"Loved and Sent: God Is Love"#87-13
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on November 24, 2019
By Pastor Jeff Cloeter, Guest Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: 1 John 4:7-12
I must be honest. I've always been frustrated by the word "love," and I wonder, is something wrong with me, or how can anybody not like the word love?
Well, a few reasons. First of all, the word love has become so cliché in our culture, overused that it's empty of meaning. So in our culture, love can mean a fuzzy feeling or an emotion. It might even convey a romantic sentiment like roller skating backwards, holding your girlfriend's hand. Certainly, love can mean sex, in our culture. You can use the word love to describe how you feel about bacon or how you feel about your mother. Same word. So what does it really mean?
Another frustration I have with the word love is that the people who are defining love in our culture are the same ones who can't make love work. Pop stars and movie stars write our love songs and romantic comedies, but when's the last time you heard of a 50-year marriage in Hollywood?
The most frustrating thing about love in our culture to me is that too often it is a transaction. It's like exchanging Christmas gifts when you buy somebody a gift, but they didn't get something for you, and you wonder, why didn't they get me something? If I get somebody something, they get me something in return. Or if somebody gives you a gift, and then you're left feeling guilty that you didn't get them something, because we live in a transactional world, back and forth.
Transactional love is love that is given only when it first gets. We are conditioned toward this kind of reciprocal love in our culture. It's conditional. It keeps score. It's this for that. I do this for you, and then you do this for me. I love you, and you love me back. But if you don't love me back, well, then I might not love you back.
Maybe you're frustrated with the word love too. It's a cliché. It's void of meaning, and it's often reduced to a transaction. So the question today is, what does love mean in its truest sense? How can we know what love is, and what does it look like? One of the great expositions on love in the Bible is found in 1 John 4:8. John writes: "Anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love."
Now, be careful with that phrase, "God is love." This is a dangerous verse out of context. By itself, it can be taken as a very generic and plain sentence. Three words, God is love. I think that 95 percent of Americans would agree with that term, God is love. A shaman or a new age spiritualist could confess that short sentence.
So what's different about Christians? What do we as Christians believe about the statement God is love? Well, John gets more specific. In the next verse, verse 9: "In this, the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world so that we might live through Him." So now John is narrowing the definition. "God is love," is not descriptive enough, so he gets narrower. He says, "Love is made manifest." That means that love is seen, visible. Love is just a word or a sentiment until you actually see it with your eyes. So John says, "This is what love looks like in real life. God sent His only Son." Love is not a feeling, an emotion, idea, or philosophy. Love is choice and action, and the fundamental choice and action of love is always selfless. When we see the word love used in the Bible, particularly in relation to God, it's always Him giving Himself up for someone else, with absolutely no expectation of anything in return.
So we get this here in 1 John 4:9, and the word "sent" is critical. God sent His Son, and to send is to give away. It's risky, it's perilous, it's dangerous, to give away, but God's love is proven in giving away, in sending, in the costly mission of Jesus Christ, that God deployed His one and only Son to the ghetto of rebel humanity, knowing full well the fatal cost, and here's where we begin to see love with our eyes. And it's not a transaction. It is selfless action.
In pre-marriage counseling, I'll meet with couples before they get married. I always ask if they've had a fight yet. And if they say no, I tell them they can't get married, which may seem harsh, but my point is that you have to go through some stuff to really prove and to test love. Love is easy when things are great. But love is proven, truly proven, in the struggle. Not in health, but in sickness. Love is proven not just in the better, but in the worst. Not in richer, but in poorer. That's when you start to see love when it's tested and proven.
And so when everything is falling apart at the seams, when everything is going away, John writes this: "God sent His only Son into the world." Finally, John writes in verse 10, "This is love. Not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins." So John says, "This is love. Not that we love God." In other words, love in its purest form does not originate in us. Not that we're incapable of love, but when speaking of love, we must always talk about the first love. John says, "This is love, that He loved us."
Now we're at the true definition. God is the originator and the ultimate definition of love because He, Himself, is love. He's the fountain and the headwaters. And John says He loved us and sent His Son to be the sacrifice for our sins. And so love is ultimately and fully defined in the costly act of Jesus, that He suffered death by love. Love is not about heart-shaped chocolates, but about cross-shaped wood. It's not butterflies in the stomach. It's selfless resolve deep in His gut. By comparison, transactional love looks like cotton candy. It's empty sugar with no substance, but when we look at God's love, it's proven in self-giving action, and we start to see it. In sending what is most valuable, we see that genuine love is in it for the long haul. It's persistent. It's willing to suffer. It requires no payment in return. It asks no questions.
