Love God, Not the World, Part 2
Has love for an idol replaced your love for God? Dennis Rainey, author of "Choosing a Life That Matters," talks about one of seven principles that will help you live life to the fullest. Rainey remembers how God pursued him in 1968 when he was a college student. Convicted, he asked Jesus to be his Lord and Savior, and he went from being a mission field to a missionary.
About the Guest
Dennis Rainey talks about one of seven principles that will help you live life to the fullest. Rainey remembers how he went from being a mission field to a missionary.
Love God, Not the World, Part 2
Bob: Does your faith have substance to it, or is it a collection of platitudes? Here’s Dennis Rainey.
Dennis: I think we, as Christians, are very good about clichés. One of the clichés we are really good about—and it can become a very trite, almost meaningless phrase—is “Love God.” “Do you love God?” “Oh, sure, I love God.” “Do you love Him with all your heart?—all your soul?—all your mind?” Well, that’s a better question; isn’t it?
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, July 27th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. It’s one thing for us to say we love God; it’s something else, altogether, for that love to be manifest in how we live. We’ll talk about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.
You want to spend some time having us direct our affections today; right?
Dennis: I do. We are talking about Choosing a Life That Matters. To do that, you have to choose Jesus Christ and get in the process of getting to know Him and His plan for your life; because He’s the one who’s got the plan that really does matter for your life. I wrote a little book called Choosing a Life That Matters, and it’s subtitled 7 Decisions You’ll Never Regret.
Actually, the first time I crafted this message, it was a commencement address to seminarians and university students about to get their diplomas. I asked the question: “What do you say to somebody who has heard it all?”—
Dennis: —been to seminary for a number of years. I thought, “I just need to see if I can’t distill out what the Bible commands us to do.” I came up with seven of them: seek God, not sin; fear God, not men—the one we’re going to talk about today—love God, not the world; believe God, not the deceiver; obey God, not your feelings; worship God, not comfort; and serve God, not self.
Earlier, we talked about loving God. We talked about how you need to do an inventory of your heart—treat your heart like a warehouse—and walk up and down the aisles of your warehouse of your heart and see what kinds of idols are stored there. We manufacture them; we collect them; we keep them and just—quite so often, I think we need to have a clearance sale and bust them all out of there.
Bob: I think it was Tim Keller, who I first read who said, “An idol is a good thing that becomes a god-thing—that takes the place of God.” So, when you are clearing out the idols, it doesn’t mean you can’t have good things in your life. It means when those things become more valuable/more important/more significant than God is, now, we’ve got a problem. Something is competing for first place in your life; and God says, “I’m the only person who ought to have first place in your life.”
Dennis: Yes; I think we, as Christians, are very good about clichés. One of the clichés we’re really good about—and it can become a very trite almost meaningless phrase—is “Love God.” “Do you love God?” “Oh, sure, I love God.” “Do you love Him with all your heart?—all your soul?—all your mind?” Well, that’s a better question; isn’t it?
Dennis: That’s really what Jesus commanded us to do in Matthew 22:37—He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.” That’s what we’re to be doing. If you want to learn to love God, you’ve got to think about it holistically in your life. It does begin, as I mentioned earlier, by taking an inventory; but it doesn’t need to stop there.
I think the second thing we need to do is—I think we need to get in touch with how God loves us. 1 John, Chapter 4, verse 19 says, “We love Him because He first loved us.”
Dennis: Now, that’s a real key. If you want to learn how to love God, then you need to spend some time in the Scripture, discovering the magnificent love of God displayed in the person of Jesus Christ in the gospel—that went to the cross to die for all your idols, for all of your sin, for all of the wrong-doing—all of the times you’ve broken God’s laws. I think, as you study the love of God—that it is that love that can begin to turn your life around and transform the affections of your heart.
Bob: I’ve heard you say that it was God’s love that chased you down the summer before your junior year in college; right?
Dennis: In 1968, I pretty much lived for myself and was totally preoccupied with self.
I sat in a Bible study—there, as I recall, there were five of us in that Bible study. There was a cute girl in that Bible study, so that’s probably one of the reasons why I was there; but the pastor took me to Romans, Chapter 3. It was there I began to understand that God had died on a cross when I didn’t love Him, that He poured out His love for me when I wasn’t interested in Him, and that I could be forgiven of everything I’d done if I’d just turn by faith in Christ and ask Him to be my Lord and Master.
