So today we continue this series called Different.  The whole idea is that we want to challenge you to be different spiritually in 2018 and beyond.  And if you remember, we are building off of this theme, that we want this idea of life change to be real, and long lasting.  We don’t want the passion or focus for this commitment to being different spiritually to a passing fad…that wouldn’t be a good at all, which is why we spent so much time building a foundation.  Do you remember what that foundation was?  That foundation that leads to real life change is brokenness and faith.

Brokenness is my understanding that I need God in my life in a big time way.  It’s me realizing that I don’t have it all together and understanding that I need help, and that I need to change.  If I don’t see the need to change why in the world would I?

Faith is a really big deal, and we spent a lot of time looking at faith.  It is the foundation for everything spiritual and we talked about how important faith is for many reasons…but the one we really sat in that I see as such a big deal for us as we start to build our young church was this…faith is really important, because life isn’t easy.

So this was the foundation that we built over the first few weeks of this series, and then last week as we stood on faith and brokenness we could begin to look at the commitments needed to truly being different spiritually…and the first one while pretty obvious is an extremely big deal.  The first and greatest commitment that we can make spiritually is to love God.  While that sounds like something that would be pretty obvious to hear in church…we talked about why this is such a big deal and why it starts here, with loving God first.  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.  So this idea of committing to love God really became us looking at ourselves and realizing how hard it is to simply get the focus off of ourselves as people and onto God.  It’s our nature to stay self-focused and in making a commitment to love God we are taking us out of the center of our lives…and placing God there!  Which can be a little more challenging to receive than fun talks about faith like we spoke of the week before!  But this is very important if we are to change spiritually “for real” then we will love God first, and He will be our focus and not us.

Can I just say something?  Trying to have God focus in the world that we live in is not easy.  Everything around us pushes against that idea of placing God first in our lives.  I am not sure there is a bigger challenge for us as people than to stay God focused in a world full of things that seem to pull our attention away from God and onto everything and anything but Him!  Have you ever noticed that?  We really tried to sit in the idea that loving God is a huge commitment because it is all about centering your life on Him…and if you think about that, it isn’t easy in a world that is doing everything in its power to keep the focus off of God!  So this is a big deal.  I mean let’s take a moment here, and look at just one day of your life, and let’s think through what it looks like.  Tell me, how easy it is to stay centered on God in just that one day.  We have so many challenges and so much clutter, and so many things to get done right?  Think of your life for a moment, and think about how busy you are.  Think of all the details you have to keep straight in your mind.  How about the work issues, then add family issues, then hey make sure you are getting all the bills paid…and what about your children and all their activities?  Think about what all you have to navigate in just one day on this planet!  I think in all of the stress, noise, busy schedules, buzzing phones, and calendar push notifications it can be very easy to lose track of God…to not center on Him…I mean He isn’t exactly screaming for your attention the way your children, your job, and your phone do!  It’s almost like we have an enemy who wants you distracted, and is laying out all of this chaos, stress, noise, and clutter very intentionally.

Ok, so maybe this is a little depressing on the front end of the talk today but this is a big deal, loving God first really matters because our natural default setting is to stay focused on ourselves…which if you think about it is very easy to do in the world we live in.  You take our human nature which is to focus on ourselves, then you add all the pressures and stress and craziness of your day this can be pretty volatile at best…and today we talk about yet another thing to add to this mix that makes it even more challenging!  Today we take all of that stuff we just mentioned, and we add something really messy to the mix, do you know what it is?  It’s people.

Ok, let’s think about the people in your life for a moment, and think about all the hurts, and clutter, and emotions that come at you as you walk in and out of relationship with them each and every day.  You have family, friends, co-workers, and people you bump into just because your children are on the same sports teams, or they do different activities together, and guess what…as cluttered and stressed out and busy and hurting as you are…they are too and now your there bumping into each other!  This leads to a pretty volatile mix.  You take millions of busy, frantic, hurting, stressed out people walking around this planet bumping into each other every day moving as fast as they can to as much as they can do and there is no wonder that we struggle so much in the area of relationships and people.

