It’s amazing to think that we are starting a new series here at MRG today!  I mean we have only ever done one series as a church, which was the big one that we finished last week called “Different.”  I really enjoyed that one, but I have to tell you on the front end of this series, I’m very excited to jump into this with you, because it has a lot to do with you, your heart condition, and something we all deal with on a daily basis…people.  This series is entitled “Sticks & Stones” and the whole point behind this series is to dive into our relationships and help us to live them out in the healthiest way possible because let’s face it…you do deal with people and relationships all the time.  I’m not saying you are dealing with them well or that you are dealing with them poorly but I am saying that we all deal with people…and I often joke that everything we do would be a lot easier without all the people involved!  Relationships are a huge part of life, and I’m very excited to dive into this subject with you.  I’m very excited to introduce or re-introduce the author Pete Scazzero to you, he is the writer of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality which I find to be one of the most important books and concepts that we could walk through where we look at something many Christians ignore, and that is the fact that your emotional health, and your spiritual health tie together.  They are not separated from each other.  There are many Christians out there who really struggle with their emotional health and it makes for some really messy situations…so I would also highly recommend you walking through the book by Pete Scazzero “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” it’s great.  One of the most exciting parts about this series is the reading material that comes with it…every day during the week, you read the Emotionally Healthy Relationships Day by Day book, it’s awesome and it helps you get in the practice and rhythm of spending time with God each day.  There is also a workbook that goes with the series, and it’s my hope to really start some good conversations on Facebook in the MRC Gettysburg group page.  So there is a lot that comes with this series, and I’m really excited to begin diving into this with you today because of all that I listed above, but also just because of what an important subject it is, because we all deal with people and relationships.  It doesn’t matter what you do, you are dealing with people.

I worked for years in the construction industry running field operations for Lobar Inc. and I think one of the most interesting things about that job was the people.  I realized a couple things early on…first building the buildings wasn’t all that hard, it was getting the people to work as a team, get a long, and build the building that was the challenge.  So yes my job was to build buildings but my investment had to be in people.  The better I was with those relationships the more successful I was at building buildings.  I would often have to remind our young project managers and estimators in the office that it didn’t really matter how great of a project manager they were if no one was out there building the buildings…it was the people that mattered!  I have heard small residential builders make jokes with us in the church about how happy they are that they deal with “sticks and bricks” and not people like us Pastors do…but what they are missing is that unless they build that entire building by hand on their own, they actually are in the people business too!  You really can’t do life without people as tempting as that might be!  We are all tied into this thing together, and our hope is that throughout this series we can invest into and build into the relationships in your life, believe me it can really help you, your heart and even the people around you!

You know that just like your emotional health and your spiritual health are married and really can’t be separated from each other, there is something that we see in scripture when it comes to love that is tied together too.  Do you know what that is?  It’s love for God and love for others.  Remember those two pegs that Jesus said everything hangs off of?  It’s loving God and loving people…

Matthew 22:37 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

Have you ever noticed how common it is to hear people outside of the church community talk about how rough Christian’s or church people can be?  Well a couple things about that, first whether we are Christian’s or not we are people so yeah, we will continue to make mistakes and sometimes when a non-Christian hears you say that you are a Christian what they actually heard you say is that you think you are perfect, which isn’t it at all.  We know that isn’t true, and frankly by saying I’m a Christian I’m actually saying the opposite right?  I’m saying “Hey, I’m an imperfect sinner, but God loves me so much that He would send Jesus to cover all that up for me!” so sometimes it is just a weird expectation that people can put on us, but sometimes it’s valid.  Some Christians are touchy, and defensive, and judgmental and a large part of that is that we don’t tied these two pegs together!  Jesus ties loving God, and loving others together and so should we.  This means that as we grow in our relationship with God we can grow in our relationships with people.  If we can’t love God well, we won’t love others well.  They are tied together.  This is why I often say that if we struggle to love people we just need to focus on loving God and the loving others thing will start to come together.  So if you are tracking with me, we must love God well, so we must invest time and energy and focus into our relationship with God so we can love Him and others well, they are tied together.

Last week as we finished out the “Different” series I really introduced you to something Jesus invites us all into, where we find purpose, and meaning to our lives as we jump in and engage a greater mission, where we help people find Jesus the way we are.  We call it “the mission of Christ” and I believe that in that greater mission as my focus shifts off of me and onto Jesus, I find the key to everything about life on this Earth.  But you know, Jesus says that without this kind of love coming out of our lives we really can’t share Him with this world.

