Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Discovering the Reformation

Sometimes I need to go into my daughter’s room to get something.  More often than not, it ends up becoming an archaeological dig as I wade through the layers of stuff.  I don’t always find what I’m looking for, and I sometimes discover things I didn’t know I had lost.  Nearly five-hundred years ago, when Martin Luther went digging into the Bible, he found that he was wading through layers of church tradition and came upon something that was lost; he rediscovered that God justifies sinners by grace through faith apart from any good works done by us.  In other words, Luther found in the Scriptures that we are completely and totally at the mercy of God in Christ.



            The cross of Jesus Christ is our only means of salvation from what ails us because the cross is an attack on human sin.  Luther discovered that we all have layers and layers of stuff that have grown around our hearts to the degree that we no longer see the sheer grace of God in Christ alone to meet the most pressing needs of our lives.  In the centuries before Martin Luther and John Calvin came into history, God’s grace had gradually become something of a supplement to whatever is left of our human willpower.

            Apart from Jesus we are addicted to ourselves; and, the cross is the intervention we need to help us in order to confront our constant me-ism.  We might sometimes justify ourselves with the fact that we do good works.  However, one of the legacies of the Reformation is that good works do not earn us deliverance from sin.  What is more, Luther said that our good deeds are the greatest hindrance to our salvation because we have the tendency to trust in those good deeds instead of the death of Christ.  So, Luther actually called our good works a mortal sin that sets off God’s wrath and leads straight to hell.  In other words, doing good deeds are deadly if they are done as a means of approaching God.  It is only through the suffering of Jesus on the cross, his death for us while we were still sinners, not when we were lovely and looking fine with all our pious actions, that we are saved.  Luther had this to say in his Heidelberg Disputation:  “He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering.  Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil.  These are the people whom are under God’s wrath!  God can only be found in suffering and the cross.  It is impossible for a person not to be puffed by his good works unless he has first been deflated and destroyed by suffering and evil until he knows that he is worthless and that his works are not his but God’s.”

            God does not come to us in our beauty and goodness; instead, he comes to us in our ugliness and sin.  While we were still sinners, ungodly, enemies of God, powerless to save ourselves, Christ died on the cross for us (Romans 5:6-11).  We might spend too much of our time and effort concerned about looking good and doing good things in order to present ourselves acceptable to each other and even to God.  But that is the very sin, Luther said, that sends people to hell.  Places of damnation are actually reserved for those outwardly righteous persons who trusted all their lives in themselves and how they looked to others without a thought at all about justification, reconciliation, and being restored to God through Christ.

           


            Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout, is a person who has good deeds but knows nothing of God’s grace.  It is a completely human tendency to decide which sinful actions are trivial and which are the biggie sins.  Yet, the only way of approaching God is by seeing our true ugliness, our rebellious hearts, and that the only hope of salvation is through the cross of Christ.  We are justified by God and restored to relationship with him because of Jesus, and not for any other reason.  A new relationship is established based solely in God’s grace.

            When we grasp this truth, even a little bit, it should cause us to repent of our good works done apart from faith.  When there is humility that leads to a total turning to Jesus, there is a revival to new life in God, and a personal reformation around the doctrine of grace instead of the doctrine of my glorious works that I perform.

            We, then, as the people of God, saved and justified through the blood of Jesus, ought to be the most joyful and grateful people on the planet.  We have salvation from the deception of our hearts to life in Christ!  Apathy and lethargy in the church to the things of God are the twin evils that reign in the place of awe and appreciation for what God has done for us in Christ.

            There is nothing more God can do to show us that he loves us than by actually dying for us, and by doing so, satisfying his own wrath against the sin which seeks to destroy us.  The late Brennan Manning once told the story about how he got the name "Brennan." While growing up, his best friend was Ray. The two of them did everything together: bought a car together as teenagers, double-dated together, and went to school together. They even enlisted in the Army together, went to boot camp together and fought on the frontlines together. One night while sitting in a foxhole, Brennan was reminiscing about the old days in Brooklyn while Ray listened and ate a chocolate bar. Suddenly a live grenade came into the foxhole. Ray looked at Brennan, smiled, dropped his chocolate bar and threw himself on the live grenade. It exploded, killing Ray, but Brennan's life was spared.

