The Greatest Love Story

Good evening. It’s a great privilege for me to be here. Let me briefly introduce myself before I begin. This is a picture of me as a baby, this is my family. As a young boy, I had my first encounter with Christianity in Sunday School. I was familiar with the Bible stories, but I didn’t know what having a friendship with Jesus meant, I hadn’t encountered God personally. I also attended a missions school for 12 years of my schooling life (ACS – junior school, secondary school, junior college).

I was in Secondary 3 when a classmate invited me to his church camp. I had a wonderful time, there were girls at the camp. 🙂  I remember the last day of the camp, I was feeling emo, sad. Why? No more girls (won’t see them). 🙂  It didn’t help that there was a pastor and he was preaching and I was like, ‘I don’t really want to hear this.’ But when the pastor started talking about how much He loved us by sending His Son, Jesus Christ to die on the Cross for my sins… for the first time, God touched my heart. What I knew in my head travelled down to my heart. And when the pastor invited those who wanted to become Christians to the front, I found myself there, with tears of joy in my eyes.

My life didn’t change overnight. But God was at work. It was in the university when I joined a para-church organization (Campus Crusade for Christ, now called Cru) that I was discipled, and I also started discipling others. (Picture: My year 3 group as a year 4 student). Since I graduated, God called me into full-time ministry, starting with CCC. For the past 10 years, I’ve been working in St. Andrew’s Secondary School as an assistant chaplain. I was married in 2005 to my lovely wife, Catherine. And God has blessed us with two children, Samantha & Samuel (8 & 6).

This evening, we are going to discover the greatest love story the world has ever known. There are two parts to this love story. God’s love for us, and our love for God.

1. GOD’S LOVE FOR US

Love. What is love? We use it so casually these days, sometimes it loses the force of its intended meaning. “I love Ariana Grande’s music. I love the waffles at this latest coffee hang out place. I love my dog. I love my girlfriend.” Obviously they don’t all mean the same thing. I love my dog is not equals to I love my girlfriend. If not, I don’t know whether to feel sorry for your dog or your girlfriend.

When the Bible says God loves us, what does it mean? Now, I’m going to paint two scenarios. And I want you to tell me which one describes love. First scenario, let’s imagine my wife asks me, “Why do you love me?” And I could say, “You’re so beautiful, you’re the most gorgeous woman I know. And you’re kind and loving. You’re so talented, in so many ways. Most of all, you love God.” And I could go on. Which is what I had to do before I was allowed into the room to marry my bride on my wedding day.

Second scenario, exactly the same thing… my wife asks me, “Why do you love me?” And this time, I reply, “To be honest, I find your looks revolting. You have pimples all over your face and your breath stinks. You often pick your nose in public and let out loud farts. And you’re very loud and obnoxious. But… in spite of all that, I love you.”

Now, I want to ask you a question: when God says He loves us… which one describes His love better? The first or second scenario. Second. Really? Romans 5:8 “… but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were still enemies of God, while we were still separated from God, while we were still rebellious towards God, while we were still sinners… In our ugliness, in our wretchedness, God loved us, Christ died for us.

Here’s the puzzling thing. We aren’t really impressed with God’s love. When we hear the words, “God loves us”, what’s our reaction? Is it one of profound gratitude and amazement? Or is it something more along the lines of “yah, I already know, what’s new?” But the heart of Christianity is the love of God demonstrated at the Cross of Jesus Christ. That’s why the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3 “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…”

But why was the Cross needed? Let me tell you the story of John Newton. Famous hymn writer of hymns such as “Amazing Grace” which we sing: either the original or the Hillsong interpretation. But he wasn’t always what he is now famous for. In fact, before his conversion, he was a cruel man. He was a slave-trader. His mom was a Christian and she spent many years praying for her son. Eventually on one sea trip where he encountered a severe storm which threatened to destroy the ship and all on-board, did John call out to God and was saved, both physically and spiritually. He was not immediately transformed, but over the course of several years, God worked in Newton’s heart and life. His legacy is now some of the hymns we sing in churches all around the world.

Here’s my point though. I think many of us would say, “I’m better than John Newton, at least what he was. We are not cruel slave traders. We would never inflict such pain on other people. We’re generally nice people.” But God’s standard, God’s character doesn’t judge like that. God is holy. His standard is perfection. Let me illustrate this. Let’s say God’s standard requires us to jump and touch the moon. If you’re very fat and heavy, you can’t jump very high. (if you watched closely, you’d seen him move, just a little!) But if you’re the world record holder high jump, 2.45m! Some jump higher, some can barely lift off the ground. Either way, you are still a long way off from the moon. (300,000km). It’s the same way with God. All of us, no matter how “good” we think we are are far off from God. But do we bridge the gulf? We can’t. It takes the Cross of Jesus Christ to do it.

If we ever find ourselves asking the question, “God, do You love me?”… look to the Cross. If you ever find yourself doubting God’s love for you… look to the Cross. The Cross is the supreme picture of God’s love for you. On your best days, you can’t earn or deserve His love. On your worst, you can’t separate or cut yourself off from His love. His love is constant and unchanging.

