What 40 years as a pastor have taught me: Love is our story (part X)

A member of our leadership team asked me recently, when you say that you are sometimes disappointed in yourself and/or in New Covenant, what are you referring to? That was a good question. Although there could be many specifics to a long answer, it is clear to me what the short answer is:

My ideal is that as a community we would always be seeking to, and be focused on, being loved by God, loving God actively, and loving one another as widely as the circle can meaningfully reach. More importantly, I believe that this is God’s ideal for our community. But, I often forget that is the main reason for every meeting and decision; so I cannot be angry at others for forgetting—just disappointed in all of us at times. I wish we could figure out how to genuinely help one another remember that is why we exist as a church. Why else would we?

As I enter the next phase of my life that some call “retirement” (and I prefer to call “I wonder what is next?”), I am still trying to get our story straight in my own life. As my wife Donna often comments about the most powerful truths in life: “So simple to say; so hard to live.”

The Hebrew words chesed and ahav and the Greek words agape and phileo were the primary words behind our English Bible translation “love.” Many studies have been done on these words which there is no room to repeat here. I only want to mention that taken together, these words convey both a stubborn commitment to wanting the best for the other person and a deep caring relationship.

Pastoring has convinced me that the New Testament writers knew what they were talking about when they said that “love” was what human reality and relationships are meant to be all about. I have been convinced of this by seeing how lives change and heal when people experience God’s love for them. I have been convinced by seeing the power of love when humans choose love-in-action as their response to both God and to other humans. And, sadly, I have been convinced by seeing the tragedies that happen when we make some other value primary – even if it is a good cause or an important truth.

I hope it is obvious that I am not speaking of “love” as “accepting” everything, nor as always being warm and fuzzy, but I am talking about love as Jesus lived it and taught it: risky, radical, and self-sacrificing—choosing to work for the best for others and to value them as they should be valued. So, I want to end this blog series by quoting a few of the many passages in the New Testament that challenge us to let God make this real in our lives. And, I challenge you, and myself, read these and let them sink in until we “hear God” speaking through them.

The OLD TESTAMENT

The New Testament writers wrote all of these “love” challenges based on their understanding of the Hebrew Bible. The attempts to make the “God” of the Old Testament a different “God” than “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus the Messiah” are terribly misleading. Even a cursory reading of the reports about Jesus’ life make it clear that he loved, and believed he was loved by, the God of Israel. His entire life was predicated on that truth. Yes, Jesus did believe that God had only been able to express God’s-Self in more limited ways in the past, and that in the mission and message he had given Jesus to incarnate, God was now expressing God’s character more clearly than ever before. But, it is the same God. The God who loved Israel; the God who demanded that Israel love God; and the God who told them that this meant loving one another and even loving the stranger and the immigrant as well as the neighbor. God whose steadfast love undergirds human history and individual lives is the God of Abraham and Sarah and Hagar, of Joshua and Rahab, or Moses and Jethro, and “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus the Messiah.”

JESUS VIA THE WRITERS OF THE GOSPELS

– (John 15:9-10, 12-13, 17) “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. {10} If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love….My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. {13} Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends….This is my command: Love each other.

– (Mark 12:29-33) “The most important commandment,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.   Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.‘ {31} The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these….To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all offerings and sacrifices.”

– (Matthew 5:44, 46)  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,…For if you (only) love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

– (Luke 7:47) Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.

– (John 13:34) I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

– (John 13:35) By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

– (John 14:15)  If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

– (John 17:26) I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.

PAUL’S WRITINGS

– (Romans 13:8-10) Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for the one who loves his fellow human has fulfilled the law. {9} The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” {10} Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

– (1 Corinthians 13:1-4, 13; 14:1) Now, I will tell you of the most excellent way. 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. {2} 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. {3} If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing….And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.   Follow the way of love….

– (1 Corinthians 16:14) Do everything in love.

– (Galatians 5:6, 13-14, 22) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love….You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature ; rather, serve one another in love. {14} The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself”….the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness….

– (Colossians 3:14) And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

– (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10) Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. {10} And in fact, you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more.

LETTERS OF TIMOTHY & HEBREWS

– (1 Timothy 1:5-6) The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. {6} Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk.

– (Hebrews 10:24) And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.

– (Hebrews 13:1) Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters.

JAMES

– (James 2:8) If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.

PETER

– (1 Peter 1:22) Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers and sisters, love one another deeply, from the heart.

– (1 Peter 3:8 and 4:8) Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers and sisters, be compassionate and humble….Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

JOHN’S LETTERS

– (1 John 2:10-12) Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. {11} But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him. {12} I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.

– (1 John 3:10-11) This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother or sister. {11} This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.

– (1 John 3:14, 16-18, 23) We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers and sisters. Anyone who does not love remains in death….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 his brother or sister in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him/her? {18} Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth….{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.

– (1 John 4:7-12) Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. {8} Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. {9} This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. {10} This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. {11} Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. {12} No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

– (1 John 4:16-21) And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. {17} In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. {18} There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. {19} We love because he first loved us. {20} If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother or sister, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother or sister, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. {21} And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother and sister.

That, my friends, is our story. Let’s stick to it.

Love,   Ron S.

Editor’s note: This is the final in a 10-part series from Ron, as he reflects on his 40+ years as a founding pastor of New Covenant Fellowship and prepares to transition into this new phase of his life: retirement, which will include being a part of the NCF community in a “regular” (non-pastoral) way. Thank you for all that you’ve taught us and the many ways you’ve blessed us, Ron!

One Comment On “What 40 years as a pastor have taught me: Love is our story (part X)”

  1. To Kristin: Thank you for all of the faithful work in posting these blogs through the years. Deeply appreciated! /R

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *