We have been in a big conversation this year that has all been built around one very specific and popular question.  That question is, what’s the point of church?  This has been a lot of fun and has given us an opportunity to explore just how important, and often misunderstood, church and church life can be.  We have been able to talk about the truth behind what church should be, and what it should not be, and we have been able to dive into many tension points, and challenges we face as a church along the way, while focusing on the one thing the church really needs, which is a passionate pursuit of God in our lives.  We need the presence of God, He is the solution, the motivation, and the answer to every question and problem, and challenge that we face.  Now today I have an opportunity to talk to you about our expectations for you here at MRC…and yes, we do have expectations for you here at MRC.  But before I jump into our expectations for you, which could be making you a little nervous and wondering where this is heading today, I want to take a moment and check in with you, because as we walk through this series, challenging you with choices, and God’s word, pushing in harder and harder on your personal relationship with God, while also challenging you to engage, I want to ask…how are you doing with all of this?  Has it been inspiring and exciting to think about ways to step in and engage God and the church?  Do you leave feeling a little tired or discouraged thinking about everything you aren’t doing that maybe you should be?  Do you leave feeling tension, maybe even convicted over what you aren’t doing, and wonder if you aren’t doing enough?  Maybe you leave thinking, yeah…this isn’t for me, I have plenty to do without all this God stuff, but you are back here today, and I’m thankful for that.  We want you to know something, no matter where you are or how you are feeling, we are thankful that you are with us, and we would also love for you to remember, just how loved you are by God.  So, whether you are zooming, excited, and passionate about all this God stuff, or just wondering how in the world to even get started, you are exactly where God wants you to be today, in a place that has been created so that you can take all the time you need to experience God’s love and grace in your life.  We aren’t going anywhere, we are a safe place, so take your time, take a deep breath, and relax in the fact that you are loved.  We love you and have created a safe place, free of judgment and religion for you to come and just be yourself, so you can relax and truly connect with your Heavenly Father, and truly get to the place where you begin to wrap your heart and mind around God’s love for you.  You see, in the end, that is the key.  Understanding and wrapping our hearts and minds around God’s love, grace, and forgiveness, and then believing it to be true for you.  When that happens, all this spirituality and religious stuff that seems so complicated, or like so much work, well it becomes simple and fun.  After all, Jesus said that his teaching is easy and light.

Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  NIV

Today, we are talking about the great expectations that we, MRC, have for those of us in the Spiritual Family and yes, we do have expectations of you.  In fact, we have 5 of them but in the end, as we talk this all out today, I think you will see that we truly only have one expectation of you, it just comes out in many different ways.  Confused yet?  Don’t worry, we will clear this up.  Now you may be feeling some tension right now, worried about the fact that we are about to lay out our expectations of you, but for now, I want to ask you to keep an open heart and mind and think through what is actually being asked of you here at MRC.  as we walk through this, because by the end of this talk today you may feel better about all this.  So here they are.

Love God, Love Others, Love Growing, Love Serving, Love Giving

So, our first instinct as we hear of the great expectations a church would have for us is probably a bit of a negative response.  Maybe some tension or a deep breath thinking here we go.  Then we see a list of five expectations and the tension only grows, but I want you to think about this, basically, our expectation is that you should be a Christian.  So maybe we should start with, what does it mean to be a Christian?  Well, we first find followers of Jesus called this in Acts 11…

Acts 11:25 Then Barnabas went on to Tarsus to look for Saul. 26 When he found him, he brought him back to Antioch. Both of them stayed there with the church for a full year, teaching large crowds of people. (It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.) NLT

Why were they called Christians?  Because they were choosing to live their lives as Christ lived his, and Christ lived a life of loved God, he loved others, he loved growing, he certainly loved serving, and loved giving, literally giving his whole life to this world.  Do you see it?  These 5 great expectations are set for us to actually live a Christian life.  That’s our expectation of you, to be a Christian, or to do your best to live as Jesus lived.  So, are you tracking with me today?  I mean, this shouldn’t be too hard to accept and live out these expectations, am I right?  Basically, to love these 5 areas means I am living a Christian life…but can we be honest here today?  This isn’t as easy as it sounds…and today we are going to talk about why that is.