Dear friends, if you want to grow in your walk with God, and in your experience with this God who loves you, keep looking to Christ in the Scriptures. This phrase “in accordance with the Scriptures” is repeated in 1 Corinthians 15:3. And it’s absolutely fundamental. God’s Word, the Bible, is the means by which we encounter and experience the love of God through His Son, Jesus Christ. It is in the Scriptures that we encounter Jesus. It is in the Scriptures that God’s promises come to us through the Person of Jesus. Every story in the Bible shouts His name.

When we read about David and Goliath, we are not supposed first and foremost to see ourselves in the shoes of David, but the Israelites. Helpless, hopeless against an enemy too strong for us. But God sends David, His shepherd, His King to rescue us. David foreshadows Jesus, the Greater David. Every story in the Bible shouts His name.

How many of you feel distant from God? Haven’t experienced His love for you in a while? Well, have you been reading your Bible? Now, reading your Bible doesn’t guarantee you will experience God’s love always. But I can assure you if you don’t, you won’t. Young people, commit afresh to coming daily to the Scriptures. Not to find out your life direction. Not to find your life partner. But simply to know your God.

2. OUR LOVE FOR GOD

How do you spell ‘love’? L-O-V-E… duh. Here’s another way you spell love… O-B-E-Y. Obey. Jesus Himself said it in John 14:21 “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Keeping God’s commandments. Obedience equals love. Now, this word obey, or the idea of obedience has a bit of a bad reputation these days. Some Christians say obedience is legalism perhaps. Or that obeying God is hard and painful. And sometimes it is. But is there something more to obedience than that?

We need a paradigm shift with regards to obedience. There are 2 things you need to know:

i. God calls us to obedience because He desires intimacy with us.

Let’s work through John 14:21. Obviously it cannot mean that we must first love God before He loves us. God is always the initiator. But what this verse does describe is that if we show our love for God in obeying Him, He will reveal Himself to us. We can experience His love. Let me illustrate this by my own experience.

One of the first things you discover about me when you get to know me is that I love Japan. Sarah Chan loves Timor Leste. I love Japan. Ever since my first mission trip to Japan as a university student, I’ve been to Japan many times. Even my honeymoon was in Japan (and it’s awesome to have a wife who shares the same passion as I do. Which is also how we ended together again by the way, on a mission trip to Japan – story for another time). I love the country, the culture… food, music, Japanese drama shows.

I hardly watch TV. I hardly go to the movies. But I do watch Japanese dramas. There was a time as a young working adult, I was buying DVDs and watching them (sometimes I’d watch a series over and over again). Not good. So there was this morning I woke up and was about to do my quiet time. I was about to open my Bible when God spoke to me. “Throw away your Japanese DVDs.”

‘God, is that really You?’

Of course it was Him. I knew. I tried to ignore. I tried to rationalise. Finally, like all true blue Singaporeans, I tried to bargain with God.

‘God, I promise, I’ll watch less.’

‘Maybe I’ll fast from them for a month?’

‘How about I keep just two or three… my favourite ones? Full-time church worker very poor one… and I spent quite a sum of money already.’

Bo-pah-kay. I couldn’t do my quiet time. This thing had to be settled.

So, I did it. I took my entire collection of DVDs and threw them into the rubbish bin outside my house. Funny thing, that out of the way, I opened my Bible and God just spoke to me. I remember just basking in the presence of God and enjoying His fellowship. My obedience to God demonstrated my love for God and that opened the door to intimacy with Him. God already loves us with an everlasting love. As we respond to His love in obedience, we experience more of His love.

A well known and respected pastor in the United States, Timothy Keller once shared this. He said, whenever young people come to him and tell him they feel distant from God, he would always ask them this question. “So, who have you been sleeping with?” Strange question. But Pastor Keller says more often than not, the young person in front of him would blush in embarrassment. ‘How did you know?’ You see my friends, sin and disobedience will keep us from experiencing the presence of God. What has God been pin-pointing in your life? What has He been speaking to you about? Or perhaps you’ve been so far from Him that you don’t even know.

Whether it’s something seemingly trivial like Japanese drama, video games, TV shows or something more serious like lust or envy, or unforgiveness, if God speaks, please obey. And obey immediately. There is nothing to be gained in delayed obedience. And in your obedience, God draws near. He forgives your sin. He cleanses you from all unrighteousness. So that you may walk with Him. So that you may experience His presence, His nearness.

ii. God calls us to obedience because He loves us and longs for our best. 

The Psalmist speaks of God’s laws and commandments in a manner that may seem really foreign to us. Psalm 19:7-11 “7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; 8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. 11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”
How many of you feel this way about God’s Word and His laws? I certainly don’t feel this way all the time. How do we get there. Let me illustrate. I have two children as I mentioned: Samantha and Samuel. When Samuel was 1 and a half years old, he still couldn’t speak very much, but the one thing that he could say very well was, “No!” Because that was a word he heard very often. “Samuel, no!” And he’ll go, “No!” At that age, he was able to walk around and he was very adventurous. He’d try to open the refrigerator. Once, he crawled into the clothes dryer, got himself stuck in there and had to be rescued. You see, we had to tell him, “No”, because we loved him and wanted to keep him from harm (playing with the electric fan for example). God’s laws are like that. They are not meant to restrict us and make our lives miserable. They are meant to protect us and lead us to life.

