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What Everyone Wants and Few Find

Sermon preached on Sunday, June 15, 2008 by Rev. Brian D. Schulenburg,
at Woodbury Community Church, Woodbury, MN

GALATIANS 5:22-23

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

JOHN 15:9-12

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

JAMES 1:2-4

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

GOT FRUIT? – WEEK TWO

WHAT EVERYONE WANTS AND FEW FIND

Well, it’s Father’s Day. And, according to all of the advertisements that I have heard on my car stereo and my television, I am supposed to want the perfect gift this year. And, that perfect gift has been described to me as all of the following via commercials this week. I want a new cell phone, gift certificates to Auto Zone, Checker Auto Parts, Buffalo Wild Wings, Target, the Home Depot, Best Buy and Radio Shack. I also want a brand new digital TV, the bigger the better, and according to the ads I’m going to be just fine with my wife charging for that TV on a brand new credit card, because, after all, she’ll be getting the best deal, and that will mean that she’s really in love with me. The ads also say that I want the perfect Father’s Day lunch, which can only be had at certain restaurants. But, the ads have also told me that what Dads really want is a brand new grill so that they can cook lunch for the family, all by themselves. Dads, aren’t you glad that we at Woodbury Community Church have it figured out and that we got you what you really wanted? A David Olson CD! (We gave away David Olson’s Beloved CD in this service. David is our Worship Leader.)

According to the National Retail Federation, families will spend $9.5 billion to honor their father’s this year. That is $7 billion less than they spend on Mom’s, but still a significant investment. I read an article in the Star Tribune yesterday that said that more than 40% of you will take Dad out for a meal, spending an average of $20. Others will choose clothing (37 percent), gift certificates and gift cards (33 percent), electronic items (19 percent) and sporting goods (13 percent).

While I’m sure that the gifts that I have heard about over the past few weeks would bring happiness to dads all over the world, I’m not sure that the happiness would last. In fact, if someone could give the gift of happiness and could guarantee that the happiness would never disappear, that person would be a very rich person. Because, according to Blaise Pascal, “Everyone, without exception, is searching for happiness.”

Given the choice of being at a wedding or a funeral, 100% of you, would choose the wedding. We like being happy.

Last week, we began our summer series, entitled, “Got fruit?” And, we talked about the fruit of the spirit that we know as love. If you recall, I said last week that love is the relentless pursuit of the lifting up of others. We talked about love, because it is first in the Apostle Paul’s list of nine Christian virtues that he called the fruit of the Spirit. In other words, these virtues are the direct result of the Spirit’s work in your life.

Turn with me to Galatians 5:22-23, and let’s read again this passage in which Paul lists the fruit of the Sprit.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Today, we talk about something that is much deeper than happiness. It’s joy. And, in order to understand it, we need to practice what I like to call the indispensable principle. That is, before we go to the Word of God, we must first go to the God of the Word in a word of prayer. Why? Because, we cannot understand the deep things of God, apart from the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

Let’s pray.

Dear God,

You have called us to a journey this summer that involves taking a deep look at the fruit of Your Spirit. Today, we talk about something that everyone wants, but only a few find. Lord, God, help us to find the joy which you offer. Help us to live for You. May Your Spirit be our guide today.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

The word joy is found all over Scripture. We are told, according to God’s Word, that joy is one of the markers of a follower of Jesus Christ. But, sometimes it seems as if that joy is elusive.

To His disciples, in John 15: 9-12, Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

In Philippians 4:4 we read, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

Jesus wants us to be people of joy. So, what is it? Joy, I mean. How does one define joy? I told you last week that joy is not the same thing as happiness.
Happiness comes from the Latin word hap which means chance. It’s the same place we get the word happenstance from. Happiness, therefore, is based upon our circumstances. Joy is not. The Philippians passage that I read you was written when the Apostle Paul was in prison. In a short book, written in the darkest of days, Paul uses the words joy and rejoice nineteen times! Joy is deeper than happiness. It does not depend upon our circumstances. Joy is truly a fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in our life and can be with us no matter the situation.