When Brennan became a priest he was instructed to take on the name of a saint. He thought of his friend, Ray Brennan. So he took on the name "Brennan." Years later he went to visit Ray's mother in Brooklyn. They sat up late one night having tea when Brennan asked her, "Do you think Ray loved me?" Mrs. Brennan got up off the couch, shook her finger in front of Brennan's face and shouted, "What more could he have done for you?" Brennan said that at that moment he experienced an epiphany. He imagined himself standing before the cross of Jesus wondering, does God really love me? And Jesus' mother Mary pointing to her son, saying, "What more could he have done for you?"

The cross of Jesus is God's way of doing all he could do for us. And yet we often wonder:  Does God really love me? Am I important to God? Does God care about me?  We tend to ask those questions when we are trusting in ourselves, because we never really know where we stand.  Let the doubts roll away.  No matter how bad or how good we are, the path of suffering of our Lord Jesus has taken care of the sin issue once for all.


This is what we call the gospel, the good news that Jesus suffered and died for all the bad things we have done, and all the good things we have done to try and justify ourselves before God and each other.  Week after week for the past 2,000 years, God’s people have been gathered together to worship this same Lord Jesus who died on the cross.  The only thing left for us to do, since Jesus has done it all for us, is to offer our lives to him.  In doing so, the spirit of the Reformation lives on.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Take the Stairs



A century ago, the English novelist, G.K. Chesterton, observed that in the house of life, many people are content to live in the cellar.  In fact, they assume the cellar is the only room in the house.  Cellars and basements have certainly changed in the past one hundred years, yet Chesterton’s observation still holds true – that people often seem content to dwell in conditions far beneath what they have the opportunity to experience.  In fact, maybe the basements of today provide a way to extend his metaphor:  rather than take the stairs and dwell in the house itself, we create spaces in the basement, game rooms and family rooms, in order to avoid dwelling in the main part of the house.  It is hard to be joyful in the cellar, because the cellar is a place where people hate themselves because of their failures, are disappointed with God for what he has allowed in their lives, and blame others for their part in it all.

Jesus has made the way of deliverance through his death on a cross, and has resurrected from the dead.  Those who believe in these redemptive events are full participants in the death and life of Jesus.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not only a doctrine to be believed, but a powerful reality to be lived!  Christian doctrine always has as its trajectory changed lives. 

We must live upstairs because Christ’s resurrection makes it possible (Colossians 3:1-2).  Believers in Jesus have a vital connection and union with him.  Jesus has so closely identified himself with us that it is as if we are actually his body.  The bond that exists between Jesus and the believer is so intimate and so close that when Jesus was raised from the dead, we took part with him in that event.  The implication of this incredible truth is that our life is to be the life of Christ.  Our task, then, is to live up to who we are in Christ.
 
            We are to set our hearts on things above.  Today is the day to get our hearts out of the basement and live upstairs with Jesus, who is seated at the right hand of God.  Being seated at the right hand is a symbolic picture that the work of Jesus on the cross is finished.  The only work left to do is to believe, and to participate in the life of Christ.  We do that by living upstairs with Jesus.  Christ’s heart was set on giving us eternal salvation from sin and death, and he accomplished it.  Now, he has his heart set on seeing us experiencing freedom from the habits and shame and practices and addictions that keep us from living upstairs with him.  He wants our hearts.  He does not want us mucking around in the basement any longer because his resurrection has made it possible to be with him. 