The reason that all of this is so hard, why it can feel like such a burden or seem so impossible for us to do, is because we just can’t wrap our hearts and minds around God’s love for us.  We haven’t fully accepted it, and we are not standing tall in God’s love and grace for us.  Now we know He loves us, and we know we are going to Heaven someday, but we struggle to fully grasp and accept the fullness of that love and acceptance and forgiveness in our lives.  I will tell you why that is, it’s because we know us, we know our sins, our thoughts, our issues, and our failures, and it is hard to truly sit in the peace and contentment of God’s incredible unconditional love for us.  This is why Paul’s prayer is so powerful here.

Ephesians 3:16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. NLT

Do you see it?  If we could understand just how great God’s love truly is and live in it, we would be made complete with the fullness and power that comes from God.  If we understood and truly believed in God’s love and that love floods us as truth for who we are and how we live, then none of this faith stuff would be hard or complex or feel like a burden at all.  So how do you handle things like expectations or even commands of God in Scripture?  Does it feel like work?  Is it complicated?  Well, that should tell you that you are not understanding and don’t truly live and believe in God’s amazing love for you.

1 John 5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too. 2 We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey his commandments. 3 Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome. NLT

Listen, as Christians, we are to do our best to live like Christ, that is what it means to be a Christian, and that truly is the heart of the MRC expectations.  My goal with you today is to help you understand that for all humans this seems very complicated and daunting, and there is a reason for that, and that reason is that we truly don’t grasp how much freedom, peace, and refreshment is found in living in the true understanding and belief of God’s love for us.  It’s hard for us to do, but until we truly experience God’s grace and forgiveness at a level that we start to wrap our hearts and minds around it, this will always be a challenge.  So maybe a better way of stating that we at MRC expect you to be Christian is to say that we at MRC expect you to live and embrace a life of love.  Not saying it won’t be challenging but in the end, that is what living like Jesus, (being a Christian is all about.)  And if we embrace this as our truth and reality, everything changes, and all of a sudden, all the complexities of religion and spirituality…become free and light and simple.  All the burdens we feel over God’s commands for our lives are no longer seen as rules to hold us down and prove to us how badly we will fail, but as loving guidelines to live our best lives.  Even brutal things like the brutal expectation to love giving become a joy because we truly grasp whose it all is, and we see it’s all His and not ours, and even things like that become free and light.  It’s as we grasp and live a life of love that, even the things of this world we should steer clear of, go from complicated, and a burden to free and light.  Think about it, in the end, MRC’s expectation of you is to embrace and live out a life in God’s love just as Jesus modeled.

Ephesians 5:1 Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. 2 Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that. MSG

So, let me point this out before we dive further into this.  We see one of those five expectations we have of you here, don’t we?  It may be the one most of us don’t like talking about or being asked to do.  Jesus gave so we give.  As Christians, we are living as He lived, and Jesus gave. He didn’t love to get something from us but to give everything to us, and we are to love like that!

So, let’s talk.  You know, as we live like Jesus, we step into and begin to wrap our hearts and minds around love.  And I want you to see that in the end, embracing how loved, how forgiven, and how accepted you are by God is the way to everything we truly want, and never seem to quite find when it comes to our faith.  We need to slow down in this thought because it affects every aspect of your life from your faith to your relationships, to your family, to your worldview, to your finances, and even to your emotional and mental health…it all comes down to your understanding of love, not earthly we see it in the movies love but God’s truly all-encompassing, unconditional love for us. So, let’s talk about and try to grasp God’s love before we get very practical here today.

We must understand that God’s love is perfect, very different from how we humans define love.

