Right off the bat, you’re probably thinking, “Dude, The ‘80s series ended last week!”
It did. And by the way…it was awesome. Like, really REALLY awesome!
But one thing we didn’t really talk about in that series was the Rubik’s Cube. How many of you had one? I did. How many of you actually solved it? I never did…until one day I got so mad that I took the stickers off and moved them around. But I wasn’t able to get them to stick again, so I didn’t fool anybody.
But this 12-year-old kid actually did it. He found the secret because he got inside it. And his solution was actually fairly simple. He took something that was extremely complex and made it uncomplicated.
And that’s exactly what we’re going to do in this new series that kicks off today. The series is called Uncomplicated.
Christianity is just not that complicated. Now, for over 2,000 years, people have tried to make it complicated, but it’s really not. In fact, Jesus summed up the entire thing in one word. That’s pretty uncomplicated.
Let me show you what we’re talking about. Our focus text for this series is found in Mark 12. In these verses, Jesus tells us exactly what the whole thing is about.
Mark 12, starting in verse 28. “One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31, NIV)
It seems like a huge question. One of the teachers of the law asked Jesus, “What is the most important command?” The only Bible they had at that time was the Old Testament, and if you’ve ever read the Old Testament, it is FILLED with commands. In fact, it is traditionally accepted that the Old Testament has 613 distinct commands. 613 commands to do this, or don’t do that.
So when this teacher of the law asked Jesus which was the most important, it seemed like an incredibly complex, difficult, borderline impossible question.
But Jesus responded to this complex question with an amazingly uncomplicated answer. In fact, you can sum it up in one world: love. Love God. Love others.
Out of the 613 commands in the Old Testament, Jesus said that the most important command of all is love. He said that there is no command more important than this.
So over the next two weeks, we’re going to explore this incredibly uncomplicated answer from Jesus. What does it mean to love God? What does it mean to love others? And can our faith REALLY be that simple? Can it really be that uncomplicated?
It can. It is.
For a lot of us, this is going to challenge our preconceptions of Christianity. Some of us are going to struggle with this, believing it really can’t be that simple. Others of us are going to be set free from the legalism and the religion that we’ve bought into our entire lives.
Today, we are going to talk about what it means to love God. And next week is all about what it means to love others. It’s going to be an amazing two weeks as we let Jesus uncomplicate our faith.
Let me pray for us and then we’ll dive in.
In Mark 12, Jesus told us that the most important command is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30, NIV)
You can really break this down into two parts.
First of all, Jesus commands us to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
In Scripture, words like “heart” and “soul” and “mind” refer to the core of who you are. This is your inner being. This is the deepest part of you; this is where decisions are born and dreams are hatched. It is what makes you…you.
And Jesus tells us that, at our core, we are to love God. It is the greatest, most important commandment in Scripture. But it’s also a command that needs some clarification.
In our culture, when someone says, “I love you with all my heart,” we usually think of a very strong emotional connection. It’s a deep feeling.
Our culture usually equates love to a feeling. After all, what did B.J. Thomas teach us? “I’m hooked on a feeling. I’m high on believing, that you’re in love with me.”
I’m hooked on a what? A feeling. That’s our culture’s view of love. That’s the theme of every love song you’ve ever heard in your life. When you love someone with all your heart, it means that you just melt into a puddle of goo. You get all squishy inside. It’s just this wonderful emotion. It’s a great and beautiful feeling.
Which explains why so many relationships go down in flames. Because feelings wear off. Emotions don’t last.
Love is not a feeling. Love is a decision of the will. Now, I don’t want to sound totally cold and unfeeling here. There is an emotional aspect to love. That emotional connection is a very cool gift that God gives us.
For example, being with my wife still makes me happy. There is still a certain feeling there after nearly 17 years of marriage. I don’t want to go too far down this road, but after 17 years of marriage, this lady can still get my motor running!
But if our relationship was only based on feelings, we wouldn’t be married anymore. Trust me…if it was all about wonderful feelings, Nicki would have left me a long time ago.
Love is a decision. Truthfully, you can’t fall in love. You can fall into infatuation. You can fall into a wonderful feeling. But love is a decision. You decide to love, regardless of how you feel at the time.
Now, think about that in the context of Jesus’ command to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. He’s not just talking about an emotional response to God.
Are there some wonderful emotions in your walk with God? I sure hope so. I hope you have mountaintop moments in your relationship with Christ. I definitely do. But those moments don’t last, do they? What happens to your faith when the emotions fade?
The command to love God with all your heart and soul and mind is about your will. It is a decision of the will. It is bending your will to the will of God.
The Bible says in Proverbs 23, “For as [a man] thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7, NKJV)
Jesus said to love God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind. And the Bible tells us in Proverbs that how you think, not how you feel, but how you think in your heart…that is what defines you.
The thoughts and decisions of your heart define who you are. Jesus’ command to love God with your heart and soul and mind is a command to align your will with God’s will.
Listen to what David wrote in Psalm 86. We used this Scripture a few weeks ago in The ‘80s series. But look at it again. “Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever.” (Psalm 86:11-12, NIV)
To love God with all your heart and with all your soul and mind means that you are singularly focused on pleasing Him. Your heart is not divided, but it is unified for one purpose…pleasing God.
