September 13, 2010

Build on the Foundation of Loving God

Here is what I would have said...if I had actually read my notes while preaching. For more information about the new church in Huber Heights, check out Crossroads Vineyard Church online or on Facebook:

Over the next few months, as part of our Go Bigger Series, we are going to be looking at some key issues that help us live for something bigger than ourselves. These are foundations for us as people and us as a church. They have to be the key building blocks if this church we are building in Huber is to stand and grow.

They are also important for us as people. If we want our lives to have true meaning and purpose, we must live for something that is bigger than ourselves. So at each of our monthly services, we are going to look at one area where the Bible helps us live bigger than ourselves and also helps us as a church fulfill God’s mission in this world.

We are starting, as we should, with God. I have come to believe that serving God automatically gives you something to live for that is bigger than yourself. It is very important, however to explore how it is we relate to God.

There are five very common but very wrong ways of relating to God. Most us have or have had a combination of these and not just one. And unfortunately they have also been used, condoned and promoted by many in the church...yet they are completely unbiblical!

Let’s take a look at them.

Five Common But Wrong Ways to Understand to God:
This is one of the most common ways we relate to God. And it has also been the biggest tool for churches throughout history. Most of us would not call it fear outright, but it is fear nonetheless. It comes disguised in a couple of different ways. It is at the root of our serving God because we fear that He will “get” us if we don’t do what we are supposed to do. So we try to live right and do all the good things we can so that God won’t punish us. Another way it shows up is in the fear that we will end up in Hell. Hell, I am sure, is not a good place. I remember sitting in church, gripped with fear...not because of God...but because I was afraid of Hell and I saw God as the one who would send me there. Many of us have that fear because it was and is a common tactic for “getting people saved.” But I changed my view on that a long time ago because I can’t for the life of me find it any where in the Bible where Jesus uses the idea of hell to threaten people into getting saved. It isn’t that I don’t believe in Hell or anything like that...I just don’t believe God ever intended us to use it as a battering ram to get people into the Kingdom.. Now there are places in the Bible where it talks about fearing God. But it isn’t our primary response to God and it isn’t an ongoing state. Throughout the Bible, when it talks of fear, it talks of it in a positive being reverential. It is understanding that we, as the created, are in the presence of the almighty God of the universe. And that creates a sense of fear as awe not as being scared.

Business Partner
Those of us who fall into this category are constantly making deals with God. There are many who serve God as a way of making a bargain with Him. I will do all the good stuff so that bad stuff won’t happen. “God,” we say, “I can’t have cancer or this bad stuff can’t happen to me...I have been serving you for x number of years!” Or, it shows up more subtly when something bad happens and we start examining our lives intensely to see what we have done wrong to deserve it. We are treating God like a business partner. You scratch my back and I will scratch yours. I do what is right and you make sure I have an easy or at least disease free life or you protection for my family. This also happens when we see “salvation” as a deal we have made with God rather than a relationship we have entered with Him. A deal and a relationship are two very different things. I will do what the Bible says and you will take me to heaven and not send me to Hell. Deal making has nothing to do with caring about the person of God. It is just a way of selfishly looking out for our own self-interest.

Santa Claus
Some view God as the big guy in the sky who gives us good things when we ask. We are always asking God to bless our lives, our careers, and our families. We thank God for making our rap or country album go double-platinum..Well, not my rap album, nobody bought that one. But you know what I mean. It shows up when we view God as the one who is going to give me stuff. Our prayers sound like Christmas wish lists with request after request. As I was writing this section, I realized that my prayers had become long lists of requests because I am planting this church. Please God give this for us...rather than spending time with Him. It isn’t that He doesn’t want us to bring our needs to just shouldn’t be the entirety of our prayers.

Good Luck Charm
Bri and I were watching Sportscenter a few mornings ago...okay, I was watching Sportscenter and Bri was along for the ride...but anyway, this one player made a diving catch in the outfield, jumped up, and made the sign of the cross and pointed heavenward. Bri says, “He must be Catholic!” He might be. I am not judging him personally. But we have all seen the person, or been the person, who keeps their cross or prayer beads next their lucky rabbits foot...or who make the sign of the cross over themselves before doing something...not because it is a truly meaningful and spiritual action, but simply because it is meant to bring good luck as an act of superstition.

Cosmic Kill Joy
This is the view of God that says, “God doesn’t want me to have any fun. So He makes us live by rules and laws that suck the joy right out of life!” Comedian Adam Ferrara said, “I grew up Catholic. Basically the Catholic religion is if it feels good...stop!” Adam’s joke about Catholicism is how many of us see God. He is ready to put a damper on anything we do that is fun. A couple of weeks ago, Lori and I were having dinner with Cyndi and Jason. We were there to do some church business, but Jason pulled out his smartphone, opened the Pandora app, and started playing 80’s Hair Band music. Now, Lori and I are fans of 80’s Hair Band music. I mean we don’t just recognize the names of the bands or a few songs...we’ve been known to publicly embarrass our daughter by singing a little Def Lepard or Poison. But the church I grew up in was a VERY conservative church. I mean they put the uptight in conservative. And I knew, because they told me, that God didn’t want me to do this or that (some of which I still believe He doesn’t want me to do), but I definitely wasn’t supposed to listen to rock music. I enjoyed rock music, and I just found it odd that God had decided that I shouldn’t listen to one particular style of music when He seemed to really like whatever kind of music they liked. Their view of God seemed very un-fun. And so my view of God was that of Cosmic Killjoy. He didn’t want me to have very much fun.

Each of these ways of relating to God are common. They are found in both Christian and non-Christian alike. The problem is they stand in direct opposition to how the Bible says we are to relate to Him.

