Indispensables of the Faith: Love

December 20, 2015

Matthew 1:18-25

The playground I grew up on was a cruel place for some of my classmates. P.E. must have been a dreaded time.

Kickball was usually the sport of choice and the teacher allowed us to run from the classroom to the playground like a herd of thirsty horses running for water.

Captains were chosen or assigned. These were usually the alpha males of the class and from that point on choosing sides was like taking players in the NFL draft.

It didn’t matter who the captains were; they always wanted to win, so the best players went quickly in the draft. Occasionally students were chosen based on alliances or friendships but this always came after the best runners, kickers, and throwers were chosen.

By the time the choices got down to the last three or four students, the truth is that neither side wanted to pick any of them. Both captains knew the players were liabilities, not assets.

If you had been there you might have heard something like this:

“You take him.”

“No, we don’t want him. You take him. We’ve got enough.”

What a degrading experience for that child. It didn’t just happen once. It happened every time we divided up into teams.

“You take him.”

“No, we don’t want him. We’ve got enough.”

Years ago the teenagers at Trinity Baptist did some work at Morningstar Baptist Treatment Center in Savannah, a home that houses teenagers with no other place to live. We were told that before arriving at this facility the teenagers housed there have been moved an average of 19 times. We can only imagine what that must do to one’s psyche and feeling of self-worth.

“You take him.”

“No, we don’t want him. We’ve got enough.”

Love must be demonstrated to be real. It’s extremely important that we tell one another of our love but it’s more important for it to be demonstrated

If people do not act lovingly towards us, then it’s easy to assume we are not loved. When people do not experience love from others, especially those who mean the most to them, like a spouse, a child, or a parent, their capacity to love themselves and express love to others is greatly diminished.

If a person grows up wounded, unwanted, and unloved by a significant person or persons, the tendency is to believe that person is of little worth or no value. However, the need for love doesn’t go away.

Since these people believe no one loves them, that void is replaced by anger or jealousy and the practice of placing one’s self above others becomes the way a person fills the gap left by a lack of love.

“If no one else will choose me, I’ll just have to look after myself,” becomes the attitude. Life becomes absorbed in a selfish world; it’s an “all about me life.”

Abraham’s wife Sarah must have felt unloved. Women of ancient times who could not bear children were considered cursed by God. Their status in the community was greatly reduced and their husbands considered them a liability. Sarah was in this situation.

Abraham is called a man of faith because he left the security of his home to find and claim a land that God promised to show him. But Abraham’s faith was not a mature faith.

God calls us to follow Him so He can mature us in our faith. But along the way we can all do some really unloving things. Quite often these unloving things are done to the very people we say we love the most.

This is evidenced in how Abraham treated his wife Sarah. His treatment of her does not demonstrate the love Christ wants us to have. In fact, Abraham’s treatment of Sarah demonstrates how expendable she was and how much Abraham loved himself.

As he and his extended family continued to travel to the land God promised to give them, they had to cross through the territories of some unfriendly people groups. When they moved through the region of the Negev, Abraham became afraid that when King Abimelech discovered they were in his region, he might be tempted to kill him and claim Sarah into his harem.

Kings were notorious for having large harems. Solomon, for example, had 700 wives and 300 concubines. If a king saw a woman he wanted, he had the power to take her. So Abraham instructed Sarah to act as if she were not married to him. He told the King that Sarah was his sister.

Now I know this is going to gross you out, but Sarah was in fact, Abraham’s half sister. At this time it was a permissible practice that was later forbidden in the laws of Moses.

I doubt Abraham would have laughed at Jeff Foxworthy’s joke that you know you are a redneck if you go to a family reunion to pick up a date.

I don’t know if Abraham had any redneck qualities but I do know that he believed his wife expendable. He was willing to sacrifice her to save himself.

As they approached the Negev, he said to her: “This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, ‘He is my brother.’”

This was not the first time Abraham had asked her to present herself in such a way. When they moved through Egypt, “he said to his wife Sarah, I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

Now Sarah was in her mid-sixties at this time. She must have been the Christie Brinkley of her day because the Bible says she turned the heads of the Egyptians and they praised her to Pharaoh. So the Pharaoh sent Abraham sheep, cattle, donkeys, camels and servants.

