Love your neighbour, Love yourself

I have a simple message for you tonight, prepared at short notice. I would contend though it is a very important message and a clarion call to authentic Christian living in a society that is increasingly hostile to the true Christian Gospel.

We are going to have a look at some of the most significant words our Lord Jesus Christ uttered whilst He walked the earth among us – words in which our very relationship with Almighty God depends. Before we apply these words to ourselves it is vital that we understand the proper historical context of the word and the source of Jesus words from the Old Testament. So we’ll start with that, and we’ll move on to how it impacts us today……

Toward the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus was asked the following question by the Pharisees – the religious leaders of the day:

36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

He replied

37 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.

38 This is the great and first commandment.

39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.

40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV)

To fully understand how radical and important His reply was we need to look at the significance of these words and where they come from. Turn with me to Deuteronomy 6:4….

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.

7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.

9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (ESV)

This is THE most important of all Jewish prayers, the ‘Semah Israel’ (the Jewish word for ‘hear O Israel’) It is a declaration of faith and a pledge of allegiance to God. Twice daily, recitation of the Shema Israel is a commandant for the Jewish people — it is said upon rising in the morning and going to sleep at night. It is said when praising God and when beseeching Him. The Shema Israel is the first prayer taught to Jewish children (as soon as they can talk) and it is the last words Jew says before death. It is a prayer of praise to God and it is a prayer of pleading, as well. The Shema is recited in preparation for the reading of the Torah on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays and at the end of the holiest day, Yom Kippur.

His audience, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day prided themselves on meticulous observance of the Law, so they would practice all of the above observances. Along with the Ten Commandments, they would have paid rigorous attention to all the laws in the books of Moses some 613 according to tradition. They would spend their days reasoning out the implications of the laws, and to make sure that they avoided even the possibility of violating any of them – an outward perfect observance.

However, Jesus makes it clear here that religious observance is not enough – and indeed mere observance of the law without LOVE is a perversion of what the Shema teaches.

You see Jesus understood that the Pharisees had lost sight of the very heart of the matter; they were observing the law externally, but not observing the law out of a motive of a love for God.

A paraphrase of that verse reads “Love the Lord Your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence Matt 22:37 (MSG). So, it’s bluntly clear that outward observance of the law was not enough. Without the pure motive of obedience out of a love for God, the external observance of the commandments becomes just a ceremony. In another place in the scriptures we can see that Jesus specifically warned the Pharisees of the danger:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean”

Matthew 23: 25-26 (NIV)

So, Jesus answers the Pharisees question with an extract from the Law. These are the highly religious men of the day – the very same men who constantly question Jesus’ authority, His teaching, His credibility; the men who out of ignorance and veiled eyes contrive his crucifixion. I don’t know what answer they expected to their question, but I am certain they did not expect Him to refer to the THE most important prayer that ever fell across their lips! But in doing so, He does not affirm them, He actually convicts them for their pious religious observance, which is rooted in self-indulgence, hypocrisy and outward appearance.

He takes it still further and contests that they should not only love God with every ounce of their being, but they are to love their neighbour and they are to love themselves. I shan’t be looking at the historical context of that second command today, but we shall certainly refer to it when we consider how this command of Jesus impacts on us as Christians.

Outward religious observance without a changed heart is not what the Lord looks for – it wasn’t then and it certainly isn’t now!

“……for the Lord sees not as man sees. For man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7 (MEV)

So in summary, Jesus uses the most important prayer in the Jewish tradition to condemn the religious leaders who consider themselves to be the role model and the pinnacle of that religious practice! The point that Jesus makes so clearly is you can look religious but if you are hardened and dirty inside it is just a show and a sham.

So much for the historical context, but what does this mean for us today?

I am going to make it simple (because I’m simple!) God is not interested in how many times a year you go to church; He is not interested in your service for Him week after week, year after year; he is not interested if you know your Bible inside out; He is not interested that you have watched Songs of Praise diligently for 30 years: he is not interested if you give money to good causes

UNLESS

you are doing these things out of a right heart attitude!!!!!!!!

Friends, I want to reassure you that our Dear Lord is not looking for perfect Christians. I’m glad about that because I would fail miserably on that count; He is looking for passionate Christians. He is looking for disciples who will follow Him through thick and thin and love Him because He first loved them.

