Endless Love

I used to love baseball when I was a boy. I grew up playing since I was five, starting off in the Pee Wee league. This was before T-ball existed. We actually had kids pitching to us, and I because a pitcher when I was 6 or 7 years old. I remember watching the Chicago Cubs games on TV sitting next to my Mom. When the games weren’t televised, I’d listen to them on my little transistor radio. Playing baseball was a lot more fun than watching it.

That’s why I don’t watch baseball anymore. The games move soooooo slow and the season is agonizingly long. Yet there is one time when I get nostalgic and have the patience to watch baseball, and that’s when it’s the World Series. There’s energy in the stands and tension in every game. And while the games don’t move any faster, they’re filled with drama as the manager make chess moves against each other, and pictures play cat and mouse with the batters and base runners. One critical move can change the outcome of a game.

This week the baseball season officially ended with the underdog Washington Nationals overcoming the highly favored Houston Astros to become baseball’s world champions. The Astros were touted as one of the strongest teams ever put together. Their top two pitchers were the best in the league, and the rest of their team was strong. Yet the Nationals weren’t scared. They kept loose by playing their theme song, Baby Shark, before every game. They also had a motto that their entire team bought into: Stay in the Fight. No matter what the score, or how many outs they had remaining, they refused to give up. In game after game, when they were on the verge of elimination, they battled back at the end to win.

I think we should adopt the motto, Stay in the Fight, for the Christian life as well. Over the last few weeks we’ve been looking at a verse from the Bible that defines the goal of our lives as faith expressing itself through love(Gal 5:6). It’s the one thing that really counts. But living with faith and love isn’t easy. Part of the problem is that we fight against our own sinful nature. By nature, we are selfish people who would rather do things our way than God’s way. We also prefer to watch out for ourselves than care for other people. We also have a spiritual foe named Satan who’s against us. He knows how to play with our thoughts and urge us to follow our sinful nature. He’ll try to convince you that God can’t be trusted and people aren’t worth loving. We’ll never be able to stay in the fight if we’re on our own, and that’s why Jesus lives in us to live his life through us. Last week I said that it’s not in me to love, but Jesus is in me to love. The greatest miracle you’ll ever experience occurs when Jesus takes up residence in us. His presence compels us to love more people than we ever thought about loving and in ways far deeper than we ever dreamed possible. Jesus is love, so when he lives in us, he brings into our lives and endless supply of love.

If Jesus is living in you, you have what you need to stay in the fight…and win. Today I want to tell you how to stay in the fight with a love that never ends. We have to fight for our relationships. Satan wants us to fight with people; Jesus wants us to fight for people. Those two little words—with and for—make a world of difference in the way you fight and the goal you’re fighting for. When you fight with someone you care more about being right than the relationship. You’ll use any tactic available to help you win, like anger and sarcasm. And when it’s over, you both will leave with battle scars.

When you fight forsomeone, you care most about the relationship. You want both parties to come away as winners. You’ll fight with tactics you won’t regret using. And after it’s over, you’ll have a stronger bond than ever before.

Love never stops fighting for the relationship. You might be in a conflict with your spouse, your parents, your kids, or with a friend. You’ve grown weary of reaching out and having your hand slapped. You’re tired of people taking advantage of your kindness. It hurts to much to put yourself out there and be rejected again and again. It’s not in you to love, but Jesus is in you to love.

Jesus is love, and where he lives, there is an endless reserve of supernatural love available. At no point in time did Jesus run out of love for you. Even when you were at your worst, he never stopped loving you. And if he lives in you, he will never stop loving people through you. The kind of love Jesus gives us is the same kind of love he wants us to give to other. Last week we looked at some of the facets of that love in 1 Corinthians 13, known as the Love Chapter. Today we’re revisiting that chapter to look at the pinnacle in his description of love. He wrote:

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.
1 Corinthians 13:7-8a

Paul gives four simple verbs to describe love. Remember that love is a verb and an action word. It is not a feeling, though it can generate feelings. Love is something we do. And we never finish doing them. These verbs are all present tense, which means they describe continuous action. Love keeps on bearing, believing, hoping and enduring all things. That’s the kind of love I want to have, and I hope it’s the kind of love you desire, too. 

MY GOAL IS TO HAVE A LOVE THAT…

  1. BEARS all things.

The New International Version translates this as always protects. Bearing and protecting may seem like different things, but you’ll see how they converge in the meaning of the Greek word that’s translated both ways. The original word come from another word that refers to a thatched roof or covering on a building. This protective covering guards what’s inside from what’s outside.This week we had a couple snow days, and many roofs had several inches of snow. The people inside the house were protected from the snow on the outside because of that roof. The roof bore the weight of the snow so it didn’t fall on those inside.

