Love Will Save the World (John 4:16-26)

Love will save the world. That the world needs saving should not be in dispute. All one has to do is survey the news and see that there are constant concerns about wars or rumours of wars, there 65 million people who have been forced out of their own homes because of conflict or natural disaster, and there are shootings in far away places and some close by. We live in a world that needs to be saved.

Far less obvious though is the truth that each of us personally needs to be saved too. We are masters at denying our own need for salvation until something like death confronts us and we cannot avoid it anymore. But, as bad as death is, and death is bad, it is not the worst of our problems. The biggest problem that each one of us is that we are alienated from God our Creator. We were created in the image of God and we were made for relationship with God and yet, because of our inbred penchant for rebellion, God is the one thing that our natural hearts cannot stand. We are all natural-born enemies of God. Without some kind of an intervention, we are all headed towards a hell of our own choosing for all eternity. So we all need saving.

Love will save the world.

Hands by Matthew Henry

Photo by Matthew Henry

But the kind of love that will save us and all things is not a love that we know or comes naturally to us. When we think of love, we think of romantic love. But in romantic love, we love others because of how they make us feel. It is a self-centred love so it can  never save us. We might think of the love between two good friends. But we love our friends because we have similar interests. Friend love is based on compatibility and sameness and that kind of love will have no benefit for people who are different from one another, so it offers not hope for the vast variety of people in the world. Or the love between family members may come to our minds. While family love involves aspects of selflessness and sacrifice, that selfless love is based upon the family bond between two people, and it offers no hope to people who are outside of that bond.

The kind of love that the world needs, the kind of love that will save the world, is a strange love and it’s found only in one source: God. This love is so strange because, unlike romantic love, this love only wants what is best for the other person, even if the lover suffers because of that love. This love is so strange because, unlike friend love, the lover and the object of his love have nothing in common. The love that saves chooses to cross a vast chasm of difference and love an unlovable enemy. This love is so strange because, unlike family love, there is no familial bond that compels the lover to love with a self-less, sacrificial love. The love that saves chooses to love a stranger like they are family.

And we have a clear example of this strange love that saves in the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman that is recorded for us in John, chapter four. First, Jesus loves the woman by reaching out to her and asking her, “Will you give me a drink?” (John 4:7). This is shocking to the woman because Jesus, a male Jew, violates the expected protocol of his own religion by asking her, a Samaritan woman, for a drink. A parallel situation today might be a straight Christian inviting a gay Atheist over to their house for dinner. Certainly not what you would expect. But the love that saves is a love that is so unconditional that it takes chances and crosses over such barriers with no expectation of anything in return.

Saving love loves for the sake of love. This love is so precious, so beautiful, so rare and yet so needed that the lover is compelled to love with great love. This love is at the centre of God’s nature. He can relate in no other way than to love with this self-less, sacrificial, barrier-crossing love.

Saving love leads to questions. Surprised, the woman asks Jesus a question. “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (John 4:9) Questions are good things because they are open doors. The Samaritan woman gives Jesus an open door for him to tell her about the salvation he gives. “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (v. 10)

Saving love raises objections. Right away, the woman raises an objection, and there is always an objection to saving love. You see, people object to saving love because it is so foreign to them. They don’t know if it is real and reliable, so they don’t know if they can trust it. Therefore, they always raise objections to saving love to test its nature and authenticity.

The Samaritan woman raises these objections. 11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” (vv. 11-12) Later she says, 19 “Sir, …I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” (vv. 19-20) Her implied question is, “I can see that you are a prophet, but how do I know if your religion is true?”

Notice that Jesus does not always try to directly answer her objections, he simply continues to love her by holding before her the gift of salvation which he calls living water. The answer to people’s objections about saving love is to give them more saving love. That is the only way that they will learn to trust it.

Finally the woman plays her last card of objection by saying, and I paraphrase, “Well, I don’t know about all this spirit and truth mumbo-jumbo that you are talking about strange man, but I do know that the Messiah will explain everything to us when he comes.”

