September 20, 2009

A Different Kind of Christian

Part 1: Love

 

Opening:

ILL: Two weeks ago, a pastor in Phoenix preached a sermon entitled, “Why I hate Barack Obama.”  In it, he told his church that he prayed that President Obama would get a brain tumor and die, like Ted Kennedy.  “When I go to bed tonight, I’m gonna pray that he dies and goes to hell. That’s what I’m gonna pray,” he told his congregation.  And then he asked his congregation to pray for that as well. 

“And they’ll know we are Christians by our love…”  Sad, isn’t it?  This kind of behavior is headline news; people read it or see it on TV and think, “Those Christians—they are so judgmental and hypocritical.”  We all get tarred with the same brush, thrown under the same bus.  We need to be a different kind of Christian…different than that!

          For the next four weeks, we’re going to talk about our vision for our church, what we think God wants us to be and do.  If we live it out, we’ll be a different kind of Christian.  I’m going to explain that as we go…let’s pray.

 

Offering and announcements:

The Hole in Our Gospel.  You should have received a book as you entered; if not, they can pick it up at the Info Center on their way out.

  • To make sure everyone gets a book, we’re going to start with one per family.
  • Please pick up your own book, and not for your Life Group or your neighbor or your uncle (we will pass them out every week until everyone has one!).
  • The reading plan is on the back of the tear-off.  Use this as a bookmark and get started reading now.  For those who would rather listen than read, the book is available for purchase in audio format at Audible.com.
  • World Vision gave us a great price on these books.  Retail is $23; we got them for $7 each!  Later, during the series, we’ll give you a chance to help us with the cost of the books—we’ll pass the hat and you can drop in $7, or more if you want to help someone out.  But we want you to have a chance to read it first.  And we want everyone to have a copy—we don’t want anyone left out because they can’t afford it.
  • Life Group sign-ups in church beginning next Sunday.

I hope you’ll all participate—I believe this series will be a defining moment in the life of our church.

 

Baptisms and Worship:

 

Prayer:

 

Offering at the start of the message: 

 

Introduction:

          I’m going to tell you this story so that my wife won’t have to tell it a thousand times.  A week ago Tuesday, Laina was mowing the lawn and lost the ends of the first two fingers on her right hand.  She tried to close the lid on the side discharge chute, and her hand got too close to the bottom edge of the mower and it sucked her clothe glove in and mulched her fingers.  It was horrible.  We spent most of the day in ER.  The next day, she went into surgery and a hand surgeon repaired her fingers, which were badly mangled. The index finger and big finger are gone down to the first joint.  The good news: she is healing nicely and should regain full use of her hand and be able to do almost everything she could before, with some adaptation (eg, piano playing, typing).  And she should receive 20% discount on all manicures! 

I was home when it happened, and rushed out when I heard her screaming.  She didn’t cry…she was just mad at herself.  My wife is one tough lady—don’t mess with her!  It was horrible…but we’re grateful it wasn’t worse, and that she will recover and be able to do whatever she wants.  There you have it!  Wave honey!  She’s got a real cute stubby peace sign!

 

          A different kind of Christian.  Christianity has an image problem.  Ask many people what they think of Jesus, and you’ll get a positive response—people like Jesus.  Ask people what they think of Jesus’ followers, of Christians, and you’ll get a very different response.  Ghandi reportedly once said, “I like Christ; I don’t like His followers, who are so unlike Christ.”  Christianity has an image problem.

ILL: The Barna group asked thousands of 16-29 year olds what they thought of Christians.  The results are reported in this book, unChristian.  When asked what they thought about Christians, the three most common responses were “anti-homosexual, judgmental and hypocritical”.  These were followed by “old-fashioned, too involved in politics, out of touch with reality, insensitive to others, boring, not accepting of other faiths, and confusing.”

Why the negative opinion?  For one thing, Christians have become known for what they are against, rather than what they are for.  We’re known more for what we protest than what we promote; we’re known more for our politics than for our compassion.  Christianity has an image problem.  We need to be a different kind of Christian. 

          It’s been said that you are the only Bible many people will ever read.  They will form their opinion of the Christian faith based on the way you and I live it.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians, and called them “a letter from Christ”:

2 Corinthians 3:2-3 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody…you are a letter from Christ…

You a letter from Christ, known and read by everybody.  You are the only Bible many people will ever read—are they getting a good read from you?  Are you reflecting Jesus?  Are you a different kind of Christian—the kind that shows a watching world what Jesus is really like?

