Good Morning and Welcome to Journey Church. My name is Phil Human and I’m one of the pastors here and it’s always a great privilege of mine to share with you some thoughts about a passage from the Bible.
Our goal at Journey is to teach you what God is like. We want you to think highly enough about him to trust Him with your life. It is God’s desire to care for you day and night – to walk with us and teach us how to live an abundant and significant life.
This summer we are doing a series of stand-alone messages – since all of us are in and out all summer with vacation and trips, rather than a series that builds from week to week, each week stands on its own. And we are simply calling it My Favorite Bible passage.
Today I’m going to talk about one verse. It’s a verse that kind of runs in the background of my mind quite a bit. And to introduce the verse I first want to talk about progress bars.
You know what a progress bar is, right? You are downloading something and this bar shows up to help you know where you stand in the process. I like them. I like knowing how far along I am in the process and how far I have to go.
Last week we drove to San Diego for vacation. It’s a 1640 mile trip and as I drive – anyone else out there like this? As I drive I often calculate the percentage I have driven and the percentage I have left to drive. We are now 1/16th of the way there. Which is approximately 6.25 percent of the way there. And when it hits 405 I will usually say something like – just passed 25%. If we turned around and drove home and then drove back here and drove home again, that’s what it’s like.
People like progress, don’t we? Anyway, I was looking at some progress bars online the other day and found some pretty fun ones.
- Like This one (Nut on Bolt) for you carpenters out there.
- Or this one for you golfers. Mine would be just slightly pulled to the left and often about 2 percent short.
- There’s this one for pilots.
- And this one for people making meth in your basement.
- This progress bar was fitting for the fourth of July, especially in this town.
- And maybe my personal favorite – the blunt bar – hold your horses man!
Personally, I don’t care what the progress bar looks like – I’ll take any of these. So long as the bar is moving! There’s nothing worse than staring at a progress bar that spins, but whose number never changes. 99 percent still? Come on!
Now it’s one thing to measure megabytes of data being downloaded to your computer, it’s entirely another thing to try to measure the progress that you are making on your spiritual journey.
Wouldn’t it be interesting if we were able to install a progress bar in our heart that measures how much progress/growth we are seeing in our own heart.
The verse that we are going to read today is to me – the ultimate measuring device as to the progress that I am either seeing, or not seeing, in my own personal spiritual journey. This verse was spoken by Jesus, and it comes to us in the form of a question that Jesus asks near the beginning of the sermon on the mount.
The sermon on the Mount is the most famous and most important sermon Jesus ever preached. Correctly understood, the sermon on the mount details the ambitious goal of God, – which is to turn us into different kinds of human beings – and then turn us loose on the world.
I’ll say that again. The ambitious goal of God is to transform us into different kinds of human beings, and then turn us loose on the world – to bless the world as agents of grace and compassion and truth and love.
In this sermon, found in Matthew 5,6,7, Jesus describes to us the kind of human being he promises we can become. The kind of people who can live without lust – without anger, without contempt for others. We can be the kind of people who are so secure in God’s kingdom that we can live without worry and anxiety.
Can we just stop for a moment and imagine being those kinds of people. People free from worry, anxiety, fear – free to love without strings attached.
We don’t have to rank people or control people and manipulate our image to get people to like us or accept us or think more highly of ourselves than we know they ought.
Imagine being the kind of people who give generously to people in need without having to receive attention for it. We become the kind of people who wish good for people instead of wishing harm to them.
This transformation isn’t instantaneous, of course. It takes time. It takes effort. We learn from our failures along the way. But it’s worth it, because one of the greatest joys of living with God is to change. To grow and mature.
I hope you aren’t the same person you were a year ago. And I hope you will not be the same person next year that you are today.
Of all of these areas in which to show progress, I believe one in particular, like the tide, rises all ships – growth in this one area will produce growth in all of the areas I mentioned a moment ago.