            We are to get our heads out of the cellar and get them upstairs with Jesus.  The way we think determines how we live.  If our heads are not in the main part of the house, basement thoughts will fill the void.  The cellar becomes a prison, because our thoughts do not rise above the bad circumstances we may have experienced.  You have been raised with Christ.  Because of this, we can ascend the stairs of grace and enjoy God.

A devoted follower of Jesus will follow him up the stairs and dwell with him in God’s house.  A follower of Jesus will develop the life of the mind by being steeped in the words and ways of Jesus by reading Holy Scripture on a continual basis, as if it were the believer’s food and drink.  A follower of Jesus will take the stairs and have a heart of prayer that talks to Jesus on a regular basis, because without the regular interaction of listening to God through the bible, and talking to God through prayer, the believer will feel lost and confused and without hope.  A follower of Jesus will take the stairs and serve his/her Lord with all their heart and all their mind, because staying in the confining walls of the basement prevents the believer from seeing the immense need of people in the neighborhood who are lost, sick, dying, hurting, hungry, depressed, and longing for someone to show them the stairway of grace out of the hopeless basement they are in.

            So take the stairs.  Take the stairs and leave behind in the basement all such things as these:  anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.  Take the stairs as God’s people chosen to dwell with him in the house by embracing the house rules of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you have against one another.  Take the stairs to forgiveness because the Lord forgave you.  Take the stairs to love.  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since the resurrection of Jesus has made it so.  Take the stairs and let the activities of God’s house shape you and enter into them as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, whether you are speaking or whether you are acting, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him for raising you up with him.  Take the stairs my friends, and live the resurrected life! (Colossians 3:5-17).


Move to another level.  Leave the basement behind.  The first step up the stairs is always a step of surrender.  What do you need to surrender?  Do you need to surrender your heart to Jesus by allowing him to meet the needs of your life?  Do you need to surrender your mind to God by allowing Scripture to shape how you think?  Do you need to surrender your fears and worries to the Holy Spirit of God so that your security and hope is firmly in him?  Do you need to surrender your time to Jesus, so that he can live through you?  Do you need to surrender your possessions to Jesus, in order that his purposes can be accomplished?  Take the stairs.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Liturgy

When it comes to the worship of God, it is not just a matter of us talking, praying, and singing to God; instead, worship is to be a conversation between God and his people.  There is to be a dialogue in which we hear from God, and engage him in return.  Worship, then, is hearing God’s revelation and then responding to him in praise, devotion, and obedience.

            The term “liturgy” describes what we do in worship.  Liturgy is a Greek term that means “the work of the people.”  Every church has a liturgy.  Liturgy is not only a reference to more traditional forms of worship.  Contemporary styled worship may have less liturgical elements to it, but it still has a liturgy of several praise and worship choruses (in which the people know when to stand and sit), and an extended time of preaching.



            God is always the initiator of salvation and worship.  If it were not for God himself approaching us, most fully expressed in Christ’s incarnation of coming to this earth, then we have no hope.  Since humanity is in the vice grip of sin, it takes someone outside of us to help us.  So, when we begin a worship service, it is God himself who initiates the conversation, through the call to worship.

            When the two men on the Emmaus road met Jesus after his resurrection, he engaged them in the Scriptures (Luke 24:13-27).  He went to the Old Testament and explained to the two men what it had to say about the Christ.  They heard from God.  If we want to understand Holy Scripture, we must also walk with Jesus and converse with him.  A worship liturgy exists in order to promote a relationship between us and God.  The reason we do what we do liturgically is to create space whereby God and God’s people can be in a meaningful conversation with each other.

            This means that we must listen well.  We cannot listen well to God if we are crazy busy and have our minds and hearts engaged in all the things we believe we need to do.  Sometimes we make our lives overwhelmingly busy so that we either cannot or do not have time to listen to God.  We actually might create noise and desire busyness because we are much too uncomfortable with silence, and aren’t sure if we really want to hear what is in our hearts.  Getting to the place of resting enough to listen can seem, for some, like a daunting task.  This is not a plea to do more, but to do less so that God’s people can have a conversation with Jesus.  A good place to begin is to practice the Sabbath, and use the day, not just the morning, to connect with God.

