Our society puts great emphasis on being well invested financially. There is no end to the programs and podcasts about how to invest wisely in real estate, IRA’s, 401K’s and the like, but how do we become well invested relationally? As in all investments, each of has limited relational resources to invest. How can we invest these resources well to get the returns we’re looking for?
Good Mornin’! How’s everybody doing? Welcome to everyone who’s joining us in the video café or live stream. How’s everyone’s summer going? Well, that was a little less than enthusiastic. Come on, it’s almost over. You gotta get the good stuff in. Our summer has been a little nuts because we’re moving. Not far away, sorry to disappoint you. But uh….We’re moving um actually a little bit south from where we live now. We have a pretty amazing opportunity to buy a pretty nice size piece of land. It will be a great investment for our family, kind of like our forever home. But getting there has been a bit of like soul-crushing oppression because we have to live in our house and keep it clean all the time with three kids, a dog, and a cat, and that’s just no fun. But, uh, you know all this movement towards this new property has kind of got me thinking about investments lately and just how much time and energy and effort we put into investing in things, like real estate or retirement or our career, our time or even our leisure. I can’t tell you how many hours of my life I have wasted on Fantasy Football. Not that they’re really wasted because it’s really awesome. And then these are good things, and investing is a good thing. It produces things in our lives that are good.
But today I want to talk about an investment, that’s probably the best one that I think we can make, and that is the investment of relationships. Because one of the things I think that is very clear in the Bible is that relationships matter, and that’s the series we’re in right now; relate-able – is all about. We’re looking at relationships because when we get to the end of our lives, and we look back at what we invested in, the things that are going to stay and the things we get to keep are going to be the relationships. I don’t think we can invest in anything more important. At Lifepoint we say that we want to influence people to find and follow Jesus, and by following Jesus, we mean we want people to become Christ-like influencers. People that influence the world the way that He did, and one of the five things we talk about to make us Christ-like influencers is to invest relationally. You know we don’t always think of relationships as an investment. That’s not how we always approach it, so how do we get well-invested in relationships the way we get well-invested in other things. How can we be well-invested relationally?
Well, let’s just start with considering: what is a relationship to begin with, or what is an investment, to begin with- we all know what a relationship is, but what is an investment in the first place? Well, a pretty simple definition of an investment is that when we invest in something, we give up something good now to get something better later. When we invest in something we give up something good now to have something better later. My, my 8-year-old, my 9- year old, is just discovering this, right now. His name is William, and he’s been coming to us lately, and he’s been asking us this really strange question and that’s made us question who he is, “Mom, Dad, do you have some work that I can do?” Hold up, what’s going on here? Well, it turns out; he wants to get a Nintendo Switch. He really wants one. And so he’s kind of locked in on this idea that if I give up some of my free time now and do something I don’t want to do which is work, I can earn money to get something better later. And so, all of us, kind of understand intuitively that this is what investment is all about. But you know one of the difficulties with investment, and we’re going to see if William actually hits this is that the good that we have now, is often a lot more clear to us than the better that we can have later. If you want to lose weight, that donut that you can have right now is a lot more clear and smells a lot better than the skinny that you can have later. That’s further down the road, so, so, because we gotta give up something good now, it can often make us reluctant and sometimes the better that we see later isn’t quite enticing enough to get us to fully invest.
So how does all this work in relationships? How do we get well-invested relationally? Thankfully, I think the Bible gives us a very clear and well-directed answer to this question. We’re going to be working today in the Gospel of Mark, at least to start with. So if you have a Bible, go ahead and turn with me to Chapter 12. If you don’t have a Bible, and you’d like one, we’d love to give you one. All you have to do is go to the Welcome Desk on your way out and just ask, and we’ll be happy to give you one. It’s on us, absolutely free. But if you have your Bible turn to the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 12 and we’re going to be starting in verse 29. Let me give you a little bit of background of what is going on here. So, this is going to take place. Jesus is in the temple of Jerusalem, and he’s teaching. And some of the Scribes and Pharisees and the people that don’t’ really like Jesus, they see this as an opportunity. He’s publicly teaching in the center of worship for all of Israel. We’re going to trip him up. We’re going to catch him in a trap, and so they’re asking him questions, and they’re setting him up, and Jesus is just knockin’ ‘em down. And they’re not getting anywhere with it, and finally one of the Scribes says, “Okay teacher, of all of the laws, in the Bible, which is the greatest? Which is the greatest commandment?” And, without hesitating Jesus gives this answer, the most important is “Hear O’ Israel. The Lord our God, the Lord is one, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this; you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31). There’s no other commandment greater than these. I think Jesus’ words here give us key insight into what it looks like and to what it means to be well invested relationally, so let’s dig a little bit deeper into this.
I want to just call to view an observation about the importance of this passage. Jesus ends this with these words, “There is no other commandment more important than these”. I just want to suggest that when Jesus says that something is that important, we need to pay attention. The book of Matthew in a similar account, of the same account, Matthew 22, Jesus says this, “On these depend all of the law and the prophets, the entire scripture, hinges on these things.” These are the most important things. All of our other investments, things we spend our time on, our energy, our resources, retirement, real estate, career, leisure, all good things, all important things. This is importanter. And yes importanter is a word. So the second thing I want us to take notice of is that these most important things, in this greatest commandment all hinge on three relationships. There are centered on three relationships. We are to love the Lord our God, we’re to love our neighbor and we’re to love ourselves. So the most important thing that Jesus says we can do is to invest our lives in loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves. It’s the most important thing we can do. Now before we jump into how, just want a quick reminder about how investments work. You give up something good now to get something better later. So there’s gonna be some discomfort in where we’re going with this. Just buckle up for that. But there’s also a better. There’s a better on the other side of that. So we’re going to look at each of these 3 relationships and we’re going to work in reverse order. We’re going to start with ourselves and we’re going to work our way back to loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. So Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” and the “as yourself” part almost comes across as an afterthought-we can almost miss it. It doesn’t seem like it’s that important, but I want to suggest that it’s actually pretty key. If you think about it, each of us has a relationship with ourselves which sounds a little weird at first, but it’s true. All of us live in relationship with ourselves. In fact, it’s the one relationship we’re always in, is the relationship with ourselves. But the unfortunate part of this is that for most of us it’s a really awkward and uncomfortable relationship. I was talking about the sermon with one of our staff members, Brad Lindner, who works with middle schoolers and he’s like “Yeah, it’s kind of like we’re all in a middle school dance in our minds.” And I’m like “That is a great way of putting it”. It’s uncomfortable, it’s awkward, and you don’t know what to do. Few of us are comfortable with ourselves. No matter how self assured, we might come across, no matter how we might want to present ourselves, very few of us, are really comfortable with ourselves. We look in the mirror; we don’t like what we see. We look inside, we don’t like what we see. I’m not talented enough, not smart enough. I don’t have the kind of gifts I want. Other people are better than me. These are the kind of things that go on inside our heads. Unless it’s just me and I’m crazy, but I’m pretty sure that I’m not. All of us live with these stories that we tell about ourselves. And most of them, if not many of them if not most, are critical. Like for me, one of the things I walk around inside is I have a need to be liked. Because inside one of the voices I hear, is “You’re not very likeable”. And, I have a need to not disappoint people which makes it really hard for me to say “no” to other people because inside one of the voices that I hear is “You’re a disappointment.” I don’t know where it comes from, but what I do know is I’ve encountered enough people that what I do know is something along those lines goes on inside all of us, and it’s really uncomfortable and we don’t like it. We don’t want to hear those voices so we’ve become experts at distracting ourselves. We numb that discomfort with distracting ourselves, and we have all kinds of ways that we can do this; through social media, Netflix, just binge watch Netflix, by throwing ourselves full force into our careers, traveling. Some of us do it in destructive ways through drugs and alcohol or things that hurt us. Other people it’s food. And my feelings taste like pizza, except in the morning, when they taste like donuts. We, we we even have a clever name, a really nice name for these distractions. We call it self-fulfillment. I’m going to fill myself up with all these things that are going to make me happy and kind of get, tell this voice that it’s wrong- these things that we tell ourselves. But here’s the problem with self-fulfillment, and again none of the things that we pursue are wrong in themselves, but they can never fill the hole. They can never quite quiet that voice. They can distract us from it, but they can’t make it go away- or not enough to fill ourselves. We’re incapable of filling ourselves. But there’s a bigger problem, and that is the voice we tell ourselves? The things that we say, “ Hey there’s something wrong”. It’s not entirely wrong. Every single one of us knows that there is something true about all of us and that is that we are broken inside. There are things that are wrong with us, and we don’t know how to fix them. And self-fulfillment won’t fix it. What Jesus says we need is not self-fulfillment but self- investment. So how are they different?
