Scott Chrostek is a pastor at the Church of the Resurrection in Kansas and he is also a proud graduate of Duke Divinity School where he met his wife while waiting to purchase basketball tickets for the Duke Blue Devils. Now you need to understand that for graduate students to purchase season tickets you have to camp out in line for 48 hours at the beginning of the school year so Scott got into line and struck up a conversation with the woman next him. They ended up talking non-stop for those 48 hours and they talked about everything, life, family, hopes and dreams, but mostly they talked about sports and so after those 2 days Scott thought maybe he had found someone special so he started asking Wendy to every sporting event he could think of. They went to all the basketball games together, they went to lacrosse games, Durham Bulls games which is a minor league baseball team, and even some hockey games in Raleigh. After a few years of this sports-dating, Scott finally realized that it just doesn’t get any better than this so he asked Wendy to marry him and she said yes.
Now Scott proposed right before Thanksgiving so they travelled to Michigan where Wendy could meet everyone in Scott’s family and he thought it would be great idea to take his new finance to a Detroit Thanksgiving Day sports tradition so he purchased tickets to the Detroit Lion’s football game and surprised Wendy with the plan. Won’t it be great, he said, for us to spend our first Thanksgiving as an engaged couple watching a professional NFL game. Now I know what you are thinking, romantic huh? Well, Wendy replied, Scott, you don’t know me very well. I hate sports. I hate football and basketball and baseball and lacrosse and hockey. I just hate sports. Scott was completely shocked. Then why for the past few years have you been spending all this time talking about sports and going to games with me? Her reply was, because you love sports so much, and I love you. Scott said he fell in love with his wife all over again that day.
What Wendy understood, and what she shows all of us, is that love is not a feeling or an emotion, love is an action. Love is doing something for someone else, it is sacrificing for someone else, it’s placing their wants and needs and interests before our own. Wendy ran after Scott, she pursued him and gave it all she had. She was willing to place his love for sports over her dislike of sports and she was willing to prove her love by going to countless games just so they could be together. She ran after Scott because she loved him, and God runs after us because he loves us. God has been called the hound of heaven because like a good hound dog, God is willing to pursue us and chase after us no matter what. Jesus tells us how God’s love literally runs after us in the story we know as the prodigal son, but maybe should be known as the story of the loving father.
In this story, a father has two sons and the younger of the two asks his father if he could have his share of the inheritance early. Now this would be like me going to my Dad and saying, look – you are going to die someday anyway, so why don’t you just give me your hard earned money now. With most fathers, this would not go over well, but in an act of outrageous love, this father gave his son the money and the son went off and spent it all on hard and fast living. When that young man ended up broke and working on a pig farm feeding hogs food he wished he could eat himself, he decided to head home and beg his father to forgive him. Maybe his father would take him back and give him some kind of job in the family business. So he heads home and this is what it says in Luke 15:20.
While the son was just making his way over the horizon, the father saw him. Now let’s just stop here. How was it that the father saw his son when he was so far away? I think it was because every day that father spent time scanning the horizon hoping and praying that he would see his son coming home. The love this father had for his son was so strong that despite how he had been treated, he never stopped wanting his son to return, so when the day came and he finally saw him on the horizon, the father ran out to greet him.
Again let’s stop for a moment. In Jesus’ day, honorable men didn’t run. It was undignified to run and you certainly didn’t run out to welcome home a son who had not only offended you but squandered half of your estate. But this father did run out to greet his son because he loved him. His love not only searched for him daily, but his love literally ran out to welcome him home and this, Jesus says, this is the love of God.
God pursues us every day. Every day God is searching the horizon for us, longing for us to turn to him, to think about him or talk to him and when we do make that turn, even though we may be far away because of poor choices we have made – God’s love runs out and welcomes us home. God’s love not only pursues us and forgives us but when it connects with us – it changes us. When Scott suddenly realized just how much Wendy loved him, he said he fell in love with her all over again. Her love helped strengthen his love for her and the same is true with God’s love. When we begin to understand just how much God loves us it melts our hearts and begins to transform our desires so that we will now want to run after God and the life God wants for us. This is what we hear in Hebrews 12:1-2.
Think about prayer, prayer is just conversation with God. It is talking to God and then being quiet so we can listen to God. We all know that any good relationship, whether it is a marriage, or the relationship with our children or friends needs conversation. We need to be able to talk with one another and share our hopes, dreams and needs with others and when we do this, our relationships grow. No healthy relationship can survive without conversation, no marriage can survive without good communication, no family can remain strong without sharing and listening to one another and every friendship needs times where we can speak and where we sit together in silence, and the same is true in our relationship with God.
