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James Merritt - What Lord Am I Going to Love?

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    James Merritt - What Lord Am I Going to Love?

There's a journey that we are all on right now. We didn't ask to join the journey. We never received an invitation to join the journey. And one day, we were all thrust into this journey without even knowing where the journey was going to take us, without even knowing when the journey would end. That journey is called life. And as you begin your journey, at first, life is pretty much carefree. You don't really have to make any important decisions because most every decision is made for you. But that stage of life doesn't last very long. And then you come to this increasing realization, that life really revolves around making decisions and answering questions.

Now, some decisions are minor. Some decisions are major. Some questions can be answered quickly and easily. And regardless of your answer, they won't have much of an impact on your life. And it's not a big deal, but there are three questions that we are all forced to answer, three decisions we are all forced to make, and they not only will have the greatest impact on the time that you and I have on this earth, but any impact we're going to have once we leave it. So today, we're beginning a series I'm so excited about, that we're calling, What Say You? I told our church last week, if I knew that at the end of this month, I would be dead, this would be the series that I would preach, because we're going to explore those three questions that we're all forced to answer, that will impact both our earthly life now and our eternal life once we die.

And what we're going to do is we're simply going to look at God's word to provide not only the best answers to these questions, but in my opinion, the true answers. Here's the first question everybody on this planet has to answer whether they realize it or not. What Lord am I going to love? What Lord am I going to love? Now, I freely admit that that question carries an assumption that I believe is true. Everybody worships something. Everybody loves something or somebody above everything else, and whoever or whatever that is that is your Lord, that is your true love. Everybody does. Your Lord may be your ego. It may be your money. It may be your family. It may be your job. It may be pleasure. It may be happiness. It may be your influence. It may be your grandchildren. It may even be your own life, because nobody worships nothing. Everybody worships something, and anybody can determine what God they worship and what Lord they love.

So the question I'm going to ask you is this, what god are you going to worship? That is, to me, the first question. That is, to me, the most fundamental question, what Lord are you going to love? And you say, well, why do you think that's the most important? Well, it actually goes all the way back to a question that a lawyer asked Jesus. And if you brought a copy of God's word here and you'd like to look on with us, we're in the gospel called Matthew. There are four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. We are in Matthew chapter 22. Now, you can tell this was a sincere question. And the lawyer who asked it, by the way, also happened to be a Pharisee. So in other words, it was kind of a double whammy here.

As a Pharisee, he was a religious expert. As a lawyer, he was a legal expert. So this double expert asked Jesus a great question that deserved a great answer. "One of them, an expert in the law tested him with this question: 'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?'" Now, to understand this question, you need to know that through the years, rabbis had studied the first five books of the Hebrew Bible intensely. As a matter of fact, they had actually come up with 613 different commandments, 248 were positive, 365 were negative. So there's all these commandments and all these laws and all these rules and all these regulations. And so, he asked a super question. Hey Lord, hey, Jesus, of all these laws, and all these commandments, and all these things we should do, and all these things we should do, what is the greatest commandment of all?

Now, whether he realized it or not, there was also a question behind his question. Behind most questions people ask, there's always another question. And the answer to that question would also answer this question, because once you answer the question, what is the greatest commandment of all? You just answered another question. What is the greatest sin of all? And the greatest sin anybody can ever commit would be not to obey the greatest commandment ever given. And in Jesus' answer, we discover not only the answer to that question, we discover the Lord all of us should love. Let me begin by saying, first of all, we are to love the Lord supremely. This was Jesus's answer to the question.

What is the greatest commandment? Of all the commandments you'll ever hear from anybody, anywhere, any time, any place, what is the greatest commandment? Jesus said, here it is. We are to love the Lord supremely. Now, quite frankly, the answer Jesus gave was so obvious that I imagine that lawyer felt kind of dumb and embarrassed for asking it to begin with, because you know what Jesus does? He just goes back about 1,500 years. And he quoted something that Moses had already said that this lawyer should have known. He quoted this verse. "Jesus replied, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind. This is the first of all commandments. And this is the greatest of all commandments.'"

Now, the reason why this should have been obvious is because any devout Jew recited that verse every single day of his life. You may know this. The term for this prayer is called the Shema, S-H-E-M-A. It's called the Shema. And to this day, even right now, it is considered the most important prayer that religious Jews pray. As a matter of fact, if you grow up in a Jewish home, the very first prayer you're ever taught to pray is not, now, I lay me down to sleep. It's not, dear God, bless this food, or bless me. The first prayer a Jewish child is taught to pray is the Shema. And a religious Jew recites this prayer three times every day. And what Jesus said that affected this Pharisee was this: the first commandment, the foremost commandment, the fundamental commandment, it is this.