But then Pharaoh began to have serious diseases hit his household and he believed that a god caused it. When he discovered that Sarah was really Abraham’s wife, he was very angry and summoned Abraham.

Pharaoh showed more respect for Sarah than Abraham did and ordered Abraham to take his wife and everything they had and leave his land. Gen 12:10-20 (NIV)

It is interesting that Genesis 20 is the first time the word “love” is used in the Bible but the example is twisted. Love is used in a sickening way. It is used in a manipulative way. In this case, love is self-serving.

Abraham treats Sarah like an object. He uses his own wife like a pawn. He manipulates her and tells her if she wants to show her love to him that she will agree to his plan, a plan which involved giving herself physically to the king if necessary. It was a plan Abraham devised simply to save his own self from possible threats from the king. Does that sound like love?

Any time we withhold our love and our acceptance of others based on what they can do for us or might do for us, we have greatly harmed them.

I doubt you think highly of rapper and actor Snoop Dogg, and for good reason, but I did see something recently in his family life that was very positive.

Snoop Dog has a son, Cordell Broadus, that played football for UCLA, where he starred as a wide receiver. His son quit the team in August to pursue other interests at the college’s film school.

When he quit he said that he played football because he thought that it was the only way he could get his father to love him and be a part of his life.

Cordell said, “It took me 12 years to realize he loves Cordell Broadus the person, not Cordell Broadus the football player. The best day of my life was when I heard those exact words. I love you dad. Hope you have a great birthday.”

What messages do we send our children, our spouse, our parents, or friends that make them believe that we will only love them for what we can get from them or for what they will do for us? If we are sending a message like this, it’s wrong and we are teaching a kind of love that is based on impure motives.

When we place conditions on others and decide whether or not we will love them only if they live up to our expectations, our love is not God’s love.

If Abraham had loved his wife Sarah as he loved himself, he would have been willing to die for her if necessary. That kind of love for someone else is really rare.

Contrast Abraham’s love for Sarah with Joseph’s love for Mary. When Joseph found out that she was pregnant before they were married, he could have legally had her stoned. Having her set aside quietly was more loving. But it wasn’t the most loving thing.

God had other plans. An angel came. This time an angel came to Joseph and said,

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Having had his fears alleviated, Joseph took Mary as his wife.

Abraham allowed his fears to make him treat his wife like an object to be disposed of.

Joseph, after being spoken to by an angel, allowed his fears to fall away like needles from a dead Christmas tree and he loved his wife.

Fear has its place as a natural part of our defense mechanism to help keep us safe from threats. However, fear can also keep us from loving others. When we are self-absorbed in our fears, many of which are irrational and obsessive, we end up wounding others in order to calm our anxieties.

Instead of allowing dysfunctions to rule our family life this Christmas, we need for the Lord of Peace to send one of his angels to us.

Now I’m not expecting to physically see one, but God has His ways of bringing a calming presence into our lives to remind us that God is with us.

That angel for one woman in San Bernardino, California was Shannon Johnson. When the terrorists began their shooting rampage at the San Bernardino clinic where Shannon worked as an environmental health specialist, he did the same thing his father did many years ago; he gave his life to save another human being.

Johnson threw his body over a co-worker to help alleviate her fears and he said, “I’ve got you,” as he was struck by gunfire.

At Shannon Johnson’s funeral in Jesup, Georgia this week, family friend Dink NeSmith said “Shannon was a heroic example that you can lead a quiet life but when the time comes you do what’s in your heart and in Shannon’s heart it was to take care of the person next to him.”

Jesus was born in Bethlehem and he went to a cross in Jerusalem for our sins. He even took care of the dying thieves next to him. One of them was receptive to his care; one was not.

When Jesus was raised to new life, His message to us was, “ I’ve got you.” The gift of his Spirit is His presence in your life that will drive out your fears so you are free to love those most believe are not worth loving.

There are still a lot of people out there about whom the world is saying, “You take her. We don’t want her. We’ve got enough.”

Those are the people that need us to love them. This Christmas, will you be an angel to them? Will you choose those that others will not?

Remember, even those who are looking for a wrapped gift from you, what they are really looking for from you is real love, unselfish love, demonstrated love, love that says, “I’ve got you because you really matter to me.”