This February and March, Pastor George and I are going to be taking us through an eight-week series with a goal of defining love from a Biblical perspective. One of the driving reasons for a fresh discussion on love—something that, I think, the local church spends a great deal of time thinking about—is that we live in a current culture where the idea of love has been so greatly transformed, wrongly applied, misused, misunderstood, and muddied by common usage that many within the local church are crying out for help. In light of all of this, our aim it to define love for a confused culture.
A Confused Culture: Why We Are Defining Love
Why is our culture confused? That question could take another series of blog posts—although I have addressed this issue on my personal blog here and here). My quick take on our present cultural value system is what many historians have observed about a troubling shift in America. Americans used to hold to a common supreme individual cultural value — character development. The classic example from this time period of character development is a story about a young puritan girl who wants to help a homeless beggar to find a hot meal during a particularly brutal New England winter. The young girl waits until nightfall so as to be able to help the beggar under a cloak of anonymity. She finds some bread and meat, puts it into a basket, and stealthily places the food next to the beggar before slipping away unnoticed.
Why did this young puritan girl want to help the beggar under the cloak of night? Because she believed The Gospel of Mathew, chapter 6 and verse 1:
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
The young puritan girl of our example did not want to risk being seen so as to receive praise from other human beings and miss out on the character development and the praise of God, who is in Heaven.
Compare that story with the modern story of the selfie generation. Seriously, just pick any millennial adult you have ever met and compare them with the aforementioned puritan girl. Today, a young millennial would not only want to help under the light of day, they would want to ensure that the lighting was just right so as to aid in the clarity of the digital photo they were taking with their smart phone for the post to instagram, Facebook, twitter, and snapchat. No good deed ever goes unnoticed in the millennial generation because there is a fear of missing out (FOMO) of letting others known just how cool and generous you are. And the true motive as to good deeds has never been less clear in the eyes of the recipients of the good deeds. Is this person genuinely wanting to help? Or are they trying to increase their followers, likes, and clicks? Does this person even care about the larger issues of homelessness, institutional poverty, charity? Or are millennial selfie adults more concerned with image, perception, and personality?
Historians have noted that the highest American individual cultural value is no longer character development, but personality. With the release of books like Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends And Influence People, Americans have largely bought into a radical individualism and self-focus that has not resulted in deep internal development, but shallow external branding. Humans are no longer thought of as ambassadors for morals and ideals, but walking billboards for vapid, banal, and self-serving agendas. And what is worse, this silly and harmful narcism is not only permitted in our current culture but promoted by our current culture. In short, our current cultural climate is one where we raise our children to be narcissist who view themselves as the end-all be-all authorities on their own insular and selfish lifestyles.
Perhaps the above paragraph is too harsh in the estimation of our current selfie generation. Or perhaps, as you were reading it, you found yourself nodding along. Either way, what is important for our Sunday experiences over the next eight-weeks is that we come to realize how the term “love” gets translated and mutilated when thrown into the cultural mix of narcism, selfie-generation focus, and radicalized individualism. The reality has always been that defining love in a particular way impacts the whole of one’s life — every way that you use and apply love. It impacts your sexuality, your romantic life, your dating life, your friendships, your family relationships, and the demonstration and application of love.
So how might a culturally-encouraged selfish person go about defining love and workout the definition of love?
The reality has always been that defining love is a particular way impacts the whole of one’s life — every way that you use and apply love. It impacts your sexuality, your romantic life, your dating life, your friendships, your family relationships, and the demonstration and application of love.Well, if love is a feeling, then an individual may be defining love as a feeling in his or her own unique experience. In other words, there is no higher authority that can speak to an individual’s unique, personal, and localized experience of love. Maybe as an individual, a man is defining love by his experience with another man and wants to build a structure around that called marriage. This is what we have seen in our country in the last 20 years or so. Or maybe a woman is defining love by her experience with two other women. This already is occurring in New York and elsewhere. And since the individual alone is the authority on his or her life, the individual gets to define love and any structures that would undergird or affirm the love he or she experiences.
But where are the guide rails for this trajectory? And where does it ultimately take us as a culture? And is this future of defining love in this way a good or healthy future? And has anyone counseled with these people and asked whether these types of relationships and structures are going to ultimately benefit the human beings involved in them. And what happens when we think collectively about this issue? Are these types of individually-tailored relationships helpful for human flourishing when we apply them across the culture? Across the globe? These are pressing and supremely important questions. And many of our LifePoint family members are wrestling with these and other related questions. We think that someone needs to weigh in from a Biblical standpoint for the Christian community. And so, Pastor George and I are going to do so over the next eight weeks.