Both of these ideas of love bearing and protecting is pictured by a roof because love guards others from the weight of something heavy, something that could hurt them. Many of us have parts of our lives and stories from our past that we really don’t want people to know about. It’s something we’re ashamed of, yet may find relief in sharing that information with a trusted friend, a therapist, or our hairdresser. We don’t want it to go anywhere; we just need to confess it to someone. Those who receive that intimate information have a choice to guard it and protect the person, or publicize it and hurt them. Love chooses to bear and protect.

It’s sad that when someone runs for public office, people dig into their past to see what dirt they can find on that person. I’m not suggesting we cover up illegal or unethical conduct, but it seems that how someone acted when they were in college or what they wrote in a paper should be used to judge them in the present. We’ve all done foolish things in our past that we regret and hope they wouldn’t be used to hurt or embarrass us. In the book of Proverbs it says,

The one who guards a fig tree will eat its fruit, and whoever protects their master will be honored.
Proverbs 27:18

If you guard the fig tree, it will be a blessing to you in the long run. If you protect your master, you will be honored. Servants are given special access to their master. They see his faults in ways that others don’t. There is a place for a whistleblower when someone’s done something unethical or illegal, but to advance one’s personal career at the expense of another is not a trait of love. There are many books written today by people who had close access to a celebrity or president and who have found an audience with an appetite to consume information that sullies the reputation of that person.

One of the best examples of someone protecting their master was exhibited in the life of David in 1 Samuel 24. David had been anointed as King during the time when Saul was King over Israel. Because David was a threat to his chair, Saul gathered three thousand elite fighters to find and kill David. So David was constantly on the run.

On one occasion, he and his band of renegades hit in a cave near En Gedi when they heard that Saul and his mean were near. While they were huddled in the back of the cave, the Bible says that Saul stepped into the cave to relieve himself. It doesn’t say exactly what Saul did, but you can just imagine that out of the two most likely options, Saul was engaged in option #2. Because he was in a vulnerable position, David’s men whispered that this was the moment they had been waiting for. God had brought Saul right to David so he could kill him.

So David snuck up to Saul and did what all the brave men do in war movies: he cut off the corner of Saul’s robe! I can just imagine the shock and disappointment of the men when David came back with the piece of fabric. But David explained how he was overcome with a feeling of shame in doing what he’d done, and that it was not his place nor their place to lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed. He knew that just as the Lord had anointed him as king, God had also anointed Saul as king years before. David knew that if God wanted Saul out, he would make that happen.

David took It one step further. He ran after Saul and explained why he didn’t kill him, and asked Saul why he was seeking to kill him. He called Saul his lord, the Lord’s anointed, and his father—all titles of honor and respect. Saul was a weak king, yet David chose to carry the weight of Saul’s weaknesses and allow a higher authority to deal with him.

When someone takes the risk to be vulnerable with you, it’s not the time to move in for the kill. What they’re doing is reaching out, hoping that you care enough to bear the weight of their burden with them.

One Spring Break I returned home from Bible college in Nebraska with a fellow student named Mike. He lived close to my hometown in Wisconsin, so he invited me to ride with him. When you sit in the front seat of a truck with someone for eight hours, you find a lot about each other. Mike was older than most of the students at college. He was in his mid-30’s and had never been married. At one point in the conversation, he blurted out, When I was in the army, I killed a man. At first I thought he was joking, but there wasn’t a smile on his face. I quickly got the impression that he was serious. A hundred questions raced through my head: Was it self-defense? Was it in combat? Did he shoot someone or kill them some other way? And why was he telling me this. I got really nervous when he sped up the truck and turned quickly off the highway and down a gravel road. Okay, that part didn’t happen. And honestly, I wasn’t really nervous. Mike was smaller than me and I could take him if I had to.

Mike didn’t go into all the details, but shared that there had been a conflict in his barracks with another soldier and he killed him in self-defense. Yet he felt tremendous guilt over it. I had to wonder how long he waited to get that off his chest, and why he chose to share that news with me? I’ve never shared that story in a sermon because I never wanted it to come back and hurt Mike in anyway.

Peter writes:

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
1 Peter 4:8

People make a lot of bad decisions. Love does ignore sin or minimize its impact, but it’s always willing to give grace and forgiveness.

  1. Believes all things.

Remember the context of this verse—Paul is talking about relationships and how love prevails. When he says that love believes all things, it doesn’t mean that we should believe everything to be true. It’s sometimes hard to determine what’s true and what’s not anymore. You don’t know when a picture’s been photo-shopped or when the facts in a story are true. There’s a website called the Babylon Bee whose whole purpose is to write satire about popular news items. Yet sometimes people will hear a headline, think it’s true, and then send it out to their friends. This week, for example, they ran a story with this headline: More Californians Forced To Run Extension Cords To Neighboring States.

