A Worldview framed by Divine Love Letters: The Scriptures
In my message last week, I said there are two basic worldviews – one is biblically based and the other pagan. I used and I use the term pagan not as a pejorative, but simply to differentiate between that which adheres to the teachings of the whole of Scripture, and those who do so only in part, or not at all.
All worldviews – pagan (of which there are many forms) and Christian – ask and answer three basic questions: 1) Who are we? 2) How did we get here? and 3) Where are we going?
I’ve summarized the elements of a Christian, or Biblical, worldview into a few central points. And let me be clear about this: A Biblical worldview is the ONLY worldview that can save us from our own personal, cultural, and social disasters.
By the way, in case you are wondering, I didn’t list the various elements of a Biblical worldview last week. I will instead address them one by one over the next few weeks. And as I talked about last week, the first element of a Biblical worldview is this: The God of Genesis chapter one is the ONLY true God.
Today I want to introduce the second element of a biblical worldview. It’s this: The God of Genesis chapter one – the one who formed you and me in our mother’s womb, creating us because He wanted to love us – this same Creator has also given us a series of love letters. It is in those love letters that He not only describes His passionate, compassionate, and very emotional love for each of us, but BECAUSE of His love for us He has given us those same love letters to instruct us how to live fruitful and meaningful lives.
We call those love letters, “The Bible.”
Those of you who have routinely attended my Friday Bible studies and Sunday services know I’ve often demonstrated from history and from archeology how absolutely reliable and trustworthy are those letters. I’ve also talked about how the scriptures were meticulously copied across the millennia, and how the almightiness of God is certainly able to ensure that the Bible we have in our hands is the very word of God to us. And so, we can be certain that what we have in our hands are His many love letters to us.
Love letters. Have you ever received a love letter? Many of you know this famous excerpt from a letter from Elizabeth Barret Browning in 1846 to her soon-to-be husband, Robert Browning:
"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. / I love thee to the depth and breadth and height / My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight / For the ends of being and ideal grace. / I love thee to the level of every day’s / Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight."
Many of you have received love letters, and I suspect some of you have even kept a few of them since you first held them in your hand. And what happens when most people – men or women –receive love letters from their beloved? Don’t those letters often change the recipients view of themselves?
Now, before I share with you excerpts from some love letters which are much more famous and well-known than Elizabeth Browning’s love note to Robert, let me give you a couple more illustrations of how knowing we are loved can change not only our self-view but also our worldview.
This story is taken from a 1999 Chicken Soup for the Couple’s Soul: During their 50 years of marriage, Andrew and Alice McAndrew’s love for each other found expression in hundreds of ways. One of those ways involved SHMILY – an acronym for “See How Much I Love You.
Almost like a sacred game of tag, they left SHMILY notes scrawled on dashboards and car seats, under pillows and traced in the fireplace ashes. They wrote the word in the steam left on the mirror after a hot shower and carved it into bars of soap.
During their last years together, breast cancer hung above their heads like a dark and ominous cloud. When the cancer finally took her life, the family gathered for the funeral where, to no one’s surprise, they saw Grandpa’s final love note written on the pink ribbons of the funeral bouquet: SHMILY.
When I first heard about SHMILY, my imagination framed for me two lovers who had grown old together, who deeply cherished each other, and now Andrew suffered the loss of his life mate. Then, a moment later, my mind’s eye turned in another direction. It was there that I saw our Savior. His hands nailed to the cross beams. His feet to the wood. The crown of thorns pressed into his forehead. And above His head, I imagined different words than the ones Pilate had placed above Jesus’ head – Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews (See John 19:19-22). The words in my mind read: SHMILY.
“See How Much I Love You.”
Some of you know Nancy had a hemorrhagic stroke on Saturday, January 19, 2019. We were in Florida to visit my mother’s grave. That evening, an hour or so after checking into the hotel, Nancy came out of the shower holding her head and said she had the worst headache she’d ever had in her life. I knew those words – ‘worst headache’ – were the classic symptoms of a bleeding aneurism. As we waited for the ambulance to rush her to the hospital, Nancy turned to me and said, “I love you.”
Later, while we sat in one of the exam rooms in the Emergency Department for someone to take her to the MRI suite, I asked her why she told me she loved me. She said she thought she was dying, and those were the last words she wanted me to hear from her.”
Words of love – inscribed in fireplace ashes, on bars of soap, and the words of love spoken as if they were the last of a dying spouse. Words of love written on a placard above the head of our Lord. And words of love written over the course of millennia with ink on animal skins and papyrus.
My brothers and sisters, I am here to tell you if we receive God’s love letters as the inerrant and infallible word from His heart, they WILL alter how we view ourselves – and also how we view our world.
So, let’s take a very short tour through some of His letters to us, shall we? And please keep this in mind: These are not words written ONLY to a people long ago. That’s because God's word is eternal. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” (Luke 21:33); The psalmist wrote: (Psalm 119:89) “Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven.” And through Isaiah (40:8 ): “The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.” And Psalm 119:160 “The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.”
Don’t you think the Lord is trying to make a point throughout what we call The Bible – don’t you think He is trying to make a point about the transcendency of His word – that it crosses time, cultures, generations, nations, creeds, and civilizations?
