So I think it’s safe to say that last week was a pretty big deal here at MRG, being our very first Sunday as a church!  I have to tell you it was awesome to finally get started after all the planning, and all the prayer, and all the questions and all the wondering about what it would look like…it was just so awesome to actually do church here last week!  And I think for all of us figuring each other out last week, it was a great day.  Well in the middle of all of the excitement, we also were really diving into some pretty important concepts right off the bat here in 2018.  We are in a big series at MRC called “Different.”  The whole idea behind this series is to challenge you to get to the place in your life where you actually make a commitment to being different spiritually in 2018 and beyond.  This is such a big deal to us at MRC.  I really want you to understand early on at this church that life change really matters to us.  We want this to be real.  We want you to be encountering Jesus in such a way that you walk through life different because of your time with Him!  We are very focused on the “real” here…because everything the Bible teaches and everything we believe is that this life in Christ is bigger than just words on a page, and bigger than just showing up and doing some church service on a Sunday morning.  We pray that this would be real.  We pray that this would lead to true life change for you in 2018 and beyond.  Life change is fun because it is so real and I will tell you this is our prayer and our focus for you and all of us…that this would be real, anything else just feels like a waste of time.

So we talked last week about how popular it is to make promises to be a better person in the New Year of each and every year right?  We call them New Year Resolutions and I joked with you a bit about how by the 3rdor 4th Sunday in January, let’s just say the passion for those Resolutions starts to fade a bit.  All of a sudden the treadmill is looking more like a clothes hanging apparatus than an exercise machine.  The gym seems a little further away than it did the week before…and that diet, well…it may be fading some too, especially with a Super Bowl party in your near future!  Well when it comes to New Year’s Resolution’s they can kind of come and go…but that is the last thing we would ever want for you as we make the commitment to be different spiritually.  We want this to be long lasting and sustainable, not just a passing fancy.  So that was why we took so much time to look at two very foundational steps that must be in our lives if we want to see true life change.  Do you remember what they were?

The two foundational steps needed for true and sustaining life change are brokenness and faith.  Without these two foundational steps in our lives…we can’t change, we won’t change…even if we do, it simply won’t last.  These two steps are so important, it starts with brokenness.  Which I know isn’t the most cheery thing you have ever heard, but it is so, so important…the first foundational step to true life change is to be broken before God.  I know, that doesn’t sound really fun at all does it?  But as rough as it sounds, it’s also that important.

So what does it mean to be broken?  It means that we get to a place where we understand our deep need of Jesus in our lives.  This is so important.  We need to get to the place where we realize just how much we need God.  Think about this, without true brokenness (which is our understanding that we need God) I would never really see the need to change.  If I want to be different, I need to understand that I need God in my life, without understanding my need of Him, why would I ever do anything different right?  I love how Jesus says this in Matthew 5…

Matthew 5:3 God blesses those who realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.  NLT

This is so important. When we are broken we understand just how much we need God and we are so blessed to walk through life in that kind of understanding.  This is pretty rare in our culture, to see people get to a spot where they are actually broken before God.  But it’s that brokenness that becomes a true catalyst of life change.  This is why I wanted you to see David’s words here in Psalm 51…

Psalms 51:16 Going through the motions doesn’t please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you. 17 I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. MSG

How special are those words?  God isn’t after perfect performances, or us going through the motions of life and religion.  God is after our hearts, and when our hearts are pure, meaning there is no pride…well then God can shape and mold us.  This is why the first real step towards change is brokenness, because without understanding our need of God, we would never change.  I know, I know, very cheery subject but so, so important.

The second foundational step towards life change is faith.  Faith is a really big deal, and frankly it is the foundation of everything spiritual and we spent a good bit of time talking about faith last week.  We actually looked at how the Bible defines faith in Hebrews…

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  NIV

Faith is an essential step towards life change, towards our own healing, towards peace and rest for our souls and most importantly it’s the key to our own salvation but you know what, there is something else that I thought was so important for us to look at as a young church and that is that faith is very important to us because life isn’t easy.