There is no way we can stay in love with God without good communication with God. We need times to share our hopes and dreams and fears and doubts with God and if we are willing to listen, God will do the same with us. God has hopes and dreams for us, God has fears and concerns for us and God wants to share those with us if would stop and listen. In Scott and Wendy’s story they came together because they had 48 hours of talking and sharing and listening. In the story of the loving father it was when the young son’s life finally came to a stop that he was able hear in his heart and mind the love of his father.
If we are going to stay in love with God we need times of prayer, and we need to remember that prayer is not just giving God our list of things we want. Prayer is not just telling God about all those people we know who are sick and in need, it is also sharing with God our hopes and fears and dreams and disappointments. While God is always willing to listen to the depth of our heart, we also need to include times of silence so we can listen to the depth of God’s heart and we also need times when we can simply just praise God. The Bible has an entire book set aside just to help us communicate with God, the book of Psalms. If we are willing to pray through the psalms we will find in there our words of love and praise and adoration, like Psalm 145. But we will also find words of confession and thanksgiving and love. If we want to stay in love with God, then this is a great place to start reading, listening and praying.
But prayer is just one way we can stay in love with God; John Wesley said that we stay in love with God by using all the ordinances of God. Now ordinances are simply all the means of connecting with God that God makes available to us. There is prayer but there is also reading and reflecting on God’s word, and there are the sacraments like Holy Communion. For Wesley, communion was a means of God’s grace. Communion is one of the primary ways that God’s grace and love flows into our hearts and lives which means it was an activity that helps us stay in love with God. Every time we share in communion we are coming to a table to eat with Jesus and eating together is important to keeping relationships strong.
I don’t know how many of you who are married make this a practice, and if you don’t – you should, but setting aside a date night is important and while some people may prefer to go to a basketball game, others just like to go out and eat. There is something about eating together that brings us together. Studies have shown that families that eat regular meals together every day are stronger and healthier. Children in families that eat meals together are more stable and even smarter. Eating together is a means of staying in love with one another and eating with God helps stay in love with him. When we come to the communion table to share in a meal with Jesus, we are listening to his words, seeing his love in action as he serves us and sacrifices for us, and it can be at the table that we fall in love with God all over again.
So communion and prayer and reading God’s word are all important acts of piety that help us stay in love with God and we do all of these things when we gather together for worship. Perseverance and commitment to times of worship are important because in so many different ways this is the time and place where we can stay in love with God. It is here that we pray together, hear God’s word together, share in communion together, sing of our love for God together and even sit in silence and listen together. But beyond all of that, it is right here that we can also find people who will run the race of faith with us and who will help us stay in love with God. The church is important because when we are ready to give up (and we will all face those times when we will be ready to give up) there will be someone who will come along side of us and say – look, don’t give up on God and don’t give up on loving God because it is that relationship that will help you and bring you life.
So staying in love with God means running the race of faith which in turn means loving God with acts of mercy and acts of piety, which form for us the cross. Acts of mercy are the simple rules of doing no harm and doing good, and acts of piety are making sure we persevere in our times of prayer, reading and reflecting on God’s word and sharing together in worship and communion. While we have been calling these 3simple rules, the truth is that they are hard to live out and we can’t do it alone, in fact, we aren’t meant to do this alone.
John Wesley gave these general rules to the small groups that he helped form because he knew that it would be in these groups where people would work together to support one another and love one another and hold one another accountable. My hope is that we will do the same today as we work to come together in small groups, Sunday school classes, mission teams, ministry teams and just deep faith based friendships. It is only together, that we will find the strength, the power, the love and inspiration to live out these 3 simple rules and stay in love with God.
3 Simple Rules ~ Stay in Love with God
1. Set aside some time every day this week to pray. Make sure to include times of praise, thanksgiving, confession, supplication and silence. Consider setting aside one day for each type of prayer.
2. Read and reflect on the word of God. A good place to start this week would be on psalms that express our thanksgiving to God. Check out Psalm 145 – Psalm 150
3. As you spend time with family and friends over the Thanksgiving holiday, take some time to give thanks and pray together.
4. Set up a cross in your home as a reminder that we need to persevere in acts of mercy ↔ (doing no harm and doing good) as well as acts of piety ↕ (staying in love with God).
5. Commit yourself to being in worship for the Advent Season (the month of December) as we prepare ourselves spiritually for the celebration of Christ’s birth.
6. Help others stay in love with God by sharing with them an Advent Devotional – Let Heaven and Nature Sing. Last year’s devotionals are available at no cost for you to share with family and friends.