I want to ask you a question right now, that we will come back to later in the talk, so think about this.  Are you ready?  If you knew today was your last day, what would you do with your time?  Think about it.  What would you do?  We will come back to that later in the talk.

Over the last few weeks, our God Question series has shifted to four questions about the church and while that is supposed to continue today,  I’m stuck on something.  I want to go back to a thought from the last time I spoke to you.  We were talking about the importance of how we view the church.  Because how we view the church is how we will treat the church, we focused on the concept that we should treat the church like our Spiritual Family.  Do you remember that?  This allowed us to talk about some of the important things that should be seen, felt, and heard inside a healthy family.  We spoke of the love, generosity, and support that should be seen inside a healthy family.  We spoke of the patience and willingness we should have to stick with things, even when things don’t go our way.  Even in divisive and challenging times, the family sticks together.  And we spoke of the importance of adults, for continual growth to maturity inside the family.  We joked about what a family would look like if it were run by children or teenagers instead of adults, but as we look at The Spiritual Family when members of the Spiritual Family are not growing to Spiritual Maturity it isn’t funny at all, it’s a tragedy.   Because a church without the Spiritual Mature, can’t do the very thing the church is called to do…which is love and love well.  They can’t love those inside the church well, and they can’t extend that love to those on the outside looking in.  We must understand how essential Spiritual maturity is and how it is measured.  It is measured in how well we love others.  It isn’t measured by how long you have been a Christian or your tenure inside a church.  It is not measured by the knowledge you have accrued about God and Spiritual things; it is measured in how well you love others.

Listen, when we accept Jesus and become Christians, growing into Spiritual Maturity isn’t a given, it does not just fall into our lap.  It’s something we must pursue.  It is not a natural or easy thing to do, and many Christians never do. It requires intentionality and effort, it doesn’t just happen. It’s not about your tenure in a church, or what you do inside it, it’s all about your intentional work with Jesus. A spiritually mature Christian loves well. The problem is that few of us have learned or worked on how to do that. This is one of the greatest gifts we can give our world, it starts individually and affects the entire Spiritual Family. This takes the power of God and a commitment to learn, grow, and break free from the things in our lives that keep us stuck!

One of the hardest things for me has always been to watch how Christians behave and treat each other.  That is often so messy, but even worse is how Christians treat people around them who are on the outside looking in.  You know, people who don’t yet know Jesus as their Lord and Savior who desperately need Jesus as much as we all do.  That has always been the hardest on me.  How those inside the Spiritual Family treat those outside the Family.  I used to just think the worst of the religious person, but I have come to realize something.  Everyone around me is not just a horrible person if they don’t love well.  They aren’t just prideful and selfish and mean or hard-hearted, they may just be stuck, not growing and moving toward Spiritual Maturity which is a process we are all on.  You see, the issue (for the most part) isn’t whether a Christian loves God.  They do.  The issue (for the most part) isn’t whether a Christian wants others to come to know Jesus and have Heaven to look forward to someday.  They do.  The issue is that for so many Christians there is no growth to Spiritual Maturity, so we struggle to do the hard thing.  The hard thing is love.  We struggle to grow and heal from our hurts.  Because of this lack of growth, we struggle to grow beyond our self-centered instincts, which means we struggle to love others well.  We can say one thing and do the other at times, we can just struggle to see and feel compassion for those around us, our words can hurt people because are words reveal are messy heart conditions…and while I used to just assume the worst, I’ve realized something…this isn’t because all Christians are religious and hard-hearted, it’s simply a lack of growth to Spiritual Maturity.  This happens for many reasons…some can decide that because we have accepted Jesus, we are good now, or that we have arrived in some way, but we misunderstand or just don’t care to keep going, and growing to be more like Jesus each day, and we must continue growing into Spiritual Maturity.  That takes work, intentionality, and a passion to seek God!  Otherwise, we stay stuck developmentally in our hurt and what do we know about hurt people?  Well, hurt people, they hurt people.  They can love God and want others to experience that love but the hurts and wounds of the heart come out of their mouths, their choices, and their actions, leading to a lot of hurt people.  With no growth to Spiritual Maturity, we never move past our selfishness and learn the value of serving and loving those around us, just like an adolescent or teen, we stay focused on ourselves and use the church rather than care for it, and worse a community of self-focused people turn inward and are unable and unwilling to share God’s love with this world.  With no continued growth we can walk through life unaware and numb to the needs and hearts all around us. The reality is the church needs its family members to continually grow to Spiritual Maturity.  Because the spiritually mature love others well.  They see the stories and hearts of the people around them.  They give people the benefit of the doubt.  They have compassion and the ability to place themselves in someone else’s shoes, and they want others to experience their best life!  Without this ability to love others well, the church will do a lot of damage to people in desperate need of God’s love.   And we live in times when people need God’s love more than ever.  And how are they to experience that love?  They should be experiencing it through Christians, but so often they experience the opposite…and it drives them farther away from God.  Last week, I woke up Monday morning thinking about this concept of loving well inside and outside of the Spiritual Family and I opened up my laptop to an article that just crushed me, and I wanted to share it.