I like to define joy this way: Joy is the result of living our life with God’s priorities. I’ll say it again – joy is the result of living our life with God’s priorities.

C.S. Lewis, the great author, theologian, and professor once wrote, “All that we call human history – money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery – [is] the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

Oh, that we could get what it is that Lewis is talking about there! How many times I have sat in my office counseling a man, woman, or child whose life is a mess because they have chased after everything but God! Want joy in your life? Chase after God! And, chase after God’s priorities.

There is a direct correlation between the love that we talked about last week, and the joy which we speak about this week. Back to John 15. Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

How do we remain in Christ’s love? Is Jesus saying that if we walk away from Him that He walks away from us? No. But, we are not abiding in his love when we walk away from him. He tells us that we remain in his love when we keep his commands. In other words, we’re not going to feel very loved when we are disobeying what God has called us to do. In 1 John 2:6, the apostle John, perhaps thinking back to Jesus’ words in John 15, wrote, “Whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did.”

There is a beautiful and mysterious thing that happens when we live as Christ. We experience Christ’s joy in us. He wants us to follow Him so that his joy may be in us and our joy may be complete.

Last year, in a rather dry time in my own devotional life I made the conscious decision to meditate upon one verse from Psalm 119 each day for 176 days straight. My devotional life was never very consistent. When I did this, I made God the priority. My life began to change. It was during that process that we began talking with Woodbury Community Church. It was during those days that I experienced a joy in my Christian life that I had never known before. When we honor God, His joy is made complete in us.

I read one of Mother Theresa’s famous quotes this week. She said, “One filled with joy preaches without preaching.”

I love that. When we are walking with Christ, and His joy is dwelling in us, we are reflecting his priorities and our lives begin to radiate Him. We begin to change our world. And, we experience joy like never before.
I’ll never forget sitting in my office with a man who had decided to leave his wife. She had been faithful to him despite his numerous affairs throughout the years. The man had begun to believe the delusion that life without his wife and with other women would make his life better. He reasoned that he deserved to be happy. He just wasn’t happy in his relationship with her. No matter how I tried to reason with him, he was impervious to spiritual things. His heart had become so darkened that he could not even see the misery that he was in. There would be no joy found in walking away from his family. Fleeting happiness? Sure. But, joy? No.

Joy is the result of living our lives with God’s priorities.

Like Paul, the Apostle James wrote about joy sometimes coming in the valley of despair. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” So, again we see that joy isn’t determined by our circumstances. Joy is the result of living our lives with Gods’ priorities. And, it’s in those circumstances, that are difficult and which seem to offer little hope, where joy really does its work. Nehemiah, who God tasked with rebuilding the walls Jerusalem’s destroyed walls, said at the end of Nehemiah 8:10, “for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

I can think of few places where joy would have been as absent as that of a Nazi Concentration Camp. That is precisely the place where Corrie Ten Boom and her family found themselves during World War II. Their crime? Loving the Jewish people, and providing a safe haven for dozens of Jews. Corrie would go on to survive the Holocaust. Her family would not. She has long been one of my heroes. Corrie died in 1983, but people who knew her described her as a woman of incredible joy. I had occasion to hear Corrie speak a couple of times when I was growing up, and those are memories that I will never forget.