Then Jesus lays down his trump card and says, “I am the Messiah!” You see, the beginning and the end of saving love is always Jesus. He is the source of saving love and the goal of saving love is always to introduce people to Jesus because he is the only one who can save them.

From that point onward, everything changed for the woman. She goes into her home town, the place where people know all about her shameful past, and she said to the people there, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” (v. 29)

This is what happens to people who have been saved by saving love. They cross over barriers to share that saving love with others. The barrier Jesus crossed when he talked to the woman was one of ethnicity, culture and religion. The barrier the woman crossed when she talked to the people in her village was one of shame and social propriety. But because the woman knew that she was loved with an unconditional, accepting love, she no longer felt ashamed because Jesus’ love now filled the place where her shame used to live. The barrier that we see was no longer any barrier to her. Jesus’ love had turned it into a springboard which she could use to share his saving love with others. The objections that she faced were less than the ones she raised with Jesus because she was now sharing that love from the inside of her own culture.

We live in a changing world. Today’s society that is far different than the society of the fifties and sixties. Back then, the Christian church was at the centre of our society and functioned like a cultural funnel where all the best resources and people flowed into it. Now, the Christian church is on the margins of society. This means that, for us to carry out our mission of making disciples of all nations, we need to function like a cross-cultural missionaries. We need to have in us the kind of love that crosses over barriers and loves others in a self-less and sacrificial way. We need to love with that saving love that Jesus has.

The problem is that saving love is not natural to us. We cannot make it ourselves. We can only let ourselves be filled with Jesus’ saving love and then pour out that love  into the lives of others. This means that we need to keep going back to Jesus for more of his saving love. We need it for ourselves. We also need it for our friends, family members and neighbours. Love will save the world. But only saving love will save the world. Only Jesus’ love will save the world. So we continually go back to Jesus and we empty our hearts and our hands before him. And then we receive. We receive the barrier-crossing forgiveness that he gives us. We receive the child-of-God identity that he gives us. We receive the heaven-in-our-heart life that he gives us. And then we cross over barriers to share that saving love with others. That’s naturally what happens when a person’s heart is filled with Jesus’ saving love.

Where can you find Jesus’ saving love? You can find it in the Bible, which his love letter to you. If you are wondering where to start reading the Bible, you could begin by reading the book of Luke and then the book of Acts.

Another place where we can be filled again and again with Jesus’ saving love is in the special meal of Holy Communion which is served and shared at most Christian churches. Jesus has promised us that his body and his blood are in the bread and the wine of Holy Communion.  And though we do not fully understand what Jesus is saying, we cling to his words. Jesus is promising us that he will wash away our guilt and shame and fill us with his love. Again and again we receive more of Jesus’ love until we naturally spring over barriers to share that saving love with others. Love will save the world. Amen.

(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on November 19, 2017.)


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The Challenge of Change

At the end of May, I went back to Provost to visit my Mom for a couple of days. While I was there, I rode with one of my nephews as he was seeding canola with an air drill. This newly acquired piece of equipment can do things that were impossible with the equipment we had when I was farming. It seeds directly into standing stubble, placing the seed and some starter fertilizer off to the side of the row while placing a larger portion of nitrogen fertilizer, which encourages growth and yield, in the centre of the row. This change in seeding technology was driven by necessity. Farmers in that dry part of the world need to conserve as much moisture as they can to grow profitable crops in this age of high input costs, and applying all the seed and fertilizer in one pass enables them to do that. I was amazed at how much things have changed since I was farming.

We live in a world where things are constantly changing and the pace of change is accelerating. Johannes Gutenberg began using the printing press in Europe in 1439 and mass-produced books and newspapers became the primary form of communicating news and ideas for centuries. Initially developed for military and research purposes, the Internet became more widely available in the early 1990’s and now it is the primary form of communicating news and ideas. Once profitable bookstores need to sell other types of merchandise to stay alive. Here is another example: The first-generation iPhone was released on June 29, 2007, only ten years ago. Can you imagine what life would be like for us today without smart phones?