“An alcoholic friend of Philip Yancey once said to him: “When I’m late to church, people turn around and stare at me with frowns of disapproval.  I get the clear message that I’m not as responsible as they are.  When I’m late to an AA meeting, the meeting comes to a halt and everyone jumps up to hug and welcome me. They realize that my lateness may be a sign that I almost didn’t make it.  When I show up, it proves that my desperate need for them won over my desperate need for alcohol.”

How well do you love others?  How do you view people?  How do you treat people?  Is there compassion?  Do you see their hearts, and their stories unfolding before you?  Can you place yourself in their shoes?  Can you extend the same love and grace to people that you also need in your life?  Now, let me ask you this, who do you hang out with?  Who are you willing to hang out with?  Who is worth your time and energy?  Are there certain people today that you just want no part of?  Are there certain people that it’s easier to love, tolerate, and care for?  Now I want you to think with me, who did Jesus hang out with and how did he treat them?  He hung out with sinners and the people who were on the outside of life looking in.   He hung out with the worst of the worst, those that the religious of his time weren’t open to loving.  Does that mean that Jesus agreed with all their actions or that He was showing approval of their sins?  No. But what did he do? He loved them where they were.

Matthew 9:10 Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. 11 But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”12 When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” 13 Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” NLT

Ok, so there were people that Jesus loved and showed a lot of grace to even if they weren’t living the way he would like them to be living, but there were also people that He pushed back on for how they lived their lives.  Even in this one scripture, we see that don’t we?  This is something I think many Christians get backward today.  So, think with me, who did he confront and challenge how they were living their lives?  It was those who knew God.  It was the religious of that time, the teachers of the law, and those who would have been considered godly.  Do you see it?  You know, we hear a lot of terms today, and many Christians can scoff at the terms we hear today…terms we didn’t know back in the day.  Terms like “triggered.”  How about this one, that comes up a lot around church life, especially with those who aren’t into this faith stuff, “safe space.”  That one can make us cringe in a way, can’t it?  Well, let’s talk about it.  How do we make a safe place for others? What is our sign that it is a safe place?  It’s our love, it is how we share and interact with people.  It’s the love God has poured into us pouring out of us onto others.  If we love well, we don’t need signs on the door to let people know we are a safe space, they will know.  This is why continual growth to spiritual maturity is so important, we need to love others well. If we are not spiritually mature, we simply cannot do that. And if we can’t do that, we cannot share Jesus with this world. So, what are you doing in your life to grow into spiritual maturity?  If you aren’t active and intentionally spending time with God through God’s Word, and prayer, and inviting God into each day of your life, into the deepest parts of who you are so that you can grow to be more and more like Jesus each day you may be wondering why this Spiritual stuff doesn’t work for you.  You may be wondering why you keep hearing about this life you should live but can’t seem to find.  You may be wondering where the Spiritual Growth or life change from your faith is, or when it will arrive.  Please listen to me, if you aren’t intentionally engaging and pursuing it, it’s not coming for you.  And you won’t love well.  That would be like paying for a gym membership, never going to the gym to exercise, and then wondering why you’re not seeing physical results in your body!  You must ask yourself, this question today, what are you doing to grow into spiritual maturity?  This is important because a spiritually mature person loves others well.  If you aren’t sure how you are doing with this, just think for a moment about your life and your relationships.  Look at your choices, priorities, and conversations they will tell you.

