Mark 12: 28-34
Several years ago I heard an evangelist tell a story about the Apostle John. I’m not sure what his source was and I can’t remember all the details, but I do remember the essence of the story. It went something like this:
The Apostle John is noted for his summary of the law being, “Love one another.” We know that much of his ministry in his latter years was in the province of Asia—modern day Turkey. In one of the areas there was a gang of bandits who held up in the mountains. One day John had an encounter with one of the men in the gang and shared with him the love of Christ. Then He had a local pastor to come along side the man to disciple him. John told this pastor to be sure to stay close to the man and hold him accountable until he was grounded in the Faith. A year or two passed and John was back in the region where this pastor lived. He asked the pastor about the former gang member and was told that the man had gone back up the mountain and was back in the gang in which he had formerly be associated.
“Have you gone up the mountain to find Him?” John asked.
“ Well, no,” the pastor replied. It is very dangerous up there.
“But, didn’t you promise to keep in contact with the man?”
“Yes, but he left us and went back to his old life style,” the Pastor replied.
The next day, John, though now quite elderly, started up the mountain where the gang was believed to be. Eventually, he found their camp and came face to face with the man he had prayed with before. And He told that man that he had come to tell him that he was loved and that God had not given up on him. And John was able to bring the man back to God.
The point of the story is that we should never stop loving someone even though they don’t always live up to our expectations. And we should do all we can to demonstrate that love—even if it means taking a risk in order to let them know that we still love them—and that God still loves them.
This week we were challenged by our Retreat Speaker. He told us that in the prayer conferences that he has held that he often asks how many in the group have loved ones who have strayed away from God. He called them “Prodigals”–like the son in the Parable of the Prodigal. He said that it seems to be about 90% of those in attendance indicate they know a prodigal—someone who maybe was raised in the church, but has abandoned the church and are living a life apart from God. And then we were challenged: It is time for the Prodigals to come home. It is time for us to become centers of “Holy Fire” where the Holy Spirit is really manifested in our lives and in the lives of our churches.
Our speaker was Corey Jones. He pastors Crossroads Tabernacle in east Fort Worth. I won’t go into to the details of his personal journey or how his church came into being other than to say that in desperation he called out to God and God directed him to develop a prayer ministry that transformed his life.
He told us that a few years back, after reading several books and biographies about the founding fathers of our denomination, he felt the Lord had given him a message for the church. In short summary, he said the First Generation of Nazarenes—he called “The Pioneers” –were those who experienced the Holy Spirit in a very personal way. Sanctification and holiness weren’t so much a doctrine as an experience with God. Phineas Bresee often used the phrase in his prayers for the church, “Keep the Glory Now.” The Glory represented the Manifest Presence of God. People would come to church just to experience God’s Presence and power—and lives were transformed.
The Second Generation –Corey called them “the Propagators”—were those who help spread the Holiness Movement, carrying the message of holiness across the nation and establishing churches where God’s Spirit was moving in communities.
The Third Generation—the Perfectors—were the intellectuals==Holiness Theologians who help define and teach the doctrine of Holiness. Rather than being a Heart experience, it became more about intellectual understanding of the experience.
The Fourth Generation Corey called “The Protesters.” They heard the messages about holiness. They heard the stories of those early years of how the holiness movement swept the land, but they had not seen that kind of revival personally –and they began to doubt whether it is real or not. Many of these left the church and expressed disbelief in the holiness message altogether.
ThenCorey said that we must not allow for a 5th Generation of people drifting farther away from an experience with God. It is time for us to cry out to God and experience once again that Holy Fire that characterized the first Generation of Nazarenes. And the way to do that is through Prayer—desperate prayer, heart wrenching prayers. Because that is the kind of prayer that calls heaven down to earth. That’s the kind of prayer that God has promised to honor. That’s the kind of prayer that unleashes the power of God in our lives. That’s the kind of prayer that will draw the Prodigals back to the church. That’s the kind of prayer that will transform lives and transform communities.
