Wednesday, November 20, 2019

“He’s got the whole wide world in His hands”

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Violence ends where love begins
Sermon by Jan Fluit
 
 
 
I recently remembered a poster that was on the wall of my room in my lodgings. It showed a photo of a rose in full bloom, but the last part of the stem was barbed wire. As the barbed wire got nearer the flower, it changed into a real stem, and above it was a beautiful rose. The text under the photo was: Violence ends where love begins”.
 
When I remembered that, I realised what a wonderful truth that is. Violence comes to an end, wherelove begins. The one counteracts the other.
 
There are lots of people who believe it is the other way round. “Violence begins where love ends!” And that’s because things can happen in life, which seem so unfair. It is not as you had hoped it would be, and it is all so negative, that with all the will in the world you cannot feel love any more. And the sad thing about this, is that it is this negative feeling that you act on.
 
There are many, many songs and sermons about love in this world. There are, aren’t there? How many songs do you think have been written about love? And if you listen to the words of the songs carefully, to see what this love is based on, then you discover that it actually has very little to do with real love.
 
For example, I love you because you are beautiful. Because you are intelligent, or because you are rich, or because you can help me, and so on, and so on. That sort of love is based on the positive aspects of another person. It is a love that comes your way, and which you can enjoy, because the other person cares for you, a lot. That sort of love is not wrong in itself. It’s not wrong to enjoy the good things that come your way. But Jesus once said: “If you love those who love you, what is special about that?” There is a higher form of love, and that’s what I want to talk to you about today.
 
There is a beautiful chapter about love in the Bible. I think we all know which one that is. 1 Corinthians chapter 13, and I want to look at some of the verses in this chapter, beginning with verse 1:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am……. nothing.”
 
So does that mean that knowledge and faith aren’t important?
No, of course not. In Hosea, chapter 4 verse 6 it even says:  “my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge”.
So it’s not wrong to be knowledgeable, but what Ihear from God, and tell to others, must be done in love, from a good heart.
 
We have a hymn that says: “There is no one else quite like you Lord”. And that is very true. Which is why I am so very glad that the Father says to us: “I enjoy hearing your praise and worship, but what I really want, my plan for you, is that you will be renewed, until you become like me. I really long for you to be like Me. And also for you to be where I am. And as you live this life, I want you to be so full of thankfulness and worship, that it will spill over and have a positive effect on all those around you. So that people can taste and see that you are a loving person; someone who shows them love; who can see through those thick walls that people erect around themselves; I want you to be someone who looks further than just what’s on the outside, and sees people for what they really are, not just whether they are successful or not.
I want you to be someone who loves people, just for who they are.
To be a person who cares. The sort of person who puts their arm around those who need it. Maybe not literally, because that’s not always possible at first, but a person who shows their love and concern for the plight of other people, whatever.
In chapter 13 verse 4 it says that love is patient and longsuffering.
That’s wonderful. Love does not tire easily, does not tire of doing good. But how deep do these feelings go? Can you forgive seventy times seven? That would certainly be the right attitude wouldn’t it?
 
I think it’s important for us to realise what wonderful opportunities Jesus’ death on the cross has brought us. I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately. In the letter to the Hebrews we can read about what Jesus’ crucifixion was really all about,  what the purpose was.
And what he says there causes quite a disturbance, because it says in verse 5 of chapter 10:  “When Christ came into the world, He said to God, “Sacrifices and offerings are not what you wanted.”
And usually we just read on, as if this is an introduction to something else more important. But just think about it what it meant, in those times, when sacrificing was an everyday occurrence. It was like a slap in the face. The people had obediently brought their sacrifices, just as the scriptures said they should, and then someone comes along and says: “That’s not what God wants”. That takes a lot of courage.
 
Do you have the courage to put aside sacrifices, that are not expected of you,  in exchange forbetter sacrifices? 
 
In Chapter ten verse three it says: “But in those sacrifices there is a yearly reminder of sins”. I think there are lots more of these sort of sacrifices. And I don’t mean visible sacrifices in a temple, but perhaps in your own life. That in your life, your relationship with the Lord is characterized by the words: Wrong again. Still not enough, again. Not good enough. Wrong way again. Lord forgive me. Please forgive me.” And it goes on and on, and never stops. You are continually focussed on the things that you think are going wrong, and so on guilt and failure.
 
And then, there is this new sacrifice, which takes its place so “that we will no longer be guilty of sins”.  The sacrifice that Jesus brought, not for himself, but for you and for me. That is really special.
I have tried to understand what it would be like if I myself had to do what Jesus did. I know I can’t, because we could never  re-do the sacrifice of Jesus, but it’s just about feeling the intensity of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us.
 
