We have spent this whole month focusing upon loving our neighbors.
This week, we conclude the sermon focus, but we continue our life focus to love our neighbor.
Let’s continue to pray for our neighbors and neighborhood: on Sundays from 9:45-10:15 (same time as breakfast) and from 6:00-6:45 on Wednesdays, prior to the mid-week Bible study.
It has been my privilege to preach in almost 200 different churches, and I’ve seen many interesting things.
There was this one church that I visited on a Sunday evening with about 60 people in attendance, and most were in 60 and above (I was in my 30s at that time). At this church on Sunday evenings the people would share testimonies.
The first testimony went like this:
“[triumphantly] I thank Jesus that He is on the throne, but … [defeatedly] I have so many problems, and everything is breaking down. I just wish Jesus would hurry up and come back.”
The next 2-3 people had similar testimonies, and I didn’t even want to preach after hearing how depressed everyone was.
Last evening, we hosted a dinner last night and were able to serve several of our neighbors.
Remember, my definition of neighbor is:
“Neighbor”—Someone who breathes the same air as us.
We’ve spoken about two ways to love our neighbors, by our actions and by our words.
Regarding actions, we scrutinized our own actions and lack of action toward our neighbors.
Regarding our words, we’ve considered that words can bless and they can curse.
Today, I will conclude by looking further into the question of “how” we can love our neighbors.
I am led to a verse of Scripture that I shared from in August.
It’s an important verse, that we should memorize and follow.
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23
This is not restricted to a specific group of people, but throughout time, the “whoever” has been ordinary people like you and me.
Whoever might be the non-Christian, — invited to follow Jesus, but more likely is the Christian who is not complying with the three points that Jesus gives.
When we put our faith in Jesus, we became His disciple, but it is not automatic to be a good disciple.
I met with our insurance agent this week, and we discussed expectations of our insurance policy, and how we need to complete certain tasks, etc. in order to get the most out of our business agreement.
A church simply cannot operate, publicly in our society without insurance. So, it is necessary and we must protect ourselves.
And I want to thank you who give, because if you didn’t give then we wouldn’t’ be able to pay our premium.
My agent’s job is to think about the “what ifs” that we hope will never happen.
As a pastor, I think often about the “what ifs” that can, do and will happen, referred to as the “challenges” of life.
We must guard ourselves from the negative effects of the challenges of life.
We need to be ready and able to grow from those challenges, and move forward.
Jesus spoke to the “whoever” during a time that was much more challenging than our time, now.
It’s not an easy word 2000 years ago and not an easy word, today.
If we are going to “come after Jesus” or be His Disciple, then we must:
- deny ourselves;
- take up our cross, daily;
- follow Jesus.
When we, as Americans, read the Bible, I think that there is a tendency to read it as an individual.
We read such a verse as this and we are thinking,
“OK, that is true, and I should be doing it.”
But then we offer a brief prayer to God in light of such a verse,
“God, I really want to follow your Word, and I’m sorry that I keep falling short. Help me.”
And then we stop praying.
When we STOP praying, we stop listening. In fact, when we fire off a quick prayer to heaven like that, it’s almost like when we talk to someone, without listening to him.
Instead of reading the Scriptures for ourselves, let’s read them for our neighbors.
I don’t mean to read and look for what our neighbor is doing wrong,
but let’s look at what the Scriptures say in regards to how we can live our lives to be a blessing to our neighbors, and our children.
I had the privilege of attending three different meetings for Assemblies of God pastors this week in the area.
One of the common themes in all three meetings was the need to reach people with the Gospel.
So many need Jesus, yet they don’t know him.
Churches must lead people to Jesus, or they should shut down.
Many churches have older people and they want younger people to come, but are not willing to change their worship style or even their decorations.
Rather, they want young people of the MTV generation to come into our churches and sit.
One pastor said that his church didn’t want to change, so he asked,
“What are you willing to deny yourself in order for your children and grandchildren to come to church?”
And with that kind of understanding, they began to double and triple in size with many young families joining them.
So, let’s look at this verse, again.
“Whoever [is concerned for their family, nation and world and…] wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23
Let’s read it this way:
I believe that we ARE concerned for our world, nation and families.
We can become Jesus’ disciple and in doing so we can love our neighbor, better.
- Denies Themselves
Jesus calls us to deny ourselves.
And we probably think that we do.
Actually, we like to pick and choose the areas that we are willing to deny for ourselves.
We pat ourselves on the back and say to ourselves, yeah, I stopped watching that popular TV program in order to deny myself, or I boycotted a company due to my Christian principles.
These are ways of denying ourselves, but they are NOT the heart of ‘self-denial.”
The heart of it is to sincerely give our lives to the Lord and receive what He wants for us.