“…….[his/her] sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much”

Luke 7:47b (KJV)

I know that many if not all of you here know the Love of God. Therefore I challenge you (and first and foremost myself) do you Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul and mind? Or has that love grown a little – dare I say – lukewarm, cold even over the years??

You see it is my contention that when we look at that command of Jesus in it’s entirety, I believe that if we are following / experiencing the first part of the commandment (to love God first), then the second will follow WITHOUT US HAVING TO THINK ABOUT IT TOO MUCH!

What Jesus commands to is an ACTIVE love, not a passive love. You see, to love the Lord your God with all of your mind, soul, strength requires commitment and effort; although it does overflow from a heart full of thankfulness , there are of course times when it doesn’t come so easily such as times of sadness and testing.

I confidently believe that if a believer has a wholehearted, full-on relationship, Spirit filled with God – i.e. loves God with all of him or herself, then loving others will come naturally – or more correctly, supernaturally. This is because His love will be apparent in all that we do or say; it comes across in our appearance; our body language; our compassion for the lost and the disadvantaged; sinner or saint alike we cannot but love our neighbour.

Now…. I am the first to admit that I fall far short of that standard, so what am I do do? Try and love my neighbour more? Be a better person? Well, that’s no bad thing I guess, but the single most important thing I can do is ASK GOD TO HELP ME FULFIL THE FIRST OF HIS COMMANDS – TO LOVE GOD COMPLETELY. This is because if I do so, then the second command will be a natural extension of who I am.

Which brings me on to the last part of my talk and there are some sensitivities here, so I will try to tread carefully. Out of our love for God, we ought to love ourselves too. For some, this is actually the hardest part of that command of Jesus to fulfil. Some are damaged by life events, or the way they have been treated during their lives and they have a negative view of themselves. This can present itself in many ways and none of them positive. We can suffer from clinical depression (which is NOT a sin or failure in God’s sight!), or low self-esteem. Very often if we show a lack of love and respect for others because we do not love and respect ourselves, and that is not an easy one to offer an answer to. It’s certainly beyond the scope of my talk tonight.

I would merely point you to who our Almighty God says you are, and if you struggle with this area in your life I am just pray over you now that the reality of this scripture would hit home to you.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

1 Pet 2:9-10 (NIV)

In conclusion:

Friends, be lovers of God – not lovers of religion!

Religion is not a dirty word (in some charismatic churches they pray for religion to be removed from the church). I don’t agree; religion is good BUT only when practised by the born-again believer. God does not require and indeed is grieved by empty religious activity, as evidenced by our passage tonight.

Keith Green once said “going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more that going to McDonald’s make you a Hamburger” (great quote!)

So I would urge you to look at your walk with the Lord this evening. Is all well? DO you do things you do in God’s name out of your love for him, or is it just something you do because you have always done it?

Has your love grown a little cold?

DO you find yourself not loving yourself or your neighbour as you should?

Then I would urge you to pray with me as we close this message. That all of us would be so transfixed on the loveliness of our Lord Jesus; so captivated by His sacrifice; so astonished that He would love a sinner like me; that we offer all of our hearts, minds and souls afresh to Him.

 

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A REALISTIC call to live a life of victory

Easter Sunday. This is considered a special day in the church calender – a victorious day, a happy day. I think it is great that we have a designated day that focuses on the reality of Christ’s resurrection (especially for non-Christians) but I am also so thankful that we don’t NEED this day, because we as Christians are encouraged and called to walk in the victory and power of Christ’s resurrection every day!

This is the reality: In Christ we have the victory; we have the power to overcome; we have the faith to believe mountains can and will move; we have overwhelming joy; we know we are loved; we are redeemed; we are victorious………

Except……… lets have a reality check here!

The reality is it doesn’t always seemingly work out like that or feel like that. If we are being honest with ourselves and others we sometimes get weighed down, discouraged; we lose the joy that we told in ours in Christ Jesus. We perhaps allow doubts to creep in and steal our assurance that Christ is in control. We continue to move forward, but we shuffle with our heads down rather than stride forward in the power of Christ with our heads held high.

Is THAT living as a Christian?

