Currency


A week and a half ago, Susan and I travelled to the United States for a conference and a short holiday. And one thing that people must do when they travel to another country is to get some currency of the country to which you are traveling. Currency is how things are valued, currency is used to exchange things with others and currency can also determine actions. What I mean by that is this: When you are in a certain country and you determine what the currency of that country is, then, generally speaking, things go better for you when you gather more or at least retain as much as you can of that currency, because then you can do more things because you have more to spend. And if you want to bless someone, then you give them some of the currency of that country. And if you really, really want to bless someone, then you would seek out someone who really needs some of that currency and give it to them.

Money by Didier Weemaels
Photo by Didier Weemaels

Currency is backed by the governing authority that issues it. So the governing authority is both the source and the guarantor of the currency. And usually a currency only has value inside the country that issued it. Has anyone here ever tried to use Canadian currency in the southern United States or in Mexico?

So you need to have and use the currency of the country that you are in. Would you agree?

So here is a question that I am inviting you to think about: What is the currency in the realm where God rules? Please keep that question in mind as take a few moments to reflect on God’s Word.

In Luke, chapter 15, Jesus tells three stories and all of them are in response to the condemnation muttered by the leaders of the established church in Jesus’ day when they said, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

In the first story, one sheep out of a hundred is lost. The shepherd, who knows each of his sheep personally, goes out to find it and when he does, there is great joy. Let me share with you Jesus’ second story in His words:

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:8-10)

Again we have someone searching for that which is lost, this time the ratio is one out of ten. The woman is probably poor, living in a small, dimly-light one-room house where a coin could easily become lost between the cracks of a stone and dirt floor. She grabs a broom and a lamp to sweep and search for the one that is missing. The light is dim and the work is hard, and the woman gets herself dirty in the process, but again there is great joy when she finds her lost coin. In fact, she has so much joy that she cannot contain it to herself. She calls together her friends and neighbours and invites them to rejoice with her.

In the third story, the ratio is one out of two, and this time it is not a sheep or a coin that is lost, but a son. What is interesting here is that there is searching that does not happen. It was the duty of the older brother to go look for the younger in cases like this, but the older brother in Jesus’ story does not search for his stray sibling. It is the father who watches and waits each day at the end of the family driveway, hoping that somehow, someway his youngest son would come home.

And at this point, we can stop and answer the question I asked previously. What is the currency in the kingdom of God? It is love. When you are living under the rule and reign of God, the best thing that you can do for yourself is to receive more and more and more of God’s love for you. You don’t have to do anything to earn God’s love. He already loves you infinitely and unconditionally. There is nothing that you can do that would make God love you any more than He already does, and there is nothing that you could do that would make God love you any less than He already does.

All you have to do is accept and receive the love that God already has for you. Maybe that happens for you when you for a walk in nature, or when you serve others, or when you pray, or when you work, or when you are in a small group with other Jesus followers, or when you journal, or when you listen to music, or when you play music, or when you read God’s Word. However it is that you feel God’s love, I strongly, strongly encourage you to make that part of your everyday life. We live in a world that tells us that we don’t have time for such things, and that is a damnable lie of the devil which we need to cast out of our vocabulary and even our thoughts. When we fail to receive the love that God already has for us, we cut ourselves off from the thing that we need the most.

You and I need to be filled with God’s love again and again. We need to be rich in God’s love so that we can then go out and bless others by giving them some of God’s currency, His love. And the greatest blessing that we can give is to search out and love those people that need God’s love the most. And who are the people who need God’s love the most? Those who are far from God.

In invite you to watch a video that is a cautionary tale about churches. And as you watch, I invite you to ask yourself, “What is the reason that things turning out this way?”

[Video clip: Life Saving Station – available here.]

I think that the reason that these life saving stations forgot about their real purpose is that they lost their love for the One who saved them in the first place. It would be so easy for Walnut Grove Lutheran Church to drift into becoming internally focused instead of externally focused. And if that happens, (and some might make the case that such a drift has already started), if we drift into becoming totally inward focused instead of outward focused, then we have lost sight of Christ’s mission, we have lost sight of our reason for being, and we have become a club for the comfortable instead of a life saving station for the lost. But the life saving work that we do, we do not do in our own strength, power and love. We love those who are furthest from God, even when they hate us, because we are filled with the love of the One who first loved us.

Today after the worship service, the Refugee Sponsorship Committee is going to pray and decide, on our behalf, whether or not to adopt a particular family that has been set before them. The family that the Committee will be considering is far different than any of us considered when we entered into this process. They are Iraqi and most of us were probably assuming that we would sponsor a Syrian family. Our intentions were to sponsor a family of 4 or 5, and this is a family of 8. The father of this family is disabled and needs a wheelchair to get around, and most of us were probably assuming that we would be sponsoring able-bodied people.

If the Committee decides to sponsor this particular family, this is going to be a test for Walnut Grove Lutheran Church. It will be a test of how much we are filled with God’s love and it will be a test of how much of God’s love we can share. It will also be a test of how much we are willing to have our lives formed by God’s Word. Did anybody else notice that the reading from last Thursday in our congregational Bible reading was Luke 10 which contains Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan?

I do not want to minimize in any way the challenges that will lay before us as a congregation if the Committee decides to sponsor this family. This is going to be very, very hard for us. Some people may leave this church because they don’t agree with the decision or because the challenges are too hard. To some of you, it may look like a good outcome is not even possible. I understand that.