            In this liturgical rhythm, this conversation between us and God, the good news of Jesus is presented.  God first acts by seeking and desiring fellowship with us; God sent his Son, the living Word, to restore the fractured relationship – Jesus is the divine Word who has accomplished the restoration between us and God.  This revelation, this realization of what God has done for us in Christ requires a response from us.  When we enter a church, we are called by God to worship him; we respond by praising him for wanting fellowship with us.  Having glimpsed how holy God is, it makes us realize how sinful we are, and, so we confess our sins to him.  God, in his grace, forgives us our sin and assures us of our pardon.  In our thankfulness for that grace, we joyfully listen and live according to his Word.  And, so, back and forth we go, with the liturgy proclaiming the gospel to us in a divine dialogue that blesses both us and God.

            If you think about it, all of life is liturgical.  We each have routines, habits, and life patterns that shape how we get things done.  When my wife and I were married, we experienced a clash of liturgies.  Her family had their ways of doing things, and my family had theirs.  I quickly learned what a proper liturgy for folding towels was.

            Worship liturgy is not just for Sunday morning.  We can intentionally build some spiritual rhythms and spiritual conversation throughout each day.  Our daily call to worship is when we wake up, realizing that we have been called into wakefulness to enter into praise for a new day.  As we go through our day we can recognize sin when it happens, and be quick to confess it and accept God’s forgiveness.  We can be intentional about hearing from God, by creating space and setting aside time for reading Scripture.  When our heads hit the pillow at night, we receive the blessing of God in sleep, until a new day begins.

            Whatever way we go about it, we are to develop spiritual habits of approaching God, listening to God, and responding to God.


            Christianity is not just a system of beliefs, but is a way of life.  The kind of habits that we develop in that life will determine what kind of disciples we will be.  So, we must choose well the kinds of routines that we need in order to walk well with Jesus and carry on a conversation with him.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Lord's Table

The Lord’s Table proclaims the gospel to us, and the good news of Jesus Christ is what we need to be molded and shaped into disciples.  Just as the simple routines of eating breakfast and getting ready in the morning shape our daily lives, so the ritual of the Lord’s Table is to set the tone for our lives by orienting us around healthy routines of learning to follow Jesus.  We need the Lord’s Table because our hearts are often thorny with cares and worries which leads to a weakening of faith.  A sermon is words; the Table is tangible.  Preaching may say the words “I love you!” but the Table seals those words and makes them real, like a kiss.



            The purpose of the Lord’s Table is to participate in the blessings of Christ by visually re-creating the story of Jesus.  There are three different terms for the Table in the New Testament, and each term is meant to convey a different aspect of the Table’s significance.  One of those terms is The Lord’s Supper.  The focus of The Lord’s Supper is remembrance, a memorial of Christ’s death that is deeply reflective and contemplative.  Paul said to the Corinthians:  A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.  Paul said this because at the Table whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:26).

            A second term for the Lord’s Table is called The Eucharist.  Eucharist literally means “thanksgiving.”  The focus of seeing the Lord’s Table as The Eucharist means that we are celebrating our victory over sin, death, and hell through Christ’s death.  At the Last Supper, the Gospel writer Mark said that Jesus took bread, gave thanks (Eucharist), and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”  Then he took the cup, gave thanks (Eucharist) and offered it to them, and they all drank from it (Mark 14:22-23).  We might say that observing the Table as both The Lord’s Supper and The Eucharist means that we will engage in a sober celebration.

            The third term describing the Lord’s Table is the term “communion.”  Communion means to participate in Christ and with other Christians.  Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ?  And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?  Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).  This emphasizes that when we partake of the Lord’s Table, we ought to do so with unity and fellowship; we do not just participate as individuals, but together as the community of the redeemed.

            As we allow the Table to be a remembrance, a celebration, and participation with each other, we engage in a ritual that helps us to know Christ better and we are better able to realize his grace to us.



            One of the wonderful realities about communion is that believers all over the planet share in Christ together.  Communion and participation is important because we can easily be fragmented and not fellowship with one another, both in the local church, and the world-wide church.  Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians because they were divided among themselves.  He emphasized the work of Jesus on the cross as bringing reconciliation between God and people.  Christ’s work of reconciliation has restored a broken relationship between us and God, and also between one another.  The relations between the Corinthians were not good; they existed as a network of special interest groups, instead of being aware of each other and intentionally participating with each other.  They did not necessarily fight among each other, but simply ignored other people in the church.  Each group wanted their own way, and they had not yet learned how to talk to one another and work together in a unity and fellowship that reflects the gospel.

            One of the things we need to be aware of as we think of sharing in communion together is that we are not to approach the Table to be with people who are like us in the way we want them to be. We come because we have staked our souls on the fact that Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and the church is the best place, the only place, to be while we all struggle to figure out what that means. We come because we'd be hard pressed to say which is the bigger of the two scandals of God: that he loves me—or that he loves everyone else.  The Lord’s Table is the great leveler, where we all have equal footing and accept one another according to a common confession of Christ.

            So when we talk about the Lord’s Table as being communion, we are emphasizing that it is not just a remembrance, but a participation in the body and blood of Christ.  And since that is true, communion is participation with all Christians everywhere.  The Lord’s Table is not just to be an individual experience in isolation from others.  There is solidarity not only between the individual and God, but between all believers.

            Therefore, we are not alone.  Communion lets us know that God is with us, and that he has so closely identified with us that he took our place on the cross.  As a result, every believer in Jesus is linked to all the others so that, when one suffers or rejoices, all suffer or rejoice, whether it is an African pastor rejoicing over newly saved persons out of animism, or a suffering Syrian Christian trying to survive in a refugee camp.

            We must live up to what we profess.  Our participation in Christ results in participation and unity with each other.  Since we are God’s forgiven people, we are to work at living the Christian life together.  This unity is symbolized by partaking together of the same loaf of bread, and drinking from a common cup.

            On one Sunday, a group of missionaries and believers in Papua New Guinea were gathered to observe communion together.  After one young man sat down, one of the missionaries recognized that he seemed to be quite upset.  But, then, in a while, the young man seemed to be fine.  The missionary leaned over and whispered to him, “What was it that troubled you?”  The young man replied, “The man who just came in happens to be the man who killed and ate the body of my father.  And now he has come in to observe communion with us.  At first I didn’t think I could do that.  But it is all right now.  He is washed in the same precious blood as I am.”  And so together they had Communion.


            We have peace because of Jesus.  His death has brought reconciliation not only between us and God, but between each other.  As we approach the Lord’s Table, let us be aware not only of our personal relationship with God, but our relationships with one another in the local church, and our unity with the world-wide church.  May our lives be shaped and formed around the cross of Jesus Christ, as we remember, celebrate, and participate together.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Activate God's Blessing

In a world of fear, in the darkness of the earth after the Fall of humanity, people tend to settle for not listening, or when they do, listening to the voice of political ideas, or propaganda as their hope.  We, as the Church, must not settle for less powerful words.  The speech of God is for his people to abandon, renounce, and let go – to depart from previous ways.  God’s Word, for example, to Abraham was to “leave” and “go” (Genesis 12:1-3).  For Abraham and his wife Sarah to stay in Ur of the Chaldees (a pagan land), afraid to move, and settling for retirement living, would result in barrenness and no hope.  To leave was to experience blessing. 



Jesus once said to his disciples: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it (Mark 8:34-35).  Blessing from God happens when we give up everything to leave and follow Jesus.  God is still holding out this promise of blessing that can be realized through leaving and going. 

