Last week, I started the message with a question, “Who is packing your parachute?” The question came about from the Charlie Plumb, a former prisoner of war, held nearly 6 years, in North Vietnam. Charlie asked this question after he encountered the man who packed his parachute allowing Charlie to glide safely to the earth after his fighter jet was shot down in Vietnam. We explored last week that while Charlie had a physical parachute, we all have a spiritual parachute. In that spiritual parachute that we find our salvation from God, a gift given to us through the completed work of Jesus upon the cross. We also find in that parachute joy experienced when we use the power of the Holy Spirit within us in the ministry of grace and sharing the good news of Jesus with others. Today, I would like us to explore a bit more about the packing and the sustainment of our spiritual parachute.
Now some of you may have parachuted in the past. I was asked whether I had ever gone parachuting. I said that I had not. When asked, “Why haven’t you tried parachuting? Are you afraid to parachuting?” I replied, “I am not afraid. It is just that I have a personal policy against jumping out of perfectly good airplanes!” Now suppose none of had such a policy about jumping out of perfectly good airplanes and we all decided to jump out of that perfectly good airplane with our parachute. Once we jumped clear of that airplane, we would immediately experience the effects of gravity. We would begin accelerating in speed downward toward the ground. We would continue our rapid descent until we pulled the ripcord on the parachute. Once we pulled that ripcord, the material of the parachute would begin to unfold and very quickly fill with air causing an immediate change in our rapid descent. The resistance of the air underneath our now opened parachute would work against the force of gravity that had been pulling us ever downward. The lift offered by the resisting force of the air would allow us to have a controlled and safe landing. The scenario of a graceful and peaceful landing against the forces of gravity exists if we have a properly packed parachute and a supporting atmosphere. Parachutes work on earth where there is an atmosphere. Parachutes do not work where there is no atmosphere. Parachutists are lift up if and only if they are surround in an atmosphere capable of resisting the forces of gravity. NASA does not use parachutes on the moon where there is no atmosphere. On the moon, you would only crash.
The science of parachuting tells us something about our spiritual life. The first thing we understand from our discussion of physical science about our spiritual life is that we live in a world forces. In our spiritual life there are spiritual forces working on us that work much like gravity upon a parachutist. Those worldly spiritual forces like their physical counterparts are always pulling us in a downward direction. There are spiritual forces that bring us down with discouragement and some that bring us down with lies and deceptions. We are pulled downward by guilt, regret, and shame. We accelerate downward even faster by belief systems that make us feel like a failure. The experience of loneliness and a sense of indifference as to whether we are alive or not causes us to feel as though we have just impacted upon the earth itself. The forces pulling us downward are as relentless and unconcerned as gravity is upon any object. None of these forces can be resisted in our own strength. When these forces grab hold of us, it is as though we parachuted in a vacuum. We tend for simplicity to sum up all these worldly spiritual forces as the work of Satan. Our understanding of the science of parachuting tells us that left unchecked the result of these worldly spiritual forces is nothing but a downward spiral and an inevitable painful, life ending impact.
But! There is always a but! But our understanding of the science of parachuting also tells us that the downward and inevitable spiral of the forces pulling downward can be overcome if there is an atmosphere. What then is the spiritual atmosphere that overcomes the relentless and uncaring forces of the world? In a word, the spiritual atmosphere we must possess is love. Love is the overcoming spiritual force, the very atmosphere. that gives life to us all. Love is a force that lifts us up. It packs our parachute and keeps us aloft. Love is a force that resist the forces those forces that would otherwise cause us to fall downward to a certain impact. Love is the very atmosphere we require and it is something we cannot provide for ourselves.
As we think more deeply about the atmosphere of love, we come also to see that love is not a thing at all. Love is a living being. John, the writer of our New Testament letter today said it succinctly, “God is love” (1 John 4:8b; 1 John 4:16a). God, a living being, expressed by John as the very virtue of love is the atmosphere we require and is capable of resisting for us all worldly forces. Like our earthly atmosphere that we had no part in creating, we did not create God. God was and is and He provides the atmosphere in which we can live.