But if we are going to be a church that only does what is possible, then there are some things that we must do. And the first thing that we need to do is move out of this building, because it is just not possible that a small congregation with $30,000 in the bank should be able to end up with a building for ministry like this one. And if we are going to be a church that only does what is possible, then I will have to dig a hole and bury my son Logan because it is just not possible that someone’s heart could be stopped for 40 minutes and they survive with no brain damage. And Logan is not going to like it very much if I try to bury him because he is still very much alive. And if we are going to be a church that only does what is possible, then I need to stop telling you that your sins are forgiven because it is just not possible that God would come down to this earth and become one of us in order to save us from our sins. And if we are going to be a church that only does what is possible, then I need to stop telling people at funerals that they will see their loved ones again because it is just not possible for people to rise from the dead.

We are a people who believe that all things are possible with God. We are a people who believe in God, and we believe in His love. God is the source of all love and God guarantees His love. And as we are filled with God’s love, we are going to seek out those who are furthest from God and love them with a love that is totally beyond ourselves. And whatever family we end up sponsoring, we are going to love them with God’s love, even when it gets hard, even when a good outcome seems impossible. This congregation is so rich in God’s love and we have so much to give to those who are hurting and those who are far from God.

Love is the currency of God’s kingdom. God’s love is what we need. God’s love is how we bless people. And filled with God’s love, we go and search for those who are furthest from God so that we can bless them with God’s love too. Amen.

(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on February 28, 2016.)

 

 

 

Following Jesus on His Mission: Doing the Simple Things


Choluteca Bridge“So how’s Jesus been messing with you lately?” That question comes from a book titled Joining Jesus on His Mission  by Greg Finke and that book inspired this series.  As we begin, I invite you to take a look at this picture and see if you notice anything unusual. This is the Choluteca Bridge in Honduras. This bridge was a well-designed and fully functional bridge, but in 1998 Hurricane Mitch dumped 36 inches of rain on the area in just a few days and amidst all the other damage caused by the hurricane, the deluge of water carved a new channel for the river around the bridge and the bridge now spans dry ground. It is a perfectly designed bridge that doesn’t work anymore because the river moved.

Something similar has happened to the Christian Church in the past few decades. For centuries, up until the Sixties, the Church was perfectly designed for our culture. When a group of immigrants settled in a new area, one of the first things that they did was to build a church in the centre of the community. People valued going to church as a good thing. It made people into good citizens. Encouraging the Christian faith was seen as a valuable in our society at the time. There were benefits to going to church. You could build your network of social and business contacts and perhaps even meet your future spouse there. The church was perfectly designed to develop people in that environment into followers of Jesus.

But in the time since the Sixties, the river has moved, the culture has changed. Now, being part of a Christian Church is no longer seen as a desirable by our culture. Encouraging the Christian faith is no longer valued by our society. People do not need the church for social or business contacts or to find a spouse. We have websites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Plenty of Fish for all those things. A church that was perfectly designed to make disciples in the world of sixty years ago and older struggles to engage with the mission of Jesus Christ in the world of today because the river has moved.

Canadian sociologist Reginald Bibby in his e-book A New Day: The Resilience and Restructuring of Religion in Canada, points out some of the indications that the river has moved. Weekly church attendance dropped from 60% in 1945 to 25% in 2005.[1] Mainline denominations (United, Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran and the Roman Catholic Church in Quebec) used to be 48% of the population in 1931. In 2009, they were 17% of the population.[2] In the past 15 years, the proportion of Canadians who attend worship monthly or more often has remained steady at about 30%, while another 30% attend worship services one or more times per year and about 40% never attend worship services. Bibby writes, “We awake today, not to a secularized Canada, but to a polarized Canada. A solid core of people continue to value faith; but a growing core do not. A significant proportion remain in the middle—something like the “politically undecided”—dropping in and not dropping out.”[3]

So what does this mean for those of us who want join with Jesus on his mission? It means that the old ways no longer work like they used to and we need to change how we do things. In the past, our main and perhaps only way that we used to invite people onto the journey with Jesus was by inviting them to church. But today most people in Canada are not looking for a church. What people are looking for is ministry and so how we serve others is very important. Inviting people to church is still important, but it cannot be the only tool in our neighbourhood missionary toolbox because it will not work with most of the people around us.

But here is the Good News. The mission does not depend on us because it is Jesus who is doing all the work. Jesus is the one who is messing in people’s lives and creating a desire in their hearts for something more. Jesus is the one who is opening people up to the possibility of trusting him. Jesus is the one who is ripening people towards faith. Jesus is the one who is changing hearts and minds.

And here is more good news. Most people in our culture may not be interested in “Church” but what they are longing for is right in the sweet spot of biblical Christianity. For example:

  • People take note when someone is willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of others.
  • People appreciate the opportunity to sort through their spiritual questions honestly without manipulation.
  • People are intrigued by someone who exhibits both grace and wisdom.
  • People are looking for those who exhibit authentic love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and self-control.
  • They cheer redemptive action.
  • They wish to discover what is true.
  • They long for authentic community with people that they can trust.
  • They are wondering if an encounter with a loving God is possible.[4]

Jesus has already done the hard work of living a perfect human life, dying on the cross and rising from the dead to reconcile all of creation to God. Jesus is the one doing the supernatural work of drawing people close to him and planting faith in their hearts. As Greg Finke puts it, “

  • “Jesus does the incredibly complex work that requires the Son of God;
  • We do the incredibly simple work that requires a little child. …

In order to join Jesus on his redemptive mission all we really have to do is:

  • Enjoy people;
  • And seek, recognize and respond to what Jesus is already doing in the lives of the people we are enjoying.” [5]

So what does this look like? Here is an example that Greg Finke shares in his book Joining Jesus in His Mission,

Some of our neighbors down the block put out a last-minute invitation to join them in their driveway. They were frying up some gulf shrimp and wanted us to help them eat it. Being a dedicated neighborhood missionary, I was in.