Well what self-fulfillment does is self-fulfillment looks out. It says, “I’m gonna look out and I’m gonna bring it in and it’s gonna fill me up”. Self-investment looks in- it looks in at the emptiness. And waits for someone else to fill it. So how does that work? How do we self-invest? There’s lots of ways to do it. Counseling is one- I’ve done it – I’m back there again. I’m seeing all kinds of, I’m getting all kinds of insight back into myself and seeing things more clearly. One of the things I’ve discovered over the last couple months is the Any-O-Gram. Don’t have time to go into it, but it’s really cool. It gives you some tremendous insight into who you are and how you function and how you dysfunction. I’m a nine- that makes sense to a few of you. I’d encourage you to go and look at that if you have time. It’s called the Any-O-Gram, but I want to focus in on one particular thing. It’s what I think is a lost art in our spiritual practice. It’s the practice of solitude and silence. This is a very simple practice. It requires two things; you get alone and you shut up. That’s it. Now if you have lots of kids, the getting alone part can be a little tough, but all you have to do is get alone and get quiet. And just listen. Sounds very, very simple. Dallas Willard, who is a master of the spiritual disciplines said this, he said “Solitude and silence are the foundation of the spiritual disciplines”. They’re the ones that all the other ones are built on: prayer, Bible study, fasting, everything else, he says are built on these two- solitude and silence. He says these two are the foundation. And if you look at the life of Jesus, you see that these two practices, of solitude and silence were foundational in His life. In the book of the Gospel of Luke 5: 16, it says this, it says that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed”. In the midst of a ministry where everyone was clamoring for him, where everyone was making demands on him, when He was pouring himself out to the world, Jesus made it a habit, a regular a practice to withdraw from all of the noise, all of the distraction, all of the demands and to get quiet in a lonely desolate place before His Father. With all that He had going on, he withdrew to lonely places, desolate places. Where Jesus went was the wilderness. In the Bible, the wilderness has tremendous significance. Because in the Bible the wilderness is the place of rejection. It’s the place where we experience exile and rejection. But the wilderness also has a very useful purpose in the Bible. Throughout the Bible, you see that the wilderness is where God does his best work in the lives of people. You see it in the life of Moses, see it in the life of David, you see it in the life of Elijah, John the Baptist, Jesus, St. Paul, all of these people in the Bible had these most amazing encounters with God in these places of rejection- in the wilderness. And that’s the purpose in the role of solitude and silence in our lives. They take us to these lonely places. Now before you start making travel plans to the desert or to Arabia or wherever, you don’t have to go anywhere to go to lonely, desolate places. You can do this in your neighborhood, your home because here’s the truth. Those lonely desolate places aren’t just out there, they’re right in here. You see, going into the wilderness was just going to an outward representation of an inward reality. Cause all of us live with those voices of rejection so we live in a place of self-rejection. With the stories that we tell ourselves that we aren’t good enough, that we don’t measure up, whatever is lacking, that I can never be forgiven for what I’ve done. Whatever it is, or that I’m a disappointment, people don’t like me. In solitude and silence, and this is the crazy part, we are deliberately choosing to go and sit in these places of rejection and to be quiet. Why on earth would we want to do that? Because everything inside us is going to say no. You need to avoid that. Our culture hates these two things. You want to make people in our culture uncomfortable? Just be quiet. Don’t say anything. People can’t handle it. It makes us uncomfortable. The idea of going to these lonely desolate places and just sitting there? That’s horrifying, and that’s the good we have to give up now. We have to give up our comfort. We have to be willing to give up those things inside of us, that ability to be comfortable to give up those distractions that keep us from seeing these things about ourselves and from hearing these voices. There’s also a better because, in solitude and silence, we can move beyond that self-rejection because investing in ourselves, moves us from self-rejection to self- acceptance. I’m talking about real self-acceptance, not the everyone-gets-a-trophy kind. Self-acceptance that looks at ourselves honestly, that sees “Hey there really is brokenness here- there are things that I am lacking.” It doesn’t pretend, that our sense of alienation, that we don’t fit, that we don’t belong, that we’re not good enough, that we disappoint, we