John explained it this way, “7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). We have heard these words often, “God is love.” What we need to keep in mind though is that John was speaking through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit not to the world at large. John was speaking to people he called his friends, meaning people who had accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. John was preaching to the choir, as well as the organist if you will, and the congregation. John was not on the street corner talking to any just anyone passing by.
John said, “7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God” (1 John 4:7a). The capacity, willingness, and stamina to love, in the way John was speaking about, is not something anyone possesses through mortal birth, through study, or through practice. Love, the type of love John is talking about, comes from only one source, God. John said, “Everyone who loves [in this manner] has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7b). To love in the manner John means here requires a second birth. John was speaking here that those who love in the manner of God are “13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:13).
John was making the point that those born into this world may express a kind of love, a love of this world, its ways, and the things of this world. Worldly love is not a force able to resist the downward and dark forces of the world. Worldly love is not capable of creating an atmosphere necessary for life. It is only when we are reborn of God that we come to understand and appropriate a fit portion of the love that transforms, love that resists evil, and love that gives lift to self and others.
John said of this love that overcomes the forces of the world that it is available from God and that love was shown to us. “9 This is how God showed his love among us: He [God] sent his one and only Son [Jesus] into the world that we [you and I] might live through him [Jesus]. 10 This is love: not that we [you and I] loved God, but that he [God] loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). God showed us what love is by sending his Son, Jesus, to take away, yes to pay dearly for our sins, so that we would be forever freed from the downward worldly spiritual forces work relentlessly to consume us. God showed us Jesus and Jesus upon the cross as an expression of the depth, breadth, width, and height of love, God’s very nature. In these verses, John was not encouraging Christians towards love, John was defining love for them. John said, “This is love,” Christ and Christ upon the cross, “This is love,” and not anything else we might have before thought was love. God did not express himself as love this way in response to some sort of expression of our love towards him first. Jesus was not a reward or love expressed in exchange for something we did or did not do. God is love and He choose to display that love through Jesus without a motive of benefit to God, himself. God did not love us because he needed our love in return. Instead, God knew without his love we are all destined to spiral downward for an inevitable painful, life ending impact. And God does not want that for any of us. The only salvation, the only way for us to overcome that downward spiral, is if God fights the fight against those forces for us. We see that God accomplished this fight through Jesus Christ who is the very atmosphere of love.
We need a moment to take all that John said in just a couple of verses. No Jesus, no atmosphere, no love, no help. There are just the downward pulling forces of the world. It would be as though we jumped into a vacuum and are heading downward with no hope. It is a bleak existence with a predictable end. But! There is always the but! But we are saved and sustained through the love God showed us in Jesus Christ. God is overcoming the downward forces of the world and has given us hope because God loved us.
Now, what are we to do in response to receiving God’s love? What is the appropriate way to reciprocate and show God and God’s love has become part of our life, that we now live in the very atmosphere of love? Well, we might think, we should love God. That is true and we can and should do just that. But John said there was a way we must respond. It is a way that shows we treasure the atmosphere in which we live and shows to others who do not know God, that there is one powerful force able to overcome the worldly spiritual forces pulling them downward.
John said, “11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us [if we love one another]: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete” (1 John 4:11-17a). John was pointing out to us that if we want to know and we want show that God loves us, then we must love one another.
Before Jesus was arrested and murdered. Jesus told his disciple, “34 A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34). The command of Jesus, explained further by Jesus’ disciple, John, makes it clear that those who are reborn of God must evidence that rebirth by living the very atmosphere of God, who is love. This sort of love is not like worldly love. This sort of love propels us to love another believer because within us is the image of God and we see in the other the very image of God. The atmosphere between and among believers is to be one of love that overwhelms the forces of worldly darkness.
What keeps us from loving like Jesus? What is it that keeps us from being part of the atmosphere that lifts one another up? It is how we see people. Too often we see others through a lens of suspicion, doubt, fear, and anxiousness, all things that reflect the worldly forces of darkness instead of the heavenly forces of light. Jesus said, “22 The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23). How do you see others?
John said, “18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18a). Let us then not fear to love. Let the image of God within us burn brightly bringing light to our life and allowing us to see correctly the image of God in another. It is time we jumped into the atmosphere of God’s love and be lifted up by Him. Amen and Amen.