My wife and I grabbed a bottle of wine and joined our neighbours in this impromptu gathering. We enjoyed hot fried shrimp and a chilled glass of white wine. It was fantastic! As we were standing there enjoying our friends…I started a conversation with Jim…. It started out with the usual ,”Hey, how’ve you been doing?” However, within a few moments Jim wanted us to head off to the side to talk a little more privately.

In my mind I started asking, “Jesus, what are you up to here?”

Jim wanted to talk about his job. Ever since the sale of the company about a year ago things had been getting rough at work… real rough. As he is telling me about the stress he is under and how this has been getting systematically worse in the last several weeks, it wasn’t that tricky for me to recognize where some hope and redemption was needed in my friend’s life. And wherever hope and redemption are needed, you can be sure of this: Jesus is present and working nearby. In other words, the kingdom of God is near.

So Jim is standing there giving me a pretty good idea of where Jesus is working in his life. Now, the question is, “How can I join Jesus in what he is doing here?” It wasn’t that complicated to find out. I just kept asking the next question. “So who do you know that can help you with getting a new job?” I asked. “It’s not that simple,” he replied. “I can’t afford to start over again on the bottom rung of the pay scale.”

“So what will you do?” I asked. “I don’t know, Greg. I’m at a loss.” His voice was reflecting his growing anxiety. “Have you invited God into it?” I asked.

Silence.

“No. No, I haven’t,” he replied. “Do you think it would help?”

“You mean, getting God involved? Yeah,” I said with a smile, “I think that would help.”

Then his kid fell over on a toy and scraped his elbow. So that’s where the conversation ended. About 30 minutes later as I was enjoying yet another shrimp, his wife came up to me and said, “I don’t know what you said to my husband, but he seems happier than I have seen him in a long time.”

“It might be these really good shrimp,” I said. “No, it wasn’t the shrimp,” she assured me. “And thank you.”

But I hadn’t really done anything. It was Jesus who was up to something with Jim. I had just been looking for what Jesus might choose to show me. Jesus did all the complex work. It was Jesus who worked out the precise timing of Jim and me standing together at an impromptu party eating really good shrimp. And it was only Jesus who could redeem trouble at the job to do something deeper in Jim’s life. Jesus was messing with Jim redemptively, calling Jim back to himself. All I did was point out he obvious. I couldn’t make Jim turn to Jesus. But when Jim was ready to turn to Jesus, he found the peace and hope that Jesus had been offering him all along. I was just there to help.

Simple for me. Complex for Jesus. But Jesus handles complexity very, very well.

So to summarize, in order to join Jesus on his redemptive mission that night all I had to do was

  • Enjoy people by eating really good shrimp with them and hanging out;

  • Seek what Jesus was doing;

  • Recognize what Jesus was already doing in Jim’s life by listening to his story and realizing he was struggling with his job;

  • And then respond to what Jesus was already doing in Jim’s life by asking a couple questions and pointing out a simple spiritual truth.[6]

Jesus does the really complex hard things. And he invites us to join in his mission by doing the easy, simple things. And even though our culture has changed and many people no longer recognize it to be true, the mission of Jesus to make disciples of all nations is still very, very important. Because Jesus is the only One who can satisfy the cravings of the human heart for meaning, purpose, significance and destiny. Only Jesus can heal all of creation. Only Jesus can overturn very injustice. Only Jesus can fulfill the longings of our culture.

The risen Jesus has promised to always be with us. He made that promise to us in the washing of rebirth and renewal called Holy Baptism, just like he did earlier with little Charlie. In the meal of Holy Communion, Jesus gives us his Body and Blood for the forgiveness of all our sins. Nourished and forgiven, we then go out into the world to share his love with others. The river may have moved. But Jesus didn’t. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is still at work in the world and he invites us to join him in his mission. It is complex for him but he makes it simple for us.

In closing, invite you to pray the following prayer each day. It is the prayer of Sir Francis Drake and this prayer is really really an invitation for Jesus to keep on messing in our lives.

“Disturb us, Lord, when we are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst for the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.”[7] Amen.

 

(This message was shared on November 16, 2014 at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC.)

[1] Reginald Bibby, A New Day: The Resilience and Restructuring of Religion in Canada (Lethbridge: Project Canada Books, 2012), 5.

[2]Bibby, 34.

[3] Bibby, 10.

[4] Greg Finke, Joining Jesus on His Mission: How to Be an Everyday Missionary (Tyler TX: Tenth Power Publishing, 2014), 42-43.

[5] Finke, 54.

[6] Finke, 69-71.

[7] Finke, 51.

Party Evangelism: Sharing Jesus’ Love with Other by Making Friends and Having Fun


Today is the second last Sunday in the sermon series we call “SONshine in the Summertime.” And the main idea of the series is that sharing Jesus’ love with others should be just as easy and just as natural as one child passing a beach ball on a beach to another child. And today we are seeing how a person in the Bible named Matthew used Party Evangelism to share Jesus’ love with his friends.

The first thing that we notice about Matthew is that he is a tax collector. We reflected on the interaction between Jesus and another tax collector named Zacchaeus a couple of weeks ago. And mention was made of how tax collectors in Roman-occupied Judea were thoroughly despised by the Jews because the tax collectors were cooperating with the Roman occupiers against their own people and getting rich by extorting high markups on the taxes they charged them.

It is hard to think of a parallel in our own society. To approach the level of loathing the first century Jews had for someone like Matthew, we need to imagine something like an enemy spy running a protection racket. You have to pay him money so that your business doesn’t get burned down, and then he steals your business secrets and sells them to your competitor.

So why would Jesus reach out to someone who worked in a despised profession like a first century tax collector, or a 21st century extortionist spy, or a homeless person, or a prostitute, or a person suffering from mental illness? The reason is love.

