reNEWed Part 3 – Renewed Love

reNEWed Part 3 – Renewed Love

We are on week three of the sermon series called Renewed. In this series, we’re talking about how God might want to renew us so that we can live a full life in Christ just as He promises us in John 10.

John 10:10
The thief (the evil one) comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I (Jesus) have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (the best life possible).

But for us to have the best life possible, at some point, we all have to experience renewal. Because if we are honest, we are all in need of some kind of renewal from time to time. Life has a way of making us feel stuck. We can feel like life is happening to us rather than us living the full life that Jesus offers.

To recap, on week one, we talked about a Renewed Spirit. Though sin causes our spirit to be weary and dark, repentance offers us renewal and a reconnection to God.

Week two, we looked at how God wants us to have a Renewed purpose. God created us with a plan. He has a much better purpose for us than many of us are choosing right now.

And today, we’re going to talk about a Renewed Love that God wants us to develop towards Him. Not just us remembering how much God loves us, but renewing our love towards Him.

Before I get into that, is it true or is it true, that when we love something, we are eager to let other people know about it. Think about the amount of energy and effort people put toward their sports teams. When you watch a game on television, you often see people dressed up like it’s Halloween. They paint on their faces and wear these crazy outfits because of their love for their teams.

There are other things people love as well. I want you to stand up if these things are something you love:  the beach, the woods, cats, chocolate, ice cream, morning coffee.

Clearly, we do not all agree today on what is worthy of our love and affection. But I bet we can all agree on at least one thing that is worthy of our love an affection…God. God is more than worthy of our love and affection. Why? Because He first loved us, and truthfully, we should be overly eager to share that love He gives to us with people around us. Because…

POINT 1: WHEN SOMEONE LOVES SOMETHING, IT IS OBVIOUS

When we love God, it should be so obvious by the way we live, the things we do, and the things we say. You know, to be a Christ follower is to be in love with God at the core of who we are. This means that all our actions and thoughts are dictated by this love. This means that all other things fall short in comparison to this love. When we have God properly in place, as our first love, then we are not only better equipped to love God back, but better equipped to love others as well.

Kyle Idleman, the author of the book “Not A Fan,” says, “We love others best when we love God most.”  

This is true because we were designed to have every part of our lives flow from our relationship with God. We were created to find all we ever need in life from our relationship with God. Crazy as it sounds, we are looking for something in our sports teams, our cats, even our ice cream, even our spouses or our children. But we are looking for something that only God can provide. These are all things that are all lesser than God. I know that can be hard to hear that, but it’s true.

Too often we look for validation, significance, meaning, and value in the love we give to others and especially in the love we get in return. This is not the way we were designed.

And when we neglect our relationship with God, when we let other things steal our attention, when God is not our first love, when we are so focused on letting everything else validate us, we need a renewal. Because when we don’t put God first, we almost always put ourselves first and everyone suffers.

In the final book of the Bible, Revelation, it starts with messages to the seven churches. And in the first message, there is a prophetic warning that is issued to the church in Ephesus. The whole book of Revelation is written as a disclosure of what the future holds and how God’s people can best prepare for it. Therefore, every warning that is given to the seven churches, should be warnings that we take to heart as well.

In Chapter 2, it begins with praise for the church in Ephesus. They are praised for their deeds, hard work, and perseverance. They are praised for identifying false apostles and protecting orthodox teaching. But after all the praise, there is one issue that God has with this church.  

Revelation 2:4 
“But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first!

With all of the good things that the church in Ephesus was doing, they forgot the most important one. They had forgotten their first love. They had neglected the passion that they had originally displayed for Jesus. They had lost their zeal. Other things had occupied their affection, and this is a warning that we must listen to carefully. 

POINT 2: A LOVE NEGLECTED IS A LOVE LOST

A relationship with God is very similar to a marriage. When a couple is first dating, it is easy to keep the passion alive. Love is fresh and exciting and neither person has to work hard to keep the fire going. The real test is when the couple has been married for many years. That’s when things can become mundane, ordinary. To retain a deep love for one another, a couple has to have healthy practices in place, like date nights, open communication, and acts of service towards each other.  

