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Hebrews 13:1-16 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”[a] 6 So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can mere mortals do to me?”[b]7 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. 

Skip to verse 14: 14 For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. 15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Silent Prayer

Anyone here struggle with how to prioritize things in your life?  What to focus on in order to be successful?  Anyone have a tendency to be a pack rat and keep acquiring stuff without ever discarding anything?  People who do that to excess are called hoarders.  It is such a difficult thing for some people to know what is important and should be held onto and what could be thrown away.  A tragic story was carried by the media about a Shelton, Washington woman who was found smothered under a pile of clutter—clutter of her own making. Sixty-two year old Marie Rose suffered from obsessive-compulsive hoarding. Things were so cluttered that searchers heads touched the ceiling and they had to search twice to find her. The police chief reported that it was the most cluttered residence he had ever seen. Authorities believe she had been hoarding for fifteen years.

If we are not careful, we can let our spiritual lives suffer by allowing all kinds of clutter into our lives. Eventually that can lead to tragic results as well.  What are the absolute main things we have to hold on to? What are those things we MUST keep?  I believe the Hebrew writer addresses them in this passage.

Keep loving those on the inside, the outside, and the outskirts. LOVE should be a hallmark in a Christian’s life.  Let me explain what I mean by the phrases, “those on the inside,” “those on the outside,” and “those on the outskirts.”  Those on the inside are Christians, primarily those who belong to this church.  They know they belong to the household of faith.  Those on the outside are those in verse 2 to whom we should show hospitality in order to draw them into a relationship with Christ.  They are open to

belonging to the household of faith.  We meet them in the schools, at Family Fun Day, Trunk or Treat and our Easter Egg hunts.  Those on the outskirts are those who are in prison and those who are being pushed to the margins, who are judged and labeled by society that seem to be living on the outside looking in.  They aren’t sure they belong anywhere.

Let me speak to loving those on the inside first.  The foundation for us as a church is Christ’s sacrifice, yes.  We have become related as brothers and sisters through the blood of Jesus.  We are connected to one another by God so that we can love and support one another.  That concern for each other becomes a prime way we witness to the world.  “They will know we are Christians by our love.” (John 13:35)

The Apostle Paul speaks about the kind of love we are to demonstrate in Romans 12:9-10 9  Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Paul says our brotherly and sisterly love for one another must be sincere.  Authenticity in relationships is key to our long-term success.  Authentic love will bear fruit.  Fake, back-stabbing, gossiping, two-faced fronts, saying one thing in your presence and another thing behind your back kinds of relationships displease God, hurt our witness, and create a volatile climate which destroys fruit.  Tension in churches squelches the Spirit of God.

We need to be ridiculous about loving one another.  Paul says it is so important that we need to be devoted to it.  It’s hard to love each other if we don’t know each other.  If you just settle for coming to worship, and leave without connecting to anyone it will be difficult for you to express sincere love for someone when they are in need.  Telling our stories, getting into a Bible study, going to lunch with each other, making an effort to meet new people, all of it is crucial for helping us realize our potential and in helping us make the greatest possible impact as a collective group.  If we know each other’s skills, dreams, and desires, we will be able to support one another and connect each other to opportunities which can help us all become better.

Paul also says we must love in such a way that we communicate honor and value to each other.  We need to look for ways to go the extra mile for each other, to build each other up.  Our children each received a card within the last week from one of our newer members.  Each card contained a lengthy handwritten note thanking them for their obvious commitment to Christ and respect for us as their parents.  There was more to the note than that, but suffice it to say, this person went out of their way to communicate value to our children, and it was an immense blessing to them and to us as their parents.  To know that we are in a fellowship where people look out for one another’s kids is a huge lift.

Our love for each other is reflected in our hugs and handshakes, our prayers and notes of encouragement, and in the way we speak words of affirmation over each other so as to honor, treasure, protect and value our relationships.

We love outside the church when we host our community.  Reaching out to help people in need, to provide family-friendly events for free, to offer practical support whenever possible all through genuine love, becomes very attractional for our community.  They want to be where people aren’t about themselves, where it isn’t about being exclusive or cliquish, but where there is room to continue growing and expanding.

The truth is people who aren’t yet here will eventually become people God uses right here to help people get saved, healed, and delivered.  If we form an elitist mentality that we already have enough people, we are large enough, we don’t need any more people to help us be successful in ministry, we are short-circuiting the way God wants to bring people into this church in order to help us more effectively meet even more needs.  Remember, the church is the only organization in the world that exists both for its members and for people who aren’t yet part of us.

