Love Where You Live: Religion

Along with 300 plus churches in the Austin area, Gateway Church in Austin began a series called “Love Where You Live.”  I continued our series talking about a love greater than religion.

Check out the Next Steps here:

Next Steps – A Love Greater Than Religion

Consider a conversation with your life group, family over dinner, running partners, or neighbors using the questions and exercises.

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During our series Love Where You Live, we are talking about loving our neighbors – even those who may vote differently than we vote or look differently than we look.

Today we are talking about loving people who believe differently than we do.

  • Are you willing to love people who might be against you or threatening?
  • Have you ever allowed fear to keep you from getting to know someone?
  • Have you ever allowed assumptions to keep you from getting to know someone?

Last week Tasha reminded us that from the beginning to the end of the Scriptures, God declares His love for all peoples – all ethnic groups.

Throughout the Scriptures that Jesus studied (the Old Testament), a phrase is used 9 times to describe God’s character:

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.”

– Psalm 103:8

Over and over and over, God’s character is shown to be loving, gracious, and compassionate.

From the beginning of the Scriptures, the Bible says:

“… I will bless you… and you will be a blessing… and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:1-3

In choosing to bless Abraham, God was choosing to bless all peoples on earth!

Even at the end of the Bible, we discover that

[The angels] sang a new song [to Jesus], saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” – Revelation 5:9

God’s love is for all peoples! Every nation! Every people group!

God, out of His great love created the universe and created people with whom He could share His creation and His love.

God’s love extends beyond the people of Israel in the Old Testament and beyond the Church in the New Testament.

All that sounds good. More than likely you believe this. Some of you here may not believe this, but you respect this.

Let’s get real for a minute:

  • Do you believe this with your head AND with your heart?
  • Is this theoretical OR have you lived this out in practical ways?
  • Are you willing to love people you may not understand or who may make you uncomfortable?
  • Is there anyone in your life beyond your willingness to love?
  • Or maybe I should ask, is there anyone in your life you are too busy to love?

We can express love when we meet the needs of our neighbor.

  • For some, loving may mean an invitation to dinner.
  • For some, loving may mean hearing their story over coffee.
  • For some, loving may mean bringing them food when they are sick.
  • For some, loving may mean caring for their children when they have to work.

How can we meet the needs of our neighbor if we don’t know what their needs are or don’t know what their names are.

Like we discussed last week, it takes work to build relationships across ethnic lines. We are too busy – too consumed by life to stretch. After a long day, we’d rather watch Hulu than meet a neighbor.

Even more complicating, more and more of our neighbors may have a completely different worldview or belief system.

People from different backgrounds and faiths are moving to Austin. Here in Austin, we are growing so fast that the Austin you moved to isn’t the same as the one in which you live now.

  1. Nearly 20 percent of Austin residents are born overseas. That makes the Live Music Capital of the World more cosmopolitan than the U.S. in general (13 percent foreign-born) or Texas (16 percent).
  2. Austin’s total population doubles every 20 years.
  3. The city’s Asian population is growing twice as fast. Most of the growth in our Asian population are those who move here from India.
  4. Texas leads the nation in the size of its Muslim population?  Rounding off, the 2010 total was 422,000. Islam is the largest non-Christian group in 20 US States including Texas. There are just as many Muslims in Austin as Presbyterians.
  5. Austin has now crossed the threshold of becoming a Majority-Minority city.  Put another way, no ethnic or demographic group exists as a majority of the City’s population.  The City’s Anglo (non-Hispanic White) share of total population has dropped below 50% (which probably occurred sometime during 2005) and will stay there for the foreseeable future.

In this political season, I am certain in this room we could debate immigration policy. We aren’t going to do that today. What I want to talk about is not immigration in theory, but how do we treat our neighbors – the people who are already here?

The question is not how should our government treat the foreigner or what should the laws be?

How should you and I treat the foreigner?

Later within the Levitical laws, God’s grace to the stranger seems quite remarkable.

“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34).

In the midst of all sorts of chaos for the people of Israel, God called them to a different standard of care and concern than what was the practice in the rest of the world.