Every fall, I do a talk or series of talks about our vision as a church.  For the next four Sundays, we’re going to talk about our vision—what we’re trying to do here.  It centers around four guiding purposes: Love, Win, Grow, Send. 

  • Love God and people.
  • Win our friends to Christ.
  • Grow into all God wants us to be.
  • Send all of us to do God’s work in a broken world.

Would you say those with me?  Love, Win, Grow, Send.  I’m going to explain each of those and how, if we live them out honestly and Biblically, we will be “a different kind of Christian”. 

 

          Our first purpose as a church is to love, it comes from the words of Jesus; here they are.

Matthew 22:34-40 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”   (See also: Mark 12:28-34, Luke 10:25-28.)

Jesus was asked, what is the greatest commandment?  In Mark’s version, He is asked, what is the most important commandment?  In Luke’s, what must we do to inherit eternal life?  What is the greatest thing I can do, the most important thing to do, what can I do to live forever?  No matter how you ask it, this is the Big Question. 

          And Jesus answered in one word: love.  Love God with all you’ve got and love people.  Let’s take a closer look.

 

1. Our first purpose is love: to love God with all we’ve got and to love people.

          The fact that Jesus said this is the greatest, the most important thing we can do—I’d say that makes this the greatest, most important thing we can do!  That’s why it’s first.   Our first and highest purpose is to love God with all we’ve got and to love people.  It’s why, years ago, we made our motto, “Loving God, Loving People.”  I don’t think we’ve ever lived up to it perfectly—we often fail to love God with all we’ve got and to love people as we should.  And so we keep this before us—we keep pounding this drum.  How many of you have heard me talk about loving God and loving people before?  Over and over!  I keep talking about it because it’s first, it’s most important, it’s greatest…and we haven’t mastered it yet.  We’re still learning to love.

ILL: The last few weeks, those of us doing the Bible reading plan have been reading Ezekiel and Revelation.  How many of you don’t get everything in those books?  Me either. 

Every now and then, someone will approach me after a service and ask me when I’m going to take us deeper.  When I ask them what they mean by deeper, they may say, “You know, get into the deep stuff.  Explain the meaning of the wheel in the middle of the wheel in Ezekiel, or the woman sitting on a scarlet beast in Revelation.” 

I ask, “Are you married?” 

“Yes.”

“How are you doing at loving your wife?”

“My wife is a piece of work, let me tell you!  She can be hard to love!” 

“Ok.  Do you have any neighbors?”

“Oh yeah.  You don’t want to know!  I can’t stand them.”

“Ok.  How are you doing loving God?”

“Oh I love God!”

“Do you love Him with all you’ve got?”

“Well…I can’t say that…but I love Him.”

“Ok, I’ll make you a deal.  Jesus said the most important thing was loving God with all you’ve got and loving people.  So when you are loving your wife and your neighbors, and loving God with all you’ve got, let me know and I’ll stop talking about that, and then I’ll do a sermon on the wheel in the middle of the wheel.  Deal?”

This conversation—which I’ve had more than once—illustrates a couple widespread misunderstandings.

          First, people mistakenly think that the deep things are the mysteries they don’t understand.  Nope.  The deep things are the simplest and most obvious and important.  There is nothing deeper than loving God with all you’ve got.  When you meet a person who is loving God with all he’s got, you’ve met a deep Christian, and you’ll know it.  The deep things are the simplest and most obvious and important. 

          Second, people mistakenly think that they can separate love for God and people.  People have told me, “I could be a great Christian if I were marooned on an island with no other people—just me and God.  I love God; it’s people that drive me crazy.”  But you can’t separate love for God from love for people.  Jesus connected them.  I’d like you to read our text with me—this time from the New Living Translation:

Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus replied, “ ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

First and greatest commandment: love God.  A second is equally important (catch that!): love people.  All God’s demands are based on these two commandments.  In other words, if you love God with all you’ve got and love people, you’ll fulfill all God’s commands!  But the two go together; if you don’t love people, you can’t say that you love God. 

1 John 4:19-21 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Don’t say that you love God if you don’t love your brother.  I love John’s logic.  If you don’t love your brother who is in front of you, whom you can see, then how could you possibly love God whom you can’t see?  Here’s your brother, your sister, your neighbor, right here in front of you.  If you can’t love them, how can you love God?  It sounds like love is pretty tangible, doesn’t it?  Which raises the question:

 

2. What is love?  Love is doing what is best for another no matter what it costs you.

          If love is the greatest commandment and our first and highest purpose, we need to know what it is.  What is love?  Love is doing what is best for another no matter what it costs you.  Let’s say that together.  Love is doing what is best for another no matter what it costs you. 