don’t pretend that that’s not there. We sit in it, and in solitude and silence, we’re confronted by it. But as we sit, and the longer we sit, something incredible will begin to happen and we’ll discover something amazing and it’s something I’ve been experiencing, as I’ve practiced this. We discover that in that place of rejection, that we’re not alone. That we actually haven’t been rejected. And we go to these places of rejection and what we ultimately find, is acceptance. Because in those places of rejection, that is where we can experience most powerfully the presence of God. That’s where we can have our most powerful encounter with the Father. Henry Noland is also a master of spiritual disciplines explains it this way, he says, “In silence and solitude, we find the place of purification and transformation, the place of the great struggle and the great encounter.” The great struggle is the good we give up now. The great encounter is the better we get in return. Cause in solitude and silence, going to those desolate places those places of rejection, we have to sit in that and we are confronted with uncomfortable truths and stories we tell about ourselves – that’s the great struggle. That’s the great struggle. But if we have the courage to stay and to sit in it and to wade through those voices, we’ll begin to hear another voice that’s telling a different story. You’re not alone, you’re not rejected. I love you. You’re not a disappointment. Even in your brokenness, I have a plan and a purpose for your life. And if you look throughout the Bible, you’ll see the story repeat itself over and over again. Moses is a murderer and a failure. 40 years in the wilderness. God calls him to set his people free. Elijah who had just failed terribly, he hit the triumph of his life and then it all came crashing down. He’s suffering from terrible depression and anger with God. And God meets him there in a still small voice and restores him to a greater ministry than he ever had before. Over and over again, we see people that go to these places of rejection and they go through that rejection to find that they’re accepted more profoundly than they ever dared to dream. Because in the place of rejection there is a voice that says, “You are my beloved. And even in your brokenness, you are accepted”. And we can move from this voice of self- rejection to the voice of acceptance. The question is “Will we have the courage to give up that good now, to go through the discomfort, and to sit in the solitude and silence to wait for that voice to start speaking that truth into our lives.” And when it does, things are going to begin to transform. As this new voice begins to speak into our lives, and as we move into a position of self-acceptance. It’s going to free us to be well-invested in others- and in that second relationship, “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself”. So when we invest in ourselves, when we go to places that move us from self-rejection to self-acceptance. We’re positioned to be able to invest in others well. Now that sounds completely counter-intuitive. How can being alone make us better at being with people? I want to suggest that it does actually make this better. Because when we come into a relationship from a place of self-rejection, from hearing all those voices inside of us that are saying whatever they’re saying? That’s what we’re bringing into the relationship, and so what happens is it shapes how we enter the relationship and we come into the relationship from a place of need so we become needy and manipulative, and demanding and controlling, and co-dependent. The relationship just starts going sideways. And what often happens is when we come from a place of rejection, we enter relationships as consumers, and it’s all about us. It’s about meeting my needs. I enter in relationship with others so I can meet my needs. And what I need from them. How many of us have heard people say, “It just wasn’t meeting my needs”. As if that’s what it was about. This can get really weird. When I first became a pastor, I realize now I was way more broken than I ever imagined. That started manifesting itself in really weird ways. It was like when I first came on staff that kind of worked in my mind was “Who’s the best pastor? Who’s everyone’s favorite?” And like my relationship with the other pastors, it was collegial and I had great friends. But there was an element of competition going on, at least inside of my head. But it can get really weird. There’s a great word. This great word- I discovered it just this last week. Schadenfreude. It’s a word that only the German’s would come up with. It literally means, “Damaged Joy”. Schadenfreude – what it describes is this horrible thing that lives inside of us where we take pleasure in the misfortune of others. And where someone’s life goes sideways or they suffer misfortune, and we kind of sit back and go “Yeah I like that.” That ever happen to you? Yeah, me neither. See when we’re not well-invested in ourselves, it’s really hard to invest well in others.
