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Pastor Dana capped our week one focus on loving our neighbors with this sermon. If you would like to join in this emphasis with the 90+ people who have already taken books, we are using this guide and reading the book, Neighborhood Initiative and The Love of God, by Pastor Lynn Cory. We still have ten paperback copies of the book available for free@ LIFEhouse, or you can download the e book version here for $5.99.

This practical emphasis in connecting with our neighbors is best done with 2 or more people working together. We know of 30+ people specifically working in small groups thus far. With the small group guide and book you can easily start your own group for this experience.

The Neighborhood Prayer Team has received specific prayer requests and continues to pray for the LIFEhouse community to seek out connections with their neighbors and is praying for specific neighborhoods.

If you have a specific neighborhood prayer request and/or you wish the Prayer Team to pray for your neighborhood, just email pastordana@lifehouse.la

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Recently I wrote about what it means to “love yourself” as this relates to “loving your neighbor has yourself.” So, I have learned to love myself, now what?

The first major step in becoming one of those who love their neighbors as themselves is to decide to live compassion. This can only be done if we love God first and seek his Kingdom.

This explains why neighbor-love is not the first, but the second, commandment. Actually, two separate commandments, but one with two aspects. Love God (primary) and love your neighbor as yourself (can only follow loving God first)

What is compassion?

Compassion is to feel the needs of others.

Dallas Willard says this about compassion.

“Compassion is not something that can be turned on and off like a water faucet. It is always on. It is a constant burden of life, which many people reject. It requires resources of personal strength and it requires wisdom in action. Loving your neighbor as yourself is a matter of who you are, not, primarily, of what you decide to do. You can “afford” to be compassionate only if you know there is abundant compassion for you, toward you, by persons who have appropriate means. This is primarily God. “We love because he first loved us.” (I John 4:19)”

So, through intentionally receiving the love of God first, you can become the kind of person who can be compassionate.

Now, suppose, you are this person who has received compassion and can, therefore, afford to be compassionate. What’s next?

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According to Pastor Lynn Cory, developer of Neighborhood Initiative, the key to loving our neighbors is to be soaked in prayer. Pastor Dana’s men’s small group has been trained by the leader of Pastor Lynn’s Prayer Team, Anthony Rodriguez. They have been praying for this series and focus on loving our neighbors since the beginning of July. They have been praying for a softening of your own neighborhoods to be receptive to what you are doing.

Now that our focus has started, this team of intercessors will be praying more specially for you that you make progress in loving your neighbor by following God’s call to do just that.

Practically this means that there are going to be challenges and opportunities along the way. Think about this.

Realistically, Satan does not want you focusing on loving your neighbor or having your neighborhood change for the good. So, there will be your own personal challenges where the evil one will try to trip you up.

Also, there are going to be many needs you discover concerning your neighbors, that need prayer.  Some examples:

Physical healing, healing of relationships, favor in their work life, jobs for those unemployed, wisdom and energy for those raising children and/or caring for elderly parents, and the overall safety of your neighbors.

Along with these and other concerns, we know God is present. As Anthony Rodriguez says, “Most of all, we listen to the Holy Spirit and try to go and join him in whatever he is involved in through prayer. In John 5:19, Jesus said, ‘Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can only do what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does, the Son does also.’

When we see where the Father is and what he is doing, we then go there also and join him. We pray that we might see, join him and accompany him. We pray so that those called to lead may do so without encumbrance.”

Prayer needs for you and your neighbors may be sent to Pastor Dana, pastordana@lifehouse.la Of course your confidentiality will be respected.

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Our LIFEhouse community has begun our intentional focus on sharing the love of God with those closest to us. Pastor Lynn Cory spoke of how much impact we have together when we look at our own homes as a lighthouse for the neighborhood.

This week, many of us have begun the practice of walking in our neighborhood and praying for the people who live in each home. We may know them or not know them, but Pastor Lynn gave us this wisdom.

On the “prayer walk” cards we were given at worship, being intentional in our neighborhood focus is made clear. It looks like this:

• Pray for your neighbors by name, considering their physical and spiritual needs, concerns, and health. Ask the Father what He is doing in your neighborhood. While you are walking and praying, engage any neighbors you may meet along the way.

