My Sunday sermons given at Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR, for those who missed church or just want to see what we're up to. You can also listen to these sermons if you prefer. Just go to our church website and click the "Online Church" tab. Here's the link:

Monday, December 21, 2009

"The LOVE That Surrounds Us" - (12/20/09)

NOTE: I preached this message back in December of 2002. I'm including it here in order to complete this series on the four great themes of Advent; namely, HOPE, PEACE, JOY, and LOVE. Rather than me give the Christmas Sunday message this year as I usually do, I asked three of our elders to team-preach the message, which we entitled, “Three Faces of LOVE.”  They did a great job but their comments were not manuscripted so it makes it hard to share them with you. Instead, I'm giving you this blast from the past. Have a blessed Christmas.

Christmas is a season when we talk a lot about love. The jewelry stores play on this theme to try and get us to buy diamonds for our sweethearts. The car companies show loving people giving new cars as gifts, all wrapped up with a big bow, sitting in the driveway. We think to ourselves, “Wouldn’t that be a wonderful loving gift to give? Surely a new Lexus or a $10,000 diamond tennis bracelet says “I LOVE YOU” loud and clear.

However, the greatest expression of genuine love at Christmas time is not seen in the gifts we give to one another, no matter their dollar value, but rather in the gift that God Himself gave to the whole world. John 3:16 tells us of this marvelous love. It says, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” The Apostle Paul, speaking of this love says in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

We notice in both of these verses that the love God felt toward us led Him to do something. True love always acts in loving ways. It manifests itself in loving behaviors and practical help. God so loved…that He gave! God so loved…that He offered up Christ as the sin sacrifice to demonstrate His love for us!

Christmas LOVE is all about how God came down to earth in the person of Christ to live a sinless life among us and go to the cross to take upon Himself the punishment for our sins, trespasses, and iniquities. This Christmas LOVE is real! It surrounds us!

In old cowboy movies or war movies we often hear someone say, “They’ve got us surrounded!” But being surrounded isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It depends on what you are surrounded by.
  1. AIR surrounds us right now, and I’m kind of glad for that fact. We can’t see it but we know it’s here because we can breath. We really only notice air when we aren’t getting enough of it.
  2. WATER surrounds the fish. They probably don’t spend a lot of time analyzing the water but without it they would be in a world of hurt.
  3. SOUND WAVES surround us. We are constantly walking through a stew of different kinds of electromagnetic signals including AM and FM radio signals, cell phone transmissions, TV broadcasts, CB and Ham radio, etc. Those signals are all around us but we don’t hear them unless we have a special tuner.
  4. LIGHT surrounds us as well. Light, like sound, travels in waves. Alpha and gamma rays, infrared, ultraviolet, and visible light rays constantly bombard us. Light is all around us, even on the darkest night. Even when we can’t see it.
  5. TEMPERATURE surrounds us as well. In our bodies we register heat and cold as physical sensations. In reality, from the standpoint of physics, temperature is just an index of how actively the molecules that touch our skin are vibrating. At –273.15 degrees Centigrade all molecular vibration ceases and thus no heat is present. This is referred to as Absolute Zero on the Kelvin scale.
These are all things that surround us but they are also things that sustain us. We cannot live without any of them. Without air we would quickly suffocate. Without sound waves we would languish in a totally silent world. Without light we would not only be blind but would soon die. Without heat our bodies would soon stiffen and freeze.

In the same way, without the love of God, which surrounds us, we could not survive. It is by God’s love and grace that we even possess life in the first place. It is His amazing grace that provides every breath we inhale and every beat of our heart.

It is also equally true that not all men acknowledge God or His good and gracious gifts. Many people are not even aware that God truly loves them and that He genuinely cares what happens to them. Yet the God of the Bible is a loving, merciful God who is constantly reaching out toward us lost sinners, even though we certainly do not merit such love.
Psalm 139 records David’s thoughts concerning the love of God that surrounded him: O LORD, You have searched me and You know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue You know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in--behind and before; You have laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me, and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You. For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are Your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with You… [Verse 23 continues...] Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

David recognized that he was surrounded by God’s presence and that God had detailed, intimate knowledge of him. Yet that fact did not cause him fear, but rather was a source of comfort because he had a loving, intimate relationship with God.

In Psalm 34:7, speaking out of his own personal experience of witnessing God miraculously deliver him from the hands of his enemies, David states, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him [God], and rescues them.” It is obvious that David was overjoyed by the fact that God’s loving care surrounded him.

One other passage from the Psalms comes to my mind. Psalm 125 is a Song of Praise that was traditionally sung by the Israelites as they journeyed toward Jerusalem for the holy festivals, such as the Day of Atonement and Pentecost. The first two verses say, “Those who trust in the Lord [Yahweh] are as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord [Yahweh] surrounds His people from this time forth and forever.” Again, to be surrounded by God is clearly seen as a very good thing, because God loves His people.

The only people who hate the idea of being constantly under God’s gaze are those who are in rebellion against Him. Sinners always seek out the darkness in order to not be noticed by Him. But, of course, we know that doesn’t work. No one can hide from God. He is all around us just like the air we breathe. He knows our every thought. He sees our every action. Yet, He loves us in spite of all that. How amazing!

My favorite Bible passage about the love of God is found in Romans 8:35-39. Listen to this: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” These words tell me that the love of God surrounds me in such a way that nothing can ever remove me from His presence and His tender care.

Love is one of the central themes of Christmas. It was love that sent God Himself to earth to be born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem and to live among us as one of us, and then to die for all of us at Calvary. It was God’s love for you and me that caused Him to choose to redeem us rather than simply condemn us. Had He chosen to send the whole human race to hell He would have still been good, and just, and holy. However, He is also merciful. He chose not to give us what we deserve but rather to offer us what we could never merit – grace, and mercy, and a way to come to Him through the cross.

Today, if you don’t know the Savior in a personal way, if you have never turned your heart and life over to Him, I plead with you to do it today. Confess to Him that you are a sinner. Ask Him to forgive you and cleanse you completely. Lay your life in His nail-scarred hands and then release it to Him once and for all. Trust Him today. Let His love not only surround you, but fill you as well. That is the Christmas gift Jesus came to give to you.

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About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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