In other words, here's what he was saying. It doesn't matter what other commandments you keep. It doesn't matter how well you keep them. You have blown it if you do not keep this one commandment. And by the way, I know even today, this is a very relevant discussion in the church. And lemme tell you why. There was a project called the Reveal Research Project. It started in 2007, and it surveyed the members of more than 1,000 churches. They spent seven years to determine the percentage of churchgoers who were driven by their faith to love God and to love others with their whole heart.

In other words, what they wanted to know was, okay, all you people that go to church and all you people who are religious, and all you people who claim to be followers of God and followers of Jesus, the question they were asking was, okay, how many of you would honestly say that you are driven by your faith to obey God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength? Are you ready for this? Do you know what percent said that was the most important thing in their life?

11%. Almost 9 out of 10 people, religious, go to church, believe the Bible, said that's not the driving force in my life, to love God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love others as I love myself. So let's dig into this commandment a little deeper. Let's examine it a little more closely because let me tell you what's kinda odd and strange. I dunno if you've thought about this or not. Isn't it kind of odd that God commands us to love him? Do you find it kinda strange that love is commanded? I mean, because I mean, in one sense, I mean, how do you command somebody to love you?

I'll give you an illustration. If you really could command somebody to love you, Theresa and I would've eloped on our second date, 'cause I told her that I loved her on our second date. And I really wanted her to say, "Well, I love you too," but it took her almost a month to tell me the same thing. I wish I could have said to Theresa, "I command you to love me". I can't do that. You can't do that because if you could, you would. And if I could, we would've eloped on our second date. And yet, that God commands us to love him tells us something about the kind of love that God demands. So when Jesus said, "Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, all of your soul, all of your mind, and all of your strength," he was not talking about a feeling. He was not talking about an emotion. He wasn't talking about a mood. He was talking about a commitment. He was talking about a surrender.

It is an act of the will that you say every day, when you get out of bed, Lord, I'm gonna put you above everything else. I'm going to put you above everyone else. And I'm gonna give everything I am to everything that you are. Because if you think about it, this is really easy. This has to be the first commandment. This has to be the greatest commandment. You say, why? Well, think about this. Have you ever thought about, and this is kind of interesting, have you ever thought about the fact that your love is the one thing that God cannot take from you? That's the one thing you've got, God cannot take from you. The only way God's gonna have my love is if I voluntarily give him my love.

Listen, God can take everything you have away from you right now. He can take your money, take your house, take your car, take your spouse, take your children, take your grandchildren, take your health, take your life. He can take anything you have, but he can't take your love. You have got to give him your love. And the love that God desires, and the love that God deserves, and the love that God demands must be a godly love. As a matter of fact, when you go over to Mark, the gospel of Mark, Mark really added a word to what Matthew said. Here's what mark said that Jesus said. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind". But then he adds this word, "And with all your strength". All of your strength, heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Now, Jesus was not referring just to four different parts of who we are or what we are. All Jesus was really saying was simply this, there's only one way to love God. You love him with everything you have. You love him 100%, not 99, not 99.9. You love God 100%. I love what someone said. I read this a long time ago. Someone said, "It doesn't take much of a person to be a Christian, but it takes all of him there is". I love that. It takes all of him there is. You know, somebody's estimated, and I don't know how true this is, it's been estimated that the number of unique human emotions can be up to 400. Now, whether that is true or not, I can tell you this, regardless of how many there are, we are called to love God with every single one of them. That's what it means to love God with all of your heart.

Do you know why he begins by saying, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart". Why did you start off with that? Why not start off with mind, or why not start off with strength? He says, no, love the Lord your God with all your heart. Let me tell you why. Whatever captures your heart will control your feelings, but it won't just control your feelings. It will control your behavior, because what the heart loves the most, the mind will reason out, emotions will feel out, and the will will act out.

Now, let's just get practical. We kinda been in theory and theology. What does it really mean to do that? You say, "Hey, look, I wanna do that. I wanna obey the greatest commandment and I wanna do it to the fullest. So what does that mean? I mean, how do I express that Love to God"? "And how do I show that love to God"? Well, guess what? You don't have to guess. You don't have to wonder. God himself has already told us the way he wants to be loved and how you'll know you really love him with everything you have. Watch this. In fact, this is love for God, to keep his commands. It's not a warm, fuzzy feeling. It's not a mood. It's not an attitude. God says, you know how I know you really love me? And you know how you show me you love me? You know how you show others you love me? You obey my command.

