Brian Cropp: We’re looking at an assignment God has given us as a congregation, and if you’ve missed those messages, this will be very helpful for you to kind of know where we’re coming from and where we’re going. We’ve called this series, God Dreams, and we’ve defined God Dreams as a vision of the future that started first in the mind of God. Then, He’s given a portion of that, a doable assignment to us, and that’s sort of what this picture has been representing for us, this way into the future for us. We’re on a road; we’re headed somewhere. Then, He’s given us a framework so that we can do what He’s asked us to do. Over here is our mission; this answers the what question. What are we supposed to do? That is, we would say it this way, we are inviting people to discover and experience God’s ways because we know that as we discover and experience God’s ways there’s the opportunity for Jesus to come into our lives and provide transformation so that we are the men and women that God intends us to be.
We also have looked at our values, the why we’re doing this mission. We would say it in three very short phrases. We want to please God fully; we want to love people wisely, and we want to steward opportunity faithfully. So, we have our what; sorry, we have our how, which is our strategy. The different opportunities and ways throughout our church life where you can discover and experience God’s ways, and then we’ve been looking at our measures. This answers “How will we know we’ve been successful?” How can you know that my life is transforming to be more like Jesus Christ and as a church that we’re accomplishing this mission? So, we’re going to continue looking at our measures this morning. I want to invite our senior pastor to the stage. There is a listening guide in your program; there’s a pen in the seat pocket in front of you. I encourage you to follow along, take notes, and again thank you for being a part of us worshipping the Lord today at Hope Church.
Harold Bullock: How do you measure love? You may have come up with some ways and said to someone, “Well, if you love me, you would do that?” Well, that would be a measure...maybe. They may do it not because they love you, but just to get you to shut up. How do you measure love? For us as a congregation, this is important. We’re taking a look at the measures part of our vision frame, and we’ve looked at several things. They’re really related to love. How do you measure love? Love, actually, is the greatest of the Christian values. It’s the greatest priority for us. 1 Corinthians 13:13 says, “...these three remain: faith,hope and love…” This is on beyond the return of Christ, these three will continue to be important. Just trusting God, living in that trust on into eternity. Hope, looking at the future with an upbeat attitude, and we can do that in time despite difficulty, and then love. “...But the greatest of these is love.” Greater than faith, greater than hope, it’s love. It’s the greatest of the Christian values.
It’s actually God’s motive as He relates to us. John 3:16, a very famous verse, says, “God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whoever would believe in Him would not die but have everlasting life.” Wow. What motivated Jesus Christ to come to the planet? Well, He loved people in this world. It was love. It’s God’s basic motive in dealing with us. It’s also what God wants from us and also in us. He wants, as we deal with life, as we deal with people, He wants love coming out of us. He actually wants it residing in us to deal with situations that we face. Galatians 5:14 says, “The entire law…” ...everything in the Old Testament... “...is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” There’s a point where Jesus was asked about this, and He nailed...this is it. Love your neighbor as yourself; that’s actually found in the Old Testament, by the way. It’s found in the Book of Leviticus. God wants love coming out of us; He wants love from us and love coming out of us.
1 Corinthians 16:14: “Do everything in love.” So, what is not in everything? Nothing. Now this is what motivates our actions. It’s motivated our actions and to help us just deal with life. Whenever Christ was asked about the greatest of all the commandments, He said, “It’s love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Basically, love God with all of you. But, He went on to say the second is very like to it. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” God wants love from us, and He wants love in us to deal with other people. It’s the highest of the Christian values.
Love itself, we tend to think it’s an emotion. You love, you fall in love, and you love banana pudding. You see banana pudding, and it makes you feel warm all over. We tend to think that’s what love is, but it’s not. It may have emotion with it, but it’s actually a clearly defined set of actions. A man and woman get married. “I love you.” “I love you.” That’s good; that’s where we start. Now come the actions, and the actions flow out of a motive of love, not so much the feelings but what ought to be because it’s right...not a kind of emotion but a clearly defined set of actions.
How do we measure love? In a sense, a person’s level of spiritual maturity can be measured by their priorities. What are the high values in their life? We all start with just where we start. We come to Christ; we’ve been people of this world. We love and value the things that people of this world value. Christ begins changes in us; as we grow in Him, there’s a shift in what’s important to us. Maturity can be measured by their priorities, what they value the most. What we’re trying to do as a congregation is to grow people in the most important values of the Scripture. The things...the priorities are the most important; the things that motivate choices. The things Scripture says ought to motivate.
