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How do you apply love?

My wife and I met on the internet, and it was over the course of weeks that I began to love her, but I didn’t tell her. I didn’t tell her because we had never actually, physically met face to face. But even when I got off the plane, I didn’t blurt out, “I love you.” I waited, I waited so that I could hold her hand, walk with her, talk with her, look into her eyes, and yes even kiss her. Because I wanted to SHOW HER I loved her before I told her I loved her.

Why is that important? Well it’s important because I wanted her to feel safe, know that she could trust me, be familiar with me and so that when I finally did tell her that I loved her… she wouldn’t be surprised. So when I say, “I love you” she hears the words, but in those moments agrees and she thinks to herself, “I know this is true, because he has shown me that he loves me.”

You don’t want to tell someone you love them and have them shake their heads and say, “no you don’t.”

And I want to tell you something this morning, and this is certainly my story and I am hoping it is your story also – and I am hoping that you agree with me.

And that is each of us is the product of our upbringing and our environment and many contributing factors have made us the people that we are today, but more than the city we were raised in, or the books we read in school….

Two types of people have made us the people we are today. Two types of people have influenced our lives the most and made us the people are we. And it’s not necessarily people of faith, people who were related to us, or people who held a certain political viewpoint.

“Two types of people have shaped us and influenced us into the people we are today: People who have hurt you and people that have loved you.” (Pastor Andy Stanley)

I believe you and I were are shaped and influenced the most, by the people around us who love us and the people who hurt us. And the truth is, those people can be anyone. You can be hurt by people who believe the right things and who from the outside look like fine upstanding citizens and you can be loved by people who had their faith and beliefs all messed up.

Yes it’s great to have beliefs, and convictions and it’s wonderful to be people of faith, but it’s how those beliefs manifest that change and influence others. Remember Jesus didn’t’ say they world would know us by our doctrine or by or theology, he didn’t say, “it’s real important that you get a life verse.”  He said that we would be recognized by our actions. We would be recognized by how well we loved the world.

Pastor Andy Stanley said  “If we would just do what Jesus did instead of arguing about what he said, the world would change.” (2x)

Which raises the question, what did Jesus do? It’s a tough question, because he did a lot of things, and he didn’t’ seem to be very constant. You know what I mean? I mean if Jesus had always said the same thing to each person, or treated everyone the same, I think it’d be easier to be His follower, but what I find when I read the stories is – a Jesus who was constantly treating each new situation in a new and unique way.

Let me show you what I mean.

Matthew 19:16-22

A man came up to him (Jesus), saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”  He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness,  Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?”  Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

A rich man asks Jesus, “What must I do to gain eternal life?” And Jesus says “sell all of your possessions.” Wow… let’s look at another story

Mark 12:28-34

One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

(so again, Jesus mentions love at the height of Christian obedience.)

The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.” Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.

To the rich man, Jesus says “sell all your stuff,” and to the Pharisee, Jesus says, “You’re close to eternal life…” Wait how come he didn’t tell this man to sell all he had? The Pharisees were upper class. they lived well. How comes Jesus doesn’t tell this person to sell all their possessions?

How come Jesus is never consistent with his actions – how come he doesn’t have a life verse that he just applies evenly to everyone and every situation? Probably because everybody is different! No two people are alike – and no two situations are alike –  have you ever noticed that? Jesus noticed it – and so he doesn’t treat each person exactly the same.

To some people Jesus was very tender to, and to others he was very … cutting and to the point, sometime even sarcastic.

Why did he treat people differently?

I think because when you chose to love other people – it’s a messy thing – and it requires you to step into their lives, hear their stories – and then – apply love how they need.

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The true test

John – one of Jesus’ original 12 disciples wrote these words,

1 John 4:20-21

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Saul, who changed his name to Paul and became one of Christianity’s biggest influences writes these words…

Romans 12:117-18

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Paul says if it’s up to you – regardless of what others are doing – your job is to make peace.

And Jesus, the founder of our faith said in John 15:12

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

As long as Christians and the Church can remember the teachings of the scriptures, and not just remember them – and believe them – but act on them – live them out – the Kingdom of God…. grows…. spreads… multiplies…. lives.

Yes, there are many churches, many Christian leaders and many denominations, but there is one God and one gospel.  Jude, another of Jesus’ disciples reminds us…

Jude 1:3

3 Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people.

The message… the gospel.. the good news, has been entrusted to us. It’s our job to fulfill the commands of Jesus, it’s our job to represent Him well and to be the arms and legs of the church, the message has been entrusted to us, for safety, for security, for preservation, for clarity and for truth.