Paul’s not telling us to believe everything we hear. What he’s talking about is having faith in our relationships. Believing all thingsis the attitude that we assume the best in another person. It means we give the benefit of the doubt and don’t race to put suspicion in the gap. It means we don’t jump to conclusions about another person’s intentions when we really don’t know what motivated them to act the way they did. For example, if someone doesn’t return a call or text, don’t assume they don’t care about you. If someone doesn’t give you all the information, don’t assume they are hiding something from you. If we get offended by what someone says, don’t assume they meant to hurt us. If someone doesn’t come through on a promise, don’t conclude they aren’t trustworthy. If these are repeated patterns, then your assumptions may be correct. But don’t start there. So many issues could be cleared up if we would just ask a question or two. You could say something like, I felt hurt by what you said and the way you said something the other day. Can you help me understand why you seemed so angry with me?

Talking can make matters so much better. A few years ago a man in our church asked if he could meet with me. During our meeting, he explained that I had said something to him before a service several years before and he took it in a wrong way. He said he made up his mind that day that I was a jerk, but now came to realize I wasn’t a bad person and that he actually like me. He felt God put it on his heart that he needed to come and apologize for how he labeled me because it wasn’t true. I can’t say I felt relieved because up to that point, as I wasn’t aware of any issue between us. But I did tell him I had an old friend who once killed a man and he would be coming to see him. Just kidding!

When I think of these verbs that describe love, I look to Jesus as the example. In what way did Jesus believe in people? Peter was a fisherman until Jesus came and called him to follow. He saw something in Peter that others didn’t see. He saw him as a strong leader, a rock, even though he didn’t act like one at first. Jesus saw untapped potential. He sees it in you and me as well. He knows the truth about my sin, yet he knows what I can be. We are like pieces of old furniture that he strips and stains in order to bring out the beauty that was always there.

Four of the most powerful words in the English language are I believe in you. Our hearts ache to know that someone believes in us. Maybe you were fortunate to have a parent that reminded you of that often. I was blessed to have coaches and teachers who believed in me. Moms and Dads, your children want to hear those words from you. It means so much. I know that when Julie says she believes in me, my spirit soars! In Proverbs 31 is a description of a godly woman, and in it we see what kind of man enables her to flourish.

The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. Proverbs 31:11

Love believes in people.

  1. HOPES all things.

When you have hope, you have confidence things will get better with the Lord. It’s not just wishful thinking or crossing your fingers. Hope has a reason, and the reason for our hope is that God hasn’t given up on them. When we have hope for others, we don’t see their failures as final. On Friday nights we have 50-60 adults who come together to drink from the well of hope. They’ve been hurt, they’ve made bad choices, they’ve felt trapped. But when they come together as a group, they draw from the hope that Jesus has a better future for them.

If you have children, you have hope that they’ll get good grades, make some lasting friends, get involved in sports or band or art, go to college, get a job, get married and have grandkids. But as life rolls out, it doesn’t always look like that. The path may hit most of those things, but not in a direct line. Yet it’s hope that causes us to get on our knees and pray for our kids.

Marriage is similar. You have a lot of hopes on your wedding day, hopes of happiness, building a family together, sharing memorable experiences. Then you’re hit with disappointment, and disappointment leads to disillusionment which leads to despair. Despair is another word for hopelessness. Hope doesn’t guarantee that things will get better–it just reminds you that better is possible, particularly if the Lord is invited into the process.

Dr. Henry Cloud is a clinical psychologist and leadership coach. He says that you can pretty much put all people in one of three categories. First, there are Wise People. He says that wise people are receptive to and even grateful for feedback. They take ownership of the areas where they need to grow and show remorse over the negative impact they’ve had on others. They learn from their experiences and make changes based on the lessons learned. They desire to get better. The book of Proverbs says, Correct a wise manand he will be wiser still. You can trust that if you give wise people instruction, resources and time, they get better.

Second, there are Foolish People. These people respond very differently to truth. They get defensive and instead of adjusting to the truth, they reinterpret the truth to fit them. They do not take ownership and instead point fingers at others and claim they are the ones with the problem. When you give feedback to foolish people, they minimize the impact of their actions and excuse them. Instead of feeling remorse about what they did, they become angry with you for bringing it up. They see themselves as victims and their world gets divided into two groups—those who are for them and those who are against them. Cloud’s believes that foolish people can change, but only if measures and consequences are put in place to stop the pattern.

The third group of people are what Cloud defines as Evil people. He says they are insensitive people who delight in hurting others and seeing them fail. Cloud says these are the people you get restraining orders against.

