Monday, December 17, 2007

Advent Devotion Excerpt - Love

This is my submission for Heritage Church's 2007 Advent Devotional. Hope you enjoy!

This year in Heritage Youth we are studying the gospel of Matthew chapter by chapter. We ended out 2007 with the theme "On A Mission from God," and we recently discussed Matthew 12:1-8. As I studied this passage and let its truth settle in my heart, I became very passionate about the simplicity of the life God longs for humanity to live. We all desire a sense of purpose, an assurance that our days have impact and meaning. However, in our attempt to live "On A Mission from God," well-meaning Christians work themselves into a frenzied busyness and often burn out, all in an attempt to please the Lord. I'm positive this isn't God's plan for us; he promised us abundant life, not flash-in-the-pan faith.

As you read today's passage, you probably wondered, "how does this have anything to do with love or Christmas?" It's all in the details! Jesus and his disciples are walking though a grain field on the Sabbath, fulfilling the ultimate "Mission from Go," the one around which all of human history revolves. These guys are literally in route to save the world! While doing something that seemed insignificant, the religious "giants" of the time approach Jesus and lambast his disciples for "doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath." The Pharisees were indicting them for "harvesting" on the holy day. I love Jesus' response - "I tell you, something (someone) greater than the temple is here." This statement alone makes me want to jump out of my skin! He goes on to quote from Hosea 6:5-6, "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice."

The Pharisees' approach to God could be compared to an awkward first date. Do you remember how it feels? The guy think he knows who his date is, feels that he may like her a bit more than the rest of the girls and hopes beyond hopes that the feeling is reciprocated. That's how he ended up on this knee-knocking night on the town in the first place! From his limited knowledge of this girl he has done everything he can think of to please and impress her - detailed the car, ironed his clothes, put on cologne, bought flowers and made reservations at the most expensive restaurant his wallet could handle! "Love" makes a guy do crazy things! How disastrous and disheartening would it be if, after all he'd done, his date comes to the door in a T-shirt and jeans, informs him that she's allergic to most pollen-producing plants and would rather eat at Wendy's than the downtown bistro! He thought he was in love but found that he really didn't know his girl at all!

The Pharisees were certain they knew what God wanted from them and had spent years perfecting their religious process to make him smile down on them. However, when they met God face-to-face in a grain field they were unable to recognize the divine spark behind his eyes. The Pharisees were sure they were on a mission from God, but in fact they were just doing "church stuff" and had missed God altogether. Jesus was on a mission from God too (for real), but his agenda and actions were totally different from the established religious community. He was chided for hanging with sinners, befriending immoral women, breaking religious rules & traditions and claiming authority to forgive sins. How could two missions, both aiming to fulfill God's will, look so different?

All the Pharisees wanted to do was please God, but they had not taken the time to find out what God really wanted from them. They became so passionate about their mission that they lost contact with their Maker. When detailing the Great Commandment, Jesus instructed us to 1) love God with all we are and 2) love our neighbor as ourselves. These are two sides of the same coin, but one comes before the other. We must love God first and love his people (and his mission) second. If we become zealous for God's work and forget to seek God's heart, we will become modern-day Pharisees and we will - let me emphasize, WE WILL - miss God when he shows up on the scene.

This Christmas season, remember that God's mission is all about love - loving God first and loving people as a result. In the hurriedness of the season, in the hustle of well-intentioned life in a happening church, remember that there is one who is greater than shopping, food, family, church, charity or presents. Don't forget to seek his heart in this season that reveals it to us so clearly. There are a lot of good things we can do during this time of the year, but let's take the time to be with God instead of just doing good.

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