And  you know what? We still get it wrong, as much as we might want to learn our lessons from history, people still make mistakes. The church still ends up being on the wrong side of the argument, and our Christian leaders end up being part of great moral failures – and they let us down – why?

Because we’re all people. We’re all sinners. None of us are beyond disappointment. None of us are perfect. And so the church through the years also has a responsibility to uphold their image and their branding. Because despite the fact that we’re sinners (remember Jesus goes so far as to call us sheep) despite the fact that we sometimes pursue selfishness and we try to order things with our own power, Jesus reminds us that to be a Christian is to be his representative.

In a nutshell a “Christian” is to be a person who follows Christ, and Jesus says, when people see you – they are supposed to KNOW you by how you act. And Jesus says this is how I want you to act.

John 13:33-35

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Jesus says the true test to Christian recognition, the one way people will know that you belong to me and that you follow me is that if you love others.

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The history of Christianity

I think it’s funny sometimes to hear the argument “well, of course you’re a Christian, you live in America.” I’ve had relatives who have tried to convince me that my view of religion is too narrow because I was raised in America and that Christianity is an “American religion.”

I also remember reading a book one time where a Missionary went on a journey to the Middle East and he commented to his guide, how he was “surprised” to find so many Christians on his journey, to which the guide responded, “You’re surprised? Well, where did you think Christianity came from?”

Where did Christianity come from?

Of course Christianity begins with Jesus. Jesus lived during the time of Caesar Augustus and he preached a message that encouraged the Hebrew people to return to God and the foundations of their faith. Jesus modeled love, charity, healing, grace and humility and he spoke of living within (what he called) The Kingdom of God. Jesus had 12 core disciples who lived with him and he had hundreds more disciples who obeyed him and took his message to heart.

Jesus made a lot of fans among the poor and disenfranchised and he made a lot of enemies of politicians and the religious elite. His enemies in the end, had to join forces in order to put an end to his campaign and Jesus was arrested and publicly executed.

But because Jesus was more than a teacher, and more than a preacher, he proved he was the son of God by rising from the dead, and 3 days after his death he showed himself to hundreds of people to prove that he was alive. And this proof, of a resurrected Savior was what helped the faith to spread through Jewish communities and beyond.

The Christian church began shortly after that. After Jesus left and ascended to Heaven the disciples gathered together in an upstairs room and received the power of Jesus’ Holy Spirit and it was from there that, one of their number, a disciple named Peter, stepped outside and began to preach. He preached until 3 thousand people chose to follow Jesus and become Christians.

The Church had it’s roots in Jerusalem and many of the first Christians were Jewish. And even though amongst the Jews there were already several other branches of faith, the Christians were different because they preached a message apart from anybody else, in fact one of the things Christians talked about, was the idea that the Hebrew people had failed to recognize their own Messiah, and even gone as far as to kill him. Well you can imagine this made the religious groups pretty mad, so mad in fact that a man named Saul took action; and he decided to destroy the faith and it’s followers single handedly.

But all the while this persecution was taking place, Jesus’ disciples spoke out all the more. Phillip went to Samaria, Peter preached to the Gentiles and Saul…. who had been such an enemy of the faith, was transformed by God to become one of it’s biggest supporters. Saul took the message of Jesus all over the Greco-Roman word, and all the way to Rome itself.

But in the year 70, hostility between the Hebrew people and the Romans came to a boil and war broke out. Jerusalem ends up being destroyed and along with it many of our Christian texts. And for the next 240 years the Christians were persecuted by the Roman empire.

But in the year 312,  the Roman Emperor Constantine claimed to have had a conversion experience; and about 70 years later, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.

Bishops were given places of honor in the government, and by 400 ad, the terms “Roman” and “Christian” were almost synonymous.

Through the next centuries, various Christian councils were held in an attempt to determine the church’s official theology. Christianity had always existed in pockets and churches for so long, that everyone had sort of been on their own, and so now there was an attempt to solidify a common ground and a common faith.

And as the Roman Empire grew weaker, the church became more powerful, and many disagreements broke out between the churches in the West and those in the East. The Western church, based in Rome, claimed apostolic authority over all other churches, and the bishop of Rome had even begun calling himself the “Pope” (which means Father). This did not sit very well with the Eastern church. This resulted in “the Great Schism in 1054,” in which the Roman Church and the Eastern Church divorced each other and broke all connections.

Through the Middle Ages the church in the West appeared to have more bad days than good and the church was fighting claims that they were abusing their power. In that time many people had tried to speak up against the political changes and the abuses, but it all came to a head in 1519 when a German monk named Martin Luther took his own stand and with him and his voice came the Protestant Reformation and the end of the Middle ages.

The Reformers, people like Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, said that authority didn’t lie in the church or its leaders, but came from the Bible alone. They also said that sin wasn’t abolished through works or money, but only through faith in Jesus Christ,

This radical new teaching bought about the modern age and the age of missions. From 1790 to the 1900s, the church took an interest in missionary work. Colonialism had opened the need for missions, and industry had provided people with the financial ability to fund the trips across the world. And so missionaries began journeying all around the world – preaching the gospel, and as they went – churches were built and the Kingdom of God grew.

Today, the Roman Church and the Eastern Church have taken steps to mend their broken relationship. And I think what we learn from our own history is that when it becomes an us vs them philosophy – we all lose. When Christians make enemies of other Christians or when Christians try to bully their own way over other Christians – we all lose.

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Authentic

So in trying to discover the “ingredients of a Christian”- what would be the opposite of a hypocrite?

A Christian is AUTHENTIC.

But if a Christian is authentic and the people of the world are hungry for spirituality, why aren’t they looking to the church? Why aren’t we barricading the doors to keep out the droves of people trying to get in here? Well, there may be several answers to that question, but I think part of the reason is that….many churches… and individual Christians… are not authentic.

The world looks at the church and sees…. people who cheat in their businesses, cheat on their spouses, and cheat on their taxes… people who lie. They still see people who gossip, worry, curse and complain just as much as they do, and sometimes even more!

In a word, they see ….hypocrites. People who say they have been changed, who go to church maybe even a couple of days a week, claim to be Christians, and yet …behave just like the rest of the world day in and day out.

You know what I think, I think our culture longs to see real Christians, not perfect Christians, but real Christians… Authentic Christians.

What is authenticity? It’s when what I say, is also what I do. It’s when what I believe is what I display. My life – matches up. If I am in private, I act the same in pubic. It means when I give my word – it can be held as a guarantee. My inside is like my outside.

But sadly, We all face the temptation to try to be what we aren’t.

“Half of the misery in the world comes from trying to look, instead of trying to be, what one is not!” George McDonald.

So how does one recapture authenticity? How do you hold on to being an authentic Christian?

1. SERVING

Serving is when we worship God and serve God and love God and we do so out of love and not obligation. All of this… church.. we do it because we love God and we want to serve him. We don’t sing because it’s what everyone else is doing, we don’t sing because we like our favorite songs, we don’t give because we’re supposed to, no – all of this is our response from love. Love for a Holy God.

When your leadership asks for help, either with leadership, teaching, giving or volunteering, we’re not really looking for “workers” we’re looking for “lovers.”

People who will come and pour out their hearts in the worship and service of God.

Another way to stay authentic happens through…

2. STUDYING

Each of us need to make time to pursue God in Bible study and prayer. Each of us needs the inward journey to ensure that our outward actions “line up.”

James 4:8

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

Who are the double minded? The people of 2 faces, right? Hypocrites. James says the answer comes not in trying to figure ways out of our obligations, not in running away – but running towards, God. Not asking, “how little can I do?”  but “WHAT ELSE CAN I DO?”

And another way to pursue authenticity happens in …

3. SHARING

Having times in your life of sharing, praying, and talking about God with your family and friends. The apostle Paul writes….

Romans 1:11-12

For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine

Paul says there is an importance of reading the scriptures and then in talking it out and being a part of the conversation. This is why we encourage you to be a part of a Sunday School class or be a part of a small group. And listen don’t wait – don’t wait for your church to create time of fellowship – seize your own destiny and grab a few other couples or friends that you love and say, “let’s meet at my house for coffee and let’s talk about the Bible each week.” Or “let’s have dinner” or desert, or whatever.

This isn’t a good idea – you need this.  Look, what takes place up here, me, teaching, this is just lecture. Right? But you also need lab work, you need study groups, you need time to grab the raw materials and the vials and the beakers and you need to mix and craft and create and talk for yourself – why? Paul says to be “mutually encouraged.” Paul said it was important to HIS faith. And you know if Paul needed it, I most certainly need it.

Listen, God will never honor a two-faced, work-around, loop-hole looker Christian. And if that’s your preferred method, I would argue that you’ll never grow in your faith either. We look for loopholes to avoid challenge, avoid pain and avoid stretching… but that’s part of growing, that’s part of maturing.