Scripture indicates that we love God by three things: trusting Him, honoring Him, and then loving people. We love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and Jesus said, “The second is like it.” He didn’t let the guy get away with just one commandment because if you love God you also do what God does. You love people. Trusting Him, honoring Him, and loving Him. We’ve actually taken a look at these things. That’s what we’ve been doing as we’ve talked about the measures.
Trusting Him, the way we do that is situationally we act in faith, in humility, in teachability to Him and to others, and in patience (upbeat endurance through difficulty). These are the ways we trust Him. Honoring Him, we actually took a look at this one last week. The way we work, whenever we approach a task, the way we approach it is this: the value of people. We don’t run over people; we work with people, but we don’t run over them. People are valuable. Then serving, we want to help. That’s what Christ came to do; we want to help. We want to serve. Excellence, we do the best we can as a gift to God with whatever we’re doing, whether we’re on the job or at home or whatever. Excellence, not perfect, but the best we can with the resources we have and our abilities. Then, buying up the opportunity, occasionally God brings along opportunities for us. When we recognize them, even if we’re tired, we exploit them fully. We put in the extra to do that. That’s one of the ways we honor Him.
Then, loving people, we love people by the way we relate to them, team together. We looked at this earlier on. Relating to them: put the goals and interests of others above our own; live an honest, open life; give and receive Scriptural correction; and clear up relationships. These are all talked about in the New Testament. We took a look at these in a message. Then, the way we team together, you shall love in teaming as you participate in the work/ministry, you support the work financially. God’s work is supported by His people. Then, you follow spiritual leadership within Scriptural limits. There are limits on spiritual leaders. There are directions you should not follow them. We team together; we’re social creatures. We’re always in herds; we’re always in teams. We’re always working together some way, either on the job or in the family or on other projects. You have to figure out how to do that from God’s point. Love causes you to approach it from this angle. We team together in these ways.
Then, we love people by the way we relate to them and the way we team together, but also there’s one other way that we love people. And that is, we share the Gospel with them. We help them come to understand what Christ has done, and that’s what I’d like to talk about today, this last measure. We share the Gospel with people. If God is as real as the ground we walk on, if the sacrifice of Christ to make it possible for us to know God is real, if the necessity of faith in Christ is actually real, not just a good idea or something nice, if it’s actually real, and people don’t accept that opportunity, they’re going to face a terrible eternity. If these things are real, they’re not just missing a better life now, they’re missing eternity because of the terrible nature of things that they’re going to be into. If that’s true, then one of the most loving things you can do is to give people the opportunity to consider Christ. People may not think it’s loving, but it is.
Sometimes when you talk about Jesus Christ and you try to tell people about Christ, people may think that you’re thinking you’re better than they are. Or, maybe talking about Christ and His forgiveness of our rebellion and sin, maybe that sort of rubs a painful place. They have some guilt over stuff they’ve done, and it reminds them of it and they don’t like that. So, it takes a risk, but it is loving. You may be aware of Penn and Teller. They’re magicians, comedians; they’re very well known. Penn Jillette is an American magician, actor, musician, inventor, television personality; he’s also a best-selling author. He’s best known for his work with a fellow magician, Teller, as half of their team, Penn and Teller. He’s published eight books; one of them is God No! (subtitle) Signs You May Be Already an Atheist and Other Magical Tales. He’s known for his advocacy of atheism and for his scientific skepticism about matters of faith.
I want to...I want you to take a look at a video that he does; let’s take a look at it right now. Very interesting… Love and concern for people are what motivate us to tell people about Jesus Christ. They motivate us to take the risk because there is a risk. They may not appreciate what we’re saying, but it’s love and concern. “How much do you have to hate someone?” he asks. That’s a very good question. Let me share with you some suggested steps to share the Good News. If you want to share the Good News with people, these may help you. It’s a part of love, but it requires interaction. Pray--actually I’d like to break that into two things. First, imagine, then pray. Imagine a new future for them in Jesus Christ, and then pray for that to happen; pray to that end. We tend to see people just like we always see people. Paul writes, “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view…(no one)...Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.”