It’s funny I can go simply watch my daughter play soccer on a Saturday afternoon…and I can leave that field feeling tired, and beaten up emotionally…and I didn’t play!  Why would I leave so cluttered?  It’s the people.  How about this one, it’s Super Bowl Sunday so we should mention football right…my sons are both big football fans, one is a Steelers fan, and one a Vikings fan.  Both of their teams lost in the playoffs and they were both really upset…why? They didn’t win or lose, they didn’t drop the ball, or not run the right play?  It’s the people!  It’s because of the kids who will pick at them over it at school on Monday!   You know where we see a lot of people?  Church.  I will tell you that for me with people some weeks are just better than others…I don’t know if I can actually say that as a Pastor but there are times I can leave the church lobby after service with my family and feel a little picked apart, and really tired at times!  Why would that be?  It’s because life with people just isn’t really all that clean is it?  And last week as we spoke about loving God first I just kept thinking, there are just so many things that keep us from a clear and focused life that is centered on God, and I think the biggest issue can often be people!

Wouldn’t life just be easier if we didn’t have to deal with so many other people?   You know before I came into full time ministry, I worked in construction for a company out of Dillsburg called Lobar.  When I worked at Lobar we would build these big buildings, and often times there would be so much drama and conflict around how we would build those buildings that we would talk in our review meetings about how easy it would be if our jobs were just to build those buildings without all the people involved!  We didn’t want anyone to know this but building those huge buildings was actually pretty easy, and we were very good at that as a company, but do you know where the challenge was?  The challenge was the people we needed to build it with!  As I think through the challenge that people can bring I think I can say that for about every area of my life whether that is dedicating my life to the mission of Christ here at MRC, or simply volunteering my time to coach youth sports in my community.  It sure would be easier without all the people!  Can you relate to that?  People make it really messy, but the Bible tells us that loving people is a really big deal.

Well here’s what is really interesting, Jesus talks a lot about the importance of loving others.  In fact Jesus really simplifies all of Christianity down to two very simple things…which is really where we hung out last week right?  We really hit this idea hard, that Jesus simplifies everything.  When it came to all the big complexities of spirituality Jesus said that we need to focus on simply doing two things…do your remember what they were? It was loving God and loving others.  So Jesus was always being picked at by the religious leaders of that time.  They were always giving him a hard time.  I find it so funny that they were always trying to test him and out-smart Him!  Good luck with that right?  Trying to be wiser than God in skin…well in some ways it’s good they did, because from it we get to learn from Jesus responses like this one…

Matthew 22:35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 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

I love this thought.  In this moment, Jesus takes something that we make so complex, and He makes it so simple.  He says in the end this whole Christianity thing boils down to two things, love God and love people.  But is it really that simple?  The answer is yes, yes it is, but we have to be able to get past ourselves if we are going to love God and love others.  Last week we really tried to hang out in the first part which is loving God, and today we are going to focus on loving others…which I want you to see, isn’t all that easy to do because let’s face it…not everyone is all that easy to love right?

But here is the big point of today.  Loving others is a really big deal because it means that we are growing up and God wants us to grow up.  Remember God is after our hearts, much more than anything we do, it’s who we are that matters to Him.  This is something we have been trying to hit each week here at MRG so far!  God doesn’t care about all the religious acts, God is after our hearts, and as our Heavenly Father, God wants to see us grow up, and mature into who He created us to be.  All through Scripture we see the importance of growing up.  Jesus says this in Matthew 5…

Matthew 5:48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you. MSG

Now here’s something that is really interesting about this…when the Bible challenges us to grow up, it’s always tied to love and how we are doing in the area of relationship with people, and God.

Matthew 5:43-47 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ 44 I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, 45 for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best — the sun to warm and the rain to nourish — to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. 46 If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. 47 If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. MSG

Whoa, so Jesus wants us to grow up, and what does growing up look like?  It looks like we are to love others well, even those that aren’t that easy to love!  Remember the key point of loving others is that our spiritual growth level comes out in how well or not well we are relating to others.  Check out Paul here in Ephesians…same concept where Paul is showing us the tie between growing up and love.  So if we are tracking with this, it’s looking more and more like love is a really big deal.

Ephesians 4:15 God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love — like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. 16 He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love. MSG

So this is pretty clear, love really ties into me growing up and the Bible says that God wants us to grow up.  But can I just be really honest with you here…this isn’t easy to do is it?  I mean we talked earlier about how hard it can be to be around people, not everyone is all that easy to love am I right?  And now Jesus is challenging us to actually love our enemies…to literally love on those that aren’t all that nice to us…how in the world do we do that.  Well I think this is actually the point, that you can’t do that on your own.  You know when we love the way Jesus challenges us to love, we are showing growth, but we are also showing a type of love that just doesn’t come or isn’t wired into who we are as people…we are literally showing God to this world through this kind of love.  One of my favorite scriptures about how we literally show God in this world is found in 1 John where it says this…

1 John 4:7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.  NIV

Remember, the highest level of our maturity is loving others.  And what I love about this scripture that I just read is that we see a couple of very important things.  First we see that God is love, and if God is in us that means we will love too if God lives in us.  Second we see just how much God loved us that He would send Jesus to this world for us, to save us, so that God can live in us!  And something that I think is very important is that we literally show God to this world by loving others well.  Think about that, we show God through our love to people on this Earth who are far from God and need to know Him!  Love is a really big deal…and it just simply isn’t in our human nature to love which is why we need help.