John 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  NIV

I love pointing out just how important loving others is to people.  I used to tell my project managers and estimators at Lobar Inc…you can be the best project managers and estimators in the world and if guys won’t work for you it doesn’t matter!  Well it’s the same thing in our Christian faith with love for other people.  You can be the best Christian in the world.  You can post the most Bible verses on your social media.  You can go to church every week, and be the most discipled person in the world but if you have no love for others it just doesn’t matter.  Make no mistake about it, love is the key and love of God and love for others are intimately tied together.  Check this out…

1 John 4:19 We, though, are going to love — love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first. 20 If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? 21 The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both. MSG

I love this, and it’s very clear isn’t it…loving God includes loving people.  Do you see why a relationship series is so important?  Do you see why Jesus would say there really are two things that matter most?  In the end everything really does come down to loving God and loving others…I think most of the weird or hurtful moments around the church happen because many Christians don’t keep these two things tied together.  They may be great at doing all the Christian things but God would say love is the key to all of it…without love none of it really matters.  So our relationship with God is huge, and our relationship with others in many ways reflects our relationship with God.  So yes, this series is going to be a really big deal.

So as we get this series rolling today you may be thinking about this idea of loving God and loving others and how your relationships with people are a reflection or are really tied to your relationship with God and you hopefully are starting to wonder where you are at with all of this on a personal level.  Well that is where we begin this series.  Today we are going to really launch into this series by taking a test just to see where we are at, we will call it…The Relationship Test.

So what is this relationship test? Well it’s more of a question and your answer will let you know how you are doing in the area of loving others.  Here’s the question.  Can you be happy for others?  This is how we know when we need to do some heart work, can I be happy for someone else or not.  So yeah, it’s a pretty simple test, but I want you thinking this all through.  What does it mean to love others well?  What is normal for us as people in this area of loving others?  Can you be happy for someone when they succeed or get something you don’t have?  Can you literally put yourself aside and help someone else get ahead?  If they get ahead do you resent them for it, or can you genuinely be happy for them?  I think this is really important for us to look at today.  You want to know how you are doing with loving others this is the test.  Can you be happy for someone or not?  I’m pretty excited to show you an example of this in Scripture.  This is a pretty popular story about a father and his two sons.  We often focus on the younger son in this story and we should because it’s a beautiful picture of God’s love for all of us, it’s so redemptive and amazing…but the story of the older brother is very important too.  So as we get into this story I want you to be thinking about what it really means to be happy for others.  I want you thinking about three very simple and practical questions for yourself.

  1. Can you accept people as they are?
  2. Can you build others up with your words and your attitude or do you tear them down?
  3. Can you simply love on others with no expectations or do they need to perform for you?

So let’s jump into this powerful story and really think through and hopefully personalize these questions as we study this passage of scripture.

Luke 15:11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.  NIV

Oh man, I love this moment in scripture because we see unconditional love here.  We see God’s grace here.  We see the love of God pouring out onto this young boy who can’t even process just how much his father loves him here.  This is what all of us experience as we ask Jesus into our lives, and leave our sinful ways and experience the love of our Heavenly Father.  It’s so pure.  It’s just amazing and I love this, and while I would love to spend our time looking at all the profoundly beautiful moments of this part of the story there is another brother in this story, and Jesus goes out of his way to tell us about Him too.  So let’s look at the older brother’s story here…

Luke 15:25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ 28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ 31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'”  NIV

This is so interesting isn’t it?  I think for many of us we can relate to the older brother here.  I mean he has this crazy little brother who takes his inheritance and burns through it, so he is off running wild and free while this older brother stays with his father and is doing everything right.  He is working hard.  Even as we meet him there is a party going on and where is he?  He is out in the field working for his dad!  So I think in many ways we can relate to his reaction of wait, what!?!?  My little brother who has been off partying returns out of the blue and we are throwing him a party…what about me?  This is so interesting and something we need to look at today.  I want you to see a couple things, first of all let’s put the older brother through our relationship test.

Is he happy for his brother?  Well the answer to that is pretty clear, but let’s take it a step further and look at our three very practical questions from earlier.

First question- Can you accept people just as they are?  Well the answer for the older brother is no.  He is so frustrated because he is working and doing the right thing all the time, and now everyone is going crazy because his brother is home.  He doesn’t really feel anything for his little brother accept resentment.  I think this is a big thing for many Christians.  We struggle to see things from someone else’s point of view.  We don’t often or just lack the ability to see the challenges that someone else is walking through.  Typically this is because we look at what we are doing and how hard we are working and we know we are doing everything right.  It makes me think a lot of something Paul says that I really try to encourage Christian’s to wrap their minds around and live out, because I see it as a big key to being the kind of people Jesus calls us to be.

1 Corinthians 9:22 …I kept my bearings in Christ — but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. MSG

I think one of the biggest challenges many have is what Paul brings up here…and frankly I see this as a real challenge for the big brother.  He couldn’t experience life from someone else’s point of view.  I wish more of us could grasp and live out what Paul is talking about here.