Just imagine you are completely free of sin, and someone else does things wrong, is offensive or insulting, and misbehaves, and you would say “give me the blame. I’ll take the punishment.”
But what is the first thing we say if someone says something untrue about us? We protest. It’s not true. I’m not to blame.“
You try to put that right, straight away, because you are being accused, you are being blamed for wrong-doing . And nobody wants to be blamed, especially if it’s something they haven’t done.
 
But just imagine you were to say, I will take your blame and guilt on my account, so that you can go free.  That’s a wonderful sacrifice, and although we would never have tobring that sacrifice, it is still good to have that same attitude that Jesus had, and to put that into practice in your daily life.
 
And we can have this attitude. Because Jesus has laid a wonderful foundation in our life to make this possible. He has cleansed us and made us pure. He says: “you are cleansed by the word that I speak to you”. That’s a wonderful start to build on, because if He says I am cleansed, then I am cleansed, pure in body and mind. So what someone else says doesn’t and can’t change that. Why am I pure in body and mind? Because I do everything right? No, I am pure and cleansed of sin because of the words that He spoke about me. That’s why I am cleansed. That’s what determines my purity, the words that HE spoke. So if I want to keep things pure and honest in my life, seeing things in the right light, putting things right, then I must go to HIM.
 
Chapter 13 verse 5 says that love is not rude or selfish. Love wants the other person to be happy. Love doesn’t keep account of wrong doings. Remember that: loves doesn’t keep an account of evil. Of all that goes wrong. So that means that in your eyes the other person has a clean sheet. You don’t keep account of his wrong-doings.
 
Someone once said: “I have decided that I am going to be the end of the line for any gossip or negative word about someone else that reaches my ears. ”In other words: I am going to put the lies and slander on a side line.  I am going to take them out of circulation.
Then it doesn’t even matter whether what’s said is true, or not.
 
Paul says in 2 Timothy chapter two verse sixteen: “Avoid godless chatter, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will eat its way like gangrene”. So if you know any negative things about someone, and you tell them to someone else, then you are encouraging dissatisfaction, and it will harm you too, harm your spirit.
It is good to use what you know, and what you have received from the Lord, to do good, and help others. If you know something, that someone else doesn’t, then you can apply what the writer to the Hebrews said, in Hebrews 7 verse 7: “It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior.” So If you know more than someone else, then you can help other people with what you know.
So do I ridicule other people for the things they don’t know, or do I help them with what I DO know. And do you know what is so wonderful about all this. It works two ways: other people help YOU with what THEY know.
 
So is it possible to do that? To live like that. Or are we going to conclude that although these are wonderful verses and promises, they are as yet impossible to attain, in the reality of our every day life. Maybe later on……….If that’s what you think, then you are putting conditions on your love, while our Lord loves unconditionally.
 
Jesus shows us this very clearly in a parable in Matthew chapter 18 verse 23. He says that the enormous debt, that a man once had, was cancelled. Just like that. He didn’t have to pay his loan back, not any of it. And then this same man went to another man, who in turn owed HIM money, a very small amount in comparison, and he demanded the man repay his loan in full. When he couldn’t do this, he had the man put in prison. He himself had had his enormous debt cancelled, but he couldn’t bring himself to do the same for the man who owed HIM money. Isn’t that awful? It is all about your attitude. What am I focussed on. What is important to me?
 
We all have days when everything seems to run smoothly. Things go well. Everything is fine. And then someone comes along who says negative things about you, and these things seem to grow out of all proportion in your mind, and they take up all your time and attention. It is as if all the other positive things never happened, or they just don’t seem to be so important any more. Only the negative things count. And of course the questionis: how do I get out of this way of thinking. How do I change my attitude?
 
There is a also lot of disappointment and frustration, anger and violence in the world today. And so many people feel hurt. There is so much injustice and unfairness, harshness and lack of understanding. And there is often dissatisfaction about relatively unimportant things, that can cause an enormous rift.
 
But peoplealso have things happen to them that you can justifiably say “that’s awful”. They have a right to feel as they do. And they experience the consequences of these things for years after. So again I ask the question; how do I change my attitude?
 
How can I put 1 Corinthians chapter 13 into practice?
Your conclusion may be “I can’t”. I can’t forgive. I don’t want to keep account of these bad things, but I can’t get them out of my account book, even if I wanted too.
Ionce felt this way, you know. I hated my own father for years. And when I decided I didn’t want to feel this way any more, it was as if a whole film came into my head of all the things that had happened. Not ones I had made up, not fantasies, but things that had actually happened.  How did I stop that? Not by reason, or a plan I thought up, but through love that God poured out into my heart; and that happened spontaneously, just like that. All of a sudden I could say things that I certainly wasn’t used to saying; it just happened. That has brought about so many positive reactions for my father,and for me. It brought love and healing. That is wonderful.
 
