The Most Important Thing

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The Most Important Thing

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I was sitting at the lunch table  at work, gobbling a late lunch of potatoes baked in the microwave. Most of the other employees had eaten some time before, so I was all alone till Drew came in.

Drew programs for our company's Web publication. He's a big, friendly, mountain of a man, who usually pulls his hair back in a ponytail at work with the fluorescent plastic band that's attached to his work key. He's interested in spiritual matters from many different traditions, and recently he and his "pardner" Jen had a baby girl.

Drew knows I'm religious, and that my church is not one of the big ones. "What's the name of your church?" he asked.

"United Church of God," I said. After establishing that we weren't related to the Unitarians or United Airlines (Drew's a kidder too), we talked a little about what makes my church different.

Then Drew asked a question I wasn't expecting, though as I thought about it later, it was the question I should have been most prepared for. It's a question I, as a Christian, should have been thrilled to answer.

But my mind was still focused on how small my church is. So when he asked, "What one thing would your church want people to come away with?" I hesitated. Was he asking what defined us as different? No, it didn't seem like that was what he meant. Then my mind began to race, thinking of dozens of answers and no answers at all. I stammered out something about wanting people to know that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior.

Not a bad answer, but I wasn't satisfied with the unsure way I said it and whether those important words really conveyed deep meaning, or whether they've just become hackneyed, pious-sounding words. As the conversation drifted to his little baby girl and the challenges of raising kids, I felt disappointed that I'd had trouble answering such a fundamental question about my faith.

What Would You Say?

What about you? Many of you probably had an answer come quickly to mind when you heard the question. I applaud you. But maybe you too have trouble summarizing the great sweeping themes of the Bible at the drop of a hat. It seems there are many ways to look at the most important thing. Even if you already have an answer in mind, it might be interesting to think of some of the other possible answers. Perhaps you looked at it in one of the following ways.

One way to sum up the theme of the Bible would be to look at the beginning and the end. The Bible introduces us to the most important character in Genesis 1:1 Genesis 1:1In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
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, "In the beginning God created...." The theme of creation, re-creation and a new creation flow through the Bible all the way to the new heavens and new earth of Revelation. We can read to the end of the book and see that God and His people win. The Bible ends with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, telling us He will return, and the Apostle John urging Him, with great longing, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus!" (Revelation 22:20 Revelation 22:20He which testifies these things said, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
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).

Or you could sum up the most important thing with one or two other scriptures recorded by John. These show God's motivation, and also imply our response. "He who does not love does not know God, for God is love" (1 John 4:8 1 John 4:8He that loves not knows not God; for God is love.
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). And probably the most famous verse of all also reveals part of God's plan for us, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16 John 3:16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
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).

What should be our first priority? In His famed Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said not to worry and focus on the physical things, "but seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:33 Matthew 6:33But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.
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). This starting point leads to a whole study of God's Kingdom, and our part in preparing for it.

What are the greatest commands God has ever given us? Jesus summed up the whole of Scriptural commands in Matthew 22:37-40 Matthew 22:37-40 [37] Jesus said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. [38] This is the first and great commandment. [39] And the second is like to it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. [40] On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
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: "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." Going from here, we can discover deeper details throughout the Bible of how to apply these great principles in our everyday actions.

Then again, maybe the most important thing we would want people to come away with would be found in what Peter preached as the church began on the Day of Pentecost. After his sermon summarizing the Old Testament prophecies and their fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the crowd cried out, "'What shall we do?' Peter answered, "'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'" (Acts 2:38 Acts 2:38Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
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).

Peter's call for repentance echoed the trumpet blasts recorded by the prophets, like Isaiah: "Cry aloud, spare not; lift up your voice like a trumpet; tell My people their transgressions, and the house of Jacob their sins.... Your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear" (Isaiah 58:1 Isaiah 58:1Cry aloud, spare not, lift up your voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.
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, 59:2). Considering the times of trouble Jesus mentioned in Matthew 24, it seems this message of witness is also of vital importance.

Yet we can't leave out that these warnings are a backdrop for God's message of hope and comfort. "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30 Matthew 11:28-30 [28] Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. [29] Take my yoke on you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. [30] For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
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).

Some Conclusions

All these scriptures are important. And many others come to mind as well: 1 John 3:1-3 1 John 3:1-3 [1] Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knows us not, because it knew him not. [2] Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. [3] And every man that has this hope in him purifies himself, even as he is pure.
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talks about the fantastic potential God holds out for us; 1 Corinthians 13:13 1 Corinthians 13:13And now stays faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
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lists faith, hope and the greatest gift, love; Micah 6:8 Micah 6:8He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?
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summarizes God's requirements; Matthew 4:4 Matthew 4:4But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.
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tells us to live by every word of God. In fact, you could make a case that every scripture can be a good starting point, and that no one scripture covers it all. That makes the Bible as a whole such a precious gift.

So, what is the most important thing I want someone to know about my church and my faith? In some ways I'm still not sure. It could really depend on the situation, and on the person I'm talking to. But I am thankful to Drew for focusing my mind on this important subject.

Drew, the most important thing I'd say right now is that I believe God loves and has a plan for everybody, for you and Jen and Hannah. I believe He outlines that plan and what He wants us to do in the Bible. As I said, I believe Jesus Christ was willing to be our Savior--to die so we can live! He is also the Lord--our Master and the King of the Kingdom of God, which we pray will come soon to bring peace to this troubled world.

I know that's more than one thing, and I know that there's a lot more to God's message. But it's a start.