Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Jesus Creed - God's Calling

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength… love your neighbor as yourself.  

This is the creed that Jesus lived by and it was formed by two passages from in the Old Testament.  The first part of the creed comes from what is known as the Shema and is found in the book of Deuteronomy.  The second part comes from the book of Leviticus.  When Jesus was asked how we need to prioritize and shape our lives in this world, he turned to these two scriptures and said, we are to love God and love others.  Jesus not only found this creed by looking to God’s word, he also saw it lived out in the lives of the people around him, specifically his parents.  Both Mary and Joseph lived out this creed in their lives and because they did God gave them a new calling. 

As we continue to allow this creed to shape our lives and as we give ourselves to loving God completely and loving others fully, God will give us new opportunities to put this love into practice.  When we talk about this new calling we aren’t talking about a new job or moving to a new location, we are talking about an awakening in our hearts and lives to the deeper purpose God has for us.  It is often in loving God and others that we begin to find what it is we were created for and how we can live with a deeper sense of meaning and purpose.  We see this in Mary and Joseph.

Joseph gave himself to loving God and loving others his entire life.  The Bible tells us that Joseph was a righteous man which meant that he knew God’s word.  Joseph would have learned it as a child and then continued to recite it as an adult.  Joseph probably had much of the Torah memorized as many good Jews did, so he certainly knew the verses that make up this creed, but for Joseph loving God meant obeying every rule and regulation found there.  Obedience to the law was the focus for those who were said to be righteous which meant that Joseph did his best to follow every one of 600+ laws found in the Old Testament. 

Being righteous also meant that Joseph had a certain reputation to keep up.  He worked hard to make sure everything he did was above reproach and that he always looked good to God and others.  So when Mary told him that she was pregnant and he knew that the baby was not his, it only left Joseph a few options.  The law said that women like this should be put to death for their immorality, so to love God through obedience and to keep his reputation intact this is what Joseph should have done.  But here is where we see Joseph’s love for others come into play.  Because he loved Mary, he couldn’t bring himself to have her killed so he chose the only other option available to him and that was to divorce her quietly. 

While we might think Joseph was being harsh and unkind in divorcing Mary, this was really an act of mercy.  He was doing the best he could to balance his love for God and his love for Mary.  Joseph was trying to be faithful to God’s law and yet love his neighbor as himself, so we see him following this creed and it was because he was that God called him to deeper levels of love and to a new identity.  Matthew1:18-25.

No longer was Joseph just being called to obey the law he was being called to love God with all his heart, soul, mind. strength and reputation and he was being called to love Mary enough to take her as his wife.  Joseph is being called to love deeper and embrace a new identity.  No longer was Joseph just going to be known as a righteous man, he was going to the father of the Messiah but to do all this he was going to have set aside what people think about him.  Joseph’s love for God and Mary meant that he had to let go of the life he had been striving for and his good name and reputation in order to embrace the life God had for him.  It was a new calling. 

Every time God calls us to something new we have to be willing to let go of something old.  Sometimes we have to let go of our reputation and what others think of us in order to give ourselves more fully to God and others.  In our culture, to love God more than anything and to truly love others as ourselves doesn’t always make sense and it is not always understood by those around us. 
For many people, going to church isn’t cool because when they look at the church they only see hypocrites, so if we tell them we go to church it can ruin our reputation.  For many people, believing in God and following Jesus isn’t seen as being very smart because they see Christians as narrow minded bigots whose thinking is stuck in the last century and believe in fairy tales.  While none of this is true, it is what many people think so we have to be willing to let go of what others think if we want to love God more.   

I met Jim Kilmartin at the first Impact Youth retreat when we were both asked to share our faith stories.  I talked about being a misfit in high school.  I was overweight, completely non-athletic and was more of a band geek than anything else.  I talked about how coming to faith and following Jesus helped me find a deep sense of who God had created me to be and how much purpose and meaning I had found in life because of Jesus.  Then Jim stood to share his story and this is how he started.  “When I was in high school, I was the star of the football team and used beat up kids like Andy.”

I have to say, I was a little taken back by Jim’s comment, but then I heard the rest of his story.  Jim had a reputation at the Tyrone HS for being the big man on campus.  He was the star quarterback, he was very good looking and he was very popular.  But then God started working in Jim’s heart and life and invited Jim to turn from loving himself and his reputation to loving God and others.  There was a new calling in his life and one of the things Jim had to let go of was his reputation. 

A few months after Jim was baptized, he was asked by his church to help start a new youth ministry and travel to churches sharing his faith with other youth.  Jim agreed to go, but it meant leaving the football team behind.  Jim had to let go of his reputation and all that he had given himself to in order to continue in his faith.  He had to set aside what other people thought of him in order to love God completely and love others fully.  Jim embrace that calling and has never looked back.  He let go of what others thought of him and started loving God with all he had and truly reached out to others. 
When we start loving God and loving others it will lead us to a new calling because the Jesus creed shifts our thinking.  The more we love God and others the less we think about and focus on ourselves.  That is what happened to Joseph.  The creed led him to love God more than his reputation and led him to love Mary enough to give up the idea of divorce and take her as his wife.  God called Joseph to a new identity, to be the father of the Messiah.  With every new calling we have to leave something behind and for many of us it starts with our reputation.  We have to stop worrying about what others think of us and step into that new life God has for us. 

Mary was also being called to step into a new life and take on a new identity.  Like Joseph, Mary was living this creed when God called her.  Mary was seeking to love God and others which is why God said she had found “favor” with him.  God could see that Mary was doing her best to love in every way, which is why God asked her to be the mother of the Messiah.   This child, however, was going to come about through the work of the Holy Spirit and not her soon to be husband and this meant that Mary was also going to have to let go of her reputation, but Mary was also being called to a much greater purpose.  Mary was being called to shape the heart and life of God’s son.  God was asking Mary not just to be the mother of a child but to raise and nurture God’s son.  This was now her purpose and Mary gave herself to the task completely. 

We know Mary gave herself to this new purpose because we can see her heart and life in the heart and life of Jesus.  When God called Mary, she praised God in a song.  The song not only reveals Mary’s heart but we see it lived out in Jesus which means it was Mary who helped shape Jesus.

Luke 1:46-48.  So we see Mary’s love for God here, she praises God and says, holy is His name.  It was this heart of love that shaped Jesus and we know this because when Jesus prayed he said, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Holy is His name.  Mary helped shape the heart of Jesus. 

Luke 1:49-52.  Mary’s prayer was that the proud would be humbled and that the humble would be lifted up.  It was this heart that shaped the heart of Jesus who taught us that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. 

Luke 1:53.  Mary asked that the hungry would be filled and it was this vision that moved Jesus to feed the hungry and to say, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled.   

Luke 1:54-55.  Mary talked about mercy being extended to Israel and Jesus was the fullness of God’s mercy.  At every turn Jesus extended mercy to all the children of God. 

From this song we see how the heart and life of Mary helped shaped the heart and life of Jesus.  Mary lived into the new calling God had for her and that new call came about because Mary gave herself to loving God with all her heart, soul, mind and strength and she loved her neighbor as herself.   Both Mary and Joseph loved God and others and it was living out this creed that led them to a new calling and a new purpose.  As we allow the Jesus Creed to shape our hearts and lives there will be moments when God will call us to something new.  This isn’t a new job.  Joseph’s job as a carpenter didn’t change and Mary’s job as a mother didn’t change, but their purpose in life was redefined.  The Jesus creed can change our purpose in life.  It might not change our job but the opportunities God gives us to love and serve can fundamentally change our identity. 

Every one of us has been called to ministry in some way.  Loving God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength will lead us into new ways of serving God in and through the life of the church. Loving God will mean that some of us will be called to lead our children and youth in faith.  Loving God will call us to open our homes to a small group or visit those who are sick and shut in.  Loving God will mean giving ourselves to the worship life of the church and helping greet people and open doors and park cars or sing in the choir or serve in the nursery.  Loving God completely will mean for each of us a call to turn that love into action in some way among the people of God and in the life of the church

And if we make the creed of our lives a commitment to loving our neighbor as ourselves then in time God will show what this love for others looks like.  We will talk more about this next week, but let me tell you right now, God will call us to new ways of giving and serving that will push and challenge us.  We will be moved to do things we never thought we would do. 

How is God calling you to go deeper in your love for him and others and how can you love and serve God through the life of the church?  Every week I am blessed to be able to see so many people serve God and others through the church and I see the difference it makes.  I hear the testimonies of how your commitment and faith inspires and helps and heals people and I hear from so many volunteers what joy they find in serving.  I have seen so many people find their purpose and the new calling God has for their lives because they were willing to love God more and step out to serve.  I would invite you to keep saying and praying the Jesus creed and simply see where it takes you.  When you sense God calling you to something new or when you hear God speak, like Mary and Joseph, say yes and move and allow God to use you in new ways. 

As we commit ourselves to loving God and others the opportunities will be there.  We don’t have to go looking for them we just have to be willing to step out in faith.  Maybe we need to let go of our reputation and what people will think about us.  Maybe we need to let go of our fear and stop thinking that we might not be good enough or know enough to love and serve God.  Mary and Joseph had step into the great unknown and say, here I am Lord.  Use me.  Are we willing to say that?   Are we willing to step out in love and simply give ourselves to loving God and others in new ways? 

If you are committing yourself to this creed, if you are saying it and praying it and giving yourself to it – God will call you to new ways of living and loving.  Please step out in faith to love God with all your heart and soul and minds strength and please step out to love your neighbor as yourself and just watch what God will do in you and through you.  God will use us for his purpose.  God will use us to bring salvation and life and light into the darkness of this world.  Please, step into the new calling the Jesus Creed will bring to your life. 

Next Steps
The Jesus Creed ~ A New Calling

1. God called Mary and Joseph to deeper levels of love:
Read Mary’s story: Luke 1:26-56 & 2:1-52
Read Joseph’s story: Matthew1:18-25
What new identity were each of them given?
What did they have to let go of in order to love?

2. Consider how God can use the S.H.A.P.E. of your life to love in new ways?  (See A Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren)

Spiritual Gifts:  What spiritual gifts has God given you?
See Romans 12:1-21 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-11
What gifts have you already used in your life?
What new gifts do you sense God wanting you to use?
What opportunities to love is God giving you today?

Heart: Where is God awakening a deeper sense of passion?
What interests, hopes and dreams do you have? 
How might God be calling you to love in these areas? 
What need do you see today that breaks your heart? 
How can you love more in this specific area? 

Abilities: What skills and abilities has God given to you?
How can you use these skills for God’s work in the church? 
How can your abilities help love and serve others? 

Personality: How can God use your specific personality for His specific purpose? 

Experience:  What unique experience do you have that can be used to help others? 
How have your past experiences prepared you for God’s new calling?