Mercy Street Church of Christ
Abilene, TX
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A Sermon from Ray Charles

A SERMON FROM RAY CHARLES

Someone recently shared a marital strategy with me that I thought was kind of interesting. "Stan," he told me, "I NEVER tell my wife anything that's bad news until AFTER dinner. My wife can't take bad surprises on an empty stomach. If the worst thing in the world has just happened, I come home, we eat supper, and I just wait and bide my time until she's had dessert and EVERYTHING. And THEN I say, `By the way, honey, my parents are coming to spend the weekend with us.' Or, `I think they're going to move the corporate offices to Death Valley next month and we're going to have to sell the house and go too.'"

I suppose many of us have learned that FIRST you tell your spouse you love them, and THEN you tell them about the car being bashed up. That's the correct order-of-operations, as a mathematician would say.

Now friend, WHY do we act this way? Why do we only put the good stuff on a resum้? Why do we need to be so cautious about how or when we reveal our flaws?

I heard once about a famous media personality — you'd recognize this person's name — who REFUSED to be photographed except from one side. If you caught him from the left, he'd want to pull out your film and smash your camera. And if a picture of him got into print showing that left side, boy, he'd make sure you never held a job higher than street-sweeping for the rest of your life. Why? Well, his hair was a little thin on that side, but the way he combed it, the other side looked pretty good. So you always and ONLY saw Mr. Big from the right.

In this short series, we're trying to understand and comprehend the almost incomprehensible idea that a holy God in heaven is willing to accept us UNCONDITIONALLY. It doesn't matter what bad news you've tried to hide from Him. It doesn't matter to Him that you have a good side and a bad side. You don't have to wait until after supper, hoping to get Him in a good mood before you approach the throne. You can come to Him right now, with your blotched-up resum้ . . . and be UNCONDITIONALLY accepted.

And you know, the Bible is jammed from cover to cover with this very headline. God's Word spells out over and over the revolutionary concept that God wants you RIGHT NOW! AS IS!

Listen to just a few of the more blockbuster memos we find in the Bible.

Jeremiah 31:3:

"I have loved you with an EVERLASTING love," says God.

Matthew 11:28:

"Come to me, ALL you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."

Romans 8:35:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

Let me comment just on that one. In human terms, there's always something that can separate us from the love of another HUMAN. WHO can separate us? WHAT can separate us? Lots of things! A new girlfriend. An irritating habit. An inadvertent moment of anger. Or, as that tragically beat-down little boy named Chris shared last time, he was sure his cleft palate — his deformed lip — was going to separate him from God . . . just like it had separated him from others down here.

But only God really understands and reveals absolute, pure, unadulterated UNCONDITIONAL acceptance. Only God follows up His own question — "Who can separate us?" — with the answer, just three verses later.

For I am convinced, writes Paul, that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

You know, it almost makes us think of that old torch song, "I Can't Stop Loving You." There's an old Ray Charles recording of that on my iPod, which I won't play for you today — but you can just FEEL the emotion in that person's heart. And in God's . . . "I CAN'T STOP loving you! NOTHING can stop Me from loving you! It's useless to try."

It's unbelievable irony, isn't it, that the God who knows us BEST loves us MOST. Have you ever thought of that? All your life, all MY life, we've been programmed to think that if we can just cover up THIS and throw a blanket over THAT and hide these two or three things behind a bush somewhere and put some makeup on this little blemish . . . we'll be able to get someone to love us. We choke back our selfish thoughts; we try to paste a cheerful smile on our faces at Sunday School. And we say, "Thank God nobody knows how I really feel. Thank God no one knows what I'm really like inside." No one except God. And even though He knows ALL of it, He continues to love us.

I love how English writer George Eliot described the quiet beauty of being with someone who is such a true friend that they love you NO MATTER WHAT. Now, he was writing about human friendships, but listen to these words and see if they don't make you think of God . . . and maybe ONLY of God.

"Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words but to pour them all out, just as it is, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keeping what is worth keeping, and then, WITH THE BREATH OF KINDNESS blow the rest away."

Now you see, that's UNCONDITIONAL. Love with no conditions placed on it. No contractual restrictions and amendments and codicils and codes. Unconditional acceptance springing from the heart of a God who knows you best and loves you anyway.

It's interesting that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commands us to love others that way. Verse 44's instructions to us are just three words long:

"Love your enemies."

Well, is there a loophole in there somewhere? Are there some follow-up instructions? "Love your enemies after they've repented and stopped acting like such jerks"? "Love your enemies once they've gotten the victory over talking about you behind your back and spreading false rumors about you"? Friend, I'm sorry . . . there aren't any such qualifying statements. Jesus tells us to simply LOVE . . . OUR . . . ENEMIES!

Now, doing that — and HOW we do that — is a topic for another time. Today I only bring it up to suggest that this is an area where we are simply following GOD'S own example. He would not tell us to love our enemies unless He was willing to love His. And that's exactly what He has shown us.

Because of sin, we ARE His enemies — and He loves us. Despite our faults and imperfections and rebellious natures, He's adopted us. He's made us His sons and daughters. No wonder the apostle John exclaimed in amazement in First John chapter three:

"Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that WE should be called the sons of God."

In the New International Version it reads this way:

"How GREAT is the love the Father has LAVISHED on us, that we should be called CHILDREN of God! (exclamation mark)"

As we close today, let me take you to probably the most poetic passage in the Bible. Have you ever sat down and read the entire book of Song of Solomon? Incredible! These eight short chapters are some very amazing reading; they're all about love and passion and a lover searching for his mate. Sometimes Christian adults remark among themselves that this is one book in the Bible that almost has to be rated "R" because it's clearly written to give mature men and women an idea of the intensity of what God's love can be like.

You know, as you read it you really find yourself protesting: "But this is being written about someone who's lovely and desirable! This woman's incredible; she's perfect, with beautiful teeth and hair and so on." Listen, friend. THAT is how God sees YOU. He doesn't see you as flawed and worthless, as a castoff. He sees you and He sees me in those metaphor-packed Song of Solomon expressions.

Did you know that Jesus sat at that supper table on a Thursday evening, the night before He was crucified, and He looked into the eyes of the disciple Judas . . . and He loved him? Jesus didn't just love the 11 good disciples — although all of THEM had acted kind of worthless that particular week. He loved JUDAS!

Let me quote just a few lines from The Desire of Ages, one commentary on the life of Jesus. Listen to this:

"The disciples knew nothing of the purpose of Judas [to betray Jesus]. Jesus alone could read his secret. Yet He did not expose him. Jesus HUNGERED for his soul. He felt for him such a burden as for Jerusalem when He wept over the doomed city. His heart was crying, How can I give thee up?"
You can almost hear that Ray Charles theme music, can't you? "I Can't Stop Loving You! Even you, Judas! I can't stop loving you. Even though I know what you've done, even though I can see right into your purse and see those 30 pieces of silver, even though I have a transcript of every word you said to those priests when you sold Me out — I love you. I can't stop loving you."

Friend, never forget it, Jesus' love for you is unconditional. Maybe you sang it in Sunday School and just never noticed what the words were saying:

Jesus loves me when I'm good.
When I do the things I should.
Jesus loves me when I'm bad.
Even though it makes Him sad.

Yes, friend. Right now Jesus loves you. No matter what, Jesus loves you. The Bible tells us so.



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