Our loving Creator wants us to know how much He loves us – even those who do not yet love Him. Why? As I’ve said, knowing how much He loves us can change our self-view, and in changing our self-view we will be more likely to give us a correct worldview.
So, let’s look at what His eternal word says to you and to me today in the 21st century. For example: Isaiah 43:1 “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!”
Get that, please. The One who spoke the universe into existence – and that includes you and me and everyone we know – this one tells each of us here in this room: “You are Mine.”
We belong to Him. He holds us closely to His chest. Always. And if we are quiet enough, we can almost hear His heart beating, He holds us that closely.
Whenever I think of how closely my heavenly Father holds me to Himself, I cannot help but remember what happened to me when my second father adopted me and my sister. Some of you know the story because I have told it several times before.
1962. Sixty-one years ago. I was 12. I watched with my younger sister and a few adults as the justice of the peace married my mom and Tommy Maffeo. They’d dated for several years after my first father deserted us. Now, at last, I’d have a father like all of my friends. I’d have someone to call ‘Dad.’
As the Justice finished the ceremony with the words, “I now pronounce you man and wife,” all of my pent-up and long-awaited excitement was about to explode. I bolted toward him and shouted, “Hi, Dad!”
I tried to leap into his arms. But he didn’t let me get that far. As I raced toward him, he held out his arms and kept me at arm’s length. He laughed nervously and said something about my being too heavy. I remember his face. I knew, even at 12, he didn’t know what to do with me or with the moment.
I didn’t know what to do either. I so wanted to call him “Dad” – to at last have a father. Yet he held me at arm’s length. Nervous. Hesitant. Unsure what to do next. That was more than sixty years ago. I’m sure I will never
And so, I now return to one of God's love letters – one of OUR heavenly FATHER’S love letters (see Isaiah 43:4) “You are precious in My sight. You are honored, and I love you.” And He tells us in John 6:37, “The one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.”
In other words, those who come to God our Father will NEVER be held at arm’s length.
Let me pause here only a moment to remind myself and you also – these are love letters to us. As I mentions a few minutes ago, yes, they were written a long time ago and to a people of a different culture, a different language, a different lifestyle. But they had this one thing in common with us – if we truly follow the God of Genesis one. Their view of the world – as must be ours – was rooted in the commandments of the God they KNEW loved them with an everlasting love. Their understanding of His passionate love for them helped them form a proper view of themselves and a proper view of their world – passing everything in their culture and society through the lens of Scripture. And we in the Church today should also know these things to be true – and live likewise.
I will not take time in this message to remind us of what the transcendent Word of God calls sin and where it will ultimately lead us. I’ve spoken in specifics about those things many times in the past. But if anyone needs reminder, take a look at 2 Timothy 3, 1 Corinthians 6, and Galatians 5 – to name only a scant few Biblical references to specific sins.
I am not taking time today to warn against sin because while fear of eternal judgment might get a person headed in the right direction, I believe it is our growing LOVE for God that keeps us in the long term from sin.
That’s why we are spending our time this afternoon reminding us of the LOVE letters God has sent to us. Letters that assure us of His incomprehensible love for us, despite who we are and what we’ve done, and how often we’ve done it. Love letters so our obedience is not rooted in fear of eternal judgment, but out of our love for our beloved God.
Here is another portion of God's love letter. This one from the Song of Solomon. This text reminds me of what is yet to come when the trumpet sounds and the Lord calls all who love Him home. Listen to this love letter to us: (Song of Songs 2:10-13): “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me. See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land. The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.”
“Arise, my darling.” THAT is what our beloved Father calls each of His own as He holds us tightly to His chest. “My darling, by beautiful one.” And He uses those most endearing words despite what we’ve ever done, where we’ve ever been, or how long we’ve been there.
If we’ve confessed our sins to Him, He remains faithful to His promise to forgive our sins . . . . to FORGET our sins . . and cleanse us of all unrighteousness. Some of you recognize that paraphrase from 1 John 1:9.
For the sake of time, I will cite only one more of the countless portions of God's love letters to you and me. Here is Isaiah 49:14-16. The Israelites said: “The Lord has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten me.” (To which God answered: “Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. “Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me.” (Isaiah 49:14-16)
Do you think God has forsaken you? Do you think He loves others, but not YOU? Then see in your mind’s eye those words above the Son of God as He hung dying on that cross. It tells of God's words to us: “See How Much I Love You.” It’s the Son’s last words to you and me when He knew He was dying:
“I love you.”
I will close with this last statement, a quote from Fr. Pedro Arrupe, a former Superior General of the Jesuits. This is his counsel to all who want a more accurate self-view AND worldview:
Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, falling in love [with Him] in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with seizes your imagination; it will affect everything. It will decide what gets you out of bed in the morning, what you will do in the evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, what you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love [with God], stay in love, and it will decide everything."
Christian, and those of you who are not yet Christians: Fall in love with God. Fall in love with His love letters. Keep them close to you. Read them over and over, again and again. You need to know and ever be reminded – we ALL need to know and ever be reminded – what He whispers from His heart to ours.