Second Question – Can you build others up with your words and attitude?  Did you pick up on how the younger brother felt as he came back to his father?  He was hurting.  He was ashamed.  He understood clearly how badly he had messed things up.  Do you think he needed someone to point out his issues to him?  No, I don’t think he understood that he was a mess, and I don’t think he needed help feeling that here.  He was so insecure coming back that he was reciting lines to speak to his father about just being considered a servant and not family.  Now this insecure broken younger brother is watching his older brother as he comes out of the field.  Think of the hurts and damage being done just by attitude and questions here and watching this man pitch a fit here.  Now on the flip side can you imagine if the older brother could have come in and built into this hurting young man’s life?

Third Question – Can you simply love on others with no expectations?  I think this is a challenging thing for us humans because the kind of love that would allow us to live and love unconditionally isn’t wired into us from birth, it’s something God gives us.  We need God in us to have this type of love.  So I can really understand the struggle of the older brother in this story, because he is looking down at the blisters on his hands, and feeling the soreness of his back as he does works hard and does everything right for his father, while let’s face it, the younger brother just went out and blew everything on fun.  I get it, but this is all part of our relationship test.  Can we be genuinely happy for others or not.  This is really important and there is something I really want you to see here.

In this story that Jesus tells we see something really important.  We learn something that is such a big deal.  We learn that as we distance ourselves from God (our Father) we are lost.  We see this with the younger brother right?  He leaves his father, and he is in a bad spot really quickly.  He rebelled, sinned, and just made a mess of things and it’s pretty obvious that he is lost and in need of his father.  But there is something that I think many of us can miss from this story.  The older brother is lost too.  We know this because of his distain or lack of happiness for his younger brother.  Let’s look at this for a moment, I feel like this is a profound point that comes out in our Day by Day book, could the older brother who is doing everything right…who is there with his father still be lost?  What tells us that something is wrong in his heart?  Well it’s the relationship test.  He isn’t happy for his younger brother.  Something is wrong here, instead of being happy he is angry, judgmental and very critical.  He is doing everything right, he is working very hard for his father, but he is missing something isn’t he?  I really want you to see this because this is the thing that so many Christians miss.  They are dutiful.  They work really hard on doing all the good Christian things, but they miss love.  They aren’t engaging into a close, and intimate and loving relationship with God, which means they have no shot of engaging into healthy and loving relationships with people.

I want you to see this today.  The older brother was so busy doing all the right things that he was missing the time to be with his dad, and he ends up becoming “that guy.”  The guy who does everything right but hurts people.  The kind of guy who can’t be happy for others, that can’t accept others as they are, that can’t build others up can’t, and can’t just love on people with no strings attached.  He is working hard, and doing a lot of good things and missing love and intimacy with his father…which is a very common issue with Christians today.

How do I know this?  Am I assuming this?  No it’s right there in scripture did you pick up on the conversation the father has with the older son?

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ 31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. NIV

This is so big!  The father is so loving here, and says to him, you are always with me, and all of this is yours at any time, it’s all yours!  Do you see it?  I think many Christian’s if they aren’t careful can go through different moments as both of these brothers.  At one point we all have our salvation moment, and whether that is a dangerously crazy story or not, it’s an amazing story of your redemption through Jesus.  It’s an amazing moment regardless of your story because we all sin.  But what can happen over time if we aren’t careful is we can shift from the prodigal son moment, to the older brother moment.  Where we become Christians, start doing all the right things and working really hard for God, and in all of that duty that we are carrying out we can miss intimacy.  We miss love.  Both of these brothers were lost because both were distant from the love of the father.  This is bigger than just geography…yes the little brother was making a mess of things miles and miles away, but the older brother was just as distant from his dad while being in his father’s house!  This is the state of many who do the church thing.  We are here in our father’s house, we do all the right things while missing the most important thing.  Which is a close, loving, and intimate relationship with God in every moment of our lives.  How do I know this is such a common problem?  Well it’s because of how many people walk through life busted up emotionally from encounters with people in church.  It’s the relationship test that really should help us see where we are at, whether inside the church or out in the world, the test is very important and reveals a lot about your heart condition.

So let me ask you the big question as we leave here today.

Can you be genuinely happy for others?  If you can’t it should be telling you something, make no mistake about this relationships are a big deal, and they are a big deal because loving God and loving others tie together.  They can’t be separated so if you are seeing some warning signs as you take this test its ok, it means you are human, but instead of working harder on the people part I would keep working on your heart.  I would encourage you to engage deeper and deeper into your Heavenly Father.  It’s probably more about your relationship with Him than you realize.  The more Christian’s get this heart thing right, the more people will come to know God in a very real way!

Loving God and loving others…amazing how everything circles back to that isn’t it?