God is not going to give us blessing only so that we can pursue our own desires and sins. The Bible says rather we receive power and blessing when we obey Him and we do things out of love for His praise and glory.  Looking for loopholes is us pursuing our own will… but an authentic Christian is interested in pursuing God’s will.

And if you and I are going to live Authentic Christian Lives, then we need to be REAL. We need to say no to the things of our former self, and say yes to the things of God, no matter how they stretch us.

Understanding and living the elements of an authentic faith will enable us to live and pursue all that it means to be a Christian.

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Why did the Titanic sink?

What does God want us to do with laws, commands, rules and morality anyway? How should we respond to the 613 laws in the Bible? That’s a lot to follow. What does Paul teach us?

Romans 13:8-10

“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and …any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”

Wow – Paul says the fulfillment of 613 laws of the Bible can be obeyed simply by adhering to one principle – “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Paul said pull out any rule, law or command and its summed up in “love each other.” In fact he says “you can pull out any command you want and it wont conflict with “love your neighbor.”

Does that line up with what Jesus taught?

Let’s look…

Matt 22:34-40

One of them, a lawyer, asked (Jesus) a question to test him.  “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

“Good answer Jesus… but who is my neighbor?”

Sound familiar? Of course it does – it’s the “loophole question.” Because now, all I got to do is prove the person that I hate is NOT my neighbor and I am home free. (pfts) This religion thing is easy!

Is that what God wants?  Listen, a disciple of Christ does not look for a work around and a loop hole. A Disciple doesn’t say “how little can I do?” Who can I get away with not loving?”

The bible is very clear on this.

I always get the question “well what does the bible say about this or that?” The truth? You want the truth? The bible says a lot of things. And people are famous for making it say what they want it to say – but the question isn’t so much “What does the bible say,” but …what is God’s will? What does God want? What has God always wanted? Because humanities interpretation of the Bible changes year after year, but God’s will never changes.

Malachi 3:6 “For I the LORD do not change.”

Numbers 23:19 “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?”

Humanity may progress and be enlightened and journey, but ….God doesn’t change.

You can find a loop hole – and work around what the Bible says, I guarantee it. But you’re in dangerous ground if you’re looking…

James 1:26 says

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless

That’s harsh. James says if you KNOW what you’re supposed to do – supposed to believe – and yet you try to trick your heart (in other words you look for a work around) – James says your religion is worthless

I found this quote earlier this week

“Either you allow (the) Holy Scriptures to change you, or you will normally try to use it to change–and clobber–other people. It is the height of idolatry to use the supposed Word of God so that my small self can be in control and be right. But I am afraid this has been more the norm than the exception in the use of the Bible.” – Richard Rohr

Jesus calls the loophole religious “hypocrites” – hypocrite is the Greek word hypocrite (hypo – means under and krino means “to judge”) and it means an actor, or a pretender, a counterfeit – in other words an imposter – a fake a phony.

When the prophet Samuel went to look for a King of Israel he had nothing to go by except for looks. It was like a beauty contest – who wins? The prettiest boy, right? But that’s all outside, that’s all paint and makeup – so what does God say to Samuel?

1 Samuel 16:7

“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Let me ask you a question – if you’re a hypocrite do your fellow church members know? Probably not. Does God know? Absolutely.  Why? Because God knows your heart.

God knows if you’re trying to obey his word – he knows if you’re trying to be obedient, he knows if you’re trying to follow his will and be authentic – or if you’re just trying to find loop holes and ways to stick to your guns because  you believe what you want to believe.

The bottom line is – if your heart is looking for loopholes – God is going to know.

A recent Harris Poll conducted found that 65% of High School students would cheat on a test if given the chance.

In 2009 Dr. Dennis Cudy said on a talk show, “Lying is an important part of social life, and children who are unable to do it – are children who may have developmental problems.”

The Titanic film came out in 1997, and it might have been a while since you saw it, but do you know why the unsinkable ship… sank?

Yes, because of the iceberg, but do you know why else? Because the system that sealed off the flooded areas of the ship didn’t work.

6 of the 16 watertight compartments were damaged. The ship started taking on water in the bow through openings about 20 feet below the water line. So as the liner nosed down, water flooded compartments one after another after another and the ship’s stern began rising out of the water.

And you know, many people today think that compartmentalizing their life will work. They believe even if THIS one area of their life is full of sin, and it’s sinking, it’ll be alright, because the other areas are all clear. . .  but it doesn’t work that way. When the time comes, a life based on compartmentalization will sink!

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