I don’t think I could make the statement: What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s what everyone needs, what everyone wants.
I don’t think I could get hardly a person in the world to raise their hand and say, “Excuse me, I disagree. We don’t need anymore love. People being kind to one another, forgiving one another, taking care of each other, families staying together, people being sensitive. I’ll tell you what, we’ve got enough of that as there is.”
Now, think this through, though. If universally we agree that the world needs love and we all need to be loved, why is there such little love? It’s kind of amazing, isn’t it?
I put a little statement of three facts about love. Fact number one: It’s a universal need. We are all looking for love. I have never met a person who is not looking for love. From the moment you came out of the womb, you were looking for someone to hold you, feed you, protect you, love you.
When you got older, you were looking for someone to look into your eye and say, “You matter, you’re secure, you’re significant.” When you blew it or you failed, you wanted someone to say, “You know what? I forgive you. I’m still for you.” Everybody is desperately looking and wanting to be loved, fact number one.
Fact number two is there is a universal solution to the universal need. God loves all people everywhere and longs to meet the deepest needs of their heart for love. God loves everyone! He has demonstrated His love. His heart breaks when He sees what happens to people. He wants to heal, He wants to forgive, He wants to encourage, He wants to affirm, He wants to support, He wants to redirect, He wants to guide, He wants to hold, He wants to heal.
You have a universal need over here of people desperately wanting to be loved, and you have, over here, an omnipresent, all-wise, all knowing Creator who wants to love and has already loved the world.
Fact number three: We have a universal disconnect. There is a tragic disconnection. You have this unbelievable need and this supernatural, unlimited, boundless availability, and nevertheless, most people remain starved for love. They are starved for love.
Imagine, if you can, can I give you a word picture? Imagine all the people of the world, on every continent – South America, North America, Australia, Europe, China, Asia – every continent, all the people, all six plus billion some people and imagine them all standing, shoulder to shoulder, with this universal need to be loved.
And then imagine that they are in some continent in the center, and we have packed them all together, and every ocean is, instead of water, every lake, every stream is turned into liquid love.
Imagine that word picture. It’s liquid love. And there are three reasons. All these six billion people, starving for love, and there is all this love but some of those people have never seen the ocean. Some of those people were brought up or lived in a desert. They aren’t loved because they are not aware that there is an ocean of love available.
Some people have no idea that God cares for them and loves them. Some of those people have tasted and they know about God’s love, but they have not received it. They were stacked all together, all these people in the world, and someone took them over to the ocean or to a stream or to a lake and it’s just flowing with liquid love.
And you can dive in! You can take a bottle, you can drink it, you can take a bath in it, you can get in the barrels, you can get it in the jugs, you can take it home with you!
And it’s a sense of well-being and purpose and significance, and an overwhelming sense of your importance and security. Unconditional, given by God. But there are countless numbers of people that get to the edge of the ocean and they intellectually agree, There is an ocean full of love, and for whatever reason, I am not worthy of that love, I am afraid if I would receive that love what the demands might be on me.
But there are some people that aren’t loved because they don’t know they are loved. There are a lot of people who are aware that they are loved, but they are standing on the shore and they have never received it.
And then there is a whole other set of people that, at least once or twice, they have jumped into the lake and they have taken maybe a water bottle full of love and they have tasted it and they have experienced it and it has changed their life and they have gotten back on the shore and it was overwhelming, but it was so good and so amazing they start to confuse it with other kinds of love, like how their dad or their mom or an ex-mate or a boss and they are so afraid that, I don’t want to get too radically involved in this kind of love, and they have this experience and for the life of them, they don’t know how to touch it or taste it again.
And it just comes in little windows and they can’t quite figure it out but it often comes when they are so desperate and so thirsty and there is no place else to go, they dive back into the ocean or the lake or the stream of love, and they taste it in their lowest times and darkest moments, and then somehow, when they get filled just enough with love to get on their own, they start living their own way again.
I would say that is at least a decent picture of a universal need, a universal solution, and a very tragic disconnect, among both believers and unbelievers.
