must understand how I came to discover that everything had changed…

I’ve been thinking for quite a while now that I should get back to blogging, but there always seemed to be something else I had to do first, some chore or another, some little “hot item” that got in the way, if you know what I mean. Then early on Sunday morning I was thinking about my day when it occurred to me that I should post my Sunday Sermon Notes like I used to since last Sunday was opening day for our small neighborhood church.

(Yes, it went better than I could have imagined, thank you. More on that later.)

So, I turned on the computer, put the notes together and logged on to WP for the first time since July… Let’s just say that I got quite a shock at 5 in the morning last Sunday, and I was not best pleased.

In truth, now that I have messed around a bit, there are some very nice new features that I might well use in the future, once I realized that the new editor is just a web editor rather than a blog (which of course, is also a website.) As you may know, I have a website that I’ve had  a lot longer than I’ve had this blog, but what I’ve always appreciated about the blog is that it is  (or was) so much easier and quicker to work with, especially for the vision impaired.

Maybe it’s time to rebuild my website!

I’ve used computers on a daily basis for work since 1984 and for the longest time it seemed that the goal of developers was to make their programs, applications, apps, as user-friendly as possible. Yet like so many other things, that time has passed and developers have different priorities; yep, like so many other things, times have changed. The only thing left to do is for this old dog to learn new ways to accomplish his old tricks.

Thanks again for your comments everyone!

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Must We Always Hurt the One We Love?

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

1 John 4:8

There’s an old song I barely recall hearing years ago, and for the record, that song was from way before my time- it’s called “You Always Hurt the One You Love”.

You always hurt the one you love
The one you shouldn’t hurt at all
You always take the sweetest rose
And crush it till the petals fall

While this might be true in old songs, and all too often in matters of romance, I rather doubt that’s quite what John had in mind when he wrote this sentence, after all, 1 John 4 is the New Testament’s greatest chapter about love.

If we are to be made perfect in love as God views love, we will always put other people ahead of ourselves, and if I’m getting the old song’s meaning right, it is dealing with people who put themselves first. If we are completely honest with ourselves, isn’t that the natural human condition?

Love. I love pizza. I love baseball. I love lazy summer days. I love walking through the woods at sunup. I love my children. I love my wife. I love America and apple pie…

Gee whiz, we seem to love just about everything, so why is there such a disconnect in matters of the heart? I love you dearest, but if you say that to me again, there are going to be consequences!

Hmm

Jesus showed us an entirely different kind of love, as He set the example for us to follow. The thing that makes His love so vastly different from our human approach to the subject is that the godly love He showed us has nothing at all to do with how we feel at any given moment; rather, it is all about a commitment to put others ahead of ourselves.

Think of it this way: Jesus set aside the glories of Heaven and came down to this earth as a man on a mission. He undertook a mission that involved hassle, opposition, persecution, heartache and a horrible death because He was absolutely committed to providing us a way to be redeemed, so that we might not only live, but live eternally with Him.

When He was nailed to that terrible cross, whose interests were His priority: His own, or yours?

Jesus was made perfect in love and because of that, He had no fear of death or punishment, and because of what He did, you and I need not fear either, for there is no punishment this world can give us that matters a hill of beans compared to the glories of Heaven that await us.

I don’t know about you, but I find a great deal of encouragement in that fact.

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