God does not need our love or our worship. God is not a childish, self-centred deity who demands our love because He thirsts for it. The God of the Bible is one God who exists in three persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—all at the same time. These three persons, who are one is essence, form a community of perfect, choosing, self-giving love. The Father is loved perfectly by the Son and the Spirit. The Spirit is loved perfectly by the Son and the Father. And the Son is loved perfectly by the Father and the Spirit. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are constantly in movement in a kind of circle dance that scholars call the perchoresis.

God created human beings and put His image on them, not because He needed to be loved by them, but because He wanted give His love to them.

Unfortunately, the great human experiment went awry when the first pair of human beings disobeyed God and all of creation was broken by sin as a result. Human beings turned their backs on God and struck out at each other with murderous intentions. Floods, storms, drought, earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions reveal the brokenness of nature and the fragility of life.

All of this was not a surprise to God. He knew that the Fall was going to happen before He created the first moment in time. And yet God created anyway, because this beautiful, but broken, creation, filled with divine image-bearing, but broken, people, gave God even more opportunity to love.

We are the ones who need God. Each and every one of us, in our own way, has sold other people out so that we might gain some benefit. Invited into the inner circle of the most popular girl in school, we turn our back on the one friend who has been both trustworthy and true to us. Our boss holds a carrot of praise or extra money before us, and we turn our back on the spouse and children who wait for us to come home in the evening. We visit a friend’s beautiful, spacious new home, and we despise the 30 year old house that the breadwinner of our home worked hard to pay for. You and I are Matthew. We are Zacchaeus. We are first-century tax collectors who deserve prejudice and loathing from our fellow humans beings, and we deserve wrath and condemnation from God.

But God, you see, is not wired like mercurial patriarch with a hair-trigger temper. God’s first intention is always to love, gently, graciously and freely. Yes, God will get angry, but God’s anger is directed at sin and God’s anger is driven by His perfect sense of justice. Any God that does not get angry at injustice and sin is not worthy of our worship or praise. If you want to ally yourself on the side of injustice and sin, then you should prepare yourself to be the object of God’s wrath. But wrath is always God’s second choice for himself and for you. His first choice is to love you.

It was love that moved the Father to send the Son to save you. It was love that moved the Son to wrap Himself in human flesh, live a perfect human life, suffer and die for all sin on the cross, and rise from the dead to declare victory over sin, death and the devil. It was love that moved the Holy Spirit to plant a seed of faith in your heart through the Word and the Sacraments. It was love that moved the Spirit to water and nourish that faith seed so that it would grow and mature. It is love that moves the Spirit to lead, guide and direct you in the new life that Jesus gives you.

And so, Matthew, now that you have been saved by God, will you join with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in reaching out to others with the saving love of Jesus?

One way to reach out to your friends with the saving love of Jesus is through something called Party Evangelism. Now I could have chosen to talk about Grandparent Evangelism, or Business Evangelism, or Soccer Coach Evangelism, but I will leave those up to your Holy Spirit-guided imaginations to figure out, and some of you, I know, are already using some of these approaches. But Party Evangelism is the approach that Matthew used. He threw a party and invited all of his friends who were far from God. But Matthew also invited Jesus and some of His followers to the same party in the hope that good things would happen when those two groups got together. Party Evangelism is something that we can still do today to reach out to our friends, family and neighbours.

(Shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on July 13, 2014.)

 

Motivation and Mechanics: The Why and How of Lifestyle Evangelism


This week, we continue with our series of SONshine in the Summertime and the basic idea of this series is that sharing Jesus’ love with others should be just as simple and just as natural for a follower of Jesus as it is for two children on a beach to pass a beachball from one to the other.

As we begin this week, I invite you to imagine something with me for a moment. A lot of the time, we Jesus followers tend to think of evangelism as another task on our to-do list, like taking out the garbage or filling the car up with gas. What would it be like if we were so motivated by Jesus’ love for us and for others that evangelism was something that was part of our life all the time? What if we started the day asking God to give us opportunities to share Jesus’ loves with others? What if we watched throughout the day for opportunities to share Jesus’ love with others? What if we made changes in where we walked or how we spent our leisure activities so that we would have more opportunities to interact with people who are not Jesus followers? What if, every time we were involved in a conversation with someone who is far from God, we were looking to the Holy Spirit for guidance about what we should do or say? Well, if we were living like that, we would be living a lifestyle of evangelism, and ideally, that is how every Jesus follower would live.

But the reality for many of us is that we don’t. I don’t know about you, but I am a very reluctant evangelist. I can go on about my daily life without even thinking about the spiritual well-being of the people who live around me. There are long stretches of time where I am not even concerned about the fact that some of my neighbours are headed towards spending eternity without God. And when I do tell others about Jesus, most of the time I walk away thinking that I really messed things up. Does anybody else feel like that?

So today, let’s think about the ideal of lifestyle evangelism, let’s look at where we are, and let’s consider how we, with God’s help, can move as close to that ideal as we can. To help us make that move, we are thinking about Motivation and Mechanics, in other words, the why and the how of Lifestyle Evangelism. And let’s begin by reflecting on Luke, chapter 8, verses 26-39:

26 They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee.27 When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” 29 For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.

30 Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. 31 And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.

32 A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. 33 When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

34 When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, 35 and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. 37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. (Luke 8:26-39)

Here’s a question for you: “When the man who was healed of demon possession, begged Jesus to let him go with Jesus, what do you think was the reason that Jesus told the man to return home instead?” Does anyone have an answer that they would be willing to share with the rest of us?

There is only one reason that I can think for Jesus to send the man back to his home. Because more people would be saved if the man went back to his home town and told everyone there how much God has done for him than if the man went with Jesus. At the end of this section of Scripture we read, “So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.” (Luke 8:39b)

This is a pattern we see in the Bible. In John, chapter, 9, when a blind man was heal by Jesus, he cannot help but tell people about what Jesus had done for him. In John 4, when a Samaritan woman encountered Jesus and realized that He was the Messiah, she went back to her home town and told everyone about Him.