Well, as we are going to discover tonight…..we are on a JOURNEY of faith that one ends up in one place – a eternal place of praise, adoration and victory. For us who truly believe, each of us are in a different place on that journey and VICTORY IS ASSURED, despite any wobbles we have along the way.

Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith and it is in Him we have the assurance of eternal life and ultimate victory. As we remember over this Eastertide, it is a complete victory that came at such a great cost, as the only begotten Son of the Father was forsaken for us on the cross of shame.

However, as we know (and as we specifically remember today) that Christ’s death was not the end of the story! I would like to read two passages of scripture that detail the events immediately following Christ’s resurrection and then encourage us all that our own wobbles, doubts and fears are echoed even in the disciples response to Jesus’ resurrection. Then we’ll discover that Jesus has an answer for them and for us today!

In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre [tomb] And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.

His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.

He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you. And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.

Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted.

Matthew 28:1-8, 16-17 KJV

And then the same events from another writers angle, this time, Luke:

Jesus Himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be unto you.”

They were terrified and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Feel Me and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

When He said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. And while they yet disbelieved for joy and wondered, He said to them, “Do you have any food here?” They gave Him a piece of broiled fish and some honeycomb. And He took it and ate it before them.

He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets and in the Psalms concerning Me.”

 

 

Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. He said to them, “Thus it is written, and accordingly it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

Luke 24:36b-48 MEV

The disciples had walked and talked with Jesus right the way through His ministry years; they had seen thousands of people fed with a bit of fish and bread – twice; they had seen the blind see, the paralysed walk and even seen Lazarus raised from the dead. They had heard His parables and witnessed Jesus Himself proclaim that He was I AM (an absolute categorical proclamation that we was God Incarnate). His coming was the fulfilment of Biblical prophecy as Jesus Himself taught them.

This is Just one of those conversations from the book of Mark:

Now Jesus and His disciples went out to the towns of Caesarea Philippi; and on the road He asked His disciples, saying to them, “Who do men say that I am?”

So they answered, “John the Baptist; but some say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.”

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.”

Then He strictly warned them that they should tell no one about Him.

And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Mark 8:27-31 NKJV

So here, Jesus predicted his own death and resurrection (not for the first time). The disciples heard from His own mouth what was going to happen – yet they were dismayed, confused and bewildered when it did.

Therefore it is really interesting to examine for a moment the disciples reaction to the first appearance of the risen Lord Jesus:

…when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted.

They were terrified and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit….

And while they yet disbelieved for joy and wondered….

It is clear from these accounts that even though they had ‘walked with Him and that they talked with Him’ for three years they still didn’t understand or fully grasp what Jesus was teaching prior to His crucifixion……or they did but they still didn’t truly believe it.

The disciples just didn’t fully understand. They certainly believed He was sent from God – a Saviour, a messiah – but they were perhaps guilty of constructing a picture in their own mind of what their Savour looked like. We can perhaps speculate that they were expecting another King David, a warrior/King who would gloriously overthrow the oppression of the Romans.

What was Jesus response to their doubts, fears and unbelief?

Did he rebuke them or disown them for their wavering belief?

NO!! HE REASSURED THEM, HE SHOWED THEM HE WAS A PHYSICAL BEING, HE OPENED THEIR MINDS TO THE SCRIPTURES, HE ENCOURAGED THEM, AND COMMISSIONED THEM!

He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets and in the Psalms concerning Me.”

Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. He said to them, “Thus it is written, and accordingly it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things

It is at only at this point they fully understood who Jesus was, their doubts and fears answered, their purpose in Him revealed. The power to fulfil the commission was yet to come (at Pentecost), so we can refute the common fallacy that the disciples were cowering in a room in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit fell upon them. They were praying and waiting, but as they were waiting the last two verses of the Gospel of Luke tells us:

.they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy:

And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.

Luke 24: 52-53 KJV

These 1st Century, world changing events speak to us today.

It surely encourages us to know that Jesus’ own disciples, both before and even on occasions after the resurrection event we have looked at here, didn’t always grasp what the Master was doing. Although they had a perfect Teacher, they often failed to understand him correctly. Nevertheless, Jesus used them mightily to take the message of Christ to the nations.