The reverse is also true. Samantha doesn’t like milk. From a very young age (6 months onwards), she just didn’t particularly like drinking milk. So there were times, especially when she was young, when we had to command her, “Samantha, finish your milk (and threaten her with a cane or something).” This was rare. But why did we do so? Because we cared for her growth. Because we cared for her development. God’s laws, again, operate in a similar manner. When God commands us to do something, it is for our good.

Young people, do not miss the heart of God in His laws. Whether He forbids us from something (don’t have sex before marriage), or He commands us towards something (love your enemies, pray for them… honour your father and mother… etc.), it always flows from the Father’s heart of love towards His children, you and I. We may not always understand why things are so. But we can trust our God, our Father, has our best interests at heart. Always.

God calls us to obedience because He desires intimacy with us. God calls us to obedience because He loves us and longs for our best. But we also know Christianity is not merely a religion, it’s also a relationship. It’s not only about following the rules, it’s about knowing the Father. The difference, the secret, the key is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is crucial.

Now Christianity is not merely a religion in many ways, one of which is, it is a supernatural life. It is the Spirit-empowered life. Christianity is not “do-better, try-harder”… it is “surrender to God, be empowered by His Spirit.” We read just now John 14:21, where Jesus links our love for God to our obedience to God. In the same context, just a few verses later, Jesus says this in John 14:26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” 

One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is ‘Helper’… meaning one called or sent for to assist another or one present to render various beneficial service. The Holy Spirit helps us understand God’s Word, reminds us of God’s Word, and helps us obey God’s Word. The Holy Spirit helps us because in our own strength, by our own will, we can’t obey God. We need God to obey God. We need God to obey God. 

When I was in my 3rd year in university (Civil Engineering, NUS), I had my industrial attachment. All of us were assigned to various companies to gain some work experience. I was sent to a work site near where I stayed. I arrived on site where a building was in the midst of being constructed. I went to the office to inquire of the site manager. When he saw me, he asked, “So what are you supposed to do?” And I was like, “YOU’RE supposed to tell me what I’m supposed to do.”

It was going to be a long industrial attachment. They hastily set up a desk and chair for me, ‘we’ll figure out what you can do.’ So I became a sort-of odd jobs kind of guy. Need to send industrial drawings to head office, ‘Aaron, here’s the boss’ car keys. Go send these drawings there. Don’t need to rush back. Take your time. Have a coffee break.’ Now, that sounds like, ‘wah, shiok ah!’ But, I still had weekly reports I had to submit to my NUS supervisor. I had to ask for things to do or to learn so that I could write something in my report. If not, my grade for my industrial attachment would have gone down the drain!

In the midst of all that, my attitude could have been… ‘This sucks. God, why did you send me here. What a waste of 6 months!’ But, we know God is sovereign. He has a plan. So, day by day, I endeavoured to be a good witness. Being cheerful and positive about whatever they asked me to do. And the Holy Spirit was with me in that. It was not always easy, but God helped me.

Here’s the kicker. When I was in NUS, I was involved in a para-church organization called Campus Crusade for Christ (now called Cru.) They were organising a mission trip to Japan. JAPAN! And I really wanted to go. There was only one problem. It was in the midst of my industrial attachment. But I really wanted to go. So I prayed and told God, “God, I really want to go for the trip. If You want me on it, please open the way for me to do so, grant me favour in the eyes of the site manager.”

So one day, I plucked up courage and stepped into his office. “Boss, you know there’s this mission trip that is coming up. It’s in the midst of my attachment here, but I would really like to go for it. Could I ask your permission to do so?” He thought about it and said, “So, when you return, are you going to ‘pay back’ the time you were away?” I was like, “But after that, there is only a short break before school term starts again. My only chance for a break before my final year.” He was silent for a while, then he smiled… “Aiyah, go lar. Don’t need to pay me back.”

Yes! Thank You Jesus. So, I was the only industrial attachment student who was able to go for a mission trip while still technically on industrial attachment. God was faithful. I just needed to be obedient. It was an awesome trip and our team saw God’s hand and miracles at work… story for another time perhaps. When I returned from the trip, my ‘boss’ still tried to ask me to help out a bit longer. But eventually, he was nice about it and let me enjoy a little break. I trust that I left the company with a good testimony for God. It wasn’t always easy. The temptation was there to complain or grumble. But with God’s help, I made it through.

Growing in our love for God through obedience to Him is a Spirit-empowered pursuit. It’s the most important and also the most satisfying pursuit of our lives. This evening, God invites us to respond to Him. To open our hearts to His love. To surrender our lives to Him in obedience. To receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit afresh to empower our walk with Him. Christianity is really all about a love story. Let’s fall in love again.

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