Recovering Stolen Love

Experiencing Jesus' Light And Love This Christmas.

Dan Franklin
Dec 24, 2023    21m
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Have hardships left you struggling to feel Christ's love this Christmas season? Listen as we explore how to recover stolen experiences of Jesus' light and love when life's difficulties have darkened our path. Rediscover the power of God's unconditional love to illuminate your life with renewed purpose, hope, and joy, no matter what you've faced this year. Video recorded at Upland, California.

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Intro: [00:00:00] Hey there. Thanks so much for checking out one of our messages here at Life Bible Fellowship Church. And we know there are two great ways you can connect with us. You can visit our website at LBF.church to learn more about all of our ministries and what we believe. And also, you can subscribe to us on YouTube to make sure that you don't miss one of our future videos.

Dan Franklin: [00:00:18] I'm excited to be here this morning. If I haven't met you, or if you're kind of newer here, my name is Dan Franklin and I'm the lead pastor here at Life Bible Fellowship Church. And over the past few weeks, as we've been celebrating the Christmas and the Advent season, we've been talking about recovering stolen gifts. And the whole idea behind this is that during the Advent season with the four candles, we celebrate four gifts that God gave us when he sent His Son for us. We celebrate the gift of hope, the gift of peace, the gift of joy, and the gift of love. And we celebrate that God gave all of those gifts to us. But here's what some of us end up finding, we find that even those of us who have put our faith in Jesus and have received these gifts, we find that we're not living in the full experience of having these gifts; they've been stolen somewhere along the way. So instead of hope, we have despair. Instead of peace, we have anxiety. Instead of joy, we have sadness. And instead of love, we have loneliness. And so we've been on a quest, we've been on a recovery mission each week to say, how do we get that hope back? How do we get that peace back? How do we get back that joy? And this morning we're going to be talking about recovering stolen love.

Dan Franklin: [00:01:47] And love is right at the center of the Christmas story. In fact, probably the most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16 which says, "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son." And when we think of that love, he loved the world, not just some, not just a certain ethnicity, or a certain age, or a certain country, "God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son." And I think for some of us, when we think of love, we mainly think of sort of the idea of warmth that somebody has towards us, the warmth and affection that we get from someone who loves us. And I want you to know, that when we talk about God's love, that's part of it, that's definitely there. It's totally accurate for us to think of God's love and to think of him having warmth and affection for us. But most of us also know that there are times that you have warmth and affection towards someone, and then 30 minutes later, it's all gone, it's just totally gone, you no longer have those feelings toward them. So I want you to know that God's love is his warmth and affection towards us, but in an even bigger way, it's his absolute commitment to our ultimate good. He is devoted to our ultimate good because he loves us. And so my greatest desire for all of us today is that when we exit this Christmas Eve service, we will be more convinced of God's love for us and will desire even more to walk closely with him so that we can experience that love.

Dan Franklin: [00:03:32] But what we're going to do just through this next little bit of time is we're going to talk about recovering that stolen love or that stolen experience of love, and we're going to do that by talking about two thieves that break in and steal, that rob us, of that experience of God's love. And I'm going to bet that each of us in here, we're going to find some kind of connection to one or to both of these thieves that steal our experience of God's love.

Dan Franklin: [00:04:00] So here's thief number one, thief number one is things that happen to us. And here's what I mean by this, some of you have had a hard year, some of you have had some hard things happen to you. Maybe you lost, maybe you experienced a death in the family and you're still reeling with grief over that. Maybe you've been sick a lot, or maybe you've got a really hard diagnosis that's really made you sad. Maybe for some of you kids, maybe you had a friend that was really close and just stopped talking to you. Or maybe you experienced some hard things at school with teachers or with bullies. And right now, you're at a place where you're saying, I want to believe that God loves me, but I feel like that belief has been stolen because of hard things that have happened to me.

Dan Franklin: [00:04:50] So I want to read some verses out of the book of Romans, Romans chapter 5, verses 3 through 5 that I think talk to us about this. It says, "Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us." And there it is in verse 5, God's love. In the same section Paul, who wrote this, he talks about God's love, and he also talks about suffering, the hard things that happen to us. And he doesn't see a problem here, he doesn't see that the idea of God's love is in any way a problem with our suffering. And that's partly because he's saying that suffering, even though it's unpleasant, it does some good things in us, it brings perseverance, and the perseverance brings character, and the character brings hope.

Dan Franklin: [00:06:05] Several years ago, I was watching an episode of the TV show The Biggest Loser. Do any of you remember this show? All right, so it was a reality show that was on some years ago, and the basic idea was that a bunch of people who were overweight and really unhealthy and really needed to lose the weight would all go off to a ranch, they'd break into teams, they'd have trainers, they would exercise really hard, and they would all try to lose weight. And so it was The Biggest Loser because you were trying to lose the biggest amount of weight. And in the episode I was watching, there was this one scene, and the scene was a contestant who was really, really mad at his trainer, and the team was all together and the contestant was just yelling at his trainer, he was so upset with her, and here's why he was upset. He said, whenever our team goes to the gym, you the trainer, you work everybody else out really hard, you get in their face, you give them extra exercises, you make them sweat, you make them do all these hard things. He says, but when I go to the gym, you just sort of leave me alone to do my own thing. And he was so angry at her about this, he yelled at her, and he stormed out of the room. And I want you just to think about what it was he was so angry about; he was so angry that she was not putting him through pain and discomfort. He said you're just leaving me on my own, you're just leaving me on cruise control, and you're letting me take it easy. He was so mad that she wasn't putting him through pain and discomfort. And it's not because he wanted the pain and discomfort, it's because he knew that that was the only way to produce the weight loss that he was going for. In some ways he was saying, if you really cared about me, you would make my life much more uncomfortable so that I could be the person that I'm supposed to be.

