It is hard to believe that we are already coming to the end of our big spring series on Emotionally Healthy Relationships.  Spring seemed to take a little longer to sprung than we would like but here we are in our last talk in our spring series before heading into our big summer study of Jesus’ famous teaching, The Sermon on the Mount.  I have to tell you this series has meant a lot to me for many reasons.  First the material is amazing.   I have learned so much from Pete Scazzero’s books…whether that is Emotionally Healthy Spirituality or The Emotionally Healthy Leader, or here in the relationships book, I find that I am learning so much about myself, that it just leaves me craving more, and I’m so glad to share this material with you because it can bring such depth and health to your life.  The second thing is the subject, relationships.  The idea of dealing with people.  I love talking about this because we all deal with people, it is inevitable.  I think if you stop and think about it, life would be a lot easier without all the people stuff wouldn’t it?  I think a lot of the messiness of life, a lot of the hurts and challenges come from the people we are doing life with, the people stuff isn’t easy.  And as nice as it would be to not have to deal with people, you will.  So HOW we deal with people is a really big deal.  The third thing that I think makes this series so profound, is the fact that it has really allowed us to see the most important thing when it comes to our own spirituality.  It’s interesting because we really complicate this whole religion thing…we busy it all up with a lot of religious activity and different church practices, but in the end everything we believe really comes back to one thing…love.  We can take all the deep theological teaching, and all the busy activities of church life, we can be the most discipled Christian on the planet, we can even teach and serve and lead in the church, but without love…none of it matters.  The verse that I have really kept coming back to is Paul explaining that very thing to us, every Sunday over the last few weeks we have started our time in God’s word right here…

1 Corinthians 13:1 If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. 2 If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. 3 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.  MSG

I love this, Paul is saying you can be the most spiritualized person in the world.  You can engage in every good religious practice there is…but without love it is absolutely nothing.  This is so important and I really think it’s where so many good Christian people struggle.  They struggle with the love thing while be really good at the church activities.  What is up with the struggle with love?  Well, I will tell you why that is such a challenge.  It’s because practicing real love isn’t easy.  Now I know, I know that isn’t what we see in the romantic movies and it isn’t what we grow up thinking love will be.  Think through what you thought love would be, and compare it to what your reality looks like today.  Those of you who are married…you had an idea of what it all looked like right but love isn’t always super romantic is it?  Sometimes it is super romantic, and sometimes it requires selflessness, and humble sacrifice on our part too doesn’t it?  This is not always what we are told about love is it?  That love can be hard to do?  Certainly is not how we see it in the movies right?

One of our favorite movies right now is “The Greatest Showman” it is an awesome movie.  My family seems to be watching that movie all the time, or listening to the soundtrack in the car, and it is a great movie…but there is this point where the guy has made a mess of his life and has really hurt his wife, and he comes back and sings a song to her and everything is good!  I remember the first 50 or 60 times I saw this in the movie with the family thinking to myself, well that is one way to handle conflict and tough times, just sing her a song and it’s good!  LOL, not exactly the most accurate portrayal of real love put into practice.  Or how relationships are resolved for that matter.  You know, I am amazed at how many people don’t want to hear what I am about to say, but it is so important to understand.  Real love will take work, love isn’t as easy as it appears in the movies, and today I really want to talk to you about that.  Real love isn’t easy at all, and I think that is why we see so many Christian’s struggling with it.  It’s because Christian’s believe it or not are people too and just like all people…I mean generally speaking we aren’t looking for more work to do right?  We are often looking for the easiest path to things that we can find but that isn’t really the way love works, sometimes it will take more than the beautiful romantic thing we have drawn up in our heads, or a nice romantic song like the movies told me I could do.  The reality is that when it comes to love there is effort, humility, challenges, work, and there at times (ask Jesus is blood and sacrifice) and sometimes there will need to be focus, effort, and longer periods of time to make something work, it may even take more than the three minute turn around we see in the romantic musicals on the big screen.  Real love in practice is not easy at all.  You know I think this is something Paul is trying to help us with in that love chapter that I keep hitting on as we start these relationships talks each week…he says the part about all our religious activity being empty without love then turns around and says this…

1 Corinthians 13:4-13 Love never gives up.  Love cares more for others than for self.  Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.  Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always “me first,” Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end.  Love never dies.  Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit.  We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete.  But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.  When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.  We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!  But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.  MSG

Can I tell you something, if you really focus on what Paul is telling us here, I think he is telling us that love isn’t all that easy to put into practice isn’t he?  I mean let’s look at just verse four here and you tell me how well we people engage into love.