(If you don’t know your neighbors’ names, you will find opportunities to connect. In the meantime prayers of general blessing are helpful)

• Wait on God. Your Father is already at work in your neighborhood. Wait for Him to invite you into what He is doing. This is a waiting with great anticipation.

(If you expect God to be there with you connecting you to people, he will. It might start with just saying, “Hi,” or waving at a neighbor driving by. God wants your neighbor to meet you way more than you want to meet them:))

• Watch to see what the Father is doing. As you are praying, He may reveal things through something He puts on your heart or speaks to you, as you talk to a neighbor, or as you see a need.

(God is the Lord of your neighborhood, and if he is your Lord, he will make sure anyone who is in need of encouragement and joy in their life will meet you!)

• Join your Father as He invites you into what He is doing in your neighborhood. Enjoy the adventure!

(God is a God of surprises and as you step out in faith, you will find yourself saying, “Wow!” More than once…)

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Another way you are responsible for loving yourself is not letting others take advantage of you. Sacrificing to put your neighbor’s needs before yourself is a good thing if it is done with their good and your good in mind.

But, to sacrifice ourselves for others, does not mean to suffer silently and willingly when some person or organization demands more from us, consistently, than is offered in return.

We are not called to support tyranny, or allow ourselves to be treated like slaves. It is not virtuous to be victimized by a bully, even if that bully is yourself.

I am a sinner but I need to love and forgive myself just like I am called to forgive others.

To start with loving yourself means defending yourself against others taking inappropriate advantage over you. You must learn to bargain for yourself so that you don’t end up being stepped on. In the long run this will only make you resentful, vengeful and cruel.

You need to determine how to act toward yourself so that you are most likely to become, and to stay, a good person. It is good for you to be good to yourself to make the world a better place. It is good for you to treat yourself like God wants to treat you. As his precious son or daughter.

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I am led to examine closely what Jesus means by “love your neighbor as yourself.” In particular the “love yourself,” part. I have been strongly influenced by Dallas Willard on this topic.

Let’s begin.

We start with a biblical definition of love.

Dallas says, Love is not desire — it is to will the good of others. We say, “I love chocolate cake!” But really we want to eat it. We love something or someone when we promote it’s good for its own sake.

To will the good of others.

So, to love your neighbor as yourself is to work for your neighbor’s good and to love yourself is to work for your own good. As you are able. As you have resources to do this.

What does Jesus mean by this?

First, let’s think about what he is not saying.

Jesus is not saying “love the whole world.”

Jesus never tells us to love the whole world. It is God who is capable of loving the whole world, not us. Loving everyone is God’s job, not ours.

No, love the whole world is not a general command from Jesus for us. He is quite specific in what he is saying about love.

Jesus gives us three commandments about what our love looks like.

The three-fold commandment of Jesus to his students is to love our neighbor as ourselves, lay down our lives for our friends, and love God above all else.

Nothing about loving everyone.

Another thing Jesus doesn’t say about love is to work for the good of others and not ourselves. In fact, the opposite is true. We cannot work for the good of others unless we are taking care of ourselves. Seeking our own good. Consider this.

In his most recent book, Dr. Jordan Peterson talks about how we need to care for ourselves in a chapter entitled, “Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.”

Consider this fascinating insight.

There is a study done recently about prescription medication in the United States. The results are not very encouraging.

One third of all patients who receive a prescription, and have access to the medication, don’t get the prescription filled.

33% of all people who go to a doctor and are prescribed medication don’t get the prescription filled and don’t take the medicine.

Another 33% of the rest of the patients, will fill the prescription, but then won’t take the medication correctly- they’ll miss doses, they’ll quit taking it early, or they won’t take it at all.

So, 66% of people who need medicine, have it prescribed and have access to the medicine- don’t take it or take it wrong.

What an eye opener this is.

We speak of a health care crisis in the United States but in this case it has little to do with health insurance or ability to pay and such. No.

