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Joel Osteen — Love Unconditionally


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I want to talk to you today about "Loving unconditionally". It's easy to love people that are just like us: people that look like us, dress like us, worship like us. That doesn't take a lot of effort. But what about people that are different than us, people that we don't understand, we don't agree with?

As far as we're concerned, they're making poor choices. It's easy to size them up from the exterior, put them in a box, and think they're not for me, they're odd. I'm going to keep my distance. But God's love is not exclusive; it's inclusive. It doesn't exclude people that are different. It doesn't write people off because they're not where they should be in life. It doesn't ignore someone because they're not meeting our standards.

Unconditional love says I'm going to love you even if I don't agree with you. I may not agree with your lifestyle, your doctrine, how you're raising your children, the friends you're choosing, but I know this. You are made in the image of almighty God and I am not called to judge you, I am called to love you, and we have to realize every person is on a journey. Where they are right now is not where they're going to end up. They're not a finished product, they're still on the potter's wheel.

But so often, we judge people for where they are today. We write them off and think, "I'm not going to associate with them. They're a mess, they're done". No, God will use you to plant seeds in their heart. Your love, your friendship, your encouragement, is a part of the plan God has designed for their life. God is counting on us to make a difference. Don't have a holier-than-thou attitude. Take off the judgmental glasses. If not for the grace of God, you could be right where they are.

The same things that we're tempted to be judgmental and critical about, if not for God's goodness, we could be struggling with as well, and if you had walked in their shoes, been raised in their family, fought the battles that they fought, you would understand why they are where they are. In the areas that you're strong in, you didn't just happen to be strong, that's the mercy of God on your life, and when we show this unconditional love, people may not respond right away, may not seem like it's doing any good, they keep making poor choices. But here's the key. Those seeds never die.

Researchers found seeds not long ago that were over 4000 years old. They had been sealed in an airtight coffin. When they planted that seed, much to their amazement, it took root and grew; still alive thousands of years later. In the same way, the seeds of hope, mercy, encouragement, that you plant in other people, they never die. It may look like it's not doing any good but the reason they're not growing is because the soil of their heart is hard and rocky and that seed could not take root.

The good news is the seed is still alive and at the right time God will soften their heart, loosen up that soil, and the seed you've sown will take root and bring a harvest. Nothing you're doing has been wasted. Every time you show love, you are sowing these seeds. But sometimes we think that we have to convict people, we have to tell them what they're doing wrong, point out all their faults, make sure they really feel guilty. No, the Holy Spirit is the one that convicts. You just keep sowing these seeds, showing unconditional love, and at the right time they will come to life.

Not long ago, I was able to pray with one of the leading pop stars of our day. This person is world famous, very popular, but also a little different, a little far out, and I could have had a holier-than-thou approach and thought, "I am not going to be associated with them. People will criticize, people won't understand". This person seemed to stand for just the opposite of what we stand for. But Jesus said, "It's the sick who need a doctor, not the healthy," and I have learned I'm not here to judge, I'm here to love.

We don't have to straighten everybody out. All we have to do is sow the seeds. The scripture says: "Love never fails". When you show love, you're showing God. When you're merciful, understanding, accepting, that heals, that restores, that brings new life, and for too long the church in general has been known for what we're against. We're against this and against that, and if you live like this you're not welcome here. We've been good at telling people what we don't like.

But I don't want to be known for what I'm against. I want to be known I am for people. I'm for new beginnings. I'm for second chances. I'm for you becoming everything God's created you to be. See, that young pop star, where they are right now is not where they're going to end up. That seed may take root in a week, in a year, or 30 years. It's not up to me; it's up to God. He's designed the plan for their life.

Our part is to simply keep showing this unconditional love. Not I'll love you if I agree with you, I'll accept you if no, our attitude should be, "If you have good morals or no morals, I'm still going to love you. If you're clean and sober or you're strung out and addicted, I'm still going to love you. If you're gay or straight, republican or democrat, black or white, Muslim or Christian, believer or atheist, doesn't matter, Jesus said, "By this will all men know that you're my disciples, if you have love one for another".