And that area is love. It is God’s desire that we be transformed into people who naturally and freely love other human beings.
Here’s a good definition of love. Wishing good upon someone. Wishing well. Seeking to will the good of others. We love something or someone when we promote good for their own sake. Without getting anything out of it in return.
A sure sign of a maturing faith is found in whether or not I love others. It is God’s plan for us to become people who naturally and freely love others.
Whether or not I can promote the good of another – love them – is the best indicator of spiritual transformation in my life. In fact without love, it’s just religious activity.
What does 1 Corinthians 13 tell us? If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
….if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.
3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body… but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
At another point Jesus tells us that the defining mark of a follower of Jesus will be how they love other human beings. John 13:35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
But I will say that it’s not just love for one another. Jesus says, that we will be so permeated with love that we will even by the kinds of people who will be able to naturally and easily, love our enemies.
And so now let me read this portion – this penetrating and powerful question that Jesus asks me. And you. In Matthew 5:46.
46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much.
This is the verse has been dogging me lately. I guess I should say God’s been after me – forcing me to contemplate this question. And I thought I’d pass along the joy of having to ask ourselves – if we only love people who already love us, what’s the big deal about that?
What exactly is earth shaking about someone declaring, “I love people who agree with me – who generally concede that I am right on most of the important issues. I love me some people like me. I love me some me?
What is impressive about loving people who love you?
Because straight up evil people do that.
The Mob? They love people who love them. Street gangs, love people who think they are great. ISIS – They love people who think they are righteous people.
The reason why this verse keeps ricocheting through my head, is because I’ve been thinking quite a bit about our country lately. And I keep trying to figure out if we will ever come together, or if we are bound to forever be a fractured society.
And I’m not trying to be a prophet of doom. I don’t have any special word from the Lord. I am not trying to sound an alarm. I’m just saying the obvious, right? Doesn’t it feel like our country is fracturing; Splintering?
And the one characteristic of every splinter in our country? They think they are right, and everyone else is wrong. Or worse, they are right and everyone else are morons. Idiots. Evil.
It doesn’t matter which splinter group you are part of, they all operate the same way. If you agree with us it’s because we are brilliant, smart and right. And if you disagree with us it’s because you are uninformed at least, but probably you a bigot, or a snowflake, or a racist, or… Fill in the blank with your insult of choice.
There is one thing I see that could bring great healing to our country – and that is an outpouring of love from the millions of people who follow Jesus in this world.
And I mean the kind of Love that Jesus says would be naturally and easily pouring out of me, especially toward people who vehemently disagree with me.
It’s possible to love people who think you are an idiot, did you know that? Jesus loved the people who were actively killing him. Naturally and easily, forgiving them as they were killing him.
My spiritual progress bar hasn’t progressed to the point where I think I could do that – and I’m hoping to not ever have to find out how I’d respond to people actively killing me.
But I’m hoping that at the very least, Lord, help me progress to the point where I can not want people who zig in and out of traffic on the road to get into a fiery crash and die. Can you get me to that point Lord?
Lord, Help me at least get to the point where I am able to naturally not want people who shoot off fireworks too late at night to fall off the face of the earth and disappear.
How far along the progress bar until I at least get to that point?
With one question Jesus lays bare the problem of my heart. He forces me to assess my heart. Am I the kind of person who loves people who love me? What’s the big deal about that. Whoopdy doo. The Nazi’s did that.
Isn’t this question a kick in the pants? You’re welcome. It’s been dogging me of late, I thought I’d pass it along to you too.
What is different about you if you only love people who already think you are the cat’s meow? Who think you are the bee’s knees? What about loving people who think you are a horses rear?
Now let me answer an objection you might be feeling in your soul. Perhaps you are asking – does that mean I’m not allowed to disagree with people? And the answer is – of course you can disagree. You can do way more things in love than you think you can.
In fact – in all of the labors of life, there is nothing that needs be done better in anger, contempt and scorn. Anything done in contempt or anger is done better in love.