You might be thinking, “That’s not what the dictionary says!”  And you’re right!  Look “love” up in Webster’s and the first definitions are about strong affection, sexual attraction, and warm attachment.  In other words, love is a feeling, an emotion.  It’s not until you get to the fourth definition in Webster that you read, “unselfish, loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another.”  And the first example is “the fatherly concern of God for humankind.” 

Like Webster, I got my definition of love by looking at God, or more specifically, at Jesus.  John tells us:

1 John 3:16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.

This is how what we know what love is: we look at Jesus, who did something: He laid down His life for us.  If you want to know what love is, where do you look?  At Jesus—specifically at Jesus giving His life for us on the cross. 

1 John 4:9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

How did God show His love?  He did something—He sent His one and only Son.  Love is doing what is best for another no matter what it costs you.

1 John 4:10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

This is love, John says: God sent His Son to die for us.  Love is doing what is best for another no matter what it costs you.  God loved us and did what was best for us no matter what it cost Him—and it cost the life of His Son.  

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

          When the Bible speaks of love, it points us to Jesus and the cross.  In a few minutes, we’re going to take communion together.  When you hold the bread and juice in your hands that represent the body and blood of Jesus sacrificed for you, you are holding love in your hands. 

Love is doing what is best for another no matter what it costs you.  Let’s say that together again.  Love is doing what is best for another no matter what it costs you.  Love is doing, not feelings; it is action, not emotion.

          Does love involve feelings?  Yes, of course.  We have one English word, “love”, that covers everything from passion, romance, sex, friendship, affection, and even a zero score in tennis!  But the Greeks used several words for love:

  • Eros for the passionate love that desires the other for itself; sexual attraction.  We get the word “erotic” from it.  How many of you have felt eros—passion, romance, you’ve fallen in love?
  • Phileo for the warm affection of friends and family.  Philadelphia is the city of brotherly love.  How many of you have felt this love—warm affection for friends and family?  Both of these begin in the emotions—they are both “feeling words”.
  • Agapao for active benevolence; one who seeks the good of another.  This word is different; this love starts not in the emotions, but the will.  It begins with the goodwill of the lover, not the goodness of the loved one.  This is the word used of God’s love for us, and for the love that God commands us to show to Him and to people. 

There is feeling love, and there is action love, and they’re both good.  Feeling love is good—anyone who has fallen in love knows what I mean.  Feeling love and action love are both good; but which does God command?  Action.  You can’t command feelings.  “Be sad!”  Did that make you feel sad?  Or try this one: “Love me!”  Did that make you feel affection for me?  Probably not.  When God commands us to love Him and others, He is commanding action, not emotion.  Love is doing what is best for another no matter what it costs you.

          Now let’s apply that idea to loving God and people.

 

3. How do we love God?

          What does loving God look like?  What shape does it take?  How does it act?  I want to give you three ideas.

          First, we love God with our whole life.  This is the meaning of “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  With all you’ve got.  With your whole life.  Let’s think about it.  Love is doing what’s best for another no matter what it costs you.  So how do we do what is best for God?  Think of the Lord’s Prayer.  It starts like this:

Matthew 6:9-10

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

10 your kingdom come,

your will be done

on earth as it is in heaven.

Before we ask for our daily bread or forgiveness for our sins, we start with what?  God: your name, your kingdom, your will.  God first. 

  • God’s interests first before mine. 
  • God’s honor first before mine. 
  • God’s kingdom first before mine. 
  • God’s will first before mine. 

This is how we are to pray…and live.  God first.  Our love for God grows as our life for God grows.  The more we live for Him, the more we love Him. 

          Worship is loving God—but worship isn’t just something we do by singing in church, but by living all week long, God first.  We begin to ask ourselves:

  • How do I love God with my work?  What is best for God?  (What do we usually ask?  “What is best for me?”)
  • How do I love God with my family, my friendships, my relationships?  What is best for God?  (What do we usually ask?  “What is best for me?”)
  • How do I love God with my money and my stuff?  What is best for God?  (What do we usually ask?  “What is best for me?”)

Loving God with all we’ve got means that we live our lives for God, for what is best for Him.  God first—your name, your kingdom, your will.

          Second, we love God by obeying Him, doing what He wants.  Here’s what Jesus said:

John 14:15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”

He repeats this twice more in John 14.  Later John adds:

1 John 5:3 This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.

Love for God is obeying His commands.  How is obedience doing what is best for God?