Here’s the problem, though. There is not a single person in this room who can say that they’ve done this. There is not a single person watching this video online who can say that they’ve done this. There is not a single person walking on this planet today who can say that they’ve done this.
You do NOT have an undivided heart. You don’t. And neither do I.
My heart is divided on a daily basis. It is divided on an hourly basis. It is divided on a moment-by-moment basis.
I want to love God with all my heart and soul and mind, but I don’t. I want to fully surrender my will to His will, but I don’t.
Instead of my heart being undivided, it is divided between love for God and my own selfish desires. It is divided between my desire to serve God and my own self-interests. It is divided between total submission to God and my desire for self-promotion. It is divided between a desire to please God and a desire to be applauded by people. My heart is divided between a desire to truly worship God and the desire to worship the idol known as me.
That’s the truth. And it’s ugly. And it’s messy. And it’s sinful.
The hard truth is that I don’t live up to what Jesus called the greatest commandment. Forget the other 612 in the Old Testament, and who knows how many in the New Testament! I can’t even get the most important one right! Forget about hitting a spiritual homerun. I can’t even touch first base!
And neither can you. None of us can claim that we love God with ALL our heart, and ALL our soul, and ALL our mind. None of us can honestly say that.
But here’s the beauty of the gospel. Jesus can. And Jesus does.
I want to show you a clip from a message preached by Tullian Tchividjian. I listen to a lot of sermons. A lot of sermons from a lot of different preachers. But if I had to pick one pastor that is stretching me more than anyone else I’m listening to right now, it would be Tullian Tchividjian. This guy right now is challenging me and stretching me like you wouldn’t believe.
And I want to show you a clip from a message he preached at a conference earlier this year. And I know it’s kind of weird watching the clip of a sermon within a sermon, but I promise you that it’s worth it. He just says this so much better than I can. Check this out.
I cannot honestly say that I love Jesus with all my heart and soul and mind. But I can honestly say that Jesus loves me with all His heart and soul and mind. And I don’t have to look any further than the cross to know that’s true.
It’s not about what I do. It’s about what Jesus has done. Jesus did it all for me. I don’t have to look anywhere else for approval or worth or validation. Jesus gives it all to me.
And even though I can’t honestly say that that my heart is undivided for Him, but I can definitively say that His heart is undivided for me. And that sets me free.
When Jesus said the most important command is to love God with all your heart and soul and mind, He knew He was saying it to a bunch of people who could never actually do it. But He also knew that He was going to change the game through His death and resurrection. He knew that, while we would never love Him with all that we are, He loved us with all that He is. And the cross proves it. And that sets us free.
I’m free from the pressure to try to measure up. I’m free from the unwinnable battle to be good enough. I’m free to know that, like we talked about last week, Jesus’ faithfulness to me is not based on my faithfulness to Him
That’s the crazy, illogical, upside-down truth of the gospel. And when you know that, it sets you free. It sets you free to actually pursue the second part of the greatest commandment.
Love the Lord your God with all your strength.
This is where the noun turns into a verb. This is what some preachers would call “the practical application” of the message. Loving Jesus with all our strength means that we actually do stuff. We don’t just sing songs and listen to sermons. We don’t just read books and blogs and tweets. We actually do stuff! But the motivation is key.
Because, again, I can’t honestly say that I do this. I can’t honestly tell you that I love Jesus with ALL my strength. I can’t say that. And neither can you. Once again, we fall short. But once again, Jesus does not fall short. And the fact that Jesus does what we can’t do sets us free.
What this means is simply that the love of Jesus frees you to act.
There is a huge difference between duty and joy. And so many Christians operate out of a sense of duty. Out of some kind of religious obligation. And you know what you’ll see when you talk to them? They’re miserable!
Now, they do stuff. They’re not lazy. They do stuff. They serve. They work in the nursery at church. They teach in the kid’s ministry. They give tithes and offerings. They volunteer and serve and give in a lot of different ways…and they’re miserable the whole time! They’re not miserable because they’re doing bad stuff. They’re miserable because they have a bad motivation.
They have a motivation that is born out of religious duty. That they have some kind of spiritual scorecard that they have to complete. That their religious report card is coming out soon, so they have to cram for the final exam. That somehow their giving and their service will earn them bonus points.
That’s what religion teaches people…and it’s a miserable existence. If you don’t believe me, talk to most people who have been Christians for 40 or 50 years. More often than not, you’ll find someone who lacks passion and fire and joy, because years of religious duty have beat it out of them.
Now, I want to be clear, I didn’t say ALL longtime believers fall into this camp. I just said a lot of them do. But we are privileged to have some longtime believers here at Connect who never lost their passion and their fire and their joy, because they never lost sight of their freedom in Christ. Serving and giving and doing stuff is not a duty to them. It’s a privilege. It’s a joy, because it’s not done out of religious duty. It’s done out of gratitude for the freedom that we have in Jesus. And after I have followed Jesus for 50 years, that’s who I want to be. I still want to be that guy.