If you open your heart for the love of the Lord, everything becomes possible.
 
I have been reading a book by Katja Staartjes. She is the first Dutch woman to climb Mount Everest. She gives lectures about her expeditions. And she uses her experiences, and how she coped with the situations she came up against during these expeditions, as illustrations and examples of how to cope better with the various situations, disappointments and challenges that arise in our daily life. I realised that her stories can also be used to illustrate spiritual truths. I want to share them with you.
 
For her it all started in Germany, where she climbed her first mountain; one that wasn’t very high. That went well, so she thought: “If I can climb this mountain successfully, then next time I can attempt one that is higher.”
This is the principle she followed each time, and so she climbed higher and higher, until she reached the top of the highest mountain in the world. And she uses this principle to encourage people, who listen to her lectures, to aim higher and higher.
 
And that mountain, that’s what this sermon is all about.
Climbing the unassailable mountain. The mountain that so often seems impossible to people, because they find it impossible to ignore their feelings and love in spite of them.
 
The writer of this book, Katja Staartjes, says: “When you are thinking of going on a climb, then you have to start by facing the consequences of your decision. What equipment do I need, what preparation should I make, what will it cost. For example: the cost of climbing the Mount Everest is € 40.000.
 
Then you also need time to prepare, time to work on your physical condition,  and you need a good team with you.
It’s not just a case of buying a pair of good climbing boots and a good rucksack and then run off up the mountain.
That isn’t possible anyway, you wouldn’t survive if you did that. You have to pace yourself because the higher you go, the less oxygen there is.
 
So if you have made the decision to see if it is possible for you to gradually be able to love, as described in 1 Corinthians chapter 13, then you too will have to start by finding out what you will need to reach your goal, and whether you have all these things in your possession. 
 
So it’s very important to look and see what is available to you, because that is the key to progressing further. If you focus too much on the top of the mountain, - on how high it is and on all the difficulties you may encounter on the way – then it will seem impossible.
 
So what conditions do I set for myself, in order to be able to love other people? If I say “I want to love other people, but first I want to see what it is they did wrong, and whether they did it on purpose, because if they didn’t mean to do it , then I am prepared to forgive,” well, then I am putting a condition on that forgiveness.
The condition is: If the other person meant well, well then that’s okay. Then I can forgive. But what if he DIDN’T mean well?
Jesus says very clearly: “Love your enemies”. So what do you say to Jesus then? Do you say to Him: “You have no idea what I’ve had to endure. How can you expect me to love my enemies?”
 
Because if DO, then you base your conclusion, which is that you are not able to love these people, on what the other  person did wrong. But if you base your conclusion on the fact that loving begins with allowing yourself to be loved by God your Father, then loving and forgiving become a wonderful new opportunity for you, given to you by your Father, to share with others. Think back to the parable I told you about at the beginning. You too will have an opportunity to put into practice the principle: “Violence ends where love begins”. Then the flower of God’s love in you, counteracts the violence of hating and enmity. The barbed wire becomes a green stem because of the love YOU show.
 
Recently I read something that Anne van de Bijl had written. Anne v.d. Bijl brought the gospel to many, many places where it was absolutely forbidden. He once said that he longed to meet Osama bin Laden, but then without weapons! He says: “It is such a pity that we go there with weapons. If I had the chance to meet him, I would go with the Bible. I want to tell the man that Jesus loves him.
That’s just what he needs”. Well, I think that’s a wonderful attitude, I really do.
 
But can I climb a mountain that high? As I said, Katja Staartjes says: “If you want to go climbing, then it all begins with facing the consequences of the climb. So what do I choose….. to go?….. or not? If I want to do something, thenfirst I have to see if I have the means to do it. So then you take a look at yourself. How many of us have then said: “It’s not possible”. But if you say that, then you are reacting as if you had to do it all on your own.
 
But the Lord says, “We started off together, you started in the spirit, but now you are ending up in the flesh, and you are once again facing the decision on your own: Can I do it? and you are back in that lonely situation, when we weren’t journeying together! Without any equipment. Without the things you need. Why don’t you start looking at all the riches I have given you: forgiveness of sins, fullness of the Holy Spirit, insight into the unseen world. My own ability to love. I have given you the potential to slay barriers, lies and even satan. I have given you that”. If you base your decision on all that, then your position in life will be completely different.
 