While in the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, Corrie and her sister Betsy were together. Listen to the excerpt from a letter that Corrie wrote in 1974:

“My sister, Betsy, and I were in the Nazi concentration camp at Ravensbruck because we committed the crime of loving Jews. Seven hundred of us from Holland, France, Russia, Poland and Belgium were herded into a room built for two hundred. As far as I knew, Betsy and I were the only two representatives of Heaven in that room. We may have been the Lord’s only representatives in that place of hatred, yet because of our presence there, things changed. Jesus said, ‘In the world you shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.’ We too, are to be overcomers bringing the light of Jesus into a world filled with darkness and hate. Sometimes I get frightened as I read the Bible, and as I look in this world and see all of the tribulation and persecution promised by the Bible coming true. Now I can tell you, though, if you too are afraid, that I have just read the last pages. I can now come to shouting ‘Hallelujah! Hallelujah!’ for I have found where it is written that Jesus said, ‘He that overcometh shall inherit all things: and I will be His God, and he shall be My son.’ This is the future and hope of this world. Not that the world will survive but that we shall be overcomers in the midst of a dying world. Betsy and I, in the concentration camp, prayed that God would heal Betsy who was so weak and sick. ‘Yes, the Lord will heal me,’ Betsy said with confidence. She died the next day and I could not understand it. They laid her thin body on the concrete floor along with all the other corpses of the women who died that day. It was hard for me to understand, to believe that God had a purpose for all that. Yet because of Betsy’s death, today I am traveling all over the world telling people about Jesus.”

I believe that it was in the same year that Corrie wrote that letter that she had a remarkable experience. After speaking about God’s forgiveness and the love that God has for us, a man approached her. She knew this man’s face. Inside, all she could feel at the moment was hate for the man. He had been a guard from the concentration camp where Corrie and her sister Betsy had stayed during World War II. He told Corrie that he had been struck to the core by what she said and asked if she thought God could forgive him, and become his Savior. One author writes:

“In herself she could not offer that forgiveness. The Lord had put his finger on
something which was preventing her from becoming more ‘Christ Like.’ She
remembered the command of Christ to love your enemy and to forgive
seventy times seven the person who has wronged you. As Corrie Ten Boon
prayed that Jesus would give her the strength to forgive the man, she felt a
sensation begin in her heart and flow through her hand as it touched his. Then she heard herself saying, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ, I forgive you.’
The man fell at her feet and wept a prayer of thanks. Jesus Christ was
continuing to transform Corrie Ten Boom to be Christ Like through adversity
and through shining his light on those dark areas of her life which were not
pleasing to him.”

Corrie understood that joy didn’t come from circumstances. Her joy flowed out of a commitment to Jesus Christ. Her joy was a byproduct of the Holy Spirit’s work in her life. True joy is the result of living your life with God’s priorities. May you choose to live your life in such a way!

Amen.

You Were Made To Love!

I’ve decided to post my weekly sermons to this blog. I hope that they will be an encouragment to you.

Sermon preached on Sunday, June 8, 2008 by Rev. Brian D. Schulenburg,
at Woodbury Community Church, Woodbury, MN

GALATIANS 5:22-23

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

GOT FRUIT? – WEEK ONE

YOU WERE MADE TO LOVE!

Introduction – Last week you welcomed our family to Woodbury Community Church in such a special way. We felt so loved as you gave us a reception after church with all sorts of great food. You even served at least three different types of fruit juice. So, this morning, I thought I’d return the favor. I have with me a bunch of different types of fruit juice. Anybody thirsty? (I gave out bottles of apple, orange, grape and cranberry juice. After each bottle I asked what type of tree, bush or vine that the fruit juice came from. Then I gave out a bottle of fruit punch and asked what type of tree that came from. I then drew the parallel to the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23. I told the congregation that God expects us to be like a fruit tree that bears nine different types of fruit, not just one. We don’t get to pick and choose. I can’t say that I want patience without love, etc. I originally saw this idea used by Leith Anderson, pastor of Wooddale Church, Eden Prairie, MN in a staff chapel devotional.)

The fruit of the Spirit, which I speak about, is a very familiar concept to followers of Jesus Christ. Many of you memorized the verses that talk about the fruit of the Spirit when you were a child. They are found in the New Testament book of Galatians. Turn in your Bibles with me to Galatians chapter 5, as we read verses 22 and 23.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Are you ready to dive in?

My prayer for the past month has been that God would use this summer series to challenge us, equip us and conform us more into the image of Jesus Christ. Join me in prayer.