This is about 2/3 of the people in the United States who do see a doctor and are prescribed medicine, either ignore the medicine or get the medicine, and then take it sporadically, or don’t take it at all.

Yes, we do have a real heath care crisis if 2/3 of people are not being responsible for their own health care. They are not loving themselves.

But wait, it gets worse.

Another study was done specifically on kidney transplant patients. As you probably know, without a properly functioning kidney there are two choices. Dialysis or transplant. Some of you have had dialysis or know someone who does. Some of you know someone who has needed a kidney transplant or had one.

Here’s what we know. To get a kidney transplant is not easy. Donors are rare and you have to wait in a long line to find a match and then if you receive one your body has to accept the new organ.

But, the alternative is worse. Dialysis is very difficult. From 3 to 7 days a week, up to 8 hours at a time, for the rest of your life?

Sure, a transplant it’s challenging, but at least you have a chance.

So, let’s say you find a donor. You find a match. You have the surgery. But, you’re not done, yet. Your body still has to accept the new organ. If your body rejects the kidney, it’s back to square one.

Fortunately, there are drugs to fight the body rejecting the kidney.

These anti-rejection drugs, do weaken immunity and increase the susceptibility to infectious diseases, but, most people are happy to accept the trade-off.

Unfortunately,  there are recipients of transplants who still suffer the effects of organ rejection, despite the existence and utility of these drugs. But, many times this is not because the drugs fail. No, it’s more often the case that when there is organ rejection it is because those who were prescribed the medication did not take it!

Can you imagine? How can this be?

Jesus has the answer.

People who do not take their medication even though it is available have not learned what it means to love yourself.

Now, consider this. What if you have a dog who needs medicine? You bring the dog to the vet and the vet prescribes medicine. You use a vet so obviously you care for your pet. If the vet prescribes medication, would you get the pills for your dog and make sure he takes them? Of course you would. What kind of monster would deny their pet?

And actually in fact, studies bear this out. According to the research, people are better at filling and properly administering prescription medication to their pets than to themselves.

That’s not good. Even from your pet’s perspective, it’s not good. Your pet (probably) loves you, and would be happier if you took your medication.

So to work for the good of a person who is created in God’s image, in other words, you, means working for your own good. Treating yourself with respect. Being responsible for caring for yourself.

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“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.”
The Sabbath. A time of rest and abiding with God. A time of refreshment. Here’s what Luther says about it.
We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and his Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear it and learn it.
So, first and foremost the Sabbath is a time to honor God by gathering with his people. Every Sabbath day Jesus invites us to dinner, his holy supper, and he gives us the opportunity to connect with others in our family, celebrating and giving thanks we got through the week, and learning from his Word.
Gathering at worship is not all there is to being a Christian, but it is the center of our gladness, our joy.
But the Sabbath is more than simply attending worship.
You could call the sabbath God’s gracious intrusion.
A sabbath every week models the way God himself creates the world. Six days he works and on the seventh day he rests. This is a pattern; a rhythm of life.
Think about it. God’s not just commanding people to rest from their labor. Even the animals.
When you think about it this way the sabbath is about worship, but it is also God intervening in economic and environmental issues.
Interesting.
We rest because God rests.
Or another way of thinking about it is God highlights ten laws as central to human thriving. The Ten Commandments. Like, say, don’t murder, don’t commit adultery and…take a sabbath day.
Well, what do we think of murder and adultery? Not in favor. When we think or murder and adultery, do we think of not practicing the Sabbath in the same way?
Just saying…The third commandment.

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“You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.”

What is God’s name?

God’s name is YHWH, in the Old Testament, translated Jehovah or LORD in English.

In the New Testament God’s name is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Luther says this about God’s name:

We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.

Once again, the second commandment is about God’s power.

God’s name has power.

God’s name used properly brings life. Think of it this way. When we use God’s name correctly it brings blessing. It brings life rather than death.

Think about forgiveness in God’s name.

Using God’s name to sing out in thanks and praise.

Using God’s name to cry out for help, deliverance and healing.

We are given the power of God’s name at baptism. I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

We spend a lifetime of faith learning to use God’s name properly.

So, what is the wrong way to use God’s name?

