Text: Luke 24:13-32
Happy New Year!
At the beginning of the year, many churches come up with a vision statement. A vision, a focus, a goal for 2014. In some ways, it’s kind of a like doing resolutions. Many people come up with resolutions, things they want to do differently as they enter the new year. Usually, resolutions are admissions of areas didn’t go well in the previous year. If you ate too much greasy, fried food and the only exercise you got was running from the living room to the kitchen in 2013, then in 2014, you want to make changes–I’m going to eat less fried food, eat more vegetables, and exercise more. There would be no need to do a resolution in an area that you did well in last year.
For us at the Hill, for the past few years, the vision statement each and every year began with 3 ideas. The first 2 ideas come from Matt 22:34-40 [READ].
The first idea is based on the greatest commandment. What is the greatest commandment? To love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. The second idea is based on the second greatest command, love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets, in other words, the entire Old Testament can be boiled down to these 2 commands–love God and love neighbor.
The third idea comes from Matt 28:18-20 [READ].
The third idea is based on the Great Commission, which is God’s marching orders for the church and for every believer. We are to make disciples. The Greatest Commandment, the second greatest commandment and the Great Commission. Love God, love neighbor and make disciples. By now, many of you have heard me say these things several times.
All 3 are important, but of the 3, if you had to pick one to focus on, which one would you choose? What if you made loving neighbors the primary focus in 2014 and you neglected loving God? Or what if you made making disciples the primary focus ahead of loving God? Then, you might be busy and things might happen around you, but if loving God is not number one, then we run the risk of idolizing good works toward neighbors or discipleship or ministry. Serving others is a good thing, but unfortunately, there are many ministers who love the ministry more than they love God. Or they love helping their neighbors more than they love God. In other words, compared to their love for people, their love for God is small. Or they love investing in people and making disciples, but they don’t invest even half the amount of energy they do in disciple making in their own relationship with God.
Isn’t that backward? Shouldn’t God be first and shouldn’t we strive to love God first, with all our heart, soul, mind and strength? Then, love for neighbors and love for disciple making will flow out naturally from a person who loves God in this way, right? A healthy Christian will demonstrate growth in all 3 areas. There will be an ever growing love for God and this love will compel them to love neighbors and make disciples. It would be odd if someone spent hours and hours each day in the Word and in prayer and their cup overflowed internally and none of that spilled over and blessed the people around them. Love for God will, it should, translate to love for others.
But I think in our task-oriented, results-oriented, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately society, we inevitably drift toward loving neighbors and making disciples and we put God in the backseat. Because when you spend time with neighbors and love them, you see results. They ask questions, they come with you to church, they might even become fellow believers. This is great! Or when you invest in disciple making and the person you are investing in is spiritually hungry, you’re excited because you’re seeing results. You see their love for the Word growing. You see their prayer life deepening. You see them serving and discipling others. And these results are very satisfying for a minister who is spending his or her energy loving others.
But when it comes to our love for God, at least for me, results are harder to see. How can you quantify your love for God and know that it is growing? It’s not as tangible as a person in front of you in need. Yet, Scripture is clear. Loving God is the GREATEST commandment, it’s the most important commandment, it’s first in terms of priority because without the love of God, we have absolutely nothing in the tank to offer our neighbors or those interested in discipleship. The best we can offer is human love and human effort and these will not get you very far. The love of God is like water from a snow capped mountain that flows down the mountain into the surrounding valleys. The source of the water is at the top and it flows downhill to those in the surrounding valleys. God’s love is first because He’s our love source. When we are filled with the love of God, then it flows downhill and the love spills over to neighbors and disciples living in the valleys.
In 2014, how do we begin to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength? I want to challenge you to love God in one simple way in this coming year. Read the Word. Not just this year but I want you to commit to doing this every year. Finish Scripture cover to cover within this year and when you are done, read it again from cover to cover. And do this for the rest of your life.
Specifically, I want to challenge you to read a minimum of 3 chapters of the Bible a day. Did you know that if you read 3 chapters a day, you can read the entire Bible in one year? If you want to push yourself and I want to push myself in 2014, then I highly encourage you to read 10 chapters a day. If you read 10 chapters a day, do you know how quickly you can read the entire Bible cover to cover? 4 months. At this pace, you can read the entire Bible 3 times within one year. There are Christians out there who devote themselves to the reading of Scripture, esp. at times when a critical decision needs to be made and they are seeking the will of God with all of their heart, soul, mind and strength and they read 40 chapters of the Bible in one day. If you read 40 chapters a day, you do the math. You can read the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation in one month.
Some of you are looking overwhelmed. 3 chapters, or 10 chapters, no way! Impossible! Who has time for that? Be honest, who is thinking that right now? I want you to open your Bibles to Psalm 1. Put your finger there. Now turn the Bible to Psalm 10. Now hold up Psalm 1 to Psalm 10. This is nothing! This is less than the Sunday paper. It will take you 30 minutes. Can’t you spare 30 minutes in a day to read God’s Word?