Bob, that love—that love that said: “Hold it! You didn’t love Me. That’s not why I’m loving you. I loved you before you had any thought of Me. It is that love that is calling you out of your selfishness to give your life to Me.”
That summer, Bob—that was the summer when I had an absolute transformation in my life.
I went from being a mission field, in need of being reached by others, to being a missionary with a message. I had a lot of zeal without much knowledge, but all I knew was: “God loves me. He has chased me down, and He wants a relationship with me. Even when I turn my back upon Him, He is still coming after me. He loves me.”
Let me give you another glimpse of another passage [1 John 4:7-9] that tells us more about this love of God—it says: “Beloved, let us love one another for love is from God. Whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love. In this, the love of God was made manifest among us that God sent His only Son into the world that we might live through Him.”
There are some listeners, who are listening to this broadcast—
—maybe, some who have listened for a long time—who don’t know the Son of God. They do not have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ because they come near Christianity, but they have never trusted Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and Christ introducing you to your heavenly Father—a lifelong pursuit for sure—but you need to know the love of God poured out through the person of Christ.
Bob: When we understand God’s love for us, it helps us understand how we are to love Him in return.
Dennis: Exactly; I think all of life is one long class of God teaching us how to love, and I think marriage is His call to grow up.
Bob: Repeated surrender; isn’t it?
Dennis: It is a repeated surrender. What ultimately happened is—a number of years later, Barbara and I were married. We realized we needed to formalize our surrender to Jesus Christ; so we wrote out a contract with God, where we did one of those inventories and evaluated everything that was important to us.
We gave those important things—those idols—to God and signed it all over to Him.
In my book, I wrote what was important to me: “Plenty of money”—hey, we didn’t have a lot; only made $560 a month, but it doesn’t take the amount of money that you’ve got to love it. You can love it with just a little. “A nice big house with a workshop and office”—I have no idea why I wanted a workshop, Bob—I’m not good with my hands. [Laughter] I wanted to “ski well,”—hey, we lived in Boulder, Colorado. What do you do when you are in Boulder?—you ski. I wanted a “new car,” I wanted “a big, healthy family with several boys.” Notice the priority of all this—the family was way down the list; [Laughter] “an easygoing job,” “sharp clothes”—very spiritual; huh?
Dennis: There were a bunch of insignificant things—now, looking back—
—that had a hold of my heart that I had to give to Jesus Christ. It was in the process of surrendering that that I found the love of my life; because, when you do open your hands from holding on to stuff, and to things, and to those idols—you let go; and then you can begin to invite God to begin to teach you more about His love.
Bob: When we think about loving God, I think we typically go to having our emotions stirred or our affections stirred—that loving God is all about how we feel at any given moment. When the Bible talks about loving God, it’s bigger than just having your emotions stirred; isn’t it?
Dennis: It really is. In fact, it led me to really a point that I want to make here about being a lifelong disciple of Jesus Christ and really going to work out of the Scriptures and becoming a student of God’s love and experiencing it—not just head knowledge but experiencing God’s love.
I wrote down some things that really led me into more of an experiential knowledge of God. Basically, what it was, Bob—it was a biblical expedition. I went on a biblical trail to say, “I want You, God, to teach me about Your love.” I’ll tell you where I started—I started in the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, just thinking about all of Christ’s interactions with religious people, who were liars and fakes; with prostitutes, who were desperate sinners; with tax collectors—I mean, on and on it went—but there was a great lesson to be learned about how Jesus loved His enemies. As I was watching Christ love His enemies, I would come out of those times of Bible study—and just Bible contemplation. Some days, I would read a chapter; some days, I’d read three or four chapters—I’d just chew on it and think about it.
A second way that I’ve learned the love of God is with a little book that a person gave me—it’s called A Psalter, and it’s the Psalms. I’ll give you a fresh illustration of this that I read this morning: Psalm 136—here is what it says, “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. For His steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods. For His steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords. For His steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the one who alone does great wonders. For His steadfast love endures forever.”
Bob, there are 26 verses—it’s just pounding away at God’s steadfast love enduring forever. There’s a little comment in this psalter that I have, and this writer quotes theologian Jonathan Edwards.
