Sunday, August 14, 2011

Limiting The Impact Of Jesus

Life isn't too complicated as a child. Pitch a tent in the backyard, invite some friends over, bike everywhere, go swimming and it's a great summer. Mind you, there are problems from time to time, like when no one wants to come out to play, when it seems one friend likes another friend more than you, when dad forgets to cut the crust off the sandwiches. These can make for a very bad day. Don't laugh. Problems are proportional to experience. If these are the biggest problems you have ever faced then they can seem to be mountainous.

It's not much different for the adolescent. The scale is a bit different and their problems are more adult-like but life still does not contain the complications of responsibility. Most adolescents are still free to make mistakes and survive the consequences. They may have a job but most of the time it's for pocket money, to go to the movies or to eat out with some friends. The social hierarchy teens is complicated and they can be down right mean to each other but this is a time of learning some very hard lessons without the heavy burden of adult responsibilities.

Even as adults life does not have to be very complicated, aside from the heavy responsibility of supporting a family, paying the bills, and helping your children through the mind-field of growing up. It can get complicated if we decide to allow it to. We can complicate our friendships, our marriage and even our parenting. We can decide to make a real mess of everything with the decisions we make. The more self-centered these decisions are the more complicated things will be. This is true for all stages of our growth but hopefully as adults we better understand the consequences of these decisions. Bad decisions as a child are usually resolved by the end of the day. Bad decisions as an adolescent are longer lasting but are usually limited in who they will affect. Bad decisions as an adult are more permanent and usually are more far reaching in scope. Yet, in all these stages there is one thing that will keep life simple.

As followers of Jesus Christ we should understand the great importance and the simplifying nature of love. The apostle Paul was so right when we said that things have no value without love. He even stated that we have no value without love. Of course we are not referring to the often self-centered puppy love that strikes teens and adults alike. I refer to the love of Jesus which changes us completely so that we are always putting others ahead of ourself. I want you to think about this for a second because it is wrong for us to talk of love and then hurt people with our words and actions, especially when we use God as an excuse in doing it.

Love goes beyond words. It takes a hold of us and starts dictating our actions and our responses to people. Love is not about receiving but is always about finding creative ways to give. Anyone can give when it is easy to give but love has us give during the busy days, the weary days, the sick days and the unhappy days. The love of Jesus is so strong and powerful that it enables us to set aside our own deficiencies to care for others.

I often forget about how strong and life-changing this love is. Sometimes we can allow life and its complications to rob us of this. Sometimes we set aside the servant heart in order to lick our own wounds. People feed us such terrible, self-serving lies about it being okay to focus on ourselves during times of pain but we don't understand that when we minister to other people's needs our needs are taken care of as well. Our whole focus is suppose to be developing the same servant-heart that Jesus has. Look to his life and understand what we are suppose to be.

The incident that impacted me more than any other in the life of Jesus was shortly after he learned about his cousin's death, John the Baptist. Jesus was tired and he just wanted a break from the crowds. He wanted to get away, perhaps to have some alone time with Father. I am sure you can relate after a hard day at work, after preparing supper and dealing with all the kid problems. Perhaps you are younger and it is more the pressures of school, having just survived your math or chemistry test, and after several hours of homework. You just want some "me" time. A moment to decompress. That's when the phone rings, or the doorbell chimes and you just want to run away. How does love respond? Look at Jesus' example:

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. (Matthew 14:13-14)

This level of love from Jesus on one of the worse days of his life so far, moved me as a young man. I wanted this level of compassion. I didn't want to have "sunny day" love but the "worse day of my life" love; the ability to set aside my needs to compassionately reach out in the time of other people's needs. That is the love of Christ. This is the love that changes everything. This is the love that moves mountains. It is the love that looks past the appearance of things and shouts out "forgive them" as the nails pierce the hands. It is the love that uncomplicates life and makes it so simple: love God with your entire being and love others as you have been loved by God.

Honestly reflect on this in worship this morning. Are you trying to love the world with your self-centered limited love? That just usually complicates things even more. The only way that we can make any sort of impact in this world is to live and love with the love of Jesus. If you are not sure how to do this then consider how he has loved you and then go and do the same thing for everyone in your life. Give as he has given to you. Forgive as he has forgiven you. Be generous in mercy and grace as he has been generous to you. Be compassionate in the same manner he has shown you compassion. It's as simple and as hard as that. Deny yourself, take up the cross of love and follow Jesus.

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. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

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