1 Corinthians 13:4 Love never gives up.  Love cares more for others than for self.  Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.  Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head… MSG

I mean the idea that love doesn’t give up alone implies there will be something to push through at times or that it won’t be easy.  In almost every phrase of what this real love is, we see what looks to be things that really can be seen as opposite of our natural instincts as people.  Doesn’t this help us see what a challenge real love is?  I think so.  I think many of us people struggle with the idea that things take time, that it may take patience, and perseverance to live this way.  This is a challenge, it isn’t as romantic and lovely as the movies make it is it?  Paul is helping us see that when it comes to love, it isn’t easy at all.  But you know, this is where we can really get into something today.

Let’s go back to this one central theme we have been talking about throughout the course of this series, that love is a really big deal and that in the end spirituality without love is a really empty thing, a complete waste of time.  Don’t take my word for it that is what Paul just told us there in the first three verses of 1 Corinthians 13.

Now think back to Jesus’ biggest battles with the religious people of his time and what were those ‘dust ups’ typically about?  If you really think about it, it wasn’t that they weren’t doing good religious things…Jesus says when it comes to their knowledge they are really great at the intellectual side of things right?  I mean Jesus never argued that they didn’t know in their minds what they were saying, but He did point out something about these spiritual elite, and He pointed it out to them and His disciples often…

Matthew 23:1 Now Jesus turned to address his disciples, along with the crowd that had gathered with them. 2 “The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. 3 You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer. MSG

This is so important, what mattered to Jesus?  I want you to take a moment and really think about this, what was the constant rub and confrontation between the religious leaders and Jesus?  It wasn’t about their knowledge.  It was all about their actions, which would tie directly to their hearts, which ties directly back to love.  Remember to Jesus the most important of all things is love right?

Matthew 22:34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 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

Everything for Jesus was a push towards love and the rub between Him and the religious of that time was that they said all the right things, they did all the religious practices extremely well…and they missed the most important thing which is love.  So let’s start doing the math here.  Jesus pushed in on the heart.  Jesus says the most important thing we can do is love and we also can clearly understand that this type of love isn’t easy.  It takes time, and work, and humility, and well I think more than anything it takes God living inside us (the Holy Spirit) empowering us to live completely opposite of the ways of this world.  This is challenging stuff when we really think about it, because this type of love is deep, and comes from a totally transformed life in Christ…there is simply no other way to live this way.

As I was going through this talk I just kept thinking about this…A life as a disciple of Christ is a life of real love.  Real love comes out of us in our behaviors and actions…which is why Jesus pushed in on this so hard.  It’s one thing to say we love, but it’s a whole other thing to actually live this type of life out right?  So if I can do the math and put this all together, to me Jesus has a real issue when our lives aren’t lining up in action, words, and behaviors, and thinking…basically love must be central…and the kind of love Jesus is talking about is real love, which we are beginning to understand isn’t all that easy to see coming out of our lives.  It requires the ability to humble myself and serve and sacrifice as Jesus did for you and I.  This means that my spiritual life is a life of real love that isn’t easy, but leads to religion as God wanted it rather than what we see lived out by so many today.  I wonder if you have ever really thought this way, that love mattered this much…that the heart mattered this much?  Well it does, check out this interaction found in Mark, I think it hits what we are looking at here today…

Mark 7:1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and 2 saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were “unclean,” that is, unwashed. 3(The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) 5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?”

So basically the religious leaders are noticing that Jesus’ disciples aren’t following the rules that they themselves feel that they are following perfectly.  And look at how Jesus responds…

Mark 7:6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ 8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”  NIV

Jesus quotes Isaiah, and the quote is ferocious.  God speaking through the prophet Isaiah said the very thing that Jesus keeps pointing out to these devout religious leaders.  You honor me with your words but your hearts are far from me.  They were so good at following rules but Jesus is saying everything comes back to the heart, not your ability to follow these rules…remember, without love all the busy religious activity is empty, it’s nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate or the clanging of a symbol.  This is so big Jesus goes on here…

Mark 7:14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.'”…20 He went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ 21 For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.'”  NIV

This is so important, I want you to see what Pete Scazzero has to say about this right out of the book.