Whenever you try to gain your own personal power and agenda in his name.

Obviously, trying to be aggressive or bullying others by using God’s name harshly in cussing or cursing isn’t helpful.

Using God’s name in an oath isn’t helpful either. His power isn’t available just because you “swear to God.”

And using God’s name making your own personal truth claims can really get you in hot water.

What truth claims are you making in the name of God? Think politics again. The Left and the Right.

We hear God’s name being used to support personal agendas all the time.

Everyone is so sure of everything when it comes to God.

“Of course the God of love would support (fill in your personal cause)” O, really? You’re sure about that?

One reason we politicize everything is because that’s what most of the public voices in our society do. Since most public voices whether it be media, education, sports or entertainment, are also not that well versed in theology, there is a great chance they have never really thought about things from an in-depth straightforward biblical perspective.

But, it’s not just people who are not active in their faith. Active Christians fall into the politicization trap, too.

So here is a good word of advise for my own brothers and sisters. Don’t try to politicize everything because, remember, God may not stand for what you stand for, or God may not stand the way you stand for it.

Walk humbly and don’t be so quick to put a God stamp on your agenda. Misusing God’s name, misusing God’s power, has way more consequences than simply firing off a nasty tweet or carrying a protest poster ever will. What of “The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name,” don’t you understand?

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The Ten Commandments are about love. Loving God and loving your neighbor. Working for the good of God’s ways and working for the good of your neighbor.

The First Commandment.

“I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.

“You must not have any other god but me.”

We notice immediately God emphasizes freedom. We worship a God who sets free and delivers from bondage.

So, if you don’t want that God what god would you choose?

Something that brings you back into bondage again?

Who would want that god?

The god of bondage?

Homer Simpson said, “Alcohol is the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems.”

Well today this sounds like politics.

In the mainstream world today, everything is politicized. As if politics is the center of the world.

Or, ‘politics is the cause of and the solution to all of life’s problems.’

No, actually politics is bondage. Trying to seek solutions to the world’s problems using human means. Good luck on that. If we choose not to follow God and his agenda, we are left with the bondage to relying on humanity to save us.

Your god is simply that thing you place the most trust in.

Martin Luther said it this way.

“We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”

Your God is that which you focus on, that which you rely on. If you trust in anything other than God, your god simply doesn’t have enough power.

Sorry to have to tell you this, but President Trump is not the Messiah and he’s not the Antichrist.

He doesn’t have all the answers and neither do those who would “Resist” him.

Even though our media and our universities are working full time to convince us that they have all the answers, they know what’s best for us, this is worshiping a false god. We have to “Just say no.”

In today’s world we have to say “No” to the false power we attribute to our political agendas in order to say, “Yes to God.”

But, why do I have to say no to other things to say yes to God?

We can’t believe 2+2=4 and that 2+2=5 is also correct.

We can’t say God creates us, rescues us and empowers us, and then at the same time believe some other power does these things, as well.

God demands we love him alone.

And if we choose any other God other than the LORD our God, this will not only destroy us, but our neighbor will have to pay.

Beginning with the closest, most intimate neighbor. Our own families. The next passage of Exodus 20, after the first commandment, explains.

“I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.”

That seems clear to me. God specifically comes as Jesus to carry out his mission to rescue and restore the world.

Logically, it makes sense to follow Jesus. It makes sense to pass down his message and model it for the next generations. There may be other ways to know the things of God other than through Jesus, but, what if I’m wrong? I may have just screwed up  the life of my kids and their kids.

Practically it makes sense to follow Jesus. Just take the Christian worldview and live out any part of it. Don’t take revenge, for instance. Or, work for the good of your enemy the way Jesus would if he were you. Work to relieve innocent suffering.

You see, Christianity matches reality better than any other religion or philosophy when it is actually practiced. Go ahead and try other ways if you must. But, if you are open enough and honest enough, you will always end up with the truth of Jesus.

But, if I don’t surrender my life to God’s ways, and don’t really attempt to seek him, there will be hell to pay. Hell to pay for me and hell to pay for the rest of you.

The first commandment.