And these people told others what Jesus had done for them even though the circumstances made it difficult for them to do so. It is not easy to go back to your home town when you have been living in abandoned cemetery for years where you ran around out of your mind because of demon possession and you wore no clothes. It is not easy to go back to your home town when you have had five husbands and you live with a sixth man to whom you are not married and going home means facing the very people who witnessed all the brokenness in your life and normally you would be very ashamed to face them. It is not easy to tell others what Jesus has done for you when powerful authorities are out to get Jesus because He healed you on the wrong day of the week and you could get kicked out of your home church if you insist on telling the truth about how Jesus healed you. And yet the man healed of demon possession, the Samaritan woman who met the Messiah and the man healed of blindness all went and told others their story of what Jesus had done in their life.

So why would their story with others in spite of the challenges? I think that it was because they were so overwhelmed by the awesomeness of what Jesus had done for them that the challenges were insignificant by comparison. When you have been healed of demon possession, or when you have experienced Jesus’ unconditional love and acceptance or when you have been healed of blindness, what other people may think of you or do to you doesn’t really matter. You have experienced the power of God’s love to heal, redeem and save in your life, and that love will sustain you in the face of all the challenges that you will face in your life. And you know that because you are not the same person that you were before. You are the proof of the saving power of Jesus’ love and you want to share what you have been given with others.

So what has Jesus done in your life that fills you with awe? What has Jesus done in your life that has changed you forever? If you are having trouble thinking of something, let’s review some basic facts. Every human being is, by nature, a rebel against God. As a rebel, each and every one of us deserve the penalty for our disloyalty and treason, which is death. As a rebel, each and every one of us is estranged from God. We have no relationship with Him. On our own, we are all enemies of God and we are at war with Him.

But Jesus has done what no ordinary human being could do. He lived a human life of perfect obedience to His father. Then he took our place and suffered the estrangement and the death penalty that we deserve for our rebellion. All this Jesus did because He loves us.

Jesus does what no other religious figure does. Jesus gives you peace with God. Jesus gives you a new relationship with God. Jesus gives you a place in the family of God. Jesus gives you a new identity as a child of God. And, because you are a child of God, Jesus invites you to join with Him in His mission of seeking and saving the lost.

All of these gifts that Jesus gives you are pure grace. You don’t deserve any of these good things that Jesus gives you for free. You didn’t earn any of them either. There is nothing special about you that moves Jesus to love you. Jesus loves you because of who He is: Jesus is God and God is love the Bible tells us. So the love coming from Jesus to you does not depend on you at all. It is unconditional love that Jesus gives you.

So what has Jesus done in your life that fills you with awe? What has Jesus done in your life that has changed you forever? I invite you to think for a moment about those questions and try to identify your life-changing moment with Jesus. When you have an example fixed in your mind, I encourage you to remember it because that is your motivation. You will find it helpful to remind yourself of your life-changing experience with Jesus on a regular basis because, if you are like me, you will tend to forget it.

Now we are going to shift from Motivation and turn to Mechanics, that is, how do we live a lifestyle of evangelism? We PLAAY. First of all we Pray. We pray each day that God will give us an opportunity to share Jesus’ love with someone else. We pray that God will help us to see the opportunity that He sends us, that He will guide us in what to do and say, and that He will work through us to draw others closer to Him. Second, we Listen. We listen to what the other person is saying and we listen for any challenges they may be facing or emotions they may be experiencing. Third, we do a personal Attitude Check. Are we motivated by love: love from Jesus, love for the other person? Do we have an attitude of openness and acceptance? Fourth, we pay Attention. We pay attention to the opportunities. We pay attention to the Holy Spirit and what He is prompting us to do or say. And pay attention to the fact that we don’t have to convince the other person. The Holy Spirit does that, we only have to do what the Holy Spirit prompts us to do.

Finally, when you are given an opportunity by the other person, you can tell Your story. There are different kinds of stories that you could tell. You could tell your salvation story. A salvation story usually consists of three parts: a. Before Jesus – what life was like before Jesus was part of your life, b. Jesus coming into your life, and c. After Jesus – how your life is different now that you are following Jesus. Another option is to share a story about how Jesus helps you. This story would include a struggle you faced that others face too, how Jesus helped you in that struggle, and how life is different now. Or you tell THE story. What I mean by that is this: When you become aware of a need the other person has , you can share the Good News of how meets that needs and transforms it into something good and life-giving.  For example, Sadness + Jesus = Joy; Sin + Jesus = Forgiveness; Despair + Jesus = Hope; Death + Jesus = Life; Slavey + Jesus = Freedom; a Sinner + Jesus = a Saint; Alienation + Jesus = Belonging; an Enemy + Jesus = a Friend; Shame + Jesus = Honour; Poverty + Jesus = Wealth; Hardship + Jesus = Patience; Failure + Jesus = Success;  Defeat + Jesus = Victory.

Here are a couple of important things to remember when you tell Your Story: Use the KISS method, that is, keep it simple and short. Also, avoid churchy language. That will only create barriers between you and the other person.

And finally, remember that, motivated by Jesus’ love for us and for others, we PLAAY to live a lifestyle of evangelism.

(Shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on July 6, 2014.)

Finding the Master’s Mission in Me


For the past couple of weeks, billion of people around the world have been thinking about, watching and talking about soccer because the World Cup is on right now. So in honour of the World Cup, I invite you to watch the following video. Now what is the mission of a soccer team? How did the soccer players’ actions impact the mission of the team? These failures are such obvious mess ups that they may be considered funny. But what would you think if I said that most Jesus followers are failing their Master’s mission most of the time?