You know, sharing God with the world starts with our ability to love people.  It’s that love that opens those doors for us into people’s lives.  But let’s be real, we have all met people, and we know they aren’t all that easy to love at times.  On top of that, Jesus seems to raise the bar on love.  He makes something that is already challenging even more challenging.  He doesn’t just tell us that we are to love those who are easy to love, or those whom we agree with, or those who believe what we believe, and live their lives the way we think they should.  Jesus says we are to love everyone, even those who are not easy to love.  And I want you to take note here, in this challenge to love in a way that seems so beyond our abilities and instincts, we are challenged to grow up, again.

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

We are to grow up and live out our God-created identity, we are to live generously and graciously towards others…just as God is toward us!  And again, “others” aren’t just the people inside our circle of trust or our Spiritual Family!  It includes those that are not all that easy to love.  And that only happens as God transforms us and we grow up into the people God calls us to be.  Spiritual Maturity is measured in how well you love others.

Ok, at the beginning of this talk, I asked you a question, do you remember that?  If you knew you had 24 hours to live, what would you do with it?  How would you spend your time?  You know I asked that question because, in the last few weeks, there were a lot of Christians who thought the world was going to come to an end, or that we were entering the end times, and that the Solar Eclipse was a big sign of that all happening or beginning to happen.  I received emails on this and was sent different articles and social media posts discussing it.  I heard fear from some about this, and a good bit of talk about this being a sign of end times, but do you know what struck me?  It is how many of those same people who thought they were entering the last day, or the last days on this Earth chose to spend their time.  In the passion, emotion, fear, or just thought that this was it, and Jesus is returning, what did they do?  How did they spend their time?  Did they spread fear?  Did they share Christ with others?  Did they isolate?  Did they choose to fight with people they don’t agree with?  Did they push in on people who they believe are wrong or act in sinful ways?  Did they point out the sins of others?  Did they try to help someone find Christ?  I can’t stop thinking about this.  What did they do with their time?  What would you do if you knew you had a day left?  We have all probably done this in the past, where we think through what we would do if we knew we only had one day left to live.  We may think about our bucket list of things we would want to experience.  Ha, maybe, we would go buy everything we always dreamed of on high-interest credit cards.  We may think of who we would spend our time with.  We may want to tell our loved ones things we have never said and don’t want to leave without saying.  But what is it for you?   I will say that for many Christians who believed this was it, the concept of loving others well wasn’t at the forefront of their minds.

You know as a Christian growing to be more like Christ each day, we get the Bible to read and study how Jesus did life.  It’s interesting, and I kept thinking that Jesus lived out his last day, knowing that it was his last day before The Cross, and we see what He chose to do.  He loved and humbly served.  He chose to wash the feet of the people he cared about, a symbol of love, and humble service to the people he loved, even those who were about to betray him, and let him down in major ways.  Let’s read what Jesus did on knowing His time was up.

John 13:1 Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. 2 It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. 4 So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, 5 and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. NLT

Jesus knew His time had come.  He knew what was about to take place.  He knew it was the last day for him.  He knew Judas was about to betray Him.  He knew Peter was about to deny Him.  He knew this was it…and He chose to spend His final moments humbly and lovingly washing the feet of His disciples.  Disciples who doubted.  Disciples who never heard or seemed to listen to Him.  Disciples who were literally about to betray him for money.  Disciples who were bickering over who should be ranked where in their ranks.  Disciples who were worried about other people who were doing good work in God’s name too.  Disciples who spoke out of turn and just never seemed to get Him.  Jesus chose to spend his final moments loving those who weren’t perfect and modeling for us the true role of a Christian.

John 13:12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. NIV

Jesus spent his last moments washing their feet.  Then explains how intentional this was and why He did this.  He said, “I did this, now you go and do this!  I have set an example for you, my followers, to follow and live out.”  So, let’s talk.  There were many Christians who thought the Solar Eclipse was it, or the beginning of it, and what did they do with that time?  I would argue it would have looked very different if we followed Christ’s example.