Brennan Manning, in his little book called, Abba’s Child, quotes Henri Nouwen and talks about, What is the root cause behind Christians not experiencing the love of God? I think his words are instructive. Nouwen writes, “Over the years I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection.”
Follow his logic closely. “Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are a part of a much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless, unlovable,” when we have voices that you are not worthy, you don’t measure up is the idea, when we carry in our hearts shame and guilt and a sense that we are unlovable, then he goes on to say, “…success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions.
“The real trap, however, is self-rejection…Self rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that God calls us the ‘Beloved.’” We are Beloved in Christ. We are in Christ. “Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”
I have been a Christian about thirty years and been on a very interesting journey like many of you and in the first decade I learned many of the disciplines of the Christian life and learned to read my Bible and study and pray and share my faith and then in the next decade, probably, learned a little bit more about ministry and then probably in the last twelve to fifteen years, began to learn more about the disciplines of the Christian life and have read very widely, from a lot of different backgrounds.
And I am convinced that if you put a gun to my head and said, “After thirty years of walking with God, for wherever you are at in your life, what is maybe the biggest discovery about what it means to have a relationship with Christ?” I would say, “It is coming to believe and accept that God really loves me, completely apart from my performance.”
And separating that love from the love that I have received from people, separating that love from the kind of love that you get if you can do this or because you can do that, separating it from things that feel so close to love like being admired. Things that feel so close to being loved like being affirmed or encouraged or valued, because you can do this or you own that or can give this or can empower others in a certain way.
And I think at the core of the existence of God’s heart, at least in what I am learning, and as I have read many of the people that have walked much deeper in the Christian life than me, it comes to this sense that believing, just as you are, not if, not if this gets cleaned up, not because you do this or do that, but just as you are, because of who God is, that you are the object of His affection.
And that all these things about purity and all these things about caring for others and all these things about life transformation really start if they are genuine, at the very, very core of our existence, when we begin to see ourselves as God sees us: as precious, as valuable, as unconditionally loved, as the object of His affection and concern, as the One who thinks about us, because He is in the eternal and He can think about all of us simultaneously and know all of our thoughts, all of our issues, all of our concerns. And if I can learn that, then it begins to remove me from trying to perform to earn His favor, or trying to impress you to make you somehow think I am either better or more spiritual or more kind or whatever.
Because if I can’t experience God’s love, human love is a good second best. But then what you all keep doing to me is you keep letting me down. And every time I try and find that unquenchable love in another human being, and whether it’s in my wife or whether it’s in a close friend or whether it’s in being a dad or whether it’s with a ministry partner, these human, frail pieces of dust just keep letting me down and somewhere along the line, I feel manipulated and I feel used and I feel abused.
And then that is very painful, except it gets worse. Because then I look in the mirror and I find that I am using and manipulating and abusing others so that I can feel better about myself. And I would say, at the core of our heart and our lives, is beginning to grasp the love of God.
And so I think Nouwen has a point that is very well taken, and so I would like to spend the remainder of our time seeing if we can take a crack, a journey, of understanding what it would be like in increasing, progressive measures, maybe we won’t dive into the ocean of God’s liquid love, but I would like to, at least all of us, get a little water bottle on a regular basis.
And maybe some of us could get some gallon containers and long-term, my dream is that I would like to get one of those big tankers like they have the gasoline and the truck in and I would like to get that thing and back it in and get a hose that comes out of it and have that pouring through that ocean, in that tanker, so I could go out and I could pour out that liquid love to other people with the belief that the more I give and the more I spread, unconditionally, of what God has given to me, is that there is a dynamic principle of the universe of our Lord Jesus, that as I give, it will be given, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and I will never run out.
Because what I think we taste of God’s love is normally about a thimble full in an ocean and the love that is available to us, 24/7, totally apart from our performance, our background, how intelligent we are, our personality, what we have done, what we haven’t done, what we have read, what we haven’t read is not just all the oceans but all the oceans on all the planets of all the world of all the time. It is boundless and limitless.
And there is nothing that brings greater honor to God if we could learn to receive it. How great a love the Father has on us, has lavished upon us, that we should be called the children of God.