In order to experience marital blessing, God said in the beginning that a man must “leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife” (Genesis 2:24).  The writer of Proverbs has told us if we want to see blessing, to experience God’s presence and approval, you must “leave your simple ways” (Proverbs 9:6).   Jesus said that if you have relational problems and are getting ready to worship you must “leave your gift at the altar.” Then, we are to “first go and be reconciled to your brother” (Matthew 5:23-24).   Jesus himself has said that he, as the Great Shepherd, will leave the ninety-nine sheep to go after one lost one (Luke 15:4).  And he turns right around and commissions us to do the business of leaving:  “Go, and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19).  Jesus further has said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven (Matthew 19:21).  To those who are too afraid or complacent to step out in faith and leave for God’s banquet of blessing, the invitation has gone out:  “Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find” (Matthew 22:9).  Not going ends in no blessing.  God said to Jonah “go” (Jonah 1:2), but Jonah said “no” to God and did not go because of his prejudice.  Leaving and blessing go together.  We must step out in faith as the people of God and leave behind our old ways and embrace the journey ahead that God has for us.  Where are we going?  God knows.  Leave, go, and trust. 



Let me “leave” you with some thoughts on stepping out of our friendly and familiar environment to know the blessing of God:
  1. Hang around with committed Christians who want the blessing of God.  Spend time with those who are eager to do God’s will.  I had the wonderful blessing of being around many people in the formative years of my Christian life with a passion for God.  One of those people was a man named Howard Bixby.  Pastor Bixby had a saying for me anytime I came to him contemplating whether I should step out and follow through with an idea I had or a person to talk to.  He always, without fail, would say to me:  “Go for the jugular!”  And I did.  And every time I knew the blessing of God on my life which kept me going back for more.  That advice has served me well.  So, I say to you:  “go for the jugular!”  If you spend most of your time hanging out with toothless Christians who have no spiritual bite, then you will be one yourself.  Light each other’s fire, and let the Holy Spirit kindle a fresh flame in your heart by being around passionate Christian people.  Abraham went to the Promised Land with Sarah, his wife.  Don’t be a lone-ranger.  Bring your family along the blessing trail by having bible readings together and talking about spiritual issues.
  2. Walk across the room.  God may not be calling all of us to leave this country and go to an unreached people-group, but he is calling us all to leave our seats and walk across the room to encourage another person in his/her faith; across the street to strike up a spiritual conversation with a lost neighbor; across town to a lonely or hurting elderly person; or down the street to hang out at the laundry mat to meet new people who need Jesus.  By all means we are to walk across the pages of Scripture to follow Jesus in obedience to the Holy Spirit’s promptings.
  3. You don’t have to be a super-Christian who feels blessed to leave and step out in faith.  We might all consider Mother Teresa, who died in 1997, to be a super-Christian.  She said:  “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.  God still loves the world and He sends you and me to be His love and His compassion to the poor to quench His thirst for love and for souls.”   Yet, at the same time, Teresa struggled in her faith for most of her life and often felt like her own soul was desolate.  She once confessed: “In my soul, I feel just the terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing.”  Yet, her dark night of the soul was still the salvation for thousands.
  4. Don’t talk it to death!  There is always more research and information and counsel to obtain.  At some point you need to act.  We really have no need to create a sub-committee to investigate the findings of that other committee in order to make a decision.  Frederick Buechner has said “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”  Where does your passion and the world’s great need meet?  Leave, and go there. 

Activate the blessing of God in your life by leaving and going where the Spirit leads.  May we have the courage and the faith, despite our feelings, to respond to God’s sending.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Thinking About Outreach



Lost people matter to God.  They matter so much to him that one lost soul whom is found is the grounds for a big celestial party (Luke 15:7, 10, 32).  Jesus told three stories in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 15, that all teach the same thing, so that we would be absolutely sure to get it:  a loving God has unbounded joy over lost people being found.  These parables of Jesus are meant primarily to give us a glimpse of God’s own heart.  He would do anything to find a lost person, to restore and reconcile a person back to himself.  God would go dumpster diving and wade through the stinky nasty garbage of this world to find one lost valuable person.

