MCML - Love God
Shea Sumlin shared a story about a friend he had in college. This friend was living an a old house with 5 other guys, and it was truly a college guys house. They only had the basic necessities, the only chair in the house was one they had found on the side of the road, a few of the guys had a mattress that were on the floor and the other guys just slept on the floor. I mean this was a college guys house, that basically had four walls, a floor, and nothing more.
Well his friend got a bonus check from his job and decided that he was going to share his new found riches with his house mates. They guys got together and made a list of things they needed to make their house better, they decided that they would pass on buying the things that weren’t a necessity like a stereo or a pop corn machine and focus on more practical things. They figured that they could buy some bean bags to have a place to sit, and a table and some chairs so that they would have a place to eat. They would hit flee markets and thrift stores to get the best deals and if they had any money left over they would be able to get other things like a stereo. So they divided up the money and set out in groups to find the best deals. After a few hours the first group made it back to the house with a table, chairs, but it was late into the evening by the time the second group showed up.
When they second group arrived they didn’t come back with a bunch of beanbags. They came back with a ferret. His friend was pretty confused, what’s the deal with the ferret and where are the bean bags? His housemates said they were out looking for bean bags when they came across guy selling this ferret and they agreed that they would rather have a pet than a place to sit. Shea said in the midst of the mission these guys got distracted and forgot to keep main thing the main thing.
We are in the middle of a series entitled Model City, Model Love. If we are going to truly love this city, and be the vessel that God uses to bring about a revival, we have to make sure that we have not lost sight of the main thing that we have been called to do. Grab your Bibles and turn with me to the text that Scott read for us this morning from Mark 12.
The Pharisees and Sadducees would often get together and argue trying to find which of the commandments were important and which ones didn’t matter all that much. Kind of like folks who say that adultery and murder are huge, but then turn around and not pay a lot of attention to gossip and arrogance. They honestly wanted to know which sins were okay to commit and which ones were deal breakers. What is the greatest commandment? So they came to Jesus and instead of speaking in a parable or answering their question with a question, Jesus answers their question with absolute clarity. The most important one says: ‘People of Israel, you have only one Lord and God. You must love him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.’ Jesus says, essentially, if you take all 613 commandments, and you boil them down, they boil down to 2, but the second one flows from the first.
The call to love God is at the very essence a call to acknowledge that there is something greater than ourselves.
We live in a culture that says, you are the authority, you are the one who get’s to decide what’s right and what’s wrong. Our society preaches this theology, that everyone is right. They preach that we must be accepting of everyone’s opinion, choices, lifestyles, religions, and decisions. We approach life in very much the same way we approach the buffet. We pick and choose what beings me pleasure, what I like. So I get a little steak maybe some crab legs, but no Brussels Sprouts or broccoli for me please. I mean I have to save room for ice cream. So when Jesus says Love the Lord your God, His biggest cultural sin is that He is claiming that God is the authority. And that’s something that culture has always struggled with.
We cannot claim that God is the authority, because we don’t really know who God is. When people out in our community talk about God, I often wonder who they are talking about. I mean that are not talking about the God that describes Himself in the pages of scripture. They are talking about some kind of Franken-God that they have created out of bits and pieces of things they’ve heard or assumed. They looked at different religions and picked and choose a bit of this and a bit of that. They can’t love God because they don’t have an understanding of who He is or His personality.
Time and time again in the gospels we see that Jesus went round and round with folks who misunderstood God and His personality. These folks wanted to reduce God down to a bunch of rules and laws that they have to keep. They thought God was only as big as the rules which made them forget why the rules were there in the first place. God’s love is on display in John 5 when Jesus heals the lame man while the religious folks got bent out of shape because it happened on the Sabbath. Jesus shows God’s personality when He ate a meal with tax collectors Matthew and Zacchaeus while the religious folks based their standing with God on who they excluded. Jesus gave these folks standing because that’s what love does, and His personality is love.