ILL: When our kids were teenagers, they’d do things with friends on Friday or Saturday nights.  We always asked them to be home by midnight.  More than once, they asked us, “Why?”  They wanted to stay out later.  So why?

First, for their safety.  Most of the bad stuff happens after midnight—I wanted them safe at home before the drunks hit the road.  I love my kids.  Second, for their well-being the next day.  Tired teenagers are grumpy teenagers—I wanted them to get enough rest.  I love my kids!  Third, for my well-being.  I couldn’t sleep until they were home safe; I’d be awake until the last kid came in.  And if I don’t sleep, well, a tired dad is a grumpy dad!  I love my sleep!

My reasons were about what was best for them…and for me.  And our kids loved us, and got home by midnight—or close.

Here’s the deal: God’s commands are about what is best for us…and for Him.  Over and over the Bible says that His commands are “for our good”—they are best for us.  But in some ways we may not understand—just like my kids didn’t understand why I couldn’t go to sleep until they got home—God’s commands are for His good too.  God has a purpose, a plan He is accomplishing.  When we obey, we are working with Him, instead of against Him.  Somehow, we are doing not only what is best for us, but what is best for Him.  We are loving Him when we obey.

          Third, we love God by loving people.  We’ve already seen that these two things are inextricably bound together.  We can’t love God without loving people.  One of the most practical ways we love God is by loving people.

ILL: One of the best ways you can love me is by loving my kids. 

For years, Scott Nicks led my son, Jeff’s, small group—through junior high and high school.  Scott loved my son, which wasn’t always easy to do—Jeff was a handful!  But Scott loved Jeff, and I can’t think of anything he could have done to love me more. 

Moms and Dads, you all know what I mean, don’t you?  When someone loves your kids—you love that person and you feel loved by them.

1 John 5:1 says “Everyone who loves the Father loves His child as well.”  We love God by loving His kids—by loving people.

So, how do we love people.

 

4. How do we love people?

          Love is doing what is best for another no matter what it costs you. 

          Love meets needs.  When you love someone and see them in need, you meet their needs.  You help.  You do what you can. 

1 John 3:17-18 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

This is a very challenging verse!  If we see someone in need and we can help, but have no pity, no compassion, and do nothing, how can the love of God be in us?  That is, how can we say we love God?  Or that person?  We can’t just say we love someone, we have to show it, and if they are in need, we show it by meeting their need as much as we can.

          Do you know what was Jesus’ most common emotion toward people?  Compassion.  Over and over, the Bible says He was moved with compassion for people and met their needs.  When He saw the blind, the leper, the outcast, the hungry—He was moved with compassion and met their needs.  That’s what love looks like.

ILL: This week, Dr. Steve Mills and his wife Rachelle, and their wonderful staff showed us what love looks like.

          Steve is a dentist, and when he heard that the kids in the African Children’s Choir had never seen a dentist and some had toothaches, he invited the whole choir to his office.  He already had a full schedule of patients for the week, but for several days, they worked late and even worked on their days off, and they treated 23 children and 3 of the chaperones, doing everything from cleanings and x-rays to fillings to a root canal!  All for free!  We’re talking about thousands of dollars of dental care—all free for these kids who have nothing. 

          When Laina and I stopped to say thanks, Steve and Rachelle and their staff were beaming with excitement.  “We should thank you!” they said.  “We loved it, and we’ve already scheduled them when they’re back in town in June.”  They told us that the kids made up a song and sang it to them.  “Thank you uncle for pulling our teeth!”

They saw people in need and they did what they could.  That’s love. 

          In March, you gave $67,000 to drill a well in Adiedo, Kenya for people who had no access to clean water; in May we drilled the well, and here’s a look at what’s happening.  (Picture)  In October, our driller is going to do some work on the well and hopefully will increase its production capacity, and we hope to put in an electric pump with a couple storage tanks.  Meanwhile, people are lined up for clean water.  Your generosity made that happen.  You saw people in need and did what you could…that’s love.

          A few weeks ago, when you heard about Grace, who lost her husband, and her 3 year old son, Emmanuel, who was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia, we were overwhelmed with offers to help—everything from money to offers to fly them here!  Today, because of your generosity, Grace is employed by Spring of Hope and is receiving a salary that more than makes up for what she lost when her husband died.  And Emmanuel is receiving medical attention and is getting better.  You heard about people in need and did what you could…that’s love.

          I could go on…but you get the picture.  A different kind of Christian—that’s what we want to be.  One who loves God and loves people.  One who is moved with compassion and meets needs in Jesus’ name.  That’s the kind of Christians we want to be.