You Are Dearly Loved

At one point in my life I was a pastor of Middle School students.  We had several hundred middle schoolers that met on Sunday nights – which meant I had to recruit a rather large team of adults to be small group leaders.  And sometimes I would approach people and ask them – would you lead a small group of five middle school students and care for them during the year?  And many times people who were a little older would have reservations.

I would hear “I’m too old.  Or I’m not cool enough.”  Or some variation of the idea that students would not accept them for one reason or another.

And I often would say that middle schoolers don’t care how old you are.  If you are out of college – we’re all old.  They really don’t care.  And I would say that middle schoolers are only asking one question.  They are asking the question – Do you love me?

Am I lovable?  Will you love me?  And if we can unreservedly love those kids during those sometimes awkward, sometimes goofy years of being in early adolescent then we are doing them a huge favor.

Now I’ve come to the conclusion since then that perhaps we never stop asking that question.  Am I lovable?  Do you love me?  And if I can find someone to love me as I am,  it makes this awkward sometimes goofy life of mine more bearable.

We’ve been studying the book of Colossians now for the past couple of months.  And today I was planning on powering through six verses and talk about the idea of all the things we can be thankful to God for.

Instead God stopped me after less than ten verses.  And I believe he said – I want to send a message to my church at Journey today.  I want them to know that they are my chosen people.  They are holy and dearly loved.

So the big idea today is simply this.  God dearly loves you.

This morning be thankful that God loves you.  He loves you with such abandonment, so lavishly as to almost make you blush.  He desperately loves you.

This thanksgiving weekend God desires to bless you with this truth.  You are His – he has chosen you and cleansed you because he dearly, deeply loves you.

God wants you today to see yourselves as the recipients of God’s unrestrained, over-the-top, uninhibited Love.

We have been in a study in the book of Colossians and we are now in our final three weeks.  If you have a bible turn now to there. You will find it in the New Testament – towards the very end of the bible.  And feels free to look in your table of contents to find it because it’s a rather small book.  Only four chapters long.  It’s easy to pass-by.

We’ve learned that the book of Colossians is actually a letter – written by the apostle Paul – who was one of the most important leaders in the early church.  It was written probably about 54 AD when Christianity itself was only about 20 years old.

Which means that it was written to a group of people who were very young in their faith journey with Jesus.  They are still figuring things out.

And one of the things they are figuring out is their relationship with Judaism.  Is Christianity something different?  And in what ways is it different?

And so this group of followers in Colosse started to come under some pressure from the Jewish community in town – because they were saying – listen you Jesus people – Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi.  If He was Jewish – shouldn’t you all be Jewish?  Yet you are worshipping on a Sunday instead of a Saturday – you aren’t following all of the rules of Judaism.  You aren’t following the Sabbath rules and regulations.  You’re eating whatever you want to eat.  Get with it Christians.  There are many rules you aren’t following.  So let’s shape up, people!

This issue, by the way, was the first and largest issue in the early church.  The apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter actually got into a fight about it once.  We read Paul’s version of what went down in Galatians chapter 2 and we read about the first all church council in Acts 15 where they came together to decide – are Christians supposed to become Jewish and follow and the Jewish customs regarding what to eat and what not to eat, and what days are holy days, and what to do about the Sabbath.

And so Paul is working hard to make a clean cut from Judaism.  Christianity, though rooted in Judaism, is something unique.  We don’t need to act Jewish in order to be a good Christian.

Now we are about to read a spectacular verse in Colossians 3.  Paul is about to make a bombshell of a statement that we shouldn’t overlook.  So let’s turn there and read the statement, and then let’s study the implications of the statement.  And my hopes is that by the end of our time together we will leave here slightly blushing at the extravagant love that God has for us.

Colossians 3:12 begins this way…  12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people,

Okay – hold on here.  The followers of Jesus were being pressured by the Jewish Community – and up until this very moment – were known as God’s Chosen people.  Now, Paul is going to say, that designation belongs to followers of Jesus.

This is an incredible bombshell of a statement for Paul to make.  Paul was, just as a reminder, one of the most Jewish Jews on the planet.  In his letter to the Philippian church he mentions just how Jewish he was and says – listen, I was circumcised on the eighth day, born into the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews.  He followed the Pharisaical law faultlessly.  And, Paul says, Phil 3:7 I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done.

The bottom line to Paul was that Judaism had been turned into a religious game.  And it had morphed into a game with a rule book so thick that it was impossible to keep.  And the result was that God had been pushed so far away from the regular human that God might as well of been living on the far side of the moon.  No one was getting to him without herculean effort and expertise.  Certainly not any of us regular humans.  It wasn’t going to happen.

And so Jesus comes to blow up the rule book.  And if you ever want to read some of the scariest words Jesus ever said, read Matthew 23 and see exactly how Jesus felt about what Pharisaical Judaism had become.

It is scathing.  And it can be summed up, I believe, in this one verse –  Matthew 23:13 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.

Jesus came to blow up the rule book that shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces.  He came to throw open the gates to the Kingdom so that all might be able to enter.

So who are God’s Chosen people?  It’s not the people who are great at keeping the rules.  It’s not the people who are getting the least amount of penalty flags thrown at them.  The Chosen people are NOT the Jewish people any longer.  At least, that title  does belong to them uniquely any longer.

Paul writes, You people.  You Gentiles.  You are God’s chosen people.  Whosoever is willing to place their faith in Jesus.  You become God’s chosen people.

And when Jesus throws open the gates to the Kingdom of Heaven he announces – good news.  You.  Yes You.  are lovable.  You, yes you, are greatly loved.

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,

You, yes you, are chosen.  Cleansed and dearly loved by God.