The thing is, we haven’t physically walked with Jesus as they did. Our faith is built on ……the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1 KJV

So the reality is this….. If we are really honest with ourselves, there are times and seasons in our lives where we wonder where God is. Sometimes life events weigh us down or challenge our faith; sometimes we just drift away from the presence of God; sometimes we are disappointed that we have not seen answers to prayer; sometimes it is our own stubbornness and disobedience that puts distance between us and God.

As it was with the disciples in that day, He is in the revelation and restoration business today! So despite our doubts and fears, our disobedience and faithlessness He LOVES us, He CARES for us and He constantly reassures us of these things by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

We are far from perfect, we are However, children of the King. He is patient with us while we work through our struggles and fears; He is willing to teach us, open up our hearts to truth and revelation; he loves us with an everlasting love; He cares for us so much He was willing to sacrifice Himself for us.

What is also abundantly clear is this:

He longs to open our minds to understand the Scriptures

He longs to encourage us by means of His abiding presence

He longs to draw near to us

He has commissioned us

He has empowered us

He has SAVED US FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS

He has given us purpose

He has empowered us

He has given us all things to walk victoriously in HIS power.

A modern worship song puts so much better than I could:

Mighty Saviour, lifted high

King forever, Jesus Christ,

Crowned in glory, raised to life

The same power lives in us.

Let us therefore, tonight resolve to walk victoriously in the power of the resurrected Christ, despite our tendency to wobble and wavier.

 

True Worship?

What do we see as worship? Do we see the fast songs as praise and slower songs as worship? Is this the only worship we experience or take part in? Are we missing out on true worship?

Worship is not limited to songs and times with music within our church services. It is beautiful to be in a service and experience the powerful and important times of worship. These are needed in our walk with God and it is vital that churches include these times during services. Worship though is not only these times.

William Temple describes worship in this way,

“Worship is the submission of all our nature to God; The quickening of our conscience by His holiness; The nourishment of mind with His truth; The purifying of imagination by His beauty; The opening of the heart to His love; The surrender of will to His purpose – and all this gathered up in adoration with the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable, and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centredness which is the original sin and the source of actual sin.”

So should our worship be a ongoing, continual event? I think it has to be. If God loves and desires us to be in a continuous attitude of worship and it is evident in our lifestyles, hobbies, relationships and friendships, then it must be a constant in our hearts. Everything we do and say should be showing our worship and love of God. God sees our hearts and minds, which no one else can see. He can see how we worship and how we love.

2 Chronicles 16 v 9, “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him”

How amazing is it that God is loyal to those who love Him in all circumstances and desire to do His will. Worship is the start.

Praise is my strength

Praise, not complaining. Praise is my strength, my joy, my peace. The Word of God is where my praise comes from. Its where my strength is the written word. The Word is where my God and Saviour is. He is in every letter, every word, every book.
Have you noticed that when we complain or whine, that we seem so tired? It is as if it takes from us. What is the answer to this? The only thing that can change us from the inside out…. Praise to and of our Father God!
God and praise of, and to Him goes before us into any battle we have. It shows itself in how we react to others, how we relate to everyone we have in our life or meet in the street. It shows itself in how we spend our times with God, and even the depths we go in the Word.
God loves our praise, and if we love Him as much as we sing about in church on a Sunday, we will want to do what He loves us to do. God knows what is best for us. He loves us to praise and He knows it brings so much back to us.
There is a saying “dance like no one is watching”…. why dont we praise like no one is watching? No one to judge how we worship. No restraint. No one to laugh or tell us we are doing it wrong. Just praise as if we are in the throne room of our Father. No fear, just praise.

Praise when we dont want to

So World Cup fever has hit again, and there are England flags everywhere I go. My house looks a bit naked as I seem to be one of the only ones fairly disinterested in what happens and who wins. But it has made me think a bit. If England score a goal, how much noise is going to be heard in all the pubs and houses across the country? How happy will the country be? Will I hear my neighbours joyful cries and see tears if they actually win the cup?

If we can do that for a football, then why cant we do that every day to God who saved us from hell and eternal suffering? Isn’t that much more important than a game which will be forgotten in a few days? Isn’t Jesus dying on the cross and saving us with His own blood better than if Wayne Rooney lives up to his name and plays well? I know that some will say I am looking at it wrong and to let them have the fun of watching the World Cup without guilt, that I am taking it far too seriously, but I don’t think I am. I am sorry if I offend those who want to watch the games and scream and shout at the referee and cry if we score or win, but how does it offend your Maker and Father when you can’t be bothered going to church or talking to Him because the game is much more important to you? When at church you dont engage because you had a late night and just want to be back at home in bed? You don’t want to spend half an hour in the Word because you can hear the national anthem and know the match will be starting soon, or you just want to meet your mates down the pub for a few quick ones instead?