Dan Franklin: [00:07:59] When we go through hard times the Bible is really nuanced with this, there's a lot that goes into understanding why we go through the hard times that we go through. So I don't want to be overly simplistic, but I want you to hear this. You going through a hard time is something that sometimes we think is evidence that God doesn't care, where Paul is saying in this passage that if God didn't care, he would just kind of leave you alone, he would just kind of let you do whatever you're going to do. But he loves you so much that he is shaping you into who he wants you to be, and ultimately into who you were meant to be. So if you're in here this morning and you're struggling to believe that God loves you because you've been through some hard stuff, what I want to say is that maybe the hard stuff is not evidence that God doesn't care, but that he cares so much about you that he's not leaving you alone but shaping you into who you're meant to be.

Dan Franklin: [00:09:01] So thief number one that steals our experience of God's love is stuff that happens to us. Here's thief number two, thief number two is things that we've done. And here's what I mean by this, some of you are saying the reason I'm doubting God's love for me is not because of something that happened to me, or something that somebody else did to me, it's because I've done things that make me feel shame and guilt, and I'm starting to doubt that God could ever love me. I've sinned, I've fallen short, I feel guilty, I feel ashamed, and this can be something as seemingly small as a lie.

Dan Franklin: [00:09:39] Maybe some of you kids are like, gosh, I've lied to my parents, or I keep fighting with my siblings. I want you to know, if you're a kid in here, that the feeling of this, and the failures, they don't stop when we get older, we're still dealing with this. We're still dealing with the guilt and shame that we fall short of where we're supposed to be, and sometimes that creeps in and that steals our belief that God loves us. But once again in Romans 5, we get some help on this, so let's look at verses 6, 7, and 8. Here Paul says, "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Once again, we get a verse about God demonstrating his love. God showed his love by sending his one and only Son, and that's what we celebrate at Christmas. And then every Good Friday, when that rolls around, we celebrate that Jesus, who was born in that manger, grew up to be a man who willingly died on a cross for all of our sins, to bring us forgiveness and to welcome us into the family of God as adopted sons and daughters. God's love is demonstrated in this.

Dan Franklin: [00:11:16] But I want you to notice something that Paul did in this passage. He used three words to describe the kinds of people that Jesus came to die for, that Jesus came to save. And if you didn't notice them all, highlight them for us. Jesus came to save powerless, ungodly sinners. Those are the people that God loved so much that he sent His Son to save. And so here's what I think happens sometimes, sometimes I think we look at ourselves and we say, I don't know if I'm qualified for God to love me. I don't know if I measure up to the standards to be somebody that God could love, so let's just go through the checklist real quick. Powerless, are you unable to fix yourself and to save yourself? If so, check. Ungodly, do you often care much more about yourself and what you want in the moment, than about God and what he ultimately wants? If so, check. Sinners, do you frequently fall short of where God has called you to be? Do you frequently rebel and fail and disobey God even when you know better? Sinners, check. If you're wondering if you measure up to the kind of person that God would save, if you're a powerless, ungodly, sinner, you qualify. And I also want you to know this. Some of you might be visiting today, and maybe it's been a while since you've been in a church service, and you walked in this morning and you were like, gosh, all these people look good. Like, there's a lot of red in here, they're dressed up, the kids are pretty well behaved, and you're looking at yourself and you're like, I'm a mess, all these people seem to have it together. I want you to know that you are amongst powerless, ungodly sinners who are only in the family of God by his grace, that is all of us, we are qualified for God's love because we're powerless, ungodly sinners.

Dan Franklin: [00:13:32] There's a pastor named Matt Chandler who pastors a church in Texas, and he frequently says something that I just love. What he says is, "When God saved you, he knew exactly what he was getting." I say this because I think some of us look at ourselves and we're saying, gosh, I'm still struggling with things that I struggled with 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago. I'm still not who am supposed to be. I still fail and fall short. And we're kind of thinking God has some buyer's remorse, that he's looking at us and he's like, gosh, if I would have known, I wouldn't have saved this person. God knew exactly what he was getting when he saved you. And that doesn't mean that we just sort of shrug our shoulders at our sin, but it means that we get to walk forward in the conviction that God's love has not been taken away by our own failures. So if you're sitting in here today and your experience of God's love has been stolen by guilt and shame, you are invited to believe firmly that God's love hasn't gone anywhere. In fact, what we get to experience is that God's love is right there for the taking. Anybody in this room that's not experiencing the joy that God loves you, it's not because God has taken it away, and it's not because the world has taken it away, it's because we've stopped believing that what God says is true is true. And if we really believe that God loved us, then we would be in there taking as much love as we could get.

