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RUF Assessment Sermon

The following is the sermon that I preached for the RUF Assessment in Atlanta last week. It was a little harrowing because I had not actually preached in front of people before. To be critiqued by people who I hope to be working with in a year was a little nerve-racking, but God, our Great King, is faithful in his protection and care of his servant (if you don’t know what i’m talking about, give it a read…)

Please turn with me in your Bibles to Deuteronomy 6:4-9. I want to read for you a passage that the Lord has been laying on my heart in the last month or so and share some insights that he has shown me.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9: Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (NIV)

I’ve been thinking a lot about love over the last couple of weeks. My wife and I have felt a lot of love over the past month, but I’ve also had times where I have questioned how much I am loved. Typically, such a drastic change in thoughts and emotions would trigger alarm bells in many people’s minds. It’s different though when tragedy is involved.

My wife and I find out a little over a month ago that the baby that we were so eagerly anticipating was not going to come. After a visit to the doctor and an ultrasound the next morning, we discovered that our baby that was supposed to be 12 weeks along was only the size of an 8-week old. And his heart was not beating. We were devastated.

My wife and I were married about 9 months ago, and we began our marriage planning when we would start a family. After about 6 months, God laid it on our hearts to stop over-planning our lives and simply trust him with the timing of our family. We prayed about it, and we gave it over to God. Literally, as soon as we gave it over to God we conceived. So much for the doctors who had told my wife that it might be hard for her to get pregnant!

We were warned over and over again about how common miscarriages were, and we took the warnings seriously. As time went on and things were looking good, we became less and less concerned. We got to the end of the first trimester and breathed a sigh of relief. Since most miscarriages happen during the first couple of months, we thought we were safe. Unfortunately, we were mistaken.

Losing a child that we did not know has been a bigger struggle than I imagined it would be. My wife and I will simply break down crying at random times. We’ve tried to do as much as we could to cope with the loss. We did not know if the child was a male or a female, but we wanted to give the child a name. So we gave the baby the name Christian. We also planted a tree in front of our house as a memorial of Christian’s short 8 weeks of life. These things have helped, and our family and friends have been incredibly supportive. Despite all of this, the last month has still been a struggle.

During this time, my mind keeps coming back to the concept of love. I have asked God many times about what love is. I’ve even had the audacity to ask him if he truly loved my wife and I. “Do you even love us God? If you really loved us, why did you let this happen?” I don’t think that he really needs to answer that question because in reality, he already has.

Thinking about God’s love for me eventually got me thinking about my love for God. Although it took me some time, I was able to feel myself growing closer to God through this event. I began realizing my dependence on him more and more. I could actually feel my love for him deepening in a strange way, and that made me happy. But that got me to thinking, “How much do I really love God? Do I love God consistently, or does my love for him waver? What does it really mean to love God?” All of these questions about love led me to our passage for this morning. Digging deep into this passage has helped me understand the concept of God’s love more fully, and it has shown me what God means when he tells us to love him.
For those of you unfamiliar with this passage, so much can be said about it. It is so incredibly deep and rich. In this passage, Moses is speaking to the people of Israel as they are on the brink of entering the Promised Land. Before they entered the land, God thought it best to take time to remind the people what God required of them. Right before this passage, Moses just got finished reiterating the Ten Commandments. With The Commandments still ringing in their ears, Moses gives them another commandment: “Love the Lord your God…” And don’t just kind of love him; love him with your whole heart, soul, and strength. In other words, Moses was saying to love God completely, with all you’ve got.

Most Christians know this verse as the “Greatest Commandment.” This was the commandment that Jesus quoted when the Pharisees try to trap him, asking him which commandment out of all of them was the greatest. Jesus simply responded “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38) I’m sure that Jesus smiled real big when he saw their dumbfounded and defeated expressions after he gave them the most perfect answer to their trick question.

I struggle with this passage. My struggle has to do with the fact that it gives us a command to love God. That just seems strange to me. How can someone command me to love them? How can anyone be commanded to love something? I can think of a multitude of things that no one could ever command me to love. I could never love cauliflower, or getting my teeth cleaned at the dentist, or even worse, I could never love the Boston Red Sox. Not even my wife could command me to love those things. It would even be hard to love something that I enjoyed—like reading, for example—if I was commanded to do it.

This struggle I have with this passage has to do with a deficiency of mine. And I don’t think that I am the only one who has this deficiency. I think a lot of people are probably just like me. First of all, I find it hard to love God completely and consistently. I love him occasionally, but quite often I don’t. My problem though is how I view love.

When I think of love, I would probably define it somewhere along the lines of having a deep affection for something. I get this sense of a deep, overwhelming feeling that you know is there but you can’t really describe it. I think of my wife and the love that I have for her. When I am with my wife Stephanie, I feel love, and it’s this feeling inside of me that I can’t describe. I feel it throughout my body and especially in my chest. My heart gets pumping. I get happy and excited and the adrenaline starts rushing through my body. That’s what I think of when I think of love.

There have been times in my life when I have felt something along the lines of that feeling toward God, but those times have been few and far between. I can remember experiencing that feeling one night during the summer of 1999. I had the amazing privilege of spending a single night on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. I spent the evening down by the water, watching the sun set, painting the sky in beautiful colors. A warm breeze was coming off of the water. I walked the shore thinking that my God and my Savior loved me so much that he himself came down and walked on these shores. That night, I was filled with an overwhelming feeling of love for God.
My really weak definition of love is really not what Deuteronomy 6 is talking about. The concept of love is so much deeper than we typically imagine it. Love does involve a feeling, but it also involves so much more. Love is so deep that it actually incorporates all other virtues inside it. It’s so deep that the apostle Paul spends an entire chapter–I Corinthians 13—explaining what love is.
Although love is such a deep concept, Deuteronomy stresses one aspect of love that can often be overlooked, especially today. This is the aspect that I want to explore this morning.