Revisit Hebrews 13:3: “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”  We need to find ways to love those who have been set aside, labeled, judged, forgotten and discarded.  Whether they are in a prison of their own making or they are the victims of bullying or some form of persecution or bondage from others, we must have a love that compels us to have a rescue mentality.  We must go where others won’t.  We must love when others won’t.  We must see each person as one for whom Christ gave His life and be willing to give ours for the effort of reaching them.

Last week the staff attended a leadership training conference during which we heard an inner city pastor preach.  In his message he shared about the time he asked his secretary to go hire five prostitutes and bring them to the church.  You can imagine the raised eyebrows that met his request.  His secretary complied, and the pastor began making preparations for their arrival at the church.  In walked the secretary with five hookers.  After the pastor found what each one charged per hour and paid them he AND HIS WIFE took them into the church fellowship hall where a banquet table was waiting.

As they were served a lovely meal they listened to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Today that pastor says through the ministry of their church over 500 prostitutes have left the business and are living on a farm his church purchased in order to protect and counsel the women until they could safely leave and get re-established in an honest profession.  That is what it means to go after people at the margins, church!  Whether you agree with his method or not, at least he was doing something proactive about the issue.  What margin did you and I make it to last week?

So I challenge us as a church to keep loving those on the inside, keep reaching to love those on the outside, and find ways to reach to love those on the outskirts.

Second, I believe the Hebrew writer reminds us to keep watch over our families and primary relationships.  He says in verse 4:  “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”

You can make this verse about sexual sin or you can look at it through a wider lens.  What is the problem with sexual sin?  The problem with sexual sin is that it destroys relationships.  Our spouses and children are given to us by God, and we are responsible to do all we can to protect, preserve, and strengthen those relationships.  That means we need to make sure that as we look at how we are spending our time each week we had better make sure a significant amount is spent investing in quality time with our loved ones.

We have just entered the high school years as Hannah has started her freshman year at Winfield.  If she goes away from home for college, we just have four years left to prepare her to leave, to reinforce our love, to transmit spiritual truth, and to build her up to the degree that we are currently able to do so because she lives daily in our home.  Talk about a reality check.

Have you ever considered that your spouse, children, parents, brothers and sisters are gifts given to you by God and that you are supposed to be the steward of those relationships?  Don’t assume people will know you love them just because you do their laundry or drive them to school.  Don’t assume your kids will learn all the biblical truth they need to know just because you bring them to church.  Don’t assume your spouse feels secure in your relationship just because you celebrated your last anniversary.  Don’t assume your parents feel you respect them just because you haven’t gotten into trouble recently.

We need to become proactive about family time and protective of family time.  For those of us who are married we need to invest time in creating romance, in understanding each other’s needs, in helping our spouses feel special.  We need to know what our spouses are thinking and address weaknesses in the relationship.  Relationships that get put on the back burner can and often do eventually fizzle out.  We mustn’t take our spouse for granted because when we do over long periods of time it can erode the love we share.  When that happens, the relationship is more easily threatened by outside people and the temptation to have an affair.

Students, please hear me today.  Your parents aren’t just your parents for 18 years.  They will be your parents as long as they live, and you will need them beyond high school or college.  Work now to build trust, respect, and cultivate a friendship with your parents as you grow.  Look ahead to the future not just with your parents, but with your siblings as well.  I don’t think anyone here who has weak family ties would say that’s the way they hoped it would always be.  When your parents want you to slow down and spend time with your family be thankful you have parents who want to interact with you over quality time.

If work and sports and music and dance lessons and social media take every waking minute, you have marginalized your most important relationships and they will suffer.  Surely there is at least one night a week for some family time.  Surely there is some time a few days a week for some family prayer.  Husbands and wives, there is no better way to build intimacy in your marriage than to pray together.  The only thing keeping us from all the above is making it a priority.  We have time for everything that is important to us.  Is your family on that list of important things to do today?  Will you accept the admonition to keep watch over our families and primary relationships?

Third and finally, I believe the Hebrew writer encourages us to Keep seeking God above all else.