What we think the local church needs, and especially what our LifePoint family needs, is a concentrated study of how the Bible goes about defining love while speaking to sex, dating, sexuality, identity, friendships, family, and demonstration. Remember, if our definition of love impacts our practice of love and our experience of love, then it seems like a pretty good idea to make sure that we begin with a really, really helpful and really, really accurate definition of love. As Christians, George and I think that the Bible is the best and most helpful authority on the defining love and that we should begin any conversation about love by letting the Bible speak first and loudest. And as we see what the Bible says about the issue of love, we want to make sure to make it practical and applicable to the daily Christian life.
If our definition of love impacts our practice of love and our experience of love, then it seems like a pretty good idea to make sure that we begin with a really, really helpful and really, really accurate definition of love.
The Teaching Approach
So here is how we are going to tackle the topic of love—Pastor George and I are going to live teach on this eight-week series at both Plano and Frisco campuses. It should be noted that when PG is preaching at Plano, I will be (for the most part) preaching in Frisco. And, when I am preaching in Plano, PG will be (for the most part) preaching in Frisco.
Let me briefly say some things about this strategy for teaching. There are some people in our church family who are Pastor George fans. They love him, they love his preaching style, and they love his ministry. These family members are highly likely to follow PG wherever he preaches. We know this and understand this reality. And so, we encourage those who love hearing PG preach to come over to Frisco on the Sundays when he will be there (2/7 and 3/13). But there is one caveat—PG will be preaching the same message back to back Sundays at different locations. So if you hear PG preach at Frisco on 2/7, he will be preaching at Plano on 2/14 with the same message. If you are up for that sort of thing, great. If you would prefer different messages, then my suggestion is to come to Frisco on 2/7 to hear PG and then stay at Frisco on 2/14 to hear me preach the next sermon in the series. One of the things that this sermon series may do is to help strengthen our Frisco campus and we are praying and hoping for that.
The Teaching Messages:
On to the message titles and the summaries for each message:
- Love Is: Defined – On 2/7 in Plano (2/14 in Frisco) we are going to be defining love from based on what that Bible says about love. Our hope is to arrive at a helpful working definition. We will also begin to make some initial application on what it means for your life if the Bible is true about love.
- Love Is Assuring – On 2/14 in Plano (2/7 in Frisco) we are going to look at the first big practical application of the Biblical definition of love. If God is love, and if God is the one who assures us of all He has provided, then our love for others should reflect the Gospel by being assuring as well.
- Love Is: Love and Sexual Identity – On 2/21 in both locations, we are going to look at the tricky problem of talking about love with friends, neighbors, and family members who have looming gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender concerns. The reality of our current culture in America is that many folks within the church have gay kids, lesbian neighbors, bisexual co-workers, and transgender friends. How should Christians respond? And more importantly, how should Christians respond in love in a Biblical way. We are going establish a helpful framework for this conversation and also provide some key guidelines.
- Love Is: Loving Those Who Hate Us – On 2/28 we are going to dovetail our previous conversation into a timely conversation on how to love those who hate and persecute Christians. Again, we are living in a culture that is becoming decreasingly friendly to Christian thought and the Biblical worldview. How should Christians proceed in this ever changing culture? Should we be radical? Should we attack? Should we be defensive? In this message, we want to address this pressing issue and provide a way forward that allows Jesus to be glorified.
- Love Is: Comforting – On 3/6 in Plano (3/13 in Frisco) we are going to address a second practical application from our definition of love. Biblical love should be comforting since God is the one who comforts us. Because of that, we are released to be comforters to others.
- Love Is: Love, Sex, And Dating – On 3/13 in Plano (3/6 in Frisco) we are going to look at another challenging cultural issue – how are Christians to approach sex and dating in light of the Biblical definition of love? Should Christians have sex before getting married if the REALLY love the person? Should Christians continue having sex as a married couple? Does dating stop when you get married, or should it continue? What about if you are divorced? Does the no sex before marriage thing stop making sense? These are important questions about which the Bible has much to say.
- Love Is: Atoning – On 3/20 we are going to celebrate Palm Sunday by looking at the one of the two most important expressions of love — the atonement at the Cross. This would be a great day to bring your friends and neighbors to hear the life transforming message of the Gospel.
- Love Is: Victorious – On 3/27 we are going to celebrate Easter Sunday by looking at the other most important expression of love — the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This would also be a great day to bring your friends and neighbors to hear the life transforming message of the Gospel.