Dear God,

Today we begin a new series. It would be easy for us to say, “It’s summer time. I’m ready for a break,” and to believe that we deserve a pass on attempting to grow closer to You. But, when we do that, we give Satan a foothold. It would be easy to say, “I know all about the fruit of the Spirit.” and to think that there is nothing new for us to learn on the subject. Help us to come expecting Your Sprit to teach us. Soften our hearts to those areas that You need to tweak in our lives. Encourage us when we encounter a virtue that we are displaying. May Your Spirit change us, and may our lives reflect Your desires.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

It was the Apostle Paul, who penned the words which make up our summer’s text. He wrote the words to the church at Galatia. He could have just as easily written them to any other church in the ancient near east world. And, he could have written the words to us. They are as applicable today as they have ever been.

Galatia was located in the central region of modern day Turkey. If you were to book a trip to Turkey today, you’d most likely board a plane from Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport and then fly to Chicago. From there you would board a plane headed for Paris, France. Then you would catch a flight to Istanbul, Turkey. From Istanbul you would drive across the country until came to the highlands of central Anatolia. You see, Galatia was not so much a city, as it was a region. The Galatian believers that Paul wrote to were those people who lived in the Galatia region. The capitol of modern day Turkey, Ankara, is located in this region. It was also the capitol of Galatia.

One of the things that I love about travel to other parts of the world is when you get to see the regions that are mentioned in the Bible. Last summer, I took an unexpected trip to Istanbul. My mother and father were on their first ever mission trip. Mom became ill in Istanbul, and over the course of a couple of days it became apparent that Mom would die at the American Hospital in Istanbul, Turkey. My father asked if I could fly out to be with him. I caught a plane in a matter of hours and for three weeks lived in Turkey. God was good. My mother, who was in a coma the first few days that I was in Turkey, was here last Sunday. As she recovered, I took a little time to explore the sites of Istanbul. While not in the location that Galatia was located, Istanbul still has incredible history located within the city. Mosques, some that used to be Christian churches, litter the landscape. Istanbul is called the City of Mosques because of the enormous amount of mosques located in the city. Within the city lies Haggia Sofia, the site of three of the seven church counsels that took place in the middle ages.

Why the history lesson? Because it’s important to understand the culture and the people to whom this book was written. The Galatians first received the Gospel from the Apostle Paul. It was on his first missionary journey. In fact, Paul visited the region of Galatia on all three of his missionary journeys. On his first journey, in Acts 14, we read that the crowds had to be restrained from sacrificing gifts to Paul and Barnabas as if they were gods, because of Paul’s, through the power of the Holy Spirit, healing of a lame man. The crowds assumed that Paul and Barnabas must be gods if they had the power to heal the lame. The story is seen in Acts 14:8-23. Verses 18-19 record the outcome of the story. Paul tried to persuade the crowd that it was not through his power but by God’s that the man was healed. Read with me Acts 14:18-19.

“Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them. Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead.”

In Acts 16:6 we read that Paul, on his second missionary journey, became sick when preaching in Galatia, and that the sickness required him to spend more time in the city. Therefore, in God’s sovereignty, Paul spent longer in Galatia than he had planned. Sometimes God’s plans are different than ours. He can even work in our sickness to accomplish His purposes. The Galatian church was important to God.

And, so these words, which Paul writes are important too. Want to know how a Christ-follower lives? He lives as one who is controlled by the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit produces fruit. Not just one type of fruit, but you are like a fruit tree that produces nine distinct virtues. Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Before we dissect this passage, I want you to hear it in its broader context.

Galatians 5:13-26 – “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”

Spiritual living is not natural. The result of living in the flesh is a life that gratifies the flesh. The sin nature and the life of the Spirit are in conflict with one another, according to Paul. There is freedom that comes from living the life that God has called us to live. Paul wants us to know that freedom, and it begins with love.

Did you catch what Paul said about love in 14? He said, “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

So, the first fruit that Paul lists in this group of nine is love.