James 1:2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  NIV

Life will keep happening, tough times will come…and how we respond matters greatly.  Faith is so important because life is messy which is important for us to talk about because so many people think if they are doing the church thing and have God in their life that life will let up on them, and it’s just simply not reality.  Faith is important because life is hard and faith helps sustain us and helps us respond well to the difficulties of life…because they are still coming whether we are on Jesus team or not.

So this is where we have been, we have been laying a very important foundation so that we can be different in 2018 and beyond spiritually.  The foundation is brokenness and faith and with those two key things underneath us as our foundation we can begin to make commitments to change, to be different and today it starts with the most important commitment you can make…which is why it’s first.  That commitment is to Love God.  While that sounds like something that would be pretty obvious for a Pastor to say…let me show you why this is such a big deal and why it starts here.  It is because as human beings our natural default setting isn’t to love God and put Him first in our lives.  Who is it that you think as a person I would typically want to put first?  Yeah, it’s me.

The first and most important commitment you can make to be different is to love God. 

You know last week I took some time to talk to you about how cool Jesus’ life and time on this Earth really was.  It’s amazing to think about how many different things were going on while God walked this Earth as a man.  I love how we get to read and study Jesus’ time on this Earth, think about that for a moment.  God sends Jesus to this Earth with a huge mission…to save the world!  He literally came and laid down His life so that you and I could have eternal life which is just amazing.  But He also showed us how to live.  How cool is that?  Jesus literally walks through life and lays out for us a way to walk through life in our time here on this Earth, and we get to read about it, study it…and try to walk that same path.  Which is really amazing if you think about it.  Now one of the things I really wanted to point out to you last week is that as you here us preach and teach here at MRC you will often see something really interesting.  Jesus seemed to get along and hang out with a very specific group of people.  It was typically those far from God, and were probably more on the outside looking in when it comes to the church or higher society of those times.  He also had a very specific group of people that he was in constant confrontation with…do you remember who they were?  Yeah, they were the religious leaders of that time.  They were called the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Teachers of the Law.  I don’t want you to miss this about these guys…they were educated, trained, and paid to be able to identify the Savior of the Universe when He arrived on this Earth.  They knew He was coming from all the Old Testament prophecies…the issue was He was so opposite of what they thought He would be that they couldn’t see Him for who He was.  So Jesus, the Savior stands right in front of them and He is so opposite to them that they can’t see Him, in fact, He drives them nuts!  They are constantly in confrontations with Him, eventually they get so angry with the company that He is keeping (sinners and people far from God…we all sin by the way) that they eventually end up killing Him!  What an amazing thought, and all the while these were the church leaders of that time.  I really do believe deep down that they are bad people, they do a lot of really good things (other than the whole murder part), these are people who love God but just simply have no brokenness.  They simply can’t see how much they needed God too!  So there hearts are so hard.   Well, I told you we will hear a lot about these different confrontations and moments where the religious leaders and Jesus are butting heads and over the next two weeks we will build off of one of those moments.  This particular confrontation leads to Jesus really taking all of the rules, and all of the complexities of spirituality and making it very clear, and very simple.  It is such an important moment for us to study and I will just say that I love this about Jesus.  He was constantly untangling the complicated web of religion to make this Christian walk so simple and so clear.  Which is yet another reason these religious leaders hated him…he made something simple that they liked keeping complicated.  It’s good job security if it’s complicated right?

So basically what we are going to see here is that the Sadducees had just tried to best Jesus in a mental battle and now the Pharisees are going to try to out debate Him, which isn’t really going to go all that well because they are trying to debate God in skin, probably not going to end successfully…but they go for it anyway, and I’m glad they did because Jesus gives us the priorities of our Spiritual Lives here…

Matthew 22:34  When the Pharisees heard how he had bested the Sadducees, they gathered their forces for an assault. 35 One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up: 36 “Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?” 37 Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ 38 This is the most important, the first on any list. 39 But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ 40 These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.” MSG

Did you catch it?  Jesus takes all of the rules, all of the complexities of religion and simplifies it all down to two things….Loving God and Loving Others.  Love is such a big deal.  So we see in this very confrontational moment something very clear for us today we are to love God and love others and everything else kind of falls in place off of these two principles.

