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by Ted Schroder
February 8, 2009

February 14 is Valentine's Day, which is a day set aside to express love, and to celebrate the importance of love. Pablo Neruda from Chile, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971 wrote many love sonnets.

Here is one:

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose,
or topaz, or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when,
or from where. I love you straightforwardly,
without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know of no other way than this:
where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

Love brings us close to one another.
Love binds us together.
Love is the glue in relationships of intimacy and trust.
Love is a verb. It denotes feeling that motivates action.

St. Paul says that three virtues endure: faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.

If love is the greatest then it stands to reason that Jesus would identify the greatest commandment with love.

Jesus was asked, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" He replied, "The most important one is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:28-31)

Last month our congregation adopted as this year's motto my suggestion: LOVE GOD AND OUR NEIGHBOR. Fancy that - nobody voted against loving God and our neighbor. After having just completed writing a book of 150 pages on the subject of love, preaching 24 sermons on love, and now teaching a class on it, it is no wonder that I am focused on the topic of loving God and my neighbor. The older I get, the more important I think loving God and my neighbor is. I realize more and more how my love for God is expressed in how I love my neighbor. It is not possible to say that we love God if we do not love our neighbor.

Yet, recent studies of churches indicate that there is a gap between these two attributes which we use to define spiritual growth: love of God and love of others. In a survey conducted by the Willow Creek Association of 80,000 people in 200 congregations, the most mature Christ-followers report a greater distance between the 'love of God' and 'love of others' While Christ-Centered people are fired up with their 'love of God', their 'love of others' trails far behind. "Independent of its comparison with the 'love of God' responses, the generally low trajectory of 'love of others' is a bit surprising.

Less than 20 percent of all other segments 'very strongly agree' with the statement about loving others. With the media so full of stories about people stepping up to support victims of domestic and international crises, it might seem reasonable to expect a 'love of others' measure to track higher - regardless of a person's faith. The fact that Christians from the more advanced segments - Close to Christ and Christ-Centered - responded to this statement at such relatively low levels should be a cause for some soul-searching among church leaders." (Follow Me, Greg L. Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, p.108)

What would this Chapel community look like if we were all loving God and our neighbor with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength? What does it mean to love God and our neighbor this way?

It means to give oneself to God with our whole being and to give oneself to others to help them live as God intended. It means to give oneself to God and others to fulfill his purposes for us as the crown of his creation. Love is our inner commitment to God that is expressed in all our conduct and relationships. We show our love for God in how we love our neighbor. Paul expressed this giving this way in Romans12:1 "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship." (NIV)

"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life - your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life - and place it before God as an offering." (The Message)

We make ourselves available to God for his service, so that his life can be lived through us. Love is an offering of ourselves: our hearts (our feelings, emotions, passions and desires - it is the basic orientation and direction of our lives); our souls (the source of vitality in life, the motivating power that brings strength of will and enduring commitment); our minds (our faculty of perception and reflection that directs our opinions and judgments, our intelligence, our reason); our strength (our physical capacity, our material resources. The widow who gave all she had provides the best example of this love. (Mark 12:42) She did not come to the temple merely to recite prayers for her own needs, she gave all that she had to live on. The rich gave God what they skimmed off the top of their abundance. She gave out of her lack and did not worry about what she would have left over.)

Loving God and neighbor is in response to what God has done for us in Christ. "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins... We love for he first loved us. If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen." (1 John 3:10; 4:19,20)

Every time you make an offering in worship you are loving God and your neighbor. You are offering, in response to what God has given you (which is everything), your life represented by your wealth, to his worship and work. All that we do through the Chapel is dedicated to loving God and our neighbor.

I came across some core values from 12Stone Church in Atlanta.

* We Are Created For Intimacy With God –We inspire life by accepting love, power, and purpose from God and sharing salvation through Christ with others.

* We Are Created To Follow God's Pattern For Living - We inspire life by embracing integrity modeled by Christ and outlined in the Bible.

* We Are Created For Healthy Relationships With Others - We share life with others because people grow best and thrive in community.

* We Are Created To Give Ourselves Away - We give life every time we serve, give, and show compassion in Jesus' name at home and abroad.

Our Core Value here this year should be to Love God And Our Neighbor - to give ourselves to God and to others to fulfill his purposes for us as the crown of his creation. Let us commit ourselves to do it.


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