So let’s talk about what love is, let’s see if we can move it from that concept, intellectual, in our head, down into our hearts. For me, it’s God’s love is His holy disposition toward all that He has created that compels Him to express unconditional affection and selective correction to provide the highest and best quality of existence, both now and forever, for the objects of His love.
Let me unpack that just a little, because the words were actually chosen fairly carefully. God’s love is holy. In other words, we learned that word, right? It means separate, marked-off, it’s totally other. I want you to know, it’s not like the love of a human being. It’s a different kind of love, it’s a different category.
And it’s a holy disposition. It’s just the way He feels, the way He thinks all the time about you. And it’s that He has created, He has this holy disposition that compels Him to do two things. He is just compelled, not because of something in you, but because of something in Him to express unconditional affection.
I don’t want to get ooey-gooey here, but He just want to hug you all the time! And He wants to express hugs and smiles and affirmation. Some of you here are parents. You know how you feel about your kids? You know how it is to hold them close? You know what it’s like to tuck them in? You know what it’s like when there is a big day? You know what it’s like to have someone stick their arms around you and hold you so close just like my daughter did after her graduation?
And I just thought I was going to smother her. And little Annie said, “Oh, Dad, I love you!” And, man, I just thought, I’m not going to make it through this graduation! But that’s what God wants to do for you. It is unconditional affection.
But notice, God’s love isn’t just this ooey-gooey, goodness of wellbeing, but it’s a holy disposition that compels Him toward unconditional affection and selective correction. See, God loves me so much that any time my life, my thought, my relationship, my finances, and my priorities are moving me toward unhealthy things that will do damage to me and damage to others, His love does what? He brings about correction.
See, that’s what God’s love is. He is compelled to do it, but why? In order to provide the highest and best quality of existence. You know the abundant life Jesus talked about? That’s just another way of saying it. The highest, best. What does it mean? Life that is really life! Living to the brim! Living fulfilled! Living, not dependent on people’s response but something that wells up inside where the deepest longings and thirsts of your soul are satisfied.
That’s what God wants for you. And you know what that is? That is experiencing the love of God. And so that is the goal. And so He is compelled by a holy disposition to constantly give, unconditionally, not based on your performance, affection and selective correction.
It’s selective. I use that word because there are a lot of times I am veering off, I’m veering off, I’m veering off and His mercy and His longsuffering says, “You know, Chip, you could use a little spanking right now but I’m just hoping He is going to catch on a little bit later. I’m just going to keep loving Him.” It’s selective correction.
Anytime He can withhold what is justly due. It’s called mercy. He does. Because I am the object of His affection. And, by the way, this isn’t after you become a Christian. Does the Scripture say, “God so loved the believers that He gave his only Son”? “God so loved the world.” He feels, are you ready? This is how He feels about Saddam Hussein. This is how He feels about Hitler. This is how He feels about the two little ten-year-old boys that raped a seven-year-old girl. This is how He feels about people that, in a moment of uncontrolled rage, abuse one of their kids physically or sexually.
God’s love is other and so absolutely beyond what we can grasp. And so that is my definition.
The characteristics of this love, and I call it agape love. The New Testament writers actually made up that word. They just didn’t have a good word so they said, “We’re going to take this word agape, and let’s sanctify it, put it in the New Testament so it doesn’t get confused with storge or eros or some of these other kinds of loves that the Greek language was familiar with.”
And the characteristics are interesting. It’s a giving love, it’s a sacrificial love, it’s an unconditional love, and it’s a boundless love. God’s love is expressed, primarily, through His goodness, mercy, longsuffering, and grace. And I have a quote here from one of my professors.
I really like what Dr. Ryrie says here. He says, “The love of God is like a tree and then there are branches of its expression and they are primarily His goodness, mercy, longsuffering, and grace.” And he says, “Although there are distinctions as you study these words, they are really not exact. God’s goodness may be defined as His benevolent concern for His creatures.”
Do you ever just think of God as, today, this moment? He is concerned about you. You know how some of you moms are? “Hey, call me when you get there. Call me, I want to know you’ve made it okay.” The God of the universe sort of has that attitude. “Hey, I’m checking on you. I want to make sure everything is okay.” Is that how you think of Him?