Monday, May 29, 2017

The "Love First" Challenge by Mike DeCamp

The “Love-First” Challenge

When I was a student in Bible College, every day we gathered for about thirty minutes of chapel, and usually one of the upper classmen would speak.  There was one guy who almost always focused his message around the topic of God’s Love.  As an 18-year old, I blew it off.  “Love again?  Blah, blah, blah.  I wish he’d talk about something more powerful!”

In the early 1990’s, Nancy and I were in a congregation where the lead minister began a series of sermons on what it meant to be “loving.”  He encouraged us to examine our interactions and measure it against whether what we were doing was the “loving thing to do.”  This was an odd message to my ears considering we were part of a pretty doggone legalistic ministry at the time.  Unfortunately, it was a short-lived theme.

Now, here we are in 2017, and there has been something bothering me for quite some time.  Something just didn’t seem to be right.  I’ve felt like we’ve been missing something basic, something important.  Still, I just couldn’t put my finger on it.  In the culture at large, Christianity seemed to be more of an irritant than an answer.  In our congregation, people are disconnected, lackluster, and even a bit disenchanted.

Are we not hardline enough?  Are we too hardline?  Is there some program we need to implement?  Is our music too contemporary?  Is our music too traditional?  Are we too much on the fence?  Do we need to focus more on the kids?  On the new adults?  On the young parents?  On the older folks?  Do we need to be more demanding?  Surely, there was a program—that’s our fallback answer.

Lots of questions, but no real answers.

Then, I picked up the book “Love First” by Don McLaughlin at ElderLink in April.

Ding, ding, ding!

What we have been lacking is a true focus on love that has been conditioned by God’s principles.  Let me share a few scriptures to make my point.

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.  One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?”

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.”  Matthew22:34-40

“A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  John 13:34-35

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:43-45a

Love is the basis of everything we do and everything we stand for as Christians, and yet, it seems to me that we pay these verses only lip service.  We have relegated it to a nice concept when in reality, it is supposed to be at the heart of our purpose and our mission.

Folks, every problem we have can be boiled down to a love issue:  I’m not loving you enough, or you’re not loving me enough, or we’re not loving God enough.

I don’t feel connected…  Not enough volunteers…  The leadership is aloof…  No one calls me…  We’re losing young families…  I’m too busy to get more involved…  We’re just not clicking as a group…  I don’t like the song selection… 

I could go on, but every one of those complaints (and more) can ALL be boiled down to a love issue.

Let me share one more verse with you:  1 Corinthians 13:1-3

If I speak in the tongues of men or angels, but do not have 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 do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Friends, if you distill that verse down to the base meaning, it says that if we as Christians do not cloak all that we say, all that we write, all that we tweet, all that we post, and all that we do in love, we are both empty within ourselves and quite irritating to the world around us.

I was so very wrong to blow this off as a young Christian, and I was wrong to only give it a cursory commitment as an adult.  It is time for me to change, and I am challenging all of you reading this to examine yourselves.  Change with me.  We need to love one another…the way that God intended.

I want to recommend Don’s book to the church.  You can order it from Leafwood/ACU Press, or on Amazon.  I have encouraged the elders and their wives, along with the ministry staff and their wives to read it, and they have agreed.  You should read it, too.  I think you will be hearing more about this in coming weeks.  Also, Don McLaughlin will be visiting us in August, so you can hear his thoughts first hand.  We will be having a combined Men’s and Women’s Breakfast on Saturday, August 5th.  Plan to attend.

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