Notice he didn't say it's by how spiritual we are or how many times we come to church, how many scriptures we can quote, how many miracles take place. No, they'll know by our love for other people. What would this world be like if instead of judging people, we'd really start loving people? So they don't look like you? They're not supposed to. God made them different. Maybe they're not where they should be in life right now. That's okay, they're on a journey. They're not a finished product.

Perhaps they don't worship like you. They come from a different denomination, a different culture, maybe even a different faith. That's okay, don't shut them out. Our God is the God of the whole earth. He's not a white God, a black God, a Mexican God, a Korean God. He's simply God, and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob loves the Muslims just as much as he loves the Christians. He loves the Hindus, the atheists. He's the God of all flesh.

But so many times we have this narrow view of God. We have our little circle of what we believe and who we think is right and we exclude everyone else. We point out their faults, what they're doing wrong, where we don't agree. "Well, they don't baptize like we baptize. They don't take communion like we do". We focus on the things that separate us. But the longer I live, the more I realize how big God's circle is, how wide his mercy extends. When we get to heaven, we're going to be surprised at who's there.

"Well, Joel, what about their false doctrine"? What about your false doctrine? Nobody is correct 100%. The reason denominations were established in the first place was to try to protect the doctrine that they believed was right. Victoria was raised in a church that believed that they were the only ones going to heaven. When we got married, I asked her, "Can I please go to heaven"? Galatians 5 says: "Don't think that your group is the only one that's right".

I heard somebody say: "Thinking that your church is the only church is like filling your bathtub with water and calling it the pacific ocean". We're all missing it somewhere. The main thing is we agree that Jesus is the Son of God, he rose from the dead, and my love for you is bigger than a theological difference. It's bigger than what church you belong to. It's bigger than what faith you practice. It's even bigger than a political or philosophical difference. I don't have to see eye-to-eye with you in order to love you, and if you draw a circle to shut me out I'm going to draw a bigger circle to shut you in.

When you love unconditionally, you have a wide circle, you're not judging everybody to see if they fit into your little box, and that's the amazing thing about Lakewood. That's what makes this place so great: the variety. There are whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Indians, rich, poor, young, old, democrats, republicans, protestants, catholics, longhorns, Aggies, Jewish, Buddhist, all kinds of people here. This is what heaven is going to be like. We might as well learn to like people down here. That person you think has so much false doctrine, they're so far off course, you better learn to like them, they'll probably be next door to you in heaven.

There's going to be a lot of people there we weren't expecting. God's mercy is from everlasting to everlasting. It's bigger, broader, far-reaching. But a lot of times, religion tries to push people away. God is always pulling people in. It's not about do you keep all the rules, have you performed perfectly your whole life? It's about the condition of your heart. Do you have a heart to please God? Do you believe in this resurrected Savior?

It's interesting, when Jesus was on the cross there was a criminal hanging next to him, being crucified as well. This man had done a lot of wrong, lived a life that he wasn't proud of, but before he died he looked at Jesus and said, "Please remember me when you come into your kingdom". He simply acknowledged who Jesus was. He, in effect, called on the Name of the Lord. Jesus said, "This day, I will see you in paradise". That criminal, he didn't pray a long sinner's prayer, never got baptized in water, never attended church. That was simply the mercy of God. It doesn't always fit into our theology.

I was reading about Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, one of the most brilliant minds that's ever lived. He was adopted as a child and he went to church every week, growing up. But at the age of 13, he started questioning his faith. He eventually dropped out of church. He gave up on Christianity and tried different religions. Years later, at the age of 56, he was lying on his death bed with pancreatic cancer. Just as he was about to pass, with his family all around him, taking his final breath, he opened his eyes, looked up and said three times, "Oh, wow. Oh, wow. Oh, wow".

Now, I don't know for sure, but that seems to me like he was seeing heaven. If he was seeing hell, he wouldn't have been saying, "Oh, wow". He would have been saying, "Oh, no. Oh, no". He looked up with amazement in great anticipation. What am I saying? The mercy of God is wide. Why do we try to make it so narrow and think, "My loved one's never going to make it. Joel, my co-worker, he doesn't have a chance. You should hear him talk". No, they're on a journey. God is using you to plant seeds in their heart. They don't need to hear another sermon. You don't have to tell people what they're doing wrong. They already know that. Just love them.