            Why should every church make reaching others for Jesus Christ a high priority?  Because restoring lost people is a high priority to God.  Lost people matter so much to him that he sent his Son, the Lord Jesus, to this earth.  Jesus paid the ultimate price of a cruel death on a cross in order to reconcile a broken lost relationship between people and God.

            I still remember what it felt like to be separated from God, and estranged from the church – it was lonely and awful.  My life before Christ felt like I was walking through a cemetery at night and fell into an open grave, with no way out and no one to hear my screams.  But God, in his great mercy, sent people into my life to share the message of salvation from my prodigal way of life of sin and misery.  When I turned from the path of destruction I was on and embraced Jesus Christ there was a big party in heaven!

            In the story of the prodigal lost son, that son hit rock bottom and rehearsed a speech he would give to his father when he came back.  He never got to finish that speech, because the father interrupted his confession of sin and got the celebration going!  (Luke 15:17-24).  We celebrate the things that are important to us.  Lost people matter so much to God that it is a cause for a great celebration.  God’s grace steps in and takes over, erasing past sin and bringing radical forgiveness and reconciliation.

            It needs to be asked:  Where do we find ourselves in these parables?  These three stories were offensive to Christ’s original hearers.  Those listening to Jesus were so inwardly focused that they believed ministry ought to revolve around them and their needs.  What is more, the Pharisees and teachers of the law were offended because they thought all this fuss about sinners would just highlight their sin!  There should be no party for them because of how they lived.

            We must understand that preaching grace is always offensive to people who work for their salvation.  The elder son in the story of the prodigal was inwardly obsessed instead of outwardly compassionate like his father.  It is scandalous to such persons to hear that Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Matthew 9:13).  If we hear such verses and listen to all this talk about outreach and being concerned for sinners who don’t know Jesus and say:  “Well, all this talk about outreach is well and good, but what about us?  What about me?”  Then, we must locate ourselves as the person who is lost and in need of being found by God’s grace.

            We need the father’s heart when it comes to others.  We need a heart of grace.  Think of the worst sinner you can think of – a person for whom you would label as being like the devil.  Now picture if that person were to be found by God and become a Christian.  Would you attend the party to celebrate that person’s repentance, reconciliation, and recovery?  If any one of us feels justified in our hate, then we are the lost ones in need of turning from sin.

            In the first story of Luke 15, a shepherd left the ninety-nine sheep and went after the one lost sheep. The shepherd, who represents God, gave preferential attention to the lost one.  Can you live with that?  What do these parables mean for our church programs, budgets, and committees?  Today in America only one-in-five lost people even knows one Christian.  Statistics like that are what keep me up at night; it bothers me and makes me sad.  It drives me to prayer, and causes me to follow my compassionate wife’s example of going after lost people.  My wife, Mary, has never met a person that she didn’t think needed to hear the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ.  If we have no relationships with lost people, then we need to ask ourselves if we are willing to follow Jesus in his mission to find sinners and call them home.  We need to ask ourselves if we have the father’s heart.

            God’s unconditional amazing grace makes a difference.  If we lose that sense of awe and appreciation for what God has done for us in Christ, then there will be no outreach.  Reaching out and finding a lost person is not dependent on completing a class on evangelism or getting training in how to answer every question.  Outreach is fueled by passion and desire.  Healthy Christians reproduce themselves.  I am guessing that, if you have children, you probably did not take a class on how to procreate – you just had the desire and the willingness; and, you celebrated when there was a birth of new life.


            God’s heart is one that longs for the lost people of this world to be reconciled and brought back into relationship with him.  Thus, reaching out to the lost people of this world is to be of the utmost importance to the church.  That will only happen if we share the same heart of the Father.