In his 2006 TED talk, Rick Warren said, “When the speed of change around an organization is faster than the speed of change within the organization, the organization becomes irrelevant.” Change is a challenge for Christian churches because it pulls us out of our comfort zone. In one of the churches that I served in Saskatchewan, many of the people did not want changes in the church because they wanted the church to be a refuge from the frantic pace of change outside the church. But the church that resists change is in danger of becoming irrelevant to the world around us.

We need to change for the sake of our mission. Jesus has commissioned us to lead people into a growing relationship with him. We change because we love the people who are outside the church and we love our children more than we love our own personal preferences. We actively support things that we do not like for the sake of our mission. The church is in a battle for the souls of people and being in a battle means making sacrifices for the sake of the mission.

Our God does not change. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8) Our message does not change. But our methods and our environments must change for the sake of the mission.

It will take all of the various generations in our church of us working together to effectively carry out our mission in a world that is changing at an increasing rate.

It’s not about us. It’s all about Jesus and his mission.

In Christ’s love,

Pastor James

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The Surprising Saviour

[Jesus said,] “But whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)

As I read the Gospel accounts, Jesus constantly surprises me. For example, in the encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well recorded in John 4, I think that I would have one of two reactions. Most likely, I would have felt uncomfortable with her sin, condemned her in my heart and distanced myself from her.

But surprisingly Jesus does not do that. Love does not condemn people.

But I might have overlooked or even blessed her sin to try to build a relationship with her. But surprisingly Jesus does not do that either. Love does not condone sin.

What Jesus does do is intentionally put himself in a situation where he will encounter the woman so he can connect with her in her area of deepest pain and shame: her broken heart and her many failed relationships. Something amazing happens when Jesus meets people in their areas of deepest pain: They begin to heal.

We recognize that people need healing, but we feel very inadequate for the task. We are afraid of entering into a situation where we think we will fail. So we condemn to create distance or we condone to avoid confrontation.

There is a reason why we feel inadequate in the face of someone else’ pain. We actually are inadequate! But that does not prevent us from becoming agents for healing in this broken and hurting world. For our role is not to heal, but to connect people with the Great Healer. And when people drink the water that Jesus gives to them, that water becomes in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life. Later on (John 7:39), Jesus tells us that this living water is the Holy Spirit. So we connect people to Jesus and he gives them Holy Spirit who enlivens, heals and renews their spirit.

It surprises me that Jesus is able to be just and pure and still love and accept people just as they are, without condemning them or condoning their sin. It surprises me that this is the kind of love that Jesus has for all people.

And this leads to an even greater surprise: Jesus love and accepts me. He knows all about my sin, guilt and shame and he still loves me. How can a pure, good and gracious God ever love me? Jesus knows all about my sin, guilt and shame and not only loves me in spite of those things, he took them all away from me on the cross. As far as he is concerned, they no longer exist. That is so shocking that I find it hard to believe that it is true! But it is true. And it is not only true for me, it is also true for you and for every other person on this earth. You and I have never, ever laid our eyes upon another human being whose sin, guilt and shame has not already been dealt with in full by Jesus.

Not everyone believes that this is true, but it is. And we don’t have to convince other people that Jesus’ surprising love is true. We simply tell them. It is true whether they believe it or not. But there is something in this Good News message that enables people to believe it and receive it. So we can tell them that they do not have to worry about their death or their sin, guilt or shame. Jesus has already taken care of it all for them!

What a surprising Saviour we have! May we constantly be surprised by his love for us! And when we live in that state of constant surprise, I think that others might be surprised by how we love them.

In Christ’s love,

Pastor James

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The Main Thing

[Jesus said,] “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

To accomplish a great thing it has to be the main thing.