Let your life be the sermon. At the right time, those seeds will come to life. We don't know, some people may be on their dying bed and God will reveal himself to them. They will feel this unconditional love pulling them in.

I received a poem in the mail called "Heaven's surprise".

I was shocked, confused, bewildered
as I entered Heaven's door,
Not by the beauty of it all,
by the lights or its decor.

But it was the folks in Heaven
who made me sputter and gasp
the thieves, the liars, the sinners,
the alcoholics, the trash.

There stood the kid from seventh grade
who swiped my lunch money twice.
Next to him was my old neighbor
who never said anything nice.

Herb, who I always thought
was rotting away in hell,
was sitting pretty on cloud nine,
looking incredibly well.

I nudged Jesus, "What's the deal?
I would love to hear Your take.
How'd all these sinners get up here?
God must've made a mistake.

And why's everyone so quiet,
so somber? Give me a clue."
"Hush, child," said He. "They're all in shock.
No one thought they'd see you."


We can all say, "Where would we be without the mercy of God"? When we didn't deserve it, when we made mistakes, God showed us his unconditional love. He's asking us to show this same love to other people. Don't look at them through eyes of judgment. Look at them through eyes of mercy. "Well, Joel, I don't think she should be wearing that in church. That's not appropriate". Maybe not, but I would rather her be in here than out in the clubs. You don't know what she's been through. You haven't walked in her shoes. Before you judge her, get to know her. Before you write her off, listen to her story.

There's usually a good reason people are the way they are, and we've got to give them room while they're in the process of changing. If we're judgmental, holier than thou, look down on them, that's not going to help them to move forward. That's conditional love. If you meet all my demands, then I'll love you, then I'll accept you. No, God freely gave us mercy. Let's freely give other people mercy.

I heard about this young couple. They were eating breakfast at a small diner one morning and they had their 1-year-old baby boy in the high chair and, as they were eating, the little boy started smiling real big and hitting the table very excited. The mom turned around to see what was causing all the excitement.

There was an elderly man sitting at the table behind her. This man looked to be homeless. His hair was disheveled and hadn't shaved and clothes very dirty, smelled really bad. He said to the little boy very loudly, "How you doing, little buddy"? Everybody in the restaurant turned to see what was going on. The mom was kind of embarrassed and she nodded at the man, then turned back around to her table and tried to get her baby's attention but the man kept talking to him, playing peek-a-boo and patty-cake.

This little baby was being totally entertained, totally taken by this man, so much so, instead of just smiling, now the baby was cackling, laughing out loud. The parents bowed their heads and just ate as fast as they could, trying to get finished. They finally were through with breakfast. Was raining outside. The husband went to pull the car up front. The mom got up from the table, picked up her little baby and headed toward the counter to pay.

Under her breath, she thought, "God, please help me to get out of here without any more commotion". But about that time, the homeless man got up and stood in line behind her. When the little baby saw him step out, he put out both arms, leaned away from the mother, and reached out to the man. Before you knew it, the baby was in a total stranger's hand. It looked like they were old friends. At one point, the little baby laid his head on the homeless man's shoulder.

The homeless man closed his eyes, just taking it all in. His hands, dirty, rough, full of grime, patted the little boy softly on the back. The mother stood and watched, all in amazement. Couple of moments, he handed the little boy back and said, gently, "You take care of this little boy". She said with a lump in her throat, "I will".

She walked toward the door to leave and small tears started running down her cheeks. She said, "God, please forgive me". She had just witnessed unconditional love shown through the innocence of a little baby. The baby didn't see the man's dirt, the man's grime, the man's disheveled hair. The baby saw the man through eyes of love. The mother saw the man through eyes of judgment.

My prayer is, "God, help us to have the same innocence of a little baby and not judge people by the exterior, by what they wear, by the mistakes they've made. But God, let us see people through eyes of love". The scripture says: "To the pure all things are pure". One way to know how pure your heart is, is how much do you judge? When your heart is pure, you don't have a critical spirit. You don't have a holier-than-thou attitude. You're full of mercy. You give people the benefit of the doubt, and I've found much of our judgment is simply the culture we were raised in.