This passage portrays loyalty as an important characteristic of love. Since the passage doesn’t make that explicit, how does this passage show loyalty as being an important aspect of our love for God? Easy. The context of course!
As I mentioned earlier, Israel is on the brink of entering the Promised Land. Because they are about to enter the land that God promised them and their ancestors before them, God wanted to make sure that they were going to do what they were supposed to when they got into the land. He wanted to renew the covenant that he had made with them back in the desert at Mt. Sinai.

Deuteronomy is a covenant renewal document written by Moses. It contains all the parts of a typical covenant that were made during this time. This passage falls underneath the heading of ‘stipulations’ within the document. In the stipulation section, God—the creator of the covenant—requires of Israel—the people with whom the covenant is being made—is laid out. Among other commands is the greatest command: Love God.

The question still remains, how does this mean that loyalty is part of love? Covenants in ancient times were between a great king and a party of lower standing. In every covenant, the stipulations were how the lower party was to show his loyalty to the greater king. In exchange for his loyalty, the greater king would offer his protection and his care.

In this covenant, God is the Great King. The people of Israel are the lower party. Therefore, this means that God is requiring his people Israel to love him in exchange for his protection and care. When we are talking about love in the court of the king, loyalty is inexplicably involved. In exchange for complete loyalty to him, God—the Great King—promises Israel—the lower party—to protect them and care for them. Thus we can see that a major aspect of the definition of love is complete loyalty to God.

Even though this passage is found in the Old Testament and was written so long ago, it applies to us even today. The promises to the people of Israel extend to those who have faith in Jesus, God’s son. His care and his protection are ours as well!
God is calling us to love him and to be loyal to him even today. The Israelites had a few amazing events in history to base their decision of loyalty on, but our decision to be loyal is based on things even greater: the life, death, and resurrection of the God’s Very Own Son! God by his very nature does not change. He is the same God then as he is now which means that if we do place our loyalty on him, we don’t have to be concerned about whether he will actually protect us and care for us. He always has, and he always will.

It is all well and good to talk in the abstract about love and loyalty, but what does that look like? How is that possible? Thankfully, our passage tells us how. On top of that, we have it modeled in none other that Jesus Christ himself.

Our passage says that “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” God knew that when his people got into the Promised Land, they were going experience all sorts of blessings, and they were going to forget about Him. They were going to forget about their Great King who had done such amazing things for them. He knew they were going to chase after foreign gods. So what did he tell them to do? He told them: “Take all these things that I’m telling and make them a part of your very being. Pass them on to your kids. When you get up in the morning, talk about them. When you’re running your errands, talk about them. When you’re sitting down enjoying a meal, talk about them. Create reminders for yourself so that you don’t forget. Put them in places where you’ll see them. Think about me whatever you are doing.”

Unfortunately, the people of Israel didn’t love God completely. They forgot, and they failed. And we all know how that worked out for them: exile. Assyria and Babylon conquered the Promised Land and deported a large chunk of the population. They simply couldn’t keep covenant with God. Neither can we, but we know of someone who did. Jesus did!

He loved God completely and perfectly. He is the greatest example of the deepest love for God and absolute loyalty to him. He remained loyal from the beginning to the very end, and was this was nothing short of amazing!. As Jesus kneeled praying in the Garden, he was under so much stress that he actually sweat drops of blood. He knew that if everything went according to his Fathers plan, he was about to die. But what did Jesus say? “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39). He was willing to be completely loyal to his Father.

Jesus showed us what it means to truly love God. He showed us absolute loyalty to God. He did what Israel could not. He did what we can not. And thank God that he did, because we would all be lost if it wasn’t for him.

So now what? What are we supposed to do now? The first thing that needs to be done is to have faith in Jesus. Because Jesus was loyal to God and died to satisfy God’s wrath, we have been given the ability to love God if we have faith in Jesus. So it starts with faith in Jesus.

If we have faith in God’s son, what does love and loyalty to God completely look like for us, 2000 years after Christ? Love and loyalty looks like Jesus life. Jesus life was lived in absolute love and loyalty that played itself out in absolute obedience to his father in heaven. I know that we as Reformed people get a little nervous when we talk about obedience to God’s law because we don’t want to fall into the trap of work’s righteousness. This could not be farther from work’s righteousness.

God did an amazing thing for us through his Son Jesus. He did what we could not and restored our standing before the Father. He took the wrath upon himself. Now out of gratitude, we have the opportunity of showing our love and loyalty to God by doing the things that he has asked us to do, for our good and for his glory.

Having this perspective has helped me in this last month. Knowing that love for God is more than my “feelings” toward him, has been a huge comfort. There were times when I did not like God, and there were days when I was down right angry with him. But God has reminded me time and time again that he is a God of love. He has reminded me that he is a God that does not change. He has even showed me that he knows what it is like to suffer through the death of a child. It has been tough, but my love for God has deepened during this time because God has showed me more of what love is. And even though we deal with pain and suffering, because of our faith in God’s son, we can have gratitude for what God has done. And because of this, we have no greater calling than being obedient to God, utterly loyal to him, and loving him with all of our heart, all our soul and with all our strength.

Amen.

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