Dan Franklin: [00:15:09] Just imagine this for a moment, imagine that you worked up the courage to tell somebody that you love them, and it took a lot of guts, and it took a lot of courage. And then you just confessed your love, you said, I love you with all my heart. And the person responded, and they said, I love you, too. And he said, oh my gosh, I'm so glad you love me, well, I'll see you when I see you. You know, maybe every once in a while, on a Sunday, I'll check in if there aren't too many football games on. And I'll give you a call every so often if I want to check in, and maybe if things are really bad, I'll call and ask for your advice or for your help, but other than that, I'll see you when I see you. God has said to each one of us, I love you desperately. And far too many of us say, okay, God, I'll see you when I see you. How are we not eating up every moment we can get with God? When we talk about coming to church services, or reading our Bibles, or praying, we're not just talking about doing religious things, we're saying we want to be with the one who loves us so much. And when we're talking about living and joyful obedience, that's not just because we owe God, that's because we want to get everything out of the way so that we can experience the love that he's given us. God's love is right there for the taking. And my hope is that with each one of us, we not only exit this room today more convinced that God loves us, but we exit this room today more committed to saying, I am going to soak up every moment of living in the reality of God's love.

Dan Franklin: [00:16:55] But I do want to say one more thing, because most of the time I've been talking today, I've been talking mostly about those of us that we've placed our faith in Jesus, we're believers in him, but God's love and our experience of God's love has been stolen in some way. I want to say that there's probably also some of you here that it's not a matter of recovering stolen love, it's a matter of receiving it for the first time because you haven't put your faith in Jesus. So the gift has been ordered, the gift has been paid for, and the gift is waiting there for you, but you haven't yet shown up at the Christmas celebration and received the gift of God's love. And God doesn't ask you to jump through a bunch of hoops, he doesn't ask you to prove yourself, he asks you to put your faith and your trust in him as your Savior and in Jesus as your Lord.

Dan Franklin: [00:17:53] So I want you to know, that when the service is over, we're going to have some members of the group that we call our prayer ministry team, and they're going to be upfront on both sides of the stage. And for those of you who are outside or in the garage, there's going to be folks there as well. And these members of the prayer ministry team, they don't have a special line to God that the rest of us don't have, but they love Jesus, and they love you. And they want to be there anytime God is at work in your life in a way that you're saying, you know what, maybe for some of you, you're saying, I've stopped believing that God loved me because it's been a hard year? Or maybe you're saying I've stopped believing that God loved me because I have not been living up to what I'm supposed to live up to? Or maybe for some of you, you're saying, I'm going to put my faith for the first time in the fact that God loves me so much that he sent His Son for me? The people on the prayer ministry team who are going to be up here, they love to be a part of those moments and to pray with you about what God is doing in your life. I know it's Christmas Eve, so some of you, as soon as the service is over, you're going to be like, I got to go. It's still a.m., you don't need to go that fast. And if God's doing something in your heart, whatever you're going to cook later on can wait a few minutes while you come forward to do some business with God.

Dan Franklin: [00:19:12] But what I want to do now is I want to let you know what we're going to do next as the last part of our service, and that's going to involve the candle lighting. So on the way in, God willing, each of you got a candle so you can get those ready now. And I'm going to tell you what we're going to do, and then I'll tell you what it means and why we're going to do it. So in a minute, I'm going to go over and I'm going to light the final Advent candle, the tall candle in the middle, which we call the Jesus candle. Because as we celebrate the hope and the peace and the joy and the love that Jesus has brought, we celebrate him as the center of all things. So I'm going to light that candle, then I'm going to light my candle on the Jesus candle. And then some of us who are part of the team up here, we're going to have our candles lit, and we're going to come section by section and light the first candle in each row, and then you're going to pass the flame so that everybody ends up with their candles lit.

Dan Franklin: [00:20:09] As a quick technical note, this is not the most important thing, but as a quick technical note, the best way to do this is that once your candle is lit, you hold it upright and you let the person who's going to light their candle on yours bring theirs over and light it on there. That minimizes the wax spillage, which we know will happen and we're okay with, but that's the best way for us to do this.

Dan Franklin: [00:20:28] And so here's why we do this on Christmas Eve. Jesus said that he is the light of the world, and so when we celebrate that first Christmas Day in Bethlehem with the Son of God being born as a little baby, we are celebrating the light coming into a dark world, a world that didn't have hope or peace or joy or love, and Jesus came as the light. And so eventually every candle in here will be lit, and the source of every candle will be the Jesus candle. And part of our reminder is that we don't have light in and of ourselves, but when we're with Jesus, we reflect his light to a world that's left in darkness. So I'm going to come over now, and as was talked about earlier, we've celebrated the hope, the peace, the joy, and the love that Jesus has brought into the world. And now we celebrate Jesus as the center of our Christmas celebration.



Recorded in Upland, California.
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Upland, California 91786
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