“This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.  Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other’” (Zechariah 7:9-10). Unfortunately, the people refused which led to an ironic turn of events, soon they were dispersed and seen as strangers in a strange land (Zech. 7:11-14).

So let’s get real practical for a moment. What should we do about the Syrians who have been fleeing their country which is in the midst of a Civil War? There are so many Syrian refugees that we are experiencing the 2nd largest migration in the history of our planet.

Maybe this motivates you. You want to be a part of welcoming and serving people who have so little and who are afraid they may be ostracized or persecuted.

If so, go to www.gatewaychurch.com/refugees to get involved with what Gateway is doing for the refugees in our city.

So often we don’t engage because we fear what we don’t understand–but you don’t have to understand everything about every other religion or how to answer questions–just build bridges, be a friend, and when the time is right, share what you know about Jesus who came for all people.”

Some of you may be thinking: “Ok, I get it, I need to love my neighbor even if they are from a different part of the world – even if they are from California!”

Here’s the amazing thing though. When you and I follow those promptings from God, you have no idea where you might end up.

  • At first, you may just sense God is wanting you to walk across the street rather than waving at your neighbor.
  • The next time it might be to ask more questions.
  • The next time it might be to invite them over for dinner.
  • The next time it might be serving them in a specific way.
  • The next time it might be asking if you could pray for them.
  • The next time it might be sharing with them about how Jesus has helped you in your life.

When you and I think we have already arrived, we miss the next thing God has for us.

God wants to do a new thing in your life and through your life!

Do you want him to do so?

Do you want to find yourself a year from now just exactly where you are or do you want to grow? Spiritual maturity is not about how much we know, it is about how fast are we willing to obey what God wants us to do.

Here’s the amazing thing. God is at work in your life and in the lives of those around you.

Some of you here may have trouble believing in God or trusting God. Maybe one of your biggest struggles is being overwhelmed with the fact there are so many world religions. You may think all religions are not valid at all. You may think of religion as just a human creation.

This may surprise you, but I agree. All religions are attempts to get to God. All religions are created by people hoping somehow to please God.

Here’s what you may not realize: Jesus is different.

There is a religion called Christianity influenced or maybe even inspired by Jesus, but Jesus did not come to start a world religion. Jesus came to rescue us.

Religion is all about what people must do to get to God.

Jesus, God in human form came to us.

Jesus does not offer practices or disciplines which will ensure communion with God.

Jesus is God, and offers us the opportunity to know him personally.  Jesus did not come to start a religion.  He came to start a revolution.

Unfortunately, some have turned his spiritual revolution into an institution.

Jesus revealed a new invisible kingdom.  He was not here as a political Messiah.  Jesus brought the eternal into the present.  We do not have to wait until we die to enter this new kingdom.  We enter this kingdom when we enter into a relationship with God.  This changes everything!

His kingdom was very different than any other kingdom.  Rather than advancing a kingdom through war or conflict, Christ’s kingdom is advanced through peace and love.

Jesus came to establish a kingdom filled with men, women, and children from every tribe, language, nation, and race (Rev. 5:9).  This kingdom is filled with people who came to Jesus and surrendered their lives to follow Him from a background of Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and even Christian.

Here’s what is truly remarkable! God loves each person on this planet! In fact, He has placed each person at the exact time in history and in the exact place on the planet where they have the best chance to find Him.

Listen to this remarkable statement in Acts 17 as Paul in the very spiritual but not Christian city of Athens explains:

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. – Acts 17:24-27

We can trust God is at work among every person on planet earth!

We know that because God has brought some of them directly to us.

We know that because is sending us out!

God has entrusted people from other faiths to us that we might love them, serve them, and when they ask why we do what we do, we can tell them about Jesus.

If you follow Jesus, who was it that helped you follow Him? Say their name outloud!

God loved you enough to send them into your life to help you.

Who has God sent in your life because He loves them so much, He brought them to you?

What is your next step today? Maybe you’ve been religious. You are tired of trying to do good works to get to God. You are tired of the guilt and the shame.

Today, let go of religion and embrace Jesus!

Jesus shows us a love greater than religion!

Out of gratitude we love others – even if they look differently, vote differently, or believe differently!

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