You know, as we were getting all these concerns over the end times, we also have been seeing more and more people in really tough spots.  Devastated and broken…hurting and hopeless, and in desperate need of love, and a safe place.  We sat with people who needed help, desperately.  We sat with people who were in such pain that they thought ending their lives was their best option.  We have sat with people who have been hurt by people, Christian people, and it’s crushed them.  And now they do not feel that Christians or the church is a safe place for them because of those painful moments.  We have sat with people who know Christian views and rules and know that Christians won’t agree with how they are choosing to live their lives, so they stand and live in this hurt, or insecurity of how they will be treated.  They need help, they feel drawn to God enough to talk to a Pastor, but they have felt rejection, judgment, and like they don’t measure up.  They feel unloved and unlovable.  And what did Jesus say?  Those are the people we should love, the unlovable…remember what He said?  Anybody can love the lovable!  We are seeing more and more people in crisis, hurting worse than ever before, confused, devastated, and in desperate need of God in their lives…in desperate need of the Good News that we have to give them…and as that intensifies daily, I get to receive calls, concerning emails, and screenshots of end times predictions and how we are in the End Times, and all I can think is, well…maybe it is, but I hope not, because we have a lot of work yet to do!  If it is, well then, let’s use our time wisely!  Let’s use it to help others the way Jesus told us to when he knew his time was up.

It is heartbreaking to watch people struggle in this fallen and broken world.  A world that needs Christians to be building bridges of love for people to cross over and experience God more than ever, with people who are struggling, broken, and confused more than ever.  So, the question is…are we doing that?  In Jesus’ last moments, He showed us how to act and told us we would be blessed if we did what he modeled.  And he loved imperfect, sinful people, who didn’t always treat him well, and humbly washed their feet.  So how are you doing with this?  Are you humbly loving those around you who desperately need it?  Are there certain people you are open to helping and some you aren’t?  We need to think this all through.  Do you believe our Spiritual Family is a safe place for people who feel left out or are on the outside looking in?  Do you know many around you don’t believe you are a safe place for them?  So how do we break that mindset?  Well, we earn it from them with the way we live our lives and how we treat them over time.  We love others well.

We have all heard the statement, WWJD, and probably wore bracelets or T-shirts back when it was cool to do so.  We believe it to be true and would say we should live this way!  We know that it’s our job to live our lives growing to be more like Christ each day.  But are we truly living our lives like Him?  Are we truly “WWJD’ing” if we have no love, grace, patience, and forgiveness?  Are we truly “WWJD’ing” if we judge, focus on, and point out other people’s issues and shortcomings?  Are we “WWJD’ing if we go into what we believe is our last day, and do not do what Jesus said we should do?  He humbly served and loved in those moments, and told us to do likewise, yet so many Christians didn’t do that.  They continue to love those who are like them, those who are easy to love, and those who agree with them…but that wasn’t what Jesus challenged us to do.  Think about this.  How do we Christians treat the hurting and marginalized people of this world?  Then think through this, who did Jesus hang out with and love?  Where did he spend his time?  Who did he extend love and grace to?  It was the marginalized, and hurting people, the outcasts, and lowly people of His time.  He would sit and talk with people you dare not talk to, and love those who needed it.  So, the big question is, would you?  Now, Jesus did confront some people about how they lived. Who was it?  It wasn’t the people struggling, far from God.  It was the religious people of that time.  The prideful, the “important” who knew the law and ignored their own desperate need of Him!  Yet he was a loving friend to the outsider, to those the religious would look down upon, and judged as sinners who they shouldn’t associate with.  So, can I ask you, would someone struggling in this world find you to be a safe space?  Would they find your church community to be a safe space?

So, if Jesus was here physically walking around on this planet today, in 2024…where and with whom would he spend His time?  Who would He be hanging out with?  Who would He love on and who would He be confronting?  And the follow-up to that is if we are His body, the extension of Him on this Earth today…then shouldn’t we be where He would be, loving on and spending time with who He would be loving on and spending time with?  Wouldn’t we be confronting and challenging those He would be confronting and challenging?  Yet so often, I think if we stopped, slowed down, humbled ourselves, and stopped worrying about who is right and who is wrong, we would admit we probably have this backward more often than not…which is why we must pour into our relationship with Jesus, to grow into Spiritual Maturity and love others well.  These are challenging times, and things are pushing against us today that we may struggle and not even know how to respond.  End times, safe spaces, trigger words, hurting people, confused and frustrated people, hate speech, cancel culture, new politics to fight over, and on and on I could go…you don’t have to have all the answers, and you don’t have to have a great response to the push back from this world, and you don’t have to be right and prove how right you are…just love people where they are, and watch what happens.  That’s the best advice I can give you today…just love, love the way we Christians advertise and celebrate love.  Love, even when it isn’t easy…just 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, 5 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, 6 Doesn’t revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, 7 Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end.  8 Love never dies. MSG