It’s, as I was thinking about this, I kind of saw Jesus’ words, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” from a different angle. What if we look at it like this, that “What Jesus is saying is this: how we love others is determined in many ways by how we love ourselves”? So when Jesus says you shall love your neighbor as yourself, it’s not a choice. You’re going to love your neighbor in the way that you love yourself. So if we enter relationship with our neighbors from a place of rejection of ourselves? All we have to bring to the table is rejection. But if we enter into a relationship with our neighbors from a place of acceptance, hearing God’s voice telling us that we are the beloved, that’s what we can then bring into those relationships. When we’re bringing that, we’re moving away from consuming. See, if we’re willing to commit to ourselves in solitude and silence and have that great encounter the Bible shows us what can happen. It shows it in the life of Paul. Any of you guys know about St. Paul? He’s the person probably the most responsible for the spread of Christianity in the western world. But Paul’s start wasn’t so great. Paul originally began as a Pharisees, one of those enemies of Jesus, and Paul’s inner dialogue probably went something like this, “I have to measure up. I have to be good enough.” Because Paul was consumed by the Law of Moses. But he wasn’t consumed in love for God, he was consumed in love for self. I am going to do this better than anyone else. I can only imagine what was going on inside of him was this story of you’re not good enough. It was coming from a place of rejection. And when Paul encountered the grace that the church was talking about, the grace of Jesus that says, “You are forgiven even in spite of your brokenness,” he couldn’t handle it. And it took him to a place where he was literally consuming people. He had people killed that were following Jesus. His relationships were, he was literally consuming others. One day in the wilderness, on the way to Damascus, to arrest more Christians and to have them arrested and to have them thrown into jail to have them killed, Paul had an encounter with the Lord Jesus. And it changed his life. But before he went off into the world, to change it and to bring the love of Christ to everyone else, Paul tells us in Galatians, the first thing he did was he went to the desert for three years. For three years he went into the desert, to let the voice of God, the great encounter speak the truth of God into his life and into his heart. And it absolutely transformed the way that he engaged with others. In the book of Philippians, which is a church that Paul had started and that he had loved deeply, he wrote a letter to them. We call it the book of Philippians. We see or get a glimpse of this transformation in the book. This is in Chapter One. This is a prayer that Paul was praying for this church. He said this, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more with knowledge and all discernment so that you may approve what is excellent so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ. Filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and the praise of God.” I was reading this one day. Philippians is one of my favorite books, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. That my prayers don’t look like this. My prayers are mostly about me. There’s nothing about Paul in these words. His prayer, his desire, his all-consuming thing in his life was entirely about this group of people that he loved. That their love may abound more and more with knowledge and with discernment and that they may approve what is excellent and be pure and blameless and be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory of God. As God’s voice, as that great encounter that he had with the Father began to fill him and began to overflow into others so that he desired for others what he was receiving from God.
That prayer is incredibly convicting to me, and I’ve tried to move towards making this what my heart says and what my heart prays for others. This is where investing leads us. Investing in others after we’ve invested in ourselves, it moves us from consuming to celebrating. Our relationships are not about consumption. They are not about us. They’re about celebrating what God is doing in the lives of others. When we really love others well, we don’ need to take from them. We can give. We become free, and we come to celebrate and to encourage what God is doing instead of celebrating their misfortunes. No schadenfreude, and we become excited about the investment that we’re making and watching the little that we can give to others and we begin to transform in big ways. And even then spill out of their lives and spill into the lives of others. I’ve noticed that as I practiced solitude and silence, and as God has been moving me from self- rejection to self- acceptance that even the way I invest in people, has changed. Because now I’m not so concerned about specific outcomes. I just want to see them grow and know God more. And I’m putting my agendas aside and just saying “God how can I pour your love into these people?” and let you do what you’re going to do. I think when we see this…. in moving from consuming to celebrating, one of the questions we need to ask ourselves is “Who am I doing this with? Are there people in my life whose relationship I’m engaged in that it’s all about them?” It’s all about moving them closer to God and helping them to have this great encounter. Am I positioning myself to do that because Jesus says this is the most important thing? Are we doing this?