Edwards is talking about how there is no limit to God’s love. Now, listen to how he describes God’s love: “His essence being love, He is, as it were, an infinite ocean of love without shores and bottom—yea, without a surface. Those that God is pleased to make the objects of His love, let them be who they will or what they will, never so mean, never so great sinners; they are objects of a love that is infinitely full and sufficient.”
I just think we need fresh looks at the love of God, and who He is, and how He comes after us every day. The psalmist does that in magnificent ways.
Bob: You remember the great hymn of the faith that we’ve sung for years: “The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell. It goes beyond the highest star and reaches to the deepest well.”
That’s what Edwards was saying; isn’t it?
Dennis: It is. That really leads me to another way of being a student of the love of God—that’s hanging out with people who love God. I’m not talking about religious people. I’m talking about somebody who really hits you with a heart for God, who really loves Him.
I’m not being a name dropper here—but for only reasons that God knows—one of the men who has marked my life was Dr. Bill Bright, the Founder and President of Cru®—formerly Campus Crusade for Christ®. As a leader, I got to spend time with Dr. Bright, and I got to be in meetings with him—lots of meetings/long meetings with him. He once spoke for an hour and—I forget—over an hour-and-a-half I think. It was a record meeting with, like, 45 points.
He had one message that he gave over, and over, and over again—we used to think, “Does Dr. Bright have any other messages?”
It was from Revelation, Chapter 2, the first seven or eight verses or so. It was basically about the church in Ephesus, where Jesus is taking on the church there and says, “You’ve left your first love.” The sermon in Revelation, Chapter 2, and the sermon that Bill Bright used to give is: “I have this against you. You have left your first love for Me. Repent and do the deeds you did at first.”
Dennis: In other words: “Realize this thing called love is something that has to be cultivated.” Can you fall out of love with God?—well, you can’t fall out of His love; but you can fall out of love with God. You can wane in your love; you can grow weary of well-doing. You just may need to be reminded, as Dr. Bright reminded us, “Revisit your love for Christ.” Is it fresh?—do you really love Him with all your heart?
I miss hearing those messages now—I hate to say it; because I used to say, “Doesn’t he know anything else?” Well, there was a reason why he was making that central. He knew how important the love of our heart is to our life.
One more under this point of becoming a student of His love—and this is going to be an “Ouch!” for some of our listeners: “Love one another.” In John 15, verses12 and 17, Jesus commanded us to love—He commanded us to love the people we don’t like.
Back a number of years ago, Bob, there was a book out—and I don’t think this was the name—but it was about irregular people; Joyce Landorf wrote the book. You may remember it. It was about the people that God brings into your life that are just irregular people—they just irritate you—they either ask you too many questions; their personality bugs you / irritates you. You find ways—if you see them in a store, you’ll go to another aisle—
—but they are people that God puts in your path for you to love.
Dennis: It may be a relative, like your brother. I had a hard time loving my brother, because he was pretty rough on me, growing up; but as a man, I always idolized him for who he was. A year ago, I had to stand over his casket; and I’ve asked a lot of questions in my own heart over the past few years: “How could I have done a better job of loving my brother?”
Who has God put in your life that you need to love? Jesus made it really clear: “If you love somebody because they love you, what reward is that?” But loving those who are—maybe, hard to love or you don’t know how to love—you can’t quit / you can’t give up—
—even if they are at work and a part of your work or your neighbor next door. Over the years, I’ve lived next door to some interesting neighbors, who could be described as an irregular person. [Laughter]
I don’t think God makes mistakes. I think you can move across the country, and you’d be right next to another irregular person that God is calling you to love. Jesus commanded you: “Love one another.” Why?—because, as you love, you begin to understand God’s love for you.
Bob: Well, He even goes on to say, “Love your enemies and pray for those who despitefully use you,”—it’s not just the irregular people—even those who are hostile toward you, we’re commanded to love them.
Dennis: Yes; that’s convicting.
Bob: Let’s move on quickly. [Laughter]
Dennis: Let’s move to another point. One last point on loving God—and what better place to go than the words of Christ in John, Chapter 21? Maybe, you remember—it’s in verses 15 through 17.
Peter had an encounter with Christ; and Jesus looked at Peter and said three times, “Do you love Me?”
Dennis: Three times!
Bob: This was right after Peter had denied Him, so it was a valid question to ask.