If we love the way Paul describes, our relationships, our churches and the people we come in contact with will be impacted.  If we want to be the kind of church that is truly making a difference in this world, that is effective in helping others find God…we must love the way Paul describes.  When we do, people see it, feel it, and will be drawn to it.  They will know we have something they want and need.  Loving this way attracts and opens us up while trying to win arguments and prove how right we are and how wrong or sinful someone else is…well, that repels and pushes people apart and away from God.  This kind of love is different because it is so pure and perfect that it undeniably must come from God. It’s beyond our human instincts and ability to live and love the way Paul describes.  That will only happen when we make the intentional choices to grow in a relationship with God into Spiritual Maturity.  A person walking with God growing this way is learning to do the hardest thing, and that is to love well.

So, does this mean we must smile constantly, be perfect, and that everyone will get along perfectly all the time…no, we won’t do it perfectly all the time, and no, the idea isn’t to show up and pretend in any way.  We are still people, and we will mess up from time to time, which is why we are so glad that love is patient and kind, that it forgives and keeps no record of wrongs.  We will still have emotions, and we will still have conflicts to handle from time to time, but when the church is filled with the Spiritually Mature, it’s ok, because we are loving well, we forgive, and lovingly work through things. There are a lot of challenges that we face as Christians in this world.  A world that wants us to bend to its desires rather than stand in God’s desires for our lives.  Which is why we are so thankful that love never gives up.  Because without God’s love in us, we just might give up the fight.  This is a world of endless debates over right and wrong, over what truth is and what it is not.  Where people will come at us for answers to questions that we may not have answers to on how they are living or what they are doing…and the good news is, we don’t have to have all the answers to their questions, because our job is to love well…and when we find ourselves in that spot we just lean into the idea that love never fails.  This means if you’re not sure how to respond to a challenging social issue or theological question, you want to err on the side of love and grace…because love never fails, it’s not prideful, and it doesn’t fly off the handle.

In the last few weeks, I was introduced to a new term about some scripture that made me think.  The term is  “clobber verses.” That was new for me.  I had to ask more questions because I hadn’t heard the term before.  Well, “clobber verses” is the term being used for the verses in Scripture that tell you if your lifestyle is wrong, or that you are sinful.  So, in some ways, it’s a good descriptor, because there are those ouch verses in Scripture that press in on how we live.  But I realized something at that moment.  Most people on the outside looking in at Christianity, know those “clobber verses.”  They focus on them and can quote them.  They have them in their holster ready for their next debate with another Christian.  And I just keep thinking, what if the focus was on Jesus, who He is, how He lived, and what He did for every person on this planet…rather than on those “clobber verses.”  Imagine a world full of Christians who lived and loved as Jesus did.  Who would they engage, spend time with, and simply love?  Who would they press in on about how they live their lives?  Imagine a world full of love the way Paul described.  A love that never fails.  In a world that some Christians believe is in its last days, we need to then ask the next question, if that is true, what do loving people do with that time?  In a world full of broken, hurting maybe even angry people, people full of despair who need God as intensely as they seem to push Him away.  What do we do?  Do we press in with judgment?  Do we tell them how right we are and how wrong they are?  Do we dive into the debates so many are expecting?  Well, I will tell you what we are called to do.  We are to love them as Jesus did and modeled for us to do.  We pour into our relationship with God which allows us to continue to grow into Spiritual Maturity so that we can love others well.  So often we slip into the traps of arguments, debates, and trying to prove who is right and who is wrong…which does the opposite of what we want to see in people’s lives.  We need to love the hurting people of this world right where they are as Jesus did.  He ate with and loved people whom the religious people of His time would have never dared to associate with or spend time with.  Where He spent his time and who He associated with enraged them.  Does that mean Jesus approved of their sin or agreed with how they lived?  Did Jesus spending time with that push them further into sin?  No, but He loved so purely and had compassion for them.  He knew they needed Him and His love and He understands that love pulls people to God, rather than pushing them further away.  And we are to do the same.  Our job is to love well, and we cannot do that if we are not passionately pursuing a relationship with God, growing to be more and more like Him each day.  The world needs The Spiritual Mature because they love others well.