In Romans 5:8 we see four aspects of a radical love as exemplified by God. First, radical love is a divine love. The verse starts with the words “but God.” The source of radical love is God Himself. The only way I'm going to be able to radically love people is if I know God personally and I’m growing in my relationship with Him. Second, radical love is a demonstrative love. You can see it. "But God 'demonstrated' His love." Radical love in the Bible is never seen as a feeling. It's always a choice. Third, it's a diverse love. "But God demonstrated His love toward us 'while we were yet sinners.'” Radical love involves loving the unlovely. And fourth, it's a deliberate love. "But God demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners 'Christ died for us.'” Radical love always involves sacrifice. If there's no sacrifice then it's not radical love. When Jesus, the perfect God-man, hung on that cross, God took every sin you would ever commit, even though you hadn't been born yet, and He placed that sin on Jesus. Everything that had to be done happened when Jesus died on the cross. He paid the penalty for your sin in full so you don't have to. That's a deliberate love. That's radical love.
Jesus has called us to love one another but the challenge is that we live in a society where we divide on many fronts. We divide based on race, based on denominations and based on politics. The same was true in Jesus’ day. If you were a Jew in Israel at the time of Jesus there racial divisions between Jews, Gentiles and Samaritans. From a religious standpoint, you could be a Pharisee, a Sadducee, or a host of other religious groups. And back in Jesus' day there were political differences. Take two of Jesus' followers for example. When Jesus calls Matthew, he was a tax collector which meant he was pro the Roman government. Tax Collectors got rich off their own people by collecting more taxes than were owed, using the authority of the Roman government to do it. But there's another follower of Jesus called Simon the zealot. Zealots hated the Roman government and wanted to overthrow them, even by force. From this we learn a powerful principle that says. "That which unites us as followers of Jesus is far more powerful than the myriad of societal issues that try to divide us." Folks, listen, if a tax collector and a zealot can follow Jesus in love back in Jesus' day then a republican and a democrat can follow Jesus in love today.
What is the heart of worship? Number one, worship involves a recognition. Worship doesn’t begin with a song. Worship begins when you focus on a biblical truth about God. We see Isaiah doing this when he has a vision of the throne of God and sees the special angels flying around the throne saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” Worship begins with a recognition but worship also involves a response to that truth about God. Worship is all that we are responding to all that God is. I’m not simply talking about an emotional response as we sing, though that's good. It has to be more than that. If your worship is not any deeper than an emotional response you really haven't worshiped. Notice what it included with Isaiah. First, there was a response of confession as he recognizes that he was a man of unclean lips. When you're really focusing on a truth of God, one of the things that will become very real to you are the sins in your own life that you need to correct. With Isaiah it also involved a response of commitment as he says to the Lord, “Here am I. Send me.” Folks, listen. True, genuine worship results in a deeper spiritual commitment.
If there is an area in the church today that is being held hostage by Satan it is that of worship. For worship to be genuine we must understand that worship is not about us. It's all about God. But we have made worship about us and for us to worship it has to be the way we like it. Here is a litmus test to show you if selfishness ever intervenes in your worship. When you find yourself driving home from church noting which songs that morning you liked and which ones you didn’t like, you have made worship about you. Whenever someone in the church says, “I didn’t like that song,” my response is, “That’s okay, we weren't singing to you.” This is an easy trap to fall into because we are all born with a selfish desire. I can prove it. Who's the first person you look for in a group picture? Yourself, of course. Folks, listen, whenever we make worship about us, worship is no longer about God and when worship is not about God, worship is not happening at all. One of the greatest ways that Satan holds worship hostage in the church is by getting Christians to make worship about them and their preferences when it should be all about our God and his attributes.
Did you realize that Satan at one time was an angel named Lucifer who committed a great sin and was kicked out of heaven? Many would say it was the sin of pride. But the pride he showed dealt with the area of worship. Satan's greatest desire in heaven was to be worshiped. In Isaiah 14 we find five “I will” statements Satan makes showing his desire to be exalted, lifted up, and worshiped. Even after his fall from heaven, his desire remained to be worshiped. In Matthew 4, one of the ways Satan tempts Jesus is by taking Him to a very high mountain and showing Him all the kingdoms of the world saying that he would give them to Jesus if he would fall down and worship him. The Bible teaches that this will continue to be his desire in the future. In Revelation 13 we learn that the people actually worship Satan (called the dragon) by worshiping the Anti-Christ (called the Beast). As a result it should not surprise us that worship and music is often an issue of controversy in the church. If Satan can’t be worshiped then he will do everything possible to keep people God from being worshiped. Keep that in mind the next time you feel like complaining about the music at your church.
We all know how the story of Daniel in the lions’ den ends, right? Yes, Daniel does get thrown in the lions' den but God protects him. But can I suggest to you that the real lions' den that Daniel faced was not in that pit surrounded by those 4-legged kings of the jungle? The real lions' den that Daniel faced was his prayer room. 1 Peter 5:8 commands us to be on the alert because our adversary, the devil, is prowling around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Folks, listen, you live in the lions' den. You're in it every day. And there is an adversary who, like a roaring lion, wants to devour you. He wants to devour your marriage. He wants to devour your children. He wants to devour your reputation. He wants to devour your church. The real lions' den is where we live. There's only one way to defeat the lion according to Ephesians 6:18 which says that with all prayer and petition we are to pray, being on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints. Why be alert? Because the devil, like a lion, wants to devour you. Be on alert because you live in the lions' den. That's why we need to pray.
When you read the prayer of Daniel that landed him in the lion’s den you discover that it is full of praise and thanksgiving. Stop for a second. Let's think about Daniel's situation. He's in his 80's. He lives in Persia where he has been since he was taken captive by force as a teenager. He's been stripped from his family and friends and has lived his life in a strange, heathen culture. Now he’s surrounded by political enemies who want to destroy him and he is on the verge of becoming lion’s food. Yet, even in that situation Daniel's prayer life is filled with giving thanks to God. I think Daniel figured out something that I'm still trying to learn. Daniel learned what it really meant to trust God, even when the bottom drops out of your life. All too often we view prayer as simply getting from God and that's an important element. But I think sometimes we forget that prayer is also giving to God. How much time did you spend this week in your prayer life thanking God for His goodness even in the midst of hardship? How much time did you spend this week praising and worshiping God in prayer? Prayer isn't just getting from God. Prayer is also giving to God.
We all remember the story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Daniel's enemies flatter the king into signing a decree that said no one was allowed to pray to any god except him for 30 days or be thrown into the den of lions. This puts Daniel in a very difficult situation. He now has to make a choice. Does he break the law and suffer the consequences or does he compromise his faith? Daniel does exactly what his enemies knew he would do. He stays true to his faith and continues to pray to his God. One thing is certain, Daniel was passionate about prayer. How many of us can honestly say that we should have and could have prayed more this past week than we actually did? What kept you from praying more this week? Did you just not think about it? Was there no real crisis in your life? Were you busy watching television or doing your job or checking Facebook or sending e-mails? Were any of you at risk of being thrown into a lions' den if you prayed? Isn't it amazing how it doesn't take much to keep us from praying today? Daniel was so passionate that he was willing to pray even if it meant his death. How passionate are you about prayer?