See, when you love God with all of your heart, you're gonna obey God with all of your life. I heard one man say it this way. He said, "If you're going to throw God the bone of your love, you make sure you have on it the meat of obedience". I love that. If you're gonna throw God the bone of your love, you make sure you have on it the meat of obedience, 'cause you think about this. If you're watching right now and you're listening to me in this room and you are a parent, think about this. If you think about it, God is no different from any parent. And I know 'cause I'm a parent. 'Cause if you think about it, there are two things any parent wants from their children. In fact, it's the only two things any parent needs from their children. You know what we want? We want two things. We want love. We want them to love us, but we also want obedience. And every parent knows those two things go together.

Now, a child can obey a parent without loving that parent. But a child cannot love that parent without obeying that parent. You can obey without loving, but you cannot love without obeying. And that's how God wants us to relate to him. Love him, obey him. And we obey him because we love him. So lemme put it to you this way, to love God is to obey God, but we obey God because we love God. But there's one other thing. We're not just to love God. We are to love God supremely. This God. He said, love the Lord your God. What God was Jesus talking about? He was talking about the God who created this world, the God who parts seas, the God who performs miracles, the God that slays giants, the God that sent his Son to die on the cross for our sins, and the God that brought him back from the dead so that we might know him and we might love him.

That is the Lord we are to love supremely. And that is the supreme love we are to give to the Lord. So I know it's not politically correct, and I know it will upset you, but let me just be honest with you. If you're worshiping, loving, obeying, following any other god, except the God of this book, you're loving the wrong god. And you're following the wrong god. Now, the question is, well, how can we let others know that we love God supremely? How will others know, God, boy, he is the supreme love of your life. How they gonna know that?

Well, that leads to the second point. And that is, we are to love others selflessly. We love God supremely, but we love others selflessly. See, this commandment actually has two dimensions, right? There's a vertical dimension. There is a horizontal dimension. Vertically, I am to love God with all of my heart, all of my soul, all of my mind, and all of my strength, but horizontally, I'm to love others selflessly. So Jesus continues. He said, "And the second is like it. Love your neighbor as yourself".

Now, let me just stop. I'm gonna be very honest, and I hope you're gonna track with me on this. That's an overwhelming commandment. That is a mindboggling commandment. That looks to me in some ways, almost as an impossible commandment. He said, love your neighbor as yourself. In my opinion, it's harder to keep that commandment than it is to keep the first commandment. Somebody said to love the whole world for me is no chore. My only real problem is my neighbor next door. And that really is true. I mean, if you're like me, I'm gonna be very honest. If you're like me, you have lived next door to some neighbors that were not only hard to love, you wish they would move. But Jesus said loving your neighbor is such a great commandment that the only commandment that is greater than that commandment is to love God with all of your heart.

And then Jesus also takes a quote from the Old Testament, right out of the book of Leviticus that all the Jews knew. And he did something brilliant that no one had ever done before. You ready for this? Every Jew knew. Yeah, I know, I'm supposed to love God with all my heart, and all my soul, and all my mind, and all my strength. I know that. And every Jew knew that you ought to love your neighbor as you love yourself. But this is the first time that any rabbi, any Jew, any teacher had joined these two commandments at the hip and fused them together. I mean, it really was genius. Let me tell you what was so genius about this. Remember how many commandments they had come up with out of the Old Testament? 613 commandments. And you know what Jesus did? Well, first of all, God boiled those 613 commandments down to 10. Jesus shrunk those 10 commandments to two. And then he shrunk those two commandments to one word, love.

You know what Jesus said? Jesus said, can I tell you how to obey God? Can I tell you how to get right with God? Can I tell you how you know you're right with God? He said, it's so simple. It's so simple. If you'll love God, the way you oughta love God, and if you'll love others the way you oughta love others, everything else will take care of itself. I mean, think about it. So when you love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength, you'll have no other gods before him. You won't worship idols. You won't take God's name in vain. You will set aside one day a week just to worship him. Well, on the other hand, when you love others like you love yourself, you will honor your parents. You won't murder. You won't cheat on your spouse. You won't steal. You won't lie about your neighbors. You won't covet what they have. But beyond that, nine of the Ten Commandments are negative.

Do you notice that these two commandments are positive? Because instead of emphasizing what we ought not to do, what does Jesus do? He emphasizes what we ought to do. You know why? Because if we do what we ought to do, we won't do what we ought not to do. It's not hard. And again, Jesus gets very specific on the kind of love that qualifies. He says, okay, how you gonna love God? Here's how you do it. All your heart, all your soul, all your mind, all your strength. Then he says, all right, how you gonna love your neighbor? Ready? You love your neighbor just like you love yourself.

Now, let's just be honest. Let's don't try to pretend something is not true. Let's just get honest with each other. There is one person that we all love. There's one person that we all adore. As a matter of fact, we maximize their successes. We minimize their failures. We focus on their good points. We ignore their bad points. And you know who that is? Ourselves. You love you. And I love me. That is just a fact. As a matter of fact, think about this. Think about how much we really do look out for number one. Think about how much we always put ourselves first. Can you imagine, think about this now, can you imagine what this world would look like and what this world would be like if everybody began to love others as they loved themselves?

