Two years ago Ronnie was sued by his neighbor. Ronnie lives north of town, out in the country, and he had built a race track for his son Brett and Brett's friends to race their motorcycles in training for professional motorcycle races. Ronnie's neighbor, the one that sued him, is a world renowned sculptor and artist. According to the sculptor and his wife, the poweful motorcycles interrupted the artist's ability to concentrate during his work. Ironically, I had led the sculptor to faith in Christ in his studio just a little over a year ago, and at the time, though I did not know Ronnie Cue, the sculptor and his wife told me of the lawsuit over the racetrack. I could tell the issue was a very traumatic one for the artist and his wife - who themselves had just begun attending Emmanuel. The little country community in which both families live is tightknit, and other neighbors were choosing sides. It was just in the last two months both the defendents and the plaintiffs in this lawsuit had become members of our church.
Last Friday the lawsuit was finally heard in court. Contrary to some, I do not believe it is unlawful or unbiblical for judges to determine civil matters among Christians. There are times when judges are absolutely necessary for a variety of reasons. Regardless of whether or not you agree, the fact of the matter is this particular lawsuit had become part of these two families' lives long before any of them came to faith in Christ or involved at Emmanuel.
New Christians and the Word of God
Last Sunday morning we continued our study through I John and we came to I John 4:7-12, probably one of the greatest passages in Scripture on the love of God. The message, entitled "The Practical Implications of 'God Is Love,'" followed the text, with only a few illustrations from me that helped illuminate application that I derived from the text. I sought to show that when we love others we are giving evidence of being born of God. To be "born of God" is what the Apostle John calls ‘the new birth’ or to be ‘born again’ (John 3:3). When we love people, we are demonstrating that we have been born into God's family, that God is our Father. Clearly put, love in our hearts for our fellow man is a little like the “divine gene," for God is love. When He gives birth to His children, He gives His kids the ability to love as He, by His nature, loves us. As Henry Scougal wrote in his classic work The Life of God in the Soul of Man:
“True religion is essentially an inward, free, self-moving principle of divine life.”
This life of God, according to the Apostle John, is manifested in our love for others. Christianity is not mere formalism, nor is it simply mental assent, or even a methodical discipline in areas of morality - the essence of true Christianity is that you and I really care about the people of this world. The Apostle puts it clearly in the text: “Anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (I John 4:8).
The model that John gives that illustrates God's kind of love is Jesus Himself. In I John 4:9-10 we read probably the greatest statement regarding the love of God in all of Scripture. The emphasis is on what God did for us. “In this is love” – God showed, God sent, God came, God propitiated. The Greek word hilasmos is translated propitiation. It was used by the pagans to 'appease and render favorable the gods.’ Of course, we cannot propitiate (appease) God - ever. The Creator God cannot be appeased by our gold or silver, or the works and labor of our hands, but the good news is that God loved us and did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He came to live under the righteous law, fulfilling it in every jot and tittle, possessing a perfect righteousness. Jesus Christ died under the law for us a sinnner's death, substituting His life for ours, and in this God the Father is "propitiated." God remained just while justifying the ungodly in the gift of His Son. God gave us this gift. He sent Christ for us, He delivered Christ for us, He provided Christ for us - in this love is demonstrated.
When you and I love others like God loves us, people see God. There is a verse right at the end of I John 4:7-12 that seems out of place at first glance. John says, “No one has ever seen God.” (v.12). Why does John say this? Because John is emphasizing God is invisible, but since the immortal, invisible, infinite transcendent God abides within each of us and we demonstrate God's kind of love to others, people see God in us. There is some very real truth in the song, "You're the only Jesus some will ever see."
That was last Sunday's message. It is my policy to ignore both criticism and praise when it comes to messages I preach. I consider that if I am faithful to the text, then it is not my message, but God's, and some will like it and some will not. But one thing I know is this: God's word is powerful and transforms lives.
Ronnie Cue heard it. Yesterday morning after our Men's Discipleship Ronnie wished to speak to me. He said that he wished to "lay aside the lawsuit." I was puzzled and said, "But Ronnie, you were the one sued." He said he knew that. He had also been told that the judge would most likely rule in his favor in twenty days, since the race track was on his own private property (over a half mile away from his neighbor), and personal property laws are very strong in Oklahoma on behalf of the owner. Yet, Ronnie explained, he wanted to go to his neighbor's studio and express his love for them and tell them that he wanted to do what was best for them, even if that meant removing the racetrack he has spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of man hours building - not to mention thousands of dollars defending himself in a lawsuit.
I asked him why he wished to do this. He simply said that the Word of God had convicted him last Sunday that he should lay aside his rights and do something to display his love for his neighbors, in the same manner Jesus displayed His love for him. He said that his neighbors and their lives were more important than his own, or his son's, comfort and convenience.
The Meeting Tonight
Tonight, I went with Ronnie Cue to visit with his neighbors. He is not a man of many words, but he simply and clearly told his neighbors he loved them and he was sorry his racetrack had caused them so much discomfort and pain. He said that he wanted them to know he would remove the track, look for land to build another one, and wished that they could be friends in spite of all that had occurred.
The plaintiffs in the suit had already told me their attorneys had told them that the judge would rule in Ronnie's favor. Yet here was Ronnie, offering to lay down his rights for their sake. The wife of the artist wept. The artist, a man of few words himself, expressed his gratitude and then we all gathered around for prayer. Upon leaving, among the hugs, plans were being made for the two families to get together. All this after two very difficult, painful and expensive years of a lawsuit that had left tons of hurt feelings on both sides.
My, my, my.
As I was driving Ronnie back to his house I asked him how he felt. He looked at me quietly for a moment and then said, "I feel great. You know, as I listened to all the guys discuss the Bible this morning, most everything went right over my head. Those guys have been Christians for so long and know so much. What I know is what happened tonight. This is real. I'm just a kindergarten Christian who doesn't know any better than to do what God says, and God told me through your message last Sunday that I was to do this."
It could be our Masters Degree pastors and Ph.D theologians in the Southern Baptist Convention could learn a great deal from Ronnie Que, a kindergarten Christian. What would happen if Southwestern had done something similar for Sheri Klouda? What if FBC Jacksonville were to do something similar for Tom Rich? What if the Missouri Baptists were to do something similar to Ronnie Cue?
It could be what hinders us from loving others is our own haughtiness and pride about what we know in terms of our doctrine, and a corresponding lack of listening to God speak to us through the simplicity of His commands.
"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God" (I John 4:7).
In His Grace,