This is important.

David prayed and praised for the things God did for him, and for helping him be a good King. He also praised God for the things unseen as well. Praise is so important I can’t stress it enough, and I know very well that life seems to get in the way. Things seem to happen to stop us praying and praising. Kids, work, marriage, friends, stresses, illness, even things that happen the moment we pick up our Bibles or as soon as we get on our knees. The times you read or pray are when the Devil gets worried and he will put as much in our way to stop us as he can. He doesn’t play fair and he doesn’t play nice. He will do anything to get you away from the prescence of God, and out of that close intimate relationship you have with God.

Don’t let him. Don’t let him take your times of refreshing away from you. They might be the only times you feel like life isn’t as bad as it looks, or the only times of peace in your heart you get that day. Why let him take it away? If anything we need to fight harder for those times of praise than for anything else. There is opposition to a Christian who is growing and maturing into the person God wants you to become, and looking more and more like His Son. Keep growing and keep praising. You win a battle every time you do.

 

Feeling Worship

I am not too sure if it just me, or something that happens to us all at some point in our walk with Christ. I can worship anywhere, and no matter how good or bad the worship band are, or how well or badly led the service is. Its not the outside influences that lead me to worship, its how much I want to be in the throne room of my God, praising Him and knowing He is hearing my voice as well as every other person in the world praising Him at the same time. My prayers and praise rises to Him as incense in a world full of chaos and for many of us sadness and stress.

Worship takes me to a place of intimacy with my Lord which drowns out the stress and noise of life, and I love to be there. In a way, it is where I get refreshed and find a peace and calm I don’t feel anywhere else. I miss those times so much, even if I only miss one time of worship, whether in rehersal with my Husband or in my fellowship during the week or on a Sunday. I can feel it inside if there is a time that is missed, even if by illness. I feel the intimacy go ever so slightly. It takes a good praise time to place myself back where I know Christ is.

I feel that God waits for our praise. He watches us as we go about our days and weeks, and waits. He sees us get up and sees us go to bed. He inhabits our praise and loves to hear us and sing with us. We dont have to set a time apart to have a ‘quiet time’. We can praise Him anywhere, and everywhere. We can praise in our work, our friendships, our family and our church. If God Himself wants our praise and us to be intimate with Him, then what is stopping us? What could ever be more important than this? How can we put anything before the Lord of Hosts who wants time with each and every one of us? How would we act if the Queen of England or the Prime Minister wanted a personal time with us, and to just sit and talk and have fellowship with us? How would we feel? Really important? Privileged? Better than others? The King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Maker of Heaven and Earth wants just that. He wants to be intimate with us, to be our friend and Father.

Next time you really worship, stop and think about how the Spirit brings you closer to God. Do you feel like you can touch God Himself and at times can hear the very angels join with you? I think its the best place to be, and want to stay there for eternity.

Worship and the Trinity

I love Jesus and desire to worship Him all the time. He gave all for me, and the very least I can do is to worship Him and give Him my all back.

I love the Father and my desire is to always give Him my praise and worship for who He is. I want to give Him all glory and honour and to make sure He is forever glorified.

The Spirit loves both the Father and the Son. He wants to help us and bring us to a place where we can worship and praise, adore and glorify.

We need to be brought to a place that takes us to the Father. Do the songs we sing bring us to that place? Do we feel like we have broken through the trials and struggles of this world and entered into the presence of the most Holy God with our worship? The angels and saints sing a continuous song of praise to God before His throne. Is this where we long to be?

Is the Trinity made clear in our songs or prayer times? Our worship should be with the Father, Son and Spirit. The Spirit helps us to become God – centered and to sing and worship the Son who saved us and broke all the chains of death and sin, and gave us the key to be with Him and His Father for ever. The Spirit helps us to be convicted of the sins that hold us back from being closer to God Himself. Our baptism is with the Trinity as a whole package.

How can we praise and worship in ways that hold the Trinity as a whole?

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