Some folks are comfortable believing that God is whatever they say He is. That’s a misunderstanding of His love, compassion, and grace. We forget that God, in His love, rescued us before we even knew that we had a need to be rescued. God has the authority to redeem us and shower us with grace. But we tend to get so fixated on the here and now, that we forget that His greatest desire is to love us.
Did you notice that in this commandment Jesus speaks to us in the singular: You [individually] shall love the Lord your [personal] God. We do not worship a God, but the God, the authority and power in the universe, who wants to have an exclusive love relationship with each one of His people. God doesn’t want to be the chief thing; He wants to be everything. I heard someone say “If God is not Lord of all, He’s not Lord at all.” That’s exclusive language for an exclusive relationship with an exclusive God.
The ability to love God above everything else is the defining mark of a Child of God. That’s true of us individually and of us collectively. Do you know how are we known in the city around us? What people in our community think about us? Is The Greenbrier Church of Christ known, first and foremost, as a church that passionately loves Jesus Christ and loves others around us?
I wanted to know how people though about us, so I went to the Oxford Exchange and did a little survey. I wanted it to be as objective as possible, so I told folks that I was doing a survey about the Anniston / Oxford Area. I asked about some different restaurants, attractions, hospitals, and then I asked them about three different churches: The Harvest Church, Hillcrest Baptist Church, and Greenbrier Church of Christ. I talked to 23 people and not a single one of them knew who we were. So, maybe just maybe, we have missed the main thing.
Jesus is calling us back to the main thing, the first and great commandment: Loving God with all our heart, all our soul, and our mind. There is not a doubt in my mind that if I were to ask for a show of hands of the people who want to love God that every hand would shoot up. I mean you got up on rainy Sunday morning and came to a building to gather with other folks in an effort to worship and love God. But if I were to ask for a show of hands of people who truly believe that they were loving God with all their hearts, minds, bodies, and souls; well that might bring about a different result.
We are not that far removed from the teacher of the law who wanted to know who had the authority in his life. We have the same struggle, and there are a few reason why: First, we have a problem with our heart, the part of us God made to be able to love.
When we lived in Fayette, the church would rent out the bowling alley in Vernon and spend a few hours bowling and spending time together. My family likes to bowl, and while I am not great I’m ok. We have our own shoes, and our own bowling balls. We know how to hook the ball so that it will hit between the first and third pin so that you can get action on the pins and have a better chance for a strike. But I hated going to the bowling alley in Vernon. It was an older bowling alley and not very well maintained. The lanes had definitely seen better days and were never waxed. Plus, through years of use they had developed a slant. The result was that no matter how straight the ball came out of your hand it would always go to the right or to the left.
We have the same problem with our lives, no matter how hard we try to love God, life gets in the way and we veer off course. The Apostle Paul sympathies with our struggle; he writes in Romans 7:19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. That's our problem as well. We want to do what is right, we want to love God, but we get in our own way. It’s amazing how accurately Paul captures what is going on in our lives.
Sometimes, in my life, it’s like I am two different people. One side of me enjoys living within the things that are good, things that are holy. There is a side of me that wants to love God, be humble about my mistakes, be honest about my actions. There is a side of me that really wants to love God with my entire being.
And then there is that other side, the side of me that tends to focus on my own selfish comforts and goals. The side that fails time and time again. It’s not that I am being outright defiant against God. I have a heart problem. I want to do good, I want to avoid sin, but I veer, I forget the main thing.
Before we can truly love God they way He deserves to be loved, we need to get a new heart. We need to understand that because of our decisions and selfishness we need more than a really good heart cleaning, we need to make the same request that David made after he was confronted by Nathan. Maybe you remember the story, In the springtime when Kings go out to war David stayed home. He had an affair with Bathsheba which caused her pregnancy. He has her husband sent to fight on the frontline of battle where he would inevitably be killed. After murdering Uriah, David married Bathsheba, and in judgement, the child they had conceived passed away. For the next two years David drifted farther and farther away from God. So Nathan the prophet approaches David and uncovered his sin.