Maybe you have been a Christian for some time. You remember what it was like when you first gave your life to God. You were excited. You talked about God a lot. You thought about God a lot. You read the Bible. You prayed often. Somewhere along the way your relationship with God became old news and other things took priority. Sin began to creep in. We lost our God given purpose. Maybe today you wonder how you have ended up in the place you find yourself. Perhaps it is because you have lost your first love.  

If this is where you find yourself, you need a renewed love for God.  

Of all the disciples in the New Testament, Peter may have been the most zealous. He was passionate about following Jesus and is known for sometimes acting before he thinks. But his quick responses were usually a result of his love for Jesus. Because of this, it might come as a shock that right before Jesus is arrested, put on trial, and crucified, Jesus predicts that Peter will deny Him three times. Wait, not Peter. He would never do such a thing. And yet, he does. While Jesus is being taken into custody and led to death, three times Peter is accused of being a follower of Jesus. Each time, he denies the accusation. He says he does not even know the man.  

Peter that quick forgot his first love. Out of fear that he too might be arrested, he distances himself from Jesus. We have a lot of reasons for forgetting our first love too. Sometimes it’s plain laziness. Sometimes it’s a love for sin. Sometimes it’s disappointment in Jesus.

The truth is that many of us today can relate to Peter. We know what it is like to love Jesus with our whole hearts and at the same time, we know what it is like to keep Jesus at arm’s length.

If you were to look back on the last 24 hours of your life, how much of that day would point to your love for God? Around the water cooler at work do you speak about Jesus? When things are tough do you bring your concerns to Jesus first? Yesterday was Saturday, did you spend some time reading the bible and in prayer or was it more about getting your chores done.

The good news is that the story of Peter does not end with his denial of Jesus. His love was renewed, and that should give us hope that we can be renewed as well.  

Now Jesus had already shown Himself twice to the disciples, once in the upper room without Thomas and once 8 days later with Thomas. If you remember the message Jesus gave to women at his tomb, He told them to “tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.” Matthew 28:10

So now the disciples are at the Sea of Galilee, not knowing how long they are going to have to wait to see Him. They don’t know what Jesus is going to tell them when they do. So, in their waiting, they decided to go back to their comfort zone: fishing. Peter and some of the others were fishermen before they were Jesus’ disciples. This was what they knew best. This was what they were good at.

Peter, still having this denial thing hanging over his head, having literally denied Jesus three times just as Jesus said he would do, must have still felt some unrest. So, after fishing all night, they had caught absolutely no fish, and suddenly from the shore comes a familiar voice. “Did you catch any fish?”

Wondering why this guy cares, they respond “no.”

He tells them to through their net on the other side of the boat to get some. Thinking “why not,” they did it and had so many fish in the net, they couldn’t get it in the boat.

Much to their surprise, they realize the familiar voice is Jesus. Peter, overjoyed, leaps into the water and swims to the shore. Jesus made breakfast and welcomes them all to eat with Him. And after breakfast, Jesus has a one on one talk with Peter. Not to reprimand him as Peter may have still had his tail between his legs, but instead to offer Peter a second chance.  

POINT 3: JESUS OFFERS US A SECOND CHANCE

You see, there is no end to the grace of God. We cannot exhaust the love of God. It is extended to us over and over again. Even though we fail to love God well time and time again, God is always faithful in His love and commitment to us.

So on the beach, Jesus renewed His commitment (throw your next on the other side – follow me and I will always take care of you), and He gave Peter the chance to do the same. 

John 21:15-17 
15 After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”\
“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.
16 Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”
“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.
17 A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.

It is no mistake that Jesus addresses Peter three times to ask him if he loves Him. Three times would be an appropriate number since Peter had just denied Jesus three times. There is a very important aspect to this story that gets lost without looking at the Greek words within the conversation between Jesus and Peter.

The first two times Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him, He uses the Greek word agapeAgape love is the highest form of love and is a love that is sacrificial, like Jesus dying on the cross. Both times Peter responds by using the word phileoPhileo love is a brotherly love that exists between close friends. Not quite the same as agape.   