Can I be honest? If we really love people the way we oughta love people, you wouldn't need to defund the police. You wouldn't need police. You wouldn't need officers. You wouldn't need jails. You wouldn't need prisons. Lawsuits would be a thing of the past. There'd be very little conflict, and whatever conflict there was could be resolved. I mean, can you imagine what would happen in a lot of companies and a lot of corporations, can you imagine what would happen if the atmosphere in the average business was so changed that everybody really loved each other more than they loved themselves? Someone once said this, if you work at love, you'll find love at work. If you work at love, you'll find love at work.

Now, this is where we need to just get honest, 'cause we're going to keep both of these commandments. If we're really going to love God supremely and others selflessly, can I just be honest? Something unbelievably powerful, supernatural, earth shaking, transforming has to happen in our hearts. Let me tell you why. You can't just decide one day, take country music. I found most people with country music, there's really not a lot of middle ground. You either love it or you hate it. You either love country music or you don't. Well, you know what? If you don't love country music, you can't just get outta bed one morning and say, you know, I think I'm just gonna love country music. You either love to read or you don't love to read.

I can tell you right now, you're not just gonna get up one morning and say, "You know what? I've just decided I'm gonna love to read". I'll give you an example. I think that the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, I don't think it was apples. I think it was collard greens. That's just my opinion. I can't prove that, but I think it was collard greens. Okay, let me tell you what's never gonna happen to me. I will never in my entire life get up one day and say, "You know, I've just decided I'm gonna love collard greens".

It's not gonna happen. No. For you to love anything that you normally would not love or love the way you oughta love it, there's gotta be something compelling. There's got to be a change in your heart. There's gotta be a change inside of you. And here's the truth. Only the God who is love and the God of love can give you the love for God and others that you ought to have. And I hate to break the news for you. I know I really don't 'cause I'm gonna tell you the truth, that will never happen, ever. I don't care how much willpower you have. You can strain. You can strive. You can struggle. You can do everything you know to do. You will never have the love for God you oughta have and you will never have the love for others you oughta have until you come to a personal relationship with the one who showed us in real life what loving God is all about. And that is Jesus.

So the bottom line is this. You know what real living is? Let me just help you on something. I'm gonna assume you're like me. Life is short. The older you get, the more you realize just how short and how quick it is. I wanna get the most out my life, and I wanna get the most out of life. I wanna enjoy the journey. I want it to be a great, glorious, wonderful, fantastic journey. I mean, and I'm sure you'd say, "Well, yeah. So do I". Let me tell you something, you know where you'll find that kind of life? When you love God supremely and you love others selflessly, 'cause if you're not loving, you're not living.

So here's the question, and you do have to answer it. Nobody gets a free pass. Nobody gets to straddle the fence. Nobody gets to live in Switzerland. What Lord am I going to love? What Lord are you going to love? I can promise you this. When you love the right Lord with the right love, you'll never be the same. Would you pray with me right now, just for a moment? And I hope you won't turn the program off, and I hope you'll just be with me for just one more moment. If the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God, this God, the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God and father of Jesus Christ. If the greatest commandment is to love that God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, then the greatest sin is not murder. It's not adultery. It's not any other thing you could put on that list.

The greatest sin is to love anything or anybody more than you love that God. And you'll never love that God, until you know that God, 'cause you can't love what you don't know. And you'll never know that God until you come to love his son, Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ loved you so much, that even when you didn't love him, he came to this earth, he died on the cross, paid for your sins, came back from the grave so that you could be saved. You could have eternal life and you could have the most enjoyable life on earth that you could ever imagine.

Simple question, who listening to me right now would say, "I've never made that decision". I have to be honest. Yeah, there's a lot of things in life I've loved a whole lot more than God, but I want that to change. I wanna live the life that I know God wants me to live. And it all comes down to love. Loving him supremely, loving others selflessly. And that begins with loving his son, Jesus. So right now, if you've never, ever really placed your faith in Jesus, not talking about religion, not talking about church, not talking about preachers, not talking about your goodness.

If you've never, ever really placed your faith in Jesus, but you would like to, why don't you just say something like this. Lord Jesus, I wanna love you supremely. And to show you I wanna love you supremely, I am repenting and turning away from my sins right now. I'm confessing, I need you to be my savior. I am trusting you as my Lord. I'm surrendering my life to you today. Come into my heart. Give me a love that I know I could never manufacture on my own, a love for you and a love for others. And Lord, change me in such a way that beginning this moment, people will see a love in me and a joy in me they have never seen before. Thank you for hearing my prayer and doing that for me today.
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