So what do we do?  I mean it’s hard enough for us to love people that are actually lovable, but Jesus takes it a step farther and tells us to love the unlovable too!  How in the world are we going to do that?  Well it’s the same response I had for you last week, when we talked about breaking out of our human nature of self-focus, and to get to a place where we can focus on loving God first.  We need God’s help to do this, and we can have it.  Remember Jesus says this…

Jesus says “When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer”

Make no mistake about this, we need God’s help to love others and just like last week that means that we must be spending time with God.  So I want to ask you something about Jesus words there.  Is this what you do?  When someone gives you a hard time is this your first response?  Do you think to yourself, “I need to pray for this person?”  If it is your first response that is great, but I am just going to go out on a limb here and say that I don’t think it is in our nature to respond this way!  We usually want them to feel some hurt too right?  Do you see why we need God in this with us?  Jesus’ words are really important there because, and I want you to hear me say something, when you pray for others your heart changes towards them.  When you spend time with God and you bring those tough moments and interactions with others to Him something inside you will change.  Remember last week how Jesus told us that as we spend time with God something really cool happens…there is a big shift in focus, do you remember that?

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)

So the more time we spend with God, the more the focus will shift off of us and onto God…and we will begin to center our lives on God’s grace.  This is the only way that we can respond to people differently…because our fleshly reaction will always be what?  Justice!  Revenge!  Payback!  They hurt me so I want to hurt them!  We want them to know what they did was wrong and they need to feel it too right?  But as we spend time with God, and the focus shifts off of all our fleshly desires and onto the love of God we start to see the grace we have been given.  We start to understand that we aren’t perfect either…and as we pray for that person, we start to realize something really, really important.  That they are hurting too.

Hurt People Hurt People – My father used to say something to me a lot growing up…he’d say that “hurt people, hurt people.”  I would be upset about this or that or the other thing, and he would often say that to me, “Sambo- hurt people, hurt people.”  My dad said that to me a lot and I didn’t always understand how important this was as a kid, but years later I get it.  Hurt people really do hurt people.  There is often a reason why something happened, now it doesn’t justify what they did, but it is a very different way to look at someone…and I can’t do that without God’s help.  The more time I spend with God the more I understand that other people have a story unfolding too.  You know, I’m not perfect and it’s important for me remember that people aren’t perfect either.  That same grace that I need when I screw up is the same grace they need when they screw up too.  If I am not spending time with God I can’t see this because the focus will stay on me, and I will not remember grace.

Hashtag “Adulting”  You know lately I hear a term or at least I read this term on social media from time to time, and it just grates on my last nerve…which probably means I am getting older and grumpier, but that term is “adulting.”  I mean can we just go to the store and live our lives without “#adulting posts?”  One thing I have noticed as we post about “hashtag adulting” is that a lot of the time it’s simply posts about life…going to the store, paying bills, you know…simply living a day on this planet, just everyday stuff…but you know what being growing up spiritually is all about?  According to Scripture it could mean that you are doing the difficult thing.  Most likely it’s you doing the thing that you wouldn’t do without God’s help because immaturity is self-focus rather than God focus.  Sometimes growing up means doing the hard thing.  And the hard thing is often how we respond to rough stuff/hurts from people.