Dallas Willard, in his book Divine Conspiracy, writes that Jesus had come to announce the availability of the love of God to those that are often considered NOT blessable in this world in which we live.

He writes,

Bless-able are the flunk-outs and drop-outs and burned-outs. The broke and the broken.  The over-employed, the underemployed, the unemployed. The unemployable. The swindled, the shoved aside, the replaced. The lonely, the incompetent, the stupid.

Even the moral disasters will be received by God as they come to rely on Jesus, count on him, and make him their companion in his kingdom. Murderers and child-molesters. The brutal and the bigoted. Drug lords and pornographers. War criminals and sadists. Terrorists. The perverted and the filthy.   Blessed!  Blessed!

And I would add Lovable.  Lovable!  Lovable!

The uncomfortable love of God reaches out to the worst this world offers.  It arrives in the nick of time for those who are most broken, most hurting.  most lonely.  Most unlovely.

You are lovable in the Kingdom.  Indeed, through faith in Jesus, you are not only accepted, but dearly loved.

Dearly loved.  Maybe there’s someone here today who feels that the best you’ve been able to muster on this earth is barely loved.

Will you give yourself permission today to see you as God sees you, oh dearly loved one?

Do you know that in Isaiah – there is a verse where God says that he has engraved your name on the palms of his hands?  Well that’s referring to Israel.  Oh you mean the Chosen ones?

You, chosen ones – your name engraved on the palms of God’s hands.

Most of us have a hard time receiving this kind of affection from God.  We live in a world where love is earned or at least reciprocated.   Jesus had some hard work to do to help us understand the embarrassingly lavish love that God has for us.  So Jesus resorts to telling stories.

And so when we turn to Luke 15 and we read three stories about God and how God feels about us.  See, Jesus was hanging around so many unlovable people.  Notorious sinners.  The self righteous Pharisees – the people who were good at following the rules and therefore felt the they deserved to be loved – they were just hacked off about Jesus hanging out with these dirt-bags.

And so Jesus tells them three stories to help drive the point home – that you, even you, are dearly loved in Jesus.

He begins with a story about a man who had a hundred sheep.  And one day he is counting the sheep and discovers one is missing.  And so off he goes – off into the wilderness to chase the rebellious sheep.  And when he finds the sheep – know what he does?  He beats the sheep with his sheep stick for being a naughty sheep?

Is that what it says?  No!  It says he joyfully carries the sheep home on his shoulder.   Luke 15:5 And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. 6 When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’

Where is the part about the sheep getting a beat down for the hassle that the shepherd went through?  Why the party?  Isn’t that over the top?  Isn’t that a bit much?

Not for this shepherd.  He is filled with joy that one sheep previously lost in the kingdom of darkness has been found and is safely now in the kingdom of the shepherd.

Can I just stop now and remind us that Jesus isn’t really talking about sheep, you know.  He’s talking about you and me.  And he wants to make sure the pharisees don’t miss the point, so he explicitly tells them…

7 In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!

Jesus came to seek and save the lost.  He is the chaser.   We are the chosen ones.  He is the chasing one.

Then Jesus tells a story about a lady who loses one of her ten coins.  And what does she do?  She goes after that coin.  Wouldn’t you?  How much is an ounce of gold now?   $1355.  You bet I’m looking too.  How much are you worth to God?  Way more than an ounce of Gold.  You are worth everything to Jesus.  And he searches.  We might be the chosen ones but He is the chasing one.

And when he finds – great joy!   9 And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’

And again Jesus makes it very clear – he’s not talking about coins – he’s talking about people.  Jesus came to seek and to save people lost – people unfamiliar with unconditional love.  People out wondering in the darkness.  And when they are found?

10 In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”

The third story is one of the most profound short stories ever told.  The story of the prodigal son.  Lost sheep.  Lost coin.  Lost son.  And though the Father in the story doesn’t chase the son into the city, it reports that the Father made a habit of looking – of searching the horizon every day – looking for signs of the son.

And when the son shows up on the horizon – the father runs to him. While he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.

And what happens – rejoicing.  This son of mine – he was lost and now he is found.  A raucous celebration of love results.  Oh what love the father has for us.

We are His Chosen people.  He is the chasing one.

It’s almost embarrassing to imagine God as one who chases.  It seems beneath him.  We often imagine a God who is majestically sitting on a throne, and throngs of people are gathered around him to pay him homage.

But Jesus shows us a very active God.  He is out and about – seeking those who are currently hiding from him.

Can you hear the voice of God saying to you – You are my beloved?  And on you my favor rests?”

I have a real treat for you today.  When I was an 18 year old High School Senior I went to this National Youth conference in Boulder Colorado called Life.  It was 1986.  And I heard a speaker that was the weirdest guy I had ever heard or even seen.

He had mammoth health issues – cystic fibrosis, polio, liver disease, heart disease – he dressed funny and had a pony tail.  He screamed alot and often for no good reason.  He always seemed to have this look on his face like someone stole a cookie right out of his hand.

And yet God used him to speak to me – to break through to me about this idea.  That I am chosen.  That I am dearly loved.

And so as a Thanksgiving treat I am going to show you a clip that I found of Dave telling a story that powerfully affected me.  And I hope it will stick with you as well.  So let’s travel back in time – back to the eighties – to hear Dave Busby talk about the fact that you are chosen and dearly loved.

You, yes you, are dearly loved today by God through Jesus.

In closing – let me read one more quote from author Henri Nouwen.

I am beginning now to see how radically the character of my spiritual journey will change when I no longer think of God as hiding out and making it as difficult as possible for me to find him, but, instead, as the one who is looking for me while I am doing the hiding.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to make God smile by giving God the chance to find me and love me lavishly? Can I accept that I am worth looking for?  Do I believe that there is a real desire in God to simply be with me?

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