We look at people, and we see them as they are with our physical eyes. We think that they will always be like that. They’ll always be selfish or disinterested in God or arrogant or maybe damaging or maybe addicted or maybe angry. We look at people, and we see them. We think, “They’ll just always be like that,” and that’s not totally wrong because the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. It’s not totally wrong, however, in Jesus Christ, people can actually become a new creation. They change, so first as people are on your heart, imagine a new life for them. Imagine who they might become, and then begin to ask God for that. God is the One who opens the doors for us. Paul says to a church, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful…” Being watchful you keep paying attention to what’s going on around you. Thankful, grateful to God... “...And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ…”
God’s the One who opens doors; people who are very closed, God can open the door. Imagine and pray for God to open the door for this person. We can’t open doors, but God can so we pray. The Apostle Paul was a guy who was killing Christians; he was a high-status, young rabbi at the time, and he was zealous. He had not only imprisoned and some were killed in Jerusalem, he was headed to another city to do the same thing when he met Jesus Christ. The day before he met Jesus Christ, the morning before he met Jesus Christ, no one predicted what was going to happen. This guy who was murderous became a major church planter. Actually, he laid the foundation for the culture of the western world, as he planted churches throughout Greece. It’s amazing what he did, but no one was predicting that, you see. They could see what he was, and that’s what he would be. But in Jesus Christ, there can be change. Imagine and pray.
Then, invest and invite. You want to extend a thoughtful invitation to people into your life, into your home, maybe into our church. Go ahead and leave your comfort zone. It’s very comfortable just to keep your mouth shut and live life like we’ve always lived it. We need to invest in people; we need to do kindness to them. You may need to start entertaining? I don’t know, but invest in them. We invest in people; we spend, if it’s entertaining, money for food and all. We invest emotionally; we look for kindness to do and try to do that. Not to get them obligated to come to our invitation but just out of the kindness of God. 1 Thessalonians 2:8 says, “We loved you so much…” Paul is writing this to a group of people in a Greek city. “...We love you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the Gospel of God but our lives, as well.” Invest and invite. Bring them into your life.
Intentionally show and share, third thing. People need to see the reality of Christ in the way we live. Actually, Penn talked about the guy who gave him the New Testament. He says, “He was a good man.” That’s very interesting; he could see a difference in him. It didn’t make him a Christian, but he could see the difference. People will see the difference in us not because we live perfectly. You don’t; if you think you do, let me tell you,you don’t. Ask your husband or wife; they’ll be glad to help you out with this...or your good friend. We don’t live perfectly. When we mess up, we clean up.
There was a man years ago, a missionary, who went to South America in a major city. He was working with university students, and he became aware of a communist group that was working to set up a communist revolution. He was sort of scared of them, but he decided he would go ahead and engage them. And over time, he got to know the leader of the communist group. Most of these guys had lots of money; their folks were well off. He got the leader of the communist group to start studying X with him. They were studying God in the Bible, but the guy thought it was beneath respect to say the word, “God.” It was just “X,” and he would bring him over; they began to include him and his friends into their life. After awhile, he committed his life to Christ, and later, he led...he and his friends led in a church planting effort that brought 12,000 people to Christ. Amazing.
He told the guy who had led him to Christ. He said, “Do you know what really changed my mind? Do you know what really made me decide Christ was real?” He said, “What?” He said, “It wasn’t any of the Bible studies, none of our conversations.” But he said, “I would sit in your home, and I saw how you treated your wife and your children, and I wanted that. That’s what convinced me.” We need to show the life; we can only show it if people are close enough to see it, you see. That’s why you invite them in. We need to show the life. Peter says, “It’s God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” We invite them in, and we just try to live with Christ. If we mess up, we clean up.
We have to take the risk to explain the secrets of God. There are some things that are, as far as our society is concerned, just secret. 1 Corinthians 4:2: “So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” You have the secret things of God; you’ve been given those. Whenever Paul uses that term, he’s… There’s a lot of things in his mind, but there are two things that are on the very forefront. Here they are. First, the secret is God loves us, but we’re not okay with God. We’re just not okay. People tend to think that they’re okay with God.