Matthew 5:46 If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. 47 If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. 48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you. MSG

Jesus is saying, anybody can love the lovable.  What I want you to do is grow up.  I think that is very important for us to hear that today…because you know what, sometimes growing up means that we need to stand up and do something that isn’t easy to do.  In many ways that is when we know we are wearing our big boy pants right?  When we are willing to step up to a challenge and take it on, rather than take the easiest route to something…that is growth and maturity.  Well, when it comes to the area of people, there is no greater challenge than being willing to forgive those who hurt us.  I know, I know…this isn’t going to be fun but I need you to hear me say this.  As we spend time with God, and the focus shifts off of us and onto him, we start to wrap our minds around grace.  We start to understand that hurt people, hurt people.  Well we also start to realize that there is something else we will need to do.  We must forgive those who hurt us!  So moments after we are told to grow up, Jesus starts teaching on prayer and listen to what he says, just a few scripture verses later…

Matthew 6:12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ 14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.  NIV

Wait a minute, Jesus is saying that if we don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive us?  Jesus is saying there is a direct connection between your relationship with God and your ability to forgive those that hurt you.  Yikes!  I thought God was a God of grace, love and mercy?  I thought that the cross was bigger than all my sin, I shouldn’t need to do anything right?  Now I know that verse can cause some tension…just breath for me here.  I want you to hear me say something.  Hurt people, do hurt people…but forgiven people forgive people.  Look at what Paul writes here…

Colossians 3:13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. NIV

So if we tie this all together, the reason Jesus says that God won’t forgive you unless you forgive others is because a true sign of a Christian is a person who has been forgiven of a lot!  Think of how loved you are by God.  Think of how many times you have turn your back on Him, and He never stops forgiving and loving you.  The reality is that we have been forgiven of so much, and that is why we forgive.  The reality is that forgiving people who hurt you doesn’t change God’s perspective of you and it certainly isn’t going to make God love you more than He already does.  It is a sign that you yourself have been forgiven.  So forgiveness is a really big deal.  If you can forgive it is a sign that you understand that you have been forgiven by God of so much, and if you struggle to forgive it is a sign that you don’t understand just how much you have been forgiven of.  Listen to me…forgiveness isn’t optional for a Christian.  The reality is that all of us have been hurt by people.  For some of us we are holding on to real pain.  We have been hurt badly by people that matter to us, and we can’t stand the idea of letting go of that hurt.  It almost feels like if we let go of it somehow we are letting them get away with what they did right?  The brutal thing about holding onto these hurts is that while we sit stuck in them, that person is moving on with their life.  The reality is that when we don’t forgive we only are hurting ourselves.

Forgiven people forgive people.  Now we don’t forgive because it is an easy thing to do and we do not forgive because the person deserves it.  We forgive because God forgave us.  Now I need to stop and make a few important statements here, because I don’t want things to get taken out of context here:

This doesn’t mean that you forget and walk blindly back into unhealthy relationships.

This doesn’t mean that you allow someone to abuse you.  If you are in a situation where someone is hurting you, you get to safety first, then you work on forgiving them from there. 

You do not allow someone to continue hurting you, but it does mean that we won’t hold onto their sin anymore!  Listen forgiveness isn’t easy.  It doesn’t mean that what happened to you is ok.  It is not ok.  But what it means is that we are going to walk in freedom from their sin.  We aren’t going to be stuck in that anymore.  Here’s the deal, God wants you whole and healed.  He wants you walking in freedom and joy.  To find this kind of freedom you have something to do.  God won’t do it for you.  You must forgive.  If you hold onto hurts you simply can’t walk in freedom.  God forgave us of so much which is why we forgive.  Forgiven people, forgive people.

You know I think the idea of loving others is one thing, but to love our enemies well let’s just say that, that is a whole other thing right?  It’s funny because I told you how Jesus simplifies all of the complexities of spirituality by telling us to just love God and love others…but if you think about it, as clear as that makes it, it isn’t really that easy to live out without God’s help, and you know what, I think that is the point.  We simply can’t live the way Jesus lived, or love the way He challenged us to love without God’s help.  We simply can’t grow up into spiritually mature adults without God’s love pouring into and out of us.  Love is a really big deal.  It is the highest level of maturity.  It shows God to this world in a real way, it’s how we get past ourselves, and it only happens as we walk in relationship with God.  Listen loving others isn’t easy which is why how we respond to people is such a big deal, because it shows our spiritual growth.  It shows life change.  And maybe the most important part of this love we show to others is that as we show God to this world through this love…we also are showing a greater understanding of the unconditional love that God has for us!

I think part of our growing up and living out our God given identity is being able to relate to people differently.  Trust me, this will also bring a different level of peace to your own heart as well.  So as you leave here today, and head back into real life think this through.  Tomorrow as you walk in and out of relationships I want you to think about these simple moments.  This is a broken world full of hurting people and it’s just so important to understand that hurt people hurt people…but even bigger than that is that we grasp that forgiven people forgive people.  Or put into simpler terms by Jesus…

48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.