Sunday, November 18, 2018

Praise & Worship Message - The Blessing of the Fourth Kernel of Corn: Loved Ones

On September 17th of this year, I went into surgery. It, like the one I endured in February, changed my life. Both were done to do one thing: save my life from a horrible infection. The bacterial and fungal infections were destroying healthy tissue and eroding the underlying bone. Each day that the infections were allowed to continue was another day massive destruction would continue. As my wife and I waited patiently for me to be called back to the surgical unit there at Emory University Hospital Midtown, we saw families waiting patiently for their loved ones to come out of surgery and to find out if the procedures were successful. We, like those families, were hopeful that my procedure would be equally successful.

One of the most interesting things was how total strangers would help others. If someone had to go to the bathroom or get something to eat or drink, the other families would offer to help. They would watch over bags or listen for news. Those strangers became part of our family as my wife and our dear friend, Chris, waited to hear from my surgeon. All of the people in the waiting room shared the exact same basic experience, someone they loved was undergoing a surgical procedure.

As minutes became hours, that group of strangers grew closer together. Conversations and prayers were shared with others. Each looking out for the others. Each held hands and lent a shoulder to lean on. Each heeded the words of Christ Jesus given to his disciples to love one another. They loved one another with a love that transcended the realm of this sinful world. They loved one another unconditionally and would do anything for the others.

When I think back to the Pilgrims and the hardships that they faced, they were able to count on one another and they loved each other. They helped one another without regard for themselves. They pulled together when minutes stretched into hours and hours into days. Imagine what they went through. Crop failures and harsh winters that tested them moment to moment. 

In the end, they made it through their trials and troubles by leaning on each other, loving one another and, most importantly, by leaning on the everlasting arms of God the Father Almighty. John, in his first epistle, tells us of God’s love for us, “7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.

Since God’s love in manifested in us and God is love, we should, as noted by John, love one another. Of all of the most wonderful virtues of having a Christ-like attitude, love is the strongest and most powerful. Love overcomes all things and can overwhelm the heart. It can overcome hate, prejudice and all the evils of this sinful, old world. It strengthens us when we are weary and weak. It gives us courage when we are discouraged. Love for God and others should reign supreme in our lives and be the one desire that we have.

In his movie, “The Great Dictator”, Charlie Chaplin gives a great, stirring speech that many find as one of the best movie speeches of all time. In the speech, Chaplin, as the dictator, said, “You have the love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate - the unloved and the unnatural!”

He is absolutely correct. It is natural for us to love and to desire to be loved. God gave us that wonderful gift and demonstrated His love for us by giving us His one and only son as our sacrifice for our sins. Because of His love, we, as Christians, are able to overcome the hatred in the world with love. If we are unable to love or choose not to love, then we are unable to understand God’s love for us and the sacrifice made by His son on our behalf. We continue to go through life with no real love in our hearts. We only know the love that this world has to offer. That sort of love is empty, shallow and unfulfilling. It only leads us to wanting more and not receiving fulfillment. 

If, however, we accept Jesus as our personal Savior and Lord and repent of our sins, we see the true nature of love for God and our brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. We give without expecting anything in return. We reach out without hidden motives and provide for those who hunger and thirst not only for food but for the Word of God. We love and pray for those who persecute us. We live as God intended us to live in peace and goodwill to all.

If people had that sort of love in their hearts, the world would be a vastly different place. It would  be a place where we beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. We would no longer desire to fight with one another or train for war. We would only love one another without condition. God’s love for us is unconditional. He loved us first. John, in chapter 4 of his first epistle, said, “19 We love because God first loved us.

In the same breath, John said, “20 If someone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? 21 And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers.” We cannot love God and hate our neighbors or even our enemies when we profess to love God. If we do so, we are truly liars and do not understand the nature of God’s unconditional love for us. 

As you and your family gather around the Thanksgiving table, I ask that you remember the blessings of the fourth kernel of corn. God has blessed us with people who love us very dearly. Just like the people in the surgical unit waiting room, each, over time, learned about all of the people waiting and began to develop a relationship of care and love for one another. No matter what procedures their loved ones were going through, each person in that waiting room shared in the experience and knew what the others were going through as well. In the beginning, each felt alone and full of anxiety. In time, that changed when others around them began to reach out and share. 

Hardships tend to bring out the best in people. People grow closer together and a bond begins to develop. In time, that bond becomes stronger and stronger until nothing or no one can break it. Just like the Pilgrims of old standing together arm in arm and shoulder to shoulder, those in the waiting room did the same. They became an instant support group for each other and showed their love and concern for each other.

Almost a year ago, my wife and I met a couple in a waiting room. Both were very upset and the young lady was in tears. We reached out to the couple and kindly asked what had happened. They had spent most of their evening and early morning in the emergency room fighting to keep their unborn child alive. The young lady had miscarried. It was their first child and it was very difficult on them to understand what had happened. They were in shock and disbelief. My wife gave the young lady her cross earrings and we prayed for them. As Christians, we must come to the aid of those who need love and support. Jesus gave his disciples one more commandment to love one another just as he loved them. The word, commandment, carries the weight of law. It is not a suggestion or something we should consider. It is a law and it requires our action. When my wife and I reached out to that couple in the waiting room, we followed Jesus’ commandment to love one another in Christian love and to demonstrate it without shame or reservation.

As you gather your friends and family together, tell them that you love them very much. Profess and practice that love daily with all those around you. When you do this, we are not only able to reflect God’s love into the world but also to stand firm in His grace. 

May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace.
~ Numbers 6:24-26 New Living Translation (NLT)

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