Love is a word that we hear thrown around all over the place today. In his video, “Flame,” pastor and teacher Rob Bell says, “What’s the deal with this word, ‘love?’ I mean I love my wife and I love tacos?” Bell goes on to talk about three different Hebrew words that were used for love (ahava, raya, and dod). Many of you have heard the three most common Greek words used for love (phileo, eros and agape). In English, we have one word that is used and confused in many different ways. Paul used the Greek word, agape, as he described the type of love that a follower of Jesus Christ was to display. Agape was the type of love that was always used to describe God’s love for us. It is a holy love. It is a love that always asks, “What can I do for the other, not what can they do for me.” When I was a youth pastor, and I taught series on relationships, I would talk about this as being a “for you” love and the Greek word eros being a “for me” love. Most love relationships are built upon a “What can this person do for me,” not “What can I do for this person” type of love. And therein lays the problem.

Two years ago, a young man and young woman in their early twenties stood before me in a church. The room was filled. Their parents, grandparents, friends, and relatives had gathered for their wedding day. They were committed to entering their relationship as husband and wife in a holy covenant that was to be held high and esteemed.

Listen to these words from their ceremony.

Caty and John, you are about to assume mutual relationships and responsibilities, and to pledge to each other your undying devotion and faithfulness. From this day forward you will no longer be two, but one flesh. Your paths will be parallel. Your responsibilities will increase but your joy will be multiplied if you are earnest in your relations with one another.

By coming into the presence of God you recognize that this commitment you make this day is not only a legal contract, the papers for which will be kept in secured files, but is also a bond of union made in heaven.

With this in mind, John will you receive Caty as your wife and bind yourself to her in the covenant of marriage? Will you promise to love and honor her in true devotion; to rejoice with her in times of sorrow; and be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?

If so, you will answer, “I will.”

Caty, will you receive John as your husband and bind yourself to him in the covenant of marriage? Will you promise to love and honor him in true devotion; to rejoice with him in times of sorrow; and be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?

If so, you will answer, “I will.”

Then we came to their wedding vows. I said, “John and Caty, if you desire to share your vows with one another, your guests, and your God, please join hands and repeat after me.

I guided John through his vows. . .

I John . . . take thee, Caty . . . to be my wedded wife . . . to have and to hold . . . from this day forward . . . for better for worse . . . for richer for poorer . . . in sickness and in health . . . to love and to cherish . . . till death to us part . . . according to God’s holy ordinance . . . and thereto I give thee my love.

Then Caty made very similar vows. And after they said those words, they gave each other rings. And then at the end of their wedding ceremony I pronounced Caty and John to be husband and wife. And finally I said, “Those whom God has joined together, let no man separate.”

It was a beautiful ceremony.

I would later find out that within a month, the love that brought them together began to deteriorate. Today, the young couple, married for about two years, is in the process of getting a divorce. What happened to the love?

Could it be that we just don’t understand what God had in mind? Could it be that we’ve settled? Could it be that true love is really quite difficult to show?

Bill Hybels jokes about the way that love is defined in society today. The definitions of love, he says seem so superficial. He writes that the definitions of love “seem to change with the seasons.
• Love is a gentle smile
• Love is finding someone’s space that is similar to your own.
• Love is standing up in a church service and shaking hands with people.
• Love is feeling warm and sentimental towards other believers.
• Love is the feeling you get when you are near someone attractive.
This is all lightweight, hollow stuff. The Bible cuts through all of the haze and says that if you want one clear definition of what love is, treat every person as through they were more important than you.”
I like to define love this way. Love is the relentless pursuit of the lifting up of others.

In counseling sessions with the young couple, it has become clear that the love that they have displayed in their marriage is the Greek word eros, which never once appears in Scripture. It’s Satan’s counterfeit to God’s best. Eros is where we get our English word erotic. This couple is consumed with what will make each of them feel better. Their love is selfish. And, that is so common. How many times have we heard, “You’ve got be happy. Do what makes you happy.” If what makes us happy hurts our spouse, or those that God has put into our life, then we need to forego our happiness for the lifting up of the other. Because, love is the relentless pursuit of the lifting up of others.