And, this morning, I have to say I fully agree.
And that brings me to the question the scribe had for Jesus: What is the Greatest Commandment?
I. LOVE GOD…
a. In our scripture, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:4-5, stating that it is the most important of all God’s Commands: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength.” How can we possibly do that? What will it take for us to have that kind of love for God? In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus began with the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. In verse 6 Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” The words “Hunger” and “Thirst” in the original language convey the meaning of being hungry to the point of complete starvation and a life or death desperation for food. And of an absolute thirst, the word denotes being to the point of complete dehydration and a life or death desperation for water. Jesus was telling us that when we really get serious in our search for God—so serious that we will do anything to reach God and to have His Blessing in our lives—then God will certainly fill us with His righteousness. That righteousness is a love for God that becomes the motivation for life itself. In all we say, all we do, all we think, all we desire, we want to love God by honoring Him. Our ability to love God with our whole being is made possible because God has filled our hearts with His love. In Romans 5:5 we are told, “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” 1 John 4:19 tells us, “We love because he first loved us.”
b. If we are going to become those first generation believers, we must not just talk about loving God, we must truly experience that love being poured out into our lives. When we become so in love with God that we want Him more than anything else, we will see God once again anointing our lives and our churches with holy power.
II. LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR…
a. I would contend that before we can ever love our neighbor the way Jesus meant, we must first of all experience the Love of God that enables us to Love God with our whole being. And when the love of God is poured into our hearts, then loving our neighbor is not something we have to force ourselves to do. It is the love of God in us and flowing through us that is poured out onto our neighbor. And in answer to “Who is my Neighbor,” In Luke Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. And the answer is, “Our neighbor is any ne who is in need.”
b. God’s love is unconditional. That means He loves no matter what. The “World” in the Gospel of John describes a world that is in rebellion against God, which is under the control of the powers of darkness that has Satan as the Prince of this World. And John 3:16 simply says, “For God so loved the world…” That would include the Muslims, the Hindus, the Democrats, the Republicans, the Hispanics, the Asians, the Blacks, and the Whites, the Prostitutes, the Homosexuals, and every other people group that make up the World. God has never stopped loving anyone. And when God’s love is poured out into our lives, it will flow through us to our neighbors.
c. We are often tempted to exclude others. We condemn those whose lifestyles are different from ours and especially those who are living in defiance of God. But instead of shunning others, condemning them to hell and thinking we are better than they—we should allow God’s love to reach them through us. We do so by being respectful, by taking risks in reaching out to those in need, by treating them in the way we would want to be treated. Isn’t that the Golden Rule? Jesus in Matthew 7:12 said, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
III. PUT FEET TO THAT LOVE!
a. First of all, have you had that personal, heart-changing, life-transforming, experience with God? Do you delight being in His Presence? Is your salvation not just a day and a time and a place in your past, but instead is an up-to-date daily communion with the God of the Universe revealed in Jesus? If the fire for God isn’t burning in your life, that must be the starting place. You can’t share an experience with others that you don’t have yourself. Humble yourself before God. If your love for God has grown cold, you need to come to the fire. Seek God, confess your need, hunger and thirst after Him!
b. Who is your neighbor? Who do you know that is hurting and has been beaten up by the world? Who in your family has drifted away from God? What are you doing about it? I would challenge you to write down the names of 2 or 3 people to whom you are close and whom you know need to come back to God. Begin to pray for them. Set aside time everyday to plead to God for their salvation. Fast a meal each week and spend that time in prayer for that person. Determine that you will not give up on them. Look for opportunities to communicate your love for them and let them know you are praying for them. And keep on calling out their names to God!
c. And let’s make prayer central in our lives.
i. If you know that your experience with God is not as “hot” as it should be, wouldn’t right now be a good time to come and kneel at the altar and call out to Him?
ii. And, right now, if you have a son or a daughter, or a grandchild who needs to come to God, would you be willing to come to the altar and seek God on their behalf?
Let’s begin again to make our church a House of Prayer!