I am fascinated with manned space flight. As a space agency plans and prepares for a manned space flight, there are countless systems, protocols, details and contingencies that are discussed, practised and planned. But there is only one main thing: get the crew safely into space, accomplish the mission, and bring them safely back home.

Similarly, Jesus did many things. He ate and slept, he became a builder, he hung around with people, he preached, he healed, he taught. But for Jesus there was only one main thing: to seek and to save the lost. Everything Jesus did supported this one main thing. So Jesus was happiest when he had an opportunity to hang around with people who were considered to be the outcasts of society: the prostitutes, tax collectors and other sinners who were not included in the “church” circles of that day. There was something about Jesus—it was probably the combination of his goodness, his graciousness and his love—that awakened a hunger for God within the hearts of those sinners. Jesus not only awakened that hunger, he satisfied it, and people responded with faith, praise and dedication to God.

What is the Main Thing for Walnut Grove Lutheran Church?

We are part of Christ’s Body in this world. Therefore, the Main Thing for Jesus Christ has to be our Main Thing too. However, I think that we shy away from making seeking and saving the lost our Main Thing for several reasons.

First, we all tend to be self-centred so it is easy for us to drift into making church about us and our needs and desires. Second, we don’t really believe Jesus when he said, “Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35b). Third, we don’t really believe Jesus when he said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20). We are intimidated by the thought that the ability to make disciples has to come from us, but it doesn’t. The ability to seek and to save the lost, the ability to make disciples, comes from the power and the presence of Jesus, not us.

When we repent of our false beliefs and believe that the fields are white for the harvest, Jesus will give us opportunities to see the harvest. As we rest in Jesus and let him live his life in and through us, people will encounter some of the goodness, graciousness and love of Jesus when we hang out with them. Jesus, working in and through us, will both awaken and satisfy a God hunger within them. We will see lives changed through the power and the presence of Jesus. Then we will truly be the church that Jesus intends us to be. But it starts with us making Jesus’ Main Thing our Main Thing.

In Christ’s love,

Pastor James

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This is It!

On March 5, 2009, Michael Jackson announced his final concert appearances at the O2 Arena in London. During the press conference, Jackson said, “I just wanted to say that these will be my final show appearances in London. When I say this is it, it really means this is it.” The concert series was extended from 10 to 50 shows and all were sold out. Unfortunately, Michael Jackson did not perform any of those concerts because, 18 days before the first one, he died, and his death was announced around the world.

Michael Jackson’s was a more famous death than any of ours will likely be, but all of us are headed in the same direction as him. Aches and pains, illness and disability, growing old and frail: all these things remind us that we are dying, and there is nothing that we can do to avoid it.

But God has something better in mind for the creation that he loves very, very much. Clothing himself in human flesh, God the Son came to defeat death and decay for us. The cost for Jesus would be high. It would cost him his life, both in living a perfect human life and in dying a sinner’s death on the cross. Yet Jesus loves you so much that he did not consider that too great a price to pay to free you from death’s claim and give you a rich, full, abundant life with him that begins now and goes forward throughout all eternity.

Now please understand this: Jesus is the key! The reason that our present lives are rich, full and abundant is Jesus’ presence in our lives. The reason that life after death is going to be great is because it will be life with Jesus. The reason that we have a confident future hope of healing, renewal, restoration and justice in this world is because Jesus is going to come back to this world one day and make us and all things right. The goal of our faith is not earthly blessings, eternal life or heaven. The goal of our faith is Jesus because he fulfills all of our ultimate needs and desires with divine super-abundance. If we aim for something else and miss Jesus, we miss everything!

And so we rest in Jesus. Everyday we lay our lives down before him, and we invite him to come and live his life through us. And we trust that Jesus will do everything that he wants to do in and through us. And as we do that, our lives will become signposts that point to Jesus and say, “This is it!”

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep…. so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Cor. 15:20, 22b)

May the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection always bring you life-giving joy!