Matthew 22:37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’   38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’   40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  NIV

Could it really be this simple though?  I mean all the laws, and rules, and all the big crazy debates about what we should do or not do, believe or not believe, think or not think…and Jesus says love God, and love others and let the chips fall out from there.  Yes, it can be this simple, and it is if we can focus on these two pegs loving God and loving others.  This week we will focus on loving God, and next week we will look at loving others…but this is such a big deal.  So many of us make church and Spirituality so complicated and it just doesn’t need to be.  Jesus didn’t make it all that complicated, He simply tells us to love God and love others.  This is where our commitment to change begins.

The first and greatest commitment we can ever make is to love God.  This is so important because as people we can really struggle to put God first in our lives, our natural instinct will always be towards self-focus, or towards loving ourselves over God.  It’s the default setting for us human beings.  But when we get to a place where our highest priority is God, we can live very different lives.  There are so many good people out there who struggle with their faith, and one of the biggest struggle is in this very central and important area…loving God, first.  Allowing God to lead in all areas of our lives. You know, so many really good people struggle with this.  We show up and do the church thing, we live good lives, we pay our bills, but there are certain areas of our lives that we just won’t give over to God.  So, yes I believe in God, and have asked Jesus into my life but there are often areas that I still want to or need to lead my own life in, and I have to tell you something from my own life experience…it doesn’t work.  God’s way is simply better.  You know in Proverbs there are so many good one liners but I love this one, it says…

Proverbs 16:9 In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps. NIV

It’s so interesting to me how often we fight God’s plan for our lives.  You know it’s like we know He is God and all, but sometimes what He wants just doesn’t seem to be taking us the direction in our lives that make the most sense to us and often in the moment it is hard to understand what God is up to, and even harder to follow His lead, but His plan is always better.  Even if it is confusing in the moment, it’s better.  If I love Him, I trust Him, and allow Him to lead…if I love me more I simply can’t do what God would ask of me and the reality is that He is God and He knows the best path for my life.  I will tell you from my own life experience, living life my way has never led me to peace, joy, rest, and love…in fact it often leads me to stress, complete exhaustion, frustrating competition with others…and on and on I could go.  My human eyes, just can’t see what God sees, but God’s ways can often seem so slow, and so off compared to the ways of this world right?  I mean if I follow God won’t I end up behind everyone else in like every way possible?  Well this is why Solomon who was the wisest man who ever lived not named Jesus wrote that “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”

We have to get to a place where we love God, and focus on Him rather than ourselves.  Which frankly is not all that easy to do!  We can kind of become our own gods, which isn’t going to work, trust me on this one, we people make terrible gods.  Now you may be sitting there thinking, “well Sam, that is a little harsh, I do love God, and I don’t see myself becoming my own god, or even having issues with letting God lead.”  Which is great, but I think what can happen if we aren’t careful is we can be doing a lot of this spiritual thing really well, and still not be loving God…FIRST.  We love God, but maybe just not as the highest priority.  How would I know if this is the case in my life?  Well I think the way to know if this is something you are dealing with or not is to look at all areas of your life, and see if God has been allowed in all of them.  For many of us, we do love God, and we do a lot of good things but there are some areas that we just refuse to allow God to lead.  Jesus actually addresses this very thing with a really good young man, in one of my favorite stories that I want to share with you today…it’s the story of a good young man, who just can’t quite let go of His ways to follow Jesus.