“The religious leaders in Jesus’ day were deeply concerned with external indicators of holiness, such as observing strict rules about everything from eating food with properly washed hands to proper observance of Sabbath.  Jesus, in contrast, was deeply concerned about internal indicators of holiness, specifically the human heart.  He knew that resolutions of “I shall be good” were not enough.  We each need direct intervention of God to give us a new heart, a new nature, and a new Spirit.  But conversion is not a onetime spiritual event.  God intends that every day be a fresh beginning in which we humbly invite the wind of the Holy Spirit to form us more deeply into people who love Him and others like he does.                                                                     Emotionally Healthy Relationships page 220

I really don’t want us to leave this series without us really tracking well with this concept.  At the very center of our lives as a disciple of Jesus is love.  Jesus wasn’t focused on external behaviors…He didn’t care how good people were at doing the church thing.  Jesus wasn’t amazed at how much scripture you memorized, what mattered to Jesus was the heart.  It was all about love…real love the kind of love that pours into us through a relationship with Him, that can’t help but pour out of us into people around us…that type of love…life changing real love.  Jesus was constantly trying to help these people see the importance of love…which was so hard for them to see because they were so proud of what they were doing on the outside.  Our spiritual journey isn’t something that stays on the surface it must be about life change.  A deep transformation of the human heart that can only come from God’s love pouring into and out of us.  This is why love is so important, but we must understand…love isn’t easy.  I know that isn’t the message we have received over the years about love, but love…real love is very opposite of our human nature.  It means we will live opposite of the ways of this world…which feels like we are walking upstream and is nearly impossible without God’s help.

I really hope you are tracking with me today.  I want you to see this, that at the very center of what we believe is Jesus, a blood stained cross, and an empty tomb.  I like always bringing us back to that.  If you are making Christianity any more complicated than that, well…it’s time to see just how simple and clear our spiritual lives should be.  Now notice I said it is simple and clear to be a Christian right?  I never said it was easy though did I?  No, I didn’t because it isn’t easy to live out a life of real love as Jesus did.  But this is what life as a disciple of Jesus is all about.

This is our spiritual journey, it’s us moving towards holiness every day on this Earth.  It’s us spending time in God’s presence and allowing His love to pour into us, transforming us from the inside out.  It’s us living a life empowered by the Holy Spirit so that we can live against the current or flow of this world which will always pull us away from God and towards ourselves.  It’s not easy to live out the life of a disciple of Christ which hopefully by now you are seeing is the same as saying you are living out a life of real love.  This is what Jesus wants from you and I, he wants us living this out in our actions.  As I was writing this sermon I just kept thinking about a couple of things…the first thing that really hit me was how challenging real love is because it’s so opposite of our instincts, and so opposite of the ways of the world.  It’s also so challenging to live out because real love isn’t easy…this is why Paul says it will take patience…it takes time, and humility, and sacrifice to live this out, none of those things are easy are they?  But more than anything as I wrote this out I just kept thinking of how hard Jesus pushed in on good religious people…he wanted deep transformation for them…not just in their external behaviors but in their hearts…and I really believe this is where so many Christian’s struggle.  We do a lot of really good things, and in doing the good things we get lulled to sleep on the most important thing, which Jesus reminds us time and time again is this challenging life of real love which will always run opposite to the crowds.  So as we close this series down, I’m thinking of a few verses in James, which talk about real religion which really lines up so well with what Jesus was showing us earlier…

James 1:26 Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. 27 Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world. MSG

So we see it again, and again in scripture.  Real religion, the kind that matters is not about what you say, it’s about love, loving God and loving others.  And I really want you to see this, we are to practice real love, and did you catch that last phrase in verse 27?  We are not only to love and serve but we are to guard against corruption from the godless world.  This is pretty cool, James says this…

James 1:27 Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles, and refuse to let the world corrupt us. NLT

So we are to refuse to let the world corrupt us.  We are to refuse to go the ways of the world…can I tell you something that my friends is work.  I don’t know if you have ever waded in a creek, but it’s a lot easier to just go with the flow of the stream isn’t it?  It isn’t easy to walk upstream, against the flow and frankly that is what it looks like to live this life of love as a disciple of Christ on this Earth.

Jesus came to this Earth and pushed in on us, to love.  He pushed in on people who were doing the church thing extremely well and when I say extremely well I mean they memorized books of the bible, dedicated their lives to the church and Jesus kept saying they were missing it and the last thing we would ever want is for you to miss it too.  In the end we are to practice real love and we learned in that beautiful love chapter in 1 Corinthians that real love isn’t easy.  So as we close out this series on Emotionally Healthy Relationships I want you to take some time here today and think about your life, and your own heart.  How are you doing in the area of real love?

If you don’t like where you come out on this idea of loving with a patient self-less love like Jesus I want you to know that doesn’t make you a failure, no, that makes you a human being.  If you are sitting here today wondering how to engage this life of love better it really comes down to inviting Jesus into your life, spending time with Him which allows Him to shape and mold you, and then allowing Him to lead your life…this is the only way to live out this life of love, and this type of love we speak of isn’t easy, which I have told you week after week I think really becomes the point.  We won’t see this type of love with Jesus, we need Him living and active in our lives.

Everything comes back to love.