You would never buy a house that way. You walk in and you feel okay about this house, so you plunk down a couple hundred thousand, three hundred thousand, four hundred thousand dollars. Would you do that? Well, you may really like it, but you’d want the foundation checked. You’d like to check out the plumbing; you might want to know about the neighborhood. Why? Because you could lose money in this. It could be a real problem, so you get the facts. You check out the realities of it. If you’re going to invest in stocks or maybe try to start a company, it’s going to cost you money. You don’t just feel good about doing this, you get some facts. Why? Because this is real life; this is real money. But when it comes to God and eternity hanging in the balance, somehow we just feel good about it. “I feel like I’m okay with God. My good works, they outweigh my bad ones. I’m okay.” The old Crocodile Dundee movie, he makes a statement to his love interest. “I’m a fisherman. Jesus and the apostles, we be mates. They were fishermen. I’m a fisherman.” Sure, why wouldn’t God accept him? But we’re not okay with God; our rebellion, our sin has broken the relationship. There’s no hope of a relationship with him now, though He loves us.
The second part of the secret is this: Only Jesus can make us okay. It’s not my efforts to do better; it’s not all kinds of things. Only Jesus Christ can make us okay. The Scripture says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin...so that...we might become the righteousness of God.” We’re rebels; we have sinned. We’ve rebelled against God. Christ never rebelled; He had no sin, but on the cross, He bore the weight of everyone’s sin. On the cross, He bore the wrath of God. We actually sang that a few minutes ago, about Jesus bearing sin and the wrath of God on the cross. The stuff that should have fell on us...the terrible things...He bore for us, if we’ll put our faith in Him, if we’ll trust Him with our life.
If you’re here this morning and you’ve never trusted Him with your life, you need to do that. A relationship with God begins then. He’s the One who can make us right with God. The key to unlocking the mystery is the word, “substitution.” It’s not what I can do; it’s what Someone did in my place. Christ died on the cross for me. In our society, if there was ever a memory of the secrets of God, they’re gone. People just sort of go by their gut. “Of course, I’m okay. I think.” But God does love us...but we’re not okay. Only Christ can make us okay because He was the substitute. The key to unlocking the mystery is this truth about substitution. It has never been, in my experience...it has never been in the society an easy time or an easy place to share Christ. I occasionally will read articles about how 50 years ago it was so much easier. Well, I’m past 70, and I was around then, and it wasn’t easier. I think it’s a little bit harder now, but it wasn’t easier then. It wasn’t easy because (squirming sounds) it’s not what people want to talk about. There is no magical easy place, no magical easy time. God can open doors for you, though.
If you had a deadly disease and you’re in a hospital bed in a section of the hospital that’s quarantined from everything else because this is so bad, you’re watching people die repeatedly, die. Everyday people are dying and you, yourself, know what’s coming, and one day your doctor gives you some medicine and he says, “I think this will take care of it.” You begin to get stronger and stronger and stronger. You’re getting out of your bed; you’re walking around the room. You wouldn’t just go to the other beds with dying people in them and fluff the pillows for them and try to share a good joke with them. You would tell them the name of your doctor and the medicine he gave you because that’s where their hope is. You’d do it because you care about people; you really care about people.
You know, we do care about people. We do want to love people. Once you come to Christ, He begins to change your heart. We do care. The media...much of the media, most of the media tells us, “As Christians, you’re stupid. No one likes you. Shut up!” But my read of the society is there’s actually a great hunger in the society right now. It’s not easy to share Christ, but there really is a hunger. I’ve been looking at university ministry reports; I’m seeing larger and larger numbers of people coming to Christ. Last year, let me show you a headline from God Reports. This is last year, last August. (Headline reads: “Army ‘Awakened’ - Professions of faith rise above 2,000 at Fort Leonard Wood since March 11”) That’s incredible! “Revival hits army base with 1,459 receiving Christ.” Hmmm. That was August a year ago. There’s a hunger, my friend.
Whenever some celebrity on TV makes fun of Christians or mocks the Gospel or talks about how religion is stupid, understand this: They have a big mouth. They have a big platform, but they don’t represent the reality that’s out there. You imagine a new future for the people God puts into your life; you pray for them. Pray for God to open the doors. You invest and you invite, and show the reality of Christ. Then, share the secrets of God that they will not figure out by themselves. The God we serve can open doors and actually is opening doors right now in the society. I personally looking forward to what’s going to be, but whether or not a big revival comes, whether or not, God has loved us, and so we care about people. One of the marks of walking with Him is He puts in you that desire to share with Him, to share with others the secrets that He has given us.