To find out more about our Master’s Mission, let’s reflect on our second reading from Luke 19:1-10. Jesus is traveling through Jericho. He is on His last journey to Jerusalem and there, because He Loves all people, Jesus will suffer and die for the sins of the whole world. As he walked through town with His followers, a crowd gathered around Him. This was something that often happened when Jesus came into a town in those days.

People were milling all around Him and calling out His name. Some were likely inviting Jesus to their house for a meal and eastern hospitality. In that culture, and still in the Middle East today, showing hospitality to a traveler was very highly valued. And there was no greater sign of friendship than to eat with someone.  Jesus could have eaten at many fine and respectable homes, homes where people thought and acted just like He did.

But Jesus was very intentional about going outside of the circle of comfort to the zone of the unknown. Jesus was very intentional about building a relationship with someone who was very different from Him. Up ahead, in a tree was a man who was small in stature but large in reputation, except it was the kind of reputation that people usually don’t want to have. This wee, little man was Zacchaeus, and Zacchaeus was a tax collector, the most despised business one could engage in those times. Tax collectors were despised because they cooperated with the Roman occupiers and betrayed and extorted money from their own people, the Jews. A fine, upstanding religious person would never fraternize with a tax collector, and yet Jesus intentionally developed a friendship with Zacchaeus. Jesus looked up into that tree and said, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” (Luke 19:5b)

Zacchaeus was probably just as shocked as everyone was there on that day. “Jesus, has called out to me and said, right here in front of everyone, that he must stay at my house today?” he probably said to himself. But Zacchaeus’s shock was soon swept away by joy. This great rabbi wanted to eat with him! Zacchaeus scrambled down the tree, took Jesus by the hand and led Him and His disciples to his home. There Zacchaeus gave instructions to his servants to quickly prepare a feast for his special guests.

We do not know much about what happened at that feast. As the guest of honour, Jesus would have sat beside Zacchaeus. Can you imagine what it would be like to sit beside Jesus for a whole meal and listen to Him share His wisdom with you about God and heaven and life? Think of what it would be like to ask Him a question and then hear Him answer. Something moved inside of Zaccheaus during that meal with Jesus. At some point in the meal, his heart bursting with joy, Zacchaeus stood up and exclaimed to Jesus, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (Luke 19:8b). Zacchaeus’s offering to the poor went far beyond a 10% tithe. Zacchaeus was giving 50% to the poor. Zacchaeus’s promise of restitution for ill-gotten gains was far beyond what was required by the religious law. In the Torah, money taken under false pretenses was to be repaid along with 20% extra. Zacchaeus was promising to repay people along with 300% extra.  What could prompt such a dramatic change in Zacchaeus? Only Jesus could do something like that.

Jesus confirms that Zacchaeus is now part of God’s family by saying, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.”  (Luke 19:9) And then Jesus speaks words which define His purpose, His mission, His reason for being. Jesus said, For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

Let’s reflect on these words for a few moments. The Son of Man is a nickname that Jesus used when He was referring to Himself. Jesus’ mission is to seek and to save the lost. Do you think that it is important to Jesus that His mission is still carried out in the world today? Are there still people in the world who are lost and who need to be saved? [Yes] How is Jesus going to carry out His mission in the world today? Jesus is going to carry out His mission in the world, in Canada, in the Lower Mainland, in Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford, and in Walnut Grove, through His body. What is Jesus’ body? You are. Every person who follows Jesus is part of His body. Jesus is going to carry out His mission to seek and save the lost through you.

So how are most Jesus followers failing their Master’s Mission most of the time? Bill Hybels, in the book Just Walk Across the Room writes,

On average, 30 percent of the people who approach me after weekend services at Wilow have one thing on their minds: how to get one of their lost friends or family members found. Whether it’s a dad or an uncle or a neighbor or a boss who is spiritually adrift, countless numbers of Christ-followers throughout the course of a ministry year express their heartfelt concern for someone far from God.

Each time, I offer the same question in response to these good-hearted men and women. And each time, my suggestion is met with their disbelief. “Why don’t you help point them to God?” I ask. Almost to a person, the idea itself seems ludicrous: I could never do that! I just woundmn’t know what to say. That’s really not my gift. Not my personality. I would screw it up. And anyway, that’s what you [professionals] are for!

Not surprisingly, the Bible puts a different spin on things. Simply put, if you are a Christ-follower, then you are called, equipped, and expected to share the gospel. No exceptions! Leighton Ford, former vice-president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, summed it up this way: A church which bottlenecks its specialists to do its witnessing is living in violation of both [Jesus Christ] and the consistent pattern of the early Christians. Evangelism was the task of the whole church, not just the ‘name characters’” (emphasis mine).

Somehow, though, despite the noble desire to get lost peo9ple found, many have abdicated their role in the process altogether. As I have traveled around the world visiting pastors and volunteer leaders, I’ve developed a deep concern for a dangerous trend that is alive and well in many evangelical churches. The long a person attends church, the fewer evangelistic discussion they engage in with family members and friends. Fewer presentations of the life-changing plan of salvation are given, and fewer invitations to events that attractively present the message of Christ are offered mostly because Christ-follower have fewer friends outside the faith to whom to offer them.[1]

We fail our Master’s mission through a lack of meaningful interaction with people who do not follow Jesus. The following chart shows the life cycle of most Christians. Life Cycle of Most Christians The longer we walk with Jesus, the less meaningful interaction we tend to have with people who are far from God, to the point that for most people who have been Christians a long time, nearly all of their network of friends is composed of Christians. We fail our Master’s mission when we stay in our Circle of Comfort instead of venturing out into the Zone of the Unknown. Our Comfort Zone is where we are most comfortable (that is why it is called a “Comfort Zone”) but we will not stretch and grow if we do not leave our Comfort Zone. We fail our Master’s mission when we outrun or ignore the promptings of the Holy Spirit. So what does it mean to outrun the Spirit?  In times past, I have treated my friends like objects instead of people and made them my evangelism “projects.” In doing so, I violated the relationships that I have with them and I have lost friends because of what I have done. We can also ignore the Holy Spirit’s prompting and fail to step into the opportunities that He has prepared for us because we are not listening to Him.

The Good News is that Jesus has sought and saved you. Jesus has come looking for you, whether it is through a parent, a grandparent or some other relative. Jesus has reached out to you through a friend, a co-worker, or a church worker like a deacon or a pastor. Jesus has save you by having someone share with you the Gospel message: That though you were lost, that is far from God, and you were headed towards spending an eternity without God, Jesus lived a perfect human life for you and all people, and died a sinner’s death on the cross for you and all people to pay for all of your sins. Jesus then rose from the dead on the third day that followed to defeat death for you and for all people. So through Jesus, you have forgiveness, salvation and eternal life as a totally free gift. And one day, Jesus is going to come back to this world and raise you and all people from the dead. And everyone who looks to Jesus in faith in this life will spend eternity with Him in the next. All of creation will be healed and made whole and we will have new resurrection bodies that will never grow old, never get sick and never die.

Jesus has saved you by sending the Holy Spirit to give you the faith to believe the Gospel message and trust it with your life.

And with Jesus, the Good News just keeps coming. Because Jesus has invited you to join with Him in His mission of seeking and saving the lost. Now when we hear that, most of us think that joining the mission of Jesus is like joining the Armed Forces. We think that we have to leave behind our family, friends, personal interests and personality, take on an identity and persona that is foreign to us and do things that don’t fit with who we are. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Jesus has already given you your own evangelism style and it already fits with who you are and the things that you like to do: Direct, Intellectual, Testimonial, Interpersonal, Invitational, or Serving. Jesus has already placed you in a situation where you have a unique opportunity to impact the lives of others (family, friends, workplace, school, community). Jesus has already given you your own personal set of hobbies, interests and passions that can be used to build relationships with people who do not follow Jesus.

With Jesus, we can be intentional about doing what Bill Hybels calls “Living in 3D.” We can be intentional about Developing friendships with people who do not follow Jesus. We can Discover stories, that is, listen to what people tell us about what is going on in their lives. We can Discern next steps, that is, listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and do what He prompts us to do. Life Cycle Christ EncouragesWith Jesus, we can live the life cycle that He encourages, where we grow in love each year that we walk with Him and we live out that love by using our gifts to serve, focusing on people and spreading grace to others. With Jesus, I can find the Master’s mission in me. Amen.

(shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on June 29, 2014.)

 

[1] Bill Hybels, Walk Across the Room: Simple Steps Pointing People to Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 60-61. The charts are also from Walk Across the Room, page 61 & 65.

Tuned to the Heart of God


Today we are beginning the “SONshine in the Summertime” series. And the reason that we are having this series as this time is that soon many of us will be going on vacation , perhaps at the beach or maybe to another country, and here at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, we want to encourage you to remember that God is with you when you go on holidays. Often, when we step away from our normal patterns, what can happen is that we forget about spending time with God in prayer and reading our Bible. We want to encourage you not to do that. But the other reason for this “SONshine in the Summertime” series is because you, as a follower of Jesus Christ, are going to have opportunities this summer to share with other people about Jesus, and we want to encourage you to watch for those opportunities and to be attentive to what the Holy Spirit is prompting you to do. Imagine two children playing on a beach and one passes a beachball to another, and in the same way, that’s how easy it should be for us to share with others about Jesus.

Imagine for a moment that I play for you a guitar where every string is out of tune. To anyone who has an ear for music, it would be clearly evident that the guitar is out of tune. (It would probably also be evident that I do not have much musical talent, but that is another matter.) What if you indicated to me that my guitar was out of tune and I responded by saying, “What right do you have to tell me how to tune my guitar?” or “It doesn’t really matter how my guitar is tuned because all guitar tunings end up making the same melody anyway,” you would think that I was both a poor guitar player and deluded. My guitar would be out of tune whether I realized it or not. And just as a guitar can be out of tune, so also a human life can be out of tune. To show you what I mean I will share with you a story.

There once was a woman who had two daughters. This mother raised her children as a single parent and she was able to provide for them through the real estate business that she had built up over the years. The family home in North Vancouver, which had a beautiful view of city over the Burrard Inlet, was paid for in full.  Eventually the little girls became adults, but all three of the women continued to live in the comfortable house on the hill in North Van.

One day, the youngest daughter came to her mother and said, “Mother, I want my share of your estate.” This came like a slap to the face for the older woman. All these years she had provided and cared for her two daughters and this was the response of her youngest. This was the same as if the young woman had wished that her mother was dead. But the mother loved her daughter more than she loved her wealth, so she sold her real estate business to raise the cash that the youngest daughter wanted. She also gave the family home to the oldest daughter because she loved her too and she wanted to try to be fair to her. The mother thought that she could live in the same house with her eldest daughter, but the eldest become very rigid and quarrelsome soon after the transfer of ownership papers were signed, so the mother moved into the basement suite of the house next door, and she provided for herself by working as a janitor in the office building where her old real estate business used to be.

The mother longed for her youngest daughter to come home. Every day she would stare at the city of Vancouver and wonder if her daughter was somewhere in that maze of streets and buildings. Was she making a six figure income and living in a high rise condo on the West End? Or was she turning tricks on Hastings and living in an alley where she eased the pain of the day with a needle in her arm? Her mother didn’t know. Sometimes she took a bus to the Downtown East Side and spent the day walking along the streets looking for her daughter, hoping that she would see her, but she never did. At the end of each day, as the sun was setting, this grieving mother would walk down the hill to the end of her street and watch and wait, hoping to see her daughter coming home.

The youngest daughter had spent her money on a condo that ended up leaking and on clubbing with friends that ended up leaving when the money was all gone. Eventually, she ended up living on welfare in a single residence housing unit on the East Side. She longed for the days when she had a clean, warm bed in nice home in a safe neighbourhood. She was getting tired of being accosted by mean mouthed men as she walked down the sidewalk. She grew weary of smelling the stench of vomit in the stairwell as she climbed the steps to her floor. Nobody really loved her here. Nobody really valued her here. To the people around her, she was just an object to be used and abused before being tossed into the gutter like an old cigarette butt. “This is insane,” she thought to herself one day. “The janitor at my mother’s office gets treated better than this. I will go home, tell my mother I am sorry, and ask her if I can work as her janitor.”

The daughter hopped on a bus and headed over to North Van. Along the way, she practiced the words she would say, how she would admit that she had been selfish and self-centred and then ask for her mother’s forgiveness. She got off the bus at the bus stop near the family home and, after a few steps, she looked up to see a woman staring at her. A spark of recognition flashed across her mother’s face, and then the mother who had always loved her daughter began running towards her, shrieking and wailing with joy with no thought about what people viewing this spectacle might think.

Before the daughter could get her planned words of confession out, her mother wrapped her arms around her, squeezed her in a loving hug and said, “Welcome home!” They laughed and cried, they hugged and kiss. And then the mother did something that was totally unexpected. She took a step back and undid the latch of the pendant that was around her neck. She placed it around the neck of her daughter and fastened the clasp. “There,” she said, “you should have this.”

“But, Mom,” her daughter protested, “that pendant belonged to your Grandma! It is your most prized possession!”

“My dear,” the mother replied, “that pendant was a gift. But now I have received a far greater gift. You have come home. And you are worth more to me than a million such pendants. I want to give that pendant to you. Welcome home, my daughter! I am going to make your favourite meal and invite all of my friends and yours and we are going to have a party because you have come home. I love you!”

“I love you too, Mom!” her daughter replied.

Soon after the eldest daughter came home from work, the doorbell rang. She opened the door and there was her mother, radiant with joy. “You have to come over to my place to celebrate. Your sister has come home!”

Instantly, venomous anger surged within the eldest daughter’s chest. “Why should I celebrate the return of my sister! The only reason she has come home is because she has already spent all of her money on drugs and she has come to get some more. She is a hooker and a thief and I am not going to have anything to do with her.”

The mother paused and looked at the ground before continuing. Returning her gaze to her eldest daughter, the mother said, “My daughter, everything I have is yours. But we have to celebrate because this sister of yours was dead and she is alive again! She was lost but now she is found!”

This story, of course, is not my own. It is Jesus’ story and you can find it in Luke 15. And he told it to the people who first heard it, and to us, to show that any human heart that does not love lost people is not in tune with the heart of God. Our lack of love could be because of a sense of entitlement, that is, we think that God owes us good things because of who we are or what we have done. Our lack of love could be because we are living in rebellion against God, so we don’t really care about Him or the people He cares about. Our lack of love could be because of fear. Our fear usually comes from a failure to see ourselves in the light of the Gospel. In other words, we cannot really believe that, because of Jesus, God the Father unconditionally accepts us as His children, so then we cannot really believe that God the Father unconditionally loves us as His children. Without God’s love in our lives, we live with fear in our hearts.

Entitlement, rebellion and fear are all off-key with God’s truth. The truth is that God does not owe us anything good. All we deserve from God is His wrath and eternal punishment for our sin. The truth is, if we continue in our rebellion, it will lead to our own personal destruction and end in pain and suffering for others. If entitlement or rebellion is your major key, it is time to wake up and see how out of tune with God your life has become. Have a change of heart and mind and come home to the Father who has always loved you and is waiting expectantly for your return. If you are tuned to the F sharp of fear, open your eyes to see what God says in His Word about who you really are. In 1 John 3 we read these words from The Message:

What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are. But that’s also why the world doesn’t recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who he is or what he’s up to.

2-3 But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. (1 John 3:1-2)

The truth is, Jesus lived, died and rose again to pay the price in full for you to be fully accepted into the family of God. The truth is, you are a beloved, forgiven child of God. Do you deserve it? No. Did you earn it? No. Jesus has given it all to you as a totally free gift and it is yours because He loves you.  There is nothing that can ever pull you away from the free-flowing love God has for you as His child. Nothing, not wealth or poverty, not health or disease, not war or peace, not work or unemployment, not marriage, divorce or singleness, not even death will be able to separate you from the love that God has for you through Jesus Christ.

As you live the life that you have in Jesus, he will help you to watch for opportunities build relationships with people who do not believe in him. The Holy Spirit will prompt you regarding what to say or what to do. All you have to do is step into those moments that God has prepared in advance for you to do.  Amen.

(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on June 22, 2014.)

 

Suffering


“We will never have the easy, unhesitating love of God that makes obedience to Jesus our natural response unless we are absolutely sure that it is good for us to be, and to be who we are.  This means we must have no doubt that the path appointed for us by when and where and to whom we were born is good, and that nothing irredeemable has happened to us or can happen to us on our way to our destiny in God’s full world….  It is confidence in the invariably overriding intention of God for our good, with respect to all the evil and suffering that may befall us on life’s journey, that secures us in peace and joy. We must be sure of that intention if we are to be free and able, like Joseph, to simply do what we know to be right.”[1]  (emphasis added in the Ogne & Roehl quote)


[1] From Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, 337-38 quoted in Ogne, Steve & Tim Roehl, TransforMissional Coaching:  Empowering Leaders in a Changing Ministry World (Nashville:  B & H Publishing, 2008), 182