God tells us in verse 5, “Never will I leave you.  Never will I forsake you.”  We may say we believe that, but are we are of God’s presence in and around us on a daily basis?  What would it take to raise our God-consciousness?  I believe if we ramped up our God-consciousness, we would have the amazing confidence displayed in verse 6 when the writer says, “I am confident in the Lord.  He is my helper.  He is always with me, so I won’t be afraid, and no one can do anything to me that will thwart God’s purposes.” Imagine going throughout your daily life with that conviction?

Imagine the possible difference in your day if you begin with “God, help me see you in every circumstance I encounter today because I know when I do I won’t have to be afraid of anything.”  When He answers that prayer and opens our spiritual eyes, what a difference it makes.

In our fast-paced world where multiple voices are competing for our time and attention, where responding to someone as fast as possible through the gadget in our hand is the norm rather than focusing on whatever our task at hand is, where is the time to “Be still and know that He is God?”  (Psalm 46:10)

Someone recently told me they are pursuing God’s presence by having a quiet time in the morning and again in the evening.  They are actively praying God will give them a new attitude and perspective on an area of their life and are seeking healing from some things.  I can only imagine how that approach increases this person’s God-consciousness and orients their minds to have God’s perspective on the day that just past as well as on the day ahead.  Just like our family shouldn’t always get our leftover time, energy and effort, so too should we give God some focused attention during the day.  Is that part of your daily pursuit?

I believe when we are God-conscious, we are less likely to sin.  It is easier to give in to temptation when we think “no one is watching.”  But when we are connected to God’s presence it keeps us motivated to do that which pleases Him.

Look at the beginning of verse 5:  “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have.”  When we seek God above all else it is easier to be content because He produces contentment in our lives.  What He offers is lasting contentment; not like the things of the world that don’t have lasting value.  We hear all of the time about wildly talented and wealthy people who live depressed and discouraged, and even take their own lives because they are always chasing the satisfaction and completeness only God can give.

Verse 9 tells us not to be led astray by all kinds of strange teachings.  Everything we need for life and godliness is in the Bible.  If you try to take what you think is the best of several religions and mix it with what seems right to you and add a dose of Jesus you will wind up a hot spiritual mess.  It is Christ alone.  It is God’s truth alone.  It’s not what we think, feel or hope it is.  It is what God declares, and anything else is a trap set by Satan to steal, kill, and destroy you.  If that sounds old time and fundamental then slap a label on me.  This is the truth I am giving my life for, and I will declare it as long as God gives me breath.  Making sure God is first above all else means honoring the truth of His Word and living by it without compromise.

I was completely blessed and had glory goose bumps and tears to prove it when I received a message from Melissa Weiford about her son, Tyler, this past week.  Tyler loves to play baseball.  They got the call that the fall ball practices and games would be every Monday and Wednesday.  Missy told Tyler about the schedule, and he just came right out and said, “That won’t work.  I’m not missing church on Wednesday nights.  I’m on Pastor Jodi’s worship team, and I’m not missing.”  So he quit the team!  Being in God’s house, hearing God’s Word, being with God’s people was such a priority to him that he didn’t let something else that wasn’t as great of a priority crowd out what he wanted to pursue!  How awesome is that?

Verse 15 is how we approach worship as believers.  Worship isn’t just what we do on Sunday, but it is the preoccupation of the life of one who seeks to make sure Christ is exalted in their life.  Therefore, we continually offer a sacrifice of praise.  The name of Jesus is constantly on our lips, receiving glory, adoration and praise.

Verse 14 gives us so much motivation.  “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.”  If this was it, if this life was all there was, I could understand people wanting to live according to the flesh.  But it’s not.  Something better, something greater, something glorious awaits us in eternity in heaven.  It isn’t about this minute we call life, but it is about eternity forever.  Keeping an eternal perspective helps us stay focused on what is really important.

Pastor Ray Pritchard commented on this whole theme of priorities when he said:  This week I read about a man who looked at his life and concluded that he was just like the Professor on Gilligan’s Island. “The Professor knew how to turn banana peels into diesel fuel and he could take algae and make chocolate fudge, but he never got around to fixing that hole in the boat so he could get off the island. Same as me. I spent my life learning to do amazing things that didn’t matter, and I ignored the hole in my boat. And that’s why I’m stuck where I am.”…

What about you?  Are you stuck and in a rut in your life’s mission to love, to develop intimacy in your family, and to pursue God with relentless passion?  Has your life become piled up with stuff that is suffocating your priorities?  Can you re-evaluate this morning?  Can you throw some things away?  Will you choose to keep the things that really matter?

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