In 1995, a reporter named Tim Madigan from the Fort Worth Star-Telegraph was assigned to interview Mr. Rogers, the children's TV icon. Madigan's life as a reporter was flourishing. He was quickly gaining success in journalism. His personal life was a wreck, though. He suffered bouts of depression, a broken marriage and family life. He struggled to make sense of his troubled relationship with his father. And after the initial interview, Mr. Rogers befriended Tim Madigan. He invited him to his church. You may know that Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister.
They began to write each other regularly. Madigan wrote about his friendship with Fred Rogers in a book called I'm Proud of You. And in that book, Madigan wrote about a seminal moment in his life when he was suffering in a season of intense fear and depression. He wrote in his journal, "I don't want to be here anymore. Don't know what to do. Want to go back to sleep and sleep the rest of the day, hide from the world." He wrote these words to Rogers and received an email back.
In it, Fred Rogers wrote to Madigan: "You are my beloved brother, Tim. You are God's beloved son. I love you, and I'm proud of you." And for Tim Madigan that was the first time he really truly heard those words specifically for him, spoken to him, and those words changed his life. Knowing this, Fred Rogers would sign every letter from then on, "I love you," and then he'd have the initials IPOY, short for, "I'm proud of you." Thus, the title of the book. Their deep friendship continued until Fred's death in 2003.
These words can't be said enough, and I think that as you're listening you've probably heard these words before. But maybe you've never heard that you specifically are loved by God. You've been called a failure, a sinner, an idiot, but maybe you've never been called beloved son or beloved daughter of the most high God. I am here today to tell you something very simple but profound, that you are loved by God.
Advent is the acknowledgement of God's arrival. That's what it means. Arrival. That love has come in the Person of Jesus Christ, and it was a risky act of selfless love. He came when nobody knew. He came uninvited, and He came for you. But here is where you see love. You may have trouble grasping it, and I understand because you're used to transactional love. You might be hearing my words right now and they're not sinking in, so let me take another angle.
Maybe you've been betrayed or hurt by someone you love. And if you have, I want you to know that you have One who understands you, that Jesus was betrayed. For Him, love got Him killed. It was death by love, but your life was worth the price, and so lay down your fears. You are loved by God.
You still might have trouble understanding this. Maybe it's not sinking in. And I understand why it's hard to grasp because you live in a world of conditional love. Love me, and I'll love you back. This for that. But I'm here today to tell you of a love that requires nothing back. Your Lord has no conditions, no limits, no ceiling. Precisely when you were unlovable, undesirable, that's when He loved you. Few people know what true and genuine love looks like, and fewer know that they are unconditionally loved by God in this way. And so this week, tell a family member or a close friend that they are loved. On the way home today in the car, on a phone call, around the dinner table. It can't be said enough. Tell them that they are loved, not just by you, but by the living God.
I was tired of the word love. I was frustrated by it, until I heard: "This is love. Not that we love God, but that He loved us and sent His Son." Amen.
Reflections for November 24, 2019
Title: Loved and Sent: God Is Love
Mike Zeigler: Joining me today is pastor Jeff Cloeter. He's the senior pastor at Christ Memorial Lutheran church in St. Louis, Missouri. Jeff's the sixth in an unbroken line of Lutheran ministers. And Jeff, as I understand it, the first was your great, great, great-grandpa, grandpa Ottmar.
Jeff Cloeter: That is correct. Three greats.
Mike Zeigler: What's his full name?
Jeff Cloeter: Ottmar Helmut Cloeter
Mike Zeigler: Very good, and 170 years ago, give or take a few decades, he was a missionary to the Ojibwe people.
Jeff Cloeter: Yeah.
Mike Zeigler: Is that how you say that?
Jeff Cloeter: Came from Germany to be a pastor, and from there and Michigan was sent to Northern Minnesota to the Ojibwe tribe of native Americans.
Mike Zeigler: Very good. And so you like great, great, great-grandpa Ottmar you identify yourself as a North American missionary.
Jeff Cloeter: I'd like to think that I'm a missionary pastor. Yes.