1 Corinthians 13:4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. NIV

This isn’t a love that makes sense to us humans, and it’s a love that can’t be part of our lives without God’s presence in us.  We need Him to flood our hearts and minds to live out a life of love this pure.

We must understand that God’s love means we have nothing to fear.

1 John 4:18 There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life — fear of death, fear of judgment — is one not yet fully formed in love. 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

You know this Scripture stands out to me as very important in the world we live in today, and in many ways is revealing the secret to all of life and faith for us, so we will come back to it in a bit, so bookmark that!  Now let’s talk for a moment before we move on, it’s God’s love that casts out fear…as we grasp God’s love, we have nothing to fear.  This is so big.  And check it out, we see our first two expectations come out well here.  Love God and love others.  Time and time again Jesus tells us these are the two most important things to do, in this section of Scripture we see them tied together.  Loving God and loving others.  You can’t do one without the other.   First, we were loved so we love…if we say we love God but don’t love others, we don’t truly love God.  We have to do both.  Let’s keep building here…

You must understand that you can’t push God away, nothing separates us from His love.

Romans 8:35 Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture…37 None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. 38 I’m absolutely convinced that nothing — nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, 39 high or low, thinkable or unthinkable — absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us. MSG

Do you believe this to be true?  Nothing can separate you from God’s love…or have you earned less, remember God’s love keeps no record of wrongs…humans do, but God doesn’t.   Did you see that not even the worst sins listed in Scripture separate us from God’s love?  Do you live like you believe this?

You must understand that as God’s love makes a difference in your life, you will lovingly serve.

Philippians 1:1-4 f you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care—then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

It’s interesting how this concept of love leads us to live out these five great expectations at MRC.  We saw four so far, we saw that in God’s love, we will love giving, we will love God and love others and we can’t do one without the other, and now we saw that we will love serving, and it’s true with growing as well.  As we embrace God’s love, we desire to be more and more like him, we will love growing.

We must understand that as we embrace and grasp God’s love we are filled with a desire to grow and change into the person that He wants us to be rather than the person that we want to be.

2 Corinthians 5:14 Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. 15 He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. 16 So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! 17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! NLT

All five of MRC’s expectations come down to one thing, and that is grasping and living out a life of love.  This is what it means to be a Christian, and this is our expectation of you, that actually should be a Christian.  I know many people out there want you to think it’s much more complicated than that, but it truly isn’t.  What makes it complicated is how difficult it is for us to grasp this kind of love.  If we do, we will find everything we want and more.  Peace, contentment, joy, freedom…relaxation…fun!  I want you to understand that the key is understanding God’s love, and while it is too great to maybe ever fully understand on this side of Heaven, it’s accepting that we can be loved this purely and this unconditionally.  When you do, everything changes, and you find the very life Jesus told you that He came to give you.  You know the life that you thought you would never find but always want, that seems so frustratingly just out of reach.  It’s that abundant, full life, your best life that is yours through Him.

John 10:10 “…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. NIV

Ok, so let’s get very practical.  How do I know if I truly grasp and have accepted God’s love for me?  Well let’s walk through some different areas of our lives, and we can start with MRC’s expectations and build out from there.

Do you love God and love others?  If you struggle with this, it’s time to truly slow down, center on just how loved you are by God, and accept His pure, unconditional love for you.  Remember what we read earlier?  We can’t do one without the other, we love God and others.

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

Do you love serving?  If you struggle to serve, it’s a good sign that you are not understanding and grasping God’s love, because His love leads us to humbly serve, as He humbly served us.  An inability or an unwillingness to serve tends to show us that the focus of our lives is still on us, and not on Him, remember Jesus says, serving is everything.

Matthew 23:11 “Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. 12 If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty. MSG

If you want to know if you truly grasp and accept God’s love, this is a great marker of it.  Because God’s love is so pure, that we no longer focus or worry about ourselves, we are able to see others, truly care about others, and aren’t worried about what we can get, but content to simply be ourselves and help others.  God’s love is not proud or self-seeking.