Peter responds with a lesser love as if to recognize his limitations of loving as fully as Jesus could. This tells us he understands what he’s saying. The final time Jesus asks about Peter’s love, He uses the word that Peter has used twice, He uses phileo. This third time Peter confirms that he loves Jesus with a love that is equal to the question. 

So what’s this tell us? In a renewed love, Jesus does not demand a love of perfection. We all fall short of the ability to love Jesus the way Jesus has loved us, but He invites us still to love Him as much as we can. And this is why: because a sincere love is a love that has the ability to grow over time.  

Do you know what Peter is doing the next time we see him in scripture? This is how he shows Jesus he loves him – words are just words – if we really love something, it’s obvious, right?

The next time we see Peter after that little talk with Jesus, he’s in a room with the other followers of Jesus. He stands up and finds a replacement for Judas. Do you know what he’s doing? He’s leading the Church, preparing to feed His sheep. The very next thing he does is stand up again and give the very first altar call where three thousand people come to Jesus. He’s fulfilling the call, “Peter, feed my sheep.”

Very likely, some of you in this room have been a believer for many years, but your love for Jesus has grown stagnate and cold. You may even be going through the motions like the church in Ephesus, where you’ve lost your zeal and passion for Jesus. If that’s so, it’s time for a renewal.

And you can do that today. You can renew your love for Jesus, by remembering His sacrificial love that He demonstrated for you on the cross, and by going out to fulfill your God given purpose. 

And if you are a new believer, don’t think you are in the free this week. The warning I want to give you is something I have seen many times. Many times, I’ve seen new believers get so excited for Jesus, get so on fire, they come to church every week, they are talking about Him with others, signing His praises. But then after a while, they slowing fade off and eventually stop coming to church. They stop talking about Jesus. 

Why? Because the excitement of a new love wears off. And that’s ok. I’m here to tell you that’s normal. But the key is to now let it stay there. Just like any relationship, you have to work for it. Every relationship whether a spouse, a friend or even your relationship with your parents all take work. So, when you start to feel your love getting stagnate (because it will happen, so be prepared for it), it’s time for a renewal.

And remember, no matter how far you’ve fallen, there is no amount of brokenness in our lives that can keep us from the love of God.  

POINT 4: OUR LOVE FOR GOD CAN STILL WORK

There is a story in the book “Ragamuffin Gospel” by Brennan Manning that tells of a renewed love that should inspire our love for Jesus. You can’t blame the doctor. He did everything possible. Yet the damage was irreversible. Richard Selzer, M.D. in his book Mortal Lessons, describes removing a tumor from a young woman’s cheek. In the process, the doctor had no option except to sever a tiny nerve controlling the movement to her mouth. As a result, the side of her lip was distorted, sagging noticeably.

Dr. Selzer entered her room. With her young husband at her side, she sat in bed, staring in a mirror. Through tears she asked, “Will my mouth always be like this?” 

“Yes, it will,” he answered. “It is because the nerve was cut.” 

She nods in silence. But the young man smiles, as if they’re the only two people on earth. “I like it. It’s kind of cute.” 

Then Seltzer observed, “Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate hers, to show her that their kiss still works.” (Adapted from The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning, 104) 

Today I want to invite you to renew your love for God and recommit to fostering a relationship with Him. There are some really practical ways to do this.

  1. Create a special time and place to spend time with God. Choose a location that is free from distractions and start with a small amount of time. Consider keeping a candle in this special place and light it each time you are spending time with God in prayer and reading scripture. If you want to begin to invest in your love for God in this way again, I invite you to take with you a candle from the hallway.
  2. Take part in a random act of kindness. Choose to express your love for God by expressing love to someone else. Buy someone’s lunch in line. Shovel a neighbor’s snowy driveway. Write a letter to an elderly person who does not have family around. It is often through service to others that we rediscover our love for God.

God has gone to great length by sending His son to die on a cross to remind us that our love can still work. Take time this week to renew your love with God.

Remember, our love for God must exceed our love for anything else. So be renewed this week by beginning new practices that will grow your love for God.