Mike Zeigler: Well, Jeff, you have also written a book, I guess it's been about three years now. You wrote this book titled Loved and Sent, how to words define who you are and why you matter. And this book, we're going to let it guide these upcoming messages during the season in Advent, which starts next week officially. So Jeff, tell us about this book and how it was a part of your work as a missionary pastor.
Jeff Cloeter: Well, I want to thank you first of all for having me. I commend you, Pastor Ziegler, for your work as Lutheran Hour Speaker, and I knew you before this and you're a pastor. Yes. And that's what I love about your heart, that you were and are a pastor, and you bring that to this program. So, I value that as a colleague and a fellow pastor and just the heart you bring to this, and I've gotten to see that. So thank you for having me here. I appreciate it.
So you asked about this book. Early in my ministry as a pastor, I had a little bit of a crisis because I realized that I had to have integrity to my ministry. So I believe every Christian is loved by God and sent by Him to live out the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. And I realized early on if I'm asking people to do that, I have to do that myself. And I struggled a little bit. I went to seminary. And so I am schooled in theology and the Scriptures and our doctrine. But then you get out and the rubber hits the road. You're off the map, and you're in the territory, and you're with real people, messy people, complicated situations.
And what am I going to say about the substance, the heart of what I believe in, why it matters. So that kind of a little bit of agitation birthed the search for these two words really: "loved" and "sent," answering our identity that we're loved in Christ and our purpose that were sent by Him.
And so wrestling with that conversations, mentors, came to really the need to be, (and this is in the book,) four Cs to be clear, concise, consistent, and compelling in what we speak our heart, our heart of faith—who we really are in Christ. But we have to speak that clearly, concisely, consistently, and in a compelling manner, especially in the 21st-century. I believe it's just critical for every Christian to be able to do that. And so it was really a conviction early on that I have to do that myself, that leaders have to demonstrate, embody, what they're calling their people to do.
So in some ways the book is kind of a personal journey in my own wrestling with what I knew and believe, but then how I speak it and live it.
Mike Zeigler: So integrity in your ministry—not just in the sense of having like a clear theme for your ministry—but that you and your ministry that you embody your ministry. I like that.
Jeff Cloeter: Yeah.
Mike Zeigler: One of the things I love about the book is the stories that you tell, personal stories. So it's clear that this is not just abstract teaching for you, but it's something you are endeavoring to live. And it also makes the book a fun read, enjoyable to read. You weave stories in throughout the whole chapter. There's one that is kind of going from the start to the finish of the book, and I won't give away the end, but it's very well-written book.
It makes it enjoyable to read, but I'm guessing there's more to it than just you want some entertainment mixed in with teaching. So tell me more about why you take this approach of incorporating your story
Jeff Cloeter: I want to talk about who I am, what I believe in, why it matters. I use stories liberally throughout the book because for two reasons. Number one: I've heard it said about writing that the best writing is personal and particular, and I believe the same about our faith. Our faith is personal and particular. We have an other-worldly God, and we can use all the big words like "omniscient" and "omnipotent." But he's also this worldly as well. He finds Himself in flesh most certainly but in our lives actively and in the this of our life.
And so stories embody that. Jesus told parables because God is invested in His creation in His world. And second, I tell stories because I want to pattern for my own people as a pastor the integration of life and faith. So I think there's a great temptation for Christians to divide the one hour a week or two hours a week of worship with the other 167 of the week. And we can kind of silo Sundays from every other day. So I want to show an integration of that, that every moment is sacred because God is there, not just in the worship service but in the locker room. By telling stories, I want to pattern that for my people, show them that what we believe is and, and always is. And the God we trust is and always is at every moment.
Mike Zeigler: So stories of conversation in a restaurant or an altercation on a basketball court or a new day at school, those are all instances where the big story of God becomes this worldly, maybe.
Jeff Cloeter: Yeah. And so the intersection of the almighty, sovereign, and transcendent God, but also in a very particular incarnate ways.
Mike Zeigler: Working in your life, in my life.
Jeff Cloeter: And my life. And so we have to demonstrate that.
Mike Zeigler: Later on in the book. I think it's at the ending. You say that these words loved and sent, they give you courage, they give you hope. They tell you who you are and, and why you matter. But on the other hand, they also devastate you. I think the quote is "They devastate me with their great demand." So what do you mean by that?