Do you love growing?  If you want to know if you truly grasp and accept God’s love, then look at your choices and how you spend your time.  Do you have a passion to grow into the person God wants you to be or do you find yourself in the tension of loving God but still wanting to live as you want it to be?  This is important, because a great way to see if we grasp and accept God’s love is to look at our passion and desire to grow…or not.  Are you energized to spend time with God or is it an obligation?   Paul says that we should be continually changing the way we think…are you?

Ephesians 4:23 Now your attitudes and thoughts must all be constantly changing for the better. 24 Yes, you must be a new and different person, holy and good. Clothe yourself with this new nature. TLB

Do you love giving?  You know Jesus talked about greed and money stuff a lot and I like to point out that when something comes up a lot in Scripture it’s a really big deal.  This concept of giving tends to be a major sticking point for so many of us, but it truly is a great marker of whether or not we understand and accept God’s love in our lives or not.  Are you generous?  Do you give?  If we grasp God’s love and accept it in our lives we live generously, understanding it’s all His.

Ephesians 5:1 Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. 2 Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that. MSG

The key to life is found in understanding and accepting God’s love, which is why we expect you to live out these expectations as Christians.  I want you to understand that goes beyond what happens in our church, this is the key to living your best life.  So, we will close today, pointing to every tangible and real aspect of your life.  Let’s continue to ask our question…do we truly understand, and accept God’s love in our lives?  So, let’s slow down, and let’s process our lives through this concept today.

When you look at your heart condition, and your mental and emotional health condition.   How are you doing?  Do you see peace, contentment, joy, strength, and freedom or do you see fear, anxiety, tension, stress, worry, regret, and depression?  Be honest with yourself and remember there is no fear in love, God’s love casts out fear, and maybe all that tension and emotional and spiritual violence in your soul comes down to this one fact, you haven’t embraced and accepted how loved and cared for you truly are.

When you look at your relationships, are you able to love?  When you hear us talk of loving others does it put tension in you because some people haven’t earned your love?  Does it feel like a very complicated subject with many layers that we aren’t expressing to you?  If you struggle with this and need us to define just who you should love or who your neighbor is, it’s a sure sign that you do not understand God’s love for you and haven’t fully accepted His love for you and in you.  Remember God’s love keeps no records of wrong and is patient, and kind, and we can’t do anything to push it away.

When you think about Christianity, does your faith life feel extremely complicated and like hard work?  Is it a burden to you?  Does getting up and choosing to spend time in God’s word feel like this thing you have to do for Him?  Are you able to invite God into each day with prayer and a focus on Him or is it just exhausting to go there?  Does there always need to be something for you to do to earn things from God?  Do you feel guilty if you aren’t extremely busy, doing for God, or are you ok with simply being with God?  This is a great way to see if you understand and accept God’s love in your life or not.

When you look at your life are you able to be generous?  Can you give your time, your resources, your energy, and your money and material possessions back to God or are you busy protecting what you have and what you have earned that you are missing that in the end, it’s all God’s?  Look at this area of your life, if you truly believe in God’s love and accept it you won’t be so preoccupied with the getting but will be gracious and thankful in the understanding of what God is providing.

Listen we love you so much and I wanted you to see that we do have expectations of you here at MRC.  Our expectations are that you love God, love others, love growing, love serving, and love giving…what we are simply asking of you is that you actually be a Christian.  So, to be perfectly clear, this means that we are asking you to slow down and engage God so that you can truly experience His love and grace in your life.  Find rest, freedom, and relaxation in how valued and cared for you truly are because when you do and can begin to understand and accept God’s love for you, everything changes.

It all boils down to this.  The great expectation we have for you is that you embrace and accept how loved you are by God.  Imagine a church filled with people who embraced and accepted God’s love and lived it out…sure sounds like a lot of fun to me.