You can disagree with people in love. You can fire people in love. You can even go to war with people with love. Love means wishing what is best for people, and sometimes that means having to take up arms to defend innocent lives.
You can poke and prod and push one another- but the overriding question we must ask ourselves is – am I doing this out of love for them, or am I acting out of a need to be right.
Because – let’s be honest – One of the most likely times for me to act unlovingly is when I know I’m right. When I know I’m right and you’re wrong, and I have all the facts to back it up? Man, watch out, I can really turn into an arrogant smug piece of work. I will load up my verbal tommy gun and ratatat tat. Swiss Cheese you man.
Hard to do that lovingly.
So the objection: Does acting in love mean we don’t defend our position or proactively address the issue? Of course not, but the goal is that whatever we do, whatever we say or type, or gesture, is done in love.
And perhaps love means not having to have the last word at all.
So now the question becomes: how are we going to become the kind of people who can love people who are not easy for us to love? I want to see some progress in my spiritual life, right? If I only love people who love me, what’s the big deal about that?
Back to Matthew 5 and we’ll back up a couple of verses and let Jesus tell us what we can do to move the progress bar forward in our spiritual life. He says…
44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.
Pray for those who persecute you!
So here’s the spiritual toolshed moment in the talk. What spiritual tool can I apply to my own heart so that I can start to love people who have it out for me? It’s going to take a lot of prayer.
A lot of inner wrestling with God about our expectations regarding how we feel we deserve to be treated, see. Many times our beef is in regard to how we feel we are being mistreated.
So prayer is so important to becoming a truly loving person. And honestly, most of the prayer probably needs to be directed inward.
If we jump straight to praying for the other person, we end up praying unloving prayers – Lord did you just see this guy driving like a fool here in front of me. Lord help this menace to society understand that he’s going to seriously injure someone if he doesn’t drive better. Convict him of his dumbness Lord. In Jesus name!
Right? If we jump to praying for our enemies we often end up praying that God might be our henchman – our heavy who takes care of these people.
And I’ll be honest – there’s lots of psalms that sound like that. Lord I love you you are my protector and my shield, now Lord strike my enemy! Stomp on them like snails Lord!
Psalm 137 is probably the worst of them – where the psalm writer asks God to smash the Assyrian babies against rocks. Why would he write that? Because the Assyrians did that to the Israelites, and an eye for an eye – that psalm sums up all of how humanity has ever acted. You hurt me – I want you to hurt in return.
And Jesus steps into this kind of humanity and says – who will be different? And Jesus says, My people will be different. If they allow me to, I can change them into different kinds of humans, which is why we pray.
Pray. First – pray for yourself. Lord, I need help. Help me to love people who have it out for me. Help me to love people I have it out for. Help me to love at a higher level than the Crips and the Bloods. Even they love people who love them. You are remaking me into something more and I recognize I need your help.
So help me lord. I lay open my own heart to you and ask you to show me those people that I easily dismiss as less worthy of kindness or not worthy of respect.
If you are willing you can pray – Lord, help me to be very aware of the manner in which I am loving people who don’t love me. Show me. Remove the callousness from my heart and show me – enough Lord, don’t break me – but show me my blind spots – who do I need to start loving?
Pray to God and ask him to help you be like him. He nourishes the earth, provides rain for the atheist and disciple alike. The good the bad and even the ugly. The haughty and the humble. The just and the jerk. All of them receive from God kindness.
Only after I have allowed Jesus to search my heart can I then turn my prayers and say, Lord, bless those people. Bless them. I wish them blessings. Lead them to you. Teach them, and bless them.
Is the Lord convicting you? Will you be willing to commit this issue to prayer?
Let’s watch the progress bar in our spiritual life move forward as we allow Jesus to teach us how to become people who love the hard ones for us to love.
After all, if all we do is love people who already like us? What’s so special about that?