Matthew 22:34-40
"Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:

'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?' Jesus replied: ''Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.'"

Jesus’ enemies had been trying to trap him. They asked question after question hoping to trip him up and get him to say the wrong thing. They now rested on what could be described as the impossible question. “Which of the commandments is the greatest?”

It wasn’t a new question, and this wasn’t the first time people were debating its answer. Rabbi’s and teachers asked and debated it all the time...but everyone knew what the right answer to give in pubic...They are all the most important!

It’s like what you call a Sunday School answer...In Sunday School class it was the questions where the answer was easy, didn’t require much thought, wouldn’t create a stir and was usually “Jesus” or “The Bible.” Or something like that.

I hate Sunday School answers. They are like eating Twinkies for dinner...they are vaguely satisfying at first, but after 10 minutes you realize they didn’t hit the spot, you have a sugar crash, and you have to go back looking for something of actual substance.

Jesus obviously doesn’t like Sunday School answers either because when asked the question...Jesus actually gives them an answer.

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.”

Let’s take a moment and break this verse apart...

Jesus’ statement is that we are LOVE the Lord our God.

Not fear Him.

Not make deals with Him.

Not make endless requests of Him.

Not live in slavery to rules.

We are to Love Him. To love God means we delight in Him, find our greatest fulfillment in Him, and seek God for Himself and not for the stuff He can give us or the things He will do for us.

Real love doesn’t look at what it gets in loves the person for who they are. God wants us to respond to Him out of love for Him...and not out of obligation.

This past week was Lori’s birthday. We have a party scheduled and all, but we all like to be remembered ON our birthday don’t we? So Bri and I went to the store bought a small cake, her favorite ice cream, some flowers, Esther Price’s candy, and Bri made this banner that said, “Happy Birthday!”

So when she got home...we jumped out and yelled “Surprise!”

Then she said, “You guys didn’t have to do all this!”
To which I responded, “Of course we did. We had to do it because, as your family we are obligated to make you feel special on your birthday. And I know from experience that I have to make you happy or I won’t be happy. So there you go! Happy Birthday!”

No, I didn’t say that all. The that I’m still breathing. But beside that small detail...I would never say something like that because it isn’t true. We did all of that because we love her.

And there are many people, I think, who are going to be shocked because they have lived their lives doing all this stuff for God. They have talked about God. They have attended church, served the poor, and lived morally upright, and yet they have missed the most important part. They have failed to actually LOVE God. They are responding out of fear, guilt, obligation, or relating to Him as their business partner or sugar daddy.

They have have loved what He could do FOR them, but have not actually loved God himself.

So the question becomes, “How do we love God?” And this is one of the areas that often frustrates me with the Bible. I like simple, clean, point by point directions, and the Bible doesn’t give me an easy 5 step plan to how to love God. What it gives me is story after story of imperfect people like me learning to love God. These stories show people making mistakes and screwing up royally...but still trying to love God...and God continuously loving them.

It also gives us the story of the person who represented what God is actually like so that we could know who we are loving. You see, a big part of learning to love God is learning who God is and what He is like. Many claim that God is unknowable...even some mistakenly within the Christian faith...the problem is that God has a history of revealing Himself to His creation, and ultimately revealing himself in Jesus Christ...In Hebrews 1:1-3 it says,

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.”

So if you want to know what God is like...look at Jesus. And if you want to know what it means to love Him, spend time reading the Bible. Spend time reflecting on what it means to love your children, your spouse, your family. You’ll find there are a lot of similarities.

We love the person for who they are and not what they can give us. We spend time with them. If we love them we make them a priority in our lives. I am constantly asking myself how a particular decision I am about to make will affect those I love. I do things for them that they expect me to do because love does come with responsibilities. There are no easy steps...but there is a lifetime of learning.

The next part of the verse says to love God, “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

Many have tried to break this apart and find special meaning in each of the references...What does it mean when he says “heart”? What does he mean when he says “soul”? And on and on. But the emphasis isn’t on the individual things. It is on what those things represent as a whole...God expects this love to be an all-encompassing passion for our whole being.

As William Barclay says, “love of God must be a love that dominates our emotions, directs our thoughts, and is the dynamic of all our actions#.”

This love will encompass everything about our being.

This idea of loving God, rather than any other way of relating to him, has the ability to change our lives.

In 2000, Steve Fuller became a Christian at the age of 23. He has been on an interesting spiritual journey ever since. Last year he decided to visit 52 churches in 52 Weeks and write about that experience on his blog. For one of those services, he returned to the church where he had been saved, and reflecting on his salvation experience he said:

“On November 26, 2000, Dave Workman stood on the [Cincinnati] Vineyard's stage and gave a very simple talk that stirred my soul. He spoke about the greatest commandment: Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love other people.

It was just that simple. For the first time in my life, I thought, I can do that. Don't drink? Don't have sex? Don't curse? I had no idea if I could control my behaviors. Dance during worship music? Read the Bible? Pray? I didn't know if I had it in me.

But I could love God...So, I was sold. Two days later, I asked God to change my life.”

We can get caught up in rules and regulations, fear of this or that happening, whatever...Jesus says that the Greatest Commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” When we strip away all the other stuff and get down to actually start with the basics...It is about learning to really love God for who He is.

As we move forward, we must build this new church on a vision of loving God with everything in us...and we have to build our lives on that same foundation.

This morning, you may be with us for the first time...heck we are all here for the first time. But maybe you have never followed God because all those other ways of relating have gotten in the way. Or maybe, you have been a “Christian” but have followed for all the wrong reason. This morning, all God is asking us to do is to learn to love Him with everything we have got. And I want to give you the opportunity to throw off those other views and say, “I am not sure about the other stuff, but I want to love you God.”

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