Saturday, September 17, 2005

Back To Basics

I said in "Seize the Land" that:

My church's teaching pastor, Carl Palmer, last week started the first of a three week series . . . The third will be a strategic vision of our churches spiritual and practical direction as we "ask God to do a new work in our church" . . . the elders and pastors have been struggling with how to turn up "the spiritual fire" in our church a few notches for Christ.
Here is that third sermon:

An Invitation to a Journey
[all the ideas and most of the language is Carl Palmer's]

Carl and our elders attended a conference about creating a vision for your church. The speaker talked about “holy discontent”: how sometimes in the Bible, before God gave someone a vision of the future He wanted them to pursue, God would stir up in them a holy discontent in their heart - something that would wreck their heart. Some examples are:

Carl's "holy discontent": Church as usual. A discontentedness with the Christian life as so many of us experience it:
  • that we are really nice people, but not that good;
  • that we are good people, but not that powerful; and
  • that in many ways our lives are very similiar to those who do not know our powerful God.
He is discontented because of the differences between the life promised by our Savior in scripture; and the lives lived by too many of us (not all, but too many). He longs to see God work in power among us; and for the church of Jesus Christ to get up and change the world God put us in.

He asks: What are you doing with your life? He admits this is meddling; but since God has been meddling in his life he thinks its our church's turn (and I see no reason why you should be left out). Why will our lives matter in 100 years? Why did God put us here; and why did God leave us here after we came to Christ? We need to answer these questions. We need to figure out our own "holy discontent" so we can figure out a vision for our lives.

Jesus came to invite those who love Him, and wish to love Him more, into a different life - a more powerful life. So that brings us to the "new thing"; the "thing" that will lead us into this different, more powerful life that Jesus wants for us. It is clear that so many of God's people are pulled in so many different directions by so many different things that we must come together and unite on some central theme or truth: figure out how to simplify. What is that central truth, the primary idea, the main thing - rooted in the Word of God - that God wants for us?
Now58 one of the experts in the law59 came and heard them debating. When he saw that Jesus60 answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is: ‘Listen, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love61 the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’62 The second is: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’63 There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Carl points out that Jesus was very bold in placing these two Old Testament commandments together: this was new and would have been shocking to Jewish teachers at the time. The first half was the Shema: essentially the most important creed of Judaism. The joining of the two commandments together is called by many "The Jesus Creed". Jesus was giving a very simple message: Come to Me. Follow Me. I will teach you to love God with all of your being; and to love people the way God wants you to love them.

This is it. This is the "new thing" that is really quite old. We are going to learn to love God with our all; and love people as we love ourself. Many will say: "hey, we do that" or "This is what we are called to do and no problem here Pastor". But do we really do this? Carl questions whether it is even possible to love God with his all. He feels he does it at times - and then life happens. And what about the loving your neighbor thing? (And who is my neighbor?). He doesn't even like some of his neighbors; and more to the point, some do not like him.

Our church is going to focus on this until we do it; or until the Lord comes. The pastors and elders took a stab at expressing the vision this way:
We want to see God transform our lives and our world as we grow in a daily, practical experience of loving God and loving people.
This isn't about hearing this more - we have all heard it enough. As Carl points out, many in our church could stand up and teach these passages themselves. We have to ask ourselves "Do I love God with my whole being; and love my neighbor as myself?" We should all answer that we have a ways to go.

This isn't primarily about us - it is about the glory of God; but when you run into someone who truly loves God with their whole being they are magnetic. When you run into someone who genuinely loves you - who genuinely loves people - they are some of the most attractive people you know. Jesus came so that we could be transformed by the practical day-to-day experience of loving God with our all; and loving people as ourselves. This is the life He wants for us. Wouldn't you like to experience loving God with your whole being at least once before you are with Him?

What must we do to experience what God intends for us? Our church is going to focus on this, circle around it, learn it, memorize it - and be transformed by God-love. We are going to examine our programs and our spending by the questions: Does it help us love God and/or love people? Most of all we are going back to the basics - the Great Commandment - and work on doing that until we get it right. We are going back to the milk if we need to.

We are going to do this because God first loved us. We are going to wallow for awhile in the immense love of God for us so that we can see once again that our only right response is to love God and love people. Not only is this what we desperately need - it is what the world desperately needs: to see people who passionately love God; and passionately love them. No where in the following passage does it talk about attending church or praying a prayer:
Matthew 25:34 "Then the King will say to those on His right, `Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 `For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' . . . 40 "The King will answer and say to them, `Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'
We do not know all how this will work or all we will do. We need to start this in our own church. There are hundreds of people in our church (how about yours?) who are unloved and untouched. We learn to love the world by loving each other; and how can we begin to talk to the world about love if we do not love each other. We are going to work on this in our church until it is changed.

Carl invited us on this journey. This is no instant pill; no simple process. One sure thing is that we will have to do the scariest thing there is: change. If this works, this will be a work of God's grace and mercy - not our strength. We are convinced God wants us to go on this journey - He has told us to get packed.

I invite you to join us. You have to decide if this is the will of God for you; and if it is right and Biblical. I am sending this primarily to people who do not attend my personal church (and if you were close enough to come I would not want you to leave your current church home). This is an invitation to you to love God with your all, and love people as yourself, where you are.

Part II: Love is the Whole Enchilada


  1. Good job, John. Great reminders and challenges from our worship time together. NA

  2. Well said. Spiritual complacency is a problem everywhere.

  3. What does it look like to obey the two greatest commandments?

    Keep us posted on your church's journey.
    Sounds exciting.

  4. Yup. That's about why I'm in the ministry program. Thanks, John.

  5. It's July 14th 2012 and have come to your website because a dear friend of mine posted this link on her Facebook... I needed to hear this mesaage and I look forward to reading more...I'm in the U.K. And don't have a church yet..but am inspired to find one.


How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly