Intro: There is a story that has been told about a man who was rescued after being shipwrecked for years and living alone on a deserted island. His rescuers noticed two buildings nearby and asked the castaway what they were for. The man replied, “The first one is my house and, because I am a very religious man, and the other is my church.”
One of the other rescuers spoke up and said, “We noticed another building just like these two on the other side of the island. What is the story behind that building?”
“That,” the man replied, “is the church that I used to go to. There was some conflict there, so I left.”
You don’t have to be around other people for very long before you start to experience conflict. Wherever you have people gathered together, even in a church, you have conflict. And what I have discovered from my experiences of being in conflict with others is that a lot of conflict is about differences in values. People are usually very consistent, we tend to make decisions that fit with our values. And when we are trying to work with someone who has different values that we do, then there is a high likelihood of conflict, because our different values will lead us to want to make different decisions. However, I have also found that if I can figure out what values are motivating the other person, then I am better able to understand them and the decisions they make, and then I tend to have more grace towards that other person.
Because our values guide our decision-making, they are very, very important. But values are not something that we often think about or talk about with others. We may not even know what our own values are. So there may be things that we do, and we don’t even understand why we do them. But we can discover and identify our values by doing some detective work and asking ourselves questions like:
- What are some qualities, characteristics or experiences which, if we had to live without them, we would be devastated?
- What are some qualities, characteristics or experiences which, if they were able to be in our life with abundance, would give us great joy and fulfillment?
After we discover what our values are, then we can evaluate them. Are our values what we thought they were, or is there some inner conflict between what we thought we valued and what we really valued? Do we need to move away from that church that we built on the other side of the island? We can also ask ourselves if the values we have are the ones that we ought to have, or are some changes needed in our values?
Discovering, examining and evaluating our values is soul work, and soul work is something that we tend to avoid, but it is something that we really need to do because people cannot change or grow unless something shifts within their soul. The best person for doing soul work is Jesus. Not only did Jesus die on a cross outside of Jerusalem nearly 2,000 years ago to pay the full cost of forgiveness for all your sins. And not only did Jesus rise again from the dead on the third day that followed to give you eternal life with Him. Jesus is also with you right now, ready and willing to help you grow to become more like Him. That process of growing to be more like Jesus is a process that is never complete on this side of heaven, but it is important because what is happening in that process is Jesus is working within us, pruning away all the dead and fruitless branches in our soul so that He can produce more good and lasting fruit in our lives. Letting Jesus do His soul work within us in not a one-time event. It is an on-going way of life.
So the question that I am asking you to consider today is: “Do my values lead me to make decisions that draw me away from life with Jesus, or toward a deeper life with Jesus?”
This post is a reflection on our values and the role they play in Proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus. Guiding us in that reflection will be the events described for us in the book of Acts, chapters 3 and 4.
I. Beggarly Values
First, let me give you some background to help you understand what is going on in these two chapters. The events in Acts chapters 3 and 4 happen after Jesus died and rose again, after He ascended into heaven and after God poured out His Holy Spirit in a powerful way on all believers on the Day of Pentecost.
Some time after Pentecost, two of Jesus’ followers, named Peter and John, went up to the Temple in Jerusalem for the afternoon prayer service that was held each day and, as they did that, they encountered a man who had been lame for forty years and was begging at the main gate into the inner courtyard of the Temple. This unnamed man asked John and Peter for money. They responded by looking directly at the man and giving him their full attention. Peter then said, “Look at us!”
Have you ever noticed how we sometimes talk to other people without really looking at them? That pattern of behaviour is a reflection of our values. It indicates that there is something else that we value more than the human being who is right in front of us. The beggar likely valued the money that he thought he would get from John and Peter more than he valued them. He wanted their stuff, but he didn’t want them.
I don’t know about you, but I do this all the time. And though I don’t think about it in this way, what I am actually doing when I do that is using other people as means to accomplish my own goals and objectives. The personal value that is being revealed by the decisions that I make is that I value my own selfish aims more than I do other people. If I truly loved and valued people, then the greatest gift that I could give to them is to give them my full attention. Now, it is important for us to set boundaries around whom we give our attention to because we cannot give our attention to everyone who asks for it, and nor should we. But having good values and good boundaries will help us to give our full attention to those people who need it the most from us.
Peter and John had something important to say to the beggar so they said to him, “Look at us!” Sometimes we need to do that too, call the attention of others to us so that we can communicate with them more fully.
The beggar, thinking that he was about to get some money from these John and Peter, looked intently at them. In the beggar’s soul, money from John and Peter was what he valued, and getting some of that money was, for him, the best possible outcome in this situation. But he was aiming far too low. The God in whose Temple he was begging was far more gracious, far more generous and far more loving than that.
And we do the same thing as the beggar. We may trust God for the forgiveness of our sins because they are in the past and we cannot do anything about those things anymore. We may trust God for life after death because death is in the future for us and we can’t do anything about it. So we tend to trust God in those areas of life where we have no control. But in the present, where we have the ability to make decisions and influence events, we aim for less than what God can give us as we choose to handle our life in the present on our own. Whether it is ignorance or rebellion, we tend to value doing life on our own more than we value doing life with God. And when we do life on our own, we miss out on all the joy, the fulfillment, the surprises, the courage, the resilience, the relationships, the growth, and the sweetness that we would experience if we were living our life with God as the lead director of our lives instead of us.
II. God’s Agape Love for Us
Yet even when the theme song of our life is Fleetwood Mac’s You Can Go Your Own Way, God is still loving, gracious and merciful toward us. He pursues us with His love and He calls out to us through circumstances, people and our pain to get our attention, and then He graciously gives us an appetizer of what life with Him is really like. And when we taste and see that the Lord is good, we value God more, and that growing value of God leads us to make decisions that draw us deeper into life with God. We want more of His beauty, joy, goodness and peace in our lives.
God sent Peter and John to that lame beggar that day, and Peter and John revealed the values Jesus had put in them when they loved that man and when “… Peter said, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!” (Acts 3:6) Peter and John used to be rough-hewn fishermen who worked in a world where hard work and productivity were really important. And yet, because they had spent time with Jesus and had experienced what it was like to be loved by Him, these two former fishermen knew that the most important thing in the world is love. Not the transactional romantic love that you often hear about in many of the songs and stories of our culture, where “I’ll love you if you complete me”. No, the kind of love that is the source of hope for the whole world is an unconditional, choosing, sacrificial love—what the New Testament calls agape love.
I find it very interesting that even our culture recognizes, at times, the importance of self-giving sacrificial love. At the end of the movie Avengers: Endgame, Tony Stark declares, “I am Iron Man!” and snaps his fingers on the hand wearing the gauntlet with all the infinity stones and, as a result, Thanos and all his evil forces are dusted. They drift away on a soft, gentle breeze, never to threaten earth, or any other galaxy, again. But it cost Tony Stark his life to do that.
Though it may be unintentional, the Russo brothers have created a story in which Tony Stark mirrors what Jesus has done for us in real life. Though “There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him” (Isaiah 53:2b), Jesus willingly went to the cross, where he snapped his nail-pierced hands and declared, “It is finished!” and, as a result, Satan and all his evil forces were defeated. It cost Jesus His life, but the war against evil is over and Jesus has won. Jesus proved that by rising from the dead on the third day that followed, and one day, Jesus will come to this world to complete the process by dusting Satan and all his evil forces. They will drift away on a soft, gentle breeze, never to threaten this world, or any other galaxy, again.
As Martin Luther wrote in his famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress,
Though this world, with devils filled, Should threaten to undo us, We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us: The Prince of Darkness grim, We tremble not for him; His rage we can endure, For lo! his doom is sure, One little word shall fell him.
That word above all earthly powers, No thanks to them, abideth; The Spirit and the gifts are ours Through Him who with us sideth: Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also; The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still, His Kingdom is forever.
Do you see, in these lyrics, how Jesus’ victory over evil transforms our values? We don’t need to hang on to our possessions, our family, or even our life because God’s truth will still be true and God’s Kingdom will endure forever.
III. Jesus’ Love Transforms Our Values
Peter and John knew that the greatest gift that they could give to that lame man was the same infinitely precious gift that had been given to them: a life in relationship with God, life in the Kingdom of God, life in which one experiences agape love from God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So Peter commanded the man in the name of Jesus to get up and walk and Jesus healed that man after forty years of lameness.
These two former fishermen let Jesus mess with their values and it led them into a moment where they could share the Gospel of Jesus with a beggar who had not walked in forty years. If you read further into Acts 3 and 4, you will see that they also shared the Gospel with a crowd that gathered in amazement at the miracle that Jesus did, and with the authorities that seized Peter and John in anger and opposition. God only knows how many people were welcomed into the family of God because John and Peter had let Jesus love them and mess around in their souls. Their new Jesus-formed values guided the decisions they made, which resulted in the actions they took and the words that they said. God used all those things to draw more and more people closer and closer to Him, all because Peter and John let Jesus love them into making life with God their number one value for themselves and for others.
Conclusion: Dear friends, the same Jesus that transformed Peter’s and John’s values is also with you. And my encouragement to you today is to let Jesus love you. Let His unconditional, sacrificial, choosing agape love flow into your soul. Let Jesus mess with your values, let Him discard those values that are inconsistent with His, let Him plant and nourish any godly values that may be missing, and let Him nurture and encourage the Jesus values that are already within you so that those values can grow up into their proper priority in our hearts.
You are God’s people in this world, and with Jesus loving and guiding you, you will be able to live with intention and purpose, loving God and loving people. And you watch for opportunities to share with others the precious gift that has been given to you, more and more and more people will experience the greatest gift they could ever receive: living life with God and His agape love. Amen.
(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on May 26, 2019.)