In 1 John 4:7-16 we read about Christian love. This time, it’s the Apostle John writing. The beloved disciple of Christ, part of Christ’s inner circle wrote to the church, these words:

“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. 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. We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.”

Jesus wants us to love like He loves, and enables us to do so because of the Sprit’s control in our lives. So, how does the Spirit control us? How do we become one who can produce this type of fruit? We daily yield ourselves to the Spirit’s control in our lives. It’s daily asking the Holy Spirit to control us. On my best days, I begin the day with a prayer that goes something like this:

“Lord God, I can live two ways today. I can live with me controlling my life, or you controlling my life. I choose you. God, take control of my actions, my thoughts, my words, and help me to see others with your eyes. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

When I consciously yield the control of my life to God, I demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit.
So, what does love look like? Remember, we said that love is the relentless pursuit of the lifting up of others.

Love is also a decision. The first time I heard that concept was when I was in college and dating my college sweetheart, Cyndi. I thought I understood love. And, Cyndi and I had it! I loved loved loved loved loved her! And, nobody could tell me any different. But, I had little understanding of love. As we’ve grown in our faith, and in our years of marriage, we’ve discovered that there are days when we don’t feel very in love. I thought that I fell in love with Cyndi, but I fell into attraction with her. Love is a daily decision to honor Cyndi and more important than me. It’s relentlessly pursuing the lifting up of her, and my kids, and those that God has placed into my life.

In Mark 10, James and John made an unusual request of Jesus. It revealed the depths of their heart. Listen as I read Mark 10:35-45,

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
“We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

It’s God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, who shows love in this passage. Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45 has been called the key verse in the book of Mark. It is the purpose statement of Jesus’ life on earth. He came to serve. He lifted up others. Talk about the ultimate example of love being the relentless pursuit of the lifting up of others. Jesus’ death on the cross lifted us up from wrath to grace. May we lift others up!

Love is perhaps described in 1 Corinthians 13, more beautifully than anywhere else in the world. Some people think Shakespeare was the greatest at describing love. I don’t think that you can beat these words of 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a.

Listen to Paul’s words to the church at Corinth:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.

Those are beautiful words. Those words can become discouraging when we think about how we love. Do you have the capacity to love with a love like that which Paul describes here? The answer is simple. No. You can’t love like this, without God’s Spirit working in and through you. Love never fails. We do. We fail to love when we try to love on our terms and not God’s. Make the decision to allow God’s Spirit to control you so that you can show His love to the world around you.

Bill Hybels tells the story of being wakened by his son Todd, at 1 A.M. He says,

“Todd, then five years old, [said], ‘Mom. Dad. I just had a nightmare.’ As soon as I awakened, my instinct was to lay very still and pretend I was asleep so Lynne would get up and deal with him. After he kept trying to get our attention, I poke her and said, ‘Lynne, Todd had a nightmare.’ I was hoping she would be so startled that her motherly instincts would take over. It worked like a charm. She jumped up and took care of him. But as I lay there, trying to doze off to sleep, I found myself thinking, ‘Oh no! This was a great opportunity to treat my wife as more important than myself, and all I could think of was me.’”

Hybels’ story could have just as easily been mine. I can’t even count the times that I have been selfish in my love for Cyndi and our kids. And, those are the people that I love the most. My selfishness has also been shown to others. I’ve entered friendships for what I thought I would get out of it, instead of trying to be a blessing to others. I’ve ignored those who most need to receive love, because it would be inconvenient for me. I’ve bristled at calls that require my time and love because it’s been inconvenient for me.

Life in the Spirit means that we relentlessly look for opportunities to lift others up.

So, what are some ways that you could do that this week?

How could you show others that they are more important than yourself?