Jeff Cloeter: "They devastate me with their great demand." I wrote that?
Mike Zeigler: You did.
Jeff Cloeter: This past weekend in our church. We had a guest preacher from a partner church, and you may know him, Gerard Bolling from Bethlehem. And so he came and preached for us, and he had a great sermon. And he starts out, and this was his line throughout. He said, he was talking about a Jesus' new command, that you "love one another." And he says to love your neighbor is simple, but it's not easy. And he just showed all these examples of that. It's a simple, such a simple command. Anybody can say it, but it's not, it's not easy. And so that's—I think that kind of gets to what I mean when I say these words devastate me because first of all, they're God's words. So He's the subject. He does the loving, and He does the sending. That's on Him. That's good news for me. But then when He says, "Now love as I have loved you" or "Go, as the Father has sent Me, so I send you," that's what devastates in the sense of it's a huge burden and responsibility, an overwhelming task. That to me is the part that says, wow, am I capable of that? Well, of course I have to keep looking back to the One who loves and sends. That's the only way I can possibly live with that Great Commission that He places on me.
Mike Zeigler: So, devastates in the sense of shows you your constant need for the One who loves and sends.
Jeff Cloeter: Yeah. Crushes in a good way. Humbles, maybe is a good way to say that, and constantly drives me back to the Sender, lest I think that I'm doing it myself.
Mike Zeigler: Right. We never grow out of these most basic, essential truths of the Gospel. Well, it's been three years since this was first published, and I know publishing it had to be an act of faith and wondering, you know, is anyone gonna read it? Is it going to help anybody? How have you seen God use this work that He's done through you for His kingdom in the last three years?
Jeff Cloeter: You do wonder, is it, does it matter? Does it make a difference? And yeah, there's self-disclosure in that. And so certainly wrestling with that, and I think writing is an act of faith because you trust words come out. And that was a prayer along the way. I did write this really first in mind for my own congregation that it was incredibly organic and grassroots. I needed to synthesize things that I was saying again and again for our people that became kind of the culture and the language of our people. I wanted to put that together.
And then I also had being in a city where there's a seminary, I have regular fieldwork students who are studying to be pastors, and they would ask to take stuff with them. And so that was the other part to say, rather than reproducing something again and again, I can just say here's kind of our culture in a book. God does what He will with that. And so as I mentioned earlier, I'm highly sensitive to self-promotion, probably to a negative fault. But God does what He will. And so the book has found a broader reach with congregations and individuals across the country using it. Even at this point, last weekend we have what we call our "loved-sent servant events," mini-mission trips, kind of a one-day mini-mission trip. We send our members across our city on one day to different ministries or sites or nonprofits. That's been kind of adopted by others. And just this last Saturday, a pastor in Liberia, West Africa, took it. And so we were Facebook-living their loved-sent servant event in West Africa. Or in Ethiopia as well, there is now some connection in Ethiopia. So that to me is humbling, and it's a picture of the fact that the church is beyond us. The Gospel is bigger than us, and in a small way, Loved and Sent has become more than a book, kind of a banner to rally around and to unite a paradigm to speak together with other Christians. And I found value in that—that it's created partnerships for our church. And for me personally, that I've been blessed by.
Mike Zeigler: I love that you're not saying anything new. It's the basics. It's 1 John 4 that that's all the book is, really. And, but what's new and exciting about it is that the way you've taken it and helped us as Christians see what this looks like, played out in the life of an individual Christian. And it opens my mind up to think about how would I tell my story of being loved and sent? And I think that would do that for anyone who reads it. So yeah, we're gonna be talking about this book throughout the Sundays in Advent. So thank you for letting us do this and letting us use it as a resource. If you want to check it out. You can find it wherever you get books. It's titled Loved and Sent, and it's by Jeff Cloeter. His name is C. L. O. E. T. E. R.
Jeff Cloeter: Good German name.
Mike Zeigler: Yep. Like grandpa Ottmar
Jeff Cloeter: Ottmar Helmut Cloeter.
Mike Zeigler: Yes. So check it out. If you're looking for an Advent devotional practice to take up, it's not a real long book. It's an interesting, fun read, and it'll help you grow in answering these questions. Who am I and why do I matter? Thanks, Pastor Jeff.
Jeff Cloeter: Thank you.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Lord, Enthroned in Heavenly Splendor" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)