Dennis: It was a real valid question to ask. What did Peter say? Well, he said, “Yes, Lord, I love You”; “Yes, Lord, I love You. Then, he was kind of irritated that He asked a third time if he loved Him: “What are you looking for God?”
Every time Jesus answered Peter’s response, what did He do? He commanded him to do something with the sheep. Now, do you think Jesus was calling Peter to become a physical shepherd?—I don’t think so. I think Jesus was giving Peter a spiritual assignment.
Now, here’s the question for every one of our listeners. What’s God’s spiritual assignment for you in terms of the herd?—
—maybe, it’s just one sheep—maybe, it’s a lamb—maybe, it’s a little one that you just need to stay after and love that little irregular child, and keep loving him, and keep teaching him how to know Jesus Christ, and training him—or maybe, it’s those two boys, who wrestle with each other and who have all these conflicts, and you are so tired of loving them. Jesus said: “Tend my sheep. Take care of them. Shepherd them.”
I don’t understand all I know, but I know that the love of God is found as you are poured out, taking care of the sheep. I’ll tell you where I experienced this—Billy Graham’s funeral. I sat there, in a tent, on a very chilly Charlotte afternoon. Two thousand people looking at this massive oak casket that had been built by prisoners.
I thought of the man’s life—had a lot of time to think about his life. He wasn’t perfect—and his kids didn’t portray him as that—but they did portray him as a man who loved God.
After that service was over—as they rolled the casket away from the tent, and across that street, and up a hill to go where it was going to go ultimately to a resting spot—I had the strangest urge, Bob, to stand and applaud. Now, it was a funeral / it was a memorial, with all kinds of people in suits and dressed up. It had been a very somber service. There had been laughter, at points, from some of the things that the adult children had shared about their dad; but I had the strongest urge to applaud. Why?—because Billy—whatever can be said about him—
—he loved God; he loved the Scriptures; and he proclaimed them and the gospel of the Scriptures. He did that last point—he tended the sheep; he helped birth a lot of lambs.
Who is there in your life, now, as a listener, who needs to hear about the love of God? Maybe, you are the arms of God’s love that is reaching out to him. You’ll be the only book they read of God’s love. Maybe, it’s your love that will break through the crusty hardened character of somebody who is just—he’s just not a believer / he’s not a follower of Christ, so why should we expect them to be loveable? Maybe, it’s time for you to sign up for some sheep duty and get out in the pasture and take care of the flock.
Bob: Maybe, you ought to start by reading—is it Chapter 3; is that right?—
Dennis: That’s right.
Bob: —Chapter 3 in the book, Choosing a Life That Matters, to just reevaluate, “Do I love God, or do I love the world?” We’ve got copies of Dennis’s book, Choosing the Life That Matters, available. In fact, this month, if you’re able to help us with a donation to support this ministry, we’ll send you a copy of the book as our thank-you gift. We are listener-supported. Those donations are what make FamilyLife Today possible. All that we do—not just this radio program but our events, our resources, everything that we’ve got online—you make that possible for others when you donate to support this ministry.
In fact, I often think about it this way—I think we’re really giving the husbands and wives and moms and dads the gift of practical biblical help and hope every time we donate to FamilyLife Today. If you’re a regular listener, and you’ve never made a donation, let me challenge you to go online today and donate to support the work of FamilyLife®.
You can do it easily at FamilyLifeToday.com; you can call to donate: 1-800-FL-TODAY; or you can mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; the zip code is 72223. Be sure to mention you’d like a copy of Dennis’s book when you get in touch with us, and we’ll send that to you as our thank-you gift.
I also want to mention the “30-Day Prayer Challenge” that we are encouraging moms and dads and grandparents to enroll in. For the next 30 days, we’d love to send you a series of prayer prompts, via email, every day. We will help spur your thinking and your praying about your children as they get ready to head off to school this fall. Now, you can sign up for the “30-Day Prayer Challenge” when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com—there’s no cost for that. This is just our way of trying to equip you, and help you, and spur you on as you seek to ground your family in what God’s Word has to say about how we’re to live.
Sign up, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; and we’ll start sending you those prayer challenges right away.
With that, we’ve got to wrap things up for this week. Thanks for being with us. I hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday. Ron Deal’s going to be with us, and we’re going to talk about being a step-grandparent and some of the challenges you may face along the way. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back [Monday] for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a CruMinistry.
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