The climber says: “There is a big difference between something you really want, and something that you’d also like to do some time”. Maybe you sometimes think: “Well, I’ll give it a try”.
Well, that certainly doesn’t sound very enthusiastic. It’s not nearly as convincing as someone who says, “I’m going to go for it. I’m going to try my very best, give it all I’ve got”.
So if you say you want to do something, the question is: do you really want to do it? Are youreally going to give it your all? Are you willing to give something up in order to reach your goal. Do you try and practise? And then not as if it is a difficult exercise for an unpleasant task, but as a wonderful opportunity to go higher and see more of the wonderful views.
Or do you think: “Well, I’ll have a go, but if it proves too difficult then I’ll stop”. It’s very important to believe in yourself. Because GOD believes in you. He believes in you as a person. He believes in you, even before you do. He sees the potential in you.
 
In Titus chapter three verse 8 it says: “so that those who have believed in God may be careful to apply themselves to good deeds.” What a challenge. But it is based on building up faith in God”. If you do that, then all of a sudden things become possible. That is so wonderful.
 
Katja Staartjes also says: “You need courage to start a journey”.
It is a big step to take. To make the decision: “I’m going for it”.
I will have to leave things behind, because I will meet difficult situations on my journey. She says: “It also requires flexibility and improvisation.”.
How flexible am I? You know, Jesus was very flexible. Not where the truth was concerned. He was totally unyielding about that.
Jesus could mix with all types of people and situations. If he was confronted with good things that happened, he showed joy and clarity. If he was confronted with unpleasant things: He stayed just the same. And that is so wonderful: Jesus IS love. Just like the Father. Someone once said: One of the qualities of the Father is love, but I think you should put it differently. It is not ONE of His qualities. He IS love. That is what He is. Which is why everything he made, was made in love.
 
Love brings forth life. And the same applies to us, and the way we look at things. So when people are being rather negative, you could think, also rather negatively, ‘what a lot of negative things are being said to me’. But you could also think: “what an opportunity to make something good come out of them. To turn the situation around”.
If this person, with all his negative words is shown love, this person who is being so unpleasant to you, if he would be loved, if he felt that someone cared about him, then that could change everything.
How much love do you think he has had? And of course then you could pray for him: “Dear God, will you please make sure he gets more love in future”. But then there is a big chance that God will say: “A good idea, I will do that, through you. You represent My love. You may show him My love. Put an end to the barbed wire of negative thinking by sharing from the love you have received from God.
Show that you care for that person. Be the fragrance of Christ, so that his original, authentic personality can come to the surface, so that this person too can become like God, in His image, as God wanted him to be.
 
The writer also says: “Another very important aspect is fear. Fear of losing control”.  Well…… I am familiar with that  as well. It makes us feel good to have everything under control, doesn’t it? You’ve checked things, you’ve made sure everything’s arranged properly. You’re in control. Only in real life things don’t always go according to plan, according to your control mechanism. Sometimes you want things to go differently, but theydon’t. Then you sometimes ask: “Lord, will you make things go differently”. But they still don’t. So what next? Well the next point is: Let it go.
 
She says: “When you start climbing a mountain, and because you know it is going to be a long journey, and you’re going to need a lot of things, then you tend to take an awful lot of things with you.”
We Dutch people are very good at that. When we go on holiday we take almost the whole contents of our house with us, because although we want to go away somewhere, we still want to be just as comfortable as at home. But if you carry all these things along with you, then you will never get up to the top of the mountain.
So some things have to go. You have to let them go, all those familiar, trusted things, that you had calculated in your plan. There were always certain things you could fall back on, and now you can’t. Have you the courage to do that? Have you the courage to let go. If you do, then that is the first sign that you feel able to put your trust in someone else.
 
Katja also says: “Reaching the top is not something you do on your own. She said: “I can personally say that I am the first Dutch woman to reach the top of Mount Everest, but I didn’t do it on my own. I had a team. Something like that you do together. And to be honest, if you think you can do it on your own, then you are wrong. And the same applies to us, in our daily lives. “You do things together with the Lord” you probably will say. Of course. But then also together with His people, always. Through being together with others. Sometimes it’s good to let go and trust someone else. And not want to arrange everything yourself after all,  whilst still mistrusting, and wondering: “is the other person doing it right?” You don’t want someone to judge you like that. How much love is there left?
You know, if you find a place where you feel safe, then you are no longer afraid of doing things wrong. It is wonderful to just be able to be yourself, and to be able to share your weak points.
 