Maybe it means –

• Offering to pay for the meal of the person behind you in line at the drive thru window.
• Offering to cut the elderly neighbor’s lawn.
• Offering to help the new family down the street move in. And then, inviting them over for dinner at your home.
• Choosing to love the democrat when you are a republican or the republican when you are a democrat.
• Providing one of the items that the Wessman’s, our missionaries coming back from Israel, need for the next year that they will be living in Minnesota.
• Purchasing an item for the Tiner care package.
• Offering a weekend at your cabin for a family that can’t afford a vacation.
• Surprising your spouse by doing the chores that they normally do.
• Putting a love note in your spouse’s purse or computer case.
• Telling your Mom or Dad something that you specifically appreciate about them.
• Giving up one of your favorite events so that you can take your child out to dinner.
• Calling a relative that you haven’t spoken to in a long time.
• Inviting a neighborhood child, grandchild, niece or nephew to Vacation Bible School this week at Woodbury Community Church.

Did you know that this week could be the week that changes the life of a child forever? Vacation Bible School is one of the most important outreach events that we offer every year. It’s a practical way to show love. Maybe you have a single parent in your neighborhood who is stressed to the max now that school is out. Offer to drive their kids to VBS. Give them a break from childcare cost for the week. Maybe God will use this week to draw that parent to Christ too.

Why do you suppose that Paul chose to call these virtues the fruit of the Spirit? I was at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts last weekend with my parents and sister. They had never visited the museum before. There is a painting there that my wife and I fell in love with on our first visit to the museum. It’s a painting of fruit. Maybe you’ve seen it. My wife loves it because she says, “The fruit looks so real. The grapes are translucent. You want to reach your hand into the painting and eat the fruit for yourself.”

And, that’s why Paul, writing through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit calls it the fruit of the spirit. Fruit is meant to be devoured. It is meant to be eaten. Our fruit is to be tasted by the world so that they can see just how good our God is.

As our ushers come forward, we are going to show a music video. It’s the song, Does Anybody Hear Her? by the group Casting Crowns. Maybe you’ve heard this song on KTIS or Christian radio. As you watch the video may it be a reminder of those in our paths who need to devour the fruit of love in our lives.

Let’s pray.

Dear God,

As we give to you, out of hearts of love, may Your glory be shown throughout our region. May You give us the eyes of Jesus so that we can see and love those in our paths whom You have brought our way.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

David Olson CD "Beloved" To Be Given Away At Woodbury Community Church for Father’s Day

David Olson was recently hired as the Summer Worship Leader at Woodbury Community Church. He will be with us through September of 2008. Olson is an accomplished worship leader, singer and songwriter. Copies of Olson’s first CD, Beloved will be given as gifts to fathers at Woodbury Community Church during this weekend’s Fathers Day service. The service takes place at 9:30 am. You can find out more about David’s music by clicking HERE.

Summer Sermon Series

I preached my first sermon at Woodbury Community Church last Sunday. It was so great to be able to teach again. It’s been a while.

This summer’s sermon series at Woodbury Community Church is called Got Fruit? It’s an in depth look at the Fruit of the Spirit, which is found in Galatians 5:22-23.

Here is the schedule:

June 8 – You Were Made to Love

June 15 – What Everyone Wants and Few Find

June 22 – Keeping the Peace

June 29 – What’s the Deal With Patience

July 6 – When Paying It Forward Changes Eternity

July 13 – For Goodness Sake

July 20 – The Incomparable Gift of Faithfulness – Guest Speaker David Olson

July 27 – Gentleness – The Most Misunderstood Virtue

August 3 – Outdoor Service at Carver Lake

August 10 – Guest Speaker – David Olson

August 17 – The Secret to Self Control

Services at Woodbury Community Church, 2975 Pioneer Drive in Woodbury, take place at 9:30 in the summer months and 9:00 and 10:30 during the school year. Hope to see at Woodbury Community Church sometime this summer!