When our son Jonathan was 8 or 10 years old, he liked to wear his hair real messy and looked like he'd just got out of bed. That was the style. One time, we were going somewhere and I said, "Jonathan, buddy, you need to comb your hair". He looked at me strange and he said, "Dad, I just did". He would come home from the Mall with Victoria and say, "Dad, look at these new blue jeans".

They'd have holes in the knees and torn, faded, worn out. Looked like they were 20 years old. I used to always ask, "Did you have to pay for those things"? Cultures change. Too often we judge what we don't understand. When my father was growing up, back in the 1930s, he wore what they called a zoot suit. The pants came way up here, almost to your chest. The jackets were real long. Daddy had his hat cocked perfectly to the side. Out of his pocket, he had this long gold chain.

As a teenager, he'd walk around swinging that chain like a cool cat. He had bling before we called it bling. In his day, he was the one that was far out. Yet, God called him to become a pastor, as the founder of our church, and before you judge that young person that has wild hair, crazy clothes, wearing bling, no, you don't know how God is going to use them. They may be your next pastor, your next doctor, the next president.

John 7:24 says: "Be honest in your judgment of people. Do not decide at a glance, superficially and by appearances". How many times do we look at someone and in a split second we decide whether or not we're going to like them? "Well, he's got a tattoo, he's going to hell. He's got long hair, he's a troublemaker. He's wearing bling, I'm sure he's out stealing somewhere". No, give everybody room to become who God's created them to be.

I heard about this man. He visited a very formal high-end church. He was wearing blue jeans, a cowboy hat, and old cowboy boots. He walked in on a Sunday morning and sat on the third row. The congregation was appalled. Many of them sent notes to the pastor, expressing their concerns. After the service, the pastor told the man that he needed to ask God what he should wear before he comes back to his church.

The man showed up the next Sunday, dressed exactly the same. The pastor scolded him, said, "I told you to ask God what to wear before you come back to my church". The man said, "I did ask God but he told me he didn't know because he's never been here before.

What's my point? You know my point. Don't judge by the exterior. I've found whether I wear a suit or whether I wear blue jeans, it doesn't affect the anointing. It's not affected by cotton or denim; for my brother Paul's sake, or polyester. What affects the anointing is the attitude of our heart. They don't look like you, dress like you, act like you, that's all right. They're on a journey. They're not a finished product. Jesus made it really simple: "Don't judge and you won't be judged".

You may not understand someone but you don't have to understand them to love them. You don't have to agree with them to accept them. That's why it's called unconditional love.

I heard a story about a lady and her husband. They had a dog named Lucky and whenever they had company for the weekend, they would always warn their guests to make sure they didn't leave their suitcases open because Lucky loved to sneak in, get something out, and take it down to the basement where his toy box was so he could play with it later and they were always finding their belongings down there.

One day, the lady was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was in the hospital for 3 weeks. The husband would take Lucky on his nightly walks but it just wasn't the same. Lucky loved this lady, stayed with her in the house everywhere she went. She came home after the surgery and was very weak and the lady couldn't make it upstairs to the bedroom so she just laid down on the couch.

Lucky was right by her side, and you could tell that Lucky didn't like this lady feeling badly. The lady dozed off to sleep. She woke up an hour later and it was hard to breathe. She was hot and felt all these things poking her and she began to panic, thought, "What's happening to me"? Soon her concern gave way to a smile. Lucky had gone down to the basement and got all of his toys and brought them back and placed them on the lady. While she was sleeping he made trip after trip, trying to make her feel better. Now, she was literally covered with his love.

That's my challenge to us today. Start covering people with love. It's easy to cover people with judgment, cover with condemnation, cover with guilt. But let's start covering people with love. Love heals. Love brings down barriers. Love puts people back on their feet. You may not understand someone but that's okay. Have a wide circle of love.

Remember, they're on a journey. Where they are is not where they're going to end up, and God is counting on us to make a difference to push them forward. Show mercy, be understanding, give them the benefit of the doubt. If you'll have this unconditional love, not only will you help others, but your own life will improve. You'll have more joy, better relationships, and I believe and declare you will overcome every obstacle and live the life of victory God has in store, in Jesus' name.
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