In Christ’s love,

Pastor James

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Love Will Save the World

 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. (1 John 3:16)

We cannot overstate the importance of love. Love will save the world, overcome all hurts and heal all wounds, but love needs to be shared.

How do you make someone love you?

And the answer is… you can’t. Not even God can make someone love Him because, if He did force someone to love Him, then it wouldn’t really be love. The best that God can do is create an environment where love may exist and then love unconditionally.

God’s love is not like the counterfeit versions offered by the world. More than an emotion, God’s love reveals itself in action. We see God’s active love in three ways. First, God loves us by providing all that we need for daily life in this world. Second, God loves us by rescuing us. On our own, all humanity is lost and condemned. But God the Father sent His Son Jesus into the world to save us from sin, death and condemnation. Third, God loves us by giving sacrificially for us. God the Son, Jesus Christ, set aside the riches and glory of heaven to enter into this world and die a horrible sinner’s death so that we can have forgiveness, salvation and life through Him.

There is no doubt about it, we are loved.

How can you make someone love what you love?

Again, you, I and God cannot. All we can do is love and hope that, as people fall in love with us, they will begin to love what we love.

Imagine being a single parent who wants to find a life partner.  We want to love, and there are people who might love us in return, but will they love our child too?

God’s love does not end with us. He not only loves us, He also loves every other person in the world, even those lost and condemned souls who chose not to love Him.  But will we let God love us so much that we love those whom He loves?

After telling the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus said, “…there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7). Do we share in heaven’s joy over one sinner who repents? In a podcast I listened to recently, a speaker said that the Christian Church in Canada is in its current sorry state because we have forgotten our passion for lost people.

How do we make ourselves love lost people?

We can’t. It is only when we remember the peril of being lost and the greatness of God’s love that love for lost people begins to grow within us.

Jesus showed us what love really is: He emptied Himself for the sake of others. By immersing ourselves in Jesus’ love, His love transforms us from being people who are centred on ourselves to being people who love those whom Jesus loves. Living by faith, we believe that we already have all the love that we need in Jesus; therefore, we have been freed to love as He loves: by emptying ourselves for the sake of others.

Love will save the world.

In Christ’s love,

Pastor James

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Thankfulness in All Situations

Dear Fellow Followers of Jesus,

Setting aside a day to emphasize thanks giving as our country does is a very good thing. When thinking of things for which we can be thankful, if we have the blessings of good health, family and food, those things are usually come to mind. But are there more things for which we can thank God?

In his letter to the Jesus-followers in Philippi, Paul wrote, “… for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.  I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.  For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11b-13). Granted, Paul is talking about contentment, not thankfulness, but these two things are related because contentment frees us to look up to God and be thankful, and thankfulness to God helps us to see our life in the light of God’s love and we naturally become content. So what is the secret to Paul’s contentment?

It starts with how we see ourselves. If we are physical beings with hungers that need to be satisfied, then contentment and thankfulness can only happen when those needs are met. Presented with even a minute possibility of lack in one area of need and our heart finds it impossible to be content, let alone thankful. With this view of ourselves, contentment and thankfulness are rare and momentary with anxious worry being the norm.

But if we are spiritual beings enveloped in a physical body that serves as our interface with the surrounding world, then our situation is vastly different. With this understanding of humanity, our greatest needs are spiritual needs: reconciliation, forgiveness and peace from God the Son; infinite love, unconditional acceptance and providential care from God the Father; and encouragement, assurance and direction from God the Holy Spirit. Jesus, who is God the Son, has opened the door for us to have a relationship with himself, the Father, and the Holy Spirit, and it is through this relationship that all of our spiritual needs are met.

Because all of our spiritual needs are met through Jesus, we are whole and complete regardless of what our physical circumstances may be. Times of plenty do not derail us and times of deprivation to not disturb us. We live our lives from the inside out, not the outside in. Everything on the inside has been completely taken care of by Jesus, so we can be content and thankful in times of plenty and in times of need. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

In Christ’s love,

Pastor James

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