1 John 3:16-24
New International Version (NIV)
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children,let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence:20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
I grew up in a church tradition where phrases like “born again”, “saved”, and “sinner’s prayer” were as common as the rain. These words and phrases carried deep meaning for me… still do, I guess (although I probably understand them differently than I did as a kid.) Another phrase that takes my back… way back to 1st Baptist Church in Monticello… is this one:
“Personal Relationship with Jesus Christ”
Me and Jesus…
Jesus is my Co-Pilot…
When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death; who is by my side?
Jesus… Just Jesus… Christ alone… All I need.
Jesus plus nothing… A personal relationship.
And I wanted that. I wanted the personal, intimate, “me & Jesus” kind of experience. I pursued it. I prayed the prayer. I received Him in my heart. I believed that he was with me and that he walked with me and that I didn’t need anything or anyone else.
Me & Jesus…
He was all I needed; until I lost him.
My world began to come apart my last two years in high school. My parents divorced when I was 5 and my mom remarried when I was 7. I rarely saw my dad after my mom remarried but reconnected with him when I was about 16. So did my mom.
When I was 17, my mom told me that she was leaving my stepfather to return to my dad (who was also married at the time). Leaving my home and my school and my friends to return to the man she had left some 12 years earlier. Things got very real very quickly… my mother realized the foolishness of her actions and my dad realized that he did not really want a “family”. My step-dad took her back and all was forgiven; the crisis was averted… except he didn’t… and it wasn’t.
Over the next year, my step father’s bitterness grew and in the spring of 1982, he left my mother for another woman. My family fell apart and my mother came undone.
And I realized that my personal relationship with Jesus was not enough. I lost my faith… I lost my trust… and I was completely alone.
New International Version (NIV)
18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.
Throughout the creation story, at the end of each day, God uttered this simple and beautiful phrase: “it is good”. Everything he had made was good, perfect, right. Until he looked at the one he had made in his own image… Until he looked into the eyes of the man he had created with this beautiful idea of a personal relationship with his own creator. And for the first time God said: “it is NOT good”
This man; this image of God, was alone. He walked with God. He had a personal relationship with God. He knew God intimately; and yet he was alone.
When I left home for college, I felt more alone than I had ever felt in my life. My family was wrecked beyond repair – and would never really recover. And I had lost, not my belief in God, but my trust and my relationship. I was alone.
I fell in love, married my college sweetheart, and tried to find something to fill the empty space where Jesus used to live. I loved my wife. She loved me. But I was still alone. Lonely. Empty.
I could spend hours telling you what happened over the next few years, about how my wife met Jesus, about how I at first recoiled from her faith and then; found my own faith again. Those are beautiful stories but they are simply the seeds of what God had planted in me… only the beginning of a beautiful story that would soon begin to unfold.
As I re-found my lost faith, I discovered something new… something surprising… something strange. It was no longer “me & Jesus”. Jesus alone was no longer enough. I needed others. I needed family. I needed community. I needed to experience the love of God as it was poured out on me by others. I needed to pour out his love on others.
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.The phrase “one another” appears over 50 times in the new testament.
23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
“be at peace with each other”
“As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
“serve one another in love”
“be patient, bearing with one another in love”
and over and over again…
“love one another”
“love one another”
“love one another”
“love one another”
We are each image bearers of the God who made us. Each of us carry that spark. It is when those image bearers, those tiny sparks, come near to one another that Christ’s glow becomes the light of dawn. It is when those sparks come closer still that He shines like the light of noonday. It is when we love one another best that he is most visible to us and to the world.
“This is how we know…”
My journey back to my faith did not truly begin to transform me until I brought my faith into community. He did not become fully visible until I saw him in the faces of others - In my wife, in my kids, and in my faith community. I saw him in the joy of birth. I saw him in the grief of death and loss. I saw him in acts of great faith. I saw him in acts of desperation and doubt. He became greater as I became less; and I became less when I became part of a community. Less… and yet more. Not just me and Jesus… not just a personal relationship… Not Christ alone… He became greatest when I began to not only to see him, but to experience him in others. I began to know him as I began to know others. I began to love him as I began to love others.
And… I began to believe that He loved me when I began to be loved… by others.
“This is how we know what love is…”
Over the years, other disappointments have come. Death and loss, dreams unfulfilled. I have faced other circumstances where my faith was in crisis… even in question. I have even experienced the loss of my personal conection to Christ… just as surely as I did when I lost Him in the wreckage of my broken family… but with this difference… even when He is far away, I am not alone. When Jesus seems to have abandoned me… he is still beside me as he is seen in the faces of my community. When I doubt him, my community loves me. When I despair… my family carries me; and by their hands, Jesus carries me. 30 years ago, to lose faith meant to walk alone. Today, when I lose heart, my family sits with me… hopes with me… and waits with me… waits for me to find my way back to Him.
And so… if I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, who is by my side..?
Jesus; yes. But not just Jesus…
You are by my side… and you… and you…
And when you reach your valley; I will be by your side.
Many of you have heard me say this…
It’s not about me… it’s about us... It’s not about you… it’s about us.
One of my favorite verses:
6 God sets the lonely in families…
Humanity has two issues… brokenness and loneliness… Christ heals our brokenness and we heal one another’s loneliness. He heals our loneliness when He “sets the lonely in families”.
He sets the lonely in families and then - he brings families together. Small families join with other small families… and his light shines more brightly… more beautifully… more intensely.
We attach ourselves to one another to bring our small and tiny sparks together. We are warmed by the light we see in one another. And one community journeys 80 plus miles to share their sparks with the spark of another community; a beautiful family holding their own fire close to their own hearts. And we bring our fires together… we feel the warmth of the sun… of the SON. and we see Him… we know Him… we experience Him… and He is beautiful.
His kingdom come.
*sunday ~ april 29 - new mt pleasant missionary baptist church ~ cotton plant, ar