She says “Going up the mountain, - that is also one of those principles that I won’t easily forget -  “that is two steps forward and one back. Because”, she says:   ‘it is very tiring’. So you go up, and then you have to go back a bit again, because otherwise it is too much. You could say: “I want to get to the top as quickly as possible”, and off you rush, but then you won’t get there at all.
 
And you can also think: “I have the Lord with me now, so we’re going to succeed. But the Lord also says: ‘Take it easy‘, because while you are walking and climbing you can come across something difficult. And then you have to take a step back. And then you take the next steps forward. What I like about this, is that when you take two steps forward and one step back, you are always returning to base camp. And there is a great truth here. Do you come back to base camp regularly? Base camp: that sacrifice of Jesus. Once and for all times. Where he says: “Listen, your personality is important, you being you, but that comes out best through Me, through what I did for you. Otherwise you may start bringing the wrong sacrifices, because you think that you have to do everything on your own.
That is much too difficult for you, and before you know it you are blaming other people because you can’t cope. Then you hurt these other people. So, God says,care for other people as much as I care for you. And in the base camp, that’s where you are reminded of the  basic principle again:  “Oh yes”, you think, “I nearly forgot, you and me together Lord . You in front, You my example, You who have achieved everything.”
 
Sometimes it is difficult to accept a situation as it is. She says: “imagine, you are in a tent, and you want to reach the top. But outside there is a snow storm, and it is 30 degrees below zero, and there you are in that tent, and you want to go to the top. But it is snowing. And then you are in the tent thinking: “I wish it would stop snowing for once. I’ve want to get to the top, and we’ve been sitting here for ages already. Half a day, a whole day, a day and a half, two days!”
 
“And you know what, ” she says: “that costs so much energy, all that effort thinking about how it could have been, and that it should have been different, and that it is delaying you and holding you back”.
But you could also look at the situation differently, and think: “I can now have a time of rest”. So don’t invest time and energy in things you can’t change, and how you would have liked it to have been different, but have a rest.
Come and rest in the realisation of what the Lord says about you, asks of you, believes of you, what He offers you. That is such a different way of life. That is so relaxing. “Because” she says, “in all the journeys I have made it has never snowed as long as it has this time, so that I began to think it would never end.“ And that is a really great truth. When you are confronted with things that are holding you back, which seem unending, give yourself up completely to love, and to thoughts that do you good. That was what Jesus did. That was his secret.
 
Another few thoughts. You have to make a choice. YOU have to decide what is more important. When you come up against things in your relationship with people, for example, then you have to decide what is more important. “Yes, but the Lord decides that” you may remark. Yes, but you are the one who has to do the things. What is more important to you, what do you choose?
 
And lastly: There can be no top success without moments of reflection. “Come to your right mind” it says somewhere.  “If you are of a right mind, that is if you are serious and sensible and sincere, then it says you will be able to pray. And you will become alive, spiritually.
Then you can begin a relationship with the God who loves you so much. Who sees your potential. Who blesses you so much, and does you so much good.
Because truly, the world badly needs roses; with a wonderful scent, and bringing blessings. That’s so wonderful. The world doesn’t want MORE barbed wire, more sharpness, more hostility.
 
And as a church we can help to break down that hostility, and bring the real, pure and original life to the surface, the life that God had in mind when He created us. That is, of course, if your church is well known for it kindness and love.
And if you’ve made a mess of your life, they won’t judge you, but they will lovingly help you to put your life right. That is something very special, because then that is a very, very safe place to be. And everyone needs somewhere where they can feel safe.
 
It begins with our relationship with the Lord, doesn’t it. There you are safe. And so you too become a safe place. So love others. Don’t keep an account of all the things that went wrong, but of all the good things that happened. Then the other person is no longer a blank page, but a page full of hope and future.
 
If we live through the Spirit, this will become visible in our lives.
And then we have the promise, that the whole of creation will be restored. Well, that’s a step further, for later on. Let’s take the first steps on our way to that total renewal, and the Lord will bless us on our way.
 
Amen
 
 
Let us pray:
 
Father, Thank you for your tender love and mercy that puts an end to violence. Thank you for your caring words which have such a good influence on our lives. We flourish in your presence and warmth.
It is wonderful to discover, that as we journey with you, we see more and more new views of beautiful scenery, and that we can undertake the journey with peace in our hearts.
Thank you for giving us the ability to discover life, and to learn how to receive love from you, so that we can share it with others. How caring you are toward us, showing us that it doesn’t matter if sometimes we are weak.
You take care of us, and it is wonderful to be able to grow in the safety of your arms.
 
Amen