As a church, we exist to give people hope. When marriages struggle, we work with couple through a program called re l engage, and we’ve watched marriages that were rated a 1 or 2 on a 10-point scale rather their marriage at a 5, 6 or 7 by the end of the course. In two weeks we have a special friend coming to our church to speak to couples and parents. Ted Cunningham is one of the leading voices for marriage and family in our nation. He’s been her before and each time, people walk away feeling blessed. Never give up hope for your most precious relationships! I pray for you what Paul prayed for the believers in Rome:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
Romans 15:13

  1. ENDURES all things.

This means to persevere. Perseverance is adetermined continuation in something, despite especially difficult circumstances. What kind of things must you endure? Something, anythingand everything. Good things, bad things, painful things, pleasant things. You name it, it’s included. I’ve known people who’ve endured both poverty and prosperity.

I like looking at wedding pictures. The bride and groom always look so amazing, and why shouldn’t they? They’re enjoying probably the most expensive party they’ll and their families will ever throw. It’s easy to get good pictures when you’re wearing a fancy dress or tux. What I like even better than wedding photos are anniversary pictures. I love to see people post a picture on whatever anniversary they’re celebrating because the joy on their faces is joy that has been tempered by years of reality. Together they’ve endured much.

I’m going to turn 60 next year, and as I think about the last quarter of my life, I want so finish well. There are many goals I have for myself and some bucket list items. I also have some things I hope to accomplish for the church. Yet at the top of my list, the thing I want more than anyone else is to love well. I want to love my wife and kids and grandkids well. I want to love my friends and the church I serve well. I’ve been watching an older person do that.

Roy Lawson was the pastor of the church I used to serve at and he’s been a mentor and father-figure for our family. We’re not the only ones. There are many who claim to be part of his Velcro family. One of them is a man named Jeff. Roy met Jeff when he was a young pastor. Jeff was a troubled student who lived with his mother. He was strong-willed and rebellious, which got him into constant trouble. They stayed in touch through the years and Jeff would often reach out to Roy for advice when he found himself in a bind. When he met a woman he loved and wanted to marry, Roy performed the ceremony. Roy watched the marriage go through struggles. He learned of secrets that Jeff kept hidden. Recently Jeff said to someone, I don’t think there’s anything I could do that would cause Roy to stop loving me.That’s the kind of love god has for us.

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! Psalm 118:1 

Love endures all things.

  1. Will NEVER END!

[Picture of the infinity symbol] Do you know what this symbol is? It’s not a tired number 8. It’s the symbol for infinity. Infinity means endless. It means something goes on and on forever. The number for Pi is like that. We just use the short version of 3.16, but it actually has digits that continue on forever.

The Bible never uses the word infinity, but there are similar words: forever, everlasting, without end. Contrary to Buzz Lightyear’s words, there is nothing beyond infinity because infinity doesn’t end. Neither does God’s love for us.

I have loved you with an everlasting love. Jeremiah 31:3

When our grandson Aedan stays with us, we always say prayers before he goes to bed, and then I lay beside him and sing, Jesus Loves Me.You all know the first verse. I thought I knew the second verse but I can’t find the one I sing online, so I’m thinking I made it up. It goes like this:

Jesus loves me when I’m good.

When I do the things I should.

Jesus loves me when I’m bad,

Though it makes him very sad.

I want him to know that Jesus’ love isn’t greater when he good or less when he’s bad. Jesus loves you infinitely more than you can ever imagine. When you were at your worst, he sent his Son to die for you so you could be forgiven and become part of his family. Jesus does love you when you’re good, but he doesn’t love you because you’re good. And even when you’re bad, you aren’t cut off from his life. Paul says in his letter to the Romans:

38For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

Our natural inclination is to reach our limit and give up on people. It’s too much work. It hurts too much. I don’t have the time to love like that. If all you’re going to do is love the people you find easy to love, you’re no different than the unbelievers around you. The agape love that changes peoples’ hearts goes beyond our feelings to a choice of the will. That’s the kind of love he wants us to have for others. Yet we realize that it’s not in us to love like that. Jesus is in us to love like that. I can’t love others the way he wants me to love—to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things and endure all things. It is something that Jesus has to do through me. The good news is: he will! Remember Philippians 4 :13? It says we can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.

What seems impossible is HIMpossible!

You can’t do it, but Christ can do it through you!

People will irritate you. Love them anyway.

People will hurt you. Love them anyway.

People will disappoint you. Love them anyway.

People will spread lies about you. Love them anyway.

People will ignore you. Love them anyway.

People will talk bad about you. Love them anyway.

People will take advantage of your generosity. Love them anyway.

Do you want to love people like Jesus loves you?