Jesus is Lord, and we believe that for our salvation, but if we want to be Jesus’ disciple, we need to be willing to deny ourselves the rights and privileges that we think we deserve.
We live in a society that was based upon the idea of inalienable rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and as Americans those are our rights, but look at how the pursuit of happiness has led our nation.
I am an American SECOND, but a citizen of heaven, FIRST.
As believers in Jesus, we really have no right to say that we are even Christians if Christ truly is NOT Lord over us.
He is Lord over our bodies,
He is Lord over our lips,
He is Lord over our finances,
He is Lord over our decisions, He is Lord,
and yet, rebellious man, and even the Church, says that we don’t need a Lord, but….
- I am smart enough to make my own decisions, and don’t need to consult with God, the Bible or the Church.
- I will spend my money as I like it, and won’t tithe,
- I will determine how I use my words, and if I use bad language then that’s my problem;
- I will choose my own morality over that of the Bible
As members of the Church, we MUST love one another.
Thus, our goal is not to RECEIVE love but to GIVE love.
We don’t receive love from others because it is our right, but we show love because it is our privilege and opportunity.
One way to deny ourselves is to Love our neighbor, and to say, my schedule is not as important as showing real love to my neighbor.
“Whoever [is concerned for their family, nation and world and…] wants to be my disciple must deny themselves [by putting others first] and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23
- Takes Up Their Cross Daily
Jesus spoke these words to people who had seen crucifixions and would eventually see his crucifixion.
It was a very real possibility that the people hearing his words would be crucified one day.
We apply this part of the verse in ways that really don’t equal Jesus’ meaning. We deal with a difficult family member and call it the “cross we bear,” and while that can be part of it, for the original hearers and for millions of Christians around the world, it is a reality.
O I know we might lose a friend if we follow Jesus, but there are people around the world who will lose their family and their lives.
We cannot take up our crosses, unless we first deny ourselves.
Secondly, we must be willing to suffer. This is not for our salvation, but persecution comes to those who follow Jesus. That means not having what we want, but following God’s will in a situation.
Remember that church I mentioned earlier in which the people shared depressing testimonies about how they knew Jesus was on the throne, but they were miserable and couldn’t wait for Jesus’ return?
Well, we need to be expecting his return, and he warned us that we need to be about his work when he does return…but I went back to that church four years later, and when I heard the testimonies, they went like this:
I shared the gospel with a friend at work, and now, my friend is a believer and is sitting with me in church.
Another said something about God healing someone whom they prayed with.
Another talked about the restoration of their marriage.
And while all of them wanted Jesus to return, none of them were losing hope while waiting for him.
The church had changed in four years.
I believe it is because people were denying themselves, daily taking up their crosses and following Jesus.
Are we willing to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, daily, for the sake of those who do not know Jesus?
If we are, then we are truly loving our neighbor.
If we are not…if we value our own comfort over being obedient to Jesus, then we are not good disciples.
- Follows Jesus
Jesus calls us to follow Him, but it doesn’t look like we are.
When we follow our own flesh, when we follow a political direction without asking God to lead us, then we are not following Him.
We are to follow Christ, FIRST.
I was in another town, recently, with pastors, and we decided to go to a certain restaurant. I went out to my car and began to set the GPS, but I saw one of my friends drive a certain way, so I followed him. But he didn’t even go near the restaurant, and after five minutes, I stopped and set my GPS, because I realized he was not leading me to the restaurant. Apparently, he wasn’t going to the restaurant.
When we begin to follow Jesus, we need to set our GPS, too:
Gospel (God’s Word)
Prayer (God’s Spirit)
Saints (God’s People)
Like a three-legged stool, if we get those out of balance we will be out of balance and we will stop following Jesus,
and the enemy is looking for those of us who fall out of the pack, and stop following.
He pounces on us, and then we are worse than before.
When we follow Jesus, we are not only following him because we should and we need to, but because our neighbors need us to follow Jesus, so that they can, too.
Our children need us to follow Jesus so they can follow him, too.
How will we love our neighbor? By being a good disciple of Jesus.
How can we reach out to the drug addicts of Lakeside?
By being a church full of disciples.
How can we show love to the broken homes in Northside?
By being a church that follows Jesus?
How can we be a light to the unbelievers whether they are Buddhists, Atheists or nominal Christians?
By denying ourselves, taking up our crosses, daily, and following Jesus.
My son, as a child and teenager, thought only about himself.
He wanted every latest gadget.
He believed in Jesus, and was saved but he was a lousy disciple.
But one day he was invited to help some special needs children.
His life turned around.
Suddenly, he began to deny himself.
He began to take up his cross, each day.
He followed Jesus closer than before, because he had a cause and he saw people who had nothing, and he wanted them to have a better life.
And that special needs home changed. And it affected the mental hospital as well.
What needs to change here among our neighbors?
Let’s be the change.