Mark 10:17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good-except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.  NIV

I LOVE this story, and I want to point out a couple of really important things here…first of all you need to know something about this guy.  He is a good man.  He is doing really well for himself.  He is successful. He is a good, Godly person.  But look at the amazing irony in verse 17!  He runs up to Jesus and asks him an incredibly ironic question…“Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  This is an amazing moment…this young man is standing in front of Jesus, and asks Jesus…the Savior of the Universe, what he can do to gain eternal life!  Think about what Jesus must be feeling right now…he knows he is heading towards the cross, to sacrifice his life for this young man and all of us, and this guy just doesn’t get it.  Jesus plays with him a little by listing out all the rules that he should follow and I can see the guy getting more and more excited because he is following them all!  Then Jesus goes “there” he goes to the one area of this young man’s life that he refuses to give to God…and what is interesting is a lot of people read this and think that it’s a money thing but that isn’t it at all…look again at what Jesus lovingly says to him.

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

So why do I share this story with you in a talk about loving God?  Is it about the money?  No this isn’t a money thing, your money isn’t evil.  I want you to see something about this guy, he is a good man…who just refuses to allow God into all areas of his life.  There were areas of his life that he is staying in control of, and Jesus loved him enough to show that to him.  It’s pretty tough to see this young man who is doing so much well, just crushed and walking away from Jesus in this moment but this is so important to see, there were simply areas in this young man’s life where he felt like he had a better plan than God.

Can I ask you something today is there areas of your life that you simply refuse to let God lead?  I can tell you there are some areas of our lives that are easier to let God into than others.  I mean it’s easy when we really need God to come through to let Him in right?  I also think the flip side of that is true too, there are other areas where letting God in may mean some actual sacrifices in our lives.  So think this through, are there some areas in your life that you just refuse to let God into?  What are they?  For some of us it’s our finances, for some of us it’s just simply control in our decision making.  For some of us it’s our children, we just can’t let go and allow God into that…for some of us it’s our religion.  What is it for you personally?  This is a very important moment for us as people to think and reflect on our own life right now…are you able to allow God into all aspects of your life?

Jesus made it very easy on us to understand all this spiritual stuff because he kept it simple saying that we simply need to do two things and from there we can figure the rest out…we are to love God and love others…the most important thing we can do is love God.  This is the first and greatest commitment we could make towards being different in 2018 and beyond.  Because our natural default setting isn’t to love God first, it’s to stay in control and love ourselves first.

Can I tell you something, if you are sitting here today and you are realizing that you have some areas in your life that you are really fighting to stay in control, and you are seeing some areas that you are really struggling to give control over to God, I want to know something very important, that simply means that you are human.  We all struggle with this.  It can be a struggle to let go, especially of the areas that mean so much to us, and especially as God’s ways don’t always seem to look like the best ways to my human eyes…so what do we do?  What can I do if I’m sitting here today realizing that I’m struggling to love God first.  Well I will tell you it takes some action steps from you and one more than any other.  We must start to carve out time and space to be with God.  If you aren’t doing this, God’s desires can never be guiding you and shaping your heart and your thinking.  We must be intentional about spending real time with God…even in this chaotic and cluttered world that we live in.  Jesus says this…

Matthew 6:6 “Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace. MSG

Jesus was so clear…he made things so simple, we are to love God first.  This isn’t easy for us human beings to do because we struggle to get the focus off of us.  Jesus literally shows us how to do it…but even what He shows us is opposite of how we live today isn’t it?  We have to slow down!  We have to find some quiet and engage God in a real way.  The more time we spend with Him the more the focus shifts off of us and on to Him…and then something really special happens, we can begin to sense God’s grace.  This is a very different way to live.  It’s peaceful, it’s intentional, and it’s living at a rhythm that is very opposite to the culture of this world…but it is so rewarding.

So many people make Christianity so much harder than it has to be.  Jesus really simplifies things and makes them so clear.  Jesus said take all the complications away and simply love God and love others.  This week we looked at just how important loving God is, and how counter cultural it can be.  And next week we take another important step into being different spiritually…and that is to love others.