What Tullian Tchividjian said is absolutely true. You are not what you do. You are what Jesus has done for you. But here’s the crazy thing about this. When you understand this truth, it sets you free to actually do stuff. Not to earn anything from God. Not to somehow make yourself worthy in His sight. Because you’ll never get there on your own.
Instead, when you know the truth of the gospel, it sets you free to do stuff because you know you aren’t defined by the stuff that you do. It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s absolutely true.
In fact, grace is the fuel for what Jesus called the two greatest commandments. Grace fuels piety (love for God and others). But grace frustrates pietism (desire to impress God and others).
Grace just means that things get really uncomplicated. All the scorekeeping and rule-keeping and image-keeping all go away. And all we’re left with is the simplicity of the gospel.
Grace doesn’t mean that we don’t do stuff. Just the opposite. Grace sets us free to do stuff because we know that we’re not defined by the stuff we do.
In John 14, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15, NIV 1984)
Jesus equates obedience with love. And again, He said this to a bunch of people that He knew would never be able to do it perfectly or consistently. But grace sets us free to obey Jesus, because we know that when we falter and fail, that failure isn’t what defines us. Our love for Jesus doesn’t define us. Jesus’ love for us does.
And this sets us free to do stuff. To follow Jesus. To obey Jesus. Not out of guilt, but out of gratitude. Not out of duty, but out of joy.
And this isn’t just theology. This is so incredibly practical.
For example, we’re not shy about talking about tithing here at Connect. Some churches are afraid to talk about money and giving. We’re not. Not because we care about your money, but because we care about you.
We talk about it because we believe what the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 9. “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:6-8, NIV)
Grace sets you free from the “gotta give” mentality. Because of what Jesus has done for us, we no longer “gotta give.” Instead, we get to give! It becomes a privilege and a joy!
We give because God is a giver, and we believe that He is able to bless us far beyond our ability to give back to Him. We give because we want to love God who loves us so much. That’s why we give. Not because we’ve gotta give, but because we get to give.
Does that mean that giving is easy? Of course not. Being generous is tough, and it gets tougher all the time. Tithing is a struggle. Last year, I preached a series where I challenged our entire church to try tithing for 90 days, just to see what God would do. And I talked to several people here at church who said, “This is hard, but I’m committed to it.”
How does that fit into the mindset of grace? That we’re not defined by what we do?
Here’s how. Dallas Willard nailed it when he said, “Grace is not opposed to effort. It is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action.”
When Jesus said to love God with all our strength, that’s a call to action. To do stuff. To serve. To give. To put forth effort. And that is not a contradiction with grace at all. Grace isn’t opposed to effort. It is opposed to earning.
It comes back to our motivation. Just continue with the example of tithing. Who do you think are the most generous people? The people who think they’ve gotta give, or the people who believe they get to give. The “get to give” people. It’s not even close.
If you are part of our church here at Connect, you get to give. You get to give because you want to see our church do amazing things. You get to give because you want to see us tell nearly 300 kids about Jesus at Sports Camp in a couple of weeks. You get to give because you want someone who lives in a remote, primitive village in Albania to come to know Jesus. You get to give because you want to see our church take the next step into another facility where we can reach even more people for Jesus. You get to give because you want more teenagers to experience the freedom and value and worth that comes from knowing Jesus. You get to give because you want to see our church reach more people, more families, more generations with the saving message of Jesus.
I don’t even think we can comprehend what could happen if we all stepped up and started giving generously. If we all started bringing a tithe, which is 10% of our income, back to God. But it’s all because we get to do it, not because we’ve gotta do it.
And tithing is just one example. We are set free to do all kinds of crazy stuff for Jesus because Jesus did something really crazy for us. He went to a cross for us. He gave His life for us. He loved us with ALL His heart, soul, mind, and strength. So much so that He died in our place. He paid the price for our sin so we would never have to.
That kind of love frees us to respond. It frees us to surrender. It frees us to serve.
One of our core values here at Connect is saved people serve people. Our church is built on the foundation of this truth. Saved people serve people. If we were not a church that is filled with servants, our church would cease to exist tomorrow. The lifeblood of our church is our servants.
So when you’re part of our church here at Connect, we just assume that you’re going to be part of our volunteer teams. We don’t even question it. We just assume it’s true because saved people serve people. We assume that you’re going to be part of our team in Connect Kids, or our setup team that makes church happen every week here at the hotel, or our Connect Team that greets everyone and makes first-time guests feel welcome, or our security team that keeps our worship experiences safe, or our student team that loves our teenagers every week, or our brand new Care Team that prays with people and supports and encourages them when they’re hurting.
We just assume that you’re going to plug into these teams. And if you’re not plugged in yet, talk to me after church today and we’ll get you hooked up.
We are a church that believes that saved people serve people, not because we gotta serve. But because we get to serve. That’s our motivation.
We get to serve Jesus who served us when He went to the cross for us. We get to give back to Jesus who gave His life for us.
This is what happens when we really understand the truth of the gospel. The gospel sets us free. It sets us free to love the God who loved us first.