David had never been farther from God in his life. He was still the king, He was still trying to make it look like everything was okay. He was still playing the part, but the slant of His heart caused him to drift farther and farther from God. His selfishness and sinfulness had overtaken his heart until there was no way that he could love God will all his heart, mind, soul, and strength. But in a beautiful act of repentance, David writes the 51st Psalm. In this psalm he gives us the secret on how to deal with our heart problem when he asks God, Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. He doesn’t ask God to clean his heart, he goes back to the language of Genesis 1, God once again create in me something good so I can love you the way I want to love you. Maybe today you also need to ask God to create a new heart in you as well.
The second reason that we struggle to love God is that we want to have a functional relationship with Him and not an affectionate relationship.
We have been lead to believe that we can best love God by doing things that look like what a child of God would do. We are a member of a church family, we attend services, we go to Bible Studies, we spend our time and energy doing and saying religious things, but we have no affection for God. We can sing about loving God, talk about loving God, and never really love God. We have been convinced that we are supposed to fake it until we make it. The problem is that we live our whole lives faking it, and we never grow in our affections for Him.
It doesn't matter how many things you accomplish, how many things you achieve how functional your relationship with God is if at the end of each day, you don't love God a little bit more. If your daily activities haven’t drawn you closer to God then you have really just wasted that day. Because God did not create you and put you on earth just to mark things off your to-do list, He put you here to know Him and love Him.
We read in the 149th psalm that the Lord takes pleasure in His people. You and I were created for God’s pleasure? We are made in His loving image with the ability to love Him back. The ability to love God is unique to humans, God never calls anything else in all creation, not the plants, not the animals, not the seas, not the stars to to love Him. But we were created for God’s pleasure and to find our pleasure in God.
People who are truly interested in an affectionate relationship with God understand that it takes work and it takes time. Relationships take time to cultivate, to deepen. If we’re going to learn how to love God, it’s going to take time to mature and deepen that relationship. There is no shortcut to intimacy, you have to put in the time with our God who is ever available, ever accessible, and who longs to commune with His children. Love is a process, and something that takes time and work.
I first told Trista that I loved her in the fall of 1994, and I loved her to the best of my ability. That was 23 years ago; I was in love with the idea of her, I was in love with the sight of her. I had a very surface and immature love for her. But you wouldn’t expect me to still love her that way now. Real love is supposed to mature and grow; it has depth and a beauty all it’s own. There is something lovely about real love.
One of our struggles we face living in our instant, fast paced, society is that we seem to have forgotten that real love takes time. It takes time to get to know God, to understand how much He love you, and how much He has done to draw you into His love. The more we get to know God, the more we will love Him. God knows everything about you, and we know almost nothing about God. Yet God loves us in spite of everything He knows about us.
Where there is a lack of time built into a relationship with God, there’s distance. Where there’s a lack of communication with God, there’s distance. Where there is a lack of understanding and knowledge about God, there’s distance. Where there is the presence of sin and the lack of holiness, there’s distance. We can’t enjoy a relationship with God unless we allow Him to have ultimate authority in our lives. So if you find yourself at a place where your love has been waning, maybe it’s time to get back to the beginning and once again pursue of the One who has pursued us first.
I know that in my own life, the times when I have failed to love God the way He deserves is because I failed to understand how deeply He loved me. The prophet Jeremiah said God has loved us with an everlasting love.
This morning, if your love, if your zeal for God has cooled, let me offer you a gentle reminder that we are here this morning in the presence of a God who, while we were still sinners, sent Christ to die for us. We have gathered here this morning in the presence of our God who has an everlasting love that is unparalleled by any human love you’ll ever experience. And when we understand how deeply we have been loved, then we can begin to find our hearts in a place of worship.