What about that last relationship? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart all your mind, with all your soul and with all your strength. “ I want to suggest that if we’re investing in ourselves and pursuing solitude and silence and investing our lives in others based on what God is doing in those moments, we’re pretty much already there. We are loving the Lord our God with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul and all our strength. Because investing in ourselves and having that great encounter with the Father, what that’s going to produce in us is knowledge that we are safe and secure and loved and accepted and beloved and that will produce in us worship. That will produce in us a hunger for more of that voice in our lives and we’ll begin pursuing God and as that begins to build up in our lives, it’s going to overflow into the lives of others. And as we invest in others and move from consuming to celebrating, our relationships become better. And now here’s the ultimate net effect- that when we do these things when we invest in loving the Lord our God with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul and all our strength, that moves us from brokenness to wholeness. So in solitude and silence, we meet God in the most intimate ways and we experience transformation when we encounter him in that kind of vulnerability and we find that we are loved just the way that we are and as we experience God’s grace, that’s going to flow into the lives of other people and it makes us free to celebrate what God’s doing in their lives and to rejoice in just that and it does cost us. It’s gonna make us uncomfortable, and it’s going to mean we’re going to have to put our needs aside as we enter into relationship with others and pursue that with God instead of with them, but oh is it better. When we become people who accept ourselves and we know who we truly are, we become people who can really know and engage and celebrate the lives of other people. So, I just want to challenge us as we wrap this up, two things; consider taking the risk of making solitude and silence a regular practice Enter into that. It’ll be awkward and it’ll be uncomfortable. You may have to sit there a while for hearing the voice you need to hear. But it’s so worth it. And consider how you can invest in others. Pray- ask God, are there people that I can pour my life into? He’ll bring them to you. When we do these things, we’re going to find that we’re well invested in our relationships. And that we’re people that love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul and all our strength. We are becoming people that love our neighbor as ourselves. Let’s pray together:
“Father I thank you that even though we live with voices of rejection that you are a God that meets us in rejection, that you’re a God that won’t leave us in rejection. That you’re a God that was rejected so that we never would be. Your son, Jesus cried out on the cross, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” And he was forsaken so that we never would be. Because of what he did, because of his death and resurrection, we can come to you freely to receive grace to hear the truth about ourselves. That we are your beloved and even in our brokenness you love us so much and you have a plan and a purpose for us. And Father, I just pray for anyone here that’s just overwhelmed by that inner voice that’s telling them that they’re not good enough, that they don’t measure up, that they’re unlovable, that they’re a disappointment, that you would just speak the truth, that they would hear you whisper the truth, “No, I love you, my child. And that’s all you need.” And I pray that as we live into that truth that that would overflow into the lives of others. That they would see this great God with whom we could have this great encounter. Father, I pray that you would make that true of all of our lives. And we pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen”.
As we live our lives, we do so in three primary relationships: with ourselves, with others, and with God. How are your relationships? How are you doing with yourself? With others? With God?
Read Mark 12:28-31. Who does Jesus tell us to love? In what order? How do we love each other?
Read Luke 5:12-16. What was going on in Jesus life? What was His response in verse 16? What significance do you see in Jesus’ activity and His choice of location?
Who are you currently investing in or who might God have in your path who you could potentially invest in?
In the sermon, solitude was presented as a way to invest in our relationship with ourselves and with God. Why do you think this activity can help us to better invest in both?
What is one practice or idea for this message that you would like to put into practice or make a greater part of your life? How can you do that?
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